Drawing to the dark side

Illustrator Pat Lee digs deep into the recesses of his imagination when seeking inspiration for comic book heroes, and prefers to work at night

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 16 April, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 16 April, 2013, 11:50am

The world is full of dark and mysterious places, and Canadian illustrator Pat Lee is happy to admit that his mind is one of them. "Imagination is the most crucial asset for an illustrator. I'm creating every minute of the day, but it's after midnight that I'm most active. I'm a bit like a vampire," he says, laughing. "I have a filing cabinet full of drawings that nobody's seen. Some are just crazy. I probably won't show them to anyone - they wouldn't understand," he says.

While those drawings might forever languish in the "too disturbing" tray, there are millions of comic book fans around the world who have seen Lee's handiwork. He's worked on Transformers , Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, X-Men, Wolverine, Daredevil, Spider-man, Sandscape and Iron Man - "pretty much every comic I've wanted to work on".

But the best view of his dark side can be seen in Extraterrestrial Compendium - more than 180 pages of creepy alien illustrations. "That book was the most daring thing I've done," he says.

Lee, 37, now calls Hong Kong home, and he's keen to tap into Asia's love affair with comics, which is at a fever pitch thanks to the hype surrounding the release later this month of Iron Man 3. The frenzy was also fed last month when the Hong Kong government announced that Disneyland would open an area dedicated to Marvel comics. It's due to be completed by 2017.

Lee's also here to collaborate with the Savannah College of Art and Design's (SCAD) Hong Kong campus. "[Comics are] a huge industry in South Korea and Japan, and one that's growing," he says. It's great to see the city embracing art and see a college like SCAD encouraging artists."

Born in Montreal, Lee moved to Toronto when he was three - around the same time that he started drawing. As a teenager, he and his friends would hit the comic book conventions and hang out at comic book stores.

At age 17, his parents gave him an ultimatum: find a job in illustration within a year or it's back to school. So, for the next 12 months, he focused on compiling a portfolio. His lucky break came when comic book illustrator Dan Fraga took him under his wing. "He let me stay at his place in LA, and I went through a lot of training. It was amazing. In the studio, I met all my comic artist heroes: Jim Lee, Todd McFarlane, Michael Turner and J. Scott Campbell. They became good friends and taught me so much. It was an amazing experience to collaborate with these artists."

But things have not always been so smooth. After a stint freelancing, Lee opened his own company, Dreamwave Productions, but it went under in 2005 followed by Lee being accused of underpaying his staff. It didn't take long, however, for him to get work from DC and Marvel, including a Batman mini-series.

But while Lee loves his familiar heroes, he also has big plans of his own and, for the past five years, has been working on a sci-fi project. "I want to release it in about three years as a mobile game. It's a huge project with hundreds of characters - my own little world. I always carry a sketch pad, so if have an idea, I jot it down." With that, he grabs his pencils and starts scribbling. Ten minutes later, a muscle-bound Superman has landed on the page. "I also have an idea for a Hong Kong superhero. He could be a Chinese chef who is super-fast at cooking. Of course, his weapon of choice would be a meat cleaver."