In her second "Letter from a Ragged Human", M. N. Jones writes on an oasis of Nerd/Geek-culture at the heart of hot and sticky London,
Welcome to “The Ragged Human”, this time I am writing from hot and sticky London, where I’m catching up on some business and pleasure. There’s a huge amount of inspiration to be had in London, whether that’s artistic, scientific or just plain hedonistic. For me, though, this trip’s been partly about geek culture and partly about insects. It’s a wild and crazy life, I know.
In a lot of ways, Big Bang Theory has done for science, scientists and geeks/nerds more generally what Will and Grace did for the gay community a decade or two earlier. Finally, we are not freaks of nature. It is ok at last to channel your inner geek. In London that can mean many things- The Science Museum, The Natural History Museum, perhaps Kew Gardens or plays about the history of science, if you are that way inclined… but even if the city had its own entire empire of geekery, Forbidden Planet in Shaftesbury Avenue would still at its heart. Years ago, Forbidden Planet used to be just off Oxford Street and Tottenham Court Road, a few doors down from Argos and even yet I always find myself looking for it there- but once we get past the tedious bit of directions, the hot and sticky tube, its grumpy travellers and buses that no longer take any form of cash, the journey is always worth the effort. The sheer range of comic books, graphic art and manga is always such a surprise. I’ve worked in publishing and writing long enough to know just how expensive getting things printed in full colour is and the outlay for so many books would only ever be made if those things were selling. So, not only are the world’s geeks getting more visibility, but there seem to be an awful lot of us about.
My own road into all of this stuff was via Joss Weadon- Buffy and then Angel. The interest stuck and then I started getting the Studio Ghibli stuff- “Spirited Away”, “Howl’s Moving Castle”, “Laputa- Castle in the Sky”, “Kiki’s Delivery Service”… and so forth- as DVDs and as art books. Next, it was time for the European stuff - French editions , Belgian titles - lavishly illustrated and far ahead of the UK in terms of their mainstream popularity. Enki Bilal’s “Nikopol Trilogy” led to “Klaw” by Antoine Ozenam and Joel Jurion for reasons I cannot now recall. And, oddly enough, this craving for European art led me to Victor Horta, Rene Magritte and the disturbing pictures of Paul Delvaux. Geekery-it seems- can lead on to other things.
There is something most alluring about Art Nouveau; in Brussels, this means mainly the Ixelles district and particularly the works of the aforementioned Mr Horta, but in comic art it spills out in many directions- into steampunk or botanical Victoriana- even into ancient Egyptian influences, if you read Monstress by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda . And little, by little, the pieces and the influences you pick up here and there seem to fuse into something greater than the sum of their parts. You start to think about surrealism and steampunk and industrial design and the primacy of science in the Victorian era. Science leads to geekery and geekery to history and history back into science once more and, usually, you learn various things along the way. Whether those things are any use, of course, is another matter entirely....
There is a game on Wikipedia where you start off reading an article that interests you and end up clicking on the terms you do not know or understand and that leads you to more articles and images, where you end up doing much the same. It is quite a different way of learning from the fairly linear progression of ideas in school books and in the days before the internet. If we learn differently today, it raises the question of if these non-linear methods are rewiring parts of our brains….and what, if anything, the consequence of such rewiring might be. It has been said that people now have fractured concentration as a result of heavy internet use, but that is not necessarily a consequence of the way ideas are linked on the internet- it could just as easily be down to the endless distractions of advertisements and pop ups and unwanted spam and messages landing in your in box or flashing on the side as you try to scroll down through whatever article you actually wanted to read.
Speaking of reading, I love this article on Steampunk culture-
Also: don’t forget to check out "Stars of Steampunk" coming here to The Greatest Minds.Org. soon
See you next time,
- M. N. Jones