Whether it’s launching the New 52’s “Justice League” or putting together a new Superman story with “Superman Unchained,” fan-favorite artist and DC Comics co-publisher Jim Lee is always looking for a new challenge. The artist has had a recognizable style since his early days at Marvel and has evolved through the creation of Wildstorm all the way up through his position at DC — and while Lee’s next project as an illustrator has yet to be revealed, it’s clear he’s got plenty on his plate as co-publisher; DC has three weekly series set for 2014-2015 and the big 75th anniversary bash for Batman.
Jim Lee stopped by the CBR Tiki Room at WonderCon 2014 to speak with CBR Executive Producer Jonah Weiland about a myriad of topics, including the evolution of his art style, the significance of Batman’s 75th, the current state of Wildstorm in the New 52 and more. Plus, he reveals how he got to voice a Sentinel in the ’90s “X-Men” animated series.
On the evolution of his art: When I got into comics, my favorite artists were guys like John Byrne and George Perez. What I liked about their style and their approach to comic book art is that they weren’t necessarily the best artists for one particular character, but they could show you the entire universe and make it seem like it was plausible; that it all existed in one location, one time. I just liked the fact that they could draw characters like Rawhide Kid and Superman and monsters and it all worked and it all looked good. That’s always been my guiding light. At the same time, I think the pro to having this universal style — or one of the universal styles — is that it’s easily accessible, people like it; the con is that it’s too commonplace. … It’s a double-edged sword. On one hand, you’re making something that’s very appealing to a lot of people, but at the same time, there’s always going to be that group of people that want the work to be dramatically different from decade to decade. I do make refinements and changes, but it’s probably not as dramatic as some other artists might. That said, I have projects on my plate in the next five, ten, fifteen years where I’m going to make some pretty sharp detours in terms of style and approach. That stuff keeps me hungry and excited for the future.
On the personal significance of Batman’s 75th Anniversary: It is, I think, the ultimate expression of my childhood. When I was a little kid learning how to read and spending times drawing, reading comic books on the kitchen floor in the back of the station wagon as my parents drove around America during the summers on vacation; it’s just something that really spoke to me and I dreamed of drawing these characters. You drew your own stories and drew your own side schematics of the Batcave, then here you are as an adult decades later doing the same thing. It’s cool to be able to do something that you connected with at such a young age; and to do something that connects with so many people around the world like Batman — it’s a phenomenon, and people come into the mythos in all sorts of ways. Obviously, the “Arkham” games are probably the most successful superhero franchise ever. … The cartoons and the comic books — it’s this rich mythology that’s this common thread. You can talk to anyone about Batman. … He really has been so eternal and so appealing over these decades.
On DC doing three different weekly series between 2014 & 2015: I actually think that it’s probably more in line with the way people consume, take in entertainment or read content today in that we want everything instantaneously. If we like something, we want the next chapter immediately. Through the power of Netflix and iTunes, we can do that. We were taking about “True Detective” and I came onto that very late. I don’t know when that originally aired, but I found it on HBO Demand — I just watched it over two days over the weekend and it was awesome to devote myself to that and not have to wait. I actually have a tough time keeping track of story lines from month to month, or TV shows week to week. Having a Batman story that’s pivotal to the Batman universe — it’s not another team, it’s not out of continuity — it really is the core group of creators like Scott Snyder and James Tynion IV, really driving the storyline and they’ve got cliffhangers every single week. It’s exciting to read and I think it really appeals to people that want something exciting every single week. I think retailers like it because they want people to come in every single Wednesday.
On the current state of Wildstorm in the New 52: We like to say we’re finding our way. [Laughs] I think when we started the New 52, we had a bunch of Wildstorm characters in there, and they were really being handled by New York editors. They would often ask me, “Do you like this take? Do you think this is cool?” And my response to them was, “Look, I want your take on the characters. We spent many years doing our take on the West Coast and I’d love to see them through the filter of the New York office. You guys deal with these iconic characters like Superman and Batman. Where do characters like Grifter and some of these other WildC.A.T.S. or former Gen13 members — where do they fit into this mythology, how do they fit in?” Like everything you do creatively, there were some hits and misses. That said, I think we’ve held back on a couple of franchises like “Gen13” and “WildC.A.T.S.” and that’s something I want to be more directly involved with. When the time comes, we’ll put those out and hopefully, Wildstorm fans will be happy.
On his future in comics: I’m turning 50 this year, so I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about my future. It’s a time for reflection and really, ultimately, you wonder how many years you can draw. You look at a guy like Joe Kubert who worked well into his life and Stan Lee who is still out there doing amazing things in his ’90s. So, I don’t know if I can stay up all night trying to make my deadlines for four more decades, but at the same time, there are certain projects with certain creators I want to work with and they will take a certain period of time. … You just want to make sure you do all the things that you wanted to do when I got into comics as a rosy-faced, fresh, young kid.
On voicing a Sentinel on the ’90s “X-Men” cartoon: Back when there was the “WildC.A.T.S.” cartoon through Nelvana, which is based in Toronto, I would make regular visits. They were editing the sound and doing recording, and I ended up being a guard on a “WildC.A.T.S.” episode, and I get run over by a truck. In the next bay, they were recording “X-Men,” so I went over there. We just said, “Hi,” and it was a love fest — and they basically said, “Hey, do you want to do a voice?” I said, “Of course!” I got to be a Sentinel and I think I said something like, “Stop, mutant!” They run it through the voice box, they modulate and change it, so you can’t tell it’s me, but it was fun to do.