This past weekend at San Diego Comic-Con, I had the privilege of sitting down with a few other members of the media to talk with legendary artist Jim Lee about his involvement in DC Universe Online, the upcoming MMO for the PC and Playstation 3. We were able to get some insight in to what he learned from the game, the first mention of an expansion from any party involved in the game and even the future of All-Star Batman.
John Carle: First obvious question, how was it working on an MMO for the first time?
Jim Lee: How was it working on an MMO? I’ve been working on it for over four years, so it feels long, but good. I mean I feel like it’s like weight training or something. (Laughs) Like its hard work but at the end of the day, you come out stronger and better for it. So yea, I mean it’s been a real learning experience not just in terms of learning how to build an MMO but also learning about the DC Universe.
Never really thought about what kind of materials all these costumes were made of. Never really thought about what all the different environments and neighborhoods of Gotham and Metropolis look like. And having those answers now, I feel much smarter as a DC fan than I ever did before, yea.
QUESTION: Are you a gamer yourself?
JL: Ah yes, I do game so you know it’s weird because I do get asked that a lot. I just assume everyone games but maybe they don’t. It’d be more interesting if I said, “No I’ve never played a video game before and that’s why I bring a very unique perspective to this.”
But no, I do play a lot of video games and the ones that drew me in the most were MMOs, Everquest specifically. Little bit of Ultima Online before that but I was hardcore into Everquest for about a year and a half and I think that’s what made me raise my hand when they were looking for people to be involved in this project.
Q: Can we talk about making the characters move and animating them which is obviously very different from drawing them on the comic book page?
JL: It is. It is but in some senses the same. When I draw certain things I’ll stand up and actually pose it out (poses his arm making a muscle) and then look in the mirror or have someone take a photograph. Or just even standing up in posing, even if you can’t see yourself, feeling how your body feels at that time.
I don’t know, it helps you convey that when you draw it. And it’s interesting when they started animating the assets generated for the game, you know I would actually stand up and go like, “It has to be like this” or “It should look more like this” (making heroic poses) kind of stuff so it can’t feel self-conscious at all if you’re trying to do that kind of thing.
But it was funny, I kept telling them I was gonna video tape and send QuickTime clips but I’ve realized all that stuff would end up on the internet. (Jim and Press laugh) Exactly, so I didn’t do that.
Q: How many characters did you do for this? How many DC characters are in the game?
JL: There are hundreds of characters. I’d say there’s almost every major secondary, tertiary hero and villain is in there.
Q: So what was your favorite hero?
JL: My favorite hero that was built? Gosh, you know Hush actually looks really cool. Hush is a villain I created for a Batman run I did with Jeph Loeb and honestly when I first drew him, I thought he was kind of lame looking. (laughs) He’s got bandages on his face. But that’s the whole thing, especially DC villains, they all have a weird element to them like whether you have a big question mark on your head or bandages on your face.
The modeler of that one, Jason Smith, did an awesome job on it and I thought it looked better than anything I’d drawn in the comic books themselves. He actually looked like a villain that was worthy to be in the Batman’s rouges gallery so that was pretty cool.
JC: Do you plan on making your own character and playing the game when it is released?
JL: No. (laughs) That’d be another one. It’s like, “Nah, you know what? I’m moving on to the next project, I’m done with this game.” I have a feeling this game will be with me for the rest of my life honestly. MMO’s last forever and we are already talking about expansions but I will definitely be creating both a hero and a villain.
Probably a villain first because I think working in comics I’ve almost always done everything hero-centric in terms of the stories and it’d be fun to create a villain and see the DC Universe from their perspective. That’s not something we’ve explored a lot in comic books, at least for me. Geoff Johns has done that a lot more.
Q: I know that you’ve been doing a lot of characters with Marvel and DC. Is it still hard for you to live up to what’s come before or do you feel like you need to sort of maintain—
JL: Not so much, because I think I’ve worked on Batman now for like almost three years. I think when I first started Batman it was a little bit nerve-racking because some, all the best artists have kind of done their take on Batman and you just feel like, “Oh I need to…” You have that little pang of inadequacy kind of pop in there.
Luckily the books sold pretty well so now this whole completely ego-maniacal… ego maniac-al, that’s not a word. (laughs) It’s awesome to be part of the club, to have contributed something to this collective work that is the DC Universe. So no, I don’t really worry about it too much anymore, I mean, because I’ve done so much of it.
And what’s really cool about the game is I’ve been able to draw characters and design that I would probably never get to do in comics because there’s just not enough time to draw all the comic book stories you want to but now I’ve drawn, you know, characters like Egg Fu or Ambush Bug or whatever reference they needed. I drew Doomsday and the first time I drew Doomsday was for the game.
Q: More All-star Batman soon?
JL: Absolutely, yea. You can count on it. (laughs) Just for you personally.
Q: You got a script from Frank?
JL: I have two scripts from Frank. It’s been absolutely my fault why the book has been late. And I’ve obviously been working hard on the game but also just a lot of things going on in my life. But right now the plan is to have several issues in the drawer, come back out with the second half, the back half of it and get it wrapped up soon so I can do something besides just draw Batman.
But it’s good stuff and hopefully be worth the wait.