Neon Park's 'Chemical Wedding' poster.

Neon Park was an American graphic artist, painter and illustrator who gained notice in the 1970s by designing several rock album covers. He was the home cartoonist of the band Little Feat and illustrated nearly all their records, including the iconic 'Waiting for Columbus' (1978) record. Park also designed Frank Zappa's equally infamous 'Weasels Ripped My Flesh' album (1970), The Beach Boys' 'L.A. (Light Album)' (1989) and the David Bowie compilation album 'Images 1966-1967' (1972). His style is characterized by surrealism, often referencing famous paintings and photographs, and frequently feature anthropomorphic animals or objects. One of his trademarks was drawing duck-billed men and women. Park made one comic strip in his career, the surreal poster 'Chemical Wedding' (1971), while his design for Bowie's 'Images 1966-1967' (1972) also makes use of a comic strip narrative.

Early life and career
Martin Muller was born in Berkeley, California, in 1940. He was mezmerized by Jack Kerouac's novel 'On the Road' and reread it several times before moving to Mendocino. In the early 1960s he met well known avant-garde film maker Chick Strand, with whom he would have a romantic and artistic relationship for the next 30 years. Throughout most of their lives they spent their time in L.A. and a Mexican village. Muller eventually took the pseudonym "Neon Park", in reference to his fascination for electric colour schemes. He worked on a series of projects for the design company Pinnacle in L.A. and published drawings in magazines like Hugh Hefner's Playboy, Glass Eye, National Lampoon and Dreamworks. Park furthermore made numerous advertisements for radio stations.


Neon Park's famous 'Weasels Ripped My Flesh' cover for The Mothers of Invention.

Frank Zappa
At the turn of the 1960s into the 1970s Park worked as a poster artist for The Family Dog, a hippie commune/musical promotion group from San Francisco. He also made drawings for a band named Dancing Food, which caught the attention of cult rock musician Frank Zappa. One day Zappa called Park to design the cover of his next album. He had recently split up his band - the Mothers of Invention - and this would be their final record before Zappa continued his solo career. The "king of underground rock" showed Park a couple of men's magazines, particularly the cover of a September 1956 issue of Man's Life. Man's Life was known for publishing exciting short stories which were often advertised on the cover. In this case a story by Mike Kamens titled 'Weasels Ripped My Flesh' was promoted, with a thrilling illustration - credited to the American Art Agency - of a man being attacked by a group of weasels in a river, where the little critters bite him until he bleeds. Zappa showed the cover to Park and told him his next album would have the same title: "Weasels Ripped My Flesh." He wanted a similar striking image and challenged him: "This is it. What can you do that's worse than this?"

Park found a way. He took a magazine advertisement for the electric razor brand Schick, which showed a man in a suit shaving himself. Park slightly traced the pose, but the man now uses a weasel for a razor. While his cheeks are bleeding he nonchalantly namedrops the album title and adds: "Rzzzzz!", all while sporting a fixated smile with a glazy eyed expression. The cover of 'Weasels Ripped My Flesh' looks like a comic strip panel, complete with speech balloons, but was still disturbing. Zappa went through a lot of trouble trying to convince Warner Brothers to use the illustration. When the executives finally greenlighted it, both the printer and his female assistant were absolutely horrified by it. The girl didn't even want to touch the image! A sure sign the drawing was perfect. The cover really stood out and many people rummaging through record store collections have been surprised or shocked when encountering it. Several people unfamiliar with Zappa bought it out of curiosity. 

'Weasels Ripped My Flesh' is the most iconic Zappa album cover not designed by his regular illustrator Cal Schenkel. In fact, some Zappa fans have erroneously assumed Schenkel made it. A testament to the power of the image is that it has been referenced several times. In a 1992 episode of 'Mystery Science Theater 3000', when the crew watched 'The Killer Shrews', they yell out the title and the line "RZZZZZ!" when a monstrous shrew attacks somebody (interestingly enough: 'The Killer Shrews' was one of Zappa's guilty pleasures and he loved watching 'Mystery Science Theater 3000'). In the 16 March 1998 episode 'That Was Then, This Is Dumb' of the animated TV series 'Daria' characters are listening to 'Weasels Ripped My Flesh', with the cover clearly visible. Alaskan cartoonist Jamie Smith paid homage in a 2003 cartoon of his series 'Nuggets', by having a lumberjack shave himself with a beaver while saying: "Beavers ripped my flesh. Brrrrr!" In 2016 Zappa's son Dweezil had Jim Mahfood design a promotional poster for his tours, named 'Dweezil Ripped My Flesh', which shows his father shaving himself with the yellow shark from the eponymous 1993 Zappa album.

Other artists who designed record covers for Zappa have been Cal Schenkel, Gary Panter, Tanino Liberatore, Matt Groening and Ralph Steadman.

Little Feat
One of the Mothers of Invention, Lowell George, established his own rock band in 1971: Little Feat. Another ex-Zappa musician, Roy Estrada, also played in this group. The second Little Feat album, 'Sailin' Shoes' (1972) was designed by Park. The cover shows an anthropomorphic cake on a swing. In an interview the artist said he was inspired by Roberto Rossellini's 'La Prise de Pouvoir par Louis XIV' ('The Taking of Power by Louis XIV', 1966), a television film about the Sun King. He saw parallels between the monarch "who kept everybody under his thumb by keeping them in hock from buying fancy clothes" and Hollywood. His album cover references two baroque paintings, namely Jean-Honoré Fragonard's 'The Swing' and Thomas Gainsborough's 'The Blue Boy' (whose face is replaced by Mick Jagger's). Pieter Bruegel the Elder also has a cameo, peeking behind a pillar. The image furthermore has some sexual metaphors. The cake has a missing slice between her legs, while a phallic snail looks at it. Park would design all of Little Feat's next albums, kicking off with 'Dixie Chicken' (1973), followed by 'Feats Don't Fail Me Now' (1974), 'The Last Record Album' (1975), 'Time Loves a Hero' (1977), 'Waiting for Columbus' (1978), 'Down on the Farm' (1979), 'Hoy-Hoy!' (1981), 'Let It Roll' (1988), 'Representing the Mambo' (1990) and 'Shake Me Up' (1991). Of all these, his cover for 'Waiting for Columbus' - with the anthropomorphic tomato in a hammock - is arguably the best known. Little Feat still uses it as a logo in their official promotional material and album sleeves. On 'Representing the Mambo', Park provided dialogue to the title track.

Park also illustrated the cover of Lowell George's solo album, 'Thanks, I'll Eat It There' (1979), which shows George up front, with a parody of Édouard Manet's 'Le Déjeuner Sur L'Herbe' in the background. The three people depicted are Marlène Dietrich (in her famous role in 'Der Blaue Engel'), Bob Dylan and Fidel Castro. Beside them we see a copy of Allen Ginsberg's iconic poetry book 'Howl'.


Neon Park's comic strip-like design for David Bowie's 'Images 1966-1967' album (back-cover).

David Bowie
Park furthermore designed 'Images 1966-1967' (1972) by David Bowie. This compilation with a lot of older singles and outtakes was hastily released to cash in on the singer's sudden superstar status in 1972, after his album 'Ziggy Stardust' became a million seller. It's obvious that Bowie himself had nothing to do with it. Park's record cover is merely a visualisation of all the songs on the album, presented in a comic strip lay-out, complete with speech balloons. Gainsborough's 'Blue Boy' is referenced again in the panel for 'Come Buy My Toys', while 'She's Got Medals' borrows an image from Georges Méliès' famous film 'Voyage Dans La Lune' (1903). In 'In the Heat of the Morning' Hollywood actors Carmen Miranda and Rudolph Valentino embrace. His image for 'Uncle Arthur' depicts Ringo Starr on a bike. Park also depicted Bowie himself in the panel 'London Boys', making a nod to a well known photo of Bowie smoking a cigarette by photographer Masayoshi Sukita. Other artists who designed album covers for Bowie have been Guy Peellaert and Derek Boshier.

Other album covers
Park furthermore designed the record covers of 'Special Delivery' (1978) by 38 Special, 'City Lights' (1979) by Dr. John, 'Pianomelt' (1980) by Ian Whitcomb, 'Snap! Snap!' (1981) by The Cretones, 'Down For The Count' (1985) by Y & T, 'Good Old Love Song' by Ron Wilkins, 'L.A. (Light Album)' (1989) by The Beach Boys and 'That's What I Like About The South' (1989) and 'Is My Love Enough' (1993) by Chris Daniels. 'Down For The Count' depicts Dracula embracing the robot from Fritz Lang's film 'Metropolis'. Park's cover of The Beach Boys album 'L.A. (Light Album)' (1989) also visualizes all songs on the record through a series of panels, though in this case they are presented as a series of postcards.


Parody poster for National Lampoon, August 1975.

Cartoon posters
In 1971 Park made a comic strip, 'Chemical Wedding', which was distributed as a poster. The surreal story stars a strange version of Walt Disney's Mickey Mouse with extra pairs of arms. This insect-like Mickey is seen walking through a psychedelic landscape until he eventually ends up in bed with two women lifted from respectively a Hindu and a Japanese painting. The final image shows an old version of Mickey, gray, beard and walking stick, who points at the door and says: "If the devil doesn't get you, the angels will." The same year Park made another poster, 'Genesis 4, New Short Films' (1971). In issue #65 (August 1975) of National Lampoon, Park designed a two-panel cartoon poster 'Know Your Rights - But Don't Forget the Wrongs!', in which an axe murderer is startled to hear that his rights don't extend to murder.


Neon Park's design for the Little Feat album 'Down on the Farm'.

Style
Neon Park was known for anthropomorphizing objects in his surrealist album covers, like the aforementioned cake in 'Sailin' Shoes' (1972) and tomato in 'Waiting for Columbus' (1978), but he particularly liked to draw people with huge duck bills, like the duck woman on Little Feat's album 'Down on the Farm' (1979) - which references Gil Elvgren's painting 'The Finishing Touch'. Little Feat's compilation album 'As Time Goes By - The Very Best Of Little Feat' features Humphrey Bogart as a duck, while Chris Daniels' 'Is My Love Enough?' shows a duck striking Marilyn Monroe's famous nude photograph from the first issue of Playboy magazine. Ron Wilkins' 'Good Old Love Song' spoofs the "kissing at the beach" scene from 'From Here to Eternity' with two ducks. He furthermore made several other paintings of anthropomorphic ducks parodying Hollywood celebrities, such as Betty Grable and Marlène Dietrich. Park's love for putting duck bills on people was a homage to Carl Barks' 'Donald Duck' stories. Interestingly enough Zappa cover illustrator Cal Schenkel gave all his characters dog noses, a trademark also inspired by Barks' comics.

Final years and death
During the late 1970s Park was part of the artistic collective The Art Boys, which had people like Robert Williams, Mark Mothersbaugh (from the band Devo), The Pizz, Gary Panter, Mike Kelley and Matt Groening in their midst. Sadly Park suffered from ALS during the final decade of his life, which made him unable to hold anything in his hands. He passed away in 1993 at the age of 52. Coincidentally Zappa died four months later, from cancer. As a tribute to Park Little Feat dedicated their next album, 'Ain't Had Enough Fun' (1995), to him and named their 1996 concert album: 'Live from Neon Park' (1996). Many of their other releases have used artwork by Park on their album covers, even if it was nothing more but the tomato in a hammock from 'Waiting For Columbus'.

Books about Neon Park
For those interested in Neon Park's work Paul Barrere, Tony Cohan, Bill Payne and Chick Strand's book 'Over the Rainbow. The Art of Neon Park.' (Last Gasp, 2000) provides a full overview of his graphic career.


Neon Park's 'Genesis 4' poster for Genesis Films Ltd. (1971).

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