Have you ever heard of My Milk Toof? It's the story of two highly entertaining teeth, named Ickle and Lardee, who were born out of an idea back in 2009. After working five years as an artist in the video game industry, Inhae Lee found herself unemployed and in search of a more fulfilling career. While she was taking a short break, she decided to explore some personal projects when she came across the term “milk tooth,” which is defined as any of the temporary first teeth of a young mammal. (Basically, it's a baby tooth.)
“Originally I made the tooth model as a prototype to eventually create vinyl toys, but I ended up just taking pictures of it around the house and posting it on a blog,” the Berkeley-based artist tells us, when we ask what came next. “It all evolved slowly, as the images became less random and more narrative.
“A couple months after the blog launched, the website CuteOverload.com did a post about it (one of its first, if not only non-animal posts). From there it went semi-viral, and the readership jumped up substantially. I began receiving lots of emails and feedback from readers – the whole thing was very overwhelming. The other realization of how big things were getting was when I sold my first self-published book. (More on that later.) It sold out much quicker than anticipated and I was shipping out packages to all over the world (they hated me at the Berkeley post office).”
Now, as her full-time job, Lee delights her viewers with creative story after story. Aside from the fact that she gets to do what she loves, Lee says that the best part about her job is reading the comments from fans. “It's like Christmas morning for me,” she says. “Readers tell me the blog provides a happy, nostalgic escape from their work, schooling, hardships, etc. I'm very humbled that My Milk Toof can help lift up someone's day.”
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This past March, Lee released a book with Chronicle Books. Calling it a “labor of love,” she worked on it for over a year, meticulously pouring over every detail. “The book consists of mostly stories from the first year of blog posts,” she says. “I added some new stories, and made some fixes to old stories that were a little ill-conceived at the time because they were so early on when I was trying to figure out what the blog was all about.”
When asked what advice she'd give to others who were interested in creating their own characters, Lee told us this.
“My advice is to take advice! Getting feedback from people you trust and admire is priceless. Being open and amendable to new and better changes can make all the difference. I'm lucky enough to have a creative minded boyfriend (who works as a story artist at Pixar), and he offers some of the toughest criticism. But it was his advice to not just make random toys out of the teeth characters, and make a blog instead. Perhaps there would have been a niche market or appeal for random tooth toys, but I think by creating the blog and cultivating personalities for the teeth provided a much wider audience for the characters.
“The flipside of advice is knowing when to take it and when not to. Early on before the blog, I showed the tooth model to my sister, and her impression was that it was too scary looking. And even though I value her opinion, I felt strongly that the personality would soften the look, and I didn't change the model. So trusting your instinct is a big part too.”
Thanks so much for the interview, Lee, and for letting us share your My Milk Toof story with our viewers. We love your creativity!