Originally printed in The Outlook weekly newspaper as an open editorial, May 9, 2013.
At one time, not long ago, the biggest insult you could call a comic book collector was “nerd”. Anything nerdy was to be seen in a negative light. I got that a few times when I was a kid, it happens. And I will be the first to admit, I was quite nerdy in my youth and still am today. Only now I wear it with a bit of pride.
Here’s four little stories for you about being a nerd. Two are related to a pair of very well known authors, one is regarding the changing world of comics, sci fi and fantasy and the fourth is a little more personal.
Back in the 1960s lots of kids would write to the big comic book companies about the ongoing stories that would come out month to month. During that time, it was a big deal to get your letter in the letters page of a Superman or Batman comic. Some became regular writers. One such regular letter writer was a young George R. R. Martin. Now, back in the 60’s, it was standard practice for the comic editors to add the letter writer’s full name and address with the letter (simpler times). Young George ended up corresponding with many other comic readers across Canada and the United States, and this eventually gave way to an invitation to a home made fanzine. Fanzines are magazines dedicated to science fiction or fantasy or even comic book characters. They were often photocopied and stapled together and either sold or given away. This is how Martin got his start writing, which after many years he ended up being noticed in Hollywood and scripted several Twilight Zone episodes. Now, Martin is famous for the novel series Game Of Thrones, which has gone onto critical acclaim on HBO. Quite the step from being just a comic book nerd who’d write letters to the editor of his favourite comics.
The world of comics, sci fi and fantasy is changing. At one time, there was a stereotype that it was only boys and would always only be boys. In today’s world, it’s not just boys anymore. Girls, and women, are filling up the fandoms of many different comic book, movie, television and even video game franchises. That old lament about there being no girls in comic shops has changed. But, there is a new stereotype in place which often questions girls whether they are “true fans” or not of a certain genre. My personal belief has always been, if you really enjoy something and make a good hobby of it, then you are definitely a fan of that thing. No one should question someone’s love of their hobby.
This moves into something I heard best selling author John Greene (author of Searching For Alaska and The Fault In Our Stars) once said. “Nerds are allowed to love stuff, like jump-up-and-down-in-the-chair-can’t-control-yourself love it. [W]hen people call people nerds, mostly what they’re saying is ‘you like stuff.’ Which is just not a good insult at all. Like, ‘you are too enthusiastic about the miracle of human consciousness‚‘.” It’s true because now a lot of people have added the term nerd for something they really love. Science nerds, computer nerds, math nerds, music nerds, Shakespearean nerds. Basically people who are really enthusiastic about something they really love.
Being a nerd has it’s down side but it’s also got a great upside to it. Sometimes that upside won’t become evident until years later. Which leads me to the more personal story, and involves my own writing. Years ago, thanks to my nerdy love of comics and science fiction and fantasy, I had created whole worlds and characters in my head, and wrote them down on scratches of paper. Amazingly, I kept them, and it wasn’t until recently that I’ve found them again. But thanks to never growing out of my enthusiastic love of stuff, those things I wrote when I was 12 years old have expanded, and even helped with my own writing.
Being a nerd isn’t a negative thing. Being a nerd is probably one of the most amazing things to be called.