Outlet for anger


POSTED: Thursday, June 04, 2009

Don't let her little Asian girl demeanor fool you. Beneath the serene face that Lela Lee presents to the world is a steady rage that fuels her creation, Angry Little Asian Girl. The cartoon made its debut in 1994 after Lee, then a sophomore at the University of California, Berkeley, studying rhetoric and acting, attended a Festival of Animation full of chauvinistic cartoons.





        » Animation Addict: In-store signing at the Ala Moana Center store, 2 to 5 p.m. Saturday. A collectible Kim plush doll autographed by Lee will be available for $5.95 with a $15 purchase.

» Split Obsession: Lela Lee art show at the Koko Marina Shopping Center boutique, 4 to 6 p.m. Sunday. Lee will be showing art prints, plus totes, wallets and her newly released book.




At the time, a friend challenged her to channel her anger into a cartoon response of her own. She stayed up that night drawing on typing paper, and, using video editing equipment from a class, made “;The First Day of School,”; starring the “;Angry Little Asian Girl.”;

There was plenty to fuel her work. By that time, Lee realized, she had been angry most of her life. The very question “;What are you so angry about?”; taps into a vein of grievances tied to having grown up Korean-American in a conservative Caucasian community in Southern California.

“;I was angry that I got teased for being different,”; she said in a phone interview. “;One boy asked, 'How can you see? Your eyes are so small I could blindfold you with dental floss.'

“;When I told my parents about everything happening to me in school, they'd say, 'Just be nice.' But who said I wasn't nice?

“;My teachers and parents couldn't coach me through the racism I got as a child. And they couldn't explain why girls had to behave a certain way. It was just the way things were. So with this comic strip, I am able to make the observations I had growing up and as an adult.”;


Eventually, Lee's “;Angry Little Asian Girl”; videos caught the attention of the Los Angeles Times and LA Weekly, and suddenly there was demand for T-shirts featuring main character Kim as well as her disenfranchised pals Deborah, who has everything yet is never happy; loopy Latina Maria; gloomy girl Xyla; and token positive-thinking soul sistah Wanda.

Lee will be in town this weekend to share her line of apparel, toys and books Saturday at Animation Addict at Ala Moana Center, and Split Obsession in the Koko Marina Shopping Center, where she will also be presenting her first Hawaii art show, featuring 35 prints on canvas, on Sunday.

Her appearances in Hawaii stems from having met Split Obsession co-owner Bruce Chin at the 2007 Comicon in San Francisco.

“;He said if I'm ever in Hawaii I should stop by and see his store,”; she said. “;I love Hawaii and wish I could live there. I told him I would try to make something happen.”;

Chin describes the Lee he met as being “;super-cool and chill.”;

Could it be that success has changed the angry girl into a calm, composed woman?

“;I'm so grateful I have this comic strip, and the work allows me an outlet. I'm still wired in that I'm very reactive; I'm a hotblooded Korean, but I'm able to step back from an angry expression and ask, How do I make this funny in a comic? So, I don't hold onto it.”;

It didn't help that while growing up, Lee didn't have the support of her parents.

“;I was good at art growing up, but my parents wanted me to focus on academics so I could be a doctor or lawyer. I felt stifled.”;

Lee also took an interest in acting and has played series regular Jodi Chang on the SciFi series “;Tremors”; and has been a recurring character on “;Scrubs.”; She has also guest-starred on “;Curb Your Enthusiasm,”; “;Will & Grace,”; “;Charmed,”; “;Friends”; and other series.

In spite of her successes, she said, “;My mother always asked, 'Can you get a real job? When are you going to stop this drawing business or this acting business?'”;

Lee said the turning point came one Christmas when her mother sent her a card that read, “;Lela, you have some talent. Merry Christmas.”;

“;I started to cry,”; Lee said, aware that it was her mother's terse way of freeing her to be her own person.

Today, she said her comics turn out to be “;a little bit angry, a little insightful and a little bit cute.”;

It's a mix that plays well here, she said, as she watches the mail orders from the islands arrive through her Web site, angrylittlegirls.com. She's formulated some ideas about Hawaii based on the orders.

“;People seem to relate to Asian identity issues, and I get a sense that a lot of people there are proud of being Asian. It seems as though Hawaii should be a nice paradise, but it shows that even people who live in paradise get angry, too.”;