Mike ‘n’ Me

June 6th, 2018

(Danya and Mike Parks)

My dear pal, collaborator, colleague, Monster Kid, model kit maker, sculptor and guitarist Mike Parks has passed away after a struggle with stomach cancer at age 66 (I am going to use the present tense throughout this tribute because I’m still having a hard time believing Mike is gone).

Mike and I have been good friends for well over twenty years. We met at WonderFest in Louisville, Kentucky. It was there that our collaborations began. I create the line art for the official WonderFest T-shirt each year (the talented Lee Staton does the coloring). I then try to get that image to Mike ASAP to give him enough time to sculpt his interpretation of my design as a bas-relief standing plaque. He makes a small, limited number of these plaques for sale at WonderFest (they always sellout pretty fast). Here’s a detail of one:

(Photo by Barbara Staton)

Sometimes, when I am a bit behind deadline, I send Mike a copy of my tight pencils of the T-shirt art prior to my inking it, just so he won’t be sweating the show deadline (as much; he always took turning my art into a bas-relief plaque VERY seriously). It wasn’t always a direct or exact translation of my art because of the rules and limitations of three-dimensional art that don’t bind me as a 2-D artist. I look forward to seeing how he tackled those difficulties, as he always comes through like a champ, making my work look better than it actually is, with changes that always adhere to the spirit of what I had created on paper.

A special highlight of WonderFest for me is seeing Mike, his smart and lovely wife Danya and his 3-D interpretation of my T-shirt art.

Danya. Boy, Mike won the spouse lottery with Danya. Intelligent, funny, politically fierce and beautiful (a seemingly ageless beauty; I suspect she’s got a horrific portrait of herself hidden away in her closet or attic), she always accompanied Mike to WonderFest and even did a lot of the heavy lifting in preparation for the show (the weight, bulkiness and size of sculptures makes me really glad I just sell books, shirts and flat art).

Mike and Danya are crazy about animals (Mike is a cat guy. Throughout his life he rescued over 200 cats and built loads of cat shelters). Danya is a vet (animals — not Viet Nam). They are both vegetarians, so we do not share a lot of dinners together, BBQ aficionado that I am. We do seem to always find time, though, to have long chats about many things important to us either at the bar or, most often, up in the Monster Kid Clubhouse, a secret hangout at WonderFest for staff and guests.

Like I said, Mike is one helluva talented sculptor. But before that career (as well as throughout his sculpting career), Mike was an awesome guitarist. Way back when (in the 1970s) Mike was the roadie for the Detroit hard rockers MC5. Mike never lost his rock ‘n’ roll spirit — and that was another subject upon which we bonded. Mike and I could (and sometimes would) talk forever about music. We loved turning each other on to great bands and good music. He introduced me to the music of one of his favorite bands, Kings X.

Mike is one of the most generous (and humble, despite his prodigious talents) guys I know, regularly thinking of others long before he thinks about himself. Here’s an example:

WonderFest began as a model kit show, an ideal venue at which to sell monster and other sculptures. Mike Parks was one of the first garage model kit makers in the world. Early on, Mike noticed a sadly common pattern. Adult collectors would often bring (or drag) their little offspring to the show. The collectors would sometimes drop a grand or more on a kit, but when their kid asked for a couple of bucks to buy something, their dad would snap at the kid, “I told you: I don’t have any money!

Seeing that broke Mike’s heart — and made him angry. So, he began making little sculpted monsters to give to kids for free (even though these mini-masterpieces took a lot of his time and materials). In the sculpting biz, tiny monsters with big heads are known as “super-deformed”. Mike called his super-deformed line “Tiny Terrors”. Mike’s sense of humor saturated nearly everything he touched; his Tiny Terrors were a perfect venue for expressing Mike’s sense of funny. One of my favorites in this line is his Godzilla:

Check out the bottom of Godzilla’s foot!

I already miss this kind, gentle soul. WonderFest, as much as I love it, will never be the same now that Mike’s gone. His death leaves a gaping hole in that event, one that I doubt will ever be filled. It also leaves a hole in the hearts of all who knew him. In our sorrow, though, let us not forget that Mike lived a very rich life, being able to live his dream of making a living at music and art and having Danya as his loving wife. Triple lucky!

Rest in Peace (and Keep On Rockin’), my talented friend. And a massive model kit box full of love and affection to Danya, who took such good care of our lovable guy for all these years.

Please help the kind spirit of Mike Parks live on by donating to his non-profit charity, Felines in Need (Felinesinneed.org).

Packed Weekend!

May 22nd, 2018

This last weekend was not a typical weekend for me. I’m always busy but I was busier than usual this time. Please allow me to share:
Friday: I had picked up four images from my friends at ArtWorks (where I have all of my art shot) the previous day for a Sideshow Collectibles project. I realized that two of the images were not up to my standards, so I completely redid both of them and rushed them back to ArtWorks who were nice enough to get the photography back to me that same day. A couple of these images turned out to be among some of the best images I’ve ever done (Sorry I can’t share them yet; I’ve been sworn to secrecy!). My wife and I dined at Bacchus Kitchen (a neighbor had kindly given me a 20% off coupon for this fabulous restaurant) that evening. We watched Bill Maher on HBO upon our return home, plus an episode of This Is Us.

Saturday: Early in the morning my wife and I drove over to a part of Pasadena owned by my pal, the talented artist Kenton Nelson. Kenton bought and restored a row of old craftsman homes in a great Pasadena neighborhood. Kenton is he current president of the Pasadena Breakfast Forum (nicknamed by some of our offspring as “The Old Men’s Breakfast Club”), a group that’s been around since the 1930s. Kenton and magician Mike Caveney invited me into this exclusive (only 45 members allowed) club a few years ago. We get together for breakfast at the CalTech Atheneum every other Wednesday. Each meeting features a half hour talk by one of the members. The first talk is always autobiographical; the rest of the talks given can be about anything (I gave an illustrated talk on the history of life in Antarctica about a month ago). This Saturday morning Kenton hosted an coffee-and-sinkers open house for the Breakfast Forum members from 8:00 to 11:00AM.

After Kenton’s, we returned home and I sent off the images to Sideshow, then colored four more entries for my book Legends of the British Blues: Elkie Brooks, Jon Lord, Dick Heckstall-Smith and Ian A. Anderson (the acoustic blues player; not the Jethro Tull leader). Elkie and about ten others will be appearing in an article I just wrote for the Whole Life Times entitled “The Godfathers (and a Godmother) of British Blues”, in which the origin of blues in the UK is explored and examined.

During the day, my wife and I began preparing elements for the dinner we were hosting later that evening. We had invited some very dear friends we’ve known for a long time. We met through our kids’ school. Their family consists of some of the kindest, most generous folks we know. Sadly, due to a medical emergency, they had to cancel. I suggested that, since we had most of the food in the making, that we invite my son, his wife and our grandsons over for dinner — which is what we did.

To my amazement, one of our previously scheduled dinner guests dropped by with flowers (beautiful sweet peas!), a great salad and a wonderful bottle of wine by way of apology for having to cancel on us. Like I said: incredibly thoughtful and kind.

Our family got together. I got to play with my grandsons, we had a great dinner, and then my son Andy proposed we rent Thor: Ragnarok, which we did. It’s one of the very best Marvel films, great to look at and very funny. It was directed by a new favorite director of mine, New Zealander Taika Waititi, who also co-directed What We Do In The Shadows and directed the brilliant and quirky Hunt for the Wilderpeople. A great time was had by all!

Sunday: I tried out a new model at my figure drawing workshop: Michelle Gibson. She was so good that the entire workshop applauded her after she completed her final pose for us.

I then rushed home, as I had purchased tickets for the Supermarket. The Los Angeles Times is hosting a month-long food festival/charity fundraiser, The Food Bowl. They timed it to coincide with an annual one-week event here in L. A., The Night Market a collection of incredible food booths with tasty international specialties offered up by the city’s best chefs. The Supermarket is a special area within the Night Market. The Night Market is free; entrance to the Supermarket is ten bucks. I sprang for tickets for the whole family. The Supermarket was carefully curated by Jonathan Gold. Jonathan Gold is an excellent reason to live in L.A. He was the first (and so far, only) person ever to be awarded the Pulitzer Prize for reporting about food and the first to take the food truck movement seriously. He began at the freebie newspaper the Los Angeles Weekly and graduated to writing a weekly food column for the Los Angeles Times. He performed a pretty spectacular job of curating the Supermarket. We sampled dishes from around the world, my favorite being the beef brisket and hot links I purchased from Bludsoe’s BBQ (the best BBQ in L.A.). We tried all different kinds of food and shared them family style. The biggest hit with my grandsons was the soft shell crab sandwiches (they missed out on the baby octopuses on a skewer, which they would have loved. Sold out, though).

Another key part of this Night Market experience was getting there. It was being held in downtown Los Angeles at Grand Park. Several years ago, I (and several hundred thousand other L.A. denizens) discovered that we have a subway that serves Los Angeles when it was featured in the great Tom Cruise film Collateral. My wife and I decided to take the Gold Line Metro to Grand Park. It was my very first ride on the system. I was impressed; fairly simple to use and very clean. I’m going to start using it more.

After an afternoon at the Night Market, my wife and I headed home on the Gold Line. We watched John Oliver on HBO and then called it a night. I had the foresight to bring home a tray of Bludsoe’s BBQ which I consumed for lunch the following day, stretching out my foodie adventure.

Allow me to repeat myself: a great time was had by all.

Spring Is Here!

May 8th, 2018

This was my view this morning from the back porch I designed for my 1913 Craftsman home. The bougainvillea and wisteria are in bloom, as you can see.

No visits (or gifts) from the raven for a few days now.

Saga of the Raven: Part Six

May 5th, 2018

Here’s what’s been going on with the raven:
I think my leaving an assortment of jewels for the raven backfired. He disappeared. I think the jewels made him think that he was in competition with another raven and that he couldn’t compete with all of the cool gifts the “other raven” was leaving me.

So, I removed the cheap jewelry. The next day he was back, leaving me a bunch of bread crumbs. The next day he left some chicken white meat. Then he disappeared again for a few days (weather?), then left me some little bird bones.

I encountered him about to leave what looked like a dead lizard. I stood and watched him, making sounds I thought might soothe him. But no — he freaked out and flew away with his “gift” still clutched in his beak.

The weather’s nice again, so I’m hoping to see him (or some new gifts) today. I better go out and change his water…

San Diego Comic Fest!

April 19th, 2018

Hi Family, Friends and Fans (and those of you who are both)!

This weekend I’ll be appearing at the San Diego Comic Fest, one of my favorite shows. I’ll be on lots of panels and will be signing and selling my publications at my tables. It’s a terrific low key event that’s pretty much only about comics (except at this one we’re also celebrating the big anniversary of the publication of Frankenstein and the Frankenstein movies, too).

See you soon, I hope!

Raven News: There isn’t any. He’s hasn’t left anything in my bird bath for a few days now. I hope he’s OK… I left some glass jewels and fine sparkly objects for him. He might have thought those items were from another raven, so perhaps he bowed out of the competition, feeling he couldn’t compete. I hope not!

Saga of the Raven: Part Five

April 10th, 2018

No gifts yet today. I set out some colorful glass jewels for the raven.

Yesterday he left me the meat part of a burger. The day before that I received a chunk of cooked chicken breast.

In researching owls, I could find no mention of the weird sounds being made by what I thought was a great horned owl. I assumed it was a great horned owl because that’s the species I’ve been mostly seeing (we had barn owls in the neighborhood a long time ago) — and it eventually lapsed into the who-hooing sound I was familiar with. According to my research, the owls that live in this area and make weird sounds like I heard are the elf owl, barred owl, spotted owl and short-eared owl. If I had been able to see the owl, knowing its size might have helped in identification. Hopefully, it will return and I’ll be able to see it.

Saga of the Raven: Part Four

April 7th, 2018

No raven gift yet today. Yesterday the raven left me the top of a hamburger bun (with sesame seeds). My grandson Jesse said, “Too bad he left it in the water.”

Two nights ago at about 11:30 PM or so, I heard a hideous screeching outside. It repeated a number of times. I thought it might be a coyote, screeching to attract a dog. I went outside to investigate. I ran into my new neighbor Danielle, who was walking her little dog. She had stopped to try to determine what those cries were from and where they were coming from.

The cry rang out again, like nothing I’ve ever heard, sort of a cross between a demon, a hawk and a medium-sized dog. Really creepy! I determined it was coming from the top area of my neighbor’s tall Atlas cedar tree. Then the call transformed into something familiar.

“It’s a great horned owl!”

I couldn’t see it it but I heard its “Hoo-hoo”. Mystery solved, except for figuring out why it was making that really weird call before its hoo-hoos.

Saga of the Raven: Part Three

April 5th, 2018

Yesterday my raven gift took the form of half a peanut butter sandwich (on white bread).

Today I discovered an alligator lizard head, vertebrae and forelimb with paw in my front yard birdbath.

The weird thing about that gift was the lizard head. Somehow, the raven was able to remove the skull and jaw bones of the lizard while keeping all of the head’s skin intact, making it look like a miniature lizard hand puppet. I don’t know if I could accomplish that using fine dental tools, much less a large, heavy beak and sharp foot claws.

I’ve been leaving peanuts for the raven but the squirrels here get to them before the raven arrives. I want the raven to associate me with being the source of the peanuts so that he will feel more comfortable in my presence. Wish me luck!

Saga of the Raven: Part Two

April 3rd, 2018

Today’s gift to me from the raven was a piece of pizza (pepperoni).

I left him some roasted-in-the-shell (and unsalted) peanuts — and some clean water in the bird bath.

In the coming days, I’m going to try to train the raven to fetch peanuts from my fingers. I did this with a scrub jay, teaching him to land on my forearm and retrieve the peanuts from my fingers. Amazingly, it took me only a few hours to train the jay to do this. He also began to perch on top of my easel each day and watch me paint, offering unsolicited critiques from time to time. I nicknamed him “Scrubby”.

Saga of the Raven

March 30th, 2018

We have a lot of wild urban creatures in my Pasadena neighborhood: coyotes, raccoons, squirrels, skunks, the occasional bear and bobcat, lizards and a variety of birds. That last category includes hawks, owls, hooded orioles, mockingbirds, cedar waxwings, western bluebirds, black phoebes, scrub jays, crows and their cousins the raven.

About six months ago a couple of huge ravens began being regular visitors to my front yard birdbath. At around the same time, I noticed some strangeness. Large chunks of French bread began to appear on the rim of the birdbath, with a few pieces ending up in the water as well.

That meant that each day I had to hose out the birdbath and refill it with fresh water.

Then other stuff began to appear, such as fast food wrappers. I figured a neighbor (as a not so funny joke) or someone strolling through the neighborhood was using my birdbath as a trash dump.

Then the daily deposits began to get weird. One morning I found what looked like the remnants of a dead lizard in the birdbath water. On closer examination it proved to be a mostly devoured rat carcass. The next day I indeed received most of a fence swift lizard. Then a sparrow’s head. Then alligator lizard parts. And a chunk of squirrel. Pretty weird. I was being kind of grossed out on a daily basis, so I put on my deerstalker and began to investigate.

The culprit(s) turned out to be the huge ravens who had begun visiting me on a daily basis.

To thwart their actions I emptied out the birdbath and flipped it over. After two weeks I righted it and filled it with water. The ravens got the message and never reappeared.

Shortly after that, I watched a documentary on crows and ravens and read a fascinating article on corbids (the crow-jay-raven family) and their remarkable intelligence in National Geographic. One girl had amassed a a large and varied collection of crow or raven gifts.

It made me realize that what was being left in and around my birdbath were presents from the ravens in thanks for the fresh water I was providing for them each day.

I felt awful.

I related what had happened to my family. My innocent yet wise seven-year-old grandson Jesse suggested the following explanation: “Maybe the ravens didn’t know what kind of presents you liked, Grandpa.”

This all made me incredibly sad. I kept the birdbath filled on a regular basis but the ravens never returned. They have amazing memories. They also pass on to their fellow ravens and young ravens which humans are nasty (or nice) to them. I feel that the neighborhood corbids had been alerted to my ungrateful nature, as I scarcely saw them in front yard ever again.

I even left pennies and other shiny objects on the birdbath in an attempt to lure the ravens back.

Nothing.

Until a week ago.

Chunks of French bread and fast food wrappers began appearing in or near the birdbath. Then the stripped carcass of a dead rat. Then another one. Today I found the front paw of a rat in the water.

I began dutifully cleaning out and refilling the birdbath with fresh water. I also started keeping an eye on the birdbath.

Sure enough, I spotted a huge raven visiting my birdbath around the same time each day, often with gifts in tow.

I cautiously appeared a few times in my front yard, speaking in soothing tones so that the raven could see and hear me and realize I wasn’t going to harm him.

I asked my wife to pick up some raw peanuts in the shell to leave for the raven.

I’ll let you know how it goes but for now I’m a pretty happy guy with an optimistic attitude in regards to reestablishing the bonds between me and my pals the ravens.