As the 1990s rolled on, the comic book industry was circling the drain. Declining sales, comic shops closing, Marvel’s slow decline into bankruptcy—all of the news coming from the business side of comics was dismal. But there were still a lot of great comics being produced and a bunch of promising cartoonists were popping up out of nowhere. Most of these later-period “Palmer’s Picks” columns focused on these new talents, partly because I had already devoted enough space to all of the big names—I was even chastised by my editors at Wizard for double-dipping on a few creators—and partly because they were making some damn fine comics. Case in point: Steven Weissman and his comic series Yikes!
I don’t remember if Weissman sent me some of his comics for inclusion in “Palmer’s Picks,” but I’m pretty sure he did. We kept up a brief correspondence after I wrote a brief plug for Yikes! in Wizard #61, which led to this full-length column. According to a follow-up note after this “Picks” saw print, the exposure in the pages of Wizard helped Weissman land a monthly one-page comic strip from none other than Marvel Comics. His “Mini Marvels” strips appeared in Marvel Vision, and featured classic Silver Age characters like Namor, Thunderbolt Ross, and Captain America rendered in Weissman’s signature big-head style. In case you don’t remember, Marvel Vision was Marvel’s short-lived attempt to make their own Wizard-style fanzine. (“Mini-Marvels” began in 1998 in issue #25 and appeared until the magazine folded with issue #30.)
It’s notable that Weissman’s Marvel strips began a few months before Generation X Underground, a black and white Marvel comic by cartoonist Jim Mahfood. Weissman certainly wasn’t the first alternative creator to get work at one of the Big Two, but his strip was a unique opportunity to re-imagine corporate superheroes in his own style. “Mini-Marvels” was in the works for some time before it saw print. He mentioned it to me in a note postmarked December 19, 1996, so he landed the job months before the summer 1997 publication of Coober Skeeber #2, the unauthorized bootleg anthology that saw indy creators taking stylistic liberties with iconic superheroes, and several years before sanctioned mainstream/indy mashups like DC’s Bizarro Comics and Bizarro World, and Marvel’s two Strange Tales anthologies.
As far as “Palmer’s Picks” goes, this installment turned out pretty good. I think I did a decent job conveying what Yikes! was about and why it was worthy of attention, and the writing here is a lot more confident, especially when compared to the first few columns I wrote. And it’s even an improvement on the whole interview-style column that I adopted only two years earlier. See, kids, it really pays to keep practicing your skills!
By Tom Palmer Jr.
Before you sit down to read Steven Weissman’s Yikes!, you have to properly break your copy in. Put a few strategic creases and folds on the front cover. Roll it up into a tube and shove it in your back pocket. Or maybe even write your name on the cover with an orange crayon. Whatever you do with Yikes!, the key is to have a good time reading it. Yikes! is one of those rare titles that comes along and brings back the fun and adventure of enjoying a good comic book. And it’s so good that you just may read it until it falls apart in your hands.
Weissman, a 28-year-old California resident, admits that he has a good time creating his comics, and is inspired by the fact that he has the potential to reach so many people with his work “Comics are so accessible,” he argues. “They’re the perfect combination of books and television—something that’s immediately visual, yet literate. I like [the notion] that anyone can pick up a comic and get interested in some aspect of it.”
In fact, Yikes! is so accessible, you don’t even need to know anything about the characters before reading it, although a passing knowledge of classic movie monsters helps. There’s Li’l Bloody, a vampiric bad boy with one fang, and the Pullapart Boy, a blonde-haired patchwork kid (a la Frankenstein) who can’t keep himself together. They’re backed up by a gang that includes Kid Medusa (complete with a green snake hairdo in pigtails), the loneliest gal in town; Dead Boy, a zombie kid with crossed-out eyes who also happens to be Pullapart Boy’s older brother, and X-Ray Spence, the See-Thru Boy, a kid who ordered a pair of X-ray glasses from the back of a comic book and can now see through anything…’cept lead, of course.
When you put all of these characters together and throw them into some ordinary (and not-so-ordinary) childish mischief like playground shenanigans and time travel, you get a great collection of entertaining stories. A big part of the fun is Weissman’s admittedly cute drawing style. His supple brush lines recall the slick artwork of classic comic books, and he has a knack for drawing overly cute, round “Charlie Brown” heads on all his kid characters.
The idea to do a comic of cute yet “monster-ish” characters came when Weissman dropped out of art school and lived for a time in Taiwan with his wife. There, the average comics fare consisted of manga-like sports comics, but Weissman took a different tact for his own work “I was always making up different characters in my sketchbooks, but when I was in Taiwan, I challenged myself to try and do something cute,” he remembers.
Specific events in Weissman’s life have also served as inspiration for several stories in Yikes! “Some of the things in the comic are things that happened to me as a kid. I’ll change them a little, but a lot of it’s completely fictitious. I’ll try to get at an emotion or feeling that I felt at a certain time and get a new context for it. My childhood was good, although only semi-interesting—so I can’t take that much from it. But there are a couple of things I swiped directly from my real life.”
One of the more memorable and cruelly funny experiences that Weissman turned into a Yikes! strip is the hilarious “Elzie Crisler” story that appeared on the back cover of issue #5. “Elzie Crisler was actually my neighbor’s dog,” Weissman explains. “This dog always carried around a slobbery tennis ball. He would follow you around all day long with it, no matter how many times you took it from him and threw it away. You could throw it around for a little while, but he kept bringing the ball back more and more disgusting.
“One day, my neighbor picked up a baseball bat and a tennis ball and said, ‘I’m gonna knock this one for a mile.’ He got as far as tossing the ball in the air when the dog jumped up and went for it. My neighbor swung and hit the dog instead! The dog got a concussion and my neighbor got beat up by his dad.”
In the Yikes! adaptation, the scientist father of Pullapart Boy reanimates a dead dog named Elzie, which then turns into the ultimate “fetcher.” “Elzie Crisler” works as a comic strip because of Weissman’s expert sense of timing and his scrutiny of the composition of a comic page. Weissman can pay close attention to these things because he publishes Yikes! himself. But unlike most self-publishers, he doesn’t make a big deal about it. “If somebody came along and proved that they could do a good enough job, and at the same time make it worth my while, I wouldn’t mind doing it that way. It’s kind of a hassle [to be] self-publishing. But it’s good because I can blame myself in the end, instead of saying so-and-so screwed things up.”
In order to finance the publishing of Yikes!, Weissman makes his living as a freelance illustrator. He draws in his trademark cartoony style for local papers and magazines, but comics are what he really loves. “Illustration has all the immediate advantages. I get a project and it’s done in just a few days—and it gets people to see my work. It also pays money, whereas comics pay for themselves and that’s about it. But with comics I can really do stuff to please myself.”
Comic fans admire Weissman’s cute and slick drawing style, and he’s been able to make a mark with his distinctive illustration work. He’s content to enjoy whatever success he has with Yikes! right now and not worry about what will happen in the future. “There aren’t many people drawing in this style right now, so it’s helpful for me,” says Weissman. “It might pigeonhole me eventually, but for now it’s great because it’s getting me work. I’m that guy who can draw those round-headed cute characters. Later on, if it bothered me or I got sick of doing them that way, I could just stop and do something else. But right now I just enjoy it too much.”
When Tom Palmer Jr. grows up, he wants to be a stunt car driver…just like on “The Dukes of Hazzard.” Those crazy Dukes never wreck. No sir. Uh-uh.
FYI: The fifth issue of Yikes! (the first in color) was released this past summer, and it might be a while before the next one—Weissman is taking a short hiatus from the li’l monsters. In the meantime, look for Weissman’s work in various anthologies, including Last Gasp Comics and Stories and the upcoming All Star Pictures in late ’96 or early ’97, with work from Weissman’s studiomates Mats!? and Joven. If you can’t find a copy of Yikes! at your local comic store, send $2.50 for a sample issue to Steven Weissman at
564 Market St, Suite 720, San Francisco CA 94104.
Steven Weissman’s Recommended Reading
“There are just so many great new comics, I’d hate to just pick out a couple. But if I had to, I’d mention Land of Nod by Jay Stephens, Sam Henderson‘s Humor Can Be Funny collection, Schizo by Ivan Brunetti, Peanuts by Charles Schulz, and anything by my studiomates Mats!? and Joven. As for stuff I’m reading right now, I picked up a bunch of old digests in the dollar box at the San Diego convention. I got some great Lee and Romita Amazing Spider-Man comics, some Legion of Super-Heroes digests and a Supergirl digest too. That’s what I’m reading right now and I think they’re great fun.”
Action Planet Comics: Some big mainstream names like Jerry Ordway, Phillip Hester, John Heebink, Ande Parks and others have teamed up under the watchful eye of publisher Mike Manley for Action Planet Comics. With such wild creations as Manley’s “Monsterman,” Hester’s “Nails,” Ordway’s “The Messenger,” Parks and Hester’s “Uncle Slam & Fire Dog,” “Carl the Being” by Aaron McClellan and Peter Zale or “Wrathbone & Bitchula by Heebink, how can you go wrong? There’s no unifying theme holding these stories inside one anthology comic, other than the fact that they’re all full of great artwork and lots of fun. For more info on Action Planet Comics, write to
PO Box 2129, Upper Darby, PA 19082.
Magic Boy and the Word of God: Fresh off of Little Mister Man and Magic Boy and the Robot Elf, James Kochalka comes back with this self-published gem. Follow the not-so-innocent teenage elf Magic Boy on an off-kilter fantasy featuring a robot duplicate of himself, a cat-like devil, the Roaring Head of God and the Holy Squirrel Ghost. If you can’t find a copy of Magic Boy and the Word of God locally, write directly to James Kochalka Superstar at
PO Box 8321, Burlington, VT 05402 and send $3.95 for a copy of your own.