Guiness Book of Records

Practitioners 46: Jim Lee

Jim Lee was born in Seoul, South Korea on August 11, 1964 and emigrated to the United States with his family at the age of four, growing up in St Louis Missouri. In Lee’s St. Louis Country Day School his classmates predicted he would found hi sown comic book company. Despite this, Lee seemed resigned to following in his father’s profession of medicine, studying psychology at Princeton University, with the intention of becoming a medical doctor. However, medicine’s loss was certainly going to be popular culture’s gain as Lee became one of the most influential and well known artists on the biggest selling comic book of all time. One that founded movie franchises and supported an ailing Marvel in the late ’90s and found some of the most famous comic companies in the world to rival it.

Lee’s rise to fame with Marvel Comics was inevitable as it was undeniable. In 1986, as Lee was preparing to graduate from his psychology degree, Lee took an art class that reignited his fascination with art at a time when seminal work such as Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns and Alan Moore’s Watchmen was reinvigorating the American comic book industry. With the psychology degree complete, Lee did something, with the reluctant blessing of his parents, that shows incredible courage and clarity of mind and self belief. He postponed his medical degree. The rest is without a doubt comic book history. He vowed he would return if he failed to break the comic book industry. Not something that should’ve worried him.

Submitting examples to various publishers, Lee did not see success until a New York comic book convention where he met Archie Goodwin, comic book editor (regularly cited as the ‘best loved comic book editor… ever), artist and writer who introduced him to Marvel Comics. Now it seems hard to believe that Lee was not snapped up immediately by the first commissioning editor to spot him but Lee exposes the nature of the industry. Retrospectively, artists are professional, passionate and confident in the style they work in and seem undeniable masters of their art but even the most capable artist can be subject to the pressures, misunderstandings, bad luck and bad timing of the industry. Lee began on Alpha Flight and moved over to Punisher: War Journal, his work there inspired by Frank Miller, David Ross, Kevin Nowlan and Whilce Portacio, as well as Japanese Manga.

Then came the crossing of two similar talents, one more senior than the other as Lee filled in for regular illustrator, Marc Silvestri on Uncanny X-Men 248, which was, due to positive response and Marvel’s own enthusiasm for Lee’s style followed up on issues 256 through to 258 as part of the ‘Acts of Vengeance’. The timing of this was key as X-Men, under Claremont was not only ground breaking and beautifully written at the time, it was on a meteoric rise in terms of popularity, beginning to challenge the more mainstream titles of Spider-man, Fantastic Four and Avengers. Eventually, Lee became Uncanny’s full time penciller, working for the first time with inker, Scott Williams, who would become his long time collaborator. To cement his position as an X-men innovator, Lee co-created the smooth talking mutant thief Gambit, with Chris Claremont. Lee’s popularity crystallised in these months, becoming more and more representative of what fan’s wanted. He gained increasingly greater control of the franchise and in 1991, Lee helped launch the second X-Men series, X-Men (Volume 2). He did so, not just as artist but as co-writer alongside Chris Claremont, giving the book a more broad and cutting edge feel to it’s perhaps more thoughtful predecessor. X-Men 1 was raw edged, fun comic book pinned with the wisdom and knowledge of an older and more restrained writer. Lee pushed Claremont’s boundaries while Claremont restrained the more inexperienced artist to just the right degree. The result was comic book history and rightfully so. However, Lee redesigned costumes, entirely successfully for Cyclops, Jean Grey, Rogue, Psylocke and Storm as well as creating villain Russian Super Soldier Omega Red.

X-Men 1 (Vol 2) remains the best selling comic book of all time with sales of 8.1 million (and nearly ¬£7 million). This was confirmed in a public declaration by the Guinness Book of Records at the 2010 San Diego Comic con. While one aspect of it’s success was that it was released with five different variant covers as well as a limited edition gatefold edition that revealed it all in its glory, the success was thanks to Lee’s distinctive, modern take on a fan favourite and the development of the X-Men in an exciting new direction. The variant cover trick became a weight around collector’s necks in years following with Gold and Silver foil, holograms and gatefolds every few months for some titles, but this first incarnation was about piecing together a piece of art, mass produced and available to anyone who wanted it. Only Jim Lee and perhaps one or two other legends of the industry could’ve commanded such a response.

The success of X-men saw Lee hungering even more for greater creative control over his own work, and as soon as in 1992, Lee accepted an invitation to join six other artists (Todd McFarlane, Erik Larsen, Marc Silvestri, Whilce Portacio, Rob Liefeld) who broke away from Marvel Comics to start Image Comics, which would release their own creator-owned titles. Lee’s batch of titles included Wild C.A.T.s, which Lee pencilled and co-wrote, and other series created in the same universe, including Stormwatch, Deathblow and arguably the more successful Gen13.

Lee and his close friend, Valiant Comics publisher Steve Massarsky, arranged a Valiant / Image crossover, Lee’s characters being used, alongside those of Rob Liefeild. Four central titles would exist – two from each company – in single edition format, each edition known as a colour rather than a number, plus a prologue and epilogue book. Wildstorm produced Deathmate Black, with Lee himself contributing to the writing, illustrating the covers of that book, as well as contributing to the prologue’s interior links. The assignment was given to Valiant creators against their better judgment, in particular Editor-in-chief Bob Layton, who complained about Image’s inability to meet their deadlines. Deathmate Black came out a few months after Valiant’s Blue and Yellow installments, which had come out on time, and Liefeld’s Deathmate Red was so late that Layton flew to California to procure that chapter personally, and ink it himself in an Anaheim hotel room. Layton see’s Deathmate’s lateness as one of Valiant’s ‘unmitigated disasters’ and views that project as the beginning of the spectacular collapse of the 1990s for the comic book industry. A collpase that would pull in Marvel and a collapse that comics has not, if ever, recovered from.

Wildstorm continued on, expanding it’s line to include other ongoing titles. As publisher, Lee later expanded this by creating two separate imprints for Wildstorm, Cliffhanger and Homage (to be replaced again years later to reform as a single Wildstorm Imprint, now owned by DC).

Moving back, with Rob Liefeld, to Marvel for the Heroes Reborn alternate universe storyline of the mid-late nineties, Lee was given the opportunity to plot the new Iron Man and wrote and illustrated The Fantastic Four. Both used existing storyarcs and developed them, bringing them more up to date. The innovations on these titles, however, were arguably greater than the more successful Ultimate Universe that has existed since as an Imprint of Marvel, though that is more subject to greater popularity of the industry as well as greater sophistication in art and writing in modern comic books.

Lee returned to Wildstorm, where he would publish series such as The Authority and Planetary, as well as Alan Moore’s imprint, America’s Best Comics. Lee himself wrote and illustrated a 12-issue series called Divine Right: The Adventures of Max Faraday, in which an internet slacker inadvertently manages to download the secrets of the universe, and is thrown into a wild fantasy world.

Sourced from HERE Check out the gallery there for more awesome images. Thanks to Alexandre Bihn for the awesome scan.

In a typically astute and decisive choice, Lee sold Wildstorm to DC in 1998 because he felt that his role as publisher was interfering with his role as an artist. In an echo of the choice made many years previously, he put his calling first. In 2003, Lee collborated with Jeph Loeb for a 12 issue Batman run. Introducing a new nemesis from Batman’s past, ‘Hush’ was a tightly packed and neatly executed trip through the Bat universe. Lee’s images were sumptuous, his design work intricate, emotive and innovative. Lee, the artist, through all the pitfalls and difficulties of publishing had lost none of the values and passion he had when working on X-Men 1 more than 12 years before. He followed this up with ‘For Tomorrow’ a 12-issue story in Superman by 100 Bullets writer (and Bunker firm favourite) Brian Azzarelo, although this didn’t achieve the same level of success, Lee’s work showed a maturity and stillness that perhaps wasn’t visible in his earlier career. In 2005, Lee collaborated with Frank Miller on All Star Batman and Robin, the Boy Wonder, a series plagued by delays. Lee’s work was spotless throughout, in particular a redesign of the batmobile and a gatefold image that folded out from the book itself that revealed the full scale of this Elseworld Batcave. While Lee’s contribution was near infallible, Miller’s writing was unsophisticated and cynical in most ways and alienated a great many readers. During this period, Lee returned to WildC.A.T.S with Grant Morrison. The gap between All-Star Batman and Robin 4 and 5 was one year and to date, only 1 issue of WildC.A.T.S (Vol 4 has been published. During thsi time, Lee also drew covers for the Infinite Crisis series.

Lee was named Executive Creative Director for DC Universe Online MMORPG. This was released in 2009, with Lee responsible for concept art for the project.

Lee’s meteoric rise did not falter there, as he has now taken a position alongside Dan Didio as Co-publisher of DC Comics. Despite obvious concerns, Lee maintains that this will in no way effect his capacity as a creative. He cited two projects, Dark Knight: Boy Wonder – a follow up of the Frank Miller series he had worked on and also a painted cover for Giuseppe Camuncoli’s layouts in Batman: Europa 1. Neither projects have surfaced yet. The Wildstorm imprint was officially declared ended by DC in September 2010.

With DC’s enormous revamp of it’s entire line, A-List artists were brought to the forefront to work on the most prominent titles. With a Justice League movie in discussion /pre-production at present DC was always going to put JL first in their choices of creative teams. The illustrious team of Jim Lee as penciller and Geoff Johns as writer is certainly, still, a cocktail that no true fan of the artform can ignore. If anything that is Lee’s great talent. Enduring popularity. His art work remains so fresh and clear, and so respresentative of what people want from their books – in spite of changes in the industry itself – that Lee has proven himself a Practitioner who has wandered away from the thing he is most beloved for, but like a much younger, more south east asian Peter Cook, retains a place in every fan who ever saw his work. This is testament to Lee’s enormous talent. His offers to put out projects reveals a conflict of interests that has taken him away perhaps too much in the last two decades, however he is a brave artist who pursued greater goals. Without finding ourself in the same situation who are we to say we wouldn’t pursue those same goals…. however Lee’s example is certainly a cautionary one. Swathes of exceptional artwork, pages and pages of classic comic work haven’t seen the light of day. From the top down the industry runs on one thing – putting out the best books possible. While we can never undermine someone’s right to do whatever they want – what would we have given to see more Lee?

Kapow Diary 4: Frank Quitely, the Guinness Book of World Records and the Trouble with Gibbons (Pt 1)

You should always try to meet your heroes. There is a reason they’re your heroes. Frank Quitely is a genius. Capable of mixing line work with beautific composition like a parisian master in between the erratic highs of victorian period heroin and a sharp dose of Absinthe. Man’s a magician of the highest order and I respect him greatly. He is an Alan Silverstri. One of those artists that you pull out of the drawer when you want to make a million bucks on a comic book. You could write about Ingrid Bergman’s feet – nobody cares because Silvestri or Quitely’d make them look better than Ingrid’s herself!!

It should also be said that there is a fine art in the meeting of your heroes. One of them is not to tell them loudly about your mate’s baby’s unnaturally hard head. But I did and that was the least of it. I didn’t even limit it to my all time hero, I scattered my absurd intros to any legend of comicdom that’d stop and listen. For f@ck’s sake don’t make eye contact with me – I’ll tell you my Nan’s name!

I arrived at the Kapow Comicon on Saturday with a zen-like attitude towards what would take place. As far as I was concerned I’d roll up with the kit, set up the tables, sell some books and make our way. But this plan was shot to buggery. Firstly, its important to understand that artists do enjoy a certain degree of anonymity as they move around these comic cons. People know them for their work but they don’t know them on sight. Some artists defy this by looking exactly like you think they will. John Romita Jr looks like he’ll plug yer as soon as look at yer on some newspaper strewn street, Dave Gibbons looks like the friendly old penciller you’d expect to see sitting quietly and calmly at a drawing board under a arm lamp finalising the finishing touches on his latest piece, Brian Bolland looks like a gentlemen who can’t let a page go ’til he has lovingly and caringly cross created it like a kindly Gepetto fashioning his wooden boy and so on. Simon Bisley looks like a biker etc, etc. But only when you know who they are – by dint of they’re career they are an invisible presence. They’re an unseen hand, leaving a slap mark on the rump of the comic industry without anybody getting a good look at them.

But they are also the bass guitarist to the Writers lead singer. The artist, at his height is what gives the fans what they need and drives the lyric and lead guitar forward. You get an action sequence, that my friends is the artists guitar solo. Pyow, Nyoooow, rooooooow. (Ahem). They have the capacity to enthrall and infuriate. Its on the strength of their work alone – except for extremely gifted autistics who can read a book front to back in a second – that a book is initially picked up. They’re the good guys who never say a wrong word – cos they never write one down. And I was about to run into a few of them.

The Guinness Book of Records event was being set up at the far end of the event, by the IGN stands and the entrance. An intention to create a comic book using the greatest number of artists in one day. The original script being written by Mark Millar and then possibly expanded upon, I later overheard, by other script writers. It was a great idea. The pages split into three panels, an artist taking on one each and producing a full length comic book to be printed by Marvel comics that afternoon.

Having missed the E-mail I went down to the stand it was all taking place at (by the IGN stand at the front) to sign up which I did. Up on the stage was Leinil Yu and Frank Quitely, quietly finishing their panels. This was a quiet sight with not many people around and the Guinness Book of Records crew oblivious to who was sitting there. They didn’t care. They don’t read comic books. They read the Guinness Book of Records and the Roy Castle Autobiography. Anyway, I found myself in a strange predicament as I was the only one aware of the importance of the two gentlemen sitting in front of me. These were giants of the industry. These were the poster boys for the industry I’m trying to break into. However, they were also practitioners of the art I want to be part of and so should be afforded professional courtesy right. Professional courtesy probably extends to not bothering them while they’re working on a taped off raised table but what the hell – this was Frank Quitely and Leinil Yu.

I said to one of crew ‘, Woah. That’s Frank Quitely and Lienil Yu.’
‘Oh’, he replied politely in a way that I would if someone had said ‘Woah. That’s Tamara Beckwith and Natalie Pong,’ (I made the second name up which gives you some perspective).
‘Who are they?’ The Guinness representative inquire, helpfully, realising he might need to know.
I did well here in keeping calm but I mentioned ‘All Star Superman, X-Men, Hulk, Wolverine’ ‘Geniuses, ‘ and ‘in awe’ at least once.
‘You should meet them.’ the Guinness representative said. What a prick. What f@cking unhelpful, cheerful, friendly prick.
‘No I shouldn’t,’ I said – thinking on some level that I shouldn’t.

In this discourse Leinil Yu stood up. signed off on his panel and started moving off the stage. As he did so Lucy Unwin, the organiser, moved in to shuffle him off. Yu seemed kinda placid and calm. I moved forwards with the intention of talking to him. I stopped short of saying touching him. What would I want to touch him for? Weird. Whatever. It actually wasn’t about touching but by now Lucy was very efficiently whisking Leinil away. However, still sitting unguarded by the surrounding Guinness Book of Records representatives, still oblivious to the pure legend they had sitting amongst them quietly unaware, was Frank Quitely. Now I could be properly mental. As the Guinness representative insisted ahead of me that I should introduce myself as he’s my hero – I felt that pull. The feeling I get when I’m entering uncertain psychological territory and the edges of my behaviour begin to thin. I focussed sharply, trying to occupy my mind on simply introducing myself to my long time hero. So I went the other way. Not wanting to be a fanboy.

So I caught his attention. ‘Vincent,’ I said.

The thing you have to understand is that I had written about Quitely, and Leinil Yu and many other of the other Practitioners present at Kapow (Mark Millar, John Romita Jr, Brendan McCarthy, Dave Gibbons) in a series of articles I’ve written for this site – never once thinking about what it would mean when I met them. I can tell you right now when you’re faced with a hero and hopefully, one day, a colleague you admire and respect the weirdest thing to know – and something I don’t usually – is what school they went to – or their real name. Frank Quitely’s is Vincent, Vincent Deighan. And I’d just used it like I knew him. And I don’t. Never met him in my life. And obviously, neither has he. And now he was looking at me wondering if I knew him.

So things had changed now. I knew Frank Quitely by name and he’d turned and expected a mate or a colleague but it was a man, scruffy like an ancient sheep who came to tell him he loved him. Using your actual name and then telling them you love him didn’t seem apt. So my brain opted for another angle. One that justified the use of his personal name…

BEN MORGAN! Ben Morgan was my partner on the original Beyond the Bunker and lived in Edinburgh. He had claimed a short while ago that he had been drinking with Frank Quitely. ‘If you’re lying Morgan I’ll fly to the South side of the Forth and nut you you bear tree mother f@cker’ I thought at that point. Frank acknowledged the association and said he hadn’t seen him since before he had his son. He then waited quietly while I told him that ‘ things have been rough for Ben recently, he’s only just got a job.’ Who the f@ck cares about Benjamin Morgan my brain was telling me on some level – give him your book, tell him you love him – his WORK – YOU LOVE HIS WORK (F@CK’S SAKE!)

This was supposedly enough of a connection for me so I asked if he was going for a drinks tonight and he said ‘yeah, he most probably would,’ and he asked where was good to go. I didn’t know. I’d been drinking round the area in recent weeks and had completely forgotten the name of any pubs. So now I was arranging to go for a pint with the guy on the basis and that he had had a drink with one of my mates in Edinburgh and a three minute conversation.

I chucked him Moon 1, saying we were making it available to legends (thereby swinging back into fanboy territory again). He seemed to like it, politely flicking through it and nodding occasionally saying it was good.

It’s hard to know what the right response you’re looking for is. ‘This is the finest piece of artwork I have seen for some time! I would like to mentor you and introduce you to the commissioning editors of DC,’ would be nice. So I accepted his acknowledgement that he could see a marked improvement in the work as the book progressed which was nice of him.

I maintained the pub talk and suggested I’d let him know where we were all going if I saw him about the place again. As I maintained the conversation I could feel the dread moment, I could feel mysef heating up as the steady realisation that I was maintaining a sensible conversation with one of my heroes began to dawn on me. I had to back out before I said something stupid (something I proved was an accurate concern later on) and I’m pretty sure my eyes went all boggly. I’m not sure its a visible tick but they were definitely wider than they were meant to be. So I legged it, booked in at 3.30pm to come back and do my stint on the Guinness Book of Records stand.

BE BACK HERE TOMORROW TO SEE WHAT HAPPENED AT 3.30PM

Day 1 of Kapow: Lesson Learned. Leave Frank Quitely alone.

Day 1 of Kapow came and went very well frankly. I have decided to leave Frank Quitely alone tomorrow and I will allay my suspicions that Dave Gibbons stole my pens. My suggestion that Brendan McCarthy doesn’t look much like his picture was a master stroke in introductory conversation. I will now appear in a Marvel comic book (by tomorrow) on a page with Dave Gibbons (artist on Watchmen) as well as The Guinness Book of Records (whenever that’s out). I was given a stick of rock by a child care assistant in a low cut top who got it from a burlesque dancer from the Isle of Wight. I gave it to a Scotsman. Oh, and we sold some books.

That is all.

GIVE ME BACK OUR PENS, GIBBONS!!

(None of this will make any sense until Monday when all will be revealed – possibly with pictures but needless to say its all going very well.)