Comic Bookery / Nerdery / Pop Culture Analysis

What Does Being a Fan Mean? (Editorial)

It’s a great time to be a geek, to be sure, but as with all things awesome, there are pitfalls. This year I’ve been a part of a couple of discussions that really test what it means to be a fan, especially in the geekosphere. I’m sure this occurs in other fandoms, but there seems to exist a prevailing thought that prerequisites exist to call yourself a comics fan. This is an unhealthy reaction, as if a fandom can survive with a closed door policy, or in some cases, a “no girls allowed” policy. It’s geekdom, not the Little Rascals.

So let’s talk about the argument about girl geeks and how our credibility is tested. First, perpetuating the idea that geek girls are in any way separate from their male counterparts only makes the chasm between fandoms wider. It’s difficult to understand why a separation even needs to exist. If you analyze the realm of geekdom as a whole, my guess is that you’d be hard pressed to find anything that is unique to female geeks. And fandom manifests itself in similar ways across genders. We have crushes on male superheroes or spaceship captains much like our male counterparts. We cosplay as our favorite strong characters (be they male or female), just like our male counterparts. So what’s different, and why in 2012 are we even having a discussion about girls in the clubhouse?

My online moniker is the Geeky Vixen, so I guess the case could be made that I have made it about my gender. When I chose this handle, my now husband helped me. I wanted something geeky, but I didn’t want to isolate it to one thing I liked, like Wonder Woman or Star Wars. And, at the time, it was still kinda novel to be a girl and a geek, so I wanted to stand out. Even now that geek girls are everywhere,  I’d still make that choice. Does it mean that at every turn, my geek cred will be tested when I say I dig comics and toys? Sure. Is that fair? Not at all, but I don’t misrepresent myself and my knowledge. If I don’t know about something, I’ll say so. If it’s something I need to know about for a podcast or blog post, I’ll research it.

So what about the faux geek girl, or the guy who buys a Spider-Man t-shirt to be ironic? Honestly, I don’t care about these people. I’ve read comics since before my fourth birthday. I have a house full of vintage and new toys that I consider little plastic (or vinyl or resin) works of art. I fanatically watch geeky movies because I can’t get enough. I am a geek in every sense of the word, and I live in an area of the country where it’s still unique. Yes, I was bullied in school for being a nerd because I made straight A’s, but does that make my geek experience any more relevant than someone who saw Avengers in the theatre this spring and went to a comic shop to buy his or her first comic? I don’t think so.

The other event that got me thinking was this whole business about DC printing 52 variant covers of the new Justice League comic. I gave a lot of opinions on it on our podcast, but I wanted to address it here because it’s the counterpoint to the fake geek argument. I know there are comic fans out there that will spend untold amounts of time and money tracking down every single cover to add to their collections, even though the only variation is the state flag. Some will do so while cursing DC for this ridiculous move, and that’s problematic. When this news broke, I didn’t hear anyone saying, “Hooray! What a great idea!” So even in the face of this ludicrous money grab on DC’s part, fans say, “Well, there’s nothing we can do.” And that saddens me. While I see the point, that corporations will always do things we disagree with (including comics publishers), I don’t believe for a second that fans are powerless. As Brian pointed out on the podcast, we need to think like consumers, not fans. But I’d take it a step further. Be a fan, but be a discerning fan. This applies not only to variant covers, but junky merchandise. Who among us hasn’t received a cheapo mug or keychain that has Batman or Wonder Woman or Wolverine on it because our non-geek friends and family members think that’s something we want? Or perhaps you’ve said, “Oh, I guess I have to buy all these action figures because I read a comic with them in it one time.” Don’t do that. Don’t be a slave to your fandom. I’m not saying not to buy things you want, but don’t feed the merchandising monster.

I’ll give you a good example of this. When the blind-packed LEGO minifigures came out, I loved them. I bought the first seven or eight series without questioning it, and I bought cases for them to display each series. Then I looked at my office, and I had this huge display of 100+ LEGO minifigures, only 20 or so of which I actually dug. So why was I buying them? I was buying them because I felt like I had to. I didn’t feel like I could just collect the ones I liked, because then the sets would be incomplete. And that’s crazy. So I sold my entire collection, and I’m slowly buying the five or six that I miss. (When I first got rid of them, it was way more than that. The farther away I get from the collection, the more I find I’m really okay to exist without them in my life.)

So back to the DC variant covers. I think it’s insanity, and I truly hope it’s an abject failure. And it’s not because I hate DC. Yes, I’m an advocate for creator-owned books, but I dig superheroes, too. I will say that my DC pull list is fairly small, encompassing Swamp Thing, Animal Man, and Wonder Woman (with a little Batman and Robin action on the side). It used to be much bigger. I felt like I had to buy every Batman title because I grew up liking Batman. The thing is, I’m still a Batfan, but Batman and the Outsiders will always be my favorite book. I’ve been told that I’m not a true Batfan if I don’t think this book or that book is the best thing ever. Why? It’s like saying, “You’re not a fan of words if Moby Dick isn’t your favorite book.” If it only took liking one title or one character to be a true geek, then why have variety?

I could write volumes on the argument over geek legitimacy when it comes to comics, in terms of indie vs. DC/Marvel, superheroes vs. literary comics, etc. (and I probably will at some point). The bottom line is, the more we polarize over minutiae, the less we accomplish. Geek culture is cool now, and for some reason it upsets some of the geek tribe. What these people fail to understand, though, is that growing the geek brand helps sustain the things we love. Yes, it frustrates me that Big Bang Theory laughs at geeks, not with them, but I can choose not to buy the bookmarks and “Soft Kitty” fuzzy slippers. Yes, I think it’s unfortunate that Community is a truly geeky show, but most people aren’t smart enough to watch it. (See? I can be elitist, too.) But you know what? I walked into Books-A-Million a few days ago, and the entire center aisle was filled with geekiness: Doctor Who, video games, comics, Game of Thrones, Tolkien, vinyl toys, Big Bang Theory, etc. Am I fan of all of those things? Not really. Does that make me less of a geek? Not at all. It’s not a competition (though many of us make it that way).

So it’s something for all of us to think about. We as fans or geeks or nerds (whatever name you choose) have big responsibilities. One, we need to vote with our dollars, so to speak. If we don’t like a comic for the art or the writer, or if we disagree with a PR move, don’t buy that book. (I’m looking at you, new Justice League book.) Two, we all need a little more tolerance. If your coworker liked Avengers and wants to talk to you about it, don’t roll your eyes at his lack of knowledge. Hand him a comic book and allow him to educate himself. If your mom is watching The Walking Dead and really digs it, buy her a graphic novel of the first few issues to show her how awesome it is. If your significant other scoffs at your weekly trip to the comic shop, take him/her with you and demonstrate the vastness of the graphic medium, perhaps even picking out something you know matches his/her interests. If, after doing so, he/she still doesn’t get it, then it’s up to you to decide whether you’re OK with the relationship.

Worry about your interests. Be passionate and support what you like. If you recognize that companies are pandering to geeks because they think it’s the cool thing to do, don’t support initiatives that make you feel that way. Make conscientious choices with your money. Invest in your fellow geeks as people, not trivia dispensers. Some of the deepest friendships I’ve formed over the past couple of years started because of mutual interests. Life is short, but it’s awesome.

One thought on “What Does Being a Fan Mean? (Editorial)

  1. Honestly, I think this is a rather self-inflicted Hell. People are under no obligation to buy every variant comic book cover, nor to fill their homes with lumps of colourful, branded plastic.

    The real solution, I think, is to stop defining yourself with a marketing term (geek). Don’t seal yourself up into a category! This shit affects what media you choose to interact with, it shapes your thoughts — I know plenty of people who only read sci-fi/fantasy/superheroes, and it’s such a shame. Those things are great and I love them, but they only affect a part of your mind — other genres (including ‘literary’ stuff as a genre) affect different parts of your mind. Diversity.

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