Alvin Lee, began his artistic journey the moment his tiny hand could hold a brush. That same hand was beckoned into the world of comic books at the age of 17, eventually maturing into an internationally renowned veteran. Alvin is one of the few North American born artists still presently involved in the Anime/Manga movement in comic books, games and media. He has worked with several comic book publishers in the process including Marvel, DC, Wildstorm, Top Cow, Dreamwave, Udon, Darkhorse and Image Comics. This is a special treat for us as he is one of my personal inspirations as a creative. I sit down with Alvin and we chat about his art, Asian films, future projects, and his work with Street Fighter (UDON). Read below for the full interview…
There aren’t too many artist who actually knew their passion at such an early age. In your youth, what was it about art that drew you in?
Alvin: I think what drew me into it was the fact that I had a lineage of artists in my family from my grandparents who both painted, to also my parents who both had their own artistic skill sets. So, it wasn’t a stretch for me to be interested in art. After I bought my first comic book though, it was officially over. I thought to myself, I could draw badass characters like this and actually make money doing it? At that point it just became a relentless pursuit of trying to break in or get noticed.
You were a key player in raising money for Japan Quake relief efforts this year. What was it like to be apart of such a reputable cause, and to use your talents to benefit the country?
Alvin: It was an honor to be a part of Dice Tsutsumi (of Pixar’s) Japan Relief efforts. At first it started as just a conversation of how we could help him raise more money. We got out our long list of combined contacts and starting calling everyone we knew in the city of Toronto from artists, to event promoters, to even local DJ’s. It very quickly gained a lot of momentum and it wasn’t long before the artist list exceeded the amount of table space! It was mind boggling for me to see so much support blossom from something as small as a thought. It sounds cliche but I’m starting to feel like every man really can make a difference. It also reaffirmed my belief that most people are innately compassionate, they just need a reason to give.
Compared to the third quarter of 2009, comics sales are down 14%. What do you think the industry needs to do to turn declining interest around?
Alvin: That’s a really tough question! I think the teens need to have a bigger market share of new readership instead of losing them to garbage like Justin Bieber. Maybe it needs to be pushed further outside of just blockbuster movies and be more about the artwork as well. Similarly, aspiring chefs and dance crews didn’t have the type of prestige or exposure they nearly have now say 5-10 years ago. Perhaps a hit reality television series like Top Chef or Miami Ink for aspiring comic artists might boost the interest. America’s Next Comic Book Superstar? Ha, I gotta get on that!
In your opinion, how do you view Hollywood’s treatment of comic book movies? Do you think the Avengers movie will be executed faithfully?
Alvin: Some are really amazing some are just terrible! In general I’m happy that there’s so much interest from Hollywood in comic books but it always feels like a bit of a shame when they bomb a good one. Like Daredevil, what a mess that was! However when it’s done right like Nolan’s Batman series, it’s like a living, breathing wet dream. Fingers crossed for the Avengers but my expectations are unfortunately very low.
Could you tell us a bit about your creative process? Has it evolved over the years, or has it, for the most part, stayed the same?
Alvin: I still do things very traditionally such as layouts, transferring with non-photo blue pencil and then cleaning it up with drafting tools. However, the creative process is a life long journey. It’s like being in a long term relationship and often times you have to try out new things to spice it up again. For me I’ve taken up a bit of watercolor painting and graphic design. You have to constantly improve or you will be left behind, so sometimes I try blowing things up and rebuilding it again. Every time I feel like I get a little bit better, even if it may end up looking similar in the end.
Tell us a bit about Schoolism, the role you play in it, and how it came about?
Alvin: Schoolism was a stroke of luck, I met Bobby Chiu (the owner) at a local party and the rest they say was history. I teach the comic book course and it has changed the way I view art as I have to keep my game sharp if I’m going to have the audacity to tell aspiring artists what to do! Coming from a self-taught artist, I’m still not sure if I’m teaching them properly but I just try to keep it real.
So, taking skill level out of the equation, what is the one golden rule you try to instill in the enrolled students?
Alvin: It’s not gay if it’s in a three-way? Seriously though, trust your instincts. It’s not as simple as it sounds as much needs to be based on fundamentals first but it doesn’t necessarily translate to artwork looking cool or distinctive. Finding that balance of knowing the rules and when to break them is probably the hardest thing to teach.
It was very awesome to see your art on the Marvel Vs Capcom 3 Special Edition. Having worked with UDON in the past, was this still a nerve-wrecking piece for you?
Alvin: Hell No! I relish in those opportunities as I love drawing anything Capcom, especially when it’s official artwork. Working with Udon is perhaps easier than other clients because it’s a road I’ve traveled so often that I can do it with my eyes closed. It’s like good ol’ comfort food!
Could you tell us any upcoming projects you have in store for 2011-2012?
Alvin: I could but I probably can’t! I’m sure you can understand as I do have to honor some nondisclosure agreements. All I can say is that one project might involve a classic toy company and the other might involve an athletic apparel company? I just feel truly blessed to be working with such cool content!
Lastly, you’ve had a long and successful career in the industry, what is one piece of advice you could tell any aspiring artist?
Alvin: Wow that means a lot, thank you! Another cliche, but, stay true to your yourself. It sounds almost selfish but know what excites you first and your style will come afterwards. It’s never convincing when you try to do something that isn’t who you are. If you’re truly passionate about something it will reflect in your work and that can’t be faked.
Want to keep tabs on all of Mr. Lee’s projects? Follow his cookie crumb trail below: