In this consumer-based industry, it can be easy to forget the years of hard work that the people in the business put in. Behind every panel, it takes a skilled writer, artist, inker and colorist to make the product complete. Hush Comics’ weekly article “Respect My Craft” will dive into the history of these comic book greats that will hopefully give a new perspective on how the men and women behind the pen (or stylus) contribute to the collective awesome-ness of comic books, or at least give you a reason to invest in their work.
Name: Jim Lee
Profession: Artist, DC Co-Publisher
Notable Work: X-Men: Mutant Genesis, WildC.A.T.S., Batman: Hush, Superman: For Tomorrow, Justice League
Jim Lee is one of the most revered comic book artists in the industry. From his unlikely start in independent books to his rise to the top of the ranks as Co-Publisher of DC Comics, Jim Lee’s story is one of as much absolute detail as his work. Lee has a Korean heritage, but grew up in St. Louis, Missouri. Always a comic book fan growing up, Lee gravitated towards the X-Men, reason being that they were marginalized for their differences – something many can relate to. It was even a dream of his to create his own comic book company after graduating high school, an accomplishment he was voted most likely to achieve by his peers. As money crushed dreams and grown-up responsibilities set in, Lee was pressured by his parents to enroll at Princeton University with the goal of becoming a medical doctor.
After obtaining his BS in Psychology, Lee made a deal with his strict, but loving, parents to take a hiatus from med school to try it on his own for one year as a comic book artist. This was during the mid 1980’s, when such iconic books like The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen were leading a renaissance in the industry. After putting his foot in the door and submitting portfolios to publishes all over the country, Jim Lee got his start in the comic book business in 1986 by lending his artistic talents as an inker to Samurai Santa #1 (no, seriously). Without much else to go off of, Marvel Comics hired Lee to pencil Alpha Flight, a mid-tier comic, in 1987 that started with Alpha Flight #51.
After several issues of Alpha Flight and then moving on to Punisher: War Journal (which Lee started illustrating in 1989), Lee got his wish to draw his favorite childhood characters in Uncanny X-Men #248. He was asked to come back for subsequent issues until Marvel asked Lee to draw a twelve-issue run simply titled X-Men with writer Chris Claremont, widely regarded as one of the best X-Men writers. Together, the two created Omega Red and the fan-favorite character, Gambit. He also redesigned many of the characters’ costumes – most of which are still used! To this very day, the first issue of X-Men (Vol. 2) is the highest selling issue of any comic book in history.
The success of X-Men meant that Lee could pretty much write his ticket wherever he wanted to go. It just so happened that what he wanted was more creative control over his work. Along with several powerhouse writers and artist, including Hush Comics’ favorite, Todd McFarlane, Lee helped found Image Comics. This is the same Image Comics that has been the birthing grounds of: The Walking Dead, Saga, Black Science and Deadly Class. Taking more interest in writing and producing, Lee branded himself as Wildstorm Productions and created WildC.A.T.S., a team of aliens caught in an intergalactic war, and Gen13, which follows a group of teenage super-heroes as they find their powers while running away from government testing. Both were very intriguing books that lasted far beyond Jim Lee’s involvement, showing that Lee has substantial writing capabilities to back up his artwork.
In an effort to focus more on art, Jim Lee sold Wildstorm to DC Comics and, shortly thereafter, began illustrating some of the most beautiful panels I’ve ever seen. In 2003, Lee joined acclaimed writer Jeph Loeb on Batman: Hush. This is the arc that got me into comic books, and it was largely due to the full-page panels, detailed background and unique use of medium by using watercolors (a first for Jim Lee). If you want to know how much we love Hush, look no further our very first graphic novel review. The iconic “Kissing the Knight” panel impacted me so much that I decided to get it tattooed on my arm. A year later, he joined Brian Azzarello (current Wonder Woman and 100 Bullets) for Superman: For Tomorrow, a very unique book about the Man of Tomorrow. Lee followed For Tomorrow up with a darker, more brutal All Star Batman and Robin The Boy Wonder, written by Frank Miller, which is the first comic to use the legendary “Goddamn Batman” line. It was a bit of a departure from Lee’s tone, but the art keeps up with Miller’s rough and grimy story perfectly.
As he was finishing All-Star, Lee was also waist-deep into the DC Universe Online. Released for Playstation and PC, Lee spent years creating character models for the game as its Executive Producer. Seeing these renders as fully-functional video-game characters is a sight to behold. Along the way, he earned the title of Co-Publisher for DC Comics and spear-headed The New 52, a complete reintroduction of the DC Comics’ catalog. He and Geoff Johns became the creative team behind the Justice League relaunch (review of Volume One: Origin here). Since then, Lee has headed numerous design projects for DC, including: a partnership with Kia to design Justice Legue themed cars (the Batman Optima is the best, by far), promotion for the We Can Be Heroes charity (donations usually lead to goodies), design work for Scorpion’s costume in the Injustice video-game DLC, and he still makes time to attend various comic book conventions around the country.
As amazing as Jim Lee is, it’s important to remember that a lot of work is done between the last pencil stroke and the time the issue hits the shelves. Most artists use a team, composed of an inker and a colorist. The inker is in charge of turning dark pencil marks into appropriate shadows or accents, while the colorist brings the appropriate shading and tone to the story. Dating back to his run with Uncanny X-Men, Lee has used Scott Williams and Alex Sinclair for inking and coloring, respectively. They deserve just as much credit for his quality work.
Checked out his bibliography and still want more? Check these books out:
Batman: Hush – Unwrapped is drawn entirely in pencils, with no inking or coloring. The amount of detail is stunning, showing why Jim Lee is one of the best in the business.
ICONS: The DC Comics & Wildstorm Art of Jim Lee offers a lot of background about Jim Lee – history and anecdotes, as well as some great spreads of his best work.
Image Comics: The Road to Independence gives an in-depth look at how a group of brave men disbanded from the largest comic book company to create the third-largest comic book company.
Just Imagine If… Stan Lee Created Wonder Woman is written by Stan Lee, drawn by Jim Lee, and kicks harder than Bruce Lee
Wizard: Jim Lee, Millennium Edition is like ICONS but gives a better look at his pre-Wildstorm days.
How Much Does Hush Comics Love Jim Lee?
I wanted to point out that none of this art is mine; it is all credited to the original publishers (Solson, Marvel and DC). Check back next week as we kick off Black History Month by honoring all Black writers and artists, as well as graphic novel reviews with cultural significance. Peace and much love to ya!
Written by Sherif Elkhatib