WonderCon 2013’s Spotlight On Jim Lee began as the artist, creator and DC Co-Publisher himself walked onstage to cheers and applause from the packed room. Apologizing for his lateness, Lee told the audience that because of this he would sketch while he took audience questions, giving out as many as he could.
The first audience member to the floor microphone asked about Lee’s process as he dug around for a pen.
“I listen to Howard Stern,” Lee laughed. “They repeat it over and over so it’s good background noise,” he added as the audience laughed.
“Is this a pencil?” Lee asked as he held up a pen and the audience laughed again. Finally getting a pencil from the audience, Lee told the room that he tries to get a page out every three days and worked nights.
“The images are not that hard to come by; if anything I get too many,” Lee said, explaining that he does multiple covers and images before he settles on the one he uses.
Telling the room that his parents did not want him to become a comic book artist, Lee began working on a fan-requested sketch of Aquaman, the audience watching his progress on the big screen. The next fan asked if Lee drew people he knew into the background of comics.
“I’m not great with likenesses so I don’t do it too often,” Lee said, adding that he did it in “Hush.”
Another fan asked when readers should see more of his and Frank Miller’s “All-Star Batman And Robin.”
“I have the script for two issues and I have started…I have five or six pages done of the eleventh issue…that said, Frank is very busy, he’s working on ‘Sin City 2,'” Lee told the audience. He also admitted he has no idea how the story ends, but he hoped to finish it, “Someday.”
Lee then demonstrated the way he doodled, saying he concentrated on silhouettes and contours when practicing on his own. Laughing as a fan asked him how he goes about redesigning iconic costumes, Lee told the room, “I think designing costumes in general is a thankless task, people kind of hate everything new.”
“I think you have to go for the core elements that are critical to the costume and freely change…what looks dated,” Lee continued. Citing the New 52, he added the driving force behind the new Superman and other costumes was to update all the outfits.
“With Wonder Woman we got rid of some of the gold elements on her chest but she still looks like Wonder Woman…for me, the red trunks on Superman you didn’t notice, it gets colored in blue anyhow,” Lee added, saying that it was important to keep the S and the cape as, “If you squint from a distance you can tell who it is.”
The next fan to the microphone asked what three bits of advice he’d give to a relative trying to break into the industry as an artist.
“If you want to be an artist, you just got to practice,” Lee said, adding the a “hunger for knowledge” defined his career, adding, “I got really interested in writing…I got interested in comic book conventions and through the Mighty Marvel Mutant Tour.”
As for Image, “I come off mild mannered but inside I have the heart of a warrior, I think,” Lee laughed, explaining that despite doing well financially at Marvel he wanted to do something new. “I love that sense of adventure,” Lee continued, pointing to that feeling as the reason he agreed to be DC Co-Publisher.
Lee said that he carved out time with his family to relax away from work, adding that his family has no interest at all in comics or superheroes. As for his favorite heroes as a kid, Lee said that he loved “Johnny Quest” cartoons. “They have machine guns and they shoot people and they die. That’s what’s missing from cartoons!” he joked as the audience laughed.
“I loved toys that didn’t have media attached to them,” he added.
A fan asked about when Trinity War would come out and Lee said fans would see it coming out this year, DC just hadn’t announced it yet.
“Can we go back to the costume question? I have a better answer,” Lee asked as the audience cracked up. Penciling in the stubble on Aquaman’s face, Lee said he actually did a lot of research looking at the old costumes and trying to figure out how to interpret them into the modern context of the New 52.
“I know people complain there’s a lot of little lines…but to me it’s all about silhouettes and colors,” Lee said.
“How come you don’t do books for Marvel anymore?” the next fan to the floor asked.
“I’m the Co-Publisher of DC?” Lee said tentatively as the audience laughed again. He added, “Between Heroes Reborn and working on X-Men I worked on the characters I wanted to.”
Lee told a young boy that he began drawing at age four in Korea, working in oil pastels with an art tutor. “I would always draw while taking notes or on tests or on desks,” Lee said. He then told the boy that one day his teacher caught him drawing but rather then yell at him she hung it up on the board.
Lee explained to a female fan that he learned how to draw faster the more drawing he did. “When I first did this, oh my gosh, it was so hard, one eye was higher than the other — it was just three or four years of constant drawing,” Lee said.
A Wildstorm fan asked about Rob Liefeld’s “Icons” script and who Lee would want to play him if it ever got produced.
“Steve Yuen from ‘The Walking Dead,'” Lee said as the audience applauded, telling them that he’s the right age and “handsome.”
Lee then told the audience that Mike Mignola once told him to just draw a starfish and add appendages as a quick way to draw all characters. Demonstrating, he also showed Mignola’s way of drawing hands, which is to draw a pentagon first and then add fingers.
“It forces you to adapt a shape you wouldn’t necessarily think exists,” Lee said.
Speaking about “Superman Unchained,” Lee said, “There’s a new villain. That’s all I can tell you.”
“I like the Earth-S super villains,” Lee added as he put the finishing touches on his underwater Aquaman sketch. “Does anyone have a pair of nail clippers?” Lee asked as he tried to decide who to give it away too. He and the audience laughed as a fan lunged to the front with clippers, shouting.
“Do you just always have nail clippers?” Lee asked before handing the sketch over to the blushing fan.
Beginning a sketch of the Joker, Lee went back to the question of speed drawing, explaining that he drew directly on the page rather than thumbnailing everything. The room laughed as a little girl asked what else he did, and Lee said that since being DC Co-Publisher he mainly works and does not really play video games or paint outside of that.
An aspiring artist asked Lee’s thoughts on networking. “If you’ve got good stuff, if you can draw well, you’ll get work,” Lee said. Recalling that Archie Goodwin brought him into Marvel, Lee said that his first day he was convinced he would be grilled over a long job interview. However, Goodwin just told him he was good and put him to work.
Describing as art as something he just “had to do,” Lee said that his father wanted him to be a doctor, like him. “It was an epic battle because Koreans are very pushy,” Lee laughed. “I love trying to create things that feel three-dimensional on a two-dimensional space.”
Finishing the Joker sketch, Lee asked if anyone had a receipt from K-Mart or Best Buy, giving the sketch to a fan who came forward brandishing receipts.
Lee told another young fan that as a kid he’d draw a lot of “Star Wars” inspired pictures and a lot of secret spy fortresses in the sides of mountains, “because that’s practical!” Lee joked. Lee also told the room that all aspiring artists should travel as, “It resets the brain, shows you possibilities.”
Drawing Batman, Lee remembered that he used to bring on apprentices like Brett Booth, Pete Woods and Scott Campbell while at Image. “I’d fly them in, I’d put them up in an apartment, and we’d sit in a room and just draw…and I’d give them feedback,” Lee said. However, he now no longer has time to do that. “I would like to do some sort of online thing…where people all around the world tune in for an art tutorial,” he added.
With eight minutes left, a fan asked who Lee’s favorite sport’s team was. “The Padres! They’re awesome! They’re horrible,” Lee confessed as the audience cheered and laughed. However, Lee added that he rooted for the Yankees, “Because they’re winners.”
As he shaded Batman Lee said that Frank Miller, George Perez and John Byrne were his biggest influences as a kid.
“We haven’t had the best of luck with a lot of the Wildstorm stuff in the New 52,” Lee said in regards to seeing a WILDCats or Gen 13 series, “So I’d hold off on that.”
As for whether his parents still want him to be a doctor, Lee shook his head. “They are my worst, crazy obsessed fans. Back in the day they’d get a subscription to ‘Wizards’ and they’d go, ‘Jim, why are you number two this month?'” Lee said as the room laughed.
With one minute to go Lee completed the Batman picture and gave it out to a fan celebrating his birthday. The crowd cheered as Lee drew a birthday cake on the sketch, ending the panel by thanking his fans and everyone who had turned out to WonderCon 2013.