In what seemed to be the Muppet Babies or Pup Named Scooby Doo version of the justice league, Yale Stewart has crafted one of the most earnest, heartfelt and genuinely hilarious web comics with JL8. Originally called Little League, JL8 tells the story of a very young justice league getting through elementary school woes. From playground drama, to crushes and all the ball busting friendship in between Yale captures the essence of childhood while staying true to some of the oldest most beloved characters.
I was lucky enough to be able to interview Yale Stewart for the piece (Flash Fact: Simply because I asked, never hurts to just ask). Through our Skype conversation we went all over the place so I’ll try to condense as best as possible.
It is poetically beautiful that his most famous creation came basically out of nowhere, Yale went on to explain “I was bored at work one day, in-between Gifted since I needed to go get some reference drawing of my old high school, and it just popped into my head this idea of the justice league as little kids”.
That spontaneity is truly something given by a muse or alien life we have yet to understand. It is a face-palm-why-didn’t-I-think-of-that kind of idea. Though a good initial idea isn’t everything. Genius and earnest execution is what stole the hearts of readers. Through the guise of these super hero kids we see ourselves at that age, worried about cooties, only wanting to watch cartoons and play. Every time I read a strip something of my childhood is captured in the strip. The fact that the characters are some of the truest interpretations of the most beloved DCU characters only adds to the earnest flavor of the strip.
Drawing it initially as something only for himself and his friends, Yale soon discovered that this might be something for the world to see. “After showing it to some of my friends and they really liking it, they basically said that I should put this out, so I started a Tumblr page and it just blew up from there”. What started, as a cure for artistic boredom became an Internet sensation after one of his strips was reblogged by Kate Leth of web comic and tumblr fame. Along with the reblog that circulated all over the internet, an article about the web series was posted on the nerd-mecca website Io9 (where I heard about JL8) propelling it into even more popularity.
As the popularity grew a grand majority of fans were the people who could identify the most with the strip, kids. In a everything must be “dark and gritty” world it is nice to see something made that is optimistic and kid friendly while still accessible to adults.
This influx of new fans led to beautiful experiences for Stewart. He recalled about having a little girl coming up to him with a drawing of power girl she had done during his panel. “That has been the best experience and reward that has come out of JL8, it is still up and framed in drawing room” Yale evoked sincerely.
It is in this sincerity that the magic behind the strip is made clear. The heart is fully on its sleeve, open and vulnerable like a child. The strips range from fun gags to emotional real moments, sometimes even in one strip. Storylines concerning a young Wonder Woman accepting her role as a princess while her heart is still that of a warrior and Batman trying to prove his maturity and strength to the older mean kids (beautifully done kid versions of the Legion of Doom) show the full scope of what this strip is capable of. While there are cool cameos and nods to the DCU (Neil Gaiman as a book shop owner followed by the Daniel version of Morpheus made me shriek like a schoolgirl at a One Direction concert) the true heart of the strip is in how he uses the characters to tell stories mainly about friendships. Week after week ,even while busting balls, Batman is still shown doing all he can for his obvious best friend Superman. The strips that show the Flash and Green Lantern showing The Martian Manhunter around (he is new to earth) plays out like a nicer version of That 70’s show with The Martian being Fez. These themes of friendship and youthful empowerment make the strip truly great for children and can make even the most cynical of adults crack a smile and remember those grade school days.
After continuing to talk about comics and what the future holds, Stewart pondered “Just going to continue JL8 and see where it goes from there”. While having written a drawn a back up story for Marvel’s Nova and other such work, real comic work has eluded Stewart. Though I feel it won’t be long before one of the big two come to their senses and pick this guy up. A Flash or Young Avengers run by Yale would be a godsend and shake up the dark and gritty world of modern comics.
At the end of the interview I asked my shameless fan boy question. What advice would you give an up and coming creative type or artist? “Just be honest man, do what makes you happy and you will find an audience” Yale responded as a true testament to his experience. Here is a guy who chased a whimsy. Who thought of a simple idea and executed it in a way that delighted him. What happened? The audience came.
If you take anything away from this piece (besides that you should go read JL8 right now) is that any little idea that pops into your head that makes you happy just chase it. We live in a time where information and art can be shared without restrictions. This thing you are reading right now is a product of that. So chase whimsies and do it honestly.
Yale Stewart might still be a young artist but there is no doubt in my mind that he has many years of work ahead of him and I for one I’m more excited to see where it goes. Until then go read JL8 and enjoy one of the few pleasures of life, feeling like a kid again.