By James Donahue
When I first started reading comics, probably around the age of 11, I read a lot of the mainstream titles from Marvel and DC, Marvel’s G.I. Joe being the very first comic I remember collecting. Gradually, I drifted toward more off the wall small press and independent titles—Cerebus, Megaton Man, the really early issues of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and the like. One of my very favorite books of that era was Flaming Carrot Comics by Bob Burden.
I liked the Flaming Carrot because he was such a ridiculous character. His backstory is that he read 5,000 comics all in one sitting to win a bet, thereby suffering brain damage and in turn becoming a superhero of sorts himself. He wears a giant carrot mask with a flame on top (of course) and scuba flippers. His foes were always bizarre and original and he spoke a language seemingly all his own.
The biggest problem with being a Flaming Carrot fan was the schedule in which issues came out; as in, there really wasn’t one. You were pleasantly surprised when a new issue showed up, but it was completely unpredictable as to when this might actually happen. Flaming Carrot had five different publishers and thirty-one issues in the span of a decade. Dark Horse comics collected the older issues in a trade paperback for the first time years after the series started. So you can see how this could be frustrating to fans. I have no doubt that Bob Burden was dedicated to his character, but in the world of the part-time comic book artist or self-publishing company, consistency is very hard to come by.
In September of 2012, Burden ran a Kickstarter campaign to print a collected issue of older Mysterymen stories and some new material. His goal was $12,500 and he raised an amazing $42,048!
I really don’t know much about self-publishing. Right now, my simple three-panel comic strip only appears online on Facebook and one other website, and I have been woefully inconsistent in keeping to a regular schedule. I am not publishing a complete story, figuring out shipping and printing costs, or trying to get funding. I am just drawing and using the computer to scan and touch up the strip a bit before putting it online.
After about six months of doing strips, I printed some various promotional booklets collecting a variety of the strips and sent them off to newspapers and smaller magazines: The Village Voice, The New Haven Advocate and Hartford Advocate, and Mental Floss magazine, which I thought might be good vehicles for AKJ. Once again, it was all done on the computer—query letters were designed with a template and sent off to the printer with the click of a button. I included self-addressed stamped envelopes when they were shipped, but only received one back (with the comment sheet I included left blank, no less).
So all these years later I have a lot more sympathy and respect for Bob Burden, Eastman and Laird (Ninja Turtles), and Dave Sim (Cerebus), who were all self-publishing or part of small companies. To see their dreams become reality, they had to be creative not only in making their comics, but also in marketing and figuring out ways to get their work out there.
So how to follow suit? For me, the first step is to become more dedicated and consistent online, and then continue to learn more about the world of self-publishing. Online is good testing ground that creators in the ’80s didn’t have. It allows you to gauge whether there is enough interest to pursue publishing or syndication. These guys basically had to go through the printing process and just hope they didn’t end up with basement full of their comic books.
I may have to use the Flaming Carrot’s ability to achieve “Zen Stupidity” to face the world of online publishing without trepidation.