Monday, November 1, 2010

Phil Yeh - Cartoonist Survey #183

Cartoonist Phil Yeh was born in Chicago, IL in 1954 and grew up in Southern California. When he was 16 years old and still in high school, he founded his studio and began his own publishing company, Eastwind Studios. Phil studied both film and art at Cal State University, Long Beach and was also a cartoonist for its newspaper. In 1973 he started publishing Uncle Jam, a newspaper that covered everything from books to health and the arts. He interviewed many cartoonists for Uncle Jam including Harvey Kurtzman, Jean (Moebius) Giraud and the co-creator of Superman, Jerry Siegel. The interview with Siegel brought to light the sad story of how he and Joe Shuster were cheated over the rights to Superman. Phil’s graphic novel "Even Cazco Gets The Blues", published in 1977, was one of the first modern American graphic novels. When he interviewed Wally “Famous” Amos for Uncle Jam in 1985, Wally discussed the serious illiteracy crisis here in the US. This inspired Phil to start the Cartoonists Across America and the World organization that sends out the message that cartoons can be used to inspire people of all ages to read.

The artists involved with CAA have toured the world, creating books, painting more than 1700 colorful murals and speaking at libraries museums, schools, and conferences raising awareness of the illiteracy problem. Kevin Eastman, the co-creator of “The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” funded the publication of Phil’s 1991 book “Theo the Dinosaur.” The colorful cartoon oil paintings in “Theo the Dinosaur” were shown in art galleries in California and New York and in a five-month exhibit at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. In 1993, he published the wordless graphic novel, “The Winged Tiger” which went on to be named one of the 25 best graphic novels in the book, “100 Graphic Novels for Public Libraries.” A comic book series called “The Winged Tiger Comics & Stories” and two other Winged Tiger books, “The Winged Tiger's World Peace Party Puzzle Book” and “The Winged Tiger & The Lace Princess” have also been published. To date, Phil has written and illustrated over 80 books including his most recent, “Dinosaurs Across America” and “Steve the Dog & The Winged Tiger.” Learn more about
Phil and Cartoonists Across America and the World here.

Update: Just wanted to let you know that a new issue of Uncle Jam (#98) just came out this weekend. It is jam-packed with interviews of cartoonist, artists and musicians. You can get a 4-issue subscription or just buy a single issue here.

What is your favorite pen to use?
Hunt Bowl pointed extra fine (if you have some send them along).

Do you draw in pencil first and if so do you use a standard pencil or a mechanical one?
Standard pencil - very light and very rough pencils.

Do you do your coloring by hand or on the computer?
Lieve Jerger is the genius behind my coloring except when I just paint in watercolors. Lieve handles the computer coloring very much in her own style. I can answer emails on this machine and that is about all. I am in awe of anyone who understands computers and can color on them but have zero desire to use them for my art.

If you do your coloring by hand, what do you use?
Watercolors and then INK over the paint.

What type of paper do you use?
Strathmore Windpower vellum bristol for comic book and black and white illustration. Arches for watercolors.

What thing(s) do you hate to draw?
Commercial stuff which I gave up when I created Cartoonists Across America & The World. I did freelance artwork from 1970-1985 and did every type of thing one could imagine. Drawing machines and homes for real estate clients that look REAL. It's great for your future when you can draw anything but with your own twist. So, no regrets. If the clients were decent, no worries but often we get people who are really a pain. I love to draw ANYTHING but I hate working for people who are not bright. I stopped freelancing in 1985 and never looked back. I have met so many not bright people in the world of publishing and TV and film and of course in the so called fine art world and in big business. Really big business. I have worked for some of the biggest companies on the planet and it is amazing just how not bright so many of the top executives can be. So it has never been about hating something I am asked to draw, it's more about hating the people asking me to do the work. I don't respect stupidity. Perhaps this is why I never had a real job.

Do you buy your supplies from big chain art store catalogues/websites or a local one that you physically go to?
Local stores.

Are there any rituals that you do before starting to draw?
I sleep and then wake up and draw from my dreams in terms of my comic book stories. I have done this all my life. My friend Rick Veitch never believes me on this point. But it is the truth. When faced with a problem, I sleep on it and the answer comes in my dreams.

Do you listen to music while you draw and if so what genre?
Seldom. If I do listen to music it's old rock or classical but most often when I am inking, I listen to the news which often fuels ideas for my books. But it's silence when I am writing the actual dialog for my books which come from refining those dreams. I listen to the universe when I am writing.

Did you read comics as a kid and if so what was your favorite?
Never really read them as kid or as an adult. So it's been a weird thing to be a comic book artist for most of my life. I did love some of the comic strips like Gasoline Alley and Rick O'Shay as a kid in Los Angeles and one of the very few comics I truly loved was Sugar & Spike. I also loved Jack Cole's Plastic Man. I saw comics at a couple of friend's homes in Los Angeles and when I was 13, my friend Dennis Lew gave me about 500 old DC comics from the 60s. He kept up "my collection for a year or so" but I really didn't read a lot of comics even then. I did read Tintin and Asterix at my German neighbor's house and I always read children's books and all the classics. One of my friends read MAD so I would see Sergio Aragone's work and people like Mort Drucker and Jack Davis. I love to read biographies, history, and anything that makes one think. That was what filled my time as a kid in the ghetto - that and SPORTS. I loved to play all sports.

What is or was your favorite comic strip?
As a kid, Rick O'Shay and Peanuts and BC. As I got older and found the Comic-Con world at 15 in San Diego, I was turned on to Krazy Kat and Little Nemo which are two of my all time favorites. One for the great drawing (McCay) and one for the pure genius that was Herriman. I also love Walt Kelly's Pogo. A truly great strip.

What was your favorite book as a child and do you still own a copy of it?
The Little Prince which I first read in French as a teenager. Still remains my favorite book. Still don't care much for adults who see things as a "hat". Never did.

Did you have any formal art training and if so where did you receive it?
I have drawn since I was 2 years old. My dad was a Chinese engineer and used computers the size of buildings and brought home tons of free paper (failed programs for his work) for me to enjoy.

Years later, I learned I had dyslexia which didn't stop me from reading everything I could but I cannot spell to save my life and I cannot do math. Mr. Peterson in the 7th grade at Henry Clay Junior High turned me on to the dip pen and a bottle of ink. My half-Chinese background gave me knowledge of Chinese brushes very early and I still preach to all young artists to draw from life and use these old fashioned instruments. I always did art and was fortunate enough to have free reign in Los Alamitos High School when I left Los Angeles. I am not one to listen to most art teachers and was tossed out of life drawing in college when I didn't know the Latin word for arm. I can't stand most of the nonsense associated with art theory and uptight art museum type phonies. I hate SNOBS. Most of the art world is about CON ARTISTS and not really good art. One has to have a sense of humor and listen to your own heart and your own opinions.

If you can find a truly GOOD art teacher than you are blessed. It's the same for martial arts or anything in this world. A truly great teacher is a gift to the world and I love GREAT TEACHERS. Sadly, most teachers are not even good when it comes to any of the arts. And that is truly tragic.

If you cannot find a great teacher then go read everything in the library on every subject and teach yourself! For all artists, start with NATURE. Draw from life and don't copy other artists like a robot. Look at all the art you can in all fields and learn from the best of them but when you want to be an artist, it's just best to do your own thing.

Do you feel that the Internet is a blessing or a curse?
It's great for communicating with a lot of "friends" in terms of my new projects and where I am appearing. It's also great sometimes when I need a specific reference image but I still maintain and buy BOOKS from all over the world. I like books. Other than that, the internet is totally over rated in my opinion. Of course, this is on the internet, right?

Did either of your parents draw?
No and as they approach 90 years of age, they are still reminding me to get a real job. I really never had a real job. Started publishing my own work at 16 and ran my own studio and really have never paid much attention to what the real world believes I should do for a living. I do not live my life in fear. I became a taoist (note the small "T" at 15) and through years of meditation, I found the best way to live for my SELF.

My grandfather Williams loved to paint a bit in a very amateurish way and I have a Chinese uncle who taught literature so I know my writing and drawing skills do come from DNA on both sides.

Who in your life is/was the most supportive of your art?
I had a few incredible teachers starting with my 1st grade teacher Miss North in Wayne, New Jersey. She saved my drawings and told me I would be famous. I painted a mural in Wayne many, many years later and she called me in my hotel. She was so proud of me. My 4th grade teacher Miss Borkin in Los Angeles was also a supporter of my work and Mrs. Hemphill at Los Alamitos high school. But really it was being friends with artists like Ray Bradbury, Flavia, Leo & Diane Dillon, Alfredo Alcala, Jean Giraud, Hal Robinson, Sergio Aragones, Roger Armstrong, and so many others when I was in my 20s that made me think that I might be okay with this crazy career choice, not that I really had a choice. I cannot see myself doing anything but making art and telling stories.

Do you keep a sketchbook?
I have many and draw in some every ten years or so. I read many books at once always and perhaps this is my A.D.D. kicking in. I also work on many books and projects at the same time and often pick up a story I started 3 or 5 years ago when an idea hits me again to keep going on it. The best thing about being my own boss is that I cannot get fired and we don't have meetings. I hate meetings.

Have you ever taught cartooning/drawing and if so did you enjoy the experience?
I did teach in Anaheim years ago to all ages in an after school program and loved it. Of course, I give workshops all over the world to kids and adults about drawing and the entire creative process. My joke is that I say the same things to 5 year old kids as I do to high school and college kids, only I repeat myself to the older kids.

I love speaking around the world and have some wonderful stories from many folks now grown telling me that something I said made a difference years ago. My own 3 sons are age 26-30 and they all draw but only one of them makes his living from his art full time. I have always suggested that art can save your life and your sanity - any art! It's just a good thing to do and you do not have to "make a living at it."

Do you feel that talent or passion is more important in drawing?
Passion for anything is the most important thing that any of us can have in this really sad 21st century world run by lousy corporations and lousy governments. Are there some good big companies and good governments? - a tiny few but most are all about making humans into robots that they can rip-off and in making more and more money. The level of greed in this world today is off the charts and that is so sad. The powers that be are not about passion for us as individuals and when you destroy passion and free thought, you have NOTHING. Artists with PASSION are the key to reminding us of our real humanity in all THE ARTS.

My friend Emmanuel Itier just made a documentary called
The Invocation that shines a light on the good things happening on this planet. He used a painting of mine in the film from Leive Jerger's and my new book, The Winged Tiger & The Lace Princess (out in 2011). Emmanuel's film can give us all hope for the future once we see the real truth of the so called man-made material world. I am still an optimist because of films like Emmanuel's and the people he spoke to all over the globe. Artists are crucial to us healing the planet.

Do you collect anything and if so what?
I collect original artwork that I can afford and have also been blessed by many friends who give me their work as gifts. But I have never really been a collector of anything including comic books. I do read some excellent stuff that my friends turn me on to or have made but I am not a collector in any sense of the word.

If you were an animated cartoon character who do you think you would be?
Top Cat.

Are you a righty or lefty?
Started off using my left hand - still play the drums left handed - but my mom switched me early. My mother believes that one should go along and conform and not make waves. I have spent my life as the loyal opposition to both my parents. They don't understand me at all. I learned to understand that we can love people we don't often agree with and this is why I still believe in peace. I was born in Chicago and I am a lifelong Cubs fan so I am an eternal optimist.

If you weren't an artist what would you want to do for work?
I would go into politics and get thrown out if I got elected (rare chance of that in the USA) because I am always honest. But I was a two term senator in college years ago and had a lot of fun actually trying to do the right thing in government. I made some good changes. The powers that be are generally against doing the right thing so I became an arts/literacy activist many years ago. I admire people like Frederic Douglas, St. Francis, and Rosa Parks. Change the world without selling your soul but change the world in a non-violent way.

In one or two sentences describe your drawing area.
Since I have moved into the wonderful mountain home of my girlfriend Linda Adams, I draw on the kitchen counter and think of another favorite painter Paul Klee working on his kitchen table. Someday, I will have a studio again like in my youth but really it doesn't matter. I can draw and paint anywhere. I spend a lot of my time in the garden that I built in these mountains. A much better studio to just meditate in and enjoy my flowers and birds and lizards and bees.

Do you play any musical instruments?
I used to love to play the drums. I am not good but its fun. I have many dear friends who are actually great drummers.

If you could give one piece of advice to someone who wants to pursue drawing as a career what would it be?
My standard answer is two words for all aspiring artists and musicians--- "Marry well."

A more serious answer would be ---learn to draw everything and then find the best way to make a living at what you love. When you start your career DRAW for everyone. Make signs for the local shop with bad signs, redesign ads for all the businesses that have truly awful ads, make t-shirt designs and really just use your art in every way that you can to make this a more interesting and creative world. Do birthday and holiday cards for people and give the world something that is unique and original!!! With all the artists on this planet, one would think that we would see great art everywhere. Instead, we in the United States see mostly corporate box stores and ugly urban architecture and terrible signs. There is very, very little good art on anything mainstream from the internet to the TV to our print ads. Big soulless companies do not understand what good art is 99% of the time. Precious few American magazines even run cartoons and even fewer use illustrators. There is lots of room for excellent art.

Who is your favorite artist?

I have to mention three who really made me want to draw in pen and ink for my living. Rick Griffin, Hal Robinson, and Alex Nino. All were so inspiring to me as a young person. Griffin and Nino also paint beautifully. Alex is still amazing me in 2010. In pure painting, it's always been Vincent Van Gogh. A truly tortured soul and a real genius.

Thank you for taking the time to answer Phil.

Cartoonist and illustrator Aaron Lopresti’s answers will be next.

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