Alberta author Sam Maggs guides girls through world of fandom
To hear Sam Maggs tell it, she “didn’t stand a chance.”
Her fate was predetermined. Geeky fandom was programmed into her DNA.
“My parents were both really big nerds who saw Star Wars over 20 times in theatres,” said Maggs, in an interview from her home in Edmonton. “They used to keep me home from school to go see movies, or marathons of the Indiana Jones trilogy. I was surrounded by comic books growing up. I got into it that way, as kind of a bonding thing with my parents. I guess, instead of rebelling and getting into sports, I just kind of went with it.”
So, it’s easy to imagine Maggs’ parents beaming with pride with the idea that their daughter wrote the book on fangirl culture. Literally.
The Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy, released in 2015, is a manifesto that encourages female fans to let their nerd flags fly. From advice on how they can find communities of similar-minded fans, to more academic threads of how geek-girl culture and feminism overlap, to tips on how to negotiate the darker corners of online fandom where girls are seemingly unwelcome, the book has been heralded as a rallying cry for a segment of fan culture that hasn’t always been well-represented or welcomed with open arms.
Maggs, who will be speaking Wednesday at a WordFest event at the John Dutton Theatre in Calgary and hosting various events at the Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo on Friday and Saturday, has settled nicely into the role of spokeswoman for women in fan culture.
The New York Times sought her out at last year’s Comic Con International in San Diego after a panel, where she talked about how the growing legion of female fans were beginning to chip away at the old-boys-club attitude that runs Hollywood studios and publishes the lion’s share of comic books.
She was also quoted in a 2015 article in Vulture Magazine titled “How the success of Marvel’s female superheroes heralds a more inclusive age of comics.”
Maggs wrote her book with the idea of creating something she wishes she had when growing up. While her family was certainly supportive of her interests, she found herself isolated from many of her peers and kept her love of comics, video games and superheroes a secret.
She wanted to write a book that not only offered pragmatic advice, but also conveyed a sense of camaraderie among female fans at a point in history where the community is growing and becoming more confident.
“We’ve always been fans of these things, but haven’t traditionally felt welcome in the spaces where we could express that,” she said.
“You didn’t feel welcome as a woman in a comic-book store, you didn’t reveal your gender online. But now there are so many of us and we have the ability to speak in these places because of things like Twitter and all of a sudden people are noticing us.
“We feel more able to be visible. I think that’s where the change is coming from. Social media is great because you can talk directly to companies and say, ‘ We’re here, we’re 50 per cent of the audience. Make things for us.’”
A London, Ont., native, Maggs received a master’s degree in Victorian literature from Ryerson University in Toronto. Specifically, she focused on how Victorian-era culture gave rise to certain genres and themes in its literature, whether it be the development of sensation fiction — wildly popular, melodramatic works such as Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White or Mary Braddon’s Lady Audley’s Secret — or studying odd links such as “how the train contributed to people’s visions of mental illness that showed up in literature.”
Her work now is a natural continuation of studying how historical forces shape our culture, she says.
“As a media critic, you look at what is going on in the world and you say, ‘How does that influence the art that we see in front of us? How does that influence what we see in comic books? How does that influence what we see in a video game?’ And that’s really important to note, because what you see in media influences how we see the world.”
Anyone who witnessed Maggs hosting last year’s one-on-one interview with Agent Carter’s Haley Atwell at Calgary Expo knows she is adept at finding a balance between giddy fandom and academic query, overseeing a conversation and audience Q&A that ranged from gender politics to Chris Evans’ abs.
Maggs’ next book, out in mid- October, will take a similar approach in examining some of the unheralded female heroes of history. Wonder Woman: 25 Innovators, Inventors, and Trailblazers Who Changed History certainly delves into some serious terrain in discussing the social, gender and racial barriers placed in front of wonder women such as allied spy Noor Inayat Khan or Maria Sibylla Merian, an entomologist who oversaw the world’s first scientific expedition.But with illustrations by Google doodler Sophia Foster-Dimino, the book is hardly a dry historical treatise.
“The linking theme is passion,” said Maggs. “Fangirls are passionate about things like television and comic books and movies and these women were passionate about science and advancing the world and the things they really wanted to do.
“They didn’t have comic books. So they did this stuff instead.”