Comic Book Artist Extraordinaire Jim Lee Talks Comic Books, New 52

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Jim Lee is one of rare comic book legends who, it turns out, is also a spectacularly nice guy in person. Lee has been making comic books for decades and is now the Co-Publisher of DC Comics and the main who pretty much redesigned DC’s entire line of superheroes including new looks for Superman, Batman and the rest of the Justice League of America.

I had a chance to talk to Lee just before the launch of the New 52, DC’s attempt to reinvent and streamline 52 of its most popular characters. That story ended up on GQ.com but there was a pile of great conversation with Lee that never made it in. Here are some of Lee’s thoughts on print pirates, the comic book industry, and showing up in the newspapers.


Interview with Jim Lee


jim lee image“I don’t think any other genre can really blow your mind as much as comics. Comics are only limited by one’s imagination and the technology has risen to the point where they can translate a lot of that vision into film.”

On finding a new, mainstream audience…

“For decades, people in comics have explained what the industry is doing to expand the industry, right? “Where’re the female readers? Where are the kids? Where is the next generation of readers going to come from?” As the newsstand business dried up, I think one of the dangers that comics faced was to produce comic lines and comics that catered to a very select kind of, core collectors marketplace…”

On the decision to go day-and-date with digital comic books…

“I think [it's for] all those people that don’t live near comic book shops, ex-patriots, that live in other countries, definitely people that don’t even know that comics are being published. People that are early adopters that are converting to a digital lifestyle. I mean we’re not doing digital distribution to convert our traditional print reader into digital readers, but to the extent that there are people out there that want digital content, this is their opportunity to collect it legally.”

On piracy…

“I think you could make an argument that some of the slow erosion you’ve seen over the years in our print business has got to be a result of people switching over to pirating digital copies.”

“Someone gave me a harddrive full of comic book content and it’s so easy to copy comic books… It was interesting to see the variance in scan resolution, the fact is that [pirated] comic books aren’t authored, so if you’re trying to read it on your iPhone, good luck. You’re going to be doing a lot of crimping back and forth.”

On why comic books are still a collector’s market…

“There’s a difference between like, let’s say for example, newspapers and comic books. Comic books are still collectable. A lot of people, it’s almost like a how people use music to define themselves. If you’re a nerd or comic book collector, what you collect kind of defines you and it’s hard to show someone that by pulling out your iPhone and saying, “Come on, browse through.” You know? So i think it’s important. But also, it’s interesting, what you see in comics which you probably wont see in newspaper magazines is a lot of people will get a free webcomic but then go out and get the trade [edition] if they really like it. They want that physical copy for their collection whether they put it on their coffee table or its just something they need to have because that’s what you get out of ownership. It’s definitely there, it’s a viable business model and you’re not going to see that, you’re not going to read People magazine digitally and go, “I love this issue!, I gotta find a newstand copy! Oh wait, this one’s crumpled in the corner, screw it I gotta find… Who’s got a mint copy of people december, 2011?”

On illustrating for the iPad…

“You sort of lose the art of arranging panels on a page to form an eye pleasing composition but there’s also something that’s emparted subconsciously when you look at an entire page at first glance. There are things you pck up. You’re reading this panel but you still see things here [he gestures to a comic book page he's holding up] and it seeps into your subconscious as you’re reading. There’s also a very subtle thing that happens as you read a comic. As you start getting towards the end, you know you’re running out of pages and so subsconciously you’re readying yourself for some sort of climactic ending or reveal and you’d not have that in a digital medium.”

On the popularity of modern comic books…

“I would have been happy to have a profile of me in the local neighbourhood weekly right next to the yogurt shop. You know: “Yogurt shop opens,” and “Jim Lee, Comic Book Artist. Bif! Pam! Wow!” kind of thing. And yet here it, it’s covered in Entertainment Weekly and the New York Times.”

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Image from Flickr, Daryl Sim

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