James Lyle is an internationally renowned illustrator and artist whose work appears in comic books, in campaigns for major corporations, in video games and in the Weekly Reader read by thousands of students each week. He lives in Haywood County and is participating in the Oct. 3-4 Haywood Open Studios Tour:
SMN: Why do you participate in this event?
Lyle: I grew up in Haywood County and have spent most of my life here, but in spite of the fact that I’m known nationally — and even internationally in some circles — very few folks around here know what I do. So when the HOST event first started, I thought it might be a good way to let people in on the secret. It wasn’t until this year that I had the opportunity to actually participate.
SMN: What about your work gives you the most pleasure?
Lyle: Actually sitting down at the drawing board and drawing gives me the most pleasure. The difficulty now is that it seems that I have to spend a great deal of time in self-promotion and networking. Fortunately most of my experiences in “networking” have been positive, and I find that to be nearly as pleasant as the drawing process itself. I’ve been spending a great deal of time lately as vice chairman of the Southeast Chapter of the National Cartoonists Society and that offers a chance to work with a number of up-and-coming artists in the region. Mentoring them is a close second to actually drawing.
SMN: Is your art your sole source of income; and if so, how long did you work at it before getting to your current status?
Lyle: Art is my primary source of income. But my wife and I both work, and I do play an occasional gig with our band, Gypsy Bandwagon — which is technically still “art” in the larger sense of the word. I’ve been working as an artist full time since graduating from Southwestern Community College back in 1992, but actually did quite a bit of work as a freelance artist before getting that degree. So all in all, I have been working professionally since 1983. So, 25 years, give or take a year.
SMN: What attracted you to Western North Carolina?
Lyle: Besides growing up here, I think it’s a beautiful place to live. When I met my wife, I thought for a while that we might live near where she grew up in the suburbs of Chicago, but the cost of living there is so high that we added it all up and realized that the mountains was a great place to be. So we came back home.
SMN: What would you do if you weren’t an illustrator or cartoonist?
Lyle: I’d like to be a musician if I weren’t able to be an illustrator or cartoonist. Most graphic artists do seem to have some musical aspirations, so I’m in good company.
SMN: Who is your clientele?
Lyle: My clientele varies a great deal, from small comic book publishing companies and personal commissions to magazine publishers, major apparel companies, and advertising agencies. At the moment I’m working on an advertising campaign for a theater company out of Toronto, Canada, while also working on a series of event T-shirts for the U.S. Marines, illustrating a Pirate novel, and preparing to launch a new webcomic.
But there have been any number of other art-type jobs along the way. From painting billboards and doing mechanical paste-up (back before computers), to laying out catalogs and designing Yellow Pages ads. All in all, I’d rather draw.
SMN: Where are you from and what kind of training and education do you have?
Lyle: While we covered this one briefly a little more info might help. I’m from Haywood County. Our family has roots in Haywood from at least four generations back. While I was born in Asheville, Dad moved us back to the family home when I was just two. And except for a brief time in the Chicago suburbs and some time spent in Salisbury, I’ve been here most of my life.
I have an Associates of Applied Sciences degree in Commercial Art and Advertising Design from Southwestern Community College. I still try to help out there serving with the Graphic Arts advisory group and sending promising students their way when they present themselves. But most any artist will likely tell you that what they studied in school was primarily how to teach themselves. A degree is really just the beginning of an education in art, constant practice and application are required to achieve any real success as an illustrator or cartoonist.