If you’ve been a nerd for some time, chances are you’ve heard a story of a woman walking into a comic store and being made to feel uncomfortable or out-of-place. (Or that story is yours.) Maybe you’re a queer person looking for game experiences and comics that include people like you, stories you can relate to. Possibly you just want to go somewhere and feel included in your game experience, as someone who fits outside the traditional white male audience for gaming.

The good news is that comic and game stores are changing. There’s a whole host of minority-based and inclusivity-focused fandom groups in town to help you have a safe and fun experience. Seattle, as a geek hub, has a number of stores with inclusive policies and diversity efforts which cater to a more expansive fan population. One of the latest and greatest examples of this is Phoenix Comics and Games on Capitol Hill.

I have a personal connection with Phoenix. As one of the founders of Queer Geek! Seattle, I was looking for a venue to host a monthly meetup for board games among our LGBTQ members. Nick Nazar, Phoenix’s owner, was gracious enough to offer us space on a regular basis. Since then, we’ve hosted other events at Phoenix, a biweekly Ladies Board Game Night and a monthly queer Magic: the Gathering night. Recently, I was struck by a piece highlighting Phoenix Comics and Games on the Wizards of the Coast blog, and I wanted to follow-up with Nick to explore his methodology behind the store and his approach.

“It’s been a dream to start a comic book store since I was a kid,” he explained. “I grew up in Austin, which had a really great comic and gaming scene, and one store in particular, Dragon’s Lair, stood out. I wound up working for them for about 5 years post-high school through college and really grew to love the experience. In fact, about halfway through college I ended up changing my major from Biology to Economics just to focus on one day opening a shop of my own.”

“After college, I moved up here to Seattle and got an entry-level position with FedEx Office,” he added. “After working my way up their ranks to store manager at one of their Everett locations for a year, I got started to work on putting the plan together for the store.”

Member of Queer Geek! Seattle enjoy a monthly gaming meet up. Photo by Robert Roth/Jetspace Magazine.

Member of Queer Geek! Seattle enjoy a monthly gaming meet up. Photo by Robert Roth/Jetspace Magazine.

Diversity has always been part of Nick’s plan for Phoenix.

“As a gay man, I would say that diversity most definitely plays a large role in our decisions at the store when it comes to hosting groups and events,” he indicated. “It’s not enough to have a clean, open, and welcoming shop. You have to make sure that everyone feels like they can be here, relax and enjoy something that they want, be it board games, card games or comics, without worrying that someone’s going to make them feel uncomfortable because of their gender, preference, religion, size, shape, or other.”

Has his diversity approach had ever caused him any problems with his customer base?

“I’ve never had an explicit problem, no,” Nick stated. “I think I might have had a couple of hecklers sometimes on a Friday night, but it’s no worse than what you might get at any venue on Broadway at night. Diversity has been extremely good for our business. I don’t think we would have done as well as quickly without the support of the diverse communities within Capitol Hill and Seattle proper.”

In addition to his work with Queer Geek, Phoenix also hosts several other groups who host events. The Seattle Ladies Comic Book Club hosts comic book discussion groups. The Seattle Story Games group hosts weekly story based RPG meetups. And there are multiple nights a week for Magic: the Gathering tournaments.

I wondered if Nick had any recommendations for LGBTQ comic readers that might be new to the hobby.

“I’d say definitely look for books by Northwest Press, a local publisher that does a lot of LGBTQ specific content, and Prism Comics for starters,” he noted. “For more mainstream-yet-queer-friendly books, try Image Comics’ Shutter, Bitch Planet, Saga and The Wicked and the Divine (which is a staff favorite). For DC, try Midnighter, Grayson and Wonder Woman Earth One, and for Marvel, give Runaways, Young Avengers and Ms. Marvel a try.”

He emphasized that while Ms. Marvel didn’t have any main LGBTQ characters, Kamala Khan is an amazing character, and the writer, G. Willow Wilson is a friend of the shop and Capitol Hill resident. I’ll add that Ms. Marvel is specifically notable in having a Muslim character headlining a mainstream comic title.

What’s next for Phoenix Comics and Games, then?

“Right at this moment, we’re about halfway through our initial lease,” he pointed out. “I’d love to stay on Broadway if we can, but that has a lot to do with how the store’s grown by then. Ideally I’d love to get a little bit bigger, with enough gaming space that we can run two decently large (24-32 people) sized events and still feel like we have a roomy and comfortable space.”

“I’ve been looking at similar venues here and in Portland,” Nick added, “and it seems like it’s long past time for us to get a permit for serving bottled beer and hard cider. That’s my current project, along with updating our website to have more of our inventory online.”

If you haven’t been by Phoenix Comics and Games yet, stop by. It’s friendly to everyone from hardcore comic readers and gamers to people brand new to the hobby. And check out their event page to see what’s coming up. It’s already been a busy month at the store and there’s plenty more to come!