|"These aren't the geeks we're looking for."|
Fanboys. Nerds. Geeks. Fans of comic books, science fiction and the like are known by many names. Regardless of word choice, the prevailing image is clear: Socially awkward guys who have no life, have never had a girlfriend (let alone sex) and who still live in their parents' basements.
It is an image that endures in the popular consciousness, perpetuated in part by shows like Big Bang Theory and the Comic Book Guy character on The Simpsons. Millions of us also clearly recall William Shatner's classic 1986 Saturday Night Live sketch in which he tells Star Trek fans to "Get a life!" This month's 2011 installment of Comic Con in Montreal, an annual two day convention for comic book and science fiction fans, drew in over 25,000 people - including me.
Yet the crowd that filled Place Bonaventure's convention hall didn't exactly conform to the stereotype. Indeed, as a I roamed the hall, I thought this might be a good time to challenge some of the myths about me and my fellow "geeks."
MYTH #1: ALL GEEKS ARE MEN
A simple eyeballing of the crowd at the Montreal Comic Con showed female fans very much in evidence. And it's not just a Canadian phenomenon. In 2009, the International San Diego Comic Con, one of the world's largest comic book conventions, reported female attendance at 40%.
The women appear to be more fervent than their male counterparts as well. During the hour-plus duration of the Montreal convention's costume contest, you could count the number of male participants on one hand. Even the contest judges were women.
Lea Phillips, one of a group of four students (all women) who endured the 20hour train ride from Halifax to Montreal, observed that, "There are plenty of guys here, but the girls are just more into it."
MYTH #2: GEEKS LIVE WITH THEIR PARENTS
"That's the stereotypical fan: A geeky guy sitting in front of his computer in his parents' basement playing video games or something all day long," said Steve Kalinowski, a fan or the popular movie and comic character Wolverine. "But it's not really like that."
An informal (and, to be fair, totally unscientific) survey of Montreal Comic Con attendees over two days turned up just one guy who lived in his parent's basement. (I'll do him the favour of leaving out his name.) Additionally, those surveyed said that they did not know of anyone (geek or otherwise) who lived with their parents past their early 20's. Most attendees told me they had decent jobs.
"It can get pretty expensive," offered Kalinnowski, referring to the extensive amount of booths selling comics, T-shirts, collectables and memorabilia. And that's not even getting into the elaborate costumes some attendees were seen sporting. "You can't do this if you're depending on your parents," added Kayla Fells, another member of the Halifax group. "What parents are going to say, 'Hey, here's $400 so you can go out and buy a costume for a comic book convention?'"
MYTH #3: GEEKS ARE SOCIALLY AWKWARD
"We have many couples in our group," said Wojtek Sawicki, who, along with his wife Nola Fontaine, is a member of the Star Wars costuming fan club known as the 501st Legion.
Sawicki and Fontaine, among others, were manning the club's convention booth. Both were dressed in detailed and authentic Star Wars outfits.
Kalinowski and his girlfriend Alexandra Yanire also dressed in thematically consistent couple's costumes - as members of the X-Men.
Alison and Matt Latimer, a married couple from the Ottawa area, were sporting matching uniforms from the critically acclaimed sci-fi TV series Battlestar Galactica. "I certainly don't have any problems with relationships," Matt said. In fact, their fandom is a bonding agent. "He got me into Battlestar Galactica," she said. "But then she became a bigger fan of it than I ever was," he added.
|It's a couple thing.|
MYTH #4: GEEKS HAVE NO LIVES
Todd van der Heyden, the anchor of CTV's 6 p.m. newscast in Montreal, moderated panels featuring Comic Con's guests of honour - including comic legend Stan Lee, creator of such iconic characters as Spider Man and Iron Man. However, van der Heyden was not there just because he's a local celebrity; he is also an avowed comic book and science fiction fan. "I've been collecting comics since I was 12," he said. "I now have a U-Haul full of comics.Literally." The man is hardly the typical image of the nerdy fan with "no life." On that issue, he declared, "All of the fans I know are married and have kids."
The 501st Legion, the aforementioned Star Wars costuming fan club, is more than just a bunch of fans hanging out in costumes. "We are involved with charity work and we often visit children's hospitals," said Sawicki.
The group boasts over 4,000 members worldwide, and its website lists over 40 different charities that the group has worked with. "While the 501st was initially founded to unite costumers with a penchant for Star Wars villainy, one of our real-world missions is to bring good to our communities through volunteer charity work," reads the website.
|The Montreal Comic Con contingent was slightly smaller than this.|
"It's a lot of fun, but it's also a lot of work too," says Sawacki of the club's activities. At the group's Comic Con booth in Montreal, convention attendees got the chance to fire foam rubber darts from a toy machine gun at Imperial Stormtroopers in exchange for donations to The Autism Society Canada.
The "Great Geek Myth," as I call it, might have had some validity in decades past, but it has clearly become obsolete - as many folks are discovering. "A lot of fans avoid going to conventions because they think it's going to full of weird, geeky people," said Lisa Ivy, a Trek fan. "Then when [they] actually do come, they see that everyone here is actually pretty normal."
Geekiness, it seems, is in the eye of the beholder. "Everybody is a geek to somebody else," said Stéfanie Guérin, a fan wearing a costume inspired by the movie Sucker Punch. "You can have a golf geek or a cooking geek. I have a friend, her whole life is cooking. That is what she does."
How is collecting comic books and dressing up in TV-inspired costumes any different?
Reprinted courtesy of the National Post