R.J. Casey and Eric Roesner are the men behind the Chicago-based Yeti Press, a Chicago-based micropress they launched in August of 2011. In fall of 2013 they launched a successful Kickstarter campaign to, um…you know, kickstart their fledgling company to the next level and publish seven new titles, ranging from full-color paperback graphic novels like Kate Leyh's all-ages Bird Witch to well-produced stapled comic books like Kevin Budnik's diarist Dust Motes, and their own wacky western romp Pecos, to a collection of gag cartoons from recent Eisner nominee, Sam Sharpe. Though now separated by several states (R.J. having recently moved to Seattle), the affable pair continue to plot their Yeti Press world domination. After they sent me a bunch of their 2014 releases I wanted to find out more about Yeti, and email-interviewed them in the last week of July. They were among the most easygoing interview subjects yet (as well as helpful: now that Eric has introduced me to Google Docs I am now joining the rest of the world in uh, 2012). But enough from me - read on and see what's going on in Yeti Press land.
Rob Kirby: How did the two of you meet up initially? Did a creative partnership manifest itself quickly?
Eric Roesner: I was just finishing up my degree at Columbia College and I get an email from this RJ Casey writer-guy telling me he got my name from Chris “Elio” Eliopoulos and likes my drawings and wonders if we could talk about working on a comic together. After a few more emails we met up to talk about what we could do. I was in a really weird point in my life at the time, clueless about what to do with my degree, slightly depressed. Then RJ came in with this energy and excitement that was very contagious. We seemed to share a similar taste and style in the comics we liked. I think we both had big ideas and aspirations. (It was all very romantic.)
RJ Casey: Just like in the movies! We talked about embarking on a gigantic graphic novel, which I had already started writing, about the first hot air balloon flight, but our fairy godfather (Elio) and common sense talked us out of it. You probably never want to start a creative partnership with a 200 page opus. We settled on a 16 page gross-out, cowboy comedy called Pecos that seemed much more attainable and went from there.
Kirby: I really enjoyed your Pecos comic. Can you tell me about how you two came to collaborate on it? Which one of you has the sickest sense of humor?
Roesner: After we scrapped our 200+ page opus, we were just throwing around ideas and Pecos just seemed really fun to work on. As for who has the sickest sense of humor, I'd say we’re pretty even. “Hey Eric, how do you feel about drawing a bestiality scene followed by a splash page of a cowboy riding a giant sperm cell?” To which I respond, “Yes.” I got pretty lucky in that RJ sends me his script and I pretty much get to have my way with it. If I didn’t make it as gross looking as possible, I just couldn't live with myself.
Casey: I love spaghetti westerns, but I’ve never been that intrigued by any Western comics before. I just wanted to write something that would be Clint Eastwood meets Earthworm Jim. Or Ennio Morricone meets Weird Al. Something where I could sit back and let my “id” do all the ‘splainin’ in between more serious projects. I’m glad you enjoyed it.
Kirby: Can you tell us how and why you decided to start Yeti Press?
Roesner: Pecos was wrapping up and I guess we could have just left it as that, but we thought as a whole we needed a name. We were throwing ideas around and I saw this Bigfoot newsletter on RJ’s coffee table and *POOF* Yeti Press. RJ was coming to me with more and more stories, and bless his soul, wanted me to draw all of them. I couldn't keep up, so I started introducing him to my friends from Columbia, who were by far better at making comics than I was.
Casey: I think it’s fantastic that there was a time I just had bigfoot periodicals strewn about my apartment. Through Eric, I met the real artistic backbone of Yeti Press, who I would consider to be Kevin Budnik, David Alvarado, and Kat Leyh. I pitched them some short stories and eventually we printed and distributed much of their individual work as well. I found through doing this that I especially enjoyed the business side of comics, which I didn’t expect. I’ve tried to become a better editor and publisher and Eric has really grown as a designer in his own right. I think we balance each other out pretty well. So essentially Yeti Press was started as just a name to throw on the back of a book and has turned into a “small press behemoth,” as we like to call it.
Kirby: I get the idea that Yeti Press is Chicago-centric. Is that true? Are your artists all from the Chicago area? If not, how do you choose the folks you decide to work with?
Roesner: It is, but it isn't on purpose. It grew from people we know and artists we admire. Anyone can submit a story or pitch to us. I'm always keeping an eye out on tumblr and Instagram for new creators. That's how RJ came across Erik Nebel.
Casey: It was Chicago-centric by necessity at first because we were so small and because I liked the ability to meet up with the artist at a pizza place and hash things out face-to-face. Also, Chicago has such a vibrant comic scene happening right now. There's so much talent buzzing around. But like Eric said, we’ve slowly started to expand in terms of looking outside our own backyard. Erik Nebel was the first cartoonist that we published that was outside the Chicago area. I’d like to see that trend continue, but also keep our roots in Chicago, even though I don’t live there anymore.
To answer your second question, we want to work with people whose work we like to read. A formula hasn’t really been developed, but if Eric and I both give something a thumbs up, then we’ll go to print. Eric is a much stricter sentry than me, which is probably a good thing.
Kirby: That’s what I wanted to ask about next, your aesthetics. Is there a particular bent you two see in Yeti? The critic Robert Clough recently wrote that your lineup has an “all-ages vibe.”
Roesner: We have an All-Ages book, but we also have many NOT All-Ages books, for example, “Poop Boobs Poo” by Sam Sharpe. I think our name and logo might throw people off sometimes. The first time we attended TCAF we were tabled in the All-Ages section which meant diverting children away from comics containing fish orgies and a drug smuggling Johnny Appleseed. For me our books have to pass the “Would I want to read this?” if yes, then “Would my Mom like to read this?” if no, then I say it’s a winner.
Casey: I agree with Eric in that we like fun storylines and comedy, but not all our books would be considered “all-ages.” Eric grew up obsessing over the art of Mike Allred and Jaime Hernandez. I did the same with Roger Langridge and Dylan Horrocks. I believe those influences really shaped the current comics we keep an eye out for and try to produce now. Humor, or an attempt at humor, is big. We have books that are off-the-wall goofy, a few that are almost esoteric and blithe, more that are dark, and some that are just plain lighthearted and fun. “All-ages” it seems has come to mean colorful stories that embrace a narrative. If that’s the case, I can see where people might put us in that tract.
Kirby: I do want to interject here that I gave a copy of Kat Leyh’s Bird Witch to a 10 year-old girl I know (in Chicago!) who absolutely loved it and asked, “Are there more?” I would also characterize Andrea Bell’s Rose from the Dead as perhaps all ages (well, maybe 10 and up - it’s a little creepy for really young children).
I agree with you guys though, that Yeti seems, not unlike Koyama Press, rather open to all types of comics, in all sorts of print formats. I’ve wondered also how closely you work with your artists on the final shape of each book? For example, did Sam Sharpe originally see Poop Boobs Poo as a small format paperback? (which I think it’s the perfect way to present it, btw).
Roesner: That was all his idea. Everything about each book is determined by the creator. RJ and I are just here for spell-checking and tech support when the book is actually being made. It’s important to us that the end product is exactly how the artist envisioned it.
Casey: Yeah, I met with Sam two or three times to discuss his vision for the book. I usually give my general thoughts on how I think the book would look the best, but the artists are free to take it or leave it. But we really like working in print because of the different ways a book can be presented. If you look at our entire catalogue, I don’t think there is a single book that has the same dimensions as another. This gave us the freedom to do things like add hand-carved stamps and belly bands to a couple of books, too.
Kirby: So, R.J., with your recent move to Seattle, and Eric saying in Chicago, what does this mean for further collaborations and for Yeti Press in general? Any big adjustments to handle?
Casey: There will definitely be an adjustment period, but we are going full steam ahead! I’m excited to bring the books to shows on the west coast and make a name for ourselves out here. I also have this amazing opportunity to intern in the editorial department at Fantagraphics right now, so hopefully my publishing skills will +1 each week. The online store is still up and moving, we have applied to a few shows around Seattle and Portland already, and are currently trying to finalize our 2015 lineup.
Kirby: Awesome! Do you want to give us a teaser about what’s to come in 2015?
Casey: Well, we have one book coming out before the end of 2014 called The Summit by Gabe Bautista and me. It has been delayed a bit because Gabo’s blowing up right, doing work on his new Oni book The Life After. I don’t want to give too much away before the i’s are dotted and t’s crossed, but look for some books in 2015 by some Yeti Press favorites as well as one by an artist we’ve been enamored with for a long time. Announcements coming soon!
Kirby: Okay you guys, everyone who interviews here has to deal with the Totally Random Stupid Question. This month’s TRSQ: What is one food you just cannot stand to eat and why? (Just so you know, mine is beets. So gross.)
Roesner: Indian food. TCAF 2013.
Casey: Get over it, Eric! Mine is gum. Gum’s a food, right? It’s like a sugarcoated oyster sitting in your bacteria ridden cesspool of a mouth. Everything else I’m down to eat.
Kirby: I’m chewing gum as we speak but we’ll just move on and not dwell on any unpleasantness...wrapping up, do tell us anything else you want us to know about you, your work, your hopes and dreams, or anything else.
Roesner: I’m a Pisces, and my hopes and dreams involve having a Yeti Press book in every household by the end of 2026.
Casey: Look for us at Rose City Comic-Con in Portland this September. My hopes and dreams are for you to look for updates on our website, twitter, tumblr, facebook, and store.
Let us grant R.J. his dearest hopes and dreams, shall we? Please visit Yeti Press' website:
Their Facebook page:
and their Tumblr: