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!

 

‘Tis the Season for Geeky Gifting: A Holiday Guide

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

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

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

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

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

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

There’s a Pop! for everyone.

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

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

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

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

The year’s geekiest movies.

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

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

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

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

Kingsman 2: The Golden Circle [Blu-ray]

For the indie movie fan:

Colossal [Blu-ray]

For the Marvel fan who likes it goofy:

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

For the moviegoer whose Spidey senses are tingling:

Spider-Man: Homecoming [Blu-ray]

For the emo X-Men enthusiast:

Logan [Blu-ray]

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

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

For the feminist action movie buff:

Atomic Blonde [Blu-ray]

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

Game of Thrones: The Complete Seventh Season

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

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

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

For the Lego lover who has everything. 

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

Image result for women of nasa lego set

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

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

Deck your geek in tacky sweaters. 

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

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

Star Wars Darth Vader Lack of Cheer Holiday Sweater

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

Firefly Holiday Sweater

Firefly Holiday Sweater.

Super Mario Bros. Holiday Sweater

Super Mario Bros. Holiday Sweater.

Wonder Woman Silhouette Sweater

Wonder Woman Silhouette Sweater.

And speaking of Wonder Woman …

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

Image result for wonder woman bomber jacket

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

Image result for wonder woman amazon princess handbag

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

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

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

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

For seekers of magical creatures.

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

Their are many wizardy critters to choose from, including:

Harry Potter Magical Creatures #1 Hedwig

Harry Potter Magical Creatures No. 1 Hedwig.

Harry Potter Magical Creatures No. 2 Dobby.

Niffler Magical Creature No. 1.

Gifting made easy and tropical breezy.

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

Among the many available fandoms:

Star Wars Geeki Tikis - Series 1

Star Wars Geeki Tikis — Series 1. 

Guardians of the Galaxy Geeki Tikis - Exclusive

Guardians of the Galaxy Geeki Tikis — Exclusive.

Star Trek: The Original Series Geeki Tikis

Star Trek: The Original Series Geeki Tikis. 

Inspire them to throw away that ratty T-shirt.

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

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

For the Disney fan:

Double-Edged Sword T-Shirt Mulan TeeTurtle

For the Star Wars fan:

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

For the Marvel (or Hiddles) fan:

Chaos and Destruction T-Shirt Marvel TeeTurtle

For the geek in need of Demotivation.

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

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

2018 ThinkGeek Despair Wall Calendar - Exclusive

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

Star Wars Wampa Cave Snow Globe

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

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

Dustin would love it.

Funko Stranger Things SuperCute Demogorgon Plush

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

The droids your kid is looking for. 

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

For the fashionista who’s one with The Force.

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

The best “Stranger Things” shirt ever?

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

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

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

Star Trek Picard Facepalm T-Shirt

Boba Fett fan, Orthodox Jew finds fun, acceptance as Mandalorian Merc

Boba Fett fans, you’re going to love this week’s edition of the Geek Goddess interviews.

Corinne Finkelstein was practically raised on Star Wars and, like many fans of the franchise, she was fascinated by a certain enigmatic bounty hunter.

One fateful day at WonderCon, she met members of the Mandalorian Mercs, a club that celebrates Star Wars through the creation and display of costumes representing Mandalorian characters and culture from George Lucas’ many sagas.

As an Orthodox Jew who abides by a strict set of religious rules, she worried she might not be able to meet the club’s costume requirements or be accepted by the other members. She quickly learned she had nothing to worry about as her fellow Mercs warmly embraced her, helping her create a unique costume and character that honored her religious beliefs.

Corinne went on to be accepted into one of the club’s elite brigades and now troops with her clan at charity and volunteer events around Southern California. She’s also become something of an expert on Mandalorian history and culture. (She really digs “Star Wars Rebels,” by the way.)

Her story suggests the ways of the Force can be a path to religious tolerance, even in our troubled galaxy.

How did you first learn about the Mandalorian Mercs Costume Club?

I first found out about them at WonderCon in Anaheim this year.

When did you join and why did you want to be part of the group?

I started asking questions right away to see if the religious requirements I had would be OK. I wanted to join because one, Boba Fett is my favorite, but also they were really nice when I chatted with them at the con. They were friendly, engaging, and seemed really fun and accepting. I joined the forum right away, became official about 2 1/2 months later, and became a brigade member six months later.

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

I was taken to see “A New Hope” when I was only 6 months old. It was the first movie my parents took me to. Truthfully, I was so young, I don’t ever remember a time without Star Wars. I have always loved Star Wars. I even had the old Atari game, so as far as I can remember, I have been obsessed.

So you’re a huge Boba Fett fan?

I am. I love everything Boba Fett, but as I have learned more about Mandalorian history, I have really come to admire Ursa Wren and Bo-Katan Kryze (of “Star Wars Rebels”).

For those who aren’t as familiar with Star Wars, what is a Mandalorian?

Mandalorians are predominantly human (and) originated on the planet Mandalorian. They have their own culture and language that is different than the basic spoken in much of the Star Wars galaxy. There are, however, other races that chose to join the Mandalorian culture, as one major saying is, “Family is more than blood.”

They have a very civilized culture and a very strong legacy. They can be found on a few different planets throughout history and primarily are a civilization that puts family and honor first. They were widely regarded to be the most feared warriors in the galaxy and had a love for single combat. The most precious item a Mandalorian owned was their armor.

What requirements must potential members meet in order to join the Mandalorian Mercs?

The requirements to join the mercs: basically be over 18 (though we have a junior group that the kiddos can join once their parents are official members), be a member on the forum, and pass the costuming requirements set out by the approval team. This includes Mandalorian armor, other requirements like weapons, and soft goods (textiles).

Before you joined, you were concerned because you are an Orthodox Jew. What were some of your specific concerns?

My biggest concerns were the modesty standards. I am not allowed to touch gentlemen other than my husband or immediate family, and since I am married, I am required to cover my hair in mixed company. I also must keep anything above my elbows and knees, as well as my collarbone, covered and must wear female clothing. I am not allowed to wear pants, only skirts.

I also can’t troop or do events during Shabbat (Friday night around sundown to Saturday night an hour past sundown) so I was worried I wouldn’t get to do anything. Plus, I keep strict kosher (religious dietary laws) and I thought they would find that strange and maybe not accept me.

You said the members of the Mercs were “really accepting,” and that you were able to create a “kit,” or costume, that worked for them and you. Tell me how you arrived at that happy compromise.

I was so lucky. They were! First off, they were all really respectful of my restrictions. I explained to them and, truthfully, the whole clan and members of the approval team had suggestions to help. I also had to have females from the clan help me with placement of my armor since that needs to be done on the body.

The club was a concern since one of the requirements was knee armor. And a flight suit. Since flight suits are pants, I was able to wear leggings, make a skirt that looked like two pieces — loincloth for the front and Kama (command skirt) for the back — and made “shnees” — knee and shin pads — together. That way, I would have the knee requirements covered, but since I can’t show my knees, the approval team could see they were one piece attached to the shins. Also my loincloth and Kama are much longer than normal to cover up my knees.

Mandalorian Mercs encourage a fair amount of creativity and individualism when designing one’s kit. Tell me about the process of creating your armor.

I looked at pictures of the current female mercs. Looked at what I liked and what I didn’t. Picked a color scheme I loved and drew some inspiration sketches. I also wanted to keep it very feminine, so I added some pieces on top of the chest plate that add to the femininity. From there, it was a lot of work to get the weathering right, the color scheme right and to make sure it also wasn’t too flashy where it became immodest and drew attention to certain areas.

Did you have to research or learn about Mandalorian culture and history during this process?

I really learned a lot! Before, I was a fan, but I had no idea of the details in the culture, from the language, to the value system, to the belief system. I was able to do a great deal of research and was continually surprised with the beautiful culture that was very similar to my own.

Does your character have a name and/or backstory?

My character does have a name. It’s S’keara Charev. It’s inspired by the Hebrew words for “Hired Sword.” In my brigade profession, I am an acquisition operative. It’s my job to steal things for the highest bidder, be that Imperial plans, Kyber Crystals, relics, or anything else that needs to be liberated from its current owner.

My character lost her parents young, and was pretty much a loner until she found love. After this, she and her love were accepted by a clan and now, she makes a lucrative living. (It’s also nice when she can throw a wrench in the wheels of the Empire from time to time.)

After you were approved for official membership in the Mercs, you applied for a brigade membership. Tell me more about that.

Fortunately, my armor was designed with the brigade specs in mind (It’s different for each profession.), but I did have to add a lot of tools to my kit. I had to upgrade all my weapons, and everything had to be top quality.

I worked with my brigade marshal to make sure things were going in the right direction. It was a bit of a challenge as all my tools really had to look amazing and being a brigade member is a big honor. After about three months of working on my upgrades, I became a member of the Special Operations Brigade.

The Mercs are grouped into clans. Where is your clan based and what is its name? Is it a large group?

My clan’s name is Manda’galaar. It kind of translates to “Heaven Hawk.” Mandalorians don’t really have a word for heaven so this word is used for soul or spirit. We consider ourselves the “guardians of all things Mandalorian.” We have  68 (I think) members currently and our range is Los Angeles, Orange, San
Bernadino, Riverside, and Ventura counties.

Corinne Finkelstein plays water balloon toss at a picnic with children from a pediatric burn unit at a local hospital.

Charity and volunteer work is a big part of the Mercs’ mission. What are some of the events your clan has participated in?

This is the best part of being a merc! The charity work! I have been able to participate in Star Wars days for a special needs children’s camp, science night at elementary schools, our clan does reading days at the library and children’s events at the zoos. They have even gone to visit sick children in hospitals.

Have you attended any conventions?

I have. Comic Con Palm Springs, Stan Lee’s Los Angeles Comic Con, Comic Con Revolution, Ontario. So a few.

How do people tend to react when you guys show up in your armor?

They really like it. The kids go crazy and think it’s the coolest thing. The adults really like it as well and we get a lot of compliments. Sometimes, we look intimidating but we try, especially for the kiddos, to show them we’re nice.

Are there many female members in the Mandalorian Mercs?

There are a lot of females. Being Mandalorian and being a merc are not gender specific. There are a lot of really amazing female kits out there, and I have made some amazing friends from this.

Corinne poses with a group of kids, troopers from the 501st Legion and Rebel Legion, and the Mandalorian Mercs at an event for children with special needs.

As far as you know, you’re the only Orthodox Jewish woman in the mercs and the only Orthodox Jew in the brigades. What is that like for you?

I think it’s a really cool privilege. There are some times that events will pop up on Shabbat and I would really love to go, but can’t. So sometimes, I wish more things were on Sunday, but the whole clan really includes me!

They even gave me a nickname. I was looking for something in one of the baskets of food we were given and I found a granola bar that was kosher. I got really excited and said, “Yes, it’s kosher!” And one of my clanmates said, “That’s it … we will call you the Kosherlorian!”

I love it and it was so cool that they accepted me like that. They ask questions about my religion and culture and now they get super excited when they find something kosher. I have had a couple of them come up and say, “Look, I found the mark, its kosher, you can eat this,” and they are really excited. It’s a truly special group of people.

Corinne does a craft with Princess Leia (Jennifer Joan) at a camp for special needs children.

Do you draw any parallels between Judaism and the ways of the Force?

I do, actually. There is a philosophy in Judaism called “tikkun olam,” which means, “repair the world.” It’s the idea that as a Jewish person, you bear the responsibility not only for you and your family’s wellbeing but for society’s welfare too. I think that the Jedi especially try to do this. You see things in a broader perspective, there is a mystical side to this as well. So I think a lot of ideas parallel.

What does your Rabbi think of your involvement in the Mandalorian Mercs?

I have full support! It’s a chance to do great charity work and acts of kindness for strangers, which is a major tenant of our faith. And it also allows other people to get to know me and maybe learn about my faith since most people don’t really know any Orthodox Jews. As long as I observe what our faith prescribes, then it’s a great thing.

With all the spin-offs Disney is planning for the Star Wars franchise, would you like to see one about Boba Fett and the Mandalorians?

100%, yes!

The animated “Star Wars Rebels” series has delved a bit into Mandalorian culture. Are you a fan of that series?

I love “Rebels” and really like their showing of Mandalorian culture.

You are also a “Lord of the Rings” fan. How were you drawn to J.R.R. Tolkien’s series? How does your love of “LOTR” manifest itself in your life?

“The Silmarillion” is my favorite book ever, but I reread all the books at least once a year. I also love the movies and watch them every chance I can. I also do other sewing projects where I make costumes for horseback, and a lot of my designs could be considered Elvish inspired.

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

I discovered the movies first, and as hard as it was, tried to read the books after the movies to avoid spoilers.

What’s your Hogwarts house?

Gryffindor.

You also mentioned you love “anything vampire.” What are some of your favorite series/franchises/stories in this genre?

I love Bram Stoker’s original. We also have a vintage-inspired “Nosferatu” poster in our bedroom. I loved “Interview with a Vampire” and “Van Helsing,” as well as a couple others.

What is it about vampire mythology that fascinates you?

I really think it’s fascinating that most cultures have a legend of the vampire in some form. Everyone has a myth of the undead. It’s very interesting.

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

I think I would really love to see a bit more modesty and respect. What I mean is, women can be awesome regardless of how much skin they show or don’t show. Not everyone has to have this ideal body style with plunging necklines. I would like women to be just as valued (if not more so) for their minds and abilities rather than their looks.

Is there anything else we should know about you in terms of fandoms, personal interests, work, or life?

As far as work, I just started a custom sewing business. I love to ride horses, and if you see someone who has a different religion, ask them about it. I have felt so loved with my clan and others I have trooped with respectfully asking me about my religion. It has been an honor to have them learn about mine while I learned about theirs. I think it promotes tolerance and acceptance, which is desperately needed, especially now.

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

“The Last Jedi”!

Photos courtesy of Chief Geek Photography, Brent Rudmann, Kristina Gunderson-Rudmann.

About the Geek Goddess Interviews:

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

Animator, dinosaur enthusiast lives geek life to the fullest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Art by Christine Simon.

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

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

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

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

Art by Christine Simon.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are there many women in the field of animation?

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

Art by Christine Simon.

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

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

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

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

I sew more than monkeys!

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

Art by Christine Simon.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Art by Christine Simon.

What’s your earliest Star Wars memory?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s your Hogwarts house?

I’m proudly a Hufflepuff.

Have you been to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter?

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

Art by Christine Simon.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A dino-themed photo from Christine’s wedding.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why do you associate yourself with Scully?

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

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

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

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

Hands down, No. 10 — David Tennant.

Christine with animation writer-director John Musker at D23.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is the truth really out there?

Absolutely.

About the Geek Goddess Interviews:

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Were you always interested in working in the film industry?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What do you enjoy most about your work?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Did you get to meet Peter Jackson?

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

Elaine encounters a troll at Weta.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are there many women in your line of work?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What do you like about the series?

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

Who should sit on the Iron Throne?

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

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

Of course! It was a long time coming!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Winter is coming. Got any big plans?

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

About the Geek Goddess Interviews:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s your dream career or literary aspiration?

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

What are some of your favorite books of all time?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Caitlin Hawkins with her reading buddy, Phoebe.

What are you reading right now?

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

What’s on your to-be-read pile?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THEY ARE SO GOOD.

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

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

Are you looking forward to the TV adaptation?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who is your Doctor?

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

Are you looking forward to the upcoming Season 11?

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

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

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

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

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

Do you tend to be a book hoarder in general?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Favorite book?

“Prisoner of Azkaban” has always been my favorite.

Favorite character?

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

Hogwarts house?

Proud Ravenclaw, married to a Gryffindor.

Have you visited the Wizarding World of Harry Potter?

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

Wizarding subject you’d most like to study?

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

Favorite magical creature?

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

Caitlin and Erin go looking for some Fantastic Beasts.

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

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

Worst movie?

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

Most devastating character death?

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

Favorite Harry Potter item you own?

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

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

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

About the Geek Goddess Interviews:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cambrya Hobart as Avatar Aang.

Caylen Hobart as Katara.

Adalyn Hobart as Toph.

Brynna Hobart as Prince Zuko.

Brylee Hobart as Uncle Iroh.

Ambrey Hobart as Princess Azula.

Dina Hobart as Suki.

The group with Dad Dale Hobart as Sokka.

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