A long time ago on a living room floor, my brother and I wrote sagas with our toys. The characters of our childhood DC-Marvel-Star Wars-Jurassic Park crossover universes adventured and matured as we played through our own invented seasons, epic finales, and spinoffs. Like many nerdy children, we were not just consumers of stories; we were the creators of stories. Sprawled across the carpet, we were aspiring Spielbergs, writing our very own sequels to everything we loved.
This week, millions of outsiders will look upon Comic-Con nerds and get it wrong. They will see us as a mindless consumer culture, rather than an active creative community that has been playing and telling stories since we first dumped our action figures on the living room floor and realized the end credits of the movie wasn't the end. Now in costume and part our own fandoms, we come to Comic-Con to do more than consume. We come to converse, to connect, and to be a part of the creation process.
What most do not realize is that Comic-Con is first and foremost an exhibition of the creative process. It is a place where new ideas are shared and the creation process is reflected upon in panels and exhibit halls. Sure, the commercialization of Comic-Con has messed with this a bit, but it remains the case that the woman in the Black Widow costume screaming on opening night will be the same woman attending a quiet "how to tell motion comics" panel later in the weekend.
Even when the big guns like Marvel Studios take over the massive Hall H, their panels are still largely about the creative process. The filmmakers talk about creating the aesthetic tone and new storylines, and about respecting source material. This leads to speculation, and this speculation leads to playful imagination - nerdy time spent discussing how the storylines should be presented and the tone maintained.
This all leads to the most misunderstood piece of Comic-Con culture: the "over-analysis" nerd talk. People usually dismiss multi-hour nerdy conversations around questions like, "Who Supreme Leader Snoke is or should be?" as destructive criticism or blind fanaticism. In actuality, the conversations exemplify creative and collaborative construction.
Nerds never lose that piece in them that wanted to make the next Star Wars sequel. So every time someone says, "What do you think would make a good Star Wars sequel?" in a line or during Comic-Con's new darling Movie Fights debate show, it takes nerds back to that childhood living room. It's fun and it's fuel for fan fiction, new stories, and the booming fan community.
Look around Comic-Con and you'll see that Fans have taken over or are taking it back, depending on whom you ask. Many fans themselves have now become the celebrities. Panels at Comic-Con and bars outside Comic-Con are full of fan takeovers that celebrate and connect without traditional celebrity. From the YouTube "fan-critics" of Movie Fights, to the revisionist artists of How It Should Have Ended, to the fan fiction writers, many nerds are creating careers out of reflecting and expanding on nerd culture and helping all us nerds who have "real jobs" spend a little time contributing to the conversation and culture. From memes to original fan content to endless conversation, there's a level of participation that is beyond consumption; it is itself creation.
Despite its commercialization, Comic-Con remains a place where the true superheroes are always the nerds. Because the heart of nerd culture isn't any actor, production studio, or any character, it is the kid creating the next great superhero sequel on the living room floor and the adult who never forgot that feeling.
Troy Campbell is an assistant professor of marketing at the University of Oregon. You may also enjoy his pieces on: