Maine illustrator Rick Parker works on drawings in his Falmouth studio.
We offer another installment in our "Works in Progress" series with a visit to Falmouth and the studio of Maine illustrator Rick Parker. Parker honed his craft in New York, working for Marvel Comics. Marvel is best known for its superheroes. But Parker has developed a different specialty. Tom Porter has more.
"It turns out my work falls into the weird humor category," he says. The trademark snickers you hear are those of Beavis & Butthead, the hugely popular animated MTV series featuring two socially awkward, intellectually challenged teenagers, which Marvel adapted into comic book form in the '90s.
And Parker's penchant for weird humor is certainly in evidence in his latest project. "For past couple of months I've been working on a parody of the Walking Dead," he says. "It's going to be out later this year - it's called the Farting Dead, and it's very funny, if I do say so myself."
The project is nearing completion and Parker is now at what he calls "the tweaking stage."
"All 50 pages of this particular story have been drawn," he says. "I printed them out. And now I'm looking at the book and reading it as if I'm the reader, and trying to look at it and say, 'Oh, this doesn't work.' Or, 'Maybe this face doesn't look exactly like the face on page 22.' So I have to redraw that face or maybe change the facial expression."
He decides to redraw one of the pictures - a boy's face that he thinks does not look enough like the other drawings. It's a minor change, but an important one, as he touches up the character's hair to make it darker.
"So the way we do that is I switch to a brush pen for the hair," he says, "and the rest of the drawing is done with an HB pencil. And I use india ink and steel pens, and a British pen called a Hunts 102, and you can see that kind of gives us the illusion of, like, shiny hair. That's called feathering."
Parker puts together his drawings one layer at a time. He starts with the background scene, and draws the characters separately before superimposing them over the top. So when he's finished his tweaking, he scans the final image on his computer and drops it onto the scene. In days before computers he used tracing paper.
"I look at the stories as sort of like theatrical plays in which the backgrounds are the stage setting and then the actors are the characters in the comic book story," he says.
For Parker, as for most comic book artists, the creative process begins with the words - in this case a script sent to him by the writer of the Farting Dead.
"The page is broken down into, usually, five or six panels, and in each panel there's dialogue, sound effects, people doing stuff," he says. "So it has the art diretion and whatever the people are saying, and that's written in stone. You don't change the writing."
The illustrator may not change the writing, but to him falls the formidable task of drawing in the reader visually. This is crucial because people don't read comic books purely for the words.
Rick Parler: "I try to squeeze as much entertainment value out of every single page or panel as I possibly can. I think that every page or panel, there should be some reward. People are looking to be entertained, or to have a story, you know. They want to be transported to another place, another time, to get just a little escapist entertainment. It's not really serious stuff here. We try to bring a little bit of mirth and enjoyment into people's otherwise dull and boring lives."
Tom Porter: Thanks.
Photos by Tom Porter.