When comic book writer and artist Kate Leth was working at a Strange Adventures comic shop in Canada a few years ago, she was one of the only women working in comic book retail in her town. Wanting to speak with other women working the same job, Leth decided to create a Facebook group with a few other girls she knew through social media also working at comic stores. From there she began recruiting for the group, and now it’s grown into a mighty community of Valkyries.
The Valkyries community connects women who work in comic book shops around the world. The diverse group gives these women a place to share and discuss their love for comic books as well as other topics that include everything from organizing ladies’ nights to helping with cosplay to making orders. It also allows members to discuss any issues they may be dealing with and in this way acts as a support network for members too. Leth told Blastr the mission of the Valkyries is to give this group of women a voice, since many retail organizations are just owners and managers of shops.
“Publishers will just deal with them, but a lot of the time they’re dealing with the people who order the comics from Diamond [Comics] and things like that, but they’re not dealing with the people who actually sell at the counters and deal with the customers,” Leth said. “By creating a group that’s so large, the things that we say have more of an impact, more of a weight to it, and we kind of have each others’ back, which is really cool.”
Right now the Valkyries have around 600 members located in a variety of places. Annie Bulloch, the group’s social media administrator, regularly interacts with these members and others through Twitter, Facebook and other networks. She discovered the Valkyries after starting her own comic book shop in Texas, called 8th Dimension Comics and Games, with her husband and a friend in 2011. Two years later they started hosting ladies’ nights to help let women know they were always welcome in the store. When discussing the nights on Twitter, she connected with others holding ladies’ nights and book club events at comic shops, and one woman mentioned the Valkyries. Not long after joining, Bulloch volunteered to run their social media to increase their visibility and ability to talk to others, and eventually also began helping the group in other ways as a co-administrator.
Through social media, Bulloch helps create a positive and upbeat presence for the community by discussing comics, posing questions of the day, helping connect people with friendly comic shops and offering recommendations for comics that people should check out through the hashtag #ValkRecs.
“It’s a way to show, ‘Hey, this is one of our members, and here’s what she likes, and here’s what she’s telling people in her shop that they should check out this week.’ It’s sort of like what we do in our shop every week when people come in and say, ‘What’s new? What’s good?’ except we’re telling [almost] 5,000 [Twitter followers] all over the world about it,” Bulloch said.
In this way, they can put faces to the group and show what individual members are into as well as ask followers what they’re interested in.
For women working in comic book retail, it's an experience that has changed over the years, but from what Leth has seen it’s different everywhere.
“You’re still going to get a lot of the problems, a lot of the sexism. That kind of stuff definitely still exists, and it exists in any community, really, but having that support network makes it a lot easier to deal with. I think it’s harder to chase these girls out because we have each other to talk to when things get bad and that’s really great,” Leth said. “I also think that just by and large women are such a huge part of everything nerdy now, from conventions to stores to making the books and all that kind of stuff so I think it’s tipping in that direction and the group just makes that feel a little bit more solid.”
During the time Bulloch has been working in retail, she’s seen a shift in awareness and noticed more women buying comics at stores.
“There have always been women shopping for comics, but there were fewer stores that made any kind of point to be women friendly back in the day so a lot of people went in once and never came back. They didn’t feel comfortable there,“ Bulloch said.
She believes a lot of factors came together to contribute to more women shopping for comics, including social media giving women a voice and helping them find other women interested in comics. They could then discuss with those women why some shops might not be friendly to women or the LGBT community or other issues as well as any positive experiences they might have had. Bulloch has especially seen a difference over the last decade and even in the last five years with her own shop. When they first opened she said they made an effort to be welcoming to everyone, and when their ladies’ nights started women made up about a third of their customers. Now her customers are about half and half.
The Valkyrie community has grown beyond those women working in comic book retail, though. They also have a branch called Valhalla, which is open to anyone who works with comics- whether it is at libraries or bookstores - and currently has around 240 members. Since the beginning, the Valkyries were asked about opening up to these groups, but they had to stick with those working in comic shops because of their relationship with publishers and the previews they received. As a result, a new branch was created.
Valhalla co-administrator Ivy Noelle Weir has been reading comics her entire life and first became involved with the Valkyries while working at The Comic Book Shop in Delaware. Since initially joining the group, Weir has left retail and now works full-time as a librarian. As a co-administrator, she helps with the main Valkyries group but her primary focus is Valhalla, which she helped create.
“In Valhalla really what we’re trying to do is make it a professional network where we’re fostering connections between libraries and retailers to get comics out to more people,” Weir told Blastr.
Her experience in both comic book retail and libraries gives her insight into the connection between the two worlds. At one point she worked part-time in a library and part-time as a comic book retailer with both jobs influencing the other.
“In a library, you’re dealing with the public in a much more multifaceted sense because people aren’t coming in with the expectation to buy anything. Often they’re coming in for guidance and coming from a retail background enabled me to be able to provide that guidance because I had more of an understanding of the industry…” she said. “There’s a term in librarianship, readers’ advisory, where you are first serving as the guide to somebody’s selection process so when you work in comic book retail and you’re helping people build their pull list or collection you start to get really good at readers’ advisory which translates very much to being a librarian.”
Weir has worked in libraries since 2008 and seen a greater acceptance of comics and graphic novels in the profession during that time, especially within the last two years. These sections have grown in libraries and are more well-thought out collections that don’t just feature the usual superhero books but indie comics now, too. She uses comics to create community programs at her library and other libraries are also using them to develop programs. Having comics has allowed libraries to become an access point for readers who may be intimidated going into a shop or might not know where to start with comics as well. With a library, these readers can try comics without worrying about spending money. Working with comics in libraries also comes with its challenges, with the biggest according to Weir being the misconception that comics are only for kids and people not understanding that some comics are for adults.
It’s another fascinating aspect of the comic book community that the Valkyries have helped bring together as they connect women working with comics. It’s an impressive network that can often be seen in person at various conventions, where the group will hold breakfasts and other meet-ups where they can get together. Weir said when she goes to a convention she knows there’s always going to be someone there she can meet up with because other Valkyries will be there. Creators like Gail Simone, Babs Tarr, and more will also show up at events held by the group. In April the Valkyries had a big presence at Seattle’s Emerald City Comicon (ECCC). They had a table there, which was a first for the group, as well as a panel called Rise of the Valkyries. Leth said at the end they realized ECCC is probably the convention the most Valkyries go to and since it’s not as crazy as San Diego Comic-Con or New York Comic Con, it’s easier to organize the many members that go. The Valkyries may make ECCC their convention moving forward.
“I think next year we’re really going to push for as many members as can go, like if you’re going to go to a con, go to that one because we’re going to have a presence and have a table and a panel and invest there,” Leth said. “We talked about trying to set up a convention of our own, but none of us have enough free time or dispensable income to do it so we figure we would just use the convention that has already been so awesome to us.”
Speaking with Leth, Bulloch, and Weir, it’s clear the group has brought a lot of women together who have formed friendships that have become extremely important parts of their lives. There are great professional aspects to being a Valkyrie, but it’s the personal connections that seem to have made the biggest impact.
“There are so many people I’ve seen become really good friends, talking to each other on Facebook and Twitter and seeing them together at conventions. That’s really amazing, to see friendships that have formed because a lot of us felt really isolated. A lot of the time there’s only one or two women in a comic shop and if you live in a small town and you’re the only shop, you can feel very isolated, you can feel very alone, but now there’s this enormous network of people,” Leth said.
Through the Valkyries, Weir became best friends with another co-administrator in the group, Christina “Steenz” Stewart. Now not only do they travel to visit each other, but they co-created a comic book together that will be published by Oni Press. Bulloch has also found many good friends through the group and said the experience has changed her life.
“It’s hard to explain the scale on which it just sort of shifted everything for me and I’ve learned so much from other people, different perspectives. We have Valkyries all over the world,” Bulloch said. “People from all different backgrounds and just being able to hear from them and what their experiences have been, what they like, what they’re interested in, what they’re frustrated with, that’s really opened my eyes to a lot of things, which is great.”
As the group continues to grow, its influence is spreading beyond its individual members too. Many in the comic book community and industry know about the Valkyries now and are taking notice of what they do.
“For me, one of the greatest things is that creators and publishers are taking the Valkyries more seriously, especially now that we’re such a big group. So women in retail who a lot of the time are used to being ignored, our concerns, our questions are being listened to and that’s the power of the group, of the large number which is really great,” Leth said. “I think also because the Valkyries respond so strongly to books that really do have diversity and representation, I think it sort of hopefully inspires people to make those kinds of books because the stuff we’ve really celebrated and given a push to have been things like that, like Batgirl and Lumberjanes. By putting our weight behind books like that we really hope it encourages publishers to make more books like that.”
The future of the Valkyries looks like a bright one. As they continue to grow their impact will continue to leave a mark on their members and the industry as a whole in new ways. For example, with Valhalla, Weir would like to start offering professional programming on how to utilize comics with the American Library Association. It's one more way the group can expand and help bring comics to more people.
For those that want to join the group, you can find out more about membership on the Valkyrie and Valhalla websites. If you want to support the Valkyries mission but don’t work in comic retail or fit in the Valhalla category, you can still become involved. You can attend their panels at conventions, participate in their conversations on social media, and even buy merchandise from the group that displays lines like “I stand with Valkyries” to show your support.
Either way, those who are part of the comic book community and industry should take note of the group's work, and Beware the Valkyries!