Comic books have been popular since the 1950s but the ascendance of fanboy culture is very much a 21st century phenomenon made possible in large part by the internet. Fanboys aren’t necessarily boys and their fandom cuts across myriad subject areas; some of them are fans of comic books and graphic novels, others glorify particular movies or even games as in the case of LARPers (live action role play).
Without the internet these fans would be fantasizing alone in their respective bedrooms and basements but the world wide web has allowed them to build virtual forums and communities that, like their fandom, come to life at conventions like Toronto’s annual Anime North, which last May, attracted 16,000 enthusiasts.
Fanboy culture was a perfect subject for Toronto-based documentary writer and director Michael McNamara (Markham Street Films) who has brought this quirky world to light in a six-part series called Fanboy Confessional airing on the Space network beginning Wednesday (July 13) at 10 pm.
McNamara, left, has been attracted to what he calls “marginal stories” for years. “Sadly that means we’re limiting the amount of financial success we’re going to have as producers but it’s so much more fun and interesting.”
As a youth, the director was a hardcore record collector with a sideline interest in comic books “so I’m a geek in my own way,” he says.
In fact, McNamara’s ability to identify with his young subjects is what helped him break into the furry community whose denizens were leery about being featured in a doc after their world was tainted by a season four episode of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation called Fur and Loathing.
“I directed 160 episodes of Polka Dot Shorts on TV Ontario,” explalins McNamara, “and I once put on the Polkaroo costume so I know what it’s like to be on the inside of the fur — that won me some points with the furries.”
Programmers at Space had similar reservations about McNamara’s pitch, fearing he’d condescend or make light of his subjects who are representative of the digital channel’s demographic. But after viewing the director’s 2005 documentary series Driven By Vision about outsider artists, the network was assured that McNamara would be respectful.
Fanboy Confessional is a fun, fast-paced look at a quirky world where dress-up is taken to new heights. In the Fanboy Furry Edition, McNamara visits Mallory, a young woman who has parlayed her furry fandom into a part-time vocation as a sought-after costume maker.
“Obviously, it’s an outlet for her,” says McNamara. “She’s somebody who’s quite shy, who felt like an outcast and an outsider in high school and this has given her an opportunity to reach out and behave in a way she never would if she wasn’t wearing the costume. But she has also learned skills out of necessity.
“We followed some cosplay kids (costume play) at the Anime North Convention . . . They sew costumes for a complete cast of a given anime cartoon or comic book or even a video game. They take these two dimensional images and figure out a way to blow them up in 3D. They replicate the materials, they learn plastic fabrication, figure out how to dye synthetic wigs, which isn’t supposed to be possible, and then they put the recipes up on the internet for each other. It’s this amazing community. Maybe it leads to a life-long fascination with fashion design or maybe just an appreciation for the nerd in everybody. It makes them all more tolerant.”