Cosplayer smashes barriers to become Internet sensation, inadvertent role model

Growing up as a geek who loved Star Trek and X-Men, Krystina Arielle Tigner didn’t have many positive role models who looked like her to reference, which makes what she has accomplished even more remarkable.

After an accidental brush with convention culture in Atlanta, Krystina was hooked on cosplay, which appealed to her childhood love of dress up, and has since become a rising star in the field.

She’s featured in one of the most irresistible gifs of 2017, a “dance-off” in which she plays Wonder Woman’s twin, Nu’bia, to Gal Gadot’s movie superhero. That instant piece of pop culture heaven has been viewed 35 million times. A Buzzfeed video in which she transforms into four different iconic black superheroes has also gone viral.

Krystina infuses everything she does with joy, including elaborate cosplays from Wakandan Wonder Woman, to Hamilton, to “Frohawk Rey”; Trekkie-themed photo shoots at Vasquez Rocks; a spread in Cosplay Culture magazine; and appearances at cons, where young fans have been known to seek her autograph.

She’s found herself breaking barriers, becoming an inadvertent role model to future geek girls, and meeting some of her personal heroes — Ava! Uhura! — along the way. 

You’re going to want to follow her to see what she gets up to next @KrystinaArielle.

Krystina Arielle Tigner as Wakandan Wonder Woman.

You describe yourself as a “Hollywood cosplayer, pop culture enthusiast, and professional geek.” How did you first discover the world of cosplay?

I have always been into comic books and pop culture, but I truly discovered cosplay for the first time on a St. Patrick’s Day trip to Atlanta with my friend Janna. Our hotel just so happened to be the site of MomoCon. I knew of it, but I had never felt the energy and passion of a convention. I decided that day I would try my hand at cosplay and when I got home I ordered tickets to Dragoncon and the rest is history.

What specifically drew you to this form of geeky self-expression?

I love comics. I love pop culture, and I love dressing up. This field allows me to honor those things and I love it.

Is your love of dress up something that stretches back to childhood or did you embrace this interest later in life?

I’ve always loved to play dress up. We didn’t buy costumes when I was a kid, we just created something. From playing in my Mom’s closet to revamping my wardrobe today, I love style and being able to show creativity.

What do you like about transforming yourself into an iconic character?

Being able to honor the characters that got me through rough times and good times. Most of the characters I portray are characters I have loved since childhood and it feels like a dream come true every time I suit up.

What’s the most challenging aspect of that?

The most challenging aspect for me is being sure that I bring the character to life but still feel comfortable in my skin.

When did you begin to realize that you might be able to take your cosplay to a professional level?

I don’t know that I ever have. From the beginning, I have just followed my heart and that has served me well to this point. I started because I love it, not because I thought it would take off to the point that it has.

2017 was a big year for you! You became an Internet sensation with a wonderful gif featuring you dancing joyfully, dressed as Wonder Woman’s twin, Nu’bia. It’s been viewed about 10 million times. What has that experience been like for you?

As of today, it’s at 35 million views and I’m still absolutely stymied by it. I love that gif. It makes me chuckle every time.

Tell me about how that gif came to be.

After the Gal Gadot dancing video came out, I knew that I wanted to re-create it. When we were on the set for the Buzzfeed video, I recorded it and set it to Britney Spears as a dance-off between Nu’bia and Diana. A dear Twitter friend, @mobius_strip, created the gif and the next thing I knew, it had a lot of views.

People have really responded to it. Why do you think that is?

I think the fact that my joy in that moment is genuine, as was hers. Two authentically joyful people, one being a six-foot knockout with a great smile, and the other having really cool hair, speaks to people, I guess.

Are you a big fan of Patty Jenkins’ “Wonder Woman”?

YES! I have probably watched it about six times in the last week alone.

Tell me your geek origin story. Were you into fandoms and pop culture as a kid? If so, what were some of your favorite franchises or fandoms?

My first fandom was X-men. When I was younger, my Grandpa Jack took my sister and I to our first comic book store. X-men was the first comic book I ever owned and I watched X-men the animated series with my family. It will always have a special place in my heart.

As a kid, there weren’t many pop cultural role models to inspire you. In fact, your husband created a “wall of representation” for you to remedy this. Would you mind telling me a little more about that?

When my husband and I first got married, I saw a Vogue issue that featured models that all had natural hair. I cried my eyes out because it was just so powerful. I ended up telling him about how it felt to be a child and not see many characters that looked like me. Characters of color who weren’t sexualized or objectified. Characters that could inspire something in the next generation.

We have this area over our sink in the kitchen and my husband had some art there. One day, he started buying every magazine that featured women of color for me and placing them on that wall. By seeing those pictures, I could feel inspired and see the people that came before me.

Last week, my first magazine spread went up on that wall. When we started it three years ago, I never would have imagined that would end up happening. It’s an amazing feeling.

Do you feel like you want to be a role model for young girls who might find themselves in a similar  situation.  

I never signed on to be a role model, because I guess I never felt worthy of that title. When I go to conventions now and I see little kids that are excited to the point of tears by my characters, it really puts things into perspective. Whether or not that’s what my intention was getting into this, it is now a reality. I want future little cosplayers to know that they can be strong, inspiring, wear their hair how they want, and that there is space at the cosplay table for us.

As a black woman, what changes would you like to see when it comes to representation in the world of fandoms and geek culture?

I would like to see cosplayers of color represented at conventions in the same way the non-POC cosplayers are. Quirktastc compiled a list of over 500 cosplayers across the country. Having one black cosplayer for every 12 non-POC cosplayers just to meet a diversity quota isn’t acceptable.

There are people with amazing talent and because we are seen as “black cosplayers” rather than just cosplayers, it puts us into this box of being a novelty rather than talent. I want to see more panelists of color, more cosplay guests of color, and less gatekeeping within the community.

What fandoms are you currently into?

I’m a die-hard original series Trekkie and I love “Doctor Who.”

It looks like 2018 is shaping up to be an exciting year in terms of representation with “Black Panther” and the upcoming “A Wrinkle in Time.” What are your thoughts on that?

I believe it’s amazing. Seeing “Black Panther” for me was a powerful experience. To see a young black girl be the foremost STEM expert. Strong fierce warrior women. Characters portrayed as Kings and Queens. It was beautiful.

I am so excited to see “A Wrinkle In Time” and to feel the same way. Ava DuVernay is a truly powerful filmmaker and it is going to be amazing to have Storm Reid inspire a generation of young black girls. Her presence in that film will help some little girl delve into the world of sci-fi and that is beautiful to me.

I fell that we are on the cusp of a very important paradigm shift and I am ready to see what that brings. I hope that seeing black characters portrayed positively will help our society and media do the same. I hope that we will continue to have the tough conversations and that hearts and minds will be changed.

Krystina as Ironheart.

Aside from the Nu’bia gif, you’ve achieved a lot in recent months, including shooting a Buzzfeed video in which you transform into four iconic comic book characters — Misty Knight, Storm, Nu’bia, and Ironheart. How did this video come to be?

I was approached by a fellow cosplayer, Bernie Bregman (The Geek Gatsby). He recommended me and I worked with the amazing (visual artist and writer) Kasiemobi Udo-okoye.

Tell me a little about the Buzzfeed shoot. Was that fun to do?

The Buzzfeed shoot was a really great experience. Everyone was really kind and it was enjoyable.

The video has received an overwhelmingly positive response. How do you feel about it?

I’m really proud of it. Everything that I am currently doing is beyond my wildest dreams so it feels really exciting to have these amazing opportunities. I am really glad that it has been well-received, and that I made my Grandma proud.

Are you a comic book fan? Were you into comics as a kid? 

Yes.

What are some of your favorite titles/characters?

I started with X-men. I am currently deeply emotionally invested in Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur.

Which do you prefer, Marvel or DC?

I honestly like both. There are different characters in each that resonate with me in different ways.

You were just featured in Cosplay Culture magazine. What’s that feel like?

That has been a really cool experience. Just yesterday, a kid came up to me with his copy at a convention and asked for my autograph on his copy. It was a really overwhelming moment. To see my cosplays in a magazine is something I never expected in my wildest dreams. It just came out this month so I am still terribly excited.

You also recently joined the Nerdbot Girls. How did you become involved with them?

I’m a part of an online forum called “Drinking Bros: Nerds” and I met my friend Dana Jane (who is also a Nerd Bot Girl in this group). We met in person at Nerdbot-Con and I ended up clicking with a lot of the girls on that day without them realizing I was the girl Dana wanted them to meet. They took a vote and invited me to join them.

Perhaps the most exciting that happened in 2017 was that you got married. Congratulations! Does your husband share your love of geeky things?

Thanks! Yes, we were married May 28. My husband is not a comic book nerd but he is a magician, so I guess that counts. He has been incredibly supportive of this journey and I am so grateful that he is by my side through it.

Another project you recently participated in was a Star Trek-themed shoot at Vasquez Rocks, which was the location of several episodes of the original series. What was that experience like?

That shoot was organized by a dear friend, Aliza Pearl, who is a cast member on the Geek and Sundry RPG show “Shield of Tomorrow.” We jokingly call ourselves “Uhura’s Angels.” It was really great to be in that spot that I recognized from so many great shows.

You actually met Nichelle Nicols, aka Lieutenant Uhura! Tell me about that!

She is amazing. She is the kindest, most intriguing person that I have ever met. Being able to spend a couple of days with her last year was just beautiful. She’s sharp, witty, and still absolutely gorgeous.

It seems you’ve recently met several of your personal heroes, including Ava DuVernay. What’s that been like?

I live in Hollywood and I have a lot of by chance meetings. The Ava DuVernay run-in was a really big one for me. Two days before, I had been making a list of my goals. One of those was to meet and work with Ava. I told her that when we met. So now I just pray for part two to come true.

Do you make a lot of appearances at conventions?

I’ve been making more lately. I really enjoy the environment and the amazing friends that I have made in this community.

That sounds like a lot of fun, but also a lot of work. What sort of efforts go into this?

For those that do custom builds, it can take months. A coplay look is a complete look. There’s hair, costume, shoes, props. It’s truly a process.

For those of us who don’t know a lot about how cosplay actually works, do you collaborate with a creative team of costumers, hair stylists, photographers, etc., for your various cosplays? Tell me about the process of designing a cosplay.

It’s different for each cosplayer. I love bringing characters to life but I work with some amazingly talented people that step up in the areas where I am weak.

I work consistently with Bonnie Ayala for makeup looks. She did my makeup for my wedding and almost every character I have ever cosplayed. My custom leather builds are designed and executed by Corena Gibson.

The cosplay community has a lot of talented photographers that attend conventions and book shoots through their websites. Photographers like James Rulison, who shot my Cosplay Culture issue photos, my Gwenom and Storm, Gil Riego, Ruy Arena, and, of course, Stefan Pinto.

My process is to decide on a character, which usually comes from a list of beloved characters from my childhood and curate my head to toe look. I fancy myself a stylist in my head. I just do cosplay instead of runway. I am very fortunate to be able to work with an incredible group of talented and creative individuals.

Is there an element of acting to cosplay? Do you have to kind of “become” the character?

There really is, in my opinion. Certain characters, like Gwenom, who is my only villain at this point, have to be presented with a certain confidence and swagger. I do enjoy that aspect of it. To get into character as Gwenom, I listen to “Monster” by Kanye West. Each of my characters has a theme song that puts me in the mood to carry myself as they would.

Krystina cosplays “Hamilton.”

You’ve cosplayed as Nu’bia, Storm, Deadpool, Hamilton, Gwenom, a Hogwarts student, and one of my personal favorites, “Frohawk Rey.” Do you have a favorite?

Wakandan Wonder Woman. Her war paint, combined with the costume and weapons, made me feel truly powerful.

Are there any dream cosplays you’d like to do in the future?

Definitely Vixen and Moon Girl.

I understand that you sometimes like to slip a little “casual cosplay” into your everyday life. Tell me about that. 

I like to wear simple outfits with odes to my favorite characters. Star trek pins, color schemes that match a certain character’s identifiable outfits. I just enjoy it.

Do you have any advice for aspiring cosplayers, especially those who worry they don’t fit the cosplay “mold”?

Drop the idea that there is a mold. Nothing is wrong with making your costumes, nothing is wrong with commissioning. There is no right way. Cosplay is a creative outlet and a form of SELF- expression. If you expect everyone to love everything that you do or to do things exactly as you do, you are going to spend a lot of time disappointed.

Be yourself, and be comfortable. Do this because it means something to you or gives you an outlet to express yourself. It can be intimidating but just stay true to yourself. You don’t have to be a professional costumer to be a cosplayer. Its costume play. Play and do you.

It looks like you spend a lot of time at L.A.’s Magic Castle. I’m jealous! 

As I said earlier, my husband is a magician. I actually got my associate member pin before my engagement ring. It’s an amazing place.

Have you actually attended the Houdini Seance?!?! Spill the beans!

We actually did the seance for the first time in January for my birthday! It was an absolutely wonderful experience. It’s truly magical.

You’ve said you want 2018 to be a year of “chasing dreams and achieving goals.” What are some of the goals and dreams you’re currently pursuing?

I have a lot of auditions coming up and I hope this will be the year I get to see my acting dreams realized. My goal overall is to be true to myself. To be kind to myself and to live and do things that make me happy. That seems simple but we tend to focus more on others than self-care. This year, I will take care of myself and my family.

What mark would you ultimately like to make on the world of geek culture?

If nothing else translates, I just want my love of what I do to resonate with people, because I feel truly blessed to be able to do it. I have no clue what is next on this path but I am going to keep making kids smile, and making my inner child happy.

 

Wakanda Forever: ‘Black Panther’ has the best movie merch

“Black Panther” merchandise on display at a BoxLunch store.

Marvel’s “Black Panther” officially opened Friday to the record-breaking tune of $75.8 million. This basically means the long weekend is shaping up to be one big, ecstatic Wakandan celebration.

Not only is “Black Panther” a groundbreaking work of cinematic representation for people of color, it also happens to be one of the better entries in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (review to come shortly).

The film is definitely worth supporting and celebrating, and it’s accompanied by some truly awesome merch, so if you’re looking to show your #WakandaForever spirit, here’s a handy guide to the stuff you’re gonna want to buy.

All the Funko Pops! based on “Black Panther” are on point. You’re probably going to want to add them all to your collection. Our favorites are sympathetic villain Eric Killmonger and T’Challa’s tech genius little sis, Shuri, because they’re just so simultaneously cute and bad-ass.

Black Panther Action Figure - Marvel Toybox

You’re also gonna want to make room on your collectibles shelf for this Marvel Toybox action figure.

Nakia Action Figure - Black Panther Legends Series

But of all the action figures we’ve seen, we love this Nakia, from the Legends Series, the best.

Royal Talon Fighter Attack Playset by LEGO - Black Panther

Your Lego collection would not be complete without a few new sets inspired by the movie, like this Royal Talon Fighter Attack Playset.

Black Panther Vibranium Power FX Mask

Get the Marvel Black Panther Vibranium Power FX Mask for your kid and play with it when she’s not looking.

If you’re planning to sport your best “Black Panther” look, but don’t want to go full #WakandaCameToSlay, here are some excellent options:

Check out this graphic Marvel “Black Panther” Shadow T-shirt.

You’ll want to take selfies in this hashtag-worthy tee.

Be ready for the elements in Her Universe’s windbreaker, exclusive to BoxLunch.

If you came to slay, this Nakia Cold Shoulder Top is just what you need.

Glam it up with this Marvel Black Panther Gold Foil Women’s Tee, available at BoxLunch stores.

You gotta love the cosplay style of this Shuri Girls Tank Top.

Black Panther Upside Down T-Shirt

This Black Panther Upside Down T-Shirt is one of the most unique we’ve seen.

Black Panther Two-Piece Tank Top & Leggings Set for Girls by Our Universe

This fierce two-piece tank top and legging set is part of Her Universe and Disney’s new Our Universe collection for kids.

Black Panther T-Shirt for Women - Red

I may be biased because I wore this T-shirt when I went to see “Black Panther” last night, but it’s one of my absolute favorites and one of the few graphic tees that highlights the film’s fabulous female warriors.

Appropriately accessorizing your Wakandan look is no problem, thanks to the myriad jewelry and other baubles inspired by the film.

Image result for rocklove jewelry black panther

RockLove Jewelry offers many sharp and stylish options for “Black Panther” fans, including the Kimoyo Bracelet and Talon Necklace.

There’s also this shiny Onyx Tooth Necklace, evoking T’Challa’s sleek signature catsuit.

Marvel Black Panther Handbag

Pack all the movie snacks you need into this fun handbag.

Black Panther High Top Sneaker

Score a pair of these high top sneakers and you’ll have the coolest Wakandan kicks.

I tried my best to limit this list to more reasonably priced items, but if you’re looking to spend big on a truly gorgeous “Black Panther” memento, you won’t be able to resist the adjustable Protector necklace from Optimystical Studios. It features midnight silver Swarovski crystal claws on a delicate gunmetal armor link chain.

Black Panther Logo Watch

Keep track of all those “Black Panther” showtimes you’ll be juggling with ThinkGeek’s Logo Watch.

Black Panther | Black Panther Head Emblem OtterBox Symmetry iPhone 8/7 Case

Swaddle your cellphone in some serious Wakandan style with one of two striking, customizable options for the iPhone 7 or 8: the Black Panther Head Emblem Otterbox Symmetry Case or the Black Panther Pattern Case.

If director Ryan Coogler’s vision for “Black Panther” inspires you to pick up a comic book, here are a few of the more notable runs you may want to try.

The movie takes a page from acclaimed writer Ta-Nehisi Coates’ “A Nation Under Our Feet,” which paints a complex picture of political discord and dissent by varying factions vying for control of Wakanda. This is unusually compelling, heady, and philosophical stuff for the comic book world.

Coates also pens Marvel’s most recent entry, the ongoing “Rise of the Black Panther,” depicting T’Challa’s early years and drama from King T’Chaka’s reign.

Penned by Coates and none other than Roxane Gay, “World of Wakanda” tells a love story between two members of the Black Panther’s elite bodyguard, the Dora Milaje.

Writer Christopher Priest’s 1998 to 2003 Black Panther run is renowned for turning the character into a cool cat.

If you’re looking for something kid-friendly for your little Wakandan, there’s “Black Panther: The Young Prince,” about 12-year-old T’Challa and the trouble he gets into with best friend M’Baku.

Geekdom is one big adventure for traveler, Disney theme park connoisseur

Many geeks use their passion for fandoms as a jumping off point for adventure.

This is certainly true of anglophile, Marvel movie enthusiast, dedicated con-goer, obsessive Disney visitor, and fearless traveler Christy Rooney.

I’ll admit it. This interview got a little bit long. Well, ok, a lot long. But only because I can’t resist vicariously going along on the epic adventures Christy has experienced, solo and with friends and family, while wholeheartedly pursuing her geekier interests and inclinations.

Yes, she’s visited every Disney theme park in the world … except one! Don’t worry. She’ll fill you in on all the juicy details below. Everything you’ve ever wanted to know about Walt’s spin-offs in Paris, Asia, and elsewhere.

She’s also made several other geeky pilgrimages abroad, instilling a healthy love of travel in her young daughter and son. She happens to be a patron saint of sorts to her friends who need cheering up in the form of photos of dreamy British men. And she’s one heck of a celebrity spotter, bumping into famous folks everywhere from the airport to IKEA.

Let’s join her — shall we? — on an adventure of a lifetime.

Christy Rooney poses for a “Sherlock”-themed photo shoot.

It seems to me that you embraced your geek identity a bit later in life, and by that I mean like in your 20s. Is that accurate? 

I was in my 20s when I openly started showing my geeky side! But honestly I’ve always been a fangirl! (Cough. N’SYNC. Cough.)

How did you discover your geekier side?

As I mentioned, I’ve always been a fangirl, first with boy bands, but I’d say that my first true geek love (other than my lifelong Disney obsession) was J.R R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings movie trilogy. After “Fellowship of the Ring” came out, I fell in love! I saw that movie in theaters seven times, and the others several times as well.

It was then that my room went from having NSYNC posters to a LOTR vibe. My dad had managed to bring home a poster big enough to cover my full-sized bed (which ended up attached to my ceiling because there was nowhere else to put it!) and I started filling my bookshelves with the trivia books, behind-the-scenes books, the movie soundtracks, and even a Galadriel doll.

It’s all been a big snowball since then, when Marvel started releasing their superhero films, I fell in love all over again! Iron Man, Loki, and Dr. Strange are some of my favorites.

So, you are a super Disney freak. I mean that in a nice way, of course. Going to the parks is a tradition for your immediate and extended family. How did that start?

I remember going to the parks once a year as a child. My entire family would pick a day and head over! This included grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins! We’re a fairly large group, but we made it happen! Now, several (at least 20) of us have season passes and go multiple times a month!

Christy’s son Gavin and daughter Gwenyth, Disneybounding at Disneyland.

Tell me about the epic Disneyland trips you do.

Back in November, about 19 of us decided to try our hands at Disneybounding! My mom and cousin got the ball rolling, and we ended up having a great time finding our outfit pieces, and my mom made several pairs of custom ears to go with them! With that many people, we were thankful for my cousin, Cami, a school teacher, who can be decisive and get the group making plans and making them happen!

Even as I type this, we are headed to Disney tomorrow with a group of seven, which for most people may seem big, but for us is a small/normal size!

And next week, nine of us are headed to the park Disneybounding again, but all of us dressing specifically from “Tangled.” My mom is handcrafting new ears for ALL of us, and they are looking spectacular!

Christy with Gwenyth, Gavin, and husband Owen at Walt Disney World.

You’ve actually achieved the feat of visiting every Disney theme park in the world, except Shanghai. Tell me how that happened.

Haha! Owen and I were just talking about this. We’ve had passes for years, which took care of Disneyland. Then, in  February of 2015, Owen had a work conference in Orlando at one of the Disney resorts. We decided that for this trip, the kids and I would join him! The timing was pretty great, because Gavin was still 2, which meant he was free.

In 2016, we had made plans to visit Owen’s Irish side of the family. And since Paris is such a short flight away, we decided to spend about four days in Paris itself before jumping over to Disneyland Paris! We had a blast!

Christy and Owen at Disneyland Paris.

My in-laws currently live in Japan (though they’re moving soon) and we decided to visit them over the holidays in 2017. We flew into Japan on December 22, and headed to Tokyo on the 26th. We were able to spend one day at Tokyo Disney Sea, and one day in Tokyo Disneyland.

A few days into the new year, Owen, the kids and I jumped on a plane from Tokyo to Hong Kong (because it was just SO CLOSE) and we were able to experience their park as well!

Would you briefly compare and contrast the various parks for us?

Each park is set up differently. It throws me every time!

Disney World was actually the most overwhelming for me. (It may have something to do with the fact that our kids were 2 and 4 at the time). It is MASSIVE. Everything is spread out, and it was the first time in decades that I’d needed to use a map in a Disney park. And, honestly, I hadn’t done the research I should have for the dining, Magic Bands, and a few other little aspects.

Gavin and Gwenyth at Disneyland Paris.

Paris’ Magic Kingdom was laid out quite a bit like ours, which was nice, and it was smaller than our park. Their second park, Walt Disney Studios, is close in proximity (like ours is) but doesn’t have as many rides or attractions. The big ride in that park is their “Ratatouille” ride. As soon as the park opened, everyone (literally everyone) rushed to get in line or try to score fast passes. Within half an hour of park opening, the line had already hit the three-hour wait time.

Tickets to Tokyo Disneyland and Disney Sea.

Tokyo’s Magic Kingdom was interesting. Instead of going through the gates and walking down Main Street, you walk through a covered … pavilion? It was almost a Main Street, but the whole thing is covered.

The day we went, it was pretty crowded, so we didn’t get to do all of the rides, but we spent a good portion of time in Fantasyland. Theirs is more condensed, while their Tomorrowland makes ours feel like a sardine can! We did get to see the Country Bear Jamboree there! And their Pirates of the Caribbean.

It’s fun to see what is consistent, and what they change on the rides. Their Teacups spin more easily, which makes for great spinning speeds! And the Haunted Mansion was great! It was still Christmas decorations, so Gavin was super happy about seeing all of his favorite “Nightmare Before Christmas” characters, but in different places, and I got asked about the various differences the WHOLE ride.

Tokyo Disney Sea was a whole different ballpark. I could not figure out its layout! It seemed to have shortcuts, big loops, and tunnels. Some of our favorite rides were Journey to the Center of the Earth, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Aquatopia (think Autopia, but with raft-like things) and their Nemo ride. Gavin was ecstatic to find that they had an entire Atlantis area. He loved the entire area.

Tickets to Hong Kong Disneyland.

Hong Kong only has one park, but the shuttle bus ride into it made us feel like we were headed into Jurassic Park. It was built into an isolated area that is surrounded by greenery of all kinds that grows super tall and lush.

Hong Kong is by far the smallest of the Magic Kingdom parks. It is laid out quite a bit like ours, but condensed. I think the strangest thing about that park was how empty it was! We walked onto the Iron Man Experience ride, which is exclusive to Hong Kong, and enjoyed being able to meander the parks without bumping into big crowds.

They also had a beautiful princess garden that has themed areas for different princesses that include large moving dioramas. All four of us loved their Big Grizzly Mountain Runaway Mine Cars (similar to Thunder Mountain), their Lion King Show, and Mystic Manor (our equivalent would be Haunted Mansion).

What are some of your favorite international Disney theme park memories?

Riding Teacups! That may seem like an odd favorite memory, but it is the one ride that we have ridden in every Magic Kingdom thus far. It’s a Small World and Pirates were in the running, but both Small Worlds were shut down for refurbishment, much to Gavin’s dismay, and Hong Kong doesn’t have a Pirate ride.

We’ve also enjoyed just spending time together doing something we all love. And the kids love to point out the differences in the parks. Gavin has asked several times why we don’t visit the dragon anymore, and i have to remind him that the dragon lives under the Paris Castle, and not our own. Another special memory is taking the time to take a family picture in front of the different castles. They are all different, and beautiful in their own right.

Which of all the parks is your favorite?

Oh, man! I would say that Disneyland is my favorite! It’s the original Disney park, and the one I know like the back of my hand. Our park may be little compared to some of the others, but for me it truly is one of my happiest places on earth.

Which park was the most challenging to get to or visit?

I still would say that Disney World was hard, simply because of the sheer size of the parks. And the parks weren’t super close to each other, the resorts, or their Downtown Disney area. But there was some minor difficulties in the Asia parks because we don’t speak the languages and the cultures are different. But I think the great thing about the Disney parks is the fact that even when you are completely lost, there’s a friendly cast member that can help.

Which attraction is your favorite?

Ugh, so many hard questions, Lavender! My favorite ride is Peter Pan. My favorite nighttime attraction is the Electrical Parade. We were able to do both of those in the Tokyo park and I adored them! There are some differences, but let me say, their Electrical Parade was amazing. And Peter Pan was such fun! We still soar over London (which is my favorite part of the ride) and help Peter fight Hook.

Which park has the best food?

Ohhhh, that’s tough. In Tokyo we ate at The Queen of Hearts’ Banquet Hall. They had various salads, chicken dishes and some awesome desserts. In Hong Kong, they have an entire restaurant that’s all Iron Man focused. Those meals were really good too! But I think my favorite places to eat are the Blue Bayou and Rancho del Zocalo in our own Disneyland!

Gavin with a Hank hat found in Tokyo.

Which park has the best merch?

In Tokyo, it’s SO strange! It’s as though Mickey has taken a backseat … . He may be in a different car altogether! Instead of Mickey ears, backpacks, shirts, etc., they have Duffy Bear. Mickey’s face may be on the sign, but Duffy rules inside the parks. I saw purses, backpacks, popcorn holders, ears, headbands, shirts, lanyards, hats, and stuffed animals everywhere. Mickey and his gang were spotted, but those sightings were few and far between.

I think I’m drawn more to our merchandise here in the states. We have so many stores inside and throughout the parks (instead of just near the gates) and our World of Disney shop has such a varying selection. The Tokyo Disney Store outside the park was about 85% Duffy merch, which, if you’re a Duffy fan, would be awesome. But all I wanted was a Disney shirt that said “Tokyo” and they were nowhere to be found inside or out of the park.

Which park is the weirdest?

I vote Disney Sea as the weirdest. We all loved it, but it was such an odd place. They have a volcano that “erupts” at night, they have an entire East Coast lobster village in one area, and rides that have nothing to do with Disney (like Venetian Gondolas, and Sindbad’s Storybook Voyage).

So when are you going to Shanghai?

Ahhh, the elusive Shanghai. We tried to see if we could add it to our trip, but it would’ve been too hard. Not to mention the added cost of visas. We are hoping to visit the Shanghai park if we visit Owen’s parents when they move to Taiwan. So if it were to happen, it would be sometime in 2019-2020.

You and your family are avid travelers. Have you visited any other famous geek spots in your many travels?

We have! In 2014, I dragged my poor husband all over London finding places related to the BBC show “Sherlock.” We ate at Speedy’s (the restaurant right next door to the famous 221B in the show), found the hospital where he jumped off the roof, and went to the real 221B on Baker Street.

On our Ireland trip, we did a day tour that took us up into Belfast, and the bus took us to The Dark Hedges (featured on “Game of Thrones”), a very famous road that looks absolutely forbidding even in daylight!

On your very recent trip to Tokyo, you visited the Studio Ghibli store. Please tell all.

In Tokyo, Studio Ghibli is huge. I mean … HUGE. While we didn’t get to go to the museum, there was a fabulous shop near where my in-laws live. I’ve just recently been introduced to this portion of the geek world, so I’m sure a true fan would’ve appreciated it far more than I did. But there were playing cards, blankets, bath mats, stuffed toys of all shapes and sizes, luggage, finger puppets, coin banks, key chains, and so much more! It was probably what a non-Disney person feels like when they walk into World of Disney for the first time. There was a lot to take in and see.

I think it’s really cool you’re teaching your kids to be travelers at such a young age. Do they share your geek interests? What are some of your mutual and individual nerdy fascinations and activities?

My kids love traveling! They definitely share my love of all things Disney, and are excited when we get to do something new. Disney is our biggest shared interest. Gwennie has her own love of My Little Pony, and Gavin has started taking an interest in DC villains (namely ClayFace and Mr Freeze). Someday, I’ll be dragging them to conventions with me, I’m sure!

You’ve enjoyed a career as a sign language interpreter. This may be a stretch, but has that work intersected with your geek life at all?

Interpreting hasn’t really intersected with my geek life. I’ve often enjoyed watching interpreters at both conventions and Disneyland alike. I’m always in awe of them, as a lot of random topics are brought up at conventions and the panels are sometimes insane!

Christy and actor Kevin McKidd at IKEA.

You are a dedicated and very successful “stalker” of celebrities (not in an illegal way). Tell me about some of your top celeb encounters.

Hahaha! I’m definitely the type of person that likes to know what is happening in my nearby environment. I think because of that, I’m a people watcher, and I’m just constantly skimming over what or who is nearby.

I’ve run into George Newbern at The Grove in L.A., Kevin McKidd at IKEA, and saw a few celebs at Disneyland before I was brave enough to approach them.

I have also gone to a play to see James Marsters and do the meet and greet, and I’ve asked questions of several people at WonderCon: Richard Armitage (swoon) Chris Hardwick, the guys from the cast of “Orphan Black” (along with a meet and greet a different year) and a meet and greet with the several “Once Upon a Time” cast members.

Christy with Sean Maguire.

I’ve also been lucky when wandering at some cons. My friend Jenna and I snagged pictures with Sean Maguire for “Once Upon a Time”, and I waited patiently at D23 to get a rushed selfie with Colin O’Donoghue.

But one of my favorites was when Owen and I went to New York and saw “She Loves Me,” starring Zachary Levi. He was awesome and came out after the show to sign autographs and take pictures. I had platinum and purple hair at the time, and he told me he liked it! (It may still give me warm fuzzies just thinking about it!)

My biggest celeb failing though … Colin Farrell. I saw him at the airport when we were headed to Ireland, but Owen convinced me it wasn’t him … until it was time to board and Owen realized I was right!

I have also discovered that a great way to see celebs up close is to go to show tapings.

Christy with Zachary Levi.

Tell me about some of your favorite tapings.

I’ve found that getting tickets to “The Late Late Show with James Corden” and “Jimmy Kimmel” are great ways of seeing some pretty awesome people. I’ve seen Gary Oldman, Matt Smith, Michael Fassbender, Zoe Saldana, Kat Dennings, Beth Behrs, Jason Alexander, and several others.

You’ve slept outside at a convention before. Tell me about that experience. Was it worth it?

Oh, man. I was not prepared for that adventure!

My cousins and I were enjoying the D23 convention, and noticed (on Friday) that several people were already in the queue for events on Saturday. Now, one of my biggest obsessions is Marvel, and they were set to have a time slot in the big Live Action panel at D23. As the day went one, my cousins and I got more worried about the line, and after dinner we made the decision to swing by Target for some blankets, then our hotel room for some overnight necessities, and head back to the convention center.

By the time we got there, there were already tons of people in line (far more prepared than we were!), and the line twisted and turned around the outside of the convention center. We were fortunate in that they let us into one of the underground halls to stay the night (I think it had something to do with crowd control).

Let me tell you, concrete is HARD … and COLD. Because we were so woefully unprepared for this, all we really had was our blankets, while people around us had chairs, blow-up pool floats, mattresses and several other things that would have made that night more palatable.

It was an odd experience, because even when 90% of the people were sleeping, the lights were all on, and Disney movies were playing on several TVs throughout the room. I remember waking up in a panic and discovering that the explosions that woke me up weren’t real, but that the movie had switched from “Moana” to a Star Wars movie while I slept.  I think I counted four to five different movies that night.

In some ways, yes, it was worth it. I think D23 has grown considerably, so to see these big panels with all my favorite people it was something I had to do. And this year’s Marvel presence was EPIC! So many stars (including Benedict Cumberbatch and Robert Downey Jr.) graced the stage. My poor cousin probably ended up with bruises from me slapping at her in excitement.

Christy and Ashley Eckstein of Her Universe.

As a woman, is there anything you’d like to see change about the world of geek culture or fandoms?

I would love to see more merchandise made by women and for women! I have a hard time finding things I can wear because I’m taller than what people assume geek girls are, so dresses tend to be on the short side.

And I’d love a bigger selection! I love what Her Universe has accomplished, but we need more. Hot Topic is great, but only if you fall into certain fandoms. Costumes need to be made more realistic for women.

And I think we need more movies like “Wonder Woman.” While I love all my Marvel boys, I want to see a movie about Black Widow, I want more of Scarlet Witch. I’m excited about Captain Marvel!

Amongst your friends, you’re known as a sort of patron saint of dreamy British guys who might send a few pics of Hiddles or Richard Armitage to cheer someone up or wish them well. How did that start? What is it about British dudes?

I admit I have a slight (or embarrassingly large) obsession with the Brits. I’ve always loved all things British. “Pride and Prejudice” has been my favorite book for as long as I can remember. And I absolutely adore British accents.

I have just stumbled upon more and more handsome men in all of my fandoms! I think I started sending them as a joke, and it became a thing. I enjoy picking one … or several Brits to send to people on their birthdays, or just for fun, or if someone is feeling down. Sometimes I’ll send them just to see what their response will be. Your husband has been on the receiving end of a birthday collage a time or two, though this year I took it easy on him.

Since you’re a serious anglophile, I have to ask: Why are so many geeks also anglophiles?

I think geeks are also anglophiles because so many geeky characters are either portrayed as British or are portrayed by British actors. “Doctor Who” is one of the most iconic examples I think. A madman in a box, constantly saving the world, yet oddly centralized in London. Captain Picard on “Star Trek: Enterprise,” also a British actor.

And we’ve had an influx of Brits playing our superheroes. Superman, Loki, Dr. Strange, Spider-Man, to name just a few. I think in the geek world, we also like to know about the people playing our favorite characters, so I tend to dive into Google to see where people are from, etc.

Wholock is one of your major obsessions. How did you discover “Doctor Who,” and what do you like about it?

Ahhhh, “Doctor Who”! I honestly can’t remember who introduced me to “Doctor Who. But I love it! It has the same kind of “out there” feel as “Buffy (the Vampire Slayer)”, another of my favorites, but takes it a step further. It’s set mostly in or around the UK, which makes me supremely happy, and I like the story of a lone Time Lord traveling through space and time to save the world over and over. I think it would be awesome to be one of his traveling companions (Rose is the best, always).

Who’s your Doctor?

The Tenth Doctor is absolutely my Doctor. David Tennant is amazing in that role, and his regeneration just about killed me.

Christy in front of St. Bartholomew’s hospital in London, where Benedict Cumberbatch’s “Sherlock” famously jumped from the roof in an episode of the series.

What about “Sherlock”? Benedict Cumberbatch is obviously a favorite of yours.

I have a very strong love/hate relationship with BBC’s Sherlock. I adore the show, I love the characters, and how they interact. I LOATHE that each series is only three episodes. And I HATE that it is so long between each series (generally around two years). With the main actors becoming a bigger presence in Hollywood … Marvel, I love you, but you’re making it hard for Benedict and Martin to have time for Sherlock!

I do love Benedict Cumberbatch! I stumbled across “Sherlock” on Netflix, during the hiatus between series 1 and 2. I’m fairly certain I binged the first three episodes, then threw a mental fit when I realized there weren’t any more. Not just the “Oh, I have to wait for Netflix to get the second series,” but the “WAIT, why isn’t it showing up as having a second series? HOLD ON A MINUTE! THEY HAVEN’T EVEN BEGUN FILMING?!?!?!?” kind of mental fit.

It’s been really fun watching the actors grow and change. Benedict looks like a baby in series 1! But watching him portray Sherlock got me hooked and I spent a long time seeing what else he’d been in, and seeing if I could find a way to watch them. I also spent a lot of time forcing my friends and family to watch, just so I’d have people who could commiserate with me during the hiatus (and maybe so I could discuss each and every little thing about the show … ).

Christy with her favorite Marvel supervillain, Loki, and the kids (oh, and Thor, too) at Disneyland.

Tom Hiddleston is another favorite of yours. You’re particularly fond of Loki. You have three sentences in which to defend the Asgardian villain. Go.

Hiddles is adorable. I need more than three sentences!

Okay, Loki has been raised by Odin to be a king, though Odin had no intention of ever letting him near the throne. Odin also made Loki’s life one big lie, when Odin stole him from his home planet and never told him he was a frost giant, which, incidentally, is the big scary monstrous villain in Asgard’s bedtime stories. All Loki wanted was some attention and approval from his father and brother, but was always cast aside in favor of Thor (when it came to Odin) and the Warriors Three (when it came to Thor). In short, everything Loki did was Odin’s fault.

I’d also better make it clear that my Loki knowledge is based on the MCU, not the comic books! That’s my disclaimer!

Are you a big fan of the Marvel movies? What do you like about them?

The Marvel movies are some of my absolute favorites. I’ve always been a fan of action movies, and I’ve liked Robert Downey Jr. since “U.S. Marshals” (a random movie, I know). When Iron Man came out, I was enthralled. It was epic. And each movie has been adding to the original story ever since. This is the MCU’s 10th anniversary, and it’s shaping up to be mind-blowing.

I have loved getting to meet new characters, seeing their backstories and struggles as they try to find their places in the wonderful and scary world of superheroes. The movies are really what opened my mind to the comic part of the geek world, and I’ve loved every minute of it. This year at D23, I was so excited to see 15 of the MCU’s stars grace the stage before seeing the first clips of the “Avengers: Infinity War” trailer.

Christy with James Marsters, aka Spike, of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.”

You’re also a fan of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” and you’ve met some of the cast. How did you discover the series? What’s the attraction?

“Buffy” may have been my first non-movie geek venture. I started watching it when my older brother did (based on his college friends’ suggestion.) I quickly became addicted!

“Buffy” is awesome because we follow Buffy, a high school girl with a calling to rid the world of vampires and demons, go through her life trying to be as normal as possible, all while battling various creatures. Vampires have always been an interesting topic for me. (Yes, I did go through a “Twilight” phase) But hands down, the Buffy vampires are way better.

Spike is my absolute favorite vampire. EVER. He’s British (Surprise! another British character!), sarcastic, and treats Buffy as his equal. He’s really the only male character in the show (in my opinion) that never underestimates what Buffy is capable of doing. Angel, Giles, and Xander constantly doubt her, which drives me nuts.

I was able to see James Marsters (Spike) in a play a few years ago! I paid extra for the meet and greet/Q&A session, and loved every minute of it. The play was supposed to also star Juliet Landau (another leading vamp on “Buffy”) but she had a scheduling conflict and wasn’t there the night my friends and I went. But we did see one of Buffy’s college roommates in the play also. It was a really fun night, and I’m pretty sure those memories are going to stick with me.

Christy and Owen at a Halloween party, dressed as Maggie and Glenn from “The Walking Dead.”

What other fandoms are you into?

I think we’ve covered all of my major fandoms, but I do have TV shows that would fall into fandom category. “Orphan Black” was a big one! It just ended last year, wrapping up a great series. I cried during the last episode (because it was super touching, and because I always mourn when my people won’t be returning).

“Grey’s Anatomy” is another one, though that is still ongoing. “The Walking Dead” is another fandom I love! We look forward to seeing Rick’s group struggle to survive every week.

Do you collect anything?

I have an ever-growing collection of Funko Pop! figures. I need shelves, desperately. And my drawers are full of geek shirts that are so numerous, I need more space.

What’s left on your geek bucket list?

I’d love to go to Prince Edward Island and see where Anne of Green Gables grew up. I long for the Lake District in England where Elizabeth stood regally looking at the scenery. I want to see Pemberley, and Cardiff, and Stratford-Upon-Avon. I want to wing my way to New Zealand and walk where the Hobbits, and wizards, elves and men came together to form the Fellowship.

What’s your next geeky travel destination?

Our next trip takes us to Alaska, and I know movies like “White Fang” and “The Proposal” were filmed there. I’m not sure if those count. But Shanghai’s Disney park is another option that could happen in the foreseeable future.

Will you send me some pics of hot British guys? I need some cheering up. Thanks.

I will always send you texts of British guys!

(And she did!)

 

You’ve never heard of them, but Annie Awards could be the next Oscars

EDITOR’S NOTE: The Annie Awards are the equivalent of the Oscars for the animation industry, but even though popular films and series are nominated, many people remain unaware of the annual ceremony.

The awards also happen to be a great predictor of who will take home the Oscar in the animation categories. Pixar’s “Coco” was the big winner at this year’s event, which took place Feb. 3. (You can read more about the winners here.)

Animator Christine Simon regularly attends the ceremony and has a deep appreciation for the awards. Below, she offers an insider’s look at the history and significance of the Annies. 

By CHRISTINE SIMON

The Annie Awards are considered “animation’s biggest night,” and I often describe it, to people who aren’t aware of it, as the Oscars for Animation.

The awards began in 1972, conceived by June Foray, a pioneer for women in animation voice acting. She voiced several notable characters over her career and felt that the animation field was lacking in recognition in the industry. So, she teamed up with Nick Bosustow, president of ASIFA (The International Animated Film Society), and organized the first Annie Awards show at the Sportsmen’s Lodge in Studio City, Calif.

Max and Dave Fleischer were the first to be honored for inventing the Rotoscoping technique and creating Betty Boop, Popeye, and Olive Oyl.

The first trophy was given in the second awards ceremony to Walter Lantz, creator of Woody Woodpecker. The Annie Award itself was designed by Tom Woodward. It is made of brass, wood, and plastic, resembling a zoetrope. (Yes, it really spins.)

The ceremony itself recognizes animation talent in several categories for television, commercials, and film — well-known companies, independent productions, and students alike. There are also special juried awards: June Foray, Ub Iwerks, Windsor McCay, certificate of merit, and special achievement.

From left, Art Babbitt, June Foray, Tex Avery, Chuck Jones, and Friz Freleng at the 1974 Annie Awards at the Sportsmen’s Lodge in Studio City.

The Annie Awards were also held at the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, Pasadena Civic Auditorium, and the Alex Theater before finding their home at UCLA’s Royce Hall.

Royce Hall.

The Annie Awards’ history is fascinating, and it is even more magical being there in person. It’s a night to glam up, meet and chat with like-minded people, and see a field that’s so widely used and not as widely known get recognized. I have attended four years in a row now, watching it grow each time, making friends, catching up with old ones, and celebrating accomplishments.

The ceremony takes place in early February and streams live from the event’s website.

I know the Annie Awards will become as popular and well-known as the Emmys, Golden Globes, and Oscars are.

Christine Simon and her husband Joshua at the 2018 Annie Awards ceremony.

Photos courtesy of Christine Simon. 

She may not be Mother of Dragons, but this Dani rules when it comes to fandoms

Meet Dani Babiak.

Not only does she share a nickname with a certain Mother of Dragons, she was recently married in a elegant, subtly geeky ceremony that featured Portal cake toppers and music from Jurassic Park, Legend of Zelda, and The Lord of the Rings.

 She and her partner for life in nerdy crime, Todd, got engaged at Disney World and consider holding the highest score for the cheesy arcade game “Deadstorm Pirates” at Castle Park in Sherman Oaks to be their greatest achievement so far. Clearly, the geek gods have smiled upon this romance. 

Dani’s gateway drug into Star Wars was the infamous prequels, but she’s since come to love the original trilogy and has a compelling defense of the much-reviled “The Last Jedi.” She was particularly devastated by the passing of iconic Star Wars princess/general Carrie Fisher. 

Below, she reveals what it’s like to be a woman who just wants to talk about video games, how a childhood theft led to an enduring love of Harry Potter, and why every young girl should have an inspiring geek mentor to look up to. 

Dani Babiak and her husband, Todd, got engaged at Disney World and are frequent visitors to Disneyland.

So, apparently you and your husband, Todd, recently had the geekiest wedding ever. I would like to hear all the details. Please describe the big day!

It was a really, really great day and it went by too fast. We had all of our friends and family there — literally everyone that we wanted there was able to make it. We had it at this barn in Huntington Beach where they help rehabilitate horses (I’m a big animal rescue person) and it was all just so gorgeous and perfect. Lots of greenery, lots of succulents, great food, and great company.

Why did you decide to go full geek on your wedding day?

It’s really funny to me how you watch these wedding TV shows and hear people talk about “my big day this/my big day that” because it’s really, really not like that. Maybe it’s because Todd and I are both family people but we really cared and listened to our family’s opinions about everything and definitely in a sense wanted to have those traditional themes … we just wanted the traditional themes carried out in a non-traditional way.

So we had our DJ play fun jazz music during dinner … but it was a jazz version of the Pokemon theme song. We had very light and airy music playing while our guests arrived … but it was “The Song of the Shire” from Lord of the Rings. I walked down to a really pretty violin cover of “Zelda’s Lullaby” from the Legend of Zelda series. We had cake toppers; but they were two robots from one of our favorite video games, dressed up in bride and groom garb. We had to put our touch somewhere in the traditional scene.

What did the guests think?

The ones who got it REALLY got it and loved it. At one point during dinner, our DJ had played the main theme song from “Jurassic Park” and it ended up being a game for Todd and I to pick out the faces that were trying to place the song and then realize exactly where it was from.

So, I’m assuming your marriage is one built on a love of mutual geekdom. Tell me about the relationship.

It absolutely is. I think a lot of it is us just indulging each other’s geekiness in a sense too — we don’t necessarily have all of the same fandoms but we do enjoy a lot of things together too. I’ve brought him into quite a few of mine just as time goes on. We game together, watch (and pick apart) movies together, and Disney together. He’s kind of my best friend — he’s pretty cool.

I heard you got engaged at Disneyland, so you’re obviously a Disney fan. Tell me about the proposal.

It was pretty amazing. We decided to plan a trip to Disney World after we had realized that in the all of the time that we had been together we had only taken vacations to go visit family or to go on family trips and hadn’t really just done something for him and I.

It was our first day on vacation and we (obviously) chose to go to the Magic Kingdom first. Literally, I had hardly made it through the turnstile before I started tearing up because we were finally there. By the time we had made it to the castle, I was in full-blown sob mode. I was just taking it all in and he leaned down and said, “Can I ask you a question?” Annoyed, I turned to him and asked, “What?”

(Side note: I say “annoyed” because this is the guy that will literally put on a sad puppy video because he wants to see how fast I’ll tear up. It’s a game between us and I thought that he was going to make fun of me for crying). He then got down on one knee and proposed in front of everyone! It was one of the greatest days of my life.

Do you visit the Disney theme parks often?

Yes. Our friends all have passes too, so we are frequently going. I’m not even going to lie to you, as I’m answering these I’m waiting for Todd to wake up so that we can decide if we’re going today or not.

How did your love of Disney begin and what specific movies, characters, properties, and attractions are you most into?

I’m honestly not sure where the love even began because it was always just kind of there. My Mom told me that the first movie she ever took me to was “Aladdin” when it was in theaters; we always went to see the newest Disney movie whenever it came to theaters.

My favorite movies have always been “Beauty and the Beast” and “Lilo & Stitch.” I loved the story behind “Beauty and the Beast” and the message behind the story. “Lilo & Stitch” always had a HUGE place in my heart because of the relationship between Lilo and her sister Nani. I have two younger sisters so this really hit close to home for me.

You’re a pretty dedicated gamer, specifically into Portal and Legend of Zelda. What do you like about gaming? Does this passion go back to childhood or is it a more recent thing?

Some of the greatest memories that I have from my childhood are from watching my dad play “Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time” when I was younger. We would spend hours in our living room play and I would just be completely mesmerized by the story and the game play. In the beginning I was actually so afraid of playing because I didn’t want to die in the game and the story to be over, but finally I got over this fear and I have replayed “Ocarina of Time” each year for as long as I can remember.

Gaming as a whole is just an amazing escape — I love getting so invested in the characters and storyline that hours go by without you even realizing it. For me, it’s just the same as if you’re super invested in a book but it’s almost like you’re living the story that you could be reading.

Dani and Todd DIY’d their own wedding cake toppers, themed after the Portal video games.

I’d like more details about your Portal obsession. How many hours do you spend playing? What do you love about this game?

I have an extremely difficult love/hate obsession with Portal. What drives me crazy is that there is absolutely no way that you can sit down and play this game for 20 minutes. I have tried several times. It’s like a jawbreaker; once you start you’re in for the long haul.

Especially with “Portal 2,” this amazing story starts to unfold and you begin thinking to yourself, “Well, wait, this doesn’t make any sense –maybe if I keep playing … .” Then all of a sudden you’re fighting the last boss. You get this amazing end cutscene. Then it is over and you have been left without any new Portal games since 2011 (I’m looking at you, Valve.)

What I love the most about Portal and what I believe is probably one of the most brilliant things ever is that they have created such a very basic, simple thing and made it so elaborate, complicated, and clever.

The entire game is one huge puzzle that requires you to think five steps ahead because it’s not laid out very clearly. You have to put so much effort into it and I think that’s why it’s one of my favorite games ever.

You’re an enthusiast of “anything Nintendo.” Why Nintendo? Which games are your favorite?

It’s 100% the nostalgia for me. Nintendo was a big deal in my house growing up and my sisters and I played everything from “Yoshi’s Story” to “Donkey Kong 64” to “Super Mario 64” and we loved it all.

What other video games are you into?

I’m really open to just about any type of game. I love the platform games, they’re always fun to navigate through. I haven’t been too into the Call of Duty games or other shooters of the like — they just get so repetitive and there usually isn’t that great of a storyline that goes with them.

What has your experience as a girl gamer been like?

Honestly, it has had its ups and downs. There have definitely been the judgmental looks when I talk about how excited I am for a video game to come out — but I feel like primarily I surround myself with people who are like-minded so it has definitely been easier lately than it had been in the past. I will say, I do still get a sense of relief when I’m talking to someone or introducing myself to them and they talk about what video games they play before I do.

You also enjoy arcade games. What’s the appeal of this “old-school” form of gaming?

I love the older ones and I love the newer ones too. I feel like what’s so great about arcades is that there is literally something for everyone there and also the general buzz of excitement when you go into one. They’re refreshing from the home consoles because they’re just very quick games that (usually) you don’t have to invest too much time into.

I understand you and Todd hold the highest score of  “Deadstorm Pirates” at Castle Park in Sherman Oaks and that this is your “biggest accomplishment.” What did it take to earn this score?

We do! We need to go do a status check soon and regain our throne if anyone has taken our title (but I honestly don’t think they would as the game was in the saddest corner of Castle Park). For weeks, Todd was taking classes at community college and in the three-hour gap after class/before work we would go and play a few rounds of “Deadstorm Pirates.” We would sometimes be late to work, emotionally drained, and always invested about $20 each trip to Castle Park.

For those of us who don’t know, what exactly is “Deadstorm Pirates”?

“Deadstorm Pirates” is an extremely cheesy pirate shooting game. The game itself makes absolutely no sense from the start because ours at least had the blue gun assigned to the girl and the pink gun assigned to the boy. (Don’t get me wrong, all the power to fighting gender stereotypes but Todd was very upset the first time we played and he was the girl.) Some of the targets you are supposed to shoot: Grim Reapers, Bats, Attacking Clams, and a giant crab. If you find this game in your local arcade; sit down and play a few rounds. You will be left extremely confused but with an odd new obsession.

What other arcade games do you indulge in? Is Castle Park pretty much your stomping ground or do you have other locales for arcading?

I wish that Castle Park was still our stomping grounds. We have since moved to the South Bay and our trips to Castle Park have been fewer and fewer. Right now we’re really into Dave & Busters, which is a more modern arcade but is still a lot of fun. We’re getting ready to go try out a “family fun center” called Mulligan in South Bay that looks like they have a promising, cheesy arcade.

You worked at a major cosmetics retailer and you’re a geek when it comes to skin care. Can you draw any parallels between the geek life and the beauty biz?

I did and I absolutely am! For me, finding good skin care products and taking care of my skin just gives me the same kind of good feels that reading a good book or finding a great movie does. Especially when I worked in skin care, one of the things I really loved was helping find someone something that made them feel comfortable in their skin and happy with the changes that they were making. I think the biggest parallel is overall how complete it makes you feel. I feel like it’s easy for me to get as excited over a comic book as it is to get excited over a face mask.

Do you think some people would be surprised to find that a geek might be into beauty stuff as well? What would you say to that?

It honestly cracks me up because I feel like people treat them like they’re on opposite ends of the spectrum! There are so many stereotypes of the “gamer girl/boy” vs. “makeup girl,” “preppy guy” and that kind of thing. I really wish that those kinds of stereotypes would just go away and people could feel free to like and enjoy whatever they want to like!

You’re also into DIY. Have you done any geeky DIY projects?

Yes! We’ve done a few. My most proud geeky DIY was our cake toppers for our wedding. We didn’t come up with this ourselves, but we saw on Reddit that someone had turned two turrets (from Portal) into a bride and groom turret. I remember when Todd and I found it, we both turned to each other and I’m pretty sure the first thing we said was, “Our parents are going to hate this.” But we did it and it was so wonderful and our families were so confused.

You’re interested in quite an array of fandoms, including “Rick and Morty” and “Bob’s Burgers.” What’s the big deal with these shows?

They’re just fun! I relate way too hard to Linda Belcher from “Bob’s Burgers.” Overall, I think both shows are just really, really smart. “Rick and Morty” has taken “Back to the Future” and turned it into this complete other thing that I think is so clever and so fun to watch.

You’re also a Star Wars fan. Tell me your personal Star Wars saga and how you were introduced to George Lucas’ galaxy far, far away.

I feel like I can already feel people cringing but I actually started with the prequels first! They came out when I was younger and started going out and seeing movies. I just really, really enjoyed them so much and thought the originals were old and boring … and now I watch the prequels and cringe just a tiny bit and absolutely live by the original trilogy. I think I was 12 or 13 when I first really sat down and watched the originals and that was when everything kind of clicked for me. I had a huge crush on Han and wanted to be Leia when I grew up.

What are your thoughts on all the hate “The Last Jedi” is getting?

In my opinion, there shouldn’t be any hate. Did I think it was the best movie in the saga? No. But I feel like there are so many people saying, “Oh they should have stopped with the original three,” and I just couldn’t disagree more. This part of the story isn’t really for the people who experienced the original trilogy or the prequels when they were first introduced — it’s for the younger generation. The same glee that we experienced when we first watched “The Empire Strikes Back” in theaters or in VHS is what this generation is experiencing right now and I honestly think it’s lame to bash on something in that way.

Porgs. Yes or no?

Yes! Despite popular opinion, I actually think the (*spoiler alert*) scene where Chewie roasts one of those obnoxious things was great.

Kylo Ren Challenge. Yes or no?

Yes. Black leggings will never be put on the same way again.

On a more serious note, I understand you were quite devastated by the passing of Carrie Fisher. Can you speak a little bit about that?

Not to be dramatic but I honestly had to save this one for last. It’s tough and it gets kind of silly because I just felt like someone I knew passed away but I NEVER met this person. I know she lived an extremely full life — she accomplished so much but I just wanted so much more of her. I wanted to see her in so many more movies and I wanted to hear her talk about rescuing dogs and not giving a crap about what people have to say about you. She was Princess Leia on and off the screen, you know? She just had the sass and the drive just like Leia did. I was crying in the most recent Star Wars movie when she was floating in the stars because I’d like to imagine that’s where she is right now.

You’re also a Potter-phile. When and how did you discover J.K. Rowling’s series?

I stole “The Sorcerer’s Stone” from a garage sale when I was in elementary school. I didn’t understand the concept of a garage sale and thought it was just people giving away free stuff … turns out, that was not the case and my grandmother marched me back and made me pay for it and apologize. I am so, so happy that I made that mistake because it was a gateway into one of the several fantasy worlds I fell in love with as a child.

What do you love about it?

I loved the idea of Hogwarts first, honestly. I remember as a child really falling in love with the idea of this magical castle with these large hallways and going to school there to learn wonderful things. I wanted to sit in the Great Hall and study in the Gryffindor common room (I hadn’t yet discovered what it truly meant to be in which house yet, so Gryffindor was my default because in my head they were the “good guys”). I feel like as an adult I love how complex it is — over the years as I’ve re-read the series at different ages, I feel like I’ve experienced layers and different feelings with the story.

It’s not about the magic anymore — it’s about this boy who experienced so much sadness in his life and how he overcame it with an adopted family (which, I guess, in turn is a different type of magic, right?).

I remember HATING Snape when I was a child and now he has become one of my favorite characters simply because of how tragic he is. I think overall what I love so much about it is that it has successfully taken me to a completely different world for years.

Hogwarts house?

Hufflepuff forever. We are ride or dies.

Favorite character?

Oh, jeez. This is really a tough one — it’s like picking your favorite family member. Probably Hagrid … but Molly Weasley is an extremely close second.

Have you been to either of the Wizarding World theme parks?

Yes! I just visited the Universal Studios Hollywood location in 2016 and it was AMAZING. I was picked at Ollivander’s to have a wand choose me and I ended up in tears afterward, just because of how amazing it all was. The amount of detail that they have put into it was just stunning and is so magical.

You’re into several fantasy franchises, including Game of Thrones and Lord of the Rings. What did you think of that last GOT season?!?! (SPOILER ALERT)

I have honestly lost all ability to be cool, calm, and collected with this series. I was traumatized and emotionally distraught for days after what happened to Viserion. I had a whole different level of respect for Emilia Clake after this season because her acting (especially during the Viserion scene) was just so amazing. Game of Thrones is a drug and now we have to wait until 2019 to get our last, extremely short fix.

Do you feel as icky about Jon and Dany as I do? (But also strangely overjoyed?)

I am literally laughing so hard as I write this because I am so painfully conflicted. It’s so wrong and so gross … but also so right? Did I really just write that?

What about LOTR? Are you one of those cool people who periodically does LOTR marathons?

This cracks me up — I have successfully done one Lord of the Rings marathon in one sitting and by the end of it I was so exhausted I was trying to speak elvish. I was introduced to Lord of the Rings by my father. I watched the cartoon version of “The Hobbit” when I was younger and just really didn’t understand, so my Dad explained the whole story to be in great detail. I think I listened to him tell this amazing story for at least an hour and was just so invested in these characters I never met.

When the first live-action movie came out, he told me that he was going to see it first without me (violence check — I was little) and I was so upset because I was so excited to see more of the story. Finally, he took me to see it and I have been completely invested since.

Who’s your favorite member of the fellowship?

Gimli! He is the best, sassiest, rudest little dwarf and I strive every day to be just like him. The friendship between him and Legolas (especially in the movies) is one of my favorites.

Are you into the books or just the movies?

I love them both. I think the movies were absolutely amazing but I’m still a little grumpy that they didn’t even mention the battle for the Shire at the end. I’m super hopeful with the Amazon series that they will dive into the untold stories of the Fellowship! I just picked up “The Silmarillion” a week ago, which will be my newest Lord of the Rings read. I’ve heard it’s extremely dense and can be difficult to read through.

You also really like “Guardians of the Galaxy.” Why is this your fave Marvel entry?

I love it because I am always rooting for each main character. It doesn’t take itself so seriously where it’s like, “This is the superhero. He is coming to save the day.” It’s just a bunch of fairly average beings that just save the galaxy accidentally. Also Groot. I am Groot.

Are you looking forward to seeing the Guardians in “Infinity War”?

I had an audible reaction the first time I saw the trailer. I honestly thought I was going to have to wait until “GOTG 3,” but I am pleasantly surprised that I will get a fix soon.

OK, a little birdie I know told me a few things about you. She said I should ask you about the time you went to a midnight Twilight book release with your English teacher. Do tell!

Yes! It was so much fun. In high school, my friend Katie and I were absolutely enamored with the Twilight series (as I think back on it now I’m cringing just a little bit). Our English teacher was also a Twilight fan and we decided that there would be no better way than celebrating the last Twilight book release by joining fellow “Twi-hards” in a midnight book release party. It was honestly so much fun and was a great time being that age and being surrounded by people that all shared the same fandom. If I remember correctly, there were a few Edward vs. Jacob spats that broke out.

She also said you might be into fanfiction. True or false?

I was! I haven’t been too much lately, but throughout middle school and high school years I was extremely into both reading and writing. I wrote a fanfiction for a popular anime called Naruto when I was in middle school that was actually “Top Trending” on fanfiction.net for a few months! Haven’t been too into it lately, but that’s not to say I won’t get back into it!

Apparently, you used to be one of young adult author John Green’s Nerdfighters. Is that still the case?

Do you ever stop being a Nerdfighter? I loved “Turtles All the Way Down.” There was so long that he hadn’t written anything (I think he was working on the movie for “Fault in our Stars”?) that I had thought that he stopped but then “Turtles” came out! One of my favorite things to do still is to wander into bookstores and see if I can find any notes left by other Nerdfighters in John Green books. I’ve left several and hope someone found mine!

Hiddlebatch. Is that still the best thing ever?

Benedict Cumberbatch will forever be everything and Hiddlebatch/SherLoki is just the greatest dynamic duo that has ever graced our world.

Ok, I think I’ve grilled you enough. What’s left on your geek bucket list?

Disney Shanghai, the Amazon web series for Lord of the Rings, and I’m praying that they’ll release some new DLC for the new Zelda game again soon because I’m starting to get the itch.

As a woman, is there anything you’d change about the world of geek culture or fandoms?

Yes! Let women (especially younger women) be geeks! It’s not just for guys! A woman’s place is in a comic book shop!

I was so fortunate enough to have the mentor that I had in high school (the previous little bird that you mentioned) because she really held my hand and led me into becoming a young adult who was also geeky. She taught me so many amazing things but ultimately showed me that it is okay to be an adult and to grow up and be passionate about things that other people might judge you on.

This was such a relief for me because I loved so many things that I had been made fun of for years and I was so scared that I would have to let them go or hide my fandoms and the things that truly made me happy. I really wish and hope that other girls have a mentor like that or that they develop in an environment that is accepting and not judgmental.

I feel like if they did this, the world would be a much more geeky and open place.

 

Disney magic more than skin deep for talented tattoo artist

A dream is a wish your heart makes … and if you dream big enough, you might just be lucky enough to get tattooed by Miss Mae La Roux.

As colorful in life as the designs she emblazons on the skin of Disney fanatics across America, Miss Mae is one of the most talented and in-demand creators of original, permanent artwork immortalizing the Happiest Place on Earth.

When she’s not working out of her studio, The Painted Lady, in Visalia, California, Miss Mae travels the country, collaborating with customers fortunate enough to get a booking and periodically accepting design “pitches” from eager would-be clients.

After a trip to Disneyland helped her reclaim her lost childhood, Miss Mae decided to devote herself to doing what she loves, specializing almost exclusively in Disney-inspired tattoos, with occasional exceptions to the rule. She views her art as a joyful service, bringing “positivity” to people’s lives. 

I had the honor of speaking with Miss Mae before she embarked on a trip to Orlando, where she’ll mix tattoo business and pleasure (in the form of nightly Disney jaunts). With her devotion to Walt and her love of vintage fashion and tiki bars, she’s as fascinating as you would expect, and the pictures of her exquisite, playful tattoos speak for themselves. 

(You can check out even more of them and follow Miss Mae’s adventures on Instagram.) 

You’re a tattoo artist who specializes in Disney designs. How and when did your love of Disney begin?

Although I grew up with Disney, I didn’t have a passion for it until I went to Disneyland about six years ago. For me, Disney is not so much about the movies and characters, but about the park, Walt himself and the artistic forces that created Disneyland’s majesty.

As a very young child, life was filled with unusual hardships and traumas.  I was also very sexualized as a child, by an oppressive father, which forced me to age much faster than I should have, causing me to lose my innocence far too early. There is large part of my life that I cannot remember. Truly, blocked from my memory completely as if they never existed.

My first visit to Disneyland, throughout the day I found myself with tears running down my cheeks, because for the first time in many years, I began to rediscover childhood and adolescent memories that had been long lost. I quite literally forgot that so many of these characters and ideas had EVER existed. It was painful to walk through the park, realizing how much had been taken from me, recalling the anguish of the things that I had experienced.

But I was also in a state of elation and comfort I had not known before, as I was released from the burdens of my sadness by the gift of my returned youth. It brings tangible tears to my eyes in this very moment as I recall it, and share it with you. It affects me still every moment that I am in and outside of the park.

Disneyland, Walt and its creative artists gave me back my joy, my memories and my life. But more importantly, it gave me back my purity. In my mind, that’s the most precious thing we could ever maintain.  In a life and world tormented by stress, negativity and hate, it is the one place I can claim solely as my paradise. The one true place that the delicacy of my heart and soul can live on, untainted and through the eyes of the pure of heart.

That is why, as a Disney tattoo artist, I have made it my life’s work to serve others, and to try to spread that joy into their lives. It is my greatest honor and blessing to play a role in immortalizing these precious memories in the lives of so many people who share the same love as I. My life has been enriched hundreds of times over through the experiences I share with them.

I can think of no other magic in this world than the magic that Walt has given me. I am forever in his debt.

When and why did you decide you wanted to be a tattoo artist?

I started my apprenticeship when I was 20. I was always an artist, and it was a natural bridge between my skills and a career. I’ve always been involved in some sort of service, be it community or customer. I knew that I would love serving others in this way. Like most people, I’ve dealt with my own baggage and body image issues and know the importance of self-care and healing. To be able to play a role in the lives of other in this way is tremendously humbling and satisfying.

Do you remember the first tattoo you did?

Yep! It was on myself. Many apprentices have to do their first tattoo on themselves. You learn real quick how not to hurt people!

How would you describe your style? What are some of your influences?

I don’t think there’s a particular tattoo genre to describe what I do. I was taught traditional styles but my realism and fine art background melded into its own creature. Art Nouveau artist Alphonse Mucha is a huge influence on my style in linework and shading.  I would say “Sleeping Beauty” artist Eyvind Earle is my main inspiration as far as Disney artists are concerned on a conceptual level.

Why did you decide to focus almost exclusively on Disney-inspired designs?

Simply put, because of the joy it brings and, oftentimes, healing. I lead a pretty stressful life and carry a bit of mental baggage daily. It’s easy to get dragged down by it. I chose to immerse myself in things that make me happy. Things that make other people smile and giggle. I’m not a perfect person, but I want to do all I can to bring positivity into other people’s lives.

Your designs aren’t necessarily straightforward Disney images. They’re very original and creative and detailed and sometimes they’re mashups of two different properties. Where do you get your inspiration for designs?

It’s honestly just a gut thing. When you live and bleed something, it’s just a part of you, like breathing. It’s important to have something special to offer. Anyone can copy Disney characters all day long, but an artist should bring something exciting and fresh to the table to set themselves apart. And really, ultimately the clients are what inspire each piece.  They have certain things they want to include and say, and I find a way to strengthen that and pull it together into a cohesive piece. I take all my knowledge and love for Disney and just let imagination take the wheel.

What are some of your favorite designs that you’ve done so far?

It’s cliche, but honestly there’s no way to answer that. I do what I love every day. There’s not a single day I do something I don’t want to.

I understand you are open to other designs besides Disney if they fit your style and interests. When have you made exceptions?

Generally when it’s something nostalgic. Especially things from the ’50s-’60s. Or ’80s-’90s animated pop culture.

You’re a traveling tattoo artist who visits different locales and announces when you have openings for work. Tell me how you arrived at this approach.

I know there are people all over the world with Disney tattoo dreams and I feel compelled to bring as much magic as I can to those who can’t so easily travel to me. I have a strong wanderlust spirit, so it enables me to also fulfill that and live an exciting and eventful life. I’m a big tiki enthusiast and I actually base many of the cities I visit on where the tiki bars are located. You think I’m kidding —  I’m not!

You sometimes accept “tattoo pitches.” What does that entail?

I exclusively accept pitches or submissions when I open my appointment book for a period of time. Clients are able on a set date to send their tattoo idea as a submission. I go over all the submissions I receive and select which ideas/clients are the best fit for the time I have available. Sadly, I’m not able to get every client in each book opening, but when people are patient and try again, I always try to take that into consideration and do what I can to get them in.

How much do you collaborate with clients and how much do you go with your own creative vision or instincts?

The entire tattoo process is a collaboration. I’m taking their ideas or wishes and creating something special and unique to them. There wouldn’t be a design at all of it weren’t for them. It’s important to me to understand who they are and what they are trying to say with their tattoo. The one-on-one consultation process is very important to me and designing a perfect piece. Tattooing is a very spiritual experience for me. But, with that said, most clients have about 25% of the idea usually, and I try to take it to the next level and create something more than what they could have imagined.

What’s it like being a woman in the tattoo industry? Have you found it to be welcoming?

The tattoo industry is different than it was 13 years ago when I started. But even more different 10 years before I started. When I began it wasn’t as common to be a woman. And although it was growing, tattooing wasn’t as oversaturated as it is now.  There was barely TV shows, kids didn’t grow up dreaming to be a tattooer one day.

But I got in when things were shifting and women were more welcomed. It’s never hurt my career. In fact, it’s always helped. The girls felt comfortable with the girl, and the guys wanted the girl. I also feel like I offered a certain level of compassion and sensitivity that some men didn’t offer at the time.

How often do you visit the Disney theme parks?

It’s irregular. I’m constantly busy working and book further out, so it’s hard to plan unless I get last-minute time off.  It could be five times in a month or I can go a couple months with no visit. I tattoo in Florida every year and stay for about three weeks, going mostly every night after work. And stay five days just for fun.

You seem very interested in vintage Disney and Disney history. What speaks to you about the theme parks’ past?

My love for vintage Disney comes from my lifelong love of mid-century in general. It’s a natural connection. So much of Disney’s most important history can be found through the ’30s-’60s, my favorite era being the ’50s, of course, when the park was created. Walt’s spirit lives there. When I’m there I feel enveloped in that time.

You have a striking vintage personal fashion style. What do you enjoy about this means of self-expression?

I suppose it’s the feeling of being comfortable in your own skin. Those of us passionate about vintage fashion often feel like we are not of this time and spiritually from another, earlier era. When we put on our vintage pieces, we get to celebrate that … fabulously!

Tell me about your own tattoos. I know you have one of Walt Disney. What else?

I also have a mid-century-inspired Mickey/castle inside my arm in the same style as my Walt. Other than that, I have lots of old stuff, a sleeve of Michigan-inspired nature, which is my home state. It has lots of imagery of autumn leaves, a doe, peacock, apple blossoms, red-breasted robin. Seasonal stuff.

You mentioned that one of your passions in life is tiki bars. How did this start? How many tiki bars have you visited?

Tiki culture is directly linked to mid-century history. It originated as early as the ’20s and really grew as a popular form of escapism in the ’40s and ’50s. It’s an amazing ambiance I enjoy so much. “Tikiphiles,” as we call ourselves, are fun people and there’s a wonderful sense of comradery at tiki bars and social gatherings.

Visiting tiki bars is basically my hobby. I quite literally base most of my tattoo tour on where the tiki bars are. There’s a website called critiki.com that tells us where all the tiki bars around the world are. There, you can track all the places you’ve been, read and create reviews, rate establishments and post photos.  So far, I have visited 37 locations across the U.S., including Hawaii … and counting!

So is the Enchanted Tiki Room you’re favorite Disney attraction?

Although I LOVE the Tiki Room, I don’t know if it’s my absolute favorite. I just love being at the park in general. Could literally not set foot on any ride and have the best day. It’s like a huge sigh of relief to be there. The Tiki Room is so important to Disneyland and Walt’s history, as it was one of the last attractions Walt had his hand in creating and set standards in audio-animatronic technology. And it’s just so wholesome and fun!

Apparently, there is a Tiki Day at Disneyland. I had no idea! Tell me about that. 

It’s an unofficial themed day at the park where fellow tiki lovers can gather, dressed in our best tiki/Hawaiian wares and just have a great time. There’s meetups at different locations throughout the park so we can enjoy attractions together.

I hear you’re pretty obsessed with Dole Whips. (But who isn’t, right?)

If I’m obsessed with any Dole Whip, it’s the rum Dole Whip at Trader Sam’s in Florida. Yup. I said it. RUM. Not only is the Whip itself made with rum, but they put a float of rum on top, too. You can now get it at the Disneyland hotel, but the Florida one is just better.

What’s left on your Disney bucket list?

Obviously, I’d love to see all the parks, especially in Asia. And I won’t lie, having artwork hanging for sale for Disney would be a thrill. But I sure don’t feel any lack of joy and pride in what I’m doing now. I couldn’t ask for much more. I’ve surpassed my wildest dreams already. Every day is truly a new and unexpected adventure. It makes living life feel like a privilege as opposed to expecting it to present things to you. It makes you very grateful.

It seems in recent years, fans have embraced Disney as inspiration for self-expression through fashion and style (ie., Disneybounding, custom ears, themed dress-up days, tattoos, etc.)? Why do you think this is?

People, especially in real nerd culture and fandoms, will put a lot of money and time into their hobbies. And the generation that is really into Disney and having these hobbies came from the late ’80s-’90s. And now that they are older, they all have jobs and the means to really enjoy their passions. More importantly, we are living in a time when it’s ok to let your freak flag fly. It’s cool to be a little nerdy and being different is embraced. It makes sense, right?

Do you have any advice for someone who’s thinking about getting a Disney tattoo?

Do your research on proper artists that specialize in the style you want. Be patient. Be willing to travel. Be willing to invest financially. IT’S ON YOU FOREVER. Treat it as you would any surgery or plastic surgery. Do it right the first time!

If you think ‘Wonder Woman’ was snubbed cause it’s just a comic book movie, think again

Every year, the Oscar nominations are announced and a handful of films are famously snubbed.

It’s an annual routine, but when the Academy recently revealed the list of candidates for best picture of 2017, one snub in particular felt personal.

Omitted from the list of nine excellent nominees was “Wonder Woman,” director Patty Jenkins’ long-awaited, box-office-record-smashing film based on an iconic DC comic book character.

Yes, this movie was a massive financial success — no guarantee of Oscar love, I’ll admit — but for many women, it was also an earth-shattering cinematic experience. I’m not being dramatic when I say it literally changed our lives.

Now, I can honestly say I never actually expected “Wonder Woman” to be nominated for best picture.

I wished that it would be nominated. I hoped that it would be nominated in the way I wish and hope America would elect a woman president of the United States or that the gender pay gap would disappear.

I’d like these things to happen. I’d be ecstatic if these things would happen. But I don’t really expect them to happen, at least any time soon.

I’ve covered the Academy Awards for more than a decade, first as an entertainment journalist at a local newspaper and then as a blogger. I’ve studied, and analyzed, and written about the ceremony and its particulars extensively, so I know a few things about how Hollywood’s “biggest night” goes down.

There are certain types of movies the voting members of the Academy can’t resist. And there are others they simply deem unworthy of the little gold guy Hollywood holds in such high esteem.

Though the Academy has made a concerted effort in the last few years to diversify its membership, especially after the #OscarSoWhite fiasco of 2015, women still represent only 28% of the group’s membership with people of color representing a meager 13%.

So it’s an undeniable fact that the majority of Academy voters are white males, and many of them are old, to boot.

These guys tend to love dreamy, artistic foreign films that remind them of their youth, like “Call Me By Your Name”; edgy dramas by auteurs, featuring method actors, like “Phantom Thread”; original indies that make them feel hip, like “Lady Bird”; character-driven dramas packed with brilliant actors, like “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”; and anything by Steven Spielberg (voila, “The Post”).

And they simply cannot pass up a good, manly war film, which is why “Dunkirk” and “Darkest Hour” are also included on this year’s best picture list.

It is not my intention to disparage any of the best picture nominees. Each and every film is remarkable and absolutely deserves to be there.

I’m simply illustrating the point that certain movies, no matter how well-made, or  groundbreaking, or well-received by audiences, will never be included amongst this elite group because they don’t happen to be the Academy voters’ cup of tea.

Comic book movies fall into this category with a vengeance, and “Wonder Woman” is a comic book movie.

When I was writing for the newspaper, I frequently vented my frustration over the Academy’s lack of appreciation for a genre that has quickly become Hollywood’s biggest moneymaker while striking a major cultural and emotional chord with audiences.

The fact remains, however, that if a comic book movie as elegant, complex, and thought-provoking as Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight” can’t get nominated for an Oscar, then no comic book movie can.

(It was a nice, little touch when Marvel’s “Deadpool” was up for best picture at the Golden Globes last year, but it didn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of actually winning.)

The Academy’s bias toward flicks based on one of America’s most populist forms of literature is the most obvious reason “Wonder Woman” wasn’t nominated.

Then again, it wasn’t nominated in any category at all, not even for a technical award, like visual effects, or editing, or costume design, where sci-fi flicks — another genre neglected by Academy voters — and even the cheesiest of action movies are often made welcome.

One could argue that Jenkins’ work doesn’t rank up there with “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” and “Baby Driver,” but then I remember the goosebump-inducing genius of the “No Man’s Land” scene, and I scratch my head a little.

The truth is, “Wonder Woman” isn’t just a comic book movie. It’s a revolutionary achievement of representation that brought to life the heroine women didn’t even fully realize they needed until they saw her in all her glory.

It’s a deceptively simple piece of popular entertainment that is also electrifying and empowering … if you happen to be female (or a sympathetic male).

I don’t want to be an Oscar party pooper here, ranting about sexism when there are many, many commendable highlights to be found in this year’s list of nominees.

The Academy did break form by including genre films “Get Out” — a scathing racial satire disguised as a horror flick — and “The Shape of Water” — the oft-snubbed Guillermo del Toro’s lyrical gothic fantasy — in the best picture field.

Bleak and beautifully-wrought comic book drama “Logan” is recognized with nods for screenwriters Scott Frank, James Mangold, and Michael Green.

In terms of achievements for women, “Lady Bird” helmer Greta Gerwig became only the fifth female director in Oscar history to be nominated, while “Mudbound” cinematographer Rachel Morrison became the first ever female nominee in her category.

“Mudbound” writer-director Dee Rees is recognized in the best adapted screenplay race (one could argue her film should also appear on the best pic list), alongside three women in the original screenplay category.

Then there is the best animated feature film field, which is encouragingly packed with female contenders.

These victories may be relatively small and too long in coming, but they’re worth celebrating.

And yet …

I can’t help but think, if “Wonder Woman” made the aging, white, male voters of the Academy feel all the feels the way it made women of many different ages, races, and walks of life feel all the feels, that sucker would be at the top of the best picture list with at least a dozen nominations.

A girl can dream anyway.

Photos: http://www.scf-usc.edu, Rotten Tomatoes, batman-news.com.

Clever crafter embraces ‘abundance of imagination that comes with geekdom’

Some of us are hopeless when it comes to crafting, but if Kirsten Mace can dream it, it seems she can make it, especially when it’s something related to one of her many favorite fandoms.

By a happy twist of fate, Kirsten works as a manager at a Joann Fabric and Craft Store in Utah, where she finds ample inspiration for the dozens of projects she always seems to have going from coworkers and fellow geek crafters.

Kirsten has transformed boring, old Christmas decorations into a festive Star Wars-themed holiday extravaganza for her home, designed whimsical chess sets, created cosplay outfits and costumes, hand-carved stamps to use on uniquely geeky baby items, and whipped up adorable custom bow ties and bows for sale — a project inspired by a desire to combat the gender stereotypes encountered by one of her children.

This wildly creative crafter’s geek origin story can be traced back to “The Phantom Menace” — ain’t no shame in it! — and childhood trips to Disneyland. She’s got a unique perspective on everything from “The Last Jedi” controversy to My Little Pony, and she’s a fierce defender of these and other fandoms. (Just ask her about Bronies. I dare you.)

“Let people just enjoy what they enjoy” is Kirsten’s philosophy. In today’s divisive culture — even in the geek world — that’s good advice.

Kirsten Mace models the shirt she created for her TankSolo cosplay (a mashup of Tank Girl and Han Solo).

You are a geeky crafter and also a manager at a Joann Fabric and Craft Store. That can’t be a coincidence. What do you enjoy about your job? Do you find inspiration for your geeky creations at work? Do you meet a lot of other geek crafters there?

It was definitely fate. I have really loved getting to know the people, not just the customers but also my coworkers. The craft industry, at least in the Joann aspect of it, is very unique in that we spend a lot of time with our customers to help them create this very unique vision for a project.

Sharing that has really pushed my own abilities and ideas. Someone comes in with this amazing project and it makes you wanna create too. It’s seeing other people’s passion and getting excited with them.

We get a lot of geeky projects. Utah is supposed to be the geekiest state and with the introduction of Salt Lake Comic Con five years ago, we have gotten to see so many cosplays and just really awesome projects from people. And it isn’t just the customers, my coworkers are all so talented and geeky.

One of my favorites is a woman who came in to do an amazing Poison Ivy costume a few years ago and is now someone I work with. I think the passion that comes with being a geek just translates easily into being a crafter. We build these worlds around our passions, so I think there is a natural inclination for many of the geek persuasion to make that into practical skills.

Kirsten painted these Kokeshi doll-inspired Star Wars necklaces.

Have you always been a geek? When did those interests first blossom for you?

I wanna say I have always been a geek but it wasn’t till I was an adult that I was comfortable about it. My parents were cool. We grew up on Star Wars and Nintendo and all those great ‘80s cult films, like “Goonies.” We lived in Southern California, so we went to Disneyland a lot and they just did a great job planting those seeds and letting those passions blossom.

I think I really started letting things take off when I really got into books. I have anxiety and I think it was a way to cope, to get lost in books, just let me not have to be where I was all the time. I was into things like Poe and Tolkien and I was spending the summer at my dad’s house and they released “Phantom Menace” that year. It was great. We both loved it and ended up collecting the cards and seeing it a couple times. It was just a great moment for me.

And then they started releasing the Peter Jackson “Lord of the Rings” trilogy and Harry Potter released in the U.S. It was a perfect storm for me to get lost in everything.

Sorry, I think I rambled there but, yeah, Star Wars really kicked off my ability to get lost in other realms.

A “Rogue One” bow, created by Kirsten Mace.

You once had an Etsy shop offering “build-a-bows” with custom options for purchasers. Tell me about that. Where did you get the idea for custom bows?

I have two amazing kids and when my oldest was young, she was uninhibited by the whole gender thing. We didn’t care and if she was into things, we would let her play with it regardless of if it was a pony or a Transformer or makeup and so on.

So I had made bows for a friend as a gift and Moo loved them. She asked if she could have bowties and I was like, “Yeah, sure, you look adorable in anything.” So I made them and she would wear them occasionally, not an everyday thing, they weren’t her statement piece, and one day she came home saying she couldn’t wear them anymore.

She is very nonconfrontational, so I pressed her for why and she told me that some boy told her bowties were only for boys and that she looked ugly. So she didn’t want to wear them anymore ‘cause she didn’t want to hear him say that anymore. I was heartbroken.

So I came up with the build-a-bow after that situation. I didn’t wanna say, “This is a hairbow. This is a bowtie.” I didn’t wanna put that on anyone else ‘cause I really think that you should wear what makes you comfortable.

I would make the bow and let the customer decide which fastener they wanted, which at the time was not being done on Etsy under general sale. I found a lot of sellers would charge extra to change the bow and customize it or whatever. I work in crafts, I know the cost. I just wanted to make something for everyone that everyone could afford.

A Baymax bow, designed by Kirsten Mace.

Tell me about some of your favorite geeky bow designs.

I like the ones that kinda went against the norm. So there wasn’t really one bow I liked, but I had some great orders. I did 12 BB-8 bows for a little girls birthday party. I had a Baymax bow — I painted his face onto a white blank — that I loved. There was a set of Player 1 & 2 stamps that I carved and made bows with on red and green fabrics for Mario & Luigi.

Could you describe these hand-carved geeky stamps you made? Tell me about the process of creating a stamp and the techniques and equipment you used. 

I cannot draw to save my life, but I found out that I could carve. A friend of mine was in school for art and was doing this thing on block printing. I wanted to make some swaddlers for my sister and found this great carving starter set from Speedball that contained a couple of blocks and the knife with a few different attachments. I ended up making Totoro and loved it so much I made soot sprites, too.

What were some of your favorite stamp designs?

I love my Totoro and working on the soot sprites, but my proudest one was the plush Hobbes I carved.

You mentioned that you created baby swaddlers. What gave you the idea? Tell me a little bit about what went into creating them. Did you sell the swaddlers or give them as gifts?

My stamps were all created for swaddlers. My little sister was expecting and finding geeky baby stuff is ridiculous. It’s either really expensive or nonexistent. I have kids so I knew what I would want from a product standpoint and just tried to execute to that.

I give them as gifts and sell them. I am working on a couple new ones so that I can have new stuff when I reopen (hopefully). So far, my favorite is a Devil’s Trap from “Supernatural,” just cause I like the joke of saying my demon spawn is contained by a Devil’s Trap swaddler.

What kind of geeky crafting are you currently engaged in?

I am working on too many things! I am working on converting all our Christmas stuff to Star Wars theme so I made a Princess Leia tree topper from a 1970s Kenner Leia doll. I wookiee-fied a nutcracker complete with bowcaster. My biggest thing right now is the Millennium Falcon tree skirt that I am working on piecing. I loved the Falcon tree skirt so much that I wanted to paint a circle skirt with the same design.

I made a bunch of shrugs covered in soot sprites and one that was inspired by the new Pennywise. I am hoping to start back on working on a mashup cosplay of Han Solo and Tank Girl I call “Tank Solo” so there is a lot of plotting for that. The shirt I came up with has been really well received, so that was really encouraging. I’m having to design a bunch of pins and patches for a flair jacket for it so it’s a long-haul project.

Honestly, I have a million projects I am working on or trying to plot out.

Do you have any future plans to sell more of your geeky wares?

Oh, yeah, hopefully in the near future.

A custom 11th Doctor Tsum Tsum created by Kirsten for a geeky craft exchange.

As an unabashed nerd, you have devoted yourself to many fandoms. You said that you “tend to easily fall for everything.” Why do you think this is?

When you are able to get lost in one thing and then surround yourself with people who are just as passionate about other things, it is hard not to get caught up in their passion for that, so the birth of social media and my job have really helped me expand my universes.

Like many of the best geeks, you are a Star Wars fan. What’s your personal saga? How and when did you fall for George Lucas’ franchise?

I think I mentioned this earlier, but I really think this is a first love for a lot of geeks because of our parents. My personal saga … ooooh, that is really long … but the short version is when I was 6 my parents divorced and my mom became a janitor at the local university and worked nights so we had a very atypical upbringing as five girls in those circumstances.

I have always loved Star Wars but, and I hate to admit this cause I know how many people hate the prequels, it really became my thing with “Phantom Menace.” Maybe it was the idea that Anakin was no one and became something, I dunno, but I wanted to prove that I could be something other than my upbringing.

Are you a “Last Jedi” hater? What did you think of the movie?

This may be one of my favorite movies in the franchise. It is amazing and added so many elements to Star Wars that I never thought I would see. I loved the addition of humor.

Captain Phasma is my lady crush. I won’t even say it’s a secret ‘cause I got a little twitterpated when she whipped out that sword for that fight. Goodness, I am excited for the director’s cut ‘cause I am hoping they extend that scene.

I liked that none of the speculation left from “Force Awakens” mattered. Rey’s parents were no ones. Snoke’s backstory doesn’t matter. “Let the past die” was the theme and they did it so well.

They answered a lot of the questions that were posed in “Force Awakens.” I just think people don’t like that it really didn’t go the way anyone thought it would. I could go on about this for hours but I will defend this movie against the haters.

Who’s your favorite original trilogy Star Wars character?

I always have loved Han, but as I have gotten older I really enjoy Leia.

Who’s your favorite new trilogy character so far?

I am a sucker for rebellious pilots. And with the growth shown at the end of “Last Jedi,” it just cements Poe as my favorite.

Porgs. Yes or no?

How can you hate porgs? They are so cute and nonintrusive to the story, well, unless you are Chewie. If you hate porgs, you are just looking for something to hate in this movie.

Are you one with the Force and the Force is with you?

OH MY, YES! Why people don’t accept this movie as part of the Star Wars universe just boggles my mind. I am watching this while filling this out right now.

You’re also a Harry Potter-phile. When did you first discover J.K. Rowling’s series? What do you love about it?

Ha, so Harry Potter came out and I had an acquaintance who read it and was kinda being this know-it-all about it, so I read it so I could out-trivia her and, would you believe, I fell for it by accident. I think a lot of it is the relationship Harry has with the Weasleys. He made his own family, and the support and love and everything, I have a lot of friends like that.

What’s your Hogwarts house?

I am a Slytherin but lied with my Pottermore house so that I could be in Gryffindor.

Are you looking forward to Fantastic Beasts 2?

Yup, yup, yup. My kids are both Hufflepuffs, so it is easy to get excited when they are excited.

Kirsten is working on a Studio Ghibli-themed chess set with figures including Mei and Satsuki.

I’m excited to hear you’re a fan of the animated films of Studio Ghibli. Do you remember your first Ghibli film and how you got hooked? What’s your favorite Ghibli movie?

My dad was in the Air Force and spent some time in Korea and Japan. He sent my sister back the “Totoro” VHS and we watched it till we wore it out. The animation is so beautiful and the stories are so well told that it is hard not to get lost in (Hayao Miyazaki’s) worlds. It is really hard to just choose one. I will always have a soft spot for Totoro, but I really love “The Wind Rises.”

I believe this is a first for our interview series, but you’re also an aficionado of My Little Pony. Are you into the vintage ’80s ponies, or the new ones, or both?

I was the third kid, so never got into the ‘80s ‘cause I rarely had control of the remote. I really like the new ones.

What does your Pony fandom look like exactly? What’s the attraction here?

Other than the millions of ponies that litter our house at times … I think an easy way to sum it up, and I know this will be lost on some people, is we Pinkie Pie promise.

We first started watching the show ‘cause my daughter liked it and everyone knows the toddler is the one who controls what’s on the TV most of the time. So we sat down to watch it with her and the characters and stories are simple enough that it was just easy to like it.

As weird as it is, you can relate to all the feelings they are working through and they have really great mythological references. If I am not watching Star Wars while I am crafting, you can bet I have MLP on.

I confess I’m pretty weirded out by the whole Bronies phenomenon. What are your thoughts on that?

I don’t know why people are weirded out by the Bronies. I think people have this idea in their head that they are all furries and that freaks a lot of people out. That is a question that I have fielded when I say I enjoy the show and, no, I don’t dress up but what does it matter if someone does? How is that any different from someone who dresses as any character?

You’re also into Firefly. What was so great about that series?

I like the idea of standing up for what’s right even if it seems the whole galaxy is against you and pursuing the truth.

Who’s your favorite character and why?

Daughter No. 2 is named Zoe only because Hoban is a terrible name (sorry to anyone who may be named Hoban). Wash is easily my favorite. He is fun, but still gets the job done.

Kirsten’s dog models one of her bow ties.

Disney is another passion of yours. Do you visit the theme parks often?

Sadly, it has been too long since we went to the parks. With both of us working and the distance, it is hard to get things coordinated.

What are some of your favorite Disney movies, franchises, attractions, properties, etc.?

Other than Star Wars?! The first movie I remember seeing in theaters was “Aladdin” and I can’t think of any one movie of theirs that I would say I outright hated.

Do you do any Disney-related crafting?

Of course! We enjoy all the movies and introducing the girls to the cartoons I enjoyed as a kid just cements all the reasons I loved those shows. Disney is also a genius when it comes to product design and marketing, so it is hard not to wanna make custom Tsum Tsums and ears and use the characters in things.

I have done a couple of nightlight styled canvases for the girls using scenes from “Tangled” and “Guardians of the Galaxy.” At this point, Disney has so many properties that it would be hard not to find inspiration from one of them.

Kirsten Mace introduced her daughters to “Homestar Runner” and they requested she make them their own Teen Girl Squad shirts.

You have two young daughters who you describe as “also nerdy.” Tell me a little about the family dynamic. What are some of your shared and individual interests and activities?

I don’t think the family dynamic is very different from others’ families. I think we are maybe a bit more relaxed as parents, but I don’t think that’s cause of the geek thing. They are young enough that, for now, a lot of their interests are our interests.

A few Christmases ago, they got Jedi ensembles complete with lightsabers and like to have lightsaber fights and plan ways to attack us. They have been working their way through a lot of the Lego video games and are currently working on the complete Star Wars set and then wanna try the Harry Potter games.

Would you say that “geek culture” has had a positive impact on your girls?

Last year my daughter came home from school and she wanted to talk about suffragettes and the following week she wanted to talk about vegetarianism. With how the current representation of women is in all of geekdom, I am so glad my girls are into it.

They wanna kick ass as Jedis and Wonder Woman and Squirrel Girl. They get to see Rose release the fathiers and show compassion for all life in “Last Jedi.” The stories that are being told now help with what I want my kids to be when they are adults, so it isn’t just me telling them that they can do whatever they want but a host of characters they admire that really helps with that.

Is it my imagination or did I see a Facebook pic of one of your daughters dressed in the most amazing little Harley Quinn costume?

I have been blessed with amazing kids who never really wanted to be the princess but that means we have made a lot of their costumes through the years. Moo fell in love with Harley Quinn a few years ago so we have had a couple costumes for her.

Do you have any advice for parents who want to raise their kids up in the geek lifestyle?

If your kid shows an interest in it, get into it with them. I am hoping that as my kids get older and the terrible teen years are there, I am at least going to be able to connect with some of their interests.

As a mother, is there anything you’d like to see change in the world of fandoms and geek culture by the time your daughters are grown?

There is still so much of the good, ol’ fanboy mentality that I will be glad when that is gone. Let people just enjoy what they enjoy.

You’re a reader of comic books and graphic novels. Is this a pastime you enjoyed in childhood or later in life? What are some of your favorite titles? Do you have any recommendations for us to check out?

I got into it later in life. I saw the Skottie Young “Wizard of Oz” novels somewhere and I loved them. The illustration and fluidity that he conveyed with the story that L. Frank Baum created just, uh, I loved them. I love so many of his works that I highly recommend “The Chasing Tale” storyline for Rocket Raccoon and his “I Hate Fairyland” to everyone just getting into comic books.

I didn’t really start getting into comics till we started using them as an incentive for Matt to get excited about reading. We had a great local comic shop and the owner was amazing. He was the most welcoming person and would just talk to you about everything and then recommend an issue or a novel and, as crazy as it seemed, you would love it. He got me into the “Chew” novels and it has been crazy catching up on all those.

My recommendation is, look for a locally owned shop and go in and chat them up, tell them the kind of stuff you like and what you are into and let them make recommendations for you. The people that are crazy enough to open a comic store are the ones you are gonna find are so passionate about them. My personal favorites and recommendations to just ease into it are the Mighty Thor, anything by Skottie Young, Rocket Raccoon, Squirrel Girl is amazing, and Moon Girl.

What do you like about comics?

It takes that book experience to the next level. There are some parts of a book that you just glance over or get lost on and with the added visualization that comics have, you can really see what the writer is trying to convey. It helps progress the idea of that universe in such a great way that I am surprised more people don’t read them.

One of Kirsten’s daughters wanted to learn how to play chess, so Kirsten made her a superheroes vs. cats chess set.

You prefer the Marvel Cinematic Universe over the DC Extended Universe. Explain. 

Marvel has been able to convert the fluidity and feel of their comics so much better than DC has, which is kind of a shame, considering the properties that DC has.

Do you tend to amass geek memorabilia or collectibles?

Our house is one giant den of geeky collectibles and art. We have been working on a wall of Pop! figurines in our family room. Our favorite place in any con is the “artist alley.” There are so many talented artists out there that it is hard to resist buying all the art. So our walls are plastered with everything we have amassed.

What’s the next major release (books, movies, TV, etc.) you’re looking forward to?

I have enjoyed the illustrated rerelease of the Harry Potter books and the House editions, so I am always waiting for those. I am really excited for the next few Marvel movies, “Black Panther” and “Infinity War” look amazing. I am also timidly optimistic about the new Han Solo movie.

What’s left on your geek bucket list?

There are a lot of people I would like to meet. Artists, actors, directors, writers … a lot of them are figures in the geek community that have made an impact on me.

On a final note, why do you think so many geeks also happen to be crafters or creators? 

I think the beginning of it for many is the necessity of the items. Finding some memorabilia is hard and that first thought of, “I can do this. I can make this myself,” is where a lot of it starts.

I first really got into it because I wanted to make a baby mobile for my sister that was soot sprites ‘cause so many on the market were also handmade and out of my price range. And then it turned into, “Well, I can make a Totoro to go with it.” Then I made some Rocket Raccoon plushies ‘cause the Totoro was so easy … it just snowballed into, “I can make exactly what I want so why not?”

Everyone loves their fandom in their own unique way and crafting allows me to show exactly what I love about that fandom. There is also an abundance of imagination that comes with geekdom.

Let’s take a break from the hate to talk about ‘Last Jedi’ & representation

Since “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” hit theaters in December, there’s been a lot of talk about the film.

Now that’s an understatement. I don’t know if there’s ever been a more talked-about Star Wars movie or, at the very least, one that has inspired this level of divisive debate, indignation, and emotional outrage. (I suppose we have social media to thank for that.)

Haters love to hate “The Last Jedi.” That’s one thing we know for certain. They’re mad as hell and they’re not going to take it anymore. For many, many reasons.

They’re angry that writer-director Rian Johnson didn’t exactly answer key questions raised in “The Force Awakens,” or answer them in sufficient detail. At the same time, they’re crushed that he abruptly slammed the door on many of those same queries.

They don’t like the film’s portrayal of Luke Skywalker. They don’t like what becomes of villainous Supreme Leader Snoke. They’re upset about the movie’s general lack of lightsaber training montages.

“What’s up with the goofy tone?” they ask.

“Too many porgs,” some say.

“Not enough porgs,” others reply.

The list of reasons for ire goes on. And on. And on.

However, in the midst of this controversy, there’s an important dialogue we should be having that isn’t taking place nearly as much as I think it should.

Can we just talk for a minute about what an impressive feat of representation “The Last Jedi” achieves?

The new Star Wars trilogy’s heartening trend toward diversity, female-driven storylines, and a general openness to cast characters in a way that reflects the world we all live in began, of course, with “The Force Awakens.”

That movie brought us an unusual trio of heroes for a big-budget Hollywood sci-fi flick: Daisy Ridley’s Rey, a woman gifted in the Force; John Boyega’s Finn, a black Stormtrooper turned Rebel; and Oscar Isaac’s Poe, a charming rogue pilot who also happens to be Hispanic.

(And let’s give a shout-out to Gwendoline Christie’s bad-ass lady-baddie, Captain Phasma.)

Of course, this groundbreaking lead cast brought a few nasty, racist trolls out of the woodwork – Boyega bore the brunt of their disapproval – but, by and large, these characters and the actors who play them were received with enthusiasm.

The spin-off film “Rogue One” continued this welcome new Star Wars tradition with another strong female lead, Felicity Jones’ reluctant rebel Jyn, and her partner-in-sabotage, Cassian, a character Diego Luna portrayed using his own Mexican accent, which is strangely rare in Hollywood.

The remainder of the “Rogue One” cast was thrillingly diverse as well, featuring Forest Whitaker, Riz Ahmed, and Chinese stars Donnie Yen and Wen Jiang.

It’s clearly not an accident that Disney’s new incarnation of the Star Wars universe is so wildly and wonderfully diverse. This is something the Lucasfilm team is intentionally and boldly working at, whatever their motives.

“The Last Jedi” takes this approach to soaring new heights. This latest entry in the franchise not only features the return of the Rey/Finn/Poe dream team, but also introduces us to Rose, a mechanic turned unlikely Resistance hero played by comedian Kelly Marie Tran.

Tran is the first Asian-American woman cast in a major Star Wars role in a time in which Asian-American women rarely appear in roles of any significance in Hollywood.

I love the fact that “The Last Jedi” also shows us Rose’s sister (played by Veronica Ngo) in a heartbreaking scene of self-sacrifice and heroism at the beginning of the movie.

Along with continued diversity in casting – Benicio Del Toro joins the ensemble as master thief DJ and there are pilots, Resistance fighters, and First Order henchmen of all genders and ethnicities sprinkled throughout – director Johnson serves up a story that is shockingly female-forward for a big-budget sci-fi spectacle.

Rey and her journey to discover her identity in the Force is, of course, the driving story arc of the film. As she faces her fears, forms a tenuous bond with Kylo Ren, and ultimately comes into her own power, Ridley’s Rey continues to be the complicated, compelling, and refreshingly non-sexualized heroine most of us could only dream of watching as young girls.

(Can we just put this controversy about Rey’s impossible Force powers to bed already? Men have been doing impossible things in action movies for decades and nobody bats an eye. I’m over it.)

Just as astonishing as Rey and her gradual self-realization is the late Carrie Fisher’s elegant, commanding performance as General Leia Organa.

Her relationship with Laura Dern’s Vice Admiral Holdo is a joy to behold – two powerful women who respect each other working alongside each other and confiding in each other in a way we rarely see depicted on film.

And their mutual annoyance with, affection for, and no-nonsense management of the meddling, mansplaining, but irresistibly cute Poe Dameron (we all know that’s the only reason he gets away with this s&*#) is totally unexpected and such a treat. I still can’t get over it.

My friend Kirsten pointed out that not only is “The Last Jedi” the most female-driven film in the Star Wars franchise, it may be the most female-driven action movie we’ve yet to see.

She also wondered whether this could be one of the reasons the film has garnered so much hate. Sadly, I think she may be onto something.

It was recently reported that a disgruntled Star Wars fan sloppily edited together and posted online his own “female-free” version of “The Last Jedi.” I’m not sure how much attention this pathetic act of misogyny deserves, but the fact that someone actually thought to do this is discouraging, to say the least.

On the other hand, the fact that dudes who respond so irrationally to cinematic depictions of female power are feeling this threatened may be cause for optimism. These are the same guys who wanted to boycott “Mad Max: Fury Road,” the female-led “Ghostbusters” reboot, and the newest Doctor, and who groused about female-only screenings of “Wonder Woman.”

These dinosaurs are desperate because they recognize they are headed for extinction.

Despite the strong feelings it has conjured within moviegoers, “The Last Jedi” is an unequivocal box-office hit, grossing more than $1 billion worldwide. The film is on track to ultimately reap less than “The Force Awakens.” However, it would be crazy to consider it anything less than a massive money-maker.

For this reason, the new Star Wars trilogy remains one of the most convincing arguments that more diverse representation in major Hollywood movies is just good business practice.

Some may counter that the Star Wars franchise is simply too big to fail, but it seems fairly obvious audiences have embraced this new direction for Lucasfilm and Disney. Otherwise, why would the studio continue to pursue it?

This brings us to the question: Can Disney and Lucasfilm do more?

Of course they can – and they should!

The recently released video for Jay Z’s “Family Feud,” directed by Ava DuVernay, famously featured footage of “Black Panther” star Michael B. Jordan dressed in black robes suspiciously resembling the traditional garb of the Jedi.

DuVernay said this was no accident and social media instantly blew up with demands that Disney cast Jordan as a badass Jedi in the next Star Wars movie.

That’s a fabulous idea. And there is enough room in the Star Wars universe for more black actors, along with women and performers of varying origins, ethnicities, and sexual orientations.

This isn’t just the way of the Force. It’s the way of the future.

Photos: comicbook.com, Disney, MovieWeb.

Instagram artist nails it, celebrates fandoms with polish

Delia Wenzel has always been a little obsessive when it comes to the pop culture things that she loves.

As a child, she immersed herself in the toys of the ’80s. As a grown-up, she’s wrapped herself up in J.K. Rowling’s wizarding world and the creepy thrills of Halloween and horror movies. She has also discovered a true talent for creating vibrant, meticulously detailed, geek-tastic nail art.

You’re going to want to check out some of her amazing designs below, inspired by fandoms such as Doctor Who, Star Wars, Stephen King’s “It,” and “The Walking Dead,” along with other passions, like bibliophilia and science.

You can see even more of her stunning nail art on her Instagram account, @iamdeliasnailswhere she’s captured the attention of more than 9,000 followers.

Read on to learn more about Delia’s creative inspirations, her most unusual obsession (hint: he wore a stovepipe hat), her fondest fantasy (hint: it involves custom bookshelves), as well as the other impressive hobby that keeps her busy around Halloween time.

Delia Wenzel, center, at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Hollywood.

Your Instagram page, @iamdeliasnails, has more than 9,000 followers and features your nail designs, including many wonderfully geeky styles. How and when did you begin doing nail designs?

I think I’ve always loved painting my nails and I credit it with helping me quit biting them as a child but I didn’t really get into creating nail art until about four years ago.

Did you have any professional training or are you self-taught?

I’m completely self-taught. It’s all trial and error, mostly error.

Nails by Delia, inspired by “Twin Peaks.”

What specifically prompted you to tackle some of the geekier designs, like those inspired by Harry Potter, Star Wars, Disney, and various horror franchises?

I guess being into geeky and literary things, it was just a natural progression to want those things represented on my nails. Some of my most favorite designs have been fandom designs and it’s so fun to express my love of certain fandoms on my nails!

What do you enjoy about this geeky form of self-expression?

I enjoy being creative and have always had to have creative outlets to express myself, such as cross stitching, fluid painting, and pumpkin carving, but I love nail art because I get ten mini canvases to design and it brings my love of writing, photography, art and geekiness all together in one place. They’re great conversation starters!

What are some of your favorite designs so far?

Some my favorite designs so far have been my Patronus nails, book nails, and Tardis in space, galaxy nails.

Where do you get your inspiration and design ideas?

Most times I have no idea where my ideas come from! They just pop into my head, usually right when I’m falling asleep, ha. I have an entire wall of polish right next to my bed so that may be why. Usually when I look at a polish bottle it just tells me what it wants to be. I also gets tons of inspiration from fellow nail artists on Instagram.

What materials/equipment do you use in creating your designs?

Aside from polish, my main tools are stamping plates and a silicone mat. The stamping plates are metal plates with images engraved on them for stamping images onto the nail and the silicone mat allows me to create designs and then apply them to my nails at a later time. It’s extremely helpful for reverse stamping and messier forms of nail art such as fluid painting and drip marble designs.

Do you design professionally or just for fun?

It’s just for fun!

You have a lot of Instagram followers! How have people reacted to your designs?

The nail art community on Instagram is so collaborative and supportive! I’ve made so many amazing friends because of it. Fandom-inspired manis definitely seem to get a bigger reaction but the overall response has been incredibly positive.

You’re a huge Harry Potter fan. How did you discover J.K. Rowling’s novels?

I discovered Harry Potter almost at the beginning. The second book had already come out and there was a huge buzz about them. I didn’t pay that much attention because I thought they were “kid’s books” and being 21 or 22 and in the military at the time I didn’t picture myself reading kid’s books but an Army friend adamantly recommended them so I bought the first book and the rest is history!

 What do you love about them?

Everything! That’s such a tough question because it’s hard to put into words but I think what it comes down to is friendship and good triumphing over evil. And of course magic, definitely magic!

Delia at the Wizarding World.

How does your love of Harry Potter manifest itself in your life?

I guess my tendency to wear Harry Potter-themed clothing is an outward manifestation of my love for Harry Potter and specifically Ravenclaw house. I sometimes support Hufflepuff, as well.

It looks as if you spend a fair amount of time at the Wizarding World in Hollywood.

Yes! I call it my home away from home. I have had passes ever since it opened so I can go as often as possible.

You’ve described yourself as “bookish.” When and how did your love of reading develop?

My love of reading started very early. As soon as I learned to read, it’s been my number one past time. There’s nothing better than getting lost in a good book.

What are some of your favorite genres and titles?

I read a lot of YA, but I’d say my favorite genres are fantasy and mystery. My favorite series is probably the Unwind series by Neal Shusterman. I also really loved The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer. Of course, Harry Potter is a big one, as well as The Vampire Chronicles and Mayfair Witches by Anne Rice. I’m also a huge fan of Jane Austen.

Do you hoard books? If so, where do you keep them all?

I do hoard books! I have to buy all my books because I can’t bear to part with them after I’ve read them and I keep them anywhere I find room. It’s my dream to have a full floor-to-ceiling and wall-to-wall personal library in my home, preferably hidden behind a secret door.

What about your interest in geeky things in general? When and how did that begin?

I think I’ve always geeked out about things even as a child. I blame my obsessive tendencies. As a kid if I really liked something I became obsessed with it, watching a movie over and over again (I still do that) and collecting things. I loved to collect My Little Ponies, Strawberry Shortcakes, Barbies, Garbage Pail Kids and those plastic charm necklaces, especially.

Like so many book nerds, you’re also into Doctor Who. What do you enjoy about the series?

Aside from the Doctor himself, the idea of time travel has always captivated me. I can trace that directly back to seeing “Back to the Future” when I was a kid. I was obsessed. But the fact that the Doctor is always trying to help people is something I connect with as well.

Who’s your Doctor?

Definitely the eleventh!

Did you watch the Christmas special? What did you think?

I did. It was excellent but it’s always hard to say goodbye to the Doctor.

Are you looking forward to the new season?

Yes! As hard as it is to say goodbye to the Doctor, it’s always exciting to say hello to a new Doctor. I’m definitely looking forward to seeing the first female Doctor.

Tesla-inspired nail art by Delia Wenzel.

You’re also a ‘Stranger Things’ fan. What are your thoughts on Season 2? (SPOILER ALERT!)

I absolutely loved season 2! Most especially because seeing my dreams of Jancy become a reality was so fulfilling. I shipped Jonathan and Nancy from the very beginning. It was nice to see the dynamic between Hopper and Eleven. I really enjoyed that.

Who’s your favorite ‘Stranger Things’ character?

Oh, I’m Team Jonathan all the way!

Tell me all your thoughts on Barb.

Justice for Barb!



You seem to like the horror genre a lot. Why?

Hmm, why? I don’t know, I guess it’s just really fun to be scared!

What are some of your favorite horror films/franchises?

The Friday the 13th series and the Scream series are my all-time favorites and I really loved two new horror movies that came out last year, “It” and “Happy Deathday.” Both were just fantastic.

Tell me more about what you thought of the “It” remake?

I loved it so much, I saw it three times in the theater. It was the perfect mix of horror and heart. I even did “It” nails!

With your interest in horror, it follows naturally that you’re also one of those fascinating people who loves Halloween. Do you go all out to celebrate this best of all holidays?

I try to! I decorate fully inside and outside and usually have my costume planned out several months in advance. I’ll watch horror/Halloween movies exclusively in October and paint only Halloween-themed nails as well, but pumpkin carving is probably my favorite Halloween activity.

 You’re a masterful carver of geeky jack ‘o’ lanterns. How and when did you discover this art form?

Well, carving pumpkins was always something I looked forward to as a kid, even just those triangle eyes and a smile were so exciting to me. As a teen, I discovered those pattern books you could buy at the store and I started collecting them and it really ignited my passion for carving and I started doing a pumpkin carving party every year.

I would carve between seven and 10 fresh pumpkins every year and would keep them in the bathtub full of water and in the fridge to keep them fresh for as long as possible. When I discovered foam carvable pumpkins, it changed my life. I no longer had to worry about my pumpkins rotting and could start my carving much earlier and keep them indefinitely.

Around that time I also discovered online pattern sites through my friend and fellow pumpkin carver Stephanie Patterson. There are so many sites with patterns to represent nearly every fandom.

What do you enjoy about carving? Has this become an annual tradition for you?

There’s something so satisfying about it. It’s a very zen place for me. I enjoy the act of carving as much as displaying the finished product. It’s been an annual tradition for as long as I can remember.

What are some of your favorite designs that you’ve carved so far?

That’s hard because they’re all my favorite! I’ve done a Harry Potter series, Tim Burton, classic movie monsters, Doctor Who, and so many more. I don’t think I can pick a favorite.

What materials/equipment do you use for your carvings?

Aside from the pumpkins and patterns themselves, I just use some tiny little hand saws that I’ve had since the beginning. Stephanie recommended a hot knife and that has become a big time saver but I find it difficult for small details, so I only use it for larger straight areas and stick to my saws for the details.

Tell me about the elaborate displays/display walls you’ve created over the years.

It started off so small and cute and with a different theme each year — pirates, hayride, etc., but it was always my dream to create an entire wall of pumpkins. I finally achieved that goal a few years ago. Each year it grows some more as I’m always adding more pumpkins and it brings me such joy to see them all up on display.

How do the neighbors react when they see your pumpkins all lit up?

I think they enjoy it! Most have told me they look forward to seeing it and we get a lot of drive-bys and people taking pictures so I think others enjoy it as well.

What are some of your other fandoms?

I’m not sure I’d call this a fandom but I’m obsessed with Abraham Lincoln.



Does your family share your love of “geek culture?” If so, what are some of your shared and individual interests and activities?

Yes! My kids especially share my love of geek culture and we share a love of Harry Potter, Doctor Who, “Stranger Things,” Star Wars, Tim Burton, Jim Henson and horror movies. It’s so amazing to be able to share my geekdom with my kids.

Do you collect anything?

I collect too many things. Action figures, snow globes, Halloween villages, Lincoln memorabilia, Elvis memorabilia, anything Harry Potter, Doctor Who, Day of the Dead, and Frida Kahlo. Of course, I collect books and nails polish (I have nearly 1,000 bottles) and have started on that downward spiral that is collecting Pop! figures.

Delia’s nail polish collection.

As a woman, is there anything you’d like to see change about the world of fandoms and geekdoms?

I guess seeing more female representation would be good. We need more woman creating content. More women directors, too!

Nail art by Delia, inspired by Stephen Hawking.

Is there anything else we should know about you (life, work, hobbies, etc.)?

I was a journalist/photojournalist in the Army Reserve, I’m a crazy cat lady and I’ve been a lifelong vegetarian.

What’s the next big release you’re looking forward to (movies, TV, books, etc.)?

For movies, I’m most excited for the next “Fantastic Beasts” movie and “Avengers: Infinity War.” For TV, I’ll be eagerly awaiting the return of “Stranger Things” and “Game of Thrones.” My “to-read” list is incredibly long but I’m definitely looking forward to the next book in The Casquette series by Alys Arden and the next Cormoran Strike novel.

Let’s close with some favorite Harry Potter questions:

Hogwarts house?

Ravenclaw with a side of Hufflepuff.

Favorite character?

Sirius Black.

Favorite book?

“Prisoner of Azkaban.”

Worst movie?

“Half-Blood Prince.”

Most devastating character death?

Sirius Black, but I’m still not over Tonks and Lupin, Fred, or Dobby.

Wizarding subject you’d most like to study?

Potions.

Favorite magical creature?

Crookshanks.

Favorite Harry Potter item you own?

Probably my street sign from Grimmauld Place, but my wand collection and Horcrux collection are way up there, too.

Are you excited about “Fantastic Beasts 2”?

Oh yes! I’m counting the days! I cannot wait!

What’s on your Harry Potter bucket list?

Definitely to visit the studios in London, Kings Cross, Platform 9¾, and anywhere else associated with the movies and Jo’s writing spot. I definitely want to go back to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando because I haven’t been since they expanded it.