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Catching Up With Christy Lijewski: A Conversation About RE:Play

Posted by: Katherine Dacey on March 23, 2008 at 11:17 pm

replay2.jpegAmong the many manga arriving in stores this month is the highly anticipated second volume of RE:Play. This Tokyopop title blends American and Japanese influences to tell the story of Faust, an up-and-coming punk band. When Cree, the lead singer, discovers a talented bassist busking in the subway, she invites him to join Faust—much to the dismay of bandmate Rail, who’s harbored a crush on Cree for years. Newcomer Izsak proves a capable musician, but harbors some secrets of his own.

Series creator Christy Lijewski first came to the attention of Tokyopop’s editorial staff in 2004, when she entered the Rising Stars of Manga Contest. Her entry “Doors” took third prize, and lead to a contract with Slave Labor Graphics for Next Exit, an extended version of “Doors” that was serialized in monthly installments. As she was working on Next Exit, Tokyopop asked her to pitch a shojo story, and RE:Play was born. The series has been a solid performer since its 2006 debut, garnering praise from critics, attracting a loyal following, and even inspiring cosplay and fan art.

I recently spoke with Lijewski and editor Tim Beedle to discuss the series, learn more about Lijewski’s influences, and find out if Tokyopop has any longer term plans for RE:Play.

PCS: Christy, what initially attracted you to manga? Who are some of your favorite manga-ka and why? How has their work influenced yours?

Christy Lijewski: I used to be a hardcore American comics fan, I grew up being all about the X-Men and the Flash, but while I always loved the medium of comics I never really got too much into superheroes. Like I’d read the comics because I loved COMICS but the stories never really connected with me too much. Then when I found manga and realized the sheer range of genres encompassed by manga it was pretty much love at first sight. I had finally found comics I could really get into without feeling alienated by the story.

Some of my favorite mangaka? Woo, I read a LOT of manga so that’s always a hard question. Right now I’m pretty big on Sho-u Tajima for his wonderful black and white work, it’s so clean and clinical. I really love how that adds a unique feeling to his works. His eye for detail is top notch too. I love the way Kubo Tite portrays action scenes and really like his fashion design. I’ve always been a fan of Yuichi Kumakura, he imagines the most far out worlds but renders them in a way to make them totally believable. Hmm… who else? I love Shirow Miwa’s inking, it’s so clear and precise and his spot blacks are to die for. Same with Naked Ape, those girls are amazing! Not only do they do two comics at the same time (Switch and Dolls) but they have some of the most extensive doujin production I’ve ever seen. They’re machines!

I think every artist is influenced by the artists they admire, personally I think the main thing I’ve gotten from reading other artists is that I realized how much I enjoy clean inks. All of the artists I really admire use very little tone in their work, just pure black and white. I want to be able to do that so it’s something I’m striving towards.

PCS: How do you respond to fans who feel the term “manga” should only be applied to Japanese comics? Where do you see RE:Play fitting into the current comic market?

Christy: I think they’re over thinking things to be honest. I mean, so many manga magazines and publishing labels in Japan are called “Comics” and no one there seems to go, “This isn’t a comic!” I don’t see why we see the word “manga” here and have to go, “This isn’t manga!”

I dunno, I guess to me it’s all just sequential art. Manga, comics, manhua, manhwa, whatever, it’s all just sequential visual storytelling and it’s all awesome in its own way. That said, I think in English “manga” has adapted the common meaning of “comics from Japan” so if people don’t want to call my work manga, that’s fine. I don’t usually say I draw “manga” unless I’m speaking in Japanese anyway.

Where does RE:Play fit? I think it’s in it’s own limbo that a lot of OEL kind of find themselves in. A place where American comic fans are like “Ah, that’s manga! That does not interest me!” and where American manga fans and otaku are like “Ah, that’s not manga! That does not interest me!”

I really wish people would give the individual stories a chance without having to quantify them as a certain thing or another. They’re missing out on a lot of really awesome books I think.

PCS: What was the inspiration for RE:Play? How has your love of music influenced the look and feel of the manga? What bands (besides Ellegarden and Linkin Park) did you listen to while writing the story? What other influences helped shape your story?

Christy: Well, the band portion of the story came from the fact that while I love music, and drown myself in it, I have very little musical skill of my own. I can play the violin and am pretty horrible on the guitar and that’s about it. Not very rock and roll I know. So I wanted to be able to do something connecting to the music world even if I’d never be able to do what my characters are doing. Ha ha ha, living vicariously through them I guess!

Aside from the music portion the rest of the story was really influenced by my love of certain horror movies and The X-Files. That’s about as much as I can say without spoiling everything!

I listen to a LOT of music and I’m constantly listening to it while I work so there’s way more bands and singers than I could ever name that have contributed to the book in some way or another I think! I will say that while I’m scripting I listen to instrumental music, lyrics get in the way of dialogue writing for me, so Yasunori Mitsuda, Akira Yamaoka, and Shoji Meguro are probably the big three I listened to the most as they’re my favorite composers.

PCS: I noticed that you worked with the same toner on both volumes. Can you describe your collaborative process? Have you and Catarina worked together on other projects?

Christy: Ah Cat! She’s an amazing tonist, I don’t know what I’d do without her! Like I said earlier I prefer to work in stark black and white for my own projects so when I had to sit down and do a heavily toned comic I was at a loss as to what to do. Thankfully Cat is a master at working out the right levels of tones to make a scene work so aside from “his shirt is dark, her shirt is light” I give her very little instruction and kind of just let her have at it. I mean, I’ll tell her “It’s snowing at night in this panel” or “The bar is dimly lit from overhead” and she’ll figure out how to make that work with tones. She’s really talented! I love her!

We did work together on a couple issues of Next Exit as well, pretty much anytime I need or will need tones I plan to go to her for as long as she’ll have me!

RePlay2_ch5_018.jpgRePlay2_ch5_019.jpg

A scene from chapter five, volume two of RE:Play. © 2008 C. Lijewski/Tokyopop.

PCS: Tim, what do you think are Christy’s strengths as an artist? A storyteller? Do you see a more obvious manga influence in her work than in other artists in Tokyopop’s OEL program?

Tim Beedle: I’ve been a huge fan of Christy Lijewski’s work from long before RE:Play. I was a judge in TOKYOPOP’s third Rising Stars of Manga contest, and when I read Christy’s entry “Doors,” I instantly fell in love with her art and writing. I insisted on writing the judges comments for that entry, and shortly afterward, was excited to pick up the first issue of Next Exit when it hit comic book stores.

Christy’s an excellent visual storyteller, and she’s a gifted writer as well. I don’t think people always give her enough credit for that. There was a double-page spread in Next Exit that was completely black. The characters were supposed to have been trapped in a room with no lights on. Not a lot of artists could pull off a stunt like that without it seeming very lazy, but the dialog between the two characters that Christy wrote for the scene was so inspired and funny that you couldn’t imagine the comic without it. It’s still one of my favorite moments from the series.

I definitely see a manga influence in Christy’s work, and I know that she reads a lot of manga, so it’s not surprising. However, I’ve never thought that Christy’s art looks much like most manga-influenced art. In fact, if you didn’t know anything about manga, you probably wouldn’t even realize it. She’s taken her influences and her own unique creative vision and crafted a style that’s simply unlike anything else in comics today. I think it’s a style that fans of manga and American comics alike will know and instantly recognize as Christy’s in a few years. Who knows? Maybe one day, young artists will be inspired by her the same way Christy was inspired by various manga-ka.

PCS: I know that you were brought in to work on the project after the first volume. What role did you play in shaping the story and characters as they evolved in the second volume? Did you develop a particular process for working with Christy? What were some of the challenges of inheriting a series in progress (something I know you’ve done with other Tokyopop OEL projects)?

Tim: I’ll answer the second part of the question first. I’ve found that inheriting projects that were developed and overseen by other editors can go one of two ways. Sometimes it’s remarkably easy because all of the hard work and “growing pains” were taken care of by the previous editor. You just make sure the ship stays on its set course and runs as smoothly as possible. Other times, however, it can be a real challenge. Usually, that’s due to the prior editor having a different method and system of editing than you do. I’m very happy to say that RE:Play was definitely in the former camp.

I didn’t play a huge part in shaping the story and characters. Those were already more or less established and set with the first volume. I thought it worked well and didn’t see any reason to try to mess with it. I’ve also found Christy to be a very easy creator to work with. She makes her deadlines and doesn’t need constant reminding. In fact, I’ve found the best way to edit Christy is to not bug her and let her do her work. I know that if she needs me for something, she’ll get in touch with me.

PCS: Christy, volume two included several flashbacks to Rail, Charles, and Niji’s pasts. Will we finally learn how Izsak acquired that fierce looking scar in volume three?

Christy: Hmm… there’s a good chance. Pretty much everything wraps up in volume 3 so any questions raised in the first two books should be answered! How much of Izsak’s past we’ll actually get to see is the real question I guess.

PCS: Do you have a favorite character? Your comments seem to indicate that you have a special fondness for Rail.

Christy: Yeaaah I’m pretty open about my bias for Rail, he’s easily my favorite character from RE. I happen to like Captain Hartigan, who only shows up for a couple pages in RE2 an awful lot too. I really wish I could give him more screen time as he’s really a lot of fun to draw, but scant page time is the curse of a secondary character, I guess!

PCS: I know it’s cheesy (and we’re not above a little gouda at PopCultureShock!), but I have to ask: as the editor, what did you like best about RE:Play? Did you develop an attachment to any of the characters, and if so, why?

Tim: I’ve always liked Cree, personally. Admittedly, it probably doesn’t hurt that I’ve always had a thing for punk chicks. Still, as a character, there’s something about her that I’ve always found endearing. She’s definitely naïve in a lot of ways, but it’s clear that her hearts in the right place and she means well. Plus, she’s a romantic, and considering how angsty so much manga is these days, that’s almost refreshing. That said, I’m really starting to warm to Rail. Some of the things you learn about him in the last two volumes show that there’s much more to him as a character than was initially obvious. If I was writing this thing, Cree and Rail would end up together, but it’s not my world and story, it’s Christy’s. And since when do creators listen to their editors about these kinds of things?

PCS: Does Tokyopop have any plans for it beyond the third and final volume?

Tim: We’ve been pleased with how RE:Play has been doing, but the true test will be to see if the sales for vols. 2 and 3 can match the sales for vol. 1, and if vol. 1 will continue selling as new readers discover it. As for plans beyond the third volume, it’s still too early to say. Christy and I have definitely discussed a few things, and I’d say there’s a chance RE:Play could continue in one form or another after the third volume, but no official decision has been made yet.

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