Shame and Wonder

The 2009 San Francisco WonderCon, and where to draw the line at geek pride.

Convention FloorAnother WonderCon down. Either I’ve gone to too many of these things, or there wasn’t a lot to this show, because it all seemed pretty routine. Nerds, costumes, crowded panels, sensory overload, awkwardness, repeat. A few photos are available for the curious.

I already mentioned that I was most impressed by the Watchmen panel, enough to make me anxious to see the movie on opening weekend. Other highlights from the show:

At a panel with Michael Chabon and Matt Fraction, they talked about the generational shift that’s happening in literature and pop culture in general, and how creators no longer need to be embarrassed to work in “genre fiction.” Chabon claimed that fandom first became a thing with his generation, and both he and Fraction gave accounts of “coming out” as fans of the nerdy. They said that the divisions between high art and low art, or “literature” and “genre work,” were getting blurred by phenomena like the popularity of Cormac McCarthy’s westerns (and literary circles’ refusal to call them “westerns”), and by Chabon’s own Kavalier and Klay. Overall, it was a nice survey of what’s going on in “real culture,” and a pep rally to empower the WonderCon crowd to embrace Nerd Pride.

Except — as I’ve said before and will keep saying every time I go to one of these things — a little bit of healthy shame is a good thing. When a Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist is saying it’s okay to be a geek, that’s one thing. But then somebody steps up to the mike for the Q&A and starts stammering or effusing and it makes everyone else in the room reflexively cringe and try to pull himself into a fetal position to escape the sheer awkwardness of it all, that’s a sign that We Have Much Road Left to Travel. (Note that nobody at the Chabon/Fraction panel was particularly awkward; there’s just a sense of general awkwardness that pervades everything at these conventions).

I also waited in line at the Dark Horse booth to stammer and effuse at Chris Onstad, the creator of Achewood. He was signing copies of The Great Outdoor Fight, but I’d left mine at home, so I ended up having to reject his offer to buy another copy and just say “you’re awesome,” Chris Farley-style. He did say that the success of Great Outdoor Fight has meant another hard-bound compilation of the early Achewood strips, called Worst Song, Played on Ugliest Guitar. If it’s half as well-done as the last volume, it’s a must-have: the books are so well put-together that they’re a perfect example of value-added publishing. You get all the comics that you can get online for free, plus a ton of supplemental material. Onstad said that the new edition will have back-stories for all the characters, explaining how they got to Achewood before the first strip.

Standing in line, I was in front of the Street Fighters, and I kept getting pushed aside for strangers to have photo opportunities. Chun-Li kept hitting me with her bracelets, and she did apologize for it, even though it was my own fault for not properly doing a dash-cancel on my focus charge while she was readying her secondary attack. In general, there was a lot more presence from the videogame world than I remember from previous WonderCons; I wonder if that’s an artifact of the Bay Area or if it’s happening to every place where nerds are celebrated. I noticed that the San Diego Comic-Con was beginning to look disturbingly like E3 last year, but the Hollywood influence was so huge that it was keeping the games in check. I’m not nearly as interested in comics as I used to be, but I’d hate for the comic book aspect of these conventions to become an afterthought. (Especially since the conventions will never be as cool for pure videogame fandom as PAX is).