Cosplayer/geeklanthropist Sistah Geek, co-host of the Wakanda IV Lyfe podcast, is co-presenting a steampunk character building workshop with our fearless leader at the Midwest Ethnic Convention for Comics and Arts (MECCACon) at 11 a.m. on Sept. 16! We talked to her about comics, steampunk, not letting mansplainers drain you and being a geek who gives back.
Midwest BSFA: How long have you been in to comics?
Sistah Geek: I’ve been into comics for about 35 years. Started with reading the funnies/strips in the newspaper (yes, those count) then on to Archie comic books. I didn’t really own any of those comics because they were purchased by adults, and then circulated between me and my cousins. Often times someone would have a comic about Superman, Batman, Spider-Man or X-Men that was passed around but Archie was always the go-to “comfort” comic.
The first comic book I ever owned (i.e. not passed around to my cousins), which my mom bought for me in 1987, was a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (TMNT). Although I have
never parted with that particular comic book, I viewed comics as a source of pure
entertainment to enjoy at the moment and then hand off to someone else. It
wasn’t until 2012 when I actually started retaining and collecting comics, but I’ve
been a long time reader.
Midwest BSFA: What’s the first comic you remember really grabbing your attention and why?
Sistah Geek: This is a really loaded question because there are so many layers represented. I have a deep seeded love for animals, so comic strips, such as Marmaduke, Peanuts (for Snoopy & Woodstock) and Calvin and Hobbs as well as Garfield were steadfast companions. Even with the hilarity of Archie, the heroics of TMNT and the
superhero feats of other enhanced beings, I rarely saw myself in the stories being
told. I was transported to other worlds and loved the characters, but I never saw
me. So, believe it or not, I was an adult before I had a comic book that really
resonated. It wasn’t until I got my hands on a copy of Daughters of the Dragon:
Deadly Hands Special in which things turned around for me.
It’s what started me on my love affair with Misty Knight, an ordinary Black woman with a heart of gold, a no-nonsense attitude, an Afro for days and a bionic arm who had a samurai-trained, sword-wielding, kind-hearted, fearless Asian best friend named Colleen Wing. I finally saw myself in a comic book and I started to devour anything Misty Knight was in and made it my goal to collect all issues of her comics! That’s what motivated me to begin collecting comics and actually going into comic book shops rather than picking up comics at the gas station, grocery story or second-hand shops. A whole new world opened up – a world I’ve always been a part of, but one where I only dipped my toe. Now I was throwing my entire body into the deep end! I’ve amassed quite a collection in such a short amount of time.
Midwest BSFA: How did you get into steampunk? What drew you to it?
Sistah Geek: In 2013, a friend invited me to Steamposium here in the Seattle area. I had vaguely heard about steampunk but did not have enough knowledge to fill a thimble.
After doing a little research and becoming instantly interested, I decided to take my friend up on the offer to attend. I then decided I needed to create a steampunk persona not based on Eurocentric ideals of that particular time period. In my research, I read about so many cultures being excluded from representation within steampunk communities. I found that to be a great loss because there are so many rich cultures that were actually thriving. In creating my persona, I decided to keep it close to home by using the lives, trials and triumphs of Harriett Tubman and U.S. Deputy Marshall Bass Reeves as beacons of hope. By combining these two great American historical figures, I was able to come up with my persona: U.S. Marshall Rita Tubbs. She is assigned the duty of tracking down, exposing and capturing current and former slave owners. Becoming Rita was so invigorating and exciting! I can’t say enough how awesome it is to attend
steampunk conventions as her!
Midwest BSFA: What keeps you interested in comics? How do you get around the fanboys and their mansplaining and keep getting joy out of it?
Sistah Geek: There are times where my interest has waned, especially when it comes to the lack of representation in Marvel and DC (aka the “Big Two”) in both the characters
being created and those doing the creating. I maintain my interest because I didn’t come into comics by either of those two companies. I know there are other great independent companies out here producing the works I want to read so I put my money there. I support Black creators, especially Black women because those are the voices often silenced in this industry and those are the voices I want to hear. I am willing to try out new books that are not mainstream and I get a lot of joy in doing that. It feels good to read something new that is not the “trend of the month.” I don’t continue to dole out my hard earned money to a company that doesn’t value me as anything other than a marketing ploy.
The fanboy situation is really interesting to dissect and I’m not entirely sure if I’ll
ever truly understand it. It wasn’t until I became active on social media and
starting engaging more with the geek/nerd community that I realized how awful
these fanboys really are. I’ve experienced being asked to prove my “comic cred”
by two white male comic book readers at the local comic shop. I’ve endured
mansplaining in too many conversations on Twitter by Black men who
automatically disregard what I have to say because I’m a Black woman. I’ve had
“well-intentioned” Black and white men try to act as intermediaries between me
and the mansplainer while making it seem like my words needed interpreting
instead of calling the other man out on his crap. I’ve had the “fake geek girl”
comments made although I’ve been a geek/nerd for more than three decades!
I manage to keep my joy and interest because I’ve learned to surround myself
with many Black women geeks/nerds who love this world as much as I do and
who offer a safe space to discuss, engage and exist. I also participate in various
online groups such as the FantasyComicLeague and the SuperiorComicShow
monthly challenges where there are diverse groups of people who value friendly
competition and debate and all views are at least acknowledged even if there is
Midwest BSFA: Tell us about your trip coming up in November.
Sistah Geek: Yes! I am off to Paraguay as a member of a 16-person team volunteering through Habitat for Humanity’s Global Village Program. We will work on a new construction site where we will assist in building a home for a family in need. This will be my third such international trip with Global Village; the first was to Guatemala and the second was to Jordan. In 2009, I began volunteering with my local Habitat affiliate offices on projects ranging from rehabilitation to new construction and demolition. In every incidence, I enjoyed working alongside the families putting in their own sweat equity into creating their new affordable home. Even though I was giving back to my own local community, I also wanted to give back to my global community, which is why every few years or so, I participate in a Global Village trip to offer assistance to those in need.
I currently have a GoFundMe page set up to help raise the $3,500 needed for my
trip to Paraguay (https://www.gofundme.com/sistahgeekvolunteers) and I have raised $2,765! I have a little less than a month to go in my campaign and I am hoping to be 100% funded.
Midwest BSFA: There are a lot of nerds/geeks who give back. (More and more con and event runners are building a charitable component into their events.) Do you think it’s a community-wide phenomena or just an individual thing?
Sistah Geek: It is a combination of both because it starts off as an individual reaching out to provide help to others in need. Sometimes it feels like it’s lonely out there until
there are others doing the same thing and then it becomes a community helping
another community. I don’t want to say it is a phenomena because that could
make it seem like it’s a “fad or trend.” It’s more of a social awareness taking place
regarding the importance of helping others. It’s by no means perfect and it’s not
always receiving the positive limelight it deserves but there are plenty of people
Midwest BSFA: We’re co-presenting at MECCACon this year (woot woot!). How did you find out about the event? What made you want to attend?
Sistah Geek: I’m soooo excited to have the opportunity to work with you! MECCACon is going to be awesome again! Back in September 2015, I saw a tweet regarding the con
and trying to get more participation. I inquired about the con, and began a back
and forth with the MECCACon twitter handle. I was impressed by the information
presented about the con, especially with it being a way to really support Black
creators. With my experiences at cons in the Pacific Northwest, I was in need of a
new con that embraced my Blackness and didn’t shy away from it. So I put myself
on record saying I would be there in 2016. I made good on my promise and wound up meeting you, Crown (found out she was the one I was exchanging tweets with back in 2015) and so many others! It just blew me away and I knew I had to return in 2017. Getting to work with you as co-presenters is just icing on the German chocolate cake.
Midwest BSFA: We’ve talked several times about being surprised at seeing so few cosplayers at Black cons/events. What do you think can be done to change that?
Sistah Geek: Initially, I was just happy to see Black cosplayers period. It seems to be so rarehere in the Seattle area, so I am excited whenever I see a Black cosplayer. As for
Black cons/events, my first was actually MECCACon in 2016 and I was actually
really surprised to not see a larger Black cosplayer turnout. I saw a really decent
turnout at NYCC in October 2016, but I guess that’s not a Black event. When I
went to BCAF in San Francisco in January 2017, it was pretty much the same
experience as MECCACon and I was baffled. It wasn’t until we started talking
about it that I really began to question what was going on.
I do believe it goes back to the idea of the stigma surrounding cosplay as being a “white only” thing. This may impact someone’s decision to even start cosplaying in the first place. Also there is the gatekeeping within the cosplay community where some (Black
cosplayers) are lead to believe (if not outright told) they can only cosplay certain
(non-white) characters. We’ve also discussed the possibility of the misconception
of Black cons/events meaning all cosplay must be Afrocentric in nature (that was
a new one for me to digest!) and that deterring Black cosplayers who don’t feel
that connection desiring to forego the con/event. Bottom line is the only way we
can change this is to change what cosplay looks like. The only way to change that
is to create spaces where all are truly welcome and there is no set standard for
what cosplay entails. My understanding is cosplay is simply “costume + play,” but
the “play” bit has been misconstrued and turned into some stricter version of
Midwest BSFA: Anything else you want our readers to know?
Sistah Geek: My love for TMNT includes the fact I have an aquatic turtle named Micaela and call her Mikey. True love never dies!