Penthouse Retrospective

by Shari Goldhagen Originally Published: July, 2009

Geek Love | 10 Years Ago this Month

Sci-fi conventions such as San Diego’s Comic-Con are under-the-radar hook-up havens. No, really.

And the Geek Shall Inherit the Earth

Penthouse Legacy Cover - July 2009DO I STILL READ COMIC BOOKS? I do. Have I ever flicked the bean to some well-written Smallville fan fiction? It’s possible. (Hey, I’m a writer; a good metaphor turns me on.) But I generally keep these proclivities to myself (except when confessing them in international men’s magazines). When I think of large groups of people gathering to celebrate such geeky pursuits, I picture hundreds of men who look like Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons arguing over who would win in a Roshambo between Han Solo and Captain Kirk.

So I was more than a little surprised when my friendly neighborhood comic-book-store clerk told me she was looking forward to this year’s New York Comic Con because conventions are all about the sex.

Yeah, right, I thought. In other news, the world is flat and simultaneous orgasms occur readily outside of Smallville fan fics.

“Really,” she said. “It’s all these people you see only a couple of times a year at hotels, you’re all into the same things, people are dressed up, you’ve been flirting online for months — It’s pretty hot.”

Hmm — it seemed logical, as Spock might say, but all those clunky costumes, those awkward people — was it even physically possible? There was only one way to find out: I had to don cape and cowl and infiltrate the nerd hordes to see for myself if these geek gatherings are actually hook-up havens.

There are more than 100 fan-based sci-fi-related conventions each year in the U.S., but the granddaddy of them all is San Diego Comic-Con. The not-for-profit show began in 1970 with 300 comic-book junkies gathering in the basement of the U.S. Grant Hotel, according to David Glanzer, the event’s director of PR and marketing. While notable guests did include legendary comics creator Jack Kirby (Captain America, The Fantastic Four, The Incredible Hulk) and sci-fi legend Ray Bradbury, it seems safe to say that that show was not all about the sex.

Its name and venue varied, but the event became an annual shindig, eventually finding a permanent home in the San Diego Convention Center. Other media have gradually moved in on the action, too, including the video-game industry and movie and television studios, all of which use Comic-Con as a launching pad for anything with a sci-fi angle. The show has generated bona fide star power in recent years, with actors making the rounds in superhero garb. Tickets for last year’s event sold out weeks in advance, and attendance reached 126,000, according to Glanzer.

Sure, but was that 126,000 paunchy men with goatees giving Vulcan nerve pinches and reenacting epic lightsaber battles (the literal and, quite possibly, the figurative kind)? “It used to be pretty male-dominated,” says Glanzer. “But in the past ten years that’s really changed. Things like Japanese anime have really brought a lot more women and girls to the show. Last year attendees were about 40 percent female.”

This year’s event, which runs from July 23 to 26, is the 40th anniversary (note to nitpickers: There were two cons in 1975), and it could be the biggest yet, with attendees expected from around the world.

Some of the exhibits themselves have been about sex. At the 2007 show, porn legend Jenna Jameson was on hand to promote her Virgin comic, Shadow Hunter. Comics legend Stan Lee showed up to promote Pam Anderson’s Stripperella project.

“There have been a lot of crossovers between adult entertainment and the comic industry,” says Glanzer. “It really just depends on what’s coming out in a given year.”

People have been getting their Geek on for thousands of years. It may be slightly more accepted these days, what with the Internet being the bastion of truth being whatever you make it, of course. Just compare what you know today with the landscape a mere decade ago, and you may go back and take another look at the TV Cult Classic “Leverage.” … “Age o’ the Geek, Baby!”