Kelly Yates has launched his second comics franchise. MonstHer, like his first outing, also features a young, female protagonist.
“My first creator book was Amber Atoms, who is kind of a female Flash Gordon,” the Greensboro comics artist said. “I’ve always loved space ship and sci-fi. I never really did monsters. Part of me wanted to try something different and wanted to challenge myself.
The series tells the story of a girl who is helping her father run a halfway house for monsters, who were once human. The first installment is available for download on Yates’ website. Once he completes all the chapters, Yates plans to combine them into a paperback book later.
Yates found inspiration for MonstHer in the visual details of his North Carolina Piedmont surroundings and his spiritual grounding. The halfway house takes visual cues from the Eden Drive-In in Rockingham County.
“I come from a religious background,” Yates said. “Some of the story comes from the evil’s that’s inside of us, the bad that we struggle with. It’s a darker book, but it’s for all ages.”
Yates is a homegrown comics talent. He will be at Acme Comics in Greensboro on Saturday to sign comic books and do free sketches. He said he believes he is longest running artist at Acme since the store started participating in Free Comic Book Day about 10 years ago.
He works a day job at VF Jeanswear to pay the mortgage. On the comics side, in addition to Amber Atoms and MonstHer, Yates illustrates Doctor Who comic books, inspired by the time-traveling alien in the BBC television program launched in the 1960s, for IDW Publishing.
“I grew up watching ‘Doctor Who,’” Yates said. “So being able to illustrate it is like a dream come true. When I get to draw Star Wars, the circle will be complete.”
Yates’ visual style in MonstHer is direct and accessible in the best comics tradition, but his storylines feature startling plot twists and abrupt sequence changes that keep readers on their toes. And undeniably, a story that features a spunky, blond-haired girl who fights evil with a crew of hulking, furry creatures is just a lot of fun.
Yates did not start drawing until the age of 21. “I was struggling,” he recalled. “I was studying exercise sports science at UNCG, and I was three and a half years in. I had hit this wall with it. I loved comics. And I was thinking, I’m not supposed to be a coach. I found out I could go to Guilford Tech for $100 a quarter. We didn’t have a lot of money. To this day, they have one of the preeminent computer graphics programs in North Carolina.
“I hope you don’t mind me talking about religion,” he continued.
“I remember sitting there when I was 21 years old thinking, I can’t make a living being an artist. It was really a leap of faith. I said, ‘Lord, if this is the path that I’m supposed to do, please bless me with the talents that I need. Twenty-one years later I think I have been pretty successful. I have a house and kids that we can afford. I feel pretty blessed.”
He earned a commercial art degree from GTCC and taught himself by staying up to until 3 a.m. night after night drawing Star Wars characters or whatever else excited him at the time. He’s always had a sense of having to try to catch up.
“I have to work so hard at it,” Yates said. “There are some people who are incredibly good artists. They don’t have to work very hard at what they do. That’s not me.”
His degree from GTCC helped Yates land a job in Michigan developing a “Sesame Street” line of children’s clothes for K-Mart. He later worked for Hanesbrands as the graphics manager for the Marvel Comics license. Working in the corporate world helped him learn how to meet deadlines.
“People always ask me for my advice,” Yates said. “They ask:
‘How can I get better? Should I go to art school?’ That’s a good question, but the best piece of advice I can give is draw, draw, draw. That’s what it’s about.”
Kelly Yates will be autographing comic books and doing free sketches at Acme Comics, located at 2150 Lawndale Drive in Greensboro, on Saturday. Check out his work at kellyyatesart.com.