Pop Artist Chris Yambar Dead at 59
YOUNGSTOWN – Chris Yambar, the prolific Youngstown-based pop artist with a global reach, died Saturday after a long bout with health issues. He was 59.
A native of Youngstown’s West Side, Yambar hit the big time in the comic-book industry in 2000, when he was hired by Matt Groening, creator of The Simpsons, as a writer for Bart Simpson Comics. He wrote for the comic book title for 16 years, as well as a few other titles.
As an artist, Yambar was a tireless worker who produced nearly 3,600 images in his career. His paintings can be found in private and corporate collections, museums and galleries in the United States, England, France, Germany, Canada, Russia and Puerto Rico, including the Ronald Reagan Library, the P.T. Barnum Museum, the Bill Clinton Time Capsule at the Smithsonian, and Germany’s Hummel Museum.
His portraits can be found in nearly 90 celebrity estates. Locally, his paintings and photographs were displayed in shows at The Butler Institute of American Art in 1989 and The Tyler Center of the Mahoning Valley Historical Society (“Rock Gods” photo exhibit, 2015 with Janet Macoska and Tony Nicholas).
Another characteristic of Yambar was his relentlessness in promoting his work. He put together art shows and other events on a regular basis and got the word out to art lovers and the media with his energetic and outsized personality.
Tony Nicholas, a fellow Youngstown artist and long-time friend and collaborator of Yambar, spoke of Yambar’s life and leading position in the region’s art scene. Yambar knew that the work of an artist extended into marketing and was a self-promoter “to say the least,” Nicholas said. “He created buzz.”
Yambar’s interest in art began as a child when he became a comic book fan.
“That is where it all started,” Nicholas said. Though his work retained the themes and look of comic books “it was deeper than that,” Nicholas said. “His unusual or odd characters came out of empathy for other people who are struggling.”
Yambar’s first indie comic book was Mr. Beat, based on a coffee-drinking beatnik who saw the world through his own cool, but offbeat, lens.
After Mr. Beat comics debuted in 1994, Yambar made sure that The Simpsons’ Groening got a copy. It helped him land the writing job, Yambar said in a 2019 interview.
In later years, as his health faded, Yambar continued to create and display his work at local galleries. Topics included pop art treatments of classic movie monsters, and photographs of churches (Yambar was a Youngstown Police Department chaplain). He also created comics that offered fresh takes on Frankenstein’s monster and The Yellow Kid, a groundbreaking serialized comic strip that debuted in 1895.
Yambar’s health troubles began in 2015 when he tripped on a sidewalk crack while walking to meet Nicholas for lunch at a downtown Youngstown restaurant. The injury became infected, Nicholas said.
“A week later, I was with him and he had chills and thought he had the flu,” Nicholas continued. “Then he was in the hospital and it turned into this nightmare.”
Yambar contracted sepsis and the MRSA virus. These complicated his struggle with diabetes and kidney failure. He eventually lost sight in one eye and had diminished vision in the other. He was also unable to walk for all but the shortest distances.
“The last time I talked to him on the phone, we talked about everything,” Nicholas said. “I felt guilty because I knew he was raring to go on the inside but he couldn’t [because of his illness].”
Yambar was on a list for a kidney transplant, Nicholas said.
Nicholas has already begun making plans for a Chris Yambar tribute event, possibly at Soap Gallery, downtown.
“Not right away, but down the road,” he said. “It will be the way Chris would do it: over the top and completely ridiculous.”
Yambar leaves behind his wife, Maureen.
Copyright 2021 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.