Interviews Reviews Guest Stars Fanzine Misc

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Steve Lightle talks about his 1987 run on Doom Patrol, and his latest project - JUSTiN ZANE

Steve Lightle gained NATIONAL attention when he was still a relatively unknown penciller selected by Karen Berger to illustrate the Baxter edition Legion of Super-Heroes series. Lightle's run on the Legion lasted from 1984 to 1985 - his involvement was unique, as he had a lot of creative input into the series (everything from storylines to costume design to the creation of LoSH fan-favorites Tellus and Quislet). Shortly after his work with LoSH, Lightle began working on the new Doom Patrol revamp in 1987. Things were looking up for the Patrol as they were getting an ongoing monthly series with a hot artist - but Lightle's run unfortunately lasted a mere 5 issues before (newcomer) Erik Larsen took over penciling the series. We were lucky enough to catch up with Mr Lightle to discuss his Doom Patrol v2 work.

Wrap-around cover to Doom Patrol v2 #1 (pencilled and inked by Steve Lightle)

Doom Patrol

DC in the 80s: "In past interviews, you've tactfully explained your departure from the Doom Patrol as a 'unique experience' that was due to 'creative differences'. I think the burning question everyone is wondering: what were the 'creative differences' that caused you to leave Doom Patrol v2?"

Steve Lightle: "They were huge - and many. I will say that it had more to do with the machinations of editorial than the creative differences that I had with the writer. I think that Paul and I could have worked out our differences, if only editorial would have stayed out of the way."

"After Legion of Super-Heroes, I had serious misgivings about the idea of returning to monthly comic book production. Promises were made to entice me - most of which were reneged on as soon as possible. I've always been a storyteller, frustrated by the compartmentalized comic book system. I love drawing - telling stories visually - but it is only a part of the process."

"I was promised script input/approval, co-plotting, and a 6 issue 'lead time', before the book would be added to DC's schedule. That last item was a 'deal breaker' - I insisted that I would only work on a monthly title IF we COMPLETED 6 issues before issue #1 was added to the schedule. I didn't want to worry about deadlines causing me to compromise the quality of my work."

"When I finished the pencil art for issue #1, I told the editor that we had to get going on issue two. He answered that Kupperberg had already written three rewrites and was working on a fourth. I wasn't able to see the scripts or discuss them with anyone.When I finally got the final draft, I was supposed to look it over and give my input - but instead I was told that there was "no time". I was given seven days to draw the whole issue. That is when I was informed that DC had added it to the schedule without communicating to the editor - a story which I don't believe for a minute. I also felt that the stories were failing to reach anywhere near the potential of the Doom Patrol concept. Paul was trying to compete with Marvel's X-Men, rather than digging into what made the Doom Patrol concept unique. I was also seeing characters introduced in script form (this was after I had specifically said that I expected to be involved in the development of new characters). Even on the Legion of Super-Heroes, my story ideas and character creations were respected. My LoSH characters generally started with me - and were presented to the writer for his approval. It was the exact opposite on the Doom Patrol. In fact, my input was generally ignored."

"I've worked with editors who knew how to create a comfortable atmosphere where the creators were free to do their best work. Those that can pull this off are a joy to work with. My personal experience is that there are many editors who are good at their jobs - but there are far too many who are untrustworthy, unethical, or just plain incompetent. My least favorite type is the pathological game player. He's a dangerous egotist who will gladly destroy you to make himself look good to others."

"I did not want to see more generic superheroes added to the Doom Patrol. These new Doom Patrol characters were typical 'funny book' characters. Karma was a punk rock cliché with swastikas for earrings. Lodestone/Rhea Jones - I just keep thinking that the clownish colors of her costume hurt this character. My original intention was that she turned a cobalt blue when her powers were in use. So, all the heavily shaded areas should be highlighted with blue, while her costume was intended to be entirely white. Her eyes should only be shown without pupils when she is using her powers. I'm not sure why the colorist and editor ignored my instructions and design. My guess is that the color schemes were never relayed to the colorist of the book."

How Lodestone was intended to look, as per Steve Lightle

"You'll notice that my last cover showed Cliff and Larry in a graveyard, looking at a tombstone that had the new characters names spelled out in blood. I was making it very clear where I stood on the subject of these new characters."

Doom Patrol v2 #5

DC in the 80s: "Now, as mentioned in your interview with the Legion of Super-Bloggers, you've more or less been a lifelong Doom Patrol fan ("Before I learned to read, I guess I was drawn to the Doom Patrol and Krypto.... Yep, Superdog even more than Superboy") and that early in your career the Legion of Super-Heroes, the Doom Patrol and the Creeper were the three DC titles you most wanted a 'shot' at. What would you have done with the Doom Patrol, had you been given creative input?"

Steve Lightle: "I would have focused on character-driven stories that focused on the humanity of these 'freaks'. In my interview with the Worst Comic Podcast Ever, I talk about how the original concept of the Doom Patrol - these are people who have powers and view them as life-altering curses and rise above that (and the way that society perceives them) so they can do the 'right thing' - is the heart and soul of this title. I'd have returned the original cast. This new Doom Patrol ongoing series followed Crisis on Infinite Earths, so it wouldn't have been that hard to do."

DC in the 80s: "Not wanting to rip on Erik Larsen or anything, but after you left Doom Patrol and Larsen took over, the book felt more... 'cartoony'. There was a huge contrast between your realistic art and Larsen's..."

Steve Lightle:"Well, I wanted to ground it in reality. I thought that the genius of Bruno Premiani was that he drew such realistic people. No matter how bizarre the circumstances became, the characters were very relate-able. I am very fond of contrast. Whether it is in art or story. You only see shadows when there is light. You only understand evil when you contrast it with good. Strange only seems strange when contrasted with the mundane. That would be my biggest criticism of Morrison's run on the Doom Patrol. He piled the unbelievable on farce on abstraction, and then piled on convoluted motivations. It was a fun read - in contrast to the other books on the market - but as a self-contained world, it didn't provide any normalcy to give the strangeness context."

Panel from My Greatest Adventure #80 (1963). Property of DC Comics.
My Greatest Adventure #80 with art by Bruno Premiani

[This interview is bringing back a lot of fond memories, and I just had to comment on how such a small run of 5 issues could have such an impact on fandom. If I could wax nostalgic for a moment, I remember seeing the house ads for the new Doom Patrol years before I finally owned it. I wasn't terribly up to speed on the comings and goings of the Doom Patrol at that point in my life, but "THE ORIGINAL HARD LUCK HEROES ARE BACK FROM THE GRAVE..." had me wondering when they had ever died and it gave the title a macabre feel (which, as a 9 year old, I just couldn't resist).
The first issue was a gift from my dad, he bought me a stack of random comic books from a flea market somewhere and was surprising me with them one at a time every time I did a chore around the house (or something to that effect). Doom Patrol v2 #1 was clearly my most treasured comic from that stack. There were a few Who's Who pages at the end of the issue to bring readers (like me, I assume) up to speed. It was a very mature story and it took me several years before I found issue #2 so I must've re-read that first issue about 6 dozen times.

I'm obviously not the only fan who has fond memories of Steve Lightle's very brief run: Matthew Clark (artist for Doom Patrol v5) is also big fan - as he mentions in his interview with My Greatest Adventure 80 blog. -J]

Life After Doom Patrol

Steve Lightle: "After I split from DC over my involvement with Doom Patrol and the Who's Who in the Legion of Super-Heroes, I was introduced at Marvel by Archie Goodwin. Archie said that they were anxious to work with me, but they had been told that I was under an exclusive contract to DC. Which had only been true for one year in the early eighties."

"In one day I received three or four calls from editors at Marvel. I started on a fill-in issue of X-Factor immediately, and covers for Classic X-Men. Keep in mind, I was still doing covers at DC."

"Eventually I did cover work on Power Pack, Avengers Spotlight, Conan, and one-shots on things like Daredevil and X-Force, etc. Terry Kavanagh asked me to do Wolverine for Marvel Comics Presents, and I enjoyed a good working relationship with Ann Nocenti. I also did some Spider-Man work, which was fun. For a period of time I was out of the industry, although I was occasionally tempted to return - with offers to work on Spider-Man again - but I ultimately passed on it. I didn't come back until after I heard of a rumor that I had died. I was said to have died in an auto accident. By the time that I found out about it, the rumor was being debunked on some website."

"I did a cover for a Star Trek/Legion of Super-Heroes crossover which eventually brought me back to the LoSH, primarily on covers."


Lightle's most recent project, via his recently-launched Lunatick Press, is a web-series called JUSTiN ZANE that is released in "episodes" on a semi-weekly basis. I've talked to Mr Lightle about it before, and when asked to described it he responded with "I honestly believe that JUSTiN ZANE is unique, in the way that it approaches the concept of super heroics in the future." That really only left me with more questions than answers, so I decided to peruse it myself. JUSTiN ZANE is hosted by and the first few episodes can be viewed at Steve Lightle's JUSTiN ZANE page.

JUSTiN ZANE image illustrated by Steve Lightle. Copyright Steve Lightle. Posted with Steve Lightle's permission.

As previously mentioned, JUSTiN ZANE is released bi-weekly as "episodes" - which roughly translates to one over-sized digital comic book page per episode.That's one of the first things I need to comment on - Steve Lightle being the writer/editor/scripter/plotter/illustrator/colorist of his OWN book with his OWN characters gives him that much more freedom to do what he wants with it. Lightle's art has ALWAYS stood out no matter what project he's ever worked on, and JUSTiN ZANE is no exception. Additionally, Lightle has a really strong grasp on storytelling and can accurately set up the mood, page layout and pacing for maximum effect of drawing in the reader. You can really observe a lot of Steve's strengths as a storyteller as he progresses through the first few episodes. To quote Mr Lightle: "The illusion is that a comic book artist draws pictures. The fact is that a comic book artist tells a story - with lighting, perspective, mood, and style".

Personally, the "one page every few days" format takes me back to those days when comic strips would run in newspapers, and you'd get one large page every few days. You'd be anxiously awaiting the next installment to see what was going to happen next.

JUSTiN ZANE panels illustrated by Steve Lightle. Copyright Steve Lightle. Posted with Steve Lightle's permission.

Steve asked me not to compare JUSTiN ZANE to any of his previous work, which is very difficult for me since his mid-to-late 80s work on Legion of Super-Heroes and his brief run on Doom Patrol left a HUGE impact on my formative years of comic book reading, so I can't help but draw parallels. While it's NOTHING like either of the two books mentioned previously - JUSTiN ZANE is set in the far far future (think: 2769 AD) and carries the "superhero who is 'cursed' with powers" concept. Steve Lightle maintains that JUSTiN ZANE is HIS work and he has, so far, resisted the urge to let others help with the series.

The series itself has a diverse and interesting cast of characters - characters that are capable of stepping into the spotlight (should the need arise). If you haven't picked up on it yet, characterization is one of Steve's big focuses in this web series. Something you may not know is that some of the characters featured (namely, the Blue Shark) are characters Lightle created 35+ years ago who appeared in his comic fanzines The Power Masters (White Raven Publications) and Blue Shark. (John Beatty had inked several issues, Jerry Ordway had inked a couple of pages and Rick Stasi drew a Blue Shark story that Steve had written.)

Photo credit: Steve Lightle. From Steve Lightle's personal collection. Posted with Steve Lightle's permission.
Lightle's early comic fanzines (circa 1977 - 1978)

When asked about what made working on JUSTiN ZANE different, Steve Lightle replied with "The difference between creating for the readers/fans and creating for a big comic book company, is that I will always take the time to do the best that I can. I draw and redraw. Nothing is set in stone until it is published. I edit myself as I go. Of course, the general plot was done before I began drawing. But specific scenes can be changed as necessary. I know exactly where I am going, but I am free to get there in any number of ways. Hopefully, I choose to take the most interesting path. The story dictates what happens to the characters - but I'd never simply kill off characters casually - or for shock value."

JUSTiN ZANE sets out to demonstrate what Steve Lightle is capable of with complete and unhindered creative control. It also demonstrates that a creator-owned comic can survive as a web-comic series and be entertaining as well as successful. On that last note, Steve is a firm believer in 'getting what you pay for', which is why he chose Patreon to host his JUSTiN ZANE web-comic series. Read the first dozen episodes - if you like it, subscribe to it (this will allow you to access the rest of episodes as well as bonus content).

I'm strongly recommending that you check out JUSTiN ZANE and give it a chance. Giving it a 'trial run' will cost you nothing, and you'll get to enjoy some classic Steven Lightle signature artwork and storytelling.

JUSTiN ZANE banner illustrated by Steve Lightle. Copyright Steve Lightle. Posted with Steve Lightle's permission.

Recommended Reading:

[I'm just going to quote the most relevant part of the 1998 Allred/Lightle interview, since I'm always paranoid that things get deleted from the internet and 'lost forever'. -J]

Allred: You mentioned the Doom Patrol. I remember buying some of the issues off the stand and was disappointed when you left the series. What caused you to leave?

Lightle: The Doom Patrol was an interesting experience. There are things about it that I thought worked... But the unique circumstances that surrounded that job were just too strange. When Dick Giordano first asked me to do the book, he and I both imagined it as a mini-series. If the editor had kept it that way.... I think it might have been a great series. The first Stan Drake/Bruno Premiani story was fantastically original. I don't think our version was, though. I have since come to believe that Paul Kupperburg and I might have come up with something equally satisfying if circumstances had been different. Paul and I like and respect each other and are enjoying a great relationship on other projects like Flash and Superboy. Who knows what we might have accomplished on the Doom Patrol had things been different?

1 comment:

  1. I became such a HUGE Celsius fan after issue 1. He made any dynamic modern heroine.
    While in JLA we had Green Flame and Icemaiden... depowered heroines of pre crisis heroes last seen in Infinity to swim wear wearing beauty queens who were more concerned with clothes. The contrast was incredibly embarrasing. Then try made Celsius insane, a liar and killed her.