Leah Pearlman: From Co-Creation of the Facebook ‘Like’ Button to the Creation of Dharma Comics

Updated: Oct 8, 2020

Not many people can say they “led the creation of the iconic Facebook ‘Like’ button” and then moved onto making stick figures beautiful.

This is the partial story of Leah Pearlman, creator and founder of Dharma Comics.

Dharma Comics is a popular web comic series that displays the pretty and not-so-pretty aspects of life that we all, at some point or another, encounter.

Whether your heart is broken because you’ve recently discovered “he’s just not that into you,” you’re not completely satisfied with the direction of your life or perhaps your family is dealing with crisis, Leah Pearlman has created a simplistically connective style of art to reflect upon the “deeply personal” experiences of life.

It was during such a deeply personal, and difficult, time when Leah created her first stick figure comic strip which helped her to “express things that were heavy in a way that felt light.” Leah’s father, who was also her best friend, was battling a cancer diagnosis while at the same time it was becoming more difficult for Leah to ignore the prolonged battle she had with bulimia.

On the surface, Leah had a “successful enviable career at Facebook, lots of friends, and a loving family, but inside she was in chaos. She was constantly racked with insecurities she couldn’t express, so she hid them behind a 15-year eating disorder, and immersed herself so fully in work she never had time to feel.”

When her father passed away, Leah “quit her tech job to (literally) draw through her grief and explore her life from an honest place: the ups and downs, getting lost, getting found, the breakthroughs and the breakups.”

After six years of drawing, healing, connecting to her true self and living day-by-day from a place of heart-led honesty, Leah has created a beautifully inspiring collection of drawings with her first book entitled, Drawn Together: A Dharma Comics Collection on the Curious Journey through Life and Love.

In an exclusive interview, Leah Pearlman discusses the stories behind her artwork, the importance of being in the moment, and the most unexpected part of her spiritual journey:

BJB: You had a successful career at Facebook. You co-created ‘Pages’ and the ‘Like’ button and in 2011 you decided to leave. How did you know it was time to make the transition from technology to art?

LP: I wasn’t necessarily transitioning from technology to art. I just knew I was leaving technology.

I knew it was time to change because I wasn’t happy. I was in this very successful career, my co-workers were fantastic, creative, smart and kind. Everything was right, and I wasn’t happy. I knew it wasn’t about fixing something. I had battled with bulimia for over a decade and it was getting worse.

There is a saying, “If you keep doing what you’ve always done, you’ll keep getting what you’ve always gotten,” and I thought, ‘I just need to change this.’

For over a decade I’d been kidding myself that my bulimia would get better and it didn’t. I needed to do something dramatically different. That was a big contributor to my knowing it was time to leave.

I was already drawing at the time, but I still felt like it was just a hobby and something I was doing to express myself. It wasn’t until years later when I realized it was the one thing I was most committed to; it was carrying me through all the change, all the healing, all the sickness, and the death.

Everything that went on in my life was change but I would still draw every single weekend.

BJB: In your ‘Drawing to Love’ video you explain how some ideas come by saying, “It’s almost like the idea was in the street and I just walked into it…” This reminds me of the idea that the “collective has needs and one person who is really open as a filter for that need will do it, and it will feel like your favorite thing.” Can you talk more about inspiration and tapping into the creative collective consciousness?

LP: The ideas seem to come more from my emotions.

The other day I spent time with someone and afterwards felt so much gratitude for that time together, and I was over flowing in that moment with appreciation. In that moment, the caption for a comic “I love spending time with you” was born out of that feeling of gratitude. A lot of my comics are born out of loss, grief or anger.

I think about how our lives are made up of a gazillion moments and it’s interesting that only certain moments we remember. The comics are born of those moments. When I’m suddenly aware that life is happening, something important is here and if I just stay in the experience without trying to determine the meaning, the comic is born.

For the collective consciousness, I think sometimes people like to think of it as this abstract thing. But I like to think of it in terms of maybe what everyone is talking about. When the conversation shifts toward something, I shift and my attention is now on that ‘thing.’ Because I’m an artist and drawing about these things, I may get access to the artistic way to illustrate what people are talking about.

BJB: Your artwork brings the vulnerability of life to the surface. How has this helped you “explore life from an honest place?”

LP: It’s funny because I was working at Facebook and I was an avid user, so I was really close to this, but I realize in retrospect, it’s very exhausting to project that one is happy and successful all the time. It’s just not true. It takes a lot of energy to create that façade. I think this is what happened with me and the bulimia.

On the surface I was trying to project one level of perfection. All my pain, sadness and my suffering would have to happen in the quiet and the dark, which would never help me to heal.