Jim Lee was once one of the best-known artists in comics. But now, his name has taken on another identity as he was appointed earlier this year as co-publisher at DC Entertainment.
In the first part of our interview with Lee, we looked back at the milestones that brought him to this point in his career, from his decision to ignore his psychology degree from Princeton and draw comics instead, to his ground-breaking move to co-found Image Comics.
Today we turn our attention toward his current job as co-publisher, talking about what his job entails and what he's been doing lately, including his work on DC's digital program to his redesign of Wonder Woman's costume.
Newsarama: Jim, it's tough to understand exactly what "co-publisher" means. I know you coordinate the actual comic publishing decisions with your co-publisher, Dan DiDio, while he handles the day-to-day activities in editorial. And we know you're involved more in the decisions about digital comics. But how would you describe the main focus of your job? What are the key things you're concentrating on right now as co-publisher?
Jim Lee: I'm actually mostly involved with the video game stuff. [laughs] By "video game stuff," I mean the... uh... interactive gaming...
Nrama: You're talking to Newsarama readers, Jim, so I think "video game stuff" will suffice. We get it.
Lee: [laughs] I'm trying to think of the term. But yeah, it's video game stuff. I'm involved with the video game stuff.
There's three aspects to my job. There's the co-publishing stuff that I work with Dan on. Then there's the digital stuff where I work with John [Rood, executive vice president, sales & marketing]. And then the video game stuff, where I also work with Geoff [Johns, chief creative officer].
And that focus on video games really comes from seeing the DC Universe Online game through its final stages toward completion.
But I'm also involved with future DC video games, and we hope to announce some cool projects coming up really soon. The video game market is huge, and the ability to tell stories, and tell different kinds of stories in the gaming space is quickly evolving and changing for the better. I think it's going to give us some opportunities for the people who work in comics to do what they do in different media, like interactive games. It uses many of the same talent, but also different skills and abilities.
To use an example, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, for people who haven't played it yet, it ends in a very atypical way. Most video games, you build up toward the big, bad boss. And it's just a bigger, more powerful version of what you've been fighting all along in the game. And what I've seen change in recent years is, as the focus is more on story, it's brought a strong narrative to the game, and the ending isn't necessarily that type of ending. It might be more of a dramatic ending, or there's a change in the storyline or a reveal or a plot point or a twist.
That really speaks to how the game space is going to evolve and change, and have stronger stories. That's a prime area for DC Entertainment to be involved with, and that's something that I've been kind of chomping at the bit to do more of.
Nrama: One of the first things we saw after the new executive team was announced was this new digital program. When you came on board, I'm sure some things had been in motion, but what pushed it forward and led to where it's going? Was putting you and John in charge the push it needed to get done?
Lee: There was a digital task force made of Richard Burning, Ron Perazza, Rich Palermo, Andrea Shochet and Dave McCullough. They had done a lot of the groundwork already. So when John Rood and I joined that group, it was just a matter of focusing on what would be our prime goals. We wanted to look at what we could set up and enact short term vs. long term.
John has a lot of experience in planning and marketing, and his input was indispensable. And his passion for the digital channel made a huge difference.
When you talk about digital, a lot of times you are met with resistance. But a new channel of distribution is not going to be created by that level of excitement. So I think you have to find people who are very passionate about the new format and the new distribution channel.
It took a lot of effort, a lot of hours and a lot of work. That said, it was a great group of people to work with and the launch went as smoothly as one would hope. It was actually surprisingly smooth. It was awesome.
Nrama: After the announcement of DC's digital strategy came the news that the Zuda Comics site was being shut down. Is that because the digital channels are changing with the introduction of reading devices? Or is it more about abandoning the idea of "free" webcomics because that idea never really caught on?
Lee: I think it's a mix of all those things. Part of our digital strategy is to offer free books as digital samplers, but I think having that as a business model existing concurrently with these stores on Playstation and our app, it didn't make a lot of sense.
I think it was more about keeping it coherent and logical. But also, to modify it to a certain degree.
[Zuda] is something we put three years of time and effort and money into, and launched a lot of properties and brought in new talent — and actually garnered quite a bit of critical praise and a pretty strong reception. And at the same time, you're playing to a slightly different audience, just because it's not your typical superhero fare.
There's a desire to keep that kind of material in place. But I think the way we're setting up the business model to make that happen has evolved and changed.
The business model going forward has been, at the same time, really influenced by what Zuda was and what it accomplished. And we'll still be affected by the lessons we learned through doing that.
Nrama: You mentioned that Zuda played to a different audience, with non-superhero comics. What is the new business model for continuing the effort to reach that audience now? Is it through Vertigo?
Lee: The Zuda brand and WildStorm and Vertigo are all still there. The point I was trying to make is that, we feel like digital is not just the typical superhero consumer converting from paper to pixel, or paper to megabyte or whatever. We feel that there's a different audience we're going to capture through the channel. And we're going to get sampling of comic books.
That will give us the opportunity to sell comic book stories to different kinds of readers. To new readers, different age groups of readers, different genders, to girl audiences, to urban audiences, to kids — there's a lot of opportunity. It's more cost-effective in that sense to try new lines and new kinds of material.
Nrama: You mentioned some coordination with Geoff, who's doing the media coordination at DC Entertainment. And probably the next major DC character that will get a focus in the mainstream world is going to be Green Lantern, since that movie is due in theaters next year. Are you involved at all with decisions about the movies, or at least in how a character like Green Lantern is utilized within your realm of responsibilities, as the release of his film approaches?
Lee: Green Lantern is 99 percent Geoff's domain. I've given my two cents here and there. But he's so closely associated with that character and has such a distinct vision for that character that what I bring to the table is very duplicative, if that. So I know when to be helpful and when to give those responsibilities to someone who's more talented or knowledgeable than I am.
It is exciting to see a character like Green Lantern lifted up to stand next to Superman and Batman and Wonder Woman, and that's certainly our hope for the character. It's going to be an exciting experience next year to see that.
As comics fans, we're so knowledgeable about these characters. We don't see that much of a difference between Green Lantern and Superman in terms of how we look at those characters. But for the rest of the world that has never read a comic book, this is the first time they're going to see this character. I'm trying to wrap my head around that, what it would be like to see the lantern and the Guardians and hearing the oath for the first time. What's that like?
It's just exciting to see another DC character brought to life, through different media. And I know we're hoping to do that with more than just Green Lantern.
Nrama: Since we're talking about the characters, what did you originally think of this idea to change Wonder Woman's costume and do this new direction with her comic? And what has the reception been to your redesign?
Lee: I don't think you can be a comic book fan and not hate change. [laughs] I knew that whoever did the redesign would be walking into a stream of bullets. At the same time, it's part of our job, I think, and part of our responsibility to make these kinds of decisions. We have to look for ways to make the characters better and more exciting.
Obviously, it has stirred up a lot of debate, and I think that's good. It speaks to the level of investment people have in these characters. And I love seeing that kind of passion.
I got some horrible messages! You know? But at the same time, I completely respect and am amazed by how strongly feel about things like this. It's just a reminder to me of how important the history of these characters is. The fiction, the universe that we're creating with these characters, how strong that can be. And what a responsibility that is for us to shepherd and maintain and grow and expand.
That said, I think it was an opportunity for all of fandom to voice an opinion about something they didn't even read. But it was definitely a water cooler discussion point, and to that end, it was good to highlight that character in that way and bring her to the fore.
But I think a lot of people don't understand that the costume is integral to the storyline. There's a method to all this madness. There's a reason for the change in the costume. It wasn't just sort of a gratuitous change to spark discussion.
At the same time, it's great to see people care.
Nrama: We've reviewed a couple of the key announcements you've been involved in, Jim. But coming down the road, is there anything we should look forward to from DC, within your realm of responsibilities?
Lee: There are a couple things we're working on which will really highlight what we're trying to do at DC Entertainment. That's about as much detail as I can give you. It's about integrating across the lines more than it is having one big announcement. When you try to do something bigger and more grandiose, a lot of times it's more apt to fall apart. It's a lot easier to lay down a bunch of singles than it is to get a home run. But you have to have a mixture of both.
One of the main reasons for creating DC Entertainment was to better integrate DC Comics within the Warner Bros. division. And I think some of the things we're working on that will spark the most interest are the projects that touch upon that directive.