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C2E2 ’20: Jim Lee discusses the future of DC Comics during his spotlight panel

The artist and publisher discussed his origin story, and what he sees as the role of DC Comics going forward.

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The Jim Lee panel at this year’s C2E2 in Chicago was a must-see, at least for those interested to see if the now sole publisher of DC Comics had anything to say about the direction of the company following Dan Didio‘s recent departure from the company.

Jim Lee arrives to his spotlight panel at C2E2 2020.

The gist of it is, yes. He did comment on it. Clearly we don’t have all the answers at this juncture, and expecting them all now would be a tad overdemanding.

Jim Lee arrived to his table, in the middle of this grand stage, and said, “You guys hear any good rumours lately?” This got a solid laugh from the audience and let us know that he was aware of everything being spread in the comic book press.

“I want to talk about something that happened at DC.”

He didn’t want to fuel any speculation. DC has been around for more than 80 years, he said, and will be around for another 80, and will continue to be a huge part of Warner Brothers as it has been for decades. The strategy, he said, is to put publishing at the centre, since it generates source material that drives the media engine for movies, television shows, games, and merchandise.

His intent as publisher, he said, is to lean onto the collective years of experience that his team has. That is, after all, why he sold WildStorm to DC in the first place. They had decades of collective experience, and he assures the audience that DC is in the right hands.

He wanted to say more but he couldn’t talk about what hasn’t been announced. He did say, however, that what they have planned isn’t a line-wide reboot that ages the characters we love and shuffles them off. All he’s focused on is character-driven stories, as well as pairing the right creators with the right characters. He wants a diverse, inclusive universe with amazing stories.

He went into an anecdote about when he first started his role as Chief Creative Officer of the company. He was being introduced to a person who ran a large division inside Warner Brothers and he was incredibly nervous. This person welcomed Lee to the team and said, “We’re gonna have a lot of fun.” It put him at ease and reminded him of his mission, which is to tell fun stories about people who can fly. It put him in the right mindset going forward. And those are the very words he said to the audience right then.

He went on to talk about his origin story. His father was a doctor and his family moved to the United States when he was five. He spoke not a word of English, and comics were the only thing he could understood since it was a primarily visual medium. He said that the mark of a great comic is being able to read it without the dialogue. Comics were the cheapest form of entertainment and connected him to America, while also teaching him how to read.

In a funny moment, he appealed to those of Asian descent within the audience by talking about how aggressive his parents were when it came to his career choices. They really wanted him to be a doctor, and his entire childhood revolved around it. Every gift they got him, they thought, would make him a better doctor. Thus, you can imagine the fights they had when Lee told them he wanted to draw people with their underwear on the outside. They finally supported him when he made his dramatic exit from their home and moved out on his own.

In 1986, he graduated with a major in psychology and immediately went to work on his sample pages. He was an enormous fan of the X-Men so he really wanted to work on those characters, and ended up working at Marvel for five years. He was insanely grateful that he got to collaborate with legends like Chris Claremont and John Byrne, but he had to leave when the time came.

Jim Lee sketches during his spotlight panel

He and his fellow Image Comics creators all broke into Marvel at around the same time, and they wanted to own the things they created. By leaving the way they did, they wanted to address the power imbalance between the characters who everyone loved and the creators who interpreted that love. Fortunately, their departure advanced the industry in some ways. Computer colouring rose in popularity due to Image’s use of it, and they hired future superstar artists like Lee Bermejo and J. Scott Campbell. He did admit that they just didn’t know the business side of things too well, though. They were constantly contacted by toy and movie companies for the rights to their characters, including an Image Comics on Ice show.

By 1998, he was burned out. He wasn’t drawing as much but he was constantly taking meetings with companies in other countries that didn’t end up working out. One of the reasons he sold WildStorm to DC was because Lee thought they had incredible depth, with a great staff and a lot of experience between them.

Looking back on it, he realised that he was very depressed when he made the move to sell his company. He felt like he lost something, but he ended up working on a secret Batman project with Jeph Loeb that eventually became Hush. He wasn’t the most reliable artist when it came to deadlines, so the only people that knew about the project were Lee, Loeb, Mark Chiarello, and Mike Carlin. By the time he finally showed it to others internally, he had finished six issues. When the arc was finally solicited, he had finished nine.

He would have left DC soon after but Paul Levitz knew that Lee was a gamer and enlisted him to work on DC Universe Online. After that, Diane Nelson came in and formed DC Entertainment, and appointed Lee and DiDio as co-publishers. Lee was then made Chief Creative Officer.

Before moving onto audience questions, he laid out his vision for the line: one size doesn’t fit all, and he knows they have a varied audience. To me, that sounds like he understands the value of these multiple imprints like Black Label, Wonder Comics, and the line of kids and Young Adult comics they’ve been putting out like Teen Titans: Raven.

A couple of the audience questions centred around the existence of the Snyder Cut and whether or not DC will continue to make R-rated movies. Both questions had a common answer from Lee: he can’t really answer those because he knows the clickbait websites will take his comments and extrapolate anything they can from his words. It’s fascinating that the publisher of DC Comics doesn’t want to feed the clickbait machine, though that hasn’t stopped said clickbait sites from reporting whatever they can from the panel.

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