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.

Instagram artist nails it, celebrates fandoms with polish

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nails by Delia, inspired by “Twin Peaks.”

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

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

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

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

What are some of your favorite designs so far?

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

Where do you get your inspiration and design ideas?

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

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

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

Do you design professionally or just for fun?

It’s just for fun!

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

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

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

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

 What do you love about them?

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

Delia at the Wizarding World.

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are some of your favorite genres and titles?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who’s your Doctor?

Definitely the eleventh!

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

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

Are you looking forward to the new season?

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

Tesla-inspired nail art by Delia Wenzel.

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

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

Who’s your favorite ‘Stranger Things’ character?

Oh, I’m Team Jonathan all the way!

Tell me all your thoughts on Barb.

Justice for Barb!



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

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

What are some of your favorite horror films/franchises?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What materials/equipment do you use for your carvings?

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

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

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

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

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

What are some of your other fandoms?

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



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

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

Do you collect anything?

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

Delia’s nail polish collection.

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

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

Nail art by Delia, inspired by Stephen Hawking.

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

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

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

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

Let’s close with some favorite Harry Potter questions:

Hogwarts house?

Ravenclaw with a side of Hufflepuff.

Favorite character?

Sirius Black.

Favorite book?

“Prisoner of Azkaban.”

Worst movie?

“Half-Blood Prince.”

Most devastating character death?

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

Wizarding subject you’d most like to study?

Potions.

Favorite magical creature?

Crookshanks.

Favorite Harry Potter item you own?

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

Are you excited about “Fantastic Beasts 2”?

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

What’s on your Harry Potter bucket list?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s follow her to Austenland, shall we?

Bianca Hernandez, in costume as the Drunk Austen logo.

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

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

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

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

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

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

What prompted you to become a full-fledged Janeite?

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

Which of her novels is your favorite and why?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are some of your all-time favorite books?

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

What are you reading now?

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

What’s on your to-read pile?

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

Bianca in Wonder Woman cosplay.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s challenging about it?

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

Have you done other geeky cosplays besides Mara Jade?

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

Bianca as Agent Carter.

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

I did!

What are your thoughts about “The Last Jedi”?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What other fandoms are you into?

I love Agent Carter, Harry Potter and Doctor Who.

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

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

What’s left on your Jane Austen bucket list?

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

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

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

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

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

Illustrator’s childhood love of manga, anime blossoms into whimsical art

Hello, my name is Lavender Vroman, and I’m a children’s book junkie.

I’ve always loved this genre of literature with its deceptively simple, fantastical stories and whimsical art that plunges you right back into childhood. After my daughter was born, it just gave me more of an excuse to fill my bookshelves with volumes that remind me of those wondrous days of youth and imagination.

One of my favorite children’s book illustrators also happens to be my sister-in-law. Her name is Mai Kemble, and her artwork is some of the sweetest, most smile-inducing you’ll ever see.

For Christmas, she gifted the family with beautifully personal, unbearably cute animal-themed paintings that will soon be framed and adorning the walls of several homes.

Mai’s artistic journey began at a young age as she shared a world of imagination, manga-reading, and hours drawing with her twin sister, Mei. This close-knit bond blossomed into an education in illustration and a vibrant career resulting in several published children’s books and a variety of freelance art projects.

Of course, Mai’s love of childlike playfulness and fantasy has led to many geeky fascinations, from a passion for classic Disney, Japanese, and stop-motion animation to fandoms including Star Wars, Star Trek, SuperWhoLock, and Harry Potter.

And then there are her obsessions with Adam West’s “Batman” and “Magnum, P.I.” …

You’re definitely going to want to hear about that!

You’re a freelance illustrator who specializes in art for children. What are you currently working on, whether professionally or personally?

My current projects were Christmas-themed paintings for friends and family. I tried to choose animals that I knew each person thought was cute and then add little Christmas ornaments or decorations.  Thankfully, these were all finished in time for the holiday.

I am also trying to complete some newer illustrations that are mostly digital, or created in Adobe Photoshop. The last time I was able to create new images for my own portfolio that were not something a client designed was far too long ago.

I decided to take a few images I had sketched for some of these clients and use parts or sketches that were rejected but I still thought would be cute illustrations. I decided to place them on Society6 in hopes some might sell as gifts during the holiday season. I will have to continue to create more illustrations even after the season ends in hopes that I can revive my portfolio.

Twins Mei Stewart, left, and Mai Kemble.

Did you show artistic inclinations as a child? You have a twin, Mei Stewart. Is it true the two of you kind of existed in your own creative world?

Oh boy, did I ever! I always like to say that I drew as soon as I could hold a crayon. All of my family are excellent at drawing, although the interest was fiercest with myself and twin sister, Mei. I am not exaggerating when I say that our entire childhood consisted of drawing as much as we could.

We enjoyed drawing different characters and passing the sheet of paper between us as we staged the next part of the story … creating the story as we went and long into the night when we could. We were immersed in manga and comics, as well as other cartoons we liked to watch. Most of our early creations were like the modern day fan art/fan fiction, where you take an existing character and make up your own storyline. It helped us practice drawing and was a fun way to refine our skills.

Art by Mai Kemble.

When and why did you decide to pursue illustration as a career?

I walked the halls of the art department at my college and saw the illustration work up on the walls. I also began to go back to story that went along with images like the manga I used to read. I was older though and my interests weren’t exactly the same, though I wanted something that still held that imagination and story I used to love.

I decided to take a class on sequential art because I had heard that the assignments were challenging and also were about story. The professor became one of my personal heroes and showed us children’s books as examples for our assignments. It was a defining moment for me when I realized that this was the exact profession that held all aspects of what I loved about art.

My nephew also was born around this time and I became infatuated with him and all things related to children, now including the books. Illustration in general was interesting, but it was specifically children’s illustration that grabbed at my heart.

What was it about children’s art that appealed to you?

Children’s art is fundamentally bursting with imagination and challenge. Children’s minds are so wonderful because they just soak up everything shown to them and they are so delighted by art and story. You can make your art incredibly realistic or the completely opposite route and have stick figures — it doesn’t matter so long as it matches the story being told and makes a point to the child.

The challenge there is really to decide how best to approach each script or story and really make sure it reaches these children the best way possible. I love all the styles and approaches — the classics to the newer books. However, I think that what can only be found in children’s art is a kind of joy that relates specifically to the fact that you know your audience are children. They become a huge influence on how you approach your assignments and in that way it is unique.

A work in progress.

You earned a bachelor of fine arts in illustration at California State University, Long Beach. What was your experience of studying there like?

I have a soft spot in my heart for CSULB.  Although I really only liked the two or three years spent in the illustration department, it was like being surrounded by like-minded, mind-boggling talented people. Totally cool. Nothing beats being able to walk into a room and get instant feedback on your work. Nor being able to hang out with people who also get super excited seeing a well-executed illustration or design.

Mai and her husband, Joshua Kemble, indulge in a Star Wars selfie.

CSULB is also where you met your husband, comic book artist, illustrator, art director, and vlogger Joshua Kemble. What’s it like living with another artist?

Living with another artist is the only way to go if you are an artist. They will understand your deadlines, your weird hang-ups about brushes and paints to the type of lamp bulb you use. Of course, the other side to that is shared space in mostly small spaces is hard … as well as having weird quirky things, like not being able to work if there are certain tunes playing. I also like to have an organized workspace –including the surrounding space — and so seeing a messy desk across from me can make me totally freak out. I’ve learned to cope in that arena, mostly!

Your style is very sweet and whimsical and childlike. How did you develop it?

I believe it cannot help but be a bit manga, no matter how much I try to avoid it. I also had a lot of interest in animation movies, including Disney, so I was taught to make sure everything was very round and full when sketching characters.

I like cute. I like images that are sweet and make people happy. I also really love watercolor and that always invited a kind of brightness to my paintings that I enjoy. Although I am now trying to move away a bit from full and round to invite more flat, shape-based images, as well as other textures with the help of the computer, I still want to stay in the realm of sweet and whimsical.

Who and what are some of your influences?

To narrow it down quite a bit, I would say that Gyo Fujikawa, Mary Blair, Jon Klassen, Maurice Sendak, Tove Jansson, Masashi Kishimoto, Julia Denos, E.B. Goodale, Julie Morstad, and Ezra Jack Keats are the illustrators I spend a lot of time looking at.

Mai and her son, Benjamin, who is dressed as Max from “Where the Wild Things Are.”

For those of us who are unfamiliar with how illustration works, can you describe your process when you sit down to illustrate something?

It really depends on the assignment (book vs. single illustration) and whether it is personal or for a client, but I will try to narrow it down to the things that fall across all situations.

I spend time sketching … almost like brainstorming. I also look at tons and tons of images on the internet if it requires a certain animal or person to make sure I know any details that are important. I might print a sheet with several of these images on one page and pin it over where I draw and paint.

Once I finalize the image, I will transfer the image as best I can, using transfer wax sheets, to watercolor paper. Wax sheets are smooth on one side while the other is just smothered graphite (the stuff pencil lead is made of) so that when you press on the smooth side, it presses graphite onto your watercolor paper. It is hard to use and I feel like I still haven’t nailed down the best way to get my drawings/sketches to my painting sheets.

I spend time cleaning up this drawing and making sure it is perfect in pencil. Then I have to prepare my palette by wetting each color. I will paint all the larger or general spaces before working into the details. This is probably the hardest part as your painting can look pretty crappy during this phase — almost like mid-haircut.

Once all is painted, I might scan it and clean it up in Photoshop before sending the file to whomever or posting it somewhere online.

Mai’s home art studio.

Where do you find inspiration for the images you create?

Books and movies … memories of stories I love. Children that are in my life. I look at and read a lot of children’s books as well and so I sometimes imagine what I might have done if I were asked to illustrate the story instead.

What materials do you typically use?

I love watercolor, but I also like to use a mechanical pencil for any details or line work. I like using colored pencil on top of watercolor for textures, too. I want to get a bit more mixed media and use fabric pattern or paper textures in my work that I will do on the computer.

One of Mai’s children’s book illustrations in process.

You won an illustration contest in 2006 held by the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators. You were also one of their featured artists in 2008. What did it feel like to be honored in this way?

It was a long time ago now, but I was very surprised mostly. I didn’t see myself actually winning things that soon after graduating. I had a good feeling about the illustration when I submitted it, but I thought there certainly would be another that was better.  It was very flattering and a great push to do more.

You wrote and illustrated your own adorable book, “The Moon and the Night Sweepers,” which was published as part of a program for college students. It features a character modeled after your nephew and is obviously influenced by “Peter Pan,” “Mary Poppins,” and Japanese animation. Tell me more about that.

This book was supposed to be so much more in my mind’s eye. I really wanted a story that took elements of black and white movies — a mix of Buster Keaton meets Fred Astaire. I wanted it to have funny signs like they have in silent movies and have a sing-song feeling.

However, my lack of knowledge with publishing meant that I didn’t know how much the illustrator did and how much the book designer was supposed to add.  I thought that we would be working together on designing these extra elements not just text placement, etc.

However, that being said, it did still capture a lot of what I wanted the story to be about … especially since it did include pages with no text and some dancing and humming. The little boy is, indeed, my nephew at the same age, and the Night Sweeper is actually my Grandpa, who always had an adorable mustache.

I wanted them to come together and dance — tap dance, really — because it was something I loved. Much like the above mentioned “Mary Poppins,” I love musicals, especially ones aimed at children, and I really wanted my story to be that in a new genre. I also saw Maurice Sendak’s “The Night Kitchen” animated and I thought it was brilliant.

You’ve illustrated several other published children’s books, including “I’m So Not Wearing a Dress,” “I Can Speak Bully,” “Polka-dot Fixes Kindergarten,” and “Lou Lou.” What do you enjoy about the process of collaborating with an author on these kind of books?

Working with a book editor vs. the author are two different animals.

The first few were with publishers who had experienced book editors who understood story and pacing and how the pages printed, the page count, where text needed to fit, and were the best people. I could send them different sketches and they had good feedback and a good idea for what might sell as well. It was great fun being able to take these notes and revisit sketches before seeing these images in print.

Working with an author on other books was only harder because so many were unfamiliar with the little details that goes along with publishing books. Their stories and ideas were also precious and so often still evolving so there was a lot more editing than creating. I also didn’t feel like I had as much of a say in what worked because I felt I was more hired to do only exactly what they wanted — very few seemed interested in my influence.

That being said, some were incredibly motivated and passionate, which made it well worth it. You wanted to make something that made them happy and really nailed what they wanted their work to pair with.

You also freelance for a company that features your illustrations on fabric and clothing. What’s that like, seeing your creations on something people will wear?

I never really imaged anyone would print watercolor on fabric, so when I finally saw the clothing, I thought it was so cool. I was sent a sweater with one of my paintings and thought it was very unique and looked awesome. People kept asking where I got the sweater from, too, so I was pretty sure that people didn’t often see paintings on clothing.

A few of Mai’s pieces from Fadenrot.

What’s freeing about freelance, and what are the challenges of freelance?

Freelance means you are your own boss and the perks of that are being able to say “yes” and “no” when you want, as well as changing your style as you see fit. You decide everything. The challenges are then you must also manage money, scheduling, and be hunting for work. I think freelance along with a stable job is the best route, although there are some that think this will hinder your drive for work — like a crutch and keep you from getting better work.

If we wanted to purchase some of your art, where could we do that?

For prints or merchandise with my personal work: https://society6.com/maikemble.

For clothing with my paintings printed on them: https://de.dawanda.com/shop/fadenrot (note: not all images on the clothing are mine, as she hires many illustrators).

You’re a fan of animation. I know you like Laika (“Coraline,” “The Boxtrolls,” “Kubo and the Two Strings”), Aardman (“Wallace & Gromit,” “Shaun the Sheep”), and of course Disney. What do you like about this genre?

Well, mostly it is unique. Laika’s stop-motion has a tactile feel, much like hand-painting, that you cannot achieve with digital art … probably why I have avoided learning Photoshop for so long. All the characters are lovable and teach lessons that are worthwhile and not sugarcoated. Laika and Aardman didn’t avoid making the movies because it would be hard, but rather enjoyed making it the hard way … because it was the best way for the stories. I can appreciate that the most.

Disney animation is a mix for me only because the best stuff is, of course, the older movies because you see the drawing … and boy are they drawn well! Also, they are exceptional at background and color — just look at “Sleeping Beauty” or “Alice in Wonderland”! Each movie is specially designed and the drawings and backgrounds are untouchable when it comes to classic Disney.

Mai and Mei, dressed as Coraline and Wednesday Addams for Halloween.

You’re also very into Japanese animation. What are some of your favorite series, movies, and franchises?

Because I read manga as I grew up and less so now, my favorites are probably a bit dated. Ghibli anything of course has to make the list — who didn’t love “Spirited Away” or “Ponyo”?

Also Naruto (the manga more than the anime, and more Shippuden era), Deathnote (animated series — it is excellent), Saki Hiwatari’s Please Save My Earth (a romantic science fiction … although the manga is very good and probably better than the anime), Samurai Champloo and Cowboy Bebop, and Akira. I grew up watching Dragon Ball and stuff like Ranma 1/2 long before anyone knew about anime.

How did you become interested in this particular cultural art form? What do you love about it?

My mom is Japanese and we were attending Japanese language school every Saturday until we were sophomores in high school. The school had other students who were into manga and anime as well. We all visited the Japanese shopping center near our home, which had a video rental with recordings of Japanese TV shows, including anime, so we watched tons of these videos. We also had a little book store in the same center where we could buy or order manga.

We were interested because we loved the stories. Mei and I always loved the hero vs. the bad guy and all the corny stories that anime seemed to be steeped in. We liked the great friendships and the triumphs from enduring trials. We were very invested in these themes and cared deeply for every character’s tragedies and victories. We were nerds. We couldn’t help it.

As I mentioned, your husband is a comic artist. Are you into comics or comic books?

My love now is mostly children’s picture books, but I do enjoy reading comic books. I just don’t seem to gravitate toward that genre anymore unless someone else hands it to me.

Baby Benjamin does a little “Doctor Who” cosplay.

You’re into some seriously geeky stuff. For instance, you are a SuperWhoLock fan. What is it about those series that appeals to you?

I love a series that can take the corny messages and keep it cool. I like a show that can laugh at itself and its fans can laugh along with them. I also like that the shows are all intelligent. You have to follow some pretty fast-paced story arcs and know some history to appreciate the character’s situations.

But most of all, I love the friendships. They are totally saturated with the kind of faithful, self-sacrificing, heroic types of people that I grew up adoring when I was a little girl watching anime, where the good guy always wins. These people are always far from perfect, but their friendships are perfect because they make each other whole. Watching this makes me happy and I can’t get enough of it.

Who’s your Doctor?

Matt Smith, all the way.

Mai and husband Joshua Kemble.

You’re also a fan of mysteries in general, including “Columbo” and “Sherlock Holmes.” What do you like about mysteries?

Mysteries are fun because I like to try and solve them before the detective does … I like guessing whodun’it! I also like the quirks of the type of person that has this knack of solving horrible crimes and yet remains lovable and straight-laced. It is fun to watch them deliver their verdicts, see them watch people, and then reveal all that they saw that you didn’t. Fascinating!

Who’s your favorite Holmes?

Jeremy Brett.  It is hard to watch anyone else play Sherlock … although I have reasons for any exceptions. Benedict Cumberbatch’s “Sherlock” passes my grade because it is modernized and is well written.

Mai, dressed as Magnum P.I. for Halloween.

On another important subject, you are probably the world’s biggest “Magnum, P.I.” fan. What are your memories of watching that show? Why does it hold a special place in your heart?

Oh, Magnum … I fell in love with “Magnum, P.I.” because he uses words like “snacky-poo” while eating hot dogs and chill, but is still very intelligent. I began watching this show when my son was still only about a month old and during night feedings, I would watch Netflix. My husband actually showed me the first episode and I thought it was brilliant.

What an oddball storyline to have some mansion (owned by an author because authors can get this rich!) in Hawaii, of all places, with an ex-Navy officer now private investigator … but it works! The friendships between these characters, the silly personalities on the show are all so foreign to television that I see now.

It didn’t seem to pander to a stereotypical show and yet it had stereotypical things about it — like the busty ladies or the flashy car — because the busty lady would sometimes reveal to be the opposite of what you expect, while the flashy car isn’t even owned by Magnum, much to his chagrin. It is hilarious and lovable for these reasons and so much more.

You love Harry Potter. How did you discover J.K. Rowling’s series?

My sister and dad, oddly enough, were reading it before me when the first movie was going to be released in the theater. I finally decided to read the book after seeing the movie on DVD. Once that was rea. I had to read them all and still wish there were more. I cried when it was all over because I simply never wanted it to end.

What’s your Hogwarts house?

Gryffindor!

Art by Mai Kemble.

You’re one of those rare fans of both Star Wars and Star Trek. Tell me your personal Star Wars saga. How did George Lucas’ franchise change your life?

It’s really sad to me that so many choose to be one or the other when both are so awesome!  But, I can talk about Star Wars. My whole family, when I was little, watched the Star Wars trilogy on VHS obsessively.

I loved the idea of the force as well as the defeat of evil. I think that how the Force was described really described the same types of feelings you might feel when contemplating real life. I thought it made a lot of sense and made me want to find out what this world was all about — was there something like the Force in reality?  It sure felt like there was …  I think it made me think about the meaning of life, really. Sounds over the top, but it really did.

Which incarnation of Star Trek is your favorite and why?

The “Next Generation” is my favorite because of the crew! Although Kirk and Spock’s friendship is hard to beat, the other characters didn’t reach me as much. However, all the episodes and characters on “Next Generation” were less cheesy than the original Star Trek and gave screen time to every crew member. There were threats as big as Nero and Khan with the Borg and Q, and it also had the holodeck! It had a mix of female and male, old and young, alien and human that I think made this series the most rich.  And Patrick Stewart.

Benjamin as Batman, then and now.

You also have bonded with your son over the Adam West “Batman” TV series. Tell me about that.

This is so late in the game, but I remembered Josh liked the show … then I bought it as a gift for him. Adam West had also recently passed away when I bought it. We decided it was friendly enough for our 4-year-old and he immediately loved it as well.

It had all the same things I already loved but it was a Batman I never knew, for sure! I had seen Batman portrayed only in dark and serious ways, but this was by far the best. We enjoyed the weird scenarios and gadgets and the straight-faced delivery of “stay in school” type messages to the audience. Good fun. And our son thought Batman was cool because he wore a costume, which made it even more lovable.

Does your family share your love of geek culture? What are some of your shared and individual interests?

Mei and I were the only ones obsessed with anime and all its good-guy heroism. We all seem to like books, as all my family are avid readers of science fiction and fantasy. However, sadly, they do not like to cover their whole house in any merchandise related to these. My husband and my twin are the only other collectors and have statues and posters and clothing related to all our geeky interests.

Mai’s mantle at home reflects her family’s geekier interests.

What are some of your other personal fandoms?

I really like “Anne of Green Gables.” I have read the book many times, watched the series featuring Megan Follows, drawn Anne many times, and fantasize about wearing her clothes. I have a fascination for Victorian houses and love to look at pictures of them. I used to have a folder on my desktop of different ones I had collected off the internet, but sadly had to delete to make room for other things. I also really love looking at doll houses in this style. It probably stems from “Anne of Green Gables,” somewhere down the line, too.

Would you say that being an artist affects the way you consume or view geeky entertainment?

I am not sure if it affects my views because I’m not a snob (an art snob). I like a well-made movie or anytime design is thought-out and used well, but I can like things simply because it made me feel good.

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

I would like women to be able to be funny, gross, silly, demanding, and weird as much as possible. I adore a character that doesn’t seem to notice if she’s pretty. I would also like there to be more movies and stories that have the story be totally unrelated to love and have women main characters. I would like there to be card game swindlers, gun toting bad-asses that are solving crimes, etc., and have them all be women that don’t have to be face beautiful. Probably why I love “Bridesmaids” so much.

A portrait of Mai, in the style of Disney’s Haunted Mansion, painted by her husband, Joshua.

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

Maurice Sendak is having a new book out, post-death.

What’s your absolute favorite “Magnum, P.I.” episode?

The Christmas episode when they are stranded on an island that is used for test bombing … the ending is them flying away in TC’s helicopter singing carols while bombs are going off behind them. It’s the best. On a more serious note, there is an episode where Magnum is stuck miles out at sea, treading water, while his friends desperately try to find him.

Art by Mai Kemble.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Was there one interview in particular you geeked out over?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What did you enjoy most about the shoot?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can watch “Tenspotting” on Vimeo!

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

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

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

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

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

Who’s your Doctor?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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