Fanboy Wonder
by Emmanuel Raymond

Most of my friends and I still read comic books. Some of us still wake up at unreasonable hours on Saturday morning just to watch cartoons. We revel in our knowledge of obscure trivia; we purchase unhealthy amounts of comic books, graphic novels and trade paperbacks. We are fanboys. The word fanboy has intrigued me since I heard it used to describe my friends and me during one of our long discussions about the villains from Batman. At first, I was excited that there was an all-purpose name for kids like us. I was disappointed to find out that it's considered a derogatory term, until I saw how guys like us have embraced the term and made being a fanboy a respectable pursuit.

The Oxford English Dictionary does not have a definition for the word fanboy. It does, however, have definitions for fanatic and boy that help illuminate the meaning of fanboy. The OED describes a fanatic as someone who is characterized by excessive enthusiasm. It describes a boy as a male child below the age of puberty. One of the common conceptions of fanboys is that they are all male, emotionally-challenged and immature, hence the description as boy, no matter what age or sex. The fanatic part of fanboy, however, is dead on. A few online sources shed a little more light on this obscure term. According to Wikipedia, fanboy is, "a derogatory term used to describe (usually in a negative context) someone who is utterly devoted to a hobby or subject, to the point where the hobby becomes an obsession." On the other hand, Alex Hamby, a writer for the website Hero Realm describes a fanboy as "nothing more than an excited fan who chooses to know about the subject of their particular fascination." This definition is less biased and allows for a broader, less negative understanding of fanboys.

Although I wasn't always aware of the phrase, I can trace my development as a fanboy from a young age. It began in childhood with a Saturday morning cartoon dubbed Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The show was very popular among kids my age but for some reason I stuck with it longer than most. Eventually, I could trace the character arcs of the four different turtles from the minute that they became ninjas to the eventual defeat of their arch-nemesis, Lord Shredder. I began to realize that there were others who also possessed this esoteric information and soon I was immersed in a world of more than just mutant reptiles. I could talk to kids about all the 'weird' little things that I liked and knew so much about. It was reassuring that others had developed a similar appreciation, and I'm sure that this sense of community entices many young men to join the fanboy ranks.

Not all entertainment buffs, however, are fanboys. Aficionados of mainstream music, literature, and theatre are not to be confused with these elite fanatics. A fan would know a few things about the new Star Wars movie he was about to see, a fanboy would have downloaded a copy of the screenplay from the Internet, read the book the movie was based on, and might have actual paraphernalia from the set. Fanboys are an obsessive breed, and this has inspired some contempt for their ranks. However, as it becomes more obvious that fanboys are generally a respectable group, this contempt is bound to fade away. There are a few distinct subcategories within this group. There are sci-fi, fantasy, cartoon, and comic book fanboys. These divisions often overlap and intersect, but they can also be subdivided further. For example, within the realm of sci-fi there are mutually exclusive Star Trek and Star Wars fanboys. Animation fanboys sometimes prefer anime (Japanese animation) to such American classics such as The Simpsons. And for every single comic book out there, a separate legion of fanboys declare fealty.

Fanboys can teach us to appreciate the modern mythologies of Superman and Spiderman and enlighten us to the artistic value of animation. However, some also fit into the exact stereotypes that encourage disdain from non-fanboys. For instance, I regularly attend meetings of The Baton Rouge Cartoonists Society with a number of reputable fanboys. These meetings are also frequented by two disturbing individuals who embody the annoying stereotypes often attached to all fanboys. These hyperactive manchildren adamantly argue their favourite aspects of fanboy culture ad nauseum. The identifiable characteristic of these two is not their avid appreciation of the subject matter, but their overbearing personalities. These two are not primarily fanboys; they are just irritating.

Until recently fanboys have been a relatively obscure group. While other subcultures, such as nerds, have been in the limelight for a while now, fanboys have only lately been publicly recognized. This recognition is due, in part, to the success of independent filmmaker Kevin Smith. Smith wrote and directed the movies Clerks, Mallrats and Chasing Amy (all of which positively portray fanboys). These movies attracted a mainstream audience and raised fanboy awareness. Thanks to Smith, more people know that fanboys can be more than your common nerd.

Being a fanboy is a difficult burden to bear at times. I have to be patient when I explain that being a fan is not necessarily a bad character trait, and that I'm still an interesting person. After all, I have the patience to differentiate the truth from the stereotype, and because of that patience I get to meet remarkable people who also happen to know the names of all the Transformers. It might seem like a meagre thrill but it's one that I've decided is too valuable to give up.

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