Author and cartoonist Craig Yoe relaxes inside his New York state home.RICH HOWELLS PHOTO
The cartoonist and author who was dubbed “Dr. Seuss on acid” doesn’t do drugs, nor does this Eisner Award-winning comics historian enjoy superhero comics, calling graphic novels “too pretentious.”
Just who is this Craig Yoe character? For starters, he’s probably one the nicest and most interesting geeks I’ve ever met.
I was first introduced to Craig’s work when I purchased a book called “Weird But True Toon Factoids” for my father as a gift. The “factoids” were so interesting that I ended up reading the book cover to cover before he did, and on its jacket was a picture of an odd looking man with a large string of hair hanging over his face.
Never did I imagine that I’d be interviewing him at his kitchen table many years later, but those kinds of things happen when you befriend artists.
My friend, Ted Michalowski, invited me to join one of his Marywood University art classes on Sunday as they went on the road to Peekskill, N.Y., where Craig’s daughter, Victoria, was hosting life drawing sessions.
The only thing more impressive than the giant stone pillars and balcony battlement on the outside of his castle - no, really, it’s a castle - was its colorful inside, which resembled a museum more than a home that included extensive bookshelves and priceless art personalized to Yoe from everyone from Charles Schultz to Will Eisner.
His love of comics began when his mother bought him a subscription to “Walt Disney’s Comics and Stories.” When he started reading “The Amazing Spider-Man” by writer Stan Lee and artist Steve Ditko, their credits fully published as opposed to Carl Banks’ Disney work, he immediately became fascinated with those behind the panels.
As a teenager, he printed a fanzine in his basement about comics history, but soon moved his art from two dimensions to three when he answered an ad seeking a toy designer, which eventually led him to a position at think tank Marvin Glass & Associates, who dreamed up Lite-Brite, the memory game Simon, and Mr. Machine, to name a few.
While working on toys for The Muppets, he continually turned down job offers from some guy named Jim Henson until he made him an offer he couldn’t refuse – creative director and then vice president and general manager of everyone’s favorite puppets.
“It was great working with Jim. He was the real deal, a man of peace and love and certainly creativity, as we all know,” Yoe recalled.
After turning down a job designing theme parks with Disney, he formed Yoe! Studio, where he works with his wife, Clizia, in their home producing toys, books, and more. Having written many tomes on the history of comics, IDW Publishing gave him his own imprint, Yoe! Books, where he republishes many lost treasures from the golden days of comics with added context.
His beautiful books bring him and a whole new generation of readers back to a time when the stories may have been simpler, but their history is just as quirky and fascinating. While he may be a dedicated family man, his young son Griffin in his arms throughout the evening, his profession has allowed him to never have to truly grow up. But in his case, he’s not only attempting to stay young at 60, he’s hoping to be immortal.
“I once read that when a lot of artists create, it’s a way of, in their minds at least, thinking that they’re getting some type of immortality, something of themselves that they’re leaving behind when they leave this old dirt ball. For me, I’m concentrating on books now, and I also draw and do some comics. It’s a way of making my mark, not only on a piece of paper but in life and the world,” Craig mused.
“I don’t know how much longer books are going to last. Digital is taking over, but when the last dead tree is cut down to make paper for a book, I hope to be printing on that particular dead tree. I just really enjoy books.”