From Classroom Doodler to Funny-Picture Publisher: Craig Yoe’s Cartoon Evolution

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I figured that this time, my encounter with Craig Yoe wouldn’t involve sex. But no, he just had to go slip in his Penis at the end.

Yoe is a cartoonist, an author, a designer, and a historian, and the man behind IDW Publishing’s Yoe Books, a one-stop shop for visual thrills about comics and pop culture. And since our 2010 Imprint Q&A covered his books on dirty drawings by “clean” cartoonists and fetish illustrations by Superman’s original comics artist, we naturally hit on topics such as the upside of being a pervert and the downside of not getting laid. But I’m currently excited about his soon-to-be-released Comics About Cartoonists: Stories About the World’s Oddest Profession, which, aside from a little romance-comics cuddling, is sex-free, and fit for adults of all ages.

Produced with the designer-cartoonist Clizia Gussoni, Comics About Cartoonists is, well, exactly what you’d expect. Its 200-plus pages are packed with newspaper comic strips by the likes of Winsor McCay, Al Capp, and Will Eisner, comic book stories by Steve Ditko, Jack Kirby, and Wally Wood, and plenty of obscure oddities about professional pencil-pushers. You’ll find genres like horror, humor, crime, and sci-fi, and themes that range from the whimsically autobiographical to the deliriously melodramatic. You’ll see plenty of artists at their drawing tables—most of the tales are vintage 1940s and ’50s—and cartoon characters galore popping out of their page panels. It’s got crossover appeal for cartoonists, designers, and illustrators, and it’s also a treasure trove for any fan of meta-narrative . . . and you know who you are.

Although Yoe stayed on-topic for most of our interview, he also took some time to pleasure himself.

Your earlier Modern Arf series focused on comics about fine artists, and now you’re covering comics about comics artists. What’s up with this self-referential work?

Darwinism. Let’s face it: Cartoonists are much higher on the evolutionary scale. Do fine artists even walk erect?

The term “self referential” excites me. It’s so close to “self pleasure,” and I got a lot of that doing Comics About Cartoonists. I’m think I’m going blind!

Calm down and tell me about your own evolution.

While working on the book, for years I wrestled with what to call it. I even enlisted the aid of a good friend who has a naming company. I ended up rejecting all the precious, clever puns and turns of phrase we came up with. A simple, direct title seemed to pragmatically fit the bill. I do like the more playful subtitle we came up with, though: Stories About the World’s Oddest Profession. It is odd to make your living drawing funny pictures.

Because my surname Yoe begins with one of the last letters in the alphabet, I was always in the back seats in school classrooms. I seriously couldn’t grasp anything that was going on at my distance from the teacher and the blackboard. So I just happily doodled away in my notebook. By the time they had pushed me through to graduation, I wasn’t good for anything else but drawing funny pictures.

It took years to learn some new—but related—skills: writing, design, sculpting. And the way I do those disciplines is very informed by comics and cartoons and my cartoonist roots.

I’m immensely proud of all my past books and stoked for future projects, but the subject matter of comics about cartoonists means this will forever be a personal fave.

How did you gather your material?

I’ve been collecting comics about cartoonists for years. And I also called on some dear collector friends and picked their brains. And they came up with some comic book stories I’d never run across, some of my favorite ones in the book. Thank god for these fellow OCD comic-book collector types that I know from group therapy.

OK, so what’s next?

Comics about monsters. Steve Ditko, when he was incredibly creating the beginning adventures of Spider-Man and Dr. Strange, was simultaneously penning monsters for a small comics company, Charlton. We’re finishing Ditko Monsters: Gorgo and Ditko Monsters: Konga at this moment. These are big, thick books that reprint all of the comics about the Godzilla and King Kong wannabes drawn by my favorite genius comic-book artist. And the fan boy in me is having a freak-out frenzy with this giant dinosaur and ape!

And then we’re doing a fascinating book, The Strange World of Your Dreams, compiling all the comic books by that title that Jack Kirby and Joe Simon—the creators of Captain America—produced in the 1950s. It’s as if Sigmund Freud was the writer and Salvador Dali was the artist of these comics. Wild, wild schtuff. Publishing this crazy material is, well, a dream come true for me. The comics purportedly analyze reader’s dreams, as only cartoonists could do. People are going to be astonished by these comics!

And my finger puppet book is coming in January. I am so proud of my Little Penis! Unlike a book that can take years to do, like Comics and Cartoonists, I wrote and drew it and designed the puppet that’s in this book in one day. Urban Outfitters has exclusive advance copies now in their stores. Nothing says “Happy Holidays” like a cute puppet book featuring an adorable, diminutive male member.

And I do so love a book with a happy ending!