Blogger, cosplay photographer turns fangirling into fun career (and family time)

If you’re part of the online geek community, chances are you’ve come across the work of Monica Duarte.

Whether it’s her exuberant professional cosplay photos,  her posts on geek fashion, Doctor Who, cosplay, and other fun topics for Temple of Geek, or one of her stints as a podcast host, Monica has become as ubiquitous on the geek scene as everyone’s favorite Marvel or Star Wars characters.

This blogger, photographer, cosplayer, geek fashion expert, and creative director of celebrated pop culture website Temple of Geek describes herself as a “professional geek,” and she’s not joking.

A visit to WonderCon in 2013 with her family sparked a passion for all things related to fandom. Armed with a desire to share that enthusiasm with others, self-taught photo skills, and a voluminous knowledge of geek events, she eventually spun her freelance coverage of these happenings into a gig with Temple of Geek.

With her camera and a notebook full of ideas in hand, Monica produces a dizzying amount of geek content. She recently covered the Her Universe fashion show and her photos have appeared in geek magazines. She and her family can be found rocking Whovian outfits of her partner Nathaniel’s design at conventions all over Southern California and beyond.

Thankfully she wasn’t too busy to chat with me about her supportive geek family, why there’s plenty of room for more women cosplay photographers, why representation matters, how her childhood experiences shaped her passion for geek fashion, and that time she lost her “professional cool” while photographing 13th Doctor Jodie Whittaker.

You describe yourself as a “professional geek,” which seems pretty accurate considering everything you do. Tell me a little bit about how geeking out became your profession.

It really started with just being a big fan. Wanting to be at all the geeky events in my area. Making connections with people in the industry and a huge desire to share my passion with others. I love sharing.

You’re the creative director of the website Temple of Geek. What does that entail?

I work alongside Danniel Slade, the founder of Temple Of Geek. We work together to come up with content and a schedule for the site. I help recruit writers, photographers, and other talent. I also handle some of the social media and branding for our site.

When and how did you become involved with this pop cultural phenomenon?

I love that you call it a pop cultural phenomenon. That just made my year. I got involved with Temple of Geek just over a year ago. I had interacted with them on social media for years prior to that. I started by covering a few geeky events for them in Los Angeles. But I just really fell in love with the atmosphere.

Danniel and the creative director at the time, Dave Hisaka, were insanely supportive of my ideas. Anytime I suggested anything, they would respond with, “How can we help?” I eventually joined the Temple of Geek Podcast team, started covering geek fashion, and got really involved in the everyday behind the scenes stuff for the site.

When you’re in an environment that nurtures, supports and encourages you, it’s easy to get carried away with your passions. And that is what I did. I got carried away, started working hard.

Could you give us a sense of what a typical day of work looks like for you?

Typical work day starts with checking in with our team. Doing what I can to help them move along with their projects. I work on my projects, which usually include reaching out to geeky fashion vendors. Scheduling photo shoots. I check the stats for the site and our different social media platforms and work with Danniel to build those numbers up. I also schedule and organize event coverage for our Southern California Team. Every once in a while, I get to host a podcast episode. Those are always a lot of fun!

Tell me your geek origin story. How did you first discover this side of yourself?

My earliest geek memories are from about 30 years ago. I was a young kid and I remember seeing Tim Burton’s Batman in 1989 and Ninja Turtles in 1990 in theaters. I think that is when it all started. At the time, I had older cousins who collected comic books. I remember sitting in their bedroom reading all of their Wolverine and X-men comic books. Everything was one geeky blur after that. My dad was a big geek himself. He took my brothers and me to a lot of geeky movies.

You’re also a convention and cosplay photographer, which I’m excited about because I’ve never interviewed one before. What’s your photography background?

None. I have none. Not any kind of a formal background at least. I took some photography classes in high school and in college (over 20 years ago). Back then digital cameras weren’t really a thing. We were learning how to develop film in a dark room. Most of what I learned in class is not really relevant anymore.

I just really love taking photos. I have always been the type to document everything with photos. Almost everything I have learned about photography has come from other photographer friends and from YouTube videos. YouTube has been an essential tool in my learning.

Monica dressed as a Slytherin Dalek.

How did you come to specialize in cosplay, cons, and other geeky events?

It all started with WonderCon 2013. WonderCon is a convention that goes on every year around Easter in Southern California. It was my very first convention. I went with my family (my partner and our two children). The minute we walked onto the convention floor, we knew we were home.

Going to that convention was the beginning of my journey. I was so inspired by everything that I saw. So fascinated by the cosplay, the exhibitors, and the guests. I just started snapping photos on my cell phone of all the cosplayers I saw. That is how it started. I started posting those photos on my Instagram page and started my first blog.

My family and I started to hit all the conventions that we could. Luckily, in California there is no shortage of geeky events. I took more and more photos. Met cosplayers, cosplayed, and eventually upgraded from cell phone photos to a DSLR camera. I created an Instagram page just to showcase cosplayers.

Cosplay exposed me to other geeky events outside of conventions. I felt like there was this huge geek world out here that I had never know before. I thought that there might be others, who like me, may want to know about these events too. On an old blog of mine I started a calendar listing of all the geeky events in and around Southern California. Because of that calendar, Michelle Jensen of Nerd Out App contacted me and hired me to add geeky events to her app for the entire country.

Working for Nerd Out put me in contact with people from all aspects of the geek community. I eventually started to do some freelance photography for different websites. Recently, I had some of my photos published in Doctor Who Magazine and SFX Magazine.

What are some of the more memorable conventions or events you’ve photographed?

Thanks to the kindness of the team at Her Universe, I was allowed to be one of the press photographers at the Her Universe Fashion Show at San Diego Comic-Con this year. It is by far the most memorable event I have been allowed to photograph. I am a giant Doctor Who fan. This year the big surprise at the fashion show was that they had the new 13th Doctor walk the runway.

I just about lost all my professional cool when I saw the 13th Doctor. Getting to photograph Jodie Whittaker was a dream come true. I was fan girling and screaming as I focused in on her through the lens. I was so shook from the event that my hands were shaking. That’s just the level of fangirl I am for Doctor Who. It was perfect. What an honor it is to have the Doctor herself in my camera lens.

Do there tend to be many women doing this type of photography?

There are not a lot. There is a huge opportunity for more female cosplay photographers. In the Southern California area I can only name two consistent female photographers ( https://www.instagram.com/katiebe_photography/ and https://www.instagram.com/conwomanphotography/) other than myself. There might be more out there. But whenever I look out over the landscape of a convention floor or at cosplay meetups, I rarely see any female photographers. The need is great and I encourage female photographers to come and join us!

What’s the secret to taking a really great cosplay photo?

I think taking great cosplay photos starts with appreciating the cosplayer and all the work they put into their costume. Paying tribute to the detail they put into their costumes. Not trying too hard to re-create movie or television scenes. Just having fun with it. And you want to watch for framing and for posture. Those are the main things I try to remember.

You are also a cosplayer. How’d you get into that?

WonderCon 2013. My family and I thought it would be fun to wear our Doctor Who-themed Halloween costumes to the convention. We didn’t even know cosplay was a thing. We fell in love with all the different cosplays that were out there. It started as something we could do together as a family and it still is.

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

Almost all my cosplay is Doctor Who related. I have done so many Doctor Who cosplays that I have lost count. I am guessing it’s upward of 20 Doctor Who cosplays. It is a little easier to do Doctor Who cosplay because they wear modern styles on the television series. Finding the screen-accurate cosplays for Doctor Who can sometimes be as easy as walking into an Urban Outfitters.

But I have three cosplays that really stand out for me as my favorites. My all-time favorite would probably have to be my Linda from Bob’s Burgers. It was comfortable and fun. Linda is my spirit animal. I have been compared to her so often and I love it.

The second is my River Song costume from Doctor Who. It is from the Christmas Episode called “The Husbands of River Song.” The first time I saw the v-neck black and gold dress on actress Alex Kingston, I died. I said, “I want it.” A few weeks later, the dress showed up at my door. A surprise gift from my significant other. It is the most beautiful piece of clothing I own.

Last but certainly not least, I love my Doctor Who/Harry Potter mashup cosplay. My friends and I each dressed up as a Dalek from Doctor Who. We each designed our Dalek cosplay in the style of a Hogwarts House. I was Slytherin.

Monica in her River Song cosplay. Below, Alex Kingston as River Song.

Do you tend to put together your own outfits?

I rely a lot on my significant other, Nathaniel, for my cosplay. He is a master of hunting down Doctor Who cosplay and building cosplays for our family. He enjoys it. I enjoy his work. So he handles the cosplay building and I handle the cosplay photography.

Why does cosplay appeal to you?

IT IS FUN! Halloween was always my favorite holiday. I lived for Halloween and dressing up. Cosplay is a way to extend that all year long. It’s something my children enjoy. It’s just fun!

Monica and Dee Sorto, aka the ConMadres.

You’re also one half of The ConMadres, aka Convention Moms. Tell me about the other half of this dynamic vlogging duo and how you came up with the idea for this. 

Through cosplay and conventions I met a really great woman named Dee Sorto. We met at a cosplay event. We started to talk and it turned out we were neighbors. She lives walking distance from my house. We both love going to conventions (Con) and we are both moms (Madres).

At the time, we were both stay-at-home moms. We would meet up on Monday mornings after dropping off our kids at school and we would discuss the latest episodes of Game of Thrones and Doctor Who. We could talk for hours and hours about all kinds of geek stuff. We both had so much in common and cosplay was a big part of both our lives.

We decided to start vlogging about our mommy and geeky adventures. We made a few DIY videos with our kids for fun. We really were just trying to reach out and share our experiences with other moms. We hope to build a community where geek moms can find one another, help one another,and inspire each other.

The family that waits in line for Hall H together, stays together.

Your family is really involved in your geek life. Tell me about some of your shared and individual pop culture interests. 

Doctor Who really is the glue that binds us. Our biggest shared interest is Doctor Who. Cosplaying and conventions is where we have met so many friends and built so many relationships. My kids are growing up alongside other cosplay kids and it is pretty great. We hang out in line for Hall H together and we cosplay together. We watch geeky programming and movies together. Geek is part of our everyday lives.

My kids accompany me to cosplay and fashion shoots sometimes. My oldest teaches me about what the latest trends in gaming and memes are. When my children were younger, it was more about costumes and playing dress up. But as my kids are getting older, conventions have been more about learning what goes on in the industry.

My oldest son is really into video games and movies. This year at San Diego Comic-Con, he had no desire to cosplay. He was more interested in all the gaming panels and movie panels. I hope that one day his passion for gaming and the experiences of going to convention will lead him into a career path that will make him happy. But if it doesn’t, I hope it provides for some really unique and special family memories.

For Nate and I, geek is our date night. It is our bond. He is also far more into gaming and anime than I will ever be. He has introduced me to the world of Star Trek and Voltron. He is supportive of my crazy geeky endeavors and I am supportive of his.

Why is including your family in this part of your life important to you?

Family is everything. They come first. Always. I truly believe that I am able to indulge in all my geek because they allow me to be myself. I don’t have to hide my crazy from them. They love my geekiness. It is something that would not be as fun or fulfilling if I wasn’t sharing it with them.

Monica and her family, at left, ready for the Avengers movie in 2012, and at the theater for Avengers: Infinity War in 2018.

Let’s talk about some of your fandoms. You are clearly very, very obsessed with Doctor Who. What was your introduction to the series?

It started about six or seven years ago. My brother and Nathaniel would sit around and binge-watch it. Eventually, my son joined them. I was baffled as to what was so appealing about a British TV show with horrible special effects. It looked really cheesy.

Then one day I sat down and watched one episode. That is all it took. I watched Matt Smith’s first episode as the Doctor and I was hooked! I binge-watched Matt Smith’s run. Went back and caught up on the 9th and 10th Doctor. I was hooked.

Who’s your Doctor?

Is it too soon to say 13? I really don’t know. I have a special place in my heart for the 11th Doctor because he was my first Doctor. But all the Doctors have been so amazing. I can’t pick. But if I had to, out of loyalty I would say the 11th Doctor.

Monica’s family with Jodie Whittaker at San Diego Comic-Con.

You’re a big fan of new Doctor Jodie Whittaker. Did you get to see her this summer at San Diego Comic-Con?

YES! I was at the Doctor Who panel in Hall H. I briefly said hello to her at the BBC America Booth. Nate and the kids got to have their photo taken with her. She was so kind and sweet to my kids. And as I mentioned earlier, I had the pleasure of photographing her at the Her Universe Fashion Show.

Do you have big plans for the season debut in October?

Yes! We will most likely host a watching party. I made a party guide for Temple Of Geek. It is basically ideas on how to throw a Doctor Who themed party.

What do you think of some of the initial negative reactions to Whittaker’s casting?

I am saddened by it. Initially, I too was skeptical of the idea of a female Doctor. The rumors had been floating around for a bit. I had romanticized the idea of the Doctor. And I didn’t know if I would be happy with a female Doctor.

Well, I was wrong. I am more than happy! The moment the reveal happened, I was on board. I didn’t know how desperately I needed a girl Doctor. I was way more excited about Jodie than I could have imagined. I remember thinking, wow, I can be the Doctor now. Not a gender-bent Doctor Who cosplayer. I can be her!

I understand fans being scared that their favorite TV show is now ruined. I understand that there is some negativity with every regeneration. I am just disappointed in the amount of hate and trolling that has come with it. Especially from fans of a TV show that preaches kindness, empathy, and civility. I hope it changes when they see her in action!

Monica in a group Harry Potter/Dalek cosplay.

What are some of your other major fandoms?

So many! Star Trek, Star Wars, Harry Potter, and Game of Thrones are the big ones. I also love the Marvel Cinematic Universe and Netflix shows. I try to keep up with the DC television shows on the CW. But it is hard to stay consistent. This is why the human race does not advance faster. Too much good programming on TV.

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

As a woman, as a mother, as a Mexican American, I would like to see more strong female characters and more characters of color in the world of geek. I want to see it in movies, in television, and in comics. My sons have grown up in a world where Hermione Granger, Pepper Potts, Black Widow, Wonder Woman, a female Doctor Who, and an all-female Ghostbusters cast is normal. At least to them it is. To them a female CEO of Stark Industries or a female superhero is normal. I want more of that.

But I would also like them to see that women of color can be superheroes as well. I would like to see Miles Morales’ Spiderman, Kamala Khan’s Ms. Marvel, or America Chavez’s Miss America on the big screen. Seeing Pixar’s Coco in theaters last year was so important for us. To see our culture beautifully translated without stereotypes or lame taco jokes was so refreshing. For my sons and for me to see Diego Luna in a lead role in a Star Wars movie, with his Mexican accent, was amazing.

Representation matters. Hearing a movie hero speak with the same accent that your grandfather has or that your father has is so important. I want that for every culture. For every sexual orientation. For people of all abilities. It feels amazing. I want more of that. I want that to be normal in the world my children and grandchildren grow up in.

Monica in a Star Wars sweater by Mustardbrand.

 You also have a passion for geek fashion and cover that subject a lot for Temple of Geek. What do you love about this particular niche of the fashion industry?

I love that it exists! Geek fashion helps me feel empowered. I love that there are so many forms of geek fashion out there. From the high-end geek couture that you see at fashion shows to the more casual everyday wear, I love it all.

I am so happy to be able to wear geek fashion that isn’t just a graphic tee. Don’t get me wrong, I have a large assortment of graphic tees in my wardrobe. But I am a huge geek and I want to wear my fandoms with me at all time. And sometimes a graphic tee isn’t appropriate for certain situations. I struggled with this a lot growing up. I wanted to wear modern trendy styles but I wanted them to have some geek flair. That just wasn’t an option when I was younger.

Growing up I was labeled a “tomboy” because I loved Batman, Ghostbusters, and Wolverine. I wanted to wear my Batman shirt all the time. I believed I was a tomboy because I liked something that only boys seemed to like. I believed it because even though I enjoyed trendy clothing, I wasn’t as in love with it as much as I was my comic book shirts.

In retrospect, I know that wasn’t an accurate description of who I was. I just liked superheroes and I just happened to be a girl. At that time superhero themed clothing wasn’t available to girls. I was teased, not in a mean way, about wanting to wear comic book character clothing. In an effort to fit in, I suppressed my inclinations to wear my fandoms.

At that time and in my world it was considered very dorky. I was never treated badly over it. People just didn’t seem to understand my obsession. But now I am so excited about the fact that there are people out there making clothing for fangirls like me. Styles that are in line with modern trends. Styles with geek flair. ACTUAL FASHION.

I am pretty sure that there are a lot of women out there that experienced the same. But unlike me, not everyone has the opportunity to go to comic book conventions and find these geeky brands. Not everyone has a place in their area where geek clothing is readily available. Temple Of Geek offers me the chance to tell the world about the amazing geek fashion that is out there. It allows me to help spread the word about brands that cater to fans like me. My goal is to show that geek fashion can be a part of your everyday fashion. That it is something that can go beyond the convention floor.

What brands and styles do you most like to wear?

You will most often find me wearing a top from Jordandene or an outfit from Her Universe. Those have been the two brands that I tend to spend the most on. But two other brands that really stand out for me right now are Hero Within and Elhoffer Design. There is something about their trendy and subtle styles that really hits home for me.

Overall and in general, you create and produce a dizzying amount of geeky content. What’s your secret to doing it all?

I try to do only the things that I am passionate about. I tried writing and covering events for genres that I wasn’t a huge fan of and I got tired of it quickly. I had no motivation to write. I had no ideas about how to showcase what I wasn’t truly in love with. I am just a fangirl. I fangirl hard.

When I am writing about something that I love, it is all so easy. I get ideas, I get passionate. I even have a 5 subject notebook by my desk or in my purse (my purses are huge) that I write in constantly. I can’t always execute all the ideas I have, but I write them down in case someday I can. I try to stick to a few things that I can be consistent with. Sometimes I start projects and they don’t always work out. But that’s ok. I tell myself that maybe right now is not the time for that. I move on to the next project and maybe later on I can return to those projects when I am better at what I am doing.

You’ve already accomplished so much, personally and professionally. Is there anything still left on your geek bucket list?

I really just want to grow as a person, as a photographer, and as a professional in general. There is so much to learn. The geek world is huge and vast. I want to share more stories, showcase new artist, visit more conventions. I hope to one day be producing videos that are more than just vlogs. But I still have a lot to learn. I have a lot of goals and they all revolve around getting better at what I do and sharing more geeky fun stuff.

 

Geeks, we have a problem (and that problem is us)

Picture 1 of 3

Geeks, we have a problem.

When a group of male Star Wars podcasters incite their listeners to harass a woman employed by Lucasfilm because of a few words emblazoned on a coffee mug, we know we have a problem.

When actor Ahmed Best, who played the character of Jar Jar Binks, tells us he almost committed suicide because of the hatred directed toward him, we know we have a problem.

When fans petition to fire directors, writers, producers, and studio heads who made a movie they didn’t care for or said something on Twitter they didn’t like, we know we have a problem.

When women, people of color, LGBTQ+, and disabled fans proclaim daily on Twitter that they feel disenfranchised, unrepresented, unwelcome, and attacked, we know we have a problem.

When disgruntlement over diversity and the march of forward progress in an industry turns into a toxic movement like Comicsgate, we know we have a problem.

One might argue that these incidents are amplified, or blown out of proportion by social media, where the loudest voices are often the most noxious. Still, the fact remains. We have a problem, and it’s time we started thinking about what we can do to solve it.

I’m not naïve enough to think we’re going to change the minds of the worst and repeat offenders. The Comicsgaters, the Fanboy Tears guys, the trolls, these people (and some of them are probably bots) appear to be totally lacking in empathy. It’s obvious they aren’t going to listen to reason or pleas for kindness and respect.

So I’ve decided instead to preach to myself and the rest of us who really do want to get along. All we can do, for lack of a less cheesy way of putting it, is be the change we want to see in the geek world.

I’m not going to tell everyone to just lighten up because, hey, Star Wars, and Doctor Who, and comic books, and Marvel, and DC are silly kid’s stuff and don’t really matter. That’s just not true. Fandoms do matter. They matter deeply and that’s why every one of us has probably behaved badly toward another fan at some point in time.

We’re passionate about what we like. We have discovered a huge piece of our identities in these creations and properties, and it’s hard not to get riled up about stories and characters that provide us with so much inspiration, escape, hope, and possibility. We love nothing better than to debate, and discuss, and pontificate out loud about these matters and we don’t always go about it in the most productive, or positive, or empathetic ways.

image 0
This vinyl window decal is available from Etsy shop FandomDecalDesigns.

I confess that I have, in the past and even the present, been guilty of making other fans feel bad about the things they love, of gatekeeping, of entitlement, of failing to lift up geeks who are marginalized. I think many of us have done these things at one time or another, even if it’s not our general modus operandi, which is why we must stop, reflect, and ask, “How we can coexist more peacefully as fellow fans?”

How can we foster more constructive dialogue, instead of responding to others with attacks, trolling, or defensiveness? How can we stop it with the gatekeeping? How can we criticize creators when warranted and still be respectful? How can we lift up the disenfranchised who love the same franchises we do (or even different franchises)?

In short, how can we use our geek powers for good?

Here are a few ideas:

Stop the gatekeeping.

If you’re not familiar with the term “gatekeeping,” Dictionary.com defines it as “the activity of controlling, and usually limiting, general access to something.” It may be tough to admit, but most geeks are guilty of this type of behavior. Gatekeeping often manifests itself in subtle, seemingly harmless ways, such as excluding or making a fellow fan feel unwelcome, or demanding proof that they are a “true fan.”

The idea that there are “true fans” and “fake fans” is patently ridiculous. The only qualification you need in order to be a fan – whether you’re into comic books, Star Wars, Doctor Who, My Little Pony, D&D, or GOT – is to really like something.

You don’t have to be able to quote a certain number of lines, have a specific number of items in your collection, win a game of Trivial Pursuit, or spend a certain amount of hours reading, or playing, or watching, to be a fan. You don’t have to cosplay, wear the T-shirt, buy the stuff, talk about it 24/7, profess a prevailing opinion, or do anything at all, in fact, to prove you’re worthy of a fandom. Every fan is a true fan.

Image result for tardis

Like the Tardis, fandom is bigger on the inside. There’s room for everyone. If, for whatever reason, we decided we did want to limit certain fandoms to a small, exclusive group of snobby VIPs, said fandoms would quickly die out. Is that what we want? To kill the fandoms we love? Of course not.

So, let’s not doubt that women, or people of color, or anyone, for that matter, really do read comics, or play video games, or watch Star Trek, or play D&D, as if these acts are the exclusive domain of one type of person (usually white and/or male). It doesn’t make sense, it isn’t fair, and it’s just so limiting and boring.

Lift up fellow geeks who need support.

If we stop the gatekeeping, it will go a long way toward accomplishing the goal above. However, in order to support fans who are on the fringes of geek culture – including people of color, LGBTQ+ fans, women, and disabled fans — we must first acknowledge their very real concerns and feeling of disenfranchisement.

The first step is to listen to these fans. Ask meaningful and thoughtful questions. Hear what they have to say about their experience without arguing or dismissing or denigrating them. Once we’ve done this, we can think about what we might do to stand alongside, promote, lift up, and offer solidarity to these fans. Then we do what we can, and this might look different for each individual.

Image result for convention panel

I write a blog with the goal of amplifying women’s voices in geek culture, but as a white woman I acknowledge my social bubble is limited, so I’ve decided to push beyond that and actively work to include more diverse voices.

Another person might use their professional platform to support marginalized geeks or create more opportunities for them. Convention panelists might use their clout to insist more diverse speakers be included. Other efforts might be as simple as sending an encouraging message to a cosplayer you admire or supporting a geek creator or business owner by buying from them. The possibilities are endless, and so are the benefits.

Listen to and believe women and victims.

With the rise of the MeToo movement and a groundswell of women coming forward to publicly report harassment and abuse, you’d think society would be rapidly learning and changing, but sadly these events have raised as much nasty backlash as they have awareness.

Image result for chloe dykstra
Chloe Dykstra

The geek community is not immune to this, as we’ve seen in the case of Chloe Dykstra’s appalling treatment by fans of “The Talking Dead” host Chris Hardwick. Disturbing allegations have been made against men in various industries, from comics to television, and many of their rabid fan bases have either ignored the implications of the accusations or responded with defensive outrage and devastating harassment campaigns.

Observing this behavior, it’s not difficult to surmise why women and other victims of sexual assault, abuse, and harassment are afraid to come forward. We geeks can do better. We can encourage victims by listening to what they have to say and giving them the benefit of the doubt as we calmly wait for facts and evidence to come to light.

This leads to my next two points …

Men, call out misogyny.

Historically, the world of fandom has been a harsh, demoralizing place for women and, unfortunately, progress in this department continues to be slow. Women may now be more visible and enjoy more opportunities within geek culture, but we’re doing so while warily navigating a minefield of sexism and double standards.

On an almost daily basis in geekdom, women are labeled “fake geek girls,” called offensive names and met with death threats for expressing their opinions on social media, targeted for harassment by hostile male fans and their followers, and subjected to creepy behavior while cosplaying.

Don't be a Creeper

Don’t get me wrong, guys. We realize most of you are lovely and supportive and secure in your manhood, but until more of you start calling out the douchebags in your midst, nothing will change. Women will to have to keep dealing with this behavior as best as we can, in the most bad-ass ways we can manage. It’s exhausting, but we like it here and we’re here to stay.

Be willing to reevaluate your heroes when they screw up.

Geeks are famously protective of the men and women who create the fandoms we love. We’re passionate about these people. We feel as if we know them because we’ve become so intimately familiar with their creations. We put these artists on pedestals so high, many of them are destined to topple off them. But we must remember that we don’t know them. Not personally. Not at all, really.

When allegations or facts become known that challenge our perception of our geek heroes, we must be willing to think carefully and critically about what this means. This process of reckoning and reevaluating will not be easy and it will probably look different for everyone.

Image result for joss whedon
Joss Whedon

When I read that “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” creator Joss Whedon had potentially abused his position of power to take advantage of young women on his sets, I was disappointed. I resolved to more carefully evaluate his work going forward. I’m still processing how I feel about this information. It will be an ongoing thing for me. I probably won’t ever feel the same about him and I will most definitely listen to and support any women who may come forward with new information about him.

A re-evaluation of your attitude toward a personal hero, such as an artist or filmmaker, may not result in a boycott, but you may choose to think more critically about the work he or she produces. Or you may decide you’re done supporting this person entirely. Whatever you decide, it should come after careful consideration and weighing of options. It makes no sense to blindly defend or continue to worship someone who doesn’t deserve your admiration or support.

Lose the entitlement.

I mentioned that fans tend to be proprietary about their favorite franchises and possessive of the creators who conjured them up. However, we have also been known to turn on our favorite creators with a speed and brutality that boggles the mind.

I bring this up a little sheepishly because I am guilty of this. For most of the years I’ve loved Star Wars, I’ve alternately gushed over and trashed George Lucas. I was not kind to M. Night Shyamalan in the years following “The Happening,” until “Split” put him back in my good graces.

Where did we geeks get the idea that the writers, directors, producers, and artists we revere are beholden to us and must satisfy our every whim, fantasy, longing, and desire, lest they face our wrath?

Sure, it was kinda hilarious when earlier this year a bunch of disgruntled haters of “The Last Jedi” banded together to petition for the removal of director Rian Johnson, then waged a campaign to remake the film shot-by-shot.

When you think about it more deeply, though, it’s sad and more than a little disturbing. If we really wanted the fans to dictate every particular of our favorite franchises, we’d be doing nothing but watch poorly made home movies on YouTube.

Of course, we will sometimes be disappointed or be let down by the creative choices the keepers of our favorite franchises make. There’s nothing wrong with feeling this way, or with discussing, debating, or even criticizing these choices. And, as always, seriously problematic content or behavior should always be called out. It is possible, however, to do all this respectfully, without silly boycotts, trolling, harassing, or acting like big babies.

Think before you post.

One only has to look at recent events involving “Guardians of the Galaxy” director James Gunn or “Rick and Morty” creator Dan Harmon to be reminded that ill-advised or reckless posts, comments, or interactions on social media can come back to haunt us in the worst way. It’s too easy to fire off a careless joke or an ill-advised rambling or get caught up in a heated exchange quickly turns nasty.

Image result for james gunn
James Gunn

In the age of online fandom, it’s crucial that I consider each post or comment before I make it public. I must ask myself:

“Is what I’ve written kind, fair, and worth saying?”

“Is it going to make someone feel bullied or belittled?”

“Will I regret saying this later?”

“Could this be used against me in the future?”

If I’m a careful editor of every statement I make on social media, not only will I avoid getting into trouble, I won’t fall into the category of those who are making online fandoms a toxic place to be.

Celebrate differences.

We are often drawn to other fans when we discover we like the same things. We bond over our shared love of Bob’s Burgers, or Stranger Things, or the novels of Jane Austen. The beauty of fandom, however, is that there are endless worlds to discover and endless means of expressing our enthusiasm for them.

I’ll admit that at least 25% of the reason my marriage works is because my husband and I are both crazy about Star Wars, but he’s into video games in a way I can’t remotely begin to fathom and I’m pretty sure he doesn’t get why I geek out over YA novels. Still, it works.

I was recently struck by the liberating realization that not everyTHING in geek culture has to be for everyONE. And that’s OK.

Geeks obviously enjoy vigorous debate and dialogue over controversial fandom issues. We like to get worked up about stuff and we can do that constructively, without crushing the dreams of people who love Ewoks, and Attack of the Clones, and George Clooney’s Batman.

Image result for ewoks r2d2

Maybe we sometimes feel we have to prove we’re good fans by making other fans feel bad about the things they like. How sad and messed up is that? If there’s something we don’t get or feel drawn to about a particular fandom, we might consider that we could be missing something. Or that this thing wasn’t made for us. It doesn’t necessarily make the thing in question bad.

One of my friends is a horror movie fanatic. Me? Not as much. But I admire her passion and how it makes her happy. It’s a blast watching her dive deep into this genre I don’t always fully appreciate. Many of the people I hang out with also happen to be Doctor Who devotees. I could never get into the series, but there is nothing more fun than listening to them loudly debate the merits of certain episodes and actors.

When we berate and belittle others for the titles, characters, sequels, prequels, and plot points they’re passionate about, we’re being unnecessarily petty and cynical. Let’s celebrate each other for our wildly diverse fandom tastes and fancies. Our geekiness should inspire us to embrace the geekiness in others, even if it looks very different from our own.

It’s futile for fans to reject diversity because the beauty of fandom is found in exactly that. The differences of history, perspective, taste, and opinion that each person brings to the table make the geek experience richer, more vibrant, more valuable, and more fun.

The toxic trolls don’t believe this, but they are so wrong. Let’s prove them wrong.

Vinyl Coexist decal by Etsy shop FandomDecalDesigns.

“Costume is not consent” meme: Aloysius Fox, The Pandora Society. 

Photos: BBC, Anime Expo, IMDb, Yahoo, Lucasfilm.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Disney artist doodles her way to inspiring others to dream

Ashley Taylor is living the Disney dream and using her formidable artistic talent to inspire others to pursue their dreams.

While working as a cast member at Walt Disney World, Ashley honed her cheery, whimsical style, which has since come to characterize everything from the Disney Parks Blog’s daily Disney Doodle, to numerous pieces of Disney-themed art, to fashion from Her Universe and Disney’s Dress Shop Collection, and even an inspirational book.

Her distinctive work — inspired by such classics as Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty and legendary artists Eyvind Earle and Mary Blair — can also be found at WonderGround Gallery, BoxLunch, and Hot Topic

I know I’m not the only person who looks forward to seeing what clever mashup or cute flight of nostalgic fancy Ashley will come up with next on the Disney Parks Blog. I also can’t be the only one who has salivated over her gorgeous Dress Shop prints, which perfectly capture the joy of favorite park attractions.

When she’s not busy touring with bestie Ashley Eckstein of Her Universe to promote their beautifully illustrated “It’s Your Universe” book, dreaming up new scenarios for classic characters, or combing the Disney archives for important details, she can be found doing commissions or creating fantastical original artwork for her Etsy shop.

In “Your Universe,” Taylor and Eckstein encourage readers to “dream it and do it,” which is something this artist definitely has gotten the hang of. 

You can enjoy more of Ashley’s artwork and follow her on Instagram here

You’re a Disney artist whose charming work is featured at Disney Parks, WonderGround Gallery, and on products for Her Universe, BoxLunch, and Hot Topic. So basically you are living every geek’s dream. What does that feel like?

It feels unreal at times! I’ll check my email and see messages from various brands and retail stores and I’ll pinch myself at times! It has been a long road to get to this point in my career and I don’t take a second of it for granted! Every Monday morning feels like Christmas morning to me! I’m so incredibly happy to be living my dreams here in California!

Your daily Disney Doodles are featured on the Disney Parks Blog and they are the best thing ever! Can you tell me a little about the process of creating these doodles? Where do you get your ideas?

Thank you so much! I’m so glad you enjoy them! The Disney Doodles are a collaborative effort between me and the Disney Parks Blog. Every time an idea pops into my head, I write it down. Then towards the end of the month, I’ll send Disney my ideas and they’ll add some of their own and we’ll come up with a game plan for the next month.

I try to add some unique characters every month. I love seeing how the Disney community responds when they see a character they haven’t seen in years. I remember I decided to draw Archimedes from Sword and the Stone and so many people shared amazing childhood memories of that film with me. That’s what it’s all about! Creating a little bit a fun and joy during someone’s day!

As far as drawing the Disney Doodles, I usually create a month’s worth of doodles in a day. (Roughly 8 or 9 doodles.) My schedule is so crazy, I have to be able to draw exceptionally fast.

Many of them are the cutest and cleverest Disney mashups. How do you determine what will make a good mashup?

Truthfully, the characters do all of the work for me. I just pay attention to their storylines, likes, dislikes … etc. And I always try to keep the character’s integrity. For example, I created a Disney Doodle of Princess Tiana dancing at the Country Bear Jamboree. Tiana is from the South and she loves cooking, singing and dancing. So she would enjoy singing and dancing with those Country Bears. I always try to look for attractions that would pique the interest of the characters. It’s a lot of fun!

Ashley Taylor’s “Cinderella’s Kingdom.”

Clearly, you are just immersed in Disney characters and properties. Do you have a soft spot for any specific personalities, movies, attractions, etc.?

Oh goodness, so many!

Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella are the Disney films that made me want to be an artist. The colors, backgrounds and details are absolutely stunning! As I got older, I connected with Tangled and Moana. I love seeing fearless girls follow their passions!

My favorite characters has always been The Blue Fairy from Pinocchio and Princess Jasmine. I love how Jasmine is smart, fierce, and strong-minded while the Blue Fairy is poised, elegant and kind.

And as far as attractions, I will always love The Country Bear Jamboree and It’s a Small World. I love the classics!

You must spend a lot of time researching Disney-related images and details. Can you tell me more about what that research can entail?

I research everything! I am very thorough when I research Disney-related imagery. I have gone to the Disney archives and visited the parks to make sure all of the details are accounted for. I want to remain as accurate as I can while being able to deliver artwork in my unique style.

Do you also collect Disney items?

I collect a Disney ornament every time I do a signing at one of the Disney Parks. And when fans give me artwork, gifts or letters, I laminate them and turn them into ornaments as well. So every Christmas becomes a trip down memory lane.

I’ve read that you discovered your unique personal style as an artist while working as a cast member at Walt Disney World. How did your style evolve during this time and what did you learn?

I always tell people to start drawing what they love, because that’s when you’ll really start to connect with your subject matter as an artist. I love fashion, so being around Disney really piqued my interest as a designer. I started to experiment with various mediums until I found one that suited my style the best. Digital illustration and clean vectors really suited my design taste and style.

Ashley’s “Aurora’s Kingdom.”

I understand that, as a child, you were influenced by Sleeping Beauty. Who and what are some of your other influences?

Yes, I was mesmerized by Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella when I was a kid. So, naturally, Eyvind Earle and Mary Blair were huge influences

I’m always inspired every time I travel. I think traveling and exploring the world becomes an artist’s best resource.

You and Her Universe’s Ashley Eckstein recently released the book “It’s Your Universe.” The Disney-themed illustrations are beautiful and really make the book memorable. Tell me more about your collaboration with Ashley on this project.

When I first read Ashley Eckstein’s manuscript, I knew this project was something I had to be a part of. I knew this book was going to change lives and help so many people visualize their dreams.

The creation of the book was labor of love for both Ashley and me. Being able to provide visuals for Ashley’s inspiring words, lessons, and stories brought me so much joy! As close friends, it was easy for me to understand what her expectations were of me and my artwork.

“It’s Your Universe” aims to teach young women about “dreaming it and doing it.” What’s your advice on this subject?

Don’t shy away from your dreams just because you haven’t seen anyone else accomplish them. Don’t be afraid to be the first. Don’t be afraid to build your own Yellow Brick Road.

You and Ashley recently returned from a book tour. How did that go? What’s your favorite thing about meeting fans?

Our tour was incredible! We were on a plane almost every single day. It was long hours, but incredibly exciting! Meeting fans was my favorite thing about being on tour. I love being able to connect with people and meet aspiring artists. There’s nothing better than watching people’s faces light up when they talked to us about their dreams. I’ll always remember those little moments!

Ashley’s illustration for the “Princess Mantra” written by Ashley Eckstein of Her Universe.

Aside from Disney, what are some of your favorite fandoms? 

I love Jurassic Park, Harry Potter, Sailor Moon, DC, Marvel, Lucasfilm, Jim Henson, and Tim Burton. I’m sure there’s a ton more. I find that there’s something I like about every fandom I’m introduced to.

From your art, I gather you’re into Moulin Rouge, The Greatest Showman, and La La Land, among other things. Do I detect a love of musicals here?

You know, it’s funny, I’m not that big into musicals, but I LOVE the art direction and costumes in those films. All of them are so strikingly beautiful! I do love to sing along with Hugh Jackman, though. How could I not?

You also have a thing for Audrey Hepburn. Why do you admire her?

Audrey Hepburn is so much more than a beautiful actress. She dedicated her life to helping others. She was a humanitarian who dedicated her life to UNICEF. I have always admired her as an actress, style icon, and as a person. I have her photo in my office as a constant reminder to keep giving back to others. It’s wonderful to follow your dreams and your passions, but it’s more important to contribute something to the world.

Ashley’s “Daydreaming in the Tower” piece, on display in her Audrey Hepburn-themed office.

Your art seems to focus on a lot of female characters. Is this intentional?

I know that my artistic style is extremely feminine and delicate. So I try to draw subjects that bring out the best of my abilities. I also love mermaids, circus performers, and ballerinas, so those costumes are so much fun for me to draw.

Prints of your art are available in your Etsy shop, LoveAshleyDesigns. Many of these feature adorable mermaids, centaurs, Nessie, cats, and other magical creatures (I think cats qualify as magical creatures). Where does your fascination for these kinds of characters come from?

I think a lot of artists love drawing fantasy creatures because they are entirely created in our heads. We don’t use references, we just allow our imaginations to have a little fun. When working in the world of retail, I welcome those little breaks to create something light and pretty.

I can’t stop obsessing over the designs you’ve contributed to Disney’s Dress Shop, which include dresses, skirts, and cardigans that are to die for. What do you enjoy about creating art for fashion?

The best part about art for fashion is creating something that people live their lives in. I love seeing my designs become part of someone’s first trip to Disney, engagement session, birthday celebration and so much more.

How do you feel when you see people wearing these outfits?

It’s one of the greatest honors an artist can have. It’s still so surreal every time someone comes up to me in the parks wearing my art. I love seeing people create special memories in my art!

Through this aspect of your work and also your work with Her Universe, you’ve been able to model and wear a lot of amazing geek fashion. What has that experience been like?

Designing and modeling for Her Universe has been a dream come true. Her Universe, like Disney, is a brand I completely believe in. Her Universe allows fangirls from all walks of life to flaunt their world and showcase their fandoms through fashion. It gives a voice to the female fan community and allows fangirls to not only feel accepted, but to be the best versions of themselves. So to be a small part in that community has been incredible!

Ashley’s Star Wars timeline piece, created with Her Universe.

What are some of your future goals as an artist?

I have so many future goals. And a lot of them are coming into fruition! The most important goal is to keep growing and challenging myself as an artist. I’d love to do a worldwide press tour and be able to meet my amazing fans around the world. That would be amazing!

What’s left to do on your Disney bucket list?

I’d love to create artwork for some of the international Disney Parks, like Tokyo Disneyland. That would be amazing! I’d also love to create artwork for one of the Disney resorts or a Disney attraction.

 

Ahsoka scribe E.K. Johnston on her anticipated Padme novel, geek fashion, and ‘glorious’ Enfys Nest

Two of the biggest announcements at this summer’s San Diego Comic-Con came courtesy of the Star Wars universe, and best-selling YA author E.K. Johnston found herself smack in the middle of ecstatic fan reaction to both of them.

One was the revelation that Johnston, or Kate to her friends (and bloggers fortunate enough to make her acquaintance), would be the author of a new book, Star Wars: Queen’s Shadow. The novel, due in March, is set after The Phantom Menace and traces the evolution of Padme Amidala from queen to senator, a prospect that delighted prequel fans who’ve been wanting more of the character.

Meanwhile, Con attendees were processing the considerable feelings triggered by the announcement that the animated Clone Wars series would return to television after an unpopular cancellation in 2014.

While Kate wasn’t directly involved with that series, she does have a special relationship to one of its most beloved characters, Ahsoka Tano, having penned a best-selling Star Wars book about Anakin’s iconic Padawan.

The author’s history with Star Wars stretches back to childhood and memories of listening to an audio version of Return of the Jedi on vinyl. Now, she’s one of the few women who is writing, and thereby shaping, George Lucas’ galaxy far, far away, and doing so by examining the inner lives of iconic women in the franchise.

She’s also the mastermind of a versatile array of award-winning novels steeped in myth, fairy tales, and steampunk, including “The Story of Owen,” “A Thousand Nights,” “Exit, Pursued By a Bear,” and “That Inevitable Victorian Thing.”

I had the pleasure of chatting with Kate about her affinity for the women of Star Wars, her collection of Star Wars merch, her newfound passion for geek fashion, her other intriguing new novel to be released next year, and everyone’s new favorite Star Wars lady, Enfys Nest (OK, so I might have begged her to tackle that subject).

The announcement of your latest project, Star Wars: Queen’s Shadow, made quite a stir at San Diego Comic-Con. What was that experience like?

It was so exciting. Two of my dearest friends were in the audience, and we met because of Padmé, so getting to see their faces when the cover came up on the projector was just incredible. So many fans talked to me after that panel, even if it was just really quickly as we were passing in a hallway, and everyone was so enthusiastic. I couldn’t have asked for a better response.

The novel, about Padme Amidala, will hit shelves in March. You’ve said that Padme played a major role in reigniting your passion for Star Wars after you saw The Phantom Menace at age 14. Considering that, how did you feel when you were asked to write Queen’s Shadow?

I was in Iceland at the time, and so it was quite late at night. I just remember lying on my bed in the hostel with ALL OF THE FEELS and trying to fall asleep because I had to get up early in the morning to go riding.

Tell me about your first Star Wars experience and the evolution of your relationship with George Lucas’ franchise. 

My first solid memory of Star Wars is from when I was about three years old. We had a vinyl of Return of the Jedi, a book on tape sort of thing, and I would listen to it with my brother. I remember Carrie Fisher’s voice and Vader’s breathing apparatus, and it was a straight shot out from there. Since then, I’ve grown with it, in a way. And it’s been marvelous.

I was excited to learn that Queen’s Shadow will focus on Padme’s handmaidens, especially her relationship with Sabe, who was played by Keira Knightley in Phantom Menace. That’s a genius idea. How did you arrive at this approach?

I can’t imagine doing it any other way. The handmaidens are such a key part of Padmé’s story (even though they aren’t really a key part of Anakin’s, which is why we see less of them as the saga unfolds), and I wanted to keep them in the centre of it for my book.

Another major announcement at Comic-Con was the return of The Clone Wars animated series and Ahsoka Tano. What was your reaction to this news?

I was doing a signing, so I couldn’t be at the panel or on Twitter. After that, I had to run to a panel of my own. So there I was, getting ready to talk about fairy tales, and I had five minutes. I watched the trailer and burst into tears as soon as the music started. Then, for the rest of the weekend, the excitement was just so palpable. It was amazing to experience in person, and I cannot wait to see the new episodes.

You’re obviously on intimate terms with Ahsoka, having written the Star Wars: Ahsoka novel. From your experience and the feedback you’ve received from fans, why is she such a significant character for women?

I think it goes beyond women. There’s a whole generation of Star Wars fans who grew up with her front and centre in the Star Wars galaxy, and those people kept the fandom active between the live-action movies. She kept the story moving, and that allowed for more inclusivity in the story we have now.

What’s the most important thing you learned about Ahsoka from writing her?

She’s more adaptable than she thinks.

You have a real affinity and enthusiasm for the women of the Star Wars universe. I read that Leia is your favorite. Why?

I think this goes back to hearing Carrie Fisher’s voice. At least, that’s where it started. But we see her, and she’s this tiny girl in a long white dress, and the first thing she does is shoot bad guys, stand up to Vader, talk back to Tarkin, withstand torture, and help with her own rescue, with the best hair in cinema. Obviously I fell in love.

Who are some of your other favorites? (Please, please, please talk about Enfys Nest!)

I love so many of them! I love Hera’s determination and Iden’s conviction and Beru’s kindness and Paige’s bravery and and and …

But let’s talk about Enfys Nest.

Her reveal is so perfectly executed. She’s built up as this … usual bad guy. A new Boba Fett-style character to counter Evil Haymitch and sell Lego (the Lego is so coooooool). Except she is so much more. And to start with: she’s not a bad guy! She’s the hero. She flips Han Solo, this young girl with her soul on fire and her heart committed to a better galaxy. I love that we got to be so surprised when she took her helmet off. It was glorious. But if Erin Kellyman wants to get involved now that she can, I hope they throw her a serious welcome party at Celebration.

You have quite a collection of female-centric Star Wars merch. When did you begin collecting?

I have a few action figures from The Phantom Menace, but I truly began collecting in 2015 because 1) I had a disposable income, and 2) There were things I wanted to collect.

What are some of the prized items in your collection?

I don’t even know. All of it?

Let’s talk a little about your geek origin story. I read that you discovered fandom in college. How did that happen?

I actually discovered it slightly before that, in high school. I read fanfic for Star Trek: Voyager and X-Men: Evolution (and then erased the browser history on the family computer; those were adventurous times!). But at uni, I had uncontrolled access to the internet, and that was when I started accounts on message boards, ff.net, and LiveJournal. My first major fandom was actually CSI, though I have always dabbled in the Tolkien fandom.

You’re a huge Tolkien fan. How did you discover him and why is his work important to you?

When I was four or so, my father read me (and my younger brother) the entirety of The Hobbit. I read LotR when I was eight (because someone told me they were for grownups). But it’s the movies that really brought me into fandom (probably because movie fandom for Tolkien is way less dusty than book fandom … not the least because movie fandom includes the books, but book fandom doesn’t always include the movies). I learned to write with these books. And I learned to dream.

You also seem to be a fan of geek fashion. Are you addicted to Her Universe like the rest of us?

So much! I used to be absolutely hopeless at clothes (a combination of not being able to afford much new stuff, a lack of available sizes that fit me, and a general disinterest in how I looked), but in the last few years I have learned so much about styles and whatnot, and now I find it actually fun! And Her Universe is really trying to make geek clothes accessible, which I literally cannot appreciate enough.

Along with Queen’s Shadow, we’ll also have the pleasure of reading another new book from you next year. The Afterward is due in February. How would you describe this novel in relation to your other work?

I never really imagined being a writer, but I always thought that if I did write anything, it would be an Eddings-style quest fantasy. It turns out that my attention span isn’t quiiiiiiite that long, so I am writing a story that takes place AFTER an Eddings-style quest fantasy instead. It’s epic, it’s queer, it’s full of women, and I had so much fun writing it. I can’t wait to share it with everyone.

 

Plus model promotes geek glamour, body positivity

I met Danielle Zavala when I visited Hot Topic to write a post about fit and size issues in geek fashion. Danielle was on the job as a fit model and she spoke with refreshing honesty and openness about some of her struggles with body image and shopping for clothes as a woman who wears plus fashion. She also radiated sheer optimism and joy, the kind of positive feelings she aims to encourage in other women through her career as a plus model.

This approach to work and life is apparent in whatever Danielle does, whether booking photo shoots, walking the runway in the Le Geek So Chic Fashion Show, designing an inclusive line of Harry Potter-themed clothing, or indulging her geek side with cosplay, Riverdale, Overwatch, and visits to the Wizarding World.

Danielle’s modeling career began in 2011 when she participated in a model search hosted by Torrid. After booking a gig modeling pinup styles, she built her portfolio, won a division title in the Miss Plus America Pageant, and was featured in Latina Magazine. She models for many companies, but Hot Topic is an especially good fit. (She admits the abundance of geek merchandise can be hard on her pocketbook.)

While there’s a general lack of visibility of plus models in the fashion industry, Danielle has set out to do what she can to change that, giving feedback during fit sessions about what women who wear plus might want and need, and spreading a message of self-confidence and body positivity wherever she can.

Read on for Danielle’s thoughts on geek fashion, what she’d like to see change within the industry, and why Puerto Rico needs its own superhero movie. (Seriously, Hollywood, let’s greenlight this!)

You can also follow her on Instagram and Twitter.

If you’d like to book Danielle or set up a meeting, contact Penny Middlemiss, MPM Models, Mspenny@mpmmodels.com.

You’re a plus model and a self-described “nerdy girl” and, if I may say so, you’ve achieved the perfect blend of glamour and geekiness. Is that a rare thing in the modeling industry?

Thank you, Lavender. I think that you’d be surprised to learn that a lot of models in the industry have a geeky or nerdy side to them. The models I tend to gravitate towards have a goofy side and I think that’s why we find so much joy in our careers because we don’t take ourselves too seriously. Society places a lot of pressure on models to always be perfect and as a plus model the amount of judgement and criticism we receive can be damaging. I find comfort in my goofiness because it helps let some of the criticism slide off my back.

An image from Danielle’s first booked photo shoot in 2011.

Tell me about how you got your start in modeling.

I started modeling back in 2011 after being encouraged to compete in the “Torrid House of Dreams” model search. Although I didn’t win the competition, I found myself to be bit by the modeling bug. I was hired for my first gig for a small pinup clothing line and instantly fell in love with it. I then began reaching out to other companies who advertised plus clothing options but didn’t show them on plus models and began building my portfolio.

My first big break was after I competed and won my division title at the Miss Plus America Pageant. I was featured in the August 2011 issue of Plus Model Magazine as a new and up-and-coming model. This led to being cast in Full Figured Fashion Week and featured in Latina Magazine.

Is plus modeling different at all from other types of modeling?

Technically, plus modeling is the same as other formats of modeling. However, I personally feel that plus models also serve as body positivity activists when they sign on to model. I believe there’s a certain level of responsibility we have as plus models to be ambassadors of body positivity and should use our platforms to encourage our followers to love themselves for who they are regardless of their size.

I’ve been told there aren’t a lot of plus models in the fashion industry. Is that true? If so, what’s it like to be one of the few?

When I began modeling back in 2011, plus models had been working for years prior, but I had never been exposed to them. There was a major lack of visibility for plus models, but they have been thriving and pushing the envelope for years. Once I joined the industry I was so honored to have met models that were not only phenomenally gorgeous, but they were incredible advocates for the community. I have always felt blessed to do what I love and be able to work hard to encourage other plus individuals to love themselves.

You’re a fit model for Hot Topic. With your geeky inclinations, that seems like the perfect gig for you.

Working as a fit model for Hot Topic has been surreal. I remember when I first got called for a casting two years ago and when I walked up the steps into headquarters I was just blown away. The Hot Topic at the Brea Mall was one of my all-time favorite stores when it opened back in the early 2000s. I loved all the pop culture items I could get there over the years as the company grew and to have the opportunity to work for such an amazing brand that makes product that I get so excited about is truly special. It’s not so great for my bank account … haha … but there’s a wonderful feeling of satisfaction when I see something I helped fit at my local Hot Topic.

What’s a typical day at work like for you?

A typical work day for me starts off with an hour drive to my client for a fit session. Fit sessions usually consist of trying on woven tops, knit tops, active wear, dresses, outwear, swimwear, bottoms and denim. I usually see two to three clients a day for anywhere between one hour to three hours, depending on the client and the number of samples received. Occasionally, I have done eight-hour fit days if there are special meetings with buyers or vendors, but most days are around 6 hours of work.

Do you model for other companies as well?

I’m fortunate to work with JustFab, Fabletics, Lucky Brand, and Democracy as well. In the past, I have worked with Torrid and Seven Jeans for their Melissa McCarthy clothing line.

When I visited Hot Topic headquarters for a post I wrote about geek fashion and size issues, you were very open about your own issues with size and fit. Tell me about some of your experiences with this.

One of the most important aspects of my job is my ability to provide feedback to designers, buyers, and the technical team. Sizing and fit issues are something that everyone struggles with from brand to brand because of the inconsistencies that often occur.

Prior to being a fit model, I would find myself incredibly frustrated when shopping for clothing because I’d be a size 14 in one brand and then a 20 in another. This would aggravate me, as it does most individuals, especially plus women, because it made me feel as if I was the problem. Thankfully, I have come to see that the issue was with the clothing companies because they all use their own size charts and these differences will be reflected in the actual sizing.

One of my biggest frustrations to this day is with companies who vanity size their clothing. Vanity sizing is the practice of assigning smaller sizes to articles of manufactured clothing than is really the case, to encourage sales.

I find that companies that do this create consumer confusion and that often attributes to body image issues because they tell a consumer they are a size 14 when they might actually be an 18. By doing this they inadvertently damage the self-conscious consumer who may already be struggling with their body because of criticism from society or even bullies.

Does your awareness of the frustrations experienced by plus women and, honestly, women in general affect your approach to your work at all?

It absolutely affects my approach to my work. Models are often told they are just hangers meant to show off the clothing and not necessarily to voice their opinions. In my line of work, my feedback is crucial to keeping clients. I try to find a good balance of helpful yet honest comments to provide to designers and the technical teams instead of just saying that everything looks great and feels amazing.

Some designers are so focused on ensuring that the plus-size garment looks just like the Missy or Junior sample and there are situations in which this doesn’t work. For example, something with a super high neckline and boxy shape may look cute on a size 2 or 6, but when graded to a plus-size 16 or 18, the garment is now unflattering.

As a fit model, I’m incredibly comfortable with my body and exposing my arms but I always make a conscious effort to consider those plus-size individuals still struggling with their own body image. When providing feedback to companies, I’ll include comments like, “I think the sleeves on this are too short and might make a consumer who isn’t a fan of her arms feel self-conscious.”

Also, if every garment is super uptight in appearance, I’ll request things like lowering the neckline or opening the neck so that there’s more skin visible. Occasionally, I’ll include that feedback so that the designers know that plus fashion should also be cute and sexy, too.

Do you consider yourself an ambassador or a role model?

That is such a tough question to answer because I feel like the title of role model or body positive ambassador is tossed around so much nowadays. I’d like to hope, like anyone else, that what I do in life will impact someone else’s life in a positive way. I don’t consider myself a role model, but I do know that I have a moral obligation as a member of the plus model community to do my very best to support other community members as they fight for representation and equality in the fashion industry.

I have always aspired to be a woman of influence and to one day do or say something that would make 16-year-old me proud. I wish that as a teenager I had plus-size role models that I could look up to when I was feeling depressed or being bullied. When I’m in a fit or at a shoot, I think of those times and remind myself that somewhere out there a girl is feeling that same way and it’s up to me and the other members of the community to tell her that she is loved and valued.

What changes would you personally like to see in the geek fashion industry and in the fashion industry in general?

While I’m happy to see that the geek fashion industry is starting to expand their sizing, I’d like to see more plus models represented in their photoshoots. Elhoffer Design does a great job of being size inclusive with her line and it is incredibly inspiring. It’s one of the reasons why I will often refer my friends to her site.

One of the things we chatted about when we first met at Hot Topic was the lack of larger models used in photoshoots for some geek brands. It’s hard to know that awesome plus fashion companies like Hot Topic use a size 18 fit model but when photoshoots take place most of the models in plus size outfits are on the smaller side making it sometimes harder for larger consumers to see themselves represented.

Representation in the fashion industry in general is so very important and while I’ve seen so much progress in my seven years in the industry I still see how much more work is left to be done. Slogans like “Drop the plus” have been passed around in plus marketing and I feel that they are detrimental to the community as a whole.

I don’t want to be called a “model” because I’m proud to be a size 18 PLUS model and it’s why I often tag my photos #proudtobeplus. By removing the plus, it takes away a part of who I am as an individual and implies that there is something wrong with being plus. I struggle with that at a size 18 and can only imagine how much more of a struggle it is for, let’s say, a size 24 or 32 who sees little to no models used in their size range.

Danielle, around the age of 5, reading comic books with her Dad.

Let’s talk about your inner geek. When did you first discover it?

My inner geek first started showing around 7 years old. My dad owned a bunch of old Super Nintendo machines and we would play them for hours together. I’d also love to watch him as he read his comics from time to time. He had a large collection of Star Wars figurines still in their packages and I remember just staring at them wishing I could open them all.

Thankfully, he taught me about how to take care of my collectibles. I’m lucky to be one of kids who grew up with X-men, Sailor Moon, Dragon Ball Z and other awesome Saturday morning cartoons that furthered my love for all things geek.

Danielle with her sister, fulfilling her dream of being Sailor Moon.

What were some of your first fandoms and how did you express them?

Sailor Moon and X-men are probably the two fandoms I was the most excited about. During recess, I’d always convince my friends to play X-men with me, I was ALWAYS Rogue because I was such a tomboy and I loved that she could kill people with her kiss. Once Sailor Moon was released in the USA I would save up my chore money and buy all the knickknacks I could find to play with. My cousins and I would play Sailor Moon after school with our Moonstick popsicles from the ice cream truck.

One of your major passions is Harry Potter, which you’ve said changed your life and “solidified” your love of reading. Tell me how you discovered the wizarding world and why it means so much to you. 

My love for books started thanks to Belle from Beauty and the Beast. She was my favorite princess and I always wondered what life was like in other places, so I’d read to learn about them. So, when I stumbled across Harry Potter I was instantly transported into a world of magic that seemed so realistic and attainable. I was an only child for seven years so when Harry Potter came out in 1997, I had just turned 10 years old and realized I was almost old enough to get my own letter to Hogwarts.

As a kid, I was always very outgoing but odd because I loved to learn and read and wasn’t worried about boys like some of my other friends. When I first read about Hermione I felt so connected to her, mostly because we both had strong personalities and crazy curly and frizzy hair.

I remember reading “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone” prior to the U.S. launch of the re-titled “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” at least three times the summer I received it. I couldn’t put the book down and every time I read it I imagined what Hogwarts was like. Once I realized the books would continue in a series, I was hooked. It was the longest series I had ever followed. I waited in lines the night before they were released and would have the book finished hours after my mom would purchase it.

My love for literature increased exponentially as I grew up with the characters. Even though the novels were about Harry, Ron, and Hermione, I always felt like the fourth member of their group and it’s why I have such fond memories of them.

Harry Potter changed my life because it showed me that even a child can have a difference in the world. It helped me see that just sitting on the sidelines when you see injustices makes you just as bad as the person treating people poorly. I struggled with bullies growing up and found comfort in my books and wishing in my head that I could say a spell to turn my bullies into a toad or a pig.

So you’re a bookworm. What are some of your favorite titles?

Some of my favorite books include what I call my Shakespeare Bible, which is the complete works of Shakespeare book in a beautiful green and gold embellished binding. I also loved “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” “The Lord of the Rings,” “Catcher in the Rye,” “The Grapes of Wrath,” and “The Great Gatsby.”

You’re a proud Ravenclaw. (Many of my best friends are Ravenclaws!) What do you love about being part of that house?

My favorite thing about being a Ravenclaw would take an entire interview to explain so I’ll keep it short … haha. I love how witty, eccentric, and outspoken most Ravenclaws are. Luna Lovegood is such a great example of the perfect Ravenclaw because she keeps you guessing. You can’t tell if she’s an absolute genius or a crazy person and, as we know, there’s a very line between the two. I also love how exciting and challenging getting into the Common Room sounds.

It looks like you’ve spent a fair amount of time playing Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery. Explain yourself.  

As a Harry Potter superfan it felt only natural to download the game. I’ve spent countless hours and a few bucks to truly enjoy the game. The thought of learning and performing spells in a similar capacity to Pokémon Go was exciting. Sadly, my love of the game has dwindled because of those darn energy bars. I’ve hit year 4 and have decided to put the game down until someone can fix that … haha. I have gotten some great laughs at the Hogwarts Mystery memes that floated around for a while.

Have you visited the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Hollywood?

I have! It was so much fun checking it out during opening week. My love for Wizarding World was so much that I spent my 30th birthday weekend at Wizarding World in Orlando, FL. I went all out for the 4 days I was there and wore my full school uniform while we visited. I even got asked a few times if I worked there.

I felt like I truly was a Ravenclaw student visiting Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley. If you’ve ever visited, you know that it’s easy to walk past Diagon Alley if you aren’t paying attention, but the minute I walked through the entrance to the sound of the bricks moving, my eyes filled with tears because it felt like I was home. It was an absolutely magical experience and a huge part of what inspired my Magically Made by Couture for Everybody collection with Pinup Girl Clothing.

How do you like your Butterbeer?

I love my Butterbeer cold. It’s such a nice and refreshing treat for a hot day.

Anyone who follows you on social media knows you’re obsessed with the CW series Riverdale. What do you love about the series?

Riverdale started as a guilty pleasure kind of show and then it just turned into one of my all-time favorites. It gives me old school WB show vibes like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Smallville. I think what I love the most about the series is how they modernized such an iconic comic book series and turned on the newer generations to Archie and the Gang. The darker side of the show really gives a nice contrast to the otherwise cheerful original comic.

Who do you ship on that show?

I am a MAJOR Bughead fan! Lili Reinhart and Cole Sprouse are both incredibly talented actors in their own right and on the show their chemistry is just captivating. I’m not going to lie. I totally bawled my eyes out during one of their fights in Season 2. I think I ship them the most because I relate so much to Betty and have my very own Jughead with the occasional Bughead drama.

So you’re into the Archie Comics, too?

Yes. I would read Archie Comics when I was younger and lost touch with Archie and the Gang over the years. I was reintroduced to the comics when the Josie and the Pussycats movie came out as well as the Archie’s Weird Mysteries cartoon in 2002. Archie Comics weren’t something I was always a diehard fan of until Riverdale. My favorite fandoms always tended to gravitate towards sci-fi and magic type fandoms up until Riverdale. That is probably the only realistic fandom I truly follow.

You’ve done some Riverdale cosplay. Tell me about the outfits you’ve put together. 

All of my Riverdale cosplays thus far have been more of a casual cosplay utilizing pieces from either Hot Topic’s Riverdale line or from one of my favorite companies, Pinup Girl Clothing. I did an Archie Comic’s Betty Cooper look with my bestie Victoria Cabot, who is my Veronica Lodge. We styled our outfit using Pinup Girl Clothing pieces, as those are most timeline appropriate.

At San Diego Comic Con this year, I celebrated the new Archie Comics/Batman crossover and wore my version of Betty Cooper as the Black Canary. This outfit was definitely a hit! Every good Betty cosplay comes equipped with the perfect High Pony Tail, which is Betty’s signature hair style. My Southside Serpent Betty Cosplay was even re-shared on the Hot Topic Instagram page and website.

You seem to enjoy cosplay in general. What’s your experience been like as a plus cosplayer?

I’m new to the cosplay scene but have absolutely fallen in love with it. I started out with Disneybounding years ago as I would go to Disneyland frequently and, after deciding to spend more time at comic conventions, have just adored all the cosplayers I’ve had the chance to meet. My favorite part about branching into cosplay is the amount of creativity I see from everyone I meet. I draw a lot of my inspiration from Ivy Doomkitty who is a spectacularly amazing woman, body positivity activist and plus-size cosplayer.

Danielle at the Le Geek So Chic Fashion Show with her best friend, Victoria Cabot.

You’ve walked in the Le Geek So Chic Fashion Show. What was that like?

Stan Lee’s Comikaze (now Los Angeles Comic Con) was the first time I had the opportunity to participate in the Le Geek So Chic Fashion Show and it was an honor. I’ve walked in many runway shows but they were nothing like this. The audience had so much energy and the other models were all shapes, sizes, ethnic backgrounds and genders and I really felt a part of something so unique and special. Not to mention I got to walk for one of my favorite geek designers, Katie Elhoffer of Elhoffer Design. She is so incredibly talented and the fit of her clothing is just top-notch.

You also recently launched a fashion line, Magically Made for Couture for Everybody, in collaboration with Pinup Girl Clothing at San Diego Comic-Con. How did that go?

The launch was a dream come true. It felt surreal that clothing items I had thought of were being sold at one of the largest cons in the world. It was a proud and happy moment. My favorite piece of the collection is my Narcissa dress, which is a ponte dress with mesh cutout and swing skirt, and it was flying off the rack.

What made me the happiest about the dress selling was that all the women who purchased it looked stunning regardless of what size they wore. It was a sexy and flattering dress on all of them and that’s one of the big things I was hoping to accomplish with my collection.

How did the collaboration come about? What was the inspiration for it?

The collaboration came about after Pinup Girl Clothing CEO Laura Byrnes and I chatted about doing something for the PUG nerd fan base. At the time, I was working as her assistant and my nerd pride is always something I chat about, so we started talking and I said I had some ideas. I went to Wizarding World in Orlando and, after being immersed in this world I had only dreamed of, I sat down and just let the ideas flow. The initial sketches I showed Laura was around 9 pieces so there are still several more designs on their way, but these first 3, including the capelet, are the ones I felt every nerd girl needed in her closet first.

Is designing geek fashion something you’d like to do more of?

I’d love to design more geek fashion! As a plus-size girl it was always hard to find cute items of clothes to express my fandoms growing up because stuff that would fit me was usually just in men’s sizes. Now that the design world has opened up to me, I can design pieces that show off my fandom that will fit and make me feel proud of my inner geek.

You also happen to be a serious gamer. When and how did you start playing?

I have always loved video games, thanks mostly to my Dad. The love grew stronger as he and my mom would give me quarters to play in the local arcade during their bowling league nights. I learned around 12 years old, that I was pretty good with a joystick and would hustle the neighborhood boys out of their chore money.

I’ll never forget the first time I won a round of Street Fighter against this bratty 15-year-old and he kept telling his friends it was “beginners’ luck” because “girls don’t know how to play video games,” so I made sure to lose the next round and then bet him $20 I’d beat him in the 3rd round. It was the fastest $20 I ever made and the immense joy I felt at the time was one that boosted my confidence to never let someone else’s perception of me change who I truly was.

Your game of choice is Overwatch. How many hours have you spent playing it?

My current game of choice is Overwatch because I used to be a huge World of Warcraft player. I started playing WOW back during Warcraft 1, which eventually led to me playing WOW with my old Disney coworkers. After life got too busy, I stopped playing video games for a while until I caught a Blizzard Overwatch short in November and decided it was time to start playing again.

Since getting the game in March, I’ve logged in about 150 hours of game time, which is not too shabby given I have a family and a full-time job. I tend to play late at night or on the weekends because it drives me nuts to play with some of the crazy 12-year-olds on there during the late afternoon.

What do you love about it?

Aside from the competitive aspect of the game, my favorite thing about Overwatch is the number of AMAZING female heroines you can choose from to play. Yes, I am the type of woman who picks girl characters to play but that’s because I strongly believe in representation and that if I can master a female character, I feel empowered.

What other fandoms are you into?

-Some of the other fandoms I’m into that I haven’t yet mentioned are Supernatural, Rick and Morty, Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead and Fear the Walking Dead, Arrow, The Flash, Supergirl, and Star Wars.

As a proud Puerto Rican, do you have any thoughts about representation, or the lack thereof, when it comes to Latinos in geek culture?

I absolutely wish there was a stronger Latinx presence in geek culture. I have loved the diversity I see in Riverdale with the Lodge family but wish that the representation of the Latinx community wasn’t just thin men and women. I’d personally love to see members of the Latinx community added to Marvel and superhero films because most Latinx are represented in films as criminals in gangs or drug dealers.

Puerto Ricans are especially proud of who we are as a people and, during times like these when the island is still without power in most places, having a Puerto Rican superhero who saves the day could be just the type of hope and encouragement children on the island need.

Black Panther was such a wonderful example of how members of minority groups have been craving to see themselves represented in film and TV roles outside of the awful stereotypes that were placed upon them. I think it’s time that we stop giving these degrading roles to minorities and instead lift them up for the representation they deserve.

Name your five favorite fashion items in your closet right now.

My Hot Topic Southside Serpents Leather Jacket.

My Sailor Venus Headband from Universal Studios Japan Sailor Moon experience.

My Pinup Girl Clothing Jenny Dress in Snow White Print.

My extensive collection of Minnie Mouse Ear Headbands.

My Hogwarts school uniform skirt from Hot Topic.

If your wildest dreams came true, what would your modeling career look like?

My career would include more geek culture clothing designed by me as well as working with top geek media outlets on the importance of body positivity and size inclusivity in comics and geek culture. I would be modeling online for top geek brands like Her Universe, Hot Topic and Torrid.

What’s left on your geek bucket list?

After crossing San Diego Comic-Con off my list this year, my next major bucket list item would be to attend several other popular geek conventions all over the world. I also have a few cosplays I’d like to work on in preparation for those cons, like Faith Herbert of Valiant Entertainment, who is the first plus-size superhero. I’d love to get to visit the set of some of my favorite CW shows, like Riverdale, Supernatural, and Arrow.

The beauty of my bucket list is that it’s a never-ending list of trying new things. Every time I think I’ve crossed something off, several more things takes its place.

The geeky bags you’re looking for are Sent From Mars

Some women lust after handbags by Coach, Louis Vuitton, Gucci, or Chanel.

But if you’re a geek, you’re probably saving your pennies so you can acquire an original Mari Cole.

Mari’s first endeavors into geek fashion design were inspired by her late, beloved brother Ray and his requests for custom pop culture-themed Halloween costumes. A student of San Francisco’s Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising, she gained experience working for major retailers before deciding she’d rather do her own thing.

She launched an Etsy shop featuring intricate and playful geeky handbags and has since branched out into partnering with manufacturers, as well as offering other products, including leggings and pins. In a playful nod to her name, she titled the business Sent From Mars

Drawing inspiration from fandoms like Star Wars, Harry Potter, Back to the Future, and Super Mario Bros., as well as a love of glitter and sparkle, Mari creates extraordinary high-end statement pieces that offer the fun, nostalgic wish fulfillment geeks crave.

If you’ve been looking for that special accessory that will take your geek style to the next level, your search is over. 

Your accessories and apparel business, Sent From Mars, specializes in custom and limited-edition pop culture-themed handbags, as well as enamel pins, leggings, and stickers. Where do you draw inspiration for your designs?

The majority of my inspiration comes from movies, shows and video games. Especially anything with nostalgia that brings about a good memory or feeling. And sometimes it comes from a resourceful point of view, looking at my supplies and thinking of what I can make with what’s in front of me.

Your creations are imaginative, playful, elaborate, and textured. Can you tell me a little bit about the process that goes into designing a bag?

I have made a LOT of bags now, so my process has gotten pretty streamlined. I have a basic shape I work within and I start each design with a little quick sketch which I transfer to a life-size version where I can see what is actually possible. Then I like to take a look at different fabrics and trims that I can add. I love mixing textures and a variety of fabrics to make unique pieces.

You describe yourself as a “designer, maker, illustrator.” How does the illustrator role apply to what you do?

I would say I am actually an illustrator first since I’ve been drawing since I was a kid. I use that skill in every bag to create the designs and patterns. This year, I’ve added leggings, pins and printed bags, and it’s been really fun to finally do more illustration work and turn them into actual products.

Would it be accurate to say your sewing machine is one of the most valuable tools of your trade?

Definitely, I’d be lost without it!

It’s plain to see you have a love of glitter and sparkle. Where does this come from?

Great question! Honestly, sparkly things just make me happy. They are just fun to look at and I’ve always loved them!

I love the name Sent From Mars. Is it a play on your name? How did you come up with that?

It is! When I started my shop, I knew I didn’t want to have my actual name on my products so the “Mars” in Sent From Mars is a little nod to it but I like that it really sounds like Mars the planet.

Mari’s brother, Ray, in a Rufio costume she designed for him to wear for Halloween.

What’s your geek origin story? Why did you decide to focus on the geek side of fashion?

This one wasn’t so obvious to me and I can only tell when I look back at how things came about. And it really started from making Halloween costumes for my younger brother, Ray. We always watched movies together, and would talk about projects we’d like to create from them. And Halloween was always our favorite time of year. He wanted movie quality costumes and that’s where I came in.

The first one I really put my all into was a Joker costume from The Dark Knight. Then a Rufio costume which I turned into a tutorial on the website Instructables. Those costumes and that tutorial are what led me into making by first “geeky” bag inspired by Han Solo. And what’s funny is, I didn’t know that “geek” was a thing. I was just making something I liked from a movie I loved. (Ray) passed away in 2016 from a brain tumor but he’s still with me every day, inspiring everything I make.

What specifically appeals to you about creating handbags?

I wear a bag every day, and I know I’m not the only one so I like that I can design something fun that gets a lot of use.

What are some of your favorite products that you’ve created so far?

That’s tough since they are all special to me but I love the quirky ones, like my Spunky inspired bag (from Rocko’s Modern Life) and the two Back to the Future-inspired bags.

I read that you studied at the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising. Tell me more about your fashion background.

Yep! I went to FIDM in San Francisco straight out of high school. While I was there, I felt like I really honed in on what I wanted to do as a career, design.

You got your start in the industry working for a couple of major retailers. What did you learn from that experience?

I live two hours out of San Francisco so I was lucky to be close to design work which isn’t always easy to find if you’re looking for a 9 to 5 job. Those experiences taught me a lot but the big thing I took away was that I wanted to design things for myself and make things I was really truly passionate about.

Why did you decide to strike out on your own?

There really isn’t anything as fulfilling as doing work you’re proud of and passionate about. That really drove me to later start my shop. I saw a lot of people running stores on Etsy and just thought if they could do it, why not me?

Mari with her first batch of manufactured bags for Sent From Mars.

Sent From Mars began as an Etsy shop and you’ve since branched out to partner with manufacturers. Tell me about the evolution of the business.

I started my Etsy shop only selling handmade pieces. I loved what I was able to create but it wasn’t scalable, there are only so many bags I can make on my own in a given month. It had been a dream of mine for several years to get products manufactured, even before I actually started my shop.

Through social media I’ve been able to connect with a lot of likeminded people and shop owners and was fortunate to have gotten a referral to my first manufacturer that way. I’ve only manufactured a few pieces so far and am still figuring this part out but I’m glad to be on the right path.

What’s been most challenging about running your own business?

For me it has been consistency and planning ahead. When you design for fun you can create as you please but to make it a business you really need clear goals and to look forward at what you’re trying to achieve.

What do you enjoy most about it?

I love the actual design part. Sitting down and planning out new products, getting inspired and creating.

Since your bags are custom-made and limited edition, they’re priced as any good investment piece would be. How would you describe your customer demographic?

When I design pieces, I really start out by making them for myself, so I would say my customer is someone who cares about the details and wants a quality piece.

Mari’s custom Marty McFly dress with Back to the Future-inspired accessories, which she designed to wear to the Geekie Awards.

You’ve made some amazing custom commissions and your bags have been featured at special events and on red carpets. What have been some of the most memorable Sent From Mars product appearances?

Well my most memorable was actually my own when I designed myself a custom Marty McFly dress for the Geekie Awards in 2015. I made a hoverboard clutch and DeLorean earrings to match and it was such a fun outfit to wear!

ThinkGeek mascot Timmy in a Hellboy costume designed by Mari Cole with one of her Hellboy handbags.

You made some costumes for ThinkGeek mascot Timmy that were worn by the little monkey at San Diego Comic-Con. Tell me more about that.

I’ve been a fan of ThinkGeek for years after discovering them one Christmas and getting the absolute best stocking stuffers for my family. I saw that they were recruiting designers to make Timmy costumes and just thought it looked fun, so I applied and was able to make two costumes for him, a Bowser and a Hellboy, two of my favorites.

Many of your products are inspired by Star Wars. What’s your earliest memory of George Lucas’ franchise?

Definitely my brother buying a limited edition set of the original trilogy on VHS at Blockbuster. I remember they came in gold sleeves and that’s the first time I can remember really watching them.

What do you love about the galaxy far, far away?

I really love the characters and the imagery has always inspired me. I also always love a good hero/villain story and this is one of the best!

You also create a lot of Harry Potter-inspired designs. You seem to have a fixation with Hedwig and the Niffler from “Fantastic Beasts.” Do you have a soft spot for magical creatures?

Oh, most definitely! My favorite characters always seem to be creatures, probably since in real life I’m a huge animal lover.

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

I saw the movies when they first came out in theaters and loved them. I’ve always loved magic and the story captivated me.

What’s your Hogwarts house?

Gryffindor! First by choice and then by Pottermore.

Mari visits Platform 9 3/4 with one of her Hedwig bags.

What are some of your other personal fandoms?

Anything Super Mario, specifically Yoshi. Back to the Future and also The 10th Kingdom.

You’ve said that with each of your designs you like to try something new or challenge yourself when it comes to honing your skills. Why is that important to you?

I’m motivated by a challenge. I find that to be the most rewarding.

You’re mom to an adorable little girl. She seems to have inspired a fair amount of personal projects. Can you tell me about some of those?

One was for her actual announcement. I wanted to share the news in a way that related to my shop so I used her ultrasound photo to make a custom bag. It still sits by my desk and was a great way to capture that moment. Her first Halloween costume was also really fun to make. I made her a pink Yoshi complete with a stuffed tail. And right now I’m working on her first birthday outfit which will be a fun custom Yoshi print onesie!

The bag Mari made for her daughter’s birth announcement, using an ultrasound photo.

Geeky bags of all kinds seem to be really in right now. Why do you think consumers have latched onto this trend?

I would say part of the attraction is that a bag is a really fun way to wear something you’re into, and can be the only piece you include in your outfit which makes it really easy to wear and a product you get a lot of use out of.

What are your future plans or dreams for Sent From Mars?

I’d like to offer a full line of clothing and accessories in the future and am working towards releasing collections rather than just one design at a time.

What’s on your to-make bucket list?

Loads of personal projects that I don’t usually have time for, such as custom Halloween decorations for my house! I’ve always wanted to go all out decorating it in a Super Mario castle theme!

What you do you personally look for in a handbag?

It’s been years since I’ve bought a handbag but when I make them I look for inspiration in something that makes me happy, usually something that makes me laugh or has a good memory tied to it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Black Widow fan art by Irene Flores.

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

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

Did you begin making art at a young age?

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

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

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

What most appealed to you about these two art forms?

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

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

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

Art from Dead Endings by Irene Flores.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do you enjoy teaching budding artists through this series?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Art from Dead Endings by Irene Flores.

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

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

Can you tell me about your work with Marvel?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final Fantasy 6 fan art by Irene Flores.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are some of your other fandoms?

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

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

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

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

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

What’s your caffeine delivery system of choice?

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

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

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

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

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

How are things going with the Monte Cristo?

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

 

The Badass Ladies of Summer return with a vengeance

Image result for thandie newton solo

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

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

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

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

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

Image result for emily blunt a quiet place

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

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

Image result for okoye infinity war

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image result for enfys nest unmasked

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

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

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

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

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

Image result for domino deadpool

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

Image result for elastigirl incredibles 2

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

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

Image result for evangeline lilly antman and the wasp

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

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

Image result for rebecca ferguson mission impossible fallout

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Did you show artistic inclinations as a child?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who and what are some of your biggest artistic influences?

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

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

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

What materials do you use when you do storyboards?

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

What about for illustration?

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

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

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

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

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

Art from the comic book series ROLT.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What appeals to you about the comic book medium?

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

Why did you decide to self-publish?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Pumpkin Spice Babies” by Jeanine-Jonee Keith.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have you learned anything from the kids?

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

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

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

Art from Lastrex Labs.

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are some of your favorite horror films?

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

You also watch a lot of cartoons. Which ones?

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

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

What appeals to you about animation?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Image result for star wars episode ix cast

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image result for margot robbie harley quinn movie

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image result for eisner awards liu

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

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

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

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

Image result for jodie whittaker san diego comic con

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

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

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

Image result for clone wars saved san diego comic con

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

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

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

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

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