Author David Reddish On Being a Queer Geek and The Glories of Comic-Con International

"Sex, Drugs & Superheroes: A Savage Journey into a Wretched Hive of Scum and Supervillainy" is a new novel that follows Liquin Sonos and his team of misfit friends through the 2008 San Diego Comic-Con. Author David Reddish answered a few questions and gave a teaser about future work. Be sure to check out his "Shit Gay Geeks Say" video, too!

Patrick Yacco: Tell us about yourself.

David Reddish: I grew up in a small town—about 3,000 people—about an hour south of Chicago in a rather repressed upbringing. I wasn’t allowed to watch MTV or listen to the radio until I was sixteen. I didn’t go out to parties or basketball games like the other kids. I stayed home watching movies and eating cherry cobbler. I didn’t have many friends, and my parents were the hovering type in case you hadn’t already guessed. I had to have a babysitter three weeks before my nineteenth birthday. I swear I’m not making this up! It’s not like I ever even got in trouble; I graduated sixth in my class for fuck’s sake! My folks just had such anxiety that they wouldn’t leave me home alone.  But I escaped into film school hedonism, and I never looked back. I still stay home watching movies quite often, but that’s by choice. I do, however, have an active social life and I never seem to have enough time for anything!

PY: What type of geek are you?

DR: I'm a geek of all kinds: STAR WARS, SUPER-HEROES, HARRY POTTER, LORD OF THE RINGS. Everything. If it's geeky, I love it. Except Joss Wheadon's work, which apart from AVENGERS has never really done much for me. I'm also not a big Dungeons & Dragons or XBox for me.

PY: When did you know you were a geek and how has it influenced your gayness?

DR: I’ve always been a geek, period. There’s not a moment of my life, even in my earliest childhood years that I can’t remember not loving all things fantastic, superheroic or sci-fi. I remember seeing STAR WARS for the first time when I was three. By that time, I already had all the toys, a pair of Superman jammies (complete with cape) and knew THE MUPPET MOVIE by heart. When I interacted with other kids at school or church or wherever else, I always knew I was different, which, in the context of my sexuality I think maybe held me up a bit. That I was more interested in comic books and movies than girls in my teen years didn’t shock anybody, least of all me, because I always gravitated toward all things geeky, so I never questioned what, beyond my interest in geeky stuff, made me different from everyone else. I didn’t realize I was gay until I was eighteen and in retrospect I should have known sooner, or I wish I had anyway. I felt really maladjusted when I finally did come out because I was already a college co-ed and had no concept of dating, relationships or how to cope with romantic feelings. I eventually did learn, of course, but it took a while. 

PY: I like to think of queer geeks as a unique mix of brains and fabulosity. However, gays aren't always kind to geeks and vice versa. How do other gays react to your geekiness, and how do other geeks react to your gayness?

DR: Well, I’m single if that says anything! It’s a mistake to think that gayness and geekdom automatically go together, though I think that the queer experience isn’t all that different from the geeky one. But subscribing to both groups inevitably yields a greater sense of being an outcast. If, for example, I had just grown up gay OR a geek I probably would have been able to have more friends, more commonality. As a gay geek we get the best of both worlds—the style, grace and intelligence, and the worst: other geek boys can’t understand the fascination with Superman’s codpiece, and the gays don’t understand why you’d rather sit through THE DARK KNIGHT for the umpteenth time instead of MEAN GIRLS. I’m sure my geekhood has cost me more than one second date.

PY: How much of a challenge has it been to find other queer geeks?

DR: Well between film school and living in Los Angeles I think I’ve done pretty well. Universities foster all kinds of intelligentsia and are hotbeds for STAR TREK and MONTY PYTHON marathons, and everyone in Hollywood is so outrageously nuts that if you can find the gay people, they will often be gay geeks too. That said, I reiterate my earlier answer that I’m single, so take that for what you will.

PY: What comic books are you currently reading?

DR: You know, I stopped reading weekly issues. It’s just too damn expensive. I wait for the trade paperbacks to go back and read the more current stories. That said, hand me a Batman or an X-Men comic at any time and I will read it.

PY: As a writer, how have comic books influenced your storytelling?

DR: Interesting question—I’ve never really considered that before! Looking back over all the different works I’ve penned over the years, I think there are parallels with comic book storytelling. For one thing, my characters always have elaborate backstories comprised of minute details. In the case of Sex, Drugs & Superheroes I could tell you just about anything concerning any of the main characters—Liquin’s favorite song, Kate’s grades on her Jr. High report card, Windsor’s first kiss, whatever. Elements like that don’t really alter the plot in any measurable way, but I think they do influence the way I write the characters in a very subtle manner, sort of in the same way that fifty-some-odd-years of storytelling has bearing on how artists continue comic book characters. Sort of branching off of that idea of creating rich histories for my characters, I have no problem writing sequels. Comic books are sort of self renewing, cyclical stories that build upon themselves, hit some crisis, reset, and then build again. In other words, though individual plotlines might end, the characters always go on to new adventures. For me, I really like the idea of revisiting characters at different points in their lives, or at different points in my own. It’s just like reuniting with old friends or family after years of separation, or getting out old home movies. There are always more stories to tell, always room for characters to evolve. Whether or not those stories are interesting is another matter entirely as plenty of other sequels prove!

PY: What inspired the book?

DR: Just the energy and vivid atmosphere of Comic-Con. When I first attended in 2004, I felt something come alive inside of me. Comic-Con stimulates the imagination and provides a kind of community that I’ve never experienced anywhere else. I wanted to write a story about the convention that very first year, but it took a while before I was really ready to do that.

PY: The book is firmly set in 2008, right down to the Thursday traffic jam on the 5. Why did you decide to use Comic-Con 2008 as the backdrop for your book?

DR: Well, like I say it took a while for the story and the characters to form in my head! I set the book in 2008 for several reasons, though primarily because 2008 was a year of change. We had a transformative presidential election, marriage equality rights, which are the defining civil rights issue of the day were finally entering a serious national dialogue, and though we didn’t know in July 2008, the decadence of the early 00’s was about to creep up on us in the form of a worldwide economic collapse. In terms of the geek subculture, 2008 was also a time of critical mass. We were coming of a decade of superhero movies, with the genre poised to conquer the Hollywood machine, and with the release of THE DARK KNIGHT, the superhero premise had finally elevated itself, at least in the zeitgeist, into high art. WATCHMEN—the graphic novel widely considered the greatest comic book ever, and long declared unfilmable—was headed into production as a major and faithful film adaptation. Whatever one thinks of the finished film is beside my point—at Comic-Con 2008, there was a feeling of excitement and optimism that the geeks, so often figures of freakishness and isolation, were not just gaining social and artistic acceptance, we were actually becoming the cool kids, even as the Hollywood establishment encroached upon the convention, trying to dominate it and steal it away from the fans that founded it. On a level very specific to the story of Sex, Drugs & Superheroes itself, 2008 is a moment of fundamental change in Liquin’s life, which only partially plays out in the first novel: he is beginning his Saturn Return. Hopefully the first book proves successful enough that I can go back and tell the rest of his story.

PY: The circle of friends in the book are a hodgepodge of backgrounds. What was the inspiration for group?

DR: Oh, everyone and everything. Comic-Con. College. Summer Camp. My circle of friends. Family. Everything! In practical terms, when I sat down to outline the story, one thing that I really wanted to do was capture the essence of Comic-Con, and provide a sort of cross-section of the experience there. In that way, the characters are archetypes—the experienced conventioneer, the newbie, the struggling artist, the Hollywood professional, the exhibitor, the cult author, etc. I wanted to make sure that I captured every type of person at the Con for the reader to have an understanding of how everything sort of functions there. As for the individual qualities of each character, they each serve a purpose in the story, either to help the plot function or to help explain the atmosphere of Con. 

PY: What are your plans for a sequel?

DR: God willing! If this one sells well enough, there will be hopefully two more sequels released a few years apart. I see the story of Liquin and his friends as having a beginning, middle, and end, so I think a trilogy is just a natural manifestation of that. I don’t want to give too much away, but if you think of Sex, Drugs & Superheroes as analogous to the STAR WARS trilogy, the first book establishes the universe, the characters and does so with a great deal of whimsy and excitement and fun—it makes us want to be part of that world. Like THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK then, Sex, Drugs & Superheroes II will build on those themes, expanding the universe and revealing more about the characters and taking them to a darker place, which I argue is necessary in order to have them evolve. For Liquin to mature, he must face greater challenges in his life, and that’s true for all the characters. I can’t say too much more in the way of specifics, but I will say just about everybody from Sex, Drugs & Superheroes will appear in some form or another in the sequel, and that one new major character will be introduced who provides a real threat to Liquin and the path to his dreams. Oh, and there will be plenty more geeking out!

Sex, Drugs and Superheroes is available now. Click here for more information. 

on August 17, 2012