There it was, floating, as it were, on the booth’s table. Well away from sticky fingers, in all of its seven-and-a-half-foot long glory, was the USS Flagg, the G.I. Joe aircraft carrier.
I wrote about this enormous toy carrier in my first column of 2018, where I lamented that this is the 32nd anniversary of me not getting the G.I. Joe aircraft carrier for Christmas.
The heavens parted and a chorus sang from on high. Here it was, in the flesh, or plastic, as it were. And the guy who owned it actually owned two of them, spending about a grand on each.
This chance encounter with greatness was at the Saskatoon Entertainment Expo held September 15 to 16. It is one of a number of events that have popped up in most major centres in recent years, modelled on the granddaddy of them all, the San Diego Comic Con. Indeed, “Comic Con” is often used to reference these events, even if they’re not officially linked, in the same way most people refer to facial tissue as Kleenex.
This was my first time ever attending one of these. It won’t be the last.
Growing up as a Grade A nerd in more ways than one, I read lots of comic books. I played with (and kept most of) my G.I. Joes, Transformers, and Star Wars toys. My kid’s love for his iPad will never know the bounds of joy I felt creating other worlds with these plastic playthings.
Apparently, a lot of other people did the same. And now we’re grown up, have kids, and money. We’re reliving our respective childhoods and indoctrinating our own children in whatever cult following we were a part of.
I got to spend one day with each of two friends, wandering the aisles with eyes glazed over in wonderment. It was the first time for each one of us, and we said to ourselves, “Why didn’t this exist when we were younger?”
Back in the 80s we were in essentially a monoculture in many ways. Americans had three TV networks, Canada had two. If you didn’t like football or hockey or mainstream sitcoms, there was no place for you.
There were two comic book companies of note; Marvel and DC, and not much else. If you were into sci-fi, it was either Star Wars or Star Trek. Again, even nerd culture was something of a monoculture.
Now well into the 21st century, there is a 500 channel universe on TV and a billion channel universe on YouTube, Facebook, Instagram and the like. Any possible fantasy world your heart desires exists, and has a fandom. And they all get together at these expos/cons. Do you like some obscure Japanese anime from the 90s? Not only might you find a booth dedicated to it, but you might see a cosplayer walking by, dressed up as one of the characters.
And if you don’t know what cosplay is, you find out really quickly. These are people who make up their own, often amazing, costumes to look like their favourite character. One of the professional cosplayers (i.e. paid) was a dead ringer for Barbarella.
Most of the booths were dedicated to things I had no clue about, but the panels and autograph booths were huge for me.
For those who have no interest in an autograph, you can get a selfie with one of the celebrities present. I got one with Gates McFadden, Dr. Beverley Crusher, of Star Trek: The Next Generation, and Doug Jones, of the new Star Trek Discovery. Was the 30 to 60 second interaction worth the $25 to $30 each? For a true fanboy, there’s no question.
And for the actors, they can make pretty good coin over the course of a weekend. Their hour-long panel discussions were a hoot. Being the reporter I am, I of course asked a question of Jones.
When it comes to comics, the very best comic art of the 80s doesn’t hold a candle to the lowest level art you see today. They simply wouldn’t pass muster. Most of the artists I spoke to work in both analog and digital media, and sometimes blend the two. What they are producing today is beyond spectacular.
The rise of nerd culture, those who would rather geek out about orcs and space ships than quarterbacks, has truly come to the fore. The fusion of comic, computer games, YouTube, Facebook, movies, specialty television and so much more has meant the nerds are not only taking revenge, they are out to conquer their place in the zeitgeist.
And before you pick on a nerd, remember this riddle:
What do you call a nerd 20 years after high school?