Comic Book Biography: STEVE LIGHTLE
Steve Lightle showed a determination to break into the ranks of professional comic artists from a young age. A graduate of DC’s New Talent Showcase program, Lightle’s first major assignment was 1984’s relaunch of the Legion of Super-Heroes in Baxter format. Lightle is poised to rejoin the Legion, albeit only for one issue, tomorrow. For those unfamiliar with Steve’s long career in comics he took some time to chat with us at First Comics News.
First Comics News: Your first work was at AC Comics on “Bolt” how did you get the job?
Steve Lightle: First, you’ve got to understand that I had aspired to be the youngest working comic book creator, and that hadn’t worked out. I think Jim Shooter holds the record for his Legion stories, written at the age of fourteen. By the time I was fifteen, I’d decided that I’d have to publish my first comic work myself, since DC, Marvel and Charlton were not hiring me to write or draw their books. So, I scraped together enough cash to get a fanzine going. Of course, at first I didn’t think of it as a fanzine. I saw it as an independent comic … a comic not backed by the big corporate publishers. Of course, while I was getting bids from printers and drawing the first issue. All that jazz … I discovered that others were doing the same thing, sort of, and they were calling them fanzines. Up until then the only fanzines I knew of consisted of commentary and occasional spot illustrations. Eventually I discovered that guys like Tim Corrigan, Jerry Ordway, Bill Black, and others, were creating mags that contained original comic book stories and art. Of course, I had mixed feelings about this discovery. I had hoped to be the first upstart to “buck the system.” Instead I found out that I was joining the ranks of the “also-rans” … analogous to the Legion of Substitute Heroes. Maybe that’s why I’ve always resented those stories where the subs were made a mockery of and played for comic relief. Long time Legion readers will note that I did redeem one of the subs by redesigning Polar Boy … who eventually, by the way, became Legion leader.
I’m not sure if any of the Americomics work that I did appeared before my New Talent Showcase issues, but it certainly wasn’t actually drawn until after I’d started the DC work. The reason I did the Americomics covers (Bolt & Starforce Six, The Scarlet Scorpion, and so on) was because I cut my creative fangs in fan publishing, and several of the guys that were doing work at AC were my fanzine contemporaries. When I realized that the old fraternity was publishing real comics, I wanted to show some solidarity and stand with them … as if to say, “We have arrived!” Polar Boy must have had the same feeling when he finally was welcomed into the Legion of Super-Heroes.
1st: You were one of the creators that came from DC’s New Talent Showcase; tell us about how you were selected.
Steve: I didn’t know that Sal Amendola was heading up the New Talent program at DC at the time. You see, at the age of 23 I had just gotten married, and was head of an art department for a small advertising firm. Although I was earning a living at art, I felt that I’d left something unfinished. So, I sent samples of my art to DC Comics, and was surprised to find that Mr. Amendola was interested in my contributing to a book that they intended to call Tyros. That later became New Talent Showcase. Both Sal, and later, Karen Berger were very encouraging, assuring me that DC would provide me with as much work as I could handle.
1st: Karen Berger, who was the editor on New Talent Showcase was also the editor on Legion, did she offer you the job on Legion beforeNew Talent Showcase came out?
Steve: That sounds about right. The real deal is that she offered me a shot the Tales of the Legion of Super-Heroes title. DC paid me and a couple of other artists to produce sample pages, to see how we each handled the Legion. My Legion samples were well received, and did help land me other gigs at DC, but they didn’t land me the job on “Tales.” You see, at that time, the plan was for Keith Giffen to draw the “Baxter” Legion title, and Karen told me that they chose another artist whose style was visually more similar to Giffen’s. A couple of months later they needed someone to replace Mr. Giffen on the direct sales title, and they remembered my samples. So, I tried out for the “B” book and got the “A” title instead.
1st: That’s great, were you a Legion fan before?
Steve: In a big way. A friend turned me on to the LSH when I was a kid, and when he told me about aliens with super powers I was hooked. I was impatient to find a copy of the comic, and once I did, I immediately became a fan. I was quick to add them to my fast growing list of favorites, which included the Doom Patrol, the Teen Titans, theChallengers of the Unknown, and Batman.
1st: What was your experience like working on Legion?
Steve: A whirlwind of enthusiastic creativity, insecurity, excitement, and boundary pushing. Karen Berger and Paul Levitz made me feel very welcome, and even more important they welcomed my creative input. The Legion was very much a collaborative effort, and the thinking was; nothing is off-limits. Everyone brainstormed, both separately and together, and the best ideas were incorporated into the book. We talked about everything from cover blurbs to plots … and maybe not everything I wanted to do found its way into the book, but it was an incredibly creative time, and there were new ideas and concepts being explored every day. I was like a kid in a candy store.
1st: After Legion you started on Doom Patrol. What was that experience like?
Steve: Well, you remember that I listed Doom Patrol amongst my early favorites. In fact, a Doom Patrol drawing was included with my original art submissions to DC. Paul Kupperberg still has that drawing hanging in his house after all these years, which I find surprising, to say the least. But, you see, Paul was not just my collaborator on the DP, he was a long time fan of the Patrol, just like me. Paul and I still get that look in our eyes when we talk about the book. The truth is, I think we both have Doom Patrol stories in us that have yet to be told.
1st: You went to Marvel after that, how did they recruit you?
Steve: Well, I was talking to Archie Goodwin, and he told me that the editors at Marvel had heard that I was under an exclusive contract with DC. When I told him that the contract had run its course, and that I was a free agent, he spread the word through the Marvel offices. Once the news broke I received about seven calls all at once. I took a fill-in issue of X-Factor that Bob Harass offered to me, and became the cover artist on Classic X-Men, while still doing covers for Legion over at DC.
1st: Was it different working at Marvel?
Steve: Not really. I used to feel that I knew what kind of cover to pitch to a Marvel editor and what kind to pitch to a DC editor. At the time, it seemed that DC editors were more open to interesting design elements, while Marvel was more focused on which characters were featured and how much action was depicted. The real difference is between personalities, not company Logos. Retailers worry about company imprints. Creators are more interested in finding editors who respect their work and deal honestly.
1st: Working on the X-Men at Marvel, did you feel like you had reached the top?
Steve: Well, I realized that there were worse places to be, but don’t forget, I was also drawing covers for Power Pack, Wanderers,Quasar, Flash, Avengers Spotlight, Marvel Comics Presents,Suicide Squad … all at the same time. I don’t recall ever passing on a job because it wasn’t a big enough seller. Maybe it would have made more sense to take that into consideration. I do recall a few people questioning my decision to do so much work on Marvel Comics Presents. Joey Quesada called it “slumming.”
1st: I’ll bet he regrets those words today; after X-Men Classics andMarvel Comics Presents you went back to DC and did the covers onFlash for 3 years, how did this come about?
Steve: Was it three years? I know it was fun doing those Flash covers. I had done a few Aztek covers for Paul Kupperberg, and when that title was cancelled, I asked Paul if he had anything else that I’d be right for. He suggested Flash, and I guess it lasted quite awhile. Flash is another one of those characters I’ve known since before I could read. My brother Sherman, who is nine years older than me, always had a stash of comic books under his dresser, and flipping through those is how I became acquainted with the Doom Patrol, World’s Finest Comics,Fantastic Four and the Flash. Flash was always my brother’s favorite, and so I always felt that my run of Flash covers was dedicated to Sherm. I’ve also penciled and inked a full issue of Flash which hasn’t seen the light of day yet. We should check with the Flash editor and find out when that is scheduled to appear.
1st: While you were working on Flash, you also did work for DC licensing, what did you do for them?
Steve: I’ve never really gotten completely out of advertising, and many of my advertising clients have worked with DC and Marvel characters. I’ve done comic related work for Hi-C, General Motors, Sega Game Systems, Sterling Software, toy manufacturers, Insurance firms … I’ve even drawn comics for the public school system and Six Flags theme parks. Often DC or Marvel will already have a licensor anxious to use their characters, as in the case of On Star or Six Flags, and they’ll call me in to produce the work made to order. The arrangement has lead to some interesting work, including interactive comics that incorporate still images and flash animation.
1st: You then started working for Cross Plains Comics, why move to small press?
Steve: Once again, it wasn’t a conscious choice to avoid the mainstream. I actually worked on Cross Plains titles while also working for DC and Marvel and advertising clients. An editor that I’d worked with at Marvel let me know that he was planning to build a new company around the works of Robert E. Howard. He had already secured the licensing agreements, and intended to publish familiar characters like Kull,Cormac Mac Art, and Red Sonja. When he mentioned that he was interested in doing a book about Howard’s werewolf character De Montour, I perked up. Despite the many pathetic werewolf films that have been produced through the years, I’d always had an affinity for the concept, and was actually working on an (as yet) unpublished werewolf comic of my own. It seemed to be the right thing at the right time, and it really didn’t take much arm-twisting to get me on board. It soon became obvious that Cross Plains needed much more than another artist, and I put a lot of effort into building up the company. Our greatest accomplishments were winning the Gem award for best new publisher of 1999, and selling our entire print runs of Wolfshead andRed Sonja – A Death in Scarlet.
1st: Are you a Robert E. Howard fan
Steve: Robert E. Howard is the father of Sword and Sorcery fiction, and stands beside J.R.R. Tolkien as one of the pillars of the modern fantasy genre. Many people know that fact, but aren’t aware that he also innovated in the genres of the western adventure, heroic fiction, humor and horror.
1st: What was it like to work with Roy Thomas on the Robert E. Howard characters?
Steve: It was a great opportunity to stretch beyond my job as an artist. On the Cross Plains books, I had the chance to contribute to story details, such as plotting and dialogue. Those CPC stories ranged from creative collaboration with a veteran writer to solo scripting efforts, while always seeking to draw inspiration from the original works of Robert E. Howard.
1st: What happened to Cross Plains Comics?
Steve: I can only speculate. It seems that the company never fully recovered from debts it incurred early on.
1st: What can you tell us about Lunatick Press?
Steve: Lunatick Press is my own efforts to self publish. I created a Lunatick Press sampler, called PEKING TOM & BOBBI SOX, which served to introduce several characters and concepts that I intend to publish in their own titles. Unfortunately, the downturn in the national economy has caused me to take a more cautious approach to the world of independent publishing. I’m currently entertaining the idea of allowing other publishers to release some of my ideas, with me retaining the ownership of the individual properties. The Lunatick Press pantheon of characters encompasses many genres from parody to science fiction and horror. Each feature is one that I’m passionate about, and whether they see print under the Lunatick Press imprint or another, they will appear. I guess I’ll have to keep you posted on developments as they occur.
1st: How did you end up back with the Legion again?
Steve: Well, even though I quit working on Legion interiors I still continued to do Legion projects from time to time. I drew covers for lots of Legion related comics, and I was asked to return to the book on numerous occasions through the years. I never lost my fondness for the original concepts of the series, even when I sometimes didn’t agree with the direction the series was taking. The book has undergone some notable changes in direction and even continuity, and I’ve come to be thought of as the artist that drew that “other” Legion. Still, I’ve had several chances to draw the “post boot” Legion in solo stories and on various covers. To me, the idea of my doing a few issues of the current incarnation of the Legion doesn’t seem so shocking. Legion #24 is my first Legion comic of the 21st century, and it’s also the first issue of the Legion that I’ve both penciled and inked .. but it’s certainly not my last. I do suppose it is a milestone of sorts.
1st: What else do you have planned?
Steve: Comic readers can look forward to more Legion, that issue of theFlash which I mentioned earlier, more Peking Tom & Bobbi Sox and the adventures of Steve Lightle’s Justin Zane (trade marked, naturally). A preview of Justin Zane can be seen in the Peking Tom & Bobbi Sox #1 and the Legion Companion. The Companion also contains another Lightle interview (as if you haven’t had enough) and a drawing by Curt Swan and myself, as well as loads of other artwork and interviews with Legion creators such as Dave Cockrum and Paul Levitz.
1st: What else would you like to work on?
Steve: I’ve discussed a new project for Wildstorm, so that’s a possibility. If DC was interested in reviving the Doom Patrol, I might be up for that, or .. Hmmm, it’s been awhile since I’ve done work for Marvel…
1st: Is it true that you never look for work, and that every job is the result of editors chasing after you?
Steve: That may be true of the majority of my comic work, and it would be ideal to have editors following me around offering me sweet assignments, but that isn’t always the case. The majority of my comic assignments have come from people who were already sure they wanted what I have to offer, rather than from cold calls. That’s just the way it seems to work out. Still, I can be humble enough to call an editor from time to time; especially if he or she is someone I enjoy working with. So… where did you hear this about “editors chasing after me?” Now you’ve got me looking nervously over my shoulder and it’s creeping me out.
Seriously though, thanks for a pleasurable interview.
1st: It was my pleasure.
To visit Steve Lightle on the web go to: www.geocities.com/stevelightle
To visit Lunatick Press on the web go to:www.geocities.com/lunaticks2001
To visit DC Comics on the web go to: www.dccomics.com
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