Searching for a girlfriend who loves horror-movie paraphernalia and anime? She may just be sitting across from you at New York Comic-Con’s speed-dating event. Brian Heater reports.
“You know Ke$ha, right?” asks the woman with the plastic Freddie Krueger glove.
“Sure,” I answer, a bit baffled. Given the unlimited conversational topics presented by the jam-packed convention happening above our heads, I would never have guessed we’d broach the work of the “Tik Tok” singer so soon.
“There’s a song,” the woman explains, “Take It Off.” She recites the chorus,
There’s a place downtown, Where the freaks all come around. It’s a hole in the wall. It’s a dirty free for all.
The parallels between New York Comic-Con and that song are obvious, she says. First, the convention is downtown. (Actually, the Jacob K. Javits Center is not downtown, but I don’t correct her. No one likes a know-it-all.) The freaks part, she says, is inherent—the geeks, the dorks, the nerds (my words), all decked out in costumes and paraphernalia.
The “hole in the wall” part remains unclear. I’ve got a few theories, but given the fairly limited duration of our date, I keep them to myself.
Ultimately, it all adds up to that final line. New York Comic-Con, it seems, is a dirty free for all.
Of course, there’s nothing particularly “dirty” going on in room 1A20. The room is sterile and well-lit, with 40 folding chairs neatly organized. Once every three minutes, the men are instructed to stand up, take a step to their right, and start anew with the next available woman.
Emcee and self-styled geek standup Ryan Glitch runs a fairly well-oiled machine in a conference room so steeped in sexual awkwardness one could cut it with a light-saber replica. “They call me ‘Giganakin,’” Glitch announces before the session kicks off, “because I’m overweight, and my costume is Anakin.”
The statement isn’t entirely accurate. He’s a big guy, certainly—a self-proclaimed stereotypical showgoer (heavy, white, nerdy)—but there’s no Jedi paraphernalia on his large frame. We are first introduced to him outside, as he separates us into lines of male and female, forbidding pre-show inter-gender conversations, muttering the phrase “sausage-fest” several times, and generally lamenting the dearth of X chromosomes.
“What kind of geek are you?” a woman asks me. I hesitate for a moment and respond, “Comics, I guess.” It’s not as popular an answer as I expected.
It is a concern, no doubt, shared by both lines, and Glitch and his scantily clad girlfriend begin the process of flagging down women.
Glitch announces reassuringly to the line of guys that he met his “lovely assistant” at a past event—C5, he tells me later, short for Celebration, a semi-annual Star Wars convention, the fifth of which was held this summer in Orlando. It was the first time Glitch’s one-man company, Lightning Fast Speed Dating, had taken part in such a show, and it was a rousing success, by most accounts.
When we first spot him downstairs at the Javits Center, however, he has traded his Jedi robes for sunglasses and a black T-shirt. It’s only after an assistant hands him a black leather jacket and fake plastic shotgun with a bright orange tip that he’s more than just a speed-dating host; he’s a cyborg sent from the future to facilitate nerd love, offer water bottles in exchange for Star Gate trivia, and crack jokes of questionable taste in mixed company.
Ours is the second of three such sessions held over the course of New York Comic-Con’s three days, and something about speed dating during the convention seems to have captured the imagination of the show’s attendees. The lines are long, and Glitch will ultimately turn people (mostly men) away before opening the doors. He counts off the women and an equal number of men, cutting off the line just before me.
“Can I talk to you for a second?” I ask.
“Am I in trouble?” the Terminator responds.
I tell him that I’m with the press. That I’m here to report on the event, undercover.
“Are you single?” he responds. I nod.
“Are you here just to report, or are you hoping to find somebody?”
“Well,” I answer, “you never know.”
It’s a good enough answer to get me through the door, to where a DJ is playing the Star Wars Cantina theme on the other side of the room. I grab a seat on a folding chair. The men are all instructed to grab a nametag, numbered one through 15. “No names, no locations,” Glitch instructs us. For the next hour, women refer to me as “Number 15.”
Now it’s the women’s turn to enter. “Girls, up against the wall,” Glitch says into the microphone, adding, for laughs, “and spread ’em.” A man with a bit of a gut, dressed as Snake Eyes from the G.I. Joe movie, stands next to them silently. He’s there for security reasons, we’re told.
Only now, with the women lined up against the wall facing us, is the contrast made painfully obvious. Not one of the 15 men seated is in costume. Nearly all of the women, however, are decked out, or, at the very least, have an accessory: a pair of goggles, a bright purple wig, the aforementioned pair of Freddie Krueger claws.
An odd contrast, to be sure, but one I’m thankful for when the timer sounds and a chorus of “hi”s echoes through the room. Starting a conversation from scratch 15 times in an hour is hard, even for the most social among us. But what could be a better icebreaker than a woman’s decision to don a prop from a 25-year-old horror movie, in an attempt to find love?
She just really, really likes Freddie Krueger, it turns out. Fair enough. We talk for a second about horror movies, once the topic of Ke$ha has been fully exhausted. They don’t scare her, she tells me, except for ones about elevators. “You know there’s a new one out about elevators?” I ask. She answers in the affirmative, though that one, she insists, didn’t scare her.
And like that, the three minutes are up. It’s time to move on.
The absurdity of the whole scenario is a frequent topic of conversation. “I’ve had some dates that I wished lasted three minutes,” I tell one of the women. It’s not a great joke, sure, but under the circumstances, it’ll do.
I fall back on my reporting background almost immediately, conducting these sessions like interviews. “So,” I ask one woman, uncertain where to start, “do you have any pets?” Eventually, I find myself falling into that inevitable first date trap, imagining what it might be like to spin a conversation into a relationship with one of these people.
All the standard dating factors play a role, of course—intelligence, wit, attractiveness—but now there’s a new, equally important category in play: subcultural compatibility. “What kind of geek are you?” a woman asks me early on. I hesitate for a moment and respond noncommittally, “Comics, I guess.” It’s not as popular an answer as I expected. On the female side, at least, anime fans have a healthy lead over fans of American comics. I mention Love & Rockets to one woman and am met with a blank stare.
Just ahead of me in the rotation is a writer from a popular comics blog, asking interview-style questions of each of the women, with two cameras trained on him at all times. His Batman questions seem to go over much better.
I discuss the merits of store-bought versus homemade with the woman in the Star Trek redshirt costume (she doesn’t seem to appreciate my joke about her dying off before the end of the Con). I choose my favorite New Mutants character for the lady in the Nightcrawler T-shirt (Warlock, for the record). With the woman dressed like an anime character I don’t recognize, it’s a frank discussion about the fan response to M. Night Shyamalan’s The Last Airbender adaptation (frankly, she’s shocked the director would even show his face at this convention).
The topic of Buffy comes up at least once. I respond, unwisely, by talking about The Wire. I discuss the works of Haruki Murakami with one woman and Hayao Miyazaki with another. One woman seems genuinely impressed by the fact that I’ve attended San Diego Comic-Con. Only once does the topic of what I do for a living come up.
And when it’s all over and the DJ has stopped spinning Lady Gaga, I still can’t see myself walking down the aisle to the Star Wars theme in the near future. I do, however, walk away with seven email addresses. So much for the dirty free for all.
Brian Heater is a writer and editor living in Queens. He is editor of Gearlog and founder of the comics blog The Daily Cross Hatch. His writing has appeared in Spin, Entertainment Weekly, The Onion, The New York Press, and other publications. He also co-hosts the podcasts Paying Dues and The Cross Hatch Podcast.