Thursday, November 10, 2016

Why isn't #ElectionDay a national holiday?

Well, the #election didn't go the way I'd hoped. But instead of ranting about the results, I'd like to rant about the way we do it. I think the way we vote is a bit wonky. The electoral college voting system is really archaic to me. I think the popular vote should be the real vote. But who knows if that will be removed. But one thing about Election Day and voting that I wondered about, is why is it not a national holiday? We should make it a national holiday so that everyone has the day off to vote. Friends told me that there were long lines and that some of them had to leave the line because they had to be at work on time or they had to get the kids and make dinner... I wish Election Day would be a holiday. It's soooooo important and it would really help voter turnout. And plus, who doesn't like a day off?

Friday, March 25, 2016

Letters to a Young Poet

     Every once in a while, I get asked by young artists to look over their work. Or I get asked to talk to young students in high school about my "cool" job. I'm always hesitant about this because who am I to give a review or to guide one's artistic journey? I would not want my own kids to choose to be an artist for a profession. It's a path full of ups and downs. Being an artist is hard and sometimes very isolating.
     But if you want to be an artist, one bit of wisdom I can offer is, don't seek approval from others. I think back to when I was starting out, how I sought approval or permission to be an artist, namely from my parents. But they never gave it. (And the world may never give it). There were many closed doors, derogatory emails, polite passes, and outright rejections. It was a very lonely road.
    And that's why I wanted to write this blog, to explain to young artists why I won't write a review or tell you if your work is good. You have do it because YOU want to do it. What I think or anyone else thinks should not matter.  Why? Because if I had tied my self-worth to anyone's reactions and opinions, I would be a puddle of pity on the floor of rejection. You have to do your art because you have to do it. And if you can choose anything else, anything else besides the tempestuous and difficult world of making art for a career, I would say do that instead. JK Simmons who won the Oscar for best-supporting actor in Whiplash said in an interview that he "almost got back on the bus a handful of times." I know that feeling. I totally know that feeling. But then that's when you have to ask yourself, "do I have to do this?" For me the answer that bubbles up from my heart, is, always and unfortunately, "yes, I must." I'm not an artist because it's a cool job. I'm not an artist because I like to draw flowers. I am an artist because I need art and writing to make sense of my life. I do it for myself. When and if others like it, I'm always surprised.
     A book that helped me sort this out is Rilke's Letter to a Young Poet. Rilke wrote to not read criticism and to trust one's inner judgment. He said "Nobody can advise you and help you. Nobody. There is only one way--Go into yourself."
     That's my advice to anyone seeking out my opinion about your art or your business. Seek the approval and permission from yourself.

Monday, September 28, 2015

On her break, ALAG went to the river to think...

#AngryLittleAsianGirl #AngryLittleGirls #AngryAsian #AngryAsianGate #AngryGirlComics #AngryAsianMan

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Meet Lela Lee (reposted from GoComics)

This was originally posted on the GoComics meet the Creator Lela Lee site.

Today’s Meet Your Creator post features Angry Little Girls cartoonist Lela Lee!

How did you begin your career as a cartoonist/When did you start cartooning?
I never thought I’d be a cartoonist. When I first got to college, I was unsure of what I wanted to major in. So I took any class in subjects I thought were interesting. I took sociology, film studies, women’s studies, Asian American studies, rhetoric, and drama. I was searching for something that would interest me. I was also very unhappy, but couldn’t articulate why. It was probably a combination of the immense pressure my parents put on me to succeed and become either a doctor or a lawyer. I was also uncomfortable being between two cultures, my parents’ culture and American culture. Navigating cultures and my teen years and figuring out how to be a female were stressful for me, though I was unaware at the time that those things caused my discomfort. I was unhappy, and the classes I took made me even unhappier because I learned about racism, sexism, colonialism, all the isms. I was upset at the world I was inheriting as a young person. I also learned that the situations I had experienced growing up in an all-white neighborhood were experiences shared by other minorities. In my Asian American studies class, I intrinsically knew and had experienced this growing up, how invisible Asians were in the media. I doodled a little Asian girl hoping one day it could be a doll that was sold in the marketplace.
The doodle Lela drew in 1993 in her Asian American Studies 
class that would later become the Angry Little Asian Girl.

Even though the classes made me upset, the classes were necessary because the knowledge, combined with my childhood upbringing, were the ingredients to a recipe that came out of me my sophomore year, when my friend who thought I was too grumpy took me to the Spike and Mike’s Sick and Twisted Festival of Animation. It was at the festival, where I watched sexist, chauvinist and racist cartoons, that I became furious. My friend took note of my anger and challenged me to make a cartoon about myself. That same night when I got dropped off, I went straight to my room, got out some markers and typing paper (we typed papers back then) and starting drawing “Angry Little Asian Girl, The First Day of School.” I was in a video workshop class that met on Tuesday nights. Class was in the art studio basement on campus and it was for no credit, so no one ever did any work for that class. The teacher had shown us the animation table and how to set the camera on the stand to shoot the image. I remembered I could use that, so I signed up to use the equipment. I had no idea what I was doing, so I just sort of fumbled along and put it together. After I was finished, I watched it and decided it was too angry. I hid the VHS tape in a drawer. I never thought about it again. But I knew I wanted to be a storyteller in some way, so I continued to write plays and screenplays, secretly, because they were so bad. And I kept acting in drama classes.

It wasn’t until about four years later when a friend showed me “South Park’s Spirit of Christmas” that I brought out my VHS tape of ALAG. I showed it to my friends and they said it was funny. I was out of college, but working at my mom’s dry cleaners. I had a lot of free time behind the counter, so I drew four more episodes. I was also volunteering at American Cinemateque as a photographer so I could see films for free. I had become friends with the programmer. She asked me what I did besides take pictures for her. I told her I was an actress and that I had made some shorts called “Angry Little Asian Girl.” Her interest was piqued. She told me to send them to her. I did and she immediately called me to tell me she was going to show them before a feature film. She sent my shorts to critics and the critics of the LA Times and LA Weekly both gave Angry Little Asian Girl glowing reviews. I was stunned. It was very primitive animation. In fact, the characters don’t even move in them. I went to the screening and about 20 people came up to me afterward and told me Angry Little Asian Girl said what they wanted to say and that they had similar experiences growing up. At that moment, I decided to make T-shirts. I drew two images of ALAG. One where she was flipping two middle fingers and another censored version where she had her hands on her hips, yelling. I had 300 shirts made. Then I called my friends and begged them to buy a shirt from me for $20. They did and soon my phone was ringing from people I didn’t know wanting to buy the shirts. It was 1998 and the Internet was still a new thing. I launched the website and sold the shirts online and out of the back of my car. I drove my sister’s Toyota Corolla station wagon that had a card table, cashbox and box of shirts at all times. Whenever I saw a crowd, I’d stop and set up to sell shirts.

 Lela selling shirts with her sister Linda in 1998.

When I was tabling, I got a chance to talk to people. What I got from that experience was that non-Asians loved ALAG but thought they couldn’t partake because it was politically incorrect for them to wear the shirts. I also learned that women had a lot of anger issues. Women are not allowed to express anger and if it comes out, it has to be in a feminine way. It was invaluable to learn these two things. I had gotten a lot of buzz and MTV caught wind of the videos. They sent a messenger to get a copy of the VHS tape. I was very excited. I waited by the phone. Days turned into weeks and I heard nothing, so I called them. The feedback I got floored me. The MTV executive (who was an Asian man) said “there’s no market for Asians.” I was upset. I thought he was wrong. I was selling out of my shirts and every morning, I was mailing packages filled with T-shirt orders to customers across America. I was going to show this executive that he was wrong. If I couldn’t get Angry Little Asian Girl out into the world on her own because she was Asian, then I was going to do it another way. I was going to make Angry Little Asian Girl the main character of a comic strip called “Angry Little Girls.”

Based on my interactions with people who I met as I sold shirts, I created other characters who expressed anger differently. I created Deborah the Disenchanted Princess, Maria the Crazy Little Latina, Wanda, the Fresh Little Soul Sistah and Xyla the Gloomy Girl. I went weekly to the library to check out books on cartooning. I drew every day. And then I’d go to the art store to experiment with different pens and papers. I finally had it to a place artistically that I could take it out. “Angry Little Girls” was my Trojan horse. I had packaged Angry Little Asian Girl with other diverse girls. She was part of a movement of girls of color who were angry in different ways. I took a meeting at the WB network. And I was excited again. The executive called me the next day to ask if I had a lawyer but he wanted to discuss removing the Asian girl before negotiations began. It was disappointing to hear that the Asian girl should be made invisible. I walked away from that negotiation. I wasn’t interested in making something that would render ALAG invisible, because that’s exactly what I felt growing up. I knew I had to take the Angry Little Girls characters and storyline out to the audience and have the audience be the authority on these characters, not the networks that were not being authentic. So I made a goal to get my books published.

In April 2005, my first anthology of comics was published by Harry N. Abrams. With no marketing, it went into its fourth printing in two months. When my editor called me to tell me this, I thought she was joking. I published five more books and made a successful line of merchandise. And always during this time, I was drawing a weekly comic strip. I also made more animated episodes of Angry Little Asian Girl. I think after 20 years, society has evolved and the Internet and TV are so interwoven. There’s a direct and instant commentary of what people think. Race is a hot-button issue that everyone has an opinion on. So I hope it’s time -- finally -- that I can have a show on network television called “Angry Little Asian Girl,” its original name.

What inspires you?
I get inspired by funny, ironic moments. I’ll always jot those things down. I also try to read a lot. I used to be in a book club before I had kids, but now I just read on my own, very slowly.


That Angry Little Asian Girl has been around for 20 years.
In 2012, I was nominated for a Harvey Award.
I’ve inspired a bunch of other Angry Asians.
ALAG is now a slang acronym

Your favorite childhood comics/Comics you read today
Peanuts, Calvin and Hobbes, Momma, Garfield. I read them still today.

Upcoming projects or appearances?
My upcoming project is getting Angry Little Asian Girl on television.

I do speaking engagements at colleges that touch on race and gender and social activism. My next appearance will be at Cal State Fullerton in November.

                                                 Lela with students of William Paterson University in New Jersey

Your studio/Workspace
Is messy. But I cleaned up before I took these pictures.

I also draw out my ideas on scratch paper before I draw it onto a large Bristol sheet with pencil. Then I ink with Rotring art pens. Then I scan them in to the computer and color in Photoshop.

Lela in her studio.

My mom's green muumuu

November 21, 2014

My mom always wore a green muumuu. But when she was at work, she wore polyester pants and a pullover polyester blouse with padded slip on slippers that weren't quite slippers, more like a sturdy flip flop. I don't even know if they make that type of shoe anymore. But whenever she got home, she took off her work clothes and put on her green polka-dotted muumuu. It's this green muumuu that I remember my mom being the most herself. In her work clothes, she was in work-mode. Bossing her employees around and then smiling and being of service to her customers. She was running around, pressing, assembling, sorting and interfacing with her customers. But at home, in that muumuu, she was relaxed (more like grumpy) and truly herself. When readers of my comic see that the mother character is always in a green muumuu, they  ask if she really did wear that.  She did. I think that green muumuu was her go-to outfit for over 20 years, though I don't know where it is now, if I find it, I may have to start wearing it too. Here's to green muumuus and outfits that let you be you.

I hate people

November 7, 2014

I drew this comic strip in 2002. My mom had called me to yell, nag or guilt trip me for something. I don't actually remember what she yelled at me for. But I do remember the feeling I got after I hung up the phone. I was exhausted and exasperated. And a simple thought came into my head, "I hate people." The phone was next to my desk and drawing table, which was crammed into a corner of the one-bedroom apartment I shared with my sister. So since I was already sitting at my desk and full of icky feelings, I did what I always did when I was full of angst. I drew. I drew what I felt and this comic strip was the result.
I didn't think it would strike such a nerve. But it did. My bag licensee put the image of Kim in the last panel onto bags and it was a runaway success. But I was still unsure of saying what I thought out loud. I remember carrying my "I hate people" bag and turning the art to face my body as I carried the tote. Once, I was at a deli on Abbott Kinney in Venice and I saw a random woman carrying the same bag. I was too shy to go up to her and say hi. But the cashier noticed her bag and laughed. They laughed and shared with each other stories of how they hated people too. I was kind of surprised how that little comic struck a chord with so many people. I re-released this image onto a t-shirt because some of my fans were asking for it. I hope it makes people laugh, and starts a conversation about the things we hate to see in humanity, like yelling, nagging and guilt tripping. Stay angry. (Oh and thanks Mom).

Gender Judo

November 3, 2014

Lately, I've been thinking a lot about navigating the work place as a woman. People think that because I'm the creator of "Angry Little Asian Girl" and "Angry Little Girls," that I'm some hard core feminist. To me, the word "feminist" has a harsh connotation. And I don't like to label myself, as I am a multitude of things. But I guess I'm a little of both. Harsh and feminist, but feminine and girlish. I'm also kooky and silly, and can become absolutely serious at the the turn of a dime. (Which may make me seem totally schizo, but hey I function on a lot of cylinders.) I heard about the book, "What Works for Women at Work." I read it and thought the 4 patterns of women at work; 1. Tightrope 2. The Tug of War. 3. Prove-It-Again 4. Maternal Wall, are all on point. I didn't realize they existed, but because these 2 authors took the time to point them out, now I can see it at play in a lot of women's working lives, even mine. I've experienced all of these. It's not easy navigating the workplace as a woman. I hadn't really realized these games are being played, but since we are all "working" in one way or another, we should know they are at play, right? I hope you'll read the book or at least start a conversation about the topics.