Weymouth comics artist missing off Grand Cayman

Norman Lee disappeared Thursday while snorkeling on a Caribbean vacation.
Norman Lee disappeared Thursday while snorkeling on a Caribbean vacation.Boston Globe

Relatives of a Weymouth comic book artist anxiously awaited word Saturday, two days after he went missing in the Cayman Islands while snorkeling, officials said.

Norman Lee, a longtime artist for DC Comics and Marvel Comics, was on a Caribbean vacation with his wife, Jan. The two were swimming about 250 yards off the eastern coast of Grand Cayman when they became separated Thursday morning, the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service said Saturday.

A search that included volunteer and police divers, five boats, and at least one helicopter was unable to find Lee, according to Chief Inspector Brad Ebanks of the police service.


After an extensive search Friday morning and early afternoon, the mission shifted at 3 p.m. into a search-and-recovery effort “based on the weather conditions, length of time and the extent of the search,” Ebanks said in an e-mail Saturday night.

Active searching for Lee ended at 6 p.m. Friday, he said.

“The currents in that area are strong and it is unlikely that we will make any recovery at this stage,” Ebanks said. “We put all assets available to us, both law enforcement and privately owned.”

Earlier Saturday, family members said they were fearful for Lee but still held out hope.

“It’s terrible just not knowing,” said Marleen Lee, 64, of Stoneham, who is related to Lee through her husband’s side of the family. When her husband died, Marleen said Lee was “like a second father” to her three daughters.

She described Lee, a Bridgewater native, as a wonderfully caring family man.

“Anyone lucky enough to be in his life knows the unconditional love and warmth immediately felt by the pure mention of his name,” said Marleen’s daughter Alyssa Lee, 35, of Long Island, N.Y. “He is a man of integrity, loyal and selfless to the core.”


Lee celebrated his 47th birthday on Feb. 2, said Bob Shaw, 47, of Manchester, Lee’s art representative and friend of two decades. Shaw said Lee married Jan about five years ago and became stepfather to her two children.

Lee has been an inker — the artist who goes over the pencil sketch lines in a comic book with ink before it is published — with DC Comics and Marvel Comics for 20 years, working on comic books including the “Avengers” and “X-Men.”

A consummate comics fan, Lee was thrilled to work on almost every project, Shaw said.

Lee has a great sense of humor, said Shaw, who called him “the calm in the storm.”

An athlete — “165 pounds of pure muscle” — Lee worked for a while as a physical trainer, Shaw said.

“I really hope he makes it, and if anyone could beat the odds, he could,” Shaw said.

Lee’s Facebook page has received a flood of posts from stunned friends.

“Norman is an extremely talented and humble guy and one of the nicest people I know,” Kenneth Souza, 49, of Fairhaven, said in an e-mail Saturday.

Souza and Lee were classmates at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth about 25 years ago, when it was Southeastern Massachusetts University, Souza said. Lee contributed a weekly comic strip to The Torch, the student newspaper, while Souza was editor in chief.

Even though he showed “a tremendous amount of promise and talent,” Lee displayed self-effacing humility, Souza said.

“We would say, ‘Norm, you could be a professional artist,’ and he would downplay it,” Souza said.


Lee was an avid comics fan in college and produced work that Souza said was on par with some of the best comics at the time.

Soon after graduating, Lee worked at Dark Horse Comics for five years before starting as an illustrator with DC and Marvel.

Lee is a regular presence at comic conventions like Boston Comic Con, where he is scheduled to appear at the 2015 convention at the end of July, according to the convention website.

But family and friends always come before everything else, said Vanessa Norton, 30, of Melrose, another of Marleen’s daughters.

Lee would give his younger cousins lessons on inking, took care of them when they were sick, and he even skipped San Diego Comic Con to make sure he didn’t miss the wedding of the third sister, Liana.

“Whenever we see him at family dinners, holidays, or dim sum at his uncle’s restaurant, the big smile on his face is a reflection of his huge, loving heart,” Norton said in a an e-mail. “We love him so much, and are praying for his safe return.”

For the loved ones waiting for word about Lee, the days have dragged on.

“He’s such a strong guy,” Marleen Lee said. “We just hope he’s on an island somewhere.”

Globe correspondent Jeremy C. Fox contributed to this report. Jennifer Smith can be reached at jennifer.smith@globe.com.