As a young girl, I admired the strong female role models in my life. My great-grandmother, a Mexican immigrant who ran the household independently while her husband, my great-grandfather, expanded the Santa Fe railroad. My maternal grandmother who shared stories of embracing her entrepreneurial spirit as a tavern owner and later owner of a domestic housekeeping service. My mother, a teen mom who worked hard to provide for her family, determined to complete an Associates degree despite being a wife, a parent, and a full-time employee. Through my young eyes, there was no doubt that women were smart, strong, and independent forces that left a list of accomplishments in their wake.

Throughout my professional career, I have embraced the idea of the “strong woman,” consciously choosing to work for organizations that provide gender specific services. I’ve advocated for female survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault, provided structured and positive after-school programming for at-risk girls, supported homeless women in their journey back to self-sufficiency and, most recently, mentored young girls involved in the juvenile justice system to help lower their instance of recidivism. In each of these jobs, my message to the women I supported never wavered, “As a woman, you kick butt! You are strong and unstoppable!”

Naturally, at the end of 2014, when my husband and I became part-owners of Hi De Ho Comics, I began to learn all about female comic characters that were strong, unstoppable and kicking butt left and right. I was gleeful over the fact that there were so many strong female characters out there for young girls and women to read all about. Whether it’s Ms. Marvel going on an Avenger mission, Princess Adrienne rescuing her sisters in Princeless or a group of mob wives taking over their husband’s business after they’ve been imprisoned in The Kitchen, I was amazed at the compelling storylines given to female characters in comics. And the number of female creators I encountered was also impressive. Women working in an industry that has been decidedly male dominated for many years were making names for themselves by creating amazing stories and art. But what about the other side of the comic industry? The retailer? The side that I had just become a part of?

As a “comic geek’s” wife, I had ventured alone into comics shops multiple times in search of a birthday or holiday gift over the years. And multiple times I was ignored, patronized and once, downright ridiculed as a female customer. I never spent my money in those shops. With that experience under my belt, I wanted to be sure that our shop was one that welcomed and encouraged women and girls to read comics.

Women are the fastest growing demographic of comic book readers comprising close to 50 percent of readership. Yes, that’s right! Half of the pocketbooks walking into any comic shop are owned by women. And the number of women behind the counter is growing as well. Hi De Ho Comics employs myself and another young woman giving us the opportunity to dispel the myth that “girls don’t know about comics.” In addition, we are both members of The Valkyries, a group founded by comic shop employee and comic creator Kate Leth, that gives women working behind the counter as either employees, volunteers or owners of comic shops an opportunity to not only support each other in the day to day machination of running a comic shop but also whose collective voice is respected and sought out by publishers, creators and comic fans alike.

Started in 2013,The Valkyries has recruited 554 women who work in comic shops worldwide. The group also welcomes trans, gender-queer and non-binary members. With sexism and discrimination still an issue in geek culture, The Valkyries have band together to proudly own their place in the comic industry as women who know comics and also know the comic retail industry. And the industry has taken note. It is not uncommon to see a panel comprised of Valkyries at your local Con or hear of a publisher or creator who has solicited the Valkyries support for an upcoming comic release.

In Norse mythology, a valkyrie is a female figure who chooses who may die in battle and who may live selecting those who’ve died for an after-life in Valhalla. They are the strong, unstoppable women of legend kicking butt. I imagine my great-grandmother and grandmother, who have both passed on, who instilled in me my strong female independence, to be raising their steins of mead with pride of the fierce woman I’ve become and in honor of all of the strong women who stand with me.

– By Kristen Parraz