KIA Motors America and DC Entertainment have teamed up to raise awareness of famine on the Horn of Africa by working with WeCanBeHeroes.org. They've created a series of 8 custom cars built to reflect the members of the 7 core members of the Justice League.
While the Batman themed KIA Optima was revealed at New York Comic-Con a few weeks ago, KIA and DC Entertainment pulled back the silks on 4 more cars in the series moments ago at this week’s SEMA event in Las Vegas. The new cars feature designs inspired by the Flash, Green Lantern, Aquaman, and Cyborg. We got to speak to DC co-publisher and legendary comic artist, Jim Lee, about what went into his designs for the first 5 vehicles and what they hope to accomplish with the We Can Be Heroes campaign…
GEEK: Over the years you’ve designed countless heroes and villains and drawn vast comic book worlds, but did you ever imagine you’d get to create real world customized cars?
JIM LEE: I’ve designed spaceships and other vehicles and stuff, but growing up, I didn’t recall seeing a lot of customized cars. If there was, it was on the level of the white stripe on the Starsky & Hutch car. There wasn’t a lot of inspiration back in the day.
I was there from the very initial creative meetings. First discussions were what car should be paired up with what hero, based on the personality of the cars and the personalities of the Justice League. And then they brought the physical cars into the office, where I got to “meet” the cars in person, and then the brainstorming began. But was really cool about it was that everyone had a say in the creative process, from the executives working on it to the automobile customization shops. And out of that synthesis of ideas came these cars. Each car kind of underwent a different journey from initial concept to design to execution. At the end of the day, they’re all going to be different, but when you line them up together you’re going to get a very cool panorama shot of the Justice League.
GEEK: Why the Optima for Batman?
I believe it’s the top of the line KIA car, so it’s very befitting a billionaire. It’s also one of the more technologically advanced cars in the KIA line and that speaks to Batman’s wheelhouse. I actually learned about KIA cars in this program too.
GEEK: I saw the little bat shurikens in the center console…
I was disappointed they’re not removable. We’ll have to fix that… [laughs]
GEEK: Any other little special functionalities that we can’t see?
Part of the goal was to make the car look Batman inspired, but part of it was try to figure out ways to create awareness for the We Can Be Heroes organization. Each car does that in a different way, but in this one we decided to add video screens in the back of the headrests.
GEEK: These designs are based very much on DC’s New 52 characters.
Yeah, for example, the New 52 Batman has the matte black and shiny black aspects to the costume. Doing the traditional pre-New 52 grey and dark blue trunks would have been a cool variant, but I like how this car looks. It looks like something you could see on the street. You’d definitely do a double-take, especially if you saw it from the side.
Well, my favorite color is orange. If there was ever a cool orange car, Aquaman is the one. Set off with the pine green, the metallic green, it’s an awesome combination. I think that’s the ride I would drive most of all the ones so far. The Batman one is very menacing, but the Aquaman car to me speaks to the character the most. He is a very vibrant, flashy character. West Coast Customs really embraced the color scheme of the character, went with the orange and green. Their airbrush artist did some fantastic scale-mail armor of Aquaman and skinned that over the top of the car. Brian the owner of West Coast had the idea of having the Aquaman belt sort of lie across the front of the car and sweep back the sides. It was a real fun car to do. I think I went a little overboard in my initial design, where it started to look a little hokey, because I was putting every fish or fin element into it. But they kept a lot of my initial ideas and refined it and put it through their filter and created a car that speaks of Aquaman but is still a very fun car to drive. GEEK: What went into the design choices for the Flash KIA Forte Koup?
For the Flash, we wanted to create the sensation that the car was moving, even when it was standing still. We achieved that through some blurring effect and, more importantly, by having a faux heat shield effect. Sort of like when the space shuttle re-enters the earth’s atmosphere, you see the front end get kind of white hot and it would literally glow from the heat. And so the idea of a car going so fast that the front metal was almost melting was the effect we were going for. And then a lot of the lines that you see across the body are what we call speed lines in a comic book. They’re lines that relay the sensation of movement. They come from Japanese manga. It’s lots of thin lines that are drawn in parallel to create that sensation of a moving background. Those two primary things create the sensation that the car is moving. Then West Coast Customs created this really tricked out customized hood where you can see through the Flash logo into the engine bay. And to me I thought that was a very cool way of showcasing the power of the engine, getting to the heart of the character. It’s a character that’s driven by his heart, that’s runs fast based on his sort of internal engine. And the Forte Koup showcases that aspect the strongest of all the cars in the Justice League lineup. GEEK: Who put together the striking design for the Green Lantern KIA Soul?
Jim Lee: The Green Lantern car was done by Super Street magazine. Every car went through a different creative journey, from initial concept, to collaboration, to final execution. The designers at Super Street submitted the Green Lantern car design first, before any of the other cars. And when I saw it, I was blown away. They did an awesome job and I only gave a few comments on color choice, but it’s really 99% them. They knocked it out of the park. I love all of the elements they incorporated into the car. Obviously, the Green Lantern logo itself, but the rear hatchback area has a really cool callout to the Green Lantern mythology. I thought they did a lot of really subtle things that they really picked up on from the Green Lantern costume. Like the side view mirrors have a white element to them that are evocative of Green Lantern’s white gloves. They really did something that looks futuristic and almost has a… not militaristic, but it looks like a uniform has been placed onto the vehicle. They did a tremendous amount of body work on it. They really did a knockout job on it. GEEK: Was it difficult to capture the feel of a lesser known character like Cyborg as part of the team?
With the KIA Forte 5-door we just wanted to evoke Cyborg’s armor, call out all the LED lights that are in his costume, including his cybernetic red eye. His logo is red on black on a silver field. That car was actually fairly easy to design. We did add a lot of body work to the front and back to make it look more aggressive and lowered it. It’s a very striking car, because it lacks color. It’s mostly silver/white with red elements. It has that kind of cold feel that the character’s costume has. It really stands out in the lineup of the Justice League because it’s on the on the other end of the color wheel from Batman.
GEEK: Are there any DC characters you could have designed a car for outside of the Justice League?
Oh, I don’t know, Plastic Man could have been this awesome stretch limo. I don’t know. The ones in the Justice League now have such a wide range of powers and colors; I think people will be really anticipating the next ones to see what we do (editor’s note: Superman, Wonder Woman, and a final vehicle featuring all 7 heroes are the next KIA cars to be revealed in 2013).
GEEK: Obviously, you’re doing all of this for a reason: to raise awareness of famine in Africa. You’ll even be auctioning off one of the cars next year in support of this charity. Tell us a little about the We Can Be Heroes project.
On the Time Warner business level, doing something like We Can Be Heroes is in line with the corporate philosophy and responsibility campaigns that the company has done in the past. We’re an international company, an international brand, and the Justice League is internationally known. We’re focusing on the Horn of Africa, which is experiencing the worst famine in 60 years, with 13 million people affected by this crisis. There is an interesting bit of history that ties DC Comics into this, in that back in the 80s there was a benefit called Heroes for Hunger. So DC has a history of doing some charitable work in that area. Given that the crisis is the worst it’s been in 60 years, they chose to pair the Justice League with this campaign to get the word out, to raise awareness, and to generate fundraising for this campaign. And then when KIA was interested in becoming a partner, to me that really kind of underscored the message of the Justice League. Sure, each of the individual characters are awesome in their own right, but together as a whole, the sum is greater than the parts. And really KIA Motors and DC Entertainment working together, using art as a tool to get people aware and interested of the problem in Africa is a great message and a great way of raising awareness. If anyone wants to contribute, there is a Text-to-Give program where people can text 80888 to donate $10 to the cause. That’s just one way to reach out and immediately help fight this crisis.
GEEK: Since you’re talking to Geek magazine, I have to ask: what do you geek out over most?
Cars, man. Not so much about the technical specs. People always talk about extra horsepower, this or that. Sure, it’s interesting to me. I like dual-clutch transmissions and all that kind of stuff, but I just like how they look and I love the technology they keep incorporating, like cars that tell you have another car in your blind spot or ones with heads up displays. That stuff is cool. I mean they can build cars that can drive themselves at this point, but no one wants to give up that kind of control. I buy Motor Trend. I watch all of those video clips online where they go test drive the cars. That’s probably the biggest thing I waste time doing when I’m procrastinating from a deadline. They’ll take cars out on the race track or in real life and give their professional opinion and input. It’s like wine or anything that you really get into. The people that are into it notice all of those minute differences. I try to, but I don’t think I’m enough of an expert. But that’s what I geek out about.