Originally written on January 8, 2021
Published on Facebook
The first page of The Legion Companion. Pencils by Curt Swan, inks by Steve Lightle.
Today was one of those days where I intentionally stayed offline because I've been spending too much time on Facebook lately watching the tire fire of 2020 continue on into 2021. I thought it was a good idea to rejoin the real world for a bit to get some things done and live in my own reality instead of the online world. Facebook can be a giant sinkhole of time, and most of the time you don't learn anything new, anyway.
This afternoon I decided to hop online for a sec to just check in and see if anything was happening. I had no intention of sticking around, just a quick stop and back to what would hopefully be a productive day.
Just like a week or so before Christmas, the very first post that came up on my timeline alerted me to the fact that someone I knew had died. Just like before it was totally unexpected, and just like before I still feel like it can't be real. Unlike the first time, however, it wasn't someone who I ever met in person. I still considered him to be a friend, though, because how can you not when you've interacted with him online for twenty years?
The first time I saw Steve Lightle's artwork was on New Talent Showcase on a feature called "Ekko." I thought that NTS was a great comic and that Steve's artwork, in particular, was outstanding. So I wasn't that surprised when he turned up later on one of the publisher's top two books, The Legion of Super-Heroes. Like a lot of people, I thought that the work of his predecessor had taken a turn in the wrong direction, and then there was Steve, living up to both his own potential and that of the new format.
Steve Lightle's first appearance on a DC cover, New Talent Showcase #4.
At the time it felt like he was there a lot longer than he was. That's the way it is when you're a kid -- a year feels like a decade does now. I've done the rough math, and I was around the same age he was when Dave Cockrum was the Legion artist. Dave Cockrum was Steve's favorite Legion artist, and Steve was mine.
When I first discovered online Legion fandom in the early 21st Century, there Steve was, interacting with them. I couldn't believe it. There was my favorite Legion artist, and if you talked to him, he talked back! These were the days when every pro wasn't online and social media hadn't been invented yet. It was all mailing lists and message boards, and the number of pros who came down from Mt. Olympus was small.
He became familiar with me because of that, so when I did The Legion Companion for TwoMorrows, I asked him for a favor. I had a copy of a piece of artwork by Curt Swan that I wanted to use on Page One as sort of a second cover, only it wasn't inked. Since Steve was an artist and a Legion fan in addition to being a Legion creator, I asked him if he'd lightbox and ink it.
He did it for free, and I still feel guilty about that. That picture has appeared online many times since, and I was happy to hear him say how glad he was to collaborate with Curt Swan posthumously since he and Curt had talked about doing something together one day, only Curt's death prevented that. It took a little of the guilt away.
Dannell Lites, Steve "Greybird" Reed, and Chris Companiak
are all remembered by Lightle in print using Interlac.
Let me tell you something else about Steve Lightle. When he returned to do an issue of the Legion in 2012, he used the language of the future, Interlac, to write the names of Legion fans who had recently died in the background. These were people he had interacted with personally, and he wanted to include them in the Legion somehow. One of those people, Dannell Lites, was a fan-fiction writer who lived alone and when she died, her body went unclaimed. She was buried in an umarked grave in a potter's field, and when Steve found out he was so upset that he was part of the effort to get her a gravestone. She lived in his neck of the woods, so he took the reins and got it done.
Dannell Lites' gravestone at Taylor Cemetery in Elmira, Missouri. Photo by Jenna Zunker.
Another person who was part of that effort was Dave Cockrum. He was also an online friend of Dannell's, and also upset at what had happened to her. Through the magic of the Internet Steve got to meet his favorite Legion artist first online, then in person at a con.
I know that he enjoyed that. He thought that Dave Cockrum was the gold standard as far as the Legion went, and even put some of the Legionnaires back in their Cockrum-designed costumes during his run. He thought that any alterations since then weren't an improvement. And I know that he got a kick out of seeing Dave draw his Legion characters (Tellus, Quislet, and Sensor Girl) on the cover of The Legion Companion. I was happy, in turn, to have indirectly given him that thrill.
There are so many of them, they need their own Who's Who! From the cover of the first issue of the Legion series.
Dave Cockrum spent the last few years of his life online, interacting with his fans on a nearly daily basis. It was an important lifeline for him, and he enjoyed it. Steve was the same way, so much so that I used to think, "He's turning into Dave Cockrum!" I didn't ever mention that to Steve, but now the parallels are unmistakable.
Like Dave, Steve didn't do a lot of work for the Big Two in the years before his passing. He focused on his creator-owned online features instead, first Justin Zane, then The Power Corps. I hope that was his choice, and not due to a lack of alternatives. He seemed to prefer to do his own thing these days, and I hope that made him happy.
The picture at the top of this post is from my own personal copy of The Legion Companion. I had a few creators sign it the year I went to San Diego, and one of my regrets has been that Dave Cockrum died before I could add his signature to it. I never thought I'd ever say the same thing about Steve Lightle. We always think we'll have plenty of time to get around to things later, then life intervenes.
Steve Lightle passed away today at 61 years old due to cardiac arrest related to COVID-19. From the amount of pictures of his family he would post, he clearly loved them and I know they dearly loved him. Now they have to learn how to live without him. The world just isn't fair sometimes.
Left: Lightle's creator-owned character, Justin Zane, whose adventures were serialized on Patreon.
Steve Lightle signing at a comic-con in 2015. Photo by Marianne Lightle.
Here's an interview Steve Lightle did with Terrance Dollard in December, 2017, for his show Comic Culture.