“It’s so cuuute!” shrieks Lela Lee, as she pulls the prototype of her Angry Little Asian Girl lunchbox out of its packing. A treasure chest of goodies has just arrived from Nakajima, manufacturer of all things Sanrio. After 10 years as a comic strip, the Angry Little Asian Girl has been invited to the merchandising table with the likes of Hello Kitty, and I’m there to witness the unveiling of Lee’s “back-to-school” line of products. Pencils, a binder, wallets and a colorful retro alarm clock complete the stash. A new book, her fourth, will be released in February 2009. “I just proofed it — it’s about love. You know when you get that excited feeling? When I looked at it, I was like, ‘This could be awesome.’”
Following the footsteps of another do-it-yourself strip with attitude,South Park, Lee has received many television offers, one that went as far as to start production. The experience wasn’t a positive one, but Lee is too savvy to let the industry get her down. She’s a successful character actress whom you might recognize from Scrubs, Friends and Curb Your Enthusiasm. “I don’t think I’m going to do a show unless everything is right,” Lee explains. “The TV thing is like finding the husband you always wanted. It’s got to happen organically.”
As we play like grade-schoolers with the new toys, Lee describes her newfound realization that Angry Little Asian Girl (ALAG) has a widespread audience — beyond her circle of friends, beyond Los Angeles. “I saw someone at Albertsons carrying my tote bag, and I didn’t even know her! I turned to my husband, and said, ‘Oh my God, look!’ And he’s like, ‘Lela, do you know that she knows that you’re following her?’ I need to get over it. Ha!”
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Granted, these are big accomplishments for an angry little Magic Marker drawing created over a weekend in 1994. “I was upset about the world we were inheriting, kind of fed up being a girl, a minority, and having all these expectations that I didn’t feel were fair.” She was pushed over the edge by a screening of Spike and Mike’s Sick and Twisted Festival of Animation.
“It was racist, sexist, gross — not funny to me. So my friend Andrew suggested I do my own strip. I did, and it’s been great,” Lela declares. “You know, I’ve been doing this forever, and it finally feels like this year it’s reached a point where ALAG is going where I wanted it to go. I always wanted something pretty grand — and I’m still working toward that. Now, she’s on the right track. You know when you’re working really hard for something, and it’s a struggle and you’re not having any fun? Sometimes you just need to be patient and wait for the universe to catch up to you.”
Photo by Kevin Scanlon