Icebreaker

Posted by Caroline

You might know this game: Two Truths and a Lie.

It’s a classic icebreaker for the first day of the semester. You stand in front of the room, and say three things about yourself — one of them false. Let the others quiz you until they figure out which one is the fib.

“I grew up in Baltimore,” I tell the class. It’s English 101. I’ll be teaching them for the term. “I have twice in my life won money on TV quiz shows.” I’m going first, demonstrating how the game works. “And my favorite day of the week is Wednesday, because that’s when new comic books come out.”

They jump on the quiz show thing first, and why not? It’s specific in a kind of ludicrous way that sounds made up. Of course, that means it’s true, but that’s a story for another day.

The students who are good at the game start asking me about Baltimore. A generic and boring story, sure, but any call for specifics could trip a liar up. “What street was your house on?” “Where did you go to junior high?” I can keep going for a little while, cribbing biographical details from an ex-boyfriend, or characters on “The Wire.” But eventually I’ll stumble; if anybody in the room is really from Baltimore, it will happen even faster. That’s my lie.

But before I’m exposed, a smaller segment of the class zeroes in on my last statement. “Comics, you mean, like, manga?” one girl asks hesitantly. Nope, American comics. “Do they come in the mail or do you go a store?” I identify the shop near campus, which most of them walk past every day. “What kind of comics?” All kinds, I tell them. Okay, a lot of superhero titles. Okay, mostlyX-Men. “Who’s your favorite X-Man?” Cyclops, I tell them, give it a beat, and add, “Now you all think I’m lying because nobody’s favorite is Cyclops.” But, no, they believe me. I’m not just stating facts, now, I’m riffing on them, poking fun at my own taste. I’ve demonstrated that I speak nerd.

The icebreaker serves a few different purposes. It gets the class comfortable with me, as a person and not just a teacher. It outs me as a geek, to the handful of kids to whom this matters, and lets me have a few conversations per semester about Buffy or Warren Ellis or “Spider-Man: Brand New Day.” And frankly, “geek cool” is about as well you’re going to do with a class full of college freshmen. You’ll never convince the majority that their English teacher is actually cool, and you might die trying.

But there’s an educational point to the exercise, as well. It’s important, for the game, that this is the first day of class and we don’t know each other very well. I want the students to think about how to analyze statements given as fact. How much is it safe to infer from appearances? When do you have to look beyond initial assumptions?

Most players intuitively pick at least one statement that contradicts their presumed self-image. The contradiction I went for was “30ish, female, comic book junkie,” and, by the skeptical reaction from the class, it seemed to work.

That’s a story from another lifetime. I’m not teaching anymore. But I’m still reading comics, and I still think about what was going on in that classroom. Is it that I don’t seem like a woman who would read comic books? Or is it that most people really have no preconception of what female comics fans are like?

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think popular impressions of male comics fans are particularly accurate. Still, somewhere between The Simpsons‘ Comic Book Guy, Ben Affleck and Jason Lee’s characters in Chasing Amy, and the quiet kid who sat in the back of your homeroom drawing Spider-Man on his notebook, there’s at least a broader cultural conception of fanboys out there. But from the semi-regular Internet postings I see on the topic (“How do you get girls into comics?” “Where do you find girls who read comics?”), and from the responses that I and some of my friends have gotten at comics shops and conventions, I wonder if people believe we exist at all.

That feels odd to me, because other women have always been part of my fannish life. It was a female friend who, knowing I was a fan of Buffy and of the X-Men movies, e-mailed me an article about Joss Whedon’s X-Men run and said, “You have to read this.” It was another woman who dragged me to the Graphic Novel section of Borders, a third who first loaded me down with trade paperbacks from her extensive personal library, a fourth who gave me nine longboxes full of titles from the 80s and early 90s on the condition that I carry them out of her apartment — and I’m just getting started.

Of course, guys have been part of my experience in enjoying comics. A lot of my friends, my brothers, my friends’ brothers and fathers and husbands, most of the people who sell me comics, and many of the podcasters and comics journalists and comics creators I follow fall into the fanboy category. But I once sat in a DC Comics panel at a convention and listened to a woman in the audience explain that she, of course, only read comics to meet boys, and that, whenever she got a new boyfriend, her taste in comics changed too. (Tee-hee!) I turned to the two (girl) friends who had come to the con with me and we shared a look that said, in essence, “Is she crazy — or are we?”

I don’t think we’re crazy.

The truth is, there are plenty of female comics enthusiasts out there — to the point that, when I started talking with a few of my fannish friends about getting together a blog of our own, I wasn’t sure I wanted to refer to our gender at all. It’s an old debate. “Why can’t we just be people who like comics, and happen to be women?”

But my fellow contributors talked me around. The blog will be about us, and “fangirl” is what we are. And why not be fantastic while we’re at it? As Marvel lovers, we’re entitled to our adjectives.

With me on this ride are a few of my many favorite fangirls. Anika is our brilliant webmistress, and mom to the world’s most Iron Man-loving Disney princess. Jennifer, our recent college graduate and resident “fannish academic,” combines the wisdom and moral good sense of two of her favorite characters, Captain America and Hank McCoy. Last, but far from least: I’m tempted to call Sigrid an aspiring comic-book writer. But anybody can aspire. Sigrid is a yet-unpublished-but-working-her-ass-off-to-get-there comic book writer, and that’s one hell of an adjective.

So, the “Fantastic Fangirls” blog is born. We hope it will be a fun, cordial place for fangirls and boys alike to share our enthusiasms, our comics, and our lives.

Welcome!

Read about us