J.T. Yost recently won a Xeric Grant for his book, Old Man Winter and Other Sordid Tales. He is an emerging talent with a lot to say. For those of you interested in how one cartoonist on the rise, out in Brooklyn, keeps it together, read on.
Blog@Newsarama: I appreciate all the stories in your collection. Each is different, created at different times, but part of a whole as it came together for this book. Your vision appears to be to look at life head-on and expose the truth. Is that the voice you intended for your book?
J.T. Yost: With the exception of “Old Man Winter”, all of these stories were created within a framework of “rules”. For instance, “All Is Forgiven…” was for an anthology called BIZMAR. Each story had to include six familiar icons of comics: Bunny, Insect, Zombie, Monkey, Alien and Robot. I had an idea of what most of the stories submitted would be like, so I wanted to do something diametrically opposed. I worked the icons in subtly so that it could work as a stand-alone comic, and since I knew most of the subject matter would be humorous I attempted something more serious.
Animal welfare and vegetarian/veganism is extremely important in my life. I’m not a very confrontational person, so I use comics to convey what I believe to be an important message. Critics have faulted me for including so many comics dealing with these issues in one collection, but I believe I approached each in such a different manner that it doesn’t detract from their impact.
I spend a lot of time researching factory farm conditions, slaughterhouse practices and other facets of meat processing, and although I am surely biased I do try to present a truth that some may not be aware of. I have been accused of lacking subtley, and I suppose I am guilty to an extent. That’s actually something I’m working on in current comics. It’s difficult to present these horrible truths so close to my heart without coming across as preachy.
Blog@: I see a project you’re currently working on is a series of stories about dreams you’ve had involving Snoop Dog. Care to tell us more?
JTY: I’m trying to get this project together in time for the upcoming MoCCA and SPX comic conventions (I’ll have a table at both, so please come say hi). The impetus was, as you mentioned, a series of dreams I’ve had guest starring Snoop Dogg over the last seven years. Although he will be front-and-center in these dream comics, his persona is depicted as he appeared in the dreams so each is different. In one he is a buddy, in another he is a pimped-out art store customer and in the last he is a desperate art school teacher.
The other half of the mini is currently still in the writing stage, but I know that the tone will be completely different from the dream comics. I will probably be experimenting with the execution and look as well. Snoop won’t make a personal appearance, but his music will play a defining role to the point of almost being a character.
Blog@: There’s a photo of a little kid in glasses for your site’s Bio page. Would you tell us more about yourself growing up? Who is the real J.T. Yost?
JTY: The real J.T. Yost is in a state of constant flux. He appeared to be a dancing midget in the photo you refer to. Then he went on to spend a lot of time putting together 1,000 piece puzzles while listening to Bruce Springsteen’s “Born In The USA” album. In high school he lead a double life of being a good student while simultaneously stealing beer from open garages in the suburbs to guzzle with friends in the woods or abandoned houses. College was a time of annoying friends until they became vegan, annoying bar patrons with heavy-metal songs arranged for the accordion and annoying parents with a fashion sense that can only be described as “retarded clown”. Currently, I am looking forward to annoying a new little boy or girl along with my wife.
Blog@: Tell us how you discovered comics and how you found your way into the medium.
JTY: Well, my first love of comics came from the late great Charles Schulz’ Peanuts strip. My mom would take me to used book stores, and I would load up on any Peanuts collections I could get my grubby hands on. From there my obsession turned to Garfield, then Bloom County, The Far Side, Calvin & Hobbes and Life In Hell.
I constantly drew Snoopy, Garfield and Bill the Cat, even going so far as to send Jim Davis a collection of strips I’d drawn starring Garfield and a wise-cracking robot that looked suspiciously like R2D2. I told him that he was welcome to use the ideas as his own. He was nice enough to send me a response letter thanking me along with a signed print.
In junior high I began my own version of a daily comic strip involving a schizophrenic dog and his mutant animal friends locked up in an animal experimentation labratory. They were constantly trying to escape. I suppose this was my first foray into vivisection themed comics!
Although I followed Lynda Barry’s Ernie Pook’s Comeek in Atlanta’s Creative Loafing alternative weekly, it wasn’t until college in the early nineties that I was exposed to a wealth of “indie comics”.
An ex-girlfriend’s boyfriend, who ended up becoming a good friend, introduced me to Chris Ware, Charles Burns and Daniel Clowes while my dorm roommate let me flip through his old copies of Raw. From there I was hooked. My own comic making was sporadic and experimental until a friend of mine started his own comic publication. I needed that threat of a deadline to narrow my focus. I still do, even if it’s self imposed.
Blog@: Your work has garnered you a Xeric Grant and all seems well in the world. What led you to seek a Xeric Grant and how are you making out with your new status?
JTY: First off, I am extremely thankful to Peter Laird and the Xeric Foundation for allowing me to learn the ins and outs of self-publishing. I certainly couldn’t afford to publish this book myself, and I wanted to learn the business side of the comic industry in preparation for future projects.
Although being awarded a Xeric Grant may have some prestige in the relatively small world of indie comics, I am definitely not getting stopped in the streets for autographs! I am honored to be a recipient, but I know that my comics are still very much a work in progress. I do agree with some of the negative criticism I’ve gotten, and I’m working to improve both my drawing skills and my storytelling abilities.
Blog@: What plans do you have for future projects?
JTY: My next project (excluding the aforementioned Snoop Dogg mini) will be an adaptation of Gail Eisnitz’s Slaughterhouse. The subject matter is extremely horrifying, so I need to find a way to relate the information in a compelling manner that rewards the reader for staying with it through the end. I’ve got a lot of work ahead of me.
Blog@: I appreciate your strong feelings about being vegan. What might you like to share with our readers about the vegan lifestyle?
JTY: I joked about annoying friends into becoming vegan in an earlier question, but the truth is that the best way to influence people into trying a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle is by being a positive role model. One of my friends who became vegan while we were in college told me that he didn’t become vegan due to any information I gave him about factory farms and such, but because he liked my cooking. He realized that being vegan isn’t about denying yourself, but about finding new and exciting ways to eat. He and his wife (also vegan) have since gone on to raise two healthy vegan children.
Blog@: How is it like living in Brooklyn, as an artist? From your blog, it sounds like you have a sweet existence with good people and good food.
JTY: I might have to get back to you on that since I just moved to Brooklyn a couple of weeks ago. So far, I far prefer it to the 5th floor walk-up in the Lower East Side of Manhattan where I lived for the last seven years. Although I loved the bounty of vegan-friendly restaurants in the area and our wonderful roommates, everything in our new neighborhood is more convenient and quiet. I find myself cooking more since there’s a grocery store one block away, a Trader Joe’s two blocks away and a ton of Middle Eastern dry good stores on my block.
Until I met my wife, I’d lived in small towns and cities my whole life (Roswell, GA, Richmond, VA and Austin, TX), so Manhattan was quite an abrupt change. We live on a busy street full of shops and restaurants, but if I walk one block south or one block north, it’s a whole different world. The houses are ornate and interesting, and the streets are quiet and lined with trees. There’s a promenade about six blocks away from which I can see the Statue of Liberty, the Brooklyn Bridge and lots of Manhattan’s skyline.
A bunch of my friends and bandmates from Richmond moved here several years ago, and two of them moved into our new neighborhood this month. Utrecht Art Supply tends to always hire really nice really talented folks, so I’ve ended up becoming good friends with many of my co-workers. I wish I knew more local comic artists, but hopefully that will come about as I attend more conferences.
Blog@: My good wishes to you and your wife as you look forward to a baby in your lives. Will the little one appear in your comics?
JTY: That’s up to him or her to decide. I guess there will be a lot of pressure on him/her to be entertaining. If you can’t top Snoop Dogg, little baby, don’t even try.