Funko Pop! photographer finds her niche in Polish pop culture scene

After posting a fairly nondescript photo of my husband’s new Enfys Nest Funko Pop! on Instagram, I discovered the wonderful world of Pop! photography, courtesy of up-and-coming young artist Klaudia Sebastian.

So many of us have become obsessed with our collections of these irresistibly geeky figures, it’s only fitting that some creative and enterprising photogs would begin showcasing them to spectacular effect in clever or idyllic settings.

Judging by social media, Pop! photography is definitely a thing in the U.S., but Klaudia says it isn’t as popular in the small city she calls home in Poland. There, she’ll hop on her bike with her cell phone and a backpack full of Pops and put the gorgeous natural scenery that surrounds her to good use as a backdrop.

As Klaudia has discovered, Pops make ideal photographic subjects. Whether they be stars of Game of Thrones, “Jurassic Park”-era Jeff Goldblum, the cast of The Walking Dead, or popular video game characters, they never fidget or complain and the photographer maintains complete control over the shoot.

I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Klaudia about the pop culture scene in Poland (they have “The Last Jedi” haters, too), her childhood love of Star Wars, how her mom got her into Game of Thrones, her affection for “Walking Dead” villain Negan, and the six years she spent training in the sport of football (soccer). 

As a bonus, she schooled me about legendary German industrial metal band Rammstein. 

You can see Klaudia’s strikingly composed Pop! pics and follow her photographic exploits on her Insta, @geekoza. If you read Polish, you can also check out her blog.

Your Instagram, @geekoza, features wonderful photos of Funko Pops posed in natural settings or against colorful and creative backdrops. How did you first get the idea to capture these images?

I started taking photos of my Pops when I heard about a competition which was organized by popvinyl.pl. In this competition you could win Pops figures. I decided to take part in this competition. Why not? I really got to like taking photos of Pops figures in different environments, everywhere I thought it would be nice.

What was the first Funko Pop photo you took?

The first Pops figure I took a photo of is C-3PO with red arm from “The Force Awakens.” I put him on a Christmas tree and then I took a photo by my mobile phone. I think that it looks nice.

Apparently, Funko Pop! photography is a big thing. I wasn’t aware of that! Do you interact with any other Pop photographers?

Taking photos of Pops figures isn’t a big deal for everybody. I think in Poland just a few people are interested in this. Moreover, I think that none are doing this in a professional way. And no, I don’t cooperate with anybody. I am trying to do better and better photos just by (and for) myself. It’s a hobby for me, a hobby which includes taking photos and collecting Pops figures.

Do you have a background or training in photography?

No, I’m self-taught. I’ve liked taking photos for ages. I was taking photos of everything, no matter if it was picturesque landscapes or normal mugs. Every photo I’ve made I took with my mobile phone. I don’t have any professional equipment but I hope that someday I will have that.

You’ve been a collector of Funko Pops since 2017. How many Pops do you have in your collection?

I bought my first Pops figure in November 2017 at Comic Con in Warsaw. It was a Negan (from “The Walking Dead”) figure. At the present moment, I have 33 figures in my collection. Maybe it is not a lot, but my collection is constantly growing.

What are some of your favorite or most prized Pops?

My favorite Pops figure is lying down Malcolm from “Jurassic Park.” The figure is different from others, it’s special. The most valuable Pops figures are Night King from Game of Thrones — limited edition from Summer Convention (2017) — and Luke Skywalker from Star Wars — limited edition from Galactic Convention (2017).

Where do you tend to get your Pops from?

Almost all of my Pops figures I bought on popvinyl.pl. Usually I get them one day after I bought them. Also, I am sure that all of my figures will be packed and delivered in a perfect way. A lot of figures I got from GameShop from Germany. In Poland there are few shops which have Funko figures.

Where do you keep your Funko Pops?

All my Pops are sorted out on the shelves in my room. I will be moving out soon so I am going to buy a special cabinet for them.

Tell me about the process of setting up a Funko Pop shot. Is it a lot of work or is it more of a fast, spontaneous thing?

Most of the photos I took very spontaneously. I usually take a bike and go ahead with a few Pops in my backpack. I have many beautiful places around my house. I had to prepare a little bit more to take the last photo of Malcolm. I had to prepare, e.g. accessories. Overall, almost all of my photos I took spontaneously.

A lot of your photos feature beautiful natural settings, which is kind of unexpected. Why do you like to shoot them outside?

I’ve always liked to photograph outside. The natural light looks really good in the pictures. And the Pops look great surrounded by plants.

Why photograph Pops, as opposed to something else? What do you like about it?

I think that taking photos of Pops figures is much easier than taking photos of humans or animals. This figure will not move. I can put it in an environment that I choose, in a pose that I want. Probably I like the most control of the situation. I decide what to do and anyone else can’t complain, haha.

You’re building a following for your Instagram. How have people on social media reacted to your photos?

People react really great! They added nice comments, left a lot of likes. It probably means that they like it, right? I want every geek to find something on my profile. It does not matter if he/she is a Star Wars fan or Games of Thrones fan.

You live in a small city in Poland. What is the pop culture scene like there? Are people as crazy about fandoms as they are in America?

I think that in Poland it is a different mindset than in the USA. Of course, in Poland you have a lot of fans of pop culture but you also have people who don’t like those fans of pop culture. Maybe I am wrong. I hope so. I am sooo happy that in Poland we have more and more events for geeks, eg. games fair, Comic Cons … we have progress here!

How did you become interested in fandoms and geek culture?

I think I liked superheroes from childhood. It’s been developing all the time, next movies, more comics, gadgets. I always watched all the movies with my parents and they probably instilled this love of geek culture in me.

A lot of your Pops are from the series Game of Thrones. How did you discover the show? What do you love about it?

A few years ago, my mom told me about this series. She said that everybody was talking about it and it probably is awesome. Something that has so many good opinions cannot be bad. I saw the first episode but I didn’t get the “awesome” of it. It was okay. After the second episode I got why this is such a super series and I started to love it. No regrets! In GoT, I like most the fact that we can’t be sure 100%. This series engrosses us. This is what I like about it.

Who’s your favorite GOT character?

Jaime Lannister. Definitely. The Lannister’s line appealed to me. I like villains. People sometimes take some things too seriously. I went to Warsaw to Comic Con last year. I met Jack Gleeson (Joffrey Baratheon) and I could talk with him for a minute. He said that some people threatened him just because he had a villain role. In real life he is very nice person!

Klaudia and Jack Gleeson, who played Joffrey Baratheon on Game of Thrones, at Warsaw Comic Con.

Do you have to wait in Poland as long as we do in the U.S. for the final season?

Unfortunately, yes. We have to wait until 2019 to see the final season. Let’s hope that it is worth waiting and the last season will be amazing.

Star Wars is another fandom that pops up in your photos. I notice you’ve photographed Donald Glover’s Lando Calrissian a lot. Is he one of your favorites?

I think that Donald Glover played the best part in “Solo.” His Lando is really close to the original Calrissian (played by Billy Dee Williams). From the newest Disney movies, “Solo” is one of my favorites.

Tell me about your Star Wars memories. How did you first get into George Lucas’ galaxy far, far away?

I was a 6- or 7-year-old-girl. Every Saturday I used to watch Star Wars with my dad and his friend. Every single part, one by one. Sometimes we were watching a few movies without any break.

What’s your favorite Star Wars movie or story?

Maybe I am not original, but my favorite movie is Episode V, “The Empire Strikes Back.” I think that is the best George Lucas film if we are talking about plotline.

Are people in Poland as angry about “The Last Jedi” as they are in the U.S.?

Yes, many people think that Disney destroyed Star Wars. Some people are exaggerating. I think Disney made a mistake in making movies every year. This is too much and it is not healthy.

You often pose your Pops with books. I’m assuming you’re a bookworm. What are some of your favorites?

Maybe I would not call myself a bookworm but, yes, I like to read. The series about Geralt of Rivia (that inspired “The Witcher” video game) is my favorite. I really enjoy reading Andrzej Sapkowski’s books (author of “The Witcher” books). I think he is a master in his profession. Recently, one of my favorite books is Leopoldo Gout’s “Genius: The Game.”

There are also a lot of video game references in your photos. How long have you been gaming?

I started to play as a child. My first console was PlayStation 1. I seriously started playing in 2013 when the new console hit the stores — PlayStation 4. I do not do it professionally. I play in my spare time. I treat it as a hobby.

What games are you currently playing?

Nowadays, I’m playing “The Witcher” and “Call of Duty”. Sometimes I still have a chance to play FIFA and “Star Wars Battlefront II.”

You’re a fan of “The Walking Dead.” What do you enjoy most about that series?

I have been watching this series for several years. I love the characters in it. In early seasons, their roles were really well written. Now I am watching it more with sentiment and great love for Negan.

What’s your survival strategy for the zombie apocalypse?

I think the best option is to find a village with high walls to prevent zombies from getting inside. The weapons and supplies of food are also important. I think that the best chance of survival would be in a small group.

You like both Marvel and DC. Do you read the comics or watch the movies or both?

That’s true, I like Marvel and DC. But Marvel a little bit more. I read comics and watch movies and TV series. I really like superheroes.

Any favorites?

I do not think I have a favorite comic of DC or Marvel. I read a lot of them and I like them all. However, my favorite comic is “The Walking Dead.” This comic book is the best in my opinion. And from movies, it’s probably “The Avengers.”

You’re also into Jurassic Park. Are you a fan of the original movies or the reboots or both?

This is a very similar situation to Star Wars. I like both but the original films were better, more fresh. Now it is only a repetition of one scheme.

Jeff Goldblum has been a favorite Pops photo subject for you. I have a feeling he would approve.

Definitely, the figurine versions of Jeff Goldblum are my favorites. He is a great actor! I’m very happy that he recently got his own Hollywood star. Better late than never!

You said that “music is basically my life” and you’re particularly obsessed with German heavy metal band Rammstein. Tell me more!

That’s true. Music is my life. I listen to music every time when I am able to do it. Actually Rammstein is not heavy metal. This band plays industrial metal. Actually, they created a new type of metal — Neue Deutsche Härte. I started to love this band when I was 8 years old. My dad was listening to Rammstein’s album “Rosenrot” then. To the present day, I’ve seen Rammstein live twice. It was a big experience for me. Now I am waiting for their new album and new tour.

You’re also a big fan of football (soccer). Have you been watching the World Cup?

Of course, I’m watching! Unfortunately, the two teams which are the closest to my heart have already managed to say goodbye to this tournament. Neither Germans nor Poles have been promoted. I think that now I will cheer on Mexico.

You’ve been training in the sport for six years. Tell me more about that.

I’ve been training in football for six years. Now I can’t play due to my ankle injury. The doctor said that I can’t play anymore. I have been playing only with boys because then I was the only girl playing. I have been a captain for some time! Maybe it was the best six years of my life and I regret that I cannot play football any more.

What’s the state of women’s football in Poland? What’s your experience been like as a woman in the sport?

In Poland, women’s football is in progress. There are more and more girls’ teams! I’m so happy about it. More men started to respect women who are playing this sport. I am lucky for being on a team who doesn’t care about my sex. Football is my favorite sport and always, when I am thinking about this sport, I have only good connotations.

Would you ever want to make a career out of photography or even Funko Pop! photography?

I’ve never thought about it seriously. At the moment this is my hobby. If I ever could make a career in photography, I would be really happy because taking photos is what I love to do!

Are there any rare or unusual Pops you’d like to add to your collection?

I think that one of the rare Pops figures I would like to add to my collection is the limited Indiana Jones from San Diego Comic-Con 2016. Of course, there are many Pops that I would like to have in my collection. But I think my collection will grow day by day.

 

Dumbledore’s Army co-organizer crusades for fun and inclusion

Tabitha Davis’ origin story is just about as inspiring as the Boy Who Lived’s. 

As a child, she struggled with reading, but manifested a vivid imagination, and with a little help from Ray Bradbury and Stephen King, she became a writer, eventually landing a nerd’s dream job with Geek Magazine.

She deeply connected to J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter book series after looking for something she could read that would restore her sanity after the birth of her son. Rowling’s novels and the fandom surrounding them have subsequently shaped her life philosophy of love and inclusion.

Eventually, Tabitha found her “tribe” after joining the Meetup.com group Los Angeles Dumbledore’s Army and becoming a co-organizer of Harry Potter and other geek-themed events, from skate nights to Disneybounding days. 

With more than 2,400 hundred diverse members, Dumbledore’s Army is the second biggest Harry Potter fan group in the world, which means it’s a lot of work to run, but Tabitha wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.

You’re a co-organizer of the Los Angeles Dumbledore’s Army, a Harry Potter fan group for adults, centered around the social site Meetup.com. The group was founded in 2008. How did you become involved?

I first heard of the group via a flier, but I wasn’t sure it was for me. After finally deciding to try it out, I joined the book club and began attending events. I had previously worked in marketing and enjoyed planning events so I volunteered to assist with the group events and have been doing so ever since.

For those who may not be as familiar with Harry Potter, what does the name “Dumbledore’s Army” refer to in the books?

Dumbledore’s Army is a group the kids in the book form to fight against the tyranny of the dark wizards and the misled government officials. Their goal is to learn to protect themselves and others.

Is your group affiliated at all with charity group the Harry Potter Alliance?

We have done work with them, and many of our members work with both. They do a book drive at our skate night every year.

What are your duties as co-organizer?

It really depends on the event. Usually, we are all assigned specific tasks when we arrive at an event, and we all set up and clean up. I personally co-host Wizards Chef and will be co-hosting our first Wizards in Wonderland (Harry Potter Day at Disneyland).

Tabitha Davis and Tanya Mueller at a “Fantastic Beasts”-themed skate night.

Tell me more about L.A. Dumbledore’s Army. How often do you meet? What are some examples of the type of events/activities the group participates in.

Oh man, we do so much! We meet at least once a month. We have two very active book clubs, we host skate night, have done trivia nights, movie nights, scavenger hunts around the city, family-friendly events with a focus on the educational benefits of the book series, and Wizards Chef.

There are 2,426 members of the group, according to Meetup.com. It’s the second largest Harry Potter fan group in the world. It must be quite a bit of work keeping this group running!

It really is. In addition to the group being large, it is also diverse, so we also have to come up with a variety of events for our members. We are all working people with other responsibilities, but since we can lean on each other it is very much like Harry and his team. We get it done!

Out of curiosity, what’s the largest Harry Potter fan group in the world?

Funnily enough, it is The Group That Shall Not Be Named, out of NYC. Our names are in competition with each other, but we have members that came from that group and that visit groups events when they are in the area. The HP community is cool like that.

A group shot from the recent Wizards in Wonderland event at Disneyland that Tabitha helped organize. Photo courtesy of Jon York.

I understand you recently helped organize “Wizards in Wonderland,” a Harry Potter-themed meetup at Disneyland. How did that go? Tell me about the day. 

We all met up in front of the train around 10. Our first meeting saw probably 50 or so Potter heads, but as we moved through the park we ran into many more. There were those in cross-over T-shirts, and some people fully decked out. One group did Hogwarts-inspired Mousketeers.

Tabitha at Disneyland for Wizards in Wonderland, a Harry Potter-bounding event.

What were some of the best Harry Potter-bounding outfits you saw there?

So many fun ideas! Two ladies came as Hogwarts Express, one woman was a pin-up version of a chocolate frog.

What do you enjoy the most about being a part of Dumbledore’s Army? How would you describe the group dynamic?

Meeting other wizards. I had previously sought out other fandom communities, specifically the Star Wars fandom. I found that the wizarding community tends to be more welcoming. There isn’t a lot of pretense here that one finds elsewhere. The world J.K created is one of inclusion and acceptance, and that is very much what the group tries to embody.

Let’s talk about your personal connection to Harry Potter. How did you first discover J.K. Rowling’s series and how did your passion for it grow?

Well, first off, I am a Potter. It’s my maiden name and more than a few teachers referred to me as Snape does to Harry, as simply Potter. Since I was already an adult when the books came out, I bought them for my younger brother since he is a Potter too, obviously.

He never really got into them, and when I had my son, I asked my husband to buy me the biggest book he could find because I was going nuts. It was just after “Order of The Phoenix” was released, and that’s what he brought me. I devoured it, and then stole all the HP books I had given my younger brother.

As a mom, I connected with the books in a different way, I think than a lot of fans. First, these kids were my age, I graduated the year the Battle of Hogwarts takes place, so these were my contemporaries. I didn’t have the greatest childhood. I was bullied, and we were very poor when I was younger. I found that I connected to these characters very deeply through their trials, and it inspired me as a parent to listen to and try to better understand my children and their unique experience.

When I found the group, I felt like I had found my tribe.

What is it about J.K. Rowling’s series that sets it apart from other fandoms?

I think it may be that it was designed for children, so there is an honesty to it. It was untainted by so much of the adult world, but still, the lessons of life are there. No one is perfect, everyone is flawed and makes choices that can bring good or bad outcomes, but it is what they do about it that counts. It lets us believe in magic while understanding that we are the ones who need to make our own magic and take up the fight for those who can’t.

Aside from your involvement with Dumbledore’s Army, how is your love of Harry Potter currently manifesting itself?

Well, in my decor for sure. My living room is in Ravenclaw colors, with various witchy accouterment. We have a cupboard under the stairs, also known as the reading nook, but probably the most significant impact is how I raise my kids. I try to listen to them and to think deeply about the impact I have on them. There is a lot of wisdom in the series that I feel I keep with me in my daily life. WWWD, What Would a Wizard Do?

You were a panelist at this year’s WonderCon, discussing “Hogwarts Academia: 20 Years of Fantastic Harry Potter Fandom.” That’s impressive! Tell me about that experience. 

It was so incredible. Being on stage with my daughter, and with these incredible women who I have seen achieve their dreams was an honor. It really drove home to me how great this community is, and how wonderful for my kids to have these incredible role models.

These women are lawyers, doctors, graphic designers, empowered humans making the world better every day. It’s amazing to be counted among them. Also, (fantasy writer) Patrick Rothfuss showed up so as a fan and writer I’ve been geeking out about that for months.

Los Angeles Dumbledore’s Army also devotes itself to other fandoms, including Game of Thrones, Star Wars, Sherlock, and Doctor Who. What other fandoms are you into?

Star Wars, for sure, is my first love. The first movie I saw in the theater was “Jedi.” I love most of those other fandoms, Lord of the Rings, Doctor Who, Sherlock. Game of Thrones is freaking amazing. Comics, anything Neil Gaiman ever does. The list is long.

You write for Geek Magazine. That sounds like a cool gig! How did that come about?

It is a super sweet gig! I work with some of the coolest geeks out there. I write Haiku for fun in a group on Facebook, and one of the members is a fellow writer. She heard the magazine was hiring, so I sent in the most recent thing I had written, which was a blog about the near-death experience I had delivering my daughter. I’ve been geeking out ever since.

What’s your writer origin story? What sparked your interest in that art form?

I am dyslexic, so learning to read was the worst. I was in a special ed class to learn to read. I couldn’t read, but I would make up insane stories for sharing time. My teacher told me I would make a great writer. I thought he was nuts, I couldn’t even read.

Fast forward about a year and I was reading everything I could get my hands on. I learned that Stephen King was also dyslexic, and while I couldn’t read his work yet I knew there was a lot of it. If he could do it, maybe I could too.

Around this time I was lucky enough to meet the great Ray Bradbury. To me, he was just a really nice old guy. He asked me what I was going to be when I grew up, and I had decided that I would be a writer even though I wasn’t good at spelling. He told me to follow my heart, and to never ever let anyone tell me I couldn’t or shouldn’t write. I took his advice, ended up reading a lot of Stephen King, and pretty much anything I could get my hands on and writing whenever I could.

What sorts of things do you write about for Geek Magazine? What do you enjoy most about it?

Most things geek. TV shows, movies, books, and technology. My favorite stories are when I get to write about something I really care about. It’s like a chance to share my own love with a broad audience and maybe show them something they can love too. I love to do research and doing reports and writing for the school paper were my favorite parts of school. Now I get paid to do research and write about things I love. It’s a dream come true. 8-year old-me got her wish with this job.

Are there many other women writing about geek culture? What’s your experience been like in that regard?

Absolutely. I’d say at least half our crew is female, and some of our writers write for other pages and do podcasts and blogs about geeky stuff. I have to say that there really has only been one incident where my sex mattered, and it was a comment from a reader not from my co-workers.

The guys I work with never question what I know, or make me prove that I know something because I am a woman. I know there has been a lot of toxicity in fandom regarding men vs. women, but the vast majority of the guys I both work with and know socially are completely comfortable being schooled in geeky trivia by a woman.

Tabitha’s son, Brodey Davis, on the Warner Bros. Studio Tour.

You’re a mother raising two “geeklings.” Does your family share your geeky interests or have pop culture interests of their own?

They do, and they have introduced me to fandoms I would never have explored. My Little Pony is probably the best example. They’re sort of over it now, but they totally got me hooked. Bob’s Burgers has become a family favorite thanks to my daughter, and we even cosplayed the kids to a con last year. I also know way too much about Overwatch, thanks to my son. We spend a lot of time together, so it’s nice that we like the same sorts of things.

Members of Los Angeles Dumbledore’s Army at the Women’s March.

Of all the interviews I’ve done with women who are geeks, the biggest fandom they have in common, by far, is Harry Potter. Why do you think this franchise speaks to so many people?

Its core messages are the messages of our time. Equality, diversity, love vs. hate. These things are in our headlines, and though we don’t have magic, we do have love. We joined the masses at the first Women’s March together, and a lot of the signs were Harry Potter related. If these kids could stand up against a powerful evil then we can too.

Do you have any future plans/hopes/dreams for the L.A. Dumbledore’s Army?

Right now we are gearing up for our last Skate Night, Wizards in Wonderland, and Wizards Chef, but I would love to plan another family event. A lot of our group are having kids and it’s fun to introduce the magic of the series to another generation of fans. Also, more pub crawls.

If anyone reading this is interested in joining the group, how would they go about it?

You can check us out on Facebook, and join us on Meetup.com.

Tabitha, cosplaying as Ginny Weasley.

Let’s close with a few pressing Harry Potter-related questions:

What’s your Hogwarts house?

Ravenclaw 4 life.

Favorite book?

“Order of the Phoenix,” even though Harry is totally having a case of the puberties.

Least favorite movie?

“Chamber of Secrets.”

Favorite character?

I don’t know if I can pick one. Book Ron, Movie twins, Snape, Lupin, Tonks, Mrs. Weasley … that’s a short list.

Most devastating character death?

Snape.

Wizarding subject you’d most like to study?

Potions, Apparation.

Favorite magical creature?

Thestral.

Favorite Harry Potter item you own?

My custom wand designed after my first Pottermore wand.

How often do you visit the Wizarding World of Harry Potter?

I’ve been twice. I’m more of a book fan.

Tabitha and Jeff Davis enjoy some butterbeer at the employee preview of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Hollywood.

Cold Butterbeer, Frozen Butterbeer, or Warm Butterbeer?

Cold.

What’s left on your Harry Potter bucket list?

To see the dragon at Diagon Alley, and to visit the locations in the U.K.

 

Catherine Elhoffer saves geek fashion, one clever, inclusive design at a time (with pockets!)

For geek fashionistas who struggle to find cute, comfortable clothes that reflect their fandoms and accommodate their curves, or who long for quality wardrobe staples that go beyond disposable, flimsy T-shirts, or pine for the luxury and convenience of pockets in that adorable nerd dress, Elhoffer Design has become something of a safe harbor.

With a personal passion for pop culture, a background in costume design, and experience gained from gigs with a couple of major geek fashion companies, Catherine Elhoffer launched a unique one-woman operation that specializes in subtle, playful designs that evoke beloved characters from Star Wars to Harry Potter, Game of Thrones to Ghibli, and Doctor Who to Hamilton.

Catherine’s painstaking, hands-on attention to detail, emphasis on craftsmanship and quality, and compassionate dedication to empowering the “lady-nerds” she knows and understands has gained her a steadfast and appreciative customer base that clamors for her latest offering, whether it’s a dusty rose frock with a floaty skirt inspired by Laura Dern’s Admiral Holdo or the perfect, rainbow-striped sweater inspired by a certain Time Lord.

(Pssst, she just revealed part of her Treat Yo Self collection, based on the “Parks and Recreation” TV series.)

When it comes to the limitations of the geek fashion industry, Catherine is wonderfully candid about the never-ending “size/fit” battle, society’s weird beauty standards, diversity as good business practice, and the absolute necessity for pockets in women’s apparel.

Most of all, she’s determined to do what she can to make a difference. 

Your fashion company, Elhoffer Design, offers “Geek-Bound” apparel with subtle nods to a wide variety of fandoms. I love that your designs aren’t obvious, but clearly embody the spirit of the characters they portray. How did you arrive at this approach to geek fashion?

So I come from a costume design background with a degree and years of professional costume design work in film/web/TV/commercials, and I use that when approaching designing apparel since it’s all inspired by pop culture icons.

I can take the costumes or character style and break down the lines, colors, textures, and all that work and then funnel it into a fashion piece. I work very organically in that I’m not saying, “Oh, Princess Leia is huge, I need to do something with her silver/white belt printed onto a T-shirt,” but instead let the inspiration hit me when it’s right (for my latest Princess top, that was from seeing a fan art piece come across my twitter feed of her in her white dress … and my brain just clicked everything in place. It needs to be a crop top with an oversized top, raglan sleeve, big hood under a turtleneck … It wasn’t forced).

Where do you draw inspiration for your designs?

Most of my pieces are a mix of character inspiration and modern fashion trends. I do a lot of Google image searching for different fashion styles I want to do (like coming up is flutter sleeves) and then seeing how people are executing that style. I’ll often stumble across other looks or styles and I’ll just pull that image into an “inspo” folder and go through that folder when I’m wanting a refresher for looks I like.

Cardigans from Elhoffer Design’s Everyday Witch Apparel line.

Can you tell me a little about the process that goes into designing a piece?

I always draw something up first, whether it’s hand drawn in my sketchbook or digitally drawn up on my iPad. If it’s a cut/sew piece (like a dress or a blouse), I then normally make a sample piece in my sewing studio first as my factories sometimes get confused by my random ideas, because they’re just different than what’s being mass made right now.

If it’s a sweater, I have to print out the “art” to size so that the factory can program the knit. Then I pick out fabrics/colors or knit styles, pass specs of what things need to be, and wait for samples. The wait can take months depending on the piece. But it’s almost always worth it. Then once the sample arrives it might need tweaks or changes. Almost always notes are needed.

What’s your geek origin story? When did you first discover your geekier inclinations?

I remember watching X-men the animated series when I was 5. I loved that show and ate up every episode. I also got a Sega Genesis when I was 5, and I played it all the time. That was the beginning of the end, honestly.

You studied costume design at university. Why did you decide to pursue this particular art form?

I had joined the local renaissance faire when I was a teenager, and I had taught myself to sew and found that I was kind of naturally good at it as well as loved every second of it. I would whip up costumes overnight and wear them the next day at faire or at different events. And it was fun to see other peoples’ responses when I’d tell them I made something in 10 hours or whatnot. It was a fun challenge.

So when I went to college I discovered the theater costume shop and knew that I had to be there. When talking to the costume design professor, Bonnie Krueger, she looked over my sewing portfolio and, while it was certainly rough, she saw the potential I had. So took me under her wing and I learned so much from her and her decades of experience in theatrical costume design. I don’t know if I would have kept up the program if it wasn’t for her. She was incredibly passionate and always made me feel incredibly special. I also was one student in a program of like three, so it was incredibly small and focused. I was designing a huge 1770s show in my junior year, so I was given opportunities that I was so grateful for.

Forest Neighbor Oversized Sweater from Elhoffer Design’s Friendly Spirits Collection.

There’s something very theatrical about geek fashion. How did your costume design degree prepare you for what you’re doing now?

Well, costume is just fashion worn with intent, and knowing how to design a costume, I also know how to strip it down, too. So they really line up beautifully. I can take the work that costume designers have labored over and strip that work down to the bare essentials needed to tell the story of a modern look. What would Daenerys Targaryen wear if she was going to a modern gala? What about Lando Calrissian if he was a modern woman heading to give an office presentation? That’s the costume designing I’m doing now.

I understand some of your earliest costumes were inspired by the St. Louis Renaissance Faire and then evolved into Lord of the Rings-inspired clothing. Tell me about that.

I was hugely inspired by the designs in Lord of the Rings, and as I was in the Faery Guild of the Faire, all of us girls in the guild were trying to basically reenact Arwen and Legolas and like all the looks in that movie. I would make a lot of everyday tops for school that had just crazy flaire that reminded me of elvish fashion from the films. Looking back I roll my eyes, because my sewing needed a lot of experience, but the only way to learn is to just do it and learn from your mistakes.

What was your first professional big break?

For my costume design work, which helped get me to where I am now, it was getting my first feature film costume design title and job on “Yellow Rock,” a Western that really tested my knowledge and craft. I learned a ton on that project, including working with difficult personalities as well as getting first-hand mentoring on Lakota history and fashion.

You worked with Her Universe and designed a Totoro-inspired gown for Ashley Eckstein to wear at the Her Universe Fashion Show at San Diego Comic-Con in 2014. What did you learn from that experience?

I love that gown so much. Everything I’ve ever made helped me learn more about my own personal design aesthetic and how I translate characters to fashion. That dress was a fun way to make a character into a couture, high fashion piece that could be easily recognizable but still incredibly couture and sleek. It’s still one of my favorite pieces I’ve made. I learned a lot about sewing sequins on that one, as the entire bodice is made from drop sequins, and you have to remove a lot of sequins when sewing high-fashion pieces for them to look right.

You also designed for Welovefine, working on items licensed by Marvel and other major fandoms. That sounds like a geek’s dream come true.

I loved what I did but hated my job. I loved working with licensors and making collections that fans loved and I still get recognized for, but the company was incredibly toxic and, while I learned a ton about clothing production, it was a rough year of my life.

Why did you decide to strike out on your own and launch Elhoffer Design?

WeLoveFine fired me, which was a great kick in the ass to do it solo. I was sick of bosses who didn’t believe women would actually spend money on quality garments, who thought my style was too subtle and wouldn’t read as the character or style … and who would fight me on pockets. I don’t like fighting over pockets. It’s a thing everyone needs to just accept already.

What was the biggest challenge of going solo?

Growing my audience was my biggest fear. I only had 2,000 followers on Instagram when I was fired, and I knew those 2,000 people/accounts weren’t going to be able to keep me afloat. So I started taking orders from friends for dresses or pieces, and then would post pictures of the commission as it was being worked on. I grew pretty quick, which then had even more people reaching out to me to commission apparel.

What do you enjoy most about running your own business?

Freedom. I love not having to be talked down to by higher-ups who think they know better than me or who think I’m a fake geek girl. I’ve developed relationships with a few factories in Los Angeles who never talk down to me or think I don’t know what I’m doing (though I will joke with them that I am Science Cat and have no idea what I’m doing).

Elhoffer Design’s motto is “helping lady-nerds feel amazing and powerful.” How do you feel your clothing accomplishes this?

To start with, I size my product to women with curves. So my fit is much more accommodating to women with boobs and hips, and when you get a garment that fits you beautifully you instantly feel better about your day. Pockets help, too, because phones don’t have to be shoved into a bra or lost in a purse. And I use simple lines and colors to evoke characters that inspire us all, and when you dress yourself in the morning and put on a top or sweater that reminds you of Khaleesi or a character you love, it’s impossible to not channel that power throughout your day as a reminder that you are a queen and deserve to be treated as one.

One of your priorities is creating fashions for “all shapes and sizes.” Unlike many fashion companies, Elhoffer Design really seems to be doing that. Why is this important to you?

Well I’m a solid XL, even a 2XL in some brands. I’m not small. I’m not skinny. I’m not thin. And I love myself and my body, so it’s about time that I look as good as I feel in my skin. I’m also super short, so I design things that can be hemmed to look good on me, but I have tall friends who also want to feel like queens, so I try to be a bit more diverse with my designs so they can work on different lengths. It’s hard, because mass made clothing (even in the small runs I am doing now) means that you can’t custom make for each person to fit them best, but I try to make pieces that can be easily adjusted to fit different bodies.

Elhoffer Design’s Galactic Baron Wrap Top, left, and Galactic Smuggler Crop Top.

I love that the models you use in your promotional photos are incredibly diverse, not the cookie-cutter types we tend to see in fashion advertising. What’s the thinking behind this?

Well, from my past work experience I found that customers responded when you’d show more than one body type on a site. Also, as a human who also shops online, I like when I can see it on someone more like my shape to make sure I can pull it off. Also, I have a marketing degree, so I know a bit about how to sell things. In general, the more information you can give a potential customer about the product they’re buying, the more likely they are to purchase from you. So why not apply that to clothing and show variety? I can’t accomplish that with every piece every time, because often I’m the one taking the pics and asking friends to model for me, but I am trying my damn hardest as a business of one.

You’ve said fighting the “size/fit” battle is never-ending. What are some of the hurdles you encounter in making clothes that anyone and everyone can feel comfortable in?

Well for bigger shapes in particular there’s a ton of different shapes to design for. Pear, Apple, Triangle, Inverted Triangle … like, not everything can work on every body. But I tend to work with nicer fabrics that have spandex knit or woven into them, which can help fit just a little nicer and a little better on bodies.

I’m also constantly battling society’s standards of beauty and comfort. A lot of women think crop sweaters means they crop just under their boobs and shows off their tummies, so I have customers who are hesitant to buy my cropped cardigans. But I had a customer message me this past weekend who was so thrilled she took that risk on the crops because they pair perfectly with her flared dresses, so it’s a huge hurdle for customers.

Do you think the geek fashion industry in general is doing enough to fight this battle?

Oh, no. The geek fashion industry is still a subset of the fashion industry, which is also doing a terrible job at this as well. Big companies are still making money on whatever they make, so why change the model or fit? It’s selling. If every person stopped shopping from the retailers that are known for poor fit, they’d change their fit instantly. But they’re making money so no need to change.

What would you like to see change in that regard?

I mean, I want real pockets in everything. Not small ones, but real substantial ones. Feminine fits should be for people with boobs, because smaller chested humans can always get things tailored down, but letting things out is nearly impossible with the way modern clothing in manufactured. And decent pattern grading is crucial. Nothing is graded well in the mass market. But I really don’t see that changing.

For those who don’t get the pocket thing, why do so many women get excited about that? 

Those who don’t get it tend to be cis dudes. Pockets allow freedom. You don’t need to carry a bag that hurts your back or shoulder, you don’t have to worry about losing that bag or getting it stolen off of you while walking. When I go to Disneyland I don’t need a bag, I can fit a water bottle, phone, keys, and money in my pockets. It makes it easier to ride the rides, to relax, and to have fun.

Your customers seem very personally invested in your company (they can participate in preorders, which help fund new designs, for instance). How do you cultivate this level of loyalty and trust? 

Well, I try very hard to respond to everyone quickly and basically always appear to be online. It started back when I was doing handmade and I’d post progress pictures and reply to questions and all, because I run my own social media. And as I was starting out doing preorders it was crucial that my customers trust that I’m actually going to deliver the preorder, because there are companies in the geek world who take preorders and then don’t deliver on time or don’t deliver … at all? So I don’t ever want people to think my company is like that.

So communicating online with customers is crucial. Live streams also help my fans and customers see that I’m a single human. While I certainly have teams at my factory, it’s me doing the bulk of the back end work on my site. I want to grow to being more people, but I also want to grow my business safely so I can’t just hire people to do everything for me.

One of your collections, Love is Love is Love Apparel, helps support LGBTQ groups that focus on reducing suicide and aiding in education and support. Why is this cause close to your heart?

Well I have plenty of friends and family who are LGBTQIA, and I want them to know that they’re loved and important and matter. After Lin Manuel Miranda’s speech post-Pulse, and then the recent administration’s hatred towards LGBTQIA humans … I wanted to try and do something. We all have to try and do something.

Elhoffer Design’s Queens of Winter Apparel collection.

What do you personally like to wear?

I live in high-waisted leggings and oversized tops when working.

One of your recent projects is a collection inspired by Valiant Entertainment’s Faith, available at ThinkGeek. Tell me more about that collaboration.

Well, Valiant reached out to me asking if I’d be willing to work with them on a collection, and I can’t say no to that. Once we had ideas and samples, we brought Think Geek into the collab and they were incredibly interested in the designs and collection. It was a long process but was so incredibly rewarding!

You’ve said that Star Wars was your original fandom, but you’re “cooling” on it. Why is that?

Well the fandom is getting a little intense online with the new movies and a lot of people hating on them. That, and I loved the EU (Expanded Universe) so hard and it’s still rough for me to not have a character like Mara Jade to really love. I’m also not a huge fan of the animated series, which seems to be where Star Wars fans are living right now.

I’m also finding, as an adult, it’s hard to give all my time or love to any fandom and it’s hard for me to blindly love things. So my white-hot passion for Star Wars as a teenager has definitely cooled as my fandoms have diversified and my life has become more complicated.

When it comes to geekdom, you have a dazzlingly wide variety of interests. Why don’t we do some fun questions pertaining to your various obsessions?

What’s your Hogwarts house?

Hufflepuff. 100%.

How many hours have you spent playing “Legend of Zelda”?

Too many. Probably 3,000+. I’ve played the SNES one through probably ten times across eight platforms/emulators … And “Breath of the Wild” already has 500 hours logged.

Which incarnation of Star Trek is your favorite and why?

“The Next Generation.” Picard is my captain. Always.

Team Spike or Team Angel?

SPIKE. Angel only was good after getting a soul. Spike turned good and then went out and GOT a soul. I love Spike.

Who’s your favorite X-Man?

Kitty Pryde. She has a DRAGON.

Elhoffer Design’s Hamilgown Tunics.

Do you know all the “Hamilton” lyrics?

Almost all. I’m still not fluent in “Yorktown.”

Do you Twitter-stalk Lin Manuel Miranda like the rest of us?

OF COURSE.

Which movie Mr. Darcy is the best Mr. Darcy?

Colin Firth. Though Matthew Mcfadyen is so gorgeous …

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

Hercules, Buzz Light Year Ride, and Princess Aurora.

Which Studio Ghibli movie is your favorite?

“Howl’s Moving Castle.”

You recently returned from exhibiting and doing panels at WonderCon in Anaheim. What was that experience like this year?

It was interesting! It was my first major convention to sell at and I learned a LOT about the show. I love doing panels, too, cause I love talking about all my experience and sharing my knowledge!

Along with your Elhoffer Design work, you create costumes, such as the Princess Leia outfit recently worn by John Barrowman at Awesome Con. What do you enjoy about that?

There’s nothing I don’t love about working with John, he’s such a sweetheart and always wants to make the most CRAZY and awesome costumes! He always wants the “Barrowman Flair,” which is just so enjoyable as a designer to have that freedom to have fun!

Do you do any cosplay yourself?

The only cosplay I’ve ever done to a con was Thor-Girl. And that was so much fun but incredibly exhausting! I hate wigs and makeup, so cosplay is not my forte. That’s why I love bounding. Much easier and more comfy!

What are some of your future plans or dreams for Elhoffer Design?

Grow bigger, make more money, hire my qualified and incredibly talented friends, team up with some amazing designer friends on collabs, keep getting bigger and bigger!

Are there any fandoms you haven’t tackled yet that you’d like to transform into fashions?

Jurassic Park/Dinos. I wanna do NASA, too. Not sure if those qualify as “fandom.”

Artist’s paintings, pins fueled by imagination, inspired by Disney, Ghibli, and more

“Daydream and paint” is the slogan of artist Megan Chaney’s Etsy shop, ChaneyAtelier.

Fueled by her imagination and a desire to let others experience this fantastical inner world, she creates magical paintings and whimsical pins, often inspired by the fandoms she loves, including Disney, Game of Thrones, Studio Ghibli, and Star Wars.

At the age of 12, the gift of a beautiful wooden easel from her parents started her down the road to the artistic life. A Disney fan since the days of “The Little Mermaid,” she discovered she could make her own Magic Kingdom-themed accessories for much cheaper than theme park prices.

When she’s not studying art at the University of California, Bakersfield, or teaching kindergarten, Megan is fangirling over Marvel, video games, artists who stream on Twitch, Chris Pratt, and tall, dark, handsome Jedi-gone-bad Kylo Ren. 

Meanwhile, she’s dreaming of the day when she can dedicate herself solely to art. “We live such boring, mundane lives and we forget what makes life fun and enchanting,” she says. 

Megan’s creations are definitely helping to combat that problem. 

You’re an artist who sells your pins, paintings, and other creations on your Etsy shop, ChaneyAtelier. Have you always had artistic inclinations?

I’ve always been interested in art, though, my skills were definitely learned over time.

How and when did you get serious about art?

When I was 12, my parents got me a beautiful wooden easel with a large paint set for Christmas. It was my most prized possession and I was so proud to own such nice tools that I painted vigorously ever since. I still use that easel today!

A pin inspired by Disney’s famous Dole Whip.

A lot of your Etsy products are fandom-related (Disney, Game of Thrones, Rick and Morty, etc.). Tell me your geek origin story. Were you into geeky things as a child?

As a kid, I was obsessed with Disney. I had Disney princesses on my walls and would watch “The Little Mermaid” on repeat. My younger brothers were interested in the more boyish shows like Pokemon so I’d watch along. We all moved on to watch animes and just loved them.

Who and what do you consider to be an influence on you artistically?

I am a fan of so many artists! I really aspire to paint like Thomas Kinkade. My favorite YouTube artists are Danica Sills and Kelogsloops. They both create gorgeous, fantastical characters.

When did you begin painting? How would you describe your style?

I began painting in kindergarten. My style is a mix of Disney, anime, fashion, and surreal landscapes.

Many of your paintings are nature-based with a particular focus on water. Why are you drawn to these subjects?

I’ve grown up at the beach and in the water. My life revolved around nature as a kid and I still love just being surrounded by it.

Disney-themed pins by Megan Chaney.

 When and how did you begin making pins?

I only began making pins in February 2017. I was fortunate enough to get Disneyland passes and found that pins there are very pricy. So, instead of spending big money on pins, I began making some for myself and thought others would love to have them as well.

Tell me a little bit about what goes into the process of making a pin. What techniques and equipment do you use?

My pins are made of shrink plastic. First, I design the image for the pin in Photoshop. Then, the image is printed onto the shrink plastic. I cut each pin out and then shrink them in the oven. After they’re shrunk, I spray the pins with an acrylic enamel and let them dry overnight. They’re topped with epoxy top to give it a glossy dome and the pin is glued on the back, then they’re ready to ship!

When did you realize that an Etsy shop was a viable option for you?

I sold a few watercolor paintings locally and realized that if I expanded my audience, I could show my art to more people and sell more.

How did you arrive upon the name of your shop? Why did you incorporate the idea of a workshop or studio into that title?

I am not creative with names, so I simply decided to keep it related to me my using my last name and instead of using studio, I chose “atelier.” My studio is essentially my shop, so my Esty and studio are directly intertwined.

Your shop slogan is “daydream and paint”? What would you say is the “daydream” aspect of your work?

I spend a lot of my time imagining a fantastical world that I’d much rather be a part of. I paint my daydreams to allow others to experience it as well.

Where do you tend to get your ideas for your products?

I’m very inspired by nature and elements of fantasy. I also enjoy a lot of different cartoons and shows.

What are some of your favorite creations so far in your Etsy shop?

This watercolor galaxy was very fun to make and sold to a wonderful person. I also love several of my pins, like the Oswald and Hatbox Ghost, which are very popular with my customers.

You’re open to custom orders and requests. Have you done any interesting customizations or collaborations so far?

I have! I’ve recently created a Disney Name Tag pin for the Haunted Mansion. The customer was wonderful to work with and very pleased with her product.

Your Disney pins are your best-selling items. Why do you think this is?

As a passholder, I know that pins are very popular at Disneyland but they can be very pricey. Everyone wants these cute pins, but they can buy them from my shop for 1/3 of the price.

There seems to be a real trend with Disney fans toward expressing themselves through fashion, custom ears, custom accessories, etc. Why do you think Disney inspires this in fans?

It’s fun to express to everyone else what you think is fun and interesting. Having the option to wear something custom and one of a kind just allows your fashion and accessories express exactly who you are.

Megan at Disneyland.

You describe yourself as a huge Disney fan. When did that obsession begin for you?

Since I was a toddler I’ve loved Disney. I used to ask my mom to play “The Little Mermaid” on repeat when I was a kid.

Do you visit the theme parks often?

I do, I’ve only ever been to Disneyland in California, however. I also go to Universal Studios regularly and love the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

“Tangled” and “The Little Mermaid” are among your favorite Disney movies. What other Disney movies, franchises, attractions, etc., do you love?

I also love Star Wars, “Guardians of the Galaxy,” and “Thor.” I love Pixar, Marvel, and Warner Bros. for Harry Potter. My favorite Disney attractions are Haunted Mansion, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Indiana Jones.

 What’s still on your Disney bucket list?

I want to visit every Disney theme park and go on a vacation at the Aulani Resort in Hawaii. I would love to meet Chris Hemsworth and Chris Pratt as well.

Studio Ghibli-inspired pins by Megan Chaney.

Another of your artistic inspirations is Studio Ghibli and the films of Hayao Miyazaki. What is special to you about these movies?

Studio Ghibli and Hayao Miyazaki create very whimsical and fantastical movies. The art of their films inspires me.

“Spirited Away” is one of your favorite Ghibli films and, when it comes to other anime, you’re a fan of “Death Note.” What appeals to you about these?

“Spirited Away” has a fascinating story and characters and the relationships between the characters are so sweet. “Death Note” is very suspenseful and makes you think. I love shows that have deep plot twists and keep you on the edge of your seat.

You’re also very into Star Wars with a particular liking for Kylo Ren. Why Kylo?

It’s one of those tall, dark, and handsome things. I guess I just like the story of a tormented soul.

What did you think of his evolution in “The Last Jedi”?

I think he grew from being whiny to knowing what he wanted and how to get there. He kind of transformed from looking for sympathy to saying f— it all.

Tell me your personal Star Wars saga. How did you first discover George Lucas’ galaxy far, far away?

When I was a kid, my grandpa used to play Star Wars movies on repeat. I was really too young to appreciate them, though. It wasn’t until my best friend in high school became obsessed with cosplaying that I began to enjoy the movies too.

Reylo. Yes or no?

No, I’d say don’t force what shouldn’t be. Rey should never be bad and Kylo should never be good.

 Porgs. Yes or  no?

Yes! They’re so cute!

 Alden Ehrenreich as Han Solo. Yes or no?

Yes, he fits the character perfectly.

Marvel is another one of your passions and you’ve got a thing for Star-Lord in particular. Should Chris Pratt just go ahead and star in every movie already?

Yes! He is the hero we’ve all been looking for!

What are some of your favorite Marvel movies?

My favorite Marvel movies are “Thor: Ragnorok,” “Thor: The Dark World,” “Guardians of the Galaxy,” “Spiderman: Homecoming,” and “Dr. Strange.”

What are your thoughts on “Avengers: Infinity War”?

I think it will be amazing to have so many awesome characters all in the same movie.

Speaking of war, you are also a “Game of Thrones” fan. How did you get into the series?

I ran out of other things to watch and decided to catch up on the series. I binge-watched it until I was caught up.

Have you read George R.R. Martin’s books?

Nope. I can’t say I have the time to.

 Who should sit on the Iron Throne?

Tyrion!

One of your hobbies is video games, with an emphasis on “Assassin’s Creed,” “Kingdom Hearts,” and “Animal Crossing.” How did you get hooked on these games?

I love great stories so RPGs like these games are great to me. All of them have wonderful, ethereal stories that just keep me hooked.

What’s your experience as a girl gamer been like?

I feel that being a girl hasn’t changed my experience as I have always had good guy friends and girl gamers to play along with.

You’re a supporter of YouTubers and Twitch Streamers. For those of us who are unfamiliar with Twitch, what’s that about? What do you like about these forms of media for artists and gamers?

Twitch is a platform for gamers, talk shows, and creative artists to livestream their content to others. I like being able to watch other artists and gamers and I enjoy sharing my own work as well. Twitch is convenient, too, because you can directly talk to the streamer and make friends.

You’re studying to be an art teacher at California State University, Bakersfield. What inspired you to pursue this career?

I love art and love children. I feel that being an art teacher, I can continue my passion, spread my knowledge, and still have a stable income. I enjoy the summers off, too!

You’re currently a co-teacher of a kindergarten classroom. Do you find that your students influence or inspire your art in any way?

No, unfortunately school systems are pretty strict about getting stuff done, however I get to influence my students with a bit of directed drawing time.

Are they aware of your artistic pursuits? If so, what do they think?

They are, though, they’re only 5. Their opinion doesn’t go much farther than, “That’s cool.”

Do you have a studio or space where you do your art? Can you describe it for me?

My space is very small and very busy. I just have an L shaped desk in my bedroom. The desk is used for all my computer activity, school work, gaming, and art so there are containers of paintbrushes and markers on one side of my monitor, textbooks on the other, and my easel in the far corner. I don’t mind the small space but I would love to have some dedicated table room for my art.

Your ultimate dream is to paint and “never have to do anything else.” What would your ideal artistic life look like?

The life of an artist consists of long hours of searching through inspiring photos, watching tutorial videos, and talking to other artists. I would love to spend my days paintings and being inspired. I’d love, also, to have the time to attend art shows and host my work in galleries. Hopefully as I settle into my career I’ll have more time to dedicate to my passion.

Do you have any future plans for ChaneyAtelier or for selling your work?

Paint more, sell more. My paintings are successful when I sell them, but I don’t have many paintings to sell. If and when I can, I’d like to have more of my paintings up for sale. It would be nice to design and sell my own clothes as well.

What are some of your other artistic goals or dreams?

I’d love to get into mural painting. I’m still learning and don’t feel I’m ready for such a large-scale painting, but hopefully someday I can be.

You’ve said the work featured in your shop is meant to “enlighten others to see beauty, adventure, and fantasy in our normal world.” Why is that important to you?

We live such boring, mundane lives and we forget what makes life fun and enchanting. If we would all see the world through different eyes, we could find its beauty and live happier.

She may not be Mother of Dragons, but this Dani rules when it comes to fandoms

Meet Dani Babiak.

Not only does she share a nickname with a certain Mother of Dragons, she was recently married in a elegant, subtly geeky ceremony that featured Portal cake toppers and music from Jurassic Park, Legend of Zelda, and The Lord of the Rings.

 She and her partner for life in nerdy crime, Todd, got engaged at Disney World and consider holding the highest score for the cheesy arcade game “Deadstorm Pirates” at Castle Park in Sherman Oaks to be their greatest achievement so far. Clearly, the geek gods have smiled upon this romance. 

Dani’s gateway drug into Star Wars was the infamous prequels, but she’s since come to love the original trilogy and has a compelling defense of the much-reviled “The Last Jedi.” She was particularly devastated by the passing of iconic Star Wars princess/general Carrie Fisher. 

Below, she reveals what it’s like to be a woman who just wants to talk about video games, how a childhood theft led to an enduring love of Harry Potter, and why every young girl should have an inspiring geek mentor to look up to. 

Dani Babiak and her husband, Todd, got engaged at Disney World and are frequent visitors to Disneyland.

So, apparently you and your husband, Todd, recently had the geekiest wedding ever. I would like to hear all the details. Please describe the big day!

It was a really, really great day and it went by too fast. We had all of our friends and family there — literally everyone that we wanted there was able to make it. We had it at this barn in Huntington Beach where they help rehabilitate horses (I’m a big animal rescue person) and it was all just so gorgeous and perfect. Lots of greenery, lots of succulents, great food, and great company.

Why did you decide to go full geek on your wedding day?

It’s really funny to me how you watch these wedding TV shows and hear people talk about “my big day this/my big day that” because it’s really, really not like that. Maybe it’s because Todd and I are both family people but we really cared and listened to our family’s opinions about everything and definitely in a sense wanted to have those traditional themes … we just wanted the traditional themes carried out in a non-traditional way.

So we had our DJ play fun jazz music during dinner … but it was a jazz version of the Pokemon theme song. We had very light and airy music playing while our guests arrived … but it was “The Song of the Shire” from Lord of the Rings. I walked down to a really pretty violin cover of “Zelda’s Lullaby” from the Legend of Zelda series. We had cake toppers; but they were two robots from one of our favorite video games, dressed up in bride and groom garb. We had to put our touch somewhere in the traditional scene.

What did the guests think?

The ones who got it REALLY got it and loved it. At one point during dinner, our DJ had played the main theme song from “Jurassic Park” and it ended up being a game for Todd and I to pick out the faces that were trying to place the song and then realize exactly where it was from.

So, I’m assuming your marriage is one built on a love of mutual geekdom. Tell me about the relationship.

It absolutely is. I think a lot of it is us just indulging each other’s geekiness in a sense too — we don’t necessarily have all of the same fandoms but we do enjoy a lot of things together too. I’ve brought him into quite a few of mine just as time goes on. We game together, watch (and pick apart) movies together, and Disney together. He’s kind of my best friend — he’s pretty cool.

I heard you got engaged at Disneyland, so you’re obviously a Disney fan. Tell me about the proposal.

It was pretty amazing. We decided to plan a trip to Disney World after we had realized that in the all of the time that we had been together we had only taken vacations to go visit family or to go on family trips and hadn’t really just done something for him and I.

It was our first day on vacation and we (obviously) chose to go to the Magic Kingdom first. Literally, I had hardly made it through the turnstile before I started tearing up because we were finally there. By the time we had made it to the castle, I was in full-blown sob mode. I was just taking it all in and he leaned down and said, “Can I ask you a question?” Annoyed, I turned to him and asked, “What?”

(Side note: I say “annoyed” because this is the guy that will literally put on a sad puppy video because he wants to see how fast I’ll tear up. It’s a game between us and I thought that he was going to make fun of me for crying). He then got down on one knee and proposed in front of everyone! It was one of the greatest days of my life.

Do you visit the Disney theme parks often?

Yes. Our friends all have passes too, so we are frequently going. I’m not even going to lie to you, as I’m answering these I’m waiting for Todd to wake up so that we can decide if we’re going today or not.

How did your love of Disney begin and what specific movies, characters, properties, and attractions are you most into?

I’m honestly not sure where the love even began because it was always just kind of there. My Mom told me that the first movie she ever took me to was “Aladdin” when it was in theaters; we always went to see the newest Disney movie whenever it came to theaters.

My favorite movies have always been “Beauty and the Beast” and “Lilo & Stitch.” I loved the story behind “Beauty and the Beast” and the message behind the story. “Lilo & Stitch” always had a HUGE place in my heart because of the relationship between Lilo and her sister Nani. I have two younger sisters so this really hit close to home for me.

You’re a pretty dedicated gamer, specifically into Portal and Legend of Zelda. What do you like about gaming? Does this passion go back to childhood or is it a more recent thing?

Some of the greatest memories that I have from my childhood are from watching my dad play “Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time” when I was younger. We would spend hours in our living room play and I would just be completely mesmerized by the story and the game play. In the beginning I was actually so afraid of playing because I didn’t want to die in the game and the story to be over, but finally I got over this fear and I have replayed “Ocarina of Time” each year for as long as I can remember.

Gaming as a whole is just an amazing escape — I love getting so invested in the characters and storyline that hours go by without you even realizing it. For me, it’s just the same as if you’re super invested in a book but it’s almost like you’re living the story that you could be reading.

Dani and Todd DIY’d their own wedding cake toppers, themed after the Portal video games.

I’d like more details about your Portal obsession. How many hours do you spend playing? What do you love about this game?

I have an extremely difficult love/hate obsession with Portal. What drives me crazy is that there is absolutely no way that you can sit down and play this game for 20 minutes. I have tried several times. It’s like a jawbreaker; once you start you’re in for the long haul.

Especially with “Portal 2,” this amazing story starts to unfold and you begin thinking to yourself, “Well, wait, this doesn’t make any sense –maybe if I keep playing … .” Then all of a sudden you’re fighting the last boss. You get this amazing end cutscene. Then it is over and you have been left without any new Portal games since 2011 (I’m looking at you, Valve.)

What I love the most about Portal and what I believe is probably one of the most brilliant things ever is that they have created such a very basic, simple thing and made it so elaborate, complicated, and clever.

The entire game is one huge puzzle that requires you to think five steps ahead because it’s not laid out very clearly. You have to put so much effort into it and I think that’s why it’s one of my favorite games ever.

You’re an enthusiast of “anything Nintendo.” Why Nintendo? Which games are your favorite?

It’s 100% the nostalgia for me. Nintendo was a big deal in my house growing up and my sisters and I played everything from “Yoshi’s Story” to “Donkey Kong 64” to “Super Mario 64” and we loved it all.

What other video games are you into?

I’m really open to just about any type of game. I love the platform games, they’re always fun to navigate through. I haven’t been too into the Call of Duty games or other shooters of the like — they just get so repetitive and there usually isn’t that great of a storyline that goes with them.

What has your experience as a girl gamer been like?

Honestly, it has had its ups and downs. There have definitely been the judgmental looks when I talk about how excited I am for a video game to come out — but I feel like primarily I surround myself with people who are like-minded so it has definitely been easier lately than it had been in the past. I will say, I do still get a sense of relief when I’m talking to someone or introducing myself to them and they talk about what video games they play before I do.

You also enjoy arcade games. What’s the appeal of this “old-school” form of gaming?

I love the older ones and I love the newer ones too. I feel like what’s so great about arcades is that there is literally something for everyone there and also the general buzz of excitement when you go into one. They’re refreshing from the home consoles because they’re just very quick games that (usually) you don’t have to invest too much time into.

I understand you and Todd hold the highest score of  “Deadstorm Pirates” at Castle Park in Sherman Oaks and that this is your “biggest accomplishment.” What did it take to earn this score?

We do! We need to go do a status check soon and regain our throne if anyone has taken our title (but I honestly don’t think they would as the game was in the saddest corner of Castle Park). For weeks, Todd was taking classes at community college and in the three-hour gap after class/before work we would go and play a few rounds of “Deadstorm Pirates.” We would sometimes be late to work, emotionally drained, and always invested about $20 each trip to Castle Park.

For those of us who don’t know, what exactly is “Deadstorm Pirates”?

“Deadstorm Pirates” is an extremely cheesy pirate shooting game. The game itself makes absolutely no sense from the start because ours at least had the blue gun assigned to the girl and the pink gun assigned to the boy. (Don’t get me wrong, all the power to fighting gender stereotypes but Todd was very upset the first time we played and he was the girl.) Some of the targets you are supposed to shoot: Grim Reapers, Bats, Attacking Clams, and a giant crab. If you find this game in your local arcade; sit down and play a few rounds. You will be left extremely confused but with an odd new obsession.

What other arcade games do you indulge in? Is Castle Park pretty much your stomping ground or do you have other locales for arcading?

I wish that Castle Park was still our stomping grounds. We have since moved to the South Bay and our trips to Castle Park have been fewer and fewer. Right now we’re really into Dave & Busters, which is a more modern arcade but is still a lot of fun. We’re getting ready to go try out a “family fun center” called Mulligan in South Bay that looks like they have a promising, cheesy arcade.

You worked at a major cosmetics retailer and you’re a geek when it comes to skin care. Can you draw any parallels between the geek life and the beauty biz?

I did and I absolutely am! For me, finding good skin care products and taking care of my skin just gives me the same kind of good feels that reading a good book or finding a great movie does. Especially when I worked in skin care, one of the things I really loved was helping find someone something that made them feel comfortable in their skin and happy with the changes that they were making. I think the biggest parallel is overall how complete it makes you feel. I feel like it’s easy for me to get as excited over a comic book as it is to get excited over a face mask.

Do you think some people would be surprised to find that a geek might be into beauty stuff as well? What would you say to that?

It honestly cracks me up because I feel like people treat them like they’re on opposite ends of the spectrum! There are so many stereotypes of the “gamer girl/boy” vs. “makeup girl,” “preppy guy” and that kind of thing. I really wish that those kinds of stereotypes would just go away and people could feel free to like and enjoy whatever they want to like!

You’re also into DIY. Have you done any geeky DIY projects?

Yes! We’ve done a few. My most proud geeky DIY was our cake toppers for our wedding. We didn’t come up with this ourselves, but we saw on Reddit that someone had turned two turrets (from Portal) into a bride and groom turret. I remember when Todd and I found it, we both turned to each other and I’m pretty sure the first thing we said was, “Our parents are going to hate this.” But we did it and it was so wonderful and our families were so confused.

You’re interested in quite an array of fandoms, including “Rick and Morty” and “Bob’s Burgers.” What’s the big deal with these shows?

They’re just fun! I relate way too hard to Linda Belcher from “Bob’s Burgers.” Overall, I think both shows are just really, really smart. “Rick and Morty” has taken “Back to the Future” and turned it into this complete other thing that I think is so clever and so fun to watch.

You’re also a Star Wars fan. Tell me your personal Star Wars saga and how you were introduced to George Lucas’ galaxy far, far away.

I feel like I can already feel people cringing but I actually started with the prequels first! They came out when I was younger and started going out and seeing movies. I just really, really enjoyed them so much and thought the originals were old and boring … and now I watch the prequels and cringe just a tiny bit and absolutely live by the original trilogy. I think I was 12 or 13 when I first really sat down and watched the originals and that was when everything kind of clicked for me. I had a huge crush on Han and wanted to be Leia when I grew up.

What are your thoughts on all the hate “The Last Jedi” is getting?

In my opinion, there shouldn’t be any hate. Did I think it was the best movie in the saga? No. But I feel like there are so many people saying, “Oh they should have stopped with the original three,” and I just couldn’t disagree more. This part of the story isn’t really for the people who experienced the original trilogy or the prequels when they were first introduced — it’s for the younger generation. The same glee that we experienced when we first watched “The Empire Strikes Back” in theaters or in VHS is what this generation is experiencing right now and I honestly think it’s lame to bash on something in that way.

Porgs. Yes or no?

Yes! Despite popular opinion, I actually think the (*spoiler alert*) scene where Chewie roasts one of those obnoxious things was great.

Kylo Ren Challenge. Yes or no?

Yes. Black leggings will never be put on the same way again.

On a more serious note, I understand you were quite devastated by the passing of Carrie Fisher. Can you speak a little bit about that?

Not to be dramatic but I honestly had to save this one for last. It’s tough and it gets kind of silly because I just felt like someone I knew passed away but I NEVER met this person. I know she lived an extremely full life — she accomplished so much but I just wanted so much more of her. I wanted to see her in so many more movies and I wanted to hear her talk about rescuing dogs and not giving a crap about what people have to say about you. She was Princess Leia on and off the screen, you know? She just had the sass and the drive just like Leia did. I was crying in the most recent Star Wars movie when she was floating in the stars because I’d like to imagine that’s where she is right now.

You’re also a Potter-phile. When and how did you discover J.K. Rowling’s series?

I stole “The Sorcerer’s Stone” from a garage sale when I was in elementary school. I didn’t understand the concept of a garage sale and thought it was just people giving away free stuff … turns out, that was not the case and my grandmother marched me back and made me pay for it and apologize. I am so, so happy that I made that mistake because it was a gateway into one of the several fantasy worlds I fell in love with as a child.

What do you love about it?

I loved the idea of Hogwarts first, honestly. I remember as a child really falling in love with the idea of this magical castle with these large hallways and going to school there to learn wonderful things. I wanted to sit in the Great Hall and study in the Gryffindor common room (I hadn’t yet discovered what it truly meant to be in which house yet, so Gryffindor was my default because in my head they were the “good guys”). I feel like as an adult I love how complex it is — over the years as I’ve re-read the series at different ages, I feel like I’ve experienced layers and different feelings with the story.

It’s not about the magic anymore — it’s about this boy who experienced so much sadness in his life and how he overcame it with an adopted family (which, I guess, in turn is a different type of magic, right?).

I remember HATING Snape when I was a child and now he has become one of my favorite characters simply because of how tragic he is. I think overall what I love so much about it is that it has successfully taken me to a completely different world for years.

Hogwarts house?

Hufflepuff forever. We are ride or dies.

Favorite character?

Oh, jeez. This is really a tough one — it’s like picking your favorite family member. Probably Hagrid … but Molly Weasley is an extremely close second.

Have you been to either of the Wizarding World theme parks?

Yes! I just visited the Universal Studios Hollywood location in 2016 and it was AMAZING. I was picked at Ollivander’s to have a wand choose me and I ended up in tears afterward, just because of how amazing it all was. The amount of detail that they have put into it was just stunning and is so magical.

You’re into several fantasy franchises, including Game of Thrones and Lord of the Rings. What did you think of that last GOT season?!?! (SPOILER ALERT)

I have honestly lost all ability to be cool, calm, and collected with this series. I was traumatized and emotionally distraught for days after what happened to Viserion. I had a whole different level of respect for Emilia Clake after this season because her acting (especially during the Viserion scene) was just so amazing. Game of Thrones is a drug and now we have to wait until 2019 to get our last, extremely short fix.

Do you feel as icky about Jon and Dany as I do? (But also strangely overjoyed?)

I am literally laughing so hard as I write this because I am so painfully conflicted. It’s so wrong and so gross … but also so right? Did I really just write that?

What about LOTR? Are you one of those cool people who periodically does LOTR marathons?

This cracks me up — I have successfully done one Lord of the Rings marathon in one sitting and by the end of it I was so exhausted I was trying to speak elvish. I was introduced to Lord of the Rings by my father. I watched the cartoon version of “The Hobbit” when I was younger and just really didn’t understand, so my Dad explained the whole story to be in great detail. I think I listened to him tell this amazing story for at least an hour and was just so invested in these characters I never met.

When the first live-action movie came out, he told me that he was going to see it first without me (violence check — I was little) and I was so upset because I was so excited to see more of the story. Finally, he took me to see it and I have been completely invested since.

Who’s your favorite member of the fellowship?

Gimli! He is the best, sassiest, rudest little dwarf and I strive every day to be just like him. The friendship between him and Legolas (especially in the movies) is one of my favorites.

Are you into the books or just the movies?

I love them both. I think the movies were absolutely amazing but I’m still a little grumpy that they didn’t even mention the battle for the Shire at the end. I’m super hopeful with the Amazon series that they will dive into the untold stories of the Fellowship! I just picked up “The Silmarillion” a week ago, which will be my newest Lord of the Rings read. I’ve heard it’s extremely dense and can be difficult to read through.

You also really like “Guardians of the Galaxy.” Why is this your fave Marvel entry?

I love it because I am always rooting for each main character. It doesn’t take itself so seriously where it’s like, “This is the superhero. He is coming to save the day.” It’s just a bunch of fairly average beings that just save the galaxy accidentally. Also Groot. I am Groot.

Are you looking forward to seeing the Guardians in “Infinity War”?

I had an audible reaction the first time I saw the trailer. I honestly thought I was going to have to wait until “GOTG 3,” but I am pleasantly surprised that I will get a fix soon.

OK, a little birdie I know told me a few things about you. She said I should ask you about the time you went to a midnight Twilight book release with your English teacher. Do tell!

Yes! It was so much fun. In high school, my friend Katie and I were absolutely enamored with the Twilight series (as I think back on it now I’m cringing just a little bit). Our English teacher was also a Twilight fan and we decided that there would be no better way than celebrating the last Twilight book release by joining fellow “Twi-hards” in a midnight book release party. It was honestly so much fun and was a great time being that age and being surrounded by people that all shared the same fandom. If I remember correctly, there were a few Edward vs. Jacob spats that broke out.

She also said you might be into fanfiction. True or false?

I was! I haven’t been too much lately, but throughout middle school and high school years I was extremely into both reading and writing. I wrote a fanfiction for a popular anime called Naruto when I was in middle school that was actually “Top Trending” on fanfiction.net for a few months! Haven’t been too into it lately, but that’s not to say I won’t get back into it!

Apparently, you used to be one of young adult author John Green’s Nerdfighters. Is that still the case?

Do you ever stop being a Nerdfighter? I loved “Turtles All the Way Down.” There was so long that he hadn’t written anything (I think he was working on the movie for “Fault in our Stars”?) that I had thought that he stopped but then “Turtles” came out! One of my favorite things to do still is to wander into bookstores and see if I can find any notes left by other Nerdfighters in John Green books. I’ve left several and hope someone found mine!

Hiddlebatch. Is that still the best thing ever?

Benedict Cumberbatch will forever be everything and Hiddlebatch/SherLoki is just the greatest dynamic duo that has ever graced our world.

Ok, I think I’ve grilled you enough. What’s left on your geek bucket list?

Disney Shanghai, the Amazon web series for Lord of the Rings, and I’m praying that they’ll release some new DLC for the new Zelda game again soon because I’m starting to get the itch.

As a woman, is there anything you’d change about the world of geek culture or fandoms?

Yes! Let women (especially younger women) be geeks! It’s not just for guys! A woman’s place is in a comic book shop!

I was so fortunate enough to have the mentor that I had in high school (the previous little bird that you mentioned) because she really held my hand and led me into becoming a young adult who was also geeky. She taught me so many amazing things but ultimately showed me that it is okay to be an adult and to grow up and be passionate about things that other people might judge you on.

This was such a relief for me because I loved so many things that I had been made fun of for years and I was so scared that I would have to let them go or hide my fandoms and the things that truly made me happy. I really wish and hope that other girls have a mentor like that or that they develop in an environment that is accepting and not judgmental.

I feel like if they did this, the world would be a much more geeky and open place.

 

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.

‘Tis the Season for Geeky Gifting: A Holiday Guide

Most of the geeks I know are easy to shop for.

Almost too easy, in fact. The sheer amount of merchandise tied to any one fandom these days can be mindbogglingly disorienting. And when it comes to fandoms, most geeks are into more than one.

Would she like a Tardis backpack or Matt Smith socks? “Game of Thrones” coasters or a Hogwarts house mug? BB-8 cookie jar or R2-D2 cardigan? Wonder Woman cellphone case or “Nightmare Before Christmas” throw?

In this post, we endeavor to simplify the geek gift-buying process with a lively curated list of items that should appeal to nerds of all varieties and fandoms. Best of all, you can get started with your shopping immediately by clicking the links accompanying each entry.

Perhaps you’re wondering where all the porgs are? Just you wait, my friend! The 12 Porgs of Christmas are coming. There’s also a Ghost of Christmas Future lurking with an upcoming Comic Book Gift Guide post.

Happy gifting! Your geek of choice will thank you for it.

There’s a Pop! for everyone.

Funko, maker of those cute little, dead-eyed vinyl pop-culture licensed figures, quite literally has something that will please everyone, from the obvious franchises, like Disney, Star Wars, and Marvel, to characters from more obscure properties.

For the old-school “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” fan, there’s bad girl Faith from the Pop! Television collection:

For the Disney Princess dreamer, how about this adorable Ariel?

And for the friend who already has more Pops than she has room for, there’s a collection of too-cute mugs, including the Sally Pop! Ceramic Mug. (Other options include Kylo Ren, Snoopy, Hulk, Batman, Chewbacca, and Captain America.)

The year’s geekiest movies.

Give the gift of the year’s fangirliest flicks by choosing one or more of the following.

For your friend who cried during the No Man’s Land scene:

Wonder Woman [Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD]

For the anglophile in your life (available Dec. 12):

Kingsman 2: The Golden Circle [Blu-ray]

For the indie movie fan:

Colossal [Blu-ray]

For the Marvel fan who likes it goofy:

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 [Blu-ray]

For the moviegoer whose Spidey senses are tingling:

Spider-Man: Homecoming [Blu-ray]

For the emo X-Men enthusiast:

Logan [Blu-ray]

For your friend who went crazy over “Justice League”:

Exclusive DC 4K Collection: Wonder Woman, Suicide Squad, Man of Steel, Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice 4K Ultra HD (4K Blu-ray+Blu-ray+Digital)

For the feminist action movie buff:

Atomic Blonde [Blu-ray]

For the “GoT” fan in mourning until Season 8 (Season 7 is available Dec. 12):

Game of Thrones: The Complete Seventh Season

Socks, they’re not just from your Aunt Betsy anymore.

Here’s a comfy foot-pampering twist on the traditional Christmas countdown. Keep their feet fashionable with “12 Days of Socks” featuring colorful pop culture-themed patterns, like this set:

Other patterns include Harry Potter, Disney Princess, Minecraft, DC Comics, and The Nightmare Before Christmas in varying sizes for men, women, girls, and boys.

For the Lego lover who has everything. 

This year’s Lego must-have is the Women of NASA set, which is, sadly, temporarily out of stock on the official Lego website.

Image result for women of nasa lego set

If you can manage to snag one somewhere, your Lego-obsessed loved one will surely thank you. The set features minifigures of four pioneering women of NASA: astronomer and educator Nancy Grace Roman, computer scientist and entrepreneur Margaret Hamilton, astronaut, physicist and entrepreneur Sally Ride and astronaut, physician and engineer Mae Jemison.

Fortunately, there are lots of other Lego sets available for the brick-inclined, featuring such franchises as Star Wars, DC, Disney, Ghostbusters, Marvel, Minecraft, and NINJAGO.

Deck your geek in tacky sweaters. 

The Ugly Christmas Sweater is back in a big — and, frankly, kinda disturbing way — but what the heck? Why not embrace the trend by picking out a hideously festive top that perfectly expresses your favorite geek’s fandom?

ThinkGeek has an array of eye-straining sweaters to choose from, including:

Star Wars Darth Vader Lack of Cheer Holiday Sweater

The Star Wars Darth Vader I Find Your Lack of Cheer Disturbing Sweater.

Firefly Holiday Sweater

Firefly Holiday Sweater.

Super Mario Bros. Holiday Sweater

Super Mario Bros. Holiday Sweater.

Wonder Woman Silhouette Sweater

Wonder Woman Silhouette Sweater.

And speaking of Wonder Woman …

You can’t go wrong with movie merchandise for anyone whose world was rocked by Patty Jenkins’ record-breaking comic book flick.

Image result for wonder woman bomber jacket

Keep her toasty with the Wonder Woman Movie Ladies Bomber Jacket.

Image result for wonder woman amazon princess handbag

For nights when she leaves the sword of Themyscira at home, there’s the Wonder Woman Movie Amazon Princess Handbag.

Image result for wonder woman the art and making of the film

For reliving the wonder of Jenkins’ epic, give her “Wonder Woman: The Art and Making of the Film” (Hardcover).

On a side note, DC’s official store also has great gifts for fans of  Superman, Batman, Arrow, The Flash, and Harley Quinn.

For seekers of magical creatures.

Harry Potter-philes can possess their very own fantastic beasts — as Hagrid and Newt Scamander will testify, this can be a risky endeavor — with the “Harry Potter Magical Creatures” collection.

Their are many wizardy critters to choose from, including:

Harry Potter Magical Creatures #1 Hedwig

Harry Potter Magical Creatures No. 1 Hedwig.

Harry Potter Magical Creatures No. 2 Dobby.

Niffler Magical Creature No. 1.

Gifting made easy and tropical breezy.

Nerd site extraordinaire ThinkGeek has basically turned your Christmas shopping into a vacation with its irresistibly cute Geeki Tikis collection. Take the guess work out of what to get the thirsty nerd on your list by simply selecting the appropriately themed set.

Among the many available fandoms:

Star Wars Geeki Tikis - Series 1

Star Wars Geeki Tikis — Series 1. 

Guardians of the Galaxy Geeki Tikis - Exclusive

Guardians of the Galaxy Geeki Tikis — Exclusive.

Star Trek: The Original Series Geeki Tikis

Star Trek: The Original Series Geeki Tikis. 

Inspire them to throw away that ratty T-shirt.

If you know geeks, you know they love their nerd shirts. A little too much perhaps. Especially that holey one that’s been in their closet since San Diego Comic-Con 2010.

Maybe it’s time to get them a new shirt to love. Fortunately, TeeTurtle offers a variety of officially licensed, cute and cuddly, original designs from popular fandoms.

For the Disney fan:

Double-Edged Sword T-Shirt Mulan TeeTurtle

For the Star Wars fan:

It's a Trap! T-Shirt Star Wars TeeTurtle

For the Marvel (or Hiddles) fan:

Chaos and Destruction T-Shirt Marvel TeeTurtle

For the geek in need of Demotivation.

If you know one of those people who rolls their eyes at trite, inspirational sayings and cheesy motivational posters, ThinkGeek has just the cynical thing for them.

The website’s annual Despair Wall Calendar features 12 months of demotivating designs and geeky dates — like Talk Like a Pirate Day! — as well as “holidays” submitted by ThinkGeek customers.

2018 ThinkGeek Despair Wall Calendar - Exclusive

And while you’re shopping at ThinkGeek, here’s another items to consider. It might just be the perfect addition to Nana’s cozy miniature Christmas village.

Star Wars Wampa Cave Snow Globe

For the friend who’s looking for something to cuddle. 

I give you … the Funko Stranger Things Supercute Demigorgon Plush.

Dustin would love it.

Funko Stranger Things SuperCute Demogorgon Plush

Too scary? How about Studio Ghibli’s My Neighbor Totoro Dust Bunny Slippers?

The droids your kid is looking for. 

With the littleBits Droid Inventor Kit, kids create their own droid and bring it to life using littleBits electronic blocks. Using the Droid Inventor app, they can give it new abilities and take it on 16-plus missions.

For the fashionista who’s one with The Force.

Her Universe recently unveiled its new Star Wars collection, which features whimsical, Lucasfilm-inspired designs, including this amazing Star Wars BB-8 Retro Skirt.

The best “Stranger Things” shirt ever?

No Christmas list would be compete without this awesome “Stranger Things”-inspired tee.

The Babysitters Club - Steve's Scary Situation Classic T-Shirt Front

And no T-shirt sums up the way we’re feeling about 2017 better than this one:

Star Trek Picard Facepalm T-Shirt

Animator, dinosaur enthusiast lives geek life to the fullest

When it comes to the geek lifestyle, Christine Simon isn’t holding back.

An animator, artist, and maker of exquisitely nerdy sock monkeys, Christine is active in several prestigious animation guilds and societies, a sign of her enduring passion for her craft and desire to keep learning about and growing in her field.

Christine also finds time to embrace a broad spectrum of fandoms, including “Game of Thrones,” Harry Potter, Star Wars, “Doctor Who,” “The Twilight Zone,” the films of Tim Burton, “The X-Files,” “Jurassic Park,” and Nintendo.

She never misses an opportunity to immerse herself in all things Disney at the D23 Expo, cosplays with her family, and has actually attended the Annie Awards, which are the animation equivalent of the Oscars.

However, the thing I find most delightful about her — besides her adorable 1-year-old daughter, Amelia — is that she has never lost her childhood fascination with dinosaurs. She loves the prehistoric beasts so much, in fact, her wedding was dino-themed.

I am not kidding you. You’re going to want to see the pictures!

You studied film directing and animation. Were you interested in visual arts as a child?

I was very into all kinds of creative arts as a kid. I started drawing at age 2, and remember noticing differences in animated TV shows as a kid. I appreciated certain shots and lighting in films that I know no one else my age paid attention to.

Why did you decide to pursue these specific forms of visual media?

Directing caught my attention because it’s a way of orchestrating your creative vision by working with other creative passionate people. Animation has been a part of what I love for so long that it seemed like a no brainer for me. I wanted to make my drawings come to life in the magical way that only animation can.

Art by Christine Simon.

Is there a certain type of animation you specialize in or a style that’s uniquely yours? Who are some of your influences?

I feel that all artists have their own style, which is what makes art so amazing. Mine has always been cartoonish looking. Some say more Disney-like. There are several artists I look up to and admire their work, but I could never be the level they are. Haha. The nine old men of Disney, as well as the newer nine. Chuck jones, Tim Burton, J. Scott Campbell, Don Bluth … the list goes on.

Have you made any films or shorts? If so, tell me about them.

I made a few short animated films years ago. They were done traditionally (minus a few which were stop motion) and were no more than three minutes each. I made a few short live action films as well. I’ve done illustrations, story boarding, and maquette making more recently.

Art by Christine Simon.

You’re a member of the Burbank chapter of The Animation Guild. Why did you decide to join this group?

Someone told me about it, so I went to check it out and took a liking to it. They offer classes for professionals to brush up on their craft, or for students looking into getting into the business. They’re taught by working professionals who are all very hands-on and kind. There are some great opportunities there. They also make sure animators are getting treated fairly in the workplace and keep records of wages, etc.

Christine with a maquette of Shaun the Sheep at an ASIFA event.

You’re also a member of the International Animated Film Society in Hollywood and participate in many of their events. What are some of your favorites?

ASIFA is absolutely fantastic. They restore old animations, educate the public on animation history, and hold special events for aspiring artists. There are many screenings a year of anything animated (shorts and features) with professionals and filmmakers for members. While those screening are among my favorites, the absolute joy for me is the Annie Awards. This is the biggest night in animation, for the Annies are like the Oscars, just for animated works. They happen in February and talent from all over come together to celebrate. It’s been slowly growing and I’m glad for it.

Christine with an Annie Award, the animation equivalent of an Oscar.

What do you find beneficial about being a part of this society?

I love this group and what it does for animation. It preserves and respects it. It is full of kind people who are part of animation history but are also so down to earth and helpful. They encourage young artists, offer advice, and provide opportunities to interact in ways not many people get to. I’ve met so many amazing people through their events, and learned so much about the craft I love.

Christine and her husband, Joshua, at an ASIFA event for “The Boxtrolls.”

Are there many women in the field of animation?

There aren’t as many women in the animation industry as men, but the numbers and diversity are growing. Another amazing group for this is Women in Animation, very much like ASIFA but highlighting works done by and/or for women. They, too, organize screening events that allow you to meet and hear exactly what current professionals have endured and experienced. I encourage any female looking into animation to become a part of their group as well as ASIFA.

Art by Christine Simon.

You have many creative outlets, including painting, sculpting, illustrating, sewing, crafting, and photography. Many of your creations are geek-related. Tell me about some of the things you’ve made and how they express your fandoms.

I’ve done a lot of different fandoms through a lot of different art forms, but I feel my splash paintings and sock critters are some of my most creative works. I feel like splash paintings can show a feeling in a neat way. They’re a little bit random and a lot of fun to make.

I must know more about the custom sock monkeys you make.

I started making sock monkeys many years ago. My friend Heather taught me how to make one, and it was so enjoyable that I had to learn more. I got every book and followed all the patterns. I learned what I liked and didn’t like, what looked good and didn’t, and started to craft my own pattern and designs.

I sew more than monkeys!

I adore making something as seemingly mundane as socks come to life. Each one is sewed by hand (That’s right — no sewing machines.) so that the personality of each sock can come through the best possible way. Every one is different, even if the pattern is the same. I’ve done regular ones as well as geek related ones. They each get names (renamed when the new owner tells me) and numbers. I remember every single one I ever crafted. They take about an hour to two hours each to make –depending on the animal.

Art by Christine Simon.

Have you sold your wares at vendor events? What about your Etsy shop?

I have sold my sock critters at events, yes. There are craft fairs I’ve been a vendor at a few times. They’re actually my favorite because I get to see the new owners’ reactions to them. So many amazing little moments. Kids who light up and want one above all the other amazing crafts nearby. Adults who stop with a smile and share stories of their sock monkeys as kids. Fellow geeks like me who reach that wonderful level of excitement when they find something to add to their fandom love collection.

I do have an Etsy shop but it’s been inactive for a while (since I was pregnant with my daughter). My shop and sock creations are under “Feeture Creatures.” They have their own Facebook as well. I still do custom orders but my vendor events are less.

Christine with Nathan Fillion at the “Castle” wrap party.

Aside from your many artistic pursuits, you’re into a lot of different fandoms, including Star Wars, Harry Potter, and “Game of Thrones.” Who do you think should sit on the Iron Throne?

Oh, man, yep — there are too many fandoms I love. Haha! I am a fan of Jon Snow. I like that he has a more grounded base of morals than the rest, but Tyrion intrigues me as well. He’s a character with a lot of depth. But if I had to say who should actually rule — I say, Jon.

How are we going to survive the long wait until the final season airs? (No, really, please tell us.)

I’m already dying without it, hahaha! I’ve been filling the void with funny GOT memes. They make me laugh and keep it fresh. Rewatching from season one  is helping, too.

Art by Christine Simon.

What’s your earliest Star Wars memory?

When I was a kid, my dad (who is where I get my nerd side from) proudly watched it with me on VHS. We popped popcorn and he explained the intricate universe with such an exciting passion that I could not help but get into it, too. The sounds caught me, as well as the effects (the animator in me).

Do you lean more toward the Light Side or the Dark Side?

Well, I am light side, but the newer Star Wars releases have me intrigued by Kylo Ren. He’s the only one who fights to keep the light out while all others fight the dark. I suspect he will turn light by the end of it.

Do you have any big plans for the release of “The Last Jedi”?

I already have my tickets and my outfit — counting down the days for the Thursday night release!

What about Harry Potter? How did J.K. Rowling’s series first grab you?

I was a little older than the target audience age for the books when they were released, so I read book one before the film was released. I enjoyed the story and got into the world quickly, but after I saw the first film opening day, the love of Harry Potter solidified in me. I enjoyed the movie so much, that I did a very hard and rare thing — I vowed to NOT read any of the books until after it’s corresponding movie came out.

I successfully achieved my goal and am very glad I did. Reading the books immediately after seeing the movie made it more like a behind the scenes experience for me. Nothing was spoiled beforehand and I had no expectations for how the film “should have” been made, and I was able to enjoy the books and view them more as an in-depth look into the characters’ experiences that the movies weren’t able to show. For this I love them both, the books and the films.

What’s your Hogwarts house?

I’m proudly a Hufflepuff.

Have you been to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter?

Heck to the yes! I’ve been to both parks in Florida and LOVED it. What a fantastic world to disappear into.

Art by Christine Simon.

Were you into geeky stuff as a child? How did the “geek life” begin for you?

Definitely my dad started it for me. He loved “The Twilight Zone” and so I watched it with him while small. Those short stories of sci-fi and fantasy with a touch of intriguing creepiness got my brain going. He also loved Star Wars, “Back to the Future,” Star Trek, and Godzilla films. His passion and excitement when watching these is what got me and still gets me with fandoms of all kinds.

People love them and that love is infectious. It’s great to get excited about something. I also watched animation nonstop between these sci-fi wonders and found that love for myself in those on my own –creating the wildly eclectic jack of all trades girl I am now.

Christine’s daughter, Amelia, with Belle and the Beast.

I understand that your 1-year-old daughter, Amelia, is a geek, by default, and your husband is supportive, even if he doesn’t necessarily share your enthusiasm for certain fandoms. What geeky activities do you enjoy together as a family?

Halloween was the first time I included them both in my geek love. Amelia was a month old and it hasn’t stopped. We all enjoy Disney related outings and I do drag them to some of my ASIFA events. We watch Harry Potter and Star Wars at home together and I’ve been reading Harry Potter to Amelia since she was born. She reacted to the theme music in the womb so I think she’s destined to be a fellow lover of geek related fun.

Christine and husband Joshua at the Hollywood Bowl’s live concert event for “A Nightmare Before Christmas.”

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

I do honestly believe it’s getting better, and my experiences with the geek community have been fairly positive, but there are still quite a few men who don’t believe women are as into it as they are. Try and talk video games with some and they look at you like you’re faking it, for example. I think it would be nice to have a mutual respect for all genders who love the same thing.

A dino-themed photo from Christine’s wedding.

I love the fact that you are a huge dinosaur enthusiast. This passion began in childhood, apparently, and never died. What was your first dino love? And why has this love endured for you?

Thank you! Dinosaurs have always been a bit of magic of their own for me. As a kid, they were like a puzzle, and they made my imagination soar with what they must of sounded like, how big they could of gotten, and how they even could of smelled. Haha! I had posters, books, toys, even wallpaper as a kid. I knew all their names and how to say them.

My favorite dinosaurs (and non-dinosaurs) are deinonychus, dimetrodon, and plesiosaur. “Jurassic Park” is one of my all-time favorite movies, and I still enjoy seeing them at museums and talking about them. I think it’s still strong for me because they’re still so incredibly amazing. I mean …. millions of years these things have been on Earth, and we are STILL discovering new things about them.

Literally this year in March the most intact fossil of a Nodosaur was shown to the public (discovered initially in 2011) and has created a ton of new insights on dinosaurs. Freaking amazing.

You mentioned that there were dinosaurs at your wedding. Please elaborate.

There was no question that when I got married it would deviate from the norm. I chose a vintage, time travel, dinosaur themed wedding. Now, adding dinos to a wedding is a fine line between cheesy and a kid’s birthday party, and there are even more limited things available to purchase, so I put my creative skills to work and made a lot of things myself.

Our centerpieces were dinosaur topiaries (made from scratch), there were dinosaurs in my bouquet, as well as the boutonnières. Our musician played the “Jurassic Park” theme song as we walked down the aisle after we were wed. Our photographer made some amazing shots with dinos cause he knew my love for them.

As a “Jurassic Park” fan, did seeing those amazing CGI dinosaurs for the first time blow your mind?

What I love about the first “Jurassic Park” is that almost all the dinosaurs you see on screen are practical effects. They’re really there with the actors on that set as truly frightening things that only the puppeteer knows how they’re going to move. No amount of CG can replicate that. I was fascinated by the computer animation it did have, but being the keen-eyed nerd I am, even at age 10, I was wowed by the practicals. Those sound effects too! Ahh! I still love them.

You’re also into Nintendo. What’s the first Nintendo game you played?

I honestly don’t remember. I wanna say it was Mario, but I also remember playing “Donkey Kong” on Atari.

How do you currently keep the Nintendo flame alive in your household?

I proudly own every single Nintendo console (minus original Atari and Virtual Boy) from original to now. They all work and they’re set up to play with a wide variety of games for each one. Ironically, my husband had a great collection of Xbox and PlayStation consoles, so when we got married we gained a vast mass of gaming entertainment.

You are also an “X-Files” fan who sometimes answers to the nickname “Scully.” How were you first introduced to the truth that is out there?

I was told the show was good when it first came out, but didn’t pick it up till a little bit later upon another suggestion that I would like it. Sure enough I did, and do. It’s very much like “Twilight Zone” in a way, but with the FBI duo that kept everyone on edge with their relationship.

Why do you associate yourself with Scully?

I gained that nickname in high school, when I chopped my long brown hair to shoulder length and dyed it for the first time in my life to Scully’s auburn red for Halloween. I had not told anyone I was going to do it, so it shocked and hence gained me the nickname. I loved it, and it likely solidified my enjoyment of cosplay. I got way into it, copied her badge and even got a replica cross necklace that she donned on the show. I enjoyed how smart she was. How she’s seen a lot and experienced a great deal, but still tries to remain grounded and use logic.

Were you excited about the series’ recent return to television?

Yes! And I’m excited about the next (season) coming out next year, too!

One of your other TV fandoms is “Doctor Who.” Who is your Doctor?

Hands down, No. 10 — David Tennant.

Christine with animation writer-director John Musker at D23.

This interview would not be complete without mentioning Disney. You’ve attended Disney’s fan convention, D23, since it began. What are some of your favorite memories from that event?

My favorite is when I had lunch with (Disney animation writer-director) John Musker. It was one of the earlier years of D23 and I was lucky enough to be at the same table as the animation legend. It was just us and my best friend. We ate our lunch and talked about films. It was absolutely amazing and still one of my favorite memories. Another is meeting friends there that I still have to this day because of that convention.

Christine, far right, partaking in some “Gatsby”-themed cosplay.

You’ve cosplayed a few times, along with your baby, dog, and hubby. Tell us about the costumes you’ve put together.

I’ve done steampunk and “True Blood” myself, did Wonder Woman and Joker with my husband, as well as 1920s “Great Gatsby”-style cosplay. My dog has done Target (he’s the Target dog) and Frankenweenie. Amelia’s done Wonder Woman, Disney princesses, and Pokémon. Actually, we did Pokémon as a family — it was our first together.

You’ve also dressed up for midnight movies and screenings. Tell me about some of the specific events you’ve done that for. What do you like about dressing up as characters you love?

Harry Potter all the way. I quickly found other lovers of the films with the same passion as I for getting excited enough to dress up for a movie — and we all collaborated to go as a group. I was Hermione for those. I love getting into it so much. Playing the parts makes it that much more fun.

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

Next up is “Coco.” I already feel like it’s going to win a lot of awards, and I’m personally very excited for it. After that — Star Wars!

Is the truth really out there?

Absolutely.

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.

 

 

From Disney to DC, VFX animator’s work on display in geekdom’s biggest franchises

EDITOR’S NOTE: Elaine Wu works at VFX company MPC (Moving Picture Company). MPC was instrumental in visual effects work for, among other movies, “The Jungle Book,” “Guardians of the Galaxy,” “Justice League,” and now “The Lion King.”

Elaine Wu grew up watching TGIF and Saturday morning cartoons and basking in the glory of Disney’s animation renaissance, but working in the film industry seemed out of reach.

After several years in the pharmaceutical industry, she decided she’d rather be doing something she loved, so she quit her job and signed up for an online animation school.

Now, she’s a visual effects animator, working her magic on creatures, characters, and other elements of some of geekdom’s biggest franchises, including Harry Potter, X-Men, Underworld, and Marvel (including “Guardians of the Galaxy,” a couple “Thor” films, and “Iron Man 3”).

She also helped bring iconic characters, including Rocket Raccoon and Baloo the Bear, to life.

Elaine’s work has taken her to New Zealand and Peter Jackson’s famed Weta Digital; to London, where she was part of a team of animators assigned to Disney’s acclaimed live-action remake of “The Jungle Book”; and, most recently, to Vancouver, where she worked on a certain about-to-be-released film starring Wonder Woman and set in the DC universe.

The animator just returned to Los Angeles to work on what could potentially be one of Disney’s biggest live-action adaptations yet. (Hint: The cast was recently announced and it blew everybody’s mind.)

Yep, she’s basically living every film, comic book, and Disney nerd’s dream. 

You’re a visual effects animator. Most of us don’t know exactly what that is, so could you start by explaining your job?

Sure! The core of visual effects is creating imagery that cannot or is difficult to produce in real life. As an animator, I’m typically involved in what is called post-production. Essentially, after the live-action portion of a given film is shot, animators work their magic and bring life to a variety of characters, creatures, vehicles, etc. But before an animator can even start, there are a number of creative artists who model (create objects/characters in 3D) and rig (build skeletons) for us to manipulate. Then, there are a number of creative artists who follow animators and integrate CGI into the live action to bring to you the final product.

Were you always interested in working in the film industry?

If I have to be honest, the answer is no.  I grew up enjoying film and television just like most anyone else. Rushing home from school to watch TGIF or waking up early Saturday morning for cartoons was just normal. But the film industry just seemed like such an unachievable profession. I guess I just thought you’d have to be super lucky or be some kind of prodigy to make a living doing it.

How were you drawn to visual effects and, specifically, animation?

It wasn’t a straightforward path, that’s for sure. I actually started off majoring in neurobiology and working in the pharmaceutical industry (specifically in intellectual property) for four years before I found my future in animation. In my old job, I was constantly looking for a creative outlet. I found it for passing moments dabbling in my personal food blog, but it just wasn’t enough. I really wanted to be one of those people who loves his/her job! I just had no idea what that looked like.

My boss at the time (who wanted me to become a lawyer), gave me these words of advice, “Don’t try to fit yourself into a job. Find a job that fits you.” That’s when I started examining my interests and inclinations. I loved creating, whether it was through writing or just chatting with my friends and coming up with fun(ny) scenarios. I knew I had an appreciation for art. And I could work my way around computers at its most basic state.

Animation seemed to fit the bill (the little I knew of it), and after talking to a friend’s friend’s friend … (you know how it goes), I decided to quit my job and sign up for Animation Mentor, an online animation school. From the moment I animated my first bouncing ball, I knew I loved it. The rest is history.

Elaine Wu and co-workers dressed as zombies at the annual Halloween party at Luma Pictures.

Tell me about the start of your career. Was it tough to “break in” to Hollywood?

Through Animation Mentor, I was lucky to have made friends with many other aspiring animators. They were creative, technical, and passionate about the craft. Just being around them made me want to work that much harder. Before I knew it, I was voted “Most Improved Student” by my fellow colleagues — probably because I had never even opened up any sort of animation software before I started the program.

It was a lot of hard work, and I had to constantly remind myself why I was up in the middle of the night working so hard and getting mouse-induced finger cramps. A friend of mine let me know upon graduating that Luma Pictures in Santa Monica was hiring, so I applied, and I made it! Within a few weeks, I was moving to Los Angeles!

What do you enjoy most about your work?

I love creating something out of nothing, and I love working with people who are just as excited doing that. To give life to a character and have an audience believe and connect with what you’re doing is a great compliment.  I think/hope other animators would agree.

Elaine and a fellow animator attempt “dynamic” poses during a Luma T-shirt photo shoot.

You recently wrapped up work on “Justice League” in Vancouver. What can you tell us about that?

Unfortunately, I can’t go into too much detail on that at the moment, but I can tell you that a lot of artists’ dreams came true working on that film, and you should all go and watch it!

You’re about to move back to Los Angeles for another job. Can you tell us anything about what you’re going to be doing?

I’m working with a wonderful team on the development of (Disney’s) “Lion King,” but I can’t say much more than that. I can tell you that teenage Elaine is freaking out inside because it’s super exciting!

You specialize in animating animals and animal-like characters. Why are you drawn to these types of characters?

I love creatures for several reasons. Aside from the fact that animating organic creatures is so complex, detailed, and challenging, there’s a real connection that humans have with animals. And it’s a great achievement when you can get an audience to believe they exist and, even moreso, connect with them on an emotional level. I find wildlife to be really fascinating already, so it’s not hard to be interested in them when I see them in real life or review reference material online.

You worked on Rocket Raccoon for “Guardians of the Galaxy.” He’s a pretty iconic character. What was that experience like?

It was great! Rocket is such a lovable yet smarmy character, and there’s just so much depth to the way he reacts to his environment and other characters. You can’t not root for him!

What are some of your favorite characters that you’ve worked on?

I absolutely loved working on Baloo and Shere Khan (in Disney’s live-action “Jungle Book”). Attempting to make them look realistic while having their personalities shine through was challenging and rewarding. The team really did an amazing job on that film.

Elaine and some spooky friends at a Weta Halloween event in New Zealand.

You’ve contributed to a lot of Marvel projects, including “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2,” “Thor” and “Thor: The Dark World,” and “Iron Man 3.” These are some of the most popular movies of our time. What has that experience been like?

It’s always exciting to work on Marvel films! They’re so well-received across the globe, and to be part of all of that makes me feel fortunate. I almost wish I grew up reading all the comic books! But working on these films, being around Marvel superfans, you can’t help but get that energy from them. And I certainly have accumulated my fair share of geeky knowledge along the way.

You’ve accomplished the impressive feat of working on both Marvel and DC projects. Just between us, do you prefer one over the other?

You’ll find me in the audience for both Marvel and DC films!

Elaine and fellow animators dressed as a retro table tennis team for another Halloween at Luma. “Teamwork is everything!”

Is your job as terribly glamorous as it sounds or is it actually quite technical and routine?

It kind of vacillates between all those things, but I feel like that’s the case with most professions maybe? Animation is a lot of hard work and study. Observation is a big part of it which means that stepping away from the desk and living a fulfilling life outside of work is a big part of being able to bring something fresh into whatever you’re working on.

There is certainly a technical aspect of animation, but more importantly, the creativity and drive for excellence is what takes it to another level. You have to want your shot to look awesome and work together to make each film look amazing. Teamwork is everything!

I wouldn’t say it’s ever really routine as every film is different. But you do learn the art of being flexible in your workflow and to not take notes too personally. And as animators, we like to videotape each other for reference doing all sorts of crazy things that are relevant (or oftentimes not so relevant when we get carried away).

Elaine visits Hobbiton while working on “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” at Weta in New Zealand.

You spent several months in New Zealand working for Weta on “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.” That sounds like a dream job for a visual effects professional.

Haha, yeah, it was great being a part of the legacy that is Weta!

Did you get to meet Peter Jackson?

I did not! Though I’m pretty sure I saw him drive by me once. That must count for something?

Elaine encounters a troll at Weta.

Did you go to Hobbiton while you were there? Are you a “Lord of the Rings” fan?

I did go! I think my friends would’ve slaughtered me if I went all that way to New Zealand and didn’t go to Hobbiton. I’m a fan of “Lord of the Rings”, yes.  I’m not super hardcore, but I did watch all three extended version of “Lord of the Rings” once. Pretty sure I left a clear imprint on the couch I was on.

Cast photo for Disney’s “The Jungle Book.”

You were part of the visual effects team for “The Jungle Book,” which was lauded for its stunning VFX. What are your memories of that experience?

I look back upon it fondly as the right opportunity at the right time. It was definitely a work-hard/play-hard stretch of my life! I met some great friends in London working on it! It was a lot of grueling work though, as is the case with most films, but the entire team was really trying to strive for another level of artistry on this one. The whole experience of traveling, building friendships in the rain at the pub, devouring an inhuman amount of chicken wings on a weekly basis with my fellow animators, struggling through and finishing shots, and somehow coming out the other end with something you’re truly proud of … well, that makes for an extremely memorable time.

Elaine in costume for Halloween in London, where she worked on “The Jungle Book.”

Your career has included so many projects that would cause a geek to lose their cool, including a couple of “Underworld” movies, “X-Men: First Class” and “X-Men Origins: Wolverine,” and “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.” What have been some of your favorite projects in your career so far?

One of my favorite times in animation was working on “Underworld 2.” If you ask anyone in the industry, surrounding yourself with the right people makes a huge difference in your experience. In animation, we typically have what we call “Dailies”, where we all get together in a screening room and review everyone’s work. A lot of the work in progress involves trying out new ideas and sometimes inserting little Easter eggs or gags in shots. I just laughed so hard day to day. Such a good time.

Also, working on “Harry Potter” (albeit a pretty small part since it was pretty early in my career), was a dream I didn’t know I had. Compounded by the fact that when I went on the Harry Potter studio tour in London, I saw my shot in one of their intro videos. I got a little giddy.

Are there many women in your line of work?

There is a slowly growing number of women in the VFX industry, but I guess I wish there were more? I don’t know what the statistics are exactly, but it feels like 10% of the VFX industry is women. MPC, the company I currently work for, is actively trying to encourage women to join the this industry, and I really hope it results in more gender-balanced crews! Having a team with unique and diverse perspectives really makes a huge difference in the direction of a film and, more specifically, acting choices in animation.

You’ve contributed your talents to so many fandoms, but what are some of your personal favorite fandoms?

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed all the films and fandoms I’ve had the fortune of being involved with, but I just love Disney. Maybe it’s growing up within earshot of Disneyland fireworks or just being the perfect age during the Disney Renaissance of films. I guess it’s just a part of me. I used to have a little Disney Castle on my desk during animation school to remind me why I was still working well into the wee hours of the morning.

I also love “Peanuts” and “Game of Thrones”!

How does your passion for these fandoms manifest itself in your life?

You’d see these fandoms all over my household really! I just purchased an original character sheet of Fievel Mousekewitz! Can’t wait to frame this bad boy. And it’s Snoopy galore on my bookshelves. I’m proud to say I have a giant Snoopy plush at home. Purely for my nieces and nephews to play with, of course. I also have to give a shoutout to my Dungeons & Dragons character Corgilian, a Corgi barbarian who’s currently on a personal quest to Unicorn Run.

I’ve heard that you have thrown some epic “Game of Thrones” parties. And that you’ve visited some “Game of Thrones” film sites abroad.

My friends and I always have screening events and are part of a GoT fantasy league. We also had an epic party at my place once where we all dressed up as GoT characters, built mini catapults, drank out of goblets, and did some archery with my longbow in my garage. Let the nerdiness ensue … .  I also went with a good friend to Dubrovnik, Croatia, to visit the site of Kings Landing! I also stood where Tyrion slapped Joffrey and pretended to slap my friend. There’s a picture somewhere … . It was great!

What do you like about the series?

There are just so many things really. I love the characters (Tyrion is my favorite), and how we learn to love or hate them over time. There’s just such a skill in the direction for drawing us in week after week. And the VFX is really pushing boundaries! Also, I really just love shows you can watch with friends and really make into an experience. Another example being “Breaking Bad”.

Who should sit on the Iron Throne?

Probably should be Jon Snow, but now that there’s a destructive, fire-breathing zombie dragon, will there be an Iron Throne left to take? Hmm … .

Are you as grossed out yet delighted by that whole Jon and Daeny thing as we all are?

Of course! It was a long time coming!

Elaine and her new best friend, a Uruk-hai soldier, at Weta.

You’re a gamer. What video games are you into? What, how, and how often do you play?

I’m more of a Nintendo gamer? Does that count? I don’t play as often as I’d like, but I do have the Switch! My friends and I got together to play Zelda, and it’s fantastic! You really need to play it. I’m starting “Mario Odyssey” right now. Don’t make me play any of the more complicated games out there that require you to control the camera. I tried “Last of Us,” and my friends ripped the controller out of my hand because I kept pointing the camera at my feet. Needless to say, I was laughing so hard I was crying. Awesome game though. I’m a much happier spectator for those types!

How did you first get into gaming? What do you like about it?

My family played a lot of Atari and Nintendo growing up. I don’t know that I totally think playing video games for hours on end is a great way to have a child grow up, but I’m evidence that it’s not sooooo bad. I think playing video games is a great way to decompress from the day and also find adventure in another sort of reality. I’m also obsessed with point-and-click mystery games. I find them so zen.

A little bird told me you own a vintage pinball machine.

I do! I bought a “Lethal Weapon” pinball machine from a video game auction in Compton like 7-8 years ago.

The same bird told me you also build models. Tell me all about that, please.

When I have time, I like to build little things. I have a trebuchet (EDITOR’S NOTE: A machine used in medieval siege warfare for hurling large stones or other missiles) in my living room actually. I don’t do anything too complicated. I attempted to build a model canoe and haven’t finished yet! Thanks for reminding me! Love Legos, does that count? I have a Lego TIE fighter near me right now.

Looking toward the future, do you want to continue in visual effects animation? What’s on your professional bucket list?

I love animation and the feeling I get from it. I have a huge fascination with virtual reality though. So if I can combine animation with VR sometime in the near future, that’d be pretty epic. Perhaps an immersive experience or some kind of storytelling.

What’s it like seeing a film you’ve contributed to for the first time?

It’s really strange actually. I think the first time I saw my animation on screen, I wanted to turn around and see if anyone else saw it, too. Like, “Are you seeing what I’m seeing? Is this real?” It’s weird to see your work up on a big screen.  I don’t think that ever changes!

Do you still get excited when you see your name in the credits?

I used to, but now I get more excited when friends are excited! My friends who aren’t in the industry constantly remind me with their enthusiasm that being an animator is super cool! Sometimes, I get caught up in the fact that it really is a lot of work and sometimes a lot of hours. But it really pays off when you realize that the work you and your team did is being appreciated by people from all walks of life.

Winter is coming. Got any big plans?

Well, having just moved back to L.A., my plans are to throw on some flip-flops, put on some shades, have a healthy portion of Taco Bell, and order something from Amazon for same-day delivery. Quest activated.

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.

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.