Prudence Shen: Any discussion addressing what it is to be a young geek and how that translates into being a cool adult necessarily requires a review of the relevant terms. For example, I'm 28 and I'm worried on a daily basis that people of my age and maturity level are considered adults; I once called my boss "bro." Given that I don't work in a head shop or for the tracksuit mafia of Matt Fraction and David Aja's Hawkeye comics, this is in no way acceptable behavior.
But from a place less fueled by existential angst, maybe the terms to key in on are "geek" and "cool."
In the interest of being completely honest here, I was a weird kid. Weird enough that I truly didn't worry about if I was a geek or if I was cool. I had a peripheral awareness that I didn't spend enough time or money at the mall to truly be considered mainstream television show cool -- but then at my school, cool seemed to operate on parallel tracks through out the different social groups. Goth kids had their own cool goth kids; sporty kids had their cool sporty kids. The debate team had the Lincoln-Douglas kids and the storytellers, etcetera and so forth. Mostly we chose to be dicks to each other on a more specialized basis than any broad-based fashion.
This is all just winding up to say I was the kind of geek that read way too many books and had INCREDIBLY INTENSE (and still lingering) anger about the way the seventh, eight, and ninth seasons of the X-Files were shaking out. Does that even categorize properly? Who knows. Faith?
Faith Erin Hicks: I was a pretty repressed geek during my younger years. I probably would have been a full blown Star Trek: The Next Generation obsessed, X-Files fanfic writing, comic consuming geek if I'd actually felt like that was something appropriate to be, but I was kind of snobby as a teenager, viewing myself as someone who read Serious Books and had Serious Thoughts, when I secretly just wanted to moon over Data on TNG. I remember being really, really attracted to comics as an art form, but also being very ashamed of that attraction. I had no friends who were geeks, and I think that would have helped a lot. I look at the world Pru and I have created in Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong, and I find it kind of wonderful because the geeks have friends and a community, which is really the best way to be a geek and nurture your interests. If only I'd had a robot building science club to belong to as a teenager! Alas, it was not to be.
However, looking back on that lonely teenage time, I see the building blocks of the person I am now (generally an okay person, someone who is lucky enough to make comics for a living, how glorious!), and I appreciate that repressed teenage geekling a little bit. I used to spend hours alone in my room writing stories. It was lonely, but that was where my love of storytelling and creating came from. If I hadn't spent my time doing that when I was younger, it probably wouldn't feel so natural now.
Being social and learning to talk to people is something that can be learned. I learned how to do that and eventually found like-minded geeky friends, and am no longer lonely. But I still make stories, and even make them for a living. Whether or not this makes me "cool," I've no idea. But I love my job and I love being an adult geek. Sure, sometimes in a world of lawyers and doctors and accountants, maybe I don't feel quite grown up and adult, but I wouldn't trade the two thousand pages of comics I've drawn in the past 10 years for anything.
PRU: Similar to that, I think that my experience as a teenage geek made me extremely independent. I didn't feel as repressed as you did, but I wasn't getting gold stars or academic credits for staying up all night writing. Something I didn't realize then and that I'm grateful for now is that even then, I had the courage of my convictions; I genuinely liked writing, I genuinely liked reading, I liked my so-called geek interests, and if that meant I had to pursue them alone then so be it. It trained me to be my own editor and my own bullshit detector because nobody else was going to do it. Looking back on the experience, I'm so grateful I was oblivious and that I didn't discard my nerdy tendencies for more socially acceptable ones. The sheer pressure to fit in somewhere as a teenager, to have friends validating what you're doing is more intense than at the bottom of the Mariana Trench.
Every adult can see the value in this, because once you get out of school, you stop getting assigned grades. At this point, the major barometers of success become money (problem: some of the richest people in the world got to be that way through the grossest means; unreliable indicator), whether or not you're incarcerated (problem: dude, jail) and your own sense of self worth (problem: hahahahahaha). If nothing else, learning very young to feel genuinely passionate about something and to remain dedicated to it regardless of whether or not you're receiving external validation for it was hugely useful. People who are interested in things are generally more interesting, period.
FAITH: I salute Prudence for legitimately not caring much earlier in her life, and pursuing her interests just because she liked them. I feel like the discussion over "cool" or "what is cool" is so much more interesting when it's done in the framework of comfort. Being comfortable in your own skin and being comfortable with the things you like (don't hide those crushes on Data from TNG, young nerd girls and gay boys!) is the coolest thing ever. I love going to comic conventions or book festivals and meeting young teenagers who are thrilled to read comics, and thrilled to be making comics, and I think how great it must be for them to have this wonderful passion, and not feel ashamed of it the way I was in high school in the late 90s. Maybe that's the result of geek things becoming "mainstream," maybe it's the result of comics slowly becoming accepted as a legitimate art form and given shelf space in libraries and bookstores, maybe it's the rise of the internet and the blending of images and words becoming a new way to communicate ... probably it's all of this.
And I think it's pretty cool.
Prudence Shen's and Faith Erin Hicks's new book, Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong, came out this week.
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