Jae Lee Darkens "Dead Irons"

Like any creator with a comic book sitting high atop the industry's monthly top ten sales list, "Dark Tower" illustrator Jae Lee doesn't have a lot of spare time on his hands. Though aside from penciling, inking and prepping covers for the comics adaptation and expansion of Stephen King's magnum opus, this February sees Lee piling more on his plate by serving as art director and cover artist for "Dead Irons" - a five-issue horror-themed western for Dynamite Entertainment. If it sounds like Lee has his workflow cut out for him, no one is more surprised than the artist himself.

"[Dynamite President] Nick [Barrucci's] one of my best friends and from time to time, when he's working on a project he's excited about, he'll tell me about it and I would just ignore him," Lee told CBR News. "Our tastes are so different that we rarely get excited about the same things. So when he starts going on about 'Dead Irons,' I'm ready to tune him out, but with the first sentence, I said I wanted in on this somehow."

"Dead Irons" is the brainchild of James Kuhoric, the writer who's been heading up Dynamite's Army of Darkness franchise for the past few years - though the focus of "Dead Irons" provides a decidably less tounge-in-cheek take on the realm of horror than the Sam Raimi Evil Dead-verse. In his first all-original comics concept, Kuhoric spotlights the Irons - a family of supernatural bounty-hunting monsters whose inspiration comes from equal parts "Deadwood" and "Living Dead."

"Jim simply came up with a brilliant concept," Lee remarked. "Mark my words, Jim's career will forever be changed after this project."

With a plot driven by the idea that one member of the Irons clan has struck out to stop his siblings from their gory ways, the series seriously scratched Lee's itch to explore the flipside of his Marvel work. "Everything about this book is right up my alley and fits my style perfectly, and like 'Dark Tower,' it's a world I can play in forever," the artist said. "With 'Dark Tower,' I'm going for a prettier take on things. A bit more of a romanticized view. With 'Dead Irons,' I want it to as dark and bloody as I can."

Kicking in with interiors for the series is artist Jason Shawn Alexander, who recently served up the visuals for another of comics spookier-themed franchises as artist on Dark Horse's Hellboy spinoff "Abe Sapien: The Drowning." With ink-heavy styles that complement each other in as many ways as they reveal their idiosyncrasies, Lee and Alexander established a strong working relationship early. And according to Lee, that relationship remains pretty easy from his end.

"Basically, I look at Jason's work and tell him how great it is. There's nothing to art direct," the artist admitted. "Most of the time when you see artists starting out, they're pretty raw. Even savants like Travis Charest. When Travis first started, I didn't think much of him. He was a bad Jim Lee clone and I thought, wow, this kid's going nowhere. But now, every time I see his art, it make me want to cry. With Jason, I never saw the rawness in his early work. All of a sudden, he just came into existence as an amazing artist.

"What I love about [Jason] is he's a true artist. He lives and breathes this stuff. He's one of those kids in art school that I hated because was always painting and drawing while I was playing Nintendo. I met him a few years ago in San Diego and the way he talks about art makes me feel like a jaded hack. He inspires me to be a better artist."

Jae Lee considers Dynamite's nabbing of Alexander for the "Dead Irons" project lucky not just because the up-and-comer fit his own style so well, but also because it made delays in Lee's availability for the series worth the wait. "Jason was our first choice several years ago when this project was being birthed," Lee explained. "We asked Jason but he was busy at the time and Dynamite [the publishing venture of Dynamic Forces] was still in its infancy. Then my schedule on 'Dark Tower' prevented me from doing any character designs or covers for a couple of years. I always felt bad for being the cause of the delay in rolling this out, but as fate would have it, when we asked Jason a second time, we was available. So I would like to say to Jim and Nick if I hadn't been such a pain the ass with the delays, we never would have had Jason on the book."

What Lee accomplished over the past few years of waiting for the creative team to come together were designs for the main cast of "Dead Irons," starting with lead character and unlikely hero Silas. After growing a conscious, Silas takes it upon himself to take down his trio of grotesque siblings, although his own demonic deformity remains unknown at the series outset. "It's hard to describe without giving too much of the story away because who Silas is is a big part of the mystery," said Lee. "But even though he's our hero, the most monstrous of them all."

Characters a bit easier for fans to place by sight are Jesse, Annie and Colt - the bounty-hunting Irons still on the loose, dishing out hot iron and hot blood, who appear in the forms of vampire, ghostly ghoul and werewolf, respectively. "I wanted to make Jesse sophisticated and debonair. He'll snap your neck and use your head as a chalice with his pinky sticking out," Lee said of the leader of the three. Ass for Annie, Lee said, "I think because she's the most obviously delicate one of the group, when you see her doing very nasty things, it's unsettling."

The behemoth that is Colt received a hair-ifing design from Alexander, but that doesn't mean Lee didn't get his hands on the wild one of the Irons bunch. "In his human form, I wanted him to look like an unwashed dirty big brute - much like an animal would be if he was human," Lee said. "He's dirty and smelly and probably sh--s in his pants. Very different from Jesse."

For a better look into the world of "Dead Irons," come back tomorrow for a chat with Jason Shawn Alexander about his favorite forms of the horror and western worlds.

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