Comic-Con Heroes: The Nerd Culturist

Comic-Con’s contractual commitment to San Diego expires in 2016, and the event already entertains offers to move to another city. While conducting interviews during SDDC 2013 for Comic-Con Heroes: The Fans Who Make the Greatest Show on Earth, I asked numerous attendees about relocation. Among them: Tauri Miller, whose profile appears in the ebook.

For whatever it’s worth, I favor keeping the Con in San Diego. While the convention center limits the number of participants to about 130,000 over four days, the city already is a tourist destination with all the right amenities, which include hotels and the Gaslamp Quarter. Getting in out and around (including the airport) is much easier than Los Angeles, by contrast. 

Tauri’s profile marks the fourth of 13 Saturday installment from my ebook, which goes into the public domain on July 8, 2015, after my current commitment for Amazon KDP Select ends. Last week, we met The Academic. Previously: The Dark Knight, The Fighter, and The Collectors. For Comic-Con 2013, I focused less on live reporting and more on interviewing—choosing one-dozen people to profile. They, and others like them, are the comic-book convention’s greatness.

With that Introduction, let’s meet The Nerd Culturist.

Day Three, I walk from the 15 bus stop at Broadway and First towards the convention center. An energetic fellow lithely pulls up and across construction pipes hanging over the sidewalk like they’re monkey bars. We pass. He and a friend stop at a crosswalk. I hesitate, then turn back and ask for an interview.

Tauri Miller, who traveled from Los Angeles, is at the Con for the third time; all four days. Unlike many participants donning costumes, he’s underdressed, but somehow appropriately. He wears a T-Shirt with Batman symbol, blue jeans, black cape, and mask. The signature feature, which catches my attention, is an enormous light leather utility belt with gleaming gold Batman-logo buckle. Like the Caped Crusader, Miller has a fully-functional belt—it’s more than decorative.

“Is food hidden in there?” I ask. Burgers cost $7 and soda pop $4 inside the convention center. “You’ve got to stow your stuff away”, he answers and starts opening pouches. “You’ve got your mints. You’ve got your gloves. You’ve got your chargers [for cell phone]. You’ve got everything you need”.

Miller clasps shut the last pouch and looks up. “Why come down here from LA?” I ask. He answers: “It’s a great place. When you’re, quote unquote, in ‘nerd culture’ you’re a little on the outside, because all the things you enjoy most people don’t know about”.

Comic-Con is a refuge, by comparison.

“Everybody you see, everyone you come in contact with, has a reference of things that you love, things that you enjoy. I super enjoy the moments when you hear someone talking about Batman, and you’re like ‘Oh my God, I loved that issue as well’, and it just starts this whole conversation. You’re instantly friends. That’s what I love about it”.

Miller also enjoys the exhibit hall booths “and what it takes to bring this whole thing together. I could spend days, or weeks, just on the Con floor because there’s so much to see, so many little things”.

His response gets me to talking about breaking down barriers. I observe that I’m not a young, handsome guy, but people stop on the street to be interviewed by such a stranger. “But also you’ve got monsters approaching young women, and people don’t seem to mind”, I say. “But if you were somewhere else, people would be afraid. ‘Oh my God, what’s the creepy thing coming down the street towards me?’ There’s a freedom to be”—Miller says before I can, “yourself”. I add: “Freedom to be somebody”—again, he fills the word first—“else”.

I ask about that aspect, people dressing up to be the people they wished they could be, “that you can be someone else for four days; assume a role”. He smiles. “It’s kind of great. There’s no feeling like having a cape flowing behind you. Honestly, I know within myself the moment I don a costume I start becoming that person. I start acting like they do, moving like they do. It feels great. When you’re watching a movie you can feel like they do, but being in the costume and being that person you can really take that on and really have a lot of fun with it”.

That’s the role he plays. In real life? “I work in production. I manage assets and work on delivering online content”. I ask if any of that resonates with anything going on at the Con. He gives a sideline, but appropriate, response. “I try to work in fields I have interest in. Like I used to work for an anime company, for the sole purpose it was anime. The company I work for now does the world of heroesy-type of stuff, like Stan Lee. I always try to make sure I can integrate the two. When I can’t, I do like the break from the normal society and trying to immerse myself in the [nerd] culture”.

Stan Lee is a legend in the comic-character community, having co-created the Incredible Hulk, Spider-Man, and X-Men, among other superheroes. The day before, I moseyed into the end of a panel where Lee spoke about storytelling. Among his priorities: Make superheroes interesting as people, then give them superpowers. His presence and energy—at 90 years old—is superheroic.

I ask Miller to describe in just a few sentences what is Comic-Con and what the event means to him. “Comic-Con to me is the biggest expression of non-romantic love. I’ve seen people cry at the mention of a new character in a title, or the sequel to a series that they love. I was watching a video of people seeing the announcement of a videogame, and it made me cry a little bit to see them so excited. That is the epitome of what Comic-Con is, being so consumed by your love of these titles and these heroes and these shows that it’s overwhelming”.

I ask if he would describe the experience as cathartic. “Yeah, definitely”, he answers.

This concept of emotional release is common among my Comic-Con interviews, which harkens to the event’s aspirational qualities—people longing for something better or to participate in a larger communal experience. For many people, I observe, Hollywood replaces the role religion would have generations past. But the aspirations, of achieving something better, aren’t far removed.

Miller is the first among several attendees who gets the controversial question, “one evil to ask on the streets of San Diego”, I tell him. “Would you like to see Comic-Con move to LA?”

Los Angeles is an aggressive suitor, and given how much of the convention is dedicated to pulp media like movies and TV shows, the city would be a locale closer to the content source and people producing or acting it. Comic-Con could grow, conceptually, too. Since 2007, the event has limited attendance to around 130,000, which contributes to fast sellouts when pass sales start online. LA, or even Anaheim, another proposed location, could expand the size.

But San Diego is where the Con started and a city with much less car congestion than Los Angeles and a tourist destination that offers Conners other benefits.

Miller doesn’t see LA as better choice. “It couldn’t handle it. It can barely handle WonderCon. To have a Con of this scale, it would never happen”.

WonderCon is San Diego Comic-Con’s sister show, and the same organization runs both. Anaheim hosted the convention in 2012 and 2013, with more modest 50,000 attendance.

Originally called the Wonderful World of Comics Convention, the event started in 1987 and was held in Oakland, Calif. WonderCon moved to San Francisco in 2003, the year after Comic-Con International took over responsibilities, at the request of owners Mike Friedrich and Joe Field.

According to the organization, the move from Northern to Southern California was supposed to be temporary, set off first by construction at the Moscone Center and later scheduling problems there. The venue is considered the only one large enough in San Francisco to accommodate the convention.

But an event name change—Comic-Con International Presents WonderCon Anaheim—suggests more permanent relocation. However, at this book’s early-September 2013 publication, “dates and location are still to be determined”.

Anaheim is about a 90-minute drive north of San Diego, putting the two shows in close proximity. In 2013, WonderCon took place in March and Comic-Con in July. According to Variety magazine, “WonderCon is essentially what Comic-Con was in 2006: A fanboy fest just on the cusp of exploding in popularity, but still accessible to the public”.

Proximity to Hollywood, even if temporary, also could be used as a litmus test for gauging Comic-Con’s relocation. However, to be clear: The organization has committed to staying in San Diego at least through 2016.