How Jim Lee’s kind gesture turned my husband’s Christmas gift into a memory of a lifetime.
I didn’t grow up reading comics, but I know a legend when I see one. I’ve seen the look in the eyes of friends and acquaintances when they talk about Jim Lee — whether he was their childhood hero, whether it meant so much to them to see an Asian name during a time when there weren’t very many Asian American role models, or whether they just remember being a kid so awed by his illustrations that they flipped back to the front of the comic to find out who the artist was. I respect anyone who’s inspired a generation of dazed looks and child-like admiration.
On December 8, Audrey Magazine Associate Editor Kanara Ty and I were responsible for interviewing guests on the red carpet for Unforgettable, KoreAm Journal’s annual gala where Jim Lee was being honored for his work as a comic book artist and co-publisher of DC Entertainment. My husband of a few months, not one to be easily impressed by celebrities I sometimes interview for work, seemed taken aback by the mention of Jim Lee. Once he confirmed it was the Jim Lee (and not another probably-talented-but-not-as-
I told him I could try. Would he actually sign it? he asked. I had no idea. But worst case, he’d say no, right?
I knew that my husband collected comic books growing up, but I had never seen them. He kept his collection safely tucked away in the top closet shelf in his childhood bedroom. Suddenly, Pandora’s box was opened, and dusty comic books wrapped in plastic were carefully spread on the floor in his search of the four different (but connecting) covers of October 1991’s X-Men 1st Issue, A Legend Reborn!
As he reminisced about his childhood, recalling him and his brother’s monthly trips to the comic book store to buy the new issues, the anticipation was building at an uncomfortably exponential level. Once we started panicking about what type of Sharpie marker would be best for Jim Lee (Fine Point, Extra Fine Point, or Ultra Fine Point??), I had to lower both of our expectations. It might not happen. Jim Lee might be sick of people asking him to sign stuff. He might think four comic books is too many. It might be too hard for him to take it out of the plastic. This X-Men cover might be the only thing he’s drawn in his life that he secretly hates, and we will have offended an icon. But life would still go on, and no matter what, I promised to guard those comic books and bring them back unharmed.
When I talked to Jim Lee (and his wife Carla Michelle) on the red carpet, his graciousness about his award and career gave me courage to pull him aside after the interview and tell him about how my husband was a huge fan. And that if it wasn’t too much trouble, it’d mean a lot to get his autograph for him as a Christmas present. To my surprise, Lee not only gave me his table number so I could find him later with the comic books, but he told me that if I had a piece of paper, that he’d be happy to draw something for him.
Draw something? I was not prepared for this curve-ball of luck. All I had was flimsy reporter’s notebook paper. I had decided to take the 4″x 4″ party favor box (courtesy of KoreAm) to his table for him to draw on, but before I could even suggest my sub-par idea, Jim Lee had a better plan. After autographing the X-Men comics, he took one of the cardboard backing boards, and before I knew what was happening, he had sketched this:
Later, I would read online about how hardcore Jim Lee fans go to extreme lengths at conventions to get autographed personal sketches, often to fail, and they mourn the unfairness of lesser fans (aka me) being successful. (I know, and I totally understand, but I wasn’t trying to hurt you.)
When I returned with the drawing, people showered me with excitement, assuming I had done something bold or effective in order to attain such a valuable gift from the night’s honoree. But let’s be clear: I didn’t do anything. I didn’t even know that asking him to sketch something was a possibility! This was sheer, sheer kindness from Jim Lee. I couldn’t wait to call my husband.
How did I get so lucky? Perhaps Jim Lee is just that nice to everybody, but in my own fictional world, this is what I’d like to believe: he just saw someone on a quest do something nice for her significant other, and he wanted to help. I started to believe my story more and more later in the gala, while witnessing Lee’s heartfelt tribute to his wife during his acceptance speech. He not only praised her effusively for her monumental impact on his life, but he also asked her to stand up to be acknowledged and applauded by his audience. Just like the comic books, it’s not just about the words: visuals are just as important, and he wanted the rest of us to see what he saw in Carla Michelle Lee.
The artist who understands love wants to use his art to spread love. As simple as that. And sometimes the simplest things are the most profound.