In recent years, a renewed interest in the geek subculture has not only led to an increase in revenue for video games, comic books and genre films, but also for numerous merchandise based around them. PepsiCo has released several game-inspired flavors of Mountain Dew, film and television show posters can be bought all around campus and there is even a Marvel-themed set of Silly Bandz.
With the popularity of science fiction and fantasy franchises so high, a vast market for entrepreneurs exists, waiting for the next creative product to take its share. With the launch of the Fanboy Scouts website in July, the next big geeky accessory may have been found.
Created by Brion Salazar, former co-host of Around Comics podcast, fanboyscouts.com is a website that prides itself on providing the original geek merit badge. Made to resemble the same badges earned by Boy Scouts across the country in both size and material, the geek merit badges available from Fanboy Scouts are available as a mark of honor to fans of various franchises across the geek spectrum.
According to Salazar, the idea for the product came to him rather suddenly, and was developed during and after the Chicago Comics and Entertainment Expo this past April.
"It was really a kind of ‘a-ha' moment," Salazar said. "I was looking at merit badges for real world activities online, and I imagined creating badges that a person couldn't earn in real life, but could if they lived in these fictional worlds."
Over the next three months, Salazar began to develop his idea, working on designs based around several popular science fiction and superhero franchises. Fans of Star Wars can get a badge honoring Han Solo's completion of the Kessel Run, while the Harry Potterfaithful can display their skills with the Broom Jockey badge.
As a means of showing off one's enjoyment of a popular movie or show, geek merit badges provide a fun and simple method. Kathleen Madden, a junior in creative writing, saw the potential of the product.
"The Harry Potter badge is pretty awesome," Madden said. "I think it would be cool to accessorize outfits and bags with them."
Designed and produced by Salazar, the new product is entirely a labor of love. The first series of ten badges has been set at a limited production run of 1,000 copies per design, due to the "one man operation" nature of the business.
"The fact is that all of the badges are made by my wife and me," Salazar said, "and so we can only make so many so quickly."
More importantly, Salazar plans to expand the site with a new series of badges once the first series is retired, with the intention of releasing more as time goes on.
"[Fanboy Scouts] wasn't something I designed as a ‘get-rich-quick' scheme," Salazar explained. "My goal is to slowly build it into something that people recognize and is a mainstay of pop culture."
In the hopes of garnering this popular awareness, Salazar isn't the only person deciding what badges will be produced in future series. A feature on the main site called "Suggest a Design" allows anyone to submit an idea for a badge, in the hopes it may one day be available in the store. The feature has so far proven to be quite popular, and is helpful for deciding what fans want to see the soonest.
"There are some ideas that get suggested over and over again, and then there are others that are surprisingly varied," Salazar said. "The people making suggestions are also the ones the product has reached and speaks to, so their opinions are critical in deciding what badges should be made when."
One of the most important factors for Salazar to consider when beginning the site was the risk of trademark issues bringing trouble, as all the badges are based on popular franchises. Fortunately, Salazar has so far been able to avoid any problems.
"I have several years of experience searching for trademark and copyright information, so I was able to make sure nothing I've used is trademarked," Salazar said. "At the same time, if [‘Firefly' creator] Joss Whedon were to sue me for using the Browncoat image, I wouldn't be able to fight that."
Still, with steady sales numbers and a genuine passion for the work in his corner, Salazar and the Fanboy Scouts website are going strong, providing a fun, new product for fans of all mediums and genres. As the site continues to grow, the product may find itself the next runaway phenomenon.