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Year of the Artist, Day 235: Jim Lee, Part 4 – Flinch #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 Jim Lee, and the story is “Rocket-Man” in Flinch #1, which was published by DC/Vertigo and is cover dated June 1999. Enjoy!

After some years at Image and then some years back at Marvel, Lee sold his imprint, Wildstorm, to DC, and so began his very long association with National Publications, which saw him rise up the ranks in the corporate setting and also allowed him to sink his teeth into some iconic characters. But today I want to look at his short story in the first issue of Flinch, Vertigo’s horror anthology, because it’s such a departure from the art we had come to know and love from Lee!

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What, you might ask, is so different about this art? Well, you might notice the shortage of cross-hatching, which through the Nineties became a trademark of Lee’s work. I’ve seen some of Lee’s uninked pencils, and he loved hatching himself, but in this case, he reins it in very well to create a much more contemplative work. In Panel 1, he uses big, thick lines to outline our unnamed hero, creating heavy shadows as he faces the dusk and giving colorist Tad Ehrlich a clear place to color the light brown that the dying sun sheds on him. In Panels 2 and 3, he doesn’t over-hatch the man’s face, but he makes the wrinkles he does show deeper, creating furrows that show a lifetime of hard work. Ehrlich’s textured coloring helps with this effect, as well.

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The dad talks to his family about how everything is going to change, and Lee gives us a nice sequence here showing all the people in the family. In Panel 1, the father dominates the scene, but Lee doesn’t forget to add a swing set and a tricycle, nice signifiers of family but also an innocence of youth. The dad’s exuberance is countered in Panel 2 by Fran’s world-weariness and in Panel 3 by Bill’s sullenness. Once again, his restraint with lines lets us see the hardness of Fran’s face, as the few lines toughen her instead of overwhelming her, while Lee simply uses sideways eyes and a downturned mouth to show Bill’s anger at his dad’s pipe dream. The thick lines on Fran’s hand in Panel 3 and the slight imperfections in her fingernails make her look more hardscrabble, which is nice. Then we get Cassie, who still thinks her dad is awesome. Lee widens her eyes in wonder, gives her a happy, smiling, wide-open mouth, and leaves the subtleties of her face to Ehrlich, who does a nice job with the whole sequence, from the shadows on Fran’s and Bill’s faces to the lighter touches on Cassie’s. This is where this kind of digital coloring can work nicely – it alleviates the need for a lot of hatching, and if the colorist knows what he or she is doing, it can add more nuance than simple lines can. In this case, it seems to work well.

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Lee goes very minimalist here, and it’s pretty neat. He knows that the man and Cassie are standing in the open, where the sun’s rays can strike them, so he uses bold lines to create a dividing line between the well-lit areas and the shadowed areas. He draws some folds into clothing, but not too many, so that the chiarascuro effect is maximized. He keeps the hatching on both faces to a minimum, knowing that the light orange and the darker blue will pop on its own. I love how he suggests fingers instead of drawing them in – this takes place at “magic hour” (deliberately, I imagine), so Lee knows to suggest things rather than make them definitive, allowing the reader to fill in the blanks.

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The dad activates his device, and heads for the skies. I’m not going to give away the ending, but let’s just say it doesn’t turn out very well (it’s a horror anthology, after all). We see that despite not over-hatching, Lee is still meticulous, as the man’s suit is very detailed, and Lee doesn’t skimp on the line work. But that still doesn’t make it excessive, as he still shows restraint on the man’s face and even the suit looks like we’d expect it, and Lee “colors inside the lines,” so to speak, making the details solid and controlled, rather than some of his hatching, which looks a bit more insane. Ehrlich does nice work on the page, too, moving from the thick oranges and browns as the dad turns the machine on to the lush blue and white of the sky, which, as we know, creates a complementary pop when paired with orange. Ehrlich paints in the fluffiness of the clouds so Lee doesn’t have to use too many lines, with makes the scene more filled with wonder. As I noted, it doesn’t turn out well, but at least the dude’s happy for a minute, right?

Lee didn’t stick to this style, and I’m not sure if he just didn’t like it or if it took him too long to do it. So tomorrow we’ll look at “Mature Lee,” which you could argue he reached in 1991 and never left. But I’m going to look at something from this century, at least! Stick around, spend some time in the archives, and have fun!

18 Comments

on the first page shwon , the face of the character really reminds me of Chaykin (especially panel 3)

Now, this, I would have loved to have seen more. This, to me shows some real maturity and moves toward the power of simplicity, that people like Alex Toth had, or someone like Chris Sprouse. You don’t need all of those lines, just the right ones. This has a very classic Heavy Metal feel to it.

@Olioeno,
Yeah, I was thinking the same thing; same with the shot of him holding his daughter in the sunlight.

ollieno: Interesting point. I had never noticed that, but once you mentioned it, I can. Pretty neat.

Jeff: Heavy Metal is a good comparison. As I noted, I don’t know why Lee doesn’t do more of this or even some of the stuff we’ll see tomorrow. He doesn’t need to do a monthly book, and even when he does it in his “regular” style, he can’t keep up, so why not do some other stuff with more experimentation?

Not only is there no hatching or cross hatching he totally leaves out the blacks and lets the color do all the rendering. I would never have known this was Lee if it didn’t say so. Nice work by him.

tom fitzpatrick

August 23, 2014 at 3:19 pm

I remember this one – loved the twist ending, and no, don’t ask me how it ended.

If Mr. Burgas’s not telling, why SHOULD I? :-)

I do remember thinking is this the same Jim Lee from whatever?

And not keeping up with monthly books? Check out Divine Right! Second half was done by other artists. :-(

Even the Justice League (The New 52) is a month behind (probably from the first year of Lee drawing the book).

Any thoughts on Deathblow? I remember that looking like his take on what Miller was doing on Sin City.

Chaykin/Kolinsesque. I dig it. His art always looks the same, he doesn’t challenge himself anymore, so this is a nice change of pace

I believe he was trying for a Moebius look here, iirc from things I read at the time.

Oddly enough, as good as this is, Jim Lee is the third best artist in this issue (Quitely and Corben are also featured — man, Flinch was a pretty good book. I forget the issue, but there’s an Ennis/Dwyer story of a nightmare about the Titanic that’s creepy as fuck. I need to find the rest of the issues I don’t have!)

Stuff like this is why I can never write off Jim Lee, because while he may have inspired many of the most obnoxious tics in 90′ comics art, he is genuinely talented and will from time to time do really great work unobscured by gratuitous cheesecake, over-rendered superhero costumes, and laughably exaggerated posing/expressions.

Wow, that is some really nice work by Jim Lee, with some very effective storytelling. I really wish he did more stuff like this.

I cannot believe my eyes! I must take it back Mr lee can put a little soul into his art.

@Travis Pelkie
Yeah, I guess I can see trying for Moebius. Doesn’t quite reach that; but, he’s in the ballpark.

Deathblow? Question is, was he trying for Miller or Munoz, from whom Miller was drawing inspiration? Without Alack Sinner, there is no Sin City. So which did Lee look to? Of course, Miller was channeling Moebius and Goseki Kojima, in Ronin.

We mentioned Chaykin before and part of his evolution was in drawing from Alex Toth, in his linework; and, Robert Peake (movie poster illustrator, including Camelot and Rollerball) in his painting.

Andrei: Sorry, I forgot to respond to your comment! I don’t own Deathblow, or much of Lee’s mid-1990s work. I noted in a different post that I was more interested in characters than creators back then, so I stuck with the characters when the creators moved on. I followed some creators, sure, but not a lot. Plus, the poor scheduling of so many Image books meant that I simply missed them, as this was before I started pre-ordering comics.

That’s no excuse, you can find metric tons of this stuff in any good cheapo back issue bin ;)

Travis: Well, since you’ve been yelling at me I’ve been digging through the 50-cent boxes at my local store. Found some good stuff, but no Deathblow yet!!!!

I’d send you my copy but I’d have to file an environmental impact report with the EPA. OH SNAP!

I loved how this story looked. The story itself was predictable but Lee’s art was eye-opening. I’m sure commercial concerns dictated he keep drawing in his more familiar style. Why risk alienating your fan base?

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