May 22, 2020
Photos by: Bryan van der Beek | Words by: Stacey Rodrigues

(Photo Above) Writer/Artist
Founder and Creative Director, MOJO Studio

As the world’s focus shifted towards the spread of Covid-19 at the start of the year, Josef Lee, 41, turned his lens to the stories of healthcare professionals (HCPs); frontliners who selflessly fight to save the sick and dying every day.

“I have a lot of respect for doctors and nurses,” he said. “Most of us are so scared of the virus. I cannot imagine going to a hospital to work every single day. They are still doing so. I wouldn’t have the courage to do that.

“The best I can do is to draw stories like this to help to share some positivity.”

When the writer/artist and creative director isn’t running his creative agency, MOJO Studio, or putting together his next picture book, you will find him, head down, illustrating his next short story.

Many of these stories, touching and thought-provoking, are published on his blog, Josef Lee’s Bedtime Stories for Adults. In January, he began to capture the sacrifices of HCPs in a different collection of short stories.

“I was inspired by the things happening around me. [My illustrations] started in January with a logo based on the Chinese characters for Wuhan; the first piece in my ‘Pray for Wuhan’ series,” said Josef.

“In March, my illustration of Superman saluting the healthcare workers in celebration of Singapore’s Total Defence Day (February 15) started to gain attention. Many people started sharing that Instagram post.”

Soon, HCPs from India, Portugal, Belgium, Germany, Malaysia, Israel, UK and US — the world over — started writing to him, asking to use the image.

“They wanted to print it and put it up in the hospital to motivate healthcare workers. Someone even asked for permission to have it printed on T-shirts. Some started to share the working conditions in their countries. That was when I wanted to do more to motivate and encourage these healthcare workers.”

Josef tells WhatAreYouDoing.Sg about the impact of his latest work, the “I am a Healthcare Hero” series.

WAYD: How did you find these stories of healthcare professionals?

Josef: “Initially I made an open call to invite healthcare workers to send me their experiences and stories so I could draw something from them. In the beginning I got some e-mail, but a lot of them were very serious, which is very difficult to condense into a short comic.

So I started with stories based on what I read from the news or what healthcare workers are sharing online. As I kept moving, I received more e-mail responses with more touching stories that I could turn into a short comic. I now have about 23 stories, with one drawn every two or three days.”

WAYD: What is the message you want to convey with these stories?

Josef: “The main thing is to let people see what these healthcare workers are experiencing and for others to appreciate them more. One story I did about a pregnant healthcare worker who was still at the frontline was quite popular. Before I saw an article about pregnant healthcare workers, it didn’t occur to me that there are many still working now.

All these healthcare workers have families, and sometimes they even live away from their family during this period so the family doesn’t get infected. Most of us don’t think about these situations. It’s very difficult for the healthcare workers.”

WAYD: Among the 23 stories you’ve drawn, do you have a favourite?

Josef: “For the Healthcare Hero series, the story I feel strongest about is the one about a nurse who doesn’t pick up the phone when her mother calls because her mother always asks her the same things. But when the nurse was in ICU, the dying patient, an old woman, asked to make a last call to her daughter before she passed on. The idea of that story was about the phone call.

A lot of the COVID-19 patients die alone. Not many of them get to make a last call to family members. For a lot of us, when we receive calls from parents, it’s always the same stuff and nagging. So personally, I feel a bit more of a connection with that particular story.”

WAYD: How has this project personally impacted you?

Josef: “I always enjoy telling stories through visuals. Most of the visual stories and picture books I did before were always about heartwarming stories. Doing this set of short stories allows me to touch on small happenings, stories that have touched me personally, and make a simple story out of it.”

View all of Josef Lee’s stories at Joseflee.wordpress.com


The Storytellers

  • Bryan is still trying to figure a way to combine his three main loves. Can anyone help him figure out how to balance his whole family on a motorbike while riding and taking photographs?

  • Stacey’s two favourite things are telling stories and cooking. Her philosophy for tackling both is imagination, immersion, and a dash of her special sauce.

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