Jim Lee reflects on a life in art — and the art of life

Aug. 27, 2012 | 4:10 p.m.

This October, Jim Lee will reach a special moment in a very special career. The most celebrated comic book artist of his generation will mark his silver anniversary — that’s right, it’s been 25 years since “Alpha Flight” No. 51 announced the arrival of a major new force.

alphaflight Jim Lee reflects on a life in art    and the art of life

Alpha Flight No. 51 (Marvel Comics)

The polish and composition confidence of Lee’s earliest work hinted that he might be the heir of “X-Men” and “Fantastic Four” star John Byrne (who also created “Alpha Flight”), and over time his maturing style took on the evocative power and sinew that suggested he might also be a latter-day Neal Adams. But long before Lee was a powerhouse figure in the comics industry and co-publisher of DC Entertainment, he was just a kid who liked to draw.

“When I was a kid I never felt that what I was drawing really represented me; it was just something I enjoyed,” Lee said. “As you get older you have kids, you get more introspective about what you’re doing and start connecting some of the dots. People ask me, ‘What happened in your life that might have pushed you as an artist to get to where you are today?’ I always felt a  little on the outside. And as such you’re always observing things. So I’d be kind of re-creating these things in my mind and I think drawing it was a way to deal with that.”

We sat down with Lee, now 47, at his San Diego home to talk about his life in art as well as the art of life and the result was the video above. This is the second installment in our signature series, you can watch the first — a visit with Mike Mignola — right here.

— Geoff Boucher


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14 Responses to Jim Lee reflects on a life in art — and the art of life

  1. Rex says:

    Seriously, did anyone actually LOOK at the Alpha Flight 51 before writing, shooting (or even reading) this piece? Lee's interior work (that's not his cover) in that and other early issues showed little promise. He was extremely fortunate–as were many in the industry–to be allowed to hone his skills while getting paid, something I suspect a lot of would-be artists (and no, I'm not one) don't get the opportunity to do these days with the market so absolutely glutted with books drawn by successors and imitators of Lee and his Image cronies. No doubt his determination saw him through, but in his wake (shared with a handful of others) he left a market overburdened with comics more focused on POSES and obfuscating computer-generated colouring than fluid action and storytelling. Lee's later work stands on its own, but seriously, drain the colour from the work of many of his "heirs" and you're left with some gallingly mediocre artwork. I won't deny Lee his (eventual) talents, but the effect his "generation" had on the industry has been questionable in the long run. Collectively, they and their pose-prone styles single-handedly killed my interest in comics altogether, and nothing I've skimmed through in the intervening years has convinced me that was the wrong decision.

    • Mark Dudley says:

      Rex Jim Lee and his "Cronies" where a product of their times. What they did with Image, though in hindsight it was ill informed on a number of levels and Gaudy set a path for creator owned work that flourishes at Image today. The rebelliousness and willingness to thumb their noses at the norm is what Jim Lee and the Image guys claim to fame is, even though this was relatively short lived for Jim Lee.

  2. adam alexander says:

    Uncanny X-Men 270-272 blew my mind, and still do today. Those issues created a hunger for the medium throughout my teens, it was an exciting time to be reading comics.

    My opinion is that artists are at their most interesting just before they settle into habits of stylisitic production efficiency (see: Chris Bachalo's run on Shade the changing Man, Mignola on Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser, Silvestri in the early 200s of the uncanny xmen) – but that's probably just a reflection of contempt of the familiar mixed with nostalgia of the time.

    Nevertheless, maximum respect to an industry legend, happy 25 years Mr. Lee!

  3. @comixguru says:

    Fantastic interview of Jim Lee. Definitely one of my favorite comic book creators. Thank you so much!

  4. Rock says:

    God, i mis the Jim Lee and Chris Claremont X-men days!

  5. joe says:

    what a legend!

  6. Abhay Kanwar says:

    this is so awesome, even though he is one of the greatest artist of this generation, he is so laid back and chilled out…

  7. gunsmith says:

    one of my top 3 favorite artists…

  8. krylyr says:

    Uncanny X-Men 256 was the first X-Men title I picked up, and Lee's dark, exciting, moody, and sexy artwork just hypnotized me. I've loved a lot of what he's done since, but I'll always love his run on the X-Men with Claremont. So strange and lovely – definitely uncanny!

  9. JohnRobietheCat says:

    Umm, honestly, I thought the X-Men were better before he got there. The Byrne & Paul Smith era. The X-Men are unrecognizable battling demons now- maybe not his fault or more the 90's &the corporate caretakers who just treat these guys like video game characters to mix up to get the numbers up.

    He's a good comic artist, maybe fine fellow and all but his aesthetic is all over DC comics (which I'm clearly not into) which probably outsources to get the nitty, gritty digital detail they love. I assume the people who can''t draw Gene Colan hands don't get the break he got for Marvel Comics. Not that I care, DC comics was always lame but retrofitting the product with happening, excruciatingly detailed artists is just a souless exercise in corporate stewardship…What happened to Image? DC is just monotous, vioent stories aimed at teenage boys so its all good. I guess that's the reasoning. To me, it sounds artless and cynical. The comic medium is evolving into something more. You can like Jim Lee just fine, he's good but I just don't nominate him to be a gatekeeper of the comic arts. His style shouldn't dictate what comics can be…. And hopefully,that's not the "Justice League".. Convulted books that are packed in every frame with too many superheroes and no plausible story. It makes tons of money but barely readable… ..

  10. JLB 68 says:

    @ Rex, I think you're confusing Jim Lee with Rob Liefeld. No doubt, there were many who tried to ape Lee. But, Liefeld was more about the all posing, all gimmick comicbook art; Jim Lee was the polar opposite, hence his longevity in comics.

    Jim Lee is the modern day John Byrne (who inspired many of Lee's contemporaries). He's a great co-publisher, but Jim Lee belongs at the drawing board.

  11. JohnRobietheCat says:

    Feel like I should add from my comment before that though I'm down about DC comics and that aesthetic, I like Jim Lee. There is no arguing he is one of the great comic artists of our generation and clearly is a hard worker who loves his craft. And I've seen him at a panel in person, he really is a laid back nice guy who is trying to figure it all out to get better like the rest of us.

    It's a good analogy that he's the modern day Jphn Byrne. Being of the same age group as Jim, I took a class with John Byrne in his prime when I was a teenager at a comic convention in Boston since he was a big idol then. Groundbreaking artist but a mean fellow and a disinterested teacher. I saved up for two months for that class and it was just lame, quick thing of how not to draw Superman flying through a window. (My guess is he's the not so nice guy Jim might have been referring to in this video.) Jim's talk with Stan Lee on YouTube-"Comic Book Greats" from early 90's ) was fun and much more helpful ;-)

  12. Sam says:

    I thought his early work on Punisher War Journal was awesome. He got to shocase his skills whenever there were special appearances in those issues ( Daredevil, Spiderman, Wolverine )
    Frank Castle was always portrayed bad ass when Jim Lee drew him.

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