I was very sorry to hear that longtime comic book artist Tom Lyle passed away earlier this month.
As with a number of other comic book artists who got their start in the 1980s, Lyle’s earliest work was published by Bill Black at AC Comics. In late 1986, following a meeting with Chuck Dixon at a Philadelphia convention, Lyle began working for Eclipse Comics. He penciled back-up stories in Airboy featuring the Skywolf character, followed by a three issue Skywolf miniseries, and a few other related books for Eclipse.
I personally didn’t have an opportunity to see this work until 2014, when IDW began releasing the Airboy Archives trade paperbacks. Looking at those Skywolf stories, I was impressed by how solid & accomplished Lyle’s work was that early in his career, both in terms of his storytelling and his attention to detail. In regards to the later, a good example of this is seen in the above page from Airboy #13 (Jan 1987). Lyle and inker Romeo Tanghal do great work rendering both the airplane and the Himalayan Mountains.
The Skywolf back-ups and miniseries were all written by regular Airboy writer Chuck Dixon, who Lyle would collaborate with again in the future.
In late 1988 Lyle, working with writer Roger Stern and inker Bob Smith, introduced a new Starman, Will Payton, to the DC Comics universe. Although not a huge hit, Starman was nevertheless well-received by readers, and the title ran for 45 issues, with Lyle penciling the first two years of the run. Starting with issue #15 Lyle was paired up with inker Scott Hanna. The two of them made a very effective art team, and they would work together on several more occasions over the years.
Lyle then worked on a couple of jobs for Marvel. He penciled an eight page Captain America story in Marvel Comics Presents #60 written by John Figueroa and inked by Roy Richardson. This was followed by a three part serial that ran in Marvel Comics Present #77-79 featuring the usual teaming up of Sgt. Fury and the Howling Commandos with Dracula. Written by Doug Murray and inked by Josef Rubinstein, the serial saw the Howlers having to work with the lord of the vampires against the Nazis.
In 1990 Lyle worked on the five issue Robin miniseries for DC Comics, featuring Tim Drake’s first solo story. The miniseries reunited Lyle with Chuck Dixon and Bob Smith. It was a huge hit, gaining Lyle a great deal of attention & acclaim. Within the story Dixon & Lyle introduced the villains King Snake and Lynx, both of whom would become recurring foes in the Batman rogues gallery. Also around this time Lyle drew the covers for an eight issue Justice Society of America miniseries.Lyle’s next project was for Impact Comics (or, if you prefer, !mpact Comics) a DC Comics imprint featuring revamped versions of Archie Comics’ oddball line of superheroes. Lyle was the artist & plotter of The Comet, an interesting reimagining of the character. Scripting The Comet was Mark Waid. Beginning with the second issue Scott Hanna came on as the inker / finisher.
I was 15 years old when the Impact line started, and I really enjoyed most of the books. The Comet was definitely a really good, intriguing series. Lyle & Hanna once again made a great art team. Regrettably, despite apparently having some long-term plans for the series, Lyle left The Comet after issue #8. It fell to Waid, now the full writer, to bring the series to a close when the Impact books were unfortunately cancelled a year later.
Lyle’s departure from The Comet was probably due to his increasing workload on the Batman group of titles. During this time he penciled “Shadow Box,” a three part follow-up to the Robin miniseries that ran in Batman #467-469. After that he was busy on the high-profile four issue miniseries Robin II: The Joker’s Wild. As the title implies, this miniseries saw Tim Drake’s long-awaited first encounter with Gotham City’s Clown Prince of Crime, the villain who had murdered the previous Boy Wonder.
Following on from this, the team of Dixon, Lyle & Hanna worked on Detective Comics #645-649. One of the highlights of this short run was the introduction of Stephanie Brown aka The Spoiler. Stephanie would go on to become a long-running, popular supporting character in the Bat-books, eventually becoming a new Batgirl.After completing a third Robin miniseries, Lyle moved over to Marvel Comics, where he immediately established himself on the Spider-Man titles. He penciled the Amazing Spider-Man Annual #27, once again working with Scott Hanna. Written by Jack C. Harris, another former DC mainstay, the annual introduced the new hero Annex.
This was followed by Lyle & Hanna drawing Spider-Man #35-37, which were part of the mega-crossover “Maximum Carnage.” Lyle also penciled the Venom: Funeral Pyre miniseries, and drew a few covers for the Spider-Man Classic series that was reprinting the original Lee & Ditko stories.
The adjective-less Spider-Man series had initially been conceived as a vehicle for which the super-popular Todd McFarlane could both write and draw his own Spider-Man stories. However he had then left the series with issue #16 to co-found Image Comics, and for the next two years the title served as something of anthology, with various guest creative teams. Finally, beginning with issue #44, Lyle & Hanna became the regular art team on Spider-Man, with writer Howard Mackie joining them.
Truth to tell, this was actually the point at which I basically lost interest in the Spider-Man books. The padded-out “Maximum Carnage” event, followed soon after by the meandering “Clone Saga,” caused me to drop all of the Spider-Man series from my comic shop pull list. Nevertheless, I would on occasion pick up the odd issue here & there, and I did enjoy Lyle’s work on the character. He also did a good job depicting the villainous Hobgoblin and his supernatural counterpart the Demogoblin.
Despite my own feelings about “The Clone Saga,” I know it has its fans. Lyle definitely played a key part in that storyline. When Peter Parker’s clone Ben Reilly returned he assumed the identity of the Scarlet Spider. It was Lyle who designed the Scarlet Spider’s costume. I know some people thought a Spider-Man type character wearing a hoodie was ridiculous but, as I said before, the Scarlet Spider has his fans, and the costume designed by Lyle was certainly a part of that.
Lyle remained on Spider-Man through issue #61. He then jumped over to the new Punisher series that was written by John Ostrander. Unfortunately by this point the character had become majorly overexposed, and there was a definite “Punisher fatigue” in fandom. Ostrander attempted to take the character in new, different directions, first having him try to destroy organized crime from within, and then having him work with S.H.I.E.L.D. to fight terrorists, but the series was cancelled with issue #18. Nevertheless I enjoyed it, and I think Lyle, paired with inker Robert Jones, did some really good work drawing it.
Lyle next wrote & penciled a four issue Warlock miniseries for Marvel in 1998, which was again inked by Jones. After that Lyle & Jones worked on several issues of the ongoing Star Wars comic book for Dark Horse. He also worked on several issues of Mutant X for Marvel.
Unfortunately in the early 2000s Lyle began having trouble finding work in comics. Honestly, this is one of the most exasperating things about the industry. Here was an artist who for over a decade did good work on some of the most popular characters at both DC and Marvel, and then suddenly he finds himself not receiving any assignments. It’s a story we’ve regrettably heard variations of over and over again. It’s a genuine shame that freelancers who time and again were there for publishers do not find that loyalty rewarded.
Fortunately for Lyle he was able to successfully transition into another career. He began teaching sequential illustration at the Savannah College of Art and Design in 2005, a position he remained at for the next decade and a half.
Tragically in September of this year Lyle suffered a brain aneurysm. After undergoing surgery he was placed in a medically induced coma. Unfortunately he never recovered, and he passed away on November 19th. He was 66 years old.
The sad fact is that health care in this country has become more and more unaffordable for most people. After her husband passed away Sue Lyle was left with astronomical medical bills. Tom’s brother-in-law set up a Go Fund Me to help Sue. I hope that anyone who reads this who is in a position to help out will contribute.
Lyle was a longtime friend of June Brigman & Roy Richardson, who also got into the comic book biz around the same time. After Lyle passed away, Brigman shared a few memories of him on Facebook:
“Roy and I were friends with Tom and his wife Sue for, oh…about thirty years. Tom and I followed a similar path, working for Marvel and DC, then SCAD, Tom in Savannah, me in Atlanta. It was Tom who encouraged me to go for a teaching position at SCAD, an experience that I’m very grateful for. And it was Tom’s example that made me, at the ripe ol’ age of 59, finally finish my MFA in illustration. I like to think that we helped give Tom a start in comics. But really, all we did was give him a place to stay when he first visited Marvel and DC. He went on to become a rock star of the comics industry. And while yes, he definitely left his mark on the world of comics, I think his real legacy is his students. They were all so fortunate to have Professor Lyle. Not everyone who can do, can teach. Everything Tom taught came from his experience. He was a master of perspective, he had impeccable draftsmanship, and boy, could he tell a story. And, most importantly, he loved teaching, and truly cared about his students.”
I only met Tom Lyle once, briefly, and a comic book convention in the early 1990s. Several years later I corresponded with him via e-mail. At the time I purchased several pages of original comic book artwork from him. Tom was easy to deal with, and his prices were very reasonable. Regrettably over the years I’ve had to sell off all of those pages to pay bills, but it was nice having them in my collection for a while.
Tom Lyle was definitely a very talented artist. Everyone who knew him spoke very highly of him as a person. He will certainly be missed.