When is a comic book geek not a comic book geek? When that comic book geek is also a hippie, a capitalist, a builder, a dancer, a talker, a hiker, or any other thing you care to name.
On the way to understanding each other, there is a strong desire to label and categorize people. It is basic human nature to try and simplify things this way, but there are many times when it can become limiting, even to ourselves. I’m just as guilty of this as the next person, at times even more so, when it has been a conscious decision to hide or simply not mention large areas of my interests, for fear of confusing people.
Lucky for me I’m pretty disorganized, and somehow I find that I have less energy to try and compartmentalize my life. Unconsciously, I used to think it made sense to share only a few things about myself with different people, so they felt comfortable with me because they could easily categorize me. For example, colleagues knew about my love of art, architecture and design, while comic book reading friends knew about my enjoyment of movies from the ’70’s and pop art. Similarly my super-healthy friends were aware of an interest in meditation and psychoanalysis, while my late-night partying friends knew that more about my music taste. Eventually all of those dividing lines just melted away, and nowadays it has gotten a lot simpler for me, even if it is more confusing for my friends. I just can’t be bothered to turn on what I used to think of as my “friend filter”. If they choose to only perceive the parts of me that they’re comfortable with, that’s fine, but if you know me, you get all the contradictory, hypocritical options to choose from. I know it confuses nearly everyone, but like all humans I am random and weird.
What all of this translates to on a daily basis is that I no longer hide my love of comic books from people who I think might negatively judge me for it. It isn’t as if I really have a choice, it infuses every aspect of my life, even the parts that I am completely unaware of. This weekend presented a perfect example of it when I went camping to a remote, idyllic hot spring in Northern California.
As I packed to camp, looking forward to the soaking in the various springs, sweating in the saunas, and topping it all off by lying around in the sun a lot, my brother noticed something. “You’re putting all of your sleeping gear into the giant tote bag from Comic-Con, you’re using your Powerpuff Girls towel, and you’re bringing ‘The Muppet Show’ to read… Don’t you think that’s a little weird?” At first I didn’t even understand what he was talking about. What would be weird about those things? Then I remembered the kind of people who I meet at hot springs; People who are aware of the needs of their own body, who talk about chakras, yoga, prayer flags, aromatherapy and all sorts of things which I can talk about too… but I’ve never heard anyone talk about comic book culture. I wondered if maybe people would perceive me as having brought along negative, metaphorical baggage – An unwelcome intrusion by the props of a media-hungry world into this naturalistic and beautiful garden of Eden. Here we are, escaping the world of television, the internet and phones (there was no mobile phone reception) and I’m carrying these garish reminders of it all. What to do?
Despite my niggling concerns, I decided not to bother repacking. After all, I don’t actually own another tote bag as big as the Comic-Con one (who does? Those things are insane) and I don’t own another towel as big as my Powerpuff Girls one (it’s a giant beach towel, which you need if you plan to sunbathe on a wooden deck, or else your toes get burned by the heated wood.) The reading material seemed pretty low-key in comparison to a bag so big I could live in it, so I kept that too.
It all made me think. There seem to be some assumptions around people who are interested in comic books, as if it completely shapes and precludes all other areas of interest, particularly the traditionally “non-geeky” ones, like health and relaxation. For example, it is pretty much expected that we (as comic book fans) will also have an interest in science fiction, but no interest in nutrition. Or that we obviously enjoy cartoons, but won’t be into meditation. However, comic books are not exclusively the provenance of “geek culture”, and while I do love science fiction and cartoons, I also love good food, hotsprings, nature, and all manner of other similarly healthful things. Comic book lovers have always contained this diversity, and now more than ever, as American mainstream culture slowly accepts comic books as one of the communication arts, it must be clear that anyone can enjoy comic books and still have a rich variety of interests in all areas of life.
So while some people may think that enjoying comic books and pop-culture precludes an interest in healthy living and meditation, I disagree, in fact I think that they can enrich each other greatly. My appreciation of the brash, bold superheroes of comic book lore enriches my aesthetic appreciation of the broad variety of people I saw soaking in the hotsprings this weekend. Similarly, an interest in the body is a great boon to my otherwise sedentary comic book reading life, since enjoying and nourishing my body this weekend went a long way towards recharging my batteries for my upcoming desk-bound week.
It turned out that there were some people at the hot spring with cartoon characters on their towels. Of course they were small children, but still, they were there. And it is a hell of a lot easier to find and identify your towel on a rack when it is the only one with cartoons frolicking across it. As for my massive Comic-Con tote bag, by the time I came to pack up my sleeping bag and mat into it, I’d completely forgotten that I had it. That meant that when a man stopped and stared at me for 2 minutes, I had no idea what was up. When he finally unfroze, he said in an awed voice “That’s cool, where did you get it?” I replied “Comic-Con, it was free.” to which he asked “Wow, what was that like?” All I could do was smile broadly and tell him that it was great. I have to admit to feeling pretty happy that I’d brought something unusual into to this man’s day. Here we were, in an exotic, beautiful hot spring, and he thought that I’d been somewhere strange. We continued silently packing up our gear, but I was glad that my silly bag didn’t put him off of talking to me. I love off-the-grid hotspring vacations just as much as the media tsunami that is a comic convention, so I’m very happy to know that geek culture and hippie culture aren’t socially mutually exclusive either.