The authors at Comic-Con International in San Diego who usually get the most attention are the creators of graphic novels and comic books. But as my Los Angeles Times colleague John Horn reports, there’s a different–and more controversial–writer making a splash on the convention floor this week:
There’s no official queen of San Diego’s Comic-Con International, but if there were such a coronation, Olivia Munn might be wearing the crown. The 30-year-old actor and television personality — and recent Playboy and Maxim magazine cover girl — has drawn convention floor crowds so outsized that she’s become a walking fire hazard. Her pull is poised to grow even stronger during this weekend’s convention.
In addition to being a co-host of the nerd-nirvana TV series “Attack of the Show!” and a new correspondent for “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart,” Munn has just written the memoir “Suck it, Wonder Woman: The Misadventures of a Hollywood Geek,” which she’ll be promoting and signing at Comic-Con.
Her often naughty autobiography immediately started climbing the bestseller charts; the book is No. 26 on the New York Times hardcover nonfiction list. Also, Munn was just cast in a leading role in the forthcoming NBC sitcom “Perfect Couples.”
So why was there a slight catch in Munn’s voice as she finished off some blueberry pancakes recently? Apparently, in some female bloggers’ eyes, she just might be more popular — and provocatively sexy — than anyone, particularly Munn, is qualified to be.
Web writerLindsay Beyerstein said Munn has become famous “on unalloyed self-abasement and misogyny”; Sara Reihani called her (apart from an expletive) “an ignorant person who says ignorant things”; while Irin Carmon, in a widely discussed Jezebel piece about women staff and correspondents on “The Daily Show,” said in part about Munn’s hiring that “It’s hard not to conclude that looks mattered more for women than for men.”
Their arguments, though different, essentially focus on this issue: Has Munn gotten where she is because she’s exceptionally talented and shows it, or because she’s extremely hot and flaunts it?
“It’s sad to me that when I came on ‘The Daily Show,’ it couldn’t just be because I earned it,” Munn says. “If I look a certain way, that’s all they see. There’s no way in their thinking that you can be on the cover of Maxim and also go to Arizona and get a state representative to admit on camera that two laws he supports are in absolute conflict,” Munn says of a recent “Daily Show” feature in which Rep. Carl Seel (R- Phoenix) talks with Munn about the constitutionality of Arizona’s new immigration law and the unlawfulness of its speeder-trapping cameras.
“What I am saying is that you can actually be all of those things,” Munn says. “I can pose on the cover of a magazine and be smart and be funny.”
Munn talks at a mile-a-minute pace and is alternately guarded (she only hints at how miserable her first stepfather made her) and candid, discussing her obsessive-compulsive disorder and a nervous tendency to pluck her eyelashes. “Suck It, Wonder Woman!” follows similar gyrations: her memoir is equal parts show business survival story, glimpses at some emotional traumas from Munn’s growing up and random, sometimes sexualized, comic riffs such as “The sweetest moments in geek history! Of all time!” and “How to make love like a zombie.”
“My whole life I learned to sweep things under the rug: What you feel inside is not what you say on the outside,” Munn says over breakfast. “Now, I’m brutally honest to a fault.”
Munn, who is Chinese and Caucasian, recounts in her book a childhood that left her struggling to fit in, and repeatedly tested her faith in herself when external validation went missing. “It was the sort of childhood that makes you either desperate and suicidal,” she writes (with collaborator Mac Montandon) in the introduction to the heavily illustrated book, “or makes you see the humor in almost every situation. I chose laughs.”
It didn’t necessarily come easy. Says Munn in the interview: “I was that girl who was dying to be popular and cried all day at school.”
The Oklahoma-born Munn tried to find the lighter side in the darker side of Hollywood, where she encountered behavior so consistently boorish (while she doesn’t name names, a couple of people seem all too easy to identify) it makes the town’s reputation for debauchery seem rather genteel.
Munn tells of a schlubby blockbuster movie director who masturbates in front of women in his trailer, a filmmaker who calls his girlfriend a “whore” as if it were her first name, a studio executive who likes to show strangers his vintage sex toy and an actor who improvises dialogue about wanting to take a shower with Munn’s character.
Some people might have assembled all these data points and decided right then that banking might be a better career choice. But Munn, who unlike her younger self is not lacking in self-confidence these days, finds the conduct almost pathetically amusing, more revelatory than repulsive.
“People who have to assert their power like that aren’t really powerful,” she says. “There are so many people who want to intimidate you just so they can see their success in your eyes. These people are sad and disgusting people and will do what they do because it’s the only way that they can feel successful.”
If Munn has mixed feelings about some people in Hollywood, she has no qualifications about her thousands of fans, some of whose illustrations of Munn are included in the book. “Most celebrities look at their fans as a nuisance,” Munn says. “But fans are real people — they are not some weird people — and I wouldn’t be here without them. I haven’t forgotten the 13-year-old me who was in love with Luke Perry. I wrote this book to the girl that I was.”
Munn insists she is not beautiful as it’s defined by the popular culture, saying she’s neither skinny nor curvy enough to fit the current mold, not a “lip-injected woman with fake boobs.” She wants readers, especially young women, to try to see themselves in her, to remember that whatever indignities they might be subjected to as adolescents are ultimately immaterial in the greater arc of adulthood.
“I was never the ugly kid. I was never overweight and had tons of acne. But I was always the new girl, and it was really hard,” Munn says. “Do your own thing. Don’t feel bad that no one is talking to you, that no one sees you. Because you’ll realize it doesn’t matter.”
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PHOTO GALLERY: Scenes from Comic-Con 2010
Photo of Olivia Munn: Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Times