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4/6/2006

Culture > Feature

VEGGIE TALE
When Orlando's 3-D superheroes meet the Flaming Carrot, will the world survive?

 

In the comics business, they call it a crossover: A character or characters from an underperforming book guest-stars in a more popular title, bringing much-needed exposure to the visitor(s) and ensuring glorious excess for the fans. In a typical example, The Thing would happen to spot his hated nemesis, The Hulk, lumbering down some New York City side street, and – whammo! – it was onward to three consecutive issues of wholesale ass-kicking that readers would be talking about for years to come.

Local comic creator Sam Gaffin knows all too well the enduring viability of the crossover concept. His long-dormant superteam, The Anomalies, shows up in the latest adventure of Bob Burden's internationally established cult hero, The Flaming Carrot. Their earth-shattering get-together, though, was more complicated than most: The Anomalies is a three-dimensional photo strip (fumetti is the canonical term) in which live models are posed and photographed, then digitally manipulated into all manner of outlandish exploits. The Carrot – "real" though he may be to his disciples – has always been a traditional hand-drawn character. Making the two worlds collide meant bringing the Carrot onto our plane of existence, a goal the book achieves beautifully.

The tone of playful discovery is struck on the splash page, in which the Carrot – standing proudly alongside Anomalic compadres Barracuda, Hubot, Future Girl, Dr. Neutron and Mary Mayhem – exhorts us to "take a look at this amazing new photocomic that proves I'm actually real!" The ensuing 31 full-color pages have the heroes meeting up at a mammoth comics convention (Atlanta's illustrious DragonCon provided the real-life photo ops), where they join forces to combat a slippery bicycle thief, a suggestively shaped alien and a mysterious antagonist who is causing everyone's pockets to disappear. Given that no con is worth attending without celebrities, there are cameos by Troma Films founder Lloyd Kaufman, horror-fandom godfather Forrest J. Ackerman and eternally dapper comics artist Jim Steranko. "He's got good hair," Gaffin understates.

The Marvel school of hype takes it on the jaw with the story-opening boast, "Sure to go down in history as one of the greatest works of literature ever created!" But The Anomalies themselves would be history by now if not for the Carrot's patronage. Gaffin tried self-publishing an Anomalies title three years ago, only to have it dumped by its distributor after a few months due to lackluster sales. At the company's suggestion, he worked up a trade paperback starring his characters – and the distributor summarily rejected it. But by then, Carrot creator Burden had seen the strip and been impressed. Gaffin suggested a crossover, an idea the two artists kept revisiting when they ran into each other at conventions. Basically, "I bugged him for close to two years to do it," Gaffin admits. The result – published by Image Comics partner Desperado Publishing and carrying the dual designations Flaming Carrot Comics No. 37 and Flaming Carrot Special No. 1 – is in stores through the month of April.

Unlike previous Anomalies outings, which Gaffin wrote, photographed and designed, this one's script is credited solely to Burden. "I figure he's Bob Burden, so … " Gaffin lets the thought hang in the air before adding, "It was kind of cool. It was more collaborative than I thought it would be." The rough script, he says, included most of the story's basic set pieces, laying a template for photos the two men were to take at DragonCon. While the convention was underway, Gaffin says, "I sat down at a Waffle House and storyboarded as much as I could." Following his usual process, Gaffin then brought his models together in his home studio in Winter Park, deposited them into the already-photographed environments via the CorelDRAW program and made final adjustments in Photoshop.

The highlights include some priceless reaction panels in which shamelessly overacting schlockmeister Kaufman begins to notice something "out of place within the cosmic continuum … as though the fabric of reality was folding in on itself!" ("I think that's his expression he uses in every photo he takes with people," Gaffin says of Kaufman's bug eyes.) A good deal of the fun comes from seeing the Carrot – a surreal humanoid figure with a carrot-shaped head that just happens to be on fire – brought to life. This daunting task was made considerably easier by a Jacksonville fan named Clark Creamer, who posed in a self-assembled outfit that had already won him an award for "Best Comic Character" in a DragonCon costume contest. Plus, as a model, "He kind of had the Flaming Carrot's personality already," Gaffin says.

That's a compliment coming from Gaffin, a tall, soft-spoken guy who's been affectionately sending up adventure-media tropes for years. He and collaborator Mike Goodge made the all-puppet sci-fi short, Buster Kane, Defender of the Universe, which tickled the crowd at Enzian Theater's 1999 Brouhaha Florida-films showcase. Goodge, an art teacher, also hides under the mask of The Anomalies' fish-man, Barracuda.

Gaffin's latest project, The Killer Robots, could be his most ambitious yet. It's an actual rock band that plays live shows, with a heavily made-up and costumed Gaffin on bass and some similarly disguised pals – some of them Anomalies models – rounding out the lineup under stage names like Trog and Strobo. The act, Gaffin says, is "kind of like GWAR" (whose Hunter "Techno Destructo" Jackson appears in the Anomalies trade paperback, in which he gets crushed by the collapsing former headquarters of Orlando Weekly. Wheeee!)

The Robots opened for the B-52's last December, and a full-scale multimedia blitz is planned, including a TV show that Gaffin hopes will combine animation and live action. Of course there'll be a comic book – possibly self-published like The Anomalies, though that experience obviously didn't leave Gaffin feeling terribly enthusiastic about going the independent route. With so much high-profile product in the marketplace, some of the smaller stuff "just gets lost," he says.

So now that the Carrot crossover is a done deal and there's so much Robotic activity coming down the pike, is this – as they say in the comics – the end for The Anomalies?

"I think so," Gaffin says. "Unless something else happens."

arts@orlandoweekly.com
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