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Freaks and Geeks Converge on San Diego for Comic Con

Forget the thousands of comic book dealers and creators that are on hand at Comic-Con. Forget the interactive, digital demonstrations. Forget the film screenings, workshops, and panel discussions.

The main attraction of Comic-Con is the fans; the everyday pale, pimply, unfit, underdog who for one weekend, can gather with fellow tortured high school pariahs and revel in one of the world’s largest conventions of popular arts.

Like sitting at a Paris sidewalk café, the most entertaining aspect of Comic-Con (San Diego Convention Center, July 20-23) is people watching. Many show up wearing costumes of their favorite alter egos. (A word to those who arrived as Darth Maul: That’s so like, 1998.)

For most people, Comic-Con represents an escape from tedious, everyday reality. The costumes that are worn, the comics that are purchased and the stories inside of them, the fantasy-based games … these all provide an alternate world. A world of special powers and good triumphing over evil, a world where the football jock gets his intestines ripped out for stuffing the comic-adoring geek in the locker.

One of the most successful geeks in attendance at Comic-Con is Kevin Smith, director of popular features such as Clerks, Mallrats, and Dogma, and a comic enthusiast. Through Mallrats, Smith helped introduce the immensely popular comic X-Men into the lexicon of pop culture. Stan Lee, creator of the illustrated series, was prominently featured in the movie.

Dragging his bulbous, tree-trunk legs up to the podium, Smith, like an all-star klutz trips over his own feet and scrapes his knee. A thunderous applause erupts.

A highlight of the sometimes raunchy Q&A session with Smith: When asked which was his first love—comics or movies, he replies, “Neither … my first love is my wife …because she ***** me.”

After the Smith session, I decide to walk around and talk to some of the freaks and geeks. What is it about their favorite comic character that appeals to them? Are they escaping from reality or do they just have active imaginations, or both? Do comics help them as Kevin Smith would say, “get laid?”

Daniel, 13, uses comics as a way of controlling his pre-pubescent hormonal urges. He’s infatuated with Laura Croft, the heroine of the popular video game, Tomb Raider. For those not familiar with Croft, she’s the hottest non-reality pop icon since Jessica Rabbit. She’s smart, got a killer body, and is the sexiest virtual mercenary.

“She’s a very alternative superhero,” says Daniel. “You don’t see many superheros like her.”

Comics have come a long way since Superman and Batman. A major underlying theme at Comic-Con is sex. Comics, just like film, TV, and print ads, use sex as a way of selling. An overwhelming majority of the comic books, movies, and video games for sale feature a heroine scantily clad in black leather. Whether it’s the adult-oriented Heavy Metal series or Generation Y-friendly Japanese anime, sex is used as a bait to reel in hormonally-raging teenagers. Comic Con even contains hard-core porn in the form of animation. Disturbingly, I see no staff on hand to ensure that anyone under 18 years of age enters.

Teens are getting more and more sucked into a virtual reality warp. The sexual marketing of animation and other virtual pop forms have created the habit of fantasizing about favorite animated and illustrated heroines. I admit to once upon a time having an unhealthy attraction to Jessica Rabbit, however, growing up in the dull Reagan years, most of my erotic fantasies were the result of sneaking a peak at the Playboy Channel when my parents weren’t looking. My times have changed.

Practitioners of alternative sexual lifestyles prance around without a worry at Comic Con.

I spot one couple dressed in dominatrix clothing.

“Who does the spanking?” I ask.

“He does,” answers a sexy, middle-aged woman, wearing a provocative devil-red boostier.

It turns out the couple are boyfriend and girlfriend. He’s a dentist and she’s his dental assistant. I wish my dental assistant leaned over to clean my plaque wearing something like that.

Star Wars and Star Trek characters are the weekend’s most popular costumes. Several groups of storm troopers march around the convention center, happy to have their picture taken. I spot a Klingon and pull him aside.

“It’s not so much being a Star Trek fan as it is loving the dressing up and getting to be somebody I’m not,” the wanna-be Klingon admits.

“What are you escaping from? Do you hate your job or something?” I ask.

“You could say that … I’m a dental technician.”

Must be something about the dental profession?

I stroll through the vendor booths and recognize a celebrity. It’s Lou Ferrigno, a.k.a. the Incredible Hulk. Surprisingly hidden among the hundreds of other exhibitors, Lou is selling Hulk posters and signing autographs. I approach the gentle giant. His body still rivals that of Arnold’s. I ask him if he paints himself green just for the fun of it. He gives me a stoic look and replies in his thick accent, “Only if I get paid for it.” He then makes sure to plug his upcoming movie, Bedazzled, with Brendan Fraser. “I’m sure it will be a blockbuster,” I assure him, hoping my sarcasm doesn’t result in The Hulk jumping over the table and beating me silly.

Most of the people I speak with wish they had the powers of their favorite comic characters. Witchblade is Laura Rathbone’s favorite. A 19 year-old, and a part-time college student, Laura likes “the way she looks, her alien form, and just the way she takes control.” Laura admits she wishes she was Witchblade sometimes, especially when she has to deal with the guys she dates. “I’d hack ‘em to pieces … I’d grab their testicles and rip them off.”

To some, comics are a special art form. To most in attendance at Comic-Con, comics and the stories they tell provide a relief from the grim guarantees of death and taxes. Attend Comic-Con if you wish to add to your collection of subversive and comedic comic books and movies. The real treat of Comic Con is the fans and their alter egos. Perhaps the best way to sum up Comic-Con is a slogan on an attendee’s tee-shirt: Too many freaks, not enough circuses.

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