“But in the past ten years that’s really changed. Things like Japanese anime have really brought a lot more women and girls to the show.”Posted: June 24, 2009
I was more than a little surprised when my friendly neighborhood comic-book-store clerk told me she was looking forward to this year’s New York Comic Con because “conventions are all about the sex.”Yeah, right, I thought. In other news, the world is flat and simultaneous orgasms occur readily outside of Smallville fan fics.
“Really,” she said. “It’s all these people you see only a couple of times a year at hotels, you’re all into the same things, people are dressed up, you’ve been flirting online for months…It’s pretty hot.”
Hmm…it seemed logical, as Spock might say, but all those clunky costumes, those awkward people—was it even physically possible? There was only one way to find out: I had to don cape and cowl and infiltrate the nerd hordes to see for myself if these geek gatherings are actually hook-up havens.
There are more than 100 fan-based sci-fi-related conventions each year in the U.S., but the granddaddy of them all is San Diego Comic-Con. The not-for-profit show began in 1970 with 300 comic-book junkies gathering in the basement of the U.S. Grant Hotel, according to David Glanzer, the event’s director of PR and marketing. While notable guests did include legendary comics creator Jack Kirby (Captain America, the Fantastic Four, The Incredible Hulk) and sci-fi legend Ray Bradbury, it seems safe to say that that show was not “all about the sex.”
Its name and venue varied, but the event became an annual shindig, eventually finding a permanent home in the San Diego Convention Center. Other media have gradually moved in on the action, too, including the videogame industry and movie and television studios, all of which use Comic-Con as a launching pad for anything with a sci-fi angle. The show has generated bona fide star power in recent years, with actors making the rounds in superhero garb. Tickets for last year’s event sold out weeks in advance, and attendance reached 126,000, according to Glanzer.
Sure, but was that 126,000 paunchy men with goatees giving Vulcan nerve pinches and re-enacting epic lightsaber battles (the literal and, quite possibly, the figurative kind)? “It used to be pretty male-dominated,” says Glanzer. “But in the past ten years that’s really changed. Things like Japanese anime have really brought a lot more women and girls to the show. Last year attendees were about 40 percent female.”
“A friend I’d met at SDCC introduced me to this illustrator online and we started talking, mostly about graphic novels,” says Cathy, 30, a lithe brunette photographer who loves indie comics and attends several conventions a year. “At Wizard World in L.A. a few months later, I felt someone brush my arm from behind, and—it was so weird; we’d never met—I knew immediately it was him.“The attraction was instantaneous,” she continues. “Within an hour of meeting we were full-on making out behind the convention center. I went back to his hotel room an hour after that, which is something I would never normally do if I met a guy in a bar or wherever. We ended up dating for three years.”
A similar chemical reaction occurred between writers at rival comics publishers DC and Marvel when David Gallaher saw Valerie D’Orazio speaking on a panel at the 2007 New York Comic Con.
“She was this cute blonde, and I was just captivated by what she had to say,” Gallaher says. The feeling was mutual: When Gallaher, 34, stood to ask a question, D’Orazio says she made a silent bargain with God that she would never ask for anything again if she could get with Gallaher.
After the panel the two started chatting, and D’Orazio—a writer for Marvel’s upcoming Cloak and Dagger title—told Gallaher that she, uh, wanted to discuss some scripts. Gallaher, a DC writer currently working on High Moon, was a little slow to get the hint, but eventually the two got together. On their first date, they saw Ghost Rider—a movie based on the flaming-skulled Marvel hero. For date No. 2, Gallaher had an artist draw D’Orazio a custom picture of Supergirl. “Our third date was more intimate,” says Gallaher. “I don’t think any superheroes were involved.”
Two years later they’re still together, but not all hook-ups at these events have to blossom into true dork-love. After spending their convention days hawking illustrations in Artists’ Alley, or standing in line to get autographs from the cast of Heroes, attendees have a chance to get their intergalactic freak on once the lights go down in the exhibit hall.
The big cons—SDCC, NYCC, and Alternative Press Expo—all have VIP parties with open bars, which can lubricate the social interaction for sure. You’re not going to go home with Jessica Alba in her fuck-tastic Fantastic Four garb, but as Vic Holtreman of ScreenRant.com notes, “There’s a lot of hitting on people and flirting; there’s a feeling of community.” And any celebs in tow are well aware that a review from a popular fan site can make or break a sci-fi movie, so they’re at their most approachable.
The VIP rooms are nice, but percentages are better if you cast your line in more local waters. “There are a lot of hotel parties in people’s rooms. You just bring some booze; everyone is always really friendly,” says Eva, a 27-year-old who works in publishing. “My friends and I want to do things on the cheap, so we often cram a bunch of people—six or more—into a room, and sometimes we take shifts sleeping.”The Do Not Disturb sign gets a workout all weekend, says Eva, who was a very naughty elf at I-CON last year. (That’s short for Island Convention, an eclectic annual event held in Suffolk County, Long Island). “I’d been dressed as an elf from Lord of the Rings, and went back to this guy’s room,” she says. “All of our clothes were gone, and we were sort of crashing into walls, then I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror, and I noticed that I’d left my pointy ears on, and I just started laughing. It kind of broke the mood.” This, friends, is the fantasy-nerd equivalent of black dress socks.
Mary, an 18-year-old college student and longtime conventiongoer, sums up the Comic-Con hook-up phenomenon most succinctly. “People who are awkward feel more comfortable at conventions because they assume all comic-book people are awkward as well,” she says. “So they’re like, ‘I’m awkward, you’re awkward—let’s flirt.’ ”
“There’s no denying that you get hit on constantly when you’re in costume,” says Kristin, a 21-year-old paleontology student poured into the court-jester costume of Joker’s gal, Harley Quinn. “I love being able to wear interesting, sexy outfits that appeal to me aesthetically while also showing off my body. It’s the best of both worlds; you can be a geek and still look hot!”
Lauren, an investment banker who’s dressed in DC heroine Black Canary’s black leotard and signature fishnet tights, agrees. “It’s different than being out in the real world, even if you’re wearing something revealing, because people are assuming you’re a character,” says the 27-year-old. It also provides readymade opening lines. “One guy just asked for my number. He said, ‘I don’t see Green Arrow [Canary’s on-again/off-again love interest] around, so I figured you’re free.’ Hey, it’s better than, ‘What’s your sign?’ ”
A high school student named Jill spends a good ten minutes explaining that her costume—from some Japanese anime cartoon—is actually a variation of a male character’s costume, which makes the skimpy top a little confusing. “Guys find gender play really hot,” says the 16-year-old, with a frightening amount of authority. “I always hook up at conventions.”
And by doing nothing more than donning a feather boa (fandom unclear), Bill, who writes indie comics—and who, feather boa notwithstanding, is into girls—informs me that he met his “24-hour lover” during a preshow party the night before.
“She just came over and said, ‘Don’t you look fabulous,’ and then we went to her place,” he says. “I think she took ‘24 hours’ quite literally; we didn’t make it to the show until a 5 P.M. screening.”