How attending Comiccon helped me find community
Anyone who’s spent a significant amount of time with me knows I’m a horror junkie. Even as a kid, I grasped onto any opportunity to feast my eyes on something that would permanently maim me. When I was just barely 10-years-old, I cherished sleepovers at my grandparents’ house because my grandmother would take me to the video store and let me pick out any DVD I wanted.
At home, I was never allowed to watch anything rated PG-13 or higher. I was sequestered while adults watched movies that all my friends had seen, like Titanic or Grease, until I hit double digits. My parents deemed Kate Winslet’s nipples and hickeys from Kenickie as content far too inappropriate for my prepubescent eyes.
My mom’s parents were never the sheltering type, though. Nor were they fond of enforcing strict bedtimes. The first horror movie I remember watching was in their basement, shortly after midnight, both of them fast asleep on the couch beside me. It was Child’s Play—often colloquially referred to as Chucky. The film is a 1988 Tom Holland slasher (the first of seven in the series) about a possessed doll who terrorizes a little boy and his mother. To an adult, it’s a fun, vulgar, slightly cheesy hour and a half. As a child, it was virtually my worst nightmare—and I couldn’t get enough.
Luckily, it wasn’t hard to find others that shared my dark taste in cinema, especially as I got older. From supernatural scares at seventh grade slumber parties, to ninth grade torture porn marathons, to Marble Hornets binges during senior year, I found that most of my friends shared this interest of mine (or at least tolerated it). I’m guilty of making a good handful of boys sit through the classics with me. My first relationship started in my family’s dingy basement, kissing on an old couch while the credits rolled on Friday the 13th. Our hearts pounded in our ears as a result of teen hormones, but mostly because of that insane shot where Jason Voorhees’ decomposing body shoots out of the water and totally wrecks Adrienne King.
The thing with horror is that, while it’s not necessarily everyone’s cup of tea, it’s become relatively accepted. It’s not hard to find people to bond over it with. Yes, an obsession with it might be off-kilter, but it still makes for good conversation, pizza night entertainment, and background noise for makeout sessions. Throughout my 20-something years, I never really considered my interest in horror to be “nerdy”. It was so vast and varied as a genre that I wasn’t forced to identify with a particular group. There was something in it for almost everyone. Before last summer, I hadn’t truly known what it was like to be into something that few people understood.
About a year ago, I discovered The X-Files—a sci-fi television show about two FBI agents who investigate cases that deal with the supernatural. I had always been generally aware of The X-Files. I knew it existed. Most people I knew had either tuned in occasionally when it originally aired in the 90s, or had seen an episode or two on Netflix and given up. One night, I came across it in my “Top Picks” and decided to give it a chance. It was one of those rare occasions where, from episode one, I knew I’d hit the jackpot. Everything about it screamed “me”. I promptly reached out to anyone and everyone I knew and was shocked to find that literally no one in my personal life thought anything of it. Not only did the show not stand out to them as special, but some people even admitted outright that they hated it.
Aside from a few other fans I found in real life who I texted during major plot twists, watching The X-Files was a completely solitary experience for me. I watched each of the 11 seasons and two films all by myself. Because of this, my experience of the show was very private in nature. It felt like my dirty little secret—an escape of sorts. I spent hours laughing, crying, and gasping in front of my television screen during popcorn-fueled binge sessions after the rest of my family went to bed. I became deeply attached to the characters. Unlike horror movies, it was the first time I had an obsession that I couldn’t share. It truly felt like the show had been created for me, and the fact that I had no one to experience it with was both entirely uplifting and mildly heartbreaking.
Up until this point, I had little-to-no experience with nerd culture. I’d never picked up a comic book, I didn’t really like anime, I’d seen only a handful of superhero movies, and I thought “gaming” was something that 30-year-old white guys with neckbeards did in their moms’ basements while double fisting Mountain Dew and Doritos. Plus, I had always associated nerd culture with sexism. In my mind, events like Montreal Comiccon and online platforms like Reddit were cesspools of male cliques firing off condescending remarks and participating in sexual harassment. I wanted no part of it.
Nearly every time I clicked into an online forum discussing The X-Files, my preconceived notions of these spaces were instantly validated. I simply didn’t feel welcome. This was jarring, especially considering the feminist tones of the show. I was annoyed and I concluded it was an interest I’d just keep to myself. But, it was lonely. I wanted so badly to be a part of a community I could share it with.
When I was offered the opportunity to attend Montreal Comiccon as a member of the media, I was skeptical. I wanted to go to see if I could find fellow “X-Philes,” but I knew I’d have to write up something about the convention. I had already completely convinced myself that I would hate it. That it would be a big, money-sucking room full of old dudes with strangely specific fetishes. I didn’t want to have to write a piece simply trash-talking the event.
Boy, was I ever wrong. Okay, maybe not entirely wrong, but Comiccon completely shifted my perspective on what it means to be a nerd. In recent years, nerds became a mainstream clique themselves, turning nerd culture into an extremely lucrative industry. While Comiccon is very much a money-making event that definitely features a sexist dud here and there, it truly channels what the original meaning of “nerd” really is. I mean, where else on earth can you walk into a room full of strangers alone and instantly feel completely welcome and at ease? Where else can someone who obsesses over an odd, campy, 90s television show find a thousand people who feel the same way?
Walking into a room full of hundreds of “X-Philes,” I felt the most included and myself I had in a long time. It also made me realize that nerds weren’t all straight white men in cargo shorts tweeting about #GamerGate and quoting The Big Bang Theory. Nerds were 10-year-old girls, drag queens, disabled people, gay couples, black women… I suddenly realized that this thing, this series that I had turned into such a private indulgence, was bigger than just me. These characters that I had developed astonishingly personal one-sided relationships with—they weren’t mine, they were ours. They helped us all relate.
Comiccon takes a person’s private experience with art and makes it social. The main reason people attend is to meet other people and find those who love the same stuff they do. Making friends only gets harder as you age, so finding somewhere you can be yourself, express gratitude to the artists behind your favourite work, and meet people from different walks of life with shared interests is something pretty special.
There will always be cliques, fandoms, and rivalries. We will always be into different kinds of art and we’ll always experience that art differently from one another. Comiccon showcases that perfectly, but also reminds us that, at the end of the day, we’re all just huge freakin’ nerds. Together.
Graphic by Wednesday Laplante