September 1, 2013

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SPX Spotlight 2013: Christy Lijewski

Welcome to another entry in the 2013 SPX Spotlight series!  For the next month, I'll be highlighting creators and publishers who will be at the best convention, the Small Press Expo.  You can check out all of my spotlights for SPX from both this year and prior years here.

Once upon a time Tokyopop was the place to go if you were looking for OEL Manga (that's Original English Language, for those who might not be familiar). They probably got a bit too overzealous in their grabbing everyone in sight, and I won't get into here my feelings on their retaining rights when they have no intention of publishing--aw, crap. I did it anyway.

Ahem. Anyway, OEL Manga is Western creators working in the style of primarily Japanese creators, but also any Eastern styles. Yen Press's Nightschool is an excellent modern example. Becky Cloonan might be the most recognizable name from this genre for most non-manga readers. The idea was to use the form and feeling of manga in the comics themselves.

This has worked to varying degrees. Chmakova is so good I had to be shown she was an OEL artist, by which I mean no disrespect to others working. It just felt so natural, in a way that some OEL work does not, that I was totally fooled. In other cases--Return to Labyrinth being one for me--I was left cold.

That brings me to Christy Lijewski, who is coming to SPX this year, fresh off a new series that's being serialized for Sparkler Magazine, a new fan-based manga site with a monthly subscription. (At the time of this writing, issue one can still be read for free, but that may not last.) She was the creator behind Re: Play, which had two volumes (I reviewed the first and second volumes several years ago) and then came to a dead stop. Volume 3 came out eventually, allowing her to finish the series shortly before Toykopop became a distant memory with a bitter taste in the mouths of many, myself included.

If you love the way that manga uses all sorts of little tricks and visual clues, then Lijewski's early work will thrill you. I felt like she was trying a bit too hard in those manga to show her ability to homage the style. That's why I'm very pleased to tell you that reading her new series, Dire Hearts, was a pleasure, as it finds Lijewski making the artistic tricks of manga work for her, instead of trying to work a story based on using manga artistic tricks.

The new series begins with a premise familiar to those of us with a love of all things shojo (and a shout out to Sparkler Magazine for quickly recognizing that while shojo is read primarily by girls and young women, there are plenty of other fans out there). A girl attends a school where she is singled out for being different and has immediate relationship issues. Before you start ticking off the checkboxes, however, Lijewski has some twists for you, including starting the story very much in media res (which is extremely refreshing), magical powers that can only work when the genders are in harmony, and a mystery about why our main character, Rose, is so different anyway.

Dire Hearts is only starting, so there's a lot to go, but what I saw really impressed me. Lijewski's linework has gotten thinner, sharper, and more distinctive. It doesn't look like someone else's art now. It looks like her own. Some of the character edges look like they could cut you, and I found the designs striking as a result. She still uses concepts we see regularly in manga, but they're not all over the place anymore. Lijewski applies them when it makes sense.

You can really see that her art has evolved, retaining its roots but progressing into a form that pulls it away from the crowd of OEL artists out there. I figured I'd see what I thought of her new story, and I was simply blown away by the way her art has evolved. A look around her Deviant Art page confirms that Lijewski has quietly (at least for me) really become an artistic force who hopefully will start getting more attention, now that she's working with what appears to be a far-friendlier publisher in terms of dealing with the fanbase.

Anyone who likes manga and is planning to be at SPX this year should stop by Christy's table and see what she has to offer (I'm honestly not sure). Her work should definitely catch your attention and you might just find a new artist to follow, which is one of the best parts of SPX for me every year.

Something dire come up and you can't make SPX? Well, I wasn't able to find a store for Christy but I'll link you again to her new publisher, Sparkler Monthly.