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Sunday, April 23, 2017

Reggie Francia interviews Scott Shaw! at the 2017 Silicon Valley Comic Con

How could anyone reading DC comics in the early 80s forget the Captain Carrot and his Amazing Zoo Crew ongoing series that ran until 1983? You probably saw it previewed in a DC comic (either as a house ad or an insert), and were immediately drawn to it. If not, you had probably seen references and hints about Captain Carrot in the last 30 years of DCU continuity. We've always wanted to sit down with the creators of the series -- Roy Thomas and Scott Shaw -- and ask about what happened to the series, why did it die out and will it ever see a revival. Thankfully, Reggie Francia had the opportunity to do just that at the 2017 Silicon Valley Comic Con on April 21st. Reggie asked some pretty engaging questions and got Scott Shaw! talking, and, well... we'll let you just go ahead and read the rest...




Reggie: We know that you were a big fan of Jack Kirby when you were growing up. You did some Saturday morning cartoon work (Hanna-Barbera). You were the manager of a comic book shop in L.A.?

Scott: Not in that order, but yes, those are all true. [laughs]

Reggie: Your first Marvel Comics work was a What If idea you pitched to Roy Thomas while he was in your shop?

Scott: That was not my first, but it was one of my firsts. At the same time, I was working on the Hanna-Barbera comics that Marvel was publishing [1978's Laff-A-Lympics]. So I think those actually came a little bit before...

Reggie: ..and this was the "What If The Spider Had Been Bitten By A Radioactive Human?" story from 1978's What If v1 #8?

"What if the spider had been bitten by a radioactive human?" story from What If v1 #8 (1978). Illustrated by Scott Shaw!

Scott: Yes, and the radioactive human was a friend of mine from high school -- Roger Freedman -- who became a physicist. I figured he was the perfect guy to be the scientist to become radioactive. He actually now writes a lot of very heavy material on physics, but he used to letter my comics. So he's very proud that he's in a Marvel comic.

Reggie: From what I've heard, Captain Carrot was ALMOST going to be a Marvel Comics feature...

Scott: It was when Roy had it long before I was involved. He and a fella named Sam Grainger -- who was an excellent cartoonist, although at Marvel he mainly (in the 80s) worked as an inker -- but he did a comic called The Sentinels for Charlton Comics that's one of my favorites (because it looks more like the way I'd draw super-heroes, it's very cartoon-y). Anyways, he and Roy had come up with this idea of this thing called Captain Carrot, and since they were both at Marvel at the time (and this was years before I first met Roy), but they were never able to sell it. So I didn't even see the thing until years after Captain Carrot was published. So mine wasn't really based on it, it was just the name.

The Sentinels from Pete Cannon - Thunderbolt #55 (1966). Charlton Comics. Art by Sam Grainger
   

Reggie: So it wasn't because of Roy Thomas and Jim Shooter having a disagreement that it never happened?

Scott: I couldn't tell ya, but I don't think so. I don't think that had anything to do with it. They did have disagreements, but I don't remember Roy ever saying anything about that [being the reason it was] cancelled.

Reggie: So was Captain Carrot basically DC's attempt at kick-starting the 'funny animal' genre again? It was also a parody feature akin to something you'd find in MAD magazine. Was this part of DC's attempt to reach the pre-teen market?

Scott: More than anything, it was DC's attempt to get some new characters on Saturday morning animation. Because I had been working at Hanna-Barbera. Roy and I actually had met at some of the early comiccons (because I was one of the kids who helped start them). but we really started to get to know each when I started working at a comic book shop near Hanna-Barbera. and he came in there and we became friends that way. That's how I got the job on the 'Man-Spider' story.

Captain Carrot -- by that time I was pretty seasoned in animation --  and DC wanted to do a comic that could be made into a cartoon show. So initially, it was not Captain Carrot -- it was Super Squirrel and the Just'a Lotta Animals. Roy and I did a pitch, and I did a two-page thing, and they said "we don't want characters based on existing properties -- we want new characters that have no ties to Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman". So then we came up with the Captain Carrot characters, and I turned in designs, and then Joe Orlando went over my designs. In fact, there's an upcoming issue of Back Issue Magazine that'll be the first time Joe Orlando drawings of the Zoo Crew will be published. He took my drawings and made them a little more exaggerated.

Just'a Lotta Animals as seen in Captain Carrot and his Amazing Zoo Crew v1 #14 (1983). Illustrated by Scott Shaw!

Then it turned out DC decided that they didn't want me to do it, they wanted Joe Staton to do it. They went to Joe Staton, and Joe said "I know Scott's stuff, he'd be much better for you guys". So then Roy re-convinced them "Scott works in the studios -- he knows what they want". That's how I got the job. At the same time, I was still doing work for the studios on the side.

The main thing they wanted was a show. The second thing they wanted -- Roy and I, at least, wanted to make it funny like the early Mad Magazine. The other thing I brought to it -- I had actually done underground comix before I had did any of that stuff -- and although I wasn't, like, this recent X-Men artist that was added little hidden messages into the backgrounds, I just wrote it from a point of view that, now, when I talk to people who were kids when it was coming out, they say that it was almost like reading an underground comic for kids. I didn't put anything dirty in it, but I did put stuff that was just kinda weird and not what you'd see in like a Harvey comic or Disney comic. So I'm glad that kids liked 'em. In fact, for a long time, it was really hard to find copies of Captain Carrot that hadn't been just 'read to pieces'. They'd always turn up in the 'quarter box', because the cover would barely be on. I loved seeing that because it meant that the kids actually read 'em.  


Captain Carrot and his Amazing Zoo Crew #6 (1982) - pencilled by Scott Shaw! and inked by Al Gordon

Reggie: Marvel Tails -- first appearance of Spider-Ham -- first hit the shelves in Nov 1983 (about the time the last issue of DC's Captain Carrot and his Amazing Zoo Crew was being published). Was this a coincidence, or was this Marvel's attempt to grab up your readers? (Peter Porker, The Spectacular Spider-Ham, published under Marvel's Star Comics imprint, only lasted seventeen issues from 1985 to 1987.)




Scott: Y'know, I don't really know. I kinda doubt it. There are a lot of examples of that sort of coincidence where something's kind of just 'out there in the ether': Swamp Thing/Man-Thing, X-Men/Doom Patrol, there are other examples, too. So, I don't know if that has anything [to do with it].
The thing I was kinda disappointed about it was, though -- and this sounds kinda John Byrne-ish because he has this kinda mentality -- he criticized Captain Carrot by saying "Captain Carrot wouldn't name himself after a carrot". It's like, "well, that's where he gets his powers, John". But it always bothered me that Spider-Ham was named after a cooked pig. It's like, shouldn't he have been Spider-Pig or Spider-Hog?

I thought Man-Spider and his world was... I mean, the guy that drew a lot of issues of Spider-Ham was a guy named Steve Mellor, and I LOVED his stuff. I would've liked to have seen what HE would have done with Captain Carrot. The Spider-Ham stuff never really struck me as being fun or clever enough. Well, I'm not putting it down, but I felt like my version of the animal characters I'd already come up with some that were funny -- they didn't need to recreate it. But of course, I probably wouldn't have drawn it, either. [laughs]

I couldn't have done BOTH at the same time.

Marvel Tales #1 (1983) - Steve Mellor art

Reggie: So we've established that Captain Carrot and his Amazing Zoo Crew was originally being prepped for the Saturday Morning cartoon treatment. Is it true that at some point it was almost optioned as a cartoon?

Scott: It WAS optioned as a cartoon. In fact, I was paid TWICE -- two years in a row -- when ABC wanted to do a Captain Carrot series. The first time, no one asked Roy nor myself to participate in the pitch -- and I saw examples of it -- and strangely enough the presentation was written by Jeffrey Scott (who was out main writer on Muppet Babies about a year after that, and that was at Marvel Productions, oddly enough). Anyways, so I got my payment -- now I only owned 10% of Captain Carrot -- and I got $2500. So I don't know how much DC made. but they [ABC] were paying good money for options. But they decided not to go with it.

So the next season they wanted to option it again... and again, Roy and I were NOT consulted. But this time it was really weird: they wanted the Zoo Crew to have a side-kick of Wonder Woman.

Yes, that was my reaction, too.

I think they were just trying to figure out -- it's like maybe DC wanted Wonder Woman for a show, maybe the case was like Hanna-Barbera, where sometimes they'd take two different presentations to a network meeting and the network would say "oh, we like both of these shows" and suddenly we'd wind up with Casper the Ghost in the future with two lady space CHIPs. (I worked on that horrible show, by the way.) But that's how it came to be. A lot of shows in the 80s were made that way. So I think the networks liked [it]... they thought they were being creative. It actually resulted in a lot of REALLY horrible shows. I think this was kind of the case.

Reggie: Is it true that Roy Thomas changed his car's license plate to ZOO CREW after the title was announced?

Scott: Yes. Yeah, Roy was a very playful guy. He also had a 'Roger Rabbit' rabbit that was nibbling on the legs of their coffee table.

Reggie: Captain Carrot was also meant to unite all of the licensed DC comics funny animal characters of the past (ex: Peter Porkchops, Dodo and the Frog, The Terrific Whatsit, etc). Why did the funny-animal comic start to die in popularity?


Two Funny Animal features from DC's Funny Stuff #72 (1953). Source: http://www.bigblogcomics.com/2010/09/funny-stuff-no-72-may-june-1953.html


Scott: You mean back in the 1950s? I think they had just been -- y'know, after World War II super-heroes weren't as popular, they had new genres. Funny Animals weren't a new genre, but with everybody having, like, the Disney license and all these other studio licenses, there was just a proliferation of them. Then at that point, Romance comics (although they've existed for years) suddenly became a BIG deal, Archie comics became a BIG deal. I think it's just the way comics used to be -- different genres would be more popular than others. Now it's been the super-hero [genre] as the dominant (at least in mainstream) since 1960 or so, and we don't remember what it was like to see [others]. If you're in the 70s and 80s [comics], look at those subscription ads, only about a third of the titles are super-heroes from DC (and probably Marvel the same way when you think about the Horror comics, the Westerns, and there were like two or three Sgt Fury spin-offs at the time). I think Funny Animals just probably played themselves out where they were all canceling each other out on the newsstand.  

1974 DC Comics house ad

Reggie: You started as penciller of Captain Carrot and the Zoo Crew, but starting with issue #9 you became the scripter as well as artist, and eventually became the writer of the series, and then you left abruptly after issue #18. a regular creative team was planned by issue #20, but the series ends with issue #20. What happened there?

Scott: I wasn't delivering work on time. DC wanted the stuff to be more and more involved. And quite honestly, they kept promising me a page rate that never happened -- so I was having to take more and more stuff in animation. Roy was very patient with me. It was not a matter of flaking out, but I had to be able to pay my rent. So I left the book abruptly -- I was very upset about it -- but I felt that I deserved to be let go.

Quite honestly -- and this sounds very egotistical -- but I'm a TRUE cartoonist. I think funny. Maybe people don't THINK I'm funny, but I mean that's what I'm trained to do. Every attempt to do Captain Carrot since I went off the book, they either look like regular super-heroes that have to have animal heads, they're trying to make them 'serious'. They had Captain Carrot recently meet Harley Quinn and I felt bad, but the inker showed him to me at a convention and I said "he looks like a maniac, he looks like he wants to kill somebody". That's not what these characters are about.

Convergence: Harley Quinn #2 (2015)

Recently they did this thing were he had a realistic rabbit head.   I couldn't figure THAT out. They did a thing called Captain K'rot where he's like a space pirate -- he's drinking and going after women and stuff.

Threshold #3 (2013)

Again, it's like I don't understand exactly why, but DC refuses -- y'know, they did have Bill Morrison and I do a new version [Captain Carrot and the Final Ark!] and they didn't promote it at all. And then when we pitched doing more stories we were told "well, it didn't sell", and my answer was that "you didn't promote it".

Captain Carrot and the Final Ark! #1 (2007)

Quite honestly, every few years, the big companies decide "we're gonna do comics that kids like". I never said "let's do comics kids like", I said "let's do comics that kids can understand, but that older readers..." -- Carl Barks was a big influence on me, John Stanley -- all these guys who wrote kiddie comics that adults dug just as much as kids. That was always really my intention.

They don't seem to understand that the only way this ever worked is if it was funny, cute AND appealing. It doesn't have to fit into the way all super-hero comics are now, because it's not a super-hero comic -- it's a humor comic.

The thing that Roy and I -- and Dan -- I have to mention Danette Thomas, Roy's wife, was a huge influence and had lots of input. She was in our story meetings and had an equal vote to Roy and I. And she, then and now, is a wonderful lady and an asset to Roy and a really GOOD writer. She never gets enough credit.    

If I did it now, I'd probably cut down on the puns. Not eliminate them, but just not go so 'double down' on them constantly. Unfortunately, there are very few comics out there now that are trying be funny --  at least in a cartoon way. They might have super-heroes trying to be funny, but it's still a super-hero comic. We treat our characters 'serious plots, silly characters' and that way everyone got (what I thought) the best of both worlds.

Captain Carrot and his Amazing Zoo Crew #8 (1982) - illustrated by Scott Shaw!


Reggie: I tried watching recent kiddie cartoons -- I don't know, I grew up in the 80s -- and I just don't 'get it'. Some are, I think, too serious and the creators feel the kids should understand them already or I don't know...

Scott: I think that when you're writing for children, the first thing you need to do is think "I'm NOT going to write for children". You need to understand certain things -- kids don't understand flashback sequences or sophisticated story elements. Smart kids will look up words they don't understand. Smart kids will go out of their way -- if you're talking about something they've never heard about -- they'll figure it out. All the best children's comics NEVER catered down to kids, they've treated them like "maybe you don't know everything yet, but you're not stupid".

Current cartoon shows, they're not for our generation. You could be my son (I don't know how old you are), but I'm 65 years old. Even so, neither of us are the age group for current cartoon shows. I was talking to somebody the other day: I know that the new Teen Titans show is VERY popular -- the designs are cute -- but I can't stand it. I don't think I'd enjoy working on it. I realize now it's because I'm just not in touch with that anymore. If we were doing new Flintstones cartoons, absolutely.  I worked on Duck Dodgers -- that seemed to work pretty well.

I do like some new shows. I really like Gravity Falls, I really like The Regular Show (even thought it's a complete rip-off of Bill & Ted). I like Steven Universe. There are shows now that are NOT annoying, on the other hand, I've worked on the most annoying cartoon show of all time: Annoying Orange. Sooner or later, I'll have to serve my time for that.

Reggie: It's kind of interesting that you weren't involved in the Oz-Wonderland War trilogy -- Carol Lay illustrated this series (she was an inker on the last few issues of the original Captain Carrot series), and Joey Cavelieri wrote it (he also wrote the last issue of the original CapatainCarrot series) -- since you DID follow-up with a "Whatever happened to Captain Carrot" feature in 2006's Teen Titans v3, and then 2007's Captain Carrot and the Final Ark (a Countdown tie-in). Clearly, the character is still close to your heart. Have you seen Captain Carrot in Grant Morrison's Multiversity?

Scott: Nah, when I saw the cover and the weird rabbit head, I thought "well, this isn't mine".

Reggie: Is this pretty much the end of Captain Carrot as a 'funny animal' as we know it?

Scott: As long as Warner Bros. exists, they will find any excuse to bring back characters that they own. A lot of people aren't aware of it, but they own all of the Hanna-Barbera characters. That's why we're getting these stupid comic book reversions of the Flintstones. Somebody at the top of Warner Bros., or in the middle even, is saying "why aren't we using these characters anymore? why aren't these characters popular?". That will happen with EVERY character DC ever does.

The Flintstones #1 (2016)

When Captain Carrot and the Final Ark came out, there was some executive at Warner Bros. or DC who'd never heard of the characters, and her question was (when they got their monthly stack of comics) "why aren't we doing toys of these characters?" Well, that was one of the original plans -- not only a cartoon show, but toys. Well I've designed toys. I've designed toys for Todd McFarlane's company (with the Hanna-Barbera characters). So I was contacted by somebody from DC Direct who said "They want to do Captain Carrot toys" and I said "I'd like to design those Captain Carrot toys". We were in serious talks, but no papers have been signed. Then he called me and said "the toys have been bumped from the schedule because they need to have toys for The Spirit movie and the Justice League movie" (the one that never was made).

Reggie: And we know what happened with The Spirit movie...

Scott: The Spirit movie was just horrible, and the other one didn't exist. But they never put the stuff back on the schedule. So..

Y'know, they will always figure out ways.  I heard that Space Cabbie turned up in some recent DC project -- maybe a cartoon show? I forget what it was. I mean, that's a DC property from the '50s that only old guys like me even remember.


Space Cabbie then and now 

Reggie: I think I read about him in a Green Lantern issue recently...

Scott: Yeah, but my point is... as long as they own this stuff, they'll never let it die. What they will do, however, is try to change it so it's not the version Roy and I did, so they don't have to pay us or our families any money -- because I own 10%, Roy owns 5% and Gerry Conway owns 5% (that was more of a deal between him and Roy than me).

Reggie: One last thing... this was a question from one of our twitter followers: "I'd like to hear your take on the current environment for comics and if you think they'll be hurt by the popularity of comic book characters in other media. In other words, will the explosion of movies/tv/whatever hurt the books?"

Scott: My opinion is, is that as long as they are making a lot cartoon shows and superheroes about existing comic book characters, more and more children are interested in comic books, graphic novels... y'know,.. the source material. They may not be interested in old comics, but if the companies put out material for them that's good -- that's not just junk -- but I mean find guys that understand how to write well for kids. I think there will always be room for these kinds of books (maybe not talking animals, necessarily). Quite honestly, anthropomorphic is the term that is now used, I still don't quite understand it -- I guess that when it's serious it's 'anthropomorphic', and if it's funny it's 'funny animal'. (Captain Carrot was both, so I don't know what you'd call that.) But I don't think any of this will ever hurt the comics field.

I think that we don't ever have to worry about that. I think what we have to worry about is losing children as a target audience. I'm part of that generation, really -- but when comic fans took over the comic business. I think an awful lot of comic fans were tired of being called 'babies' because they read comics when they were kids, so they're embarrassed to be publishing [comics targeted towards kids]. I mean Disney owns Marvel, yet Marvel doesn't publish any Mickey Mouse or Donald Duck comics? That's crazy! They have IDW publish them. IDW is a fine publisher, but Disney owns Marvel... why aren't they taking the risk of themselves?

Anyways, things will change. Things always change. Maybe the comic business will have to collapse and rebuild itself from the ground up with children again. I don't know. I doubt that will happen with all of these movies, but sooner of later there's going to be too many movies. Sooner or later all of this geek fandom is going to crash. But y'know kids will always love talking animals. I mean, we'll all be dead and buried and there will still be new Scooby Doo cartoons. As much as I hate Scooby Doo, he will outlive us all. [laughs]

Reggie: Thank you, Mr Shaw. We really really appreciate you giving us this interview.

-Reggie

Reggie Francia got hooked on comics back in the '80s because his parents thought it would help with his reading skills. It did help with his reading skills, but it also turned him into a comic book junkie. Being an E.R. nurse, medical devices in comics drawn incorrectly still irks him.

Extra:
Do you want to read more about Funny Animal comics? Try The Big Blog of Kid's Comics. Tell 'em DC in the 80s sent you. ;)

4 comments:

  1. Did you inform Scott that Flintstones is arguably one of the best DC series going right now?

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    Replies
    1. Unfortunately we did not have that info on hand at the time of the interview.

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    2. Cool, I mean, I get his point about recycling properties...but it sounds as if he hasn't actually read the Flintstones.

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    3. The Mighty Scavengers appeared in Spider-Ham # 15,. Goose Rider was the back-up in Marvel Tails # 1, also by Steve Mellor.

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