est em Panel at TCAF

May 13th, 2014

It was my honor to moderate the panel for Featured Guest est em (えすと えむ) at Toronto Comics Art Festival .

I haven’t seen any other coverage of the panel so far and while it may be unusual to do this, I thought the conversation we had really interesting and want to share.

est em, translator Jocelyne Allen, who was fantastic, and I had a terrific discussion about her work. She ‘s best known for her BL works, and debuted professionally in 2006 with what was licensed in English as Seduce Me After The Show (which is one of the several things I read in preparation for the panel.)

est em started off in doujinshi and I asked her how she transitioned to professional. She said that she was scouted by a publisher who asked her if she’d be interested in drawing BL and she replied, “Yeah, sure.” She hadn’t really read any before that, so she did some research and started drawing. Later on, I asked her about the quirky content of her stories; they have elements like bullfighting, bespoke shoe making, centaurs… and she said one of the nice things about BL is that she doesn’t have to go into a lot of details, as long as the content is BL, she can just draw whatever interests her. Also because they tend to be short vignettes she doesn’t have to really explain anything about, say bullfighting, it’s more or less “this guy is a bullfighter”, whereas in something long-form like Golondrina, she needs to add in the jargon, the details of the culture and the techniques.

I asked her about her attention to movement and line, and how she expresses such things through depictions of Flamenco and bullfighting and she mentioned that the flow of line extends to her drawing of bespoke shoes and how really good shoes look beautiful. She talked about her time in Spain doing research – although she didn’t think she had any Spanish fans. (An audience member later said that she had a friend in Spain who is a fan, so she’s got at least one!)

The questions from the audience were great! Nathan, a TCAF staffer, asked her opinion of Hemingway, who is of course well-known for his writing on bullfighting and Spanish life. est em-sensei replied that she had read Hemingway, but thought he was “too macho.” She said she felt he wrote as if he was looking down from heaven on bullfighting, as well.

Another great question asked about the response she’s received from the gay community in Japan, what they think of her work. She said she hadn’t really gotten any negative comments, and wasn’t sure if there was a dichotomy between fans of BL and the gay community, which prompted me to note that her work was mostly unlike other BL, by having characters who are adults and have relationships without coercion, denial, non-con or incest. She joked that by drawing such unconventional BL, maybe that was why her books didn’t sell as well as others!

Another audience member asked whether she’s planning on doing more doujinshi, and she said it always comes down to time, she has to produce 60-70 pages a month and when she does doujinshi, it’s always in, like, the last 2 days. But the fan had specifically asked about a piece of Attack on Titan fanart, and est em-sensei said she wouldn’t be doing derivative work.

Another question asked her opinion of scanlations. She was really honest and said she thinks they are okay as a starting off point for fans, but really, in order to be okay, at some point they have to transition to actually buying the book in some language otherwise, she won’t be able to continue drawing.

I had asked her at the very beginning to ask the audience a question and so, she asked them this: she feels it’s weird sometimes to see Japanese culture as written by foreigners, so did they think it was weird to see a Japanese person writing overseas culture? The audience said, nah, it was cool and I added that it gives us another viewpoint of ourselves, through a slightly distorted lens. It’s good for us to see that image and know what people think of us.

And with that, we wrapped up a great hour, with a terrific manga artist, est em. Several of her other BL books have been translated into English by DMP, Deux, Netcomics and now Viz’s SuBLime has just published her newest book, Tableau No. 20. If you’re ever looking for non-trope-y BL with mature themes, but also mature characters, I strongly recommend her work. In Japanese her current series are Golondrina (which I am reviewing here, as the main character is a lesbian), and IPPO. If you’ve read any of her work in scanlation form, buying her work that is available in English is a great way to say thanks.)

On a personal note, I asked her to add in a few fangirls for Chika when she next bullfights in Golondrina. Jocelyne and I joked that if she just explained to her editor a promise made in Canada is like a contract, she should be okay. ^_^

Thanks to est em-sensei, Jocelyne and the great audience for a really fantastic panel!

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4 Responses

  1. Her BL work is quirky and cute but Golondrina is definitely one of the best mangas I have ever read. I was looking for a Spanish story that had some real dramatic meat on it (sorry Carmen) but amazingly, though the story was penned by a Japanese author, Golondrina is a miracle. When my next paycheck comes in, I’ll definitely but all the volumes.

  2. JRB says:

    “which prompted me to note that her work was mostly unlike other BL, by having characters who are adults and have relationships without coercion, denial, non-con or incest.”

    Considering, on the one hand, the large amount of BL that fits that description (unless you consider “sexual orientation is never addressed” as a subtype of denial, which I guess you could), and, on the other hand, the high proportion of gay men’s manga that have the last 4 (coercion/non-con-fantasy is quite common, as is “convert the straight guy”-fantasy), I think this is probably not the main factor.

    One thing that I do think makes her work more appealing to men (and non-core-fan women) is that her art is not shoujo-influenced; no pretty bishonen, no sparkles and flowers, very little screentone, etc. I’ve encountered a lot of men who simply don’t like the way BL looks, totally aside from the content. Being an exceptional writer, artist and cartoonist certainly helps, but there are many highly talented mangaka producing more mainstream BL that don’t get the same amount of praise from the non-core-fan contingent.

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