Nearly five years ago, I kicked off the first regular edition of this column by confessing my geekhood, declaring my devotion to video games and comic conventions. But lately my NQ (nerd quotient) has been crashing. It started earlier this summer, when I rankled the ranks with an insensitive remark about the Best of Orlando award won by a late local fanboy favorite. Then things got serious when I was absent from August's Celebration VI, the center of the universe for Star Wars lovers. With my attention focused on the arts and theme parks, my hard-earned nerd cred had begun to crumble.
So, with The Avengers Blu-ray bonus features blaring in the background as I write, I'm inaugurating a trilogy of columns returning to my roots. Next issue I'll interview Adam Savage, co-host of Mythbusters, one of the most geek-friendly shows on the air. The following week I'll cover the much-anticipated Star Wars exhibit arriving at the Orlando Science Center. And to launch this resurrection of my nerd reputation, last weekend I sought out two stalwarts of the subculture.
Charles Schulz's bulbous-headed boy avatar, Charlie Brown, is the original nerdy comic-book protagonist: a self-aware social misfit who is constantly having success yanked out from under him. And in our political climate, being passionate about science and environmentalism can be seen as not only nerdy, but suspiciously socialist. The pairing of the two may open eyes (or raise eyebrows) among visitors to the Orange County Regional History Center's new Peanuts … Naturally exhibit.
The compact collection, on loan from the Charles M. Schulz Museum and Research Center in Santa Rosa, Calif., displays reproduction comic strips centering on educational issues including recycling, pollution, astronomy, gardening and bird migration. There are a handful of hands-on activities, like an easel where you can learn to draw Snoopy (useful to keep kids occupied while parents read the ample contextual text). The gallery's pale palette is enlivened by a couple of set pieces, such as a life-sized Snoopy doghouse and a "kite-eating tree" decorated with birdhouses designed by local summer campers.
The exhibit isn't on the same scale as the museum's previous Star Wars and Jim Henson displays, and I was disappointed that none of the art on view is original. But I was fascinated by how politically outspoken many of the Peanuts strips now seem (for instance, the strip in which Lucy proclaims Silent Spring author Rachel Carson her heroine), even though today Schulz's memory is beloved by all, regardless of party affiliation. Especially mind-blowing are side-by-side endorsements of Peanuts ecology efforts from both the Carter and Nixon administrations.
Shifting from the old school to the current day, on Saturday night I swung by Bikkuri for N3RD Night. The downtown sushi bar has long been my go-to spot for cheap nigiri, but this was my first visit to the restaurant's adjoining lounge for Mykmedia's monthly alcohol-soaked celebration of geek culture.
After paying my $5 cover, I was handed Issue 3 of Nerd Knight Adventures, a hand-scrawled single-page comic book distributed serially at the events. Inside, the lounge itself was a riot of flat-screens and colored gels; think A Clockwork Orange's Korova Milk Bar by way of Tron. An almost equal mix of men and women (take that, stereotypes) sprawled on pleather couches as DJ Spank spun a ceaseless soundscape of techno beats blended with 8-bit chiptunes, sounding like a Commodore 64 rolling on MDMA. Other patrons huddled in various corners playing a variety of vintage video game consoles, including an Atari 2600 sporting one of the few copies of the infamous E.T. cartridge that wasn't buried in a landfill. The several-dozen-strong crowd was somewhat subdued when I arrived, though some were certainly dressed for the occasion; one gentleman was dressed head to toe as Mario's brother Luigi, while another bore a working miniature video projector mounted to an NES Power Glove.
Headlining the evening's entertainment was singer-songwriter Marc With a C, a seminal member of Orlando's "nerd rock" scene. Despite fighting a cold and being doped up on medication and hot sake, Marc put on a strong show of old favorites and new material, even tossing in some Townshend-worthy guitar windmills. His upcoming album, Popular Music (which he calls "the best record I've ever made") has an especially geeky genesis: It's been entirely crowdsourced, from fan-suggested song subjects to fundraising through Indiegogo (at indiegogo.com/popularmusic).
As Marc closed his set with "Nerdy Girls," his signature serenade to bespectacled beauties, I glanced around at the happy audience and smiled. Orlando's nerds are alive and well.
Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.