Let’s (cautiously) celebrate Hollywood’s new favorite trend: female directorsk

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Oprah Winfrey and Ava DuVernay.

Here at No Man’s Land, we like to celebrate the groundbreaking and historic achievements of women in Hollywood because, let’s face it, the industry remains notoriously male dominated. At this point, any victory, even the smallest, can feel monumental.

Over the last few weeks, a lot has happened worth celebrating, so let’s break out the champagne and party poppers!

The first reason we have to say “Yay!” is an exciting new trend in the television industry that has resulted in the hiring of dozens of female directors.

“A Wrinkle in Time” director Ava DuVernay got the ball rolling by hiring women to direct every episode of the first two seasons of “Queen Sugar,” a move supported by executive producer Oprah Winfrey. Five of the seven directors featured in the first season were new to episodic television. The roster included women of color from diverse filmmaking backgrounds.

DuVernay, who got her big break directing an episode of “Scandal” for show-running legend Shonda Rimes, recently announced she’ll continue this all-female streak for the third season of “Queen Sugar.” And she’s inspired other TV producers to follow suit.

The second season of Marvel’s “Jessica Jones,” which premiered on Netflix in March, featured all women directors, thanks to the efforts of showrunner Melissa Rosenberg.

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According to a recent L.A. Times article, Rosenberg’s initial goal was to hire a directing team that was 50% female. After taking her plan to Netflix Vice President of Original Series Allie Goss, they decided to go all in.

“I’ve been on 25 years of shows and nine times out of 10, those directing staffs are all white men,” Rosenberg said. “So why not all women?”

The makers of Marvel’s “Luke Cage” also recently announced that women, including actor Lucy Liu, “Queen Sugar” vet Neema Barnette and “Eve’s Bayou” helmer Kasi Lemmons, would make up approximately half their directing team for Season 2.

According to the L.A. Times, other shows, including “The Deuce,” “Jane the Virgin,” “Transparent,” and “The Handmaid’s Tale,” have designated women to direct at least half of the series’ episodes.

While a couple of recent studies found that women directed only about 7% of the top-grossing movies last year, 21% of all TV episodes were directed by women, an increase of 7% from 2015-16. There’s still a lot of growth that needs to happen, but it’s certainly an encouraging trend.

And, yes, even though there has been some good news out of Hollywood lately regarding female filmmakers, the movie industry can do better.

We’ll begin our celebration of positive developments with last month’s news that DuVernay is slated to direct an adaptation of Jack Kirby’s “The New Gods” for DC.

After helming “A Wrinkle in Time” for Disney, DuVernay is more than qualified to direct a big-budget comic book movie. As the first woman of color to direct a DC superhero film, she should inject some much-needed diversity and energy into an uneven franchise.

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J.J. Abrams, Victoria Mahoney, and Ava DuVernay.

Last week, DuVernay was one of the first people to break the news via Twitter that “Star Wars: Episode IX” is making history by hiring Victoria Mahoney as second unit director for the film. (A second unit director is responsible for supplementary footage and maintaining the film’s look and continuity.)

DuVernay, who is a friend of “Episode IX” first unit director J.J. Abrams, tweeted: “Happy to share this historic news. A black woman directing stories in a galaxy far, far away.”

Mahoney has enjoyed a successful career in television, directing episodes of “The Misfits,” “Claws,” “Grey’s Anatomy,” and “Queen Sugar,” as well as the TV movie “Red Line.”

It’s great that Lucasfilm has embraced a woman of color as a director, even if many of us still think it’s high time they entrusted first unit duties to a female filmmaker.

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Christina Hodson

In other heartening Hollywood news, screenwriter Christina Hodson has been hired to pen DC’s upcoming Batgirl movie, which the studio appeared to put on ice after the departure of Joss Whedon.

The “Avengers” writer-director’s presence on the film had become something of a feminist nightmare after his ex-wife’s revelations about his treatment of women.

Hiring a woman to flesh out the story of one of the comic book world’s most famous and complicated superheroines would seem like an obvious advantage, but studio executives don’t always see it that way, so Whedon’s exit and Hodson’s entrance come as a relief.

Hodson’s previous projects include “Transformers” spinoff “Bumblebee,” to be released in December. She also scripted DC’s untitled Harley Quinn movie, which is speculated to be based on the popular all-female Birds of Prey comic book team.

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Cathy Yan

DC announced last week that the untitled Harley Quinn project will be directed by Cathy Yan, a former journalist who earned acclaim for “Dead Pigs,” her directorial debut and a Sundance Film Festival hit.

In an industry in which there are very few Asian directors in general, Yan will make history as the first Asian-American woman to helm a potential comic book blockbuster.

With Yan on board, along with DuVernay and Patty Jenkins, returning to oversee “Wonder Woman 2,” DC is shaping up to be a strong champion of women in the director’s chair. It can only bode well for the success of the franchise and for representation in Hollywood.

While I’m excited about the baby steps we’re seeing in the daunting quest to solve Hollywood’s gender parity problem, there’s still a massive amount of change required.

We live in an America where there is basically only one Ava DuVernay and one Patty Jenkins in comparison to dozens of Steven Spielbergs and J.J. Abramses.

Women make up 50% of moviegoers but only 8% of movie directors, only five women have ever been nominated for a best picture Oscar, and women accounted for a meager 24% of protagonists in the top-grossing films of last year. (For more sobering stats, check out the Women and Hollywood website.)

Here’s hoping the industry keeps the momentum going when it comes to hiring women to write and direct so someday we can celebrate female filmmaking triumphs without reservation.

Photos: ABC Columbia, fandom.wikia.com, blurbstory.com.

FemmeDeBloom designer fuses Disney, favorite fandoms with adorable vintage style

A clinical psychologist, Melanie Cancino is busy racking up the hours she needs to apply for her license, so you wouldn’t think she’d have time to create the cute-as-a-button, fandom-inspired jewelry and other baubles featured in her Etsy shop, FemmeDeBloom.

Inspired by her love of Paris, FemmeDeBloom is a veritable garden of handmade geeky goodies, from porg pins, to Mickey Mouse “sweater guards,” to shiny accessories featuring “Stranger Things,” “Parks and Recreation” and Marvel superheroes, to the most adorable earrings featuring famous Disney character couples (like Miguel and Dante from “Coco”).

Melanie’s irresistible wares are infused with the vintage style she inherited from her mother and grandmother and that she has learned to embrace in her everyday life as a fun, confidence-boosting mode of self-expression.

A self-professed “geek from the womb” and daughter of a librarian, Melanie has been a bookworm since childhood with an appreciation for comic books, from superhero fare to more serious graphic novels. She’s also a Riverdale ‘shipper, a Potter-phile, and a diehard Disney enthusiast. 

Read more about how this fashionista, foodie, and intersectional feminist encourages her customers to express their love for their fandoms. (And check out her blog too!)

You have an Etsy shop, FemmeDeBloom, where you sell adorable handmade and vintage jewelry. It features a lot of Disney-themed items, but also other fandoms, including Star Wars, “Stranger Things,” and “Parks and Recreation.” How and when did you first begin making jewelry?

My mom introduced me to DIY projects and crafting at an early age so making things has always been a big part of my life so I guess I would say it started when I was kid making beaded jewelry, friendship bracelets, and some clay stuff!

Where do you draw your ideas and design inspiration from?

EVERYTHING THAT I LOVE! This is what I love about having a shop! It is such a fun way to share my love of different fandoms with others and to know I’m not alone in my obsessions. Everything in my shop is inspired by something I love, whether it’s a fandom, color, food, etc.

You started your shop about four years ago. What led you to this decision?

Around five years ago, I started my Etsy shop with Disney-inspired Christmas ornaments because I had made them for my friends the year before and they loved them. I was also unemployed because of starting my doctoral program and I needed additional income so I figured I would give it a shot. The ornaments were surprisingly popular and sold much better than expected! I had so much fun with my Etsy shop those first couple months and wanted to keep it going so I started experimenting with jewelry that I could sell all year. I slowly started adding new jewelry pieces as I experimented with different mediums and the shop just grew from there.

I love your shop’s name. How did you come up with that?

I love everything Parisian and French and I wanted to incorporate something French in the name of the shop, which is why I thought of using the word “Femme,” which means “woman.” Then I thought of “bloom” because I love everything floral and floral print and I also consider myself a woman who is always “in bloom,” e.g. changing, evolving and growing. So basically I put the two together! Grammatically, it doesn’t completely translate to “woman in bloom” perfectly in French because that would be “Femme En Bloom,” but FemmeDeBloom sounds better so I stuck with that, haha!

What items tend to be the biggest sellers in your shop? Do your products appeal to a particular demographic?

The biggest sellers in the shop are usually fandom-inspired pieces for underappreciated characters or characters that you don’t find a lot of merch for. Recently, the Robin Hood and Maid Marian inspired couples pin was really popular and that makes me happy because it’s one of my favorite movies!

In addition, the themed vintage brooch collections I have added to the shop have sold out fairly quickly! As far as demographic, I think my shop attracts primarily females, but I do have male customers/items as well! The age demographic is pretty broad because the fandoms that inspire my jewelry are loved by so many people.

Tell me a little bit about what goes into the process of designing and producing one of your pins or jewelry items? What techniques and materials do you use?

Well, I use several different mediums for my products including shrink film, fabric that I print myself, and clay/resin. The process is different for each piece and it’s kind of lengthy but it always started with an idea! I have lists of different ideas and collections in my shop and sometimes it’s overwhelming because I want to execute all of them.

As for the shrink film pieces, it starts with a digital design that I hand-cut and shrink with a heat gun. I then glaze them twice with acrylic seal/resin and add the backing. With fabric printing, it also starts with a digital design but I print it myself, which is a secret process because it took me forever to perfect! I then use fabric cover buttons for the earrings/necklaces. With clay, I primarily use molds and FIMO or Sculpey clay and glaze with resin.

Where do you get your love of vintage style from?

Definitely from my mom and grandma! My grandmother was a buyer for a department store in the ‘50s and ‘60s and at a young age she would show me photos of her outfits and the different styles she would buy. She also saved some of my mother’s clothes growing up and I inherited them when I got older which was super cool. I also grew up watching old movies with my mom, which definitely is a source of inspiration for me.

Melanie Cancino at Dapper Day Expo.

You have a blog in which you showcase your own striking vintage style and offer fashion reviews. How did you become interested in fashion? What do you enjoy about it?

Fashion has always been a weird thing for me. As a kid, I struggled with wanting to wear things that I wanted and felt comfortable in vs. what everyone else was wearing. For a while in elementary school, I was obsessed with long T-shirts that I got from the 5 for $10 store and biker shorts and that’s all I wanted to wear (with coordinating colors and shoes of course) but I was made fun of and I remember a girl specifically told me I looked “stupid.”

After that, I feel like I oscillated between wearing what I wanted and “fitting in.” I had periods where I only wore what was trendy and then periods where I did my own thing (e.g., my crazy punk-rock phase in high school and the period of time where I wore only clothes from thrift/vintage stores). In my 20s, I continued to struggle with finding a style that “fit” for me and, now that I think about it, things began to change when I started my Etsy shop.

I was introduced to the world of Disneybounding and learned of all these super-cute vintage inspired small businesses that sold adorable clothes that I fell in LOVE with. I also met people (online and off) who liked the same style as me. It really inspired me to seek after and wear what I love and what makes me feel good about myself. What I enjoy about fashion is how it can express a part of who I am and represent what I love, while also contributing to my self-confidence.

Have you always been into geeky things? What’s your geek origin story?

TBH, I think I came out of the womb a geek, haha. I’ve always been a bit nerdy, starting with my infatuation with books and reading. This came from my mom who is a librarian and also loves books. Reading opened up my world to more geeky things and I’ve been livin’ that geeky life with for as long as I can remember.

Your shop features a Superhero Collection. How did you become interested in comic book characters?

My interest in comic books started around eighth grade when one of my friends introduced me to the Batman comics. I started reading Marvel comics after that as well and my friend and I used to write and draw our own comics about ourselves. I then became interested in graphic novels during college, when I took a class on them for my English major. That opened me up to a world of graphic novels about more serious topics (e.g. “Persepolis,” “Maus”) and it was awesome.

Who are some of your favorite superheroes?

My favorite superheroes are Wonder Woman, Mystique from X-Men, and Shuri from Black Panther. I LOVE female superheroes because they are often underrepresented or misrepresented in the comic book world, which makes me sad. I think there is now a bigger female fan base for superheroes so I’m hoping that more females begin to get their own movies and become more integral to storylines, rather than just being side characters or the romantic interest.

You also have a Femme Foodie Collection. Are you a foodie in real life?

Yes, yes, yes. I am a huge foodie! Eating is my second favorite thing to do after sleeping. I love dessert but I also love savory foods and I pretty much like everything. I don’t discriminate! I also love trying new food places or novelty dessert shops.

I personally love your Girl Power Collection. Why is girl power important?

Aww, yay. My Girl Power collection makes me so happy! I consider myself an intersectional feminist, which means that I believe in the empowerment and equal treatment of all people regardless of not just gender/sex, but also sexual orientation, gender identity, race/ethnicity, social class, disability status and the other factors that lead to marginalization in our society.

So for me, the girl power collection is about empowerment and challenging the standards of normality. I definitely plan to add a lot more to this collection because I have so many ideas! I hope to also use the collection to raise awareness and funds for several organizations that support marginalized groups.

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

Definitely. I would really like to see more diversity in regards to females represented in all fandoms. I would actually like to see more diversity in general in fandoms and I think we are headed in that direction, I just hope it continues to increase!

You’ve designed a fair amount of Star Wars jewelry. What are your thoughts on the upcoming Han Solo movie?

I AM SO EXCITED. I tend to be excited about anything Star Wars and I don’t listen to anything anyone says when it comes to criticism about the new movies. I just enjoy them. Well, with the exception of Jar Jar Binks, haha. I am very excited about it and am already brainstorming some Solo-themed ideas for the shop before it comes out!

Porgs? Yes or no?

YASSSS. Omg, I love them and I want one for a pet! I have one porg pin/earrings in the shop but I think I may be making more porg-themed things because I love them!

What was your introduction to Star Wars? 

I honestly don’t remember the first time I watched a Star Wars movie because I literally don’t remember a time where I didn’t know what Star Wars was. Therefore, I’m pretty sure my parents and I watched the original Star Wars movies when I was like 4-5 years old. All I know is I rewatched the original trilogy over and over as a kid and my cousins and I had our own Star Wars Fan Club with a theme song. So there’s that.

Of all the movies, which one is your favorite?

“Return of the Jedi” forever!

Are you a “Last Jedi” lover or hater?

I loved it! As I said, I love them all. There are things here and there I wasn’t crazy about but I overall thoroughly enjoyed it and can’t wait for the next one!

Of course, your shop leans heavily toward Disney-themed jewelry. What was your introduction to the world of Disney?

Similar to Star Wars, I don’t remember a time where I didn’t know what Disney was. My parents got me a VHS tape (I’m aging myself) of the Silly Symphony cartoons and the old Disney cartoons as a kid and I used to watch them over and over! That’s how I fell in love with Donald Duck, who is my favorite forever. I have an old video of me at my first Disney trip at 4 years old and I’m fixated on finding Donald to the point where my Dad had to turn off the camera because I wouldn’t shut up about it!

You visited Disneyland Paris on your honeymoon last year. Tell me about that. What were some of your strongest impressions of that particular park?

Yes, I did and it was super fun! I did not get to experience as much of the park as I would have liked because my husband and I were pretty tired but I still had a great time! So my thoughts on the park … the Anaheim Space Mountain is better, Disney Paris has the CUTEST decor and I love the teacups, I love that Tower of Terror is still ther, and they have good dessert. Also the castle is super pretty. That’s all I got!

What are your favorite Disney movies, characters, attractions, etc.?

This is such a hard question for me because I really do love so many of them! So excuse me if I over-answer this question.

Top Five Disney movies: “Beauty and The Beast”; “Aladdin”; “Fox and The Hound”; “Robin Hood”; “Mary Poppins.”

Top Three Pixar movies: “Up”; “Coco”; “Inside Out.”

Favorite Characters: Donald Duck and Belle.

Attractions: Tower of Terror, but also the Guardians of the Galaxy ride is awesome; Big Thunder Mountain and Peter Pan.

Why do you gravitate toward Disney-themed designs?

Because I love all things Disney and themed outfits/Disneybounding so many of the accessories I make are for that purpose. Accessorizing is my favorite things to do!

You’re a clinical psychologist doing your post-doctoral residence to complete your hours to apply for your license. How on Earth do you find the time to run FemmeDeBloom as well?

I am indeed! This is a great question and I get asked this a lot and honestly it’s because I really love FemmeDeBloom. While part of me is extroverted, I am also an introvert and get my energy from being alone. Doing crafts and making things is my time to spend with myself and it’s a relaxing thing for me! I can also watch Netflix or listen to audiobooks at the same time so it’s kind of fun! I also have help from my husband now, which has been really cool, and my best friend Jade. I do wish I had a little more free time because I spend a lot of time working but this is temporary since I need hours right now for my license.

This might be a stretch, but do you feel like your experience in clinical psychology gives you any unique insights into fandoms or geek culture?

Not a stretch at all! I actually think it does as far as being aware of how social issues play into the stories/characters within fandoms. I think the awareness I’ve gained about the human experience and diversity has played into how I engage in the different fandoms I’m into. I’m always open to critiquing different portrayals of characters and just having discussions about people’s views on things. It also works the other way because I think my creativity and using my creative self has also made me a better, more flexible psychologist. I’ve also found ways to introduce music and art therapy with my patients, which I am really thankful for!

You’re a fan of “Riverdale.” Why does that series appeal to you?

Well, I grew up loving Archie comics so I think that is the reason I watched in the first place. I don’t know what it is about Riverdale but I just get sucked in. I like the darkness of it and although some of it is super cheesy at times, it’s just really fun to watch.

Who do you ‘ship on that show?

Ugh, this is hard. I feel like I’ve changed my mind a lot on this. But right now I definitely like Bughead (Betty and Jughead) together and I don’t know how I feel about Veronica and Archie, aka Varchi, because I feel like she’s a bad influence on him. My newest favorite couple is Cheryl and Toni, aka Choni. They are so cute!

Another of your fandoms is Harry Potter. What’s your Hogwarts house?

So I’ve taken the Pottermore test twice, three years apart. I was initially a Gryffindor but more recently a Hufflepuff. So I guess I’m a Griffinpuff?

How were you introduced to J.K. Rowling’s series?

I actually started with the movies because my little cousin at the time was obsessed with Harry Potter. I watched the first one and fell in love so I started reading the books and following the movies after that!

You’re a book lover, so it’s no suprise FemmeDeBloom also happens to have a Bookworm Collection. What first sparked your love of reading?

So I think I said this already above but credit for this is 100% from my mom. She is a book lover and librarian and introduced me to the love of reading very early on. We still read books at the same time on purpose and talk about them!

What are some of your favorite titles?

My favorite childhood book is “Little Women.” My favorite book of all time is “Les Miserables” by Victor Hugo (not the abridged version!). I love pretty much every genre but I lean towards young adult novels, mysteries, memoirs of people I am interested in and historical fiction. I also like sci-fi. Okay, I just like reading it all!

Some of my recent favorites that I’ve read are “The Lady Black Unicorn” by Tiffany Haddish, “Every Day” by David Levithan, “The Hate U Give” by Angie Thomas, “Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda,” and “Kitchens of the Great Midwest” by J. Ryan Stradal.

Do you have a lot of books in your house?

Not as many as I would like to. I need some better bookcases! I have a lot of my books in storage right now.

You got married last year. Does your husband share your love of geeky things? What are some of your shared interests and activities?

My husband does share some of my geeky love, including superheroes/comics (He knows way more than I do!), Star Wars, and Game of Thrones. We both love watching movies so that is something we do together a lot, whether at home or at the theater for date night. I also got him into Harry Potter so we watched all of the movies together.

For your honeymoon, you took a trip to Europe. Aside from Disneyland Paris, did you visit any other geeky sites?

Well, we did visit a bunch of museums which is kind of geeky? The last time I went to Europe was a little more on the geeky side because I visited Victor Hugo’s grave (writer of “Les Mis”) and visited the pub where C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkein wrote and hung out! For my honeymoon trip, we visited the Moulin Rouge for a show which was so cool! But yeah, not as geeky.

What’s left on your geek bucket list?

Do a Harry Potter, Beatles, and Downton Abbey tour in England.

Write a book.

Visit Disney World.

Visit the Hobbit holes in New Zealand.

Go to WonderCon one of these years.

Visit a cat cafe in Japan.

Go on a Disney cruise.

Make everything in my Star Wars and “Gilmore Girls” cookbook.

Go to Disneyland on May 4th.

Take a tour of Lucasfilm.

Participate in a zombie run.

I’m sure there are more but these are off the top of my head.

Do you have any future goals or dreams for FemmeDeBloom or your jewelry designs?

My only is to continue making new collections and sharing my ideas with people. I hope to continue meeting new kindred spirits and learning about other small businesses that I can support.

 

In Praise of Flawed Heroines: Why We Need Jessica Jones

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SPOILER ALERT: This post contains a discussion of plot details and themes from “Jessica Jones” Season 2. If you haven’t binge-watched the entire series yet, maybe bookmark this and come back to it later.

Yesterday, Netflix announced it will renew Marvel’s “Jessica Jones” for a third season.

This is fantastic news for a number of reasons.

“Jessica Jones” is easily one of the strongest of Marvel’s many TV spinoffs, so it’s a given that it should continue. Despite its faults, the series’ second season, which debuted in March, makes for wildly compelling viewing. From a feminist perspective, I can only describe it as mind-blowing.

On a more personal level, I have a soft spot for surly-superhero-turned-private investigator Jessica (so boldly and beautifully portrayed by Krysten Ritter) because she made her television debut exactly when I needed her in all her messy, misanthropic, maladjusted glory.

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The series was launched in 2015, about a year after I gave birth to my daughter. During this time, I was blindsided by depression and rage. I’d always felt reasonably put together and in control of my life, but suddenly I found myself at the mercy of intense bouts of sadness and anger. I began to question my sanity and doubt myself at every turn.

I discovered a weird kind of solace in watching Jessica, snarling at clients and loved ones, drinking herself senseless every night, sleeping in her clothes, giving free rein to her anger, often with her fists, and generally wallowing in the mess that was her sad, pathetic, super-powered life. Her major bad attitude and hilariously toxic one-liners were a balm to my soul.

Maybe it’s strange that I found it comforting to see all my worst impulses, desires, and fears reflected back at me in the form of one hot mess of a comic book heroine, but I feel like Jessica is my secret spirit animal. She is what I would be if I ever just let it all hang out, if I let go and lost control. There is something liberating about that.

I don’t think I’m the only woman who feels this way about fictional female screw-ups. Around the same time, my book club was reading Paula Hawkins’ thriller “The Girl on the Train,” before it was turned into a movie starring the amazing Emily Blunt.

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The character Blunt would eventually portray is a self-destructive functioning alcoholic whose life is a shambles. She drinks herself into oblivion every night, then wakes up each morning and catches a train to London to maintain the lie that she didn’t lose her job months ago. Meanwhile, she uses her daily train trip as an excuse to stalk her ex-husband and his new wife, who has usurped the picture-perfect life she once enjoyed.

Again, I felt myself identifying with this character, who I had very little in common with except for a nagging sense of self-loathing and the lingering suspicion that I might at any moment lose control of myself and, in the process, harm the people I loved.

When I confessed these feelings to the women in my book club, I was surprised to learn that most of them felt the same way.

I’ve thus concluded that, while it’s important for women to see themselves represented on-screen in characters who are strong and triumphant, we also need flawed heroines, those figures who embody our worst fears about ourselves, if only so we can feel less alone and be encouraged to talk about what we’re struggling with.

In Season 1 of “Jessica Jones,” our heroine was tormented by mind-controlling rapist Kilgrave, played so masterfully by David Tennant. The series was applauded for its depiction of the PTSD that often afflicts sexual assault victims. Many women appreciated this sensitive representation of their experience.

So, you see, we need superheroes like Wonder Woman to show us our potential for grace, goodness, and courage, and we need superheroes like Jessica Jones to reassure us that it’s ok to fall, to fail, to hurt, and to be human.

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Tennant’s insidiously icky performance loomed so large over the first season of “Jessica Jones,” I wondered how the makers of the show would ever be able to top it, let alone move forward from it.

In Season 2, rather than replace Kilgrave with another outsize male villain, the writers focus almost entirely on female leads, including Jessica, who is wrestling clumsily with her new public image as a “powered person” and, to some, a killer, and her best friend, child-star-turned-radio personality Trish (Rachael Taylor), who wants to be taken more seriously in her journalistic endeavors.

Making the women of “Jessica Jones” the priority this season turns out to be a great decision. Actually, when Kilgrave makes a reappearance toward the end of the season, I found it to be one of the show’s weakest moments. Sadly, as in Season 1, the series is an uneven slow-burn until it jumps the shark at about the third to last episode.

It takes about half the season for the new “Big Bad” to emerge from the shadows and when she does, she’s something completely unexpected. She’s Jessica’s mother, still alive and a product of genetic experimentation, just like her daughter, only in this case, it’s gone terribly wrong.

Janet McTeer plays sweetly maternal, but seriously scary rage monster Alisa with an mixture of brute physicality and tenderness. Her performance is extremely memorable and an utter pleasure to watch.

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Female relationships are the focal point of the season, whether exploring the complexities of the mother-daughter dynamic or the enduring power of the friendship between Jessica and “sister,” Trish.

This season is all about the theme of power: women who want power, women who revel in power they never had before, women who are ambivalent about their power, and women who have lost their power. (Carrie Anne-Moss is a total boss as shark-like lawyer Jeri Hogarth, who is made unexpectedly vulnerable this time around.)

Perhaps the most impressive thing about Season 2 is that it was directed exclusively by women and the difference that makes is almost shocking, resulting in a complete reversal of the male gaze we’re so used to seeing on television. (Ava DuVernay’s “Queen Sugar” and Marvel’s “Luke Cage” have announced they’ll follow suit with seasons featuring all-female directors.)

I’m still blown away by how impactful it can be to have a viewing experience where the sexualization or exploitation of female characters is completely absent and the women depicted have agency over their bodies – unless they’re being experimented on by IGH, of course – and their sexuality.

As in Season 1, there’s an emphasis on female pleasure to the extent that in one scene, Jessica and her  new love interest (J.R. Ramirez) are in bed and the camera lingers slowly over Ramirez’ naked chest while Jessica is seen next to him, fully clothed.

The importance of tiny victories like this cannot be understated.

There are many more deeply satisfying feminist achievements in Season 2, like Trish’s #metoo moment with an aging movie star, a scene in which Jessica basically redefines the word “bitch” (through violence, of course), and the breathtaking moment when the typically vapid Trish (“I Want Your Cray Cray!”) realizes she doesn’t want to marry her globetrotting war reporter boyfriend. She wants to be him!

Unfortunately, the writers ultimately go in a direction with Trish that rings false. However, even when the writing seems contrived or lazy, it’s tempting to declare “Jessica Jones” a feminist masterpiece.

I can’t wait to see what happens in Season 3.

Photos: Marvel, Universal Pictures.

Artist brings stunning visual style to ‘Niko,’ ‘Adventure Time,’ new DreamWorks series

The moment I discovered the art of Chrystin Garland, I was smitten by her dark, playful, fairy-tale-like images of feisty black heroines on wild adventures, gentlemanly monsters dancing with masked princesses, and “Pickled Mermaids.”(Yes, “Pickled Mermaids”! They are my new obsession.)

Raised on early ’90s anime — before anime was cool — including badly dubbed versions of Sailor Moon, Chrystin eventually channeled her childhood love of drawing into an impressive career as a visual development artist, working in the fields of TV animation and comic books.  

She’s contributed to the Emmy-winning animated series “Niko and the Sword of Light,” worked with BOOM! Studios on “Adventure Time” and “Steven Universe” comics, created a short story for Kazu Kibuishi’s “Explorer” anthology, and did some background painting for a “She-Ra” reboot for Netflix. (We can’t wait!)

Currently, Chrystin is working on the upcoming DreamWorks series “Harvey Street Kids,” slated to air on Netflix, all while fangirling over Studio Ghibli and CLAMP and playing too much “Overwatch” and “Animal Crossing.”  

You’re going to want to see more of her work, which you can enjoy at www.ladygarland.com and ladygarland.tumblr.com.

You’re a visual development artist. For those of us who aren’t familiar with that title, what does a visual development artist do?

Visual development artists help create the “look” or style of a particular project. This includes feature films, television, video games, and many other forms of consumable media. Some artists focus on developing backgrounds, while others help define the style language for props or characters.

What media, techniques, and equipment do you use in your professional work and in your personal projects?

Both at work and at home, I use a Wacom Cintiq and a digital painting program called Photoshop.

Were you an artistic kid? What were some of your early influences?

I always loved drawing as a kid! My parents figured out pretty early on that they could give me a pad of paper and some markers and I would entertain myself for hours. Sailor Moon was definitely my first love, but I also really gravitated towards a series of children’s books by Fred Crump Jr. He was well known for retelling classical fairy tales with African American characters, and his designs inspired me in those early years.

I understand you were an anime and manga enthusiast. How did that interest begin?

There was a period of time in the early ‘90s when anime wasn’t “mainstream” yet. Before Cartoon Network’s Toonami was a thing, I remember having to wake up at 4 a.m. every morning to watch Sailor Moon. (That was probably the only period in my life where I willingly got up that early!) The show absolutely blew me away! I loved the fact that all these girls with different personalities were so strong, funny, and had loving friendships. Needless to say, I was hooked. By the time Pokemon ushered in a new wave of dubbed anime, I was primed and ready to consume as much content as I could.

Heavy is the Head by Chrystin Garland.

When did you realize you wanted to pursue art as a career?

I always knew that I liked drawing, but didn’t think I could pursue it professionally until high school. One summer, I was fortunate enough to attend an animation class at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco. Seeing my drawings come to life solidified the concept of becoming a professional artist.

You earned a bachelor of fine arts at the Savannah College of Art and Design. What was the most important thing you learned during your studies?

The importance of collaboration! At SCAD, each senior in animation is required to create a short film that would eventually become a major highlight piece for their demo reel. It’s a lot of pressure, and working completely alone meant that the scope of my short would to be very limited. However, by working with a team, especially with skill sets different than my own, the possibilities tripled. It’s so, so important to be able to get along with others because teamwork is the backbone of the animation industry.

The Dancing Princesses by Chrystin Garland.

Your art is stunning. It has a fairy tale quality, but it’s also very modern, and obviously influenced by manga with a darker, gothic sensibility as well. How would you describe your style?

Thank you so much! I try not to define my style too much because I feel my work is constantly evolving as I grow as an artist. Giving a hard label feels like I’m putting boundaries on what I can explore or express. Perhaps I feel unnecessarily superstitious about it, kind of like getting a lover’s name tattooed on your body?

Who and what are some of the biggest visual influences on your art?

I’m really inspired by creators who develop rich, lush worlds like Hayao Miyazaki. His point of view is always so refreshing, I feel like I’ll always discover something new when rewatching one of his films. I also really enjoy the phenomenal Enrique Fernandez. His shape design is absolutely incredible, and I admire the way he was able to mimic watercolor in “Aurore.” CLAMP and Ai Yazawa’s works are also a constant inspiration.

Drown by Chrystin Garland.

How did you come to work in the field of television animation? I understand you’ve had to adapt to find your place in the animation industry.

Yes, when I first graduated from SCAD, it was incredibly difficult to find job openings for a traditional animator. A lot of companies were outsourcing 2D animation overseas, or were focusing solely on 3D. I still wanted to create for a living, so I pivoted to comics for several years, building up my story and digital painting skills. I also attended an animation convention called CTNX every November in order to showcase my work. It was at this convention that a former classmate of mine introduced me to Peter Emmerich, the man who would become my future art director on “Harvey Street Kids.”

BOOM! Studios’ Lumberjanes.

What about your work in comic books? How did you break into that field?

Working in comics happened very randomly. Another former classmate of mine was working as a background painter for Kazu Kibuishi, the creator of the “Amulet” graphic novels. I was working at Best Buy at the time, when my friend called saying he recommended me to work on an “Amulet”-themed app they were developing. The initial position was illustrating specifically for the app, but I eventually was reassigned to render backgrounds for “Amulet: Prince of the Elves.” I was taught so much about storytelling and digital painting during that time period. It really was a life changing experience.

You’re currently working as a background artist on an animated series for DreamWorks that will premiere on Netflix. What does a background artist do?

Background Artist can be broken down into two different positions: Background Designer and Background Painter. Background designers first define a scene with line work and shapes, then a background painter goes in and renders the same scene with lighting and color. On “Harvey Street Kids,” I work as a background painter.

Can you tell me more about that project?

Sorry, not much! “Harvey Street Kids” has yet to be released.

There is this synopsis from the show’s announcement though: “From its never-ending games of kickball to the infinite flavors of its ice cream truck to the greatest climbing tree in the universe, every day on Harvey Street feels like a Saturday. And that’s largely thanks to the Harvey Girls – Audrey, Lotta, and Dot – the block’s self-appointed guardians and the world’s bestest BFFs. They will do whatever it takes to keep Harvey Street the best block to never grow up on and transform every afternoon into a wild adventure. The series comes from executive producer Brendan Hay (Dawn of the Croods, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart) and Emmy-winning Aliki Theofilopoulos (Phineas & Ferb, Descendants: Wicked World).”

Is it true you also worked on a “She-Ra” reboot for Netflix? (If so, that is amazing!)

Thank you! Yes, I did some background painting for them last year. The show is going to be absolutely fantastic, and the creators behind it are incredible. Please look forward to it!

You previously contributed to the Emmy-winning series “Niko and the Sword of Light.” Tell me about that experience and your specific contributions to the show.

When Titmouse Inc. first reached out to me, I was creating educational children’s games for a company in North Carolina. Even though I was excited to work on “Niko,” I wasn’t in a position to leave the job I already had. So during the day, I would work my usual nine to five, then have to switch gears at night to create character model sheets for “Niko.” It was pretty challenging, working both jobs (I didn’t get much sleep during this time period). However, the people I worked with were amazing. You could tell that everyone was really excited to help translate Bobby Chiu’s comic into a series.

I see that you received an Emmy certificate for your work on “Niko.” That must have been exciting. How did that feel?

Pretty surreal! I knew that I loved working on “Niko” and that it would be successful, but I never expected this. I feel incredibly fortunate to have contributed to such a fantastic show.

You’ve also worked on the “Adventure Time” and “Steven Universe” comics. That sounds fun! Tell me more about that.

It was! Working with BOOM! Studios on “Adventure Time: Pixel Princesses” and “Adventure Time: Bittersweets” was such a great experience. Both stories were absolutely hilarious, and I love all the princesses, so getting a chance to draw them was a dream come true. “Steven Universe and The Crystal Gems” was also an incredible opportunity, because the script called for a brand new character design. The Glass Ghost may never appear in the show, but creating her was definitely a career highlight.

Those are some pretty popular series you’ve contributed to. Have you dealt much with fans or their reactions?

Contributing to an already wildly successful series can be pretty intimidating. There’s a fear that your work won’t be valued as much or that you won’t do the series justice. However, everyone that I’ve spoken to at different signings and conventions have been incredibly sweet. It’s a great experience, geeking out with total strangers about a series you both love!

“The Mask Dance” from “Explorer: The Lost Islands.”

You were a background painter on Kazu Kibuishi’s “Amulet” series and you did a dazzling short story, “The Mask Dance,” for the anthology “Explorer: The Lost Islands.” What was that experience like?

I definitely had a “freak out” moment when the project was brought to me. Kazu’s “Flight” and “Explorer” anthologies always featured such talented artists, many of whom already had prestigious careers in animation and comics. Being new to the industry, I felt like I didn’t belong. However, that feeling of inadequacy really pushed me to work twice as hard in order to create the best work that I possibly could. I needed to prove to myself that I was competent. (I’m not sure if anyone else has this kind of fear based thought process?) Regardless, it really paid off. Seeing “The Mask Dance” in print, alongside the artists I had admired for years, was incredibly gratifying.

Are there many women working in your field? What has your experience been like as a black woman in the industry? 

I can’t confidently comment on the exact percentage, but I doubt there is a lack of women in the industry as a whole. What deserves further scrutiny is whether or not individual studios are hiring and promoting said women.

My experience as a black woman in animation isn’t too different than being a black woman in any other profession. When speaking on diversity, some have stated that there aren’t more black women in the industry because they don’t exist. I think this concept is ridiculous! If there is to be more inclusion, then a concerted effort to look outside one’s community or social circle is imperative.

#drawingwhileblack on twitter is full of fantastic artists! With social media, accessibility has never been easier. I hope people will take advantage of this.

I’m a big fan of many of your personal projects, like your “Pickled Mermaids” series, which is kind of like Lady Cottington’s “Pressed Fairy” books (but I like yours even better). How did you come up with that idea?

Lady Cottington was a huge inspiration while creating Pickled Mermaids! My first couple of passes left more room for the mermaids to swim around, and that felt a little boring to me. So, I started the exercise of doodling random shapes, and trying to fit the mermaid inside that specific outline. The results were pretty silly, but I loved it! Making them “pickled” probably came about because I watch too many cooking shows.

You also have a web comic, “The Wind Children.” What kind of efforts go into making a web comic? Why was this something you wanted to pursue?

Oh man, I haven’t updated that webcomic in quite some time! I’ve always enjoyed reading other people’s webcomics and creating your own is a great way to get your personal stories out in front of an audience. However, if not planned properly, it’s easy to fall behind on updates. I guess “Wind Children” is a good example of that, ha ha!

Sunday Witches from “The Wind Children.”

Do you have any other personal projects in the works?

There are a couple of ideas floating around, but nothing concrete …

Tea Ruckus by Chrystin Garland.

I love that many of your personal projects feature black heroines. I imagine you probably didn’t see a lot of art like this growing up. Can you speak a little bit about what representation means to you?

I like the story of Oprah deciding to pursue her career because she loved “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.” It’s a good example of how media has the power to inspire and bring about change. Sometimes you don’t realize things are possible, until the notion is presented to you.

You bring your art to a lot of conventions. How does that experience benefit you as an artist?

Conventions are so much fun! They provide a venue for artists to network, learn from professionals, and showcase their talents. Over the years, there have been several instances where tabling at a convention has led to some freelance work. If approached correctly, conventions can be very beneficial to artists.

Parade by Chrystin Garland.

Let’s talk about some of the fandoms you’re into. One of them is Studio Ghibli. What’s your favorite Ghibli film?

“Howl’s Moving Castle”! The imagery is astounding, and I love angry Calcifer.

Last year, you visited the Ghibli Museum in Japan. I’m very jealous. Please tell me all about your visit so I can experience it vicariously.

It was absolutely mesmerizing! There were several rooms filled with development work from Ghibli movies, a Catbus for kids to play on, and a mini theater where one could watch a short that was exclusive to the museum. I wish we were allowed to take pictures inside. Now, the entire experience feels like a dream!

You’re also a big fan of CLAMP. Can you explain what that is for those who don’t know? How were you introduced to the group and why do you admire them?

CLAMP is a team of female manga creators! They’ve been around since the ‘80s and are really well known for series such as Cardcaptor Sakura, Magic Knight Rayearth, and XXX HOLIC.

I picked up Cardcaptor Sakura randomly at a Borders Bookstore (now out of business) and have been hooked ever since! Their works are always beautifully designed, have great characters, and heartfelt stories that really influenced me when I was younger. I also admire the fact that each creator switches up their particular role in production, depending on which book they’re working on. It’s always been a dream of mine to be a part of a cool, creative team like that.

You also like “Sailor Moon” and the “ridiculous ’90s dub holds a warm place” in your heart. Please elaborate. 

Okay, so when anime was being dubbed into English in the ’80s and ’90s, a lot of the content was edited for various reasons. For example, execs didn’t trust that kids would relate to a 14-year-old girl from Japan named Usagi, so they changed her to a ‘90s valley girl named Serena. Instead of letting characters eat rice balls or pork dumplings, they would instead declare loudly that they love donuts. (But would still be holding said rice ball.) Perhaps the most notorious change came with the introduction of Sailor Saturn and Sailor Uranus. Instead of letting the two be lovers, they were instead deemed “cousins”… and there was an awkward and confusing time to be had by all.

Also, Molly (Naru) had a Brooklyn accent for some reason.

It was a really weird time, but that was all a lot of us had, ha ha. I think there’s a compilation of the whacky ’90s dub on YouTube somewhere. Highly recommend.

I heard you’re a horror movie fan. What are some of your favorites?

I really enjoy “Rosemary’s Baby,” “Saw,” and most recently, “Get Out.”

You’re also a gamer and like “Overwatch,” though you say you’re “bad at it.” What is it that makes you want to play it anyway?

Even though I’m terrible, the people I play with are super fun, so we all have a good time together. Also Pharmercy!

What’s the deal with your “Animal Crossing” obsession? I’ve been talking to a lot of people lately who are into that.

Unlike other games, “Animal Crossing” isn’t based in competitive or really goal-oriented gameplay. You’re never punished for not completing a task or repaying your loans to Tom Nook. In that aspect, it’s really relaxing, and it’s comforting to know that you can take things as slow as you want. However, there comes a point when players like me switch from casual, good natured mayor to outright monster. Next thing you know, you’re writing creepy letters at night, pleading Fauna to stay forever and callously pushing unwanted villagers into the nearest sinkhole.

Chivalry is Dead by Chrystin Garland.

You also enjoy swing dancing and vintage clothing. How’d you become interested in these things? Do you feel like you’re nostalgic for the past?

My aunt was really into collecting vintage clothing, so I suppose I picked up the habit from her. We’ve come a long way from the 1950s though, so I’d say the only thing I’m really nostalgic for are the clothes.

Looking to the future, what are some of the goals you’d like to accomplish as an artist?

Creating stories and characters has always brought me joy. I think it would be a fantastic experience to pitch a television series and have the opportunity to develop that concept to its full potential.

What’s left on your geek bucket list?

I’d love to do a Sailor Cosmos cosplay!

The Dancing Monsters by Chrystin Garland.

 

The story of the Wonder Woman jacket that’s smashing gender stereotypes

Of all the cool things I saw at WonderCon last weekend, the one that really stuck with me was a bit surprising.

While checking out the exhibit hall, my sister and I dropped by the booth of Hero Within, a sophisticated but geeky fashion company that specializes in men’s wear and recently branched out into women’s clothing as well.

While browsing, we happened to notice a mannequin adorned in a denim jacket with Wonder Woman’s signature “W” stitched across the shoulder blades in a subtle but stylish design.

It took us a few minutes to notice that the jacket was made for men.

This didn’t seem like that big a deal at the time, but after I got home, I couldn’t stop thinking about that jacket. After all, in the world of superhero fandom there is this antiquated tradition that Wonder Woman is for girls and Batman and Superman are for boys.

Merchandising and marketing of comic book properties still tends to fall squarely along gender lines and to me, and lots of other female fans, this feels ridiculous and outmoded. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that Hero Within’s Wonder Woman Denim Jacket is nothing short of revolutionary when it comes to challenging gender stereotypes in the geek fashion world.

Curious to explore this subject further, I reached out to Hero Within founder and CEO Tony B Kim, who told me the story behind this intriguing piece of Wonder Woman-themed outerwear.

Released in March 2017 as part of the company’s summer collection, the jacket was not initially well received by male comic book fans. It was greeted by many negative comments on Facebook and Instagram, and many of them were – sadly and perhaps not surprisingly – of a homophobic nature.

The design for the Wonder Woman jacket did not originate accidentally. Kim started brainstorming the product in 2016 and put careful thought into it with the intention of challenging industry stereotypes.

“I knew it was time for a change,” he said.

“Since the beginning of fandom, gender stereotypes have ruled who we consider ‘our heroes.’ With such a lack of heroine representation on the big screen, I knew Wonder Woman could potentially change the barriers that existed. I wanted to create a Wonder Woman piece for men that was both smart, masculine and classic — a denim jacket seemed to be the right solution.”

In a blog post about customers’ reaction to the jacket, Kim said he’s been a Wonder Woman fan since childhood, despite “enormous pressure” to only identify with male heroes such as Rambo, Rocky and Mr. T. One of his all-time favorite comic series was George Perez’s Wonder Woman run from the 1980s.

“From that series, I learned that it was OK to have women as heroes. Batman and Superman shouldn’t just be for boys and Wonder Woman just for girls. Being a hero is about courage, sacrifice and honor. Last time I checked, neither sex has a monopoly on those qualities.”

When Kim took the concept of the Wonder Woman jacket to major wholesalers, he found they didn’t necessarily agree with this concept and were “hesitant” to invest in the piece.

“They just didn’t think it would sell.”

Nevertheless, Kim persisted. When he posted the first images of the jacket online in spring 2017, it was met with mixed reactions.

“A vocal minority of men could not understand why a man was modeling a Wonder Woman jacket,” he said. “Soon after, the homophobic responses ensued. I got plenty of hate tweets, messages and e-mails.”

Eventually, according to Kim, fans began defending the product.

“The common sentiment from other females was, ‘We’ve been wearing Batman and Superman for years, why can’t you wear Wonder Woman?’”

When the jacket went on display for preorder at WonderCon 2017, it was met with “plenty of buzz,” Kim said.

“It was really fascinating to hear a couple discuss why it was or wasn’t ok for a man to support Wonder Woman.”

When Patty Jenkins’ record-breaking movie adaptation of “Wonder Woman” hit theaters in June 2017, Kim said the criticism stopped, but wholesalers continued to reject the jacket design.

Kim said this ended up being good in the long run. “I needed the stock because the sales for it has been so strong. In fact, I am almost out of inventory.”

The jacket tends to appeal to both men and women, regardless of sexual orientation, Kim said.

“Honestly, the interest has been all across the board — not just one type of customer (which is fantastic). I think that says more about the success of Wonder Woman and the need to support heroines in culture.”

Kim believes geek fashion has “the potential to provoke and change culture.”

“In a small way it can push the needle of change and help redefine who we consider our personal heroes. Wonder Woman is not a hero for a certain gender but she is a hero for us all. Our clothing should reflect that.”

Founded in 2015 and officially licensed by DC Comics and Marvel, Hero Within remains the only company to create multiple Wonder Woman pieces for men, Kim said. (They also offer a woven shirt for men.)

They plan to continue to do so, as well as create more items featuring female heroes for both men and women.

Photos courtesy of Hero Within. 

 

TV writer, mystery novelist pens ‘Killer’ Hollywood career

A child of storytellers and a lover of theater, Sheryl J. Anderson intended to go to New York and “starve for her art” like all the good playwrights tend to do. Her story turned out much differently when she found herself in L.A., writing for television, eventually earning major geek cred with a gig on witchy cult TV series “Charmed.”

Sheryl has accomplished that rare feat so many writers dream of — making a living from her craft. She’s worked hard to make that happen and tackles every project with a passion that is infectiously motivating.

During the course of a varied, versatile, and vibrant career, Sheryl has produced an original TV series; written plays; scripted one of those Hallmark-style, guilty-pleasure Christmas movies; penned a series of mystery novels inspired by “Sex and the City;” served as mentor and cheerleader to many other artists and scribes; and intentionally championed other women in the industry.

All of this while raising two charming and talented geeks, indulging her love of musical theater, as well as Star Trek and Star Wars (“You do not have to choose!” is her motto.), and recently jumping into the world of cosplay.

Below, she reveals the secret to writing a good screenplay, advice for aspiring writers, her thoughts on the #metoo movement and why fans should go easier on their favorite creators. Get ready to learn something. 

You’re a veteran TV writer and novelist. You’ve said it was your “childhood ambition” to be a writer. Where did that desire originate from?

My parents were gifted storytellers, so creating and presenting or performing stories has always been part of my life. They taught us to read early, and reading was often a family activity. Mom and Dad also took us to the movies and to live theatre; we were stationed in the Washington, DC area when I was in high school and college, which meant a lot of great shows at the Kennedy Center, National Theatre, Arena Stage, and other wonderful DC theaters.

You discovered a love of theater in college and studied playwriting. How did that shape your destiny as a writer?

I was already a theater lover when I went to college. I acted in shows throughout school. What happened in college was that I shifted my focus from acting to playwriting. Louis E. Catron, my playwriting professor, was a wonderful mentor and gave me a foundation that I still build on today. But for all the great artistic guidance he gave me that was specific to playwriting, he also gave me two jewels of wisdom that I treasure: “Great works are not written, they are rewritten” and “It is a writer’s responsibility to be well-read.”

What prompted you to pursue television writing?

When I graduated from college, I thought I’d go to New York and starve for my art (thank you, Oscar Levant in “An American in Paris”). But a dear friend who had come to Los Angeles and started working in television told me, “Come out here. The weather’s better and the money’s better.”

I arrived in Los Angeles intending to be a feature writer, but I started working at a television production company and started studying television structure. I wrote some television spec scripts, my agent sent them around, and I eventually got freelance assignments which led to staff jobs.

What do you like best about working in this medium?

I love working in the writers’ room — spending the day with other writers, collaborating and challenging each other in order to come up with the best possible story.

What is most challenging about it?

Writing television is marvelous creatively, but it’s grueling creatively and emotionally. And there’s no security. But I love it more than any other job I’ve ever had.

You started out on comedies, including “Parker Lewis Can’t Lose” and “Dave’s World.” Tell me about those early days in your career.

I started in half-hour with no preparation, no guidance, no mentor. It was a baptism by fire, learning how to navigate the protocol as well as the mechanics. Fortunately, I worked with some terrific people, learned the ropes, and had a great time. There are few things in this business more exciting than being on set, with the actors and the writing staff, and coming up with new jokes or story fixes in the moment.

The cast of the original “Charmed” TV series.

You also wrote for the witchy late ’90s supernatural drama “Charmed,” which earns you major geek cred. How did you get that gig?

When I first left half-hour, my agent told me I needed to write hour specs. I wrote several, and my agent submitted my “X Files” and my “Ally McBeal” to this brand new show called Charmed. That offbeat combination struck a chord with the executive producers. I was on the show the first three seasons.

What was it like writing for that series, which was a forerunner for so many supernatural dramas that followed?

It could be very intense, but it was also a lot of fun. I worked with some supremely talented people, and we told some great stories. I loved all creating the demons and their backstories. But I also learned a really important lesson on that show: We would work so hard on the magic/procedural part of the episodes, but what stuck with people were the emotional moments between the sisters.

Can you tell us any insider info we might not know about “Charmed”? (Spill all the secrets!)

Nope. I’m pretty certain all the secrets are out.

Did the “Charmed” crew have a feud going with “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”?

There wasn’t a direct feud between the writing staffs (when I was there, anyway). We certainly kept an eye on what they were doing; it would be nice to think they were keeping an eye on us. I do remember getting notes from the network and being told that I could not have Cole roll the head of a human across the floor because it was too distressing. I said, “But Buffy kicked a guy’s head off last night.” The network executive replied, “That wasn’t a guy, that was a demon.” So I asked, “If I change the victim to a demon, can we still roll the head?” The answer was yes, I did, and we did.

There’s actually a “Charmed” reboot in the works. What do you think about that?

I wish them all the best. It’s daunting to redo a show that people are so passionate about. But the people doing the reboot are very talented, and I’m anxious to see their take on the concept.

You also wrote for the short-lived “Flash Gordon” series that debuted in 2007. What was that like?

This was one of the best experiences in my career. Peter Hume, the showrunner, is a brilliant and funny guy; we’d worked together on “Charmed” and I was thrilled to work with him again. The staff was small (five of us), but we worked well together and we worked hard together. There was some tension with the network originally about what the show’s focus should be, but we really found our stride. I believe we would have gotten a second season, had it not been for the WGA strike. I have pictures somewhere of us turning in the season finale 13 minutes before the strike started.

Do you enjoy writing for fantasy/sci-fi shows or do you prefer stories more based in reality?

What I care about most is telling great stories. That said, I love genre. The original “Twilight Zone” is one of my key influences, along with the work of Ray Bradbury, Harlan Ellison, and Stephen King. But I also grew up watching procedurals with my parents, so I like those, too. (I remember my dad calling me and saying, “There’s this new show called ‘Law and Order,’ I think you should check it out. I think they’ve got something.”) I’m looking for interesting worlds to visit: Isn’t that why we all read and watch?

 You created and executive produced the crime/family drama series “Ties That Bind.” It aired on UPtv and was filmed in Canada. That’s quite an achievement! Tell me about what went into creating and producing the show.

I had written a movie for UP, and it had been a very good experience. They were exploring getting into scripted series and invited me to pitch. They were interested in a family drama with a procedural element, so I worked up ideas in that area. I pitched my favorite to my manager, who loved it. So I pitched that one to the network, and they loved it and chose to develop it. We developed the pilot story and arcs for the season over several months, and then I got the green light to write the pilot script.

They then ordered 10 episodes. I hired two other writers and a slate of freelancers, and we wrote all 10 episodes before going up to Vancouver for production. I was in Vancouver for the entire shoot (we did 10 episodes in 62 days, which is very fast) and most of the post-production (I did some of the final mixing by Skype from Los Angeles, which worked because my team still in Vancouver was amazing). From initial pitch to the first episode airing was about 18 months. It was an incredible experience and I still cherish the people who were on the journey with me.

I imagine there’s something special about producing your own show.

It’s an honor and a blessing. I was very fortunate to have a terrific, hardworking cast and crew who really got into the show. Producing television — especially with a short schedule and a tight budget — is really tough. My attitude is, we work too hard not to enjoy ourselves while we’re at it. I do my best to make sure people know they are heard and valued in the process.

I heard it was a priority for you to hire women to work on “Ties That Bind.” Why was that important to you? 

When I started working in television, many executive producers would tell my agent, “Thanks, but we already have our girl.” Many writing staffs had only one woman writer — if they had any women at all –and most men shrugged that off.

Those proportions have improved over the years, thank goodness, but we still have a lot of work to do to bring more talented minorities to the table. The most effective thing I can do is write memorable characters for women and people of color, and then hire writers, actors, directors, and other artists from those communities.

Sheryl J. Anderson with the teenage cast of “Ties That Bind.”

What has your experience been as a woman writer in the notoriously male-dominated world of Hollywood?

Sadly, I have my own #metoo moments, and I recognize that there is a tremendous amount of work to be done to make women safer in our business. I have worked with men I would cross the street to avoid, but I have also worked with men who are collaborative, generous, and delightful.

What would you like to see change in the industry?

I’d like to see the momentum continue to create meaningful equal opportunity and pay, and safer working conditions.

Do you have any thoughts on the recent “inclusion rider” speech best actress winner Frances McDormand gave at the Oscars?

I am not educated on the particulars, but I think it’s a wonderful concept. We need to create paths of opportunity for people to enter and rise in the industry.

What’s the secret to a good screenplay?

A dynamic and engaging story, told with emotion and conviction, that embraces the visual aspect of the medium.

Do you feel screenwriters get enough recognition and credit in Hollywood?

No, they don’t. We’re often a disposable commodity within the industry. And outside, I’m surprised how many people still — despite the Hollywood journalism industry — don’t understand that actors don’t create their own characters or dialogue.

Who are the screenwriters who have influenced you or that you admire?

Leigh Brackett. Billy Wilder. Robert Bolt. Albert Hackett. Rod Serling. Donald Ogden Stewart. And my influences come from the stage, too, particularly Shakespeare, Christopher Fry, Lillian Hellman, and Noel Coward. And then there’s my all-around champion, Dorothy Parker.

“Christmas Solo,” Kailey Schwerman/Up

You’ve also written in a genre that has become increasingly popular with viewers: Hallmark Channel (or Hallmark Channel-style) movies and Christmas TV movies. What’s it like to work on those projects? Is there really a formula for each of these types of films?

The Christmas movie I wrote for UP last year, “Christmas Solo,” was a reunion with a lot of terrific people from “Ties That Bind,” so it was like a homecoming.

My experience with Hallmark has also been enjoyable (the movie, currently in pre-production, is slated to air this summer). Hallmark doesn’t have a formula, but they do have a brand and they are dedicated to growing it. They know and respect their audience, and I respect that. I also really enjoy the executives I’m working with at the network; they are smart, funny, and collaborative.

Another of your impressive accomplishments is penning a series of novels, the Molly Forrester Mysteries. So many readers of No Man’s Land are huge mystery fans. Is it as glamorous as it sounds to be a mystery novelist?

I don’t think any kind of writing is glamorous. It’s perplexing and frustrating and draining, right up until the moment that it’s glorious and beautiful and surreal. And then it goes back to being perplexing. Dr. Catron used to say there’s a difference between people who want to be writers and people who want to write; I think glamor is mainly an illusion the former have. Now, when you’re Gillian Flynn or James Patterson, there’s probably glamor, but I think that has more to do with the success than with the work.

Why did you decide you wanted to work in this genre?

I’ve always loved mysteries. I watched mystery movies with my parents when I was growing up; my dad loved Bogart and my mom loved the “Thin Man” movies. I read Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys, and Encyclopedia Brown as a kid, then moved on to Agatha Christie, Mary Stewart, and Norah Lofts. I remember starting to write a novel called “The Secret of the Swedish Locket” in sixth grade. I don’t remember why I didn’t finish it, nor do I remember the secret.

As for Molly, a friend of mine called me and told me her book agent was looking for a very specific project: “Sex and the City” does a murder mystery. I pitched her a character I’d been developing for a television pilot and she loved it. She introduced me to her book agent, I pitched it to him, and that led to the four Molly mysteries.

Were you inspired by any other mystery writers?

The writing staffs of the “Law and Order” universe.

Has being behind-the-scenes in Hollywood influenced your view of fandoms at all?

I do get a little frustrated when fans take an “I could’ve done a better job” attitude about a film or series, because it disrespects the work of all the people who labored months or years to do the best job possible. As the adage goes, no one sets out to make a bad movie.

I tell my screenwriting students, “What I wanted was …” is not constructive criticism; “This worked for me because …” and “This didn’t work for me because …” is. We all know the internet makes it way too easy to take easy shots at other people’s work (and not just in media). If you are really a dedicated fan, take the time to be thoughtful and articulate about your feedback.

Overall, however, I’m impressed by the investment and dedication in fandom; when you create a world in a movie or series, you want people to embrace them. Having just attended WonderCon, I marvel at all the expressions of fandom — cosplay, art, clothing and jewelry, writing … It’s terrific, and I hope to one day create something that evokes that kind of reaction.

You’re one of those rare fans of both Star Wars and Star Trek. “You do not have to pick” is your motto. What are your earliest memories of each of these series?

My father was a naval officer and I loved watching Star Trek with him. The crush I developed on Walter Koenig didn’t hurt. I recently had the opportunity to interview D.C. Fontana about her time on the show, and it was an epic thrill for me.

My mom, brother, and I saw “The Empire Strikes Back” the week it opened; my dad was at sea, and I couldn’t wait to tell him about it when he got home, because I knew he’d love it. Hyperspace blew my mind. When my kids first saw the movie, I couldn’t explain how amazing it had been originally, because of the leaps visual effects have taken since then.

Which incarnation of Star Trek is your favorite and why?

I’m a TOS (The Original Series) girl. I never got into the others on a meaningful level.

Are you a fan of Disney’s efforts to give Star Wars new life?

I’ve enjoyed the movies thus far, and I’m intrigued to see where they go next.

Do you secretly love one of them more than the other, even a teensy, weensy bit?

You do not have to choose.

One of your major obsessions is musical theater. What are some of your favorite productions?

Last November, we saw “Hamilton,” “Spamilton,” and “Something Rotten.” That was a pretty terrific month. Other of my favorite memories are Alan Cumming and Emma Stone in “Cabaret,” staged at Studio 54; the original Broadway production of “The Wiz”; the original road companies of “Les Miserables” and “Jesus Christ Superstar”; my daughter’s turn as Maisie in “Seussical”, my son playing Galahad in “Spamalot”, and the production of “The Fantasticks” I stage-managed in college.

I understand you write annual plays for your church with geeky themes, such as “Doctor Who.” How did you become involved with that? Tell me all about it!

When I joined the congregation, I had co-written two books of chancel dramas, which I shared with the pastor. The youth director, who was also the school’s drama teacher, reached out and invited me to work with him on a 10-minute drama to add a fun message to the midweek services during Lent. (I should probably explain that I’m Lutheran, and the Lutheran church decided, several years ago, that Lent did not have to be somber throughout in order to be a proper observation of Jesus’ sacrifice.)

Over the years, the dramas lengthened and evolved until we were doing full “episodes” of a “series.” I’d write a 40-ish minute episode based on the Gospel lesson for that week, and the commercial breaks included the Scripture readings, praise songs, and commercials where we adapted classic commercials into spiritual messages (“Ask your pastor if Grace is right for you”). We selected topics from pop culture, and it was always fun to see the kids in the congregation trying to figure out which character was Jesus and which was Satan.

Over the years, we did series ranging from “Doctor Who” (Jesus is a time lord, right?) to “Law and Order” (“Law and Order: Jerusalem”) to “Lost” (Who will get you off the island?). We started off with students playing most of the roles, but as they got older and as adults saw how much fun they were having, our casts became multi-generational.

You’re the mother of two very creative and talented geeks. Tell me a little about them. What geeky activities does your family enjoy together?

My daughter just graduated from college with a degree in costume design. My son is a freshman in college, getting his BFA in acting. They are both also talented writers, and I love discussing story with them. In fact, my daughter is working as my assistant, and that includes her giving me notes on my scripts and covering books for me as I look for new projects. We enjoy watching movies and series together, recommending books to each other, and creating stories of our own.

What’s the secret to raising brilliant geek children?

God blessed me with great kids. I read to them from the womb, and, as they grew up, their father and I shared the books, comics, and movies we loved with them. But they sparked to a lot of stuff on their own, and we encouraged them. Now, they lead me to great new work. And I love getting their perspective on classic material as well as new. But the most important thing for me has been to respect what they get passionate about and then find out why they feel that way. Often, I become passionate about it myself.

I heard you recently did your first cosplay. What was it and where?

The kids and I went to Stan Lee’s Los Angeles Comic Con last October. I was Joyce Byers from “Stranger Things.” My favorite moment was when an Eleven ran up and threw her arms around me and “wept.”

Do you plan to do any more cosplaying?

My daughter and I just went to WonderCon (my son had rehearsal for Ren Faire). And we’re already planning for the three of us to attend Anime Expo in July. My daughter is a costume designer, so I’m very excited to see what she thinks we should do next; we’re discussing some fun mother-daughter options.

What writing projects are you currently working on?

I’m developing a family drama and pitching two genre shows. I have a variety of other projects in more embryonic states.

Do you have any dream projects that are on the back burner?

I have two pilots, one I’m writing with my daughter and one I’m writing with my son, that have had to take a back seat to projects with firmer deadlines. But we work on them as much as time allows.

What’s your advice for writers who aspire to be awesome, seasoned Hollywood veterans like you?

Ha! Not exactly how I’d describe myself but …

Be fierce and resilient.

Write what moves you, not what you think will sell.

Take notes with grace, humor, and a grain of salt.

Don’t be afraid to rewrite.

Don’t measure yourself against other people. Measure yourself against your goals.

Watch and read everything, and learn from it. But don’t be so critical that you lose your joy.

Have people in your life who are supportive. Have people in your life who will give you honest feedback. If you are fortunate, these will be the same people.

Get off the internet and get back to work.

A panel to teach fanboys how not to be creepers? (And other thoughts on WonderCon)

Photos by FAWN KEMBLE

I’ve resurfaced from a day of deep immersion in WonderCon, which, in case you’re not familiar, is the nerdiest of all nerd weekends in Southern California. I spent the day before at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter so, yeah, it was basically the most epically geeky two days ever.

WonderCon is organized by the people who put on the insanely popular and notoriously unnavigable San Diego Comic-Con. It consists of fanboys and fangirls overrunning the Anaheim Convention Center for three wonderful, exhausting days of cosplay, panels, screenings, promotional events, gaming, signings, meetups, mutual admiration, and shopping for collectibles, T-shirts, and merch, even though we don’t have any more room for them in our houses.

From what I observed, this year’s con was pleasantly well-organized. Mailing out badges in advance and scanning them at various points of entry was a great idea. I particularly enjoyed the sight of a dude in a giant cardboard Lego Legolas costume trying to reach his badge while simultaneously squeezing through the narrow scanner gate.

From a feminist perspective, I was happy to see many panels geared toward women and women’s issue on the schedule, including “Entrepreneurial Women,” “Cospositive: Cosplay with Confidence,” “Comics and Women,” “WonderCon Women of Pop Culture,” and a Friday night panel exploring how the #TimesUp movement applies to the comic book industry.

As my sister and I walked the Exhibit Hall, we were pleased to see many more women artists, writers, entrepreneurs, and vendors than in previous years. (There were still a whole lot of men, but it’s progress.) I was able to collect more than 50 business cards from women you might read about soon in No Man’s Land’s weekly Geek Goddess interview series.

I purchased a Captain Marvel T-shirt and a signed illustration of Wonder Woman by artist Leanne Huynh. I also bought my first comic book from one of the convention booths. In the past, I’ve been too intimidated to do that, so that’s progress for me personally.

We chatted with artists and exhibitors — at WonderCon you’re guaranteed to run across at least one person you’ve always wanted to meet or talk to — and spent so much time on the floor, where the air is clammy and thin, that we forgot all sense of time, not to mention basic necessities like snacking, hydrating, or taking bathroom breaks.

Eventually, we did fortify ourselves with greasy food truck fare in front of the convention center, surrounded by gender-bending Harley Quinns, twin Kylo Rens, Daeneryses, and Demigorgons.

My sister, who wore an adorable blue Tardis dress, only had to deal with two awkward and unwanted encounters with guys who lingered too long or insisted on mansplaining the finer points of “Doctor Who.”

Here’s an idea, WonderCon organizers: How about a panel titled “How Not to Be a Creeper” featuring so many geeky celebrities that fanboys won’t be able to resist attending?

Lavender Vroman, Gail Simone, and Fawn Kemble at WonderCon 2018.

For me, the highlight of this year’s event was a panel featuring Gail Simone, writer of Birds of Prey, Wonder Woman, and “Clean Room,” and the most recognizable woman in comics, who I Twitter stalk almost daily. Simone has worked hard to cultivate and encourage inclusiveness and representation in the industry.

Her origin story is legend. A comic book fan since childhood, she was working as a hairdresser when she began writing columns critiquing the industry, especially on its more misogynistic tropes. She was eventually approached to write for comics and the rest is history.

During the panel, Simone talked about her first job writing for “The Simpsons” comic book and how scared and inexperienced she felt. She recounted emailing her comic writer friends for advice on basic things like formats and style and how terrified she was that her employer would discover she didn’t know what she was doing.

I found this deeply encouraging because, so many of us — especially women who write or create — struggle with feeling strong enough, or smart enough, or confident enough, or adequate enough to tackle those scary new opportunities that could lead to something bigger. The fear of failure is a supervillain just waiting to deliver a demoralizing monologue.

Even sitting down to write a simple blog post some days can take a surprising amount of courage. I’m sure it’s the same for those of you who sit down to paint, or write fiction or poetry or a screenplay, or simply take some time away from daily responsibilities to do something that makes you feel fulfilled and inspired.

Gail’s advice: If you’re scared, it’s a good thing. Do it anyway. That’s when you’re going to create your best work.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Love of sci-fi, fantasy leads avid reader, ‘Beauty and the Beast’ fan to live best geek life

When I first met Erin Gardner, I had no idea what deep and delicious layers of geekiness lurked beneath her deceptively placid demeanor.

Since then, Erin has become one of my very favorite geeks, a fellow bibliophile and lover of Ray Bradbury, and someone you can easily get lost in nerdy conversation with for hours about everything from “Beauty and the Beast,” to “Doctor Who,” to Harry Potter, to comic books, to conventions, to anime.

Nintendo and Disney were her gateway drugs into the world of fandoms and pop culture. A love of fairy tales and literature, particularly the genres of science fiction and fantasy, led her down the wonderful, winding paths of Narnia and Middle-earth, as well as the worlds of “Howl’s Moving Castle” and classics like “Fahrenheit 451” and “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.”

In this interview, she reminisces about the time she realized she had gone “full nerd” on a solo trip to the Wizarding World in Orlando, Florida. She also chats about her dream Disney wedding, her budding love of anime, her ample Funko Pop! collection, her “Battletoads” obsession, and her adorable dog Falkor.

As a bonus, Erin reveals the hidden treasure that is Phoenix Comic Fest and what the sweetest revenge is when you’re a girl gamer.

To those who don’t know you, you can seem kinda quiet, so I think people don’t always realize the ever deeper levels of geekiness that exist within you. Are people sometimes surprised when they figure this out about you?

I am a pretty shy person for the most part so, yes, most people are very surprised. My favorite surprise story is when I first started dating my husband and he had a picture of Deadpool as his phone’s background, and I saw it and said, “Oh, cool, Deadpool.” His jaw hit the floor. Since then it has been a wonderful geek-filled relationship.

Were you a geek child? How did you first become interested in nerd stuff?

I wouldn’t say that I was. I must have been about 7 when my grandma bought us our first Nintendo, and I loved playing it. That was definitely the gateway into me being a nerd. But I wasn’t quite as obsessed as I am now.

So, first off, I must ask you about your love of late science-fiction writer Ray Bradbury because that’s something we share. How were you introduced to Bradbury’s writing and why do you enjoy it?

It is such an off-the-wall story. I was a member of paperbackswap.com, a website where you post books you are willing to “swap” with other people. All I had to do was pay the shipping cost. Then I could request a book from someone else and they would send it to me. So I would go to the library book sales, where I could get a bag of old books for $1, then post them on the website.

One of the books I grabbed was “S is for Space,” a collection of his short stories. It sat on the shelf forever, and now I am glad that no one wanted it. Then one day, my mom said something about it being a Bradbury book, and that he was a pretty well-known author. So I picked it up and started reading.

I started with the introduction: “Jules Verne was my father, H.G. Wells was my wise uncle, Edgar Allen Poe was the bat winged cousin we kept high in the back attic room. Flash Gordon and Buck Rodgers were my brothers and friends. Adding, of course, that in all probability Mary Shelley was my mother. With a family like that, how else could I have turned out as I did; a writer of fantasy and most curious tales of science fiction.” — Ray Bradbury

I was hooked after that. I never thought of myself as someone into weird and unsettling stories, but I just loved every word of every story. It was so different from my normal young adult fantasy stories I was currently reading. You have also been a big influence in my love for Bradbury, like showing me his favorite booth at Clifton’s, and lending me the Bradbury books I have yet to read.

Erin, center, and fellow book lovers Lavender Vroman and Christy Rooney, sitting in the Bradbury booth at Clifton’s in Los Angeles.

Do you have a favorite Bradbury book or short story?

This is such a hard question! I loved “The Halloween Tree.” “Fahrenheit 451” was great, too. I would have to say my favorite was still my first book of his, “S is for Space.” My favorite short story from “S is for Space” would be “Come into my Cellar,” a story about children growing mushrooms in the cellar, but these mushrooms aren’t just normal mushrooms …

Erin visiting the Halloween Tree dedicated to Ray Bradbury in Disneyland.

Do you have any thoughts on HBO’s upcoming adaptation of “Fahrenheit 451”?

I have unrealistic expectations when it comes to my favorite books being made into movies. I would love it to be the exact same as the book. Which is impossible, I know. After “Ella Enchanted” was made into such a terrible movie adaptation, I am a little hand shy about this one. I still plan to see it though. I’m sure you will be one of the first to hear from me when I do.

Judging by your email address, you’re also a fan of C.S. Lewis’ “Chronicles of Narnia.” When and how did you discover the series?

My mom had her set from junior high on the shelf, right below “S is for Space,” funny enough. I was first drawn to them because of the fantastic illustrations on the book jackets. I started reading them in Junior high, as well, also on my mother’s suggestion.

What makes it special to you?

I love that it is a fantasy-style story of the Gospel of Jesus, a retelling of how Jesus died for me because of his great love. It will always be something quite special to me.

Which is your favorite book in the series?

“The Voyage of the Dawn Treader” has always been my favorite! “The Silver Chair” is a close second though. Who doesn’t love Puddleglum?

Who’s your favorite Narnian inhabitant?

There are so many good ones to choose from, Reepicheep, Eustace Scrubb (who you hate at first, but then you grow to love), and Mr. Tumnus, the first Narnian inhabitant I met. However, Aslan has always been my favorite. His presence is so comforting, not to mention he is the creator of Narnia.

You’re also a fan of Lewis’ BFF, J.R.R. Tolkien. Are you more into the books or more into the movies?

For “The Hobbit,” I am more into the book. Why the heck is Legolas even in the movie? For “Lord of the Rings,” I am into both.

I saw the movies first, but I will only watch the extended editions. I read the books after, and as always, the books are better. I am part of the group of salty people who wanted Tom Bombadil in the movie, because he is so awesome. I love both the movies and the books though. They are each good in their own way.

Who’s your favorite resident of Middle-Earth and why?

My favorite in both the book and the movie is the Mouth of Sauron, (cue my love for the creepy I didn’t know I had until Bradbury brought it out). He has been Suaron’ s mouthpiece for some 60 years, learning great sorcery, and his name is remembered in no tale. He has such a small part in the story, and he is so mysterious and very creepy. So, of course, he is my favorite.

Erin’s husband, Tim, proposed to her at Snow White’s Wishing Well in Disneyland.

You’re quite the Disney fan, as well. This might be a difficult question, but do you remember your first Disney experience?

Disney movies started coming out more frequently when I was born and I grew up watching them, so I think my love for Disney came gradually. I think the movies were where it started. My brothers and I watched them over and over again. “Beauty and the Beast” was my go-to movie. Disney was such a big part of my childhood (and everyone else’s) that it is nostalgic to me.

Even the parks, my first trip was when I was 2, and I walked the whole day. When I was a little older, I once got lost at the park and thought I would never see my family again, but I didn’t mind the idea of living in Disneyland if I had to. I have spent every birthday at Disneyland since I was 15. My husband asked me to marry him at the wishing well. So many of my memories are at Disneyland or have to do with Disney.

You are specifically very into “Beauty and the Beast.” How old were you when you first saw it? What impression did it make on you?

It came out the year before I was born, but I couldn’t tell when the first time was. When I was tiny I am sure.

I related to Belle the most, she is still the only brunette princess, too, I think. She loves to read like me. She also feels like an outsider, which everyone relates to in some aspect. There are places where we feel we don’t fit in. The biggest one though, is don’t judge a book by its cover. Someone might look scary on the outside, but be a great person, while others might look very attractive on the outside, but a real jerk on the inside. Ahem. Gaston …

Can you sing all the words to all the songs?

I can! For the original, the Broadway version, and the remake.

Are you a fan of the live-action remake?

I am a fan of it! They incorporated aspects from the original story written by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont, like when she asked her father to bring her back a rose (which made my bookworm self very happy). The song the Beast sings at the end is so good, and I am a fan of her new dress. I got to see it at the El Capitan Theatre (in Hollywood).

I understand you have quite a collection of “Beauty and the Beast” merchandise. Tell me about some of the prized items you’ve amassed. 

I do have a lot of things. Many are gifts from family and friends. My favorite things would be my Jim Shore figures, a life-size set of Lumiere and Cogsworth, a hand-painted sign that my brother and sister-in-law got Tim and I for our wedding. My most favorite, however, was an outfit I had growing up. It was a purple shirt with belle on it. I wore it when it was almost dress length to when it was a pretty short shirt length. I would still wear it if I could. I still have it too.

Erin in her favorite childhood “Beauty and the Beast” shirt.

You and your husband, Tim, had an adorable Disney-themed wedding. Please tell me all about it.

It was the best day ever, obviously. I got to wear a Disney Alfred Angelo ballgown dress covered in sparkles. Surprisingly enough, I wore a dress styled after Cinderella. The Belle-style dresses just looked weird on me. All my bridesmaids were dressed like other princesses and their bouquets were made specially to match their princess.

Each table at our reception was decorated after a Disney ride. The Jungle Cruise table even had a pop gun to scare away renegade hippos. Our candy table had a Monorail driving around the edge, our cake had the rose from “Beauty and the Beast” on top, with Iron Man hiding among the rose petals falling down the side of the cake.

A bridesmaid carries a “Brave”-themed bouquet.

The men all had action figures for their boutonnieres, and a matching shirt with their superhero’s logo under their suits. Our ring bearer was Thor and the pillow with the rings was shaped like Thor’s hammer.

We had so many people help out to make the day so amazing and I am still so thankful to all of them.

Why did you choose that as the theme for your big day?

I always wanted to get married at Disneyland. My sister-in-law, Caitlin, and I once planned our perfect Disney wedding on their website, and then cried when we saw the price for the most basic wedding package. So the next best thing was having a wedding themed after one of Tim’s and my favorite places.

Caitlin Hawkins, left, and Erin at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Hollywood.

Harry Potter is another of your major fandoms. How did you discover J.K. Rowling’s series?

There was the crazy girl I met in junior high, who was a bigger reader then I was, and she was so in love with Harry Potter that she would wait hours outside the theater on opening night to see the newest Harry Potter movie coming out. I went with her to see one of the movies, I can’t even remember which one it was, but after that I was hooked, I went home and started reading all the books. That crazy girl, Caitlin, is now my sister-in-law and my very best friend. We still geek out over Harry Potter all the time. I love sharing that with her.

What’s your Hogwarts house?

I am a proud Slytherin! I got sorted in high school on a field trip to Warner Bros. Studios. I got to sit on the same stool from the movie, then they put the hat on my head, the hat started yelling at me because he said I thought he was ugly, then put me in Slytherin. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I recently took Tim to Warner Bros. so he could be sorted. He was put into Ravenclaw.

You actually once went to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando by yourself, just ‘cause you had the opportunity. That’s so awesome! How did that happen? Tell me all about that visit.

My best friend Kristy lives out in Florida. She moved there when we were very little and it broke my heart. She is also quite the nerd. It was her wedding that weekend, and since I was out there already I stayed an extra day to see Universal, since I had never been there before. Kristy’s uncle works there so he got me a free ticket.

That was when I knew I went full nerd, by myself on the other side of the continent, going to the Wizarding World. It was such a good day, I would do it again in a heartbeat. I sent Snapchat videos to everyone back at home. Being by myself though, I got to go in all the single rider lines, so I rode most of the rides there.

Is the Orlando theme park way better than the Hollywood Wizarding World?

It is SO much better. They have it spread between two parks, so there is a ton more there. Not just Hogsmead, they have the Hogwarts Express you can ride to London, Lavender Brown comes and writes love notes to Ron while you are on the way there. Diagon Alley is so amazing! My favorite part though was when I found a pitch black alleyway. It was Knockturn Alley! I was terrified to go in, and once I went in the smell was horrible! It was so fantastic! I highly suggest going.

You’re a major bookworm in general. Do you have a preference for science fiction and fantasy? If so, why do you think that is?

I do prefer science fiction and fantasy. I think it is because in this genre you can push the limits, it is so different from reality, and that makes a wonderful escape from the real world.

What are some of your favorite book titles?

“Howls Moving Castle” By Diana Wynne Jones. “The Hunchback Of Notre Dame” by Victor Hugo. “Dracula” by Bram Stoker. “The Great Good Thing” by Roderick Townley. All the Gail Carson Levine books. I could list so many more, but these are few of my favorites.

Do you have a bajillion books in your house?

I do. Haha. I just counted, I have 245 books throughout my house.

You work for a travel agent. This may be a stretch, but does this job ever intersect at all with your geek lifestyle?

It does in one way. My boss has the most amazing collection of Disney figurines. They are so beautiful. I couldn’t tell who made them though.

A couple of your other fandoms are “Doctor Who” and Star Trek. Who’s your Doctor and why?

Nine. I love Ten and Eleven, too, but Nine is my doctor. He was the one that got it started again, and he was more serious than the others and also had a dryer humor, which is my favorite humor. My favorite way to put it is like this: Nine is a tiger, serious and strong, always in charge of things. Ten is like Tigger, cute and silly, bouncing around but still getting things done. Eleven is a house cat that knocks over a vase and pretends he planned to do that all along.

Which incarnation of Star Trek is your favorite?

The Original Series, but Picard is my favorite captain. The new movies are a close second though. Anton Yelchin was my favorite in the movies, so I am so sad about his unexpected death.

You’ve recently gotten into the “Flash” TV series. What do you like about it?

The Flash is my favorite superhero out of both the Marvel and DC universes. The show just sucked me right in! I love all the characters, the writing is good too. Tim and I have tried to get into the other CW shows but they just aren’t as good. I still want Barry Allen and Felicity Smoak to be together. Even though I know that will never happen. I have even started reading The Flash comic books.

Erin and Tim at one of Erin’s favorite attractions, Guardians of the Galaxy — Mission Breakout at Disney’s California Adventure.

In other comic book related news, it seems you’re pretty obsessed with “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” right now. What’s that about?

I seriously don’t know, I just love everything about it! The soundtrack is amazing and all I have been listening to recently. Baby Groot is just so cute! The chemistry between Peter Quill and Drax is so funny to me. It also has my new favorite actress, Elizabeth Debicki, who is covered in gold. This is a spoiler, but I love the redemption story arc of Yondu. I hated him in the first movie, and in this one he becomes pretty awesome.

I was also super unhappy that they changed Tower of Terror to a Guardians of the Galaxy ride, but now I can’t get enough of it! It one of my favorite rides!

You’re currently wading into the wonderful waters of anime. What shows have you been watching?

I have only watched two so far, “Death Note” and “Full Metal Alchemist.”

What’s intriguing you so far about this genre of animation?

The story of these shows are so elaborate! It keeps me interested, and it is fun to see how their culture and how they tell stories are so different from how things are done here. The different mythology is really cool to me. Like learning about Shinigamis and how they work. It’s really cool.

You have an impressive collection of Funko Pops. How many do you own?

I have 161, as of right now, but that is always changing.

What are some of your favorites?

I have a Rose Tyler Pop! signed by Billie Piper, a 2015 San Diego Comic-Con Unmasked Barry Allen limited edition, worth about $170. I am pretty picky when it comes to the ones I get, so all of them are my favorite.

Where do you keep them all?

I have an Ikea cabinet that I have most of mine in, but I am in desperate need of another, they have already out grown it. The cabinet is in the room we call the Nerd Cave, where we keep most of our nerd memorabilia.

Do you collect anything else?

Just books and Pop! figures, I don’t really have space to collect anything else.

You’re also an avid video gamer. How did you get into gaming?

It started with our first Nintendo, and I just kept playing games. It helps that all my brothers were into gaming, and as the only girl in the family, spending time with my brothers meant playing video games, so I always thought it was normal for girls to play video games. I learned later that I was more of an anomaly.

What’s your experience as a girl gamer been like?

It has been good for most part. I think gaming does come more naturally to guys, so I have always had to work hard at keeping up with them. Playing online is where things are different. If I have a mic in and am talking to the other people playing, most of them think I am a 12-year-old boy, and when they do find out I am a girl some of them can get pretty vulgar. Then I beat them, and that is pretty satisfying.

I made some pretty good friends too, though, and that was fun. Now though, I play mostly with my husband, my brother Sam and his wife Caitlin, and my brother-in-law Brian. It has been fun to see more girls get into gaming now though. It has been such a guy-dominated hobby, but not anymore.

I understand you own an old-school Nintendo console just for your favorite video game of all-time, “Battletoads.” What is it about that game?

This game has been named the hardest game of all time. I have only ever made it past level three once, you literally have to memorize the entire game to beat it. My brothers and I spent hours playing it, it is a nice piece of nostalgia for me. I also love the idea of toads being totally B.A. It is such a different kind of game to play.

You’re also a big fan of the Lego games. What do you like about those?

They are just so fun! They have a mice mix of action, puzzle solving, and humor. The Harry Potter ones are my favorite, I have played them through a couple of times.

How good are you at “Call of Duty”?

Not to toot my own horn, but I am pretty good. I used to stay up till three in the morning playing it, so I have had a lot of practice.

How many hours have you spent playing “Overwatch”?

61 hours so far. We actually haven’t played much lately.

How crazy are you about “Portal”?

So crazy! The first time I played it, I put it in the console, and then emerged three days later, having beaten the game. I couldn’t stop playing it. I heard they were talking of making a movie, which would be fun to see I think. I have played it through several times since then.

You’ve discovered the joys of the Phoenix Comic-Con (now called Phoenix Comic Fest). What’s the advantage of immersing yourself in one of the smaller fan conventions?

We went in 2016. It isn’t affiliated with (San Diego) Comic-Con. So all the guests they have there aren’t contracted to be there. They come because they want to, which makes the atmosphere more comfortable I think. It wasn’t as crowded as some of bigger cons. It is in Phoenix, but the heat isn’t a problem because it is in the downtown convention center, which is huge! So everything is inside.

Tim and Erin with Billie Piper at Phoenix Comic-Con.

What were some of the highlights of your con experience?

Meeting so many “Doctor Who” actors! Billie Piper, Alex Kingston, Dan Starkey. We also got to meet Timothy Odmunson and Oded Fher, who thought he knew Tim from somewhere. Alex Kingston was my favorite to meet though, she is seriously the nicest person.

The selection of Pops there was also astounding! I found so many exclusives I was looking for, and they were cheaper then Amazon!

The best part though was when we stumbled upon an Aquaman panel. The one guy on the panel casually dropped that he was a writer for the show “Scream,” which Caitlin and I were currently obsessed with. I about died! So I found his booth the next day and got to talk to him about the show and what theories we had! It was one of the best parts of the whole weekend!

Erin with “Scream” TV series writer Heath Corson at Phoenix Comic-Con.

Are you planning to go back?

I would go back every year if I could. I really hope we can make it this year. The cast from “Guardians of the Galaxy” will be there, also Paige O’Hara! Plus William Shatner and Tim Curry. I would love to cosplay this time too.

What’s left on your geek bucket list?

To go to Disneyland in Paris! Maybe to go to San Diego Comic Con once. To start getting into cosplay.

Falkor

To close, I must mention your adorable doggy, Falkor, just so we can include a photo of him. Tell me a little bit about this lovable real-life luck dragon. 

He is crazy sometimes, but since we got our cat, Tonks, he has become the mature one. They are the best of friends. He is such a smart dog too! When he is outside and wants to come in, he knocks on the door. We didn’t teach him that, he just started doing it on his own! We just love him to pieces. I didn’t know his ears would stand up, otherwise we might have named him Ghost.

 

 

Artist’s paintings, pins fueled by imagination, inspired by Disney, Ghibli, and more

“Daydream and paint” is the slogan of artist Megan Chaney’s Etsy shop, ChaneyAtelier.

Fueled by her imagination and a desire to let others experience this fantastical inner world, she creates magical paintings and whimsical pins, often inspired by the fandoms she loves, including Disney, Game of Thrones, Studio Ghibli, and Star Wars.

At the age of 12, the gift of a beautiful wooden easel from her parents started her down the road to the artistic life. A Disney fan since the days of “The Little Mermaid,” she discovered she could make her own Magic Kingdom-themed accessories for much cheaper than theme park prices.

When she’s not studying art at the University of California, Bakersfield, or teaching kindergarten, Megan is fangirling over Marvel, video games, artists who stream on Twitch, Chris Pratt, and tall, dark, handsome Jedi-gone-bad Kylo Ren. 

Meanwhile, she’s dreaming of the day when she can dedicate herself solely to art. “We live such boring, mundane lives and we forget what makes life fun and enchanting,” she says. 

Megan’s creations are definitely helping to combat that problem. 

You’re an artist who sells your pins, paintings, and other creations on your Etsy shop, ChaneyAtelier. Have you always had artistic inclinations?

I’ve always been interested in art, though, my skills were definitely learned over time.

How and when did you get serious about art?

When I was 12, my parents got me a beautiful wooden easel with a large paint set for Christmas. It was my most prized possession and I was so proud to own such nice tools that I painted vigorously ever since. I still use that easel today!

A pin inspired by Disney’s famous Dole Whip.

A lot of your Etsy products are fandom-related (Disney, Game of Thrones, Rick and Morty, etc.). Tell me your geek origin story. Were you into geeky things as a child?

As a kid, I was obsessed with Disney. I had Disney princesses on my walls and would watch “The Little Mermaid” on repeat. My younger brothers were interested in the more boyish shows like Pokemon so I’d watch along. We all moved on to watch animes and just loved them.

Who and what do you consider to be an influence on you artistically?

I am a fan of so many artists! I really aspire to paint like Thomas Kinkade. My favorite YouTube artists are Danica Sills and Kelogsloops. They both create gorgeous, fantastical characters.

When did you begin painting? How would you describe your style?

I began painting in kindergarten. My style is a mix of Disney, anime, fashion, and surreal landscapes.

Many of your paintings are nature-based with a particular focus on water. Why are you drawn to these subjects?

I’ve grown up at the beach and in the water. My life revolved around nature as a kid and I still love just being surrounded by it.

Disney-themed pins by Megan Chaney.

 When and how did you begin making pins?

I only began making pins in February 2017. I was fortunate enough to get Disneyland passes and found that pins there are very pricy. So, instead of spending big money on pins, I began making some for myself and thought others would love to have them as well.

Tell me a little bit about what goes into the process of making a pin. What techniques and equipment do you use?

My pins are made of shrink plastic. First, I design the image for the pin in Photoshop. Then, the image is printed onto the shrink plastic. I cut each pin out and then shrink them in the oven. After they’re shrunk, I spray the pins with an acrylic enamel and let them dry overnight. They’re topped with epoxy top to give it a glossy dome and the pin is glued on the back, then they’re ready to ship!

When did you realize that an Etsy shop was a viable option for you?

I sold a few watercolor paintings locally and realized that if I expanded my audience, I could show my art to more people and sell more.

How did you arrive upon the name of your shop? Why did you incorporate the idea of a workshop or studio into that title?

I am not creative with names, so I simply decided to keep it related to me my using my last name and instead of using studio, I chose “atelier.” My studio is essentially my shop, so my Esty and studio are directly intertwined.

Your shop slogan is “daydream and paint”? What would you say is the “daydream” aspect of your work?

I spend a lot of my time imagining a fantastical world that I’d much rather be a part of. I paint my daydreams to allow others to experience it as well.

Where do you tend to get your ideas for your products?

I’m very inspired by nature and elements of fantasy. I also enjoy a lot of different cartoons and shows.

What are some of your favorite creations so far in your Etsy shop?

This watercolor galaxy was very fun to make and sold to a wonderful person. I also love several of my pins, like the Oswald and Hatbox Ghost, which are very popular with my customers.

You’re open to custom orders and requests. Have you done any interesting customizations or collaborations so far?

I have! I’ve recently created a Disney Name Tag pin for the Haunted Mansion. The customer was wonderful to work with and very pleased with her product.

Your Disney pins are your best-selling items. Why do you think this is?

As a passholder, I know that pins are very popular at Disneyland but they can be very pricey. Everyone wants these cute pins, but they can buy them from my shop for 1/3 of the price.

There seems to be a real trend with Disney fans toward expressing themselves through fashion, custom ears, custom accessories, etc. Why do you think Disney inspires this in fans?

It’s fun to express to everyone else what you think is fun and interesting. Having the option to wear something custom and one of a kind just allows your fashion and accessories express exactly who you are.

Megan at Disneyland.

You describe yourself as a huge Disney fan. When did that obsession begin for you?

Since I was a toddler I’ve loved Disney. I used to ask my mom to play “The Little Mermaid” on repeat when I was a kid.

Do you visit the theme parks often?

I do, I’ve only ever been to Disneyland in California, however. I also go to Universal Studios regularly and love the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

“Tangled” and “The Little Mermaid” are among your favorite Disney movies. What other Disney movies, franchises, attractions, etc., do you love?

I also love Star Wars, “Guardians of the Galaxy,” and “Thor.” I love Pixar, Marvel, and Warner Bros. for Harry Potter. My favorite Disney attractions are Haunted Mansion, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Indiana Jones.

 What’s still on your Disney bucket list?

I want to visit every Disney theme park and go on a vacation at the Aulani Resort in Hawaii. I would love to meet Chris Hemsworth and Chris Pratt as well.

Studio Ghibli-inspired pins by Megan Chaney.

Another of your artistic inspirations is Studio Ghibli and the films of Hayao Miyazaki. What is special to you about these movies?

Studio Ghibli and Hayao Miyazaki create very whimsical and fantastical movies. The art of their films inspires me.

“Spirited Away” is one of your favorite Ghibli films and, when it comes to other anime, you’re a fan of “Death Note.” What appeals to you about these?

“Spirited Away” has a fascinating story and characters and the relationships between the characters are so sweet. “Death Note” is very suspenseful and makes you think. I love shows that have deep plot twists and keep you on the edge of your seat.

You’re also very into Star Wars with a particular liking for Kylo Ren. Why Kylo?

It’s one of those tall, dark, and handsome things. I guess I just like the story of a tormented soul.

What did you think of his evolution in “The Last Jedi”?

I think he grew from being whiny to knowing what he wanted and how to get there. He kind of transformed from looking for sympathy to saying f— it all.

Tell me your personal Star Wars saga. How did you first discover George Lucas’ galaxy far, far away?

When I was a kid, my grandpa used to play Star Wars movies on repeat. I was really too young to appreciate them, though. It wasn’t until my best friend in high school became obsessed with cosplaying that I began to enjoy the movies too.

Reylo. Yes or no?

No, I’d say don’t force what shouldn’t be. Rey should never be bad and Kylo should never be good.

 Porgs. Yes or  no?

Yes! They’re so cute!

 Alden Ehrenreich as Han Solo. Yes or no?

Yes, he fits the character perfectly.

Marvel is another one of your passions and you’ve got a thing for Star-Lord in particular. Should Chris Pratt just go ahead and star in every movie already?

Yes! He is the hero we’ve all been looking for!

What are some of your favorite Marvel movies?

My favorite Marvel movies are “Thor: Ragnorok,” “Thor: The Dark World,” “Guardians of the Galaxy,” “Spiderman: Homecoming,” and “Dr. Strange.”

What are your thoughts on “Avengers: Infinity War”?

I think it will be amazing to have so many awesome characters all in the same movie.

Speaking of war, you are also a “Game of Thrones” fan. How did you get into the series?

I ran out of other things to watch and decided to catch up on the series. I binge-watched it until I was caught up.

Have you read George R.R. Martin’s books?

Nope. I can’t say I have the time to.

 Who should sit on the Iron Throne?

Tyrion!

One of your hobbies is video games, with an emphasis on “Assassin’s Creed,” “Kingdom Hearts,” and “Animal Crossing.” How did you get hooked on these games?

I love great stories so RPGs like these games are great to me. All of them have wonderful, ethereal stories that just keep me hooked.

What’s your experience as a girl gamer been like?

I feel that being a girl hasn’t changed my experience as I have always had good guy friends and girl gamers to play along with.

You’re a supporter of YouTubers and Twitch Streamers. For those of us who are unfamiliar with Twitch, what’s that about? What do you like about these forms of media for artists and gamers?

Twitch is a platform for gamers, talk shows, and creative artists to livestream their content to others. I like being able to watch other artists and gamers and I enjoy sharing my own work as well. Twitch is convenient, too, because you can directly talk to the streamer and make friends.

You’re studying to be an art teacher at California State University, Bakersfield. What inspired you to pursue this career?

I love art and love children. I feel that being an art teacher, I can continue my passion, spread my knowledge, and still have a stable income. I enjoy the summers off, too!

You’re currently a co-teacher of a kindergarten classroom. Do you find that your students influence or inspire your art in any way?

No, unfortunately school systems are pretty strict about getting stuff done, however I get to influence my students with a bit of directed drawing time.

Are they aware of your artistic pursuits? If so, what do they think?

They are, though, they’re only 5. Their opinion doesn’t go much farther than, “That’s cool.”

Do you have a studio or space where you do your art? Can you describe it for me?

My space is very small and very busy. I just have an L shaped desk in my bedroom. The desk is used for all my computer activity, school work, gaming, and art so there are containers of paintbrushes and markers on one side of my monitor, textbooks on the other, and my easel in the far corner. I don’t mind the small space but I would love to have some dedicated table room for my art.

Your ultimate dream is to paint and “never have to do anything else.” What would your ideal artistic life look like?

The life of an artist consists of long hours of searching through inspiring photos, watching tutorial videos, and talking to other artists. I would love to spend my days paintings and being inspired. I’d love, also, to have the time to attend art shows and host my work in galleries. Hopefully as I settle into my career I’ll have more time to dedicate to my passion.

Do you have any future plans for ChaneyAtelier or for selling your work?

Paint more, sell more. My paintings are successful when I sell them, but I don’t have many paintings to sell. If and when I can, I’d like to have more of my paintings up for sale. It would be nice to design and sell my own clothes as well.

What are some of your other artistic goals or dreams?

I’d love to get into mural painting. I’m still learning and don’t feel I’m ready for such a large-scale painting, but hopefully someday I can be.

You’ve said the work featured in your shop is meant to “enlighten others to see beauty, adventure, and fantasy in our normal world.” Why is that important to you?

We live such boring, mundane lives and we forget what makes life fun and enchanting. If we would all see the world through different eyes, we could find its beauty and live happier.

The geek fashion industry has a size problem: An open letter to Ashley Eckstein

Dear Ashley Eckstein,

To begin, I’d like to thank you for giving women a voice to express their love of fandoms through fashion. I remember all too well the days when we had to make due with ill-fitting Star Wars T-shirts from the men’s section, or the thrift store, or our boyfriends’ closets.

Because of Her Universe and the geek fashion empire you’ve created, women have so many more options for self-expression and have been inspired to boldly and unashamedly celebrate their love of Star Wars, Star Trek, Doctor Who, Marvel, Studio Ghibli, and many other fandoms and franchises.

Your pioneering work in the geek fashion industry and your partnerships with Disney and Hot Topic place you in a unique position to create positive change, which is why I’m writing to you about a specific, industry-wide problem that geek fashion designers, manufacturers, and retailers need to address.

I’m talking about the fashion industry’s size problem, which makes shopping for clothes a source of frustration and discouragement for any woman who doesn’t happen to have the body of a teenager. (I’d say that’s most of us.)

Inconsistent sizing, lack of availability of plus-size products, higher prices for plus-size clothing, flimsy and unflattering fabrics and materials, and other related issues often combine to make shopping for geek clothes a fangirl’s worst nightmare.

Clearly, addressing and resolving these issues isn’t just Her Universe’s responsibility. I’m writing to you, Ms. Eckstein, because Her Universe markets itself as an inclusive fangirl fashion company and lifestyle brand that caters to a diverse spectrum of women.

Your brand prides itself on catering to women and girls of all shapes, sizes, and styles, from plus-size shoppers to kids. The company’s motto is “Fashion for Every Fangirl.” Too often, though, it seems the brand’s actual target demographic is an extremely narrow one, namely young women and juniors with a very specific body type.

My friends who wear plus-size clothing have been talking to me about their concerns for years. This Christmas, however, I had my first personal experience with the geek fashion size problem when my husband gifted me with Her Universe’s adorable, vintage-style Star Wars Endor Landscape Dress.

Since the picture of the model wearing the dress on the Her Universe website screamed “teen heroin chic” more than “40-year-old lady in a cosplay dress,” I probably should have been prepared for the fact that I couldn’t even get the zipper to close halfway on my medium-sized frock.

Now, I comfortably take a medium in every item of clothing I purchase, from T-shirts, to blouses, to dresses, so I was surprised, even shocked, and saddened that I wouldn’t be able to wear the dress to WonderCon as planned.

Around the same time, I was shopping on the Her Universe website for a gift for a family member. I found several plus-size dresses I knew she would adore, including designs from Doctor Who and Star Wars. Every time I clicked on a dress, however, I found that her specific size was out of stock. This happened over and over again, until I eventually gave up and went to another retailer’s site to find what I needed.

Now, it’s entirely possible the Endor Landscape Dress was designed for a younger, slimmer gal than me and I just didn’t realize it. And it seems geek fashion retailers have an ongoing problem with maintaining their plus-size stock, for whatever reason, be it demand or lack of supply.

But if the issue is that companies like Her Universe don’t in reality cater to a demographic of average-size women and plus-size fangirls, then the company needs to be transparent about that.

I polled my friends about their experiences shopping for geek fashion items and they all seemed to have disheartening stories that suggest this particular niche market is just as focused on youth and twiggy, anorexic beauty as the rest of the fashion industry.

By far, the biggest complaint I heard was about inconsistent sizing and labeling.

“I shouldn’t be a 3XL in a dress when I’m a large in a shirt from the same company,” said one of my friends.

Her solution? Switching from companies like Her Universe and We Love Fine to smaller outlets, like Elhoffer Design, that she feels care about her and her body.

Another friend who wears plus-size clothing recounted three failed attempts to purchase items from Her Universe, which culminated in a frustrating and overlong return process. She now has resolved to buy only shoes from the company.

Those I spoke to also described a constant struggle with thin, clingy fabrics and form-fitting cuts that are unflattering to their body types.

“See-through is not what I’m going for,” one of my friends said. “Also, I don’t want form-fitting. My fix for this is wearing men’s T-shirts instead. But it would be nice to have better options.”

Another major pain point for plus-size shoppers is the unavailability of desired clothing items, which always seem to be sold out or out of stock when they go to click and buy them.

“I think most times that I think to myself, maybe I’ll buy that, it’s sold out already,” a fellow geek shopper said.

Then there’s the fact that plus-size dresses and other clothing items tend to cost more than smaller-size items, which is just patently unfair and discriminatory. A quick glance at the Her Universe website reveals the cost of a plus-size dress can run about $10 to $15 more than the equivalent outfit in a smaller size.

The friends I polled mentioned lots of other things they’d like to see change in the geek fashion world, as well, including more dress-length options for taller fangirls and less gender-stereotyping when it comes to designs, like the over-feminized, flowery fashions that tend to be marketed to women and the edgier, artsier fashions targeted at men, for example. Why not make a wider variety of designs available to both genders and let fans decide for themselves what they want to wear?

I realize the problems I’m presenting to you won’t necessarily be easy to solve. Fangirls come in all ages, shapes, and sizes, and have lots of strong opinions. However, the fact that a large percentage of the female geek population isn’t being represented by companies that claim to represent them is a serious concern.

Ms. Eckstein, you’re at the forefront of the geek fashion world. If anyone can raise awareness and begin to address these issues, it’s you.

Thanks for your attention and consideration.

Sincerely,

Lavender Vroman