For most Americans glued to cable news, the biggest convention this summer will be the Democratic National Convention, where the first African-American Democratic Presidential Nominee will be officially crowned. But for the typical Xbox-playing, fantasy novel reading, comic book store junky like myself, the most keenly anticipated convention is the annual San Diego Comic Con, where hundreds of thousands of fanboys (and fangirls like my wife) will journey from all over the world to Southern California in late July. There we will spend four glorious days meeting our favorite writers and artists, gazing in awe at meticulously created costumes, and get first hand looks at the latest nerd attractions to come. The difficulty of finding housing in Denver for the DNC pales in comparison to San Diego during the Comic Con. Tickets and hotel rooms have been sold out for months, with a few passes floating around on Ebay for as much as $400. Such a large gathering of enthusiastic young people is the perfect place for Barack Obama to activate an otherwise disinterested demographic.
As members of the geek community will proudly tell you, we are extremely passionate. Hardcore Star Wars fans can tell you everything about George Lucas' galaxy including the type of crystal Luke Skywalker used to construct his lightsaber. X-Men fans can easily recite the true story behind Wolverine's origin. But ask anyone at the Comic-Con about the Supreme Court's ruling on the rights of Guantanamo Bay detainees and they'll respond with a "huh?" Fanboys can tell you what the Superhuman Registration Act has meant for the privacy rights of super heroes in the Marvel Universe, but many will not know what the Patriot Act has meant for our rights in this universe.
Historically, there have always been a handful of comic book writers who infuse politics into their work. During Dennis O'Neil's leadership of the Green Lantern/Green Arrow series, the two costumed heroes traveled all over Middle America and discovered villains don't necessarily have to come in the form of costumed metahumans; they can be the oppressive employer who exploits the American worker, or the money-hungry landlord who abuses his tenants. Writers like Bryan K. Vaughn and Mark Millar regularly use the graphic pages of comic books to raise questions about the broader implications of our political system. If you look beyond the costumes and the superpowers, you'll discover they've explored issues like race and gender, the public's obsession with heroes in politics, and the ties between American military activity abroad and terrorist attacks at home.
Despite the valiant efforts of some writers to engage their audiences politically, it is hard for the average fanboy to connect these issues in the comic universe to real world issues if they do not read the newspaper or watch CNN. Fanboys can resemble Unity Kindaid, a tragic character in Neil Gaiman's Sandman series, who falls victim to "sleepy sickness" in her teens. This causes her to fall asleep for decades and live only in the dream world. By the time Unity awakens to reality in her 90s, she has little time left to live before Death comes to pay her a visit.
Obama can invigorate a new portion of the electorate by helping some of us awaken from this "sleepy sickness." He has the ability to inspire fanboys to use their creative imaginations to envision a better America. Indeed, fanboys are about to be confronted with real world issues as they trek from all over the United States to attend their yearly gathering. They will be paying more to get there this year than any other because of rising gas prices. After fans have paid $60 to fill up their Toyota Corollas in Southern California, Obama should lead a dialogue that helps to draw connections between their passions in universes of the imagination and the pressing issues in their own communities.
There could be an explosion of creative energy translated into the political process. Many fanboys are already determined organizers. Gaming clubs have proliferated all over the big cities and college campuses. The San Diego Comic Con itself is one example of how a small group of geeks came together and used their power in numbers to transform a simple gathering into a worldwide yearly phenomenon. Walking the convention center floor will be thousands of potential "get out the vote" volunteers and house meeting hosts. All Obama has to do is reach out to them. Hollywood has already discovered the power of this demographic. When will Washington?
Many of us enjoy comics not just because it involves extraordinary individuals with cool superhuman abilities; we also turn to them because we love seeing the good guys fight for justice and defeat the villain. But we don't have look to "a galaxy far far away" to see injustice, power-hungry politicians, and the good band together to make a difference; we need only open a copy of the New York Times to discover a world where freedoms are attacked and power is concentrated in the hands of the few to the detriment of the many. Our favorite heroes in many comic series are just ordinary Janes and Joes, thrust into extraordinary circumstances by fate, radioactive ooze or genetic hypermutation. We too can join the struggle. But it will take a dynamic individual to open our collective eyes.
An Obama appearance at the Comic Con will send the message that politics is not just for cynics or your grandparents; it also belongs to the young, the idealists, and the geeks.
Should Obama decide to come, he needs to be well briefed and make sure he is ready to have an opinion when that eager fanboy asks him, "Who do you think is stronger? Superman or the Hulk?" His answer could determine the fate of the universe.