Comics: Jim Lee Talks DC - Everything Old is DC New Again

Why he accepted the DC Co-Publishing post, and the unique challenges of updating characters

By , Columnist

Jim Lee

DC Comics’ “New 52” initiative officially began with the celebratory release of Justice League #1 at the stroke of midnight last night. Which mean it’s a perfect time to spotlight Jim Lee, both Co-Publisher of DC Comics and the artist on this new iteration of that venerable title.

That book is the second of only two DC Comics titles being published this week. The other is the concluding chapter of the epic Flashpoint mini-series, an issue which coincidently acts as a an endpoint for the continuity of the previous DC Universe even as it heralds the birth of the New 52 status quo, as first evidenced in JL #1.

Lee, who also is perhaps the single most popular artist working in mainstream superhero comics today, was the subject of a recent book. In preparation to write it, Jim and the author spoke at some length last year.

You recently accepted a new position as Co-Publisher of DC Comics. Why accept that new position, what do you hope to achieve, and what challenges does it present to you?

Well, I think it’s one of those offers you just can’t refuse, you know? When you think about the business and art form of comics, and you think about ways that you can affect it…

You could definitely do it on a personal level, and I think I’ve tried over the decades [to do just that]. But, being a Publisher or Co-Publisher allows you to affect the industry in meaningful ways that you just can’t as a single artist, as a single creator. That said—and this ties into your question about challenges—I never want to lose touch with what got me to the dance. And that’s creating and drawing comic books.

So the approach I’m taking is sort of a top line, global level in terms of publishing: cutting policy, working with editorial teams, all the people that comprise publishing, and trying to re-energize, re-invent the comic book industry, from DC’s point of view, from the top down. And then, as a creator, hopefully in the trenches doing semi-regular work, trying to inspire and create excitement on a story-character level from the bottom up.

So, using this two-prong approach, I hope to keep the comic book industry fun for me personally, but also a vibrant business and art form.

Trio of DC beauties from Icons Diamond ltd edition gallery pages -- Titan Books -- low rez.bmp

The challenge, again, is finding the time to do both. Traditionally, in the past, it’s been difficult. I think it makes it a lot easier having co-Publishers; I think that was part of the plan. Also having someone like Geoff Johns by your side as Chief Creative Officer, someone who is also very intent on doing a lot of creative work, probably doing the same sort of two-prong approach to enact change at DC, having him as sort of a pace car helps.

I think there’s definitely going to be a friendly competition to make sure that we can both be in the mix, creatively, as well as doing our “day jobs.”

I’ll tell you that the enthusiasm and excitement for comics goes hand in hand with your day job and what you do beyond that. I think when you’re excited about the business and the art form of comics, it’s something that doesn’t stop when you clock out for the day.

The energy that I have taking meetings and working with people on a top line level with DC carries forth when I get home, and on the weekends, when I’m at the drawing table. And you [also begin to] realize that when you do a cool comic book project, there are ways you can use that as a Co-Publisher to further your goals, so it’s exciting.

I think there wasn’t complacency before, but when I was running just WildStorm, I knew the parameters of my job and goals. And they weren’t as lofty or as, frankly, ambitious as the Co-Publisher position offers….

You’ve done a fair number of homage covers. [An homage image mimics iconic covers of the past] What attracts you to doing those particular pieces?

The charm of the DC Universe, to me…

I mean, I like Batman, but I wasn’t one of these DC fans that only liked Batman and nothing else because he’s so different from the rest of the Universe. I actually was very inclusive in my love for the DC characters. I just love the Justice League. And I loved the fact that they all had different colored costumes, and such very different personalities and powers, and how a character that’s non-super powered, like Batman, could fit into a team with characters as powerful as Aquaman, Wonder Woman and Superman and Green Lantern—actually, all of them.

DC's trinity versus Doomsdays frontspiece from Icons -- Diamond ltd edition -- Titan Books -- low rez.bmp

They were so very iconic, and very god-like in their powers. It was just a lot of fun reading those stories. And a lot of the Silver Age covers, especially, just had a real charm to them that I wanted to essentially ruin using my contemporary style. (General laughter)

But I think the challenge is to try to update it—as if that cover were assigned to me by an editor today, knowing how would I draw it—and still kind of touch upon what they were trying to do with the original cover from that era. Update it, and make it look dynamic and immersive and visceral in many ways.

So that was both the challenge and the allure of the project, actually.

Does your love for variety in a team, the different colored costumes and different kind of characters, help explain your real affection for the Legion of Super Heroes?

That’s definitely part of it. In comparison to the Marvel Universe, and the original X-Men, they all had that same blue and yellow or black and yellow look. And then you look at even the Fantastic Four, who were all in blue. The Avengers, sure, they had different colors. But to me, the DC Universe was alWelcome Diane piece from Icons pg -- Titan Books -- low rez.bmpmost like the primary color wheel, you know?

Every character was distinctly one color, so when you look at it as a single image of a cover or an interior splash shot, you got this intense rainbow hue, and the characters just jumped off the page. The DC Universe has always been lighter and brighter and, in that way, stylistically more dynamic than the Marvel characters.

So it’s something that I always think about and try to tap into when I’m doing DC art. 

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A veteran journalist who has covered the comics medium since 1998, Bill Baker is also the author of Icons: The DC Comics and WildStorm Art of Jim Lee and seven previous books featuring his extended interviews with Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman and other notable creators. You can learn more about Bill’s work…

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