The easy recap of the MicroCon 2007, the comic book convention put on by the Midwest Comic Book Association at the State Fairgrounds last weekend, would open with a pat description of the pudgy Batman in full costume, the goth girl with red contact lenses, and the middle-aged guy in green corduroys with Captain America’s shield slung over his back.
But pointing at the geeks and laughing is too easy. And I have no right doing it anyway.
Because I’m a geek myself.
It’s a fairly recent regression. For the last few years I’ve dabbled in respectable comic books—so called “graphic novels”—written by New York Times–approved writers such as Daniel Clowes and Chris Ware. But at the MicroCon yesterday, while forking over another twenty spot to a dealer from the Krypton Comics shop in Duluth in order to complete my Marvel Secret Wars collection, I realized that I’m officially off the wagon. When I was ten, I was into Spidey and Cap and the Marvel Universe, but then came basketball and Larry Bird and, you know, friends, for the next twenty years. Then my girlfriend moved in with me a couple of months ago, and, faced with the terrifying prospect of growing up, I started pouring hundreds of dollars into superheroes again.
From the looks of my fellow attendees at the MicroCon, I’m not alone. This almost makes sense, because most comic books are actually aimed at an older audience now anyway; the dialogue is more sophisticated and the boobs are bigger. And most tellingly, especially regarding my old Marvel Universe, is how our old heroes are faced with contemporary dilemmas. When you read what writers like Paul Jenkins and Ed Brubaker (the modern comic geek follows writers, not the superheroes that they write) are doing with the Super Hero Registration Act and the well-publicized death of Captain America, respectively, I could argue that hip-hop and superhero comic books are the only popular art forms really dealing with our post-9/11 mid–Iraq War American culture. But that would mean taking comic books seriously, and that’s the last thing I want to do. Seriously.
But walking around the floor of the Fair’s Progress Center (it almost sounds like a superhero’s lair!), browsing the quarter bins of more than forty dealers from around the upper Midwest, posing nerdy questions about “the Silver Age of comics” to said dealers, and salivating over “first appearance” antiques such as the Very Good Condition first-appearance-of-Wolverine Hulk #181 ($800), I felt that peculiar pre-adolescent freedom where you’re able to selfishly indulge in your own world—no homework, no helping dad with the car, no raking the yard. I tried not to take my head out of the fantasy sand too much, because, looking up, it became obvious that most of the people there were twenty-five to forty-five-year-old men. Geeky, out-of-shape, lonely men, awkwardly trying to relate to people that share their obsessive pleasure. There’s clearly something in the reptilian male brain that gets turned on by the obsessive impulse to collect, whether it’s some dude bidding for special-edish Nike Air Force Ones on eBay, or a guy with a basement sealed off for his record collection, or some man-child at the MicroCon looking to complete his original run of Brian Michael Bendis’s Powers. This loneliness is both by choice and by default: one dealer told me he got a divorce because his wife constantly nagged him about organizing all his comics—now he takes his massive collection from convention to convention.
There were a few women there—I ran into my buddy Heath and he had his ten-year-old daughter in tow. (Her favorite book is the teenaged superhero team Runaways.) But Heath’s daughter was definitely one of the few exceptions. Geek culture has always sent women mixed messages: on the one hand, women are attracted to badass females, from Elektra to The Bride, and on the other hand, the world of men-in-tights reeks of the “little boy” stigma, basically an infantile refusal to prioritize.
In that way, I’m one of the lucky ones. My girlfriend, for her part, not only supports my reinvigorated hobby, (as long as I mix in the occasional Tolstoy or Twain . . . without pictures), but she’s a reader herself (she’s partial to Wolverine). In fact, she volunteered to come along with me to the convention. She even spent $10 of her own money on a signed copy of Tiempos Finales by local comic artist Samuel Hiti (one of more than fifty artists with booths at the show). She might even come to the big ComicCon this October. To me, she’s almost worth as much as an Action Comics #1.