How many different ways are there to draw Yoda? Fantagraphics Web Editor Mike Baehr found out when he began asking his favorite comic book artists — Daniel Clowes, Lynda Barry, Tony Millionaire, Adrian Tomine, Gilbert Hernandez, Craig McCracken, Mary Fleener, and many others — to draw his favorite Jedi Master. Starwars.com chats with Mike about his favorite, and some of the weirdest, portraits of Yoda.
Why did you decide to start a Yoda sketch book? How did you get the idea?
I actually stole the idea from my Fantagraphics co-worker Jacob Covey. We were working at Comic-Con in San Diego last year as exhibitors and Jacob started a theme sketchbook based on the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, which was a formative series for him as a young comics lover. He was having so much fun collecting sketches that I decided I wanted to get in on the excitement too. I wanted to choose a theme that was equally formative for me, and nothing sparked my young imagination quite the way Star Wars did, so that was a no-brainer. I settled on Yoda pretty quickly because what he represents is so positive. Plus I’ve learned that, since Yoda is so iconic, artists can take a lot of creative liberties with him and he’s still recognizable, so I get a lot of great variety and creativity in the sketches.
How many drawings are in the book so far?
Right now 102, in two volumes plus a couple of loose drawings my friend David did and gave to me. Not bad considering I just started it last year, but I have a bit of an unfair advantage working in the comics industry.
Which sketch is your favorite?
I couldn’t possibly choose! I love and appreciate all of them, and I’m so grateful to all the artists who’ve contributed. That said, I have a special soft spot for Renee French’s because she actually chased me down in the San Diego airport to add a funny word balloon to her drawing. And for Lynda Barry’s because she told me a wonderful story about how she overhears her husband consulting his talking Yoda Magic 8-Ball in the other room, and then she gripped my arm and said “May the Force be with you” with 100% sincerity. Lynda’s a national treasure.
Tony Millionaire also told me an adorable story about how he’ll say “I’m not afraid” to his youngest daughter and she’ll respond “You will be” in her Yoda voice. Lark Pien based her Yoda on her grandmother, which is totally charming. I love the quiet dignity of Adrian Tomine’s Yoda, the ghostly, contemplative quality of Dash Shaw’s, Mary Fleener’s “cubismo” version, Kazimir Strzepek’s Yoda dreaming of slam-dunking, and Gilbert Hernandez’s just cracks me up every time I look at it. I could go on and on!
Which is the oddest of the Yoda sketches and who drew it?
There are definitely some strange ones. Debauchery seems to be a recurring theme, from cigarettes and booze to downright filthy ones that I can’t describe for an all-ages audience. Jon Vermilyea drew Yoda as a kind of warty, melting hulk, and Michael Kupperman drew a head wearing a beehive for a hat where Yoda’s right eye should be. Some artists’ Yodas are actually combinations with other characters, like Drew Friedman’s Yoda of Eltingville. Jordan Crane broke the rules completely and drew a fellow doing yoga instead.
When you ask an artist to sketch Yoda for you, do you have any requirements or do you just let them do their thing?
No requirements. I don’t provide visual reference to the artists because I like to see what they come up with off the top of their heads, which means that I get some unusual interpretations from artists who (shock!) aren’t that familiar with the character. For instance, Joe Sacco drew Yoda with a pointy human head and a chicken body, saying “Nanu nanu” like Mork, which is hilarious. Actually, that one might be the oddest!
Which artist are you most proud of getting a Yoda sketch from?
Finding out that Craig McCracken had seen the sketchbook online and was a fan of it was a huge thrill, and his sketch is a brilliant Frank Oz tribute, mashing up Yoda and Fozzie Bear. Actually my wife gets the credit for chasing Craig down for me at this year’s Comic Con!
Who would you LOVE to get a Yoda sketch from but haven’t had the opportunity to ask?
Ralph McQuarrie would be the ULTIMATE, for obvious reasons! I’m a big Simpsons nerd so Matt Groening would be another biggie — I actually met him at San Diego the day before I started the sketchbook, alas! Genndy Tartovsky would be great, too. Gahan Wilson was a childhood favorite, so that would be amazing. I’m going to the Alternative Press Expo in San Francisco on November 1-2 and Richard Sala will be there, and he’s high on my list. Doc Hammer and Jackson Publick, the creators of The Venture Bros., are also must-haves — I’ve come close with them a couple of times, but haven’t been able to seal the deal yet. Others I’m looking forward to asking are Stan Sakai, Ron Rege Jr., Cathy Malkasian, Charles Burns, Archer Prewitt, Ken Dahl… I could go on and on again. I’m excited about everybody, really, from the budding artists with their first Xeroxed mini-comics to the established big-name superstars.
Additional comments about your Yoda book?
I’m a big proponent of theme sketchbooks in general and I would encourage anyone to start one — they’re so much fun! I’ve seen some great ones online and in person, including Tintin, Calvin and Hobbes, Lockjaw, pie, of course the TMNT, and your favorite Wookiee and mine, Chewbacca.
It can be addictive and I sometimes find myself getting mildly obsessed over who I’m going to get next. I’ve found the artists to be super-nice and generous almost without fail, and it’s a really fun way to interact with them. Watching your favorite character appear line by line from a blank page is just magical.
Check out the full Yoda Sketchbook here.
Watch videos of these artists drawing in the Yoda Sketchbook: