Thursday 27 August 2020

Joe Ruby

His first credits at Hanna-Barbera were as a film editor. You see one to the right from the “Elroy’s Mob” episode of The Jetsons. And if the screen credits still existed, you would see his name on the debut episodes of The Flintstones and Top Cat.

Joe Ruby has died at the age of 87.

A film editor is someone who splices sound effects and music into the soundtrack of a cartoon. That’s what Ruby was hired to do when he arrived at the studio around 1959, joining a team including Greg Watson, who was part of the Hanna-Barbera unit at MGM, and Warner Leighton. But he wanted to be a writer, so he was also entrusted with coming up with some of the ideas for the little cartoons that were between the cartoons on the Huckleberry Hound and Yogi Bear shows, along with another chap named Ken Spears.

I suspect anyone reading this knows that Ruby and Spears ran up a huge pile of credits at Hanna-Barbera and then at their own studio that they set up in 1977. Perhaps their lasting legacy was the creation of one of animation’s biggest franchises starring a cowardly Great Dane (originally named “Too Much,” according to Ruby) and some meddling teenagers solving mysteries. Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? debuted on CBS in 1969 and continues to appear in some way, shape or form more than 50 years later.

Spears once told writer John Culhane in 1969: “Joe and I have adapted. We can write adventure or go funny. We’ve just finished 17 ‘Penelope Pitstops.’ Actually, the traps in ‘Penelope’ are more violent than anything we had in Gulliver—but in comedy you can take it with a grain of salt. If it’s adventure, you accept it as real, even though it’s a cartoon.”

Ruby seems to have been interviewed only rarely. He faced reporters in 1986 while trying to explain his studio’s animated Rambo mini-series would not have anyone get hurt and John Rambo would actually help earthquake victims and children in need.

You can find a fine remembrance of Joe Ruby from someone who actually knew him, producer/artist Mark Evanier, on his web site.

Saturday 8 August 2020

Astro By Nicholas

If you’ve visited our sister blog, Tralfaz, you’ve seen the masthead with the Jetsons’ Astro (né Tralfaz) on a circular dog-walk treadmill. It comes from Millionaire Astro and is one of a pile of scenes drawn by one of my favourite Hanna-Barbera animators, George Nicholas.

Nicholas arrived at the studio from Disney where he had worked on shorts. Before that he was an animator for Walter Lantz.

The original H-B animators could be pretty distinctive and came up with some funny poses. Unfortunately, as the studio added more and more work, the animation got more and more lacklustre. Still, Nicholas did his best. He loved beady-eyed, wavy-mouth expressions and you can see it in this cartoon.

I haven’t determined how much he animated—I’m not good at picking out H-B animators after about 1960—George Goepper and Bill Keil also handled scenes in this cartoon. But let’s look at part of the last third.

First up, Astro runs into a park, begging Elroy to save him from the dog catcher. Nicholas liked drawing cashew shapes for partially closed eyes. And he goes in for bending the muzzle and flopping down an ear to add to the expression.

Astro is shocked in court.

A defeated Astro is taken away by J.P. Gottrockets, who has been awarded the dog by a Jury-Vac (Gottrockets must be a futuristic J.P. Gottrocks from The Flintstones.

Astro’s expression after learning he will, here forth, be known as Tralfaz.

Here he is on the dog walk.

An in-between of him upset that he’s not at home with the Jetsons.

And angrily chasing Gottrockets.

You can read more about George Nicholas in this post.

As for the name Tralfaz, it had been imported by Mike Maltese from the Warner Bros. cartoon studio. The word had been used there, but dated back even further to Cliff Nazarro’s double-talk act. Read more here and in this follow-up post.

Astro, was more or less, created by Tony Benedict. Iwao Takamoto designed the dog first, then Tony jumped in to create stories for him and give him his personality. Tony was also the creator of Alfie Gator in the Yakky Doodle cartoons and had a hand in the evolution of Hairbrain Hare to Touché Turtle (Hanna-Barbera was never a place to waste ideas so Hairbrain was the basis for Ricochet Rabbit). Tony worked on the last of the Huckleberry Hound cartoons and is still with us. He has a book coming out which we’ll let you know about in good time.