Saturday, July 23, 2016

Ballad of a Man Called Yoe

After spending 26 years as a bookseller, librarian, or bookstore manager, my livelihood went away at the end of 2008 when the Airport closed an entire concourse while I was managing the Airport Borders. Naively, I assumed I could take a few weeks off and then get another job. I hadn’t yet realized just how much the US economy was suffering. There were very few bookstores left and soon enough, even most of those would be closing.

I spent months and months putting in for other jobs as the government kept passing extensions for unemployment payments due to the high volume of same. I rarely got so much as a nibble and even then, a couple turned out to be scams and others—such as the Easter Bunny’s helper—were temporary.

Then came Yoe.

Honestly, I can’t recall exactly how we connected but I’m sure glad we did. I knew the name from a wonderfully eccentric, illustrated column he did for the Comics Buyers Guide way back when. I remembered that he had introduced me to the great SPARKY WATTS cartoonist Boody Rogers through CBG and had, more recently, written and edited a book collecting some Rogers work. I had no idea of this man’s bizarre and fascinating background, however. That I would learn about later and I’m STILL learning new things about him.

Somehow, though, he contacted me about the concept of my writing back matter for a new book he was working on to be called THE GREAT ANTI-WAR CARTOONS. I was to research and write about the various artists reflected in the text and, as needed, he would augment with additional info he might have. It was a somber but fascinating and educational book, published by Fantagraphics, the first folks who ever paid me as a writer way back in 1987.

Craig was happy with my work and explained that he and his wife, Clizia Gussoni, herself a lovely and talented designer, had just been offered the chance to start their own imprint at IDW to be called Yoe Books. He also explained that this came after they had been forced to downsize their design studio because of the economic mess and asked if I would be willing to work with them on a freelance basis.

The first thing I did was research Craig Yoe so I’d have some idea of whom I was getting involved with. Turns out that Yoe is a surprisingly humble man, especially when you consider he knows just about everybody in and out of the comics field , once ran the Muppets alongside Jim Henson, hired Steve Ditko to draw BIG BOY Comics, has an incredible collection of original art, discovered Joe Shuster’s naughty secret, was one of the original “Jesus Freaks” in the seventies, attended school with  Pretender Chrissie Hynde, curated an exhibit at the Sex Museum, has saved countless lives across the globe with his and Clizia’s public service comics, and lives in a castle!

Okay, I was in.

For Yoe Books, I have worked as a writer, a ghostwriter, a researcher, a proofreader, a transcriptionist, a fact checker, a publicist, and I started and maintain the Yoe Books Facebook and Twitter pages. My association with Yoe has given me the skills and the connections to be able to work with a growing number of other writers, editors, and publishers as well. More importantly, it was Craig’s unending support in some of my darkest hours that helped me redefine myself in the wake of my economic crisis.  

I’ve worked on nearly all of Yoe Books’ publications since then as well as several Craig has done outside of his own imprint. Among others, I wrote a number of sections for THE OFFICIAL BARF BOOK and even more for ARCHIE-A CELEBRATION OF AMERICA’S FAVORITE TEENAGERS and ARCHIE’S MADHOUSE, two of my favorite projects. I even helped in the creation of horror host, Forelock the Warlock. Craig was kind enough to officially dedicate his book on one of my all-time favorite comic artists, THE CREATIVITY OF DITKO, to me!

One of my very favorite projects to have worked on behind the scenes for Craig and Clizia is 2015’s WALT KELLY’S FAIRY TALES, a beautifully designed collection of the POGO artist’s brilliant and long unavailable comic book stories done for Dell Comics in the 1940s.  

Last night at Comic Con in San Diego, WALT KELLY’S FAIRY TALES won the prestigious Eisner Award in the category of Best Archival Collection/Project—Comic Books. I am proud to be able to say I worked on the book and proud to continue my association with Yoe Books. I’m even prouder to be able to call Craig Yoe—a man whose name was for so long mere words on tabloid paper to me—my friend. Congratulations to Craig and Clizia!

Who knows? Maybe some day I’ll actually get to MEET him!

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