It’s easy and natural to get frustrated over the recent batch of closings around the valley.

For a guy who’s trying to build up Arizona’s Geek Culture, it can feel like a kick in the gut when nerd havens shut down – especially when I’ve gotten to know some of the owners.

A lot of people miss Atomic Comics, easily the largest of recent losses. Fortunately, there are still local places to buy comics. I’m mostly disheartened by closings like Evermore Nevermore, The Cade Gallery, Red Hot Robot, and The Royale. They brought a certain unique flavor with them. They were the kinds of places you were just glad existed – like they proved something about Arizona that most people don’t believe.

Despite all of this, I am optimistic about the geek culture here in Arizona.

Actually, I’m very optimistic, and here’s why:

I’m Hoping That Recent Closings Reflect Economy More Than Excitement
As much as it feels like “geek” places are being targeted, I’m not sure they are. I won’t pretend to be some kind of economist or market analyst, but my gut tells me that many industries have been hit over the last few years, and many different types of small businesses have closed up. Not just the ones we happen to love.

And not every local nerd haven has faded away.

The Lightning Octopus Map of Local Nerdery has grown and receded over the last year, but it’s still full of fun places. I’m optimistic that if things pic up economically, we’ll see it grow again.

I Feel Like Localism Is Catching On

I’ll be the first to admit that my reading of the social media tea leaves can be a bit skewed; I mostly follow local people. So this is just my opinion, but I do feel like an excitement about local businesses and artists is slowly catching fire.

I feel like people are casually shifting their excitement away from re-hashed ideas pumping out of mainstream outlets, and are growing in curiosity about fresh new ideas coming from independent and local film makers, comic creators, artists, and writers.

I’m Optimistic Because Geek Events Seem To Be Doing Well

There’s a reason Lightning Octopus has believed in and focused on events for the last 19 months.

Events are wonderful monsters when it comes to building community and culture, and they keep popping up and evolving.

They’re “light and quick” compared to a store front, ignite interest and excitement, can overcome the distance barrier (a very real challenge here), they’re social, they give people a chance to bring the culture they’ve created with them (check out my costume/art/shirt!), and people share their experiences and pictures from them all over Facebook.

I’m optimistic about Arizona’s Geek Culture because events like Phoenix Comicon continue to grow like crazy, because some guy in California decided to start a zombie-centric “Amazing Comicon” here, because Tempe is doing a Geeks Night Out, because people like Steamcrow are staring their own events, and because the Lightning Octopus calendar (see it over there on the top-right?) continues to fill up.

I’m optimistic because we have amazing creators and organizers here.

So what Am I Doing To Help?

Mostly, I’m trying to overcome any knowledge gaps. Sometimes people don’t participate in events or groups, etc, because they just don’t know about them. That’s where I try to come in. I try to filter through the information overload and find gems that will bring people together.

I also try to give the geek culture here a “home-base.” People tell me that when they first heard of Lightning Octopus they were excited about the idea of some kind of organization around the nerd world here. That alone can galvanize people.

Also, I have some very fun plans for The Order of Electric Octopi.

I don’t want to share too much yet – lots of planning still. But I am very excited about it. (Tease!)

Lastly, I’m trying to water the roots of community with connections. When people tell me about a project they’re working on or things they’re excited about, I try to connect them with people who could help, or have similar passions.

Connecting people is by far my favorite part of this whole Lightning Octopus thing. Plus it’s another reason I’m encouraged by good events. They bring people together.

(And I should be clear that I’m not the only one fighting for geekery here. Benjamin and Bob over at Jackalope Ranch, Nerdvana, The Arizona Geek News Network, Press The Pause Button, Phoenix Gamer, Geeksociated Press and everyone else. All doing an awesome job and frequently filling in giant gaps that I’ve missed.)

So what do you think?

Sure, we still have plenty of challenges here, and plenty to gripe about. They’ve been here forever, and probably aren’t leaving anytime soon.

And maybe it’s my plucky blogger passion, but I really am excited for where this year takes us geeks here in the desert.

What say ye? Challenges? Solutions? Ideas? Excitements? Is that a word?