By the summer of 1976, Euclid cops were treating the Masked Cartoonist as some kind of urban legend. For more than two years, they tried unsuccessfully to nail the teen artist before he could uncap his markers and plaster fire hydrants, utility boxes, and sides of buildings with his rock-and-roll imagery.
Then Rick Ray's luck ran out. As he and a buddy were inking more drive-by drawings, they were busted. "The next thing I knew, the whole Euclid Police Department showed up, even the off-duty cops," recalls Ray. "And they argued over who got to bring me in.
"I told the police, Go ahead and arrest me. I'm making an eyesore look good and giving people something to see."
Because he was 17, Ray was tried by a Juvenile Court referee on a charge of defacing public property. "My response was, technically, I was facing public property -- putting faces on, not taking them off. And the only thing that'll wash that stuff off is gasoline. Do you want me walking around the city with a can of gas?'" Ray asked the ref. "She said, 'Forget it. Just don't do it again.'"
He didn't listen. For the next 20 years, Ray worked on his collection of sketches and published them in the 43-page Picturesque Views From the Mind of Rick Ray a.k.a. the Masked Cartoonist. Many of the 250 black-and-white etchings double as social commentaries on music, religion, and the government -- from a demonic take on a congregation listening to a preacher read a devil's-food-cake recipe to a Communist twist on a Beatles tribute band called Lenin and McCarthy.
This year, Ray issued a second volume, simply titled Book #2 From Rick Ray a.k.a. the Masked Cartoonist, in which he continues to mull over the world around him. "Every once in a while, I do the Masked Cartoonist thing, if I have a marker on me," he admits. "[It's] just something I can't quite shake."