Last year we, the Mega Dads expanded our public appearances by attending more conventions and getting more involved with the Twin Cities nerd culture community. The more appearances we made, the more we started to recognize familiar faces at each turn. One group that we consistently saw as we made our rounds was Twin Cities Geek. We decided to reach out to TCG to get more information about this prominent group on the Minnesota Geek scene.
Mega Dads: Thank you for taking time with us today, can you start by introducing yourself ?
Hal Bichel: I’m Hal Bichel, editor-in-chief and founder of Twin Cities Geek.
Madeleine Vasaly: My name is Madeleine Vasaly, and I’m Twin Cities Geek’s senior editor. I do everything from editing articles and tracking down story leads to helping run social media and arranging giveaways. I also write occasional articles, mostly about books and publishing.
MD: Describe for our readers just what Twin Cities Geek is and how it came to be.
HB: Twin Cities Geek is an online magazine and community connecting anyone in the Twin Cities area (and sometimes greater Minnesota) who identifies as geeky.
MD: Twin Cities Geek seems to put a very local focus on Geek Culture. Why is the local aspect so important? What is it that TCG hopes to provide for its community with this focus on the local scene?
HB: It started with the Twin Cities Geeks Facebook group (https://www.facebook.com/groups/TwinCitiesGeeks), which was meant just to be a gathering place for local geeks that would bridge the (many) cliques associated with conventions and clubs under one umbrella for easier communication throughout the broader community about events and issues that matter to us. Soon I noticed a trend that very often, outside groups or media outlets talking about our community’s events and culture would completely get the tone wrong and end up making us out to be fringe weirdos or make fun of us, which understandably would upset the community and there would be long threads about it. So I thought, well, why not just make our own media outlet to tell our stories in the way we think they should be told? We certainly have enough talent within the community to do it. TwinCitiesGeek.com launched on January 10, 2015, and as of today attracts an average of 5,000 visitors per month.
MV: There are a lot of great sites and magazines out there that are covering geek culture in general, and a lot that cover Minnesota and the Twin Cities, but not much at the intersection of those two. We do cover plenty of stuff that’s not specific to Minnesota, but there’s such a big, passionate, active geek community here, and not everything in that community is going to get covered by other publications. The Star Tribune or the City Pages might write about the Renaissance Festival or CONvergence, but they’re less likely to interview the head of a LARPing organization or review an independently published local comic. Our community calendar and This Week in Geek column also round up a lot of niche events that you’re not likely to see mentioned elsewhere.
MD: How would you assess the geek culture around the cities? The Midwest can sometimes viewed as a lot of farmers, fishermen and old ladies making hot dish. How would you describe the Twin Cities Geek community to people who might not be from around here? How passionate are those people and what kind of events are available to them?
HB: I think there is an important distinction to be made between geek culture and geek community. Elements of geek culture may bleed into the mainstream, but geek community is something different altogether. Geek culture is about things, ideas, and values; geek community is about people and experiences. Twin Cities Geek is all about connecting and facilitating geek community. That means giving attention to topics, events, and stories relating to both geek culture and geek community with a special focus on what will matter to the community we serve in Minnesota. Naturally, much of that is locally focused.
MV: Minnesota geeks are super passionate. Both Midwesterners and geeks are groups that tend to get stereotyped as being reserved or shy, and that might be true to an extent, but there are tons of well-attended geeky social gatherings here—conventions, gaming meetups, comic-creation jam sessions, crafting circles, movie viewings, you name it. There are so many opportunities to meet people who share your interests, even if they’re really specific interests, and on the whole it’s a really friendly and welcoming community.
MD: Being focused on the local geek scene, what would you say has been the best geek-focused event to happen around town this past year?
HB: It’s hard to say which single event is the “best” geek-focused event, so instead I’m going to list the ones I think try to be the most inclusive and the ones that go out of their way to facilitate community: MCBA’s Spring and Fall ComiCons, 2D Con (Digital Destruction), and CONvergence. And as far as events that aren’t conventions, I would say the Science Museum of Minnesota’s monthly Social Science events and Geek Partnership Society’s annual Ice Cream Social.
That said, we are really spoiled here with the sheer breadth and diversity of geek-focused events, so whatever your interests are, you should be able to find a geek event you love in Minnesota. If you’re not sure where to look, you can always check out TwinCitiesGeek.com or ask on the Twin Cities Geeks group.
MD: Your website has a very broad focus on everything from comics, to tabletop gaming to even parenting advice. What would you say you’ve found to be the most popular topic among your readers? Why do you think that is?
HB: I think the locally focused stuff usually gets the best reception. There are tons of geek magazines online, but TwinCitiesGeek.com brings you geek stuff about Minnesota, and geek topics specifically from the perspective of Minnesotans. We’re one of very few outlets what do that on the regular.
MV: Cosplay is also always popular—especially as it relates to culture, race, and body image (http://twincitiesgeek.com/2015/10/why-halloween-season-is-becoming-a-downer-for-black-cosplayers). Anything about T-Rex Tuesdays is usually a hit (http://twincitiesgeek.com/2016/01/twin-cities-t-rexes-take-over-tuesdays). And comics, especially local artists and comic shops.
MD: How do you decide what to cover at TCG? There’s so much to write about when looking at all of geek culture. You can’t possibly write about it all. Who makes that call and what is that process like?
MV: The main thing that drives what we cover is what our contributors want to cover. We send a lot of suggestions and story leads out to our staff, and we’re always happy to help with writer’s block, but ultimately we’re pretty hands off—we let people write what they want to write, as long as it fits into our subject areas. The advantage of that over assigning people specific articles to write is that they’re focusing on what they’re passionate about rather than what they’re told to do.
HB: Yeah, Twin Cities Geek is a community-driven effort. Mostly the contributors choose what they want to cover themselves—though we do assign specific things sometimes if Madeleine or I think it’s a really good story that should be told, or we get a special opportunity or access to something as press, which as our readership grows is starting to happen a little more.
MD: Looking at your staff you seem to have assembled a large group of editors and writers for TCG, and your website site even invites community members to join the team as well. What is your goal for growing TCG, and how does one go about applying to join as a contributor?
MV: We’re always looking to add more people, both contributors and editors, and anyone who’s interested should check out the details at TwinCitiesGeek.com/write! If someone doesn’t have a long publication history, that’s okay—we mainly want to know that contributors can write coherently, want to submit in an area where we have the need, and can commit to at least one article a month.
The goals are to keep getting larger, to increase our coverage of areas where we don’t have as much, and to continually get more diverse and representative of the wide and varied geek community that’s out there. It would be ideal for every reader to be able to look at our masthead and see at least one person who represents them in one way or another, whether that’s through fandom, race, gender, sexuality, or anything else.
HB: It has been a main goal of mine to have our contributors and editors reflect a cross-section of the demographics of the existing geek community. Geeks are a pretty darn diverse group as it stands, and if we are not featuring a diverse set of voices that reflect the reality of that, we are kind of failing at serving some sections our community.
MD: Where do you see geek culture in ten years? We’ve seen such a big boom in the popularity of things that not long ago were considered silly, immature or even stupid by a lot of adults. It makes one wonder how long we can ride that wave. Do you think we’re at the height of the geeks popularity or are things just getting warmed up?
HB: “Geek culture as popular culture” is not going to go away, I don’t think. It’s just a consequence of mass media being more accessible and affordable, and of technology being more immersive. However, I think the convention scene is in the midst of an evolution right now, and I’m really curious to see where all the cards drop there. The greater geek community is currently in the middle of a bubble of for-profit convention ventures that is eventually going to burst. When that happens, more community-driven conventions may rise from their ashes, which would be great in general for geek communities, and there are several groups on both the local and national level working to share institutional knowledge about con running whose efforts are certainly empowered by the Internet being more accessible and affordable than even a decade ago. So we’ll see what happens. What I don’t see changing measurably (from my perspective) is fan/fen culture, which really is a large part of the Minnesota geek identity specifically. I could wax on about this for a long time, though, and this isn’t really the medium for that. So maybe find me at a convention and buy me a drink and we can take bets.
MD: Thanks again for joining us. Where can you direct our readers to find more Twin Cities Geek content?
HB: You can find us at http://www.TwinCitiesGeek.com and on Facebook (facebook.com/TwinCitiesGeek), Twitter (@TwinCitiesGeeks), Tumblr (http://twincitiesgeek.tumblr.com), and Google+ (https://plus.google.com/+TwinCitiesGeek). You can also spot us at some local events, like CONvergence and MCBA ComiCons.