In a colorful reflection of an era before social media, Christy Frisby is creating her own world, pixel by pixel.
interview by Claire Kowalewski
collage by Justin Wallis
When images rarely exceeded 800px & the average size of a webpage was only 100kb, the virtual world was literally a smaller place. This limited space lead to a need for pixel art & a growing community of pixel artists.
While technological advancements may have erased the need for visible pixels today, they're still hiding in every 4K video if you zoom in far enough. Conversely, these 1x1 squares are embraced through modern pixel art. Christy uses pixels to build colorful & expressive characters that push the boundaries of what we expect from this rigid medium.
Her work expands into a personal brand, as Christy shares her collection of archival fashion, vintage video game inspiration and a deep-cut Shibuya-kei music taste.
Before we begin, Christy has created a playlist just for the miniSUPER lovers. Please enjoy! ( tip: open in a new window or the app to avoid any interruptions while reading the interview )
The following interview has been transcribed from a phone call. The interviewer, Claire Kowalewski, is calling from Yamagata, Japan at 9AM JST. The artist, Christy Frisby, is speaking to us from Pennsylvania, USA at 8PM EST.
Welcome to the text-based miniSUPER space Christy! We are so happy you could join us. Let’s start by rewinding back to 2018, the first step of your miniSUPER journey.
CHRISTY: Oh heck yeah, OK! So honestly, I’ve always loved Justin's work, even before we talked one-on-one. So when he approached me I was extremely excited ‘cause I was like “DANG–this is someone I can resonate with”, which isn't a frequent connection for me. I really like Justin’s creative direction because I can feel he puts a lot of heart into earnest ideas, drawing inspiration from old sticker sheets. When it came to working together, everything came naturally. He sent me an outline of what he wanted things to generally look like but for the most part, he gave me creative freedom. Teaming up just felt so right!
"Pretty Kao Ani" the first sticker sheet by Christy Frisby for miniSUPER's 2019 launch.
Even before launching miniSUPER, Justin (miniSUPER creator) reached out to you to collaborate on an emoji set for his brand MILKBBI. I think some of the miniSUPER community might remember. Can you tell us about the style you chose to work in for this project?
Yeah, the Kao-ani! I still have those printed on postcards somewhere around my room. I loved working on those because I've used the originals plenty of times in old online posts. I really enjoyed my own Kao-ani but... honestly, they have nothing on the classic ones. Those are so special...
Screenshots of the MILKBBI chat from 2017 featuring emojis by Christy.
For those who aren’t familiar with that term, what is a Kao-ani?
Basically, the Kao-ani are these big heads with little paws that show a lot of emotion. That's why I really like them. I am a big fan of wacky, exagerrated expressions. We can say the same thing about emojis–they are condensed versions of our feelings.
Kaoani style emoji created for the MILKBBI shop chat box.
In 2018 you were asked to create miniSUPER’s first promotional material. Tell me about creating that concept–was that all you?
Yeah, the promotional art, right? I think I was drawing a lot of inspiration from internet culture in general, as well as pixel art’s heavy usage in that subculture. Justin guided me in that pixel art direction too. Like for example that he wanted the final artwork to feature a bright, colorful environment featuring an assortment of cute and happy shoppers and little stickers just like what's on the real miniSUPER sheets plastered everywhere. He gave me lots of encouragement! I’m pretty proud that it nicely aligns with miniSUPER’s charming and feel-good branding. It was one of my favorite artworks I produced that year!
From start to finish, the first miniSUPER promotional art, illustrated by Christy Frisby in 2018
How long have you been a sticker collector? What kicked off your collection?
I wanna say ever since I was a kid but never to a... high intensity. Growing up I would stick stickers in the randomest places–but I think most kids did this? Like BAM, right on your dresser. Or BAM on your wall and computer... I didn’t really care? I guess I didn’t really let go of that mentality though! Not much has changed.
I stopped putting stickers on top of my laptop ‘cause I want to keep the exterior clean but... I put them inside, on my keyboard. I think a lot of people feel like stickers are hard to use because they have a bit of permanence? But I personally don’t really mind that.
Did you have a favorite childhood sticker sheet?
I had an epic giant lenticular sticker of Goku going super saiyan.
"Meet the Artist" animation by Christy
Let’s talk about the “old web”. When did you first start spending time online?
Ok soooo.. It’s a little crazy, but I feel like I have been online since I was maybe 7 years old. I know that’s kind of odd, but I will say I didn’t start making accounts online until I was maybe 9 years old. But yeah I was on the computer before age 9...for whatever reason...
The internet is the first real taste of total freedom for kids. I think we all wanted to live online. On AOL, Neopets, or any given forum, you were living the dream.
And it was right there! I would be on every day after school.
Any favorite sites from those years?
This is very specific but there used to be old web application/online communities called Oekakis. They were a (now discontinued) type of website formatted similarly to imageboards/forums, but had built-in java-based art programs called ShiPainter and PaintBBS. I made all of my art friends there before I branched out to other communities when I got a little older.
"Pixel Planet", Christy's latest sticker sheet for miniSUPER.
Back in the early internet, there was this trend of including a space on your website or profile called a “toybox” that could be filled with something similar to a digital sticker collection. These stylized pixel images feel very Christy. Did you have a toybox or can you remember any specific toybox art that inspired you to start your own?
I do not recall having a toybox specifically...but I did save and use an exorbitant amount of pixel gifs I’d find scattered online on personal websites of mine! Among that collection were many that’d influence my style even to this day!
I drew a lot of inspiration specifically from Korean children’s game spaces. I’m not Korean, but I would play lots of flash/java games on a site called JR NAVER growing up. They also had a lot of pixel dolls and room-makers. I would play on those all the time, whether they were translated (to english) or not. In particular, there was one called Candy Bar that was one of my favorites. RoiWorld, Sayclub, and Cyworld were some other favorites.
Screenshots of RoiWorld, online doll-maker.
Doll-maker inspired animation by Christy.
The pixel graphics on those sites looked very different from the conventional pixel art I was used to seeing in video games.
Video game pixel art tends to avoid high color counts for one thing, and it’s for a practical reason! In the past especially, artists had to create sprites (a two-dimensional bitmap (a type of memory organization or image file format used to store digital images.) that is integrated into a larger scene, most often in a 2D video game) within each console's data limitations. But the pixel art that I would see on the websites I frequented would break that rule and use all the colors in the world. It was SO interesting to me visually.
There isn’t a specific artist that I know the name of though... which is sad. But myself and people who played those games value each and every one of them!
Artwork from Sayclub, an example of the colorful pixel art that inspired Christy to start creating her own.
We’ve talked about your earliest inspirations– what inspires you now?
My peers inspire me now. There is something I can say about all the work I draw inspiration from: It has to be cute or thoughtful... Even if just a little bit. There was a point where I started to gravitate away from referencing the pixel art of online Korean games, to looking at a lot of my mutuals on social media. One of my favorite pixel artists is a really excellent modern pixel artist from Japan named Syosa. My animation ability comes from studying his work.
Animation by Christy of her original character.
Switching from making individual drawings to animated work couldn’t have been easy. Any tips for artists who are thinking about making the transition?
When it comes to animation, It’s definitely something you need to experiment with and there is a lot of studying that you need to do.
A really popular resource to study would be The Animator’s Survival Kit. But in the end, it just takes time to feel out what you want to create. For example, using video references or looking at animated work that you are interested in can help you get a vague idea of how to do things.
But I’m gonna say the transition wasn’t too hard for me because I already made static artwork that looks very...lively? I’ve also always had an interest in animation.
It seems challenging to go from getting that easy satisfaction from completing a single drawing to increasing that work time exponentially for a single animated piece.
I guess that’s another thing. You need intense patience. I've drawn with an old-school mouse for a really long time, and I wonder sometimes if it contributed to my patience level with my creative work. ‘Cause when you compare a mouse to a tablet pen, in terms of practicality, it is much slower.
Don’t get me wrong.. you’re still satisfied with the end result! But it’s a lot slower to get there.
Wow. Patience earned from a mouse. That’s going to stay with you your whole life! Why didn’t you choose to switch to a fancy tablet as you started working professionally?
Exactly. Yeah, I think I’ve drawn with a mouse since maybe like 2014 or ‘15. I didn’t immediately switch for two reasons: I could not afford it, and I don’t think I minded how time-consuming mouse drawing was at the time. I was a kid with lots of free time!
Fan animation by Christy
Out of curiosity, how long does it take you to make one of your standard animated characters during a regular workweek? Has that amount of time varied much from when you first started animating?
Gosh yeah, absolutely. I didn’t really get into animation more intensely until maybe 2017 or ‘18. Back then I was definitely so much slower. It would maybe take me a couple of days to flesh out an animation! Nowadays if I have the time to set aside to get it done, I can knock stuff out maybe within one to two days. It really depends on what I’m doing.
Simple motions can be finished in a few hours. And don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that to brag!! I definitely worked hard to get there. It would take a lot longer in the past with...I’m gonna say...a lot less talent as well, if I can be honest about that.
I’m wondering what you would attribute your increased speed to. Would you say you were changing your mind and often going back and erasing your work? Or was it more of learning and mastering drawing program hotkeys that gradually sped up your process?
So back then I didn’t really know the fundamentals and because I didn’t know those things I would have to backtrack. It’s really important to know what steps you need to take to get from point A to point Z.
Like building a reliable scaffolding.
Yeah. Back then I was very spontaneous. If it looked decent then it was fine.
I’ve been following your Twitter and recently you’ve shared some adorable clips of your new Pixel art direction and animation project with indie game developer, Astral Shift. We are happy to announce to your fans at miniSUPER the upcoming release of Little Goody Two Shoes! Congratulations! Tell us all about the game and how you have been involved.
Title screen for "Little Goody Two Shoes".
Ok, so.. It was a really interesting journey! Basically, I was technically recruited back in 2016. I don’t know if you are familiar with the term “doujin circle”? It’s a Japanese term that refers to a close-knit collaborative group where each person has their own special skill set. The members work together to create a typically non-profit “project”, if you will. Astral Shift could be considered a doujin circle prior to becoming a company.
They worked together initially to release a horror RPG called Pocket Mirror.
I joined the team as the pixel art director for Little Goody Two Shoes. It’s been a pretty slow development over the years because it originated out of this group of artists who were creating out of passion, rather than for profit.
I am super happy for my friends who are in charge of the team. It’s been a smooth and enjoyable journey.
I saw a recent tweet of yours that featured a short animation from Little Goody Two Shoes where a character is dutifully chopping wood and avoiding chopping an assortment of non-wood items. It came to mind when you mentioned your love for emotional and expressive work earlier. It was such a simple game concept, but I found it so engaging!
Within my pixel art direction, I do encourage a lot of varying expressions...I don’t know if you’ve played the Hamtaro Game boy games? They are the best games ever, lemme just say that real quick. Something they rely on a lot is a thing called the “Ham-chat” which is kind of a Pictionary language. But you know, to execute the language, they do a little expression!
When game developers prioritize expressing how the characters feel in different contexts, it really goes a long way. One of MY favorite games, Klonoa Door to Phantomile, has uniquely expressive cut scenes. That kinda thing is really important to me. You witness how the characters are feeling full-blast, so it makes getting to know a character more personal.
Hamtaro fan animation by Christy.
Tell us a little bit about what makes Little Goody Two Shoes unique. From what’s available, It’s clear that the game has a really interesting blend of visual directions. I’m seeing Halloween, traditional German countryside, and anime aesthetics?
So something that my teammates and I have in common is that we love cute things and we love horror.
We draw a lot of inspiration from old things too.The main director of the project Kira, draws inspiration from vintage shoujo manga for his art style which you should check out! It’s so beautiful!
Little Goody Two Shoes is a wonderful amalgamation of a bunch of different art directions. We are basically a mishmash of talents working together to make a harmonic piece– the individuality in each skill is what makes it beautiful!
Screenshot of Little Goody Two Shoes, developed by Astral Shift & published by Square Enix.
Any other special aspects of the game you would like to share?
So, the main character Elise is going to have her own set of expressions. We will be relying on those expressions to help carry out her personality throughout cutscenes!
I get really excited about that kind of thing because I don’t really see it in modern titles especially in many AAA titles which often have amusingly stiff faces. Even in remasters of really great games that I like, heart and expressiveness are missing and sadly I think it negatively contributes to the overall feeling while playing the game...
Example of the dynamic expressions created by Christy for "Little Goody Two Shoes".
What are the most enjoyable parts of working on Little Goody Two Shoes?
We have a very nice comradery because we are all friends. You ideally want to be working with people that you care about and share a similar vision. I can’t speak in detail about this, but down to the music, my gosh... I even find myself listening to the tracks that are finished so far while I am working on my personal work. I get so motivated! I really feel like we are all in this together!!
Being a leader does have its challenges and I can be a little intimidated by that. It's definitely a different thing to have a higher sense of responsibility and urgency. There is so much to keep track of.. It’s not a bad thing though!
I’m a really shy person in general, but especially when it comes to leadership.. So I’ve had to grow and adapt to the role, as well as making sure to stay open-minded to learning!
When and where can we expect to see it in stores?
Late 2023 is our anticipated release period. For the most part, we’ve made a LOT of progress, with a majority of things being completed. Things are looking good in terms of our timeline so I am feeling very enthusiastic!
As the pandemic began Animal Crossing New Horizons was released on Nintendo Switch & quickly went viral. Judging from your tweets, it looks like you are a big fan?
I am a big fan. I love Animal Crossing, and it's one of my favorite game franchises. If I can be really honest: Since I’m not really interested in the vision of modern games, there are just a few titles that I keep my eye on. And Animal Crossing is definitely among those.
Now we have to know. What other titles are you looking out for?
I think I am putting a lot of my faith into independently-developed games now in hopes I will see something unique! I’m very picky with AAA games, but lately, my eyes are on Konami’s Silent Hill news and sometimes Nintendo or Marvelous Entertainment titles. I also look forward to ports of old games I like, such as BANDAI NAMCO’s recent Klonoa’s Phantasy Reverie.
Animation by Christy inspired by "Animal Crossing".
I’m not surprised that animal crossing is one of your go-to’s. It has stayed true to its unique love for user-generated pixel art and in-game creative freedom.
Yeah it’s so cool.
As a professional pixel artist, do you find it enjoyable to work with such a limited size, color palette, and drawing tools? Or more frustrating?
I really love it. It’s super relaxing to work on it too because you do have the limitations of the set palette to work with which is around 8 colors I think? But you know, I really like working with limited palettes on my own time and on some prior projects. It’s an interesting challenge. And it’s Animal Crossing so it’s not for anything too serious.
Screenshot from an early Animal Crossing game showcasing it's minimal pattern creator. / ©️NINTENDO
Your fashion collection reminds me of the successful Harajuku fashion magazine and magazine & book series FRUiTS. Tell us about how your love for fashion started and where it’s going.
I have always had a strong interest in fashion only because of the media I indulged in over the years. I grew up in a conservative small town in Pennsylvania and when I got to high school I realized, I’m getting out of here! I really don’t care what people think!
OOTD posts from Christy's instagram. Her collection features archive pieces from brands like Hysteric Glamour, 20471120, Issey Miyake & Beauty:Beast.
Since I was 9 I was really interested in lolita fashion thanks to Tokyo Mew Mew...their cafe uniforms seemed to draw inspiration from a lolita silhouette. I would draw lolita concepts and I remember thinking... if I COULD wear these, that would be so cool!
As a kid I would ask my mama to buy cutesy things from eBay. I think the first thing I bought that was less conventional was a striped black and white bunny hoodie in middle school. From there I really branched out more. And in high school I really went for it.
I am currently 27 so I have had lots of time to figure myself out. When you hit adulthood and you can actually afford what you like, you are going to go for the things that you wanted in the past.
Character sketches by Christy.
It's clear that you have such a pure and lighthearted love for self-expression and creativity. Beyond your desire to be transparent with your drawing process, it seems like you value building a relationship with artists online. Why is it important to you to continue to build a motivational digital space?
A big part of it is due to my own upbringing online being very loving and small-community based. I have always been searching for like-minded people but fell short in my real life–people who liked what I liked? There were zero in my area.
The internet is a really wonderful thing because it’s extremely diverse and you’re bound to connect with somebody there.
The reason why I like to share my interests online is to encourage people to not only be themselves, but knowing it isn't a bad thing to have community online if you’re lacking that kind of companionship in real life (so long as you’re safe about it).
Funnily enough I met my best, now real life friends through dressupgames.com.
Your transparency and desire to motivate the best in others is so clear.
That mentality was born from growing up in that Oekakis space.
Nowadays it’s trickier because people prioritize numbers. I understand why, being that people’s spaces have become monetized! It’s just that my childhood communities were hardly metric-based. On Oekakis: You would basically post your drawing, everyone was at a similar skill level, there were no followers, and all you could do was comment on people’s posts.
I think that kind of space is lost to time, unfortunately. I am not really competitive because of that old internet mentality. I just want to make friends! That was my whole reason to be online.
Screenshot from the App Store featuring an illustration created by Christy for Apple.
You worked so hard to build your career! We want to see you accomplish your dreams. Do you have a person or company you hope to collaborate with in the future?
Man.. A big goal of mine is to make a project of my own that pays homage to all of my interests in terms of old games I've played.
Music is also huge for me. A big goal for me would be to work with musicians to make soundtracks for my projects. Recently I played a game called Moon RPG where you can get a jukebox item that just sits in your inventory, giving you power to change your BGM (background music) at any time. As you go through the game you collect music you either find, or buy them from an eccentric “vinyl shop” owner. Each song is from a different artist.. It's incredible. There was even one by an artist I recognized: Qypthone and WATCHMAN!!! I really want to be able to make that sort of game myself.
On the topic of music. What music genres are your favorite? I’ve heard you have a physical collection. (readers please take a look at her blog which features a little free music player filled with bops) How do you find all this great stuff? Tell us everything.
I was just speaking with a friend last week about my music tastes! I was telling him that my taste is unconventional because I wasn't exposed to pop culture music due to my sheltering, which don’t get me wrong was great by the way. I’ve enjoyed catching up with what I’ve missed!
My favorite genre would probably be Shibuya-Kei, which is a branch of pop music that is rooted in ‘60’s-80’s kitschiness. They are sample-heavy; many examples sound a little eclectic, but that’s why I like it so much. My second favorite genre is Shoegaze, closely related to alt-rock. I interpret it as being very “feeling” oriented. NARASAKI’s projects ie. Coaltar of the Deeper for example, fill me with a lot of emotion. Drum and bass/Jungle is probably my third favorite genre because it makes me groove freely even in my work seat! Following that top three include the broader umbrellas of R&B, hip-hop, latin, lounge/jazz, indie, and electronic. My tastes are a little everywhere, but I love it all.
These days I am working on my CD and record collection. There is so much to collect. I buy most of my stuff secondhand or on Discogs, a great resource for obscure stuff. I've learned about some fantastic music from Justin, too!! His tastes align with mine to a T.
You guys need a miniSUPER Dj booth one day.
Thank you for being part of miniSUPER and adding your bouncy energy to the team! We need you Christy!
It’s been an honor, for real. Thank you!
"Sea-through Creatures", sticker sheet by Christy for miniSUPER.
♥︎ Christy’s Favorites ★
💭 Lately, I really like the thought bubble emoji. I don’t know why. I like it more than the thinking emoji. Honestly just use it by itself.
Anything home-brewed? It doesn't matter what is. I like things that are personal.
Let’s go with MIKACHU of Hoshi De Hakken!! Tamagotchi She’s been with me for a long time, since playing a demo of the game on the Playstation when I was 7 or so. I think she embodies my spirit well; I love cute, energetic, and colorful gals who try their best.
My small Corocorokuririn keychain. He is a little hamster which is an older Sanrio character.
Klonoa: Door to Phantomile! It features deep friendships that transcend time and space. If you can somehow get a copy or emulate the PlayStation version I highly recommend that! The art direction in the first game improves the overall feeling.
Serani Poji’s song Which One of the Twins I’ve listened to it so many times and I have never gotten tired of it!
Justin’s "Aliens in Human Clothing" sheet, specifically the pink and blue alien at the bottom. I love scarfs...and I love cargo pants.
About the author: Claire Kowalewski
San Francisco-born, Tokyo/ Berlin-based creative.