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.


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’.”


The Problem With Flying

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I think it was about 40 years ago on the 3rd of July when the great comic book artist Herb Trimpe came up to the Marvel offices where I worked to turn in pages of The Incredible Hulk.
He told my boss, the much loved Danny Crespi, “Danny–!! I’m going to be taking my Stearman bi-plane out over the weekend!”
 Danny said it just so happened that he was going to be with his family at their weekend retreat outside Armonk, New York. Herb commented that Armonk was not that far from the airport where he kept his bi-plane.
 So Herb said, “Danny–!!  Watch for me I’ll buzz your house.”
We all wished Herb a Happy Fourth of July as he left the bullpen to go back to Kerhonkson. Danny was in high spirits when 5 o’clock rolled around, and he left the office  to take the subway up to his family in The Bronx and it was clear he was really looking forward to the long holiday weekend.
The following Monday, Herb was back in the Bullpen turning in pages and, as we always did when Herb came in we all stopped whatever we were doing and greeted him warmly.
Danny saw Herb talking to us and he got up from behind his desk and came out of his office and ran up to Herb and said, “Herbie—did you see me?? I was waving my arms like crazy as you passed back and forth over our house!”
“You did see me, right…..?”
Herb just looked at Danny and smiled.
“Sorry, Danny, he said.  “I had to work all weekend and never had a chance to take the plane out…”

“Draw This…”

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I was 13 and at a friend’s house after school and Predident Kennedy had just been elected and his portrait was on the cover of a magazine.

It was cold and rainy outside and a good day to stay inside.

My friend’s older brother knew I liked to draw and handed me a piece of paper and the magazine and told me to “draw this.”

I spent a rather nervous hour or so hoping to impress him and when I was done he came in and looked at the drawing and proclaimed in a rather matter of fact voice, “Ricky is going to be an artist when he grows up….”

I was both surprised and pleased to hear him say this, because I was an insecure kid and not sure about a lot of things.

But at least that part of my life had been settled.

Decades passed and we all grew up. Well, he did, anyway.

I guess I had my first big success as an artist when Beavis and Butt-Head Comic Book came out in 1994. I was working for Marvel and living in New York City at that time but was back in Savannah visiting my parents and I happened to pass the pharmacy where I knew my friend’s brother was now employed. I decided to stop in and give him a copy of the comic book I had with me since he had been so nice to encourage my artistic endeavors 30 years earlier.

I hadn’t seen him in about 35 years at the time.

The lady behind the counter went into the back to get him where I imagine he had been counting pills and putting them into a little vial.

“Hi, Jerry….it’s me, Ricky Parker…you remember me, don’t you?


He stared at me momentarily with a slightly fearful, but vacant expression.


So I continued…..


“You encouraged me to be an artist when we were kids. I brought you a present.”

He reached out his hand took the comic book and looked at it with a rather preplexed expression. It was one of those awkward moments.

“Thanks, Ricky”, was all he said.

“….Candidates….bow your heads for a moment of silent prayer…”


No one dared move or make a sound.

Into our bunks we had already shimmied, so as not to disturb them.

We would ease out the next morning, like puppies being born –and pull the blanket up tight and not remake them.

Flat on our backs in the darkness we lay, between  white sheets, clutching our unopened candy bars and fruit pies, trying not to choke or drown in our own spit as our mouths watered from hunger.

Then one of our “Tac Officers” would regale us with some half-made-up story from his previous life as a civilian.

Sometimes, he would order one of us to tell a story.

I lived in fear that he might pick me, as I was positive that nothing in my life worth telling others about had happened yet.

As he began to intone his story, I could hear my contemporaries trying to slowly unwrap their candy bars or tear open the packages containing their cherry pies without making a sound.

I wondered why he couldn’t hear it.

I guess he was too wrapped up in what he was saying to notice.

Sometimes, if the Tac Officer was a smoker, all you could see in the blackness as you sunk your teeth into your Mounds Bar or bit the end off your Butterfinger was the orange tip of his cigarette moving past each cubicle, or quickly back and forth to his mouth as he took a drag between sentences.

And the last thing you heard after he had finished his story was the steady tromping of his combat boots down the middle of the floor you had just finished polishing.


Safety Pin


img443aA Safety Pin can be used for all sorts of things, like to pin a crisp twenty dollar bill inside the pocket of a boy’s white shirt, like my mother did for me the first time my parents ever put me on a train  by myself in 1962.

I was headed to New York City from Savannah, Georgia and when I got to Penn Station I was supposed to take the subway “….over to Grand Central Station and continue on to Portchester in Westchester County”.

That folded up twenty my mother pinned in my pocket rubbed up against my chest in a most annoying way.

The next morning when the train arrived at Pennsylvania Station, this guy saw me standing there with a slightly-confused look on my fifteen-year-old face and came over to help.

“Where’re you goin’?” he wanted to know.

Grand Central Station”, I proudly answered.

“Follow me,” he said, as he grabbed my one suitcase and led me away.

I had to struggle to keep up as we dodged crowds coming toward us in the long white-tiled passageway, but I remember thinking at the time that it was pretty nice of him to have a subway token ready to put in the subway turnstile for me.

We took the “shuttle” over a couple of stops and then got off at The Grand Central Station Platform.

He put my suitcase down and just stood there looking at me.

“Uhm….what do I owe you….?? “, I asked.

“Pay me anything you want,” he said.

So I gave him the twenty.

The Brooklyn Cartoonist


If you are one of the lucky people who got to be friends with my friend from Brooklyn, then, like me, you are very sad to think that we will all have to go on living in this world without him.

Still a relatively young man, he lost his life last week to brain cancer.

I first met my friend over 30 years ago when he needed someone to letter his comic strip and he brought it over to my studio each week for years. Then sat down next to me while I worked and we talked about all kinds of things, but mostly about comics.

We had a lot in common.

We both loved Forest J. Ackerman’s Famous Monsters of Filmland, horror movies, Mad Magazine, EC Comics, independently-produced comics and wearing black clothes. And while I did it mostly so I wouldn’t have to think about what I was going to wear or worry about spilling ink on myself, I suspect he did it because he felt a strong connection to the newspaper cartoonists of old, like Winsor McCay, E.C.Segar, Frank King, and George Herriman, to name but a few. I have to admit– the man had style–and it wasn’t just in his art, though his art had plenty of style–it was also in the man himself.

And just like a story with a happy ending, he fell in love and moved away from his home in New York with all his pens and brushes and went to live in California with his Ladylove and they were happy there for 25 years.

I went to visit him in his studio once about ten years ago when I attended the San Diego Comics Festival. As I sat there in his studio watching him scurry about gathering up his books and the things he would need at his booth, I thought to myself. “….I don’t think I have ever seen any artist who was happier than he is in his studio this afternoon”. Not only was he in love, but he had created his own original characters and he could be his OWN cartoonist in San Diego and all his cartoonist friends would come out to California every year to see him–!

And while they were visiting him, they could also check out the show.

As I helped him carry his books and things down the street to the convention center, I was genuinely happy for him. “What a big change from the old days in New York”, I said.

And we both laughed.

And then suddenly I realized that I was happy, too, for he had that effect on people.

And he was inspiring to others. He didn’t just “talk the talk“, he “walked the walk“.

In style.

And he showed us the way. He knew what he wanted and he worked hard to make his dream into his reality.

For that reason and many others too painful to recall, I have decided that from THIS DAY ONWARD–, for as long as I can hold a pen in my hand, that right next to my drawing board where I can see it EVERY day, I am going to have that drawing I did of my old friend right by my side.

This time, he’ll be hanging out in MY studio –with ME!

He’ll be the first one I see every morning when I sit down to work and the last one I see late at night when I turn out the light. He will be the first to see any artwork I do. He’ll have no choice but to watch me doing it!

I might even ask him what he thinks of it! He was always honest and had a suggestion to make it better.

And maybe this time, I will actually listen to him.

The Hint of a Smile

nel and markForty years ago, I used to exhibit my three-dimensional artwork or  assemblage*”  in the front window of my storefront studio in Soho inside an old wooden milk crate I had painted white. (*In fine art, a sculptural technique of organizing or composing into a unified whole a group of unrelated and often fragmentary or discarded objects.)

One day I found a pair of discarded mannequin legs in the trash. I wasn’t sure what I’d do with them at first.

A day or two later, I put a pair of my old lace-up Brogans® on them and took them back to where I had found them to photograph them. I liked the resulting black and white photograph so much I framed it.

Soon afterward, I agreed to put on an art exhibit of my work in which I would open up my studio to the public for four consecutive weekends in the Spring. I moved all of the furniture and everything except for the piano to the back half of my studio. Then I got some lumber and sheetrock and built a wall dividing my studio in half. I hung twenty of my photographs along the East wall of the space. On the West wall, I hung eight or nine of my box sculptures.

Then I got the idea that I would cut a window (similar to the one in which I had been exhibiting my work in for years) at slightly below eye-level into the wall I had just built and construct a wooden box behind it. The box had two openings cut into its top which were the exact diameter of my lower legs at the point just below my knees.

On the other side of that wall I constructed a sort-of platform which enabled me to sit down and extend my own legs down into the empty box.

I then placed a pane of thick, clear glass in the opening I had made in the wall.

Next, I hung the framed photograph of the mannequin legs with my size 13 black Brogans® on them in close proximity to the window I had made.

On the morning of the show I shaved my legs from the knees down and dusted them with talcum powder in order to make them look more like the legs in the photograph. Then I put on the same old black Brogans that were on the mannequin legs. Just prior to my then-wife opening the storefront door to the public, I took up my position out of sight  behind the wall and waited for those who wanted to see my art to enter.

A small crowd of people who had gathered outside came right in, dispersed somewhat and began slowly looking at my artwork arrayed on opposite walls. These artlovers were carefully looking at each piece and each photograph and they were working their way toward the back. When they reached the wall I had built, just for this show,  they came upon the window with my legs in it and the adjacent  framed photograph of the mannequin legs with my boots on them.

My intention was to try and get them to initially believe that the legs in the box were the same mannequin legs in the photograph.

I had also cut a small opening in the wall and placed a metal vent in front of it so that I could peer down and see their faces as they stood in front of the window with my legs in it.

Most viewers would stand and ponder the window display for a moment or so and look back and forth between my legs and the photograph.

When I observed them shift their gaze to the photograph, I would slightly change the position of my feet in the box.

Then I watched their faces to see if I could detect the shock of recognition.

If they appeared somewhat perplexed, I might flex my feet in my boots without altering their position, similar to the appearance of someone’s chest rising and falling as he deeply breathed-in air, paused for a moment and then exhaled.

At this point I had their total attention, a brief condition that was usually accompanied by a gasp of air– or a giggle, as they suddenly came to realize that there was an actual person behind the wall with his legs and feet slightly below their eye level. What would usually happen next, was that the viewer would casually move away and stand off to one side, quietly waiting to see what would happen to the next unsuspecting person who came along.

During the four hours each day I spent with my feet in the box, over a period of four consecutive weekends, we had over a thousand artlovers come in to look at my artwork.

To my dismay, no one ever wrote an article about it.

At least not that I am aware of.

After the show was over, but before the hair grew out on my legs again, I decided to invite the art dealer Barbara Toll to my studio. Several years before, she had been intrigued enough by my work to include me in a group show of emerging artists. She even exhibited one of my pieces in the front window of The Hundred Acres Gallery on West Broadway.

My then-wife, met her at the door and I watched from my platform as she walked around the empty room carefully contemplating each piece of my artwork. When she got to the box with my legs and feet in it, I froze.  I watched her face and just as she seemed about to turn away, I flexed one of my feet.

I thought I detected the hint of a smile, though she neither gasped or giggled and spoke not a word.

After she left and the door was quietly closed behind her, I came down from my perch behind the wall for the very last time and asked my then-wife, “Did she say anything?”


“She said you have a great mind.” my then-wife told me.


I don’t know if that was true or not, but I would have liked to believe it.

In the ensuing decades since the events here related have transpired, I am still trying to sort that out.