Spotlight (801 Special): Est Em
I have this horrible habit of figuring out the lives of people I see when I’m traveling. I love to do this in airports since people hold many stories in such a small space.
A woman walks by, clutching her Berkin bag. Probably a trophy wife of some Asian business magnate and she just arrived from shopping trip in New York. A tall lean guy with long legs, tattered jeans, and a Real Madrid jersey felt like a backpacker on his way home. If he had the hipster glasses, it’s either his boyfriend’s jersey or just something he wore to impress someone.
Sometimes there are people who become alive just by what they wear. A Spanish guy in a plain white shirt and fitted jeans walks to a coffeeshop. He sits cross legged, reading the newspaper he got from the plane, sipping his coffee with such elegance. God knows why my eyes are drawn to him, but in my head, that man must have been a matador once. Or a painter. Probably the hero of an Est Em novel.
Foreign Faces, Foreign Spaces, Familiar Emotions
The first Est Em comic I read was Seduce me After the Show. I honestly didn’t know her except from the raves of her mentor, Matt Thorn. And while it’s easy to say that a teacher will always have his or her biases with his student, it seems that I didn’t even need Matt Thorn to tell me she was amazing.
Seduce Me After the Show came to me like an intelligent yet emotional indie movie. Five unique short stories of people and their worlds. These men could have been anyone and their places could have been anywhere and yet their emotions and their movement were so heartfelt that they honestly felt close to home.
It was a surreal experience reading her book, and even those that came after — Age Called Blue, Red Blinds the Foolish, Tableau Number 20, Apartments of Calle Feliz, and even Ultras. To a degree I know that I am entering a world foreign to me and yet even when these people and places are so alien to me, I can’t help but emphatize and understand the emotions they’re going through.
It’s wonderful how Est Em manages to make something so foreign so familiar. Sometimes, she even makes something very familiar uniquely appealing. From passionate football fans, to matadors, curious art curators, and even lowly waiters, Est Em manages to draw a moment in their lives so beautiful that it’s charming and less ordinary.
I love how Est Em picks stories from the most random of places. It’s as if she saying that no matter what space we occupy, people will always have their stories to tell. Whether they’re butchers, football fans (OH GOD, IF YOU LOVE YOUR SPANISH FOOTBALL BL, YOU CANNOT MISS ULTRAS!), art restorers, or simply a salaryman, they all bear stories often driven by their emotions because men are just as capable of feeling as women do.
And that’s a romantic view of the world, isn’t it?
Est Em, The Romantic?
I’m not talking about romanticism seen in dramatic and sexual romances of shoujo and BL manga. I’m talking about the passionate and emotive affairs of the Romanticism. The intense striking images of heroes captured in their element.
Imagine the dance of Theo Gallardo in Seduce Me After the Show. Perhaps the movements of Rafita Alonso as he fights his last bull in Red Blinds the Foolish. Her heavy lines not only emphasizes the figure of her characters but they also bear the intense weight of their movements. A flick, a turn, a gaze, and even a silent exchange becomes alive with every intense stroke that hopes to bear their dreams — their life.
What I find fascinating, and perhaps “unromantic”, is how she can make romantic heroes out of the most ordinary men. Suddenly, I am mesmerized by the fervent passions of a football fan. Even her butcher, Mauro, has captured my heart!
Outside her handsomely drawn men, perhaps it’s because she writes intelligent men and as some woman puts it, brains are the new sexy. Not only are they intelligent but they’re also witty, if not tastefully dimwitted enough to make me wish for their demise or their success. Perhaps it’s how she manages to highlight the best and worst of people that even a struggling Muay Thai1 fighter becomes my new hero.
It’s fascinating how Est Em made someone out of no one and I honestly thought that she’s just that kind of writer. Until the centaurs.
A Woman Without Rules. Sort of.
Early last year, a friend of mine posted a preview of Est Em’s new BL offering and I knew I had to have it. Her newest book, Equus, was all about centaurs. CENTAURS IN BL. Upon researching on what she’s been up to, I realized that Est Em had another book up her sleeve. SALARY MAN CENTAURS in Working Centaurs. WHAT THE HELL IS HAPPENING!?!
Here’s an artist I loved for her poignant realistic vignettes and then she throws me a crazy comic about centaurs and it even features a threesome with centaurs!? I had to read it. I HAD to have it. Now that it’s in my shelf, I have no regrets! No amount of oggling online prevented me from owning this craziness which I didn’t expect.
The same time that she released Equus, a magazine she contributed in, On Blue, featured an interview between her and Yamashita Tomoko. I feel ashamed for having left this copy so I can’t exactly detail that interview, but what struck me about that issue was a message for Est Em’s Equus from another fellow mangaka. Apparently, when Est Em shared with this girl that she was writing about centaurs and how they were moe~, this author began to spazz at Est Em and shared to her that apart from centaurs, minotaurs can also be moe~! The author apologized to Est Em for scaring her away but that exchange, among other exchanges I’ve “peeked” in her twitter, only proves to me that Est Em was a woman “without rules.”
And you can see it with the array of characters she has drawn. Unlike other fujoshi that rely on tropes, Est Em cares more for the actual relationships of her characters with each other and their space. Perhaps that’s the only rule that she lives by. If anything, she definitely deserves to be in that “New Wave of BL” that continues to challenge the shape of the genre.
But you know what, she didn’t stop with BL. She brought her brand of magic to josei and seinen.
Khursten, there you go with your authors who switch out of BL.
It’s never a bad thing for a BL author to move into josei or seinen! I can go on and on about how I admire authors who have the talent to switch genres and if there’s anything more fantastic about an author moving to josei, it only speaks of her diversity as an author. Take a look at Yamashita Tomoko, Yoshinaga Fumi, and Nakamura Asumiko. All these women have proven themselves, over and over again, that their stories are not for fujoshi alone.
With Est Em, it speaks how her craft can give justice to a divorced cafeteria udon lady in Udon no Hito. If she can turn a young girl into a matador, like she did in Golondrina, then she can make a woman just as important as any man.
Her josei and seinen works only strengthens her case as a storyteller who never fails to see romance in the most mundane of lives. And I wish the world would also see this side of her because while she’s probably one of the most sophisticated BL authors out there, she does not reside in BL alone.
And what’s not hard to admire about that?
A True Fujoshi
I wonder if Est Em would take it a compliment that I consider her a true fujoshi. I say this because out of the authors out there, she’s not the kind who is bound by a ship or a trope, but one who resides in a fujoshi fantasy that is boundless. And I think that’s an admirable characteristic in one. I honestly love that about her.
When I see her fangirl about Sherlock or any other fun idea that some of her friends throw her way, how embracing she is of prompts, and how supportive she is of other people’s works, I just can’t help but admire her. She’s published in a lot of magazines both BL and Josei. She’s even contributed in anthologies such as Moedanshigatari and DameBL. I sometimes wonder if she ever tires but I haven’t seen her take a break and she consistently puts something out for us to read.
To me, her works and her personality has helped changed the genre and allowed people to explore the boundaries of BL, where our fantasies have never gone before. She has made us laugh, cry, squee, and reflect on many aspects of our relationships because in the end, BL was never so much about the boys but more about their relationships.
Her gift enables people to see the world in a new a light and nothing could be more beautiful than that.
For Japanese Readers:
BL Titles: Tableau No. 20, Equus
Josei & Seinen Titles: Udon no Hito (Onna), Golondrina
I was halfway through this spotlight when fellow fujoshi, Jocelyne, posted her interview with Est Em in her website, Brain vs. Book (if you haven’t followed this site, FOLLOW IT!). I must say that I am still impressed by her upon reading the interview and she’s definitely a woman that I respect.
Fun Fact: She drew covers for the Japanese versions of Sherlock Holmes!
- She featured a Muay Thai fighter in her one shot, Khaa Thoong, in her contribution in the DameBL anthology [↩]