Full disclosure: It's taken a couple weeks for me to gather the gumption to actually write something. I'm not sure how to actually write a proper obit for a dear friend, much less one who was perhaps as important to local/pop culture as he was to me personally...
My friend and former Stranger coworker Dale Yarger passed away a couple weeks ago. He had stomach cancer. I knew he'd been sick for a couple years, but the last I'd heard he was on the mend, so getting the bad news was a kick in the face. I'd gone to a supper that night and had gotten home late, but as I went to bed I made a quick pass at Facebook... The top post was from a local fella and his post was about Dale Yarger... past tense. I couldn't believe it, Dale had been sick, but wasn't an old man... so I didn't believe it. Still, I sat there stunned, motionless... for an hour. Then I tried to find someone, anyone, to confirm the news. It was late, so it took me another hour, but yeah, it was true, Dale was gone.
Yarger moved to Seattle from New York State in the early '80s, as I understand it. Once here, he got to work, partnered in the creation of a gay publication, The Lights, did a ton of freelancing, worked at Seattle Weekly as an assistant art director, then moved to The Rocket. The Rocket is now defunct, but it stood as a long-running local music paper. While there he designed a logo: the Sub Pop logo, an image that, for a hot minute, wrapped the world. Then he made the jump to Fantagraphics where, word is, he redesigned everything and inspired everyone. His time at Fantagraphics, like everything he touched, was HUGE, as it was at that time when underground/indie comics were just BUSTING out. Then he came to The Stranger.
I met Dale when he came to work at The Stranger as the art director. It was, perhaps, late 1995. We were both HUGE record nerds. When I met him he was collecting electro/boogie and showtunes/soundtracks and I was collecting MORE, just in general. However, as he'd grown up during the time that held most of my musical interest, he was quick to take note of the way I dressed and what music I listened to. Soon he was sharing stories about seeing the Blues Magoos and showing me his high school pictures. He was surprised I had a couple Invictas 45s. The Invictas were a Rochester, New York, group known for their song "Do the Hump." Dale was from Rochester, and thought ONLY people from Rochester would know the Invictas! As a result, he soon started buying soul and '60s records again. I was so stoked, 'cause then we had even MORE to talk about, but I had to be careful not to overwhelm him with homemade CD compilations of my soul 45s. I really was excited! And he told me stories of living in NYC during his time in art school. His fav: While living in the dorms, he'd met Arthur Kane, the bassist from the New York Dolls. Kane would go door to door in the dorm selling his homemade sandwiches. At some point Dale even copped a pair of Kane's velvet trousers. When he told me, I could tell he wished he'd kept those trousers, even tho' he'd worn them out. How many folks do you know who got into Arthur Kane's trousers?
Anyways, he left The Stranger in '98/'99—too much stress, he said, weekly deadlines and all. We would still hang out some. I'd drive him to the record swaps and we'd often dig for records or other weirdness at the area thrift shops together. He stayed in town a few more years until he (re)connected with his partner, someone he'd known in high school, in fact. SO CUTE. He eventually moved to Oakland to live with his partner. Occasionally I'd hear from him—he seemed happy, and busy. We'd talk records and I'd encourage him to hook up with my San Francisco/Oakland soulie friends!! The last time he was in town he came by the two nights I DJ. I was really glad he made time to come out. I'd always pressured him to come dance, 'cause he liked soul music, but for him it was always "too late!" Well, finally I got him to dance... it was so fucking cool. Dale was out on the floor, surrounded by 25 yr old kids and he was the one who was KILLIN' IT!! Best last memory EVER.
To know him outside of his design/art you'd never have known he was a man of such importance. But he was like a superhero. Being a heavy like he was a heavy was never a THING. His thing was just to do it, no ego... only focus. Personally, I always took Dale's artfulness as something magical. He had such an ease and confidence over his skill it would take only a swipe of his hand or one of his crooked eyebrows to make his beautiful, clever genius appear. And as a friend, he was a gentleman, and my world, our world is worse off without him. Goodbye my friend, the blushing legend, Dale Yarger. RIP.
There is a memorial page on Facebook with a ton of images and more history. Oh, and more remembrances after the jump.
I first met Dale Yarger while he was designing Bruce Pavitt's monthly Sub Pop column for the Rocket magazine. He had this great approach to his work - like myself, he was very serious, but maintained an infectious sense of humor. We ended up working together on some projects for the Rocket. Later we were on staff at Fantagraphics Books. We remained close during his tenure at The Stranger, and kept in contact after he moved to the Bay Area. He was a gifted graphic designer, but more importantly, he was a good guy with a ready smile.
Dale Yarger changed my life. I came from Minneapolis to visit Seattle for my first time in 1991. As a then unknown cartoonist/designer, I came to show Fantagraphics my comics work, but it was head art director Dale Yarger who looked closely at my portfolio. Dale was way more interested in my graphic design skills than my cartooning. He saw something. As a matter of fact, he insisted they hire me. It was six months before I went back to Minneapolis for my things, and I worked side by side with Dale for many years, learning more and more from him about typography, color, and simply not settling. To me personally, Dale wore a lot of hats: lifesaver, teacher, coworker, partner in crime, and most of all, a decent friend. Yarger was a rebellious, fiesty, fun guy, like no other. How lucky I was to have been taken under his wing.
I moved from New York to Seattle in 1991 to help launch The Stranger and almost immediately upon arrival I met Dale. He was the art director of Fantagraphics Books and an integral part of the Seattle art scene. Dale was also a transplant, from upstate New York, but had moved to the city long before the grunge invasion, before most people had ever heard of Microsoft and Amazon and Starbucks.
Dale made me feel like I belonged in my adopted home. Though I was The Stranger’s first art director, I had never art-directed anything before and Dale became my mentor. He gave me a history lesson of the Seattle arts scene and taught me how to use a stat camera. He introduced me to other cartoonists and local legends like Art Chantry. I was the new kid on the block and Dale treated me like a younger brother.
Two of my favorite early Stranger covers are the ones we designed together. One was a faux Sears catalogue and the other featured a photo from a vintage water safety pamphlet. Both Dale and I loved collecting printed ephemera—though I wasn’t the hardcore hoarder/collector he was. His small Capitol Hill apartment was stuffed to the gills with old newspapers, greeting cards, magazines, records, comics, as well as all sorts of curated kitsch.
Dale loved going to garage sales, thrift stores, and antique malls, and I think he enjoyed buying stuff for others as much as he did for himself. Years later, when I told him I was starting a cartoon school he started mailing me old lettering guidebooks, how-to pamphlets, and mimeographed lessons from a cartoon correspondence course.
When I became a parent and became infatuated with Little Golden Books Dale started hunting those down for me as well. One of my favorites is The Fire Engine Book by Tibor Gergeley. It reminds me of Dale. Like those firemen, Dale had rugged good looks coupled with a warm and sensitive countenance. They were all helpful, giving, capable, and beloved in their neighborhood.
The last time I saw Dale was a little over a year ago. He knew he was going to die and it was a tough visit. We both tried to stay upbeat and vowed to see each other again. That never happened.
What I remember most about Dale is that he would blush and laugh easily. He remembered birthdays and sent cards. He was humble. He was fiercely loyal and took care of his friends. He was exceedingly generous. Dale was a lovely, lovely man.