“I think every work of art is a collaboration.
First and most importantly for its success, you're collaborating with yourself.
Then, when you've made it as good as it can be, it's a collaboration with the viewer.
You hope that you make the connection.” – Rick Parker
BRAD: Good morning, Mr. Parker!
You’ve made an incredibly diverse contribution to the world of art and the fun stuff just keeps coming. What keeps you so amused? Do you have a special/secret brand of cornflakes? Let’s start in the present and time travel our way backward. Please tell us about the noxiously exciting upcoming graphic novel: The Farting Dead.
RICK: After drawing the Introductory Pages of Tales From The Crypt featuring everyone’s favorite horror hosts: The Ghoulunatics, (The Crypt Keeper, The Vault Keeper and The Old Witch) I was just dying to do a story with lots of zombies in it. Papercutz Slices Editor in Chief, Jim Salicrup had me collaborating with writer Stefan Petrucha on a series of full color 50 page Mad Magazine “style” parodies of famous books and movies and this is the latest (and greatest) in the series.
BRAD: Cool, we look forward to the zombie fiesta. How’s the restoration to the ol’ pickup truck going?
RICK: I’ve been doing all the work myself with the advice of some local and one international (New Zealand) experts. I want to turn it into a rolling art gallery and sell my work in and around Maine. Should be ready by the Spring of 2014. I’m selling my artwork on etsy to raise extra money to defray the expenses involved.
BRAD: Maybe Mort Todd can catch a ride! A little while back you did a graphic novel we enjoyed here in the office, called Deadboy. So, this humor/horror concept is certainly not new to your bag of tricks. You already mentioned your work with the Crypt Keeper & friends. Why do you enjoy drawing the dead and/or undead?
Hey, kids, click Deadboy to read and/or buy Deadboy!
RICK: I really never thought about it. It’s just fun to make dead people get up out of their graves and do things.
BRAD: Like fart and stuff! Now that I think about it, that's actually really frightening.
Now, before your smash hit Deadboy and the relatively unknown Beavis and Butt-Head gig ... (Just kidding, folks, calm down!) we knew you as a letterer for Marvel Comics.
I was working at a comic shop, shortly before I opened my own punk rock comic shop, and I clearly remember the frustration at the overblown popularity of Todd McFarlane. I’m sure he’s a swell guy, but it’s always fun to pick on the popular kid, so when Spider-Man No. 1 arrived on a Wednesday during the summer of 1990 ... we all kicked that first copy around the shop for about a half hour. That become the store reading copy, but when I opened the comic, one of the first things I noticed was that I liked the lettering, and quickly checked to see if Todd had muscled into that territory, too. Luckily, no. Enter: Rick Parker!
Over 20 years later ... your thoughts on Spider-Man 1? I have a feeling there’s a funny McFarlane tale to tell.
RICK: I was lettering all three Spider-Man titles for Marvel at the time Todd let it be known that he wanted to do the writing and art. When Editor Jim Salicrup had the brilliant idea of creating yet ANOTHER Spider-Man title so he wouldn’t have to kick other writers and artists off the book, he decided to call it simply “Spider-Man.” Apparently Todd wanted to talk to me about his ideas about lettering, so a lunch was set up near the office and the three of us had a meeting. Todd explained that he wanted me to do something special on the book, not my usual lettering, and he would be willing to pay me extra (on top of what Marvel was paying me) to do what he wanted. I politely told him that it was okay, he didn’t have to pay me anything extra, but he INSISTED! “Okay, all right,” I said. “My mother told me never to argue with someone who was trying to offer you money.”
So when the book came out and sold millions of copies (writers, artists, and editors shared in the “incentive bonuses” but not letterers and colorists) ... I sort of expected that since he made over half a million dollars on that one copy perhaps he’d be sending me a check. I waited and waited and he never sent one. Later on, I’d occasionally be approached by a fan at a convention who wanted my autograph on that comic book. Because I was easy to approach and there were not 25,000 people waiting in a three-mile long line, the fans would usually come to me first before standing in line to get Todd’s autograph. Here’s what I wrote in every single book on the bottom of the first page near where Todd would be signing: “TODD OWES ME MONEY!”—Rick Parker
BRAD: Bizarre that he has never tried to make good on that, but hey, it does make a good story! Hell, I bet colorist Bob Sharen didn't even get the benefit of false promises.
Hey, did you ever notice you have the same last name as Peter Parker?
RICK: My first day at Marvel, a young man who happened to be in the office came up behind my drawing table as I was lettering a Conan the Barbarian inventory story. He said, “Are you related to Peter Parker?”
"Who’s that?" I asked. He just walked away shaking his head in disgust. "You don’t deserve to be working here." But, being over 30 at the time I was too old really to know who Peter Parker was. Eventually I was the regular letterer on all four Spider-Man titles and all the newspaper strips as well.
BRAD: As long as you know who Peter Porker is, it's all good.
We’ve heard many controversies about Marvel and its working environment over the years ... Besides the McFarlane controversy, did you have an overall good experience? And do you think things have changed much for Marvel? For instance, is “Marvel Now” a good idea and should we continue to reinvent ourselves?
RICK: I was on staff there from 1977 until 1984 and under contract until 1996. It was a great place to work. We were very well paid and it was a lot of fun. I met my wife and the mother of my children, the writer, Lisa Trusiani there and many of my best friends are former staffers and freelancers I worked with. I learned a lot about comics and had a great time. I think once it became a big business and everyone became beholden to shareholders and especially, after it had been bought by a corporate raider who was primarily into exploiting the value of the characters for licensing and film, it was a different atmosphere. Money corrupts and art and money don’t go together when money is more important than the medium or the art form of comics. The people I knew and worked with were all about making comics.
BRAD: You also lettered for Harvey, right? We’re big Harvey fans. Any insider stories? Is Casper really a “friendly” ghost?
RICK: Once again, it was the people I met at these places that made it really an interesting place to work. I did once get to draw a Hostess Twinkie for an ad in one of their books and am probably the only artist who was ever called into Alfred Harvey’s office so that he could enlighten me on the way to draw a Twinkie.
BRAD: Hand lettering is a sort of an unsung art form these days, with computer graphics depersonalizing comic book production, no? I really enjoy the look, feel, and even warmth of lettering created by human hands – unless it’s squiggly. For example, I don’t like the offbeat lettering I’ve seen in Alan Moore projects. Your thoughts?
RICK: One of the beautiful things about comics as an art form is that it’s an artistic expression of the human hand. I personally enjoy artwork done by artists, not people pushing buttons on a keyboard. Hand lettering was a beautiful art form and something beautiful was lost when they switched to fonts. The people who made that decision didn’t understand or appreciate what they were throwing away. But then I don’t think making great comics was a priority for them (how could it be) as much as making things easier for themselves. Corporations suck. And big corporations suck big-time.
BRAD: A few years later you were doin’ the Beavis and Butt-Head comic. Did fans ever confuse you with Mike Judge and ask you ridiculous questions that didn’t have anything to do with the comic series, and/or did fans ask you to do the voice of Beavis or Butt-Head?
RICK: There were times, when people I met thought that I was the creator of B&B. I’d explain to them that I was the guy that Marvel and MTV picked to draw the book, but not the creator of the material. After seeing the disappointed looks on many faces, I just let them think anything they wanted. I met thousands of fans, toured the US and they all wanted to do the voices for me! I think one of the best things about it was that it allowed the reader to BE the character. Plus it was just brilliantly funny as Hell.
BRAD: The B&B comic was definitely a success, and you probably made more than a quarter mil on that one project alone, but are you still willing to sell the Official Rick Parker Cartooning Archive for merely a million dollars? Tell us about that.
RICK: I came to NY to be a painter and a sculptor and have done a lot of work and exhibited in good New York galleries and other places, but I could never make a living, so I turned to comics when I was about 30. I have managed to hold onto most all of the artwork I have ever done since arriving in New York in the early 70s. I have been a very prodigious creator of artwork and have probably 10,000 pieces of my own original art. I think I figured it comes to something like $25,000 per year. I think I’m worth at least that. I have about ten people who’d agree with me so far.
BRAD: Absolutely! That and much more. What brings you the most joy when you draw?
"One of the twins is missing ..."
RICK: I like getting the idea. I’m like a fisherman for ideas. Often I’m just doodling when suddenly I get an idea. Ideas are fleeting subtle things. They whisper to you. You have to be paying attention. You never know when one will strike. You have to have your idea net ready. To me it’s about the ideas first and the execution second. I try to make something that never existed before. To show the viewer something he or she never saw before or thought about quite that way before. Or to make a connection of something that was previously unconnected.
BRAD: Do you think we still might have a chance of a zombie apocalypse – even though we now live in the post Mayan prediction space age life of 2013?
RICK: I think it’s already happening. I was in Walmart earlier today and I ... well, never mind. Sorry.
BRAD: You have a birthday coming up this month. What do you miss most from childhood (besides youth)?
RICK: Wow. That’s a tough question. In a way I’ve been very lucky. They say you have to keep the child inside you alive. Well, he’s alive and well, I assure you. I’m like a 12 year-old kid, trapped in a 67 year-old body. In 20 years, if I’m lucky, I’ll be like a 12 year-old kid trapped in an 87 year old body. Not a great situation, but better than being an 87 year old man trapped in an 87 year old body.
BRAD: Definitely, that's why my wife's china cabinet is full of retro toys :)
RICK: Thanks for letting me ramble. It was fun.
BRAD: Thanks Rick!
"Rick Parker Interview" by Bradley Mason Hamlin.
Edited by Lucy Hell. © 2013 by Mystery Island Publications. Published: 08.10.13. All rights reserved.
Photos of Rick Parker and art by Rick Parker from the collection of Rick Parker.