Alumni Spotlight recognizes a chosen Kubert School alum showcasing their work and journey after The Kubert School.
- Alumni Spotlight
- Shane Davis
- Garry Brown
- Brandon Vietti
- Eric Shanower
- Cliff Rathburn
- Anna-Maria Cool
- Rob Tornoe
- Dan Duncan
- Kevin Colden
- Warren Martineck
- Kevin Mellon
- Thomas Yeates
- Henrik Jonsson
- Tayo Fatunla
- Grant Miehm
- Carli Ihde
- Tamra Bonvillain
- Gary Fields
- Elisa Feliz
- Jerry Wilson
- Jeff Brennan
- Emi Yonemura - Brown
- Adam Pedrone
- Rian Miller
- Eric Schock
- Steven Pennella
- Jason Quinones
- Clayton Cowles
- Mark Gonyea
Talent from The Kubert School
The Kubert School: What got you started as an artist (I mean way back when)?
Thomas Yeates: When I was a small child I drew like any other child, but for some reason I kept at it. Two things that inspired me to carry on were illustrations in the kids’ books I was reading, like Garth Williams’ great illustrations for Charlotte's Web, and movies I saw on TV, Disney adventures, monster movies, etc.
TKS: Who or what were some of your earliest influences (e.g., stories, artists, writers, films, etc.)?
Thomas Yeates: More specifically there was a western illustrator named Will Bryant; and there was Norman Rockwell, lots of un-named expert kids’ book illustrators, particularly historical adventure type books for boys. By the time I was eleven I was getting seriously into Frank Frazetta and Roy Krenkel. A few years after that I discovered some great comics artists like Wood, Toth, Wrightson, Foster, Williamson, Wildey, and Joe Kubert,
TKS: Did you always know you would follow an artistic career path or was there something else you thought you might do?
Thomas Yeates: I had interests – movie directing, forest ranger, acting, music – but no idea what I would actually do.
TKS: You were in the first class of the Kubert School. You had come from California. Can you give us a sense of what your initial impressions were?
Thomas Yeates: One of my main impressions was just how much older everything was. Buildings, streets, bridges, etc. can date back to the Revolutionary War era or before. I loved staring at the older architecture. Of course Europe is a great deal older, and the Middle East and China older still, but New Jersey and New York were fascinating in that way to me. In California there wasn't much that was over 100 years old except a few missions. People acted differently, too. They were harder, more street, and more cynical. There was a slight urban decay that was new to me. But the people had incredible soul. They weren't shallow. Under the tough working class surface there was often a big heart. And there was a great music scene. Great local bands – Springsteen was exploding, punk was starting. Chicago bluesmen played local clubs. It was very interesting being on the east coast for me.
TKS: Was there a specific class or lesson that still resonates with you today?
Thomas Yeates: I wouldn't say a specific class, per se. More like specific lessons from different classes. Like Ric Estrada having us divide a simple composition into 3 distinct shapes – such as the figure, the ground, and the sky – and then color each shape a different shade.
Make one white, one black, one grey, and then redo it and switch which elements have which different shade. Expanding on this lesson has served me very well through the decades. Lee Elias showed a number of interesting ways to get different effects and textures I would have never thought of. Hy Eisman did hilarious stand-up. He prepared us for the cold, cruel realities of an art career, such as you need to be able to draw more than just naked ladies floating in outer space. This was a harsh revelation for some of us. From Joe I got a number of lessons, most important was probably his incredible work ethic. I also remember him saying he didn't like the completely high contrast look: he liked some line work in there, too. He would also say things like, "You don't have to draw the house. Draw an impression of the house."
TKS: I read an interview with you from 1978, done while you were still in school, where you mentioned that you were more interested in fantasy-type adventure stories rather than superheroes. Were you concerned about finding the type of work you really connected with?
Thomas Yeates: Yes.
TKS: Looking back over your career, you've been associated with some of the most iconic figures of the adventure genre: TARZAN, CONAN, ZORRO and now PRINCE VALIANT. What would the twenty-one year-old kid from California heading east to go to cartooning school think of that?
Thomas Yeates: Well, I definitely imagined and hoped I'd get to draw Tarzan, or dreamed I would. I could imagine myself drawing Conan more easily as there was a lot of Conan product being produced, and I did draw him fairly soon after leaving the school. Zorro was probably off my radar as not much was happening with him then. Prince Valiant? Never. I thought about how wonderful it would be to just draw one page a week like Foster and make it great, but I don't think I ever imagined I would get the strip. Too farfetched for even my wacky imagination! I can imagine Rick Veitch suggesting it, though. "Hey, Yeates – play your cards right and you may get Valiant some day." That would have stopped me in my tracks for a split-second but I would have dismissed it. But Rick's imagination is crazier than mine.
TKS: One of the earliest pieces of yours that I ever saw published was in the October 1980 issue of HEAVY METAL magazine. It was an illustrated version of a Jimi Hendrix song. How important is music to your work?
Thomas Yeates: Music can be a real savior for me. Rock music originally was "my coffee in the morning and my tea at night". It literally kept me going. I don't actually drink much coffee or tea by the way, maybe once or twice a week. I listen to much more than just rock music, of course, and it still helps keep me going today.
TKS: Two iconic series you're associated with – TIMESPIRITS and SAGA of the SWAMP THING – had underpinnings that dealt with environmental issues. Was that something that interested or was important to you?
Thomas Yeates: Yes, while growing up I swam in the local river almost every day. The nature shows Disney produced backthen made a big impression, too. I've always been a nature lover, and still fight that good fight whenever I can.
TKS: How did you get involved with the ZORRO newspaper strip?
Thomas Yeates: Let's see… Cat Yronwode at Eclipse saw a Zorro drawing I'd done, liked it, and had me do some Zorro art for a reprint they did of a French Zorro graphic novel. The art I did, including the cover, caught the attention of Zorro Inc. and got me hired later for other Zorro projects. The newspaper strip was the idea of Creators Syndicate because of the successful movie. Unfortunately, though, they didn't promote it enough.
TKS: Looking at your web pages, it seems pretty clear that you have an affinity for the work of Edgar Rice Burroughs.
Thomas Yeates: His stories remain very entertaining and very funny to me. I love his imagination, his worlds, characters and the spirit of his work. There's always enough good stuff there to outweigh the weaker elements.
TKS: Any particular favorite character?
Thomas Yeates: Probably Tarzan and Carson Napier. Though I think some of the Mars books were better written. The Pellucidar series and The Land That Time Forgot, and the Moon Maid trilogy are all terrific.
TKS: What did you think of the JOHN CARTER film?
Thomas Yeates: I loved it. My inner critic was complaining for the first 20 minutes or so but was eventually silenced by the sheer joy of a great ride.
TKS: You're currently the artist for the PRINCE VALIANT newspaper comic strip. Created by Hal Foster and continued by John Cullen Murphy, how does it feel to stand in those shoes?
Thomas Yeates: Well, as big as those shoes are, they had both been off the strip for a long time. It was Gary Gianni's shoes I had to fill. And that was no easy feat. His style is so unique that despite my having a similar "old illustrator" approach, capturing his look was very difficult. With Gary and writer Mark Schultz's encouragement fairly early on I had to abandon trying to maintain Gary's style. John Cullen Murphy was a superb draftsman and did terrific work, particularly in the first two decades that he drew the strip. Foster's achievements, though, were Olympian -- just off the charts. I'm reading his entire run now and it's completely impressive. He's a huge inspiration for me.
TKS: Do you have any specific approach to doing the PRINCE VALIANT comic strip that differs from your previous work?
Thomas Yeates: Not really. I read the script, lay it out, tighten the pencils and ink it. I do try to give it a little something extra. The format is a bit different than my previous work in comics, so I have less freedom in the layouts. Working with Mark is a positive change because he is so interested in my ideas. We really brainstormed the first plot.
TKS: What's a typical workday like for you?
Thomas Yeates: I often wonder. Usually I wake up early, say 6 a.m. I go right to the studio and work – drawing, emailing, or replying to an interview. If I am really busy, I'll work off and on all day and into the night until maybe 10. Before breakfast and after dinner are usually my most productive times.
TKS: What are you working on now?
Thomas Yeates: In addition to PRINCE VALIANT, right now it's Groo vs. Conan with Sergio Aragones, who came and spoke at the school when I was there, by the way. I'm also doing some Tarzan art for Edgar Rice Burroughs Inc. And, I just finished a 144 page Louis L'Amour graphic novel titled "Law of the Desert Born". It'll be out in Oct.
TKS: What's next up on the drawing table?
Thomas Yeates: There are two things for Dark Horse. I’m looking forward to finishing Groo vs. Conan. I'm also working on the plot for more chapters of "Once and Future Tarzan" with Alan Gordon.
Dark Horse Comics, King Features Syndicate
Tarzan, Conan, Zorro, Prince Valiant