The Dragon Garners International Acclaim

Matthew LafontaineDowntown Guelph

Downtown Guelph has an abundance of wonderful small shops that draw their share of loyal, repeat customers. Each business has its own strategy and offerings that make them unique among their downtown competition. The Dragon, famous for its comics and games, is no exception. But recently, owner Jenn Haines and her team distinguished themselves from their global competition as well.

At the 2012 Comic-Con International convention in San Diego, CA, The Dragon won the 2012 Will Eisner Spirit of Comics Retailer Award, becoming one of only 30 comic book stores worldwide to have received the honour. Coupled with their involvement in the local community through their many charitable endeavours, The Dragon is a model retailer Downtown Guelph is lucky to have. Check out the full article on their award from Saturday’s Mercury below.

Congratulations Jenn and team, the Downtown community is beaming. Stop by Old Quebec Street mall and pay The Dragon a visit today!

It’s Super Retailer!

Barbara Aggerholm, Guelph Mercury (Saturday, September 1, 2012)

GUELPH — If Jennifer Haines could be a superhero, she’d be Caitlin Fairchild, leader of the comic book superhero team, Gen13.

Haines, owner of The Dragon, a comic book and graphic novel store in downtown Guelph, admires Fairchild’s combination of intelligence and muscle.

“She was supersmart and then became involved in an experiment that gave her superstrength, but still remained supersmart,” Haines says. “I picked her because it’s great to see a strong and supersmart female superhero character, who is also an excellent leader.”

It’s not a stretch to imagine Haines, 37, with all those qualities. Just recently, The Dragon won the 2012 Will Eisner Spirit of Comics Retailer Award, a prize that has been dubbed the Oscars of the comic book industry.

Announced at a major U.S. comic book convention called San Diego Comic-Con International, the award is being shared with a comic book store in Madrid.

Only 30 stores in the world have received the prize over the past 20 years and it’s the first time that a store founded and solely owned by a woman has been recognized, Haines says.

The award is no small achievement in the world of comic books and graphic novels, which, particularly in the past, has not been the friendliest place for women. And historically, female superheroes have been portrayed as scantily-clad heroines with chests the size of Manhattan.

But Haines is a force to be reckoned with. Her “women friendly” store has more female customers than most comic book stores, she says. At the same time, female comic book heroes are gaining ground with more realistic portrayals as strong, smart, independent protagonists.

Haines has accomplished a superhuman amount of work since she started the store in 1998. Back then she was 23, newly graduated from the University of Guelph and “just crazy enough to do it” with a loan from the bank.

Over the last 14 years, she has also obtained a master’s degree in classical studies and classical languages, became a certified teacher and taught at a private school.

She sits on the board of Comic Legends Legal Defense Fund, which protects the free speech rights of comic creators and others. And she’s a champion of literacy, developing a program and a website ( END) to help teachers use comics to boost vocabulary and reading among students.

And she’s the mother of 10-month-old Junia, a baby girl whose Roman name suggests “a defender of democracy and justice who’s not afraid to stand up for what she believes,” says Haines.

The Will Eisner Award acknowledges The Dragon’s diverse inventory and the knowledge that Haines, store manager Amy Chop and three other staff members bring to comics and graphic novels, their community activities and business practices.

Located in the Old Quebec Street Shoppes mall at 55 Wyndham St. N., The Dragon is brightly lit and packed with bookcases full of comics and graphic novels; each genre clearly labelled. The store carries about 10,000 titles, Haines says.

Haines says she and the staff look for “quality messages” and entertainment value in children’s books. They weed out those with profanity, social negativity or a high level of violence. For older readers, the store isn’t just about superheroes. There are sections devoted to Manga, self-published comics, romance, non-fiction, historical fiction, TV and movies and many more subjects.

If a comic book uses questionable language in its title, a flap is placed over the title in a nod to the store’s younger customers. Haines doesn’t carry “inappropriate” comics — those with hypersexual content, for example — and will order them only on request.

The Walking Dead, a series about survivors of a zombie apocalypse, is especially popular. Swallow Me Whole addresses schizophrenia. Fun Home deals with sexual orientation. Tangles is about Alzheimer’s disease.

The store also sells games, including Magic, War Machine and Pokemon, as well as comics-related merchandise. Tables are set up for games that take place in the store throughout the week. It also organizes games off-site and sponsors events in the community.

The Dragon donates to public library reading programs and all membership fees go to Plan Canada’s child rights project in Colombia.

For customers like Ryan Pink, 26, of Guelph, The Dragon feels like home.

“I love this store,” says Pink, who was picking up the most recent copies of Batman, Batwoman, Batgirl and Catwoman. “This is my space. This is my people,” he says, smiling.

Pink got into comic books about five years ago.

“I’m a self-identified nerd. I own it.” The label means: “like what you like and don’t be apologetic for it,” he says.

Collecting comic books “is known as nerd culture, but it’s getting more mainstream,” Haines says. “It’s a lot cooler than ever before.”

On a day last week, Laleh Hatefi and her 10-year-old son, Jordan Emmerson, were treating themselves to a visit to the store.

Hatefi likes comics with female superheroes like Batgirl, Batwoman and Black Widow. Her son likes Ghost Rider.

“I like comics because they’re short and easy to read,” Jordan says.

Growing up in Oakville, Haines started reading comics in high school. She was a good reader and in Grade 6, she read J.R.R. Tolkien’s Return of the King in one day.

But she liked the “starry-eyed idealism” and black-and-white world of superhero comics.

“It gives you hope that there might be someone fighting injustice,” she says.

It was a good feeling for a student who was picked on a lot in her small, all-girls private school. Haines wasn’t interested in fashion or boys then and she wasn’t good at expressing herself, she says. She liked classical music and Latin class, and she liked to write. She wrote a fantasy novel involving a girl on a quest who learns to believe in herself.

“It was my way to get through what was going on with me in high school . . . She (the girl) recognizes she can do anything.”

Today, Haines is that girl.

“When you’re 23 and you open a store, there’s a certain confidence there,” she says. “I have that recognition I’m that girl I set out to create.”