Portlanders cleaned up at the Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards this past weekend. First place winners included Casey Gilly, Kelly Sue DeConnick, David F. Walker and Douglas Wolk among many others. The comic book store that was voted best in the world is also in Portland. Books with Pictures: Comics for Everyone received the Spirit of Comics Retailer Award. We talk with the owner, Katie Pryde, about what the award means for her and how it reflects the industry’s evolving culture.
Editor’s note: This post has been updated to reflect that the Eisner awards are international.
Note: The following transcript was created by a computer and edited by a volunteer.
Dave Miller: Every year at the San Diego Comic-Con, the comics industry gives out the Eisner Awards. They’ve been called the Oscars of comics and graphic novels. They happened this weekend and Portlanders cleaned up. Casey Gilly, Kelly Sue DeConnick, Mark Russell, Kel McDonald, David F. Walker and Douglas Wolk all won first place trophies. So did a store. Portland’s Books With Pictures won the Spirit Of Comics Retailer Award. Katie Pryde is the owner of the store. She joins us now to talk about winning this national award. Welcome back to Think Out Loud and congratulations as well. Can you describe what happened when you were at that event and you heard the name of your store called?
Katie Pryde: I think I blacked out for a minute. But I was sitting actually, with Douglas Wolk, who is my comics bestie and permanent sidekick and with Eitan Manhoff who is the owner of one of the other nominated stores. And so we were sort of sitting together drinking bourbon and holding hands and feeling very nervous. And then there was a lot of hugging and then I went up on stage and said some things. But I’m not entirely sure what, other than ‘thank you’ a lot.
Miller: You knew you were on the short list?
Pryde: Yeah, it was a shortlist of five.
Miller: Did you think you were going to win?
Pryde: I thought that Eitan or I were gonna win.
Miller: Okay, why is that? I feel like there was a 2% chance that a guest would answer that question in such an honest way, so I appreciate that. Why did you think you had such a good chance?
Pryde: You know? So I hate to use the word ‘disruptive’ because it is such a nonsense tech boy word. But Books With Pictures really came into the comics world looking to be a different kind of comic book store. Both in our stocking which is very focused on diverse product, it’s very book focused compared to a sort of traditional store. So lots of books with spines as opposed to books with staples. And really focusing on queer communities and creators of color and all of that. So really where we are now, 6.5 years into our life as a comic book store, I felt very confident that we were the best institution of our kind and less sure that we were a comic store for the purposes of this competition.
Miller: So this seems like this was a very conscious, both business and maybe moral, decision on your part six years ago to create a different kind of store. Can you give me a sense for what you didn’t want to be?
Pryde: I was talking to my friend Patrick Farley, who’s been in comics forever, before I opened. And I sat with him very seriously at a fancy dinner and I was ‘Patrick, I’m doing this, I’m opening the store. Can you tell me what it’s going to be?’ And he sort of made a face and he said ‘it’s not sticky’.
Miller: I don’t know what that means. Did you know?
Pryde: I kind of did. So there is, in some ways it’s showing a very low bar, this sort of mental image of comic book stores as dim and dirty and low ceilinged and sort of intense boys clubs for a particular sort of nerdy straight, usually white man to collect and carefully preserve their very important pop culture artifacts. And I don’t want to be any of those things. I’m a reader’s store. I’m a very feminist store. I’m a very queer store. I have a very explicit focus on bringing in diverse content and not just bringing in but focusing on and highlighting and celebrating content from creators of color, as well as celebrating our Portland’s local creative community, both the very famous ones and the ones who are still just coming up in the industry.
Because I really think the way we get better comics is by nurturing young and up and coming voices. So we do all of those things, but we don’t deal in collectibles. We don’t deal in very high value comic books. We don’t buy old collections. It’s just not where our product comes from. We focus on new work, we focus on up and coming work, we focus on independent work. So it’s a very different mood for what a comic book store is and it is disruptive.
Miller: So what does it mean to you and to be recognized at Comic-Con by the larger comics world? A world that, if I understand correctly, embraces everything you’ve just been talking about but has been known for a while to be probably more commercially focused on the world you didn’t want to cater to?
Pryde: You know, it’s a huge honor. It is validating in a way that I wish I didn’t want to be validated. But Dave, I do. I do want to make a small correction which is that it’s actually an international award. Of the last 10 winners, only 4 of them were in the United States.
Miller: I appreciate that correction. I did not realize that.
Pryde: So we were finalists in 2018 and we lost to a comic book store in Spain. After that it went to a store in Argentina. After that it went to a different store in Spain. So this really is a global award. This is the first time in maybe 20 years that there haven’t been international finalists. So yeah it’s a huge deal. And it really is an enormous honor.
Miller: Did you have anything like your store whether literally a store selling the kinds of work that you sell now or a space like the kind you have created and curated. Did you have anything like that when you were growing up?
Pryde: You know the closest thing I had was a little magical supplies and gem shop that was by my middle school where it smelled nice and they burned good incense and they had a spot in the back where they’d let me stop and do my homework after school. But it wasn’t a cultural immersion in the way that I feel like comic books and bookstores in general can be that sort of cultural immersion. But they were very lovely to a weird little 12 year old and I did need that.
Miller: What did these books mean to you when you were growing up?
Pryde: I actually came to comics late compared to a lot of lifetime fan people. So I found comics in high school, especially Neil Gaiman. The Sandman was my first love. Like deep love in comics was this story about the set of immortals and their relationships with each other and their relationships with the human world. This was absolutely consciousness shaping for me. Also there were other sort of darker comics mostly from Vertigo which was the D. C. sort of alternative line at the time. So Trans Metropolitan, I’m totally specifying my age here. But yeah, there was a set of comics in that moment that hit the part of me that wanted to be a little cooler and a little more alternative and a little more edgy than I necessarily was. But I worked at an independent bookstore when I was in high school as a clerk. And it was just as comics were starting to come out as books with spines on a regular basis. So I was able to get them there. And that was a big deal.
Miller: Have you seen a change over I don’t know, 10 to15 years in terms of the way elite institutions and gatekeepers and editors and media folks talk about comics and graphic novels?
Pryde: Yes. Absolutely. I think there’s some people in those institutions (I’m an ex academic) who have always known that comics are a really important art form and reflection of the culture. And there are some people who still refuse to get it. But in between when my children started elementary school, most of their teachers had a strict no graphic novels for free reading policy because it wasn’t reading reading. And those policies we’re starting to see go away in the course of my kids being in school.
Miller: I noted that you got this retailer award, an international one - I apologize again for that - at the same time that something like half a dozen of Portland’s comic artists and writers also got first place awards. Does the big concentration of internationally known comics artists in Portland, in not even that big a city, lead to more interest among comics readers and buyers?
Pryde: Yes, absolutely. I want to note that every single one of the Portland creators who won an Eisner award this year have done an event at my shop in the last year or three. So I think I’m the central factor and they should all thank me for their success. (chuckles) Yeah, there’s huge synergy here. The fact that comics creators can talk to each other and then be in a real friendly relationship with their fans definitely leads to an amazing community of readers here as well.
Miller: What are your hopes for the store going forward?
Pryde: What a good question. One of the goals that I have is to increase the work we do with schools and with libraries, especially school libraries. Places that serve youth comics are so hot in that space right now. And being able to have real expertise on what has come out, what is coming out, what’s appropriate for what age groups, what different and more representation for people of color on your library bookshelves. Let me tell you a lot of those are going to be graphic novels. So I’ve been doing that work especially with the David Douglas School District and I absolutely love being able to bring in those books and get them to schools and libraries. More of that would make me very happy. But in addition to that, I really just want to see more new faces in the door. We love introducing people to comic books and helping them fall in love with them.
Miller: Katie Pryde, congratulations and thanks for joining us. Katie Pride, the owner of Books With Pictures comic book and graphic novel store in Portland that, over the weekend, won an award for being the best store of its kind in the world.
Tomorrow on the show, the Oregon Occupational Safety and Health Administration or OSHA issued temporary rules last year to protect people who work outdoors from extreme heat and smoke. This spring, the agency made those rules permanent. We’re going to hear what difference the new rules are making for farm workers. Think Out loud is supported by Steve and Jan Oliver, The Rose R. Tucker Charitable Trust, Ray and Marilyn Johnson and the Susan Hammer Fund of the Oregon Community Foundation.
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