Promoting Literacy has always been the key point of my message to people all over the world. I have been invited to 49 states and 17 countries to share what I have learned. I strive to teach people how to think big, generate ideas, get excited about reading, and to know one's individual worth and capability. We are a people vastly different in talents and interests. My goal is to get people to take action on their ideas and reap the benefits of thier hard work and dedication. The world needs more creators in all fields of study and practice.
"Godfather of the Graphic Novel"
Phil Yeh, also known as the “Godfather of the Modern American Graphic Novel”, was the first journalist to uncover the plight of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, two Cleveland men who created SUPERMAN. Phil Yeh is far more than a footnote in the current hot graphic-novel-craze sweeping the mainstream media from coast to coast. He authored the first, all-original-material, American graphic novel in 1977, Even Cazco Gets the Blues.
Read on for the full story:
The first official San Diego Comic-Con was a three-day event held from August 1 to 3, 1970 in the U.S. Grant Hotel in downtown San Diego. Founded by Shel Dorf and some dedicated fans, many of them in their teens, this first West Coast comic book convention would grow in the decades that followed to become the biggest celebration of the comic book art form in the United States. The first San Diego Comic-Con was actually titled the Golden State Comic-Con and drew a “crowd” of 300 people. Phil Yeh was a 15-year-old teenager who had dreams of making a living as a cartoonist when he met Jack Kirby and Ray Bradbury at that first convention. He convinced his father to drive him down to San Diego from LA and was on his way to learning how to get into this business of drawing cartoons for a living.
One of the really nice things about that first convention was the unique chance to hear Bradbury and Kirby speak about how they approached their work and to meet them in person. Shel Dorf’s incredible vision was to have as many professional artists and writers as possible come to San Diego each year, where they could share their wisdom with another generation. These professionals definitely made an impression on the teenage artist who had grown up in Watts, one of the toughest neighborhoods in Los Angeles. That fall, Yeh was living in Seal Beach, California. He had just turned 16 years old when he founded his own publishing company in order to publish his own work and the work of his friends. The company was named Eastwind Studios/Fragments West, and continues to publish today.
In 1971, Yeh and Los Alamitos High School classmate Mark Eliot published their own little humor magazine called Cement on campus and throughout the community. They continued to go to San Diego for the Comic-Con and met more artists and writers who shared their vision of what this art form could become in the future. In the fall of 1972, Eliot and Yeh entered Cal State University at Long Beach where they were both enrolled in the Honors program. This allowed them to explore journalism, art, and film. This provided a perfect base to build their small publishing company. Yeh landed a job with the daily school newspaper (The Forty-Niner) his first day on campus to draw a comic strip about a Tibetan foreign exchange student called Cazco in College. Around the same time, Yeh met Richard Kyle, the owner of Wonderworld Books in downtown Long Beach. Richard would become a friend and mentor to the young artist.
In 1973, the CSULB paper’s editor decided to move Yeh to editorial cartoons and discontinue Cazco in College as a daily strip. This unpopular move by an editor with little vision or sense of humor prompted Yeh to do the next logical thing in his career. Along with his old partner Eliot, the two 19 year-olds launched their own alternative free paper and called it Uncle Jam. The first issue appeared on November 5, 1973, and featured a cover by another CSULB student named Roberta Gregory who would go on to create an excellent animated series for the Oxygen Network and a bestselling series of books called Naughty Bits. For the next 19 years, Uncle Jam featured many fine articles about health, books, travel, and the arts. It featured interviews with some of the most important contemporary artists, including many of the masters of the comic art form - from Harvey Kurtzman (creator of MAD Magazine) to Jean (Moebius) Giraud. What made Uncle Jam legendary was the use of first-class artwork for all the covers of a FREE paper, and its early use of color in newsprint. Ray Bradbury was an early contributor to the paper and he continued to inspire Yeh to dream of bigger things. In 1975, Uncle Jam became the title of the humor and cartoon section of our new arts newspaper for Southern California called Cobblestone. The name was later changed back to Uncle Jam in 1977.
Uncle Jam cover by Roberta Gregory Cobblestone, cover by Rick Griffin
In 1977 Yeh became the first journalist to interview Jerry Siegel, co-creator of Superman, on the tragic story of how he and Joe Shuster were cheated over the rights to their iconic character. Once Yeh’s article was published in Southern California, the rest of the press picked up on the story and justice finally had a chance, thanks to the efforts of artists like Neal Adams and Jerry Robinson in New York. The interview with Siegel further reinforced Yeh’s decision to continue to publish his own work alone and to remain independent from the big conglomerates.
Long Beach, California, remained the center of this publishing and artistic activity. In 1976, Yeh opened his own art gallery in Long Beach (The Cobblestone Gallery) and began showing the work of many of the artists that he was now introducing in his newspaper and in his books. Although the paper was then distributed in independent bookstores, public libraries, museums, science fiction and comic conventions, and other places where intelligent people gathered from Santa Barbara to San Diego, the focus of their work remained in Long Beach where Yeh continued to have spirited conversations with his friend Kyle about the state of the comic book art form and how to make it a better market for all artists.
In 1976, Yeh published his first Cazco comic book with a $1.50 price tag and a bigger size than the standard comic book. This would lead to a joint project with Roberta Gregory and other artists called Jam in 1977.
Inspired by Kyle’s own publishing efforts and sage advice on what might sell and what might not, Yeh decided that he would also try and create a graphic novel of all-new material called Even Cazco Gets The Blues in the summer of 1977. He asked his friend Sergio Aragones to write an introduction. Sergio suggested that he would draw the intro and that Golden Age artist Don Rico would write an introduction for Yeh’s project. When Sergio introduced Rico to the young artist, Rico showed him the work of woodcut master Lynd Ward and encouraged him to go on with his own book ideas.
Richard Kyle is credited with using the term “Graphic Novel” as early as November 1964 in CAPA-ALPHA #2, a newsletter published by the Comic Amateur Press Alliance. Kyle would later go on to publish both magazines and books as well as running one of the best comic book and science fiction bookstores in the city of Long Beach, California. Long Beach was really the birthplace of the modern American graphic novel. He used the term graphic novel again in 1976 when Kyle and Wheary published George Metzger’s Beyond Time and Again, a collection of comic strips that had been serialized in underground papers from 1967-72. This hardcover book was subtitled “A Graphic Novel” on the inside title page.
There are many other artists and publishers who also shared in this early development of the graphic novel art form; such as the early efforts of New York publisher NBM and those of artists like Gil Kane, Jim Steranko and, of course, Will Eisner. In 1978, a year after Yeh’s graphic novel appeared, Eisner’s A Contract with God was published to great fanfare. Eisner’s publisher was fond of saying that this was the “first graphic novel” and out of respect to this great talent, no one really questioned that “fact”. Sadly, over the years, the contributions of the many artists, writers, and publishers in the Southern California area were overlooked by the mainstream media, who are mostly working in New York City. The comic book industry press often had to overcome its own conflicting interests when writing the “news.”
Yeh introduced Even Cazco Gets the Blues at the American Booksellers Association show and became one of the first comic book publishers to push for sales of this material in mainstream bookstores. He would later take his work to the American Library Association convention and do the same for libraries.
Yeh went on to produce a new graphic novel each and every year for the next 15 years. In 1980, Yeh wrote Cazco in China based on his first visit back to his father’s country. That landmark book introduced old legends, talking animals, and martial arts. In 1982, Phil was invited to speak to Art Spiegelman’s class at the School of Visual Arts in New York by two young students, Adam Phillips and Scott McCloud (Understanding Comics).
In 1985, inspired by his friend Wally “Famous” Amos, in the face of a serious global literacy crisis, Yeh started the Cartoonists Across America & the World organization to send out the message that cartoons can be used to actually inspire people of all ages to read. This band of artists has toured the world, painting more than 2000 colorful murals and speaking at schools, libraries, museums, and conferences. We have had many guest artists paint with us from Teenage Ninja Turtles creator Kevin Eastman to actor Alan Alda and Mr. T. Former First Lady Barbara Bush painted a mural with us in the Library of Congress in 1989 and later Mrs. Bush honored Phil in the White House for his work in literacy.
The group pledged to tour for 25 years.
That pledge has been extended and Yeh still speaks all over the world
encouraging everyone to tell their own stories through the graphic novel medium.
If one cannot draw, they can be the writing half of a team, and vice versa.
There is absolutely no age limit on creativity and the subject matter for graphic novels can be as wide as that of novels or films or any other form of entertainment.
In 1990, Yeh’s friend Kevin Eastman, co-creator of The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles funded publication of Phil's book Theo the Dinosaur, a story for all ages, told in a series of colorful cartoon oil paintings. The book featured introductions by Barbara Bush and Nigel Seale, chairperson of Earth Day International, and debuted at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. These paintings have been shown in art galleries in Carmel, San Francisco, New York City, and in a five-month exhibit in the Cleveland Museum of Natural History.
Also in 1990, the Hungarian Government issued a postage stamp with Yeh’s “Read. Avoid Extinction” dinosaurs in honor of the United Nations Year of Literacy.
In 1993, Yeh’s wordless graphic novel The Winged Tiger, with illustrated introductions by Jean Giraud (Moebius) and Wendy Pini, was published as a weapon in the global fight against illiteracy. It was named one of the top 25 graphic novels in print in the book, 100 Graphic Novels for Public Libraries by Steven Weiner.
The Father of the Graphic Novel, Will Eisner, said these words about Yeh’s book:
"The Winged Tiger is a most imaginative concept and a singular achievement.
The employment of imagery as language is at the very cusp of modern communications. It
is the new literacy.”
Scott McCloud, author of Understanding Comics, said:
"The Winged Tiger is a remarkable feat of human imagination. Phil Yeh’s vision of a
universal language is inspired and compelling. Highly recommended to readers of all nations.”
In 2007, NBM Publishing issued a full-color hardcover graphic novel of Phil’s comic
Dinosaurs Across America. The 2008 2nd edition was picked as “One of 25 outstanding graphic novels to attract a new generation of readers” by School Library Journal and was also a Children’s Choice Award winner by the Children’s Book Council and the International Reading Association.
In 2009, Uncle Jam was brought back as a free magazine 17 years after ceasing publication because of the Cartoonists Across America tour. It is still free and still covers Books, Health, Travel ,and the Arts.
In 1989, Yeh was given the Bob Clampett Humanitarian Award by the San Diego Comic-Con and in 2009 received an Ink Pot Award at the San Diego Con.
Phil has appeared as a guest all over the United States as well as in 17 countries. In addition to workshops, assemblies, and mural events, he has been a guest for over 40 years at Book Expo America and San Diego Comic Con. He was a guest for 10 years at Conque in Mexico City, and for several years at the Latino Family Book Festival in several U.S. cities and at Norwescon in Seattle, USA.
Here are just a few of his many other guest appearances:
A poster done for the Cartoon & Animation Festival in Hangzhou, China by Phil Yeh, Alex Nino, Phil Ortiz, and Lieve Jerger.
1987 Mural at the Capital Mall in Washington, DC for the U.S. Bicentennial of the Constitution
1990 The First International Hungarian Cartoon Festival in Budapest, Hungary
1995 The Bologna Children’s Book Fair in Italy
1996 Children’s Book Fair in Beijing China
1997 The World Book Fair in Singapore
1998 Taipei Book Fair in Taiwan & World Book Fair in Singapore
2001 Cayman Islands
2001 Los Angeles Times Festival of Books
2002 Frankfurt Book Fair
2003 Special guest at the first Utopia Convention in Mexico City
2006 Original art from "Theo The Dinosaur" on exhibit in Cleveland at Natural History Museum
2006 Literacy/mural event at the San Bernardino Public Library. Murals were painted on the
library delivery van and delivery truck.
2006 Speaker in Newark, NJ at American Comic Masters exhibit
2007 Featured in a story in HOMETOWN HEROES: Real Stories of Ordinary People Doing
Extraordinary Things All Across America. It is an American Profile Magazine book,
published by HarperCollins.
2007 Phil’s ‘Dinosaurs Across Route 66’ art is featured on a billboard on Westbound Interstate 10
2007 Third Annual Cartoon and Animation Festival in Hangzhou China
2008 Frankfurt Book Fair
2009 Speaker at the Charlotte Huck Children's Literature Festival at the
University of Redlands
2010 Workshop for the Book Council in Singapore. Guest at STGCC in Singapore.
Spoke at Cyberjaya University and two art schools in Kuala Lumpur.
2010 Painted a city bus with teens for the Literacy Volunteers of Santa Fe (New Mexico)
2011 Guest of honor and opening speaker at the first FestiComics in Haifa, Israel.
Guest speaker at Hawaiian Entertainment Expo Experience (HEXXP)
2015 Painted 2 murals with students in Ry, Denmark
Phil has never lost his passion for creating better graphic novels and for seeing the comic arts accepted on a par with other fine arts. He continues to tell artists of all ages and cultures to consider this art form as an excellent way to tell their personal stories. His Winged Tiger series of comics includes guest artists who tell the reader how they get their creative ideas.
You can book Phil for an event anywhere on earth by contacting us here.
The Early Days
Influenced by Creators
(above) left to right: Wee Pals creator, Morrie Turner; MAD Magazine and GROO creator Sergio Aragones; Snoopy's creator, the late great Charles Schulz; and Winged Tiger's Phil Yeh
Left to right: CAA European Vice-President Klaus Leven, Phil Yeh, Edward James Olmos, Steve Allen, and Dr. Fred Kort at the presentation of the first Alphie Awards.
Phil Yeh and French artist Moebius, who drew an introduction for Phil's book The Winged Tiger.
Honored at The White House
Phil Yeh was honored at the White House by First Lady Barbara Bush for his work in literacy.
Focus on Literacy
(above) left to right: Richard Dinges, Phil Yeh, Barbara Bush, MB Roberts, Louise King
This mural promoting literacy was painted by Cartoonists Across America and the World inside The Library of Congress with help from Former First Lady Barbara Bush in 1989. We returned to the capitol in 1994 to paint a 53' foot semi-truck infront of the Library of Congress (right).
Friends with a Legacy