Disney artist doodles her way to inspiring others to dream

Ashley Taylor is living the Disney dream and using her formidable artistic talent to inspire others to pursue their dreams.

While working as a cast member at Walt Disney World, Ashley honed her cheery, whimsical style, which has since come to characterize everything from the Disney Parks Blog’s daily Disney Doodle, to numerous pieces of Disney-themed art, to fashion from Her Universe and Disney’s Dress Shop Collection, and even an inspirational book.

Her distinctive work — inspired by such classics as Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty and legendary artists Eyvind Earle and Mary Blair — can also be found at WonderGround Gallery, BoxLunch, and Hot Topic

I know I’m not the only person who looks forward to seeing what clever mashup or cute flight of nostalgic fancy Ashley will come up with next on the Disney Parks Blog. I also can’t be the only one who has salivated over her gorgeous Dress Shop prints, which perfectly capture the joy of favorite park attractions.

When she’s not busy touring with bestie Ashley Eckstein of Her Universe to promote their beautifully illustrated “It’s Your Universe” book, dreaming up new scenarios for classic characters, or combing the Disney archives for important details, she can be found doing commissions or creating fantastical original artwork for her Etsy shop.

In “Your Universe,” Taylor and Eckstein encourage readers to “dream it and do it,” which is something this artist definitely has gotten the hang of. 

You can enjoy more of Ashley’s artwork and follow her on Instagram here

You’re a Disney artist whose charming work is featured at Disney Parks, WonderGround Gallery, and on products for Her Universe, BoxLunch, and Hot Topic. So basically you are living every geek’s dream. What does that feel like?

It feels unreal at times! I’ll check my email and see messages from various brands and retail stores and I’ll pinch myself at times! It has been a long road to get to this point in my career and I don’t take a second of it for granted! Every Monday morning feels like Christmas morning to me! I’m so incredibly happy to be living my dreams here in California!

Your daily Disney Doodles are featured on the Disney Parks Blog and they are the best thing ever! Can you tell me a little about the process of creating these doodles? Where do you get your ideas?

Thank you so much! I’m so glad you enjoy them! The Disney Doodles are a collaborative effort between me and the Disney Parks Blog. Every time an idea pops into my head, I write it down. Then towards the end of the month, I’ll send Disney my ideas and they’ll add some of their own and we’ll come up with a game plan for the next month.

I try to add some unique characters every month. I love seeing how the Disney community responds when they see a character they haven’t seen in years. I remember I decided to draw Archimedes from Sword and the Stone and so many people shared amazing childhood memories of that film with me. That’s what it’s all about! Creating a little bit a fun and joy during someone’s day!

As far as drawing the Disney Doodles, I usually create a month’s worth of doodles in a day. (Roughly 8 or 9 doodles.) My schedule is so crazy, I have to be able to draw exceptionally fast.

Many of them are the cutest and cleverest Disney mashups. How do you determine what will make a good mashup?

Truthfully, the characters do all of the work for me. I just pay attention to their storylines, likes, dislikes … etc. And I always try to keep the character’s integrity. For example, I created a Disney Doodle of Princess Tiana dancing at the Country Bear Jamboree. Tiana is from the South and she loves cooking, singing and dancing. So she would enjoy singing and dancing with those Country Bears. I always try to look for attractions that would pique the interest of the characters. It’s a lot of fun!

Ashley Taylor’s “Cinderella’s Kingdom.”

Clearly, you are just immersed in Disney characters and properties. Do you have a soft spot for any specific personalities, movies, attractions, etc.?

Oh goodness, so many!

Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella are the Disney films that made me want to be an artist. The colors, backgrounds and details are absolutely stunning! As I got older, I connected with Tangled and Moana. I love seeing fearless girls follow their passions!

My favorite characters has always been The Blue Fairy from Pinocchio and Princess Jasmine. I love how Jasmine is smart, fierce, and strong-minded while the Blue Fairy is poised, elegant and kind.

And as far as attractions, I will always love The Country Bear Jamboree and It’s a Small World. I love the classics!

You must spend a lot of time researching Disney-related images and details. Can you tell me more about what that research can entail?

I research everything! I am very thorough when I research Disney-related imagery. I have gone to the Disney archives and visited the parks to make sure all of the details are accounted for. I want to remain as accurate as I can while being able to deliver artwork in my unique style.

Do you also collect Disney items?

I collect a Disney ornament every time I do a signing at one of the Disney Parks. And when fans give me artwork, gifts or letters, I laminate them and turn them into ornaments as well. So every Christmas becomes a trip down memory lane.

I’ve read that you discovered your unique personal style as an artist while working as a cast member at Walt Disney World. How did your style evolve during this time and what did you learn?

I always tell people to start drawing what they love, because that’s when you’ll really start to connect with your subject matter as an artist. I love fashion, so being around Disney really piqued my interest as a designer. I started to experiment with various mediums until I found one that suited my style the best. Digital illustration and clean vectors really suited my design taste and style.

Ashley’s “Aurora’s Kingdom.”

I understand that, as a child, you were influenced by Sleeping Beauty. Who and what are some of your other influences?

Yes, I was mesmerized by Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella when I was a kid. So, naturally, Eyvind Earle and Mary Blair were huge influences

I’m always inspired every time I travel. I think traveling and exploring the world becomes an artist’s best resource.

You and Her Universe’s Ashley Eckstein recently released the book “It’s Your Universe.” The Disney-themed illustrations are beautiful and really make the book memorable. Tell me more about your collaboration with Ashley on this project.

When I first read Ashley Eckstein’s manuscript, I knew this project was something I had to be a part of. I knew this book was going to change lives and help so many people visualize their dreams.

The creation of the book was labor of love for both Ashley and me. Being able to provide visuals for Ashley’s inspiring words, lessons, and stories brought me so much joy! As close friends, it was easy for me to understand what her expectations were of me and my artwork.

“It’s Your Universe” aims to teach young women about “dreaming it and doing it.” What’s your advice on this subject?

Don’t shy away from your dreams just because you haven’t seen anyone else accomplish them. Don’t be afraid to be the first. Don’t be afraid to build your own Yellow Brick Road.

You and Ashley recently returned from a book tour. How did that go? What’s your favorite thing about meeting fans?

Our tour was incredible! We were on a plane almost every single day. It was long hours, but incredibly exciting! Meeting fans was my favorite thing about being on tour. I love being able to connect with people and meet aspiring artists. There’s nothing better than watching people’s faces light up when they talked to us about their dreams. I’ll always remember those little moments!

Ashley’s illustration for the “Princess Mantra” written by Ashley Eckstein of Her Universe.

Aside from Disney, what are some of your favorite fandoms? 

I love Jurassic Park, Harry Potter, Sailor Moon, DC, Marvel, Lucasfilm, Jim Henson, and Tim Burton. I’m sure there’s a ton more. I find that there’s something I like about every fandom I’m introduced to.

From your art, I gather you’re into Moulin Rouge, The Greatest Showman, and La La Land, among other things. Do I detect a love of musicals here?

You know, it’s funny, I’m not that big into musicals, but I LOVE the art direction and costumes in those films. All of them are so strikingly beautiful! I do love to sing along with Hugh Jackman, though. How could I not?

You also have a thing for Audrey Hepburn. Why do you admire her?

Audrey Hepburn is so much more than a beautiful actress. She dedicated her life to helping others. She was a humanitarian who dedicated her life to UNICEF. I have always admired her as an actress, style icon, and as a person. I have her photo in my office as a constant reminder to keep giving back to others. It’s wonderful to follow your dreams and your passions, but it’s more important to contribute something to the world.

Ashley’s “Daydreaming in the Tower” piece, on display in her Audrey Hepburn-themed office.

Your art seems to focus on a lot of female characters. Is this intentional?

I know that my artistic style is extremely feminine and delicate. So I try to draw subjects that bring out the best of my abilities. I also love mermaids, circus performers, and ballerinas, so those costumes are so much fun for me to draw.

Prints of your art are available in your Etsy shop, LoveAshleyDesigns. Many of these feature adorable mermaids, centaurs, Nessie, cats, and other magical creatures (I think cats qualify as magical creatures). Where does your fascination for these kinds of characters come from?

I think a lot of artists love drawing fantasy creatures because they are entirely created in our heads. We don’t use references, we just allow our imaginations to have a little fun. When working in the world of retail, I welcome those little breaks to create something light and pretty.

I can’t stop obsessing over the designs you’ve contributed to Disney’s Dress Shop, which include dresses, skirts, and cardigans that are to die for. What do you enjoy about creating art for fashion?

The best part about art for fashion is creating something that people live their lives in. I love seeing my designs become part of someone’s first trip to Disney, engagement session, birthday celebration and so much more.

How do you feel when you see people wearing these outfits?

It’s one of the greatest honors an artist can have. It’s still so surreal every time someone comes up to me in the parks wearing my art. I love seeing people create special memories in my art!

Through this aspect of your work and also your work with Her Universe, you’ve been able to model and wear a lot of amazing geek fashion. What has that experience been like?

Designing and modeling for Her Universe has been a dream come true. Her Universe, like Disney, is a brand I completely believe in. Her Universe allows fangirls from all walks of life to flaunt their world and showcase their fandoms through fashion. It gives a voice to the female fan community and allows fangirls to not only feel accepted, but to be the best versions of themselves. So to be a small part in that community has been incredible!

Ashley’s Star Wars timeline piece, created with Her Universe.

What are some of your future goals as an artist?

I have so many future goals. And a lot of them are coming into fruition! The most important goal is to keep growing and challenging myself as an artist. I’d love to do a worldwide press tour and be able to meet my amazing fans around the world. That would be amazing!

What’s left to do on your Disney bucket list?

I’d love to create artwork for some of the international Disney Parks, like Tokyo Disneyland. That would be amazing! I’d also love to create artwork for one of the Disney resorts or a Disney attraction.

 

The geeky bags you’re looking for are Sent From Mars

Some women lust after handbags by Coach, Louis Vuitton, Gucci, or Chanel.

But if you’re a geek, you’re probably saving your pennies so you can acquire an original Mari Cole.

Mari’s first endeavors into geek fashion design were inspired by her late, beloved brother Ray and his requests for custom pop culture-themed Halloween costumes. A student of San Francisco’s Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising, she gained experience working for major retailers before deciding she’d rather do her own thing.

She launched an Etsy shop featuring intricate and playful geeky handbags and has since branched out into partnering with manufacturers, as well as offering other products, including leggings and pins. In a playful nod to her name, she titled the business Sent From Mars

Drawing inspiration from fandoms like Star Wars, Harry Potter, Back to the Future, and Super Mario Bros., as well as a love of glitter and sparkle, Mari creates extraordinary high-end statement pieces that offer the fun, nostalgic wish fulfillment geeks crave.

If you’ve been looking for that special accessory that will take your geek style to the next level, your search is over. 

Your accessories and apparel business, Sent From Mars, specializes in custom and limited-edition pop culture-themed handbags, as well as enamel pins, leggings, and stickers. Where do you draw inspiration for your designs?

The majority of my inspiration comes from movies, shows and video games. Especially anything with nostalgia that brings about a good memory or feeling. And sometimes it comes from a resourceful point of view, looking at my supplies and thinking of what I can make with what’s in front of me.

Your creations are imaginative, playful, elaborate, and textured. Can you tell me a little bit about the process that goes into designing a bag?

I have made a LOT of bags now, so my process has gotten pretty streamlined. I have a basic shape I work within and I start each design with a little quick sketch which I transfer to a life-size version where I can see what is actually possible. Then I like to take a look at different fabrics and trims that I can add. I love mixing textures and a variety of fabrics to make unique pieces.

You describe yourself as a “designer, maker, illustrator.” How does the illustrator role apply to what you do?

I would say I am actually an illustrator first since I’ve been drawing since I was a kid. I use that skill in every bag to create the designs and patterns. This year, I’ve added leggings, pins and printed bags, and it’s been really fun to finally do more illustration work and turn them into actual products.

Would it be accurate to say your sewing machine is one of the most valuable tools of your trade?

Definitely, I’d be lost without it!

It’s plain to see you have a love of glitter and sparkle. Where does this come from?

Great question! Honestly, sparkly things just make me happy. They are just fun to look at and I’ve always loved them!

I love the name Sent From Mars. Is it a play on your name? How did you come up with that?

It is! When I started my shop, I knew I didn’t want to have my actual name on my products so the “Mars” in Sent From Mars is a little nod to it but I like that it really sounds like Mars the planet.

Mari’s brother, Ray, in a Rufio costume she designed for him to wear for Halloween.

What’s your geek origin story? Why did you decide to focus on the geek side of fashion?

This one wasn’t so obvious to me and I can only tell when I look back at how things came about. And it really started from making Halloween costumes for my younger brother, Ray. We always watched movies together, and would talk about projects we’d like to create from them. And Halloween was always our favorite time of year. He wanted movie quality costumes and that’s where I came in.

The first one I really put my all into was a Joker costume from The Dark Knight. Then a Rufio costume which I turned into a tutorial on the website Instructables. Those costumes and that tutorial are what led me into making by first “geeky” bag inspired by Han Solo. And what’s funny is, I didn’t know that “geek” was a thing. I was just making something I liked from a movie I loved. (Ray) passed away in 2016 from a brain tumor but he’s still with me every day, inspiring everything I make.

What specifically appeals to you about creating handbags?

I wear a bag every day, and I know I’m not the only one so I like that I can design something fun that gets a lot of use.

What are some of your favorite products that you’ve created so far?

That’s tough since they are all special to me but I love the quirky ones, like my Spunky inspired bag (from Rocko’s Modern Life) and the two Back to the Future-inspired bags.

I read that you studied at the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising. Tell me more about your fashion background.

Yep! I went to FIDM in San Francisco straight out of high school. While I was there, I felt like I really honed in on what I wanted to do as a career, design.

You got your start in the industry working for a couple of major retailers. What did you learn from that experience?

I live two hours out of San Francisco so I was lucky to be close to design work which isn’t always easy to find if you’re looking for a 9 to 5 job. Those experiences taught me a lot but the big thing I took away was that I wanted to design things for myself and make things I was really truly passionate about.

Why did you decide to strike out on your own?

There really isn’t anything as fulfilling as doing work you’re proud of and passionate about. That really drove me to later start my shop. I saw a lot of people running stores on Etsy and just thought if they could do it, why not me?

Mari with her first batch of manufactured bags for Sent From Mars.

Sent From Mars began as an Etsy shop and you’ve since branched out to partner with manufacturers. Tell me about the evolution of the business.

I started my Etsy shop only selling handmade pieces. I loved what I was able to create but it wasn’t scalable, there are only so many bags I can make on my own in a given month. It had been a dream of mine for several years to get products manufactured, even before I actually started my shop.

Through social media I’ve been able to connect with a lot of likeminded people and shop owners and was fortunate to have gotten a referral to my first manufacturer that way. I’ve only manufactured a few pieces so far and am still figuring this part out but I’m glad to be on the right path.

What’s been most challenging about running your own business?

For me it has been consistency and planning ahead. When you design for fun you can create as you please but to make it a business you really need clear goals and to look forward at what you’re trying to achieve.

What do you enjoy most about it?

I love the actual design part. Sitting down and planning out new products, getting inspired and creating.

Since your bags are custom-made and limited edition, they’re priced as any good investment piece would be. How would you describe your customer demographic?

When I design pieces, I really start out by making them for myself, so I would say my customer is someone who cares about the details and wants a quality piece.

Mari’s custom Marty McFly dress with Back to the Future-inspired accessories, which she designed to wear to the Geekie Awards.

You’ve made some amazing custom commissions and your bags have been featured at special events and on red carpets. What have been some of the most memorable Sent From Mars product appearances?

Well my most memorable was actually my own when I designed myself a custom Marty McFly dress for the Geekie Awards in 2015. I made a hoverboard clutch and DeLorean earrings to match and it was such a fun outfit to wear!

ThinkGeek mascot Timmy in a Hellboy costume designed by Mari Cole with one of her Hellboy handbags.

You made some costumes for ThinkGeek mascot Timmy that were worn by the little monkey at San Diego Comic-Con. Tell me more about that.

I’ve been a fan of ThinkGeek for years after discovering them one Christmas and getting the absolute best stocking stuffers for my family. I saw that they were recruiting designers to make Timmy costumes and just thought it looked fun, so I applied and was able to make two costumes for him, a Bowser and a Hellboy, two of my favorites.

Many of your products are inspired by Star Wars. What’s your earliest memory of George Lucas’ franchise?

Definitely my brother buying a limited edition set of the original trilogy on VHS at Blockbuster. I remember they came in gold sleeves and that’s the first time I can remember really watching them.

What do you love about the galaxy far, far away?

I really love the characters and the imagery has always inspired me. I also always love a good hero/villain story and this is one of the best!

You also create a lot of Harry Potter-inspired designs. You seem to have a fixation with Hedwig and the Niffler from “Fantastic Beasts.” Do you have a soft spot for magical creatures?

Oh, most definitely! My favorite characters always seem to be creatures, probably since in real life I’m a huge animal lover.

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

I saw the movies when they first came out in theaters and loved them. I’ve always loved magic and the story captivated me.

What’s your Hogwarts house?

Gryffindor! First by choice and then by Pottermore.

Mari visits Platform 9 3/4 with one of her Hedwig bags.

What are some of your other personal fandoms?

Anything Super Mario, specifically Yoshi. Back to the Future and also The 10th Kingdom.

You’ve said that with each of your designs you like to try something new or challenge yourself when it comes to honing your skills. Why is that important to you?

I’m motivated by a challenge. I find that to be the most rewarding.

You’re mom to an adorable little girl. She seems to have inspired a fair amount of personal projects. Can you tell me about some of those?

One was for her actual announcement. I wanted to share the news in a way that related to my shop so I used her ultrasound photo to make a custom bag. It still sits by my desk and was a great way to capture that moment. Her first Halloween costume was also really fun to make. I made her a pink Yoshi complete with a stuffed tail. And right now I’m working on her first birthday outfit which will be a fun custom Yoshi print onesie!

The bag Mari made for her daughter’s birth announcement, using an ultrasound photo.

Geeky bags of all kinds seem to be really in right now. Why do you think consumers have latched onto this trend?

I would say part of the attraction is that a bag is a really fun way to wear something you’re into, and can be the only piece you include in your outfit which makes it really easy to wear and a product you get a lot of use out of.

What are your future plans or dreams for Sent From Mars?

I’d like to offer a full line of clothing and accessories in the future and am working towards releasing collections rather than just one design at a time.

What’s on your to-make bucket list?

Loads of personal projects that I don’t usually have time for, such as custom Halloween decorations for my house! I’ve always wanted to go all out decorating it in a Super Mario castle theme!

What you do you personally look for in a handbag?

It’s been years since I’ve bought a handbag but when I make them I look for inspiration in something that makes me happy, usually something that makes me laugh or has a good memory tied to it.

‘Dreaming’ of vintage sci-fi? Pasadena exhibit explores genre from SoCal POV

If you’re a fan of Southern California sci-fi greats, like Ray Bradbury, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Octavia Butler, and Syd Mead, you won’t want to miss an unassuming but fascinating exhibit that’s about to wrap up its run in Pasadena.

“Dreaming the Universe: The Intersection of Science, Fiction, & Southern California” is on display at the Pasadena Museum of History through Sept. 2. If you’re a classic sci-fi enthusiast who lives in (or is visiting) SoCal, the exhibit makes for a great start to a day out in Pasadena.

“Dreaming the Universe” examines the legacy of sci-fi in SoCal during the 1930s to ’80s and how it “interacted with the advances of science, changes in technology, and shifts in American society,” according to the museum’s website. Curated by Nick Smith, former president of the Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society, the exhibit includes artifacts, art, books, historic photos, and other memorabilia.

If you’re expecting a flashy, high-tech experience, you may want to lower your expectations. “Dreaming the Universe” is small — you can probably get through it in about 20 minutes — but it’s also surprisingly substantial and will interest anyone who’s into vintage or obscure sci-fi movies, TV, toys, books, art, and oddities.

Filmmaker Peter Jackson discusses the science-fiction masters who influenced him in the “Dreaming the Universe” exhibit at the Pasadena Museum of History.

“Dreaming the Universe” begins with an examination of the Rocket Age of 1936, the first rocket tests conducted in Pasadena’s Arroyo Seco, and the growth of the SoCal aeronautics industry, which “paralleled the growth of the creative science fiction community,” according to the museum’s website.

The exhibit highlights such visionary creators as Ray Bradbury, Octavia Butler, Frank Kelly Freas, Syd Mead, Emil Petaja, and Edgar Rice Burroughs, as well as the books, fanzines, art, and media they created.

I particularly appreciated that the display focuses on the contributions of sci-fi fans, including the legendary Forrest J. Ackerman, and the roles they played in the development of the science-fiction genre.

This hand-painted door is from the 1980s clubhouse of the Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society, a room where fanzines were created in an era where new fans were flocking to Star Wars and Star Trek.

As I mentioned, “Dreaming the Universe” is scarce on flashy properties or objects loaned by major movie studios, so you’re not going to be seeing a lot of Marvel or DC superheroes or anything of that ilk. Still, you’ll find a few extremely modest collections devoted to Star Wars, Star Trek, and famous comic book characters.

A tiny Star Wars section includes this Chirashi print — a mini poster used to advertise movies in Japan, usually custom-made — of “A New Hope”:

The Star Trek section includes uniforms worn by Scotty and Lieutenant Paloma from the original series:

There’s also a replica communicator, tricorder, and phaser, purchased from a Star Trek convention in 1986:

What “Dreaming the Universe” lacks in big-ticket items, it more than makes up for in the form of the rare, the obscure, and the eccentric, like these Skeletor pieces from the 1987 movie “Masters of the Universe.”

As a devoted fan of “Fahrenheit 451” author and Los Angeles resident Ray Bradbury, there were many artifacts in “Dreaming the Universe” of personal interest to me, including this sculpture:

The piece, inspired by artist Christopher Slatoff’s friendship with Bradbury, is modeled upon the short story “Pieta Summer,” but also sports the tattoos of the author’s famed “Illustrated Man” on the back of the sculpture.

Seeing this pair of glasses (I think they must be from the late Bradbury’s childhood because they are very small) nearly brought me to tears:

Another emotional moment came when I spied this blanket, which Bradbury used to bundle up in when he traveled by wheelchair later in life and which I recognized from several appearances where I was fortunate to meet the writer. Bradbury was a huge Halloween geek!

I also loved seeing this inscription by Bradbury in a volume of “The Martian Chronicles,” referring to L.A.’s Clifton’s Cafeteria, where the author often dined as a broke teenager in the 1930s.

And here is a DVD case of the 2006 film “The Sci-Fi Boys,” signed by stop-motion pioneer Ray Harryhausen, Ray Bradbury, and Forrest J. Ackerman:

Below are some more highlights from the “Dreaming the Universe” exhibit.

Some fun artifacts relating to “Tarzan” and “John Carter of Mars” author Edgar Rice Burroughs:

A bust of actor Glenn Strange as Frankenstein (Strange played the monster in three Frankenstein movies after Boris Karloff tired of the role.):

Vintage science-fiction lunchbox, thermos, and rocket:

Artifacts from the career of visual effects artist and stop-motion innovator Ray Harryhausen:

A costume drawing of the robot Gort from 1951’s “The Day the Earth Stood Still”:

Production art from 1953’s “War of the Worlds”:

Vintage toy robots:

A caricature of J.R.R. Tolkien, circa 1970, by “Dean of Science Fiction Artists” Frank Kelly Freas.

This autograph board was signed by 63 people associated with the television program “The Twilight Zone.” Fan Jeff Rack tracked them down over a period of 20 years.

An ape head, boots, molded shoulder pieces, and a Super 8 film reel case from 1968’s “Planet of the Apes”:

Mr. Freeze’s helmet, worn by George Sanders in the 1966 “Batman” TV series, starring Adam West:

Concept art by concept Syd Mead, who influenced the iconic looks of such films as “Blade Runner,” “Tron,” and “Aliens”:

“Dreaming the Universe” is on display from noon to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday, through Sept. 2, at the Pasadena Museum of History, 470 West Walnut St. Tickets cost $9. For more details, visit the museum website

 

 

Saber Maidens admin sews her way to a space for women to connect with the Force

This week, we continue to combat the toxic masculinity and divisive rhetoric that’s threatening to make being part of the Star Wars fan community kind of a downer. In the second installment of a two-part interview, we’re featuring another co-founder and co-admin of the Facebook group Saber Maidens.

As we learned last week, Saber Maidens is a support group for women who are into Star Wars, the (light)saber arts, and prop and costume fabrication. The group began as the vision of Pat Yulo and Celeste Joy Greer Walker (who we featured last week) as they sought to create a safe space for female fans wary of being shamed or bullied by fanboys.

In this interview, we meet Pat, who got hooked on sewing after taking classes at her local community college and soon discovered an outlet for the Star Wars passion sparked, interestingly enough, after she made the connection between “Spaceballs” and “A New Hope” as a high school freshman living in the Philippines.

Pat now has eight approved costumes with Rebel Legion — no easy feat! — and troops regularly with the charity group; will be featured in the upcoming docuseries “Looking for Leia”; is admin of My Little Pony-Star Wars mashup group MLP Jedi; and holds a special place in her heart for that purple-haired goddess, Admiral Holdo.

She also throws down the gauntlet to fanboys crying tears over a new era of inclusive Star Wars stories. In her words:

“We’re here to declare that this new female-centric version of Star Wars is here to stay and for every fanboy shedding tears, there are more women behind you not willing to put up with it.”

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

Saber Maidens is a support group for women (cis, trans and everything in between) who enjoy dressing up as Force users and wielding lightsabers. People who participate in the group have varying needs met — some are more into the creation of the costumes and are looking for sewing help, others are more into the physical choreography of using a lightsaber. All of them are people looking for a space to talk about Star Wars that does not include the negativity of the current “fanboy” state out there.

What are your duties as admin and co-founder?

I always joke that for any group, my duties as admin is to find relevant memes to post on the group. We moderate conversations and try to engage our members to talk about their current projects.

Tell me about the conversations with co-admin Celeste Joy Greer Walker that led to the founding of the group.

Somewhere buried in the bowels of Facebook Messenger was the beginnings of the conversation that started Saber Maidens. Celeste and I originally envisioned a safe space for female Star Wars fans to discuss their love of the fandom. It differs from other groups because we primarily focused on Jedi and lightsaber choreography, because it was how we met and some of our fueling passions in the fandom. We’re not pilots or princesses or smugglers. We identify with the Force and make that our focus.

Why did you feel women needed a “safe space” in the Star Wars choreography clubs?

For full disclosure, I was always at the periphery of the choreography clubs. My skill, time, and other duties prevented me from exploring and spending more time with the group. So my participation is fleeting at best. What I’ve personally experienced hasn’t been too jarring, but also, that’s because I haven’t been too entrenched in that atmosphere. My one major negative interaction with the choreography club was getting burned by a saber maker who overcharged me for a lightsaber and took two years to deliver.

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

Gosh, nothing is more fun and unproductive than getting together for a crafternoon! We set goals — like working on arm bands or learning new makeup techniques — and then get distracted by the conversation, food, and fun of the atmosphere. Sometimes we take submission photos together for the various clubs. Each person who attends has a different craft agenda sometimes and each person works on their own project while in the company of others.

What other activities have Saber Maidens participated in as a group?

Some of the members of Saber Maidens have presented at local cons on how to create authentic looking Jedi costuming. The speakers have now been nicknamed “Jedi Master Interfacing” and “Jedi Master Velcro” based on how much time they spend at each session talking about their love for each item. We say Jedi are held together by Velcro, snaps, and the Force.

You were inspired to get into costuming in 2002 after working at a local Renaissance Faire. What appealed to you about this particular craft?

I’ve always been a crafty person and loved making things. When I was younger, it was about painting and embroidery. When I moved to the U.S., I lost a safe space to paint and needed to find an outlet that didn’t make such a big mess. I joined the Renaissance Faire and learned how to sew. Then I got a sewing machine and ended up taking classes at the local community college.

My first teacher was very curious about my questions as no one else in the beginner’s class was asking about working with fur. (I wanted to make a Care Bears costume). He told me to volunteer for Costume Con, and that’s when I saw what the local costuming community was like and I fell in love with the creativity.

A combination of working for Faire and participating in the local costuming community really helped me to come out of my shell. High school me was VERY quiet, shy, and reserved. Now I’m a lot more assertive, goal-oriented, and boisterous.

Pat Yulo in a Winter Fairy costume she fashioned out of her wedding dress.

You took a sewing class at community college and went on to earn a certificate in theater costuming. What’s the most important thing you learned during your studies?

I went in for one class and, like an addict, kept going back for more! I loved it and the school was so supportive and thorough. I learned that SEWING IS HARD. It involves pain, some blood, a lot of heartache, and lots of overthinking. I know my math skills improved, as did my engineering mind. Sewing teaches math and patience, which are not really byproducts you think of when it comes to the hobby. Practice, practice, practice.

The Saber Maidens are currently working on Lightsabers for Leia, scheduled for Oct. 21. Tell me about that campaign.

The primary goal of this group build is to submit as many lightsaber-wielding Leia costumes by October 21, 2018, as a way to honor Carrie Fisher and her legacy as Leia. Princess Leia and Carrie Fisher inspired generations of fans and have been role models for many young, aspiring Jedi. When Leia was shown with Force powers in “The Last Jedi,” the moment reverberated through the fandom.

There are a lot of other instances of Leia using her latent Jedi abilities in books and comic books. Seeing Leia use a lightsaber was like seeing a potential fulfilled, and we’d like to bring that to life. For many, it reinforced the strength we knew Leia had. We want to make Leia as visible as possible in costume clubs so she can continue to serve as an icon for courage and hope.

We’ve established there are multiple variations of this version of Leia, such as Force Unleashed Leia, Infinities Jedi Leia, Marvel Jedi Leia, and Splinter of the Mind’s Eye Leia to name a few. There are certainly more instances, but those are not as fully resourced with pictures. There is also a lot of fan art that is near and dear to us. Pick a version and go with it!

We are also doing a fundraiser for the International Bipolar Foundation, which was a cause dear to Carrie’s heart. We are selling patches of our Saber Maidens logo and a special Lightsabers for Leia patch and all proceeds go to IBPF. We will also donate the money on October 21. You can order patches here.

How many people are participating and what kind of costumes are they creating?

A lot of people are working on their costumes, but we currently don’t have an exact number. As with any costumer, there is a lot of laziness and delay until we get close to the deadline. Then we’ll all freak out and finish it in a week or two. Some of us are having a hard time sourcing the appropriate materials or fabrics. We also need to decide if we want to make the costume for fun or to have it approved by either Rebel Legion or Saber Guild.

What sort of efforts are going into preparing for Oct. 21?

We are all doing a lot of research on the costumes and figuring out what is available out there. Because there are multiple instances of her wielding a saber, it’s a matter of choosing which costumes speaks to you the most. And sewing, lots and lots of sewing.

How were you personally affected by the passing of Carrie Fisher?

I remember getting the news of Carrie Fisher’s passing while finishing up breakfast on a cold, post-Christmas morning. I had to sit down and collect my thoughts. I felt like someone I knew personally had passed, and I don’t normally get this feeling for celebrities I had never met. And I was motivated to do SOMETHING. I worked with my friends at the Rebel Legion and we created a vigil for Carrie at the Yoda Fountain in front of Lucasfilm. The next day, we brought candles, pictures, cans of Coke, and a sign that we all wrote on. We sat around, talked, and comforted one another. It was a big blow to our community.

You’re a member of Rebel Legion, a group of Star Wars costuming enthusiasts who give back to the community through charity and volunteering. How did you become involved with that group?

A couple of years ago, I was wandering WonderCon as Kaylee from “Firefly” in a large, pink, fluffy dress. I came across the Rebel Legion booth and thought that if I was going to make a Star Wars costume, it would be good to use it for something meaningful. I never imagined years down the line I’d end up with TOO many Jedi costumes. (There might not be a thing as too many as I’d like to make more!). My first troop with them was for the Boys and Girls Club of San Francisco at Lucasfilm. We got to entertain kids and teach them how to use lightsabers before they went into to watch episodes of “Clone Wars.”

You currently have seven approved Jedi costumes and one Admiral Holdo costume. Wow, that is a lot! Tell me more about the different costumes and what it took to create them.

Full disclosure: I didn’t make my first approved costume. It was beyond my skills at the time to make Callista Ming, so I commissioned someone to make it for me. As my sewing skills improved, I made Jocasta Nu and a variety of generic Jedi. I like the idea of generic Jedi because you aren’t beholden to screen accuracy. You can let your imagination run wild a little bit and create colors and a character that could exist in the Star Wars universe.

I have a Jedi made up of gray fabrics that I inherited from a friend. She passed along a collection of gray skirts that had been owned by a friend’s wife who had passed suddenly. I patchworked all the skirts and gray fabrics together and I think the end product looks really polished and sophisticated, and in some way, acknowledges the leftovers of a life missed.

Could you explain what kind of work is involved in getting a costume approved by Rebel Legion? I’ve heard it isn’t easy.  

Things you learn with experience — when making a costume for any of the costume clubs, first check to see if they have a CRL (Costume Reference Library) for that character or type of character. Do research — see what’s out there, what’s been done, what’s been approved before you. Generic Jedi are one of the easiest to sew and give some leeway to creative license. Join online groups like Ladies of the Legions or the group’s forums to ask questions about your costume build.

When it’s done, take clear photos in good lighting and then submit them via a website form. It doesn’t matter how many costumes you’ve submitted — each one is nerve-racking as you wait for your approval letter! Holdo was a tough one for me because I didn’t have time to make it myself. I had to outsource the dress and submitted shortly before the movie came out, so there wasn’t even a CRL yet.

Pat in her Rebel Legion-approved Vice Admiral Holdo costume.

Which of your eight costumes was the most challenging?

Jocasta Nu was a learning curve because it took a while to figure out how to do the embroidery on her tabards. I had a newborn at the time and I’m not even sure how I finished that and a generic Jedi during my months of maternity leave. But I figured it out with some chalk, a twin needle, and a TON of dark brown thread. I must have used up over six spools!

What kind of volunteer work have you done with Rebel Legion?

I’ve been trooping with RL for almost 10 years now. As a working mom and wife, I use trooping as my “spa day.” I’ve trooped at the Ronald McDonald House, Lucasfilm, autism walks, the Great Reno Balloon Race, and Davies Symphony Hall to name a few. I love interacting with the public — especially when I hand a woman or girl a lightsaber to hold for a photo. Their eyes just light up and it’s a reminder that a lightsaber is symbolic of strength and power and, yes, women can have that power too. I’ve also helped to plan some of the parties and get-togethers.

What do you enjoy most about being a part of this group?

Deep down, I feel like all human beings are just looking to be accepted. Being part of a group like Rebel Legion fulfills that needs and provides you with friends in good times and in bad. When one of us are hurt, we rally together to help one another out. In many ways it also acts like an extended family.

You’ve said you have a whole closet full of costumes. Tell me about some of the non-Star Wars looks you’ve created.

My Jedi costumes intermingle with my steampunk stuff. A lot of my steampunk and RenFaire skirts are actually my Jedi skirts. There are fairies in there, too, one for each season. When I got married, I designed my dress to be inexpensive and reusable as a winter fairy costume. So I’ve actually gotten a lot of use out of what’s supposed to be a one-time dress. There’s also some historical stuff, like Regency, Edwardian, Dickens, and Medieval. There’s also a Dolores Umbridge and a Slytherin, and some mashups too.

Pat with the Star Wars-My Little Pony mashup group MLP Jedi.

You manage the Facebook group MLP Jedi, which is a mashup of Star Wars and My Little Pony. I had no idea such a fandom existed. Please give me all the details of how this came to be!

At Celebration Anaheim in 2015, a friend of mine and I sat at a panel about Star Wars mashups. At the time, I had made a vow — NO mashups. Ever. And yet, there we were, sitting and plotting about our mutual love for Star Wars and My Little Pony. We each picked our favorite ponies and thought nothing of it for a couple of months. The following January, I got word that cousins of mine were moving to the Bay Area and they were big Star Wars and MLP fans as well. All of a sudden, we were able to make costumes for the Mane Six. So I worked hard to construct six costumes in three months in time for BABSCon 2016. Since then we’ve just been recruiting other friends willing to join us, including a bunch of little Padawans.

Are a lot of people into this specific mashup?

There are at least 20 of us with this mashup and there is certainly fan art out there that shows there’s a fan base!

I’m having a hard time visualizing what the MLP Jedi “scene” might look like. Can you describe it for me?

I’m not sure if there’s really a scene, but we always attend BABScon, the local My Little Pony con and do a panel for the kid’s club. We sing the MLP Jedi theme song, talk about using the Force, and make lightsabers out of balloons. Last con, one of our new members who does DayBreaker Sith even did a panel about science.

You’re featured in the upcoming docuseries “Looking for Leia,” which focuses on women in the fandom. How did that come about?

Luck and the Force! I was sitting in the airport, killing time because my flight was delayed, when Celeste posted about “Looking for Leia.” I checked out the website and sent them a lengthy, gushy email about how much I love Star Wars and how I interact with my fandom. Turns out Annalise Ophelian, the filmmaker, was local to the San Francisco Bay Area and was interested in my story.

Tell me more about that experience.

The film crew came to my house to film me individually in the morning, and in the afternoon we had a round table discussion with a group of women, some of whom had come in from Reno and Texas to be part of it. Sit a group of women down for five hours and they can easily fill all that time talking about Star Wars! They also filmed some footage of the MLP Jedi being a bunch of goofs, ‘cause really, when you’re a candy-colored Jedi, life can be a lot fun. When I went on a trip to the Philippines, I managed to connect with Rebel Legion and 501st ladies there. We even managed to film some footage there, which I hope made it to the final cut!

Why did you want to be part of this amazing project?

Who would pass up an opportunity to talk about Star Wars and how it’s influenced our lives? It was a great opportunity too – I have met so many amazing women in this fandom and have connected with people around the world. My part of Saber Maidens was born out of the desire to have a space for women to connect with their fandom.

Tell me your Star Wars origin story. How did you discover George Lucas’ galaxy far, far away?

A long time ago, in a Philippines far, far away … it was Saturday, Sept. 12, 1992. I was a freshman in high school. My dad had just come back from his weekly trip to the laser disc rental store and came back with our weekend movie. “We’re watching Star Wars,” he said. My dad was a jock through and through, but man, did he love movies and movie trivia.

That afternoon we were transported to a galaxy I had never imagined … until I saw two familiar droids crossing the sand dunes of Tatooine, when I shouted, “Wait, wait, wait ….is this the movie “Spaceballs” is about?!” Up to this point, I had seen “Spaceballs” about 300 times and thought it was the best ever! I had no idea it was actually based on something.

But my life changed that day. In retrospect, it’s weird to think of how a simple movie can change your whole life and perspective but it did — it became the bedrock of my geekdom, which dictated how I interacted with people from then on.

Why do you think this franchise has proved to be such an enduring passion for you?

Why does any mythology endure? I like to imagine that hundreds of years from now Star Wars would be the equivalent of Greek and Roman myths today. The characters and storyline are universally understood, especially in light of the “Hero’s Journey” by Joseph Campbell. And now with the new trilogy we finally get the Heroine’s Journey.

The evolution of the franchise has been exciting to be a part of too. More people are starting to renew their passions and more are joining it. The widening of character-types and arcs are allowing more people to see themselves in the movies as well. I never connected with Princess Leia but Vice Admiral Holdo? Man, there was a woman who was stately and not afraid to be herself.

Does Star Wars manifest itself in your life in other ways besides costuming?

My Star Wars passion has ebbed and flowed over the years, and there were the “dark times” shortly after “Episode I” came out. I was disillusioned with the direction of the franchise. Joining the Rebel Legion really did fan the flames of fandom, and I appreciate the costuming community for it.

I feel like my Star Wars passion is all-pervasive and touches all parts of my life. My husband is a huge geek too, just in a very quiet kind of way. One Christmas, I gave him a picture that said, “I love you more than Star Wars.” He laughed and said, “That’s not true but it’s a nice sentiment.”

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

That quote really struck a chord with a lot of us. Sadly, it feels like there is a lot of hatred in the Star Wars fandom, and I hate to say it but most of it is coming from men. All of the female-centric circles I’ve been in have been happy with the changes in the franchise, including women of color, ages and various body types. Sadly, these additions have not been well received and the paradigm towards hate grows stronger every day. It makes women want to give up with their fandom, which is one of the reasons I think Saber Maidens and communities like it are important.

But like the old adage goes, you can’t fight fire with fire, you can’t fight hate with hate either. What is it with fragile toxic masculinity that has made it rear its ugly head in many vocal forms lately? We’re here to declare that this new female-centric version of Star Wars is here to stay and for every fanboy shedding tears, there are more women behind you not willing to put up with it.

Pat as Dolores Umbridge.

What are some of your other fandoms?

Oh man, at my heart I am a geek and when I love, it’s deep and thorough. Let’s see, I love Doctor Who, My Little Pony, Firefly, Twin Peaks, and Harry Potter, to name a few. Things that aren’t completely considered geeky but that I treat with full force passion — Broadway musicals and books by L.M. Montgomery, especially “Anne of Green Gables.” My husband and I made our pilgrimage to Prince Edward Island for her.

Let’s close with a few Star Wars questions:

What’s your ultimate favorite film in the franchise?

“A New Hope.” I just love that classic hero’s journey, especially the scene where Luke stares off into the two suns and the music theme swells around him. I don’t know how many times I painted that sunset in high school!

What other movies, franchise entries, or stories from the Star Wars universe are you into?

I used to read the Expanded Universe (now Legends) voraciously. I stopped once they killed off Chewie but have been picking up some of the newer books as well. I LOVE “Leia: Princess of Alderaan” by Claudia Grey because it explains how Leia accesses the Force so beautifully and introduces Holdo, who reminded me of my high school self.

Who’s your favorite character?

Luke Skywalker forever. That farm boy is my jam.

Favorite droid?

R2-KT

Lightsaber color?

Orange. It’s a unique color and stands out in a crowd of blues and greens.

Porgs? Yes or no?

I would trade porgs for crystal foxes! There are a voracious subset of Saber Maidens who are totally team porg. We even have a member who does Daenerys Targaryen but with porgs — she is the Mother of Porgs. Me? I want a Swarovski tie-in with the crystal fox.

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

Find us on Facebook! We have a page that’s available to the public and a group that’s private. Also, we do meetups in the San Francisco Bay Area because it’s where we started. But if you’re a group of lightsaber-wielding gals and want to meet up in another location, we hope we can help with that too!

If readers would like to get involved with Lightsabers for Leia, what should they do?

Post on our Facebook page or join our private group. If you have questions about the costume build, we hopefully can pool our knowledge to figure it out!

 

 

Toxic masculinity no match for saber-wielding Leia fan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How did the group come to be founded?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hahaaaaaaaaaaaaaahaha.

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

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

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

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

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

Are you a member of any of these groups?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Celeste sports a Hat for House Elves.

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

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

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

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

What do you enjoy most about it?

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

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

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

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

Celeste at Star Wars Celebration 2017.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Celeste as Princess Leia in 1987.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Celeste at San Diego Comic-Con in 2003.

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

Is there sand on Jakku?

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

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

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

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

What are some of your other fandoms?

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

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

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

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

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

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

And now, a few Star Wars questions.

What’s your ultimate favorite film in the franchise?

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

Besides Leia, who’s your favorite character?

Luke Skywalker, Duchess Satine.

Favorite droid?

L3-37, Lando’s droid in “Solo.”

Lightsaber color?

I have plans for making a paisley lightsaber.

Porgs? Yes or no?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What was the first Funko Pop photo you took?

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

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

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

Do you have a background or training in photography?

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

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

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

What are some of your favorite or most prized Pops?

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

Where do you tend to get your Pops from?

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

Where do you keep your Funko Pops?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How did you become interested in fandoms and geek culture?

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

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

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

Who’s your favorite GOT character?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s your favorite Star Wars movie or story?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What games are you currently playing?

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

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

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

What’s your survival strategy for the zombie apocalypse?

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

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

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

Any favorites?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

For crafter/gamer, geek culture provides creative outlet, bonding time with sons

One of the most perfect gifts I’ve ever received is a custom-made Star Wars diaper bag that is a rare combination of adorable, totally geeky, and not-too-girly. My daughter is now 4 years old and this amazing bag still hangs in my hall closet, where I often gaze at it wistfully. I don’t think I’ll ever part with it.

As a matter of fact, I’ve been wanting to introduce you to the creator of this best diaper bag of all the best diaper bags ever. Her name is Sarah Vroman and she’s a dazzlingly versatile crafter, artist, photographer, video gamer, burgeoning musician, and mom to three wonderful geek boys (who also happen to be my nephews).

Her geeky wares have included a series of striking bags, influenced by everything from “Sherlock” to Pac-Man, as well as jewelry, pillows and home decor items, cross stitch and, most recently, sweaters inspired by knitting maven and “Jessica Jones” star Krysten Ritter. 

Raised in New York as part of a family that prized a love of science, technology, art, and imagination, Sarah was introduced to the exciting world of geeky entertainment options when she first read Douglas Adams.

The Atari and Legend of Zelda ushered her into the endless possibilities of gaming, a passion that grew after she began playing Borderlands and personal favorite Fallout with her sons. The family also enjoys cosplaying, going to comic cons, and trying out new hobbies.

Below, Sarah chats about how gaming has changed for girls, her favorite Batman, tips for taking kids to cons, why she’s a music geek first, what it’s like to love “dead” fandoms, and why she’s just not into Star Wars.

Pssst … If you’re really nice to her, maybe you can talk her into making you a Star Wars diaper bag, too. 

You’re a geeky crafter and video gamer who is raising three geek boys. When would you say your life as a geeky truly began?

When I was a preteen in the early ’90s, my interests were so very typical: I listened to New Kids on the Block, watched “Saved By the Bell,” and read “The Babysitters Club” books. It took some time but my dad and brother convinced me to try something new — reading “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.”

Up until that point, I don’t think I had any idea that entertainment could actually be entertaining. This moment changed everything for me. From then on I read everything my brother recommended: “Jane Eyre,” “King Lear,” “Pride and Prejudice,” “I, Robot.” This was also the time frame that Tim Burton’s “Batman” and the original “Jurassic Park” were in the theater, and Pearl Jam and Nirvana were on MTV. What a time to be alive!

You come from a family of techies. Does this have something to do with your geekier tendencies?

I have a love of science and technology. The world is still struggling to convince girls that it’s not only ok but awesome for them to love these things. When I was a kid I was definitely a weirdo to some for embracing tech.

In New York, when you’re on the honors track you get to choose which school you go to and apply to them starting in junior high. It was decided for me that I should be applying to the schools specializing in honors level general ed or the one specializing in art. Nobody within the educational system was happy when I chose the school specializing in technology.

But in my house, technology was always celebrated in a way that made it  obvious how important it was. It was accessible and made the whole world accessible. It was the future — which is why that particular school was aptly named “School of the Future.”

All of science begins with imagination. And science fiction takes science beyond what is currently possible to inspire advancement and make the impossible possible.

You once made me the most perfect, most awesome Star Wars diaper bag as a baby shower gift — I still have it! — and you created and sold geek-themed bags on Etsy. How did you begin doing that?

I started selling bags on Etsy because I had more designs in my head than I had room for in my own closet. For the most part, when I had an idea for what I or a loved one wanted, I would make two or three and sell the superfluous ones on Etsy.

I got this cheesy idea to name my bags after favorite literary characters or places. My first bag was named “The Baker Street Bag,” then I had “The Prefect Tote,” and “The Emma Bag.” But actually designing for geeks was because of that amazing Star Wars bag I made for you! I made two extras to sell and they were both gone in 24 hours. To this day, it’s my most popular pin on Pinterest and I still get requests to make them again.

Tell me about some of the other bags you made.

My favorite bag that I made for myself was a “Sherlock”-inspired bag. It was a small messenger bag. For the flap, I used fabric that was identical to the wallpaper Sherlock drew the happy face on. I remember being terrified putting the happy face on the fabric because after all the work of making the bag I was about to risk destroying it if something went wrong with the fabric paint I was using. But it came out perfect.

Another of my favorites was a large messenger I designed for my son. I found a great Pac Man fabric and appliqued a Pac Man onto the flap.

How did you learn to sew and what sparked your interest in crafting?

I grew up in a house where art was encouraged. At first, I thought artistic ability was something that had skipped me because my brothers were so naturally inclined. But I watched my mom doing cross stitch and thought I could do at least that. I now have a belief, using myself as evidence, that artistic ability is something that can be learned.

I learned to draw and paint well enough to be sent on scholarship to the children’s program at Pratt Art Institute. I now have it set in my mind that anything I want to do is something that I can absolutely do! So, over the years I’ve indulged in SO many arts/crafts — yarn, sewing, scrapbooking, watercolor and — most surprising to me — guitar and ukulele.

When I got married, my mom gave me her old sewing machine. At the time I would joke, “But I can’t even sew a straight line.” That machine sat in my closet for probably five years before I discovered “Project Runway.” In the early years of the show they focused more on the artistry and technique than on the drama. I watched as the designers would design patterns by putting red tape on mannequins representing where seams should be. Seeing the deconstructed process suddenly gave me this thought — I can do that.

As a lover of pop culture, I also happen to be a Barbie collector. The season that thought occurred to me happened to be the one that Robert Best was on. He’s a renowned Barbie designer. This gave me the idea that sewing for Barbie was a great place to start. And I started without patterns. I often work backward in art. I just start with no research or education, then gather the information on an as-needed basis. It’s not how I teach my kids to learn because it makes it more difficult, but it seems to work for me.

What other geeky craft items have you created in the past and what do you enjoy about this creative outlet?

For a minute I got into jewelry making. I made TARDIS necklaces and had plans for “Sherlock”-inspired wearable crafts. My favorite recent geek crafts are my Legend of Zelda Wi-Fi passcode cross stitch and pillows made from geek shirts that were either the wrong sizes or thought to be destroyed. I’ve come to the conclusion that as someone who doesn’t wear jewelry, jewelry making is not for me. But making items to add geeky touches to my home are right up my alley.

I understand that, like many crafters, you left Etsy after a policy change that made operating a small shop difficult. How did that experience affect you?

My store was never doing great volume. I’m only one person with only so much time in the day for hobbies. At any given time I would have maybe ten items in my store. But those items sold quickly. I knew it was going to be bad news for small sellers the minute Etsy started trading publicly. It was really fast that they changed their policy to allow large manufacturers to sell on the site designed for homemade wares like an online craft fair.

The impact on my store was instant. The new algorithm favored stores with large inventories. My items were buried under high quantity, lower quality, less expensive, not handmade items. Suddenly, all of my items were just sitting there while I was still paying listing fees. It was disheartening and eventually I made the decision let my store go.

Are you currently doing any geeky crafting?

At this moment I’m busy knitting sweaters. I was inspired by my favorite on-screen badass, Krysten Ritter, to give it a try. I learned to knit about ten years ago but have been avoiding garments because it’s a whole lot of time and work to make something only to discover it doesn’t fit or doesn’t look good. But if Jessica Jones can do it, so can I.

You introduced me to the wonders of the geek-themed fabric aisle at a certain craft store. Could you describe it for those who may not be aware of this wondrous realm?

-When I was first making geek-themed items, that aisle wasn’t so great. I got fabrics from online stores, one in particular that is user generated designs. But now, the licensing for the brick and mortar store is out of this world. My most recent purchase from that aisle was Zelda fabric. When I bought it, the sales woman asked what I was making, to which I answered, “I have no idea, I just need it.”

It ended up becoming a quilt for my 7-year-old that he and I sewed together. I honestly have no idea how they got ahold of the Nintendo license because by all accounts it’s impossible to get. Of course, the Disney licensed fabrics is what takes up most of the aisle — Star Wars, Marvel, Princess … it’s a beautiful thing to behold.

For several years, you worked as a professional photographer. Does this job intersect at all with your geek interests?

It actually has! I really enjoy toy photography. As with sewing, I started with Barbie. She’s an excellent model. One of my favorite series of photographs happened when I took Lego Indiana Jones and Marion to Yosemite and Monterey for my husband’s and my tenth anniversary trip. Indy hiked Vernal Falls with us and saw the Lone Cyprus on the 17 Mile Drive.

What’s it like being mom to three geeky boys? What are some of your shared and individual interests and activities?

Like my parents did for myself and my brothers, I try to encourage any interests that my boys happen to have. My oldest is a (video) gamer and piano player, my middle one is a gregarious skateboarder who has fallen in love with RPGs like Mouse Guard and D&D. And the 7-year-old has a love of board games, Batman, and punk music.

We have a lot of crossover in all areas of pop culture and entertainment but I certainly can’t keep up with all of it. So, they are part of communities online and otherwise that share their interests. For instance, my 13-year-old is currently doing a D&D campaign with his uncle and three cousins via text message.

Your family has attended the Los Angeles ComicCon (which recently changed its name to Beyond Fest Expo LA). What are some of your favorite memories from that event?

I love the shopping. But the great moments were in who we saw and who we met. I love making friends while waiting for the doors to open. I follow some of them on Instagram and get to see their cosplays year round.

But the two moments that stand out: In 2016, I was able to see Gerard Way do an interview concerning the new Young Animal comic book series he had just released. It could get long winded if I talked about every reason being in the same room with him meant so much to me.

The other great moment was meeting Dameon Clarke, the voice of Handsome Jack in the Borderlands series. Because of how much we bond over this game, the boys and I were over the moon to get to have a conversation with him. He’s just as sarcastic in real life, which made the meet ‘n’ greet even more perfect.

Did you cosplay when you went this year? Tell me about that. 

I kinda did. My oldest went as Dirk Gently from the BBC series and I made for myself a Mexican Funeral T-shirt as a nod to Tod from the same series. The year before we did something similar when he went as a Fallout 4 vault dweller and I gave my nod to the series as a Nuka Cola girl with accessories that I made. Also, I have to mention my adorable 7-year-old and his bestie who have gone together as Link and Zelda, and then as Dipper and Mable Pines. They were a huge hit.

What do you enjoy about conventioning as a family? Do you have any tips for people who might be wary of attending with children?

We don’t just go as a family, we go with our long time family friends. We coordinate and work on costumes together for months. We bond over our fandoms, learn more about our kid’s fandoms and, most fun of all, it gives us an excuse to get together to craft, fabricate, drink tea and talk. Then the day comes and we love seeing all the kids together excited and happy. It’s just pure unadulterated fun.

L.A. Comic Con is really family friendly and takes place the last weekend of October, which means costumes are a must. I would say that with littles at any convention, going on Saturday is tough. I had high anxiety the whole time that we’d get separated. But at this one in particular, on Sunday they have a kids costume contest and trick-or-treating, which makes Sunday the perfect day to go. Also, make sure everyone is clear on a meeting place if you get separated.

How long have you been a gamer? Is this something you do with your boys?

My family got the Atari when I was 2, so video games have always been part of my life. But the progression from passive to obsessed started with The Legend of Zelda. My brother entered a contest and won a Nintendo from the exchange on the base we lived at. It came with four games, one of which was Zelda. It was so good!

The next game that struck me as a total game changer was Tomb Raider. Twice in my life, I have rushed out and bought a whole new console just to play a Tomb Raider game. The idea of girls in video games was finally on track to being normalized.

The boys and I game together when we can. Our favorite game to play together is Borderlands 2. It’s split screen co-op for up to four people so I’m able to play with both of my teens at once. We laugh, we first bump … it’s just a fantastic time spent together, and occasionally one of the boys’ friends will join us via online multiplayer.

Right now, we’re passively playing Stardew Valley together, but I get the feeling they’re just humoring their mom and would rather be playing games that include gunfire. Even when we aren’t campaigning together, we will share tips, and more than a few times I’ve had to have my oldest help me when I get stuck in a game.

You’re very enthusiastic about the Fallout franchise. How did you discover it and what do you love about it?

The year Fallout 4 came out, I dutifully purchased the game for my oldest as his only requested Christmas gift. I had no idea what it was. I was first struck by the fact that I could play as a female. I don’t mind playing games as a male, I love many games that don’t give this option, but since these are RPG video games it’s nice to actually see myself in the character.

But then the storyline unfolded. It’s brilliant. I think for me, first and foremost for all of the pop culture entertainment that I respond to, it has to have a great storyline.  And the Fallout games take it a step farther by peppering in Easter eggs throughout the whole world of individual stories. The lore and connections are so detailed; it’s masterful. Then, much like table top RPGs, there are a lot of decisions to be made that have consequences in the game and shape or show off your character. You truly become part of the game.

What are your expectations for Fallout 76?

It’s not going to be a main Fallout game; it’s not Fallout 5. So, my expectations are mitigated. They have promised that storyline and Easter eggs will be there, but being online multiplayer makes for a whole new dynamic where maybe storyline isn’t the most important thing. My teenagers and I are already trying to plan out how we could play together as a team but this conversation is difficult at the moment as the question still looms as to whether it will be cross-platform or not.

What’s your experience been like as a woman who games?

It’s one of those whispered things that most women still aren’t comfortable admitting to in their real lives. Last year, on the first day of the Bible study that I attend, I was asked to be the first to introduce myself. Going off the cuff, not remembering what info I was supposed to actually give (social awkwardness at its best), I included that I love going to concerts and playing video games.

Then this amazing thing happened where at least two other women got excited and seemed thrilled to admit that they too were gamer moms! There’s still this stereotype that comes in different arguments from men and women — some moms think it’s selfish and a waste of time that you could use being busy at literally anything else. And then there are the men within the community who believe women can’t bring the same level of aggression and strategy that men can.

You’re a Douglas Adams fan. What’s your absolute favorite “Hitchhiker’s Guide” quote and/or moment?

The discussion of an S.E.P. As a classic overthinker, it really spoke to me that one could just declare something to be an S.E.P. (Somebody Else’s Problem). “Any object around which an S.E.P. is applied will cease to be noticed, because any problems one may have understanding it (and therefore accepting its existence) become Somebody Else’s Problem.”

You mentioned the “Maze Runner” series. How did you discover the books and why do you like them?

This is another instance of my boys telling me about something and me having no clue what they were talking about. When I finally agreed to rent the first movie on iTunes, I was hooked. One of the things I like about dystopian stories is that it always seems to bring up thoughts and conversations as to how one would respond to the same situation. The world has gone haywire — how would you propose to fix it? It tends to flip values and morality on its head to make you think about what might really be important.

How would you say the movies compare to the novels?

The first movie follows the book pretty well but by the second movie it moves away from the books quite a bit. I’ve come to not mind film adaptations making this decision. First of all, it’s necessary. You can’t take 10 to 20 hours of a book and shrink it to fit a two-hour timeframe without massive tweaking. But I’ve also come to see that the changes make it easier to get excited about both the book and the movie in their own right.

A great example of this is “Ready Player One,” where the author helped make all new experiences and puzzles to solve for the movie. The storyline stayed the same but the details changes enough to engage the viewer in trying to solve the new riddles the same way we did in the book. Being two different experiences makes the movie and book individually fantastic.

You also describe yourself as a “huge Batman fan.” What’s the appeal of this character for you?

I think I have a taste for the darker side of the superhero genre. I love the mystery, the crazy villains and, of course, “all those wonderful toys.”

Like many people, you didn’t appreciate “the abomination that is Batfleck.” Who’s your favorite movie Dark Knight then?

I fell in love with Batman when Michael Keaton was in the role. His Batman will always be the top of my list. He did a great job of portraying the Batman as just a man concerned with doing right at all cost, who also happens to have ninja level skills and a massive amount of money to subsidize his vigilantism. I’m also really enjoying watching David Mazouz grow into the character of the Dark Knight on “Gotham.” That show has been a ridiculously fun and wild ride.

Any thoughts on what DC should do to get the Bat movies back on track?

I think they may be stuck with the track they’re on. My oldest son and I discuss often the mistakes that were made and the biggest one to me is that, following the example of the MCU, they tried to make it family friendly. Batman as a kids cartoon works. Batman with an R rating works. But when they tried to combine the two, what they ended up with is really just a kid’s movie that they tried to sell to adults.

Another reason it stands out as particularly bad is that there are other movies to compare it to. Ironman, Captain America, and Thor didn’t have that problem. When we already had Michael Keaton and Christian Bale give such stellar performances in this role, it was always going to be a tough act to follow.

Now, I have to admit to “Suicide Squad” being one of my guilty pleasures. I love the Joker more than I probably should admit. After seeing the movie in the theater, I wasn’t a fan BUT in the small screen cut there’s even more Joker. I’m almost optimistic about a Joker movie with Jared Leto, though I probably shouldn’t mention it on social media and risk getting roasted.

You’re not really into Star Wars though. I don’t know if some people realize that a) not all geeks are into Star Wars and (b that’s totally okay. What are your thoughts about this? 

At times it feels like I’m missing out on the community features like being able to engage in conversations with loved ones concerning the thing they love the most. And I have experienced someone taking it as a personal offence that I wouldn’t love that most beloved and treasured series. But I’m just not into it.

Star Wars has been such a constant in my personal universe for my whole life to the point that for a while I actually thought I must like it. It was about a year after I was married that my husband sat down to watch one of the movies and I finally said what I’d been pondering on for a while, “I don’t like this.” I have respect for the franchise and its fandom, which includes my husband and two of my boys.

When it comes to TV fandoms, you’re into “Wholock,” although you’ve labeled “Sherlock” and “Doctor Who” “dead fandoms.” Is it tough being a fan of these shows when new episodes are scarce?

I started watching “Doctor Who” in the ‘80s with my dad when Tom Baker was the Doctor. It’s safe to say that I’ll always be a fan. During David Tennant and Matt Smith’s reigns as the Doctor, the fandom was super active. I remember convincing my bestie to watch it “because the crafting alone is worth it.” It was exciting to be part of the community. With the lag time in the last few series of the show it’s been hard for anyone to keep up the enthusiasm.

“Sherlock” is another story all together. I kind of wish there were a fandom that encompassed every iteration of the Sherlock archetype – “Psych,” “Rizzoli and Isles,” “Monk.” There’s always a Sherlock to be excited about it, though admittedly, there’s only one Benedict Cumberbatch.

What’s your gut instinct about the new Doctor, Jodie Whittaker?

I’m remaining optimistic about her. I loved her in “Broadchurch.” The thing that gives me pause is that the concept of a female Doctor seems forced. They just finished an arch where the Master became female and the character of Missy was indeed masterful. It was done in such a way that it wasn’t some big political statement, which is what this feels like. Doctor Who has a history of taking on social issues in respectful ways without becoming too preachy. I really hope the new writers are able to strike the same chord.

You’re also a fan of “Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency” and “The 100.” I confess I haven’t tried either of those shows. Pitch them to me!

“Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency” began as a script for “Doctor Who,” written by Douglas Adams. When it wasn’t made, he turned it into a whole new novel. The book is the epitome of Adams’ work with that quick British wit and the highly detailed twists and turns of Adams’ imagination. The show captures this perfectly. It’s brilliantly confusing and hilarious.

Dirk is a hapless detective who gathers cases, friends, and enemies according to whichever the universe sends him at the time. It’s something worth experiencing.

“The 100” is a show my 13-year-old and I discovered and binge-watched the first several seasons on Netflix. It’s a rare treat to find TV shows that he and I can watch together. This one is a sci-fi dystopian soap opera. It’s a bloody good time.

You describe yourself as a “music geek first.” That’s not something we’ve discussed much on the blog. How would you say music fandom compares to other fandoms, like movies or comic books? How does this interest manifest itself in your life?

It doesn’t matter what art a person responds to, it’s equally important and equally exciting to the person in love with it. But music in particular transects all other art forms. When I’m editing photos or painting, it’s with my headphones on. Look what James Gunn did with “Guardians of the Galaxy,” it wouldn’t be the same movie without that amazing soundtrack.

Bethesda and Apple are both major companies who put high premiums on music; the first in their video games and the latter began the smart phone revolution with a personal MP3 player. Music is definitely something worth geeking out over.

I immerse myself in an artist’s work. Like a true geek, I want to know every song, the members of the band, the instruments used. I want to know every lyric and theorize on the intent and meaning.

I’m not the most emotional person and often don’t understand my own emotions. Music says the things that I’m feeling in a way that I can’t.

One of my favorite cinematic moments is at the beginning of “Almost Famous” when Zooey Deschanel’s character puts on an album and informs her mom that while she can’t explain her life decisions, the song playing can. There are huge communities of fans out there who experience music in similar and very personal ways. The fans are engaged very much the same as any other. They’re on Twitter, instagram, and Pinterest (and, of course, the places teenagers hang out like Tumbler and Snapchat).

What geeky collectibles have you amassed so far?

My house is littered with Funko Pops from just about every fandom my boys and I take part in. Some of my favorites are my Pop Rocks of Kurt Cobain and Gerard Way. But my newest and top-of-my-list favorite is my Deadpool as Bob Ross. He sits with my art supplies. I also have some art from vendors at comic con. My favorite is a watercolor Batman by Levi Craig.

What’s left on your geek bucket list?

In books: finishing “Differently Mophous” by Yahtzee Croshaw, which I’m listening to with the boys on audible. Btw, I highly recommend his other book, “Will Save the Galaxy for Food.” It’s a riot.

In movies: I still haven’t seen “Infinity War” (I know, gasp). My husband and boys went but I couldn’t make it.

In music: two years ago we missed the “Blurry Face” tour. My littlest and myself were so sad that we made a pact to have it be his first concert when Twenty One Pilots tours again … but then they disappeared! I, along with everyone else in the fandom are getting pretty impatient for their return.

In games: I’m really hyped about Fallout 76 and waiting impatiently for Borderlands 3 to be announced. I’m also pretty excited to make it to year two in Stardew Valley, but that goal shouldn’t take too long.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are your duties as co-organizer?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tabitha, cosplaying as Ginny Weasley.

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

What’s your Hogwarts house?

Ravenclaw 4 life.

Favorite book?

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

Least favorite movie?

“Chamber of Secrets.”

Favorite character?

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

Most devastating character death?

Snape.

Wizarding subject you’d most like to study?

Potions, Apparation.

Favorite magical creature?

Thestral.

Favorite Harry Potter item you own?

My custom wand designed after my first Pottermore wand.

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

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

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

Cold Butterbeer, Frozen Butterbeer, or Warm Butterbeer?

Cold.

What’s left on your Harry Potter bucket list?

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

 

From an Emmy, to the UN, to ‘Clone Wars,’ artist finds her independent voice

When it comes to the geek cred game, artist Alina Chau has leveled up about as far as any of us could dream. After all, she’s on a first-name basis with George (that’s Lucas to you) after working as a 3D story artist on the popular animated series “Star Wars: The Clones Wars.”

After studying at the University of California, Los Angeles, Alina won a student Emmy for her thesis film. Her first student film, “Frieden — The Tree of Peace,” plays daily at the United Nations’ headquarters in New York City. 

This auspicious beginning led to an internship and then a full-time gig with video game maker Electronic Arts and a more than decade-long career in the gaming and animation industries.

Alina’s gorgeous personal watercolor illustrations reflect her lifelong passion for causes including children’s rights and the environment. Her artwork showcases the diversity of her multicultural upbringing, as well as her love of travel.

An adjunct professor with picture books in the works and a graphic novel due for publication next year, Alina took a moment to chat about her love of the films of animation legend Hayao Miyazaki, her pop culture-inspired gallery and exhibition work, fond memories of her time on “The Clone Wars,” and her experience as a woman working in animation and gaming. 

You’re an artist who worked in the animation and gaming industries for more than a decade. How did you come to work in those fields?

I was an animation major at UCLA Film School. When I graduated from school, I applied to animation-related jobs. I start working for a couple studios as a PA and intern. Then I interned for Electronic Arts. When the internship ended, they brought me in as a full-time animator. That’s how I got started in the industry … from there, I just kept working for different projects and studios.

Were you artistic as a child? I read that you inherited some of your talent from your grandmother.

I’ve loved drawing since I was very little. That’s kind of the only activity that could keep me out of trouble. Art was a hobby when I was a kid … it didn’t occur to me that art could be a career until I was applying to college.

You earned your master of fine arts at University of California, Los Angeles. What was the most important thing you learned during your studies?

I would say it’s important to develop an independent voice. UCLA education philosophy encourages students to develop their own voice and vision. The longer I stayed in the industry, I discovered having a personal vision is one of the most important factors to maintain a healthy and sustainable career. This is especially important with today’s industry, it develops and evolves much faster than ever. Knowing how to maintain one’s vision and passion helps you grow and evolve along with the trends, as well as really helps to overcome creative blocks and burn-out.

You won a student Emmy for your thesis film, “E=mc2.” That must have been an amazing experience. What was that like?

It was an honor to be selected among many wonderful and super talented candidates. For a student, it was an eye opener. In a short time frame, I got to network and went to some big industry events. It was humbling and a great experience for a kid who’s still in school. At the time, I was busy graduating and looking for a job. It helped to have an Emmy on the resume to find a job.

Another of your films, “Frieden — The Tree of Peace,” shows daily at the United Nation’s New York headquarters. Tell me more about that.

This was my first year student film. When I was younger, I often participated in various humane organizations and activities, such as UNICEF, OXFAM, World Wildlife Fund, etc. I was an activist in children’s human rights. When I finished my first year film, I decided to donate the film to the UN.



Your personal watercolor illustrations have a sweet, dreamlike fairy-tale quality that I love. How would you describe your style?

I never really think of how to describe my artworks. I love storytelling. That’s why I choose to be an animator and story artist. I try to tell a story in my paintings.

What would you consider to be the biggest influences on your art?

It would be my memories … I tend to draw a lot of inspiration from my childhood.  I also love a wide range of art forms for inspiration.

Your work is very culturally diverse. Does that have anything to do with your love of travel?

I do love to travel a lot. I also come from a culturally diverse upbringing. My family are Indonesian and Chinese. I was born in China, grew up in Hong Kong during the British colonial era, studied in the UK briefly, and immigrated to the U.S. My personal cultural upbringing is a mixing pot of Indonesian, Mandarine, Chinese, Cantonese Chinese, British, and American. Growing up, I never felt I completely fit in each culture, yet I am also a bit of each. It’s this mixed cultural upbringing that made me extra aware and sensitive about the important of diversity.

I saw a few pieces in your portfolio that were a bit political. (I thought they were excellent!) What was your inspiration for these works?

I do have opinions in certain political subjects. I was always a bit of a sensitive child when it comes to standing up for children’s human rights and environmentalism. Looking back, I think this could be because I was kind of an immigrant all my life, moving from one country to another. I personally experienced that it could be challenging to adapt to a new life in different regions, but there is much beauty to sharing life with a diverse range of people. This experience make me very aware of the importance of appreciating different cultures, races and social interests. To learn how to appreciate differences, it’s important to openly discuss and share the experiences.

Looking through your artwork on your website, I detected many pop cultural influences, especially Disney, with illustrations ranging from Beauty and the Beast, to The Little Mermaid, to Coco, to Aladdin. What is it about Disney characters that inspires you?

I don’t do fan art for myself. All the pop culture influenced paintings I did are created for the official tribute shows with galleries or studios or commissions from collectors.

I also recognized many other unique interpretations of fandoms, including Hayao Miyazaki’s “Spirited Away,” He-Man, “Bob’s Burgers,” Super Mario Bros., “The Simpsons,” Lord of the Rings, Voltron, “Game of Thrones,” “The Shape of Water,” and “Pan’s Labyrinth.” 

They are all created for specially invited official tribute shows. Although I love pop culture and love all these titles, I personally do not create fan art for myself. This is because when I was working for studios, I always developed titles for the studios. When I get the chance to develop my personal art, I prefer to explore my own potential and find out what I can do, discover my own voice. I also try to be respectful to other’s intellectual property.

When it comes to fandoms, you said you “like a bit of everything.” What are some of your favorites?

That’s a tough choice … I would always have a special spot for Star Wars, since I worked on “The Clone Wars,” and had many wonderful memories working with the Lucasfilm animation team and George Lucas.

I grew up with Miyazaki films. Growing up, every summer after finals, it’s a tradition to run to the theater and celebrate the end of the school year with the latest Miyazaki.

Spielberg, Lucas, Pixar, Disney, Dreamworks, etc. Frederic Back is another of my all-time favorite animators … too much to list.

You said if you had to choose just one fandom, it would be the films of Miyazaki. How did you discover him and what do you enjoy about his work?

I grew up with Miyazaki and watching tons of anime and manga as a kid. My first Miyazaki was “Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind.” It blew my mind away, it’s epic. She is a princess, but unlike most other animated princesses, she is beautiful, strong, smart and kick-butt! It’s a unique universe with awesome creatures … it was very different from most animated shows I saw at the time. I’ve been hooked on Miyazaki since.

I understand you especially love “Howl’s Moving Castle.” Why?

“Howl’s” one of my favorites, but I wouldn’t say I especially love “Howl’s.” I like each Miyazaki for different reasons. “Totoro” is a very special one, ’cause it captures childhood so beautifully. This movie grew in my heart over the years. I learned to appreciate his mastery of capturing children’s emotions and acting the older I became.

When I was a kid, it was one of my least favorites, because the characters in the film feel so much like me (when I was a child).  But as I grew older, when I watched that film, it just brought back all the childhood memories because of the same reason, the children felt so real and believable that we could all relate to them.

“Howl’s” is enchanting and beautiful. I love “Spirited Away” for its perfection. The storytelling is so well done and tight … it’s amazing!

You worked as a 3D story artist on “Star Wars: The Clone Wars.” Wow! For those who don’t know, what does a 3D story artist do?

3D story at Lucasfilm is like storyboard, except George doesn’t believe in storyboard. So instead of going from script to storyboard, we get the script and we go straight to Previsualization in 3D. Think about it as storyboard in 3D with rough animation. So the directors could see the entire episode with rough key frame animation, cinematography, and close to final edit … the end result is the same as an animatic in a traditional animated film.

What was the experience of working on “Clone Wars” like?

It was a lot of fun. The team is awesome. We get notes from George, one learned a lot very fast from the master. The studio is in Big Rock Ranch overseeing a lovely lake, which is next to Skywalker Ranch. It was a beautiful location, which feels more like a Japanese spa retreat than a studio.

Are you a Star Wars fan?

I own a Vader lightsaber and a Clone Trooper helmet (wink).

Tell me about your work in the gaming industry. What was challenging about it and what did you enjoy most?

The turnaround in gaming is very fast, one learns how to animate very fast and good. The workflow of the game animation pipeline is very different from TV or movies. Instead of thinking in shots and sequences, you think in assets. The scheduling in games was rough, there was a lot of crazy overtime. At least this was the case when I was in gaming. It was hard to have a normal life, since we needed to work almost every weekend and tons of late nights.

It was a good learning opportunity. I think the biggest takeaway is understanding the technology and the pipeline, especially with our everyday technology becoming more and more gamified. It’s a good learning experience to understand the thought process of game development.

Are you a gamer?

Not at all. I died in a game in less than five minutes and get motion sickness in almost all first-person games and some RPGs. I could make a game, but not play it. I can never play any game I made.

What was your experience like as a woman in the animation and gaming industries?

When I first got into gaming, I was one of only one or two women in the animation production team. But over the years, there were more women joining the industries. In animation, there are more women in the production team, but last time I worked as a story artist, I was the only girl on the team. I do feel as a woman we have to work harder to have our voice heard or our achievement recognized. I left the industry for a few years now. From what I heard, there are more women in a production team now.

You’re also an adjunct professor at several universities, including Savannah College of Art and Design. Why is teaching important to you?

I felt it’s important to give back to the communities. Being a teacher also keeps one in touch with the latest, you learn a lot from the students as well. Also, sometimes when one works in the industry for years, we get a bit jaded. Sometimes we forgot about the passion and love of the craft. It’s nice to see the students with big dreams and passion. It is a good reminder of why we choose the career path … keep the fire and passion burning.

Your art has been featured in dozens of exhibitions in L.A., New York, Paris, Japan, Spain, and other places. What’s it like to have your work on display like that?

It was an honor as well as a humbling experience.

You’re currently developing a children’s book publication and some art projects. Can you tell us more about what you’re doing?

I am working on three picture books, which I am very excited about, but unfortunately I can’t share the information about those books. The project I could talk about is my graphic novel, “Marshmallow and Jordan,” with First Second. This would be my first graphic novel and will be released in winter 2019. You can learn about the graphic novel from the School Library Journal announcement.

Are there any dream projects you’d like to work on in the future?

I hope to author and illustrate a lot of books.

All artwork by Alina Chau.

For a film about one of Star Wars’ biggest badasses, ‘Solo’ is lacking in badassery

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Is it just me or was the arrival of “Solo: A Star Wars Story” a little underwhelming?

Despite the fact that Disney and Lucasfilm unleashed the usual merchandising and promotional blitz for the film months ago and despite much discussion and debate on the part of fans, “Solo” hit theaters without the fever pitch of excitement and near veneration that typically accompanies the release of a Star Wars movie.

Perhaps this was to be expected. After all, if we’re going to be experiencing a new Star Wars movie every year, we can’t sustain the level of enthusiasm and intensity that surrounded, say, “The Force Awakens.” We’ve got to pace ourselves, lest we burn out. Thus, the generally “meh” reaction.

“Solo” is the first of several planned prequel or spin-off films focused on popular characters from the original Star Wars trilogy. A Boba Fett movie was recently confirmed, for instance, while an Obi-Wan Kenobi prequel is rumored to be in the works.

Already there are two contingents forming on social media in regard to the merits of “Solo,” or lack thereof. They seem to be split evenly into one camp that thinks the movie is just fine and another that thinks it could have been much better.

It also feels to me like everyone is slightly nervous and bracing themselves for an outpouring of vitriol similar to the wave of pure hatred that crested after the release of “The Last Jedi.” I don’t think anybody has the strength or energy to go through that again, and this raises an interesting point.

Since we’re now living in a world where we have a virtually endless supply of Star Wars stories, we’re going to have to start allowing for subjectivity and personal taste and accept the fact that not every person is going to like every movie, nor should they be required to.

As a passionate fangirl, I’m preaching to myself when I say, let’s allow everyone to have their own opinions when it comes to the galaxy far, far away. Let’s not attack each other and squander our time and energy trolling each other. I’m issuing a call for a more tolerant, peaceful, pleasant Star Wars fandom.

With that said, I’ll open myself up to the trolling and declare that after seeing “Solo,” I’m leaning toward the more disappointed side of the spectrum of reactions.

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There are many things I enjoyed about the movie, and considering its tortured production history – during which director Ron Howard pretty much rebuilt it from the ground up – perhaps the fact that it isn’t a complete catastrophe is impressive in and of itself. On many levels, though, I wouldn’t consider it a success.

Surprisingly, this has nothing to do with star Alden Ehrenreich, who plays the young Han and was subjected to many rumors during production questioning everything from his resemblance to Harrison Ford to his acting ability.

As it turns out, Ehrenreich does a fine job portraying the roguish smuggler in his formative years. He’s enough like Ford to be recognizable as the beloved character, but he’s not enslaved to showy imitation. Confidently tossing off some of the cocky Corellian’s best one-liners, he’s got the Solo swagger down and adds a touch of vulnerability, befitting a man who has yet to turn cynical.

A script by legendary Star Wars producer Lawrence Kasdan and his son, Jonathan, ushers us into the seedy underbelly of a galaxy under the control of ruthless mafia factions. It opens on Han’s home planet, where the scrappy survivor and aspiring pilot, and his resourceful girlfriend Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke), are forced to do the bidding of the “foul” Lady Proxima (voiced by Linda Hunt). Meanwhile, they scheme to procure their own ship and escape the planet to find freedom among the stars.

Han’s relationship with Qi’ra is sweet, I suppose, but it didn’t work for me because Clarke, out of necessity, plays her as such an enigma – she’s part femme fatale, part girl that got away, with a hint of a dark side – that I could never get a complete read on her and who she is. (She’s also the definite type of leading lady Lucasfilm is stuck on – the brunette, white female. Can we get a woman of color or maybe a redhead next time?)

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Howard infuses “Solo” with vibes that are half “A New Hope,” half “Return of the Jedi.” The film is well stocked with weird, but likable aliens, eccentric scoundrels, and an underworld atmosphere that calls to mind the comically debauched palace and barge of that most famous of Star Wars gangsters, Jabba the Hutt. The movie is rough around the edges in a way that perfectly suits the story of a scruffy-looking nerfherder like Han. (It’s also annoyingly under-lit and has the most hyperactive soundtrack of any Star Wars film yet, but I digress.)

At the start, this is all very promising. Things are looking good as Howard treats us to a fun speeder chase and an unexpectedly visceral scene set on an Imperial battlefield that has all the grit of a World War II skirmish. It is here that Han hooks up with a band of thieves, led by Woody Harrelson’s Beckett and his right-hand lady, Val (Thandie Newton), one of several characters who exits the movie far too quickly.

Howard dutifully walks us through the requisite origin story details. We learn where Han got his name, how he met Chewbacca, how he came by his iconic blaster, and how he acquired his beloved Millennium Falcon.

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The Falcon, of course, comes into his possession after he meets charming gambler Lando Calrissian, played in his younger incarnation by Donald Glover. Glover’s Lando is undoubtedly one of the highlights of “Solo.” Clad in a fabulous sleek and silky wardrobe, he oozes irresistible charisma, elegance, and deadpan humor. Every minute he’s on-screen, the movie feels more substantial and satisfying than it actually is.

Lando presides over one of the weirdest scenes in the film, which involves his droid sidekick, L3-37, a sassy, egalitarian ‘bot voiced by “Killing Eve” writer Phoebe Waller-Bridge. L3 carries on Lucasfilm’s tradition of creating lovably memorable droids, but as with many of the best personalities in “Solo,” she’s not around long enough to make much of an impact.

After the initial introduction of Lando, “Solo” struggles to find its footing. It’s a funny movie, but a lot of the humor falls flat, as does the romance between Han and Qi’ra. (The bromance between Chewie and Han, however, is timeless.)

There are large swathes of the script that just drag in terms of pacing and hooking the audience. Even a visual-effects-heavy sequence built around that legendary OT reference to making the Kessel run in 12 parsecs is depressingly blasé. For a large portion of the film, I just couldn’t muster up the enthusiasm to really care about what was happening.

When it ends, “Solo” feels incomplete. Perhaps that’s intentional given the rumors that Lucasfilm may be planning a sequel. However, the movie doesn’t earn that right in the way that, say, the recent “Avengers: Infinity War” did.

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There is a moment in the film’s third act where we catch an electrifying glimmer of what “Solo: A Star Wars Story” could have been. I don’t want to spoil it, but it involves a character whose true identity is suddenly revealed and it is so stunning, I nearly leapt out of my seat.

Up until then, “Solo” displays a considerable lack of badassery for a film built around one of Star Wars’ biggest badasses.

I hope with all my being we see this magnificent character again in future chapters of the franchise.

Photos: Disney/Lucasfilm.