Meet Sam Maggs, the new superhero of the fangirl universe
Reality check: Girls live fandom lives too. Contrary to the old-school belief that “geek” culture is dominated by dudes, the rise of lady-power is now impossible to ignore. And one person we have to thank for that is Sam Maggs. The Mary Sue editor just authored The Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy, a testament to the growing female fandom population—and a roadmap for newcomers who want in on the scene. Because we can’t get enough of this awesome book, we went straight to the author, herself, for more truths and insights into fangirling out. Here’s what she had to say.
I really liked FGGTG, but I was also like, why wasn’t this around 10 years ago?? I could’ve used it. Why do you think you needed to write this book?
Well it was pretty much exactly what you just said. When I was thinking about books to write, this has been my world for so long. I wanted to write it all down. And when I started to look at comparable titles and I was like “I can’t believe this book doesn’t already exist.” Because there are so many options that have this great advice for women but it’s all really disparate — like how to cosplay and how to deal with trolls are all in different places. I just didn’t get why there wasn’t just one place for all this to go, for it to be readily available. And beyond that I can’t believe no one had written a book for girl geeks. There’s so many of us out there. It felt so weird to me that it didn’t exist. And when I started writing it, I just wanted to write the book that I wish I had when I was 15.
I was in high school before social media and Tumblr and I didn’t feel like I could talk about the things I liked with anybody. I felt really alone and I felt like I couldn’t be who I was or like the things that I liked. I just wanted to write the book that said like “You’re cool for who you are! Do what you do wanna do!”
How people talk about fandom has changed a lot since we were younger. Do you have any theories on why that is?
Well I think in large part it has to do with – especially for women – it has a lot to do with social media, and the growth of the Internet and blogs. We would always like the same things but we didn’t really have the safe spaces to discuss that. With Tumblr and Twitter we have established these communities where it’s like, oh, there are all these other women we can talk to about this stuff! You can be really vocal. And that’s given us confidence to be like “here we are!”
And now feminism is normal nomenclature for people who aren’t even in fandom.
Definitely, I feel like the book is coming out during a really watershed time. Women not only in pop culture but in entertainment media – we’re not only empowered with these terms. Again, I think the internet has led to the wide dissemination of this stuff. You don’t have to take a gender studies class anymore to know what privilege means, you know?
When you say watershed moment, do you think things are going to change for the better?
I think there are a lot of people who say, oh, diversity is just a trend right now. But I have a really big problem with that because like whoever said white straight male was the default, and that’s what we’re going to revert to? Like if anything, white straight males are becoming less of – we’re learning they’re becoming less of the norm than ever, you know what I mean? It’s like, half the world is women and more than half of the world is not white, and suddenly we have these platforms on which to speak. And like, traditionally, I think the reason we didn’t see ourselves or other people represented in media is because we had to go through so many power structures to become visible. But that’s not the case anymore! Look at, like, Broad City! Like you can make your own web series and end up on the television that way. And the technology to make your own stuff is only increasing and getting easier for you to do.
What fandoms were you in when you were younger?
My parents are both huge geeks, and both saw the first Star Wars film more than twenty times in theatres. And I was kind of doomed from the start. When I was like 11 years old I discovered Stargate SG-1. This had Sam Carter as one of the main characters, and she wasn’t only like a military badass, she was also an astrophysicist. And that was like huge for me. Because all of a sudden I was like, she’s smart AND tough AND a woman AND in space? And that kind of led me to Star Trek Voyager, all of these similar characters, and I’m like still a huge fan of it.
I also know you like Pacific Rim — me too! I am here for that conversation!
And OMG I love Pacific Rim! I’m so excited to talk to you about it! That movie is so transgressive in so many ways! And I love that there’s no love story, like it’s not about that at all. I love that there are like interracial parent-daughter relationships, and like a platonic relationship is at the center of this story, and I love that like Mako’s story isn’t really about being a woman even though she is a woman and OMG, there are so many good things. And also the soundtrack is like my favorite soundtrack of all time. I wrote this whole book to the Pacific Rim theme on repeat.
And it’s actually original, unlike all these reboots and such. Which aren’t bad, but sometimes I want to jump into a whole new fandom!
Yeah! Even stuff like Jupiter Ascending, which is really derivative of a lot of things, but it was also something new. But yeah it’s hard to find something new for a fandom. But I think that in comics, while they have a lot of old characters that they draw from all the time, there’s also a lot of like really cool things happening in comics, like Saga or like The Wicked and the Divine, are really original ideas. I also really like Rat Queens, which is incredible for women in comics.
On that note, what recommendations do you have for new stuff but also fanfic or fanart artists?
I just read The Paradox Trilogy by Rachel Bach And there’s not really a fandom for it, but I want there to be more fandom for it so I can participate! I’m trying to create more fandom for it. It’s like a female space mercenary who gets on a ragtag ship filled with all different types of aliens and it centers on this big galactic conspiracy. It’s like Firefly, but in a book. And then for sure Rat Queens, which is about four lady adventurers in a D&D kind of world. It’s like if you and your three best friends fell into SkyRim.
I’m a really big fan of Mass Effect and Dragon Age, and there’s a really big fan artist called JakFace, and she’s on Tumblr, and she does a ton of Steven Universe fanart, and like punk drawings. Also the woman who illustrated FGGTTG has a huge following on tumblr, her tumblr name is moosekleenex.
What fandoms do you recommend?
I’m a really big of the Mass Effect fandom. I like really thoughtful, really smart fanfic. There’s such a huge amount of world-building, with great backstories. I’m reading A Handful of Dust now, it’s 60 chapters and huge and it’s amazing. I’m in the Harry Potter fandom for life. The HP fandom has found so much meaning and connection within the books, lots of smart and intelligent ways to critique the book, while still enjoying it.
What were your favorite sections of the book to write?
For me, the feminism section was the most important to me, it was non-negotiable. But then it was the convention section because I did barely any research for it – it was like my whole life had been leading up to that moment. All my experience going in to cons in the last decade were like, oh my god, I can finally share all this knowledge I’ve accumulated in my brain. Like yesss this is going to be so helpful! Like even for me, I can look at this checklist now every couple years.
(Image via Amazon, Instagram)