A friend of mine posted this picture of a Wham-O Super Elastic Plastic and it got me thinking that stuff like this was the toys of my childhood. Yes I grew up in an era of toxic toys that were made for kids like lead Hot Wheels, Maze games with liquid mercury among others. The Wham-O Super Elastic Plastic contained noxious fumes that had warning not to inhale while you inflated the bubble. My guess is this stuff was made out of nuclear waste and they figured out how to market the stuff. I probably still have some of the fumes stuck in my lungs from playing with the stuff.
And where did we find out about all of this cool stuff was when we watched Saturday Morning Cartoons on ABC, NBC, and CBS. Yes there was a time when there were only three networks and from 8am till noon every Saturday Morning I would plop down in front of the television and not move until the last show ended. One of the cool things that the networks did was every summer they would have these great 2 page ads in DC and Marvel Comics showing what was going to be on in the fall.
A lot of my favorite shows were the superhero ones produced by Hanna-Barbera in the late 1960’s like Frankenstein Jr., The Impossibles, Herculoids, Jonny Quest and my favorite Space Ghost. The cool thing about Space Ghost was that he was cool like Batman but had powers like Superman. He could fly and he had these awesome power bands that he could shoot bolts of energy from his hands and even become invisible. He had young sidekicks Jan, Jace, and Blip the Monkey. He would fight super villains such as Zorak, Brak, Moltar and Dr. Nightmare. The show would consist of two Space Ghost episodes and a Dino Boy episode in-between them.
The great thing about Saturday Morning shows is that the networks would keep bringing back older shows and mix them in with their newer shows. So even though I was only one year old when the show originally premiered it was always being re-shown for new generations of kids to discover them. While Hanna-Barbera animation was done on the cheap meaning reusing as much animation as possible with reusing walking or in the case of Space Ghost flying sequences and usually a lower frame rate of 16 to 18 frames per second compared to full animation done at 24 frames per second. The one thing that they did was have great character designers for their shows. Doug Wildey did the designs for Jonny Quest, Iwao Takamoto designed Scooby-Doo and Alex Toth designed Space Ghost and many others.
It wasn’t until much later on that I discovered how impactful the designers were to the shows that I loved. While the animation was limited the look of the characters were what made these shows so amazing. They also had great backgrounds and really good music by Hoyt Curtin and Ted Nichols who did the music for Space Ghost. But it was Alex Toth’s designs for Space Ghost that are truly stunning. Toth was a master artist and understood design and the impact of visual storytelling. You can see in his designs while they are simple style for animation they are so rich with detail that it’s just breathtaking. The other thing that made Space Ghost so much fun was the stories and while they were repetitive they had good plots and lots of action that helped make up for the limited animation.
The good news for Toth fans is that IDW is publishing a three-volume set containing art from his comics to his work in animation Genius Isolated: The Life and Art of Alex Toth (LINKS to buy Volume 1, Volume 2 and Volume 3). The third volume is going to be the one that contains his work from the animation period. Warner Home Video has released all 20 episodes of Space Ghost on DVD and it includes a wonderful 78 minute documentary The Life and Art of Alex Toth.
They say that they don’t make them like they used to and in the case of Saturday Morning Cartoon this is especially true. First off there really isn’t Saturday Morning Cartoons on the networks and while the Disney Channel and Nickelodeon has shows on Saturday morning it’s nothing like the heyday of network programs. Boomerang does show the classic Hanna-Barbera shows they really don’t have a solid Saturday morning lineup. The other thing lost on current generation of kids is the shows from back then were not made to sell toys or based on them, they had to rely on imagination and stories. The downfall of Saturday morning started in the 1980’s but did bounce back somewhat in the 1990’s with FOX Kids and WB Kids doing animated shows that had some better quality animation and more adult stories that were not solely aimed at kids. Today kids sadly are missing the joy that Saturday Morning Cartoons brought to them. It was a great way to start the weekend and after you had watched all of the shows the kids in my neighborhood went outside and played and talked about all of the awesome shows that we had seen. And of course we would act out the shows and of course I always wanted to be Space Ghost. I only wished that I had my own monkey to play Blip but sadly that never happened. The great thing about home video is that a lot of these classic animated series are available on DVD and some on Blu-Ray. Hopefully some parents will buy these great collections and inspire their kids imaginations in the same way that it did for me back then.