Thursday at Comic-Con International in San Diego, the spotlight was on DC Entertainment Co-Publisher and Chief Creative Officer Jim Lee, who reflected on his 25+ year career in the comic book industry.
Lee began by asking how many people have and haven't seen him live on a panel before.
"This is one hour of your life you won't get back," he joked. "I'm gonna draw and you'll ask polite and respectful questions. Then, at the end of the panel, I'll give the sketches away."
Lee then began sketching Batman and reflecting on his first trip to SDCC 33 years earlier.
"Comics were a much smaller deal back then," he said. "I would draw commissions for $15 a pop. Then we'd go back to our hotel rooms and draw more sketches, and fans would periodically show up. So yeah, Comic-Con has really gotten a lot better."
"When my popularity kind of took off, I felt guilty charging people," he continued. "It felt very shady. So, I decided I would do sketches for free. And as that demand got bigger and bigger, I had to tell people no. So, I stopped doing free sketches. Then I started doing these panels and decided I'd draw during these panels and give away the sketches."
"The number, the mix of people that come to conventions has changed," Lee added. "I feel like Comic-Con is like a pop-up amusement park. Thinking forward, I think once VR becomes more commonplace, people who are unable to make it can kind of jack in and experience this in a way that's really immersive. I think that's gonna be an interesting evolution."
Lee then plugged an app called Kahoot!, which he said he planned to use to create contests in which fans can win sketches.
The first question from the audience was from a fan who asked if she could buy Jim Lee's branded pencils he was using.
"I don't usually use pencils," he said. "But you can have this one if you want, though."
The next fan asked what Lee's main source of inspiration was when he was young.
"For comic book art, it was comic books," he said. "Then later, as I got older, I started looking at other art. Any art, really. I try to draw inspiration from abstract art, the movement, the composition."
As Lee began his next sketch, this time of Wonder Woman, another fan asked if we'd see a new series featuring characters such as Power Girl or the Herculoids.
"Yes," Lee said both plainly and jokingly.
Lee then showed off some previous sketches he did on his Twitch channel, where he broke down things such as perspective and his artistic process.
The next question was what the editorial side of comics is like at DC.
"It's not a bad way to break into the industry," Lee said. "Back in the day, a lot of editors did write and draw but we got rid of that because we wanted to eliminate that conflict. But Peter Tomasi, he was an editor; Mark Waid was an editor. It's a good path, so yeah, I would recommend that."
A fan then asked how popular DC is outside of the U.S.
"The biggest market we have right now is in France," Lee said. "But the biggest opportunities are in China, which has over a billion people. But it's really hard to break into that market."
The next fan asked how it feels to be an inspiration in the comic industry.
"I feel very blessed and fortunate," Lee said. "I never envisioned it. I'd say all of this in the past 20 some odd years feels like an alternate reality. I thought I was gonna work in obscurity. Now, my wife's grandmother knows who these characters are. When I got into it, I just wanted to draw stories with my favorite characters. I see it as a responsibility at this point and it's one of the things that keeps me motivated."
Another fan asked how fear and doubt influence his work, comparing fear and doubt to something Batman deals with.
"I have fear and doubt for sure," Lee said. "I think I have a healthy amount. When I draw something, I think, 'what's wrong with this?' The only way you can solve is if you look for those. But I also have confidence that if I put time into it, it will come out right."
The next question was if Jim's children show any interest in art.
"They're all super-talented," he said. "They all liked comics at some point but they don't like my comics. A lot of them got into manga and anime. One is a painter, she works in abstract expressionism, but it's weird -- I have nine kids, only three live at home. I have piles and piles of comics at home and it's like bait for mice, I'm just begging them to pick them up. But they're all very talented, they all draw very differently, but only one is doing it as a career."
Lee then introduced some of his children, who were sitting in the crowd.