This week’s cover artist, Michael Paraskevas, is not only the illustrator and originator of comic strip Green Monkeys, but also the artist behind the animated series Maggie and the Ferocious Beast, which he and his mother, Betty, produced and created, along with Marvin the Tap Dancing Horse and The Kids from Room 402, as well as 20 children’s books. Recently, Paraskevas, a Southampton resident, has had two more children’s books published and a third, On My Way to School comes out on July 1. Also a painter, writer and producer, the artist talks about the path of his ever-evolving and prolific artistic career.
You’ve been doing covers for Dan’s Papers for over 24 years. How did you get the inspiration for this one?
I’ve been doing Dan’s covers since 1988, I think. I lost count, but some years there were at least four of them, so I’m thinking there have to be at least 80 of them. Someday someone will catalog them all. I didn’t do a good job at that—I was too busy working on kids’ books, illustrating, painting and producing an animated TV series called Maggie and the Ferocious Beast.
This is the first beach painting I’ve attempted on the computer. I draw The Green Monkeys on the computer, but that’s a different kettle of fish. The monkey comic has been running since about 1999. Now, I do run the Monkeys as a daily strip online, but the Sunday comics run in Dan’s Papers and have been for the last 13 or 14 years. That’s a pretty good run. I have more in me—I’m not tired of the Monkeys yet. I mixed up the comic a bit by giving them a dog, Lili. Lili’s a long story in itself, but I’ll save that for another time. Which brings me back to the cover. That little dog on the ball is Lili. She’s a whole other story, but Lili of Lili-Land is owned by Spider and Flytrap and she’s
How did you get your start in art?
I always was good at drawing. I loved it. I never put down my pencil when I was a kid—it was just better than anything I could think of. I went to the School of Visual Arts in New York, mostly to learn how to paint. I needed someone to show me technical stuff. I had plenty of ideas rolling around my head.
I loved illustrating for magazines but that is something that, over the years, I’ve seen less and less of. Magazines had a big resurgence in the ’80s and the early ’90s.
Then the bottom fell out and I switched into doing kids books. My wonderfully talented mother wrote 23 books with me. She died in 2010. I miss her every day. I’ve picked up writing now and am still working as a producer in animated kids television. Life is a long road.
What or who are your greatest art influences?
Look up these artists: Marshall Arisman, Gilbert Stone, Jack Potter, Robert Weaver, Hilary Knight, Sam Martine…any artist working at MAD magazine. I like Edward Hopper, too, but I didn’t know him as I did most of the people on this list. I think the other big influence on my creative life was the Broadway producer Harry Rigby. He was a family friend since before I was born. I think Harry instilled in me the idea that working behind the scenes was much better than being an actor.
I had a funny childhood. I met Mickey Rooney when I was 17. He was hysterically funny. I met a lot of people like that through Harry, and I never forgot it.
What’s your creative process like?
I like to read a lot. I’m reading Stanley Kubrick’s script for the unproduced film Napoleon. It’s a pretty good read. It’s too bad he didn’t make it. I love film. I should have been a director, but I think I would have had to give up painting. Everyone in L.A. is crazy. I liked it out there, but it’s nuts. Oh, wait. I got off point. I read a lot. I think that sums it up. It opens new doors. Try it. I love my Kindle.
What do you like best about living in Southampton? Do you live here year-round?
I live in Southampton and have since 1979. I do like it here. It’s different than it was. I don’t want to turn into one of those people that says ‘it was better years ago,’ but for me it was. However, I would never live someplace else. I lived in L.A. for about nine months. I think I got that out of my system but the weather is better in the winter.
Now with two children’s books published in 2012 and 2013, what are your new projects?
My newest book comes out July 1. On My Way to School is the third in a series. I think there’s another coming but I don’t have a publication date yet.
I’m also working on the Taffy Saltwater TV series based on the book that came out last year. Call me in a few months and I’ll have more news. I have a ton of projects I’m working on…one is…oh, that’s a secret. I can’t tell you about it. Ha.
The Green Monkeys is always being kicked around in Hollywood and is currently moving through the movie treatment stage. They seem to always mess it up. I’ll just have to write the script myself.
I love to work. I’ll rest when I’m gone. I’ll never stop drawing. I’ll never give up on the Green Monkeys. I also think Taffy Saltwater would make a great theme park. I’m working on that.
View more work at michaelparaskevas.com or call 516-848-3553 to inquire about scheduling a gallery appointment.