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Hope Nicholson Exposes The Secret Loves of Geek Girls

by  in Comic News Comment
Hope Nicholson Exposes The Secret Loves of Geek Girls

Dating sucks. We all know it to be true. Just meeting someone is difficult enough, and that’s before all the stress of saying the wrong thing, trying to be somehow not-boring, and figuring out some way to actually look good. Then, you look around and see so many functional, even happy(!), relationships that you just know you’re doing something wrong.

Well you’re not, and Hope Nicholson has the proof. Writer, editor and publisher of Bedside Press, Nicholson has shepherded the anthology “The Secret Loves of Geek Girls” into creation. Funded via a Kickstarter campaign (where it raised an astounding 330% of its requested funding), “Secret Loves of Geek Girls” assembles a stunning list of female creators, sharing stories of dating, sex and the four-lettered word: ‘love.’

With contributors including novelist Margaret Atwood; comic scribes and cartoonists like Marjorie Liu, Mariko Tamaki, Carla Speed McNeil, and Trina Robbins; gaming writers Soha Kareem and Cara Ellison; and Discovery Channel personality Twiggy Tallant, the anthology covers nearly every possible base in letting women (and men) know that their experiences are not unusual or embarrassing. The emotions are universal, no matter the particulars of the circumstances.

If you missed these acclaimed (with a GoodReads rating over 4.2) tales of lust, anxiety, confusion and true emotional connection the first time around, fear not. “The Secret Loves of Geek Girls” gets a wider release this October from Dark Horse Comics, with several new stories as well.

CBR News caught up with editor and creator Hope Nicholson to talk about the stuff that we all stress when talking about.

CBR News: Your own story in “The Secret Loves of Geek Girls” explains why you felt a book like this needed to be, but for those who’ve not read it and are considering it, can you explain a little bit why you went through the time, sweat and expense of assembling all this talent to expound on this theme?

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Hope Nicholson: Many of these stories I had heard verbally long before I decided to make the book. It was my frustration with the fact that they did seem so fresh, so new, and no one had been writing stories like these down. I had my own confusion about love and dating, and connecting to these women and hearing their stories really helped calm me down. But if people didn’t have these communities like I did, they can’t benefit, and they can get stuck in their own heads about their worries. The hope of this book wasn’t that it would be a self-help book per se (you can see that no one woman has the same story or decision!) but just a way for readers to feel less alone, and more connected to a wider community.

One of my favorites is Marguerite Bennett’s “Minas Tirth,” which uses “Lord of the Rings” geography (and figs!) in an amazing seduction sequence, but then completely upends expectations about these two women’s compatibility. If there is an underlying message to the entire book, it may be that geek interests alone do not create a relationship or alleviate the anxieties of one. Does that sound right to you?

No — I’d be very reluctant to say there is any underlying message! The main point might be that these are stories of vastly different women, in similar and different situations, who react differently or the same, and all have different results regardless of their actions. The main message, if any, is “there really is no how-to guide for dating; it’s all random. That’s OK. Don’t beat yourself up because you think you chose the wrong path.”

Loretta Jean’s “Leveling Up Your Dating Profile” is a really nice how-to manual for online daters to spotlight their interests and appeal to others geeks (without creating an impersonal list of interests). Meanwhile “Read: 1:19am” (Jen Aprahamian) reads almost every anxiety possible into the delays and toneless communiques of text messages and trying to learn a new person that way. As much as technology changes how we reach one another, the underlying human connection and communication remains that constant, doesn’t it?

My mother told me yesterday about how she used to wait by the phone anxiously for a boy to call her after a date. My grandmother would say that she would wait to be called on by guys (only to hide in her room if the wrong one came to the door). Technology changes nothing except for the speed of our dating anxieties. Everything is the same, just sped up a little.

Well, to be honest, I’m not very fond of waiting myself, though it’s an inevitability in relationships at certain points. If at all possible, I don’t mind following up and checking in. Like ripping off a band-aid.

“Secret Loves of Geek Girls” was initially funded on Kickstarter and released through your own Bedside Press. How did you wind up in collaboration with Dark Horse for this edition? How much extra material was added for the expanded edition?

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I had started working with Dark Horse when I brought them the Margaret Atwood, Johnnie Christmas and Tamra Bonvillain graphic novel series “Angel Catbird.” When time came that I was considering a distributor or publishing partner to expand the reach of “Secret Loves of Geek Girls,” they were on my list to be considered along with Abrams, First Second, and IDW. I went with Dark Horse because I was so impressed with editor Daniel Chabon’s attitude and energy when working with him on “Angel Catbird.” He has the rare ability to not bullshit in order to get what he wants; he’s a straight shooter but also genuinely kind. It’s a good and rare aspect of an editor. In addition to that, I had worked with Penguin Random House in their sales department and had been really impressed with their sales team and their enthusiasm for diving into markets; since Dark Horse does book sales through PRH, it seemed like a great fit.

There was only a bit new material added. We changed the cover, though not because Gisèle Lagacé’s original cover wasn’t brilliant and gorgeous (it’s now on the back cover and inside title page) but to differentiate it from the Kickstarter edition, and to add a new member to the team, Noelle Stevenson. We also had one story removed from an author who didn’t want it for the Dark Horse edition, and added a few new things. We added new forewords by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Colleen Doran, both of whom are women who impress me deeply. We also added a new pinup by Genevieve FT, two new one-page comics by Carla Speed McNeil and Paulina Ganucheau, and one new prose story by Marjorie Liu. There were also various small changes to colours and text in some stories that we only caught after it was released and were fixed for this edition.

The title definitely reflects the often hidden nature of women with traditional geek interests, and I think that’s hidden on two levels – that women don’t always feel comfortable admitting their interests to family or friends, and that even within geek culture, women are often overlooked, unappreciated, or considered poseurs. Assembling all these women in one place to tell these stories, it really gives power and a sense of community, doesn’t it?

That’s the idea. We build our own communities to connect, and for clear reasons, we don’t always feel comfortable broadcasting these groups. Of course, it’s likely more than 70% of the comics reading population don’t consider women poseurs. It’s just this small group of (usually) men who seem to think that we’re in their clubhouse when it’s actually, “We aren’t in your clubhouse. We built our damn hangout for everyone and we’re all sharing this space.” They forget women have always been in fandom. We have women in the anthology who gently remind them of that. (We women must always be gentle with the truth, right?) People forget history quickly if they don’t like what it says.

As a guy, the main thing that leapt out at me reading this is just how universal the anxiety of love/dating/building a relationship and life with someone truly is. The individual specifics may change (I know zip about gaming and had to look up JRPG, for example) in these intensely personal and profoundly philosophical stories, there is a universality to the emotions, isn’t there?

Yes, I myself had trouble editing the gaming related stories, as I’ve only really played very basic games, and women like Cara Ellison, Sam Maggs and Soha Kareem are far above me in their knowledge! I definitely think anxiety in dating is common regardless of genders. I remember speaking to a guy friend who was frustrated and said, “Why do women never text you back right away when you text them?” I was so surprised because “I thought it was you guys who only did that!”

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While female voices in comics have nearly always existed in comics (see “Wimmen’s Comix”), they haven’t always had much profile in the industry. While we have a long way to go toward achieving balanced representation, it must feel rewarding to have so many talented women available for a project like this?

It’s rewarding and frustrating. “Secret Loves” is one of many projects that have sought to showcase “Look, we’re clearly here, so knock off your complaining,” and it doesn’t seem to absorb. It goes back and forth. In many ways, gender ratio was the best in the 1940s, but there weren’t a great deal of female creators then (much less for women who weren’t white) and were fewer outlets for non-commercial comic work. Luckily readership increases regardless, so hopefully people who pick on others will quiet down when they’re outnumbered.

You don’t often find the mixture of comics and prose within a single anthology like you’ve done here. How early on did that approach come into focus and why the mixed presentations rather than one or the other?

Well, actually the project was first intended to be prose only! Most of my friends weren’t comics creators, just regular fans. But as time went on, some approached me to do comics and the numbers grew until I decided to merge them both into one.

In her introduction, Kelly Sue DeConnick writes a bit about rebelling against romance in her own writing, as it’s often stereotyped as the only storytelling women find interesting. Did you have any reservations about creating a book entirely about relationships and love?

I think I dealt with those issues long ago, though I definitely understand them. No one wants to fall into a stereotype, but we all have questions about romance, love, and sex. I have no shame in discussing them. I am glad that Kelly Sue discussed this in her foreword though, as there is an attraction to just “being one of the boys” and that includes a resistance to discussing feelings and emotions. Hopefully women, and men, who feel like that can start to be vulnerable without being scared.

I’m sure it’s frustrating that as a woman in comics, you’re sometimes expected to speak for all women. Having this book, with its wide range of voices, to put in somebody’s hand should go a long way toward alleviating that universal expectation.

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It is very frustrating. And you want to make sure you reach out to everyone, but sometimes that isn’t easy, because there is a vast variety of women out there! One thing that was frustrating in particular is that I wasn’t pitched any stories by any women who consider themselves asexual, and I thought that was something important to talk about. The other problem is that by the very concept and title of the book, it limits stories to women who define themselves by their gender, and some people feel neither male nor female (gender is a binary construct not set in stone!)

Will there be a “More Secret Loves of Geek Girls”?

Why not “Secret Loves of Geek Men”?! Let’s hear what the other gender has to say, and all of the variety of love stories. I bet a lot of them are the same. There’s a great diversity in men, but they don’t seem to encourage it as much as they do for women’s stories. I want to hear stories from queer men, trans men, asexual men, men with high sex drives, low sex drives. I think that could be quite important, and I’m in the early stages of making this book as well. I’ve been trying to decide whether to do three volumes – geek girls, geek guys, and just ‘geeks’ (ungendered, men, women, and nonbinary creators). We’ll see. It’s a lot of work!

What’s next for you and Bedside Press?

Oh, well I keep busy. I just wrote a book on comic book history for Quirk Books due out next summer called “The Spectacular Sisterhood of Superwomen.” It’s a light read that showcases ten female characters in comics from each decade, along with a brief decade overview of the changes in the comics industry and fandom.

Next month, I have a prose collection called “Love Beyond Body, Space, and Time” coming out that showcases queer indigenous sci-fi stories.

In October I’ll be releasing “Fashion In Action,” a reprint of a largely unknown 1980s series by John K Snyder III.

I’ll also be beginning a new Kickstarter in October for an original Trina Robbins graphic novel by a variety of artists that is a memoir adaptation of her father’s life. It’s called “A Minyan Yidn (Un Andere Zacken)” which translates to: “A Bunch of Jews (and other stuff).” It’s definitely going to be a fun, touching book I’m eager to showcase.

After that is printed and released, I’ll be starting a Kickstarter that revitalizes the gothic romance genre, called “Gothic Tales of Haunted Love” and have some amazing talent lined up for this.

I also am still working on 1940s Canadian comic restorations which I hope to showcase in the next few months!

I’m doing some work on projects that other people are spearheading, “Enough Space for Everyone Else,” a collection of diverse sci-fi comics with editor J.N. Monk, which should come out by December, and “Moonshot v2,” an indigenous comics anthology which is currently on Kickstarter now on which I’ll be the editor (but not publisher) if it succeeds.

“The Secret Loves of Geek Girls” is in stores now.

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