Jim (as he asked me to address him) is so clearly such a comics fan it literally leaks out of every comic he has ever helped create. There is surely some irony that the photo he provided me is black and white and yet all his projects have been so vibrantly colourful, and so our discussion also proved to be equally full of colour.
Paul: I like to simply start off by asking what were the first comics you remember buying and especially enjoying? Where were you? How old might you have been? How did you get the comic reading bug?
Jim: I started drawing when I was around 2 (so, 1954). My father noticed that I drew in a very linear, “cartoony” style. He read comics during World War II (his favourites were Captain America, Namor and the Justice Society) so he started bringing me comics. As a result, I could read by age four. I don’t recall the first comic I ever bought but it was probably from the Superman family as both he and I were big Superman fans. The first comic that I recall really hitting me was this coverless comic a cousin on Long Island had. It featured a guy in red tights who ran really fast versus a villain that Talked…. real….slow (and yeah, they used multiple ellipsis like that). It wasn’t until many, many years later that I discovered it was Showcase #4. But, to answer the last part of your question I cannot remember a time in my life when I didn’t love comics.
Paul: At what age did it dawn on you that drawing comics could be your career?
Jim: I can't recall a time in my life when I didn't want to make comics my career. It just took me a while to figure out how to do that. But it was what I always wanted to do.
Paul: Some professionals I've spoken to in the past have told me stories of how before they had any paid professional work, they'd make their own home-made comics for friends and family. Given your obvious passion from an early age, was this something you enjoyed doing?
Jim: Oh, yes! And, of course, I had very derivative characters (the only one I can seem to remember is the Super Surfer! --yeah, very original--Ha!) I continued into adulthood with creating "mini-comix" in the mid-'70s. There was a whole group of folks exchanging them at the time--Rick Geary, Joel Milke, Par Holman, David Miller, Clay Geerdes, Brad Foster, Gary Whitney, tons more. We used to exchange books through the mail. It was a great way to see what your work looked like in print, get a little distance from it and, hopefully, hone your skills and as a bonus make friendships with some truly great people!
Paul: You are known for your work with Marvel, who was your first editor there?
Jim: Craig Anderson. My first work was in an issue of Savage Sword of Conan. I drew a King Kull story. My second, also in SSOC, I wrote a Red Sonja story.
Paul: So, at that stage did you already consider yourself a writer as well as an artist?
Jim: I've always written and drawn. Keep in mind I did a LOT prior to Marvel--not the least was normalman, the auto-bio Valentino books, etc.
Paul: I remember Normalman fondly. I believe I have them all. Published by Dave Sim's company initially as I recall. Is that correct?
Jim: Yes. And normalman is always lower case.
Paul: My apologies
Jim: No worries.
Paul: Did you work closely with Dave Sim?
Jim: No. We hung out for a while. He lived in Canada, I in California so we would see one another at conventions.
Paul: Can you talk about your time on Guardians of The Galaxy please? Did you pitch the idea or were you requested for the title?
Jim: Oh, sure. It was my idea. I was looking for a steady gig after doing a lot of pick-up work. Rob Liefeld and I were going up to Wondercon in Oakland to meet with Tom DeFalco and Mark Gruenwald, so I wrote up several proposals including one Rob and I would do together we called the Young Avengers, a Marvel version of the Teen Titans. The Guardians was the last pitch I wrote. I was thumbing through the Marvel Universe Handbook, came across their entree and called Rob to ask what he thought of them. He said that they looked cool but didn't have a story. That night the story hit me--a quest for Captain America's shield, an exploration of the Marvel Universe a thousand years from now. When I talked with Tom, he told me that they already had something like our Young Avengers called The New Warriors coming up in an issue of Thor, but he liked my Guardians idea. He said that he'd been thinking about reviving the Guardians 500 years later, so the year 3500. He said he saw them as a truly galactic organization, kind of like the Green Lantern Corps if they were the Avengers, but he liked my idea better. I told him that I could set that up for him which I did in issue #8.
Paul: Was there any part of you that was a little disappointed when they didn't use your version of the team in the MCU? Did you like the movies?
Jim: No, not at all. I liked the movies. The only thing I was disappointed with was the fact that I didn't think of including Rocket and Groot.
Paul: Inevitably I must ask you about the creation of Image Comics. So much has been written and said so many times about that time and that era of the comics industry. Can I just ask about your perspective of how it occurred? I dare say there is a book to be written, but briefly can you describe how you felt at that time? Was it a risk for you professionally?
Jim: The origin of Image...sigh. I wrote a book about this (The Official Image Timeline) that was published earlier this year, you know.
Paul: I believe it is an excellent book
Jim: Okay, let's go over it--. It all started with Rob Liefeld. Rob wanted to publish a book on his own, away from Marvel. A book that he would own outright. So, he tried to convince the three people he was closest to in the industry to join him, Erik Larsen, Todd McFarlane and me. To his credit, Erik signed on first, then Todd, then me. In December of 1991 Rob and Todd went to New York, told Marvel (and DC) what we were going to do, signed on Jim Lee and Marc Silvestri and the rest is history. For further details and lots of fun pictures, please buy my aforementioned book.
Paul: That is wonderful history.
Jim: It was a greater risk for me than, I dare say, for any of the others. I had a large family, I was not a millionaire on a million selling book and as Erik so graciously reminded me they could all get work at Marvel and DC, I couldn't. Infact any time I forgot that one of them would graciously remind me of that fact.
Paul: At the time were your nervous about making such a bold choice with your career in that case? Were you confident you would be successful?
Jim: Oh, yes, I was nervous up until I got the phone call from Todd telling me that he was in. Then once Todd and Rob signed up Jim and Marc, I felt very good about it, I told a friend of mine that I believed it was going to be an atomic bomb. And it was. Actually, it was two friends--Larry Marder and Eric Stephenson. Both of whom would play significant roles in Image's future.
Paul: For a lot of fans there were a lot of comics to collect and even invest in during the nineties. ShadowHawk was likely one of them. I ask simply how did the character come about?
Jim: The name came from an issue of the Guardians I did where I made Starhawk into a "Dark Starhawk" and I wanted to change his name to ShadowHawk. Tom DeFalco, Marvel's editor in chief at the time, told me that he didn't want to change Starhawk's name, but liked the name ShadowHawk and suggested I make a new character with that name. So, I dusted off an old unused concept for the Fox, an old Archie character and wound up doing ShadowHawk for Image.
Paul: Thank you. Could you describe your time at IMAGE comics? Has it been fun?
Jim: It's been a lot of hard work and all of the usual ups and downs of any job. That said, it's the best thing that ever happened to me professionally. I thank my old studiomate Rob Liefeld for fighting for my inclusion against the others. Image changed my life in a profound way, and I am grateful for it.
Paul: I suppose my final question is simple, yet oddly complex, I think. What role do you currently have in regard to Image comics? To use a soccer term are you hanging up your boots and looking forward to an incredibly well-deserved retirement on a nice big yacht or do your fans have a solid ton more of creative comics to look forward towards from you?
Jim: I remain an Image partner, and the Vice President of the company.2023 will be my last year publishing monthly comics. I have two special projects lined up for 2024, the first of which is a normalman Omnibus, the second is still under wraps. My plan is to continue publishing one or two big projects per year.
Paul: I look forward to seeing those.
Jim: You asked about ShadowHawk, so let’s close with this. ShadowHawk is my most “famous” creation, to be sure. I know that he’s a lot of folk’s favourite and I’m grateful for that. I’m grateful when someone likes anything I’ve done from ShadowHawk to A Touch of Silver, the Guardians to Vignettes. I’m humbled by the fact that I got to do what I wanted to do with my life and at least a few people enjoyed what I did.
Pau: Thank you for your time, Jim.