Tuesday, March 1, 2011


1992 was a very strange year. When it began, I was living in a dorm at Loyola, going to school and working full time at the university's bookstore where I had been for 3 1/2 years . Although the job was never going to go anywhere, I didn't foresee a day where I would leave - probably since it was my first job ever. Imagine my surprise when, in late January, I was let go along with the rest of the stock and register people. It was very hard  to deal with and my grades suffered for it. At the end of the semester I moved back home with my Pop and my brother.

At first I didn't know if I would go back to school or not. I was paying for it myself and with my income cut off I didn't know how I was going to be able to afford it. So when I discovered that I was getting a lot of financial aid, I was pretty happy. I decided that I would get some stupid part-time job that the university offered and ended up in one of the hearing labs listening to sounds for 1 1/2 hours, at minimum wage, four days a week.

So having a stupid job like that really made me stop and think. What was I going to do with my life - I mean really?? What did I want? I remember thinking and thinking about this until the answer came back - I want to draw comics. How do I start? At the beginning. So I set out to draw some pages. This was the first - May 1992:
This was a scene taken from the War Of The Worlds
TV show, which was a favorite of mine. After this page, I did 
some pages from The Marvel Try-Out Book.

Even though I had lost my main source of income, I still continued to buy comics. The Flash by Mark Waid and Greg LaRocque was my favorite, Dan Jurgens had just taken over the JLA, and there was a revival of a superhero team that I was particularly interested in. The Justice Society Of America was a group of golden age superheroes who had been taken out of continuity 6 years previous and, because of reader demands, were making a comeback. I was excited about this because I was one of those readers, even getting a letter printed in the Flash asking for a return. The people working on the soon to be new series were writer Len Strazewski, who had written the mini series that proceeded the new ongoing, and penciler Mike Parobeck, who had worked on a couple of issues of the mini and had just finished up and Elongated Man series that I had gotten. I liked his artwork a lot and wished that he had drawn the entire JSA mini series. I was really looking forward to this series.

The day the issue came out, I didn't have to go to work. I lived about 3 miles from the University and decided to walk over there and work out at Loyola's gym. On the way, I stopped into a nearby comic book shop and bought JSA #1.

As I walked down the street, I flipped through the issue. I became aware that this tall red headed guy who was walking in front of me kept turning around and looking at me. He had a huge smile on his face and I couldn't for the life of me figure out who the hell he was. The most plausible explanation was that he was someone I knew from the bookstore, but I didn't recognize him. Finally he stopped and walked over to me:

"I'm Mike Parobeck," he said pointing at the first issue of the Justice Society that I had in my hands,  "and I drew that comic that you have there."

I can not describe the feeling that I had at that moment. I handed him the book and asked him to sign it. He asked if I wanted him to write my name in it too:

This was an amazing experience, not only because I happened to have Mike's book in my hands, but also because of what I had decided to do with my life. So why did this happen? Coincidence? Fate? Divine intervention? I had no clue, but decided to take advantage of the situation.

Mike had been walking over to Kinko's from his apartment, which was a couple of blocks away. After I got home - convinced that my running into him was no accident- I wrote him a letter and asked him if he'd be willing to take a look at my work. He was reluctant, he mentioned later, but did agree. We sat down in one of the Loyola buildings and he went through my work. He pointed out stuff that he liked, and told me when he was finished that he wasn't "going to sugar-coat it".  I had a long way to go. Considering that it would be 13 years before I got my first professional job, I'd say he was right.

One of the things Mike pointed out about my work was that I wasn't taking full advantage of camera angles. He did a demonstration for me:

When we were finished, Mike asked if I'd like to see what he was working on. We walked over to his apartment and I saw the finished pencils for JSA number 6. It was very cool! As it turns out, I got a letter printed in that same issue, and Mike sent me a drawing of the Golden Age Flash to say thanks for writing:

Mike was nice enough to meet with me periodically to look at my artwork. Over pizza, we talked and he gave me a lot of good suggestions. He brought books to show me examples of what he was thinking and loaned me his Alex Toth Zorro book, which had inspired him. In April of 1993, Mike moved to Key West, Florida. Before he left, he signed a number of comics for me, gave me a drawing of Superman and Batman that he had done for my birthday, and provided me with Len Strazewski's phone number, promising that Len would look at my work and help me out the way he did.

About a year or so later, Mike moved back to Chicago. He stopped by my place ( By then my Pop had passed away and I was living in my first apartment by Loyola) with a Christmas present for my nephew - a signed copy of the Batman Adventures trade paperback. I didn't realize this at the time, but Mike had been suffering form some health problems that had resulted in a diabetic coma earlier that year. The last time we met to look at artwork was Good Friday 1995. Mike was very distraught and it was clear something was wrong. A few weeks later I ran into him while he was walking his dog and he told me that he was moving back to Key West. The cold of Chicago was getting to him.

In the fall of 1996, Len Strazewski informed me that Mike had passed away due to his diabetic condition.

Mike Parobeck was one of the nicest people I had ever known. He helped me with so much and the day I met him literally changed my life. I often wish that he could have been around to see what I've been able to accomplish because of his guidance. I still live in his old neighborhood and in the mornings jog past the building he lived in. I never fail to think of Mike in those moments.

There is an excellent article about Mike Parobeck and his work HERE