Geeking Out on Geek Culture
By Mathew Klickstein
It’s just fascinating how Geek Culture has become a dominant strain of entertainment, where before it was just a fringe group of crazies, or people who were made to feel like they were less than accepted. And now it is the accepted mode of life. That, to me, is fascinating. – Paul M. Sammon, bestselling author / film studio publicist
One of the most rewarding ancillary effects of the recent release of my pop culture nostalgia/fandom oral history See You At San Diego: An Oral History of Comic-Con, Fandom, and the Triumph of Geek Culture (Fantagraphics, Sept 6) has been my witnessing the cartoonish eye-bulging that inevitably occurswhenever I present the book to a friend or colleague. There’s no two ways about it: the thing is MASSIVE.
The question then immediately becomes WHY would I spend so much time, energy, and resources on a 500-page, full-color doorstop of a Modern Fandom/Geek Culture encyclopedia?WHY IS POP CULTURE HISTORY ITSELF SO IMPORTANT TO OUR CULTURE TODAY? AND WHY HAS GEEKING OUT AND FANDOM BECOME SO DOMINANT AND PROLIFERATE OVER THE PAST DECADE OR SO?
I’d first point to the equally massive elephant in the room of a problem we as a society face today: the notion that “everyone” has been made to be so angry at each other, so scared of one another, so in need of separation and division. Don’t talk to strangers. Don’t touch each other. You’re better off just staying home altogether. Hide. Watch the screen(s). Order online. Date online. Communicate online. Socialize online. Stay in your lane. Fight those who disagree with you. Block those who disagree with you. If they’re not with you, they’re against you. Stay away. Manichean groupthink.
Our tolerance for differences has gone down significantly over the past few years. Our empathy has gone down significantly over the past few years. Marriage rates are down. Birth rates are down. Mental health issues are skyrocketing. Suicide rates are skyrocketing (especially among the young).
And yet … there is still something that does ineluctably bring us together in a time of gross isolation, alienation, ostracization, and separation. And that is our shared pop culture passions. Call it a mere anodyne if you must. But the fact of the matter is that even in a time of tremendous societal tumult and strain, of intense internecine combat within our share civilization today, most people can still agree on Star Wars and Batman.
I myself have never been a huge fan of Star Wars nor Batman. I don’t necessarily dislike either of them. But there were certainly other shows, movies, books, stories I was far more into as a kid and am into now. Still, I would be willing to bet that if I were sitting alone in a room with a few other people I didn’t know and they began talking about Star Wars or were wearing shirts/hats etc. with Batman logos on them, I could likely get along with them fairly well regardless of their background, political affiliation, religious/spiritual beliefs, age, etc.
It was only a few months before the 2020 pandemic/lockdown/political roiling exploded volcanically all over our faces that I began toggling the cosmic tumblers that would eventually lead to See You At San Diego. But, I needed to get down on record for time immemorial how this rangy group of kooky kids (yes, kids) came together against the tumultuous backdrop of the 1960s/70s cultural revolution – with inspiration from comic book masters like Jack Kirby, and science fiction gurus like Ray Bradbury, and fandom godheads like Forry Ackerman – from across the country and (very quickly) across the globe to produce something, to build something as one unified front.
Which is why when I began putting together what would be the ultimate in pop culture history projects, I focused a great deal of the limelight on the largest pop culture gathering worldwide: Comic-Con. It’s not without its problems today either, and it’s not without its problematic moments in history either. This is what happens when human beings come together to make something, especially when they’re very different kinds of human beings from very different backgrounds. There is conflict. There is confrontation. There is difficulty. There is also growth, evolution, adaptation, and strength-building. There is true progress and from that can come true solidarity.
There is something very inherent to all of this about community-building. It is about doing my best to spread the gospel of the Geek Culture and Comic-Con “karass” as Kurt Vonnegut would’ve put it. Geek Culture is my tribe. It is my affiliation. The people in my book like Stan Sakai, RZA from Wu-Tang Clan, Scott Shaw!, the Russo Bros., Neil Gaiman, Frank Miller, Trina Robbins, Lloyd Kaufman, Sergio Aragonés, Bruce Campbell, Scott Aukerman? They’re the ones who helped to forge that community. They were building it back when you got beat up for reading comics, and when you got F’s on your paper for writing about “junk” like science fiction/fantasy in class, andwhen you couldn’t even find a store that would sell Captain America or Fahrenheit-451.
Today, you’re not “cool” if you’re not into these things (or at least don’t pretend to be). They have entire departments on this stuff at all the top universities worldwide. Hollywood has completely gone geek. The Revenge of the Nerds certainly happened and continues. If you want to play in the media/arts/entertainment fields today, you better know a thing or two about JRR Tolkien and Jack Kirby.
And tracking that circuitous rags-to-riches Pilgrim’s Progressjourney of Modern Fandom and Geek Culture taking over and – yes – in many respects bringing us together even in times of great schism and strife … was something I couldn’t not do.
So, enjoy the pictures. Enjoy the art. Enjoy the stories. Enjoy our shared history of geekdom. Can it solve all of our problems? Nope. Nothing can. But, it’s certainly a start to aligned conversations about something other than what’s blaring at us from the news channels right now. And at least that’s something. I think.
About the book:
Fantagraphics published SEE YOU AT SAN DIEGO: AN ORAL HISTORY OF COMIC-CON, FANDOM, AND THE TRIUMPH OF GEEK CULTURE a comprehensive chronicle of the rise of fandom and pop culture nostalgia throughout the past century.
Over the course of 480 pages, author and pop culture historian Mathew Klickstein presents the rise of both Comic-Con and modern geekdom itself, with behind-the-scenes observations from the likes of Ho Che Anderson, Sergio Aragonés, Scott Aukerman, Bruce Campbell, Felicia Day, Kevin Eastman, Mark Evanier, Neil Gaiman, Lloyd Kaufman, Frank Miller, the Russo Brothers, Stan Sakai, Scott Shaw!, Kevin Smith, Brinke Stevens, Trina Robbins, Tim Seeley, Maggie Thompson, and more. The book also includes forewords by Usagi Yojimbo creator Stan Sakai and Bone’s Jeff Smith, as well as an afterword by the Wu-Tang Clan’s RZA.
See You At San Diego: An Oral History of Comic-Con, Fandom, and the Triumph of Geek Culture is available NOW wherever books are sold! more info, follow Fantagraphics on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube.
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Image courtesy of the author.