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.

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