Lee Weeks, the artist of the Fall of the Kingpin storyline from #297-300, talks about why his stint on Daredevil was so important to him professionally and personally.
Kuljit Mithra: How did get your start in the comics field and why did you choose to be a comics artist?
Lee Weeks: I first remember
wanting to be a comics artist in the 3rd grade. I made my own little comicbook back then and
my older brother ran a bunch of copies off on the old mimeograph machine at the junior high
school (remember the smell of that blue ink, anybody?). It sold a few dozen at 3 cents a
piece. It was one quarter the size of an 8 1/2 x 11 sheet of paper. I had an Underdog story
(who knew about copyright law at 8 yrs old?) and another I recall consisted only of two
Olympic sprinters going for gold in the 100 meter dash -- panel after panel one guy passing
the other (you'll have to dig up a copy to find out who won). Later, in high school, I had
dreams of playing football in college and so was preparing to study engineering at the
University of Maine, an in-state school with a division 1AA football program. Just as my
senior season started, I was almost killed in a terrible car crash with my best friend. We
were hit by a drunk driver coming the other way. I lost a couple of internal organs and
really was close to death the first couple of days in the intensive care unit. My buddy,
Todd, had a severe concussion and contusions all over his body.
As much as it may sound like an overused TV movie of the week plot element, the first thing I could think of when I woke up with tubes and wires coming out of me was to ask for paper and pencil from my Mom, and when my head cleared a few days later, I just knew that this is what I wanted to do for my life. That accident has ended up being one of the best things that ever happened to me...in a round-about way, of course! I never would have met my wife (Tish) or been blessed with my two beautiful daughters (Vaughn, 7 and Alysha, 5) if not for the fork in the road that was created on that day. After a year of fine art school, a year in a pizza parlor, a year at the Kubert cartoon art school, and one more kicking around at a convenience store job, a writer-friend of mine, Tom Field, and I pitched and sold a story to Eclipse Comics anthology title, 'Tales of Terror' #5. It was the summer of '85 and I was 22 yrs old. I was breaking in to comics and doing so in collaboration with a good friend. _That_ was exciting. I haven't wanted for a job since that day -- which doesn't mean there haven't been periods that I've wanted for a _better_ job!
Mithra: As an artist, who or what has influenced you the most? Or do you always try to incorporate something new for every project?
Weeks: Biggest influences on my imagination would be Lee and Kirby, and a few of my
family members. My Mom and a couple of my brothers (I have four) are incredibly good
story/joke tellers. There's also artistic ability in all of them, as well as my late
grandmother -- I have a couple of her paintings hanging in my house and they are beautiful.
My Dad is a carpenter-turned furniture maker who's as good at his craft as Alex Toth is at
On actual drawing style, Kirby, Buscema, Adams, and Ditko as a kid--the same plus Toth, Mazzuchelli, Kubert, Williamson, and Milton Caniff in adulthood. Gil Kane's run on Spidey blew me away, and I loved John Romita's, as well (beautiful women!). Gene Colan is one whose naturalness has forever influenced me. I also have been inspired by many Fine artists of the past -- Rembrandt, Reubens. I think Toth to be the most complete (anyone can still fight over who's the *best*!) of the comic book artists. There is, and always will be, so much to learn from that man.
Mithra: What titles had you worked on before your stint on Daredevil?
Weeks: 'The Destroyer' black and white magazine; 'Justice' from the New Universe; and 'The New Wave' for Eclipse...plus some work in the back of 'Dr. Strange' ....boy, this is ten and more years ago!! My memory must be fading. I also got a prelude of what it would be to work with Dan Chichester when he and I collaborated on a Dr. Druid Solo Avengers story. Those first few years for Marvel were not the happiest for me, though. Drawing wasn't as enjoyable as it had been for my entire life. I needed something that would fire me up--something I could lock horns with (hey, if that's not a seguey into the next question....)
Mithra: Your first issue, 284, was written by Ann Nocenti. She had just completed a story arc where Daredevil had been through Hell (literally) and had returned to New York. Her writing was controversial with many DD fans. What did you think of her writing and how was she to work with?
Weeks: Firstly, I think Ann was an absolute sweetheart to work with. Although it was only for a few months that we did work together, she was great. Daredevil was my first big break, and she helped me with my anxiety over it ( I don't even know if she knows that!). Ann is a very good writer, although politically, I can safely say that we are probably worlds apart! I must admit that there were a few times that I would wince-- not at her writing--but at the strong political view she would inject into her work, which I think the fans may have felt was at the expense of the characters at times. No one could ever doubt the level of her convictions, to be sure. Truthfully, though, those first few months I was more concerned with the legacy of this book and trying to hold up my end of a tradition DD had established for itself as a book with a long succession of top creators. I just didn't want to blow it. I can remember nights I'd be working late (and loving it) and at some point, I'd find myself setting down the graphite, leaning back in my chair, locking my hands behind my head and declaring, 'I can't believe I'm drawing @#%$*! Daredevil!' And there was a sense of awe over just the number of people that had sweat before me for not much in return in order that I should have this opportunity. Especially at that time when the industry was pretty healthy, just prior to the out-of-control big boom, I was so keenly aware of how everything I did owed a level of gratitude to everyone who kept the biz alive during the lean times of its past -- people who worked their asses off when it didn't pay much to do so.
Mithra: What did you think of the Daredevil character before you drew the series? After?
Daredevil was, undoubtedly, my favorite character, and it was a dream come true to draw him.
The 'Born Again' storyline by Miller and Mazzuchelli a few years earlier touched me
personally like no other story in comics has. It came at a time when I felt like my life was
deteriorating around me. I loved the internal battles DD had with
himself as much as any battle with one of his arch enemies. His struggle to 'open his eyes'
to what actually held meaning in his life. I especially remember the scene where he's helping Karen through her DT's, and the exposition is about all that he'd
lost... and they took Matt's home and career and everything--no--not everything-- 'nothing',
he'd said, Matt did... Because they couldn't take the important stuff...
the invisible stuff. The stuff inside that makes him who he is...that light in the midst of
a dark, grim and seedy world--or city, at least.
After my run on the book, I still have a great deal of affection for the character, but haven't read it since #300, really. I would love to write some DD stories. I've fleshed one out, in particular, that I hope will someday make it between a couple of covers. I think any return to the character would have to entail something new for me -- plotting or writing, I'm not sure. I just don't believe I could return as a penciller again. Maybe later, but now it doesn't seem right.
Mithra: Did you feel any pressure of trying to fill the shoes of John Romita, Jr., who was on the book before you? I have read that you were visiting the Marvel offices the day editor Ralph Macchio was looking for a replacement.
Weeks: True to both. I'm not even sure that most people realize just how great J.R. truly is. I don't know of another artist from our generation, with the exception of Mike Mignola, who has created his own visual language in the same way that he has. So unique and so darn good! And the pressure of following Miller was still there -- and the Mazz. I think anyone who goes on that book from now until whenever will always be judged against Frank -- and that seems right to me. And, yes, I 'just happened' to be in Ralph's office that day. But there's a bit more to the story. See, up until that point in my career, I had never sought out any job -- I had always taken just what was offered and because of that, I had never really been as happy as I thought I would be drawing comics (this is '89). Well, when my wife got pregnant with our first in early '90, I was out of my mind with excitement--and knew that I had to make a change. I quit the book I was on (The Destroyer), and sat up one night on my sofa, ruminating over exactly which book _I_ would like to draw, if given the chance. It was a no-brainer. So the next time I was at Marvel, I went to see Ralph with Daredevil on my mind. But, I had never asked for a particular character before, and was terrified to do so (I'm sure any psyche 101 could play around with that for a while). I was only able to 'make myself available' and then take what was given out -- which that day was the Dr. Strange back-ups I drew from Roy Thomas scripts. I was frozen! Here I was, in the DD office, talking with the DD editor (with whom I had a terrific relationship) and the words wouldn't come -- at first. Because as I reached the door to leave I thought about going home on the long bus ride without even asking the question. My stomach was flipping and I was filled with anxiety. I knew what I wanted to ask him. So I popped my head back in and *casually* (hrmph!) told Ralph I'd kill for a chance at a DD fill-in if he ever needed one. He looked at his assistant with a raised eyebrow, and threw me the bone. My first couple issues were fill-ins.
Mithra: After Nocenti left the book and several fill-in artists took their turn, you came back to the series with new writer D.G. Chichester. How did you find him as a writer in comparison to Nocenti?
Weeks: I certainly don't want to get into a 'who's better' thing, because I don't know how you could say either one. I can say that Dan and I were a better fit. And The Fall of the Kingpin storyline will always be something I'm proud to have worked on. By the time we kicked it into overdrive on #300, drawing felt more like writing. Laying out the pages wasn't tedious, but rather like jotting down a few comfortable lines to a friend in a letter. The work flowed like it never had before. I really think Dan was maturing as a terrific scripter, too. Some of those pages, the way the pictures and words synthesize, give me goosebumps today. A scene in particular is the one where Daredevil is chasing Kingpin through the Port Authority Bus Terminal, and as he runs him down we the readers are privy to Daredevil's thoughts. With each panel, Dan shortened up the Daredevil narrative a bit more, creating this sense of increasing urgency. It worked perfectly with the pictures, and the scene ended with just the right punch as Daredevil topples the Kingpin over a railing. I just loved that sequence.
Mithra: After some stories with the Hand and the Punisher, you concluded your stint on the comic with the 'Fall of the Kingpin' story you just mentioned. One thing I noticed was your use of shadows (created by the blinds hanging by the windows). Did you look back on the Frank Miller/Klaus Janson issues or maybe even David Mazzucchelli's issues to get some reference on scenes with the Kingpin?
Weeks: I didn't have to look back! It's all up here (tapping my head). But, also, I had been influenced by other artists who used black and shadow in similar ways....and am a fan of old movies -- probably the same ones that influenced those other guys. That type of thing had been in my work since I was in art school. The obvious influence in my work on DD is Mazzuchelli. More for his take on the physical look of the character than anything else. I always thought he had just the right mixture of lean, controlled athletecism combined with sinewy, muscular strength. As far as composition, design, and use of blacks, I studied Milton Caniff in a big way during that time, and he changed the way I think about comics forever. Miller's use of the panel in both number per page and shape (which seems to be born out of the things that people like Steranko and Eisner did, only taken to newer heights) has influenced me, along with many others. I love Frank's use of the panel to create 'beats' in the pacing of the story -- giving each scene its own 'rhythm'.
Mithra: Why did you leave the series after issue 300?
Weeks: Leaving DD was the first time I'd ever left any project wanting to do more--really. But, my wife and I were expecting our second child, she wanted to stay home with the kids (which I applauded), and Dark Horse publisher (and now friend) Mike Richardson called with a wonderful offer to do the Predator/Magnus Robot Fighter mini. I felt if I were going to leave, it made sense to go on a high note. And I think I had a need to try something different --to not be so tied to one company. Although I had been freelance for those years (5 or 6), I had never worked for another company.
Mithra: How was drawing the Gambit limited series different than drawing Daredevil? I mean in terms of how you approach layouts for a scene etc. and the perceived difference in audience of the two characters.
Weeks: I do know that my whole approach was evolving at that time, but I'm not sure I could put it into concrete terms. As far as the perceived difference in audience, I'm not sure how much of a concern that was for me. Some, I'm sure, but not much. I think I tried to do tighter pencils than I'd ever done before, but as far as choosing shots, how to light things, and composition, I'm trying to make it fun for me. If I'm excited, I believe I then have the best chance of getting someone else excited about it.
Mithra: I had asked Dan Chichester about the Daredevil/Batman one-shot and how you were initally supposed to be the artist, but due to the amount of time it took to settle on a contract, you ultimately decided not to do it. Any regrets about that decision?
Mithra: Do you still keep up to date on the title?
Weeks: Not really, I'm sorry to say. Although, I did see and really enjoyed the Daredevil black and white story in 'Shadows and Light' by Ron Marz and an artist whose name is escaping me. He did a fantastic job, too! Ugh, my memory is failing me! It was a beautiful little vignette -- a conversation about faith between two blind men. I really loved it. It was nice to see a writer and the company not be afraid of talking about faith and God having a plan for each of us. Beautiful. --OH!!! Brian Stelfreeze!! Brian's work was the perfect compliment to the kind of story Ron wrote.
Mithra: What do you think of the Event Comics deal where Joe Quesada and Jimmy Palmiotti get to 'revamp' the title?
Weeks: I'm for anything that can make good comics, and at the same time be true to the characters created by the giants of the past. I wish them well.
Mithra: What titles have you worked on recently?
Weeks: Batman: The Gauntlet, a summer prestige special that tells the never before tale of Robin's final exam--Dick Grayson, that is. Probably the most meaningful project I'd worked on up until I started writing my own stories, one of the major reasons being that I worked with writer Bruce Canwell, a friend of mine from almost 20 yrs ago back in Maine. And this was his first published comic story -- and an incredibly good one! We worked together well, and then Matt Hollingsworth made us all look good. I also did the Tarzan/Predator series with Walt Simonson. What a dream that was to work with Walt! He's really one of the Princes of the industry. Some other Batman...a Starman job. Other than that, as stated before, I'm starting to write some of my own material. A Batman Chronicles story that gives us Alfred's take and a new understanding of Bruce's motivation to be Batman, and a Thing story for Shadows and Light that will be on the stands the first week in March. Writing is something I've been too scared/too comfortable to do until the past year. Now, I can't get enough, and the Thing project was just a great experience all around. Marvel had called many times over the last three years and I had turned them down flat each time. I guess Joe Andreani, the editor of 'Shadows and Light', caught me at a weak moment -- and I'm glad for it. I feel more excited about working in comics than any time in my 12 plus year career. I love this work. Canwell and I have a few things we want to do together, still. We've a lot of chemistry and don't want it going to waste, so expect to see a bunch of stuff from us in the future. Also, I occasionally draw storyboards for Warner Bros. for the Superman cartoon, and am doing one now. It's a great exercise in storytelling, and I love how it pushes me to think, think, think! My first episode just aired. It was the 'Apocalypse Now' two parter with all the New Gods stuff that was dedicated to Jack Kirby. What an awesome story.
Mithra: Besides comics, what are your other interests/hobbies?
Weeks: Playing guitar, performing magic, my computer, sports, golf, politics. The guitar is
tremendous therapy. It also gave me back something I had lost when I became a professional
artist...something I loved to do and could do it just for the love of it. An avocation, if you
Magic is an old love I let go of when I was 12 or so. About two and a half years ago, my family and I were in Boston and I stumbled upon an amateur magic shop. I picked up a book, took it back to my hotel room that night, and was hooked all over again. I've since bought about 50 books, old and new, on various forms of the art -- but mostly books devoted to close-up, sleight of hand magic. Cards, coins, ropes and even cups and balls. Golf is a great way to get out of the studio, get some fresh air, and relax -- well, when I'm not wrapping a club around a tree, that is.
Mithra: What is your next comics project?
Weeks: Hopefully a project with Marvel....I can't say anymore about it right now, except that it's again with Bruce. We're both looking forward to it, and I hope I can let you know soon! We are putting together a short Nick Fury story for the Shadows and Light book. I guess I love the b&w format. Who knows? If this one goes well, just maybe we'll be doing more Fury stuff...(wink, wink) Also, more storyboards, and a Superman story I've been writing, but have put on the back burner for a time. Joey Cavalieri has expressed interest in it. We'll see where it goes from here.
(c) Kuljit Mithra 1998
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