Comic book artist and teacher Tom Lyle passed away this morning. I was fortunate enough to interview him about a year ago regarding his work on the Robin character for DC Comics, and I figured I’d share that whole interview here. It’s brief, but I thought Tom’s friends and fans might like to read it.
I never had the pleasure of meeting Tom in person, but he was incredibly generous with his time and we had some fun email and online exchanges over the years. My condolences to his friends and family.
ANDREW FARAGO QUESTIONS FOR TOM LYLE
- Who was “THE” Batman artist when you were a kid? Was there any particular artist who inspired you to go into comics?
Carmine Infantino was probably the main guy that I saw work from when I was a kid … or at least the first person that I took notice of. He was good with Batman, but not the best.
So, when Neal Adams popped on the scene, I took note. His work really SHOT off of the page and was inspiring to me. I had already gotten the bug to be a comic book illustrator by then, but Neal’s work on Batman and the X-Men
helped cement that decision.
- Were you a pro-Robin guy before you worked on the character? There doesn’t seem to be much middle ground among creators–they either love or hate the kid sidekick concept.
Before working on the mini-series, I really hated the whole concept of Robin. He was a boring hanger-on who got in Batman’s way. I wanted to read about BATMAN, not some kid who got in the way. Besides, the old Robin costume (my respects to Jerry Robinson and all the previous people who drew him before me) is just not cool. Not even close to cool. Whereas, BATMAN just looks cool – especially with that billowing cape that Neal added.
- You first worked with Chuck Dixon on Airboy, correct? Whose idea was it to pair you with him for the first Robin miniseries?
I first worked with Chuck Dixon on the SKYWOLF back-up stories in AIRBOY. We had met at conventions in Philadelphia and he suggested to Eclipse that they hire me. I was doing work for Wonder Color Comics at the time.
Nabbing the ROBIN mini-series was a fluke. I called up the Batman office looking for some fill-in work between my stint on STARMAN and starting on the COMET. The assistant editor, Dan Raspler, asked me if I’d be interested in doing a mini-series, but he wouldn’t tell me who was the main character until I said “yes.” It was for the BATMAN franchise, so, of course, I said “yes.”
Then Dan asked me if I knew any writers that knew quite a bit about martial arts. I suggested Chuck to them … and they liked that idea.
They especially liked the idea that both of us had worked together and that we already had a rapport together as well. So, they called up Chuck, brought us both to New York to talk about the mini-series, and the rest is history. A history that I am proud to be a part of.
- Chuck said that DC was really committed to making Robin a popular character. What was it about Tim Drake that clicked with fans? What separated him from Dick Grayson and Jason Todd?
Yes, DC wanted ROBIN to work, but if they had thought it would become the success it did, I don’t think that Chuck or I would have been offered the book. Neither of us were “A” list talents at the time, but that mini-series would make it happen.
The thing that Chuck and I understood about Tim versus any previous partners is this: He’s NOT a sidekick. He’s a viable character in and of himself. And we treated him that way.
And the fans responded.
Tim still had reverence to Batman and wanted to please him, but he was headstrong himself and sometimes did things that Batman had told him NOT to do. He had the desire to succeed.. And so did we. I still love Tim Drake for how he changed both my life and Chuck Dixon’s life.
- What was it like working on a fan favorite title at a time when the comics industry was in the midst of a huge upswing? You’d worked on some reasonably well-known titles before Robin, but that book was a blockbuster, and even scored some mainstream news coverage.
ROBIN made me an “A” list artist. It was an awesome opportunity. I’m eternally thankful to Denny O’Neil and Dan Raspler for taking a chance on me. It was fun work and really great getting to add to the Batman mythos. It was also a blast drawing a costume that was designed by Neal Adams and it was a great costume.
I’d never gotten the kind of press on any previous project that this one got. It was fun … and life-changing.
- Robin II featured Tim’s first battle with The Joker. What makes The Joker such an enduring villain? Did you draw inspiration from any particular previous version of the character when drawing that series?
I don’t think that I had a favorite version of the JOKER before that second series, though I think I was heavily influenced by the Joker that Marshal Rogers drew during his epic stint on DETECTIVE COMICS. He and Steve Englehart created some magic of their own in that run.
Joker’s unpredictability and manic personality make him a super-fun psychopath to deal with – not it real life. I’d never want to meet him in real life. WOW. Too scary. To draw in a comic book. Yep. That’s okay.