To call David Yurkovich’s work an outright satire of the superhero genre is to misunderstand the artist’s intentions. For all of the loving pokes at the genre that Yurkovich takes in Less Than Heroes, perhaps the cartoonist’s best-known work, the book is as much an homage to books like Dark Knight and Watchmen, which explored the style’s potential darkness and depth, during the arist’s formative years.
The new Top Shelf book, Death by Chocolate Redux, collects the early self-published work that earned Yurkovich a Xerix grant. Exploring similar territory as LTH, the book presents a portrait of the artist as a young upstart, trying ideas out on paper, and attempting to find the balance between the humorous and the dark that he would perfect in his later work.
The series follows the exploits of a CIA Agent made entire out of chocolate, who, naturally, posses chocolate-related abilities. Trust us, it makes perfect sense when you read it.
This new book—actually, technically, it’s not really a “new” book.
Yeah, it’s a collection of old stories that I self-published, under Sleeping Giant Comics, between 1996 and 1999, plus a story that appeared in an anthology hat was called Murder by Crowquill, and then new story that appears as a closing chapter, called “Frozen Reflections.”
When you initially published these shorts, was it your attention to collect them together, at some point?
When I started going to conventions like the Mid-Ohio Con, people would always ask me when I was going to do a trade paperback, and my answer was always, “well, I’m self-publishing, so if I have to spend $2-3,000 on a project, it’s probably going to be a new project, not a collection. I’d always thought that it would be nice to collect these, but it never really happened. So, when I started working with Top Shelf, collecting the back catalog was just perfect.
Do these stories in Death By Chocolate feel like a single cohesive piece to you, beyond some reoccurring characters?
I think, to an extent, there are food themes running throughout, and when I wrote them I was reading a lot of Grant Morrison’s Doom Patrol, and Peter Milligan’s Shade, The Changing Man. They were just doing weird, experimental stories, so if there was a common thing, it was just weirdness.
What makes you come back to food as a plot device?
When I’m thinking in terms of comic books and superhero/supervillian motifs, food is just one of those avenues that people don’t go down, too often. I was looking at a book I did in ’99 called, S.H.o.P. (Superheroes of Philadelphia), and it had a bunch of throwaway characters that I introduced in one panel, and that was it. I was looking at one of them, and he was called something like ‘Monterey Jack, the cheese crime overlord.’ There’s so much in food that’s ready to be exploited in a hero or villain, I think it lends itself to being kind silly, so a lot of people stay away from it. I enjoy taking an absurd thing, and making it serious and dark.
But you’re not afraid to inject some humor into your story lines.
Yeah, there’s definitely some humor in it. I always envision these stories as being semi-serious, with some biting jokes in them. In the 90s, when I was trying to break into comics, everything was so serious and dark. I didn’t want to mimic was was already out there.
There’s certainly a sense in these stories, versus your newer work, that you’re just getting used to balancing darkness with goofiness.
Yeah, that’s really what I’d like to do. It really is a balancing act. Too much and you’re doing a really dark story and there’s no levity in it. You get too much on the other side, and you’re doing comedy—nothing against doing either, but I don’t want to have to choose.
Was it a bit painful to have to go back and reexamine work from a decade ago?
Yeah, definitely. There were a lot of things that I would have done differently, if I would have had the skill to do them. I did it the best I could. The first Death by Chocolate was published in ’96. I drew that before August of ’95, because I had applied for a Xeric for that. At the time I had sent it in, I had 20-30 pages done, so I had the majority of those done by ’95. Looking at them, 10-11 years later it’s clear that there’s room for a lot of improvement in these panels. Fortunately, we had a lot of lead time with Top Shelf, so I could essentially fix everything that I didn’t like.
So you went through, panel by panel, cleaning stuff up?
Yeah, definitely. In a couple of instances I completely redrew things, but in most cases, it was just a couple of small fixes. If something needed tweaking, I’d tweak it, like a hand that just didn’t look right. There were a couple of panels where I’d just cringe, so I redid those. There was one secne that was a one-panel flashback, that didn’t work, so I redid that. Especially in the first story and the “Metabolator,” I threw in a lot of shadows, because the stories were supposed to take place in the dead of night, and it was as bright as day, in the background. I had to fix a lot of that stuff.
So you were still pretty satisfied with the storylines, overall?
I was pretty happy. There was one continuity flaw that was pointed out to me, by Robert [Venditti], who edited it. That was real easy to fix, in one panel. I was really happy that, with all of the weirdness going on in these stories—and there was a lot—there was only one serious continuity error, and we were able to resolve it. When I looked at the stories, I realized that I couldn’t rewrite them. Looking at it, panel by panel, doing fixes—I’m not going to say it was an easy task, but it was an achievable task.
Was the process fairly satisfying?
Yeah, definitely. I wouldn’t have had any problem if Top shelf wanted to reprint them as they originally appeared, because that’s being faithful to the original stories, but they want to put out a book that looks crisp and fresh, and I want to put out something that represents what I’m doing now. We were both happy with the result.
Do you have a preference, as far as self-publishing, versus working with a bigger publisher, like Top Shelf?
Not really. I like self-publishing to an extent, but the one huge drawback is, once you’re done with your story and art, you have a huge amount of post-production work to do. It’s the business end of things, dealing with crises; making sure your file format are right for printing; providing them with layouts, page proofs, and printing proofs; making sure everything is where it should be; and fixing any problems they find in the layout—not to mention getting your submission off to Diamond and doing anything you can to self-promote.
Do you generally prefer to wash your hands of a project, once you’re done with it?
It’s hard to say. If I’m writing something that’s going to be a prose piece, then probably, yeah. I want to finish it and move on. Or if I’m doing an interview for Pop Thought, or the series on Myspace, where I was interviewing indie musicians, I want to do them as soon as possible and move onto the next one. But doing comics, traditionally, I’ll write it, as I’m laying it out. When I’m drawing it out, and I’ll scrap dialogue, or write it over, or change everything. When I’m doing comics, it hangs around a lot more, but I don’t really mind that.
[Continued in Part Two]