What it means to be a “nerd” or “geek” these days has changed quite a bit from when I grew up. Being a nerd has become “cool” now. You see it proudly displayed on t-shirts vomited all over Urban Outfitter racks. Teeny girls can’t type, “I’m a total geek” fast enough when filling out the “About Me” section of their social media profile. Wearing Buddy Holly glasses without lenses in them have (somehow) become acceptable.
I want to take a minute to talk about the true nerds. Not those who dress up as sexy Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles costumes or whose anime knowledge only goes as far as Ghost in the Shell. No, I’m talking about the truly socially inept and yes, might actually still live in their parents’ basement, those who would rather spend their hard earned cash on the rarest of vinyl figurines than tailoring their already awkward fitting suits. I want to talk about the one weekend a year when the rules of everyday society gets turned on its head and the real nerds become kings. It takes place in July in a town that you wouldn’t expect to host a gathering of this sort. That weekend is San Diego Comic Con weekend.
When I was first asked to go to San Diego Comic Con, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I heard stories of extraordinary costumes and long lines and the stampedes for free XL t-shirts. But I would soon learn that these are merely words until you actually experience it for yourself. It would be like trying to explain what it was like to be in Wembley Stadium swaying with Freddie Mercury as he belted out “We Are The Champions”.
As soon as you step into that massive convention hall, you are instantly bitch slapped with insecurity. Every time I flash my credentials and walking into the lobby, I always ask myself, “Do I really deserve to be here?” Growing up, I read a lot of Spider-Man and Batman, I could belt out any song on the Quantum Leap soundtrack, and I could confidently list off some graphic novels in my personal library, but my street cred doesn’t hold up to the fans around me. I become deathly afraid that someone would ask me a question like, “What X-Men character would you be and why?” and I’d sputter something so mainstream that I would only get an ashamed facepalm in return. It’s a little terrifying and most certainly hardcore.
Despite all of my “I’m not worthy!” insecurities, I love Comic Con. There’s nothing but love within the walls of The San Diego Convention Center. The roles are reversed. This is the nerds weekend to be king. The better the costume, the more attention you get. The best cosplayers will become paparazzi celebrities and they will be the talk of the Con floor for years to come (“Dude, remember that girl back in 2010 who actually made her own Portal mechanized heel springs??”). Cosplayers riding up an escalator to make it to their panel will get random high fives from people on their way down just to show appreciation for their rad costume. I truly believe Cosplayers have more fun than anyone else on the planet.
My favorite thing about Comic Con isn’t the hardcore cosplayers, or the free swag, or that you actually get a chance to meet and geek-out to your favorite artists. No, it’s the 500 section. The only place of refuge from the massive crowds is at the back of the convention all, away from all the movie studio booths where you can easily lose an eye from a wayward poster tube. The place where men with dead-ringer Santa beard carefully peruse the dusty racks for their coveted back issues. If you ever go, do yourself a favor and eavesdrop on a conversation. The charm of hearing two old men who are complete strangers discuss the plight of being unable to find their personal holy grail of comics is unparalleled. Not as in “Oh man, listen to these losers”, but it will make you wish you ever loved something as much as these guys do or… if I’m being bold, what if everyone were able to find something they love enough to just fucking bond with a stranger? At the risk of getting too preachy, maybe there’s something bigger to take away from Comic Con than a camera data card busting with shitty Slave Leias or a lanyard filled with intern-made buttons.
So go. Grab a seat at a panel that isn’t the next big blockbuster. I went to a panel about how to introduce comics to libraries and came out of it chittering away with my friends at some of the highlights. Do some homework beforehand. Get lost in Tumblr and Deviant Art pages, look for the art that makes your heart skip, see if your favorites will have a table set up in Artist’s Alley and chat up the girl sitting there scribbling furiously in her notepad. Why not cash in that free hug to that weirdo with the cardboard sign? You may come away with a story that you can take with you for the ages.
“What’s great about the geek spirit is that life never seems to stop us, and they never seem to kill our enthusiasm, our optimism and our hunger to experience the world. We keep our sense of humor, we protect our dignity, we talk to our friends about the experience and then we start again fresh the very next day.”
- Paul Feig