Jim Lee has been a part of the comic book industry since 1987, when he began as an artist for Marvel Comics. Quickly becoming one of their most popular artists, he eventually left the company in 1992 to help found Image Comics. Currently the Co-Publisher of DC Comics, Lee has had one of the most successful careers of any single figure in the modern industry.
Lee was at WonderCon in Anaheim for a special panel, where the superstar artist took a look back at his career and what to expect next from him at DC.
Lee greeted the crowd with a smile and a joke. "This is the first [convention] in many months," Lee added. "I like to do the Q&A, but I tend to use art. You all seem to be fixated on the art. It makes you all laugh at my jokes. 'Who are your favorite characters to draw'... those kind of questions really help." I've really got a handle of communicating and drawing... Since I took over for Chief Creative Officer at DC, I haven't had much time to draw."
When asked which character he hates, Spider-Man was brought up. "I love the character, Peter Parker's awesome. But drawing him visually is rough... I don't know if I hate, and I know I'll get a lot of fans of that character coming after me online. I don't know if I really hate... I always try to accentuate the positives. There were artists growing up that I didn't care for, but I'd try to break down why I didn't like them. I think if any character has an awful story, a future generation of comics creators can come in... and make them better. I wasn't happy when Hank McCoy turned from a guy into a hairy beast. I thought it was too obvious, but I got over it."
When asked about Gambit ("Don't blame me for Gambit," Lee quickly defended himself), Lee explained that "Gambit was created in the 80's... It's all Chris Claremont's fault. We [Claremont] talked about what was missing from the comics, what places we wanted to represent, what powers were missing. I love Gambit, and it's hard to get worked up about a movie. Even if they make it or not, we have the comics and the memories."
When asked about what business practices he could recommend, Lee said "I think it's important to pay attention. People want to say their opinions especially when they're starting out, but I think there's value in listening. When people are trying to make an impression, they want people to hear what they have to say. But I like to listen, and think about what they said."
A teacher asked Lee what advice he could give to people who get intimidated while trying to create. Lee suggested that his students shouldn't "psyche [themselves] out. Your first stuff is going to be crappy. You have to keep producing, because eventually becomes less crappy, and then it becomes kind of good, and eventually it could be really good. You're putting in hours and hours to do the work... people get psyched out by the blank page because they think they have to make something incredible. Take the pressure off and just draw. If you keep drawing, you can look back every three months and you'll see improvement."
When asked about which characters he helped create that he has particularly fond memories of, Lee said "Omega Red. I got to draw him for the first time in a while recently. The Wildstorm characters, obviously. Hush seems to be a recurring favorite."
An up-and-coming artist asked about the challenges and expectations did Lee put on himself when he was younger, Lee said "I think I put high expectations on myself, but you can't put too much. You can't put too little because everything you draw isn't amazing. But I've seen other artists who get crippled by self-doubt, who leave the table. I think drawing consistently, having a good support group, not being too hard on yourself but... not settling and thinking your work can't be improved."
One father asked Lee, from parent to parent, what advice can you give to inspire children to be artistic. Lee said "I think kids have a natural predilection to draw. I have nine kids, and they've all drawn. Although the youngest isn't that great at drawing... There's lots of resources online, certain books and websites. I feel like [kids] respond to YouTube clips, that's what my kids do. I wouldn't put them into any specific art. At 17, 18 they can be more specific. At younger ages, support them drawing what they see."
When asked about creating the new 52 costumes he helped design, Lee remembered that "we didn't want to just make minor tweaks, we wanted something bold and different. The other DC artists did their own interpretations of the costumes... I know it would change. Just like I know what we're designing now will change. That's just the nature of comics. I think costumes go through a shorter life cycle, too."
When asked about the evolution of his art style, Lee replied that "I know a lot of people like my [X-Men] stuff, and it's okay. Everyone was super buff, they were all super ripped. And there was a lot of cross-hatching and speed-lines. It captured that era. If that was your heyday, that's what you remember and love. But I like to think my current work is an improvement. I'm trying to rethink what I did before in a different way. I'm trying to use more shadows and less cross-hatching. Making characters look imposing in silhouette, but not too buff. Having the art be a bit more naturalistic."