By Barbara Yau, AsAmNews Staff Writer
Like many of us in early 2021, Martin Lee was deeply affected by many issues, including COVID, George Floyd, and anti-Asian hate crimes. Finding himself in a self-diagnosed “funk,” he needed refuge and found his way back to the art of his youth. He started learning how to make animations on his days off and started animating various characters for practice.
Little did he know that this diversion would lead to the start of something special and empowering for many. With the help of his younger brother Rich Lee, he launched The Other Ones by Lee, a daily collaborative parody comic strip focusing on social justice and “otherness” issues.
Lee created his first comic, which he refers to as a meme, in February 2021 in response to all the anti-Asian hate crimes that were prevalent in the news.
The day after that, he ran his first comic strip that was based on an event from his childhood and also introduced an Asian character named Diggy who was modeled after his brother. Lee felt that it was crucial to be inclusive of all BIPOC in The Other Ones, which he describes as a parody of Charles Schulz’s long-running Peanuts strip — a comic that he happened to love as a kid.
“Utilizing the massive number of tropes Schulz left behind, I wanted to tell the story of the Other Ones — the BIPOC characters who surely existed in Peanutsville, USA, but were never seen nor heard. What would the Asian character be thinking when they see Peppermint Patty sleeping in class? What would two BIPOC characters at the infamous brick wall be saying or thinking? We all know what Charlie Brown would be thinking, or, at least, have a pretty good idea. But, we have no idea what the BIPOC characters would be thinking or feeling. We were never represented. I wanted to represent us,” said Lee.
Lee further elaborated that other than Franklin who was Black, there were no other children of color, aside from extremely minor characters like José Peterson, included in the Peanuts comic strip. According to Lee, of the 17,897 Peanuts comics published between 1950 and 2000, Franklin appeared in only 125.
Described as part Peanuts, part Beetle Bailey, part Calvin and Hobbes in drawing influence, The Other Ones reflects the collaboration of Lee and his brother Rich, a psychology professor at the University of Minnesota. While Lee works on the illustrations, his brother helps to provide narratives and insight on various social justice issues that people are facing.
“Rich gives the comics a nuance that I could not provide. He had the words to my images and vice versa. It afforded us both an opportunity to not only collaborate as brothers for the first time, but allow us the freedom of expression that we could not achieve alone,” said Lee.
Since the comic comes out daily, Lee who resides in Pensacola and his brother based in Minneapolis will text each other and work on the strip on most days. Their primary struggle is deciding between single panel comics and long form comics which have four or more panels. Lee stated that single panels are more succinct, but sometimes lack the punch that a longer panel comic brings. But, what is not a struggle for the Lee brothers is finding enough content from which to draw inspiration.
“Sadly, there is an infinite supply of material to draw from. The BIPOC stories have been untold and/or whitewashed for hundreds of years. Thanks to the modern world, there are no secrets,” said Lee, who “cranks out” half a dozen comics daily.
According to Lee, the most popular of their comics seem to be either stories from their childhood or comics about relevant BIPOC people/issues, including the Linda Lindas and Suni Lee.
Lee’s personal favorite is a recent comic he did for his brother on his birthday. He feels it may resonate on a deeper level for many POC who grew up in homes where “I love you” was never spoken, but understood.
Lee’s current goal is to publish an anthology of the comics with narratives from each of them. He would also love to see the comics used in schools to discuss social justice issues, which a few of their followers have done, since their comics are both accessible to everyone and make heavier topics easier to broach.
Lee also has a pipe dream for The Other Ones that is ambitious, yet sentimental.
“I would love for the strip to reach thousands every morning and become a part of people’s daily rhythm. I remember racing downstairs to get the paper every morning to read the daily newspaper. One of us would get the sports section, and the other the comics. Then we would switch. It was a simpler time and a great way to start the day,” said Lee.
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