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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Hello, my name is Lavender Vroman, and I’m a children’s book junkie.
I’ve always loved this genre of literature with its deceptively simple, fantastical stories and whimsical art that plunges you right back into childhood. After my daughter was born, it just gave me more of an excuse to fill my bookshelves with volumes that remind me of those wondrous days of youth and imagination.
One of my favorite children’s book illustrators also happens to be my sister-in-law. Her name is Mai Kemble, and her artwork is some of the sweetest, most smile-inducing you’ll ever see.
For Christmas, she gifted the family with beautifully personal, unbearably cute animal-themed paintings that will soon be framed and adorning the walls of several homes.
Mai’s artistic journey began at a young age as she shared a world of imagination, manga-reading, and hours drawing with her twin sister, Mei. This close-knit bond blossomed into an education in illustration and a vibrant career resulting in several published children’s books and a variety of freelance art projects.
Of course, Mai’s love of childlike playfulness and fantasy has led to many geeky fascinations, from a passion for classic Disney, Japanese, and stop-motion animation to fandoms including Star Wars, Star Trek, SuperWhoLock, and Harry Potter.
And then there are her obsessions with Adam West’s “Batman” and “Magnum, P.I.” …
You’re definitely going to want to hear about that!
You’re a freelance illustrator who specializes in art for children. What are you currently working on, whether professionally or personally?
My current projects were Christmas-themed paintings for friends and family. I tried to choose animals that I knew each person thought was cute and then add little Christmas ornaments or decorations. Thankfully, these were all finished in time for the holiday.
I am also trying to complete some newer illustrations that are mostly digital, or created in Adobe Photoshop. The last time I was able to create new images for my own portfolio that were not something a client designed was far too long ago.
I decided to take a few images I had sketched for some of these clients and use parts or sketches that were rejected but I still thought would be cute illustrations. I decided to place them on Society6 in hopes some might sell as gifts during the holiday season. I will have to continue to create more illustrations even after the season ends in hopes that I can revive my portfolio.
Did you show artistic inclinations as a child? You have a twin, Mei Stewart. Is it true the two of you kind of existed in your own creative world?
Oh boy, did I ever! I always like to say that I drew as soon as I could hold a crayon. All of my family are excellent at drawing, although the interest was fiercest with myself and twin sister, Mei. I am not exaggerating when I say that our entire childhood consisted of drawing as much as we could.
We enjoyed drawing different characters and passing the sheet of paper between us as we staged the next part of the story … creating the story as we went and long into the night when we could. We were immersed in manga and comics, as well as other cartoons we liked to watch. Most of our early creations were like the modern day fan art/fan fiction, where you take an existing character and make up your own storyline. It helped us practice drawing and was a fun way to refine our skills.
When and why did you decide to pursue illustration as a career?
I walked the halls of the art department at my college and saw the illustration work up on the walls. I also began to go back to story that went along with images like the manga I used to read. I was older though and my interests weren’t exactly the same, though I wanted something that still held that imagination and story I used to love.
I decided to take a class on sequential art because I had heard that the assignments were challenging and also were about story. The professor became one of my personal heroes and showed us children’s books as examples for our assignments. It was a defining moment for me when I realized that this was the exact profession that held all aspects of what I loved about art.
My nephew also was born around this time and I became infatuated with him and all things related to children, now including the books. Illustration in general was interesting, but it was specifically children’s illustration that grabbed at my heart.
What was it about children’s art that appealed to you?
Children’s art is fundamentally bursting with imagination and challenge. Children’s minds are so wonderful because they just soak up everything shown to them and they are so delighted by art and story. You can make your art incredibly realistic or the completely opposite route and have stick figures — it doesn’t matter so long as it matches the story being told and makes a point to the child.
The challenge there is really to decide how best to approach each script or story and really make sure it reaches these children the best way possible. I love all the styles and approaches — the classics to the newer books. However, I think that what can only be found in children’s art is a kind of joy that relates specifically to the fact that you know your audience are children. They become a huge influence on how you approach your assignments and in that way it is unique.
You earned a bachelor of fine arts in illustration at California State University, Long Beach. What was your experience of studying there like?
I have a soft spot in my heart for CSULB. Although I really only liked the two or three years spent in the illustration department, it was like being surrounded by like-minded, mind-boggling talented people. Totally cool. Nothing beats being able to walk into a room and get instant feedback on your work. Nor being able to hang out with people who also get super excited seeing a well-executed illustration or design.
CSULB is also where you met your husband, comic book artist, illustrator, art director, and vlogger Joshua Kemble. What’s it like living with another artist?
Living with another artist is the only way to go if you are an artist. They will understand your deadlines, your weird hang-ups about brushes and paints to the type of lamp bulb you use. Of course, the other side to that is shared space in mostly small spaces is hard … as well as having weird quirky things, like not being able to work if there are certain tunes playing. I also like to have an organized workspace –including the surrounding space — and so seeing a messy desk across from me can make me totally freak out. I’ve learned to cope in that arena, mostly!
Your style is very sweet and whimsical and childlike. How did you develop it?
I believe it cannot help but be a bit manga, no matter how much I try to avoid it. I also had a lot of interest in animation movies, including Disney, so I was taught to make sure everything was very round and full when sketching characters.
I like cute. I like images that are sweet and make people happy. I also really love watercolor and that always invited a kind of brightness to my paintings that I enjoy. Although I am now trying to move away a bit from full and round to invite more flat, shape-based images, as well as other textures with the help of the computer, I still want to stay in the realm of sweet and whimsical.
Who and what are some of your influences?
To narrow it down quite a bit, I would say that Gyo Fujikawa, Mary Blair, Jon Klassen, Maurice Sendak, Tove Jansson, Masashi Kishimoto, Julia Denos, E.B. Goodale, Julie Morstad, and Ezra Jack Keats are the illustrators I spend a lot of time looking at.
For those of us who are unfamiliar with how illustration works, can you describe your process when you sit down to illustrate something?
It really depends on the assignment (book vs. single illustration) and whether it is personal or for a client, but I will try to narrow it down to the things that fall across all situations.
I spend time sketching … almost like brainstorming. I also look at tons and tons of images on the internet if it requires a certain animal or person to make sure I know any details that are important. I might print a sheet with several of these images on one page and pin it over where I draw and paint.
Once I finalize the image, I will transfer the image as best I can, using transfer wax sheets, to watercolor paper. Wax sheets are smooth on one side while the other is just smothered graphite (the stuff pencil lead is made of) so that when you press on the smooth side, it presses graphite onto your watercolor paper. It is hard to use and I feel like I still haven’t nailed down the best way to get my drawings/sketches to my painting sheets.
I spend time cleaning up this drawing and making sure it is perfect in pencil. Then I have to prepare my palette by wetting each color. I will paint all the larger or general spaces before working into the details. This is probably the hardest part as your painting can look pretty crappy during this phase — almost like mid-haircut.
Once all is painted, I might scan it and clean it up in Photoshop before sending the file to whomever or posting it somewhere online.
Where do you find inspiration for the images you create?
Books and movies … memories of stories I love. Children that are in my life. I look at and read a lot of children’s books as well and so I sometimes imagine what I might have done if I were asked to illustrate the story instead.
What materials do you typically use?
I love watercolor, but I also like to use a mechanical pencil for any details or line work. I like using colored pencil on top of watercolor for textures, too. I want to get a bit more mixed media and use fabric pattern or paper textures in my work that I will do on the computer.
You won an illustration contest in 2006 held by the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators. You were also one of their featured artists in 2008. What did it feel like to be honored in this way?
It was a long time ago now, but I was very surprised mostly. I didn’t see myself actually winning things that soon after graduating. I had a good feeling about the illustration when I submitted it, but I thought there certainly would be another that was better. It was very flattering and a great push to do more.
You wrote and illustrated your own adorable book, “The Moon and the Night Sweepers,” which was published as part of a program for college students. It features a character modeled after your nephew and is obviously influenced by “Peter Pan,” “Mary Poppins,” and Japanese animation. Tell me more about that.
This book was supposed to be so much more in my mind’s eye. I really wanted a story that took elements of black and white movies — a mix of Buster Keaton meets Fred Astaire. I wanted it to have funny signs like they have in silent movies and have a sing-song feeling.
However, my lack of knowledge with publishing meant that I didn’t know how much the illustrator did and how much the book designer was supposed to add. I thought that we would be working together on designing these extra elements not just text placement, etc.
However, that being said, it did still capture a lot of what I wanted the story to be about … especially since it did include pages with no text and some dancing and humming. The little boy is, indeed, my nephew at the same age, and the Night Sweeper is actually my Grandpa, who always had an adorable mustache.
I wanted them to come together and dance — tap dance, really — because it was something I loved. Much like the above mentioned “Mary Poppins,” I love musicals, especially ones aimed at children, and I really wanted my story to be that in a new genre. I also saw Maurice Sendak’s “The Night Kitchen” animated and I thought it was brilliant.
You’ve illustrated several other published children’s books, including “I’m So Not Wearing a Dress,” “I Can Speak Bully,” “Polka-dot Fixes Kindergarten,” and “Lou Lou.” What do you enjoy about the process of collaborating with an author on these kind of books?
Working with a book editor vs. the author are two different animals.
The first few were with publishers who had experienced book editors who understood story and pacing and how the pages printed, the page count, where text needed to fit, and were the best people. I could send them different sketches and they had good feedback and a good idea for what might sell as well. It was great fun being able to take these notes and revisit sketches before seeing these images in print.
Working with an author on other books was only harder because so many were unfamiliar with the little details that goes along with publishing books. Their stories and ideas were also precious and so often still evolving so there was a lot more editing than creating. I also didn’t feel like I had as much of a say in what worked because I felt I was more hired to do only exactly what they wanted — very few seemed interested in my influence.
That being said, some were incredibly motivated and passionate, which made it well worth it. You wanted to make something that made them happy and really nailed what they wanted their work to pair with.
You also freelance for a company that features your illustrations on fabric and clothing. What’s that like, seeing your creations on something people will wear?
I never really imaged anyone would print watercolor on fabric, so when I finally saw the clothing, I thought it was so cool. I was sent a sweater with one of my paintings and thought it was very unique and looked awesome. People kept asking where I got the sweater from, too, so I was pretty sure that people didn’t often see paintings on clothing.
What’s freeing about freelance, and what are the challenges of freelance?
Freelance means you are your own boss and the perks of that are being able to say “yes” and “no” when you want, as well as changing your style as you see fit. You decide everything. The challenges are then you must also manage money, scheduling, and be hunting for work. I think freelance along with a stable job is the best route, although there are some that think this will hinder your drive for work — like a crutch and keep you from getting better work.
If we wanted to purchase some of your art, where could we do that?
You’re a fan of animation. I know you like Laika (“Coraline,” “The Boxtrolls,” “Kubo and the Two Strings”), Aardman (“Wallace & Gromit,” “Shaun the Sheep”), and of course Disney. What do you like about this genre?
Well, mostly it is unique. Laika’s stop-motion has a tactile feel, much like hand-painting, that you cannot achieve with digital art … probably why I have avoided learning Photoshop for so long. All the characters are lovable and teach lessons that are worthwhile and not sugarcoated. Laika and Aardman didn’t avoid making the movies because it would be hard, but rather enjoyed making it the hard way … because it was the best way for the stories. I can appreciate that the most.
Disney animation is a mix for me only because the best stuff is, of course, the older movies because you see the drawing … and boy are they drawn well! Also, they are exceptional at background and color — just look at “Sleeping Beauty” or “Alice in Wonderland”! Each movie is specially designed and the drawings and backgrounds are untouchable when it comes to classic Disney.
You’re also very into Japanese animation. What are some of your favorite series, movies, and franchises?
Because I read manga as I grew up and less so now, my favorites are probably a bit dated. Ghibli anything of course has to make the list — who didn’t love “Spirited Away” or “Ponyo”?
Also Naruto (the manga more than the anime, and more Shippuden era), Deathnote (animated series — it is excellent), Saki Hiwatari’s Please Save My Earth (a romantic science fiction … although the manga is very good and probably better than the anime), Samurai Champloo and Cowboy Bebop, and Akira. I grew up watching Dragon Ball and stuff like Ranma 1/2 long before anyone knew about anime.
How did you become interested in this particular cultural art form? What do you love about it?
My mom is Japanese and we were attending Japanese language school every Saturday until we were sophomores in high school. The school had other students who were into manga and anime as well. We all visited the Japanese shopping center near our home, which had a video rental with recordings of Japanese TV shows, including anime, so we watched tons of these videos. We also had a little book store in the same center where we could buy or order manga.
We were interested because we loved the stories. Mei and I always loved the hero vs. the bad guy and all the corny stories that anime seemed to be steeped in. We liked the great friendships and the triumphs from enduring trials. We were very invested in these themes and cared deeply for every character’s tragedies and victories. We were nerds. We couldn’t help it.
As I mentioned, your husband is a comic artist. Are you into comics or comic books?
My love now is mostly children’s picture books, but I do enjoy reading comic books. I just don’t seem to gravitate toward that genre anymore unless someone else hands it to me.
You’re into some seriously geeky stuff. For instance, you are a SuperWhoLock fan. What is it about those series that appeals to you?
I love a series that can take the corny messages and keep it cool. I like a show that can laugh at itself and its fans can laugh along with them. I also like that the shows are all intelligent. You have to follow some pretty fast-paced story arcs and know some history to appreciate the character’s situations.
But most of all, I love the friendships. They are totally saturated with the kind of faithful, self-sacrificing, heroic types of people that I grew up adoring when I was a little girl watching anime, where the good guy always wins. These people are always far from perfect, but their friendships are perfect because they make each other whole. Watching this makes me happy and I can’t get enough of it.
Who’s your Doctor?
Matt Smith, all the way.
You’re also a fan of mysteries in general, including “Columbo” and “Sherlock Holmes.” What do you like about mysteries?
Mysteries are fun because I like to try and solve them before the detective does … I like guessing whodun’it! I also like the quirks of the type of person that has this knack of solving horrible crimes and yet remains lovable and straight-laced. It is fun to watch them deliver their verdicts, see them watch people, and then reveal all that they saw that you didn’t. Fascinating!
Who’s your favorite Holmes?
Jeremy Brett. It is hard to watch anyone else play Sherlock … although I have reasons for any exceptions. Benedict Cumberbatch’s “Sherlock” passes my grade because it is modernized and is well written.
On another important subject, you are probably the world’s biggest “Magnum, P.I.” fan. What are your memories of watching that show? Why does it hold a special place in your heart?
Oh, Magnum … I fell in love with “Magnum, P.I.” because he uses words like “snacky-poo” while eating hot dogs and chill, but is still very intelligent. I began watching this show when my son was still only about a month old and during night feedings, I would watch Netflix. My husband actually showed me the first episode and I thought it was brilliant.
What an oddball storyline to have some mansion (owned by an author because authors can get this rich!) in Hawaii, of all places, with an ex-Navy officer now private investigator … but it works! The friendships between these characters, the silly personalities on the show are all so foreign to television that I see now.
It didn’t seem to pander to a stereotypical show and yet it had stereotypical things about it — like the busty ladies or the flashy car — because the busty lady would sometimes reveal to be the opposite of what you expect, while the flashy car isn’t even owned by Magnum, much to his chagrin. It is hilarious and lovable for these reasons and so much more.
You love Harry Potter. How did you discover J.K. Rowling’s series?
My sister and dad, oddly enough, were reading it before me when the first movie was going to be released in the theater. I finally decided to read the book after seeing the movie on DVD. Once that was rea. I had to read them all and still wish there were more. I cried when it was all over because I simply never wanted it to end.
What’s your Hogwarts house?
You’re one of those rare fans of both Star Wars and Star Trek. Tell me your personal Star Wars saga. How did George Lucas’ franchise change your life?
It’s really sad to me that so many choose to be one or the other when both are so awesome! But, I can talk about Star Wars. My whole family, when I was little, watched the Star Wars trilogy on VHS obsessively.
I loved the idea of the force as well as the defeat of evil. I think that how the Force was described really described the same types of feelings you might feel when contemplating real life. I thought it made a lot of sense and made me want to find out what this world was all about — was there something like the Force in reality? It sure felt like there was … I think it made me think about the meaning of life, really. Sounds over the top, but it really did.
Which incarnation of Star Trek is your favorite and why?
The “Next Generation” is my favorite because of the crew! Although Kirk and Spock’s friendship is hard to beat, the other characters didn’t reach me as much. However, all the episodes and characters on “Next Generation” were less cheesy than the original Star Trek and gave screen time to every crew member. There were threats as big as Nero and Khan with the Borg and Q, and it also had the holodeck! It had a mix of female and male, old and young, alien and human that I think made this series the most rich. And Patrick Stewart.
You also have bonded with your son over the Adam West “Batman” TV series. Tell me about that.
This is so late in the game, but I remembered Josh liked the show … then I bought it as a gift for him. Adam West had also recently passed away when I bought it. We decided it was friendly enough for our 4-year-old and he immediately loved it as well.
It had all the same things I already loved but it was a Batman I never knew, for sure! I had seen Batman portrayed only in dark and serious ways, but this was by far the best. We enjoyed the weird scenarios and gadgets and the straight-faced delivery of “stay in school” type messages to the audience. Good fun. And our son thought Batman was cool because he wore a costume, which made it even more lovable.
Does your family share your love of geek culture? What are some of your shared and individual interests?
Mei and I were the only ones obsessed with anime and all its good-guy heroism. We all seem to like books, as all my family are avid readers of science fiction and fantasy. However, sadly, they do not like to cover their whole house in any merchandise related to these. My husband and my twin are the only other collectors and have statues and posters and clothing related to all our geeky interests.
What are some of your other personal fandoms?
I really like “Anne of Green Gables.” I have read the book many times, watched the series featuring Megan Follows, drawn Anne many times, and fantasize about wearing her clothes. I have a fascination for Victorian houses and love to look at pictures of them. I used to have a folder on my desktop of different ones I had collected off the internet, but sadly had to delete to make room for other things. I also really love looking at doll houses in this style. It probably stems from “Anne of Green Gables,” somewhere down the line, too.
Would you say that being an artist affects the way you consume or view geeky entertainment?
I am not sure if it affects my views because I’m not a snob (an art snob). I like a well-made movie or anytime design is thought-out and used well, but I can like things simply because it made me feel good.
As a woman, is there anything you’d like to see change in the world of fandoms and geek culture?
I would like women to be able to be funny, gross, silly, demanding, and weird as much as possible. I adore a character that doesn’t seem to notice if she’s pretty. I would also like there to be more movies and stories that have the story be totally unrelated to love and have women main characters. I would like there to be card game swindlers, gun toting bad-asses that are solving crimes, etc., and have them all be women that don’t have to be face beautiful. Probably why I love “Bridesmaids” so much.
What’s the next big release (books, movies, TV, etc.) you’re looking forward to?
Maurice Sendak is having a new book out, post-death.
What’s your absolute favorite “Magnum, P.I.” episode?
The Christmas episode when they are stranded on an island that is used for test bombing … the ending is them flying away in TC’s helicopter singing carols while bombs are going off behind them. It’s the best. On a more serious note, there is an episode where Magnum is stuck miles out at sea, treading water, while his friends desperately try to find him.
Dareece Shaw didn’t even know what anime was when she began watching Dragon Ball Z and Sailor Moon after school.
All it took was Netflix and Cartoon Network to get her hooked on the rich stories and artful style of Japanese animation. Now, she’s so serious about it, she keeps a spreadsheet of the shows she plans to watch.
A licensed marriage and family therapist, mother, musician, and writer of fanfiction based on the characters of “Avatar: The Last Airbender,” Dareece isn’t content to limit herself to just one or two fandoms.
She loves Studio Ghibli, manga, Japanese culture in general, DC and Marvel (but mostly Marvel), Star Wars, video games, conventions, comic books, Game of Thrones, and Final Fantasy. And that’s just the short list.
Read on for her thoughts on how psychology and music intersect with geek culture, the social significance of Marvel’s upcoming “Black Panther” movie, what M. Night Shyamalan deserves for his live-action “Last Airbender” film, tips for discovering anime you’ll love, and what it’s like to raise two little future geek girls.
I think you are the first serious anime enthusiast I’ve interviewed for No Man’s Land. Clearly, I need to be acquainted with more anime fans! When and how were you first introduced to the genre?
Wow! Well, I’m so honored and excited to be the first! I hope I represent well.
My first introduction to anime was around middle school, when I would watch Dragon Ball Z and Sailor Moon after school. I didn’t even know I was watching anime at the time. They were just cool Japanese cartoons to me that came on Cartoon Network’s Toonami programming block.
When I hit late high school and early college, I really became acquainted with the genre more and pretty much watched whatever came on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim. From there it was a matter of joining Netflix at its maximum allowable DVD program and binge-watching the series as much as one can when one has to wait for the DVDs to arrive in the mail and be returned. It was a never ending revolving door for me until streaming became a thing. So, I suppose I should be thanking Cartoon Network and Netflix for introducing me to anime.
What do you love about it?
I love the storytelling and artwork most of all. I’ve watched many American cartoons, of course, but I was always pleasantly surprised at how well manga and anime writers could capture human emotion and develop compelling characters and stories by using animation.
Anime is such an important part of Japanese culture, from what I’ve learned. Shows and movies are often used as tools for writers and directors to make social statements or observations about our world. Even the music you hear at the beginning and ending of each episode of an anime was carefully selected from top J-Pop artists in Japan. So, it’s a very big deal there and I see why.
The first time I ever cried watching a cartoon show was while watching an anime. I don’t love watching things that bring up those kinds of emotions, but I can appreciate and respect when it’s done so authentically that my emotional reaction feels natural.
What are some of your absolute favorite anime series and movies?
This is a tough one because I love so many. My all-time favorite anime is Cowboy Bebop, but I also would place Samurai Champloo, Naruto, Fairy Tale, Death Note, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, Dragon Ball Z, and Soul Eater at the top of that list.
As far as movies, the Cowboy Bebop movie was outstanding. Most of the anime movies I’ve seen were based off of series that I enjoyed at one point or another (Naruto, Bleach, Dragon Ball Z, Fullmetal Alchemist, etc.) and so usually the corresponding movies were just as good as the series I was already watching.
What are you currently watching?
Currently, I’m watching, Magi: The Labyrinth of Magic and Your Lie in April. I intend to restart Attack on Titan very soon and there is a fairly new anime I’ve heard great things about called My Hero Academia that I’m extremely interested in checking out. My Netflix list is filled with anime shows I need to watch, but just haven’t started yet. This is always the case with me, but one day I will conquer that list!
Do you also read manga? If so, what titles do you recommend? And how is the reading experience different than what many Americans are used to?
I have read manga in the past but not so much now. It’s primarily a lack of free-time issue. With all of the geeky things I’m into, among the other random hobbies and work and marriage and having two young daughters, there just isn’t enough time anymore for reading manga.
As far as recommendations, I would say start with a favorite anime or one you’re interested in and go from there. Something everyone may not know is that pretty much every anime you’ve ever heard of or seen started out life as a manga. It was likely serialized in a weekly Japanese magazine and updated with new chapters on a regular basis.
Shows like Naruto, Bleach, and One Piece (which most people have heard of, even if they don’t know the genre) started off as weekly manga chapters in a very popular magazine called Shonen Jump and were still being published there even after they became animated. If the manga is successful enough, they’ll adapt it into an anime in Japanese. Then, if it gets even more popular in the West, they’ll have American voice actors dub it in English and that’s typically when it appears on our television screens.
So, if you love Naruto, for example, check out the manga! Much like movies adapted from books in our country, you’ll find that the manga can often have different aspects of characterization or even storylines that end up differing from what they are able to animate.
Regarding differences in reading experiences, the main difference an American would have to contend with regarding manga vs. comic books is the direction you read. Manga are traditionally read right to left rather than left to right like we’re accustomed to.
At first it’s a little strange to be feeling like you’re starting from the end of the book and working backwards, but eventually you get used to it. And although this is a potentially off-putting aspect of reading manga, many manga are now being converted into graphic novels, which read like traditional American comics and graphic novels.
One more difference between comics and manga that I’ve noticed is the communication the author will have with the readers. At the beginning of a new chapter, it is quite common for the creator of the manga to write a little note to the readers about what’s going on in his/her life, giving little insights into the writing or artistic process, and thanking the fans for continuing to support the manga. I really love that the creators do that because it really connects me to the process and the person behind the story.
You’re a big Studio Ghibli fan. Do you remember your first Ghibli film? What do you recall most about it?
I was actually poring over the list of films trying to remember all the ones I’ve seen and when I saw them. I found myself struggling to remember … maybe because it’s been so long since that first experience!
But, I believe the first one I ever saw was Spirited Away. I think the aspect of the film that captured me the most was the imaginative way the supernatural world was depicted. I don’t want to spoil anything for anyone who hasn’t seen it and wants to, but I just love the way the characters were drawn and written.
Also, it contains one of the most iconic scenes in animation, known as the “train scene,” that is simply an outstanding moment in the movie. Please go see that film if you haven’t!
What’s your favorite Ghibli flick?
Ha, I was kind of hoping to not see this question because it feels almost impossible to choose just one Ghibli film as my preferred one. I’ve seen a good portion of them and have not encountered a bad one in the bunch.
But, after much deliberation, I think I’ll have to identify My Neighbor Totoro as my favorite. The story is heartwarming and Totoro himself is just this giant, adorable, fluffy woodland spirit who I would love to have helping me out any day of the week.
And I don’t think I’m alone in loving this film or character, as he’s had a cameo in Toy Story 3 that literally made me scream with joy. There are other references to the movie in pop culture for sure and I always love seeing them because it not only reminds me of the fun I had watching the film, it also reminds me of how well known it is in our country.
Is Hayao Miyazaki an animation god sent down from heaven to walk among us?
Honestly, he just might be. The imagination he has and the outstanding storytelling ability are hard to match in that genre, as far as I’m concerned!
Are you interested in Japanese culture in general? If so, what fascinates you about it?
I am for sure. In college, I became interested in it because many of the Japanese made video games and anime are based around a group of friends in high school who are students by day and heroes by night.
There are so many cultural references in these games that I couldn’t help but be interested in the various festivals they have, the traditional attire, the fact that they attend school six days a week, and the cute bento boxes they carry their lunch in! I’ve been known to have owned a bento box or two myself.
College was also when I was taught about the magical world of sushi and how to use chopsticks, which I thought was the coolest thing ever. Even now, if I come across a Japanese sundry shop, I may just run in and pick up a stationary set or little figurine of a cute, obscure cartoon character. Or, if I run across a local Asian market, I have to pick up some Pocky, which is one of my favorite snacks from Japan!
Do you hope to one day visit Japan?
That would be an amazing opportunity! My husband and I discussed the idea of leaving the girls with family and attending the next summer Olympics which will be held in Tokyo in 2020. But, after a little research, it looked like visiting a country like that during such a huge intercontinental event was not the best idea ever. So, hopefully we can make a visit to Japan happen one day in the future, because my ultimate dream would be to attend an anime expo in Japan. It would literally rock my world!
You were (and maybe still are) a fan of “Avatar: The Last Airbender.” What did you enjoy about that series?
I am not as hardcore of a fan as I used to be, just because it’s been so long since the show first came out and since I first watched it. But it is one of the greatest American made cartoons I have ever seen. What I enjoyed most was how well many of the characters on Team Avatar were developed and I liked the open world concept of them traveling to different nations to ultimately build the team, learn new skills, and save the world.
I also love the universe created by the minds behind the show. The interesting animal species, bending elements, and traditions hearkened back to familiar concepts that exist in our world, but were still tweaked just enough to be enjoyable for their unique setting. I also enjoyed seeing strong, not completely stereotypical main female characters because that just always puts a smile on my face.
Who’s your favorite “Last Airbender” character?
If you had asked me this question back when I first watched it, I would’ve said Katara, hands down. But now, after having watched the series more times than I care to admit and analyzing the characters more, I would have to go with Zuko. His character arc was the most dynamic, in my opinion, and a very heartbreaking yet hopeful journey was created for him. The fact that I had such animosity for him when I first saw him in Book 1 to now stating he’s my favorite character says a lot about how well his character development was.
If you lived in that world, what tribe would you be part of … Air, Earth, Fire, or Water?
Definitely Fire Nation. I’m a city girl who likes warmth and modern conveniences. The Fire Nation had a “big city” feel that I could relate to. And their temperatures and climate match what I would prefer in real life. But, the element of Fire is so interesting with its dichotomy of being able to bring life and death. They did a great job of addressing that in the show and it left a lasting impression on me.
What punishment would you say M. Night Shyamalan deserves for the live-action “Last Airbender” movie?
He deserves to be tied down to a chair in a small windowless room and made to watch “The Movie That Shall Not Be Named” on an endless loop forever. I think that would be a good start, right?
In all seriousness, that movie brings up so much anger and frustration whenever I think about it, not only because it was so poorly done, but primarily because there are so many people in the world who will never know the true beauty of the show. Some people saw that horrible film and now have no interest in watching the cartoon series. That is so very sad and irritating.
As I recall, you used to write some “Last Airbender” fanfiction and it was pretty good, too! Tell me more about that.
Yes, I have written some ATLA fanfiction! The most recent thing I wrote was a modern alternate universe story based on my main ship, Zuko and Katara (aka Zutara). Although their relationship was not canon, I saw so many meaningful and borderline romantic interactions that it was hard for me to miss. Also, I just felt they were a healthier, more balanced match, but that’s a story for another day.
So, in the fanfiction I wrote, I chose to do a modern alternate universe story (or Modern AU, as it’s known in the fanfiction world). That means the original characters were placed in the current culture and time and the plot reflects that. It’s basically a story about Zuko and Katara meeting through their work. Katara is professional dancer and Zuko is a composer who plays the piano. And even with it being out of the original story universe, I still wanted to make small, little references and nods to their elements in the original story, which was fun to do.
The story chronicles their first meeting and the ups and downs they go through as well as some separation and danger before coming to what’s hopefully a nice ending for all. It’s probably the most intensive thing I’ve ever written and actually completed. It’s 28 chapters long and that was after I went through a massive editing, rewriting, and addition process. It was a lot of hard work and I almost quit writing it at least 10 times but I’m glad it’s done, even if it’s not perfect.
Do you still write and/or read any fanfic?
I do, actually. I haven’t read as much as I used to just because I haven’t identified a new fandom to jump completely into. There are several in the running but I’m still waiting until something feels right. But I am writing again.
I decided to do a continuation series of the fanfic I mentioned in the previous question. Instead of it being another full-length fic, which I’m not sure I have in me to do, I decided to do a series of one shots (short stories) that show what happened to the characters in their universe after the events of the previous story.
So, I’m basically just choosing topics and moments I would want to see, like engagements, marriages, possibly children, career development, family struggles, and writing little stories about them. It takes the pressure off of having to develop another fleshed out plot and it allows me to touch on a lot of different topics without having something too big.
You’re also a fan of comic book movies. Do you favor Marvel or DC?
This is an interesting question for me because, as far as characters go, I think both Marvel and DC have interesting superheroes with origin stories that pique my interest. However, if I’m being real, Marvel tends to do major motion pictures (and possibly even television series) better than DC. I guess there are a number of factors but this is the impression I’ve gotten lately.
What have been some of your favorite films in this ever ubiquitous genre?
In no particular order, I really enjoyed the first Avengers film, Wonder Woman, Guardians of the Galaxy volumes one and two, the first Iron Man film, Captain America: Civil War, Doctor Strange, Spiderman: Homecoming, and Thor Ragnarok.
What are your thoughts on the upcoming “Black Panther”?
I am beyond excited about this movie. First off, as a black person, I am so thrilled to see a major superhero film being made with a predominantly black cast and director. I feel it accurately reflects the setting and characters in the comic book and I’m so glad that accuracy was not abandoned in casting. This may very well be the first time I’ve seen a superhero movie of this caliber and budget be done in this way. I had similar feelings about Luke Cage on Netflix and it did not disappoint.
To me, it’s an important step culturally and socially. I am so filled with hope to know that a movie like this was not only considered to be part of the MCU but also was able to transition from an idea to reality. Also, it just looks like a great film from the trailer alone. So, I cannot wait to check it out in theaters next year, hopefully in IMAX!
Did you see the recent “Avengers: Infinity War” trailer? What do you think?
I just loved it. More than the storyline itself, I’m in love with the idea of seeing so many Marvel characters in one movie. Each time a new superhero showed up, I squealed. And I’m most excited for the interaction between the Guardians squad and the rest of the Avengers. I hope this movie turns out to be as epic as it looks!
Are you a comic book reader? If so, how did you get into that and what does that look like in your life right now?
I’m not a huge comic book reader, but I do have a few books on rotation that I’m slowly reading through. It’s mostly DC origin stories right now. I’m reading comics on The Flash, Wonder Woman, and Superman. I hope to expand that list to some Marvel characters soon.
I would say I was first exposed to comic books when I was a kid visiting my uncle for summer vacations. He had a massive comic book collection and my job each week when he would go to the local comic book store and purchase his books for that week was to put them back in their plastic covering after he finished them and make sure they weren’t damaged in the process.
I have always loved to read but for some reason I never got into comic books until now. I’ve even been reading manga much longer.
Were you into geeky things as a child? How did the geek lifestyle begin for you?
I would definitely say I was into geeky things as a child. It probably started with gaming and expanded from there. When my brothers would be playing Nintendo and Sega, I would want to join them instead of playing with my Barbies and Easy Bake Oven. Not to say that I didn’t enjoy playing with my dolls and other girlie toys because I did.
At the same time, I also liked Super Mario Brothers and Mortal Kombat and Ninja Turtles and Transformers. I would say my father and uncle were probably big influences on my becoming interested in gaming, which was my geek gateway activity. My father was a computer engineer and also into games so we always had the latest system in the house.
You’re a licensed marriage and family therapist. This might be a stretch, but have your studies and experience in psychology influenced the way you consume or think about various fandoms and geek culture?
This is not a stretch at all and I’m so glad you asked this question!
I think geek culture, specifically the characters in American and Japanese cartoons and comics are ripe with information for anyone interested in psychology. The main thing that interests me are character origin stories. And pretty much every cartoon superhero or anime protagonist has had basically the most traumatizing childhood one could imagine. That trauma is obviously what spurs most of them to become powerful and protect the innocent as well as fight against evil.
But, also, I enjoy when writers take the time to put in the normal trauma reactions a person would have when having the pasts these characters do. I feel they all should constantly be having flashbacks and nightmares and panic attacks over what they’ve been through and haven’t actually processed. And I would honestly love to do therapy with any one of them. It would be the most challenging yet cool experience ever.
Because of my career field, I constantly find myself analyzing the characters and assigning a feeling or past experience to their current behavior. Consequently, in movies like Iron Man 2, where most people disliked that movie in part due to the “daddy issues” and PTSD stuff, I loved that they showed that side of him. Because real people wouldn’t be able to go through all that he’s gone through and just be okay.
Our culture tends to downplay the importance of mental health and even frowns upon displays of people being vulnerable and showing that they’re struggling. But that is the human condition and I like that it’s becoming more visible in modern media because maybe those will be the first steps to encouraging those of us watching to be more accepting and open to taking emotional wellbeing more seriously.
Okay … soap box moment over! But, yes, psychology affects my ingestion of geek culture and I love when shows and movies intentionally focus on it.
As a woman, is there anything you’d like to see change about the world of fandoms and geek culture?
Definitely. I’m sure what I’m about to say has been beaten to death, but I have to say it again because it’s still an issue. I still get tired of the over-sexualization/objectification of women in geek culture.
In America, you will still see female heroines or characters wearing next to nothing with body proportions that aren’t real or healthy. You will still inexplicably see shots of legs and backsides and busts. Even in a movie like Wonder Woman that has done the best job I’ve seen so far of balancing femininity, strength, heart, compassion, intelligence, and humor in a female superhero character, I still had to deal with focus on her outward appearance and certain body shots that were meant to show her off.
I’m not against acknowledging and showing an attractive woman, but when it becomes gratuitous or doesn’t make any sense within the narrative of the scene, it bothers me. Again, it didn’t really bother me in Wonder Woman because of how well done the movie was overall, but it was still something I noticed.
Anime in general offends worse than American cartoons, to me. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen a scantily clad female character be ogled by male characters to the point that they develop nose bleeds and pass out. Or how many times I’ve seen a male character walking near a gorgeous female character, stumble, and then fall face first into her enormous cleavage. It’s pretty annoying and will usually result in me shutting it off, unless something really amazing begins to develop in the story.
In general, I do think we are getting better stories about women as heroes that aren’t so focused on how sexy they are. But we unfortunately still have a long way to go.
Do your husband and two daughters share your love of geeky things? What are some of your shared and individual interests?
My husband and I definitely do! Our love of geeky things is in part what brought us together all those years ago. He is more well-versed in the comic book, superhero side while I’m more knowledgeable about anime. And we both enjoy sci-fi as well. But we are both open to pretty much anything.
I never would have thought I would get to spend my life with someone who would not only be willing to play video games with me and watch movies and TV shows about geeky things with me but would also enjoy attending conventions with me. It’s a dream come true.
And though my daughters are still young, my older one is definitely showing an interest in the same things we’re interested in. She has yet to see the Star Wars films in their entirety due to her age (she’s 4) but she has seen a few fight scenes and fully embraced the spirit and demeanor of a true Jedi when first given her toy lightsaber. The battle she had with her dad was epic, to say the least!
She also loves superheroes as well. She recognizes many of them, particularly Iron Man because he’s Daddy’s favorite. But she gets excited when she sees Wonder Woman, too, which I love.
Kayla also loves video games and often sees us playing them. She likes to play Tekken with her dad and try to beat up his player. She’s even done the patented “throw the controller when you lose” move all gamers are guilty of doing, so I think she’s well on her way to becoming a true geek one day!
My other daughter, Maya, is only 18 months old, so she has yet to show an affinity for geek culture, but I hope to one day expose her to similar aspects. Maybe we’ll have a true geek family and attend conventions together!
Would you say you are actively raising your daughters to be geeks? If so, in what ways?
I would say I am to a certain extent. Growing up, I fought against what I identified as stereotypical gender expectations related to women. When I was very young, I had Barbies and loved pink and dresses and glitter. But when I reached an age where I realized that seemed to be the only way to define a woman, I didn’t like it. So I went more tomboyish and tried to dress differently almost to place myself as far away as female stereotypes as I could.
When I became an adult, I realized I could both enjoy makeup and clothes while also enjoying geek culture and it was very liberating for me. When my older daughter came along, I found myself battling the idea of things having to be super girly for babies and little girls. Now that she’s 4, she loves Disney princesses and glitter and pink just as much as she loves Star Wars and superheroes and games.
I’ve learned that embracing being a woman is not about fitting into one box or another, but having the freedom to express that womanhood in many ways. So, though I do make conscious choices to expose the girls to things I’m interested in related to geek culture, I also try to not stifle their interests that may not perfectly line up with geek culture as well.
You’re also into Star Wars, of course. Tell me your Star Wars saga. How did it begin for you?
I remember watching Episodes 4, 5, and 6 for the first time in middle school. I’m a big fan of science fiction and space travel in particular, so I was in love with the idea that these heroes got to explore the galaxy, use the force, and defeat enemies using spacecraft with massive guns attached. And I loved the story overall, as well as finding out the family connections between Luke, Leia and Vader. R2-D2 (or R2, as I refer to him) is still one of my favorite characters and Yoda was just that perfect wise presence to balance things out well.
I remember the first time I saw the Ewoks in Return of the Jedi, I thought they were adorable. Specifically, I thought Wicket was the perfect little ball of cuteness … like a large walking teddy bear. I’m not ashamed to say I wanted an Ewok back then. And not a plush version of one … I wanted an actual Ewok to come stay with me and hang out.
But that was how it all started for me. I’ve watched those films many times since and love them even more each time. I couldn’t get as much into Episodes 1-3, which came out later. But I did appreciate learning the origins of Vader’s character and how he ended up entrenched in the dark side of the force. Other than that, I’ve only seen each of those movies once and that is more than enough!
And, of course, I’ve seen the newest releases that have come in the past year. I love them, especially how the movies were filmed in a format reminiscent of the original saga. And Rey is just a beast so it’s hard not to love these new films!
Do you have big plans for “The Last Jedi”?
The fact that we get to see the movie on opening day, even though we both are busy and don’t have readily available babysitting for our kids, is big in and of itself! But, in reality, we’ll just be going to our local theater during the day while our little ones are at school and daycare and watching it. The plans feel big to me because I’m super excited to see it and I love going on dates to see geeky things with my husband.
Porgs. Yes or no?
Well, I do see the appeal of those little guys, but I’ll have to admit that I’m not that into them. Maybe things will change once I’ve seen them in the film so we can circle back to that one later.
What are your other personal fandoms?
I definitely enjoy a good TV show. I have recently fallen for Game of Thrones. I am proud to say I’m fully caught up on the most recent season and am anxiously awaiting the next and final season. By the looks of it, I’ll be waiting a while.
I also am a fan of Supernatural, Grimm, The Flash, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Daredevil. I was watching Arrow for a while but it went from being barely tolerable to intolerable so I had to stop. I would also consider myself a Final Fantasy fangirl because those video games influenced a large portion of my life as a teen, young adult and even now I still play them.
Do you collect anything?
I want to begin collecting figurines more but I don’t have any space to display them yet. I bought a bunch of little Disney Tsum Tsum stackable characters because they are adorable but they are sitting in a grocery bag in the attic at the moment.
I also have my prized possession, which is a Spike Spiegel (main character in my favorite anime Cowboy Bebop) figurine I bought at Comic-Con and got signed by the English voice actor who portrayed him in the anime. I’ll explain more of that story later.
I would like to start collecting Funko Pop figures of my favorite anime, video game, and superhero characters but I promised myself I wouldn’t do that until I have a proper display set up. Here’s hoping for some display cases and floating shelves to work their way into our house soon!
Have you attended any conventions? If so, tell me some of your favorite memories of those experiences.
I have attended my share of conventions. I primarily attend comic and anime conventions. My favorite experience of all was one I mentioned previously pertaining to my favorite anime. I remember my husband and I were at Comic-Con in San Diego. I was about six months pregnant with my first daughter so that was quite the adventure for us!
But we were wandering around the exhibit hall when we came across a table with a man signing some pictures and things. I didn’t even notice the table until my husband called to me and said, “Hey, that’s the guy from your show!”
I took one look at him and almost passed out. I told him it was Stephen Blum, one of the greatest voice actors ever, and that he was the voice of Spike as well as numerous other characters in anime and cartoons. I will not go through his resume here, but do yourself a favor and look him up. You’ll be surprised at the characters you’ve probably heard him portray.
Anyway, I had just bought the Spike Spiegel figurine only moments before and so I ran (or should I say waddled) up to him and started fangirling like nobody’s business. I was talking a mile a minute and telling him how much I loved his work and that I couldn’t believe I got to meet him. He was so nice about everything and signed the box containing my figurine as well as two photo prints. He shook my hand with a big smile and was so gracious even though he must have thought was a crazy person. I regret not getting a picture with him, but I still feel a little giddy when I look at the figurine and remember that moment.
Another non-anime moment from that same convention was when my husband and I got to meet Retta (aka Donna Meagle) from Parks and Recreation. At the time I believe it was approaching its final season.
At the time, we happened to be walking to a panel for Wilfred, another show we used to watch. On the way, Edward spotted her riding in a golf cart to a panel and he flagged her down. She was so nice because she stopped and let us freak out over seeing her and even took a picture with us.
We were embarrassed because at the time we couldn’t remember her real name or her name on the show, but I blame pregnancy brain and us being too star-struck.
And one final anime moment I had was at the first convention I ever want to, which was Anime Vegas in Las Vegas. I went there during my senior year at UNLV and that year they had most of the English voice cast of Dragon Ball Z on hand as well as other notable voice actors. This was the final panel of the convention and the moderator had them all do voices of some of their favorite or well-known characters.
It was such a treat to hear them go down the line and do phrases and voices of these characters that I knew and loved. And because there were so many DBZ folks there, they all started talking in their various voices and I got to hear Goku, Vegeta, Piccolo, Master Roshi, Krillin, Gohan … you name it.
I felt like I was in heaven and it took me right back to those afternoons in middle school when I first discovered anime and looked forward to watching Dragon Ball Z after school. That experience was what set me on the path of attending other conventions in the future.
You’re also a musician who sings and plays the piano. Does your love of music intersect in any way with your nerdier hobbies?
It absolutely does. What a great question!
The various anime and video games I have watched and played all have a strong emphasis on music. I began following various Japanese artists and even buying their albums because I heard a song I loved as an anime intro or ending theme.
And I still have a large collection of Final Fantasy and other RPG game sheet music that I started collecting in high school. I would hear a beautiful piano theme at the start of a game or during a certain sequence and would want to play it myself. So, I would either find the sheet music online or transpose it myself by listening to the song and working it out on the piano until I could play it similarly to the song.
And, my favorite anime holds that position not only because I love the story and characters but also because the music is just so great. It has an awesome jazzy vibe that I fell in love with and I’m pretty sure I bought the soundtrack at some point.
Is there anything else we should know about you (work, life, hobbies, etc.)?
I feel like I’ve said so much already that I can’t really think of anything else to add! But, I do find myself referencing anime and superhero characters when working with my clients. The Hulk is one of the best examples I use when working with kids who have anger management issues. Discussing the complexities of his character and how it relates to their feelings is very helpful.
As far as hobbies, outside of the geeky things, I enjoy crafting activities as well. But literally everything I could say after that would be something related to geek culture so I may as well stop there!
What’s the next big release (movies, TV shows, books, etc.) you’re looking forward to?
I feel like I’ve aged two years since I last saw Game of Thrones, so it will be a huge deal when that show finally returns for its final season. I’m also hoping to see some more seasons of the Marvel television shows on Netflix I’ve already watched (Luke Cage, Jessica Jones, and Daredevil).
Cinematically, of course, I’m excited about The Last Jedi, Infinity War, and Black Panther. And also Pacific Rim … that first one was surprisingly great and I hope they keep it up for the sequel. So, yeah. Next year is going to be outstanding!
Can you offer any tips for those who might be interested in getting into anime but are intimidated, overwhelmed, or just don’t know where to begin?
First off, I would say have a game plan … organize your entertainment. There’s too much out there and if you see something you like but can’t watch or access it immediately, you’ll lose it. So keep track of it and jot the title down somewhere so you can come back to it. I literally have a spreadsheet of all the anime I’ve watched, want to watch, and am currently watching. So, if I find myself in a lull, I can go to that and find something new to check out. You don’t have to go to that extreme, but just keeping a list of titles you would like to see takes the pressure off of your brain to have to remember everything.
Second, figure out what you like. Anime genres are very similar to American cartoon, TV, and film genres. There’s everything from supernatural, samurai, ninja, romantic or fluffy, sports, mystery, medieval, streampunk, gundam, and even psychological thrillers. So if you like supernatural shows or cartoons, then seek out supernatural anime as well.
Also, you can start out with a popular, well-known anime and see what you like or dislike about it and start to adjust from there. Again, I have to plug Netflix here because they have been pretty good at recommending shows for me based off of what I watch. So the more you watch and rate anime on there, the better it gets and guiding you to other similar types of anime you can try. And Netflix has a very robust anime section nowadays, so it’s a win/win.
In addition to that, there are no shortage of YouTube channels and websites devoted to reviewing and talking about anime. So, I would be shocked if you couldn’t find a good place to start from those resources.
And finally, if all else fails, find a friend who is into anime and ask them for recommendations. They may end up liking totally different styles than you and that’s okay, but at least you’ll know what’s out there. I have certain ones I always suggest people watch either because they are my favorites or because they are well liked. But, if your anime friend really knows their stuff, they can also help point you in the right direction to find something you may truly fall in love with.
For example, Fairy Tail has become one I enjoy and I also think it’s a good gateway anime. It has a little bit of everything a person might like about a show and it’s fairly easy to watch. It also has what I consider to be a compelling storyline. Naruto is similar which is why it has become so popular. So those are two I would start someone off with if they were completely clueless.
But, most of all … don’t freak out about it! It’s supposed to be a fun, entertaining experience so there’s no pressure to find the perfect show for you right away. And once you just relax and enjoy the process, you’ll probably find that (like I did) you’ll come across your favorite title completely at random.
So, maybe you’re looking to impress the comic book reader in your life this Christmas, but don’t know where to start.
Or, you’d like to spark a love of comics in that friend who geeks out over every superhero movie.
Or, you’re thinking a Star Wars comic book might be the perfect gift for that co-worker who can’t wait for Friday’s release of “The Last Jedi.”
Well, have no fear, holiday shopper. Our friend Roger May, of Horizon Comics in Lancaster, Calif., is here to save the day with professional advice on what to get the comic book fiends on your Christmas list.
According to May, there are two hot properties this season that comic book fans will hope to see sticking out of their stockings.
The first is “Doomsday Clock No. 1,” one of a 12-issue maxiseries from writer Geoff Johns, artist Gary Frank, and colorist Brad Anderson.
“It’s basically DC merging the ‘Watchmen’ universe into the DC universe,” May said.
No. 1, a single, 40-page comic with no advertisements, would be essential gift giving “if there’s a ‘Watchman’ fan in the family.”
The second issue in the “Doomsday Clock” series will be released the Wednesday after Christmas, but first prints of “No. 1” are “already getting really scarce,” according to May.
“We sold 250 copies of the comic in one day, just to show you the level of excitement surrounding that book.”
If you’re buying for someone who’s interested in “Doomsday Clock,” but has never read the original “Watchmen” graphic novel, consider treating them to Alan Moore’s hugely influential comic masterpiece.
You could also gift them with director Zack Snyder’s 2009 film adaptation of “Watchmen,” which May said is “really close to the graphic novel.”
The other surefire comic book gift option this season is DC’s “Dark Nights: Metal,” written by Scott Snyder.
The concept of the series is “the DC universe being invaded by characters from their own ‘upside down,’ to borrow a ‘Stranger Things’ reference,” May said.
Indeed, “Dark Nights: Metal” even goes so far as to reference “Stranger Things” itself.
“It’s like a Justice League made up all of Bruce Waynes, Bruce Waynes that made really bad decisions that led to an unstable world,” May said.
The series is set in a “Dark Multiverse where all untenable universes go to die.”
“Dark Nights: Metal” is about halfway through its run, May said. “It’s been a really insanely popular series.”
Early issues may be difficult to find, at least first prints, but Horizon Comics should have in stock second or third prints of issues 1, 2, and 3, as well as a mix of first print and second print tie-in companion pieces to the main series.
Those tie-in books feature Bruce Wayne versions of various DC characters, including Flash, Wonder Woman, and Green Lantern.
“They’re all dark, twisted versions of that character,” May said. The books tell their origin stories and detail the “decision Bruce Wayne made to end up where he is.”
In the “Red Death” issue, for instance, “Batman decides he’s been thinking too small and needs to save the world instead of Gotham,” May said, so he kidnaps The Flash and straps him to the hood of the Batmobile.
If you’ve got a Marvel fan on your list, however, the recent release of the “Avengers: Infinity War” trailer has sparked sales of a certain graphic novel, which would make for good gift giving.
The “Infinity War” movie borrows from Marvel’s “Infinity Gauntlet Trilogy,” in which “Thanos fashions a gauntlet that will hold all of the infinity gems,” May said.
The gauntlet “gives him almost complete and total dominance over all of reality, makes him basically a god. In the movie he’s assembling these gems. The comic is gonna be a little different but it will definitely give you a basis for what is going to be going on in the movie.”
If you’re wondering what to get the Star Wars fan on your list, May suggests two ongoing comic book story arcs: the current “Darth Vader” series and a main “Star Wars” series.
May has two personal favorite story arcs: “Star Wars: Vader Down,” which revolves around Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker, and “Star Wars: The Screaming Citadel,” which he describes as a “really good story arc, too.”
According to May, you could also opt to buy your Star Wars fan one or more of several short Star Wars miniseries, which center around characters from the universe, including Darth Maul, Lando Calrissian, Poe Dameron, Princess Leia, and Captain Phasma.
As far as other gift options go, May said you can’t go wrong with “anything Batman, Superman, Harley Quinn, or Thor.”
For that very special comic book nerd, the one you don’t mind shelling out a lot of cash for, there are also luxe omnibuses and “absolute editions”, featuring favorite characters or stories, to consider.
As an example, May cites his favorite series, “Batman: Hush,” which can be purchased in a large format, hardcover absolute edition.
These editions typically retail for around $75 to $100, but “they’re beautiful,” May said.
“It’s kind of like reading comics in IMAX.”
Still totally confused about what to get the comic book reader on your list?
Drop by Horizon Comics, if you happen to live in the Antelope Valley, or your closest local comic book shop.
“Come see me,” May said.
“I’m a firm believer that there’s a comic for everyone, whether they’re into superheroes, or horror, or action adventure, or comedy.”
Photos: Comics Alliance, DC Comics, Rotten Tomatoes, Heroes Assemble.
As a girl, filmmaker Marisa Stotter followed her older brother into the local comic book shop for a Magic: The Gathering tournament, and found herself browsing the shelves, igniting a spark that would grow into a full-fledged comic book habit in high school.
Years later, she would illuminate the hidden history of women’s contributions to the industry in the empowering documentary “She Makes Comics.” (Read a review here.)
The film sheds light on the achievements — not to mention the discrimination faced by — female writers, artists, fans, and creators. It also features interviews with power players in the comic book world, including Kelly Sue DeConnick, Gail Simone, Jenette Kahn, and Karen Berger.
After touring film festivals and other events around the world and winning a major award at San Diego Comic-Con, “She Makes Comics” recently made its debut on Netflix. (If you haven’t seen it yet, you should remedy that immediately. You can also view it on Amazon and iTunes.)
As a fan, I’m ecstatic that Marisa graciously agreed to discuss the making of her documentary, along with other fun and geeky subjects, including her history with Dungeons & Dragons, the “Wonder Woman” movie, her “Doctor Who”-themed short film, and “Stranger Things.”
What sparked the idea for the documentary “She Makes Comics”?
I was working with Patrick Meaney and Jordan Rennert of Respect! Films on a couple of comics-related documentaries, one on Chris Claremont and one on Image Comics. As those projects started to wind down, we discussed what to focus on next.
At the time (fall 2013), the Internet was abuzz with discussions about sexual harassment, discrimination, and other issues facing women in the industry. Against this background, it seemed like the right time to produce a documentary celebrating women in the comic book industry, although we also wanted to touch upon the discrimination that they face.
The seeds for the project were sewn when you were an English major at Wesleyan University. First of all, English majors rock. Second, tell me how the documentary began to take shape during this time.
I think my English education provided me with a great advantage going into the project. Although I did not specifically study comics as part of the English department’s curriculum, the critical reading and analytical skills I honed at Wesleyan proved to be useful as we studied the history of women’s contributions to comics and used that research to flesh out the arc of the documentary.
You were first introduced to the mysteries of the comic book shop by your brother, but it took you a while to jump into buying and reading comics. Tell me more about that.
Like most younger sisters, I wanted to do everything that my older brother did, and that included playing Magic: The Gathering, the card game, as a kid. A local comic book shop in my hometown hosted tournaments on Saturdays that my brother and I would participate in. I wasn’t very good at the game so I’d lose early on and kill time until my brother was ready to leave by browsing the comics rack. That’s when I first became interested in comics — I think one of the first that I picked up was a “Simpsons” comic since I recognized the characters.
What were some of your formative titles as a young girl?
I didn’t read a ton of comics as a kid, just the occasional “Simpsons” or “Archie” comics and some kid-oriented Batman comics. It was in high school that I began to read comics more regularly and developed my own personal tastes. As a freshman in high school, I read “Persepolis” and “Maus,” which really blew me away. They showed me that the medium could tell any kind of story, and they were particularly appealing to me as a student of literature. I did also get into superhero comics, but those graphic novels broadened my understanding of comic storytelling.
Are you still a comic book reader? If so, what titles are you into now?
I do still read comics, although I don’t have the time to read as much as I’d like to. I’m in a catch-up period reading some comics I missed in the past few months. I’ve been catching up on “Paper Girls” by Brian K. Vaughan and Cliff Chiang, which I absolutely love. And I’m catching up on Kelly Sue DeConnick’s “Bitch Planet.”
What sort of research did you do before you began production on “She Makes Comics”? How much did you already know about the subject?
We were fortunate enough to have on board our creative team Karen Green, the curator of comics and graphic novels at Columbia University’s Robert Butler Memorial Library. She is incredibly knowledgeable about the medium. Karen was enormously helpful as we began researching for the project, suggesting interview subjects and particular works for us to focus on. I was already familiar with some of the people we were planning to interview, but I learned plenty more as we conducted our research.
Why aren’t people generally familiar with much of the history of women in comics presented in your doc?
Women’s contributions to comics aren’t as well-known as those of such legends as Stan Lee and Will Eisner. I think there are a lot of elements that factor into that, but perhaps the biggest reason is that comics has long been considered a medium for male readers, so it is assumed that men are the main creative forces behind them.
How did you go about making your list of interviewees? Was it a challenge to land any of the interviews for the film?
We initially had a very long “wish list” of interviewees that we then narrowed down as the film took shape. Patrick and Jordan had existing relationships with some of the people we wanted to interview from working on their previous documentaries, and Karen personally knew a number of people and facilitated getting in touch with them. We were fortunate that just about every person we contacted was interested in and excited by the project. In some cases we couldn’t overcome logistical obstacles, but we certainly made every effort to get the interviews that we felt were important for the film.
Was there one interview in particular you geeked out over?
I’m a huge fan of Kelly Sue DeConnick’s work, and she’s a pretty big superstar in the comics world, so having the opportunity to interview her was really special. I was fortunate enough to get a duck-face photo with her, too!
You funded the film via Kickstarter. What was your crowd-funding experience like?
The “She Makes Comics” campaign was my very first experience with Kickstarter, and it was quite the wild ride. It was equal parts thrilling and stressful, given that we had a 30-day window in which to achieve our goal. I honestly had no idea what to expect at first — I wasn’t sure if the project would strike a chord with potential backers, or if there would be a backlash given the subject matter.
Fortunately, we received very positive feedback early on, and as the press began to cover the project, we saw an incredible outpouring of support. Managing the campaign, however, was a full-time job in itself. We constantly updated the campaign page with new rewards and communicated with backers on a daily basis, while we continued to spread the word about the campaign via press coverage, fan sites, and social media. I was on edge until we reached our goal, which was both an exhilarating moment and quite the relief.
You also worked with the Sequart Organization. Tell me about that organization and how were they involved with the film.
Sequart is an organization promoting comics literacy and the study of comics in academia, so it was a natural partnership given the nature of our project. Sequart had previously been involved in Respect’s other comic-related documentaries, so Patrick and Jordan had an existing relationship and had no trouble getting them on board with “She Makes Comics.”
Let’s talk about the actual documentary shoot. What were the biggest challenges you faced?
Our biggest challenge was coordinating the logistics of the interviews, since the people we wanted to interview lived all over the world. We attended several comic conventions where we were able to conduct a number of interviews in one location, but even then it was difficult to coordinate with many creators’ busy schedules.
What did you enjoy most about the shoot?
I think I had the most fun shooting at comic conventions. I love to wander around the exhibition floor at a convention and just take in the sights, particularly the creative cosplay. We shot a lot of b-roll footage of amazing female cosplayers, and I was especially excited whenever we met a young girl in a great get-up.
I love the film’s logo! Tell me about how it was created.
Our logo is courtesy of the talented Courtney Wirth, who designed it for us. We wanted the logo to evoke one of the most iconic symbols of female empowerment, Rosie the Riveter, while remaining specific to the subject of “She Makes Comics.” We loved what Courtney came up with, and in fact, I have the original artwork hanging in my apartment!
“She Makes Comics” screened at a lot of film festivals and events. Were you able to attend many of them?
I attended quite a few screenings, mostly here on the West Coast. The movie has screened all over the world, including in South Korea, Australia, and the U.K. It’s really amazing to me how She Makes Comics has managed to resonate with audiences across the globe.
What was the response to the film? Have a lot of women approached you wanting to talk about it?
The response to “She Makes Comics” was wonderfully positive and affirming. I was nervous sending the film out into the world, and I was particularly worried about our Kickstarter backers who had pledged to the project and would now be seeing the product of their support. Fortunately, I heard positive feedback from our backers as well as others who discovered the film. I was approached by many women for whom “She Makes Comics” struck a personal chord. I’m glad that the film opened up the conversation about women in the comic book industry even further.
What about the reaction from men? I was disappointed to see some pretty clueless comments from men on the IMDb website.
I’ve spoken with a lot of men who were fascinated by the documentary and came away having learned something new about the medium and its history. There will always be anonymous trolls trying to tear down a project like this, but I received very positive responses from male viewers, some of whom are fathers and art teachers trying to nurture young talent at home and in the classroom.
“She Makes Comics” won the best documentary prize at the 2015 Comic-Con International Independent Film Festival. That’s quite an achievement. How did that feel?
It was wonderful to receive recognition at such an iconic convention, and it was fitting given that so many of the stories in “She Makes Comics” have some connection to San Diego Comic-Con.
How did you land a distribution deal with Netflix? That must have been exciting. How has that changed the doc’s reception and prospects?
We initially made a distribution deal with XLRator, and they handled the rest. It’s an enormous milestone to have “She Makes Comics” available on services like Amazon, iTunes, and Netflix because the film will reach a whole new audience. We’ve seen a renewed interest in the film thanks to that exposure.
What would you ultimately like to achieve with “She Makes Comics”?
What I’m proudest of with “She Makes Comics” is that the film has become a source of inspiration for young girls whose artistic talent is emerging. I think it’s vital for them to see role models, to see the women who have come before them, so they know that creating comics is something that they can do when they grow up. That, I think, is the project’s legacy beyond telling the story of women in the comic book industry.
You also made a short film, “Tenspotting,” which is set in the “Doctor Who” fandom. That sounds amazing. Where can we see it?
Tell me more about the inspiration and making of the short.
“Tenspotting” was a fun one because it started as a joke! I was at Comic-Con the previous year having drinks at the Hyatt bar with two writer friends of mine, Emily Blake and Michael Patrick Sullivan. We kept noticing lots of “Tens” and were having a lot of fun counting them, and thus began the germ of “Tenspotting.”
Emily and Michael went on to write the script somewhat as a joke, but I told them I was interested in producing it — seriously! — and I brought it to Patrick and Jordan, who thought it would be a fun project to take on.
I’m assuming you’re a Whovian. How did you get into the series?
I’m actually not a Whovian, although I’ve seen a number of episodes. Don’t revoke my geek card!
Who’s your Doctor?
Although I’m not a big Doctor Who fan, I’m super excited about Jodie Whittaker’s casting as the next Doctor, and I plan to tune in when she debuts. I really like her as an actress, and I’m excited to see the first female Doctor.
What are your other personal fandoms? How do they manifest themselves in your life?
I’m such an equal opportunity fan — I get invested in almost everything I read or watch, but sadly I don’t have the time to be as involved in fandom as I used to. The Harry Potter fandom will always hold a special place in my heart, and I still have some great Potter fan fiction bookmarked from over a decade ago.
Is it true that while you were at Wesleyan, you were part of a secret group that played “Dungeons & Dragons”?
I wouldn’t say we were a “secret” group, but I did learn how to play D&D in college with a great group of friends. I absolutely loved it, although I think our Dungeon Master got tired of our antics derailing our progress. I’ve been meaning to join a campaign since I recently got the itch to get back into D&D.
“Stranger Things” is packed with “D&D” references. Are you a fan?
I am a big fan of “Stranger Things.” I had the greatest experience watching it for the first time. I didn’t know much about it except that it was set in the ‘80s and starred Winona Ryder. I was totally hooked on the first season, and the second season was just as good, if not better. Along with “Freaks & Geeks,” “Stranger Things” features one of my favorite portrayals of D&D campaigns in television.
I’ve heard you also really like board games. What are some of your faves?
I love Settlers of Catan, although I tend to get fairly competitive with that one. I’m also a big fan of card games like Munchkin and Bang. There are some really innovative games raising funds on Kickstarter, so I often get brand new games to test out with my friends.
As a woman, is there anything you’d like to see change in the world of fandoms and geek culture?
I think it all boils down to inclusivity and respect. There is a gatekeeper mentality in some fandoms, based on this idea that you can only be a “true fan” if you have an encyclopedic knowledge of the work and have been a fan since “before it was cool.” I’m of the opinion that we should encourage new, enthusiastic fans to become involved in fandom.
I think a number of fan communities would benefit from a change in attitude towards new fans, because ultimately, we are all involved because we love the thing that is bringing us together. It doesn’t matter if you have been reading Marvel comics since the 1970s or if you started after the “Avengers” movie — we all approach fandom in different ways and from different perspectives, and to me, that is what makes these fan communities so enriching and fun to be part of.
Do you have thoughts and/or opinions on the recent success of the “Wonder Woman” movie?
I really loved “Wonder Woman” on its own, and I appreciate how it seems to have touched a whole new generation of women (and men) who are excited about the character and what she symbolizes. I think the film is a much-needed reprieve from the chaos that is 2017. It has clearly inspired and empowered women in a way that no superhero film has done in the past few years. The “no man’s land” scene in Wonder Woman was perhaps my favorite movie moment of the year; it was so breathtaking and personally gave me goosebumps.
What’s on your career bucket list? Would you like to make more documentaries and films or go in another direction?
I loved the experience of making “She Makes Comics,” but I’ve found my calling, career-wise, to be in television. As I pursue my goals in that part of the industry, I’m bringing along with me a lot of what I learned working on “She Makes Comics,” as well as my lifelong passion for inclusivity and diversity. My ultimate goal is to develop and produce television that depicts stories we don’t ordinarily see on TV, from storytellers with varied backgrounds and perspectives.
What advice would you offer to women who still may be intimidated to go into their local comic book store?
Arm yourself with knowledge! Engage with the fan community online and get some recommendations for titles you may like based on the kinds of books, movies, and TV shows you enjoy. Fortunately, there are more and more comic book shops that are warm and welcoming to new readers and want to help you find your new favorite book. Don’t be afraid to take the plunge and ask an employee to recommend some comics. It’s such an exciting world to explore!
It’s a special edition of The Geek Goddess Interviews here at No Man’s Land.
Today is the day I get to interview one of the most fascinating and, frankly, just freakin’ cool geeks I have ever known, and I’ve known her for quite some time, because — in the interest of full disclosure — she happens to be my little sister.
A bibliophile, librarian, educator, counselor, photographer, blogger, adventurer, comic book reader, and devoted fangirl to dozens of fandoms, Fawn Kemble presented a bit of a challenge for me when it came to the interview process.
You may notice that this is one of the series’ more lengthy (yet entertaining, if I do say so myself) reads. That’s because I know Fawn maybe a little too well and — I’d say this even if I wasn’t totally biased — she is one of those intriguing people who does, and says, and knows about, and reads, and watches, and thinks about endlessly interesting things. It was quite a task to capture her wonderfully nerdy essence.
I’ve done my best though. Read on for musings on going to a “Hobbit” movie premiere, why libraries deserve to survive, why fangirling authors is the best, what it was like to be an original “Buffy” fan, and why midnight movies are magic, along with general pearls of wisdom like this one: “Once you bring Harry Potter into any relationship, it’s probably going to last.”
You currently work as an elementary school librarian. That sounds awesome! What is that like?
It’s an odd blend of the quietness of books with the chaos of children, and I adore it. I spend my days reading to the younger classes, checking in and out books, and trying to help the students find books they’ll enjoy.
You were an English major in college and a high school English teacher, so obviously books and reading have played a big role in your life. How did that begin for you? How would you describe your relationship to books throughout your life?
Mum was an English teacher and dad a big reader, so books were part of my life from birth. They used to read to us even before we could read for ourselves and stories like “Wind in the Willows,” “Peter Pan,” “Alice in Wonderland,” “Anne of Green Gables,” and “The Hobbit” have been in my subconscious as long as I can remember.
As kids, we didn’t have TV, so we would devise adventures based on the stories we’d read; they fed our imaginations like nothing else. We would check out the maximum amount of books the library allowed and still never had enough. In junior high and high school, my insomniac self would stay up into the early hours of the morning reading whatever I could find on our parents’ bookshelves, the characters becoming like friends to me. Even now, I feel most at home when surrounded by books.
Have you been interested in geeky things since you were a child? What were the roots of your interest in fandoms and geek culture?
My first fandoms came from books and Disneyland (like most Southern Californians). TV and movie fandoms developed a bit later as our parents and older brothers introduced us to Monty Python, “The Twilight Zone,” “Star Trek,” Indiana Jones, “Back to the Future,” and, of course, “Star Wars.” Our childhood pets had names like Gandalf, Bilbo Baggins, and Skywalker. Much of our sibling language consisted of random quotes. My little brother and I shared comic books, my sister (you, Lavender, ha ha) shared her Lucasfilm Magazine.
But outside of our little family bubble, geek culture didn’t really exist when I was growing up, at least not in a positive way, so it wasn’t until junior high and high school that I found a couple other friends who would obsess over movies and books with me. The pinnacle of geekdom occurred in college with “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” becoming a focal point of my friendships that included waiting in line to meet the actors at our comic book store. It was fabulous.
You have a master’s degree in biblical counseling and experience in social work. This might be stretching it a bit, but from your experience in these fields, do you find geeky interests help people connect in meaningful ways?
When I was in social work, part of my job was to mentor teenage girls who were at risk. My love for Young Adult literature and pop culture helped me connect with them quickly. I could take them to see a movie, and from that we could discuss so many aspects of life much more comfortably. There is a unique bond that comes from delving into story together. As a biblical counselor, I often end up becoming friends with former counselees and a couple of the best friendships to come out of that have been with fellow nerds. Once you bring Harry Potter into any relationship, it’s probably going to last.
Do you ever incorporate geeky subjects, concepts, or activities into your work at the library?
That’s kind of what the library is all about! One of my favorite authors, John Green, once said, “Nerds like us are allowed to be unironically enthusiastic about stuff. Nerds are allowed to LOVE stuff, like, jump-up-and-down-in-your-chair-can’t-control-yourself LOVE it. When people call people nerds, mostly what they’re saying is, ‘You like stuff,’ which is not a good insult at all, like, ‘You are too enthusiastic about the miracle of human consciousness.’”
One of my goals in the school library is to make it a safe space for my students to express this enthusiasm. Last year, one of the stories I read the little ones was about Spider-Man and I taught them all how to web sling. A Wonder Woman Lego Minifigure resides on my official lanyard. I’m planning on wearing my TARDIS dress to work on Halloween. I try to help the students find things they’re passionate about, whether it’s books about dinosaurs or space, fairytales or mysteries.
Funding for school libraries is being cut in many districts. Do you think libraries are still a relevant and important resource for children?
I believe that now, more than ever, libraries are important to children and adults. In a country in which our president claims any news he doesn’t like as “fake,” students need to have access to great research materials and people who can help them parse fact from fiction. In a world where so many feel disconnected or scattered, kids need to be able to sink into stories in which they become other people and experience other lives. There is a lot of research on the singular benefits to be found through reading fictional long form novels — the main one being a better development of empathy.
Many of my students come from low income households, they don’t have access to books outside of school and their parents are often so busy working hard to make ends meet that they don’t have time to take them to the city library. School libraries are often the only place where kids can pick out their very own books, not just ones that are assigned to them. I believe we should actually be putting a lot more money into school libraries.
Librarians tend to be pretty passionate about what they do. Do you have any fun library merch or memorabilia?
My mum and I recently went to the Los Angeles Central Library to see a friend’s play, and we spent quite a bit of time in the gift shop. That’s right, there is a library gift shop! I ended up leaving with a tote bag adorned by a book truck, saying “That’s How I Roll.” I adore it. I have a library card scarf, yellow and everything. I’ve got tons of literary toys, pins, and accessories as well that I’ve collected over the years.
As an educator of high school students, did you ever work pop culture into your teaching? If so, in what ways? Did you find it useful at all as a point of entry with your students?
I did petition the principal to allow me to teach graphic novels, wrote a researched letter proving how beneficial they can be. I ended up getting at least 3 in the curriculum, including “Persepolis,” “American Born Chinese,” and “Maus.” I also have a lot of graphic novel versions of the novels I taught, or BabyLit picture books of them, that I’d bring in. My classroom walls were covered with posters featuring Neil Gaiman, Ray Bradbury, Lord of the Rings, and Harry Potter.
Once I actually taught my entire class while wearing my Hogwarts Snuggie on Character Day during Homecoming week. We had a book club that met in my classroom, The Booksniffers, in which we’d pretty much just geek out together. I call these students and others like them, the ones that connect on a geekier level, my nerdlings. I went to a couple of book signings and releases with students as well, which were always a blast.
Your students in Santa Monica had the serious hookups when it came to nerd perks. You got to attend a preview night at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, and you went to the premiere of one of the “Hobbit” films. Tell me about some of those experiences.
Oh my gosh, those were such special experiences. Yeah, I had a student whose father is Peter Jackson’s casting director. They knew I was a huge Tolkien fan, so they took me to the L.A. premiere of the last “Hobbit” movie. It was surreal; Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman were in England filming “Sherlock,” so I didn’t get to meet them, but I got to meet most of the hobbits, dwarves, and elves from multiple “Lord of the Rings” movies.
Graham McTavish was there in a kilt, fabulously Scottish, hanging out with Dean O’Gorman and Aidan Turner. Orlando Bloom was snobby. Evangeline Lilly was classy and kind. I spent a few minutes in geeky banter with Billy Boyd and Dominic Monaghan as we waited for Elijah Wood to be available for a picture. Sigh. That was freaking awesome. And, oh my gosh, Lee Pace is tall and sweet and generous. I still can’t believe that I was there!
Another one of my fabulous students is a roller coaster engineer and helped set up the Hippogriff ride at the L.A. Wizarding World of Harry Potter. I got to go to one of the employee preview nights with him, his wife, and another former student of mine. That was great because it wasn’t very crowded so we didn’t have to wait too long in the lines. Geeky connections are the best!
You recently moved to the Antelope Valley from Los Angeles. Do you feel that living in L.A. — the entertainment capital of the world — gave you a lot of opportunities to consume and enjoy geek culture?
Yeah, in L.A., geek culture is everywhere. I still end up driving down to go to The Last Bookstore, see a play, or get together with friends at one of our favorite book-lined bars we like to call The Harry Potter Bar. Since I fangirl authors like others fangirl boybands, L.A. was the perfect location. I’ve met or been to readings by Ray Bradbury (RIP), Nick Hornby, John Green (three times so far), and Neil Gaiman (twice).
You’ve been a comic book reader since childhood. How were you introduced to comics? What were some of your formative titles?
My little brother, Josh, and I used to walk to the comic book store and spend our allowances on comic books. He collected “The Amazing Spider-Man,” “X-Men,” and “Generation X.” I collected “Ren and Stimpy.” Though we were fans of both Marvel and DC (my Wonder Woman action figure was my first), we were both fascinated by the new smaller labels like Image and Vertigo. We were captured by the art of Todd McFarlane in “Spawn,” Sam Keith in “The Maxx,” and Jeff Smith in “Bone.” My comic obsession was sealed when my oldest brother, Greg, introduced me to Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean’s brilliant works with “The Sandman” and my all-time favorite, “Death.”
What was your experience like as a girl who read comics?
When I was younger, I didn’t even realize being a girl into comics was weird because I was kind of used to being weird anyway. Walking into the shop with my brother provided a buffer. It wasn’t until I was in college and I started to find my own comic shops sans brother that I realized how intimidating it can be as a woman. The first time I opened a pull-and-hold account for my monthly comics at a local shop in L.A., the guy treated me so badly, like I didn’t know what I was talking about, that I almost gave up on it. I usually avoid online conversations in comics forums because it’s just not worth dealing with the misogyny there. On a more positive note, there are a lot of pretty badass women working or fangirling in the comic world now who are speaking out more on behalf of the female fan.
What comic books do you read now? Why has that passion persisted for you?
I’m more into comics collected in graphic novel form these days because I just don’t have the time to collect weeklies anymore. I’m in the middle of reading the “Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur” series, and am going through the “Fables” series. Anything Gaiman/McKean still holds my heart (their “Black Orchid” is stunning). I started a small collection of Batman titles (“Hush” being my favorite).
I think my passion has persisted because comics depict archetypes in a way that never gets old, and the blend of words with art profoundly speaks to our humanity. While I do enjoy the typical tights and capes titles, I also have a small collection of more literary/artistic works. Artists and writers like Daniel Clowes and Chris Ware, Derek Kirk Kim and Gene Luen Yang, Art Spiegelman and Craig Thompson, Adrian Tomine and Vera Brosgol, Lucy Knisley and Brian K. Vaughan inspire and challenge me through their compelling stories and original art.
You’re a Whovian. How were you introduced to that series?
Back when David Tennant was just starting out as the Tenth Doctor, I had a student who was a huge fanboy of the entire series, going back to the originals. I wanted to watch the new show, but didn’t want to go into it blind. So, I asked that wonderful nerdling of mine to make me a list of the integral episodes for all previous nine doctors, like he was giving me homework. So that was my start, before I would let myself watch the revitalized “Doctor Who,” I studied up by seeing a couple episodes from each previous doctor in order to get the continuity right. Then I started with Christopher Eccleston’s Ninth Doctor in its entirety before Tennant’s Number Ten.
Who’s your Doctor?
Nine was my first, and I adore Eccleston’s Doctor, but I’ll always be a Ten girl. Tennant was just brilliant.
Are you looking forward to the upcoming Season 11?
I am! Because I moved a bit these past couple of years, I fell behind on my “Doctor Who” viewing, so I’m actually just now working my way through Capaldi’s seasons. I need to catch up so I’ll be ready for Jodie Whittaker! I really wanted them to choose a woman of color, so Whittaker wasn’t my first choice, but I’m so excited that they’re finally going to have a female doctor so am hopeful.
You’re also a Harry Potter fan. How and why were you first drawn to J.K. Rowling’s series?
I’m not sure I really remember when or how I got into Harry Potter. I think I started when the second book came out when I was in college? I’d heard that the first book was good but only after the second one was published, so I probably had to catch up. It was kind of cool, because not everyone was into them yet, there were no movies and no merchandise, so you had to come up with your own vision of characters and Hogwarts. I was drawn to them because I’ve always been a huge fantasy geek, and she had created this entire world of hidden magic that was enchanting, dangerous, and thrilling. I’m still addicted.
How does your Harry Potter passion manifest itself in your life?
I have a lot of Harry Potter jewelry that I can sneak into professional outfits to have hidden geekiness. And, as an elementary school librarian, I get to introduce a whole new generation to the books! I’m like the Harry Potter pusher, like, “Hey kid, come here, I’ve got something for you … .” Ha ha ha … I also try to reread the books from time to time, have three wands (one of which a friend handmade for me), and can be found on the couch in my Hogwarts Snuggie on cold evenings.
What’s your Hogwarts house?
Ravenclaw. “Wit beyond measure is man’s greatest treasure.”
You’re an unabashed anglophile and have traveled to England multiple times. Why do you think so many geeky people are anglophiles? I’m really trying to solve this mystery.
In our case, it makes sense because our mum was an English teacher, and an anglophile so we were raised into it. British television was a big percentage of our media intake and revealed a different style than American shows. I think many geeks love all things English because they don’t tend to underestimate their readers/viewers like American shows/books often do. They just assume most of their audience is educated and literate.
Obviously, this is a broad generalization and there are many exceptions on both sides. Certain types of geeky kids often end up finding safety and comfort in their English classrooms or libraries, which also tend to attract anglophiles as teachers and librarians. With such quality fandoms like “WhoLock” (“Doctor Who”/ “Sherlock”) Harry Potter, “Lord of the Rings,” Monty Python, and “Downton Abbey,” who wouldn’t want to be an anglophile?
You’re also a huge Star Wars fan. What’s your earliest memory of the franchise? How does that obsession manifest itself in your life?
I have no earliest memory of “Star Wars;” as far as I’m aware, it was just always part of my life. Perhaps because my oldest brother was a fan long before I was born, so the story infused our home. I honestly can’t remember the first time I saw the films, I just know that the first few strains of John Williams’ score have always brought me chills.
The obsession manifests itself in both noble and embarrassing ways. I must admit, to my shame, that I was one of those fans who was so caught up in the prequel excitement that, for a moment, I didn’t realize just how bad they could be until the second or third viewing.
I did adore waiting in line outside the night before the midnight release to get tickets and good seats — I even made a couple of friends in those lines when I was at university who I still know to this day. I probably can’t go more than a couple of days without making some reference to Luca’s space opus, and spend way too much time these days rewatching “The Last Jedi” trailer. It’s been a bizarre and amazing experience to see Star Wars become such a phenomenon all over again.
You used to go to a lot of midnight movie openings. What was so fun about staying up late and hanging out on the sidewalk with a bunch of fellow fans?
There is a camaraderie that comes out when every single person is sleep deprived while waiting eagerly for the same thing. I think the best of geek culture comes out in those moments — everyone encourages each other, saves spaces, does fast food runs, and geeks out. Scoping out each other’s gear, from T-shirts to full-on cosplay, temporary tattoos to weapons and other accessories, midnight screening lines are the best place for people watching. And when you finally get into the theater, too much caffeine consumed, the lights dim, and the title credits begin to a rousing cheer, it’s a natural high that can’t be beat.
I’m very excited that you are a big fan of certain sci-fi and fantasy authors, namely Ray Bradbury and Neil Gaiman. You met the late Bradbury and you’ve been to Gaiman signings. What is it about those authors that you love so much?
Ray Bradbury and Neil Gaiman created short stories and novels that cross over between fantasy and sci-fi, two of my favorite genres. They write challenging stories that are still gorgeous, and somehow when you’re done reading them, you feel more human. They both tap into the imagination, demanding the reader expand her mind instead of merely being entertained. They both have the ability to create very realistic characters even in the most futuristic or otherworldly setting. And I think the things I love most about both Bradbury and Gaiman is their originality and beauty. My favorite book of all is Bradbury’s “Dandelion Wine” which captures childhood, with all its joy and melancholy, mystery and beauty.
I was lucky enough to meet Ray Bradbury in the audience of a live performance of his one-act plays. His driver (he never got a driver’s license) wheeled him to the front row of the theater in his wheelchair, a glass of red wine in his hand. During intermission, we went up to meet him. I knelt down next to him, and was finally able to thank him for the impact his writing had on my life. He was gracious, and kind, took a picture with me, and then he kissed me on my cheek. It was truly one of the best moments of my life.
Fangirling authors is the best because you finally get the opportunity to thank them for the impact their writing has had on your life.
Let’s talk about something very important now. You mentioned that one of your first hardcore fandoms was “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” Tell me a little about your experiences of vintage Buffy fandom.
Ah, Buffy. When the original movie came out ages ago, the one Joss Whedon hated, I saw it in the theater with my sister and a friend at least three times. We were hooked. Even that lesser version captured our imaginations in a way few other movies had. When we found out Whedon was making it into a TV show, we were ecstatic.
The show aired while I was in college, and became a weekly gathering of my geeky friends. We’d all go to the one apartment who had cable to watch it, then debrief afterward. There was a comic book store in downtown Santa Barbara, Avalon Comics, that somehow had the hookup and had a few signings of Buffy actors back before there were so many comic conventions or other places to geek out. We were able to get signatures and Polaroid pictures with the actors who play Willow, Xander, Giles, Drusilla, and Spike.
James Marsters even let me touch his hair, and my friend, who’s a bit short, touched Anthony Stewart Head on the butt (she claims by accident!). We even went to a club in Hollywood one night to see James Marsters’ then band play. They weren’t very good, but we had a lot of fun.
Spike or Angel?
Angel for Buffy, Spike for me.
What other fandoms are you into?
Other than ones mentioned above, I’m a SuperWhoLock girl (“Supernatural,” “Doctor Who,” “Sherlock”) who’s also obsessed with all things “Hamilton,” Disneyland, classic and children’s lit, “Firefly,” Netflix Marvel, Wonder Woman, “Downton Abbey,” “Game of Thrones” (the books), “Dirk Gently”, YA literature, and others.
Do you collect anything?
Books. Lots and lots of books. Classics, new releases, graphic novels, and children’s books mostly. I also accumulate English major/librarian accessories, as mentioned above. I have a bunch of little geeky figurines, action figures, and other nerdy tidbits scattered throughout my bookshelves.
What upcoming release (books, movies, TV, etc.) are you most looking forward to?
Netflix’s “Stranger Things” Season 2, the upcoming “Murder on the Orient Express” movie, DC’s “Justice League,” although I kinda just want to see Wonder Woman, DC’s “Doomsday Clock” comic, the follow-up to “Watchmen,” “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” and next year “Black Panther,” “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them 2,” “Isle of Dogs,” and, on Netflix new seasons of “Jessica Jones,” “Daredevil,” “Arrested Development,” and “13 Reasons Why.”
You recently launched a blog, the cleverly titled The Awkward Spinster. It’s about your experiences as a single, Christian woman. Are there challenges to being a single geek girl? Are there benefits?
Being a single geek girl at my age can feel a bit lonely at times. Most of my friends are married, and aren’t quite as available for fangirling moments as they used to be. I can also feel like the odd one out as both a single Christian woman and a geek. I still sometimes dread going into comic book stores or online forums with which I’m not familiar because I don’t have the patience to deal with sexist men anymore.
The benefits are the geekdom creates its own community, which embraces singles a bit better than the rest of society. If you get a good group of geeks together, they are supportive, clever, funny, and encouraging. It’s awesome. Two of my best friends are single geek guys, so we often go to rooftop movies or binge-watch nerdy shows on Netflix together.
As a woman, is there anything you would like to see change in the world of geek culture and fandoms?
As awesome as geek culture can be, it is not immune to the negative sides of humanity. And, because so much of fandom life is lived online where people somehow feel more enabled to say cruel and sexist things they would never say to a woman in person, the misogyny can be overwhelming at times. In comic books and movies, women are still often depicted as the Virgin or the Whore and nothing in between — just damsels in distress and cold-hearted vixens. “Wonder Woman” was a step in the right direction, but just a step. We have a long way to go.
About the Geek Goddess Interviews:
No Man’s Land chats weekly with a “Geek Goddess” whose devotion to her fandoms manifests itself in unique and inspiring ways. We’re always looking for interview subjects, so if you know someone who would be ideal, please respond via the comments, private message, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you subscribe to Netflix, I know what you’re doing this weekend.
The entire second season of ‘80s throwback horror series “Stranger Things” dropped Friday, so you’ll be holed up on the couch, plowing your way through all nine episodes while subsisting on nothing but Eggos and chocolate pudding.
Is there some spooky holiday happening soon? What World Series?
I totally get it. You desperately need to know what’s going to happen to poor slug-vomiting Will, scary-but-lovable Elle, sneaking-around-in-the-woods Sheriff Hopper, crazy-eyed supermom Joyce Byers, preppy girl-turned-gun-toting-bad-ass Nancy, and irresistible Goonies-wannabes Dustin, Lucas, and Mike.
I realize you’ll be too preoccupied to focus on anything else until you’ve watched every last horrifying, hilarious, and wildly entertaining second of “Stranger Things.”
But once that’s done and you’ve come up for air, there’s something really important and awesome you’re going to want to check out, and it also happens to be on Netflix.
The 2016 documentary “She Makes Comics” became available this month on the streaming service, and it deserves a place on your queue. (You can also view the film on Amazon and iTunes.)
The thesis of “She Makes Comics” is simple: Women write comics. Women draw comics. Women publish comics. Women read comics.
This might sound obvious, but in a world where comic books are still seen as a predominantly male pastime, it really isn’t, which is why director Marisa Stotter’s film is fascinating and necessary.
If the necessity of it is in doubt, by the way, look no further than the virtually complete lack of reviews of this film online — and that includes Rotten Tomatoes –and at the sexist, clueless remarks of male commentators on the movie’s IMDb page.
“She Makes Comics” may be modest and low budget, but it confidently delves into the secret history of women in the comics industry, revealing female contributions that most people, even comic book readers, may not be aware of.
In a refreshing twist, the doc features little to no male talking heads, but relies on the stories of the participants themselves, including comics journalists, historians, writers, artists, shop owners, publishers, and executives, along with such comic-making icons as Gail Simone, Kelly Sue DeConnick, Jenette Kahn, and Karen Berger.
Stotter begins with the origins of comic strips and the comic book industry, which originally featured varied content that appealed just as much to girls as to boys.
With the arrival of the censoring Comics Code in 1954, sanitized superhero stories began to dominate the industry, along with stereotypical, one-note romances marketed to girls. The result was a steep drop in female readership that would continue for decades. In short measure, the industry lost half the population of potential consumers.
In the 1970s, the inception of the underground comic scene seemed to signal the possibility of more original, groundbreaking, controversial stories and subject matter.
However, as cartoonists Joyce Farmer and Lyn Chevli (who sadly passed away in 2016) soon discovered, the movement was a boys’ club, glibly churning out misogynistic images of rape and sexual harassment.
Farmer and Chevli responded with their own feminist publication — written, drawn, and published by women — an empowering but also terrifying experience, considering the violent, negative reaction to their work.
These pioneering cartoonists paved the way for powerful women to enter the industry, including DC Comics president Jenette Kahn, who during her 26 years with the company championed the telling of more diverse, progressive, and thought-provoking stories.
Kahn oversaw the launch of the groundbreaking Vertigo Comics imprint with executive editor Karen Berger, who nurtured the careers of some of the comic world’s most impressive talents, including Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, and Frank Miller.
Berger was also involved with Friends of Lulu, an organization co-founded by cartoonist Trina Robbins to promote female comic book readership and roles for women in the industry.
While there are more women writers, artists, and creators than ever in the mainstream comic book industry today, Stotter points out that female comic book makers tend to flourish in the alternative, underground, and web comic scenes, where audiences who crave more than just superhero stories tend to be found.
“She Makes Comics” also explores the world of cosplay, where women are sometimes shamed for their participation; comic book shops, which are often off-putting spaces for women; and conventions, like San Diego Comic-Con, which have a dark history of harassment and misogyny, but are becoming more inclusive.
The doc ends on a hopeful note, showcasing such figures as DeConnick, a prolific, outspoken scribe known for her “Captain Marvel” runs, and Simone, a writer who broke into the industry after critiquing it with the website “Women in Refrigerators,” which listed the many female comic book characters killed or brutalized in the service of male storylines.
As a bonus for SoCal residents, “She Makes Comics” features Newhall comic book shop Brave New World and its former owners, Autumn Glading and Portlyn Polston, who welcomed girls to the store and organized events and programs designed to encourage female comic book readership.
Stotter concludes that the recent and growing popularity of geek-related culture and entertainment is a good development for women, allowing them to participate more freely in fandoms and be part of positive, accepting communities of like-minded creators and readers.
Watching “She Makes Comics” was an eye-opening experience for me. Though I write about the comic industry, I wasn’t aware of many of the facts it presents.
I hope the film finds a wider audience and brings awareness to the continuing saga of women who joyfully, boldly, and unashamedly create and consume comic books.
Before DC’s “Wonder Woman” movie, I wasn’t really a fan of the Amazon warrior princess.
As a kid, growing up in the ‘80s, I played with Wonder Woman action figures and was familiar with the campy, 1975 television series, starring Lynda Carter.
Mostly, though, the images I remember seeing of Wonder Woman at the time struck me as little more than pin-up girl clichés. So I just never got into her, or the comic books that told her story. Comics had always been problematic for me, anyway, because stories of strictly male heroes didn’t interest me much.
I was excited about the movie before its release, of course, but mainly because it was the possible culmination of a lifelong dream to see female superheroes finally placed upon the same cinematic pedestal as the male ones.
Of course, “Wonder Woman” was everything I hoped it would be and more, and I could finally understand why Diana Prince is such an iconic character. Almost immediately, I became curious to learn more about her comic book origins and read her stories for myself. (Yes, I’m that annoying fan, the late adopter.)
Knowing where to begin was a conundrum. After all, there are decades of Wonder Woman lore and dozens upon dozens of different runs to choose from. So I asked my friend Kristy, who has sung the praises of the daughter of Themyscira for years, to help me out.
Kristy helpfully suggested I start with The New 52 Wonder Woman books by Brian Azzarello and artist Cliff Chiang. It’s a six-volume series, starting with “Vol 1: Blood,” that is a complete story arc unto itself.
My friend also recommended “Wonder Woman: The Circle,” from 2008, penned by comic book goddess Gail Simone, who writes Diana with a playfulness and strength I adore. (The only downside is the book is retailing for anywhere from $40 to $70 at the moment. I borrowed it from Kristy.)
I’m in the midst of doing the extremely fun homework my personal Wonder Woman guru assigned me and I’m enjoying every minute of it.
I have a feeling some of you may be finding yourself in the same boat, wanting to immerse yourself in the Wonder Woman comic books, but not knowing where to begin.
So I contacted Roger May, owner of Horizon Comics in Lancaster, Calif., to get a professional opinion on the matter.
May was in agreement with Kristy when it comes to Azzarello’s New 52 run.
“It’s very different,” he said.
“It basically gives Wonder Woman a new origin story. It’s a play off of the clay storyline where Diana’s mom (Hippolyta) fashioned her from clay and the gods wept and brought Diana to life.
“In Azzarello’s story, it turns out that is a story that was fabricated to protect Diana and her mother because basically Zeus had an affair with Hippolyta and Hera is a very vengeful wife. As the story unfolds, this kind of comes to light, years later, after Diana is Wonder Woman. There’s kind of a power struggle for the kingdom of Olympus.”
May describes the six-book series as “fantastic.”
“It really kind of showcases Wonder Woman as an Amazon warrior. You do still have some elements of her diplomacy and heart and everything, but at her core she’s a warrior and that really comes through.”
May said the series would be ideal for someone who might be “interested in the Olympic gods aspect.”
“If somebody was a fan of the whole pantheon of gods that Wonder Woman is related to, that would definitely be the book. The artist, Cliff Chiang, came up with some really stunning interpretations of the different gods. Hades is like this little kid. He’s got a crown of candles and the wax is like dripping over his face … and it’s just really kind of creepy. Poseidon is this giant fish. Hermes is kind of a winged birdman. It’s a stunning book to look at.”
May also recommended another book with an entirely different tone: “Wonder Woman: The True Amazon” by Jill Thompson.
“The entire comic is painted,” he said. “It’s a beautiful book.”
“One of the interesting things about that story is it actually kind of follows Wonder Woman as a young girl on Themyscira. It’s a little different than the movie. (In the book) Diana started out as a spoiled, little brat because she got everything, everyone doted over her, (but) there was one girl who doesn’t cut her any slack.
“It’s basically a redemption story and it’s what drove her, being Diana, to strive to be a shining example for everybody else. It’s a really good story, self-contained, original, never in comics before.”
May said other possibilities for future Wonder Woman comic book fans include checking out runs from the ‘70s and ‘80s, as well as the current “DC Rebirth” series, which is about 30 issues in.
If you’re feeling weird about shamelessly jumping on the Wonder Woman bandwagon this late in the game, don’t worry about it. You’re not the only one. So don’t feel shy about making the leap and popping into your local comic book shop to ask for help.
According to May, “there’s definitely been a resurgence in Wonder Woman’s popularity” since the movie was released in June.
“I’ve always been a fan,” he said.
“For so long, DC media has been dominated by Superman and Batman and it was really nice (too see the movie) and now Wonder Woman is like (DC’s) best movie to date, so I think that had a lot to do with this renewed interest in her, and we’ve definitely seen an increase in traffic for the books and toys, novelties, action figures, everything.”