Category Archives: Comedy

I am Closeted

I am secretly a nerd. Now, I’m just going to go ahead and cut off those people who say that is not so secret, because of how obviously nerdy I am. Yes, its apparent I am a nerd, but the true breadth and depth of my nerdiness is a secret concealed to most who know me. My wife only discovered the true extent of my geekiness after we were married, and for good reason. If she knew the shocking secret I plan to reveal to you now, I think she might have thought twice about marrying me.

I play D&D. Actually, it would be more accurate to say that I’m willing to play D&D, I just don’t have anyone to play with. Whoa. That is pathetic. D&D is, I think, along with Magic Cards,the nadir of nerdiness. It is the line no hipster will publicly cross. It’s fine and good to watch Battlestar Galactica (the new one anyway), and its fine to play video games, and even to dig comics. You can admit those facts about yourself and lose a moderate but acceptable amount of social capital. As long as you dress normally, and wait until people know you well enough to divulge that information you’ll be okay.

There’s this scene in Freaks & Geeks (an excellent and sympathetic depiction of geekery), where the geek clique is making plans to play D&D. There is one holdout. “I dunno, guys….it’s really nerdy”, he says. Eventually he caves and winds up having a good time. I know what his hesitation was about, because I can see D&D from the point of view of someone who hasn’t played, too.

I think it is the play – acting (I suppose I should probably call it role – playing) aspect of the game that makes most people balk. There’s something about pretending to be an elf swordsman with your friends that seems profoundly childish. It hits at what people really find unsettling about the very nerdy, which is that most nerdy pastimes are essentially just refusals to give up on childhood. Most nerdiness is really just an unwillingness to grow up – to stop playing make – believe and obsessing about the shows you watched as a kid, or to stop enjoying the adventures of the Caped Crusader.

That unwillingness to fully enter adulthood creates discomfort in the non – nerdy. It’s like talking to a grown man whose brain somehow became frozen at age nine. The nerds socially astute enough to notice that discomfort are often hostile, and they create a reverse marketplace of social exchange, where your worthiness as a person is determined not by how socially skilled or mature you are, but by the degree to which you have eschewed those “artificialities”.

There’s something pathetic about the staunch refusal to give up on childish pursuits that eventually becomes the contempt with which nerds are widely regarded. To a certain degree, this pity (or contempt) is merited. There are many nerdy people whose refusal to move out of their Mom’s basement and empathize with people who don’t give a shit about Boba Fett is a sad rejection of living. They are like grown Linuses, terrified of losing their Spider – Man bedsheets. They desperately need to grow up or forfeit their claim to a productive, useful life.

I am not one of those nerds. At least I think I’m not, anyway. While I fully understand that nerdiness can mire you in pre – adolescence, I also think there is something healthy about being able to revisit childhood and return again. Growing up, in many ways, means submitting to bullshit superficialities, to surrender your imagination to the tedium of a nine to five existance, and to become a cog in the machine. Healthy geekery is a refusal to submit to the ridiculousness of adulthood, even if only in secret, while at the same time moving on from fourth grade. It is having friendships with different kinds of people and respect other interests, and, not for nothing, to have consensual sex with a living human at some point or another. To do that, you have to do some growing up. Just don’t do too much.

Maturing to the point you stop playing make -believe is a bare minimum of normalcy. That’s why the part of us that is not utterly ridiculous revolts against the idea of doing that again as adults. That’s understandable. Most normal D&D players keep a balance between the strategy elements of coordinating rules and the elaborate mechanisms for determining who wins a fight and talking with a preposterous accent or something like that. Most people who play D&D can do that. Some can’t, and it is those sad cases that force people like me to conceal my interest in D&D from almost everyone in my life. My wife is strictly forbidden from revealing this secret to anyone, even family and close friends. I choose when to come out or risk being ostracized. Jokes on 30 Rock and Community are making it easier, but it’s never easy.

But I am not a complete nerd. And I am not alone.

A short list of people cooler, funnier, better looking, richer, or just plain more important than you who have admitted they enjoy D&D: Robin Williams, Moby, Jon Favreau, Steven Colbert,Vin Diesel, Mike Meyers, Tim Duncan, Ben Affleck, Duwayne Johnson, Matt Groening, Matt Damon, Judd Apatow, Brian Warner (Marilyn Manson), Eddie Izzard, Jenny McCarthy.

I’m sure there are more. I don’t think the number of celebrities who confess they play will ever reach the critical mass necessary for D&D to be de-stigmatized. I’m not positive it should be. I’m just saying that someone you know might harbor this geeky secret,  and if it’s someone you love, be kind. It’s very hard admitting that you play a character named Brutus who comes from the Tarsian Empire, can wield two swords simultaneously, and once he reaches 4th level will take a Multi – class feat so he can do some spell – casting. I’m just saying is all.

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From the age of about 8 on – with almost no break – I have been in the process of writing a comic book.  In the two decades I have been writing down ideas for comic books, a large pile of notebooks containing character bios, story outlines, and lofty plans for elaborate universes has formed a nostalgic sediment in the storage spaces of my apartments. Most of them are garbage, but I hold a special place in my heart for those mead marble-covered composition books with my invented superhero logos carved in black bic pen on the malleable cradboard back cover – right next to the Metric – English conversion tables I never used in my entire education.

My favorite is”The Legends of Gregypia,” a collection of myths about a pantheon of Greek, Egyptian and Norse gods I thought were cool. I culled them mostly from my older brother’s copy of Deities & Demigods. All of the stories had a hero – invariably a sickly child who had magical powers no one knew about and who no one thought could do anything, except for the big shot knight’s girlfriend. The gods would get into some kind of fight that reversed the natural order. I remember very fondly a story where everything became black and white, and an even better one where it rained laser beams for forty days and forty nights. There was even one where everyone became blind – but no one gave me the Nobel Prize in literature. Fuck you, Saramago.

The sickly boy would always be tutoring the hot girlfriend of the most powerful knight in Gregypia with her “lessons.” She’d see his potential, and ask the cool athletic knight-who for some reason had a handlebar mustache –  to bring the nerdy tutor with secret powers on the  world-saving quest. The mission always involved getting the McGuffin that was needed to restore everyone’s vision or give out laser-proof umbrellas or whatever. The prince would always be like “no way, he sucks, I’m not bringing that scrub.” Everyone would laugh except the pretty head cheerleader of the Kingdom of Gregypia. The pretty-boy knight would go off and make things worse and/or get captured. Then the whole kingdom would be begging the funny-looking hero to save them with his powers. The nerd would hesitate, and the kingdom would really really beg, and then the hero would relent and save the day.

From there it usually went one of two ways. The more common of the two was that the princess  – who looked like Justine Bateman or Molly Ringwold  – would see the nerdy hero as the potential king he was and marry him. And then they had sex! Often it would be revealed that her formerly mousy and now muscular hero actually was the king and his identity had been confused because of some record-keeping snafu. Sometimes he’d send the cool, cocky hero to the dungeon and other times he’d be gracious. But the original favorite son of Gregypia always had his fate decided by the new cock-of-the-walk.

Other times, though, the kingdom would turn on the hero after he saved them and kill him or confine him to some sort of magical Sisyphean hell-prison where he would plot his revenge/comeback. I was a cynical bastard even then. But what would you expect from someone who had an imaginary enemy as a toddler?

I love reading those old stories because they are such bald self-disclosures. I guess they are to the nine year old boy what those diaries with the cheap breakable locks are to a nine year old girl. There is an exuberant, stupid innocence that makes these formulaic reiterations of the same plot infinitely engaging, at least to me. They apparently appeal to you because you’ve read this far. I think it is this kind of nostalgia that makes my new favorite comic strip, Axe Cop, so incredibly awesome.

Axe Cop is the brain-child of five year old Malachi Nicolle. His 29 year old brother and comic artist, Ethan Nicolle, has taken on the illustrating duties for his younger sibling. Ethan uses a classic, Darwyn Cooke- Bruce Timm-ish style on Axe Cop which accentuates the boyish charm that Malachi’s plots and characters embody. Ethan Nicolle’s stylistic repertoire is actually pretty diverse, as you can see in some of the pitches and pictures he’s compiled on his blog. Axe Cop appears here, and every one-page issue is golden.

The straightforward art is the perfect complement to the sincere, honest storylines Malachi writes. The stories are meandering, insane, and bizarre in that way all small childrens’ fantasies are, especially if they are egged on with timely requests to answer the question “and then…?” Five year olds have no filters. The story moves in whatever direction their simultaneously expansive and parochial imaginations move them. That is exactly what makes Axe Cop so delightful and refreshing to read. Comics are supposed to be fun, but take themselves very seriously. As they become monopolized by increasingly older, jaded, snarky fans who are altogether overstuffed with pop culture fare, they get even stodgier. Many of those fans would dismiss Axe Cop as silly. And it is. That’s the point.

The priceless fun these brothers have writing this strip leaks out of every panel.You can almost see the little boy get excited as he elaborates the story, and I enjoy imagining the gleam in his eye when he sees the stories drawn and then published by his super-cool big brother.  Reading Axe Cop recalls the joy of writing the “Legends of Gregypia” in a way no comic I’ve ever read since has even come close to. Calvin & Hobbes comes close in some ways, but this is the one that really scratches that itch for me. In a way, it’s the comic I’ve been waiting 20 years for – since my comic addiction has really always been just a way to chase that high.

Whether you dig comics or not, you should check this strip out. It’s just a great time. And now, just to add to the awesomeness of it all, Axe Cop has been picked up by Dark Horse Comics, and the internet has begun buzzing about a live action short by Peter Muehlenberg!

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