Space & Time Collective is a creative team exploring politics and feminism in fan culture. Writer Caitlynn Fairbarns of Fake Geek Girls Like Us and illustrator Sophie Paas-Lang work together to create beautiful fan works exploring their favourite aspects of geek culture. Their small press debut, May the Force Be With Her, is an illustrated history of the women in the Star Wars franchise.
Stefanie Fiore (SF): Welcome! Let’s start off by finding out a little bit more about Space & Time Collective. How did you get started?
Caitlynn Fairbarns (CF): It started because we both love Star Wars! We were friends through a mutual friend, and we bonded over our Star Wars obsession!
Sophie Paas-Lang (SPL): This was about one year ago when the new Star Wars movie came out. We started messaging each other back and forth, talking about the movie, our thoughts, our feelings, that sort of thing. Eventually, around this time last year, we decided, “Hey! Let’s put our skills together.” I do illustration and graphic design, and Caitlynn writes about geek culture. So we decided we’d do a little fan zine together. We made one, and we thought that it was a lot of fun. It got a great response, so we thought why not team up and continue doing things together?
CF: There was that one meeting that we had, and it hit us, “Let’s take this seriously!”
SF: And since you’ve made that first zine, what has happened?
SPL: We’ve attended events, done our own events, and made more things together!
SF: What do you do outside of the collective? Does it impact the collective in any way?
SPL: Well, I work as an illustrator and graphic designer. I also have a totally unrelated day job too. I think the thing that helps me the most with the collective is that I’m a fan, I’m a consumer. I love this stuff and it’s my hobby, too. As soon as I finish watching a cool movie or reading a book, my immediate reaction is, “I gotta draw that!” This is also what I do as a hobby!
CF: Under an all-encompassing umbrella, I’m a freelance artist, a studio assistant, a freelance photographer, and I also run Fake Geek Girls Like Us, which was born out of my thesis. It’s an initiative that hosts events and sells art around feminism and geek culture. This was maybe the driving force to writing about these sorts of things. I can make art about this, but I also have a bazillion things to say!
SF: How would you define geek culture/fan culture?
CF: Films, television shows, comic books, video games — things within pop culture that people love a lot and they like to share a lot! You can say it’s mostly within science fiction or fantasy or action genres, but sometimes there’s random things that aren’t in that realm that become a part of fan culture, just because people love it so much. It’s not necessarily a type of thing in pop culture, it’s more about the people and the community, and how much they love and want to share about it.
SPL: I think it’s also important to recognize the strange little economy that exists within, because people love these things and they will spend a lot of money on them. Things like Fan Expo are million dollar events — people go and can spend a lot, just on fan-made things. It’s quite amazing.
CF: Yeah, I used to go to Fan Expo as a fan and think that I was spending a lot of money. And then when I became an exhibitor, we had people coming up to our table and being like, “I have a photo op with this person! And this person! And this person!” and who are just going around to make sure that they’ve bought a certain amount of prints. So I’m learning about all these different levels of interest people have — and how much they are willing to spend.
SPL: At the same time, it’s like, “Heck yeah! I do that too!”
SF: You are both spending a lot of time working on projects about things you love, but you’re looking at them through a critical lens. Is there a difference between being a fan and a critic? Or do they fit together nicely?
CF: Here’s the thing: within geek culture or fan culture, I think if you love something deeply, there’s nothing wrong with asking more from it. Especially if you are queer, a person of colour, a woman, or all of those things…you need to ask for more from the things you love. It doesn’t mean that you love them any less. It might mean that you love them more because you hope for more from them. Especially within a growing franchise like Star Wars, there’s room to grow.
One weekend we sat and watched ALL the Star Wars. And it was wild, especially those prequels. We can still watch them, and engage with them, and enjoy them… but I could still think, “Oh, so Leia is one of the only female characters with a speaking role?” I still love it, but let’s fix it.
SPL: Yeah, I think that especially with geek culture/fan culture, there’s a lot of nostalgia involved. These are things that we watched as kids and we still love now, but now we have these critical thinking skills. You can still love something and also criticize it.
SF: Let’s talk about May the Force Be With Her. Besides being huge Star Wars fans, is there any other reason you chose that film franchise to be your small press debut?
CF: For a website called Geek Girls Penpal Club, I interview women once a month and learn about their artistic practice. I interviewed Sophie when she released her Scully’s Wardrobe zine. And I asked her about things she was looking forward to, and she said, “Maaaaybe I’m looking forward to Star Wars.” [laughs] And there’s also a new lady character! Rey is awesome.
SPL: We focused on the women of the franchise because both our work individually is based on feminism. It’s something we’re really passionate about. So it made sense to think about feminism in relation to a really big franchise.
SF: So, after you settled on your theme, how did production go?
CF: We met once a week at a coffee shop called the Silver Snail.
SPL: We worked out of there for months! [laughs] It came together pretty quickly on Caitlynn’s end and it came together really slowly from my end.
CF: I think it also took a little bit longer because we weren’t totally sure what we wanted to say…
SPL: And how we wanted to say it!
CF: Yeah! We knew that we wanted to talk about women in Star Wars, but did we want to write it as an essay? Or an information deck? We ended up meeting somewhere in the middle. And then we decided to illustrate all of the women characters, so it was a lot of work for Sophie. We aimed big!
SF: The next zine that you published is Wonder Woman: 75 Years of Feminism and the Super Hero Icon. How did that project come together?
SPL: We had a meeting to discuss what the next zine would be. We wrote a bunch of ideas and had them saved in a document in case we got stuck.
CF: And although we were interested in everything on our list, Sophie suggested, “Why don’t we just do Wonder Woman? Wonder Woman is amazing!” It was also time-relevant, with the movie coming out in the summer, and then there was a lot of interest around it. From being inducted as an honorary UN Ambassador and then removed, it just all felt very topical. I’m also a little obsessed with Wonder Woman.
SPL: Caitlynn is a Wonder Woman expert! It isn’t my area of expertise at all, I don’t really read the comics or anything like that, but I did a lot of research on the visual language of Wonder Woman. But it was great because in 2016, Wonder Woman turned 75. What a nice number! [laughs]
SF: What did you learn from doing your first zine that you were able to apply to your second one?
CF: Getting a better idea of how much drawing is involved. With that knowledge, we were able to change up the layout to get more creative control.
SF: That’s exciting. You mentioned that as a collective, you also participate in events. What sorts of events do you attend? How do you choose them?
SPL: The events where we get the best response are generally fan-related events, like Fan Expo or ComiCon. There’s a lot of great events around the city. There are also events that are targeted towards women, too. We find it’s really important to get ourselves out there and be there at those events, and meet people and create community. When we show up and are there, people are more willing to support us.
CF: I also think it’s super important to have political fan art in a space that disrupts it a little bit. Especially at places like Fan Expo or ComiCon, where women may not necessarily feel comfortable walking through. So it’s important to have stuff with a political and feminist message to disrupt those male-dominated spaces. Hey, there are women fans! We exist!
SPL: Fan Expo is a massive event. It’s like 50,000 people, but we found that people were really attracted to our stuff because it was very different compared with a lot of the other stuff there. People seemed to appreciate having us there. And it’s great because it’s what we’re here to do.
SF: It’s like a feminist oasis amongst all those guys in capes! [laughs]
CF: Yeah! Actually, one of the funniest comments we got at Fan Expo was this girl who said, “I’m so glad you are here, because I’m so tired of looking at ridiculous labia art!” [laughs]
SF: Yeah…those conventions do not always feature the most accurate representation of the female body, right?
SPL: The most heart-melting ones are the little girls who come up and say, “Wow! This is cool! This is all about girls!” And Caitlynn and I are just sitting there… sobbing… awww… [laughs]
SF: That is sweet! You both also hosted an event here at The Station, launching your first zine. Tell us about the event.
SPL: We wanted to have an event to celebrate the completion of our zine. We wanted to launch it and get it out there in the world, and also have a fun party about Star Wars. So, we crowdfunded the funds we needed to create the event, and then we asked a lot of women who write about geek culture or organize events within the Toronto geek culture community to come and talk. We ended up creating a really diverse panel.
CF: In addition to launching our zine, we had a table showcasing artworks and hand-crafted goods made by women in the community. It was a really fun event.
SF: What would you say are some of the negative stereotypes around women’s representation in fan culture/geek culture? I’m referring to things like the “fake geek girl” trope and those sorts of things.
CF: People just assume that people in fan culture are just obsessed with things, and they have such strong feelings, and that they feel so much all the time. That they can’t function as human beings! It’s sometimes true. [laughs] When you care about something a lot, you feel stuff!
I’ve also been told a bunch of times that I don’t know enough about my fandom, or that I haven’t been interested in it for long enough, or that I’m only interested in this because my boyfriend likes this… and that is a hot pile of garbage! I think the idea is that geek culture is heavily white and male-dominated but I think it could be perceived that way because many others may not feel comfortable being as present in those spaces. But women geeks exist.
SF: It’s crazy that we’re still having these sorts of conversations in 2017. “Oh, but she doesn’t look a certain way, so she can’t be who she says she is.” Or that women just pretend to be geeks for attention. And there’s all this internalized misogyny, even amongst women, declaring that “I’m not like other girls! I don’t care about girly things! I care about video games! I’m so much cooler!”
SPL: And people will just make their own spaces. You do find these incredible groups of women who all like the same stuff, and they’ll start their own thing.
SF: It is really powerful to see it.
CF: It’s interesting too, because there are different entry points into fan culture. And it doesn’t make you any more or any less than a fan. There’s always this notion that “true fans” know all the statistical facts, and they know the exact details, but that’s not true.
SF: There can be so much hostility in geek culture, specifically toward women and LGBTQ folks. If we consider the backlash from things like Anita Sarkeesian’s Tropes vs. Women in Video Games, there is so much deeply rooted hatred, homophobia, and misogyny. How do you navigate through that? How can we make geek culture more inclusive?
SPL: There was that whole #Gamergate thing and people who had to flee their homes because they were getting harassed. It can be really scary.
CF: We were talking about this amazing thing that happens each season: ladies night at a comic shop. The one in Toronto was put together by this group of awesome women who just wanted to create a safe space, so we go to them every once in awhile. And it is definitely like a whole bunch of people who are awkward in a room together, so it takes a lot to break the ice! But it’s fun and it’s great.
I was talking to one of the founders of it, and she mentioned that she has had some guys come up to her and say, “It’s not fair that you have these spaces…” and how it wasn’t fair that this quiet space exists to hang out, share, and take over a comic shop for one night. Her response was, “Okay, I’m not going to do the labour of making a guys-only comic shop night, but if you’re looking to create a more inclusive space, here’s the toolbox of what we did to create a safe, diverse, and comfortable community. Take this toolbox. Use the toolbox!” As women, it’s not our job to make a safe space for dudes.
SPL: And I think in terms of the media itself, these video games, these films, these books, it really helps to have diverse creators, and hiring those non-white writers, hiring gay writers, women writers… and producers, and directors, and having a diverse crew of people creating things. And then there’s the issue of the story, the actors, the characters… you just need to have these diverse creators at the table.
CF: If we’re tired of the same stories being told, we have the power to support these things (or not support these things). Our money has power… and if you can get a group of people to not go to the next goddamn Batman movie and go and see Wonder Woman instead, it can help contribute to a long-term change.
SPL: Absolutely, that’s super important. The only thing that speaks to a production company is money. So, put your money where your mouth is!
SF: Once again, it’s about asking for more from the things you love. And speaking of the same stories being told over and over, what’s the one stereotype in regards to media representation that you’d personally love to get rid of forever?
SPL: The thing that grinds my gears a lot is queer baiting, which is when writers write two characters in a way that you’d assume that they’re going to become a gay or lesbian or bisexual couple, but in the end it’s like, “Just kidding! We’re straight!” UGHHHHHH! [laughs]
CF: Right now I’m finishing an anthology about Jessica Jones, so I’m writing a chapter about sexual assault and rape in the media, and how Jessica Jones really triumphs against representations of these things. And a term that I did not know about until I started writing was “N.T.S.D.” — naked, tied up, sexed, dead. I didn’t even know it was an actual trope. So I would like for that not to exist ever again.
And then Gail Simone, who is a comic writer, she coined the term “Women in the Refrigerator” which originated from the Green Lantern coming home and finding his romantic partner cut up and dead in his fridge. This is also a common trope and killing the female character to enable the male protagonist to continue on and fight the bad guy, or whatever… yeah, I could do without that one.
SF: We’ve touched on this a bit already, but where do you see the biggest need for change or progress when it comes to representation, especially in regards to women, people of colour and LGBTQ characters?
CF: Violence. There’s a running list of how many bi and lesbian women characters have been killed. You don’t need to kill off your bi and lesbian characters… they can live and be happy! We need characters that live past their romantic moments.
SPL: You need to hire those people who have lived those experiences.
CF: Roxane Gay is writing for Black Panther and it’s the first EVER black woman who has written for Marvel Comics. And this is amazing! It’s going to be a queer, woman of colour story and that’s great, and that’s important, but it shouldn’t have taken until 2016 to hire a queer, woman of colour to write the story of a queer, woman of colour.
SF: Now more than ever, we’re seeing how important intersectionality is. It’s not enough to just say “I demand more for women,” you need to consider other marginalized communities that also need to be heard.
CF: Yes, absolutely.
SF: So, what’s next for you both? What are you working on now?
SPL: Right now we are busy filling out applications for various conventions across North America. We’ve done Toronto, and this year we want to branch out.
CF: We are going to go Montreal in the summer for Montreal ComiCon, and we’re just trying to figure out which other ones are the best for us.
SPL: We’re also in the beginning stages of a new zine!
SF: Exciting! What would you say is your proudest moment as a collective?
CF: We were thinking about this recently. I think the things that we are most proud of are the same, but different. For me, one of those proud moments was going online and realizing, “Holy shitballs, we surpassed our Indiegogo goal!” I was really proud of that because we made something but it wasn’t out there yet, and people were supporting us and were willing to give us money to make it happen.
SPL: Mine would be completing our second zine. We didn’t just make one thing… now we made two things! And we will continue to make things. It reaffirmed that this is really something we can continue.