Happy National Geek Day!
Why today? What’s so special about May 25th?
That’s when science fiction went mainstream! Yeah, there were Trekkies, but they were lowkey… there wasn’t a movie yet, and they mostly congregated at the Holiday Inn on weekends, along with other True Believers.
Star Wars was also the first to really market to fandom… one could even credit/blame George Lucas for creating the Comic-Con template!
Star Wars, of course, is huge. Even when it was in hibernation in the 1990s, it still had a huge fandom, and it’s growing HUGE now that Disney, masters of marketing, owns the whole shebang.
Big Deal, you say…
Okay… I won’t get all curmudgeonly and try to beat some sense into your heads, but remember… 1977. If you wanted to watch cable television, you had to go to a motel. If you wanted to talk to someone on a computer, you used an actual phone handset, transmitting at 300 bits per second. (Now…Billions of bits per second, and you can still use your phone.) The Internet was like Ham Radio… you had a few hobbyists, some professionals, college students, but not in huge numbers. If you wanted information, you read magazines, newspapers, and maybe fanzines (printed by mimeograph, Ditto machine, or photocopier, typeset by typewriter).
Libraries didn’t cater to pop culture, so if you wanted to research anything, you had to dive into your old stack for copies of Locus, Starlog, or Amazing Heroes. (Wonder what you missed, back in the day? Starlog’s entire run is available here.) Or you chatted with fans and dealers at your local comics shop or science fiction bookstore (sometimes, the same thing).
If you didn’t see the trailer in the movie theater, you didn’t see it. Nobody was dissecting screenshots, because, really, the trailers weren’t that amazing.
(Okay… that was pretty cool, back in the day. We’re so spoiled now, with 8K 60fps.)
If you missed something the night before, you didn’t have DVRs or even VCRs. The few who could afford a VCR… maybe they made bootleg tapes to share. But you had to go to a show to buy those.
So, yeah, that’s a big date in fandom, of all sorts. Because science fiction conventions were a Big Tent event. Each show invited dreamers of all sorts… SF, fantasy, SCA, gamers, comic collectors, costumers, filkers… everyone was welcome. And Star Wars… that was the biggest dream of all! Westerns were passe in the 70s. Vietnam and Watergate and 1968 had destroyed our belief in heroes. And then… along comes a space opera, a space western, with Black Hats and White Knights and Evil Empires!
We didn’t know we wanted it, until we saw it, and then we wanted more!
Star Wars saved Marvel from collapse, with a sweetheart deal from Lucas. (No royalties paid on the first 100,000 copies sold, and Marvel only had to publish a six-issue adaptation. I suspect there were probably over a million copies printed, both by Marvel and Gold Key (which sold them in the plastic 3-packs at gift shops and variety stores).
So, yeah… that was a glorious summer, and for the next two decades, that Wednesday before Memorial Day was the start of the Summer blockbuster season. And even then, there might be ONE comic book movie, and it might be Supergirl.
But that’s not the only reason for claiming this date. It’s also the birthday of Douglas Adams.
Now… again… what’s the big deal?
Well, first… actually, lastly, he created The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. It started as a radio play on the BBC (with almost no advance publicity or hype). Then it became a book. Then more radio episodes. Then a TV series (with special effects that made Doctor Who look like Star Wars). Then, of course, the record of the radio play, the script book, more books, a bestselling text adventure video game (no pictures, just typing), comics, bubblegum cards based on the comics, an illustrated edition of the book, a movie, a few plays, not to mention all of the foreign editions…
But before all that… he was a writer for the BBC. Specifically, a little science fiction show designed to scare children. He wrote two stories: The Pirate Planet and Shanda. He also co-wrote The City of Death, which featured John Cleese…
…whom Adams had known from Monty Python (where Adams gained a rare writing credit, and a few on-screen appearances, in partnership with Graham Chapman).
Adams was Neil Gaiman before Neil Gaiman… a talented writer, with amazing insights that made you laugh, aimed a small audience who Got It.
For me, it’s my nerd birthday, the day I became a serious comics collector, metamorphosing into my final “phase” after MAD Magazine and video games. It’s a day to remember summers of waiting in line at a movie theater for the first showing Friday morning. Of reading a book all day (and/or night) long because there was nothing better to do (because it was the best thing to do!) TV was mostly reruns, but you could stay up late to watch old shows because you could sleep in the next day.
So, celebrate the beginning of Summer a few days early!
Carry your towel! Find a shady spot and read comics during your lunch break! Grab some friends and discuss whatever geeky passions you share! Do something you enjoyed as a kid, even (especially!) if it makes you feel a little silly! Share crazy stuff online!
Remember to remember what it was like when everything was new and cool and unSPOILERed.
And share your fun below! We’re always looking for the latest thing!
EDIT: Looks like great minds think alike… It’s Geek Pride Day! Good to know I’m not the only one who thinks like this!
I’ve been writing for The Beat since July of 2010.
I’ve been reading comics since 1974, collecting since 1984, and spreading the graphic novel gospel since 1994.
I’m a bookseller, a librarian, an amateur scholar, a cool uncle, and a comics evangelist.
Ask me anything!