Portlander Katie Proctor is making a shift from comic book fangirl to retail entrepreneur.
This summer the design consultant and bike advocate is opening a new comics book store at Southeast 11th and Division, Books With Pictures, advertising a woman-friendly, all-ages environment. (By our count, this will be the third comics store to open in Portland over the past 18 months.)
To get the low-down, we met up near the storefront where Proctor just signed a lease.
Q&A with Katie Proctor
April Baer: So what is this thing you're building?
Katie Proctor: We are going to be a comic book store. We are focused on diverse comics, but we'll carry pretty much anything across the board. We will definitely be a woman-friendly comic book store, although in the world of comic book stores, I feel the bar is reasonably low. Our intention is to be very new-reader friendly and very much in tune with and focused on what's going on with female creators and female representation.
April Baer: When did you pick up comic books?
Katie Proctor: I started reading comics, outside of the funny papers, as a young adolescent when I stole my mom's copy of Neil Gaiman's "Sandman" comics, thinking they were pornography. They were not pornography. They were fantastic and captivating anyway. And so I really got my start reading those. When I went to graduate school, my grad school supervisor, in addition to being an amazingly talented historian of physics, was very into comic books and gave a really great lecture on superheroes in his "History of Physics" class, which tuned me back into those stories. Then after becoming a parent, I started tuning back very deep into comic books.
April Baer: Why did you decide to do this?
Katie Proctor: I feel like the most important thing that I want to contribute to comics retail is a space that eliminates that barrier to entry, of being good enough or authentic enough of a fan, that you will not feel embarrassed picking out a comic book; that there is no sense that you're going to pick out the wrong thing, that you're going to start in the wrong place. The other thing that I think is really important [is] as a parent of young children, I know what it feels like to be in retail spaces with young children. We are going to have a great kid section in the store. We are going to be the kind of place where you'd want to take your kid.
April Baer: What are some of the things one sometimes encounters in comic book stores that you would not do in Books With Pictures?
Katie Proctor: In order to become a person who enthusiastically goes into comic book shops – which I am now – I had to grow a very rigorous set of blinders for things that I just chose not to see. There is probably art on the walls that offends me as a feminist. There are probably jokes being cracked that are not things I find funny. A great deal of what is featured, just in terms of books, doesn't feel funny. But as soon as I learned to have those blinders, when I walk into a comic book shop there are things that I want that are there. And if I choose to see those first, I feel at home. And what I really want to do is to create a space where the inventory is probably going to be reasonably similar to what's in the shops, but the emphasis is going to be different, and the display is going to be different. I do not believe there are comic books that women don't read. Women read everything on the market, even the stuff I find to be misogynist, even the stuff that makes me very angry. It's not like there's a universal woman's taste. I love comic book stores.
April Baer: Who do you envision coming into the store?
Katie Proctor: Our primary target market is women age 18 to 50 and children 4 and up. I think that the shop will also be very welcoming to men who have read comics all their lives. It will also be very welcoming to men who have never picked up a comic book before.
April Baer: Products printed on dead trees carry a stigma right now, but they're hard to sell. What's it like to enter and industry with a narrative of having a tight profit margin?
Katie Proctor: You know, the comics industry is growing right now — the print side of the comic book industry is growing. I feel that the things that are happening in digital comics are really exciting. I think the more people steal comic books on the Internet, the more people are going to walk into my doors. I'm also incredibly excited about the Marvel movies. I think they're doing great things for creating new comics readers. And the Marvel TV shows and things on Netflix and all of that. I think it's a great time to be going into comic books. And I think that there are a lot of potential readers who don't feel welcomed by the comic book space right now, who are just waiting to be invited in.