It looked like she was patting our booth reassuringly, or perhaps performing an understated interpretive dance. As I returned from the Starbucks located a convenient dozen yards from our booth, I realized the tiny redhead had reverse-wrapped packing tape around her hand.
I set our coffee order down. “Um, what the hell are you doing?”
She pressed the tape agains the black backdrop and rolled her wrist, not allowing any off-color speck to escape. “There is LINT on this thing. Gotta get it all off before we put up the signs.” When she glanced at me over her shoulder I could see she was literally fighting back tears. It was Wednesday afternoon, only hours before Preview Night began to kick off San Diego Comic-Con in 2009. For the very first time the show she created, wrote, and starred in would have a home at the most important pop culture event in the world. I was worried she was going to have a panic attack before the doors even opened.
The redhead is, of course, Felicia Day. She needs no introduction these days—labeled by the press as “Queen of the Geeks.” I open with the lint-slaying story because it was an early glimpse I had into the incredible pressure Felicia puts on herself and how no job is beneath her to get even the tiniest detail correct.
She reveals how this pressure drove her to great achievement but also how it swung into unhealthy anxiety and depression in her new book that’s climbing all the best-seller charts:
You’re currently reading a shameless exercise in name-dropping that’s a little bit review of the book and a lot an excuse to talk about my friend, Felicia. Her memoir allowed me to get to know her better and she’s opened up her life and her thoughts to anyone who cares to read it, all while maintaining her privacy about the parts of her life she (rightfully) wishes to keep walled off.
The book is not “Here’s more about me for my fans” fluff. Felicia writes with an agenda, as she hopes her story will empower people to dive deeply into their passions and to use our crazy interconnected world for self-expression. She wants us to love hard, work hard, and play hard. To make mistakes, correct our course, and use our limited time on this planet to create things we’re proud of and to be as weird as we want. Because (to mangle a catchphrase from The Incredibles) when everyone is weird, no one is.
I first encountered Felicia like many fans, in an autograph line. I was picking up a first-press Season One DVD of The Guild at Comic-Con in 2008 for my brother, who I knew would appreciate it as a World of Warcraft player. (Confession: I’m a professional roleplaying game writer and designer who has never once played either Magic: The Gathering or WoW.) She counted to make sure the rest of the cast had signed, added her silver-Sharpie scribble, said “Thank you,” and gave me a farewell smile.
The next day, however, I was the one with an autograph session. The California Browncoats hosted my signing in their booth down in the quiet corner of the exhibit hall, within delicious sight of the Mrs. Field’s cookie stand. As it happened, Felicia had an individual singing session that ended just before mine. I was officially introduced to her as she began packing up. We engaged in the usual first-meeting chit-chat, and since I wasn’t exactly mobbed with desperate fans she sat with me a few minutes.
“So what is it that you do?”
“I’m a game designer,” I said. Since she had created a show about online gaming I felt I needed to clarify. “Not video games. I do non-electronic RPGs. Tabletop.”
“You mean like D&D?” Her eyes lit up and I realized she thought my job was genuinely cool.
Felicia excitedly told me in a breathless stream-of-consciousness that she played in a weekly D&D game and that she played a badass pyromancer with a cool outfit and wanted to know what editions of the game I was familiar with and if I knew where the dice vendors were because she wanted to buy a set that was thematically color-coordinated with her fire-obsessed character.
“Sure. If you want to meet up later I’ll walk you over to pick out some dice.” Not wanting to brag, I left out how I’ve played every edition of Dungeons & Dragons from OD&D through 4E—along with numerous d20 offshoots.
As we talked I looked down and saw that she was straightening the books I had put out for my autograph session. By the end of the conversation each one was presentation-perfect, aligned with each other and the edge of the table with precision. Spoiler alert: Felicia is a bit OCD.
Later the same afternoon, we indeed met up for dice-shopping. This was back when you could actually walk around Comic-Con without an angry sea of sweaty human bodies pressing against you. Once we made it to the area that included fantasy artists, book vendors, and the aforementioned dice companies I was greeted as we walked past. “Hey Jamie!” No one recognized my companion.
After a few shout-outs from behind booths, Felicia remarked, “Damn dude, everybody knows you!” Looking back, that’s kind of hilarious.
I saw just how hard Felicia and her business partner Kim worked to promote The Guild, and I wanted to see how I could help. (I could write a whole ‘nother article about the awesomeness of Kim Evey, who I adore. We ended Comic-Con 2008 as exhausted strangers literally leaning against each other and it began another friendship for which I’m truly grateful.) Since I had conventions in the midwest and east coast on my schedule, I offered to sell Guild DVDs from my booth on consignment and to host Season One screenings to promote the little web series. This led to an incident where I got Felicia on Skype on my laptop. I held a microphone up to her disembodied head to introduce the event to the audience.
At Dragon*Con the live intro wasn’t working, so we improvised with cell-phone video shot in Seattle and so Felicia could still introduce her show instead of me mumbling nervously in front of a crowd.
At some point I got a desperate phone call from a frantic Felicia. She and Kim were doing all the DVD order fulfillment themselves. From home. They literally put discs in cases and inserted the covers themselves and were mailing them.
“Jamie! I know you’ve run a mail-order business for years and these custom forms are insane and there has got to be a better way of doing this than what we’re doing and HALP!” I believe I told her which online mail service was easiest and pointed her toward a label-printer that would possibly save her life. If I could have handed her a Xanax through the phone I would have done so. She discusses the fun of shipping DVDs, along with convention experience, in her book that you should totally check out.
The following year, I split my Comic-Con booth with The Guild, a so-crazy-it-just-might-work arrangement that last for three years. Our 10 x 10 was ridiculously small to host full-cast signings, include merchandise from two unrelated businesses, and coordinate all the related events.
Each year The Guild continued its conquest of the online world and fans came from all over the world to meet Felicia and the cast. The annual music video (a tradition launched with “Do You Wanna Date My Avatar?”) filled the largest venues the convention had to offer — a tradition that also left me completely alone in the booth because none of the volunteers wanted to miss it — and Felicia’s ambition and self-imposed expectations only grew each year until she realized that the show had long outgrown our little booth. The moment of truth for me was when security from Fox tried to get us to disperse The Guild autograph line (on the wall right across from our booth) because they claimed it interfered with their line to meet the cast of Glee. Not that I measured … but our line was longer.
I have lots of stories from over the years — such as how trying to count how many F-bombs one redhead can drop when we’re in standstill traffic on the I-5 between L.A. and San Diego —but this is theoretically a (heavily biased) book review.
Reading Felicia’s book reinforced some of the fun parallels my life as a geek enjoyed along with hers, especially a love of the Ultima series of computer games and being an early-adopter of online services such as Prodigy and GEnie. The sound of her imitating the connection-handshake of a 1200 baud modem is worth the price the audiobook all by itself, and made me nostalgic for simpler times.
You’re Never Weird On the Internet (Almost) is inspiring to me in the same way Felicia herself has been on a personal level. She does an excellent job relating her natural voice and viewpoint, which is the same reason I think she’s become one of the most meteoric stars of the internet and new media. People feel they know Felicia because they do, because she lets us. She is honest with her thoughts and emotions, likes and dislikes. She allows each of us be her friend—united by nerdery—and is gracious and genuine, only asking for sensible boundaries and basic respect. Read the book and you’ll know how she grew up, and how she went from being a home-schooled violin prodigy to a working actor who accidentally conquered the online world. It’s a call to arms for us all to create and express and to share. Felicia doesn’t shy away from the dark stuff, as she suffered from anxiety and depression that affected her physical health (and vice versa) and discusses the price of fame when internet douchebags try to tear her down and invade her privacy. If you’re even a little bit weird, you should read this book. And we’re all weird.
The downside of having a friend who’s become famous and successful—and lives on the opposite coast—is that it’s tough to keep in touch. We have few excuses to see each other or even casually chat these days, but we’ve enjoyed a friendship that’s never stumbled when we’re offered those odd moments to hang out. It’s been my privilege to know an amazing woman who’s been an inspiration to so many. So naturally, I’ll close with an embarrassing video of us performing a karaoke duet.
Felicia isn’t afraid to be weird and to share it with the entire world to see. Go forth and do likewise!
Shameless Self-Advertising Below
I wrote an RPG updating a classic! Check it out:
I’m using sex to sell. This is the part below the actual content where I hypocritically and shamelessly plug my own stuff!
Wanna play a fast, easy-to-learn card game involving tentacles, shotguns, and unfathomable horror? Who doesn’t? Check out Building An Elder God, a card game of Lovecraftian Construction. Visit our online store right here!
Or perhaps you’d like a heartwarming children’s tale. If so, look elsewhere. But if you’d like a twisted, Lovecraftian take on classic children’s literature look no further than The Very Hungry Cthulhupillar—available in eBook/PDF form right here, right now!