YEATES' TIME WITH JOHN CARTER OF MARS - An Interview
~ April 2, 2009
Edgar Rice Burroughs' John Carter of Mars returns this September in a handsome
edition collecting the first three novels in the series. Thomas Yeates
is providing spot illos and other drawings to bring these adventures to
life. Yeates told us what influenced him the most as he brought this strange
visitor to an alien land to life. "My vision of Carter is based mainly
on Burrough's descriptions of him. But also on the superb art of Reed Crandall,
Roy Krenkel and J. Allan St. John, all of whom did lots of wonderful John
Carter illustrations, [Frank] Frazetta too."
THE PULSE: How did you get involved in the John Carter of Mars books
that Barnes & Noble is publishing later this year?
THOMAS YEATES: Gary Gianni recommended me to the art director. The job
was offered to Gary but he was too busy. Gary had seen some John Carter
commissioned art I'd done and recommended me based on seeing those commissions.
THE PULSE: What did you know about this character? Was this one you
were intimately familiar with or one you just knew a few bits and pieces
YEATES: I don't quite know everything about him, but almost. I read
most of the series of books back in the seventies, and I'd re-read the
first book a few years ago. So it was still fairly fresh on my mind. I
listened to the first three novels on tape while I was sketching the scenes.
THE PULSE: I know a lot of people who like this Edgar Rice Burroughs
creation more than Tarzan. Are you one of those folks or was the Ape Man
your favorite of Burroughs' eclectic creations?
YEATES: While I do prefer the character Tarzan, I must admit that I
think the Mars series may be a little better written. By that I mean that
the completely fantasized world of Burroughs' Mars allowed the writer's
wild imagination to really cut loose, where as in some of the later Tarzan
stories the very real Africa may have been a bit of a limitation on that
imagination. But of course if Burroughs had written as many Mars novels
as he did Tarzans he may have eventually slacked off on a few later ones
like he did with Tarzan. He only wrote eleven Mars books, as compared with
twenty five Tarzans.
THE PULSE: Who is John Carter of Mars? How did he wind up on Mars? What
sets him apart from a Flash Gordon or Buck Rogers or anyone else who finds
himself on another planet ....?
YEATES: J. C. is an enigma, an eternal fighting man who never ages,
but always appears about thirty. When the story begins he has just lost
everything in the American War Between the States where he was a Captain
from Virginia, so he heads west in search of gold. While hiding from Apaches
in a mysterious Arizona cave he is overcome by some sort of gas, loses
consciousness, and wakes up having separated from his earthly body, which
appears to be lying dead at his feet. Looking out of the cave at the night
sky he sees the planet Mars, his god, the god of the fighting man, and
is mystically, instantly, teleported there. Or something like that.
According to Al Williamson there is a quote from Alex Raymond somewhere
saying that he was basically doing John Carter when he did Flash Gordon.
And if you read the early Flash Gordon strips it's pretty obvious. John
Carter is more of a swashbuckler to me than the others. His prowess is
based on his swordsmanship in a culture where swordsmanship is all important.
I haven't read Buck Rogers, but I think there is quite a bit more technology
in those stories. Burroughs was one of the very first to have a huge commercial
success with this type of series, generating a big fan base in the first
generation of science fiction fans, the Ray Bradbury, Forry Ackerman, Jerry
Segal generation. So what makes John Carter different is that he was one
of the first. Also, his work in general is just more rich, more wild, more
primitive than the others. Though I must say I love a whole lot of that
pulp type stuff, not just Burroughs.
THE PULSE: What do you find the most intriguing about this concept?
How does it stir your imagination?
YEATES: The same as with all of the artists who've been lucky enough
to illustrate Burroughs, his terrifically wonderful visuals. The unconquerable
heroic spirit inspired me, which is not unique to Burroughs. Being an unrepentant
sixties radical I love how irreverent Burroughs is. Also for me the figure
drawing is a big plus, as his characters rarely wear much. I love that
the hero is from the Confederacy but falls in love with a woman who isn't
white. You add all that up and it's a great job for me to get. Thank you
THE PULSE: Who or what influenced you the most as you were taking some
passages from Edgar Rice Burroughs' source material and creating scenes
to accompany the works?
YEATES: That was interesting. At first I just picked scenes that I wanted
to draw, that were exciting to me or easy for me conjure up. But then I
decided to approach it more like a comic book, where storytelling is the
big priority. I then picked scenes that if you just flipped through the
book and looked at the pictures they would sort of relate what happens.
I did the exciting battles scenes but also scenes that show the various
settings, the journeys, and the characters. I start with a portrait of
Carter in his Confederate uniform for example to show that's who he is
at that point in the story. So I think my approach to this benefited from
my decades drawing comics.
THE PULSE: How did you come up with the way John Carter would look in
these pages? Did Barnes and Noble already have established character design
sheets or did they leave it up to your own interpretation?
YEATES: My vision of Carter is based mainly on Burroughs' descriptions
of him. But also on the superb art of Reed Crandall, Roy Krenkel and J.
Allan St. John, all of whom did lots of wonderful John Carter illustrations,
[Frank] Frazetta too. The art director figured I knew more about John Carter
than they did so they left it up to me. As in most of my art there is some
Williamson influence too.
THE PULSE: What are some of the challenges of capturing a scene and
conveying the emotion and heart from a passage?
YEATES: As with any assignment, just keep your eye on the ball. Don't
get distracted by a less important detail. For better or worse I've got
Burroughs in my blood so with this type of job it's easier for me to stay
on target than with others.
THE PULSE: What kind of approval process was there for the art? Did
you have to do thumbnails and then complete the larger picture or were
you given freedom to just draw what you thought best?
YEATES: Oh they wanted sketches first, which is preferable by far, to
me. They made almost no changes to the scenes I choose.
THE PULSE: About how many illustrations are going to be in each volume
of this Edgar Rice Burroughs John Carter of Mars library?
YEATES: The final title is: Library of Wonder: Edgar Rice Burroughs:
John Carter of Mars - A Princess of Mars, The Gods of Mars, The Warlord
of Mars. The book is published by the Fall River imprint and is sold
exclusively at Barnes & Noble. It will be out in September 2009.
As I understand it this is part of a series of three classic tales including
Thousand Leagues Under The Sea and one other book that Barnes &
Noble are publishing as the Library of Wonder series. I did sixty black
and white illustrations, thirty full page and thirty smaller spot illos
for the first three Mars novels which are being published in one book.
THE PULSE: Are you the sole artist illustrating these or are there other
artists who will be fleshing out passages as well?
YEATES: I am the sole artist on John Carter as far as I know at this
point. Actually Michael Kaluta supplied me with the designs for the fliers
Carter and company zoom around in.
THE PULSE: How was working on a project like this different than what
you were doing with the Graphic Universe line of titles?
YEATES: The basic drawing was actually somewhat similar, sword fights,
monsters, castles, heroes, beautiful women lots of outdoor stuff. The difference
is obviously that this isn't comics so you are not integrating several
panels into one cohesive page. Also I did not ink these drawings in the
traditional way comics are inked, they are in wash, basically black and
THE PULSE: What other projects in or out of comics are you working on?
YEATES: Well, more of the same! I am painting a graphic novel called
Outlaw Prince based on Burroughs' Outlaw of Torn for Dark Horse.
A wonderful medieval tale set in old England. And I am painting covers
for the exciting Swords of Venus comic book series for Sequential
Pulp. Wonderful tales. Eduardo Barreto is doing the inside art and Bruce
Jones is adapting the script from Otis Albert Kline's old pulp novels from
the thirties, which were inspired by ... John Carter.