All posts by richardlowellparker

Rick Parker is an American artist, cartoonist, and humor writer well known in the comics world as the artist of MTV's Beavis and Butt-Head Comic Book (published by Marvel Entertainment 1994-1996). He is also the writer and artist of the self-published graphic novel, "Deadboy", as well as being the illustrator of the Papercutz Slices parody series of graphic novels, "Diary of a Stinky Dead Kid", "Harry Potty and the Deathly Boring", "breaking down", (a Twilight parody), "Percy Jerkson and the Ovolactovegetarians", "The Hunger Pains", and "The Farting Dead". Rick Parker was one of the four artists of The Pekar Project, which brought new original illustrated stories of autobiographical comics pioneer, Harvey Pekar to the web in 2009-2010. Rick Parker resides in Maine with his family where he draws cartoons, teaches cartooning and writes this blog.

Meeting Will Eisner

Artwork: Will Eisner

In 1998, I was walking down a corridor at SDCC and saw a sign which said that the legendary cartoonist and teacher Will Eisner was speaking in Room 3 at 11:45 a.m.

It was nearly 1  o’clock, but the door was open so I walked in.

Will had just concluded his remarks in front of a large audience and our eyes met and he held his gaze for a couple of seconds as if to say, “ You look familiar–do I know you?”

As people got up to leave I walked right up to him and introduced myself. ““Hi, Will–I’m Rick Parker, artist of Beavis and Butt-Head Comic Book….“, he shook my hand.

“I just want to tell you how important your work has been to me over the years…”

“Have you had lunch?”, he asked.

Why don’t you come with me and let’s grab a bite to eat.”

“This is almost too good to be true”, I remember thinking.

I accompanied him down the hall a short distance to the V.I.P. Room. People passing in the hallway didn’t seem to know who he was. On the outside of a blue curtain was a piece of paper upon which someone had scrawled, “V.I.P. Room.

There were about a half dozen artists and writers getting sandwiches and bottles of water. I didn’t recognize any of them. Will picked up a pre-packaged salad from a table and we both sat down and he quickly began eating.

(I didn’t get anything because I don’t like to eat in front of people I don’t know.)

I told him that I first became aware of his work from army technical manuals twenty years earlier when I was in the service.

“Where were you stationed?” he wanted to know as he put a fork full of salad into his mouth.

“Wow–! He’s eating healthy,” I thought.

“I was an officer and mainly involved with a Pershing missile Battalion at Fort Sill for most of the time.” 

The great cartoonist swallowed and took a sip of water from an unopened  bottle someone had left on the table.

“And what have you done in comics?” he asked.

“ Well….I started off as a letterer for Marvel.”

“I see….and now you’re drawing Beavis and Butt-Head..”

“Well…actually they canceled it…”

Oh….so what are you going to do next?”

I had co-written several proposals for new comics that didn’t go anywhere and illustrated a few stories for DC–and tried out for MAD Magazine, but didn’t make the cut, but I didn’t want to tell him about any of that…

…but what I really wanted to tell him was that I wanted do my own graphic novel.

Just as I opened my mouth and sounds began coming out, someone off to our left recognized Will and got up from his table and made a bee-line straight  to ours.

“WIIILLLLLLL—-!!!!!

The man knelt down and gave Will a big hug as he was putting another fork full of salad into his mouth….

…and that was pretty much the end of my conversation with the great Will Eisner.

NEXT: Meeting Harvey Kurtzman

The Feet In the Box

A long, long time ago, when the streets of Lower Manhattan were still dark at night and only the brave, foolhardy or stupid ventured into the deserted area they called Soho, in the age before video games and computers, and before I was really into comix, I was one of ten New York City artists chosen by ten outgoing artists to be in the 1980 Ten Downtown Exhibition. The idea was that ten New York artists would open up their studios to the general public for four consecutive weekends in April.

I moved all my stuff to the back half of my home/studio and built a wall to hide it all and to create an empty space up front where I could display my work. Into the center of the wall, I cut a rectangular opening at chest height of the average viewer on the “gallery” side of the wall. I closed it off with a thick sheet of glass.  Into the wall and higher up, I had cut a small opening through which I could vaguely see the viewer as they looked through the “window”.

Then I built a wooden platform behind the wall that I could sit on so that my legs extended into a wooden box I’d constructed with two “leg holes” cut out of the top.

Next to the “window” on the “gallery” side of the wall, I hung a black and white photo in an aluminum frame of two mannequin legs I had found in the trash. The photo had been taken out on the street corner and was photographed as pedestrians walked by.

The legs in the photo wore my old army boots.

The same boots that I was now wearing as I extended my legs into the box. I also shaved my legs and dusted them with talcum powder so that they would more closely resemble the mannequin legs in the photo.

When the viewer looked through the glass “window” at the legs in the box, most viewers assumed that they were looking at the disembodied mannequin legs in the photo. The person would usually pause there for a moment and then move on.

Just as the viewer seemed like they might turn away, I would flex my toes ever so slightly and the person would suddenly realize that the legs were real and that there was a live person on the other side of the wall.

Sometimes they would let out a startled shriek but most of the time, they would silently become in on the joke.

Then they would drift off to the side and wait and watch –for the next person to come along. 

How I Got My Marvel Comics Nickname

When Stan Lee wrote the credits for the comics, he became Stan “The Man” Lee, and Jack Kirby became Jack “The King” Kirby.

One of the cool things about Marvel in those days was that the people who worked there would acquire nicknames.

Soon all the editors, writers and artists were giving each other names. There was “Rascally” Roy Thomas, “Happy” Herb Trimpe, “Marvelous” Marv Wolfman, “Jaunty” Jim Salicrup, “Fabulous” Flo Steinberg….and in time, the people in the Marvel Bullpen followed suit and gave each other names, as well.

But they weren’t nearly so cool.

My boss, Danny Crespi, who had been with the company for many years and had acceded to the job of Production Manager, was “The Old Fart” and occasionally “Mongo 1” as opposed to his nephew who handled paste-ups and was was known as “Mongo 2”. The guy who pasted up the letter columns, a Japanese/American was affectionately known as “The Old Fool”, “Moishe” (his real name was Morrie)…or depending who was addressing him, simply, “Jap”.  

After I went back to work there I also acquired a nom de plume.

One day, while my boss was at lunch, I saw a clothing catalog from a department store on the filing cabinet outside his office.

On a whim, I took a brush and some Doc Marten’s Dye and colored someone’s face red. I was amazed at how “realistic” it looked–almost as if it had been printed that way.

Emboldened, I added some blood dripping down the legs of one of the bathing suit models. A few pages later two children who had just built a snowman, had left bloody handprints all over it and a trail of blood in the snow.

I placed the catalog on my boss’s desk.

Later, he emerged from his office and asked, “Who left this here…?”

Everyone looked at me.

Whereupon he exclaimed, “You know what, Rick–you’re Sick…!” and immediately, one of my coworkers said, “Yeah—-! He’s Ricko th’ Sicko”.

The name stuck.

Fortunately, most people dropped the end part and I became known simply as “Ricko”.

Fishing for Compliments

Late one Friday afternoon, Roger Stern, the editor of X-Men walked down the hall from his office to my drawing table in The Bullpen. He was holding a batch of pages.

It was The Uncanny X-Men #115 by Chris Claremont with pencils by the latest rising super-star, John Byrne.

It was another freelance job. I put the pages into my portfolio and zipped it up. One of the other letterers rolled over on his chair to talk to me.

“Rick–this is the X-Men–Marvel’s top book—you’ve gotta do a really good job on this….”

By this point in time, I had already lettered a whole bunch of  Marvel’s titles. I wondered what kind of job he thought I had been doing on all those books. I took the job home that evening and decided I would show him!

Rather than just grab the script and “boards” and start lettering in the word balloons, I decided to pencil in all the lettering and the corresponding  balloon shapes FIRST–before inking them. That would take TWICE  as long to do, but I could get the spacing of the words exactly right in order to draw perfectly symmetrical balloon shapes around them and there would be no divided words. The end result would be worth it. I worked all weekend on it, got up early on Monday morning and finished the last two pages before heading off to work.

I left the job on Big John’s desk and went back to my seat at my drawing table just as Big John and a couple of others were arriving at work.

All day, I expected to be called into Big John’s office– or at least into Roger’s– to receive some kind of praise–but no one said a word!

A month or so later the comic book came out– and still, no one had complimented me. Then a few days later I saw the X-Men’s writer, Chris Claremont standing out in the hallway outside my door talking to another freelancer. I got up from behind my drawing table and sauntered out into the hallway. I walked right up to Chris who had just finished his conversation and was standing there alone.

“So, Chris—-(I had never met or even spoken to Chris before)—how’d you like that LETTERING  on the X-Men….?”

Chris looked confused by the question–as if at a loss for words.

Then said, “It was all right…..”

I walked back to my seat and picked up a page of Spectacular Spider-Man # 316 and added an extra “P” to the sound effect, “THWIPP” and vowed to never again ask anyone what they thought of my lettering. And no one ever said a word about it.

They just kept giving me more and more work.

DEPTARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS

They gave me a desk right by the door of the Marvel Bullpen.

My job would be to do lettering corrections.

I thought it might be fun to have a little sign made up to put on the door, so on my lunch break I went to a tiny hole-in-the-wall place a block or two away that made plastic signs.

I decided on a small black sign with incised white block letters.

The old lady behind the desk gave me a little piece of paper and told me to print neatly on the paper EXACTLY what I wanted the sign to say. She explained that whatever was written on the paper would be what they would put on the sign. “That way there can be no mistake” she said with a smile. I wondered if she thought I looked like the type of person who was prone to making mistakes.

So I wrote: “DEPTARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS”.

I paid in advance and she told me the sign would be ready in four or five days.

The following Monday morning before work I went to the store to pick up the sign and when I opened the bag, I realized they had made a mistake.

The sign said: “DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS”.

Someone had taken the liberty of correcting my mistake. When I pointed out the mistake, the lady turned to a man in a small room in back and said that the sign did not match the order form, he looked at the order form, made a resigned face and sighed.

I came back in a few days and picked up the corrected sign and put it on the office door next to my drawing table.

The ArtisT

On a cold Pennsylvania morning in 1973, with a few hundred dollars in my pocket, I placed an old mattress, a borrowed suitcase with all my clothes stuffed in it and my extra pair of army boots into the back of my old pickup truck, rolled down the hill and away from the old schoolhouse and my old life, popped the clutch and headed off into the unknown.

I was determined to be an artist in New York. 

The sky was grey but clear and I had been having trouble with the engine overheating, but had replaced the radiator fan with one from a junkyard just the week before.

The old truck was running fine as I drove the 75 miles to the entrance of the Lincoln Tunnel, paid the toll and followed the other cars and trucks  into a big gaping hole in the rocks.

Down under the river I went and all I had to guide me was a double white line and a sea of red tail lights.

Just as I thought I could make out the light at the end of the tunnel, suddenly all the red lights brightened and the cars and trucks slowed down– and then stopped.  

I looked at the temperature gauge and it was past the halfway mark. I no longer had the benefit of the cold air rushing past my radiator. 

As I sat there, I decided it might be prudent to shut off the engine until the traffic started back up again.

In a couple of minutes the red tail lights of the cars in front of me dimmed and the cars started to move forward.

I shifted into neutral and pressed the starter button on the dash.

I could hear the engine turn over but it would not start.  

The car behind me started to honk his horn. Then the ones behind him began to blow theirs.

I looked in the rearview mirror and it looked like Christmas lights as far back as the eye could see. 

Although the sign clearly said it was illegal to change lanes in the tunnel, cars and trucks began to pass me on the right and their drivers give me dirty looks.

I pressed the starter button a few more times and the truck finally started up and most of the horns stopped blowing.

As I slowly shifted into second, a guy on my right rolled down his window. 

“You’d have to be a hick from the sticks to pull a stunt like THAT!”

Well, that’s not exactly what he said, but I think you get the idea.

I exited the tunnel into the cool crisp air and got my first glimpse of New York.

I had arrived! 

And to a TUMULTUOUS welcome!

Crossing Greenwich Village on Bleeker Street, I pulled over and asked some guy on a bicycle how to get to Brooklyn. 

“Just go over to Broadway and follow it all the way down. It’ll lead you right onto the Manhattan Bridge.”

After crossing the bridge into Brooklyn I stopped to ask further directions but didn’t see anybody on the street. Then, off to my left, I saw a guy walking in my direction. 

“Hey Buddy—can you tell me how to get to Pratt Institute?”

He looked at me briefly and just kept walking.

Somehow I found my way to the campus and parked. 

I went into the first office building inside the gate. There was a bulletin board. I saw a yellow index card with someone’s handwriting: APARTMENT FOR RENT/ NEAR PRATT $175 per month. CALL SAM and then a number. 

I found a payphone, called the number and a gruff voice told me it’d meet in front of the building in fifteen minutes.

It was on a block of Brownstones only a short walk from the campus. 

Sam was short and dumpy and had the butt of an unlit cigar wedged into the corner of his mouth that did the talking. He had a lot of keys on a keyring attached to his belt.

I followed him up the stone steps like a man on a scaffold follows his executioner on the way to his own hanging.

He unlocked the heavy glass and wooden door and we entered a dusty hallway that was illuminated by a single light bulb. There was a door down at the end and he unlocked it and we went inside into a large room with three or four tall dirty windows looking out onto a broken wooden fence and a trash-laden yard. The wind was making a bare tree limb rub up against one window and it made a plaintive sound against the glass.

Sam looked impatient and bored and said nothing as I walked around trying to get a “feel” for the place. There was an adjoining room off to one side with a sink, stove and refrigerator. 

“Well…”?  He asked, shifting the cigar butt to the other corner of his mouth.

“Okay, I guess I’ll take it,” I told him. 

He said the rent was $175 payable in advance and held out his hand.

I reached into my back pocket and took out my wallet and handed him a hundred, a fifty, two twenties and a five. He quickly pocketed it.

He handed me two keys tied together with a bent paper clip and walked out leaving the door open behind him.

There was a tired old broom leaning against one wall so I took it and began to sweep and make a little pile of dust in the center of the room of dust,  a gum wrapper and a crumpled cigarette pack. 

As my back was turned to the open door as I swept a voice startled me.

“Just movin’ in?” asked an abnormally thin guy in his early 30’s who was leaning against the door jamb. He was wearing grey pants and a white sleeveless undershirt and held a beer in one hand and a cigarette in the other. He looked like he hadn’t shaved in a long time and should’ve been at work somewhere at 3 oclock on a Monday afternoon. 

“Yeah, just tryin’ to clean it up a little before I bring my stuff in.”

“Where are you coming from?, he asked.

“Moved here from Pennsylvania. I’m going to be a graduate student at Pratt…”

Oh, I didn’t bother goin’ to college. Never finished high school, either.”

I didn’t know what to say, so I just kept sweeping. 

He continued to stand in the doorway watching me sweep until he had finished his cigarette and then dropped it at his feet and stepped on it with one shoe to make sure it was out.

“Well, I guess I’ll see you around,” he said and turned and walked away. 

Then I heard a door open and close and in a few minutes I heard a toilet flush as I walked over to close my door.I It was then that I realized that we would be sharing the same bathroom in the hall right outside my door.

It was late afternoon now and the apartment was beginning to get dark. There was a bare light bulb hanging from the center of the ceiling. It was off.

I looked around for a switch on the wall and couldn’t find one. It was then that I realized that I couldn’t spend even one night there. 

I called Sam back and told him I’d changed my mind. The phone went silent for a few seconds and I wasn’t sure if he was still there.  Then he told me to meet him in Mike’s Luncheonette diagonally across from the campus in a half hour.

When I walked into Mike’s I saw Sam seated in a booth off to one side drinking a cup of coffee. He finished his coffee and stood up as I approached him. 

“I’m sorry, I can’t stay there.” I said apologetically. 

“Gimme the key.” 

I did as I was told. 

He turned to walk out the door and I followed a step behind, “What about my money?”

Sam pushed open the door and walked back out into the cold.

I didn’t bother following him.

Portrait of the Boy as a Young Artist

Screen Shot 2020-06-24 at 10.18.32 AM

For reasons too complicated to explain– and which only became evident to me long after they had all died, my parents moved in with my grandmother when I was a month old.

Into the same house my mother had grown up in.

The war was finally over and my parents bought a laundry with the proceeds from the sale of their former home which my father had designed and helped build with his own hands.

The plan was that my mother would run their new business.

My father quit his job in Florida as a lawyer for the railroad and had gone back to his old job as a telegraph operator at the railroad station in Savannah. 

My parents both worked from 8 o’clock in the morning until after 6 in the evening five days a week– and from 8 a.m. until 2 p.m. on Saturdays.

Consequently, from the time I was about a year old, I was entrusted to the care of my grandmother, 58, a widow who had lived alone and whose husband had died suddenly when she was 41.

Beginning when I was first able to walk down the hall from my room to hers, I’d climb into bed with my grandmother every chance I would get, cozy up next to her and she would read to me while I looked at the pictures in the books. She read the Bible to me–and illustrated Bible Stories–and Aesop’s Fables–and children’s books I had received as gifts– but best of all, she read me the newspaper comic stripsMany of those characters in the comic strips looked suspiciously like people I knew from the real world.

In “Bringing Up Father”, the main character’s nagging wife, Maggie bore an uncanny resemblance to my father’s Aunt Maggie, whom we would occasionally visit. The comic character, Roscoe Sweeney in ‘Buzz Sawyer, ’ looked exactly like my parents’ friend Ed. Little Orphan Annie was the spitting image of Ruthie, a little girl with orange hair who lived two houses away. The comic strip Nancy was obviously based on my cousin of the same name.

And there were others.

But the one that really struck me the most was HENRY— a strip about a little boy with a bald head and big ears. It had to be about the boy next door. It looked exactly like him. And his name was “Henry”.

I assumed it was just a matter of time until someone did a comic strip about me.

My father grew up on a farm and hated to waste things. He worked for the railroad, in the telegraph office. Information about freight and passenger trains from all up and down the “line” was constantly being printed out by teletype machinesThese machines were fed by large rolls of yellow paper– and if the paper ran out, the machines would keep right on typing –and all that information would be lost. To prevent this from happening, the last few yards of paper on the roll were dyed pinkThis alerted the “operators” that it was time to put on a new roll. My father would bring these almost-empty rolls of pink paper, which would otherwise have been thrown out, home. He showed me how to use a wooden ruler to tear paper off the rolls and make it  into “sheets.” He would type personal letters on some of the paper, but most of the sheets he gave to me.

There was also a never-ending supply of pencils from the SEABOARD AIRLINE RAILWAY.

Years later, he would give me the sheets of white cardboard which came with his freshly-pressed white shirts.

My earliest memory of receiving any approval for my artwork from my parents was the day after my mother had given me some crayons and a coloring book to distract me so that she and my father could go out dancing, dining and drinking for the evening. 

I was around three.

A year or so later, my mother made a big deal about a drawing of a squirrel I had seen in the backyard.

Once, when my father and I drove to Florida to see his mother, my grandmother sat me down at the dining room table with paper and pencil and had me copy a framed photograph of him. I wasn’t about to disappoint her. She might give me a“switchin”–or even worse–another one of those “enemas”. But I knew I could do it– and I wanted to please her.  I liked it when people seemed pleased with me.

By the time I was seven and in the second grade, I looked forward to those times when the teacher would hand each student one sheet of Manila Paper and we’d all take out our crayons and draw something. You could draw anything you wanted. One afternoon I drew a ship in a storm. It was being tossed about by big waves. Lightning was striking the ship and it was sending out an S.O.S. signal.  Afterward, a girl went around the room and collected all the drawings and brought them up to the teacher’s desk. A few minutes later, Miss Sutlive got up –and walked over to the blackboard– and pinned my drawing up so everyone could see it. The way she was talking to my classmates about that picture gave me a strange new feeling. I could even feel a couple of my classmates starting to like me. Up until that time, I just figured that everyone could draw. From that day on, I began to think of myself as an “artist”— someone special –who could do things that most others could not.

When I was at home after school and my parents were still at work and I didn’t feel like hanging out with my grandmother, who had fallen and broken her hip when I was four and was confined to bed or a wheelchair, I would often sit at the table in the dining room and draw pictures. 

Hours passed like minutes. 

Battlefield scenes with airplanes, tanks and soldiers were a recurring theme. I went through my “Sunken Ship with rotting timbers and open chest of treasure guarded by menacing sharks while a skeleton in a deep sea diver outfit with a big brass helmet and a severed air hose that somehow still emitted bubbles” phase. In a couple of years people were referring to me as the “best artist” in the school and there were several other kids who regularly asked me to draw things for them. I remember this kid named Rolf always asked me to draw sports cars or a motocycle. 

I discovered that I was also able to think of funny things to say in class which would crack up my classmates. I loved to make the other kids laugh. But, in general, the teachers were not amused –and a couple of times, I was sent to the principal’s office. But the urge to make others laugh was stronger than any fear I might have had of getting into trouble. 

Eventually, I realized that drawing funny pictures–and passing them around —seemed like a safer way to get attention. I longed to fit in– and be accepted by the others. But after the laughter died down, I still felt like a reject with no friends.

One day when I was 12, there was a knock at the front door. Nina, our maid, whom I loved dearly, came into my room and told me there were some “boys from school at the front door” and they wanted to see me.

I never got any visitors

There were six or seven of them. I was thrilled. Finally I was going to be accepted into a group! 

Nina invited them into the house and they all crowded into my room. Somehow, they had  heard about my room and wanted to see it. My bedroom walls were completely covered with drawings of monsters and aliens I had copied out of Famous Monsters of Filmland Magazine. They loved it! But my feelings of elation quickly dissipated when I realized they were just stopping in for a minute because my house was on their way to The Coastal Empire Fair in a nearby park and one of the guys had to use the bathroom.  Almost as an afterthought, they invited me to come with them and I tagged along, basically ignored, and as soon as we got there, “Carey”, the “coolest kid in school” and leader of the group– began flirting with some girl in such an inappropriate and shocking way that it made me feel very out-of-place– and I was suddenly overwhelmed by an overpowering urge to flee. I half-walked, half-ran back home, went directly to my room and further retreated into the world of my own imagination.

One day Nina announced to my Mother that, Ricky is going to be an artist when he grows up…”  It seemed to me at the time that Nina knew me better than my own mother did. 

I received further validation when I was around 14. I was over at a friend’s house and it was a rainy day–and we couldn’t play ball outside. His older brother, whom I looked up to and respected– handed me a magazine with a photograph of newly-elected president John F. Kennedy on the cover. He asked me if I could draw a picture of the new president. I sat down at a table in the den and in an hour or so,  got up, walked down the hall to his room and showed him the drawing. He was very impressed with it and left his room. I followed. He went to show his mother the drawing. “Look at this, Ricky is going to be an artist…” There didn’t seem to be any doubt in his mind whatsoever.

And that was enough to convince me.

Concentration Charlie

 

snakebox When I was growing up, there was a boy in my neighborhood who was several years older than I was–and he was fond of bullying me. One morning, I was alone shooting baskets in our driveway when he approached me from the street. 

He was holding a small cardboard box. 

There was something weird about the way he was holding that box– away from his body –and out  toward me. He was holding it from the top and I could see there was a hole approximately 3 inches in diameter cut out of the front of the box and something was sticking out of that hole with some straw– or dried grass around it. 

The thing that was sticking out was a copperhead snake–with its mouth wide open. 

I dropped the ball and ran into the garage and jumped up on top of my father’s car and scrambled up into the storage space next to an old wicker rocking chair that was being stored there. The boy with the snake pursued me.

Or tried to. 

He jumped up and caught hold of a crossbeam to pull himself up and as he did, his hand came straight down on a rusty nail that was sticking up. He pulled his hand back, ripping it open. He ran screaming up the driveway, cradling his bleeding hand in his other.  He had dropped the box on the ground and I cautiously approached it. 

The snake, or about 8 inches of it, was still sticking out of the hole in the cardboard box with its mouth wide open,–but it was clearly dead. He –or someone– had cut off about a foot of it, jammed a bent coat hanger inside it to keep it taught and then pried its mouth open to show its fangs. 

Then he had come looking for me. 

I wish I could say that was the last time that boy bothered me, but it wasn’t. 

Many years later, right after I got out of the army,  I ran into him at the beach. I was happy to see him, actually. Aside from my parents, he was the first person I saw that I knew after I had gotten out. 

As it turned out, he had been sent to Vietnam, so I asked him what it was like. 

As we stood there in the sunlight looking out at the ocean, he told me that his favorite thing was when his artillery unit fired “Concentration Charley” onto a predetermined position on a known Vietcong pathway at night. 

Then the next morning he and a few others would go out into the jungle to “see how many arms and legs they could find”. 

I’m no psychologist, but I know for a fact that he suffered terrible abuse as a child. 

I suspect the trauma of those events resulted in making him abusive toward others.

 

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

Screen Shot 2020-04-15 at 2.22.29 PM.pngBack in the mid 70’s, after I received my Masters Degree in Art from Pratt Institute in Brooklyn and before I worked in comics I was a taxi driver in New York City for a year and a half.

I learned pretty quickly that the “fares”, as we called them in those days, liked to get from point A to point B with as little money on the meter as possible.

After I’d been driving a few months, one of the older more experienced drivers told me about a way to get from LaGuardia Airport to Midtown Manhattan by taking a “shortcut” across Crescent Street in Queens.

This shortcut took you off The Grand Central Parkway and then onto Astoria Boulevard, through a quiet residential neighborhood and right to the “foot” of the Queensborough Bridge and then BOOM in a couple of minutes you were in Midtown and the meter only registered five bucks and change, most of the time because the fare depended on the distance traveled not just the time in the cab.

The first time I tried it, the guy in the backseat who had been chatting amiably with me suddenly said, “DRIVER–! What are you DOING??”

Looking out at the residential buildings on a quiet street he said angrily, “This CAN’T BE RIGHT”.

“I’ve been to New York many times and I can tell you this is NOT how you get to Manhattan.”

“Just wait,” I said, “you’ll see”.

Then we both had to live with the awkward and unpleasant tension for another ten minutes or so, until I dropped him off at his hotel.

The fare from the airport to his hotel in Midtown was only $5.50, but he was still pissed.

I thought maybe he’d give me a little extra in tip money since I saved him about twice that amount.

Nope.

Just 75 cents– if I was lucky.

I did it again a few more times and everytime it was the same result.

The fares always thought I was cheating them and taking them “for a ride” and they told me so in no uncertain terms.

I took great offense at this because, if there was one thing I prided myself on, it was being honest and truthful.

After I had been yelled at and cursed at for the last time, I resolved to just take them on down The Grand Central Parkway and across the Robert F. Kennedy bridge (for which they had to pay a toll) and up into Manhattan and  down along the FDR Drive and then finally onto an off-ramp to Midtown.

This suited them all just fine and they sat back and enjoyed the “Grand Entrance” into New York. Arriving at the same hotel.

The only difference was this way cost them around $13.00 and change.

But no one called me names or yelled at me.

 

(photo credit: Jaap Breedveld)

“Mr. Feldman Wants to See You”

Screen Shot 2019-12-24 at 10.14.14 PM.pngWhen I was a young artist and new in New York, the thing to do was to take slides of your artwork to the O.K.Harris Gallery on West Broadway and show them to Ivan Karp. I had already been in a group show at the Hundred Acres Gallery which Mr. Karp owned farther up the street . It was run by his protege, Barbara Toll, a brilliant young woman who later owned her own Gallery in Soho, so I was feeling pretty sure about myself.

In those days, my “artwork” consisted of a succession or series of arrangements of common and ordinary– or found objects, which I combined in new and interesting ways and then placed inside a small box and exhibited it in the window of my storefront art studio on Grand Street. These “assemblages,” as I later found out they were called, suggested a brand new sense of order– while remaining quite open to interpretation, being generally humorous and not easily explained.

One Saturday afternoon, I stood in a long line of eager young artists as Mr. Karp, who had discovered Andy Warhol and a number of other influential artists, sat in a comfortable chair inside his gallery and issued opinions about each artist’s work. To the attractive young woman ahead of me, Mr. Karp patiently and in good faith looked at her artwork and then told her in a matter-of-fact way, “Your work is alien to my consciousness.” She stepped back into the real world tentatively, and with a puzzled expression on her pretty face.

Then I was my turn.

I handed five or six of my slides in their plastic sleeve to Mr. Karp, who held them up toward one of several track lights pointed in our direction. 

“There are several galleries in New York that would be interested in your work”, he declared matter-of-factly. A few others standing in line behind me inhaled deeply and shifted their weight uncomfortably while waiting their turns.

I was actually shocked to hear him say this, as I really didn’t think of what I was doing as “art” –and had just gone to him with my slides because it seemed to be a right of passage— and others I knew had done it.

And it was free.

The first gallery he mentioned was The Monique Knowlton Gallery, and the name of one of the other galleries, now escapes me.  I just remember they were both prominent galleries on 57th Street. And although I am sure I must have gone to both of them and been rejected, I don’t remember what their comments about my artwork, were, if any.

The third gallery that Mr. Karp mentioned was The Ronald Feldman Gallery, uptown, near the Whitney Museum on Madison Avenue.

The way it worked was, you would drop off a sheet of a dozen or so 35mm color slides with the receptionist and come back in about a week and pick them up and go to the next gallery. Or if you were smart, or could afford it, which I couldn’t, you would have multiple sets of slides at various galleries at the same time.

After my slides had been at Ronald Feldman Fine Arts for a week, I was back at the receptionist’s desk. Because I wasn’t a famous artist yet.….I reminded the receptionist who I was and that I had dropped off my slides the previous week.

“Oh–you’re Richard Parker…?”, she asked.

“Yes”, I heard a voice from somewhere inside me reply.

“Mr. Feldman wants to see you”, she informed me. 

I instantly wished that I had dressed better as I was not expecting to meet anyone important that day. 

She got up from behind her desk and walked around to where I was standing and said,

“Come with me, Sir…..” 

I was ushered through the exhibition space which was accessible to the public, and down a short hallway which was not, to an office with an open door where a well-dressed middle-aged gentleman was sitting behind an expensive-looking desk. He stopped what he was doing and stood up as we entered.

“Mr. Feldman, this is Richard Parker, the young man whose work you were interested in.”

“Oh, yes. Please sit down, Mr. Parker…” said the slightly-balding, dark-haired obviously wealthy man in the white shirt and understated tie.

Mr. Feldman sat back down behind his desk and held up the sheet of slides which his secretary had just handed him. 

My slides.

“This is very interesting, Mr. Parker…” I heard him say.

“These are somewhat reminiscent of the work of Joseph Cornell…” I absolutely loved the idea that this important art dealer was already comparing my work to that legendary artist’s work. I had first learned about Mr. Cornell’s work just a few years earlier from Dr. DeZurko, my ancient Art History professor at the University of Georgia . I could tell by the way Dr. DeZurko spoke in reverant tones of Cornell’s work as he flashed color slides on the screen that here was a very unusual artist. Not your ordinary Rembrandt or DaVinci.

Again, Mr. Feldman held my slides up to the light from his window looking out onto Madison Avenue and said, “I want you…. to come back here in 6 months…” 

Not wanting to unnecessarily complicate a situation which I recognized was going extremely well, I simply thanked him and tried to get up out of my chair without banging my swollen head against the ceiling– or knocking over any prohibitively-expensive sculpture on the way out. I hoped the receptionist could not hear my heart pounding inside my chest as I headed out the door.

Once safely back out the street, I was overwhelmed by a feeling of euphoria. And while I generally felt good about myself as an artist,  I would hardly describe myself as typically euphoric. 

My feet flew down the street as I hastily made my way back to the 72nd Street subway station and rode the “A” train back down to Canal Street and walked quickly up the stairs and back to my studio on Grand Street to resume doing my “interesting” Cornell-like artwork. 

With renewed vigor and a new sense of purpose I literally worked like an artist possessed as I produced dozens of new pieces over the next six months (when I wasn’t spending my nights driving a taxi in Manhattan.)

Six months later, to the day, I was back up  at The Ronald Feldman Gallery to drop off my two new sheets of slides. I’ll admit I was feeling pretty-cocky as I handed my new artwork to his secretary.

And exactly one week later, I was back at the gallery to pick them up– and dressed much nicer this time. If Mr. Feldman was going to make me a big art star, I was going to have to look the part. 

I was actually surprised when his secretary didn’t seem to remember me. Maybe it was the nice clothes. So as she looked at me as I stood there, I gently reminded her of who she was dealing with. 

“Richard Parker”, I uttered in my most sincere and serious, yet non-chalant tone. 

She immediately swivelled around in her chair, leaned down slightly and retrieved my slides and the manila envelope with my name on it and handed it back to me without a word.

Momentarily stunned by her silence and seeming lack of recognition, I asked meekly,

“uh…….Mr. Feldman didn’t say anything…?”

 

“Oh yes……….” she replied.

 

“…he said, ‘–come back in two years’.”