Bob Burden. An unassuming name, but perhaps a title for a king. Maybe even a mayor. Certainly, he's someone with an ear to the old trail and a mind's eye on the LSD-painted fancies of the blurred generational consciousnesses of the Twentieth Century.
I don't recall when I first met Mr. Burden's work, but I know when I met Mr. Burden himself. It was out in Chicagoland where I found myself attending a major-sized comic book convention. An old acquaintance, now lost to seemingly endless aftershocks of emotional tempestuousness and the perpetual clashing of bruised egos, and I found ourselves out that way with the youngest member of a certain well-to-do local family. There was music and bad food on the way down and West from the scabrous streets of Gun Ru. When we arrived we were whisked into the convention hall, past stormtroopers and bikini babes, by friends dealing their own works of independent comic bronze. My how my eyes grew when I beheld the floor of that media-crazed, costumed wonderland.
I knew heading in that Bob Burden was scheduled to attend the event so I quickly wandered off in various directions given by sources dressed in all manner of sci-fi and superhero costumes in hopes of stumbling upon the legend himself. Not too long in I found a large Gumby Comics display ripe with Burden-vibes. Standing before it was a moustachioed huckster claiming to be the publisher, offering apologies for Bob's tardiness. Not too long after he bellowed claims of Bob's eventual arrival did Bob Burden himself mosey over, seemingly jet-lagged from what must have been an early AM flight out of Atlanta, GA (his base of operations, I believe). A tall fellow, he stood slouching slightly, in a grey sport coat, his eyes drooping from apparent fatigue.
The moment came, as it always seems to, when all my planning, all the valid, well-worded questions I had composed vanished into the ether, surely to inconveniently revisit me later in the day on the drive home. Unfortunately for me this came just as I approached the man who had not even had time to round his table to take his seat. His publisher, constantly making promises with Bob's time, thrust us together, shouting that Bob would be glad to sign everything and anything. I winced for Bob in that moment.
Staring at him as he eyed what I was holding I thanked him for his work in shaky speech and asked if he would please sign my copy of his Mysterymen graphic novel. He produced a green marker and proceeded to sign not only the item I brought but also a copy of his Gumby collaboration with the amazing Rick Geary. Hell, the man even picked up an Art Clokey postcard (one of many at the table) and sketched out a sheepishly smiling Flaming Carrot for me on its back. As he worked the green, felt-tipped marker he wore a slight smirk, though his eyes remained exhausted. My geek mind was blown, to put it crudely and to incredibly understate the joy I felt from witnessing that moment. As if signing and sketching wasn't enough, the dear fellow, tired as he seemed, stood beside me, after putting the finishing touches on Flaming Carrot, to pose for a photo.
Looking back I must say that I truly cherish that moment. Of all the convention experiences I've had since I can't think of one that really tops it. Meeting one of my heroes was for me a time in my life when I realized that reality and fancy can merge for a moment to make me a believer in life's miraculous potential. There was a concern that I was asking too much of the man, but I was too engrossed in a struggle to process what had just occurred at the time to make an effort to be conscientious. Besides, nothing I asked could compare to the outrageous fan-fellow who stood next in line. As I walked away from Mr. Burden I heard his publisher repeat what the next admirer asked but with an answer to their query. "Could Bob sign all of your individual Flaming Carrot collector's cards? Sure he can!"
Flaming Carrot, the Mysterymen, Invincible Man, and many other titles and side projects were all spun from a mind that thrived though surrealism like a devout catholic would through the catechism. Bob Burden has a tendency to delve into the odd corners of the shadowy realm of the dreams of humanity and pull out the most random items for his, and maybe our, amusement. They talk of a woman breast-feeding a dictionary. There's rumour of a diaper-wearing spider. Hey, who's that man wearing flippers and a fire-topped carrot mask?! Burden's mind houses many interesting, perhaps insane things. I won't touch the dictionary to find out until it's had its fill, though.
If I think back, beware the wavy lines of yet another flashback, I can remember my uncle taking me to see Mysterymen in theaters. There was a time prior to that when I found ads proclaiming the happenings surrounding the exploits of the "Dreadnought of chicanery!" Mr. Burden's iconic character, Flaming Carrot, has been woven throughout my developmental years like so many strands of quality wool in the sweater of my being. The Carrot and other products of the Burden-mind have attracted my attention for what feels like ages now. I've gone on at length to any and all who will listen, and some who won't, about the many curious characters, references, odd-looking panels, and in-jokes scattered throughout the man's books. Will you take my advice if I say you should read some, dear reader?
To really describe what you'd find in the Carrot's adventures or the Mysterymen or Robot Comics or whatever else Mr. Burden has produced would take a lot of time and some effort on your part to think six directions at once and still possess the ability to hold your place in the moment. Then again I could just be vomiting so many words out until I feel that maybe you'll have found your way to a local comic book shop and done your own digging through the bagged and boarded jungles. I have faith that in time, if you've read this far and still find the energy to continue on, you will find your way into the black and white, newsprint pages which issued forth from the genesis grounds which house themselves in the sketchbooks of one of the greatest fellows to work in the medium of comics.
Till next time, amigos!