Industry legend Jim Lee was on hand to teach a master class in art during WonderCon 2014 for the “Drawing With Jim” panel, which focused not just on the DC Comics co-publisher’s art, but his long and storied career in comics as well.
“First off, before I start, thank you for coming out to the con,” he said to the assembled room. “It’s great to see Friday so crowded like this.
“It’s always funny for me to be on the stage of something like this — when I was a kid, I got into comics and drawing because it was such a solitary thing to do,” he continued. “Really, I was just shy of being embarrassed. When I was a kid, I would draw a lot, but I wouldn’t draw women or girls because I didn’t want people to know I was interested.” After laughs from the audience, Lee said he thinks readers respond to the emotion and passion of the artist. “The people you like, you notice, and on a subconscious level, you’ll take that in.”
Lee focused this year’s panel on storytelling, saying he wanted to bring some prospective storytellers to the stage to help interpret a page from “Superman Unchained” #7, and then Lee would share his version of the page with the audience. “I’ve never done this before, so I hope it’ll work out well.” Lee recalled that in the past, when he did panels with the other Image Comics, Todd McFarlane would pass around uninked pages and the crew would ink them as they talked. “I inked at least about a fourth of ‘Spawn,'” Lee said, later giving a brief description of the page, which included villain Wraith in the Batcave — even joking that Batman got nude in the scene (he didn’t).
The three aspiring artists onstage were given instructions to quickly sketch out the scene, with Lee intending to ink each piece afterwards. Part of the inspiration for the approach to the panel came about from a situation during Lee’s artistic run with Geoff Johns on the New 52’s “Justice League.”
“Around issue #4 when Aquaman is coming out of the bay, Dan DiDio had an artist ghosting me,” said Lee. “I thought it was really interesting because when I finally saw the pages, I tracked him down — he’s no longer working at the company — and there were a couple panels where we did almost exactly the same shot, and the rest of it was very different.”
The “Superman Unchained” pages in question were given as a two-page spread in script, and Lee noted that the Batjet would be far larger than Wraith, asking the artists what the core essential things in the shot were needed to make it look like the Batcave.
The group finished up their roughs and Lee began inking one of the pages, explaining the difference between establishing shots, medium shots and close-ups. Lee said that some artists like to leave space for caption boxes or word bubbles — not him. “I like to give it my all, I draw everything. Even if it’s a Chris Claremont script and I know there are going to be tons of word bubbles, I give it my all — for you guys!”
Lee inked one of the pages with a Sharpie, quipping to the delight of the audience, giving some advice to each of the artists while he inked. “This is like MAD Magazine — ‘Spy Vs. Spy,'” Lee joked, adding details to a scene where the Batplane gets dropped on Wraith, saying that Batman wouldn’t drop a plane on the villain using a rope — then, immediately inking an image of Batman, but adding a rope to the delight of the audience. Lee also made sure the Batcomputer had the trademarked bat-ears in every piece. The artist also said that a shot of a character looking up takes a little more time and effort. When one artist put too much of the back of Wraith in a page, Lee said it was possible to twist the character so that readers can see more of the face.
“All of these [storytelling approaches] seem legitimate to me,” said Lee. “You can follow all of them, it makes sense.”
Part of the fun of the panel was Lee’s showmanship. At one point, an artist depicted Wraith on the stairs, heading up to the Batcave, which gave Lee a chance to physically demonstrate some action. “When someone’s on the stairs, you know they’re just not hanging out on the stairs.” Lee then got on the stairs, saying, “This is not a static pose, he’s hunting — I like that. I didn’t do that in my page, but I’m going to do that now!”
Faces were another topic of discussion, with the artist quipping that he doesn’t really do happy faces. “There’s only one face I make, and that’s unhappy and pissed,” he said. “To get a happy face, I need lots of reference. No one goes, ‘I bought that Batman story and it was the happiest Batman story ever!'”
After seeing all three of the pieces, Lee pulled out the actual page (photocopied) from the upcoming issue — inked, but not colored. The pages were incredibly detailed — almost difficult to see on the screen as a result. Lee also put a Batcomputer with bat horns. The page evolved, as Lee decided to fill a little more white space on the page, adding bats to one side of it. It was an interesting comparison to the aspiring artists’ pages, which shared elements but took completely different approaches to telling the story of the one scene.
“It really goes to show you that from the same script, there’s a near-infinite number of ways to tell the story,” Lee said. “Look at the work, not just how the characters are drawn, but the storytelling — the angles they use, the shots they use. It’s not always as transparent or transferrable across the board.”
While there was a short question and answer period, by far the most interesting was Lee’s response to a question about the Batsuit in the upcoming “Man of Steel” sequel, which was described by Kevin Smith as looking like a costumed based on Lee’s design. “I haven’t seen it. I saw the same comment. If I had a guess what Kevin saw, I’d say he saw something that looked like the New 52 costume, but I don’t know,” he said. “I don’t know when I’ll see it — I’ll probably see it when you see it. … At the end of the day, they have tremendous designers to create the look of the world and they want to do something that you guys haven’t seen before — I have complete confidence in Zack Snyder. He’s a great visualist, he’s a huge comic book fan, so I’m sure whatever he comes up with will look tremendous.”
Stay tuned to CBR News for more on Jim Lee and his upcoming projects.