Cartoon and Illustration

Days of T.h.u.n.d.e.r. (part 1)


Artwork © James E. Lyle.  T.h.u.n.d.e.r. Agents is a registered trademark of John C. Productions.

First off, sorry, but this blog has nothing to do with NASCAR or any movies inspired by auto racing.  It’s about a book called T.h.u.n.d.e.r. done written by Michael Sawyer and drawn by me in the 1980s, and based on the 1960s series T.H.U.N.D.E.R. AGENTS.

Yesterday (8/18/16) I finally scanned this artwork and combined it into (more or less) what it was supposed to look like if it had ever been published by a company called Syncroncity Comics.

If one looks closely at the signature you’ll notice an ’88 as the date.  This is where the tale gets a little complicated.  This is not the original cover for T.h.u.n.d.e.r. #1.  That book WAS published in 1986 by the defunct SOLSON Productions.  This is the replacement cover I did for the book after SOLSON had gone out of business and we’d supposedly been picked up by Syncronicity.

In ’88 Solson was two years past.  I was living in Glen Ellyn, Illinois and looking forward to marrying Karin Guldbeck.  I won’t go into all the details of my housing here and now, but by that time I was living in the attic space above the garage at my fiancées’ family home.

Karin’s dad, Ernie Guldbeck, was a commercial artist and comic and cartoon fan as well, so we were beginning to bond (though he was somewhat resistant to that at the time).  All summer long I had been dying to see his studio upstairs in the house proper.  But Ernie had refused.  That is, until Karin’s step-mother, Eunice, stepped in and told Ernie he couldn’t keep hiding the place from me.  I was, after all, going to be marrying his baby daughter!  (I’m thinking that “baby daughter” thing was what kept Ernie somewhat aloof during that summer.)

So after a couple of weeks of Karin helping her Dad clean up the studio, I was finally allowed in to that sanctum of sanctums.  Not only that, but I was encouraged to do some artwork there!  I had just gotten through attending my first ever Chicago Comic-Con (back before it became Wizard World Chicago) and seeing all sorts of exciting new artwork displayed there (as well as receiving the profuse encouragement of fellow artists and moderate discouragement of many publishers).

In something approaching a fit of creativity I made this artwork.  It’s a combination of pen and ink art on Craftint board (which I’ll explain later in this series), painted with Dr. Martin’s Dyes, and some acrylic paint for highlights.  That design was then attached to a canvas covered board that I had painted with the corresponding purple and magenta streaks.  Then I created the type overlay on a sheet of frosted acetate, with photocopied logo and vinyl rub-down type (Chartpac, I believe).

Now if one ignores that fact that I placed the logo funny (I corrected this in Photoshop), and that the letter spacing on the rub-down type is goofy, AND one ignores that the yellow acrylic paint was not very opaque, AND that the Craftint chemicals have continued to react over the past 28 years with all the other materials–it’s not a bad piece of work.

Obviously, the mixed-media approach was inspired by the work of Bill Sienkewicz.  The light streaked background was copped from Steve Rude’s cover paintings for Nexus.  And it all has a vaguely early Vertigo feel to it, akin to the Black Orchid trade paperback that was among the first books released by that DC imprint.

(The reason for all this borrowing of style being that I wanted to distance the art from the original release.  That cover was a none to subtle homage to Watchmen and Dark Knight Returns.  Being 23 by this time I had “matured” beyond simply swiping from two popular books and now was going for “subtle” homage–swiping from at least three sources!  What was I thinking back when I was 21?)

That day of creativity was almost exactly 28 years ago.  I know this because Karin and I celebrate our 28th Anniversary tomorrow!  (This is how comic artists track time, by means of projects completed and other significant events.)

Next to getting married to Karin, I think that day in Ernie’s studio stands out in my mind as one of the watermark events of 1988.  Ernie was working on something over at his drawing table, and would come by from time to time with words of encouragement.  It was great being accepted as a fellow artist by the man I came to call “Pop”.

Karin decided she wanted to be involved as well, and so stayed in the studio with us all that afternoon, doing a truly amazing color pencil drawing–of Cher.  She’s really no slouch when it comes to artwork–though she devotes most of her time to music now.  But she proved that day she had the ability to do almost photo-realistic work when she wanted to.

I knew I was in deep.

Next time, I’ll bring you up to speed on what the original collaboration was like.  I’m planning to post artwork from the original pitch and probably the whole first story (I still have a lot of the pages).  I also have pencils from issues 2 and 3, as well as some pages inked, toned and lettered.  Right up to the point where Syncronicity pulled the plug.  I will annotate those with thoughts about the process.

I’ll also tell you my opinion on why I’m glad that T.h.u.n.d.e.r. wasn’t more of a success.


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