Location: Portland, Oregon
Owner: Katie Pryde
Background: Been in business 5 years this past May/June.
KRISTEN: How long have you been into comics? How long has your store been in business?
KATIE: I wasn’t a little kid comics reader. I had a few comics that were around in my house. My town didn’t have a comic shop that was kid friendly. My first comic that I was pretty serious about was Sandman because I was that sort of goth teen. My mom actually had a few trades of Sandman sort of right when it was finishing up squirreled away in her library that I was used to raiding for adult content. While raiding my mom’s library for adult content, I found Sandman and snuck read them. But, I worked in a bookstore at the time, and it was the 90s. It was that sort of period where trades were starting to be a thing. My bookstore had one staff member who was really serious about comics and was always negotiating with the owner about whether we were going to have a diamond account or not or single issues in the store or not. It was an independent bookstore. In college, I found other Vertigo stuff, TransMetropolitan was super duper my jam. And also again with the adult content, it was a time, Colleen Coover’s Small Favors, was like super important to me in the 00s, which is a smutty lesbian comic…I still love it. Although Colleen is now a friend and the first time I met her in person I about died and said “Like your porn is a big deal for me!” I got over it. She does a lot of children’s content now too which I find hilarious.
It was always off and on. The times in my life when comics were very available to me, I read comics. When it was harder…when I was in college there wasn’t a comic book store that felt welcoming or nice so I pretty much read the comics that were in the library and then decided to spend my nerd time on other things. Likewise when I was in grad school, I didn’t have a comic book home until I moved to Portland.
I have a second store in Eugene, which is where I went to college, and so it felt very good to put a store there in that was the kind of store I wanted when I was in college but didn’t have. But Andrea is the majority owner and the brains of that operation. She’s brilliant.
KRISTEN: What kind of items does your store carry? Just comics or a little bit of everything?
KATIE: So the product mix is pretty much 70% graphic novel, 25% single issue new comics, 5% merch. We have a substantial kid’s section, about 1/3 of what we do is kids books and middle grade. We don’t have a huge back issue section but we have a curated back issue section; they are all priced at $3. Some academic studies and some art books.
KRISTEN: Do you carry indie comics? If you do, which ones?
KATIE: There’s a large corner for zines, and self-published stuff, and very small presses. We regularly place orders with 20-25 comics publishers. One of my favorites is Vault Comics – genre specific. But in terms of comics outside of the big two or big three, we have Oni, Titan, or Ahoy, some of these smaller presses that are coming out, we just consider them part of our comics collection. Lots of self-published and smaller press stuff.
KRISTEN: What is something special about your shop that you want people to know?
KATIE: It’s gay; we carry all sorts of comics, but we do have a special focus on if a new queer character is coming out or if a queer content creator has a new project we have a special eye on making sure we have those, that we are aware of those. A specialty I didn’t expect to have is affirming books for queer kids and teens and their parents so when a kid is figuring out their gender stuff we will be a place where they can come in and find books about kids like them. We also more broadly try to be very aware of race representation on our shelves, make sure we are being supportive of black creators especially if they are working in smaller presses. We make sure we have those on the shelves and books with disabled characters. And it is important that women feel comfortable buying their first graphic novel without feeling like they have to pass a nerd test. It is part of the reason why we have a substantial kid’s section is that because women are disproportionately responsible for caring for children it was important to me to have a kids section that you could bring your kid to so that you could also do your shopping for yourself. So lots of entry-level stuff and lots of work around representation.
KRISTEN: If you were stuck on a deserted island, what is the one comic or graphic novel (single issue or omnibus) that you would want to have with you?
KATIE: So I actually know this! This has been a firm answer for a while now and it is either one probably the second one of the big Love and Rockets locus hardcover, the Maggie and Hopey stories collections. They are big omnibuses. His work is comfort to me. Second choice is Matt Fraction’s Hawkeye Omnibus.
KRISTEN: Who is your favorite superhero and why?
KATIE: Kitty Pryde from the X-Men her earnest do-gooder-ism and her sort of need to fix things and her sense of sincerity in monologues will get her there have always been very appealing to me. But honestly there is a pretty long list of favorite superheroes. I am also very very into Singularity who is a Marvel Pocket Universe teenager who first showed up in the Secret Wars spin-off A-Force, and I would like to see more of her, please, Marvel if you’re listening. Very fond of Kate Pryde, very fond of the X-Men, very fond of Hawkeye.
KRISTEN: Favorite customers, favorite moments, favorite events?
KATIE: Some of my customers have become friends. We’ve had costume party events; a 1950s themed launch party for Mark Russel’s Snaggle Puss Chronicles. Everybody looked so good and it’s such a good tragic pink cat book. My first customer who became a friend was Jamie; Jamie literally walked into the shop while I was doing my first inventory of the books on the shelf; we weren’t open yet. I still had paper on my windows. But, I hadn’t locked the door so this guy sticks his head in and was like “what are you doing in here?” and I said “It’s gonna be a comic store.” He said “but my whole life is comics!” and he was not lying. He was a giant comic book fan who just happened to be walking to work and stuck his head in my door. And he was like “I’ve got a light day. Can I come back and help you out?” And I said “I would love that.” So, random stranger man goes in and does his hour worth of work and then comes back and we are talking. We get to know each other; one thing I learned about Jaime is his wife is REALLY pregnant. Like REALLY PREGNANT. And, the week that I was opening Jamie was in buying books at my register and he looks down at his phone and his whole face goes white and he says “I’ve got to go.” And he runs away for the birth of his child.
KRISTEN: Was it hard to open the shop?
KATIE: Yes. Comics is a weird industry; there are lots of ins and outs of it. And there is also the degree to which there is always something. For example, we had a flood while we were in the middle of building out the store, and you know it’s whatever. Things break. It’s expensive, so there was a lot of money stress, especially the first two years. Not bringing enough in to pay the bills and taking out dubious loans because the good loans weren’t available to me. But we also had an amazing supportive community where there are work parties where 20 people show up and all build the Ikea shelves together so there is not just me sitting and building Ikea shelves for hours. There was my spouse and my kids and all these other people who were there to help me out. In Books with Picture's first location there were just these long walls; it was like a tunnel shape. The store was 18 feet wide and, like, 64 feet long, so it was this subway tunnel of a room. So the walls were just huge and monotonous and my friend Mya was helping me paint LATE at night. That night the roof failed and so I have this very clear memory of having been painting with her until about midnight and then this rainstorm started at like 2 am. By the time I got there the next morning all of that paint we had painted had washed off the wall and onto the floor. And I post in dripping despair on my Facebook that the shop is full of water, and my other buddy Mark shows up with like 6 buckets and a dehumidifier. And he’s like “Hi! I’m here for you!” Throughout all of the last 5 ½ years that community piece is absolutely crucial to my absolute sanity and survival. Even before we opened, I went on this road trip. I had three weeks between my old job and getting the keys to the store. I had a wedding to officiate in the bay area and a family reunion in San Diego so we road-tripped it, me, my ex, and our two kids who were 5 and 6 at the time. We got into our station wagon with our tent and we drove from here to California and we stopped at as many comic book shops as I could get an invitation to. People were so generous with me with their time; people opened up their books and were like let me show you where I make money and where I don’t. People opened up their subscription systems and were like let me show you how I keep track of who needs to buy what books every month. People showed me what bags they were ordering and their filing systems and I think it wound up being 22-23 comic shops on that tour. All various lengths of interview. The owners made time to sit down with me and talk about running a comic shop. And it was like this crash course so by the time I came back I felt like I knew what I was doing. And the comic shop owner community is pretty tight. You know I sort of live in group chat these days. I always have two or three group chats of like-minded comics owners complaining about this or that. That kind of community is really important for sanity.
KRISTEN: How has covid affected Books with Pictures?
KATIE: We were closed entirely for about two months, and for that period I was taking orders online and I was doing curbside/door pickup. Or delivery, and I was my own delivery driver. And for a while there that was 2-3 hours a day that I was driving. Continued that through the holidays and did a lot of gift deliveries which is incredibly heartwarming and lovely. There were a lot of pivots getting the online system up and running and figuring out the hiccups of that. We are much better at shipping than we were 2 years ago. Like, MUCH better at shipping. So it was scary. We got the federal support, so we got paycheck protection, money that wound up being forgiven because it was entirely spent on payroll, and we got a small business loan. That has been incredibly useful for things like building up stock. Ultimately though with that community support, with those loans and grants from the government, and with people really coming out to have our backs I was able to pay all of the staff their full payroll, even while they were home. So nobody missed a paycheck, at all, even when we were closed. I was able to keep on the entire staff. And the only staff member that we did end up losing was Sierra Miller who left because she had too many contracts to create her own books and didn’t have time for her retail job anymore which is a great reason to lose a staff member. Her latest book Mason Mooney 2 just came out last week and we threw a launch party for her. And, at the end of the year, last year, we came out with 2-3% growth year; not huge, not the growth year I would LIKE to have year over year, but for a year with a global pandemic in it, pretty stinking good honestly. It’s been hard but we’ve pulled through.
KRISTEN: Sometimes it is difficult for females who want to get into comics or the nerd industry in general to do that. My question is what advice would you have for females who want to have a career in the comic industry?
KATIE: The first thing really, if you can, is to build a community of other women. I think one of the most vulnerable things a woman can be in this industry is eager to do the work and without a community of people to keep her out of trouble. Because this industry has a lot of whisper networks and a lot of missing stairs. People who are problematic or dangerous to work with who just keep getting jobs and the way you know not to work with them is because some girlfriend says “hey don’t work with that guy.” And, if you don’t have that community it is so easy to get stuck in a situation that is toxic or bad or demoralizing, or dangerous and then too often if you don’t have community the response to being in that bad situation is shame and embarrassment and silence because you are afraid that this was your one way in and this is the only person you know and it turns out that they’re awful. SO I think building that community and finding those kindred spirits who will have your back, who can help you navigate the incredibly obscure, excessively difficult structures of getting work in this industry. I think that’s really key. Make sure you have people you trust and make sure some of those people are women. I do think one of the very frustrating things around abusers and grooming and all of that stuff is that a lot of those bad behaviors, people are very good at only showing to the people they intend to victimize and being absolutely fantastic friends to everyone else in their lives. If all of your friends in the industry are men, which is really easy to do because there are a lot of men in this industry, they may all tell you this person that is driving you out of your mind with their gaslighting toxic bullshit is fine because “they have always been nice to me” because they have. Community and making sure you have your people and finding the ways to make those relationships, both because that’s how people find jobs and because that’s how people stay safe. Or safer.
The best time to visit is weekday mornings around 10 am and after 5 pm; that’s when the store is calm. You can find Books with Pictures at 1401 SE Division St. Portland, OR 97202 or online at bookswithpictures.com.
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