The ’Vision Thing

1973 Super Friends opening title on screen of vintage television

I had a quilt over the top sheet of my bed, and then a dark-green cover made of corduroy over that, with matching cylindrical pillows for show that went at the head and foot. The bed was a single — also known as a twin, which never made sense to me
if you only have one of ’em — while my sister’s bed was queen-sized, again with a bedcover over her quilt. Jen had characters from Sesame Street on her quilt; mine was a pattern of generic toy soldiers, alphabet blocks, and teddy bears.

That placement of quilts as the meat in a sheets-and-bedcover sandwich is crucial to fully grasp the scene of us, on Saturday mornings circa 1975, marching downstairs with quilts clutched tightly in hand and 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 simply too excited, but we didn’t spend much effort untucking the covers. We just woke up, grabbed the quilts, and pulled — likely amassing 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.

Although there’s a fairly thin slice of time during which this ritual occurred, based on when we lived where it occurred, it’s burned into my memory as my personal Golden Age of Saturday-morning cartoons. I was between the ages of three and seven.

This being the mid 1970s, Hanna-Barbera ruled the day. Filmation was a prominent runner-up, especially when it came to afternoon repeats 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 as well: One was the colored jowls or snouts on not just humans like Fred Flintstone and George Jetson (where the conceit began as a five-o’-clock shadow) but Atom Ant, Yogi Bear, and Huckleberry Hound. Another was the similarity shared by Yogi, Huck, Quick-Draw McGraw, and more anthropomorphic animals in the ’60s, mirrored somewhat in the ’70s explosion of canine characters due to the popularity of Scooby-Doo. Then we have, well, all those dogs, from Hong Kong Phooey to Scooby’s sometime crossover chum Dynomutt, plus the troupes of teenagers modeled after Scooby’s Mystery Machine gang. Hanna-Barbera threw most of its headliners and several lesser lights together at the end of the decade in Laff-a-Lympics, a successor of sorts to the earlier Wacky Races spoofing — if such a thing is even possible — that icon of lovably tacky entertainment Battle of the Network Stars. The comic-book incarnation of Laff-a-Lympics was written by one Mark Evanier, subject of yesterday’s post here, who around the same time worked on Hanna-Barbera cartoons and Saturday-morning favorites produced by the Krofft stable, in addition to Welcome Back, Kotter and various prime-time variety shows popular chez nous.

There were only a handful of channels in those largely pre-cable days of VHF and
UHF dials, made up of the ABC, NBC, and CBS network affiliates; our local PBS station; and just a few independents with syndicated programming. 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 hear of a VCR, and we would rue scheduling conflicts as much as or more than when time slots had little to offer across the board. Ads were usually amusing enough and often tried to sell us cereal as “part of a nutritious breakfast” on display that was far larger than any I have ever seen in reality. Maybe you lucked out and got a cool installment of Schoolhouse Rock during the commercials; maybe you sat through In the News.

Tales of Saturday mornings seem to make up a significant part of the Internet landscape, and throwing another into the mix was not my intention, but this blog has suddenly turned into a variation on Tristram Shandy as my fond memories of Super Friends sprawl out of control. I’ve been meaning to write about that show at least since the Lost Episodes DVD set was announced this past spring, and news of the first season’s belated release prompted the anecdotes of yesterday and today. Much that gets written here is born, to quote the blog title of somebody 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, 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 all-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. Should the comic books truly not have come first, and had my parents not been familiar with them from their own childhood, I wonder just whom — at the risk of getting way too existential for a blog entry 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 drawing new stories in mimicry of them how we continued the exploits of beloved superheroes or racecars or spaceships and invented our own variations thereupon. 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 the same article for a fan magazine on animation or genre television, and nonetheless 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 Saturday-morning legends afforded by comic books, 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 nearly minoring 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 all the four-eyed guys in the family, whether I was still me without my glasses. Although I’d still be me without comics, as a matter of biology, how much like this me would I be?

I’ll get to Super Friends eventually.

Related: AV Club It’s Bananas Dinner on ME Lightning Round Number Ones

No comments:

Post a Comment