When Annie Bulloch, one-third owner of 8th Dimension started going out to buy comics while living in Austin it was usually the same.
"You walk in," she says, "And everyone's perfectly polite, you know. But the questions always come. 'Are you looking for something for your boyfriend?' That sort of thing. There was always a sense that women wanting to be involved with comics was weird, and a little unwelcome."
She found a friendlier store while in Austin, and then years later opened her own store. From the very first day they were open, she and her husband Jeremy Bulloch and their partner James Carlson were dedicated to trying to reach out to women comic fans and make it known that their trade was welcome and encouraged.
Saturday was the fourth Ladies Night event at 8th Dimension. Going past close, each one has drawn a progressively larger audience (Minus one night when they neglected to notice it coincided with the opening weekend of the Texas Renaissance Festival). It's not unusual for them to pack the store with more than 100 people, with women and girls vying for spots at the gaming tables, browsing the merchandise, and having animated conversations in the aisle.
Geek culture has a somewhat nasty reputation for being at best unwelcoming to female fans and at worst outright hostile. The recent GamerGate fiasco against video game designer Zoe Quinn where she received a dedicated harassment campaign after a bitter ex-boyfriend accused her of sleeping with journalist for reviews online is just one example.
Others are even more disturbing. Recently Jen Williams took to social media claiming that she had been fired after complaining that her manager at Harrison Comics in Salem, Massachusetts had referred to a room in the store as a "rape room". The store owner released a statement with a conflicting account, and attempts are still being made to sort out the truth.
Another female comic fan relayed to me on Facebook...
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I live 13 minutes from a comic book shop. Instead, I pay shipping to have comics sent to me in Texas from a shop in Oregon, because the last time I was in the local shop, the owner told me he'd "seriously consider raping me" if I hadn't been in there with my then-boyfriend.
"No one should ever have to feel like they're brave for going to a comic shop," said Bulloch. "It shouldn't be like that. I like to like things, and it makes me happy to see people around me liking things, too. That's pretty much what all this is."
Bulloch gestured around the rapidly filling store. There were cos-players in abundance, everyone from a female Green Arrow to an elementary school Wonder Woman. One of their female dungeon masters was explaining the regular Dungeons & Dragons encounters that happen on Wednesdays, where seeing dads with their daughters is a common sight. Of to the side were two women with Dancing Dog Dairy, vendors using goats milk to craft geek-themed artisan soaps. Their Doctor Who was a big seller, representing the lives of the Ninth through the Twelfth Doctors in a multi-layer bar of citrus, sandalwood, and other ingredients.
"It's good for business," said Bulloch. "Ladies Night lets a bigger group of people know we want them here. There's still this outcast mentality. Men who bullied, or say they were bullied for liking comics and feel it's time to turn the tables on others. Hopefully if we keep doing this sort of thing in 20 years it won't even be necessary and no one will even be able to imagine that it was ever any other way.