Interview: Rick Parker Pt. 3 [of 4]

Categories:  Interviews


“I think that talent is overrated.” Whatever stance you ultimately take on such a statement, it’s hard not to appreciate the sentiment. Rick Parker is a firm believer in the concept that hard work trumps all—it’s a position he takes seriously both in his own work and the teachings he imparts on his students of all ages.

And really, who can’t appreciate a guy who can honestly say, “I never worked harder at anything in my life than I did on this Harry Potter parody.”

[Part One][Part Two]

Major publishers like Marvel and DC don’t tend to view the development of artists as their job. They generally expect them to be fully formed when they walk through the door.

Yes. That’s true, that’s true. And there were some people who were great who came in. They were really able to do some wonderful stuff. Like Kyle Baker, I think, would probably be an example of one of those people. The first time I saw him, he was about 16 years old. I was also always impressed with Marie Severin. She was a cartoonist. She could do anything. She could do The Hulk, if they needed someone to so The Hulk. But she was really a cartoonist. She was much more suited to a comic book where they were making fun of the superheroes. I always identified with her more than I did with John Romita or Gene Colan or Herb Trimpe, or whoever any of the other people were who were up there.

And she seemed to like my work. It gave me hope that, maybe one day… I kept waiting for the day to happen when they were going to do comics that were funny. Because I thought that those were the kinds of comics I could do. Though I do think I have a feeling for horror. I can do stuff like that. But I do think that humor is at the heart of what I do. Even my fine art work is funny—it’s humorous. Humor is a big element in it.

I suppose I always considered humor to largely be contained in the writing. How is drawing funny different than drawing serious? What makes the art funny?

Jim Salicrup, who is the editor at Papercutz, where I’m doing a lot work right now. He told me that he thinks my drawings are just funny to look at. They’re amusing looking.

I just finished working on a 50 page parody of the Harry Potter series. The writer gave me a great script, and I tried my best to put everything in there that he wanted. And then, if I saw an opportunity to add something there in the background or to use some kind of a reference that would have been funny, I put it in.

For example, there was a scene where Harry Potty was holding the dying wizard in his lap, because he had fallen out of a window, and was dying. Harry went down to the ground and landed on the grass. It didn’t say, ‘show a giant indentation in the grass,’ but I saw so many cartoons where someone would fall and there would be this half-figure in the ground. So I drew that. And then I put them in the pose of Michelangelo’s Pieta. He’s holding him, so why not have the wizard be like Jesus and have Harry be like Mary.

Maybe some people will get it, and maybe some people won’t. But I’m trying to make it funny and interesting for myself. Every time I got an opportunity to put in those things—some people call them “sight gags”—I did. Those were the things I really enjoyed about some of the work that was really important to me in my formative years, like Mad Magazine in the late 50s/early 60s.

And then, when I got to be about 18 years old, I was looking at Playboy Magazine. I discovered that they would actually sell me a copy of Playboy Magazine. Now that was a big deal, Brian. When you’re 18 years old, growing up in Georgia and you can go into a store and the man will sell you a Playboy Magazine. I won’t tell you what happened in that magazine, but in the back, there was a great comic strip called “Little Annie Fannie.”

That was Kurtzman.

Yeah, it was Kurtzman and Will Elder. And they, of course had worked together at Mad. And then, of course, there was Russ Heath and Frank Frazetta. I guess the best artists in comics at the time were working there, because Hefner was paying decent money. Plus, it was Playboy. And it was all in full color.

Jack Davis was in there, too. He has always been one of my favorite artists. Even going back to when I was nine years old, I saw something by him, and it was a life-changing experience.

And I liked The New Yorker. When I was a real little kid, my parents had all of these New Yorkers from World War II. They didn’t throw the magazines away. They saved them. And, of course, I spent a lot of time looking at them. They were just full of cartoons. There was Charles Addams. And an artist named [Richard] Taylor, who I liked—he drew funny-looking eyes. There was Peter Arno.

If you’re interested in that kind of thing, or you develop an interest in looking at pictures, as I guess I did from the time that I was a little kid and my grandma used to read my those Little Golden Books, when I was four years old. Those things had some of the best illustrators in the country working on them. They were beautifully done.

So, I fell in love with the pictures at an early age and I just always loved looking at pictures, and I discovered that I could actually make pictures myself. But in the last 10 years, I’ve had the opportunity to do some work. I spent the last part of 2007 and into the summer of 2008, doing a 222 panel Webcomic, which was a great learning experience for me.

I did a lot of coloring, and I drew it and colored it on the computer. My computer coloring skills improved, especially on night scenes, because everything is happening in the cemetery in the dark. I got to use a lot of that in the Harry Potter parody.

Whatever it is that you’re interested in, if you’re able to spend a lot of time doing it, you will get better. I won’t say ‘even if you don’t have any talent at all’—I think it helps to have some talent, but I think that talent is overrated. I think it really is nose to the grindstone.

I never worked harder at anything in my life than I did on this Harry Potter parody. It took me 44 days of 7:30 in the morning until 10 at night, until it was done.

[Concluded in Part Four.]

–Brian Heater