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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?

Practitioners 36: Adam Kubert

Adam Kubert is probably best-known for his work at Marvel Comics, in particular for a sporadic run on the solo Wolverine title with writer Larry Hama, a short run with writer Peter David on the Incredible Hulk and numerous stints on various X-Men titles. Adam Kubert is noted for his raw, dynamic art style, combined with fluid storytelling and noteworthy pacing. He’s also known for his experimentation in art style and storytelling, being one of the first mainstream (i.e. Marvel or DC employed) comic book artist to experiment with the pencils-straight-to-colour approach with Steve Bucellato on The Incredible Hulk.

On his X-Men run, Kubert was teamed up with European colorist Richard Isanove, who subsequently followed Adam to the Ultimate X-Men project, perfecting the pencils-to-color approach seen on most of Ultimate X-Men covers. Kubert has been criticized not meeting monthly deadlines on certain issues, which often required hiring fill-in artists, a penchant that Kubert himself has admitted to having. In a 1998 Wizard interview with Jim McClaughlin, Kubert apologized to fans for the slow output, explaining that readers and fans now expect more of illustrators, and that the onus rests on the artist to spend time creating more detailed and well-drafted illustrations. This he has always achieved but the maintenance of his beautifully crafted, characteristic and dynamic work justifies almost any timescale.

If anyone had any doubt: Pencils (right) to inks (left) on Hulk: 2099 (Marvel)

Although Kubert remains a talented penciller, the choice of inker for his work greatly influences the quality of the final printed page. While searching for artwork to use as examples I had to dismiss several (one in particular from DC) that didn’t showcase his work well enough. It has been argued by fans and critics alike through various mediums such as the internet and comic publications, that some of Kubert’s finest work has been embellished by the British inker Mark Farmer, especially his runs on Wolverine and The Incredible Hulk for Marvel Comics. While talented inkers, notably Danny Miki and John Dell, lent their talents to Kubert’s pencils during his runs on Ultimate X-Men and Ultimate Fantastic Four respectively, reaction to the final artwork was mixed due to the stylistic nature of the inkers which did not lend itself well to Kubert’s normally lush drawings, leading to increasing calls that Adam Kubert should once again be paired up with Mark Farmer, even more so now that Kubert has moved to DC Comics as of 2006.

When Marvel Comics launched the industry-changing Ultimate Universe series in 2001, Kubert was chosen as the penciller for the second launch book Ultimate X-Men. His storytelling and distinct style coupled with writer Mark Millar’s well crafted tales, made the book an instant success. Kubert was also chosen as the penciller to launch the ultimate universe version of Marvel’s first family, the Ultimate Fantastic Four, once again with writers Mark Millar and Brian Michael Bendis. Both series launched to commercial and critical acclaim, firmly establishing Kubert as an industry heavyweight and one of Marvel’s “go-to guys” for their major projects.

An accomplished inker, he received an Eisner Award for his inking duties on the Dark Horse-DC Comics Batman vs. Predator crossover in the early 1990s. In addition to this, Kubert is well renowned for his lettering ability, being the youngest professional comic book letterer at the age of only 11 years old. His very own handwriting was used as the template for the font used in the Ultimate X-Men comics, additionally Kubert’s early lettering work in Heavy Metal magazine was used by DC Comics as the basis for most of the fonts used in their comics and magazines.

Both Adam and his brother Andy signed exclusive contracts to work for DC Comics in 2005. Kubert illustrated Superman: Last Son, co-written by Geoff Johns and Richard Donner (director of the 1978 film Superman) – his first project for DC Comics. He was to begin contributing to the story arc with Action Comics #841 (July 2006). However, he was not involved until issue #844, published in October 2006.

Issue #845 was released on December 3, 2006 to similar acclaim and again DC had to go back to press for a second printing on the February 23, 2007. Issue #846, part 3 of the “Superman: Last Son” storyline, was originally scheduled to be released December 30, 2006 was released on February 28, 2007. The next part of the story was scheduled to be a 3D issue released in April 2007. Further delay forced DC Comics to bring in substitute creative teams and delay the fourth part of the “Last Son” storyline and 3D issue to #851, which was released in early July 2007.
According to a April 2007 post on the Internet forum Newsarama, Johns stated that the delay was made to accommodate Kubert’s schedule and that the final part of the “Last Son” storyline would be in Action Comics Annual #11.The annual went on sale on May 7, 2008.

Following his work on Superman he penciled the Final Crisis tie in, DC Universe: Last Will and Testament, written by Brad Meltzer.

Last Will and Testament by Brad Meltzer and Adam Kubert (DC)

His last work for his latest tenure at DC was the Batman and The Outsiders Special, released in February 2009. This issue, written by Peter Tomasi, highlighted Alfred Pennyworth’s efforts to recruit a new team of Outsiders in the wake of Batman’s apparent death. After the release of the book, Kubert said he was pleased with his work at DC and had done, “what set out to do,” which was to draw Superman.

May 2009 marked Adam Kubert’s return to Marvel, his first interior work being published as one of two stories in Wolverine #73 and 74. Following this he contributed several covers to New Mutants and Wolverine: Weapon X, and penciled the “Dark Reign” tie in, The List: Amazing Spider-Man.

While he has returned to penciling for Marvel, he will continue to work for DC, contributing the stories for the upcoming Wednesday Comics Sgt. Rock feature, drawn by his father. He has since stated that he is Marvel-exclusive, but they are allowing him to work on the Sgt. Rock feature as he had signed on to do it before his contract at DC was up.
Following these Kubert will be doing pencils on the upcoming Astonishing Spider-Man & Wolverine.