Lela Lee, a Korean American actress and cartoonist unleashes anger through pen and paper. A graduate of UC Berkeley, Lela is the creator of “Angry Little Asian Girl,” a series of short films about a cute but acidly funny Asian American girl who tackles racism and gender issues with a surly attitude sprinkled with some choice foul language.
Launched in 1996, the short films struck a massive cultural nerve, not only with Asians, but with women everywhere. The series’ unexpected success led to a web comic series called “Angry Little Girls,” which averages roughly 750,000 hits a month. Lela Lee’s story puts a personal spin on Asian Americans in the media and the challenges of being an Asian American woman.
Lela Lee created “Angry Little Asian Girl,” her minimalist and iconoclastic comic character, after attending a Spike and Mike Sick and Twisted Festival of Animation with a friend. Says Lee: “When I came out of there, I was really mad. And I said, ‘I did not enjoy any of those cartoons. They were all making fun of minorities, and they were sexist. And even though they were cartoons, they’re still not funny to me.'” She decided to create her own character to turn Asian stereotypes on their head.
What is “Angry Little Asian Girl?” Combining simple line drawings of adorable little girls with wicked wit. It’s a wickedly sharp look at life from the receiving end of stereotyping. Kim, the cartoon’s main character can let loose with an angry torrent of cuss words accompanied by the single-finger salute. In one early cartoon, an adult tells Kim that she speaks “good English.” Kim can’t hold back: “I was born here, you stupid dip s*?%@! Don’t you know anything about immigration? Read some history books, you stupid ignoramus!”
After seeing a few of Lee’s comics, it soon becomes clear that Lee is Kim’s real-life alter ego. “The character is sort of based on me, and I had a bit of a short temper, where I was just really mad at the world for the imperfect world that we all sort of inherited,” she says. “And sort of mad at the illusions that my parents and teachers and my schools had sort of fed to me.”
The youngest child born into a Korean American family, Lee was sent off to her grandparents’ chicken farm in Korea when she was six months old. Her family was starting a new business and the stress of a fourth child proved to be too much. She returned a few years later to find a tight-knit family unit to which she was the outsider, thus providing the basis and early material for “Angry Little Asian Girl.”
Raised in a colorful and at times, dysfunctional, Asian American household, Lee was discouraged from expressing anger at home.
Eventually she found her release in art and the craft of acting. “You didn’t get angry in our house,” says Lee. “If you got angry, you were a bad child. The cartoon is my therapy.”
After graduating from UC Berkeley in 1996, Lee moved to Los Angeles and was cast in two independent Asian American features, “Yellow” and “Shopping for Fangs.” Lela also appeared on popular shows “Felicity” and “Charmed.” Then, after the success of “Angry Little Girls,” Lela landed a national American Express commercial, where she plays herself as an entrepreneur who turns to the card to grow her internet business and finance visits with her family. She has also appeared on NBC’s “Scrubs” and the Sci-Fi Channel’s “Tremors”.
Following her recent successful trip to ComicCon, Lela’s “Angry Little Asian Girl” is in syndication at www.gocomics.com
Asiance: Angry Little Girls is simply a stroke of brilliance. Congratulations on syndication! How many books are there now?
Lela: Thank you for thinking so. And thank you for the congrats on syndication. That took 11 years to get a “yes”. There are 6 ALG books now.
Asiance: You also have merchandise available. What types are there?
Lela: Mainly tote bags, t-shirts, wallets, make up bags, key chains.
Asiance: How was ComicCon?
Lela: Comic Con was pretty amazing. I work by myself so I don’t get to interact with the people that like my work, so when I go to Comic Con, it’s a chance for me to meet the people that appreciate what I do. I love meeting people and finding out how they found ALG. I like hearing why they like ALG and which comics are their favorites. It’s really fun.
Asiance: You wrote Angry Little Asian Girl initially out of frustration. Do you think things have gotten better for Asian-Americans since then?
Lela: In ways yes, and in other ways, it’s stayed the same. I think diversity is more accepted and a buzz word that makes people more aware of being inclusive. But I think in some areas, like racism, it’s still there, just shrouded or more subtle. People are aware of diversity, but they may still think the same racist thoughts, maybe they’re just not vocalizing it.
Asiance: Tell us about your acting career.
Lela: My acting career started in college. I felt a strong need to tell stories from the Asian perspective, but I saw that there weren’t a lot of opportunities for Asians in the media. I took an acting workshop where the teacher told us that it is imperative that we write. We have to become writers so that we can have a voice. So I went home that night and wrote my first play. It was really lame, but I wrote it and I kept trying to express my frustrations in writing and in acting. That’s also how I came up with the Angry Little Asian Girl. I was just quietly writing and creating on my own. I was also very shy and wanted to overcome my fear of being in front of people, so I took a public speaking class and learned that I loved the feeling of jitters. (Weird I know)
Asiance: When you tried to venture into television you were told, “There’s just no market for Asians”. Do you think that still holds true?
Lela: Yes. I do think that is an obstacle. The main TV networks fill the slots with Caucasian people, then the supporting cast is filled with “other minorities.” So when I’m at an audition, I’m auditioning with black girls, Latinas, Indian and other Asians for the one “token” supporting slot.
But I think Asians have a lot of buying power in retail. Basing this on some stereotyping, Asian-Americans do have more education with better jobs and therefore have the ability to sustain a buying power that is pretty strong.
Asiance: Where do you see yourself doing in five years?
Lela: Gosh, I hope the Angry Little Girls television series is a long-running show on TV by then. I’d love for that to happen.
Asiance: Favorite Colors?
Lela: Red and navy blue
Asiance: Favorite movie?
Lela: Love Actually
Asiance: What takes up most of your time?
Lela: My 2 kids
Asiance: Guilty Pleasure:
Lela: Shopping for clothes
Asiance: Favorite de-stresser?
Lela: Going to the Korean spa
Asiance: Relationship Status?
Lela: Happily married
Asiance: Pet Peeve?
Lela: Quibbling over money, hearing people chew when I’m trying to sleep
Asiance: Your Go To Food?
Asiance: Fun Fact about you?
Lela: I wanted to be a foot model and actually took a meeting with a foot modeling agent, but it didn’t work out.
To learn more about “Angry Little Girls” and Lela Lee go to, www.angrylittlegirls.com