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Comic-Con: Quirky, fun, and very Gen Y

Ask any of my friends and they’ll tell you, I’ve always been a nerd. As a child, I read classical myths before bedtime, played viola in the orchestra, and watched more G.I. Joe than could rightly be considered healthy. (Well, that last bit might have been more abnormal than nerdy, but you get the idea.)

And yet–contrary to the tales of social maladjustment and woe that those parents of nigh-seven-year-old kindergartners in our last post might fear–I never once felt bad about it. In fact, it never really entered into my thinking at all. Every one of my friends had a quirk or two, and not because we were some kind of B-movie-esque nerd herd, ostracized from the rest of acceptable classroom society. From the jocks, to the brains, to–yes–the “musicians,” we were for the most part nerdy and cool. And in some cases, even cool because we were nerdy.

Walking to the San Diego Convention Center for Comic-Con 2008 this past weekend, I was reminded of this educational idyll as a departing teenage Con patron explained just that to his apparently confused mom over the phone: “It’s nerdy and cool, you know?” Which was about when the first Batman strolled past me in the crowd, recalling another mob scene of recent memory: The mile-long line I waited in to see a 12:01 a.m. opening night show of Dark Knight a few weeks ago. That, too might have been considered Loserville not long ago, but judging from the box office results for those midnight showings alone (never mind all the pretty girls in line…), the times they are a-changing.

And there’s evidence of it everywhere. Dark Knight‘s record-annihilating popularity, clearly. The 150,000 capacity crowd at this year’s Con, which flooded the floor from the usually chill preview night on Wednesday straight through the convention’s close on Sunday. And among the horde, not just obsessed fans, respectable-looking families and giddy comics professionals, but the likes of–no, really–Sam Jackson, Ludacris and Eva Mendes, eager to score a Con boost for upcoming projects.

Then there’s the current Entertainment Weekly cover on Comic-Con and 2009’s Watchmen, based on the celebrated Alan Moore graphic novel of the same name. Fans were treated to special teaser footage at the convention, which EW last year called “one of the most critical industry events on the calendar, as important to Hollywood as any festival in France or Utah.”

Is this mainstreaming of costumed culture a little strange? No doubt. But it’s a better, smarter and all around more exciting world when that’s not only allowed, but appreciated, in all its nerdy and cool glory. And while comics are hardly new, and their entertainment industry ascendancy dates back decades, I especially love the way that they’ve again become true cultural capital for us Yers, minus many of the labels that often came with even casual fandom in the past. We’ve grown up in–and helped grow–what was in recent years a quirky subculture into something we can all support, share, and enjoy without judgment or separation, whether we’re into the whole skin-tight-superhero-outfit-and-plastic-weapon thing or not. (A tad “Kumbaya”? Totally. But I’m feeling warm and fuzzy and drunk with jet lag, and I’m not sorry.)

It’s a cultural shift that a friend first articulated to me after reading David Brooks’ New York Times column, “The Alpha Geeks,” earlier this year. (Thank you, Paul!) Brooks makes a distinction between nerds and “geeks” that I may or may not agree with, but his basic premise–of geek primacy, with the likes of Bill Gates, Tina Fey and even Barack Obama as examples–is hardly debatable.

The challenge, of course, is how to keep all this authentic–something that’s even more important to many Yers than action movies or acceptance. Because there’s a point at which, with more studio executives than comic-book publishers in attendance, events like Comic-Con start to feel like still more icky, obvious marketing. And it’s only a hop, skip and a jump from there to an industry that’s (once again) boring and broke. But it’s a while yet to that. And I for one have the utmost faith in Hollywood.

Right!

But while it’s still charming–and believe me, there’s something about standing in that press of people, surrounded by art and artists and every creature in between, that just makes you giggle–thought you might like a taste…

Icons of my youth. If you don't know, find out.
A Planet of the Apes salute, at the request of Little Spidey and dad.
A very tall, very coordinated (and kind of trippy) Plastic Man.
My kind of crowd: Hellboy, Greedy Smurf, Little Bo Peep (we think), and a ton of fans. Best ever.