Nerd Is the New Black
By Jordan Staggs | Photography by Bill Weckel
The sidewalks of downtown Atlanta were so packed, I couldn’t even catch a glimpse of the parade going down the middle of Peachtree Street, much less see across it for a possible spot to cross. Fans lined the curb to watch their favorites pass by. Many were decked out in T-shirts, hats, and even full-body wear in support, proudly showing their colors for all to see. The weekend was sure to bring excitement for everyone, and the camaraderie was almost palpable.
It was opening weekend of the NCAA football season and a game was about to start at the Georgia Dome—but these fans were not here for that. These were folks of a different sort, whose pleasantries were far more likely to be along the lines of “Live long and prosper” than “Go team.” Some of their garb included Jedi robes, lightsabers, magic wands, masks, and a lot of spandex. The memorabilia they chose to purchase that weekend were not team logo hats or T-shirts; more likely, they took home artistic renderings of their favorite superheroes or autographed photos from some of their favorite TV stars.
This horde of seventy thousand avid and, dare I say it, obsessed fanatics gathered in the city for the annual Dragon Con pop-culture convention. Yes, that’s right. They were pretty much a bunch of nerds.
In recent years, the term “nerd” (for the sake of simplicity in this story, “nerd” also serves for those who might consider themselves “geeks” or even “dorks,” characteristics of which are topics of debate among the three) has changed with the times. In fact, if the number of comic-book adaptation films breaking box office records is any indication, nerd is the new black.
What is a nerd, anyway? Writer and vlogger John Green might have said it best when he proclaimed that if someone calls you a nerd, all they’re really saying is “You like stuff.” Everyone is a nerd for something, whether a particular book, character, sports team, fashion line—anything, really. People like things, and that’s awesome. Everyone should like something so much that they want to know everything about it. They might even want to write about it, make a movie about it, or dress up like it. When it comes to films, books, TV series, and pop culture in general, that’s what conventions like Dragon Con are all about. People who like stuff come together and talk about that stuff with others who like it too. It’s beautiful in the same way that fans gathering in a stadium to cheer on their favorite team is beautiful—you never feel alone, and you’ll always be able to find “your people.” Even if your people are Bronies.
Publicists and film producers Andrea Albin and Joanna Shirley of Bloody Bombshell Entertainment in Miami have been traveling the country for several years promoting their celebrity clients—many of whom are self-proclaimed nerds—who make appearances at conventions such as Dragon Con, San Diego Comic-Con, and even slightly smaller (but no less fun) events such as Pensacon and Gulf Coast Comic Con in Pensacola, Florida. Bloody Bombshell represents actors who have appeared in “nerdy” shows and films such as The Walking Dead, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and The Hobbit.
“Bloody Bombshell Entertainment combines two of our biggest loves: geek culture and film,” Albin says. “Our main goal is public appearance management for celebrities, as well as publicity services, but when it comes down to it, we’re just a group of fun-loving geeks who love traveling the world and connecting with like-minded people in a professional setting.”
Both Albin and Shirley admit they never really planned to go into the entertainment business, but that it stemmed from their love of pop culture and all things nerdy. Albin started out as a writer doing horror film reviews for Bloody-Disgusting.com. She later moved to South Florida to pursue her career in film production and talent management. Shirley moved there for a summer to help her friend and ended up joining the business. “I found that I had a talent for working with actors and in the convention world, along with production,” Shirley says. “I like to say that it chose me rather than my choosing it.” The two friends also run Fatality Films production studio.
“I would say nerd culture has entered hipster territory,” Albin says. “More and more people are buying Star Wars T-shirts, wearing rimmed glasses without lenses, and watching Marvel movies. But deep down, it’s a true culture. There’s something magical about a group of people coming together to share a love of something great.”
Shirley agrees, continuing her business partner’s thought: “Most of our clients proudly sport nerd T-shirts or gossip over what happened on The Big Bang Theory or Game of Thrones. The truth is, of anything mainstream anymore, the majority of it is ‘nerdy.’ We live in a world where the Avengers assemble and Baby Groot is rocking out to Jackson 5, where Batman is king and we visit Gotham City every week on our televisions. Our clients want to be in nerdy projects because those projects are the exciting new ventures that everyone wants to be a part of, and it’s the actors that are part of those projects that everyone wants to see.”
Those celebrities make appearances at conventions to interact with fans, sign autographs, take photos, and hold discussion panels where they can answer questions and talk about upcoming projects. Stephen Amell, star of the CW series Arrow (an adaptation of DC Comics’ Green Arrow stories), was by far one of the most popular celebrities to appear at Dragon Con this past year, holding at least one panel each day, along with autograph and photo sessions for fans. Often, the wait in line to get a seat in any of the Arrow panels was well over an hour.
Everyone is a nerd for something, whether a particular book, character, sports team, fashion line
Other highlights from pop-culture conventions include vendors and artists selling their wares, themed parties, games designed specifically for certain “fandoms” to enjoy (fandom is the preferred nerd term for those who love a certain series or universe, such as the Doctor Who fandom), panels on writing and other industry topics, and—maybe the king of all convention staples—cosplay.
Short for “costume play,” cosplay is the hobby—though it really is considered more of an art form—of dressing as a character from any fandom or pop-culture universe. Many serious cosplayers spend hours creating elaborate handmade designs that reflect their favorite characters and worlds. More casual cosplayers might purchase a costume or make something less detailed, but there’s no doubt you will see cosplays from all ages, shapes, sizes, and fandoms at conventions. There are also crossovers and original takes on a concept, such as the incredible Iron Merman (an Iron Man/merman design) created by Facebook user aracknoid3 Cosplay, which happened to mesh perfectly with the Georgia Aquarium’s Dragon Con 2015 party and cosplay contest. The contest was emceed by famed cosplayer Yaya Han and featured about ten finalists chosen by judges with distinguished cosplay backgrounds.
“I appreciate cosplayers so much. I personally never got into the dress-up side of conventions, but it truly is an art form,” Albin says. “I meet so many amazing cosplayers with so much talent that it makes me envious of their creativity.”
Though she hasn’t cosplayed before either, Shirley also admires the art form. “The concept of cosplay makes complete sense to me,” she says. “Who didn’t dress up whenever they had the chance as a little kid? It provides an opportunity to be someone else. You can be a superhero or a villain. You’re playing a role. Just because we get older doesn’t mean that we have to grow up.”
Conventions and fandoms—or nerd culture in general—provide an opportunity to do just that: embrace your inner child (or outer geek, dork, and/or nerd) and truly show your passion for your favorite things in an environment where you won’t be judged and can share your enthusiasm with fellow fans.
There’s something magical about a group of people coming together to share a love of something great.
“Every convention and event is a new experience for us,” Albin says. “Nothing stands out more to me than those once-in-a-lifetime experiences where I really feel that a fan has been touched emotionally by one of our clients. I’ve seen tears, laughter, extraordinary gifts; you name it, our clients have experienced it. And that’s what makes what we do worthwhile—not the drama, not the parties—it’s the fans.”
The Bloody Bombshells have supported Pensacon since its inception in 2014, and in its second year, the convention had more than twenty-two thousand attendees over the last weekend of February. Pensacon 2016 will be held at the Pensacola Bay Center, the Crowne Plaza Hotel, and the Saenger Theatre from February 19 through 21. The event will once again benefit two official partner charities: Manna Food Pantries and OneBlood. Dragon Con 2015 also chose an official charity and raised over $100,000 for the Lymphoma Research Foundation.
“The promoters, the cochairs, and all the people that we’ve worked with have been amazing,” Shirley says. “Mike Ensley with Pensacon and Rachel Reeves with Dragon Con are class acts and wonderful people. It’s hard to compare events because, as I’ve said before, each event is different and each one brings something new to the table. Dragon Con is definitely one of the heavy hitters in the convention world.”
The revenge of the nerds in pop culture has occurred in full Force. (I hope you understood that reference! And I hope you understood that reference.) Whether it’s a blockbuster film or an award-winning television or book series, there’s no denying that sci-fi, comic-book, and all-around nerd-culture staples are becoming cool. You don’t have to wear glasses or a pocket protector to appreciate them. All you have to do is embrace your love of stories, characters, and the worlds they live in, and not be afraid to share that passion with others.
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To learn more or to register for 2016 events, visit pensacon.com and dragoncon.org.