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Yezbick’s Book Captures Spirit, Humor of George Carlson

March 05, 2014

Dan Yezbick  

Dan Yezbick was fascinated by children’s illustrator and poet George Carlson’s imaginative cartoons, comics, games, puzzles and nonsense verse while growing up in Detroit.

Now an associate professor of English at St. Louis Community College-Forest Park, he has produced the complete story of one of America’s most innovative – and underrated -- Golden Age artists.

After more than 10 years of research and development, Yezbick’s oversized 320-page artbook, “Perfect Nonsense: the Chaotic Comics and Goofy Games of George Carlson,” has been published by Fantagraphics Books. It is loaded with wonder and wit, capturing the best of Carlson’s unique spirit of happiness and fun, with illustrations, archival photos and reproductions of rare originals.

“I have been very fortunate to have the support of numerous academic archives, private collections, and Carlson's extended family involved in the first major survey of his work since his death in 1962. It has been very lovingly designed and released by Fantagraphics Books, one of the world's most respected publishers of graphic and cartoon art,” Yezbick said.

For more than 50 years, Carlson created thousands of distinctive and dynamic cartoons, comics, riddles, and games that thrilled both children and adults with their fanciful spirit and nonsensical humor. There has never been a career retrospective of him until now.

Carlson perhaps is most noted for designing the book jacket of the first edition of Margaret Mitchell’s “Gone with the Wind” in 1936. A few years later, he famously illustrated "Uncle Wiggly and His Friends" by Howard R. Garis.

“His artistry and ingenuity finally gets the comprehensive treatment it has so long deserved. This edition offers a meticulously researched critical introduction, rare examples of original art and unpublished projects, and a biographical timeline of Carlson’s first three decades as a commercial artist drawing on recently unearthed artifacts from the Carlson family estate,” the publisher said.

Children’s Publishing Altered

Decades before his celebrated Jingle Jangle Comics in 1942, Carlson forever altered the nature of children's publishing during his tenure as chief artist and designer for the pioneering children's magazine, John Martin's Book. He created the popular character, “Peter Puzzlemaker,” and turned the magazine itself into a toy, filled with seasonal games, holiday cutouts, curious crosswords, graphic exercises and more.

He had also been puzzle editor for the Girl Scout magazine, and worked with St. Nicholas magazine, Scribner's, Life and others.

“When I was 8 years old, my parents gave me one of his books,” Yezbick said. “I was always interested in words and pictures, and I loved Uncle Wiggly. The fantasy world he created was mysterious, and his work was just so interesting. He is truly the American Lewis Carroll.”

Birth of a Project

Yezbick began his labor of love after speaking about Carlson at a children’s literature conference. A Journal editor encouraged him to pursue the topic. Then, a publisher got behind it.

“They always wanted to know more,” he said.

Thus, a journey of compiling, contacting and conjuring began. Carlson’s family and estate assisted in the process. Over the years, Yezbick had been in touch with one of Carlson’s surviving daughters, two grandchildren, and his great-granddaughter as well as other members of his extended family.

“The family was so supportive. His grandson read the manuscript and offered the use of several rare family photos. His great-granddaughter, who is also an artist and designer, wrote a very moving foreword for the book. They were very positive. That helped a lot,” Yezbick said. “It meant a lot that they were so pleased with it.”

In addition, he received assistance from private collectors who owned much of Carlson’s estate. Some offered to scan unique sketches and one-of-a-kind scrapbook items, to provide him with what he needed.

Through Yezbick’s assistance, Washington University also has acquired several estate items in its Modern Graphic Arts Library archives, and curator Skye LaCerte aided in that regard.

Yezbick was grateful for the assistance of his colleagues Hilary Wilson in English, Jamie Kreher in art, Roger Mayden and Tom Rogers in printing, and Kirk Martin.

To see the finished product, with the design by celebrated book designer Tony Ong, was quite a moment.

“He wanted the book to be as special as I did,” Yezbick said.

Now, Yezbick’s children, Alex, 7, and Elsa, 6, have become fans as well. Yezbick, his wife Rosalie and his children live in St. Louis City.

On the faculty at STLCC-Forest Park since 2007, Yezbick is the global education coordinator as well. He earned a bachelor’s degree from University of Michigan and his master’s degree and doctorate from the University of Illinois.

Purchase the Book

Yezbick has been speaking about Carlson at various conferences around the country. He is available for book signings and appearances. The book is available at Amazon.com and at major bookstores, or sisit the online publisher’s catalog.

For more information, contact Yezbick at 314-644-9910 or dyezbick@stlcc.edu.