One of the most memorable and offbeat characters in the history of comics made his debut in the pages of VISIONS #1 in 1979, which was the convention booklet of the annual Atlanta Fantasy Fair. Despite these humble beginnings, he went on to have a long and varied life, being published by several different outfits over the years. He was singular and unique, and unforgettable. I’m speaking, of course, about the Flaming Carrot.
The Flaming Carrot was the creator of writer/artist Bob Burden. Burden was a fan of Golden Age comics as well as the undergrounds and had some aspirations towards being a writer. As this was a fan strip first, Burden didn’t approach the whole thing entirely seriously. These early Flaming Carrot stories display overtly their fannish roots, and contain a combination of the aesthetics of the sort of anything goes sensibility that permeated the early comic book super heroes, before the genre had developed a series of tropes, combined with the in your face bravura of an underground strip, with a more relaxed stance on language and subject matter. To put it simply, the Flaming Carrot wasn’t for kids, and some of the material in these early stories is pretty offensive to modern eyes (case in point: the Carrot’s first foe, the Red Dyke.)
Burden would be the first one to tell you that as an artist, he was a decent writer. But his strange figures and weird characters somehow enhanced the dreamlike nature of the strip. The Flaming Carrot himself was a figure of mystery. His true identity was never disclosed (though Burden claimed on several occasions that he knew who the Carrot really was, and attempting to figure out who was under the vegetable mask became something of a game among aficionados of the series. ) He was an employee of the phone company who read 5000 comic books in a single sitting in order to win a bet. While he did take the prize, this caused his mind to snap, and thereafter he went around wearing an almost person-sized carrot mask on his head, topped with a flame, as well as a pair of flippers.
In his inaugural effort, the Flaming Carrot contends with the aforementioned Red Dyke, a literal communist as well as a lesbian whose minions are stealing pre-Comics Code comic books from collectors–but only the really mind destroying ones. Her Red masters have determined that the generation weaned on Code-approved books had been spared the mind-rotting effects of these pulpy comic books, making them all smarter and more well adjusted than their forefathers. Consequently, the Dyke intends to stockpile these intellect-destroying publications from the past, then beam their contents directly into the minds of he younger generation, allowing for more Richard Nixons and Pet Rocks and so forth to be created, keeping America weak. It’s up to the Flaming Carrot to prevent this dire eventuality from coming to pass.
If there are any antecedents to the Flaming Carrot, it would probably be Zippy the Pinhead, the creation of underground cartoonist Bill Griffith. Like Zippy, the Flaming Carrot is a bit simple-minded and good natured (though the Carrot is also capable of moments of intense violence, and tends to carry a pair of pistols on his person. ) his adventures play out against a surrealistic landscape and often follow dream logic, where events just happen because they happen. One gets the sense of Burden making the stories up as he goes along.
After a couple of yearly appearances in VISIONS, Burden had built up enough of an audience for the character to make a self-published one-shot possible. He continued to offer the book for a number of years in ads in a number of underground and “ground level” Direct Market publications. One person who discovered the strip was CEREBUS creator Dave Sim, who offered to publish a series through his Aardvark-Vanaheim label. As a start, Sim ran a pair of Carrot stories as back-ups in issues of CEREBUS, exposing the character to a much wider audience. (Burden would eventually lend Sim the Carrot for an appearance in the main CEREBUS storyline proper, with the two creators collaborating on the issue, CEREBUS #104)
When Dave and his wife/publisher Deni Loubert divorced, FLAMING CARROT COMICS went with Deni, and continued to appear under her RENEGADE PRESS imprint. And after RENEGADE went belly up, the Carrot migrated from publisher to publisher, including a tenure at DARK HORSE as well as further self-publishing efforts.
Probably the best-known element of the Flaming Carrot canon is the blue collar team of super heroes known as the Mystery Men. This collection of oddballs was interesting and outlandish enough that the property was licensed for a movie, though the film as produced has only a casual relationship with the comic book source material. But it was as big a payday as Burden ever saw from the character, and got his creations seen by far more people than anybody would have ever hoped when the Carrot premiered in 1979.