Instagram artist nails it, celebrates fandoms with polish

Delia Wenzel has always been a little obsessive when it comes to the pop culture things that she loves.

As a child, she immersed herself in the toys of the ’80s. As a grown-up, she’s wrapped herself up in J.K. Rowling’s wizarding world and the creepy thrills of Halloween and horror movies. She has also discovered a true talent for creating vibrant, meticulously detailed, geek-tastic nail art.

You’re going to want to check out some of her amazing designs below, inspired by fandoms such as Doctor Who, Star Wars, Stephen King’s “It,” and “The Walking Dead,” along with other passions, like bibliophilia and science.

You can see even more of her stunning nail art on her Instagram account, @iamdeliasnailswhere she’s captured the attention of more than 9,000 followers.

Read on to learn more about Delia’s creative inspirations, her most unusual obsession (hint: he wore a stovepipe hat), her fondest fantasy (hint: it involves custom bookshelves), as well as the other impressive hobby that keeps her busy around Halloween time.

Delia Wenzel, center, at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Hollywood.

Your Instagram page, @iamdeliasnails, has more than 9,000 followers and features your nail designs, including many wonderfully geeky styles. How and when did you begin doing nail designs?

I think I’ve always loved painting my nails and I credit it with helping me quit biting them as a child but I didn’t really get into creating nail art until about four years ago.

Did you have any professional training or are you self-taught?

I’m completely self-taught. It’s all trial and error, mostly error.

Nails by Delia, inspired by “Twin Peaks.”

What specifically prompted you to tackle some of the geekier designs, like those inspired by Harry Potter, Star Wars, Disney, and various horror franchises?

I guess being into geeky and literary things, it was just a natural progression to want those things represented on my nails. Some of my most favorite designs have been fandom designs and it’s so fun to express my love of certain fandoms on my nails!

What do you enjoy about this geeky form of self-expression?

I enjoy being creative and have always had to have creative outlets to express myself, such as cross stitching, fluid painting, and pumpkin carving, but I love nail art because I get ten mini canvases to design and it brings my love of writing, photography, art and geekiness all together in one place. They’re great conversation starters!

What are some of your favorite designs so far?

Some my favorite designs so far have been my Patronus nails, book nails, and Tardis in space, galaxy nails.

Where do you get your inspiration and design ideas?

Most times I have no idea where my ideas come from! They just pop into my head, usually right when I’m falling asleep, ha. I have an entire wall of polish right next to my bed so that may be why. Usually when I look at a polish bottle it just tells me what it wants to be. I also gets tons of inspiration from fellow nail artists on Instagram.

What materials/equipment do you use in creating your designs?

Aside from polish, my main tools are stamping plates and a silicone mat. The stamping plates are metal plates with images engraved on them for stamping images onto the nail and the silicone mat allows me to create designs and then apply them to my nails at a later time. It’s extremely helpful for reverse stamping and messier forms of nail art such as fluid painting and drip marble designs.

Do you design professionally or just for fun?

It’s just for fun!

You have a lot of Instagram followers! How have people reacted to your designs?

The nail art community on Instagram is so collaborative and supportive! I’ve made so many amazing friends because of it. Fandom-inspired manis definitely seem to get a bigger reaction but the overall response has been incredibly positive.

You’re a huge Harry Potter fan. How did you discover J.K. Rowling’s novels?

I discovered Harry Potter almost at the beginning. The second book had already come out and there was a huge buzz about them. I didn’t pay that much attention because I thought they were “kid’s books” and being 21 or 22 and in the military at the time I didn’t picture myself reading kid’s books but an Army friend adamantly recommended them so I bought the first book and the rest is history!

 What do you love about them?

Everything! That’s such a tough question because it’s hard to put into words but I think what it comes down to is friendship and good triumphing over evil. And of course magic, definitely magic!

Delia at the Wizarding World.

How does your love of Harry Potter manifest itself in your life?

I guess my tendency to wear Harry Potter-themed clothing is an outward manifestation of my love for Harry Potter and specifically Ravenclaw house. I sometimes support Hufflepuff, as well.

It looks as if you spend a fair amount of time at the Wizarding World in Hollywood.

Yes! I call it my home away from home. I have had passes ever since it opened so I can go as often as possible.

You’ve described yourself as “bookish.” When and how did your love of reading develop?

My love of reading started very early. As soon as I learned to read, it’s been my number one past time. There’s nothing better than getting lost in a good book.

What are some of your favorite genres and titles?

I read a lot of YA, but I’d say my favorite genres are fantasy and mystery. My favorite series is probably the Unwind series by Neal Shusterman. I also really loved The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer. Of course, Harry Potter is a big one, as well as The Vampire Chronicles and Mayfair Witches by Anne Rice. I’m also a huge fan of Jane Austen.

Do you hoard books? If so, where do you keep them all?

I do hoard books! I have to buy all my books because I can’t bear to part with them after I’ve read them and I keep them anywhere I find room. It’s my dream to have a full floor-to-ceiling and wall-to-wall personal library in my home, preferably hidden behind a secret door.

What about your interest in geeky things in general? When and how did that begin?

I think I’ve always geeked out about things even as a child. I blame my obsessive tendencies. As a kid if I really liked something I became obsessed with it, watching a movie over and over again (I still do that) and collecting things. I loved to collect My Little Ponies, Strawberry Shortcakes, Barbies, Garbage Pail Kids and those plastic charm necklaces, especially.

Like so many book nerds, you’re also into Doctor Who. What do you enjoy about the series?

Aside from the Doctor himself, the idea of time travel has always captivated me. I can trace that directly back to seeing “Back to the Future” when I was a kid. I was obsessed. But the fact that the Doctor is always trying to help people is something I connect with as well.

Who’s your Doctor?

Definitely the eleventh!

Did you watch the Christmas special? What did you think?

I did. It was excellent but it’s always hard to say goodbye to the Doctor.

Are you looking forward to the new season?

Yes! As hard as it is to say goodbye to the Doctor, it’s always exciting to say hello to a new Doctor. I’m definitely looking forward to seeing the first female Doctor.

Tesla-inspired nail art by Delia Wenzel.

You’re also a ‘Stranger Things’ fan. What are your thoughts on Season 2? (SPOILER ALERT!)

I absolutely loved season 2! Most especially because seeing my dreams of Jancy become a reality was so fulfilling. I shipped Jonathan and Nancy from the very beginning. It was nice to see the dynamic between Hopper and Eleven. I really enjoyed that.

Who’s your favorite ‘Stranger Things’ character?

Oh, I’m Team Jonathan all the way!

Tell me all your thoughts on Barb.

Justice for Barb!



You seem to like the horror genre a lot. Why?

Hmm, why? I don’t know, I guess it’s just really fun to be scared!

What are some of your favorite horror films/franchises?

The Friday the 13th series and the Scream series are my all-time favorites and I really loved two new horror movies that came out last year, “It” and “Happy Deathday.” Both were just fantastic.

Tell me more about what you thought of the “It” remake?

I loved it so much, I saw it three times in the theater. It was the perfect mix of horror and heart. I even did “It” nails!

With your interest in horror, it follows naturally that you’re also one of those fascinating people who loves Halloween. Do you go all out to celebrate this best of all holidays?

I try to! I decorate fully inside and outside and usually have my costume planned out several months in advance. I’ll watch horror/Halloween movies exclusively in October and paint only Halloween-themed nails as well, but pumpkin carving is probably my favorite Halloween activity.

 You’re a masterful carver of geeky jack ‘o’ lanterns. How and when did you discover this art form?

Well, carving pumpkins was always something I looked forward to as a kid, even just those triangle eyes and a smile were so exciting to me. As a teen, I discovered those pattern books you could buy at the store and I started collecting them and it really ignited my passion for carving and I started doing a pumpkin carving party every year.

I would carve between seven and 10 fresh pumpkins every year and would keep them in the bathtub full of water and in the fridge to keep them fresh for as long as possible. When I discovered foam carvable pumpkins, it changed my life. I no longer had to worry about my pumpkins rotting and could start my carving much earlier and keep them indefinitely.

Around that time I also discovered online pattern sites through my friend and fellow pumpkin carver Stephanie Patterson. There are so many sites with patterns to represent nearly every fandom.

What do you enjoy about carving? Has this become an annual tradition for you?

There’s something so satisfying about it. It’s a very zen place for me. I enjoy the act of carving as much as displaying the finished product. It’s been an annual tradition for as long as I can remember.

What are some of your favorite designs that you’ve carved so far?

That’s hard because they’re all my favorite! I’ve done a Harry Potter series, Tim Burton, classic movie monsters, Doctor Who, and so many more. I don’t think I can pick a favorite.

What materials/equipment do you use for your carvings?

Aside from the pumpkins and patterns themselves, I just use some tiny little hand saws that I’ve had since the beginning. Stephanie recommended a hot knife and that has become a big time saver but I find it difficult for small details, so I only use it for larger straight areas and stick to my saws for the details.

Tell me about the elaborate displays/display walls you’ve created over the years.

It started off so small and cute and with a different theme each year — pirates, hayride, etc., but it was always my dream to create an entire wall of pumpkins. I finally achieved that goal a few years ago. Each year it grows some more as I’m always adding more pumpkins and it brings me such joy to see them all up on display.

How do the neighbors react when they see your pumpkins all lit up?

I think they enjoy it! Most have told me they look forward to seeing it and we get a lot of drive-bys and people taking pictures so I think others enjoy it as well.

What are some of your other fandoms?

I’m not sure I’d call this a fandom but I’m obsessed with Abraham Lincoln.



Does your family share your love of “geek culture?” If so, what are some of your shared and individual interests and activities?

Yes! My kids especially share my love of geek culture and we share a love of Harry Potter, Doctor Who, “Stranger Things,” Star Wars, Tim Burton, Jim Henson and horror movies. It’s so amazing to be able to share my geekdom with my kids.

Do you collect anything?

I collect too many things. Action figures, snow globes, Halloween villages, Lincoln memorabilia, Elvis memorabilia, anything Harry Potter, Doctor Who, Day of the Dead, and Frida Kahlo. Of course, I collect books and nails polish (I have nearly 1,000 bottles) and have started on that downward spiral that is collecting Pop! figures.

Delia’s nail polish collection.

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

I guess seeing more female representation would be good. We need more woman creating content. More women directors, too!

Nail art by Delia, inspired by Stephen Hawking.

Is there anything else we should know about you (life, work, hobbies, etc.)?

I was a journalist/photojournalist in the Army Reserve, I’m a crazy cat lady and I’ve been a lifelong vegetarian.

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

For movies, I’m most excited for the next “Fantastic Beasts” movie and “Avengers: Infinity War.” For TV, I’ll be eagerly awaiting the return of “Stranger Things” and “Game of Thrones.” My “to-read” list is incredibly long but I’m definitely looking forward to the next book in The Casquette series by Alys Arden and the next Cormoran Strike novel.

Let’s close with some favorite Harry Potter questions:

Hogwarts house?

Ravenclaw with a side of Hufflepuff.

Favorite character?

Sirius Black.

Favorite book?

“Prisoner of Azkaban.”

Worst movie?

“Half-Blood Prince.”

Most devastating character death?

Sirius Black, but I’m still not over Tonks and Lupin, Fred, or Dobby.

Wizarding subject you’d most like to study?

Potions.

Favorite magical creature?

Crookshanks.

Favorite Harry Potter item you own?

Probably my street sign from Grimmauld Place, but my wand collection and Horcrux collection are way up there, too.

Are you excited about “Fantastic Beasts 2”?

Oh yes! I’m counting the days! I cannot wait!

What’s on your Harry Potter bucket list?

Definitely to visit the studios in London, Kings Cross, Platform 9¾, and anywhere else associated with the movies and Jo’s writing spot. I definitely want to go back to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando because I haven’t been since they expanded it.

Drunk Austen admin applies wicked wit to Regency Era, Star Wars

We’re starting 2018 with a bang and an interview straight off my wishlist.

After Robin Epley started a little Facebook page known as Drunk Austen, she asked her friend, Bianca Hernandez, to join her as co-admin, and the rest is history.

Drunk Austen, the social media community built on a love of novelist Jane Austen, hilarious, Regency Era-themed memes, and pics of hot guys from the Austen film adaptations, with a healthy dollop of pop culture, social commentary, feminism, and inclusiveness, recently celebrated 50,000 likes on Facebook.

The Drunk Austen community hit a fever pitch of Austen-worshipping goofiness over the holidays with clever seasonal memes, Star Wars mashups, and a challenge in which followers were urged to whisper the phrase “What excellent boiled potatoes.” — a la Mr. Collins — in the midst of awkward family gatherings.

Known as “Admin b,” Bianca isn’t just a devoted Janeite with a sly sense of humor, she’s also a self-proclaimed “grade A nerd” with a passion for the Star Wars Expanded Universe, including badass Jedi Mara Jade; a skilled seamstress who crafts everything from cosplay outfits to Regency ballgowns; a bibliophile who includes “everything” on her to-read list; and a connoisseur of Star Wars-themed cocktails.

Let’s follow her to Austenland, shall we?

Bianca Hernandez, in costume as the Drunk Austen logo.

Tell me about the origins of the Drunk Austen social media phenomenon. How did it begin and how did you become involved?

Admin R started Drunk Austen after seeing a viral video. She started with a couple of memes, and then I sent her some of my own since I was deep in escaping adult responsibilities (like reading theory for class, looking for jobs, etc.). She added me as an admin and it’s been a journey ever since.

You’re known as “Admin b,” alongside Robin Epley, who is “Admin R.” Explain your dynamic as co-admins.

We went to j-school together, that’s how we knew each other before Drunk Austen. We’ve just tried to have fun, but learned a lot along the way. As we’ve gotten older and our followers have increased, we’ve learned a lot about how to handle a social media community. We both have our soft spots (Admin R is a “Little Women” fan, while I inundate followers with Star Wars), but in the end it always has an Austen-vibe of some kind.

Do you remember your introduction to the novels of Jane Austen?

A used book at a library book sale. The cover was awful, but it called to me. I read it when I was maybe 12 or 13, but a lot of the sharp wit went over my head. I just didn’t know a lot about the era or literature of her time.

What prompted you to become a full-fledged Janeite?

I read more of her work as I got older, but I think re-reading certain novels at certain times solidified my love. Emma, a painful character, was someone I could really relate to as I was starting college. After college I related more to Fanny at times. I think my love of the novels really peaked beyond casual interest when I was in Los Angeles for grad school and found a local Jane Austen book club. They were welcoming and made the experience of reading her works richer through discussion.

Which of her novels is your favorite and why?

Oh man, it changes. I think right now I’m really intrigued by “Persuasion.” I don’t relate to Anne, but I’m working (slowly) on a modern retelling of it because I think certain themes really translate well to today.

Why do you think her novels have endured and, indeed, flourished to the point that there’s an entire Facebook page devoted to her with thousands of followers?

Again, each time you reread her, you get something new. Besides that? I think the community can be a wonderful experience. So many people bond through this shared love, whether it’s the purists who love her work, the people who adore the hunky men in movie adaptations or the fanfiction writers, they all like a different flavor of Jane and that’s totally ok. I think Drunk Austen has tried to be really welcoming to all flavors, and there are communities that focus on one aspect, which allows people to find micro-communities that suit them.

Drunk Austen is, of course, famous for its Austen-themed memes. I feel like the memes are extremely on point lately. Thanksgiving was epic! And I love your recent Star Wars/Jane mashups. How do you come up with the perfect meme? Where do you draw your meme-spiration from?

I spend a lot of time on the internet (literally, my career involves working on social media). I see a good meme in another place and think, “Add some Darcy or a potato and we’ve got gold,” or something similar. Honestly, all of my memes are made because they make me laugh. If someone along the way is also amused then I’ve done a decent job.

The “boiled potatoes” challenge was the best thing ever. What did you think of the reaction to that?

I was shocked. I mean, I knew we had a great community, but I was so gratified to know there were other people who were down to be as goofy as I am.

Drunk Austen is more than just a social media community. It’s a public service, helping Janeites cope with awkward family gatherings or pepping depressed followers up with threads of hot guys. And there’s a hefty dose of feminism, too. Is this intentional?

Yes. At first it wasn’t, and I know we kind of grappled with stepping anywhere outside of Austen. Jane wrote about awkward families and would definitely have been a feminist. So I think we felt like if it was in the vein of her work it was still good.

I know I posted whole lot of hot man photos on a certain election night because I was in need of something, anything, to make me feel anything other than devastated. The response we got was amazing. Knowing that seeing a man with overgrown sideburns and a wet shirt brought joy to someone across the globe made me feel a little less like everything was crap.

Drunk Austen regularly navigates many Janeite controversies, such as who is the best movie Mr. Darcy or which is the best adaptation of “Pride & Prejudice”? How do you handle these hot-button issues?

We tell out followers to keep it civil when we do bring up those topics, but if we didn’t bring it up for discussion we have zero-tolerance for bashing other people’s favorites. We’re all here to love Austen, why divide ourselves over who is a more perfect Darcy?

Aside from your admin duties, you’re also involved with the Jane Austen Society of North America. Tell me about your participation in that group.

I was the Regional Co-Coordinator for my region, but recently stepped into the Secretary role. I volunteer a lot of time in making sure we have meetings that run smoothly and appeal to our members. It’s honestly just a fun way to get the local community socializing and learning together. I also started two Jane Austen book clubs that are still running (without me!) today.

You’re a self-described “book hoarder.” Were you into books as a child? How did your love of reading begin?

I was a late-reader. I was really, really shy and had undiagnosed vision issues in first and second grade, but I was too scared to speak up about not being able to see the whiteboard. My teacher at the time didn’t notice or try to intervene, just kept doling out my bad grades. My grandma was a teacher and finally realized there was something wrong. After I got glasses and a more understanding teacher, it was a love affair. I dominated library summer reading programs and always have a book or two somewhere on my person.

What are some of your all-time favorite books?

I have a book for every mood. If I need to be angry it’s Caitlin Moran’s “How to be a Woman.” If I want to feel the magic of being young I go to Harry Potter or “Sabriel” by Garth Nix. I cannot say enough good things about Gail Carriger’s “Prudence.” Then, of course, there’s Jane Austen’s works, with “Persuasion” whisking me away every time I open it.

What are you reading now?

Tamora Pierce. I’ve put off reading her works and recently took a swordfighting class that reminded me I needed badass ladies to look up to.

What’s on your to-read pile?

Everything. I actually want to reread some classic Star Wars books in 2018, then tackle the Shakespeare plays I never got to.

Bianca in Wonder Woman cosplay.

On your website, you describe yourself as a “grade A nerd” who once made a reference to “Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy” on your business card. What was the reference?

It’s a phrase I need daily. “Don’t panic.”

Tell me your nerd origin story. When did you embrace the “geek lifestyle”?

Picture this: Junior High. Library. I was in braces AND glasses. I think those were the years where I just knew I wasn’t going to be athletic or really into punk-rock. I was just going to read all the Expanded Universe books I could get my hands on.

Drunk Austen followers can’t help but notice that you are very into Star Wars. What’s your personal Star Wars saga?

My story isn’t worthy of a crawl across the screen. A substitute teacher showed one of the films in class and I was so intrigued I bought the movies as soon as I could. The prequels were my first intro, but it was the original trilogy AND the EU books that got me hooked. I was totally in it for the badass women (lightsaber wielding ones at that!).

Tell me about your discovery of the Star Wars Expanded Universe in junior high.

Another library book sale. I stumbled on the Thrawn trilogy and was excited for more Star Wars in my life. It was the beginning of a beautiful journey into EU.

You once created your own Mara Jade Jedi costume for Star Wars Celebration. It passed approval for both Rebel Legion and Saber Guild. That’s quite an accomplishment. Please elaborate about that experience.

I always like Mara because she was a badass lady with a purple lightsaber. I’d never been to Celebration, so I threw together a cheap costume for the con. I was so thrilled by how many people recognized the character. I got back and decided to make an accurate costume that I could get approved for costume groups. I’m not thrilled with wearing a catsuit, but I do feel kind of like a badass when I wear it.

You’ve sewn many costumes for yourself, including a Hamilton-themed ball gown and other historical outfits. What do you enjoy about that? 

I like sewing for fun and for my Etsy store. It’s fun to learn to make full gowns and teach yourself new skills related to that. It’s a challenge, but in the end I can feel empowered dancing in my newest creation.

Bianca, at right, in a gown she created for a Hamilton-themed costume ball.

What’s challenging about it?

Teaching yourself new skills and being patient about it. I look at the first projects I ever took on and then the ones I have done over the last year and see a huge difference. It takes time to get good at something.

Have you done other geeky cosplays besides Mara Jade?

Ilana from “Broad City.” Prudence from Gail Carriger’s books. Agent Carter. Doctor Aphra. Probably many, many more.

Bianca as Agent Carter.

Is it my imagination or did you attend the “Last Jedi” premiere?

I did!

What are your thoughts about “The Last Jedi”?

It was like an EU book come to the big screen. It’s not my favorite movie, but I really enjoyed it and can admit it was great.

Why do you think fans are having a collective meltdown over the film?

Because tons of folks have made followings based on their theories out of “Force Awakens,” and this movie ties up so many loose ends. What do they have to talk about now? I guess just their annoyance with the movie? I’m pretty tired of the kind of weak arguments for why this movie is bad. It’s just different, and that’s fine.

You recently called out the Star Wars community for its lack of support for women. I applaud you for that. Why did you decide to say something?

When I was first really into Star Wars as a teen I had a gender-neutral screen-name because even back then it was pretty hard to be a lady-fan in that community. Now, though things have gotten a bit better, I’m just really fed up with seeing blatant sexism. The post I called out was trying to act like it wasn’t a sexist argument, but it was, period. I was on the fence about doing anything, but I can’t sit back and watch this keep happening. I can’t let another generation of lady-fans feel like they’re being attacked.

And now for a serious question: Porgs. Yes or no?

Yes. All the porgs. Especially the giant Target exclusive porg that I technically won, but never received!

You seem to be pretty into Star Wars-themed cocktails. What’s your favorite?

There’s a blue milk cocktail made by one bartender in San Francisco. I’ve had others, but his is legit because he garnishes it with peach rings.

Can you draw any parallels between Star Wars and Jane Austen?

I think we’ve done a couple Star Wars/Austen mashups before, and I think it works because Jane Austen wrote about real people and Star Wars has characters that are pretty relatable too. Luke is really naive and gets thrown into adulthood with no guidance, something a lot of Austen heroines have to face. C-3PO bears a striking resemblance to the awkward properness of Mr. Collins.

What other fandoms are you into?

I love Agent Carter, Harry Potter and Doctor Who.

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

Oh man, I feel so behind in major media right now. I think the one thing I’m actually stoked for is the new adaptation of “Pride and Prejudice,” just because I have no idea what they’ll do with it. Besides that I think “Black Panther” and the Han Solo movie are the only things I’ll be dragging myself to the theater to see.

What’s left on your Jane Austen bucket list?

I haven’t visited Chawton or her resting place, so I guess that’s what I’d still need to do.

One of the questions I’ve been pondering lately is why do so many geeks also happen to be anglophiles? If anyone can help me answer this, it must be you. Thoughts?

I think the UK has a rich history, a literary legacy and some powerhouse nerd communities (like Whovians). That helps.

I think a lot of it is exposure too. If you’re raised knowing only English, and there’s a whole country that has content in English, it’s easy to get into. If there’s some cool content in French, but you don’t know French, you aren’t as likely to take time to learn it or find translations if they aren’t readily available. I have a limited understanding of Spanish, so I enjoy some shows and authors, but don’t participate in communities because I’m just not fluent enough.

I think access is also a factor. Masterpiece distributes a lot of UK shows to the US and a lot of people have BBC America now.

JPL’s PlanetaryKeri finds the droid she was looking for

I hereby mandate that, from now on, the role of the cool female scientist in every science-fiction movie be played by Keri Bean.

Keri, aka Twitter’s @PlanetaryKeri, has more nerd cred than anyone I’ve met.

I can’t even begin to describe the awesomeness of her educational background (studying the weather on Mars),  job (at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory), and hobbies, which involve everyone’s favorite droid, R2-D2, and everyone’s new favorite Star Wars heroine, Rey.

At JPL in Pasadena, Keri works on Mars rovers; the Dawn, which is orbiting the dwarf planet Ceres; and other fascinating space missions. She’s also part of the lab’s outreach team, making the science accessible to the general public.

In her downtime, Keri has quite the obsession with a certain sassy, blue-and-white Astromech droid. As a member of the R2-D2 Builders Club, she and her husband built their own functioning R2 unit, which goes well with Keri’s other hobby, cosplaying as Resistance Rey with the Rebel Legion club. 

And though we didn’t discuss it because it occurred after this interview, Keri was recently at the premiere of “The Last Jedi,” where she met Daisy Ridley, who signed Keri’s Porg.

Perfection!

You work at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena. It sounds like the best job ever. What do you most enjoy about it?

It absolutely is the best job ever! From the moment I was exposed to what JPL does when in high school, I knew I wanted to work there. I’ve now been working at JPL for over four years, and I still get excited to come into work every morning. I often can’t believe I work here. I think my favorite aspect is that I get to work with some of the best, brightest, and most passionate people in the world. Where else can you work on Mars rovers??

For the sake of laypeople like me, I’m going to ask you to explain some things — or maybe everything — about what you do. You’re a missions operations engineer. What does that entail?

My job is to operate spacecraft and tell them what to do. Since I have a scientific background, I focus a lot more on what’s called science operations. That means I spend a lot of time making sure as much data is taken as possible so scientists can use it to make amazing discoveries.

Currently, you’re working as a science planning and sequencing engineer for the Dawn mission. The Dawn is orbiting and exploring the dwarf planet Ceres. Could you explain your role in the mission?

So we use bits of code we call sequences to control each spacecraft. On Dawn, my prime responsibility was to work with the instrument teams to develop the sequences that would fulfill the science objectives safely. I am part of a small, four-people team that designs and executes all of the science data acquisition.

What information about Ceres has the mission yielded so far?

So, so much! Before Dawn arrived, all we had were these small fuzzy pictures of a round object. We found a large amount of evidence towards water ice, organic molecules on the surface, a transient atmosphere, and so much more! You can find out more at https://dawn.jpl.nasa.gov.

You are the tactical uplink lead and mobility/instrument deployment device engineer for the Mars Explorer Rovers. What do those titles mean? 

The Tactical Uplink Lead means you are in charge of the team planning the activities on Mars that particular shift. It’s a very mentally intense job because you have to remember a lot, make tough decisions, and more under a time crunch. I find it really satisfying. I get to tell a Mars rover what to do!

The latter role (we often shorten to Mob/IDD) is a downlink analysis role. After the rover drives or uses its arm, I’m one of the people that looks at the data and figures out what actually happened, did the activities complete safely, etc. It’s one of the first steps towards becoming a Mars rover driver!

That must be an exciting mission to work on! Tell me about that experience.

Opportunity, and her past twin, Spirit, were actually the first missions I worked on when I was an undergrad. I’ve been on and off the team since 2007! Both my undergrad and master’s thesis were based on data from Spirit. And now I’m a part of the Integrated Sequencing Team, and one of my responsibilities is also training people new to the mission on how to operate it. It’s a dream!

Keri Bean, dressed as Rey from “The Force Awakens,” with the Opportunity rover.

I read that you were interested in weather as a child and watched the Weather Channel a lot. What was it about the weather that fascinated you?

I wish I knew! It was an innate draw.

I also read it was the 2003 Columbia disaster that sparked your interest in space exploration. Tell me about that. 

I remember being at a Texas statewide academic competition called UIL, and they brought all the students into the auditorium. They announced the space shuttle had broken up over Texas and we had a minute of silence. I remember being angry. Not at what had happened, but why didn’t I know we had a space shuttle around Earth at the moment? I knew of the ISS, but what were they doing up there?

As soon as I got home I started reading as much as I could about space. My interested really got locked in a few years later when I got to witness in person the STS-114 launch, the return to flight mission post-Columbia. I went to Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama, the following two years. Between all of that, I got the space bug hard.

You attended Texas A&M University because it enabled you to combine your love of weather and space. You studied with Dr. Mark Lemmon whose focus is weather on Mars. Please tells us, are all the movies about Mars terribly accurate?

Mostly not. But you know, they’re movies and for entertainment! I’m willing to separate fact from fiction. “The Martian” is the closest I’ve seen to accurate, although even that has flaws.

If you could tell us only one fact about the weather on Mars, what would it be?

It snows!!!

You were able to work on several NASA missions as a student. What did you discover about yourself during this experience?

I found a couple of things. One thing was that I enjoyed astronomy as a hobby and not as a profession. I also found that I really like working with a team. A lot of my school experience was sitting in a cubicle by myself coding, and I just didn’t like the social isolation. I’m glad I got to experience spacecraft operations, as that was the balance between having a cool technical job while requiring social skills and interacting with people on a daily basis.

Are there many women working in your field?

A lot, actually! On Dawn, my manager, in the Science Operations Support Team, is a woman. Our deputy principal investigator and project scientist are women. On my JPL management side, almost all the managers up the chain are women. On MER, women rule! Up until very recently, all Tactical Uplink Leads were women for many, many years.

Right now, our lead systems engineer, lead Rover Planner (aka Mars rover driver/arm operators), and lead Mobility/IDD are all women as well. We also have more women Rover Planners than men. It’s quite often that mostly women staff the tactical team on Opportunity. I’ve seen quite a few shifts where there has only been one guy! But I also know that my experience is an anomaly, and I know many other women who tell me they’re the only women working on the team or in their job type. So while things aren’t perfect, I think there’s tremendous progress at JPL.

You’re a member of JPL’s Advisory Council for Women. How did you become involved with that? What does the council do?

So I try and help out with events that the Advisory Council for Women puts on. They have a yearly banquet (and this past year I nominated my best friend and STEM outreach extraordinaire Dr. Nicole Sharp to be the guest of honor, and she was!) and also do other events on lab.

Keri does some outreach for JPL.

You also do a lot of public speaking and outreach. And you’re an Internet celebrity with a big Twitter following @PlanetaryKeri. How did you get started in outreach? Why does it appeal to you?

I like people! A lot of my job is “translating” between the scientists and engineers, and that skill allows me to translate for the general public as well. I know there are so many people that want to do what I do, so I feel being public about it on social media is the best way to get people to experience what I do.

I could probably ask you about your job all day long, but I’d like to move on to another very important topic: Star Wars. You’re a member of the R2-D2 Builders Club. For those who are unfamiliar with the group, what is the purpose of the club?

The club is for those who want to build their very own Astromech!

How did you become involved with the group? Are there many female members?

I met a member who had built his own R2. I don’t know what it was, but when I saw R2 in person, I just knew I had to have my own. Luckily my husband was immediately on board, saying it looked like a fun engineering project. I wanted to wait a bit until I had a house, but then I saw all the droids in the droid builder’s room at Star Wars Celebration Anaheim and I just couldn’t wait anymore. I went home and ordered my first part that night. As far as I can tell, there aren’t many women in the club, but there are some! There’s now a group called Stardust Builders Initiative that spans over all the builder clubs (so BB-8, Mouse droids, etc.) and there’s close to 100 women or female-identifying people in the group.

Keri works on the dome of her R2 unit.

You built your own R2 unit. Tell me about that process. 

Oh gosh, where to begin?

It’s a long process. Most people take two to three years to build their droid. Mine was two years and a month. I had joined the forum and been reading for a good six months before I bought my first part, and that time isn’t included in that two years and one month duration.

My husband’s skills and mine complemented each other well. I took care of figuring out ordering parts, making sure they were cut/sanded/painted appropriately, etc. My husband has a background in electrical and computer engineering, so he did pretty much all of that. We still had a lot of help from friends! In fact, I have been having anyone that contributed sign the back panel of my droid.

It took a lot of nights and weekends to build. Honestly, over a year of that time was just waiting to get enough parts to actually assemble the droid. The first part we got was the dome, so we actually had our dome nearly complete in the first month of our building process. Then we had to wait a long time to get a frame, legs, and feet so we could actually assemble and stand R2 up. Once we could stand R2 up, things went pretty quickly. The last three months or so of building were pretty constant.

Once the droid is built, what do you do with him? Does the club do events? I’ve seen them at conventions and the droids are always a big hit.

I’ve only had my droid done for about six months now, so he hasn’t done a lot. We actually had a big, big push to finish because I had signed us up to troop at Legoland for their Star Wars weekend!

So we finished very late on Monday night on Memorial Day weekend, did a “soft opening” troop that Friday at a local school, then on Sunday was Legoland! It was super stressful but absolutely worth it since I got to troop as Rey with my droid there. I’ve brought my droid to JPL a few times and he is well-loved there. My husband and I want to make some more refinements before we really take him out and about more. Droids are never really done!

Tell me your personal Star Wars saga. How did you become a fan?

My first memory of watching Star Wars was in a car on a tiny 8-inch TV screen with an attached VHS tape player as my mother drove me across the country. I don’t remember exactly how old I was, but I was in elementary school. The copies I watched were ones my parents had recorded from on air in the ‘80s, so commercials and everything.

So I liked Star Wars, but it wasn’t my main obsession until recently. I mean, I always gravitated towards the droids and had a small collection of R2-D2 things and I went to the midnight premiere of the prequels. But it wasn’t until I met the R2 builder that my love really expanded. “The Force Awakens” compounded that. I connected with Rey long before the movie came out. Now I’m hooked!

You’re a member of Rebel Legion, specifically the SoCal Sunrider Base. How did you discover the Legion?

I don’t remember exactly, but I have been going to comic cons for quite some time and probably first heard of them at one. I knew about them for years, but never had a strong desire to join since I didn’t have costumes that were up to requirements. I had a lot more fun costumes, like a feminine Han Solo, R2-D2 themed Jedi outfit, etc., that aren’t what the Rebel Legion is for. I finally decided that I would get a Rey costume up to snuff and join not only to enjoy being Rey, but also to find events to take R2-D2 to as well. The R2 builders aren’t organized in that regard like the Rebel Legion and 501st are.

What requirements did you have to meet to join the group?

Since I knew I wanted to be Rey, I had to pick which Rey costume to focus on. I really like her Resistance Rey (gray vest outfit), so I focused on that one first. I read the requirements listed on the Rebel Legion website and went from there.

Resistance Rey is an amazing character. Why did you choose her?

I just really connected with Rey in a way I have never connected with a fictional character before. She has so much of my personality and we share a lot of common traits. I eventually want all of Rey’s costumes, but I started with Resistance Rey because I loved the vest!

Was it a challenge to put the costume together?

Yes, especially since I don’t sew! I’ve tried to learn many times but I just can’t seem to do it. So I had to wait for the movie to come out then find someone willing to make it to RL standards on Etsy. I picked pieces from a few different vendors, and luckily it all worked out.

A large part of Rebel Legion’s mission centers around charity and volunteer work. What are some of the events you’ve participated in? 

I joined in January of this year and I’ve already done 18 events! I tried to pick more STEM-focused events since that’s what I’m passionate about. The highest profile events I’ve done were Legoland and Star Wars night at Angel Stadium. My first two troops were back to back for a STEM workshop for Girl Scouts. Another fun one was the El Centro Airshow since there were a lot of fun planes to take pictures in.

What kind of reactions do you get when you show up as Rey?

Rey is so popular, so I get a big response! I was a little worried that since this version of Rey is in so little footage in “The Force Awakens,” I wouldn’t be recognized. Luckily, I haven’t had that issue. Maybe it’s her distinctive hair that helps. Either way, I’m well received! It’s especially fun if I get to troop with a Kylo Ren and we play off of each other.

The little kids always think I actually am Rey, so I get to act a little bit and act like Rey for these kids. At my first troop, a young girl approached me asking me what my favorite food was. I said I had only ever eaten Unkar Plott’s portions, so I asked what her favorite food is. She said spaghetti. I said I had never heard of it, so what was it like? She said it was a plate of noodles. I asked what noodles were since I had never heard of them. At that point I could see the gears turning in her eyes and her blanking out so I said, “Ok, ok, I’ll look it up in the Resistance database. So cute!

When I was at Angel Stadium, I locked eyes from a distance with a small boy, maybe 3 years old? Anyway, he started sobbing and I had no idea what to do. His parents comforted him, and after a minute he bolted straight to me and wrapped himself tightly around my leg and through his sobs I heard something like, “Don’t let Kylo hurt you. I love you too much,” so I comforted him and told him the Force is strong with me and I’ll be ok. It was super touching.

Are there other characters you’d like to portray in the future?

I’m working on a few other costumes, but no other named characters besides Rey yet. I’ve got a Jedi and a Rebel Fleet Trooper costume in the works. I might do one of Jyn Erso’s because I really like her style.

Are you excited about “The Last Jedi”? It’s almost here!

I’m super excited! I’m excited to see where Rian Johnson takes us, and I absolutely can’t wait to see where Rey goes on her journey.

You once gave a talk about the Dawn mission to Lucasfilm and Industrial Light & Magic. Please tell me about that!

Through the R2 builders, I ended up meeting someone who works at ILM and he invited me for a tour any time I was in San Francisco. So, of course, I had to go visit as soon as possible! My husband and I took a mini vacation up there. When coordinating my visit, I asked if he thought there would be any interest in me giving a talk about Dawn while I was there, and the rest is history! I’ve now visited a couple of times and it’s really fun every time. Once I even visited Skywalker Ranch … and when checking out at their store I met Dave Filoni!

What other fandoms are you interested in?

I think it’s obvious Star Wars is my main thing now, but I also like Star Trek, “Doctor Who,” “Battlestar Galactica,” Harry Potter, “Lord of the Rings,” and probably more I can’t remember right now. I’m not a huge comic book person, but I did like the Christian Bale “Batman” trilogy and the “Wonder Woman” movie. I used to really be into anime in high school but that faded when I went to college.

As a kid you were into Disney movies. Are you still a Disney nerd?

I’d say so. I go to Disneyland once or twice a year. I have watched a lot of the recent movies (for example, I just saw “Moana” over Thanksgiving break).

You once gave talks about Star Wars science and Dawn at Gallifrey One, the Doctor Who convention. Are you a Whovian?

A little bit! One of the things my husband and I want to do is have our R2 cosplay as a Dalek at the next Gallifrey One. Last year, I attended as Jakku/Scavenger Rey but used 4th Doctor scarf-patterned arm sleeves. That was well received.

I have to point out that there is a YouTube video in which you talk to Morgan Freeman about science. Morgan Freeman! How did that happen? Did you ever recover from it or do you still hear that magnificent voice in your head?

So the JPL media office contacted me that he would be doing an event at JPL and I had been picked to ask him a question in advance, since he wanted all questions pre-screened. So I asked him about how to do more casual outreach to reach the general audience without formal events like talks. It led to a bit of an interesting discussion. It was pretty neat. And the voice in person is just as awesome as you’d expect!

You’ve done so much professionally and personally. What is still on your career bucket list?

Well one thing I never expected to get to do is become a Rover Planner, as I thought that was mostly for robotics/computer science people. But I’ve now begun down that path, and over the next few years I’m working towards becoming one for Opportunity. So I guess there’s only crazy things left. Director of JPL? Astronaut? I don’t know! All I know is whatever I do, I’m going to have fun along the way.

What is on your geek bucket list?

I want to head to Ireland and hike Skellig Michael in my Resistance Rey outfit!

Let’s close with a few key Star Wars questions:

Is R2 the droid you were looking for?

Absolutely!

Besides R2, obviously, who is your favorite droid?

I think next I’d pick Chopper. I love the snark. K-2SO is almost tied on that front.

If you could visit any Star Wars planet, which would it be?

Definitely Ach-To. So pretty! And Porgs!

The Han Solo spin-off. Terrible idea or should we give it a chance?

I think we should give it a chance. I trust the people working on it to make it great!

And finally … Porgs. Yes or no?

Yes!!!!

 

Early comic book forays inspire filmmaker to honor women’s legacy

As a girl, filmmaker Marisa Stotter followed her older brother into the local comic book shop for a Magic: The Gathering tournament, and found herself browsing the shelves, igniting a spark that would grow into a full-fledged comic book habit in high school.

Years later, she would illuminate the hidden history of women’s contributions to the industry in the empowering documentary “She Makes Comics.” (Read a review here.)

The film sheds light on the achievements — not to mention the discrimination faced by — female writers, artists, fans, and creators. It also features interviews with power players in the comic book world, including Kelly Sue DeConnick, Gail Simone, Jenette Kahn, and Karen Berger.

After touring film festivals and other events around the world and winning a major award at San Diego Comic-Con, “She Makes Comics” recently made its debut on Netflix. (If you haven’t seen it yet, you should remedy that immediately. You can also view it on Amazon and iTunes.)

As a fan, I’m ecstatic that Marisa graciously agreed to  discuss the making of her documentary, along with other fun and geeky subjects, including her history with Dungeons & Dragons, the “Wonder Woman” movie, her “Doctor Who”-themed short film, and “Stranger Things.” 

“She Makes Comics” director Marisa Stotter and producer Patrick Meaney with the logo for their documentary.

What sparked the idea for the documentary “She Makes Comics”?

I was working with Patrick Meaney and Jordan Rennert of Respect! Films on a couple of comics-related documentaries, one on Chris Claremont and one on Image Comics. As those projects started to wind down, we discussed what to focus on next.

At the time (fall 2013), the Internet was abuzz with discussions about sexual harassment, discrimination, and other issues facing women in the industry. Against this background, it seemed like the right time to produce a documentary celebrating women in the comic book industry, although we also wanted to touch upon the discrimination that they face.

The seeds for the project were sewn when you were an English major at Wesleyan University. First of all, English majors rock. Second, tell me how the documentary began to take shape during this time.

I think my English education provided me with a great advantage going into the project. Although I did not specifically study comics as part of the English department’s curriculum, the critical reading and analytical skills I honed at Wesleyan proved to be useful as we studied the history of women’s contributions to comics and used that research to flesh out the arc of the documentary.

You were first introduced to the mysteries of the comic book shop by your brother, but it took you a while to jump into buying and reading comics. Tell me more about that.

Like most younger sisters, I wanted to do everything that my older brother did, and that included playing Magic: The Gathering, the card game, as a kid. A local comic book shop in my hometown hosted tournaments on Saturdays that my brother and I would participate in. I wasn’t very good at the game so I’d lose early on and kill time until my brother was ready to leave by browsing the comics rack. That’s when I first became interested in comics — I think one of the first that I picked up was a “Simpsons” comic since I recognized the characters.

What were some of your formative titles as a young girl?

I didn’t read a ton of comics as a kid, just the occasional “Simpsons” or “Archie” comics and some kid-oriented Batman comics. It was in high school that I began to read comics more regularly and developed my own personal tastes. As a freshman in high school, I read “Persepolis” and “Maus,” which really blew me away. They showed me that the medium could tell any kind of story, and they were particularly appealing to me as a student of literature. I did also get into superhero comics, but those graphic novels broadened my understanding of comic storytelling.

Are you still a comic book reader? If so, what titles are you into now?

I do still read comics, although I don’t have the time to read as much as I’d like to. I’m in a catch-up period reading some comics I missed in the past few months. I’ve been catching up on “Paper Girls” by Brian K. Vaughan and Cliff Chiang, which I absolutely love. And I’m catching up on Kelly Sue DeConnick’s “Bitch Planet.”

DC Comics editor Shelly Bond in her New York office in a scene from “She Makes Comics.”

What sort of research did you do before you began production on “She Makes Comics”? How much did you already know about the subject?

We were fortunate enough to have on board our creative team Karen Green, the curator of comics and graphic novels at Columbia University’s Robert Butler Memorial Library. She is incredibly knowledgeable about the medium. Karen was enormously helpful as we began researching for the project, suggesting interview subjects and particular works for us to focus on. I was already familiar with some of the people we were planning to interview, but I learned plenty more as we conducted our research.

Why aren’t people generally familiar with much of the history of women in comics presented in your doc?

Women’s contributions to comics aren’t as well-known as those of such legends as Stan Lee and Will Eisner. I think there are a lot of elements that factor into that, but perhaps the biggest reason is that comics has long been considered a medium for male readers, so it is assumed that men are the main creative forces behind them.

How did you go about making your list of interviewees? Was it a challenge to land any of the interviews for the film?

We initially had a very long “wish list” of interviewees that we then narrowed down as the film took shape. Patrick and Jordan had existing relationships with some of the people we wanted to interview from working on their previous documentaries, and Karen personally knew a number of people and facilitated getting in touch with them. We were fortunate that just about every person we contacted was interested in and excited by the project. In some cases we couldn’t overcome logistical obstacles, but we certainly made every effort to get the interviews that we felt were important for the film.

Marisa and “Captain Marvel” writer Kelly Sue DeConnick doing DeConnick’s specialty, the “duck-face selfie.”

Was there one interview in particular you geeked out over?

I’m a huge fan of Kelly Sue DeConnick’s work, and she’s a pretty big superstar in the comics world, so having the opportunity to interview her was really special. I was fortunate enough to get a duck-face photo with her, too!

You funded the film via Kickstarter. What was your crowd-funding experience like?

The “She Makes Comics” campaign was my very first experience with Kickstarter, and it was quite the wild ride. It was equal parts thrilling and stressful, given that we had a 30-day window in which to achieve our goal. I honestly had no idea what to expect at first — I wasn’t sure if the project would strike a chord with potential backers, or if there would be a backlash given the subject matter.

Fortunately, we received very positive feedback early on, and as the press began to cover the project, we saw an incredible outpouring of support. Managing the campaign, however, was a full-time job in itself. We constantly updated the campaign page with new rewards and communicated with backers on a daily basis, while we continued to spread the word about the campaign via press coverage, fan sites, and social media. I was on edge until we reached our goal, which was both an exhilarating moment and quite the relief.

You also worked with the Sequart Organization. Tell me about that organization and how were they involved with the film.

Sequart is an organization promoting comics literacy and the study of comics in academia, so it was a natural partnership given the nature of our project. Sequart had previously been involved in Respect’s other comic-related documentaries, so Patrick and Jordan had an existing relationship and had no trouble getting them on board with “She Makes Comics.”

Readers browse in a local comic book shop in a scene from “She Makes Comics.”

Let’s talk about the actual documentary shoot. What were the biggest challenges you faced?

Our biggest challenge was coordinating the logistics of the interviews, since the people we wanted to interview lived all over the world. We attended several comic conventions where we were able to conduct a number of interviews in one location, but even then it was difficult to coordinate with many creators’ busy schedules.

What did you enjoy most about the shoot?

I think I had the most fun shooting at comic conventions. I love to wander around the exhibition floor at a convention and just take in the sights, particularly the creative cosplay. We shot a lot of b-roll footage of amazing female cosplayers, and I was especially excited whenever we met a young girl in a great get-up.

I love the film’s logo! Tell me about how it was created.

Our logo is courtesy of the talented Courtney Wirth, who designed it for us. We wanted the logo to evoke one of the most iconic symbols of female empowerment, Rosie the Riveter, while remaining specific to the subject of “She Makes Comics.” We loved what Courtney came up with, and in fact, I have the original artwork hanging in my apartment!

Marisa and producer Patrick Meaney answer audience questions during a panel at the Vegas Valley Comic Book Festival in Las Vegas, Nev.

“She Makes Comics” screened at a lot of film festivals and events. Were you able to attend many of them?

I attended quite a few screenings, mostly here on the West Coast. The movie has screened all over the world, including in South Korea, Australia, and the U.K. It’s really amazing to me how She Makes Comics has managed to resonate with audiences across the globe.

What was the response to the film? Have a lot of women approached you wanting to talk about it?

The response to “She Makes Comics” was wonderfully positive and affirming. I was nervous sending the film out into the world, and I was particularly worried about our Kickstarter backers who had pledged to the project and would now be seeing the product of their support. Fortunately, I heard positive feedback from our backers as well as others who discovered the film. I was approached by many women for whom “She Makes Comics” struck a personal chord. I’m glad that the film opened up the conversation about women in the comic book industry even further.

What about the reaction from men? I was disappointed to see some pretty clueless comments from men on the IMDb website.

I’ve spoken with a lot of men who were fascinated by the documentary and came away having learned something new about the medium and its history. There will always be anonymous trolls trying to tear down a project like this, but I received very positive responses from male viewers, some of whom are fathers and art teachers trying to nurture young talent at home and in the classroom.

“She Makes Comics” won the best documentary prize at the 2015 Comic-Con International Independent Film Festival. That’s quite an achievement. How did that feel?

It was wonderful to receive recognition at such an iconic convention, and it was fitting given that so many of the stories in “She Makes Comics” have some connection to San Diego Comic-Con.

How did you land a distribution deal with Netflix? That must have been exciting. How has that changed the doc’s reception and prospects?

We initially made a distribution deal with XLRator, and they handled the rest. It’s an enormous milestone to have “She Makes Comics” available on services like Amazon, iTunes, and Netflix because the film will reach a whole new audience. We’ve seen a renewed interest in the film thanks to that exposure.

What would you ultimately like to achieve with “She Makes Comics”? 

What I’m proudest of with “She Makes Comics” is that the film has become a source of inspiration for young girls whose artistic talent is emerging. I think it’s vital for them to see role models, to see the women who have come before them, so they know that creating comics is something that they can do when they grow up. That, I think, is the project’s legacy beyond telling the story of women in the comic book industry.

Filmmaking and acting troupe Team Unicorn in a scene from “She Makes Comics.”

You also made a short film, “Tenspotting,” which is set in the “Doctor Who” fandom. That sounds amazing. Where can we see it?

You can watch “Tenspotting” on Vimeo!

Tell me more about the inspiration and making of the short.

“Tenspotting” was a fun one because it started as a joke! I was at Comic-Con the previous year having drinks at the Hyatt bar with two writer friends of mine, Emily Blake and Michael Patrick Sullivan. We kept noticing lots of “Tens” and were having a lot of fun counting them, and thus began the germ of “Tenspotting.”

Emily and Michael went on to write the script somewhat as a joke, but I told them I was interested in producing it — seriously! — and I brought it to Patrick and Jordan, who thought it would be a fun project to take on.

I’m assuming you’re a Whovian. How did you get into the series?

I’m actually not a Whovian, although I’ve seen a number of episodes. Don’t revoke my geek card!

Who’s your Doctor?

Although I’m not a big Doctor Who fan, I’m super excited about Jodie Whittaker’s casting as the next Doctor, and I plan to tune in when she debuts. I really like her as an actress, and I’m excited to see the first female Doctor.

What are your other personal fandoms? How do they manifest themselves in your life?

I’m such an equal opportunity fan — I get invested in almost everything I read or watch, but sadly I don’t have the time to be as involved in fandom as I used to. The Harry Potter fandom will always hold a special place in my heart, and I still have some great Potter fan fiction bookmarked from over a decade ago.

Is it true that while you were at Wesleyan, you were part of a secret group that played “Dungeons & Dragons”?

I wouldn’t say we were a “secret” group, but I did learn how to play D&D in college with a great group of friends. I absolutely loved it, although I think our Dungeon Master got tired of our antics derailing our progress. I’ve been meaning to join a campaign since I recently got the itch to get back into D&D.

“Stranger Things” is packed with “D&D” references. Are you a fan?

I am a big fan of “Stranger Things.” I had the greatest experience watching it for the first time. I didn’t know much about it except that it was set in the ‘80s and starred Winona Ryder. I was totally hooked on the first season, and the second season was just as good, if not better. Along with “Freaks & Geeks,” “Stranger Things” features one of my favorite portrayals of D&D campaigns in television.

I’ve heard you also really like board games. What are some of your faves?

I love Settlers of Catan, although I tend to get fairly competitive with that one. I’m also a big fan of card games like Munchkin and Bang. There are some really innovative games raising funds on Kickstarter, so I often get brand new games to test out with my friends.

Marisa is joined by several of the film’s interviewees for a Q&A following the premiere of “She Makes Comics” at Brave New World in Newhall, Calif.

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

I think it all boils down to inclusivity and respect. There is a gatekeeper mentality in some fandoms, based on this idea that you can only be a “true fan” if you have an encyclopedic knowledge of the work and have been a fan since “before it was cool.” I’m of the opinion that we should encourage new, enthusiastic fans to become involved in fandom.

I think a number of fan communities would benefit from a change in attitude towards new fans, because ultimately, we are all involved because we love the thing that is bringing us together. It doesn’t matter if you have been reading Marvel comics since the 1970s or if you started after the “Avengers” movie — we all approach fandom in different ways and from different perspectives, and to me, that is what makes these fan communities so enriching and fun to be part of.

Do you have thoughts and/or opinions on the recent success of the “Wonder Woman” movie? 

I really loved “Wonder Woman” on its own, and I appreciate how it seems to have touched a whole new generation of women (and men) who are excited about the character and what she symbolizes. I think the film is a much-needed reprieve from the chaos that is 2017. It has clearly inspired and empowered women in a way that no superhero film has done in the past few years. The “no man’s land” scene in Wonder Woman was perhaps my favorite movie moment of the year; it was so breathtaking and personally gave me goosebumps.

What’s on your career bucket list? Would you like to make more documentaries and films or go in another direction?

I loved the experience of making “She Makes Comics,” but I’ve found my calling, career-wise, to be in television. As I pursue my goals in that part of the industry, I’m bringing along with me a lot of what I learned working on “She Makes Comics,” as well as my lifelong passion for inclusivity and diversity. My ultimate goal is to develop and produce television that depicts stories we don’t ordinarily see on TV, from storytellers with varied backgrounds and perspectives.

What advice would you offer to women who still may be intimidated to go into their local comic book store?

Arm yourself with knowledge! Engage with the fan community online and get some recommendations for titles you may like based on the kinds of books, movies, and TV shows you enjoy. Fortunately, there are more and more comic book shops that are warm and welcoming to new readers and want to help you find your new favorite book. Don’t be afraid to take the plunge and ask an employee to recommend some comics. It’s such an exciting world to explore!

 

Custom Mickey ear craze ignites fans’ creativity

Jessica Danker, RecyclEARS

Last weekend, we explored the burgeoning fashion trend known as DisneyBounding, in which fans put together outfits based on their favorite Disney characters or attractions.

I feel I would be remiss if I didn’t delve into another fascinating fashion trend gaining popularity with fans of the theme park.

It’s the custom Mickey ear craze, characterized by Disney enthusiasts who ditch the official mouse ear-shaped headbands and hats that can be purchased at the parks in favor of handmade creations they fashion themselves or buy from savvy crafters.

If you’ve visited a Disney theme park lately, you’ve probably spotted people sporting these custom-made pieces, which range from elegant floral arrangements to elaborate headdresses themed after favorite rides, characters, movies, or even sports teams and non-Disney properties.

You may have even wondered, “Where can I get those?”

Susan Mitchell in Dole Whip ears, purchased from Etsy. Gwenyth Rooney in Marie ears, and Christy Rooney in Perdita ears, custom-made by Susan.

An Etsy search for the phrase “Mickey ears” yields 46,018 results, so you can see this trend isn’t just a blip on the Disney fashion radar. (If you happen to be looking for official, Disney-made ears, you can find them here.)

I interviewed five makers of custom Mickey ears, ranging from passionate amateurs to seasoned professionals. You can read about their motivations and methods below, as well as gawk at tons of stunning photos of their clever and colorful creations.

You may even be inspired to tackle the challenge of crafting some ears for yourself, family, or friends.

According to these ear makers, it’s an excellent way to express your love of Disney, tap into your creative side, bask in the attention to detail Walt’s company is celebrated for, save a little money, or simply provide yourself with headwear that better matches your DisneyBound ensemble.

Jessica Danker, RecyclEARS

Jessica Danker, RecyclEARS

Jessica Danker, of online shop RecyclEARS, has elevated custom ear-making into an art form with elaborate creations she crafts from recycled Mickey Mouse ears.

The Nampa, Idaho, resident’s “ear hat” business was sparked by headwear she designed for a family trip to one of Disney’s Star Wars Weekends.

“I wanted something unique for characters to sign on our vacation,” Jessica said.

One of her very first designs was a Darth Maul hat, which she blocked in felt herself, instead of her current approach of using recycled ear hat blanks.

“I’ve always loved to create, and had so many ideas, but what could I personally do with all those ear hats?” she said. “Creating for others gave me an outlet for my passions, and a reason to create.”

Four and a half years and more than 400 unique designs later, Jessica’s business is booming to the point that there’s no more room to grow unless she hires an assistant and raises prices, which she is loath to do.

Jessica’s handmade ear hats can take anywhere from eight to 40 hours to fashion. The process begins with a chat with the client, followed by a design and a sketch. Jessica then preps the ear hat blanks, “removing embroidery and the binding,” or constructs the headband.

“Once they’re ready, I break down the sketch into individual pieces and cut them out in felt. Those are then painted and applied, and the binding is reattached.”

The final step is cleaning and packaging the ears for shipping. Jessica primarily works with felt, acrylic paints, and fabric adhesives.

“I go through more fine-tipped paint brushes than I can count,” she said.

Though she never formally studied art, Jessica inherited her creative inclinations from a “wildly creative and talented” aunt who taught her to sew.

“That led to a passion for creating elaborate and detailed costumes and props. I have a chronic case of ‘I-bet-I-could-do-that-itis,’ which has led to lots of trial and error experimentation.”

Jessica said her favorite designs tend to be themed after Disney attractions. These have included the Haunted Mansion, Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, Space Mountain, and It’s a Small World.

“I also really enjoy working with some of the Disney classic films. My favorites quite often include modifications to the overall shape of the ear hats as well.”

A lover of all things Disney since childhood, Jessica often visited Disneyland with her parents, who had fond memories of honeymooning at the park. She now shares “the magic” with her husband and two daughters.

According to Jessica, the “driving force” behind the custom Mickey ear trend is fans’ desire to “choose and create something unique and meaningful.”

The fad has produced a demand so broad even Disney cannot possibly fill it.

“The breadth and the scope of characters created over the decades by Disney is so vast that it would be impossible for them to anticipate and create ears to satisfy the desires of all the guests at their parks,” she said.

In the future, Jessica aspires to “divide her time” between custom orders and creating stock to feature at events such as WonderCon, the D23 Expo, and Dapper Day Expo. She’d also like to branch out into Disney-themed fascinators and flat caps.

“It brings me so much joy to create something that means something special to someone.”

Spider ears by Susan Mitchell.

Susan Mitchell, ear-making matriarch

A longtime Disney fan and annual passholder, Susan Mitchell didn’t actually own a pair of Mickey Mouse ears until 2016.

After her first official ear purchase at the parks, the Palmdale, Calif., resident quickly became bored with wearing the same pair on every visit. So she bought another pair, thinking two options would be enough.

“I was wrong,” she said.

In search of a pair of ears to complement a favorite Belle shirt she planned to wear for a special lunch at Ariel’s Grotto, Susan discovered the world of custom ears sold on Etsy.

“After that trip, I had the ear-making bug,” she said. “I love themes and have found this new avenue for theme-related creativity so inspiring and satisfying.”

Ears by Susan Mitchell, modeled by her granddaughter Gwenyth Rooney.

Indeed, Susan has become the designated ear maker for both immediate and extended family.

Her creations include a pair of Tsum Tsum ears for her granddaughter; an array of fall-themed ears featuring sunflowers, sparkly acrylic leaves, florals, and pumpkins; spider and web ears for Halloween; and custom creations for a recent family DisneyBound, featuring characters such as Marie from “The Aristocats,” Snow White, Alice in Wonderland, Tinkerbell, Peter Pan, and Perdita from “101 Dalmations.”

Susan said she finds inspiration for her designs on Pinterest and Etsy, “but I also love to come up with new ideas. Now, when my husband and I shop, ear-shaped items seem to leap into our bags.”

When it comes to materials, she’s used felt, flannel, cotton fabric, glitter foam sheets, tulle, lace, faux fur, ribbons, leather, flowers, wire, trinkets, foam board, batting, stuffing, feathers, holiday decorations, pom poms, wooden skewers (to make a Pan flute), cup hooks (for Captain Hook’s hook), and “other things I can’t remember.”

Among the attractions of making her own ears is the “satisfaction” she derives from “attention to detail (one of the main reasons I love Disney).”

“My fingers tingle, my brain whirls, and my iPad opens when I’m inspired by the season change or an outfit that a family member has.”

Gwenyth and Gavin Rooney model grandmother Susan’s custom Halloween ears.

For those who may be interested in following in Susan’s ear-making footsteps, she advises watching a lot of how-to videos “to ascertain the different types of ears and the different levels of perfection achieved.”

The reaction of those she creates for is payment enough for her creative labors, she said.

“I love how excited and happy my family members get about designing and wearing the ears.”

Christmas ears designed by Rebecca Mettler.

Rebecca Mettler, @earsbybecka

Inspired by a couple pairs of custom Mickey ears she purchased for her sister and herself, Rebecca Mettler transformed a hobby she indulged in during her infant son’s naps into a business.

“I loved seeing everyone’s custom ears at Disneyland and on social media so I was inspired,” she said. “I knew people sold them on shops so that’s how I decided I would sell mine.”

Rebecca specializes in simple yet elegant floral ears based on Disney characters, sports teams, and cute color combinations.

She started her shop on Mercari two months ago and has already sold about 25 pairs of ears with more orders in the pipeline. You can view her designs on her Instagram, @earsbybecka.

A lifelong Disney fan, Rebecca said her father would save money all year to treat her family to an annual Christmastime trip.

“It was our family tradition that I am now continuing to carry out with them and my own little family.”

When she began making ears, Rebecca found inspiration on Pinterest, but now dreams up her own design ideas or chats with customers to “toss ideas back and forth.”

She purchases premade headbands, then adds different colors and styles of flowers and ribbons using hot glue.

Rebecca said her ears are more affordable than the official theme park offerings, “and mine are unique.”

“I love seeing how the end result turns out. Turning a blank pair of ears into something cool!”

Dawn Branch models a pair of her own Gaston ears.

Dawn Branch, the “crafty one”

It may be hard to believe, but Dawn Branch never set foot inside Disneyland until she was 24.

Around the time of her first trip, she purchased her first official set of Mickey ears and also noticed and coveted the custom ears worn by other park-goers.

Dawn’s first ear creations were born out of a need to save money and to coordinate with outfits for whatever DisneyBound theme she and her friends had selected.

“Sometimes friends would ask about ears for their cosplays,” she said. “I get asked as ‘the crafty one.’”

After worrying over whether her inaugural pair of Cinderella ears would stand up to wear and tear, Dawn began purchasing packs of “generic ears” online to eliminate further structural anxiety.

Her typical materials are glue, fabric paint, and felt. She searches Pinterest and Google for ideas, “but really the stories lend themselves to design inspirations. If I’m making ears, I usually know exactly what I want already.”

Dawn said her headgear has elicited comments from Disney cast members who “like seeing the creativity other people bring” to a variation on the licensed theme park merchandise.

The beauty of fan-created ears is that they offer a more varied park experience, she said.

“I generally don’t like the park ears quite as much.”

Without custom options, “everyone will have the same ears!”

Jennifer Mitchell and daughter Emma model Haunted Mansion and “Doctor Who” ears while posing with Minnie Mouse.

Jennifer Mitchell, “complete Disney fanatic”

Jennifer Mitchell was on one of her annual Disneyland trips when she spotted a woman exiting the security line wearing “the cutest pink and yellow mini roses on some ‘ears’ on a headband.”

Jennifer (who is no relation to Susan Mitchell) inquired about them and discovered the woman with the pink and yellow rose ears had made them herself.

“I thought, ‘Heck, I could do that,’” Jennifer said.

The Henderson, Nev., resident is a “complete Disney fanatic” who grew up in Southern California and enjoyed annual trips to Disneyland.

After her family moved to Northern California, her mother kept the tradition alive, packing her five kids into a station wagon for an annual pilgrimage that offered an escape from a stressful situation at home.

When she was 12, Jennifer began channeling her sewing skills into the creation of matching T-shirts for her family to wear to the theme park. She now visits Disneyland with her husband and their five children.

A couple of years after she spotted the woman with the custom floral ears, Jennifer decided to try her hand at making a couple pairs for herself and her daughter to wear on a special Disneyland trip they’d worked hard to save up for.

Some online research and a couple of trial attempts yielded three fine sets of ears themed after “Doctor Who,” the Haunted Mansion, and Minnie Mouse.

Jennifer began making more ears for family members and as gifts for friends.

“I’ve made Star Wars and Wall-E and Marvel themed ones. I’ve done really simple and plain, and big and sparkly!” she said.

“I even made some for a ‘Lord of the Rings’ fan with the ‘ring’ on the ears in a woodsy Hobbit-type style. People just love them!”

Eventually, Jennifer began earning money from her ear-making endeavors, which included a custom Princess Tiana-themed order for a customer across the country.

Jennifer and her daughter, Emma, even made a batch of about a dozen ears to give away to strangers on a Disneyland trip.

“It was an amazing, fun bonding trip for us and it was even better because we were able to make people happy with the ears we’d made for them,” Jennifer said. “It was like being part of the magic, just a little bit.”

Jennifer favors a ¼-inch metal ear-shaped headband, which she typically wraps in black ribbon. The center of the ears are made of foam, covered in fabric, and stuffed with batting to make them “a little poofy.”

She embellishes her ears in satin, cotton, fur, lace, sparkly fabric cut from clothing found at thrift stores, ribbons, beads, pearls, buttons, pieces of broken jewelry, and fabric flowers she makes herself.

Her inspiration comes mostly from “the park itself, the rides and characters, but also in whatever people like. The ‘Doctor Who’ and ‘Lord of the Rings’ ears were sure not Disney, but it’s fun to mix the two and show the wearers’ personality by creating a hybrid of two of their loves.”

Jennifer urges fans who are new to making ears to “make a practice pair first.”

“They’re quite inexpensive to make, so if the first ones don’t turn out just right, just try again!”

For Jennifer, the appeal of custom Mickey ears comes in the connection it creates with the theme park and other Disney fans.

“I just love Disneyland and when I make a pair for someone and they wear them in the park, it’s like a tiny piece of me gets to go! So I guess it’s selfish, too. … It’s a great and easy way to interact with other Disney fans — and I’ve even talked with folks who have made (their own ears). We share our DIY experiences and a little about ourselves. It makes a day at the park even better.”

But wait … there are more amazing custom ears below. Enjoy this gallery of gorgeous creations by the ear makers featured in this post.

By Jessica Danker, RecyclEARS:

By Rebecca Mettler, @earsbybecka:

By Susan Mitchell:

Bookworm, mystery maven loves Harry Potter after all this time … Always.

Why is it that so many of the best geeks also happen to be bookworms?

Literature sparks a love of stories that expands to embrace other modes, genres, platforms, and media, and conspires to create the most intriguing personalities.

One of my very favorite bookworms just happens to embody this adventurous love of fictional narratives of all kinds. She is Caitlin Hawkins, a fellow English major who stood in my dining room one fateful evening and plotted with me to form a book club. The rest is history. 

Caitlin is a passionate student of literature, working on her master’s degree in English, a book hoarder in the best sense of the phrase, a lover of mysteries and thrillers, an Agatha Christie junkie, the fiercest Harry Potter-phile you’ll ever meet, and an avid gamer who has found the imaginative realms of MMORPGs to be refreshingly liberating.

Read on for Caitlin’s deep thoughts on upcoming Agatha Christie adaptation “Murder on the Orient Express,” the co-dependent relationship between anglophiles and Netflix, tips for starting your own book club, and why you should give J.K. Rowling’s Cormoran Strike series a chance.

Have you always been a bookworm? When did you become a reader in earnest?

This is actually one of my favorite stories to tell. It involves a library near my house, my sixth grade teacher, a special cabinet of important books, and a sweet gift.

I have always loved to read—and I learned how at a very young age. I remember going as a small child with my mom and brothers to the Valencia Public Library and checking out as many books as I could. Naturally introverted and with two rambunctious brothers who were 4-plus years older than me, I found myself alone often.

Books were my solace. I nurtured that love through books like “Ella Enchanted” (my first favorite book I can remember), Joan Lowry Nixon’s mysteries, and the Harry Potter series. When I entered Miss H’s sixth grade class, I was already a bookworm. Her care and friendship took the spark and fanned it into a flame.

She curated a classroom library that all were welcome to, but for specific students, she had her special cabinet of her “favorite books.” These required special promises to return and take care of her books if you were to borrow them. In that special cabinet was her collection of Agatha Christie mysteries. Through that year, I made a dent in her collection, and when the time came to leave her class, Miss H gifted me with my own set of well-loved Agathas to get my own collection started.

That year of my life solidified my identity as a bookworm. I still have that Agatha Christie “starter pack” and add to it whenever I can.

You recently began your graduate studies at California State University, Northridge for your master’s in English literature. Why did you decide to pursue that?

I’ve always nurtured the dream to one day be Indiana Jones: professor, adventurer, and wearer of tweed. Completing my master’s is the first step on the road to Jonesdom.

What’s your dream career or literary aspiration?

My dream career is to be a college composition and literature professor. I love literature, and I also love the ability to have a more flexible schedule to be home with my hubby and cat. Helping others write and create something lovely is such a pleasure. Someday, I would also love to try my hand at writing my own mysteries under a pseudonym.

What are some of your favorite books of all time?

I’ll just list some of my favorite/most impactful series and standalone books:

The Great Gatsby — The catharsis in this book is so real. I also adore Fitzgerald’s beautiful language and the atmosphere of the roaring ‘20s. Keep an eye out for a Gatsby-themed 30th birthday party in the works.

Ella Enchanted — As stated above, Gail Carson Levine’s twisted fairy tale was one of my first favorite books. I read this so many times I could almost quote it verbatim. I loved her spunky Ella who was sarcastic and intelligent and didn’t quite fit the mold of a dainty little g — someone 8-year-old me could really relate to.

Harry Potter — Harry and his adventures found me through my fourth grade class, but really became a friend when my family moved to a different city in 2000. I spent my middle school years as often in Hogwarts as I did at Hillview. And I found the error in book four before they could fix it, and prior to the invention of Reddit/Tumblr. *pats self on back*

Jane Eyre — It has so many things I love. Heavily influenced by the gothic genre, a heroine who subverts expectations and goes after her dreams without being rude or abrasive (most of the time), and Michael Fassbender. Jane is an extremely important character for my nieces and future children to meet, as she seeks to always do what is right, despite extreme personal disappointment.

There are so many books that I have loved … . It’s too hard to pick!

Caitlin Hawkins with her reading buddy, Phoebe.

What are you reading right now?

Right now, my graduate classes are reading “Disgrace” by J.M. Coetzee and “The Underground Railroad” by Colson Whitehead. On my own, I have “The Lying Game” by Ruth Ware, and “One of Us is Lying” by Karen McManus.

What’s on your to-be-read pile?

I’m a book collector as well, so there’s a lot in my to-be-read pile. On the top of the pile is “Turtles All the Way Down” by John Green. I totally snagged a signed copy at Barnes and Noble, even though I knew I wouldn’t have time to read it until Christmas. Directly under that is to finish Tana French’s fantastic Dublin Murder Squad Series. If you like police procedurals mixed with character driven stories, check her out. Her writing is also fantastically beautiful.

You’re a huge anglophile. Did that evolve from your love of literature?
Yes and no. While I adore J.K. Rowling, Charlotte Bronte, Shakespeare, J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Tana French (shout out to my Irish writers who would be appalled to be included in this list) and of course Agatha Christie, I would chalk it up to Netflix. Without it I would be Doctor-less, “Call the Midwife”-less, and “Father Brown”-less, which would be a shame. (If you like quaint British towns, the ‘50s, mysteries, and Arthur Weasley, check out “Father Brown” mysteries. They are so fun!)

Caitlin and her husband Sam at Platform 9 3/4 in King’s Cross station, London.

Harry Potter has played a big role in your life. How did your love of the books begin? How has this passion manifested itself in your life. I know there was a period of time when you were reading the books pretty obsessively.

I put these two questions together because the answers go hand in hand. Harry and his angst met me in a place where I needed a kindred spirit. Naturally introverted and shy, I struggled to make friends in middle school and in my new neighborhood. For two years, I lived 45 minutes from where my elementary school was and where all of my friends lived. Summers and weekends were challenging for me.

In my loneliness, I connected with the idea of having to go away to go home, just like Harry. I also connected with the female characters like Hermione and Luna who defied expectations and lived life their own way. Through JKR’s writing, I grew as a person and learned to value not only camaraderie and friendship, but those moments of solitude that can bring self-discovery.

It has been a few years since I’ve reread the series, but I look forward to sharing it with my children. My next tattoo is actually going to be the “always” quote (complete with Deathly Hallows symbol), as a statement on where my love of literature got its foothold and its staying power. After all this time? Always.

Why do you think the love of this franchise has been so enduring for readers in general?

I think a lot of people my age grew up alongside our favorite characters and dealt with many of the same issues. JKR’s masterful ability to match not only content but style to the appropriate age group allowed us to read at our level each time a new book came out. Her characters and their adventures became a sort of touchstone of our generation.

I know I wasn’t alone when viewing the final film come to a close and thinking “and now my childhood is officially over.” I cried like a baby. I saw the first one with my dad, and fittingly saw the last one with him, too. I also think that the lessons learned through the books are timeless: never give up, seek the good in ourselves and others, friendship is just as important as success, and that love always conquers evil. I’m currently collecting the illustrated editions to save for my own future children so they can go to Hogwarts as well.

You’re also an avid reader of Rowling’s Cormoran Strike series. Not all Rowling fans have embraced that. What do you like about the novels?

THEY ARE SO GOOD.

No, seriously, though. J.K. Rowling is a master of pacing, which is so rare to find. I love everything she writes (I often say I would read her grocery lists), but having her delve into the realm of murder mystery is like having my two loves collide. I think the reason why people struggled with these is that it is such a departure from the Harry Potter series. The style is different, the characterization is different, and the genre is much more adult and darker.

It has all the hallmarks of gorgeous JKR descriptions, but the tone is entirely different. If you’re missing Hogwarts, these won’t help you feel any better. Strike is part film noir, part buddy comedy/romance, and all austere British fun. The caveat to this is that the first one’s final reveal is not nearly as good as the rest of them. If you’re trying them out, persevere! I loved the endings of the other two.

Are you looking forward to the TV adaptation?

I am and yet I’m not. The fact that it isn’t airing in the U.S. at the same time as UK annoys me, so I haven’t searched any out yet. (Being fair to myself, I also haven’t had time. Grad school keeps you busy!) I also firmly take the stance that the book is always better than the movie or show (hmm-hmm, Peeves). I will definitely give it a shot, but I have low expectations.

Caitlin at a Halloween party as Amy Pond and Sam as Matt Smith’s Doctor, with friend Kristy Rivas as Katniss from “The Hunger Games.”

You’re also seriously into “Doctor Who.” Whenever I hang out with you, it seems a Whovian conversation breaks out. What do you love about that show?

To be fair, I think you’re the only person in our book club who isn’t into it, so they share some of the blame for this phenomenon!

“Doctor Who” is a fun show, through and through. It has moments of heartbreak and drama, and sweet moments where “just this once, everybody lives.” The show features a lot of the same themes from Harry Potter as well, especially the idea that it’s not good to dwell in isolation. The camaraderie between the Doctor and his companions is compelling, and the universe that they travel in is extremely creative.

The idea of the Doctor himself is extremely creative and also compelling — the last of his kind, doomed to wander the stars seemingly forever, and yet has a soft spot for the British Isles. The show also has a lot of history and backstory that it’s fun to be a part of. If I’m right, it’s the longest running sci-fi show ever. I think the main reason why I love it though is just that it’s fun. And David Tennant.

Who is your Doctor?

10. Forever. I have a lot of love for 9 as well, and 11 grew on me. I really loved the youthfulness and fun that David Tennant brought to the role. My husband only liked Matt Smith.

Are you looking forward to the upcoming Season 11?

The ironic thing about Whovians is that the entire show is predicated on change, but the majority of us are extremely resistant to that change. I have my doubts about our new Doctor, and I have had the same ones every time he regenerates. Jodie Whittaker as the first female Doctor is simultaneously exciting and nerve wracking. I loved “Broadchurch,” but I got quickly irritated with her character, Beth. It will be fun to see what having the Doctor regenerate into a woman will be like for the show. I’m still holding out for a ginger, though.

It’s not hard to guess that you’re also a “Sherlock” fan. Actually, you’re a connoisseur of Sherlock Holmes in general. Why is that such a rich source of literary fascination for you?

My interest in Holmes goes back to the fact that he’s one of the world’s first and most famous detectives. He provides a sort of touchstone character for the detective genre and I will be forever thankful for that. I suppose I’m drawn to things that are intrinsically intelligent or intellectual. It’s not fun for me to put my time into mindless entertainment (like reality TV or “Angry Birds”). I’ll tell you a secret though — as the first of many hypocrisies in my geek life — I haven’t seen season 4. Don’t hate me!

Have you read all Agatha Christie’s works? You have an extensive collection of her novels, if I remember correctly. 

As the highest selling mystery writer of all time, Dame Agatha has 82 detective novels in her repertoire. I own about a quarter of them. They take up a lot of space, but I’m still collecting. One day I hope to own all of them!

Do you tend to be a book hoarder in general?

Yes. I am 100% a book hoarder. My house currently has five bookcases, and that’s after I purged when we downsized in our last move. It was a difficult purge, too. I think I got rid of some dozen titles, entirely under duress!

What do you think about the two upcoming Agatha Christie adaptations, “Murder on the Orient Express” and “Crooked House”?

I am extremely excited. Kenneth Branagh is going to be a fantastic Poirot! I also really enjoyed the book “Crooked House,” so it will be fun to see an adaptation of that. If I could ask for another book to be adapted, it would be really fun to see “Endless Night” on the big screen. It’s one of her later books and it’s funkier than you’d expect: very classically gothic and noir-esque.

What are some of the other fandoms you’re interested in?

Blizzard entertainment (Overwatch and World of Warcraft especially) has been a big fandom for me recently. Their characterization has been thoughtfully developed, continuing into the new OW hero and WOW expansion just announced at Blizzcon this last week. My husband and I are also into “Game of Thrones” (like everyone else on the planet, it seems) and are new to “Stranger Things.”

You’ve been known to disappear into the world of MMORPGs. Which ones do you play? What is it about those world that draws you in?

I mainly play World of Warcraft. I dabbled in Rift, Elder Scrolls, and a few others, but the community of WoW and the silly aspects of its gameplay always bring me back. There is a rich lore underpinning the WoW universe. It is building off the classic Warcraft games from the ‘90s and the MMORPG itself has been around since 2004.

The main thing for me, though, is that it’s fun! It’s fun to run around and pretend to be someone magical who goes on adventures and then log off and get back to your regular life. I suppose it goes along with my Indiana Jones dream. In WOW (and other fantasy themed MMORPGs), you get to choose a lot about your personal character, from what they look like to the abilities they have, and even which side of history they belong to. All of this adds to the wish fulfillment aspect.

I’ve played a number of different characters (a night elf rogue, a mage, an orc warrior, an adorable gnome hunter who I’m currently leveling) but I’ve always identified with the Paladin ideal. My main is a human Paladin, and as such uses the power of light to heal and protect friends and lay the smack down on evildoers. She’s so fun!

Caitlin and fellow book club members conducting a meeting at Disneyland.

You are co-founder of a very geeky book club that’s actually managed to stay together for many years. Tell me about that. 

This feels silly since you’re the other cofounder! It actually just started out as you and I wanting to keep reading and discussing literature as my undergrad years came to a close. I think the main reason it’s stayed together for so long is that we mix it up and minimize pressure. I’ve always loved that — people have come and gone and there have been months where we didn’t meet, but keeping it low key and low maintenance has kept it fun and kept it together.

You even started a blog about book clubs. Do you have any tips for someone thinking of starting a club?

I do have tips! Keep it chill. If you come at your friends with a giant list of 1,000 page books and a strict timeline, they will run screaming for the hills. My advice is to pick one or two friends who are the backbone of the group, commit to trying to keep a book club, and don’t sweat the rest. Allow people to come and go, and always welcome them back.

It also helps to come up with a theme of some sort, like only reading Oprah’s book club books or sticking to a specific best books of all time list. You can always change your themes later, but it’s a great jumping off point. I also suggest you come up with a fun way to make everyone’s voice heard. When we first started, we had everyone put their book choices in a Tupperware and chose randomly.

Now we tend to vote, but in the beginning it really helped alleviate problems with feelings being hurt and whatnot. I also suggest you give people veto power in some form. The main thing to running a successful book club is to be flexible with everything: how the discussion goes, where you hold meetings, when you meet, what you read, etc. Remember, your book club friends have lives, too.

What’s the next big upcoming release you’re looking forward to (movies, books, TV, video games, etc.?)

I am dying for the next Cormoran Strike novel. The last one ends with a bit of a cliffhanger, no spoilers, so I can’t wait. JKR hasn’t given us a release date, but told us on Twitter that it should be in 2017. Hopefully we will get it before George R.R. Martin releases “The Winds of Winter” — aka sometime this century.

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

I sit in a potentially unpopular spot in that I like where geek culture is going. Or maybe it’s just Blizzard. WoW and Overwatch have highly inclusive characters of different races/nationalities, body types, backgrounds and personalities. I maintain super powerful female characters on both games and so, so many others. There are numerous female players, and not all of us only heal (That’s a running joke. Respect to the healers out there because I suck at it. Seriously. One time our healer mage quit and the group made me switch specs to heal on the final boss of a mythic dungeon. Needless to say, we wiped immediately.).

I feel that there is a lot more personal responsibility at stake than making generalized statements about culture as a whole. When I think about the culture or community and make judgments about the entire thing, I feel as though that takes away the responsibility of each person in said group to not be a jerk to others. On the other hand, doing so also denies those who are being awesome credit where it is due.

Gaming right now has a lot of excellent vloggers and players who promote positivity and healthy community relations (check out Tradechat on YouTube, she’s not the only one). I guess my message to the entire world, not just the gaming or bookish communities, is to just be nice to other people and we’ll all be fine. Or as John Green would say, DFTBA.

Caitlin and sister-in-law Erin Gardner at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Hollywood.

Before I let you go, I must ask you some vital Harry Potter questions:

Favorite book?

“Prisoner of Azkaban” has always been my favorite.

Favorite character?

Neville Longbottom. I’ve always loved the boy who almost became marked by the Dark Lord and decided to be completely awesome despite his personal difficulties. I love his character arc as well. I also have a very soft spot for Luna Lovegood and Hermione.

Hogwarts house?

Proud Ravenclaw, married to a Gryffindor.

Have you visited the Wizarding World of Harry Potter?

Yes! My hubby bought us passes last Christmas. I’ll admit, the long waits were intense but it was super fun to hold a Pygmy Puff in my hand. They’re known to sing on Boxing Day, you know.

Wizarding subject you’d most like to study?

Hmmm … probably History of Magic or Muggle Studies. The latter would probably be hilarious.

Favorite magical creature?

Pygmy Puffs. Every year, I name my fantasy football team after them.

Caitlin and Erin go looking for some Fantastic Beasts.

What did you think of the “Fantastic Beasts” movie?

I was super skeptical, as the original series is so cherished, but I LOVED IT. It has so much to offer —historical background, the Roaring ‘20s, the American side of magic, and so much more. I was giddy when we left the theater.

Worst movie?

Hands down the worst film was “Goblet of Fire.” So many people share the blame too: Mike Newell (did he read it at all, or … ?), the screenwriter (we took out an important subplot, but please enjoy 20 minutes of Harry getting chased by a dragon doing extreme property damage that’s never addressed) and most of all whoever is in charge of making sure everyone got their hair cut between films. It had some moments that I loved, (“I’ve killed Harry Potter!” – Neville), but Michael Gambon’s overbearing and angry Dumbledore was the nail in the coffin.

Most devastating character death?

I cried for Dobby and Hedwig, called out sick the next day from work for Dumbledore, but those we lost in the Battle of Hogwarts were probably the worst. I don’t think I can pick between Tonks, Lupin or Fred. I cry every time I rewatch the film.

Favorite Harry Potter item you own?

It’s a tough call because I own a lot of stuff. Last Christmas, I received a Ravenclaw sweater, two pairs of pajama pants, and two necklaces. I guess up there is my Sirius Black wand my sister-in-law brought back from Florida for me, and my Deathly Hallows leather bracelet.

“The Cursed Child.” Good idea or bad idea?

Ready for another hypocritical moment? I still haven’t read it! Anything that adds to the canon for me is so sketchy, even if it comes from JKR herself. I have this protected place in my mind of what happened and what should happen next in the story. I don’t want my ideal ruined in any way. But I really love the casting choices for Hermione. Sorry, Emma Watson, but I thought that bit of recasting from the films was excellent.

About the Geek Goddess Interviews:

No Man’s Land chats weekly with a “Geek Goddess” whose devotion to her fandoms manifests itself in unique and inspiring ways. We’re always looking for interview subjects, so if you know someone who would be ideal, please respond via the comments, private message, or email lavendervroman@gmail.com.

These are the geeky Halloween costumes you’re looking for!

We’ve closed the books on another Halloween and, already, retailers would have us thinking about putting up the Christmas tree and getting started on shopping for stocking stuffers.

But before we plunge into the thick of holiday madness, let’s pause a moment and reflect on Halloween 2017 in all its geeky glory.

For me, the celebrating included the annual party thrown by my family and a dear friend — it started out as an adult soiree and eventually morphed into kid-friendly pandemonium, but the costumes are still out of this world — and my church’s “trunk or treat” event, where I always end up eating way too much candy.

I hope your All Hallow’s Eve shenanigans were just as much fun and left you with less of a tummy ache.

This year, I was heartened to see quite a few Wonder Women, girls dressed as comic book supervillains, and a surprising amount of female Ghostbusters among the usual throngs of Disney princesses, fairies, and witches. (Hey, I’m not knocking that. My daughter dressed as Mulan.)

There’s nothing like the girl-power a favorite geeky Halloween costume can bring to the wearer, along with the enjoyment it brings to everyone else.

In that spirit, No Man’s Land readers submitted photos of their fandom-themed Halloween finery. (I also requested photos of some of the costumes I liked best.)

They’re displayed below to help you hang on to that Halloween glow for just a few minutes longer (and maybe help you get some ideas for next year’s costume).

Shawna, of earthtoshawna.com, models her elf costume, completely with pointy ears, at a local trick-or-treating event for families. Below, you can better see those ears, which apparently were the trickiest part of her outfit.

Kirsten Kerr and her daughter, Lyla, are an adorable Disney-inspired pair, dressed as sea witch Ursula and her “Descendants” progeny, Uma.

Bethany Samuel channels “Doctor Who” companion Amy Pond, with her husband, Aamod, as Rory, and son Levi as the cutest little Yoda.

Mai Kemble, as Coraline,” from the animated movie based on the Neil Gaiman book, and sister Mei Stewart as classic “Addam’s Family” character Wednesday.

Rachel Luevano decided to dress as classic Batman villain The Penguin after friends told her she couldn’t because she’s a girl. She was part of a themed group that included superheroes and supervillains and created their own cardboard Gotham City skyline backdrop.

By day, Fawn Kemble went to work as “provincial” Belle, of “Beauty and the Beast” fame, complete with a light-up Lumiere prop from Disneyland.

By night, Fawn was a smokey-eyed, fascinator-rocking TARDIS at a family party.

Ellen Grimm wears the Gryffindor house uniform as Hermione. (Psssst, she’s really a Ravenclaw!)

Nathan and Sonia Whitehead gave the couple’s costume the Studio Ghibli treatment as Howl Jenkins Pendragon and Sophie Hatter of “Howl’s Moving Castle.” They decorated their trunk for a trunk-or-treat event with Soot Sprites, Calcifer, and a giant painted Totoro.

The Hobart family — which includes six girls — represent all the nations (air, earth, fire, and water) of the animated series “Avatar: The Last Airbender” with wonderfully elaborate costumes they put together themselves. Mom Dina, center, is the driving force behind their amazing annual costume creations.

The Rivas family represent some of their favorite comic book heroes at a Haunted Mansion-themed party in Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel. From left, Noah as Star-Lord, David as Peter Parker, Kristy as Iron Man, and Audrey as Wonder Woman.

Amber Hoffman set phasers to stun with her tribute to Star Trek and Zachary Quinto’s Spock.

Chris and Lisa took DisneyBounding to adorable new levels, as Roger and Anita of “101 Dalmations,” accompanied by their two irresistible spotted pups.

Stephanie Patterson and her husband, Jacob, threw a jaw-droppingly detailed “Stranger Things” party to which Stephanie wore this Eleven-inspired outfit, complete with electrodes and bloody nose.

Stephanie also donned this fun and spooky nod to Disney’s Haunted Mansion for another event.

As an extra Halloween treat, below are some more detailed, closeup shots of the Hobart family in their “Avatar: The Last Airbender” costumes.

Cambrya Hobart as Avatar Aang.

Caylen Hobart as Katara.

Adalyn Hobart as Toph.

Brynna Hobart as Prince Zuko.

Brylee Hobart as Uncle Iroh.

Ambrey Hobart as Princess Azula.

Dina Hobart as Suki.

The group with Dad Dale Hobart as Sokka.

Thank you to everyone who sent in pics and gave permission. You are my absolute favorite geek goddesses. 

School librarian, educator finds community, camaraderie in geeky adventures

It’s a special edition of The Geek Goddess Interviews here at No Man’s Land.

Today is the day I get to interview one of the most fascinating and, frankly, just freakin’ cool geeks I have ever known, and I’ve known her for quite some time, because — in the interest of full disclosure — she happens to be my little sister.

A bibliophile, librarian, educator, counselor, photographer, blogger, adventurer, comic book reader, and devoted fangirl to dozens of fandoms, Fawn Kemble presented a bit of a challenge for me when it came to the interview process.

You may notice that this is one of the series’ more lengthy (yet entertaining, if I do say so myself) reads. That’s because I know Fawn maybe a little too well and — I’d say this even if I wasn’t totally biased — she is one of those intriguing people who does, and says, and knows about, and reads, and watches, and thinks about endlessly interesting things. It was quite a task to capture her wonderfully nerdy essence. 

I’ve done my best though. Read on for musings on going to a “Hobbit” movie premiere, why libraries deserve to survive, why fangirling authors is the best, what it was like to be an original “Buffy” fan, and why midnight movies are magic, along with general pearls of wisdom like this one: “Once you bring Harry Potter into any relationship, it’s probably going to last.” 

You currently work as an elementary school librarian. That sounds awesome! What is that like?

It’s an odd blend of the quietness of books with the chaos of children, and I adore it. I spend my days reading to the younger classes, checking in and out books, and trying to help the students find books they’ll enjoy.

You were an English major in college and a high school English teacher, so obviously books and reading have played a big role in your life. How did that begin for you? How would you describe your relationship to books throughout your life?

Mum was an English teacher and dad a big reader, so books were part of my life from birth. They used to read to us even before we could read for ourselves and stories like “Wind in the Willows,” “Peter Pan,” “Alice in Wonderland,” “Anne of Green Gables,” and “The Hobbit” have been in my subconscious as long as I can remember.

As kids, we didn’t have TV, so we would devise adventures based on the stories we’d read; they fed our imaginations like nothing else. We would check out the maximum amount of books the library allowed and still never had enough. In junior high and high school, my insomniac self would stay up into the early hours of the morning reading whatever I could find on our parents’ bookshelves, the characters becoming like friends to me. Even now, I feel most at home when surrounded by books.

Fawn with a DeLorean from “Back to the Future.”

Have you been interested in geeky things since you were a child? What were the roots of your interest in fandoms and geek culture?

My first fandoms came from books and Disneyland (like most Southern Californians). TV and movie fandoms developed a bit later as our parents and older brothers introduced us to Monty Python, “The Twilight Zone,” “Star Trek,” Indiana Jones, “Back to the Future,” and, of course, “Star Wars.” Our childhood pets had names like Gandalf, Bilbo Baggins, and Skywalker. Much of our sibling language consisted of random quotes. My little brother and I shared comic books, my sister (you, Lavender, ha ha) shared her Lucasfilm Magazine.

But outside of our little family bubble, geek culture didn’t really exist when I was growing up, at least not in a positive way, so it wasn’t until junior high and high school that I found a couple other friends who would obsess over movies and books with me. The pinnacle of geekdom occurred in college with “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” becoming a focal point of my friendships that included waiting in line to meet the actors at our comic book store. It was fabulous.

You have a master’s degree in biblical counseling and experience in social work. This might be stretching it a bit, but from your experience in these fields, do you find geeky interests help people connect in meaningful ways?

When I was in social work, part of my job was to mentor teenage girls who were at risk. My love for Young Adult literature and pop culture helped me connect with them quickly. I could take them to see a movie, and from that we could discuss so many aspects of life much more comfortably. There is a unique bond that comes from delving into story together. As a biblical counselor, I often end up becoming friends with former counselees and a couple of the best friendships to come out of that have been with fellow nerds. Once you bring Harry Potter into any relationship, it’s probably going to last.

Do you ever incorporate geeky subjects, concepts, or activities into your work at the library?

That’s kind of what the library is all about! One of my favorite authors, John Green, once said, “Nerds like us are allowed to be unironically enthusiastic about stuff. Nerds are allowed to LOVE stuff, like, jump-up-and-down-in-your-chair-can’t-control-yourself LOVE it. When people call people nerds, mostly what they’re saying is, ‘You like stuff,’ which is not a good insult at all, like, ‘You are too enthusiastic about the miracle of human consciousness.’”

One of my goals in the school library is to make it a safe space for my students to express this enthusiasm. Last year, one of the stories I read the little ones was about Spider-Man and I taught them all how to web sling. A Wonder Woman Lego Minifigure resides on my official lanyard. I’m planning on wearing my TARDIS dress to work on Halloween. I try to help the students find things they’re passionate about, whether it’s books about dinosaurs or space, fairytales or mysteries.

Funding for school libraries is being cut in many districts. Do you think libraries are still a relevant and important resource for children?

I believe that now, more than ever, libraries are important to children and adults. In a country in which our president claims any news he doesn’t like as “fake,” students need to have access to great research materials and people who can help them parse fact from fiction. In a world where so many feel disconnected or scattered, kids need to be able to sink into stories in which they become other people and experience other lives. There is a lot of research on the singular benefits to be found through reading fictional long form novels — the main one being a better development of empathy.

Many of my students come from low income households, they don’t have access to books outside of school and their parents are often so busy working hard to make ends meet that they don’t have time to take them to the city library. School libraries are often the only place where kids can pick out their very own books, not just ones that are assigned to them. I believe we should actually be putting a lot more money into school libraries.

Fawn’s collection of library swag and other pieces of nerdy merch.

Librarians tend to be pretty passionate about what they do. Do you have any fun library merch or memorabilia?

My mum and I recently went to the Los Angeles Central Library to see a friend’s play, and we spent quite a bit of time in the gift shop. That’s right, there is a library gift shop! I ended up leaving with a tote bag adorned by a book truck, saying “That’s How I Roll.” I adore it. I have a library card scarf, yellow and everything. I’ve got tons of literary toys, pins, and accessories as well that I’ve collected over the years.

Fawn in Harry Potter regalia in her classroom at Pacifica Christian High School in Santa Monica.

As an educator of high school students, did you ever work pop culture into your teaching? If so, in what ways? Did you find it useful at all as a point of entry with your students?

I did petition the principal to allow me to teach graphic novels, wrote a researched letter proving how beneficial they can be. I ended up getting at least 3 in the curriculum, including “Persepolis,” “American Born Chinese,” and “Maus.” I also have a lot of graphic novel versions of the novels I taught, or BabyLit picture books of them, that I’d bring in. My classroom walls were covered with posters featuring Neil Gaiman, Ray Bradbury, Lord of the Rings, and Harry Potter.

Once I actually taught my entire class while wearing my Hogwarts Snuggie on Character Day during Homecoming week. We had a book club that met in my classroom, The Booksniffers, in which we’d pretty much just geek out together. I call these students and others like them, the ones that connect on a geekier level, my nerdlings. I went to a couple of book signings and releases with students as well, which were always a blast.

Fawn with Elijah Wood — yes, Frodo Baggins! — at the L.A. premiere of “The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies.”

Your students in Santa Monica had the serious hookups when it came to nerd perks. You got to attend a preview night at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, and you went to the premiere of one of the “Hobbit” films. Tell me about some of those experiences.

Oh my gosh, those were such special experiences. Yeah, I had a student whose father is Peter Jackson’s casting director. They knew I was a huge Tolkien fan, so they took me to the L.A. premiere of the last “Hobbit” movie. It was surreal; Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman were in England filming “Sherlock,” so I didn’t get to meet them, but I got to meet most of the hobbits, dwarves, and elves from multiple “Lord of the Rings” movies.

Fawn with Lee Pace.

Graham McTavish was there in a kilt, fabulously Scottish, hanging out with Dean O’Gorman and Aidan Turner. Orlando Bloom was snobby. Evangeline Lilly was classy and kind. I spent a few minutes in geeky banter with Billy Boyd and Dominic Monaghan as we waited for Elijah Wood to be available for a picture. Sigh. That was freaking awesome. And, oh my gosh, Lee Pace is tall and sweet and generous. I still can’t believe that I was there!

Fawn with a former student at a preview night for the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Hollywood.

Another one of my fabulous students is a roller coaster engineer and helped set up the Hippogriff ride at the L.A. Wizarding World of Harry Potter. I got to go to one of the employee preview nights with him, his wife, and another former student of mine. That was great because it wasn’t very crowded so we didn’t have to wait too long in the lines. Geeky connections are the best!

You recently moved to the Antelope Valley from Los Angeles. Do you feel that living in L.A. — the entertainment capital of the world — gave you a lot of opportunities to consume and enjoy geek culture?

Yeah, in L.A., geek culture is everywhere. I still end up driving down to go to The Last Bookstore, see a play, or get together with friends at one of our favorite book-lined bars we like to call The Harry Potter Bar. Since I fangirl authors like others fangirl boybands, L.A. was the perfect location. I’ve met or been to readings by Ray Bradbury (RIP), Nick Hornby, John Green (three times so far), and Neil Gaiman (twice).

Fawn with best-selling young adult author John Green.

You’ve been a comic book reader since childhood. How were you introduced to comics? What were some of your formative titles?

My little brother, Josh, and I used to walk to the comic book store and spend our allowances on comic books. He collected “The Amazing Spider-Man,” “X-Men,” and “Generation X.” I collected “Ren and Stimpy.” Though we were fans of both Marvel and DC (my Wonder Woman action figure was my first), we were both fascinated by the new smaller labels like Image and Vertigo. We were captured by the art of Todd McFarlane in “Spawn,” Sam Keith in “The Maxx,” and Jeff Smith in “Bone.” My comic obsession was sealed when my oldest brother, Greg, introduced me to Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean’s brilliant works with “The Sandman” and my all-time favorite, “Death.”

What was your experience like as a girl who read comics?

When I was younger, I didn’t even realize being a girl into comics was weird because I was kind of used to being weird anyway. Walking into the shop with my brother provided a buffer. It wasn’t until I was in college and I started to find my own comic shops sans brother that I realized how intimidating it can be as a woman. The first time I opened a pull-and-hold account for my monthly comics at a local shop in L.A., the guy treated me so badly, like I didn’t know what I was talking about, that I almost gave up on it. I usually avoid online conversations in comics forums because it’s just not worth dealing with the misogyny there. On a more positive note, there are a lot of pretty badass women working or fangirling in the comic world now who are speaking out more on behalf of the female fan.

What comic books do you read now? Why has that passion persisted for you?

I’m more into comics collected in graphic novel form these days because I just don’t have the time to collect weeklies anymore. I’m in the middle of reading the “Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur” series, and am going through the “Fables” series. Anything Gaiman/McKean still holds my heart (their “Black Orchid” is stunning). I started a small collection of Batman titles (“Hush” being my favorite).

I think my passion has persisted because comics depict archetypes in a way that never gets old, and the blend of words with art profoundly speaks to our humanity. While I do enjoy the typical tights and capes titles, I also have a small collection of more literary/artistic works. Artists and writers like Daniel Clowes and Chris Ware, Derek Kirk Kim and Gene Luen Yang, Art Spiegelman and Craig Thompson, Adrian Tomine and Vera Brosgol, Lucy Knisley and Brian K. Vaughan inspire and challenge me through their compelling stories and original art.

You’re a Whovian. How were you introduced to that series?

Back when David Tennant was just starting out as the Tenth Doctor, I had a student who was a huge fanboy of the entire series, going back to the originals. I wanted to watch the new show, but didn’t want to go into it blind. So, I asked that wonderful nerdling of mine to make me a list of the integral episodes for all previous nine doctors, like he was giving me homework. So that was my start, before I would let myself watch the revitalized “Doctor Who,” I studied up by seeing a couple episodes from each previous doctor in order to get the continuity right. Then I started with Christopher Eccleston’s Ninth Doctor in its entirety before Tennant’s Number Ten.

Who’s your Doctor?

Nine was my first, and I adore Eccleston’s Doctor, but I’ll always be a Ten girl. Tennant was just brilliant.

Are you looking forward to the upcoming Season 11?

I am! Because I moved a bit these past couple of years, I fell behind on my “Doctor Who” viewing, so I’m actually just now working my way through Capaldi’s seasons. I need to catch up so I’ll be ready for Jodie Whittaker! I really wanted them to choose a woman of color, so Whittaker wasn’t my first choice, but I’m so excited that they’re finally going to have a female doctor so am hopeful.

Fawn with former students, enjoying a sneak peek at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

You’re also a Harry Potter fan. How and why were you first drawn to J.K. Rowling’s series?

I’m not sure I really remember when or how I got into Harry Potter. I think I started when the second book came out when I was in college? I’d heard that the first book was good but only after the second one was published, so I probably had to catch up. It was kind of cool, because not everyone was into them yet, there were no movies and no merchandise, so you had to come up with your own vision of characters and Hogwarts. I was drawn to them because I’ve always been a huge fantasy geek, and she had created this entire world of hidden magic that was enchanting, dangerous, and thrilling. I’m still addicted.

How does your Harry Potter passion manifest itself in your life?

I have a lot of Harry Potter jewelry that I can sneak into professional outfits to have hidden geekiness. And, as an elementary school librarian, I get to introduce a whole new generation to the books! I’m like the Harry Potter pusher, like, “Hey kid, come here, I’ve got something for you … .” Ha ha ha … I also try to reread the books from time to time, have three wands (one of which a friend handmade for me), and can be found on the couch in my Hogwarts Snuggie on cold evenings.

What’s your Hogwarts house?

Ravenclaw. “Wit beyond measure is man’s greatest treasure.”

Fawn visiting 221B Baker Street in London.

You’re an unabashed anglophile and have traveled to England multiple times. Why do you think so many geeky people are anglophiles? I’m really trying to solve this mystery.

In our case, it makes sense because our mum was an English teacher, and an anglophile so we were raised into it. British television was a big percentage of our media intake and revealed a different style than American shows. I think many geeks love all things English because they don’t tend to underestimate their readers/viewers like American shows/books often do. They just assume most of their audience is educated and literate.

Obviously, this is a broad generalization and there are many exceptions on both sides. Certain types of geeky kids often end up finding safety and comfort in their English classrooms or libraries, which also tend to attract anglophiles as teachers and librarians. With such quality fandoms like “WhoLock” (“Doctor Who”/ “Sherlock”) Harry Potter, “Lord of the Rings,” Monty Python, and “Downton Abbey,” who wouldn’t want to be an anglophile?

You’re also a huge Star Wars fan. What’s your earliest memory of the franchise? How does that obsession manifest itself in your life?

I have no earliest memory of “Star Wars;” as far as I’m aware, it was just always part of my life. Perhaps because my oldest brother was a fan long before I was born, so the story infused our home. I honestly can’t remember the first time I saw the films, I just know that the first few strains of John Williams’ score have always brought me chills.

The obsession manifests itself in both noble and embarrassing ways. I must admit, to my shame, that I was one of those fans who was so caught up in the prequel excitement that, for a moment, I didn’t realize just how bad they could be until the second or third viewing.

I did adore waiting in line outside the night before the midnight release to get tickets and good seats — I even made a couple of friends in those lines when I was at university who I still know to this day. I probably can’t go more than a couple of days without making some reference to Luca’s space opus, and spend way too much time these days rewatching “The Last Jedi” trailer. It’s been a bizarre and amazing experience to see Star Wars become such a phenomenon all over again.

You used to go to a lot of midnight movie openings. What was so fun about staying up late and hanging out on the sidewalk with a bunch of fellow fans?

There is a camaraderie that comes out when every single person is sleep deprived while waiting eagerly for the same thing. I think the best of geek culture comes out in those moments — everyone encourages each other, saves spaces, does fast food runs, and geeks out. Scoping out each other’s gear, from T-shirts to full-on cosplay, temporary tattoos to weapons and other accessories, midnight screening lines are the best place for people watching. And when you finally get into the theater, too much caffeine consumed, the lights dim, and the title credits begin to a rousing cheer, it’s a natural high that can’t be beat.

I’m very excited that you are a big fan of certain sci-fi and fantasy authors, namely Ray Bradbury and Neil Gaiman. You met the late Bradbury and you’ve been to Gaiman signings. What is it about those authors that you love so much?

Ray Bradbury and Neil Gaiman created short stories and novels that cross over between fantasy and sci-fi, two of my favorite genres. They write challenging stories that are still gorgeous, and somehow when you’re done reading them, you feel more human. They both tap into the imagination, demanding the reader expand her mind instead of merely being entertained. They both have the ability to create very realistic characters even in the most futuristic or otherworldly setting. And I think the things I love most about both Bradbury and Gaiman is their originality and beauty. My favorite book of all is Bradbury’s “Dandelion Wine” which captures childhood, with all its joy and melancholy, mystery and beauty.

One of Fawn’s most cherished possessions is a signed, personal letter from author Ray Bradbury and a photo taken when she met him.

I was lucky enough to meet Ray Bradbury in the audience of a live performance of his one-act plays. His driver (he never got a driver’s license) wheeled him to the front row of the theater in his wheelchair, a glass of red wine in his hand. During intermission, we went up to meet him. I knelt down next to him, and was finally able to thank him for the impact his writing had on my life. He was gracious, and kind, took a picture with me, and then he kissed me on my cheek. It was truly one of the best moments of my life.

Fangirling authors is the best because you finally get the opportunity to thank them for the impact their writing has had on your life.

Fawn and friends from college meet “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” stars Alyson Hannigan and Anthony Stewart Head at a comic book shop in Santa Barbara.

Let’s talk about something very important now. You mentioned that one of your first hardcore fandoms was “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” Tell me a little about your experiences of vintage Buffy fandom.

Ah, Buffy. When the original movie came out ages ago, the one Joss Whedon hated, I saw it in the theater with my sister and a friend at least three times. We were hooked. Even that lesser version captured our imaginations in a way few other movies had. When we found out Whedon was making it into a TV show, we were ecstatic.

The show aired while I was in college, and became a weekly gathering of my geeky friends. We’d all go to the one apartment who had cable to watch it, then debrief afterward. There was a comic book store in downtown Santa Barbara, Avalon Comics, that somehow had the hookup and had a few signings of Buffy actors back before there were so many comic conventions or other places to geek out. We were able to get signatures and Polaroid pictures with the actors who play Willow, Xander, Giles, Drusilla, and Spike.

James Marsters even let me touch his hair, and my friend, who’s a bit short, touched Anthony Stewart Head on the butt (she claims by accident!). We even went to a club in Hollywood one night to see James Marsters’ then band play. They weren’t very good, but we had a lot of fun.

Spike or Angel?

Angel for Buffy, Spike for me.

What other fandoms are you into?

Other than ones mentioned above, I’m a SuperWhoLock girl (“Supernatural,” “Doctor Who,” “Sherlock”) who’s also obsessed with all things “Hamilton,” Disneyland, classic and children’s lit, “Firefly,” Netflix Marvel, Wonder Woman, “Downton Abbey,” “Game of Thrones” (the books), “Dirk Gently”, YA literature, and others.

Do you collect anything?

Books. Lots and lots of books. Classics, new releases, graphic novels, and children’s books mostly. I also accumulate English major/librarian accessories, as mentioned above. I have a bunch of little geeky figurines, action figures, and other nerdy tidbits scattered throughout my bookshelves.

What upcoming release (books, movies, TV, etc.) are you most looking forward to?

Netflix’s “Stranger Things” Season 2, the upcoming “Murder on the Orient Express” movie, DC’s “Justice League,” although I kinda just want to see Wonder Woman, DC’s “Doomsday Clock” comic, the follow-up to “Watchmen,” “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” and next year “Black Panther,” “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them 2,” “Isle of Dogs,” and, on Netflix new seasons of “Jessica Jones,” “Daredevil,” “Arrested Development,” and “13 Reasons Why.”

You recently launched a blog, the cleverly titled The Awkward Spinster. It’s about your experiences as a single, Christian woman. Are there challenges to being a single geek girl? Are there benefits?

Being a single geek girl at my age can feel a bit lonely at times. Most of my friends are married, and aren’t quite as available for fangirling moments as they used to be. I can also feel like the odd one out as both a single Christian woman and a geek. I still sometimes dread going into comic book stores or online forums with which I’m not familiar because I don’t have the patience to deal with sexist men anymore.

The benefits are the geekdom creates its own community, which embraces singles a bit better than the rest of society. If you get a good group of geeks together, they are supportive, clever, funny, and encouraging. It’s awesome. Two of my best friends are single geek guys, so we often go to rooftop movies or binge-watch nerdy shows on Netflix together.

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

As awesome as geek culture can be, it is not immune to the negative sides of humanity. And, because so much of fandom life is lived online where people somehow feel more enabled to say cruel and sexist things they would never say to a woman in person, the misogyny can be overwhelming at times. In comic books and movies, women are still often depicted as the Virgin or the Whore and nothing in between — just damsels in distress and cold-hearted vixens. “Wonder Woman” was a step in the right direction, but just a step. We have a long way to go.

About the Geek Goddess Interviews:

No Man’s Land chats weekly with a “Geek Goddess” whose devotion to her fandoms manifests itself in unique and inspiring ways. We’re always looking for interview subjects, so if you know someone who would be ideal, please respond via the comments, private message, or email lavendervroman@gmail.com.

English professor uses her dark side for good as Imperial Officer with 501st Legion

In another exciting first for the Geek Goddess Interviews, this week’s featured fangirl is a member of the 501st Legion, a volunteer organization of costume enthusiasts who promote interest in Star Wars while contributing to their communities through charity and volunteer work.

English professor Lindsay Ludvigsen remembers seeing “Return of the Jedi” as a young child. Even then, she felt the pull of the Dark Side, a fascination she now expresses by donning the painstakingly detailed uniform of an Imperial Officer, thus transforming into Commander Ludvigsen of the Galactic Empire.

As event coordinator for the Southern California Garrison’s Orange County Squad, Ludvigsen puts her love of Star Wars to good use as her squad “troops” to bring smiles to the faces of fans young and old, joining in charity events for a variety of worthy causes.

Even while devoting so much energy to Star Wars, Ludvigsen is enthusiastic about several other fandoms, including Harry Potter — with her predilection for the Dark Side, guess which house she’s in — Doctor Who and, yes, Star Trek.

If, like me, you’ve ever been curious about what it takes to join up with the Legion, you’ll want to read what Lindsay has to say about the group’s mission, what it means to be a member, and what it’s like to be a woman in the 501st.

Lindsay Ludvigsen in costume as Commander Ludvigsen of the Galactic Empire.
You joined the 501st in 2016. How did you hear about it? What prompted you to join up?

I cannot remember the first time I heard about it, but I’ve known about the 501st Legion for a while and had always wanted to join, but kept putting it on the back burner until finally in 2016 I told myself, this year I will join.

So I started doing research on the costume I wanted (Imperial Staff Officer) in the Costume Reference Library on the Legion’s website, and started looking for the pieces. It took a few trial and errors (parts bought not quite right), but after nine months I finally had everything perfect and submitted my application and photos, and was approved a week later!

Tell me your personal Star Wars saga. How were you introduced to the films? What role have they played in your life?

I was introduced to the films by my parents. I can remember seeing “Return of the Jedi” in theaters — an early memory but one I remember well. Must have made an impact! My mom made me a Princess Leia costume for Halloween when I was younger too, and I had long hair then so she put it up in the two buns!

My sister and I used to have lightsaber duels with our 80s lightsabers, and I grew up reading the books and later comics. I watched the Ewok movie and holiday special! Later I would have lightsaber duels with boyfriends (and win, of course), and I’ve see every movie the day they come out. I love the animated “Clones Wars” series as well as “Star Wars Rebels,” and I still read all the books and comics! I also enjoy going to Star Wars Celebration — my favorite convention.

Lindsay and other members of the 501st at the Orange Public Library’s Comic Con event.
Were you always drawn to the Dark Side of the Force?

Yes, of course I liked Princess Leia, but I always liked more of the Dark Side characters like Darth Vader and the Emperor — he is the first character I remember making me feel scared. I remember watching “Return of the Jedi” in the theater as a kid and when the Emperor showed up he was scary! I asked my mom what was wrong with him and my mom said that’s what you end up looking like when you’re bad, ha ha! I think she wanted me to behave for a while!

Star Wars is everywhere right now, thanks to Disney’s continuation of the franchise. Do people seem to be more interested in the 501st since “The Force Awakens”?

Yes, my Garrison — the Southern California Garrison — has received several new members within the past year, and the 501st Legion is now over 11,000 members worldwide.

Lindsay and Stormtroopers, of the 501st Legion, participate in the Love Fullerton event.
How does one go about joining the 501st?

To join, one just needs to be at least 18 years old, and he/she needs to have a costume that follows the Legion’s Costume Reference Library (CRL), which can be found on the Legion’s website. The 501st is for the “bad guys” in Star Wars, our sister group — Rebel Legion is where to go if one wishes to be a “good guy.” We often troop with them and they are also a great group of fans! But once you know what character you want to be, look at the CRL for your character to see what is needed.

Also, there are detachments for every type of character so joining the detachment forum is a really good idea because you will find help for your costume there. Also, you can find more help by joining your local Garrison’s forum. Many Garrisons have “armor parties” where one can go to get help with their costume. You do not need to be a member to join the forums and go to armor parties.

Once you have your costume ready, you fill out the application on the Legion’s website and send your Garrison’s Membership Liaison (GML) your costume photos and then wait for a reply!

Are there many women involved?

Yes! I often troop with many ladies and we are in all different costumes: Officers, Stormtroopers, Biker Scouts, Jawas, Sith, TIE Pilots, etc. The Legion does not discriminate against race, religion, age, ability, gender, or size. One can be any character they like as long as they follow the CRL. In our Garrison, we have a wonderful female Kylo Ren and Darth Maul, and an equally wonderful male Captain Phasma!

Lindsay has always been drawn to the Dark Side of the Force and is a fan of Imperial Officers, like Krennic.
You’re an Imperial Officer. Why did you choose that character?

I’ve always liked the Officers — I am a fan of Tarkin and Thrawn, and of course I like the new Officer characters of Krennic, Hux, Pryce (from “Star Wars: Rebels”), and Rae Sloane from the books. It’s their uniforms — they look so nice and put together! I like fashion and the Empire definitely has better fashion sense than the Rebels! If you can’t beat them dress better than them!

How did you go about putting together your costume? Was it challenging or time-consuming?

I’m not good at sewing so I commissioned my costume (which is also OK to do — you can make your own or commission one, just as long as it follows the CRL). My first uniform didn’t fit the CRL, so I had to do another commission, which was a little big but I found a good tailor to fix it.

The hat was hard but some 501st members told me a great place for hats, but the hardest part was the boots! I went through three pairs of boots until I just found a cobbler near me and had custom ones made! It was a lot of trial and error but being able to ask other 501st members on the forums and Facebook pages helped point me to the right people who make the parts to Legion standards.

Do you build any kind of backstory for your character?

No, not yet. My rank bar is Commander, so I’m Commander Ludvigsen of the Galactic Empire, but that’s all I have!

Lindsay interacts with a child at a preschool event, alongside David, a TIE fighter pilot, and a member of the Rebel Legion dressed as Rey.
Is the cosplay or role playing element part of the appeal of the 501st, do you think? Do you go to a lot of conventions?

Cosplay is definitely an appeal to being in the 501st. Many members have more than one approved costume and also cosplay in other fandoms. Like any group, there are those that love to cosplay and role play, and those who maybe don’t do it as much, but still enjoy doing it when trooping. Members of the 501st also like making a difference in other’s lives through trooping and charity. I enjoy bringing smiles to fans young and old.

I understand you’d like to build a TIE fighter pilot costume next. Tell me about that.

I want to have more than one approved costume for the 501st, and I also want a helmeted costume because some days you don’t feel like putting on makeup! But also I love to fly in real life — would like to someday get a pilot’s license, but in the meantime I can cosplay and troop as a TIE Pilot! I’ve always loved TIE fighters too, the sound they make is one of my favorite sounds!

You’re an event coordinator for the Southern California Garrison’s Orange County Squad. What does that entail? What kind of events do you coordinate?

Any event request that we receive that is located in Orange County, Calif., is sent to me and the Squad Leader. When the Squad Leader approves it, I contact to host and ask him/her more questions about the event and accommodations for us (often a room to change in and water because those costumes are hot!)

Then when I hear back from the host, I post it in the “pending” forum and once a member volunteers to be the event’s point of contact, it goes live for members to sign up to troop it! I let the point of contact know the host’s contact info and he/she keeps the host updated on our participation at their event.

Commander Ludvigsen and Darth Vader put their dark sides to good use at a charity event for foster children.
How do people tend to react when the 501st shows up at an event? That must be priceless.

Yes, people love seeing us at their events in our costumes. Trooping is lots of fun, but the kids are the best, they just love seeing us and want pictures with us. There’s always a lot of surprise when we arrive and then excitement.  I love seeing kids’ reactions to us and it makes every troop so much fun!

Fundraising and charity and volunteer work is key to the mission of the 501st. What are some of the things your squad has done? Do you have any favorite memories?

Yes, the Legion as a whole has raised $150,000 for Make-A-Wish in 10 months, and in the OC Squad we do events to raise money and awareness for Alzheimer’s at the Walk4ALZ events, Special Olympics events, visits to Children’s Hospital of Orange County, and we attend many library and school events, as well as parades and conventions! The other Squads within SCG also do many charity events — we may be in different Squads, but we all troop within each other’s Squads anyway.

One of my favorite memories was doing an event for foster children during the holidays and we helped pass out donated gifts to the children and they were so happy to see Star Wars characters, and I felt good making those children so happy and seeing their excitement at us being there. There was just a good feeling all around at that troop.

You’re an English professor. How did you come to select that as a career? What do you enjoy about it?

I thought I wanted to teach history, even got a BA in it, but when I took some literature classes I realized I liked the fictional world more than the real world! So I got a second BA and MA in English. I also think knowing how to communicate and think critically are important skills, no matter what profession a student may choose, so I’m happy to teach it. I enjoy teaching at the college level too because it is here where you see students start to plan their futures and really think about what they want in life.

I’m assuming you love books and reading. Did that play role in your interest in geeky things at all?

Oh yes, I always read books and comics as a kid/teen (and still do as an adult)! I’ve always favored fiction too, still do, so sci-fi and fantasy have always been my favorite kinds of stories to read.

Lindsay poses with a prehistoric friend at the Buena Park Library’s comic day.
Do you incorporate fandoms or pop culture into your teaching in any way?

Yes, I try to. Just the other day, I discussed character analysis in literature and we watched an episode of “Doctor Who” (“Vincent and the Doctor”). Students had a worksheet they did where they analyzed one of the characters in the episode. I like doing that because I know some students who got into “Doctor Who” after doing that class assignment!

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

Maybe more women helping each other within our fandoms, but I’m lucky enough to have many lady (and guy) friends who help, and there is a great Facebook page called Ladies of the Legions where women in (or wanting to join) the 501st Legion, Rebel Legion, Mandalorian Mercs, and Saber Guild go to get help from other ladies on their costumes, and talk with other ladies about costuming and fandom issues. It’s a great group and members often meet up at different conventions, too.

Does your love of Star Wars manifest itself in other ways in your life besides the 501st?

Yes, I collect a lot of Star Wars stuff! And I’ve been enjoying the new books and comics. And because of Star Wars, I have made many friends because we share the same interest.

What are your plans for “The Last Jedi”?

I’ve had my ticket for opening night for a few months now! A friend reserved a theater for her and all her friends, and when you reserve a theater they give you your tickets early! So I will be seeing it with lots of friends! I also bought some tickets for the next day because I know I will be seeing it many times in the theater anyway!

Lindsay indulges her love for Harry Potter at the Orange Public Library’s Comic Con.
I understand you are also a Harry Potter-phile. How did you first discover J.K. Rowling’s series?

The books had been out for a couple years already but no films yet, and I was at a bookstore and saw them on the shelf. I had heard good things about them but was still shy about buying a “kids book.” So I casually went to the shelf and picked up the first one and bought it. Within a couple days, I finished book one and I went back to the bookstore and bought the others that were out then, too (books 2 and 3) and was not shy about it! I remember when I went up to the cashier to buy the rest, the clerk said she saw people doing that a lot, ha ha!

How do you express your passion for this franchise?

Besides my Star Wars collection, my Harry Potter collection is one of my biggest. I think it’s because when those books came out I was a young adult in college but still living at home and had a decent paying parttime job, so that means I had money to spend just on collectibles! My Harry Potter collectibles are some of the neatest and oldest ones I have. I also have a Slytherin school uniform costume — also one of my oldest costumes, but still fits! And I still wear it to conventions. I would eventually like to get Narcissa and Bellatrix costumes, too.

What’s your Hogwarts house?

Slytherin, always.

You’re a Whovian, too! What do you like about the series?

The positivity is what draws me to the series. No matter what happens in the show, there is a sense of hope in each episode, and it makes me feel good and reminds me that there are good things and people in this world.

Who’s your Doctor?

12th Doctor!! I love Peter Capaldi! I know some fans say your Doctor is your first Doctor, but the first Doctor I saw was 11th, and he bugged me at the time, so I almost didn’t watch more “Doctor Who”! But then I gave it another try and liked it more and more, and then I caught up on all the past episodes. But I didn’t have a favorite Doctor until 12th. I just relate to him more than others. Also, as a side note, I really like Missy!

Are you looking forward to the upcoming Season 11?

Yes, I am, although I will really miss the 12th Doctor and Missy.

Our interview would not be complete without mentioning that you are a Trekkie, as well. Which incarnation of the series if your favorite and why?

I really like “Star Trek: The Next Generation” because that is the show that got me into Star Trek. For a long time that was the only one I had watched, but then I started watching “Deep Space Nine” and enjoyed that, too. I liked how “ST:TNG” seemed to be mostly about outer exploration, but “DS9” was a lot about inner exploration. I also like “Voyager.” I admit I haven’t really gotten into the Original Series, but I like Spock. I have, however, enjoyed the new films, and I did like “Wrath of Khan” — that’s a classic.

Have you been watching “Discovery”?

No, not yet. I’m going to wait and see if it becomes free in the future. But some of my friends have watched it and like it.

And I have to ask … which is better? Star Wars or Star Trek? (Hopefully your answer won’t get you kicked out of the 501st.)

Ha ha! I honestly love Star Wars a little more, although I do like some characters in Star Trek, such as Picard and Q, but there are many 501st members, including myself, who like Star Wars and Star Trek too, so it’s all good!

 

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.

Harry Potter fangirl escapes into stories, knits cutest toys you’ve ever seen (no, really)

If you’re a geek, to see the adorable knitted creations of Dawn Branch is to love them. And want to take them home.

A die-hard Harry Potter fan and anglophile, she began knitting whimsical toys when her youngest niece was born. Those creations evolved into family Christmas ornaments, then commissioned baby gifts for friends, and then scarves and gloves inspired by her own desire for fandom-related merchandise that didn’t yet exist.

Dawn’s Tulsa Toys line features a dazzling array of fandoms, from Harry Potter, of course, and Star Wars, to Disney, Doctor Who, The Chronicles of Narnia, and “Outlander.” Every last item is too cute for words. (See the photos below for proof.)

Knitted toys and accessories are a labor of love for Dawn, who works in film production technology, is developing a top secret website, and aspires to one day tell amazing stories, like the ones she loves to escape into, as a movie producer.

In her free time, she can be found immersing herself in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter or even flying to London to catch a showing of “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.” 

Today also happens to be Dawn’s birthday.

Happy birthday, Dawn! Knit yourself something extra special.

Dawn Branch wears one of her own creations at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

I have been spending a lot of time online looking at the adorable knit toys and other creations you specialize in making. I can’t get over how cute they are and they represent a huge spectrum of fandoms. Do you have thousands of people wanting to shower you with money for these whimsical items?

LOL — I WISH! I think most of the people who would like to buy things sometimes can’t justify the cost, which I completely understand! It’s hard to justify $45 for what is essentially a toy, or even more for a scarf. I try to only make things I really, really love so that it’s not a job or a chore to help balance the amount of time each item really takes. A lot of people have advised that I charge per hour, but that’s just not feasible with knitting or crocheting. It’s just me with a few hours each night, so maybe keeping demand low is wiser.

A Harry Potter mobile by Dawn Branch.

Do you from any kind of pattern or template or do these originate purely from your mind? Where do you get your ideas?

I draw from the shapes I know, if that makes sense. When I get an idea, I do a quick “shape sketch” to see how the piece is ultimately made up. And then a lot of times, I just go for it! I’m notoriously bad about taking notes during that first attempt, so it’s sometimes a challenge to recreate things exactly. But that’s also the fun of handmade items — each piece is unique and, I hope, special to the person receiving it.  I do have a goal to one day put all the patterns into an unofficial geeky pattern book.

How did you first begin making the geeky toys, scarves, mobiles, and other adorable items featured in your Tulsa Toys company?

Let me talk pre-geek for a minute. I first started knitting toys when my youngest niece was born (before then it was all blankets and scarves, all the time). Every year for her birthday I make her a new toy. And then one Christmas I really wanted Harry Potter ornaments for my family, so everyone got their own Mrs. Weasley-inspired sweater ornament and one snitch per tree.

After that, it snowballed as I just wanted to make things — it’s hard sometimes working a desk job because at the end of the day you aren’t able to point to something tangible and say, “That’s what I did today.” Then my friends started having babies and complaining about the lack of items they really wanted, so mobiles and Christmas stockings made it onto my to do list. As far as the most recent scarves go, it’s the lack of seeing the merchandise I want in shops and parks. I usually pick up new skills because I have an idea in mind and I NEED to figure out how to do it.

Mrs. Weasley’s sweater Christmas ornaments knitted by Dawn Branch.

When did you realize people had an interest in purchasing your knit items?

I’d always had co-workers who would ask for certain things, but nothing on a large scale. I might have a friend of a friend ask for an item (one guy ordered four Baby Pikachus one spring as all of his friends were having babies and it became his go-to gift). I’ve had friends who have set up their own etsy stores, but one roommate took me to a Whimsic Alley craft fair in 2011. (EDITOR’S NOTE: Whimsic Alley was an atmospheric retail store that specialized in merchandise from Harry Potter and a variety of other fandoms. Sadly, it recently closed.)

I had NO IDEA what I had been missing. I talked with some of the vendors and my roommate convinced me to sign up for the holiday fair that day. I was terrified (and if you had seen my sparse little table that first show, I think you’d understand), but I am so thankful that I did it. The women I met at those shows are now some of my absolute closest friends.

Knitted Nifflers by Dawn Branch.

What are some of your favorites of the items you have made? What fandoms are represented in your work so far?

I used to actually hate making them, but I’ve really come back around to the Weasley sweaters. Just knowing that it will be hung on a tree year after year makes me happy. I adore my niffler! We have so much fun taking him to the park and seeing everyone’s reactions. I also really like my fingerless gloves because I make my own buttons for them — have you ever tried to find geeky buttons?!? It’s impossible! So, there’s definitely Harry Potter and Doctor Who, and some Disney in the portfolio. The first few episodes of “Outlander” had me running to the chunky yarn section to make cowls and shawls! And a Tumnus (from “The Chronicles of Narnia”) — can’t forget him. And Chewbacca! (This could go on all day.)

A knit Mr. Tumnus by Dawn Branch.

You are quite the Harry Potter fan. How did you first become interested in the books?

I actually saw the first movie before I read the books. It was right before “Chamber of Secrets” (the movie) came out and there was just something so special about the story. (It could also be that I’m crazy for a British accent.) But after that, I read all of the books that had already been released, then bought the others the day of release. I showed that first film to my mom and sister and got them hooked, too.

I understand you spend a lot of time at The Wizarding World in Hollywood. What’s your favorite thing to do there?

Shop. Eat. Do the spell where the dragon chases Harry around (WHY is that not something I can buy? I would. You hear me Warner Bros?!?) I would say we shop more than anything. Just being there is so nice, even when it’s crowded and hot. I cannot wait for the Christmas decorations they plan for this year. Christmas at Hogwarts — what else do you really need?

Dawn and her mother flew to London to see the play “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” in London.

I also have it on good authority that you actually flew to London to see “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.” I’m practically crying with jealousy, and also I must know what that experience was like. 

First and foremost, #keepthesecrets. As soon as that play was announced, I knew I was going. I got up early to buy tickets, gave up as the site kept crashing, logged on a few hours later and found two non-obstructed view tickets for Thanksgiving weekend. SOLD! I ended up taking my mom to London, and it was her first trip out of the country.

I had read the book (it was delivered to my house by Amazon at midnight and read immediately) and was pretty skeptical about the story, but the show itself blew me away. It was so easy to slide into “new Harry Potter film” mode. Some of the people sitting near us were obviously huge fans who had not read the book, so hearing their reactions actually upped my excitement level. As soon as it was over, I wanted to buy more tickets.

Dawn and her friends can often be found hanging out in Hogsmeade at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Hollywood.

Another thing I have heard about you is that you know all the cool Harry Potter people in Los Angeles. Is this true? If so, can we hang out with you?

I don’t know about ALL of them, but the ones I do know are pretty awesome. You can usually find us at the (Wizarding World) park, in Hogsmeade.  We don’t really wander far from home.

You’ve said that ever since you were little you would “escape into stories and their worlds.” What do you think sparked this interest in fantasy and storytelling?

Life can be grim. Even normal, happy life has darkness. I have always been an anxious person — I will worry about anything. Just ask my mom! (Actually don’t, because then she’ll worry about me, and I’ll worry about her worrying about me … .) I love going to movies and living in someone else’s world for a few hours. I loved to act when I was younger, so it was very easy to let my imagination go wild in a story and spawn substories.

You work at a film studio in production technology. Tell us more about your job. What do you like about it?

My job … hmmmm … . Our group is responsible for testing new production equipment/systems/workflows to see what might be best suited to a particular production. That way when a director or producer wants to be the first to do something, we can advise them on how to actually do it. It probably sounds more interesting than it is most days, but it does put me in a position to stay somewhat current on new technologies and find economical ways to tell stories.

It’s your dream to make your own movies someday. Do you want to be a producer?

Yes! I love finding stories, and to tell them in a way that connects with an audience is really the goal.

What kind of movies would you like to make?

It’s funny because I’m all over the place.  I have a fantasy book series that I would love to adapt (I’ve gone so far as to pitch my dream cast to the author — luckily she also likes my knitting creations, so we’re on pretty good terms.) and I have a drama based on true events. It really all depends on the story. The first book I read after moving to L.A. that I really wanted to see as a movie was “The Hunger Games,” but I’m also a sucker for rom-coms and musicals.

You’re also working on launching a top secret website. What can you tell us about that?

Well, it has nothing to do with crafting, but hopefully it will make all these stories I want to tell easier to tell!  That’s pretty cryptic, but as we aren’t launched I can’t say too much.

The Occamy, as interpreted by Dawn Branch, from “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.”

We have a Whovian in the house. What do you love about Doctor Who?

It always amazes me how relatable that show is because it should absolutely not be relatable in any way. But when you look at the characters, your main character is trying to help people. That’s his goal and he’s not always perfect at it, but it’s such a great goal. The supporting characters are looking for adventure and get to see things that so few people will ever get to see (I, for one, have never been to pre-revolutionary France on a spaceship, but Mickey has!), which is just such a human quality. That search for a unique experience that you get to share with people you love. Plus, the Daleks are freaking adorable.

Who is your Doctor?

11, with 10 running a very close second. But I love the Ponds, so I think they really helped tip the scales.

Are you looking forward to the upcoming Season 11?

Yes! I can’t wait to see what Jodie Whitaker does with that role!

Dawn and a friend, enjoying a Halloween Tea at Disneyland.

You like Disney, too. Do you go to the theme park a lot?

I don’t get to Disney as often (though I was just there for tea!), but I do try to go when I can. Yes, it’s crowded. Yes, it’s expensive. But it’s freaking Disney! I grew up on those stories and they have Dole floats.

You told me you have a passion for tea and British history. Why do you think so many geeks are also anglophiles?

I blame the fact that so many of our geeky icons are British — Capt. Picard, Harry Potter, The Doctor, Sherlock, Elizabeth Bennet. The history that you find in other parts of the word is just so rich and deep. Obviously people are fascinated by the monarchy. How can you not become obsessed with The Tudors though (the family and the show)?

You’ve said that you “tend to start new collections without realizing it.” What are some of the things you collect?

I started gathering different editions of Harry Potter books awhile back. And then I found two teapots that I really needed — that’s grown to four and I’m stopping there (probably)! I had no idea there were so many amazing pin designers, so I’ve definitely started collecting Harry Potter and Disney pins by accident. When Whimsic Alley closed, I’m pretty sure I bought half the store. It’s not a cohesive collection by any means, but I was so heartbroken that it wouldn’t be there anymore. And all things Weasley. All. Things. Weasley.

As a woman, is there anything you would change about the world of fandoms and geek culture?

We need more Molly Weasleys and Amy Ponds.  In stories and in the world. Seriously — the geeky women I know are those two fictional characters combined. They are there when you need support, encouragement, chocolate. They are the biggest advertisers for new geeky businesses. These woman have your back, no matter what. I would love to see that as a story lead (and if I’m blanking on someone, please, oh please, tell me! I by no means claim to have read every story — I just started “A Discovery of Witches,” for crying out loud) and I would love to see it more every day.

What is the next big release (movies, TV, books, etc.) you are looking forward to? 

I am impatiently waiting for the next “Fantastic Beasts.” For real, J.K., how can I help? Call me.

Knitted Knight Buses by Dawn Branch.

Your Tulsa Toys business operates largely by word of mouth. If we wanted to buy all the cute things, how could we go about that?

Instagram!  Find me there @dawnmbranch and peruse all the things. You’ll see me, my friends, my family, my creations — basically my life. And if I ever decide to open the etsy shop back up again, look for TulsaToys.etsy.com.

 

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.