Comic-Con-Goers Flaunt Their Geek Credentials

The annual convention in San Diego draws a robust crowd of nerds and fans. Host Rachel Martin speaks with NPR contributor Glen Weldon about the flourishing subculture.

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Every year for the past four decades, comic book fans dressed as Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman - anything, really - have descended upon the city of San Diego for Comic-Con. The convention has grown as fast as a speeding bullet in the last decade. This year, an estimated 130,000 Con-goers are walking the floor, sitting on panels, and boosting their geek credentials at various workshops.

NPR contributor Glen Weldon has been in San Diego attending the convention. His recent book is "Superman, the Unauthorized Biography." So he knows a little bit about this world. Hey, Glen.

GLEN WELDON: Hey. Good morning, Rachel.

MARTIN: We just talked about Superman. This is, I imagine, a convention you feel pretty comfortable in. But this is your first time, right?

WELDON: It is. It's something I've been hearing about for all my life. And I've gotten a chance to actually see a lot of people who I've only corresponded with and, you know, meet a lot of the creators who I've only read. It's great.

MARTIN: And you've been talking to folks about how things have changed over the past 10 years or so. What have they been saying?

WELDON: There is a scrappy, little comic book convention at the heart of San Diego Comic-Con and it's not hard to find. And there have been people who've been coming here to hawk their back issues since 1970. It's just that Hollywood has discovered this audience and they're going all out to try to chase the geek fan base. And, you know, that's something that's actually been around for a long time. I mean, George Lucas premiered "Star Wars" here back in 1977.

MARTIN: In 2010, you wrote a piece for npr.org in which you expressed some skepticism that the iPad, which was brand-spanking new at the time, would save comics the way some said that it would. I wonder how you're feeling about that piece now? Are you still skeptical?

WELDON: I'll put it this way. I was wrong.

(LAUGHTER)

WELDON: The slice of comic sales that come from digital is still pretty small. But it's a very important aspect of comics and it is perhaps a future of comics. I mean, the comic shops that you and I know are very risk-averse market. I mean, they buy the books that they know will sell to their largely male, largely superhero-loving audiences, which means that a lot of different kind of comics that are being made just aren't getting into the stores. With digital distribution you have young and untested writers and artists putting their work alongside the work of DC and Marvel.

MARTIN: OK. Now putting all the business stuff aside, let's get down to what's really important here: the costumes. People descend into this convention with all kinds of crazy garb. What is the most outrageous thing that you've seen?

WELDON: You see giant costumes. Many costumes I don't recognize because of a 45-year-old person...

(LAUGHTER)

WELDON: ...but incredibly gruesome, but incredibly elaborate costumes; costumes that people have worked on very, very hard. And there is an unguarded enthusiasm that you don't necessarily see outside of this particular closed environment.

MARTIN: We mentioned 130,000 people. That's a pretty sizable group. I mean, this has become more than about comics. This has really become a robust American subculture, right?

WELDON: It's something I've been talking to a lot of people about here is how nerding-out is the new way we deal with our environments. And, you know, we now recognize that something like Fantasy Football is just nerdery. Memorizing baseball box scores is just the same passionate love, but just sort of more codified, more culturally accepted than it is if you dress up as Batman.

MARTIN: Glen Weldon joined us from sunny San Diego, where he is attending the final day of Comic-Con. Glen, thanks so much and have a great time.

WELDON: Oh, thanks. I will.

(SOUNDBITE OF "BATMAN" THEME MUSIC)

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