I have always loved animated cartoons.
So, one day, around 1990, finding myself with nothing better to do, I pulled on an old black sweatshirt over my old black T-shirt and took the elevator from the top floor to the ground floor, let myself out of the cast iron building through the swinging door, crossed Prince Street and made my way one block up cobble-stoned Mercer Street to Houston and the movie theatre where Spike and Mike’s Sick and Twisted Animation Festival was playing.
I remember one of the cartoons, which seemed particularly well-done, maybe too well-done, featured a violent butcher character who ran around chasing a smaller character slicing off large parts of another character with a big meat cleaver. The character being sliced kept running around though, as if nothing could kill him. Even though there was no blood, it was deeply disturbing to see the lower portion of the smaller character still on his feet– turn and start chasing the other character. Others in the audience laughed.
I think that’s when I realized cartoons had really changed since I was a kid. The most violent thing I remember was Jerry the mouse hitting Tom the cat over the head with a huge mallet—- or a cartoon bulldog chasing Sylvester the Cat and eventually having a stick of dynamite explode in his face, which did no real damage other than blackening it.
I laughed at that.
Another cartoon which I found very disturbing ( I should have known that something named Spike and Mike’s Sick and Twisted Animation Festival would bother me ) featured two teenage boys playing baseball.
One boy had a wooden bat and the other boy was throwing a frog which the boy with baseball bat swung at repeatedly and missed.
Every time the boy swung the bat at the frog, I thought I was going to die. Not from laughter, but from the built up tension and the dreaded sound and color that seemed inevitable and the logical consequence of their actions. I remember the two boys each had a strange laugh.
It was the laugh of irresponsibility.
I guess I had been working at Marvel Comics for about a dozen years at that point in time and it was during the last six or seven of those years, I had begun to draw again. I had done a great deal of drawing when I was a kid growing up but had gotten away from it in college as my interest in art became more wide-ranging.
I had done a few things for the editors at Marvel and there were a few people who seemed to like my work.
One young assistant editor in particular seemed to get a kick out of my drawings. He told me if he was ever in a position to hire me, he would. He was true to his word.
A couple of years later, those same two teenage boys in the “Frog Baseball” cartoon I had watched with dread had somehow made their way onto television and were hosting MTV’s music television videos, laughing their funny laugh and making silly comments. It really caught on with the public and even Tom Brokaw was imitating them on the NBC Nightly News program.
My wife and I and our newborn baby were visiting my parents in Georgia when that editor who had promised to hire me called and told me that Marvel Comics had gotten the license to do Beavis and Butt-head comic book and he wanted me to draw it.
I felt like a baseball player must feel when the owner of the team calls and says he wants you to play for the New York Yankees. It was the most popular entertainment property in the country at that time and after a dozen years at Marvel and a new little one in the family I was happy to get such a big break.
The editor picked a team of creative people to do the comic. The writer of the series would be Mike Lackey, a very clever bearded young man whom I knew from working at Marvel. The three of us went to lunch along with the editorial consultant from MTV and it was determined that we would have another bigger meeting at Viacom’s headquarters in Times Square as soon as the rest of the creative team could be assembled.
On the appointed day, five of us left the Marvel office on 28th Street and Park Avenue and took a Checker cab uptown to meet Mike Judge, the creator of the series, as well as various producers, licensing directors, consultants and others who were associated with the “property”.
We were led into a big conference room to await the imminent arrival of Mike Judge.
No one knew who we were, but we all knew Mike Judge was the creator of the show– and a very important person and based on the tension in the room and the way the others present were speaking of him in hushed tones of reverence and awe, I fully expected to look around and see two or three barefoot maidens clad in chiffon robes strewing rose petals in the hallway leading up to the conference room.
And in a few minutes after everyone was seated around a long table, in walked this guy in bluejeans and a yellow T-shirt who looked like he had just come from watching his eight-year-old play little league ball in a nearby park.
He sat down at the head of the table without saying a word and the meeting began.
Abby Terkhule, the producer of MTV who had “discovered Mike Judge” and got him to sell MTV his creation, stood up and began by saying,
“Why don’t we go around the table and have each one of you stand up and introduce yourselves… and say what it is you will be doing on the project.”
That seemed as good a place as any to start.
Glenn Herdling, our editor, a bright confident fellow with a permanent sense of mischief in his eye (and a practical joke in his heart) stood up and introduced himself and his assistant, Scott Marshall, who also stood up— and then they sat down.
Next, Mike Lackey stood up and said, “Hi–I’m Mike Lackey and I’ll be the writer….”
Then the colorist stood up and said something like, “I’m Bob–and I’m the colorist.”
Then one of the MTV people stood up and said who she was and what she would be doing, followed by another person who worked for MTV. They were working their way around the table.
Mike Judge sat still in his chair at the head of the table and spoke not a word.
Soon it was going to be my turn.
I confess, as I listened to the others and stared at their faces, I must have rehearsed what I was going to say and how to say it about ten times in my mind. I was staring out the window at the tall buildings and trying not to pass out and breaking into a cold sweat when I suddenly realized that the room had become eerily silent.
They were waiting for me to stand up– and say who I was and what I would be doing.
“Uhm…I’m Rick Parker –and I’ll be drawing the comic book….”
The words echoed in my head and off the walls of the room.
They echoed off the eardrums of Abby Terkhule and Mike Judge and the lady from licensing.
They echoed off the plate glass window and off the tall buildings in Times Square and the other skyscrapers stretching to the East River.
They echoed off the dim, half-remembered faces of every kid I had ever drawn a funny picture for in elementary and high school. They echoed off the sweet round face with the brown eyes behind half-glasses of Miss Sullivan, my second grade art teacher who had once held up one of my drawings in class and made me feel special.
When the last echo faded away in my head, I sat back down feeling that I had been on my feet for quite some time.
Finally, after all the introductions had been made and the final echoes had vanished in the Atlantic off Coney Island, Abby Terkhule spoke up, “Well. Mike…….what do you think….?
Mike Judge, the creator of Beavis and Butt-Head, the Texan in the T-Shirt and Jeans who had only recently become a millionaire finally spoke.
The room fell silent.
Mike was channeling Butt-Head and simply said,
“Uhhh….Yeah!! –huh-huh…that would be COOL.”