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By Way of the Gun - Part 2

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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.

Part One

BROKEN FRONTIER: As you mentioned, the book being expounded upon is Wizard & Glass.  That particular book is a flashback tale of sorts to Roland’s youth.  Now when you found out that was the book you were working with (so to speak), did you want to do a straight adaptation or were you looking to expound upon those characters and story?

JAE LEE: Well, the thing is that with Roland’s back-story you need to retell the story of Roland and Susan.  Otherwise if we just jumped right into picking up after Wizard & Glass you wouldn’t really know what Roland had been through.  Obviously people who had read that book would know, but anyone who never read it wouldn’t really have a clue and wouldn’t have any sympathy for the character. 

So, it was a juggling act.  You have to make the story interesting enough and present it in a unique way so that people who have read Wizard & Glass won’t be bored, and, also, you have to retell the story so that people who haven’t read it won’t be completely lost.  Therefore we decided to focus the first mini-series on retelling the story that is in Wizard & Glass, then in the later volumes branch out into different stories.

The whole thing will last about 30 issues and only the first 7 issues are devoted to Wizard & Glass.  The second series will be a 5-issue series and we’ll take it as far as Jericho Hill, or maybe a little farther.

BF: What is it like working with Robin Furth, who is one of the writers of the book?

JL: It’s been great.  She is so into the Dark Tower saga because she had to live and breathe it for so long.  And now it’s my turn – I’ve been living and breathing it for the last year and a half.  But she’s been incredibly accessible.  If I’m ever lost or have a question about anything she always has an answer, even for things as simple as “What’s the color of Jonas’ eyes?” She always has the answer, even the obscure characters that were barely even mentioned in the books.

This is also her first time being involved in a comic book, so she’s incredibly excited about it as well.

BF: Is it interesting then to work with someone who has never written, or even been involved with, comics before?

JL: There were certain things that happened.  And these aren’t things specific to her but to any first-time writer.  Most writers will have a hard time visualizing the page so they can ask for too much on a specific page. 

In this instance the plots weren’t broken down by page but instead by scene.  So with this book some issues will run 30 pages and some will run 22, some will run 24.  We’re fortunate enough that Marvel has allowed us to use up the extra space as we need it.

Robin has adapted as a pro.

BF: So, then you do all the panel and page breakdowns for the book?

JL:Right.

BF: And Peter David is then scripting it?

JL:Yes.

BF: Now, what is the process there like?  Do you see the script or does it go from Robin to you to Peter?

JL: What happened is Stephen King came up with the plot outline.  Then Robin breaks that down into the scenes.  She gives that to me and I break it down further into the page and panel breakdowns and choreograph the whole thing.  Then I draw it out and the whole thing is sent off to Peter to script it.

BF: OK, so it’s kind of like the old “Marvel style” of doing a book?

JL: Indeed. And I’ve been in this business long enough to have worked both ways.  The last time I had worked like this though was with Namor, since the very beginning.

BF: You mentioned that Stephen King does the outlines, have you had a chance to talk with him to discuss the story or do you just go through Robin?

JL: Just through Robin.  The first time I met Stephen King was at the New York Comic Con. It was very exciting, because it’s not everyday you get to meet one of your idols.
BF: Now, over the years there have been some illustrations in the book, displaying certain interpretations of the characters. Did you look at those as well when you were putting your designs together?

JL: That was actually the first thing I did.  But really, none of it applied to what I was doing because this is Roland in his youth.  And the illustrations in Book 4 were obscure enough that I didn’t need to follow any of the details.  So this was pretty much open for interpretation and nothing was really set in stone.

It may be a different story if I had to draw Susanna and Jake and the characters Roland interacts with later on in the story.

BF: In terms of Roland, what has been said to be a big influence on him was Clint Eastwood in his famous “Man with no name” role in Fistful of Dollars.  Did you try and model anything on Clint and watch some of the old movies?

JL: Actually I tried not to.  Firstly because I’m very bad with likenesses and I knew that would be heading down a very dark road. [Laughs]  I didn’t want to try and make him look like Clint Eastwood and I think partly because in every western comic that comes out, every protagonist has to look like him.  When Stephen King first conceived the character, there weren’t a lot of Clint-clones out there.  Now everybody does it… even Jonah Hex looks like Clint Eastwood.  So to do that it would almost seem like I was riffing on other westerns.  There is a passing resemblance, but not too much.

BF: Part of Wizard & Glass is the story of Roland trying to become a Gunslinger, as he starts the story as an apprentice, which he did in the first issue…

JL: Yeah. He becomes a Gunslinger as he passes the “Rights of Manhood.”

But that’s a good question.  I’m not sure if he actually becomes a Gunslinger just because he passes that and gets to hold a gun or if he has to go through more to officially become one.  That’s a question I have to go to Robin with.

BF: Alright, I feel important now! [Laughs] Also, in this book Roland interacts with his “Ka-tet” or his group, because of that is there any attempt to branch this out and make it more of an ensemble or is the focus strictly on Roland?

JL: No, it’s very much an ensemble.  When you read the book Cuthbert gets all the best lines.  So it is an ensemble… except for Alain, who tends to get the shaft every no and again because nobody likes him. [Laughs]

Come back here tomorrow for the third and final part of our interview with Jae Lee—and a preview of next month’s Dark Tower: Gunslinger Born #3!

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