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Columbus comic artist pokes fun at culture

Photo courtesy of nataliedee.com

Natalie Dee has given up her previous jobs as a phone sex operator and insurance company worker to pursue an independent online career.

The Upper Arlington resident began illustrating and writing dark-humored comics for her Web site, nataliedee.com, in 2003.

“It didn’t start out as a specific project. It was just a way for me to have an online portfolio of sorts,” 30-year-old Dee said.

Dee’s self-titled Web site now archives more than 1,500 drawings and makes money from duplicated comics and other merchandise sales.

“There were surprisingly few board meetings about the business end of my site,” she said. “I just offered apparel items on the site, and sales trickled in and continued to grow as the traffic continued to go up.

“I just got lucky that I was able to see the potential of the internet,” Dee said. “There are so many people with sites now, it would probably be a lot harder to have people notice a new site and have it pan out.”

As the general Internet audience expanded, a shift in demographics also occurred.

“When I started, there were more dudes, and more of an IT dude-type vibe,” Dee said. “Once more types of entertainment became available and Internet speeds got faster, a lot of younger people and women got online, and those people make up the most of my readers.”

Although the female character of Natalie Dee is what pulls most of her readers in, Dee’s comics are not directed to a specific demographic.

“I don’t like getting ideas from popular culture so much because I think it detracts from the weirdness of what is happening on the site,” Dee said.

Dee’s July 13 comic featured a brown ball of twine holding a tissue with flushed cheeks and a sad face. The written text said, “sniff sniff … I got twine flu.”

“If there are any inspirations from the culture, it is usually popular conclusions people have come to about current issues or anxieties that many people share but are afraid or embarrassed to admit,” she said.

Although she likes the comics of Evan Dorkin and Peter Bagge, Dee said she draws without direct influence and tries to avoid making her comics autobiographical.

“I just wake up in the morning, go into my office, sit at the computer, and the comics just fall out of my arm while I am listening to the stereo and talking to my friends on Facebook,” Dee said. “There is zero magic to it.”

Dee said there isn’t really a process of coming up with new material. She just draws what she wants and fits whatever that may be into the existing body of work.

“Honestly, if Natalie Dee needs to go through a bunch of routines and oblique strategies in order to make Natalie Dee comics, then she should probably find a job she is a little better at; you dig?” she said.

Dee said she started out with Sharpies and colored pencils but now primarily uses Photoshop CS3. Sometimes she integrates image files from Painter or Artrage.

“Occasionally, I will also use photographs of surfaces and patterns that I collage within the drawing to add texture or visual interest,” she said.

Dee attended Ohio State from 1998-2000 to pursue a degree in visual communication design. She said she hated basically everything she could hate about OSU: going to class, the people in her classes, the people in her dorm and her small room without windows.

“I left because I thought that OSU was a bloated corpse of an institution,” Dee said. “I have never been more unhappy or more suicidally depressed than I was when I was at Ohio State. And I felt like a million bucks the day I blew that pop stand.”

Dee also writes a blog on her Web site, raises her 1-year-old daughter and works with her husband Drew, who maintains marriedtothesea.com and runs superpoop.com, toothpastefordinner.com and francetucky.com.

“Once I have all that stuff wrapped up, I just sit down on the couch and watch Project Runway over dinner,” she said. “I’m just one person.”

Dee’s daily comics can be found at nataliedee.com, and because Dee said she doesn’t offer licensing of her images to other companies, merchandise is only available for purchase at sharingmachine.com.

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