One year ago today, this writer and lifelong fanboy cringed as he officially entered the realm of the thirtysomethings, and to my best ability, I tried all I could to ignore the awful truth. I had grand plans of a personal retrospective of my thirty-years on this Earth with a piece entitled Nerdy@Thirty, but procrastination and a busy professional schedule seemed to put the project on the furthest-back-of-burners. As I turn 31 on this balmy June day (which is no longer of note because of the release of G.I. Joe: Retaliation), the opportunity to flashback to my younger days is of the utmost urgency, because before long, it’ll be titled Nerdy@Forty, and that just doesn’t have the same ring to it. Join me in my nostalgia-Delorian, won’t you, as I recount the influences and events of my first thirty(one) years which molded me into the shapely fanboy I am today.
What better decade to grow up in than the 1980′s? Surely, an argument could be made for the 1940′s, the Golden Age of comic books, the 1960′s, which brought us the original Star Trek television show, or even the 70′s, which saw the release of Giant Size X-Men #1 and Star Wars. The 80′s though, dudes and dudettes, was the epicenter of candy-colored adolescent consumption.
Everything had a Saturday morning cartoon, everything had a toy line, and everything transformed into something even more ridiculous than the last. Home entertainment grew by leaps and bounds, as VCR’s and VHS tapes became household staples, and you’d be hard pressed to find an Eighties kid without a stack of those gigantic plastic boxes of Disney animated films or badly-dubbed bootlegs of Muppet movies replayed within an inch of their lives. The momentum of cable television gave us more choices for summer vacation programming than ever before. The infancy of computer gaming and the debut of the Nintendo Entertainment System gave birth to an entire generation of gamers who would never again see the light of day.
The decade began with, arguably, the greatest Star Wars movie of all time, The Empire Strikes Back, but three years into the Me Generation, Return of the Jedi hit theaters and solidified itself as my favorite installment of the trilogy. I spent many an afternoon demeaning alien women with my Jabba’s Throne playset, and my Rancor Monster would reek havoc across my basement floor and toy licenses, alike. George Lucas‘ Star Wars merchandising monolith fostered the transition from the doll-like Mego and G.I. Joe toys to the small-scale action figure lines, including a revival of the aformentioned Joes with the 3 and 3/4″ Real American Hero line, as well as other stalwarts of my massive collection of “guys” like Kenner’s Super Powers, Mattel’s Masters of the Universe, and eventually, Playmates’ Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
My affinity for the Heroes on the Halfshell should be no mystery to regular PoP! readers or listeners of the Panels On Pages PoP!-Cast, so no need to go on for too long about the pizza-loving party-dudes when we’re just scratching the surface of this thirty-year retrospective, but fer reals, you guys: the Ninja Turtles were awesome. I doubt a property dominated more of my life and my parents’ wallets than that of Eastman and Laird‘s goofball creations.
As I grew up (note: not “matured”), and as the 80′s led into the 90′s, my interests evolved just as some of the properties I had loved took more “grown up” directions. Tim Burton‘s 1989 big screen adaptation of Batman was much darker and adult than the Super Friends and Adam West versions I was weaned on. My obsession for Jack Nicholson‘s perfomance as The Joker lead to one of my favorite Halloween costumes of my life. What could be cuter than a chubby little mass-murderer in a purple courdoroy suit?
The tone of Batman definitely reverberated into the original live-action Ninja Turtles film, which would bring my Turtle-mania to a fever pitch, even as the toy line and cartoon had devolved into the realm of ridiculous (well, more ridiculous than mutated reptile teenagers).My Saturday mornings would soon belong to Fox’s X-Men animated series, and the Children of the Atom would become my next plastic crack collection, introducing me to the comic industry boom of the 1990′s thanks to a copy of X-Men #1 procured at a flea market. My need to know the latest news in regards to Toy Biz’s X-Men toy line lead to a middle-school friend tossing me an issue of Wizard: The Guide to Comics, which, along with its sister rag ToyFare, would become my bible of The Nineties.
Heading into high school, I openly read my issues of Wizard and Toyfare for all prying eyes to see, which might be partly responsible for my lack of dates. The internet was quickly becoming a thing, and well before The PoP!ulation Forums, there were the Wizard Universe forums, then exclusive to America Online. It didn’t matter that most of my friends had better things to do than to write wishlists of never-before-seen action figures, or bag and board comics books, because I had a whole community of like-minded people to start flame wars with as soon as I got home from school.
Wizard was also responsible for exposing me to the man who would be my idol for the better part of my late-teens and early-twenties, the geek God known as Kevin Smith. Smith had made a career for himself out of being a paunchy, smart-ass writer/director with a penchant for heavy-handed dialogue soaked with movie and comic book references. My reverance for Kevin Smith’s View Askew-niverse and my luck with the ladies lead me to write a high school play about a kid turning to super-villainy to catch the eye of the popular girl, which cribbed Smith’s talky and referency writing style.
After graduation, and an ill-informed stint at the University of Central Florida, my future was uncertain, but there was one thing that kept me from wrapping my lips around a Nintendo Zapper. July 14th, 2000, was the culmination of my pre-teen and teenage years, as the all-new, all-different X-Men debuted on the big screen. X-Men begat Sam Raimi’s Spider-man, which debuted with the highest grossing weekend of all time, and ushered in a string of comic book adaptions.
In the midst of the comic book movie boom, and at the tail-end of Kevin Smith’s dominance as the king of the indie-comedy, I made my way through film school. Whether I wanted to be the next Bryan Singer, or I wanted to write the next Chasing Amy, I knew I wanted to be a storyteller, and considering the late-90′s crash of the comic industry thanks to speculation and chromium covers, the film industry felt like my best bet. My obsession with cartoons and comic heroes would soon give way to my fandom for pro-wrestling and metal, and it wasn’t until years later that I would rediscover Wizard Magazine and my love of the comic book industry.
By early 2008, I was back into the comic-groove big time, as I had set-up my first pull-list at the local comic shop (which was just across the mall from a movie theater–SCORE), and all of my excess funds were going to my Marvel Legends and DC Universe Classics collections. Marvel was just getting things started for their own movie universe with Iron Man, and The Dark Knight would open to record numbers on the heels of the untimely death of Heath Ledger, who would go on to win a posthumous Academy Award for his performace as The Joker. In need of the latest comic movie news, and info on the release of Hasbro’s second series of Marvel Legends, I signed up for the Wizard Universe Message Boards.
After insinuating myself into the community and eventually becoming part of the family, I attended Wizard World Chicago Comic-Con 2008, my first comic convention. and met my first WUMBers, as well as legit members of the Wizard staff at the Hala Kahiki tiki bar in Rosemont, IL. One of those fellow WUMBers was Lee Rodriguez, who I would later co-found PanelsOnPages with (spoiler), and one of the Wizard staffers was Jim Gibbons, who I would eventually beg to give me a spot writing for the Wizard Universe website. Thanks to that opportunity from Jim, the relationships I forged with fellow WUMBers, and the urge to make something of our own, on March 6th, 2009, PanelsOnPages.com was born.
PoP! become just that, something of our own, and we modeled our content and community off of the Wizard and Toyfare models we were fans of. As Wizard would dive into a tailspin, leaving WUMBers without a place to call their own, the ranks of The PoP!ulation and The PoP!ulation Forums would grow and improve. I would return to Wizard World Chicago Comic-Con in 2009, but now, as part of the PoP!-team, and with my fellow film-school dropout Jose Guzman and HD cameras in tow, we produced our first extensive coverage of a comic convention event for the PoP! site.
Returning to our home base in April of 2010 for a NEW Chicago comic convention advertised as “The Con Chicago Needs, The Con You Deserve“, PoP! went into the inaugural C2E2 as another chance to get some cool video, hang with friends, and participate in general hijinx and tomfoolery. Despite the fact that we all thought we were rock stars, we had no idea that our attendance at the first C2E2 would prove to create some of the coolest opportunities for PoP! and The 11th Hour.
Here we are, a few months past the third anniversary of PanelsOnPages.com, in the wake of the Marvel Studios‘ films culminating with The Avengers becoming the third biggest movie of all time, and gearing up for the reboot of the Spider-Man franchise and the final Christopher Nolan Bat-Film, with New York Comic-Con and season three of The Walking Dead set for October. Kevin Smith has transitioned from filmmaker to has-been to podcast pioneer, and is the guiding hand behind a hit reality show featuring his comic shop and employees. The Ninja Turtles are back in the news thanks to a controversial franchise reboot proposed by Michael Bay. DC is nearing the one-year anniversary of their status-quo crushing New 52 reboot. There are so many female fans of genre fiction, something previously only a pipe dream, they grow louder by the day with their desire to become a more respected portion of the audience. Despite the venom and controversy which dominates the comic industry these days, we really are reaching a renaissance of our fandom. Social media allows us to communicate with fans and creators alike, our funny books are transitioning into the digital universe, and our culture has become so accepted and mainstream, it’s almost to the point of over-exposure.
Call me conceited, but I always expected I was destined for great things, but I never knew that I’d be able to credit my fandom with my successes later in life. The future continues to be bright forPanelsOnPages.com, as we’ve just come off of our most successful convention as a site yet, somehow managing to convince Shia LaBeouf to make an appearance at C2E2 2012, and working for the site continies to be creatively fulfilling, even when the going gets tough.
Thanks to our association with PoP! and our extensive video coverage, my partnership with Jose Guzman as The 11th Hour has garnered us a continued relationship with ReedPOP, the great team behind C2E2 and New York Comic-Con, as we have been fortunate enough to produce commercials for C2E2, New York Comic-Con and beyond.
When I conceptualized our Fangirl of the Month feature for PoP! back in early 2009, my main motive was to troll for nerd girls, and eventually, I would snag a winner, as I just celebrated my 2-year anniversary with May 2010 Fangirl of the Month, Captain Painway, aka Mary Staggs, also a contributor for PanelsOnPages.com and host of The PrincessCast on the PCN. My fandom would eventually facilitate her own, as I would sacrifice my collection of plastic dudes to provide her the opportunity to meet her idol, Leonard Nimoy.
Thirty-one years into this fan life, I don’t regret geeking out for a majority of it, because it made me the man(child) I am today, and gave me the internet family I love and cherish. Don’t ever let anyone bring you down because of your fandom, because it’s our world now, not their’s. They’re the same people that paid $14 to see The Avengers. They’re the same people who DVR The Walking Dead every week. They’re the same people that’ll be out of work digging ditches when the world goes wireless. I may not yet be the millionaire I expected to be, and there is plenty I still look forward to accomplishing, but without being too much of a humble-braggart, I can say that I am proud of where I’m going and what I’ve become, not in spite of, but because of my fandom. A 31-year-old fanboy, and I wouldn’t change a thing.
…maybe I would’ve ate a few more salads.
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