Envisioned



Schoolhouse Rock promo art © circa 1973, and logo & characters TM/®, ABC-TV.

My bed had a quilt over the top sheet, and then a dark-green cover (made of corduroy or something like it) over that, with matching cylindrical pillows for show that went at the head and foot. I had a single — or twin, which never made sense to me if you only have one of them — while my sister's bed was queen-sized, again with a bedcover over her quilt. She had characters from Sesame Street on hers; mine was just a pattern of generic toy soldiers, alphabet blocks, and teddy bears.

The placement of the quilts as the meat in a sheets-and-cover sandwich is important to fully grasp the scene of us, on a Saturday morning some 35 years ago, marching downstairs with those quilts clutched tightly in hand, messily cleaving the carefully tucked-in bedspreads of the night before. I'm not sure whether it was that we were still half-asleep or that we were too danged excited, but we didn't spend much effort untucking the covers — we just woke up, grabbed the quilts, and pulled, likely discharging enough static electricity on our journey to the living room to power the whole block. Once downstairs we would pour out some cereal for breakfast and I'd make us chocolate milk notable for how lightly it was stirred, leaving a spoonful of syrup at the bottom for dessert.

Despite the fairly slim slice of time during which this ritual could have occurred, based on when we lived where it occurred, corresponding for me to the ages of three to seven years old, it's burned into my memory as my personal Golden Age of Saturday-morning cartoons.

As this was the mid-1970s, Hanna-Barbera ruled the day. Filmation was an important runner-up, especially when it came to afternoon reruns of their late-1960s adaptations of the DC Comics superheroes, and of course there were original series and/or repackagings of silver-screen shorts from Warner Bros., UPA, Terrytoons, MGM, DePatie-Freleng, et al. But with all due respect to Filmation and the soon-to-come Ruby-Spears, Hanna-Barbera defined '70s Saturdays through an overall style that kids innately recognized and a few overt trademarks too: One was the color-contrasted jaws on figures from Fred Flintstone and George Jetson (where the conceit likely began as a five-o'-clock shadow) to Atom Ant, Yogi Bear, and Huckleberry Hound. Another was the similarity shared by such anthropomorphic animals as Yogi, Huck, and Quick-Draw McGraw in the '60s, mirrored somewhat in the '70s explosion of canine characters due to the popularity of Scooby-Doo. Then there's, well, all those dogs, like Hong Kong Phooey and Scooby's sometime crossover chum Dynomutt, plus the troupes of teenagers modeled after Scooby's Mystery Machine gang. In the late '70s Hanna-Barbera threw together most of its headliners and some lesser lights in Laff-a-Lympics, a successor of sorts to the late-'60s Wacky Races spoofing (if that's even possible) that icon of lovably tacky entertainment Battle of the Network Stars; its comic-book incarnation, small world, was written by one Mark Evanier.


Cover to Marvel's Laff-a-Lympics #6 © 1978, and logo & characters TM, Hanna-
Barbera Poductions. Script, Letters: Mark Evanier. Pencils, Inks: Scott Shaw!. Colors:
Carl Gafford. Credits from Evanier via, and scan courtesy, The Grand Comics Database.

There were only a handful of channels in those largely pre-cable days of VHF and UHF dials, made up of the three network affiliates, PBS, and a couple of independents. So it was pretty easy to memorize schedules and click among the big three every half-hour. On the other hand, it would be years before I'd even hear of a VCR, and we would rue scheduling conflicts as much as or more than time slots that had little to offer across the board. Ads were usually entertaining enough, frequently animated, and often tried to sell us cereal as part of "this nutritious breakfast" — a breakfast larger and more varied than I have ever seen in reality. Sometimes you lucked out and got a cool installment of Schoolhouse Rock during the commercials (and let's face it, almost any installment was cool), sometimes you sat through In the News.

Saturday-morning memories make up a significant part of the Internet landscape, and adding one more was not my intention, but this blog has suddenly turned into a variation on Tristram Shandy sprawling out of my fond memories of Super Friends. I've been meaning to write about that show since the Lost Episodes DVD set was announced this past spring, if not before, and news of the first-ever season's belated release prompted the anecdotes of yesterday and today. Much that gets written here is born, to quote the blog title of someone who occasionally comments on my posts, of tangents.

Despite a childhood spent enjoying the heck out of television, and cartoons in particular, and superhero cartoons most especially of all, I very quickly became defined in my own mind and others' as a comic-book kid. Yet as I acknowledged in my first installment of Empaneled, the too-infrequent series of essays that was to be the cornerstone of this blog, it's entirely possible that my love for comics grew out of my excitement over the superheroes whose adventures streamed from the magic box in our living room. If the comic books truly didn't come first, and had my parents not been familiar with them from their own childhood (or had comics simply been as out-of-sight, out-of-mind at that time as they became a generation or so after mine), I wonder just whom — at the risk of getting way too existential for a blogpost that references Dynomutt — I would have become.

We didn't have websites or even videotapes back then, so comic books were our permanent records of favorite characters, with writing and drawing by hand in mimicry of them how we continued the exploits of our favorite superheroes or racecars or spaceships (and then invented our own). My first real paid piece of writing was an article called "Superheroes on the Small Screen" — but it saw print in a publication called Comics Buyer's Guide. I might have written much the same article for a fan magazine on animation or genre television, and still turned to writing, cartooning, and graphic design as a career, working in video stores instead of comics shops along the way. Or, bereft of the extension of my Saturday-morning mythologies afforded by comics, I might have been more interested in sports or model-building or any other hobby that could have led me down a far different path. While I nearly minored in film in college, I've taken exactly one class in hands-on filmmaking and never practiced the craft on my own.

The photographer at my sister's wedding asked me, as he did the other four-eyed guys in the family, if I was still "me" without my glasses. Although I would still be me without comics, as a matter of biology, how much like this me would I be?


Super Friends promo art © circa 1973, and logo & characters TM/®, DC Comics.

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