Just a sci-fi girl in an apathetic world

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, “nerdy” spaces 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 first offered the opportunity to attend Montreal Comiccon as a member of the media this year, 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, and I didn’t want to have to write a scathing review about a toxic environment. Boy, were my preconceived notions ever wrong.

Montreal Comiccon completely shifted my perspective on what it means to be a nerd. It channeled what the true spirit of what being a “nerd” really is. I mean, where else on earth can you walk into a room full of strangers by yourself and instantly feel completely welcome and at ease? Where else can someone who is in love with an odd, campy, 90s television show about aliens find a thousand other 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, women of colour… I suddenly realized that this thing—this series that I had turned into such a private indulgence—was far bigger than just my secret obsession. These characters that I had developed one-sided relationships with weren’t just mine, they were ours. They helped us all relate to one another.

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. 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


ComicCon doesn’t have a harassment problem: society does

Blaming geek culture isn’t only insulting, it’s simply wrong

Beware ladies, there is a new threat roaming our streets, and it masquerades as superheroes and villains. It is… the male nerd.

With the announcement that the Montreal Comiccon would be implementing new measures to prevent sexual harassment at its event, the media went into a feeding frenzy. The Montreal Gazette typifies this, stating that “creeping at the con’ has become a widespread problem.”  Although probably written with good intentions, such reporting is hurtful to the two major groups who attend such conventions: men and women.

For men, the message put forth is that only a certain type of person would be associated with fantasy and sci-fi genres. Through the mysterious and threatening language used, the stereotype of the “ultimate nerd” is evoked: that of the forty-year-old man who lives in his parents’ basement, subsists on a diet exclusively of Cheetos, hasn’t seen the sun for at least five years, and is deeply sexually frustrated — an individual who would commit acts of sexual harassment out of social ineptitude.

For women, the message is not always one of protection, but sometimes of subtle blame. Many news outlets reporting on this note that some of the costumes worn by female attendants are skin tight and revealing.  Making that point feeds into the concept that if one dresses in such a way, one must be asking for the attention, looking for sexual harassment to occur. Such a line of thinking places blame on the victim, which is simply not the case. These women are lovers of the genre wanting to go, in character costume, to a convention.

Further, such reporting calls into question whether women are welcome at such events or even a part of the community Comiccon is geared towards. Through the stereotype of the “male nerd,” women are essentially shut out. Comiccon risks being portrayed as a boys’ club. Such a view excludes a large portion of the convention-going public.

None of these criticisms change the fact that sexual harassment exists. But this issue is not relegated to convention halls: it’s in the classroom, the workplace, and any area where people gather. In all other public places, a special group — most often a human resources department — is tasked with dealing with cases as they occur and offering training to try to prevent such situations. Comiccon is following this trend in an attempt to stop sexual harassment.

Sexual harassment does happen wherever there is a large enough gathering of people. Its victims are women and men alike. To date, the only report on male harassment at Comiccon is by the CBC. Unwanted attention, directed at both sexes, is a conversation that society needs to have.

It is easy to lose focus of the fact that it is a small minority of people at the convention who engaged in unwanted activity. Through magnifying the issue, the popular media is, in essence, doing something akin to equating all Christians to members of the Westboro Baptist Church. One would never do the latter, so why make it different for those who like comics, sci-fi and fantasy?

While the media hype will probably die down in the next few weeks, the issues it raises should remain a part of our public conversation. Lovers of these genres should put aside their ideological differences, take up their swords/staffs/light sabers/phases/mystical artifacts of unknown origins and say that enough is enough. Sexual harassment will not be tolerated, nor will those who commit such acts be welcome.

Student Life

A taste of Montreal’s 2013 ComicCon

Montreal’s ComicCon has grown tremendously over the past few years. From a once dinky collection of booths, it has become a massive convention with more than a few things to keep attendees entertained for hours.

The three-day geek culture convention brings together one of Montreal’s massive communities. There are over two- dozen booths filled with comic book artists who are ready to draw up an original piece on the spot, or for a lesser price, you can purchase a high quality print instead. These guys and gals are fantastic at what they do, and watching them work is a real treat.

Photo by Alex Melki.

You can buy anything from your favourite TV show/video game/movie, from comic books, to t-shirts, to figurines. Here’s a tip: withdraw some cash and spend only that. The temptation to dish out cash for some unique collectibles is a strong one.

Sony was on the scene as well, with live demos of their upcoming PS4 next-gen gaming console, and if the wait to play wasn’t 45 minutes, I might’ve even tried it out!

One pet peeve I’ve always had with ComicCon however is that while celebrity attendance is always a crowd pleaser, you can’t even walk up, talk to, or photograph celebrity guests unless you’re paying for an autograph/picture. Which will run you about $40 or more. Sure it would be awesome to meet Lou Feriggno (The Incredible Hulk), Christopher Lloyd (Back to The future) , and George Takei (Star Trek), but not at the cost of being broke. Yet one actor, Jason Mewes of Jay and Silent Bob fame, was present and was not shy of the camera.

Doctor Who fans were able to take a picture next to the famed TARDIS, Star Wars fans witnessed Darth Vader and entourage making the rounds on the convention floor, and Ghostbuster enthusiasts could have their photo taken with the Ectomobile. All in all, there is something for everyone.

But the best part of ComicCon is, and always has been the cosplay. Cosplay, is simply an abbreviation for “Costume play” and involves dressing up as a fictional or non-fictional character. Basically it’s Halloween! And some of the work these cosplayers put into their costumes is extraordinary.

So here is a taste of what Montreal’s ComicCon has to offer!

All photos by writer.

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PHOTOS: Comic Khaaaaaaaan!

Montreal Comiccon set up shop in Palais des congrès on Friday for three full days of pure uninhibited geeking out.

Now in its 6th edition, the convention featured it’s usual nerd-gasmy array of vendors and artists selling comic books, signed prints, vintage action figures, steampunk jewellery, obscure variations of “Keep Calm and…” t-shirts, sonic screwdrivers and plushie-versions of every Pokémon in the greater Johto region.

Saturday tickets sold out online, resulting in line-ups at the box office that trailed outside onto Viger Ave. Most seemed to make the wait bearable by befriending their neighbours and turning the winding queues into walk-by photo ops for the zombies and Master Chiefs shuffling along with them.

While the eternal Kirk vs. Picard debate rages on in excruciatingly detailed lists on Star Trek fan forums, both former Starfleet Commanders (played of course by William Shatner and Sir Patrick Stewart) headlined as this year’s guests of honour.

And the fans, as always, made the event worth attending with their awesome costumes and genuine enthusiasm towards their shared subculture.

*Want credit for your awesome costume? Leave your name and who you cosplayed as in the comments and we’ll add your info to the photo caption!

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