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Life Skills for Fanboys:  The Face of Geek Needs Work

written by Tony DiGerolamo, Copyright 2014

To further my goal of helping fellow fanboys, I have included an index of links of previous columns with their topics.  Don’t take it personal, I’m just trying to help.


The Chinese have a concept of “face”.  It means your image and place in society.  Some people might call it your role or your reputation.  The geek community has always been at odds with itself what exactly constitutes the “face” of geekdom.

Are we just costumed comic nerds that show up at Comic Con every year?  A colorful freak show for the media and late night talk shows.  Are we the nerdy stereotypes perpetrated by The Simpsons and The Big Bang Theory?  Scientific geniuses without a whit of social grace.  Are we just a trendy fashion statement that’s been co-opted by hipsters and marketers?  A passing fad that will fall to the wayside into passe.

Defining Geek

Geek is tough to define because it has traditionally been on the outside of society’s norms.  Funny enough, it’s a little like the term “outlaw”.  Like outlaw, once everyone has co-opted leather jackets and motorcycles, you’re not really an outlaw just by changing your jacket and vehicle.  You’re not a geek just because you went to Comic Con once and wore costume.  It’s more of a lifestyle and way of thinking.

But, by being co-opted, society as a whole will place us into a role that it sees fit.  For the outlaw, it’s the fringe of society; the outlands, the frontier, the fringe.  For the geek, it’s the IT department, the library, the lab.  Again, the stereotypes.  We can’t allow society to define us.  We need to take control of our own message and growing popularity.  Isn’t that what a smart and intelligent group of people would do?

Controlling the Message

“But wait,” you might say.  “Didn’t you just spend the last few weeks pointing out all of geek society’s problems?”  (see the links below)  To that I would reply, “Well, yeah, but that’s to help fix things within our own community.  I’m not looking to control it or to radically change it, but to improve it.  To use our tools and resources to help our fellow geek.”

But the Face of the Geek still looms large.  It’s bad.  And some of the things I’ve pointed out over these last weeks helps make it bad.  But the bigger picture is, no one is even watching what all these tiny cuts are doing to our image at large.  And we’ve had a few opportunities to make being a geek a good and positive thing.

The Early 90’s

When comic books exploded in the early 90’s, few geeks were prepared.  The onslaught of outsiders that suddenly invaded the tiny niche world of comic books was insane.  I remember one sports card dealer in particular, who hated comics.  Literally hated them.  But sports cards had tanked and he needed to sell something so, he started caring the Marvel and DC basics.  When I asked him if he had a particular issue of Superman, he screamed at me to get out of his store.  That was a guy who didn’t join the world of geekdom, he was merely passing through until people started buying sports cards again.

What did comic book publishers do during this era of plenty?  Did they develop better stories or customer service?  Did they seek to expand the audience of comics?  Not really.  Most publishers and store owners exploited the fans so badly, it took a good 10 to 15 years after the comic book crash for fans to return and start reading again.  Dozens of publishers emerged and then disappeared with their money or debt.  The comic book press was no help either.  After years of obscurity, they blew their moment in the sun to get free swag, hobnob with creators and pick up jobs inside the industry until it went bust.

The Geek Moment

The next Geek Moment may be here or it may have passed us by, hard to say.  The focal point for many of people outside the Geek Community has always been Comic Con in San Diego.  But what has Comic Con turned into?  Well, if you have a movie or a TV show, it seems a great place to flack it.  But wasn’t it supposed to be about comic books, cartoons and other pop culture?  And what about RPG’s and miniatures?  And sci-fi and fantasy novels?  If Comic Con is about everything it might as well be about nothing.

But ultimately, we can’t let one event define the Face of Geek.  First off, there are many other events like Gen Con, PAX, Dragon Con and Okaton.  We can’t just marginalize our geek bros because they prefer gaming, cards, costuming and anime.  The geek community needs to be inclusive for all the little niches: Steampunk, Furry, War Gamers and yes, God help me, even Filk.  *shudder*

That doesn’t mean including everyone (like my mean sports card dealer), but it does mean including all the geeks.  We have to recognize the Geek-come-latelies to our own sub-communities.  For instance, right now, cosplay is growing in leaps and bounds.  I’m not advocating kicking the noobs out, but we have to acknowledge that these new cosplayers may not be here for the long haul.

There are all sorts of benefits to having more cosplayers in the mix.  More costumers means more costumer suppliers, the competition drives down the price of costumes and their accessories.  It drives up the prizes for costume contests and forces costume makers to become more creative.

But the down sides are that being a cosplayer becomes less special.  With more vendors catering to cosplayers, mass produced items of higher quality begin to flood the market.  And when you show up in your home made Deadpool costume you worked on for weeks only to find a mass produced one that looks as good or better, you might become completely disgusted with the entire endeavor.

And just like any trend, it spikes in popularity and then starts to die.  When too many cosplayers flood a con and don’t buy much and when there are too many costume-related vendors, the entire trend may implode.  The end result is that the people who really, truly loved cosplay are now left to pick up the pieces of their hobby and rebuild.  The noobs leave, most of the vendors close up shop or switch product and, who knows, maybe cons will add some kind of “costume charge” to entrance fees in an attempt to discourage cosplayers.  (That last part is pure speculation.)

The point is, now is the time for a subgroup like cosplayers to define the rules so that cosplay doesn’t spike in popularity and burn out.  Just like the early 90’s was a time where comic book fans and creators might’ve organized to keep their hobby great, rather than squeeze every last dollar out of a trend.

Now is the time for the geek community to define what “geek” means.  This isn’t to drive out the dabblers and trendy geeks who we all know are going to abandon it some day, but to identify and align with the real members of the community.  Also, when an outsider arrives we can say to him, “Listen, this is what it means to be part of the tribe.  You’re welcome to join, hang out for a while or whatever.  But this is what we’re about.”

And when someone from the media attempts to pigeonhole us into some glasses wearing, science nerd, we can instead explain the identity of our geek subgroup with clarity and accuracy.  “Uh, no.  I don’t live in my mom’s basement.  I’m an artist and I make comics as part of a real artistic medium.”

Next week, hopefully with some more thought, I’ll have a better sense of this thing we’re about as geeks.  Feel free to email me with your thoughts on the subject.

Previous Columns

Obesity at Cons

The Art of Conversation


The Line Between Fans and Pros

Geek Elitism

Convention Panels

Convention Volunteers

Food Gifts

Women and Cons

Get Your Room Party Together

Stop Bringing Your Kids to Cons