By Way of the Gun - Part 3

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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
Part Two

BROKEN FRONTIER: Of all the characters, who was your favorite to draw on the book?

JAE LEE: Wow… that’s a hard one.  I guess I’m happiest with the way Susan turned out.  She is always the most difficult to draw, because she’s described as the most beautiful woman in the world.  So, I always end up spending a lot of time on her just to make her as special as I can.  But that doesn’t mean I had fun doing it! [Laughs]

The most fun I had was with Jonas, the leader of the Hunters.  When you’re drawing young people you can’t cheat as much.  You can’t put extra lines on the face.  You have to make the faces a lot cleaner than I normally would.  So every line on the face has to have a meaning and purpose.  Whereas with older uglier people you can have as many lines as you want and use deeper shadows on them and it just looks right.  So Jonas would be the most fun because he’s an older character; he’s not a good looking guy; he’s got all these wrinkles…

BF: You do tend to use a lot of line work in your characters, at least in most projects.  Was that hard to start to break away from that tendency?

JL: At first it was.  I made a conscious effort to change my art style.  In fact, this is like nothing I had ever drawn before.  And not just because of the coloring from Richard Isanove, but the style that I’m taking with this is the most I’ve ever put into any project I’ve been involved with.

In the beginning it was tough and I had to erase a lot of the lines I did in order to make it look cleaner, realistic, and natural than my art used to look. 

I think I’m getting the hang of it. [Laughs]

BF: How far are you into the book right now?

JL: Well on my way with issue #7.

BF: So, are you just going to be running straight through with all 30 issues?

JL: Yeah.  There might be a lull between series at some point, but this is a marathon so I have to pace myself. [Laughs]

BF: Is there a timeline for how long the series is supposed to run?  Did Marvel come to you and tell you how long the commitment would be?

JL: It should take about 3 years.

BF: You mentioned Richard Isanove, who is your colorist on the book and has done some amazing work.  What was it like working with him for the first time?

JL: At first I wasn’t too crazy about my art being digitally colored direct from pencils.  In the past I’ve always inked my own work and felt comfortable with the traditional coloring over the inked art.  When we did the original sample pages for Stephen King, we were going to do two versions: one where he painted over the pencils and one where I did the inks as well so it would look like a more traditional comic book. 

So, I penciled the pages and sent them off to Richard and when he sent back the colored pages I was blown away.  I then called everyone over at Marvel and told them that I didn’t think we needed to do an inked version because I couldn’t imagine it looking any better than that.  So that’s how it started.

This is the first time I have gotten artwork back and it looked like another artist had stepped in.  So we ran with it.  And the end result is almost that it doesn’t look like my or Richard’s work because we’re both trying to work at a different level.  We’re trying to outdo everything that we had done before and I am really happy with the results.

And this is coming from someone who has never been happy with their work before. [Laughs]  I always see something in the work and think I could have done it so much better.

BF: Honestly, I don’t know how you can say that because every time I’m involved in a discussion about the best comic book artists your name is always one of the first mentioned and brought up the most.

JL: I am also brought up with the most hated artists as well.  For every person who loves my work there seem to be 10 more that hate it. “Too many wrinkles… too abstract… too many shadows…”

BF: Well, I’ll be honest with you and say that if there was ever a problem or criticism I had of your work is that at times it tends to be very dark, which I feel just covers up your brilliance.  In particular was the GI Joe vs. Transformers book that you did with John Ney Rieber, where some scenes were so exceedingly dark it became hard to follow…

JL: That’s because I didn’t want to draw the robots!

Click to enlargeClick to enlargeBF: Is that what that was? [Laughs]

JL: [Laughs] Yup.  I did say earlier that I hated drawing robots and sci-fi.

BF: You certainly did.

JL: So yeah, the GI Joe figures were fun to draw… the Transformers not so much. [Laughs]

But even with The Dark Tower I’m using a lot of shadows, but Richard’s palette is so bright I think that it finds a very nice balance.

BF: Well, the pages that I’ve seen have looked incredibly brilliant.  Have you found yourself working more in unison with what you know Richard can do now?

JL: Yeah.  I think with the first issue there was a huge learning curve with us just getting used to each other’s styles.  By issue #2 though I think we found our own likes and dislikes. 

A big factor wasn’t just the color but also the inking.  Richard has to translate all of the pencil lines into a hybrid of an ink, pencil, and color line.  There is a lot to resolve there.  And the end result just looks so much more polished than if I had inked it.  The quality of line that I can get with a pencil is so delicate compared to what I get with pen and ink.

BF: Moving forward with your own career, do you think you will be going this route more often then?

JL: Obviously the only person I could do this with is Richard.  So if we ended up working together again after this then yes.  But this is also a very time consuming process.  It is much, much easier for me to pencil and ink it instead of doing these finely detailed pencil lines. 

There is a part of me that wants to keep working like this, because I’m so happy with the way the art’s turning out.  But there’s another part of me that wants to move things along a little faster.  There’s a certain satisfaction with going in with ink and resolving the line art.  Sometimes it can look more natural and organic that way.

The ideal way I guess was that I can continue doing both.  Have one project with just pencils, and then have another side project where I can do pencil and ink.

BF: That would be ideal because it would mean you had more work coming out. Now, like you said, you and Richard had a learning curve working together, was there any preliminary work outside of the sample pages you guys did or did it just hit with the first issue?

JL: It just hit with the first page.  The first page with the vultures, that’s the first Dark Tower page that I drew and the first one that Richard colored.  There were no preliminaries at all.  No test pages.

Well, actually these were supposed to be the test pages but Stephen King ended up really liking them so they became the first pages of the book.

BF: Marvel promoted last month’s release of Dark Tower #1 with a midnight sale.  What are your thoughts on that?

JL: I think it’s great.  I did a signing at Midtown Comics (in NYC) at midnight and got to see it firsthand.  I think it’s really great that a lot of stores got involved with it and got into it.  I’ve heard that some stores even had costume contests and back issue and TPB sales…

BF: What did you think of the book itself when you got it in your hands that night?

JL: It’s really hard for me to judge since I’ve seen the book in so many different ways and for so long, but I’m really happy with the job the rest of the creative team has done.  Peter did a great job capturing the feel for the dialogue.  It reads exactly like the books; it’s the perfect team to be working with.

BF: I hope so; you’ve got 30 issues left!

JL: [Laughs] Yeah, I guess I shouldn’t say anything bad about the team anyway; I don’t want to start a feud with the book just starting!   

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