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Year of the Artist, Day 105: Jae Lee, Part 2 – Inhumans #1

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Every day this year, I will be examining the artwork on a single comic book story. Today’s artist is Jae Lee, and the issue is Inhumans #1, which was published by Marvel and is cover dated November 1998. These scans are from the trade paperback, which was published in October 2000. Enjoy!

Lee worked through the 1990s, but I don’t own a lot of that work – he was drawing his Image book and stuff I wasn’t really interested in, so I lost track of him, even though I’d see ads for Hellshock every once in a while. So I honestly don’t know if Inhumans #1 is the beginning of a new style or something that he’d been moving toward. It’s still a pretty big change from his early ’90s work, so let’s take a look!

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Lee, as we can see, has become more hard-edged over the years, but he’s also started being more judicious with his line work. The rock outcropping on which Attilan stands is delicately lined and finely inked, giving us a very good impression of strong rock that nevertheless has fissures running through it. If we move to the bottom three panels, we see that Lee continues to use a lot of hatching in certain places, but instead of the aggressive line work we saw in Namor (and how much of that was Wiacek I don’t know), his inking is more restrained and a bit more thickly black, as we can see with the dude in the orange shirt in Panel 2. His blacks are a bit more jagged, too – not in the delicate backgrounds in Panels 2 and 3 as much, but in the figures. We’ll see it more in later examples, but notice the kid’s face in Panel 4 – instead of a thin line, it appears that Lee is using a small brush, giving the blacks a slight fuzziness to them. He doesn’t do it all the time, but it’s neat that he was using a bit more in his arsenal.

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I mentioned yesterday that Lee was trying hard to imitate Jim Lee, even as he was working on his own style, and in the late 1990s, it seems clear he had moved on to imitating J. H. Williams III circa 1998. This page is a pretty good example of that. We still get Lee’s hatching, but he varies it nicely – Medusa and Marista’s clothing is thinly inked, so that it flows down their bodies, and Medusa’s hair, not surprisingly, is very smoothly inked. Marista’s black hair swirls behind her, almost matching Medusa’s locks. Lee also inks the stone behind them very cleanly, which, when we contrast this to the rock in other places – the exterior of Attilan that we saw above, or the bricks in Maximus’s cell – seems to imply the class distinctions in Attilan, as the royal family’s rooms have the nicest, polished rock, fitting together like a beautiful jigsaw. The fissures still exist, though, and as this comic is about fissures, I’m hoping some of the background scenes are in line with that motif. Who knows? If we look at the way he inks Medusa, though, we see some interesting differences. As I noted with the kid above, it appears Lee is using a brush instead of a pen, or at least he’s using a slightly thicker pen. Medusa’s slightly ragged eyebrows in Panel 2 speak to that. Lee doesn’t use black as much as he did in Namor (he probably couldn’t have used more black than he did in Namor, to be honest!), but he does use the black well in Panel 2, shadowing Medusa’s face as she speaks of the troubles of her husband. Medusa’s back in Panel 3 is interesting – Lee uses a harsh, jagged line to show her shoulder blade, and it strikes a discordant note in the middle of all this beauty. Again, the book is about fissures, and it seems that Lee is showing the strain on Medusa even though she remains outwardly beautiful.

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We see another nice panel here, showing Lee’s move from chaotic storytelling to a more elegant and formalized style. Obviously, this is a static image, but even more than a lot of artists, the characters look posed, as they are at a royal reception, where staging is all. The panel isn’t actually laid out that well – it seems like the supplicant should be in front of Black Bolt, but then we would get the problem of not being able to see one of the characters because his back would be to us (which is why television shows show people sitting in really awkward configurations at tables). So Lee has to create this tableau, where the man beseeching Black Bolt appears to have wandered up to the royal dais from a side room. Lockjaw provides a good buffer between the man and the royal couple, however. Lee again uses blacks more wisely in this scene, as he inks Medusa and Black Bolt fairly heavily, while the man, standing more in the light, shimmers a bit more (Avalon Studios is credited with coloring this, so I imagine the white in the man’s robes is from the coloring process). Lee, we can see, has become much more detailed with his work, as the gold worked into the man’s sash shows us. Lockjaw offers us an interesting look at Lee’s details – he’s always been wrinkled, so of course Lee uses thin lines to show his skin sagging, but he heavily inks his face to set his eyes deeply into the sockets and make his mouth more of a maw, and some of the shadows in which Black Bolt and Medusa find themselves are creeping over him, too. I’m not sure why that baby is glaring at Lockjaw like that, though.

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In this issue, Lee doesn’t get much of a chance to do action, but as he became more formalized, his action sequences suffered a little. He can still draw beautiful things exploding, as we see here, but his panel-to-panel storytelling became a bit less dynamic, unfortunately. He draws a nice dragon thing, though, as Karnak finds the flaw and destroys it. It’s a flashback, which accounts for the sepia tones, and as the dragon is evil, Lee goes back to using a lot of blacks, giving us spots of creature as it flies apart. Lee still does rougher inking lines on the dragon – possibly because it’s, you know, a dragon, but also possibly because his style had shifted – as well as using thicker inks on Karnak’s arm. In Panel 1, we see this a little more clearly, and notice that Lee draws the rock behind Karnak with slightly less fineness than he did the previous rock in Medusa’s chambers – again, I wonder if this is deliberately part of the bigger motif of the comic.

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For the final page of the issue, Lee uses the old tried-and-true slow close-up, moving toward Black Bolt’s face past his squabbling family until we get to the enigmatic last panel. Lee constructs the page nicely – the bottom two panels, you’ll notice, are a bit wider than the top two, as he closes in on Black Bolt. He gets out his inking pens/brushes for this page, as we hearken back to his love of black spaces as we get closer to the king. In Panel 1, we again see that he’s inking things a bit more heavily – Gorgon’s face is almost gouged with the black Lee uses on his cheek, and his eye is a black pool set among strong, wild hatching. As we move toward Black Bolt, Lee naturally becomes more detailed, until we reach Panel 4, where the king is surrounded by black and a good deal of his face is shrouded, as well. It’s always weird to see facial features drawn on a mask, but Lee hints at both the strain on Black Bolt by the blackness under his eyes and on his brow, but his nose and chin remain strong, even though Lee uses a lot of black to shade them. The “relax” word balloon works in conjunction with Black Bolt’s slightly upraised lip to indicate that the king isn’t quite as worried about everything as everyone else is, and Lee does a very nice job with the subtlety of his expression. Even though he’s under pressure, Black Bolt isn’t overwhelmed with worry.

I recall that Inhumans really put Lee into a different level of artists, as his work on the book is extremely beautiful and impressed a lot of people. He began doing less work, as it seemed it took him longer to do it, but it also made the books he drew more unusually attractive. Tomorrow we’ll check some more of that work out, even as Lee kept evolving. Be here! And, as always, feel free to check out the archives!

27 Comments

tom fitzpatrick

April 15, 2014 at 2:46 pm

The thing about this INHUMANS series is, that Phil Jenkins made us “care” about the characters.

I remember all the buzz about this series when it came out. It was enough to get me to go and get the trade paper back. I thought the story was over-rated (I would almost consider Jenkins to be in the same group of over-hyped writers as Loeb and Austin) but the art was gorgeous. That led to go back and start on the non-Byrne-drawn Namors.

I bought the Jea Lee illustrated edition of Dracula when it came out. It was not as good as I had expected, but his comics work is still great.

Greg,

Just out of curiosity, why do you think that Lee was imitating JH Williams And not the other way around? Was Williams already such an influential artist by then that he would have had imitators who had been working in the business for as many years as Lee had by the time Inhumans came out?

*Paul* Jenkins, Tom.

Hey, Jenkins made Tom care about the characters, but not about the creators’ names, dammit.

Bill Williamson

April 15, 2014 at 5:24 pm

@ Travis: To this day I sing the praises of this Inhumans series by Phil Jenkins and uh, Jim Lee.

OT: Lee’s style has evolved nicely here. Often times it’s hit or miss when a Jim Lee clone tries to break out of the Jim Lee mould. Take for example Mike Deodato Jr. A pretty good Jim Lee clone back in the 90s on Wonder Woman. I personally didn’t care for his work on The Amazing Spider-Man in the 2000s.

kdu2814: I think Inhumans is quite good. Maybe Jenkins’s best work. But to each his own!

Andrei: Yeah, that’s a good point. I thought so because at this point, Williams seemed to have done slightly higher-profile work than Lee had, but I certainly could be wrong. They influenced each other!

Bill: I’m pretty sure I’m going to get to Deodato this year, so we can check out his evolution as well!

Jae Lee was working in comics before J.H. Williams and I can say without a doubt that Williams was the imitator who was totally influenced by Jae Lee.

I stand corrected — at least a bit — because I only just now discovered that J.H. Williams actually started working in comics in 1991, which is the same year Jae Lee started. Although Lee’s first published work predates Williams’ by a few months, I think it’s safe to say that they are most certainly contemporaries of each other. Despite this, I still strongly believe that Williams was influenced by Lee, and not so much the other way around. Obviously both artists have evolved a lot from their early days, but there was a moment of progression for each of them somewhere in the late 90′s/early 2000′s where their styles seemed to resemble each others a bit, and looking back through history (my collection) it appears to me that it was Jae Lee who had the jump on Williams with developing that particular look first.

You can see these pages that he was starting to get his act together and cast off the 90s influence.

I loved Jenkins and Lee’s Inhuman series. It’s one of my all time favorites. It kept my interest through all 12 issues.

Captain Haddock

April 16, 2014 at 8:44 am

I still own a copy of Inhumans #1 at home, this was probably the first non-x book I ever bought, and what immediately struck me was Lee’s art first and foremost. And my 2 favorite pages are the Medusa page mentioned above (her hair ties itself!) and the page of dialogue between Maximus and Black Bolt, where he yells “there’s a flaw!” In one page, their relationship was explained so perfectly, from Maximus’s mood swings to Black Bolt’s enigmatic expression. Personally I would have used that page instead of Karnak’s, but hey it’s your column Greg. Keep up the good work :)

No mention of the character redesigns on the series? I have all 12 single issues of this, the trade and the motion comic which came out a couple of years back. The motion comic has a pretty cool interview, but it’s with Pete Jenkins only, Jae doesn’t appear, but it’s got a couple of nice behind the scenes stories about the book’s creative process.

darkstream: As I amended, they might have been influenced by each other, but the reason I wrote that Lee was influenced by Williams is that Lee’s early work was so different, while even Williams’s early work was already moving toward his late 1990s style, so I thought that when Lee was evolving, he might have been more influenced by a larger body of work, even though they started at about the same time. But yes, I imagine it was more of a cross-pollination than anything.

Captain Haddock: I know the scene you’re talking about, but I didn’t think it was in issue #1. My bad. Part of the reason I pick the things to show is to show off a wide variety of the artist’s style, and the Karnak scene shows how Lee’s action scenes had evolved. But I do like that scene in the dungeon (it’s in the dungeon, right?).

Thanks for the nice words. I’m having fun writing these!

This comic made me a huge fan of Paul Jenkins. In fact, I rate most of his comics from 1998-2002 quite highly, especially on Peter Palmer: Spider-Man.

Greg, the missing link between Jae Lee’s Namor and Inhumans is Hellshock vol. 2 (1997ish). There, he started opening up his art more and shedding the Imagisms that held him back on his earlier work. I maintain that maybe Lee & Williams III influenced each other but that lee was evolving before Williams II became a big fan-favorite.

Mike: Interesting. I might have to go find Hellshock now. Thanks!

Greg, you could be totally right about the cross-pollination of influence between Jae Lee and JH Williams III, though as a loyal follower of Jae Lee’s work, I have never heard Jae Lee mention Williams in any interview I’ve seen or read — and Jae has always been open about his influences dropping names without hesitation. I must admit, in my own ignorance, I hardly noticed Williams work until he started doing the later Inhumans series covers and then Prometheus. It was with the Inhumans covers that I first noticed the resemblance to Jae Lee’s style. And I imagine it being on an Inhumans series is what made me take notice and make the comparison.

Anyhow, Mike Loughlin is correct about Hellshock Vol. 2 being the leap into what I would call Jae Lee’s “second phase.” It was with that series that Jae started developing more realistic figures and using more brush techniques when inking. He also started incorporating more detail into his backgrounds. A lot of this second phase carried over into Inhumans and pretty much all his later work at Marvel, including his run on Stephen King’s Dark Tower. Because Jae utilized heavy shadows with blacks, a lot of times, depending on the colorist, it sometimes resulted in some flat and overly muddy-looking stuff during some of this second phase (see IDW’s Transformers vs G.I. Joe).

I would say that once Jae started collaborating more often with his colorist/wife, June Chung, that he was underway to his “third phase” where he refined his look with cleaner lines and more color/brightness, while also bringing back some of his early dynamic with angular figures, silhouettes and negative space. His work on Before Watchmen: Ozymandias and Batman/Superman are great examples of this.

Sorry… Correction: PROMETHEA — Not Prometheus. JH Williams III work on that title was incredible and obviously what lead to Batwoman.

Darkstream: Man, now I really have to track down Hellshock! :)

Williams first really became a big name when he drew Chase in 1998 or so, although obviously he had done some Batman work before that, so it’s not like he was unknown. So it appears they were both moving toward this style at the same time, if Lee was doing this in Hellshock. Now I want to ask one or both of them if they were aware of each other at the time (I would imagine the answer is “yes,” but you never know!).

I didn’t know Chung was Lee’s wife. It makes sense she tends to color his stuff exclusively these days! And fret not – I will get to two of the comics you mentioned in your comment!

tom fitzpatrick

April 16, 2014 at 6:20 pm

@ Michael P.: Not sure why I thought it was Phil, but it was pretty damn close! ;-)

@ T.P.: Oh yeah, that was Stan Lee & Jack Kirby, wasn’t it? God, they practically created the Marvel Universe, didn’t they?

@ Mr. Burgas: There are two versions of Hellshock by Jae Lee; The second is a re-boot of the first version, but to this day, incomplete – I think.

Just to clarify what Tom Fitzpatrick is saying, there are indeed two versions (or volumes) of Hellshock. Both were written and drawn by Jae Lee, but are actually two seperate unconnected stories. The first was a four issue mini-series and the second was only three issues. Jae admittedly struggled with both attempts at writing. Dissatisfied with the first series, he abandoned a lot of the original plot elements and the direction he was heading with it for a whole new story with the second series, but again, he began to struggle, despite the improvement in his writing and art. Neither series were completed in comic issue form, but sometime later Dynamite Entertainment reprinted only the second series in a Definitive Edition Collection with additional new material which included the formerly untold conclusion.

No, Tom, I was mocking you for calling him “Phil” Jenkins.

I mock because I care…

…about mocking you whenever I can. ;)

Looking at back at an earlier comment I posted, I realized I made a mistake when I mentioned Jae Lee’s muddy art period. I cited IDW’s Transformers vs. G.I Joe as an example of this, but it was actually the defunct publisher Dreamwave’s Transformers/G.I. Joe mini-series (a WWII era Elseworld-like story) that Jae had done. I believe this may also be the first work he did with his colorist/wife June Chung, before moving into his more recent style with her. I should also mention, that though the images of Transformers/G.I. Joe may suffer by being too dark and muddy, I still love the look of it.

How could you skip Jae’s work on the groundbreaking series Youngblood: Strikefile?

Hellshock was quite the experiment.
Volume one was a horror story with angels and demons and evil kids and shit that when thrown all together made for a very disjointed narrative.
Volume two was a disturbing psychological thriller with supernatural undertones. It was only completed after a decade in the collected edition. Definitely worth a read.

UndergroundAnthem TX

April 20, 2014 at 12:47 pm

Agreed with the posters above that Hellshock is definitely worth checking out. The first series sees finds Jae wrestling with the more outrageous elements from his Namor/YB/ Wild.CA.T.S Trilogy style, like toning down the Simon Bisley-anatomy and unfettered inks. The second volume sees him completely abandon his old style for the more realistic approach that was seen widely in Inhumans.

Some work being overlooked that I feel was instrumental in his development early on was The Sentry, and his FF mini-series with Grant Morrison. Both showcased Lee experimenting with different approaches to his art with two fantastic writers. Later, his Hulk stuff (the Hard Knocks mini, and a one-off with Peter David called Dear Tricia that was brilliant) and Ultimate FF issues with Mark Millar were a step towards his “Dark Tower style” that he began to really develop. It’s amazing to see how his style has evolved throughout the years to the current art-deco iteration that he’s doing, which is simply gorgeous.

Sorry I’m late to the discussion, but Jae Lee is one of my all-time favorite artists. I love to see our comic book community celebrate this guy. Thanks!

I don’t own his work on The Sentry, so I couldn’t show that. I vacillated about showing FF 1234, and decided against it because it seemed like the Captain America work was a bit more indicative of his style at the time. I own “Dear Tricia,” but again, I had to make some cuts, so I decided to use The Dark Tower work because the Hulk issue, I thought, was close enough to his work on Cap and the other stuff he was doing about that time. I’m restricting myself to 5 days per artist, so it does get difficult to choose which ones make the cut!

Thanks for the nice words. I appreciate it!

spencer student

August 28, 2014 at 9:03 pm

I must be in the minority here because I prefer Lee’s earlier work. It was electrifying and experimental, it was sometimes hit or miss and confusing, but it was going in a exciting and New direction. Also, to you guys saying he was a Jim Lee clone: are you kidding me? He purposely went in almost an entirely different direction than Jim Lee. By “clone” do you mean,”they both used a crow quill”? Because That was about it for the similarities. They rendered differently and told the story very differently. Jim was far, far more representational and used far less shadow than Jae. Their story telling styles were also vastly different. Its like saying Bill Seinkewicz was a Scott Williams clone!

Anyway, Has Lee’s post-image stuff looks just like most of the other post-image, pseudo-realist stuff that the corporate comics giants mandated their artists to work in: use photos, go for super realism. It’s all too realistic imo and it makes all the comics look the same. Honestly, it’s VERY boring. The majority of comic artists working for DC and Marvel work in this mode(with notable exceptions, granted) and its killing the life out of(or killing the art out of) corporate superhero comics.

only thing which sets Lee apart is his fine use of shadow- it reminds me of Gene Colan sometimes. I know he is a fan of Alex Toth, who was also a master of shadow and silhouette and Lee rules at that stuff too- and also the mandate to render with color has hurt the art as well- I just there was less realism and more electricity and bold experimentation.

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