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By Way of the Gun - Part 1

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It’s not everyday you’re tapped as the artist for one of literature’s most beloved characters as well as one of your company’s biggest endeavors ever.  Jae Lee stopped by to talk about his work with Stephen King’s Gunslinger on Marvel’s Dark Tower: The Gunslinger Born mini-series.

BROKEN FRONTIER: Starting off, Dark Tower has been one of Marvel’s most hyped projects as they continue to attempt to reach a new audience and bring them to comics.  How did you become involved with the series? Did you immediately try to get involved when it was announced or did Marvel approach you for this?

JAE LEE: Well, Joe (Quesada) first approached me about it years ago just when it was a near possibility.  He called me up on a Saturday afternoon and said that he had been talking to Stephen King’s people and there was a possibility of this and asked if I would be interested.  Like anyone would, I told him that of course I was.  The thing then was that he didn’t want to get my hopes up too high since at the time a lot of things still had to fall into place.  And likewise I was very excited about the idea but knew that if I had banked on this happening and it didn’t I would be very disappointed.

But about half a year later the deal was put through and they told me to put together some sample pages to show to Stephen King.  Those became the 4 pages that they’ve been using to promote the book online and helped to seal the deal.

BF: Very cool.  Now when Joe first approached you about this was it always to do something with the Dark Tower books or was it simply about Stephen King?

JL: It was always The Dark Tower from the beginning.  I think that’s because it’s Stephen King’s most personal work and it was the perfect story for us to expand upon.  There was a lot of the story that has been left untold.

So, we were never going to do the origin of Pennywise the Clown. [Laughs] Although that would have been cool too.

BF: I guess with the books already being serialized that made a nice transfer.

JL:Right.

BF: Your artistic style almost seems like it was made for this book.  Was that a reason you got into the book and were so excited about it?

JL: Yes.  The book basically has everything that I like drawing.  The world is old and decaying; everything is falling apart; everyone is dirty.  I’m having such a great time with this.  I love drawing organic things.  I hate drawing things like spaceships and other sci-fi related elements.  But this has been such an organic process for me it’s going to be hard when this is over because I can’t imagine a book that’s more suited for my tastes.

BF: Is part of the joy then the fact that this world of the Gunslinger there are so many elements and influences – from old world castles to the western gunman wandering around?

Click to enlargeClick to enlargeJL: Yeah, it’s actually pretty crazy.  You have this Western Motif going on, but it’s somehow tied to the Arthurian legends.  Then in the second issue you’ve got tanks and gas stations. [Laughs] It’s just been amazing what I’ve gotten to draw.

BF: Is there any added pressure that you feel working on this project considering how well-known of a property it is outside of comics, not to mention the huge push it’s getting from Marvel?

JL: There were so many pressures with this book.  First of all, scheduling wise, this is such an important book for Marvel that I can’t be late.  I HAVE TO deliver it on time.  Not only that, but the work has to be at such a high level just to do the story justice.  Plus the storytelling has to be clear since there will be a lot of non-comic book readers who will check this out.

For people who have never read a comic book, reading one can sometimes be very confusing.  Even for me sometimes it’s hard to know which panel to read next.  So I made a conscious effort to make every panel as simple to read as possible.  That’s also why I went with the letterbox format.  Each panel runs horizontally across the page and there should be no confusion as to what you read next.

I specifically staged it so it’s like you’re watching a movie.

Click to enlargeClick to enlargeBF: Speaking of all the influences that there are on this book, and how big of a project it is, did you have to do any research in your preparation for illustrating it?

JL: Yeah, I had to buy a bunch of cowboy books. [Laughs]

I’ve actually been meaning to buy a replica gun.  That way I had a 3-D model that I could hold in my hand.  The gun has actually been the toughest thing to draw because it’s really hard to draw a gun in perspective.  It sounds like an easy thing but it’s really not.  When someone is pointing a gun at you and you have to draw that, if you don’t do it right it can look like they’re holding a lollipop.  So that’s why in the first few issues you only see the guns in a profile view. [Laughs]  A little cheat on my part.

BF: [Laughs] Sometimes you just have to build to it. Now, were you a fan of these books?  Had you read them all?

JL: I had only read the first couple.  So when I got the assignment I had to finish reading the rest of them.  When I was reading them I kept thinking “I can’t believe I’m going to get to draw this!”  Book 4 (Wizard & Glass) was easily my favorite and it turns out that that is the story we are expanding on.

Continued tomorrow...

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