Ready To Step Into Your Favorite Superhero's Shoes?

The movie The Avengers broke box office records this weekend. That's just one sign of the growing interest in comic book heroes, science fiction, and other fantasy genres. Host Michel Martin speaks with writer George Gonzalez about covering a recent convention for die-hard fantasy fans.

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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Now, it's time to open up the pages of the Washington Post Magazine. That's something we do just about every week for interesting stories about the way we live now.

And over the weekend, many fans flocked to the theaters to see the comic book classic turned movie, "The Avengers." The film brought in more than $200 million in its opening weekend. That's a record for any movie's first three days.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "THE AVENGERS")

ROBERT DOWNEY, JR.: (as Tony Stark/Iron Man) Dr. Banner, your work is unparalleled and I'm a huge fan of the way you lose control and turn into an enormous green rage monster.

MARK RUFFALO: (as Bruce Banner/The Hulk) Thanks.

MARTIN: So don't be shocked when your friends and neighbors start showing up places dressed like characters from the movie because Iron Man, Captain America, The Hulk and Thor have actually been taking over trade show conventions like Comic-Con and PAX East for years.

Our next guest recently attended one such convention on a much smaller scale. MystiCon takes place every February in Virginia and features activities for games, Trekkies, horror fans and all such folk.

Here to tell us more about his experience at MystiCon is writer George Gonzalez. His story, "Lost in Space," was featured in this week's Washington Post Magazine.

Welcome. Thanks for joining us. And I see you're dressed kind of in disguise as like a regular guy, so thanks for that.

GEORGE GONZALEZ: These are my day-to-day clothes.

MARTIN: These are you day-to-day clothes?

GONZALEZ: Yeah.

MARTIN: So, first of all, who are these people that you call LARPers and SHLARPers?

GONZALEZ: This is something that I found out about when I went down to the convention at MystiCon and a LARP is a Live Action Role Player and it's someone who creates their own character and acts out that character's ideas or thoughts with other LARPers, and SHLARPers are Super Hero Live Action Role Players who are the same thing, but with a superhero edge.

MARTIN: A SHLARPer was recently in the news in this area because he dressed as Batman and he was, of course, stopped in traffic because, apparently, he was trying to stop crime or something. And then there was another example where - somebody else who - there were a couple of people who've kind of run afoul of law enforcement because they actually were attempting to stop crime and, you know, and act out their role fully.

Most of the people that you met at the convention - they don't do that. Right? Or they limit their role play to conventions like this?

GONZALEZ: I believe so. Yes.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: That's a good diplomatic answer. Well, what attracts people to this?

GONZALEZ: I think it's an opportunity to just unleash your imagination. When people go to these conventions, they really can do whatever they want, you know, within means. But they're really there to interact with other people, other enthusiasts who are really into the same ideas that most other people aren't even aware of.

MARTIN: How do people get started on this? I mean, you noted yourself that you're a gamer, so you're...

GONZALEZ: Yes.

MARTIN: ...kind of interested in where gaming fits into this and gamers are a part of this community. But the people you met who are really, you know, immersed in it, particularly the role players, how do they get started?

GONZALEZ: They usually said that they got involved because someone else told them about it and they said - I was talking to this one guy who say, hey, you know, when I was in high school, there were these kind of weird people who introduced me to this new concept of playing games and it's real social, it's an opportunity to interact with people and talk and do whatever you want.

MARTIN: Was it mainly male or female or was it pretty mixed?

GONZALEZ: It seemed pretty mixed. I expected more of a male dominance, but there were a good number of women there, as well.

MARTIN: You know, is this really any different, in a way, from kind of renaissance, you know, weekends? I mean, there's a huge - in this area - also like a renaissance festival where people kind of dress up in medieval garb and do medieval things. Is this along the same lines?

GONZALEZ: I think it's the same thing. Yeah. Except it has more of a sci-fi bent to it.

MARTIN: Sci-fi bent to it. Now, you actually - in your story, you kind of - you're not really being mean, but it sounds a little mean.

GONZALEZ: Oh, OK.

MARTIN: But you talk about a hierarchy of uncoolness...

GONZALEZ: Oh, yes.

MARTIN: ...and how the people who attend these conventions are often considered, you know, geeks and nerds.

GONZALEZ: Sure.

MARTIN: And you say that with love because you consider yourself kind of part of the uncoolness, but in the hierarchy of uncoolness, where did you determine these folks were?

GONZALEZ: Well, I self-identify as a nerd. I kind of have the classic look of a nerd where I have glasses, I have poor posture. When I was in high school, I had acne. When I was in high school, I was in a marching band. Those people are easy to pick out in a crowd. You can see them and be like, yeah. That guy's a nerd. That guy's a dork.

But the same hierarchy exists for people who are into science fiction and the horror stuff and fantasy stuff and, generally, you have people who play video games and they're generally accepted because you have - everyone knows who gamers are, like, they're playing it on their iPhones or on their iPads or they're on their computers and they spend a lot of time with it.

MARTIN: If you're just joining us, you're listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm speaking with writer George Gonzalez. His story about the MystiCon Science Fiction and Fantasy Convention was featured in this week's Washington Post Magazine.

You know, one of the things that was fascinating to me about this is that I think many people think of people who are very involved in gaming or in fantasy play as being antisocial, that they're engaged in it because they don't want to interact with other people. But one of the things that your story demonstrates is that that's actually not true, that many of these people are very interested in interacting with other people who share their interests. Was that a surprise to you?

GONZALEZ: It was very much a surprise. Generally, with people who are so interested and so immersed in their imaginations, it seems to be like a very exclusive activity, like you're not a part of it. So, when I went to the convention, I expected to be really detached from it and not get a lot of people reaching out and bringing me in. But I was totally wrong about that. Everyone gave you an encyclopedic answer for everything. There are no short answers at MystiCon.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: One of the other things I was curious about is how did people feel about being written about? Because you could see it from either perspective. You can see where people would be very interested to have people share their experience and understand their experience, and you could also see where people might be a little worried about people making fun of them or not understanding what they're all about.

GONZALEZ: Yeah. That's something that I figured out when I was down there. No one is like that. I guess people down there at the convention weren't really interested in what you thought about them. They were more interested in playing the game or discussing the game or discussing, you know, "The Call of Cthulhu," which is a short story by H.P. Lovecraft, a 20th century horror writer. They were really interested in talking with other people who are like-minded and, if you didn't like those things, they didn't really care.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: Well, OK. Finally, before we let you go, you mentioned in the piece that you had kind of an epiphany about these conventions and about the people who attend them. Can you tell us about that moment.

GONZALEZ: Oh, yes. There was a chair. There was this man who had a replica of Captain Kirk's chair from "Star Trek" and everyone was walking by it and sitting in it and taking pictures in it and everyone was having a good time, but for me, who's someone who never watched "Star Trek," it didn't seem like something I wanted to do. But to round out my experience at MystiCon, I went back to the chair and I sat in it and it was actually not as bad as I thought it was.

MARTIN: OK. Are you tempted now to dress up like Captain Kirk?

GONZALEZ: Not Captain Kirk.

MARTIN: You can tell me. Just between us. Just me and the hundreds of thousands of other people listening.

GONZALEZ: If I had to go back, I'd probably dress up as a Ghostbuster.

MARTIN: Good choice. George Gonzalez is a freelance writer. His story, "Lost in Space," was featured in this week's Washington Post Magazine and he was kind enough to join us in our Washington, D.C. studios in disguise as a regular guy.

George Gonzalez, thanks so much for joining us.

GONZALEZ: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF "STAR TREK" THEME MUSIC)

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