EXCLUSIVE ART! A talk with Craig Yoe and IDW prez Greg Goldstein — and a FIRST LOOK at Kelley Jones’ portrait of Don Heck from the forthcoming Horror by Heck.
This is the fourth installment of our ongoing look at IDW’s archives series, including the Artist’s Editions and imprints like Yoe Books and the Library of American Comics.
Now, Craig Yoe and Kelley Jones happen to be two of our favorite people in comics. They’re both affable dudes who LOVE comics. I mean, they are as much fans as they are creators. Talking to them in person or through the magic of the Interwebs is great fun.
(In fact, we recently completed The KELLEY JONES Interviews — though I’m sure we’ll visit with Kelley again.)
Both gents, as it turns out, happen to be collaborating on Yoe Books’ Horror by Heck, a collection of scary stories featuring the art of the underappreciated Don Heck.
Here’s your first look at Kelley’s portrait of Heck, from the book. (Kelley’s also written the intro):
Of course the Heck book is just the latest volume in the successful Yoe/IDW partnership. Craig and I caught up to talk about it — and I talked with IDW’s Greg Goldstein about it, as well. Sit back and enjoy the two-part interview below, with plenty o’ rad artwork …
PART 1 : CRAIG YOE
Dan Greenfield: So how did the Yoe Books imprint come about at IDW?
Craig Yoe: Dan, the Secret Origin of Yoe Books is that this great guy Greg Goldstein and I were both selling our souls in the licensing field and enjoyed bantering between ourselves at industry parties—yet we never knew each other were comic-book nuts. When Greg saw my book Secret Identity: The Fetish Art of Superman’s Co-Creator Joe Shuster (Abrams) and I saw that he had got this high-falutin’ gig at IDW, the dirty dark secret was out. Greg contacted me with a batshit crazy idea to have me start a line with my creative partner and wife, Clizia Gussoni, of cool vintage comics collections for IDW—and away we went!
We’ve done and do many books with other terrific publishers but IDW is a perfect home for Yoe Books. Greg is big on classic comics and so is the esteemed Ted Adams and they enthusiastically give us unbelievable freedom and encouragement.
Dan: How many books have you published so far?
Craig: Well, depending on how you count them, with the Yoe Books/IDW line we’ve published and the volumes we’ve produced for other publishers, I think close to or over a hundred. We really need to get a life!
Dan: What’s still to come this year?
Craig: Dan, people will be astounded by the incredible Horror by Heck book coming up. Iron Man’s co-creator Don Heck has gotten an unearned bad rap in some circles. He was a strong, stylish master draftsman, a terrific storyteller. And wait until you see his 1950s horror comics artwork! For putting a scary story across, I’d match it with the work of any other horror comics artist, including the EC guys!
If that wasn’t enough, Batman’s Kelley Jones, a big fan of Don Heck, is doing an introduction and portrait of Heck for the book. Like you, I’ve got a jones for Jones’ amazing art so this is a personal thrill! This book will change the perception of Heck—he absolutely was brilliant in his harsh moody/noir beyond-the-pale pre-Code horror!
We’re also very stoked about the beautiful collection Walt Kelly’s Fairy Tales due out very soon. Walt was, of course, the Disney animator and creator of the Pogo comic strip. That’s at the printer now and is our most ambitious book yet from a design and production standpoint. The cover is embossed with gold-foil stamping on a rich cloth-like binding, and sports a tipped-in plate. The edges of the paper are metallic gold like an old Bible, the spine has raised bumps, there’s breathtaking Walt Kelly endpapers. There’s even a gold ribbon for kids and adult readers to keep their place in this thick tome of breathtaking Walt Kelly art and fairy-tale fantasies.
With the stunning contents and the high production values, if ever there was a sensational holiday gift book Walt Kelly’s Fairy Tales is it!
We’re always lovingly working on new volumes collecting the genius comic-book work of Bud Sagendorf on Popeye, comics’ first and most lovable superhero! Arf! Arf! And we keep on truckin’ with the Chilling Archives of Horror Comics. The Horror by Heck book is part of that line but we’ve got lots of other volumes in the works like Devil Tales, assembled by Steve Banes and Ghosts and Girls of Fiction House Comics, curated by Michael Price.
Clizia and I, with some kind and expert help from others, at the beginning used to pretty much research, edit and design all of the Yoe books. But lately we have been tremendously enjoying partnering with other comic historians, writers, artists and designers who are the force behind volumes like the forthcoming Devil Tales and Ghosts and Girls, and the recent Mike Howlett’s Worst of Eerie Publications that’s been a cult hit! And people are now regularly pitching us super new ideas, which we plan on publishing. We’ve thankfully moved beyond the mom-and-pop business model—YAY!
And coming soon to a nightstand near you is the second very weird Weird Love volume of jaw-dropping, wacky old romance comics. It’s right now being put to bed… if you know what I mean.
Dan: What kinds of rights issues have you had to navigate — or are most of these public-domain comics?
Craig: We reprint comics in the public domain and also license works. We have a top legal eagle, Jeff Trexler, as part of our team who navigates us through the shark-infested waters. God bless Jeff, amen and amen!
Dan: List the comic-book titles you’re publishing right now. Any new titles on the horizon?
Craig: We do three pamphlet style, classic format comics: Popeye Classics, Haunted Horror and Weird Love. We have ideas for three more, but we just have not found the time to do them. We could use more help on production! If there are some able-bodied men or women out there with design and production chops we could use more assistance!
We have plans to publish some pamphlet comics and graphic novels with contemporary cartoonists who share our sensibilities. I think you can see we have a unique world-view about comics at Yoe Books and there are more ways to communicate it in addition to the pleasure of turning people onto classic work via our reprints. The Yoe Books motto is “Making Comics History” but that was coined not only to highlight our work bringing back masterful and fun comics of the past but to also publish contemporary masters under the same rallying cry!
We’re excitedly working on publishing our first original graphic novel with the acclaimed author/writer Dave Calver. Dave is amazing and his nearly completed graphic novel, Limbo Lounge, is tons of fun—it will get tons of attention and critical praise! It really fits in right with Yoe Books. Like our reprints, it’s provocative, has amazing art and is a good-time read. But Limbo Lounge is done by a living artist who can sign books, do interviews and show his beautiful face! Ooo la-la Limbo!
When these projects get closer to fruition, Dan, we’ll let you know!
Dan: What kind of feedback do you get from the original classic comics creators, those who are still alive? Was there any communication with Steve Ditko when you were doing the Ditko’s Shorts book?
Craig: Yes, it’s true, so far, most of the artists whose work we publish have passed on to their well-deserved rewards in that Great Studio in the Sky.
We did have the pleasure of working on a previous Yoe book with the hilarious cartoonist and writer Jack Mendelsohn who’s alive and kickin’ at 88 1/2 when we did the collection of the delightful vintage strip Jacky’s Diary about a little kid who draws his own comic adventures.
I’ve been in touch with Steve when assembling our Ditko collections. He has little interest in his past work. He’s concentrating on the fascinating current comics he writes and draws. Steve did tell me, “Keep on doing what you’re doing!” and I’m thrilled to do that. Steve Ditko is our greatest living mainstream comic-book artist. I wouldn’t be in comics if not for what he and Stan Lee created that got me so psyched about the medium!
Dan: What’s your favorite volume or series so far? Mine’s easily Weird Love. My God, does that crack me up.
Craig: Great—or weird—minds think alike! Weird Love is my favorite project we work on! Most old romance comics were filled with pedestrian stuff but in Weird Love we print the craziest, most bizarro, off-the wall stories of the 1940s through 1960s from that genre!
Romance comics are largely undocumented so I’m always shocked to discover tales like “I Fell For A Commie” to “Too Fat To Frug!” and it’s a blast to share them! We have had a tremendous reaction about Weird Love from both guy and gal comic-book fans. I was worried neither would be interested in this title but the enthusiasm has been across the board. Weird Love has been a very popular hit with droves of comic-shop owners, readers and critics of every sex and sensibility! I guess you and I aren’t the only ones—there’s a lot of people out there that like their love and comics weird!
Dan: Name your white whales, the books you’ve wanted to do but haven’t been able to for whatever reason.
Craig: Besides Golden Age and beyond comic creators, I like their predecessors, Victorian age cartoonists. We have found a way to make things like romance comics accessible and appeal to today’s comic readers but I haven’t figured out an angle for the turn-of-the-century material. I haven’t given up!
DC and Marvel have incredible libraries of non-superhero comics. I appreciate superhero comics as much as the next nerd but they certainly get their due and I’d love to assemble volumes of some of the wonderful humor or horror work from those two publishers, for them to publish or as Yoe Books/IDW volumes.
You never know, though, what we at Yoe Books/IDW are going to do. In addition to pleasuring our beloved readers, my partner Clizia Gussoni and the IDW team behind us get off on pleasing and surprising ourselves!
PART 2: GREG GOLDSTEIN
Dan: Beyond IDW’s Artist’s Editions and the Artifact Editions, you also obviously have the Yoe Books imprint as well.
Greg: Yeah. I’ve known Craig Yoe for 20 years and, in that period, whenever I’ve seen or spoken to Craig, he told me about this idea he had for a book. … And he’d always have an idea for a book and he’d tell me why it would be a good idea and invariably I’d agree with him, or 90 percent of the time. I’d say, “Yeah that IS a great idea for a book!” … Essentially, the creation of the imprint came from a conversation that Craig and I had which was that, “I do! I DO like your ideas.” They’re very diverse… I thought they’d be great and Ted Adams thought they’d be great, you know, Editorial thought they’d be great, and now five, six years later, we still feel that way.
So you got the first really comprehensive book on the work of Milt Gross in the Yoe library, which is actually two books—one is his lost graphic novel, Milt Gross’ New York. We’ve done that. We did a bunch of great super high-quality books on Steve Ditko. Craig’s done a bunch of things…He LOVES kids’ comics! Craig did a bunch of wonderful kids’ books (like) The Golden Treasury of Klassic Krazy Kool Kids Komics.
Craig’s also interested in finding great artists where we’re not familiar with their work because it’s not their conventional work. He did a Frazetta book but it’s funny animals, he’s done a Carl Barks—stories that are not ducks. It was called Barney Bear. He’s done a lot of interesting takes on things. He’s got Walt Kelly’s Fairy Tales coming up. Of course, Walt Kelly created Pogo but Walt had done other comic work and this is the first comprehensive reprinting of that material.
Dan: My favorite of that entire line is Weird Love, which cracks me up every time I see it. I just think it was a brilliant idea to do it. I think it’s great and I’m glad to see that it’s still going.
Greg: Craig will often present me ideas that are both unconventional and unconventionally presented. He was talking to me about a romance comic one day and I was intrigued and then he told me, “I’m gonna find the weirdest stories and the most bizarre representations of that genre.”
We’ve been very successful with it but I’m still waiting for that giant Hot Topic order to come or one of those obvious chains where we’d do sort of a paperback version or a mini-book or something!
I give these comics to some of my friends who are not comic-book readers and I love to get their take on them. I invariably get great reactions from Weird Love.