Recent comic book convert launches Femme Power site as invaluable resource for women

Whether you’re a woman who’s only recently found an entry point into the world of comics, a longtime comic book enthusiast looking for a thoughtful, diverse, empowering community of like-minded female fans, or fall somewhere in between, Femme Power Comix is an invaluable resource for discovering what you want to read next.

The website and its accompanying Instagram account offer an invigorating dose of feminism and girl power to rookie and veteran readers alike, serving up recommendations, news, and the latest weekly woman-centered releases while celebrating diversity within the industry.

The Femme Power Comix slogan is “fictional femmes and real life feminists fighting for love and justice for all, which you have to admit is pretty inspiring.

You’d never guess from the voluminous amount of knowledge, insight, and comic book savvy on display that Femme Power Comix creator Miranda Nordell is a relative newbie to the genre.

Miranda was drawn to comics after the Netflix series Jessica Jones helped her confront her PTSD. Soon, flawed comic book heroines, including She-Hulk and Batwoman, became something of a fictional support group to her. While searching for a forum in which she could express her newfound passion and find solidarity and similar perspectives to her own, she realized such a thing didn’t exist. So she decided to create it.

After she and her husband moved to a new apartment in San Francisco and discovered they were in walking distance of the local comic book shop, the store became Miranda’s “happy place.”

Let’s join her there, at least in spirit, as she shares her thoughts about the empowering potential of comics, her special connection to Batwoman, why teen heroes are her favorite, Comicsgate, Squirrel Girl and empathy, and why “adult discoverers” might be more open to change.

Subscribe to Femme Power Comix here and follow on Instagram here.

You’re the creator of the website Femme Power Comix, which celebrates diverse, woman-centered stories in comics and culture. It’s a great resource for both new and established comic book readers who are looking for recommendations and news. How did you get the idea for this project?

When I started getting really in to comics, I quickly read through many of the characters I knew from pop culture (Wonder Woman, Supergirl, Batgirl, etc.) and would search the web for recommendations. I wanted to find pages with people like me who loved comics like I did; I wanted to be affirmed that I wasn’t alone. And I would read comic books news sites and reviews and swim in an online sea of male reviewers who looked at comics through a male perspective.

It took some deep searching to find even one or two other focused forums dedicated to women and comic books, and they generally had dozens of contributors and thusly dozens of voices and required ongoing work to hope I came across one that felt reflective of mine. Many of the social media platforms had pages focused on one particular character, the work of one artist, etc.

I wanted to read about upcoming feminist comics, I wanted to hear other people’s takes on how comics were intersecting with current events, politics and social justice, I wanted to find a place that felt approachable and user-friendly for someone new to the world of fandoms, like me. After about a year of feeling like I couldn’t find this place, I decided to try creating it myself!

Why did you decide to focus specifically on feminist stories and women in comics and pop culture?

This one was a bit of a stumper for me because I can’t remember thinking about any other options. Many fields (let’s be honest, much of society) are designed by and filled with men. Comics in particular appears to be heavily male dominated. It’s one thing for spaces to simply have the interest of more men, and another to outwardly prevent women from being successful. Comics has had many controversies to this effect, most recently Comicsgate.

Being a woman and connecting with female characters and female creatives in the field through comic books has been hugely empowering for me. I want other folks to know comics that same way, not by things like Comicsgate. It felt important to have a page showcasing the kickass things women are doing and hopefully have other women and femme folks feel a connection as well.

Tell me a little about the kind of work, research, and creativity that goes into running femmepowercomix.com and its social media accounts. 

Femme Power Comix still feels largely in its infancy, having started two months ago on Instagram and the website a few weeks later. Many of the posts reflect things I’m currently reading or excited to read, watch, attend, etc. I spend much of my day enmeshed in or thinking about comic books, so it often feels more like a friend sharing recommendations.

I hope it feels that way at least a little bit to folks who interact with the page. I feel like I’m just starting to get a better handle on how to plan and curate content! Some of our things, like our #SquirrelGirlSunday posts, were discovered accidentally! I love Squirrel Girl and went to share a post on a Sunday and voila! A new hashtag was found and we have made it a mini recurring series ever since.

You began getting into comic books in earnest about two years ago. This is fascinating to me because I have a similar story. You mentioned that you became interested in the medium after you were diagnosed with PTSD. What about that experience drew you to comics?

The first season of Jessica Jones really felt life changing. She’s obviously brilliant but also spends much of her time drunk and belligerent. At the point when I was watching it, I didn’t have any particular diagnosis but it was following a traumatic event and I was skipping work, ignoring messages from my friends and family, and basically drinking myself to sleep every night. It was a good “oh shit” moment to see how that could play out long term, years of pushing people away and drinking away any small sums of money you make.

I hadn’t yet been diagnosed with PTSD, but I related to the things she was experiencing, like the triggers and sudden bouts of panic. I felt like that could maybe describe me too. Once I was able to engage in care and discover I did in fact have that diagnosis, it was amazing to realize what role Jessica Jones had played in getting me in to care.

I started to read her comic books, and just discovered what felt like a support group. One that helped me be reflective but didn’t pressure me to share my own story or judge me for what else was going on in my life. I started searching for other characters with similar stories, and quickly started reading She-Hulk. In Mariko Tamaki’s brilliant recent take on the character, She-Hulk was able to explore her PTSD.

There’s a scene where she’s having a panic attack and recalls a nurse telling her to watch cooking videos to help her move her focus on to something more innocuous. In Jessica Jones, she would recite the names of the streets she grew up on to help herself feel present and in control. Now I had this amazing network of women sharing tips for me, ones I found worked for me too. I never expected to discover this medium in a way that allowed me to recognize and find my voice.

Why do you think women have a need for flawed, but strong heroes to relate to and admire?

Women deserve to have characters that reflect them and that give them hope. After I was diagnosed with PTSD, I needed to not feel broken. Reading characters that were experiencing some of the same things and could quite literally save the day was hugely empowering for me. It was an important reminder that it could be a part of me without inhibiting what I could be or contribute. Men have had these types of characters for generations, often with dozens to choose from. Women deserve the same.

You said that you have felt “empowered” through comic books and want others to feel the same way. In what way can comic books empower women?

I think this really goes back to seeing strong and flawed heroes. Knowing that life can be complicated and overwhelming and you can still save the day. Saving the day is relative for everyone. Maybe that day your save was getting all your tasks done at work, or managing to make a delicious dinner and help your kiddos with their homework. You get to define what saving the day is and remember that experiencing a trauma can make it more challenging, but it doesn’t have to be impossible.

As comics diversify, I also think it’s hugely empowering to see more stories and voices reflected. I love that Kamala Khan is Ms. Marvel, a young Pakistani American living in New Jersey. Our heroes come from homes and families and communities that look just like ours. We should always believe there is a hero inside us too.

Do you feel there was anything that hindered you from enjoying comics earlier in life, or was it just something that wasn’t on your radar? 

My older brother read comics when I was younger, and I remember going with him once or twice to our town’s singular comic shop. The “girl” section was small, and the only comic I remember reading was Betty and Veronica. I have a different appreciation for the characters as an adult, but in the early ‘90s, all I remember was the love triangle bickering, and it didn’t much appeal to me.

I rarely throughout my life had comics in my sphere of influence. I remember a few folks who were passionately devoted to the early MCU, but the characters were basically all white men and it felt like that’s the audience they were hoping for so I never gave it much thought.

Tell me about some of the baby steps you took at the beginning of your journey into the world of comics. Where did you buy your books? What titles did you read? Who helped you find what you wanted to read? 

In May 2016, we moved in to a new apartment in San Francisco, which upon exploring our new neighborhood we discovered we were located two blocks from a comic book store. We popped in just for fun after I had developed a recent obsession with the first season of Netflix’s Jessica Jones. The shelves were lined with the predictable comic greats like Batman, Iron Man, etc., but also dozens and dozens of things I had never heard of.

I asked the guy behind the desk what he could recommend starring “strong women” and he pointed me towards the first trade paperback of Paper Girls. My husband was pointed towards the first trade paperback of Saga, and between those two we were quickly hooked.

You’ve said comic book stores are your “happy place.” What do you love about them?

The simplest answer is that they are filled with comics, and I would happily spend days sitting and reading and connecting with literary friends. I also truly believe that comics are magic, and being in a place that brings together a group of people who firmly believe in and experience that magic can’t be anything but magical!

You mentioned that you find it “interesting to talk with folks who have been lifetime readers vs. adult discoverers.” You said, “It often feels like the appreciation is just as deep but the way we interact with the medium or the things we’re looking for may be different.” Would you elaborate on that?

I think this could likely be said about many mediums, but it often feels like for lifetime readers there is a sense of ownership. To me, it feels more like a security blanket vs. a good friend. The lifetime reader has a heap of memories from a formative time entangled in the lives of these characters. When the stories are updated or changed, folks often express feeling a violation of those memories.

For new readers, we are able to appreciate the story in this time. We can admire the characters and feel connected to them but maybe not take it as personally if the character evolves or changes. Just like a friend telling us about a huge change in their life, we can be skeptical but hopefully ultimately supportive.

For someone who only recently got serious about comics, you certainly seem to have a voluminous knowledge. How did you become such an authority on the subject?

Reading, reading, reading! Once I started reading comics, I found I couldn’t stop. The number and diversity of stories means I can just keep bouncing from one story to the next without getting bored or burned out. I’ve also spent a lot of time asking questions from other comic book readers I respect.

Your favorite Marvel characters include Ms. Marvel, Captain Marvel, Moon Girl, Squirrel Girl, She-Hulk and Hellcat. What’s special to you about these heroes?

It’s pretty easy to notice many of these are teen heroes. I have always been passionate about adolescent development, working in the field for the last ten years. Developing powers and feeling challenged to be connected to something larger than yourself is such a great, if not particularly subtle, metaphor for adolescence that the two types of stories meld so perfectly together. I also think teen stories often get to be more “fun.”

Adult stories often require the hero to face their trauma, hero responsibilities and “normal” adult tasks. Teen heroes get to spend some time on silly hijinks. Adult hero stories tend to be more focused on good vs. evil, where younger heroes, Ms. Marvel and Squirrel Girl for example, tend to look at themselves vs. a problem, which may mean teaming up with the “villain.” Squirrel Girl in particular often leads with empathy in a way that sets an amazing example for readers.

Your DC favorites include Batwoman, Batgirl, Supergirl, and Wonder Woman. Why do these superheroines stand out to you?

Being both queer and Jewish, I have to admit I connect with Batwoman the most. Perhaps oddly my first exposure to Batwoman was through DC Bombshells, where there is a very strong storyline following Batwoman’s Judaism during World War II. I felt deeply connected to her own struggle in defining her faith through a trying time.

Batgirl and Supergirl are also teen heroes and reflect a lot of the same sentiments I shared above.

Are you excited that an increasing number of these heroines are being featured in film and television?

Absolutely! Comic books are unfortunately not as accessible a medium, and television and film allows for a lower barrier to entry for audiences to discover and fall in love with these characters. My only disappointment is that these do not seem to translate into an increased demand for the comic books in which these characters star.

What are your thoughts on the new Captain Marvel movie?

I am exceptionally excited for the new Captain Marvel movie! Not only is Carol Danvers an amazing character that has long deserved her own film, but this represents so much to so many people. The recent Captain Marvel comics were written by amazing women and some of the most vocal, feminist talent in the comic biz, and to elevate those voices is a great sign.6

This is also the first film from the Marvel Cinematic Universe to star a female hero. The MCU has millions of fans around the world and this says to them that women’s stories matter. I wish it didn’t need to be said, but that’s where we are and I thankful they are saying it.

What about the potential Batwoman series starring Ruby Rose?

I think this expresses a similar notion. More female heroes in television and film are important and tell people that their stories are worthy. The fact that Batwoman is also Jewish and a lesbian is that much more of an elevation. We live in a world that politically tells all three of those marginalized groups (women, Jews, and queer folks) that they are less than. Every opportunity to push against that is important.

You work in HIV Prevention. Do your pop cultural interests at all intersect with or inform your career, or vice versa?

Now that I’m more familiar with the nerd zeitgeist and comic book nomenclature I hear my patients and people out in the world mention things and it creates instant connections. Getting to forget about the world and spend a few minutes talking about my favorite comics with patients is an enormously helpful way to build rapport. It also reminds me of the powerful history of using zines for health promotion. We have been able to get folks in the community involved to make things like zines about needle exchanges. It’s important for the work we do to be enmeshed in the community.

One of your other passions is geek fashion. How did you become interested in that? What do you enjoy about it?

I have always loved fashion. Since at least first grade, I can remember picking out my own clothes for school and finding that to be my most natural form of self-expression and creativity. As I started to get more into fandoms, I wanted ways to connect with other fans without necessarily just wearing a graphic tee. It’s been great to explore things like Disneybounding, casual cosplay, and fashions from places like Her Universe, that allow me to balance my high femme sense of fashion with nerdtastic fandoms.

If I’m not mistaken, you’ve even done some modeling! Tell me about that.

Wow! That’s true! I really try to support local, small businesses, and I’m lucky that there are many in the Bay Area. A new clothing company called And Comfort happened to find me on Instagram, and we started chatting and I really loved their fashions and goals. They shared that they liked my esthetic and asked if I would be interested in fit testing their new styles. This then morphed into modeling!

The photos were just released in mid-September and it is very funny to see myself this way. Many times in my life I have been explicitly told or made to feel like I did not have ownership over my own body nor did I deserve to take up the space I do, so posing in a clothing campaign certainly felt surreal.

When it comes to fandoms, you’re also into animation, including Bob’s Burgers, Gravity Falls, and Steven Universe. What do you enjoy about those series?

Animation is an awesome media all its own to reflect the “real” world in a more fun and fantastical way. Steven Universe is shockingly astute for a children’s show! Both Bob’s Burgers and Steven Universe incorporate music, which adds another level of creativity. Ultimately all three of these programs have amazing female characters. The Crystal Gems, Mabel Pine, and Tina and Louise Belcher are all characters that break stereotypes, that are creative and quirky and strong and smart and are important additions to the world of beloved animated characters.

Do you collect anything? 

Clothing and comics are high on my list! I’ve started to collect things that reflect my favorite characters, so I now have several figurines and fan art pieces of Batgirl, Batwoman, BoJack Horseman, She-Hulk and Lisa Simpson.

One of the aims of Femme Power Comix is to celebrate diversity. Do you think the industry is headed in the right direction when it comes to diversity?

I think parts of the community are. It amazes me that people fight against this diversity and get upset about existing stories updating to better reflect our world, or new stories being added. The reality is for so long non-white, male, heterosexual voices were the only ones showcased and an enormous collection of folks were made to feel as other (not even speaking to how ironic that is considering that is the consistent theme of comics). One of our goals is to consistently showcase these voices and make sure they’re not drowned out.

Do you have any opinions about Comicsgate and some of the other recent backlashes against diversity?

Every time I hear Comicsgate, I have to try not to roll my eyes too hard. The sad reality is that the comic book industry cannot continue to survive gatekeeping. The world is changing and comics need to adapt. If the goal is to provide stories that reflect the reader, to give hope to anyone that they too have a hero inside them, then they need to reflect the diverse population that is reading them. They need to open the door to new readers so that the industry can grow, feature new and diverse talent, and continue that system.

What are your ultimate hopes or dreams for the future of Femme Power Comix?

I want to create a respected space where people go for recommendations and opinions. Ultimately, I hope to expand and grow enough to create a space that reflects the importance of women and diverse stories in the comic industry and related culture.

 

Banned Books Week: What happens when someone comes for your comics, Neil Gaiman, and Harry Potter?

Whenever I hear the phrase “banned books,” I think of Harry Potter.

When I worked as a reporter at a local newspaper, we frequently printed stories about a school board’s periodic attempts to pull J.K. Rowling’s series off library shelves, I suppose because they thought the books would lure unsuspecting students into the practice of witchcraft.

(This line of thinking is something I’ve never understood, and if you ever do figure out how to make the spells of the wizarding world work in the real world, please let me know. I’d mostly like to use them to do dishes and laundry.)

I guess when it comes to books being banished from institutions such as libraries and schools, Harry Potter comes to my mind because the series is one of the most beloved in all of fandom. The wizarding world is so popular among geek folk, virtually everyone can tell you their Hogwarts house, along with firm opinions about which books they love and which movies they don’t.

If naysayers can constantly threaten to erase these seven books, among the best-selling and most adored works of fiction of all time, what other stories could they loudly — or, more often it seems, quietly — relegate to the ash heap of ideas that make some people uncomfortable?

What’s even more disturbing is that Harry Potter is just a drop in the bucket when you consider the long history of banned and challenged books.

The American Library Association defines a challenge to a book as “an attempt to remove or restrict materials based upon the objections of a person or group.” Banning is considered “the removal of those materials.”

Fortunately, there are several organizations standing as a line of defense against this practice, which threatens First Amendment rights, freedom of expression, access to information and ideas and, potentially, the development of empathy and a love of reading in young people.

A coalition of 14 of these groups sponsors the annual Banned Books Week, which was founded in 1982 after what coordinator Betsy Gomez describes as a “sudden surge” in challenges to volumes in schools, bookstores, and libraries.

The annual event celebrates “ideas and the freedom to express and share those ideas,” Gomez said. This year’s installment kicked off yesterday and will continue through Saturday, Sept. 29, with the theme “Banning Books Silences Stories.”

The week unites librarians, booksellers, publishers, journalists, teachers, readers, and creators for activities across the country, online, and in the United Kingdom, including letter writing campaigns, webinars, livestreams, “read outs,” seminars, performances, and talks, Gomez said.

As Banned Books Week Coordinator, Gomez designs and edits a handbook that gives users tools to celebrate the week and “stand up to censorship.” She also helps write articles, monitor social media, and maintain the Banned Books Week website, an excellent resource for anyone who wants to get involved.

“Books are vessels for ideas, and sometimes people are uncomfortable with or don’t agree with those ideas, so they challenge others’ access to them,” Gomez said.

Any type of reading material, from plays to religious texts, can be targeted with challenges and bans, she added.

“Books are challenged over sexual content, profanity, age appropriateness, violence, religious viewpoint, LGBTQ content, political bias, drug and alcohol use, suicide, and much more.”

Gomez said the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom “tracks hundreds of challenges and bans each year, and the actual number is probably much larger because censorship is underreported. Most libraries and schools have challenge policies, and most challenges fail. But challenges that happen in a vacuum — when people and free speech advocates don’t find out about them — more often result in a ban.”

While certain classics, like “To Kill a Mockingbird” or “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” are known for being routinely challenged or banned, geeks who are wondering how censorship might affect them need look no further than the lists of “most challenged” works, recent and past, compiled by the ALA.

The lists include comic books, graphic novels, and a compelling number of tomes geeks hold dear, including “Saga,” the works of Neil Gaiman, “Bone,” the aforementioned Harry Potter books, “His Dark Materials,” “The Giver,” “Brave New World,” “Fahrenheit 451,” “Slaughterhouse-Five,” “The Handmaid’s Tale,” “A Wrinkle in Time,” and the Goosebumps series.

The ALA’s list of Top 10 Challenged Books of 2017 includes the acclaimed graphic novel “Drama,” along with YA novel turned Netflix show “Thirteen Reasons Why,” and Angie Thomas’ “The Hate U Give,” as well as oft-challenged works “The Kite Runner” and “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

Comic books and graphic novels are actually challenged frequently enough that there exists an organization devoted to defending these works and their creators from the threat of censorship. The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund maintains a presence at many comic and fan conventions, so you may have run across their booth at one of these events.

CBLDF Executive Director Charles Brownstein began volunteering with the nonprofit organization in 2000 and now oversees its legal, educational, administrative, and fundraising work. The group’s board of directors includes creators, retailers, publishers, educators, and executives in the comics industry.

“Comics are a powerful, vitally important form of expression, and everyone needs to have the right to access them along with other kinds of expressive content,” Brownstein said.

“Consider how you would feel if someone were to make the decision that something you had an interest in should be banned. Wouldn’t it feel like a violation to be told you weren’t equipped to make that decision for yourself or for your children?”

According to the CBLDF’s website, censorship of comic books can be traced back to the 1940s, when panels were often viewed as a corrupting influence on young people and were burned even as American GIs returned from a war where they witnessed similar behavior by the Nazis.

In the 1950s, the Senate Judiciary Committee investigated comics’ supposed contribution to juvenile delinquency, which led to the infamous era of self-censoring via the Comics Code Authority. Since then, there have been waves of criminal cases involving comic store clerks and retailers. Most recently, manga has become the increasing target of legal controversy.

“These days we see that materials regarding LGBTQ+ issues are getting challenged most frequently, followed by work addressing sexuality more generally,” Brownstein said.

“And let me be clear, we’re talking about mainstream, often award-winning material.”

He cited as recent examples Raina Telgemeier’s “Drama,” which features a gay character and a same-sex kiss “in the context of a middle school theater production”; Mariko and Jillian Tamaki’s “This One Summer,” which describes adolescent talk of sexuality and drug use “with a degree of realness”; and Alison Bechdel’s “Fun Home,” a coming-of-age narrative depicting homosexuality “with a degree of reality.”

Just last week, the CBLDF provided support to a library in Maine, which was targeted, ironically, because of its Banned Books Week display. The display “contained LGBTQ content, which local pastors claimed was detrimental to children and promoted a political agenda,” Brownstein said.

“This stuff happens with alarming frequency.”

When the CBLDF learns of such cases, the organization responds by providing “guidance and counseling behind the scenes, often connecting the affected librarian or teacher with resources to help defend the challenge,” Brownstein said.

The group also provides letters of support “privately and publicly,” sometimes in partnership with coalitions such as the Kids’ Right to Read Project.

“We also create a great deal of preventative resources, including discussion guides, case studies, and presentations to help people better understand the value of graphic novels, the importance of intellectual freedom, and how to protect them both,” Brownstein said.

Elementary school librarian Fawn Kemble recently found herself in need of support from the CBLDF after a colleague voiced concerns about the content of “The Dragonslayer,” the fourth volume of the graphic novel series “Bone.”

“It’s a comic book series by Jeff Smith, an adventure tale that is excellent as a bridge book for students who need low-mid level books of high interest,” Kemble said.

An aid at the school objected to a section of the book depicting a character drinking beer, smoking, and gambling in a pub. She felt the content was inappropriate for elementary school readers.

Kemble said she remembers reading “Bone” with her younger brother and considers it “an important piece” of her childhood.

“I tried to explain to (the aid) the context of the stories, how this character is not glorified nor romanticized, and how valuable this series is for the kids to read, but she wouldn’t budge.”

The aid turned the book in to the school’s vice principal and Kemble requested a meeting with the administrator. While preparing her defense of the graphic novel, she reached out to the CBLDF via Twitter.

She said the group promptly responded, asking for the details of the case, “explaining how they had written letters of support for ‘Bone’ in the past and had created resources regarding its use.”

The group offered to provide her with a letter of support or engage in a phone conversation to provide any needed context. Armed with resources from the group’s website, her knowledge of the books, and other research, Kemble brought her case to the vice principal, who heard her out and promised to respond.

“The next day, the book was back in my box,” Kemble said. The vice principal “stopped by later to thank me for our conversation, saying she appreciated my passion and knowledge. She said she respected my thoughts and agreed the book should stay in circulation in our library.

“I was very happy with the way this particular situation worked out. The resources sent to me by the CBLDF, as well as the case study they had posted on their site, helped me go into my meeting calm, confident, and prepared. Situations like these don’t always work out well.”

For librarians and English teachers, dealing with challenges to books that parents, students, or administrators deem inappropriate or offensive is just part of the job.

Veteran high school English teacher Candice Kelsey can rattle off a list of examples, from the time several parents of 6th graders in her class at a West Hollywood school “united in protest” of “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn,” to conservative Christian families who expressed discomfort with “Catcher in the Rye,” to having to cut “Their Eyes Were Watching God” from her curriculum because of sexual content.

“The first novel I ever taught was ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ in 1998,” she said. “And I was told after we finished it that I would not be teaching it ever again.”

Kelsey has taught at public, Christian, and Jewish schools and said there are typically no policies or procedures in place for such situations.

“I just was advised by my department chair or, when I was the department chair, I had to negotiate the situation myself.”

During her first five years of teaching, Kelsey said she would fight to keep the challenged books in her curriculum, but she hasn’t been as “proactive” in recent years.

“My goals have morphed more into ensuring little to no conflict with parents and administrators in order to be fully engaged with my students,” she said. “My students come before my book choices.”

Still, Kelsey feels limited in her ability to do her job by such instances of censorship.

“As an English teacher who values freedom of creative expression above all, I feel quite hemmed in at times,” she said.

She deals with this by finding “creative ways to bypass the administrators and teach similar voices and stories that are not in their radar as much.”

Kelsey said she thinks most challenges are sparked by “fear.” Administrators may fear controversy, angry phone calls and meetings, or driving potential donors away. Parents may fear their children growing and maturing, or being exposed to “bad” religious theology.

Kemble said she tries to give the parents or colleagues in these situations the benefit of the doubt.

“Even though I passionately love books and believe the children should have access to many of those which are commonly banned, I try to start by reminding myself that the parent or staff member is just trying to protect their child or student. They mean well, so I always listen to their concerns with respect.”

When it comes to reasons why people attempt to ban literary works, Gomez’s assessment is similar to Kemble’s.

“Books are usually challenged with the best of intentions, often motivated by a desire to protect young readers from ‘inappropriate’ content,” she said. “But these people are ultimately trying to take away other readers’ power to decide what books are right for themselves or their children.”

Brownstein agreed that people who challenge works they find offensive often think they’re protecting their children and others.

“People generally don’t think of their calls to remove something as censorship. But it is. … The best solution to these problems is open-mindedness and dialogue. Consider why someone else may value what you don’t and let them make up their own mind. And if you don’t like it, nobody is making you do so! There’s a universe of great material in the library for everybody!”

Aside from infringing on the First Amendment rights of creators and taking away individual readers’ right to choose what they feel is appropriate for them, banning of books can pose other dangers, especially for young people, according to educators like Kemble and Kelsey.

Kemble said evidence suggests that unnecessarily censoring what children read can discourage them from developing healthy reading habits.

“As a child who always read above my grade level, I appreciated my parents allowing me to read a wide range of books in which I was interested. They rarely said no, and that was only in cases where they knew a book would traumatize me. My voracious appetite for reading was never squashed.

“Then I became an educator and saw first-hand the results of children who had been told what books they could and could not read,” to the point that reading became “merely a chore.”

Kemble said she has researched data concerning the affects of challenges and bans.

“I was surprised to see how severely limiting a child’s choice of reading material correlates to them never reading again once out of school.”

Kemble said she is also concerned that censorship can contribute to a lack of empathy in young readers.

“Long-form fiction, in particular, has been shown to increase empathy in children in a way that direct teaching cannot.”

“Think about which stories are banned, say, in the past decade,” Kelsey agreed.

“Usually, they’re the ones with diverse content that stretches out awareness and consciousness — a vital element in producing empathy. The only people who can ban are those with power, really, so it’s typically the powerless whose stories are deemed inappropriate.”

Kelsey’s thesis is supported by trends in literary censorship.

“Literature that includes or addresses diverse audiences — for example, people of color, LGBTQ individuals, those with different religious views — tends to be attacked more frequently,” Gomez said.

So not only can censorship lead to a lack of empathy for the marginalized, it can also become a form of oppression of those same people groups.

“What bothers me most is this: What oppressive message are we sending our young readers, thinkers, and writers about their own creative self-expression when we condition them to fear someone else’s?,” Kelsey said.

“It’s debilitating on such a soul-deep level, I believe. I aim to teach my students to appreciate the power, beauty, pain, ambiguity, and catharsis of writing and reading and using one’s voice. How can I then say, ‘But not this book?’”

If you’re interested in learning more about Banned Books Week or supporting sponsor organizations, here are some ideas:

Visit the Banned Books Week website here to learn more about the issues, find resources, and discover scheduled activities.

Donate or volunteer for one of the sponsors of Banned Books Week, or sign up for their blogs and email lists. You can find them here

Learn more about the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund and find resources here

Follow @cbldf on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram, and share the word about what they’re doing.

Volunteer, sign up for a membership, or donate to CBLDF.

 

Artwork Courtesy of the American Library Association.

Photos: Barnes & Noble, Hulu, Amazon. 

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.

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.

 

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.

 

Superman super fan showcases powerful collection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are some of your favorite or prized items?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What do you enjoy most about blogging?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You have two Superman tattoos. Tell us about them. 

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

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

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

What other fandoms are you into?

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

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

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

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

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

What’s your favorite color of Kryptonite?

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

Who’s your favorite Superman villain?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5 Ways Free Comic Book Day Will Help You Work Through Your ‘Infinity War’ Trauma

SPOILER ALERT: If you still haven’t seen “Avengers: Infinity War” and have managed to dodge spoilers so far, maybe skip this story. It’s got ’em. 

It’s been a week since “Avengers: Infinity War” smashed its way into theaters like a great, green Hulk set on breaking our hearts, along with box office records.

For the love … er, I mean … hate of Thanos, we were not prepared for the emotional rollercoaster of watching our most beloved Marvel superheroes fight their darndest to save the universe only to dissolve into pixelated ashes and cease to exist.

Many of us are still trying to process the feelings of shock, disbelief, and downright grief triggered by the sudden demise of half the population of the MCU, including Gamora, Doctor Strange, Bucky Barnes, Star-Lord, teenage Groot, poor, poor Spidey, and our new favorite, Black Panther. Oh, yes, and Nick Fury. (You did not just kill Samuel L. Jackson, Kevin Feige!)

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Fortunately, there is a glimmer of hope shining through, like Thor appearing out of the sky with flashes of lightning and glowing eyes, clutching Stormbreaker. For today is Free Comic Book Day!

Scheduled annually the first Saturday in May, Free Comic Book Day is the time when participating comic book shops hand out free comic books to anyone who sets foot in their stores. The event was launched in 2002 by a panel of retailers, publishers, suppliers, and Diamond Comic Distributors.

Many shops also organize special activities, including cosplay, signings, gaming and tournaments, kid-friendly fun, demos, raffles, and other surprises, which makes for the ultimate geek day out.

What does the pain, carnage, and devastation of “Infinity War” have to do with Free Comic Book Day, you might ask?

Well, the event is a welcome opportunity for those of us still reeling from the movie to band together and begin the healing process we so desperately need.

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Here are five ways Free Comic Book Day will help you work through your “Infinity War” trauma:

1. Embrace a little retail therapy: The best part of Free Comic Book Day is the free stuff, of course, but nothing lifts the Thanos-shattered spirit like a geeky shopping spree. As a bonus, you’ll be supporting your local comic shop and if it wasn’t for them, we wouldn’t have all these amazing Marvel movies to delight and traumatize us.

So, pick up those new books you’ve been wanting to try, along with some awesome merch (many retailers also sell action figures, collectibles, T-shirts, toys, and other goodies), and spend that cash until you don’t feel like crying anymore.

2. Commiserate with fellow fans: As I mentioned above, Free Comic Book Day is a great excuse to hang out with fellow geeks and comic fans. If your local store is going all out, it often feels like a mini comic-con with a festival atmosphere. If you’re looking for like-minded people to discuss your “Infinity War” questions and theories with, there is no better place or time. Most of the fans assembled for the event are feeling your pain and there’s comfort in knowing you’re not alone.

3. Find clues to where the next movie is going: One way to “move on” from the misery of “Infinity War” is to spend the many months until the fourth, untitled Avengers movie arrives dreaming up theories about where the franchise may be headed. We were already given a tantalizing teaser in the end credits, so you may want to bone up on your Captain Marvel knowledge or explore the origins of dastardly mass murderer Thanos.

Comic book options include The Infinity Saga; Thanos Wins; the Fear Itself run by Matt Fraction and Ed Brubaker; Captain America: Reborn; and Kelly Sue DeConnick’s “In Pursuit of Flight.” If you’re not sure what to read, just ask the shop owner or staff. They’ll be happy to point you in the right direction.

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4. Healing through humor: “Infinity War” went to dark, dark places we don’t typically except to go to in Marvel movies, like genocide, for instance, and that moment when your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man dies in Tony Stark’s arms. (I’m not crying. You’re crying.) Maybe it’s time to step back from all that goth gloom for a while and chill out with some of the lighter, funnier comic book titles available.

Options include Scott Pilgrim, One-Punch Man, Deadpool, Harley Quinn and Power Girl, and The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl Beats Up the Marvel Universe. Your friendly neighborhood comic shop staff will help you find titles that encourage humorous healing.

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5. Remember, superheroes never really die: Scarlet Witch, Mantis, Vision, and our other favorite Marvel heroes may have disintegrated before our eyes, but deep down we know most of them will return, probably in the next Avengers movie. They also live on forever, immortalized in hundreds of different comic book incarnations.

So, if you’re missing Black Panther, maybe pick up one or two of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ excellent stories about Wakanda. Or, if you’re inconsolable about the loss of Doctor Strange, why not check out some of the good Doc’s earliest titles from 1969? Again, if you don’t know what to read, just ask the comic shop staff.

If you’re wondering where you can celebrate Free Comic Book Day, there’s a shop locator on this website. Discover Los Angeles also put together this list of participating shops in L.A.

Now, let’s put a smile back on your face (but not in a creepy Joker kind of way).

 

FemmeDeBloom designer fuses Disney, favorite fandoms with adorable vintage style

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where do you draw your ideas and design inspiration from?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where do you get your love of vintage style from?

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

Melanie Cancino at Dapper Day Expo.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who are some of your favorite superheroes?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Porgs? Yes or no?

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

What was your introduction to Star Wars? 

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

Of all the movies, which one is your favorite?

“Return of the Jedi” forever!

Are you a “Last Jedi” lover or hater?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Favorite Characters: Donald Duck and Belle.

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

Why do you gravitate toward Disney-themed designs?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who do you ‘ship on that show?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are some of your favorite titles?

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

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

Do you have a lot of books in your house?

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

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

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

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

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

What’s left on your geek bucket list?

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

Write a book.

Visit Disney World.

Visit the Hobbit holes in New Zealand.

Go to WonderCon one of these years.

Visit a cat cafe in Japan.

Go on a Disney cruise.

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

Go to Disneyland on May 4th.

Take a tour of Lucasfilm.

Participate in a zombie run.

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

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

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

 

In Praise of Flawed Heroines: Why We Need Jessica Jones

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

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

This is fantastic news for a number of reasons.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The importance of tiny victories like this cannot be understated.

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

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

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

Photos: Marvel, Universal Pictures.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photos courtesy of Hero Within.