Austinites may have noticed an influx of costume bedecked heroes and villains in late November. Wizard World’s Austin Comic Con was in town November 22-24. The Austin Convention Center estimates that approximately 10,000 science fiction, fantasy and pop culture fans attended this year’s event. Many of the attendees proudly refer to themselves as geeks.
What is a geek? The word has grown since high school. It used to refer to the socially awkward bookworm in the front of the class whose social skills (and hygiene) might be found lacking by his peers. That geek has grown up and decided on a new definition.
According to actor Simon Pegg, “Being a geek is all about being honest about what you enjoy and not being afraid to demonstrate that affection.”
Geek culture has grown throughout the country, including Austin, over the last decade. Its presence can be seen at the box office, the hospital room and in the economy.
Superhero movies have generated a great deal of money over the past five years. Warner Bros’ The Dark Knight Trilogy grossed just under $1.2 billion domestically, while Marvel’s three Iron Man films have brought in an estimated $1.04 billion. Marvel also put a great deal of leverage into the success of not only Iron Man, but also its Thor and Captain America franchises by raking in over $623 million with The Avengers.
More geek movies are on the way. Marvel will be releasing sequels to Captain America, Iron Man, and The Avengers. Meanwhile, DC is planning on a superhero mash up of its own with the sequel to 2013’s Man of Steel featuring Batman in what several attendees at the convention suspect will be a lead up to DC Comics’ superhero team the Justice League hitting the big screen.
“It’s going to be epic,” said convention attendee Michelle Stone, who was dressed up as Wonder Woman. “We’re going to see the League better than we’ve ever seen it.”
Geeks have grown into a large part of the local community. With major technology employers like Apple and Dell in the Austin area, geekdom has come to stay in Austin. That nerd at the front of the classroom now designs products for those technology powerhouses, and he shops local.
Perhaps one of the most obvious examples of the growing geek culture is Austin’s Dragon’s Lair. When David Wheeler first opened the store in 1986, he had two employees and the store wasn’t much larger than a walk-in closet, with some products shelved in the restroom hallway, said Dragon’s Lair events manager Brian Burrow.
The store grew, moving to a two story house in the mid-90s, then to its first regular storefront on Burnet Road in 1997. In March 2013, it moved from still another location on Burnet road, and more than doubled its floor space. The store now occupies a 10,700 square foot retail space in West Anderson Plaza and employees about 30 staff.
Geeks are active members of the Austin community. The 501st Legion, Vader’s Fist, Star Garrison is a group of Star Wars fans that cosplay (wear movie grade costumes) as stormtroopers, sith lords or other Imperial characters from the Star Wars movies. While the organization’s original purpose was to be a fan club, the group works with community organizations to raise money for a variety of causes. The Boys and Girls Club of America, Make a Wish Foundation, Toys for Tots and Relay for Life are just a few of the organizations that the 501st works with.
“It’s really rewarding, you know,” said Dagan Aseere, a stormtrooper in Star Garrison. “We go visit kids with cancer in the hospital here in Austin and in Houston, and you can just see our visit made their day.”
The economy benefits from all of this geekery as well. Tickets for Comic Con cost anywhere from $40 to $700, and conference attendees paid in total about $490,000 in admissions fees, a portion of which goes to the Austin Convention Center. An estimated 45 to 50 percent of the attendees travelled to the convention and spent their money at motels, local eateries and local shops such as Austin Books and Comics, who had a booth on the sales floor at the convention.
Next year’s Wizard World Austin Comic Con is scheduled for October 2-4, 2014. No need to wait that long to see local geeks sporting capes or lightsabers though. Keep an eye out and you’ll find Star Trek tribute bands playing to a mass of thriving geekdom. You might even see a stormtrooper out and about at HEB.