Communications researcher examines comic books, 'geek culture'

Trey Miller
August 17, 2015

The saying goes, "If you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life." That couldn’t be more true for one Penn State College of Communications doctoral student, who took her lifetime hobby and used it as the focus of her studies.

Stephanie Orme enjoys reading comic books and is an avid gamer, and she is now researching what she calls the “geek culture.”

“I think I was actually on a plane to a conference and it hit me,” said Orme. “Why don’t I study this culture I’ve been a part of my whole life that I’m clearly really passionate about? It was a neat way to sort of fuse something that I’m interested in in life, hobby-wise, with something I’d be interested in teaching and researching about.”

A St. Louis, Mo., native, Orme recently conducted research that focused on adult women comic book fans and whether or not they were comfortable and open about their hobby.

She interviewed women from age 18 to their mid-40s in State College, a group that included Penn State students as well as faculty, staff and community members. She found most women were open about their comic book fandom. And, while it wasn’t part of her research, Orme wondered if being in a college town and being in the world of academia would play a part in her findings.

“My assumption was that a lot of these women would, kind of like me, feel like there were a lot of situations where they couldn’t be particularly open about it,” said Orme. “I was pleasantly surprised to find out that most of them were pretty cool with it. They didn’t care. They felt like people were a lot more accepting of their interests than maybe they would have been a few years ago. They even had a lot of other female comic book friends who introduced them to comics.”

Orme believes things like the big-budget Marvel and DC films that have been a success at theaters in recent years have helped the women’s comic book culture become more mainstream and accepted. Still, a couple of people she interviewed said they could not be open about their hobby. Her research found a lot of women still feel weird going to comic book stores.

Orme appreciates their perspectives because of her own interest in comic books — and her own reticence about sharing that hobby with others.

“I never knew who I could tell about that interest,” said Orme. “It was kind of like a closeted hobby. I didn’t know if that was ‘cool,’ a lot like gaming.”

Orme is also a gamer, dating back to the Sega Genesis game system, which she started playing when she was 4 or 5 years old. She said the old "Sonic the Hedghog" games are still her favorites. Now, she sticks to role-playing games on her PlayStation 4 and her handheld Nintendo 3DS. When it comes to comic books, she prefers superheroes, especially X-Men, and Marvel comics.

This fall, Orme will continue to pass along her knowledge in the field while teaching a 120-student class at Penn State on gaming and interactive media. It will be her first time teaching that particular course. She was previously an adjunct instructor at Suffolk University and Emerson College in Boston for five semesters and taught a class on gender and diversity in the media at University Park in spring 2015. She earned her master’s degree in communication from Suffolk University after she graduated from Illinois State University in 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in communication.

Going forward, she hopes to send her research to the Journal of Graphic Novels and Comics, and possibly to a conference to get more feedback. She hopes to continue her research on comic books and women.

“Something I would love to actually do is sort of do an ethnographic study where I follow women to comic book stores and just sort of hang back and watch what they do, what their interactions with the shopkeepers are like and other customers,” said Orme. “That’s a future project.”

Last Updated July 28, 2017