If Jim Lee were a superhero, he would be Vision Man, conceiving and rendering visually compelling action figures faster than a speeding supercomputer. He has become one of America’s most successful comic book illustrators on the strength of his brilliant work for titles like X-Men, Superman and Batman (in collaboration with Frank Miller), and by founding his own Image Comics. The loyalty of his fan base proves that Lee’s imagination is at least as mighty as a Hollywood studio or two.
Jim Lee was born on August 11, 1964 in Seoul, South Korea and raised in St. Louis, Missouri. Lee discovered his knack for sketching at an early age. In his senior yearbook his classmates predicted that Lee would found his own comic book company. But Lee felt obliged to follow his father’s footsteps. He resigned himself to becoming a medical doctor and attended Princeton as a psychology major. It wasn’t long, however, before Lee’s passion for drawing was reignited. After earning his bachelor’s degree from Princeton in 1986, Lee discarded plans for med school to pursued a career in comic book illustration.
Lee made his first real appearance into the comic world with his early work for Marvel Comics on titles like Alpha Fight, and Punisher: War Journal. But it wasn’t until he was offered to work on The Uncanny X-Men that Lee became a recognized figure. Lee rose to stardom with the launch of the second X-Men title, labeled simply: X-Men. Lee’s X-Men #1 currently holds the record for the most comics sold for one issue at over one million copies.
In 1992 Lee and six other artists left Marvel to found Image Comics which comprised separate studios under one publishing company. Lee’s division, labeled Wildstorm Productions, created series like WildC.A.T.s, Stormwatch, Deathblow, and Gen—most of which Lee co-wrote and penciled for himself. While criticized for their high levels of violence, sexual explicitness, and “lack of storytelling”, Lee’s titles did well—frequently selling over a million copies per month.
Lee returned to Marvel Comics in 1996 to help in the revamping of a few classic characters in the project Heroes Reborn. He plotted for Iron Man and wrote and illustrated the Fantastic Four—both of which soon topped the sales charts.
Lee then refocused on the Wildstorm line. To dispel Image Comics’s reputation as all style and no substance, he published the critically acclaimed series The Authority and Planetary. Lee brought back one of the most renowned comic writers into mainstream publishing, while simultaneously ending almost a decade of independent work.
In 1998 Lee sold the Wildstorm branch of Image comics to DC Comics, and continued running the company as a separate entity under the DC Comics name. But he longed to return to illustration. In 2003 he illustrated a 12-issue run on Batman, which became a huge success. He also worked briefly on Superman. In 2005 Lee teamed up with Frank Miller on the series All Star Batman and Robin, the Boy Wonder.
Lee continues to oversee Wildstorm Productions and plans to complete his run with Frank Miller on the Batman series. In a recent announcement Jim Lee has stated that he will be involved with the upcoming DC Comics MMORPG as Executive Creative Director.