Just in time for Greek Independence Day, They Were Super Greeks by artist CosmoYannis arrives like a glorious rendition of the Greek National Anthem. This brilliant coloring book makes you want to celebrate being Greek, and the heroes who fought and won the revolution, frompriests toKlefts, to women and warriors. Although created for kids, the book provides delights and an education in historyforadults as well.
Talking about his inspiration for Super Greeks, CosmoYannis says: “My grandmother used to tell me stories about the revolution. I realized that there was less and less information about it – the great heroes, the great victories. The Blacks, for instance, have their heroes. Look at the billion-dollar film hit, Black Panther. How about the Greeks?
“I went to the library on 42nd Street. For over a month, I would walk up there every day from my house on the lower East Side – I like to walk – and take notes about the revolution. I don’t know how many notes! Too much! Too much! I had to consolidate what I found out. I could write a book about each hero.”
Then he discovered the mother lode. “I found two books that the Greek government had put out on the revolution. The books were very large and very heavy. Historical Album of the Greek War of Independence, 1821, Melissa Publishing House, Athens. An Illustrated Chronicle. These are huge books, roughly 12 by 17. Every page is chock full of information. Page after page of paintings and drawings.
“Based on the pictures, I got my ideas of what the characters looked like and gave it my own rendition. I got really hooked on this. I really wanted to tell the story to kids. I made it a coloring book so that kids could pick it up and read it and know who their heroes were. The coloring book idea just came to me. How can I best get this to the kids? So that’s where I started. I had to boil down thousands of words to a few sentences and what made them heroes.
“When I discovered the poem the kids would recite every night during the dark years of Turkish domination, I was thrilled. It’sthe same poem that we would recite as kids in Greek school. ‘My little moon, my lantern, light my lamp to walk, to go to school, to learn my lessons, lessons most important, God’s things.’ I dedicated the book to the kids who were taken by the Turks and lost to their families.”
CosmoYannis began to pursue life as an artistas soon as he could pick up a pencil.“When I was a kid, I had the greatest fascination with comics. There were so many newspapers filled with cartoons. My Uncle Mike would go out and buy the papers and give me the cartoons. ‘This is the most worthwhile thing to read in the paper,’ he would say. In those days they had great comics. Dick Tracy. The Katzenjammer Kids. Lil Abner. Joe Palooka. The Phantom. Prince Valiant is still being published.
“I started drawing comics myself, making my own cartoons. My grandmother had an iconostasis. At night, I would put my own comics up there and pray so hard to God to have my cartoons come to life, like in the movies. Of course they did not! I was a big fan of Walt Disney. Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck and Brer Rabbit. At the Triboro Theater, for25 cents, an enormous amount of money, you could go and spend the entire day looking at cartoons.”
After high school, CosmoYannis joined the Marine Corps. “I really loved it. I found a home in the Marine Corps.”He then studied at Radford College, initially planning to be an art teacher, but changed his mind. He did a number of things, always coming back to art. For twenty years, he created a cartoon page every month for the popular magazine High Times.
They Were Super Greeksis sold at the Holy Trinity Cathedral Fellowship Bookstore in Manhattan. Now CosmoYannis says he would be happy if a major publisher would take it on for wider distribution. “It would be wonderful if it could reach many more youngsters.”
Charles Connant, manager of the Cathedral Fellowship Bookstore, says of They Were Super Greeks: “A publisher would be doing himself and the entire Greek community a huge favor by publishing this gem of a book. It’s historically valid and wonderfully entertaining, for grown-ups as well as kids. We Greeks need this to remind us of our wonderful history, to bolster our Greek pride.”