11 May 2021

'We're all a geek for something': get your inner nerd on with Canberra's pop culture community

| Dominic Giannini
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James Penney holding a signed copy of a comic book

James Penney, the owner of Penney’s House of Awesomeness in Gungahlin, will be at Geek Markets this weekend. Photo: Dominic Giannini

While most people would have thought the spate of comic book-inspired movies and television shows, superhero stories and pop culture icons might have wrung the industry dry of any new content, it appears the opposite has happened.

During the past year, there has been a huge focus on people turning away from superheroes in tights and capes, and heading towards local comic publishers and independent creators, says Dee’s Books and Comics owner Brendon Dann.

“While we are not selling more copies of Superman than we were a couple of years ago, we are selling a huge amount of independent comics and small-press comics,” he says.

Brandon Dann holding local comics

Owner of Dees comics Brandon Dann. Photo: Dominic Giannini

The diversity of the industry and the pop culture community in Canberra is exactly what led avid fan and collector Daniel Rathbone to create Geek Markets Canberra to bring the community together into one place to share common interests and niche pop culture items they love.

“It is finding like-minded people who love that really random thing you grew up watching, listening to or collecting,” he says.

“I grew up loving all these things and then got into events and working with large-scale events across the country. I could see there was a need for this kind of thing in Canberra and thought it would be phenomenal to get the community involved to come together.”

As an avid collector, Daniel’s trove started with comic books while he was growing up in the 1990s and has since grown to include books, LEGO, figurines and other collectibles.

“If you think going back, Star Wars was released in 1977 so there’s a lot of people who grew up on pop culture and collecting, whether it be comic books or models or trains,” he says.

“There are lots of people out there who would love to come along to these markets to experience some nostalgia or find some awesome new things they are going to love.

“That is what brings people together. There is an inclusiveness to that, as well.”

Daniel Rathbone holding comics and collectables

Avid collector and director of Geek Markets Canberra, Daniel Rathbone. Photo: Dominic Giannini.

For some enthusiasts, it is about the art, for some, it’s the creativity, and for others, it can be the escapism that science fiction and fantasy provides after a rather dull day at work.

For Brendon, it has always been about the stories.

He grew up in rural NSW, where access to comics was limited, but he immersed himself in The Adventures of Tintin, Asterix and The Phantom at the local library where his social worker mum would meet her clients.

When he moved to Newcastle, and then Sydney, his infatuation with comic arcs and art continued to grow as he did work experience and part-time work with some of Australia’s most renowned comic shops.

He ended up taking over Dee’s Books and Comics, in Belconnen, when the store’s eponymous stalwart retired and did not want to see her 25-year legacy go to waste.

“Graphic storytelling in comic form is so unique,” he says. “A comic creator is only limited by their imagination.

“They are not limited by a special effects budget or any real-world constraints. If you can imagine it, you can create a comic about it.

“Physical things are really cool, but the thing that brings us together as people is stories. For me, that’s what is important about comics.”

The collectability aspect of pop culture has increased dramatically in recent years – especially throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Pokémon cards are now selling for hundreds of thousands of dollars, and vintage comic books are now investments.

James Penney flicks through a collection of pokemon cards

James Penney, the owner of Penney’s House of Awesomeness in Gungahlin. Photo: Dominic Giannini

James Penney, who runs Penney’s House of Awesomeness in Gungahlin, specialises in collectables and vintage comics. He says the price and popularity of pop culture collectables has soared throughout the pandemic.

Comic books can double in value within months, while hedge funds have even started investing in rare comics, he says.

James normally brings up to six pallets’ worth of goods and comics to events such as Supanova Comic Con & Gaming in Sydney, and have crowds of people four and five deep trying to get to the stall.

James opened his shop in 2005 after getting into comics in the 1990s. One trip to a mate’s house – who showed him the new Iron Man – had him hooked, he says.

Daniel, Brandon and James all agree there is an acceptance and inclusiveness of the pop culture industry in Canberra, with there always being someone willing to help beginners or dabblers looking to expand their interests.

“We are all a geek for something,” laughs Dan.

Plans for Geek Markets Canberra originally started in 2019 for 2020, but the COVID-19 pandemic forced Dan to put it on hold and host two digital events instead. Now that social distancing restrictions have eased, he is finally able to hold the kind of market he envisioned, albeit with some health control caveats.

Daniel is hoping to hold the markets in Canberra around three or four times a year.

The event will run on the weekend of 15-16 May at Exhibition Park in Canberra (EPIC). For more information, head to Geek Markets Canberra.

Original Article published by Dominic Giannini on The RiotACT.

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