Go read this.
I speak as someone who is not generally a fan of most OEL manga out there, and as someone who was pretty wary about the premise of the series. I mean... the series has love triangles in it, and I still loved it.
Christie has just written a manga with her artist boyfriend Derek, and they're off to try and sell it at Yatta Con, along with a few friends. It's Chriss' first con, and it's a whole new world. And then, she bumps into a guy in sunglasses and a long flappy coat of angst (Matt), and the fun begins.
Volume 2 takes place a year after Chriss' first Yatta Con, and she's now back as a con veteran (sort of), with some friends in tow.
Even though rachelmanija has been reccing this to me for a good year and a half now, I just never got around to reading it until now. This is partly because despite Rachel's many assurances, I didn't want to read some cutesy thing on cons with a billion in-jokes and other things on anime fan culture.
Then I was reading Off*Beat yesterday night, except it had a lot of the things that generally turn me off OEL manga: too many panels per page, way too much text on a page, and an aesthetic and storyline that felt more indie comics instead of shoujo manga. For some reason, I flipped to the back and found a small excerpt from Dramacon. I read it, laughed out loud, and then rushed to get my copy of vol. 1 and devoured the entire thing.
This is, by the way, at around 3 in the morning.
The art: The art is still fairly rough -- the chibis are absolute adorable and hilarious, but sometimes the anatomy or perspective looks off. The panel layout can also be a little wonky at times (the big impressionistic kiss scene read a little muddled to me), but I really love how Chmakova paces things on the page. The scene in which Chriss first sees Matt without his shades was great, as well as the big holding-hands scene later on. You can tell she reads shoujo, and she gets so many of the great shoujo moments in here.
Now I sound like I am damning with faint praise. Admittedly, the art wasn't the main draw for me (no pun intended), but I really think that the layouts are very good, which is actually the part that tends to throw me out of most OEL.
Also, did I mention the chibis? They crack me up every single time! Chriss spontaneously combusting! Angel!Chriss and Devil!Chriss! Eeeee!
The characters: I love all the characters (except the ones I'm not supposed to), and I particularly adore Chriss and Matt. I love the interactions between the characters as well; they feel and talk and act like real people. And not just psychologically, but... you can tell that Chmakova knows how the con scene here goes and how the manga industry works. And that informs all her characters' reactions and makes them feel that much more real.
But mostly, I like that Chmakova doesn't go for stupid misunderstandings or unearned moments of angst; her people actually do things like talk to each other and joke around. And I like that the focus isn't just on Chriss and Matt, but also on Chriss' growth as a writer and on Chriss' friendship with Bethany (vol. 2). And the supporting characters (like Bethany) don't get shafted either; they have their own very believable storylines and issues.
The story: So, con. This was the part I had doubted the most. But this ended up being one of the things that I loved the most (well, aside from Chriss and Matt and all the other characters).
I keep saying that everyone acts like real people, but that's because everyone does! And this goes for the con as well. There are no magical scenes in which a young artist or writer becomes a best-selling success, and most of the con jokes involve day-to-day things like getting lost in the hotel or being late to panels or in general having no idea what's going on. And there are snotty people and nice people and crazy fans who don't respect personal space and cool fans who may be dressed up in cat ears but are still awesome.
Race and gender: ZOMG people!! There are POC! Multiple!
Ok, so the main characters are still white, and volume 1 is mostly white. But in volume 2, we get Bethany, who I think is Indian, and the people at the table next to Chriss and Bethany (Korean, Indian (?), and white (?)). I particularly loved Beth. The thing with her mom as an obstacle to her art could have been handled so obnoxiously, but it wasn't. And there was the sense that Beth's Indian-ness wasn't the sole thing about her character (thereby avoiding the dread Token POC Syndrome) and it wasn't ignored (thereby avoiding the POC Are Just Like White People Syndrome); I really appreciated that.
Also, there's nothing overly feminist about the manga, but much like race, there's a background sense of feminism, if that makes sense. The women are all pretty awesome, and while Chriss sort of lacks a backbone in vol. 1, that's actually what vol. 1 is about. You know, as opposed to the usual shoujo "She sacrifices everything for her boyfriend! And it is good!" thing. (I love shoujo, but sometimes...)
In conclusion: I really loved this. I was so delighted with vol. 1 that I ran to Borders today to buy vol. 2, and now I am irritated that I cannot read vol. 3 right this second because it hasn't been published yet.
Even if you don't think it's your thing, just try reading the first few pages in a bookstore or online to see if it grabs you -- reading these two volumes made me so happy that I want to make other people read too!
ETA: Also, Chriss literally clocks someone in vol. 1!! yes i am twelve