A special kind of superhero

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Look, up in the sky. It’s a bird. It’s a plane. It’s…

OK, no. He looks nothing like a bird or a plane. And, with an orange polo and khaki shorts instead of a cape, he probably can’t fly. But Baldwin City resident Ande Parks is very familiar with those who can.

In fact, Parks has spent the last 20-plus years bringing superheroes and other characters to life with pen, ink and imagination.

“Most of the time, I’m an inker. That’s really how I make my living,” Parks said. “That means I’m really only half of the design team.”

Parks’ role as an inker means he adds ink to pencil drawings to make shapes, shadows and lines for comic books and graphic novels. Paired with penciler Phil Hester, Parks has worked on a number of projects for DC Comics, including inking several years for monthly issues of “Green Arrow” and “Night Wing.”

Parks said such superhero comics usually involve the most interesting artwork.

“Artistically, the superheroes are kind of exciting,” he explained. “You get to do some more fantastic things. You might get to do a spaceship or some crazy villain’s costume.”

Parks’ artwork isn’t limited to inking fictional fighters, however. He said his passion is for writing graphic novels. To date, he has two historical graphic novels published – “Union Station,” which is about the 1930s shootings at Union Station in Kansas City, Mo., and “Capote in Kansas,” the story of Truman Capote’s time in Kansas writing “In Cold Blood.”

“I’m passionate about the belief that comics can tell any type of story,” Parks said about his books. “There are so many superhero stories out there. I want to stretch the genre beyond that.”

Helped by the success of the film “Capote,” Parks’ “Capote in Kansas” has sold about 3,000 copies. And, if anyone is keeping track, Parks’ novel was released in July, months before the film.

Superdad

Though Parks stays away from superheroes in his writing, he does share one thing in common with the mythical characters. Like all the great heroes, Parks has his own secret lair.

“I guess most often I’m up by 9 (a.m.), and I’m working down here by 9:30 (a.m.),” Parks said from his bat cave of sorts, a long basement room with all the tools of the comic trade. “After dinner, I come back down and work. Besides the time that I play with Hannah before she goes to bed, I’m usually working until two in the morning. It’s good because there are less distractions.”

Distractions, Parks said, are easy to come by with two children in the house. Hannah, 7, and Henry, 3, belong to Parks and his wife, Associate Professor of German Cynthia Appl.

Appl said her husband’s flexible hours help him balance being a dad and being an artist.

“He’s with Henry in the afternoon and at 3:30 p.m. he has Hannah when she gets home from school,” Appl explained. “He has more daytime hours open than he would with a conventional job. He’s kind of a Mr. Mom.”

Hannah said she enjoys coming home to her dad’s care after school.

“I like it because he lets us watch a bunch of TV, which my mom wouldn’t do,” she said.

Parks said he and his daughter do more than watch TV, though. Cooking pizza and drawing are some of their favorite activities to do together.

“He cooks really good,” Hannah said. “So does my mom. She’s more of a baker, cooking cakes and cookies. He’s more of a dinner person. My favorite things are noodles and pizza. This is a noodle family.”

Parks said Hannah is already developing her artistic skills.

“Just last night I asked her if she wanted to play a game, but she says, ‘No, let’s draw pictures,'” he laughed. “She’s more talented than I am. She never gets caught up by a blank, white page.”

Hannah didn’t dispute her father’s compliment.

“I draw better than my dad — dogs and cats. That’s pretty much it,” Hannah pointed out. “Trees and flowers too.”

Despite her early talent, Hannah said she isn’t planning to follow in her father’s footsteps. She said she wants to be a vet or a policewoman when she grows up. Henry, on the other hand, said he wants to be an eyeball.

With such life in the upstairs part of his house, Parks said the isolation of the drawing den can be somewhat overwhelming. He spends some of his daytime hours on the phone with other graphic novelists who also find the life lonely at times.

Parks said for some comic book artists and fans life has always been a little lonely.

“You know, the geeky comic guy who lives in his mom’s basement, parts of that stereotype are true,” he explained. “What was more important as a kid was a piece of paper rather than going out with other kids. That’s part of the appeal of comics. They’re a great escape from the isolation.”

Parks said working from home also makes it hard to escape the extensive workload that comes with his career.

“The work is never really away. It’s not a job you can quit at 5 o’clock,” Parks said. “This table always has work on it to be done.”

Transformation

Today on the drawing table, Parks is focusing on inking a new superhero project, and not for DC Comics. Instead Hester and Parks – the penciling and inking dynamic duo – have made the jump to DC’s arch nemesis, Marvel Comics. Parks said the change caused somewhat of a stir throughout the industry.

“I’m not a good judge of how well-known Phil and I are,” he explained. “It was kind of a big deal that we left DC and went to Marvel, though. We had just been with DC for so long.”

Parks said the new project combines old and new ideas.

“The project for Marvel is a comic called ‘Ant-man,'” he said. “It’s a character that existed before, but it’s a new person. The full title is ‘The Irredeemable Ant-Man.’ The basic premise the author came up with is he’ll save your life, but steal your wallet.”

Appl said she thinks her husband is excited about the change.

“Creatively, it is always good to change gears,” she explained. “I’d say it’s been an adjustment though. The style is different than what he did for DC Comics. Honestly, I don’t know a lot about the project, not as much as I should know for being the wife of a comic book artist.”

Appl said she does see some pages her husband works on. Otherwise, she sees his artwork on special occasions.

“When he gives me a card, he usually draws it himself. Other than that, he doesn’t really draw a lot,” Appl said.

Parks said he rarely draws other than for his job.

“I’m very self-conscious about my drawings,” he explained. “People always ask me if I draw pictures of my kids, but I just can’t. They would never look how I wanted them to.”

Parks, who said his favorite comics right now are “Batman” and “Captain America,” does have plans for more drawing in the future. His goal is to move away from inking other people’s work and begin writing and drawing more of his own graphic novels.

“I don’t own anything as an inker. I get the check and that’s it. If I’m a writer, all my work is mine,” Parks said. “I’d like to transition more into writing. I’d like to be known as a writer in the next ten years. I don’t want to be an old man leaning over these drawings trying to ink them.”

Appl said no matter her husband’s age, this job never lets him get old.

“Anybody who enters that profession is young at heart,” she said.

Hmmm, secret lair. Never gets old. And he cooks? Everyone is a superhero to somebody.