In the Fray

Being Self-Taught in New York City

(see article online here at Inthefray.org)
Jess Kjellberg (center) instructs Isabel Ringer (left) and her friend Elena Milin (right) in the art of Escrima or stick fighting./Kirsten Luce

Jess Kjellberg (center) instructs Isabel Ringer (left) and her friend Elena Milin (right) in the art of Escrima or stick fighting./Kirsten Luce

On a Friday afternoon in early February, 16-year-old Jessica Kjellberg is navigating the crowds at New York Comic Con, the giant annual gathering of comic fans in New York. She’s heading back to her special gig at the Griffons [sic] Claw Armory booth, a New Jersey–based purveyor of steel swords, as well as more fantastic movies and comics-inspired weapons. In an effort to look vaguely medieval, Jess, who has wide-set blue-green eyes and an athletic build that hints at the many hours she spends practicing kung fu and sword-fighting, is wearing tight black pants, black lace-up boots, and a black corset-style top embellished with red embroidery.

Jess had come across the company’s booth at a previous convention and, impressed by the quality of the steel broadswords, asked to help out. She’s not sure what she’s being paid, but money’s not the object. She just likes being part of the action. Many of the other teenagers at the convention, which attracts people from all along the East Coast, are playing hooky. Not Jess — even though she’s been setting up the booth since 9:30 that morning. She and her twin sister, Caroline, live in the East Village with their mother, who runs a luxury skincare company with the girls’ aunts, and their father, a copyright lawyer, who performs in a band on the side. The twins haven’t been to school since third grade. More…(full pdf)