Monday, June 15, 2015

Steve Lightle Interview with LSB


Steve Lightle burst on the comic artistic scene in the mid-80s and had a stellar (if all too brief) run on The Legion of Super-Heroes. His time as penciller on the Baxter series was marked with several key plot points - the battle with the Legion of Super-Villains, the death of Karate Kid, and the introduction of Sensor Girl. Later in that series, Lightle had a prolific run on covers which spotlighted the unmasking of Sensor Girl, the Universo Project, and the Magic Wars. Lightle has worked in comics on The Doom Patrol, The Flash, X-Factor, The Ghost Rider, and many other properties. But he is perhaps best known, at least in this part of the universe, for his work on The Legion.



We here at The Legion of Super-Bloggers were lucky enough to catch up with Mr. Lightle recently and ask him a few questions.

LSB: How did you first get interested in reading comics and what where some of your favorites?
Steve Lightle: I remember drawing  a whale when I was two years old. I remember drawing King Kong and Universal movie monsters and cartoon characters, all before I discovered comics. I distinctly remember drawing a scene from "Lost in Space" when I was five years old. Somewhere about that time, I discovered my older brother's comic book collection. It wasn't comics in mylar bags...in fact, most of them were coverless, so I wasn't really aware of the whole Marvel vs DC thing. To me, the Doom Patrol, the Fantastic Four, and the Flash, were all just really exciting pictures. I knew the pictures told a  story, and I knew that the word balloons that I saw accompanying each drawing would help me understand the stories. So, I really wanted to learn to read! I wanted to know what the Thing and Negative Man were saying. Before I learned to read, I guess I was drawn to the Doom Patrol and Krypto....Yep, Superdog even more than Superboy.

LSB: Who would you consider to be major influences on your work?
Steve Lightle: Everyone. Any art that I encountered. Curt Swan, Jack Kirby, Nick Cardy, Neal Adams, Steve Ditko...just everybody. I remember that I sent some drawings to my older brother while he was in the Air Force. A month or so later I got a letter filled with drawing instructions and anatomy lessons. They weren't by my brother, but by some other recruit that had seen my drawings and decided to help me grow as an artist. I can't remember the name of this guy. I never met him and he didn't keep up a correspondence or anything....but he was a big influence. Now I wonder if that guy ever worked in the comic business. Hmmm...

LSB: I have read that you went from DC's New Talent Showcase to The Legion. Can you briefly tell us how you got the Legion assignment?
Steve Lightle: Whie I was drawing a character called Ekko in New Talent Showcase, I was asked to do an issue of Batman and The Outsiders. It was just a fill-in, so I started making plans to do another serialized Ekko story in New Talent, but instead, I was offered All Star Squadron and World's Finest. I think I heard the offer to pencil World's Finest first, so that's the one that I agreed to do. Then I got a call from Karen Berger, asking if I'd be interested in drawing the newsstand version of The Legion of Super-Heroes. She explained that they were having three of us draw test pages to see how we'd handle a Paul Levitz script. I was given a plot for three pages of a story that hadn't been printed yet. It was from "The Omen and The Prophet" story-line. Well, long story short, they chose another artist. I went back to drawing World's Finest, co-creating some quickly forgotten characters by the name of Swordfish and Barracuda. Then I got another offer to draw Infinity, Inc. I remember not knowing what to do about my commitment to World's Finest, but being told that Superman and Batman didn't sell and that I should move on to a better selling title. Just about then, I got another call from Ms. Berger, asking if I'd be interested in drawing The Legion. Well, I assumed that it must be another fill-in like Batman and the Outsiders had been, especially since they had chosen Terry Shoemaker to be the regular artist on the book. She told me "You do know that I'm offering you the main Legion book, right?" I was stunned. I had been a Legion fan since I was a kid, and this was a dream assignment. I jumped at the chance...and then found out that the book was already a couple of months behind schedule. I had to jump in smack dab in the middle of the much publicized LSH vs Legion of Super-Villains war...and I had to land running!

LSB: I have heard that Karate Kid was one of  your favorite Legionnaires. How did it feel to have to kill him? 
Steve Lightle: Horrible. I never understood the reasoning of killing off the character, and I certainly didn't want to be the hatchet man to do the deed.

LSB: Your sequence where Princess Projectra executes Nemesis Kid is still talked about today. Do you have any memories of how you came up with that point of view, or if you have any thoughts on that sequence 30 years later?
Steve Lightle: I just remember thinking that the readers wouldn't believe Princess Projectra just reaching out and breaking his neck....not after we'd seen him deliver a fatal beating to Karate Kid. So, I decided to rely on a cinematic device to tell the story. I also tried to suggest that it was a spark in Projectra's eye....her vengeful determination, that defeated him. Her stare demoralized him; scared him, if you will. He saw his death in her eyes and he believed that it was inevitable.


LSB: Which Legionnaires were your favorites to draw? Your least favorites?
Steve Lightle: I remember not liking Shadow Lass' look, and changing it at my very first opportunity. I couldn't stand the fur cap that Polar Boy had. It just seemed to tie him to the laughing stock characterization that he had been given as the leader of the Substitute Legion. For the most part, I enjoyed drawing each of the Legionnaires, because I loved expressing their individuality.
Steve draws the entire Legion in one panel (LSH v3 #14)
LSB: Did you have a favorite issue or story-line during your run? Or maybe a favorite scene or two?
Steve Lightle: I liked the story that featured Superboy and some space pirates (LSH #12). I enjoyed the spotlight on Timber Wolf (#13), and the issue that introduced the new Legionnaires (#14). I'm still quite proud of the Mon-El Phantom Zone story (#23), because I think that it helped define the differences between him and Superboy. Because of that story, I think he became less of a Superboy stand-in, and more of a unique individual. There are many little moments that I enjoyed, scattered through the issues that I did.

LSB: Were you planning on doing that Mon-El Phantom Zone story (LSH #23) before you left, or was that something you specifically came back for?
Steve Lightle: I had come up with the idea for the Phantom Zone angle, and Mon-El developing an immunity to Brainiac 5's anti-lead serum. I felt so strongly about that story that I asked to draw it when Paul got around to fitting it in.

LSB: Was there any other story or character development that you wished you had done before you left? For example, a certain back-story for Tellus or Quislet?
Steve Lightle: Well, I had laid out details of their lives and their home worlds when I created the characters. Sadly, by the time that they got around to telling Quislet's story, most of those details were forgotten, overlooked, or intentionally changed. I do wish that I had been around to protect my creations. One of the sad facts working for Marvel or DC is that they own everything you create. Regardless of how many pieces of papers they sign, acknowledging your contribution, your baby is still theirs to raise however they see fit. It can be very frustrating, if you care about your creations at all.

LSB: While on the Legion, you worked with a few different inkers such as Larry Mahlstedt, Bob Smith, and Mike DeCarlo. Each brought their own distinctive touch to your pencilled art. What are some characteristics that you think different inkers bring out in your pencils?
Steve Lightle: Larry had such a distinctive style, that as long as he was inking...whoever he was inking...it looked like the Legion. Of the inkers that you mentioned, I think Bob Smith is somewhat disadvantaged.It always seemed that I was trying to find new ways to speed up production and shave a few days off of the schedule. The issue that Bob Smith drew was from my layouts, rahter than full detailed pencils. I think that I had hoped that Larry was such a strong artist, wich such an underststanding of the Legion, that he could do finishes over loose pencils. Unfortunately, the issue wasn't given to Larry, but to someone who didn't have a lengthy history with the characters. If I had to guess, I'd say that Bob Smith was only paid to ink, not to finish the art. The pages that I drew in great detail were inked in detail, while the pages that were roughly drawn were still rough after they were inked. Mike Machlan is another inker that pitched in and inked a story. He did an incredibly clean job over my tight pencils.

LSB: You designed or re-designed several Legionnaires, such as Blok, Timber Wolf, Polar Boy, and Tellus. Did Karen Berger or Paul Levitz have to approve your designs, or were you given full license to do what you wanted?
Steve Lightle: I was new to the business, so I voluntarily sent in costume designs for my editor's approval. She resisted it for several issues, but finally started allowing me to make my costume changes. Sometimes all I wanted was to return the characters to the Dave Cockrum designs that they had previously worn. To me it wasn't about changing all the costumes to reflect me...but to make sure that they looked the best that they could. She resisted me for quite some time on the Wildfire and Colossal Boy costumes. In fact, she instructed the inker to alter the costumes several times. I had to ask Len Wein to convince her that the pure Cockrum designs were far superior to the design that the characters had been changed to by the artist that preceded me.


LSB: Which designs were your favorites?
Steve Lightle: Of mine? I still like Polar Boy and Blok a lot. Of course, I strongly prefer my versions of the characters that I created...Quislet, Tellus, Myg (Karate Kid 2), and Sensor Girl.

LSB: Which designs if any do you look at today and think they didn't quite work? For example, I always wondered why nobody ever gave Magnetic Kid a unique uniform. He was stuck in his brother Cosmic Boy's hand-me-downs.
Steve Lightle: That was my sense of history...of continuity. I really liked the idea of having a variety of different costume designers from all the different eras of the Legion. Since Magnetic Kid hero-worshiped his older brother, it seemed natural for him to honor him by wearing his uniform.

Steve's first cover back as cover artist
LSB: Did you know who Sensor Girl was when you designed her?
Steve Lightle: Yes and no. At first Paul had wanted to have Supergirl in the costume, so I left her blond hair as the single clue to her identity. But, within a week we knew that it couldn't be Kara and we had to change plans.

LSB: Could you tell us why you left the title?
Steve Lightle: I was young and didn't realize that I could stand up for myself. I was always being instructed to compromise the quality of my work in the interest of drawing more pages per week. When I started working on the title I expressed concern about my ability to draw every issue, and I was assured that there would be no problem since they could always have fill-in artists on the book. Later, I was told that the readers preferred to have me draw every issue, and that they got angry letters when I didn't draw a story. I let the pressure of all this get to me. I actually convinced myself that the book, and the rest of the creative team, would be better off if I resigned. I never should have caved in so easily.

LSB: After you left as interior artist you stayed the main cover artist. How did you get that assignment?
Steve Lightle: I think that I actually did stop doing covers for awhile, didn't I? As I recall, I was asked if I would be interested in returning to the book on a regular basis. My counter offer was to return as the cover artist. It felt good to be able to be involved with the book in some way. It was also very frustrating to see the book going in directions that I wouldn't have gone if I had continued to contribute to the plotting of the stories.

LSB: After you left The Legion, you worked on The Doom Patrol and then later became the cover artist on The Flash. Could you talk a little bit about those assignments?
Steve Lightle: Well, The Doom Patrol was a favorite of mine, as I said earlier. Unfortunately, it was like jumping out of the frying pan and directly into the fire. If working on The Legion had become frustrating, The Doom Patrol was ten times more so. Between The Doom Patrol and doing covers for The Flash, I worked on a number of other books as a penciller, cover artist, writer, and inker. Off the top of my head I worked on Classic X-Men, Red Sonja, Wolverine, The Wanderers, Quasar, Batman, The Avengers, Power Pack, Mighty Mouse, Ghost Rider, X-Factor, Typhoid Mary....Then at a comic book convention I bumped into my old collaborator Paul Kupperberg. He kindly asked me to do covers for a couple of books that he was editing, and I enjoyed that working relationship immensely. I did covers for Aztek and a two year run on The Flash. I also did a lot of advertising work for both DC's and Marvel's licensing departments.

LSB: Looking back on your career up to this point, what are you most proud of? What do you consider a high point, both personally and creatively?
Steve Lightle: That's a tough one. I've always tried to make the best of whatever I do. Each time I take on a new job I try to find something in it that I can honestly love. My track record may not be 100%, but I've been very fortunate to have found many rewarding experiences in comics. If I have to pick a creative high point...something that I consider personally rewarding....I'm very tempted to say "JUSTIN ZANE."

LSB: Tell us about that.
Steve Lightle: After over thirty years of playing by the rules of others, I'm finally throwing caution to the wind and creating outside the corporate system. JUSTIN ZANE is a project taht I've had brewing for a very long time. It's the story of a person that has been told that he is a threat to society. He is manipulated and brainwashed and imprisoned. JUSTIN ZANE is the victim of a system that attempts to rob him of his individuality, his uniqueness, and his power. They fear what he can do if he ever learns what he is capable of.

LSB: Thank you so much for agreeing to do this! Here are some Bonus Questions, just to end the interview on a fun note...
Who would win in a race, Mon-El or Superboy?
Steve Lightle: Krypto! Seriously, though....Mon-El might let Superboy win.
LSB: Who was your favorite solo artist, John, Paul, George, or Ringo?
Steve Lightle: I love 'em all...but Paul McCartney is my go to.
LSB: Who was your favorite Universal monster?
Steve Lightle: Lon Chaney Jr.'s Wolf Man.
LSB: Shemp or Curly?
Steve Lightle: Curly---soitinly!---but don't tell Shemp I said so.
LSB: Jonny Quest or Space Ghost?
Steve Lightle: Jonny, Hadji, and Race Bannon! Space Ghost is pretty cool, too....but you can't always come in first place, space-dude!
LSB: Mary Ann or Ginger?
Steve Lightle: Mary Ann all the way!

LSB: Great! Thank you again for agreeing to do this. I hope this was fun for you, strolling down the 30th Century Memory Lane....!
Steve Lightle: Thanks for your interest in my work. I have enjoyed my years among Legion fandom, and I've always appreciated the support and encouragement that I've received.

We cannot thank Steve Lightle enough for agreeing to do this interview. His work on The Legion still ranks as some of the best of all time, so getting the chance to talk to someone who was part of such great comics was a real thrill. He couldn't have been nicer and (as you can see) was a great interview. Thank you, Steve!! We wish him success with his JUSTIN ZANE project...go check it out and support it HERE! 

4 comments:

  1. ' I had to ask Len Wein to convince her that the pure Cockrum designs were far superior to the design that the characters had been changed to by the artist that preceded me.' No kidding! Gym and Brin looked like they were wearing pajamas -- until Steve undid that madness. Really wish DC had asked Steve to draw those two issues of Convergence Legion -- because the art really sucked.

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  2. Yes!
    If only Steve had gone back to the series, instead of just doing the covers....!
    What might have been.....!?

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  3. Great interview! I love hearing about all the behind the scenes stuff when it comes to the Legion.

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  4. "Gym and Brin looked like they were wearing pajamas"

    Gym's costume after Cockrum was basically what Cockrum designed minus the harness and stylized belt, so it wasn't exactly a huge change...and it wasn't like he was wearing pajamas. I don't remember what Brin's costume was like before Steve redid his costume...

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