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Cartoonist Lives, Creates in Irvine : 'Wizard of Id' Artist Finds New 'Castle'

September 14, 1986|MARILYN PITTS

The King is still short. The Wizard is still henpecked. The peasants are still revolting. And the Spook has yet to make a clean getaway.

But there is an upheaval in the Kingdom of Id. After 38 years, 66-year-old Brant Parker, one of the two wizards behind the nationally syndicated comic strip, "The Wizard of Id," has moved to a new "castle."

Born in Los Angeles, and raised on California sunshine, Parker and his wife, Mary Lou, purchased a town house in the Woodbridge area of Irvine last year. The couple still own a home in Virginia where they plan to spend part of the year, but Parker moved himself and the Id characters into Irvine this summer, turning an upstairs room with a view of the Santa Ana Mountains into his studio.

"One thing I love about Irvine is that it has some planning," Parker said, gesturing at his surroundings. "I say to Mary Lou, 'Good grief. I love this. They didn't just stick something here and something there. . . . They thought about it.' " It's been 22 years since Parker and his Id collaborator and lifetime friend, Johnny Hart, created the "Wizard of Id" strip and took it to the Big Apple. For a while the wizards were standing on shaky ground, Parker recalled, laughing as he remembered what happened the morning after he and Hart stayed up all night revising the strip.

"We called the syndicate and told them we were ready. We thought we would be going over there, but before we knew it there was a knock at the hotel room door and there was the syndicate president with an entourage of about 10 people behind him.

Not Ready for Guests

"I was in my shorts, John was shaving, beer bottles were everywhere--it was a real mess. We had taped the cartoons all on the walls because we had wanted to see them in sequence. . . . So they came marching in and started in one part of the room and walked around, all of them, like judges. They got to the end, and he (the syndicate president) looked at us and said, 'We think you guys are disgusting, but we love the strip. We'll take it.' "

Starting in 1964 with an initial 50 newspapers, the "Wizard of Id" has increased its readership over the years: Now more than 1,000 newspapers carry the strip in the United States, with the figure rising to more than 1,100 with international printings. Hart and Parker also have more than 20 "Wizard of Id" books in print, according to Parker.

"Of course, I'd hoped the strip would do well," he said. "It did better in university towns and big cities when we started. We were the avant-garde ones--the young, wild ones. We're not young anymore, but we're trying to stay young.

"Southern California is a wonderful source for humor. This life style is faster and, therefore, funnier. It's ahead of the East in so many ways, fun-wise at least."

A proper working environment is extremely important for the "continual well-being of Id," according to Parker. "I like working here outside rather than in the studio," he confessed, sitting on the back patio of his home. "But I have to find a way to keep the sun from chasing me out of here. Maybe I'll have to get up earlier." He grinned, adding that he presently starts working between 5 a.m. and 7 a.m., stopping in the evening.

"For me, cartooning has always been a compulsion," he said, rough sketching the Wizard between sips of iced tea. "Almost as long as I can remember I loved drawing, and I wasn't very old before I decided that cartooning was what I wanted to do. I snuck off in corners and doodled all the time. When I wasn't getting in trouble over it, I was drawing posters or drawing for the school paper--everything I could do."

Visits With Cartoonist

In grade school, while other students dreamed of recess, Parker would skip school, making a beeline for the Los Angeles Times' office. He would sneak in and sit next to Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist Bruce Russell, watching him draw "for hours. I don't know how I got past the guard," he mused, then laughed. "I guess I was pretty nervy."

In junior high school he worked at a Disney-owned theater testing film ("just to be able to be near the cartoons") and in high school found inspiration in the artwork of a fellow artist and classmate destined to be an actor, Jack Webb. "He did some of the most beautiful posters I ever saw. That influenced me a lot. And then he never did it again. He went off to movies and TV."

After two years of study at the then-Otis Institute in Los Angeles, and a stint in the Navy during World War II, Parker in 1945 joined the ranks of cartoonists to pass through the Disney Studios. He recalled his two years with Disney enthusiastically, "Walt Kelly ('Pogo') had already come and gone. Hank Ketcham ('Dennis the Menace') had been there and left. So had Virgil Partch ('Big George') and a lot of the other greats. I think they studied there more than anything. They worked there, but like me they learned. The Disney school was great. That was my main school of cartoon learning."

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