One Con Glory isn't your typical romcom novel. It stars a geek culture writer who's more interested in chasing down action figures than men. But she finds love at a comic book convention — whether she likes it or not.
When done right, romantic comedies can be great fun, filled with fizzy dialogue and ludicrous situations tailor-made to bring our lovebirds together in the end. But recently, the romantic comedy genre has become synonymous with certain wearying tropes: the desperate-to-land-a-man career woman, the allergic-to-commitment man, the sassy, finger-wagging best friend, the backdrop of a major metropolitan area that's never heard the word "recession."
Julie, the protagonist of Sarah Kuhn's One Con Glory, isn't desperate to land a man. When it comes to human relationships, Julie thinks the Prime Directive – Star Trek's doctrine of non-interference – is the best guideline. She's the sort of girl who will break off sex if she notices that you moved her action figures, someone for whom the word "romance" evokes plotlines from Buffy the Vampire Slayer and The Uncanny X-Men rather than a flesh-and-blood encounter.
If Julie has one love of her life, it's Glory Gilmore, a superheroine from a third-tier ‘80s Marvel comic called The Periodic Seven. It's a relationship that has been fraught with disappointment; Julie has owned four Glory Gilmore action figures, and each one has met with a disastrous end. But now that The Periodic Seven has been made into a successful television series, she has one last chance to reclaim her Glory.
Working as a writer for a genre magazine, Julie shows up at Los Angeles' GinormoCon (a stand-in for San Diego's Comic Con) with a mission: snag herself a vintage Glory Gilmore action figure, then retreat to safe cavern of her entanglement-free life with as little emotional scarring as possible. Since she can't entirely escape human interaction, she hangs with her friend Mitch (an entertainment reporter who dresses entirely in swag) and his co-worker Braidbeard, a geekier-than-thou snarker who trumps Julie's prickly attitude with an even more insufferable one. But the Con isn't all sunshine and DC continuity debates; Julie also has to suffer through a one-on-one interview with Jack Camden, star of The Periodic Seven and the only thing about the show that Julie truly hates. Camden is the sort of actor who boasts in interviews that he's a huge geek who still collects comics, and Julie isn't buying it.
In many ways, One Con Glory follows a fairly traditional romantic comedy path. There's a great deal of flirty fighting, and Julie doesn't recognize she's in a romance even when it's sitting on her chest making goo-goo eyes at her. There are geeky displays of love (or, more accurately, loving displays of geek), the occasional convenient plot twist, and the requisite fallout before the ultimate reconciliation.
Kuhn's key innovation is in her setting and her characters – and how those characters choose to express themselves. The recasting of traditional romantic characters as geeks could have felt pointless or exploitative – as if Kuhn were trying to assure the readers that she is "one of us." But Glory is more thoughtful than that. Julie is a character who understands her world in terms of popular culture, and when she talks about her favorite comics and TV shows, she's not just casually tossing off breadcrumbs to the readers; she's revealing her worldview and her neuroses. That's not to undersell some laugh-out-loud funny scenes, especially one where an extremely drunk Julie (who gives herself the nickname "Drulie") decides to take felonious action to obtain her precious Glory.
One Con Glory is ultimately a fast and satisfying read, one where it's not enough for our heroine to get the guy. She has to get the action figure, too.
You can pick up a copy of One Con Glory via Alert Nerd Press.