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L.A. Beat

Galt Museum celebrates nerds with astronaut Roberta Bondar and comic book expert Scott McCloud

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Nerds once had the somewhat negative stigma of socially inept bookworms who are addicted to computers, video games, Dungeons and Dragons and Monty Python. It’s not the case anymore.  Nerds are now cool thanks to TV shows like the Big Bang Theory and the resurgence of Dr. Who, not to mention the face that everyone relies on computers today.Chris Roedler reads Scott McCloud’s Zot!. Photo by Richard Amery

“Nerd culture is no longer taboo than it was even five or six years ago. People now think it is cool,” said Chris Roedler, who is helping organize Nerdfest along with Leslie Hall, at Galt Museum, March 21-23.
The Galt Mueum is celebrating all things “nerd,” with a variety of activities happening including a talk with Canadian neuroscientist and astronaut Roberta Bondar,  an all night gaming session and a talk with comic book expert Scott McCloud. Unfortunately a superhero dance at the end of the weekend for which you can dress up as your favourite superhero, has been cancelled due to slow ticket sales.

“ A nerd is anybody with a penchant for one specific thing,” Roedler continued adding in addition to nerds now being cool,  the Galt Museum is also hoping to attract a younger demographic, though the events are open to everybody over the age of 14.

“We’re all nerds. You can be math nerds or music nerds. There are even sports nerds. Basically if you are enthusiastic about something and can’t wait to tell everybody about  it, then you’re a nerd,” said Los Angeles based comic book expert Scott McCloud who wears his nerd badge with pride. He also described himself as a movie nerd and a chess nerd.
“I’m also a nerd for my family,” he said.

 He will be a highlight of Nerdfest  kicking it off with a lecture about comics.

 It will be the lead in to his renown two-day comic book seminar — the only one in Canada‚  which begins March 22 and continues March 23. While the workshop is sold out  with people buyng  tickets from as far way as Vancouver and Toronto, there is still room at his opening lecture.

“It (the workshop) is more about the nuts and bolts of comic books. The lecture is a lot of fun. There’s 100 slides. It’s very fast paced,” he said.
McCloud has a five day seminar at a literature fair in Germany before he comes to Lethbridge.
“I have about a day to catch my breath, then I’m off to Lethbridge,” he said.

 He is best known for his comic Zot!, which he did from 1984-1991. And has since become an expert in the comic book world and a much in demand speaker. But it wasn’t always that way.
“I got into comics when I was 14. I wasn’t into them before. I thought they were just  for little kids. But a friend of mine gave me a big stack of comic books and about a year later I decided I wanted to do that for a living,” he said.

He hasn’t had to deal with regular deadline for his works as his works, including his new full length,  graphic novel about a sculptor in New York, are longer form stories.
He has been working on it for several years, and expects it to completed and released by the end of 2013.
He noted comic books are all about telling stories with pictures, so the secret is to choose the right image to do the job.
“A comic book can be 700 frames or 7,000,” he summarized.Chris Roedler watches  Anine Vonkeman put together a puzzle in the Galt’s science exhibit. Photo by Richard Amery

Neuroscientist/ astronaut Dr. Robert Bondar will be speaking about one of her passions— the environment during her talk “The Edge of Earth.” She is best known for being the first neuroscientist to go into space as well as Canada’s first female astronaut and only second Canadian to be up in space since the Challenger explosion. But she is also a well respected scientist, physician, author and speaker. She has always been interested in space.
“I’m dating myself, but I grew up in a time before the first satellites. Everybody was interested in what was out there. So I was building model rockets— a girl living in a small town. If I could have got my hands on the explosive ones, I would have,” Bondar said.

 The environment, partiucularly the effects of pesticides on migratory birds, has always been one of Bondar's  concerns, one amplified by being in space.
“Seeing the Earth from space, you get a different perspective,” she said.

She is looking forward to returning to Lethbridge for the first time in about five years.
“Lethbridge has so many different biomes or biological communities of plants and  animals, that I am looking forward to having the opportunity to explore,” she said.
She said it takes a lot of time, not to mention training to become an astronaut.

“Most astronauts have at least a BA, most likely a Masters degree and often a PHd. Military astronauts usually have a Masters,” she continued adding that is at least eight years of post secondary education, plus the time,often up to a year. it takes to train for a specific mission.

“You have to be very flexible,” she said adding astronauts not only have to have a large skill set, but also have to be able to understand people and their cultures.
“It’s not the same lifestyle as if you get a job as a researcher at a university and go home at the end of the day,” she said.
“ It was a very long flight. We’d work two 12 hour shifts,” she said.

 He primary job , and favourite job, on the shuttle was running the Imax camera.
“It was Canadian technology and  I was the Canadian running it,” she said adding while everything is digital now,  the Imax camera was cutting edge technology at the time.
“It was very exciting,” she said adding seeing the Earth from space was also very exciting and scary.
“It was like standing at the edge of a canyon in the dark and never knowing if you were going to fall off,” she said.
“We were moving so fast, eight km a second, so that it looked like hurricanes were standing still and the Rocky Mountains and the Alps looked like little mounds. There were lots of stars, but they don’t twinkle out there,” she described adding the darkness was disconcerting and made her appreciate the colours of the Earth
“It was hard to believe the East and the west have problems,” she said.

A version of this story appears in the March 20, 2013 edition of the Lethbridge Sun Times

— By Richard Amery, L.A. Beat Editor

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