Budd Root: Rooting Around the Basement with Cavewoman

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He's the creative force behind Basement Comic's flagship title, Cavewoman. But who is Budd Root, really? While investigating another story (stay tuned, folks), I had the opportunity to speak with Budd about comics, Cavewoman, and... the Marine Corps?

What made a U.S. Marine want to become a comic book writer?

I've been reading comics since before school. My grandfather (there's a dedication to Gramp in every comic--except for the mature edition; I skipped that one, but I got the idea he was looking over my shoulder anyhow) used to go out and buy me the comics, and he'd buy me the old Famous Monsters of Filmland magazines. He had a cottage on the lake. Back in those days, comics were ten cents apiece, and the Famous Monsters were fifty cents, so I could buy 15 comics and a copy of Famous Monsters of Filmland. That's a good two days worth of reading right there. I'd spend the weekend at Gramps. We'd be out on the side of the lake, using our imaginations. Gramp used to tell me stories; he filled my head with great, clean wonderful stories.

And I'd read comic books. Comics are just such a wonderful blend of using the imagination and using the arts to tell a wonderful story. There's no other medium like it. I think writing and drawing comics is better than the movies. I think you can get the same amount of pleasure out of a good comic as you can out of a good movie, but you can't watch a movie while sitting on the toilet.

[In the Marines] I was in 3072, which is Supply. I used to order parts for jets and deliver them all over the base, which was a great job! You worked nights, and you have the radio cranking and you driving this little UPS type truck, which could haul ass around the base like you wouldn't believe. One thing about the marines, they're a good bunch when it comes to energy--it's always high-level energy.

I was in during peacetime, so all we did was drink beer and watch football. I was reading a lot of comics and I was drawing stuff. The graphic arts department used to always yank me because they'd get behind deadline and needed somebody to help carry the load. At least 4 or 5 times a year I'd spend 2 or 3 weeks in the graphic arts department because I knew how to draw jets. (As a kid, I used to draw the jets flying at Godzilla, and make all the noises. So I had plenty of experience drawing jets and tanks.) Especially for slide shows--Marines love to have slide shows! When they were having a slide show, they'd be like, "Pull Corporal Root. Get him down here, we've gotta draw some jets and tanks." I got a lot of professional experience working in the Marine Corps Graphic Arts Department, even though I was getting paid for Supply.

How did you go from drawing the "hard sharp edges" of tanks and jets to the "soft and curvy" ones of Cavewoman?

That was 1993. They used to have those Marvel Try-Out things--you'd draw four pages of some famous characters, send it off, and get your form letter back, saying "Looks promising, but..." type thing. I had a bunch of those. I had Hulks, I had Supermans. I even had a Savage Dragon vs. The Thing. I still think it's a really neat looking page. But I always got those form letters.

So I had this full portfolio full of comics pages that hadn't got me a job at Marvel. But I went to a Heroes Convention to show off the pages. I got a really good review from Marvel this time, but they said, "You've got to improve this. You've got to improve that." I went away from the convention feeling depressed. I still see kids at conventions depressed, and I know what they go through.

I was walking away from the convention, and I stopped at a comic shop on the way home. At the convention, especially in those days, they just had the specialty books--Golden Age books and all that. They didn't have the new batches. So I stopped by Comics & Toys and I had my portfolio with me. Bob Smith, the owner, was looking for an artist to do a book he had written. Now Bob Smith--his name is James Robert Smith, J.R. Smith--he's one of America's leading short story authors. He's had close to 300 short stories published by everyone from Whitley Strieber to 100 Best Horror Short Stories. So, even though I didn't get a job from the Marvel editors, I got a job by shopping at a comic shop. We did our first book, James Gang. It included "James Gang" and "Johnny Thirteen" stories.

We went through Everett Hartsell's London Night Studios. Bob was just a friend of Everett's, and I don't think Everett really took the book seriously. I'm not sure if he ever really saw it. He just said we could put it up through him. We never got a solicitation photograph, and even though the book was more about teenage rebels, when you have a book called James Gang, you think it's a Western. So it was just in the catalog under "James Gang: Youthful band of rebels fights authority." Everybody thought it would be these guys on horses with cowboy hats and blue jeans, even though the book had monsters in it and spiritual Indians and neat stuff like that--it even had a biker babe who had huge Annie Fannie type breasts, beating up on Ku Klux Klansmen. It had all this great stuff in it, but it was taken as a Western. The numbers were just hideous-- well below 800--which didn't even pay for printing. Bob never did another one, and couldn't even afford to pay me. Seeing as how he owned a comic shop, he paid me in credit. I tell people that every paycheck, including the biggest paycheck I've received from Cavewoman--well over $10,000-- is gone; but I've still got the box of King Kong Collectible Cards I got paid for doing James Gang.

Even though [James Gang] bombed out, it's hard to go back to the real world after you do comics. It's almost like getting a house and then going back to the trailer park afterwards. You do anything and everything you can to keep doing it. So we had some money in savings, and Leslie --she's my wife, my partner, my best friend, you name it; She's my Linda McCartney--got her bonus check, and we launched Cavewoman.

Cavewoman was inspired by Little Annie Fannie and William Stout. I wanted something like "Little Annie Fannie in the Stone Age." Originally, it was going to be a T&A type of book, but it seemed like, as I was writing, it just kept on developing.

Then my grandfather died after I wrote it. He had been diagnosed with some kind of inoperable tumor, and it made me think: "I'm not going to do a T&A book. Let's keep this respectable." I brought the pages (to the first issue) to show Gramp just about a week or so before he died. .

What all went into the personality of Meriem

Meriem is quite a blend. She's patterned after pretty much all the women I really respect. She's got a body with kind of a Little Annie Fannie face with Dani Ashe's boobs and Nina Hartley's butt.

What a combination!

Yeah, it doesn't get much better than that.

How far away are we from seeing Cavewoman: Pangean Sea?

That will probably be out the first or second week of [May 2000]. Then we're going to go full-force for the New York adventures. Each New York adventure--I cut the issues in half--so that they'll be 20 to 22 pages, and we're going to try to put all four of them out monthly. We're just finishing up the Pangean Sea #1 right now, and then I'm going to lay-out all four of the New York Adventure issues. I send them off to Devon [Massey]. He rounds out all the pencils and sends them back to me to ink. I make sure that all the faces look like Meriem, and make sure the boobs look good and all the dinosaurs have the scales in the right place. With Devon's help, I think we should be able to keep [the book] bi-monthly.

Will Marshville ever get home? And would Meriem want to go?

Oh, yeah. Meriem daydreams, just talking with Bruce. And once with Robert--Professor Cook--they're talking to Meriem about what she misses most, and she would go on and on about how she misses going to the movies, she misses McDonalds, she misses ice cream shops. It's hard to find those in the Cretaceous period.

So if there's a way home, she's going to take it.

Yeah... although when she's in the New York Adventure, it's like a state of shock. Suddenly you go from the middle of the jungle to New York City. It's like stepping off an elevator into high traffic--high energy, fast moving, if you walk slow on the sidewalk, you'll get bowled over. I remember getting off the bus on my way back from boot camp, and you have prostitutes coming up to you, you've got guys looking to shine your shoes or carry your luggage, just anything they can do to get money. Now imagine on a chilly fall day, all of a sudden this woman in a bikini shows up in the middle of a New York street. It's kind of an intimidating experience.

Any plans to expand the Basement line to other titles, or will you limit your efforts exclusively to Cavewoman?

We'll be putting other stuff out. We just put out Devon's first book. It's a Cavewoman one-shot, but he's got a storyline he wants to do that's outside of Cavewoman. The main character opposite Meriem in Pangean Sea #1 is Lil. She's a neat character (and I don't mind telling people--they can probably figure it out when they read the issue anyway). She's basically... you know how the NFL and Major League Baseball have scouts to go out and look for players? She's kind of like a scout for Hell, but instead of looking for athletes, she looks for beasts to bring down to "stock up" the Hell's Demons population.

So [Lil] is back in time looking for prehistoric beasts. Imagine a T-Rex who's been demonized--he turns into Godzilla, right?

Nobody knows she's from Hell in this first issue. She speaks with some of the Marshvillians who tell her about Meriem. Lil is thrilled with the idea of an actual cavewoman. She goes out to meet this woman, and ends up meeting Klyde and Harmony, two very intelligent giant beasts. She's got to have them, so she makes a deal with Meriem to bring her to the future if Meriem lets the beasts go with Lil. She doesn't tell her she's taking them to Hell. That's how Meriem gets to New York. The New York storyline will lead into the Cavewoman in Hell storyline, which will be amazing. We want to get Art Adams--he's already agreed to it--to do the cover for the Hell issues. Adam Hughes is lined up to do a cover, and we're trying to get Dave Stevens.

Will there be any more licensed products like the action figure?

We have a resin kit coming out. Frank Cho did a beautiful illustration--it sold for over $1000 on eBay two weeks ago--and that got the attention of a sculptor [Michael Petryszak] who wanted to do a Cavewoman thing. I said, "If you liked that one, check out this illustration that Frank did for an auction we did for Forry Ackerman." There was a beautiful illustration he did with Meriem thrusting her knife upward, right in the underside of the jaw of a raptor, actually lifting the thing off the ground. As soon as we showed the guy this illustration, he was raring to go.