A special edition of Jim Lee’s new art book, “ICONS: The DC Comics and Wildstorm Art of Jim Lee” premiered at New York Comic-Con, and the popular creatorwas more than happy to show it off and discuss it with fans during his spotlight panel. The book is late, he explained, because it took him so long to finish the Legion of Super Heroes story that is included in it. The final product turned out better than he could have imagined, and the only thing missing would be Volume II featuring his Marvel work. If they ever get the rights to use that material, he said, maybe he’ll do another book.
Beyond plugging his book, Lee told the audience had nothing planned for the presentation, so he quickly opened the floor for questions. Nearly every fan prefaced their question with praise for Lee’s art and work with many of them requests for autographs or interviews, and Lee went along with most of them. One fan asked him to sigh his “autograph cube,” a block of Styrofoam he’d apparently just picked up. Another fan said he’d heard Lee likes breakdancers before proceeding to dance for him.
Asked about his work with Alex Ross, Lee said he’d love to do more. The few pieces they’ve done together were a great experience, but Alex is much too busy. “He doesn’t need me.”
Frank Miller has completed several more scripts for “All-Star Batman and Robin,” and they think they can complete the story in another six or seven issues. “It’s something we’re both very much looking forward to ending.” They’d planned for a break in the story, but hadn’t anticipated the break being quite so long.
Lee explained that Miller made this Batman a very ruthless, over the top character, then introduced Robin to temper Batman’s personality. This is Batman in his prime in the Dark Knight Universe. We saw this Batman early on in “Batman: Year One,” but this is our first look at the meat of the character. Lee feels there is lots of potential left in this take on the character.
Lee said he is eager to complete the Batman story with Frank Miller, but after that, “If I never have to draw Batman again, it won’t bother me.”
When asked if fans would ever see the Wildstorm characters again, Lee responded, “Hang in there, first of all. I know that there’s love for the characters, and I know that if I wait a certain amount of time, nostalgia will be just right and that’ll be the time to come back.”
There were kids who picked up the Wildstorm books as their first books. When they get old enough to start demanding it, DC will bring them back.
Lee’s DC work has concentrated on the main iconic characters, like Superman and Batman. A fan wanted to know whether he planned to do more work involving the Justice League.
“My favorite DC characters aren’t those in particular,” responded Lee. “I love The Flash and I love Green Lantern.”
“The short answer [to drawing the Justice League] is ‘eventually,’ but I have a lot of stuff on my plate.”
Another fan asked whether there were any books he could study in order to learn to do the type of crosshatching and shading Lee uses.
“Crosshatching is an abstraction of creating grey values.” said Lee. “Back in the days before we had high-tech scanners greys wouldn’t show up in print, so they had to do crosshatching and feathering. All that stuff is just trying to create a value of grey.” Lee didn’t know of any books on how to develop the technique.
Asked if there was anything else he really wants to accomplish, Lee joked, “No, this is it, I’ve peaked.” A lot of people seem to look at comics as a means to an end; as a way to break into films or television. For Lee, it’s an end in itself. Originally, his father wanted him to be a doctor, but he discovered that he loved telling stories and drawing. Presented with opportunities to do other things – like storyboards for movies – Lee found that at the end of the day, they just didn’t interest him that much, preferring to be the one person responsible for a job rather than a member of an army of people all working on the same project. There’s something to knowing that what’s on the page is what you and 1 or 2 other people put together. “It’s worthy of our devotion – that’s the artform of comics.”
A fan who introduced himself as a songwriter described how different locations give him different inspiration, leading to different tones in his writing. He wanted to know whether Lee had any particular locations that give him inspiration.
“Walking distance to a Starbucks is important,” joked Lee. “We can draw our comics anywhere, but travel is vital to being creative. I’m not going to draw direct influence from what I see and have it show up on my pages. Being an artist is about being open to being influenced, and that will impact what you put on a page.”
Lee lived in Italy for a year, where everywhere you walk, you see incredible pieces of art. “That inspired me to want to draw Superman beating the crap out of a super villain. [Life] works in mysterious ways.”
A budding artist asked what advice Lee had for someone who can copy anything, but can’t create original drawings.
“There’s really no one way, Jedi,” said Lee. There were artists he admired, but he never tried to copy them too closely, because then all there’d be would be another guy who draws the same way. “I threw away my comics and tried to draw just out of my head. It was very scary.”
Lee also used to use a lot of references, but decided they linked his art too strongly to reality. It took time and discipline, but he learned to draw straight from memory and imagination.
Getting back to “All-Star Batman and Robin,” a fan noted that Alfred was more resourceful and tougher than he typically appeared to be in the comics.
“That was Frank.” said Lee, “Frank wrote it into the script.” With some writers, you can take some liberties with what you do and don’t draw, but when it comes to working with someone who is a great artist in his own right, Lee said, “Everything I draw is what he asked me to draw.
“Every little animal you see, he asked me to draw, much as I hate drawing animals. There’s a shot of Vicki Vale walking around in lingerie, he asked me to put that in there, as much as I hate drawing women in lingerie.”
Another art student asked what Lee looks for in a portfolio.
“I can tell from one page whether I want to hire you or not,” answered Lee, but he went on to recommend sending three pages. “Show that you can tell a story. Don’t just show people fighting. Show that you can draw buildings and cars and old people and guys in suits. Show that you understand three-point perspective. Also, if you want to be a penciler, just send pencil art. Don’t cover up your pencil work with inks and colors.”
Asked whether there were any new creators that he was paying attention to, Lee named several with Sterling Gates, J.T. Krul and Ivan Reis all mentioned by name. “It’s very inspirational how many characters [Reis] can fit on a page and make it dynamic and make it look like he’s not just using the same pose over and over.”
The entire time Lee talked with the crowd, he was sketching in a copy of his book. Sometimes, he kept drawing while looking at the person he was talking to. At the end, the artist had completed a head shot of Wonder Woman and offered to give it away to a lucky fan. After a moment’s thought, he asked if anyone had a movie ticket stub for the new “Wall Street” sequel. Amazingly, someone did, and he went home with a copy of “ICONS,” autographed with an original piece of Jim Lee art.