After almost 15 years, the original dumb and dumber cartoon duo of Beavis and Butt-Head have returned to television, bringing with them their shocking stupidity, impregnable ignorance and a kind of surrealist version of observational humor that makes them funny to laugh at and laugh with. A cultural phenomenon in their original incarnation, the metal-loving duo were everywhere in the mid '90s, and inspired a Marvel Comic that ran for over two years. Newsarama caught up with that book's artist, veteran illustrator Rick Parker, to uncover the story behind the "duh" duo's 2-D adventures.
Newsarama: How did you come to work on the Beavis and Butt-Head comic?
Rick Parker: In 1993, I had been lettering comic books day and night for Marvel for 15 years but always harbored a secret desire to draw humor material, even though Marvel wasn't publishing the type of material I produced. While I was waited for messengers to pick up my material and take it to the Marvel offices, I'd draw funny pictures on the outside of the envelopes. One day I discovered that these envelopes were being saved from the trash heap by Jim Salicrup and people in the editorial department. One young assistant editor in particular liked my artwork. His name was Glenn Herdling. When they promoted him to full editor one of the first projects he landed was Beavis and Butt-Head, which was the hottest entertainment property in the country in the fall of 1993. He always said if he ever got a project that was right for me, he'd give it to me and he was true to his word. The first issue sold 600,000 copies.
Nrama: You drew every issue, was it a challenge to adapt your style to match expectations? Did you work closely with Mike Judge or MTV on the ‘look’ of the book?
Parker: I met Mike Judge at MTV shortly after Marvel sealed the deal. He was very funny in person and after the meeting came over to me and said he liked my artwork. My style is largely derived from Harvey Kurtzman and Will Elder's Mad Comics/Magazine. I was given a style-guide by MTV and Marvel showed every issue I did to MTV's Diane Sparagano, whose main concern was making sure the MTV characters were on-model. I combined the MTV style with my own style for presentation in the comics medium.
Comics are very different than animation. In TV, your eyes stay still and the pictures move, but in comics, the picture stays still and your eyes move. So it was a bit of a balancing act. The first 20 issues we did sold in the top 100 books every month, there were about 10,000 titles being published in those days. This was in a market dominated by superheroes. So I think the public was happy with the comic book. I loved doing it. Nrama: How was it working with an ever-changing writing staff?
Parker: The first five issues were written by Marvel's Mike Lackey who is a very funny and talented guy. When the writers at MTV heard what kind of royalties the book was making they wanted in on the action and succeeded in taking the book away from Mike. Writing for TV is very different from writing for comics, but I was able to adapt their TV scripts to comics while still giving them everything they wanted and making it work as a book. Some people scoffed at Beavis and Butt-Head as being dumb, but it was the only comic book being written by Harvard graduates that I knew of. Both MTV writers, Sam Johnson and Chris Marcil were Harvard alumni. MTV'S Don London also wrote some very funny scripts, but I think the funniest issue of all was issue #23 written by Glenn Herdling. He had B&B go to Intercourse [Pennsylvania] in Amish Country, because they thought they might finally score there. Lots of fun stuff in that one.Nrama: The original Beavis and Butt-Head comic featured its own take on the boys’ habit of commenting on music videos by instead using fake Marvel comic pages. What was the process of creating those like? How much input/interference from Marvel did you get on these?
Parker: Although the decision was not up to me, I made no secret of my displeasure at what I considered the intrusion of the Marvel material into the book. The editorial department assigned one page a month to various superhero artists and I dutifully drew the Beavis and Butt-Head parts. I remember the first one was Jack Kirby's Devil Dinosaur, being ridden by Moonboy. My heart was really in all the other pages, but not these.Nrama: The cartoon got a lot of media attention for its "crude" content; did you experience any similar issues with the comic or did it fly under the radar?
Parker: [Writer] Mike Lackey and I toured the United States in 1994. I met thousands of fans all across the country. I always sort of expected someone to tell me "You're a bad person!" But my experience was quite the opposite. What I discovered was that I was like a racecar driver to them, and they owned the racecar. What they really wanted was for me to jam my foot down on the accelerator pedal to the floor and leave it there. If anything, I learned that for most people what they wanted was more and more to go right to the edge and then over the top — at full speed.Nrama: What do you think about the show’s return to television?
Parker: I'm happy it's back. When I was doing the comic, people treated me like some sort of superstar. Then a year or two later, they were like, "Wow! — You did that?!!" Then a year after that, it was like, "That's cool..." Then a year or two later it was like, "um, okay"...then later on, it was like if someone asked you what you were known for in comics and you told them, "I was the artist of Beavis and Butt-Head!", they were like, "Uh...who's that...?" So now, maybe at least I won't have to tell people who Beavis and Butt-Head are anymore.
And I hope that all the renewed interest in Beavis and Butt-Head will maybe get someone to actually take a look at my graphic novel, Deadboy or some of the other great projects I've created or been involved with over the intervening 15 years, like The Papercutz Slices series of graphic novels parodying Harry Potter, Twilight, Percy Jackson and The Hunger Games. Nah, probably not. But I have always been a dreamer.Nrama: Would you return if the Beavis and Butt-Head comic was revived as well?
Parker: They wouldn't even have to say "please."Nrama: Looking back, what do you think of your work on the Beavis and Butt-Head comic, and looking forward, what projects are you working on currently?
Parker: I'm very proud of my work on that comic. I gave it everything I had. Each comic is really two books in one. The first is the Beavis and Butt-Head comic. Then the second is everything I could possibly cram in there to make it fun for the reader. A person could read the book four or five times and still be finding new things they hadn't noticed the first time through. I think it will be remembered as a very funny and entertaining comic book in the tradition of Mad Magazine.
In addition to the Papercutz Slices parodies of popular books and movies, I'm doing a graphic novel version of Thaddeus Russell's bestselling book, A Renegade History of The United States that should only take me a year or two, since this country has only been around for a couple of hundred years and as Butt-Head would say, "....uhh...-huh-huh-....that's not that long, really..."Got a comment? There's lots of conversation on Newsarama's FACEBOOK and TWITTER!