Don… oh screw it, I’ve made this joke too many times.
This is one of the most common questions I get that isn’t “Should I tell her I like her?” or “how do I get this girl to like me?” and it deserves its own entry into the Dr. NerdLove canon. It’s one of the issues where what’s being said isn’t really what’s being asked.
Stick with me for a second here.
Y’see, geeks, as a group, tend towards insecurity and self-loathing. Even with the rise of geek culture, video games cresting as a multi-billion dollar industry, the increasing popular acceptance of graphic novels as a valid medium and nine out of the top ten highest grossing movies in history being geek movies, the collective self-esteem of geeks and nerds remains fairly low.
If it weren’t, I wouldn’t be running this blog, now would I?
Because of these bouts of insecurity, nerd boys have an unfortunate tendency to feel somewhat… defensive, for lack of a better term, of their interests. This manifests in a number odd ways, including a tendency towards an insular tribalism, an “us-vs-them” mentality. If you’ve ever heard a geek refer to non-geeks as “civilians” or “mundanes”, then you know what I’m talking about. There is “our people” and “everyone else”. While they maintain a certain calculated elitism and disdain for the “mundanes”, most of them still yearn for mainstream acceptance.
Which is where the evangelism comes in; what better way to prove that “we” are just as good as “they” are by bringing them into the fold? If “we” can convince “them” to like what we like, doesn’t that mean that in the end, we were right all along? This desperate need for approval is especially strong where girls are concerned. After decades of the popular image of comic fans as basement-dwelling emotionally stunted man-children, nerdboys suffer from anxiety over women discovering that they read Green Lantern or collect action figures. They read stories about celebrity geeks like Nicholas Cage liquidating his comics at the insistence of his then-wife. They watch The 40 Year Old Virgin and see Catherine Keener freak out at Steve Carrell’s collection. They hear the hosts of the Today Show declare that anyone over the age of 20 continuing to play video games is just “weird”. The idea that geek interests make sex dry up and disappear is deeply ingrained in the nerd collective conscience. The nerd is seemingly pulled in two incompatible directions: girls… or comics. Girls… or games. Girl… or geek.
So why not date geek girls? After all, why not stick to people who will not only not judge them for their interests but take part? Well, because geek girls – while not the impossibly rare unicorns that they once were – are still vastly outnumbered by the guys, and are considered hotly contested commodities.
(And yes, that was a very deliberate word-choice, and something I will be addressing in another article…)
So what’s a nerd to do? Well, if they can’t find a geek girl…
Why not create one?
Now, there are many, many geeks out there who aren’t insecure. Geeks who genuinely want to share their love and appreciation of the medium with the people in their lives and hopefully kindle a similar love in their hearts. Thing is, those geeks aren’t the ones who want to know how to get their girls into comics. They’re the ones who know how to talk about their favorites and which ones to recommend to their friends and girlfriends. They’re the ones who know how to sell their passions.
It’s the fearful nerds I’ve found that tend to ask the most about getting girls into comics. And it shows.
It tends to come in two flavors:
In the first variation, when they say “comics”, they really mean “superhero comics”; love them or hate them, superhero comics are the dominant genre in the medium, and they tend to be the gateway drug for most comic fans. The majority of comics sold and read in the US are superhero comics from Marvel and DC… and the majority of comic fans read Marvel and DC almost to exclusion and don’t delve into non-mainstream comics. They love superheroes… and they want their significant others to love them too. The problem here is that most superhero comics are, frankly, not aimed at a female audience. The target demographic for Marvel and DC is white men, ages 18-34; if there’s any spillover into other demos then that’s great, but that’s a bonus, not a goal. The issues and reasons for the lack of market diversity in superhero comics in their current incarnation has been covered in great depth by other people, and I don’t intend to get into it here. However, the issue remains that most superhero comics are just not terribly female friendly and can be a hard sell, especially to women who aren’t comic fans already. The perceived stigma of superhero comics as quasi-homoerotic, over-sexualized adolescent power fantasies still remains, and the Variation One version of the question is all too aware of this.
The second variation carries the subtext of “I like comics, but I’m ashamed of liking them… so how can I trick her into liking them too?” This tends to be from people who believe that the idea of women and comics go together like oil and water. This is the conversation that frequently leads to the same recommendations every time: Sandman, Bone, Blue Monday, Strangers in Paradise, Fables and <Pick-Random-Manga-Here>. It doesn’t take the woman’s tastes into account. There is no consideration of her interests in other media; what books she reads, what movies she loves. It doesn’t take into account the inroads that manga has made in finding a female audience. The titles vary but the sentiment behind it remains: here, throw these at her, these are the designated ‘chick’ comics.
Needless to say, the end result tends to be the same: a fumbling attempt at evangelizing about how awesome comics are that leads to a half-hearted try by their significant other that ultimately doesn’t help and leads nowhere. And so the cycle repeats itself.
The cold, hard truth of the matter is, some people just won’t like comics, no matter whether you introduce them to The Ultimates, Transmetropolitan, Cerebus, Blankets, 8-Ball or Black Hole. They may love Batman Begins and the Dark Knight but never pick up a Batman comic in their life. And that’s ok. Couples with separate interests actually do better than ones who insist on doing everything together; there’s no surer way to build resentment than to force someone to do something he or she only tolerates, even if you love it.
And if you really do want to get her into comics? Well… you have to talk to her. Find out what she likes. Try to find titles that match up to her tastes already. And be prepared to accept that sometimes it just isn’t going to happen.
And for the record, here are some titles I recommend… to everyone. Because they’re awesome:
Locke and Key
20th Century Boys
Queen and Country