DC Comics is evidently aware that they’re asking a lot of creators as most of the publisher’s book shift to twice-monthly shipping in the “Rebirth” era — which is why Jim Lee, comics superstar and DC Comics Co-Publisher, is leading by example and joining the fray as artist on the new August-debuting “Suicide Squad” series, written by Rob Williams.
It’s a bold move given Lee’s schedule, but he won’t be alone. Philip Tan, a veteran of multiple Marvel, DC, Image Comics and Valiant Entertainment series, will also be a main artist on “Suicide Squad.” But, as the two illustrators tell it, things won’t be as simple as Lee doing an arc and Tan drawing the next one — the two are nurturing a true collaboration, inspired by Lee’s early days working on Marvel’s X-Men books with Whilce Portacio and inker Scott Williams. Lee and Tan are taking advantage of their physical proximity — both are based in Southern California — and working together in person to ensure smooth visual transitions for “Suicide Squad,” which debuts in the same month as Warner Bros.’ feature film of the same name.
With the “Harley Quinn and the Suicide Squad April Fool’s Special” on sale now — featuring a story by Lee and Williams that leads into the forthcoming new series — CBR presents an interview with both Lee and Tan, conducted late last month at WonderCon in Los Angeles. The two artists discussed their close collaboration, and how the new “Suicide Squad” comic book does — and doesn’t — resemble the movie.
CBR News: Jim, Philip, during DC’s “Rebirth” presentation you both spoke about how closely you the two of you are working together on “Suicide Squad” — sitting down and talking in person about how best to pass the baton back and forth on the book. How do you see this collaboration as enhancing the final product?
Jim Lee: I think it’s the only sane way to handle this. One of the reasons I agreed to work on a twice-monthly book is that I want to kind of show how it can be done. I do think you have to find someone that has the same mindset, is willing to collaborate, work hard together — it might mean that we’re drawing our individual issues, but then there might be transitional issues in between where were working together, drawing different elements and making it look as seamless as possible.
So readers could see both of your art in the same issue?
Philip Tan: Very possible.
Lee: When I shared a story with Whilce Portacio and Scott Williams —
Tan: The stories we hear!
Lee: [Scott and I] used to work on the X-Men, and Whilce worked on “X-Factor,” and when I got late on my deadline, he would jump in and draw panels, and when he was late on his book, I would jump in and pencil and ink background, lay out figures. There was a real jam portion of every issue that I don’t know if fans really even notice, but it’s a way of getting the stuff done. But it’s also a way of keeping yourself interested and making it fun. Philip is an easygoing guy, he’s a fun guy, he’s super-talented, and I know he can do everything.
Tan: I don’t know about that.
Lee: He can do everything — trust me. Stuff I can’t do. I even learn from working with him. At the end of the day, just being able to sit down and create a gameplay and a strategy of how we’re going to tackle the art and make it look cool — there might be a flashback sequence that I’ll just have you do in your other style, painting it — there are ways to go back and forth.
Tan: Like Jim said, these are the stories we hear when we were aspiring artists.
Lee: I was there, so I didn’t hear the stories. [Laughs]
Tan: These comics legends, they worked together — artists helping each other, inkers, even painters and colorists — that’s where all the magic happens. For me, that is something very special. Like Jim said, it’ll definitely prove to people that this can work if you approach it in a certain way. Very excited about this.
Philip, you’ve drawn a wide variety of characters and stories in your time in comics. What is it about Suicide Squad, and this take particularly, that attracted you, and that you’re having fun illustrating?
Tan: I think when you walk into the project and see that there is such a high standard, it challenges you. It fires you up, it makes you want to say, “I’ve just done all this horrible work back then — I need to step up my game.” I don’t think there’s anything that pushes me more aside from that.
Jim, your time is not unlimited; you’re the Co-Publisher of DC. You’re very selective about the books that you draw, so what made you go for it here — on a twice monthly book, no less?
Lee: A number of factors. First and foremost, a chance to work with Rob Williams. I’ve been following his career for a while. Love “Unfollow.” I got to meet him just a couple years ago, we kind of hit it off — when I heard he was going to be the writer on the book, that intrigued me. I wanted to definitely work on one of the books as part of the “Rebirth” launch. Obviously I worked on “Justice League” during New 52; I felt it made a difference, at least for me, in terms of how invested I was in the entire line.
But also, I just love the premise of the “Suicide Squad” book. It’s about characters who have reached a dead-end in their lives, and they’re given one last chance for hope and redemption. Even though they’re forced into it and threatened with death, there’s some humanity in all of it. You see that, and you kind of root for them, even though they’re some of the world’s worst supervillains. I just like that layering of different themes, and I think it’s a very pertinent one that we deal with in society in general — what do you have to pay for your sins? And once you pay for those sins, are you a good person again?
Tan: And having a second chance. That’s very important to many people.
it’s clear that DC isn’t putting out comics to mirror TV shows or movies, but at the same time, there is a “Suicide Squad” movie coming out, and that’s something to capitalize on. The lineup in this book sounds pretty similar to the movie — how do you see this comic, even in subtle ways, as relating to the movie? Maybe some visual inspirations?
Lee: I’ve actually passed on the opportunity to see elements of the movie, because I want us to really forge our own identity. But at the same time, I have seen the trailers, and they are doing a kick-ass job with it, so you can’t help but be influenced from that aspect. I think the closest similarity is that the rosters align fairly closely: Katana, Harley Quinn, Rick Flag, Deadshot, Killer Croc, Boomerang. But we put Harley Quinn in “Suicide Squad” when we launched the book in the New 52. She was a big character before that, but you can see how just that inclusion elevated her, elevated Suicide Squad. We’d love to identify other characters — apparently [Tan] is a big Penguin fan — and bring them into the franchise and see what we can do with it.
I also loved “Mission: Impossible” as a kid, and there’s very much that aspect of that show in this — that you would build different teams depending on the missions that you need.
One more thing I’m curious about at this point — what can you say about the tone of the book? On one hand, “Suicide Squad” can be taken very seriously, but it’s certainly a fun concept, with a lot of inherent personality conflicts.
Lee: It’s a fun read. Rob really plays up the diversity of personalities — between Killer Croc, who’s really just like “Killer Croc eat this,” “Killer Croc, eat that”; it’s like “Hulk Smash,” but it’s “Killer Croc Eat!” You’ve got Enchantress in there, who’s just spooky. Harley Quinn’s off the wall. And Deadshot, who’s just always right, and always on the mark, in every sense possible. And Rick Flag, who Philip has been very involved in redesigning. And then Katana, who’s just killer. There’s a lot of great characterization and diversity in the cast.
DC Comics’ new “Suicide Squad” series is scheduled to debut in August, starting that month with the “Suicide Squad: Rebirth” one-shot.
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