Category Archives: Cartoons

This Month’s Great Cover Ended An Era And Started Another

36586

In the mid-1950s, the US Government seemed to believe that comic books were turning America’s youth into juvenile delinquents. Rep. Estes Kefauver (D-Tenn) led the charge in Congress to stop the evil influence of comic books on America’s future. Funny. I thought the 1950s was when America was great. Huh.

Well, anyway.

There was one company in particular that really drew the attention of America’s decency standards keepers: EC Comics. In those days, EC was the comic book publisher that was most consistent in publishing quality comic books. The stories were intriguing and challenging and the artwork was some of the best in the industry, as this month’s cover by Johnny Craig demonstrates.

The cover is from issue number 22 of Crime Suspenstories (May, 1954) and it became the centerpiece of the US House Committee hearings on comic books, led by the worried Rep. Kefauver. The Congressman grilled then owner of EC, William “Bill” Gaines, on whether or not he considered a cover depicting a murdered woman with a man holding her severed head to be in good taste. Gaines thought it was for a horror comic book not necessarily meant for kids.

Gaines pointed out that the cover didn’t show the viscera of the severed neck nor of the body laying on the floor. However, I’ve read somewhere that Craig had originally drawn the cover depicting where the neck had been cut. It was redrawn to tone it down.

Well, the hearings led to the industry forming the Comics Code Authority in 1954. This body was to set down rules as to what could and could not be depicted in comic books. The Comics Code Authority remained active until the early 2000s, but their power had been eroding for years before then.

Soon after the Comics Code came into being, Bill Gaines shut down all of his comic book titles. Ending an era. He turned his attention to a magazine that had started as a comic book. Magazines weren’t subject to the Code, so he could do what he liked with them. And he liked satire. The magazine was Mad. And so began another era.

Phew, so much for the history. Now let’s look at that controversial cover…

First there is the general layout of an EC cover. There’s the banner title with a solid color for the background. The art is framed in a square taking up about two thirds of the cover. Marvel Comics would adopt this layout for a time in the 1970s.

The artwork itself is very well drawn by Craig. Craig’s execution is terrific. Without having it detailed for us, the positioning of the body on the floor, the look on the victim’s face, and the blood-spattered (done in black) axe tells the viewer that a man has just loped off a woman’s head. The under lighting on the severed head and the murderer’s arm add to the drama.

But, Craig has also done two things that are quite subtle. First is the positioning of the axe. I may be reading something into this that isn’t there, having a dirty mind as I do, but there’s a certain phallicness to it, don’t you think? Of course it might just be, that given the design and layout constraints, that was the best way for Johnny Craig to show the man had a blood-soaked axe.

The second subtle touch is the murderer’s posture. The man is not drawn hunched forward in a position that would indicate shame. No, this man is standing upright. His shoulders held back, his chest pumped out. This pose looks to me as though he’s happy – proud! – of what he’s done.

These subtle touches along with the fabulous execution make this a great cover. It may have ended EC Comics, but it gave us Mad Magazine. Not a terrible trade-off.

Packing Peanuts!

Feel free to comment and share.

Images used under Fair Use.

Advertisements
Tagged , , , , , ,

My Three Favorite Episodes Of The Original Jonny Quest

jonny-quest

It has long been my favorite Saturday morning kids’ cartoon show, except it didn’t start life on Saturday mornings. Jonny Quest actually started life as a prime time animated series for a general audience. I didn’t see it when it originally aired. I was a little too young then. In fact, I wasn’t even born until the series was halfway through its original run, so I first saw it when it made its way to Saturday mornings.

This is going to a bit on the morbid side, but the main difference between the original series (which is the only version I’ll talk about, because I hated all of the other incarnations of the show) and other kids’ cartoon shows was that people died in Jonny Quest’s world. That just isn’t allowed in cartoons for kids. In fact, I recall an episode of Thundarr the Barbarian in which the “barbarian” and his team were battling several knights in shining armor. One of the enemies was punched hard enough to fall apart revealing it to be a robot. Realizing they weren’t living beings, Thundarr let his team know it was OK to stop pulling their punches. Man! I thought barbarians were always set to kill.

So, in Jonny Quest, if a jet plane blew up, we wouldn’t see the pilot parachuting to safety. If there was a gun fight, people got shot and died. There was even one episode in which Race Bannon used the plow of a bulldozer to ricochet his shot around a corner to kill a bad guy. And we know Race got him, because the fellow fell into sight having been the recipient of an incredible shot. That Race Bannon. What couldn’t he do?

Jonny Quest was also the first prime time animated series in which the characters were rendered to look like actual people. Not stylized the way the characters in its predecessor The Flintstones were depicted. The Quest characters were simplified, sure, but they had hands with five digits instead of the typical cartoon four. And they looked like people. The overall design was terrifically done by illustrator Doug Wildey. Wildey gave the series a comic book illustration style, using lots of black and varying line weight. Most animated series use a thin unvarying line, which isn’t as interesting to this viewer.

It was produced by the giants of television animation Hanna-Barbera, who had pioneered a style of animation that limited the amount of drawing that needed to be done, making a weekly animated series economically possible. And Hanna-Barbera had several series, some in prime time, others on Saturday mornings. Even with that process there would still be time crunches and at times the animation suffered.

What never suffered in the original series was the score. It was excellent. Hoyt Curtin was the composer and his musical score is among the best ever for any adventure series. It enhanced the action and set the tone so perfectly for each scene. And the opening theme is perfect.

BeefGrapeBannon

Watch your mouth, Race!

The series was not without its flaws. It was produced in the 1960s and wasn’t terribly sensitive in its portrayals of people who weren’t of the Western world or white. When depicting more primitive societies or Asians or Egyptians, etc. the languages spoken would just be gibberish. When issuing the series on DVD at least one line of dialogue was removed from the episode titled Pursuit of the Po-Ho. Bannon had painted himself purple in order to impersonate a god of the primitive Po-Ho people. He was attempting to instill the natives with fear. In doing so, Race called them “heathen monkeys.” That line was removed.

As an adventure series, Jonny Quest really captured my interest. The design and music were great. I loved the characters, although their dog Bandit would get rather tiring at times. All that barking. Which, incidentally, was provided by Don Messick, who was also the voice of Dr. Benton Quest for most of the series.

So, here are my Top Three Favorite Episodes:

The_Robot_Spy_title_card

3) The Robot Spy (Originally aired November 6, 1964) This episode wasn’t a favorite when I was a kid, but as I got older I grew to appreciate it. It features Dr. Quest’s arch-nemesis the mysterious Dr. Zin. Zin really has it in for Quest and he wants to steal the secret of a powerful ray gun Quest is developing, so he sends in an unusual spy. It’s a robot designed so simply, it’s essentially just a large black metallic ball, that it is treated as a curiosity, which Quest brings into the secret military compound. It turns out the black ball has an eye and legs and tentacles that, when they strike the guards, can render them unconscious.

68ca6e90514fa67a51c36968a2a357c6

Dr. Zin was a recurring villain. This episode was his second of three appearances and I’m certain that, had there been a second season, there would have been more Zin. My research tells me that later versions of the series featured Dr. Zin very prominently, but I don’t care about those shows. Those were made for kids.

The_Curse_of_Anubis_title_card.png

2) The Curse Of Anubis (Originally aired October 2, 1964) Jonny and his crew have been invited to Egypt by archeologist Ahmed Kareem, an old friend of Dr. Quest’s. Unknown to Quest, Kareem had become a radical Arab nationalist and he plans to frame Quest for the theft of ancient Egyptian treasures, which Kareem had in fact stolen. The radical believes this deception will unite the Arab nations against the Western world. However, in stealing a sculpture of the god Anubis, Kareem unknowingly causes a mummy to return from the beyond to punish those who had violated an ancient tomb.

Anubis_holds_Kareem_over_his_head

What I really like about this episode is the ever encroaching threat of the mummy. However, no one is aware that the mummy has been reanimated and is on their trail. In the end, when things seem most desperate for our heroes, the mummy arrives to exact justice.

This one uses Curtin’s score particularly well when building the tension of the stalking undead avenger.

The_Invisible_Monster_title_card.png

1) The Invisible Monster (Originally aired January 28, 1965) This is a popular favorite and it’s easy to understand why. Dr. Quest gets an urgent call from a scientist friend whose experiment had gone terribly wrong. Somehow he had created an invisible creature that feeds of electrical energy.

The Quest team head to the remote tropical island where Dr. Quest’s colleague had been running his experiment. But they are too late. The scientist’s lab has been destroyed and he has disappeared and is feared dead. Something has left footprints and a path of destruction in its wake. Part of that destruction is a local village of island natives.

There is so much that is cool about this episode. The invisible menace, the sounds it makes, and, when Jonny gets an idea how to make the creature visible, it looks great. A giant hump of a creature with one eye and a gaping mouth. Such a good episode.

paint2

That first season had plenty to like: Admirable heroes, interesting villains and monsters, great futuristic gadgets, exotic locations, and plenty of adventure. All with fantastic music, great sound effects, terrific design, and people who would actually die.

If you would like to hear me and a couple friends go on about how great this series is, you can download my friend’s podcast The Assault of the Two-Headed Space Mules episode #29.

Packing Peanuts!

Update 5/25/18: It occurred to me I ought to link to the source of much of the information I related  here. It’s from a fan produced YouTube documentary about the original series. It’s in three parts and filled with lots of interesting insights. Click here to see part one.

Feel free to comment and share.

Images used under fair use.

Tagged , , , ,

Scooby Doo, How Could You?

Writer’s note: The following is another blog ripped from my personal blog at dimland.com. It has been updated and rewritten just a little bit…

I’m a skeptic. What that means is I require good, scientific evidence before I accept an extraordinary claim. I’ve learned that, throughout history, ever mystery ever solved has turned out to be not magic. Not ghosts. Not demons. Not monsters. Not any paranormal or supernatural phenomenon at all. Nope. The mysteries all turn out to be something in this world and not out of this world. (Thanks to Tim Minchin and Michael Shermer for much of what I just wrote are their words.)

latest

The Saturday morning cartoon series Scooby Doo, Where Are You? did a lot to set a skeptical foundation for a generation of kids. Debuting in 1969, the series followed a group of four kids and their dog who traveled the countryside looking for mysteries in need of solving. These intrepid trust-funders (there was never any mention of any of them having a job) would stumble upon a mystery involving apparently supernatural causes. They would then search for clues. Chased by ghosts, witches, werewolves, and other assorted creeps, our heroes would manage to reveal the truth and catch the bad guys.

Mystery+Machine3

The bad guys never turned out anything anywhere near being supernatural. It was never a ghost or a witch or a werewolf. It nearly always turned out to be someone in a costume, except that one time when it was a robot run amok in an amusement park. It’s a wonder the gang, especially Shaggy and Scooby, would continue to be scared of g-g-g-ghosts. After all the times the mystery turned out not to be supernatural, you’d think they would no longer believe in ghosts or anything similar.

I watched Scooby and the various later incarnations up until Scrappy Doo came along and ruined the show. But, even up to that point, the mysteries were always normal and natural phenomena.

In 1999 came the full-length animated special Scooby Doo and the Witch’s Ghost. A few years ago, my son was watching that adventure on DVD when I came home from work. I was shocked and disappointed. Sometime during the 30 years since Scoob and the gang debuted, the ghosts had become actual ghosts! No! Say it ain’t so.

witch's+ghost+1

The show featured a grrl rock band called The Hex Girls. They referred to themselves as “eco-Goths.” From what I could tell that meant they were rockin’ girls that liked to look like the undead and sing about saving the earth. All the Goth look with none of the nihilism.

One of the group was Wiccan. No problem. But the show kept treating Wicca as though it was an ethnic group and not a religion. I may be wrong, but I don’t think Wicca can be considered an ethnicity.

But, I’m just picking nits.

What really bothered me was the fact Hanna-Barbera, the producers of Scooby Doo, thought it would be a good idea to drop the no supernatural policy and have an actual ghost witch in the story. My skeptic’s heart was broken.

The first two thirds of the show followed the original Scooby Doo ethos by having bad guys in costumes using trickery to scare people, but in act three it went supernatural. A character who turned out to be a double-crossing villain found a book of spells and released the witch’s ghost from whatever limbo in which it had been imprisoned. This time it wasn’t smoke bombs and mirrors or any other tricks. This time it was magic. Actual magic.

witch's+ghost

That’s not smoke and mirrors, it’s an actual ghost witch. For shame!

It took the Wiccan girl, who was pure of heart, to read the spell that re-imprisoned the witch’s ghost. Mystery solved.

I was appalled. I explained to my son how it was wrong for Scooby to have been promoting the supernatural, after having shown kids that such mysteries always have a real world explanation. Scooby had taught kids that the supernatural, the paranormal, and the unexplained are merely mysteries that can be solved without invoking magic.

I don’t have a problem with other TV shows and movies, for kids or adults, indulging in supernatural fantasy. I am a a fan of The X-Files, Jonny Quest (the first season), Harry Potter, Dracula, Frankenstein, haunted house stories, etc. Those shows always allowed for the supernatural to be real (despite Scully’s protestations). Scooby Doo didn’t accept the magic when it started and for years after. But when Scooby Doo went supernatural, I felt betrayed.

Scooby Doo, how could you?!

Packing Peanuts!

Feel free to comment and share!

 

Tagged , , ,

Another Month, Another Great Cover

One of my favorite parts of my job entering comic books into Nostalgia Zone‘s online catalog is getting to check out some pretty cool comic book covers. I get to see books that I might not have sought out, because they aren’t part of what I’m interested in in comic books. I was never a fan of Archie comics. The Harvey titles never did anything for me. I’m just not into funny comic books. I’m a Marvel Comics kid and I like superheroes.

I have a running list of great covers from our catalog, so I have plenty of material for this monthly series. And this time? Dude! It’s a Dell.

Dell Comics didn’t do much for me as a comic book collector either. They did some superhero stuff in their wide range of genres, but those superheroes were…kinda lame. Dell did many movie and television show adaptations, along with science fiction and ghost stories, Westerns and war stories. But they mostly did the funny stuff. They believed in the comic part of comic books.

154502

This month’s great cover (see above) comes from Dell Comics‘ Four Color series. Each month, in the Four Color series would be a different featured character or genre even. Dell would rotate these characters and genres, so one month you’d get a Zane Grey Western, the next month would be an Andy Panda story, then there would be Donald Duck, and the month after that would be Bugs Bunny. The characters and genres would rotate, so a few months later readers would get a new book with Donald Duck or Zane Grey, etc.

From comic books’ Golden Age (1938 – 1955), I present Dell Four Color #200 (October 1948) featuring Bugs Bunny, Super Sleuth. The artist was Ralph Heimdahl and his work is terrific. These old school comic book illustrators really were masters at inking. Look at the weight variation of Heimdahl’s line work. Very expressive and disciplined.

I like Bugs‘ pose and the look on his face. Normally, Bugs was super cool and in control, but there were times when he would be affected by fear. This cover is one of those times.

Bugs also feels as though he is in a place, a setting. There is a real feel to our hero standing on stairs and heading into a scary house. Most covers featuring cartoon characters such as Bugs are more character focused, with little or no background. This one deviates from those typical covers by giving Bugs a place to inhabit.

The composition is excellent. The rendering and dark coloring of the wall, stairs, and banisters, along with our hero’s expression and pose, give a feeling of mystery and danger. The motion lines at the bottom of the bright yellow door indicate Bugs is opening the door quickly so as to possibly catch someone in the act. Just what does he see inside that house?

It’s a great cover.

Packing Peanuts!

Feel free to comment and share.

Tagged , , ,

I Didn’t Like Curious George

Note: This is another post pulled from my blog at dimland.com. It has been updated, revised, and corrected. And, yes, I know George is a chimpanzee. It’s just more fun to say monkey.
Back before my 13 year-old son had attained school age, like most parents, I ended up watching plenty of children’s programming with him. Programming I would otherwise never watch. I know it’s for kids. And I know anything is possible in cartoonland, but some of the stuff he watched really drove me crazy.
My wife and I had our son watch the children’s’ programming available on PBS and a few of the shows were pretty good. I liked Fetch, Arthur, and, especially, Word Girl. Word Girl was particularly good because the producers realized that adults would be watching with their kids, so why not entertain them, too?
There was one program, however, that consistently got under my skin. It was Curious George. What world does this monkey live in? Believe me, I would try to suspend my disbelief, but it got so difficult when George caused so much damage. He flooded the apartment building he lived in, he stole the other tenants’ recyclable containers before the items had even been used, he splashed paint all over an empty apartment. And he never got in trouble! The Man in the Yellow Hat, George’s owner, must have been worth millions or had quite the insurance policy to cover all the damage his monkey did.

In the show, people don’t realize George is a monkey. Well, they do, but they treat him as though he is human. In one rather excruciating episode, George finds himself in a department store that has a candy counter run by an incredibly stupid woman. Naturally, she and George hit it off.

By the way, Mr. Yellow Hat is constantly leaving George on his own, even though he should know that any time George is left alone, mayhem ensues.

Well, the candy counter owner realizes that she’s running low on inventory, so she leaves George (a monkey!) in charge and traipses off, in the middle of the day, to get more candy. Shouldn’t she have realized she was running low on inventory earlier? Can’t she temporarily close the candy counter? Can’t she have the candy delivered?

Nope, she leaves the monkey in charge.

What had been a slow day at the candy counter suddenly becomes very busy, now that the human has left. Do any of the customers find it unusual that there is a monkey waiting on them? Do any of them consider that the monkey, being a monkey, may have difficulty comprehending their orders? Of course not!

George makes a huge mess of the candy counter and ends up giving away almost all the candy. Somehow the moronic humans thought he was giving away free samples. But what was George to do? He’s a monkey.

The numbskull candy seller finally returns. She sees her station in shambles and realizes that George (a monkey!) had given away so many free samples that, even if she sells all that is left, she won’t be able to afford new inventory. She’ll have to go out of business.

George is sorry and says something in monkey language. I think it translates to, “What did you expect, dumbass? You left your business in the care of a monkey!”

This is PBS cartoonland, after all, so nothing really bad happens. Somehow, despite her certainty of bankruptcy, she gets so many new customers, because of George giving away all those free samples, that she stays in business. I don’t know how she managed that. She said she wouldn’t be able to stay in business even if she sold all of the candy, so what gives? Were her new customers big tippers? Talk about voodoo economics.

Thinking back on those cartoons, one of the biggest problems I had with the PBS kids’ shows was the fact that no one ever really gets in trouble. With the exception of Arthur, on which the kids get grounded or some other consequence for carelessness or bad behavior, PBS cartoon characters are always just forgiven when they say they’re sorry. “Oh, that’s OK. It was an accident.”

My wife said that she thought PBS was more concerned that kids understand they should apologize for mistakes or bad behavior. I agree that is important, but it’s also important that kids learn that careless or bad behavior may result in loss of privileges or trust. Why adjust your behavior if all you have to do is say sorry and all is forgiven?

But, in Curious George’s case, what can you do? He’s a monkey!

curious-george
Packing Peanuts!
Feel free to comment and share.
Tagged , ,