With the weekly “Green Monkeys” comic strip, as well as countless illustrations appearing in stories by Dan Rattiner, Dan’s Papers readers are no doubt familiar with the art of Mickey Paraskevas. Fans of his work will have the opportunity to see more of his work this fall at the Southampton Arts Center.
What was the inspiration for this week’s cover?
For my umpteenth cover for Dan’s Papers, my home away from home, it’s a poignant story. This is my third Rosé Soirée cover and you might be able to spot a lot of friends in the crowd. My mother-in-law is there, as is my wife’s sister. A ton of friends and some surprises. I lost track of how many are there. Now the phone calls will start with the inevitable question: How come I’m not in the painting?
The magical rose in the bottle has special meaning for the family. My wife’s late father, Artie, a farmer, from the first year they met until the year he passed away, always gave the first rose of the season to Priscilla, my wonderful mother-in-law. The rose bush was originally planted by my late father-in-law’s father. We always talk about this ritual in the spring.
As for the idea of the curtain and a stage setting, well…all the world’s a stage and what better stage for a big cast of characters than a party thrown by Dan’s Papers?
How would you describe your art style?
A difficult question. I’ve been accused of having too many styles. I think that’s nonsense. I can see my hand in all that I do. I go through various phases. For the past few years, I’ve been obsessed with Iowa. It’s the Hamptons in the 1940s without the ocean air—lots of corn and soybeans and sky. I loved every minute of my trips there while researching a book I’m writing with my wife.
What are some of your favorite covers you’ve done for Dan’s Papers over the years?
If you look closely, many of my covers from the past five years have included a cameo of Lili, a Westie, owned by my sister-in-law. The little dog is even on this week’s cover. I think my favorite cover was one for the troops at Christmastime from a while back during the war in Afghanistan. There was another Christmas cover after September 11 that people still comment on, two Christmas trees side by side with stars on top.
I had a crazy idea that I pitched to the Dan’s team one year to let me do all the summer covers, 15 in a row, so that at the end of the summer you would piece them together and it would make one complete image. You know, collect them all. That didn’t go over at all. I really tried to get them to go with this idea—in fact, I’m going to try again.
How did you get started in art?
I remember very clearly when I was 11 years old and I was with my dad picking up a Japanese print he was having framed. There was a section in the store with art supplies and I spotted a small wire bound sketchbook with a blue cover. For whatever reason, whatever the Gods were pushing me to, I thought to myself I could fill up this sketchbook with drawings and that I could then keep them and it would be a collection of drawings that were mine. I still have that sketchbook and I think it will be on display at my upcoming show at the Southampton Arts Center.
Tell us about your upcoming show at Southampton Arts Center.
It’s an honor of a lifetime, after 40 years of illustration, paintings, children’s books and animation. It’s been a great start. I think the next 40 years will be just as busy. The show will have some surprises. You’ll have to find out what they are the opening night on September 21. It sounds like a long way off, but the summer flies by and I have a ton of preparation to get together for this one. Forty years of art is a lot to look through and pick out what’s to be shown.
What makes it even more special is that Dan’s has graciously decided to sponsor the show. I have known Dan Rattiner for 30 years and value his friendship. Also, I, along with my wife and family, have had the pleasure of getting to know Richard Burns, chairman of Dan’s.
I’m also producing a special edition children’s book titled Paint Your World. It’s about a bored cow who longs for meaning in her life and decides to paint. The edition will be signed and numbers and exclusively available at the Southampton Arts Center.
I wrapped my car in animation art. Look for the car all over the Hamptons this summer. Stop me and say hello!
What’s it like writing children’s books?
My mother, Betty, wrote and wrote and wrote. As someone once said to me, “Oh, you just do the pictures.” As an illustrator, children’s books offer me a great stage to tell a story. It enhances the words, and my mother’s words were always spot-on. We published 23 books and most of them are still around. No one ever throws out a hardbound kids’ book. People write me all the time. You can’t hide on the web. They find you.
Since my mother passed—I always called her Betty—I’ve taken up writing myself. It doesn’t come as easy as it did to my mother, but I always like a challenge. Also working with me on The Green Monkeys [comic strip] and new ideas is Maria, my wife. We both went to Iowa to research a farm project that we are currently working on.
I’m not at a loss for ideas. I can’t say I’m ever bored. I’m juggling a lot of projects and painting, too.
What was it like creating the animated series Maggie and the Ferocious Beast for Nickelodeon?
I always say creating Maggie and the Ferocious Beast was like pushing a rock up a mountain. It took years from conception to seeing it on the air. At first, our goal was to get an animated series from our Junior Kroll books. Junior ran as a story poem in Dan’s Papers for 10 years. But it was Maggie that caught on with Nickelodeon. Brown Johnson headed up the Nick Jr. team and it was her love of my mother’s writing and my art that drove the show to air. It was the chance of a lifetime. In a business where creators are often pushed to the sides while other writers are brought in, Betty was allowed to pen endless scripts for the series that set the stage for what lives on today. They were, and still are, amazing ideas and fun. You can still see Maggie on YouTube. They are all on there. Have a look and see where a script really rules the day in animation.
There will be lots of animation drawings from the early development of Maggie and paintings from the original books. I even have my original clay model of the Beast, dated 1993.
See Mickey Paraskevas’ work at Paint Your World: 40 Years of Illustration, Painting, Animation and Sketchbooks presented by Dan’s Papers at Southampton Arts Center this fall. Visit michaelparaskevas.com for more.