Monday, April 12, 2010

THE BOB BURDEN INTERVIEW

ART APPRECIATION WEEK


(Above: Flaming Carrot with the Mystery Men)

Bob Burden’s surrealist superhero, Flaming Carrot, first appeared in 1979 in Visions #1, and got his own title in 1981. The Carrot was unlike anything seen before- he sports a gigantic carrot head with a flame shooting out of the top and wears scuba flippers. His utility belt is equipped with a yo-yo and sneezing power, and one of his few powers is entering a state of “Zen stupidity.” The title became a cult hit in the direct comics market in the 80’s.

Burden introduced the Mystery Men in a two part story in Flaming Carrot Comics #16/17 in 1987. Like Flaming Carrot, the Mystery Men had sub-par, questionable powers and were presented as working class stiffs. The comic characters were adapted into a film in 1999.

Although it’s easy to chuckle at the Mystery Men’s lack of stature and powers, the Mystery Men are the ones who get the last laugh. By banding together and fighting with heart, in the end they emerge victorious.

Burden lives in Atlanta, and a recent Flaming Carrot series has been published by Dark Horse Comics. This excerpt is from a phone interview conducted on February 3, 2010.

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Tea Krulos: It feels like Flaming Carrot and the Mystery Men may be paying tribute to comic book characters you grew up with. Is that true?


Bob Burden: Yes and no. As far as comics, I came along in the early days, at the same time as the Marvel explosion of the early 60’s. Spiderman was one of my favorites. But then I also liked Herbie Comics (1) which was humorous. Perhaps in a way Flaming Carrot is a combination of tone between the two?
One of the appeals of Spiderman comics, one of the fascinating things about the Marvel comics, they were sort of revisionist…you understand what revisionist means, right?

TK: That they were kind of a parody?


BB: No, not parody, a different way of looking at things. The original superheroes were sort of all powerful, and mythical. The Marvel superheroes, were more middle class, more anit-heroes, they were revisionist in that sense. It was a revolution. And when they came along, it was all middle class and there was an appeal to middle class kids. There was a tremendously big middle class in America back then, middle class was king, that is where it was at.

Now then, with the Mystery Men, I kind of usurped the Marvel middle class by coming up with a working class, blue collar, rust belt, superhero. Where Marvel was Tom Sawyer, Mystery Men was Huck Finn. The Flaming Carrot shops at K Mart, hangs out at a bowling alley, and owns a broken down laundry mat. He catches the catfish dinner special on Friday nights, and hangs out in strip clubs.

This was another level down from the middle class superhero.

I remember reading a Spiderman comic where he couldn’t find his costume, Aunt May took it and threw it out, so he had to get a costume quick. He went into a department store and got a toy costume- a Halloween costume and all during the adventure it was coming loose on him and he had to keep using spider webs to pull it back up.

That’s not the type of thing that would happen to Superman, who was kind of an all powerful character, or Green Lantern. Unthinkable. They just kind of flitted around and spoke prosaically, they were as far away from reality and as deeply engrained in fantasy as they could possibly be. They were a valid, mythical sort of reality. I loved them when I was young.

James Bond is glamorous. He’s a law man, goes after the bad guys right? Then you have Hill Street Blues, and they were very blue collar lawmen or heroes or whatever. And that was basically the concept of that- now what were the influences of my blue collar super heroes?

One of the influences of Mystery Men probably was the Matt Helm secret agent series. The original Matt Helm novels came out and were popular around the same time the James Bond novels were. However, James Bond had all this fancy stuff and an exotic sports car and this that and the other thing.

Matt Helm…all he had was like a switchblade and a .38 special revolver and a shotgun. I mean he was not glamorous. He was more like a thug than a snappy, stylish, hip secret agent.

TK: Was this intentional?

BB: Nothing intentional about it. I’m mostly instinctive. When I came out with the Mystery Men, they were a kind of second string, blue collar superheroes with mediocre powers. Flaming Carrot was kind of the prototype of this kind of superhero. He wasn’t smart like Batman, so when he got in a spot he would blast his way out in a hail of gun fire. All that was fun and it fit my art style which wasn’t as slick as the Marvel or DC art.
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(Above: The cast of the Mystery Men movie)

TK: Was the leap into the movies something you planned then?

BB: Flaming Carrot was such a hard idea to make into a movie, because of the mask. I man I always wanted to get comics into movies, but I shot myself in the foot what that mask for FC. We didn’t want to turn this into another Howard the Duck. It could have easily happened too. We were always talking about making a movie, so what I did was come up with the Mystery Men (2). A group that had Flaming Carrot and more of the same- strange, weird, second string, blue collar, mill town superheroes. The ones that couldn’t make into the major leagues.

Anyways-after Flaming Carrot and Mystery Men came out, then there is Who Wants to be a Superhero? which is kind of a derivative of Mystery Men, because Mystery Men had that try out scene. At conventions we were doing the same thing, I would do conventions where I would be a judge, and some of the other guests would be judges. They would have a whole “who wants to be a superhero” panel.

And I can’t say Flaming Carrot influenced these people, but maybe Flaming Carrot, Mystery Men, Who Wants To Be a Superhero?, all had an effect on them. The idea of going out there and being superheroes. Same with Watchmen.

The Rorschach character was a lot like Mystery Men. You know, he’s eating beans in the kitchen- you want me to heat that up?-he says “fine like this.” He’s in a big tirade yelling at Dr. Manhattan, who snaps his fingers and all of a sudden Rorschach’s standing in the rain carrying on and yelling.

He gets no respect- kind of a Rodney Dangerfield type, but he’s also very serious about things, so it makes him an interesting character. Now to an extent he seems to be based on the Steve Ditko characters (3) like The Question and Mr. A… who were very stoic and very Ayn Randish. Do you know who Ayn Rand is?

TK: Yes. Atlas Shrugged.

BB: It would be curious to see how many of these real life superhero guys have ever heard of Ayn Rand. Some may think that Ayn Rand might be an unusual reading choice for a man of action who goes out on the streets to fight crime; Ayn Rand is more intellectual than action orientated. It’s entirely possible a lot of these characters are out there doing these superhero things- the idea they were inspired or egged on by the idea of Flaming Carrot, Mystery Men, and Watchmen.

TK: Had you heard of “real life superheroes” already?


BB: I have- I’ve seen them on the news.

TK: What was your reaction?


BB: I thought it was interesting, but there wasn’t much of a reaction. There wasn’t a reaction in a negative or positive way, it was just sort of interesting that it was happening, and that also seems the way the news took it. They weren’t like- oh this is going to be dangerous or that these are wonderful great heroes and they should all be given medals. Neither. They had a wait and see attitude, let’s see what’s going on here, this is sort of interesting, putting it on a platter without any kind of viewpoint…

Isn’t that weird that any minute, this thing could change. It could become really important, say for instance somebody takes a potshot at a politician or a rock star and one of these superheroes jumps in and saves him, takes a bullet for him. Then these guys become heroes. If one runs into a burning building, and loses their life throwing babies out the window for firemen to catch, then the guys will be heroes.
If one of them accidentally kills somebody or gets sued for millions of dollars or blows up a gas tank that takes out a city block, then they’re bad guys.

It all depends on what they do. It all remains to be seen and you don’t know what’s going to happen and I can’t tell you what’s going to happen.

TK: So you saw the real life superheroes- did you have a moment, like “oh my god this is just like the Mystery Men?”

BB: No, I didn’t even think that. I mean to me the whole idea of people doing the superhero thing today is perfectly normal development. I don’t think there’s anything bizarre or unusual about it, sociologically, I mean compared to everything else going on: suicide bombers, the Harajuku Girls in Japan, the streakers back in the 70s, Disco, the whole Punk Rock thing…

TK: Have you ever dressed up?


I myself have a peculiar phobia to costumes. I really do not like to dress up. Why, I don’t know. It kind of gives me the heebee jeebees. I remember when I was a kid on Halloween I didn’t like to get dressed up in costumes and stuff. When I was a kid, I had a cowboy hat and six-guns and spurrs and then one day I looked at myself in the mirror and just said: “you ain’t no cowboy.” And after that it I couldn’t do it anymore.

TK: That is kind of strange.

BB: It is- I’m saying. I just like… I’ve never liked coconut. I can’t explain why, but coconut just doesn’t do it for me. Actually I think the reason is I was a kid and I went through a bottle with my aunt and there was sawdust on the floor and it reminded me of coconuts and I was like “this reminds me of coconuts,” you know what I’m saying?

TK: It looks similar too.


BB: It looks similar too, yeah. It’s really shredded wood is what they both are- sawdust and coconut.
The idea of people going out and having a costumed adventure is great! I wish them well and, sure, that is kind of a Flaming Carrot kinda thing. I wrote a story one time, it was a business man who was sitting in his office and talking about Flaming Carrot comics. He’s saying, well I’ve got two or three hours to kill now before the whistle blows and I go home and I’m just going to sit here and fantasize about being Flaming Carrot.

And he starts thinking about why it’s cooler to be Flaming Carrot instead of Batman. You know, Flaming Carrot gets to keep the money from the crime scenes. Flaming Carrot, instead of being polite and shy like Batman, like when Batman is around Catwoman, Flaming Carrot hangs out with all kinds of bimbos and they love him. Flaming Carrot gets to shoot his gun off, you know take pot shots at the rats down at the dump just for the fun of it. He gets to lurk in the alleys and do all of this cool shit, spy on people. I mean for some people, it is probably really cool to be Flaming Carrot because Flaming Carrot has all the fun.

TK: Which do you think is more realistic- Watchmen or Mysterymen?


BB: I think that is an unfair comparison. In other words that is like saying who is stronger- the Hulk or Thor. They are both strong and they can both kick ass, that is the whole point.

I’m just putting you on. The Watchmen movie has all the gritty realism and serious philosophical conflict. The philosophical argument in Flaming Carrot comics is: “Certs is a breath mint!” “No! Certs is a candy mint!”.

But personally, I’d have to say it’s a flip of the coin, for a lot of these people doing this, Watchmen is much more serious and these guys take themselves seriously but Mystery Men is fun. From the viewpoint of people who don’t really know what they’re doing and see a news article or one in the street, they’re going to think these guys are Mystery Men though.
So there you go, which one is the bigger influence? I don’t know- why do some of these people do this stuff? I mean they do it because they want to do it, not because they saw some movie.

These are individuals with individual thoughts who have taken the initiative… the vast majority of people in this world are just reactive to things, in other words they have to be inspired by something to do something, they have to be controlled. They’re manipulated by the media and corporations and things like that.
Then there are people out there that just go out there and do it whether it’s Henry Ford or Steve Jobs or you know, that guy (Preston) Tucker who came up with the automobile design.

And so to a lot of people it is incomprehensible that they would come up with their own idea and they have to find some derivative thing that all this came from. Well, it negates the whole existence because most people live a derivative lifestyle. They repeat what they hear on television, they watch the news at night so they’ll have something to say around the water fountain the next day. They have no opinions of their own.

So let’s say someone goes out there on their own, takes their own initiative. That’s a person worth watching, that’s a person that is interesting and worth following.
Something like Flaming Carrot or Mystery Men or Watchmen can be a doorway, but they have to choose to go through it.

You can visit Bob Burden's Mystery Men site
HERE.


FOOTNOTES

1. Herbie Comics stars the balloon shaped Herbie Popnecker, who would change into the superhero Fat Fury, armed with super powered lollipops. The title was published by the American Comics Group in the 60’s.

2. The Mystery Men film was released in 1999 with an incredibly talented cast; Ben Stiller, Paul Reubens, William H. Macy, Hank Azaria, Greg Kinnear, Janeane Garofalo, Tom Waits, Geoffrey Rush, and Eddie Izzard were among the cast.

3. Alan Moore has said that the Watchmen characters are loosely based on characters from the Charlton line of comics, with Rorschach based on the Ditko character, The Question, and a similar Ditko creation, Mr. A.

3 comments:

  1. All I have to say about the movie is if I hear that Smashmouth song one more time I'm going to bludgeon Ben Stiller to death with a bowling ball. Also, not the highest point in Paul Reubens' career setting him somewhere between public masturbation and hosting You Don't Know Jack for half of a season before it was canceled.

    Poor fella.

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  2. I have wondered how many RLSHs are Ayn Rand fans. Maybe not the homeless advocates, but certainly the ones who are out to establish their place among the pantheon of cultural heroes using nothing but a taser and a night stick.

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