Young author releases her comic’s first volume

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“Long, long ago, there were many earths,” starts the tale of Looki, a magical girl who, with the help of her friends and magic wand, goes on interdimensional adventures, discovering new land and creatures along the way.

Looki is the titular protagonist of “Looki,” a comic created by 6th-grader Lily Schwartz. Schwartz, who attends Boynton Middle School in Ithaca, released the first volume of her comic, encompassing issues 1-4, at a book signing at Buffalo Street Books on Nov. 9.

Vol. 1 of “Looki” represents a year’s worth of work and an even longer period of interest and dedication, as Schwartz tells it.

“I don’t remember exactly when I started creating comics,” Schwartz said. “I realized I was really good at drawing compared to some other kids, so I started to improve on it more.”

Schwartz’s father, Andy Schwartz, got her into comic books at a young age, and that interest helped encourage her to create her own.

“I personally really, really enjoy reading comic books,” Lily said. “It got to the point where my teachers told me that I had to read something else other than comic books because, at the time, I didn’t really like reading much else.”

Andy said he introduced Lily and her sister, Jackson, to comics early for that very reason – to inspire.

“I think of comic book stores like little art museums, so I make sure we go to a comic book store at least once a month,” he said. “Partially, that’s for me, but also, I want to make sure that they’re surrounded by that art.”

Lily started on pencil and paper but moved up to digital comics in the summer of 2018 after watching others create captivating web comics.

“I was watching this one person on YouTube, and she was making this thing called a web comic, and so, then I started trying to draw on the computer more than I usually did,” Lily said.

Looki isn’t Lily’s first original character, but she knew that once she created Looki, she had to add more to her world.

“I was just drawing at my grandmother’s house, and I drew this character and then I just wanted to draw her a couple other times, and I thought, ‘Hmm, maybe I can make something out of this,’” Lily said.

Before “Looki” was a comic book, it was posted online via an app called WebToons, which plays host to hundreds of comics created by users, similar to what YouTube does with videos.

During 5th grade at Fall Creek Elementary School, Lily presented pages of her comic during Friday morning program assemblies to the entire school, Andy said. The school was very supportive, and after completing the first five chapters, he told her Ithacon 44 was on the horizon and encouraged her to print out “Looki’s” first issue in time for the event.

Lily sold copies of her first issue at Ithacon 44 at Ithaca College. She almost sold out during Ithacon and eventually did shortly after, according to Andy.

The success of Ithacon prompted Lily to keep it up, and before long, Andy helped her work through comic book printing company ArtistExpress to print the comic’s first volume.

Andy said that he is continually impressed by his daughter’s dedication to the craft, and the Vol. 1 release shows that dedication with every page.

“I think it’s exciting. I’m just glad that she’s found something that she likes to do and she wants to sit down on her own time and make comics,” he said. “The thing that I want most for my kids in life is to be happy, that’s what success is, so anything else that comes from that, it’s awesome.”

Andy wasn’t the only family member that showed up in support of Lily at the Buffalo Street Books release. Her uncle, Jon Schwartz, said he’s very proud of his niece and looks forward to seeing where she goes next.

“I’m happy that her hobby has turned into more than that, and it seems to be getting better every time she does it, so it’s exciting,” Jon said.

Lily’s grandfather, Mark Schwartz, said he’s amazed at how far Lily has come in such a short amount of time.

“It’s a wonderful experience for an 11-year-old,” Mark said. “It’s something that both myself and her grandmother are surprised [about] – that an 11-year-old had that much ‘stick-to-it-ness’ to actually come up with a story line and get through it and draw it.”

Audience members at the release shared words of encouragement with the young author as she sat with packaged volumes of “Looki” on a table beside her. Tompkins County Poet Laureate for 2017 Zee Zahava said she actively tries to encourage young creators, and Lily’s “Looki” is a great example of all that one can achieve.

“I think it’s a very fun book,” Zahava said. “She’s a great artist. She has a wonderful sense of humor. I’m especially excited to see such a young writer taking herself seriously. … I’m inspired by her.”

Attendee Elijah Weber-Han purchased the first copy of “Looki’s” first issue back at Ithacon 44, and he said that attending the comic’s Vol. 1 release was almost surreal.

“It’s a really cool time that we’re living in,” Weber-Han said. “I think it’s awesome that someone so young is following their passion. … It’s hard for people that are my age [40] to do this, and to see somebody just going out and doing it is awesome.”

Creating “Looki” is very much a passion project for Lily, she said, and she loves being able to look back at how her skills have progressed through the comic.

“It’s a lot of fun doing it, and it’s just something I like to do,” she said. “I find it really relaxing. It’s very satisfying to see it drawn on the computer.”

Andy said he’s proud to see Lily growing her comic-creating skills and wanting to share what she’s created.

“I just like seeing how much she’s evolved and stuck with it,” he said. “I’m just excited for her that she found something that she can enjoy in life. It’s hard to find unique traits in one’s self sometimes, and I think that she has in this, so I think it’s great.”

Lily doesn’t plan on stopping “Looki” anytime soon. She’s already working on Vol. 2 and plans to attend the next Ithacon. She said she hopes her journey can help show others like her that they should pursue their dreams and talents and share them with the world.

“I know a lot of people who like making things like this too, but they’ve never actually gone through trying to do it,” Lily said. “This is something that everybody can do. It’s not just for adults.”

“Looki” is available for purchase at Buffalo Street Books. A portion of the sales goes to Lily to support future comic-making efforts.

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