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Christmas Shopping: Style, Substance, and Ninjas

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When I was a girl, geek culture wasn’t nearly as sophisticated as it is now. I loved “Doctor Who” and “Star Trek” and “Buck Rogers in the 25th Century,” but merch was mostly limited to pins, fanzines, a T-shirt or two, trading cards, novelizations, action figures and a few other random items made for children (and yes, I still have my “Battlestar Galactica” coloring book and my “V” alien doll complete with human-skin head).

These days, it’s hard not to trip over franchise-inspired and officially licensed items that I both wish existed back then and am glad did not. If “Doctor Who” Christmas ornaments and Enterprise-shaped pizza cutters had been around in 1987, I’m sure I would never have been able to go to college, as all my funds would be tied up in custom-created Serenity Lego sets. Today’s geek culture is an embarrassment of riches, thanks to sites like Etsy.com and Thinkgeek.com and a personal favorite, HerUniverse.com.

This week I’m going to plug a few of my favorite small businesses that you might not know about yet. I’d love getting anything from any of these companies for Christmas (hint, hint) – and I think the geek in your life might adore them too.

The Style: Fandom Cosmetics

sailormoonI discovered this company at Chicago Comic-Con this year, where its owners had a booth and were doing free manicures if you purchased something. I thought it was a brilliant idea, and it definitely appealed to the girly side of me.

The idea: Nail polish and other beauty items inspired by different fandoms. You can shop by color and design, but most of the people who buy from Fandom Cosmetics choose by their favorite franchises, whether its “Star Trek,” “Game of Thrones,” “Sailor Moon,” “Firefly,” “Supernatural,” “Sherlock,” “The Hunger Games,” “The Avengers” or “The Hobbit.”

Quick review: I love these because they’re sparkly and fun. Many of the polishes here have little shapes and glitter in them, which means you have to take a little extra time and care in putting them on to get them to look right. Definitely use a base coat because the polish will stain your nails. The colors are rich and lovely, though, and this is a pretty, subtle way of declaring your fandom love.

How to buy: Go to the website at www.fandomcosmetics.com.

The Substance: Big Finish Productions

DW-CD-LIGHT-SEIf you just want more stories from your favorite fandom (and especially if that fandom is “Doctor Who”), Big Finish is the place to go. Unlike many fan-made narratives based on franchises, Big Finish “Doctor Who” tales are considered to be canon. This was confirmed by references in the”Night of the Doctor” short starring Paul McGann that appeared online prior to the 50th anniversary episode.

The idea: Die-hard “Doctor Who” fans know that Big Finish Productions is the source for expanded universe tales, in the form of audio dramas on CD, involving the classic Doctors and companions. The company got the license to produce original “Doctor Who” tales during the Wilderness Years, as fans refer to the time when “Doctor Who” was not on the air (1989-1996 and 1996-2005), and has run with it ever since. Big Finish also offers new stories based on “Sherlock Holmes,” “Stargate SG-1,” “Stargate Atlantis,” “Blake’s 7,” “Dark Shadows,” “Highlander,” “Sapphire & Steel,” “2000 AD,” “Robin Hood,” and others.

Quick review: Big Finish has told literally hundreds of stories in the “Doctor Who” universe alone. What makes these stand out is the quality of the production, the writing, and the fact that most of the original actors have returned to reprise their roles (Tom Baker held out until 2010 but his first Big Finish stories appeared in 1012).

In fact, you will find the actors extolling the advantages of Big Finish at convention appearances across the globe. Sarah Sutton, who played Nyssa (companion to the 5th Doctor), said at Chicago Tardis this past weekend, “We’ve all been given huge possibilities with our characters because of Big Finish.” The problem is that Big Finish stories are expensive and will run around $25 apiece (simple audiobooks cost less). But they are awesome.

How to buy: You can find out what’s available at www.bigfinish.com. Get the CDs through www.alienentertainmentstore.com, one of Big Finish’s North American suppliers, or go to your favorite bookstore and have them order for you.

The Ninjas: Shawnimals

LONT-group-v1_large The cool guy behind Shawnimals, Shawn Smith, is an ex-colleague of mine from Electronic Gaming Monthly and Nuke.com days. But that’s not how I discovered his stuff. One day I went to Chicago’s Rotofugi store and thought the Ninjatown toys were so cute I bought a bunch. Only later did I find out that the “Shawn” in Shawnimals was a friend, and I see him every so often at conventions hawking his wares. I buy something every time.

The idea: Plush ninjas! Plush moustaches! Plush dumplings! Blind boxes! Original art. And video games – Ninjatown: Trees of Doom remains a favorite family time-waster on all our iOS devices, and we’ve played many hours of Ninjatown, the tower defense Nintendo DS game. Basically, Shawnimals offers designer toys, including the cutest ninjas you’ll ever see.

Quick review: Just look at them! I dare you to resist. Seriously, though – I’m a huge fan. I must have a dozen ninja zipper pulls, along with stickers on my car, pins on my handbags, and plush Wee Ninjas hanging from all my doorknobs. I even use a Wee Ninja memo pad for notes. These toys are good quality, and Shawnimals is a true original (you will see many imitators out there). The little plush Wee Ninjas make great stocking stuffers.

How to buy: Shawnimals products are available at many stores that sell designer toys, but you can also purchase from the website, www.shawnimals.com.

About Helen A. Lee


Helen is a veteran writer with credits in The Learned Fangirl, Electronic Gaming Monthly, Gamespot.com, Chicago Tribune and nytimes.com, among others (if pressed, she may cop to writing instructional guides to pop star hair and interviewing "Desperate Housewives" stars). She's a huge geek and her son, age 11, looks to be following in her footsteps.