Pop-up comic shop specializing in LGBT literary representation

Once a month, Amara Vear inspects the collection of books and comics displayed in the two shelves that dominate their office. They pack the books into 12 to 15 bank boxes and load them into their car with three tables and several racks. Then they went to the Bridge Community Café in Ypsilanti to set up their pop-up shop, Queer Comics Peddler.

Queer Comics Peddler sells LGBTQA+ books, comics, and zines. He returns monthly on the third Saturday at the Bridge Community Café from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. With the help of their two friends, Vear also takes the pop-up to several Pride Month events across the state.

Vear founded the company in 2018 after gaining confidence and organizational skills through his role as chair of Spectrum, one of Michigan State University’s LGBT caucuses.

“I also had a lot of love for comics when I was younger and it seems many of the cartoonists I’ve followed have since come out as LGBT and are doing the representation we were all looking for when we were kids” , Vear said.

Vear said after the 2016 election there was “a lot of emotional exhaustion and fear, especially in the queer community.” They hope the LGBT representation of the comics will raise awareness in the community.

“I hope, basically, that the stories that come out will make people a little more empathetic and also a little more optimistic about the future,” Vear said.

Although some people assume that comics aren’t solid literary material, Vear disagrees. They said reading comics allows people to relate visual and textual information. They also appreciate how easily comics can be consumed, especially for people too busy to read long novels.

“I find that’s a really big plus in a world where I think we’re kind of bombarded with things to fill our time and take our time, so it makes it easier for people to access those stories and to accept them,” Vear said.

“This little kid was very prepared, (saying) ‘What can I do to help support my friend? ‘” Vear said. “I found that to be just comforting.”

Then, Queer Comics Peddler will be present at the Grand Rapids Pride Festival on June 18 and at the South Lyon Pride Festival on July 9.

When he shows up at pride events or the cafe, Vear asks customers if they’d like to browse or if they’d like “the tour.” The store is divided according to age and interest or type of story. There is a section for 0-8 year olds with hardbacks and children’s books. The middle school section has coming-of-age and fantasy material. The teenage section is similar with sci-fi scattered throughout. Adult comics can be found on the higher shelves in the “adults only” section.

Vear also recommends books that meet people’s interests. Clients can vary from parents eager to know the identity of their children, to elderly people, or children delighted to see a depiction of them and their friends in literature.

“If you’re a newly transitioned parent and want to find something to help explain this to your kids, I can provide children’s books that do that,” Vear said. “Perhaps you are an older gay man and looking for something that reflects your experiences, I can connect to that too.”

Vear chooses its products through book distributors, recommendations, direct orders from cartoonists, and library books they’ve enjoyed. They do about 30 sales at the Bridge Community Café and about 80-100 sales at pride events.

“(My shop is) an entire bookstore that has the kind of representation that’s hard to find in many libraries or many bookstores that aren’t specific to that,” Vear said.

Vear said children and parents would often approach them with stories during the pop-up. A college girl once came to Vear and said she was thrilled to find stories that had transgender representation because their friend at school is transgender.

“This little kid was very prepared, (saying) ‘What can I do to help support my friend? ‘” Vear said. “I found that to be just comforting.”

When Vear was younger, they identified as questioners and were unsure of their place in the queer community. Their friend revealed to them that he was transgender after reading a book called “Luna” which helped validate their experience. It was then that Vear realized the power that LGBT representation could have in the books.

“I just saw the growth that happened and the confidence they gained when (my friend) realized, ‘Oh, there’s a place for me in this world,'” Vear said.

Vear hopes that after reading their comics, people will want to create their own stories and realize that they are not alone.

“I feel like the community has so much diversity and a purpose to support each other,” Vear said. “By having stories that connect us, we can bring about these kinds of changes in society. By having stories that allow others to understand us, it will facilitate communication.

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Daniel K. Denny