Love of cartoons, anime, comics shape illustrator’s ‘cute, adventurous’ style

Growing up in the Philippines, illustrator Irene Flores’ artistic inclinations were nourished by a steady diet of awesome Japanese and American cartoons, from Danger Mouse to She-Ra, Speed Racer and Voltron to Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind.

The dual influences of anime and ’90s comic book aesthetics conspired to shape Irene’s signature “cute” and “adventurous” style, which you can thoroughly absorb on her website, www.beanclamchowder.com (there’s a story there).

Irene’s impressive portfolio includes the Fashion Art School series of lively instructional books, work with Marvel comics and BOOM! Studios, a graphic novel published by Tokyopop, illustrations for the serialized novel Dead Endings, and art for the 12-issue run of Jim Henson’s Labyrinth: Coronation. 

Irene also puts the fan in fan art with portraits and illustrations inspired by her favorite pop culture properties, from Marvel, to Harry Potter, to Disney, to Game of Thrones, to Star Wars, to Final Fantasy. (Don’t get her started on her passion for FFXV! Seriously, though, it’s inspiring.) My personal favorite is a stunning portrait that captures the fierce poetry in motion of Black Panther’s Okoye. 

You can even take home some of the geeky art and merchandise she’s created, if you visit her Storenvy shop, as well as Redbubble, TeePublic, and Amazon. You’re welcome. 

 

Black Widow fan art by Irene Flores.

You’re an illustrator who has done projects for Marvel, BOOM! Studios, and DC imprint Wildstorm. You also co-author and illustrate a series of really fun art instructional books. When did you first realize you wanted to make art your profession?

It was always the dream when I was a kid. I was maybe 4 or 5 when I first got my hands on some Filipino dime store comics and, a year or two later, found Archie, and a little bit after that discovered Wonder Woman. It was my answer when adults asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” But it become more of a reality in my twenties, when I realized that an illustration career could be something I could really pursue.

Did you begin making art at a young age?

Yep! I think most kids tend to doodle anyway. I did the same, drawing random ideas and fan art from shows I watched. My dad influenced the drawing bug more, though. He was a graphic designer and in the mid to late ‘80s, that meant he largely hand drew everything. So we saw his artwork and he always had cool stuff … tech pens, templates, graphic tape and transfers. Tt seemed so neat to use.

You grew up in the Philippines and were “heavily influenced” by both Japanese animation and American comics. Can you tell me about some of your early influences in both these mediums?

Yeah, in between my Filipino shows, we got Danger Mouse, Inspector Gadget, Rainbow Brite (the best), Jem, She-Ra, He-Man, ThunderCats (my jam), Care Bears … damn, I watched a lot of cartoons … Astro Boy, Speed Racer, Voltron, Voltes V, Candy Candy, Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind.

What most appealed to you about these two art forms?

Being a kid, you don’t really have that distinction between Japanese or American animation (I just knew they weren’t Filipino). Most of the shows were in English. Some of the Japanese (and Korean shows) were dubbed in Filipino. I just watched cartoons because that’s what you did as a kid, right? They were colorful and sometimes wacky, but you don’t care about nuance when you’re 6! People had amazing costumes! Flying horses with rainbow manes! Cute bears with caring powers! It was definitely more exciting than live-action shows.

What was it like to be a girl who was into these things?

Hmm, as a kid it didn’t matter. Our town had a few select channels, so all my classmates watched the same shows. You could talk to any of them about the Nickelodeon block that week, and try to do some Street Frogs raps. Or show off your brother’s Molecular (from SilverHawks) figure.

Art from Dead Endings by Irene Flores.

Your portfolio art is listed under two categories on your website. One is “Cute.” The other is “Adventurous.” Those two words are a good description of your style. How did you develop this unique personal style?

It started early. I had comics books drawn by Jim Lee, Brian Bolland, Whilce Portacio … like, that ‘90s comic book superhero aesthetic I tried to emulate. But I also loved a lot of cute stuff, watched a lot of shojo anime and the biggest influence was probably Sailor Moon. The style was already softer compared to American comics, but the characters often went chibi or “SD” (super-deformed). And they looked hella cute.

I feel like I’d always done the cute stuff, but always as an aside. Like, for a little bit of a cute intermission comic, or standalone art. The focus was more of that ‘90s comic art style, until about the late 2000s to 2010s, I think? As I got older and more exposed to new art styles and artists (thanks, dialup internet), I saw “cute” styles used in stories that I didn’t think they’d be used for. So I started developing that style as it’s own unique thing while still working on my “Adventurous” stuff.

As an illustrator, what materials, tools, and equipment do you use most?

I just got a brand new Galaxy Tab A with S pen. Game changer. For the longest time, I was doing analog sketching, inking with brush pen, scanning in and cleanup/colors in Photoshop, using a Wacom Intuos tablet. I’d never really had the “drawing on a tablet screen” experience before.

Damn, I was missing out. I bought the Tab A as a kind of cheap portable sketchbook thing. Ha! It’s basically my brand new workhorse. It’s just a much faster process than starting with analog. There’s deadlines to meet, you know?

Short version, I’m doing all my sketching, lines, and flats on the Samsung Galaxy Tab with S pen (ArtFlow app), and doing cleanup/colors on Photoshop CC, with my tiny, beat-up Wacom Intuos Small, on my equally beat up 2012 Macbook Pro (which needs more RAM).

Your website is www.beanclamchowder.com. That’s an intriguing name. What exactly does that mean?

Sometimes, I think about the origin of that and put my head in my hands and sigh. Time travel with me to 1999, where I was in high school and my friend (who had a Marine Biology class) was given a worksheet with different aquatic species on it. She then proceeded to give her friends nicknames from said worksheet and I was bestowed with “beanclam.” I got off easy (it was way catchier than “bristleworm”). I thought it was funny in a way only high schoolers think is funny. So I started using it as my username in the shiny, new world of internet forums.

I liked it enough (couldn’t think of an alternative) that I used it for my senior project in 2001. I coded (with basic HTML what an innocent time) an art website for myself, “beanclam.tripod.com.” And I started posting my art online. Even back then, I thought that name recognition was important when it came to art but I should NEVER reveal my real name on the internet.

So beanclam kind of stuck … for 17 years. But when I tried to buy a proper domain name, “beanclam.com” was already taken (disappointing, but the landing page is just a giant picture of a beanclam, so appropriate), so I went with the next best thing.

There are currently four books in the “Fashion Art School” series you co-write and illustrate for Impact Books. Titles include “Shojo Fashion Manga Art School” and “Sci-Fi Fashion Art School.” How did the idea for the series come about?

I have to thank Amy Reeder (Rocket Girl, Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur) for that, actually. Impact Books had approached her to do a book on fashion and she didn’t have the time due to other projects, so she sent Impact my way. I was very enthusiastic about the idea, since I love creating character outfits anyway. They liked my stuff well enough to offer me the chance. The first book was pretty successful, enough that I got to make a few more.

Do you enjoy teaching budding artists through this series?

I was a bit nervous, since I feel like I’m still learning? Although that feeling will probably never go away, so I wasn’t sure if I was “qualified” to teach anything. But I just went off things I learned and presented it as straightforward as I could.

Have you received feedback from teens and older artists who use these how-to books?

Oh man, that part was (and is) very rewarding. Getting feedback online and in person from people who have used and loved my books is amazing. It’s super flattering to be told that my books were a big influence on their approach to drawing, especially when they seem to be seriously pursuing art.

You illustrated the three-volume graphic novel Mark of the Succubus, published by Tokyopop. As a comic book fan, that must have been exciting.

For sure. It was my first professional, published book and a bit of a trial by fire. As someone who had only done a page-a-week webcomic, Succubus was a full on 168-page graphic novel. It took a year to finish the first novel. It was a lot of very high moments — actually finishing and publishing a book, achieving the comic book artist dream — but there were lows too. The job did not pay well, and i felt burnt out to the point where drawing wasn’t enjoyable. So it was a very important experience for me and I learned a LOT with that first job.

You’ve also illustrated covers, variant covers, and short stories for Adventure Time and The Amazing World of Gumball comics. What was it like working with BOOM! Studios?

I honestly forgot how BOOM! found me. It might’ve been online or perhaps someone saw me tabling at a convention? But I’m glad they did. It’s been great fun working on various things for them. It keeps things interesting for me. I’ve gotten to do Adventure Time and The Gumball covers, and recently I’ve inked for Heavy Vinyl and Labyrinth Coronation. I’m stoked that the editors there know they can rely on me and the variety of style I can do.

Art from Dead Endings by Irene Flores.

Your art is featured in the serialized novel “Dead Endings” in online magazine Sparkler Monthly. Tell me more about this project. 

Man, what a fun book. I love contemporary supernatural stuff in general, plus Jessica (Chavez) injects the story with this dark comedy vibe and I am here for it. Plus I love the characters, and I was very excited to have some input on their design. I draw an illustrated piece for each chapter, usually Jessica or our editors will suggest a few scenes to choose from. The illustrations are black and white and I usually try to have a detective/film noir, shadows and light vibe (it is a supernatural detective story after all), and on occasion use a single color as a highlight in the art for some emphasis.

Can you tell me about your work with Marvel?

It was a while back, one of my earlier jobs as well, that I have mixed feelings about. I was very excited about it, I was living the dream, getting a chance to work with a company I’d been a fan of for so long. The project was a four-issue mini of Cloak and Dagger. I was doing the art and inking. I finished the first issue, but the series was cancelled and Issue 1 was never published. It was pretty disappointing, but I learned that happens sometimes. But it hit me harder at the time since I was fairly new to working in comics.

You also created artwork for a volume of Jim Henson’s Labyrinth: Coronation. That’s awesome! Are you a fan of Labyrinth? What was that experience like?

I’m so glad my editors have asked me to stay on for the 12-issue run. My friends and I are all fans of Labyrinth and, watching the movie ages ago, had all decided that we’d rather stay in the Labyrinth with the Goblin King and why was Sara trying to leave?! Working on the book has been fun and I think I’ve finally hit my stride. I’m mostly working on scenes that are familiar to me, the ones from the movie that focus on Bowie — I mean Jareth — and baby Toby. It’s been a really positive experience so far, and I’m looking forward to the rest of the run (we’re working on Issue 7 right now).

Your portfolio includes a lot of fan art and you sell geeky merchandise on Etsy and Storenvy. What do you enjoy about creating fandom-related art and merch?

It’s just so fun and enjoyable, especially sharing fan art with fellow fans. Won’t lie, I know that making fan merch can be pretty lucrative and I … uh … need money to live. The stuff I make is pretty much the stuff I’m a fan of, though. So maybe that’s why it feels ever more rewarding when people purchase things from me? Like, thank you for appreciating my stuff enough that you’ve bought things fromm me, and also you’re a fan of this show?! THANK YOU.

You’ve said you “just like nerdy in general.” When and how did you embrace your inner nerd?

I’ve embraced my inner and outer nerd for years. It’s just that my interests are “nerd” interests. I mean, I feel like sports fans can be gigantic nerds too … dressing up and painting their faces, memorizing stats and player training regimes and … I’m just gonna handwave sociocultural bias … whatever.

I like what I like, and a lot of those things are “nerdy.” RPGs, anime, games, being an indoor kid, not liking sports, etc. These things make me happy, why wouldn’t I embrace that?

Your website features art inspired by Marvel, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Final Fantasy XV, Hetalia: Axis Powers, Disney, Game of Thrones, and Star Wars. One of my favorites is your illustration of Okoye from Black Panther. It’s very powerful. Tell me about your thought process in creating that piece.

Oh, man, that Okoye piece. I was still on a high after watching the movie and walking out of the theater, I immediately knew I wanted to draw THAT image. Okoye, on top of a car, in the red dress, lit by the neon lights in a high-speed chase on the streets of South Korea. The image was really vivid in my head and I finished it in a day. Although I did fiddle with the lighting and edits for another week, but that initial drawing and colors was so fast. I was inspired. I wish all my drawings were that easy to get out.

Many of your character portraits are of strong female characters, like Princess Leia, Black Widow, Wonder Woman, Agent Carter, even Negasonic Teenage Warhead. Do you think geek culture is making progress when it comes to female representation?

Yeah, for sure. It’s not just the characters but the creators and industry as well. And obviously I feel like progress was always being made, albeit slowly and more quietly. The conversation is out there now, due to social media and just the added voices and transparency brought on by the internet. Obviously, nothing is perfect, and there’s always room for more improvement, but progress is happening.

Let’s talk about some of your personal fandoms. You described yourself as “deeply entrenched” in Final Fantasy XV. You said you were surprised by how much you ended up loving it. How so?

When the initial promos came out, I was like, what is this? Some J-pop bros out on a road trip?! I mean, well, it IS. But I do love it anyway, ha! So off the bat, the game is beautiful and I appreciate my visuals. The combat is fun, with some cute perks (battle selfies anyone?), and the story is pretty straightforward, yeah?

The Kingdom of Lucis has been taken over by the empire of Niflheim, the crown city of Insomnia has fallen, and the Prince and his three friends/retainers are on a quest to take it back. But also you can hunt monsters, and race chocobos, and catch frogs, and take photos for a magazine publisher. And do about a million other side quests. And FISH. And learn new recipes.

But we played for MONTHS. And I kinda fell in love with the characters and the tragedy of the story. Yeah, the four main characters are young men in their early 20s. They say dumb stuff, and are kinda dorks, are bad with emotions, some have self-esteem issues and are saddled with duty and dad issues. But they’re trying to do good and the right thing and there’s duty and sacrifice and complicated relationships. And it’s a grand ol’ Shakespearean tragedy in the end.

It’s not perfect. Oh boy, it’s far from that. But I really fell for the characters in a way I hadn’t since FF6 (my next favorite casts are FF12 and FF10).

How many hours would you say you’ve spent playing FFXV?

Real talk. I “played” the game at home with my wife. I have stuff to draw, so I’d sit at my laptop and work in front of the TV while she played. We’ve clocked over 300 hours. I would never get anything drawn if I had the controller in my hands.

Final Fantasy 6 fan art by Irene Flores.

When and how did you first begin gaming? What do you like about it?

We had little handheld games, friends with consoles and there were gaming cafes in the Philippines, so my brother and I got into console games and were later exposed to arcades. We started out playing Tetris, Donkey Kong, Super Mario, Golden Axe, just a lot of side scrollers and puzzle games. And I loved them! The graphics were very low res, but it was kind of like being in a cartoon but able to control the characters which was amazing.

And then in high school, we got a Super Nintendo. And I played Chrono Trigger. And I had feelings. And then my brother told me, “You should play this game, I think you’ll like it.” It was Final Fantasy 6. I uh … I cried a lot. It kind of changed the direction of what I loved in games. I fell in love with the characters, and this expansive narrative, and it gave me so many feels (in a time where the translation was not great and localization was probably not really a thing).

I love a lot of game types, but that started my lifelong love of RPGs and my love/hate (mostly love) relationship with Final Fantasy. Some of my recent faves have been Undertale, Fran Bow, The Last of Us, Fire Emblem series and, god, I love resource management games … Sims, Civilization, Don’t Starve, etc., etc.

You’re also very into Marvel — the comics and the movies. What are some of your favorite titles in the comics and the films?

Oh man … got to whittle it down. The first Avengers film was a game changer and is still one of my faves. Captain America: Winter Soldier is probably my fave Marvel movie. Black Panther, oh my god. Spiderman: Homecoming, yes, please. Also Season 1 of Daredevil and Season 1 of Jessica Jones, a revelation. Those are personal faves.

Books? Sophie Campbell on Jem was aesthetic goals, Ms. Marvel (I love Kamala, bless her fanfic-writing heart.), Young Avengers Volume 2, the entirety of Kid Loki’s story arc (mostly in Journey into Mystery), Hawkeye (Fraction and Aja), and a bit of a flashback, but Generation X.

What are some of your other fandoms?

Recently, Steven Universe, Voltron, Detroit: Become Human, Undertale, Game of Thrones. Oldies but goodies? Avatar: The last Airbender (I will love it forever.), Harry Potter, Star Wars, plenty of old-ass games and anime (Death Note, Hetalia, Bleach, One Piece, Full Metal Alchemist). Why are there so many?!

You seem enthusiastic about the upcoming animated She-Ra series from Netflix. 

Yes! I enjoyed the original version as a kid. But honestly, a lot of those old shows were terrible. But I liked the character designs, and what I mostly remember was loving the idea that He-Man (which I watched first) had a twin sister who also had a “secret” hero identity and was a princess that had a cool sword and a rainbow pegasus (flying horses were very important to me as a child). And I was indifferent when I first heard about the reboot, but learning who the creative team was behind the show, I got more excited (I’ve been a fan of Noelle Stevenson since Nimona.).

The tagline on your website says “Irene Flores … illustrator + karaoke aficionado + caffeine addict. What are some of your go-to karaoke songs?

Oh, damn. “Sweet Child of Mine.” ALWAYS. Disney songs are always great to get other people singing, although the BEST one is “I’ll Make a Man Out of You.” And “Time Warp” from Rocky Horror is always a good time.

What’s your caffeine delivery system of choice?

Summer here in California is kicking my ass, so right now, I’m living off Trader Joe’s cold brew.

You exhibit your art and merchandise at conventions. What’s your next scheduled appearance?

I took a bit of a break from cons this year (I was a bit burnt out after four years of steady convention tabling), so my last convention for the year is SacAnime (in Sacramento) at the end of August. But I’m excited to get back into it in 2019. I already know I’ll be at WonderCon 2019, and I’m super excited to do Emerald City Comic Con. I won’t know about other cons until a bit later.

According to your website “About” section, your future goals include “creating another graphic novel and eating a Monte Cristo sandwich.” Can you tell me anything about this future graphic novel?

Oh man, I’ve been wanting to do some personal projects for a while and felt I didn’t have time due to client work. But I’m trying to my fix my schedule to accommodate it. There are a couple of ideas I’m working on with Ashly (my wife and writing partner). We’ve been kicking around ideas, but the forefront is really a cute book featuring birds. We have five parakeets and three cockatiels and I’ve been doing some art and short comics featuring them. But we want to do some longer format stories featuring them on adventures.

How are things going with the Monte Cristo?

My genetics and terrible eating habits have caught up with me and I am pre-diabetic, so that Monte Cristo will have to stay a distant dream.

 

The Badass Ladies of Summer return with a vengeance

Image result for thandie newton solo

I began my annual roundup of the Badass Ladies of Summer in 2014 when I noticed a growing and encouraging trend of women delivering strong, wildly entertaining, box-office stealing performances in Hollywood’s most action-heavy, male-dominated season.

Since then, there have been many high points, like Charlize Theron’s performance in “Mad Max: Fury Road,” the female-led cast of Ghostbusters, and Margot Robbie, tearing it up as Harley Quinn in “Suicide Squad.”

The pinnacle of summer badassery was reached last year when Gal Gadot debuted on the big screen as Wonder Woman and basically gave female moviegoers of all ages the representation they’d been craving all their lives. Aside from that game-changing performance, however, the rest of summer 2017 skewed disappointingly toward the testosterone-fueled end of the scale.

So I’m happy to report that the badass ladies were back with a vengeance in summer 2018. From fierce, formidable comic book heroines (and villains) and razor-sharp double agents, to sci-fi goddesses and tough-as-nails mamas, women were kicking butt, taking names, and giving their male co-stars a run for their money. (And several of them, including Emily Blunt, Zoe Saldana, and Rebecca Ferguson, are Badass Ladies of Summer alumni!)

Below, we salute these women and their amazing achievements in cinematic badassness.

Image result for emily blunt a quiet place

Emily Blunt in A Quiet Place: I’m going to roll the summer parameters back a bit to April, when the virtually silent, crazy-suspenseful thriller directed by Blunt’s real-life hubby, John Krasinski, had audiences on the edge of their seats. As good as the rest of the cast is, Blunt’s performance – a combination of grief-stricken vulnerability, maternal grace, and survivor instinct — is the definite highlight.

She plays Evelyn, a mother of three with another on the way whose mission is to keep her children alive in a post-alien invasion America where emitting one small sound could be deadly. No other summer heroine gave birth alone in a bathtub while hiding from extraterrestrial predators, so she might be the baddest of them all.

Image result for okoye infinity war

Zoe Saldana, Elizabeth Olsen, Danai Gurira, Pom Klementieff, Scarlett Johansson, Letitia Wright, and Karen Gillan in Avengers: Infinity War: In a movie crammed full of angsty comic-book goodness, the ladies of the Marvel Cinematic Universe were front and center during many memorable – and traumatizingly emotional – moments.

Saldana’s Gamora was once a lone assassin but she’s evolved into an altruist willing to sacrifice herself to save the universe. Her fate at the hands of Dark Lord/ deadbeat dad Thanos was perhaps the most poignant and horrifying in a movie full of poignant and horrifying fates, thanks to Saldana’s earnest performance.

Olsen’s Scarlet Witch had to make an equally heart-wrenching sacrifice involving love interest Vision. Still, with staggering power at her witchy fingertips, she came close to stopping Thanos.

So did Klementieff’s Mantis, who was mainly there to provide comic relief in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, but revealed herself in this film to be a quick-thinking, nimble fighter.

When Thanos’ Black Order brings the fight to Wakanda, Gurira’s Okoye fiercely leads the defense alongside T’Challa. She also participates in one of the movie’s most epic fight scenes, flanked by Scarlet Witch and Johansson’s Black Widow, against Thanos minion Proxima Midnight.

As for Wright’s Shuri, Infinity War definitely could have used more of the tech-genius princess’ irreverent wit. I also suspect we’ll be seeing more from Gillan’s tormented Nebula in the next chapter of the Avengers.

Image result for enfys nest unmasked

Thandie Newton, Erin Kellyman, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, and Emilia Clarke in Solo: A Star Wars Story: As mixed as the reaction was to the most recent Star Wars spin-off, it brought us a quartet of intriguing new leading ladies. The only shame is most of them exited the film much too early, leaving us hungry for more.

Newton’s Val, the loyal, no-nonsense right-hand woman to Woody Harrelson’s thieving Tobias Beckett, is so tough and likable, she should have been allowed to stick around for the entire movie.

Waller-Bridge gave voice to the franchise’s first major female droid character, who happens to be the wokest rebel in the galaxy, but L3-37’s ultimate demise deprives her of her agency in disturbing ways.

Kellyman’s Enfys Nest stays hidden behind a mask for most of the movie. The removal of said mask is one of the most electrifying moments in Solo, but it’s a short-lived one, and it sure as hell better be a prelude to more of this galactic pirate goddess.

As for Clarke’s Q’ira, she’s a scrappy, resourceful survivor who’s light years ahead of Han Solo when it comes to maturity and realistic expectations. She’s a controversial figure and remains enigmatic for most of the film. Though the script gives her character short shrift, Clarke’s portrayal is charismatic and strong.

Image result for domino deadpool

Zazie Beetz in Deadpool 2: Don’t get me started on what a fiasco Deadpool’s hooker with a heart of gold girlfriend Vanessa continues to be in this sequel. Thank goodness we have Beetz’s cool, perpetually self-possessed Domino to save us from the boys club. With her luck powers unfolding in slow-motion, she’s often the best element in many of the fight scenes in this second outing. And that attitude! Let’s roll the dice and hope a spin-off is in the works.

Image result for elastigirl incredibles 2

Holly Hunter and Sophia Bush in The Incredibles 2: Hunter’s Elastigirl was refreshing from the get-go, a stay-at-home mom torn between domestic duties and the sexy adrenaline rush of her crime-fighting alternate life. Incredibles 2 basically reverses the family situation of Disney’s first installment as Elastigirl goes into the super-powered work force while hubby Mr. Incredible stays home with the kids.

This means we get to see Elastigirl in action a whole lot more, which doesn’t disappoint. Plus, she’s got a new admirer/protégé in Bush’s Voyd, who possesses the power of dimensional teleportation, not to mention an awesome look that will inspire cosplayers for years to come.

Image result for evangeline lilly antman and the wasp

Evangeline Lilly and Hannah John-Kamen in Ant-Man and the Wasp: Many of us have been waiting to see Lilly’s Wasp, aka tech heiress Hope van Dyne, put on her costume and finally come into her own as a full-fledged superhero since she was denied this in the original Ant-Man movie. Thankfully, Lilly presides over a sizable chunk of the action in this sequel, showing off some creative variations on the basic shrinking, expanding, and flying abilities.

She’s well-matched by John-Kamen, making her debut as Ghost. The actor plays the baddie, who can “phase” through solid objects, with a desperate, creepy intensity, enhanced by her faceless white armored suit. My only complaint was I would have liked to see a lot more of her.

Image result for rebecca ferguson mission impossible fallout

Rebecca Ferguson in Mission: Impossible – Fallout: I was instantly smitten with Ferguson when she appeared as mysterious British spy Ilsa Faust in Rogue Nation. Ilsa is voluptuous and lethal with a martial arts prowess rivaled only by her taste in shoes (and somehow this doesn’t come off as stereotypical). She also happens to be way more interesting than most of her male co-stars, including Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt.

So I was thrilled to see her return for Fallout, once again playing Hunt’s sometime rival and ally. It was a relief to see less of the male gaze directed at Ilsa this time around and more focus on her intelligence, bravery, and ingenuity. She’s also got a killer scene in which she saves Simon Pegg’s Benji. The look of furious determination on her face is a joy to behold.

Photos: traileraddict.com, comicbook.com, ESPN.com, wallpapersite.com.

 

 

 

 

Illustrator, storyboard artist, Plastic Man fan tells stories, teaches kids to create

As a child, Jeanine-Jonee “Jenjo” Keith spent most of her free time drawing and was heavily influenced by the classic cartoons of the ’90s, like Doug, Dexter’s Lab,  and Powerpuff Girls. Still, she wanted to be a physicist when she grew up.

Thankfully, that didn’t happen. As soon as she learned art could be a viable occupation, she devoted many, many hours to honing her skills and forged a career as an illustrator and storyboard artist.

She’s created storyboards for commercials, films, and games, and illustrated children’s books. Through her illustration company, JenjoInk, she publishes three comic book series, the sci-fi, fantasy and adventure-tinged “Seafoam: A Friend for Madison,” “ROLT,” and “Lastrex Labs.”

Somehow, she also finds time to hawk her art and merchandise at conventions and teach kids how to create comics through community classes, which provide a safe space for young people to geek out over a shared love of cartoons and drawing.  It’s exactly the kind of learning environment she wishes she had as a child.

Aside from being totally inspiring, Jeanine-Jonee also happens to be the first Plastic Man collector I’ve interviewed, which I find weirdly exciting. Read on for a glimpse into the fascinating life and art of Jenjo. 

You’re an illustrator and storyboard artist who self-publishes comic books. For those who aren’t familiar with the term, what does a storyboard artist do?

Comics and storyboards really go hand in hand in my opinion. Both mediums rely on visuals to portray the story being told. The only difference is that storyboarding requires a more technical approach since they will be used for filming and need to be a tad more technical and specific.

As a storyboard artist, I take the script, whether it be for a game, commercial or short film, and draw the scenes and action out. There are a lot of notes involved that go with the illustrations that the director uses as a visual guide for filming. Storyboards are shown to actors, for example, to give them a better idea of where they should be walking in their scene or the crew to help them set up properly for a shot

You often publish or promote your work under the name Jenjo or JenjoInk. I love that nickname. How did you come by it?

Thank you! Jenjo was a nickname originally given to me by friends and family. It’s a combination of my name, Jeanine-Jonee. I thought it was easy to remember and cute so I adopted it for my pen name and illustration company.

You’ve said you “enjoy the challenge of … translating a compelling story into the visual medium and presenting it to an audience.” What specifically do you enjoy about this process?

Visual storytelling is unique in that, if done correctly, it can be understood by just about anybody. When I approach a project, I try to focus on the colors, composition, expressions, and physical actions and interactions of my characters first, before I consider the dialogue. If I can’t hand a comic to someone and they are able to give me the gist of the story without any dialogue then I don’t feel like I’m achieving what I want to as a storyteller.

But what’s most enjoyable, above anything else, is just seeing that a reader can take something away from what I’ve created, or has had it impact them in some way. My love is in telling stories that have meaning and when I hear a reader is actually excited for the next part of the story or enjoyed reading one of my books it just really, makes me very happy.

Jeanine-Jonee’s self-published comic book series “Seafoam: A Friend for Madison.

Did you show artistic inclinations as a child?

Oh, my mother would constantly complain about how quickly we went through lined and computer paper! I was drawing every chance I got. In fact, if I ever misbehaved, which to be honest was rare, she punished me by taking away my art supplies and hiding them, haha! I’d say I’ve always had the love of drawing and telling stories but I don’t think I was naturally good at it. I’ve just put in hours and hours of mileage and consciously worked toward learning new techniques and practicing what areas I’m weak in.

When and why did you decide to pursue art as a career?

Sometime in middle school, when the internet was growing and more information was accessible, I learned that art could be a job. I’d wanted to be a physicist up to that point, believe it or not. Once I discovered I could get paid to draw it just made sense! I loved drawing more than anything and why not get paid while doing it?

How did you develop your unique artistic style and how would you describe it?

I’m a ‘90s kid and grew up on classic Nick Toons and Cartoon Network shows. A lot of the shows I used to watch religiously, like Doug, Hey Arnold, Dexter’s Lab, Samurai Jack, and Powerpuff Girls, all had these unique dynamic and lively styles. They really inspired me to pursue animation as a career. I also have a deep love for Ghibli films, Dragon Ball Z, and Sailor Moon.

All of that is just implanted in my mind and heart and when I was trying to find myself as an artist I drew inspiration from those things I loved. A lot of what I create now doesn’t have as much anime in it as it used to, but with projects like Seafoam, it’s something that comes directly from that ‘90s era of cartoons that is so nostalgic for me.

My characters are heavily based on shapes and I try to keep the designs simple, but not underdrawn. Because I have a strong storyboarding background and I think about how the characters are going to move, really even though they are going into a comic, I’m designing them with the mindset they’ll be animated so they can be more easily drawn in movement.

Who and what are some of your biggest artistic influences?

There are a few strong influences. I really admire Hayao Miyazaki for not only his talent in presenting a story with strong characters, but his work ethic. Stephen Silver, who is not only extremely talented but shares his knowledge with the artistic community, is a wonderful role model. Genndy Tartakovsky is an amazing storyteller who manages to always push animation and keep things fun! Rebecca Sugar is such a talented creator and I love how she captures emotion in her characters.

You do storyboards for companies, including Honda, AT&T, and Vitamin Water. Is there a lot of creativity involved in storyboarding or is it more just depicting someone else’s vision?

Most of the time, the director already knows what they want when it comes to commercials and they will provide a shot list and examples of the shoot location. There is some creative control when it comes to, say, actions or poses for the actors. I definitely enjoy working on short films or games more than commercials because I have more creative freedom.

What materials do you use when you do storyboards?

I have a few different methods depending on what the project requires. I’m self-taught in Storyboard Pro, so I use that when I’m working on a short film that requires boarding frame by frame or an animatic to be created. For pitch boards and most commercials, I use Clip Studio because usually the director prioritizes how nice the boards look alongside them being accurate reference material.

What about for illustration?

Clip Studio. It’s an amazing program; I use it for everything regarding digital illustration. Especially for comics and books, I have all my templates saved and you just can’t beat being able to have your entire comic book accessible from a single file.

Children’s book I Can See Peace, illustrated by Jeanine-Jonee Keith.

 You’ve illustrated several children’s books. What do you find compelling about illustrating books for kids?

When I was in the fourth grade, my teacher had a class library. We were allowed to draw our own books, staple them, and put them on the shelf. My first book was surreal because I remember that moment when I was little and told my teacher I’d make a real book one day. And I’ve made several and,  you know what, my fourth grade teacher has bought them and has them in her classroom on the book shelf! I suppose it’s a mixture of how much I loved reading and drawing my own books as a kid that draws me to them.

Children’s books are also really fun to work on because they usually do one of two things; they teach kids something or they make kids happy. Most of the books I’ve illustrated have been educational and it’s nice to contribute to something that’s trying to make the world a little better, or help a kid learn how to handle their anger, or teach them about all the presidents and not just Abraham Lincoln and George Washington.

Art from the comic book series ROLT.

You also self-publish a couple comic book series. Tell me about those. 

I self-publish three series at the moment: ROLT, Seafoam: A Friend for Madison, and Lastrex Labs.

Seafoam: A Friend for Madison is an all-ages book that follows the adventures of Madison after she helps a beached narwhal back into the ocean. She’s granted a wish and wishes for a true friend. Every issue, she’s taken to an unmarked island where she hangs out with her chosen friend, Blue, a grumpy kid with a secret. The two of them have a different adventure each issue, usually running into a nautical-themed creature.

The series is three issues in and so far they’ve run into a mind-controlling Hypnoctopus, devious Djinn, Magical Jinx puppies, and native-themed cat creatures. Seafoam #1 was the first comic I ever completed and published so I’m a little biased to say this series is my favorite of the three.

ROLT (Realm of Lost Things) is a sci-fi fantasy mystery adventure series that takes place in a pocket universe called The Manta. Creatures and people arrive there by way of water and trade in their memories for a new start in life, so it’s safe to say we never know everything about a character and they may not know everything about themselves right away.

The series intends to follow the King and his round table as they unlock the Manta’s secrets, while keeping the general populous safe from the different powerful beings that wash up on shore. Due to collaborative issues, this series has been put on hold several times and is slowly being completed now that JenjoInk has been established.

Lastrex Labs is my newest series. It follows the lives of Zoe, Doctor Craft, and eventually Mr. Rook. Lastrex is a facility that specializes in taking people with unique abilities and crafting them into government weapons, though that isn’t necessarily the main point of the story. Emily Brigolin, my head writer and editor, uses this environment to explore characters and their growth. What makes someone human and what will some do to get what they desire most?

Zoe, one of the main characters, is a hyper-intelligent psychic fascinated with the outside world she’s never been allowed to experience, but finds purpose in aiding Doctor Craft’s dream. Doctor Craft is determined to make his mark on the world, but finds himself drawn to Zoe. I’d say it’s as much a love story as it is suspenseful sci-fi goodness.

What appeals to you about the comic book medium?

Comics are versatile. I can make issues in a decent amount of time and distribute them either digitally or physically at conventions. They make great takeaways as examples of my ability to not only tell a story, but complete projects.

Why did you decide to self-publish?

Well, not so much decide. It just happened that way. I’m the sort of person who doesn’t wait around. I’ll figure out how to do it myself if I have to! So far it seems I’m never in the right place at the right time, as they say, so my writer and I are working on getting some help in distributing the books. We’re talking to a few publishers at the moment to widen distribution. If there’s a publisher out there that wants some fresh stuff and prints creator owned books, we’d like to hear from you, haha!

What’s challenging about that and what’s freeing about self-publishing?

The challenge is definitely in the promotion side of things. There’s so much content out there nowadays that getting people to just see your stuff is difficult when you’re doing everything out of pocket. I have a few Patreons that cover my WonderCon table expenses, but the books, advertising, merch, con expenses add up. I pay for most of it using the money I make freelancing and my writer helps pay for books. I really have to thank my wonderful boyfriend for chipping in here and there when he can, too! We don’t have a huge budget but we make it work.

I’d say the bright side is definitely the creative control and keeping my comics ad free (aside from a link to my website). There’s no one telling me how to do it, though I’m always receptive to critique and suggestions from my writer and my boyfriend, Kyle Holland, the marketing master behind JenjoInk.

Are you a comic book reader? If so, what titles or books do you enjoy?

I am! I can’t keep up with most long running arches because they just get too crazy so I mostly stick with short-running series. Right now, I’m all about Last Man by Bastien Vivès. It’s such a fresh story, and I love how Bastien expresses so much with such minimal lines and tones. The animated series is just amazing as well, very inspiring.

Aside from that, I am enjoying “I Hate Fairyland” by Skottie Young, and just got “The Terrifics,” as a gift since it has Plastic Man. Some of my favorite web comics at the moment include “Monster Boy,” “Long Exposure,” and “Space Boy.”

“Pumpkin Spice Babies” by Jeanine-Jonee Keith.

You sell your comic books and art at conventions. What are some of the events you booth at?

I’m a WonderCon regular, but lately I’ve attended San Francisco Comic Con, Fantasia Con, AlienCon, Comic Con Revolution, and am trying my hand at Palm Springs Comic Con at the end of August. We’ll see how it goes, but you guys might see JenjoInk at San Diego Comic-Con next year, too!

 Why is that a valuable experience for you as an artist?

Well, for one, it allows me to speak to new and current fans of my work. I love speaking with fellow artists and have made quite a few friends over the years just by being placed next to someone for a few days.

You just returned from San Diego Comic-Con. How did that go?

Yes, I was running loose in San Diego! No booth this year. I just enjoyed the event, met up with friends, and participated in the portfolio review. Highlights included the Steven Universe Movie reveal, Resident Evil 2 interactive photo exhibit, my very much treasured Camp Nick box, and the Deadpool Dance Party display.

I read that you make art every day, whether personal or professional. Why have you adopted this discipline?

Mileage is one of the most important things to getting better at anything, but aside from that I enjoy drawing and it makes me happy. I just don’t feel right unless I sit down and draw at least one thing a day, even on a day off.

Aside from your illustration, comic book, and storyboard work, you teach kids how to create comic books and children’s books in community classes. Why did you decide to give back to your community in this way?

As a child I loved to draw, and would have loved a drawing class that specialized in making comics. The only issue was there weren’t any. One of my earlier jobs was running a classroom in an after-school program and there I discovered that there still weren’t very many classes like these and the few that were available were seemingly taught by just about anyone, not artists or instructors that had made a book themselves.

I enjoyed working with the kids and had a weekly club in the program where I taught them drawing tips so I took that and tried my hand at starting a comic book class at the community center. These classes provide aspiring artists a place where they can learn some really helpful information, use more advanced materials, and hang out with other like-minded kids. Many go to the same school and don’t even know it till they are in the class! Teaching at a younger age gives these kids a bit of a head start and with affordable prices for the classes just about everyone can attend.

What’s a typical class session like when you’re teaching?

I’ve fined-tuned a five-day session that guides the kids through the complete process of conceptualizing, penciling, inking, and coloring their comic. The short sessions allow the classes to be affordable and with the curriculum I’ve developed, the kids can create a three to six-page full-color comic each class session.

Each day is broken into two fifteen minute lectures and about fifty-five minutes of lab time. Typically, the first lab is at the beginning of the class and will cover the step in the creative process the kids will be at that day; this includes basic composition, inking demo, breakdown of storytelling basic and some layout advice.

During lab time, the kids are allowed to talk as long as they are working and get up to retrieve what supplies they need. While I’m lecturing, they can keep drawing but there’s no getting up or talking so they can listen. I always have notes up on the whiteboard and a work in progress class book with examples and notes available.

Have you learned anything from the kids?

Oh, goodness, yes! For one thing, they can be so much more creative than me. Some of the things they come up with just makes my day. It is also good to see kids who come in on the first day terrified that they won’t fit in find out the entire room (myself included) are also huge cartoon goobers and they open up and join in on conversations. This is another reason I wish I had a class like this as a kid. I was very much that timid child that was afraid to talk to others or share my drawings.

You’re a registered tribe member of the Cherokee nation. What’s your experience been like as a Native woman in the art and comic book communities?

I can’t say I’ve had much specific experience in this matter, mostly because for a long time I didn’t really post about it, or it never came up. I’ve been working to be more active in my tribe’s community and learn more in depth about my culture. They just started a free program to learn the native tongue, which I’m planning on taking.

Art from Lastrex Labs.

You have a Patreon to help enable you to produce more original content. It seems like more and more artists are going this route. How is it working out for you?

Well I only have a few Patreons at the moment, so the money is saved up all year to go towards my WonderCon booth expenses. It’s a big help with that being the most expensive con I go to, but I’m trying to expand my Patreon so I can go to more conventions and take less freelance jobs to produce more original content. Most of my work is still in niche groups so I wouldn’t say I’ve gotten too much traffic there.

You’ve designed some tees, bags, and other merchandise for sale on Redbubble. Is it fun to feature your art in this way?

Yes, I love T-shirts. It gives people a way to purchase merchandise outside of my usual stuff like comics, stickers and pinback buttons. I also love their shirts. They’re so comfy!

You’re a horror movie fan. Why do you like about that genre?

There’s a fascination with suspense and the mood of a horror film that just draws me in. I love the atmosphere, how they often have paranormal tie-ins and the adrenaline rush of a good scare. It’s just nice to snuggle up next to my boyfriend with a fresh tub of popcorn and anticipate the next twist and turn in the story. I’d say I also acquired a love of horror films from my mother, though she loves gore (those Saw movies). Gore isn’t really my thing. I’m more into ghosts, suspenseful mysteries, and the classics.

What are some of your favorite horror films?

I am a huge Evil Dead nerd and have seen everything, even the musical in Las Vegas. I’m a big fan of James Wan and all his movies. I love how with Annabelle Creation, they’ve just been progressing further in creating this whole Warren and Wan universe. To name a few more: Lights out, The Orphanage, The Fly, and The Witch.

You also watch a lot of cartoons. Which ones?

Classic toons dear to my heart include: Powerpuff Girls, Doug, Dexter’s Lab, Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends, SpongeBob, Rocko’s Modern Life, Invader Zim, and Rugrats.

More recent shows I’ve been really digging are: Steven Universe, Star vs. the Forces of Evil, Avatar: The Last Airbender, Gravity Falls, and Over the Garden Wall.

What appeals to you about animation?

Firstly, you take a drawing or a model and move it in a way that the character is given a breath of life and it’s moving. That’s some kind of amazing. isn’t it? There’s so much to get sucked into when you see characters come to life that way. You can exaggerate and deliver the story in a unique way with animation.

You have a Plastic Man collection, which you describe as “modest.” When and why did you begin collecting this superhero? Tell me more about your collection.

He became my favorite character after reading JLA: Tower of Babel. Plastic Man, original Plastic Man … even going back to Jack Cole’s original works is a goofy character, a thief who acquires powers and is trying to atone for his misdeeds. However, what I love about him came about in Tower of Babel when the superhero identities of the JLA were separated from their alter egos.

Plastic Man actually saves the day there by bringing everyone together. He realizes that without the hero, he’s just falling back into being a thug, and his powers without the balance of his dark past make him completely useless as a hero. He often masks his insecurities with humor and aspires to be a great hero like Batman. Mix all of that with his ability to stretch and shapeshift, and simple but iconic design and I was just hooked.

So I’ve collected his comics, have the model sheets from his TV show, and just about every figure of him that exists (even the McDonalds and exclusive Pop! figure). Because he isn’t exactly a super popular character, his merchandise can be difficult to find and a little pricey when I do track it down so progress is slow. I never buy the merch online. Part of the fun of the collection is hunting it down on foot or coming across something I need at Frank & Son or a convention. It’s like a fun constant side quest!

It looks like Plastic Man is making a comeback with the new comic book run by Gail Simone. How do you feel about that?

I’m excited! It’s good to see Plas getting in some of that spotlight and being introduced in more things like figures and shows. I ran into a bit of a snag trying to find #3 … but that’s one more thing to hunt down!

 The “Fan Art” section of your website includes pieces inspired by Moana, Steven Universe, Animaniacs, The Little Mermaid, Teen Titans Go, and others. What do you consider to be your major personal fandoms?

I don’t draw nearly as much fan art as I used to, mostly because I find work picking up and free time or slower weeks going towards completing my personal projects. When I do draw fan art, it’s mostly Steven Universe, at the moment, though I’ve really been itching to try my hand at Berserk and Last Man fan art.

If readers want to purchase your comics, art work, etc., where could they do that?

My main website, Jenjoink.com, has links to either purchase the books from IndyPlanet, Amazon, or myself. I’ll note that books purchased directly from me are signed and come with a button and company sticker. I’m also almost always available for commissions, digital or traditional.

 

From women of Star Wars to Doctor Who, let’s celebrate victories big and small

As women who are deeply invested in the male-dominated worlds of fandom and geek culture, we’re forced to take hope, heart, and inspiration wherever we can find them, which is why we should celebrate all kinds of victories, big and small.

This is especially true in a disheartening summer that’s included the terrible, Weinsteiny revelations about CBS CEO Les Moonves; the return of Chris Hardwick, accompanied by the sadistic glee of his army of toxic minions, er, fans; Superman himself, Henry Cavill, subtly undermining the #MeToo movement by declaring he’s afraid of being labelled a “rapist” if he so much as flirts with a girl; and a certain gang of ridiculous Star Wars podcasters going into troll mode because of a three-year-old photo of a coffee mug.

At this point, I’m so tired of ranting and despairing and so desperately in need of motivation, I’ve decided it’s time to focus on the positive. In the spirit of looking up and moving forward, here are some remarkable recent achievements by women who deserve all the recognition we can give them.

Image result for star wars episode ix cast

“Star Wars: Episode IX” began production Aug. 1 to much fanfare and, even more wonderfully, recent casting announcements reveal it to be the most female-centric installment of the franchise yet.

Director J.J. Abrams kicked off the shoot by paying homage to absent star Carrie Fisher, who will return to help wrap up the trilogy through the use of previously unreleased footage and good, old movie magic. The cast also includes Daisy Ridley, of course, but also the return of Kelly Marie Tran and Lupita Nyong’o, and possibly a beefed-up role for Fisher’s daughter, Billie Lourd.

Exciting new additions to the roster include Keri Russell in a mysterious role and newcomer Naomi Ackie, who previously appeared in an episode of “Doctor Who.” I’m sure all this female representation and diversity will be the cause of many fanboy tears. Quick, let me get my mug.

OFFICIAL FIRST LOOK AT THE WOMEN OF THE NEW Terminator 6: Natalia Reyes, Mackenzie Davis and Linda Hamilton

Speaking of casting that affirms strong women: We got our first glimpse of the new “Terminator” movie last week. An image posted on Twitter from the sixth entry in the sci-fi franchise shows off a lean, mean, totally badass Linda Hamilton as gun-toting Sarah Connor, accompanied by co-stars Natalia Reyes and Mackenzie Davis.

The return of Hamilton as one of sci-fi’s toughest heroines is a welcome sight. Davis is best known for the TV series “Halt and Catch Fire” and Reyes has appeared in several Colombian productions. This trio has us asking, “Schwarzenegger who?”

Image result for margot robbie harley quinn movie

Although the cast of DC’s much anticipated “Birds of Prey” movie hasn’t yet been revealed – rumors are swirling though – a recent announcement detailing which characters will appear in the film generated controversy amongst comic book fans.

The movie will feature such familiar figures as Black Canary, Huntress, Cassandra Cain, and Renee Montoya. While many fans are upset Barbara Gordon won’t appear as Batgirl in this film, the “Birds of Prey” roster bodes well for a strong, diverse cast.

Directed by Cathy Yan and written by Christina Hodson, “Birds of Prey” is shaping up to be the first major superhero movie to feature a formidable female ensemble.

In July, it was also announced that Cate Shortland will direct Marvel’s long-awaited Black Widow spinoff, starring Scarlett Johansson. Shortland previously helmed the movies “Lore” and “The Berlin Syndrome.” The script for the film was also written by a woman, Jac Schaeffer.

In another major comic book movie breakthrough, the genre welcomes its first female composer, Pinar Toprak, who will score Marvel’s upcoming “Captain Marvel.” Toprak has written music for the TV series “Krypton” and DC’s “Justice League.”

Here’s looking forward to the day when we won’t have to make such a big deal about women being assigned significant roles in Hollywood because it will just be so humdrum and commonplace.

Image result for eisner awards liu

Ground was broken in the comic book industry itself last month when the Eisner Awards – think of them as the Oscars of comics – turned into a long overdue celebration of women creators.

Marjorie Liu, co-creator of Image Comics’ “Monstress,” became the first woman to win the best writer honor, while her series snagged five total awards.

The ceremony, which took place at San Diego Comic-Con, also recognized artist Emil Ferris and graphic memoirist Tillie Walden.

Previously uncredited Wonder Woman comics contributor Joye Murchison Kelly and late DC Comics writer-editor Dorothy Roubicek Woolfolk were the first women to claim the Bill Finger Award for Excellence in Comic Book Writing, while many other women were inducted into the Eisner Hall of Fame.

Image result for jodie whittaker san diego comic con

Is it just me or did San Diego Comic-Con seem unusually female-friendly this year? I wasn’t there, so I’m just going by what I observed from afar. Maybe those of you who actually attended can confirm or deny this.

After enduring a nasty misogynist backlash when it was announced she’d be the first woman to regenerate into the titular role of the BBC’s “Doctor Who,” 13th Doctor Jodie Whittaker was greeted with warm enthusiasm by fans during a Hall H panel and a surprise appearance at the Her Universe Fashion Show.

I’m not even a Whovian, but I found this extremely refreshing. I hope she’ll be just as affectionately received when “Doctor Who” returns to BBC America in the fall.

Image result for clone wars saved san diego comic con

Another highlight of Comic-Con was the shocking announcement that beloved animated Star Wars series “The Clone Wars” – now celebrating its 10th anniversary — will return for another season. Many fans were moved to tears when they heard this news, but the resurrection of the series is also significant because it heralds the return of strong, groundbreaking female characters like Padme Amidala and Ahsoka Tano.

Other recent announcements that brought joy to geek girls’ hearts include Marvel’s plan to finally debut a comic book series starring “Black Panther” favorite Shuri and the introduction of the new animated franchise “Marvel Rising,” which will feature female comic book heroes with diverse backgrounds and body types, including Ghost Spider, Quake, Squirrel Girl, Ms. Marvel, and Iron Patriot.

And while fans of the original “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” TV series may not be thrilled with the idea of a planned reboot, or sequel, or whatever it is, it’s worth noting the show will be shepherded by Monica Owusu-Breen, a die-hard “Buffy” fan who also happens to be a woman of color.

Hopefully, Joss Whedon will have as little to do with it as possible.

Photos: StarWars.com, 20th Century Fox, ComicBook.com.

Haunted Mansion first among many fandoms of geek esthetician, cosplay queen

When I first saw Meghan Buchanan’s gorgeous, elaborate Haunted Mansion tattoos, I knew I had to interview her. A fellow devotee of Disney’s classic spooky house, Meghan collaborates with tattoo artist Tony Zolina for an ongoing series of striking body art designs that express her enduring love for the eerie attraction.

Her Haunted Mansion obsession has intersected with her other passion, cosplay. Since she was 16, Meghan has been sewing and creating painstakingly detailed homages to her favorite geeky properties. She’s got a soft spot for the ’80s and that era’s awesome cartoons, including Rainbow Brite and She-Ra.

When Meghan’s not going to conventions and dressing up as her favorite characters with her kids, friends, and family, she’s running her business, Skin Geek Esthetics, which gives her the chance to let her nerd flag fly while attending to her client’s beauty and skin health needs.

I chatted with Meghan about her many fandoms, including Batman, Fallout, Dragon Ball Z, Disney, and ’80s movies, as well as what it was like to be a closet geek girl in high school and that time she met Kevin Smith.  

You can follow Meghan and see more pics of her tattoos and cosplay on Facebook and Instagram.

You’re a cosplayer and esthetician who is obsessed with Disney’s Haunted Mansion. Let’s start by talking about the Haunted Mansion because that’s one of my favorites, too. When and how did your fascination with this attraction begin?

Ya know … I can’t really pinpoint when and how I became so fascinated with the ride. I just remember at a young age being so enthralled with every aspect of it. The artwork, the decor, the sights and sounds, even the smell.

What is it about this particular attraction that stands out above the rest, in your opinion?

Like I said, the artwork, the sounds and the decor is pretty awesome to me. Like, for instance, the stretching room. Those paintings are very macabre yet beautiful in their own way and somewhat humorous at the same time. I also think it’s a cool spin on macabre and scary with a dash of Disney awesomeness that draws me in, ya know? It’s creepy but with a whimsical touch only Disney can pull off.

You have some amazing Haunted Mansion tattoos. They’re so detailed and just beautiful. Can you describe them for me? 

On my outer forearm, I have Madam Leota inside her crystal ball surrounded by the famous patch of the demon eyes wallpaper. As of right now, only Madam Leota is in color, which I think is my fave on this particular piece. My tattoo artist (Tony Zolina) did an amazing job detailing her face and the eerie blue and green glow of her face and hair.

My next tattoo session will be to color the wallpaper purple and add UV ink so her face glows under black light. On my inner forearm is my most favorite painting — The Tight Rope Walker from the stretching room. Tony did such a fantastic job. It looks like an oil painting, down to the brush strokes.

Tell me a little about the process of designing and then receiving these tattoos. I understand it took several sessions.

It’s funny. I’ve had these ideas rolling around in my head for years, yet I’ve held off on getting them. I knew what I wanted, but wasn’t exactly sure how I wanted them designed and arranged. For Madam Leota, Tony and I bounced some ideas back and forth, but like all the tattoos I’ve received from him thus far, I’ve given him creative license to come up with the final concept. His artwork is amazing and I’m super proud to wear it on my skin. The TRW (Tight Rope Walker) was pretty straight forward, lol. But he hit it out of the park replicating the painting.

Madam Leota took about four to five hours and will need at least one more session to color the wallpaper and add the UV ink to her crystal ball. TRW took about six-six and a half hours, which was probably the most painful session I’ve sat through to date. I had a tattoo hangover for a couple days after that session.

Tony and I have plans for the back of my arm/elbow … possibly the mansion itself or the attic bride (the one with the heartbeat) from the late ‘80s early ‘90s. This one I’m excited about, but I know it’s going to be even more painful than the TRW, lol, and will probably be another six-hour session.

Why did you decide you wanted some pieces of the Haunted Mansion on your body forever?

Well, I can list a few reasons why … I didn’t really start getting tattooed up until I was about 29-30. Of course, I got the obligatory tramp stamp tattoo the second I turned 18, but we won’t talk about that one. Life is too short. It’s something I’ve wanted and I didn’t want to look back and regret not getting them, so I finally pulled the trigger and decided to go all in and get these pieces of timeless characters and art from my most favorite place on Earth immortalized onto my skin.

I’ve always thought tattoos were fascinating when I was younger — the concept of wearing art on your body was so cool to me and knew I wanted to get them, and tattooing my most favorite things on my body just made sense to me. It’s artwork that is near and dear to my heart but also designs that myself and my tattoo artist thought up and want to share the beauty of the timeless art of the Haunted Mansion.

In what other ways does your Haunted Mansion fixation manifest itself in your life? 

Ah man, lol. Well, I just recently had to buy a curio cabinet to hold my Haunted Mansion keepsakes. I started collecting figurines from Disneyland of the stretching room. So far I, of course, have the TRW and Constance the Black Widow Bride. I also have a mini painting of the TWR my best friend got me while she was at Disneyland about a year ago and the Hitch Hiking Ghosts tiki mug from Trader Sam’s, along with a few handmade pieces my best friend made me.

To my husband’s chagrin, my obsession is slowly taking over our dining room. And when I’m feeling saucy, I wear my Ghost Host apron at work and even have a few art pieces hanging in my work studio.

You’ve done some Haunted Mansion cosplay. Tell me more about that.

Yes! These costumes were super fun to make.

Surprise, surprise, I made a TRW costume. It took a total of 48 hours to make, spread out through a couple of weeks. It was the second most frustrating costume I’ve made to date because I hand-painted the flowers on the dress and it took forever to do. The bodice was a little tricky to make because I wanted it to be as similar to the painting as possible. Let’s just say the seam ripper and I were good friends when constructing the piece.

I made Constance the Black Widow Bride cosplay for my youngest, which took me about four hours to make. It was pretty simple, yet fun to make, especially her bouquet of beautiful flowers and shiny axe, lol!

And then I made my sister into Madam Leota. It was a last minute costume decision on her part so I was rushed to make it. I really want to redo the whole darn thing, but my sister was a champ and wore it and even had a good number of people know who she was cosplaying, which was one of my fears; nobody would get what the hell she was trying to portray! Haha.

Unfortunately, the day of the convention, it was 112 (degrees). Myself and my daughter had to change out of costume after about two hours. Our makeup was practically rolling off of our faces. But we managed to do a small photo shoot and make hardcore Disney/Haunted Mansion fans’ day while walking around, which was a win!

You’re also a member of the Hattie’s Foolish Mortals Facebook page. What do you like about being part of that group? (Personally, they’re always making me jealous that I’m not at Disneyland.)

I just recently became a member a handful of months ago. While at Disneyland, my sister suggested I post my Madam Leota tattoo on Hattie’s page. Before I did so, I prowled around and knew within 30 seconds I found my people! I dig seeing other peoples Haunted Mansion tattoos and creations. And, yes, I get super jealous when I see member’s “check in” photo posts!

The Haunted Mansion fandom seems to have grown in recent years with a lot of people getting into the imagery of the ride and also a lot of merchandise available. What do you think about that?

I have a theory … I believe since Disneyland has the option to pay monthly for passes, it has allowed many who haven’t been able to afford to go previously to go to the Land of D more frequently. With being able to go the park more, I believe more people have discovered the attraction and even though it’s gained more and more popularity, it still hasn’t lost its cult classic vibe. I’m happy that more people have discovered its awesomeness. The Haunted Mansion is timeless and I think it’ll stay that way.

Have you visited any of the other Haunted Mansion attractions at Disney’s various theme parks?

We went to Disney World just about a year ago and the Haunted Mansion was the very first ride we went on. I was literally doing the happy dance throughout the queue. It was cool to see that they added more rooms and different characters to the ride. It was reminiscent of the OG Disneyland ride, but with bonus scenes. My sister has one-upped me though. She has been to Disneyland Paris and rode Haunted Manor. I’m so jealous of her!

You’ve said you’re “completely obsessed” with Disneyland, not just the Haunted Mansion. What’s your earliest memory of the theme park?

My earliest memory (I was 6, I believe) was going on Star Tours with my stepdad and being absolutely pissed off at him for taking me on that ride. I was not exactly thrilled with how scary it was, going through that Death Star really did a number on me, haha. I remember stomping over to my mom when we exited the ride , who couldn’t ride it because she was pregnant with my sister at the time, and telling her I’d never ride on that thing again, which is funny because that’s one of my fave rides in Tomorrowland.

What are some of your other favorite Disney attractions, films, characters, properties, etc.?

Guardians of the Galaxy is hands down my most fave. I have to ride it as many times as I can when we are at Disneyland/California Adventure. Pirates and Big Thunder Mountain is a must too, but then again, I can go to Disneyland and literally sit on Main Street and be happy as a pig in crap — just being there makes me happy.

People laugh when us Disneyland lovers say we’re “home” when we are at the park, but it’s true. The sounds, the smells – gah, the bakery smells … drool — and just being surrounded by the magical whimsy of the place makes me all warm and gooshy inside. It truly is home to me (and to my family).

Films … I dig the classics, especially the lesser-known ones: “The Rescuers,” “The Rescuers Down Under,” “The Sword in the Stone,” “Bedknobs and Broomsticks,” the OG Halloween Special with Ichabod Crane and Hazel the Witch and Donald Duck, just to name a few.

I saw on your Facebook page that you’ve made some custom Mickey ears for visits to the theme park. Tell me about the ears you created.

Those are super fun to make! I made a pair of Pirate ears for my oldest. She digs Pirates of the Caribbean. She usually gets to pick the first ride when we get to the park and it’s almost always Pirates. I made a pair of “Guardians of the Galaxy” ears for my youngest. She’s completely in love with Peter Quill and Rocket Raccoon. She wears them proudly around the house. And, of course, a pair of Dragon Ball Z ears for me.

You’re a longtime Dragon Ball Z fan. When and how did you discover the series?

Toonami, circa 2000. I stumbled upon the series when the “Cell Saga: was starting up. I was instantly hooked. This, too, has gained popularity now that Toriyama decided to continue the series, which makes me a happy panda.

What do you like about it?

The storyline is pretty cool, especially the characters and the fight scenes are pretty badass, although I may go to Dragon Ball jail for saying this — the freaking episode buildups are super long and unnecessary. I’m a huge fan of Vegeta and Bulma. That couple cracks me up. Who doesn’t like a bad boy, jerk face, arrogant prince and a hard-headed genius heiress as a couple? It makes for good entertainment.

As a matter of fact, I used to run a Bulma and Vegeta fan page on Google+ and did a bi-monthly video podcast a few years ago. Unfortunately, adulting got in the way of running it, so now it’s just kind of run by the members of the Google+ community.

You’ve been featured as one of the Ladies of Dragonball on Instagram. Was that as fun as it sounds?

Yup! I was featured twice! It was pretty cool to be featured and share my cosplays. The first time I was featured it was of my Saiyan Bulma cosplay and the second time was my Goku in a kimono. It was actually quite humbling to be featured because the ladies that get posted on that insta are pretty darned talented.

Now, let’s talk about your cosplay because you are pretty hardcore and you’ve got some impressive skills when it comes to making costumes. Where did those skills come from?

I’ve always been pretty creative, plus I have always been into Halloween. So that is pretty much the perfect equation for cosplay and creating costumes.

I loved dressing up for Halloween and I made most of my costumes. Actually … thinking back, I don’t think my mom ever got my sister or myself store-bought costumes. She handmade them, until I was old enough to do so myself. My first ever hardcore movie-accurate costume (at least for a 16 year old) that I made was for my sister. I made her a Queen Amidala costume, headpiece and all.

As San Diego Comic-Con gained more steam over the years, I had always marveled at the sheer talent of those who cosplayed every year, but didn’t really think I had the chops to do it myself. Fast-forward to a handful of years ago, I befriended my eldest daughter’s preschool teacher (MeloMesh Cosplay) and we both kind of talked ourselves into dressing up for Big Wow ComicFest for the first time. We started off pretty small and then our costumes got more and more complicated each time we planned a cosplay.

I learned the basics of sewing from my mom and then taught myself the rest. I’m not a patient person, so it’s an uphill battle each time I start a new project, especially when I tackled my very first huge sewing project, but that makes it even more rewarding when it’s finished. Also, YouTube and Instagram was and still is my best friend when it comes to learning knew techniques on how to build and create using different mediums.

Do you remember your first ever cosplay? What was it and what did you create it for?

Ah gawd, yes. I dressed up as the Joker. It was… it was bad, dude. But ya gotta start somewhere, right? I bought a white tuxedo jacket and did a horrible purple dye job and bought these crazy green and purple striped socks off of Amazon. It was fun gathering the clothes and makeup for it and it definitely sparked the creative juices to start created bigger and better costumes.

When and how did you begin to really get into cosplay and become part of that community?

After my very first cosplay, MeloMesh and I decided to cosplay as She-Ra (MeloMesh) and Evil She-Ra (me). I made the majority of Michelle’s (MeloMesh Cosplay) and my costumes. I had spent many an hour creating armor, which I had never done before. It was super frustrating and I remember wanting to quit a few times, but when the day came and I saw our costumes on us and the response we got, I was hooked. I’ve made some pretty rad friends and, just like Hattie’s group, I knew I found my people.

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

Ah, man … this is a hard question. All of them! But if I had to pick two, I’d have to say I had a lot of fun cosplaying as Evil She-Ra, probably because it was first ever serious attempt at cosplaying and it was a blast, albeit challenging from starting the design concepts to the end of the convention day.

Second one I’d say is my favorite is my Rainbow Brite. It took me one year to make, mostly because I wanted it to be as accurate as possible. It was a labor of love … and a pain in the arse, lol. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to wear it to a con as of yet! But I plan on doing so in the near future.

What do you like about transforming yourself into favorite or iconic characters?

Every aspect of it. I love doing the makeup (it’s the esthetician in me) and seeing the final product after spending hours and hours on making it. It’s also pretty cool to see fans of the particular fandom’s eyes light up when they recognize your character.

What are some of the materials, equipment, and tools you use when you’re creating costumes?

I do mostly sewing-based costumes, but I’ve made armor out of Worbla (thermoplastics) and created working proton packs (from “Ghostbusters”) with PVC pipe, a couple pie tins and an old fence board. My husband help me with the harder stuff, like soldering and programming the blinking lights for the proton packs and shaping swords out of old fence boards.

What’s the most challenging aspect of cosplay for you? 

Hands down, creating the look. I’m a stickler for keeping my creations as movie- or show-accurate as possible. For example, when making my Rainbow Brite dress, I seam-ripped the sleeves five times. I had to keep leaving my work area because I was so frustrated and come back after I’d calmed down a bit. But this makes it that much more rewarding when the project is finished.

Do you create outfits for and/or collaborate with other cosplayers? 

I do! I’ve collabed with MeloMesh Cosplay and my sister, Dani. Melo, Dani, and I have done a few “Masters of the Universe” cosplays. MeloMesh cosplayed as She-Ra and my sister cosplayed as Madam Razz each time, and I cosplayed as Catra and the Sorceress, and of course Evil She-Ra. My sister and I cosplayed as Garth (me) and Wayne (Dani) and, of course, the aforementioned Haunted Mansion cosplay.

You also cosplay with your kids. What’s that experience been like for you as a family?

It’s pretty darn fun. They’re like me and enjoy the process of getting ready the day of the con. My youngest taps out usually about halfway through the day, but my oldest is pretty hardcore and will keep her costume on even if it’s triple-digit heat the day of. They’re constantly asking me to create different cosplays. They have a list of projects for me to start on. So far on the list is Finn and Jake of “Adventure Time,” Rocket Raccoon, and a couple characters from Roblox.

You do a lot of ’80s-themed cosplay and you’re a fan of the ’80s in general. I’m assuming you’re an ’80s kid. What is it about that era that you love?

Hells yasss! Born in ’83! Everything about ‘80s pop culture is rad (heh, see what I did there?) I love me some ‘80s music. Sometimes I torture my clients while doing lash extensions or doing a spray tan and put it on the ‘80s Pandora channel and torture them even more and sing along.

And in my opinion, some of the best movies ever made were made in the ‘80s: “Aliens,” “Predator,” “Back to the Future,” “Die Hard,” “Ghostbusters” … I can go on and on and on.

Even the cartoons! They don’t make cartoons like they used to anymore, and maybe I’m biased since I’m an ‘80s kid, but the cartoons made back then are far superior to those made today or even in the ‘00s and ‘90s. Like, for instance, “Masters of the Universe.” I’ve done three cosplays in the MOTU fandom — Evil She-Ra, Catra, and The Sorceress. “Care Bears,” “Transformers,” “Gummi Bears” (Gah! Now I have the theme song stuck in my head) … again, I can go on and on.

Meghan as Catra from the original “She-Ra: Princess of Power.”

You attend a lot of conventions, both in cosplay and out. What are some your favorite events?

Whether I’m in costume or out of costume, I enjoy walking the floor and finding amazing art. I’m not one for going to a whole bunch of panels, but there are a few celebs who hold panels that I will make time to sit and listen to their storytelling and answer questions. Bruce Campbell is pretty entertaining as well as James Marsters, who played Spike from “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” He’s an amazing speaker and tells the best stories from when he was on set. Michael Rooker is another fun guy to listen to when he holds panels.

Meghan, left, and her sister Dani with Kevin Smith.

Can you think of any favorite memories or moments from your con adventures?

There’s a lot moments that are my favorite, but I have to say, my most fave was when my sister Dani and I ran into Kevin Smith. We were in Reno, Nevada, at Wizard World. It was pretty late at night, the con had closed down for the day, and my sister and I were wandering around the casino floor and ran into Silent Bob himself. He was such a cool guy and was totally chill with taking a selfie with us. It was a pretty surreal experience for both my sister and I.

You also have your own business, Skin Geek Esthetics. You’ve got the word “geek” right there in the name. What was your inspiration for that?

I knew when I decided to open my business I wanted it to reflect both my passions: Esthetics and geekery. I had my reservations when I first filed for my business license. It was kind of a gamble naming my business Skin Geek Esthetics, especially since my studio is located in an affluent part of town, but it hasn’t affected me getting clients in the door.

As a matter of fact, the name of my business kind of attracts people and I’ve gained some pretty geeky clients and am able to talk “geek” whilst giving them a spray tan, lash extensions, and sometimes during a facial. I even have geeky art hanging up in my studio!

In the past, you’ve offered discounts to cosplayers. Has your beauty and skin health business intersected in any other ways with your love of geek culture?

Yup! I’ve helped out a couple times with the Geek Fashion Show, doing makeup for the models. I had so much fun collabing with the models on how they want their makeup. Unfortunately, my work had kept me from helping out lately but I’m hoping to carve out more time to lend a hand.

What’s your experience been like as a woman in the world of fandoms and geek culture?

It’s funny you ask this, because I was thinking about this the other day. A million years ago, when I was in high school, I was most definitely a closet geek. Kids were more judgy when it came to geeking out on fandoms back then.

I was super hardcore into Mobile Suit Gundam Wing and Dragon Ball Z and the crowd I hung out with just didn’t get why I was into these two animes. I remember the first time my high school boyfriend walked into my bedroom and saw all of the Goku and Vegeta posters I had on my walls, he wasn’t sure what to make of it. He took in stride though. But my friends took jabs at me from time to time for being a fan.

So that and being a girl back then wasn’t very common. Eh, I shouldn’t say it wasn’t common, more like we  geeky girls were in the geek closet. Because being a geeky chick was a double-edged sword. Dudes that were into the same things I was either thought it was soooooo awesome and “sexy” that a girl was into the same things they were into or would think along the lines of, “Wwe, isn’t that cute. She thinks she’s a fan.”

Nowadays, being a geek has become its own culture and us girls aren’t afraid to let our geek flags fly more freely. That and I’m older now and really could care less what people think of me.

You’re a fan of the Fallout video game. Tell me your video gaming origin story. How did you become interested in that pastime?

The blessed NES and Super Mario Bros. was my jam … still is, in fact. I got that thing for Christmas when I was 6 or 7 and I was hooked.

What is it about Fallout in particular that appeals to you?

The premise is pretty stellar. I’m not going to lie, I got a little creeped out when the bomb went off (Fallout 4) in the beginning of the game. Also, the music. Again, I sometimes torture my clients and play the Fallout soundtrack while working.

How many hours would you say you’ve spent playing Fallout?

Sooooo … I’m what my husband calls a “backseat player.” I’ve physically played the game an hour total, mostly because I panic when I’m getting attacked or can’t get freaking Codsworth to follow me. But I will sit with my husband while he plays and watch the story unfold and yell at him when a radioactive bear is devouring him and tell him how to kill it. (He really loves it when I tell him how to play the game –sarcasm).

We’ve played (and helpfully gave unwanted advice on how to play the game) endless hours. I mean, we still play it on and off because the expansion packs and we’ve gone back to see all three alternate endings, so ya, endless hours on our couch.

What are your thoughts on Fallout 76?

DUUUUUUDE, so excited. Soooooooooo excited!

What other fandoms are you into?

Too many to count. I love me some Batman, especially the Joker. “Nightmare Before Christmas,” Star Wars … honestly I could list a crap ton of fandoms.

Are you currently working on any cosplay projects?

As of right now, no. The last project I worked on was Lydia Deetz from “Beetlejuice,” and after I finished that one up, I needed a tiny break away from my sewing machine.

Do you have any advice for geeks who want to get started cosplaying but might be timid about doing so?

Don’t be afraid! Do it!! If I can prance around in a horrible Joker costume and survive, you can too!

What dream or ultimate cosplays would you like to do in the future?

I’d really like to cosplay as Ripley and my youngest as Newt.  And also construct her exosuit … that’s my ultimate goal.

‘Dreaming’ of vintage sci-fi? Pasadena exhibit explores genre from SoCal POV

If you’re a fan of Southern California sci-fi greats, like Ray Bradbury, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Octavia Butler, and Syd Mead, you won’t want to miss an unassuming but fascinating exhibit that’s about to wrap up its run in Pasadena.

“Dreaming the Universe: The Intersection of Science, Fiction, & Southern California” is on display at the Pasadena Museum of History through Sept. 2. If you’re a classic sci-fi enthusiast who lives in (or is visiting) SoCal, the exhibit makes for a great start to a day out in Pasadena.

“Dreaming the Universe” examines the legacy of sci-fi in SoCal during the 1930s to ’80s and how it “interacted with the advances of science, changes in technology, and shifts in American society,” according to the museum’s website. Curated by Nick Smith, former president of the Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society, the exhibit includes artifacts, art, books, historic photos, and other memorabilia.

If you’re expecting a flashy, high-tech experience, you may want to lower your expectations. “Dreaming the Universe” is small — you can probably get through it in about 20 minutes — but it’s also surprisingly substantial and will interest anyone who’s into vintage or obscure sci-fi movies, TV, toys, books, art, and oddities.

Filmmaker Peter Jackson discusses the science-fiction masters who influenced him in the “Dreaming the Universe” exhibit at the Pasadena Museum of History.

“Dreaming the Universe” begins with an examination of the Rocket Age of 1936, the first rocket tests conducted in Pasadena’s Arroyo Seco, and the growth of the SoCal aeronautics industry, which “paralleled the growth of the creative science fiction community,” according to the museum’s website.

The exhibit highlights such visionary creators as Ray Bradbury, Octavia Butler, Frank Kelly Freas, Syd Mead, Emil Petaja, and Edgar Rice Burroughs, as well as the books, fanzines, art, and media they created.

I particularly appreciated that the display focuses on the contributions of sci-fi fans, including the legendary Forrest J. Ackerman, and the roles they played in the development of the science-fiction genre.

This hand-painted door is from the 1980s clubhouse of the Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society, a room where fanzines were created in an era where new fans were flocking to Star Wars and Star Trek.

As I mentioned, “Dreaming the Universe” is scarce on flashy properties or objects loaned by major movie studios, so you’re not going to be seeing a lot of Marvel or DC superheroes or anything of that ilk. Still, you’ll find a few extremely modest collections devoted to Star Wars, Star Trek, and famous comic book characters.

A tiny Star Wars section includes this Chirashi print — a mini poster used to advertise movies in Japan, usually custom-made — of “A New Hope”:

The Star Trek section includes uniforms worn by Scotty and Lieutenant Paloma from the original series:

There’s also a replica communicator, tricorder, and phaser, purchased from a Star Trek convention in 1986:

What “Dreaming the Universe” lacks in big-ticket items, it more than makes up for in the form of the rare, the obscure, and the eccentric, like these Skeletor pieces from the 1987 movie “Masters of the Universe.”

As a devoted fan of “Fahrenheit 451” author and Los Angeles resident Ray Bradbury, there were many artifacts in “Dreaming the Universe” of personal interest to me, including this sculpture:

The piece, inspired by artist Christopher Slatoff’s friendship with Bradbury, is modeled upon the short story “Pieta Summer,” but also sports the tattoos of the author’s famed “Illustrated Man” on the back of the sculpture.

Seeing this pair of glasses (I think they must be from the late Bradbury’s childhood because they are very small) nearly brought me to tears:

Another emotional moment came when I spied this blanket, which Bradbury used to bundle up in when he traveled by wheelchair later in life and which I recognized from several appearances where I was fortunate to meet the writer. Bradbury was a huge Halloween geek!

I also loved seeing this inscription by Bradbury in a volume of “The Martian Chronicles,” referring to L.A.’s Clifton’s Cafeteria, where the author often dined as a broke teenager in the 1930s.

And here is a DVD case of the 2006 film “The Sci-Fi Boys,” signed by stop-motion pioneer Ray Harryhausen, Ray Bradbury, and Forrest J. Ackerman:

Below are some more highlights from the “Dreaming the Universe” exhibit.

Some fun artifacts relating to “Tarzan” and “John Carter of Mars” author Edgar Rice Burroughs:

A bust of actor Glenn Strange as Frankenstein (Strange played the monster in three Frankenstein movies after Boris Karloff tired of the role.):

Vintage science-fiction lunchbox, thermos, and rocket:

Artifacts from the career of visual effects artist and stop-motion innovator Ray Harryhausen:

A costume drawing of the robot Gort from 1951’s “The Day the Earth Stood Still”:

Production art from 1953’s “War of the Worlds”:

Vintage toy robots:

A caricature of J.R.R. Tolkien, circa 1970, by “Dean of Science Fiction Artists” Frank Kelly Freas.

This autograph board was signed by 63 people associated with the television program “The Twilight Zone.” Fan Jeff Rack tracked them down over a period of 20 years.

An ape head, boots, molded shoulder pieces, and a Super 8 film reel case from 1968’s “Planet of the Apes”:

Mr. Freeze’s helmet, worn by George Sanders in the 1966 “Batman” TV series, starring Adam West:

Concept art by concept Syd Mead, who influenced the iconic looks of such films as “Blade Runner,” “Tron,” and “Aliens”:

“Dreaming the Universe” is on display from noon to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday, through Sept. 2, at the Pasadena Museum of History, 470 West Walnut St. Tickets cost $9. For more details, visit the museum website

 

 

Saber Maidens admin sews her way to a space for women to connect with the Force

This week, we continue to combat the toxic masculinity and divisive rhetoric that’s threatening to make being part of the Star Wars fan community kind of a downer. In the second installment of a two-part interview, we’re featuring another co-founder and co-admin of the Facebook group Saber Maidens.

As we learned last week, Saber Maidens is a support group for women who are into Star Wars, the (light)saber arts, and prop and costume fabrication. The group began as the vision of Pat Yulo and Celeste Joy Greer Walker (who we featured last week) as they sought to create a safe space for female fans wary of being shamed or bullied by fanboys.

In this interview, we meet Pat, who got hooked on sewing after taking classes at her local community college and soon discovered an outlet for the Star Wars passion sparked, interestingly enough, after she made the connection between “Spaceballs” and “A New Hope” as a high school freshman living in the Philippines.

Pat now has eight approved costumes with Rebel Legion — no easy feat! — and troops regularly with the charity group; will be featured in the upcoming docuseries “Looking for Leia”; is admin of My Little Pony-Star Wars mashup group MLP Jedi; and holds a special place in her heart for that purple-haired goddess, Admiral Holdo.

She also throws down the gauntlet to fanboys crying tears over a new era of inclusive Star Wars stories. In her words:

“We’re here to declare that this new female-centric version of Star Wars is here to stay and for every fanboy shedding tears, there are more women behind you not willing to put up with it.”

You’re an admin and co-founder of the Facebook group Saber Maidens. For those who aren’t familiar with the group, what is Saber Maidens about?

Saber Maidens is a support group for women (cis, trans and everything in between) who enjoy dressing up as Force users and wielding lightsabers. People who participate in the group have varying needs met — some are more into the creation of the costumes and are looking for sewing help, others are more into the physical choreography of using a lightsaber. All of them are people looking for a space to talk about Star Wars that does not include the negativity of the current “fanboy” state out there.

What are your duties as admin and co-founder?

I always joke that for any group, my duties as admin is to find relevant memes to post on the group. We moderate conversations and try to engage our members to talk about their current projects.

Tell me about the conversations with co-admin Celeste Joy Greer Walker that led to the founding of the group.

Somewhere buried in the bowels of Facebook Messenger was the beginnings of the conversation that started Saber Maidens. Celeste and I originally envisioned a safe space for female Star Wars fans to discuss their love of the fandom. It differs from other groups because we primarily focused on Jedi and lightsaber choreography, because it was how we met and some of our fueling passions in the fandom. We’re not pilots or princesses or smugglers. We identify with the Force and make that our focus.

Why did you feel women needed a “safe space” in the Star Wars choreography clubs?

For full disclosure, I was always at the periphery of the choreography clubs. My skill, time, and other duties prevented me from exploring and spending more time with the group. So my participation is fleeting at best. What I’ve personally experienced hasn’t been too jarring, but also, that’s because I haven’t been too entrenched in that atmosphere. My one major negative interaction with the choreography club was getting burned by a saber maker who overcharged me for a lightsaber and took two years to deliver.

Saber Maidens members sometimes meet for “crafternoon get-togethers” to work on projects and hang out. Tell me about those meetups.

Gosh, nothing is more fun and unproductive than getting together for a crafternoon! We set goals — like working on arm bands or learning new makeup techniques — and then get distracted by the conversation, food, and fun of the atmosphere. Sometimes we take submission photos together for the various clubs. Each person who attends has a different craft agenda sometimes and each person works on their own project while in the company of others.

What other activities have Saber Maidens participated in as a group?

Some of the members of Saber Maidens have presented at local cons on how to create authentic looking Jedi costuming. The speakers have now been nicknamed “Jedi Master Interfacing” and “Jedi Master Velcro” based on how much time they spend at each session talking about their love for each item. We say Jedi are held together by Velcro, snaps, and the Force.

You were inspired to get into costuming in 2002 after working at a local Renaissance Faire. What appealed to you about this particular craft?

I’ve always been a crafty person and loved making things. When I was younger, it was about painting and embroidery. When I moved to the U.S., I lost a safe space to paint and needed to find an outlet that didn’t make such a big mess. I joined the Renaissance Faire and learned how to sew. Then I got a sewing machine and ended up taking classes at the local community college.

My first teacher was very curious about my questions as no one else in the beginner’s class was asking about working with fur. (I wanted to make a Care Bears costume). He told me to volunteer for Costume Con, and that’s when I saw what the local costuming community was like and I fell in love with the creativity.

A combination of working for Faire and participating in the local costuming community really helped me to come out of my shell. High school me was VERY quiet, shy, and reserved. Now I’m a lot more assertive, goal-oriented, and boisterous.

Pat Yulo in a Winter Fairy costume she fashioned out of her wedding dress.

You took a sewing class at community college and went on to earn a certificate in theater costuming. What’s the most important thing you learned during your studies?

I went in for one class and, like an addict, kept going back for more! I loved it and the school was so supportive and thorough. I learned that SEWING IS HARD. It involves pain, some blood, a lot of heartache, and lots of overthinking. I know my math skills improved, as did my engineering mind. Sewing teaches math and patience, which are not really byproducts you think of when it comes to the hobby. Practice, practice, practice.

The Saber Maidens are currently working on Lightsabers for Leia, scheduled for Oct. 21. Tell me about that campaign.

The primary goal of this group build is to submit as many lightsaber-wielding Leia costumes by October 21, 2018, as a way to honor Carrie Fisher and her legacy as Leia. Princess Leia and Carrie Fisher inspired generations of fans and have been role models for many young, aspiring Jedi. When Leia was shown with Force powers in “The Last Jedi,” the moment reverberated through the fandom.

There are a lot of other instances of Leia using her latent Jedi abilities in books and comic books. Seeing Leia use a lightsaber was like seeing a potential fulfilled, and we’d like to bring that to life. For many, it reinforced the strength we knew Leia had. We want to make Leia as visible as possible in costume clubs so she can continue to serve as an icon for courage and hope.

We’ve established there are multiple variations of this version of Leia, such as Force Unleashed Leia, Infinities Jedi Leia, Marvel Jedi Leia, and Splinter of the Mind’s Eye Leia to name a few. There are certainly more instances, but those are not as fully resourced with pictures. There is also a lot of fan art that is near and dear to us. Pick a version and go with it!

We are also doing a fundraiser for the International Bipolar Foundation, which was a cause dear to Carrie’s heart. We are selling patches of our Saber Maidens logo and a special Lightsabers for Leia patch and all proceeds go to IBPF. We will also donate the money on October 21. You can order patches here.

How many people are participating and what kind of costumes are they creating?

A lot of people are working on their costumes, but we currently don’t have an exact number. As with any costumer, there is a lot of laziness and delay until we get close to the deadline. Then we’ll all freak out and finish it in a week or two. Some of us are having a hard time sourcing the appropriate materials or fabrics. We also need to decide if we want to make the costume for fun or to have it approved by either Rebel Legion or Saber Guild.

What sort of efforts are going into preparing for Oct. 21?

We are all doing a lot of research on the costumes and figuring out what is available out there. Because there are multiple instances of her wielding a saber, it’s a matter of choosing which costumes speaks to you the most. And sewing, lots and lots of sewing.

How were you personally affected by the passing of Carrie Fisher?

I remember getting the news of Carrie Fisher’s passing while finishing up breakfast on a cold, post-Christmas morning. I had to sit down and collect my thoughts. I felt like someone I knew personally had passed, and I don’t normally get this feeling for celebrities I had never met. And I was motivated to do SOMETHING. I worked with my friends at the Rebel Legion and we created a vigil for Carrie at the Yoda Fountain in front of Lucasfilm. The next day, we brought candles, pictures, cans of Coke, and a sign that we all wrote on. We sat around, talked, and comforted one another. It was a big blow to our community.

You’re a member of Rebel Legion, a group of Star Wars costuming enthusiasts who give back to the community through charity and volunteering. How did you become involved with that group?

A couple of years ago, I was wandering WonderCon as Kaylee from “Firefly” in a large, pink, fluffy dress. I came across the Rebel Legion booth and thought that if I was going to make a Star Wars costume, it would be good to use it for something meaningful. I never imagined years down the line I’d end up with TOO many Jedi costumes. (There might not be a thing as too many as I’d like to make more!). My first troop with them was for the Boys and Girls Club of San Francisco at Lucasfilm. We got to entertain kids and teach them how to use lightsabers before they went into to watch episodes of “Clone Wars.”

You currently have seven approved Jedi costumes and one Admiral Holdo costume. Wow, that is a lot! Tell me more about the different costumes and what it took to create them.

Full disclosure: I didn’t make my first approved costume. It was beyond my skills at the time to make Callista Ming, so I commissioned someone to make it for me. As my sewing skills improved, I made Jocasta Nu and a variety of generic Jedi. I like the idea of generic Jedi because you aren’t beholden to screen accuracy. You can let your imagination run wild a little bit and create colors and a character that could exist in the Star Wars universe.

I have a Jedi made up of gray fabrics that I inherited from a friend. She passed along a collection of gray skirts that had been owned by a friend’s wife who had passed suddenly. I patchworked all the skirts and gray fabrics together and I think the end product looks really polished and sophisticated, and in some way, acknowledges the leftovers of a life missed.

Could you explain what kind of work is involved in getting a costume approved by Rebel Legion? I’ve heard it isn’t easy.  

Things you learn with experience — when making a costume for any of the costume clubs, first check to see if they have a CRL (Costume Reference Library) for that character or type of character. Do research — see what’s out there, what’s been done, what’s been approved before you. Generic Jedi are one of the easiest to sew and give some leeway to creative license. Join online groups like Ladies of the Legions or the group’s forums to ask questions about your costume build.

When it’s done, take clear photos in good lighting and then submit them via a website form. It doesn’t matter how many costumes you’ve submitted — each one is nerve-racking as you wait for your approval letter! Holdo was a tough one for me because I didn’t have time to make it myself. I had to outsource the dress and submitted shortly before the movie came out, so there wasn’t even a CRL yet.

Pat in her Rebel Legion-approved Vice Admiral Holdo costume.

Which of your eight costumes was the most challenging?

Jocasta Nu was a learning curve because it took a while to figure out how to do the embroidery on her tabards. I had a newborn at the time and I’m not even sure how I finished that and a generic Jedi during my months of maternity leave. But I figured it out with some chalk, a twin needle, and a TON of dark brown thread. I must have used up over six spools!

What kind of volunteer work have you done with Rebel Legion?

I’ve been trooping with RL for almost 10 years now. As a working mom and wife, I use trooping as my “spa day.” I’ve trooped at the Ronald McDonald House, Lucasfilm, autism walks, the Great Reno Balloon Race, and Davies Symphony Hall to name a few. I love interacting with the public — especially when I hand a woman or girl a lightsaber to hold for a photo. Their eyes just light up and it’s a reminder that a lightsaber is symbolic of strength and power and, yes, women can have that power too. I’ve also helped to plan some of the parties and get-togethers.

What do you enjoy most about being a part of this group?

Deep down, I feel like all human beings are just looking to be accepted. Being part of a group like Rebel Legion fulfills that needs and provides you with friends in good times and in bad. When one of us are hurt, we rally together to help one another out. In many ways it also acts like an extended family.

You’ve said you have a whole closet full of costumes. Tell me about some of the non-Star Wars looks you’ve created.

My Jedi costumes intermingle with my steampunk stuff. A lot of my steampunk and RenFaire skirts are actually my Jedi skirts. There are fairies in there, too, one for each season. When I got married, I designed my dress to be inexpensive and reusable as a winter fairy costume. So I’ve actually gotten a lot of use out of what’s supposed to be a one-time dress. There’s also some historical stuff, like Regency, Edwardian, Dickens, and Medieval. There’s also a Dolores Umbridge and a Slytherin, and some mashups too.

Pat with the Star Wars-My Little Pony mashup group MLP Jedi.

You manage the Facebook group MLP Jedi, which is a mashup of Star Wars and My Little Pony. I had no idea such a fandom existed. Please give me all the details of how this came to be!

At Celebration Anaheim in 2015, a friend of mine and I sat at a panel about Star Wars mashups. At the time, I had made a vow — NO mashups. Ever. And yet, there we were, sitting and plotting about our mutual love for Star Wars and My Little Pony. We each picked our favorite ponies and thought nothing of it for a couple of months. The following January, I got word that cousins of mine were moving to the Bay Area and they were big Star Wars and MLP fans as well. All of a sudden, we were able to make costumes for the Mane Six. So I worked hard to construct six costumes in three months in time for BABSCon 2016. Since then we’ve just been recruiting other friends willing to join us, including a bunch of little Padawans.

Are a lot of people into this specific mashup?

There are at least 20 of us with this mashup and there is certainly fan art out there that shows there’s a fan base!

I’m having a hard time visualizing what the MLP Jedi “scene” might look like. Can you describe it for me?

I’m not sure if there’s really a scene, but we always attend BABScon, the local My Little Pony con and do a panel for the kid’s club. We sing the MLP Jedi theme song, talk about using the Force, and make lightsabers out of balloons. Last con, one of our new members who does DayBreaker Sith even did a panel about science.

You’re featured in the upcoming docuseries “Looking for Leia,” which focuses on women in the fandom. How did that come about?

Luck and the Force! I was sitting in the airport, killing time because my flight was delayed, when Celeste posted about “Looking for Leia.” I checked out the website and sent them a lengthy, gushy email about how much I love Star Wars and how I interact with my fandom. Turns out Annalise Ophelian, the filmmaker, was local to the San Francisco Bay Area and was interested in my story.

Tell me more about that experience.

The film crew came to my house to film me individually in the morning, and in the afternoon we had a round table discussion with a group of women, some of whom had come in from Reno and Texas to be part of it. Sit a group of women down for five hours and they can easily fill all that time talking about Star Wars! They also filmed some footage of the MLP Jedi being a bunch of goofs, ‘cause really, when you’re a candy-colored Jedi, life can be a lot fun. When I went on a trip to the Philippines, I managed to connect with Rebel Legion and 501st ladies there. We even managed to film some footage there, which I hope made it to the final cut!

Why did you want to be part of this amazing project?

Who would pass up an opportunity to talk about Star Wars and how it’s influenced our lives? It was a great opportunity too – I have met so many amazing women in this fandom and have connected with people around the world. My part of Saber Maidens was born out of the desire to have a space for women to connect with their fandom.

Tell me your Star Wars origin story. How did you discover George Lucas’ galaxy far, far away?

A long time ago, in a Philippines far, far away … it was Saturday, Sept. 12, 1992. I was a freshman in high school. My dad had just come back from his weekly trip to the laser disc rental store and came back with our weekend movie. “We’re watching Star Wars,” he said. My dad was a jock through and through, but man, did he love movies and movie trivia.

That afternoon we were transported to a galaxy I had never imagined … until I saw two familiar droids crossing the sand dunes of Tatooine, when I shouted, “Wait, wait, wait ….is this the movie “Spaceballs” is about?!” Up to this point, I had seen “Spaceballs” about 300 times and thought it was the best ever! I had no idea it was actually based on something.

But my life changed that day. In retrospect, it’s weird to think of how a simple movie can change your whole life and perspective but it did — it became the bedrock of my geekdom, which dictated how I interacted with people from then on.

Why do you think this franchise has proved to be such an enduring passion for you?

Why does any mythology endure? I like to imagine that hundreds of years from now Star Wars would be the equivalent of Greek and Roman myths today. The characters and storyline are universally understood, especially in light of the “Hero’s Journey” by Joseph Campbell. And now with the new trilogy we finally get the Heroine’s Journey.

The evolution of the franchise has been exciting to be a part of too. More people are starting to renew their passions and more are joining it. The widening of character-types and arcs are allowing more people to see themselves in the movies as well. I never connected with Princess Leia but Vice Admiral Holdo? Man, there was a woman who was stately and not afraid to be herself.

Does Star Wars manifest itself in your life in other ways besides costuming?

My Star Wars passion has ebbed and flowed over the years, and there were the “dark times” shortly after “Episode I” came out. I was disillusioned with the direction of the franchise. Joining the Rebel Legion really did fan the flames of fandom, and I appreciate the costuming community for it.

I feel like my Star Wars passion is all-pervasive and touches all parts of my life. My husband is a huge geek too, just in a very quiet kind of way. One Christmas, I gave him a picture that said, “I love you more than Star Wars.” He laughed and said, “That’s not true but it’s a nice sentiment.”

There’s a Rose Tico quote on the Saber Maidens page — “That’s how we’re gonna win. Not fighting what we hate, saving what we love.” I found this interesting in light of the fact that the Star Wars fandom seems to have gotten nasty recently with all the “Last Jedi” hate and arguing about the “Solo” movie, petitions to remake the film, and calls for Kathleen Kennedy to be fired. What are your thoughts about that?

That quote really struck a chord with a lot of us. Sadly, it feels like there is a lot of hatred in the Star Wars fandom, and I hate to say it but most of it is coming from men. All of the female-centric circles I’ve been in have been happy with the changes in the franchise, including women of color, ages and various body types. Sadly, these additions have not been well received and the paradigm towards hate grows stronger every day. It makes women want to give up with their fandom, which is one of the reasons I think Saber Maidens and communities like it are important.

But like the old adage goes, you can’t fight fire with fire, you can’t fight hate with hate either. What is it with fragile toxic masculinity that has made it rear its ugly head in many vocal forms lately? We’re here to declare that this new female-centric version of Star Wars is here to stay and for every fanboy shedding tears, there are more women behind you not willing to put up with it.

Pat as Dolores Umbridge.

What are some of your other fandoms?

Oh man, at my heart I am a geek and when I love, it’s deep and thorough. Let’s see, I love Doctor Who, My Little Pony, Firefly, Twin Peaks, and Harry Potter, to name a few. Things that aren’t completely considered geeky but that I treat with full force passion — Broadway musicals and books by L.M. Montgomery, especially “Anne of Green Gables.” My husband and I made our pilgrimage to Prince Edward Island for her.

Let’s close with a few Star Wars questions:

What’s your ultimate favorite film in the franchise?

“A New Hope.” I just love that classic hero’s journey, especially the scene where Luke stares off into the two suns and the music theme swells around him. I don’t know how many times I painted that sunset in high school!

What other movies, franchise entries, or stories from the Star Wars universe are you into?

I used to read the Expanded Universe (now Legends) voraciously. I stopped once they killed off Chewie but have been picking up some of the newer books as well. I LOVE “Leia: Princess of Alderaan” by Claudia Grey because it explains how Leia accesses the Force so beautifully and introduces Holdo, who reminded me of my high school self.

Who’s your favorite character?

Luke Skywalker forever. That farm boy is my jam.

Favorite droid?

R2-KT

Lightsaber color?

Orange. It’s a unique color and stands out in a crowd of blues and greens.

Porgs? Yes or no?

I would trade porgs for crystal foxes! There are a voracious subset of Saber Maidens who are totally team porg. We even have a member who does Daenerys Targaryen but with porgs — she is the Mother of Porgs. Me? I want a Swarovski tie-in with the crystal fox.

If someone wanted to join Saber Maidens, how would they go about it?

Find us on Facebook! We have a page that’s available to the public and a group that’s private. Also, we do meetups in the San Francisco Bay Area because it’s where we started. But if you’re a group of lightsaber-wielding gals and want to meet up in another location, we hope we can help with that too!

If readers would like to get involved with Lightsabers for Leia, what should they do?

Post on our Facebook page or join our private group. If you have questions about the costume build, we hopefully can pool our knowledge to figure it out!

 

 

Toxic masculinity no match for saber-wielding Leia fan

This has been a summer in which the Star Wars fandom seems more divided than ever. The geek community has been forced to confront an alarming amount of toxic masculinity bubbling up from below the surface, whether in the form of “Last Jedi” haters calling for the firing of Kathleen Kennedy or fanboys actually crying over a “Fanboy Tears” mug.

So I’m kinda overjoyed that the next installment of the Geek Goddess interviews is a two-parter, featuring founders and co-admins of the Facebook group Saber Maidens, a refreshingly fierce, optimistic, and inclusive support group for women who are into Star Wars, the (light)saber arts, and prop and costume fabrication.

In Part 1, we meet Celeste Joy Greer Walker, an OG, lifetime Star Wars fan who saw “Episode IV” in 1977 at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in Hollywood with her parents (who sound amazing). The story of how she cried when the movie ended because she wanted to see it again almost had me in tears, as did many moments in this interview. 

Celeste describes Star Wars as her life’s foundation and she’s immersed herself in the galaxy far, far away in inspiring ways. As a child, she began dressing up as Princess Leia, created her own costumes from thrift store finds, and once crafted a lightsaber from her bicycle’s handlebar grip (much to her Dad’s chagrin).

As an adult, she’s a member of saber dueling organization Saber Legion, is involved in several saber dueling clubs and competes in tournaments, makes her own costumes, considers Carrie Fisher a role model, and also embraces Harry Potter and steampunk. 

Celeste serves up an impressive amount of Jedi-like wisdom when it comes to subjects like misogyny within the Star Wars fandom, a certain Rose Tico quote, advice on raising awesome geek children, and all the “Last Jedi” hate. 

(Next week, come back for Part 2, featuring Celeste’s co-founder and co-admin, Pat Yulo.)

Photo: Ruth Miller, Eclectic Eye Fine Art and Photography.

You’re an admin and co-founder of the Facebook group Saber Maidens. For those who aren’t familiar with the group, what is Saber Maidens about?

We have a formal definition on our Facebook page that we spent a lot of time debating about. What it comes down to is Saber Maidens is different things for different people. Some fans come to it for costuming support, some for choreography support, some for lightsaber support.

How did the group come to be founded?

Right now, there’s a lot of machismo in Star Wars fandom. That has not always been the case!  But the most macho of machismo is in Star Wars lightsaber-centric groups. A lot of lightsaber fans come from martial sport and there is traditionally still a lot of separation of the genders.

I made my first lightsaber from an old flashlight, my bicycle handlebar grip, and a copper pipe. I was 10. My dad was annoyed that I disfigured my brand new handlebar grip.

My interest in lightsabers ebbed in 2012 … and I began my journey into the Star Wars lightsaber fandom. Even in San Francisco there was not a lot of room for non-heterosexual males. A lot has changed since 2012.

But when I started I was often the only non-male in the class. I was mistaken for someone’s girlfriend, someone’s mother … my saber comrades found it hard to believe that I was a Star Wars lightsaber mega fan! Some were in such disbelief that a creature like me could exist (cis-female hetero Star Wars lightsaber mega fan) that they ignored me entirely, like I did not exist.

Celeste Joy Greer Walker and Saber Maidens co-founder and co-admin Pat Yulo.

What are your duties as admin and co-founder of Saber Maidens?

I post or repost things that I think would be interesting to other lightsaber enthusiasts. I also give a lot of encouragement to those who are first getting into the costuming and choreography aspect of Star Wars fandom.

I’m also working on trying to reinvigorate the martial sport of saber combat dueling for non-male individuals. That’s going to be a slow road because there’s so much stigma even in coed martial sports… Groups like LudoSport and Saberist Academy are making an effort to encourage a coed atmosphere. But there are still a lot of roadblock, often from well-intended men who think they’re being inclusive because they let you be there. That, unfortunately, is not the same as respect.

Saber Maidens has a public page but it’s a closed group with more than 50 members. That’s pretty large for a closed group!

I used to know everyone that was involved. I met them at a convention or at costuming choreography meetups. But now there’s a lot of people from all over the place. And Saber Maidens is maturing into a group to be very proud of.

The Saber Maidens motto is “saving the galaxy one stitch at a time.” What was the inspiration for that slogan?

We had been going back and forth about it for a while. We must have had 200 or 300 ideas. I am probably exaggerating a little. But that came together very organically. I think one of us was cross stitching Star Wars characters and there were some jokes about “A Stitch in Time,” and then it escalate and before I knew it, there it was.

Why a group for just women? I think some men might assume (quite wrongly) that women aren’t interested in lightsabers.

Hahaaaaaaaaaaaaaahaha.

Just a minute. I’m almost finished laughing and then I can answer your question.

You said, “some men.” Even men who identify as feminist can become protective of their lightsaber man space with an Imperialistic authority.

And more importantly, we’re trying to be more inclusive than just women. There’s a lot of people who identify in a lot of different ways who get left out of the conversation when it becomes machismo dominant.

Your members belong to a diverse array of Star Wars costuming groups, including Rebel Legion, the 501st, Mandalorian Mercs, and Saber Guild. That sounds so fun! What’s that like?

It is a privilege to have a costume that is accepted by one or all of these groups where you can go out and represent Lucasfilm to the public. I’m very proud of the volunteer work I have been able to do as a member. But we have quite a few Saber Maidens who participate purely for the love of lightsabers and the love of Star Wars and for whatever reason don’t want to be members of the costuming clubs.

Are you a member of any of these groups?

I have an approved costume with Saber Guild. I also served as costume coordinator and  local assistant director for Saber Guild Golden Gate Temple. Currently, I’m representing a Saber Guild outpost in the high desert of central California. I’m also working on approval for several costume with Rebel Legion.

But, of course, what’s first on my to-finish list will be the Jedi Leia (costume) from Empire Infinities.

What’s your personal involvement in the “saber arts”?

I first got involved with a little group in the Bay Area. We eventually evolved into the group that is now Saber Guild Golden Gate Temple. My first performance with Saber Guild was at the 2012 San Diego International Comic-Con.

Celeste with the Saber Guild at San Diego Comic-Con.

I’ve also been involved in several saber dueling clubs. I was the first woman in the Bay Area Saber Legion Charter. I was also one of two women who competed in the first International Saber Legion tournament. I’m very proud of that. The martial sport of saber dueling is so very, very different than choreography and cosplay.

What I do with Saber Guild dressed as a Jedi librarian is more like dancing with my Sith opponent. Combative martial sports with lightsabers is more like aggressive speed dating.

Celeste sports a Hat for House Elves.

Do you do a lot of costume making? If so, what Star Wars costumes have you built or put together? Where did you learn the skills required for that?

I started putting together costumes and dressing as Princess Leia at 5. As a child, I did Ren Faires. And I had a dress-up trunk in my room. Why wait for Halloween dress-up when you can dress up all year long? A lot of my early costumes were purchased pieces combined with thrift store finds. I didn’t do much original fabrication until that last five years.

I didn’t learn how use a sewing machine until I was in my early 30s. I started making hats and Harry Potter cosplay. In 2015, one of the other founding Saber Maiden’s, Mary Fischer-Boyd, took me under her wing and really showed me the art of Jedi and Sith costuming. Mary and Pat have a panel they do at many of the cons in the Bay Area, “How to Dress as a Jedi.” The both showed me the ways of the Jedi robe making.

Celeste, front row, second from left, at a Saber Legion meetup.

What do you enjoy most about it?

The hospital visits that I have done have been the most rewarding and memorable adventures. Star Wars was an escape for me when I was growing up. Haha … it still is an escape for me. And I think it is for a lot of people. I just really enjoy that I can set all the mundane stuff aside, the real life stuff, and just give myself permission to play. I feel really fortunate that I had parents who nurtured my passions and interests.

There were some horrible things that happened to me in my childhood. Without going into the unpleasant details, I’ll just say that I really over-identify with “The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.”

Star Wars and Carrie Fisher have helped me find balance in my day to day struggles as a survivor of rape with PTSD.

When I am in costume, I love to see the adults come out of their shell. Not everybody had my mother and father, not everybody had a costume trunk when they were kids. Some kids don’t get to be kids. And playing is a learned behavior. If you never learned how to play as a child then you really should learn how to play as an adult. Like Mark Hamill said, “Learning to play is cheaper than therapy.”

Celeste at Star Wars Celebration 2017.

Saber Maidens members sometimes meet for “crafternoon get-togethers” to work on projects and hang out. Tell me about those meetups.

Sometimes we actually get sewing projects done. But there’s also a lot of consultation like, “This is what I’m working on, this is the problem, how would you solve it?” There’s also support, like when you’re costuming a lot of body issues come up, so we support each other around exercise and diet and health problems. And we remind each other to be kind to ourselves.

I think the best thing about it is that there’s such a broad base and we try and include both costuming and choreography. Some of our members find it difficult to do choreography and learn choreography in a machismo atmosphere.

Don’t get me wrong most of the guys are great, but it only takes one bad egg to stink up the kitchen.

Once I was working with a student who just felt too embarrassed to work on choreo in a coed environment. So having a place to practice, a place where you can get over all of your insecurities and play, I think that’s really what our crafting/saber meetups are about. Being a community.

Could you briefly explain what kind of work is involved in getting a costume approved by Rebel Legion or Saber Guild?

All of the costumed organizations have their own set of costuming rules so it can be challenging.

The first thing to do is to be in contact with your local costume advisor or coordinator or director.

People often want to do a big fancy costume first. I discourage this. Do the simple basic generic non-face character costume first. Figure out all the bells and whistles and hoops you have to jump through because most likely your costume is not going to get approved the first time around. Then when you’ve done the generic, you can delve into a more complicated costume.

Celeste as Princess Leia in 1987.

You’ve been a Leia fan since childhood. How were you affected by the passing of Carrie Fisher?

I was deeply affected! I remember when I read the news I was standing in my kitchen and I laid down on the floor and I cried, and then I called in sick.

Carrie Fisher put her struggles out there, her attitude was f*** them if they didn’t understand. She has been and still is a role model to me. That brazen honesty, that internal strength is something I still admire about Carrie Fisher.

You saw Star Wars at the age of 5 in the summer of ’77 at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. Tell me about your memories and first impressions of that.

My vivid memory … The movie was over and I was told I had to leave and I didn’t want to leave. And I remember shuffling my feet and staring at the carpet. And then I started to cry as I wanted to see it again. My Dad picked me up and one of the ushers in the fancy hats said, “You will get to see it again.” I have seen it 100 times. I dreamed that night of Death Stars and princesses wielding lightsabers.

Your mom was a DC Comics and sci-fi fan who raised you on Doctor Who, Star Trek, and classic monster movies. How did that shape you?

I grew up living this stuff. My mother is 87. Her favorite gift for her birthday this year was Wonder Woman sheets. Fandoms transcend age. I’ve never known anything else. When I became an adult and started meeting people who had never seen Star Wars and didn’t know who Doctor Who was, that was culture shock for me.

At home, It wasn’t seen as a childish thing. The idea that people had that I would somehow grow out of my love of Star Wars was extremely foreign to me. I’m 47 now, so any friends that I used to have that were hoping I’d grow out of it have moved on or they’ve gotten used to it.

Celeste and R2-D2 at the 10th anniversary Star Wars convention.

You saw Star Wars again in ’87 for its 10th anniversary and your parents came with you. What was that like?

We weren’t there just to see the movie. It was a four-day convention. But that was when my dad realized that Star Wars was more than just a kids movie. I think I was the only high school student there and the only fan there with their parents. Most of the people were aspiring filmmakers. I made quite a few friends … lost track of most of them over the years. We didn’t have Facebook back then.

What is it about the Star Wars universe that continues to intrigue and inspire you after all these years?

I’m a Star Wars mega fan. It’s my foundation. I cannot imagine not having Star Wars in my life. Being this deep into a franchise is kind of like being attached to the place you grew up. Some people leave their hometown. Some people take their hometown with them wherever they go. And some people stay right there their whole life. That’s what Star Wars is for me.

There’s a Rose Tico quote on the Saber Maidens page — “That’s how we’re gonna win. Not fighting what we hate, saving what we love.” I found this interesting in light of the fact that the Star Wars fandom seems to have gotten nasty recently with all the “Last Jedi” hate and arguing about the “Solo” movie, petitions to remake the film, and calls for Kathleen Kennedy to be fired. What are your thoughts about that?

Wow, that’s a question, so you want me to write a book right?

The Rose Tico quote is a repeated theme within the Star Wars mythos. It’s just the first time that it was put into those words and said by someone who is not a man.

Luke had a very similar line in “Return of the Jedi” when he told Vader he would not fight him in the Emperor’s throne room and when the Death Star was exploding all around Luke is helping his father die with dignity, which I think was one of the first on-screen euthanasias. ”I have to save you.”

Anakin replayed, “You already have.” Vader came back to the light when he stopped fighting what he hated, the Empire and started fighting for what he loved, his son.

I think the Star Wars haters are very insecure people who receive some sort of emotional satisfaction through the act of complaining. If they don’t like it they should just watch a different movie. Or better yet, if they really, actually, truly love Star Wars then they should go make their own Star Wars movie or go write their own fanfiction. This franchise is alive because that’s what people did in the ‘80s and the ‘90s when there wasn’t anything.

Star Wars is a huge universe. Make it bigger, make it better, talk to your therapist and take your medication. At least I think that’s what Carrie Fisher would tell people.

Celeste at San Diego Comic-Con in 2003.

There also still seems to be a fair amount of misogyny in the Star Wars fandom. Have you encountered any of that?

Is there sand on Jakku?

We live in a sexist, misogynistic, bigoted society and at one time or another we’re all guilty of something. I would like to think that Star Wars fans are more enlightened. Unfortunately, that is not the case.

Percentage-wise I think there is less misogyny and sexism then there was in the ‘70s, ‘80s, and ‘90s. But I think the Star Wars fandom has changed and there is actually more misogyny now than there was in 1987.

One of the questions that George Lucas was asked in 1987 at the 10th anniversary convention was, “Why aren’t there more female characters in Star Wars?”

His answer was something to the effect that Star Wars was a war movie and women didn’t belong in war movies. There was a resounding unified “booooo” from the entire audience. I’m not sure an answer like that would get a “boo” now. There are men out there who seem to think it’s the feminist agenda that has ruined their franchise.

What are some of your other fandoms?

I used to be big into classic “Battlestar Galactica” and “Buck Rogers,” but that’s only because it reminded me of Star Wars. As an adult I’ve been fascinated by Harry Potter and the entire steampunk Star Wars mashups stuff.

You’ve done costuming in the Harry Potter fandom and Steampunk genre. Tell me more about some of the other costumes you’ve done.

I really like capes! I have a closet full of capes that would astound even Lando Calrissian. Unfortunately, not many Jedi wear capes and neither does Leia.

You’re a single mom with a 23-year-old son who’s also a geek. Any advice on how to raise amazing geek children?

Figure out what they like and immerse them in it. Don’t force them to like your franchise. Ask them to explain their favorite franchise to you.

Photo: Ruth Miller, Eclectic Eye Fine Art and Photography.

And now, a few Star Wars questions.

What’s your ultimate favorite film in the franchise?

Star Wars Holiday Special. Just kidding. “The Empire Strikes Back.”

Besides Leia, who’s your favorite character?

Luke Skywalker, Duchess Satine.

Favorite droid?

L3-37, Lando’s droid in “Solo.”

Lightsaber color?

I have plans for making a paisley lightsaber.

Porgs? Yes or no?

I’m Porg neutral. But very fond of Lepis. And I feel adamant that Jaxxon should replace the Easter Bunny.

If someone wanted to join Saber Maidens, how would they go about it?

Like us on Facebook and just start participating in the conversation.

Her Universe invited me to discuss geek fashion size issues. Here’s what I learned.

Ashley Eckstein and Lavender Vroman in Eckstein’s Alice and Wonderland-themed office.

After months of talking with friends, family, and readers of No Man’s Land about their geek fashion frustrations — as well as my own — I finally sat down in March and fired off a blog post that attempted to encompass some of our most common concerns.

I addressed this open letter to Ashley Eckstein, founder and general merchandise manager of Her Universe, because she is one of my personal heroes. My thinking was that as a pioneer – and let’s just say it, a total badass — in geek retail fashion for women, she’s uniquely positioned to be a formidable force for change.

The letter focused on geek fashion’s “size problem,” which includes a host of issues that make shopping for clothes a source of disgruntlement for many woman, such as inconsistent sizing or labeling of sizes, lack of availability of plus-size products, and higher prices for plus-size clothing.

To my surprise, the letter went a teensy bit viral on Twitter. Apparently, it struck a chord with geeks of all genders, as well as some founders of independent fashion companies.

I’ll be honest. I wasn’t expecting Eckstein to respond. She’s busy overseeing a fashion empire that’s connected to such brands as Hot Topic, BoxLunch, and Disney, so I was pleasantly shocked when she responded thoughtfully and graciously with a series of tweets.

Despite her promise of a more in-depth response, I again figured that might be the end of it, but in early April I received an email from Eckstein’s people asking if we could set a date for a visit to Her Universe headquarters in Los Angeles.

Eckstein was about to embark on a tour for her new book, so we set a date for late June. I drove to City of Industry, where a sprawling facility houses the headquarters and a distribution center for Hot Topic, its Her Universe and BoxLunch divisions, and sister company Torrid.

The Hot Topic offices are as fun as you would expect of a major geek brand. When you enter the lobby, you’re immediately greeted by the sight of sofas crammed with pillows representing several major fandoms, as well as Eckstein’s personal giant stuffed Porg, dubbed “Porgy Carter.”

From left, Winnie Jaing, Her Universe director of business operations; Lavender Vroman of No Man’s Land; Porgy Carter; and Ashley Eckstein, Her Universe founder and general merchandise manager.

I was ushered into Eckstein’s Alice in Wonderland-themed office, which boasts colorful painted murals, a quirky selection of comfy chairs, and a table cluttered with Alice-themed curios — many of them holding candy, a smattering of Star Wars collectibles and, of course, more Porgs.

Eckstein greeted me, decked out in a stunning black and red Edna Mode-inspired ensemble she’d selected for a meeting with Disney later in the day. I expected to spend a few minutes with her and then be handed off to her assistants, but Eckstein spent almost three hours with me, escorting me through a comprehensive tour of the behind-the-scenes workings of Hot Topic and its sister operations.

The entrance to Hot Topic headquarters features many geek goodies, including a giant Rocket Raccoon and the custom Ahsoka Tano Lego gown worn by Ashley Eckstein at the Her Universe Fashion Show during San Diego Comic-Con 2016.

We began by chatting with a couple members of the Her Universe design team, who Eckstein describes as “pioneers” in geek fashion. They spoke to me about some of the challenges specific to designing fashion for lady geeks.

“The fangirl is very blunt and honest,” senior designer Mandy Weaver said, adding that these customers will definitely speak up if designers fail to accurately represent the details of a particular fandom.

“Everything has to be done with intention,” designer Symantha Perrera agreed.

“You’re not making something pretty. You’re making something pretty that represents something to someone.”

For this reason, Eckstein said, Her Universe focuses on the licensed property first. Trends come second.

Although they take current fashion trends into consideration, “the two don’t always go hand in hand.” The challenge is to “merge” fashion with licensed properties.

Perhaps more importantly, the process of arriving at an accurate fit for a piece of clothing begins with the design team.

Designs are sometimes altered for plus sizes, but Perrera said they aim to keep the aesthetic of a design the same, whether it’s a juniors or plus-size garment.

For instance, a piece of plus-size swim wear might sport a higher waist and more stretch than a junior piece so that it fits the wearer’s body better, but aesthetically it would basically look the same.

Eckstein said her concerns about fit were one of the reasons she sold Her Universe to Hot Topic in 2016.

“When we started Her Universe, we were just a T-shirt company.”

With a laugh, she detailed how in early Her Universe fit sessions, “We held (the shirt) up to our bodies and said, ‘Does this fit right?’”

Later, Eckstein explained, “I never intended to sell Her Universe. I could not cater to my plus-size customers without Hot Topic. … I sold my company to try to cater to plus-size customers.”

This giant wall mural greets visitors to Hot Topic headquarters.

Before my visit to Her Universe, I was not aware of the fact that there is a science and a technical process to sizing. It includes a series of “fit sessions” with a team of “fit models” who try on garment prototypes and offer feedback as to comfort, fit, quality, length, and other factors. Hot Topic uses fit models who represent every plus size offered.

“We had all sorts of fit issues before we came here,” Eckstein said.

As part of the Hot Topic family, Her Universe has access to the technical design department headed up by veteran senior technical designer Frank Rodriguez, who oversees fit sessions and holds Her Universe to the same rigorous standards as Hot Topic and also Torrid, which is the gold standard for plus-size shopping to a certain demographic of lady geeks.

On the day of my visit, I sat in on part of a fit session in which two models wore the same outfit, one in a juniors size, the other in a plus size.

When it comes to fit, the process always begins on a size 7 or medium, Rodriguez explained.

As far as plus-size fashions go, the team attempts to “mirror” the juniors design as much as possible.

“You don’t just size up,” Eckstein said.

“Plus is a separate style is how we see it,” echoed Hot Topic production manager Cynthia Park. “It goes through several rounds of costume exercises separate from the juniors (pieces).”

To illustrate the concept that plus-size garments are considered a separate design from the juniors, Frank laid out two pairs of basic black Hot Topic jeggings.

The juniors pair sported one button at the waist. The plus-size design had a second button, an addition made after fit model Danielle raised concerns about a less-than-flattering bulge issue.

Details like the extra button do cost more, Park said, and so does any extra fabric required.

This touches upon a frequent complaint of many shoppers feel that higher prices for plus-size clothes are discriminatory.

Eckstein explained that in order to keep plus-size costs equivalent to juniors, the price of juniors clothing would have to be raised and that would frustrate many shoppers’ expectations of what they should have to pay for a particular garment.

Rodriguez and Eckstein said things are slowly changing in the geek fashion industry when it comes to fit.

“In the beginning, the geek fit was really small,” Eckstein said. “It’s something that we work on.”

“We like a curvier girl,” Rodriguez agreed. “It’s important to me that (a plus-size customer) feels just as good and just as comfortable” as one who wears a juniors size.

Danielle talked about some of her own struggles with inconsistent sizing and vanity sizing.

“As a plus-size woman, it kills me. It can start to mess with (a woman’s) head.”

She said she can attest to the dedication of the Hot Topic team’s plus-size adjustment efforts.

“It makes me feel special to be part of the process.”

After the tour of Hot Topic, Eckstein took me over to the headquarters of Torrid, where I talked with Daniela Pastor, senior manager of brand marketing.

Torrid’s offices boast a wall covered in customer’s Instagram photos to remind them of their demographic on a more personal level and large quotes scattered throughout the building from a diverse array of figures, ranging from Jonathan Swift, to Hillary Clinton, to Tina Fey.

Just one example: “Men and friends come and go in your life, but a good bra is forever. – Anonymous.”

Lavender Vroman of No Man’s Land and Daniela Pastor, senior manager of brand marketing, in front of Torrid’s Instagram wall.

Torrid has great success with their intimates and active wear lines. The company also has a rapidly growing licensed fashion business that is mostly conducted online. They have licensing deals with Disney, Universal, Sony, and Fox, among others.

“These properties now see us as a major player,” Pastor said.

Mostly, though, the Torrid team is preoccupied with making clothes that fit.

“Fit is huge for us,” Pastor said, noting that their customers aren’t shy about giving feedback.

Whereas most companies might size clothes up from a 1, Pastor explained, Torrid starts with a size 18 model and then sizes up or down according to what’s needed.

They use custom-made plus-size mannequins for the fit process and an array of fit models who come from within and outside of the company.

Torrid has also hosted elaborate, personalized focus group sessions with customers.

Pastor said one of their shoppers’ biggest concerns is, “Why don’t you show a Size 30 model” in promotional materials?

The lack of representation in print materials was echoed by fit model Danielle.

“You don’t see anything over a Size 14 print model,” she said.

Eckstein praised social media and its abundance of bloggers and vloggers for partially addressing this problem by allowing women to see other women modeling clothes and thereby get a better idea of how they might look on them.

She said she realizes, however, that “it’s frustrating to see technically a plus-size fashion on a Size 12 girl.

Pastor said the lack of models of a certain size portrayed in print materials has to do with a shortage of these women in the fashion industry in general. Perhaps a larger issue is the expense of manufacturing sample garments, which prohibits an extremely diverse range of sizes from being featured in advertising and promotions.

Ordering samples in more than three different sizes can sometimes raise costs by millions, she said.

Eckstein’s personal frustration, and it’s a topic she returns to again and again throughout my visit, is with the term “juniors.”

“Why is it called juniors when women are wearing it?” she said.

It’s clear she’d like to see this label go away at some point, even if her team expresses doubts the term will ever be retired.

This tiny door was one of my favorite details in Ashley Eckstein’s Alice in Wonderland-themed office.

The most telling thing I learned from my tour of Her Universe has to do with the retail industry in general. Eckstein and her colleagues explained that different sections of a retail store are run by separate buyers. So the juniors, plus, women’s, maternity, and other departments are all operated independently of each other.

Plus-size stock is often determined by how much space is available in a certain department within a store. The ultimate decision rests with the individual buying and merchandising teams.

Retail companies also base their fit specifications on their own customer demographics, which is why you might be a medium when you shop at one store and an extra-large when you shop at another.

“We’re gonna have this problem as long as different retailers have all different fits,” Eckstein said.

“We’ve established enough credibility as a brand where we get to use our own fit.”

So a Her Universe medium is the same as a Hot Topic medium and they’ve carried that over to their partnerships with the Disney Store and other retailers who don’t insist upon using their own specs.

Eckstein said she and her team are always open to fan feedback and concerns.

“We appreciate the feedback. We have an expert team to fix it and back it up.”

Fit model Danielle said she’s seen progress during her time working in the industry.

“Things have changed. The people who want to see the change, they’re going to have to demand it.”

According to Eckstein, “the biggest way to change things is with your dollars.”

When it comes to plus-size fashions, where a majority of sales tend to take place online, if customers don’t buy the products, retailers assume they don’t want them, she explained.

Though no magical quick-fix has yet to present itself in an industry where one standard system of sizing seems impossible, Eckstein said she and her colleagues are trying to improve things.

“We can do as best as we can.”

On a personal note, my visit with Her Universe helped clarify the geek fashion size issue, but also increased my awareness that this is an incredibly complicated problem. I think some perceptions about sizing might change if consumers were made more aware of how the process works within the industry. I confess I was clueless about nearly all of it before my tour.

While it’s frustrating that size issues seem like an ultimately unsolvable puzzle, I feel there is a lot more to be done on the part of retailers. I’m hoping Her Universe and other companies who care will continue their efforts to do more and more in service of their customers. Let’s hope the industry at large will begin to see this issue as a challenge they can and should confront.

I also think we should keep the dialogue going on this subject within the geek community and continue to demand change. I’d love to hear your thoughts on what you’ve read here.

Have you been enlightened? Do you have questions? Suggestions for solutions or ways geek consumers can take action? Let’s keep this discussion going! Comments are welcome and encouraged!

Funko Pop! photographer finds her niche in Polish pop culture scene

After posting a fairly nondescript photo of my husband’s new Enfys Nest Funko Pop! on Instagram, I discovered the wonderful world of Pop! photography, courtesy of up-and-coming young artist Klaudia Sebastian.

So many of us have become obsessed with our collections of these irresistibly geeky figures, it’s only fitting that some creative and enterprising photogs would begin showcasing them to spectacular effect in clever or idyllic settings.

Judging by social media, Pop! photography is definitely a thing in the U.S., but Klaudia says it isn’t as popular in the small city she calls home in Poland. There, she’ll hop on her bike with her cell phone and a backpack full of Pops and put the gorgeous natural scenery that surrounds her to good use as a backdrop.

As Klaudia has discovered, Pops make ideal photographic subjects. Whether they be stars of Game of Thrones, “Jurassic Park”-era Jeff Goldblum, the cast of The Walking Dead, or popular video game characters, they never fidget or complain and the photographer maintains complete control over the shoot.

I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Klaudia about the pop culture scene in Poland (they have “The Last Jedi” haters, too), her childhood love of Star Wars, how her mom got her into Game of Thrones, her affection for “Walking Dead” villain Negan, and the six years she spent training in the sport of football (soccer). 

As a bonus, she schooled me about legendary German industrial metal band Rammstein. 

You can see Klaudia’s strikingly composed Pop! pics and follow her photographic exploits on her Insta, @geekoza. If you read Polish, you can also check out her blog.

Your Instagram, @geekoza, features wonderful photos of Funko Pops posed in natural settings or against colorful and creative backdrops. How did you first get the idea to capture these images?

I started taking photos of my Pops when I heard about a competition which was organized by popvinyl.pl. In this competition you could win Pops figures. I decided to take part in this competition. Why not? I really got to like taking photos of Pops figures in different environments, everywhere I thought it would be nice.

What was the first Funko Pop photo you took?

The first Pops figure I took a photo of is C-3PO with red arm from “The Force Awakens.” I put him on a Christmas tree and then I took a photo by my mobile phone. I think that it looks nice.

Apparently, Funko Pop! photography is a big thing. I wasn’t aware of that! Do you interact with any other Pop photographers?

Taking photos of Pops figures isn’t a big deal for everybody. I think in Poland just a few people are interested in this. Moreover, I think that none are doing this in a professional way. And no, I don’t cooperate with anybody. I am trying to do better and better photos just by (and for) myself. It’s a hobby for me, a hobby which includes taking photos and collecting Pops figures.

Do you have a background or training in photography?

No, I’m self-taught. I’ve liked taking photos for ages. I was taking photos of everything, no matter if it was picturesque landscapes or normal mugs. Every photo I’ve made I took with my mobile phone. I don’t have any professional equipment but I hope that someday I will have that.

You’ve been a collector of Funko Pops since 2017. How many Pops do you have in your collection?

I bought my first Pops figure in November 2017 at Comic Con in Warsaw. It was a Negan (from “The Walking Dead”) figure. At the present moment, I have 33 figures in my collection. Maybe it is not a lot, but my collection is constantly growing.

What are some of your favorite or most prized Pops?

My favorite Pops figure is lying down Malcolm from “Jurassic Park.” The figure is different from others, it’s special. The most valuable Pops figures are Night King from Game of Thrones — limited edition from Summer Convention (2017) — and Luke Skywalker from Star Wars — limited edition from Galactic Convention (2017).

Where do you tend to get your Pops from?

Almost all of my Pops figures I bought on popvinyl.pl. Usually I get them one day after I bought them. Also, I am sure that all of my figures will be packed and delivered in a perfect way. A lot of figures I got from GameShop from Germany. In Poland there are few shops which have Funko figures.

Where do you keep your Funko Pops?

All my Pops are sorted out on the shelves in my room. I will be moving out soon so I am going to buy a special cabinet for them.

Tell me about the process of setting up a Funko Pop shot. Is it a lot of work or is it more of a fast, spontaneous thing?

Most of the photos I took very spontaneously. I usually take a bike and go ahead with a few Pops in my backpack. I have many beautiful places around my house. I had to prepare a little bit more to take the last photo of Malcolm. I had to prepare, e.g. accessories. Overall, almost all of my photos I took spontaneously.

A lot of your photos feature beautiful natural settings, which is kind of unexpected. Why do you like to shoot them outside?

I’ve always liked to photograph outside. The natural light looks really good in the pictures. And the Pops look great surrounded by plants.

Why photograph Pops, as opposed to something else? What do you like about it?

I think that taking photos of Pops figures is much easier than taking photos of humans or animals. This figure will not move. I can put it in an environment that I choose, in a pose that I want. Probably I like the most control of the situation. I decide what to do and anyone else can’t complain, haha.

You’re building a following for your Instagram. How have people on social media reacted to your photos?

People react really great! They added nice comments, left a lot of likes. It probably means that they like it, right? I want every geek to find something on my profile. It does not matter if he/she is a Star Wars fan or Games of Thrones fan.

You live in a small city in Poland. What is the pop culture scene like there? Are people as crazy about fandoms as they are in America?

I think that in Poland it is a different mindset than in the USA. Of course, in Poland you have a lot of fans of pop culture but you also have people who don’t like those fans of pop culture. Maybe I am wrong. I hope so. I am sooo happy that in Poland we have more and more events for geeks, eg. games fair, Comic Cons … we have progress here!

How did you become interested in fandoms and geek culture?

I think I liked superheroes from childhood. It’s been developing all the time, next movies, more comics, gadgets. I always watched all the movies with my parents and they probably instilled this love of geek culture in me.

A lot of your Pops are from the series Game of Thrones. How did you discover the show? What do you love about it?

A few years ago, my mom told me about this series. She said that everybody was talking about it and it probably is awesome. Something that has so many good opinions cannot be bad. I saw the first episode but I didn’t get the “awesome” of it. It was okay. After the second episode I got why this is such a super series and I started to love it. No regrets! In GoT, I like most the fact that we can’t be sure 100%. This series engrosses us. This is what I like about it.

Who’s your favorite GOT character?

Jaime Lannister. Definitely. The Lannister’s line appealed to me. I like villains. People sometimes take some things too seriously. I went to Warsaw to Comic Con last year. I met Jack Gleeson (Joffrey Baratheon) and I could talk with him for a minute. He said that some people threatened him just because he had a villain role. In real life he is very nice person!

Klaudia and Jack Gleeson, who played Joffrey Baratheon on Game of Thrones, at Warsaw Comic Con.

Do you have to wait in Poland as long as we do in the U.S. for the final season?

Unfortunately, yes. We have to wait until 2019 to see the final season. Let’s hope that it is worth waiting and the last season will be amazing.

Star Wars is another fandom that pops up in your photos. I notice you’ve photographed Donald Glover’s Lando Calrissian a lot. Is he one of your favorites?

I think that Donald Glover played the best part in “Solo.” His Lando is really close to the original Calrissian (played by Billy Dee Williams). From the newest Disney movies, “Solo” is one of my favorites.

Tell me about your Star Wars memories. How did you first get into George Lucas’ galaxy far, far away?

I was a 6- or 7-year-old-girl. Every Saturday I used to watch Star Wars with my dad and his friend. Every single part, one by one. Sometimes we were watching a few movies without any break.

What’s your favorite Star Wars movie or story?

Maybe I am not original, but my favorite movie is Episode V, “The Empire Strikes Back.” I think that is the best George Lucas film if we are talking about plotline.

Are people in Poland as angry about “The Last Jedi” as they are in the U.S.?

Yes, many people think that Disney destroyed Star Wars. Some people are exaggerating. I think Disney made a mistake in making movies every year. This is too much and it is not healthy.

You often pose your Pops with books. I’m assuming you’re a bookworm. What are some of your favorites?

Maybe I would not call myself a bookworm but, yes, I like to read. The series about Geralt of Rivia (that inspired “The Witcher” video game) is my favorite. I really enjoy reading Andrzej Sapkowski’s books (author of “The Witcher” books). I think he is a master in his profession. Recently, one of my favorite books is Leopoldo Gout’s “Genius: The Game.”

There are also a lot of video game references in your photos. How long have you been gaming?

I started to play as a child. My first console was PlayStation 1. I seriously started playing in 2013 when the new console hit the stores — PlayStation 4. I do not do it professionally. I play in my spare time. I treat it as a hobby.

What games are you currently playing?

Nowadays, I’m playing “The Witcher” and “Call of Duty”. Sometimes I still have a chance to play FIFA and “Star Wars Battlefront II.”

You’re a fan of “The Walking Dead.” What do you enjoy most about that series?

I have been watching this series for several years. I love the characters in it. In early seasons, their roles were really well written. Now I am watching it more with sentiment and great love for Negan.

What’s your survival strategy for the zombie apocalypse?

I think the best option is to find a village with high walls to prevent zombies from getting inside. The weapons and supplies of food are also important. I think that the best chance of survival would be in a small group.

You like both Marvel and DC. Do you read the comics or watch the movies or both?

That’s true, I like Marvel and DC. But Marvel a little bit more. I read comics and watch movies and TV series. I really like superheroes.

Any favorites?

I do not think I have a favorite comic of DC or Marvel. I read a lot of them and I like them all. However, my favorite comic is “The Walking Dead.” This comic book is the best in my opinion. And from movies, it’s probably “The Avengers.”

You’re also into Jurassic Park. Are you a fan of the original movies or the reboots or both?

This is a very similar situation to Star Wars. I like both but the original films were better, more fresh. Now it is only a repetition of one scheme.

Jeff Goldblum has been a favorite Pops photo subject for you. I have a feeling he would approve.

Definitely, the figurine versions of Jeff Goldblum are my favorites. He is a great actor! I’m very happy that he recently got his own Hollywood star. Better late than never!

You said that “music is basically my life” and you’re particularly obsessed with German heavy metal band Rammstein. Tell me more!

That’s true. Music is my life. I listen to music every time when I am able to do it. Actually Rammstein is not heavy metal. This band plays industrial metal. Actually, they created a new type of metal — Neue Deutsche Härte. I started to love this band when I was 8 years old. My dad was listening to Rammstein’s album “Rosenrot” then. To the present day, I’ve seen Rammstein live twice. It was a big experience for me. Now I am waiting for their new album and new tour.

You’re also a big fan of football (soccer). Have you been watching the World Cup?

Of course, I’m watching! Unfortunately, the two teams which are the closest to my heart have already managed to say goodbye to this tournament. Neither Germans nor Poles have been promoted. I think that now I will cheer on Mexico.

You’ve been training in the sport for six years. Tell me more about that.

I’ve been training in football for six years. Now I can’t play due to my ankle injury. The doctor said that I can’t play anymore. I have been playing only with boys because then I was the only girl playing. I have been a captain for some time! Maybe it was the best six years of my life and I regret that I cannot play football any more.

What’s the state of women’s football in Poland? What’s your experience been like as a woman in the sport?

In Poland, women’s football is in progress. There are more and more girls’ teams! I’m so happy about it. More men started to respect women who are playing this sport. I am lucky for being on a team who doesn’t care about my sex. Football is my favorite sport and always, when I am thinking about this sport, I have only good connotations.

Would you ever want to make a career out of photography or even Funko Pop! photography?

I’ve never thought about it seriously. At the moment this is my hobby. If I ever could make a career in photography, I would be really happy because taking photos is what I love to do!

Are there any rare or unusual Pops you’d like to add to your collection?

I think that one of the rare Pops figures I would like to add to my collection is the limited Indiana Jones from San Diego Comic-Con 2016. Of course, there are many Pops that I would like to have in my collection. But I think my collection will grow day by day.