Jim Lee, co-publisher of DC Comics, is celebrating 25 years in the comic book industry. Before leading one of the largest comic publishers in the world, Lee worked for (now defunct) La Jolla-based Wildstorm Productions. He took a few minutes from his hectic Comic-Con schedule to chat a bit about his personal life and how the comics industry has changed over the years.
Patch: Do you still live in San Diego?
Jim Lee: Yes, I moved more inland, Carmel Valley area. I commute to work in Burbank.
Patch: What do you like to do around San Diego in your free time?
Lee: I like to do things that my kids like to do. I have a blended family with 8 children with a ninth to come. My kids like to do a variety of things, from equestrian riding to competitive cheerleading to cosplaying to swimming. We spend a lot of our free time taking them to events and cheering them on. In my free time, I work at DC during the day and draw comic books at night.
Patch: Do you remember your first Comic-Con? What was it like? What are some of the biggest changes to the Con you’ve seen over the years?
Lee: My first Comic-Con was 26 years ago in 1987. One thing is that everyone’s older. My first con was at the old convention center off Broadway. It was very small, the people who came primarily male, hardcore comics fans, it was a passion shared by a niche part of society, certainly not a celebrated part of pop culture. I saw it grow tremendously since. Game companies have come down here; theatrical companies. I think this is the Comic-Con we’ve always dreamed of. If only people saw the brilliance of these stories, what the art form is capable of. Now, people can see these stories across a variety of media. They’re able to take comics and source material that draw in every generation of fans, from young kids to grandma. It really has been like Bizarro World; you couldn’t have asked for a better trajectory for the business.
Patch: On that note, what do you think about the role of the independent artist at the Con? Do you think there is still a place for small publishers and independent artists to get noticed? Or is the whole thing just too big?
Lee: No, I disagree with the notion that comics have been pushed out by all these other media. Not everyone is a core comic book reader; there’s an opportunity here for us to share our stories, for making fantastic connections with people in other media. Toys, movies and games are all under one roof, and people are open to having discussions. I’m always amazed by people I run into on the street. But if you’re a comic artist, you’ve got to market yourself. Every creator has fans that love their work the most; it’s all about making connections to fans, through social media, special events at your booth, things like that. You do have to be creative in marketing your work. You have to be a bit more entrepreneurial about things.
Patch: Superman is celebrating his 75th anniversary. You recently started drawing a new comic series called Superman Unchained. He’s been in a successful summer movie. What do you think makes Superman so iconic and popular after all these years? What makes him stand the test of time?
Lee: On the surface level, people point to his amazing powers, the ability to fly and see through walls; all those things we wish we could do. But I think what really makes him so appealing is what he represents. He’s a symbol of hope; he has this ability to inspire others around him. Something he does not just to other heroes but to the people he interacts with, people at the Daily Planet, on a daily basis. He’s a symbol of truth and justice and that’s something that’s rare these days. On a profound level, people need those kinds of symbols in their lives. He works on the surface level as a great hero with awesome powers. But, he also works on a deeper, more broad thematic level in inspiring people to be best they can.
Also read: Cool, Crazy or Crazy Cool? The Characters of Comic-Con [Photos]