Jen Lee is a Korean American living and drawing in Seoul. She creates amusing, well-illustrated comics for her blog Dear Korea, randomly themed to reflect things like cultural differences, her personal life and seasonal changes in the country. With 72 comics under her belt and still going strong, we got in touch with Jen to find out how she feels about blogging, illustrating and the occasional idiosyncrasies of living in Korea.
Where are you from and what are you doing in Korea?
I was born and raised in Houston, Texas. I originally came to Korea with the desire to finish school, as well as to learn the language while getting back in touch with distant family members. Over time, my reasons for staying in Korea have changed drastically, but in the end, my main reason for being here is to grow and learn as an artist and as a person in general.
Your comics are awesome! When did you start drawing?
Thank you for the compliment! I’m still not used to receiving those! I’ve been drawing for as long as I can remember. From what my mother has told me, I had a pencil in my hand before I could even walk. Unfortunately for my mother, I was drawing on walls before I knew what paper was.
The general concept for Dear Korea was actually inspired by stories and frustrations my friends and I would express during first few months in the country. I had always wanted to create a comic blog, but I had no idea what it would have been about until after I had these conversations with my friends. The title was actually something one of my friends used to say whenever she had a rhetorical question about things she had experienced in Korea.
Many of your comics are centred on the subject of cultural confusion in Korea. As a Korean American, assuming that you were raised with some understanding of Korean traditions, do you think you experienced less of a culture shock when you first moved here compared to other westerners?
I think my life as a Korean American definitely prepared me for what it would be like to live in Korea. When you top that with the fact that I had visited my family in Seoul on multiple occasions, entering this country felt more like I was coming back to a place I always knew. That being said, I’ve experienced countless surprises, and have learned so much more than I knew I could.
What’s your favourite thing about living in Korea? What’s the worst thing?
I can’t even begin to think of all the things that make living in Korea awesome. The food is good, transportation is cheap, healthcare is actually affordable (compared to the United States), and so on. The only downside I can really think of regarding living here is that I hate how far away I am from my friends and immediate family. It’s a little difficult for me to consider this place as my home when I’m so far away from everything I know and love. I’m also not a huge fan of hang drying my laundry.
Many of your comics depict the hilarious circumstances you’ve found yourself in over the past year. What would you say is the funniest thing that has happened to you during your time in Korea?
The biggest advice I can give to anyone wanting to enter the world of comics, as well as anything else regarding illustration, is to never stop drawing. Practicing as often as possible is vital to improve and grow as an artist, and the moment you stop striving to improve is the moment you’ve given up on being great. Also, when it comes to web comics, I think it would be worth noting the importance of time management. I originally went in assuming that I could easily keep up with the demands of drawing comics on a regular basis, and I paid for it in sleepless nights and late updates.
As for my process, it’s pretty typical. I usually have a situation and a loose script written out before I start any sort of drawing. Once I get an idea on how I want things to flow, I do a very rough layout and start to sketch things out. All the steps up to this point are usually done with regular pencil and paper, though I may sometimes do everything on the computer to save time. After all that’s done, I do the lineart, add colors, and finally add the text. It may not seem like a lot, but some of these steps (especially the first few) can a good long while.
A recent comic is a personal reaction to the MBC ‘The Truth About Foreigners’ scandal. How much of the artist’s personality do you think goes into the creation of a comic?
I think a significant amount of an artist’s personality goes into any original work they put out. Without any personality, there would be no existence of original styles and methods. Speaking for myself, I think it would be difficult to continue to work on Dear Korea while enjoying it if I didn’t put a part of myself into it.
I think one assumption people tend to make about comic artists (and artists in general) is that they make a lot of money. From personal experience, I can confirm that this is far from the truth. While there are a few amazing artists that do make good money from the work they do, the majority of artists out there tend to earn significantly less than the median salary of where they reside.
As for something about Korea people may not know? That’s a difficult one. I recently found out that Korea actually has the fastest internet in the entire world. Needless to say, that’s one factor that makes it incredibly difficult to go back home. That and the amazing fried chicken I’ve had here.
Images all courtesy of Jen Lee.