Interview with Cavewoman writer and artist Budd Root
Budd Root is the creator, writer, and artist of Cavewoman, a comic book series published mainly by Root’s own Basement Comics, as well as Caliber Comics and Avatar Press. Cavewoman is a science fiction series that features time travel to a prehistoric wilderness and DNA altering of humans to provide superhuman strength and agility to those who must withstand the rigors of time travel. Meriem Cooper, the series’ protagonist, is a vivacious and buxom young woman, drawn in the “good girl” style, who uses her superhuman powers to survive in a harsh environment full of carnivorous creatures. She befriends a giant gorilla, Klyde, and goes on a variety of jungle-themed adventures, including rescuing, then raising, a pair of Tyrannosaurus hatchlings, Harmony and Peace. Harmony remains Meriem’s companion, while Peace becomes one of her deadliest enemies. Overall, the book has become very successful and has seen special issues and one-shots published along with the main title. One of those one-shots, Cavewoman: Jungle Tales, received a nomination for an Ignatz Award for Outstanding Story in 1999.
PopOptiq – It’s well-documented that Meriem Cooper was inspired by Playboy’s cartoon character, Little Annie Fanny, and the art of William Stout. Were there any other inspirations for your art in the comic?
Budd Root – Not really for Cavewoman, but I have a thing called a “morgue” in my studio and it’s a bunch of drawers with pictures of faces, hands, T&A, and legs that I use as models for various parts of my characters. The main inspiration, though, is from Annie Fanny and from Bill Stout’s and Harvey Kurtzman’s “Shmegeggi of the Cavemen” story that was in Heavy Metal back in 1981 or 1982, and it’s a brunette Annie Fanny in the age of dinosaurs. When I saw that I was like, “Wow!” It was a real epiphany. I’ve never been the same since.
My original idea was that I was going to do a sequel to that. I was going to get in touch with Stout – I knew him at the time – and see if he would get in touch with Kurtzman to see if I could do a sequel. But then I started writing down ideas, and it grew into this huge thing. And Stephen Bissette’s Tyrant was a big inspiration to keep Cavewoman going. There were five or six issues of Tyrant, and Bissette received a lot of praise for those books. There’s not a single boob in there, and no superheroes, just some of the greatest comic book storytelling ever written.
PO – Artistically, as far as how you learned to draw, was there a lot of formal training?
BR – There was nothing as far as formal training. I learned from observing the work of masters like Frazetta, Buscema, and Neal Adams. Most of the top artists out here at this convention are self-taught. You know my good friend Frank Cho? He learned from the masters too. Everybody who saw Frazetta and had an ounce of talent basically took it and ran with it, and that’s why we have such a strong comic culture now. It’s from the Frazettas, the Hal Fosters, the Alex Raymonds of the world. Jack Kirby. He would do three comic book pages a day – oh my god, that’s unheard of. It takes me a week to do a page.
PO – As far as starting Basement Comics, how did that come to be and how was that experience?
BR – It was wonderful. My wife got a bonus check, and I had just gotten fired from Walden Books. I got a job at a comic shop in North Carolina run by my good friend James Robert Smith, and he was doing a book called James Gang. He saw my work and hired me to do James Gang. It was so much fun I didn’t want to go back to the working world.
So, my wife got this bonus check from her job, and we launched Cavewoman. I had seen [small press pioneer] Dave Sim at a comic convention years before, and he was telling me, “You put out one independent comic and right off the bat you’ll sell ten thousand issues.” I thought, “Yeah, that’s doable,” then Cavewoman #1 sold fewer than four thousand issues. It was a struggle, and we’re still struggling, but there’s still no better business in the world – no better job – than this. I get to get up in the morning and go into my studio wearing cut-off blue jeans, no socks or shoes, putting on some rock and roll, and drawing monsters and babes and superheroes. It doesn’t get any better.
PO – Do you have a favorite soundtrack when you’re working?
BR – Oh yeah. The Beatles and big bands. Tommy Dorsey. The Andrews Sisters. And soundtracks to Hammer Films and Universal Films.
BR – Back in the early days of The Learning Channel they did a lot of stuff about the jungle and ancient civilizations and that inspired the story. Anything about the real struggles of animal life. There are real savage storylines right there.
It’s also pretty obvious I was influenced by the original King Kong. Some of my characters are nods toward that film. You have Faye and Ray, the two lovers. You have Wil O’Brien, the blond kid. Meriem C. Cooper is a nod toward Merian C. Cooper. Really, King Kong was probably the biggest influence. The ’33 version of course.
PO – Where do you see the “good girl” style of art in comics going from here? What is its future?
BR – It’s only going to get better. As savage and beautiful as Frazetta’s work is – and it’ll never be imitated – the coloring and anatomy is better now. My only trepidation is that everything has gone digital now. It’s going to become a lost art putting paint and ink to paper. A lot of the newer artists never pick up a pencil anymore. Adam Hughes doesn’t do water coloring anymore, and he’s beautiful at it. It’s all computerized now. The talent level now, though, is phenomenal.