We’re Not Like That Anymore! Comic Book Reader Stereotypes

Comic books have been a huge part of American society for years now making political statements across decades, most notably during World War II when they helped entertain people through a time when self indulgence was a scarcely thought of thing. Currently, comic books are an integrated part of pop culture, whether most "normal" people realize it or not. Look at some of the most popular films in the last ten years: Iron Man, Spider-Man, X-Men, etc. These movies have done so well that they are breeding sequels, and sequels of sequels. Look now to fashion: Luella debuted a high fashion line completely based on Batman in 2008, and if you step into any t-shirt section at a chain retail outlet you are certain to be greeted by the iconic images from DC and Marvel.

Why, then, are the consumers of comic books so demonized in popular culture? The Comic Book Guy in The Simpsons, Peter Parker before his metamorphosis in to Spider-Man, and the socially inept Brodie from Mallrats either take punches or hide behind quick wit and instant sarcasm. Each of them the target of scorn, never the hero until their heroic quest (or accidental spider bite) removes them from their status as a fan of comics and places them into the role of (super) hero. But how many times does the fanboy, shoulder heavy with Wednesday’s fruits, get the girl or save the day? How many times is victory obtained by the unchanged geek in film or TV? It is hard to think of many examples where the "comic book geek" is little more than the butt of the joke.

While some of the stereotypes certainly come from a grain of truth (yes, some of us are smelly, awkward, chubby affairs), we are in reality some of the more socially adjusted, attractive, and "acceptable" geeks I have experienced. I know plenty of people with twelve longboxes in their living room and if you saw them on the street or at a bar you would have no idea they had such a "dirty secret.” Sure, this year’s crowd at San Diego Comic-Con was varied with its makeup, ranging from cosplayers to stroller-pushing family folk, but I noticed a distinct lack of stereotype with the bulk of attendees flipping through back issues or ogling the half-off trades. These are the people actually reading comics, the sort of people you’d pass on the street and not immediately smell, disdain, or judge.

Comics are sequential art, and fans of comics are connoisseurs of such. Think of a movie with a fine art collector or someone who is in love with great literature. Both of these characters would probably be realized as educated, attractive, worldly and interesting people. Indiana Jones is handsome and loved by his students. Robert Langdon gets tweed and ladies. Heck, even Agent Mulder can wear the hell out of a suit. What makes us so different? Even though these characters are idealized why do comic fans get short end of the stick?

After thinking long and hard about whether or not there are any positively presented comic book geeks in TV shows or movies I finally remembered one. And who is that one person? A character in the ridiculous 90s "chick flick" Coyote Ugly, the main character's love interest who was a suave, mysterious and adorable guy who just so happened to be completely obsessed with comic books. There is a particularly notable scene where it appears that he is participating in a drug deal but what he's really doing is dropping mad cash for a rare comic.

So why can I think of only one movie where a comic book geek appears as a normally functioning human being instead of a whale of a person with grease stains on their t-shirt, especially now when geeks are beginning to rule and people are in to comics without even knowing that they are? (Example: I once had a coworker who wore Superman t-shirts and necklaces, but she had never read a Superman comic in her life.)

Society is obviously taking notice of us with consumerism leaning more and more towards "geek interests." Look no further than the current incarnation of San Diego Comic-Con, a swollen media extravaganza with roots in comics (and those that love them) but strong limbs and branches in everything from vinyl toys to the latest prime time television series. Comic geeks have become part of the bottom line to bigwig execs, a far cry from the oft-bullied portrayal common to popular culture.

Perhaps we are evolving along the same lines as Comic-Con and modern movies, moving out of our parents’ basements and longbox fortresses in to the bright sunshine of common perception.


We’re ready to be in the spotlight. We’re ready to run for student council president like RJ Berger (MTV’s recent geeky anti-hero from The Hard Times of RJ Berger), presenting an anime-styled sketch to the cheerleader girl of his dreams and not sacrificing what he likes in order to be accepted. Yes, he has glasses, wears the same comic (Excaliboar!) shirt day after day, and doesn’t fit in with his peers but his social advances don’t come at the cost of compromising his passions.

Aren’t we beyond that sort of cookie cutter view on things? With the internet and everything it brings why are we still so entirely demonized for being passionate about comic books, about anime, about anything that is regarded "geeky?"

I don't agree with ANY geeks being portrayed in a bad light and am especially offended by the image that the media (usually Hollywood) seems to give comic book readers. As with all fandoms, there are bound to be people who are "too obsessed,” yet these seem to be the only people Hollywood wants to portray, condensing stereotypes and pointing out the worst of the pack.

I want to see the film about the underdog that doesn’t have to ditch his comic book collection to get the girl of his dreams.


Molly McIsaac points her camera at everything, rides unicorns, and enjoys fictional characters with green hair. You can stalk her to your heart's content on Twitter, where she talks about her various misadventures.


  1. Wait… Brodie from Mallrats is considered socially inept??  I’ve been modelling my life on his for YEARS!  I guess I can finally throw away my paper cup.

    Say, would you like a chocolate covered pretzel? 

  2. I still get people asking me" Hey aren’t comics for kids?" everytime I will read one I bought wednesday on my break at work.

  3. That was my major complaint with The 40 Year Old Virgin. But Rolemodels was a pretty good example of people diving headfirst into geekdom unapologetically.

  4. @ActuallButt: Agreed on both counts.

  5. I actually had a pretty good convo with a noncomic reading friend of mine about what comics are actually about and was surprised by how interested he was by the end of the conversation

  6. In 40 Year Old Virgin’s defense, I don’t think it was ever intended that his geek interests are what prevented him from successful relationships. He was a geek who happened to be socially awkward. It’s a thin line, I know.

    I think the problem is that the media in general has a hard time breaking from the default settings when it comes to representations of any group, regardless of the culture. When they decide to write about comics, they automatically go to "POW! ZING!" mode, because they are lazy and tend write in the same way that everyone before them has written. There’s a template and they are loathe to not use it.

  7. Stop saying ‘geek’. People need to stop using that word. There shouldn’t be this distinction between ‘geek culture and ‘normal’ culture. People have different interests but they are still people. Everyone is unique and no one fits into any label. People retreat to these labels and try to assume an identity because they are not comfortable being themselves and being without a concrete identity.

     You aren’t going to find this in the mainstream, because the media feeds off of divide and conquer tactics. They need people to feel a conflict against their fellow citizens. Pepsi vs Coke, DC vs Marvel, Geeks vs Normal people. Reject all stereotypes and even the very notion that they exist. 

    No ‘geeks’ or ‘normal people’ or anything. Just people

  8. I disagree, I like the official image and then suprising looks, when people hear how much I spend on comics. "No, YOU?!?? YOU’re one of THEM? ….REALLY?"

    AND I like to be an outcast. Comic reading always brought with it the escapism and finding something JUST FOR YOU and at least in my country it still very strongly still is. If you would take that away from comics… I don’t know. It’s like that GREAT AWESOME hometown band you love and that now gets world famous. You’re happy for them, you still love their music, but all the new fans turn you off from time to time… and with every little change of style you make "the multi million dollor industry machinery" responsable for it.

  9. True Romance’s Clarence is a character that while "socially inept" really is a great dude. Can’t we be both?

  10. @Flakbait  You nailed it. That’s exactly why

  11. We’ve got a few more geek positive shows: Chuck and most his supporting cast are geeks and only Jeff and Lester are portrayed negatively but not because of their geek interests.  Similarly with The Big Bang Theory; their geeky references can sometimes be grating but their negative habits have very little to do with the fact that they like comics and sci-fi.  The Doctor is one of us on some level, we’ve got Claudia on Warehouse 13 and had Wendy Watson from The Middleman and all of those are positive as well.

  12. Thank you for this Molly.

  13. Oh and Hardison from Leverage

  14. @simmons – Let’s get rid of the term "people" while we’re at it. I don’t want my dog to feel like she’s a of lower classification. We’re all just "beings".

  15. The thing about the 40 Year Old Virgin is that being a geek kinda helped keep him attractive into his forties.

  16. @NawidA – explain?

  17. I dunno, I agree with a lot of the points made, but I feel like comic fandom and geek culture in general has become MUCH MUCH MUCH more socially acceptable over the last 5-10 years.

    I get indignant about how we’re portrayed sometimes too, but I think such complaints are very often just built up in our own heads to reinforce an "us vs. them"/"I WANNA be an outsider" mindset. Nerds/geeks/fanboys in general are MUCH more accepted than they were in years past.

    But you find this sort of in-group sentiment elsewhere in society. Sportsfans also have a sense of how other people who aren’t sportsfans "don’t understand" how it feels to really care about sports to a FANatical degree.

    I don’t agree with Alan Moore all that much, but last year when he talked about how comics haven’t "grown up" so much as the rest of society has "grown down" (to meet us in a sense), I think he really hit on something. Nowadays EVERYONE is a geek about something, whether it’s mainstream movies, comics with relatively low circulations, niche TV shows, or newspapers or journals that don’t really have wide circulations anymore. The point is, nowadays there are so many outlets for media that EVERYONE feels like they’re in the minority, and they feel like their own little favorite media enclaves are something misunderstood or endangered.

  18. On the contrary, most people I talk to ask me about comics and what they should read and what not. A lot of people I know don’t really think of it as this taboo thing anymore and constantly borrow trades from me. Granted, a lot of my friends that read comics won’t ready any super hero stuff though.

  19. Here’s what gets me: The way society is today, if you took a random sampling of people from any walk of life, I’m willing to bet at least half of them look like stereotypical nerds (overweight, poorly-kept, etc.) regardless of their actual nerd status.

  20. I agree.  I am a Cop and sometimes while Im on duty, I head into the local comic shop and grab a couple of trades.  Meanwhile I’m getting looks from the customers as if I don’t belong in there.  In addition to that, whoever my partner is that day will usually give me crap for going into the shop while in uniform, as if it makes us look bad.  I have been reading comics since I was 12, and I have definitely seen the consumer change hrough the years.

  21. When I read things like this, I reflect on the fact that I’ve long self-identified as a geek. And then I remember the last time I felt shame about reading comics was… roughly the 8th grade. That’s a LONG time ago.

    I have never once as an adult been teased or made fun of for reading comics or liking geeky things. Is it because I’ve lived in cities like SF and LA where geeky is okay? Is it because I don’t come across as someone who is socially inept?

    I don’t advertise my interests, nor do I shy away from them. If it comes up, most people are like, "oh, you’re into comics? That’s cool." and then it’s either, "I used to read comics, what’s cool these days?" or it’s "I have a friend/brother/sister/boyfriend who is into comics. I never was, though." And then the conversation moves on.

  22. @actualbutt why is ending cultural stereotypes a bad thing?

  23. @actualbutt

    Well he stayed away from any drugs and alcohol preferring his safe little geek oasis which kept him healthy especially combined with bicycling over conforming to a car.


  24. @Simmons – I’m not saying it’s a bad thing, I’m saying it’s an absurdity to even attempt it. It’s all well and good to shy away from those terms, but unfortunately, that’s how we communicate as humans. Identifying yourself as a "geek" doesn’t limit your individuality or prove that you are uncomfortable being yourself. Is every gay person gay to the same degree and in the same way? Nope. Is every racist person racist to the same degree and in the same way? Nope. But it can be helpful to be able to identify yourself as gay, or to identify others as racist.

  25. @NawidA – But the entire conceit of the movie is that as soon as he left that oasis, he gained friends, had more fun, got laid, got a promotion, and found true love. Not necessarily in that order.

  26. @MadMartigan – People look at you like you don’t belong there because you’re shopping for comics while on duty. I don’t imagine there’s a lot of crime going on in a comic shop.

  27. When you identify yourself as a member of a subculture in this case a "geek" or a "fanboy" or whatever you invite all those stereotypes upon yourselves. Just like any subculture…Punks, Goths, Gamers, Sports fans, Jocks, Foodies, Indie Kids, Hipsters etc…there are a ton of public consciousness stereotypes built in that you secretly enjoy or else you wouldn’t label yourself as such. 

    In your article you clearly draw a line in the sand differentiating between "geeks" and "normal people" aka everybody who’s not into what you are. This division in and of itself creates an attitude of cultural elitism which is the problem with all subcultures and what helps fuel the negative stereotypes. 

    Also i think that Movie and TV characters are built on archetypes and stereotypical traits and the Geeky Characters are no different. Look at how Cops, Professors, Government officials etc are usually portrayed. Writers are using a checklist of recognizable and expected traits so the characters can become more believable, just like a comic creator would use when creating a Superhero.

  28. It does sometimes seem like people simultaneously want to use ‘geek’ as a point of pride and then get defensive when anybody uses it to group them with the ‘wrong’ kind of geek.

    I guess I’m wondering, at the end of the day, why we care so much.

  29. My parents started buying comics for me when I was about 4 or 5.  They’ve been an important part of my life since then.  I’m now 50 and don’t consider myself a geek per se.  In fact, I have come to realize just how diverse comic lovers are.  You see, I am also a United Methodist pastor.  When I let my secret out that I was into comics, other comic lovers in my parish started coming out too – lawyers, IT guys, construction engineers, etc.  Now there are several of us that go to comic-related movie premiers and comic-cons.  We have a great time together.  And to think that if I had kept my comic love a secret, I wouldn’t be so close to these guys.  I would have really missed out.

  30. I really don’t care how the media portrays comic readers or geek culture. Hollywood obviously doesn’t have any problem making millions of dollars of comic based franchises.

     At the end of the day most people who judge an entire medium or subculture as "kids stuff" or having "no redeeming qualities" are often not smart enough to argue with anyway. 

  31. @ohcaroline — exactly. i was having a similar thought. Using labels is always a double-edged sword. We use them to unite and also to divide.

    My thing is: if you’re going to worry about how the "geek" stereotype is portrayed in the media, are you ALSO going to be equally worried about how "meat-head" jocks are portrayed? If you don’t like someone using "geek" as a pejorative, you’d better make sure you’re not using any others. How many stories have we seen about Hollywood "hipsters" ruining Comicon?

  32. @ActualButt

    My contention is that it wasn’t leaving geek culture behind that did that for him but self confidence and friendship.

    The movie does a pretty good job of pointing out that his new friends are far from perfect and quite often wrong.

  33. To me, the work "geek" could be used to describe anyone that shows a passionate interest in any topic, whether it be music, comics, film, nature, sports, history, literature, etc. In that sense, we’re all geeks (except for boring people who find nothing interesting).

  34. ‘Geekdom’ for me started at enjoying Star Wars and Star Trek.  Then it moved on to my passion for comics.  I’m a social guy, have a long-standing relationship with a woman, solid close friends, and a career.  I also bathe regularly, have clean clothing, and keep myself in shape.  I’m not really sure what that makes me, but as far as stereotypes are concerned I guess I really just don’t care.

  35. Comic book readers will always be "geeks" to the rest of the world because most of the rest of the world doesn’t read anything.  They watch TV.  So, anyone who reads for entertainment will seem weird.  But all entertainment media now seems intent upon pleasing geeks.  Is it because we are more passionate, a more reliable opening weekend movie audience?  Do we spend more money on entertainment?  Maybe the rest of the world likes the same kind of entertainment we like, they just don’t want to have to read it.  They are fine with watching it on the screen at the movies or on TV.

  36. @ActualButt

    So Im only allowed to be in places where crime is happening? I don’t get a break or a lunch like any other job? Okay now I know. Thanks.

  37. I’m quite hopeful for this movie — http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1418757/

    (and not just because I was involved in its creation)


  38. It for these reasons I can’t stand The Big Bang Theory.  Very rarely are you laughing with the characters.  Also, some of their scientific explanations make me want to stick my head in a deep fryer.

  39. Everytime a subject like this comes up, I feel like I need to cut my ponytail, shave and lose weight.


  40. @MadMartigan

    Dont worry mate I work in the same profession in England.  It annoyes the hell out of me too, sadly its the uniform and people like ActualButt who dont take time to think of the simple explination  that you may be miles away from your nick to sit down and get Lunch and your stuck out there when you go on duty.



    When you go to lunch at work do you change your clothes?  Do you work in a profession that means that most days you do not get a lunch break at all or better yet you work such unsocial hours that when you finish you can’t pick up your little personal treats to yourself? Theres an old saying that goes "Work to live don’t live to work" in other words don’t let a job take you away from the simple pleasures in life. If you are one of the fortunate ones who can take time to go into shop unnoticed during a lunch break then good for you, but if your not please do not fall in the category of people who are ignorant to the fact that people in uniforms are just that. People with lives and hobbies. The only difference is that they do not have the chance to be able to go into a shop and get something to eat or buy a product when they are on their lunch break with out somebody cracking wise with a horrible comment.  I see no problems with being able to go into a shop. Also it give us time to interact with the public and for them to see that we are normal people too.


  41. As a Marvel and Star Wars fanboy, and hardcore gamer I agree with stereotypes because they’re true that’s why they’re stereotypes. I also agree because almost every comic book reader and hardcore gamer that I know including myself falls into some if not most or all of the stereotypes of “nerds” or “geeks” such as being socially inept, especially with women, bad dressers, and being over weight. Personally I fit into two of those, I’m not very social kind of a l and I wear a lot Marvel T’s.

  42. I think it’s worth pointing out that the main reason Comic Book Guy is a bad stereotype is that he’s a humorless, intellectually-bullying asshole.  Say what you want about his appearance, and I don’t mean to discount it altogether as part of the stereotype, but if the character were portrayed as a fun-loving, helpful and friendly guy who is as involved in creating his own stories and art as in slamming other people’s, we’d feel a lot differently about him.

  43. @ohcaroline – Great point!

  44. Comic Book Guy … is … awesome.

  45. Its amazing how I often have this exact same conversation with my other gay friends.  "The media always portrays us in the worst light because it sells."  and  "Why do we need to have a label?"  and "I am who I am, I don’t advertise, but I don’t hide it" are often quoted in discussions about gay stereotypes too.  Come out of the closet, comic book fans!  The only way we break stereotypes is by showing that we love comics out in the open so people can see the diversity of the entire fanbase and not just the extremes portrayed in the media.

  46. I believe jocks are portrayed way more negatively than geeks in pop culture.

    I see five guys that look like comic book guy every Wednesday, and I’m okay with that.

    As a high schoo freshman, my best friend warned me not to buy The Dark Knight Returns at the school book fair because he was worried I would be bullied.  (I bought it anyway, and read the saucy parts aloud for the hot girl who sat next to me in Geography class.)

    Now I can wear my John Byrne Wolverine shirt in public and no one bats an eyelash.

    To quote Virginia Slims, "you’ve come a long way baby."

  47. I think it’s been said already, but we all know that people who enjoy comic books come in all shapes, colors anf flavors. There are plenty of CBNs out there, but there are also plenty of nice, friendly, socially comfortable people out there, too. Your interests do not define your personality. If you’re a douche who reads comics, you would’ve been a douche if comics didn’t exist. Be proud of what you enjoy, and if you treat comics like the awesome medium that they are, and read them with confidence, others will respect that even if they aren’t fans themselves.

    Be proud of your passions! They are part of what makes you who you are, and I’m willing to bet that you’re pretty great.

  48. @ultimatehoratio, great call about Jocks geting a much worse rap in pop culture.

    I like the article, but I gotta say it strikes me as ten years behind the times. Maybe it’s because I live in a metropolitan area, but I see comic book culture being enthusiastically embraced as part of the zeitgeist. Beyond "geek chic," reading a graphic novel during your commute is more likely to get you called "hipster" than "nerd" these days.