Talk nerdy to me
Comedian Tom Franck on what it means to be a real geek
By Michel Miller 12/06/2012
Once upon a time, in a galaxy far far away, horn-rimmed glasses weren’t cool. Disney didn’t own Marvel Comics, and playing Dungeons and Dragons required a basement and writing utensils. Technology was not yet God, Lord of the Rings Legos didn’t exist and geek was still a four-letter word — so was nerd, as most of those unfortunate enough to be identified as such knew too well. (Holding the record for most wedgies received in a given school year does not a popular kid make.) But times have changed. The comic book superhero saved the movie industry, and eyeglasses are a fashion accessory rather than a life necessity. The geeks have indeed inherited the earth; and while some of them may be prospering as a result, the rest are mostly annoyed. Enter Tom Franck. The comedian, artist and one of the world’s leading collectors of Japanese toy robots isn’t entirely happy about geekdom’s benevolent takeover (he’s also not a fan of The Big Bang Theory) but he’s managed to find the humor in it. A living pop culture encyclopedia with the physique of a martial artist and a wit that would make George Carlin chuckle, Franck founded Comics and Comics, a group of slightly awkward, funny intellectuals (aka comedians) who share an obsessive interest in popular culture, in 2007. Six men form the molten core of Comics and Comics, but others (including the occasional female) are brought into the fold from time to time. “It’s sort of like Justice League Unlimited,” explains Franck. While they mostly perform their fanboy stand-up at comic book conventions, Comics and Comics have been appearing every so often at Hypno Comics in Ventura to polish their chops and test material. Covering the gamut of nerdy subjects with plenty of self-deprecation in between, the comics take turns at the microphone and conclude with a round-table discussion that’s easily as funny as anything else you’ve seen on the mainstream professional comedy circuit. While it is a good idea to have some general familiarity with the content, neophytes will find plenty to laugh about even if the more obscure references go over their heads. Tom Franck took some time away from his many pursuits to speak with VCReporter about the good and evil aspects of technology and geek authentication.
VCReporter: What is the biggest threat to popular culture?
Tom Franck: Everything being bought up by a few entities. On the other hand, popular culture becomes more colorful with advances in technology. If you look at the film industry in the ’70s it was the end of the big-studio era. That was mostly the result of cameras becoming smaller and cheaper. You are certainly seeing that with the Internet and technology and even CG movies. One is Rise of the Guardians, which is done by Dreamworks but is produced by Moonboot Studios, and it’s very much like The Avengers in that you have these mythic characters teaming up like The Avengers do, and it has huge franchise possibilities. So you’re going to see more of very creative people being given opportunities to cut out the middleman. Digital comic books will get even bigger. I think digital comic books are the future. Sequential storytelling is going to become more like Manga in that the stories will not be as dense and there will be more pictures. Manga is meant to be read on the subway, but it’s also well-suited to being read on portable devices. I think the future bodes well for writer-illustrators. There are a lot of people who want to get into the comic book market, a lot of it for selfish reasons. They’re not artists but they have a story.
What’s the difference between nerds, geeks and dorks?
I have a very distinct definition that makes sense to me. The word geek to me connotes a quantitative amount of knowledge. It’s not how enthusiastic you are but how well you have memorized facts backwards and forwards. A dork to me has to do with social skills. If you are on a first date and getting bad vibes from a girl and clumsily make a pass and get nowhere and slap your hand and say, “God, I am such a dork,” it would seem wrong to say you acted like a geek. Geeky has to do with knowledge. A nerd I view as a combination of the two. You have the knowledge, and you act nerdy when you are also incorporating bad social skills. And the joke that I make about it is a guy at a party trying to impress a girl by reciting the laws of acquisition of the Ferengi. They are an alien race in Star Trek: the Next Generation. Trying to impress a girl by reciting that would fall under nerdom. Knowing it is geeky. How you apply it, if you use it dorkily, that would make you a nerd.
And how are those different from fanboys?
That is new slang. To me fanboy or fangirl connotes a level of enthusiasm, like, “Oh my God, I’m such a fanboy about The Walking Dead.” That doesn’t mean you’ve read every issue and can recite what happened and who the artist was; but you like it. It’s like a martial arts dojo. You have to take all these different tests and pass all these exams in order to achieve black-belt status. Now, you can be a white belt and really love the martial arts and have a genuine passion for it, but it would be wrong for you to call yourself a black belt. And I would think the people who actually are black belts would be upset. All I’m saying is, I think that geek is being overused and incorrectly used.
Name something you must have done or a characteristic you must possess in order to authenticate yourself as a geek.
It’s weird because I think geekdom has become a lot more about breadth of knowledge than depth of knowledge. And there is so much more media to consume than there used to be that the standards are different. You can be a complete Star Wars geek and not read comic books, but you can have geek street credibility in the Star Wars universe. In order to be a geek, if the category [you claim to be knowledgeable about] came up on Jeopardy, you better be able to answer the $2,000 question. A lot of geeky mindsets and collecting mentality is about nostalgia. It’s sort of a recapturing what you loved as a child and I feel like the opposite sex plays a big part in that. Hormones kick in and you put all this effort into chasing after the opposite sex and then you realize you want to go back to that [stuff]. I never really lost it. There’s been an uninterrupted stream of loving that stuff.
You’re not a fan of The Big Bang Theory. Why?
There are things like I don’t feel that the geek stuff is legitimate. The geek speak on the show is done through rapid Wikipedia research rather than a full understanding of what it means to be a geek.
Tell me a story from your childhood.
I had a paper route. I was always tracking down comic books and I found someone who had rare comic books. I cherry picked the whole thing. This kid who had this big collection — X-Men 95-109, Hulk 181, rare Avenger — sold me the comics that were worth a lot for $5, and didn’t tell me they weren’t his. Years later when I was 12, the owner tracked me down. I hid in my room and my dad said, “Just tell him you sold ’em.”
Artwork for a Comics and Comics’ appearance at Long Beach ComicCon by Tom Franck who has a series of large scale posters that recreate classic comic book covers.
Comics and Comics will perform at Hypno Comics, 1803 E. Main St., Ventura, on Friday, Dec. 7, 8 p.m. The lineup will include Paul Goebel, Klee Wiggins, Ed Galves, Andres Salazar, Erik Barnes, Ron Swallow and Tim Powers. Tom Franck will host. The show is free, seating is limited. For more information, visit www.comicsandcomics.net or Facebook.com/HypnoComics.