I was fortunate to grow up in the Seventies when comicbooks were virtually everywhere; convenience stores, bookstores, grocery stores, gas stations, etc. And even more amazing was the variety; funny animal, humor, superhero, horror, science fiction, war and plenty of familiar characters licensed from other media. My love of reading comics encouraged me to make my own comics and create my own characters. Without the modern conscience of having to be realistic or even make sense, I had created a pantheon of my own Super Weird Heroes!
Craig Yoe is not only one of the most important figures in modern publishing in introducing readers to the history of the comics medium, but also produces some of the best looking volumes you’ll find on any bookshelf. Craig and I became friends several years ago; he’s a hard person not to like. We have a mutual love of the medium and he’s been a frequent and vocal supporter of the site.
And there’s nothing that gets me more excited about comics than a new book with Craig’s name on it.
His newest book, Super Weird Heroes: Outrageous but Real! is not only yet another feather in his overstuffed cap, but also is the perfect primer for anyone, of any age, that loves the superhero genre. And let’s be serious, anyone who dons a union suit and a cape and swears to fight the forces of evil has got to be a little bit nutty.
Craig took some time to discuss his own personal history of superheroes, why they matter and gives us some more details of both this book, and upcoming Yoe Books publications.
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FOG!: Craig, in your introduction to Super Weird Heroes: Outrageous but Real! you mentioned that you were only allowed to read Dell Comics as a child and had little exposure to superheroes. Did this increase your interest in the genre or did you find the “safer” funny animal comics fulfilling?
Craig Yoe: Oh, good question, Stefan! I definitely loved the Dell comics! Carl Barks’ Donald Duck stories with their rollickin’ adventures. Mom didn’t realize that the domestic war between Donald and his nephews probably sowed the seed of my later adolescent rebellion. And the engrossing stories of Little Lulu by John Stanley pulled me in and maybe had a nihilistic undercurrent to them that has plagued me to today. Lulu WAS a terrific feminist role model. Reading her in the fifties may have also radicalized me a bit, wanting to see a more egalitarian society, too.
Meeting Barks and becoming very close to Stanley years later was a lifetime thrill!
I didn’t feel little Craig was missing anything without having superhero comics in his life. But, sure, when I did rarely think about superheroes, when I’d see the DC comics at my friend’s house or something, they were intriguing. The forbidden fruit thing has always been strong for me. But, it was really a moot point. As a child, Mom successfully kept the superheroes completely away from me so I didn’t know anything about them.
But, I didn’t really feel unfulfilled, not with the other superlative comics I was immersed in. And those Barks and Stanley time-bombs created in me a life-long love for the comics medium and helped shape me into the unfit for proper society wonderfully fulfilled person I am today.
You went on to mention that you did later become an early Marvel fan. Were the Marvel titles the first superhero characters that you were exposed to?
In junior high school a few friends like Dave Scroggy, now with Dark Horse (we do the Syrocco comics character states with him) and a couple other school chums, started obsessively collecting Marvel comics. They turned me on to these Stan Lee-helmed mighty masterpieces. This was from the beginning of the modern-age Marvel superheroes. We all built up complete or near-complete collections of all the first titles: Spider-Man, Hulk, Thor, X-Men, Daredevil, Fantastic Four, etc.–everything! Not actually easy because there were no comic shops or the internet and you had to put miles on your bike tires every week going around to numerous drugstores, cigar stores, dusty used bookstores and sleazy downtown newsstands around Akron to keep up on them all.
Spider-Man was the cornerstone of our love for the Marvels, for sure. I was and am crazy about Stan Lee and Steve Ditko’s Spidey and their Dr. Strange, too.
The forbidden thing came in again, too. Not only was mom scornful of superhero comics when I was a little kid but now of all comics being acceptable fare for a teenager who was supposed to be growing up. And then socially you didn’t dare let your classmates know that you read comics. They would have thought you were a “baby” and the jocks would have pounded your ass in the school parking lot to give concrete expression to their feelings about you. The bullies and especially the girls would think you were some kind of social anathema to be punished, or worse yet, ignored.
I liked that I had a secret identity as a 15 year-old comic book reader and collector though I lived in mortal fear of being found out.
I eventually moved on from superheroes I never thought they were the whole thing in comics and did think they we’re only for the young going through hormonal changes. But I’ve come back around and, after all, I may be getting to be a old fart but I can be immature forever.
Craig, what do you think is so appealing to readers, and specifically children, about the superhero iconography?
That would be the secret identity thing. In real life… an outcast, a weakling, bumbling around girls, but actually, secretly, a hero with muscles on his muscles adored by the public, especially women.
My gay friends may have had a different experience. For them there might be the added appeal of the homosexual aspect of these spandex-clad do-gooders with their capes and boots. And even for me, an eventual straight, as a adolescent figuring out my sexual identity, there was probably some soul-searching, grappling, wonderment in the caped crusaders. Some of the super weird heroes undoubtedly had a LGBTQ appeal with their scanty costumes.
Now days many of the super hero costumes look like bad-ass head-to-toe armor.
Back in the Golden Age many super-duper-doers looked like they were going half-naked to a masked artist-and-model ball.
Approachable! Give me the latter! Fun!
Your new book, Super Weird Heroes: Outrageous But Real!, profiles 32 characters. How did you choose the characters that you included and was there any criteria that you used that deemed the heroes as eligible?
My eyes had to zooooom out and my jaw had to drop to the floor like Tex Avery’s wolf when I saw the hero and read their story. There’s a WTF and LOL aspect of each and every one of these super weird heroes. The heroes had to have a ludicrous, yet thoroughly enjoyable aspect about them that would make you be astonished. And make you want to share about the super weird hero with your friends.
There’s a sense of creativity and imagination in many of these stories and characters that still resonates. They are exciting and engaging. What do you find appealing about these characters and do you think there’s an energy to them that’s missing in modern comics?
I might be the wrong guy to ask, Stefan. From what little I’ve observed flipping through modern comics a couple of times, I don’t really have a clue what is going on in them. They may have an energy, I wouldn’t know. I do know this… In the 1940s and on into the 50s, funny books were a throw-away medium. Golden Age creators didn’t take comics seriously. Crackling fun art and stories that were a gas happened as a result. It was the beginning of the medium and there were no rules, no norms—anything went! And you’ll see all that in Super Weird Heroes!
Because the main audience in comics’ first big decade was kids or young soldiers on the run, the stories were simple and direct. The art and the coloring weren’t overwrought but were strong, engaging and clear (well, the coloring was often off register, but I think that gave the comics a verve and sense of motion and a prop-punk aesthetic, too.) There wasn’t moral ambivalence in these superheroes of those times. It was good vs. evil. Not that I subscribe to the abhorrent Ayn Rand philosophy that Ditko embraces. But as a kid and now the unabashed good guys vs. bad guys approach appeals to me.
When I was with Nickelodeon, we had a show, Kids’ Court. Like a Judge Judy for kids. At the end of each case—a sister borrowing a shirt and getting chocolate stains on it—stuff like that, the kid jury would shout a verdict, either, “FAIR!” or “UNFAIR!” I saw how my first set of kids loved this and shouted along. Kids like a sense of black or white justice. They find comfort in it. And I long for more justice in the world, too.
The characters and their peers in the Golden Age, especially these weird ones, had zilch logic in regards to their powers and their M.O. And their outfits were equally ridiculous. The mind-fuck absurdity in the super weird heroes stories terribly appeals to me. Especially the super weird heroes’ way-out costumes. From what I’ve seen when I see a shot from modern superhero movies they are now trying to make the costumes look subdued, sophisticated, cool. Phooey on that! Give me the explosion-at-the-paint-factory-colored, dare-to-bare costumes of the super weird heroes!
Super Weird Heroes seems to embrace the silliness of the whole superhero concept and in many ways makes these characters incredibly endearing. What do you think makes the characters profiled in Super Weird Heroes so appealing?
They’re the runts of the super hero litter. Who can resist loving that cute little puppy pushed out by the others?! The Justice League or The Avengers probably wouldn’t even grant these wannabes an Associate Member status. We all, and especially geeks, feel a little marginalized at times, awkward, maybe even rejected. The super weird heroes celebrate their weirdness and plunge on to victory over the miscreants! I have a silly costume and a dubious power? Yeah, but look how I mow down legions of Nazis! The super weird heroes’ bravado is an inspiration to do your own thing and not worry about what others think. Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead! We all can all become superheroes, even if it is the weird variety. Or maybe ESPECIALLY if it’s the weird variety—in my book and in THIS book, that’s actually better!
We’ve been friends for a while and I know that the modern superhero genre in general holds no interest for you. You’ve shared a number of pictures of your young children Griffin and Gracie dressed up in masks and capes. As a father, what do you think attracts kids to superheroes?
Ah, another good question. I wanted Griffin when he came along to experience the joy of all old classic comics. I knew at his age the superheroes could be the gateway. So I read to him nearly every night from a stack of the wacky DC comics of the 60s with their silly Bizarro stories, surreal Jimmy Olsen tales where he becomes a human porcupine or turtle, etc. He and I can both enjoy this fare at bedtime.
And little Gracie likes these superhero comics, too. That excites me because I want her to be a smart, strong, kick-ass woman in addition to her good looks that she has when she grows up. And superheroes can help foster all that, give her role-models. She’s well on her way! She had a ball being a pink Spider-Girl this Halloween—perfect!
We read Donald Duck and Little Lulu, too, but I do like the kids reading superheroes with me. We have a grand time!
Of course I read to Clizia Gussoni’s and my children the adult and kid-friendly books we’ve done. We revel in the twister-sock Popeye collections, the scrumptious Walt Kelly’s Fairy Tales, and the dizzying Klassic Krazy Kool Kids Komics, too. These comics are all stupendous because adults and kids together have a blast and a half with them.
But Griffin doesn’t on his own pick up any of our books that are lying around. Alas, he’s more drawn to video games when he comes home from school to relax before hitting the god-awful stack of homework the schools give to a mere 1st grader each night. Video games are ok, Griff enjoys them and feels a sense of accomplishment from them.
But when the Super Weird Heroes books came in I saw him putting the games aside and eyeing the candy-colored cover and then paging through the collection. He was obviously quite intrigued. I was so happy! There IS an undeniable, powerful draw with superheroes. But the wackier the better in our household!
Do you have a favorite Super Weird Hero?
Oh, gosh, Stefan, don’t make me choose! The Hand. He’s a giant hand! The Cobra and the Cobra Kid bashing baddies with giant snakes! Rainbow Boy with his LGBT-friendly costume. Spider-Widow, the beautiful “Grandmother of Terror!” Captain Hadacol whose superhero mission is to get kids liquored up!
What about Kismet, Man of Fate, the first Muslim superhero created by two Jews and maybe a black artist?
Speaking of religion there’s the cringe-worthy Deacon, a guy that dresses up in a priest’s outfit, and Mickey, his young boy sidekick whom he lives with in an old abandoned church.
Talking about inappropriate, how about Phantasmo who floats around bare-assed with nothing more than a little red ribbon around his loins?
You can’t go wrong with Fantomah, Fletcher Hanks’ pre-Wonder Woman superheroine. We present a story of hers carefully reproduced from the uber-rare, never-before-seen, original art in my collection. I laugh at Yellowjacket who uses bees to fight the underworld thugs and Nightshade who uses his shadow! —what th’!?!
I love ALL 32 of these oddball runts of the superhero litter!
What do you have coming up next, Craig?
Well, we’re working on a sequel to Super Weird Heroes: Outrageous But Real! That will be Super Weird Heroes: Preposterous But True!
Yes, Stefan, there’s even more out there and this next batch is even more…well…out there! I suppose because they ARE superheroes, which the public is crazy for, and because these books are so darn fun and entertaining, they are going to be our most popular best selling books by far. People that have got advance copies of the first one are wildly loving it. And the process of assembling the two collections HAS caused ME to fall in love with superheroes again. At least the vintage weird ones!
We are bashing on with our very popular collections of Pre-Code horror comics. The next one is Jay Disbrow’s Monster Invasion. Jay’s out-there style in his 1950s horror comics is like the bat-crazy Fletcher Hanks or Basil Wolverton outsider comic art. Jay is one of the small handful of Golden Age artists still with us and I was privileged to sit down with him and interview him for this book.
The Weird Love collections of kookie romance comics of the 1950s and ‘60s are our favorite project to work on.
Steve Banes has combined our vintage Pre-Code horror comics and romance comics collections, Haunted Horror and Weird Love, into the unholy spawn of the two titles: Haunted Love.
The Haunted Love hardback from Yoe Books/IDW will be out for that horror-love holiday, Valentines Day!
Popeye, the ORIGINAL super weird hero, gloriously sails on every month. Bud Sagendorf was an adventure and humor genius with his own surrealism and it’s wonderful that people are discovering his delightful comics.
Mike Howlett is coming up with some more ideas for us to follow his way-cool recent Snake Tales collection of retro horror comics.
And then we’re totally stoked about our first OGN, original graphic novel, coming up: the brilliant, award-winning illustrator Dave Calver has created a full-color graphic novel, Limbo Lounge, that matches our publishing sensibilities with his surreal, unusual, quite different approach! It’s gonna kill! People are going to love it! Dave’s book will be the strong launch of our YoeGN line with Top Shelf and IDW.
We’re talking to other cool-ass writers and artists now about other titles for this new Yoe Books-style Graphic Novel initiative. It’s uber-exciting!
What are you currently geeking out over?
Stefan, putting together books of cool comics with Clizia and raising our adorable kids takes all my time except when I’m Little Craig Yoe in Slumberland. I have no energy for anything else.
I’m into reproduction: making kids and books about comics is my whole life from dawn to dusk 24/7/365. I know this is super weird, but I love it!