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Hey there, readers! I'm your new Trendzilla columnist, taking over for the awesome Vickie Chang, who has fled us Weeklings for a sweet new gig in Los Angeles, leaving behind a barren desk (sob!) and a box full of press samples (score!). A little bit about me: I was born in Torrance, my sign is Scorpio . . . you know what? Forget it. Introductions are awkward. I've been secretly eyeing the cheese dip behind you, anyway.
So, remember the giddy delight of sticker-picture booths? If not, you were obviously never an Asian tween girl. Typically found in areas with high concentrations of boba cafés, these were (and still are) similar to classic photo booths but way more fun because 1) you could choose cheesy cartoon backdrops (stars! lips! cupcakes! dancing puppies!) to accompany your equally cheesy poses, and 2) the pictures were printed as stickers so you could tack them onto your sparkly, blue pager.
In 2012, everyone can have the experience of purikura ("print club" in Japanese) at their fingertips with the über-adorable iPhone app Mr. Chiizu. The brainchild of Los Angeles-based artists Stella Lai, Krister Olsson and Jessica Lopez, the service lets you decorate your snapshots with click-and-drag "stickers," text bubbles, borders, filter effects and your own hand-drawn messages. Grandma's face inside a cartoon gorilla costume? Sure! A teapot hat, pearls and a parasol on your unsuspecting cat? Why not?
What makes the app so rad is the art is legit. The creators tap artists around the globe to design intricate themes, so when you decorate a photo, it's as if you're playing inside that artist's world. Most recently, French artist Skwak created the zany theme "Maniac World," and Japan-based illustrator Aya Kato put together an Art Nouveau-inspired set. Launching later this year are themes by Suero Studio, Esther Kim, Jesse Le Doux, Mr. Kone, Cecy Meade, Ray Lei, Aya Akazawa and Junko Mizuno.
"Most of the art in photo-decoration apps was and is pretty generic," says Lai, a regular illustrator for Giant Robot magazine. "Our goal has been to promote work by some of our favorite artists while keeping our content fresh."
When you're done with your masterpiece, it's easy to share it with the masses via Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr or old-fashioned email. Then, just wait for your friends to reply back with messages that range from "OMG, SQUEE!" to "How did you do that?!" to "Um, don't you have a job?"
Mr. Chiizu, named after what Japanese people say when they get their picture taken (Chiizu! Get it—"cheese"? Yeah!), is available for 99 cents in the iTunes app store or via www.get.mrchiizu.com. Additional themes are 99 cents each.
This column appeared in print as "Say, 'Mr. Chiizu!'"