Tom Yeates Interview
conducted by D.J. LoTempio
Thomas Yeates is an illustrator who follows in the footsteps of Hal Foster and Al Williamsom. His characters are lithe and graceful, delicately balanced between their external struggles against sin and madness. His jungles are humid, abundant and mysterious. His castles are proudly haunted.
Thomas Yeates is an alum of the Joe Kubert School of Art, and studied alongside such gentlemen as John Totleben, Rick Veitch, and Tom Mandrake. Mr. Yeates did several masterful sword and sorcery jobs for DC comics in the early 80s, and eventually helped revive the limbo-bound SWAMP THING series. His skills were perfect for the series since he could deftly control both adventure, suspense, and the unreal. He's also a very nice guy.
I had the privilege of meeting Mr. Yeates a few months ago and he pleasantly agreed to discuss his output during the early 80's at DC comics. This interview was conducted via email.
DL - Where do you live? I'm curious as to how or whether your locale influences your work. I'm guessing that you don't live in a jungle or Spanish-ruled California, locales you're famous for illustrating. Does your home environment play a role in your aesthetic? If so, how does it fit within these divergent environments that appear in your work?
TY - I grew up in northern California. The dry hills I was surrounded by were very similar looking to where the Disney Zorro series was filmed. I also spent a lot of my child hood swimming in the beautiful American River. I spent seven years in an extremely beautiful part of New Jersey, the last few of which I was right on a lake. Now I live in a tiny hamlet on the northern California coast.
DL - I believe you're a graduate of the Kubert School. Did you attend with Rick Veitch and John Totleben?
TY - Rick was in my class, the first class Kubert had. John was in the second year, but yes we were all enrolled there at the same time.
DL - Your career seems to gravitate towards the adventure genre; you've worked on TARZAN, ZORRO, and DRAGONSWORD. Is this on purpose, or typecasting?
TY - Definitely on purpose, though I enjoy doing taking a break to do other material from time to time.
DL What quality of the adventure genre appeals to you?
DL - You and Jack C. Harris crafted an end to the Claw the Unconquered story in WARLORD #47-48, why? I don't recall the series being popular. Was this an attempt to re-start the character or merely fill the back up space in WARLORD?
TY - You'd have to ask Jack. But my guess is it was part to fill up the back of WARLORD, and part because Jack had the idea for that "epilogue" like story. He also may have wanted to work with me on a sword and sorcery job.
DL - The Dragonsword serial, which ran in WARLORD #51-54, was a tight and well-executed fantasy story. Although there was a fair share of bombast and testosterone, there was also sadness to the characters, each had a deficiency that gave them added depth. Do you recall the development of this series? How did you get involved with it?
TY - After 20 years it's a little vague. But basically, I was doing very short back-ups at DC because they'd changed their format and their inventory of stories no longer fit the books. Hence the extra pages to fill. Ross Andru saw a Xerox of one page from a short sword and sorcery back up I'd probably done for WEIRD WAR TALES. He needed an artist for those WARLORD back-up series, and asked around the office - "who did this page?" I'm sure I added little visual bits to the stories, as I usually do, but basically the scripts were the work of the writers alone.
DL - As I reviewed your work for this interview, I noticed that you ended the Claw serial with a purple-cloaked figure and then started Dragonsword with a similar figure. Was this coincidence, a joke, or something more?
TY - I know it was my idea to give the Dragonsword character a beard, just to be a little different. I vaguely remember the purple-cloaked figure. I don't think it was a coincidence, but I also don't know why it's there.
DL - Pysilllus, the ape squire, is a great character. He adds a bit of humility and levity to the otherwise dour proceedings. Do you remember the genesis of him? Why have an ape for a squire, when most of the other characters are human?
TY - You'd have to ask Levitz. But I certainly like drawing apes.
DL Why do you like drawing apes? Of course, it beggars the following question why aren't you working on the PLANET OF THE APES series for Dark Horse?
TY - I was in San Diego when I saw the PLANET OF THE APES that Dark Horse was doing. So I told Mike Richardson he should have had me do it. He said he didn't know I was interested. But I would have loved it. Pretty good movie too, though the lead was a bit stiff.
I just like apes. Jane Goodall has always been a hero of mine.
Their similarity to humans may be part of it too. I like drawing
animals in general.
DL - At the time, DC was able to spin off a few books from the WARLORD, e.g. ARAK, ARION and BARREN EARTH. Did you and Paul Levitz have a sequel planned?
TY - We may have discussed it, but nothing serious. I'd forgotten about ARAK. I remember wishing I'd landed that one.
(Writer note ARAK: Son of Thunder was a sword and adventure strip featuring an American Indian in Medieval Europe, which ran from 1981 1985. Created and written largely by Roy Thomas, the series is an exciting, and even educational, romp through history.)
DL It sounds like you lobbied for the ARAK job. Did you try to get the assignment or was it a book you only became aware of later?
TY - Oh I was aware of it at the time. I'm not sure if I lobbied
for it, maybe. But the artist [Ernie Colon and Tony DeZuniga]
doing it was very good. They didn't need me.
DL - I recall feeling sad that this creature, the dragon, was used and abused against its will. Were there any plans to develop the dragon?
TY - Nothing concrete that I recall. I do ask Paul from time to time when he's going to collect Dragonsword into reprint book. He just smiles.
DL - Your characters are usually trim but muscular; you seem to avoid excess or exaggeration. For instance, the characters in Dragonsword are balanced and almost graceful. Why is that? Do you have a particular aesthetic?
TY - If you say so. I just draw what I like. Maybe graceful is more entertaining to me than clumsy.
DL - With Martin Pasko, you revived SWAMP THING. Do you recall the initial proposal? How much input did Len Wein have? Was DC only interested in having a comic tie in with the movie? Did you lobby for the job?
TY - I did not lobby for the job; Len lobbied me. I was leery of the commitment of a continuing series. Len said, "I'll bring back SWAMP THING if you'll draw it". That's what he told me, but the movie was probably also on his mind. Yes, Len was very involved in it.
DL - How did the character of Casey, the mute companion to Swamp Thing, come about? Was it planned to reveal her as the heir to evil or did that evolve over time? (Writer's note: In SAGA OF THE SWAMP THING #1, our muck-encrusted hero takes the mute child Casey under his protection. Over time, it is revealed that she is a genetically engineered evil entity, like THE BOYS FROM BRAZIL by way of THE OMEN.)
TY - She was Marty Pasko's doing, and he and Len knew who she was all along. I'm not sure they let me in on it until later.
DL - I recall that you hit creative gold early in the series with the punk vampire story (SWAMP THING #3) and the demonic possession issue (SWAMP THING #4). Vampires hiding in pinball machines were very humorous and dark all at once. Did you enjoy this book? Was it as much fun creatively as it appeared to this reader?
TY - I definitely enjoyed the punk vampires issue. But it was a lot of work too. Most all of them were. Pasko often had too many things going on in one panel. I had to learn to edit a script's art directions with that series.
DL - What are you currently working on? Who syndicates ZORRO? What projects can we expect in the future?
TY - I'm currently waiting on a script for a PARADISE X special for Marvel about Thor. My last comics work was "Jhafnyr" for THE FORBIDDEN BOOK #2, out soon, and two UNIVERSE X specials, one called CAP featuring Captain America, and one called BEASTS, featuring some X-Men. In between, I do private commissions and the odd storyboard job. There's a book on Al Williamson that I'm editing for Dark Horse too. It will have a ton of old comic book stories in it. I left the ZORRO strip around August of 2000, and it was cancelled about 6 months later. A reprint collection of the first year will be out soon from Image.
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This piece is © 2002 by D.J. LoTempio and Tom Yeates .
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