Fandom Without Borders – Series Conspectus
Finding Your Happy, Geeky Place Around the World
An epic journey for our exclusive travel blog, examining various geeky and nerdy scenes. From Japan and Ireland to major cities across the continental United States, join this whirlwind trek and partake of our robust sample of “local flavors”.
It used to be such a hard thing to find a comfortable place that let you be your nerdy self. There are still a lot of places where people don’t have a local hangout that lets them indulge their nerdy side, but with the help of online communities and sites like Meetup, people are finding more safe havens where they can be themselves and delve deeper into the nerdy things they love.
I grew up in Rockland County, N.Y., which is not too far outside New York City, just a bit to the north and right over the Tappan Zee Bridge (sorry, the “Governor Mario Cuomo” Bridge). It’s a busy enough little county and looking for a nerdy place of my own wasn’t too hard. All the local bookstores had comics and manga, there were nerdy clubs galore in school, and people generally let their freak flag fly. It’s a place where the nerdy corners are there, but you may not notice them at first. When you come to Rockland County it’s a bit of a mixed bag, as we have our well-to-do areas and our not-so-great areas, but when you know what you’re looking for, it’s not hard to find. Comics Warehouse is a decent place to start any search over here, though, with one handy shop easily found in Pearl River [ 1 ].
When I first started to get into anime, I learned about manga from just going to my local Barnes & Noble. I’d heard rumors that there were once other places to shop for books in Rockland County. I don’t know where these mythical Waldenbooks or B. Dalton Books stores would have been, and it’s a moot point now in the post-brick-and-mortar era for major book reseller chains. Nowadays most people just use Amazon. I was really into Yu Yu Hakusho when I saw it on Toonami, Cartoon Network’s late-night block of anime entertainment. The first few volumes of the manga series caught my eye one day when I was browsing around the large bookstore. Eventually a branch of the Kinokuniya Japanese bookstore chain opened at the mall, and I got to work on my own personal manga collection at home. Even our local library started carrying manga. Granted, it’s not the largest collection of series in the world, but it’s got a few good classics to start from in both Shonen manga and Shojo manga, so it offers a great introduction to the medium.
Join the Club
When trying to find fun nerdy locations, clubs are the best places to start looking. In high school, we had both the chess club and anime clubs where we gather and share our love of all things nerdy. TI don’t believe there was much chess actually played during meetings of the chess club; usually it was a lot of Warhammer and other tabletop games. Everyone would bring in roleplaying games and card games to share with the other club members. I only showed up on occasion, but it was here that I first started to learn about Dungeons & Dragons as well as Magic: The Gathering. The anime club at my high school started up a little past halfway through my academic career and was run by underclassmen, so there wasn’t too much going on that the time. However, it was a fun venue to circle up with people and chat about what you were currently watching and reading. Usually it fell into a lot of arguments about shipping, but that’s more or less inevitable when you get a bunch of anime fans together. Don’t believe me? How many of you have already shipped Bakugou and Kirishima? I mean, c’mon man! It’s so obvious!
But that’s an argument for another day. One of the best clubs I’ve been to, and where I’ve met most of the nerdy people I know, was at the Rockland County Anime Club that I found via Meetup.com, located in Pearl River. Sadly, it’s looking like the club is no longer there (or at least no longer listed), but such is the fate of many anime and manga clubs in the U.S. [ 2 ]. After discovering it online, a friend and I decided to pop over one day. We were a bit skeptical initially, since it was hosted at someone’s house instead of at a public place. We waited until they had their annual BBQ, which is basically a mini convention as there were probably about a hundred or so attendees. It was a blast, and since Rockland County didn’t yet have any of its own conventions, this club was the best way to find that sort of “con” atmosphere. It doesn’t seem as if they’ve run that club anymore, but to know that so many people were in the otaku scene was incredible, and I was able to make a lot of great friends from my time there.
Sometimes finding a club isn’t so easy as just stumbling on to one in your own backyard (or someone else’s). Some places just don’t have them as of yet, but founding your own club is always an option—though this can be quite a lot of work, of course. A friend and I decided at one point that we would really like an anime club where we could comfortably watch shows with people and have fun events, like cosplay on Halloween or something. The Rockland Anime Group was fun, but other than the BBQ, it was mostly just a bunch of guys playing Super Smash Bros. with each other. We’ve got nothing against that, but we really wanted a more girl-friendly environment. Without one already in existence, we decided to make one. We just popped into our local library and talked to the woman in charge to get some guidance. Luckily at the time, the library was trying to promote their manga section, so it worked out well for both of us. Between the two of us, we were able to make the club we wanted and the library got more traffic in every week. After a few months, we passed responsibility for running the club onto some of the original members that we had attracted right at the very beginning, and it’s become a nice introduction to anime and manga for the teenager/young adult crowd.
In college, when I started to get more into roleplaying games, like D&D and Magic, I easily found a few places where I could learn more and play. There are a few local shops in the business district where there are tables available for people who want to run their own games, as well as weekly tournaments to join. I still try to get the new Magic releases for draft tournaments, and every place from bookstores to game shops sells at least a few booster packs for most trading card games. You could even put together your own gaming group easily enough just by going to one of these shops and asking around for anyone interested in playing. Every shop has its regulars, and they’re all eager to expand their groups and play new games. The popularity of regular events like Friday Night Magic is definitely adding to the crowd at these stores.
There were even a few gaming groups at Rockland Community College as well (over in Suffern), although there weren’t any official clubs. Between classes I would sometimes end up in the gaming room in the Cultural Arts Center, where there would no doubt be someone’s Wii system set up and a crowd of people taking turns playing Super Smash Bros. Anyone could join in and it was a great way to meet people, giving you the opportunity to chat to others between turns while playing the game. If anyone was ever interested in starting up a game of anything, this is where they would find their kin and put together a group [ 3 ].
More than a few times, especially during convention season, you could sometimes spot cosplayers out and about in town. A friend of mine and I were usually participating in this ourselves as we would sometimes cosplay just for the heck of it or would stop by a few places on our way to conventions. In high school I once dressed as Hiei from Yu Yu Hakusho before I even really knew what cosplay was [ 4 ]. As I started to get more and more into it, I just started dressing up more frequently. Eventually it got to the point when where I walked into a CVS on my way to a convention dressed as Clair, the Blackthorn City gym leader from Pokémon, complete with spandex and a giant blue wig. No one really batted an eye. I’ve also run into a few Attack On Titan cosplayers at Toys R Us back when the anime series first came out (and there were still Toys R Us stores in my county).
Now, I’ve talked to a lot of my fellow gamers here at The Unconventional, and everyone has had a slightly different experience growing up nerdy. Okay, sometimes my colleagues had drastically different experiences. One of us dealt with the full brunt of the Satanic Panic, so gaming materials (and groups) weren’t easy to find in his pre-internet town. My editor himself says he didn’t have so much trouble with hostility (outside the stereotype of jocks mocking the D&D nerd), but that other gamers were hard to find in a small, Midwestern town. Other staff members who grew up in the New York suburbs, either north of the city or on Long Island, generally had better access and fewer barriers to nerdy stuff like anime and RPGs, and most of this is due to being a short train ride from one of the biggest, busiest cities in the world, where you can find literally anything and everything.
I should probably do what all those touristy type pages do: a road map! Getting here from NYC itself is best done from the Pennsylvania Station, taking the NJ Coast line, and then transferring to the Pascack Valley Line at the Lautenberg Station. That’ll at least get you to Pearl River. Assuming you’re driving then, anyone coming from the west (which is going to be most of you outside of New England) should take I-80, then take Exit 62 to Garden State Parkway. Right on Exit 172, left on West Grand Avenue, right on Chestnut Ridge Road, and you’re basically here after a final right on Summit Avenue.
Rockland County is a pleasant area where, for the most part, people don’t judge you for your interests. While it may not stand out as a nerdy or eccentric place it’s a place where if you are nerdy or eccentric then other people just let you go on with your business. It’s quiet and peaceful with only the occasional FUS-RO-DAH (for as long as we can get away with that one [ 5 ]) or Naruto cosplay troop-runs interrupting the peace, and we’re all just fine with that.
- Tracey, Charlotte. “The front entrance to Comics Warehouse in Pearl River, New York.” 2020.
- Tracey, Charlotte. “The Manga shelf at the local library. It’s not much, but it’s a great start.” 2020.
- Tracey, Charlotte. “The sadly now-defunct Rockland County Anime Club meeting night.” 2020.
- Tracey, Charlotte. “A common sight on the NJ Transit train to the city – cosplayers in costume.” 2020.
The outsider goth kid in high school, Charlotte adapted quickly. Upon her discovery of anime fandom, she dove in headfirst, feeding her interest in research from linguistics to anthropology, as well as her pastimes of gaming and cosplay. Since then, she’s been a contributing partner for the otaku blog RoyalNerd, and began work on her first novel. Her content for The Unconventional are the series Otaku Obsession and Fandom Without Borders, reflecting her twin passions for anime and travel.
- “Comics Warehouse.” Comics Warehouse. comicswarehouse.com. Accessed 10 Apr. 2019.
- “The New York City Anime Group.” Meetup, meetup.com/topics/anime/us/ny/pearl_river. Accessed 10 Apr. 2019.
- “Cultural Arts Center Virtual Tour.” Rockland Community College, Rockland Community College, 6 Feb. 2019, sunyrockland.edu/about/campus-guide/rcc-virtual-tour/cultural-arts-center.
- Ashford, Sage. “Yu Yu Hakusho: 10 Things Only Fans Know About Hiei.” CBR, Valnet, Inc., 26 Oct. 2019, cbr.com/yu-yu-hakusho-hiei-things-fans-know.
- Haas, Pete. “Bethesda Trademarks Fus Ro Dah From Skyrim.” CINEMABLEND, Gateway Blend, 8 Oct. 2018, cinemablend.com/games/Bethesda-Trademarks-Fus-Ro-Dah-From-Skyrim-41321.html.