Craig Yoe resurrects the Super, the Weird and the nearly naked from comic book history


TM & © 2018 Gussoni-Yoe Studio, Inc.

Super Weird Heroes Vol. 2: Preposterous But True! arrives at bookstores Oct. 2.

Andrew A. Smith

Tribune Content Agency

What’s super and weird and nearly naked all over? Super Weird Heroes Vol. 2: Preposterous But True!, a new hardback that hit comic shops Sept. 5 and will come to bookstores Oct. 2.

This latest opus from publisher Craig Yoe is a celebration of the truly oddball characters burped up in the early years of America’s comics industry in the never-ending battle for children’s dimes. Ready yourself for such crimefighting curiosities as: Hip Knox – a hypnotist who wears an eye on his belt and a colander on his head! Pat Parker, War Nurse – a medic who wears out the enemy while not wearing very much! Mr. Whiskers – a lad whose old-man disguise confuses ageist criminals!

There’s no one better suited to bring us this gaggle of goofiness than Craig Yoe. Not only is he possessed of a memorable name that lends itself to a million puns, but he is ridiculously accomplished in a variety of fields. He was the creative director and general manager of the Muppets, working on everything from theme parks to TV shows for Jim Henson. He’s head of Yoe! Studio, which creates publications, style guides, packaging, logos and suchlike for cereal companies, toy makers and more. And he created Yoe! Books, which reprints classics like Popeye and resurrects forgotten gems like off-brand 1950s horror comics and hilariously bad romance comics.

So it was almost inevitable that Yoe turn his restless hands and roving eye to bizarre superhero comics, which resulted in Super Weird Heroes Vol. 1: Outrageous But Real! in 2016.  There we saw The Hand (a crimefighting, disembodied hand), Yellowjacket (who battled the underworld with bees) and Phantasmo (who fought crime buck nekkid).

Super Weird Heroes Vol. 2 (IDW, $39.99) continues this grand tradition, which will induce readers to shout aloud OMG, LOL and, yes, WTF (“What the Funnies” in Yoe-speak). Included are reprinted stories of no less than 32 disturbing do-gooders, from Airmale to Zebra, each with a Yoe introduction that usually reflects more care and craft than the funnybooks themselves.

Curious as to how such a cockamamie collection could come to be, I reached out to Yoe for some clarification. And, as you’d expect from a guy who’s won awards in several industries, he’s pretty good at an interview, too.

“I loved comic books as a little kid,” Yoe responded, when asked about the project’s genesis, “the brilliant Donald Duck and Little Lulu stories. But it was superheroes that rescued me from the usual painful adolescence.  I was smitten by and found great pleasure in what Stan Lee and Steve Ditko did with Spidey and the rest of Marvel’s assembled.

“But, I quickly became enamored with the whole history of comics and soon realized that superheroes were only a small part of the rich tapestry. When we started the Yoe Books imprint for IDW, the nearly 100 first books avoided the heroes. We have been concentrating on publishing vintage horror comics, humor and romance, etc. I once asked John Stanley, who was the genius behind the Little Lulu comic books of my youth, why he never wrote superhero stories. He replied that ‘it would be like being Liz Taylor’s eighth husband – how would you show her something she hadn’t seen before?!’  I felt with superheroes dominating the industry,  how could we do something new with them?

“Then it hit me, nearly 6 years ago, to do a book on the old wacky heroes everybody never knew or forgot. Those bizarro old guys and gals are new to a new generation! It took me years to collect  the full-length stories though. Those comics are buried in locked-away collections. and finding full stories for quality book collections, and painstakingly restoring them, was quite a task.”

TM & © 2018 Gussoni-Yoe Studio, Inc.

Airmale is just one of 32 Super Weird Heroes in Craig Yoe’s latest book.

 I was curious about Yoe’s selection process. In an era where my news feed is flooded with the Kardashians, what can be considered Super Weird these days?

“The Kardashians aren’t disembodied hands or eyes fighting crime,” Yoe said. “They don’t dress in ferret masks and punch evil-doers. They don’t go around in green briefs breathing fire from their lips to make toast of underworld thugs. They don’t wear Greek togas with  the impressive superpower of bouncing. The Hand, The Eye, The Ferret, Fire-Eater and The Bouncer can do all those things and do them all unselfishly, not for personal gain or fame, to keep the world safe for all, even for the Kardashians.”

Speaking of clothes – or lack of them – many Super Weird Heroes of the 1940s wear next to nothing, or what appear to be pajamas. Was it due to wartime shortages?

“The Super Weird Heroes weren’t afraid to show a little skin, even a lot!” Yoe said. “Or not even be shy about being totally naked like Phantasmo in the first volume of Super Weird Heroes. We were originally going to have Phantasmo on the cover of the first book, but decided he might not fly in Peoria. So weird-in-his-own-way Nature Boy was our main cover boy. But, Phantasmo was between the covers fighting criminal types in his birthday suit. Fire-Eater; Pat Parker, War Nurse; Mr. Muscles and sundry other heroes in the new volume are only half naked – it’s the conservative times we are now living in.”

Yoe said it was Spider-Man who turned him on to comics. Was he, despite his success, also a Super Weird Hero?

“That’s an interesting  question,” he said. “Some contemporary heroes could be classified as weird. Spider-Man is pretty weird in his own way. But they are so mainstream – [they’re] on movie screens, T-shirts and lunchboxes, everywhere you look. So the disqualifies them from being weird by my definition. You have to have weird powers and/or a weird origins/or weird costume and also be obscure, shadowy and working the edges of superhero-dom. Then you are a bona fide Super Weirdo and can find a place in the Super Weird Heroes series!”

Which might explain the absence of Big Boy, a character in comics Yoe produces for the restaurants – and about which Yoe is, of course, an expert.

“Well, Big Boy’s usual guise is a winsome, hamburger-loving, cool, but fairly normal kid,” Yoe responded. “He did have some adventures as a superhero, Bigger Boy, whom I conceived, since we fondly produce Big Boy comics for the storied restaurant chain.”

Other Super Weird Heroes that were included raised questions of their own. Like why so many were so short-lived. Why did Boomerang not return, for example, or The Bouncer not bounce back?

“Boomerang was fighting huge armed-to-the-teeth Nazi battalions in Germany while he was armed only with a boomerang (in his skimpy costume). This fearless superhero probably didn’t make it home. The Bouncer may have met his demise when got his superhero skirt caught in a meat grinder or something like that. Yes, I said skirt – not that there’s anything wrong with that!”

One of the, ahem, biggest superheroes at 1940s Quality Comics was Doll Man, who shrank like Ant-Man to battle crime. But that wasn’t the weirdest part. For one thing, he initially wore little more than blue briefs and Peter Pan booties. And he rode two different animals into battle (a bird and a dog), which is two more than most superheroes. Is that why he was Super Weird?

“I think the Super Weirdest part was his name,” Yoe said. “Did ‘Doll Man’ really strike fear in the hearts of evil-doers?”

Courtesy Craig Yoe

Craig Yoe

I was also fascinated by The Eye, who was, of course, a gigantic disembodied eye. Where did it sleep? Was he married to a giant, stay-at-home eye socket? Did The Eye ever team up with The Hand, or any other body part? (Hip Knox seems a likely candidate, but the first name is bait and switch!)

“The Eye valiantly continued his Super Weird Hero exploits as a giant eyeball,” Yoe responded somberly, “until one day he was, inexplicably, out of sight.”

And with two Super Weird Heroes books out, is the field now exhausted?

“I actually have a couple more books planned!” Yoe said. “In old comic books, as in the world at large, there’s no shortage of weirdness!”

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I fear there's a typo, "Phatasmo". The name is spelled correctly the other times.

Tomboy appeared in her own feature in Sterling's Captain Flash. She was a little girl who fought crime. I think that one was done tongue in cheek.

Airmale was lighter than air. I think being hit by him should've been like being hit by a balloon.

"The Eye" was the creation of Frank Thomas. He also did "The Owl" for Western.

"Pat Parker, War Nurse" was remodelled into "Girl Commandos".

"Mr. Muscles" was written by Jerry Siegel.

I think I might have to check out not only the second book, but most likely the first book as well. This looks like a lot of fun.

...I bought the early issues of Craig's"s horror and romance titles - Still going? - but their " Bonus Track! " approach of having one extra story in the book annoyed me, so I decided to, as the saying goes, tradewait (Didn't"t they come out as HCs, not TPBs?). Then, they never came to my shop)finances grew tight.

  Conversely, I liked the Bud Sagendorf comic-book POPEYE reprints, but as the books apparently 100% reprinted the comic-book reprints, so I decided to reprint - and again. 

  Yoe Books put out these interesting-sounding histories of ARCHIE"S MADHOUSE and CRACKED, didn't it?

...Are the Sagendorf POPEYEs finished? Any cthance if George Wildman's Charlton version?

  I want to ask a question about the present-day Popeye strip distributed by KFS, it aniyone's game to attempt answering it.

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