On Monday, November 1, Outsider Comics and Geek Boutique de Fremont will be celebrating their fifth anniversary. It is a capital achievement; While Seattle has in fact gained independent bookstores over the past decade, the number of local comic book stores has declined at a fairly steady rate, with beloved mainstays like downtown Zanadu Comics and Wallingford’s Comics Dungeon. closing their doors in recent years.
Jill Taplin, founder and CEO of Outsider, designed her business to correct some of the classic comic book flaws. She fell in love with comics through graphic novels that cleverly explore adult themes, like Neil Gaiman’s “Sandman” series. But when she tried to visit comic book stores to find more books to read, Taplin said over the phone, “I realized there weren’t any stores I really liked being in. . They all felt very transactional and maybe just not very welcoming. the spaces.”
For decades, comic book stores tended to be superhero-obsessed boys’ clubs, with a staff and clientele almost exclusively made up of white males. Anyone who didn’t look like this demographic often felt unwelcome – and many stores actively fought off newcomers through obsessive control and even harassment.
At the same time, Taplin knew there was a huge audience there. The sections of graphic novels in independent bookstores were exploding and comics became a billion dollar business. She set out to create a more welcoming space, “focused on graphic novels with LGBTQ and BIPOC stories”. (LGBTQ stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer / questioning. BIPOC refers to Blacks, Aboriginals, and people of color.)
The Seattle-area comic book stores that have thrived in recent years have done so by becoming more welcoming to a non-white, non-male audience, and also expanding their business models to incorporate multiple revenue streams. For example, the Golden Age collectibles in the Pike Place Marketplace are a full-fledged emporium of pop culture, and Capitol Hill’s Phoenix Comics & Games offers a wide variety of board games and games. in-store gaming opportunities.
Taplin knew it would be wise to incorporate a second source of income into Outsider, and she decided to sell fashion. “I started looking at clothes and gifts, like candles and pins, locally made enamel patches and stickers,” she explains. The plan seems to be working. “The boutique aspect of the store really helps balance out those occasional months when book sales might not be that good,” she says.
The geeky fashion industry is booming, with small businesses across the country producing leggings, shirts, dresses, and pretty much every piece of clothing imaginable with a cheesy twist. Taplin says American female-owned manufacturers like Nooworks are expanding the idea of nerd fashion beyond just slapping a Superman logo on a square T-shirt and calling it a day, opting instead for Quality fitted pieces with bold prints featuring elegant elements of fantasy and sci-fi.
Printed leggings are an eternal Outsider bestseller. “Seattleites wear a lot of black, gray and brown,” Taplin says. “And a lot of what we wear in leggings is very vibrant and colorful. This is a good thing for some people as they can just wear it under something black ‘for a touch of color and personality.
Other items that are suitable for Outsider are candles from the locally produced Nerdwax Candle Co., which have fancy scents like Unicorn Tears, and “people can’t get enough fancy dice” for role-playing games. , she said, including bright and colorful varieties.
But Outsider’s success ultimately rests on the same foundation as any beloved neighborhood bookstore: the good old-fashioned bookstore. “We focus on people who have never read comics,” says Taplin. The five-person store staff manage the store’s inventory with first-time comic book readers of all ages in mind.
Taplin says many of Outsider’s new visitors are tourist families who just finished visiting Theo Chocolate Factory around the corner. “We’ll talk to people about what interests them, because comics are a medium, not a genre. We’re trying to find ways for people who might be totally new to the format, ”she says, and they tailor their suggestions to meet the reader.
For Outsider, that means treating mainstream American superhero comics as one genre among many. You can find Spider-Man, Wonder Woman, and all the familiar superheroes on the shelves of Outsider, but there are also large sections of romantic comics, translation comics, a growing section of comics for young people. readers, non-fiction comics, and a huge wall of comics from local authors.
Basing Outsider on the fundamental premise that comics are for everyone, Taplin built exactly the kind of comic book store that she always wanted to exist in the world. “I’ve seen people come and tell me that they’ve never felt so comfortable or seen in a comic book store, which warms my heart. It reminds me of why I do this, ”Taplin says.
What are Outsider Comics and Geek Boutique customers reading?
“The only book that is our bestseller over the past five years is titled ‘The Prince and the Dressmaker’,” says Taplin. “It’s this cute book about a prince who finds out he loves fabulous dresses, which he dresses in, and looks amazing.” The story uses elements of classic fairy tales to tell a larger story of self-acceptance, openness with your family, and “walking at your own pace and doing what interests you,” Taplin says.
Outsider offers a wide variety of role-playing games, and “we’re doing great business with one called Thirsty Sword Lesbians,” Taplin says. The game, which sees teams of three to six players take on the role of lesbian sword fighting in a sci-fi / fantasy setting, places equal value on fighting and flirting.
Kat Leyh’s “Snapdragon” comic is “a creepy, wizarding story about a woman who lives alone in the woods,” says Taplin. When the hermit falls into the orbit of a local witch, their friendship threatens to uncover long-held secrets. And Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda’s “Monstress” series takes place in a world where mysterious creatures have been enslaved by humanity. The protagonist of the show, a mysterious creature who can pass for human, “has crazy and fantastic adventures,” says Taplin, “and everything is drawn in this beautiful punk-gothic style. It’s both futuristic and fantastic.