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The Adventures of Big Boy is the official comic book of
the Big Boy Restaurants chain,
as well as the flagship of the Big Boy character. For the past
decade, Craig Yoe—comics artist, editor, and publisher—has been the
brawn behind the boy. The proprietor of YOE! Studio—which counts Kellogg's,
Disney, Nickelodeon, Marvel and D.C. Comics among its clients—took
over Big Boy when poster designer Lucian Bernhard's son
Manfred gave up the franchise after over 400 issues. We caught up
with Yoe between double-deckers to talk about how the restaurant
began, who the Big Boy character was modeled after, and what keeps
this icon of American fast food fresh today.
A recent Big Boy statue (photo: Thomas Hawk); and the original
Bob's Pantry restaurant in Glendale, CA.
Heller: When was Big Boy founded?
Yoe: Bob Wian started the original Big Boy
[restaurant] in L.A. in 1936. It only had seating for 10 diners!
Bob soon invented the double-decker hamburger for a jazz musician
sitting at his counter who wanted something different—and the rest
Heller: Where did the character come from? Who or what
was he based on?
A menu from the 1940s shows Big Boy then, compared with today's
trimmer comic-book character.
Yoe: Warner Bros. animator Benny Washman was
one of the early customers. One day he sketched 6-year-old Richard
Woodruff, who wore droopy overalls and used to sweep up the
restaurant in exchange for hamburgers.
Heller: Has the icon changed much over the
Yoe: Big Boy's overalls are a little less
droopy, and he's aged—he's probably 7 or 8 now!
Heller: When did the comic book begin? And who was the
Yoe: In 1956, Timely Comics, the forerunner of
Marvel, created a comic for the Big Boy restaurants. It was written
by—are you ready for this?—Stan Lee! And it was drawn by Bill
Everett, the artist who created The Sub-Mariner in comic's
Golden Age. Lee and Everett were, of course, the team that created
Another notable artist on the book was Dan DeCarlo, who
beautifully drew Betty and Veronica [of the Archie comics]
for a number of years. Dan's rendition of Big Boy's girlfriend,
Dolly, looks not unlike a young Betty Cooper!
Heller: What is the concept behind the comic? Is there a
Yoe: Pure entertainment, with a handy menu on
the back. The kids order from the back page and then dive into the
comics, celebrity interviews, puzzles and riddles while they wait
for their food.
Heller: I understand that the pioneering German poster
designer, Lucian Bernhard, was involved in the design of the
Big Boy comic back in the '50s, and occasionally his son
Karl would alternate between designing comics and ads. What I'd
like to know is, how long was his son Manfred involved as the chief
Yoe: For an amazing 35 years, from the first
issue to no. 466. We took over with no. 467—[he was] a tough act to
follow. We're up to issue no. 527 now, giving it our best shot.
It's one of the longest running comics in the history of the
From Yoe's premiere issue, #467.
Heller: That's quite a while since you've been doing the
comic. Exactly how long has it been a YOE! Studio
Yoe: We just celebrated 10 wonderful years of
producing Big Boy!
Heller: It must feel good to reach that milestone. What
is your role in the Big Boy comic today?
Yoe: We produce everything from start to
finish. We interview celebrities from Britney Spears (when she was
more wholesome, remember?) to SpongeBob SquarePants. We produce the
comic stories that are still the heart of the publication. Luke
McDonnell, another Marvel graduate, is our staff artist at YOE!
Studio. Luke is an incredible visual storyteller who gives Big Boy
and friends a delightful modern flair. We get freelance writers
Craig Boldman and Bob Supina to do the scripts. When she has time,
my business partner, Clizia Gussoni, pens some of the stories with
her own magic.
Heller: How is it distributed? And what has been the
response? Do you get much feedback?
Yoe: It goes from our printer right to the
warehouse that houses all the food and napkins, then is trucked to
the individual restaurants across the country. The kids love 'em.
We get many enthusiastic letters and incredible drawings of Big Boy
that we include in each issue. There are no bigger fans of the
comic/magazine than we ourselves, though—it's one of our very
favorite projects! The Big Boy people are great to work with, and
we love the whole process and end product.
Heller: How has the comic book changed under your
Big League cover, issue #515.
Yoe: We've tried hard to be inspired by the
great comics we read when we were kids—from Carl Barks' Uncle
Scrooge to John Stanley's Little Lulu, not to mention
the wacky [Superman's Pal] Jimmy Olsen stories of
the '50s and '60s. Along that line, a couple of years ago I came up
with Bob Boy as a superhero: Bigger Boy. We often feature Bigger
Boy, and now he's part of a superhero group with Dolly, his friend
Zack, and Nugget, his dog. Assembled, they are the Big League!
The celebrity interviews were a new wrinkle we brought to the
publication. It's been fun interviewing super stars from music,
movies, sports and animation. I hope the Big Boy
publication is as much fun for our kid readers as it is for us big
kids doing it.
By the way, I was a reader and collector of the comic during the
Dan DeCarlo years, and I always cross my fingers that our giveaway
is as valuable to the current kids as it was to me.
Heller: What will and what could never change about the
Yoe: Who knows? Big Boy even had an alternative
reality in his early days. Some of the restaurants in the '50s
wanting their own identity had special printings of the Big
Boy comic that changed his iconic red-and-white checkered
overalls to striped ones.
Hmm, maybe Big Boy's Elvis pompadour-style hair can never
change—though, come to think of it, when Big Boy is Bigger Boy, a
zapping ray emits from it.
What was it like to be an aspiring commercial artist in New York after World War II? Heller finds out from Paul Vjecsner, a Holocaust survivor, and his very detailed website.
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