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
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 of?
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
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
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 Gary!
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
As I understand it this is part of a series of three classic
Twenty 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 white watercolor.
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
The 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