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Waiting For Tommy XXV
By Richard Johnston

Interview with Jim Lee
RICHARD: Oh, now you've got me interested in those specifics, but I take your point. You've been accused of always aiming for the possibility of building something up in order to sell it, is there any truth in that?

JIM: Yes and no. Definitely not at the start. But of course, people will believe what they want to believe. As embarrassing as it is for me to admit, we were pretty much a fly-by-night operation for quite some time, and I was always reluctant to hire new people to build the company, even though we had sufficient cashflow, because I didn't want to delegate. To me, Image was all about controlling your fate. I did that for about six years until I came to the realization that just because you own your business, you're not necessarily "free." In other words, that kind of control comes with a price. In fact, you end up beholden to your employees, your vendors, your payroll, to the IRS, etc. I was just burnt out from running my own company at full speed for so long, and very unhappy in that my personal artistic output had dwindled down to near zero. But it was a hell of a ride and I don't regret a day of it, as contradictory as that may sound.

RICHARD: Not at all, remember you're talking to a comics fan. Endless frustration with many things, but would I give it up? Okay, well, it's been a few years since the sale to DC went through and you became a Vice President. How has Wildstorm and yourself changed as a result of the process?

JIM: Almost 5 years in fact. Personally, I'm pleased to be back at the drawing table. There was a time when I was in a deep funk. I'd hesitate to say I was clinically depressed, but I was definitely not my usual self. I think a lot of things contributed to this malaise...the dismal climate of the industry, a death in the family. I don't think I appeared significantly different to the casual observer, but I just know that for a period of time, the highs were not as high and the lows were not as low. Everything was in the middle and while I wasn't morose, I did feel like I was underwater sometimes.

RICHARD: So how.?

ROBOTECH #1 - SIGNED VERSION
JIM: It took some time for me to get out of my slump and find the inspiration and motivation to come back to pencilling (and no, it wasn't because of the publicized bet--that honestly was just a good hook for press). Part of my "reawakening" I attribute to being back around other artists. When I was running the company on my own, I felt more and more disconnected from the other artists who worked at WildStorm and that was my fault. One of the first things I did after the sale of the company was to get back into a studio environment. So while I have a very large office, it sits mostly unused. I do most of my work and business from a shared space with fellow WildStormers Ale Garza, Carlos D'Anda, Lee Bermejo, Sandra Hope, Trevor Scott, and Richard Friend.

And as a result, I'm much more relaxed and happy. Now part of that change has come from the fact that the business has finally shown signs of new life, albeit faint. But it certainly beats seeing 10% sales decreases each month. I just did a series of store signings at Coliseum of Comics down in Orlando, Florida, and the enthusiasm of the fans down there was really uplifting.

The sudden heat and sales of imported manga in the US is also refreshing and a sign that there are untapped markets we still need to explore and address. And frankly, I'm a bit wiser having been in the business now for over 15 years. I've managed in that time to have been involved with so many aspects of the publishing business. The benefit being you have a knowledge and perspective that say, just a regular freelancer, manager or executive may not have.

As far as WildStorm, I'd be lying if I claimed that it hasn't changed. Yes, it was more carefree and fun back in the early days...'92, '93, '94. But I imagine every small company was like that... those were the "glory days" when every single one of your books sold great--120,000+--and everyone, whether they were on staff or working as a freelancer was making pretty nice paychecks, bonuses and royalties. But you know what, every time WildStorm grew larger and moved locations, people would grouse about how it wasn't like the good old days--even before the sale to DC. Back then in the early 90's, we all used to sit around and draw late into the night--then go work out at the 24 hour gym at midnight--then draw some more, then hit a late night snack at the local Denny's at 3am, and play ping pong to work off the stress. Well, for some, those were the good old days. I imagine the new employees will talk in later years about how great 2003 was, etc. So it's a bit relative.

But in terms of statistics, yes, we are much changed. We're a much smaller operation that we were before and more focused on just comic book publishing than the myriad of different businesses we were involved with pre-DC. I think it was a more difficult transition for the long time employees than anyone else. Some chose to move onto bigger, better things which means we hired right. IDW which is a real up and coming small press company is 90% WildStorm veterans, so even though those guys haven't been with us for some time now, I still take some residual pride in their accomplishments.

We also managed to retain a lot of our key personnel, which again, shows that we've done right by the people who remained with the company. The first couple of years involved a lot of logistical work as so many of our systems and methods of doing business had to be mutated and made to jibe with how DC runs things. Conversely, some of the ways we tracked workflow and used databases were incorporated by DC as well. Are you asleep yet? [laughter]

RICHARD: No, no, this is a real pleasure. Seriously, if someone wants to do all my work for me, so I don't have to keep interrupting to try and wrest the conversation in the direction I want, that's fine by me. Makes a change from last week. So, any conclusions?

JIM: Ultimately, I think the hard work has paid off. We operate fairly seamlessly within DC but manage to keep a different energy and vibe, which is what I think Paul was looking for in the purchase of the company.

Yes, we're more structured--the upside being that we have become more organized and efficient. WildStorm's track record of late shipping has been vastly improved. The days of soliciting books which arrive months and months late, or never at all, are officially gone. We're so much better at trade paperbacks and keeping our growing library in print than we were pre-DC.

Continued here...

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