JIM LEE Interview by Johnny Destructo and Matt Alder!

Hey there, folks. Johnny Destructo and Matt Adler here, your friendly neighborhood @$$holes. Here is the second part to our 2-part interview about the DCnU relaunch. If you missed the first part, check out our in-depth interview with Geoff Johns HERE!

And now, join us as we discuss redesigns, why Superman needs armor and skyscraper windows?? with the wicked talented artist and Co-Publisher of DC Comics: Jim Lee!

Johnny Destructo: Ok, Jim…here’s the base question I asked Geoff a little bit ago. If someone’s on the fence, why should they give the NEW 52 a shot? SELL US on it…after you’re done chewing. (We were eating delicious h’ordeuvres)

Jim Lee: Is this person knowledgeable about comics or knows nothing about comics? Who am I talking to?

Johnny Destructo: Well, I assume the point of this is to bring in new readers, right? You don’t want to pull in OLD readers.

Jim Lee: No, I DO want to pull in old readers too!

Johnny Destructo: Oh, ok.

Jim Lee: Lapsed readers are…a reader is a reader. It’s gonna be a lot easier to get a person who was reading comics five years ago back into the fold, then it is someone who’s never read a comic. But [to answer your question for] a person that has never read comics before: A) It’s one of the uniquely American art forms, so from a patriotic stand-point, you should get behind it…

JD & Matt: (Laughs)

Jim Lee: B) It gives you an experience unlike any other, it’s different from books, it’s different from animation, it’s different from movies…so you might think it’s something that is a simplified version of some other art form, it’s not, there’s a magic that happens when you have words with pictures and things happen in your head and things happen in between the panels that you would never imagine and that’s the beauty of the art-form. So, just purely from an artistic stand-point, you should check it out. But in terms of the story-lines: A) Super-heroes, which is a big part of what we’re doing in September are one of the cornerstones of pop culture. If you don’t want to follow pop culture, don’t check out comic books. But if you want to be someone that is cognizant, someone that is an insider, you should read the source material that inspires all this other stuff, because that is where all of it comes from. All the great video games, all the great cartoons, movies T.V. shows, they were all told first in comic book form. And there’s no other industry in entertainment that puts out stories every single month. There’s no off season, there’s not one movie a year. Every single week of every month we are putting out stories, and the creators that are involved are not just comic book writers… we have novelists, we have T.V. screenwriters. Everyone wants to work in comics because it is one of the few art-forms left where a handful of guys can produce a story relatively unfettered and do what they want to do and remain true to what they wanted to do, so from a pure creative standpoint you gotta check out comics.

And ultimately, at the end of the day, these are the greatest superheroes in the world. Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, they’re iconic, they inspire people…you will learn things about yourself, you will learn things about your friends, I’m  just pushing it out! (Laughs) You will learn how to fly! You will learn to believe that a man can fly! They will enrich your lives. And it’s something you can share. If you’re an adult, you can share it with your children, your nephews. And if you’re a geek, it impresses other …geeky…girls,(laughs) if you’re a guy, and if you’re a geeky girl, it’s a way of differentiating yourself from all the other girls, I don’t know! There’s a million reasons to check out what we’re doing, that’s just a few.

JD: What went into the decision to give the JLA more uniformed designs, specifically the collar? Who’s idea was it to change their look, to update it.

 

Jim Lee: Well there were three of us primarily: me, Mark Chiarello, who is the VP of Art Direction and Design at DC and another fabulous freelancer named Cully Hamner. So it was the three of us and we basically did riffs and iterations on all the designs. It was a really fun, creative process, but at the end of the day, because I was working on Justice League as the artist on it, I was sort of tasked with redesigning the iconic members of the team and I thought it was an opportunity to do some subtle nods across the line, to make them look more uniform, literally, like a team. The high collars come from Military dress outfits. You look at the Marines, you look at a lot of formal wear, they tend to have collars. It’s not to make them look militaristic, it’s to make them look more regal as a formality to…it’s their dress uniforms, it’s not their fatigues. There’s something special and shiny about the costumes and by doing the Nehru collars I felt that that was what I was tapping into, so …it was interesting to see the reaction. I would say that any change you make is gonna invite discord and dissension, so if that’s the only thing they have problems with, I can live with that.

 

Matt Adler: Will we see these redesigns carry over into other media, licensing, so on and so forth.

 

Jim Lee: We didn’t do it with that intent,but like I said, the comics were really the source material for all these other iterations and exploitations and adaptations of these characters, so it wouldn’t surprise me, and in fact, I already know that…I don’t know what’s been formally announced but certainly there will be action figures and that kind of thing. I know DC Direct showed some at San Diego Comic Con, I think 6 of the 7.Eventually they’ll have all of the Justice League in their new outfits.

 

Matt Adler: Then that doesn’t mean that they’re not gonna produce licensed figures that have the old costumes. If anything, we live in a world where people understand there can be different iterations of Batman, different iterations of Wonder Woman and it just gives another look, another take on the character and I think that’s exciting for collector’s, it’s exciting for the license stores that make the products.

 

JD: As an artist, what did you pull from to design these new costumes, what were you really concentrating on?

 

Jim Lee: Well, definitely looked at dress uniforms, looked at materials. You know generally they are either spandex or cloth. I started thinking about armor, you know if you look at carbon fiber, very modern, space age-y material, so like what could be Kryptonian nature that would create a different look for a costume..

 

Matt Adler: A loaded question that everyone’s asking: Why does Superman need armor?

 

Jim Lee: Well, if it’s Kryptonian ceremonial armor, and they don’t have super powers on Krypton, it would make sense to wear something that gave you a little coverage and defenses, so if they knew that it was something that would be on a planet surrounding a yellow sun, maybe they would have left off the knee-pads, I don’t know! You know, you can’t over-think it at the same time. Why do they have capes? Why does a guy that flies have a cape, how does that benefit him, doe it help him steer, no, it would slow him down, but yet he has one, so..yeah, that’s my answer and I’m sticking to it.

 

JD: What title other than your own are you looking forward to checking out?

 

Jim Lee: I’ve already checked them all out, so I’m very excited and happy across the line. It’s exciting to see so many creators taking the same sort of mission statement, going out there, streamlining the continuity, doing something fresh and different and seeing 52 different takes on that premise. That said: Red Hood and the Outlaws has been pretty special. Scott Lobdell writes some pretty sassy superhero stories and the artwork by Kenneth Rocafort is just dynamite. He’s really coming into his own and it’s exciting to see that it’s a very modern looking style but very kinetic. Obviously, Action #1. Always expect great things from Grant Morrison and Rags Morales, but other books that kind of surprised me. Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang on Wonder Woman are doing a very different take on the character. They’re doing a more of a horror book…

 

JD: Oh, really?!

 

Jim Lee: Yeah they’re taking Greek Mythology and taking that to it’s natural, logical conclusion. I mean it’s pretty creepy, it shouldn’t just be white togas and sandals and and ivy leaves in people’s hair.

 

Matt: They hate their children, basically.

 

Jim Lee: There’s terrifying creatures like the Medusa or umm…I love the old Harryhausen movies, and the original Jason and the Argonauts because they were so creepy, the skeletons were animated, the Medusa and the Collossus, and all these things..

 

JD: Yeah they used to scare the crap outta me when I was a kid!

 

Jim Lee: Yeah! And so Brian and Cliff have come up with ways of introducing Centaurs into Wonder Woman that is very creepy, and it’s exciting to see a realistic, modernist take on ancient Greek mythology, and used in a way to make it kind of …you know the same way we’ve seen different updatings of classic mythology, like Frankenstein, Vampires, Werewolves, he’s kind of doing that with Greek mythology, so it’s exciting to see.

 

JD: With the relaunch, what are you most proud of?

 

Jim Lee: I think the fact that it’s succeeding across the line. There was some initial thought that maybe the fans and the retailers would only support a handful of titles and the rest wouldn’t really see a jump up, because that happens a lot. Certainly when I was working on Batman Hush, Batman sold really well and the other books didn’t really move in accord, and so we were taking a little bit of a risk by doing 52, but we thought that was a reasonable number for fans to get behind. We thought that the depth in our creative talent pool could support 52 different books. And it’s been exciting and gratifying to see the numbers across the line be very strong. And seeing so many books over 100,000, I think we’re up to 7 books now, but even the lowest selling books are selling better than a lot of our better-selling books from pre-September, so we’re very happy with that.

 

Matt Adler: That number 52, is that a number you want to maintain around, just saying for instance, supposing one of the books didn’t work out for whatever reason, would you launch another book to fill that space?

 

Jim Lee: We already have that in the works, we have a list of titles, sort of “mid-season replacements”…other characters that we couldn’t fit into the 52 that we want to introduce to the DCU, and obviously, some book is going to be the lowest seller, so we can to maintain the line, keep the momentum going, keep the interest going and add in books as we drop things out so that we have a continual 52 titles a month.

Matt Adler: Do you see digital being able, I don’t know how to put it..but basically carry a book in the way that sometimes a book might not be a very big seller in comic shops, but sell well in  book stores?

 

Jim Lee: We expect some of the books, like I, Vampire, or Men of War, the books that are more supernatural books to do better in the digital arena than in print. If we are reaching new readers, and these new readers are into other genres than superheroes and that’s what keeping them from a comic shop, we hope that they would find the time to download them onto their phones or media devices and check it out, and so that’s why we included the diversity in genre that we have in the line-up.

 

JD: With Justice League as the keystone to the other 52 titles, what sort of cross-title cohesion can we expect to see with this new “shinier” universe? Are they all sort of interconnected, or are they just going to sit on their own?

 

Jim Lee: They’re interconnected, but we’re not really looking to have cross-overs where you start a story in one book and cross-over into another. We want each book to stand on their own, and we want people to understand the high-concept…we asked creators to really simplify, streamline the continuity, strip the barnacles off the ship and make it understandable what your reading, like what is the top line, what drives this character, what is his origin, what are the things that motivate him, and impart that information very quickly to the reader. When you start moving the stories from book to book, start doing cross-overs, the stories then become about the events, as opposed to about what motivates this character, what defines this character. And so we wanted to give each book their own time to really build their house before they start introducing guests to it.

 

JD: Awesome, so it’s safe to assume that the first year, there’ll be no cross-over?

 

Jim Lee: Well, there will be guest appearances,

 

JD: Sure, sure…

 

Jim Lee: There have already been some hints of that, but we’re not really looking to cross-over per se.

 

Matt Adler: Have you had any two creators come to you and say “We’d really like to cross-over our two books?

 

Jim Lee: There’s a lot of informal dialogue going on amongst the creators both on Twitter and email, phone conversations. I think it’s very healthy to see that, as long as it’s not done as event to spike sales, and it comes from some inherent story point that makes sense, which is what happened with Frankenstein and OMAC and probably eventually with Animal Man and Swamp Thing. You know, Swamp Thing really represents The Green, Flora…and Animal Man represents The Red, Fauna, and those things make sense to the central premises to those characters.

 

Matt Adler: Not all the books are starting off in the same time period, some are going to be set earlier…

 

Jim Lee: Action and Justice League are set 5 years prior…everything else is modern day.

 

JD: Speaking of the time-line you’re talking about, the 5 years ago and so on and so forth….what’s being kept and what’s not being kept for this relaunch: Is there going to be a definitive timeline released for those that are sticklers for continuity? I remember after Crisis On Infinite Earths, they released something to let the readers know what the continuity is.

 

Jim Lee: We have not released a timeline and we don’t have plans to release a timeline, because to me, that would shift the focus back onto what happened in the pass. Everyone can kind of… you kind of cobble together continuity anyway, there’s all sorts of conflicts, right? The fact that storylines refer to Presidents that have been dead for decades, you know, that kind of thing. It’s an inherently flawed system because we’re only human and there’s so many people working on these characters. But more importantly, we really want September to be really forward-facing. There’s new characters, new villains, new storylines and they build off the past and so we want SOME clarity to that, but we don’t want people obsessing about what happened in the past…those stories have already been told, you should enjoy them for what they are. We want people obsessing about what’s happening the next month and the following month after that.

 

JD: As far as your redesigns and working on everything for that. what do you think is reasonable in being asked to do redesigns? Like, how many redesigns did you do before they finally settled on what to go with?

 

Jim Lee: Um…some were one time and we’re done, others were maybe like 15 different variations and sometimes it was me and Cully sending designs back and forth, we were doing it real-time like, literally here I’m gonna draw it up and send it to you, and he would get it, he would work on it and send it right back and we were basically designing via email. You know, sometimes they were really minute changes, like a trim color or you introduce a slightly shorter cape, or you change the hairstyle, you know…things like that.

 

Matt Adler: Obviously, you as Co-Publisher…but what about the freelancers, do they deal with it the same way, being asked to do the redesigns?

 

Jim Lee: Some of the freelancers go involved in the process, they were all welcome to, some of them just took what we gave them and ran with it, but then you saw even other artists take established designs and tweak it, and that’s the history of comics and one of the cool things about comics, it’s not like other IP’s (Intellectual Properties)…you know, take Mickey Mouse, Mickey Mouse is super popular, but is always drawn the same way whereas in the world of DC and the world of superhero comic books, every artist imparts some kind of personal element onto the costume, whether it’s slightly longer cape…you know, sometimes Batman has a cape that goes to his calves, and sometimes it’s a ten-foot cape that extends past his..
JD: The Todd McFarlane murder-cape. That thing’ll getcha!

 

Jim Lee: Yeah, you know, that’s artistic license, and we encourage that, because that’s what keeps creators happy and what allows us to draw the best creators in the world…and that..

 

Matt Adler: So being “on-model” is not a big thing..

 

Jim Lee: Well, I think initially, going out, we want to be as on-model as possible, because if your going to go through the trouble of doing redesigns, you should stick to it, but as we go forward, I see the creators really custom-tailoring the outfits to their unique styles and deadlines and what-not.

 

JD: More-so than the Justice League redesigns, the one that really stuck out to me is Superboy (I meant the one with the taped on S-symbol and wife-beater)..is that you? Are you the one behind that?

 

Jim Lee: Superboy was me and Cully, but there are a couple variations of Superboy, also Brett Booth, the series artist, also threw in ideas, so it was really a collaboration of the three of us, the Editor, the Writer, the Editor-In-Chief, myself and Dan (Didio), Mark Chiarello, so…a lot of people were involved in that. You know, I actually feared that, because we had so many people involved that we would never read consensus, but it was amazing to see that when we got to a design, how quickly people got around it if they liked it. There were very few where people were evenly divided between “I hate it” and “I love it”.

 

JD: I think the thing that sticks out to me most is the duct-taped Super-symbol on the back of his wifebeater?!?

 

Jim Lee: You know, that was Brett Booth doing a sort of homage to past images where you see characters sort of cracking on each other…you know, someone taped it on his back, so it’s not…

 

JD: OHHHHHHH, thank- (laughs)

 

Jim Lee:  It’s not like he put it on there, and that’s his costume

 

JD: I totally thought that was his costume! Thank you for saying that…I was a little worried! I know you had spoken recently about All-Star Batman and Robin…I know it’s going to be Dark Knight, Boy Wonder and that they are waiting because they’re focusing so much on the relaunch..but do we have a release date for that yet?

 

Jim Lee: No release date yet because once you say something, then you gotta deliver, and Justice League is my first priority, deadline-wise. But I actually have pages of All-Star Batman and Robin done, but it just doesn’t make sense to put those out unless I can deliver the rest of the story on a timely basis.

 

JD: Oh, I thought that the Dark Knight, Boy Wonder was already done, it’s not done yet?

 


Jim Lee: No, no.

 

Matt Adler: I asked you this question two years ago at the Big Apple Con, but I think it was shortly before you became Co-Publisher, what is the most boring part of your job?

 

JD: These interviews!

 

Jim Lee: (laughs) No, no, no, hardly, hardly. You know, I would say probably drawing windows on a sky scraper, it’s pretty mind-numbingly agonizing. A) You’re drawing the same little window over and over and unfortunately there are a ton of windows on the side of a building, so that’s…you know, you just turn your brain off and you get it done.

 

JD: When you pencil those windows, let’s say ..you know, the perspective of it, do you use anything in Photoshop, like the Perspective Tool, or do you just draw it yourself, by hand?

 

Jim Lee: I’ll break out some simple perspective lines, but I mostly eye-ball it, you know it’s very rare that you could go out on the street and see straight lines…they may look straight, but if you really analyze it, there are little bends and nooks and curves or signs that break up the line…the line could be straight but you have a sign here and now this line, this silhouette is broken, so I find that if I use a ruler in drawing backgrounds, it tends to get very antiseptic, very sterile, almost too perfect in a way, and it doesn’t give you the verisimilitude that you get from drawing it by hand.

 

Matt Adler: Let’s go back 25 years. If we told a young Jim Lee that he was going to be Co-Publisher of DC Comics and that he was going to be relaunching the entire DC Universe, what would young Jim Lee have said?

 

Jim Lee: Uhh, after I shit myself? (Laughs) Uh..yeah I don’t know…I was pretty cocky as a kid, you know and I think that’s true of a lot of artists…I remember sending it samples to Marvel when I was 12, like a half-finished drawing of Hulk, on notebook lined paper, and I thought literally that they were gonna call me up and give me work, because the series artist was not any good, in my opinion, right? It wasn’t until you discover humility that, you know “Doctor, heal thyself” that you have to open yourself up to criticism, and realize that what you are producing is not that great, can you actually make improvements in your work. So that’s what that kid would have said. If you had asked me when I was 25, I think it would have been different, you know, once you take down the barriers and getting about improving yourself and making your work better, and I think I would have smiled, you know? ‘Cause I would know that all the work I was putting in, added up to something, absolutely.

 

JD: As a working professional, right now, you must be sort of humble about your work, I imagine, because I think we all are, we’re a little self-conscious about it, what is it that you still want to fix?

 

Jim Lee: It’s not a false humility, you know, I rarely look back on my old work because when I do, I always see the mistakes…someone once defined Style as “all the things you do wrong”, and what you do different from other people, because if we all draw from photographs, it would all look the same and probably not that interesting, so it’s when we create our own shorthand to define noses or hands, you’re drawing it incorrectly, you’re not basing it on real life, but it actually speaks more to real life.

 

Johnny Destructo: Well, that’s where I ran out of tape, so there concludes our interviews with Geoff Johns and Jim Lee!

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