Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Way of the Geek 13: Siskoid, AKA Michel M. Albert!

Michel M. Albert, or “Siskoid,” as he's better known, is the mastermind (if you will) behind Siskoid's Blog of Geekery, one of my personal favorite daily stops as I'm exploring the blogoverse! I'll be referring to him as “Siskoid” through this article, since that's how most of us know him.

Siskoid was born in Quebec City, but was mostly raised in Edmundston, New Brunswick, with summer vacations spent in Ballinger, Texas. He said, “I like to think of myself as an army brat, without the army.” He's lived in Moncton, New Brunswick for 20 years. He's the oldest of four siblings (one a half-sibling), and is not married. He works as a communications director for a university student union.

Siskoid's geekery ranges from movies, science-fiction (originally Star Trek was his biggest obsession, as can be evidenced by the lengthy series of ST-related posts on his blog that concluded a few months ago, but Doctor Who has won out as top SF obsession for him), comics, role-playing games, music, collectible card games, and toys, nearly all of which are reflected in his posts.

Siskoid said that his geekery began at the age of 3 ½, when he was learning to read. He was given French/Belgian comics to read, mostly Tintin and Asterix. “They didn't realize what they started by putting those hardcovers into my hands, probably,” he recalled. He said his earliest memory of geekery was sitting on a plane reading a late Tintin book, “Coke en Stock,” that he figures didn't make sense to his four-year-old brain.

When asked if his siblings or friends were into geekery as a child, Siskoid insisted, “We're all geeks when we're kids. We all role-play. We all make believe. We all have action figures. My sister and I used to put on plays for the younger kids, using stuffed animals as the actors and X-Men comics as the scripts.” He figures that last one is probably the geekiest thing he did in his youth.

The only childhood possession he's managed to hang onto are his Super Powers figures and the bandes dessinées (Franco-Belgian comics), having rid himself of the Archie and Richie Rich comics that taught him how to read English. He doesn't figure that he needs to replace any lost childhood possessions, explaining, “I'm such a pack rat in the first place.” When it comes to nostalgia, he tends to steer towards getting an old TV series on DVD or buying a trade paperback of an old comics series.

Like many geeks, Siskoid's home is overrun with geek-related items. “I'm consistently running out of shelving,” he noted. It was difficult for him to identify his most prized geek possession when asked. “I tend to see everything as part of a collection, not necessarily as an individual piece. I might mention a little TARDIS box for lead Dalek miniatures. Not the minis - they suck - but that little box. Irreplaceable. Or I could say the autographed pictures of classic Doctor Who stars sent to me by a fan of my Doctor Who CCG. I give them prominent wall space in my living room.”

Believe it or not, Siskoid has never attended a convention, nor does he have any interest in attending one. “It helps that I live far from any of them,” he explained. Since he hasn't gone to any cons, his encounters with the people who created stuff he enjoys has mostly been limited to the online world. “I've seen Harvey Pekar (American Splendor) speak at a literary festival, but didn't go up to him (I don't like to do that),” he noted. “I've had profitable discussions on bulletin boards and blogs with game designer Chad Underkoffler and Doctor Who and comics scribe Paul Cornell, and I've an Internet friend in Cardiff who's been an extra on the new Doctor Who. I guess I've met celebrities when I was working at CBC Radio, but nothing I'd consider "geeky". When I play 7 degrees of separation, I like to mention I'm friends with Geneviève Bujold's cousin, which puts me close to the entire Star Trek canon (she was the original Janeway).”

Siskoid was lucky enough to actually work professionally in a field related to his geekery. “I used to write articles for the Star Trek Collectible Card Game's website, and they paid me in cards. Does that count?” he asked, and I would say it does. “I once applied for a job at a comic book shop, but was apparently over-qualified. I've done some book editing, which might one day lead to geekery. But overall, when I've worked in geekery, it's been for free, either for myself (designing the Doctor Who CCG, the blog, mini-comics and fanzines) or for others (starring in a science fiction show made locally - I played a post-apocalypse mutant!).”

The most unusual aspect of Siskoid's geekery would likely be his interest in Asian cinema (which he pointed out should not be confused with anime). Every week, he has a group of over a half-dozen people come to his house to watch one. A more common interest would be Doctor Who. “Enthusiasm is contagious. I think collectible card design is a pursuit that's difficult to share, and probably the most opaque, but with the Internet, you'll always find someone like-minded somewhere,” he explained.

Siskoid said that his family has “always been on the cusp of geekhood,” noting that his sister was a fan of the Jon Pertwee incarnation of The Doctor as a kid (“And never forgave the Doctor for turning into Tom Baker.”). His brother has a complete collection of Middle-Earth role-playing products. “For the most part, we encourage each other, but we leave each other alone. I don't think my brethren read my blog, for example,” he remarked.

Siskoid spends about an hour a day working on his blog (which was inspired by Dave's Long Box), although he noted that he spends a lot of his time on geekery. “Throw in reading and watching material that may or may not wind up on the blog, punctual activities like role-playing sessions and CCG design, and then consider that I put Doctor Who audio stories on my ipod (winters) OR read books while walking to and from work (summers) and I'm rarely not at least INTAKING geekery. The answer to your question is thus: Most of the time,” he noted.

When he started Siskoid's Blog of Geekery, his first stumbling block in the evolution was trying to make Blogger work for him. “So I tried doing it on my website, formatting it myself, etc. Not great, especially for traffic,” he recalled. “I got blogger to work and transfered everything eventually. It hasn't changed much since then (except the banner, once). There's still that Star Trek review each day, with other regular features phasing in and out as my interests shift.”

Speaking of the Star Trek reviews, Siskoid is big on regular features. He explained, “Regular features are great for inspiration and keeping you consistent. The daily Star Trek reviews have meant that I've posted every single day. Stuff like Cat of the Geek is a short post I know I don't have to worry too much about. It takes away some of the stress from trying to come up with material.”

While he hasn't had any financial rewards from blogging (a difficult thing to manage, obviously), Siskoid feels that “Just getting comments is reward enough. I like that the blogosphere is a kind of community and that bloggers tend to flock together and create a sort of support system for their niches. Getting mentioned on another blog gives you a little high, frankly. I've been sent comics to review (or links to online material to review), and I'm sorry that it's just not my kind of thing. I'm far more into vintage than new releases, and more into comedy than straight reviewing.”

The blogs that Siskoid checks out on a regular basis are featured on his blogroll, although he noted that some of his favorites are the Aquaman Shrine (a shared favorite), Hero Press, Slay Monstrobot of the Deep, Michael May's Adventureblog, and Calvin's Canadian Cave of Cool.

Siskoid's geek purchases are all made on the internet, some on eBay, but mostly on Amazon. “I don't own a car nor a driver's permit - I'm odd that way - so you can't beat the convenience of online shopping for me,” he explained.

His advice for eBay shoppers is mostly to be patient. “Searches don't always come up aces. You have to look often. If you find a specialty store that gives you good service and has a large selection of the stuff you like, add them to your favorites and look in on them again. Remind them that you're a repeat buyer. Finally, if you're into DVDs, there's an awful lot of cheap kock-offs from Asia floating around and they don't always put up the right picture, leading you to believe it's the real thing. Aside from the funky packaging, things like some extras will often be missing. Beware Chinese addresses,” he advised.

Siskoid feels that he grew into geekhood “organically.” When asked who his inspirations were, he said, “People have certainly inspired my interest in some niches (an uncle had a comics collection, the first blogs I read made me want to start my own, STCCG is a major inspiration for my Doctor Who game, etc.), but I wouldn't say they necessarily continued to inspire me once I was on the bandwagon. I suppose I should mention The Mutant Handbook, a Boing Boing publication, for its focus on self-publishing (or "reality hacking") in various media. I think that certainly fueled some of the stuff I've done over the years, like mini-comics, fanzines and websites.”

What do his geek interests mean to Siskoid? He said, “Like many medium-to-high profile geeks, it's become part of my public identity. In my immediate circle, that's certainly true. I'm a bit of a pop culture guru to many. Online, as "Siskoid", the net is thrown wider, but with less influence. Geekery is only important insofar as it's FUN. I'm a hedonist at heart. If it wasn't pleasurable, I wouldn't do it. Plain and simple. And a life without pleasure is scarcely worth living, isn't it?”

His final words of wisdom for his fellow geeks are probably some of the most eloquent I've been given in “The Way of the Geek” so far: “We live in geek times. Geeks are becoming world leaders and top entertainers. Geeks are coming out of the shadows and into the mainstream. Don't be afraid of that. Don't be a snob to former niches that have made good. At the same time, don't be afraid to explore more obscure niches. The Global Village can certainly support them. I think part of the geek mission statement is to get the word out about what's really cool out there. People want to become geeks now, but they don't always know where to start or in what direction to go once they've started. So if you like something, make it known. If you don't, also make it known, but don't be a hater (comedy is my usual tack, but intelligent reviews are another avenue). Geek recommendations tend to radiate so that one geek's fetish becomes the next's obsession. I've done a lot of radiating in my life and it's always great to create fans of something you can share your passions with. Similarly, I've loved some of the recommendations I got from others.”

Sounds good to me! Thanks Siskoid! And if any of you reading this are interested in becoming the subject of “The Way of the Geek,” feel free to shoot me an email at waffyjon at comcast dot net!

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