Korean artist Narae Lee sat down with TheOASG to talk about her latest work, working on Maximum Ride, and how watching Conan O'Brien helped her out.
Over at Anime NYC, TappyToon brought Korean artist Narae Lee over for the inaugural convention. Known for working on the graphic novel adaptation of James Patterson’s Maximum Ride series, Narae Lee’s been working on Bloody Sweet, which stars a young girl that is “strung up” by an over 500 year old vampire. She explains how she came up with the idea, and also explains the challenges of working on Maximum Ride.
TheOASG: Considering the vampire story has been an idea the past couple of years, what led to the creation of Bloody Sweet?
Narae Lee: One of the reasons I started with a vampire was because I felt that bullying in society was a big problem. Bloody Sweet’s main character, Naerim, is also bullied at school. Historically, when you think back to the witch hunts, that’s a bullying situation too, where you’re putting someone up against the wall and saying you’re a witch. I needed someone who could’ve witnessed that in the past. It turned out to be someone who would live that long, and it turned out to be a vampire.
So at first I wanted to address the issues of bullying in schools and in society and take the story from there.
Were you pitching this to TappyToon or any other publishers?
I pitched it to a publisher in Korea, and that [eventually led to it at TappyToon].
What’s been the most surprising thing you’ve discovered while drawing Bloody Sweet?
I don’t know much about the overseas audience yet, but in terms of the Korean audience, I found out they were very much interested in the villains as much as the main characters. So I realized you need very attractive and charming villains as well to satisfy the readership. You do need interesting protagonists as well, but you need antagonists to be interesting too to satisfy fans.
Can you discuss some of the challenges of working on Bloody Sweet?
In Korea I’ve worked with a schedule. I was serializing this at the time, so I would write the story and draw it right away in the span of a week. In the first three or so days I would finalize the story of that episode, then in the next two or three days I would end up drawing it.
Coming up with ideas was also a challenge. It’s been a while since I graduated from high school, so it’s been a long time. So trying to capture all the nuances and phrases today’s kids use and making it so that they understand…I had to research that —
Like go back to school–
Yeah, yeah. Like see what they say so I could put it in the comic.
Can’t work with something from 2008 or 2009 huh?
*laughs* So trying to match how the kids today kind of talk and catching their sensibility for those readers.
This isn’t the first title people in the U.S know about you, as you drew Maximum Ride for Yen Press. How did you get involved in that?
So before Yen Press was a thing, I believe one of the managing editors was in Korea. By chance, and she was a Korean person as well, she by chance found one of my short comics. She contacted me and asked me to work with her. That’s pretty much how it began.
Can you elaborate a bit on the short work?
When I was in college, there was a one-off kind of project between established and amateur artists. One of my professors suggested, “Hey Narae, why don’t you put a short in the book this time?” And that’s what I did. And that’s the story the editor from Yen Press discovered.
What were some of the challenges of working on Maximum Ride? I assume you were in Korea working on this.
Well, one of the challenges was because I was only familiar with Korean culture, ways of talking, etc, I needed someone to gesticulate when they’re talking. How would someone say this and react physically? So I watched American dramas and TV shows.
What were you watching?
Conan O’Brien, LOST, Doctor Who, and House. Recently I’ve been into Stranger Things.
There are elements of comedy and gags in the original source material so because I’m only familiar with Korean culture I kind of had to immerse myself and get into the situation in the story. Trying to get those codes right for an American audience was a challenge.
I also needed to draw backgrounds for the comic. Because I’m in Korea and can’t be in America, I’m very thankful for Google *laughs*
Yes, Google is great *laughs*
There was a time where I needed to draw Washington. Washington has two places — the state–
And the city!
*laughs* so I wound up having to swap the drawings out because I drew the wrong one.
Were you told you did the wrong one?
A reader told me, “Oh that’s not the right one.” *laughs*
What would you say are some of the differences in drawing for a Western audience compared to a Korean audience?
So with Maximum Ride it was a project already written by someone else with a story that’s ready. So when I was portraying the story there was a fanbase. I needed to make the comic very fun and readable.
With Bloody Sweet I made this story on my own. I put more of my experiences and things that I’ve heard. I feel the story’s little more closer to heart from myself. But both of them have, through my way of making comics, are very much the same way.
What’s going to be next for you? Still working on Bloody Sweet, but anything else in the works?
Bloody Sweet Season 2 is finished in Korea. It’s not out on TappyToon yet but it will be coming up and completing its run. I’m working on another project that a wider American audience will be able to read.