Michael Paraskevas interview

Mickey has a very strong, very loyal fanbase. A few of them asked for an interview with him, and I sent the standard questions to him. His response?

MP: Here goes… this was fun. I wish more people would ask me questions. LOL Thanks.

BC: Who are you?
MP: Well, I’m Michael Paraskevas. Most people just call me Mickey. They have since I was born. I don’t respond well to Mike, Mikey, Mick,… unless you are going to give me money.

BC: What personal details do you think are relevant to readers to know about you?
MP: I grew up in Roselle Park, NJ. Not much to speak of but there are a few around who actually liked the town. I wasn’t one of them, however. I have fond memories of my childhood Star Trek friend, Peter Burbella. We still talk from time to time. He runs a great food Pie place, Burbelmaiers in Ocean Grove.

BC: Do you have a cartooning hat? Is it on straight?
MP: I dress for work. Living home in my studio forced me a long time ago to insist that I dress. I can’t walk around the house in pajamas all day. I’m not Hugh Hefner.

BC: Do you consider yourself a cartoonist, an illustrator, an artist, or something else?
MP: For cocktail conversation (for the record I don’t drink, never did, not now not ever. Don’t do drugs either. I don’t know anything about any of it. I always thought my reality was enough to deal with… I didn’t need to alter it.)… as I was saying… For cocktail conversation I always refer to myself as an animation producer but I’m really all of the above. I never ever wanted to do a daily strip, let alone a weekly comic.

BC: How did you get your start as an animation producer?
MP: I always was drawing. From an early age. I always remember picking up a sketchbook in a frame store when my father was picking up something he had framed… I picked up a sketchbook and thought that if I could get this…I could draw in it and I could keep it as my own. That anything I drew I could make mine. I was twelve. I still have that book and from time to time I post something from it on my instagram account. @paraskevas_studios

As far as getting my start? I was always somewhat lucky in terms of bumping into great illustration jobs. I was lucky enough to have a mother that really knew how to write but didn’t get anywhere with writing until I told her to write me a kid’s book. We had a great partnership. 23 books and three animated TV series and an ABC Christmas Special: The Tangerine Bear. The three series were: Maggie and the Ferocious Beast, Marvin the Tap Dancing Horse, and Kids from Room402.

BC: What do you think your biggest breaks were?
MP: Our biggest break really came from Brown Johnson at Nickelodeon. She really believed in Maggie and the Ferocious Beast and spearheaded the show. You need someone at a network to really believe in your vision and Brown had total confidence in my mother’s ability to write the show herself. There aren’t many children’s authors that could have pulled that off. I sure learned from the best and Betty help me learn to write. I penned a bunch of outlines for Maggie and also outlined many of the Marvin scripts.

All through this period I never stopped painting.

BC: Are there any differences in process between animation, illustration and cartooning?
MP: Hmmm… not sure. It’s all connected.

BC: Are there any specific things you like or don’t like about each job?
MP: The grind of the daily strip really does you in. I admire Peanuts because (Charles Schulz) stayed with it for fifty years. I was disappointed to see Calvin end but in reading it over… I can see where Watterson had said everything he had to say. I don’t understand why he lives out of the public eye but that’s his choice. People really loved the comic. I like fans.

BC: What led up to your starting Lili and Derek, and do you have any other pokers in the fire right now?
MP: The comic strip Lili and Derek is based on my sister-in-law’s Westie Lili. And my wonderful mother-in-law’s German Shepherd Derek. They’re nuts. The back story of Lili’s Hotel for Families and Pets came from our love of hotels. I always liked hotels growing up. I love the mint on the pillow. I love the activity and the adventure a hotel offers. I love that movie: Grand Hotel. If you haven’t seen it… you should.

I write this strip with my wife. She’s been involved in my work for years now and is a wonderfully funny writer. Lili and Derek is a joint effort. Sometimes she writes. Sometimes I write and sometimes we write it together. She has a much more visual sense of humor than my mother did. Betty, my mom, was more of a wordsmith. Maria thinks visually and has a good sense of humor too. We’re working on a lot of other ideas too.

BC: Which of your works are you most happy with, or proud of?
MP: I think Maggie but I do take a lot of pride in the weekly comic The Green Monkeys. It’s a labor of love. I always like what I’m doing at the moment… so let’s just say I’m happy about it all. But if I had to pick something, I would say my sketchbooks. Some of the on the spot work is online at the website.

BC: How long have you been on Comic Sherpa, and do you have any comments on the reworked layout?
MP: I like comic sherpa… they are still going into a relaunch last time I looked. I do the strip. It’s there to see. They don’t provide viewer numbers. I wish they would. You have to really promote your strip yourself. I do on facebook and instagram and my websites. I think Sherpa is going to revamp the site but they haven’t done it yet. It used to be that all my comics that I watch could be on my list.. but now the Sherpa site is separate and I don’t see the comics that I like. I used to get more comments… now that that’s changed I don’t see them.

That being said. I still do Green Monkeys since it runs in the local newspaper out here. Lili and Derek has been on a bit of a break as I was working on a kid’s book called A Big Slice of Pie.

BC: Do you have any paper or e-book collections on the market yet? Where can readers find them?
MP: Sure do, on amazon.com. Just search for Michael Paraskevas and you can see it all.

BC: How do you approach that blank sheet of white paper when you decide to start your next strip or panel?
MP: Sheer terror. A blank screen is awful. I just start writing and see where it goes. A lot of time my wife and I have conversations and I say…. OH.. this is a Green Monkeys… or OH… wait, this is a Lili and Derek. You’d be surprised at how much real life is in Lili and Derek and also the Green Monkeys.

BC: Why “green” monkeys? Why not ripe monkeys?
MP: Green actually came from green card. And the fact that they were Greenhorns. And there is something called a green monkey. I like green. There’s other monkeys coming up in the comic that are different colors.

BC: Any suggestions for other Sherpa cartoonists wanting to take their art to the next level?
MP: It’s not always about writing. I’ve been accused of not being funny but at least my strip looks pretty good. I think Lili and Derek is hysterical. It’s not always drop dead laugh out loud. It’s more of a quiet character study of an obnoxious self-centered fairy princess Westie and a smitten German Shepherd who likes her. There’s a cat, too. He lives across the street. He’s a bit of a nut. We do a lot of eating bird jokes. But really it’s more of a character study. OH… and Lili owns a Hotel and Spa: The Grand Lili Land Hotel and Resort.

BC: If your strip had a soundtrack, what would it be like?
MP: I like EELS. Look them up. There are tons of great songs. I like the Grateful Dead but my wife hates them…so let’s not go there.

BC: Who are your favorite artists/writers? Have you met any of them?
MP: I love Peanuts. I think it was so influential on so many people. Nothing really comes close.

I love Mort Drucker’s work for MAD. I met him years ago and consider him a friend even though I haven’t seen him in a while. He’s a very nice man. I knew Stan Goldberg, too. Stan always taught me through his actions to be a nice guy. Nice guys do win in the end.

Robert Weaver was a big influence on me. Look him up. An American illustrator of the highest order. He is simply one of the best, and a national treasure. I was so honored to have him as a teacher at School of Visuals for the Masters program. His work doesn’t come up for auction very often but I did manage to hunt down a sketch he did of JFK on the campaign trail in 1958. What a find. It’s hanging in my home.

There are others: Gilbert Stone (he taught me how to paint), Marshall Arisman taught me about life. Jack Potter taught me how to draw.

BC: Do you follow any other comic strips right now?
MP: I like Pearls Before Swine but I don’t think the drawings are very good. LOL. I suppose I’ll get a lot of crap about saying that.

I love Scary Gary. It always makes me laugh.

I still read Peanuts. It makes me feel warm and safe. It makes me think of my childhood and all the good things I had growing up.

Savage Chickens is just terrific and I always walk away thinking… I wish I had thought of that.

Calvin and Hobbs. Best one ever.

BC: What do you look for when you read someone else’s strips? And, what do you think makes for a good comic?
MP: I like good drawing. That’s why I loved Calvin and Hobbs so much. It was the best drawn strip ever.

BC: Do you use Patreon or Kickstarter?
MP: No. I guess I should look into this.

BC: Do you want to plug your site?
MP: You can look me up at my two main sites:
it’s all there. I do a lot of work.

BC: If Lili ran into Leona Helmsley, who’d survive the encounter?
MP: Lili would win.

BC: How would you describe Lili and Derek to someone to get them to want to read more? Same for Green Monkeys.
MP: As I said above: Lili is a slightly self-centered fairy princess who runs a Grand Hotel and Theme Park. Derek is a German Shepherd who loves her and sometimes wonders why. Someone a long time ago told me to do a strip about cats and dogs cause everyone has one. LOL.

The Green Monkeys learned how to talk by watching old movies in the jungle with a professor that was doing research. For a year they helped out the good professor and learned to speak. Finally, they set off for NY to see the world where King Kong lived. They opened a Temp Agency knowing they could probably do a job for a day. The comic has drifted into social commentary from time to time. It makes me laugh. It’s a bit of an off-beat strip. There’s a baby they babysit for that adds some fun. There’s a space alien living in the closet. There’s a snow man who is suing Flytrap for feeding him hot soup. They got a job draining the swamp. They wear Pink Pussy Hats only cause they like feeling like a cat.

BC: If you went back in time to when you first started out, what would you want to tell yourself?
MP: Don’t worry so much.

BC: Do you have any projects coming up? Appearances scheduled for conventions?
MP: I should go to conventions. I give a great talk with slides. I will be doing more of this if anyone wants to have me.

BC: If you could have dinner with any one famous person you wanted, who would it be, and what would you talk about?
MP: I’d have dinner with my mother, Betty and tell her I’m okay, and I finally married Maria… and that I always always miss her every day.

(“All artwork here has been reproduced with the permission of the artist. Copyright Paraskevas Studios, INC (c) 2018.”)

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