Jessica LeBlanc spends her days selling comic books and game supplies at Jester's Playhouse in Northfield.

So, what does she do for fun?

Earlier this month she headed out to Illinois to attend the Gen Con gaming convention in Indianapolis, spending a couple of days learning about what's new in gaming.

While she was there, LeBlanc, 21, noticed there were a fair number of women mixed in among the hordes of fanboys flipping through stacks of comics.

"In the last couple of years, I've been talking to a lot more women that are into it. There were a lot of women dressed in anime costumes. I think the women are feeling more comfortable," the Galloway Township woman said.

The cliche of a bunch of dateless geeky boys and men being the only ones to attend comic book conventions or spend their days engaged in role-playing games is out of date.

More and more women are proudly letting their devotion to specific TV shows, movies, comics and games shine. The growing visibility of these fangirls is altering the pop culture landscape.

Comic-Con International 2010, the largest comic book and popular arts convention in the world, was held last month. Panels included "Geek Girls Exist," "Girls Gone Genre: Movies, TV, Comics, Web" and "Women Who Kick Ass: A New Generation of Heroines." There is an effort on the Web to organize a Geek Girl Con next year in Seattle.

The Web is full of sites created and maintained by fangirls including geektress.com, http://www.thediscriminatingfangirl.com" target= "_blank">www.thediscriminatingfangirl.com, http://www.geekgirlsnetwork.com" target= "_blank">www.geekgirlsnetwork.com, geekfemme.blogspot.com, allthingsfangirl.blogspot.com and others.

The entertainment industry is beginning to realize there is money to be made from these fangirls.

So far this year, movie multiplexes have played host to Angelina Jolie in the spy thriller "Salt," 13-year-old Chloe Grace Moretz as Hit Girl in the movie "Kick-Ass" and Scarlett Johansson as a martial arts expert in "Iron Man 2." Milla Jovovich battles in the undead in "Resident Evil: Afterlife" next month and Vanessa Hudgens, of "High School Musical" fame, is among the five women starring in the action-fantasy thriller "Sucker Punch," out March 25. Meanwhile, actress Ashley Eckstein, the voice of Ahsoka Tano in the TV series "Star Wars: The Clone Wars," has launched Her Universe, a company devoted to merchandising for female sci-fi fans.

Even Marvel Comics has gotten in on the action, in March launching "Girl Comics," a three-issue anthology celebrating its female creators.

Whether there are more females into fanboy stuff - or whether the numbers are the same, but they are more open about it - is debatable.

Brenda Kirk, who runs Geektress.-com, a website aimed at science fiction, fantasy and comic-book loving nerds, said one reason for the emergence of fangirls is that women are more open about their interests in these subjects.

The 30-year-old Ohio woman also credited the late 1990s TV series "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" with awakening an interest in fantasy and science fiction among women and sending them to the Internet to feed that interest.

"The Internet opened things up, so that you don't have to go to some weird genre store somewhere. You can just have access to the stuff, 24/7," said Kirk, who began reading comics when she was 8. "The Comic-Con that I go to in New York, they have women panels all the time... because it's so mainstream now, it's not something you have to hide."

It really doesn't seem like that big of a deal for girls to be into these things, said Laura Galiffe, an illustrator, who lives in Somers Point.

Galiffe, 31, went to the anime convention in Baltimore, known as Otakon, for the first time in 1997, and has been attending annually since 2001 and has attended Wizard World in Philadelphia at least five times.

"At the anime convention, there are a good number of girls. I would say it's probably an even mix. It probably wasn't like that at first. Anime, there is a good deal of it that's oriented towards women, so you do tend to see a lot of women. It's not really strange," Galiffe said. "I do see a lot of women there (at Wizard World). I see a lot of families."

Not all women have had such an easy time making their way in this mostly male world, and they are happy that more members of their sex are stepping out of the shadows.

Angie Booth, of Pleasantville, has been told that she has no life because she read comics and plays videogames.

"I guess it's hard for people who don't share the same interests to understand. I just don't like getting such a negative reaction," said Booth, 28, who admits her interest in all things Batman is bordering on obsessive. "I actually feel like I get looked down upon by some guys. The place I used to get my comics was kinda snooty about it, like girls shouldn't like comics or something. I got the same attitude from some of the customers when I worked at EB Games. I couldn't possibly know about video games because I'm a girl."

LeBlanc said some customers at Jesters were taken aback when she began working there in May 2009 after graduating from Cumberland County College.

But now, the people who come into the comic book and games shop, regard her as one of the guys.

"After a few words, they realize it's easy for people to talk to me. For a lot of the younger kids, it's, 'Oh, there's a girl behind the counter,' but they get over it."

As might be expected, the men and fanboys who love comics have noticed the influx of women into their domain.

There are definitely more girls and young women interested in what had traditionally been geeky boy subjects, such as fantasy and superheroes. That's because these topics are now more mainstream across the board, said Robert Thompson, professor of pop culture at Syracuse University. The turning point was probably when Hollywood started making blockbuster movies about superheroes and released the first of "The Lord of the Rings" movies in 2001, Thompson said.

"I think it happened in a big way when Hollywood starts making those very artsy Batman movies (in 2005), 'Spider-Man' and "Lord of the Rings' and all that kind of thing. Suddenly, those things were no longer a subculture. They've become part of the mass culture and that brought a lot of women into an arena that might have normally been considered for young men, but it also brought in a lot of other people, adults and everybody else," Thompson said.

For many years, especially with the term fanboy, the impression was that things covered by the Comic-Con International convention were all considered boy genres, said David Glanzer, director of marketing and public relations, Comic-Con International, which is based in San Diego.

Although there were women at the first show in 1970, it was dominated for the most part by males, Glanzer believes.

"We noticed that that started switch in earnest during the '90s. A lot of Japanese animation and manga (Japanese comic books), in particular, appealed to a lot of girls and women. We started to see a lot more participation by them. Right now, our demographics are probably 60 percent male and 40 percent female, and that's switching to be more equitable as the years ago by," Glanzer said.

Contact Vincent Jackson:

609-272-7202