The return of the nerd

Back to school means back to the books – and video games, graphic novels and board games, if that’s what you’re into.

University is an opportune time to learn about and get involved with  many different areas of interest. It’s a place to meet people who share that hobby you always seem to “forget” to mention in a public setting.

In other words, it’s a time to get rid of the skeletons in your closet and release your inner nerd – and Fredericton might just be the place to do it.

And according to some local geek motivators, geek culture is not only on the rise in Fredericton, but around the world.

Florence Hansen, one of the owners of The Geek Chic Boutique on Regent Street, says the increase can be attributed to people becoming more comfortable with technology.

“I think it’s mostly due to internet culture,” Hansen says. “More people are gaming and social media is huge now.”

Hansen is a co-owner of The Geek Chic Boutique, which opened in December 2008. The store sells products related to gaming, comics, science, and technology.

She says geek culture has come a long way since the days of Steve Urkel, the nerdy character from 90’s sitcom Family Matters. People are more comfortable with geeks now, Hansen says, and those who tended to hide their geeky tendencies – “closet geeks” as she calls them – are no longer hiding.

With more people using the internet and online gaming rising in popularity, Hansen says not only the number of gamers increased, but also the range of people.

“Average people fit the geek profile,” she says. “In high school I didn’t mention my geeky hobbies but now everyone is so much more comfortable with technology and all that comes with it.”

With social media, online shopping and online gaming’s popularity ever increasing, the internet is reaching a wider demographic each year.

In a 2009 StatsCan survey of internet usage, New Brunswick and Newfoundland saw a 15 per cent increase from 2007 to 2009.

And while the amount of internet users continues to increase, so does the quality.

In Jan. 2010, Fredericton was the first entire city in Canada to receive FibreOp technology from BellAliant.

The company said their fibre-optic network would deliver faster and better quality Internet to homes.

Tyler Aikens is a 27-year-old Fredericton native who remembers being teased for being a comic book and manga – a Japanese genre of cartoons,  comics, and animated films – nerd. He says he wasn’t a brilliant student but knew his comic book facts.

“Now all of these blockbuster movies have come out based on classic comics, so people aren’t so compelled to tease comic nerds,” he says.

Jordan Black, an employee of GameZilla in Fredericton, says “comics are more mainstream” now, which changes the range of their customers.

The store celebrated their tenth Free Comic Book Day this past May.

“We get around 50-100 people each year,” he says.

Black says GameZilla hosts different events each year for Free Comic Book Day to accommodate every age group.

Other local businesses have also noticed a wider range of customers lately.

Jason Arnold has been working at Strange Adventures, a comic bookshop on York Street, for eight years.

He says the store has specifically seen an increase in older readers.

“More people are coming to comics,” Arnold says, “but that [original] fan base will always be there.”

Arnold says people still think of superheroes when they think of comics.

While that’s the more popular comic market, he’s trying to introduce more people to graphic novels – novels in the comic-strip format.

He says there are some graphic novels that inform him better on a topic than media does.

“Mainstream media has corporate interests so sometimes we don’t get the full story,” Arnold says. “In some cases I find out more reading a graphic novel than I can reading a newspaper.”

Arnold says some people don’t know that although graphic novels are in the comic book form, they can deal with a variety of profound subjects.

TIME magazine named Fun Home, a graphic novel by Alison Bechdel, the best book of 2006. Fun Home, subtitled A Family Tragicomic, is a memoir of the author’s youth that focuses on her complicated relationship with her father.

TIME also placed Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ The Watchmen in the top 100 best English-Language novels from 1923 to now.

Aikens says that although he believes our culture is dumbing down through popular music and television, at the same time we’re starting to mature socially and perceive geek culture differently.

“As we get older, it becomes apparent to us that being a nerd or a geek or what have you is actually quite admirable,” he says. “We realize that who we called freaks, nerds, and geeks 10 years ago are the people who are providing us with things like World of Warcraft and iPads.”