Getting Closer (Part 2): Jim Lee talks "The Intimates"

If there's anyone in the comic book industry considered to be a "sure thing," then it's artist Jim Lee. From his record setting work on "X-Men #1" in 1991 (still the highest selling comic of all time, with 8.1 million copies) and the continued success of his Wildstorm company through a historic partnership with DC Comics, Lee has established himself as the go-to-guy for comic book success (as evidenced by his top selling work on "Superman" and "Batman"). He's hoping this success carries over to his new series, "The Intimates," co-created with writer Joe Casey (who spoke with CBR News earlier) and debuting in November. As part of CBR's spotlight on the series, Lee spoke with CBR News about the series.

"For me, 'The Intimates' came out of my desire to work with Joe," says Lee. "His work is definitely ahead of the curve…just jam packed with creative, innovative, genuinely thought-provoking ideas every issue. During the planning of 'Coup d' Etat,' we talked a lot about comics, things we liked to read as kids, and out of those conversations was born 'The Intimates.' The idea was to do something new with the traditional teen age superhero team that could fit in nicely between say 'New Mutants,' 'Teen Titans' and 'Gen 13' while saying something fresh and new. Having the book be character-driven rather than focusing on a grander good vs evil approach is allowing Joe the freedom to really get under the skin of our heroes and explore how strange life as a super-empowered teenager must be. Or not be in that I think the essence of 'The Intimates' is that adolescence really is the strangest time for people-super powers or not. From this initial concept, Joe sent me detailed descriptions of who all the heroes were-Punchy, Duke, Destra, Empty Vee, Skyes-down the the bling bling they all wear which made my job designing them as easy as falling out of a tree. I love the evolution in which characters start out as ideas, then 2-D drawings, then colored digital images and then finally, at the risk of sounding a bit crazy, made real through the creative process of creating stories. And being part of that journey on 'The Intimates' has been really fulfilling creatively and a hell of a lot of fun."

Lee has been an active participant in the development of the series and explained the inspiration for the look of the characters. "I think Joe covered most of the ground on the characters. For me, Punchy's powers came from a real life visual. Years ago, during a WildStorm tour through Europe, artist extraordinaire Travis Charest had bought a hand puppet of Batman and on a particularly long train ride through Italy, he was just punching random crap with the puppet's mitts. You had to be there really…maybe we were still jetlagged and punchy (no pun intended) but that visual stuck with me and lo and behold, years later…we have Punchy. Duke visually came out of my memories of playing football back in St. Louis as a kid. We had these mesh practice jerseys, which covered our shoulder pads but left the midrift open…which was great when you are practicing in the humid Midwest summers and so he literally is a super-jock. Skyes was influenced by a lot of what I have seen in Moebius's designs…Empty Vee is my female version of Bouncing Boy (visually) and Destra is what a postmodern attempt at showing what costumes should have looked like in the 70's. I loved the old Cockrum designs for the Legion of Superheroes so I was attempting to channel a bit of that while keeping the characters true to Joe's initial descriptions."

The designs for the characters are much quirkier than one might expect from Lee, who is known for slick, sexy designs that combine functionality with a strong sense of aesthetics and the artist admits to being influenced by hipster Joe Casey. "Well, Joe is a much hipper guy than me," laughs Lee. "He knows it, I know it, the whole of fandom knows it. He had a very distinct and unique look he wanted for the book and I tried my best to give him what he wanted while keeping it true to my sensibilities. Which sounds a lot easier than it actually was. I think my work epitomizes the mainstream and Joe has made a career of mining the hidden creative nooks and crannies and all the while doing it on mainstream characters. So I like and appreciate his subversiveness, the way he takes all the books he works on and makes them genuinely unique and different from one another. Through the process, I learned a new trick or two and broadened my skills as a collaborator. And it hasn't just been from working with Joe. Interacting with Cammo on the art, watching him interpret and layout Joe's stories has been really fantastic as well. His storytelling and attention to body language really is great so I was learning everyday when I was in Italy sharing studio space with Cammo."

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Much to the delight of Lee fans all over the globe, the popular penciller will be providing covers and a little bit of interior art in "The Intimates," specifically illustrating the favorite comic book of the team. "I think it boils down to a three to four panels an issue, but Joe is not shoehorning them in just for the sake of adding my art credit…at least I hope he isn't heh heh…got deadlines bearing down on me as is. The work itself is fairly straightforward in that we wanted it to look different from Cammo's more modern take on superheroes…if anything, the difference will be made in the coloring. The idea was to make it look as 70s as possible while still looking like my work. I don't think I captured the brush look from that period but we are trying to color it that way."

The cover work is a collaboration between Rian Hughes (of "Wildcats Version 3.0") and Lee, though it isn't a traditional meeting of the minds. "Well, it's a tough process to describe. I remember before I started the covers, I was talking to Dustin Nguyen who worked with Rian extensively on 'Wildcats 3.0' and asked him this same question and I left more confused than satisfied after Dustin 'explained' it to me. (laughs) Essentially, the process starts with Joe who sends me detailed ideas, sometimes even jpegs of existing indie/alternative lifestyle/and/or manga magazines for the covers and Rian will even send in color swatches of colors to aim for, colors to avoid etc. I then penciled the covers, had Randy Mayor color them as he saw best…then everyone would email each other about what they liked or didn't like about the colorered version which would then go to Rian who is just an incredible designer. Rian would 'intimatize' the image adding design elements, cool typestyles, fonts, etc. The covers look incredibly unique and a real testament to the value and power of a great designer. Rian really give the book it's unique flavor and that was the plan from the start as outlined by Joe. In the end, the best way I can describe the process is to say it is democratic to the point of chaos but that it's a really challenging and rewarding way to work in that I am really proud of the final covers."

Though fans haven't seen Lee pencilling a lot of Wildstorm work, outside the first issue of "Coup D'Etat," Lee says, "2006 is all I will say. And that's a promise."

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Working with Sinclair, Casey and Cammo is a fun time, says Lee and he explains that each bring a different energy to the table. "Well, Alex I work with all the time. Joe is a crazy rock star, and Cammo knows the proper order in which to drink coffee, have a smoke and send a fax. It's a great crew and it's been amazing watching Cammo and Joe make the world of 'The Intimates' come alive…and there is a part of me that is jealous that I couldn't be drawing the characters fulltime, but honestly, no one can capture these guys like Cammo. They look heroic without strutting and posing which is what I would have been doing all the time and we all know no self-respecting teenager would be caught dead looking like that. Cammo captures the sullenness, the vulnerability and Joe keeps it hopping along. It really is something very different from all of us."

Though he may be biased because of his co-creation of "The Intimates," Lee says that come November (and every month after), he feels the series is one for all superhero fans and beyond. "If you are a fan of comics and find yourself looking at your weekly pull list in the middle of the night wondering why so many comics read and feel the same, if you are a fan of comics who always complains that comics are clichéd and contrived, if you a new fan of manga and new to comics and are scratching your head wondering what why you need to 'research' 50 years of back issues to understand the comic in your hands, if you are a fan of comics who wants to see the medium grow and flourish, then 'The Intimates' is the book for you. If you are not any of the above, move along…go back to polybagging…nothing to see here."

Look for an interview with series editor Alex Sinclair tomorrow on CBR.

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