California-based Phil Yeh (56), was in Israel last week to attend the annual
FestiComics event in Haifa, at the behest of event curator Lee Blum.
the past four decades Yeh has produced scores of comics or, as he terms them,
graphic novels, based on fantasy characters such as The Winged Tiger and Patrick
Rabbit, who take trips around the world and meet all sorts of magical and other
While he was here, Yeh also got into some philanthropic doing,
helping to paint a mural at the Children’s Oncology Department of Rambam
Hospital in Haifa and selling some of his works to help fund the activities of
Larger Than Life NPO which supports Israeli child cancer sufferers and their
Yeh’s art is not just designed as a vehicle to tell nice
stories to kids. Part of his working hours are spent helping to combat
illiteracy among children, and to inspire them to nurture their
“I speak in schools,” he says. “I don’t teach kids to read per
se. I am a motivational speaker, so what I have been able to do with my cartoons
is to say, okay, let’s look at the people I know. I say, let’s look at my friend
Jerry Robinson [creator of the Joker character in the Batman comics] who just
passed away [at the age of 89]. Jerry was just 17 years old when he was hired by
[Batman creator] Bob Kane, who was an ‘old man’ of 24.
“Jerry was wearing
a jacket with his own drawings on it and standing by the subway minding his own
business when Bob saw him and said: ‘Kid, are you an artist?’ and Jerry says,
‘yes, I’m an artist,’ although he wasn’t. He’d just finished high
Robinson was duly taken on, at the princely sum of $25 a month –
not bad for a kid of 17 in 1939 – and the rest is history.
“The point is
I tell the kids in the schools about my friends who were so young when they
started out. Kids, just out of high school, created Superman, and the idea is to
get the schoolchildren to understand that these guys were not old, they were
Yeh wasn’t too “old” himself when he started out. He
began his journey into the world of comics over 40 years ago when, at the tender
age of 15, he went to the first three-day comic book convention to be held in
America, in San Diego.
The event was attended by a paltry 300 people, the
vast majority of whom were teenagers like Yeh, but it brought the budding
graphic novelist face to face with a couple of his heroes, Jack Kirby and Ray
Bradbury. Kirby was famous for creating a whole host of popular super heroes,
including The Fantastic Four, The Hulk and Captain America. Writer Bradbury, who
is now 91, is best known for his 1953 dystopian novel Farenheit 451
, and for a
large body of science fiction, horror and mystery stories, including The Martian
(1950) and The Illustrated Man
IN FACT, Yeh first
tried his hand at “real” comic art the year before the San Diego meet when,
prompted his pal Shane, he entered a competition run by DC Comics, which
published Superman, Batman, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman and all manner of other
best-selling super-hero literature.
14-year-old Yeh won the contest and
received $5 for his troubles.
“That was a lot of money for a kid back
then. That was fantastic. I always drew. I began when I was two years old, but
that was the first time I’d got official recognition. I was over the
A year later Shane told Yeh about the convention and Yeh somehow
persuaded his disapproving dad to drive him to the venue.
“My dad was a
Chinese engineer and hated the idea of something so frivolous as comics. I was
the eldest of four kids so, as far as he was concerned, I had to be an
engineer. That’s the Chinese way.”
notwithstanding, Yeh got his transportation.
“My dad took me and my
younger sister there, and hung around during the convention.”
the turning point of Yeh’s life.
“I go up to Ray Bradbury and I tell him
I want to write but I can’t spell,” Yeh recalls.
“Today I know I have
dyslexia but back then I thought I was just dumb. And Bradbury tells me he can’t
spell either and he tells me about editors who check other people’s spelling and
grammar. And then I tell Jack Kirby I want to draw but I don’t know if there are
any schools where I can learn that, and he just said: ‘You don’t need to go to
college. Just do it!’” That was that. Three months later Yeh set up his own
publishing company, Eastwind Studios, which still exists, and soon after that
Yeh and high school classmate Mark Eliot published their own humor magazine
, which they distributed on the campus and in the local
The following year Yeh and Eliot enrolled in an honors degree
program at Cal State University where they studied journalism, art and film and
they soon launched an alternative free publication called Uncle Jam
Bradbury becoming an early contributor.
40 years on Yeh is still putting
out Uncle Jam
, along with all sorts of other pictorial publications, and passing
on his hard-earned wisdom to children all over the world. Mind you, all that
hasn’t left too much of an impression on his 89-year-old dad.
sees me he still asks me when am I going to get a proper job,” laughs Yeh.