The geek next door

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Emily Bi/Staff

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We live in your houses and go to your universities. We have the same classes as you and we eat at the same restaurants. Physically, we look just like you. And we are always nearby, always in sight. We are sometimes the butt of your joke, and yet we are constantly standing right next to you.

What are we? You probably didn’t guess. We’re people who go to fan conventions.

As is to be expected of an arts journalist, I have never been one to quietly consume media. But it’s a different breed of fan altogether who invests time, money and often blood, sweat and tears into conventions. I have “Star Wars” and anime stickers on my laptop — so what? Big deal. “The Lord of the Rings” blanket on my desk chair and the “Star Trek” ringtone that wakes me up every morning are nerdy, sure, but they have nothing on my convention-going habit.

My geeky protagonist backstory is hardly unique. Kids who prefer reading books, comics and Japanese manga to playing jump-rope at recess tend to navigate through social norms a bit awkwardly. I like to think we’re destined to grow out of that eventually. Yet the need for a connection based on our fandom interests is always there, and that’s where the ingenious invention of a convention comes in.

It started small-scale for me. I had a hard time making friends in middle school, but my social awkwardness seemed to dissipate when I would go to Anime Club and hang out with all the other ragtag “losers” in the highly complex, suburban SoCal adolescent hierarchy. The fact that I was a quiet, skittish, bookish kid faded into irrelevance when I was able to openly talk to other people about the fannish things I loved so much. When I was 13, I started craving more of these interactions, and that’s what got me begging to go to Anime Expo in Los Angeles — which also happens to be the largest anime convention in North America.

I’m the first to admit I have been especially privileged in many ways when it comes to being able to attend conventions. Los Angeles is 50 miles away from my hometown — far enough that I can’t claim I am an Angeleno, but close enough for occasional day trips. Furthermore, I had parents who were mostly understanding about my (pun not intended) unconventional interests. So I popped my con cherry almost seven years ago, and I’ve been going strong ever since.

Another thing I’ll admit is that I haven’t varied my con experiences very much. Once I find something I like, I’m prone to stick with it and only it. I’ve stayed mostly loyal to Anime Expo and WonderCon in Anaheim, venturing out of my con comfort zone only to attend Crunchyroll Expo here in Northern California. I’ve never gathered the courage (or the funds) to attend Comic-Con, although that’s probably the only convention most people have ever heard of in their lives. Thanks, “The Big Bang Theory.”

I’ve been to enough cons that the experiences tend to run together in my memory. They’ve been mostly good, although the downside of being around so many other excited fans is how mentally exhausting it can be. More than once I have left a convention feeling emotionally drained even if I had a great time. And because I have witnessed so many of my friends’ first convention experiences, I’ve also witnessed how this is extremely common. When you’re in a loud, crowded place all day, trying to figure out how to navigate huge convention centers, stress is inevitable.

Nevertheless, we persist — the upside of going to a convention by far beats the downside. Where else can I show up dressed as a ginger cyborg and receive praise, not weird looks? I’m on a cosplay hiatus because college is hard and I sold my soul to The Daily Californian, but when I was in high school I frequently attended conventions in full get-ups sewn in collaboration with my grandmother, who taught me how to sew specifically so I could dress up as anime girls.

(Think what you want, but I’ll have you know she’s very proud of me.)

When it comes down to it, conventions are places where community is a given. They are places where quiet, bookish, skittish kids can meet creators and artists whom they aspire to be like someday.

It’s sometimes embarrassing to confess how much I love conventions and how I’m not outgrowing them but rather falling deeper into them as the years go by. With age, however, I’m learning to love the geek I am — even if it’s a convention-crazy, Spock-obsessed geek who, by the way, will retaliate if compared to Sheldon Cooper.

Alex Jiménez writes the arts & entertainment column on consuming art as an artist. Contact her at [email protected]. Tweet her at @alexluceli.