Cartoon and Illustration, Cartoon and Illustration by James E. Lyle

Days of T.h.u.n.d.e.r. (part 2)

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Artwork copyright © James E. Lyle.  T.h.u.n.d.e.r. Agents property copyright and trademark John C. Productions.

So my last posting was such a big hit (Wow!  Six views in one day) that I have decided to follow up with more postings on what it was like working on T.h.u.n.d.e.r. back in the 80s.

Let me give you some history.  I had been drawing a book for Phil Hwang called “Escape to the Stars” (or ETTS as the fans called it, all 5 of them).  We collaborated on that book from early spring of 1983 until sometime in 1986.

We went through several publishing entities with that series, all of which were created in an effort to make our efforts look more legitimate.  What we didn’t know at that time was that there really isn’t such a thing as a “legitimate comics publisher”.  Even the big guns are basically working on a shoestring most of the time, and so we were just as competent as practically any company out there in the “alternate comics” business.

That’s probably worth mentioning.  Back in the 80s anything that wasn’t DC, Marvel, or Archie was called “alternate press”.  That was done to distinguish us from “underground comix”–a name which had the taint of drugs and pornography all over it.  So we were the “alternative comics” crowd in those days.  But there’s alternate and then there’s Alternate.  The term “small press” had not caught on in those days, and we didn’t really want to be called “small” because it seemed demeaning.

Moving on.  Phil and I had a pretty good run on ETTS.  We’d turned out 5 issues by the spring of 1985.  In the process of doing that book I’d moved into a studio, downtown Waynesville, NC, and begun looking slightly more professional in the process.

Phil and I, however, had our creative differences, and ETTS number 6 never went to print.  We broke up our creative partnership, Phil went his way and I went mine.  QED, because he was going to school in College Station, Texas and I was still living at home in the mountains of NC.

Thing is, Michael Sawyer and I had originally intended to build our careers in comics as a partnership, and Mike had been lurking in the background all along.  So about the time that ETTS came to a halt (limping onto the shoulder of a proverbial comic book highway) he had a concept or two waiting in the wings.

I’ll leave the telling of that to when we get to Mike’s inside cover introduction, which I’ll be reproducing and annotating in a later post.

Today I’m posting the pitch artwork for T.h.u.n.d.e.r. The image above was actually used to pitch the artwork to SOLSON Publications.  If you think it looks like a bad photocopy of some pencils filled in with Dr. Martin’s dyes and color pencil, then I’d say you’re a pretty perceptive person with an eye for art.   But along with the single page type-written pitch (which I’ll be showing soon as well) we managed to convince Gary Brodsky and Rich Buckler that they should do T.h.u.n.d.e.r. as a series.

But it wasn’t as cut-and-dried as all that.  We actually pitched the book to Will Shetterly at SteelDragon Press first.  They were the publishers of the series “Captain Confederacy”, which had something of a following back in that day.  Will passed on it due to the notoriety of the lawsuit that was then raging between John Carbonaro and David Singer over whether the title T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents was in public domain or not.

Long story short, T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents was NOT in public domain.  But at the time we began work on our version we assumed it WAS.  As did a lot of other folks.  Will passed on the book with the suggestion that we “change it some” and then resubmit it.  But we were too dogged in our determination to get it done as a T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents spin-off to give that more than a moment’s consideration.

Somewhere in all of this Chuck Wojtkiewicz suggested that we might want to pitch it to SOLSON.  Which we did.  Chuck did warn us that SOLSON seemed “kind of fly-by-night” (perceptive guy that he was and is), but we saw it as a step up from paying to publish our own work, so we submitted.

The providential thing was that Rich Buckler had been working with John Carbonaro just months earlier while they were working in tandem at Red Circle and JC Comics respectively (both imprints of Archie Comics).  So Rich was easily able to reach John, and hammer out a deal for us to do the book.

This is where things get a bit tricky.  Yes, there was a lawsuit going on between John Carbonaro and David Singer’s Deluxe Comics due to the title “Wally Wood’s T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents”. Because of this situation John wanted to better secure his claim to the copyright of the characters.  Characters he had legally purchased from Tower Publications (at considerable cost to himself) back in the 1970s.

John Carbonaro’s legal council apparently told him that by getting SOLSON to pay a licensing fee for the T.H.U.N.D.E.R Agents characters and subsequently getting such a book published would help convince the court of the legitimacy of his claims.  Those basic claims being:  A. that the characters were his to license, and B. the property was worth all this fuss in copyright court.

So John cut a sweet deal with Michael and I (through Rich) for our use of the characters for the next four years.  SOLSON paid the licensing fee.  (Keep that “right of use clause” in mind.  It will come up again later).  We (Mike and me) got to keep the rights to our variation of the characters IN PERPETUITY.  So long as we were willing to pay John the licensing fee we could renegotiate in the future.

This is one reason why you have never seen our book reprinted.  We never had the money to pay the licensing fee after that.

Keep in mind that this all went down in winter 1986. I was 21 at the time, and Michael just 23.   At that time 1990 seemed a long way off…

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Cartoon and Illustration

Chester Gould’s Morgue

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There’s been so much going on in the past several days that I hardly know where to begin. Got new mobile phone, having repairs done on studio building, went to MAGMA in Pigeon Forge, getting ready for Heroes Convention this week…

But seeing as I’m most excited at the moment about the photo above I think I’ll talk about that.

It may not look like much to the untrained eye, but it is Chester Gould’s “Morgue”.  No, it does not contain the remains of the creator of Dick Tracy.  But rather it is the greater portion of his reference files going back to at least 1922, and used by him in creation of that comic strip.

The files were passed on to Ray Schliemann, who assisted Mr. Gould on the strip (primarily as inker over Gould’s pencils).  When Ray retired he passed them on to Nick DePaolo–who I’ve had the pleasure to get to know over the past several years since he retired to my community here in the mountains of North Carolina.

Yesterday Nick passed this treasure on to me.  Which is a round about way of saying, “God has been so good to me” (as well as, “thanks Nick!”)

It’s like the biggest Christmas present ever.  I’ve hardly scratched the surface of the files, but as indicated the tear sheets go back to at least 1922 and the most recent stuff I’ve seen is probably early 50s.  Though I suspect that Mr. Schliemann added to the files after he got them from Mr. Gould.

What’s so great about this, you ask?  Oh man!  To a cartoonist and comic book artist this is like finding a gold mine.  Particularly if that cartoonist is in the midst of drawing a comic book set in the period when so much of this reference is from.  Sure, I can go online and find stuff at the drop of a hat.  But not ALL this stuff.  Because nobody has bothered to digitize all of this stuff.  A Morgue is rather subjective after all.

For example, who out there has the advertisements for the 1950 Studebaker in the same folder with pictures of 1897 Oldsmobile?  Well, I do now!

Another great thing about this, I also inherited my father-in-law, Ernie Guldbeck’s Morgue (he gave it to me in bits and pieces when I’d go to visit him in Glen Ellyn, IL until the time he passed away) so I can now combine the two Morgues into one, add my own collection of actual  tangible clippings and have all sorts of vintage reference at my fingertips.

The difference between the Gould/Schleimann Morgue and the Guldbeck/Lyle Morgue?  Gould organized his already.  It’s all neatly catalogued and foldered.  All I need to do it clean out my file cabinet, put the folders into alphabetical order and add my paltry two drawers of reverence to his.  I may need more file cabinets, not sure.

As I stated the collection is rather subjective.  But another great thing about it is that since Gould and Schleimann were also in the Chicago area, Ernie’s files dovetail neatly into theirs.  And as Ernie took up his career in Chicagoland in the late 50s many of the clippings naturally come from the same sources.

Awesome!

I’m surprised that I slept at all last night.  I wanted to look at every clipping in the collection.  I held myself to a half-dozen file folders, which I looked at while finishing dinner and “watching” a re-run of Columbo.

What I have noticed thus far is that Mr. Gould enjoyed the work of  Norman Mingo, Robert Graef, and John Held, Jr. in particular.

A lot of people only know Norman Mingo for his work at MAD Magazine (he’s the guy who did all the classic Alfred E. Newman images, so it makes sense that he’d be identified with that character.  But Mingo did a lot of advertising art much earlier in the century, in particular featuring “good girl” illustrations to sell things like shaving cream and men’s ties (go figure).

Graef is probably best known for his Argosy covers, but he also did a lot of advertising illustration and so that’s what’s contained in the files.

John Held, Jr. of course did a lot of cartoons of the “flapper age”.  In fact, he’s known for defining the look with his cartoons.  There are a lot of those in just the few files I looked at last night.

Unfortunately, as these are clippings many of the sources are obscured by simple fact that the titles of the magazines and papers they’re pulled from are missing–not to mention the dates.  But I have determined already that there are many clipped from Collier’s Magazine, and at least a few photos trimmed right out of the Chicago Tribune.

Of course, you’d think that working for “the Trib” that Gould would have a lot more clippings from that paper.  But I suppose he figured that if he wanted reference from that source he could just go down to the paper’s own Morgue and look up almost anything.  So it would appear that the few Tribune clippings that Gould kept in his own files were of particular note to him.

I’m sure I’ll come up with all sorts of ideas about his thinking as I go through the files.

But I fully intend to apply the reference I find to the production of the comic-book series, The Mob of Zion, as that book was already something of a tribute to Dick Tracy and Chester Gould.

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Bat-gal!  Convention sketch.

Batgirl convention sketch, drawn with pen-brush, color marker, and color pencil–in about 40 minutes at Heroes Convention 2014. I usually get a lot of Batgirl requests at a show, but this year it was only one and they didn’t even want the TV version!! Go figure.

Cartoon and Illustration

Bat-gal! Convention sketch.

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Baron Karza convention sketch!

Baron Karza (villain from the original Micronauts series). Drawn in about 40 minutes at Heroes Convention 2014, using pen-brush, color marker and color pencil. Mostly drawn from memory as I was a huge fan of this series when it first appeared and drawn by Michael Golden. (And then when it was taken over by buddy, Butch Guice–which caused fits of jealousy on my part mixed with much admiration).

Cartoon and Illustration

Baron Karza convention sketch!

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G-Men from Heck!

Convention Sketch from Heroes Convention 2014. Drawn in about 30 minutes using pen-brush, color markers and color pencil.

Cartoon and Illustration

G-Men from Heck!

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Cartoon and Illustration

Middle Georgia Comicon ’14 notes

So the weekend was spent in Macon, GA without Karin!  (That was the worst part of the weekend).Image

Above: Close-up of my table on Saturday–with the catchall question:  “Does your Dog like Waffles?”  Many people actually responded positively to this question when asked.  Only a few walked away with confused looks on their faces.

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Above:  My booth on Sunday when I decided to “invite people into my living room”.   This is the great thing about first year shows, they usually give artists waaayyy more space than we’re used to.  Note for future reference–get a huge display and take it with to every show, just in case.  As it was I was looking around for ways to increase my presence in the space given.  I considered calling a local talent agency for a couple of back up dancers–but the budget wouldn’t have handled that.

The second most irritating thing about the show–the drive through Georgia to get there.  Hello!  Georgia! (GoogleMaps, etc.) Every bit of traffic should not HAVE to go through Atlanta!  Make the alternate routes obvious and get people moving again.  It took me well over 5 hours to make the trip that was supposed to slightly less than four.

Non-irritating thing about the show!  The volunteers there were super-nice!!  I mean they were on the spot telling me how to hook up the wi-fi, asking if I needed water or snacks, picking up trash, helping me unload and load my car–I can’t say enough good stuff about that.  Also found out that the waiters and waitresses in Macon are much the same.  So, super friendly city–visit there if you can.

Third most irritating thing about the show–the hotel and arena were about a mile from everything else in town.  Seriously, the parking lot surrounding the building was acres in size and beyond that were a lot of empty buildings from when that area was an industrial center.  If someone put in a bagel/sandwich shop within walking distance from the hotel they’d make a fortune.  Heck, a rolling hot-dog stand would be enough.

Non-irritating thing about the show!  Got to meet Jason Virus from “The Walking Dead”.  We were next to one another all weekend and hit it off pretty well.  Jason plays a frequent zombie on TWD, as well as being a Macon Fire-Fighter and leader of Sugar Virus, a local metal band that’s been together for 20 years (good run for any band, anywhere).

Fourth most irritating thing about the show (but this one isn’t anyone’s fault), my temporary crown and leg stitches were bothering me a bit.

Non-irritating thing about the show!  The First Aid station (“Night Nurse” as they called it) was right up front and they had tylenol for me when I forgot and packed mine up on Sunday morning.

Fourth most irritating thing about the show–poor turn out.  Sad to say the show was not as well attended as it might have been.  We didn’t have hoards of people pushing by.  It was more like a Sunday stroll around the lake for most.

Non-irritating thing about the show!  Got to meet a lot of nice people who had time to talk for a while.

Fifth most irritating thing about the show–lost money.  I’m pretty sure that a lot of other people did okay.  Not great, but at least one other guest artist came by talking about how this was one of the rare times when he had money at the end of a show.  So kudos to those who DID make money.

Non-irritating thing about the show!  I think some of the people who didn’t buy at the show may be sending me money in the near future.  (Got a couple of emails and FB messages today already). 

So the world isn’t all that dark.

Oh, and I met The Flash…

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Been wanting to meet him for a long time.

 

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Cartoon and Illustration

Something new!

People keep telling me that I need to post more artwork.  Okay, not a lot of time to do anything today, but here’s something new–a piece featuring Zenescope Comics’ Liesel Van Helsing character, that I just drew after finishing up a story she was featured in for Grimm Fairy Tales: Hunters #5, which will be coming out next week at a comic shop near you!

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Character Copyright and Trademark of Zenescope Entertainment.  Artwork by James E. Lyle

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