Saturday, August 5, 2017

SDCC 2017 Panels Part 1: Composers and Jim Lee

* Anatomy of a Superhero Panel

I went to this panel by accident, thinking it was the Anything Goes with John Barrowman one. This one had a variety of superhero movie or TV composers talking about their craft, challenges, and projects. Mark Isham, famous for the TV soundtrack Once Upon a Time, composed the soundtrack to the upcoming Marvel show Cloak and Dagger. Ludwig Goransson composed the soundtrack to the upcoming Marvel film Black Panther. Brian Tyler composed the most superhero soundtracks with Iron Man 3, Thor: The Dark World, and Avengers: Age of Ultron. Mark Beltrami unfortunately couldn't make it to the panel. David Russo composed the soundtrack to the DC show Gotham. Lorne Balfe, who composed The Lego Batman movie, moderated the session.

A video montage of each composer with snippets of their work and the TV and movie played on the screen. Each talked a little about their projects and played a clip. Brian Tyler's was my favorite because he talked about using music to portray the aftermath of Frigga's death, a beautiful funeral rite with no dialogue. Goransson talked about recording the music for Black Panther in Senegal and Africa. Russo talked about the swift schedule for Gotham where he had a lot of freedom to explore themes with the trust of producers. The consensus of the panel was that film is a medium to luxuriate in themes and explore more while TV is more about speed and making fast changes when needed. They all have different opinions about conducting their work in the studio. Brian Tyler prefers to conduct as a self admitted control freak, which makes sense since a different conductor can make a work sound vastly different. Mark Isham, on the other hand, prefers to be in the listening booth to address producer problems quickly sometimes only based on their facial expressions. He also admits to not being a great conductor and wants to take lessons to improve his skill.

Audience questions were decent. One asked if failed or rejected themes ever came back in different works. Only Brian Tyler had done so and realized it after the fact. Another asked about the lack of diversity in their industry, which stunned the panel a little bit. Balfe tried to clumsily dismiss the woman's criticism, but others like Isham talked about steps they were personally taking to help with the issue. Russo was the first to admit that the industry is mostly comprised of white men, which is an uncomfortable thing to address on a panel of white men. Another question was if they miss performing. Goransson performs regularly with Childish Gambino as a DJ. Russo was in a band for years before composing and misses it. Overall, the panel was an unexpected delight. I was especially excited to see Brian Tyler as he was the only one I recognized from my movie soundtrack collection.

* Jim Lee

Jim Lee is always a delight to see in any panel situation. He draws art filmed on a projector while answering various questions or generally talking about his life and career. He drew a portrait of Wonder Woman during most of the panel and did a hurried portrait of Batman at the end. He talked a lot about his life. He moved to the US as a child from Korea and didn't know how to read or write English. Comic books helped him learn English first from following the action with just the art and transitioning over time to reading the words. His parents wanted him to be a doctor, but he chose to follow his passion for comics. However, they still hold high expectations for him. Lee started out as a huge fan in a time when the audience for comics was much smaller. One of his big motivators for the job was not having to interact with a lot of other people, but the industry has vastly expanded and meeting fans at convention became a regular part of his job. When he first started his job, he expected the writers to have years of plot planned out and was very surprised when a writer asked him to choose his favorite Marvel characters to write a story about.

Lee talked about how his style of art changed as he has gotten older. As a young artist, he packed each frame full of stuff to impress and become a sought after artist. As his career solidified and he didn't have to try to impress anymore, he was more contemplative about conveying the story and what is needed in each frame to do that. He answered quite a few audience questions and it would have been nice if less of those audience members treated it as a signing session when it wasn't. My favorite audience member didn't ask a question, but gave Jim Lee his own drawing of Wonder Woman. The best moment of all was when Jim Lee gave Scott Williams a Batman Rolex watch as a surprise gift for their 30 years of work together and gave a heartfelt speech about their relationship (video above). Williams in turn gave an emotional speech about their collaboration in the X-Men issue 258 cover and how it was a huge turning point for him. If you ever get the opportunity to see Jim Lee in person, go! He's always hilarious, very kind, and incredibly talented.

Keep an eye out for more SDCC!

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