Team Unicorn: A Big Squeeze

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The game-loving all-girl crew of Team Unicorn fights for their right to be geeky

The first impression one might get at seeing a group of four attractive women congregating at Golden Apple Comics in Hollywood, CA, is that they must have walked into the store by accident.

Well, you’d be wrong, and if you brought it up to them you’d probably get your ass kicked for your mistake. The quartet in question consists of Clare Grant, Rileah Vanderbilt, Michele Boyd and Milynn Sarley, and with a BAM! POW! ZAP! they make up Team Unicorn, a label they’ve been using for music videos, parodies and special appearances for almost two years.

These ladies are the real deal: obsessive pop-culture fanatics and gamer girls who are as rabid about their interests as any of our Geek editorial staff. In order to unify, they formed Team Unicorn, reasoning that, “like unicorns, geek girls aren’t supposed to exist.”

“There’s the stereotype that girls can’t be into the same stuff as guys or they have to be clumped into one group or type of person to like this stuff,” Vanderbilt explains. “It’s definitely a myth. There are a lot of girls who play online but they feel like they can’t enjoy the game like the rest of the guys do — they don’t want to talk on their headset because they’re afraid and that ruins it for them. There are a lot of girls who feel discriminated against while still being part of this culture.”

Team Unicorn Group 300x450 Team Unicorn: A Big Squeeze Of course, the Team notes that it’s perfectly acceptable for a girl to be geeky if she wears nerdy glasses or “as long as you’re awkward,” according to Boyd. Grant chimes in noting, “But the minute you put on heels and a skirt, there’s a problem.”

The way Boyd sees it, when you do what Team U has done, people often think “you’re pandering and just doing it for attention. It’s weird — the limits and the double standards,” she observes.

This often results in a “proving ground,” according to Boyd. “Once guys find out you’re a gamer, they’re like, ‘Oh, really? And how much of a gamer are you?’” she says.

Being active gamers isn’t all Team Unicorn is about. It’s a brand that the girls have wisely crafted and marketed — showcasing their interests, but also showing that they can act, that they have a sense of humor and that they can sing.

A key step forward for Unicorn’s global domination occurred when they created a song parody to the tune of Katy Perry’s “California Gurls.” The result was the “G33K & G4M3R Girls” song and music video, which they wrote and performed, featuring a guest rap by Seth Green (who is married to Grant), with cameos by Stan Lee and Katee Sackhoff.

While the clip had racked up just about a million YouTube views (as of presstime), “It started out as four friends having fun, sharing a mutual love for all things geeky,” Grant says. “The song is a love letter to all the things we love most. We like all this stuff and wanted to share it with people. People liked it and saw immediately there was a void for a strong female voice in this area.”

The video blew up and it resulted in three other viral online videos, including a parody of a 1950s-era civil defense film on how to properly dispose of zombies called A Very Zombie Holiday, a spoof of eHarmony called superHarmony, which follows superheroes as they seek the right soul mate, and a 1950s beach blanket alien invasion parody trailer called Alien Beach Crashers. (Find it all at teamunicornftw.com.)

While the Team has been knocked by some, whining that they’ve “set the feminist movement back by 90 years,” the group finds such complaints rather amusing. “With just one video, we gave ourselves some power,” Grant says, as Boyd adds, “Go, us!”

In fact, the Team has found that they’ve had a huge influence on a younger generation of girls and they want to extend that empowerment to everyone. “We want to start a movement and get all the nerd forces together,” Grant says. “It’s not just girls, guys, too. We want to create a safe place for people to just run free with their geek flags.”

“We want to take over the world. In 10 years, you’ll be saying, ‘They’re in the White House and have their own army, finally’,” Sarley adds. With a smile, Boyd says, “Let’s be honest, who doesn’t want their own army?”

TEAM UNICORN PLAYER PROFILES


Team Unicorn Michele Boyd 300x450 Team Unicorn: A Big Squeeze Michelle Boyd
Having a bachelor’s in neurobiology, physiology and behavior and starring in Cheerleader Massacre 2 are two things that usually don’t go on the same résumé, but Michele Boyd has no qualms about these two disparate accomplishments. “Cheerleader Massacre 2 was awesome,” she says. “That wasn’t even the first full-length horror movie I did. The first one was Red Mountain, a mummy-meets-a-zombie flick. I played a girl trying to commit suicide whose blood soaks into the ground, awakening this centuries-old demon. What I like about science is the same thing I like about acting. I’m interested in what makes people tick and behave a certain way.”

Growing up, Boyd was a Navy brat, moving from place to place (including stints in Boston and Japan), but she mostly grew up in San Diego until she landed in Los Angeles. “I usually lived in each place for two or three years, so I would get to reinvent myself all the time,” Boyd says. “My time in L.A. is the longest I’ve ever lived in one place.”

In the 4th grade, Boyd even insisted people (including her parents) call her Karen. “I had that name embroidered on a pink My Little Pony jacket I wore it all the time,” she admits. “That’s what’s cool about moving around. If you, all of a sudden, decide your name is Karen, then your name is Karen.”
A voracious reader, Boyd even taught herself how to read and write in Runes. It was in high school that she finally discovered video games and became obsessed with a text-based game called Avalon, which she played on her high school’s Telnet system. “My school didn’t know enough about gaming to ban Telnet, which was the main client to play the game on,” she says. “So, in study hall or in classes, I would log onto the school’s servers to play. It was all text-based. There were no graphics, so, for a reader like me, it worked out perfectly.”

Team Unicorn Color: Blue
Official Site: micheleboyd.com
Superpower: “Teleportation. Bamf!”
Fave Pastimes: “Most video games, comics and also fantasy and sci-fi novels.”
Geek Regrets: “The first time I went to Comic-Con, I didn’t get to enjoy it because I was working as a booth babe. I was handing out posters for some movie, and I was so mad that I couldn’t walk around and enjoy everything. And the next day, my day off, I still couldn’t really enjoy it. I’d been talking so much the day before that I had lost my voice.”
Most Empowering Thing: “Dressing up as Sailor Jupiter.”
Highest Video Game Level/Score: “My 85 level capped character on World of Warcraft.”
Video Game You Wouldn’t Be Caught Dead Playing: “Super Meat Boy. He’s a cube of meat trying to save his girlfriend.”
Coolest Costume: “I liked our Knight Sister outfits from Star Wars: The Clone Wars. That was pretty bad-ass.”
Thing That Pisses You Off the Most in Geekdom: “The fact that my favorite fantasy writers don’t write fast enough. That’s it. I want my books and I want them now.”
Geek Things No One Knows About: “I can’t think of anything because I’ve already bared my soul in every way possible. But I do have a tattoo written in Elvish.”
Upcoming Projects: “I have a cameo in Teddy Garcia’s ongoing series Sound Advice with Mark Gantt and Sean Becker, I worked with Felicia Day on a project for Felicia’s new channel Geek & Sundry, and D.N.E. – Do Not Erase is a short I did with Nar Williams and Richard Hatch from Battlestar Galactica.”

Five Favorites
1. Fave Movie: “Clue — it’s hilarious and it’s a murder-mystery. ”
2. Fave Games: “The Gears of War franchise, Mass Effect, which I just got into and I’m obsessed with. The last two Batman games.”
3. Fave Comics: “I’m really into Locke & Key and I Kill Giants.”
4. Fave TV: “Obviously, Firefly, Game of Thrones, I still love The Walking Dead. And Revenge, I love it. It’s so good. It’s probably my favorite new show.”
5. Fave Music: “I like ska, Less Than Jake, Reel Big Fish, The Toasters.”


Team Unicorn Clare Grant 300x599 Team Unicorn: A Big Squeeze Clare Grant
There are many things Clare Grant can probably do better than the average girl (video games, Magic: The Gathering, quote Voltron trivia), but the one thing she prides herself on is her habit of belching at random, inappropriate times. “I’ve been a pretty big burper my entire life,” she says. “I can’t make it happen, it’s organic. A long time ago I realized I couldn’t control it happening, so I decided that I would make them the most glorious impressive burps that any human would ever hear.”

Hailing from Memphis, Tennessee, Grant admits her interests tended to make her an outcast growing up. “Girls hated me because I would sit under the bridge with their boyfriends — platonically — and talk about how cool Gambit was,” she says. “And none of the boys liked me because I wasn’t girly enough to date, so I was kind of screwed.”

She found it liberating when she finally ventured to Los Angeles in 2005, where she suddenly found people who liked the same things she liked. This also began a transformation where she finally started wearing jeans that fit her, make-up, dresses and skirts. “I’ve learned how to be a girl here,” Grant says. “I’m learning every day. And I try very hard.”

And she has a particular affinity for the Golden Apple Comics, because she met her husband, Seth Green (Robot Chicken, Family Guy, Buffy the Vampire Slayer), at the store. “I would not trade that memory for anything,” gushes Grant, who says their mutual love of action figures and identical programming in their DVRs cinched the deal: “I went over to his house one day and never came home.”

Team Unicorn Color: Green
Official Site: claregrant.com
SuperPower: “Flight and Super strength.”
Geek Pastimes: Video games, comic books, fantasy/sci-fi books, Magic: The Gathering.
Geek Regrets: “Not wearing my Sailor Moon costume for 15 years.”
Most Empowering Thing: “Moving to Los Angeles, where pop culture is not just acceptable in public, it’s celebrated.”
Highest Video Game Level/Score: “Zelda: A Link to the Past. When you finish it, it tells you how long it took to beat the game and how many lives you lost. I was so obsessed with that game, I continually played it until my time was short as possible and I didn’t die once.”
Video Game You Wouldn’t Be Caught Dead Playing: “Farmville. I’m obsessed. I need no other reason.”
Coolest Costume: “It’s going to be Sailor Moon for me, because that character means so much to me. It’s the first costume I made for myself.”
Thing That Pisses You Off the Most in Geekdom: “I hate that a lot of geeky boys smell bad. There’s a lot of B.O. when you walk around the Comic-Con floor. In fact, there is so much that Team Unicorn, when we have booths, we cover our entire booth in scented candles. It’s true.”
Geek Things No One Knows About: “I played a D20 Star Wars RPG every Wednesday for a long time. None of my current friends know about it, and it was before I got real into social networking, so I haven’t really put it out in the universe before. I named my force-sensitive explorer, Illyria, after the character Fred during the end of Angel.”
Upcoming Projects: “Joshua Tree, 1951: A Portrait of James Dean. The Insomniac. Star Wars: The Clone Wars animated series where I play a new character called Latts Razzi. I’m a bounty hunter and I work with Boba Fett.”

Five Favorites
1. Fave Movies: “Clue. I also love Kids in the Hall: Brain Candy. I could quote that entire movie! Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. That movie is really special to me.”
2. Fave Games: “The Final Fantasy series, the new Batman Arkham City game, Assassin’s Creed, Resident Evil 2 was amazing for me and Xeno Gears games.”
3. Fave Comics: “X-Men. I finally found people who were outcasts in the same way I was, but they had also found a group of friends who accepted them.”
4. Fave tv: “Sailor Moon and Buffy. I love Fringe and Once Upon a Time. Archer is awesome. Battlestar Galactica. Voltron was my favorite growing up.”
5. Fave Music: “Right now, I’m into the Black Keys. I’m from Memphis, so I also love dirty southern rap. I love Three 6 Mafia.”


Team Unicorn Milynn Sarley 300x450 Team Unicorn: A Big Squeeze Milynn Sarley
The big question in speaking with Milynn Sarley is not what she does, but what she doesn’t do. Not only does she have a voracious appetite for all things geek, but she owns a motorcycle, is a secondary black belt, a really good snowboarder and read “Anna Karenina” in the 4th grade. She even knows how to crochet!

“People tell me, ‘You’re just this crazy accident — you should not exist,’” laughs Sarley, who is probably the biggest paradox of Team Unicorn. Despite learning new things and being quite outgoing and vocal, she reveals that she is also quite shy.

“I get super nervous meeting new people,” admits Sarley, who grew up in Pennsylvania. “It’s one of my fears and it’s funny because I’m in the public eye. Even if I haven’t seen my friends in awhile, I get shy around them.”

One thing she isn’t shy about is her pride in the Unicorn brand and name (her middle name is Unicorn), and she’s one of the first to get the group’s Unicorn heart logo tattooed on her arm.

Inspiring a new generation of Unicorns, and making it a safe place for them to express themselves has been very important for Sarley as well. “There’s a girl named Ainsley in our video, A Very Zombie Holiday, and we call her our Mini Unicorn,” she says. “She’s growing up in this community, which is so much more accepting and to know it is a safe space for them. This is cool. They have role models they can live up to. I didn’t have that when I was a kid. Everyone thought being into this stuff was weird.”

With so many interests, the big question for Milynn is: How do you find time for it all?

“It’s time management,” she says. “This town is all about hurry up and wait. I know Clare [Grant] has a weekly Magic: The Gathering game she’s part of. I raid it every Tuesday night. We all have ways to do the things we still love.”

Team Unicorn Color: Fuchsia
Official Site: milynnsarley.com
SuperPower: “Shapeshifting, because I always wanted to be animals and things like that. I thought it would be cool if I were a tiger or squirrel or bird.”
Geek Pastimes: “I’m a big gamer. I love comic books — anything sci-fi fantasy.”
Geek Regrets: “In college, I decided I was going to be a new person, so my dad was getting rid of stuff in the basement, and I told him to get rid of my entire Sailor Moon collection. I will regret that until the end of my days.”
Most Empowering Thing: “I think working up the nerve to go into comic book shops when I was a teenager. If you don’t know what you want or what you’re looking for, it can be off-putting.”
Highest Video Game Level/Score: “I used to be in the top five shaman on my server for WOW. I played through Final Fantasy X three times just so I could also see another two minutes of cut scenes.”
Video Game You Wouldn’t Be Caught Dead Playing: “I have no shame playing any games. I even love playing Dance Central; it’s a fun one, so I love convincing people who are hesitant about it that it’s the greatest game ever.”
Coolest Costume: “Fran from Final Fantasy XII — awesome costume.”
Thing That Pisses You Off the Most in Geekdom: “When people in this community don’t try to help each other out and try to be exclusive about the geek world. It should be accepting and fun.”
Geek Things No One Knows About: “I tested for genius level in the 2nd grade. It went well and I had to attend a special class for two hours every day. And then in 4th grade I was sent to a different school.”
Upcoming Projects: “I have a cameo in Teddy Garcia’s ongoing series Sound Advice with Mark Gantt and Sean Becker, I worked with Felicia Day on her new channel Geek & Sundry, and D.N.E. – Do Not Erase is a short I did with Nar Williams and Richard Hatch from Battlestar Galactica.”

Five Favorites
1. Fave Movies: “One of my favorite movies of all time is Legend.”
2. Fave Games: “I play a lot of WOW. I used to love Final Fantasy, but they’ve taken that in a different direction.”
3. Fave Comics: “Fables. I love X-Men as well.”
4. Fave TV: “I love Doctor Who and the 10th doctor, David Tennant, is my favorite, of course. I miss Battlestar Galactica.”
5. Fave Music: “I love nerd music. I’ve been into the Left Rights — they’re nerd-core. I’m a big fan of No Doubt, no lie.”


Team Unicorn Rileah Vanderbilt 300x489 Team Unicorn: A Big Squeeze Rileah Vanderbilt
Even though Team Unicorn casts its members in a superhero light, Rileah Vanderbilt admits her fellows actually think she might be a closeted supervillain. “I guess it’s because if I had the power to change the world, I would use it in absoluteness,” Vanderbilt reveals. “The great thing about supervillains, most start from a place of good intentions and through them being black or white about something. They can’t see the other side of things.”

With just 27 kids in her graduating class in high school, Vanderbilt kept her inner geek to herself while growing up in the mountains of Colorado near Pike’s Peak. “There were certain subjects within the geek world that it was OK to be into and your friends would accept you,” she says. “Then there was the deeper stuff, like my Xena and Hercules obsessions, that there was nobody else I could talk to about.”

In terms of budget, Vanderbilt learned tricks of the trade from her husband, Adam Green, director of the Hatchet films and Frozen.

“We pay lot of attention to detail and we’ve been lucky,” Vanderbilt says. “Adam has done low-budget stuff and always made it look exponentially more expensive than it is. Through osmosis, I’ve learned a lot from him — where you can cut corners and where you can’t. For me, it’s trickled down into what we do with Team Unicorn.”

However, the biggest thrill for her is finally being in the pages of Geek. “It’s the only magazine I felt covered the stuff I care about,” she says. “To be in it — it’s a mini-dream come true! It sounds cheesy, but it’s true.”

Team Unicorn Color: Purple
Official Site: rileahvanderbilt.com
SuperPower: “Flight and omniscience, though my real power might be making Ramen Noodles. I make the world’s best Ramen noodles.”
Geek Pastimes: Sci-fi movies, fantasy books and video games. “I love cos-playing and dressing up as my favorite character from a fantasy series or TV series and be that character for the day.”
Geek Regrets: “My biggest geek regret is not celebrating my geekdom as much when I was younger because I was afraid of what people thought of me.”
Most Empowering Thing: “Creating and producing my first project, Saber, and seeing an idea blossom into a finished project.”
Highest Video Game Level/Score: “I’m Level 35 in Halo.”
Video Game You Wouldn’t Be Caught Dead Playing: “Robo Unicorn Attack on the phone. You just run and jump. It’s so basic, but I’m addicted.”
Coolest Costume: “The Baroness from G.I. Joe or Poison Ivy from Batman.”
Thing That Pisses You Off the Most in Geekdom: “This community is supposed to be about acceptance, but sometimes it becomes elitist. I feel like the people within it, they feel they’ve finally found something so great and if an outsider tries to come in and get on it, it really angers them.”
Geek Things No One Knows About: “I’m pretty much out of the closet about everything, but I did make a resolution that I was going to learn to speak Elvish this year.”
Upcoming Projects: “I just finished a low-budget horror movie called The Pandora Experiment. I get killed on camera by a bunch of worms — it’s very disgusting.”

Five Favorites
1. Fave Movies: “Raiders of the Lost Ark, I wanted to be an archeologist after that. I saw SpaceCamp and wanted to be an astronaut. I saw Star Wars and wanted to be a spaceship captain. My mom was like, ‘They’re actors, they don’t really do that.’”
2. Fave Games: “Halo, World of Warcraft. I love Batman: Arkham City and Arkham Asylum. My favorite video game of all time is Super Mario Bros. 3. It was the first game I really fell in love with.”
3. Fave Comics: “I really like ‘Runaways’ and I love Joss Whedon — anything he does is awesome.”
4. Fave tv: “The Vampire Diaries all the way. I love Buffy, too. Firefly. Star Trek: Next Generation. Game of Thrones.”
5. Fave Music: “I’m a classic-rock fan — Queen, Aerosmith, AC/DC, Led Zeppelin.”

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