Toxic masculinity no match for saber-wielding Leia fan

This has been a summer in which the Star Wars fandom seems more divided than ever. The geek community has been forced to confront an alarming amount of toxic masculinity bubbling up from below the surface, whether in the form of “Last Jedi” haters calling for the firing of Kathleen Kennedy or fanboys actually crying over a “Fanboy Tears” mug.

So I’m kinda overjoyed that the next installment of the Geek Goddess interviews is a two-parter, featuring founders and co-admins of the Facebook group Saber Maidens, a refreshingly fierce, optimistic, and inclusive support group for women who are into Star Wars, the (light)saber arts, and prop and costume fabrication.

In Part 1, we meet Celeste Joy Greer Walker, an OG, lifetime Star Wars fan who saw “Episode IV” in 1977 at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in Hollywood with her parents (who sound amazing). The story of how she cried when the movie ended because she wanted to see it again almost had me in tears, as did many moments in this interview. 

Celeste describes Star Wars as her life’s foundation and she’s immersed herself in the galaxy far, far away in inspiring ways. As a child, she began dressing up as Princess Leia, created her own costumes from thrift store finds, and once crafted a lightsaber from her bicycle’s handlebar grip (much to her Dad’s chagrin).

As an adult, she’s a member of saber dueling organization Saber Legion, is involved in several saber dueling clubs and competes in tournaments, makes her own costumes, considers Carrie Fisher a role model, and also embraces Harry Potter and steampunk. 

Celeste serves up an impressive amount of Jedi-like wisdom when it comes to subjects like misogyny within the Star Wars fandom, a certain Rose Tico quote, advice on raising awesome geek children, and all the “Last Jedi” hate. 

(Next week, come back for Part 2, featuring Celeste’s co-founder and co-admin, Pat Yulo.)

Photo: Ruth Miller, Eclectic Eye Fine Art and Photography.

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

We have a formal definition on our Facebook page that we spent a lot of time debating about. What it comes down to is Saber Maidens is different things for different people. Some fans come to it for costuming support, some for choreography support, some for lightsaber support.

How did the group come to be founded?

Right now, there’s a lot of machismo in Star Wars fandom. That has not always been the case!  But the most macho of machismo is in Star Wars lightsaber-centric groups. A lot of lightsaber fans come from martial sport and there is traditionally still a lot of separation of the genders.

I made my first lightsaber from an old flashlight, my bicycle handlebar grip, and a copper pipe. I was 10. My dad was annoyed that I disfigured my brand new handlebar grip.

My interest in lightsabers ebbed in 2012 … and I began my journey into the Star Wars lightsaber fandom. Even in San Francisco there was not a lot of room for non-heterosexual males. A lot has changed since 2012.

But when I started I was often the only non-male in the class. I was mistaken for someone’s girlfriend, someone’s mother … my saber comrades found it hard to believe that I was a Star Wars lightsaber mega fan! Some were in such disbelief that a creature like me could exist (cis-female hetero Star Wars lightsaber mega fan) that they ignored me entirely, like I did not exist.

Celeste Joy Greer Walker and Saber Maidens co-founder and co-admin Pat Yulo.

What are your duties as admin and co-founder of Saber Maidens?

I post or repost things that I think would be interesting to other lightsaber enthusiasts. I also give a lot of encouragement to those who are first getting into the costuming and choreography aspect of Star Wars fandom.

I’m also working on trying to reinvigorate the martial sport of saber combat dueling for non-male individuals. That’s going to be a slow road because there’s so much stigma even in coed martial sports… Groups like LudoSport and Saberist Academy are making an effort to encourage a coed atmosphere. But there are still a lot of roadblock, often from well-intended men who think they’re being inclusive because they let you be there. That, unfortunately, is not the same as respect.

Saber Maidens has a public page but it’s a closed group with more than 50 members. That’s pretty large for a closed group!

I used to know everyone that was involved. I met them at a convention or at costuming choreography meetups. But now there’s a lot of people from all over the place. And Saber Maidens is maturing into a group to be very proud of.

The Saber Maidens motto is “saving the galaxy one stitch at a time.” What was the inspiration for that slogan?

We had been going back and forth about it for a while. We must have had 200 or 300 ideas. I am probably exaggerating a little. But that came together very organically. I think one of us was cross stitching Star Wars characters and there were some jokes about “A Stitch in Time,” and then it escalate and before I knew it, there it was.

Why a group for just women? I think some men might assume (quite wrongly) that women aren’t interested in lightsabers.

Hahaaaaaaaaaaaaaahaha.

Just a minute. I’m almost finished laughing and then I can answer your question.

You said, “some men.” Even men who identify as feminist can become protective of their lightsaber man space with an Imperialistic authority.

And more importantly, we’re trying to be more inclusive than just women. There’s a lot of people who identify in a lot of different ways who get left out of the conversation when it becomes machismo dominant.

Your members belong to a diverse array of Star Wars costuming groups, including Rebel Legion, the 501st, Mandalorian Mercs, and Saber Guild. That sounds so fun! What’s that like?

It is a privilege to have a costume that is accepted by one or all of these groups where you can go out and represent Lucasfilm to the public. I’m very proud of the volunteer work I have been able to do as a member. But we have quite a few Saber Maidens who participate purely for the love of lightsabers and the love of Star Wars and for whatever reason don’t want to be members of the costuming clubs.

Are you a member of any of these groups?

I have an approved costume with Saber Guild. I also served as costume coordinator and  local assistant director for Saber Guild Golden Gate Temple. Currently, I’m representing a Saber Guild outpost in the high desert of central California. I’m also working on approval for several costume with Rebel Legion.

But, of course, what’s first on my to-finish list will be the Jedi Leia (costume) from Empire Infinities.

What’s your personal involvement in the “saber arts”?

I first got involved with a little group in the Bay Area. We eventually evolved into the group that is now Saber Guild Golden Gate Temple. My first performance with Saber Guild was at the 2012 San Diego International Comic-Con.

Celeste with the Saber Guild at San Diego Comic-Con.

I’ve also been involved in several saber dueling clubs. I was the first woman in the Bay Area Saber Legion Charter. I was also one of two women who competed in the first International Saber Legion tournament. I’m very proud of that. The martial sport of saber dueling is so very, very different than choreography and cosplay.

What I do with Saber Guild dressed as a Jedi librarian is more like dancing with my Sith opponent. Combative martial sports with lightsabers is more like aggressive speed dating.

Celeste sports a Hat for House Elves.

Do you do a lot of costume making? If so, what Star Wars costumes have you built or put together? Where did you learn the skills required for that?

I started putting together costumes and dressing as Princess Leia at 5. As a child, I did Ren Faires. And I had a dress-up trunk in my room. Why wait for Halloween dress-up when you can dress up all year long? A lot of my early costumes were purchased pieces combined with thrift store finds. I didn’t do much original fabrication until that last five years.

I didn’t learn how use a sewing machine until I was in my early 30s. I started making hats and Harry Potter cosplay. In 2015, one of the other founding Saber Maiden’s, Mary Fischer-Boyd, took me under her wing and really showed me the art of Jedi and Sith costuming. Mary and Pat have a panel they do at many of the cons in the Bay Area, “How to Dress as a Jedi.” The both showed me the ways of the Jedi robe making.

Celeste, front row, second from left, at a Saber Legion meetup.

What do you enjoy most about it?

The hospital visits that I have done have been the most rewarding and memorable adventures. Star Wars was an escape for me when I was growing up. Haha … it still is an escape for me. And I think it is for a lot of people. I just really enjoy that I can set all the mundane stuff aside, the real life stuff, and just give myself permission to play. I feel really fortunate that I had parents who nurtured my passions and interests.

There were some horrible things that happened to me in my childhood. Without going into the unpleasant details, I’ll just say that I really over-identify with “The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.”

Star Wars and Carrie Fisher have helped me find balance in my day to day struggles as a survivor of rape with PTSD.

When I am in costume, I love to see the adults come out of their shell. Not everybody had my mother and father, not everybody had a costume trunk when they were kids. Some kids don’t get to be kids. And playing is a learned behavior. If you never learned how to play as a child then you really should learn how to play as an adult. Like Mark Hamill said, “Learning to play is cheaper than therapy.”

Celeste at Star Wars Celebration 2017.

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

Sometimes we actually get sewing projects done. But there’s also a lot of consultation like, “This is what I’m working on, this is the problem, how would you solve it?” There’s also support, like when you’re costuming a lot of body issues come up, so we support each other around exercise and diet and health problems. And we remind each other to be kind to ourselves.

I think the best thing about it is that there’s such a broad base and we try and include both costuming and choreography. Some of our members find it difficult to do choreography and learn choreography in a machismo atmosphere.

Don’t get me wrong most of the guys are great, but it only takes one bad egg to stink up the kitchen.

Once I was working with a student who just felt too embarrassed to work on choreo in a coed environment. So having a place to practice, a place where you can get over all of your insecurities and play, I think that’s really what our crafting/saber meetups are about. Being a community.

Could you briefly explain what kind of work is involved in getting a costume approved by Rebel Legion or Saber Guild?

All of the costumed organizations have their own set of costuming rules so it can be challenging.

The first thing to do is to be in contact with your local costume advisor or coordinator or director.

People often want to do a big fancy costume first. I discourage this. Do the simple basic generic non-face character costume first. Figure out all the bells and whistles and hoops you have to jump through because most likely your costume is not going to get approved the first time around. Then when you’ve done the generic, you can delve into a more complicated costume.

Celeste as Princess Leia in 1987.

You’ve been a Leia fan since childhood. How were you affected by the passing of Carrie Fisher?

I was deeply affected! I remember when I read the news I was standing in my kitchen and I laid down on the floor and I cried, and then I called in sick.

Carrie Fisher put her struggles out there, her attitude was f*** them if they didn’t understand. She has been and still is a role model to me. That brazen honesty, that internal strength is something I still admire about Carrie Fisher.

You saw Star Wars at the age of 5 in the summer of ’77 at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. Tell me about your memories and first impressions of that.

My vivid memory … The movie was over and I was told I had to leave and I didn’t want to leave. And I remember shuffling my feet and staring at the carpet. And then I started to cry as I wanted to see it again. My Dad picked me up and one of the ushers in the fancy hats said, “You will get to see it again.” I have seen it 100 times. I dreamed that night of Death Stars and princesses wielding lightsabers.

Your mom was a DC Comics and sci-fi fan who raised you on Doctor Who, Star Trek, and classic monster movies. How did that shape you?

I grew up living this stuff. My mother is 87. Her favorite gift for her birthday this year was Wonder Woman sheets. Fandoms transcend age. I’ve never known anything else. When I became an adult and started meeting people who had never seen Star Wars and didn’t know who Doctor Who was, that was culture shock for me.

At home, It wasn’t seen as a childish thing. The idea that people had that I would somehow grow out of my love of Star Wars was extremely foreign to me. I’m 47 now, so any friends that I used to have that were hoping I’d grow out of it have moved on or they’ve gotten used to it.

Celeste and R2-D2 at the 10th anniversary Star Wars convention.

You saw Star Wars again in ’87 for its 10th anniversary and your parents came with you. What was that like?

We weren’t there just to see the movie. It was a four-day convention. But that was when my dad realized that Star Wars was more than just a kids movie. I think I was the only high school student there and the only fan there with their parents. Most of the people were aspiring filmmakers. I made quite a few friends … lost track of most of them over the years. We didn’t have Facebook back then.

What is it about the Star Wars universe that continues to intrigue and inspire you after all these years?

I’m a Star Wars mega fan. It’s my foundation. I cannot imagine not having Star Wars in my life. Being this deep into a franchise is kind of like being attached to the place you grew up. Some people leave their hometown. Some people take their hometown with them wherever they go. And some people stay right there their whole life. That’s what Star Wars is for me.

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

Wow, that’s a question, so you want me to write a book right?

The Rose Tico quote is a repeated theme within the Star Wars mythos. It’s just the first time that it was put into those words and said by someone who is not a man.

Luke had a very similar line in “Return of the Jedi” when he told Vader he would not fight him in the Emperor’s throne room and when the Death Star was exploding all around Luke is helping his father die with dignity, which I think was one of the first on-screen euthanasias. ”I have to save you.”

Anakin replayed, “You already have.” Vader came back to the light when he stopped fighting what he hated, the Empire and started fighting for what he loved, his son.

I think the Star Wars haters are very insecure people who receive some sort of emotional satisfaction through the act of complaining. If they don’t like it they should just watch a different movie. Or better yet, if they really, actually, truly love Star Wars then they should go make their own Star Wars movie or go write their own fanfiction. This franchise is alive because that’s what people did in the ‘80s and the ‘90s when there wasn’t anything.

Star Wars is a huge universe. Make it bigger, make it better, talk to your therapist and take your medication. At least I think that’s what Carrie Fisher would tell people.

Celeste at San Diego Comic-Con in 2003.

There also still seems to be a fair amount of misogyny in the Star Wars fandom. Have you encountered any of that?

Is there sand on Jakku?

We live in a sexist, misogynistic, bigoted society and at one time or another we’re all guilty of something. I would like to think that Star Wars fans are more enlightened. Unfortunately, that is not the case.

Percentage-wise I think there is less misogyny and sexism then there was in the ‘70s, ‘80s, and ‘90s. But I think the Star Wars fandom has changed and there is actually more misogyny now than there was in 1987.

One of the questions that George Lucas was asked in 1987 at the 10th anniversary convention was, “Why aren’t there more female characters in Star Wars?”

His answer was something to the effect that Star Wars was a war movie and women didn’t belong in war movies. There was a resounding unified “booooo” from the entire audience. I’m not sure an answer like that would get a “boo” now. There are men out there who seem to think it’s the feminist agenda that has ruined their franchise.

What are some of your other fandoms?

I used to be big into classic “Battlestar Galactica” and “Buck Rogers,” but that’s only because it reminded me of Star Wars. As an adult I’ve been fascinated by Harry Potter and the entire steampunk Star Wars mashups stuff.

You’ve done costuming in the Harry Potter fandom and Steampunk genre. Tell me more about some of the other costumes you’ve done.

I really like capes! I have a closet full of capes that would astound even Lando Calrissian. Unfortunately, not many Jedi wear capes and neither does Leia.

You’re a single mom with a 23-year-old son who’s also a geek. Any advice on how to raise amazing geek children?

Figure out what they like and immerse them in it. Don’t force them to like your franchise. Ask them to explain their favorite franchise to you.

Photo: Ruth Miller, Eclectic Eye Fine Art and Photography.

And now, a few Star Wars questions.

What’s your ultimate favorite film in the franchise?

Star Wars Holiday Special. Just kidding. “The Empire Strikes Back.”

Besides Leia, who’s your favorite character?

Luke Skywalker, Duchess Satine.

Favorite droid?

L3-37, Lando’s droid in “Solo.”

Lightsaber color?

I have plans for making a paisley lightsaber.

Porgs? Yes or no?

I’m Porg neutral. But very fond of Lepis. And I feel adamant that Jaxxon should replace the Easter Bunny.

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

Like us on Facebook and just start participating in the conversation.

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.

 

When your garden needs a little walking dead, Zombie Gnomes artist is here to help

Is your garden looking sad and boring? Backyard in need of sprucing up? Want to add some thrills and chills to that mediocre front yard?

Fortunately, Jane DeRosa-Stever and her husband Chris are here with an unconventional solution to your humdrum garden blues. It’s a little bit R-rated, is guaranteed to get the neighbors talking, and involves a hefty helping of humor and gore.

The Stevers sell their famous Zombie Gnomes — a playful, gruesome twist on the classic garden gnome ornaments — out of their Etsy shop, ChrisandJanesPlace. You may have seen their clever, red-hatted, undead creations at WonderCon or horror conventions, where they get a lot of attention from fans of all ages, especially kids.

Jane’s background in theater and painting, along with her family legacy of animation and an internship at Disney’s vintage El Capitan Theatre was the perfect preparation for starting this unique business, which began as a joke of sorts but soon blossomed into a fun — and bloody — phenomenon.

She and Chris draw inspiration for their ghoulish designs from horror classics like “Evil Dead,” “Shaun of the Dead,” and “The Walking Dead” TV series, along with traditional folklore and gardening culture. They’ve even spun their hand-painted ornaments into a book, and there’s a sequel in the works.

I talked to Jane about Zombie Gnomes, her magical Disney childhood, and the zombie apocalypse. 

Jane DeRosa-Stever, her husband Chris, and their sons, Anthony and Liam, at Sequoia in 2017.

I read that Chris dreamed up the idea for Zombie Gnomes while stuck in traffic on the 210 Freeway. Tell me about the first Zombie Gnome you ever made. Chris’ practical effects skills and your theater painting skills were put to good use on this project.

The first Zombie Gnome that we made was Patient Zero, which Chris sculpted for his practical effects class and I painted it up for him. Chris developed a lot of his techniques for our business from that class, such as his sculpting, moldings, and casting.

When I started theatre at Azusa Pacific University, I got hired to paint up their sets, which I had done before in high school. I became head of the paint department by my senior year and occasionally I helped with color and texture design. Mostly, I painted sets and props, which was a lot of fun. One’s mind gets to wander, which is nice for a stressed out college student.

Jane and her husband, Chris, when they first started making Zombie Gnomes.

Zombie Gnomes started as a joke, but eventually became a serious business. When did you first realize there was a demand for such a thing?

When we started getting a lot of sales. I wish it was more magical than that.

Some of your pop culture inspirations for the gnomes are “Shaun of the Dead,” “The Walking Dead,” and “Evil Dead.” How have these horror favorites influenced your products?

Well, we enjoy all of those films and TV shows, so we wanted to make something not only that we would find entertaining but other fans would, too.

You’ve also drawn inspiration from folklore and “gardening culture.” In what ways?

When we first started making Zombie Gnomes, we based a lot of our sculptures off of gnome folklore. Gnomes are usually 6 1/2 inches tall and we used some similar color schemes for their designs. We do make larger ones now so people can show them off in their garden if they so desire.

In regards to gardening culture, we see what’s popular at gardening stores and get ideas of how our Zombie Gnomes could be incorporated. For example, pinwheels are a popular garden decoration. So we made a gnome that has a hole in her belly where you can put a pinwheel.

Zombie Gnomes are handmade and painted by local artists. Walk us through the process of designing and manufacturing a gnome.

So when we first started, it was just Chris and I. We did everything from designing to manufacturing to shipping. Then work got really crazy and we had to hire some local artists from the colleges in the area to paint. We were just starting out so we had no idea how to manage the huge amount of orders we were getting, so as time went on we made some changes in our production to be more efficient. Now we are able to handle all of our orders between the two of us now.

How do people generally react when they first encounter your Zombie Gnomes? They’re a little bit R-rated.

They laugh, actually, and usually say, “Zombie Gnomes.” My favorite reactions are when kids see them for the first time. Usually their eye bulge out and mouths drop. Some of them stay for a while just staring at them, saying, “Whoa!,” “Eww,” and things like that. It’s pretty great.

How would you describe your customer demographic? Do they tend to be horror fans?

Actually, no. We do have fans of horror who do buy our Zombie Gnomes but it’s really quite a variety of people who are interested in them. Some have gnome collections or have fairy gardens and want to add something funny to their collection. A majority of the people who purchase them think they are just really funny. To be honest, when we go to cons we see all different age groups gawking at our display.

You’ve said it can be “hard as a husband and wife team designing and creating fun products but we love doing it.” In what way is it challenging?

We spend almost every waking moment together and that can be trying. Not only do we work together, we also raise our kids together. So finding a balance between work and personal life can be challenging. We try very hard to have good communication.

We also have to find a way to be to firm but kind when critiquing each other’s work, which is difficult. It’s much harder than give notes to a co-worker or an employee. However, I actually feel more in love with Chris doing this with him. I saw how hardworking and dedicated he was and we worked so well together, marriage seemed plausible to me.

How would you describe your collaborative dynamic?

We respect each other’s opinions, which I think is a huge reason why we work so well together. Also, we think very similarly, so that helps.

Custom Zombie Gnomes.

You do custom and personalized gnomes. Tell me about some of your favorite custom orders. 

One of my favorite custom Zombie Gnomes was a woman asked us to make Zombie Gnomes taking down an owl. I had so much fun studying the coloring of different owls. I don’t get to spend a lot of time doing detail work so that was a nice change.

You’ve also branched out into literature with the book “Zombie Gnomes: The Epic Tale of Wyrick.” How did this idea come about?

It’s actually something we planned from the beginning. We thought giving the gnomes stories would be more enjoyable to our customers. Our line of thought was gnomes to books to TV show or movie. I was having trouble finding work when I graduated college and I realized if people didn’t give me the opportunity to create then I would just do it on my own. Also writing my own book was a life goal. So two birds, one stone.

I understand you’re working on a second book, “The Forging of Evelyn.” What can you tell us about it?

The first book is about Wyrick trying to find his family. The second book leads off from the end of the first where we actually meet Wyrick’s daughter, Evelyn. We follow her through her journey in the Zombie Gnome apocalypse.

You’re a bibliophile who collects a lot of books, so was it exciting to publish your first tome?

Very. As I said previously, it was a life dream to write and publish a book. It really hit me when I saw it in the first bookstore who started selling it, Dark Delicacies. I was really proud of myself that I actually did it. Of course I wouldn’t haven’t been able to do it without Chris or my mother who did the illustrations.

You also sell some non-zombie items in your shop. Tell me about some of your other products. 

We sell a variety of home and garden décor, such as our Easter Island Head Planter, our Cat Unicorn Head Mounts, and the Unicorn Skull. We just enjoy creating unique and fun things.

Jane at the Zombie Gnomes booth at Silicon Valley Comic Con.

You and Chris frequently take your Zombie Gnomes to conventions and other events. Tell me about some of your favorite places to rep your products. 

We mostly do comic book conventions like Wondercon and LA Comic Con, but we started branching out into horror conventions last year, which was great. People love them and we usually do very well at cons. I love doing all of the events especially because Chris and I try to make sure we go to at least one panel to learn something related to our craft.

Some serious artistry goes into your gnomes. You earned a degree in theater arts from Azusa Pacific University with a focus on storytelling. How did this prepare you for what you’re doing now?

Well, first off, thank you for that compliment. I did get my BA in Theatre Arts hoping to get into directing and writing. Being that the programs for either of those were not fleshed out yet, I tried to learn as much as I could. I auditioned for plays and wrote my own monologues. I even wrote a one-act for my senior project.

Really, I was just trying to be a sponge and soak up as much as I could while I was there. I stage managed, worked on sets, and so on. I think it really prepared me for what I do now because it’s a constant learning experience. We are always trying to create new products and be more efficient and half of the battle is having the curiosity to actually do it.

What story are you telling with your Zombie Gnomes?

Life is scary and you just have to laugh at it sometimes.

You grew up in a family of animators and your father still works for Disney. You must have had a magical childhood. 

I think so. My parents also love Disney movies so I grew up watching all of the classics. I loved when my parents would point to their work or give me a little history about a certain scene or something. It was really fun. Also not many people can say that they live off of their art but my parents are examples that it can happen. My parents never told me that I couldn’t be an artist because I couldn’t make a living off of it so that was different.

You participated in the Walt Disney Internship Program and worked as a stage manager at the El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood. What did that job entail?

Managing the shows before the movies started, help running movie premieres at the theater, things like that. It was an amazing experience and I learned a lot about management, working with professionals in the field and the general public. I had many mentors but I spent most of my time with James Wood who was the best manager I have ever had the pleasure of working with. He taught me a lot of how to be a good manager, which I think really helped me out with our Zombie Gnome business.

That sounds like an amazing experience! What was it like to work at that gorgeous, classic movie venue?

It was magical. The theater has so much history and to be able to walk through it every day was such an amazing opportunity. It was the only theater that would do the premiere for “Citizen Kane,” which I realized when I walked through their hallway full of old pictures. I actually grew up going to that theater as a kid for premieres for my parents films. So it has a very special place in my heart.

Jane with a “The Birds” cosplayer at ScareLA in 2017.

Let’s talk about your personal fandoms. As a fellow Hitchcock fan, I must ask you about your love of the director’s films. How did you discover Hitch and which of his movies are your favorite?

My parents and my grandfather, who lived with us most of my childhood, are big old movie fans. We enjoyed watching classic movies together on Friday nights and would have TCM on almost all the time. They introduced me to “North by Northwest,” “Rear Window,” and “The Birds.” I loved them.

It’s funny, I don’t really like Hitchcock as a person, but his films were thrilling. He also used my favorite actress Ingrid Bergman in a lot of my favorite films of his. My favorite films of his would probably be “Shadow of a Doubt” (love the woman protagonist), “Spellbound” (Because of the Dali sequence), and “Rear Window” (because, duh).

You’re into “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Angel.” What do you like about those series?

So much. Buffy being a badass superhero who was also feminine. I love the development of all of the characters in the shows from being teenagers to awesome vampire killers. I love when Buffy dies and comes back and she deals with not being in heaven anymore. When we met Dawn and everyone is like, “Yeah, Buffy has a sister. What? You don’t remember her?” The musical episode is magical even though not everyone could sing very well. Of course, there is Faith, who for me is a great anti-hero. “Angel,” I thought, was such a solid show and I am so sad it got cancelled to soon.

Are you Team Angel or Team Spike?

Spike. He was funny and didn’t sulk all the time. Got to love that in a guy.

How many hours have you spent playing Fallout?

Too many, but it is a good way for me to de-stress.

Jane and Chris dressed up for Halloween in 2016.

What was your introduction to Harry Potter?

I was in junior high and I heard some kids at my Christian school talking about how their parents wouldn’t let them read the books because they had witchcraft in them. I asked my mom about it and she said I couldn’t read them for that reason. She was into witchcraft when she was younger. So as a Christian, she felt like she had to protect me. However, as the years went on she got over it and I finally read them. I love the books and even got my mom interested in them.

What’s your Hogwarts house?

Ravenclaw, all the way!

You’re a “Lord of the Rings” fan. Who’s your favorite inhabitant of Middle-Earth?

As a teenager, I loved Aragorn because he was handsome and brooding. I also enjoyed the elves because they were just so smart and composed. Now that I’m older I think I really enjoy the hobbits. They are just so fun and full of life. They are very clueless though …

Do you prefer the books or the movies? Or both?

The books are very tedious. I don’t know if I have completely finished one because they are just that tedious. I can only care so much about the description of a mountain that I will not hear about ever again. However, I do love and appreciate the books. My husband and I love the movies and watch them a couple times a year. We actually saw them in theaters when they came out again.

If you were stranded on an island with just one movie by Hayao Miyazaki, what would it be?

“Spirited Away.” One of the most beautiful and magical animated films ever made. Close second would be “Princess Mononoke.”

Do you and your husband have any future plans or dreams for ChrisandJanesPlace or your business in general?

Always. We want to keep getting bigger and better. That includes new Zombie Gnome products, books, and other products. Of course, we are always working to get more of our products in stores across the U.S. and the world.

Let’s wrap up with a few zombie-related questions.

Why do you think zombie stories have become such an iconic part of pop culture?

I think it’s the thought of losing control of one’s body. Having no free will and possible killing the ones you love is terrifying. I like how Robert Kirkman puts it in his introduction in his first volume of “The Walking Dead,” “Good zombie movies show us how messed up we are, they make us question our station in society … and our society’s station in the world. They show us gore and violence and all that cool stuff too … But there’s always an undercurrent of social commentary and thoughtfulness.”

What will be the cause of the zombie apocalypse? 

Cuts to the CDC.

What’s your survival strategy for when the zombie apocalypse hits?

Going to a hardware store

Which is scarier: Classic slow-moving zombies or fast-moving rage-monkey zombies?

Fast. Always fast.

Should there be a Zombie Gnome movie?

Yes, but of course I’m not biased at all.

 

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.”

FemmeDeBloom designer fuses Disney, favorite fandoms with adorable vintage style

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where do you draw your ideas and design inspiration from?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where do you get your love of vintage style from?

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

Melanie Cancino at Dapper Day Expo.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who are some of your favorite superheroes?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Porgs? Yes or no?

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

What was your introduction to Star Wars? 

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

Of all the movies, which one is your favorite?

“Return of the Jedi” forever!

Are you a “Last Jedi” lover or hater?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Favorite Characters: Donald Duck and Belle.

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

Why do you gravitate toward Disney-themed designs?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who do you ‘ship on that show?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are some of your favorite titles?

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

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

Do you have a lot of books in your house?

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

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

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

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

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

What’s left on your geek bucket list?

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

Write a book.

Visit Disney World.

Visit the Hobbit holes in New Zealand.

Go to WonderCon one of these years.

Visit a cat cafe in Japan.

Go on a Disney cruise.

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

Go to Disneyland on May 4th.

Take a tour of Lucasfilm.

Participate in a zombie run.

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

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

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

 

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

Photos by FAWN KEMBLE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Love of sci-fi, fantasy leads avid reader, ‘Beauty and the Beast’ fan to live best geek life

When I first met Erin Gardner, I had no idea what deep and delicious layers of geekiness lurked beneath her deceptively placid demeanor.

Since then, Erin has become one of my very favorite geeks, a fellow bibliophile and lover of Ray Bradbury, and someone you can easily get lost in nerdy conversation with for hours about everything from “Beauty and the Beast,” to “Doctor Who,” to Harry Potter, to comic books, to conventions, to anime.

Nintendo and Disney were her gateway drugs into the world of fandoms and pop culture. A love of fairy tales and literature, particularly the genres of science fiction and fantasy, led her down the wonderful, winding paths of Narnia and Middle-earth, as well as the worlds of “Howl’s Moving Castle” and classics like “Fahrenheit 451” and “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.”

In this interview, she reminisces about the time she realized she had gone “full nerd” on a solo trip to the Wizarding World in Orlando, Florida. She also chats about her dream Disney wedding, her budding love of anime, her ample Funko Pop! collection, her “Battletoads” obsession, and her adorable dog Falkor.

As a bonus, Erin reveals the hidden treasure that is Phoenix Comic Fest and what the sweetest revenge is when you’re a girl gamer.

To those who don’t know you, you can seem kinda quiet, so I think people don’t always realize the ever deeper levels of geekiness that exist within you. Are people sometimes surprised when they figure this out about you?

I am a pretty shy person for the most part so, yes, most people are very surprised. My favorite surprise story is when I first started dating my husband and he had a picture of Deadpool as his phone’s background, and I saw it and said, “Oh, cool, Deadpool.” His jaw hit the floor. Since then it has been a wonderful geek-filled relationship.

Were you a geek child? How did you first become interested in nerd stuff?

I wouldn’t say that I was. I must have been about 7 when my grandma bought us our first Nintendo, and I loved playing it. That was definitely the gateway into me being a nerd. But I wasn’t quite as obsessed as I am now.

So, first off, I must ask you about your love of late science-fiction writer Ray Bradbury because that’s something we share. How were you introduced to Bradbury’s writing and why do you enjoy it?

It is such an off-the-wall story. I was a member of paperbackswap.com, a website where you post books you are willing to “swap” with other people. All I had to do was pay the shipping cost. Then I could request a book from someone else and they would send it to me. So I would go to the library book sales, where I could get a bag of old books for $1, then post them on the website.

One of the books I grabbed was “S is for Space,” a collection of his short stories. It sat on the shelf forever, and now I am glad that no one wanted it. Then one day, my mom said something about it being a Bradbury book, and that he was a pretty well-known author. So I picked it up and started reading.

I started with the introduction: “Jules Verne was my father, H.G. Wells was my wise uncle, Edgar Allen Poe was the bat winged cousin we kept high in the back attic room. Flash Gordon and Buck Rodgers were my brothers and friends. Adding, of course, that in all probability Mary Shelley was my mother. With a family like that, how else could I have turned out as I did; a writer of fantasy and most curious tales of science fiction.” — Ray Bradbury

I was hooked after that. I never thought of myself as someone into weird and unsettling stories, but I just loved every word of every story. It was so different from my normal young adult fantasy stories I was currently reading. You have also been a big influence in my love for Bradbury, like showing me his favorite booth at Clifton’s, and lending me the Bradbury books I have yet to read.

Erin, center, and fellow book lovers Lavender Vroman and Christy Rooney, sitting in the Bradbury booth at Clifton’s in Los Angeles.

Do you have a favorite Bradbury book or short story?

This is such a hard question! I loved “The Halloween Tree.” “Fahrenheit 451” was great, too. I would have to say my favorite was still my first book of his, “S is for Space.” My favorite short story from “S is for Space” would be “Come into my Cellar,” a story about children growing mushrooms in the cellar, but these mushrooms aren’t just normal mushrooms …

Erin visiting the Halloween Tree dedicated to Ray Bradbury in Disneyland.

Do you have any thoughts on HBO’s upcoming adaptation of “Fahrenheit 451”?

I have unrealistic expectations when it comes to my favorite books being made into movies. I would love it to be the exact same as the book. Which is impossible, I know. After “Ella Enchanted” was made into such a terrible movie adaptation, I am a little hand shy about this one. I still plan to see it though. I’m sure you will be one of the first to hear from me when I do.

Judging by your email address, you’re also a fan of C.S. Lewis’ “Chronicles of Narnia.” When and how did you discover the series?

My mom had her set from junior high on the shelf, right below “S is for Space,” funny enough. I was first drawn to them because of the fantastic illustrations on the book jackets. I started reading them in Junior high, as well, also on my mother’s suggestion.

What makes it special to you?

I love that it is a fantasy-style story of the Gospel of Jesus, a retelling of how Jesus died for me because of his great love. It will always be something quite special to me.

Which is your favorite book in the series?

“The Voyage of the Dawn Treader” has always been my favorite! “The Silver Chair” is a close second though. Who doesn’t love Puddleglum?

Who’s your favorite Narnian inhabitant?

There are so many good ones to choose from, Reepicheep, Eustace Scrubb (who you hate at first, but then you grow to love), and Mr. Tumnus, the first Narnian inhabitant I met. However, Aslan has always been my favorite. His presence is so comforting, not to mention he is the creator of Narnia.

You’re also a fan of Lewis’ BFF, J.R.R. Tolkien. Are you more into the books or more into the movies?

For “The Hobbit,” I am more into the book. Why the heck is Legolas even in the movie? For “Lord of the Rings,” I am into both.

I saw the movies first, but I will only watch the extended editions. I read the books after, and as always, the books are better. I am part of the group of salty people who wanted Tom Bombadil in the movie, because he is so awesome. I love both the movies and the books though. They are each good in their own way.

Who’s your favorite resident of Middle-Earth and why?

My favorite in both the book and the movie is the Mouth of Sauron, (cue my love for the creepy I didn’t know I had until Bradbury brought it out). He has been Suaron’ s mouthpiece for some 60 years, learning great sorcery, and his name is remembered in no tale. He has such a small part in the story, and he is so mysterious and very creepy. So, of course, he is my favorite.

Erin’s husband, Tim, proposed to her at Snow White’s Wishing Well in Disneyland.

You’re quite the Disney fan, as well. This might be a difficult question, but do you remember your first Disney experience?

Disney movies started coming out more frequently when I was born and I grew up watching them, so I think my love for Disney came gradually. I think the movies were where it started. My brothers and I watched them over and over again. “Beauty and the Beast” was my go-to movie. Disney was such a big part of my childhood (and everyone else’s) that it is nostalgic to me.

Even the parks, my first trip was when I was 2, and I walked the whole day. When I was a little older, I once got lost at the park and thought I would never see my family again, but I didn’t mind the idea of living in Disneyland if I had to. I have spent every birthday at Disneyland since I was 15. My husband asked me to marry him at the wishing well. So many of my memories are at Disneyland or have to do with Disney.

You are specifically very into “Beauty and the Beast.” How old were you when you first saw it? What impression did it make on you?

It came out the year before I was born, but I couldn’t tell when the first time was. When I was tiny I am sure.

I related to Belle the most, she is still the only brunette princess, too, I think. She loves to read like me. She also feels like an outsider, which everyone relates to in some aspect. There are places where we feel we don’t fit in. The biggest one though, is don’t judge a book by its cover. Someone might look scary on the outside, but be a great person, while others might look very attractive on the outside, but a real jerk on the inside. Ahem. Gaston …

Can you sing all the words to all the songs?

I can! For the original, the Broadway version, and the remake.

Are you a fan of the live-action remake?

I am a fan of it! They incorporated aspects from the original story written by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont, like when she asked her father to bring her back a rose (which made my bookworm self very happy). The song the Beast sings at the end is so good, and I am a fan of her new dress. I got to see it at the El Capitan Theatre (in Hollywood).

I understand you have quite a collection of “Beauty and the Beast” merchandise. Tell me about some of the prized items you’ve amassed. 

I do have a lot of things. Many are gifts from family and friends. My favorite things would be my Jim Shore figures, a life-size set of Lumiere and Cogsworth, a hand-painted sign that my brother and sister-in-law got Tim and I for our wedding. My most favorite, however, was an outfit I had growing up. It was a purple shirt with belle on it. I wore it when it was almost dress length to when it was a pretty short shirt length. I would still wear it if I could. I still have it too.

Erin in her favorite childhood “Beauty and the Beast” shirt.

You and your husband, Tim, had an adorable Disney-themed wedding. Please tell me all about it.

It was the best day ever, obviously. I got to wear a Disney Alfred Angelo ballgown dress covered in sparkles. Surprisingly enough, I wore a dress styled after Cinderella. The Belle-style dresses just looked weird on me. All my bridesmaids were dressed like other princesses and their bouquets were made specially to match their princess.

Each table at our reception was decorated after a Disney ride. The Jungle Cruise table even had a pop gun to scare away renegade hippos. Our candy table had a Monorail driving around the edge, our cake had the rose from “Beauty and the Beast” on top, with Iron Man hiding among the rose petals falling down the side of the cake.

A bridesmaid carries a “Brave”-themed bouquet.

The men all had action figures for their boutonnieres, and a matching shirt with their superhero’s logo under their suits. Our ring bearer was Thor and the pillow with the rings was shaped like Thor’s hammer.

We had so many people help out to make the day so amazing and I am still so thankful to all of them.

Why did you choose that as the theme for your big day?

I always wanted to get married at Disneyland. My sister-in-law, Caitlin, and I once planned our perfect Disney wedding on their website, and then cried when we saw the price for the most basic wedding package. So the next best thing was having a wedding themed after one of Tim’s and my favorite places.

Caitlin Hawkins, left, and Erin at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Hollywood.

Harry Potter is another of your major fandoms. How did you discover J.K. Rowling’s series?

There was the crazy girl I met in junior high, who was a bigger reader then I was, and she was so in love with Harry Potter that she would wait hours outside the theater on opening night to see the newest Harry Potter movie coming out. I went with her to see one of the movies, I can’t even remember which one it was, but after that I was hooked, I went home and started reading all the books. That crazy girl, Caitlin, is now my sister-in-law and my very best friend. We still geek out over Harry Potter all the time. I love sharing that with her.

What’s your Hogwarts house?

I am a proud Slytherin! I got sorted in high school on a field trip to Warner Bros. Studios. I got to sit on the same stool from the movie, then they put the hat on my head, the hat started yelling at me because he said I thought he was ugly, then put me in Slytherin. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I recently took Tim to Warner Bros. so he could be sorted. He was put into Ravenclaw.

You actually once went to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando by yourself, just ‘cause you had the opportunity. That’s so awesome! How did that happen? Tell me all about that visit.

My best friend Kristy lives out in Florida. She moved there when we were very little and it broke my heart. She is also quite the nerd. It was her wedding that weekend, and since I was out there already I stayed an extra day to see Universal, since I had never been there before. Kristy’s uncle works there so he got me a free ticket.

That was when I knew I went full nerd, by myself on the other side of the continent, going to the Wizarding World. It was such a good day, I would do it again in a heartbeat. I sent Snapchat videos to everyone back at home. Being by myself though, I got to go in all the single rider lines, so I rode most of the rides there.

Is the Orlando theme park way better than the Hollywood Wizarding World?

It is SO much better. They have it spread between two parks, so there is a ton more there. Not just Hogsmead, they have the Hogwarts Express you can ride to London, Lavender Brown comes and writes love notes to Ron while you are on the way there. Diagon Alley is so amazing! My favorite part though was when I found a pitch black alleyway. It was Knockturn Alley! I was terrified to go in, and once I went in the smell was horrible! It was so fantastic! I highly suggest going.

You’re a major bookworm in general. Do you have a preference for science fiction and fantasy? If so, why do you think that is?

I do prefer science fiction and fantasy. I think it is because in this genre you can push the limits, it is so different from reality, and that makes a wonderful escape from the real world.

What are some of your favorite book titles?

“Howls Moving Castle” By Diana Wynne Jones. “The Hunchback Of Notre Dame” by Victor Hugo. “Dracula” by Bram Stoker. “The Great Good Thing” by Roderick Townley. All the Gail Carson Levine books. I could list so many more, but these are few of my favorites.

Do you have a bajillion books in your house?

I do. Haha. I just counted, I have 245 books throughout my house.

You work for a travel agent. This may be a stretch, but does this job ever intersect at all with your geek lifestyle?

It does in one way. My boss has the most amazing collection of Disney figurines. They are so beautiful. I couldn’t tell who made them though.

A couple of your other fandoms are “Doctor Who” and Star Trek. Who’s your Doctor and why?

Nine. I love Ten and Eleven, too, but Nine is my doctor. He was the one that got it started again, and he was more serious than the others and also had a dryer humor, which is my favorite humor. My favorite way to put it is like this: Nine is a tiger, serious and strong, always in charge of things. Ten is like Tigger, cute and silly, bouncing around but still getting things done. Eleven is a house cat that knocks over a vase and pretends he planned to do that all along.

Which incarnation of Star Trek is your favorite?

The Original Series, but Picard is my favorite captain. The new movies are a close second though. Anton Yelchin was my favorite in the movies, so I am so sad about his unexpected death.

You’ve recently gotten into the “Flash” TV series. What do you like about it?

The Flash is my favorite superhero out of both the Marvel and DC universes. The show just sucked me right in! I love all the characters, the writing is good too. Tim and I have tried to get into the other CW shows but they just aren’t as good. I still want Barry Allen and Felicity Smoak to be together. Even though I know that will never happen. I have even started reading The Flash comic books.

Erin and Tim at one of Erin’s favorite attractions, Guardians of the Galaxy — Mission Breakout at Disney’s California Adventure.

In other comic book related news, it seems you’re pretty obsessed with “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” right now. What’s that about?

I seriously don’t know, I just love everything about it! The soundtrack is amazing and all I have been listening to recently. Baby Groot is just so cute! The chemistry between Peter Quill and Drax is so funny to me. It also has my new favorite actress, Elizabeth Debicki, who is covered in gold. This is a spoiler, but I love the redemption story arc of Yondu. I hated him in the first movie, and in this one he becomes pretty awesome.

I was also super unhappy that they changed Tower of Terror to a Guardians of the Galaxy ride, but now I can’t get enough of it! It one of my favorite rides!

You’re currently wading into the wonderful waters of anime. What shows have you been watching?

I have only watched two so far, “Death Note” and “Full Metal Alchemist.”

What’s intriguing you so far about this genre of animation?

The story of these shows are so elaborate! It keeps me interested, and it is fun to see how their culture and how they tell stories are so different from how things are done here. The different mythology is really cool to me. Like learning about Shinigamis and how they work. It’s really cool.

You have an impressive collection of Funko Pops. How many do you own?

I have 161, as of right now, but that is always changing.

What are some of your favorites?

I have a Rose Tyler Pop! signed by Billie Piper, a 2015 San Diego Comic-Con Unmasked Barry Allen limited edition, worth about $170. I am pretty picky when it comes to the ones I get, so all of them are my favorite.

Where do you keep them all?

I have an Ikea cabinet that I have most of mine in, but I am in desperate need of another, they have already out grown it. The cabinet is in the room we call the Nerd Cave, where we keep most of our nerd memorabilia.

Do you collect anything else?

Just books and Pop! figures, I don’t really have space to collect anything else.

You’re also an avid video gamer. How did you get into gaming?

It started with our first Nintendo, and I just kept playing games. It helps that all my brothers were into gaming, and as the only girl in the family, spending time with my brothers meant playing video games, so I always thought it was normal for girls to play video games. I learned later that I was more of an anomaly.

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

It has been good for most part. I think gaming does come more naturally to guys, so I have always had to work hard at keeping up with them. Playing online is where things are different. If I have a mic in and am talking to the other people playing, most of them think I am a 12-year-old boy, and when they do find out I am a girl some of them can get pretty vulgar. Then I beat them, and that is pretty satisfying.

I made some pretty good friends too, though, and that was fun. Now though, I play mostly with my husband, my brother Sam and his wife Caitlin, and my brother-in-law Brian. It has been fun to see more girls get into gaming now though. It has been such a guy-dominated hobby, but not anymore.

I understand you own an old-school Nintendo console just for your favorite video game of all-time, “Battletoads.” What is it about that game?

This game has been named the hardest game of all time. I have only ever made it past level three once, you literally have to memorize the entire game to beat it. My brothers and I spent hours playing it, it is a nice piece of nostalgia for me. I also love the idea of toads being totally B.A. It is such a different kind of game to play.

You’re also a big fan of the Lego games. What do you like about those?

They are just so fun! They have a mice mix of action, puzzle solving, and humor. The Harry Potter ones are my favorite, I have played them through a couple of times.

How good are you at “Call of Duty”?

Not to toot my own horn, but I am pretty good. I used to stay up till three in the morning playing it, so I have had a lot of practice.

How many hours have you spent playing “Overwatch”?

61 hours so far. We actually haven’t played much lately.

How crazy are you about “Portal”?

So crazy! The first time I played it, I put it in the console, and then emerged three days later, having beaten the game. I couldn’t stop playing it. I heard they were talking of making a movie, which would be fun to see I think. I have played it through several times since then.

You’ve discovered the joys of the Phoenix Comic-Con (now called Phoenix Comic Fest). What’s the advantage of immersing yourself in one of the smaller fan conventions?

We went in 2016. It isn’t affiliated with (San Diego) Comic-Con. So all the guests they have there aren’t contracted to be there. They come because they want to, which makes the atmosphere more comfortable I think. It wasn’t as crowded as some of bigger cons. It is in Phoenix, but the heat isn’t a problem because it is in the downtown convention center, which is huge! So everything is inside.

Tim and Erin with Billie Piper at Phoenix Comic-Con.

What were some of the highlights of your con experience?

Meeting so many “Doctor Who” actors! Billie Piper, Alex Kingston, Dan Starkey. We also got to meet Timothy Odmunson and Oded Fher, who thought he knew Tim from somewhere. Alex Kingston was my favorite to meet though, she is seriously the nicest person.

The selection of Pops there was also astounding! I found so many exclusives I was looking for, and they were cheaper then Amazon!

The best part though was when we stumbled upon an Aquaman panel. The one guy on the panel casually dropped that he was a writer for the show “Scream,” which Caitlin and I were currently obsessed with. I about died! So I found his booth the next day and got to talk to him about the show and what theories we had! It was one of the best parts of the whole weekend!

Erin with “Scream” TV series writer Heath Corson at Phoenix Comic-Con.

Are you planning to go back?

I would go back every year if I could. I really hope we can make it this year. The cast from “Guardians of the Galaxy” will be there, also Paige O’Hara! Plus William Shatner and Tim Curry. I would love to cosplay this time too.

What’s left on your geek bucket list?

To go to Disneyland in Paris! Maybe to go to San Diego Comic Con once. To start getting into cosplay.

Falkor

To close, I must mention your adorable doggy, Falkor, just so we can include a photo of him. Tell me a little bit about this lovable real-life luck dragon. 

He is crazy sometimes, but since we got our cat, Tonks, he has become the mature one. They are the best of friends. He is such a smart dog too! When he is outside and wants to come in, he knocks on the door. We didn’t teach him that, he just started doing it on his own! We just love him to pieces. I didn’t know his ears would stand up, otherwise we might have named him Ghost.

 

 

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.

 

Clever crafter embraces ‘abundance of imagination that comes with geekdom’

Some of us are hopeless when it comes to crafting, but if Kirsten Mace can dream it, it seems she can make it, especially when it’s something related to one of her many favorite fandoms.

By a happy twist of fate, Kirsten works as a manager at a Joann Fabric and Craft Store in Utah, where she finds ample inspiration for the dozens of projects she always seems to have going from coworkers and fellow geek crafters.

Kirsten has transformed boring, old Christmas decorations into a festive Star Wars-themed holiday extravaganza for her home, designed whimsical chess sets, created cosplay outfits and costumes, hand-carved stamps to use on uniquely geeky baby items, and whipped up adorable custom bow ties and bows for sale — a project inspired by a desire to combat the gender stereotypes encountered by one of her children.

This wildly creative crafter’s geek origin story can be traced back to “The Phantom Menace” — ain’t no shame in it! — and childhood trips to Disneyland. She’s got a unique perspective on everything from “The Last Jedi” controversy to My Little Pony, and she’s a fierce defender of these and other fandoms. (Just ask her about Bronies. I dare you.)

“Let people just enjoy what they enjoy” is Kirsten’s philosophy. In today’s divisive culture — even in the geek world — that’s good advice.

Kirsten Mace models the shirt she created for her TankSolo cosplay (a mashup of Tank Girl and Han Solo).

You are a geeky crafter and also a manager at a Joann Fabric and Craft Store. That can’t be a coincidence. What do you enjoy about your job? Do you find inspiration for your geeky creations at work? Do you meet a lot of other geek crafters there?

It was definitely fate. I have really loved getting to know the people, not just the customers but also my coworkers. The craft industry, at least in the Joann aspect of it, is very unique in that we spend a lot of time with our customers to help them create this very unique vision for a project.

Sharing that has really pushed my own abilities and ideas. Someone comes in with this amazing project and it makes you wanna create too. It’s seeing other people’s passion and getting excited with them.

We get a lot of geeky projects. Utah is supposed to be the geekiest state and with the introduction of Salt Lake Comic Con five years ago, we have gotten to see so many cosplays and just really awesome projects from people. And it isn’t just the customers, my coworkers are all so talented and geeky.

One of my favorites is a woman who came in to do an amazing Poison Ivy costume a few years ago and is now someone I work with. I think the passion that comes with being a geek just translates easily into being a crafter. We build these worlds around our passions, so I think there is a natural inclination for many of the geek persuasion to make that into practical skills.

Kirsten painted these Kokeshi doll-inspired Star Wars necklaces.

Have you always been a geek? When did those interests first blossom for you?

I wanna say I have always been a geek but it wasn’t till I was an adult that I was comfortable about it. My parents were cool. We grew up on Star Wars and Nintendo and all those great ‘80s cult films, like “Goonies.” We lived in Southern California, so we went to Disneyland a lot and they just did a great job planting those seeds and letting those passions blossom.

I think I really started letting things take off when I really got into books. I have anxiety and I think it was a way to cope, to get lost in books, just let me not have to be where I was all the time. I was into things like Poe and Tolkien and I was spending the summer at my dad’s house and they released “Phantom Menace” that year. It was great. We both loved it and ended up collecting the cards and seeing it a couple times. It was just a great moment for me.

And then they started releasing the Peter Jackson “Lord of the Rings” trilogy and Harry Potter released in the U.S. It was a perfect storm for me to get lost in everything.

Sorry, I think I rambled there but, yeah, Star Wars really kicked off my ability to get lost in other realms.

A “Rogue One” bow, created by Kirsten Mace.

You once had an Etsy shop offering “build-a-bows” with custom options for purchasers. Tell me about that. Where did you get the idea for custom bows?

I have two amazing kids and when my oldest was young, she was uninhibited by the whole gender thing. We didn’t care and if she was into things, we would let her play with it regardless of if it was a pony or a Transformer or makeup and so on.

So I had made bows for a friend as a gift and Moo loved them. She asked if she could have bowties and I was like, “Yeah, sure, you look adorable in anything.” So I made them and she would wear them occasionally, not an everyday thing, they weren’t her statement piece, and one day she came home saying she couldn’t wear them anymore.

She is very nonconfrontational, so I pressed her for why and she told me that some boy told her bowties were only for boys and that she looked ugly. So she didn’t want to wear them anymore ‘cause she didn’t want to hear him say that anymore. I was heartbroken.

So I came up with the build-a-bow after that situation. I didn’t wanna say, “This is a hairbow. This is a bowtie.” I didn’t wanna put that on anyone else ‘cause I really think that you should wear what makes you comfortable.

I would make the bow and let the customer decide which fastener they wanted, which at the time was not being done on Etsy under general sale. I found a lot of sellers would charge extra to change the bow and customize it or whatever. I work in crafts, I know the cost. I just wanted to make something for everyone that everyone could afford.

A Baymax bow, designed by Kirsten Mace.

Tell me about some of your favorite geeky bow designs.

I like the ones that kinda went against the norm. So there wasn’t really one bow I liked, but I had some great orders. I did 12 BB-8 bows for a little girls birthday party. I had a Baymax bow — I painted his face onto a white blank — that I loved. There was a set of Player 1 & 2 stamps that I carved and made bows with on red and green fabrics for Mario & Luigi.

Could you describe these hand-carved geeky stamps you made? Tell me about the process of creating a stamp and the techniques and equipment you used. 

I cannot draw to save my life, but I found out that I could carve. A friend of mine was in school for art and was doing this thing on block printing. I wanted to make some swaddlers for my sister and found this great carving starter set from Speedball that contained a couple of blocks and the knife with a few different attachments. I ended up making Totoro and loved it so much I made soot sprites, too.

What were some of your favorite stamp designs?

I love my Totoro and working on the soot sprites, but my proudest one was the plush Hobbes I carved.

You mentioned that you created baby swaddlers. What gave you the idea? Tell me a little bit about what went into creating them. Did you sell the swaddlers or give them as gifts?

My stamps were all created for swaddlers. My little sister was expecting and finding geeky baby stuff is ridiculous. It’s either really expensive or nonexistent. I have kids so I knew what I would want from a product standpoint and just tried to execute to that.

I give them as gifts and sell them. I am working on a couple new ones so that I can have new stuff when I reopen (hopefully). So far, my favorite is a Devil’s Trap from “Supernatural,” just cause I like the joke of saying my demon spawn is contained by a Devil’s Trap swaddler.

What kind of geeky crafting are you currently engaged in?

I am working on too many things! I am working on converting all our Christmas stuff to Star Wars theme so I made a Princess Leia tree topper from a 1970s Kenner Leia doll. I wookiee-fied a nutcracker complete with bowcaster. My biggest thing right now is the Millennium Falcon tree skirt that I am working on piecing. I loved the Falcon tree skirt so much that I wanted to paint a circle skirt with the same design.

I made a bunch of shrugs covered in soot sprites and one that was inspired by the new Pennywise. I am hoping to start back on working on a mashup cosplay of Han Solo and Tank Girl I call “Tank Solo” so there is a lot of plotting for that. The shirt I came up with has been really well received, so that was really encouraging. I’m having to design a bunch of pins and patches for a flair jacket for it so it’s a long-haul project.

Honestly, I have a million projects I am working on or trying to plot out.

Do you have any future plans to sell more of your geeky wares?

Oh, yeah, hopefully in the near future.

A custom 11th Doctor Tsum Tsum created by Kirsten for a geeky craft exchange.

As an unabashed nerd, you have devoted yourself to many fandoms. You said that you “tend to easily fall for everything.” Why do you think this is?

When you are able to get lost in one thing and then surround yourself with people who are just as passionate about other things, it is hard not to get caught up in their passion for that, so the birth of social media and my job have really helped me expand my universes.

Like many of the best geeks, you are a Star Wars fan. What’s your personal saga? How and when did you fall for George Lucas’ franchise?

I think I mentioned this earlier, but I really think this is a first love for a lot of geeks because of our parents. My personal saga … ooooh, that is really long … but the short version is when I was 6 my parents divorced and my mom became a janitor at the local university and worked nights so we had a very atypical upbringing as five girls in those circumstances.

I have always loved Star Wars but, and I hate to admit this cause I know how many people hate the prequels, it really became my thing with “Phantom Menace.” Maybe it was the idea that Anakin was no one and became something, I dunno, but I wanted to prove that I could be something other than my upbringing.

Are you a “Last Jedi” hater? What did you think of the movie?

This may be one of my favorite movies in the franchise. It is amazing and added so many elements to Star Wars that I never thought I would see. I loved the addition of humor.

Captain Phasma is my lady crush. I won’t even say it’s a secret ‘cause I got a little twitterpated when she whipped out that sword for that fight. Goodness, I am excited for the director’s cut ‘cause I am hoping they extend that scene.

I liked that none of the speculation left from “Force Awakens” mattered. Rey’s parents were no ones. Snoke’s backstory doesn’t matter. “Let the past die” was the theme and they did it so well.

They answered a lot of the questions that were posed in “Force Awakens.” I just think people don’t like that it really didn’t go the way anyone thought it would. I could go on about this for hours but I will defend this movie against the haters.

Who’s your favorite original trilogy Star Wars character?

I always have loved Han, but as I have gotten older I really enjoy Leia.

Who’s your favorite new trilogy character so far?

I am a sucker for rebellious pilots. And with the growth shown at the end of “Last Jedi,” it just cements Poe as my favorite.

Porgs. Yes or no?

How can you hate porgs? They are so cute and nonintrusive to the story, well, unless you are Chewie. If you hate porgs, you are just looking for something to hate in this movie.

Are you one with the Force and the Force is with you?

OH MY, YES! Why people don’t accept this movie as part of the Star Wars universe just boggles my mind. I am watching this while filling this out right now.

You’re also a Harry Potter-phile. When did you first discover J.K. Rowling’s series? What do you love about it?

Ha, so Harry Potter came out and I had an acquaintance who read it and was kinda being this know-it-all about it, so I read it so I could out-trivia her and, would you believe, I fell for it by accident. I think a lot of it is the relationship Harry has with the Weasleys. He made his own family, and the support and love and everything, I have a lot of friends like that.

What’s your Hogwarts house?

I am a Slytherin but lied with my Pottermore house so that I could be in Gryffindor.

Are you looking forward to Fantastic Beasts 2?

Yup, yup, yup. My kids are both Hufflepuffs, so it is easy to get excited when they are excited.

Kirsten is working on a Studio Ghibli-themed chess set with figures including Mei and Satsuki.

I’m excited to hear you’re a fan of the animated films of Studio Ghibli. Do you remember your first Ghibli film and how you got hooked? What’s your favorite Ghibli movie?

My dad was in the Air Force and spent some time in Korea and Japan. He sent my sister back the “Totoro” VHS and we watched it till we wore it out. The animation is so beautiful and the stories are so well told that it is hard not to get lost in (Hayao Miyazaki’s) worlds. It is really hard to just choose one. I will always have a soft spot for Totoro, but I really love “The Wind Rises.”

I believe this is a first for our interview series, but you’re also an aficionado of My Little Pony. Are you into the vintage ’80s ponies, or the new ones, or both?

I was the third kid, so never got into the ‘80s ‘cause I rarely had control of the remote. I really like the new ones.

What does your Pony fandom look like exactly? What’s the attraction here?

Other than the millions of ponies that litter our house at times … I think an easy way to sum it up, and I know this will be lost on some people, is we Pinkie Pie promise.

We first started watching the show ‘cause my daughter liked it and everyone knows the toddler is the one who controls what’s on the TV most of the time. So we sat down to watch it with her and the characters and stories are simple enough that it was just easy to like it.

As weird as it is, you can relate to all the feelings they are working through and they have really great mythological references. If I am not watching Star Wars while I am crafting, you can bet I have MLP on.

I confess I’m pretty weirded out by the whole Bronies phenomenon. What are your thoughts on that?

I don’t know why people are weirded out by the Bronies. I think people have this idea in their head that they are all furries and that freaks a lot of people out. That is a question that I have fielded when I say I enjoy the show and, no, I don’t dress up but what does it matter if someone does? How is that any different from someone who dresses as any character?

You’re also into Firefly. What was so great about that series?

I like the idea of standing up for what’s right even if it seems the whole galaxy is against you and pursuing the truth.

Who’s your favorite character and why?

Daughter No. 2 is named Zoe only because Hoban is a terrible name (sorry to anyone who may be named Hoban). Wash is easily my favorite. He is fun, but still gets the job done.

Kirsten’s dog models one of her bow ties.

Disney is another passion of yours. Do you visit the theme parks often?

Sadly, it has been too long since we went to the parks. With both of us working and the distance, it is hard to get things coordinated.

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

Other than Star Wars?! The first movie I remember seeing in theaters was “Aladdin” and I can’t think of any one movie of theirs that I would say I outright hated.

Do you do any Disney-related crafting?

Of course! We enjoy all the movies and introducing the girls to the cartoons I enjoyed as a kid just cements all the reasons I loved those shows. Disney is also a genius when it comes to product design and marketing, so it is hard not to wanna make custom Tsum Tsums and ears and use the characters in things.

I have done a couple of nightlight styled canvases for the girls using scenes from “Tangled” and “Guardians of the Galaxy.” At this point, Disney has so many properties that it would be hard not to find inspiration from one of them.

Kirsten Mace introduced her daughters to “Homestar Runner” and they requested she make them their own Teen Girl Squad shirts.

You have two young daughters who you describe as “also nerdy.” Tell me a little about the family dynamic. What are some of your shared and individual interests and activities?

I don’t think the family dynamic is very different from others’ families. I think we are maybe a bit more relaxed as parents, but I don’t think that’s cause of the geek thing. They are young enough that, for now, a lot of their interests are our interests.

A few Christmases ago, they got Jedi ensembles complete with lightsabers and like to have lightsaber fights and plan ways to attack us. They have been working their way through a lot of the Lego video games and are currently working on the complete Star Wars set and then wanna try the Harry Potter games.

Would you say that “geek culture” has had a positive impact on your girls?

Last year my daughter came home from school and she wanted to talk about suffragettes and the following week she wanted to talk about vegetarianism. With how the current representation of women is in all of geekdom, I am so glad my girls are into it.

They wanna kick ass as Jedis and Wonder Woman and Squirrel Girl. They get to see Rose release the fathiers and show compassion for all life in “Last Jedi.” The stories that are being told now help with what I want my kids to be when they are adults, so it isn’t just me telling them that they can do whatever they want but a host of characters they admire that really helps with that.

Is it my imagination or did I see a Facebook pic of one of your daughters dressed in the most amazing little Harley Quinn costume?

I have been blessed with amazing kids who never really wanted to be the princess but that means we have made a lot of their costumes through the years. Moo fell in love with Harley Quinn a few years ago so we have had a couple costumes for her.

Do you have any advice for parents who want to raise their kids up in the geek lifestyle?

If your kid shows an interest in it, get into it with them. I am hoping that as my kids get older and the terrible teen years are there, I am at least going to be able to connect with some of their interests.

As a mother, is there anything you’d like to see change in the world of fandoms and geek culture by the time your daughters are grown?

There is still so much of the good, ol’ fanboy mentality that I will be glad when that is gone. Let people just enjoy what they enjoy.

You’re a reader of comic books and graphic novels. Is this a pastime you enjoyed in childhood or later in life? What are some of your favorite titles? Do you have any recommendations for us to check out?

I got into it later in life. I saw the Skottie Young “Wizard of Oz” novels somewhere and I loved them. The illustration and fluidity that he conveyed with the story that L. Frank Baum created just, uh, I loved them. I love so many of his works that I highly recommend “The Chasing Tale” storyline for Rocket Raccoon and his “I Hate Fairyland” to everyone just getting into comic books.

I didn’t really start getting into comics till we started using them as an incentive for Matt to get excited about reading. We had a great local comic shop and the owner was amazing. He was the most welcoming person and would just talk to you about everything and then recommend an issue or a novel and, as crazy as it seemed, you would love it. He got me into the “Chew” novels and it has been crazy catching up on all those.

My recommendation is, look for a locally owned shop and go in and chat them up, tell them the kind of stuff you like and what you are into and let them make recommendations for you. The people that are crazy enough to open a comic store are the ones you are gonna find are so passionate about them. My personal favorites and recommendations to just ease into it are the Mighty Thor, anything by Skottie Young, Rocket Raccoon, Squirrel Girl is amazing, and Moon Girl.

What do you like about comics?

It takes that book experience to the next level. There are some parts of a book that you just glance over or get lost on and with the added visualization that comics have, you can really see what the writer is trying to convey. It helps progress the idea of that universe in such a great way that I am surprised more people don’t read them.

One of Kirsten’s daughters wanted to learn how to play chess, so Kirsten made her a superheroes vs. cats chess set.

You prefer the Marvel Cinematic Universe over the DC Extended Universe. Explain. 

Marvel has been able to convert the fluidity and feel of their comics so much better than DC has, which is kind of a shame, considering the properties that DC has.

Do you tend to amass geek memorabilia or collectibles?

Our house is one giant den of geeky collectibles and art. We have been working on a wall of Pop! figurines in our family room. Our favorite place in any con is the “artist alley.” There are so many talented artists out there that it is hard to resist buying all the art. So our walls are plastered with everything we have amassed.

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

I have enjoyed the illustrated rerelease of the Harry Potter books and the House editions, so I am always waiting for those. I am really excited for the next few Marvel movies, “Black Panther” and “Infinity War” look amazing. I am also timidly optimistic about the new Han Solo movie.

What’s left on your geek bucket list?

There are a lot of people I would like to meet. Artists, actors, directors, writers … a lot of them are figures in the geek community that have made an impact on me.

On a final note, why do you think so many geeks also happen to be crafters or creators? 

I think the beginning of it for many is the necessity of the items. Finding some memorabilia is hard and that first thought of, “I can do this. I can make this myself,” is where a lot of it starts.

I first really got into it because I wanted to make a baby mobile for my sister that was soot sprites ‘cause so many on the market were also handmade and out of my price range. And then it turned into, “Well, I can make a Totoro to go with it.” Then I made some Rocket Raccoon plushies ‘cause the Totoro was so easy … it just snowballed into, “I can make exactly what I want so why not?”

Everyone loves their fandom in their own unique way and crafting allows me to show exactly what I love about that fandom. There is also an abundance of imagination that comes with geekdom.