Interview: PHIL YEH and the Joy of Reading

Phil Yeh and Friends

Phil Yeh and Friends

Based on various studies, it is estimated that over a third of Americans cannot read this sentence. Yes, at least 60 million Americans are illiterate. Consider these reports here and here. Not being able to read and comprehend the written word robs people of the ability to control their lives in very significant ways. This burden is preventable. Ask Phil Yeh. He knows. As a cartoonist and an activist, he has worked hard throughout his life to inspire and help others to learn the joy of reading. Phil Yeh has painted more than 1800 murals in 49 states and 15 countries promoting literacy and the arts with his Cartoonists Across America & the World Tours.

Phil Yeh. You know the name. He’s the guy in the comics history books as a pioneer in the creation of the graphic novel. He’s the guy who promotes literacy with all those murals around the world. Yeah, that Phil Yeh. Are there others? Well, we sure could use more Phil Yehs in the world.

Patrick-Rabbit-Phi-Yeh-Route-66

Phil Yeh is always busy. He can be working on his latest book. He can be working on his most recent mural for Cartoonists Across America and the World. At this particular time, for this interview, we find Phil continuing to work on a very special mural that highlights the achievements, the personalities, and the great history of the City of San Bernardino, California.

Sandy Fischer Cvar created the portraits on the San Bernardino mural

Sandy Fischer Cvar created the portraits on the San Bernardino mural

About a year and a half ago, Phil suffered a stroke. It slowed him down but, as Phil observes, it has led to the best work of his life. In April of 2012, after having started to pick up a paint brush again, he embarked upon one of his greatest murals. It is on the historic site of the world’s first McDonald’s restaurant in San Bernardino, California, on Route 66. This mural is just the sort of spark that sure helps in the process of San Bernardino’s revival.

Ribbon Cutting Ceremony with Mayor Pat Morris, May 1, 2012

Ribbon Cutting Ceremony with Mayor Pat Morris, May 1, 2012

The main topic of discussion for this interview is the City of San Bernardino. It has fallen on hard times and every effort to set things back on track is essential. The Great Recession has taken its toll but hope prevails. Phil’s mural is a bright light on the way to recovery. In this interview, he goes into detail about the inspiring people from San Bernardino who have made history and major contributions to the betterment of everyone. And, if there was only one person to focus on, it would be Chester Carlson. He came from poverty, even having lived in an abandoned chicken coop as a teen, and rose to create Xerox.

A book on Chester Carlson that Phil highly recommends is “Copies in Seconds,” published in 2004, by David Owens. You can find it here. He would like to see it in every library and school. But there is always another inspiring story. Phil speaks with great feeling and ready with another story such as that of San Bernardino favorite son, Garner Holt. Starting at age 16, Holt began his work on animatronics. He’d been inspired by the animatronics he’d seen on a trip to Disneyland. He went on to create a major animatronics firm that developed, among other projects, the animatronics for the Chuck E.Cheese restaurant chain. And, like Carlson, Holt never forgot San Bernardino and gave back significantly.

Phil’s enthusiasm is truly boundless. Get him to talk about today’s youth and he’s adamant about valuing one’s time. “If you spend four hours a day on social media, hey, that’s four hours wasted. That’s four hours you could have been doing something creative.”

Phil loves to share his first experience at San Diego Comic-Con in 1970. He talks about how he went there as a timid teenager and was set on his life’s path with two conversations. He talked to Ray Bradbury about his passion for writing but his fear that he couldn’t pursue it because he couldn’t type. Ray Bradbury reassured him and revealed to him that he didn’t know how to type. He told him to just write. Phil then sought advice from Jack Kirby. He talked to Jack Kirby about his passion for drawing but his concern that he should go to art school. Kirby had the best advice: Just draw! Phil took both men’s advice to heart, started his own publishing company and never looked back.

Phil looks forward to a number of book projects including one with a steampunk theme. And he’s looking forward to press coverage on the San Bernardino mural that will reach full completion this by this summer. “We’re getting China’s CCTV to cover us. That’s the biggest televison network in the world with a 1 billion 400 million viewership. We’re thinking that with German TV, French TV, and Brazilian TV coverage on board, that this will ultimately lead to local Los Angeles TV coverage. They’re tough to reach!”

Sometimes good news is a hard sell. But Phil Yeh knows how to reach people. He’s been doing that all his life.

Right below is the full podcast interview with Phil Yeh:

Phil-Yeh-March-2013

And one more a bit of news on the San Bernardino mural: Here is an update as of today from Phil Yeh:

Phil Yeh and the San Bernardino mural

Phil Yeh and the San Bernardino mural

We are painting the entire Route 66 in California ending up in Santa Monica! Brendan Moore is capturing some of Hollywood’s landmarks & the Queen Mary in Long Beach while Beth Winokur brings her own creativity to the boxcars. Every one of these boxcars will feature a town in San Bernardino County as a fruit label! I am working on my favorite manmade landmark in the world, Simon Rodia’s Watts Towers in Los Angeles not far from my boyhood home where I grew up in the 1960s. We should be finished in the summer of 2013.

Visit Phil Yeh here.

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1 Comment

Filed under Activism, Art, Books, Comic-Con, Comics, Education, Libraries, Literacy, Phil Yeh, pop culture, Ray Bradbury, Reading, Schools

One response to “Interview: PHIL YEH and the Joy of Reading

  1. Pingback: Henry Chamberlain’s Campaign To Support A Comics Reviewer and Creator |

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