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CCI: Jim Lee Works the Crowd

by  in Comic News Comment
CCI: Jim Lee Works the Crowd

Fans of superstar creator Jim Lee gathered in a crowded meeting room at this year’s Comic-Con International in San Diego for a panel dedicated to the artist and his work. A wide range of topics was covered, but the panel focused mainly on a Q&A session where the audience got the chance to pick Lee’s brain about everything from “Justice League” to the comic books he loved as a child.

Lee was late, so DC Comics Senior Vice President Bob Wayne took some audience questions about the DC Universe. A fan asked about the All-Star line, and Wayne answered that nothing was currently planned for a second “All-Star Superman” series, but the long-rumored “All-Star Wonder Woman” might still be on the horizon. “Never say never, but don’t hold money back in September in anticipation of that title,” he said. Several fans had questions about the upcoming relaunch, to which Wayne would only answer, “Wait for September.”

Once Lee finally showed up, the panel got rolling with a look at some of Lee’s art on the upcoming “Justice League” series with writer Geoff Johns. Lee pointed out that the character Cyborg looked slightly different in every drawing, telling the audience that a morphing costume was the reason behind this. “The real reason is it’s a lot easier to draw a costume that changes all the time,” Lee laughed. He said that he finally had to lock down a stable costume for the character so that toys could be produced.

Lee also acknowledged that the Justice League would have a large roster of members, “maybe 14 or 15,” but the first few issues would focus on a smaller, core group. “In the first issue we’ll see a lot of Batman and Green Lantern, and how their relationship is very antagonistic,” Lee said.

While projecting some of his penciled “Justice League” pages for the audience, Lee pointed out how busy and detailed his art often is. “I know there are word balloons on there, but I can’t stop filling up all the spaces,” he said, noting that he works hard to lay his pages out with certain symmetry and a focus on shapes and design.

On the subject of his process, Lee said he usually did not start drawing until around 10:00 at night. He admitted to pounding Red Bull energy drinks in order to stay up late and finish his work. “I am completely ruining the dream for people,” Lee laughed. “I work until about 4 or 5 in morning and then sleep for two or three hours.” Lee said that he powered through the week and then slept “12 hours” a night on weekends.

The Internet has greatly helped the artistic process. In the past, Lee used to collect magazine clippings of buildings, cars and people to use as references. “Now, I just use Google,” Lee said. “It has really changed the business a lot.”

Lee also looked over much of the artwork for the DC Comics relaunch. He worked to guide the artists and provide a smooth continuity for the line as a whole. “I really went over all of them,” Lee said. “I realized, ‘Hey, maybe this guy will hate me, but I’ll just go ahead and give him these notes.'” He remarked how important it was for artists to push each other and give honest feedback.

For the Q&A portion of the panel, a large line formed as eager fans gathered to ask Lee a question. The first was about Lee’s Wildstorm Universe and its integration into the DC Universe. “That was the plan all along,” Lee said. “The Wildstorm characters fill a hole in the DC line, in terms of story and character. I am happy to see them return.”

Another fan asked about his “All-Star Batman” series with Frank Miller, and if the remaining issues would ever see the light of day. Lee assured the audience that the project was still in development, and that it was something he did, in fact, work on. He said he hoped that it might be available “sometime next year.”

When asked what stories and creators Lee looked at for inspiration for the “Justice League” relaunch, Lee was quick to name artist Neil Adams. He praised Adams’ artwork, saying, “It felt like it was coming to life.”

“I was wondering if I could have some money because my bra broke?” a young female from the audience then asked. “This is my stepdaughter, everybody. Yeah, I’ll hook you up after the show. Literally,” Lee said as the audience burst into laughter. “Is it hot in here?” he then joked.

A fan then brought up the rumor that porn was used as a reference when drawing female superheroes, and Lee quickly jumped to dispel that notion. “No, not at all — I use my own body for both men and women,” Lee said. “There’s exaggeration in the figure work, but it’s on both men and women.” Lee said that he felt women were depicted a bit more naturally in current comics when compared to artwork in the past.

On the subject of digital comics, Lee admitted that he still produced his artwork with print in mind. “Some publishers are telling artists not to do double-page spreads,” Lee said. He told the audience he preferred the feel and look of print comics.

When a question brought up the subject of diversity in comics, Lee pointed out how much the industry has grown. “It used to be a real sausage-fest; it was very male dominated,” Lee said. “I’m pretty proud of the diversity we have, but definitely there is room for improvement.” He then pointed out many of the different races that would be included in the new DC Universe, including Ryan Choi as the Atom.

Lee then told the audience about his childhood and how he fell in love with comic books at a young age. He said he knew early on that he wanted to be a comic book artist. Lee told his parents after he graduated from a prep school that he wanted to draw superheroes for a living. “It was more important to me than anything else,” the artist remembered. “It was more important than what my parents wanted for me.” He expressed his passion for comics and his love for the medium, saying, “I don’t get happy because it’s Friday. I love what I do.”

The panel then ended with fans rushing the stage in hopes of getting Lee’s autograph or a quick sketch. Lee did his best to sign until security finally broke up the crowd.

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