Saturday, December 10, 2016

A Date With Jet Screamer, Part 1

There’s a wonderful naïveté about rock and roll of the future in what’s arguably the best-known of all the Jetsons cartoons. Rock star Jet Screamer is a clean-cut young guy. Remember, the cartoon was made before the British Invasion, let alone the long-haired, strung-out musicians and singers at the end of the 1960s. There’s no hint of sex, drugs or even rock-and-roll—or just barely one. The arrangements are a big band/jazz mix that Hanna-Barbera musical director Hoyt Curtin loved. Jet’s signature dance is the swivel, a parody of the twist. And the contest aspect of Harvey Bullock’s story (not to mention George Jetson as the anti-rock-and-roll father) faintly echoes that satire musical of the day, Bye Bye Birdie.

This cartoon may have the best artwork of any Jetsons episode. Unfortunately, the original end credit animation was chopped off when the series went back into syndication in the 1980s so I can’t tell you who is responsible. Jerry Eisenberg told me he worked on the cartoon and laid out the “Eep Opp Ork Ah-Ah” sequence with Bobe Cannon, who was brought in by Joe Barbera to work on it.

Here are some of the interiors. Notice the transparent panels on overlays in the first two frames below, how the foliage is handled in the third frame and the geometric shapes in the final one.

Note the drum kit. Yes, George plays the drums. Of course, he never played them before this cartoon and never played them again after. And if it strikes you as being out of character, well, you’re right as far as I’m concerned. It’s a contrived plot device, just as George’s instantly evaporating dislike for Jet Screamer.
Getting back to the artwork, there’s a rare use of shadows in this cartoon.

Even when Jet swirls inside the scene, a silhouette of him forms. Clearly, the attitude in this cartoon was “This is prime time. Let’s make the art special.”

Some inventions of the future don’t look terribly futuristic to us today. Computers are still huge things with punch cards. And people still mail letters.

As for inventions of the future: the old stand-by, the Visiphone.

A satellite tracker, kind of a GPS in reverse.

A big screen TV.

A home paper shredder.

A conveyer contraption that automatically showers and dresses kids.

A robot sweeper (Rosey must be off for the day). Wasn’t there one of these things in Doggone Modern, the Chuck Jones cartoon for Warners?

A two-way radio to talk to people. Evidently, cell phones don’t reach Outer Plutonia. This is the same sort of thing Augie Doggie had to contact his buddy on Mars in Mars Little Precious.

Another example of the Instant Watch Syndrome, when a watch is only worn for a portion of the cartoon necessary for the plot. This one uses the famous Señor Wences “S’all right” routine, best known from the ending of the Quick Draw McGraw Show.

And my favourite invention of the future that belongs in the ‘60s: George’s automatic chair pulls him behind a screen and he emerges with a cigarette and a drink. Younger people today don’t understand how perfectly normal smoking was back then (the U.S. Surgeon General’s report that caused a big fuss in the media didn’t come out until 1964). And then there’s the attitude today that if a kid sees something like this, they’ll take up smoking and drinking.

The cartoon contains a reference to “My Fair Lady” (George reciting “The rain on the plain”), the Indy Race (in the future, it’s the “Indianapolis 500,000”), and the shrinking work-week (down to three hours a day in the Jetsons’ time). And there’s the ubiquitous traffic cop, proving there’ll be some kind of police state in the future. Almost every Jetsons show seems to have police showing up.

Ken Muse animates a good portion of the first third of the cartoon. He didn’t quite have the hang of the characters; Jane’s head looks really odd in some of his scenes. He also animates George’s head outside the bubble of his car. How can that happen?

One other animator I can pick out is the great Carlo Vinci. This drawing of Judy, face-forward, with legs stretched, is pure Vinci. Nobody else at Hanna-Barbera drew like that.

As for the Eep-Ork sequence, we’ll save that for another post.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Yogi Bear Weekend Comics, December 1966

What? Someone other than Yogi Bear emptying a house of food in a Yogi Bear cartoon? It happened 50 years ago this month when the Yogi weekend newspaper comics were graced with a guest appearance by Precious Pupp.

Precious was Hanna-Barbera’s first starring character that had a wheezy snicker. There had been others who appeared as incidental characters in various cartoons put out by the studio. Just as Astro’s voice pattern was later borrowed by Scooby Doo, Precious’ laugh was made more famous a few years later by Muttley.

At the time he appeared in the December 4, 1966 comic Precious would have been into his second season on the Atom Ant show. I don’t recall him being a heavy eater but he is in this comic. I do recall he wasn’t white like in the comic. Maybe it’s his winter fur.

I don’t need to say much about the other comics of the month. I really like the evergreen tree pyjamas and nightcap that Ranger Smith wears in the Christmas comic. Note the references to Huckleberry Hound and Quick Draw McGraw on packages under the tree in the opening panel.

My thanks to Richard Holliss for supplying these full-colour comics from his collection.

December 11, 1966.

December 18, 1966.

December 25, 1966.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Yakky Doodle in Dog Pounded

Produced and Directed by Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera.
Credits: Animation – Hicks Lokey; Layout – Jack Huber, Backgrounds – Neenah Maxwell, Written by Tony Benedict, Story Director – Lew Marshall, Titles – Art Goble, Production Supervision – Howard Hanson.
Voice Cast: Chopper – Vance Colvig; Yakky Doodle – Jimmy Weldon; Dog Catcher, Radio newscaster – Daws Butler.
Music: Hoyt Curtin.
Copyright 1961 by Hanna-Barbera Productions.
Plot: Fibber Fox has Chopper taken away by a dog catcher and tries to cook Yakky Doodle.

Fibber Fox has always been my favourite character in the Yakky Doodle cartoons. Generally, he gets off some funny observations on his own situation in the cartoon to the audience. In this one, not so much.

There are a few neat lines. Maybe the best one comes right at the opening when Yakky is strolling along singing “Yankee Doodle.” Fibber clomps a bowl over him. “Well! A singing duck. How about that? I like some music with my meals,” Fibber tells us.

Tony Benedict’s story incorporates the idea of a dog license (or lack thereof), which goes back to MGM cartoons like The Bodyguard (1944) and Give and Tyke (1958). Fibber steals Chopper’s dog tags and reports him to a dog catcher, imitating Yakky’s stretched-out laugh for good measure. With Chopper out of the way, Fibber spends more time talking to his captured prey than cooking him. The potential feast is interrupted a special news bulletin on the radio. “A very angry dog has just escaped from city pound. He vows vengeance on unnamed fox. That is all.”

Yup, Chopper bashes in the door of Fibber’s cave. Fibber drops Yakky, hands over the dog tags, and runs into dog catcher, telling him he’s a dog and demanding to be taken to the pound. But Chopper then turns himself in so he can be locked in the same dog catcher van as Fibber. Before Chopper closes the door, he snickers just like you’re used to hearing out of Precious Pupp or Muttley. No, Tony Benedict didn’t invent the evil snicker. It was used by dogs in some Huckleberry Hound cartoons before this and goes back to Tex Avery’s Bad Luck Blackie at MGM. The cartoon ends with the van driving past the same lamp post 26 times (there seem to be a lot of repeating background pans in this cartoon).

There’s nothing spectacular about Hicks Lokey’s animation or Neenah Maxwell’s backgrounds, though I do like the sponged tree greenery. The sound cutter uses a number of bridges and other music heard on The Flintstones. I wish I could be more enthusiastic about this cartoon but it doesn’t do too much for me.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Goofy For the Sake of Being Goofy

I watch an awful lot of old cartoons. It isn’t a case of pining for a childhood that is drifting further and further into the past. I don’t have nostalgia for it and really don’t think about it very much. I watch old cartoons because I still enjoy them. Forget the past. Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck are funny today. So are Rocky and Bullwinkle. And so are Quick Draw McGraw and Huckleberry Hound. If they weren’t funny, I’d find something else to do with my time.

Mike Redmond of Indianapolis Star mused about childhood, cartoons and the present in his column of May 9, 1998. He notes his mother’s opinion of cartoons. Mine was much the same, though I think she approved of Tom Terrific. She was annoyed at my delight in Daws Butler’s verbal wordplay. My father had to explain to her I said the word “sheeps” because it came from a cartoon and I wasn’t being serious (Daws used it in both the Quick Draw and Huck series, if I recall).

Here’s what Mr. Redmond had to say. See if you agree with him.

I took some time off, thinking I could get some things done around the house. Also, I had been a sustained bad mood, and staying away from the office for a few days was the least I could do for my co-workers.
So I made plans. Good ones, too. I was going to take care of a little business, do a few chores, work in the garden. That first morning of vacation, I turned on the TV to see if the world had blown up overnight (it hadn't), and accidentally punched into the remote control a number that only a day before had been the Static Channel. This time, though, instead of snow and noise, the television was giving me picture and sound, and the picture and sound were of Quick Draw McGraw.
Oh, happy day! The cable system upgrade had finally reached my neighborhood, and with it came the Cartoon Network.
So much for getting some things done around the house. I sat down to watch, and the next thing I knew it was four days later and I had to go back to work.
Now, I probably wouldn't have been so whacked out had I not stumbled into a Quick Draw cartoon. Of all the old Hanna-Barbera cartoon characters, Quick Draw is my favorite. And this wasn't just any Quick Draw cartoon, either, in this one, he was fighting crime as his masked alter ego, El Kabong. To a Quick Draw fan, El Kabong is one of the great characters in the history of Kid TV.
El Kabonging the mind
Since history is serious, grown-up, educational-type stuff, I was more or less obligated to watch, in order to better understand El Kabong's impact on 20th Century American Culture. That's what I decided to tell Mom, anyway, if she called.
The truth is, it was the first time I could remember watching Quick Draw without Mom standing in front of the TV making a speech about how cartoons were going to turn my brain into mush. She did that a lot during my kidhood. As in daily.
Now that I am in my alleged adulthood, I can see how Mom might have been right. What might I have done with my life had I not spent so much of it in front of the TV, zoned out and mouth-breathing, watching cartoons?
Oh, well. Can I help it if I grew up in the Golden Age of Kid TV, when the cartoons were good?
Fun therapy
I don't watch today's cartoons much. They just don't compare to the old reliables. Oh, there are a couple of good ones – Pinky and the Brian comes to mind – but for the most part they all look about the same to me: On every show, evil aliens from the Planet Gorgonzola to take over the Earth, and the good guys stop them.
Ridiculous. (Unlike, say, a show about a horse who walks on his hind legs, wears a 10-gallon hat and a six-shooter, talks like Red Skelton and occasionally dresses up as a masked avenger who hits people over the head with a guitar.)
What I like about the old cartoons is that they are goofy for the sake of being goofy. They're intended to be funny, and that's it. I don't know about you guys, but these days I need all the funny I can get.
So while it may have been silly to waste four days watching stuff that can turn your brain to mush, I can also say I came back to work considerably less grouchy than when I left. Cartoons are probably the reason why. I think that ought to count for something.
And now, if you'll excuse me, I am going home. I feel another bad mood coming on and it's almost time for Huckleberry Hound.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Rough Drawings and Other Stuff

You want to see drawings of Huckleberry Hound, Yogi Bear, Snagglepuss and Top Cat, right? Well, I’ll cut the yowping and get right to it.

These are from one of the internet auction sites (click to view). Most of the rough drawings have been attributed to Dan Gordon. I don’t know about that (especially since one is initialled by Dick Bickenbach), but let’s take a look at them.

To the right appears to be Quick Draw advertising one of the Kellogg’s Sugar Smacks. More Quick Draw, with Baba Looey. I love the Mr. Jinks drawing. I wonder if it was a game show parody, similar to the “What’s My Line?” send-up that Kellogg’s did with Snagglepuss in the early ‘60s.

The drawing below looks more like it was for one of the cartoons than a commercial. I’m trying to think of a cartoon where he walked holding two guns.

Here’s Snagglepuss, the pitch-cat for Cocoa Krispies.

The first Top Cat looks like Dan Gordon’s. Is there animation around of the Kellogg’s tag from the Top Cat opening? I would bet that’s where the drawing comes from with the cereal company name on it.

A few Flintstones items. The first is from “The Blessed Event.” I gather those are colour indications marked in ink. “Stop 13” must be a camera instruction. If anyone can tell me, post a comment.

Now, two from the “Operation Barney” episode. Fred is “Dr. Sliprock.” I don’t know if Alex Lovy is responsible for the story panels or if Tony Benedict did them.

Huck and Yogi plugging their favourite sponsor. Did other kids sing along with the jingle when they watched the Huck or Yogi shows?

I love this promo drawing, though I’m puzzled about why it’s coloured in. There’s a rough version elsewhere on the blog where the cereal is just indicated. Yogi’s muzzle is rounded here; I’d love to know who drew this.

Finally, from the Jerry Eisenberg collection. It’s an establishing background but I couldn’t tell you what cartoon it came from; I don’t know what series used “S” production numbers. It’s not from “Ben Huck.”

As usual, you can click on the artwork to make it larger.