Geek used to be the label of the outcast and unpopular. You could find them huddled at their own table, off from the cool kids trading comic books, getting into heated exchanges about whether Apocalypse or Darkseid was stronger, or lost in a debate about some other obscure topic. But recently, geek has gone mainstream and started to do what other groups in power do: ostracize. Once geek became the “in” thing, some geeks started shunning others for not being geek faster than Alvin dropped Walter and Kenneth in Love Don’t Cost a Thing. And, as always, the popular targets were in the crosshairs: people of color and women. The geek-on-geek discrimination became slogans and the slogans became movements (#Gamergate, #29daysofblackcosplay #blackcomicsmonth, etc.) We took the time to chat with a few who happily are not only geeks, but have been using their voices, their talents and their presence to remind the multi-verse that geeks are white, yellow, black, green and purple; male, female or spirit; human, alien, demon or shirigami – as long as you love what you do.
Our first conversation was with Geek content curator Jamila Rowser. In a short time, Jamila has earned the respect of many in the geek world, not only for her fandom, but also for her love of the culture. Back in 2010 she started Girl Gone Geek, a portal into the life and mind of a female geek who loved the geek world, but wasn’t afraid to point out its flaws. It was her perspective of not only a female geek but one of color that gave others the freedom to express themselves; they found a kindred spirit in her. It was this mixture of geekdom and urban that led her to the creation of her second site Straight Outta Gotham, a Rosetta Stone to the unique language and relationship that hip-hop and geekdom shared. She parlayed this into other ventures, including her now world renowned Geek Girl Brunch, and has been making her rounds to speak about her experiences and her business acumen. She took a minute to sit with us to discuss her drive, how she got started, and the current geek landscape.
TUD: So when did you realize you were or start identifying as a geek?
Jamila Rowser: I began calling myself a geek in college because it was convenient. Saying I like “geek things” is faster than saying “I like anime, comics, science fiction, video games, fantasy and manga”.
What drew you to geekdom? And why?
I wasn’t really drawn into geekdom, I kind of grew up with it. My dad reads comics, my mom knows more about Harry Potter than I do, and my brother is really into video games and anime. But even though it was always around, I chose to stay in “geekdom” because anime, comics and games give me stories and experiences I rarely find anywhere else.
How did Girl Gone Geek come about?
I started Girl Gone Geek in 2010 because I wanted to write more and I wanted to talk about the geeky stuff that I liked, so a blog about geek culture was the natural answer. I rarely had the opportunity to talk about comics, anime and games because most of my friends didn’t care about them. It felt very lonely to be passionate about so many things and have no one to share it with. I also wanted to make friends who liked the same things that I did and my blog has definitely helped with that. Girl Gone Geek has changed over the years and grown more personal. And although I don’t blog as frequently as I used to, I’m really happy with my content and the community I found because of it.
What sparked Straight Outta Gotham?
One day I was listening to “Knuck If You Buck” by Crime Mob (I love that song so much) and the Mortal Kombat reference sparked the blog idea almost instantly. I’ve heard it dozens of times before, but that day the planets were aligned just right and poof, Straight Outta Gotham was born. I created the blog on Tumblr and began posting memes and gifs of geeky references in hip-hop that same day. Jemar Souza joined the project in 2014, and we now run SOG together. There’s now a few hundred posts on our blog and we have several hundred geek references logged in a spreadsheet. We’re sort of becoming digital archivists for geek references in hip-hop.
When I saw that Marvel decided to do Hip-Hop Covers, I instantly thought that someone saw your Tumblr, Straight Outta Gotham, and said, “Wow, we can make some money off of this.” How do you feel about those covers?
I don’t think Marvel got the idea from Straight Outta Gotham, but I do think they bit off Longboxes on 22s and other artists that have been doing the same thing for years.
I think some of the covers are dope and I’m a fan of many of the artists involved, but the concept doesn’t sit well with me. I see Marvel doing a lot of things that look good and “diverse” from the outside, like these Hip-Hop Variants. However, behind the scenes, the majority of people working in their offices and creating comics are still white, straight, cisgender men. It’s one of the many reasons why I’m fed up with Marvel and I’m currently boycotting their comics.
What about the new controversy with the casting of a white man in the role of Iron Fist? Even though the character was always a white guy.
Being that I’m not of Asian decent and I’m not familiar with Iron Fist, I don’t think it’s really my place to join the debate (although I have read both sides of the argument). However, in most instances, I believe using the excuse of “tradition” to not change something is very dangerous.
What are some of your favorite hip-hop/geek references?
I have a ton, but here are a few of my favorites:
“Guess who’s on third?/
Lupe steal like Lupin the 3rd”
“Niggas water whipping, in the hot damn kitchen, like a nigga Avatar, or Katara”
“Inside Sasuke, the outside Naruto /
a nigga chakra flow Orochimaru /
Hiraikotsu with the karma /
Who the fuck want it with Madara, bitch?”
“Hennessy what my system like/
Feeling like Superman I might crip tonight”
“I been up in the office you might know him as Clark/
But, just when you thought the whole world fell apart/
I – take off the blazer loosen up the tie/
Step inside the booth Superman is alive”
Why do you think Hip-Hop and the Geek world has such a kinship?
I think they share a lot of the same elements like alter egos, escapism, storytelling, competitiveness, and strong visuals. Other than those specific connections, there are millions of hip-hop fans and millions of geeks – there’s bound to be people who like both.
And then you expanded your brand into Geek Girl Brunch. What brought that about?
Before Geek Girl Brunch was an official meet-up group, it began with a small group of geek girls meeting up for brunch in NYC. We were Internet friends and wanted to hang out in person since we lived in the same city. As time went on, the brunches became more elaborate. We had themed brunches (my favorite being our Reverse Harem Anime Brunch), we cosplayed and visited comic book stores; it was a ton of fun. Naturally, we shared photos of these brunches online and our friends and followers loved them. So Yissel, Rachel and I decided to make Geek Girl Brunch an official thing. Comic book, video game and other geek spaces are very hostile toward women, so we created our GGB mission with that in mind. We want to create a safe environment where identifying geek girls can be themselves to give voice, network, create friendships, inspire each other and, of course, hang out.
What do you think is holding women/POC back in that world?
Racism and sexism.
Recently, you wrote a pretty poignant piece about what I am sure many people face not only in their everyday lives, but also in the geek culture where they feel they should be safe. What brought that about, and what changes do you want to see?
‘When Silence Is Self-Care In Comics Culture’ is about why I have grown quieter about comics over the last few months. In short, it’s because comics culture is toxic toward women, especially women of color. And as a result, I’ve been silent on a lot of issues as a form of self-care. Speaking up means you’ll most likely be harassed and right now I don’t have the energy to deal with that. My energy for that comes in bursts. But I support others that do speak up, and I think others should do the same.
What changes to do I want to see? I want harassers to face repercussions for their actions. I want people who speak up about injustices in the industry to get more support. I want to see accurate and equal representation in comic books and I want diverse stories. I want people who are accused of creating problematic stories and characters to really listen and change their stories for the better. I want to see diverse people working in the industry. It all boils down to wanting all of the bigotry to stop.
How can we save geek culture before it starts getting carved up into pieces or pockets of color and sex and race and orientation?
If you’re saying that geek culture needs to be saved from groups of marginalized people creating their own pockets, then I completely disagree. These pockets already exist; Geek Girl Brunch is an example of one. Geek culture is hostile toward women so we created our own safe space with Geek Girl Brunch to be ourselves without fear of misogyny. I think more marginalized people should create safe spaces for themselves if they feel they need it. It’s healthy and shelters them from the hate and harassment they can experience from bigots in geek culture. Of course, I want geek culture as a whole to change and become one huge safe space. But it’s not. And until then, we have to look out for ourselves.
Who are some of the people that inspired you?
I’ve been thinking about Erykah Badu’s song “Master Teacher” a lot recently and the people that I consider Master Teachers. Some of the people that quickly come to mind are Erykah Badu, Junot Diaz, Fela Kuti and Saul Williams. I’m also inspired by some of my friends, family, and people in the industry.
Who is your dream meet? The person you want to meet in geekdom?
I have a bunch, but if I have to pick just one, I’d have to say Hayao Miyazaki.
You started from Girl Gone Geek and now have an international brand like Geek Girl Brunch, what’s next?
I’m working on a big, secret project right now, so you’ll have to wait a few months to find out what that is, but I can tell you that it’s for Straight Outta Gotham. I also plan to write my own comics in the future, too!
PHOTO CREDIT: Jamila Rowser