Cartoons and comics1, in some form or other, go back for most of recorded history. Indeed, early proto-cartoons, such as the Cave Paintings at Lascaux, fundamentally are recorded history. It is sobering to think that thousands of years from now, spelunkers may puzzle over inscriptions deep in the old London sewers that read: 'Eat my shorts', and nothing more.
This problem of time and recollection is universal. Scholars puzzle over the margin illustrations in the Egyptian Book of the Dead, trying to figure out what Anubis was up to, and who the guy with the stick was. Meanwhile, the lads down the pub can never remember the names of all the Scooby-Doo Gang. And everyone has a treasured theme song from a much-loved cartoon with a verse in the middle they can only hum.
The art of cartoon-making has really taken off in the last century with the invention of celluloid, television, and Mickey Mouse. The modern form tends to be a series of 20 to 30 minute animated-for-television shorts, organised into 'seasons'. These are artefacts of a production process which manufactures cartoons in batches of about 12 - 24. Seasons can have radically different characters, since changes - such as employing new writers, selling the entire cartoon to a rival network, or worst of all, trying to make it educational - are common during production breaks. The use of cartoons as 'fillers' in television has fallen out of favour since somebody worked out that you can fit in some advertising in the space instead. The Internet is becoming an excellent new medium for cartoons - South Park being the prime example - and may have a large impact on the art form over the next decade.
There are thousands of different cartoons worldwide, of every shape and variety. But of course, none are as good as the ones you saw in your childhood. Here are some of them...
Batfink, 1966 - 1967
Produced by Hal Seeger Productions as a parody of the Batman television series. Over 100 five minute cartoons were created. Batfink had supersonic sonar-radar and wings like a shield of steel and, with his assistant Karate, fought the arch villain Hugo A Go Go. The cartoon reached cult status in America where there was almost no merchandising and no release of videos.
Battle of the Planets, 1978 - 1979
The original programme (1972 - 74 by Tatsunoko) was called Kagaku Ninja Tai Gatchaman, which basically translates as Science Ninja Team Gatchaman. It was three series in length.
Some of the first series were 'translated' into English to form:
Battle of the Planets (1978 - 79. Sometimes called G Force). Translated by Sandy Frank who added 7-Zark-7 etc.
G-Force: Guardians of Space (1987, 1995) Translated by Turner Broadcasting with the help of Fred Ladd.
Some of series two and three were bodged together, and translated in 1996 by Saban Entertainment - yes, the Power Rangers people - to form Eagle Riders.
Finally, in 1994, Tatsunoko produced a modern anime version of some of the stories from the first series.
Each of the translations renamed the characters, and hacked things around generally. The original programme was far more violent than either Battle of the Planets or G Force. In fact, the reason for 7-Zark-7 in Battle of the Planets was to cover the gaps caused by cutting all the violence out, and to let kids know that no-one got hurt, and that the bad guys were really robots.
Bod , 1975 - 1980s
A classic BBC kids cartoons, featuring Bod, a being of indeterminate gender and age, and a really annoying, yet catchy, theme tune (which might have been recently regurgitated in an advert for washing powder).
Each 15 minute episode comprised three features:
An animated story starring Bod, narrated by John Le Mesurier.
A story about Alberto Frog and his Amazing Animal Band.
A song and a game of Bod snap.
Bod and friends featured in the first and third parts. Bod's co-stars were Aunt Flo, Farmer Barleymow, Frank the Postman and PC Copper. Alberto Frog - a character related to Bod as Inspector Clouseau is to the Pink Panther - was infamous for saving the day and being rewarded with a milkshake, and saying things like, 'I think I'll have strawberry'.
Danger Mouse, 1981 - 1987
With the ubiquitous voice of David Jason - who played the Golgafrincham B-Ark captain and Caveman in the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy radio series - Danger Mouse was the greatest Secret Agent in the World. Well, definitely in South East London, anyway.
With his less-than-able sidekick Penfold - voiced by Terry Scott - Danger Mouse solved mind-boggling mysteries for his boss Colonel K, the cause of which was almost always Danger Mouse's fiercest adversary, Baron Silas Greenback, a frog. Silas had a furry pet caterpillar, Nero, and a number of crow henchmen, lead by Stiletto.
Way ahead of its time, Danger Mouse drove a Lamborghini-style car more greatly endowed with gadgetry than anything ever driven by James Bond.
He's the greatest
Wherever there is danger he'll be there
He's the ace
He's the strongest, he's the quickest, he's the best
He's the greatest Secret Agent in the world
He's the fastest, he's the greatest, he's the best
Count Duckula, 1988 - 1993
Castle Duckula, home for many centuries to a dreadful dynasty of vicious vampire ducks, The Counts of Duckula. Legend has it that these foul beings can be destroyed by a stake through the heart or exposure to sunlight. This does not suffice, however, for they may be brought back to life by means of a sacred rite that can be performed once a century when the moon is in the eighth house...
Igor: We need blood.
Nanny: I'll get it!
Narrator: The latest reincarnation did not run according to plan.
And so the scene is set. A reincarnation of a vampire duck, performed by a butler who's a cross between a vulture and Boris Carlof and an incompetent nanny that's a mixture of a chicken and Frankenstein. Inevitably something had to go wrong and instead of blood, a bottle of ketchup was fetched. So, a vegetarian vampire duck was created, with a penchant for overacting and a keenness for fun.
Count Duckula first appeared as a villain in the Danger Mouse episode 'The Four Tasks of Danger Mouse' and was brought back for a further three episodes before getting his own show. The Count made four series spanning 65 15 minute episodes, first shown between September 1988 and March 1993. Throughout the series, Duckula was pursued by his nemesis; the incompetent Dr Von Goosewing who was, not surprisingly, a goose.
The series was narrated by Barry Clayton with David Jason providing the voice for Count Duckula himself. Jack May gave Igor his deep hollowing moan of a voice, and Brian Trueman gave Nanny a squeak that seemed so out of place in a ten foot chicken that had a habit of forgetting about doors and walked through the walls instead. Additional voices were supplied by the infamous Ruby Wax.
The Hair Bear Bunch, 1972...
A Hanna-Barbera cartoon based on a group of bears, living in Wonderland Zoo, who continually try to escape. There were three bears, Hair Bear, Square Bear and Bubi Bear and they had an invisible motorcycle. They were inevitably foiled in their attempts to escape, although their lack of success wasn't usually down to the efforts of the zookeeper, Mr Peevley, and his assistant, Botch.
Henry's Cat, 1982 - 1987
Created by Stan Hayward and Bob Godfrey, Henry's cat was a laid-back creature that used to drag all of his friends - Chris Rabbit, Pansy Pig, Mosey Mouse, Sammy Snail, Douglas Dog, Ted Tortoise and Denise Duck - into all sorts of scrapes fighting his arch enemy, the evil Rum Baa Baa. All the stories had happy endings, either everyone got to eat lots of cakes or it was revealed that it was all a dream.
Hong Kong Phooey, 1974 - 1976
Made by Hanna-Barbera, the cartoon featured Penry, a mild-mannered janitor who worked at a police station and had an alter ego - the super-crime hero, Hong Kong Phooey. Penry would overhear details of the crimes around the station, usually from Rosemary the telephone operator or Sarge, and would leap into a filing cabinet though one drawer and then come out of another as a super hero. The actual crime solving was done by Hong Kong Phooey's stripey cat, Spot, but Spot never got any of the credit. Hong Kong Phooey carried a gong, which magically changed his transport each time it was bonged, into something else, like a helicopter, delivery truck or bicycle. It's amazing, but most 30 year olds can still remember at least part of the opening titles:
Who is this super hero?
Rosemary, the telephone operator?...
Penry, the mild-mannered janitor?...
Hong Kong Phooey, number one super guy.
Hong Kong Phooey, quicker than the human eye.
He's got style, a groovy style and a car that just won't stop.
When the going gets rough, he's super tough, with a Hong Kong Phooey chop (Hee-ya!)
Hong Kong Phooey, number one super guy.
Hong Kong Phooey, quicker than the human eye.
Hong Kong Phooey, he's fan-riffic! [gong sounds]
Inspector Gadget, 1983 - 1990
Inspector Gadget was a clumsy detective who once fell down some stairs and had to have some major surgery. As a result, he got a lot of different gadgets installed in his body which he never figured out how to use. He lived in Metro city with his niece, Penny, who with her talking computer book was the real brains behind all his case solving. Penny had a pet dog called Brain who was always assigned to follow Gadget and make sure he didn't get hurt. In the last series Gadget was joined by a little chubby guy who believed he was a flying superhero called Capeman. Inspector Gadget's enemy was Doctor Claw, but this elusive character was never actually seen in full. He ran an organisation called MAD and had numerous agents who were sent to destroy Gadget. Inspector Gadget was made by DiC Entertainment and has been made into a live-action movie by Disney, with Matthew Broderick in the title role and Rupert Everett as the villain Claw.
Ivor The Engine, 1959 - 1968, Remade 1975
The Locomotive of the Merioneth and Llantisilly Railway, or Ivor to his friends, was created by Peter Firmin and Oliver Postgate in 1959. The cartoon had a certain Welshness about it and the land that was created for the cartoon actually became a map, and the railway was followed through every journey that Ivor made. The most memorable story lines were where Ivor wanted to join the choir or where he rescued the Welsh dragon, Idris, and kept him warm in his boiler. The characters were all called things like Jones the Steam - the Engine Driver - or Evans the Song - The Choirmaster. Forty films were made in all.
Jamie and the Magic Torch, 1975 - 1980s
Jamie and the Magic Torch was produced by Cosgrove-Hall Productions with backing from Thames Television. In total, three, 13 episode, series were made. Each episode was ten minutes long. It was written and narrated by Brian Trueman.
In each episode, just after bedtime, Jamie and his dog Wordsworth would travel to Cuckoo Land, using his Magic Torch which cleverly formed a kind of wormhole in his bedroom floor.
Whilst there, they would encounter many strange characters such as Mr Boo, an elderly gentleman who flew around in a 'submachine', Strumpers Plunkett - an ageing hippy musician, and Officer Gotcha, a truncheon-eating, unicycling policeman. Jamie would then solve a problem in Cuckoo Land before being magically transported back to his darkened bedroom.
The theme song, written by Joe Griffiths went as follows:
Jamie! Jamie! Jamie and the Magic Torch.
Down the helter skelter, faster and faster towards Cuckoo Land.
Wordsworth! Wordsworth! Following hard behind.
Ready for adventure, always there to lend a paw... or hand!
Mr Boo and all the others too, the strangest people you've ever seen.
And the torch with it's magical beam -
If I hadn't really been there I'd think that I was dreaming!
Jamie! Jamie! No two nights are the same.
And life is one long glorious game
with Jamie. Jamie and the Magic Torch! [Yeah! Switch on torch]
Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors, 1985 and 1986
The cartoon was commissioned by Mattel, the toy manufacturer, in an attempt to increase sales of their line of plastic vehicles, called 'Wheeled Warriors'.
Jayce, leader of the Lightning League, battles against the plant-based minions of Saw Bass to find his father, Audric, in order to combine two 'Roots' which would then have the power to destroy Saw Boss and his Monster Minds forever.
The Lightning League were:
- Flora, a young girl created from a plant.
- Flora's pet flying fish.
- Flora's robot puppies, the Zoggies.
- A wizard called Gillian.
- Herc a robot squire.
- Brock, the captain of the Pride of the Skies II.
Babylon 5 creator J Michael Straczynski, was also one of the primary writers on Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors.
Ludwig, Late 70s
This was a world-beating five minute cartoon about an ovoid eggy jewel that lived in a forest. Surreal eh? In every episode - there were 65 of them - something would happen to the animals of the forest and Ludwig would come to the rescue. His 'body' facets would open up and out would pop arms, legs, gadgets or a helicopter rotor blade. He was constantly watched by a bird watcher in a deerstalker with huge binoculars. At the end of every episode Ludwig played a Mozart horn concerto through the credits. It was the strangest cartoon ever, but we all loved it.
The Mysterious Cities of Gold, 1982
Also known as Les Mystrieuses Cits d'Or, there were 39 episodes of this French/Japanese co-production. The music is by Haim Saban and Shuki Levy - they also did the music for the Power Rangers. The children in it were Esteban, Zia and Tao, searching for the Cities of Gold, and the bad guys were Mendoza, Pedro and Sancho.
Mr Benn, 1971
Mr Benn was a man who lived at 52 Festive Road. He always wore a nice sharp pinstripe suit to show he was a city gent, but he never actually went in to work. As he was on his way, something would usually happen like a neighbour saying Mr Benn's grass looked greener and Mr Benn saying the neighbour's looked greener. Or something like that. Then instead of going to work, Mr Benn went to the local costume fitters. Here he would be greeted by the shopkeeper and would try on a new outfit he hadn't tried on before, for example, a space suit. He would try on this suit in the changing room and then exit by the other door. Then he would suddenly appear in a magical land where he would have an adventure in the costume. If he wore a spacesuit, for example, he would fly around to different planets in a spacecraft and each planet he went to, they said he should try another planet as it was much better. This echoed the theme - ie the exchange with the neighbour - at the beginning of the programme.
Eventually the shopkeeper would appear and tell him it was time to go home, so he would go through a door to find himself back in the changing room. He would get changed back into his pinstripe suit, thank the shopkeeper and then go back home again.
It was made in 1970 by David McKee and there were 13 15-minute episodes in all, broadcast originally in 1971. It was made by Zephyr film productions and narrated by the actor Ray Brooks.
Noah and Nelly, Mid 70s
From the people who brought you Roobarb (see below), this was a series all about the adventures of Nutty Noah and Niggly Nelly in their two-headed vehicle 'The Skylark', along with an assortment of two-headed animals, including Humphrey the pig and Achmed the camel. Each animal had one cheerful and one depressed face.
Each sub-minute tale would start with one of the animals picking a destination on a blank map and then with an 'All aboard the Skylark!' they'd be off to encounter troubled weirdoes such as door knockers with headaches, toby jugs without handles and so on. Nelly would knit some contraption and save the day!
Richard Briers provided the voices.
The Pink Panther, 1964 - 1980s
Created by Friz Freleng for the opening sequence of Blake Edward's film The Pink Panther, the cartoon character proved to be so popular that it developed quickly into a series of standalone cartoons. The makers, Freleng, Pratt and DePatie, admitted that the cartoons were made for adults rather than children and they soon achieved cult status. The graphics were always pink, the music created by Henry Mancini was so distinctive and the style of comedy was so different to the usual cartoons of the era, that the cartoons have always been memorable and enjoyed by all generations. When a new cartoon was created for the opening sequence of A Shot In The Dark, another DePatie/Freleng character achieved his own fame, the not-so-clever Inspector Clouseau.
Pinky and the Brain
They're Pinky and the Brain. They're Pinky and the Brain. One is a Genius, the other is insane.
So opens a television show about two lab mice who try to take over the world. Originally a feature of the Animaniacs cartoon, every episode, every night, the plot is the same: the Brain concocts a scheme to conquer the Earth, and his brain-dead accomplice Pinky helps him to fail.
Despite the seemingly repetitive nature of the show, it is one of the gems of today's television programming. Chock full of pop-culture references, it is almost entirely above the comprehension level of its supposed target audience of children. For example, one three-part episode featured a parody of The Prisoner, complete with a giant twine ball chasing runaways. Most viewers of afternoon cartoons weren't even born when that show was popular. And even among the adult population, especially in America, The Prisoner is not exactly a well known programme.
Violence, goofiness, and big words pervade each episode. The show has won numerous awards, including Rob Paulson's Emmy for portraying Pinky.
The show is best described in the immortal words of Pinky himself, 'Why would anyone want to Pierce Brosnan?'
Roger Ramjet, 1965
The Proton Energy Pill-popping hero, Roger Ramjet battled against Noodles Romanoff and his organisation NASTY - The National Association of Spies, Traitors and Yahoos - aided by The American Eagles, Yank, Doodle, Dan and Dee. His Proton Energy Pills would give him the power of 20 atom bombs for 20 seconds.
Created by Fred Crippen, and Roger Ramjet's voice provided by Gary Owens.
Sing along to the tune of 'Yankee Doodle Dandy' to relive the moment:
Roger Ramjet and his Eagles
Fighting for our freedom
Fly through and in outer space
Not to join him but to beat him.
Roger Ramjet he's our man
Hero of our nation
For his adventure just be sure
And stay tuned to this station.
Come and join us all you kids
For lots of fun and laughter
As Roger Ramjet and his men
Get all the crooks they're after.
Roger Ramjet he's our man
Hero of our nation
For his adventure just be sure
And stay tuned to this station.
Roobarb and Custard, Late 70s
With only a small loan, Bob Godfrey's Movie Emporium had to do what they could using only Magic Markers and paper for the drawings, which resulted in the trademark wobbly animation used in the series.
The quirky narration by Richard Briers and the adult wit meant the series quickly became a favourite with all ages.
Roobarb and Custard told the adventures of an ambitious greeny-yellowy dog, Roobarb who was always trying to better himself to the constant derision of the garden birds and Custard, a cynical pink cat.
Made by Hanna-Barbera, this cartoon was one of the most popular ever made, which is sometimes surprising when you consider that all the stories were the same.
Remember the catchphrase 'Scooby-Doo, where are you?'? Scooby was a dog. He solved mysteries with the help of his teenage friends: Freddy, the blonde bloke; Thelma, dark hair, glasses; Daphne, redhead and very girlie; Shaggy, a scruffy wimp; and later Scooby's nephew Scrappy-Doo. They all travel around in their blue and green with orange flowers-painted 'Mystery Machine' van.
Memorable quotes include:
- 'Scooooby doooby dooooooo...'
- 'I would have gotten away with it, if it wasn't for you pesky kids!'
The Simpsons, 1987...
The Simpsons are a family living in Springfield, a town somewhere in the USA, consisting of
- Homer, a big yellow selfish-yet-loving father.
- Marge, the blue-tower-haired gravel-voiced mother.
- Bart, 10 year old devil and angel boy.
- Lisa, who's slightly younger than Bart and way way smarter.
- Maggie, a baby with vacuum-cleaner lips.
The town is loaded with characters, including the richest of all, Montgomery Burns.
Written by Matt Groening, the cartoon started as 30 second fillers in The Tracey Ullman Show from 1987 - 1988. It proved to be so popular that it ended up with its own series in 1990.
Super Ted, Late 1980s
Originally made by the Welsh television channel SC4, it was translated from Welsh into English. In 1989 the cartoon was transferred to Hanna Barbera who made The Further Adventures of Super Ted. He was an innocent-looking fluffy bear who, early in life, was rejected by quality control as defective. He was thrown down a rubbish chute, but then was rescued by a fairy godmother figure and given a magic word. He teamed up with his best friend Spotty the Alien, and they went around doing good deeds. When Super Ted said his secret magic word his furry coat zipped open to show a red Superman-type outfit. Then he would zoom off righting wrongs and generally patching up the world. Super Ted was another bear who originally started life as a character in a book, but he has become much more widely known through his television adventures.
The Further Adventures of Super Ted (1989) premiered on January 29, 1989 on The Funtastic World of Hanna-Barbera. Super Ted is a co-production with Telin LTD.
Wacky Races, 1968 - 1970
This Hanna-Barbera cartoon was inspired by movies Monte Carlo or Bust and The Great Race. There were 11 teams featured, who travelled across all sorts of terrain in an effort to win the race. Vehicles ranged from boiler-powered heaps of junk to gizmo-laden turbocharged racers and all of them won at least once except the car driven by the evil Dick Dastardly and his sidekick, Muttley. Dastardly and Muttley always came in last, thus providing the moral that cheats never prosper. Wacky Races launched two spin-off cartoons, Dastardly & Muttley and The Perils of Penelope Pitstop. There was also a related cartoon called Stop The Pigeon which featured the same characters but was based on Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines.
Just to prevent any arguments, here are a list of Wacky Races cars and their drivers:
- The Mean Machine
- The Bouldermobile
- The Creepy Coupe
- The Crimson Haybailer
- The Pink Compact
- The Army Surplus Special
- The Bullet Proof Bomb
- Arkansas Chug-a-Bug
- The Turbo Terrific
- The Buzzwagon
- Dastardly & Muttley
- The Stag Brothers
- The Gruesome Twosome
- Professor Pat Pending
- The Red Max
- Penelope Pitstop
- Meekley & Sarge
- The Ant Hill Mob
- Luke and Blubber Bear
- Peter Perfect
- Rufus Ruffcut and Sawtooth
'Willo the Wisp', Early '80s
A cartoon excellently voiced by the late Kenneth Williams, whose particular vocal style made this series a hit with both the young and old. The title character, Willo the Wisp, was a ghostly creature (somewhat of a caricature of Kenneth - especially his nasal facial expressions), who acted as the narrator of tales about the various other characters who lived in Doyley Woods.
Most notable among them was the wicked TV set, Evil Edna, who would cast rotten spells on the others with her television aerials. She would most often pick on Arthur the caterpillar, who was old enough, and wily enough to be somewhat of an intellectual threat to Edna. She would turn him into a Frog, or freeze him in mid stride. Along then came Mavis Cruet, a rather podgy fairy who would wave her magic wand in order to try and save her friends. Sometimes her magic wasn't strong enough to combat the evildoings of Edna, and they would need to trick Edna into reversing her spell.
Another character included Moog, a rather dumb, short and fattened kind of sausage dog. His youthful innocence often led him into trouble, but he was lovable for it nonetheless. To contrast the Moog's simplicity, there was a rather aloof and sensible cat called Carwash who, like most real life cats, would sit apart and cast superior scornful looks upon the silly goings on.
The series was created for the BBC by Nicholas Spargo and spawned a series of books, a couple of annuals as well as a cartoon strip that ran for a number of years in the comic Buttons.