Jim Lee on Drawing Comics and the WildStorm Legacy

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Icons: The DC Comics and WildStorm Art of Jim Lee comes out this month–a big coffee-table book surveying Lee’s past two decades as a comics artist. It includes a hefty sampling of his work on Superman, Batman and the various titles Lee created for WildStorm, as well as a new Legion of Super-Heroes story drawn by Lee and written by Paul Levitz. (You can see some samples of the book below.) Lee’s a very busy guy these days–he’s co-publisher of DC, drawing the long-awaited continuation of All-Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder as Dark Knight: Boy Wonder, and involved in the upcoming DCU Online game. He spoke to us about his artwork, the ideas behind WildStorm, and where he’d like the look of DC’s comics to go.

TECHLAND: You’ve been drawing comics for a couple of decades now. What are your thoughts about the way the look of superhero comics has changed in that time?

JIM LEE: It’s evolved from things that look more naturalistic to a style that’s more hyperexaggerated and hyper-detailed. If you look at books from the ’70s, artists simply drew faster, got more work done a year. In the late ’80s and ’90s, a couple of artists like Art Adams and Michael Golden came out of the scene, and they did incredibly detailed work. That was a big game-changer; artists kind of had to step up and add more intricacy to their work, and that slowed them down. I’d say, on that level, modern artists are more detailed in general than previous generations. Proportions are more exaggerated–in part based on our society’s norms or expectations of what an idealized human form is. If you go back to the ’50s and ’60s, the women are a little more zaftig, and the men are not as cut up. Obviously, with the bodybuilding craze and aerobics and all that, people look very different now than they did in previous decades, and that’s reflected in the comic books.

How do you feel your own drawing has changed?

I’ve always tried to created the illusion of reality, even though I break those rules all the time and try to make the heroes bigger than life, the women more beautiful or voluptuous than humanly possible. But I try to do that with everything–the buildings and sets, the weaponry… there’s no budget! It’s all about what you can come up with in your imagination. The thing that weighs the most on how your final artwork turns out is the amount of time you have and the speed at which you can move. I’ve always tried to get as much of what’s in my head on the paper as possible.

(More on Techland: DC: We Dropped Price To Keep People Buying Comics)

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