Teenage Wildlife: Craig Yoe Talks Archie
an interview with John Rovnak
Craig Yoe is an internationally renowned cartoonist, designer, author and founder of YOE! Studios with Clizia Gussoni. Craig has created acclaimed products and promotions, from MTV station ID spots to Disney theme park attractions, and has six patents for toy inventions to his name. Before founding YOE! Studios, Craig was Creative Director/Vice President General Manager of Jim Henson’s Muppets and a Creative Director at Nickelodeon. Dubbed “Dr. Seuss on acid!” by Animation Magazine, Craig Yoe is a wildly entertaining speaker on creativity; his worldwide travels as a lecturer have taken him to Italy, France, Argentina, South Africa, Australia, and Singapore. He has also served as curator for fine art exhibits at museums all over the world, including most recently the Comics Stripped exhibit for the Museum of Sex in New York City.
YOE! Studios has won numerous awards including the Gold Medal from the Society of Illustrators, two Addys, the Mobius and the Will Eisner Comics Industry Award.
Among his growing line of YOE! Books (published by IDW Publishing) is, Archie: A Celebration of America’s Favorite Teenagers, released in 2011.
This interview was conducted over the phone on November 8, 2010.
John Rovnak: In the past, you’ve written about fetish art (Secret Identity: The Fetish Art of Superman’s Co-Creator Joe Shuster) and good girl art (Dan DeCarlo’s Jetta) in comics, would you also include Betty and Veronica on the continuum of good-girl art?
Craig Yoe: Oh absolutely. I think nobody had sexier girls than the Archie Company. They’re just drawn in such a beautiful way. They’re buoyant and wholesome, yet a little sexy. They’re teenage girls that anybody with blood flowing through their veins would want to date. [Laughs] Well maybe there are a few exceptions and some people that don’t swing that way; but if you like the female species, then Betty and Veronica are at the top of my list of hot looking girls. As an elderly gentleman I can say I appreciate them, but they are after all teenagers, so I‘ll be sure to appreciate them from afar. [Laughs]
Rovnak: Who do you prefer, Betty or Veronica?
Yoe: Definitely, there’s no doubt about it, I’m a Veronica guy! I’ve always gone for girls like Bettie Page, Morticia Addams, and Annette Funicello; and maybe topping that list would be Veronica Lodge. Definitely.
Rovnak: Comic book histories consider Dan DeCarlo to be the definitive Archie artist; the artist responsible for creating the Archie house-style. What impact do you feel artists such as Harry Lucey, Bob Montana, Samm Schwartz, and Bob Bolling had on the Archie house-style?
Yoe: You make a point in your article (Deft Mastery: The Genius of Early 1960’s Archie Comics by Philip Charles Crawford, from Panel to Panel Volume 1) that Dan’s work was so incredible and has in many ways overshadowed Harry Lucey’s work. As I worked on this book, I began to appreciate Harry Lucey more and more and how incredible he was. Dan (DeCarlo) was a friend of mine, and I’ve certainly worshipped at his altar for many years; he’s a good girl artist, as good as any of them in any time or any place. But Harry Lucey really captured my attention, so I now see both of them as masters. Everyone immediately thinks of Dan, and he sort of overshadows Lucey, but both of them have overshadowed the creator of Archie Bob Montana. I’ve always been a giant Bob Montana fan. Over time his Betty and Veronica got sexier and sexier. He has a great sense of humor, and he was also a “two-fisted” fighter in the cartoon world in that he could not only draw beautifully, but he was a really funny writer. Usually cartoonists are struggling to come up with a gag a day, but his Sunday strips, and sometimes the dailies, would have multiple jokes within the context of each strip. I think he was incredibly clever, and a great draftsman, and good girl artist who has been kind of overlooked.
Rovnak: What about Samm Schwartz?
Yoe: I wouldn’t classify him as a good girl artist, but talking to many of the young Archie artists, and some of the fans while doing this book, and I know that when I was growing up myself, a lot of us had tremendous admiration for Samm Schwartz because he gave us such tremendous enjoyment drawing Jughead. I don’t think too many people think of Jughead as a sex symbol, but as far as a character that’s great for laughs and has a little bit of rebellion and attitude, Juggie’s got it. In polls Archie Comics has done, Jughead is usually sited as everyone’s number one favorite character. There’s just something very, very cool about him. He’s nonchalant, and he doesn’t get into the battle of the sexes that everyone else is involved in. Jughead steps back and is kind of cynical about the whole thing, and there’s something nice and fun about his attitude. And his character design is terrific. I’ve got to find one of those Jughead hats myself [laughs]
Rovnak: Bob Bolling. Any thoughts about him?
Yoe: Bob Bolling has been compared to Carl Barks, as far as a storyteller. There’s certainly a tremendous charm in his work. His Little Archie’s are very different than Archie and the gang as teenagers. And there is a child-like innocence and quality in his work; more than any of the other Archie artists. As a writer he explored all kinds of fantasy and different themes and times. His stories were almost surreal in a child like, daydream kind of way. I really love him and appreciate him. We’re going to be publishing his own favorite story in the book, and many Archie fans have sited that it’s their favorite story as well.
Rovnak: What story is that?
Yoe: It’s called “The Long Walk.” It’s from Little Archie #20. It’s really sweet and a lot of fun.
Rovnak: The introduction of Kevin Keller, Archie’s first openly gay character was a huge success; popular enough to go into a second printing. However, many longtime fans would argue that Jughead, a self-labeled woman hater, was Archie’s first gay character, albeit thinly veiled. Any thoughts on the matter?
Yoe: I’m so excited that Archie is doing groundbreaking work in introducing Kevin, who was created by the über-talented Dan Parent. We’re all pretty aware that Archie, Betty and Veronica seem to be very heterosexual, Reggie too. But I always saw Jughead as asexual. His main interest is hamburgers, and he’s a woman hater because he’s Archie’s best friend and he sees how many jams Archie gets in by having his heterosexual desires never working out. I’ve known a few asexual people, and have had a few asexual friends in my life, and Jughead has always seemed like one of those types to me.
Rovnak: Historically, adults in the Archie world are depicted as unattractive, overweight, and often toothless (Mr.Weatherbee, Miss Grundy). They are a sharp contrast to the attractive and physically fit teens that populate Riverdale. The only exception is Mr. Lodge who is presented as relatively attractive and physically fit. Why is he the exception?
Yoe: All the adults seem to have had a makeover in the past few years or so. But you’re right. Mr. Lodge is pretty good looking, and Mrs. Lodge is kind of a babe now. Betty’s mom is still kind of lackluster, but Mrs. Lodge looks pretty darn good. My partner pointed out that Mrs. Lodge could probably afford botox and the best plastic surgeons. She looks pretty good. Even in the latest stories, Mrs. Grundy looks a lot better; well rested or something. Everyone seems to have taken a few youth pills in the last couple of years, or found the fountain of youth; they’re all looking pretty good now.
Rovnak: Most comic book historians focus on the history of superheroes and horror comics, but your work is unique in that it focuses on characters and genres usually overlooked by traditional historians of the comic book. The historical work you’ve done has certainly expanded and altered our understanding of the field. What draws you to write about the genres of funny animals (Felix The Cat: The Great Comic Book Tails), teen humor (Archie: A Celebration of America’s Favorite Teenagers), and children’s comics (The Golden Collection of Klassic Krazy Kool Kids Komics)?
Yoe: Ironically, as I get older, I’m more interested in the younger stuff. I really have little patience for superheroes. Guys running around in tights, hitting each other; it’s just not a big area of interest for me. I feel like I’ve grown up, so now I’m interested in things like comedy and kid’s comics. I think the world needs a good laugh. I certainly feel the same for myself sometimes. I like writing books about Milt Gross (The Complete Milt Gross Comic Books and Life Story). Even with my recent Frankenstein book (Dick Briefer’s Frankenstein), people ask me do I like the horror version best, or the funny version best? And I certainly gravitate towards the funny version. But I do actually have a couple ideas of some superhero histories up my sleeve… But by and large I cringe when I think about how much documentation there has been of superhero comics, and superhero artists, in comparison with the other genres. All these neglected genres, many of these have brilliant artists and writers, fascinating histories behind the comics, and I think these things need to be told. It’s what gets me up in the morning. When you tell people the term comics, all they think of is superheroes and superhero movies. I’m all for putting the ‘comic’ back in comics. That’s a big thrust for Yoe! Books.
Rovnak: What do you say to the comics fan who says, “Once you’ve read one Archie comic, you’ve read them all?”
Yoe: We’ve been talking about the artists, but George Gladir and Frank Doyle are some of the most brilliant writers that comics have ever known. And there are newer guys, like Craig Boldman, coming up with great stories too. When John L. Goldwater created Archie Andrews, he was sort of the antithesis of Superman. He knew he couldn’t out-super Superman. He tried. The MLJ Company tried with the Black Hood and The Shield, which as we know was the first patriotic hero by over a year, but still they couldn’t compete with Batman and Superman. So what’s the antithesis to that? A normal human being. Writing comedy was hitting the sweet spot with teenagers, and their foibles, and their interest in the opposite sex, and being in school. There’s a whole group of people who contributed to the brilliance of Archie. John L. Goldwater had more than an idea, he really put a lot into the character, and a lot of thinking behind the character. Then when he gave the job to visualize Archie to Bob Montana, Bob brought a tremendous amount in from his own personal experiences in high school The editor Harry Shorten, I feel contributed a lot too. No one, rarely, mentions that there was a writer on the first three stories that’s credited, Victor Bloom. People know very little about him, but I was able to turn up a little bit of information; I wish I had more, but it is more than has ever been put together. Archie Comics had an incredible team then and they have an incredible team which continues through today. Archie is keeping these stories fresh and green, creating new ideas and humor. I really enjoyed doing this book inparticual because I’m usually not working with any people, because the books I’m usually working on, the cartoonists are long gone. But, it turns out that the Archie offices are less than a half an hour from Yoe! Books’ office. I’m going over there all the time. The management they have at Archie now is phenomenal! Jon Goldwater leading the show, with Victor Gorelick and Mike Pellerito, are doing kick-ass comics. The excitement that’s over there, the ideas that are flowing, the attitude, and the valuing of the creative people of the past who did Archie and that are currently doing Archie. The way that they are esteemed and thought highly of, it’s just a thrill to me; I’m tying to get some of that across in the book too. How not only that Archie has had a glorious past, but the present is very exciting and it seems like it’s very bright; we’re going to need sunglasses [laughs].
Rovnak: It’s interesting, and amazing, that Archie has survived all these years without relying on, or resorting to, such things as licensing and expanding themselves outside the comics market. They really don’t adhere to the same business model that, I would say, 99% of the comics industry adheres to.
Yoe: Yeah, they have this weird concept; they’ve always given people great stories and great artwork. It’s an interesting concept, and an interesting way to run a comic book company. [Laughs] By golly, it just might work…
For more information on YOE! Books go to www.yoebooks.com
Interview © John Rovnak