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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monica dressed as a Slytherin Dalek.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do you tend to put together your own outfits?

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

Why does cosplay appeal to you?

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

Monica and Dee Sorto, aka the ConMadres.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who’s your Doctor?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monica in a group Harry Potter/Dalek cosplay.

What are some of your other major fandoms?

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

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

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

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

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

Monica in a Star Wars sweater by Mustardbrand.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What brands and styles do you most like to wear?

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Plus model promotes geek glamour, body positivity

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

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

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

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

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

You can also follow her on Instagram and Twitter.

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

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

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

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

Tell me about how you got your start in modeling.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do you model for other companies as well?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do you consider yourself an ambassador or a role model?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How do you like your Butterbeer?

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

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

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

Who do you ship on that show?

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

So you’re into the Archie Comics, too?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What do you love about it?

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

What other fandoms are you into?

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Hot Topic Southside Serpents Leather Jacket.

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

My Pinup Girl Clothing Jenny Dress in Snow White Print.

My extensive collection of Minnie Mouse Ear Headbands.

My Hogwarts school uniform skirt from Hot Topic.

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

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

What’s left on your geek bucket list?

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

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

Haunted Mansion first among many fandoms of geek esthetician, cosplay queen

When I first saw Meghan Buchanan’s gorgeous, elaborate Haunted Mansion tattoos, I knew I had to interview her. A fellow devotee of Disney’s classic spooky house, Meghan collaborates with tattoo artist Tony Zolina for an ongoing series of striking body art designs that express her enduring love for the eerie attraction.

Her Haunted Mansion obsession has intersected with her other passion, cosplay. Since she was 16, Meghan has been sewing and creating painstakingly detailed homages to her favorite geeky properties. She’s got a soft spot for the ’80s and that era’s awesome cartoons, including Rainbow Brite and She-Ra.

When Meghan’s not going to conventions and dressing up as her favorite characters with her kids, friends, and family, she’s running her business, Skin Geek Esthetics, which gives her the chance to let her nerd flag fly while attending to her client’s beauty and skin health needs.

I chatted with Meghan about her many fandoms, including Batman, Fallout, Dragon Ball Z, Disney, and ’80s movies, as well as what it was like to be a closet geek girl in high school and that time she met Kevin Smith.  

You can follow Meghan and see more pics of her tattoos and cosplay on Facebook and Instagram.

You’re a cosplayer and esthetician who is obsessed with Disney’s Haunted Mansion. Let’s start by talking about the Haunted Mansion because that’s one of my favorites, too. When and how did your fascination with this attraction begin?

Ya know … I can’t really pinpoint when and how I became so fascinated with the ride. I just remember at a young age being so enthralled with every aspect of it. The artwork, the decor, the sights and sounds, even the smell.

What is it about this particular attraction that stands out above the rest, in your opinion?

Like I said, the artwork, the sounds and the decor is pretty awesome to me. Like, for instance, the stretching room. Those paintings are very macabre yet beautiful in their own way and somewhat humorous at the same time. I also think it’s a cool spin on macabre and scary with a dash of Disney awesomeness that draws me in, ya know? It’s creepy but with a whimsical touch only Disney can pull off.

You have some amazing Haunted Mansion tattoos. They’re so detailed and just beautiful. Can you describe them for me? 

On my outer forearm, I have Madam Leota inside her crystal ball surrounded by the famous patch of the demon eyes wallpaper. As of right now, only Madam Leota is in color, which I think is my fave on this particular piece. My tattoo artist (Tony Zolina) did an amazing job detailing her face and the eerie blue and green glow of her face and hair.

My next tattoo session will be to color the wallpaper purple and add UV ink so her face glows under black light. On my inner forearm is my most favorite painting — The Tight Rope Walker from the stretching room. Tony did such a fantastic job. It looks like an oil painting, down to the brush strokes.

Tell me a little about the process of designing and then receiving these tattoos. I understand it took several sessions.

It’s funny. I’ve had these ideas rolling around in my head for years, yet I’ve held off on getting them. I knew what I wanted, but wasn’t exactly sure how I wanted them designed and arranged. For Madam Leota, Tony and I bounced some ideas back and forth, but like all the tattoos I’ve received from him thus far, I’ve given him creative license to come up with the final concept. His artwork is amazing and I’m super proud to wear it on my skin. The TRW (Tight Rope Walker) was pretty straight forward, lol. But he hit it out of the park replicating the painting.

Madam Leota took about four to five hours and will need at least one more session to color the wallpaper and add the UV ink to her crystal ball. TRW took about six-six and a half hours, which was probably the most painful session I’ve sat through to date. I had a tattoo hangover for a couple days after that session.

Tony and I have plans for the back of my arm/elbow … possibly the mansion itself or the attic bride (the one with the heartbeat) from the late ‘80s early ‘90s. This one I’m excited about, but I know it’s going to be even more painful than the TRW, lol, and will probably be another six-hour session.

Why did you decide you wanted some pieces of the Haunted Mansion on your body forever?

Well, I can list a few reasons why … I didn’t really start getting tattooed up until I was about 29-30. Of course, I got the obligatory tramp stamp tattoo the second I turned 18, but we won’t talk about that one. Life is too short. It’s something I’ve wanted and I didn’t want to look back and regret not getting them, so I finally pulled the trigger and decided to go all in and get these pieces of timeless characters and art from my most favorite place on Earth immortalized onto my skin.

I’ve always thought tattoos were fascinating when I was younger — the concept of wearing art on your body was so cool to me and knew I wanted to get them, and tattooing my most favorite things on my body just made sense to me. It’s artwork that is near and dear to my heart but also designs that myself and my tattoo artist thought up and want to share the beauty of the timeless art of the Haunted Mansion.

In what other ways does your Haunted Mansion fixation manifest itself in your life? 

Ah man, lol. Well, I just recently had to buy a curio cabinet to hold my Haunted Mansion keepsakes. I started collecting figurines from Disneyland of the stretching room. So far I, of course, have the TRW and Constance the Black Widow Bride. I also have a mini painting of the TWR my best friend got me while she was at Disneyland about a year ago and the Hitch Hiking Ghosts tiki mug from Trader Sam’s, along with a few handmade pieces my best friend made me.

To my husband’s chagrin, my obsession is slowly taking over our dining room. And when I’m feeling saucy, I wear my Ghost Host apron at work and even have a few art pieces hanging in my work studio.

You’ve done some Haunted Mansion cosplay. Tell me more about that.

Yes! These costumes were super fun to make.

Surprise, surprise, I made a TRW costume. It took a total of 48 hours to make, spread out through a couple of weeks. It was the second most frustrating costume I’ve made to date because I hand-painted the flowers on the dress and it took forever to do. The bodice was a little tricky to make because I wanted it to be as similar to the painting as possible. Let’s just say the seam ripper and I were good friends when constructing the piece.

I made Constance the Black Widow Bride cosplay for my youngest, which took me about four hours to make. It was pretty simple, yet fun to make, especially her bouquet of beautiful flowers and shiny axe, lol!

And then I made my sister into Madam Leota. It was a last minute costume decision on her part so I was rushed to make it. I really want to redo the whole darn thing, but my sister was a champ and wore it and even had a good number of people know who she was cosplaying, which was one of my fears; nobody would get what the hell she was trying to portray! Haha.

Unfortunately, the day of the convention, it was 112 (degrees). Myself and my daughter had to change out of costume after about two hours. Our makeup was practically rolling off of our faces. But we managed to do a small photo shoot and make hardcore Disney/Haunted Mansion fans’ day while walking around, which was a win!

You’re also a member of the Hattie’s Foolish Mortals Facebook page. What do you like about being part of that group? (Personally, they’re always making me jealous that I’m not at Disneyland.)

I just recently became a member a handful of months ago. While at Disneyland, my sister suggested I post my Madam Leota tattoo on Hattie’s page. Before I did so, I prowled around and knew within 30 seconds I found my people! I dig seeing other peoples Haunted Mansion tattoos and creations. And, yes, I get super jealous when I see member’s “check in” photo posts!

The Haunted Mansion fandom seems to have grown in recent years with a lot of people getting into the imagery of the ride and also a lot of merchandise available. What do you think about that?

I have a theory … I believe since Disneyland has the option to pay monthly for passes, it has allowed many who haven’t been able to afford to go previously to go to the Land of D more frequently. With being able to go the park more, I believe more people have discovered the attraction and even though it’s gained more and more popularity, it still hasn’t lost its cult classic vibe. I’m happy that more people have discovered its awesomeness. The Haunted Mansion is timeless and I think it’ll stay that way.

Have you visited any of the other Haunted Mansion attractions at Disney’s various theme parks?

We went to Disney World just about a year ago and the Haunted Mansion was the very first ride we went on. I was literally doing the happy dance throughout the queue. It was cool to see that they added more rooms and different characters to the ride. It was reminiscent of the OG Disneyland ride, but with bonus scenes. My sister has one-upped me though. She has been to Disneyland Paris and rode Haunted Manor. I’m so jealous of her!

You’ve said you’re “completely obsessed” with Disneyland, not just the Haunted Mansion. What’s your earliest memory of the theme park?

My earliest memory (I was 6, I believe) was going on Star Tours with my stepdad and being absolutely pissed off at him for taking me on that ride. I was not exactly thrilled with how scary it was, going through that Death Star really did a number on me, haha. I remember stomping over to my mom when we exited the ride , who couldn’t ride it because she was pregnant with my sister at the time, and telling her I’d never ride on that thing again, which is funny because that’s one of my fave rides in Tomorrowland.

What are some of your other favorite Disney attractions, films, characters, properties, etc.?

Guardians of the Galaxy is hands down my most fave. I have to ride it as many times as I can when we are at Disneyland/California Adventure. Pirates and Big Thunder Mountain is a must too, but then again, I can go to Disneyland and literally sit on Main Street and be happy as a pig in crap — just being there makes me happy.

People laugh when us Disneyland lovers say we’re “home” when we are at the park, but it’s true. The sounds, the smells – gah, the bakery smells … drool — and just being surrounded by the magical whimsy of the place makes me all warm and gooshy inside. It truly is home to me (and to my family).

Films … I dig the classics, especially the lesser-known ones: “The Rescuers,” “The Rescuers Down Under,” “The Sword in the Stone,” “Bedknobs and Broomsticks,” the OG Halloween Special with Ichabod Crane and Hazel the Witch and Donald Duck, just to name a few.

I saw on your Facebook page that you’ve made some custom Mickey ears for visits to the theme park. Tell me about the ears you created.

Those are super fun to make! I made a pair of Pirate ears for my oldest. She digs Pirates of the Caribbean. She usually gets to pick the first ride when we get to the park and it’s almost always Pirates. I made a pair of “Guardians of the Galaxy” ears for my youngest. She’s completely in love with Peter Quill and Rocket Raccoon. She wears them proudly around the house. And, of course, a pair of Dragon Ball Z ears for me.

You’re a longtime Dragon Ball Z fan. When and how did you discover the series?

Toonami, circa 2000. I stumbled upon the series when the “Cell Saga: was starting up. I was instantly hooked. This, too, has gained popularity now that Toriyama decided to continue the series, which makes me a happy panda.

What do you like about it?

The storyline is pretty cool, especially the characters and the fight scenes are pretty badass, although I may go to Dragon Ball jail for saying this — the freaking episode buildups are super long and unnecessary. I’m a huge fan of Vegeta and Bulma. That couple cracks me up. Who doesn’t like a bad boy, jerk face, arrogant prince and a hard-headed genius heiress as a couple? It makes for good entertainment.

As a matter of fact, I used to run a Bulma and Vegeta fan page on Google+ and did a bi-monthly video podcast a few years ago. Unfortunately, adulting got in the way of running it, so now it’s just kind of run by the members of the Google+ community.

You’ve been featured as one of the Ladies of Dragonball on Instagram. Was that as fun as it sounds?

Yup! I was featured twice! It was pretty cool to be featured and share my cosplays. The first time I was featured it was of my Saiyan Bulma cosplay and the second time was my Goku in a kimono. It was actually quite humbling to be featured because the ladies that get posted on that insta are pretty darned talented.

Now, let’s talk about your cosplay because you are pretty hardcore and you’ve got some impressive skills when it comes to making costumes. Where did those skills come from?

I’ve always been pretty creative, plus I have always been into Halloween. So that is pretty much the perfect equation for cosplay and creating costumes.

I loved dressing up for Halloween and I made most of my costumes. Actually … thinking back, I don’t think my mom ever got my sister or myself store-bought costumes. She handmade them, until I was old enough to do so myself. My first ever hardcore movie-accurate costume (at least for a 16 year old) that I made was for my sister. I made her a Queen Amidala costume, headpiece and all.

As San Diego Comic-Con gained more steam over the years, I had always marveled at the sheer talent of those who cosplayed every year, but didn’t really think I had the chops to do it myself. Fast-forward to a handful of years ago, I befriended my eldest daughter’s preschool teacher (MeloMesh Cosplay) and we both kind of talked ourselves into dressing up for Big Wow ComicFest for the first time. We started off pretty small and then our costumes got more and more complicated each time we planned a cosplay.

I learned the basics of sewing from my mom and then taught myself the rest. I’m not a patient person, so it’s an uphill battle each time I start a new project, especially when I tackled my very first huge sewing project, but that makes it even more rewarding when it’s finished. Also, YouTube and Instagram was and still is my best friend when it comes to learning knew techniques on how to build and create using different mediums.

Do you remember your first ever cosplay? What was it and what did you create it for?

Ah gawd, yes. I dressed up as the Joker. It was… it was bad, dude. But ya gotta start somewhere, right? I bought a white tuxedo jacket and did a horrible purple dye job and bought these crazy green and purple striped socks off of Amazon. It was fun gathering the clothes and makeup for it and it definitely sparked the creative juices to start created bigger and better costumes.

When and how did you begin to really get into cosplay and become part of that community?

After my very first cosplay, MeloMesh and I decided to cosplay as She-Ra (MeloMesh) and Evil She-Ra (me). I made the majority of Michelle’s (MeloMesh Cosplay) and my costumes. I had spent many an hour creating armor, which I had never done before. It was super frustrating and I remember wanting to quit a few times, but when the day came and I saw our costumes on us and the response we got, I was hooked. I’ve made some pretty rad friends and, just like Hattie’s group, I knew I found my people.

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

Ah, man … this is a hard question. All of them! But if I had to pick two, I’d have to say I had a lot of fun cosplaying as Evil She-Ra, probably because it was first ever serious attempt at cosplaying and it was a blast, albeit challenging from starting the design concepts to the end of the convention day.

Second one I’d say is my favorite is my Rainbow Brite. It took me one year to make, mostly because I wanted it to be as accurate as possible. It was a labor of love … and a pain in the arse, lol. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to wear it to a con as of yet! But I plan on doing so in the near future.

What do you like about transforming yourself into favorite or iconic characters?

Every aspect of it. I love doing the makeup (it’s the esthetician in me) and seeing the final product after spending hours and hours on making it. It’s also pretty cool to see fans of the particular fandom’s eyes light up when they recognize your character.

What are some of the materials, equipment, and tools you use when you’re creating costumes?

I do mostly sewing-based costumes, but I’ve made armor out of Worbla (thermoplastics) and created working proton packs (from “Ghostbusters”) with PVC pipe, a couple pie tins and an old fence board. My husband help me with the harder stuff, like soldering and programming the blinking lights for the proton packs and shaping swords out of old fence boards.

What’s the most challenging aspect of cosplay for you? 

Hands down, creating the look. I’m a stickler for keeping my creations as movie- or show-accurate as possible. For example, when making my Rainbow Brite dress, I seam-ripped the sleeves five times. I had to keep leaving my work area because I was so frustrated and come back after I’d calmed down a bit. But this makes it that much more rewarding when the project is finished.

Do you create outfits for and/or collaborate with other cosplayers? 

I do! I’ve collabed with MeloMesh Cosplay and my sister, Dani. Melo, Dani, and I have done a few “Masters of the Universe” cosplays. MeloMesh cosplayed as She-Ra and my sister cosplayed as Madam Razz each time, and I cosplayed as Catra and the Sorceress, and of course Evil She-Ra. My sister and I cosplayed as Garth (me) and Wayne (Dani) and, of course, the aforementioned Haunted Mansion cosplay.

You also cosplay with your kids. What’s that experience been like for you as a family?

It’s pretty darn fun. They’re like me and enjoy the process of getting ready the day of the con. My youngest taps out usually about halfway through the day, but my oldest is pretty hardcore and will keep her costume on even if it’s triple-digit heat the day of. They’re constantly asking me to create different cosplays. They have a list of projects for me to start on. So far on the list is Finn and Jake of “Adventure Time,” Rocket Raccoon, and a couple characters from Roblox.

You do a lot of ’80s-themed cosplay and you’re a fan of the ’80s in general. I’m assuming you’re an ’80s kid. What is it about that era that you love?

Hells yasss! Born in ’83! Everything about ‘80s pop culture is rad (heh, see what I did there?) I love me some ‘80s music. Sometimes I torture my clients while doing lash extensions or doing a spray tan and put it on the ‘80s Pandora channel and torture them even more and sing along.

And in my opinion, some of the best movies ever made were made in the ‘80s: “Aliens,” “Predator,” “Back to the Future,” “Die Hard,” “Ghostbusters” … I can go on and on and on.

Even the cartoons! They don’t make cartoons like they used to anymore, and maybe I’m biased since I’m an ‘80s kid, but the cartoons made back then are far superior to those made today or even in the ‘00s and ‘90s. Like, for instance, “Masters of the Universe.” I’ve done three cosplays in the MOTU fandom — Evil She-Ra, Catra, and The Sorceress. “Care Bears,” “Transformers,” “Gummi Bears” (Gah! Now I have the theme song stuck in my head) … again, I can go on and on.

Meghan as Catra from the original “She-Ra: Princess of Power.”

You attend a lot of conventions, both in cosplay and out. What are some your favorite events?

Whether I’m in costume or out of costume, I enjoy walking the floor and finding amazing art. I’m not one for going to a whole bunch of panels, but there are a few celebs who hold panels that I will make time to sit and listen to their storytelling and answer questions. Bruce Campbell is pretty entertaining as well as James Marsters, who played Spike from “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” He’s an amazing speaker and tells the best stories from when he was on set. Michael Rooker is another fun guy to listen to when he holds panels.

Meghan, left, and her sister Dani with Kevin Smith.

Can you think of any favorite memories or moments from your con adventures?

There’s a lot moments that are my favorite, but I have to say, my most fave was when my sister Dani and I ran into Kevin Smith. We were in Reno, Nevada, at Wizard World. It was pretty late at night, the con had closed down for the day, and my sister and I were wandering around the casino floor and ran into Silent Bob himself. He was such a cool guy and was totally chill with taking a selfie with us. It was a pretty surreal experience for both my sister and I.

You also have your own business, Skin Geek Esthetics. You’ve got the word “geek” right there in the name. What was your inspiration for that?

I knew when I decided to open my business I wanted it to reflect both my passions: Esthetics and geekery. I had my reservations when I first filed for my business license. It was kind of a gamble naming my business Skin Geek Esthetics, especially since my studio is located in an affluent part of town, but it hasn’t affected me getting clients in the door.

As a matter of fact, the name of my business kind of attracts people and I’ve gained some pretty geeky clients and am able to talk “geek” whilst giving them a spray tan, lash extensions, and sometimes during a facial. I even have geeky art hanging up in my studio!

In the past, you’ve offered discounts to cosplayers. Has your beauty and skin health business intersected in any other ways with your love of geek culture?

Yup! I’ve helped out a couple times with the Geek Fashion Show, doing makeup for the models. I had so much fun collabing with the models on how they want their makeup. Unfortunately, my work had kept me from helping out lately but I’m hoping to carve out more time to lend a hand.

What’s your experience been like as a woman in the world of fandoms and geek culture?

It’s funny you ask this, because I was thinking about this the other day. A million years ago, when I was in high school, I was most definitely a closet geek. Kids were more judgy when it came to geeking out on fandoms back then.

I was super hardcore into Mobile Suit Gundam Wing and Dragon Ball Z and the crowd I hung out with just didn’t get why I was into these two animes. I remember the first time my high school boyfriend walked into my bedroom and saw all of the Goku and Vegeta posters I had on my walls, he wasn’t sure what to make of it. He took in stride though. But my friends took jabs at me from time to time for being a fan.

So that and being a girl back then wasn’t very common. Eh, I shouldn’t say it wasn’t common, more like we  geeky girls were in the geek closet. Because being a geeky chick was a double-edged sword. Dudes that were into the same things I was either thought it was soooooo awesome and “sexy” that a girl was into the same things they were into or would think along the lines of, “Wwe, isn’t that cute. She thinks she’s a fan.”

Nowadays, being a geek has become its own culture and us girls aren’t afraid to let our geek flags fly more freely. That and I’m older now and really could care less what people think of me.

You’re a fan of the Fallout video game. Tell me your video gaming origin story. How did you become interested in that pastime?

The blessed NES and Super Mario Bros. was my jam … still is, in fact. I got that thing for Christmas when I was 6 or 7 and I was hooked.

What is it about Fallout in particular that appeals to you?

The premise is pretty stellar. I’m not going to lie, I got a little creeped out when the bomb went off (Fallout 4) in the beginning of the game. Also, the music. Again, I sometimes torture my clients and play the Fallout soundtrack while working.

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

Sooooo … I’m what my husband calls a “backseat player.” I’ve physically played the game an hour total, mostly because I panic when I’m getting attacked or can’t get freaking Codsworth to follow me. But I will sit with my husband while he plays and watch the story unfold and yell at him when a radioactive bear is devouring him and tell him how to kill it. (He really loves it when I tell him how to play the game –sarcasm).

We’ve played (and helpfully gave unwanted advice on how to play the game) endless hours. I mean, we still play it on and off because the expansion packs and we’ve gone back to see all three alternate endings, so ya, endless hours on our couch.

What are your thoughts on Fallout 76?

DUUUUUUDE, so excited. Soooooooooo excited!

What other fandoms are you into?

Too many to count. I love me some Batman, especially the Joker. “Nightmare Before Christmas,” Star Wars … honestly I could list a crap ton of fandoms.

Are you currently working on any cosplay projects?

As of right now, no. The last project I worked on was Lydia Deetz from “Beetlejuice,” and after I finished that one up, I needed a tiny break away from my sewing machine.

Do you have any advice for geeks who want to get started cosplaying but might be timid about doing so?

Don’t be afraid! Do it!! If I can prance around in a horrible Joker costume and survive, you can too!

What dream or ultimate cosplays would you like to do in the future?

I’d really like to cosplay as Ripley and my youngest as Newt.  And also construct her exosuit … that’s my ultimate goal.

Saber Maidens admin sews her way to a space for women to connect with the Force

This week, we continue to combat the toxic masculinity and divisive rhetoric that’s threatening to make being part of the Star Wars fan community kind of a downer. In the second installment of a two-part interview, we’re featuring another co-founder and co-admin of the Facebook group Saber Maidens.

As we learned last week, Saber Maidens is a support group for women who are into Star Wars, the (light)saber arts, and prop and costume fabrication. The group began as the vision of Pat Yulo and Celeste Joy Greer Walker (who we featured last week) as they sought to create a safe space for female fans wary of being shamed or bullied by fanboys.

In this interview, we meet Pat, who got hooked on sewing after taking classes at her local community college and soon discovered an outlet for the Star Wars passion sparked, interestingly enough, after she made the connection between “Spaceballs” and “A New Hope” as a high school freshman living in the Philippines.

Pat now has eight approved costumes with Rebel Legion — no easy feat! — and troops regularly with the charity group; will be featured in the upcoming docuseries “Looking for Leia”; is admin of My Little Pony-Star Wars mashup group MLP Jedi; and holds a special place in her heart for that purple-haired goddess, Admiral Holdo.

She also throws down the gauntlet to fanboys crying tears over a new era of inclusive Star Wars stories. In her words:

“We’re here to declare that this new female-centric version of Star Wars is here to stay and for every fanboy shedding tears, there are more women behind you not willing to put up with it.”

You’re an admin and co-founder of the Facebook group Saber Maidens. For those who aren’t familiar with the group, what is Saber Maidens about?

Saber Maidens is a support group for women (cis, trans and everything in between) who enjoy dressing up as Force users and wielding lightsabers. People who participate in the group have varying needs met — some are more into the creation of the costumes and are looking for sewing help, others are more into the physical choreography of using a lightsaber. All of them are people looking for a space to talk about Star Wars that does not include the negativity of the current “fanboy” state out there.

What are your duties as admin and co-founder?

I always joke that for any group, my duties as admin is to find relevant memes to post on the group. We moderate conversations and try to engage our members to talk about their current projects.

Tell me about the conversations with co-admin Celeste Joy Greer Walker that led to the founding of the group.

Somewhere buried in the bowels of Facebook Messenger was the beginnings of the conversation that started Saber Maidens. Celeste and I originally envisioned a safe space for female Star Wars fans to discuss their love of the fandom. It differs from other groups because we primarily focused on Jedi and lightsaber choreography, because it was how we met and some of our fueling passions in the fandom. We’re not pilots or princesses or smugglers. We identify with the Force and make that our focus.

Why did you feel women needed a “safe space” in the Star Wars choreography clubs?

For full disclosure, I was always at the periphery of the choreography clubs. My skill, time, and other duties prevented me from exploring and spending more time with the group. So my participation is fleeting at best. What I’ve personally experienced hasn’t been too jarring, but also, that’s because I haven’t been too entrenched in that atmosphere. My one major negative interaction with the choreography club was getting burned by a saber maker who overcharged me for a lightsaber and took two years to deliver.

Saber Maidens members sometimes meet for “crafternoon get-togethers” to work on projects and hang out. Tell me about those meetups.

Gosh, nothing is more fun and unproductive than getting together for a crafternoon! We set goals — like working on arm bands or learning new makeup techniques — and then get distracted by the conversation, food, and fun of the atmosphere. Sometimes we take submission photos together for the various clubs. Each person who attends has a different craft agenda sometimes and each person works on their own project while in the company of others.

What other activities have Saber Maidens participated in as a group?

Some of the members of Saber Maidens have presented at local cons on how to create authentic looking Jedi costuming. The speakers have now been nicknamed “Jedi Master Interfacing” and “Jedi Master Velcro” based on how much time they spend at each session talking about their love for each item. We say Jedi are held together by Velcro, snaps, and the Force.

You were inspired to get into costuming in 2002 after working at a local Renaissance Faire. What appealed to you about this particular craft?

I’ve always been a crafty person and loved making things. When I was younger, it was about painting and embroidery. When I moved to the U.S., I lost a safe space to paint and needed to find an outlet that didn’t make such a big mess. I joined the Renaissance Faire and learned how to sew. Then I got a sewing machine and ended up taking classes at the local community college.

My first teacher was very curious about my questions as no one else in the beginner’s class was asking about working with fur. (I wanted to make a Care Bears costume). He told me to volunteer for Costume Con, and that’s when I saw what the local costuming community was like and I fell in love with the creativity.

A combination of working for Faire and participating in the local costuming community really helped me to come out of my shell. High school me was VERY quiet, shy, and reserved. Now I’m a lot more assertive, goal-oriented, and boisterous.

Pat Yulo in a Winter Fairy costume she fashioned out of her wedding dress.

You took a sewing class at community college and went on to earn a certificate in theater costuming. What’s the most important thing you learned during your studies?

I went in for one class and, like an addict, kept going back for more! I loved it and the school was so supportive and thorough. I learned that SEWING IS HARD. It involves pain, some blood, a lot of heartache, and lots of overthinking. I know my math skills improved, as did my engineering mind. Sewing teaches math and patience, which are not really byproducts you think of when it comes to the hobby. Practice, practice, practice.

The Saber Maidens are currently working on Lightsabers for Leia, scheduled for Oct. 21. Tell me about that campaign.

The primary goal of this group build is to submit as many lightsaber-wielding Leia costumes by October 21, 2018, as a way to honor Carrie Fisher and her legacy as Leia. Princess Leia and Carrie Fisher inspired generations of fans and have been role models for many young, aspiring Jedi. When Leia was shown with Force powers in “The Last Jedi,” the moment reverberated through the fandom.

There are a lot of other instances of Leia using her latent Jedi abilities in books and comic books. Seeing Leia use a lightsaber was like seeing a potential fulfilled, and we’d like to bring that to life. For many, it reinforced the strength we knew Leia had. We want to make Leia as visible as possible in costume clubs so she can continue to serve as an icon for courage and hope.

We’ve established there are multiple variations of this version of Leia, such as Force Unleashed Leia, Infinities Jedi Leia, Marvel Jedi Leia, and Splinter of the Mind’s Eye Leia to name a few. There are certainly more instances, but those are not as fully resourced with pictures. There is also a lot of fan art that is near and dear to us. Pick a version and go with it!

We are also doing a fundraiser for the International Bipolar Foundation, which was a cause dear to Carrie’s heart. We are selling patches of our Saber Maidens logo and a special Lightsabers for Leia patch and all proceeds go to IBPF. We will also donate the money on October 21. You can order patches here.

How many people are participating and what kind of costumes are they creating?

A lot of people are working on their costumes, but we currently don’t have an exact number. As with any costumer, there is a lot of laziness and delay until we get close to the deadline. Then we’ll all freak out and finish it in a week or two. Some of us are having a hard time sourcing the appropriate materials or fabrics. We also need to decide if we want to make the costume for fun or to have it approved by either Rebel Legion or Saber Guild.

What sort of efforts are going into preparing for Oct. 21?

We are all doing a lot of research on the costumes and figuring out what is available out there. Because there are multiple instances of her wielding a saber, it’s a matter of choosing which costumes speaks to you the most. And sewing, lots and lots of sewing.

How were you personally affected by the passing of Carrie Fisher?

I remember getting the news of Carrie Fisher’s passing while finishing up breakfast on a cold, post-Christmas morning. I had to sit down and collect my thoughts. I felt like someone I knew personally had passed, and I don’t normally get this feeling for celebrities I had never met. And I was motivated to do SOMETHING. I worked with my friends at the Rebel Legion and we created a vigil for Carrie at the Yoda Fountain in front of Lucasfilm. The next day, we brought candles, pictures, cans of Coke, and a sign that we all wrote on. We sat around, talked, and comforted one another. It was a big blow to our community.

You’re a member of Rebel Legion, a group of Star Wars costuming enthusiasts who give back to the community through charity and volunteering. How did you become involved with that group?

A couple of years ago, I was wandering WonderCon as Kaylee from “Firefly” in a large, pink, fluffy dress. I came across the Rebel Legion booth and thought that if I was going to make a Star Wars costume, it would be good to use it for something meaningful. I never imagined years down the line I’d end up with TOO many Jedi costumes. (There might not be a thing as too many as I’d like to make more!). My first troop with them was for the Boys and Girls Club of San Francisco at Lucasfilm. We got to entertain kids and teach them how to use lightsabers before they went into to watch episodes of “Clone Wars.”

You currently have seven approved Jedi costumes and one Admiral Holdo costume. Wow, that is a lot! Tell me more about the different costumes and what it took to create them.

Full disclosure: I didn’t make my first approved costume. It was beyond my skills at the time to make Callista Ming, so I commissioned someone to make it for me. As my sewing skills improved, I made Jocasta Nu and a variety of generic Jedi. I like the idea of generic Jedi because you aren’t beholden to screen accuracy. You can let your imagination run wild a little bit and create colors and a character that could exist in the Star Wars universe.

I have a Jedi made up of gray fabrics that I inherited from a friend. She passed along a collection of gray skirts that had been owned by a friend’s wife who had passed suddenly. I patchworked all the skirts and gray fabrics together and I think the end product looks really polished and sophisticated, and in some way, acknowledges the leftovers of a life missed.

Could you explain what kind of work is involved in getting a costume approved by Rebel Legion? I’ve heard it isn’t easy.  

Things you learn with experience — when making a costume for any of the costume clubs, first check to see if they have a CRL (Costume Reference Library) for that character or type of character. Do research — see what’s out there, what’s been done, what’s been approved before you. Generic Jedi are one of the easiest to sew and give some leeway to creative license. Join online groups like Ladies of the Legions or the group’s forums to ask questions about your costume build.

When it’s done, take clear photos in good lighting and then submit them via a website form. It doesn’t matter how many costumes you’ve submitted — each one is nerve-racking as you wait for your approval letter! Holdo was a tough one for me because I didn’t have time to make it myself. I had to outsource the dress and submitted shortly before the movie came out, so there wasn’t even a CRL yet.

Pat in her Rebel Legion-approved Vice Admiral Holdo costume.

Which of your eight costumes was the most challenging?

Jocasta Nu was a learning curve because it took a while to figure out how to do the embroidery on her tabards. I had a newborn at the time and I’m not even sure how I finished that and a generic Jedi during my months of maternity leave. But I figured it out with some chalk, a twin needle, and a TON of dark brown thread. I must have used up over six spools!

What kind of volunteer work have you done with Rebel Legion?

I’ve been trooping with RL for almost 10 years now. As a working mom and wife, I use trooping as my “spa day.” I’ve trooped at the Ronald McDonald House, Lucasfilm, autism walks, the Great Reno Balloon Race, and Davies Symphony Hall to name a few. I love interacting with the public — especially when I hand a woman or girl a lightsaber to hold for a photo. Their eyes just light up and it’s a reminder that a lightsaber is symbolic of strength and power and, yes, women can have that power too. I’ve also helped to plan some of the parties and get-togethers.

What do you enjoy most about being a part of this group?

Deep down, I feel like all human beings are just looking to be accepted. Being part of a group like Rebel Legion fulfills that needs and provides you with friends in good times and in bad. When one of us are hurt, we rally together to help one another out. In many ways it also acts like an extended family.

You’ve said you have a whole closet full of costumes. Tell me about some of the non-Star Wars looks you’ve created.

My Jedi costumes intermingle with my steampunk stuff. A lot of my steampunk and RenFaire skirts are actually my Jedi skirts. There are fairies in there, too, one for each season. When I got married, I designed my dress to be inexpensive and reusable as a winter fairy costume. So I’ve actually gotten a lot of use out of what’s supposed to be a one-time dress. There’s also some historical stuff, like Regency, Edwardian, Dickens, and Medieval. There’s also a Dolores Umbridge and a Slytherin, and some mashups too.

Pat with the Star Wars-My Little Pony mashup group MLP Jedi.

You manage the Facebook group MLP Jedi, which is a mashup of Star Wars and My Little Pony. I had no idea such a fandom existed. Please give me all the details of how this came to be!

At Celebration Anaheim in 2015, a friend of mine and I sat at a panel about Star Wars mashups. At the time, I had made a vow — NO mashups. Ever. And yet, there we were, sitting and plotting about our mutual love for Star Wars and My Little Pony. We each picked our favorite ponies and thought nothing of it for a couple of months. The following January, I got word that cousins of mine were moving to the Bay Area and they were big Star Wars and MLP fans as well. All of a sudden, we were able to make costumes for the Mane Six. So I worked hard to construct six costumes in three months in time for BABSCon 2016. Since then we’ve just been recruiting other friends willing to join us, including a bunch of little Padawans.

Are a lot of people into this specific mashup?

There are at least 20 of us with this mashup and there is certainly fan art out there that shows there’s a fan base!

I’m having a hard time visualizing what the MLP Jedi “scene” might look like. Can you describe it for me?

I’m not sure if there’s really a scene, but we always attend BABScon, the local My Little Pony con and do a panel for the kid’s club. We sing the MLP Jedi theme song, talk about using the Force, and make lightsabers out of balloons. Last con, one of our new members who does DayBreaker Sith even did a panel about science.

You’re featured in the upcoming docuseries “Looking for Leia,” which focuses on women in the fandom. How did that come about?

Luck and the Force! I was sitting in the airport, killing time because my flight was delayed, when Celeste posted about “Looking for Leia.” I checked out the website and sent them a lengthy, gushy email about how much I love Star Wars and how I interact with my fandom. Turns out Annalise Ophelian, the filmmaker, was local to the San Francisco Bay Area and was interested in my story.

Tell me more about that experience.

The film crew came to my house to film me individually in the morning, and in the afternoon we had a round table discussion with a group of women, some of whom had come in from Reno and Texas to be part of it. Sit a group of women down for five hours and they can easily fill all that time talking about Star Wars! They also filmed some footage of the MLP Jedi being a bunch of goofs, ‘cause really, when you’re a candy-colored Jedi, life can be a lot fun. When I went on a trip to the Philippines, I managed to connect with Rebel Legion and 501st ladies there. We even managed to film some footage there, which I hope made it to the final cut!

Why did you want to be part of this amazing project?

Who would pass up an opportunity to talk about Star Wars and how it’s influenced our lives? It was a great opportunity too – I have met so many amazing women in this fandom and have connected with people around the world. My part of Saber Maidens was born out of the desire to have a space for women to connect with their fandom.

Tell me your Star Wars origin story. How did you discover George Lucas’ galaxy far, far away?

A long time ago, in a Philippines far, far away … it was Saturday, Sept. 12, 1992. I was a freshman in high school. My dad had just come back from his weekly trip to the laser disc rental store and came back with our weekend movie. “We’re watching Star Wars,” he said. My dad was a jock through and through, but man, did he love movies and movie trivia.

That afternoon we were transported to a galaxy I had never imagined … until I saw two familiar droids crossing the sand dunes of Tatooine, when I shouted, “Wait, wait, wait ….is this the movie “Spaceballs” is about?!” Up to this point, I had seen “Spaceballs” about 300 times and thought it was the best ever! I had no idea it was actually based on something.

But my life changed that day. In retrospect, it’s weird to think of how a simple movie can change your whole life and perspective but it did — it became the bedrock of my geekdom, which dictated how I interacted with people from then on.

Why do you think this franchise has proved to be such an enduring passion for you?

Why does any mythology endure? I like to imagine that hundreds of years from now Star Wars would be the equivalent of Greek and Roman myths today. The characters and storyline are universally understood, especially in light of the “Hero’s Journey” by Joseph Campbell. And now with the new trilogy we finally get the Heroine’s Journey.

The evolution of the franchise has been exciting to be a part of too. More people are starting to renew their passions and more are joining it. The widening of character-types and arcs are allowing more people to see themselves in the movies as well. I never connected with Princess Leia but Vice Admiral Holdo? Man, there was a woman who was stately and not afraid to be herself.

Does Star Wars manifest itself in your life in other ways besides costuming?

My Star Wars passion has ebbed and flowed over the years, and there were the “dark times” shortly after “Episode I” came out. I was disillusioned with the direction of the franchise. Joining the Rebel Legion really did fan the flames of fandom, and I appreciate the costuming community for it.

I feel like my Star Wars passion is all-pervasive and touches all parts of my life. My husband is a huge geek too, just in a very quiet kind of way. One Christmas, I gave him a picture that said, “I love you more than Star Wars.” He laughed and said, “That’s not true but it’s a nice sentiment.”

There’s a Rose Tico quote on the Saber Maidens page — “That’s how we’re gonna win. Not fighting what we hate, saving what we love.” I found this interesting in light of the fact that the Star Wars fandom seems to have gotten nasty recently with all the “Last Jedi” hate and arguing about the “Solo” movie, petitions to remake the film, and calls for Kathleen Kennedy to be fired. What are your thoughts about that?

That quote really struck a chord with a lot of us. Sadly, it feels like there is a lot of hatred in the Star Wars fandom, and I hate to say it but most of it is coming from men. All of the female-centric circles I’ve been in have been happy with the changes in the franchise, including women of color, ages and various body types. Sadly, these additions have not been well received and the paradigm towards hate grows stronger every day. It makes women want to give up with their fandom, which is one of the reasons I think Saber Maidens and communities like it are important.

But like the old adage goes, you can’t fight fire with fire, you can’t fight hate with hate either. What is it with fragile toxic masculinity that has made it rear its ugly head in many vocal forms lately? We’re here to declare that this new female-centric version of Star Wars is here to stay and for every fanboy shedding tears, there are more women behind you not willing to put up with it.

Pat as Dolores Umbridge.

What are some of your other fandoms?

Oh man, at my heart I am a geek and when I love, it’s deep and thorough. Let’s see, I love Doctor Who, My Little Pony, Firefly, Twin Peaks, and Harry Potter, to name a few. Things that aren’t completely considered geeky but that I treat with full force passion — Broadway musicals and books by L.M. Montgomery, especially “Anne of Green Gables.” My husband and I made our pilgrimage to Prince Edward Island for her.

Let’s close with a few Star Wars questions:

What’s your ultimate favorite film in the franchise?

“A New Hope.” I just love that classic hero’s journey, especially the scene where Luke stares off into the two suns and the music theme swells around him. I don’t know how many times I painted that sunset in high school!

What other movies, franchise entries, or stories from the Star Wars universe are you into?

I used to read the Expanded Universe (now Legends) voraciously. I stopped once they killed off Chewie but have been picking up some of the newer books as well. I LOVE “Leia: Princess of Alderaan” by Claudia Grey because it explains how Leia accesses the Force so beautifully and introduces Holdo, who reminded me of my high school self.

Who’s your favorite character?

Luke Skywalker forever. That farm boy is my jam.

Favorite droid?

R2-KT

Lightsaber color?

Orange. It’s a unique color and stands out in a crowd of blues and greens.

Porgs? Yes or no?

I would trade porgs for crystal foxes! There are a voracious subset of Saber Maidens who are totally team porg. We even have a member who does Daenerys Targaryen but with porgs — she is the Mother of Porgs. Me? I want a Swarovski tie-in with the crystal fox.

If someone wanted to join Saber Maidens, how would they go about it?

Find us on Facebook! We have a page that’s available to the public and a group that’s private. Also, we do meetups in the San Francisco Bay Area because it’s where we started. But if you’re a group of lightsaber-wielding gals and want to meet up in another location, we hope we can help with that too!

If readers would like to get involved with Lightsabers for Leia, what should they do?

Post on our Facebook page or join our private group. If you have questions about the costume build, we hopefully can pool our knowledge to figure it out!

 

 

A panel to teach fanboys how not to be creepers? (And other thoughts on WonderCon)

Photos by FAWN KEMBLE

I’ve resurfaced from a day of deep immersion in WonderCon, which, in case you’re not familiar, is the nerdiest of all nerd weekends in Southern California. I spent the day before at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter so, yeah, it was basically the most epically geeky two days ever.

WonderCon is organized by the people who put on the insanely popular and notoriously unnavigable San Diego Comic-Con. It consists of fanboys and fangirls overrunning the Anaheim Convention Center for three wonderful, exhausting days of cosplay, panels, screenings, promotional events, gaming, signings, meetups, mutual admiration, and shopping for collectibles, T-shirts, and merch, even though we don’t have any more room for them in our houses.

From what I observed, this year’s con was pleasantly well-organized. Mailing out badges in advance and scanning them at various points of entry was a great idea. I particularly enjoyed the sight of a dude in a giant cardboard Lego Legolas costume trying to reach his badge while simultaneously squeezing through the narrow scanner gate.

From a feminist perspective, I was happy to see many panels geared toward women and women’s issue on the schedule, including “Entrepreneurial Women,” “Cospositive: Cosplay with Confidence,” “Comics and Women,” “WonderCon Women of Pop Culture,” and a Friday night panel exploring how the #TimesUp movement applies to the comic book industry.

As my sister and I walked the Exhibit Hall, we were pleased to see many more women artists, writers, entrepreneurs, and vendors than in previous years. (There were still a whole lot of men, but it’s progress.) I was able to collect more than 50 business cards from women you might read about soon in No Man’s Land’s weekly Geek Goddess interview series.

I purchased a Captain Marvel T-shirt and a signed illustration of Wonder Woman by artist Leanne Huynh. I also bought my first comic book from one of the convention booths. In the past, I’ve been too intimidated to do that, so that’s progress for me personally.

We chatted with artists and exhibitors — at WonderCon you’re guaranteed to run across at least one person you’ve always wanted to meet or talk to — and spent so much time on the floor, where the air is clammy and thin, that we forgot all sense of time, not to mention basic necessities like snacking, hydrating, or taking bathroom breaks.

Eventually, we did fortify ourselves with greasy food truck fare in front of the convention center, surrounded by gender-bending Harley Quinns, twin Kylo Rens, Daeneryses, and Demigorgons.

My sister, who wore an adorable blue Tardis dress, only had to deal with two awkward and unwanted encounters with guys who lingered too long or insisted on mansplaining the finer points of “Doctor Who.”

Here’s an idea, WonderCon organizers: How about a panel titled “How Not to Be a Creeper” featuring so many geeky celebrities that fanboys won’t be able to resist attending?

Lavender Vroman, Gail Simone, and Fawn Kemble at WonderCon 2018.

For me, the highlight of this year’s event was a panel featuring Gail Simone, writer of Birds of Prey, Wonder Woman, and “Clean Room,” and the most recognizable woman in comics, who I Twitter stalk almost daily. Simone has worked hard to cultivate and encourage inclusiveness and representation in the industry.

Her origin story is legend. A comic book fan since childhood, she was working as a hairdresser when she began writing columns critiquing the industry, especially on its more misogynistic tropes. She was eventually approached to write for comics and the rest is history.

During the panel, Simone talked about her first job writing for “The Simpsons” comic book and how scared and inexperienced she felt. She recounted emailing her comic writer friends for advice on basic things like formats and style and how terrified she was that her employer would discover she didn’t know what she was doing.

I found this deeply encouraging because, so many of us — especially women who write or create — struggle with feeling strong enough, or smart enough, or confident enough, or adequate enough to tackle those scary new opportunities that could lead to something bigger. The fear of failure is a supervillain just waiting to deliver a demoralizing monologue.

Even sitting down to write a simple blog post some days can take a surprising amount of courage. I’m sure it’s the same for those of you who sit down to paint, or write fiction or poetry or a screenplay, or simply take some time away from daily responsibilities to do something that makes you feel fulfilled and inspired.

Gail’s advice: If you’re scared, it’s a good thing. Do it anyway. That’s when you’re going to create your best work.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The geek fashion industry has a size problem: An open letter to Ashley Eckstein

Dear Ashley Eckstein,

To begin, I’d like to thank you for giving women a voice to express their love of fandoms through fashion. I remember all too well the days when we had to make due with ill-fitting Star Wars T-shirts from the men’s section, or the thrift store, or our boyfriends’ closets.

Because of Her Universe and the geek fashion empire you’ve created, women have so many more options for self-expression and have been inspired to boldly and unashamedly celebrate their love of Star Wars, Star Trek, Doctor Who, Marvel, Studio Ghibli, and many other fandoms and franchises.

Your pioneering work in the geek fashion industry and your partnerships with Disney and Hot Topic place you in a unique position to create positive change, which is why I’m writing to you about a specific, industry-wide problem that geek fashion designers, manufacturers, and retailers need to address.

I’m talking about the fashion industry’s size problem, which makes shopping for clothes a source of frustration and discouragement for any woman who doesn’t happen to have the body of a teenager. (I’d say that’s most of us.)

Inconsistent sizing, lack of availability of plus-size products, higher prices for plus-size clothing, flimsy and unflattering fabrics and materials, and other related issues often combine to make shopping for geek clothes a fangirl’s worst nightmare.

Clearly, addressing and resolving these issues isn’t just Her Universe’s responsibility. I’m writing to you, Ms. Eckstein, because Her Universe markets itself as an inclusive fangirl fashion company and lifestyle brand that caters to a diverse spectrum of women.

Your brand prides itself on catering to women and girls of all shapes, sizes, and styles, from plus-size shoppers to kids. The company’s motto is “Fashion for Every Fangirl.” Too often, though, it seems the brand’s actual target demographic is an extremely narrow one, namely young women and juniors with a very specific body type.

My friends who wear plus-size clothing have been talking to me about their concerns for years. This Christmas, however, I had my first personal experience with the geek fashion size problem when my husband gifted me with Her Universe’s adorable, vintage-style Star Wars Endor Landscape Dress.

Since the picture of the model wearing the dress on the Her Universe website screamed “teen heroin chic” more than “40-year-old lady in a cosplay dress,” I probably should have been prepared for the fact that I couldn’t even get the zipper to close halfway on my medium-sized frock.

Now, I comfortably take a medium in every item of clothing I purchase, from T-shirts, to blouses, to dresses, so I was surprised, even shocked, and saddened that I wouldn’t be able to wear the dress to WonderCon as planned.

Around the same time, I was shopping on the Her Universe website for a gift for a family member. I found several plus-size dresses I knew she would adore, including designs from Doctor Who and Star Wars. Every time I clicked on a dress, however, I found that her specific size was out of stock. This happened over and over again, until I eventually gave up and went to another retailer’s site to find what I needed.

Now, it’s entirely possible the Endor Landscape Dress was designed for a younger, slimmer gal than me and I just didn’t realize it. And it seems geek fashion retailers have an ongoing problem with maintaining their plus-size stock, for whatever reason, be it demand or lack of supply.

But if the issue is that companies like Her Universe don’t in reality cater to a demographic of average-size women and plus-size fangirls, then the company needs to be transparent about that.

I polled my friends about their experiences shopping for geek fashion items and they all seemed to have disheartening stories that suggest this particular niche market is just as focused on youth and twiggy, anorexic beauty as the rest of the fashion industry.

By far, the biggest complaint I heard was about inconsistent sizing and labeling.

“I shouldn’t be a 3XL in a dress when I’m a large in a shirt from the same company,” said one of my friends.

Her solution? Switching from companies like Her Universe and We Love Fine to smaller outlets, like Elhoffer Design, that she feels care about her and her body.

Another friend who wears plus-size clothing recounted three failed attempts to purchase items from Her Universe, which culminated in a frustrating and overlong return process. She now has resolved to buy only shoes from the company.

Those I spoke to also described a constant struggle with thin, clingy fabrics and form-fitting cuts that are unflattering to their body types.

“See-through is not what I’m going for,” one of my friends said. “Also, I don’t want form-fitting. My fix for this is wearing men’s T-shirts instead. But it would be nice to have better options.”

Another major pain point for plus-size shoppers is the unavailability of desired clothing items, which always seem to be sold out or out of stock when they go to click and buy them.

“I think most times that I think to myself, maybe I’ll buy that, it’s sold out already,” a fellow geek shopper said.

Then there’s the fact that plus-size dresses and other clothing items tend to cost more than smaller-size items, which is just patently unfair and discriminatory. A quick glance at the Her Universe website reveals the cost of a plus-size dress can run about $10 to $15 more than the equivalent outfit in a smaller size.

The friends I polled mentioned lots of other things they’d like to see change in the geek fashion world, as well, including more dress-length options for taller fangirls and less gender-stereotyping when it comes to designs, like the over-feminized, flowery fashions that tend to be marketed to women and the edgier, artsier fashions targeted at men, for example. Why not make a wider variety of designs available to both genders and let fans decide for themselves what they want to wear?

I realize the problems I’m presenting to you won’t necessarily be easy to solve. Fangirls come in all ages, shapes, and sizes, and have lots of strong opinions. However, the fact that a large percentage of the female geek population isn’t being represented by companies that claim to represent them is a serious concern.

Ms. Eckstein, you’re at the forefront of the geek fashion world. If anyone can raise awareness and begin to address these issues, it’s you.

Thanks for your attention and consideration.

Sincerely,

Lavender Vroman

 

 

Cosplayer smashes barriers to become Internet sensation, inadvertent role model

Growing up as a geek who loved Star Trek and X-Men, Krystina Arielle Tigner didn’t have many positive role models who looked like her to reference, which makes what she has accomplished even more remarkable.

After an accidental brush with convention culture in Atlanta, Krystina was hooked on cosplay, which appealed to her childhood love of dress up, and has since become a rising star in the field.

She’s featured in one of the most irresistible gifs of 2017, a “dance-off” in which she plays Wonder Woman’s twin, Nu’bia, to Gal Gadot’s movie superhero. That instant piece of pop culture heaven has been viewed 35 million times. A Buzzfeed video in which she transforms into four different iconic black superheroes has also gone viral.

Krystina infuses everything she does with joy, including elaborate cosplays from Wakandan Wonder Woman, to Hamilton, to “Frohawk Rey”; Trekkie-themed photo shoots at Vasquez Rocks; a spread in Cosplay Culture magazine; and appearances at cons, where young fans have been known to seek her autograph.

She’s found herself breaking barriers, becoming an inadvertent role model to future geek girls, and meeting some of her personal heroes — Ava! Uhura! — along the way. 

You’re going to want to follow her to see what she gets up to next @KrystinaArielle.

Krystina Arielle Tigner as Wakandan Wonder Woman.

You describe yourself as a “Hollywood cosplayer, pop culture enthusiast, and professional geek.” How did you first discover the world of cosplay?

I have always been into comic books and pop culture, but I truly discovered cosplay for the first time on a St. Patrick’s Day trip to Atlanta with my friend Janna. Our hotel just so happened to be the site of MomoCon. I knew of it, but I had never felt the energy and passion of a convention. I decided that day I would try my hand at cosplay and when I got home I ordered tickets to Dragoncon and the rest is history.

What specifically drew you to this form of geeky self-expression?

I love comics. I love pop culture, and I love dressing up. This field allows me to honor those things and I love it.

Is your love of dress up something that stretches back to childhood or did you embrace this interest later in life?

I’ve always loved to play dress up. We didn’t buy costumes when I was a kid, we just created something. From playing in my Mom’s closet to revamping my wardrobe today, I love style and being able to show creativity.

What do you like about transforming yourself into an iconic character?

Being able to honor the characters that got me through rough times and good times. Most of the characters I portray are characters I have loved since childhood and it feels like a dream come true every time I suit up.

What’s the most challenging aspect of that?

The most challenging aspect for me is being sure that I bring the character to life but still feel comfortable in my skin.

When did you begin to realize that you might be able to take your cosplay to a professional level?

I don’t know that I ever have. From the beginning, I have just followed my heart and that has served me well to this point. I started because I love it, not because I thought it would take off to the point that it has.

2017 was a big year for you! You became an Internet sensation with a wonderful gif featuring you dancing joyfully, dressed as Wonder Woman’s twin, Nu’bia. It’s been viewed about 10 million times. What has that experience been like for you?

As of today, it’s at 35 million views and I’m still absolutely stymied by it. I love that gif. It makes me chuckle every time.

Tell me about how that gif came to be.

After the Gal Gadot dancing video came out, I knew that I wanted to re-create it. When we were on the set for the Buzzfeed video, I recorded it and set it to Britney Spears as a dance-off between Nu’bia and Diana. A dear Twitter friend, @mobius_strip, created the gif and the next thing I knew, it had a lot of views.

People have really responded to it. Why do you think that is?

I think the fact that my joy in that moment is genuine, as was hers. Two authentically joyful people, one being a six-foot knockout with a great smile, and the other having really cool hair, speaks to people, I guess.

Are you a big fan of Patty Jenkins’ “Wonder Woman”?

YES! I have probably watched it about six times in the last week alone.

Tell me your geek origin story. Were you into fandoms and pop culture as a kid? If so, what were some of your favorite franchises or fandoms?

My first fandom was X-men. When I was younger, my Grandpa Jack took my sister and I to our first comic book store. X-men was the first comic book I ever owned and I watched X-men the animated series with my family. It will always have a special place in my heart.

As a kid, there weren’t many pop cultural role models to inspire you. In fact, your husband created a “wall of representation” for you to remedy this. Would you mind telling me a little more about that?

When my husband and I first got married, I saw a Vogue issue that featured models that all had natural hair. I cried my eyes out because it was just so powerful. I ended up telling him about how it felt to be a child and not see many characters that looked like me. Characters of color who weren’t sexualized or objectified. Characters that could inspire something in the next generation.

We have this area over our sink in the kitchen and my husband had some art there. One day, he started buying every magazine that featured women of color for me and placing them on that wall. By seeing those pictures, I could feel inspired and see the people that came before me.

Last week, my first magazine spread went up on that wall. When we started it three years ago, I never would have imagined that would end up happening. It’s an amazing feeling.

Do you feel like you want to be a role model for young girls who might find themselves in a similar  situation.  

I never signed on to be a role model, because I guess I never felt worthy of that title. When I go to conventions now and I see little kids that are excited to the point of tears by my characters, it really puts things into perspective. Whether or not that’s what my intention was getting into this, it is now a reality. I want future little cosplayers to know that they can be strong, inspiring, wear their hair how they want, and that there is space at the cosplay table for us.

As a black woman, what changes would you like to see when it comes to representation in the world of fandoms and geek culture?

I would like to see cosplayers of color represented at conventions in the same way the non-POC cosplayers are. Quirktastc compiled a list of over 500 cosplayers across the country. Having one black cosplayer for every 12 non-POC cosplayers just to meet a diversity quota isn’t acceptable.

There are people with amazing talent and because we are seen as “black cosplayers” rather than just cosplayers, it puts us into this box of being a novelty rather than talent. I want to see more panelists of color, more cosplay guests of color, and less gatekeeping within the community.

What fandoms are you currently into?

I’m a die-hard original series Trekkie and I love “Doctor Who.”

It looks like 2018 is shaping up to be an exciting year in terms of representation with “Black Panther” and the upcoming “A Wrinkle in Time.” What are your thoughts on that?

I believe it’s amazing. Seeing “Black Panther” for me was a powerful experience. To see a young black girl be the foremost STEM expert. Strong fierce warrior women. Characters portrayed as Kings and Queens. It was beautiful.

I am so excited to see “A Wrinkle In Time” and to feel the same way. Ava DuVernay is a truly powerful filmmaker and it is going to be amazing to have Storm Reid inspire a generation of young black girls. Her presence in that film will help some little girl delve into the world of sci-fi and that is beautiful to me.

I fell that we are on the cusp of a very important paradigm shift and I am ready to see what that brings. I hope that seeing black characters portrayed positively will help our society and media do the same. I hope that we will continue to have the tough conversations and that hearts and minds will be changed.

Krystina as Ironheart.

Aside from the Nu’bia gif, you’ve achieved a lot in recent months, including shooting a Buzzfeed video in which you transform into four iconic comic book characters — Misty Knight, Storm, Nu’bia, and Ironheart. How did this video come to be?

I was approached by a fellow cosplayer, Bernie Bregman (The Geek Gatsby). He recommended me and I worked with the amazing (visual artist and writer) Kasiemobi Udo-okoye.

Tell me a little about the Buzzfeed shoot. Was that fun to do?

The Buzzfeed shoot was a really great experience. Everyone was really kind and it was enjoyable.

The video has received an overwhelmingly positive response. How do you feel about it?

I’m really proud of it. Everything that I am currently doing is beyond my wildest dreams so it feels really exciting to have these amazing opportunities. I am really glad that it has been well-received, and that I made my Grandma proud.

Are you a comic book fan? Were you into comics as a kid? 

Yes.

What are some of your favorite titles/characters?

I started with X-men. I am currently deeply emotionally invested in Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur.

Which do you prefer, Marvel or DC?

I honestly like both. There are different characters in each that resonate with me in different ways.

You were just featured in Cosplay Culture magazine. What’s that feel like?

That has been a really cool experience. Just yesterday, a kid came up to me with his copy at a convention and asked for my autograph on his copy. It was a really overwhelming moment. To see my cosplays in a magazine is something I never expected in my wildest dreams. It just came out this month so I am still terribly excited.

You also recently joined the Nerdbot Girls. How did you become involved with them?

I’m a part of an online forum called “Drinking Bros: Nerds” and I met my friend Dana Jane (who is also a Nerd Bot Girl in this group). We met in person at Nerdbot-Con and I ended up clicking with a lot of the girls on that day without them realizing I was the girl Dana wanted them to meet. They took a vote and invited me to join them.

Perhaps the most exciting that happened in 2017 was that you got married. Congratulations! Does your husband share your love of geeky things?

Thanks! Yes, we were married May 28. My husband is not a comic book nerd but he is a magician, so I guess that counts. He has been incredibly supportive of this journey and I am so grateful that he is by my side through it.

Another project you recently participated in was a Star Trek-themed shoot at Vasquez Rocks, which was the location of several episodes of the original series. What was that experience like?

That shoot was organized by a dear friend, Aliza Pearl, who is a cast member on the Geek and Sundry RPG show “Shield of Tomorrow.” We jokingly call ourselves “Uhura’s Angels.” It was really great to be in that spot that I recognized from so many great shows.

You actually met Nichelle Nicols, aka Lieutenant Uhura! Tell me about that!

She is amazing. She is the kindest, most intriguing person that I have ever met. Being able to spend a couple of days with her last year was just beautiful. She’s sharp, witty, and still absolutely gorgeous.

It seems you’ve recently met several of your personal heroes, including Ava DuVernay. What’s that been like?

I live in Hollywood and I have a lot of by chance meetings. The Ava DuVernay run-in was a really big one for me. Two days before, I had been making a list of my goals. One of those was to meet and work with Ava. I told her that when we met. So now I just pray for part two to come true.

Do you make a lot of appearances at conventions?

I’ve been making more lately. I really enjoy the environment and the amazing friends that I have made in this community.

That sounds like a lot of fun, but also a lot of work. What sort of efforts go into this?

For those that do custom builds, it can take months. A coplay look is a complete look. There’s hair, costume, shoes, props. It’s truly a process.

For those of us who don’t know a lot about how cosplay actually works, do you collaborate with a creative team of costumers, hair stylists, photographers, etc., for your various cosplays? Tell me about the process of designing a cosplay.

It’s different for each cosplayer. I love bringing characters to life but I work with some amazingly talented people that step up in the areas where I am weak.

I work consistently with Bonnie Ayala for makeup looks. She did my makeup for my wedding and almost every character I have ever cosplayed. My custom leather builds are designed and executed by Corena Gibson.

The cosplay community has a lot of talented photographers that attend conventions and book shoots through their websites. Photographers like James Rulison, who shot my Cosplay Culture issue photos, my Gwenom and Storm, Gil Riego, Ruy Arena, and, of course, Stefan Pinto.

My process is to decide on a character, which usually comes from a list of beloved characters from my childhood and curate my head to toe look. I fancy myself a stylist in my head. I just do cosplay instead of runway. I am very fortunate to be able to work with an incredible group of talented and creative individuals.

Is there an element of acting to cosplay? Do you have to kind of “become” the character?

There really is, in my opinion. Certain characters, like Gwenom, who is my only villain at this point, have to be presented with a certain confidence and swagger. I do enjoy that aspect of it. To get into character as Gwenom, I listen to “Monster” by Kanye West. Each of my characters has a theme song that puts me in the mood to carry myself as they would.

Krystina cosplays “Hamilton.”

You’ve cosplayed as Nu’bia, Storm, Deadpool, Hamilton, Gwenom, a Hogwarts student, and one of my personal favorites, “Frohawk Rey.” Do you have a favorite?

Wakandan Wonder Woman. Her war paint, combined with the costume and weapons, made me feel truly powerful.

Are there any dream cosplays you’d like to do in the future?

Definitely Vixen and Moon Girl.

I understand that you sometimes like to slip a little “casual cosplay” into your everyday life. Tell me about that. 

I like to wear simple outfits with odes to my favorite characters. Star trek pins, color schemes that match a certain character’s identifiable outfits. I just enjoy it.

Do you have any advice for aspiring cosplayers, especially those who worry they don’t fit the cosplay “mold”?

Drop the idea that there is a mold. Nothing is wrong with making your costumes, nothing is wrong with commissioning. There is no right way. Cosplay is a creative outlet and a form of SELF- expression. If you expect everyone to love everything that you do or to do things exactly as you do, you are going to spend a lot of time disappointed.

Be yourself, and be comfortable. Do this because it means something to you or gives you an outlet to express yourself. It can be intimidating but just stay true to yourself. You don’t have to be a professional costumer to be a cosplayer. Its costume play. Play and do you.

It looks like you spend a lot of time at L.A.’s Magic Castle. I’m jealous! 

As I said earlier, my husband is a magician. I actually got my associate member pin before my engagement ring. It’s an amazing place.

Have you actually attended the Houdini Seance?!?! Spill the beans!

We actually did the seance for the first time in January for my birthday! It was an absolutely wonderful experience. It’s truly magical.

You’ve said you want 2018 to be a year of “chasing dreams and achieving goals.” What are some of the goals and dreams you’re currently pursuing?

I have a lot of auditions coming up and I hope this will be the year I get to see my acting dreams realized. My goal overall is to be true to myself. To be kind to myself and to live and do things that make me happy. That seems simple but we tend to focus more on others than self-care. This year, I will take care of myself and my family.

What mark would you ultimately like to make on the world of geek culture?

If nothing else translates, I just want my love of what I do to resonate with people, because I feel truly blessed to be able to do it. I have no clue what is next on this path but I am going to keep making kids smile, and making my inner child happy.

 

Costume designer, cosplay queen wears heart for many fandoms on her sleeve

This week’s Geek Goddess interview is an exciting one because we’re featuring our very first serious cosplayer, Sara Parrott, who is also a professional costume designer.

For those of us who have never attempted it but have witnessed elaborate and exotic geek creations at conventions and other events, cosplay can be something of a mystery, but Sara expertly lifts the veil on the inspirations and techniques involved in this endlessly entertaining art form.

When she cosplayed as Mother of Dragons Daenerys Targaryen at Anime Expo, her handmade costume had fellow “Game of Thrones” fans pledging their loyalty to her. 

Raised by writers, a theater kid since the third grade, Sara vibrantly expresses her passion for a dazzling array of fandoms, including “Game of Thrones,” “Harry Potter,” “Doctor Who,” Marvel, DC, Disney, and Star Trek. She’s also quite the playgoer and bookworm (Pssst, jealousy alert: She’s got tickets to “Hamilton.”).

I don’t know about you, but I’d love to see her dream of becoming a professional cosplayer come true. 

Sara Parrott as Daenerys from “Game of Thrones” in a cosplay design of her own making.

You are an experienced cosplayer and a professional costume designer. How did you first become interested in the art of costuming and what drew you to cosplay?

My parents tell the story that I’ve always been interested in costuming — I’d come home from preschool and, when asked about my day, would detail what everyone was wearing.

I started costuming because of my love for Halloween.  My first homemade Halloween costume was 2006 when I was in sixth grade; I was a hanged colonial girl. My freshman year of high school, I met my mentor, Sarah Mgeni, and started seriously considering costuming as a career, and have been working steadily since then.

What are some of your cosplay highlights over the years? Tell us about some of the characters you’ve transformed yourself into.

My first cosplay was Misa Misa from the anime “Death Note” at San Diego Comic-Con in 2007.  I hadn’t even seen the series yet, but several friends told me I looked like her, so I put together a cosplay just from things I had in my closet.

My first cosplay when I started taking it very seriously was “Age of X” Dazzler for Stan Lee’s Comikaze (now Stan Lee’s Los Angeles Comic Con) in 2009.  She’s an X-Men from the comics, and I picked her costume from the “Age of X” series mostly because of her striking eye tattoo.

One of my proudest cosplays is definitely Daenerys Targaryen from season three of “Game of Thrones” for Anime Expo 2014. With the help of my mentor, I patterned her tunic, sewed a mock-up, and sewed the real thing. I also weathered the leggings, styled the wig, and hand-sewed the web pattern on the bust of the tunic. A lot of work went into her, and I’m very proud of how she turned out.

Sara’s brother and frequent cosplay partner, Sean, as Splicer from “Bioshock.”

You often cosplay with your brother. Do you guys tend to bond over geeky interests?

Since about 2010, I’ve cosplayed with my brother. His name is Sean, he’s four years younger than me, and about a foot taller than me. We’ve always been close, and we both love Halloween, so having him cosplay with me seemed totally logical. His first cosplay was a Hunter zombie from the “Left 4 Dead” video game franchise, and he hasn’t looked back since.

He’s a huge nerd, and proudly so, and we’ve been able to bond over a variety of fandoms. We got into “Harry Potter” at the same time, he tolerated my “Twilight” love, and we were both raised on “Star Wars,” “Star Trek,” Disney, and “The Twilight Zone.”

Where have you cosplayed? Do you have any favorite or special memories from your cosplay experiences?

I’ve cosplayed mostly in the Los Angeles area, but I did get to cosplay at two conventions in the Washington D.C. area while I was going to school out there.

I’ve attended San Diego Comic-Con (I can’t wait to go back one day!), Anime Expo, Stan Lee’s Comikaze, WonderCon, D23, and Anime Los Angeles, as well as AwesomeCon and MAGFest.  And I recommend all of these conventions! I’ve had such wonderful experiences at all of them.

One of my fondest cosplay memories is having other “Game of Thrones” characters pledge to me whenever I wear Daenerys. I was not expecting such a personal reaction to her, and it was so cool to see people react to the character so deeply.

To those of us who aren’t good at this sort of thing, designing and making your own costume sounds very daunting. Could you walk us through the process of creating a cosplay outfit, from conception to execution?

The first step is what I consider the least reliable: inspiration. Sometimes, I’ll watch a TV series or a film and like a character’s look and want to cosplay them. Other times, I’m inspired by a specific piece of art work — official or unofficial — of a character and will want to cosplay in a certain look or style.

The second step is planning.  This is compiling research images, sketching, studying various patterns and fabrics, and ultimately making my shopping and to-do lists.

The third step is building, which is the sewing, re-sewing, hemming, painting, gluing, all the messy stuff that somehow ends up happening the night before you’re supposed to wear the costume. It’s also the place where I lose time every single project — I don’t mind sewing for several hours straight until three in the morning, but my to-do list and sleep schedule would like to object.

And the final step is the most important: wearing the cosplay and having fun! As much as cosplay can seem like a competitive and elitist hierarchy (a perception the community is working to change), it’s just a bunch of nerds dressing up like their favorite characters and having a good time.

You’re a “Harry Potter” fan. How did your interest in J.K. Rowling’s novels come about? How does this interest manifest itself in your life?

I actually don’t remember where or when exactly I got my first “Harry Potter” novel.  I remember starting to read the series in second grade (2002-2003). While I didn’t attend any book events for “Harry Potter,” I did see almost every movie its opening weekend.

I’ve made many friends because of my love for the franchise.  I am absolutely one of those people who takes sorting characters from other franchises into their Hogwarts houses very seriously.

What Hogwarts house are you?

Slytherin!

I have heard you are also quite the Disney fan. Do you go to the park a lot?

I do! I grew up with an Annual Pass, and I finally have one again after going to college out of state. While I was in college, I even participated in the Disney College Program, which meant I worked full-time at Disney California Adventure for eight months and took two classes for college credit.

Sara designed this original costume themed after Star Trek’s Chekov.

What other fandoms are you passionate about?

Oh, boy.  It’s a pretty lengthy list.  The major ones are Disney, Marvel, DC, Star Wars, Star Trek, “Harry Potter,” “Twilight,” “Doctor Who,” and “Game of Thrones.”  I also love the whole “Law and Order family.” I’m a fan of an assortment of animes, mainly “Sailor Moon,” “Fruits Basket,” “Soul Eater,” and “Fairy Tail.”

I read a ton, so picking my favorite books is like picking my favorite children, but easily in the top are: the “Shiver” series by Maggie Stiefvater, “Jessica’s Guide to Dating on the Dark Side” by Beth Fantaskey, “Gone with the Wind” by Margaret Mitchell, “Pride and Prejudice” by Jane Austen, and the “Beautiful Creatures” series by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl.

Did your geeky inclinations originate from childhood? Both your parents are writers. Did that have something to do with it?

My parents are both huge geeks as well, and I was raised on some major fandoms: Star Wars, Star Trek, the original “Twilight Zone.” I also read a lot, which is why I was introduced to “Harry Potter” so young, and then I was a huge “Twilight” fan.  They raised me to have a critical eye for good stories, and they fostered a love for well-written characters in me that continues to show in which fandoms I participate in now.

Were you a theater kid? What were some of your formative theater experiences?

I’ve been a theater kid since I was in third grade. At my church, during weekly Wednesday evening services during Lent, we do skits that have evolved into full “television episodes” that include parody songs, all enforcing the Lenten reading for that week. I started being involved in those in the third grade, and I started doing school musicals in fifth grade.

A lot of how I do and view theater has been influenced by three men: Tom Gerhold, my middle school music director; Mark Tennyson, my middle school director; and Michael Balsley, my high school director. I’ve been in a wide variety of shows, and every time I was supported but also told to test just how far I can go. I was never allowed to stay in my small comfort zone, which means I’ve long since conquered my stage fright. And these lessons have come in incredibly handy with my cosplay work, as people want to interact with the character instead of me, sometimes.

The first musical I participated in was “Godspell, Jr.” in fifth grade. I had to be off-book, learn choreography, and know harmonies. It was a huge test of how well I could perform, even as an ensemble member.

My favorite middle school theater experience was definitely “Checked Out.” It was my first experience with an original work, and I continue to love working with original scripts. It was definitely frustrating at times, remembering to learn new lines as changes went into the script, and one performance we did an entire scene completely out of order, but it was so much fun being the first people to perform a play.

My favorite high school theater experience was “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” It’s my favorite Shakespeare play, and being able to be an actor (I was Snug the Joiner) and an assistant designer in such a wonderful, magical, colorful world was an incredible learning experience for 16-year-old me.

You participated in the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in high school. Tell me about that adventure.

I’ve done the Edinburgh Fringe Festival twice now, and I’ve loved it immensely both times. I went with my high school, one as a student and once as an alum, and we spent a few days in London before taking the train up to Edinburgh. In between rehearsing and performing, we were allowed to go see other shows, and we also organized a few group outings like to the Edinburgh Castle. Being able to walk down the street and exchange flyers for your show with flyers for someone else’s is such an incredible experience.  You couldn’t walk anywhere in the city without seeing a flyer or someone in costume.

Do you go to a lot of plays or shows? What are some of your favorites?

I try and see as many shows as I can.  I go to all the shows at my high school and now I go to all the shows at my brother’s college.  My family also has season passes to the Pantages, which has been so enjoyable.

I’m a fan of a lot of the classic movie musicals like “Oklahoma” and “The Music Man.” I’m a huge Sondheim fan, and I also love “Waitress” and “Dear Evan Hansen.” My favorite play right now is “Gruesome Playground Injuries” by Rajiv Joseph.

Are you a “Hamilton” junkie, like the rest of us?

Absolutely.  I probably know every word in the show by this point, and I’m so excited that I have tickets to see it next month.

Sara as Punk Bucky, a costume inspired by the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

You attended George Mason University specifically so you could major in costuming. Why did you decide you wanted to pursue that?

I chose George Mason specifically because I was able to earn a Bachelor of Arts in Technical Theater and Design with an emphasis in Costume Design. Most other universities don’t have an option to major in theater design, so I’d have to major in general theater and take one or two design classes.

I’m very happy that I chose to get a four-year degree.  It not only gave me four years in a classroom environment to learn as much as I can about design, as well as participate in four years of productions, but I also met so many amazing people, learned about my love for horror films because of a class I took, and minored in mass communication.

Do you work as a costume designer now? What would your ideal career look like?

I work as a costume designer now that I’m back in Los Angeles, yes! I’m so excited to be able to say I’m a working designer as opposed to an aspiring one.

I’m not quite sure what my ideal career looks like right now, because I’m still exploring what I like the most. I’ve worked on middle school and high school theater, and TV movies, but I’m still curious about how much I’d like working on a television series.

I’ve read that your dream is to be a professional cosplayer? Would that be difficult to achieve? What would you enjoy about it?

My absolute dream is to be a professional cosplayer, yes.

It’s difficult because it’s hard work.  It’s constant social media presence, cranking out new content on a monthly and sometimes weekly basis, and making convention appearances ideally every weekend during the convention season.

I think I would really enjoy it.  Conventions and costumes are two of my absolute favorite things in the world, so being paid to do both, and to encourage people to do both as well, would be a dream.

You have your own IMDb page, which most of us can only dream about. How does that feel?

I actually didn’t know I had an IMDb page! That’s so cool! It really solidifies to me that I’m a working professional.

Oh my goodness … were you actually a wardrobe assistant on the “Princess Rap Battle” video?

I was! My mentor, Sarah Mgeni, has been the costume designer for several of them, and she got me on-set for the “Maleficent vs. Daenerys” video as her assistant. It was such an incredible experience. Everyone was so sweet and we all had so much fun with the whole process.

As a cosplayer, I’m sure you’ve had a chance to really observe geek and convention culture. As a woman, is there anything you would like to see change about that world?

I’m fortunate enough that I’ve seen some changes in geek and convention culture in my time attending.  There’s been a real shift to include amateurs and families in the convention scene, as well as an acceptance of geek culture in mainstream culture as a whole.

I’m hoping that one day I’ll stop seeing warnings posted on social media about creepy and inappropriate men attending conventions. The horror stories I’ve heard of photographers keeping secret up-skirt cameras rolling, or men making lewd comments at cosplayers, is enough to make me uncomfortable trying to attend conventions without companions.

What’s the next big release or event (movies, TV, books, theater, etc.) you’re looking forward to?

I really need to start keeping a separate calendar for all the releases I’m looking forward to!

“Thor: Ragnarok” (11/2/17), “Black Panther” (2/16/18), “Justice League” (11/17/17), and “Aquaman” (12/21/18), obviously. I’m also very excited for “Professor Martson & the Wonder Women” (10/13/17). I’m happy Halloween is almost here, so “Happy Death Day” (10/13/17) and “The Snowman” (10/20/17) are very exciting releases.  And I’m a Disney kid, so I’m counting down the days to “Coco” (11/22/17).

I’m very bad at keeping up with television, so I’m not counting down to any releases. My DVR and Netflix queue are both testaments to how much television I have to catch up on.

The only book releases I’m keeping an eye on — because, again, my bookshelf and library list will both tell you how far behind I am — are “Dear Evan Hansen: Through the Window” by Steven Levenson, Benjy Pasek, and Justin Paul (11/21/17) and “Killer Fashion: Poisonous Petticoats, Strangulating Scarves, and Other Deadly Garments Throughout History” by Jennifer Wright (11/21/17).

Who is your favorite Doctor?

Eleven was my first — my first episode was actually the 2010 Christmas special “A Christmas Carol” — but Nine is my absolute favorite.

And just for fun, what is one iconic costume you wish you had designed?

It’s a tie between Scarlet O’Hara’s green dress in “Gone With the Wind,” Lydia Deetz’s red wedding dress in “Beetlejuice,” and Mary Poppins’ red and white dress in “Mary Poppins.”

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 might be ideal, please respond via the comments, private message, or email, lavendervroman@gmail.com.

Welcome to No Man’s Land

Something happened to me in June.

I’m sure certain people will scoff when I say that in June a movie changed my life. Or maybe it didn’t quite change my life, but it changed the way I saw the world and it changed the way I saw myself.

In June, I saw Patty Jenkins’ “Wonder Woman.”

After decades in development limbo, DC’s long-awaited comic book adaptation arrived exactly when I needed it most, after months of demoralizing political and social setbacks for feminism and female wellbeing in general.

Despite what James Cameron says, “Wonder Woman” is a feat of female representation the likes of which Hollywood never seemed capable of delivering before. The fact that it also became the biggest hit of the summer, breaking records left and right, was just icing on the cake.

Left to right, Gal Gadot, director Patty Jenkins, and Chris Pine on the set of “Wonder Woman.”

Sure, “Wonder Woman” is a deftly written, wildly entertaining, gracefully executed, slickly produced big-budget comic book movie. It’s also so much more.

As star Gal Gadot charged into battle, bullets pinging off her silver gauntlets while soldiers cowered in the trenches, for perhaps the first time, little girls did not have to stretch their imaginations far to put themselves in her place. They were finally granted the same delight boys have long enjoyed, watching Indiana Jones, Luke Skywalker, Batman, or any other epic hero on a hero’s journey to save the world.

For grown women, the experience was even more profound.

Starved for female cinematic role models of power, strength, courage, compassion, intelligence, and heroism, the sight of Gadot’s Amazon warrior presiding over kick-ass action, not as a sidekick or sexual object, but as a three-dimensional hero who reflects back to us all that is best about our own humanity, was revelatory and unexpectedly cathartic.

There were tears. I assure you, they were tears of joy.

Gal Gadot greets a young Wonder Woman fan at a signing.

That said, it would be foolish to assume “Wonder Woman” changes everything.

For all we know, Hollywood will  jump on the female-led action movie bandwagon for a couple years before going back to business as usual. The worlds of science fiction, fantasy, videogames, comic books, cosplay, and TV and movie fandoms will likely remain minefields for women to navigate. Girls and women will still have to fight for their voices to be heard, in fictional worlds as well as the real world.

What has changed then?

Personally, I’m feeling more hopeful about the potential for women to step up and take their place at the forefront of geek culture, to blaze trails and envision ourselves in roles we thought we might never assume.

This hope has inspired a new project, a blog dedicated to the voices of women who are passionate about fandoms of all kinds. It’s no coincidence I’m launching this endeavor the day before “Wonder Woman” is released in digital HD.

The title of the blog? No Man’s Land.  Because this project is very much in the spirit of Wonder Woman but is by no means limited to the subject of Wonder Woman.

My intention is that No Man’s Land would be an outlet for the resources and skills I’ve honed during a more than 15-year career as an entertainment editor, film critic, blogger, and freelance writer.

Most of all, though, I want to have fun, and I want you to have fun too. This will most often take the form of shameless and enthusiastic discussion of all our favorite geeky things.

So we’ll be talking about Game of Thrones, and Doctor Who, and Harry Potter, and Stranger Things, and comic books, and anime, and comic book movies, and conventions, and television shows, and books, and collectibles, and cosplay, and whatever other nerdy thing we happen to be obsessed with at the moment.

And Star Wars. Lots of Star Wars. Because it’s Star Wars!

No Man’s Land will also endeavor to highlight the stories of women who are passionate about various fandoms and express this in fascinating ways, in pioneering careers, creative pursuits, unusual hobbies, family activities, and many other avenues.

We won’t shy away from talking about feminism, politics, social issues and perhaps even subjects that are painful, complex, or controversial.

Guys, despite the blog title, this is a space where you are welcome. We’d love your thoughts and contributions because we know so many of you are on our side.

Readers, I’d love it if you would function as my lasso of truth by offering your comments, feedback, suggestions, content ideas, pitches for guest posts, or whatever is on your mind.

Let’s get out of the trenches. I’ll see you on the battlefield.

Photos: Heroic Hollywood, YouTube, CBR, DC Comics.