Man of letters: Longtime comics pro, now living in Falmouth, to teach Yarmouth art course
FALMOUTH — He's had his own New York City art museum, helped bring Beavis and Butt-Head to the comic-book world, and worked with comics legend Stan Lee.
Rick Parker – a longtime comics artist and letterer, whose cartooning, fine art, photography and sculpture has been shown in the New York Times, Time and Life magazines, The Village Voice, U.S. News & World Report, and even on "60 Minutes" with the late Andy Rooney – is one of Falmouth's newest residents.
His wife, Lisa Trusiani, is a writer and Maine native, and they have two sons.
Parker, who calls himself "Maine's Funniest Artist," said he's 66 on the outside but 12 on the inside. He will draw on decades of expertise to teach a cartooning workshop at Firehouse Arts at Winslow Station, 20 Center St. in Yarmouth, beginning Feb. 1. The class, which runs for six Fridays from 6:30-8:30 p.m., is open to all ages and costs $120.
Parker, who also gives art talks at Falmouth Memorial Library, has worked on a variety of zany and humorous children's books, with titles like "Harry Potty and the Deathly Boring." In another project, a resurrection of "Tales from the Crypt," Parker drew the Old Witch, Vault Keeper and Crypt Creeper, "ghoulunatics" who introduced the various horror stories in the original early 1950s incarnation of that comic book.
And with that project, Parker comes full-circle, back to the barber's chair in Savannah, Ga., where he sat as a kid six decades ago, reading those original comics.
"It freaked me out that this guy had this long, silver hair," Parker said last week, referring to the Crypt Keeper and noting that back then, men didn't sport hair like that.
Jack Davis, one of the artists of those comics and a fellow University of Georgia alumnus, was a big influence on Parker. And so, you might say, was Parker's grandmother. He spent a lot of time with her as a kid, and she read him everything from the Bible to newspaper comic strips.
"I've always liked looking at pictures," he said. "I'd like to credit my grandmother with sort of facilitating an interest in pictures."
Parker, a small, shy only child who wasn't into sports, covered the walls of his bedroom with pictures of vampires, monsters and mummies.
"The kids stopped by to see my room," he said with a smile. "And after they saw my room, they never came back."
Years later, he said, one of those kids bought some of his books and sent them to Parker to sign.
He spent a lot of time drawing, and enthusiasm from his teacher in second grade showed him his hobby might be more of a talent, a way to distinguish himself from the other students.
"The teachers and other kids in school were always asking me to draw pictures for them," he said.
As a teenager he took a 24-lesson "famous artists" correspondence course. Continuing his art studies, he moved to New York City in 1973 to attend graduate school at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, N.Y.
While in New York he founded the Barking Dog Museum, which showcased his art from 1975 to 1987.
"My dog barked from the other side of the door whenever anyone stopped to look at the work," Parker recalled.
He ended up finding he had a knack at lettering, and that was his doorway into the comics world in 1977.
Parker, who credited former Marvel editor Jim Salicrup with "discovering" him, worked on "Iron Man" and the multiple Spider-Man books, as well as the Hulk and Spider-Man newspaper strips. On the latter strip he worked with Lee, a writer who who co-created many of Marvel's characters and has appeared in several Marvel Comics movies.
"He really knew what he was doing," Parker said. "He is a perfectionist who knows what he wants and gets it."
Parker started drawing for Marvel in 1986, and in the wake of popularity enjoyed by the MTV cartoon "Beavis and Butt-Head" in the early 1990s, he took on the art chores of Marvel's adaptation of the show. Series creator Mike Judge, who also helmed the comedy film "Office Space," approved of Parker's drawings, but matching Judge's artistic style wasn't easy, Parker said.
"It was painstakingly difficult to draw in that style, but my assistants, Rob Camacho and George LaVigne, and I did it by working day and night," he said.
And that's been his approach to lettering. In an age where comic lettering is often done by computer, Parker still does it by hand.
"Something is lost in the process (of using computer fonts)," he said. "I think it's the human element – which is a shame really, because to me comics is such a wonderful form of human expression. I like seeing things which look like they were done by people.
"I like art which is an expression of the mind and the heart using the human hand."