Cartoonist Dami Lee on Freelancing, Pitching, and Generating Ideas

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S1: This ad free podcast is part of your Slate Plus membership. Basically, like everything I know, I learned from YouTube. Like the beauty of digital art is that like you could do something your way for like literally years before you discover like a button that’ll do the exact same thing in like two seconds. Like, there’s always a room to learn something more, you know?

S2: Welcome back to working, I’m your host, Isaac Butler,

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S3: and I’m your other host, Karen Hon.

S2: Karen, welcome aboard the USS working for those of you out there who didn’t tune in last week. Karen is joined the team here on working as our third host alongside me and June. And I have to say I am just so excited for our listeners to get to hear you regularly on this show for people who don’t know you or your work. Could you introduce yourself a little bit?

S3: Of course I am a actual former Slate staffer, culture writer and screenwriter. I have written all over the place about movies and TV, written a little bit of TV, etc. I guess you’ll get to know me better as the podcast progresses. But for right now will say, I’m so excited to be here on this podcast because I loved unionizing so much, but didn’t get to work with them that much while I was at Slate. So now I get to chat with them all the time, which is the dream.

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S2: I know it’s true. It’s so exciting. It’s so exciting. So drumroll, please. Who is your inaugural guest?

S3: My not your guest is the amazing Dami Lee. She is a cartoonist. She does so many other things that we’ll get into in our interview, but she is also one of my friends, so I’m very excited to be able to introduce her work to working listeners who might not be familiar with her. And for those of you who are familiar with her, provide a little further insight into her process.

S2: Amazing. So if I knew nothing about Dami Lee, like what should I know about her before listening to this interview?

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S3: The big two things I would say that you should go look out for are Number One The Web Tune, a series that she used to draw called as per usual. And also her book Be Everything at Once, which was published in 2018. Her comics are usually autobiographical with like a little humorous twist, and I would highly recommend her work

S2: awesome, and I believe our slate plus listeners get a little something extra this week, right?

S3: Yeah. So if you were a Slate Plus subscriber, you get to hear a little extra from my conversation with Dami. So in addition to doing a web series for web tune, which is a South Korean like web series publisher, basically she also does a little bit of translating for them. So we talk about the process of doing that, as well as what goes into basically choosing what she translates.

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S2: Well, that’s amazing, and I definitely would not ever want to miss that or any of our Slate Plus segments, which brings me once again to our Slate Plus pitch, folks. You should go ahead and go to Slate.com’s Working Plus right now if you’re not a slate plus listener and sign up, here are some things you get. First of all, it’s only $1 for the first month. Then you get no ads on any Slate podcast. You get unlimited reading on the Slate website. You get bonus segments of working. You get bonus episodes of of slow burn and of a big mood, little mood and all sorts of other goodies on the podcast front. And you get to sleep well at night knowing you’re supporting the work we do right here on working. That sounds like a great deal for just $1 for the first month, so go to Slate.com slash working plus to sign up right now. OK, enough out of me. Now on to Karen’s interview with cartoonist Dami Lee.

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S3: I’m so delighted to be joined by Dami Lee for my first episode of Working, and I’m so honored that you agreed to be a guest because I would say that you are probably one of the coolest people that I know. Welcome to the show, Dami. Thank you for coming on.

S1: Thanks so much for having me. Karen, what an intro.

S3: So I want to start off with a pretty basic question, which is I talk to you a little bit about your work before, like as our friendship has progressed. But I think I have never asked you exactly like where the interest came from or like when you started cartooning.

S1: Yeah, I started basically drawing for my college newspaper and basically my biggest motivator was that it paid $10 a strip. And so I was like, Wow, getting paid for making art like that sounds interesting. And so I started like my sophomore year, which was, gosh, I want to see like over 10 years ago, which is terrifying. But since then, I’ve been uploading pretty steadily onto like every internet platform. There is basically so like every time I would make a comic I’d directly uploaded to like Reddit, Tumblr, Facebook. This is like even before Instagram. So imagery like I would uploaded to like every single platform and I got kind of like lucky. I would say, like my first big break was drawing comics for BuzzFeed, and that was like the first and probably one of the only times I’ve been paid to draw comics like as my full time job. And so that was actually what brought me to New York. Like I moved to New York to draw comics for BuzzFeed.

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S3: And had you had like interest in drawing or cartoons like prior to doing the comic strip? Or was it sort of it something that you came across while you were doing that?

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S1: I had always had an interest in art and like growing up, I would take summer art camp like I would take classes and like, just take art all throughout high school. And I was actually like involved in this sort of like program for teens that my local museum had. And it was actually like through that program that kind of convinced me not to go to art school because I was like, so intimidated by all the other like, super talented, like cool artist types like in that program for teens. And like I, it really like turned me off of going to art school for some reason. And so I was like, I better play it safe. Like, maybe I’ll just majored in something like very broad. So I just like majored in comms like communications and political science and. And so like while I was majoring in these like very normal liberal arts majors like college, I was like, Oh, maybe I’ll just do like art on the side, like for fun. And I think that kind of set the tone for the rest of my career, maybe because like, I have always had a full time job or like some sort of office job while doing the comics thing on the side and like as much as I would, I’ve always like liked the idea of doing art full time. It also like scares me because it’s so difficult, you know, to like, make a living off of that and like having doing comics on the side is like very easy to do. You know, it’s like a very like, low effort, low stakes kind of thing that I think has given me, like more comfort, like having that on the side. So that’s kind of just where my interests have always lied.

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S3: Mm hmm. I assume you mean like low effort in comparison to. I don’t know, I guess, like some kind of heavier job because I feel like right, thinking about the job of making cartoons, I always feel like it’s it’s a very high bar to have a job like you have to have the idea, you have to have the skill necessary to pull it off.

S1: Right? I mean, like definitely not to disparage like the work of like amazing cartoon like illustrators out there. But like a lot of people, I think, like a lot of my followers, tend to be young children and they’re always like, Hey, like, how do I get started making comics? And I always tell them, it’s like, really, really easy. Like, all you need, like at the core is like pen and paper, you know, it’s just like so easy to get into. And people always think that it’s a lot harder than it actually is. And so, yeah, I would say it’s like there’s a pretty low barrier to entry.

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S3: I guess the tough part of that is like achieving some kind of success or notoriety, right?

S1: Right. Like getting an audience, getting your work to like, resonate with people like, I think that’s the harder part.

S3: Early on in your career. Like, how did you kind of tackle that problem? Or do you feel like it’s gotten easier with time to figure out what will resonate with people?

S1: Yeah. I mean, that was one of the toughest parts of starting out is. Building that audience because like you can upload comics for years and like not build up any sort of following, which I think is OK, like because for me, drawing comics has always been like a personal thing to document, like whatever is happening in my life, like, I really started uploading comics when I moved to Korea after college. So I mostly grew up in the states, but I was born in Korea and I returned there like after college. And so comics and like uploading them to my personal blog was kind of like a way for me to keep in touch with friends back home. And so, yeah, like I’ve always liked thinking of doing comics as a personal thing. And so like, there’s no problem if you are making these comics and uploading them and like no one else is reading them except for your friends. Like, I don’t think there’s an issue there, but if your goal is to build some kind of like brand or following, then like, yeah, it can be really hard and like time consuming to build up an audience. But like, it definitely takes time. I would say

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S3: I wanted to circle back to one thing that you were saying about the barrier to entry being like low as as far as getting into comics goes where you just need like a pen and paper. I’m curious about your journey with mediums as well for like, for instance, with the college trip where you were, you drawing with pen and paper because I think I would. I don’t know, obviously, but I would say that most of your art right now is digital.

S1: Yeah. Like, I mainly started out with pen and paper and like, not even like the good kind of artist pens. It was like literally a ballpoint pen. And like my art editor at the time, he, like, told me about like, what is it like Minami pens or something like? There’s like a very specific type of pen. It’s like really good for drawing. And he told me about, I was like, Wow, this is like a whole new world. And I was just like, Scan it in like probably at the library and use my pirated copy of Photoshop to like, drop or like color it. And, you know, very rough coloring. And basically, like everything I know, I learned from YouTube. Like, there are just so many tutorials, really good tutorials out there on like how to get into digital art. Mm-Hmm. The beauty of digital art is that like, you could do something your way for like literally years before you discover like a button that do the exact same thing in like two seconds. Like, there’s always a room to learn something more, you know,

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S3: and jumping off of that, what is your like literal process right now? Like, what tools are you using? And also is there a shortcut that is your favorite?

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S1: Yeah. Like I have been using the Wacom digital tablets. It’s the kind that you connect to your computer like via Bluetooth, and it’s not the one where you like draw directly on the screen. I know a lot of people are like a lot of professional artists, like to use that kind of tablet. But for me, like I’m so used to, like the one that’s detached from the screen and I use Clip Studio, it was just like a Japanese program that is like, maybe I always like to say it’s like literally the most powerful program in the world. Like, it can do everything it has, like 3D. Like it’s got like this cool asset library where like people upload brushes and backgrounds and stuff, it’s amazing. And it’s also like super cheap compared to other like subscription based software. So I think it’s like fifty dollars, but it goes on sale a lot. So yeah, it’s an amazing software. Yeah, I got to say, yeah, definitely do that.

S3: I have to say though, I when I have looked at Clip Studio, I haven’t used it in any serious extent. But just looking at it, it’s so overwhelming because there’s so much that you can do. I assume that the way that you got you, it was partially just through using it repeatedly and also, as you were saying, like the YouTube tutorials.

S1: Yeah. I mean, just clicking around and like figuring out what button does what. But the YouTube tutorials have been like such a big part of like learning. Like, it’s how I learned to do like animating and like making Instagram face filters. And even like, I don’t know, figuring out how to fix my bathtub drain. You know, it’s like YouTube is just like, incredible like everything.

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S3: And I guess this is sort of a tangent from cartooning, but I’m so enamored of all the Instagram face filters that you’ve done. They’re also fun and creative, some of them you’ve done in collaboration with other people. The other ones, I would say, are just kind of off the top of your head for your own personal enjoyment. How did you start getting into making those and roughly what is the process of making them?

S1: I found out about them back when I was a tech reporter at The Verge, and it was such a new like platform where it was open to people of like all different skill levels. And it really attracted me because it doesn’t require, like any sort of coding knowledge. You can make it through this software created by Facebook called Spark Air. And they just make the process like so simple and easy and like. There’s a really supportive like community on Facebook, where like people are just helping each other out like to teach them how to make these filters. And I kind of started making them like jokes. You even got to model one of them for me. Yeah. Thank you for that. And it’s

S3: my pleasure,

S1: truly. I loved it, and I really want to, like, make more. I was like, really lucky enough to work with like, really cool brands to make Instagram filters for them. And so I made one for Nickelodeon, which is like the painting The Pirate Filter, which he’s like in the intro of the SpongeBob theme song. He’s like, Yeah, that’s like, Are you any kid?

S2: Are you ready, kids? I can’t. I can’t hear you. Like them.

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S1: Oh, and yeah, like, I got really lucky that I made the filter. Like I had the idea. And so I just like cold emailed it to their social media manager like Dan. And I just I kind of just like guest is email. I was like, first name, dot last name. And so I emailed that to him and actually, I didn’t hear from him for maybe like over a month. And so I was like, you know, whatever? Like, it was a shot. And then he ended up getting back to me and he was like, Yeah, we actually really like this. And I was like, great. And so, yeah, that’s how that came about, and I think I might want to like, try to apply that model to more filters.

S3: Cold emailing, I think, is one of the most like nerve wracking things that you have to do as a freelancer or someone who is in a more creative field. Even just like for me as a Lee Freelancing as a journalist, having a cold, you know, editors is like the worst thing in the world. How often do you find yourself having to do that, like as a cartoonist?

S1: I know. So like, I actually ended up going freelance two weeks before the pandemic, and it was like a crazy time because I wasn’t really sure how to jump into like the freelance life as an artist. Like, I didn’t know if I wanted to do like editorial illustrations or try to work on another book like it’s very open ended. So I was like trying to email art directors my portfolio, but also acknowledging that it was like the start of the pandemic. So I would be like, Hey, I hope you’re doing well during this unprecedented time. My portfolio? And you know, of course, I didn’t hear anything back. So like, I think I could have done more with emailing cold, emailing like more people. I’ve heard from people who are like, You know, you got to just send these emails out like hundreds of emails at a time and maybe you’ll get like one or two back. And I think that’s a good strategy. And like, you really do have to like, be persistent if you actually want to, like, build some sort of relationship with people. Yeah.

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S2: We’ll be back with more of Karen’s conversation with Dami Lee after this. Hey, listeners, we want to hear from you, whether it’s to ask us for advice on a creative problem. Tell us a guest you’d like to hear on the show. Share your own creative triumphs or failures. Drop us a line at working at Slate.com or give us a ring at three zero four nine three three w o r k. We are the last people on Earth who still like voicemails, so please give us a call. And if you’re enjoying this episode, don’t forget to subscribe to working wherever you get your podcasts. Now, let’s return to Karen’s conversation with Dami Lee.

S3: So we have to talk about your book, which is called Be Everything at Once, which was published in 2018 and it’s so wonderful. It’s these four panel comics that are, I would say, mostly autobiographical. I’m curious. No one, unlike a sort of brother, know because a lot of the comics that you do are autobiographical as well. You mentioned previously that initially you started doing this mainly so that you would have a way to keep connecting with your friends and your family. Was that kind of the only reason that you decided to write and work about yourself? Or was there some kind of bigger impetus for making autobiographical comics?

S1: Yeah. Like, I wish I was the kind of writer that could create like these amazing fictional worlds and characters, but unfortunately, I only know how to write about myself. And so the book came about because I was really wanting to share, like my family’s like experience, like immigrating to America from Korea. And I hadn’t really heard a lot of stories about, like my personal experience, which is moving back to Korea, like as an adult like and what that’s like from the perspective of a Korean-American. And I think like one of the reasons why I really wanted to do the book also personally, was because I was trying to, like, prove myself to my parents who were really worried about me quitting my perfectly normal job in Korea to like, move to America, to become a cartoonist, which sounds like ridiculous. And you say it out loud. But I was like, Maybe if I can, like, make something of myself and like, make a book like they won’t be so worried about me, like making it out here. Mm hmm. That was one of the main struggles of my life. I think just like being so far away from my family and like trying to prove to them that I’m OK out here and like, they don’t need to worry. And it is still one of the main like things about my way of about my life that I wish I could change is that I wish I could be closer to my family and like, I wish it wasn’t so hard to like, have have it all, you know, like, like in a career that I want, but also like being, you know, like near my family, you know?

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S3: Yeah. You mentioned that it’s part of the reason for doing the book was to try to make them less worried about your career shift. Are they less worried now? Did it work?

S1: I think so. They still were like, not really sure what I do. Yeah, but I think with age, I think comes a lot more reassurance. And also like, I got married in the last year. And I think that, yeah. And yeah, I feel more confident in myself and like the direction, the general direction, like, you know, my life has been heading and like my dad also just retired. And so I think everyone is kind of settling into the twilight years of their life.

S3: I’m also curious just I guess this is on a pretty technical level. What was the process of getting the book like of actually publishing it, of getting it through?

S1: I have to say that I know that I’ve been super lucky. I actually had an agent. My agent reached out to me after seeing one of my comics on Reddit. And so like, uploading my comics to social media has like, definitely paid off and that it got me like my wonderful agent and we started working on a proposal together where it was originally a different concept. So the comics that I had originally uploaded to read it was, I think it was the, you know, that tweet about that Outkast song where it’s like, I’m sorry, Miss Jackson, I am for eels. You’re never going to make your mother cry. I love old fish and not a guy. And so I drew that as a comic, and the agent really liked it. And she was like, What if we created a proposal of a book? And it’s about like misheard lyrics? And I was like, Yeah, cool, great. And so I made a couple of different comics like illustrating this phenomenon of like misheard lyrics. And one of them was that Taylor Swift song Blank Space, where everyone. Yeah, that’s a big comedy about Starbucks lovers, but I think it’s talking about like ex-lovers got along like ex-lovers. And so a drug like that was in the comics and we sent it out to a couple of different publishers, but nobody was really interested in it, except for Chronicle and the editor. There was like, actually, instead of this concept, like, why don’t we just focus on your life? And I was like, Great. That’s all I know. So that’s how we kind of got the book.

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S3: And I also want to talk about your web tune as per usual. So if I’m correct, you started drawing it around 2016 and just ended it. It’s this year, isn’t that right?

S1: Yeah. The Web June came about. Funny story. Like, I don’t know if I want to put BuzzFeed on blast. Maybe I do. But I mean, I’ve already told this story. I think like basically, I was hired at BuzzFeed from Korea, and it was part of a fellowship where after three months, the fellows there were three of us. We were supposed to be hired on full time. And guess what happens at the end of the fellowship? They tell us that there is a hiring freeze and they can’t hire us. They can’t hire any of us full time. And so they kind of like, dragged it out for months, kind of like stringing us along, being like, maybe at the end of this month, like things will change. And of course, it didn’t. And so, yeah, I had like moved to New York like for this job that they had told us would be like a guaranteed full time position. Right. And at the end of that, I was basically like alone in America, like jobless and so left you and came about like literally like the perfect time for me. Like they saved me because I it was that time when I reached out to them. Another, like, cold pitching and editor and being like, Yeah, hey, I have this comic idea. Like, Would you be into it? And it was really like, just like the perfect time and place because web tune, which is like a very big Korean comics platform. They were just launching in America. And like, we’re looking for new comics at that time. And so it was just like such good timing. And I’m like, really so grateful to them for like taking a chance on me and like supporting my art. And it has been like, like an incredible five years. But it was also like, really hard and stressful because, yeah, I was making two comics a week for them while working my full time job, and I would come home after work and just start drawing and like draw for like several hours and like, send it to them before the deadline. And I think the deadline was really good for me because it kept me consistent and like forced me to come up with new comic ideas. But at the same time, I was also like, super burned out. And finally, like, yeah, after five years, we came to like a mutual agreement to like kind of and the series. And so it’s been really nice, like getting to take a break from that. But I’m also, I don’t know, I haven’t really been doing much like since then. Like now that I don’t have deadlines to like, keep me on track.

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S3: But you mentioned like one of the pressures of having to do this comic twice a week was like having to come up with these ideas. What is the process of coming up with ideas? And I’m also curious like how many times you would have an idea or if this happened at all, if if you’d have an idea, start drawing it and then realize that it wasn’t working.

S1: I mean, the broad answer to that is like your daily life, right? So like conversations I have with friends and like whatever happened to me at work and stuff. And so a lot of my comics in the beginning were about like my new life in New York and like adjusting to life back in America and juggling like a full time job and like my personal, like creative hobbies and stuff like that. And so that’s why it was so hard during the pandemic because there was nothing going on and like nothing new was happening. And it really wasn’t like the mood to be like making jokes and stuff. And so I really deliberated on like continuing to make comics and uploading them because it just didn’t feel right. Yeah. Like, I would go to my husband and and poke and be like, Hey, do something funny, like, say, get me something to write about and

S3: get me pictures of Spider-Man five

S1: pages of Spider-Man. But yeah, I think the comics have naturally shifted towards, you know, like whatever is happening in my life. And so when my husband and I started dating, like I would naturally want to like draw relationship comics and like, I think a lot of cartoonists and artists like go through the same thing where I know a lot of artists who are like pregnant, who are drawing like pregnancy journeys and like shifting to comics about their children. And I think that’s like a really cool, like natural evolution. And so, yeah, like I would love for more things to happen to me so that I can continue to draw.

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S3: Was there ever any discussion, like with people in your life that you portray in your comics, whether or not? Like, did you ask them for permission?

S1: Yeah. Like I would draw about my family a lot, and a lot of times my mom would see it and she would be like, How dare you? Like, in a joking way. But also, seriously, she would joke, she’s like, Hey, I’m going to sue you. And I’m like, No, but I know she’s joking. I think. Yes. Yeah, I we like to draw about the people in my life, and there are some things that I would like to draw about, but out of the interests of privacy and courtesy that I don’t.

S3: So you’ve also done illustrations and stuff for The New Yorker, the Los Angeles Times, Cosmopolitan, Dickens or Kensington. I’m curious how many of those came about, like because you were pitching these people or how many of these people approached you because they were familiar with your work and wanted you to do something for them?

S1: Yeah, I think most of them have been me like pitching the editors. There have been a handful of times where the brands have approached me, but for the most part, it’s me, like reaching out to editors. And The New Yorker actually has like a really cool process where they’re cartoon editor and Allen is like, very accessible to the artists where I think before the pandemic, like she would hold like open office hours for people to come in every week and she would personally like, go over your pitches and comic ideas. And so like, that was really cool to get to go in and talk to her and like, tell her about my ideas. And we were just sort of like, shape them together. And yeah, so most of them were like me going up to the editors.

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S3: Another thing that I want to ask about is I’m not sure the origin of it, which is why I bring it up, but I feel like your work in particular has become very associated with the image of egg.

S1: Well, yes.

S3: All right. And I wanted to ask how that happened and what the significance is.

S1: Yeah, it was basically me trying to come up with a character that would be instantly recognizable, like sort of how a lot of cartoon characters would wear the same outfit for every episode like Doug or like, you know, like every cartoon character in history. And so I was like, I like eggs. I think they’re cute. I’ll put it on this shirt. People just ran with it. And now every time there is some sort of like egg related meme, they always send it to me. And for that, I am grateful.

S3: That’s so wonderful that you can get something that’s so I guess, like, fairly ubiquitous, just associated with you specifically.

S1: I wish you know what would be really cool is if, like a boogie egg company like we’re to sponsor me or like, you know, expensive eggs from like a like a humane farm or something if they were to like sending something like that.

S3: And so as you mentioned, I think towards the beginning of the interview, you are now currently Freelancing. What kind of things, I guess, do you want to work on in the future? Are you or are you working on right now?

S1: I have been lucky enough to get asked to participate and like kind of a lot of different projects like there is one called Rewriting Extinction and it’s it’s a project that aims to pair up like activists and celebrities with comic creators to raise awareness and raise money for environmental charities. And so I got to contribute a couple of comics for that. And I also worked on another like I worked on like a community building project with a bunch of like Korean-American artists, and we created something called the Tong Portfolio Tong. It’s kind of like like a feeling of mutual goodwill and kind of like between like love and like respect and like a bunch of all these like other feel good feelings. And so I created like a print of this really cute little dog, like sitting in this Korean market and it looks like he’s selling vegetables. And it’s based on like this photo that I saw on Twitter. And that print is going to go on sale at the end of this fall to raise money for a bunch of like AAPI charities. And so, yeah, I’m really glad I got to work in a bunch of projects like that. And as for a personal work, I am kind of like wrestling with myself to try to force myself to, like, work on a second book. And I think it would. I would like to go back and like, focus on that period in my life when I was living in Korea after college and sort of trying to jump through all these hoops to, like, get a job and like trying to market myself as like like a normal Korean person when on the inside. I’m like this Korean-American, who is kind of like flailing around and like, really confused about everything. So yeah, I’m just kind of like working through that.

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S3: That’s amazing. I can’t wait to read it whenever it does come out because I feel like it is something that’s sort of under under-discussed. Like I remember like when I was a kid and would go to creative, is my family like even just the way that you dress is different as a Korean-American to like Koreans?

S1: People can instantly tell,

S3: Yeah, yeah. Even if it has nothing to do with like how good your Korean language skills are, they already know. Thank you so much for coming on the show. It was so wonderful to talk with you about your process and your work. Let the listeners know where they can find you if they are interested in your work.

S1: Thanks so much for having me. People can check me out on Instagram. My handle is Dami underscore Lee.

S2: Karen, I loved this conversation, I was unfamiliar with Dami work before now, but it was a real joy to discover both her cartoons and her process through listening to the two of you talk. And I really felt a kinship with, as I’m sure you did, all of her joys, struggles and confusions as a freelancer. But before we get to any of that, can you tell us a bit about this Instagram filter thing that she does? Because I am. I hate to say this. Not on the gram.

S3: Well, you are on Twitter and because you are, you may have seen some pictures of your mutuals that are jazzed up somehow. Whether it’s like little freckles or like angel wings on the back like stuff that’s generated like in like air, I guess basically. And the filters that she makes are so good, mostly because they’re all, like, very funny and in depth. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen that meme. It’s like an Antiques Roadshow screencap of this very haunted looking doll. And the caption is like, Oh, Mr. Yummy Dad Doll. And she made one that was like the little hair and like bib that the doll was wearing with a little caption on the bottom. So like that was the filter that she made. She’s also done like one off of that like Jamiroquai video where the walls are going in and out in the background. So she does a lot of those filters. They’re all really funny you. And if you ever get on Instagram, I highly recommend them.

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S2: Maybe I’ll get on Instagram just for that. Maybe I’ll just do filters all the time. I was really struck by something she said early on about, you know, being turned off by the art school kids and deciding to major and, you know, normie liberal arts stuff like poly sci and have a day job while doing her art for fun. And of course, that fun stuff has turned into a real career. It’s a good reminder that you don’t have to travel the established paths just because they’re there, like something in the world was telling her that the art major and full time art life was just not the right path for her.

S3: Yeah, and I think the complications that especially now, I think a lot of the quote-unquote established paths that people were following, like when these careers were still pretty nascent, like don’t exist anymore. Yeah, just thinking about like my path into culture criticism where I feel like if you off the top of your head, we’re going to say this is the career progression. It’d probably be like, get an English or film major and then like go internet newspaper or something. But it’s like those things kind of aren’t really possible anymore in the same way or just because so many other paths exist, especially with the internet, everything has really opened up. The field is so much bigger, which is good in so much as it gives more people the opportunity to do the things that they want to do, but also can be tough because it means the gateways are so much less obvious, like it’s less obvious where to go or what to do. And I honestly do feel like that’s true of every creative field.

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S2: Yeah. You know, I was having coffee with a student of mine who was talking about, you know, she’s a senior and she wants to pursue directing the stage, which is, you know, I was sort of my full time concern for a while, although it is more and she was like, it just seems like they’re like, aren’t a lot of career development things out there for young directors? I was like, It seems that way because there aren’t you are in fact, correct. I mean, there’s actually a few more than there were when I was starting out. But just like those paths have been sort of roughed over, it’s like you have to sort of figure, you’re going out. Yeah. And I do think you know that that has resulted in something interesting aesthetically, which is that kind of naivete to her approach as she talks about it, right? She started with a ballpoint pen. She learned how to do a lot of her stuff from YouTube. Do you feel like that is reflected in her aesthetic and style?

S3: I’m not necessarily sure if it’s a reflection, but I definitely think that her style is very distinctive. Like, I don’t think anyone else’s cartoons look like hers, at least like a hundred percent. Like where if I looked at her work, I wouldn’t say like, Oh, this looks like manga or this look like Garfield or whatever. Or this looks like Rick and Morty, which I think is like the dominant animation style right now.

S2: Why does everything look like Rick and Morty right now? I don’t

S3: know. I’m not happy about it, but that’s a different

S2: conversation, right? Right. Sorry, sorry.

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S3: No, no, no. I mean, I love to complain about things, but the point being like Dami work is so unique. I feel like that maybe is a product of the fact that, like you don’t learn like this is how you draw X and this is how you draw X like it’s it’s autobiographical comics. So there is like a certain degree to which she obeys, like the laws of realism, but like her facial, the facial expressions that she draws and everything that she does, it’s very unique to her. Like, I don’t think I would ever see something of hers, and I go, Oh, that’s a Dami illustration.

S2: Right, right. I also got to say I love that she made a book in part to reassure her. It’s really proof that the artistic impulse it could just come from anywhere.

S3: Yeah, I mean, I think I feel this a lot, especially with like my peers in media where it’s like impossible to describe your job to your parents or older relatives in a way that will make them think that it is actually a job. But a book is something that’s easily understandable by everybody.

S2: Yeah, yeah. You can just hold it up at Thanksgiving and be like, Yeah, I did this this. This is the

S3: physical proof of the fact that I did a job. Yeah, totally, totally. I also want to point out for our listeners because this is an oral aewc real medium that Isaac held up a physical copy of his book to illustrate the point.

S2: Well, that’s true. Well, we record this in my bedroom and my wife is reading the galley of it right now. So, so it’s right here, like it’s right here behind me.

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S3: That’s very handy, huh?

S2: Yeah, it’s like a Jay Sherman carrying around his Pulitzer Prize around his neck in the in the critic.

S3: In fairness, I am working on a book currently, and when it comes out, I will just always have it.

S2: And yeah, of course, you know, she writes the book to reassure her mom, but she also gets notes from her mom on her work. My mom listens to this show. Hi, mom.

S3: Hi, sex mom.

S2: And I love hearing from her with her thoughts on the show. They’re often laugh out loud, funny. Sometimes it’s just like a cryptic text that relates to something. The guest said on Monday or Tuesday that she really enjoyed her, or she has actual thoughts on the work that we do that are actually really, really helpful. Does your mom read your work? Do you do you want her to move or do you send her, you know, you’ve been doing some writing for TV? Does she watch your TV work or do you do you want her to have anything to do with it? Or do you hide it secretly from her?

S3: I don’t hide it. I feel like because one of the big things that help me, especially my early career as a culture writer, was like tweeting out the things I had written so people would click on them and go to them. So it’s not like they’re hidden away anywhere. I guess I’m sort of ambivalent about whether I want her to read it or not, where it’s like, I think this is maybe a depressing thing to say, but I think it’s true of everyone who’s been in media where it’s like you’re not 100 percent proud of 100 percent of the things that you’ve written and put out there, which is why I say I’m kind of ambivalent about it. But she does read my work. She gets excited when like, for example, like the first time I got published in the New York Times, she was like, Oh my God. And then, like, put it on her blog and like the big stuff she will like, be like, I said this to my friends or whatever. Amazing. It’s more anxiety inducing for me, like when my partners, my friends, and she’ll be like, Oh, like, have you watched this? And he’ll go, Oh, like, Karen actually wrote about it. She’ll be like, Oh, you have to send me that piece, and it’s like, No, you don’t. You don’t have to read it. It’s fine, it’s fine. It’s fine. Like, nobody has to laugh, so

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S2: nobody has to read anything.

S3: Yeah, but on the level, like it is always like really touching that people that are in your immediate life like, want to be apprised of your work and will read it. So all in all. Thank you to my mom and also my partner’s mom.

S2: You know, you mentioned, you know, you don’t always feel 100 percent great, about 100 percent of the time you write as a freelancer, which I think actually connects to something she talked about in the interview, which is the youthfulness and cursed ness of deadlines, right? It’s really helpful to have to deliver a comic twice a week, which I must say even as not a cartoonist sounds incredibly daunting. Yeah, do that you like, really have to produce, and that forces you to be creative in a certain way. Right. It’s it’s not that it’s perfect. It’s that it’s done. Yeah. And it also had a real impact on her work because her work had to be kind of observational and about the mundane details of life, because that’s the only way you’re going to get enough stuff to meet those kinds of deadlines. Hmm. So I got to ask, how do you relate to deadlines? Do you need them to get work done? Do you chafe against them? Do they stress you out? How did how do you deal with them?

S3: I think number one and number three, where I like having them because I like having structure, but also they do stress me out because they are deadlines, ultimately. I generally, though, I will say sort of indoor number one, I feel like I’m pretty good with deadlines. I think I’ve only missed the deadline twice in my life and having them is very useful because it’s like it’s got to get done. And even if it helps you not procrastinate, I think at least for me.

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S2: Yeah, yeah. I often find that the deadline actually creates the inspiration. Like even if I’m upset about the deadline or something like a week before there’s a part of your borrower two days before there’s just a part of your brain that like starts working on it even when you aren’t thinking about it. Because, yeah, you got to like, get in there

S3: and do, yeah, you have to do

S2: this. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah, exactly. I mean, the tightest deadlines I’ve ever had are on days when I’m writing about someone who’s just died for. So it’s usually like a four hour turnaround on like 1400 recipes. And I’m always surprised that like, actually, that’s some of the stuff that I think has gone really great because you just like, you can’t overthink it. It’s like you have one clear idea. You have to just go with it, you know what I mean?

S3: Mm hmm. I admire that a lot, but I will say I don’t think that’s been my experience with deadlines. It’s just helpful to get it done. But in terms of feeling like I produce the best material, I have no control over.

S2: Yes. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah, totally. Absolutely. Since you brought it up, I have to ask about this because this is something that I know listeners of working are going to be curious about, which has to. You with pitching people and particularly cold emailing people, you don’t know to try to get them interested in working with you. You said you hate it. I hate it to almost every freelancer I know hates it. My experience of you having known you for years, is that you are really good at it. You were really good at pitching. You have you’ve built a career very quickly for yourself in a number of different outlets. That must have involved getting over that hatred to call email a lot of people. So asking for a friend who is me and many of our listeners, share your secrets with us. How do you get beyond that? How do you leap over that hurdle and just embrace the discomfort of cold emailing and pitching people?

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S3: I think the best way to think about it is to remember when you’re a kid and you’re meeting your friends, parents and acting in the way that you did, then to the editors that you’re cold pitching where it’s like you just have to be polite and good and put your best face forward. Especially with, I think, freelance culture writing or writing of any kind. When you’re pitching that it’s best to try to keep your idea to like one paragraph or keep it short. I know, like because one of the big things that I know, like my editor, friends don’t like where it’s like they’ll send a pitch, but it’s a pitch that has the entire piece attached to it unless they ask for it. Don’t do that. Basically, just trying to use your common sense and think of like if you were an editor, what would you want to get in your inbox if you were a parent? Would you want this little child to act like to you when you were meeting them?

S2: Is that helpful at all? That is. Now I am that parent. I’m not an editor, but now I am right with my kids. I will also say if I can add one more piece of advice. Slate has a really great. We’ll put it on the show page, a really great page that just says how to pitch slate on it, and the advice they give for that is great for pitches writ large. It’ll also tell you which editor to pitch at Slate, which people ask me about a lot and I’m always like, Just go there. It says it right there. But also, its guide to what a good pitch looks like is, I think, really, really helpful and clear and generously written.

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S3: I will say to sort of jump off the back of that, a lot of websites actually will like have that kind of page somewhere. Not every website, but a lot of them will have like a guideline to pitching x website and what they’re actually looking for. I know, like social media is kind of a curse, but it honestly is really helpful. Like if you go and like, find the editors accounts like in most or in some cases, at least they will be like, I am looking for pitches on X. We are pay rate is X and you can email me at X email address. So as long as you go and like sort of look around a little bit, you’ll usually find something that will help you send make your pitch like as appealing as possible to the editor that you want to talk to.

S2: That’s great. And you know, we should also say at the end of the day, yeah, it feels really uncomfortable. There’s no two ways about it. It feels just right a stranger out of the blue and be like, Give me money to write for you or whatever that might not be writing whatever the freelance thing is, and you just have to kind of figure out a way to psych yourself out and get over it.

S3: Yeah. Oh, I have one more piece of advice. You are doing a job for them is kind of the bottom line where I there are like some horror stories out there where it’s like, Oh, this editor rejected my pitch, so I copy, edited their email and sent it back to them. It’s like, Don’t do that. Don’t do that.

S2: Yeah, yeah. Be professional.

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S3: Professional like that won’t endear you to anybody.

S2: That’s definitely true. Yeah. Well, that’s our show for this week. And if you enjoyed it. Remember to subscribe wherever you get your podcasts, then you’ll never miss an episode. And now let me tell you about how awesome a slate plus membership is one more time. Slate Plus members get benefits like zero ads on any Slate podcast. Full access to all the articles on Slate.com. Bonus episodes of shows like Slow Burn and How to Do It. And It is only one dollar for your first month. Go to Slate Dot Com Slash Working Plus to sign up today.

S3: Thanks to this week’s guests Dami Lee and thanks as ever to our magnificent producer Cameron Drews, we’ll be back next week with Isaac’s conversation with legendary documentary filmmaker Stanley Nelson. Until then, get back to work. Hello, Slate, plus, listeners, thank you so much for your support and as we teased at the top of the interview. We have a little extra for you right here. As someone who is now a freelance artist, how are you finding like balancing obviously having to worry about financials with being able to do the kind of work that you want to?

S1: Yeah, I mean, I would say that a good majority of my income does not come from dry, it comes from translating webcomics. And so I’ve been really lucky enough to translate like these amazing Korean comics for a web tune, and that does take up most of my day. But like the really interesting like illustration and like comic projects are very like far and few in between like, uh. But I think it’s because that I have like this full time job, basically that I get to actually like, pick and choose like the projects that I want to do. And I’m like, really lucky that I have a partner like who has health insurance that I can like hop on to his health insurance. So. Yeah, I think it’s important to discuss that and acknowledge, like a lot of artists will have like a full time job to support themselves.

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S3: Yeah. And I actually also wanted to ask about that as well. The fact that you do translations for Rubbed is so cool, and I think definitely a job that requires you to be very skilled. How did it come about that you started translating for them?

S1: So when I was working in Korea, I used to work at a mobile game studio and I worked as localization manager there. And so I would be like the last person on the in the process to kind of look over like all the translations and like make sure that they flow nicely, like all the dialogue works. And so I came from like a translation background, and I’ve always loved reading Korean web tunes, and I kind of just mentioned to one of my friends on web you and being like, I would love to sort of do this like on the side. And, you know, she kind of recommended my first comic to translate, which was called me man. And it’s about a guy who was also a cat. He’s a cat person, and it’s really funny and cute. And that was one of the first ones that I translated. And then eventually that kind of turned into a couple more series, and it got to a point where I would actually like read comics like on the Korean Web to an app and suggested the translation team like, Hey, I think this one would be really cool to be translated. And so one of my favorites is this one called My Daughter is a zombie. And it’s about it’s kind of similar to what we went through, like with the pandemic, where the nation of Korea undergoes like some sort of zombie virus attack where everybody mysteriously like starts turning into a zombie and then Korea being Korea, they kind of like, handle it very effectively. The zombie pandemic is over like within like a year or two, except for the last remaining zombie, which is like this character’s daughter. Oh, wow. And so she’s kind of like going to school and trying to be like, blend in like normally and people like, somehow don’t suspect that she’s a zombie. And it’s super funny. And yeah, like, that’s basically how I started translating.

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S3: One thing that I thought of while you were talking about like suggesting web tunes that you think would do well if translated is both for in that case and also in terms of the comics that you make. Like, how much do you think about how much what is on the page will resonate with a Korean versus American versus Korean American audience?

S1: So like, that’s basically what localization is, right? And so it’s not translating something. So literally it’s making sure that like this phrase has like a specific counterpart like in English. And so it’s like in the case of parasite or something, you know, like how they localized Kakao. Talk to what’s app, which is I do like, man, I almost forgot about the exposure. I know I watched people. You know, it’d be cool if people knew about Kakao Talk. But, you know, like in the in the context of the movie, you know, it’s like WhatsApp is the easiest thing for people to recognize. And so, yeah, yeah, that’s basically localization.

S3: All right. That’s it for this week’s Slate Plus segment. Thank you again for your support. We’ll see you next week.