"We always have people who come up to us at the conventions and ask, "Do you live in your parents basement?'" said Klingon Debbie Hanon. ""Do you have a life? Do you have a job? Do you just watch Star Trek?' No, I happen to like other things, too, and I actually have a job, and I also make dance costumes on the side. So, you know, I do have a life."
The fine line between hobby and obsession seems much broader to those who walk it. For crewmembers of the IKV Stranglehold, the Mira Mesa-based Klingon fan club that Debbie's husband Dennis runs, it's important to emphasize that they are not the fanatics some might believe them to be.
"What I saw of Star Trek clubs seemed kind of weird," said Dennis, admiral of the West Coast-based Ring of Fire Klingon fleet.
Now, to you or me, describing oneself as a "Klingon admiral" seems kind of weird-but, in this case, all it means is that Dennis is there to tell you where to go if you're looking to join a Klingon fan club in California, Seattle or Colorado.
Dennis and Debbie Hanon began their Star Trek lifestyle exploration about 20 years ago. The couple met at Disneyland, where Dennis was Debbie's trainer on the now defunct ride, Journey Through Inner Space. "He took me to see Star Trek II," said Debbie, "and I said, "Oh, this movie's cool!' We saw it like 10 times in the theater." Debbie started making costumes and dressing up, teaching Dennis how to sew in the process. From there it was a short journey to becoming Klingons.
"I originally didn't want to join a Star Trek club," said Dennis, explaining that the clubs were all made up of "the type of typical fan that gets put down by the news as geeks who have no life." When his wife got a call from a group of people who said they were more adult-oriented and involved with community service, they joined up. Shortly thereafter, the Hanons switched to a Klingon group, finding the Klingons more fun and family-oriented.
Now Dennis is in charge of the group, and has made it a point to make families feel welcome-"because you have people with kids who want to do things, and don't want to leave their kids locked up at home."
If you're wondering what the whole Klingon-lifestyle thing is all about, this Friday night is your chance to learn more-that's when the IKV Stranglehold crew will stage an original play scripted by Dennis. Billed as the "Klingon Lifestyle Presentation," each year a new play is performed at San Diego Comic Con to an audience of die-hard fans, curious onlookers and the occasional heckler.
Falling into the curious-onlooker category, I happened upon the Klingon presentation while wandering the upper halls at Comic Con about three years ago. Without a doubt one of the oddest things I've ever seen, I haven't missed a performance since. I can only assume that, judging from the audience reaction, the play is comedic, but I'm not much of a Star Trek fan, so I don't get many of the jokes.
Still, there is something entertaining about seeing grown men and women donning elaborate costumes, engaging in mock battles and hamming it up for the benefit of their sizeable fan base. Playing Klingon gives club members a chance to act out in ways they might not be able to in their day-to-day life.
"Klingons are a warrior race-that allows you to be different. If you're the meek, mild person, you suddenly get to be more aggressive," explained Dennis, adding, however, "I have crew members who find it very hard to be mean and intimidating."
In addition to their annual Comic Con presentation, the IKV Stranglehold crew participates in events like the City of Hope cancer-survivor picnic and travels to schools in Los Angeles and North County to teach kids the virtues of non-violence.
"We'd visit the classic kids programs during summer," said Dennis. "We'd talk to the kids about Klingon culture, because children like to hear about the gross food that the Klingons eat, and the lack of bathing, and all that jazz. Unfortunately, kids are fascinated with guns, and they wanted us to bring our guns out, which are in the holsters, and the knives, and I said no. And I explained that it was a dishonorable thing to pull out weapons at school."
Do you think maybe these folks are taking the Klingon thing a little too seriously?
Well, the IKV Stranglehold crewmembers don't consider themselves out of control. As member Joan Jones explains, "The fanatics-it really is all they have, and they believe they are Klingons."
For Jones and Debbie Hanon, who stress rather emphatically that they don't believe they're really Klingons, being a Klingon is all fun and games. "We walked past a guy one year who said "Oh my gosh, I didn't realize Klingons could be sexy!'" Jones said.
Hanon added, laughing, "We get that a lot because we're always showing our cleavage."
Last week, IKV Stranglehold marched in the Mira Mesa Fourth of July parade, something they've been doing for the past several years. As the Klingons clustered around, getting ready, someone driving a hearse in the parade asked to borrow some makeup so he could match the skeleton in his passenger seat. He told me about how he had searched all over San Diego and Los Angeles to find a good used hearse.
"See, that's what I'm talking about with the whole fan/fanatic thing," said Jones, after he walked away. "That guy is weird."The IKV Stranglehold crew performs their Klingon Lifestyle Presentation at 7 p.m. Friday, July 15, in room 6A at San Diego Comic Con.