Jim Lee: Superhero Stylist

By: Jase Peeples
9.1.2011

Jim Lee made a name for himself in the early ‘90s providing art and redesigning costumes for Marvel Comics’ X-Men. Since then the illustrator has secured a place in the comic book hall of fame as the founder of Wildstorm Productions and creator of fan-favorite titles such as WildC.A.T.s and Stormwatch.

Now the Co-Publisher of DC Comics—home to icons such as Superman and Wonder Woman—Lee is helping make comic book history again by redesigning the company’s most popular superheroes for a new era. Fresh costumes and new #1 issues will be debuting each week this month across the entire line of comics published by DC.

The original superhero universe began its new chapter yesterday when Justice League #1, illustrated by Lee, hit comic shops and digital devices around the world. Days before the landmark issue was released, the superstar artist sat down with Out to talk about his experience redesigning the world’s most iconic superheroes and the real-world fashion mavens that have inspired him along the way.

Redesigning these iconic characters must have been pretty intense. What was the most difficult part?

The characters are so beloved by the fans that any time you change anything, you’re going to get an outcry of anger or profound sadness. Some of these characters have been around and read by fans for 20, 30, 40 years, and they’re very much a part of their lives. The trick is to show them something they will love more.

You’ve designed costumes for iconic characters in the past, such as Marvel Comics’ X-Men. Do you approach designs differently now than you did at the beginning of your career?

Absolutely, but none of these designs were done in a vacuum. You’re always working with a writer or an editor — in this particular case with DC it was an art director and another artist named Cully Hamner — and you’re really designing a look for the themes of the storyline you have in mind. The costume design has to serve the creative redesign more so than any other function.

How does that work for a character like Superman, Batman or Wonder Woman?

You want to figure out what elements are critical to the recognition of these characters, and then the ones that are less critical you can play around with. When looking at costume designs over the years, the ‘90s were a movement away from the classic, streamlined look. They were more like military gear. We introduced pouches, straps, trench coats and more practical wear into the lore. Those things made costume designs very exciting. Now the pendulum has swung the other way. Modern design at DC is more elegant, and simplicity is creeping back into it. So I’ve tried to retain a little bit of both.

Were any of the new costumes influenced by modern fashion?

Yes. It’s fun to check out what’s happening in real world fashion and apply it to superheroes. It’s one thing to design something on paper and another to see it in real life. So anything I see in the shop window or what people are wearing on the street is influential.

Superheroes tend to be very over-the-top, and Jean-Paul Gaultier is someone who’s always felt over the top in design. All Saints is one brand I liked for women -- some of the shirts and jackets in particular. There was a hoodie that gave me the idea for Wonder Girl. It was a sort of strange hoodie/cape ensemble. So I drew some inspiration from their line of clothes.

I think repetition of pattern and logos is also important. When we look at brand names, whether it’s Prada or Louis Vuitton, we see how important logos are and where they’re placed. Logos tended to be smaller in the past, but now large logos -- such as Lacoste’s oversize alligator or Polo’s oversize polo player -- are creeping back into modern fashion and those ideas play out in the new designs, [like with Superman’s “S” or Flash’s lightening bolt].

To read the full interview visit Out.com.

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