For this weeks feature I decided to continue the Creative Minds series and instantly thought of Damian Fulton. For those of you out there that don’t know, Damian is the creator responsible for the entire Radical Rick comic strip series that was featured in BMX Plus! magazines for over a decade. For many readers out there, it was THE reason to pick up a copy of Plus! and had a pretty big following. There wasn’t a BMX rider out there that wasn’t down with Radical Rick. The series was always fresh, and Damian was putting out solid content month after month. I have a ton of respect for him and can’t believe he ran it for so long. I know all too well that dealing with deadlines on a regular basis can be a huge pain in the ass. So the fact that he made it work, regardless of his already packed schedule says a lot about his love for the work he was doing and the product he was creating. After tracking him down I caught up with him at his Southern California home and was honored to have the chance to hear about all things Radical Rick from the man himself. Obviously this feature was aimed for the old school heads out there but it’s also a bit of a history lesson for the younger generation so hopefully everyone gets a little something out of it.
You have seen BMX come a long way since the days of Sting Rays, ape-hanger bars and banana seats. Why don’t you educate everyone out there about your roots in BMX?
I’m going to sound like that old crusty uncle that yammers, “In my day, we didn’t have any high flutin’ chrome-ology technology on our 20 inchers! We rode real bicycles made of steel, that weighed more than a Volkswagen. Now that was riding!” So let’s just say we were racing around on home made dirt tracks imitating motocrossers before the term Bicycle Motocross was invented.
Obviously you had a passion for riding early on so how did you end up pairing that up with your undeniable talent for taking an idea and bringing it to life on paper?
There wasn’t the Internet at your fingertips to distract us. To extend the experience after riding, or seeing a movie, or watch TV, I’d just keep the vibe going on paper. Once you realize you are the captain of your own story and vision, it’s a power trip, especially since I was a kid in a family of seven. Drawing for me was addicting.
Even though there should be some kind of punishment for riding a BMX bike without knowing who Radical Rick is, can you fill those unfortunate souls in on who the man himself is?
Basically Radical Rick came from a comic strip about a kid that constantly was drawn into “rad” situations because of an over productive rad gland. It ran in BMX Plus! Magazine for 13 years, and then was picked up in re-runs for another five years later on.
Here it is…Radical Rick number one, the piece that started it all.
So the cartoon series started and ended in BMX Plus! Magazine and had an amazing run in my opinion. When did the BMX world first see Radical Rick, and when was the last legit appearance?
He and his cowardly but loyal sidekick, MX Mug were created in November 1979 at my parents house in Irvine CA. The first episodes hit newsstands December (the January ’80 issue) as a black and white one-page strip. By the time I closed the book on Rick’s career in 1993 it was a full-blown color two pager.
What came first, the actual character or the name?
Like Siamese twins, they arrived at the same time.
In the early days, Radical Rick was seemingly a bit more mysterious but maintained that anonymity over the years all the way until the last feature. Can you elaborate on that and was it a goal to always keep him faceless?
I always liked the way Clint Eastwood characters acted in his classic westerns and Dirty Harry films. His actions spoke louder than words. I took that a little farther and decided early on that he would never speak! Unfortunately, unlike Clint, goggles and an old school rock protector always cover Rick’s face so you never got to see his expressions. Major challenge for a lead character! My goal was to see how much expression I could cram into a drawing to get across his emotion.
What tools did you use to create each feature?
Paper, ink, felt pens, colored pencils, watercolors (or dyes) and multiple pots o’ coffee.
Can you give everyone an idea on the average time it would take to create a piece from scratch?
I’d have to say three to four evenings. I’m sure I probably did more than a few 48 hours straight no-sleep-non-stoppers.
Did you miss any deadlines?
Never missed a deadline, though once, to get it in on time, I had to actually hire a Marvel comic book artist to mimic my style and paint the story for me! Shhh!
I know for a fact that you spent some sleepless nights making sure to meet those deadlines and Radical Rick was actually an “after work” project for a lot of years.
That’s right… Get home, gobble down dinner, put the kids to bed, turn on the music, put on a pot of coffee and get into it.
That is an amazing accomplishment man, so congrats on that. I have nothing but respect you from a creative standpoint. On that note, how the hell did you keep creating new material for so long?
There was just so much going on back then. BMX went from back yard dirt tracks to full on stadium shows, punk rock and hip-hop was born, and pop culture seemed to explode. The Soviet Union fell and the Internet was born. There was always something topical I could sink my teeth in.
How far ahead of time would you draw? Did you ever have features stacked up just in case?
I never got out ahead. In a pre-digital age it took a couple months before what I turned in hit the newsstands. In order to keep the story and events topical I typically waited until the last minute. Of course the truth is, I was actually just procrastinating!
It seems like you had a bit of a political drive in some of the older Radical Rick pieces. Was that ever something you tried to put an emphasis on?
In the early days, when I was in my college art department we all thought we were radicals. I’d hear all the silly political views of the uninformed kids ranting about the evil corporations and how “The Man” controlled everything and wanted to keep us down, blah-blah-blah. Naturally being an impressionable kid, some of that stuff trickled its way into the pages, usually in the corners of the episodes. Though there would be bigger appearances by President Reagan or a politically incorrect crazed Ayatollah or two. I’d probably never get away with that today.
For anyone that knows Radical Rick’s history, you can literally see the progression of BMX in the drawings and you kept very current with the state of riding at the time. You obviously followed BMX very closely. Was that a conscious effort?
I just didn’t want to embarrass the magazine or come off as a dolt. Of course walking into the Plus! offices and seeing the new gear before everyone else and getting the latest poop from the editor’s didn’t hurt.
Did you have relationships with all of the pros during those years?
I’d see them at races and trade shows but truthfully it seemed I was the closest to them when I was reading the magazine. Come to think of it, I forgot I did the ads for Greg Hill when he launched his bike line, so we did spent some time together.
Do you still keep in contact with any of them today?
Over the last few years I’ve tried to attend as many the BMX Hall of Fame induction parties as I can. That’s the best time to see the legends.
After looking through the archives I noticed that some of the subject matter was a little edgy, especially for the reserved nature of BMX Plus! In general. Was it ever a battle with getting certain features published?
I never had to push any of my ideas. The editors over the years always seemed to genuinely appreciate where I was taking the story and action. If need be, John Ker, a great guy, superb photographer, and kind of my Jiminy Cricket, allowed me to occasionally bounce an idea off him to see if I’d crossed the line. He also manually “spell checked” nearly every Radical Rick that I wrote. I’m sure he had a laugh or two at my creative take on grammar and punctuation. Once or twice I’d get my hand slapped when the girls fawning all over Rick where showing too much skin. The publisher, Roland Hines, a really good man and very conservative, would review my artwork and from time to time I’d get called back to the office to do cleavage repair on my adolescent fantasy girls.
Not only did I get to kick it with the brainchild of Radical Rick but he was also kind enough to let me take his motorcycle for a cruise too. Not bad for a days work.
I like to think that at times you tried to push the boundaries and keep things interesting but did you ever have any “un-seen” ideas that never came to life?
I never had any time to do extra ideas between work at the ad agency, freelance illustration gigs, and raising a family. Every Radical Rick adventure I came up with went to press! I promise there’s no missing RR episode holed away in my dusty art files. Oh wait…let’s keep the suspense going. What I meant to say is there’s an incredible storyline that was just way too racy for primetime I’m sitting on, waiting to reveal when the time is right. Stay tuned!
Can you give us three random facts about Radical Rick?
1. His hands only have a thumb and 3 fingers.
2. He wears a helmet because when he was five, he ran into a Mac truck. Though he destroyed the rig, his parents made him wear a helmet from that day on.
3. His first name is actually Richard.
What are some of your favorite features that you have done over the years? After doing so many I am sure everyone is curious to know if there are any that stand out to you.
Gasp, there were 143 episodes, don’t ask me to pick a favorite! Of course any episode when Rick would go head to head or ride with pros like Gregg Hill, Stu Thompson, or Eddie Fiola was always a blast to draw.
The more things change, the more they stay the same. Damian works on his BMX projects in his spare time just like the old days.
I am sure I’m not the only one who is wondering this so fill us in on what you think Radical Rick would be getting into these days in 2013?
The riders today are doing way more than even Radical Rick could do back in the day in his fantasy comic world of Crushed Crank Canyon. But trust me, I’m sure after 35 years he’d still be competitive. After all, in the comic world, he doesn’t age and his skills only improve. Ah, the magic of cartoons.
Do you ever see him making a comeback?
Once I walked away from the ritual of creating stories and meeting deadlines, I never intended to “get the band back together.” Currently I’m content painting one offs of Radical Rick and his cronies, my way on my schedule.
I know that there have been talks here and there over the years of making the series into an animated feature or live action movie, any updates on that?
The script has been optioned a number of times and is still floating around Hollywood somewhere.
“The “Rad Squad” includes Radical Rick and his entire crew and was part of the pitch for Hollywood.”
If you had the option to do it all again, would you change things up and if so, what would you have done differently?
Hindsight is 20/20. I would have savored the process of creating each episode every month. I’m afraid so many times I was so busy I couldn’t always enjoy it.
You mentioned that you have some side projects going on and of course you are available to do commission based work but can just anyone really get an original Radical Rick drawing/painting?
Blame Karl Hinkley, the rider/owner of NOWEAR apparel. Apparently he’s a long time fan of Radical Rick and about a year ago contacted me out of the blue and asked for a commissioned piece of art showing him riding painted in the style of Radical Rick. After that experience we’ve become friends and he asked me to design a line of new BMX T-shirt designs. Some feature Radical Rick raging again and others are just plain outrageous. Karl’s project has got me painting BMX and Radical Rick again and it’s been a exciting rediscovery of sorts, a wonderfully new, yet familiar chapter for me.
Can you brief everyone on what it is you do currently? I know that Radical Rick played a huge role in shaping you as an artist in your younger years and had to have some effect on where you are at today.
Check out damianfultonart.com. One picture is worth a thousand words.
You still paint pretty regularly and do some fine-art stuff as well but what advice do you have for the creative’s out there in the world looking to succeed in the digital age?
Study the basics and fundamentals of drawing first no matter what medium you’re working in. You’ll be better for it. Learn the craft of rendering and traditional painting, then you can screw it up anyway you want with confidence.
How can people keep up on your current work and get a hold of you if they are interested in doing any custom pieces?
The best way to reach me is via Facebook or email at [email protected]
Any last words?
Phew, it’s over? That was quite an interrogation. Actually I am most thankful for that chapter in my life and really it’s been a pleasure to open up the BMX memory book with you, and gaze into the future a bit. Thanks for having me.
I know that the young BMX version of me would have never expected to be interviewing the guy that created Radical Rick so this whole experience has been pretty amazing. I was honored for the opportunity and hope that some old school dudes are stoked on this one. On that note, be sure to check back next Wednesday for the sixtieth edition of Through the Lens and as always feel free to leave any questions in the comments section or email me at [email protected] and I will hit you back as soon as I can. Feel free to follow me on Twitter and Instagram @jeremypavia.