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Graphic Artist/Comic Book Creator of Death By Chocolate: Redux

by Allen Klingelhoets - (Posted: 8/19/2007)

David Yurkovich

Allen: Tell us something about yourself.

David: Wow, thatís a lot of ground to cover since Iím no spring chicken, so Iíll give you the Cliffs Notes version. I was born and raised in southwestern Pennsylvania in the small mining town of Rillton (pop. <300). Of course, by the time I was born Rilltonís mines were no longer in operation. Growing up, there wasnít much to do in Rillton. My summer years were spent riding bicycles with my pals, collecting and trading baseball cards, and of course reading and swapping comic books.

My life changed (as Iím sure did the lives of many teenagers) in 1977 when STAR WARS debuted across the globe. I became hooked on STAR WARS and shortly afterward discovered Marvelís SW comic book series. I purchased issue 12 and was able to purchase the first 11 through 3-packs that were being offered by Whitman. The SW comic got me hooked on Marvel and I soon found myself purchasing most everything the company was producing (this is late 1970s when the companyís entire line could be purchased each month for a few bucks--today it would require securing a bank loan). I began drawing and working on my own mini-comics--The Adventures of R2-D2 and C-3PO, stuff like that. I pretty much knew by age 13 or 14 that I wanted to be working in comics.

Allen: Did you have desire to work in some other profession before choosing to work in comic book field?

David: Not really. I mean, I went to Pitt and majored in writing and have spent most of my adult life working in publishing as an editor (and continue doing so). From a purely creative perspective, writing and illustrating remains my passion, and graphic novels (as well as graphic design) is my preferred medium.

Allen: What was the first comic book you ever read?

David: The first comic book I remember reading cover to cover was WAR IS HELL issue 9, circa 1974 or Ď75. I bought it new at the Five-and-Dime. It was a frightening war comic about a man who, because of his cowardice, was damned to die 1,000 deaths. His spirit would inhabit the bodies of others in the war, but there were always these gut-wrenching endings. It was a terrific, albeit short-lived and largely underrated series. So good, it made WEIRD WAR TALES read like RICHIE RICH. Of course, being 9 or 10 years old at the time, I really didnít grasp how deep the WAR IS HELL stories went. I was mostly interested in the graphics at that point.

Allen: What sort of professional training did you have?

David: During my high school years, I was one of three students at my school to be enrolled in the commercial art program at the local vocational school. I was in the same class as my childhood chum, Mike LaVella, who, as you may know, produces a terrific magazine named GEARHEAD and coauthored THE HOT ROD WORLD OF ROBERT WILLIAMS. Every afternoon was 3 hours of art instruction.

Post-high school, I continued to draw but was largely focusing on the demands of college. Post-college I took a few life-drawing courses and some courses in 2-dimensional and 3-dimensional design while living in Philly. A few books that proved helpful were Stan Lee and John Buscemaís HOW TO DRAW COMICS THE MARVEL WAY, Andrew Loomisí classic FIGURE DRAWING FOR ALL ITS WORTH, and Will Eisnerís COMICS AND SEQUENTIAL ART. All of these are fantastic resource tools for the artist.

Allen: How did you get involved in the comic book industry?

David: I started by writing fan letters. I guess that was in the late 1970s early 1980s. First fan letter I ever wrote was to Bill Mantlo when he was writing MICRONAUTS for Marvel (which had quickly become my favorite comic book), and to my surprise and delight, he wrote back to me. I was 13, 14, and got a letter from my favorite comic writer.

I drifted in and out of collecting comics and illustrating, never fully abandoning comics but never really pursuing it with as much ambition as I should have. By the early 1990s Iíd done the whole submission-rejection thing many times over, found a gig doing with a publisher I didnít respect (and quickly abandoned the gig as a result), and decided to self-publish. I applied for, and again to my surprise and delight, was awarded funding by the Xeric Foundation, a non-profit agency that supports independent comic book creators. I met Sean McKeever at Mid-Ohio Con in 1996 and eventually provided breakdowns for a half-dozen issues of his acclaimed THE WAITING PLACE while continuing to produce my own material through my company, SLEEPING GIANT COMICS/SLEEPING GIANT CREATIONS.

Allen: Who is your greatest influence for your art style?

David: It varies. I was highly influenced by Kirby, Colan, Ditko, Byrne, Miller, Golden, Sienkiewicz, McKean, etc., but could never emulate their style. Later I was influenced by the like of Mike Mignola and Ted McKeever. It wasnít until I began looking at artists outside the comics industry, particularly illustrators like Chris VanAllsburg and Gary Kelley, that I really began to break away from mainstream illustration to the point where my work, whether loved or despised, could be regarded as my own.

Allen: What type of art do you draw?

David: If by ďtype of artď you mean medium, well, it varies. I work in pen and ink but also work in colored pencil. For the last year or so Iíve been experimenting by doing rough pencil and finishing it in Photoshop. It all depends on the story being illustrated.

Allen: Tell us about your upcoming comic book called DEATH BY CHOCOLATE: REDUX.

David: REDUX is a compilation of DEATH BY CHOCOLATE stories that I self-published in the 1990s along with a story that appeared in a murder-mystery anthology and some new material. In preparing the compilation, I wanted it to look as fresh and contemporary as possible. To accomplish this, I revisited each page and fixed mistakes (both typographical and artistic). I was a less-confident artist when those tales initially saw print, and I realized there was room for improvement in the compilation.

So I took my time and made the improvements. I also included new material--a closing segment and an essay on the development of the series and the efforts it took to bring the compilation together. As for the series itself, I recently described it to some producers at Comic-Con as in the arena of X-FILES, except that the lead protagonist is comprised of organic chocolate and that he and his partner solve food-related crimes. Like chocolate, it has its light side and its dark side. When its dark, its very dark.

Allen: What is age group audience for DEATH BY CHOCOLATE: REDUX?

David: Thirteen to adult.

Allen: Who is publisher of DEATH BY CHOCOLATE: REDUX?

David: The book is being published by Top Shelf and is volume 2 of the LESS THAN HEROES series (which Top Shelf published in 2004). DEATH BY CHOCOLATE: REDUX, however, is a stand-alone project. The characters in DBC: REDUX co-exist with the characters in LESS THAN HEREOS, but aside from that, the books are independent of one another.

Allen: Who are some of the characters in DEATH BY CHOCOLATE: REDUX?

David: The lead character is code-name Agent Swete and his partner is named Anderson. There is a trio of scary, alien-like creatures known as the Metabolators. A few other characters populate the story including Ernest Hemingway.

Allen: When did you conceive idea for Death by Chocolate stories?

David: The earliest pages I have are from 1994. At that time the story was entitled ďThe Secret Origin of the Chocolatier.Ē It was rather abysmal-looking art, with 30 or more panels cluttered on each board. I set the story aside--abandoned it really--for a year or so and continued to work on my art.

Allen: What is origin of Agent Swete?

David: It involves an unfortunate mishap at a chocolate factory in Switzerland. Beyond that, youíll need to check out the book for the bittersweet details.

Allen: When can we find DEATH BY CHOCOLATE: REDUX?

David: It should be available at finer comic book shops worldwide. If your local shop doesnít carry it, then it can be easily purchased online directly from Top Shelf ( or from

Allen: Can you tell us about some of your other projects?

David: Iím presently working on a variety of projects. My most current project is a picture book written by my wife, Dianne Pearce. Itís a wordless story. We are deliberately producing it without words so that children can ďreadĒ it regardless of their native tongue. Iím also developing various projects for several companies, but again, these are still in the early developmental stages so their fate remains uncertain.

Allen: How did you become involved with ďBill Mantlo: A Life in ComicsĒ?

David: Honestly it was just something that needed to be done. Iíve stated this before and Iíll repeat it here, but I was losing sleep thinking about doing this project for Bill. Iíd lie awake at night and envision what it might be and how it might get off the ground.

Allen: How did you get the project started without major comic book money for the simplest thing like paying anyone for efforts?

David: This did not begin as a not-for-profit project. Ideally, I wanted this book to be done at Two-Morrows, because Two-Morrows does this sort of material on a regular basis. But Two-Morrows passed on it. It was also not the sort of project Top Shelf would typically do, so reluctantly at first I decided to self-publish (having not self-published for several years and feeling more than a little nervous). As I thought further about this project, I began to soon realize that this project was not about me and my adoration for Billís work. Rather, it was about Bill and his amazing body of work. When that ďlight-bulbĒ moment occurred, I knew that this would be a benefit project. It meant sacrificing a considerable amount of time, but it also meant giving back to Bill for the countless hours of joy his work has given--and continues to give--to me.

The first pros to jump on board were Marv Wolfman and George Perez, both of whom were simply top-notch and went above and beyond. Hero Alliance was also very helpful in providing me with e-mail addresses and other contact information. As word spread about the project, more and more folks jumped on board. When Brian K. Vaughn and Greg Pak offered to be interviewed about the influence Billís work has played in their careers, my jaw literally dropped. No one ever asked for financial compensation. Those individuals who were a part of this project, and all of those individuals who donated money to help offset the printing expenses, did so for only one reason--to help preserve the accomplishments of Bill Mantlo.

Allen: How do you know Bill Mantlo?

David: I donít know Bill at all. Weíve never met. Iíve never met any members of the Mantlo family. I only know him from words Iíve read in published interviews, from statements made by friends, family members, and colleagues. I wish I had known him.

Allen: Tell about his injury.

David: Bill was the victim of a hit and run in the early 1990s. He was rollerblading and a car struck him. It was very bad. Bill was comatose for a while, and heís required full-time nursing assistance ever since. His cognitive injuries are, unfortunately, permanent. This is why all of the quotes from Bill are from interviews he gave prior to his injury. Sadly, he cannot answer interview questions of this type.

Allen: What conventions will you be attending or have attended?

David: I recently attended San Diego Comic-Con. Next convention will likely be Wonder-Con in early 2008.

Allen: How can someone contact you?

David: I can be reached via and on MySpace at . Those interested can also visit Agent Swete on MySpace at .

Allen: What are your hobbies and recreational activities?

David: I still dabble in stamp collecting; this was a hobby of mine since childhood and Iíve never quite been able to give it up. Drawing and writing are my favorite hobbies and recreational activities. I bike and jog. Dianne and I are vegetarians, so we also enjoy trying new non-animal foods and preparing vegetarian meals. Weíre active with PETA and the Humane Society.

Allen: If you can have 6 dinner guests, 3 fictional and 3 real-life from any time period, who would those 6 people be and why?

David: Tough question. Fictional: Han Solo, Luke Skywalker, and Sherlock Holmes. Non-fictional: Rod Serling, Jack Kirby, and JFK. As for why, Iíd love to chat with all of these characters; mostly, Iíd warn JFK to keep out of Dallas.

Allen: If you could go into any time machine, what year would you stop at and tell us why.

David: Another tough question. Iíd be curious to travel into the future, but I fear the nation might still be run by Republicans. I suppose if at all possible, Iíd travel back in time to early September, 2001, and make every effort to stop the September 11 attacks. Then Iíd travel back a bit further and prevent the Bush clan from stealing the 2000 Presidential election from Al Gore (not bitter or anything).

Allen: What TV shows, movies, cartoons do you like?

David: My take on TV and cartoons is that, in general, older is better. I still love HOGANíS HEROES, GET SMART, TWILIGHT ZONE, NIGHT GALLERY, NIGHT STALKER, COLUMBO, etc. As for contemporary shows, only BATTLESTAR GALACTICA and THE SIMPSONS are on my ďmust seeĒ list. FUTURAMA is the greatest cartoon of all time, period, but the idiots at Fox cancelled it.

Allen: What books do you enjoy?

David: Again, mostly older stuff. Ernest Hemingway, Arthur Miller. Very little time to read much these days, sadly. I love childrenís books. My wife and I are adopting a baby from China, so weíve been building a library for our daughter. I highly recommend GOOD NIGHT GORILLA; itís a delightful read for tots and grown-ups.

Allen: Do you have any pets?

David: Yes, one scruffy dog named Chad and two furry cats (Austin and Jasper). Weíd like more pets, but space is a bit tight at the moment.

Allen: What comic books do you read now?

David: Jeff Lemireís TALES FROM THE FARM is fantastic, as is Matt Kindtís SUPER SPY and Jeffrey Brownís INCREDIBLE CHANGE-BOTS. These are all Top Shelf releases, but Iím not simply plugging Top Shelf. But these are genuinely wonderful graphic novels, and when I read them recently it reinvigorated my love of the medium and what itís capable of doing. When I read traditional comic books, Iím usually reading old Marvel titles circa 1960s to 1970s--anything from AMAZING SPIDER-MAN to WAR IS HELL. Itís all great fun, really.

Allen: What gives you your creative energy?

David: I wish I knew the answer. I guess it comes in many forms. Recently watched David Lynchís INLAND EMPIRE. Completely lost throughout the entire 3 hours, but left the theater feeling totally energized about creativity. Good music has the same effect. I also love old-time radio programs like X-MINUS 1, DIMENSION X, etc. They tend to fuel the imagination.

Allen: If you could have any super powers for day what would they be and why?

David: I guess Iíd like to have super-persuasion, so that I could convince the entire planet that weíre all stuck here so we might as well stop killing one another.

Allen: Imagine a genie granted you a wish to work for any comic book company for six months. What would be your dream character to draw?

David: Honestly, Iíd want to draw characters of my own creation. I have very little interest in drawing established characters owned by corporations. Of course, had you asked me that question in the 1970s, Iíd have answered THE MICRONAUTS. And had you asked me that question in the 1960s, Iíd have answered THE FANTASTIC FOUR (but then again, what self-respecting comic book company would have turned over the artistic chores of the FF to a six-year old?).

Allen: This ends the interview, any encouraging words of wisdom?

David: I once read a fortune from a fortune cookie that was as wise as anything IĎd ever read in any book of philosophy: ďThe road of life has many forks and many paths. Choose the path that YOU wish to chose. Take each step with gusto and do not look back or question your choice. It may not be the right path (though chances are it will be), but at least itíll be your own.Ē I know what you're thinking, and you're right--that was one damn big fortune cookie.

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