25 years of cool: Yambar’s Mr. Beat comic takes a bow


IF YOU GO

What: Mr. Beat 25th anniversary celebration with Chris Yambar

When: 4 to 7 p.m. Saturday

Where: B&O Station, 530 Mahoning Ave., Youngstown

By GUY D’ASTOLFO

dastolfo@vindy.com

YOUNGSTOWN

Before Chris Yambar hit the big time in the comic-book industry by getting hired as a writer for Bart Simpson comics, he was working on his own character – a coffee-drinking cool cat named Mr. Beat.

In fact, you might say it was Mr. Beat who introduced Yambar to Matt Groening, creator of The Simpsons and the man who hired Yambar in 2000.

Yambar, a Youngstown-based pop artist, wrote for Bart Simpson comics for 16 years, during which time he put Mr. Beat on the backburner. But the cool and highly caffeinated character is buzzing with excitement again as his 25th anniversary nears.

A beatnik character who lives life on his own terms, Mr. Beat first appeared in published comic form in 1994.

To mark a quarter century of Mr. Beat, Yambar will throw a signing party from 4 to 7 p.m. Saturday at B&O Station, 530 Mahoning Ave. Admission is free.

Visitors will be able to purchase souvenir bags ($20) containing an autographed and stamped limited edition reproduction of the first Mr. Beat comic book, a Mr. Beat sticker and a postcard with a newly released Mr. Beat commemorative U.S. postage stamp on it.

Yambar has also created limited-edition square art buttons, posters, stickers, apparel, kitchen plaques and other items that will be for sale.

Joining him at Saturday’s event will be Mike and Peggy Humes and their Rust Belt Print Shop, who will offer artisan items.

Saturday is also the first day of the Summer Festival of the Arts at Youngstown State University, which means many people will be downtown for the cultural celebration.

“There are a lot of things happening throughout the city during the day, so we are inviting everyone to stop on down afterward for some fun and a slice of Mr. Beat history. He was born here in Youngstown and has readers throughout the world,” said Yambar, adding, “and yes, there will be cake as long as it lasts.”

Additional food and refreshments will be available at B&O Station Boxcar Lounge. The evening will conclude with a free concert by Cleveland Machine, a three-person blues band.

Mr. Beat was born amid the coffee house renaissance of the ’90s, and bore his creator’s bemused worldview.

Yambar routinely sent Mr. Beat comics, coffee mugs and other swag to Groening for years in an effort to get his attention.

It worked.

“[Groening] loves indie and alternative comics,” said Yambar. “Back then, he was doing his own, ‘Life In Hell’.”

When a writing gig opened up on Bart Simpson comics, which Groening published under his Bongo imprint, he recalled Yambar’s funny and subversive Mr. Beat character and hired him.

Yambar said the character is his baby.

“You write from a position of what you know in life,” he said. “Mr. Beat was art, music, culture, that was me,” said Yambar. “He was a clear reflection of my soul.”

The coffee addiction was another parallel. “Coffee was my drug of choice,” said Yambar. “I had a two triple espresso per day habit back then.”

The artist recalled the moment when he first realized Mr. Beat was the man.

It was in the early 1990s at The Beat coffee house near Youngstown State University. Yambar was showing his art to the shop owner, whose eye fell upon a drawing of a beatnik holding a sign that read “Will conform for coffee.”

Said the owner, “There is something about this one. What is his name?”

Yambar replied, “He’s just a beatnik.”

While the character first got noticed at The Beat Coffee House, he wasn’t named for the place, said Yambar, who said he based it on some older beatnik types that he knew.

The character’s cool confidence is part of his aura.

“You don’t even have to read it to get his vibe,” said Yambar. “It’s his world, and welcome to it. He is in control.”

The character’s comeback will get another boost later this year, when Yambar releases a Mr. Beat compilation comic.

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