Cartoonist and animator Dean Yeagle brings a feeling of high spirits to everything he does, and leaves heaps behind for anyone who enjoys a healthy dose of them. His colorful characters are cheerful even when they’re not, witty with super-sized grins or absurd pomposity. Above all, his creations are personable — they reach off the page to shake your hand or sell you something, seduce you or make you sigh. Yeagle’s got a giant talent, and he’s not afraid to use it.
With funny animals and funny people (and the characters that fall somewhere in between), Yeagle has been entertaining delighted fans for a couple of decades now, with comic strips, books, cartoons and some of the sexiest pinups ever to feature a wide-eyed innocent with pigtails as big as her boobs. In fact, according to his bio, Yeagle has been around so long that he’s nearly a living artifact! But I suspect there’s still a lot of art in this man’s tank. If you’re in San Diego for the Comic-Con, you must stop by booth 1129 to get a good look at this Playboy artist and indulge in some joyfully uninhibited nonsense.
Before departing for San Diego, Yeagle took a few moments to send some awesome answers to our silly questions.
What was your first comic book?
Not quite sure what the very first was, except that it was a Disney one. Which led to my favorite comic book artist, Carl Barks, although virtually no one knew his name then. He was, of course, ‘the good duck artist’, who did the best Donald Duck stories and invented Scrooge McDuck. He managed, without actually leaving his town (ever, apparently), to depict and take his readers all over the world; both the real and mythical world. Atlantis, the Seven Cities of Cibola, the Himilayas (to meet the Abominable Snowman), the Flying Dutchman, the Golden Fleece…all introduced to me for the first time by Barks and the Duck Family. Made me look them up for further reading. And the Ducks were wonderful characters in his stories, too. Still my favorites.
What are you reading right now?
Well, I don’t actually read comic books these days, but there are certain artists whose work I very much admire – J. Scott Campbell, Adam Hughes, Frank Cho, a few others. And the work of recent (but retired) comic strip artists such as Bill Watterson and Gary Larson. But if you don’t mean comic books, then I’m reading Agent Zigag by Ben MacIntire – non-fiction, about an English double agent in WW2. But I suspect you mean comics.
What is your guilty pleasure? At least, the comics-related one!
Aren’t ALL comics ‘guilty pleasures’? Isn’t what I do for a living (drawing scantily or un-clad girls like Mandy or my Playboy cartoons) a guilty pleasure? Would be to some (I’ve never told my elderly aunts and uncles what I do), anyway.
Who was the first cartoonist you met?
John Liney, who lived very near to my family in suburban Philadelphia. He took over the comic strip Henry from its creator, Carl Anderson. A purely pantomime strip, which is hard to maintain over the decades, but he managed it, and that’s very impressive. Never one of my favorite strips, to be frank, but impressive nonetheless. He gave a talk at a local library, and my mother took me to see him. I was, maybe, 11 or 12, I guess. He held a drawing contest for the audience. I won first prize, and my mother won second. We both got original strips as prizes. Very nice man.
Which dead cartoonist would you most like to meet?
Lots of ‘em, mostly animators, but first has to be Walt Kelly, who did POGO, the best, funniest, most literate and imaginative comic strip ever. He died just as I got into the animation business in New York, where he lived. I later became friends with his widow, Selby, but never met him. I find that when I mention POGO to students these days, many have never heard of him. Tragic, but the whole run of his strips is being produced by Fantagraphics – volume one is finally set to come out in October. I hope. I’ve collected all the books that came out of his strips during his lifetime, and I still read them. I swear to you, they are hilarious. But some of the references may take a little time on Wikipedia. Politics, puns, wordplay, dialects, vaudeville, baseball, caricature, poetry, song parodies and a huge cast of characters – animals of all types, living in the Okefenokee Swamp. He’d worked as an animator at Disney on Snow White, Pinocchio, Fantasia, Dumbo and The Reluctant Dragon. In the ‘fifties, he satirized Joe McCarthy (as ‘Simple J. Malarkey) at some risk to his career – papers dropped his strip from fear of reprisal. A good man, a great artist, a terrific animator, a fabulous humorist, a real character in his own right…all things any of us in the cartooning biz should aspire to.
What would you say?
If I met Kelly? Probably ‘homina homina homina…’ If you don’t know what this means, you’re too young. It’s Jackie Gleason’s stuttering inability to talk when embarrassed or terrified. Jackie Gleason? Look him up, too. But what DO you say to your greatest professional hero? “You’re my greatest professional hero”? Not much of a conversation. I’m sure we could work up a dialogue eventually, but he’d probably have to start. In a way, though, I’ve been talking to him all my career, every time I touch my pencil to paper…WWKD? (What Would Kelly Do?)
What has been the highlight of your career to date?
Oh, that’s difficult – in animation, working with some of the great old animators, now passed…Jack Zander, Preston Blair, Emery Hawkins…or suddenly getting work as a Playboy cartoonist…or starting my own series of books with my own character, Mandy. But let’s say the best recent highlight was having my own solo gallery show at the Galerie Arludik in Paris in 2008.
Please tell us a little about your latest project.
Well, at the moment I’m gearing up for the San Diego Comic Con. I have a booth there every year, and do a new book to debut there. And this year I’ve got two new sculptures of my characters to show as well – ‘Suzette’, produced by Attakus/Comix Buro in Paris, and ‘Mandy’s Bust’, by Electric Tiki. And since the Paris gallery show I’ve been doing large original Mandy drawings for sale, and that’s what I’ve been working on for the past month or so. Come see me – booth 1129!
Which old-time cartoon character do you most identify with?
Hmmm. I’d hope to be Pogo…a good-hearted character with a strong sense of justice and decency. Kelly said that of himself, but also that he knew he was an amalgam of all the characters in his strip – the stupid, lazy, incompetent, thoughtless and venal as well as the humorous, heroic and decent. And when you develop your own character, there is necessarily a lot of your personality in that character…so odd as it may seem, there’s a lot of me in Mandy, despite our extremely obvious differences; at least, she seems to have my world-view in general, although with a lot more sweetness and generosity than I can muster. And a complete lack of cynicism, which I really can’t claim, either. Well, she’s female, and they’re generally better than we guys are, anyway.
If you could have any superpower, what would it be?
I’ve often dreamed that I could fly…just sort of break into a run, then dive towards the sidewalk and before I hit, swoop upward into the air. High up in the sky, floating, soaring, swooping, doing loops and Immelmanns…Lovely. Now I’d just be satisfied with being able to break into a run.
But then, being able to make a living all my life by drawing cartoons…that’s super enough for me.