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How Betty’s Books celebrates inclusivity during Free Comic Book Day

Betty Bayer (left) is the owner of Betty's Books. Alain McAlister is an artist and illustrator.
Miya Norfleet
St. Louis Public Radio
Betty Bayer, left, owns Betty's Books. Alain McAlister is an artist and illustrator.

Free Comic Book Day has encouraged readers to pick up a new comic and graphic novel since 2002. The event is observed on the first Saturday of May and draws crowds across the country to local comic book shops where fans anticipate exclusive editions of their favorite comic books.

Betty’s Books in Webster Groves is handing out a limited publication that’s unique to St. Louis — a community-backed “zine” featuring local professional and amateur storytellers.

Betty Bayer opened Betty’s Books to sell illustrated literature like comic books, graphic novels and children’s books for all ages. For the last three years, she’s curated and produced a zine to celebrate comic books and the community that she’s fostered at her store. Along with stocking titles for graphic novel fans, Betty’s Books makes space for people who are typically not embraced by the mainstream comic book industry: people of color, members of the LGBTQ community, women and children.

"In Orbit" features one-page comics from Cydney Cherepak (left) and Mel Stringer.
"In Orbit" features one-page comics from Cydney Cherepak, left, and Mel Stringer.

Bayer told St. Louis on the Air she reserves a few pages for young creators so their voices are heard. “I've seen how wonderful it is for young people to have their work taken seriously and to be able to interact with these more established creators. I saw a really great conversation between an established creator and a young person about what types of pens they use,” Bayer said. “They were having this big dialogue about it. That experience is something really special, and I'm happy to facilitate.”

Illustrator Alain McAlister appreciates making room for youth in comics. They started making comics as a preteen and found inspiration in mangas like Sailor Moon. McAlister, who works as a bookseller at Betty’s Books, is also a professional artist and likes to address questions and misconceptions about illustrated storytelling.

“[The myth] is just assuming comics are for younger readers only. So it's proving that comics are a valid and beautiful art form. And then on top of that, just trying to make people curious enough to try it,” McAlister said. “There are different genres of comics. There's nonfiction, there's fiction, there's poetry, there's so many beautiful diversities in comics.”

For more about Betty’s Books Community Zine, including its two degrees of separation from movie star Keanu Reeves, reflections from two preteen contributors and the zine’s “out of this world” theme, listen to St. Louis on the Air on Apple Podcast, Spotify or by clicking the play button below.

How Betty’s Books celebrates inclusivity during Free Comic Book Day

Related Event

What: Betty’s Books Free Comic Book Day
When: May 4
Where: Betty’s Books (10 Summit Ave., Webster Groves, MO 63119)

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is produced by Ulaa Kuziez, Miya Norfleet, Emily Woodbury, Danny Wicentowski, Elaine Cha and Alex Heuer. Roshae Hemmings is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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Miya is a producer for "St. Louis on the Air."