Friday, May 30, 2014

Entry 238: Blast From The Past- Part 15

What you see there is my one collaboration with Jim Lee. Jim drew the characters and asked me to draw the background. I have no idea what this was for. I think it was just some concept art. If I recall correctly, this was done not long into my ten-week internship at Wildstorm. I was super nervous about doing this background. I really wanted Jim to like it.

We're going back to 2003 in this, the 15th, Blast from the Past entry.

One day I was working on a drawing. (Not the one you see above.) And Jim Lee came and told me to use a lot of vertical lines. I had no idea how that bit of advice could have applied to what I was drawing, but I just said, "Okay," part of me wondering if he was just messing with me. Only much later did I realize that he wasn't talking about the drawing I had in front of me, he was talking about this drawing, the one above. By the time I realized that I had already finished it. After putting a lot of effort into it, when I gave him this drawing with my background he seemed blasé about it, even a little confused. Later when I realized that his "vertical lines" comment was for this drawing, I wondered if I had not put enough vertical lines in the buildings for his tastes. But now I think his reaction didn't have to do with the vertical lines at all. He always responded to my work that way.

Jim would often look at my drawings and tell me what could be better or how he would have done it. He would sometimes give me little assignments that he could then critique. He'd have me make a photocopy of my work so that he could draw over it and show me how it should have been done. 

At some point he gave me a script to draw. It was actually a story outline created by him and his WildC.A.T.S. co writer Brandon Choi. It was a whole new comic idea. Jim told me to take it and do some layouts. He sort of made it sound like, if I did a good job, maybe it could be something they could publish. So I took the task really seriously. I set out doing a bunch of sketches.  

Here are some of my early drawings for this project that i will refer to as Project X.

These don't seem that bad do they? Jim didn't seem to like any of it. He seemed disappointed every time I showed him anything. He never seemed to care for my drawings and he didn't like my designs. Here are some set designs I did. 

By the way, these sketches were my first time using gray tone markers.

I remember Ali Garza looking at these and saying that he thought Jim would really like them. His comment buoyed me. But when I showed them to Jim he didn't seem to like them. He had nothing but criticisms.

Here are my layouts for the first issue. Keep in mind, this was an open story outline. That means I could set the pace and create the storytelling however I wanted.

My layouts really were this detailed, though I added the gray tones to make them a little more presentable for this blog entry. 

That last page isn't really a layout. It was done later based on my layout.

When I showed these layouts to Jim, once again, he seemed unimpressed. (Keep in mind, these pages didn't have the gray tones at that time.) He felt I had taken too long to get to the point in the story where the team is suiting up. He didn't seem to like anything before that point and thought I should have compressed it. Looking back on it, I kind of agree with him.

That's the thing, Jim seemed to be disappointed in everything I showed him and when he criticized it and showed me how it could have been done better he was almost always right. His version was always better. I mean, whatever you think about Jim Lee's art, the fact is that he had decades of experience over me. When it comes to drawing comics he knows what he's talking about, and I appreciated what I was learning from him. But he always seemed so confused and disappointed in my work. I began to think that he regretted giving me the internship and I genuinely started to wonder if I was a good enough artist to draw comics. My confidence was fading.

Here are some more sketches for this "Project X"

It became clear to me that this Project wasn't going anywhere. I don't know if Jim ever considered it something that could possibly be published or if he just wanted to have me draw something so that he could give me critiques. 

After my internship I continued coming around the Wildstorm studio to show Jim and everyone what I was working on and to continue trying to get work. When I eventually started getting work from Dark Horse Jim told me that it was good-- I could go off and work for someone else and when I got better I could come back to work for them. 

I remember thinking, yeah right. Like I was going to come back. His dismissiveness of me and how he made me feel like I wasn't good enough to draw comics had filled me with resentment and all I could think was, I'll show you. I don't know if it's healthy, but for a long time I was driven by my spite for Jim. 

Eventually, I did get some complements from Jim, and one of those complements was over stuff that I showed him during my internship. It seemed like during my internship he was holding me to a higher standard and once I was gone he could see that I wasn't so bad.

I don't know where he was coming from. What I do know is that I became a better artist because of Jim Lee, and when he did eventually tell me that I was good it meant a great deal to me.

Also, during my internship, he did get me a job that became a pretty big deal for me. I'll be talking about that in my next Blast from the Past entry.

Blogged and blogged


  1. Man this is a great entry Dustin. I guess I'm also confused on his comments..were the critiques centered around story telling and pacing rather than technical execution? Because seriously I think you nailed alot of the design elements. Imo, Criticism can be destructive or constructive and the timing of when it's given is key as well. I'd prefer to hear the constuctive stuff right early in the least it gives me a chance to keep building and building and improving.
    Also- I remember you mentioning visiting Homage Studios was a big experience for you in leading you into comicbooks..i wonder how the Wildstorm experience affected your view?
    Looking forward to the next BFTP entry.

  2. Thanks for the comment, Rhandy.
    Yeah, visiting Homage was a big deal to me when I was young and it's what made me want to be a comic book artist. Getting an internship at Wildstorm really felt like it's what i had been working towards. I was kind of broken hearted when my internship ended and I felt like I was right back where I started. I really wanted to work for Wildstorm… But, this isn't the last of me trying to get work from Wildstorm. There is a lot more.
    About Jim's critiques-- most of the time it was about wanting my to be more loos and dynamic. During my internship, the only time I remember him saying something nice about my work was for the sketchy Lobo/Ladytron pages I posted a few BFTP entries ago. There was something in there he liked.
    Here was what it was like-- When you get reviews on your work, if you read those reviews or comments, the bad ones are always the ones you focus on. It takes like 5 good comments to equal 1 bad one. Now imagine that you only get bad comments, and they are coming from your hero, and they are right… Most of it was constructive. I learned a lot. But, maybe he didn't know how much his opinion mattered to me, but I thought he thought I sucked. He once said, looking at something I had just drawn, that I thought was good "I guess you'll get worse before you get better." It was stuff like that that made me start to wonder if I was cut out for drawing comics. It was a horrible feeling.
    All that said, I think about the stuff he showed me all the time. When he would show me a better way to draw a shot, it all had a big impact on me.
    I guess it isn't a question of constructive vs. destructive but rather when to be encouraging.

    1. This is a fascinating post. I think you were in a difficult position when you were interning at Wildstorm because Jim Lee really was your hero so you were incredibly susceptible to his opinion. On the other hand, I think even at that time you were already moving in a much different direction. I think your overall view of comics doesn't really fit into the "Wildstorm" mold. That's part of what's so fascinating about this. I think Jim Lee really is a genius- everything you're describing only confirms that. He really had a vision of what comics were to him. It's why he's the famous comic book star that he is. Unfortunately, his vision is a bit... limited. It's all about creating a very specific kind of "dynamic" comic- and there's ALOT that falls well outside that vision. If you look at the artists that became stars under Jim Lee, they all follow in the Jim Lee tradition. It's a tradition that goes back to guys like Neal Adams and John Buscema. I don't think you're that kind of artist. You were still articulating your voice at the time, and as you point out, Jim had years of experience over you making very different kind of comics than the ones you aspire to today. I don't think you were in a good position to assert your vision, but I do think it's latent in these drawings. There's a sensitivity to world building and story telling that doesn't necessarily rely on the "dynamic" crutch of mainstream comics. "Dynamic" has it's place, but there are other approaches. I don't think Jim might have been sensitive to those things in your work- he was pushing for something else. Anyways, I think you were very fortunate
      to work under a legend like Jim Lee- I'm sure it only pushed you to be even better and it gave you a taste of a comics tradition that's already fading away. You got to be a part of comic book history.

    2. Thanks for the comment. I think you're right about everything you've said here. As my friend through all of this, your perspective on my experience probably has more clarity than mine.
      I think I was super lucky to have this experience. And you're right, that tradition is already fading.