Since we reported over on The Great Curve earlier this year that Flaming Carrot creator Bob Burden was hospitalized, we’ve received a lot of email from fans wanting to know how Bob is doing. Well, wonder no more, as Bob agreed to participate in a somewhat surreal interview about his hospital stay, his new Gumby comic and the power of enduring characters.
Blog@Newsarama: We were really sorry to hear about your recent health problems and hospital stay. Can you give us an update on how you’re doing?
Bob Burden: I’m still not out of the woods, but a lot better. I was in the hospital for a month.
Blog@: It was fairly serious then…
Bob: And boring. I forgot what it was like to get bored. You know, when you’re a kid, sitting in class bored, watching reruns, playing the same games over and over again. Kind of fun, like for about half an hour.
The last two weeks were the worst. For some insurance reason they transferred me to a long-term recovery ward. It was a grim place. After seeing some of those people in there, my situation didn’t seem so serious. Some were not going to make it out. Most of them were not going to make it out. I was the only person on the floors walking. Half the rooms on the wing had quarantine signs on their doors.
Blog@: Like for flesh-eating viruses and the like?
Bob: Probably. Wounds that won’t heal, viruses that won’t go away.
And the other half on the floor were all people who had tried doing the stunts on Jackass and got hurt.
Blog@: You mean the MTV show?
Bob: Yeah. You know, they say, “Don’t try this at home,” but they do. Every major city has a ward or two of those people.
Blog@: They had a ward for that? Nooo…
Bob: Not really. But I started the rumor — that I was on the Jackass floor, and…
Bob: Well, I got a lot of visitors. Lots of fruit baskets. Everyone wanted to see the guy across the hall. The guy with the bicycle handle stuck in his head. Inoperable. Drooling. Speaking in tongues.
Blog@: But he wasn’t there. He was fictitious, right?
Bob: Yeah, so I told everyone that they moved him. Or that he escaped.
Blog@: It’s good to see your sense of humor is intact. Has your recent illness slowed you down at all?
Bob: I’m back up to speed now. I won’t be doing much drawing for a month or two, but I have been designing some new characters for the Gumby project this last week. I can dabble and sketch. Just can’t sit over the drawing table for 10 hours at a time for the next few months.
Blog@: What can you tell us about your upcoming Gumby book?
Bob: We’re going to be going all out on this series. No expense spared. Full color, as many pages as we need to tell each story, a real budget and real artists.
Blog@: Who all is drawing it?
Bob: Rick Geary is drawing the main series and I’m writing. Since we are licensing Gumby by the year, we can put out as many books as we want each year. Rick can only do so much, and we were thinking of doing a few specials or one-shots with other artists, if I can get the writing done. This last month and a half took its toll. Also a Gumby coloring book with a different comic artist on each page.
Blog@: Rick Geary is great, one of my favorites, and it will be good to see him get out there in front of a hopefully larger audience.
Bob: A larger comic book audience. Rick’s also worked for book publishers and big newspapers like the New York Times for years. His art’s been seen a lot. By millions, probably.
Blog@: Of course. And we’re lucky to have him doing comics. How did you choose Rick?
Bob: Rick has a real magical style. Perfect for Gumby. He draws like life was made of rubber. He’s got a very clean, sharp style. In a way, kind of like Art Adams, very tight, but more cartoony. I’d say that Rick is every bit as good an artist as some of the most popular Marvel and DC artists drawing today, he’s just not a super hero artist. And if you don’t draw super heroes these days, you don’t get the attention. At the same time, Rick will get a shot for the audience he deserves with Gumby. We’re expecting a buzz that will draw in some of the regular comic audience.
Blog@: I remember Rick from National Lampoon, and –
Bob: Yeah. He did a lot of very surreal short features for National Lampoon years ago. I would buy every issue just for the cartoonists in it. My favorites were like Kliban, Gahan Wilson, Rodriguez and Rick Geary. If these guys were in there, I would buy it.
Blog@: Just for the cartoonists?
Bob: It seems strange but I guess my thinking was I wanted everything these guys did. I was a collector. Back in the ’60s and ’70s, collectors went through piles of Golden Age comics and bought up all the comic books with even a page by, like, Barks, Frazetta, Wolverton, Kurtzman, Lou Fine. There weren’t the lists of who drew what in the Overstreet back then, and there weren’t all the reprints. Then there were people that went through all the old “men’s” magazines and bought up any book with Bettie Page or Jack Kerouac.
Blog@: How did you get involved with Mel Smith? Tell us the Wildcard Ink “origin story.”
Bob: It was all just a chance thing. Mel had just published the benefit book for the Feed the Children charity. We were talking about some of my project in the works and Gumby came up. I suggested he check into using the old Gumby story I did back in the ’80s. I wasn’t sure who would have the rights, but one way or another, I’d like to see it out there as it hadn’t seen print in 15 years. Forty pages of Art Adams art, we got the Eisner for “Best Single Issue of the Year” award — why not get it out there again? Mel ran with it. He contacted the Gumby people at Premavison, they took a liking to him, and they invited him to the 50th anniversary part for Gumby. I wasn’t sure who actually owned the rights to the old Comico Gumby comic but it turned out that Premavision did. They had a reversion after so many years.
Everything was out of the blue on this and unexpected. We just landed in roses by chance and luck. When the option to publish another series of Gumby comics came up, Mel and I just threw in together, formed a company and got the show on the road.
Blog@: Are you working with Mel on anything else?
Bob: Mel has been the best publisher I’ve worked with so far. He’s a great guy and on point with everything. I wish we’d teamed up 20 years ago. I have a lot of project in the hopper right now. I just need some artists to draw them. My priority is to move away from the humor and do something more serious.
Blog@: You were a Golden and Silver Age collector/dealer back in the day, right? What did you collect or specialize in?
Bob: As a collector, I was a fanatic on Matt Baker. He was the best “good girl” artist for my money. He drew Phantom Lady and a lot of stuff for Fiction House and Fox. I liked the ’50s Gene Colan art. I’ve still got a good collection. I had a lot of Simon and Kirby crime and love comics from the ’50s. I still have all those. I have a good run of Plastic Man, Captain Marvel, original Spirit sections by Eisner and a lot of Seeger’s Popeye.
Blog@: For all the continuity fanatics out there, how does this Gumby comic tie into your Comico specials from the ’80s? What’s it like returning to the character after so many years?
Bob: The new series will be more like the original TV show. Actually, when I did that issue, I kind of rushed into it. I knocked out the story before I really had much time to do any research on the character. So it was Gumby and Pokey, but no Prickle and Goo. I didn’t have Gumby doing the shape-changer thing, and there were no Blockheads. It was all drawn just from the vague, abbreviated memories I had of the Gumby Claymation cartoons I saw in my early youth.
The new series is going to be the traditional Gumby we all know and love. Only I’ll have to build on it, build on what’s there, to flesh out feature-length stories for comics. The original Gumby Claymation cartoons were short. Kind of like modern rock videos. They were stunning works of imagination, but they never really developed into epic stories. They were short and sweet.
Blog@: The character’s been around for 50 years now. Why do you think he’s endured so long?
Bob: That’s an excellent question. I gave it a lot of thought. When all this was coming down, there was one day that I asked everyone I ran into — clerks in stores, waitresses, neighbors, etc. “Have you every heard of Gumby?”
Everyone, particularly the women, and women of all ages, they all loved Gumby. They would just smile and glaze over at the question. “Gumby? Gumby and Pokey? I love Gumby!” It actually threw me for a loop. I knew Gumby was popular, was branded, but this went beyond my expectations. Particularly with the female segment.
Blog@: Yes, some characters are just naturals.
Bob: Every now and then a really special character comes along, a character that is lightning in a bottle, a character that resonates with the public like a hit song. Seinfeld’s Kramer, that “Hey Verne” guy, Max Headroom, or Bettie Page. I really think Gumby has that same, special magic.
I remember when Nickelodeon’s Nick at Nite was getting off the ground. There were three or four shows that everyone in the world just wanted to see. Let’s see, there was Leave It To Beaver, The Twilight Zone, The Honeymooners and one other. I think without those shows, they would have never developed a center of gravity, or at least as quickly as it did. There is something special about some characters, some images, some concepts. Gumby and Pokey are like that — they just click with the public.
Blog@: What’s the appeal to you personally of writing Gumby, Pokey and the gang?
Bob: Gumby’s kind of a surreal character. Very fun. A positive character.
More than anything, it’s a challenge. It will be a challenge to make the character work. See, Gumby is a rather sacred character, almost more of an icon than a character, not unlike, say, Mickey Mouse or Superman. It’s a challenge to tell a story where your protagonist is sacred and can have no weaknesses or flaws.
If the protagonist is static, it’s hard to get started. But it can be done. You just have to work at it.
Blog@: Speaking of surreal, what’s the status of Flaming Carrot? Are there any more fumetti issues on the horizon?
Bob: That fumetti issue, Flaming Carrot #5, the all-photo issue, surprised everyone. It just sold out immediately. Was it a novelty? I don’t think so.
There have been a few fumetti comics in the last few years. Was it anticipation for the new Marvel photo-comic series? I doubt it.
I think it was two things. First off, photo comics only seem to work with over the top humor and cheese cake. It’s sort of a Benny Hill syndrome. Secondly, I think Sam Gaffin and his gang did a really incredible job on the book.
I’m anxious to do more photo comics with Sam as soon as possible. Maybe even a Gumby photo comic.
Blog@: Will we see a new Flaming Carrot series coming out from Wildcard, or someone else, in the near future?
Bob: Right now I’m working non-stop on Gumby. I won’t be drawing much for a while, so any Flaming Carrot will be awhile. I won’t be able to do a page or two a day for a while. Maybe four to six months I could get something out.
Blog@: What other projects do you have in the planning stages?
Bob: In conjunction with Wildcard, I’ll hopefully be doing a lot of projects that will be drawn by other artists. That was my plan with Desperado but it never seemed to gel there. We never did seem to get around to it.
I’m really known for humor comics. I’d like to change that. I want to get some more serious work out there and in the hands of readers: superhero, horror, film noir, crime, whatever, I want to expand the brand.
As long as it’s a good story, I think my readers will stick with me.