Here at No Man’s Land, we like to celebrate the groundbreaking and historic achievements of women in Hollywood because, let’s face it, the industry remains notoriously male dominated. At this point, any victory, even the smallest, can feel monumental.
Over the last few weeks, a lot has happened worth celebrating, so let’s break out the champagne and party poppers!
The first reason we have to say “Yay!” is an exciting new trend in the television industry that has resulted in the hiring of dozens of female directors.
“A Wrinkle in Time” director Ava DuVernay got the ball rolling by hiring women to direct every episode of the first two seasons of “Queen Sugar,” a move supported by executive producer Oprah Winfrey. Five of the seven directors featured in the first season were new to episodic television. The roster included women of color from diverse filmmaking backgrounds.
DuVernay, who got her big break directing an episode of “Scandal” for show-running legend Shonda Rimes, recently announced she’ll continue this all-female streak for the third season of “Queen Sugar.” And she’s inspired other TV producers to follow suit.
The second season of Marvel’s “Jessica Jones,” which premiered on Netflix in March, featured all women directors, thanks to the efforts of showrunner Melissa Rosenberg.
According to a recent L.A. Times article, Rosenberg’s initial goal was to hire a directing team that was 50% female. After taking her plan to Netflix Vice President of Original Series Allie Goss, they decided to go all in.
“I’ve been on 25 years of shows and nine times out of 10, those directing staffs are all white men,” Rosenberg said. “So why not all women?”
The makers of Marvel’s “Luke Cage” also recently announced that women, including actor Lucy Liu, “Queen Sugar” vet Neema Barnette and “Eve’s Bayou” helmer Kasi Lemmons, would make up approximately half their directing team for Season 2.
According to the L.A. Times, other shows, including “The Deuce,” “Jane the Virgin,” “Transparent,” and “The Handmaid’s Tale,” have designated women to direct at least half of the series’ episodes.
While a couple of recent studies found that women directed only about 7% of the top-grossing movies last year, 21% of all TV episodes were directed by women, an increase of 7% from 2015-16. There’s still a lot of growth that needs to happen, but it’s certainly an encouraging trend.
And, yes, even though there has been some good news out of Hollywood lately regarding female filmmakers, the movie industry can do better.
We’ll begin our celebration of positive developments with last month’s news that DuVernay is slated to direct an adaptation of Jack Kirby’s “The New Gods” for DC.
After helming “A Wrinkle in Time” for Disney, DuVernay is more than qualified to direct a big-budget comic book movie. As the first woman of color to direct a DC superhero film, she should inject some much-needed diversity and energy into an uneven franchise.
Last week, DuVernay was one of the first people to break the news via Twitter that “Star Wars: Episode IX” is making history by hiring Victoria Mahoney as second unit director for the film. (A second unit director is responsible for supplementary footage and maintaining the film’s look and continuity.)
DuVernay, who is a friend of “Episode IX” first unit director J.J. Abrams, tweeted: “Happy to share this historic news. A black woman directing stories in a galaxy far, far away.”
Mahoney has enjoyed a successful career in television, directing episodes of “The Misfits,” “Claws,” “Grey’s Anatomy,” and “Queen Sugar,” as well as the TV movie “Red Line.”
It’s great that Lucasfilm has embraced a woman of color as a director, even if many of us still think it’s high time they entrusted first unit duties to a female filmmaker.
In other heartening Hollywood news, screenwriter Christina Hodson has been hired to pen DC’s upcoming Batgirl movie, which the studio appeared to put on ice after the departure of Joss Whedon.
The “Avengers” writer-director’s presence on the film had become something of a feminist nightmare after his ex-wife’s revelations about his treatment of women.
Hiring a woman to flesh out the story of one of the comic book world’s most famous and complicated superheroines would seem like an obvious advantage, but studio executives don’t always see it that way, so Whedon’s exit and Hodson’s entrance come as a relief.
Hodson’s previous projects include “Transformers” spinoff “Bumblebee,” to be released in December. She also scripted DC’s untitled Harley Quinn movie, which is speculated to be based on the popular all-female Birds of Prey comic book team.
DC announced last week that the untitled Harley Quinn project will be directed by Cathy Yan, a former journalist who earned acclaim for “Dead Pigs,” her directorial debut and a Sundance Film Festival hit.
In an industry in which there are very few Asian directors in general, Yan will make history as the first Asian-American woman to helm a potential comic book blockbuster.
With Yan on board, along with DuVernay and Patty Jenkins, returning to oversee “Wonder Woman 2,” DC is shaping up to be a strong champion of women in the director’s chair. It can only bode well for the success of the franchise and for representation in Hollywood.
While I’m excited about the baby steps we’re seeing in the daunting quest to solve Hollywood’s gender parity problem, there’s still a massive amount of change required.
We live in an America where there is basically only one Ava DuVernay and one Patty Jenkins in comparison to dozens of Steven Spielbergs and J.J. Abramses.
Women make up 50% of moviegoers but only 8% of movie directors, only five women have ever been nominated for a best picture Oscar, and women accounted for a meager 24% of protagonists in the top-grossing films of last year. (For more sobering stats, check out the Women and Hollywood website.)
Here’s hoping the industry keeps the momentum going when it comes to hiring women to write and direct so someday we can celebrate female filmmaking triumphs without reservation.
A clinical psychologist, Melanie Cancino is busy racking up the hours she needs to apply for her license, so you wouldn’t think she’d have time to create the cute-as-a-button, fandom-inspired jewelry and other baubles featured in her Etsy shop, FemmeDeBloom.
Inspired by her love of Paris, FemmeDeBloom is a veritable garden of handmade geeky goodies, from porg pins, to Mickey Mouse “sweater guards,” to shiny accessories featuring “Stranger Things,” “Parks and Recreation” and Marvel superheroes, to the most adorable earrings featuring famous Disney character couples (like Miguel and Dante from “Coco”).
Melanie’s irresistible wares are infused with the vintage style she inherited from her mother and grandmother and that she has learned to embrace in her everyday life as a fun, confidence-boosting mode of self-expression.
A self-professed “geek from the womb” and daughter of a librarian, Melanie has been a bookworm since childhood with an appreciation for comic books, from superhero fare to more serious graphic novels. She’s also a Riverdale ‘shipper, a Potter-phile, and a diehard Disney enthusiast.
Read more about how this fashionista, foodie, and intersectional feminist encourages her customers to express their love for their fandoms. (And check out her blog too!)
You have an Etsy shop, FemmeDeBloom, where you sell adorable handmade and vintage jewelry. It features a lot of Disney-themed items, but also other fandoms, including Star Wars, “Stranger Things,” and “Parks and Recreation.” How and when did you first begin making jewelry?
My mom introduced me to DIY projects and crafting at an early age so making things has always been a big part of my life so I guess I would say it started when I was kid making beaded jewelry, friendship bracelets, and some clay stuff!
Where do you draw your ideas and design inspiration from?
EVERYTHING THAT I LOVE! This is what I love about having a shop! It is such a fun way to share my love of different fandoms with others and to know I’m not alone in my obsessions. Everything in my shop is inspired by something I love, whether it’s a fandom, color, food, etc.
You started your shop about four years ago. What led you to this decision?
Around five years ago, I started my Etsy shop with Disney-inspired Christmas ornaments because I had made them for my friends the year before and they loved them. I was also unemployed because of starting my doctoral program and I needed additional income so I figured I would give it a shot. The ornaments were surprisingly popular and sold much better than expected! I had so much fun with my Etsy shop those first couple months and wanted to keep it going so I started experimenting with jewelry that I could sell all year. I slowly started adding new jewelry pieces as I experimented with different mediums and the shop just grew from there.
I love your shop’s name. How did you come up with that?
I love everything Parisian and French and I wanted to incorporate something French in the name of the shop, which is why I thought of using the word “Femme,” which means “woman.” Then I thought of “bloom” because I love everything floral and floral print and I also consider myself a woman who is always “in bloom,” e.g. changing, evolving and growing. So basically I put the two together! Grammatically, it doesn’t completely translate to “woman in bloom” perfectly in French because that would be “Femme En Bloom,” but FemmeDeBloom sounds better so I stuck with that, haha!
What items tend to be the biggest sellers in your shop? Do your products appeal to a particular demographic?
The biggest sellers in the shop are usually fandom-inspired pieces for underappreciated characters or characters that you don’t find a lot of merch for. Recently, the Robin Hood and Maid Marian inspired couples pin was really popular and that makes me happy because it’s one of my favorite movies!
In addition, the themed vintage brooch collections I have added to the shop have sold out fairly quickly! As far as demographic, I think my shop attracts primarily females, but I do have male customers/items as well! The age demographic is pretty broad because the fandoms that inspire my jewelry are loved by so many people.
Tell me a little bit about what goes into the process of designing and producing one of your pins or jewelry items? What techniques and materials do you use?
Well, I use several different mediums for my products including shrink film, fabric that I print myself, and clay/resin. The process is different for each piece and it’s kind of lengthy but it always started with an idea! I have lists of different ideas and collections in my shop and sometimes it’s overwhelming because I want to execute all of them.
As for the shrink film pieces, it starts with a digital design that I hand-cut and shrink with a heat gun. I then glaze them twice with acrylic seal/resin and add the backing. With fabric printing, it also starts with a digital design but I print it myself, which is a secret process because it took me forever to perfect! I then use fabric cover buttons for the earrings/necklaces. With clay, I primarily use molds and FIMO or Sculpey clay and glaze with resin.
Where do you get your love of vintage style from?
Definitely from my mom and grandma! My grandmother was a buyer for a department store in the ‘50s and ‘60s and at a young age she would show me photos of her outfits and the different styles she would buy. She also saved some of my mother’s clothes growing up and I inherited them when I got older which was super cool. I also grew up watching old movies with my mom, which definitely is a source of inspiration for me.
You have a blog in which you showcase your own striking vintage style and offer fashion reviews. How did you become interested in fashion? What do you enjoy about it?
Fashion has always been a weird thing for me. As a kid, I struggled with wanting to wear things that I wanted and felt comfortable in vs. what everyone else was wearing. For a while in elementary school, I was obsessed with long T-shirts that I got from the 5 for $10 store and biker shorts and that’s all I wanted to wear (with coordinating colors and shoes of course) but I was made fun of and I remember a girl specifically told me I looked “stupid.”
After that, I feel like I oscillated between wearing what I wanted and “fitting in.” I had periods where I only wore what was trendy and then periods where I did my own thing (e.g., my crazy punk-rock phase in high school and the period of time where I wore only clothes from thrift/vintage stores). In my 20s, I continued to struggle with finding a style that “fit” for me and, now that I think about it, things began to change when I started my Etsy shop.
I was introduced to the world of Disneybounding and learned of all these super-cute vintage inspired small businesses that sold adorable clothes that I fell in LOVE with. I also met people (online and off) who liked the same style as me. It really inspired me to seek after and wear what I love and what makes me feel good about myself. What I enjoy about fashion is how it can express a part of who I am and represent what I love, while also contributing to my self-confidence.
Have you always been into geeky things? What’s your geek origin story?
TBH, I think I came out of the womb a geek, haha. I’ve always been a bit nerdy, starting with my infatuation with books and reading. This came from my mom who is a librarian and also loves books. Reading opened up my world to more geeky things and I’ve been livin’ that geeky life with for as long as I can remember.
Your shop features a Superhero Collection. How did you become interested in comic book characters?
My interest in comic books started around eighth grade when one of my friends introduced me to the Batman comics. I started reading Marvel comics after that as well and my friend and I used to write and draw our own comics about ourselves. I then became interested in graphic novels during college, when I took a class on them for my English major. That opened me up to a world of graphic novels about more serious topics (e.g. “Persepolis,” “Maus”) and it was awesome.
Who are some of your favorite superheroes?
My favorite superheroes are Wonder Woman, Mystique from X-Men, and Shuri from Black Panther. I LOVE female superheroes because they are often underrepresented or misrepresented in the comic book world, which makes me sad. I think there is now a bigger female fan base for superheroes so I’m hoping that more females begin to get their own movies and become more integral to storylines, rather than just being side characters or the romantic interest.
You also have a Femme Foodie Collection. Are you a foodie in real life?
Yes, yes, yes. I am a huge foodie! Eating is my second favorite thing to do after sleeping. I love dessert but I also love savory foods and I pretty much like everything. I don’t discriminate! I also love trying new food places or novelty dessert shops.
I personally love your Girl Power Collection. Why is girl power important?
Aww, yay. My Girl Power collection makes me so happy! I consider myself an intersectional feminist, which means that I believe in the empowerment and equal treatment of all people regardless of not just gender/sex, but also sexual orientation, gender identity, race/ethnicity, social class, disability status and the other factors that lead to marginalization in our society.
So for me, the girl power collection is about empowerment and challenging the standards of normality. I definitely plan to add a lot more to this collection because I have so many ideas! I hope to also use the collection to raise awareness and funds for several organizations that support marginalized groups.
As a woman, is there anything you’d like to see change in the world of fandoms?
Definitely. I would really like to see more diversity in regards to females represented in all fandoms. I would actually like to see more diversity in general in fandoms and I think we are headed in that direction, I just hope it continues to increase!
You’ve designed a fair amount of Star Wars jewelry. What are your thoughts on the upcoming Han Solo movie?
I AM SO EXCITED. I tend to be excited about anything Star Wars and I don’t listen to anything anyone says when it comes to criticism about the new movies. I just enjoy them. Well, with the exception of Jar Jar Binks, haha. I am very excited about it and am already brainstorming some Solo-themed ideas for the shop before it comes out!
Porgs? Yes or no?
YASSSS. Omg, I love them and I want one for a pet! I have one porg pin/earrings in the shop but I think I may be making more porg-themed things because I love them!
What was your introduction to Star Wars?
I honestly don’t remember the first time I watched a Star Wars movie because I literally don’t remember a time where I didn’t know what Star Wars was. Therefore, I’m pretty sure my parents and I watched the original Star Wars movies when I was like 4-5 years old. All I know is I rewatched the original trilogy over and over as a kid and my cousins and I had our own Star Wars Fan Club with a theme song. So there’s that.
Of all the movies, which one is your favorite?
“Return of the Jedi” forever!
Are you a “Last Jedi” lover or hater?
I loved it! As I said, I love them all. There are things here and there I wasn’t crazy about but I overall thoroughly enjoyed it and can’t wait for the next one!
Of course, your shop leans heavily toward Disney-themed jewelry. What was your introduction to the world of Disney?
Similar to Star Wars, I don’t remember a time where I didn’t know what Disney was. My parents got me a VHS tape (I’m aging myself) of the Silly Symphony cartoons and the old Disney cartoons as a kid and I used to watch them over and over! That’s how I fell in love with Donald Duck, who is my favorite forever. I have an old video of me at my first Disney trip at 4 years old and I’m fixated on finding Donald to the point where my Dad had to turn off the camera because I wouldn’t shut up about it!
You visited Disneyland Paris on your honeymoon last year. Tell me about that. What were some of your strongest impressions of that particular park?
Yes, I did and it was super fun! I did not get to experience as much of the park as I would have liked because my husband and I were pretty tired but I still had a great time! So my thoughts on the park … the Anaheim Space Mountain is better, Disney Paris has the CUTEST decor and I love the teacups, I love that Tower of Terror is still ther, and they have good dessert. Also the castle is super pretty. That’s all I got!
What are your favorite Disney movies, characters, attractions, etc.?
This is such a hard question for me because I really do love so many of them! So excuse me if I over-answer this question.
Top Five Disney movies: “Beauty and The Beast”; “Aladdin”; “Fox and The Hound”; “Robin Hood”; “Mary Poppins.”
Top Three Pixar movies: “Up”; “Coco”; “Inside Out.”
Favorite Characters: Donald Duck and Belle.
Attractions: Tower of Terror, but also the Guardians of the Galaxy ride is awesome; Big Thunder Mountain and Peter Pan.
Why do you gravitate toward Disney-themed designs?
Because I love all things Disney and themed outfits/Disneybounding so many of the accessories I make are for that purpose. Accessorizing is my favorite things to do!
You’re a clinical psychologist doing your post-doctoral residence to complete your hours to apply for your license. How on Earth do you find the time to run FemmeDeBloom as well?
I am indeed! This is a great question and I get asked this a lot and honestly it’s because I really love FemmeDeBloom. While part of me is extroverted, I am also an introvert and get my energy from being alone. Doing crafts and making things is my time to spend with myself and it’s a relaxing thing for me! I can also watch Netflix or listen to audiobooks at the same time so it’s kind of fun! I also have help from my husband now, which has been really cool, and my best friend Jade. I do wish I had a little more free time because I spend a lot of time working but this is temporary since I need hours right now for my license.
This might be a stretch, but do you feel like your experience in clinical psychology gives you any unique insights into fandoms or geek culture?
Not a stretch at all! I actually think it does as far as being aware of how social issues play into the stories/characters within fandoms. I think the awareness I’ve gained about the human experience and diversity has played into how I engage in the different fandoms I’m into. I’m always open to critiquing different portrayals of characters and just having discussions about people’s views on things. It also works the other way because I think my creativity and using my creative self has also made me a better, more flexible psychologist. I’ve also found ways to introduce music and art therapy with my patients, which I am really thankful for!
You’re a fan of “Riverdale.” Why does that series appeal to you?
Well, I grew up loving Archie comics so I think that is the reason I watched in the first place. I don’t know what it is about Riverdale but I just get sucked in. I like the darkness of it and although some of it is super cheesy at times, it’s just really fun to watch.
Who do you ‘ship on that show?
Ugh, this is hard. I feel like I’ve changed my mind a lot on this. But right now I definitely like Bughead (Betty and Jughead) together and I don’t know how I feel about Veronica and Archie, aka Varchi, because I feel like she’s a bad influence on him. My newest favorite couple is Cheryl and Toni, aka Choni. They are so cute!
Another of your fandoms is Harry Potter. What’s your Hogwarts house?
So I’ve taken the Pottermore test twice, three years apart. I was initially a Gryffindor but more recently a Hufflepuff. So I guess I’m a Griffinpuff?
How were you introduced to J.K. Rowling’s series?
I actually started with the movies because my little cousin at the time was obsessed with Harry Potter. I watched the first one and fell in love so I started reading the books and following the movies after that!
You’re a book lover, so it’s no suprise FemmeDeBloom also happens to have a Bookworm Collection. What first sparked your love of reading?
So I think I said this already above but credit for this is 100% from my mom. She is a book lover and librarian and introduced me to the love of reading very early on. We still read books at the same time on purpose and talk about them!
What are some of your favorite titles?
My favorite childhood book is “Little Women.” My favorite book of all time is “Les Miserables” by Victor Hugo (not the abridged version!). I love pretty much every genre but I lean towards young adult novels, mysteries, memoirs of people I am interested in and historical fiction. I also like sci-fi. Okay, I just like reading it all!
Some of my recent favorites that I’ve read are “The Lady Black Unicorn” by Tiffany Haddish, “Every Day” by David Levithan, “The Hate U Give” by Angie Thomas, “Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda,” and “Kitchens of the Great Midwest” by J. Ryan Stradal.
Do you have a lot of books in your house?
Not as many as I would like to. I need some better bookcases! I have a lot of my books in storage right now.
You got married last year. Does your husband share your love of geeky things? What are some of your shared interests and activities?
My husband does share some of my geeky love, including superheroes/comics (He knows way more than I do!), Star Wars, and Game of Thrones. We both love watching movies so that is something we do together a lot, whether at home or at the theater for date night. I also got him into Harry Potter so we watched all of the movies together.
For your honeymoon, you took a trip to Europe. Aside from Disneyland Paris, did you visit any other geeky sites?
Well, we did visit a bunch of museums which is kind of geeky? The last time I went to Europe was a little more on the geeky side because I visited Victor Hugo’s grave (writer of “Les Mis”) and visited the pub where C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkein wrote and hung out! For my honeymoon trip, we visited the Moulin Rouge for a show which was so cool! But yeah, not as geeky.
What’s left on your geek bucket list?
Do a Harry Potter, Beatles, and Downton Abbey tour in England.
Write a book.
Visit Disney World.
Visit the Hobbit holes in New Zealand.
Go to WonderCon one of these years.
Visit a cat cafe in Japan.
Go on a Disney cruise.
Make everything in my Star Wars and “Gilmore Girls” cookbook.
Go to Disneyland on May 4th.
Take a tour of Lucasfilm.
Participate in a zombie run.
I’m sure there are more but these are off the top of my head.
Do you have any future goals or dreams for FemmeDeBloom or your jewelry designs?
My only is to continue making new collections and sharing my ideas with people. I hope to continue meeting new kindred spirits and learning about other small businesses that I can support.
“Daydream and paint” is the slogan of artist Megan Chaney’s Etsy shop, ChaneyAtelier.
Fueled by her imagination and a desire to let others experience this fantastical inner world, she creates magical paintings and whimsical pins, often inspired by the fandoms she loves, including Disney, Game of Thrones, Studio Ghibli, and Star Wars.
At the age of 12, the gift of a beautiful wooden easel from her parents started her down the road to the artistic life. A Disney fan since the days of “The Little Mermaid,” she discovered she could make her own Magic Kingdom-themed accessories for much cheaper than theme park prices.
When she’s not studying art at the University of California, Bakersfield, or teaching kindergarten, Megan is fangirling over Marvel, video games, artists who stream on Twitch, Chris Pratt, and tall, dark, handsome Jedi-gone-bad Kylo Ren.
Meanwhile, she’s dreaming of the day when she can dedicate herself solely to art. “We live such boring, mundane lives and we forget what makes life fun and enchanting,” she says.
Megan’s creations are definitely helping to combat that problem.
You’re an artist who sells your pins, paintings, and other creations on your Etsy shop, ChaneyAtelier. Have you always had artistic inclinations?
I’ve always been interested in art, though, my skills were definitely learned over time.
How and when did you get serious about art?
When I was 12, my parents got me a beautiful wooden easel with a large paint set for Christmas. It was my most prized possession and I was so proud to own such nice tools that I painted vigorously ever since. I still use that easel today!
A lot of your Etsy products are fandom-related (Disney, Game of Thrones, Rick and Morty, etc.). Tell me your geek origin story. Were you into geeky things as a child?
As a kid, I was obsessed with Disney. I had Disney princesses on my walls and would watch “The Little Mermaid” on repeat. My younger brothers were interested in the more boyish shows like Pokemon so I’d watch along. We all moved on to watch animes and just loved them.
Who and what do you consider to be an influence on you artistically?
I am a fan of so many artists! I really aspire to paint like Thomas Kinkade. My favorite YouTube artists are Danica Sills and Kelogsloops. They both create gorgeous, fantastical characters.
When did you begin painting? How would you describe your style?
I began painting in kindergarten. My style is a mix of Disney, anime, fashion, and surreal landscapes.
Many of your paintings are nature-based with a particular focus on water. Why are you drawn to these subjects?
I’ve grown up at the beach and in the water. My life revolved around nature as a kid and I still love just being surrounded by it.
When and how did you begin making pins?
I only began making pins in February 2017. I was fortunate enough to get Disneyland passes and found that pins there are very pricy. So, instead of spending big money on pins, I began making some for myself and thought others would love to have them as well.
Tell me a little bit about what goes into the process of making a pin. What techniques and equipment do you use?
My pins are made of shrink plastic. First, I design the image for the pin in Photoshop. Then, the image is printed onto the shrink plastic. I cut each pin out and then shrink them in the oven. After they’re shrunk, I spray the pins with an acrylic enamel and let them dry overnight. They’re topped with epoxy top to give it a glossy dome and the pin is glued on the back, then they’re ready to ship!
When did you realize that an Etsy shop was a viable option for you?
I sold a few watercolor paintings locally and realized that if I expanded my audience, I could show my art to more people and sell more.
How did you arrive upon the name of your shop? Why did you incorporate the idea of a workshop or studio into that title?
I am not creative with names, so I simply decided to keep it related to me my using my last name and instead of using studio, I chose “atelier.” My studio is essentially my shop, so my Esty and studio are directly intertwined.
Your shop slogan is “daydream and paint”? What would you say is the “daydream” aspect of your work?
I spend a lot of my time imagining a fantastical world that I’d much rather be a part of. I paint my daydreams to allow others to experience it as well.
Where do you tend to get your ideas for your products?
I’m very inspired by nature and elements of fantasy. I also enjoy a lot of different cartoons and shows.
What are some of your favorite creations so far in your Etsy shop?
This watercolor galaxy was very fun to make and sold to a wonderful person. I also love several of my pins, like the Oswald and Hatbox Ghost, which are very popular with my customers.
You’re open to custom orders and requests. Have you done any interesting customizations or collaborations so far?
I have! I’ve recently created a Disney Name Tag pin for the Haunted Mansion. The customer was wonderful to work with and very pleased with her product.
Your Disney pins are your best-selling items. Why do you think this is?
As a passholder, I know that pins are very popular at Disneyland but they can be very pricey. Everyone wants these cute pins, but they can buy them from my shop for 1/3 of the price.
There seems to be a real trend with Disney fans toward expressing themselves through fashion, custom ears, custom accessories, etc. Why do you think Disney inspires this in fans?
It’s fun to express to everyone else what you think is fun and interesting. Having the option to wear something custom and one of a kind just allows your fashion and accessories express exactly who you are.
You describe yourself as a huge Disney fan. When did that obsession begin for you?
Since I was a toddler I’ve loved Disney. I used to ask my mom to play “The Little Mermaid” on repeat when I was a kid.
Do you visit the theme parks often?
I do, I’ve only ever been to Disneyland in California, however. I also go to Universal Studios regularly and love the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
“Tangled” and “The Little Mermaid” are among your favorite Disney movies. What other Disney movies, franchises, attractions, etc., do you love?
I also love Star Wars, “Guardians of the Galaxy,” and “Thor.” I love Pixar, Marvel, and Warner Bros. for Harry Potter. My favorite Disney attractions are Haunted Mansion, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Indiana Jones.
What’s still on your Disney bucket list?
I want to visit every Disney theme park and go on a vacation at the Aulani Resort in Hawaii. I would love to meet Chris Hemsworth and Chris Pratt as well.
Another of your artistic inspirations is Studio Ghibli and the films of Hayao Miyazaki. What is special to you about these movies?
Studio Ghibli and Hayao Miyazaki create very whimsical and fantastical movies. The art of their films inspires me.
“Spirited Away” is one of your favorite Ghibli films and, when it comes to other anime, you’re a fan of “Death Note.” What appeals to you about these?
“Spirited Away” has a fascinating story and characters and the relationships between the characters are so sweet. “Death Note” is very suspenseful and makes you think. I love shows that have deep plot twists and keep you on the edge of your seat.
You’re also very into Star Wars with a particular liking for Kylo Ren. Why Kylo?
It’s one of those tall, dark, and handsome things. I guess I just like the story of a tormented soul.
What did you think of his evolution in “The Last Jedi”?
I think he grew from being whiny to knowing what he wanted and how to get there. He kind of transformed from looking for sympathy to saying f— it all.
Tell me your personal Star Wars saga. How did you first discover George Lucas’ galaxy far, far away?
When I was a kid, my grandpa used to play Star Wars movies on repeat. I was really too young to appreciate them, though. It wasn’t until my best friend in high school became obsessed with cosplaying that I began to enjoy the movies too.
Reylo. Yes or no?
No, I’d say don’t force what shouldn’t be. Rey should never be bad and Kylo should never be good.
Porgs. Yes or no?
Yes! They’re so cute!
Alden Ehrenreich as Han Solo. Yes or no?
Yes, he fits the character perfectly.
Marvel is another one of your passions and you’ve got a thing for Star-Lord in particular. Should Chris Pratt just go ahead and star in every movie already?
Yes! He is the hero we’ve all been looking for!
What are some of your favorite Marvel movies?
My favorite Marvel movies are “Thor: Ragnorok,” “Thor: The Dark World,” “Guardians of the Galaxy,” “Spiderman: Homecoming,” and “Dr. Strange.”
What are your thoughts on “Avengers: Infinity War”?
I think it will be amazing to have so many awesome characters all in the same movie.
Speaking of war, you are also a “Game of Thrones” fan. How did you get into the series?
I ran out of other things to watch and decided to catch up on the series. I binge-watched it until I was caught up.
Have you read George R.R. Martin’s books?
Nope. I can’t say I have the time to.
Who should sit on the Iron Throne?
One of your hobbies is video games, with an emphasis on “Assassin’s Creed,” “Kingdom Hearts,” and “Animal Crossing.” How did you get hooked on these games?
I love great stories so RPGs like these games are great to me. All of them have wonderful, ethereal stories that just keep me hooked.
What’s your experience as a girl gamer been like?
I feel that being a girl hasn’t changed my experience as I have always had good guy friends and girl gamers to play along with.
You’re a supporter of YouTubers and Twitch Streamers. For those of us who are unfamiliar with Twitch, what’s that about? What do you like about these forms of media for artists and gamers?
Twitch is a platform for gamers, talk shows, and creative artists to livestream their content to others. I like being able to watch other artists and gamers and I enjoy sharing my own work as well. Twitch is convenient, too, because you can directly talk to the streamer and make friends.
You’re studying to be an art teacher at California State University, Bakersfield. What inspired you to pursue this career?
I love art and love children. I feel that being an art teacher, I can continue my passion, spread my knowledge, and still have a stable income. I enjoy the summers off, too!
You’re currently a co-teacher of a kindergarten classroom. Do you find that your students influence or inspire your art in any way?
No, unfortunately school systems are pretty strict about getting stuff done, however I get to influence my students with a bit of directed drawing time.
Are they aware of your artistic pursuits? If so, what do they think?
They are, though, they’re only 5. Their opinion doesn’t go much farther than, “That’s cool.”
Do you have a studio or space where you do your art? Can you describe it for me?
My space is very small and very busy. I just have an L shaped desk in my bedroom. The desk is used for all my computer activity, school work, gaming, and art so there are containers of paintbrushes and markers on one side of my monitor, textbooks on the other, and my easel in the far corner. I don’t mind the small space but I would love to have some dedicated table room for my art.
Your ultimate dream is to paint and “never have to do anything else.” What would your ideal artistic life look like?
The life of an artist consists of long hours of searching through inspiring photos, watching tutorial videos, and talking to other artists. I would love to spend my days paintings and being inspired. I’d love, also, to have the time to attend art shows and host my work in galleries. Hopefully as I settle into my career I’ll have more time to dedicate to my passion.
Do you have any future plans for ChaneyAtelier or for selling your work?
Paint more, sell more. My paintings are successful when I sell them, but I don’t have many paintings to sell. If and when I can, I’d like to have more of my paintings up for sale. It would be nice to design and sell my own clothes as well.
What are some of your other artistic goals or dreams?
I’d love to get into mural painting. I’m still learning and don’t feel I’m ready for such a large-scale painting, but hopefully someday I can be.
You’ve said the work featured in your shop is meant to “enlighten others to see beauty, adventure, and fantasy in our normal world.” Why is that important to you?
We live such boring, mundane lives and we forget what makes life fun and enchanting. If we would all see the world through different eyes, we could find its beauty and live happier.
To begin, I’d like to thank you for giving women a voice to express their love of fandoms through fashion. I remember all too well the days when we had to make due with ill-fitting Star Wars T-shirts from the men’s section, or the thrift store, or our boyfriends’ closets.
Because of Her Universe and the geek fashion empire you’ve created, women have so many more options for self-expression and have been inspired to boldly and unashamedly celebrate their love of Star Wars, Star Trek, Doctor Who, Marvel, Studio Ghibli, and many other fandoms and franchises.
Your pioneering work in the geek fashion industry and your partnerships with Disney and Hot Topic place you in a unique position to create positive change, which is why I’m writing to you about a specific, industry-wide problem that geek fashion designers, manufacturers, and retailers need to address.
I’m talking about the fashion industry’s size problem, which makes shopping for clothes a source of frustration and discouragement for any woman who doesn’t happen to have the body of a teenager. (I’d say that’s most of us.)
Inconsistent sizing, lack of availability of plus-size products, higher prices for plus-size clothing, flimsy and unflattering fabrics and materials, and other related issues often combine to make shopping for geek clothes a fangirl’s worst nightmare.
Clearly, addressing and resolving these issues isn’t just Her Universe’s responsibility. I’m writing to you, Ms. Eckstein, because Her Universe markets itself as an inclusive fangirl fashion company and lifestyle brand that caters to a diverse spectrum of women.
Your brand prides itself on catering to women and girls of all shapes, sizes, and styles, from plus-size shoppers to kids. The company’s motto is “Fashion for Every Fangirl.” Too often, though, it seems the brand’s actual target demographic is an extremely narrow one, namely young women and juniors with a very specific body type.
My friends who wear plus-size clothing have been talking to me about their concerns for years. This Christmas, however, I had my first personal experience with the geek fashion size problem when my husband gifted me with Her Universe’s adorable, vintage-style Star Wars Endor Landscape Dress.
Since the picture of the model wearing the dress on the Her Universe website screamed “teen heroin chic” more than “40-year-old lady in a cosplay dress,” I probably should have been prepared for the fact that I couldn’t even get the zipper to close halfway on my medium-sized frock.
Now, I comfortably take a medium in every item of clothing I purchase, from T-shirts, to blouses, to dresses, so I was surprised, even shocked, and saddened that I wouldn’t be able to wear the dress to WonderCon as planned.
Around the same time, I was shopping on the Her Universe website for a gift for a family member. I found several plus-size dresses I knew she would adore, including designs from Doctor Who and Star Wars. Every time I clicked on a dress, however, I found that her specific size was out of stock. This happened over and over again, until I eventually gave up and went to another retailer’s site to find what I needed.
Now, it’s entirely possible the Endor Landscape Dress was designed for a younger, slimmer gal than me and I just didn’t realize it. And it seems geek fashion retailers have an ongoing problem with maintaining their plus-size stock, for whatever reason, be it demand or lack of supply.
But if the issue is that companies like Her Universe don’t in reality cater to a demographic of average-size women and plus-size fangirls, then the company needs to be transparent about that.
I polled my friends about their experiences shopping for geek fashion items and they all seemed to have disheartening stories that suggest this particular niche market is just as focused on youth and twiggy, anorexic beauty as the rest of the fashion industry.
By far, the biggest complaint I heard was about inconsistent sizing and labeling.
“I shouldn’t be a 3XL in a dress when I’m a large in a shirt from the same company,” said one of my friends.
Her solution? Switching from companies like Her Universe and We Love Fine to smaller outlets, like Elhoffer Design, that she feels care about her and her body.
Another friend who wears plus-size clothing recounted three failed attempts to purchase items from Her Universe, which culminated in a frustrating and overlong return process. She now has resolved to buy only shoes from the company.
Those I spoke to also described a constant struggle with thin, clingy fabrics and form-fitting cuts that are unflattering to their body types.
“See-through is not what I’m going for,” one of my friends said. “Also, I don’t want form-fitting. My fix for this is wearing men’s T-shirts instead. But it would be nice to have better options.”
Another major pain point for plus-size shoppers is the unavailability of desired clothing items, which always seem to be sold out or out of stock when they go to click and buy them.
“I think most times that I think to myself, maybe I’ll buy that, it’s sold out already,” a fellow geek shopper said.
Then there’s the fact that plus-size dresses and other clothing items tend to cost more than smaller-size items, which is just patently unfair and discriminatory. A quick glance at the Her Universe website reveals the cost of a plus-size dress can run about $10 to $15 more than the equivalent outfit in a smaller size.
The friends I polled mentioned lots of other things they’d like to see change in the geek fashion world, as well, including more dress-length options for taller fangirls and less gender-stereotyping when it comes to designs, like the over-feminized, flowery fashions that tend to be marketed to women and the edgier, artsier fashions targeted at men, for example. Why not make a wider variety of designs available to both genders and let fans decide for themselves what they want to wear?
I realize the problems I’m presenting to you won’t necessarily be easy to solve. Fangirls come in all ages, shapes, and sizes, and have lots of strong opinions. However, the fact that a large percentage of the female geek population isn’t being represented by companies that claim to represent them is a serious concern.
Ms. Eckstein, you’re at the forefront of the geek fashion world. If anyone can raise awareness and begin to address these issues, it’s you.
Not only does she share a nickname with a certain Mother of Dragons, she was recently married in a elegant, subtly geeky ceremony that featured Portal cake toppers and music from Jurassic Park, Legend of Zelda, and The Lord of the Rings.
She and her partner for life in nerdy crime, Todd, got engaged at Disney World and consider holding the highest score for the cheesy arcade game “Deadstorm Pirates” at Castle Park in Sherman Oaks to be their greatest achievement so far. Clearly, the geek gods have smiled upon this romance.
Dani’s gateway drug into Star Wars was the infamous prequels, but she’s since come to love the original trilogy and has a compelling defense of the much-reviled “The Last Jedi.” She was particularly devastated by the passing of iconic Star Wars princess/general Carrie Fisher.
Below, she reveals what it’s like to be a woman who just wants to talk about video games, how a childhood theft led to an enduring love of Harry Potter, and why every young girl should have an inspiring geek mentor to look up to.
So, apparently you and your husband, Todd, recently had the geekiest wedding ever. I would like to hear all the details. Please describe the big day!
It was a really, really great day and it went by too fast. We had all of our friends and family there — literally everyone that we wanted there was able to make it. We had it at this barn in Huntington Beach where they help rehabilitate horses (I’m a big animal rescue person) and it was all just so gorgeous and perfect. Lots of greenery, lots of succulents, great food, and great company.
Why did you decide to go full geek on your wedding day?
It’s really funny to me how you watch these wedding TV shows and hear people talk about “my big day this/my big day that” because it’s really, really not like that. Maybe it’s because Todd and I are both family people but we really cared and listened to our family’s opinions about everything and definitely in a sense wanted to have those traditional themes … we just wanted the traditional themes carried out in a non-traditional way.
So we had our DJ play fun jazz music during dinner … but it was a jazz version of the Pokemon theme song. We had very light and airy music playing while our guests arrived … but it was “The Song of the Shire” from Lord of the Rings. I walked down to a really pretty violin cover of “Zelda’s Lullaby” from the Legend of Zelda series. We had cake toppers; but they were two robots from one of our favorite video games, dressed up in bride and groom garb. We had to put our touch somewhere in the traditional scene.
What did the guests think?
The ones who got it REALLY got it and loved it. At one point during dinner, our DJ had played the main theme song from “Jurassic Park” and it ended up being a game for Todd and I to pick out the faces that were trying to place the song and then realize exactly where it was from.
So, I’m assuming your marriage is one built on a love of mutual geekdom. Tell me about the relationship.
It absolutely is. I think a lot of it is us just indulging each other’s geekiness in a sense too — we don’t necessarily have all of the same fandoms but we do enjoy a lot of things together too. I’ve brought him into quite a few of mine just as time goes on. We game together, watch (and pick apart) movies together, and Disney together. He’s kind of my best friend — he’s pretty cool.
I heard you got engaged at Disneyland, so you’re obviously a Disney fan. Tell me about the proposal.
It was pretty amazing. We decided to plan a trip to Disney World after we had realized that in the all of the time that we had been together we had only taken vacations to go visit family or to go on family trips and hadn’t really just done something for him and I.
It was our first day on vacation and we (obviously) chose to go to the Magic Kingdom first. Literally, I had hardly made it through the turnstile before I started tearing up because we were finally there. By the time we had made it to the castle, I was in full-blown sob mode. I was just taking it all in and he leaned down and said, “Can I ask you a question?” Annoyed, I turned to him and asked, “What?”
(Side note: I say “annoyed” because this is the guy that will literally put on a sad puppy video because he wants to see how fast I’ll tear up. It’s a game between us and I thought that he was going to make fun of me for crying). He then got down on one knee and proposed in front of everyone! It was one of the greatest days of my life.
Do you visit the Disney theme parks often?
Yes. Our friends all have passes too, so we are frequently going. I’m not even going to lie to you, as I’m answering these I’m waiting for Todd to wake up so that we can decide if we’re going today or not.
How did your love of Disney begin and what specific movies, characters, properties, and attractions are you most into?
I’m honestly not sure where the love even began because it was always just kind of there. My Mom told me that the first movie she ever took me to was “Aladdin” when it was in theaters; we always went to see the newest Disney movie whenever it came to theaters.
My favorite movies have always been “Beauty and the Beast” and “Lilo & Stitch.” I loved the story behind “Beauty and the Beast” and the message behind the story. “Lilo & Stitch” always had a HUGE place in my heart because of the relationship between Lilo and her sister Nani. I have two younger sisters so this really hit close to home for me.
You’re a pretty dedicated gamer, specifically into Portal and Legend of Zelda. What do you like about gaming? Does this passion go back to childhood or is it a more recent thing?
Some of the greatest memories that I have from my childhood are from watching my dad play “Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time” when I was younger. We would spend hours in our living room play and I would just be completely mesmerized by the story and the game play. In the beginning I was actually so afraid of playing because I didn’t want to die in the game and the story to be over, but finally I got over this fear and I have replayed “Ocarina of Time” each year for as long as I can remember.
Gaming as a whole is just an amazing escape — I love getting so invested in the characters and storyline that hours go by without you even realizing it. For me, it’s just the same as if you’re super invested in a book but it’s almost like you’re living the story that you could be reading.
I’d like more details about your Portal obsession. How many hours do you spend playing? What do you love about this game?
I have an extremely difficult love/hate obsession with Portal. What drives me crazy is that there is absolutely no way that you can sit down and play this game for 20 minutes. I have tried several times. It’s like a jawbreaker; once you start you’re in for the long haul.
Especially with “Portal 2,” this amazing story starts to unfold and you begin thinking to yourself, “Well, wait, this doesn’t make any sense –maybe if I keep playing … .” Then all of a sudden you’re fighting the last boss. You get this amazing end cutscene. Then it is over and you have been left without any new Portal games since 2011 (I’m looking at you, Valve.)
What I love the most about Portal and what I believe is probably one of the most brilliant things ever is that they have created such a very basic, simple thing and made it so elaborate, complicated, and clever.
The entire game is one huge puzzle that requires you to think five steps ahead because it’s not laid out very clearly. You have to put so much effort into it and I think that’s why it’s one of my favorite games ever.
You’re an enthusiast of “anything Nintendo.” Why Nintendo? Which games are your favorite?
It’s 100% the nostalgia for me. Nintendo was a big deal in my house growing up and my sisters and I played everything from “Yoshi’s Story” to “Donkey Kong 64” to “Super Mario 64” and we loved it all.
What other video games are you into?
I’m really open to just about any type of game. I love the platform games, they’re always fun to navigate through. I haven’t been too into the Call of Duty games or other shooters of the like — they just get so repetitive and there usually isn’t that great of a storyline that goes with them.
What has your experience as a girl gamer been like?
Honestly, it has had its ups and downs. There have definitely been the judgmental looks when I talk about how excited I am for a video game to come out — but I feel like primarily I surround myself with people who are like-minded so it has definitely been easier lately than it had been in the past. I will say, I do still get a sense of relief when I’m talking to someone or introducing myself to them and they talk about what video games they play before I do.
You also enjoy arcade games. What’s the appeal of this “old-school” form of gaming?
I love the older ones and I love the newer ones too. I feel like what’s so great about arcades is that there is literally something for everyone there and also the general buzz of excitement when you go into one. They’re refreshing from the home consoles because they’re just very quick games that (usually) you don’t have to invest too much time into.
I understand you and Todd hold the highest score of “Deadstorm Pirates” at Castle Park in Sherman Oaks and that this is your “biggest accomplishment.” What did it take to earn this score?
We do! We need to go do a status check soon and regain our throne if anyone has taken our title (but I honestly don’t think they would as the game was in the saddest corner of Castle Park). For weeks, Todd was taking classes at community college and in the three-hour gap after class/before work we would go and play a few rounds of “Deadstorm Pirates.” We would sometimes be late to work, emotionally drained, and always invested about $20 each trip to Castle Park.
For those of us who don’t know, what exactly is “Deadstorm Pirates”?
“Deadstorm Pirates” is an extremely cheesy pirate shooting game. The game itself makes absolutely no sense from the start because ours at least had the blue gun assigned to the girl and the pink gun assigned to the boy. (Don’t get me wrong, all the power to fighting gender stereotypes but Todd was very upset the first time we played and he was the girl.) Some of the targets you are supposed to shoot: Grim Reapers, Bats, Attacking Clams, and a giant crab. If you find this game in your local arcade; sit down and play a few rounds. You will be left extremely confused but with an odd new obsession.
What other arcade games do you indulge in? Is Castle Park pretty much your stomping ground or do you have other locales for arcading?
I wish that Castle Park was still our stomping grounds. We have since moved to the South Bay and our trips to Castle Park have been fewer and fewer. Right now we’re really into Dave & Busters, which is a more modern arcade but is still a lot of fun. We’re getting ready to go try out a “family fun center” called Mulligan in South Bay that looks like they have a promising, cheesy arcade.
You worked at a major cosmetics retailer and you’re a geek when it comes to skin care. Can you draw any parallels between the geek life and the beauty biz?
I did and I absolutely am! For me, finding good skin care products and taking care of my skin just gives me the same kind of good feels that reading a good book or finding a great movie does. Especially when I worked in skin care, one of the things I really loved was helping find someone something that made them feel comfortable in their skin and happy with the changes that they were making. I think the biggest parallel is overall how complete it makes you feel. I feel like it’s easy for me to get as excited over a comic book as it is to get excited over a face mask.
Do you think some people would be surprised to find that a geek might be into beauty stuff as well? What would you say to that?
It honestly cracks me up because I feel like people treat them like they’re on opposite ends of the spectrum! There are so many stereotypes of the “gamer girl/boy” vs. “makeup girl,” “preppy guy” and that kind of thing. I really wish that those kinds of stereotypes would just go away and people could feel free to like and enjoy whatever they want to like!
You’re also into DIY. Have you done any geeky DIY projects?
Yes! We’ve done a few. My most proud geeky DIY was our cake toppers for our wedding. We didn’t come up with this ourselves, but we saw on Reddit that someone had turned two turrets (from Portal) into a bride and groom turret. I remember when Todd and I found it, we both turned to each other and I’m pretty sure the first thing we said was, “Our parents are going to hate this.” But we did it and it was so wonderful and our families were so confused.
You’re interested in quite an array of fandoms, including “Rick and Morty” and “Bob’s Burgers.” What’s the big deal with these shows?
They’re just fun! I relate way too hard to Linda Belcher from “Bob’s Burgers.” Overall, I think both shows are just really, really smart. “Rick and Morty” has taken “Back to the Future” and turned it into this complete other thing that I think is so clever and so fun to watch.
You’re also a Star Wars fan. Tell me your personal Star Wars saga and how you were introduced to George Lucas’ galaxy far, far away.
I feel like I can already feel people cringing but I actually started with the prequels first! They came out when I was younger and started going out and seeing movies. I just really, really enjoyed them so much and thought the originals were old and boring … and now I watch the prequels and cringe just a tiny bit and absolutely live by the original trilogy. I think I was 12 or 13 when I first really sat down and watched the originals and that was when everything kind of clicked for me. I had a huge crush on Han and wanted to be Leia when I grew up.
What are your thoughts on all the hate “The Last Jedi” is getting?
In my opinion, there shouldn’t be any hate. Did I think it was the best movie in the saga? No. But I feel like there are so many people saying, “Oh they should have stopped with the original three,” and I just couldn’t disagree more. This part of the story isn’t really for the people who experienced the original trilogy or the prequels when they were first introduced — it’s for the younger generation. The same glee that we experienced when we first watched “The Empire Strikes Back” in theaters or in VHS is what this generation is experiencing right now and I honestly think it’s lame to bash on something in that way.
Porgs. Yes or no?
Yes! Despite popular opinion, I actually think the (*spoiler alert*) scene where Chewie roasts one of those obnoxious things was great.
Kylo Ren Challenge. Yes or no?
Yes. Black leggings will never be put on the same way again.
On a more serious note, I understand you were quite devastated by the passing of Carrie Fisher. Can you speak a little bit about that?
Not to be dramatic but I honestly had to save this one for last. It’s tough and it gets kind of silly because I just felt like someone I knew passed away but I NEVER met this person. I know she lived an extremely full life — she accomplished so much but I just wanted so much more of her. I wanted to see her in so many more movies and I wanted to hear her talk about rescuing dogs and not giving a crap about what people have to say about you. She was Princess Leia on and off the screen, you know? She just had the sass and the drive just like Leia did. I was crying in the most recent Star Wars movie when she was floating in the stars because I’d like to imagine that’s where she is right now.
You’re also a Potter-phile. When and how did you discover J.K. Rowling’s series?
I stole “The Sorcerer’s Stone” from a garage sale when I was in elementary school. I didn’t understand the concept of a garage sale and thought it was just people giving away free stuff … turns out, that was not the case and my grandmother marched me back and made me pay for it and apologize. I am so, so happy that I made that mistake because it was a gateway into one of the several fantasy worlds I fell in love with as a child.
What do you love about it?
I loved the idea of Hogwarts first, honestly. I remember as a child really falling in love with the idea of this magical castle with these large hallways and going to school there to learn wonderful things. I wanted to sit in the Great Hall and study in the Gryffindor common room (I hadn’t yet discovered what it truly meant to be in which house yet, so Gryffindor was my default because in my head they were the “good guys”). I feel like as an adult I love how complex it is — over the years as I’ve re-read the series at different ages, I feel like I’ve experienced layers and different feelings with the story.
It’s not about the magic anymore — it’s about this boy who experienced so much sadness in his life and how he overcame it with an adopted family (which, I guess, in turn is a different type of magic, right?).
I remember HATING Snape when I was a child and now he has become one of my favorite characters simply because of how tragic he is. I think overall what I love so much about it is that it has successfully taken me to a completely different world for years.
Hufflepuff forever. We are ride or dies.
Oh, jeez. This is really a tough one — it’s like picking your favorite family member. Probably Hagrid … but Molly Weasley is an extremely close second.
Have you been to either of the Wizarding World theme parks?
Yes! I just visited the Universal Studios Hollywood location in 2016 and it was AMAZING. I was picked at Ollivander’s to have a wand choose me and I ended up in tears afterward, just because of how amazing it all was. The amount of detail that they have put into it was just stunning and is so magical.
You’re into several fantasy franchises, including Game of Thrones and Lord of the Rings. What did you think of that last GOT season?!?! (SPOILER ALERT)
I have honestly lost all ability to be cool, calm, and collected with this series. I was traumatized and emotionally distraught for days after what happened to Viserion. I had a whole different level of respect for Emilia Clake after this season because her acting (especially during the Viserion scene) was just so amazing. Game of Thrones is a drug and now we have to wait until 2019 to get our last, extremely short fix.
Do you feel as icky about Jon and Dany as I do? (But also strangely overjoyed?)
I am literally laughing so hard as I write this because I am so painfully conflicted. It’s so wrong and so gross … but also so right? Did I really just write that?
What about LOTR? Are you one of those cool people who periodically does LOTR marathons?
This cracks me up — I have successfully done one Lord of the Rings marathon in one sitting and by the end of it I was so exhausted I was trying to speak elvish. I was introduced to Lord of the Rings by my father. I watched the cartoon version of “The Hobbit” when I was younger and just really didn’t understand, so my Dad explained the whole story to be in great detail. I think I listened to him tell this amazing story for at least an hour and was just so invested in these characters I never met.
When the first live-action movie came out, he told me that he was going to see it first without me (violence check — I was little) and I was so upset because I was so excited to see more of the story. Finally, he took me to see it and I have been completely invested since.
Who’s your favorite member of the fellowship?
Gimli! He is the best, sassiest, rudest little dwarf and I strive every day to be just like him. The friendship between him and Legolas (especially in the movies) is one of my favorites.
Are you into the books or just the movies?
I love them both. I think the movies were absolutely amazing but I’m still a little grumpy that they didn’t even mention the battle for the Shire at the end. I’m super hopeful with the Amazon series that they will dive into the untold stories of the Fellowship! I just picked up “The Silmarillion” a week ago, which will be my newest Lord of the Rings read. I’ve heard it’s extremely dense and can be difficult to read through.
You also really like “Guardians of the Galaxy.” Why is this your fave Marvel entry?
I love it because I am always rooting for each main character. It doesn’t take itself so seriously where it’s like, “This is the superhero. He is coming to save the day.” It’s just a bunch of fairly average beings that just save the galaxy accidentally. Also Groot. I am Groot.
Are you looking forward to seeing the Guardians in “Infinity War”?
I had an audible reaction the first time I saw the trailer. I honestly thought I was going to have to wait until “GOTG 3,” but I am pleasantly surprised that I will get a fix soon.
OK, a little birdie I know told me a few things about you. She said I should ask you about the time you went to a midnight Twilight book release with your English teacher. Do tell!
Yes! It was so much fun. In high school, my friend Katie and I were absolutely enamored with the Twilight series (as I think back on it now I’m cringing just a little bit). Our English teacher was also a Twilight fan and we decided that there would be no better way than celebrating the last Twilight book release by joining fellow “Twi-hards” in a midnight book release party. It was honestly so much fun and was a great time being that age and being surrounded by people that all shared the same fandom. If I remember correctly, there were a few Edward vs. Jacob spats that broke out.
She also said you might be into fanfiction. True or false?
I was! I haven’t been too much lately, but throughout middle school and high school years I was extremely into both reading and writing. I wrote a fanfiction for a popular anime called Naruto when I was in middle school that was actually “Top Trending” on fanfiction.net for a few months! Haven’t been too into it lately, but that’s not to say I won’t get back into it!
Apparently, you used to be one of young adult author John Green’s Nerdfighters. Is that still the case?
Do you ever stop being a Nerdfighter? I loved “Turtles All the Way Down.” There was so long that he hadn’t written anything (I think he was working on the movie for “Fault in our Stars”?) that I had thought that he stopped but then “Turtles” came out! One of my favorite things to do still is to wander into bookstores and see if I can find any notes left by other Nerdfighters in John Green books. I’ve left several and hope someone found mine!
Hiddlebatch. Is that still the best thing ever?
Benedict Cumberbatch will forever be everything and Hiddlebatch/SherLoki is just the greatest dynamic duo that has ever graced our world.
Ok, I think I’ve grilled you enough. What’s left on your geek bucket list?
Disney Shanghai, the Amazon web series for Lord of the Rings, and I’m praying that they’ll release some new DLC for the new Zelda game again soon because I’m starting to get the itch.
As a woman, is there anything you’d change about the world of geek culture or fandoms?
Yes! Let women (especially younger women) be geeks! It’s not just for guys! A woman’s place is in a comic book shop!
I was so fortunate enough to have the mentor that I had in high school (the previous little bird that you mentioned) because she really held my hand and led me into becoming a young adult who was also geeky. She taught me so many amazing things but ultimately showed me that it is okay to be an adult and to grow up and be passionate about things that other people might judge you on.
This was such a relief for me because I loved so many things that I had been made fun of for years and I was so scared that I would have to let them go or hide my fandoms and the things that truly made me happy. I really wish and hope that other girls have a mentor like that or that they develop in an environment that is accepting and not judgmental.
I feel like if they did this, the world would be a much more geeky and open place.
Some of us are hopeless when it comes to crafting, but if Kirsten Mace can dream it, it seems she can make it, especially when it’s something related to one of her many favorite fandoms.
By a happy twist of fate, Kirsten works as a manager at a Joann Fabric and Craft Store in Utah, where she finds ample inspiration for the dozens of projects she always seems to have going from coworkers and fellow geek crafters.
Kirsten has transformed boring, old Christmas decorations into a festive Star Wars-themed holiday extravaganza for her home, designed whimsical chess sets, created cosplay outfits and costumes, hand-carved stamps to use on uniquely geeky baby items, and whipped up adorable custom bow ties and bows for sale — a project inspired by a desire to combat the gender stereotypes encountered by one of her children.
This wildly creative crafter’s geek origin story can be traced back to “The Phantom Menace” — ain’t no shame in it! — and childhood trips to Disneyland. She’s got a unique perspective on everything from “The Last Jedi” controversy to My Little Pony, and she’s a fierce defender of these and other fandoms. (Just ask her about Bronies. I dare you.)
“Let people just enjoy what they enjoy” is Kirsten’s philosophy. In today’s divisive culture — even in the geek world — that’s good advice.
You are a geeky crafter and also a manager at a Joann Fabric and Craft Store. That can’t be a coincidence. What do you enjoy about your job? Do you find inspiration for your geeky creations at work? Do you meet a lot of other geek crafters there?
It was definitely fate. I have really loved getting to know the people, not just the customers but also my coworkers. The craft industry, at least in the Joann aspect of it, is very unique in that we spend a lot of time with our customers to help them create this very unique vision for a project.
Sharing that has really pushed my own abilities and ideas. Someone comes in with this amazing project and it makes you wanna create too. It’s seeing other people’s passion and getting excited with them.
We get a lot of geeky projects. Utah is supposed to be the geekiest state and with the introduction of Salt Lake Comic Con five years ago, we have gotten to see so many cosplays and just really awesome projects from people. And it isn’t just the customers, my coworkers are all so talented and geeky.
One of my favorites is a woman who came in to do an amazing Poison Ivy costume a few years ago and is now someone I work with. I think the passion that comes with being a geek just translates easily into being a crafter. We build these worlds around our passions, so I think there is a natural inclination for many of the geek persuasion to make that into practical skills.
Have you always been a geek? When did those interests first blossom for you?
I wanna say I have always been a geek but it wasn’t till I was an adult that I was comfortable about it. My parents were cool. We grew up on Star Wars and Nintendo and all those great ‘80s cult films, like “Goonies.” We lived in Southern California, so we went to Disneyland a lot and they just did a great job planting those seeds and letting those passions blossom.
I think I really started letting things take off when I really got into books. I have anxiety and I think it was a way to cope, to get lost in books, just let me not have to be where I was all the time. I was into things like Poe and Tolkien and I was spending the summer at my dad’s house and they released “Phantom Menace” that year. It was great. We both loved it and ended up collecting the cards and seeing it a couple times. It was just a great moment for me.
And then they started releasing the Peter Jackson “Lord of the Rings” trilogy and Harry Potter released in the U.S. It was a perfect storm for me to get lost in everything.
Sorry, I think I rambled there but, yeah, Star Wars really kicked off my ability to get lost in other realms.
You once had an Etsy shop offering “build-a-bows” with custom options for purchasers. Tell me about that. Where did you get the idea for custom bows?
I have two amazing kids and when my oldest was young, she was uninhibited by the whole gender thing. We didn’t care and if she was into things, we would let her play with it regardless of if it was a pony or a Transformer or makeup and so on.
So I had made bows for a friend as a gift and Moo loved them. She asked if she could have bowties and I was like, “Yeah, sure, you look adorable in anything.” So I made them and she would wear them occasionally, not an everyday thing, they weren’t her statement piece, and one day she came home saying she couldn’t wear them anymore.
She is very nonconfrontational, so I pressed her for why and she told me that some boy told her bowties were only for boys and that she looked ugly. So she didn’t want to wear them anymore ‘cause she didn’t want to hear him say that anymore. I was heartbroken.
So I came up with the build-a-bow after that situation. I didn’t wanna say, “This is a hairbow. This is a bowtie.” I didn’t wanna put that on anyone else ‘cause I really think that you should wear what makes you comfortable.
I would make the bow and let the customer decide which fastener they wanted, which at the time was not being done on Etsy under general sale. I found a lot of sellers would charge extra to change the bow and customize it or whatever. I work in crafts, I know the cost. I just wanted to make something for everyone that everyone could afford.
Tell me about some of your favorite geeky bow designs.
I like the ones that kinda went against the norm. So there wasn’t really one bow I liked, but I had some great orders. I did 12 BB-8 bows for a little girls birthday party. I had a Baymax bow — I painted his face onto a white blank — that I loved. There was a set of Player 1 & 2 stamps that I carved and made bows with on red and green fabrics for Mario & Luigi.
Could you describe these hand-carved geeky stamps you made? Tell me about the process of creating a stamp and the techniques and equipment you used.
I cannot draw to save my life, but I found out that I could carve. A friend of mine was in school for art and was doing this thing on block printing. I wanted to make some swaddlers for my sister and found this great carving starter set from Speedball that contained a couple of blocks and the knife with a few different attachments. I ended up making Totoro and loved it so much I made soot sprites, too.
What were some of your favorite stamp designs?
I love my Totoro and working on the soot sprites, but my proudest one was the plush Hobbes I carved.
You mentioned that you created baby swaddlers. What gave you the idea? Tell me a little bit about what went into creating them. Did you sell the swaddlers or give them as gifts?
My stamps were all created for swaddlers. My little sister was expecting and finding geeky baby stuff is ridiculous. It’s either really expensive or nonexistent. I have kids so I knew what I would want from a product standpoint and just tried to execute to that.
I give them as gifts and sell them. I am working on a couple new ones so that I can have new stuff when I reopen (hopefully). So far, my favorite is a Devil’s Trap from “Supernatural,” just cause I like the joke of saying my demon spawn is contained by a Devil’s Trap swaddler.
What kind of geeky crafting are you currently engaged in?
I am working on too many things! I am working on converting all our Christmas stuff to Star Wars theme so I made a Princess Leia tree topper from a 1970s Kenner Leia doll. I wookiee-fied a nutcracker complete with bowcaster. My biggest thing right now is the Millennium Falcon tree skirt that I am working on piecing. I loved the Falcon tree skirt so much that I wanted to paint a circle skirt with the same design.
I made a bunch of shrugs covered in soot sprites and one that was inspired by the new Pennywise. I am hoping to start back on working on a mashup cosplay of Han Solo and Tank Girl I call “Tank Solo” so there is a lot of plotting for that. The shirt I came up with has been really well received, so that was really encouraging. I’m having to design a bunch of pins and patches for a flair jacket for it so it’s a long-haul project.
Honestly, I have a million projects I am working on or trying to plot out.
Do you have any future plans to sell more of your geeky wares?
Oh, yeah, hopefully in the near future.
As an unabashed nerd, you have devoted yourself to many fandoms. You said that you “tend to easily fall for everything.” Why do you think this is?
When you are able to get lost in one thing and then surround yourself with people who are just as passionate about other things, it is hard not to get caught up in their passion for that, so the birth of social media and my job have really helped me expand my universes.
Like many of the best geeks, you are a Star Wars fan. What’s your personal saga? How and when did you fall for George Lucas’ franchise?
I think I mentioned this earlier, but I really think this is a first love for a lot of geeks because of our parents. My personal saga … ooooh, that is really long … but the short version is when I was 6 my parents divorced and my mom became a janitor at the local university and worked nights so we had a very atypical upbringing as five girls in those circumstances.
I have always loved Star Wars but, and I hate to admit this cause I know how many people hate the prequels, it really became my thing with “Phantom Menace.” Maybe it was the idea that Anakin was no one and became something, I dunno, but I wanted to prove that I could be something other than my upbringing.
Are you a “Last Jedi” hater? What did you think of the movie?
This may be one of my favorite movies in the franchise. It is amazing and added so many elements to Star Wars that I never thought I would see. I loved the addition of humor.
Captain Phasma is my lady crush. I won’t even say it’s a secret ‘cause I got a little twitterpated when she whipped out that sword for that fight. Goodness, I am excited for the director’s cut ‘cause I am hoping they extend that scene.
I liked that none of the speculation left from “Force Awakens” mattered. Rey’s parents were no ones. Snoke’s backstory doesn’t matter. “Let the past die” was the theme and they did it so well.
They answered a lot of the questions that were posed in “Force Awakens.” I just think people don’t like that it really didn’t go the way anyone thought it would. I could go on about this for hours but I will defend this movie against the haters.
Who’s your favorite original trilogy Star Wars character?
I always have loved Han, but as I have gotten older I really enjoy Leia.
Who’s your favorite new trilogy character so far?
I am a sucker for rebellious pilots. And with the growth shown at the end of “Last Jedi,” it just cements Poe as my favorite.
Porgs. Yes or no?
How can you hate porgs? They are so cute and nonintrusive to the story, well, unless you are Chewie. If you hate porgs, you are just looking for something to hate in this movie.
Are you one with the Force and the Force is with you?
OH MY, YES! Why people don’t accept this movie as part of the Star Wars universe just boggles my mind. I am watching this while filling this out right now.
You’re also a Harry Potter-phile. When did you first discover J.K. Rowling’s series? What do you love about it?
Ha, so Harry Potter came out and I had an acquaintance who read it and was kinda being this know-it-all about it, so I read it so I could out-trivia her and, would you believe, I fell for it by accident. I think a lot of it is the relationship Harry has with the Weasleys. He made his own family, and the support and love and everything, I have a lot of friends like that.
What’s your Hogwarts house?
I am a Slytherin but lied with my Pottermore house so that I could be in Gryffindor.
Are you looking forward to Fantastic Beasts 2?
Yup, yup, yup. My kids are both Hufflepuffs, so it is easy to get excited when they are excited.
I’m excited to hear you’re a fan of the animated films of Studio Ghibli. Do you remember your first Ghibli film and how you got hooked? What’s your favorite Ghibli movie?
My dad was in the Air Force and spent some time in Korea and Japan. He sent my sister back the “Totoro” VHS and we watched it till we wore it out. The animation is so beautiful and the stories are so well told that it is hard not to get lost in (Hayao Miyazaki’s) worlds. It is really hard to just choose one. I will always have a soft spot for Totoro, but I really love “The Wind Rises.”
I believe this is a first for our interview series, but you’re also an aficionado of My Little Pony. Are you into the vintage ’80s ponies, or the new ones, or both?
I was the third kid, so never got into the ‘80s ‘cause I rarely had control of the remote. I really like the new ones.
What does your Pony fandom look like exactly? What’s the attraction here?
Other than the millions of ponies that litter our house at times … I think an easy way to sum it up, and I know this will be lost on some people, is we Pinkie Pie promise.
We first started watching the show ‘cause my daughter liked it and everyone knows the toddler is the one who controls what’s on the TV most of the time. So we sat down to watch it with her and the characters and stories are simple enough that it was just easy to like it.
As weird as it is, you can relate to all the feelings they are working through and they have really great mythological references. If I am not watching Star Wars while I am crafting, you can bet I have MLP on.
I confess I’m pretty weirded out by the whole Bronies phenomenon. What are your thoughts on that?
I don’t know why people are weirded out by the Bronies. I think people have this idea in their head that they are all furries and that freaks a lot of people out. That is a question that I have fielded when I say I enjoy the show and, no, I don’t dress up but what does it matter if someone does? How is that any different from someone who dresses as any character?
You’re also into Firefly. What was so great about that series?
I like the idea of standing up for what’s right even if it seems the whole galaxy is against you and pursuing the truth.
Who’s your favorite character and why?
Daughter No. 2 is named Zoe only because Hoban is a terrible name (sorry to anyone who may be named Hoban). Wash is easily my favorite. He is fun, but still gets the job done.
Disney is another passion of yours. Do you visit the theme parks often?
Sadly, it has been too long since we went to the parks. With both of us working and the distance, it is hard to get things coordinated.
What are some of your favorite Disney movies, franchises, attractions, properties, etc.?
Other than Star Wars?! The first movie I remember seeing in theaters was “Aladdin” and I can’t think of any one movie of theirs that I would say I outright hated.
Do you do any Disney-related crafting?
Of course! We enjoy all the movies and introducing the girls to the cartoons I enjoyed as a kid just cements all the reasons I loved those shows. Disney is also a genius when it comes to product design and marketing, so it is hard not to wanna make custom Tsum Tsums and ears and use the characters in things.
I have done a couple of nightlight styled canvases for the girls using scenes from “Tangled” and “Guardians of the Galaxy.” At this point, Disney has so many properties that it would be hard not to find inspiration from one of them.
You have two young daughters who you describe as “also nerdy.” Tell me a little about the family dynamic. What are some of your shared and individual interests and activities?
I don’t think the family dynamic is very different from others’ families. I think we are maybe a bit more relaxed as parents, but I don’t think that’s cause of the geek thing. They are young enough that, for now, a lot of their interests are our interests.
A few Christmases ago, they got Jedi ensembles complete with lightsabers and like to have lightsaber fights and plan ways to attack us. They have been working their way through a lot of the Lego video games and are currently working on the complete Star Wars set and then wanna try the Harry Potter games.
Would you say that “geek culture” has had a positive impact on your girls?
Last year my daughter came home from school and she wanted to talk about suffragettes and the following week she wanted to talk about vegetarianism. With how the current representation of women is in all of geekdom, I am so glad my girls are into it.
They wanna kick ass as Jedis and Wonder Woman and Squirrel Girl. They get to see Rose release the fathiers and show compassion for all life in “Last Jedi.” The stories that are being told now help with what I want my kids to be when they are adults, so it isn’t just me telling them that they can do whatever they want but a host of characters they admire that really helps with that.
Is it my imagination or did I see a Facebook pic of one of your daughters dressed in the most amazing little Harley Quinn costume?
I have been blessed with amazing kids who never really wanted to be the princess but that means we have made a lot of their costumes through the years. Moo fell in love with Harley Quinn a few years ago so we have had a couple costumes for her.
Do you have any advice for parents who want to raise their kids up in the geek lifestyle?
If your kid shows an interest in it, get into it with them. I am hoping that as my kids get older and the terrible teen years are there, I am at least going to be able to connect with some of their interests.
As a mother, is there anything you’d like to see change in the world of fandoms and geek culture by the time your daughters are grown?
There is still so much of the good, ol’ fanboy mentality that I will be glad when that is gone. Let people just enjoy what they enjoy.
You’re a reader of comic books and graphic novels. Is this a pastime you enjoyed in childhood or later in life? What are some of your favorite titles? Do you have any recommendations for us to check out?
I got into it later in life. I saw the Skottie Young “Wizard of Oz” novels somewhere and I loved them. The illustration and fluidity that he conveyed with the story that L. Frank Baum created just, uh, I loved them. I love so many of his works that I highly recommend “The Chasing Tale” storyline for Rocket Raccoon and his “I Hate Fairyland” to everyone just getting into comic books.
I didn’t really start getting into comics till we started using them as an incentive for Matt to get excited about reading. We had a great local comic shop and the owner was amazing. He was the most welcoming person and would just talk to you about everything and then recommend an issue or a novel and, as crazy as it seemed, you would love it. He got me into the “Chew” novels and it has been crazy catching up on all those.
My recommendation is, look for a locally owned shop and go in and chat them up, tell them the kind of stuff you like and what you are into and let them make recommendations for you. The people that are crazy enough to open a comic store are the ones you are gonna find are so passionate about them. My personal favorites and recommendations to just ease into it are the Mighty Thor, anything by Skottie Young, Rocket Raccoon, Squirrel Girl is amazing, and Moon Girl.
What do you like about comics?
It takes that book experience to the next level. There are some parts of a book that you just glance over or get lost on and with the added visualization that comics have, you can really see what the writer is trying to convey. It helps progress the idea of that universe in such a great way that I am surprised more people don’t read them.
You prefer the Marvel Cinematic Universe over the DC Extended Universe. Explain.
Marvel has been able to convert the fluidity and feel of their comics so much better than DC has, which is kind of a shame, considering the properties that DC has.
Do you tend to amass geek memorabilia or collectibles?
Our house is one giant den of geeky collectibles and art. We have been working on a wall of Pop! figurines in our family room. Our favorite place in any con is the “artist alley.” There are so many talented artists out there that it is hard to resist buying all the art. So our walls are plastered with everything we have amassed.
What’s the next major release (books, movies, TV, etc.) you’re looking forward to?
I have enjoyed the illustrated rerelease of the Harry Potter books and the House editions, so I am always waiting for those. I am really excited for the next few Marvel movies, “Black Panther” and “Infinity War” look amazing. I am also timidly optimistic about the new Han Solo movie.
What’s left on your geek bucket list?
There are a lot of people I would like to meet. Artists, actors, directors, writers … a lot of them are figures in the geek community that have made an impact on me.
On a final note, why do you think so many geeks also happen to be crafters or creators?
I think the beginning of it for many is the necessity of the items. Finding some memorabilia is hard and that first thought of, “I can do this. I can make this myself,” is where a lot of it starts.
I first really got into it because I wanted to make a baby mobile for my sister that was soot sprites ‘cause so many on the market were also handmade and out of my price range. And then it turned into, “Well, I can make a Totoro to go with it.” Then I made some Rocket Raccoon plushies ‘cause the Totoro was so easy … it just snowballed into, “I can make exactly what I want so why not?”
Everyone loves their fandom in their own unique way and crafting allows me to show exactly what I love about that fandom. There is also an abundance of imagination that comes with geekdom.
Since “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” hit theaters in December, there’s been a lot of talk about the film.
Now that’s an understatement. I don’t know if there’s ever been a more talked-about Star Wars movie or, at the very least, one that has inspired this level of divisive debate, indignation, and emotional outrage. (I suppose we have social media to thank for that.)
Haters love to hate “The Last Jedi.” That’s one thing we know for certain. They’re mad as hell and they’re not going to take it anymore. For many, many reasons.
They’re angry that writer-director Rian Johnson didn’t exactly answer key questions raised in “The Force Awakens,” or answer them in sufficient detail. At the same time, they’re crushed that he abruptly slammed the door on many of those same queries.
They don’t like the film’s portrayal of Luke Skywalker. They don’t like what becomes of villainous Supreme Leader Snoke. They’re upset about the movie’s general lack of lightsaber training montages.
“What’s up with the goofy tone?” they ask.
“Too many porgs,” some say.
“Not enough porgs,” others reply.
The list of reasons for ire goes on. And on. And on.
However, in the midst of this controversy, there’s an important dialogue we should be having that isn’t taking place nearly as much as I think it should.
Can we just talk for a minute about what an impressive feat of representation “The Last Jedi” achieves?
The new Star Wars trilogy’s heartening trend toward diversity, female-driven storylines, and a general openness to cast characters in a way that reflects the world we all live in began, of course, with “The Force Awakens.”
That movie brought us an unusual trio of heroes for a big-budget Hollywood sci-fi flick: Daisy Ridley’s Rey, a woman gifted in the Force; John Boyega’s Finn, a black Stormtrooper turned Rebel; and Oscar Isaac’s Poe, a charming rogue pilot who also happens to be Hispanic.
(And let’s give a shout-out to Gwendoline Christie’s bad-ass lady-baddie, Captain Phasma.)
Of course, this groundbreaking lead cast brought a few nasty, racist trolls out of the woodwork – Boyega bore the brunt of their disapproval – but, by and large, these characters and the actors who play them were received with enthusiasm.
The spin-off film “Rogue One” continued this welcome new Star Wars tradition with another strong female lead, Felicity Jones’ reluctant rebel Jyn, and her partner-in-sabotage, Cassian, a character Diego Luna portrayed using his own Mexican accent, which is strangely rare in Hollywood.
The remainder of the “Rogue One” cast was thrillingly diverse as well, featuring Forest Whitaker, Riz Ahmed, and Chinese stars Donnie Yen and Wen Jiang.
It’s clearly not an accident that Disney’s new incarnation of the Star Wars universe is so wildly and wonderfully diverse. This is something the Lucasfilm team is intentionally and boldly working at, whatever their motives.
“The Last Jedi” takes this approach to soaring new heights. This latest entry in the franchise not only features the return of the Rey/Finn/Poe dream team, but also introduces us to Rose, a mechanic turned unlikely Resistance hero played by comedian Kelly Marie Tran.
Tran is the first Asian-American woman cast in a major Star Wars role in a time in which Asian-American women rarely appear in roles of any significance in Hollywood.
I love the fact that “The Last Jedi” also shows us Rose’s sister (played by Veronica Ngo) in a heartbreaking scene of self-sacrifice and heroism at the beginning of the movie.
Along with continued diversity in casting – Benicio Del Toro joins the ensemble as master thief DJ and there are pilots, Resistance fighters, and First Order henchmen of all genders and ethnicities sprinkled throughout – director Johnson serves up a story that is shockingly female-forward for a big-budget sci-fi spectacle.
Rey and her journey to discover her identity in the Force is, of course, the driving story arc of the film. As she faces her fears, forms a tenuous bond with Kylo Ren, and ultimately comes into her own power, Ridley’s Rey continues to be the complicated, compelling, and refreshingly non-sexualized heroine most of us could only dream of watching as young girls.
(Can we just put this controversy about Rey’s impossible Force powers to bed already? Men have been doing impossible things in action movies for decades and nobody bats an eye. I’m over it.)
Just as astonishing as Rey and her gradual self-realization is the late Carrie Fisher’s elegant, commanding performance as General Leia Organa.
Her relationship with Laura Dern’s Vice Admiral Holdo is a joy to behold – two powerful women who respect each other working alongside each other and confiding in each other in a way we rarely see depicted on film.
And their mutual annoyance with, affection for, and no-nonsense management of the meddling, mansplaining, but irresistibly cute Poe Dameron (we all know that’s the only reason he gets away with this s&*#) is totally unexpected and such a treat. I still can’t get over it.
My friend Kirsten pointed out that not only is “The Last Jedi” the most female-driven film in the Star Wars franchise, it may be the most female-driven action movie we’ve yet to see.
She also wondered whether this could be one of the reasons the film has garnered so much hate. Sadly, I think she may be onto something.
It was recently reported that a disgruntled Star Wars fan sloppily edited together and posted online his own “female-free” version of “The Last Jedi.” I’m not sure how much attention this pathetic act of misogyny deserves, but the fact that someone actually thought to do this is discouraging, to say the least.
On the other hand, the fact that dudes who respond so irrationally to cinematic depictions of female power are feeling this threatened may be cause for optimism. These are the same guys who wanted to boycott “Mad Max: Fury Road,” the female-led “Ghostbusters” reboot, and the newest Doctor, and who groused about female-only screenings of “Wonder Woman.”
These dinosaurs are desperate because they recognize they are headed for extinction.
Despite the strong feelings it has conjured within moviegoers, “The Last Jedi” is an unequivocal box-office hit, grossing more than $1 billion worldwide. The film is on track to ultimately reap less than “The Force Awakens.” However, it would be crazy to consider it anything less than a massive money-maker.
For this reason, the new Star Wars trilogy remains one of the most convincing arguments that more diverse representation in major Hollywood movies is just good business practice.
Some may counter that the Star Wars franchise is simply too big to fail, but it seems fairly obvious audiences have embraced this new direction for Lucasfilm and Disney. Otherwise, why would the studio continue to pursue it?
This brings us to the question: Can Disney and Lucasfilm do more?
Of course they can – and they should!
The recently released video for Jay Z’s “Family Feud,” directed by Ava DuVernay, famously featured footage of “Black Panther” star Michael B. Jordan dressed in black robes suspiciously resembling the traditional garb of the Jedi.
DuVernay said this was no accident and social media instantly blew up with demands that Disney cast Jordan as a badass Jedi in the next Star Wars movie.
That’s a fabulous idea. And there is enough room in the Star Wars universe for more black actors, along with women and performers of varying origins, ethnicities, and sexual orientations.
This isn’t just the way of the Force. It’s the way of the future.
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?
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.
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.
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.
Is it my imagination or did you attend the “Last Jedi” premiere?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
SPOILER ALERT: If you haven’t seen “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” steer clear of this review!
Two years ago, in a galaxy not so far away … two lifelong Star Wars fans — Lavender, of nomansland.blog, and Shawna, of earthtoshawna.com — decided to search their feelings and work out their issues after seeing “The Force Awakens.” It was so much fun, we decided to do it again with “The Last Jedi,” the second installment of Disney’s new Star Wars trilogy.
Here’s the conversation …
SPOILER ALERT: Seriously. If you’re planning to see “The Last Jedi” at all, do not read any further. We’ll be discussing the movie in full. Do yourself a favor and go watch porg videos instead.
Lavender: “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” has a 93% “fresh” rating with critics on Rotten Tomatoes, but only scored a 56% approval rating with audiences. Do you side more with critics or moviegoers?
Shawna: What? Really? That’s pretty shocking! I didn’t know that. I’m with the critics – I loved it! What about you, did you love it?
Lavender: I’m going to have to say I agree with the critics here. I think “The Last Jedi” is fantastic, with a few caveats. It’s a weirder, wilier beast than “The Force Awakens,” but while it generally follows the formula of “The Empire Strikes Back” in terms of plot and tone — in the same way “Force Awakens” follows the formula of “A New Hope” — writer-director Rian Johnson is very comfortable telling a more original, more surprising story here than the first chapter of this new trilogy.
There are so many breathtaking moments here for die-hard Star Wars fans. There’s a childlike playfulness at work (almost too much at times), but also a darker, deeper exploration of the balance of the Force that is extremely satisfying to a longtime fan like me.
Shawna: I totally agree with everything you just said. I found some of it a little bit cartoony and contrived, but overall I loved the unpredictability and suspense, and I enjoyed the nods to “Empire” too. The on-the-edge-of-my-seat moments and the goosebump moments more than made up for the give-me-a-break stuff.
Lavender: For me, the heart of the film was the connection and counterpoint between Daisy Ridley, as Resistance fighter and maybe the most bad-ass Jedi ever, Rey, and Adam Driver, as conflicted and angsty wayward son Ben Solo, aka Kylo Ren.
I had forgotten how good Driver is as Kylo Ren, all pent-up fury and raging teenage hormones. (Is he a teenager? Well, he acts like one, anyway.) It’s astonishing how much sympathy you feel for this character and yet he’s just so vile at the same time. And, of course, Ridley is perfect once again as the lonely, pure-hearted Rey, who journeys to the secluded island hideaway of Luke Skywalker seeking guidance in the ways of the Force and, for the first time, feels a pull to the Dark Side. Her vulnerability is heartbreaking.
Johnson has cooked up this mysterious connection between Rey and Kylo, who communicate throughout the film in these electrifying psychic dialogues that are intimate, chilling, and melancholy all at once. And, of course, there’s the scene in which they together confront Snoke. I would like to rewatch that scene about 50 times. I had goosebumps all over!
Shawna: I loved the scenes in which Rey and Kylo connected through the Force. I wanted more of Kylo’s character after seeing “The Force Awakens,” and I wasn’t disappointed. How awesome was it when Kylo killed Snoke and they fought the guards together? It was so powerful, and then how fitting for him to say “join me.”
Lavender: Yes! That was epic. And there were many, many epic moments, from that opening with Poe Dameron taking out the cannons on the New Order star destroyer with his aerial acrobatics to that final face-off between Kylo and Luke Skywalker. What else did you love about the film?
Shawna: The porgs! You predicted the lovable-ness of these little critters the same way you knew BB-8 was going to steal the show in “The Force Awakens.”
I loved the crystal foxes and the space horses too. When they set the herd free – that was my favorite Rose and Finn scene. And we got a little of Rose’s back story there, which was interesting. Mostly though, I felt there was untapped potential with their storyline.
I also loved Luke’s astral projection – that moment when you see he is still on the island, how cool was that? In hindsight I guess that was foreshadowed with Kylo appearing to Rey without really being there, but I didn’t see it coming at all.
I was really happy to see Luke in general, considering he was virtually absent from “Force Awakens.” But I’m still sorting out my feelings for how his character has developed. It seemed so out of character for him to consider murdering his nephew in his sleep. And I don’t think I can ever look at him the same way after watching him drink that milk.
Lavender: The milking scene. Ewww. So weird. I’m still not sure what that was about. One of several goofy, but perplexing moments in “The Last Jedi.” Johnson seemed to be trying to bring back some of the eccentricity of George Lucas’ original trilogy. Maybe? I’m not quite sure?
Otherwise, I loved most of the scenes with Luke. Hamill is a bit weathered, but that suits the character, a perfect blend of crotchety hermit and disillusioned Jedi master. Yes, that unexpected reveal in the finale is something! Wow!
I’m glad you brought up the porgs because I’ve just been waiting this whole time to talk about them. It’s a relief that they are not the next Jar Jar Binks, but are featured in many adorable and funny moments and sparingly so they don’t become unwelcome pests.
You mention the scene with Finn and Rose — who I think are a great team — and the horse-like Farthiers. I think that was actually my least favorite scene. It was just so over-the-top and full of CGI. Actually, the entire sequence on Canto Bight — the Monte Carlo of the Star Wars galaxy — reminded me too much of Lucas’ prequels, and I don’t like to be reminded of those.
What were some of your complaints about this film?
Shawna: I guess it’s the animal lover in me that likes any scene where animals are set free! And as a bookworm, I didn’t like the book burning. Really, Yoda? You’re going to destroy these ancient books and laugh about it? Not cool.
I don’t like that Luke died. I’m sad that this likely means the next film won’t have any of the three original characters.
Lavender: It was kinda funny that Yoda was like, “Ancient Jedi texts, whatever.” I’m so glad Yoda made an appearance though. That was quite a treat.
I think the filmmakers are phasing out the trifecta of the original trilogy so they can focus on the younger heroes of this trilogy, although it seems they may have had more plans for Carrie Fisher in the next and final film, prior to her death.
Speaking of Carrie Fisher, “The Last Jedi” is dedicated to her. What did you think of her role in this film?
I found it to be a lovely and emotional tribute. I love that we got to see Leia in action as a general, her strategizing and camaraderie with her troops, her sorrow over Resistance losses, and we also caught a huge and unexpected glimpse of her Force power. That was insane. I still don’t know what to make of it. She looked so beautiful and all her lines were clever and sassy and completely Carrie. The eventual and long-awaited reunion between Leia and Luke was so touching and fitting. I was bawling. For me, this was probably the highlight of the movie.
Shawna: Almost every Carrie scene was emotionally wrenching, knowing she’s gone. It was hard for me to be objective. I love her. I need to watch again and try not to think of her being gone so I can actually absorb what she’s saying! And you’re right of course, about the filmmakers focusing on the younger heroes. I know it’s time for them to pass the torch, but I’m not ready to let go yet!
Lavender: It will be interesting to see how the next film does without the heavy lifting of Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, and Carrie Fisher. I remember when I was skeptical about the three of them returning to the franchise, but it has paid off in rewarding ways for fans and resulted in some excellent storytelling.
While I think “The Last Jedi” has its flaws — there’s an unevenness to it, especially in the first half of the film, that’s a bit disorienting — I’m pleased with where it takes the trilogy. Hopefully, the final chapter will take everything full circle and bring balance to the Force.
Shawna: “The Last Jedi” did take a while to hit its stride, but once it did, it was a great ride! I want to see what happens with Kylo Ren. Will he get to be a good guy at the last minute, like Darth Vader? And is Rey really a “nobody,” as in not related to any of the original characters? Is that what Luke was trying to tell her, that the Force is in all of us? That sort of flies in the face of the genetic component of the Force, but the Midichlorian thing was sort of stupid anyway.