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James E. Lyle

James. E. Lyle



Escape to the Stars

Escape to the Stars

In 1983, "Escape to the Stars" was a collaboration between James and writer Philip Hwang. This comic followed the "first wave" of '80s alternative comics like ElfQuest, Cerebus and Nexus and proceeded the huge "second wave" led by Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

"Escape to the Stars was well received by critics," said James. "We also had the opportunity to work with some really great people."

Sam Grainger, the consummate Marvel Comics inker was kind enough to ink the second issue. Steve Haynie, who would go on to letter Nexus, was on board for part of issue four. Tom Poston came and went in a hurry, inking one panel in issue three, and several pages of issue four, before heading off to ink numerous issues of "Robotech." Mike Fisher designed the improved logo and inked parts of issue four and five. Finally, Susan Lattanzio Dorne lettered issue five.

James received experience in handling the amount of work involved in producing comic books. "Philip and I cruised through five issues in just over two years," he said. Issue six was produced, but never published - the young creative team, still in their teenage years, were overwhelmed and the tension took its toll. Still, James and many fans still have fond memories of "Escape to the Stars," the comic book that started James on his lifelong career in illustration.

"I think Philip was an amazing writer," James said. "When one considers that he wrote this book in high school math class, then self published it before graduating, and had it taken seriously by the comics press, well, I think he deserves a lot of credit."

Pictured here below the cover is panel five from page 15 from "Escape to the Stars" number one. "In anatomy class the previous year my instructor had us draw the human skeletal structure," said James. "We drew the skeleton a lot in her class. But I hadn't studied flesh like I had the skeleton. So by the time I got to drawing 'Escape' my skeleton work was pretty good, but my flesh still needed work.

"Also note the attempt at John Workman style sound effect at the bottom of the panel."

After completing "Escape to the Stars" James and studio-mate Michael Sawyer were licensed by John Carbonaro to do their unique version of the 1960s classic T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents. At the time the rights to the original books were in legal limbo, but when the dust cleared, Carbonaro ended up holding on to the rights of all T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents publications.

"One of the reasons that we ended up getting a license to do T.H.U.N.D.E.R. was that we had pitched the idea to Solson Publications," said James. "Solson was the brainchild of Gary Brodsky, son of Sol Brodsky, the man who helped Stan Lee make Marvel Comics what it would eventually become, thus the name Sol-son. Editing the line for Gary was Rich Buckler, who knew some of my earlier work and was also acquainted with John Carbonaro from the time they were both working for Archie Comics. Rich was working on the Red Circle Line, and John was doing his JC Comics in association with the Riverdale gang. So getting this connection was great."

For about six months, Mike and James completed story and pencil artwork for two and a half issues of what they called T.H.U.N.D.E.R., giving Philip Hwang a chance to reprint "Escape to the Stars" under the Solson masthead.

But, in the fickle world of publishing, projects can fall through quickly. "It didn't quite turn out as we hoped it would," said James. When it was over, "we had a box full of T.H.U.N.D.E.R. number one to show for our trouble and a bit more experience in the ways of comic book publishers."

In 1988 T.H.U.N.D.E.R. was picked up by Syncronicity Comics, which lost backing just as James was finishing issue two.

Contacts and good working relationships, however, often lead to work in publishing. Through John Carbanaro in 2001, James had the opportunity to ink the famous "missing" Paul Gulacy issue, penciled for Omni Comix, but never published, which was used to pitch DC Comics on the Archive Editions, and a new T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents series. "As it turned out the pages were a big hit," said James. "Paul liked them, John liked them and I started making sure every editor I knew had seen them. I think that helped John when he went to DC to work out a deal to do the Archive Editions. That makes me feel good."

To find out what's going on with T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents today, visit


T.H.U.N.D.E.R. issue one, page 13 - Working with Michael Sawyer was different than James' previous comic drawing experiences. "Michael gave me a run down of what he wanted on the page, but left the interpretation very much up to me. After several years working full script this was like having wings attached."


T.H.U.N.D.E.R. issue one, page 31 - Mike and James based the female Dyanamo Lyn Brown character, and her costume, on a friend named Brown and her cobalt blue top and white skirt.


T.H.U.N.D.E.R. issue one, page six - Pencils and Duo-Tones by James, inked by Ron Wilber. James used friends to model most of the faces, including the "French" fellow in the first panel, Matt Feazell, creator of Cynicalman.


T.H.U.N.D.E.R. issue two, cover -Inked by Jackson "Butch" Guice.

Above, THUNDER pages by James and Mike Sawyer. Thunder copyright Michael Sawyer and James E. Lyle under license from John Carbonaro. Thunder Agents and all associated materials are COPYRIGHT and TRADEMARKS of John Carbonaro.

Below, James' inked Paul Gulacy pages. Thunder Agents and all associated materials are COPYRIGHT and TRADEMARKS of John Carbonaro.


The "missing" Paul Gulacy issue, inked by James. "The opportunity to actually ink someone of Paul's caliber and reputation was a big boost," said James. "Paul wasn't sure about me at first, we finally had a phone conversation and compared notes. I told him that my purpose in doing inks on anyone's pencils is to try and make the other guy look good, that it was a matter of personal integrity to me." Surprisingly to James, the two discussed their Christian faith, and Paul made up his mind. "He said, 'I'm not gonna get picky about them, just don't screw 'em up!' With that as my okay I went to work on the book, totally petrified! As it turned out the pages were a big hit."

When Solson shipped a batch of T.H.U.N.D.E.R. number one to James, many of them had only one staple. "So as a gag/promotion we sent Comic Buyers Guide a letter saying that we were willing to make good on those issues even though Solson was out of business. Anyone who sent us proof of purchase would receive a free staple. We made up a card (right), attached a staple to each and handed them out at the next local convention."


Between "Escape to the Stars" and James' next big '80s project, his comic strip called "The Last of the New Wave Riders" appeared in Utopia Times, a national publication produced by the Utopia Fan Club, fans of the musician Todd Rundgren and his band, Utopia. It was through this publication James met Karin Guldbeck, the daughter of cartoonist Ernie Guldbeck and James' future wife.

Fright Night

NOW comics was a popular independent company under Publisher Tony Caputo in Chicago in the late '80s. James pencilled an issue of Fright Night for NOW during October of 1989.

What's New:

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To place an order by mail, send a check or money order to
James E. Lyle
Works Associates
89 Walker Rd.
Waynesville, NC 28786

Contact James for info about his work at

James' blog is at Doodles on Paper

USA orders only, please.

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