A fantasy world where your teef have a mind of their own
by rachel lee
Inhae Lee is the 32-year-old Berkeley resident mastermind behind a blog titled My Milk Toof that is rapidly gaining popularity in the blog world among young kids and college students alike. hardboiled got a chance to ask her about her blog’s growing popularity and the inspiration behind giving miniature sized teeth models a chance in the spotlight. An immigrant from South Korea at age 16, Lee says her Korean-American background is the spark behind her interest in “Milk Teef.”
hb: Where does your inspiration come for the storylines?
Inhae: The story of ickle getting his baby tooth pulled out was actually [my niece] Chloe’s story. And the story of the “Sweet Wilting Tree” was actually something that happened to me. So creating these stories allows me to backtrace a lot to my own childhood. Sometimes I go through my own childhood diary for inspiration. And I grew up reading “Peanuts” comic
books, which offer really good philosophies. My boyfriend also inspires me and brings out the naive, childlike side in me.
hb:How did your parents feel about you pursuing a career in art?
Inhae: My mom let me do whatever I wanted. But like other parents she wanted security for me and a career. She saw me suffer during college while I was lost, but I think everyone goes through that time during their life in one form or another. But my mom knows I’m happy [now]; she understands and
she’s supportive. She keeps up with my blog every now and then. She doesn’t know too much English, so sometimes she doesn’t understand the descriptive lines under the pictures. So she’ll call and ask me to explain. It’s nice because even though we’re not the same age group we can talk about this together. Sometimes I’ll ask her for feedback – sometimes you just need the advice and opinion of someone who’s not an artist but just an average reader.
hb: What is a milk toof?
Inhae: I came from Korea when I was 16 years old, and I am 32 years old now, so I’ve lived an equal amount in both countries. Now, I am an outsider from Korea but am not fully American either so I have somewhat of an odd identity. I still have to ask some questions that others take for granted. For example, I had to ask, “Why do they call it a ‘cup of joe’?” You can say there were lots of Wikipedia searches. That’s why when I first heard the term “milk tooth,” I got my inspiration for this blog. While I was Wikipedia-searching for “milk tooth,” I learned that when a baby tooth is reflected by light it’s the color of milk. Then I decided to think about more “baby terms,” – basically, the way babies would say certain words. That’s why ickle is “ickle”; I imagined the way babies say “little.” And Lardee is named Lardee because he looks like a piece of lard, doesn’t he? I guess not being fluent in
either Korean or English made me inquisitive.
hb: Where do you get your inspiration for your characters, ickle and Lardee?
Inhae: ickle and Lardee are based on my two nieces. Because my nieces Jamie and Chloe know they’re the inspiration behind my characters, sometimes they ask to be placed and featured in certain ways. It’s really cute. ickle is based on Jamie, the older one who’s 10 now. That’s why he was my first character. He’s the responsible older one; my sister actually battled with cancer which in turn made Jamie really independent, especially since he has a sister who’s seven years younger. Chloe, my younger niece, was my inspiration for Lardee. Lardee’s main facial expression is actually exactly what one of Chloe’s facial expressions looks like.
hb: What is your audience demographic like, and does that influence your storyline at all?
Inhae: My Facebook fan page actually conveniently breaks down the demographics by country. My top three countries are the U.S., Singapore, and then the Philippines. After that it’s the UK, Sweden, and Norway. Somehow this [website] has gotten the spotlight; pop art is well known in Japan but not so much from Koreans or Americans. In terms of age, the age range goes from 18 to 25, and around 75% of fans are female. I actually have a lot of mom fans. Lots of moms send me fan mail of pictures their kids have drawn of ickle and Lardee, and it’s really sweet. Some moms tell me about how they read my blog with their kids as their bed time story. They tell me they can’t wait for the book to come out so they can go to the bedroom with a book instead of a laptop.
hb:What does the future of My Milk Toof look like?
Inhae: There are lots of opportunities coming up; I’m trying to be patient about it. There’s a Russian/Japanese/Korean company that makes stop motion movies that I’m in contact with. It’s a very interesting prospect, the idea of making this into a stop motion film. But I don’t want to drop the quality of my stories or the models so I’m taking my time. I never wanted to think of this blog as something that would make lots and lots of profit at the cost of the quality of the work. I was inspired by Bill Watterson, the creator of Calvin & Hobbes; he never capitalized on his characters or his story by making dolls because he believed that once you put them on a mock-up it’s not quite the same anymore. But at the same time, it’s hard not to think about because that is how you make the most profit. So now I’m trying to take my time and not sign any contracts too hastily. I would like to see a
stop motion movie come out of this though.