Getting to know: Cartoonist Lee Chee Chew

LEE CHEE CHEW

This short Q&A series with ST's beat reporters lets readers meet the person behind the byline. These are the experts who will be answering readers' questions in our new askST section.  

1. When did your fascination with cartoons start, and who were your favorite cartoonists/cartoon character/comics growing up? 

It began when I first got my hands on MAD magazines. Favourite cartoonist: Sergio Aragones.

2. How did you get into drawing in the first and then became a full-time cartoonist?

I started as a freelance cartoonist during my Secondary school days. It was nice to be able to do what I like and also get paid for it.

I started my Chew On It! comic strip shortly after joining The Straits Times in 1988 (wah lau - 27 years). The first cartoon ran on Aug 4, 1991, so it's been running for 24 years.[Editor's note: The strip was originally named Life's Like That.] However, I am not considered a full-time cartoonist because cartooning is only part of what I do at work.

3. How would you describe your drawing style?

"Anatomically incorrect." My cartoon characters come with rubber arms and legs.

4. Where do you get your inspiration for your cartoon series?

By reading the news and observing what goes on around me. I am partial to doodling about things that I find exasperating. For example, littering. And cycling on pedestrian walkways!

5. For your cartoon series, do you start with a storyline and make up the drawing as you go? How long does it take for you to do a strip?

Yes, I begin with a concept, then the dialogue and finish up with the drawings. The dialogue is the worst part: it once took me a whole day to just get the words right. It was exhausting.

6. What is more important to you - style or idea?

Both. Without an idea, there is no cartoon. And one should develop a unique style so readers can relate the drawings to the artist.

7. Is drawing a pleasure or a pain to you? Which is the most challenging part of cartoon drawing?

I love to draw. But I do not like drawing these very much: bicycles, trolleys, prams, cars... basically anything with wheels. Also robots. Maybe that's because I'm not mechanically inclined.

8. What makes a great cartoon?

One that makes you smile and think: "That is so true!"