Spider-Man: Still a nerd at 50?
Can you tell whether Peter Parker, as played by Andrew Garfield, is a nerd?
July 4th, 2012
12:56 PM ET

Spider-Man: Still a nerd at 50?

The very first page set the tone.

"Amazing Fantasy" #15 presented an image of a bespectacled, oft-tormented high school science whiz named Peter Parker. As bully Flash Thompson poked fun, Peter's shadow formed the silhouette of Spider-Man – a character who would use both his spider-powers and his intelligence to defeat larger opponents.

It was unheard of for a teenager, especially one with lots of personal problems, to be a superhero in comic books back in 1962.

"A teenager can’t be a superhero, he can only be a sidekick," co-creator Stan Lee remembers being told by his publisher. And as for heroes with personal problems, forget it.

But this nerd almost immediately struck a chord with comic book readers.

"Peter was an outsider, and that was me in high school," said artist Mark Bagley, who related to the hero of "The Amazing Spider-Man" and ended up working as the artist on that book years later.

At the start of his near-decade run on "Ultimate Spider-Man," Bagley was dealing with the unsavory mandate of "beefing up" Peter Parker in "The Amazing Spider-Man" books. Determined to save Peter Parker's nerd cred, he decided that "Ultimate's" hero would always be skinny. He saw that physical trait as an important reminder of Peter's underdog status, something key to the character’s popularity.

That was true for Brad Douglas of fansite SpiderManCrawlspace.com, too.

"He has problems just like you," Douglas said of the classic version of Peter Parker. "He can't pay his bills, he can't get a girl, when he does he has to ditch her to go fight bad guys. His costume rips."

Peter Parker puts on a mask and goes off on adventures to avoid bullies or other problems. What put-upon nerd wouldn't daydream about that? FULL POST

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Filed under: Brainiac • Comic Longbox
June 18th, 2012
01:11 PM ET

'Game of Thrones' fan art explodes online

You've heard of fanfiction. Meet fan art -  an established but less celebrated subculture of fandom.

Often inspired by a favorite science fiction or fantasy franchise, fan artists gain exposure for their work on social media sites like Deviantart, Tumblr and Etsy. One of the most popular franchises permeating fan art territory today is the imaginative world of Westeros in George R.R. Martin's "Game of Thrones" book, now an HBO TV series that recently completed it's second season. (HBO is a Time Warner network, as is CNN.)

The result: artistic renderings, costumes, clothing accessories and even food concotions based on Westeros are all over the internet.

But what motivates fan artists to go beyond passive viewing to creating something new (one of the ultimate hallmarks of a hardcore fan)?

Erica Batton of Kansas City, Missouri, has drawn scenes for multiple fan favorite series. She says lots of fan art creators discovered a new-found artistic passion only after being inspired by their favorite shows or books.

Bratton – one of many artists who submitted their work to CNN iReport – pointed to the characters of "Game of Thrones" being "complex but believable" as one source of inspiration.

"The world of Westeros as portrayed in George R.R. Martin's 'A Song of Ice and Fire' books are so vast and immerse it is hard to not feel sucked in when reading them," said Veronica Casson from San Francisco, California.

The show lingers in her mind, she said, ultimately motivating her to create something new. FULL POST

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Pop culture fans: Ever consider becoming a theater geek?
The cast of "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark" on opening night.
June 6th, 2012
01:00 PM ET

Pop culture fans: Ever consider becoming a theater geek?

Despite what most would agree was a particularly rough start in previews, "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark" seems to be having the last laugh, breaking Broadway records, with nearly a full year under its belt as one of the most popular shows on the Great White Way.

It's the latest in a series of geek-friendly musicals, including the Tony Award-winning "Spamalot" and Mel Brooks' "Young Frankenstein."

Shows with a large audience in nerd culture are nothing new, take "The Rocky Horror Show," for instance. But a major touchstone for the modern geeky musical has to be "Wicked," which almost 10 years into its run, remains one of Broadway's biggest draws.

Before "Wicked," however, the idea of geeky, fan-favorite genres making great musicals was hardly a given. "Science fiction in particularly has had a bad rap in the theater for decades, but only because it's been rare to have a sci-fi show of great success," Taryn Kimel, with the fan-driven "Spidey Project," said.

"I think there are plenty of shows now considered classic that people likely wouldn't have considered stage-worthy if they only heard a summary. ('Sweeney Todd' definitely comes to mind. Horror is an example of a genre that's become more accepted in the theater,)" she said.

What seems to be even more relevant to the established Broadway community, said "Project" writer and actor Justin Moran, is the fact that geeks in general are more receptive to different methods of storytelling - which makes them natural converts into the world of musical theater.

"I was totally against musicals and musical theater," said Adam Grumbo, who runs the fansite WitchesofOz.com. "I always thought it was exclusively for teen-aged girls, flamboyant guys, and well-off philanthropists. I was hooked after the first viewing [of 'Wicked'], and I've been to dozens of musicals since." FULL POST

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Believers vs. skeptics: A great geek divide?
Oscar-winning makeup artist Rick Baker (bottom center) with his alien creations for "Men in Black 3." For one subset of nerd, aliens and "MIBs" aren't just characters in movies.
May 28th, 2012
04:11 PM ET

Believers vs. skeptics: A great geek divide?

I was surprised, leading up to this weekend's top grossing movie, "Men in Black 3," that paranormal phenomena such as UFOs, the Roswell Incident and, yes, the mysterious Men in Black themselves  were conspicuously missing from the zeitgeist.

When the popular sci-fi franchise launched 15 years ago, it was all anyone could talk about. The first "MIB," along with "Independence Day," "The X Files" and "Roswell," brought aliens and government cover-ups their biggest pop culture moment in a generation.

While my geeky friends were rabid science fiction fans, excited about the proliferation of these movies and television shows, they scoffed at the idea that any of the aliens or UFOs we saw on screen had any basis in reality.

When we got hold of a video of purported UFO sightings around the time the first "Men in Black" movie came out, my friends proceeded to take apart the grainy footage methodically, claiming "hoax!" or easily identifying the flying object.

So, I wondered, how is it that some nerds can be so interested in science fiction involving alien life forms but can't believe that anything remotely paranormal is actually happening? FULL POST

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As the credits roll, some movies speak geek
May 21st, 2012
04:21 PM ET

As the credits roll, some movies speak geek

[SPOILER WARNING: This post talks about the end of "The Avengers" as well as a few other well-known movies of years past. Read at your own peril.]

When the end credits start to roll after big budget summer movies and most audience members get up to leave, sit a while and you'll notice that a select group of moviegoers stay glued to their seats.

Now, it may be that these people just enjoyed the movie so much that they want to see the names of everyone responsible. But most of the time – as with "The Avengers," which has now grossed enough worldwide to be the fourth-biggest movie of all time – it's because there's still a little bit of movie left.

More and more, those post-credit scenes are aimed directly at the geeks in the audience. FULL POST

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