Jim Lee, Geoff Johns Discuss DC's Gay Icon, Television Adaptations

At DC Entertainment's "Darkness & Light: Art Inspired By Heroes And Villains, Hope And Heroism" gallery benefit event, artists and DC executives came together to see the unique collection and support the We Can Be Heroes humanitarian fundraising initiative to alleviate the hunger crisis in the horn of Africa.

Featuring original paintings and multimedia artwork inspired by DC Comics' iconic characters, DC Entertainment's new Burbank headquarters threw open its doors for the benefit, with the proceeds from artwork sales going towards We Can Be Heroes. On hand at the event was DC Entertainment Co-Publisher Jim Lee, who contributed the collection's centerpiece, an oversized painting of Batman done in acrylic and spray paint -- though he admitted to CBR he had his eye on a different piece.

"There's a piece around the corner that's based on [artist Georges] Seurat, a neo-impressionism piece -- pointillism -- based off 'A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte.' The artist actually works in DC Collectibles here at DC Entertainment, and I think it's a brilliant take on it...but he did a lot more work than I did!" Lee said with a laugh as he gestured toward the painting.

Taking a break from the revelry, Lee spoke a bit about the news surrounding DC this week, specifically the announcement that one of the publisher's "iconic" male characters is set to come out of the closet in June.

"[Co-Publisher] Dan [DiDio] was at a convention and someone happened to ask a question about an interview he'd done in 'The Advocate.' He answered the question and that got picked up and ran wild," Lee said. "The [reveal will] be in the comic book itself; it's part of the storyline."

Saying readers will come to know who the mystery gay character is in the next "couple of weeks," Lee joked, "I think by the power of social media you'll know before you even get the story who that character is!"

While the announcement came in the same week as Marvel's announcement of next month's "Astonishing X-Men" wedding between Northstar and his boyfriend Kyle Jinadu, and in the weeks after President Obama officially came out in support of gay marriage, Lee said neither event had an impact on the timing of DC's announcement.

"There was no master plan behind it all; we certainly had that character storyline in motion months ago before President Obama had come out with his statement, and the timing of the Marvel thing was coincidental because it was at >Kapow that someone asked the question," Lee said, continuing, "You can't necessarily manufacture that kind of attention in the mainstream press. Sometimes these things take on a life of their own, and this was a story that was literally picked up and went on its own. But that said, the point it raises is really good, it's an interesting discussion.

"Dan's answer came out of someone asking, 'In the New 52, you've had a chance to change heroes ages and their origins and their race -- why didn't you change any sexual orientation?'" Lee continued. "Basically Dan decided, you know what, maybe this was an opportunity to do some of that. The storyline comes out of that rethinking of what our standard policy was before."

Lee also spoke to the diversity of DC Comics in general, explaining why it is important to feature a gay character and to reflect the real world in their stories.

"I know it's controversial, but we always felt that it was part of our books, to try to best reflect the readership and the entirety of people in general," Lee said. "It's an ongoing thing, and not everything is dictated on a top-down basis; a lot of times storylines get to us from creators. We work with some of the best creators in the business, we support their creative initiative and that's where a lot of this comes from."

DC Entertainment Chief Creative Officer Geoff Johns also spoke with CBR briefly, concentrating on DC's expansion into television with shows such as CW's "Green Arrow" and the Cartoon Network DC Nation shorts.

"I think the goal is just to get our characters out there more to everybody and DC Nation is a huge part of that," Johns said. "Having our characters live on in whatever medium there is, like the 'Green Arrow' TV show or the 'Green Lantern' cartoon -- it's all about bringing our characters out there in different ways, and we're really excited about that."

Johns also touched on his own comics work, specifically his love of working with DC's previously underused characters, such as Aquaman and Mera. "Batman and Superman already work. They work best with solid execution and great stories -- as characters, they fundamentally work. Aquaman was a great challenge, and even Green Lantern wasn't working when we got to Green Lantern. It's about taking characters and giving them a little care and love and passion," Johns said. "I think even a character like Vibe or Green Arrow or all these characters we're going to use in 'Justice League,' it's just all about respecting the core, finding a way that really celebrates what they can be."

This was especially challenging when it came to reinvigorating Aquaman for the New 52. "When we had the Aquaman story, they were like, 'Do you really want to make fun of him in that issue? Do you want to have people react that way?' I said, absolutely. Otherwise, it's a boring, straight superhero moment. It adds a different dimension to the character, and I think it makes him cooler if he's like, 'I know what they're saying. Whatever -- I'm not going to change my costume.'"

As for what underused character he'd like to explore next, the answer was simple.

Photo by Mathew Imaging

"Vibe!" Johns replied with a laugh. "They told me you can't make Booster Gold work, and we made it work; you can't make Aquaman work, and we made it work. I want to find the B character who everyone says is a complete waste of time, and Vibe is -- he's recent, he's Detroit League and I have a soft spot because I'm from Detroit, so he's my next challenge."

The DC CCO was just as straightforward about what artwork he wanted to take home to support We Can Be Heroes. "That's the one I'm buying!" Johns said with a smile, pointing to a painting of the Legion Of Doom's swamp-based headquarters.

One of the many contributing a piece to the gallery, "Batman Beyond Unlimited" and "American Vampire" artist Dustin Nguyen explained that the criteria for artwork for the We Can Be Heroes benefit was wide open, allowing him to draw what he loved: the characters of the Batman corner of the DCU.

"They said draw what you like, draw what you love, and I've been doing that for forever," Nguyen said. "That's the stuff I've been pushing for the last five years. And they were very open -- the thing about Warner Brothers and DC is, at this point, they're very open to anything."

He and DC colorist Randy Mayor ("Fringe," "Green Lantern") also believed, like Johns, that DC's live and animated television shows were a great way to reach out to a new audience.

"I absolutely love Animal Man, those shorts crack me up!" Mayor laughed.

"I haven't seen it but my son tells me about it every week, he's like, 'Oh daddy, did you see it?' I'm like, 'No, I don't get up early enough!'" Nguyen added.

As much fun as the evening was for those in attendance, above all, artists and executives alike were glad to be on hand to help We Can Be Heroes.

"I think all artists want to help out," Nguyen said of the initiative. "I think it's a really great thing they're doing. Comics is a sort of escapism, but any way you can help real life -- it's never a bad thing."

"Wonder Woman" by Amanda Visell; ""Bleeding Justice" by Nathan Mochizuki

Photo by Mathew Imaging

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Tags: dc comics, superman, batman, dc entertainment, jim lee, wonder woman, legion of doom, geoff johns, green lantern, dan didio, gay heroes, vibe

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