Wednesday, June 28, 2017
Home  >  Features  >  Down Memory Lane with Thomas Yeates

The classic Swamp Thing artist takes us on a historical tour of DC Comics in the late 70s to early 80s.

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Thomas Yeates, the classic illustrator of Tarzan, Conan, and Zorro, and a reviver of everyone's favorite man-plant in The Saga of Swamp Thing, takes MightyVille down memory lane to the old days at DC Comics and the talented writers he has worked with over the years. Read on and relive the DC Comics of the 70's and 80's, when they really did have more fun... then enter to win comics signed by the man himself in our Signed The Saga of Swamp Thing Contest!

 

MightyVille:  What was it like working for DC Comics back in the early 80’s?

Thomas Yeates:  I liked it. DC was a really tight house then. You’re working with a production company that’s been churning this stuff out for decades. They know what they’re doing, they’re really professional, everything’s proof-read, its been gone over by production staff who fix little things and white-out if you go over the panel border. It was interesting. I appreciated it, particularly later working for more independent companies that didn’t have that. Their end product, if it was sitting right next to DC comics, it looked pretty similar and had the same artists working there, but that production oversight wasn’t there. So that was one thing that differentiated working for DC.

Of course there was also going to New York… going to the big office up in the elevator in Rockefeller Center. One time I went up to the wrong floor and it was the Rolling Stones office. It was the office of the Rolling Stones! I didn’t see the band members there, but it was their office. New York was exciting – it’s a terrific place. That was great.

Hanging out with the guys at DC was interesting. I was there at a time when the industry was kind of imploding – the late 70’s. There was something they did wrong, I don’t know, shot themselves in the foot somehow. The company was always doing that. So the mood was kind of down, but it picked itself back up real quick. And I managed to get in and get work right away. Not a lot of work at first, but once it came, I started getting a lot of work.

 

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So, Saga of the Swamp Thing was the revival of The Swamp Thing, after the implosion, correct?

Right. I did these short mystery stories first. I used to ride on the bus to New York with my portfolio, and bump into a fellow named Jack Harris. He was an editor and writer at DC at the time, and he helped me get in a little bit. Joe Kubert had gotten me some work doing back up stories in his books, his Sergeant Rock books and some other ones like that. But that kind of petered out and I was sort of on my own. Joe wasn’t gonna do it for me. But I got some work. I really liked working for DC – they were really nice to me. I got along fine with Paul Levitz. I illustrated a story that he wrote, so he and I have always been on good terms. Unlike a lot of people that didn’t like Paul Levitz, I always got along fine with him.

Back in the 80’s there was a lot of animosity towards Paul Levitz…

Exactly, but I managed to not get entangled in that. And I met Karen Berger, who I’m still good friends with. And I worked with Ross Andru, who was a great artist and editor, and he helped me quite a bit when I was getting started there. I did some Barbarian stuff for him. It was fun. I did a story with Roy Thomas – it was fun meeting him. I enjoyed it. It was different than it is now, a lot different. I mean, I don’t know how different DC is, because I haven’t been up to their office in 20 years.

As an artist, was that kind of structured environment better for your creativity, or more inhibiting for it?

Well, I’m not that big on the structured environment, but you can’t really make me be structured if I’m not structured. They can be as structured as they want – I’m still gonna be me. There were some structured environment things they did that I didn’t like, but there were other aspects of that I thought we great. It was just an interesting experience. They’re DC Comics. I’m just one freelancer going up there for a few years and working for them. They’re this entity that goes on and on.

Did you work directly with the writers?

Writers would come to my house, or I would meet them a couple of times. Usually we would talk on the phone.

 

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What writers did you most enjoy working with?

Well, the guy who wrote Swamp Thing for me was Marty Pasko. He was a very good writer, but I wasn’t that into the stories that he wrote ultimately. But he was a very good writer and a nice guy. I met and worked with Bruce Jones. He did a lot of writing – he was a great writer. I really enjoyed working with Bruce. That was a great experience. I did a number of stories with him and loved it. He’s still writing a lot. He’s a great guy. I really like Bruce, and he’s been a long-time friend. It was mainly Bruce Jones – he was the main guy I worked with there. I also did a story by Gerry Conway that I really liked. It was a very interesting story. Gerry Conway is a big name writer. I just did one short story with him, but it was a really cool one. David Michelinie, I think I did something with him. And a few other guys… Robert Khaniger. I did some Khaniger stories. I didn’t like Robert Khaniger, but he was a good writer.

You worked with a lot of the staples of that time.

Yeah, I did. I didn’t get to do a Len Wein story – I always wanted to. I did do a 1-page Len Wein. I did a 1-pager for Heavy Metal that Len wrote. But he kinda had a lot of writers block for that period. He was an editor instead of writing. But he got over that, fortunately.

How was it working on such an iconic character as Swamp Thing, and how do you feel about his current revival in popularity?

Swamp Thing’s got a revival going on? Well, I saw the “New 52”, is that it? Yeah, it looked great. But I haven’t read them, so I don’t know what’s going on. So, it's getting a lot of press?

Yeah, Scott Snyder was writing it until recently and it 's become quite popular.

No kidding! Go Swamp Thing!

During the late 80s, you didn’t hear too much about him, and now he’s starting to be a household name again.

Well, they brought him back a few times in the 2000s. But it's going good now – now, does he still have the eco angle going there?

 

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Yes. Not quite as much – they’re kinda going back a little bit to his roots – no pun intended. They kept a little of that, but they’re trying to go back to him being more of a hero. Rather than just the plant elemental part. That’s in there too, but they’re kind of keeping the two separate like they have been. They teamed him up with Animal Man too.

Now does Animal Man still have the animal rights thing going on?

Yep.

Well, that’s good. So they haven’t lost all their nerve at DC. That’s great.

Thanks Thomas!

 

Our thanks to Thomas Yeates for chatting with us and signing the comics for our Signed The Saga of Swamp Thing Contest! You can also meet Mr. Yeates yourself at the upcoming Big Wow Comicfest in San Jose, CA on May 18-19, and at other comic events across the country.

 

Anyone else with fond memories about his classic Swamp Thing run? Who loves Thomas' work on Tarzan? Let us know below.

More on MightyVille:

GIVEAWAY: SAGA OF THE SWAMP THING Comics signed by Thomas Yeates

WonderCon Anaheim 2013 Highlights

The Everywhereman: An Interview with Timothy Green II

 

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