We're All Geeks: Embracing the Crazy, Passionate Comic-Con Culture
by Alex Billington
July 28, 2014
"There's a Comic-Con in all of us," my driver said as we headed toward the airport in San Diego on Sunday afternoon. It's true. As I head home from my ninth year returning to the Comic-Con International in San Diego, I have been reflecting on the experience that is this ambitious comic book convention turned geek madhouse. ~160K people descend upon San Diego every July to spend five days waiting in lines, squished together, tripping over each other, in hopes of getting their hands on some exclusive toy or product or look at a trailer or their favorite movie star. From the outside looking in, it seems crazy. Who would do this? Why do people subject themselves to this madness every year? Because we are passionate about what we love.
What makes Comic-Con special is that it is an incomparable convention in size and execution – there is no other comic book convention in the world of this scale and it has a long history, not only with comic books but also with movies and television and celebrities and toys and costumes and embracing geek culture and so on. Everyone from everywhere all over the world comes in to attend, and there are a million options when it comes to the experience. Whether that be sitting in Hall H all day watching presentations with celebrities, to walking the showfloor looking for toys or rare comics, to making new friends on every corner, to dressing up as your favorite character and walking around the streets showing off whatever makes you happiest.
While the convention has grown even bigger (than it can handle) in the past few years, the number of haters has grown, too. Especially the number of colleagues who just can't stand the "hype" that comes from the Con. I get it. In the movie world, we go to Comic-Con every year and lap up whatever marketing the studios throws at us, flipping out over what is essentially a trailer that often ends up online for the entire world to view a week or two later (or even the Monday after). It seems a bit crazy to travel down there and tweet hyperboles non-stop and scream at celebrities while listening to them answer fans' questions about "if you could be any superhero, who would it be and why?" I do understand how this can be perceived as a ludicrous form of nothing but excessive hype. But it's not the same when you're actually there in the thick of it all.
As is always the case, being at the actual event is the kind of incomparable experience that some of us live for. Not just to be in the same room as the celebrities, but to be there with all the screaming fans who, as a collective whole, are flipping out. It's the same as going to a sports game. Yes, we could sit in the comfort of our own homes and watch that game on television by ourselves or with a friend or two. But hearing the roar of the crowd, sitting with thousands of fans, watching the same event as it unfolds in real time and hoping that something great comes from it. That's what Comic-Con is like, it's just designed for the die-hard geeks. And while not everyone will openly admit they're a geek, the truth is, "there's a Comic-Con in all of us."
What does that mean? Well, deep down we all have passion for something. Whether it be great cinema, great food, filmmakers like Kubrick & Godard, filmmakers like Spielberg & Cameron, fun TV shows, or even just a passion for good stories or living an exciting or different life(style). What makes Comic-Con unique is that this collection of 160,000 people is made up of individuals who have no shame in expressing their passions and loves no matter how geeky, weird, obscure, funky, nerdy or quirky they may be. You'll find it all there - from Daft Punk, Ninja Turtles, Halo, Naruto, Star Trek, Dr. Who, Hulk, Silver Surfer, Call of Duty, Mario, Zelda, Princess Leia, Spaceballs, Hellboy, My Little Pony, Hot Wheels, Game of Thrones to anything else.
Whether or not you think you have the kind of absurd geeky love that all of the Comic-Con attendees do, in truth we all have that geeky interest in something (deep down). Whether it was that one Batman comic you obsessively read as a kid growing up, or that Jem and the Holograms show you always caught after school, or all those times you obsessively rewatched The Goonies with you friends, there is something out there (and it usually comes from childhood). Many have tried to push that out of them as they grow older, but when you really stop and think about it, there will be something you can identify. We live in a world so inundated with a plethora of pop culture in so many different forms, it's impossible for anyone to ignore it all entirely.
This is also what Walt Disney himself believed in, that even as adults we must recognize the child in all of us. It's easy to complain, it's easy to watch the hype and laugh, it's easy to see the lines and hear about the crowds and roll your eyes at all of it. But it's better to acknowledge the passion these people all share – we all love something that connects with us in some personal way, and we love expressing our love in a way that satisfies us. Comic-Con provides that satisfaction, and it gives all of us a place to congregate and, for once, not feel lonely or ashamed (even if it just for a few days). To reject that desire and to call it crazy is wrong; we should embrace any and all individuality on every level, especially when it comes to "geeky" passions.
At the end of the Con, when I look around at all of the people there, I sense a connectedness that only comes from the freedom of individual expression. We hug, we high five, shake hands, we all go back home knowing we came here because we love whatever it is that we wanted to love and were not ashamed to love it. We were passionate about it, we most likely bought something related to it, we cheered, we smiled, we lived. Yes, there are long lines to just get one item, resellers who swoop in just to boost the price later on Ebay, and sometimes it's a waste of time to try to get that one item everyone else wants because there's no way you're going to get it, but that's no reason to complain about what Comic-Con provides. Passion is never a bad thing, and the more we appreciate that on a whole, the more we can work to love and respect each other.
The comic book convention world has grown substantially in the past few years, with smaller versions of Cons occurring year-round in cities all over the world (New York has one, Chicago, Denver, not to mention WonderCon). This just proves how much everyone does have a bit of Comic-Con in them, and how we all need to find those secure places where we can geek out and not worry. There's no judgment. No matter how absurd your costume, even if it's from some absurd TV show no one else watches, come down to Comic-Con and you'll receive compliments all day, and end up in thousands of photos. How great is that? That being a geek/nerd makes us all feel equal as fans no matter our situation, if only for just one week, and it's worth it.
Some may see Comic-Con as place that capitalizes on those of us who are ready and willing to go crazy for the tiniest morsel of marketing. Some may see Comic-Con as nothing but hype, nothing but fans screaming for celebrities, nothing but spoon-fed studio-created instant gratification that doesn't mean much in the long run. But I see Comic-Con as an exuberant place that encourages individual expression, a love for the stories and characters that make us feel better about our own lives, and a community that appreciates each other no matter their differences, no matter how fat or skinny, no matter who they may be or want to be. It may get bigger and crazier every year but I say – let the passion flourish. Let us live, and love, and geek out.