From Casper the Friendly Ghost to Haunting a Comics Cosmos All His Own

Chris_yambar_as_a_batman_fan
INTRODUCING comic artists here at ReadTheSpirit, we often ask them to tell us about the first comic book they can recall owning. Chris Yambar vividly recalls it was an edition of “Casper the Friendly Ghost” — but the story doesn’t end there.

Here’s how he tells the story:

I was born in 1961 and this was in the mid 1960s. I remember it happened because my dad could no longer catch us to give us haircuts so he bribed us to get into the car and go to the barbershop with him. This place was in the front of a store window, I remember.
   The barber was this old wartime vet who would cut hair on the weekends. But what was so amazing about this place is that from the floor of the store — all the way up the walls for about three feet were these shelves of comics. I had never seen comics before so I were probably in the neighborhood of about 5 or 6 years old. Of course, I was fascinated immediately.

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   Here was the bribe: Dad said, “If you sit still, I’ll get you a comic.” Well, it didn’t take me long to figure out that if I sat still and got the comic and read it — then I’d still have time to fidget and he’d get me another comic. I learned that two was the magic number –- I could get two comics per hair cut. If I went for three, it meant a beating. And I started with Casper comics. Casper the Friendly Ghost.
   But there were other comics on the racks, too. And I saw this comic called Hot Stuff. I don’t remember which issue it was, but I remember the first Hot Stuff comic Dad bought me had a yellow background with the red little Hot Stuff character on it — and some white. Bright red, white and yellow? I mean, those are all the stop-and-look colors for a kid.
   So, Casper was — you know, the friendly ghost. Hot Stuff was drawn exactly like Casper except he had horns and a diaper and he was the tough little guy in these Harvey Comics. He’d walk around with his pitchfork and have all these adventures.
   My Dad didn’t see any problem, but my Mom was very concerned about the imagery in these Hot Stuff comics. I mean, this little character was drawn like a little devil.
   I can remember overhearing them talk about this. My Mom was very concerned. And I remember my Dad saying, “Well, the little guy is wearing a diaper. How dangerous can he be?”
   I thought that was funny. But I also learned that for a thin dime, and then eventually for a thin dime and two pennies I could get into a lot of trouble. And I began to think: If I’m not supposed to have it, then there really must be something in there that I really want to see!

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WE ASKED CHRIS TO ANSWER A FEW MORE QUESTIONS ABOUT HIS BACKGROUND:

WHY COMICS AS A CAREER?

Why not? A career writing, drawing and
publishing comic books is just as valid as doing any other job in the
entertainment field. Some of the best illustration and storytelling
mythology in modern culture comes from the medium of comics. I love
the art form the way Europeans love it. There is a great joy in
bringing ideas across to an audience in a style that sticks in their
minds and at best can be understood and received with as few words as
possible. Creating a comic book is like producing a portable art
gallery that can be be rolled up and stuck in anyone’s pocket or square
bound and shelved for future study and enjoyment.

WHERE IS ALL OF THIS TAKING YOU?

For all I know I may have hit the peak
already. The joy for me has always been in the doing of the work.
Currently there is some solid interest in bringing my solo and
co-created characters off of the comic pages and into full animation
situations. From there who can say? Everyday is filled with new
opportunity and adventure. As far as I’m concerned I’ll be involved in
the creation of comics and whatever they birth until my season is over.

TELL US ABOUT YOUR FAMILY:

I’ve been married for 26 years to my wife, Maureen. She’s 48 and took an early retirement from working at a university here. And we’ve got two cats: Savannah Rose and Iris Pennyworth.

TELL US A LITTLE MORE ABOUT YOUR PROFESSIONAL BACKGROUND:

I was raised Catholic, then explored other religious traditions in the late 1970s, including Buddhism and Taoism. Eventually, I decided to simply follow the
person of Jesus and Jesus’ teachings as expressed in the Bible. In 1980, I
entered the ministry where I began to exercise my beliefs with
hands-on inner city rehabilitation outreach to those living on the
streets in poverty and addiction.
   During the 1980s, musician
Terry McCabe and I founded Manna Underground Press. Together, we published The Activist (radical truth through art, music, and social commentary), an influential independent Christian newspaper.
When the paper finally closed its
doors in 1989, we had a respectable readership in 13 countries. During
this time, we also printed several issues of Rebel Graphics and Safe Comix. The first issue of Safe Comix, which I co-published with cartoonist Ivar Torgrimson, included the
work of numerous emerging artists including R. Crumb, the father of the
original secular underground comics movement.
   In 1987, I began
painting in the classic pop art style and, by 1989, had my first one-man exhibition at The Butler Institute of American Art. The show was held
over. My pieces are in museums, galleries and private collections around the globe.
   In 1994, I began to publish a line of science fiction adventure comics called Substance Quarterly that I began with artist Gary A. Smith. That same year, I created my
most popular comic book character: Mr. Beat. In 1997 the character
appeared in his first national comic book, Mr. Beat Adventures, which became a mainstay on the independent comics scene. Other character titles soon followed including The Fire-Breathing Pope, Itsi Kitsi-Happy Adventure Cat; and co-created characters with George Broderick Jr (El Mucho Grande, Twerp and the Blue Baboon, Suckulina-Vampire Temp and Suicide Blonde ), with Levi Krause (Spells, Biker Dick ), with Layne Toth (Faith Warrior Princess), and with Robb Bihun (Edison’s Frankenstein 1910).
   Most recently, I created Life Maxx,
a cancer survivor superhero designed to inspire and inform young people
who have found themselves in this situation.
   In addition to my own comics, I write for such popular
titles as Bart Simpson Comics, Radioactive Man, Tree House of Horror, The Simpsons Comics, I Dream of Jeannie and Mister Magoo.

For more
information on my work, simply go to www.yambar.com

Care to Read More?

We’ve shared the stories of other religiously inspired comic artists. Scroll down in that earlier story and you can click on individual stories about folks like Kurt Kolka, Buzz Dixon, Ben Avery and Robert Luedke. OR, here’s a look at Steve Sheinkin, creator of comics about Rabbi Harvey of the Wild West

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