Revenge of the Nerds

Posted on June 10, 2010


Working on a recent project about comic books, I started reflecting on how the cultural perceptions of nerds have changed over the past couple of decades. While this very special demographic (which I proudly identify with) is still largely misunderstood, it is more mainstream than ever due to the rise in technology, the popularity of superhero movies, and the explosion of the video game industry. At the heart of it all has been the implacable comic book universe. This 80+ year old genre has not only been a source of unending creativity but has also brought nerds out from their parent’s basements and onto the surface of the vast sea of popular culture.

Comic books have a very special place in my heart. As a child of immigrant parents from Korea, I grew up in a very traditional household, eating with chopsticks, speaking the language, etc. Contrary to home life, my school and play world were primary caucasian communities and I was a part of a very small minority. I never felt truly comfortable in either environment. I was stuck between two worlds and it caused me to feel alienated, alone, and confused. I always felt like I was meant for something greater but was left to wandering through the dark to discover it. Then came that monumental day when I came across ‘The Man of Steel’ issue #1.    

This 6 part mini-series by Byrne and Giordano, profoundly impacted me during this formative period. Here was a character who was a product of two homes, belonging to both but not truly feeling home to either. This future man of steel always felt like he was created to make a difference but wrestled with compromising the two worlds of his heritage. He was in an identity crisis. I started to feel understood. I realized that pain and struggle is part of this journey into young adulthood and I was not alone on this path. Comic books continued to be a HUGE part of my youth. My parents had  the typical Asian mindset and immersed themselves in their work and as a result, were not very involved in my life. Turning to comic books, superheroes ended up raising me. It’s from them that developed and early sense of morality, corruption, truth and justice. Early on, I adopted a heart of advocacy for the misfits and marginalized of my community. That same passion continues today.

In the mid 80’s, Frank Miller created his masterpiece, The Dark Knight Returns- and I instantly fell in love. It was my bible and I read it over and over. It was the first time that a mainstream character was depicted in a gritty, realistic way with real story lined and real consequences. I knew that if the big screen could ever depict heroes in a similar tone and style, that it would change the industry and culture forever. It was a dream that I thought was impossible. Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight remains one of the highest grossing ($600 m) movies to date with every studio trying to reproduce the same formula. I’m still in disbelief that one of the most powerful industries in the world are now turning to comic books for ideas. Life is but a dream.

I owe much of who I am to comic books. I know it is still struggling to be considered a legitimate form of literature but I know it has touch me in more ways than Shakespeare or Hemingway ever did. The fusion of art and story to this day still inspires me as a leader, artist, AND as a proud nerd. I am eagerly looking forward to where the art form will go and what dreams will unfold. Nerds are back and with a vengeance but in a good way. They are here to create and craft dreams and to help lead our generation into the future.

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