Monday, June 7, 2021



AL PARKER (1906-1985)

The invention of the camera shattered art in the western world. For several centuries one of the primary goals of the artist was to reproduce as realistically and objectively as possible life as he saw it. Products of the industrial revolution, artists struggled with the disciplines of draftsmanship and perspective with the ultimate goal a photographic likeness. Cameras made that approach obsolete, and 150 years later the art is still reeling from the fallout. 

This same situation happened in the field of illustration, though it took a while until the printing industry could catch up to produce economic photography. As the process began to happen between the world wars, the magazine illustrator - once a celebrity as popular as actors and athletes- has become an endangered species.

Al Parker worked, survived, and prospered through a long period of this upheaval in illustration. Witnessing the changes constantly besetting his colleagues Parker became  the greatest innovator of his era, continually altering and adjusting his style to fit the dramatically changing times. Where others copied the latest trend, Parker created them.

The grandson of a famous riverboat pilot, Alfred Charles Parker was born in St. Louis, Missouri. While still at the St. Louis School of Fine Arts, Parker often supported himself playing saxophone and clarinet in his own jazz band on riverboats steaming up and down the Mississippi. Louis Armstrong and Dizzy Gillespie were among his friends and although a career in music was an option,  art was his primary interest.

In l935 Al moved to NYC with his wife Evelyn and his family eventually settled near the NY/Conn. border, the home of many of the major contemporary illustrators .He became  a regular contributor to Ladies Home Journal, Good Housekeeping, Cosmopolitan and the Post as well as many other magazines working on both story illustration and advertising. 

His very early work reflects an art deco influence. His brilliance was in creating “glamour”. In the 1940’s his “mother and daughter” covers, where both wear matching outfits, set a style imitated by women over the next generation.

Parker worked in all mediums from oil to gouache to ink to color pencil; he was fearless in experimenting and trying new and fresh styles with his pictures. His graphic approach to design, mixing his solid drawing ability with the use of negative space and flat color, served as a jumping off point for Bob Peak, Bernie Fuchs, Ted CoConis and so many other illustrators in the 60’s.

But along with the graphic technique, what has always impressed me about Al Parker was his fascinating use of the model’s mannerism and gesture. He preferred to work from life rather than photographs for this reason. His illustrations are filled with subtly positioned hands and half hidden faces, often tightly cropped, always reflecting more emotion than an overtly placed expression.

Along with Robert Fawcett, Albert Dorne and Fred Ludekens, Parker was one of the original founders of the Famous Artists School, still the best compilation of how-to information assembled for the student of picture storytelling. (Originally Parker,Dorne,Von Schmidt, Fawcett and Briggs each did separate volumes which were compiled into the final course. I have copies of the Briggs and Fawcett; anyone out there who can provide me with a xerox of the Parker, I would forever be indebted to you.)

The Parkers moved to Carmel, California in the early 60’s, where he spent the rest of his life continuing to work at his craft. A guiding force behind the establishment of the Monterey Jazz Festival, he also never left his music.

(Thanks to Fred Taraba, Walt Reed, and Dugald Stermer for information from their writing on Al Parker gallery. His magic goes on.)  This is a redux of a piece done on Al Parker from a few years back. Since then there has been a wonderful compilation of his work published by Manuel Auad...well worth whatever you end up paying for it.

The best thing about doing this blog entry a while back was that through it I was introduced to Al's wonderful niece Peggy Matchin and her husband Jerry. Wonderful people whose friendship I truly appreciate. 

Next week a new Voxcomix episode. Don't Miss it!!  Best, Mike 

Sunday, May 30, 2021


People always ask me what my favorite story is I did for Marvel Comics. It certainly wasn't any of the superhero books that I did. While the short run I did on John Carter of Mars, was enjoyable,  in retrospect it certainly wasn't my best work. I was constantly looking for shortcuts and timesavers while I was working on the pencils. Certainly the best stuff I did for Marvel was when I was doing my own creations for my editor and friend Carl Potts: the creator owned Off-Castes, and the short story "Spies".

At the time I was doing a lot of storyboarding work in animation, and seldom had the chance to work in comics. When Carl created the title Amazing Stories as an anthology series, it was the perfect opportunity to do something, and a heartfelt thank you to him for giving me the chance to do something for the book. It also was the first time I worked with the master letterer Kenny Bruzenak; he did  manage to spell my name wrong in the credits, but I'll accept that any day in exchange for the  elegance and graphic design sensibility he brought to the job.

When PBS started running the series "Reilly, Ace of Spies", I was hooked from the beginning. Sam Neill was brilliant as the scheming SIdney Reilly, and Leo McKern (best known as Rumpole of the Bailey) as the unscrupulous arms dealer Basil Zaharov.  Set in pre- World War I Europe, the series follows the life of the Russian born Reilly who winds up as an exile, begins working for the British as an agent (and the British are never really sure he is working for them). When WWI breaks out, and the Russian Revolution begins, Reilly returns to his native land to try and take over the fledgling government, and comes close to succeeding before his eventual mysterious demise.

Ian Fleming, who worked in the British Secret Service with Bruce Lockhart (whose father worked with Reilly), claimed that SIdney Reilly was his major inspiration for the ultimate spy, James Bond.

At the same time I was reading a biography of Mata Hari who was the other legendary spy of the era. It seemed only natural to me that the two of them should eventually meet, and be pitted against each other. And that the instigator of this meeting should be Basil Zaharov, whose business interests had him selling arms to both sides in the unstable political climate of before the War to End All Wars.

So here is a reprise of SIdney and Mata, in "Spies".


Sunday, May 16, 2021


Here's the latest MAD MUMMY tale hot off the presses. One of Adam's old nemesises returns: the evil wizard Ragmar. Sit back and enjoy.

A special thanks to all the Mad Mummy fans who have continued to follow this strip. Your support is deeply appreciated. And always feel free to add your comments. See you soon for another Vozcomix next week.  Best, Mike