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.

 

For crafter/gamer, geek culture provides creative outlet, bonding time with sons

One of the most perfect gifts I’ve ever received is a custom-made Star Wars diaper bag that is a rare combination of adorable, totally geeky, and not-too-girly. My daughter is now 4 years old and this amazing bag still hangs in my hall closet, where I often gaze at it wistfully. I don’t think I’ll ever part with it.

As a matter of fact, I’ve been wanting to introduce you to the creator of this best diaper bag of all the best diaper bags ever. Her name is Sarah Vroman and she’s a dazzlingly versatile crafter, artist, photographer, video gamer, burgeoning musician, and mom to three wonderful geek boys (who also happen to be my nephews).

Her geeky wares have included a series of striking bags, influenced by everything from “Sherlock” to Pac-Man, as well as jewelry, pillows and home decor items, cross stitch and, most recently, sweaters inspired by knitting maven and “Jessica Jones” star Krysten Ritter. 

Raised in New York as part of a family that prized a love of science, technology, art, and imagination, Sarah was introduced to the exciting world of geeky entertainment options when she first read Douglas Adams.

The Atari and Legend of Zelda ushered her into the endless possibilities of gaming, a passion that grew after she began playing Borderlands and personal favorite Fallout with her sons. The family also enjoys cosplaying, going to comic cons, and trying out new hobbies.

Below, Sarah chats about how gaming has changed for girls, her favorite Batman, tips for taking kids to cons, why she’s a music geek first, what it’s like to love “dead” fandoms, and why she’s just not into Star Wars.

Pssst … If you’re really nice to her, maybe you can talk her into making you a Star Wars diaper bag, too. 

You’re a geeky crafter and video gamer who is raising three geek boys. When would you say your life as a geeky truly began?

When I was a preteen in the early ’90s, my interests were so very typical: I listened to New Kids on the Block, watched “Saved By the Bell,” and read “The Babysitters Club” books. It took some time but my dad and brother convinced me to try something new — reading “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.”

Up until that point, I don’t think I had any idea that entertainment could actually be entertaining. This moment changed everything for me. From then on I read everything my brother recommended: “Jane Eyre,” “King Lear,” “Pride and Prejudice,” “I, Robot.” This was also the time frame that Tim Burton’s “Batman” and the original “Jurassic Park” were in the theater, and Pearl Jam and Nirvana were on MTV. What a time to be alive!

You come from a family of techies. Does this have something to do with your geekier tendencies?

I have a love of science and technology. The world is still struggling to convince girls that it’s not only ok but awesome for them to love these things. When I was a kid I was definitely a weirdo to some for embracing tech.

In New York, when you’re on the honors track you get to choose which school you go to and apply to them starting in junior high. It was decided for me that I should be applying to the schools specializing in honors level general ed or the one specializing in art. Nobody within the educational system was happy when I chose the school specializing in technology.

But in my house, technology was always celebrated in a way that made it  obvious how important it was. It was accessible and made the whole world accessible. It was the future — which is why that particular school was aptly named “School of the Future.”

All of science begins with imagination. And science fiction takes science beyond what is currently possible to inspire advancement and make the impossible possible.

You once made me the most perfect, most awesome Star Wars diaper bag as a baby shower gift — I still have it! — and you created and sold geek-themed bags on Etsy. How did you begin doing that?

I started selling bags on Etsy because I had more designs in my head than I had room for in my own closet. For the most part, when I had an idea for what I or a loved one wanted, I would make two or three and sell the superfluous ones on Etsy.

I got this cheesy idea to name my bags after favorite literary characters or places. My first bag was named “The Baker Street Bag,” then I had “The Prefect Tote,” and “The Emma Bag.” But actually designing for geeks was because of that amazing Star Wars bag I made for you! I made two extras to sell and they were both gone in 24 hours. To this day, it’s my most popular pin on Pinterest and I still get requests to make them again.

Tell me about some of the other bags you made.

My favorite bag that I made for myself was a “Sherlock”-inspired bag. It was a small messenger bag. For the flap, I used fabric that was identical to the wallpaper Sherlock drew the happy face on. I remember being terrified putting the happy face on the fabric because after all the work of making the bag I was about to risk destroying it if something went wrong with the fabric paint I was using. But it came out perfect.

Another of my favorites was a large messenger I designed for my son. I found a great Pac Man fabric and appliqued a Pac Man onto the flap.

How did you learn to sew and what sparked your interest in crafting?

I grew up in a house where art was encouraged. At first, I thought artistic ability was something that had skipped me because my brothers were so naturally inclined. But I watched my mom doing cross stitch and thought I could do at least that. I now have a belief, using myself as evidence, that artistic ability is something that can be learned.

I learned to draw and paint well enough to be sent on scholarship to the children’s program at Pratt Art Institute. I now have it set in my mind that anything I want to do is something that I can absolutely do! So, over the years I’ve indulged in SO many arts/crafts — yarn, sewing, scrapbooking, watercolor and — most surprising to me — guitar and ukulele.

When I got married, my mom gave me her old sewing machine. At the time I would joke, “But I can’t even sew a straight line.” That machine sat in my closet for probably five years before I discovered “Project Runway.” In the early years of the show they focused more on the artistry and technique than on the drama. I watched as the designers would design patterns by putting red tape on mannequins representing where seams should be. Seeing the deconstructed process suddenly gave me this thought — I can do that.

As a lover of pop culture, I also happen to be a Barbie collector. The season that thought occurred to me happened to be the one that Robert Best was on. He’s a renowned Barbie designer. This gave me the idea that sewing for Barbie was a great place to start. And I started without patterns. I often work backward in art. I just start with no research or education, then gather the information on an as-needed basis. It’s not how I teach my kids to learn because it makes it more difficult, but it seems to work for me.

What other geeky craft items have you created in the past and what do you enjoy about this creative outlet?

For a minute I got into jewelry making. I made TARDIS necklaces and had plans for “Sherlock”-inspired wearable crafts. My favorite recent geek crafts are my Legend of Zelda Wi-Fi passcode cross stitch and pillows made from geek shirts that were either the wrong sizes or thought to be destroyed. I’ve come to the conclusion that as someone who doesn’t wear jewelry, jewelry making is not for me. But making items to add geeky touches to my home are right up my alley.

I understand that, like many crafters, you left Etsy after a policy change that made operating a small shop difficult. How did that experience affect you?

My store was never doing great volume. I’m only one person with only so much time in the day for hobbies. At any given time I would have maybe ten items in my store. But those items sold quickly. I knew it was going to be bad news for small sellers the minute Etsy started trading publicly. It was really fast that they changed their policy to allow large manufacturers to sell on the site designed for homemade wares like an online craft fair.

The impact on my store was instant. The new algorithm favored stores with large inventories. My items were buried under high quantity, lower quality, less expensive, not handmade items. Suddenly, all of my items were just sitting there while I was still paying listing fees. It was disheartening and eventually I made the decision let my store go.

Are you currently doing any geeky crafting?

At this moment I’m busy knitting sweaters. I was inspired by my favorite on-screen badass, Krysten Ritter, to give it a try. I learned to knit about ten years ago but have been avoiding garments because it’s a whole lot of time and work to make something only to discover it doesn’t fit or doesn’t look good. But if Jessica Jones can do it, so can I.

You introduced me to the wonders of the geek-themed fabric aisle at a certain craft store. Could you describe it for those who may not be aware of this wondrous realm?

-When I was first making geek-themed items, that aisle wasn’t so great. I got fabrics from online stores, one in particular that is user generated designs. But now, the licensing for the brick and mortar store is out of this world. My most recent purchase from that aisle was Zelda fabric. When I bought it, the sales woman asked what I was making, to which I answered, “I have no idea, I just need it.”

It ended up becoming a quilt for my 7-year-old that he and I sewed together. I honestly have no idea how they got ahold of the Nintendo license because by all accounts it’s impossible to get. Of course, the Disney licensed fabrics is what takes up most of the aisle — Star Wars, Marvel, Princess … it’s a beautiful thing to behold.

For several years, you worked as a professional photographer. Does this job intersect at all with your geek interests?

It actually has! I really enjoy toy photography. As with sewing, I started with Barbie. She’s an excellent model. One of my favorite series of photographs happened when I took Lego Indiana Jones and Marion to Yosemite and Monterey for my husband’s and my tenth anniversary trip. Indy hiked Vernal Falls with us and saw the Lone Cyprus on the 17 Mile Drive.

What’s it like being mom to three geeky boys? What are some of your shared and individual interests and activities?

Like my parents did for myself and my brothers, I try to encourage any interests that my boys happen to have. My oldest is a (video) gamer and piano player, my middle one is a gregarious skateboarder who has fallen in love with RPGs like Mouse Guard and D&D. And the 7-year-old has a love of board games, Batman, and punk music.

We have a lot of crossover in all areas of pop culture and entertainment but I certainly can’t keep up with all of it. So, they are part of communities online and otherwise that share their interests. For instance, my 13-year-old is currently doing a D&D campaign with his uncle and three cousins via text message.

Your family has attended the Los Angeles ComicCon (which recently changed its name to Beyond Fest Expo LA). What are some of your favorite memories from that event?

I love the shopping. But the great moments were in who we saw and who we met. I love making friends while waiting for the doors to open. I follow some of them on Instagram and get to see their cosplays year round.

But the two moments that stand out: In 2016, I was able to see Gerard Way do an interview concerning the new Young Animal comic book series he had just released. It could get long winded if I talked about every reason being in the same room with him meant so much to me.

The other great moment was meeting Dameon Clarke, the voice of Handsome Jack in the Borderlands series. Because of how much we bond over this game, the boys and I were over the moon to get to have a conversation with him. He’s just as sarcastic in real life, which made the meet ‘n’ greet even more perfect.

Did you cosplay when you went this year? Tell me about that. 

I kinda did. My oldest went as Dirk Gently from the BBC series and I made for myself a Mexican Funeral T-shirt as a nod to Tod from the same series. The year before we did something similar when he went as a Fallout 4 vault dweller and I gave my nod to the series as a Nuka Cola girl with accessories that I made. Also, I have to mention my adorable 7-year-old and his bestie who have gone together as Link and Zelda, and then as Dipper and Mable Pines. They were a huge hit.

What do you enjoy about conventioning as a family? Do you have any tips for people who might be wary of attending with children?

We don’t just go as a family, we go with our long time family friends. We coordinate and work on costumes together for months. We bond over our fandoms, learn more about our kid’s fandoms and, most fun of all, it gives us an excuse to get together to craft, fabricate, drink tea and talk. Then the day comes and we love seeing all the kids together excited and happy. It’s just pure unadulterated fun.

L.A. Comic Con is really family friendly and takes place the last weekend of October, which means costumes are a must. I would say that with littles at any convention, going on Saturday is tough. I had high anxiety the whole time that we’d get separated. But at this one in particular, on Sunday they have a kids costume contest and trick-or-treating, which makes Sunday the perfect day to go. Also, make sure everyone is clear on a meeting place if you get separated.

How long have you been a gamer? Is this something you do with your boys?

My family got the Atari when I was 2, so video games have always been part of my life. But the progression from passive to obsessed started with The Legend of Zelda. My brother entered a contest and won a Nintendo from the exchange on the base we lived at. It came with four games, one of which was Zelda. It was so good!

The next game that struck me as a total game changer was Tomb Raider. Twice in my life, I have rushed out and bought a whole new console just to play a Tomb Raider game. The idea of girls in video games was finally on track to being normalized.

The boys and I game together when we can. Our favorite game to play together is Borderlands 2. It’s split screen co-op for up to four people so I’m able to play with both of my teens at once. We laugh, we first bump … it’s just a fantastic time spent together, and occasionally one of the boys’ friends will join us via online multiplayer.

Right now, we’re passively playing Stardew Valley together, but I get the feeling they’re just humoring their mom and would rather be playing games that include gunfire. Even when we aren’t campaigning together, we will share tips, and more than a few times I’ve had to have my oldest help me when I get stuck in a game.

You’re very enthusiastic about the Fallout franchise. How did you discover it and what do you love about it?

The year Fallout 4 came out, I dutifully purchased the game for my oldest as his only requested Christmas gift. I had no idea what it was. I was first struck by the fact that I could play as a female. I don’t mind playing games as a male, I love many games that don’t give this option, but since these are RPG video games it’s nice to actually see myself in the character.

But then the storyline unfolded. It’s brilliant. I think for me, first and foremost for all of the pop culture entertainment that I respond to, it has to have a great storyline.  And the Fallout games take it a step farther by peppering in Easter eggs throughout the whole world of individual stories. The lore and connections are so detailed; it’s masterful. Then, much like table top RPGs, there are a lot of decisions to be made that have consequences in the game and shape or show off your character. You truly become part of the game.

What are your expectations for Fallout 76?

It’s not going to be a main Fallout game; it’s not Fallout 5. So, my expectations are mitigated. They have promised that storyline and Easter eggs will be there, but being online multiplayer makes for a whole new dynamic where maybe storyline isn’t the most important thing. My teenagers and I are already trying to plan out how we could play together as a team but this conversation is difficult at the moment as the question still looms as to whether it will be cross-platform or not.

What’s your experience been like as a woman who games?

It’s one of those whispered things that most women still aren’t comfortable admitting to in their real lives. Last year, on the first day of the Bible study that I attend, I was asked to be the first to introduce myself. Going off the cuff, not remembering what info I was supposed to actually give (social awkwardness at its best), I included that I love going to concerts and playing video games.

Then this amazing thing happened where at least two other women got excited and seemed thrilled to admit that they too were gamer moms! There’s still this stereotype that comes in different arguments from men and women — some moms think it’s selfish and a waste of time that you could use being busy at literally anything else. And then there are the men within the community who believe women can’t bring the same level of aggression and strategy that men can.

You’re a Douglas Adams fan. What’s your absolute favorite “Hitchhiker’s Guide” quote and/or moment?

The discussion of an S.E.P. As a classic overthinker, it really spoke to me that one could just declare something to be an S.E.P. (Somebody Else’s Problem). “Any object around which an S.E.P. is applied will cease to be noticed, because any problems one may have understanding it (and therefore accepting its existence) become Somebody Else’s Problem.”

You mentioned the “Maze Runner” series. How did you discover the books and why do you like them?

This is another instance of my boys telling me about something and me having no clue what they were talking about. When I finally agreed to rent the first movie on iTunes, I was hooked. One of the things I like about dystopian stories is that it always seems to bring up thoughts and conversations as to how one would respond to the same situation. The world has gone haywire — how would you propose to fix it? It tends to flip values and morality on its head to make you think about what might really be important.

How would you say the movies compare to the novels?

The first movie follows the book pretty well but by the second movie it moves away from the books quite a bit. I’ve come to not mind film adaptations making this decision. First of all, it’s necessary. You can’t take 10 to 20 hours of a book and shrink it to fit a two-hour timeframe without massive tweaking. But I’ve also come to see that the changes make it easier to get excited about both the book and the movie in their own right.

A great example of this is “Ready Player One,” where the author helped make all new experiences and puzzles to solve for the movie. The storyline stayed the same but the details changes enough to engage the viewer in trying to solve the new riddles the same way we did in the book. Being two different experiences makes the movie and book individually fantastic.

You also describe yourself as a “huge Batman fan.” What’s the appeal of this character for you?

I think I have a taste for the darker side of the superhero genre. I love the mystery, the crazy villains and, of course, “all those wonderful toys.”

Like many people, you didn’t appreciate “the abomination that is Batfleck.” Who’s your favorite movie Dark Knight then?

I fell in love with Batman when Michael Keaton was in the role. His Batman will always be the top of my list. He did a great job of portraying the Batman as just a man concerned with doing right at all cost, who also happens to have ninja level skills and a massive amount of money to subsidize his vigilantism. I’m also really enjoying watching David Mazouz grow into the character of the Dark Knight on “Gotham.” That show has been a ridiculously fun and wild ride.

Any thoughts on what DC should do to get the Bat movies back on track?

I think they may be stuck with the track they’re on. My oldest son and I discuss often the mistakes that were made and the biggest one to me is that, following the example of the MCU, they tried to make it family friendly. Batman as a kids cartoon works. Batman with an R rating works. But when they tried to combine the two, what they ended up with is really just a kid’s movie that they tried to sell to adults.

Another reason it stands out as particularly bad is that there are other movies to compare it to. Ironman, Captain America, and Thor didn’t have that problem. When we already had Michael Keaton and Christian Bale give such stellar performances in this role, it was always going to be a tough act to follow.

Now, I have to admit to “Suicide Squad” being one of my guilty pleasures. I love the Joker more than I probably should admit. After seeing the movie in the theater, I wasn’t a fan BUT in the small screen cut there’s even more Joker. I’m almost optimistic about a Joker movie with Jared Leto, though I probably shouldn’t mention it on social media and risk getting roasted.

You’re not really into Star Wars though. I don’t know if some people realize that a) not all geeks are into Star Wars and (b that’s totally okay. What are your thoughts about this? 

At times it feels like I’m missing out on the community features like being able to engage in conversations with loved ones concerning the thing they love the most. And I have experienced someone taking it as a personal offence that I wouldn’t love that most beloved and treasured series. But I’m just not into it.

Star Wars has been such a constant in my personal universe for my whole life to the point that for a while I actually thought I must like it. It was about a year after I was married that my husband sat down to watch one of the movies and I finally said what I’d been pondering on for a while, “I don’t like this.” I have respect for the franchise and its fandom, which includes my husband and two of my boys.

When it comes to TV fandoms, you’re into “Wholock,” although you’ve labeled “Sherlock” and “Doctor Who” “dead fandoms.” Is it tough being a fan of these shows when new episodes are scarce?

I started watching “Doctor Who” in the ‘80s with my dad when Tom Baker was the Doctor. It’s safe to say that I’ll always be a fan. During David Tennant and Matt Smith’s reigns as the Doctor, the fandom was super active. I remember convincing my bestie to watch it “because the crafting alone is worth it.” It was exciting to be part of the community. With the lag time in the last few series of the show it’s been hard for anyone to keep up the enthusiasm.

“Sherlock” is another story all together. I kind of wish there were a fandom that encompassed every iteration of the Sherlock archetype – “Psych,” “Rizzoli and Isles,” “Monk.” There’s always a Sherlock to be excited about it, though admittedly, there’s only one Benedict Cumberbatch.

What’s your gut instinct about the new Doctor, Jodie Whittaker?

I’m remaining optimistic about her. I loved her in “Broadchurch.” The thing that gives me pause is that the concept of a female Doctor seems forced. They just finished an arch where the Master became female and the character of Missy was indeed masterful. It was done in such a way that it wasn’t some big political statement, which is what this feels like. Doctor Who has a history of taking on social issues in respectful ways without becoming too preachy. I really hope the new writers are able to strike the same chord.

You’re also a fan of “Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency” and “The 100.” I confess I haven’t tried either of those shows. Pitch them to me!

“Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency” began as a script for “Doctor Who,” written by Douglas Adams. When it wasn’t made, he turned it into a whole new novel. The book is the epitome of Adams’ work with that quick British wit and the highly detailed twists and turns of Adams’ imagination. The show captures this perfectly. It’s brilliantly confusing and hilarious.

Dirk is a hapless detective who gathers cases, friends, and enemies according to whichever the universe sends him at the time. It’s something worth experiencing.

“The 100” is a show my 13-year-old and I discovered and binge-watched the first several seasons on Netflix. It’s a rare treat to find TV shows that he and I can watch together. This one is a sci-fi dystopian soap opera. It’s a bloody good time.

You describe yourself as a “music geek first.” That’s not something we’ve discussed much on the blog. How would you say music fandom compares to other fandoms, like movies or comic books? How does this interest manifest itself in your life?

It doesn’t matter what art a person responds to, it’s equally important and equally exciting to the person in love with it. But music in particular transects all other art forms. When I’m editing photos or painting, it’s with my headphones on. Look what James Gunn did with “Guardians of the Galaxy,” it wouldn’t be the same movie without that amazing soundtrack.

Bethesda and Apple are both major companies who put high premiums on music; the first in their video games and the latter began the smart phone revolution with a personal MP3 player. Music is definitely something worth geeking out over.

I immerse myself in an artist’s work. Like a true geek, I want to know every song, the members of the band, the instruments used. I want to know every lyric and theorize on the intent and meaning.

I’m not the most emotional person and often don’t understand my own emotions. Music says the things that I’m feeling in a way that I can’t.

One of my favorite cinematic moments is at the beginning of “Almost Famous” when Zooey Deschanel’s character puts on an album and informs her mom that while she can’t explain her life decisions, the song playing can. There are huge communities of fans out there who experience music in similar and very personal ways. The fans are engaged very much the same as any other. They’re on Twitter, instagram, and Pinterest (and, of course, the places teenagers hang out like Tumbler and Snapchat).

What geeky collectibles have you amassed so far?

My house is littered with Funko Pops from just about every fandom my boys and I take part in. Some of my favorites are my Pop Rocks of Kurt Cobain and Gerard Way. But my newest and top-of-my-list favorite is my Deadpool as Bob Ross. He sits with my art supplies. I also have some art from vendors at comic con. My favorite is a watercolor Batman by Levi Craig.

What’s left on your geek bucket list?

In books: finishing “Differently Mophous” by Yahtzee Croshaw, which I’m listening to with the boys on audible. Btw, I highly recommend his other book, “Will Save the Galaxy for Food.” It’s a riot.

In movies: I still haven’t seen “Infinity War” (I know, gasp). My husband and boys went but I couldn’t make it.

In music: two years ago we missed the “Blurry Face” tour. My littlest and myself were so sad that we made a pact to have it be his first concert when Twenty One Pilots tours again … but then they disappeared! I, along with everyone else in the fandom are getting pretty impatient for their return.

In games: I’m really hyped about Fallout 76 and waiting impatiently for Borderlands 3 to be announced. I’m also pretty excited to make it to year two in Stardew Valley, but that goal shouldn’t take too long.

 

Dumbledore’s Army co-organizer crusades for fun and inclusion

Tabitha Davis’ origin story is just about as inspiring as the Boy Who Lived’s. 

As a child, she struggled with reading, but manifested a vivid imagination, and with a little help from Ray Bradbury and Stephen King, she became a writer, eventually landing a nerd’s dream job with Geek Magazine.

She deeply connected to J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter book series after looking for something she could read that would restore her sanity after the birth of her son. Rowling’s novels and the fandom surrounding them have subsequently shaped her life philosophy of love and inclusion.

Eventually, Tabitha found her “tribe” after joining the Meetup.com group Los Angeles Dumbledore’s Army and becoming a co-organizer of Harry Potter and other geek-themed events, from skate nights to Disneybounding days. 

With more than 2,400 hundred diverse members, Dumbledore’s Army is the second biggest Harry Potter fan group in the world, which means it’s a lot of work to run, but Tabitha wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.

You’re a co-organizer of the Los Angeles Dumbledore’s Army, a Harry Potter fan group for adults, centered around the social site Meetup.com. The group was founded in 2008. How did you become involved?

I first heard of the group via a flier, but I wasn’t sure it was for me. After finally deciding to try it out, I joined the book club and began attending events. I had previously worked in marketing and enjoyed planning events so I volunteered to assist with the group events and have been doing so ever since.

For those who may not be as familiar with Harry Potter, what does the name “Dumbledore’s Army” refer to in the books?

Dumbledore’s Army is a group the kids in the book form to fight against the tyranny of the dark wizards and the misled government officials. Their goal is to learn to protect themselves and others.

Is your group affiliated at all with charity group the Harry Potter Alliance?

We have done work with them, and many of our members work with both. They do a book drive at our skate night every year.

What are your duties as co-organizer?

It really depends on the event. Usually, we are all assigned specific tasks when we arrive at an event, and we all set up and clean up. I personally co-host Wizards Chef and will be co-hosting our first Wizards in Wonderland (Harry Potter Day at Disneyland).

Tabitha Davis and Tanya Mueller at a “Fantastic Beasts”-themed skate night.

Tell me more about L.A. Dumbledore’s Army. How often do you meet? What are some examples of the type of events/activities the group participates in.

Oh man, we do so much! We meet at least once a month. We have two very active book clubs, we host skate night, have done trivia nights, movie nights, scavenger hunts around the city, family-friendly events with a focus on the educational benefits of the book series, and Wizards Chef.

There are 2,426 members of the group, according to Meetup.com. It’s the second largest Harry Potter fan group in the world. It must be quite a bit of work keeping this group running!

It really is. In addition to the group being large, it is also diverse, so we also have to come up with a variety of events for our members. We are all working people with other responsibilities, but since we can lean on each other it is very much like Harry and his team. We get it done!

Out of curiosity, what’s the largest Harry Potter fan group in the world?

Funnily enough, it is The Group That Shall Not Be Named, out of NYC. Our names are in competition with each other, but we have members that came from that group and that visit groups events when they are in the area. The HP community is cool like that.

A group shot from the recent Wizards in Wonderland event at Disneyland that Tabitha helped organize. Photo courtesy of Jon York.

I understand you recently helped organize “Wizards in Wonderland,” a Harry Potter-themed meetup at Disneyland. How did that go? Tell me about the day. 

We all met up in front of the train around 10. Our first meeting saw probably 50 or so Potter heads, but as we moved through the park we ran into many more. There were those in cross-over T-shirts, and some people fully decked out. One group did Hogwarts-inspired Mousketeers.

Tabitha at Disneyland for Wizards in Wonderland, a Harry Potter-bounding event.

What were some of the best Harry Potter-bounding outfits you saw there?

So many fun ideas! Two ladies came as Hogwarts Express, one woman was a pin-up version of a chocolate frog.

What do you enjoy the most about being a part of Dumbledore’s Army? How would you describe the group dynamic?

Meeting other wizards. I had previously sought out other fandom communities, specifically the Star Wars fandom. I found that the wizarding community tends to be more welcoming. There isn’t a lot of pretense here that one finds elsewhere. The world J.K created is one of inclusion and acceptance, and that is very much what the group tries to embody.

Let’s talk about your personal connection to Harry Potter. How did you first discover J.K. Rowling’s series and how did your passion for it grow?

Well, first off, I am a Potter. It’s my maiden name and more than a few teachers referred to me as Snape does to Harry, as simply Potter. Since I was already an adult when the books came out, I bought them for my younger brother since he is a Potter too, obviously.

He never really got into them, and when I had my son, I asked my husband to buy me the biggest book he could find because I was going nuts. It was just after “Order of The Phoenix” was released, and that’s what he brought me. I devoured it, and then stole all the HP books I had given my younger brother.

As a mom, I connected with the books in a different way, I think than a lot of fans. First, these kids were my age, I graduated the year the Battle of Hogwarts takes place, so these were my contemporaries. I didn’t have the greatest childhood. I was bullied, and we were very poor when I was younger. I found that I connected to these characters very deeply through their trials, and it inspired me as a parent to listen to and try to better understand my children and their unique experience.

When I found the group, I felt like I had found my tribe.

What is it about J.K. Rowling’s series that sets it apart from other fandoms?

I think it may be that it was designed for children, so there is an honesty to it. It was untainted by so much of the adult world, but still, the lessons of life are there. No one is perfect, everyone is flawed and makes choices that can bring good or bad outcomes, but it is what they do about it that counts. It lets us believe in magic while understanding that we are the ones who need to make our own magic and take up the fight for those who can’t.

Aside from your involvement with Dumbledore’s Army, how is your love of Harry Potter currently manifesting itself?

Well, in my decor for sure. My living room is in Ravenclaw colors, with various witchy accouterment. We have a cupboard under the stairs, also known as the reading nook, but probably the most significant impact is how I raise my kids. I try to listen to them and to think deeply about the impact I have on them. There is a lot of wisdom in the series that I feel I keep with me in my daily life. WWWD, What Would a Wizard Do?

You were a panelist at this year’s WonderCon, discussing “Hogwarts Academia: 20 Years of Fantastic Harry Potter Fandom.” That’s impressive! Tell me about that experience. 

It was so incredible. Being on stage with my daughter, and with these incredible women who I have seen achieve their dreams was an honor. It really drove home to me how great this community is, and how wonderful for my kids to have these incredible role models.

These women are lawyers, doctors, graphic designers, empowered humans making the world better every day. It’s amazing to be counted among them. Also, (fantasy writer) Patrick Rothfuss showed up so as a fan and writer I’ve been geeking out about that for months.

Los Angeles Dumbledore’s Army also devotes itself to other fandoms, including Game of Thrones, Star Wars, Sherlock, and Doctor Who. What other fandoms are you into?

Star Wars, for sure, is my first love. The first movie I saw in the theater was “Jedi.” I love most of those other fandoms, Lord of the Rings, Doctor Who, Sherlock. Game of Thrones is freaking amazing. Comics, anything Neil Gaiman ever does. The list is long.

You write for Geek Magazine. That sounds like a cool gig! How did that come about?

It is a super sweet gig! I work with some of the coolest geeks out there. I write Haiku for fun in a group on Facebook, and one of the members is a fellow writer. She heard the magazine was hiring, so I sent in the most recent thing I had written, which was a blog about the near-death experience I had delivering my daughter. I’ve been geeking out ever since.

What’s your writer origin story? What sparked your interest in that art form?

I am dyslexic, so learning to read was the worst. I was in a special ed class to learn to read. I couldn’t read, but I would make up insane stories for sharing time. My teacher told me I would make a great writer. I thought he was nuts, I couldn’t even read.

Fast forward about a year and I was reading everything I could get my hands on. I learned that Stephen King was also dyslexic, and while I couldn’t read his work yet I knew there was a lot of it. If he could do it, maybe I could too.

Around this time I was lucky enough to meet the great Ray Bradbury. To me, he was just a really nice old guy. He asked me what I was going to be when I grew up, and I had decided that I would be a writer even though I wasn’t good at spelling. He told me to follow my heart, and to never ever let anyone tell me I couldn’t or shouldn’t write. I took his advice, ended up reading a lot of Stephen King, and pretty much anything I could get my hands on and writing whenever I could.

What sorts of things do you write about for Geek Magazine? What do you enjoy most about it?

Most things geek. TV shows, movies, books, and technology. My favorite stories are when I get to write about something I really care about. It’s like a chance to share my own love with a broad audience and maybe show them something they can love too. I love to do research and doing reports and writing for the school paper were my favorite parts of school. Now I get paid to do research and write about things I love. It’s a dream come true. 8-year old-me got her wish with this job.

Are there many other women writing about geek culture? What’s your experience been like in that regard?

Absolutely. I’d say at least half our crew is female, and some of our writers write for other pages and do podcasts and blogs about geeky stuff. I have to say that there really has only been one incident where my sex mattered, and it was a comment from a reader not from my co-workers.

The guys I work with never question what I know, or make me prove that I know something because I am a woman. I know there has been a lot of toxicity in fandom regarding men vs. women, but the vast majority of the guys I both work with and know socially are completely comfortable being schooled in geeky trivia by a woman.

Tabitha’s son, Brodey Davis, on the Warner Bros. Studio Tour.

You’re a mother raising two “geeklings.” Does your family share your geeky interests or have pop culture interests of their own?

They do, and they have introduced me to fandoms I would never have explored. My Little Pony is probably the best example. They’re sort of over it now, but they totally got me hooked. Bob’s Burgers has become a family favorite thanks to my daughter, and we even cosplayed the kids to a con last year. I also know way too much about Overwatch, thanks to my son. We spend a lot of time together, so it’s nice that we like the same sorts of things.

Members of Los Angeles Dumbledore’s Army at the Women’s March.

Of all the interviews I’ve done with women who are geeks, the biggest fandom they have in common, by far, is Harry Potter. Why do you think this franchise speaks to so many people?

Its core messages are the messages of our time. Equality, diversity, love vs. hate. These things are in our headlines, and though we don’t have magic, we do have love. We joined the masses at the first Women’s March together, and a lot of the signs were Harry Potter related. If these kids could stand up against a powerful evil then we can too.

Do you have any future plans/hopes/dreams for the L.A. Dumbledore’s Army?

Right now we are gearing up for our last Skate Night, Wizards in Wonderland, and Wizards Chef, but I would love to plan another family event. A lot of our group are having kids and it’s fun to introduce the magic of the series to another generation of fans. Also, more pub crawls.

If anyone reading this is interested in joining the group, how would they go about it?

You can check us out on Facebook, and join us on Meetup.com.

Tabitha, cosplaying as Ginny Weasley.

Let’s close with a few pressing Harry Potter-related questions:

What’s your Hogwarts house?

Ravenclaw 4 life.

Favorite book?

“Order of the Phoenix,” even though Harry is totally having a case of the puberties.

Least favorite movie?

“Chamber of Secrets.”

Favorite character?

I don’t know if I can pick one. Book Ron, Movie twins, Snape, Lupin, Tonks, Mrs. Weasley … that’s a short list.

Most devastating character death?

Snape.

Wizarding subject you’d most like to study?

Potions, Apparation.

Favorite magical creature?

Thestral.

Favorite Harry Potter item you own?

My custom wand designed after my first Pottermore wand.

How often do you visit the Wizarding World of Harry Potter?

I’ve been twice. I’m more of a book fan.

Tabitha and Jeff Davis enjoy some butterbeer at the employee preview of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Hollywood.

Cold Butterbeer, Frozen Butterbeer, or Warm Butterbeer?

Cold.

What’s left on your Harry Potter bucket list?

To see the dragon at Diagon Alley, and to visit the locations in the U.K.

 

Superman super fan showcases powerful collection

When it comes to superheroes, Tasmin Humphries didn’t get the stereotypical memo that girls must idolize Wonder Woman and boys should look up to Superman. (Although, she’s a fan of Diana, too.)

Raised on “The Adventures of Lois & Clark” and “Superman: The Movie,” the Man of Steel became her ultimate hero, thanks to his status as most powerful being ever and his commitment to always do good.

The release of the 2006 movie “Superman Returns” inspired Tasmin to take her status as a Super fan to the next level and she began collecting hundreds of items, from comic books to memorabilia. Her collection now includes more than 1,800 pieces, which could qualify her for World Record status and has captured the attention of many blogs and media outlets, including the BBC.

Tasmin writes about her collection and enduring obsession with Supes on her  blog, theaspiringkryptonian.com, and she’s constantly on the prowl for new collectibles everywhere, from eBay to car boots.

Below, she discusses her love of the American hero who became a global icon, why Superman isn’t boring, the new series “Krypton,” her appreciation for every incarnation of the Man of Steel, including Brandon Routh, and why Mr. Mustache himself, Henry Cavill, is her current favorite.

You’re a Superman super fan whose collection of comic books and memorabilia numbers around 1,500 items. You and your collection have been receiving a lot of coverage lately, including BBC and online interviews. What has that experience been like?

Yeah, it’s been great! I really didn’t expect it to go that far! Although, the amount of times I’ve had to get the collection down from the attic has been exhausting. But so worth it. I love sharing my collection with everyone.

I understand you’re close to hitting the record for largest Superman collection in the world. Wow! Is that something that’s going to happen?

Well, the world record is 1,519 items, but I actually have 1,828. Although I have heard they don’t allow comics to be counted in the record, which sets me back a little. But that is one of my goals, yes, and the collection is increasing quite rapidly, so we shall see.

Stereotypically, girls tend to be encouraged to admire superheroes like Wonder Woman, while boys are encouraged to look up to Superman or Batman. How did you subvert this stereotype?

Well, I didn’t really know I was doing it … I was never a girly girl, and I always loved playing with cars and was quite the tomboy. So it started at a young age, but don’t get me wrong, I do love Wonder Woman and other superheroes, including female ones. But Superman just stands out to me. I love being that girl who isn’t interested in spending hundreds on makeup and shoes, I love being that weird and different girl who collects Superman and loves superheroes. And I think it’s important that it’s encouraged.

At what age were you introduced to Superman? What were your first impressions of the Man of Steel?

I was around 6-7 when I first saw Superman on the TV — it was Dean Cain in “The Adventures of Lois & Clark.” I loved it, I was always interested in superheroes and sci-fi stuff, and I was just hooked. I used to watch it most weeks from then, which lead me on to “Superman: The Movie.”

I read that you would watch “The Adventures of Lois & Clark” with your grandfather. What do you remember about that?

I just remember being mesmerised by the idea that this guy could fly, and saved people. I loved it. I was quite young, so I can’t remember all of my feelings. But my Grandad died when I was 10, so I cherish those memories and it has quite a lot of sentimental value to me.

What is it about Superman that your fascination with the character has endured beyond childhood?

It’s just love the idea of it, someone who strives to do good in any situation even if it affects himself. I love that he is one of the most powerful beings, well, alien, yet he disguises himself as a human, a geeky human who has no confidence whatsoever. I’ve always loved the idea of alter egos and suddenly transforming into your best possible self. I think I just aspired to be like him and he’s a great role model and hero to have.

You’ve said Superman is a “popular character but he also gets a lot of unnecessary criticism.” Could you elaborate on that?

Well, he gets called boring and the big blue boy scout. People say he is boring because of the power that he has and because he always does good. He’s a superhero, what do you expect? They say he isn’t relatable, and that he’s old fashioned, but he is one of the most relatable characters, he is old fashioned, but not in a bad way. He’s been around for 80 years. He’s iconic.

There’s always this dilemma with Superman, that he’s too powerful and therefore difficult to write. What do you think about that idea?

I think it’s stupid — he is powerful, yes, but doesn’t use his power to its full capability because of his morals, he holds back even for criminals and bad guys. If he did, well god help them. Although he is the most powerful, he doesn’t want to be. Plus he has weaknesses — Kryptonite and a fair few Kryptonian villains whose powers are parallel.

You began collecting in earnest in 2006. What sparked that?

It was “Superman Returns.” Once that came out there was a lot of memorabilia released, whereas before there wasn’t much out in shops. I loved the film, so I wanted the t-shirt, and then the poster, and then it spiralled out of control from there.

Where do you tend to acquire the items for your collection?

All over really. I get a lot from eBay, though, and also Amazon. Car boots are also good too!

What are some of your favorite or prized items?

I have a few autographs from Brandon Routh and Dean Cain. I also have a General Zod figurine signed by Terrence Stamp himself. Comic-wise, I have Superman vs. Muhammad Ali, and Superman vs. The Amazing Spider-Man.

Where do you keep all this stuff? I read that your boyfriend has promised to build you a Superman museum someday. 

Everywhere. I currently live in a two-bed flat with my mum, so my room is covered in it. It actually looks like a 10-year-old boy’s room … But a majority of it is in the attic. I’m hoping to get a place with my boyfriend in the next year or so, and we have agreed that I am allowed a Superman room — my very own Fortress of Solitude.

Is there an ultimate dream item that would make your collection complete?

Well, of course, Action Comics #1 — although I don’t have a spare $3 million …

As a fan, you consider “every representation of Superman” a success. Even the 2006 film “Superman Returns” with Brandon Routh?!

Yes, ultimately that’s what started my collection. A lot of people hate that representation of Superman yet love Christopher Reeves, but the way that Brandon Routh was told to portray Supes is the same way Christopher Reeve did and I think he did a great job.

Seriously, though, it’s very broadminded of you to appreciate every incarnation of Superman. Why do you appreciate them all?

Each person that has played Superman has done it in their own style, or taken their own take on the character. Look how different Henry Cavill’s Superman is to Christopher Reeve’s. I, of course, have my favourites, but I do genuinely appreciate every take on Superman so far.

You do have a soft spot for the latest Superman, played by Henry Cavill. What do you like about him?

I do, yes. He’s taken a character and made it his own, he has brought Superman into reality and made him 100% relatable. “Man of Steel” is my favourite Superman film, and he really understands the character. He is also a fan of Superman himself and you can see that in his portrayal, you can tell he wants to do the character justice (no pun intended) and I love that.

“Man of Steel” is your favorite Superman film. There’s been a lot of buzz about the sequel lately. What are your expectations for that?

I am very excited for that! I’d like to see a villain we haven’t seen on the big screen before, and I’d like to see Henry return. I know he has had talks about the sequel, so I’d like him to have a bit of input to the film — he knows what he is doing. It’s about time he had a sequel.

How do you feel about the much-maligned “Batman v Superman” and “Justice League”?

I love “Batman v Superman,” although I would have liked to see more of Superman before Doomsday was introduced. That’s my only peeve with it. Other than that, it’s an incredible film. “Justice League,” there are parts I liked, that scene where Superman was brought back is my favourite part. But I do have issues with it — and I can only imagine what it could have been if (original director) Zack Snyder had full control throughout.

You watched and reviewed the SYFY series “Krypton.” Tell me all your thoughts about the show. 

I love it. It’s great to see the stories of Krypton being told, especially BEFORE Superman. All we’ve ever really seen on TV and film is Krypton being destroyed. We are also hearing and learning about the history of Krypton, which I love. The cast are amazing, and so, so talented and I won’t give anything away but, although it’s set before Superman, a lot of his acquaintances show up.

You wrote some thoughtful tweets on the passing of Margot Kidder, who famously played Lois Lane opposite Christopher Reeve. How did you feel upon hearing the news?

I was sad. You never think of your heroes passing. She was supposed to be at Comic-Con last year but cancelled. She was also announced for this year, too, so I was hoping I’d get the chance to meet her, but unfortunately not.

You have a blog, theaspiringkryptonian.com, dedicated to your collection and your fandom. When and why did you decide to start writing about them?

Just over a year, I think. I wanted to do it so I could share my collection and interests with the world. None of my friends/family are really into the whole Superman thing, so I interacted with people on social media and it went from there.

What do you enjoy most about blogging?

I just love seeing that people are actually reading what I write! It’s a great way for me to show my passion and I’ve learnt a lot by doing it.

One of the things you’ve said you like about Superman is that his stories represent minorities, especially in some of the older comics. Tell me more about this and why this stands out to you.

Yeah, I’ve been reading the old comics recently, and he sticks up for criminals and gives them a second chance. He also sticks up for women — back then it was very much a man’s world and even he was fighting for equality, also between the rich and the poor. It stands out to me because things like this are still happening, and it’s amazing to see your hero stick up for those minorities and tackle those issues. I am technically classed as a minority — you don’t get a lot of black female nerds out there. It doesn’t matter what the minority is, everyone should have an equal chance at life.

When it comes to Superman comic books, what are some of your favorite titles, runs, graphic novels, writers, artists, etc.?

I have many …  Favourite title and graphic novel is Red Son or Kingdom Come. Comic runs, I love The Adventures of Superman — to me, that is classic Superman. Writers — Dan Jurgens, Jerry Ordway and Curt Swan. Artists — Alex Ross, Curt Swan, Jim Lee. Kaare Andrews’ take on the hero is beautiful too.

You got the rare opportunity to visit DC Headquarters on a visit to the U.S. I want to hear all about that!

It was amazing! I couldn’t believe it when I was there. I still can’t believe it now. I would love to work there, it’s a heaven for geeks like me!

I see you were recently making the rounds of Superman arcade games. I need more details!

Yeah, I went on holiday for a weekend and saw a load of Justice League arcade games. It was great! I had to have a go on them!

You have two Superman tattoos. Tell us about them. 

Yeah, I wanted to get something to show my passion for Superman. My first Superman-based one was Superman and Wonder Woman on King and Queen playing cards. I also love Wonder Woman. My second one is “Man of Steel” Kryptonian for “be weird,” because you should embrace your uniqueness.

Are you a DC girl in general? What are some of your favorite superheroes aside from the Man of Steel?

Yeah I’m a DC Girl, but I do also like Marvel. I’m not against them. Other than Superman, I love Wonder Woman. I also love some of the villains — Poison Ivy, Catwoman, Aquaman. Marvel-wise, I love Captain America and Thor, along with The Punisher. A bit of everything really.

What other fandoms are you into?

Erm, none really as much as this, but I absolutely LOVE Harry Potter, Disney films, too, Star Wars, Game of Thrones.

In your opinion, is there a Marvel hero who matches up to Supes?

Morals-wise — Captain America. Power-wise — Thor is close, but I’m not sure he could take him.

Who would win in a fight, Superman or Wonder Woman?

Superman. Although they are both very strong and powerful, Supes has the upper hand. Although I’m sure there’s comics where she has beaten him.

What’s your favorite color of Kryptonite?

Personally, I’d like some X-Kryptonite, so I can get me some powers! But on the big screen I’d like to see black Kryptonite in action. I’d like to see the evil side to Superman, just because it’s so different and hasn’t been done before.

Who’s your favorite Superman villain?

Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm, I have two: Bizarro for obvious reasons. But also Mr Mxyzptlk because he is just an odd concept and he’s bonkers! I think he’s hilarious.

On a scale of 1 to 10, how big was the Henry Cavill mustache fiasco?

When I first saw, it was an 8, but I’ve calmed down now. But it could have been covered up so much better. But I loved that he joked and still jokes about it.

Is Superman a uniquely American icon or a symbol of hope for the world? 

I think he was created an American icon — “truth, justice, and the American way,” that’s something he said quite often. But now he’s become hope for the world. I’m British and I love him. I know there are others in other countries that believe the same.

If you were to write the next Superman comic or movie, what direction would you take the character in?

That’s difficult. I’d like to see a new villain that we haven’t seen before, maybe Bizarro or Darkseid. I’d like to see something similar to “Man of Steel” and tackling real issues, as well as supervillains.

From an Emmy, to the UN, to ‘Clone Wars,’ artist finds her independent voice

When it comes to the geek cred game, artist Alina Chau has leveled up about as far as any of us could dream. After all, she’s on a first-name basis with George (that’s Lucas to you) after working as a 3D story artist on the popular animated series “Star Wars: The Clones Wars.”

After studying at the University of California, Los Angeles, Alina won a student Emmy for her thesis film. Her first student film, “Frieden — The Tree of Peace,” plays daily at the United Nations’ headquarters in New York City. 

This auspicious beginning led to an internship and then a full-time gig with video game maker Electronic Arts and a more than decade-long career in the gaming and animation industries.

Alina’s gorgeous personal watercolor illustrations reflect her lifelong passion for causes including children’s rights and the environment. Her artwork showcases the diversity of her multicultural upbringing, as well as her love of travel.

An adjunct professor with picture books in the works and a graphic novel due for publication next year, Alina took a moment to chat about her love of the films of animation legend Hayao Miyazaki, her pop culture-inspired gallery and exhibition work, fond memories of her time on “The Clone Wars,” and her experience as a woman working in animation and gaming. 

You’re an artist who worked in the animation and gaming industries for more than a decade. How did you come to work in those fields?

I was an animation major at UCLA Film School. When I graduated from school, I applied to animation-related jobs. I start working for a couple studios as a PA and intern. Then I interned for Electronic Arts. When the internship ended, they brought me in as a full-time animator. That’s how I got started in the industry … from there, I just kept working for different projects and studios.

Were you artistic as a child? I read that you inherited some of your talent from your grandmother.

I’ve loved drawing since I was very little. That’s kind of the only activity that could keep me out of trouble. Art was a hobby when I was a kid … it didn’t occur to me that art could be a career until I was applying to college.

You earned your master of fine arts at University of California, Los Angeles. What was the most important thing you learned during your studies?

I would say it’s important to develop an independent voice. UCLA education philosophy encourages students to develop their own voice and vision. The longer I stayed in the industry, I discovered having a personal vision is one of the most important factors to maintain a healthy and sustainable career. This is especially important with today’s industry, it develops and evolves much faster than ever. Knowing how to maintain one’s vision and passion helps you grow and evolve along with the trends, as well as really helps to overcome creative blocks and burn-out.

You won a student Emmy for your thesis film, “E=mc2.” That must have been an amazing experience. What was that like?

It was an honor to be selected among many wonderful and super talented candidates. For a student, it was an eye opener. In a short time frame, I got to network and went to some big industry events. It was humbling and a great experience for a kid who’s still in school. At the time, I was busy graduating and looking for a job. It helped to have an Emmy on the resume to find a job.

Another of your films, “Frieden — The Tree of Peace,” shows daily at the United Nation’s New York headquarters. Tell me more about that.

This was my first year student film. When I was younger, I often participated in various humane organizations and activities, such as UNICEF, OXFAM, World Wildlife Fund, etc. I was an activist in children’s human rights. When I finished my first year film, I decided to donate the film to the UN.



Your personal watercolor illustrations have a sweet, dreamlike fairy-tale quality that I love. How would you describe your style?

I never really think of how to describe my artworks. I love storytelling. That’s why I choose to be an animator and story artist. I try to tell a story in my paintings.

What would you consider to be the biggest influences on your art?

It would be my memories … I tend to draw a lot of inspiration from my childhood.  I also love a wide range of art forms for inspiration.

Your work is very culturally diverse. Does that have anything to do with your love of travel?

I do love to travel a lot. I also come from a culturally diverse upbringing. My family are Indonesian and Chinese. I was born in China, grew up in Hong Kong during the British colonial era, studied in the UK briefly, and immigrated to the U.S. My personal cultural upbringing is a mixing pot of Indonesian, Mandarine, Chinese, Cantonese Chinese, British, and American. Growing up, I never felt I completely fit in each culture, yet I am also a bit of each. It’s this mixed cultural upbringing that made me extra aware and sensitive about the important of diversity.

I saw a few pieces in your portfolio that were a bit political. (I thought they were excellent!) What was your inspiration for these works?

I do have opinions in certain political subjects. I was always a bit of a sensitive child when it comes to standing up for children’s human rights and environmentalism. Looking back, I think this could be because I was kind of an immigrant all my life, moving from one country to another. I personally experienced that it could be challenging to adapt to a new life in different regions, but there is much beauty to sharing life with a diverse range of people. This experience make me very aware of the importance of appreciating different cultures, races and social interests. To learn how to appreciate differences, it’s important to openly discuss and share the experiences.

Looking through your artwork on your website, I detected many pop cultural influences, especially Disney, with illustrations ranging from Beauty and the Beast, to The Little Mermaid, to Coco, to Aladdin. What is it about Disney characters that inspires you?

I don’t do fan art for myself. All the pop culture influenced paintings I did are created for the official tribute shows with galleries or studios or commissions from collectors.

I also recognized many other unique interpretations of fandoms, including Hayao Miyazaki’s “Spirited Away,” He-Man, “Bob’s Burgers,” Super Mario Bros., “The Simpsons,” Lord of the Rings, Voltron, “Game of Thrones,” “The Shape of Water,” and “Pan’s Labyrinth.” 

They are all created for specially invited official tribute shows. Although I love pop culture and love all these titles, I personally do not create fan art for myself. This is because when I was working for studios, I always developed titles for the studios. When I get the chance to develop my personal art, I prefer to explore my own potential and find out what I can do, discover my own voice. I also try to be respectful to other’s intellectual property.

When it comes to fandoms, you said you “like a bit of everything.” What are some of your favorites?

That’s a tough choice … I would always have a special spot for Star Wars, since I worked on “The Clone Wars,” and had many wonderful memories working with the Lucasfilm animation team and George Lucas.

I grew up with Miyazaki films. Growing up, every summer after finals, it’s a tradition to run to the theater and celebrate the end of the school year with the latest Miyazaki.

Spielberg, Lucas, Pixar, Disney, Dreamworks, etc. Frederic Back is another of my all-time favorite animators … too much to list.

You said if you had to choose just one fandom, it would be the films of Miyazaki. How did you discover him and what do you enjoy about his work?

I grew up with Miyazaki and watching tons of anime and manga as a kid. My first Miyazaki was “Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind.” It blew my mind away, it’s epic. She is a princess, but unlike most other animated princesses, she is beautiful, strong, smart and kick-butt! It’s a unique universe with awesome creatures … it was very different from most animated shows I saw at the time. I’ve been hooked on Miyazaki since.

I understand you especially love “Howl’s Moving Castle.” Why?

“Howl’s” one of my favorites, but I wouldn’t say I especially love “Howl’s.” I like each Miyazaki for different reasons. “Totoro” is a very special one, ’cause it captures childhood so beautifully. This movie grew in my heart over the years. I learned to appreciate his mastery of capturing children’s emotions and acting the older I became.

When I was a kid, it was one of my least favorites, because the characters in the film feel so much like me (when I was a child).  But as I grew older, when I watched that film, it just brought back all the childhood memories because of the same reason, the children felt so real and believable that we could all relate to them.

“Howl’s” is enchanting and beautiful. I love “Spirited Away” for its perfection. The storytelling is so well done and tight … it’s amazing!

You worked as a 3D story artist on “Star Wars: The Clone Wars.” Wow! For those who don’t know, what does a 3D story artist do?

3D story at Lucasfilm is like storyboard, except George doesn’t believe in storyboard. So instead of going from script to storyboard, we get the script and we go straight to Previsualization in 3D. Think about it as storyboard in 3D with rough animation. So the directors could see the entire episode with rough key frame animation, cinematography, and close to final edit … the end result is the same as an animatic in a traditional animated film.

What was the experience of working on “Clone Wars” like?

It was a lot of fun. The team is awesome. We get notes from George, one learned a lot very fast from the master. The studio is in Big Rock Ranch overseeing a lovely lake, which is next to Skywalker Ranch. It was a beautiful location, which feels more like a Japanese spa retreat than a studio.

Are you a Star Wars fan?

I own a Vader lightsaber and a Clone Trooper helmet (wink).

Tell me about your work in the gaming industry. What was challenging about it and what did you enjoy most?

The turnaround in gaming is very fast, one learns how to animate very fast and good. The workflow of the game animation pipeline is very different from TV or movies. Instead of thinking in shots and sequences, you think in assets. The scheduling in games was rough, there was a lot of crazy overtime. At least this was the case when I was in gaming. It was hard to have a normal life, since we needed to work almost every weekend and tons of late nights.

It was a good learning opportunity. I think the biggest takeaway is understanding the technology and the pipeline, especially with our everyday technology becoming more and more gamified. It’s a good learning experience to understand the thought process of game development.

Are you a gamer?

Not at all. I died in a game in less than five minutes and get motion sickness in almost all first-person games and some RPGs. I could make a game, but not play it. I can never play any game I made.

What was your experience like as a woman in the animation and gaming industries?

When I first got into gaming, I was one of only one or two women in the animation production team. But over the years, there were more women joining the industries. In animation, there are more women in the production team, but last time I worked as a story artist, I was the only girl on the team. I do feel as a woman we have to work harder to have our voice heard or our achievement recognized. I left the industry for a few years now. From what I heard, there are more women in a production team now.

You’re also an adjunct professor at several universities, including Savannah College of Art and Design. Why is teaching important to you?

I felt it’s important to give back to the communities. Being a teacher also keeps one in touch with the latest, you learn a lot from the students as well. Also, sometimes when one works in the industry for years, we get a bit jaded. Sometimes we forgot about the passion and love of the craft. It’s nice to see the students with big dreams and passion. It is a good reminder of why we choose the career path … keep the fire and passion burning.

Your art has been featured in dozens of exhibitions in L.A., New York, Paris, Japan, Spain, and other places. What’s it like to have your work on display like that?

It was an honor as well as a humbling experience.

You’re currently developing a children’s book publication and some art projects. Can you tell us more about what you’re doing?

I am working on three picture books, which I am very excited about, but unfortunately I can’t share the information about those books. The project I could talk about is my graphic novel, “Marshmallow and Jordan,” with First Second. This would be my first graphic novel and will be released in winter 2019. You can learn about the graphic novel from the School Library Journal announcement.

Are there any dream projects you’d like to work on in the future?

I hope to author and illustrate a lot of books.

All artwork by Alina Chau.

For a film about one of Star Wars’ biggest badasses, ‘Solo’ is lacking in badassery

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Is it just me or was the arrival of “Solo: A Star Wars Story” a little underwhelming?

Despite the fact that Disney and Lucasfilm unleashed the usual merchandising and promotional blitz for the film months ago and despite much discussion and debate on the part of fans, “Solo” hit theaters without the fever pitch of excitement and near veneration that typically accompanies the release of a Star Wars movie.

Perhaps this was to be expected. After all, if we’re going to be experiencing a new Star Wars movie every year, we can’t sustain the level of enthusiasm and intensity that surrounded, say, “The Force Awakens.” We’ve got to pace ourselves, lest we burn out. Thus, the generally “meh” reaction.

“Solo” is the first of several planned prequel or spin-off films focused on popular characters from the original Star Wars trilogy. A Boba Fett movie was recently confirmed, for instance, while an Obi-Wan Kenobi prequel is rumored to be in the works.

Already there are two contingents forming on social media in regard to the merits of “Solo,” or lack thereof. They seem to be split evenly into one camp that thinks the movie is just fine and another that thinks it could have been much better.

It also feels to me like everyone is slightly nervous and bracing themselves for an outpouring of vitriol similar to the wave of pure hatred that crested after the release of “The Last Jedi.” I don’t think anybody has the strength or energy to go through that again, and this raises an interesting point.

Since we’re now living in a world where we have a virtually endless supply of Star Wars stories, we’re going to have to start allowing for subjectivity and personal taste and accept the fact that not every person is going to like every movie, nor should they be required to.

As a passionate fangirl, I’m preaching to myself when I say, let’s allow everyone to have their own opinions when it comes to the galaxy far, far away. Let’s not attack each other and squander our time and energy trolling each other. I’m issuing a call for a more tolerant, peaceful, pleasant Star Wars fandom.

With that said, I’ll open myself up to the trolling and declare that after seeing “Solo,” I’m leaning toward the more disappointed side of the spectrum of reactions.

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There are many things I enjoyed about the movie, and considering its tortured production history – during which director Ron Howard pretty much rebuilt it from the ground up – perhaps the fact that it isn’t a complete catastrophe is impressive in and of itself. On many levels, though, I wouldn’t consider it a success.

Surprisingly, this has nothing to do with star Alden Ehrenreich, who plays the young Han and was subjected to many rumors during production questioning everything from his resemblance to Harrison Ford to his acting ability.

As it turns out, Ehrenreich does a fine job portraying the roguish smuggler in his formative years. He’s enough like Ford to be recognizable as the beloved character, but he’s not enslaved to showy imitation. Confidently tossing off some of the cocky Corellian’s best one-liners, he’s got the Solo swagger down and adds a touch of vulnerability, befitting a man who has yet to turn cynical.

A script by legendary Star Wars producer Lawrence Kasdan and his son, Jonathan, ushers us into the seedy underbelly of a galaxy under the control of ruthless mafia factions. It opens on Han’s home planet, where the scrappy survivor and aspiring pilot, and his resourceful girlfriend Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke), are forced to do the bidding of the “foul” Lady Proxima (voiced by Linda Hunt). Meanwhile, they scheme to procure their own ship and escape the planet to find freedom among the stars.

Han’s relationship with Qi’ra is sweet, I suppose, but it didn’t work for me because Clarke, out of necessity, plays her as such an enigma – she’s part femme fatale, part girl that got away, with a hint of a dark side – that I could never get a complete read on her and who she is. (She’s also the definite type of leading lady Lucasfilm is stuck on – the brunette, white female. Can we get a woman of color or maybe a redhead next time?)

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Howard infuses “Solo” with vibes that are half “A New Hope,” half “Return of the Jedi.” The film is well stocked with weird, but likable aliens, eccentric scoundrels, and an underworld atmosphere that calls to mind the comically debauched palace and barge of that most famous of Star Wars gangsters, Jabba the Hutt. The movie is rough around the edges in a way that perfectly suits the story of a scruffy-looking nerfherder like Han. (It’s also annoyingly under-lit and has the most hyperactive soundtrack of any Star Wars film yet, but I digress.)

At the start, this is all very promising. Things are looking good as Howard treats us to a fun speeder chase and an unexpectedly visceral scene set on an Imperial battlefield that has all the grit of a World War II skirmish. It is here that Han hooks up with a band of thieves, led by Woody Harrelson’s Beckett and his right-hand lady, Val (Thandie Newton), one of several characters who exits the movie far too quickly.

Howard dutifully walks us through the requisite origin story details. We learn where Han got his name, how he met Chewbacca, how he came by his iconic blaster, and how he acquired his beloved Millennium Falcon.

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The Falcon, of course, comes into his possession after he meets charming gambler Lando Calrissian, played in his younger incarnation by Donald Glover. Glover’s Lando is undoubtedly one of the highlights of “Solo.” Clad in a fabulous sleek and silky wardrobe, he oozes irresistible charisma, elegance, and deadpan humor. Every minute he’s on-screen, the movie feels more substantial and satisfying than it actually is.

Lando presides over one of the weirdest scenes in the film, which involves his droid sidekick, L3-37, a sassy, egalitarian ‘bot voiced by “Killing Eve” writer Phoebe Waller-Bridge. L3 carries on Lucasfilm’s tradition of creating lovably memorable droids, but as with many of the best personalities in “Solo,” she’s not around long enough to make much of an impact.

After the initial introduction of Lando, “Solo” struggles to find its footing. It’s a funny movie, but a lot of the humor falls flat, as does the romance between Han and Qi’ra. (The bromance between Chewie and Han, however, is timeless.)

There are large swathes of the script that just drag in terms of pacing and hooking the audience. Even a visual-effects-heavy sequence built around that legendary OT reference to making the Kessel run in 12 parsecs is depressingly blasé. For a large portion of the film, I just couldn’t muster up the enthusiasm to really care about what was happening.

When it ends, “Solo” feels incomplete. Perhaps that’s intentional given the rumors that Lucasfilm may be planning a sequel. However, the movie doesn’t earn that right in the way that, say, the recent “Avengers: Infinity War” did.

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There is a moment in the film’s third act where we catch an electrifying glimmer of what “Solo: A Star Wars Story” could have been. I don’t want to spoil it, but it involves a character whose true identity is suddenly revealed and it is so stunning, I nearly leapt out of my seat.

Up until then, “Solo” displays a considerable lack of badassery for a film built around one of Star Wars’ biggest badasses.

I hope with all my being we see this magnificent character again in future chapters of the franchise.

Photos: Disney/Lucasfilm. 

When your garden needs a little walking dead, Zombie Gnomes artist is here to help

Is your garden looking sad and boring? Backyard in need of sprucing up? Want to add some thrills and chills to that mediocre front yard?

Fortunately, Jane DeRosa-Stever and her husband Chris are here with an unconventional solution to your humdrum garden blues. It’s a little bit R-rated, is guaranteed to get the neighbors talking, and involves a hefty helping of humor and gore.

The Stevers sell their famous Zombie Gnomes — a playful, gruesome twist on the classic garden gnome ornaments — out of their Etsy shop, ChrisandJanesPlace. You may have seen their clever, red-hatted, undead creations at WonderCon or horror conventions, where they get a lot of attention from fans of all ages, especially kids.

Jane’s background in theater and painting, along with her family legacy of animation and an internship at Disney’s vintage El Capitan Theatre was the perfect preparation for starting this unique business, which began as a joke of sorts but soon blossomed into a fun — and bloody — phenomenon.

She and Chris draw inspiration for their ghoulish designs from horror classics like “Evil Dead,” “Shaun of the Dead,” and “The Walking Dead” TV series, along with traditional folklore and gardening culture. They’ve even spun their hand-painted ornaments into a book, and there’s a sequel in the works.

I talked to Jane about Zombie Gnomes, her magical Disney childhood, and the zombie apocalypse. 

Jane DeRosa-Stever, her husband Chris, and their sons, Anthony and Liam, at Sequoia in 2017.

I read that Chris dreamed up the idea for Zombie Gnomes while stuck in traffic on the 210 Freeway. Tell me about the first Zombie Gnome you ever made. Chris’ practical effects skills and your theater painting skills were put to good use on this project.

The first Zombie Gnome that we made was Patient Zero, which Chris sculpted for his practical effects class and I painted it up for him. Chris developed a lot of his techniques for our business from that class, such as his sculpting, moldings, and casting.

When I started theatre at Azusa Pacific University, I got hired to paint up their sets, which I had done before in high school. I became head of the paint department by my senior year and occasionally I helped with color and texture design. Mostly, I painted sets and props, which was a lot of fun. One’s mind gets to wander, which is nice for a stressed out college student.

Jane and her husband, Chris, when they first started making Zombie Gnomes.

Zombie Gnomes started as a joke, but eventually became a serious business. When did you first realize there was a demand for such a thing?

When we started getting a lot of sales. I wish it was more magical than that.

Some of your pop culture inspirations for the gnomes are “Shaun of the Dead,” “The Walking Dead,” and “Evil Dead.” How have these horror favorites influenced your products?

Well, we enjoy all of those films and TV shows, so we wanted to make something not only that we would find entertaining but other fans would, too.

You’ve also drawn inspiration from folklore and “gardening culture.” In what ways?

When we first started making Zombie Gnomes, we based a lot of our sculptures off of gnome folklore. Gnomes are usually 6 1/2 inches tall and we used some similar color schemes for their designs. We do make larger ones now so people can show them off in their garden if they so desire.

In regards to gardening culture, we see what’s popular at gardening stores and get ideas of how our Zombie Gnomes could be incorporated. For example, pinwheels are a popular garden decoration. So we made a gnome that has a hole in her belly where you can put a pinwheel.

Zombie Gnomes are handmade and painted by local artists. Walk us through the process of designing and manufacturing a gnome.

So when we first started, it was just Chris and I. We did everything from designing to manufacturing to shipping. Then work got really crazy and we had to hire some local artists from the colleges in the area to paint. We were just starting out so we had no idea how to manage the huge amount of orders we were getting, so as time went on we made some changes in our production to be more efficient. Now we are able to handle all of our orders between the two of us now.

How do people generally react when they first encounter your Zombie Gnomes? They’re a little bit R-rated.

They laugh, actually, and usually say, “Zombie Gnomes.” My favorite reactions are when kids see them for the first time. Usually their eye bulge out and mouths drop. Some of them stay for a while just staring at them, saying, “Whoa!,” “Eww,” and things like that. It’s pretty great.

How would you describe your customer demographic? Do they tend to be horror fans?

Actually, no. We do have fans of horror who do buy our Zombie Gnomes but it’s really quite a variety of people who are interested in them. Some have gnome collections or have fairy gardens and want to add something funny to their collection. A majority of the people who purchase them think they are just really funny. To be honest, when we go to cons we see all different age groups gawking at our display.

You’ve said it can be “hard as a husband and wife team designing and creating fun products but we love doing it.” In what way is it challenging?

We spend almost every waking moment together and that can be trying. Not only do we work together, we also raise our kids together. So finding a balance between work and personal life can be challenging. We try very hard to have good communication.

We also have to find a way to be to firm but kind when critiquing each other’s work, which is difficult. It’s much harder than give notes to a co-worker or an employee. However, I actually feel more in love with Chris doing this with him. I saw how hardworking and dedicated he was and we worked so well together, marriage seemed plausible to me.

How would you describe your collaborative dynamic?

We respect each other’s opinions, which I think is a huge reason why we work so well together. Also, we think very similarly, so that helps.

Custom Zombie Gnomes.

You do custom and personalized gnomes. Tell me about some of your favorite custom orders. 

One of my favorite custom Zombie Gnomes was a woman asked us to make Zombie Gnomes taking down an owl. I had so much fun studying the coloring of different owls. I don’t get to spend a lot of time doing detail work so that was a nice change.

You’ve also branched out into literature with the book “Zombie Gnomes: The Epic Tale of Wyrick.” How did this idea come about?

It’s actually something we planned from the beginning. We thought giving the gnomes stories would be more enjoyable to our customers. Our line of thought was gnomes to books to TV show or movie. I was having trouble finding work when I graduated college and I realized if people didn’t give me the opportunity to create then I would just do it on my own. Also writing my own book was a life goal. So two birds, one stone.

I understand you’re working on a second book, “The Forging of Evelyn.” What can you tell us about it?

The first book is about Wyrick trying to find his family. The second book leads off from the end of the first where we actually meet Wyrick’s daughter, Evelyn. We follow her through her journey in the Zombie Gnome apocalypse.

You’re a bibliophile who collects a lot of books, so was it exciting to publish your first tome?

Very. As I said previously, it was a life dream to write and publish a book. It really hit me when I saw it in the first bookstore who started selling it, Dark Delicacies. I was really proud of myself that I actually did it. Of course I wouldn’t haven’t been able to do it without Chris or my mother who did the illustrations.

You also sell some non-zombie items in your shop. Tell me about some of your other products. 

We sell a variety of home and garden décor, such as our Easter Island Head Planter, our Cat Unicorn Head Mounts, and the Unicorn Skull. We just enjoy creating unique and fun things.

Jane at the Zombie Gnomes booth at Silicon Valley Comic Con.

You and Chris frequently take your Zombie Gnomes to conventions and other events. Tell me about some of your favorite places to rep your products. 

We mostly do comic book conventions like Wondercon and LA Comic Con, but we started branching out into horror conventions last year, which was great. People love them and we usually do very well at cons. I love doing all of the events especially because Chris and I try to make sure we go to at least one panel to learn something related to our craft.

Some serious artistry goes into your gnomes. You earned a degree in theater arts from Azusa Pacific University with a focus on storytelling. How did this prepare you for what you’re doing now?

Well, first off, thank you for that compliment. I did get my BA in Theatre Arts hoping to get into directing and writing. Being that the programs for either of those were not fleshed out yet, I tried to learn as much as I could. I auditioned for plays and wrote my own monologues. I even wrote a one-act for my senior project.

Really, I was just trying to be a sponge and soak up as much as I could while I was there. I stage managed, worked on sets, and so on. I think it really prepared me for what I do now because it’s a constant learning experience. We are always trying to create new products and be more efficient and half of the battle is having the curiosity to actually do it.

What story are you telling with your Zombie Gnomes?

Life is scary and you just have to laugh at it sometimes.

You grew up in a family of animators and your father still works for Disney. You must have had a magical childhood. 

I think so. My parents also love Disney movies so I grew up watching all of the classics. I loved when my parents would point to their work or give me a little history about a certain scene or something. It was really fun. Also not many people can say that they live off of their art but my parents are examples that it can happen. My parents never told me that I couldn’t be an artist because I couldn’t make a living off of it so that was different.

You participated in the Walt Disney Internship Program and worked as a stage manager at the El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood. What did that job entail?

Managing the shows before the movies started, help running movie premieres at the theater, things like that. It was an amazing experience and I learned a lot about management, working with professionals in the field and the general public. I had many mentors but I spent most of my time with James Wood who was the best manager I have ever had the pleasure of working with. He taught me a lot of how to be a good manager, which I think really helped me out with our Zombie Gnome business.

That sounds like an amazing experience! What was it like to work at that gorgeous, classic movie venue?

It was magical. The theater has so much history and to be able to walk through it every day was such an amazing opportunity. It was the only theater that would do the premiere for “Citizen Kane,” which I realized when I walked through their hallway full of old pictures. I actually grew up going to that theater as a kid for premieres for my parents films. So it has a very special place in my heart.

Jane with a “The Birds” cosplayer at ScareLA in 2017.

Let’s talk about your personal fandoms. As a fellow Hitchcock fan, I must ask you about your love of the director’s films. How did you discover Hitch and which of his movies are your favorite?

My parents and my grandfather, who lived with us most of my childhood, are big old movie fans. We enjoyed watching classic movies together on Friday nights and would have TCM on almost all the time. They introduced me to “North by Northwest,” “Rear Window,” and “The Birds.” I loved them.

It’s funny, I don’t really like Hitchcock as a person, but his films were thrilling. He also used my favorite actress Ingrid Bergman in a lot of my favorite films of his. My favorite films of his would probably be “Shadow of a Doubt” (love the woman protagonist), “Spellbound” (Because of the Dali sequence), and “Rear Window” (because, duh).

You’re into “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Angel.” What do you like about those series?

So much. Buffy being a badass superhero who was also feminine. I love the development of all of the characters in the shows from being teenagers to awesome vampire killers. I love when Buffy dies and comes back and she deals with not being in heaven anymore. When we met Dawn and everyone is like, “Yeah, Buffy has a sister. What? You don’t remember her?” The musical episode is magical even though not everyone could sing very well. Of course, there is Faith, who for me is a great anti-hero. “Angel,” I thought, was such a solid show and I am so sad it got cancelled to soon.

Are you Team Angel or Team Spike?

Spike. He was funny and didn’t sulk all the time. Got to love that in a guy.

How many hours have you spent playing Fallout?

Too many, but it is a good way for me to de-stress.

Jane and Chris dressed up for Halloween in 2016.

What was your introduction to Harry Potter?

I was in junior high and I heard some kids at my Christian school talking about how their parents wouldn’t let them read the books because they had witchcraft in them. I asked my mom about it and she said I couldn’t read them for that reason. She was into witchcraft when she was younger. So as a Christian, she felt like she had to protect me. However, as the years went on she got over it and I finally read them. I love the books and even got my mom interested in them.

What’s your Hogwarts house?

Ravenclaw, all the way!

You’re a “Lord of the Rings” fan. Who’s your favorite inhabitant of Middle-Earth?

As a teenager, I loved Aragorn because he was handsome and brooding. I also enjoyed the elves because they were just so smart and composed. Now that I’m older I think I really enjoy the hobbits. They are just so fun and full of life. They are very clueless though …

Do you prefer the books or the movies? Or both?

The books are very tedious. I don’t know if I have completely finished one because they are just that tedious. I can only care so much about the description of a mountain that I will not hear about ever again. However, I do love and appreciate the books. My husband and I love the movies and watch them a couple times a year. We actually saw them in theaters when they came out again.

If you were stranded on an island with just one movie by Hayao Miyazaki, what would it be?

“Spirited Away.” One of the most beautiful and magical animated films ever made. Close second would be “Princess Mononoke.”

Do you and your husband have any future plans or dreams for ChrisandJanesPlace or your business in general?

Always. We want to keep getting bigger and better. That includes new Zombie Gnome products, books, and other products. Of course, we are always working to get more of our products in stores across the U.S. and the world.

Let’s wrap up with a few zombie-related questions.

Why do you think zombie stories have become such an iconic part of pop culture?

I think it’s the thought of losing control of one’s body. Having no free will and possible killing the ones you love is terrifying. I like how Robert Kirkman puts it in his introduction in his first volume of “The Walking Dead,” “Good zombie movies show us how messed up we are, they make us question our station in society … and our society’s station in the world. They show us gore and violence and all that cool stuff too … But there’s always an undercurrent of social commentary and thoughtfulness.”

What will be the cause of the zombie apocalypse? 

Cuts to the CDC.

What’s your survival strategy for when the zombie apocalypse hits?

Going to a hardware store

Which is scarier: Classic slow-moving zombies or fast-moving rage-monkey zombies?

Fast. Always fast.

Should there be a Zombie Gnome movie?

Yes, but of course I’m not biased at all.

 

Geek Home Decor: A cozy, retro Star Wars retreat

EDITOR’S NOTE: Welcome to the first installment of “Geek Home Decor,” a new series on No Man’s Land showcasing the geek-themed homes or rooms we’re currently drooling over. Maybe you’ll discover some decor tips or be inspired to put together your own “nerd cave.” If you have a room or house you’d like to show us, send a description and or pics to lavendervroman@gmail.com. 

Jacob and Stephanie Patterson

Washington-area Star Wars fan couple Stephanie and Jacob Patterson have stopped fighting it — as so many of us nerds are still clumsily attempting to do — and let their obsession with George Lucas’ galaxy far, far away take over the entirety of their apartment. The result is a Star Wars fanatic’s dream come true — a cozy retreat with a retro twist that’s one with the Force.

Jacob explains how Star Wars came to dominate their place:

“May the Fourth was an excuse to decorate the apartment with all our Star Wars stuff. We’ve been decorating the apartment every May for the last few years with everything Star Wars, adding more every year. There wasn’t much to the process of decorating the apartment, apart from putting a bunch of our stuff out on display. I did make some banners to decorate.  

“Pro tip: When decorating for a themed room, a new ink cartridge and a bunch of card stock are your best friends. I found a bunch of images I liked online and used GIMP 2, a free art program, to make them all the size I wanted. Then I just print them, cut them out, punch a couple holes out of each of them with a hole puncher, and string some ribbon through the holes.

I also used a sword display plaque, previously used to display Sting from Lord of the Rings, to display my Darth Vader lightsaber.”

Here are images from some of the banners created by Jacob:

According to Jacob, every room of the apartment he and Stephanie share contains Star Wars items.

“Our kitchen has an R2-D2 measuring cup set, an R2 popcorn bucket, some vintage looking art (Dark Side Blend Coffee and Rebel Cola), and some lightsaber flatware. Our bathroom has a Star Wars shower curtain. Our bedroom has a bunch of Star Wars Pop figures as well as some Star Wars novels and comic books. And our living room is full of the majority of our Star Wars collection.”

Jacob describes some of his prize Star Wars items:

“I really love the helmets I have (the Black Series Poe Dameron X-wing pilot helmet and the new Black Series Darth Vader helmet). The Poe helmet has battle sounds, and if you talk into the microphone, BB-8 will talk back. The Vader helmet is super detailed on the inside and fits together magnetically in three parts. It also changes from the classic Vader breathing sound to the asthma-like wheezing when you take off the top part of the helmet just like at the end of “Return of the Jedi.”

I also love my original, old beat-up Star Wars novelization from 1976 and my vintage action figures I picked up from a great vintage toy shop in Tacoma. Stephanie’s favorites are her Boushh Leia Pop and vintage Lando action figure.”

Although Jacob is a lifelong Star Wars fan, most of the Pattersons’ collection is relatively new.

“I have had Star Wars items (mostly toys) since I was three years old and I got the Ewok village for my birthday,” Jacob said.

 “The majority of those toys, however, were sold at a yard sale a few years later. I didn’t have much Star Wars stuff in the dark years of the late eighties and early nineties. I still have the movie posters from the re-release of the trilogy in 1997, but the majority of our collection is stuff we got within the last few years starting on Force Friday 2015.”

Among the items Jacob and Stephanie would still like to add to their decor scheme:

“If I had the ridiculous amounts of money to afford it, I would love to get the Regal Robot Millennium Falcon Asteroid Coffee Table and their Han Solo Carbonite Desk,” Jacob said.  

“As far as things we could actually afford, ThinkGeek has a hallway carpet runner of the New Hope opening crawl that we really like.”

Is there any downside to having a Star Wars themed apartment?

“Guests might look at you like you’re a ridiculous man-child, but that doesn’t really bother me, because I am,” Jacob said.

I asked the Pattersons which fandom they’d choose if they were to do another themed room/house.

“Definitely Harry Potter,” Jacob said. “We have a small collection, but it would be fun to have the room to make it bigger.”

Enjoy some more photos of the Pattersons’ Star Wars apartment:

We’re loving the Lando love!

Photos courtesy of Jacob and Stephanie Patterson.