Batman at 75: DC Entertainment's Jim
Michael Kelley for Variety

As Batman celebrates his 75th anniversary, DC Entertainment’s co-publisher Jim Lee, who has frequently drawn the Caped Crusader for covers and notable comicbooks like “Hush,” is attending his 27th Comic-Con in San Diego this week.

What’s the lure of Batman?

“There’s a primal element to the character. He’s obviously a human being without super powers. Underneath it all he’s like the knight personified. He’s the personification of justice, the crusader against crime, a normal man that’s pushed himself everywhere possible to become the best crime fighter ever. That’s very aspirational. The fact he’s this guy without superpowers and can hold his own against Darkseid and Superman shows that one can accomplish what one is driven to achieve.”

What’s your favorite part of Batman to draw? 

“Running across the rooftops is a classic Batman activity. There’s something very cool seeing someone in full sprint with a cape billowing behind them running across a roof top, with skyscrapers serving as a majestic mountainside. At the same time it’s very romantic and gothic.”

Do you like your Batman to be more fantasy or realistic?

“I’ve always tried to find the nice middle ground. He’s been drawn so many different ways from a Saturday morning cartoon version of Batman and Gothic City to a much more hyperrealistic version you might see in the Christopher Nolan movies and the darker Frank Miller version. I try to find elements of each of those and fuse them into a style that are the coolest elements of all of the characters. When I do Gotham City I do it baroque and gothic but like a city that could exists today as opposed to an otherworldly city that one saw in the Joel Schumacher movies.”

What advice to you have for Zack Snyder?

“Zack is a comicbook fan and draws inspiration from the comics. He doesn’t need to be given advice. He’s a talented filmmaker. He’s a super stylized visualist. He’ll do stuff no one has ever done with the caped crusader and blow everyone away. He knows how to take the sensibility of comicbooks and do what other filmmakers don’t know how to do”

How do you see comicbook movies vs. the source material?

“I know a lot of filmmakers will look at the source material and what we capture on paper and translate that entirely onto film, but it shouldn’t be a literal translation of the comicbooks themselves. We work in a medium that has no end. A film should have a beginning, middle and end and resolution until the next one comes out. We’re telling a story every single month. They’re different sensibilities.”

How has Comic-Con changed?

“It’s changed so much over the years, I feel like I’m going to Comic-Con 3.0.” Despite the throngs of people that attend now, he doesn’t miss the quieter times when he was taking submissions from fans in artists alley. “There’s nothing more depressing than sitting in a hotel room drawing pictures by yourself until three or four in the morning.” Over the years, he says the show has become less about the art and more about “a celebration of superheroes and everything pop culture.”

Who’s your favorite superhero?

“This year it’s Batman. I love Batman but I love Batman with Nightwing or Batman with Robin. If you draw one character over and over, it can become redundant. By having one character that’s different in silhouette or emotionality, they have different standing or action poses and it counterbalances the dark brooding side of Batman visually and thematically.”

What can’t you miss at Comic-Con?

Lee says his days are so booked with meetings and presentations during Comic-Con that it’s tough to break away and check out the show floor. “Generally, the one panel I try to see for my enjoyment is the Warner Bros. presentation, but there’s also ‘Game of Thrones.’ ”At WonderCon, Lee attended the “Star Trek” panel where he wanted to see the first trailer for J.J. Abrams’ reboot of the sci-fi series. “That’s when it’s nice to be a pro and you can get into the door and get a nice seat. The days of waiting all night long for the ‘Twilight’ presentation are long over,” he laughs.

Why are you a fan of Comic-Con?

“It’s a great way to celebrate the art form and geekdom taking over pop culture. It’s also one of the best family events around.”

What’s your favorite Comic-Con memory?

Lee prefers the chance encounters with people he likes or admires on the streets of San Diego. There’s the random moment when he was in a hotel elevator with his wife and Anthony Bourdain, in town to promote a comicbook, leaned over and smelled Lee’s newborn daughter and asked, ‘Don’t you just love the smell of babies?’ It was a very Hannibal Lecter moment.” During another moment, Lee was running from one end of the convention center to the other and did a double take when he saw “Saturday Night Live’s” Bobby Moynihan. “I’m a big fan and stopped in my tracks. He was a big fan, too and we met up later. It was a very cool San Diego Comic-Con moment, unstaged and spontaneous. That’s the fun stuff that happens — the in-between work engagements.”

Do you have advice for people from Hollywood going to Comic-Con for the first time?

“Come prepared. If you’re uncomfortable around lots of people or don’t like people standing around you asking questions or taking pictures, don’t come. If you go, you’ve signed a social contract to be open and engaging and friendly.”

How involved are you with “Batman v. Superman” or “Justice League” movies?

“I’m in charge of publishing. My level of involvement is gasping and oohing when I see the footage and clapping when the DC logo comes on at the beginning.”

 

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