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Interview: NaRae Lee

Manhwa artist for James Patterson's Maximum Ride

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NaRae Lee and JuYoun Lee at the Yen Press booth at San Diego Comic-Con

Manhwa artist NaRae Lee and Yen Press Senior Editor JuYoun Lee

© Deb Aoki

To celebrate the first birthday of Yen Plus magazine, Yen Press invited Korean comics artist NaRae Lee as their special guest at San Diego Comic-Con 2009. Lee is the artist behind the graphic novel adaptation of James Patterson's bestselling Maximum Ride novels for young adults that is currently being serialized monthly in the pages of Yen Plus.

Discovered by Yen Press Senior Editor JuYoun Lee, NaRae was able to make her U.S. debut working on a series that already had legions of devoted fans. It's a lot to live up to, but NaRae proved to be up to the challenge by delivering artwork that looks remarkably polished for a relative newbie to the world of international manga publishing.

This visit to San Diego was NaRae's first visit to the United States, and unfortunately, the trip from Korea to Southern California wasn't an easy one for her. The effects of jet-lag took their toll on the petite yet hard-working artist, which forced Yen Press to cancel her first planned autograph session on Friday afternoon. NaRae did manage to make it to the convention center to meet her fans on Saturday afternoon, which is when I caught up with her to ask a few questions.

NaRae tends to draw herself as a pudgy, chibi character in her artist's notes in Yen Plus, but in reality, she's a slender, shy and soft-spoken young woman who seemed somewhat surprised to see the line of fans who came to meet her and get her autograph. Yen Press Senior Editor JuYoun Lee kindly translated our conversation.

Q: Welcome to San Diego Comic-Con. It's great to have you here.

NaRae Lee: I'm happy to be here too.

Q: Did you see anything in the Exhibit Hall that you thought was really exciting and cool?

NaRae Lee: I've been sick (since I got to San Diego from Korea), so this is actually the first time that I've been to the convention center.

Q: Ah, too bad. I hope you get to see more of it over the next two days. When you got the call to do Maximum Ride, had you heard of the books before?

NaRae Lee: I didn’t know about them at first.

Q: What were your impressions when you read the script? Did anything strike you in particular that made you think, 'Wow, I should work on this project?'

NaRae Lee: I liked the characters a lot. They each had their own distinctive characteristics and personalities, so that was the big appeal for me.

Q: Which is your favorite character to draw?

NaRae Lee: Character-wise, my favorite is Iggy, but when I'm drawing I enjoy drawing Max the most.

Q: Why is that?

NaRae Lee: The way I'm drawing the character is like a lot of my taste, so I likes how the eyes and the clothes she wears came out. I'm enjoying drawing her very much.

Q: I was really impressed when I first saw your art for Maximum Ride. It's very accomplished, very professional-looking, and it reads very nicely. Is this your first long series?

NaRae Lee: Thank you. Yes, it's my first major series.

Q: Has it been an adjustment creating a new chapter on a monthly schedule?

NaRae Lee: It’s been tough.

Q: Do you have time to do other things, like draw your own manga stories?

NaRae Lee: I also have my own story, a manga that is currently being published in a Korean anthology. That also has a monthly deadline. That one is fortunately only eight pages a month, but still, because I'm juggling the two deadlines I've been having a tough time.

Q: What is the title and what is it about?

NaRae Lee: It’s called Sweetie Milky Propose and it’s for younger girls. It’s like a comedy, also has a bit of a romance going on. It's about four fairies from Milkland coming into the human world to find their princess, who doesn’t know she is a princess. It's very funny.

Q: That sounds cute -- I hope to see it some time! So how did you and JuYoun (Lee, Senior Editor of Yen Press) find each other?

NaRae Lee: (turns to JuYoun) You would know better about that!

JuYoun Lee:Well, there is like an anthology that her school puts out. I saw her like short story there and I immediately liked her art style. I thought she would be perfect for Maximum Ride, so I contacted her.

Q: Ah wow, so straight from college. So how long have you been drawing manga?

NaRae Lee: I've been drawing since I was in like fourth or fifth grade in elementary school. I also went to an animation high school, not just college, so I've been drawing for a long time.

Q: So what is the curriculum like at an animation university? Is it like mostly animation classes or is it like animation and regular school subjects?

NaRae Lee: Well, the college I go to is a manga college and my high school specialized in animation. You can also major in manga at the animation high school as well.

Q: So now that you've devoted so much of your life to drawing, what do you think is your greatest strength as an artist and what is the hardest thing for you to do?

NaRae Lee: I can’t really pinpoint my strong point because I think I'm still a newbie. So maybe the fact that I have lots of possibilities in front of me might be my strongest point.

The toughest thing that I have to deal with as I draw Maximum Ride is that the story is set in the States and this is literally my first chance I've had to visit North America. Because I'm based in Korea, it's tough to find all the reference photos and trying to imagine like (the various locations described in the script) is going to look like. This has been the hardest thing.

Q: Have you met Mr. Patterson? Have you talked with him?

NaRae Lee: (shakes her head) Ah, no. Not yet.

Q: Ah, too bad. Maybe sometime on your next visit to the U.S. Okay, so I know your fans who are for your autograph session are eager to talk to you, but do you have a special message for the fans who couldn’t join you here today?

NaRae Lee: Thank you very much for reading the books.

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