THE CHRIS YAMBAR SHOW - BEHOLD THE MAGIC


June 25, 2008 197: Conversation With Comic Book Iconographer

By David Crumm Media from www.ReadTheSpirit.com

 

One way to look at Chris Yambar's body of work -- from his goofy "Simpsons" comic books to his cool-cat salute to the 1950s with his espresso-sipping "Mr. Beat" -- is to peg Chris simply as a "comic artist" and then smile pleasantly in his direction.
    But, if you do that, you'll miss entirely the prophetic force of his work.
    This other way of looking at Chris' work envisions him as perhaps a young Michelangelo in his prime -- and I don't mean the Michelangelo we think about today as a patriarch of the fine arts. No, think about the controversial and restless young Michelangelo in his heyday, creating powerful spiritual images that prophetically rattled the spiritual conventions of his day. Remember that when Michelangelo finished the "Last Judgment" in the Sistine Chapel, church authorities in Rome were so angry that they hired another artist to paint over the shocking parts!
    Well, to be clear about this, Chris doesn't even claim to rival Michelangelo -- that's my own way of conveying the spiritual impact Chris is trying to have with his huge array of projects. Chris is an artist who cares passionately about our world. He's deeply concerned that most religious leaders today are missing the important potential of media in conveying the truth of faith. He's working night and day to play a role in transforming that situation.
    Along the way, a few of his comics might even seem offensive. For instance, some evangelical Christians are rattled when they find rock superstars and Mexican wrestlers in his comics. Some critics object to the fact that he writes for the Simpsons. But Chris doesn't care if the water around him sometimes gets a little hot. "You've got to look at everything out there, look everywhere these days. You've got to keep asking questions. That's what life's all about," he told me.
    And, right there, he's talking our language, here at ReadTheSpirit. That idea is right there in our founding principles.

So, here are highlights of our conversation with Chris Yambar:

DAVID: Chris, I admire the fact that your mission as an artist takes you all over the place -- into all kinds of subjects and themes. You've just published the first issue of this new Life Maxx comic book aimed at inspiring people wrestling with cancer and its aftermath. In fact, in the first issue, you focus on teenagers who are going through heavy-duty cancer treatment.
    In the first issue, a former star athlete is ashamed to tell his high school teammates that he's going through cancer treatment -- so they get angry when he just drops out of the team. This poor guy's life is turning out terribly. Then, he meets Life Maxx -- a costumed superhero you've created. And he discovers that Life Maxx himself is a cancer survivor. This hero turns out to be a brilliant scientist who has devoted his life to developing technology to help cancer survivors make a difference in the world.
    And, we probably should explain to readers that you don't have cancer yourself. You developed this new line of comic books with a friend who lives near you there in Youngstown and is a cancer survivor. She was the inspiration behind this series.
    Is that a pretty good summary of Life Maxx?
    CHRIS: Yeah, you're right on the money with that. The whole idea with Life Maxx is that we can be more than just cancer survivors. We can do more than just wake up in the morning. If you begin to realize that you still can make a difference in the world -- then, ahhh-haaa! That's the real thing we're trying to help people go for with Life Maxx.
    Whether you've had cancer or not -- if we really stop to think about it for a moment -- we begin to realize that we're nearly always just 3 centimeters from the drop-off point in life, right? Life is that fragile. Right now, I don't know if a plane is heading through my roof. Things happen.
    But the whole philosophy of Life Maxx is that he ran into one of life's worst obstacles: cancer. And he's dealing with it. He has restrictions and some definite physical parameters. But he's using his mind and his imagination to do something about it.
    In the next issue, Life Maxx is going to meet even more people who are dealing with all the different stages of cancer -- and he'll have more adventures and we'll see him in various social situations that come along with having cancer.

DAVID: But, we don't want to leave readers with the impression that it's a super-somber comic book to read. In addition to Life Maxx, you've also introduced the character of Chemo Girl in this first issue -- and those two are actually flirting a little bit by the end of the first book, right?
    CHRIS: You're right! Yeah, there's a lot of humor in Life Maxx. We want it that way. Hey, Life Maxx laughs at himself. I mean, what are we talking about here? I mean, this is a hero who runs around outer space wearing long underwear, right? I'm sorry, dude -- any way you look at that, this is goofy stuff.
    Yeah, I created this with Brenda Rider, who is a cancer survivor here in Youngstown, and I want to mention that, in this case, I wrote the book, painted the cover and designed the pages, but I want to mention the artist who drew the pages from my layouts: George Broderick Jr. He's a great artist.
    From the start, when I started talking to Brenda about this, we agreed that we didn't want any of that old 1960s stuff in, you know, those old educational publications that kids sometimes were handed. You know that stuff for kids that just looked like some doctor had designed it? So much of that stuff just looks ooooold. It doesn't reach kids.

DAVID: Reaching people -- I know that's what drives you on a deep level. I'm going to ask you more about that. But, before we talk about what you see as the future of the church and all that -- I want to ask you about another of your comic characters, maybe your single most popular character: Mr. Beat.
   How do you describe him? What's the essential Mr. Beat?

 CHRIS: I’ll never be as cool as Mr. Beat. He looks like a classic ‘50s Beatnik. He’s all about the fun of life, living it to the fullest –- and he’s had way too much caffeine intake. He plays the bongos and runs a coffee house and he’s your original man in black: black beret, black chin hair and mustache, black outfit and black shoes.
   He has all kinds of little adventures because life always seems to open up for him and he finds himself in the center of all kinds of problems that he has to fix. He’s God’s little agent of cool.
   In real life, it’s often like that, too, you know? We think things are so complicated, but there’s often something very simple you can do that will fix many things. We just worry so much that we can’t find that one thing. Not Mr. Beat. He’s the quick fix.
   DAVID: And he’s sold very well, too, right? He’s been in comic books and he’s been on coffee cups. I know I’ve seen him pop up various places over the years.
   CHRIS: He originated in my sketchbook in 1994. He began appearing on coffee mugs a year after that for a small coffee-mug company I co-owned and then he went into his first little publication.
   DAVID: There’s something about him that’s very attractive, that draws you to him.
   CHRIS: Whenever we’ve published a new Mr. Beat comic, it always sells out. I think it’s this matter-of-fact approach he has to things. I think we need more of that in our faith. Too many people in evangelical circles feel it’s their right and their responsibility to chase people down and make them convert -- or to beat the hell out of everybody they disagree with. And I don’t see Jesus that way at all. Jesus knew what was going on. He was very savvy. He knew who was trying to set him up, who was trying to kill him –- but he picked his fights very wisely. And then in the middle of all of it, he would answer people’s questions matter of factly and he’d keep saying, “Follow me.”

 DAVID: Growing up, you lived in what you call “a two-fisted town.” Your Dad was a steelworker.
   CHRIS: He worked in the mills. He was a machinist. I tell people I grew up in the buckle of the rust belt. And my Mom and Dad turned out four Irish-Slovak children and raised us Catholic. But I had trouble with a lot of that by the time I was a teenager.
   One time, to straighten me out, my Dad took me to see a priest. He took me to the one who was supposed to be the hip priest at that time. He was this guy with a beard, liked to drink wine. A hip guy. And when we walked in to see him, he told me: “Ask me anything.”
   So I asked him all these questions -– and he kept telling me: “You have to accept this by faith. It’s a mystery of the church.”
   Well, after a whole lot of those mystery answers, I said: “You know, you guys should hire the Hardy boys or Nancy Drew and have them look into this, because I know more than you do about these things already -- and you’re wearing the collar and the whole costume there.”
   And, for that, my Dad gave me a smack –- right there with the priest. I got a smack.
   But there I was in my early teens and none of this made any sense to me anymore. My Dad was a die-hard Catholic who took everything at face value. It all worked for him, but not for me. I just stopped going. I became the son who, you know, they’d say: “And that’s the son who doesn’t go to church.”

   DAVID: But, later, you did start going to a kind of church –- big time. You got caught up in the Jesus movement in the late 1970s.
   CHRIS: A friend of mine gave me a paper bag and in that bag was “Good News for Modern Man” -– the old denim edition of it, the kind the hippies carried.
   I had begun to jump into Buddhist philosophy and Taoism, which was great -– they said there was order and there were reasons out there –- but it was vague on giving me a personality on which I could rely. I was serious about this. I was reading everything I could find on Buddhism and Taoism.
   Then, I read the New Testament in this new Bible and it was like Christmas lights were going off in my head like there was no tomorrow. I had what we might call an in-filling. It was definitely the person of the Holy Spirit. I could feel a definite presence in my life. I could feel a personality living within me –- or to be more accurate, I began to live in the person of the Holy Spirit and things began to become very real for me. Suddenly, I didn’t need to go through anybody to talk to the Creator -– I could go directly like Jesus said we could.

DAVID: I know that you became an ordained pastor. I know you’ve had experiences in ministry that range from hands-on work in helping needy people in the city –- to working as a pastor with a congregation. But you’re between churches right now, you’ve told me. You’re not on staff anywhere as a pastor and you’re not regularly attending a particular church, right?
   CHRIS: I would say my church consists of getting together with other people and talking about our lives and the Bible and drinking coffee. You could say it’s an emergent kind of church, but I’m not big on those titles. People talk about emergent and post-modern and I go: Eeeeeeek! I run the other way. I don’t like that whole thing of trying to slap labels on people. And -- there are some movements in Christianity that people are trying to sell us these days that are just stupid, you know?
   For me, I do believe in absolutes. I do believe in absolute faith. I do believe in putting your money where your mouth is when it comes to our faith. But my community of faith now is -– is friends.
   DAVID: A network of friends.
   CHRIS: Yeah, a network of friends, but this isn’t like a neighborhood group of friends. My friends are spread out all across the United States. I’m on the phone at least two hours a day with friends. And I talk with friends here in Youngstown, too. We started a Bible study here that moved into a small house, then moved into a pool hall –- and that lasted as long as people showed up. Then, it just finished up and we said: We’re done with this, now.
   We have times when we meet pretty regularly. Then we have times we don’t meet so regularly here. But almost every day I’m with friends, talking about our lives, maybe talking about something we’ve read in like the Gospel of John.
   DAVID: You’re pretty outspoken in criticizing a lot of organized religion. In an interview with "The Wittenburg Door," you said at one point: “Too many Christians are so uptight they wouldn't recognize a good joke if it bit them in the” -- and the Door editors changed your word to “hiney” in discreet parentheses. Then, you said, “We've got too many people in the Body of Christ who are socially unable to get beyond the imposed rule books and mental boxes designed by their church-ghetto leadership.”
   Now, when we published our Conversation with Ken Wilson recently, he actually was saying some things that are pretty close to what you’re saying. He didn’t say them quite so bluntly, but there’s obviously a strong movement among creative voices who care about the future of faith –- but who are very uncomfortable with the organized expressions of it that we’ve inherited.
   CHRIS: Absolutely. We live in a time right now in which the Protestant sector has stopped building anything that’s helpful. Some of them are building like these big homogenized malls.
   DAVID: You’re talking about churches that look more like sports arenas?
   CHRIS: Yeah. You don’t know if you’re going to church or to a business convention. The Joel Osteen kind of thing. And this cotton-candy gospel some of them are selling. You know, faith is about more than cotton candy. Jesus didn’t chase people down and beg them to follow him. He just said: Follow me. And he knew that most people wouldn’t.
   It isn’t about cotton candy. I think that sometimes we do need to talk about guilt and sin and difficult things that are so important in our lives. I’m against beating up anyone about anything. But Jesus was always very practical. He was absolutely honest about what was going on around him.

 DAVID: So, you don’t like the sort of homogenized mega-church that looks like a fancy sports arena. I’ve got that. But, after all, you’re an artist, a designer -– so, what should a church look like?
   CHRIS: When I was a kid, I still remember this little Catholic church about six blocks from my house. I still like that building and when I want to go into a church building –- maybe a half a dozen times a year, I’ll go sneak back into that little church. I don’t consider myself a card-carrying Catholic anymore –- but in that church I go back to a simpler place with God. The architecture of it speaks to you right away.
   I love the windows –- all thematic –- and the stations of the cross are incredibly powerful. As an artist myself, I’m thinking of doing my own stations of the cross. This is architecture that speaks to you like it’s speaking from another world. And the sound in there! I mean, if a church mouse farts in the balcony, it sounds like an elephant charging through the place. This is a place where I can walk inside and really focus.
   I need to see myself as being small before God. I need to worship God. I feel that I can do it there.
   DAVID: As I hear you describe this, you’re talking about spirituality expressed not in words, but in visual images –- the shape of a church, the striking images of stained glass windows, statuary, stations of the cross.
   No question, we’re a visual culture these days -– and you’re a visual artist. I’m assuming this is part of why you feel so strongly about these issues.
   CHRIS: Yes, people think in visual terms these days. This gives us a lot of opportunity to speak to people in new ways. Think about this “Zohan” movie by Adam Sandler. I’m ready to tip my hat to Adam Sandler. I run hot and cold on Adam Sandler and his humor, because his potty humor gets so dumb. I mean, I’ve used potty humor myself -– and after while I think it just gets too dumb. But Adam Sandler really is trying to say something about the situations of Israelis and Palestinians in that movie. I also think there’s going to be some very important commentary in this new Pixar movie, “Wall-E.” And, “Iron Man” also had some very strong themes that I thought were very important.
   We need to be watching for those themes and talking about them more.
   DAVID: Well, we’re trying to do that here at ReadTheSpirit. We got a lot of fascinating feedback from readers on “Iron Man” in particular, and on “Zohan” as well.

CHRIS: There are powerful things being said when we communicate on this level of symbols.
   I don’t consider myself a Catholic. I don’t consider myself a card-carrying Protestant, either. But, when I walk into a Catholic church and look at the symbols –- the stained glass and sculptures and stations of the cross -- that drives home something that goes beyond words. There are subtleties in symbols that are forever burned into our brains and I mean that in a good way.
   That’s the power of symbols. Captain America’s shield -– you get what that shield means instantly. You know what it’s all about at a glance. And that’s how it is with religious imagery. I’m not talking about worshiping images. That’s a perversion of these images. That’s not what I’m talking about. I am talking about experiencing what these symbols and images mean on a very powerful level.
   If you've ever experienced this –- if you've felt yourself flooded instantly with inspiration just by looking, just standing there in introspection –- then, that’s what I’m talking about.
   Powerful symbols speak without words. We can become very conscious that God is there with us. It’s like an event. It’s a moment of –- woah! You know that something happened but a word wasn’t spoken.
   I’m talking about moments of true clarity –- when you have to stop everything and just take a deep breath. You can feel that something is set in motion within you. That’s powerful. To be able to help people do that -– to help people find those moments -– that is art. That is art in its highest form. The greats knew this.
   Rembrandt knew this. He would choose a subject for one of his paintings –- and perhaps he would be painting an ordinary man, but this figure would become the subject of a great painting, something much larger than the man he painted. It would become a painting that people could experience in a powerful and timeless way.
   Without a word, the image itself would speak louder and longer than any sound we have ever heard.

AND SO ENDS our Conversation With Chris Yambar.

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From Casper the Friendly Ghost to Haunting a Comics Cosmos

by David Crumm (ReadTheSpirit.com 06/25/08)

 

 INTRODUCING comic artists here at ReadTheSpirit, we often ask them to tell us about the first comic book they can recall owning. Chris Yambar vividly recalls it was an edition of "Casper the Friendly Ghost" -- but the story doesn't end there.Here's how he tells the story:I was born in 1961 and this was in the mid 1960s. I remember it happened because my dad could no longer catch us to give us haircuts so he bribed us to get into the car and go to the barbershop with him. This place was in the front of a store window, I remember.    The barber was this old wartime vet who would cut hair on the weekends. But what was so amazing about this place is that from the floor of the store -- all the way up the walls for about three feet were these shelves of comics. I had never seen comics before so I were probably in the neighborhood of about 5 or 6 years old. Of course, I was fascinated immediately.Here was the bribe: Dad said, "If you sit still, I’ll get you a comic." Well, it didn’t take me long to figure out that if I sat still and got the comic and read it -- then I’d still have time to fidget and he’d get me another comic. I learned that two was the magic number –- I could get two comics per hair cut. If I went for three, it meant a beating. And I started with Casper comics. Casper the Friendly Ghost.    But there were other comics on the racks, too. And I saw this comic called Hot Stuff. I don't remember which issue it was, but I remember the first Hot Stuff comic Dad bought me had a yellow background with the red little Hot Stuff character on it -- and some white. Bright red, white and yellow? I mean, those are all the stop-and-look colors for a kid.    So, Casper was -- you know, the friendly ghost. Hot Stuff was drawn exactly like Casper except he had horns and a diaper and he was the tough little guy in these Harvey Comics. He'd walk around with his pitchfork and have all these adventures.    My Dad didn't see any problem, but my Mom was very concerned about the imagery in these Hot Stuff comics. I mean, this little character was drawn like a little devil.    I can remember overhearing them talk about this. My Mom was very concerned. And I remember my Dad saying, "Well, the little guy is wearing a diaper. How dangerous can he be?"    I thought that was funny. But I also learned that for a thin dime, and then eventually for a thin dime and two pennies I could get into a lot of trouble. And I began to think: If I'm not supposed to have it, then there really must be something in there that I really want to see!WE ASKED CHRIS TO ANSWER A FEW MORE QUESTIONS ABOUT HIS BACKGROUND:WHY COMICS AS A CAREER?Why not? A career writing, drawing and publishing comic books is just as valid as doing any other job in the entertainment field. Some of the best illustration and storytelling mythology in modern culture comes from the medium of comics. I love the art form the way Europeans love it. There is a great joy in bringing ideas across to an audience in a style that sticks in their minds and at best can be understood and received with as few words as possible. Creating a comic book is like producing a portable art gallery that can be be rolled up and stuck in anyone's pocket or square bound and shelved for future study and enjoyment.WHERE IS ALL OF THIS TAKING YOU?For all I know I may have hit the peak already. The joy for me has always been in the doing of the work. Currently there is some solid interest in bringing my solo and co-created characters off of the comic pages and into full animation situations. From there who can say? Everyday is filled with new opportunity and adventure. As far as I'm concerned I'll be involved in the creation of comics and whatever they birth until my season is over.TELL US ABOUT YOUR FAMILY:I've been married for 26 years to my wife, Maureen. She's 48 and took an early retirement from working at a university here. And we've got two cats: Savannah Rose and Iris Pennyworth.  TELL US A LITTLE MORE ABOUT YOUR PROFESSIONAL BACKGROUND:I was raised Catholic, then explored other religious traditions in the late 1970s, including Buddhism and Taoism. Eventually, I decided to simply follow the person of Jesus and Jesus' teachings as expressed in the Bible. In 1980, I entered the ministry where I began to exercise my beliefs with hands-on inner city rehabilitation outreach to those living on the streets in poverty and addiction.    During the 1980s, musician Terry McCabe and I founded Manna Underground Press. Together, we published The Activist (radical truth through art, music, and social commentary), an influential independent Christian newspaper. When the paper finally closed its doors in 1989, we had a respectable readership in 13 countries. During this time, we also printed several issues of Rebel Graphics and Safe Comix. The first issue of Safe Comix, which I co-published with cartoonist Ivar Torgrimson, included the work of numerous emerging artists including R. Crumb, the father of the original secular underground comics movement.    In 1987, I began painting in the classic pop art style and, by 1989, had my first one-man exhibition at The Butler Institute of American Art. The show was held over. My pieces are in museums, galleries and private collections around the globe.    In 1994, I began to publish a line of science fiction adventure comics called Substance Quarterly that I began with artist Gary A. Smith. That same year, I created my most popular comic book character: Mr. Beat. In 1997 the character appeared in his first national comic book, Mr. Beat Adventures, which became a mainstay on the independent comics scene. Other character titles soon followed including The Fire-Breathing Pope, Itsi Kitsi-Happy Adventure Cat; and co-created characters with George Broderick Jr (El Mucho Grande, Twerp and the Blue Baboon, Suckulina-Vampire Tempand Suicide Blonde ), with Levi Krause (Spells, Biker Dick ), with Layne Toth (Faith Warrior Princess), and with Robb Bihun (Edison's Frankenstein 1910).    Most recently, I created Life Maxx, a cancer survivor superhero designed to inspire and inform young people who have found themselves in this situation.    In addition to my own comics, I write for such popular titles as Bart Simpson Comics, Radioactive Man, Tree House of Horror, The Simpsons Comics, I Dream of Jeannie and Mister Magoo.For more information on my work, simply go to http://www.yambar.com/Care to Read More?We've shared the stories of other religiously inspired comic artists. Scroll down in that earlier story and you can click on individual stories about folks like Kurt Kolka, Buzz Dixon, Ben Avery and Robert Luedke. OR, here's a look at Steve Sheinkin, creator of comics about Rabbi Harvey of the Wild West

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Wittenburg Door Interview: Chris Yambar

By Arsenio Orteza Issue #203, January/February 2006

 In an age during which international terrorism, gasoline prices, abducted children, Supreme Court rulings, and Oprah dominate the headlines, it's sometimes easy to overlook the existence of comic books. It's even easier to overlook the existence of independent comic books. It's easier still to overlook the existence of independent-comic-book writers and artists. And absolutely no one is easier to overlook than independent-comic-book writers and artists who happen to be pop-art painters and Christians.      Enter Chris Yambar. Not only is he an indie-comic pro and pop-art painter who's a Christian, he's even ordained. (If you don't believe us, you can look under his and his wife's bed, where he keeps his diploma. Or you can check out his very cool website at www.yambar.com.) The aggregation of artistic believers over which he presides is called Lion's Heart Fellowship, and their self-stated mission is to "offer an alternative environment of healing and restoration to believers who love God but who have found themselves disenfranchised or unable to freely function within the walls of today's traditional western church setting" and to "offer practical encouragement, creative opportunities for service and artistic expression, and a strong theological base of understanding and applicable education for those willing to become true disciples under the lordship of Jesus Christ." They gather at 2325 Mahoning Avenue, Youngstown, Ohio. Feel free to drop in, BTW. Lest you think that, as a Christian, Yambar produces evangelistic tracks a la Jack Chick, forget it. You'd no more find Yambar's work in a "family" bookstore than you'd find the publications of Larry Flynt. Not that Yambar produces comic porn. Far from it. His work is edgy, running the gamut from the acerbically philosophical Mr. Beat and the hilariously anti-heroic masked Mexican wrestler El Mucho Grande to the ambitiously futuristic Orwellian heroine Suicide Blonde and the deceptively primitive Itsi-Kitsi ("Happy Adventure Cat") and Spells Sisters (of Meow-Wow! and Spells: Cauldron of Chills [subtitle: "Mean-Spirited Fun for Everyone"] respectively).  Coolest of all, though, is that Yambar writes for the Bongo Comics Group's Simpson's series ("Simpson's" as in Bart, not O.J., although as a horror-film aficionado Yambar might like to take a stab—er, crack—at the latter).

WITTENBURG DOOR: Lions Heart Fellowship openly solicits creatively and artistically inclined believers. Hasn't the average American evangelical church become comfortable enough with the "creative" people in its midst to render such a specialized ministry as Lions Heart superfluous?   CHRIS Yambar: Don't kid yourself. Creative people still have to put up with a lot of closed-minded utilitarianism in the church. The language of the modern arts is still a "type of tongues" that the church refuses to give any proper voice to or interpretation of.  

 DOOR: How do you explain this unfortunate, and lingering, phenomenon?   

Yambar: Real art causes conversation, debate, and thoughtfulness. Producing art also requires a certain amount of risk. Sometimes an artist's work will cause a viewer to become uncomfortable or angry. We can't offend a tither now, can we? Realizing that the "tongues of art" are open to interpretation to the unbeliever beyond the walls of the church is still unthinkable to most believers.  DOOR: Your working with Alice Cooper and Gene Simmons on a Bart Simpson comic is probably unthinkable to most believers as well.  

Yambar: I refuse to allow anyone to erect any barriers around what I believe or create. My world has no walls or ceiling, but it has a firm foundation, which I walk on confidently in all directions for as far as I am inspired.  

DOOR: Eloquently put, but we were really hoping that you'd tell us what it was like to hang out with Alice Cooper and Gene Simmons.  

Yambar: Alice, who is a solid brother in Christ, was a dream to work with.  

DOOR: And Gene Simmons?  

Yambar: The opportunity came up for me to work on an issue of Bart Simpson's Treehouse of Horror with a Monsters of Rock theme, so I tracked Gene down and invited him to be a part of it. He jumped at the chance. He's a comic geek too, so we hit it off well and had a good time working together. In fact, I got comp seating at a Kiss concert so close to the stage that I could tell that Gene and Paul were Jewish. 

 DOOR: —  

Yambar: Anyway, I had given him a copy of my The Collected Fire-Breathing Pope,  which had a story where the Fire-Breathing Pope and Gene have a fire-breathing competition. He must have read the book, which has some invitational (a.k.a.: evangelistic) parts throughout, because he decided to "reward" me for my efforts.

 DOOR: How? 

 Yambar: I was sitting at a table with a buddy of mine—he's a Jesus guy too—and Gene stopped by with two attractive young ladies and instructed them to give me their numbers so that when I called them they'd stop by my hotel and show me a good time.   

DOOR: And—?  

Yambar: Well, they walked off, but one girl actually walked back to the table and said, "Really, call me, OK?"  

DOOR: Um, you don't happen to have that number, do you?  

Yambar: Uh, no. So I said, "Yeah, sure. You take off now," and she took off. My buddy goes, "So let me get this straight: Gene Simmons is picking up trash for you?" I said, "Well, those girls are going to have a fun-filled weekend by themselves, because I can't do that." And he said, "What are you going to do?" I said, "I'm going to let them keep whatever little dignity they have—" 

 DOOR: Um, that's exactly what we would've done, too. We think.  

Yambar: "—because they're probably going to forget about this in three more steps. I'm not calling them." He said, "Man, you sure love your wife!" I said, "I have to be honest with you: my love for my wife has absolutely nothing to do with my decision. It's my love for those girls that prevents me from looking at them as, and treating them as, objects. How do I exhibit Christian love while I'm abusing their bodies? Besides, later on they're going to find out—somewhere, somehow—that I was a Christian, and what's that going to say to them? I'd be destroying anything that God wants to do with them. I'm not going to be responsible for that."   

DOOR: As fans of Jimmy Swaggart, we're very impressed.   

Yambar: I'm not some great saint or anything, but I've had to come up to the line so many times, and I know that once I get into the pool, I'm going to have to swim around with Dr. Frank N. Furter.   DOOR: Uh, our Amish readers might not know who— 

 Yambar: Dr. Frank N. Furter is the "sweet transvestite from trans-sexual Transylvania" in The Rocky Horror Picture Show.   

DOOR: —  

Yambar: —  

DOOR: Some Christian parents would probably consider the nature of some of your comic scripts too "worldly" for their kids.   

Yambar: First, 90 percent of comics today are not being read by children. Second, I don't create my work to make points with Christians. Too many Christians are so uptight they wouldn't recognize a good joke if it bit them in the (hiney). We've got too many people in the Body of Christ who are socially unable to get beyond the imposed rule books and mental boxes designed by their church-ghetto leadership.  

 DOOR: Please feel free to say what's really on your mind.  

Yambar: You'd be surprised how many people are not practical in their understanding that Jesus—the heartand mind of the Father—came to live here in a physical form just like us. They don't get it.  They've turned Him into some mythological, effeminate Thor character. I mean, I've never seen any Jew that looked like the paintings of Christ that we have here.   

DOOR: Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley certainly don't. 

 Yambar: One of the greatest images I ever saw painted of Christ was issued by Larry Flynt. It presented a traditional Jesus laughing as if He had just heard a good joke. God bless Larry Flynt for that!   

DOOR: Uh, we somehow missed that issue of Hustler.  

Yambar: I did too, but it's in the movie The People Vs. Larry Flynt. Anyway, there's a lot of joy missing in today's modern church world. When my job mandates that I make people laugh, there are no sacred cows. I make burgers. I believe in the sobriety and sacredness of the Gospel, but I also celebrate the moment that I live in, too.  

DOOR: A lot of Christians would be uncomfortable immersing themselves in pop culture to the extent that you have. 

 Yambar: We are in the world and not of it. Pop culture is shallow and continually changing, and coolness and fashion are uncatchable demons, but you can focus on strengthening the things the really matter, the things that will remain when this outhouse goes up in flames, the things important to our heavenly Father. That's what will keep us from being swallowed by our culture. Ironically, these are the same things that will make us able to impact it and make it come alive.  

 DOOR: In the postscript to Suicide Blonde, you say that you read "40-plus non-comic books a year." Can you identify three that have significantly affected the way you look at the world?  

Yambar: More Evidence That Demands a Verdict by Josh McDowell, On the Road by Jack Kerouac, and Lynch on Lynch.  

DOOR: Is Lynch on Lynch more pornography or a chronicle of racist hangings in the Deep South?  Yambar: Uh, that's by David Lynch, the director. He's just basically talking about himself. I find him to be absolutely fascinating. He deals with truth but from the dark side.  

DOOR: Do tell.  

Yambar: Sometimes, I think that you have to fire a blank gun in church in order to wake some people up. There has to be some sort of device or mannerism used in order to hook somebody, and not just tap them on the shoulder but take them by both sides of their face and aim their attention. David Lynch's films have a tendency to do that.  

 DOOR: What made you opt for Christ back in the '70s?   

Yambar: When I was younger, I was on a quest for truth—Absolute Truth: who, what where, when, how, why, and how much. I was raised Catholic but grew disenchanted early because everything was written off as either 1.) "That's just the way we've always done things, so you're just going to have to accept it" or 2.) "It's a mystery of the Church." I got so fed up hearing that jive that I once told a priest that he should consider hiring Nancy Drew or the Hardy Boys so they could get to the bottom of all of this mystery mess.   

DOOR: The Hardy Boys? Nancy Drew?  

Yambar: I went on to study Buddhism and Taoism, but that just turned out to be man-made philosophy. The Buddha himself even made this declaration. Socialism proved itself to be as much of a blown tool as capitalism. It's all about caste systems. Finally, a friend handed me a Bible in a parking lot, and I took it home to read it for myself. I figured that if I was going to reject something, then I'd better reject it from the source rather than from the byproduct of the source. After reading the Bible for myself, I was stunned at how much I didn't know about any of it and what a screwed-up understanding I had about who Christ really was. I gave my life to God in 1978 and have been actively looking for a way out ever since (laughs).   

DOOR: We know the feeling. 

 Yambar: But I made a pact with God that I would continue to follow Him through Christ as long as Christ stood up to every possible question, and I haven't had to go any further. But I must say that if it weren't for the reality of Jesus, I'd have left Christianity a long time ago. This generation of Christians is a real letdown.   

DOOR: We know that feeling, too.  

Yambar: It's all about self-preservation and personal gain with many of these people. Christians today are more offended by cuss words than they are about words like "hunger," "hate," and "greed."  DOOR: We ...  

Yambar: And the lack of practical Bible knowledge in the modern church is frightening to me. When I compare my Biblical understanding of Christ to the popular Western version I hear preached so often here in America, I can't help believing that there are two Christs walking the earth.   

DOOR: The "mythological effeminate Thor" Christ and—  

Yambar: The one with the dirt under his nails, no pun intended. And in the end, my money's on the one with the dirt under his nails.  

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Edison's Frankenstein in Top 10 Christian Comics You'll Never Read

(Community Comics 11/16/04) 8 -- EDISON'S FRANKENSTEIN

 

Your read that right. Edison's Frankenstein. Yeah, this is probably the least expected title for a list like this. It's a comic book based on the silent film from 1910 based on Mary Shelley's horror novel. That right there makes it a little bit strange. Now, I'll admit right now I'm a big fan of the silent movie era. I actually have a small collection of silent movies on DVD, although Edison's Frankenstein is not in it. Yet. The movie itself has an interesting story behind it. Yes, the Edison in the title is Thomas Edison. But fear not, this comic book is not just visuals taken from the movie and a reprinting of the title cards that they show to explain what's going on. The writer of the comic has taken Edison's story (which is quite different from the original movie) and expanded on it, taking this adaptation of Edison's adaptation to a whole new level.

I'll also admit that I believe the horror genre, if done correctly, creates some excellent symbols for Christianity. It's not easy, but it CAN be very powerful, and Chris Yambar skillfully does so with this comic book. Filled with powerful artwork almost puts to shame classic Bernie Wrightson (one of the most popular horror artists from comic history), this comic book is a moody, creepy look at one man's struggle to play God. The story itself has engaging characters and a strong plotline -- one which differs quite a bit from the classic novel, yet retains many of the same ideas. Somehow, through it all, Chris Yambar takes this story and extracts from it a moving message of forgiveness and redemption. (I say "extracts" because Yambar contends that all the elements he presents in his adaptation were already there, he just adapted them into another format.)

Those who are familiar with Christian comics from the past will recognize Chris Yambar's name. He's an artist/writer who has been around for a long time. His work is thought provoking and humorous, but Edison's Frankenstein is a different sort of tale for him . . . although not the last one.

The team of Chris Yambar, Thomas Edison, and Mary Shelley is a strange one, but the end result is one of the most powerful horror comics I've ever read.

Edison's Frankenstein is available from Community Comics on our ordering page.

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Creem Online: Off Register

November 2004 by Jeffrey Morgan


The Killer… Alice Cooper!

The Cool Ghoul… Rob Zombie!

The Mistress Of The Dark… Elvira!

The Two-Fisted Tightwad… Gene Simmons!

With a horrendous lineup like that, this can only be the shell-shocked, better-late-if-ever, post game wrap-up, spookshow edition of Off Register!

And when it comes to hosting horrors, everybody agrees that nobody does Halloween better than everybody’s favorite original Master Of Scaremonies, the notorious and nefarious Alice Cooper. What you may not know about the Coop, however, is his decades-spanning career as a comic book character.

Y’see, Alice’s very first comic book appearance was way back in October 1979 when he debuted as the star of Marvel Premier #50 which was a grisly graphic depiction of From The Inside, Alice’s loony bin album.

It was an excellent start, but the primitive quality of the finished product paled in comparison to the sharp stereophonics of the actual album. So Alice declined the many continuing series offers which subsequently came his way and patently waited for comic book production values to advance until they equaled those of the modern recording studio. When printing technology finally matched his evil intent in 1994, Alice released his next sinister series, the trilogy of terror known as The Last Temptation. Once again published by Marvel and based on the haunting album of the same name, this high quality three part graphic novel was illustrated by Michael Zulli and written by Neil Gaiman.

When I ran into Alice earlier this month during his current hard rocking Eyes Of Alice Cooper world tour, I asked him if he still thought that one of the major benefits of being a comic book character for so long was the increased level of physical fitness.

"Absolutely! I’ve always said that the best thing about being a Marvel comic book character is that they give you great abs," Alice replied, pausing to hit a classic Charles Atlas bodybuilding pose. "And you don’t have to work out to get them; they just draw in great abs. In fact, they give you great abs and great shoulders. You can’t lose!"

Well, you can thank Stan Lee and the late Jack Kirby for that.

"If you have Stan Lee do it, you’ll be fine," Alice agreed. "You’re gonna look good!"

And since you can’t keep a bad man down, Alice is back haunting the comic book racks once again—only this time it’s not just as a character, it’s as the audacious co-author of one of the Simpsons stories in this year’s 10th annual edition of Bart Simpson’s Treehouse Of Horror, which is nothing less than Bongo Comics’ yearly four-color fright-fest.

However, even the most hardened criminal mind needs the occasional accomplice, so Alice hashed out the sinister story with able assistance of veteran Bongo Comics writer Chris Yambar, himself a journeyman journalist and pop art painter who’s best known as the creator of comic’s coolest caffeine-fuelled character, Mr. Beat.

I got to meet Chris recently at Canada’s largest comic book convention, the Canadian National Expo, and he was pleased as punch to know that the rampaging CREEM machine was back on track and better than ever. "You bet I’m glad to find out that CREEM is still up and running because I love that mag maximum! As for Alice, he was a total kick ass dear heart to work with. He displayed none of the usual dumb rock star ‘god’ attitude that I've encountered in other sundry rock star meetings in the past. Alice is very high on my cool list."

Yeah. But how does the creator of Mr. Beat end up writing for the Simpsons?

Chris leaned back in his chair and his eyes grew misty. "I first met Mr. Beat when he appeared in my drawing pad while I was drinking a triple espresso at a local coffeehouse in 1994. After surviving on coffee mugs for three years, he made his way into his own independently published comic book which was distributed throughout America and eventually around the world."

Yeah, yeah. But what about the Bongo Comics connection?

"Well, because of Mr. Beat, a few years later I got a call and an invitation from the good people over at Bongo who asked if I’d like to write for the new Bart Simpson comic they were planning to launch. I jumped at the chance!"

Yeah, yeah, yeah. All because of Mr. Beat? Are you trying to tell me that Simpsons creator Matt Groening, who owns and operates Bongo Comics, was a Mr. Beat fan?

"That’s exactly what I’m telling you!" Chris said, jumping to his feet. "It turned out that Matt and the staff were all big Mr. Beat boosters and were reading his comics right along! Now how cool is that?"

I knew it was a rhetorical question, but even a card carrying cynic like myself had to admit that it was pretty cool. However, Chris wasn’t finished rubbing it in yet. As I slunk away in jealous disgust, he yelled after me with giddy delight: "This year Mr. Beat turns 10! I’ve landed the coveted co-writing chores for Bart Simpson’s Treehouse Of Horror annual! I got to work with KISS bassist Gene Simmons and the original monster of rock himself, Alice Cooper! The book goes on sale in early October! Buy multiples! And visit Yambar!"

I pretended I didn’t hear him.

The only other thing he could have said to make things worse was if he’d told me not to have a cow, man. But at least that last rabid rant reminded me to tell you that not only is Alice in the comic book, so are Simmons and Zombie. Not to mention the most horrific horror author of them all: the infamous Anti-Alice himself, Mr. Pat Boone, who also contributes his own spooky Simpsons story.

But Alice Cooper is so endemic in today’s popular culture that he also appears in other comic books from time to time in other faintly disguised guises. One prime example is Alice’s recent unauthorized appearance by parody proxy in the February 2001 issue of the Elvira comic book.

That’s right, there’s a monthly Elvira comic book, and one of its creators is Ronn Sutton, himself a long time Alice Cooper fan. I also met Ronn at the Canadian National Expo and asked him about the Coop connection. Luckily, I had my tape recorder with me:

"I’ve been penciling issues of Claypool Comics’ Elvira Mistress Of The Dark comic book for over seven years now. It’s been published for over 10 years and in over 135 issues they’ve never missed a month. The stories are mostly self-contained, non-continued strips, so they’re easily accessible to new readers. It’s a comic that draws upon Elvira’s unique sense of macabre, yet flirty humor, with no gratuitous sex or violence so it’s acceptable to readers of all ages. I draw about five or six issues per year, about 40 in total so far.

"Although I’ve been working in comics, animation and illustration for more than 30 years, my drawings of women used to be quite poor. For a long time my drawings of women would look like men with breasts and long hair. While working on the animated TV series Savage Dragon—based on Erik Larsen’s Image comic book of the same name—I ended up drawing a lot of sequences featuring She Dragon and suddenly my portrayal of females got noticeably better. So much so that afterwards all the assignments I was offered were to draw female characters like Draculina, Luxura, and La Femme Vamprique—most of whom were lesbian vampires for some strange reason.

"The Elvira comic book appealed to me, however, so I submitted samples of my artwork to Claypool editor Richard Howell."

Yeah, yeah, yeah. But what about the Coop?

"Well, I was a big Alice Cooper fan in the early Seventies, and saw him perform a number of times with the original Alice Cooper Group. In fact, I still have my ticket stub from his September 2 1972 show at Varsity Arena in Toronto. So I was pretty pleased when we incorporated a character named Malice Spooker into the storyline of issue #94 called ‘Goth Sides Now!’ In it, Elvira finds herself performing in Spooker’s stage show as a virgin sacrifice.

"Oddly enough, the story that I’m currently drawing is called ‘This Is Vinyl Crap!’ in which Malice Spooker makes his second appearance. The issue will be published early 2005 and is scripted by my partner, Janet Hetherington."

I mentioned to Ronn that Matt Groening personally supervised Bongo Comics and wondered if Elvira exercised the same control.

"The entire comic series is overseen by Elvira herself, Cassandra Peterson. All of the storylines are personally approved by her and her company Queen ‘B’ Productions, and each finished comic has to be approved by her prior to its publication. So Elvira has a very hands-on involvement. Also, every issue has a photo cover, and each photo is selected by Ms. Peterson."

At this point I mercifully ran out of tape. Thanking Ronn, I beat a hasty retreat, but he wasn’t finished with me either. "By the way," he shouted out, "there’s a good overview of my comics, illustration and animation career available for viewing on my website at http://www.ronnsutton.com!"

I pretended I didn’t hear him.

So there you have the scary scoop on what all the hip hobgoblins were reading this Halloween. And any trick or treaters who plan on knocking on my door next year asking me to plug their website in this column can eat my shorts. 

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Christian comic summit drawn into debate on faith

Yambar at Christian Comic Creators Summit in Elgin, Il - Chicago Sun Times 4/9/04 The Dude Abides10 July 2004

 

Pretty much everything I know about comic book conventions I've learned from "Chasing Amy."

So I was fairly stunned to encounter a deep, theological discussion about the nature of faith and culture at my very first visit to a comic "summit."

To be fair, it was the inaugural Christian Comic Creators Summit, a gathering of 14 comic book authors and artists in a lounge at Judson College in Elgin. Not exactly the massive Wizard World or Comic-Con conventions where thousands of enthusiasts pack arenas to debate the finer points of Peter Parker vs. Spider-Man.

Best. Comic. Ever.

The Christian comic creators I met were dealing with something more fundamental. More transcendent.

More Jesus-vs.-Spider-Man.

Among the Christian comic creators were professionals who have penned their own comics for years, amateurs just starting out, and one peculiarity: a Christian who writes for secular comics.

Since 2000, Chris Yambar, a prolific comic writer, pop artist and pastor from Youngstown, Ohio, has been one of the lead writers for the Bart Simpson comic book. He also pens the cult hit Mr. Beat comic, with its eponymous beatnik hero. One of his most popular Mr. Beat stories is affectionately known as "Coffee with Jesus."

Most of the other Christian comics have created superheroes with names like Mr. Christian, The Armor-Bearer and The Cardinal. And most of the Christian comic book story lines involve time-honored battles of good against evil, fought with the power of the cross -- sometimes literally.

Yambar, who bears an eerie resemblance to the Simpsons character Comic Book Guy with short-cropped hair instead of the ponytail, works his Christian message into his comic in a more subtle way.

"Kind of like your favorite cereal," Yambar explained. "Sometimes there's a cartoon character on the box, sometimes there's a cartoon character in the box.

"Sometimes it's just funny," he said of his Simpson comic. "And sometimes there's a free prize inside." He was, I believe, referring to Jesus and not a secret decoder ring.

During his presentation on the first day of the summit, Yambar and his irreverence ruffled feathers.

"I come from a very different philosophy of comics. I take what's called the missionary position," he said, waiting for the laugh, which never arrived.

"I'm an infiltrator.... When you go into a culture, you become a part of the culture. You do not remain an outsider in the culture. You learn their ways, you know what they eat, you know where they live, you know how to speak to them, you learn their language.

"I don't believe in separating the sacred from the secular. I think that breeds schizophrenic behavior," he said.

Jesus, after all, was a carpenter for the better part of 30 years before he got around to turning water into wine.

Yambar's reasoning is a classic paradigm in Christian theology called "Christ of culture." It's one of five that famed theologian Richard Niebuhr described in 1959 to explain the tension between Christianity and culture.

Christ of culture says, basically, that Jesus was part of culture when he walked the Earth, so Christianity should actively engage culture. Another paradigm -- Christ against culture --describes efforts to isolate Christianity from culture and its evils to keep it holy. Then there is Christ and culture in paradox, which finds balance in the friction between Christ and culture.

Pretty heady stuff. But it's exactly what was being played out at the fledgling comic summit.

Despite the lukewarm reception, Yambar continued with vigor.

"People talk about Christian comics. I'd like to see more Christians in comics. You say, 'There aren't enough good comics out there.' You know why? Christians refuse to get involved in their industry. Everyone wants to work from an outside position," he said, pantomiming water swirling while making flushing noises. "Let it go. Put on a new mind. Get involved in your culture. Get involved in your people, face first. Make it happen. Earn the right to be heard.

"Don't produce a book and say, 'Nobody's paying attention to my book!' Maybe your book stinks. Maybe you're not marketing it right. Maybe you're taking yourself out of the market before your book is even produced because you want to -- Oooh! -- be separate and be holier."

Amen, brother.

D.R. Perry, 32, is a Chicago cop who writes and draws a new up-market comic called War in Paradise, about the fall of Lucifer. It looks a lot like something you might find in Marvel or DC comics rather than on the racks of a Christian bookstore.

"Most Christian books are by Christians for Christians," said Perry, 32, who is shopping his comic to several publishers. "What I'm doing is creating books by Christians for everybody that have the look that the secular community demands but the content to please the Christian community."

Christ and culture in paradox.

He wants to jump-start a Christian comics industry that can truly compete with the secular market.

"There are a lot of Christians in the secular market who work for Marvel and DC who are friends of mine. Yet, they can't afford to pursue Christian comics because they don't pay the bills. I'm trying to start a house that has the same quality, the same financial backing, so that this popular Christian talent in the secular market can come over and do Christian comics that aren't boring," he said.

That would be refreshing. So much of what is marketed as "Christian" (read: Safe for Christians) -- be it music, art or literature -- is at best mediocre artistically.

"Let people in on the party. Hello!" Yambar shouted at his fellow Christian artists. "Get Jesus up off the mantelpiece and let him run around the yard!"

That led to the following exchange between Yambar and Sherwin Schwartzrock, 33, of Minnesota, author of the Anointed series of Christian comic books and arguably the most successful of present-day Christian comic creators.

Schwartzrock: "Obviously based on your theory that we should be in the world...."

Yambar: "Theory? . . . That's no theory. That's a lifestyle."

Schwartzrock: "Your execution of your theory. What do you want to do here?"

Yambar: "You tell me what you want to write, and I'll give you the best story you've ever read."

I almost ducked, expecting spirited chest-thumping and Bible-tossing to begin.

Torrence King, 30, of South Holland and his partner, Dwayne McNutt, 39, produce Christian Superheroes and Christian Powers Society comics, featuring the Mr. Christian and Armor-Bearer characters. They're hardly blockbusters -- selling a couple hundred copies a year -- but that's not the point, King said.

"There is a difference with measuring success. You can have success with a million copies sold. And you can have success with one copy sold to a child who needed to read it who was about to commit suicide," King said.

"What you're presenting us is cool and what you're doing, that's where you're going," he told Yambar. "But there are others who are up and coming that might follow a different path."

Yambar agreed, to a point.

"That's right. And they should follow the path that is designed for them as an individual," he said. "What I'm saying is get in tune with your scout master so you don't go walking through the poison sumac and end up blaming him for it."

So much for preaching to the choir.

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SUICIDE BLONDE AWARDED BEST COMIC WRITING OF 2003

BY CINESCAPE MAGAZINE.

When Chris and artist George Broderick, Jr., began collaborating on SUICIDE BLONDE in the pages of COMIC LIBRARY INTERNATIONAL #7 - BIG SPACE COMICS in 2001, they had no idea that it would be such a sci-fi cult favorite among fans of the genre or that a mere two years later CINESCAPE MAGAZINE would be awarding it honors as the BEST WRITTEN COMIC OF 2003! The magazine originally announced the win via an e-mail press release during the Summer, but made it more than official in issue # 74 when it published photos and a Q&A with Chris and the other winners of its annual contest.

“I was surprised to win CINESCAPE MAGAZINE’s award for the BEST COMIC WRITER OF 2003 , but I wasn’t surprised that it was with SUICIDE BLONDE,” Yambar stated. “George and I put a lot of thought and creative sweat into this title. The project was extremely personal for us and I think that it shows.

 I’m glad that our efforts were taken more seriously than most of the bad/good girl comics out there today. Rather than be exploitive, George and I set out to create a character that was just as intelligent and individually empowered as she was beautiful to look at. We’ve had a flood of positive response to the character from female readers who are glad to see the direction of the series. Readers are catching a lot of the social and political commentary of SUICIDE BLONDE as well. I’m glad that some saw beyond the yummy chocolate coating and got to the delicious free prizes hidden inside. That alone was prize enough.”

Chris and George were further honored for their efforts by having SUICIDE BLONDE act as the official convention shirt mascot of the 2003 Mid-Ohio-Con where the two debuted the second half of the series to a very enthusiastic convention crowd. 

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Suicide Watch - Yambar & Broderick, Jr. On The Blonde.

(The Bill Baker Interview )

 *This two-part  interview originally appeared in the pages of 'The Collected Suicide Blonde' published by Comic Library International / Airwave Comics.


For just about two decades now, George Broderick has worked tirelessly in the trenches of the four color world of comics, turning out an astonishing array of stories, characters and literally a small library of material encompassing just about every type of genre imaginable. And throughout that time readers have known that, when George Broderick puts his name on a book, whether it's a tale featuring one of his own creations or one co-created with the likes of Chris Yambar, they can expect to be entertained by a master of the craft.

Bill Baker: How'd you get involved with this project, and what about it made you want to work on it?

George Broderick: Chris Yambar and I had been working on another title together (El Mucho Grande) and were happy with the collaborative energy we were generating and wanted to do more together. So we were looking around at his and my sketchbooks, trying to find something, but nothing leaped out at us as a "must do" joint project. Then, out of the blue--or, more accurately, his visit that year to the San Diego Comic Con--Chris came to me with this idea for a science fiction project where chocolate was an outlawed substance and the heroine of the strip "would kill for chocolate", as the old saying goes. I laughed...then, I started thinking about it. I liked the idea of the strong female lead and, too, I'd been looking to do something a bit edgier than my current "animated kids comics" style, and to flex my illustrator's muscles a bit, so I was on board!

BB: What were some of your major concerns going in, as an artist and storyteller? And were there any particularly troublesome aspects which you had to deal with, either design - or storytelling-wise?

GB: There's this annoying rumor circulating about me that, given enough time, I can draw anything, so guys like Chris feel no remorse by throwing in every visual thing--including the futuristic kitchen sink. So not only did I have to contend myself with creating an advertisement-driven dystopian future from whole cloth, I had to deal with giant space armadas, floating brains and huge robots that resembled Tony The Tiger and The Pillsbury Dough Boy--all without crossing the parody/copyright infringement line--as well!

BB: So how did you go about creating that future’s landscape, making it believable while maintaining that sense of the fantastic and the strangely familiar?

GB: I've always liked the idea of a future like in The Jetsons or The Legion of Super Heroes, where we've used up all the horizontal space available so humanity had to ascend vertically, creating very tall buildings which are sort of organic and rounded off to avoid wind shear--almost phallic looking, if you will. But I also realized that there would almost certainly have to be an underbelly to such a massive construct, where the poor and downtrodden would most certainly have to go. This would be the future version of the inner city, but it would be lower city. In fact, although it's never shown in the art and not in the script, in my mind The Adverczars have erected impenetrable Plexiglas barriers on the 110th floor of every building to prevent the dregs from ascending too far into "polite society", creating a literal glass ceiling! Plus, the lucky ones in the lower depths who could even get their hands on hover cars--yes, my future will have hover cars, unlike the bogus real 21st century we live in--would have altitude dampers installed so they couldn't fly too high. It's depressing, really, and that stuff isn't shown in the story. It's just mental nuts and bolts that make the story work for me.

BB: Is the designing of the characters a largely conscious process for you? Or do you have a real and conscious sense of feeling your way into the look, the physical attitude, of these imaginary folks?

GB: When I started to design Suicide Blonde, my uppermost thought was "I don't want to create Legion of Super Hero-looking costumes". I was looking for some ensemble that would be functional, kinda rough and tumble, and, in keeping with the underlying "character spokesmodel" aspect of the characters, something flashy, readily identifiable, chic...and something that made her look like a bad @$$. So I started with the bicycling outfit with the circular chest cutout--something for the kiddies!--added the padded bomber jacket and the moon boots, and Voila!

Platinum and Temple's outfits are just variations on Su's. Looking back on it, these outfits are something that Hollywood could translate exactly as is to the big screen with no alterations. They're solid designs...go figure!
This project, and Chris will back me up on this, seemed to be "creating" itself from the get-go, so I'm still not sure if I created Suicide Blonde's look or if she already existed somewhere and just "allowed" me to draw her.

BB: Are there any general or governing principles you tend to follow when conjuring up comic characters? How might those have asserted themselves in the case of Suicide Blonde?

GB: Several years ago, when my daughter, Megan, was five or six, I made the conscious decision to never do comics that I couldn't show to a five or six year old. That credo extended to Suicide Blonde in that, even though
this was considered a "mature readers" title due to its use of sophisticated themes and graphic violence, all of which is mostly implied and off panel, I wouldn't design her as the typical girl-with-guns, big-breasted, thong-wearing bimbo which is so prevalent in comics today--an arena where titillation, it seems, is the overriding motivation. I wanted a strong female lead that was drop dead gorgeous but not "slutty" about it, someone that girls could identify with in an uplifting, empowering way.

BB: Above you note that the relative ease with which you designed of these characters was unusual for you. What’s that design phase like for you typically, then? I ask, because all of your various character designs seem so … effortless … to me.

GB: Ha! If by effortless you mean lots of crumpled up paper or scratched out drawings and personal name calling then, yeah, "it's effortless".

Generally, I try to decide three things when I design a character. First, what's the overriding motivation of the character? Second, how can I break that motivation down to simple-to-understand iconic images, and, third, will it be fun and easy for me to draw over and over again. I'm really quite lazy with my designs. I don't want an elaborate design to bog me down and hinder my storytelling. This is something that I stress to my kids in my cartooning classes, as well. They all want to draw these wildly cluttered figures in a Spawn motif and I tell them, "Yeah, it's cool looking, all right. But, you know you'll have to draw those stupid chains and spikes and claws and whatever every time." I'd much rather whip out 20 or 30 drawings of something that looks like Snoopy than one "cool" Spawn pin-up.

BB: How important is serendipity to this whole process? Does it play a large part, or do you prefer to have it all down and well planned to eliminate any chance of mistakes?

GB: On Suicide Blonde, serendipity was our watchword! Over half of the main elements just sort of "created" themselves, and it all seemed to work out just fine. I had this cute, little robot character just lying around in my files for a few years, doing nothing. So, when the time came, he became BKT. When the characters of Platinum Blonde and Temple Grey came at me out of nowhere, I made Temple black because there was no good, compelling reason for him not to be. That wasn't conscious on either of our parts-- in fact, Chris never saw his design until the first pages with Temple in were already drawn--and I've gotten several positive comments on the matter-of-fact aspects of the inter-racial relationships being natural and not there only for shock value.

BB: Which then begs the question of how you made their relationship seem so natural, so effortless and easy in the visual sense? Did you have to consciously work on that aspect of the “acting”, or did it just seem to happen naturally?

GB: I dunno...it sort of made complete sense that they all had some sort of cool "weapon". But, from an advertising standpoint, I thought they should be similar, yet different. Like Snap, Crackle and Pop; all three are pixies and all three are hawking cereal, but you can tell them apart. Since Su already had BKT, I gave Temple the jet pack and neat looking staff, and Platinum, who I always saw as the "bad ass" of the trio, just had a blaster and her fists. She could fly on her own power. Their uniforms were just variations on a theme.

As for staging, the name of the book is Suicide Blonde, so in any scene with two or three of them, she generally was the "featured" player. Platinum always has the "super hero" pose--a "ready for action" stance--while Temple, as the schemer...although, I never knew how scheming until I actually had the "Pitch Black" script pages in my hand ready to draw them...always stood kind of aloof and back from the women.

BB: I was curious how important the physical bearing of the characters, what I just referred to as “acting” is to you, in general and during specific scenes, as a storyteller? Again, is this something that occupies a lot of thought and energy for you, or does it just seem to flow naturally from your pencil and pen onto the page with little or no difficulty?

GB: Some thought goes into it, probably as much as I think about anything I draw. I'm quite instinctual about my art; if it looks good, keep it. But it's really just a way to help me, in my mind, to stage a scene. For instance, when they're battling the alien pirate hordes, Su was generally shown fighting fairly and with some compassion; she only killed when there was no other option or the alien was much bigger than her--and armed with huge teeth! Temple and Platinum were usually drawn much more savagely, tearing into anything that moved. Temple was always kind of smirking--he really enjoyed the blood bath--while Platinum was mostly focused on the task at hand. She was like a force of nature, like a tornado sweeping through a small town. It doesn't care whether it levels the orphanage or the town brothel; its function is to get from point "A" to point "B" as quickly as possible, causing as much damage to the surroundings as it can. That's our Platinum. These were all just visual nuances, though, and any other "subtleties" in their characters were Chris' responsibility.

BB: How about the page design itself? As an artist who's primary job isn't necessarily so much creating pretty pictures filled with pretty people, but rather visually telling a story, how important is the overall look and "movement" of the pages--be it panel to panel, or from page to page--to you?

GB: I've never been a fan of the basic "four to six" panel grid that Jack Kirby used to such great effect. I got much more of a kick out of some of the angular "cascading down the page" layouts that Nick Cardy was using on the Silver Age Aquaman series. I want my pages to move the readers along in such a way that they not only feel compelled to turn the page, but they've already done it by the time they become aware of it! Plus, Chris' background as a pop artist allows him to craft stories that defer to the art in big ways. You'll rarely read a Yambar-written story that has more than five panels per page--he actually prefers three or four panels per, as opposed to DC and Marvel, which routinely uses six to eight panels per page. Go ahead, count 'em. I'll wait...

See? More room for the artist--in this case, me--to flex in a Yambar story..!

BB: Now does all that mean that you've approached the page like a drill sergeant, very regimented and precise, or has chance discover and even surprise played a part in creating the pages of Suicide Blonde?

GB: It's somewhat of a mixture. Sometimes the story demands a straight grid and others, I sit there staring at a blank board and saying to myself "Hmm...think I'll do these ones leaning to the left..." Ultimately, it's all about what looks best in the end and tells the story most clearly!

BB: Well, how do you go about creating a comic page usually, and how might that have differed from your work on Suicide Blonde, if at all?

GB: My layout sense is pretty ingrained into my psyche, so my "serious" Suicide Blonde work follows pretty much the same layout specs as my "big foot" cartoony stuff; only the drawing style itself tends to shift from project to project.

I'm a force of nature, Bill! A force of nature, I say!

BB: Well, does this particular force of nature start doing the visual work while it’s reading the script the first time, perhaps making notes or even thumbnails in the margins or on another sheet of paper, or do you fully absorb a script before you begin to set down the visuals? Also, I was wondering if your approach to the page change much when you’re the one creating everything, from the script to the finished artwork?

GB: I usually find a quiet place and read the script through, mentally "visualizing" what I think the scene will look like first, just like most people do with a good book, but it plays out cinematically in my head. Then I sit down and start to pace it out statically for the comic page. Sometimes I'll change the angles, or use close-ups where scenes were panoramic in my head, but, generally speaking, it pretty much looks on paper like I've visualized it in my head. I do only the rare, occasional thumbnail. That way lies madness! Too many thumbnails would have me redrawing pages three, four, five times--which, as an artist, never looks quite right to me, so I could redo stuff all day. And then nothing would ever get done! I have to take a hard line with the art; just do it and move on. Noodling and fussing are my arch foes! I tend to take that stance whether I'm writing the script, or Chris or someone else is writing it.

BB: Do you tend to pencil the entire story and then hit the inks, or do  you basically finish the work on one page before going on to the next?

GB: Lots of times, I'm just penciling and someone like Ken Wheaton is doing the inks, so I don't really care. But, when I'm doing it all, pencils and inks, I like to finish a page completely before moving on to the next--except when I don't! Yipes! How very John Kerry of me!

Basically, it's whatever catches my fancy on any given day, and what'll move the project forward.

BB: What kind of tools – pencils, pens, brushes, inks, etc. -- are you using these days, and how might they differ from what you’ve used in the past? Also, what about each of these make them your preferred tools of your trade?

GB: I do all my penciling with a technical pencil filled with non-photo blue leads. My inking is a mixture of a Windsor Newton #3 sable Scepter Gold brush, a Pentel Stradia plastic nib refillable pen, and the good ol' Sanford sharpie. For the gray tones--since you can't find Zip-A-Tone anywhere these days except in Japan--I do it all in Photoshop. That's my comfort zone, and I feel like I have the most control with these tools. Unlike the late TV painter, Bob Ross, I detest "happy little accidents". That said, however, I'd use a Sherwood Williams house paint roller if it'd do the job I need done on a particular page. I'm...uh...a conservative rebel!

BB: How about paper? Do you have a certain weight and tooth [i.e. surface texture] of paper you prefer, or do you just use what’s on hand? And, again, have your preferences changed over the years, and what is it about those particular weights and surfaces that make it work for you?

GB: Bristol board, 100 pound, vellum finish. I can get pads of fifteen sheets for about seven bucks at a local craft store. They're 14 X 17 inches instead of the industry standard 11 X 17 inches, so I just cut off the extra three inches and save those scraps for sketching! I may be a conservative rebel, but I'm a frugal little conservative rebel! Plus, the unlined stuff lets me draw my own panel and page borders and play with the layouts more that those pre-lined boards. I don't like other people thinking for me--no offense Blue-Line Pro! The big change between this paper and what I used as a kid is that, back in the day, I used whatever 8 1/2 X 11 bond paper my grandmother brought me home from her cleaning lady job in a downtown office building. Generally the Bristol works much better, although I do sorta miss the law office letterheads on the back of each page, though...

BB: What advice might you have for anyone who's trying to become a good, or better, artist?

GB: Like I'm always telling my kids in my cartooning classes, draw draw draw! And don't just copy that manga crap! Take figure drawing classes, learn to draw clothing and folds, always remember that everything is affected by gravity...and that anyone can make The Hulk thumpin' on The Thing look exciting, but what about a businessman sitting on a couch talking on the phone? Sometimes you have to draw boring stuff--attack it, subdue it, and become its master! Also, I always tell them the "unwritten rules" of comics: "Robots and dinosaurs are cool. Penguins and monkeys are funny."

BB: What do you get, be it personally or professionally, from creating comics and art? How about Suicide Blonde? What did this particular project do for you?

GB: I, like many of my peers, have this insidious, recessive mutant gene that kicks in around nine years of age which forces me to draw comics. It's all I can do, it's all I WANT to do. Intellectually, I know I could make way more money--way, way more--doing something else, but this is who I am. Birds must fly, fish must swim, George must draw. That's what I get personally. Professionally, I usually get stuck with the check...

As for Suicide Blonde, it gave me a chance to stretch not only my range as an artist, but people's pigeonhole perception of me as "just a funny cartoon artist". There's some meat, some darkness to Suicide Blonde that you usually don't see in my work, but it still maintains my upbeat sensibility and philosophy of life in many ways, I think.

BB: What do you hope readers get from your work on Suicide Blonde, specifically, and from your work, generally?

GB: If, twenty years down the line, some thirty-something comes up to me in my dotage at a con and says "Wow! That such and such book you did when I was ten really affected me," or, "It changed my life," or better still, "I was going through a bad time and it made me smile!" then, young Jedi, my work here will have been done. Just think how cool will that would be...

====

Over the course of the past ten years, Chris Yambar, both on his own and in tandem with others, has created a body of work that many modern comic creators would take a lifetime to produce. Even more significantly, the sheer number of new properties and characters, as well as the depth and breadth of genres and ideas explored within the confines of that library, are a real testament to the fecund imagination and wide-ranging interests of this indefatigable Pop Artist.

At the end of the last millennium, Yambar demanded of George Broderick, "Are we men, or are we machines?" As evidenced by the veritable cyclone of activity and numerous projects which have surrounded them since that time, the answer would appear to be the latter. Still, even if Yambar has seemingly succumbed to that new-fangled cybernetic revolution, the truth of the matter is that there's a great deal of Spirit--and an even greater amount of Heart--inhabiting and guiding this particular comic book-making machine.

Bill Baker: OK, who's this blonde mentioned in the title, and why is she so upset? I mean, I thought blondes had more fun, not stress!

Chris Yambar: The world of Suicide Blonde is a paranoid Fifth Avenuemicro-manager's dream come true. The entire planet is run by big business  Adverczars who control every aspect of its citizen's lives. It's like George Orwell's novel 1984, only amplified. Everything is manipulated and there are always plans within plans. Nothing is as it seems.

Suicide Blonde is the Adverczar's ultimate bi-product and their public face to all who oppose their reach of power in the universe. She is very aware that her every move is being watched by the entire general population and that she has been bred to be their greatest living symbol of propaganda. A heroine to be admired, feared, and followed. She's completely awake about being used, but totally unaware as to exactly how much of a pawn that she really is in the grand scheme of things. She's also hopelessly addicted to the one substance they've most outlawed--chocolate--and wants to lead a revolution against the very intrusive government that she serves. To be caught is to be killed as a traitor. That's a lot of pressure to be under.

BB: Where the heck did this all come from, Chris? You're known for truly original concepts and twists and mixing genres like a mad scientist, but this seems a touch different--and a lot darker in important ways--than most of your previous work. So, where did this idea arise from, and what are some of the concerns, social and otherwise, which inform it?

CY: I have an extensive background as a media spin doctor and have spent years in the advertising sector so I've seen a lot more than the average bear when it comes to "product management and public acceptance". It's a game. I've been interested in the fine art of "crowd control" since the 1970s, and am fascinated by how things are said and presented in order to gain the upper hand in relationships of every kind. It's not always just "what is being said" that is most interesting but "how it is said" and for "what unspoken reason why" it's said.

I was a real student of double speak and double negatives as a teen. I've been told that this type of stuff is exactly what gets you a gig with the CIA here in America. I've seen too many lies within lies used by governments, in advertising, in religions, and within personal relationships. The twisting of truth has become an art form. The greatest lie is always closest to the truth. I just wanted to play with what I've witnessed in a graphic novel format, and combine it with some strong statements about the power of women, personal integrity, and romantic politics.

BB: Why are you even worried about all that stuff? Let's face it, bud, you're "just" a comic writer and pop artist. Why set yourself up as a combination of Cassandra and a voice crying out in the largely fun-focused four color wilderness of comics?

CY: "Just"?! I read about 40+ non-comic books a year and study a wide range of subjects, including theological issues, auto and biographical personality profiles, art, and world history. I also watch about 100+ movies a year, including silent and foreign films. Education should never stop. I study what interests me.

A few years ago I was asked to be on a comic writers panel during a convention and a question was thrown out to us asking why comics aren't as good as they used to be. I listened as everyone gave their answers, some of which were so packed with horse crap that I felt like planting tomatoes. When it came my turn, I said that I felt that the reason why today's comics were so bad was because the writers weren't as educated as they were in the past. They have trained themselves to write within a limited box for a limited educational level and age group. This was immediately met with strong objection by some of the pros on the scene, so I figured, "What the hell!" and went after the editors as well. One writer rolled his eyes and said, "Come on, Yambar! After all, this is a medium for children, y'know. I don't have time to sit around reading all day. I've got to write for a living!"

"In life we find time to do what is most important to us," I replied. "In order to produce work of a higher standard, we've got to leave our comfort zone and reach for something beyond ourselves." That's the challenge. No one likes to be written down to. Especially children. When we do that we insult them.

BB: Do you think that particular professional you mentioned above had any real weight behind his argument, or do you view his argument as a cop out?

CY: The only weight that writer had was in the excuse department. Like I said before, "In life we find time to do what is most important to us." I stand by that.

People always seem to find an excuse for sub-par performance in this postmodern world of ours. I take blame for my failures and pride in my successes. It all rests on me. Yeah, I think that this fella is fishing for excuses and not any actual challenges to better educate and broaden his writing abilities. I think that mindset is an insult to his readers.

BB: Now wait a minute; aren't comics just for kids? Why are you trying to do something deep within a medium that's only suited to...or capable of...retelling safe versions of ancient nursery rhymes and bed time stories in the opinion of many folks, including a fairly large number of its practitioners?

CY: Comics should be produced for all audiences and educational levels. We've got enough comics about caped puberty fantasies. George and I were fed up with the industry's "big boobed broads with guns" pattern for female characters, and thought that it was pretty insulting to women in general. We wanted to create an empowered heroine with real feelings, brains, and motivational gravity. We thought, "Let's try to create something for the brain as well as the eye." I think that the reader is a whole lot smarter than most writers give them credit for. We also opted for a storyline that was more intellectual and mature readers-oriented for Suicide Blonde. Some folks were surprised to see us add a consumer warning to this project, but we did it for all the right reasons.

BB: Are you at all worried that in doing this tale meant for mature minds, you might end up alienating, offending, or--worse yet--loosing your core audience who have followed your all ages work throughout the years?

CY: Just because something is all ages in theme doesn't make it of any lesser value or seriousness. It just means that it speaks to a larger audience. My core audience is smart enough to know that, as a writer, I owe it to them and to myself to write on a variety of different ideas and topics. Sometimes that means writing humor. Sometimes it means writing sci-fi, horror, fantasy, or hard edged urban myth hero stuff. I've been told time and again that I write with a higher brow of humor. I'm thankful for that observation. Sometimes I'm trying to say something, and sometimes I'm just having fun being silly. My readers are smart enough to know the difference. I don't write from a fear based platform. I just write.

BB: Does this signal a bit of sea change regarding who you see as your audience these days? Are we going to be seeing more mature minded work from you in the future, or might this simply be an occasional detour from the main road your career has been following for the past 10 years?

CY: As a creator I'm capable of writing just about anything. And probably will. If by "mature minded" you mean dark and gloomy nihilistic work, then the answer's "No." If by "mature minded" you mean an exploration of more thought-provoking and challenging themes, then it's "Yes." I encourage readers to put on their safety belts because I'm planning on taking them for some very wild rides.

BB: Well, this brings up the question of whether comics are an appropriate format for social commentary these days. On the one hand, this isn't the same world as Robert Crumb and the rest of the politically and socially aware underground artists lived and worked in during the 60s and 70s, and the market is certainly not geared for this kind of material...unless it's dressed up in tights and capes. Why do something like this, in this particular market, at this particular time?

CY: I really love the freedom and danger of underground comics. However, I think that Crumb and his pals were merely groping around in the dark, trying to make some sense of the world and the confusion in it. I find very few solutions in the underground comix scene. Drugs, excessive boozing, irresponsible sexcapades, art for arts sake, education with no practical application...it all leads to despair and self destruction. A trip to nowhere. Asking questions is one thing. Avoiding any real answers is another.

We've got a whole section of our industry devoted to a trendy, prefabricated "Hot Topic" depression, and a disposable lifestyle experience. Today's  "alternative scene" seems pretty content to whine and be helpless. Creators today seem to focus their energies on the lowest common denominator. I just wanted to break off and attempt to say something that might get some gray matter going, while at the same time allowing people to have a good time getting there. On one hand, Suicide Blonde is a sci-fi story with some twist. On the other hand, there are some free prizes inside if one cares to look for them.

BB: What are some of the advantages of putting these concerns in the language and format of comics? Does the art form itself allow you to address and explore complex ideas in a way that isn't allowed, or perhaps as easily accessed and understood, by more traditional means like the essay, short story or novel?

CY: Some points are more powerful when they are illustrated. Images and icons seem to stay in our heads longer than words sometimes. Combining words and pictures for a story like Suicide Blonde seemed like the most natural way to go.

BB: Does that imply that you, and by extension, George, might have employed--knowingly or not--some of the approaches and tools that spin doctors and advertisers use in creating their own work while making Suicide Blonde? Or am I reading way too much into your last answer?

CY: The answers are "Yes," and "No," respectively.

BB: So how did you work with George on the book? Did you give him tightly constructed scriptswhich dictated everything seen on the page, or was it a looser approach than that?

CY: I provided George with a highly detailed script that gave descriptions of everything that I saw in my head. Body language, physical perspectives, environmental design, character attitude, all of it. After George received the script for each chapter it was all up to his interpretation and layout mechanics. I had total control of the story and George had total control of the illustration. Unlike other co-created projects that we've worked on, like El Mucho Grande, this project was very segregated when it came to its construction. We had to trust each other a lot. And we did.

BB: What lead to the decision to approach creating this particular tale in the way you two did? Was this an arbitrary decision, one that seemed dictated by the nature of Suicide Blonde itself, or was it something else, perhaps a means of keeping your and George's long-running partnership fresh?

CY: George and I are always up for new creative challenges, and are always planning and working on new ideas and projects -- with and without each other's input or involvement. We just work well together and plan to continue doing so for years to come...if he doesn't snap out of it and kill me first. (Laughs)

Our flagship families are very close, so we tend to talk about anything and everything going on in the world at any given moment as it happens. We get together for holidays. We talk about politics, religion, art, current events, the Food Channel--everything! I tend to have this kind of relationship with most of the people I collaborate with. One day we share crock pot cooking secrets and the next day we're creating a fallen world where chocolate is outlawed and the chief enforcer is an addict to the very substance she's sworn to destroy. Typical. These things happen. For George and I, creating is based on what we're interested in at the moment. It's a weird but totally natural flow.

BB: I was wondering what similarities, if any, might El Mucho Grande and Suicide Blonde have that lead to guys creating them in the same manner?

CY: One is quite bigger than the other. We'll leave the size comparisons up to our readers. On a side note; can you imagine what an El Mucho Grande/Suicide Blonde love child might look like? Wow! 'Nuff Said!

BB: Did the finished pages George created present you with any real surprises? If so, what about those particular images or pages surprised you, and did those same surprises have any real effect on the final version of  your script?

CY: I was impressed from day one with his initial design for Suicide Blonde. That was all him. Very practical and exciting without being overstated. In our situation, what George designed stayed in the story. His take on the whole introduction of chocolate to Suicide Blonde was the most erotic thing that I've ever seen him produce. Very sexy in a classic sort of way. His take on the beating death of Suicide Blonde by Platinum was another surprise for me. That's a lot of blood spray!

As far as my editing anything due to George's artwork--I had to "write up" to his "possible art" before ever seeing it! I had to push the ticket and ask for the everything upfront in the script. I think that Suicide Blonde was a real breakout project for fans of his previous work. The man can do anything!

BB: Why don't we talk a bit about your general approach to creating comics? For instance, you're known as a creative dynamo, someone who can literally sit down and in five minutes have created a whole new universe filled with original characters that all have their own stories to tell. How do you know which idea has legs, and which ones might be a fun notion, and worthy of some attention, but which can't sustain a whole novel, much less a regular comic book?

CY: Ideas are free. I've had "writers block" before, but never "ideas block". The key for me is knowing what idea is worth investing time and energy into it to bring it into the hard-world. After all, we've only got so much life to live. Which idea is worth a lifetime? Purpose and point are always factors for consideration.

When it comes to humor I'm a gag man. When it comes to presenting concepts I'm a story teller. I see characters as icons first, and as images second. I'm big on motivation and love to play with themes--masked wrestlers, beatniks, cats, Tiki culture, Popes, etc. I think fast and am very spontaneous. I like to create work that will be as fresh in 20 years as it will is the first time someone encounters it. I also like to create from a mind that has no walls. Everything is possible and everything is explainable--even the unexplainable.

Certain characters demand a certain number of pages and certain formats in which they can play. If the character is strong, and developed properly, they will write their own material. I just sit back and watch. Like Dr. Frankenstein, sometimes I have to tighten a few bolts, but for most of the time I just let them rampage. Suicide Blonde wrote itself. From chapter to chapter she kept taking us in directions that we never originally thought of. We always had a solid concept, a body-vision of the tale, and an ending, but when it came to the gas peddle, Suicide Blonde did all the driving. Sometimes I'd see something in my mind while I was day dreaming. Other times I would see things in dreams. She attacked from every side.

BB: So how do you develop your ideas into tales with real meaning and impact? Is there a general methodology to how you build upon your initial idea to create a fully realized story, or is each project different in nature and approach? And how much different might it be for you to work on something humorous versus something more serious, like Suicide Blonde?

CY: I'm character-driven in that I work with a character until it has developed uniquely as its own person with a solid voice, motivation, gimmicks, character flaws, and gravity. Then, if the process is complete, I can drop the character into any situation and get a natural response and reaction. The Simpsons stories are developed the same way. When I write for Bart Simpson Comics or Radioactive Man, I just have to concentrate on the story aspect. All of the character development has already been completed. Because the characters are so solidly developed, I can take any of them and dump them into a situation, and the characters will respond to it and to
each other on their own legs. Sometimes I've had characters surprise me with their reactions.

Again, ideas and stories are free. But are they all worth telling? That depends on the strength of the character's pre-development. Too many "modern creators" want to work out and develop their characters as they go along in print--and it shows. Those stories are filled with ploddingly mindless pap that confuses and insults rather than entertains and excites. Humorous or Dead Serious--if you don't take the time to inspect and create a solid character, then it's going to show.

BB: How quickly do you move to paper to capture these fleeting creatures and their stories? Do you keep it all in your head, gestating and growing, until it's time to do the actual script, or do you compile notes and sketches and research and other hard copies of related materials until it all hits critical mass?

CY: I move to paper quickly! The sketches are always primal, and the stories are usually summed up with a handful of key words, but it's all there. Sometimes a certain artist will pop into my head for the character or project. Like, nobody could have illustrated Edison's Frankenstein 1910 except Robb Bihun! Some projects just beg for certain artists.

Then I refer back to the original idea and act it all out in my head. Some stories take minutes. Some concepts take months, or even years. I've had some characters and stories in my head for over 35 years. I'll let you know
when they start to hatch. Critical mass indeed! It is very much like having a baby. Some births are easy while others are hard labor.

Recently I was asked to lecture to some classes at the Joe Kubert School and a teacher, Doug Baron (creator of Sugar Ray Finhead), brought up the fact that I could make up a story on the spot for any character in comics. The class then asked me to do just that with a character that I hated. So, I took a few deep breaths and made up a six issue Aquaman story on the spot. When I was finished the class went wild, and Doug told me that I should submit the idea to DC Comics--which one day I probably will. Then he asked me why I disliked Aquaman, to which I replied, "He's never been written right. Nobody seems to know how to push the envelope with this character. For the most part he's the token 'water guy'. When I'm done with him, he'll be one of the most powerful characters in the DC Universe." That's just the way I approach things.

BB: Are words and concepts more important than specific images or character designs, generally, to your creative process, or do they seem to have equal weight for you?

CY: I tend to think that every aspect of the process is important. I mean, you can have the most hopped up car on the race track, but it's not going win the race without a good set of tires, some fuel , a mentally awake and seasoned driver, and a damn sharp pit crew. It's hard to separate the cart from the horse, driver, and cargo and say what section is more important than the other. Some people want to limit themselves to one part of the big picture and call themselves experts on the whole thing. It's not wrong to specialize, but it is wrong to limit the potential of the sector you're in. Remember: just because you brush your teeth in the morning it doesn't make you a dentist. You've got to put in the book work and study time in order to get the diploma. And some laughing gas. And some insurance!

BB: What would you like readers to get from Suicide Blonde? Is this project ultimately just about entertaining your audience, or do you want them to be able to get more from it than a few hours of slaps and tickles?

CY: Just because someone in a place of authority tells you that something is "true" doesn't necessarily make it so. Too many people go through life never asking the big questions or stopping to question the validity of what they believe and accept as fact. It's surprising how many in these "enlightened times" are no further along in their cognitive reasoning skills than those who lived in the dark ages. Superstition, mythology, lies--they are alive and well in this age of information and reason.

There is a tremendously important moment in the David Lynch film Blue Velvet where we see a man having a heart attack on his front lawn while his dog barks wildly at the snaking garden hose that he's dropped while falling. You'd think that this would be enough to cause the viewer to pay attention to details, but Lynch takes the need for more exact observation even further by pulling the viewer's eye deep down into the grass where there are vicious growling bugs tearing into each other. Lynch wants us to go behind the curtain and see what's really there. Hiding. The whole point of this is to set up the introduction of the evil society that exists just below the surface with Booth and his goon squad who have kidnapped a beautiful singer and are using her husband and child as leverage to control her. As the theme unfolds and we see this horror, we are amazed at how close we were to it all the time, never noticing the criminal perversion and its evil, twisted face smiling right in front of us.

Currently the American government is coming under global fire for George W. Bush's lies regarding weapons of mass destruction and the grounds for our being in Iraq. He lied to Americans, and he lied to the world. There's also a ton of big business crime being brought out into the open because some individuals are smart enough to look under the carpet rather than accept the lumps that hide under it as part of the scenery. Like I said before, the greatest lie is the one closest to the truth.

Question everything and everyone. Don't do it to become a classic paranoid. Do it so that you can protect yourself and those around you. Everything is definitely not what it seems. When you ask the right questions, you reveal the secrets of agenda! I'm not a die-hard conspiracy nut, but I am smart enough to examine the motivation of those who attempt to lead me. Hey, it's my life after all. Yours too!

William S. Burroughs had it right when he said that, "Control is controlled by it's need to control." Rugged individualism - that's the key to survival on all levels.

BB: Does that notion apply to all of your work? Is there anything you'd like folks to get from your work, generally, aside from pure unadulterated entertainment?

CY: Sometimes there's a free prize inside and sometimes there isn't. I write for the moment. You get what I get. Matt Groening said he liked my writing because it was "funny and subversive". I can live with that.

BB: And what about Chris Yambar? What do you get, personally and professionally, from doing this kind of work? Besides those glorious champagne nights and caviar dreams, of course.

CY: Satisfaction. I just want to produce honest work and a lot of it. I believe in leaving clues as much as I believe in spelling it all out. I try to be sensitive to the audience as well as to the season. I sleep well at night knowing that I did my best for the day.

BB: Is there anything else you'd like to add before I let you go?
CY Make sure that you visit www.yambar.com everyday--and buy multiples! Thanks!

======

A veteran comics journalist, over the course of the past decade Bill Baker has contributed interviews and feature stories, reviews and news reportage to various magazines, including Cinefantastique/CFQ, Comic Book Marketplace, International Studio, Sketch and Tripwire. During that same period, Bill also served as an interviewer and reporter for a number of websites, including www.ComicBookResources.com and www.WizardWorld.com. These days, when he's not working on his latest interview book, Bill serves as the host of "Baker's Dozen" for www.WorldFamousComics.com.

Bill currently lives and works in the wilds of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan for some unknown and quite likely complicated reason. You can learn more about Bill's activities, past and present, by visiting his blog at http://specfric.blogspot.com and his professional website at www.BloodintheGutters.com.
 

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Bihun On Edison's Frankenstein 1910

(The Bill Baker Interview. Part Two. 8/20/03)

 

 Whether you're familiar with his past comic book endeavors or just a fan of film, music or television there's a really good chance that you've seen his work. In fact, it's highly likely you've seen the final results of his behind-the-scenes work literally countless times and not realized it. Hopefully, all that will change when Comics Library International releases the first comic book adaptation of the historic film Edison's Frankenstein in two months, just before Halloween.

In the meantime, here's your chance to meet Robb Bihun [sounds like "buyin'"], an artist who isn't just good, but truly is...


Another Frightening Talent
Robb Bihun on Edison's Frankenstein 1910


Bill Baker: What's your basic background? Where did you grow up, how did you get interested in making art, and where did you get your training?

Robb Bihun: I was born and raised in northern Ohio in an area called Catawba Island, [which is located] about 15 miles west of Cedar Point. I'm sure most comic artists will tell you, and I'm no different, I've been drawing for as long as I can remember. I think it all started with drawing dinosaurs, then I discovered comic books, monster movies -- I'm a big Harryhausen fan -- and all that other good stuff! It all inspired me to draw. A couple years after high school I attended and graduated from the Joe Kubert School.

BB: For those readers who might think they don't know your work, could you name a few of the more noteworthy film and commercial projects you've been associated with?

RB: I've worked on [such films as] The X-Files, Lost in Space, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Ghost and the Darkness, Inspector Gadget, Blown Away, Judgment Night, and Moll Flanders, just to name some films. As for commercials, I've done some of the Jerry Seinfeld American Express spots, and all the Blue Man Group Intel stuff. I've actually done over a thousand or more TV spots for Ford, McDonalds, 7-UP, Pepsi, Dodge, Chevy, AT&T, all the beer brands -- I've done a handful of Super Bowl ones -- the list goes on and on.

I've also done a few music videos for artists such as Dave Matthews, David Gray, and Travis Tritt. The most memorable being Michael Jackson's Black or White.

BB: How did you end up doing storyboards? And was that your original career choice, or did you just seem to find your feet on that path and followed it?

RB: I was always aware of storyboards since seeing Star Wars, and thought it might be cool to do, being a movie fan. But my first love was always comic books and that's why I went to the Kubert school. After my first year of schooling, my love for movies took over and upon graduating, I packed up my car and moved to L.A. to get into the business. After a very lucky break -- probably too long of a story for this article -- I began my career. I've been in it now for thirteen years.

BB: Have you done much comics work in the past, or is this your first major project in the field?

RB: This is my first major project. I did self-publish my own comic book about 8-10 years ago called The Hoon, but that's about it.

BB: Well, how did you get involved with Edison's Frankenstein 1910, and what were some of the factors that convinced you to do it?

RB: I had a few Hoon short stories published in Chris Yambar and George Broderick's CLI [Comics Library International] anthology book recently, so Chris was familiar with my style and asked me to do it. I jumped at the chance. These opportunities, to be a part of something this historical, don't present themselves everyday.

BB: What kind of challenges, hurdles or special concerns did this adaptation present you with as an artist? I ask, because this strikes me as a bit of a "reverse engineering" situation for you.

RB: Well the last thing you want to do is fool with someone else's vision, so, first off, I wanted to retain as much of that as possible. As I looked at it that way, I realized that the way it was shot made my job much easier.

The film was shot like a stage play, a wide, front angle for every scene. My film background immediately told me, o.k., these are the "masters" of the scene, or the wide establishing shot. As long as I edit these into the sequence, I can explore and give the reader something visually more exciting, like what they have grown accustomed to with today's films. So I've left nothing out, just added things around it. Just think of this as that special edition DVD version with all the deleted scenes and stuff added back in.

BB: How did you approach visually fleshing out those scenes which are only hinted at or glossed over in the original film, and how difficult was it to create those while remaining true to the heart and intent of the film?

RB: I have to give most of the credit to Chris Yambar. His script was absolutely beautiful. It immediately brought images to my mind, so all that was left for me to do was get reference of that time period to be accurate.

BB: This all brings up a topic that's often been hotly debated, specifically the question of whether you see comics as a sort of poor man's "film on paper", or do you see them as essentially distinct and separate art forms which only share some common characteristics?

RB: They are definitely distinct and separate art forms which produce the same goal, telling a story. Each standing strong on it's own merit.

BB: How useful has your experience as a storyboard artist been for your art's growth, generally, and your grasp of visual storytelling, in particular?

RB: I remember Joe Kubert telling me at school once "It's not the quality of work, but the quantity of work you produce which will improve your art." Otherwise, practice, practice, practice. Here I am, drawing, on average, 20 to 40 drawings a day. Gotta love those deadlines. I'm forced to make a decision quickly, and then move on. After the job is done, then I can go back and see the mistakes I made, and consider those decisions for the next job. Hopefully my decisions will be better each subsequent time.

As for storytelling, my years as an artist for film and TV have been invaluable. I've learned it's not about the coolest camera angle you can create, but how to set-up/block, edit, and pace your shots in order to tell the clearest story and that's the most important thing you need to accomplish. It's funny, now when I do comic work I find myself blocking out the scene, like a movie set. I think in terms of a three dimensional space on paper and where "cameras" need to be to get the shot.

BB: Is Edison's a sign of things to come from you in the future? Has working on this book whet your appetite for more comics work?

RB: I hope so. I would love to do more comic work. How could you not want to be the director, cinematographer, make-up artist, production designer, editor, and actor on a single project?

BB: What do you get from doing this kind of art that you don't from storyboarding? How about the converse question, what does storyboarding provide you with that comics can't give you?

RB: To answer in reverse order, I get bored with drawings very quickly, so this allows me that fast satisfaction. Plus, I really love "production art" or "throw away" art such as thumbnails, sketches, or gesture drawings. I think it's such an art form unto itself. It's really taught me that it's not what you put into a drawing which will make it successful, but what you leave out.

Secondly, after doing 30 drawings a day, sometimes you just need a break, to take it slow and expand upon a visual idea, to get my hands dirty, so to speak... Although my wife will tell you I'm the cleanest and neatest artist she has ever seen.

BB: What do you hope that your readers get from this project?

RB: Time well spent reading a book that they thought was pretty cool.

BB: Any last thoughts?

RB: Yeah, why is Freddy fighting Jason? What exactly did one do to piss the other one off? You'd think they'd be on the same side, wouldn't you? Is it a turf war? An ego thing? I bet it's over a girl. It's always about a girl.

=======

[Originally published as an installment of the Baker's Dozen column on 08/20/2003 at http://www.worldfamouscomics.com/bakersdozen/back20030820.shtml]

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Yambar on Edison's Frankenstein 1910

(The Bill Baker Interview. Part One. 8/13/03)

 

A highly successful pop artist, publisher and comics creator, he easily strides across the "Great Divide" between indy and mainstream publishers. And he makes this feat look quite simple, continuing to publish his own creations -- including El Mucho Grande-Wrestler for Hire, Spells, Suicide Blonde, and the ever-enigmatic Mr. Beat -- independently despite the fact that he's "made it" and become a regular contributor to one of the most widely recognized brand names in the entertainment world, The Simpsons. Add in a seriously wild and devilishly clever sense of humor, an entrepreneurial drive that would give Horatio Alger an inferiority complex, and a bottomless reserve of well-crafted, creative ideas and you've only begun to scratch the surface of Chris Yambar, the man with ...



A Talent of Frightening Proportions
Chris Yambar on Edison's Frankenstein 1910


Bill Baker: For those who might not be familiar with it, what is Edison's Frankenstein 1910 and why should they care about your adaptation?

Chris Yambar: A lot of people don't realize this, but in 1910, inventor Thomas Edison made what has largely been hailed as the world's first horror film and what is definitely the very first adaptation of Mary Shelly's Frankenstein. The film was way ahead of its time. Although it was a 'bloodless' epic it was the subject of a lot of public outrage, especially from the more conservative leaders of that time. People protested it and some felt that it was blasphemous because of its 'creation of life' sequence. The movie was quickly pulled and copies were destroyed. Edison's Frankenstein was thought to be lost and for the longest time was on the top 10 list of most sought after American silent films. A film collector unearthed the only known print of the film and, after keeping it hidden for nearly two decades, has released it on an ultra-limited edition DVD. For silent film and horror fans this is a very important moment.

BB: What makes this particular film a good candidate for comics adaptation?

CY: Due to the rarity of the DVD and the facts that I've already mentioned, Edison's Frankenstein will still remain a very hard to find film to view. Our adaptation will allow Franken-fans to get a solid look at the classic from a literary point of view as well as a graphic one. I think that people will be very surprised to see how different this version is when compared to the popular Universal images we've all grown up with.

BB: So, just how did you become involved in this project, and what kind of challenges, hurdles or special concerns did it present to you as a writer?

CY: I first learned about the film when I was reading monster magazines in the 1970s. I was always puzzled by the lack of information regarding this version. I grew up being a fan of silent movies and always thought that they possessed a certain dreamlike beauty and mystery. About a year ago I decided to surf the net regarding the film and met historian, Frederick C. Wieble Jr. who had written an entire book about the subject. His self-published book provided all the missing links I was looking for. Fred has contributed a large amount of historical data in this book which I know will be of special interest to every reader.

The biggest difficulty about working from a silent film of this nature is filling in the many blanks that have beenhurriedly glossed over between scenes. A lot of details that were previously taken for granted needed to be fleshed out and filled-in when transformed into written and graphic form. Sometimes a mere gesture or subtlety becomes the linchpin that holds the whole story together. Without it the bottom could fall out completely. Films aren't made with that type of mindset anymore. Today everything is completely spelled out and over the top.

BB: How did you decide which scenes needed those graphic narrative bridges you spoke of, and how difficult was building them while remaining true to the film?

CY: One example of scene building is the previously unexplained gap between young Dr. Frankenstein's entry into college and his formulation of the mixture that creates a three dimensional life form that is a reflection of his own inner id. That was all taken for granted in the original film. Pretty heavy stuff for the early 1900s. Pretty heavy stuff for the early 2000s too. That's the stuff that presents the biggest challenge.

BB: While you do work on some licensed properties, you typically do original stories featuring your own creations. Did this project allow you to use different "muscles" as a writer, so to speak, or was it much the same process for you as when you work on one of The Simpsons books, or even your own projects?

CY: Troubleshooting is my sport of choice whether it's working with a movie or book script adaptation, a recognized licensed character like Bart Simpson or Mister Magoo, or my own creator owned properties like Mr. Beat, El Mucho Grande, Spells, or Suicide Blonde. I go out of my way to approach each effort from outside of the box.

BB: How did Robb Bihun get involved, and why is he the perfect artist to do the visual adaptation?

CY: I've been a big fan of Robb's work for years! His illustrative style captures the historical and horror environment I had in mind when I first considered doing this book. His experience as a storyboard artist and designer for motion pictures and music videos has helped give this interpretation the professional edge it deserves.

BB: Does this prove project serve as proof that comics are just "films on paper" as many other creators have suggested, or do you see comics and film as two distinct art forms? And, if the latter is true, what are the similarities -- and important differences -- between the two, and how did you reconcile them in the book?

CY: If today's comics are truly 'films on paper' then Ed Wood is owed an apology for being called the worst film maker of all time. I am not a big fan of modern comics. The independent ones interest me but the mainline titles are playing it safe and are reruns of ideas that didn't pan out right the first time. Original scripting and solid composition are lacking in both fields. I'm no genius but I'd like to think that I'm offering a fresh perspective with my writing. That's the goal. There are different demands for writing for film and for comics. Films like the X-men prove that you can get away with somethings that you just can't with film and vice versa. They are similar but completely different sciences at the same time. Knowing those differences and how to craft them properly is the real trick.

BB: Aside from the comic adaptation, what else will people find in the book?

CY: We're including nearly 20 pages of historical information and profiles on the film's cast as well as the graphic adaptation. On one hand you've got a 40 page visual adaptation by Robb and I and on the other you've got the historical vitals by Fred. It's like getting two books for the price of one.

BB: Who's publishing it, when's it coming out, what's it going to cost, and -- most importantly -- how can readers get their hands on a copy?

CY: Edison's Frankenstein 1910 will be published by Comic Library International in early October. The book will be a 64 page squarebound trade with a $7.95 price tag. A signed edition of the first printing will be offered as well. Folks who can't get a copy from their local comic shop or bookstore can order copies directly from my website at www.yambar.com. Ordering information will be posted there in September.

BB: Is this a sign of things to come? Will we be seeing more movie-to-comic adaptations from you and Robb, or was this a one-time deal?

CY: Robb and I are already talking about our next adaptation. We'd like to offer 2-3 new books a year if our schedules permit. Robb and I are also knocking around the idea of doing an all new original series called McBride - The Faerie King for the Spring of 2004. We've talked about doing this stories for years. It's a wild ride. We'll see.

BB: What are some of the other projects you're working on that might be of interest to fans?

CY: George Broderick Jr. and I are working on El Mucho Grande-Wrestler For Hire and the world's first 'choco-erotic sci-f thriller': Suicide Blonde. Both of which are on the shelves even now. Levi Krause and I are still working on the mean spirited Spells and an upcoming sci-fi adventure called Scourge which should see the light of our universe in 2004. Mr. Beat will return to comics in early 2004 just in time to celebrate his 10th anniversary. Fans of masked Mexican wrestling may want to keep an eye out for a new Blue Demon comic which I'll be penning and Ron Frenz will be penciling. Disney duck artist, Pat Block, is working with me on a new all-ages title called Midnight Nursery. I'm threatening to do a lot more work for the kind people over at Bongo on titles like Bart Simpson's Treehouse Of Horror(2004) and the bimonthly Bart Simpson Comics. I've also been creating some paintings for a line of Disney lithographs and canvas transfers that I hope to see in print soon, too.

BB: What do you get from doing this work, aside from the big bucks and the accolades of millions?

CY: The satisfaction of a job well done. And cookies.

BB: What do you hope that fans get from Edison's Frankenstein 1910, specifically, and from your work in general?

CY: I hope that people feel that they've gotten way more bang from their buck than they expected.

BB: Any last thoughts?

CY: I could use some sleep.

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Yambar & Santo Comics USA

(The Fransisco Javier Barriopedro Interview. 8/22/01)

 

Round one :

Thank you for your time, your disposition, and well... Let's get it on.

Q - Chris Yambar is exactly who? How can you introduce yourself to readers who do not know your work?

A - I've worked for years as a Pop Art painter & am a bit of an overachiever. To date , I've created nearly 1600 pieces of work and have images in collections around the world. My background also includes wearing the hats of a commercial artist , indie-newspaper publisher ( The Activist-1980s), comic book writer & artist , & minister. Comic fans will be most familiar with my work on Mr. Beat , The Fire-Breathing Pope , Itsi Kitsi , Suicide Blonde , el Mucho Grande , and Bart Simpson Comics. To date , I've had my hands in 60+ comic projects. I'm currently involved in the launching of 6 new titles which should see the light of day next year......My love for the comic medium & involvement with the promotion of pop-idols spans my entire 40 years.....Other than that I'm a shiftless layabout.

Q - Why you? What is the story behind your position as the newest Santo scribe?

A - Last winter , my publisher , Richard Maurizio, called and asked if I knew anything about a masked wrestler named "SANTO". I went on & on about his legendary status as the king of Lucha-Horror Film and about his history as the most recognized masked man in the history of the sport. When he asked me if I'd like to write a comic series based on him I pretty much crapped YOUR pants! SANTO is the Rock and Roll of wrestling ! He's not some 'flavor of the month' poser who changes his mask every time some promoter thinks he needs bigger television ratings like they do here in the U.S.! SANTO is a walking , breathing icon of mythic proportions ! His legacy actually means something in the grand scheme of things ! Needless to say , I took the job !

Q - Why in the U.S., with your company? What is there to assure the readership, it will stay true to the tradition? That will surely be one of the most interesting questions to our readers... Be nasty.

A - Richard was approached by SANTO'S (then) U.S. rep because of Airwave Comics understanding of licensed characters and the estate's desire to broaden the marketing of SANTO to the wrestling fans of the U.S. where Lucha Libre is gaining momentum & growing popularity....One well meaning dude approached us in San Diego and asked George (Broderick Jr.) & I what two "white" guys from Ohio & Pa were doing creating comics about a mexican wrestler like SANTO ? After laughing with him about it we simply told him , "We're just trying to produce the best damn adventure comics for the coolest damn wrestler in history that we can !!!"...Just so SANTO fans will know our hearts in the matter , we were honored to sign our first SANTO mask recently and the owner asked me if I would put on the mask to be photographed in it. I hugged him & told him that while I was tempted to, I could not because ," Only SANTO is worthy to wear the mask of SANTO." I really believe that.....When the estate approached us they said they wanted a book that portrated SANTO as a hero for "the people - the everyman". The character should have the heart of Robin Hood , the mystery of the Phantom ,and the adventure of Doc. Savage. We added the authority of Batman, the popular animated-hero art style , just a dash of tongue-in-cheek campy coolness & "Presto!": you've got the new SANTO comic book. We plan to have a lot of fun with this book and yet still honor the mythology surrounding it all. I will be sending SANTO straight to hell in the second issue to fight for the imprisoned soul of his father (who may or may not be there). That story will deal heavily with the deep spiritual side of the character & the power of the mask. He is "The Saint" isn't he ??!! ....It should also be noted that the comic will be available worldwide by subscription just as soon as we iron it all out !

Q - Are you really into wrestling? Do you know your Lucha Libre? Do you have all the films? Have you read the Santo photo-adventures by José G. Cruz.? If so... Can you top everything we have seen before?

A - Although I do own a mask of my own I don't wear it when I cut the grass or cook dinner. To be perfectly honest with you , I think American wrestling is at it's all time dumbest. It has degenerated to the lowest common denominator and has become so staged and poorly booked that it is an insult to any thinking man's intelligence. It's not even fun to watch. I can remember watching studio wrestling with my Dad in the 1960s. There was no glitter or glam. Those cats were fierce ! George(the animal) & Andre(the giant) scared me . Heck , even the bloody midget wrestlers scared me. I had a whole new respect for short people after seeing them beating the hell out of each other in the ring ! The thing I admire most about Lucha Libre Wrestling is it's deep history and outward link to it's original roots. The mystery & excitement is still intact & the fast paced action and timing is over the top. To me , it seems much purer. I'm much more fascinated with Lucha ....I have about a dozen SANTO movies on video and have some classic matches with the son, but I'm always looking for more! Some are great while others are....well , at least SANTO got paid to show up. Like anyone with a long career, there are highs & lows. SANTO is never boring but some of the scripts ...y'know !....I'm currently on the lookout for copies of the original SANTO comics but they are very hard to find. If anyone has any they'd like to send my way I'd try to make it worth their while ! I really like the Cruz paintings the best....I'm not in competition with history so the idea of trying to "top" what has come before in SANTO comics hasn't crossed my mind. As a writer ,my goal is to try and top myself and do so before a live firing squad of readers who are willing to go along with the ride. I'm not writing the Bible here. I'm just trying to live the life to it's fullest , dig ?!

Q - Who or what is to say that Santo will not loose his personality and characteristics, when he is being written by you. Are you going to "adapt" him --a common occurance-- to the U.S. criteria, having the certainty that there is where you'll have your biggest market? Or will you let it be as Mexican, yet Universal, as possible without slipping into preconceptions, misnomers and clichés about the Mexican and Lucha Libre cultures?

A - Who can say when the next plane will crash or the exact moment any of us will grab our chest and hit the pavement ? Who can say ? All I can tell you is that every super hero in modern comics is hung up on some darker anti-hero trip that requires the reader to make allowances for self-centered behavior and an egocentric worldview. Our goal at Airwave is to help comics return to a standard of pure-heroics where the hero is true to ideals of self sacrifice and true humanitarian acts that can be viewed with awe and admiration. That was one of the reasons why I loved the 1960s Spider-man comics so much. It cost him something on a personal level every time he swung off into battle. The reader knew this and loved him for that reason. That's a quality I see in the Santo films over and over again. He's fighting for the regular folks like you and me , not so he can put another head on his wall. He's a man's man (and quite a ladies man too !) As far as SANTO becoming anything other than what he is let's just say that "SANTO is a famous Mexican masked wrestler who has his daring life of out-of-the-ring adventure scripted by a team of wonderful American creators who are helping bring entertainment to an entire planet and hopefully to a new generation of Lucha Libre fans & comic readers." Case closed on that one. The legend of SANTO is bigger than any geographical border.

Q - How much Lucha Libre do you, and your editor and artists actually know? Who are they? What's their story? We are going to see ring fights, aren't we? Are we going to see classic moves, realistically depicted, correctly named and executed? Santo was a wrestler! We want to see him on and over the ropes!

A - The other "TEAM SANTO" guys who are making the book happen are George Broderick Jr. & Ken Wheaton. George has been in comics for about 15 years & has been involved with nearly every aspect of the business. He's written for such high profile projects as Lost in Space and Quantum Leap and has a ton of his own characters who have seen print in comics including : Courageous Man , Stardust & Thor , Fearless Frog , and his popular on-line strip ,Chase Villains. He is also the publishing editor of Comic Library International and the artist for el Mucho Grade & Suicide Blonde. Without a doubt he's one of the hardest working men in comics! Ken Wheaton is the tenderfoot of the bunch and has done some creating and publishing of his own with Funny Book Institute & his title: Burger Bomb. He's got a tremendous energy and a real enthusiasm for the project. I feel very confident with these fellas....The comic will show scenes and moments in the ring (complete with classic SANTO holds) but it is primarily an adventure comic that will take SANTO far beyond the ring to exotic locations and dangerous situations. He can't help but use his ring skills because that is who he is, but he's not going to try to fight an army of flesh-eating zombies by putting each one in the camel clutch either. That would be stupid ! Ha ! Now , Vampire Women : that's a different opportunity altogether !.......SANTO will be up to his neck in trouble but don't expect him to go 3 falls! Atomic weapons & Hi-Tech gadgets....Yep!

Q - What would you say to assure the Mexican Santo followers, to take away some of the "resentment" and disbelief about this project, and to actually make them try the book?

A - I think I've said enough about that already , but,OK. Everywhere we've gone we've made new friends over this project. That's the thing about SANTO , he seems to bring out the best in people. It's awesome to us to have so many people expressing so much support for what we are doing. We feel that energy and thank you for your kind words and warm hugs & handshakes ! All of us are glad to have that kind of power in our corner.....Some people might not like where we're going with this comic and that's the way it is. You can't please everyone ....but we're sure going to try ! Long live the MAN IN THE SILVER MASK !

(End of Part One)

Round Two:

Q - One of the things that struck me most about you, is your overall lucidity and honesty, above and beyond your being happy at being the newest Santo scribe. This most be crucial to the project... What, do you believe, are the most important elements for you all as a creative unit?

A - First of all we're all good friends and enjoy each others company. We've all worked together on numerous projects in the past and somehow managed not to kill each other so that's a good sign. There's a tight fit here . We work together as 4 parts of a single machine. The end result is the goal. If everyone does their job then we've got something to be proud of. If not...Then we blame our publisher , Richard (Maurizio) ! Ha!...It's a creative family unit and it's working !

Q - Your life has been an interesting one. It must have showed you a thing or two. As far as a professional goes, what is your perception of how the industry is coping and how much does it values the work of its creators?

A - I published a comic a few years ago called "COMICS ARE DEAD !" that summed up my feelings about American comics. A lot of industry folks have told me that it stood in the gap for them too. In the 1990s the industry here became more interested in quantity than in quality. They sold themselves out by sacrificing the crafts of good storytelling and solid art form for flash and a false investors market. The price guides here still lie about the value of comics. You can't tell me that ANY IMAGE comic is worth more than $5. Every comic store in America has long box upon long box of this stuff . It was all over ordered. The only thing that will make these books worth anything is a good burning or a few hundred trips to the recycler. I'm not going after IMAGE alone here. All the major companies played into this problem. MARVEL sold their soul to the devil and actually tried to strong arm the industry with blatant economic threats to direct market retailers. Why retailers didn't fight back with a full-on boycott is beyond my understanding. At least DC was interesting to read and newsworthy during that period. They weren't completely short sighted with their properties. I still think that people who locked into the independent comic scene got the best of that decade. They had notoriously low print runs of 3000 or less , introduced many of the upcoming talents in today's industry , & contain some of the most rereadable , original material and memorable character concepts in 20 years. To get back to your original question , I think I do see a trend toward returning to traditional and higher creative standards within the industry . I hope people never forget how close we came to bankrupting ourselves and destroying the art form here in America.

Q - Tell us about your up and coming projects with Airwave or elsewhere.

A - So far the only concrete title I'm working on for Airwave Comics is SANTO. There's another high profile title in the works there but I'm sworn to silence until the final paperwork is inked. All of my MR. BEAT comics are being collected in softbound format via Comic Library International. The second vol. of THE COMPLETE MR. BEAT just came out and a third vol. is due out in Jan/Feb. of 2002. It should contain a CD of live and studio music inspired by the character. CLI just released a collected vol. of my FIRE-BREATHING POPE comics too. In each issue of the quarterly CLI self-titled anthology George & I have our sci-fi SUICIDE BLONDE storyline and our Lucha Libre parody character: el MUCHO GRANDE-WRESTLER FOR HIRE. We're getting a lot of feedback on those two characters! I just finished a 64 page script for a SPACE FLEA FIELD GUIDE & a 32 page collection of dark humor called SPELLS with Levi Krause which we hope to see in print asap! I've got a whole bunch of stuff ready to see the light of day in BART SIMPSON COMICS too. ....I've got a few other titles I'm pitching for but they are all in various stages of development.

Q - What books do you read? How do you prepare to write a story? Are there other comic books artists and magazines that you like? Are you familiar with other authors´ bodies of work? Tell about what YOU like...

A - I don't like to read fiction at all , except for comics and I'm very picky with those. I'm pretty bored with superheroes in general unless a writer is really trying to take them into new territory. My favorite period for superhero comics are the 1960s MARVEL zone: The first 120 issues of SPIDER-MAN; the first 100 issues of FANTASTIC FOUR. I love old DELL & HARVEY kids comics ! They make me laugh and are just fun to read. The older the better ! I read a lot of books on history , pop culture & theology. Biographies and autobiographies really get me going ! I love to find out how other people thought and get 'the story behind the story'. Without a doubt , my favorite book is the BIBLE. Everything you need to live is right there! No kidding.

Q - How do you conceive your stories? How do you plan you issues? How long does it take you?

A - Ideas come to me very quickly. I've never had a problem with that area. My mind is a pretty busy street. If I don't put my ideas into their proper files and put them back when I'm done I can get pretty overloaded . When I get an idea for a story that I think should get birthed I make sure it has a solid beginning , middle, and end. An idea alone does not a story make. I go to the Library and research. I put a lot of thought into layout and pacing and script everything on notebook paper before I attempt a final draft. I also think about the artist I'm working with (unless it's me). Sometimes thinking about the artist and what he can or can't do helps me to move into certain pockets of thought and expression that I might not consider if I was working with someone different. I try to write in different styles for different genres. Each theme has a certain signature style to it and makes its own demands. I like to work with artists who have a strong signature style...ones that look at things from a unique vantage point and who can troubleshoot when I put their skills to the test. The result is only as good as the collaboration. My stories are expressions of my celebration of life. I'm only interested in working with friends. I've worked on hundreds of pages with people whom I love and respect. In the end I hope that will stand not only as a testimony of good art and creative storytelling but of good collective worship as well.

Q - Taking into consideration the approach you are having to the Santo character, what other influences will we see on the book? What thinkers? What trends? What social phenomena will find it way to your pages?

A - SANTO has a built in 'hands on' mentality. It is a very physical book but a very smart book as well. There will be times when there is nothing SANTO can do to bring down the foes around him. That is when he reaches deep into himself and calls on the inner powers of his identity as THE SAINT. There is a very supernatural side to SANTO that is every bit as important as his outward physical attributes and natural fighting skills. We're putting a spotlight on his global appeal by setting him up as a universal man of adventure. Through it all we plan to keep SANTO accessible to the average citizen through his SANTO AGENCY. He'll never forget to remain a hero to the children. When SANTO is too busy to get down to a childs eye level I'll retire from writing the series. SANTO is not only the hero's hero , he's the hero of the people.

Q - And, finally, describe a usual day in the life of Chris Yambar. What makes you tick? Got any pets? Favorite hangouts? Are you interested in coming down to Mexico, some day?

A - Coffee and study first. Then comes a look at my checklist for the day followed by a volley of phone calls and email to make sure all my people are ok , up & running. I play with my cats. Write for 3 to 4 hours. Read for a few hours. Catch a movie. I like to visit the art museum and check out galleries. Do my ebay buying & selling. Spend time with my beautiful wife. Cook dinner. Write a few more hours if I can. Some days I just say "to hell with it all " and go wild with my painting. I teach a few nights a week and love to thrift and antique shop. I find I'm developing quite a fetish for old Tiki mugs .... Travel to Mexico ?! That seems pretty certain in 2002. If the people of Mexico, or any other country for that matter, invite me to come to them I will be there. It would be an honor!.......What makes me tick ? The fact that each day is a chance for new adventure and holds a free prize inside it somewhere. It's my job to make sure I find it !

Q - Any closing statements?

A - We're all going through life once. Let somebody know you love them. Then wreck the place !

Q - Thank you, Chris, for your time. Once again, godspeed...

(End Of Part 2)  

Cartoon Machine Men (Part 1): Yambar on Mr. Beat, Bart Simpson, Santo, etc.

(WizardWorld.com 5/10/01)

 

5 Minutes with Chris Yambar on Life with Bart Simpson, Mr. Beat, Santo, and Everything Else
  

"Are we a team, or a machine?"
 

When Chris Yambar asked that simple question of his frequent collaborator, George Broderick, they had no inkling of the ramifications that the latter's answer, "We're a Cartoon Machine!" would have upon their lives.  Since that moment, these two powerhouses -- who had previously produced a veritable mountain of work, both individually and together -- have experienced a literal explosion of creativity.  The results of this have only begun to hit the shelves, but it has quickly become evident that while the number of projects has increased almost astronomically, the quality of their work has only skyrocketed.  And, considering the high quality of their earlier work, this is a thing that is truly beautiful to behold.

In the first part of our feature on this dynamic duo, we look at the life and times of Chris Yambar.  An established and highly successful commercial pop artist with a thriving business and impressive list of clients outside of the comics industry, Yambar is someone who does comic work out of sheer love of the medium.  But that doesn't prevent him from attacking his cartoon assignments with the verve, passion and pure sense of joyous fun that he applies to all aspects of his life and work.  Whether he's working on one of his creator-owned projects, or a well established, company owned anti-establishment cultural icon, Yambar is driven to delivery the very best in comic entertainment.

 

WizardWorld.com:    Chris, I know you've got a literal ton of stuff coming out, but there's one project in particular that I know I'm not alone in being really excited by, and that's The Complete Mr. Beat.  I know that the second collection's going to be hitting the shelves soon, so the real question is: How many more of these babies can we expect to see?
 

Chris Yambar:    We've got enough Mr. Beat material for three volumes, all three of which will be published by Comics Library International.  The first collection did really, really well, and people said, "Yeah, but you're missing a bunch of stuff!"  And I said, "I know.  Do you want to see it?" and they said, "Sure!"  And, with all the [original printings of the] books being sold out, this is the only way you're going to get those stories, the early stuff.

WW.com:    Well, what made you decide to collect all of this stuff?  I only ask because I know that, originally, you weren't planning on doing any collections.
 

Yambar:    Right.  I made a real, strong hard line that I do not do reprints.  With [the realities of being in the] small press, independent publishing, I don't want a warehouse full of stuff.  So, it's a reward to the people who bought it early, and bought multiples.  [Laughter]  But there's been a clamor for it, and people want to see more Mr. Beat, so I said, "This is the only way we're going to be able to do it."
 

But I mix up the stuff.  I don't do it all in chronological order [in the collections].  I take stuff from all over the place, and mix it [up when I] put it together, so you get the old and the new in every issue.
 

WW.com:    For all of those people who might not be familiar with Mr. Beat due to all those other people hoarding those hard to find issues, how would you describe the character?
 

Yambar:    He's an agent of Cool.  Like, you have Chaos and Order.  Well, he's the agent of Cool.  He was hand picked by God to represent Cool in the multidimensions.  So, anytime there's a problem, he goes to his back room supply room, and he opens up the door and that enters into a whole 'nother dimension that just has giant floating doors.  And he can go pick what ever door's open, and go in there, and do a little trouble shooting, keep some order, and make sure everything's Cool.
 

But he's the king of the Beats, he's the last beatnik.  And the more you know about real life pop culture, and the inside jokes that are in the news, always, the more you're going to get Mr. Beat.  It's a higher brow [level] of humor.  There's a little bit of a European feel, people have told me, so that's encouraging.
 

WW.com:    And we'll be seeing some new Mr. Beat adventures, right?
 

Yambar:    Yes.  As a matter of fact, some people have asked me, "Will we see new adventures, or a new mini-series?" and I said, "Yes, we will.  But it's gonna be called The Mr. Beat Show."  It's weird, after five years of doing the character, to actually have a Mr. Beat Show premier, or #0, book.  But it'll probably be out at San Diego Con, and it'll be ultra-limited press run, but with real high production values.  So if you get it, you got yourself a keeper.  But I'd like to take it, and kinda play up The Mr. Beat Show aspect, because he does [have] adventures, but there's a lot of stand up [comedy] with Mr. Beat, and I'd like to mix up both a little better.
 

WW.com:    What are you trying to do with Mr. Beat?  Is it all just fun and games, or is there something else going on, an ulterior motive, or idea, that's guiding you while you're doing this stuff?

Yambar:    Well, the thing about Mr. Beat is his philosophy is pretty similar to mine.  I do have characters that have philosophies that are not similar to mine, but his philosophy is very similar -- about the arts, music, and your involvement in life.  And he comes from a certain perspective that is not dogmatic, but is very life affirming, and freeing, and I'm trying to push that.
 

WW.com:    Now, you're an incredibly busy artist, but you've somehow found a way to squeeze in the time to work on a little-known property called, what?, The Simpsons?  [General laughter]  How'd that come about?
 

Yambar:    You never know who's reading your work.  That's the facts of life.  I found out that Matt Groening was reading Mr. Beat.  As a matter of fact, my good friend there at Bongo [Comics], Bill Morrison -- we've been friends forever -- he found out that Matt wanted to expand the line, and they were looking for writers, and, "That Mr. Beat guy," came up.  So they gave me a call, and I didn't believe it.  But it's like a dream come true.  It's like writing for Mickey Mouse.

WW.com:    Most of your work for Bongo has appeared in the new Bart Simpson book, right?
 

Yambar:    Yeah.  It's a lighter, more of a younger reader, all age-type of thing.  But I've gotten some other invitations to submit some ideas for Simpsons, the more hard line stuff.  And I've got some one shots up my sleeve that I'd like to pitch to them, so we'll see how that works out.
 

WW.com:    So what is like it working on that property?  Do you have to use a different working method, or approach, with this material than you do with your own stuff?
 

Yambar:    The hardest thing about writing for The Simpsons has to be the fact that they've done everything, on television, in front of everybody.  And then you've got 50, 60 issues of The Simpsons that are out.  Plus all the spin-off titles.  So you don't want to repeat anything.  You don't want to repeat gags, but you want to have some kind of continuity.  So you have to ask yourself, "What kind of situation haven't they been in?"
 

You know, I've stumbled across some pretty interesting things.  I was able to pump Bart up to 250 pounds in the first issue [of the Bart Simpson series].  Also, in the beginning of the show, when Homer pulls the radioactive bar our from his shirt, he throws it out the [car] window [and] it just bounces down the street.  I didn't realize until I got the writing job, it never crossed my mind, that that bar never went down the sewer; it just kept bouncing down the street.  Well, I pick up a story called "The Super Cat of Springfield" and it tells you what happened from that point.  So that was my sneaky way, I guess, of getting a piece of The Simpsons TV [show].  At least there's a hook in there, somewhere [for the readers].  They say, "Oh, I know what happened to that!  That's in the comics!"
 

And everybody asks me, "Are you gonna write for the television show?" and I say, "That's completely up to them."  They make their own calls, they have their own panel of people.  They all like degree-holding Harvard graduates, and that type of thing.  It's kind of a [National] Lampoon-type of panel they work on.
 

I just do the comics.  I'm happy with that!  But, hey, I got one mystery call; I'll take another!  [General laughter]  You don't know, you just really don't know.  Just do good work, and see what happens.
 

Mr. Beat, I can do what ever I want to.  He can say anything.  So I don't have to answer to anybody but me.  So, very different.
 

WW.com:    Well, you've got another new project, just one of many, but one that is also really exciting, and really kinda different, but fits right in with another pop culture phenomenon that just keeps on going: wrestling.  It's called El Santo, if memory serves.  So, how'd you get involved in this project, and what's it all about?
 

Yambar:    This is wonderful, what an opportunity.
 

Santo is probably the most famous masked wrestler in history, world history.  His estate contacted Rich Maurizio, who is the owner of Airwave Comics, and they got talking about bringing Santo into America in the  comics.  And Richard said, "Oh, that would be wonderful, that'd be great!"  And he thought about who could do this with a straight face, and do it right, and he thought, "I'm gonna call Chris Yambar."
 

So he gave me a call, and said, "What do you think about a Santo comic book?" and I said, "That'd be great!"  He goes, "What do you think about writing it?"  I was completely silent.  Dead out silence, and I was in shock.  I almost fell on the floor.  [Finally, I recovered enough and] screamed, "Yes!" and took the job.  So, I got to talk to his reps, and the whole entire thing, and we're spinning him in an animated style.  The popular, super hero animated style, 'cause I think that's very accessible to people across the board of all ages, the hard core super hero people, as well as the kids.
 

Santo is basically picking up where the father died, and the son took over the mask.  And it's a lot of fun.  We've got him fighting terrorists, and we've got him in an airplane that's ready to crash into the Himalayans.   We've got him fighting supernatural creatures, aliens, and there's all kinds of explosions.  And that's just the first issue.  So that's a lot of fun for me.
 

I'll say one other thing about Santo: This comic book is the very first American Santo comic book in history.  To understand the phenomenon of Santo's period of history in Mexico, and in the eyes of the world, this man was buried with his mask on, he's hardly ever been photographed without his mask, he's one of the longest running wrestlers -- serious wrestlers, old school wrestlers -- in history, and, also, when he died, it was the largest funeral that they ever had in Mexico.  He was a national treasure.  He's like Godzilla to them, or Elvis, to us.  Just absolutely fantastic, and what an opportunity.
 

So we're going to Tijuana  to watch him, as his guest, wrestle in a belt match during San Diego Con.  Oh, and he will be appearing at the San Diego Con with mask, with cape, with the outfit, and he'll be signing premier books.  And you can look for the very first official Santo comic book on your shelves in September.
 

And that should be a blast!  You gotta see this to believe it.  So, this is an icon.  You've got giants in the history of wrestling, like André the Giant.  You've got legends like Hulk Hogan.  But these people have never starred in their own movies, never ...
 

Santo can walk down a street in Mexico, with his mask on, and people will [gather and] chant his name.  He's like a real, honest-to-god super hero in Mexico.  So, we're bringing that to America, and I think it's gonna catch on.  And every die-hard wrestling person I talk to says, "Oh my god!  I want it!  I want the first copy!"  And I say, "OK, I don't know if I can get you the first copy."  But, yeah, it's exciting.
 

WW.com:    But, as if that's not excitement enough, you've got another project in the works that's kinda similar.  What can you tell us about that strip, El Mucho Grande, how it came about, and how it's different from the Santo project?
 

Yambar:    The difference between the Santo project, and El Mucho Grande, is that Santo is done completely straight.  It's just like a regular hero action adventure.  And it rocks.  It's two fisted all the way.
 

Now, El Mucho Grande -- which means "the great big," or "the big much," or "the much grand" -- is a complete parody on the old school wrestling world.  And it's about an eight and a half foot tall wrestler who weighs one and a quarter tons, has been in over 2000 matches [over the course of] 60 years.  He may or may not be 100 years old.  He may or may not be human and/or an elemental creature.  We don't know.  But he's basically indestructible, and has a pet El Chuppacabra, who's a meat-eating hybrid between the traditional chuppacabra  and the goats.  He's a one-of-a-kind thing.  And he wants to come to America, to become a citizen and live in Wisconsin in a little house, because he likes cheese.  [General laughter]  And the chuppacabra actually has been studying cow as a language so it can speak to the cows in Wisconsin.  So it moos.
 

But it's a lot of fun.  And there's all kinds of aliens, and mole people, and other wrestlers, traditional wrestlers.  It's really funny.  It's real silly.  And that's in Comics Library International #7 [the special all-space issue, which is out now].  And, also in that issue, is a sweetheart, our first daughter, Suicide Blonde, which I created with George Broderick, Jr., who's a fantastic illustrator.  He's also the illustrator on El Mucho Grande, and El Santo.  We're having this massive creative explosion between the two of us, which is a good thing.
 

But Suicide Blonde is about a space detective, bounty hunter, and chocolate connoisseur.  The world's basically been taken over and is governed by advertising agencies who have become political powers.  And she's basically been enlisted and developed as a representative of theirs as a result of the cola wars -- they finally ended with a lot of bloodshed and destruction on the Earth -- and she and a couple others are representatives across the galaxies.
 

And one of the things that's outlawed the most is chocolate.  'Cause chocolate does funny things to people.  [For proof,] all you have to do is ask [anyone who is a "chocoholic"] how good chocolate is, and they'll give you different [but very real and heartfelt] reasons for it.  There are psychological things that happen with chocolate.  [And] she loves chocolate, but it's outlawed.
 

She is a bounty hunter [whose duty it is] to find and seek out the Chocolate Merchants who are hiding throughout the universe.  But, in her heart, she wants to find the main Chocolate Merchant, so that she can defect and lead a revolution to free Earth from the hands of the new government.
 

So it's real tongue in cheek.  It's fun, there's a lot of social commentary there.  She's got a little robot that's linked to her aura, and it becomes what ever she needs at the moment.  It's a morphing device.  It's a lot of fun.  
 

Suicide Blonde -- she's cute as a button, and deadlier than death.  Yep.  That's in Comics Library International #7, also.
 

WW.com:    Well, what do you try to give your audience -- aside from entertainment -- with your work?

Yambar:    I don't want to write down to an audience.  I think you should approach comics as literature.  If you're going to tell an adventure, give 'em an adventure story, set it up with as much information as you can.  But break it down.  You have to move them through the story, but you have to play up the fact that they're much more intelligent [than they're typically granted].  I just think you should never dumb a comic down, ya know?  There's nothing wrong with having a higher standard.  I want people to have a good time.  It's escapism, time-honored escapism.
 

And all of our work is created with the understanding, from here on in, that we're collecting these things into graphic novels, like the Europeans and Japanese have.  We want to take comics to another level -- or at least help comics to get to another level -- as literature.  It's visual, but it's also literature.  Ya know, The Dark Knight [Returns], Watchmen, books like that have proven that fact.  By their sales, and their [presence] in libraries.  That's what we're all about.

 

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Cartoon Machine Men (Part 2) - George Broderick Jr. on CLI, Working Yambar, etc.

(WizardWorld.com 2001).

 

5 Minutes with George Broderick on COMICS LIBRARY INTERNATIONAL, Working with Chris Yambar, and Just About Everything Else


"Are we a team, or are we a machine?"

When George Broderick answered that question -- which had been posed by his frequent collaborator, Chris Yambar -- with a hearty "We're a Cartoon Machine!" he could hardly have realized what that simple reaffirmation of their partnership and goals would have upon theirlives.  Since that moment, these two cartooning juggernauts -- who had previously produced a literal landslide of cartoon strips and series, both individually and together -- have experienced a literal explosion of creativity.  And what's even more amazing is the simple fact that, while their production has dramatically increased both individually and collectively, the quality of that work has only gotten better.  And, when one sits back to consider the sheer excellence of their previous output, this is a thing that is very, very good.

In this second half of our feature on this dynamic duo the spotlight falls on the life and work of George Broderick.  A well established comic book artist with two decades of professional work to his credit, Broderick is clearly someone who lives and breathes comics.  This fact is not only evident in his own strips, which range from the whacky nostalgia of Captain Courageous to the silent hilarity of Stardust & Thor, but is also readily apparent in the high quality production and contents of his ongoing Comics Library International series of anthologies and collections.  Whether he's presenting his own creations, or that of his peers, it's obvious that Broderick is doing his level best to offer readers exceptional comic book entertainment.
 

WizardWorld.com:    Let's start by talking about your work with that Chris Yambar guy.  How'd the two of you meet, when did you start working together, and what, exactly, about his brand of demented humor and approach to cartooning appeals to you?
 

George Broderick:    I first met Chris in 1995 at the Pittsburgh leg of Dave Sim's infamous "Spirits of Independence" tour.  I also met Scott "Patty Cake" Roberts there, but that's a story for a different time.  Anyway, Chris was cruising the room as he does, checking out what everyone was doing and spreading encouragement in his wake ... kinda like a big, cuddly iceberg ... but my wife, Denise, was the one who actually started talking to him first, I was busy sketching something for someone.  There was some connection there on a spiritual level -- we were all "Jesus guys", as Chris puts it -- anyway, we started a dialogue and Chris sent us some Mr. Beat comics.  Denise loved Platt and I was floored by a little feature in the first issue about "popsickle stick puppet ministry" [and] it was all downhill from there.
 

I like Chris's writing because it challenges me and makes me think ... and, I only get about 80% of the jokes.  I'll probably keep working with him till I'm up to a comfortable 97-98%!  [General laughter]
 

WW.com:     Well, how do you two typically work together?  Let's start by examining the creation of a new series or character; does one of you bring the new concept to the other, or do you two sit down and co-create in a brainstorming session, or is it all even wilder and weirder than that?
 

Broderick:    Usually, one or the other of us will say something along the lines of, "I'm thinking about a big, sweaty wrestler..." or, "wouldn't it be cool if Courageous Man met the Fire-Breathing Pope" or, "I had this idea in the shower..."  (But it should be mentioned that the first statement and the last are never, never uttered at the same time!)  Then the other guy generally says something lewd or smarmy and we're off to the races!  The ideas and brainstorming flow like water, and we're not afraid to tell the other guy, "That's stupid" or, "You're on drugs!"  All this most frequently takes place in the serving line at fine Oriental buffets across the tri-state Pittsburgh/Youngstown area.  Chris will then draw a sketch of the character ... then, I'll draw it correctly [General laughter].  If some story or concept cracks both of us up, we have a winner.
 

WW.com:     As far as creating the individual strips themselves it seems, at least lately, that he's doing the scripting and you're drawing; is that typical, and does it really break down that simply, or is there more to the process than would meet the eye by just glancing at the credits?

Broderick:    It varies from strip to strip.  We both have written and drawn many hundreds of pages in our careers, so ego is a very small part of the equation.  [There's] none of this "I'm the writer" or "I'm the artist" crapola, we get beyond that and into the "what's best for this strip?"  If I write it, fine.  If I'm co-plotter or just the penciller, fine.
 

For El Mucho Grande, Chris created it whole cloth, including the look of El Mucho, but I came in and designed the look for El Chupacabre.  When I first drew the two characters last May at Motor City, the art had Levi (Levi's World) Krause and Mike (Burgerbomb) Churchill doubled over in fits of laughter.  Chris and I just looked at one another [and said,] "Bingo!"  On the other hand, Chris came to me with the concept of Suicide Blonde in his head and I created the whole visual look for that strip and threw in some plot ideas and suggestions for the direction.  Plus, this seems to be one of those strips where the characters write themselves and we're just caretakers of the legacy, if you know what I mean.
 

WW.com:     What are some of the highlights of the projects you guys have coming out?
 

Broderick:    First and foremost, I'm excited about Comic Library International.  This project was my baby from the get-go.  I think we've done some fine work with the first year's worth of the self-titled anthology and it proved my point that the market is ready for a more upscale read ... a change from the 32 page pamphlet.  It's been very successful for us and helped launch some new careers and/or jump-started some flagging ones.
 

The second year's "themed anthology" concept is very exciting to me creatively and lets us explore some sadly overlooked genre choices -- like kid's comics, sci-fi, westerns, fantasy and romance comics.  The "Solovisions" are the gold, though!  I've got a Stardust & Thor book out [now,] and a Courageous Man trade coming out in time for San Diego.  Chris has a Fire-Breathing Pope [collection] out and will have three Mr. Beat [collections] by year's end ... very cool!
 

The El Santo strip is fun, as well.  And we're doing some Atomic Mouse for Shada Fantasy Arts ... it's all about the icons, man!
 

WW.com:     You're quite a prolific creator in your own right; when will we be seeing some comprehensive trade collections of all of your strips?
 

Broderick:    Well, as I just mentioned, I've done a Stardust & Thor trade, and a complete Courageous man trade will be out in early July ... with a foreword by my pal Bill "Will Robinson" Mumy!  Also, Shanda is releasing a 48 page Courageous Man book of all-new material in June/July.  My online strip, Chase Villens, Boy Hero (for World Famous Comics at www.wfcomics.com/chase) has just hit it's 100th weekly episode, and my first, full length Chase Villens comic book story will finally see print this October in CLI's "Monsters On Parade" [theme issue].
 

I've done a story for Brian Clopper's second Brainbomb project.  It's called "The Family Joules" and is my whacked-out "Courageous Man Universe" take on teams like the Fantastic Four and the Challengers of the Unknown.  More Atomic Mouse, three issues of El Santo, some talk of developing my "Fearless Frog" strip (from CLI #6, Giant Size Itsy Bitsy Comics) into a newspaper strip, a Courageous Man team-up story with Wes Alexander's "Stormfield" kids, and a new romance strip called "The Torrid Loves of Taffy Poole" for CLI's Red Hot Romance book due out February 2002.
 

Whew!  I need a nap!  Chris is right!  I am a machine!
 

WW.com:     So what's your own approach to creating comics, for yourself and others?  Could you take us from rough idea to finished concept of a character or strip, and from the blank page to finished strip, with details on your scripting, layout and finishing methods?
 

Broderick:    When I write for myself, it stays in my head then just goes straight to layouts (usually in non-photo blue pencil) and I ink from my layouts.  Mostly I envision situations and, as I'm drawing, little snippets of dialogue will come to me and I'll write them in the margins.  When the art is done, I'll script and dialogue ... sort of an internalized "Marvel style".

When I write for others it's either full script or thumbnail layouts.  Art for other inkers is always full pencils.  I was taught early on (and I forget by whom), always assume your inker is a total idiot and try to "idiot-proof" your pencils.  This works for me and most of my inkers have been really great, consummate professionals, but it's a peace of mind thing with me.  
 

As far as the idea stage, my strips tend to be throwbacks to the Fifties and early Sixties, when I was growing up, and the kind of comics I read and loved.  [For example,] if I'm in a Stanley and his Monster mood, I might create "Timmy and the Homunculus" or Mighty Mouse becomes "Fearless Frog" in my world or some such  like that.  Most of my Courageous Man scripts come when I sit down and re-read my old collection of Batman 80 Page Giants.  Sometimes, I'll do stuff just for the change.  I created Stardust & Thor (a pantomime strip) in direct response to Courageous Man (which is caption and dialogue intensive).  Sometimes I'll create strips based on road signs or street names I see while in the car (Yambar hates when I do that on road trips to various cons) ... or, as was the case with "Family Joules", you just can't underestimate the value of a really atrocious pun for getting the old creative juices flowing!
 

WW.com:     What lead you to create the Comic Library International series, and what do you hope to accomplish with it ... aside from becoming even richer than that Matt Groening guy everyone envies?
 

Broderick:    CLI was started as my attempt to think "outside the box" in regards to format.  European comics and, most especially, Manga come in these big volumes or albums and the comic market in Europe and Japan is really healthy ,,, they're accepted into everyday society ... and I thought, "Y'no, when I was in college, I used to feel ashamed of reading a comic on the bus, but had no problems cracking open one of those Warren magazine format Spirit or Creepy or The Rook comics."  It's [common] public perception that a 32 page disposable comic is somehow worth less than something with a spine.  People will look at you funny if you're reading a copy of Superman, but won't give you a second glance if you're reading a Barbara Cartland trashy romance novel.
 

So, I latched on to this idea [of] "comics as literature" and how they deserved a spine and an ISBN number and a $10-15 price point ... but a price that reflected content and gave you a good value for your dollar.  [The simple fact is that,] in today's comic market, ten bucks will get you three comics and a Snickers bar ... but that same $10 can get you a CLI, with about five to seven comics worth of content ... such a deal!  I had to talk Chris into the idea, but once I layed out the math (the effort to sell 2 comics at a show is the same as the effort to sell 2 CLI's ... but you're talking the difference between $6 and $20!), he latched onto the concept like a remora on a shark's belly.
 

WW.com:     So, how does a new artist or writer-artist team get their stuff into CLI -- aside from those hefty bribes, that is?
 

Broderick:    Anyone can get into CLI, but it's mostly by invitation.  [The invites typical go to] people whose work we (Chris and I) like or admire, or pros who have been doing it for awhile and have fallen on hard times in this dwindling market.  [But it must be noted that] we are not anyone's "golden parachute" or [a] "ticket to the Bigs".  CLI is not a way for some hot, young turk to circumvent paying his dues.  Jeez, I've been in this industry for twenty years and I'm still paying my dues!
 

[The thing is that,] every once in a great while, we get to do something cool.  We recently had the opportunity to run an episode of Bill Morrison's Roswell, Little Green Man [which was] pencilled by Dan DeCarlo!  Dan Freakin' DeCarlo!  And this was at a time where Archie had just unceremoniously fired the architect of their success.  Dan got a lot of verbal support from the industry, but only Bongo (and us) would publish him!  Now, that's a statement of solidarity!  Since then, other publishers have (wonderfully) jumped on the DeCarlo bandwagon ... this is so cool!  That man's a giant!
 

Anyway, CLI is available through your comic shop, Diamond and FM (some volumes are even available through Diamond's Star system), from Chris and I at shows (usually discounted), or direct from the publisher through single orders or subscriptions ... ads are in all CLI's, or you can e-mail me at gbstudios@msn.com for details [on how to get these books].
 

WW.com:     Is there a method to your cartooning madness?  Is there an agenda behind your work, aside from just trying to entertain your readers, or is it all about fluffy fun and belly laughs?

Broderick:    Fluffy fun and belly laughs ... and discounts at many fine restaurants nationwide.  [All that,] and, of course, my ongoing crusade to become one of the most beloved characters of American folklore.

WW.com:     What do you and your various projects offer readers that they aren't necessarily going to get elsewhere?
 

Broderick:    All ages fun that doesn't insult your intelligence, lock you into one genre over the other and [that] parents don't have to be afraid to show the young'uns.  And sophistication ... lots of sophistication.  You can't swing a dead cat over your head around our books without smacking it up alongside a sophisticated bit of humor or a sparkling bon mot of cartooning delight.

Hmm, maybe I should start including those discount restaurant coupons ... y'think?

        --Bill Baker
 

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YAMBAR QUOTES

 2004 Best Christian Quotes of the Year
1) "I don't believe in separating the sacred from the secular. I think that breeds schizophrenic behavior."
10) "Get Jesus up off the mantelpiece and let Him run around the yard...get in time with your scout master so you don't go walking through the poison sumac and end up blaming Him for it."
(Compiled and collected worldwide by blogger Dick Straub) 

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SUICIDE BLONDE AWARDED BEST COMIC WRITING OF 2003

BY CINESCAPE MAGAZINE.

 S BY CINESCAPE MAGAZINE.

When Chris and artist George Broderick, Jr., began collaborating on SUICIDE BLONDE in the pages of COMIC LIBRARY INTERNATIONAL #7 - BIG SPACE COMICS in 2001, they had no idea that it would be such a sci-fi cult favorite among fans of the genre or that a mere two years later CINESCAPE MAGAZINE would be awarding it honors as the BEST WRITTEN COMIC OF 2003! The magazine originally announced the win via an e-mail press release during the Summer, but made it more than official in issue # 74 when it published photos and a Q&A with Chris and the other winners of its annual contest.

“I was surprised to win CINESCAPE MAGAZINE’s award for the BEST COMIC WRITER OF 2003 , but I wasn’t surprised that it was with SUICIDE BLONDE,” Yambar stated. “George and I put a lot of thought and creative sweat into this title. The project was extremely personal for us and I think that it shows.

 I’m glad that our efforts were taken more seriously than most of the bad/good girl comics out there today. Rather than be exploitive, George and I set out to create a character that was just as intelligent and individually empowered as she was beautiful to look at. We’ve had a flood of positive response to the character from female readers who are glad to see the direction of the series. Readers are catching a lot of the social and political commentary of SUICIDE BLONDE as well. I’m glad that some saw beyond the yummy chocolate coating and got to the delicious free prizes hidden inside. That alone was prize enough.”

Chris and George were further honored for their efforts by having SUICIDE BLONDE act as the official convention shirt mascot of the 2003 Mid-Ohio-Con where the two debuted the second half of the series to a very enthusiastic convention crowd. 

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