Independent cartoonist, illustrator got his start in student media

Don Lee

Don Lee, ’87, submitted this self-portait sketch to illustrate his alumni feature story.

By Amy Reeves
Reporting Student

“When I saw my cartoons getting published, it was kind of a rush and I never really looked back,” explained Don Lee, a 1987 alumus, as he shared his strides toward becoming the distinguished independent cartoonist/illustrator in Toledo, Ohio, he is today.

As some people go through various career aspirations, Lee always had one career on his mind – something that would allow him to draw.

When he was young, he liked to draw. So, when in high school, he got on the crew for the newspaper and later got involved in the BG News in college.

“I was at the BG News office pretty much all of my time. I didn’t hang out at my dorm; I hung out at the BG News,” he said. “The BG News was pretty much my social circle while I was at school.”

Lee explained that getting person-to-person feedback, like the kind of feedback one would receive at the BG News, offered more than just getting back a graded paper. It was more interactive.

In addition to the BG News, Lee praised his professors for the help they provided him.

He said his professors heightened his learning experience by letting him sit in their offices, listen to their stories and watch them work.

He said, “On some days, [this was] an education with more value than a classroom lecture.”

Although Lee was very humble in describing his successes, Director of Student Media at BGSU Bob Bortel described Lee as “probably the most gifted cartoonist that ever graced the pages of The BG News.”

Lee was offered a position at the Sandusky Register not long after graduation.

Since few found jobs right away in journalism after graduation, when he got a job offer at the Sandusky Register, he jumped at the opportunity.

“The Register was a small enough paper with big enough ambitions that I could be a reporter and be a cartoonist,” he said.

He said if he had taken a job at a bigger paper, he probably would have had to do one job and only do that one job.

Eventually, he got tired of 12 to 14 hour days. “Things seemed to be getting further away from journalism,” he said.

That is when Lee decided it was time to use the money he had been saving up to work on his own.

After leaving Toledo to take his job at the Sandusky Register, he made his way back to Toledo so he could be with his family and work for himself, which is what he is doing today.

Throughout his career he has received various awards and multiple compliments.

Julie Cantu, one client, said, “He followed directions for the type of caricature my client wanted very well and produced quality artwork quickly for me.”

Even though Lee has received a collection of awards, he humbly explained those awards did not mean much to him.

“I think my proudest moment was actually a judge’s comment,” he said. “They said that I was an editorial cartoonist that gets news and that knows how it works and can communicate it.”

Bortel said, “He also is a talented reporter and editor that always tells it like it is, no holds barred. He was, and is, always true to himself, being delightfully honest about himself and those he speaks about. He always provided refreshing viewpoints through his work, be it with the artist’s pen or the reporter’s words.”

Lee offered some advice on how to get business when you are working independently. “Every chance you get to make a contact, you do it,” he said. “You have business cards, fliers printed up. You introduce yourself.”

He explained publicizing yourself, which is hard for a journalist, is important when you are working by yourself.

“Sometimes things happen in the course of a week and sometimes in year or more. You just have to have that kind of patience,” he said.

One last piece of advice Lee offered for people looking to begin a career: “See what you’re worth. You would surprise yourself.”

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