It’s widely considered taboo to wear a band’s T-shirt to the very same band’s concert, but New York City happily allows for an exception when it comes to the local sports franchises. As a result, acclaimed comic book artist and WildStorm founder Jim Lee decided upon a Yankees jersey as his shirt of choice during his very own panel at Big Apple Comic-Con, which was moderated by Wizard Magazine’s managing editor Casey Seijas.
Right out of the gate, the panel was opened up to the audience for questions, the first of which dealt with Lee’s upcoming slate in 2010. The artist mentioned that he’ll continue to work on “DC Universe Online,” the upcoming massively-multiplayer online videogame, in addition to finishing his run on “All-Star Batman & Robin the Boy Wonder” alongside writer Frank Miller. “Technically, we’re not late anymore,” Lee said of the oft-delayed comic book. “We’re in between volumes!” He expects that there will be six or seven more issues of “All-Star Batman” before it ends.
A fan asked for Lee’s opinion on the recent formation of DC Entertainment, which is dedicated to integrating the DC Comics universe into other forms of media including film, television and videogames. “I don’t think I should really say anything,” Lee said. “But it’s an interesting time in comics because Disney just bought Marvel. There are a lot of changes going on [in the industry] on the business level.” Lee said that he thinks the pending Disney purchase and the formation of DC Entertainment will hopefully herald good changes for the comics industry at large.
Asked if there were any characters he hasn’t had the opportunity to illustrate as much as he’d like to, Lee said that he’d enjoy taking a lengthy crack at some of Marvel’s more realistic characters, such as Black Widow and Nick Fury. In terms of DC, he said that he’s “just touched the tip of the iceberg” in terms of characters he’d like to draw, which include members of the Justice Society of America. “All of those characters should be top-selling characters that I’d love to take a shot at eventually,” he said.
Another fan wondered if there were any creators Lee hadn’t worked with that he’d like to in the future. He mentioned Greg Rucka, Geoff Johns, and even Brian Michael Bendis, though their respective places at DC and Marvel means that any collaboration would be much further down the line. “What really excites me about comics is not necessarily the characters per se, but the creative team that I’ll be working with on those characters,” he said. “When I work with a writer, I can see insights, gain knowledge and feel like I’m improving.”
Lee was asked to elaborate on “DC Universe Online” for those in the audience unfamiliar with the game. Lee said that Sony Online Entertainment, the same company responsible for “EverQuest” and “Star Wars Galaxies,” is developing the game. Players will have the opportunity to create their own superhero or villain that will interact with the likes of Batman, Superman, Joker and other such DC icons. “It’s along the lines [of ‘World of Warcraft’] but in a superheroic setting,” he described. “I can’t say when it’s coming out, but we’re getting close.”
While the Legion of Superheroes won’t be in “DC Universe Online” when the game launches, Lee said that they’d likely appear in an expansion pack down the line. “I’m a big fan of the Legion, so that’ll definitely be on the horizon,” he said.
The artist expressed his interest in creating his own graphic novel, but his busy schedule would prevent him from exploring such a project anytime in the near future. Should he get the opportunity, however, he’d like to illustrate something that is “more autobiographical or personal in nature, rather than superheroic.”
Lee was asked to comment on how comic books seem to be taking over pop culture thanks to events like Comic-Con International. “It’s interesting how comics haven’t just affected pop culture, but it’s a pillar–it’s a mainstay of pop culture,” he said. “I think it’s awesome.”
In terms of experimenting with his own style for future projects, Lee said that he’d love to illustrate a full-length Batman story in the same manner as his recent “Liberty Comics” collaboration with Neil Gaiman.
An audience member asked what Lee thought of “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” and the inclusion of Gambit, a character he co-created in 1990 alongside Chris Claremont. While Lee wasn’t the hugest fan of the movie as a whole, he said it was cool to see Gambit on the big screen–but for his tastes, that’s just the gravy on top of creating a successful comic book character.
The artist was asked if he’d be involved in “Image United,” the upcoming Image Comics crossover miniseries that features artwork from Image founders Erik Larsen, Rob Liefeld, Todd McFarlane, Whilce Portacio, Marc Silvestri, and Jim Valentino. “I’ve been talking with them about being involved somehow, but there are certain hurdles I’d have to jump to make that happen,” Lee said, hinting that his status as the WildStorm chief could hold him back from getting involved in the project.
One fan wondered about Lee’s opinion of digital comics and whether or not paper comics will eventually fade away. “I think there will always be people who want to collect comics in the paper version,” he said. “But I think we’re headed in the digital direction. Personally, I find it very exciting.” Lee argued that digital comics would help expose the medium to new readers.
Lee took a moment to offer an update on WildStorm’s upcoming slate. Some projects include a new “Call of Duty” comic book that Lee provided covers for, as well as a new “DV8” series written by Brian Wood and drawn by Rebecca Isaacs.
The always-controversial topic of comic book prices came up, with one fan asking whether or not Lee believed the current $3 and $4 price points to be fair. “Yes and no,” he replied. “I think it’s a reasonable price given that it’s been in that range for the past five years, but the day we get into $10 comic books would be pretty crazy.”
He pointed once again to digital comic books as a potential saving grace towards the price of comics overall, as a reader would be charged less for digitally purchased comics than they would be for a printed book.
An audience member asked Lee to give an update on some of his current projects other than “DC Universe Online” and “All-Star Batman and Robin.” Lee said that he has a second “WildCATS” script from Grant Morrison that he’ll eventually get to work on, as well as a short Batman story written by Brian Azzarello. Both comics are part of a five-year plan filled with other projects, many of which Lee wasn’t able to discuss.
Another fan asked if Lee would ever be interested in running a workshop on how to draw comic books. “I did [at Barcelona Comic-Con], and it was actually pretty good,” he said. He apparently provided a “how to draw Batman” demonstration via a drawing tablet hooked up to a big screen, but Lee said such an event might not go over as well on the American convention circuit.
The artist was asked to describe the most boring aspect of his executive job at WildStorm. “Paul Levitz, to his credit, set up my job so that it’s not the typical executive position,” he said. “I get the perks and benefits of being that position but I’m sort of exempt from normal, managerial things. He figured out a way for me to focus most of my time on creative work–whether that’s drawing or interacting with people working on movies or whatever–so even when I’m having meetings in the office, it’s not procedural meetings about what kind of paper we’re going to use. It’s more who we’ll bring on board, what kind of projects we’ll greenlight … almost everything has a creative context or base to it.”
Lee was asked about rumors that he’d work on a “Justice League of America” comic book within the next year or two. “That’d be awesome,” he answered. “But it’s taken me this long to finish ‘All-Star Batman and Robin,’ so for me to even suggest that I’d work on something else with more than one character on a page would be suicide. It’d be foolish if I said that–but it’d be awesome if that happened! I would love to do it, but I want to get ‘All-Star Batman and Robin’ done first.”
On the topic of continuity, Lee admitted that he’s not a particularly big fan of how strict it can be in comic books. “Almost all of the best stories for me have been more or less out-of-continuity,” he said, pointing to “The Dark Knight Returns” as an example. “I don’t think it’s a coincidence that that’s the case.”
Lee clarified rumors that he was a pre-med major in college before deciding to turn towards comic books, saying that he was actually a psychology major. “I didn’t want to major in a hard science like biology or chemistry, because I felt if I had a psychology degree–and let’s say I couldn’t become a comic book artist, that I gave up on that dream or whatever–I could maybe go into advertising or some other business that was creative and not be a doctor or a chemist or a researcher or something like that,” he said.
Of course, Lee never abandoned his dream to become a comic book artist, leading him to deliver some parting advice to the audience: “At the end of the day, I really do feel that this is your life and you have to be passionate about it. You have to live with it. You should do what you want to do.”