On a Saturday night, six ComicsVerse staff members came together for a roundtable discussion on THE SECRET LOVES OF GEEKS. These included Writing and Editorial Interns Molly Barnewitz (MB) and Jennyfer Macoto (JM), Contributing Writers Mara Danoff (MD) and Jeremiah Johnston (JJ), Independent Publishers Editor Stephanie Wilson (SW), and Independent Publishers Co-Section Head Merlin Slade (MS).

What was scheduled to be an hour long chatroom discussion turned into two-plus hours of analyzing, joking, confiding, and unyielding support. As I watched my computer screen alone in my dorm room, I never felt more full of gratitude. I was grateful for what comics and ComicsVerse have given me, and that was these six people. I was grateful to my coworkers for being there and for being them. That night was but another example of how comics saved my life — by giving me these people I call friends.

THE SECRET LOVES OF GEEKS is an anthology of prose, comics, and art edited by Hope Nicholson of Bedside Press and distributed by Dark Horse Comics. The book is centered around the theme of geek love: loving geekdom, geeking out over love, loving another geek, geeking over another, and any and all variations in-between. At 200-plus pages and with the spectrum of genders, sexualities, and fandoms represented, THE SECRET LOVES OF GEEKS has something for everyone. It sure did for us.

THE SECRET LOVES OF GEEKS is a good comic, but more than that, it gave me something no other comic ever has. This anthology had me falling in love all over again with my lovely, geeky friends. THE SECRET LOVES OF GEEKS is a love letter, and this transcript of our roundtable is our love letter response. This Valentine’s Day, we at ComicsVerse hope you feel our not-so-secret love for each other, comics, and THE SECRET LOVES OF GEEKS.

  • Rachel Davis, Independent Publishers Co-Section Head and Roundtable Moderator (RD)

This roundtable has been slightly condensed and lightly edited for clarity.

Hope Nicholson talks THE SECRET LOVES OF GEEK GIRLS at NYCC 2017

RD: I had never heard of the term “geek love” until the first volume in this series, THE SECRET LOVES OF GEEK GIRLS (2016). How would you have defined “geek love” before reading this anthology? How would you define it now?

MD: It seems fairly straightforward: connecting to the world and people around you through popular culture. And how pop culture is, like, a huge component of your relationship to said people.

MB: I first thought of “geek love” as a broad term for anything that geeks loved, which is what some of the comics covered. Which would include what Mara pointed out — popular culture as a means of connection. But after reading it, I think a lot of the comics cover self-identified geeks’ experiences of love. The impact of being a geek on your perceptions of love. Is that sort of the same thing? I’m not sure.

MS: Ok, so I guess before this I hadn’t really thought too much about the concept, even though, like all of you, I’m a huge geek. I guess images that came to mind at first were couples that met via a convention or a WORLD OF WARCRAFT guild. Or the creepy “Nice Guy” d-bag who uses his nerdiness as a weapon against girls who aren’t into him. But now that I’ve read the anthology, there’s a lot of different forms of love I hadn’t thought about, including a love of geek media itself or self-love through geek culture.

JM: There’s pop culture and then it branches down to geek culture. When I expected to read this, I expected people coming together in different ways (friendship, romance, identity, etc.) through different stories by the use of geek culture. Like, I had a feeling STAR WARS was going to be a common one for people. Some people really do come together through media, through comics, and through books. I feel like it’s wholesome because you get to see what people are so passionate about, even if it happens to be fictional.

SW: I tend to think of Geek Love as something like being in love/loving someone without any sort of romantic ties to it. We had a concept like that within my group of friends who were in the midst of the HARRY POTTER fandom, and I think that’s generally where I stand with it. But I think, after reading this anthology, my definition for it grew to be two-pronged. There’s the “geek love” that is the love between geeks. And there is also the “geek love” that is the mutual sharing of things and loving both the thing and the person.  

THE SECRET LOVES OF GEEKS
Image courtesy of Dark Horse Comics.

JJ: Something we also saw in the anthology can be summed up best from an early THE BIG BANG THEORY episode, “The Codpiece Topology”:

“Leslie: You agree with me, right, loop quantum gravity is the future of physics.
Leonard: Sorry Leslie, I guess I prefer my space stringy not loopy.
Leslie: Well, I’m glad I found out the truth about you before this went any further.
Leonard: Truth, what truth? We’re talking about untested hypotheses, uh, it’s no big deal.
Leslie: Oh, it isn’t, really? Tell me, Leonard, how would we raise the children?”

It seems like some of these relationships were also make-or-break over the topics of certain fandoms. “Geek love” becomes so tied in with personality identity, disagreements can almost break relationships. That was some of my perception after reading a few of the stories. What Mark Hamill calls the UPFs (ultra-passionate fans) falling in (and out) of love. And how a love of the fandom almost trumped love of the person — “Love in Alderaan Places” was about that.

MS: That’s so real. I almost broke up with someone over a nerd debate one time. It was UNDERTALE and she was just going around killing all the characters!!!

JM: I nearly lost a friendship over it, too. It’s a great thing, being so in love with something, but nothing to sever ties over.

MD: True, but honestly most of my friendships have been made because of fandoms and stuff. It’s how I met you guys anyway.

MS: D’awwww!

MD: I guess what I’m trying to say is it’s so cool how all this stuff we care about connects people. It may be a silly movie to some but it can mean a whole lot to others. And that’s just swell.

MB: Is there something particularly intense about geek love, perhaps? The passion people feel for specific universes or characters. It is wonderful that that can be a point of connection for people. But clearly, it can be a point of contention! Marvel vs. DC, STAR WARS vs. STAR TREK, etc.

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RD: I imagine we each have our own favorite stories here. For example, mine were “Our Story” [by Shauna J. Grant,] “Josei” [by Priya Huq], and “Dear First Love” [by Vita Ayala and Jessi Jordan]. I loved their art story and the kinds of love they portray. The artwork is beautiful to me while the stories are equally relatable and ideal to me. What were your favorite stories in THE SECRET LOVES OF GEEKS and why?

JM: “The Walter Mercado Effect” [by Ivan Salazar and Maddi Gonzalez]. Oh my god. I adored that story because it took me back to my childhood. It took me back to just how far I remember questioning my sexuality because Mercado’s was so ambiguous. Like, Walter was such a person that was wrapped in mystery and everyone would acknowledge he may have been homosexual but would never try to acknowledge it. They would brush it under the rug. Latinx have a tendency to do this and it just resonated so hard.

MS: My fave was “Tell Me About Your Trans Headcanons” [by Sfé R. Monsterbecause it was very relatable to me. I’ve always had tons of male characters that I strongly resonated with but felt like I could never really be them. Trans headcanons have often allowed me to make that leap and claim the character as mine.

SW: My two favorites were Cecil Castellucci [and Megan Kearney]’s “My Phantom Menace” and Shee Phon‘s “Do You Feel It?” I absolutely loved the idea of Cecil’s dedication to STAR WARS (I remember feeling such strong feelings for my fandoms growing up). And it was just such an interesting story of finding and losing love in the midst of capital-F Fandom. “Do You Feel It?” was just so beautifully simple and has so much meaning behind it and I loved the art.

MD: Right off the bat: I loved the small comic about podcasts [“The New Gods of the Airwaves” by Jen Vaughn]. I too need to sacrifice to my beautifully voiced leaders. But more seriously, I loved the stories about BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER [“Being the Slayer” by Gwen Benaway] and trolling online lesbian forums [“Trolling for Lesbos” by Gabby Rivera]. Especially the latter. I remember feeling that sort of confused anger about similar matters (even if I never went online and yelled at others). It was nice to know this sort of frustration wasn’t just something I went through in middle school. It’s nice knowing you’re not alone.

MS: Oh, the trolling one was so good, and I’m so glad she was able to move past that. And “My Phantom Menace” was hilarious, even if I do love STAR WARS. I could still never love STAR WARS as much as that guy, good lord. The Christmas Special??? RIP.

MB: Among all the captivating stories, I had two absolute favorites: 1) “Smudged” [by Letty Wilson] and 2) “What Girls Want” [by Speranza]. I loved “Smudged” because that little toad drawing is so precious. During my MA program, I studied the use of animals to explore queer identities in comics. “Smudged” appealed to my love of animals and of LGBTQ+ representation in comics.

“What Girls Want” was probably one of the more “academic” pieces in the collection, and I think that’s wonderfully meta. As a geek reading about geek love, I come across a very scholarly piece and geek out! What Speranza did with the play on memes and then including Virginia Woolf was totally genius!

MS: Oh yes, “What Girls Want” was fascinating. I loved that meme before but so much depth was added to it in that piece.

JM: The Phantom Menace was raw as heck though. Like the people that wrangle you by the throat for favoring something else over STAR WARS or not liking STAR WARS. I always got the third degree for not being overly fond of it. (Although Mara’s fondness and passion for STAR WARS is the cutest thing ever).

MD: I loved the STAR WARS one!!! Even if the author missed out on such a good series. It’s fine, it’s fine. Not everyone can like cool space wizards.

THE SECRET LOVES OF GEEKS
Image courtesy of Dark Horse Comics.

JJ: I really loved “Being the Slayer.” I don’t know much about the experience of being trans, so I appreciated learning about that individual’s journey in such a well-written way. That goes back to how we can use different media to reflect upon shared emotions even if experiences aren’t the same. And maybe that’s the point of the whole anthology? Bridging these gaps?

MB: Even though I haven’t ever seen BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER (I’m afraid to admit that but, here goes), I totally agree that “Being the Slayer” was brilliant. And very exemplary of the anthology as a whole. I loved how people found ways to see themselves through media. And then how satisfying to think that more and more diversity is coming to each medium.

JM: You’re not even alone. I never watched BUFFY either but it sounded hardcore. 10/10, would watch eventually.

JJ: “So Say We All” [by Levi Hastings] was great, too. I love BATTLESTAR GALACTICA (the “new” one), even if it got weird towards the end (as the writer admits). The parallels the writer drew to some key moments in the show were spot-on. And it was a great tribute both to BSG and his former lover. But just in general — playing the game of “Do I understand this reference the writer is referencing?” was so much fun, too.

JM: BATTLESTAR GALACTICA got me so upset. I did tear up!

MS: Yeah, that one had all the feels.

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RD: The vast majority of works in THE SECRET LOVES OF GEEKS are autobiographical, or, at the very least, they use the first-person in telling their stories. Does it matter to you, or does it make a difference, that this is how these stories are told? Do you think having a character/person tell you their love story has benefits/disadvantages compared to traditional fairy tale love stories?

MD: Well, honestly I feel like the stories would lose their magic if they weren’t in the first-person. Part of what made them so relatable and so gut-wrenching was because these were real people who cared just as much about the same stuff I do — if not more so. And if they used a different way of conveying the info, it wouldn’t feel as raw, vulnerable.

JM: Personally, I actively avoid works that use “I.” It’s very picky of me, and I know it. But here, all these writers and artists are putting you in their shoes. I don’t think I could’ve imagined all the pure textual parts if it was written any other way?

MS: Hm, well, I think it adds a certain dimension of vulnerability in sharing a personal story and it makes the whole thing feel more real. Fiction is great, but I think THE SECRET LOVES OF GEEKS wanted to be more about real-world experiences. It’s also a good way of introducing multiple marginalized identities. People get all pissy when you’re like, “This character is ace and Latinx and trans.” They’re like, “That’s too many things!!!” But if a writer tells them, “I’m ace and Latinx and trans,” they can’t say shit.

JM: Yeah! Like, some people think it’s too ridiculous that one person could be “so many things.” But best believe people can be because here’s the author! Who’s all those things!

MS: Yeah we have this ridiculous ideal person and anyone who strays from that archetype in too many ways is suddenly “unrealistic” and “unrelatable.”

SW: So, I think there’s an inherent unreliability when you use the first-person. But it’s definitely the way to go with an anthology like this because it’s so much less didactic. So, like, these are stories of things that happened to real people, generally speaking. Fairy tales or telling them from a “Once Upon a Time” standpoint would undermine the anthology itself and what it’s trying to do. Which is to bring real-life stories to readers in an attempt to reveal vulnerabilities and allow people to relate to them. That would be lost with a third-person or more didactic sort of perspective.

JJ: Hearing it in first-person felt much more conversational. For the purpose of these testimonies, that helped a lot. I read most of these while eating alone in an empty restaurant. So it felt like inviting them over to my table to sit down, share some tea, and talk about love. Very good points, Merlin and Stephanie!

MB: Fiction can be a powerful tool for learning about love, I think. Which is maybe one of the reasons pop culture is such a source of passionate engagement for all these geeks. But, when we get to see the creator’s own experiences, there is a lovely effect of not feeling alone in your love. There were several comics featuring genderqueer people navigating the world that made me think, “Oh hey! That’s just like me!” And when you peel back the core personality engaged in the fictional universe and get to the person in the real world, the vulnerability (as Merlin points out) is really positive and lovely.

And to Stephanie’s point, totally! A result of having potentially unreliable narrators is that the lessons about love are more fluid and flexible. They can even have more power that way!

THE SECRET LOVES OF GEEKS
Image courtesy of Dark Horse Comics.

JJ: I think third-person can be used for when you want your audience to become someone in the narrative — it’s less personal, and I think the academic piece (“Girls Don’t Like Boys…”) touched on that (when discussing slash fiction and fanfic in general). But for first-person — and of course this isn’t always the case — it’s much harder to supplant the narrator with yourself. You feel the same things — identify with the same things — but you never feel you’re the person. Some thoughts on a potential distinction, maybe.

MS:  Also, something I just thought of. First-person allows for more gender ambiguity than third-person does.

SW: The first-person narration style creates a closeness that can’t be dealt with in the same way as it can be in third-person. At my school, we talk a lot about how first-person is to write a story about character, and third-person is to write a story about plot. These stories all have to deal with the characters that the story is about, not what happens to them.

In most of the stories, there would be a distance between the reader and the characters that would make the narrative ring un-true, and I think that’s the saddest loss in writing — when your reader can’t connect with you because you’ve held them at arms length instead of bringing them in, like Jeremiah said, to sit with you at the table and talk to you, person to person.

MB: But I think there’s an interesting part of comics that does invite you to step into the character — I think Scott McCloud talks about that in UNDERSTANDING COMICS — the less specific the illustration, the more able we are to identify with the character. Obviously, not all of THE SECRET LOVES OF GEEKS was comics, but I am curious as to how that adds to the relatability.  

JM: Some people (like myself) shy away from reading things with the first-person perspective, which is why not many people do it. I mean, when I got this anthology to read, I figured it would be a mix. But no, a majority of it was from the first-person perspective and honestly??? It did it for me. Call me in love with most of these stories.

MD: A picture is worth a thousand words? I actually love first-person narratives. It feels like you’re talking to an old friend when you do.

SW: Molly, totally! It’s more interesting with comics, too, because you can tell the story in first-person but the comic itself is in third-person, which creates a sort of in-between space, that allows the reader to step inside a character in the comic — like you’re a person in the background.

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RD: There is a wide array of different identities, orientations, and identifications represented and expressed in THE SECRET LOVES OF GEEKS. Including different types of people and love was part of the reason for this book, according to Nicholson herself. How do having different identities and different types of people add to the understanding and practice of love?

MD: Well, no one experiences love in the same way. Right? I think so anyway. So in order to understand what love means to geeks, to all kinds of geeks, you’d need to have people with all kinds of experiences.

MS: I think presenting a lot of different identities makes each perspective equally valid and special. Heck, even straight perspectives can be really interesting if the straightness is done as its own sexual orientation rather than the norm. Like, I enjoyed reading the military prep school piece [“The White Glove Brigade” by Kristian Bruun] and the Dogged Nice Guy one [“The Tao of Ducky” by Harris O’Malley], both of which were specifically about straight men and toxic masculinity.

JJ: I think Chris Roberson‘s forward said it best — when you hear the stories of other experiences, suddenly you’re not alone if you feel a similar way. “Oh hey — you feel that way, too? I thought it was just me.”

MB: I think every one of the pieces addresses this question…broadly speaking…”The Multifarious Monolith of Love” [by Patrick Rothfuss] discusses how different people can feel romantic love, sexual love, platonic love, or other types of love and passion. It can be frustrating to have one word to describe pizza and your baby (or your cat, or STAR WARS). It’s obviously not the same kind of love in every case. And I think that exploring all kinds of love is the best way to understand the wonderfully endless possibilities of love! 

JM: Molly, on that last part. The comic [“First Loves” by Amy Chu, Valentine de Landro, and Kelly Fitzpatrick]. Even if it’s not overtly romantic feelings, she has a love for comics. Like it showed that there was someone who was so over the different men who would approach her, but her first love for comics always stayed true. Like she didn’t want to be defined by her “intelligence” for going to MIT.  

MB: Yes! And to return to Jeremiah‘s earlier point, the fact that we all experience love — no matter how different the object of love, we actually all do experience love of some kind. And that is something that can help us empathize with people of different backgrounds and identities. Even if their experience is radically different from our own.

THE SECRET LOVES OF GEEKS
Image courtesy of Dark Horse Comics.

SW: I think it’s super important to expand the opportunities for writers and artists of varying identities so that they have places where their work is accepted and published. Which will expand readers’ empathetic responses. (That’s one of the best things about reading — it expands people’s abilities to understand other people and relate to them even if they’re nothing like you). It also opens doors for people to understand differing perspectives and to possibly find themselves in those perspectives.

JJ: I wanted to share one of my favorite [Hayao] Miyazaki quotations that came to mind — to kind of address a tangential point:

“I’ve become skeptical of the unwritten rule that just because a boy and girl appear in the same feature, a romance must ensue. Rather, I want to portray a slightly different relationship, one where they two mutually inspire each other to live– if I’m able to, then perhaps I’ll be closer to portraying a true expression of love.”

MS: I love that quote so much. And it’s such a problem. I know when I was a kid, anytime I was chilling with my guy friends, some motherfucker would start spreading rumors that we were dating. It made it super difficult to maintain friendships, especially as the boys would get more and more embarrassed and would distance themselves from me. It always made me super dysphoric.

JJ: I had the same thing happen — most of my friends were girls, growing up.

JM: #We’reActuallyJustFriendsSupportGroup.

MD: One time a guy said I should date this boy I was talking to. [The boy] was my brother.

MS: I’m screaming.

JM: Oh my god.

MD: It was just really awkward. We explained we were twins and he just said “oh” and left. We had a good laugh about it.

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RD: THE SECRET LOVES OF GEEKS is an anthology of prose, art, and comics. What are your thoughts on having these different media in one collection? Do you think they play well with each other, or did you prefer one medium over the others?

JM: I really thought there was too much STAR WARS. Not even anything against the series. It was just more prominent? Like there was a good handful of random others but STAR WARS seemed to be the main one.

MB: I enjoyed the variety! It embodies the diverse ways the artists think about and experience love. Though I also was surprised by the frequency at which STAR WARS appeared. I thought it might have been a generational thing — I did wonder about the age group of the authors.

MD: Because STAR WARS is the star of our lives. I will die for this series. The different media (like of comics and prose) was a bit hard to follow. Since I expected mostly comics.

MS: I think the different media were necessary. Like, I don’t think “What Girls Want” would’ve worked as a comic. And I don’t think the BATTLESTAR GALACTICA piece would’ve worked without the visuals. And Molly, I was also wondering about the age group of the writers. Where was AVATAR: THE LAST AIRBENDER? Where was SAILOR MOON and POKÉMON?

MD: I demand my POKÉMON and Airbenders.

MB: Clearly we will have to work on a sequel…

SW: I absolutely loved going back and forth between the mediums, because it gave my eyes/brain a bit of a rest in between the two. I think it was well spread out so that there weren’t all the comics at the front, or something, so it seemed well-paced overall. Though I agree — it was a lot of STAR WARS.

JJ: I liked the mix of comics and prose — the comics helped break up the prose walls a bit, but I thought all of the writing was quite good, anyway. And yeah — I felt like the age writing was very specific. Will this be a piece that can last for all eternity, or will many footnotes be needed? (e.g., “When the writers speak of STAR WARS, you must remember there were only nine films at the time.”)

MB: I was very impressed by the general flow of the anthology. Some of them were so emotionally heavy, and I really appreciated that there was lightness in it too!

JM: The textual pieces weren’t long and they didn’t feel dragged out either, thankfully. Like if it were any longer, my mind would’ve strayed. Or if it was all text and no comics.

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RD: Aside from POKÉMON and AVATAR: THE LAST AIRBENDER, were there any kinds of love, geekdom, or geek love missing from THE SECRET LOVES OF GEEKS? Or were any of these “loves” a stretch for you? If there is to be a third volume in the SECRET LOVES series, where would you like to see that book go?

MB: I was expecting a lot more HARRY POTTER…

MD: I’d like to see it explore platonic love and friendship more. I feel like there wasn’t a ton of that and, like, that’s how friendships are made. Or more on love of knowledge or family love.

JM: My sister and I are best friends and our world revolves around our favorite geeky interests to each other. So, it doesn’t all have to be romantic love, yeah. Mara knows what’s up. Also, where were the video games? Like, KINGDOM HEARTS was a big thing to a lot of people growing up and even now. The fandom was huge and I think it still is.

JJ: I would love some RPG and D&D love (to use that as a generic term) — I’m sure they could bring Patrick Rothfuss back for that. The only mention was in the Geek Relationship list, and it was the same old, “Oh — [nudge, nudge, wink, wink] — which roleplaying?” And seconded on the video games. That’s more of the bonding I’ve observed.

JM: Like, tell me how MARIO PARTY ruined a friendship or brought people together.

MD: I’d love an entire section on how families were broken over MARIO KART.

 

Image courtesy of Dark Horse Comics.

MS: Well, I would’ve loved to dive into the fanfic scene a bit more. Fanfiction gets treated as lesser in fandoms a lot of the time because it’s seen as a girl thing. That scene has some really interesting dynamics in it, too. Especially the fetishization of gay male love for the social enjoyment of straight women in each others’ company. 

SW: Oh man, I so agree with all of these. I would have expected a little more HARRY POTTER, for sure, and more across the video game spectrum. I do definitely think it was a little light on asexual/aromantic relationships and friendships, like Mara mentioned. And I think there’s so much there; even if a relationship does end in “love,” it usually starts out as a friendship. And fanfic! Oh, god, fanfic.

MB: My partner and I are really obsessed with lesbian B-movies, cuz let’s be real. There are not that many. And I think that is something a lot of queer and lesbian couples could appreciate. Which brings me to a question I had about this whole thing — we asked what constitutes “love” but not really what it means to be a “geek.” I think any additional anthologies might take an even broader look at that.

JM: Molly, I remember the movie BUT I’M A CHEERLEADER opening my eyes for lesbian movies.

MS: Omg I loved that movie. Speaking of lesbian B-flicks, where’s XENA: WARRIOR PRINCESS?? That show was so goddamn gay.

MD: Yes, XENA!

MB: Oh em gee, XENA. How could I have forgotten!? And BUT I’M A CHEERLEADER is amazing and has RuPaul in it.

RDChallenge accepted, Molly. Question 7b: What is a “geek”?

MB: But what is a geek!?

MS: I think it’s about dedicating hours of your time to thinking about nerd culture. Not just liking something but actively making it a part of your life and being devoted to it. Almost like a religion kinda.

JM: Merlin, they say that nerd culture is different though?

MS: Ohh you’re right. I kinda use them interchangeably.

JJ: How does that joke go?

“What’s a geek?”
“Someone who is drawn to created media — fandoms, etc.”
“Okay — what about a nerd?”
“It’s generally more technical. Like science or electronics.”
“So…who’s a dork?”
“Someone who knows the difference.”

JM: Thanks, Jeremiah; feeling the love.

JJ: #Someonewholookedupthedifference

MB: I do think of being extremely passionate and knowledgeable about a very niche subject when I think of geeks. But I dunno. I love birding, can I be a geek about bird watching? I basically feel like one.

MS: I’m a theater geek but it doesn’t feel like the same thing as being a geek. I think that’s because being a geek involves certain types of community dynamics, whereas theater people have a totally different social infrastructure.

JM: Molly and Merlin, so a [thing] you adore? I can see that. (And Molly: Okay but same. I love bird watching.)

MD: Geek can be anything you love and are passionate about. 

MB: Maybe adoring to a level that some tend to perceive as strange? Because sadly, I think nerds, geeks, and dorks, and all who know the differences, have a history of marginalization as a result of their interests.

MS: I think it’s the intensity of the interest even more so than the actual interest. Geek culture has a mainstream component to it now, but there are people in CAPTAIN AMERICA t-shirts who are still gonna laugh at the cosplayers, ya know?

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RD: How have your fandoms/geek culture loves intersected with your life? Have your fandoms “saved you” in any way?

JJ: Oh man.

JM: Same, Jeremiah!

MD: The PERCY JACKSON fandom literally taught me to read. Without those books, I would have never gotten passionate about reading. Which means I’d never have learned I had a reading disability, and I would have never improved in school and be where I am today. If that counts.

SW: Absolutely, that counts Mara! Oh yeah, definitely. I didn’t have a lot of geekdom in my family as a kid, so once I found it, I was in love. I have found some of my greatest friends and found the love of my life (whom I ended up marrying with a geeky wedding and everything) because of the HARRY POTTER fandom. It’s given me a place to hide in the midst of emotional abuse. And a place to overcome things that would have felt so overwhelming without that community that comes with a fandom, so yeah. It’s been super, super important in my life.

MD: AVATAR: THE LAST AIRBENDER was how I met some of my closest friends in college. It’s the whole reason we became friends. I bonded with another girl over classic movies. In short: yeah. Geeky stuff and culture are influential. It’s basically my whole life.

MS: So first off, I am embarrassed to admit it, but HOMESTUCK was deeply influential in my life. For one thing, it strengthened my connection to my sibling. We used to fight a lot. They’re AMAB and feminine and I’m AFAB and masculine. I would often see them as the polar opposite of me when I was growing up. We both started reading HOMESTUCK at the same time and ended up adoring it. We would go on long discussions about the characters until late at night. While reading, we’d voice characters of various genders. We cosplayed. It was ridiculous. Now we’re besties and it’s all because of a webcomic that neither of us wants to talk about anymore.

HOMESTUCK also made me feel much better about my bisexuality. It had a large cast of openly bi/pan characters who weren’t all stereotypes. At the time I was reading it, I still felt like being bi meant I was a poser and that the only way to be valid was to call myself a lesbian and ignore my attraction to men (which confused me anyway and I’ll get back to that later). Seeing characters that had queer romances even with opposite-sex characters, and how they just owned it… that was super powerful to me.

MB: I think my answer is two-pronged. First, my sister and I adored animal-centered young adult/children’s literature. My mom read all of the RED WALL books to us out loud! (My sister is now in vet school). I am still passionate about animals and conservation and consider that a part of who I am. Also, I included animals in my thesis work. I joke that my thesis was really about myself, because it was about animals and queer identities.

After I read FUN HOME, I really came to think of comics as a queer medium. And NIMONA, ON LOVING WOMEN, LUMBERJANES, and so many other amazing comics really helped me accept my personal type of queerness. Moreover, that there are so many positive ways to express queerness — even in pop culture!

MS: I’d add that fandom, in general, has been vital to me as a trans guy. Like, even when I was still nowhere near ready to admit I was a guy, I’d daydream late at night about my various slash ships and project myself onto the characters. I assumed that this was a normal girl thing to do because I’d seen the yaoi fandom. My bisexuality made things more confusing. I’d lay there in bed at night thinking about gay men and I’d be like, “Lol I’m such a butch lesbian,” during the day. I’d always use Halloween as my chance to dress up as a dude. It was my fave holiday for a very specific reason. 

JM: Heck. I mean, with my ex-girlfriend, we bonded over TRANSFORMERS. If I could ever thank her for anything, it would be TRANSFORMERS. When I’m upset or have an anxiety attack, I generally rewatch those clips about these hecking robots. Sure, most of their output for television isn’t the best (or movies…COUGH COUGH MICHAEL BAY I’M COMING FOR YOU COUGH), but it makes me happy. Optimus Prime makes me happy, and the picture I have of him on my desk motivates me to keep it up.

I introduced STAR TREK to [my ex]. Jim T. Kirk is my everything and trust and believe I would catch a grenade for my space boi. When my depression was at its worse, I would rewatch STAR TREK because someone like him kept me strong. And sometimes I felt like he would believe in me too and wouldn’t want me to quit the things I’m doing with my life. And since he refused to quit when the going gets tough, then I figured, I won’t quit like him either. It was funny seeing her falling in love with Spock though. Ayyy STAR TREK.

MD: STAR TREK is so good. Everyone should love it. Captain Picard for life.

MS: I’m a big NEXT GEN fan. Data was my son.

THE SECRET LOVES OF GEEKS
Image courtesy of Dark Horse Comics.

JJ: When I went to Felicia Day’s book signing many years ago (the memoir is great!) — excuse how pretentious that sounds — someone in the audience asked her why she went into acting (or what fulfillment she found in it — I don’t remember). What I do remember is how she answered the question.

When she was on BUFFY she first saw a taste of what fandoms are. How people — as she said — would not just consume something but find a way to incorporate the stories into their lives. It was a positive way to build community and break down walls between people. Maybe we don’t have the same background, but we can come together over this latest TV episode — that kind of thing.

So what that did for me was introduce me to the nobility of creation. Of making these safe spaces for people. Of seeing the need for that — being a storyteller or artist of any kind. This is certainly why I’m drawn to hobby board games and RPGs more than being a geek for any kind of fandom. It’s more about what sitting around and telling stories together can do. Of course, it’s true that I can tell stories of how stories have given me some insight into how to live — I think I have a few [ComicsVerse] articles on that. But this is where I fall in general.

SW: That’s a really beautiful way to think about it, Jeremiah. I think there’s a lot to be said there that relates to Molly‘s point earlier about these things being fierce and both a way to bring people together but also a point of contention. If you think about it in terms of stories themselves, instead of just one particular fandom, it can be really freeing.

Why Fanfiction Needs The Appreciation It Deserves!

RD: Why make an anthology series on love? We are predominantly American comic readers; we come from a comic culture of superherodom, action, and morality. So why love? Is it timely or timeless — or something else?

MD: I think love is something people like to talk about without fully understanding, y’know? You hear about it as a child in Disney movies and crap and when you get older you find out it’s a bit less straightforward than a three-act structure. When so many people with different experiences of love come together to discuss it, you see how anyone’s experience is valid and okay. Love isn’t a be all or end all, and it’s okay if you don’t love anyone. But you should love yourself. And I kind of like how THE SECRET LOVES OF GEEKS shows how to love yourself and what you love. 

MS: I think maybe it’s because a lot of people have this image of geeks as being solitary and alone. So the topic of love is a way to put a spotlight on interactions between geeks, whether sexual, romantic, platonic, or more. Because being a geek can be lonely but it can also be participating in a lively and unique community.

SW: I think it’s both timely and timeless, but I also think it’s one of the things that we’re most interested in in terms of society. These aren’t “romance” comics like in the traditional definition of the term, these are more like autobiographical tales that just so happen to include love in all of its various forms. And I think that, with the rise of [comic publishers] like Image Comics and Black Mask and BOOM! Studios and all the smaller publishers, we’re starting to see a bit of a shift away from standard superhero comics. There’s so much room for comics and stories like the ones in THE SECRET LOVES OF GEEKS.

MB: I think that love as a subject might encompass a lot more. Morality, superheroes, action, art, and lots of other things were featured in great detail and with great attention. Love isn’t monolithic, and I think people are more and more inclined to accept that and even embrace that. And I think it’s important to show all that goes into love — because it’s a lot. It’s more than any one person can handle. And reminding people that love isn’t always sexual, or heterosexual, or white, or what have you, is pretty wonderful!

JM: I think it’s timeless. Geek culture is what cultivated this feeling of hyper fixating on something and being so in love with it that it becomes easy, perhaps, to find someone who loves it as much as you do? American culture loves love (like hello every single action movie, hoo boy). And when you find someone who loves this [thing] as much as you do, it brings that collective feeling that while others might look at you weirdly for talking nonstop of this series, that person won’t. And then, as a reader, you nod and say, “Yeah, I feel the same way,” or, “This is me.”

MS: I also think something geek love does that regular love stories don’t necessarily do is that it requires a genuine shared interest. Like, god, I can’t remember a single damn thing that Bella and Edward actually enjoyed doing together or talking about in THE TWILIGHT SAGA.

JJ: If I remember from what my gender studies friends would say, there are certain stages through which groups must progress to be acknowledged or believed. One of the stages is recognizing there are people like you, and then it goes to wider acceptance. I think these days, there is a critical mass of that happening both in the realms of geekdom and sexuality/gender identities. And so in that sense, there is some timeliness to this anthology — from my perspective. 

And on the wider topic, it’s great to write about more than just conflict and people beating each other up. There is so much more to the human experience — and so much more to the human experience of love than what we’ve grown up knowing. Or believing.


Don’t miss out THE SECRET LOVES OF GEEKS! Purchase the anthology here.

Thank you, Hope Nicholson of Bedside Press and Dark Horse Comics for making this roundtable possible. Most especially, thank you Mara, Merlin, Jennyfer, Molly, Jeremiah, and Stephanie for your wonderful answers and discourse about THE SECRET LOVES OF GEEKS, and for reminding me why I love geekdom, love, and each and every one of you.

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