Although Craig Yoe, publisher, graphic and toy designer, author and passionate and entertaining comics historian, has done a lot of career “hopscotching,” he has persistently returned to comics – and we’re all the better for it. Yoe began his work in publishing as a teenager in the 1970s, running comics fanzines, before going on to be general manager of the Muppets under Jim Henson. More recently he’s the founder of Yoe! Studios, an influential all around design and entertainment production house, and, since 2010, he's directed Yoe Books!, an IDW imprint that specializes in thoughtful, handsomely designed books on all manner of classic comics works.
As iconic as the books he publishes, Yoe is easily identified by his flowing asymmetrical hair style, wizard-like beard and a manner equal parts flamboyant, playful and studious. His publishing program aggressively seeks to reprint obscure, underappreciated, and little-seen titles and his books can be counted on to be well researched and beautifully designed. Yoe described his working life as, "two separate lines: the books we do with our friends at IDW under the Yoe Books imprint and the books we do for a number of other esteemed publishers that I unofficially call 'Books by Yoe.' "
His “Books by Yoe” line essentially produces a variety of titles for publishers such as Archie Comics, Dark Horse Comics, Mattel, Abrams and Disney. At Archie he has teamed with editor-in-chief Victor Gorelick to produce The Art of Betty and Veronica, Archie’s first in-house produced hardcover art book collection, a work that looks back over decades at the fashions, stylings and artists associated with Archie’s two girlfriends. Just out is The Art of Archie: The Covers, again from Archie and produced by Gorelick and Yoe.
For IDW he publishes a wide range of publications from hardcover pop culture reference works to traditional comic books to novelty titles. He has about 25 Yoe Books/IDW titles in print. “The Yoe Books!/IDW tag line is "Making Comics History,” he said. “Under that banner, we do hardbacks featuring collections of comic books and comics strips by great, well-known cartoonists and unknown geniuses.” He loves old-fashioned comic books, “we've started producing old school "floppy"-style comic books, including Popeye Classics,” he said, “which reprints the one-eyed sailor's adventures by Popeye creator Bud Sagendorf, and Haunted Horror, an anthology of banned comics of the 1950s.“
“The traditional comic book format, which I and many others grew up on, is a real kick for me,” Yoe said, “The fans love them and also love reading them to their kids (we label the Popeyes, 'Adult and Kid Friendly'). We do collect both of these floppy titles into hardbacks later.” And, he said, it turns out “many fans buy both the comic books and the hardbacks, enjoying the different aspects of each.” Each year, Yoe Books publishes 6-10 books at IDW “depending on how involved the books are and what we have going on elsewhere.” These projects come about through “licensing reasons or editorial sensibilities,” Yoe explained, “sometimes it is because a specific publisher has a particular audience that we have an idea for.”
All of Yoe Books hardcovers feature rare art, photos and ephemera, “to make them special,” he said. Books he's produced for Abrams include Secret Identity: The Fetish Art of Superman's Co-Creator Joe Shuster and Krazy Kat and the Art of George Herriman: A Celebration. Finally, there are the novelty books he’s done with Apple Cider Press, among them The Official Fart Book and Little Penis, a puppet book, by the way, which, Yoe confesses, “is autobiographical!”
Indeed Yoe has published many more book titles that span the gamut of pulp and pop culture genres. The Chilling Archives of Horror Comics is a multi-volume hardcover series focusing on underrepresented contributors to the genre such as Dick Briefer and Jack Cole. He recently released a hardcover collection of Joe Simon and Jack Kirby’s four-issue run of the very unusual The Strange World of Your Dreams, which is billed as “Comics meet Dali & Freud!,” a compelling and sadly short-lived book that solicited descriptions of reader dreams for depiction in future issues.
Of all the old masters he researches, Yoe’s been very focused on Steve Ditko, Marvel’s pioneering and reclusive comics genius and the iconoclastic artist of the early Spider-Man, who is now enshrined in four Yoe Books! titles. Yoe credits Ditko with planting the seeds of his lifelong love of the medium. “He’s the guy who got me into this,” Yoe says. “What he and Stan Lee were doing in the ‘60s got me all jazzed about comics.”
Yoe has reprinted work that Ditko did for Charlton Comics (the movie tie-in books Gorgo and Konga), in addition to The Creativity of Steve Ditko (2012) and The Art of Steve Ditko (2009), two lavish volumes on Ditko’s art and career. Yoe points out that, at age 85, Ditko shows no sign of slowing down. “He’s continuing to put out new work, and it’s exciting and vibrant and fascinating,” Yoe says. “he’s continuing to work and self-publish. I hope I keep going in the way he’s continuing to do.”
All Yoe Books are available in digital editions, though he remains dubious of the digital side. “Unfortunately, yes. I believe all of our books are on the net available for illegal downloads,” he joked to prove the point, “with the print run of these books so small and the profit margin so razor-thin, this is very, very discouraging.” But he insists he is not a “luddite” and points enthusiastically to social media, “Facebook is a great way to keep in touch with our fans and people that help us.”
All of this good taste, feverish research and high production value are delivered by a lean staff, essentially the 62 year-old Yoe and Clizia Gussoni, his wife and business partner, both of whom must also make time to raise two young children (Yoe also has two grandchildren.)
Yoe's research takes him to institutions like The Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum at Ohio State; the Library of Congress; MoCCA; and the Toonseum (he’s on the board), institutions known for the depth of their pop culture collections. But more often, he said he and Clizia “sit at home in our underwear working away in a little spare bedroom on these books and other projects for a few select clients still with us from our boffo advertising, marketing, and licensing days.” Yoe also points to “a dozen loyal, helpful, and talented group of volunteers,” that help with research, marketing, scanning rare comics, manning the booths at cons and production work. The volunteers, he said, “assist us in promotions through social media, proof reads and fact checks our books, they help identify artists from the mostly unsigned comics of the Golden Age."
The Creativity of Ditko continues to sell well, according to Yoe, and The Complete Milt Gross Comics Books and Life Story, was a “stupendous victory. Gross is a forgotten genius whose comics were so darn brilliant the buzz made it happen.” On the other hand, he admitted, Billy DeBeck's Barney Google: Gambling, Race Horses & High-Toned Women, about DeBeck, another forgotten genius, sold "next to nothing,” though Yoe called it, “one of our greatest books--both in content and design--and, like Milt Gross, Billy DeBeck is hilarious.”
And of course the book he researched and wrote, Secret Identity: The Fetish Art of Superman's Co-Creator Joe Shuster (Abrams), the story of Superman co-creator Joe Shuster’s little known kinky illustrated pulp fiction and government censorship during the anti-comics hysteria of the late 1950s, has also sold well. “You can't miss with the lethal combo of Superman and kinky sex,” he said, noting the enormous media attention the book attracted.