Scott Shaw checked all the boxes on a comic book fanboy's bucket list: He helped found the San Diego Comic-Con International; he drew animated television shows for Hanna-Barbera and comics for Marvel, DC and Archie; and he designed comics-based action figures. Along the way, he worked beside his childhood heroes such as Tex Avery, who helped create Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck.
"I'm the kid who got to do everything he wanted to do when he grew up," says Shaw, 63, in an interview to promote his appearance this weekend at the Lexington Comic and Toy Convention at Lexington Center. "I can't remember a period of my life when I wasn't delighted with the stuff I was doing."
Among Shaw's earliest assignments was The Flintstones, which he drew both for comics and television in the 1970s.
"I was absolutely vibrating with excitement," he says. "When I was a boy, I loved two things: dinosaurs and cartoons. And here I am getting to draw cartoons about cavemen and dinosaurs, and they're paying me!"
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To comics fans, Shaw is best known for a funny-animal superhero series he drew for DC in the 1980s, Captain Carrot and His Amazing Zoo Crew. Shaw and writer Roy Thomas packed every panel with visual gags and animal puns. It's still fondly remembered 30 years later, enough so that DC last September published a reprint collection of the full 20-issue run.
"Captain Carrot sold tremendously at first. I actually got royalties from the first few issues," Shaw says.
"There were some people who sneered at it because a lot of comics fans were turning serious at that point. They didn't want to see this humor comic being all jokey," he says. "But I gotta tell you, at the show I was just at in Florida, people came up to me to say, 'Captain Carrot was the first comic I ever collected.' So there. We wanted to produce a comic the kids would enjoy, but that also had jokes the older readers would get."
To Shaw's dismay, DC recently revived his furry hero as "Captain K'Rot ... a psychotic, booze-swilling rabbit" that seeks revenge on the villain who ripped off his leg and turned it into a good-luck charm.
The darker tone reflects the comics industry's modern approach — superhero stories aimed at men who grew up on violent video games, depicting rape, maiming and murder. In DC's Batman comics, for instance, several Robins have been killed, including one adolescent girl shown tortured to death with power tools.
There's not much in a comic book shop anymore that's appropriate for children, which is ridiculous, Shaw said. He still works on kid-friendly comics, but there aren't many left, he says, and they don't pay well.
"I hate the fact that everything has to be so extreme now," Shaw says.
"We may think these characters are really interesting when they're facing so-called 'adult situations.' But in the comic books — maybe not so much the movies — these are still characters meant for children. When somebody picks up a Batman comic and says 'You know, my nephew will like this, he likes Batman,' except DC just did this story where the Joker's face is cut off with a razor blade and he's on a quest to get it sewn back on — that's so sick. I'm against censorship, but c'mon, there's such a thing as judgment. We're ruining it for the kids."
Shaw was a kid, a high school student in California, when he and several friends organized a 1969 fan convention in San Diego that hosted legendary Marvel artist Jack Kirby.
These days, the San Diego Comic-Con — as it's now known — draws 130,000 people annually and boasts A-list Hollywood celebrities promoting their new movies and television series based on comic books. Tickets sell out in minutes. The first year's convention was far more humble, Shaw said.
"Nearly every hotel in San Diego rejected us, so we wound up at this really broken-down place with about 300 people," Shaw says, laughing.
"Not only were there no cosplayers (fans in costume) or anything like that, there were no girls at all. Except for a lot of moms who thought this was a trap set by pedophiles to lure their boys to a hotel. They were standing around the sides of the room, their arms crossed, watching us the entire time, like 'You better not touch my son.'"