In 1983, the Multiverse of DC Comics revealed a world known as “Earth-C,” where everything was a bit…cartoony-er. An ordinary rabbit named Roger (no, not that one) found himself in the midst of a dimension-spanning conflict between Superman and the giant starfish known as Starro the Conquerer, and gained access to carrots that turned him into this world’s greatest champion. With other superpowered animals, including Ally-Kat-Abra, Yankee Poodle and Rubberduck, Roger (later renamed “Rodney” for, um, certain reasons) and his friends became this world’s greatest heroes – Captain Carrot and his Amazing Zoo Crew!
Yes, this was part of the DC Universe. Why do people keep asking that?
Captain Carrot recently made a triumphant return in Grant Morrison’s Multiversity, but more than that – DC’s finally reprinted the original 1980s stories in the new Showcase Presents: Captain Carrot and His Amazing Zoo Crew! To celebrate the occasion, we talked to Captain Carrot’s co-creator, legendary cartoonist and animator Scott Shaw (or, as he’s sometimes billed, Scott Shaw!).
Shaw’s detailed, illustrative work was a major part of Captain Carrot’s look and feel, and he was generous to not only share some anecdotes about the book and the character, but also some exclusive original art pages and commissions from his collection. Read on to find out Shaw’s thoughts on the origins of Captain Carrot and company, the character’s more recent appearances, and the many, many animal puts found throughout the series.
Newsrama: So, Scott, how did Captain Carrot and crew come about?
ScottShaw: Back in the 1960s, writer Roy Thomas and cartoonist Sam (Charlton's “The Sentinels”) Grainger co-created “Captain Carrot,” a funny animal superhero designed in the “cute” tradition of Mighty Mouse, Hoppy the Marvel Bunny and Atomic Cat. But they never received any serious interest from publishers at the time, so that version of Captain Carrot never saw light other than in the pages of TwoMorrows' Alter Ego, edited by Rascally Roy.
Many years later, in the mid-to-late 1970s, Roy and I became friends when I was the manager of a comic book shop in the Los Angeles suburb of Studio City. Roy was a frequent customer, and although we had already met at some of the San Diego Comic-Cons (of which I am a founding member),
Roy got to know me well enough to ask me to write and draw a “Man-Spider” back-up story for Marvel's What If? #8. “What If A Radioactive Human Bit The Spider?”, was the result and apparently the response was good enough that, a few years later, after Roy had gone over to DC, he asked me to collaborate with him on a new project to pitch to Roy's new publisher, hoping to take advantage of their short-lived policy of giving partial ownership to creators of new characters and concepts. (I still own 10% of the property.)
We started from the premise of “What if Jack Kirby Drew Mighty Mouse?” and took it from there. Our first stab was the Just'a Lotta Animals – Super Squirrel, Batmouse, Wonder Wabbit, Green Lambkin, the Crash and Aquaduck – but DC decided that they wanted animal characters not based on pre-existing DC superheroes.)
Roy never showed me Sam Grainger's original version of Captain Carrot, so my design was entirely original, and we came up with an origin story that this new incarnation of Captain Carrot would share with the rest of his team of funny animal superheroes, the Zoo Crew.
DC was looking for new humorous characters that they could license for Saturday morning cartoon shows, and since I'd already been working for Hanna-Barbera Prods., Roy and I figured that would give us an edge to realizing DC's hopes. But since I was known to DC primarily for my work in underground comix and Marvel's line of Hanna-Barbera titles, they approached Joe Staton to draw the feature.
Fortunately for me, Joe knew and liked my work and gave me a glowing testimonial. Joe Orlando stepped in to suggest slightly more dynamic design elements to the characters we'd submitted, I incorporated many of his ideas and Captain Carrot and His Amazing Zoo Crew! was finally born. Their first appearance was a 16-page teaser in The New Teen Titans #16, which segued into their own twenty-issue series.
Nrama: What made you want to do a funny animal book? Those were at one point a cornerstone of the industry -- and I'm getting all those Uncle Scrooge and Donald Duck collections from Fantagraphics! -- but by the early 1980s, they were almost gone.
Shaw: Have you somehow forgotten Howard the Duck? But by that time, he was no longer the big deal he once was. I was known for already creating a bunch of funny animal characters for underground comix and so-called “ground-level comics” and Roy and I both loved the Disney duck stories by Carl Barks, so our attitude was “Why not funny animals?”
For that matter, once upon a time, DC published a whole line of funny animal comics.
Nrama: Well, for that matter, I was curious about how the book incorporated preexisting DC animal characters such as Peter Porkchops as Pig-Iron.
Shaw: Again, why not? Other than the Fox and the Crow, who were licensed from Columbia, DC had a lot of good funny animal characters, many of them created by the late, great Sheldon Mayer. I have a particular fondness for his series, The Three Mousketeers, about a club of three mice who live in an old tomato can.
I came up with Pig-Iron, being a huge fan of Jack Kirby's Thing and Gilbert Shelton's Wonder Wart-Hog, but I'm pretty sure it was Roy's idea to use Peter Porkchops as his alter ego.
Nrama: What was your collaboration with Roy Thomas like on the book?
Shaw: Roy and I got along just fine. We'd meet for dinner with his wife Dann, who was a font of ideas herself as well. We'd work out a general plot, I'd draw up pages and he would dialog 'em.
As time went on, Roy passed on scripting duties to me, where I made the mistake of writing dialog for everyone in any given panel. I think that my overzealousness to be funny resulted in some of the most cramped copy-vs.-artwork in any comic books of any genre.
Unfortunately, I was young and very intimidated by working for a monthly DC funnybook, and it wasn't long before Roy called upon artists like Alfredo Alcala and Stan Goldberg to help out. I just couldn't keep up with the monthly demand and wound up working back in animation, where I could count on a weekly check. I still wish I could have been more professional back then and draw the entire series myself.
Not to diminish anyone else's contributions, but I think if I could have stayed on writing and drawing Captain Carrot and His Amazing Zoo Crew!, it might have had more staying power.
Nrama: The book really attracted a cult following. What do you think was the core of the characters' appeal?
Shaw: At the time, there really hadn't been anything like it. Based on the feedback I've had from fans over the years, I think my cartooning vibe of “underground comix for kids” was a major factor in the book's initial success, selling well over 100,000 copies an issue.
There was a lot of ridiculousness and tons of puns, but beneath it all, we tried to treat our characters with respect and integrity and a sense of responsibility. We never “wrote down” to kids, either; we used Carl Barks as our model in that regard.
Nrama: What were some stories you would have liked to have done if the book hadn't been canceled?
Shaw: You've got me; that was decades ago and I've used up those brain cells in concocting the ideas for my next stories. But Bill Morrison and I had a lot of ideas for new stories to follow 2007's Captain Carrot and the Final Ark – a WWII story about the Terrific Whatsit, an evil version of the Zoo Crew, a Just'a Lotta Animals story, etc. – but DC was uninterested.
Nrama: What was your return to the characters in the 2000s like?
Shaw: The only reason I was asked to participate in Captain Carrot and the Final Ark was that Bill Morrison asked for me. Bill's not only a good friend, he was my editor on all of my Simpsons Comics material for Bongo Comics.
I secretly co-wrote the thing with him, but since we were handed a beginning – which sprang from the Teen Titans pages written by Geoff Johns and drawn by myself and Scott Roberts – and an ending – which was supposed to tie into Countdown but never did – I felt we were asked to cram six issues' worth of story and art into three comics.
We were told that the miniseries would be an “official” Countdown tie-in , but I feel DC thwarted our first issue's sales by including a 16-page promotional comic or Goldfish Crackers aimed at extremely young kids fin the middle of the publication. And neither Bill nor I nor the readers like the fact that the three-issue arc didn't have an ending, just an unsatisfying cliffhanger with all of the Zoo Crew (except Pig-Iron) turned into “real” animals.
At least my artwork and storytelling had improved over the previous 25 years and we got one of my best inkers on board, Al Gordon. And fortunately, Joey Cavalieri, a fine cartoonist in his own right, was our editor who fought for the extra time I needed to put into some of the most spectacular pages I've ever drawn, and Stephanie Buscema, another outstanding cartoonist and painter, was our assistant editor. But Bill and I both regretted that Roy Thomas was never approached by DC to participate in the project.
Nrama: And what have you made of Captain Carrot's appearances in Final Crisis and Multiversity?
Shaw: Bill and I had a great idea for a follow-up to The Final Ark's non-ending, a three-issue miniseries in which the transformed members of the Zoo Crew become a new Legion Of Super-Pets, teaming up with animal-related superheroes such as Animal Man, Freedom Beast and Vixen to fight Gorilla Grodd and other animalistic supervillains.
This idea was flatly turned down, but in FINAL CRISIS, neither Grant Morrison nor the book's editor got the funny-animals-turned-”real”-animals right, with Pig-Iron incorrectly used as one of those transformed into a “real” one. I know that Grant Morrison has said that he's a big fan of Captain Carrot, so why didn't he bother to check the final pages of The Final Ark to check the continuity?
As for Multiversity, I realize it's not “my” Captain Carrot but I've yet to read the first issue. (Is he still writing while on LSD? As a devoted fan of Hunter S. Thompson – I even edited an HST-themed underground comix titled FEAR AND LAUGHTER – I certainly hope so.)
Nor did I read DC's recent space-set series Threshhold, featuring “Captain K'Rot”, described as “a booze-swilling, whore-mongering alien space-rabbit”. Sheesh! Talk about a misguided “tribute.” I hear that a more realistic version of Pig-Iron, with no attempt to change his name, also appeared in this short-lived series.
Nrama: Name your favorite pun names/places from the series.
Shaw: The one from Captain Carrot that immediately springs to mind was my Clint Eastwood parody-name, “Squint Beastwood”, although I always dug the name of the Doctor Octopus parody I included in my “Man-Spider” story for What If? even more: “Otto Doctorpuss”. But frankly, I may be the only one involved in the original Captain Carrot series who thinks we waaay overdid the punning.
Nrama: What do you feel is the fundamental appeal of a character like Captain Carrot?
Even when Captain Carrot was first introduced in the early 1980s, comics were beginning to turn darker. In today's market, where there's nary a scintilla of “fun” in mainstream comic books, the concept of light-hearted stories aimed at both kids and adults seems wildly revolutionary and tremendously appealing.
The Zoo Crew are cartoon characters, not over-muscled human bodies with cartoon animal heads perched upon them. And like the classic Warner Bros. and MGM cartoon shorts and the always-funny shows from Jay Ward Productions, Roy and I always went with what we thought was funny without attempting to second-guess our audience, young or old.
Nrama: What projects are you currently working on?
Shaw: I just finished my sixth Annoying Orange graphic novel for Papercutz, which features my 25-page Flintstones parody, “Fruitstones, Meet The Fruitstones!” I've also done parodies of pulp magazine heroes Doc Savage (“Doc Cabbage”) and The Shadow (“The Shallot”) mashed-up with a parody of Pulp Fiction in a story titled “The Seed Of Crime Fears Better Fruit!”
And “Transfarmers – Food Processors In Disguise!” is a five-part parody of those “pre-hero” Jack Kirby giant monster stories from Marvel comics like Strange Tales, Tales to Astonish and Journey Into Mystery. It was a genuine pleasure to work with editor Jim “Saladcrop” Salicrup, who gave Mike Kazaleh (we split each book) and I a lot of leeway in what kind of stories we wanted to tell.
Some people seem unable to understand why, but I enjoyed working on the ultra-punny Annoying Orange show on Cartoon Network as well, and besides, isn't the progression – or maybe it's a regression -- from funny animals to funny fruits and vegetables a natural one? Next up – funny minerals!
I'm also doing new episodes of my autobiographical “Now It Can Be Told!” stories for Dark Horse Presents and working on my Oddball Comics coffee table book for Abrams, as well as developing a video game and various other exciting new projects for print and animation.
Nrama: Anything else you'd like to talk about that we haven't discussed yet?
Shaw: After a false announcement (around the time of Captain Carrot and the Final Ark), DC has finally published Showcase Presents: Captain Carrot and His Amazing Zoo Crew! (And I'm delighted that they didn't wind up printing the cover with that awful “Be Kind to Animals – Buy This Book” blurb that preview art showed.)
I'm puzzled how and why DC has recently tried to re-invent a concept that a lot of people seem to think just worked fine in the first place. (A number of fans have suggested it's so DC can have their equivalent of Marvel's Rocket Raccoon, but I'm not certain that's the real reason. I have my own theories, but I'm keeping them to myself.)
Maybe now that new readers have the chance to compare the original Captain Carrot with the kinda-creepy-looking, blank-eyed one in Multiversity, perhaps DC will finally get the message. I wouldn't turn down any decent offers of returning to finish what Roy and I started.
In any event, please buy lots of copies, folks; I'm supposed to get a sales royalty, you know.
Hop on over to your local comic shop to check out Showcase Presents: Captain Carrot and His Amazing Zoo Crew! And that is the only animal pun we will make, promise.