Nerds, geeks immersed in fandom

When Toronto-based filmmaker Michael McNamara was young, he collected comic books and vinyl records, built model airplanes, and watched horror movies on Saturdays. He was as steeped in his favourite subcultures as one could be at the time.

Future episodes of “Fanboy Confessional” include “The Real Life Super Hero Edition.”

Future episodes of “Fanboy Confessional” include “The Real Life Super Hero Edition.”

TORONTO — When Toronto-based filmmaker Michael McNamara was young, he collected comic books and vinyl records, built model airplanes, and watched horror movies on Saturdays. He was as steeped in his favourite subcultures as one could be at the time.

“There was really no kind of way to get immersed in (fandom) the way there is today,” the now 55-year-old said in a recent phone interview.

“Kids who get into it now aren’t just interested in collecting things — they’re interested in collecting experiences and becoming parts of the community.”

As McNamara’s new documentary series, Fanboy Confessional, shows, many adults are also taking their fantastical interests to the next level through conventions, intense role playing and laborious costume making.

Debuting Wednesday on Space, the six-episode series profiles participants of various interactive subcultures, from LARPing (live action role playing) and real-life super heroes, to Steampunk enthusiasts and furry fandom lovers.

Narrating the series is Richmond, B.C., actor Aaron Ashmore, an active gamer whose credits include the sci-fi series Smallville and Steampunk-edged show Warehouse 13.

“People who were engaged in this kind of stuff (in the past) were seen as marginal objects of derision and the words ‘geek’ and ‘nerd’ were terms that people used to insult other people,” said McNamara, the Gemini Award-winning director of the Driven by Vision documentary series.

“In fact, as we know, certainly in the last couple of years, nerds and geeks are in charge and those people who used to be marginalized are now in the vanguard. They’re doing really interesting things and there’s an enormous amount of respect for people who are following their own creative calling.”

The first episode details the world of Cosplay, in which “fanboys” and “fangirls” dress up as their favourite characters from popular culture sources, including Japanese manga, anime and comics. Profiled are several cosplayers who’ve worked for months on outfits for Toronto’s Anime North convention.

In the second episode that also airs Wednesday, The Steampunk Edition, cameras visit Vancouver’s V-Steam Society headquarters and the Steampunk Worlds Fair.

“The Internet . . . has brought these communities of interest together in a way that they never could have in the past,” said McNamara, who was born in Chicago and raised in Windsor, Ont.

“In my day it was just basically collecting this stuff and trading it with friends and stuff, and it’s become so much more creative and immersive.”

Future episodes include The Real Life Super Hero Edition. In it, a Vancouver-based man who calls himself Thanatos wears a disguise as he delivers food, blankets and water to the needy in the city’s impoverished Downtown Eastside. He also acts as “extra eyes and ears” for the police in the area.

McNamara said many of these hobbiests are sticklers for detail when it comes to their craft. That had him “very worried” he would inadvertently omit an important element in the series.