Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Joe Barbera Tribute 1

Joe Barbera and Bill Hanna

When I was about 8 years old and started seriously getting obsessed with animated cartoons, I had 2 favorite studios: Walt Disney and Hanna Barbera.

The motion in Disney seemed completely magical to me, but I didn't really get into the characters. The early Hanna Barbera cartoons intrigued me for the drawing style and that the characters seemed real-which was largely due to Ed Benedict's designs and the great voice work of Daws Butler, Don Messick and Mel Blanc and others.

It was very hard to find any written information about how cartoons were made in 1963 or who made them. I had an article in The Books Of Knowledge that talked about Walt Disney, but the only info I had about Hanna Barbera was the back of a record cover that had a paragraph on each of the partners.

I taught myself to draw by watching the cartoons and drawing as fast as I can. I then bought all the comic books and coloring books and used the grid method to get the basic proportions of the characters. I mostly drew HB characters, but I also drew everyone else's-even Tom and Jerry, whose cartoons I had never seen.

Well I memorized how to draw Huck, Yogi, the Flintstones, The Jetsons, Quick Draw McGraw and I used to draw my own comic stories of them.

By the time I was a teenager and trying to be cool and stuff, I STILL drew the characters only now, I drew dirty drawings of them and developed a caricatured style of drawing them. This ability kept me popular with the football team who I would amuse with my "Cave Nudes" and other wacky cartoon stories and filthy flip books. It kept me from being beat up for being a wimpy cartoonist.

By this time though, Hanna Barbera's cartoons had gone to shit. Scooby Doo was the dominant style, a style lifted from Filmation's cheaper uglier Archie cartoons. I couldn't figure out why HB had abandoned their earlier appealing style for something so purposely ugly. Even the voices were terrible by this time. I found out later by working at Hanna Barbera and eventually talking to Joe and Bill themselves.

In 1984, after working on horrible and typically depressing 80s cartoons for 4 years, I heard that Hanna Barbera was going to revive the Jetsons and I desperately wanted to work on something fun. I'm not able to work on ugly bland cartoons without getting severely depressed. I don't know how so many people do it.

I had just finished a stint as a designer for Dic's Heathcliff cartoons. This had been my best job so far, because I didn't have to do storyboards from bad scripts or layouts from bad storyboards. It was my first character design job and they gave me a lot of freedom to draw characters as cute and funny as I was then capable. I did about 7 shows a week then with Bruce Timm, Jim Gomez as my clean up artists and Lynne Naylor designing some of the characters with me.

So as soon as I heard about HB reviving the Jetsons, I raced over there to apply to be the character designer. I got an interview with the head of the incidental character design department - Bob Singer. Bob was a decent guy, a reasonable draftsman, but extremely conservative and with no design ability whatsoever. His natural design style is the cop and mailman characters you see in Scooby Doo and other 70s HB cartoons-REALLY BLAND. Bob was an enemy of style and cartooniness. He hated it!

I drew up a big stack of sample Jetsons style characters to show him and he looked through them with much attention and was mildly impressed. He said, "Well you seem to have a knack for this old UPA-ish style, but you are tending to overdo the flatness and designiness of that period. The Jetsons aren't actually flat. They are 3 dimensional.

Tell you what, Bill and Joe are not happy with the development sketches on the New Jetsons and I have a couple trainee designers who are struggling with the style and don't quite get it.

I'll give you a test. If you work in house on The Smurfs as a designer for awhile, then we'll see how you do and I'll consider showing your stuff to the bosses."



So I had to sit in an office next to the two kids who were "struggling" with Jetsons characters and listen to them complain about how hard it is to draw Ed Benedict's style while I suffered under the cruel blandness of the Smurfs and Gerard Baldwin and his team of moronic evil writers. These two Einsteins would come in and tell me how envious they were of my job on The Smurfs.

A month or two went by as I got more and more depressed, and the whole time I would hear rumors that the show's producer Alex Lovy and Bill and Joe themselves were rejecting everything that the design department was doing.

Finally, I guess Singer must have been taking some heat, so he came to me and said "OK, John I'll give you your chance. Here, take home these character descriptions for an episode of the Jetsons and then design them the best you can." I did them that night and brought them in to Bob the next day and then he looked at them with disapproval and told me that they were still too flat and designy There was no way he could show them to Bill and Joe or Alex. But I could still work on the Smurfs if I wanted to.

That was one black day in my early career. I was just dying to barge into Joe's office to see for myself whether he thought I could do it or not. Instead I made up my mind to quit. I couldn't stand another day of the Smurfs and listening to the toddlers in the next room deciding that Superman was easier to animate than Fred Flintstone, because Superman was more 3 dimensional.

Well, I figured, I'll take a chance. Maybe I'll get blackballed for going over Singer's head, but I was just DYING to work on a real cartoon, so I marched over to the executive building of HB and was walking down the hall hoping to run into Bill or Joe, when I bumped into Alex Lovy. He's the Walter Lantz director and storyboard artist, who was going to produce the new Jetsons.

I was clutching my huge stack of Jetsons samples and was nervous as Hell but I blurted out, "Mr. Lovy! You don't know me, but I'm a big fan of yours! I love Woody Woodpecker and I know you are producing the Jetsons and I'm dying to work for you!"

Alex was real nice and invited me into his room and said "Let's see what you got , son!"

He started flipping through the drawings and his eyes lit up and he said, "Hey kid! This is just what we're looking for! You got this old style down! Let's go see if Joe is in his office!"

Alex whisked me down the hall and knocked on the door to Joe's office. Joe opened the door and there he was! I was looking at my childhood hero in the flesh for the first time. A tall suave Italian guy in a nice suit and jet black curly hair.

Alex said, Joe, you gotta see what the kid is doing! Take a look at this stuff!"

Joe led us in and started flipping through the drawings and chuckling. He smiled real big, then smacked the stack of drawings and said. "This is what we've been trying to get for months now! I keep telling the guys that this is an old fashioned UPA style and that it's supposed to be flat but no one will do it!"

He then looked serious and a bit worried. "Iwao and Bob are great artists but they just don't seem to get this style. Tell me about yourself kid. Why is this so important to you?"

So I told him how I used to draw his characters all the time when I was a kid and that I loved this style and always wanted to do it. I had begged Bob Singer to let me work on it but he kept telling me I was drawing too flat so he wouldn't show you."

I went on, like an idiot to tell him I hated Scooby Doo and all modern cartoons, and Joe said "Me too kid. I've never understood why the networks keep ordering more episodes of it. What is there to it? A big dumb dog and some teenagers. Every show is the same Goddamn story! It doesn't make sense to me but they can have it as long they want it."

I was amazed that Joe wasn't offended by that. This was my first inkling that Joe really knew how awful the cartoons were that his studio had been churning out for decades.

Joe was rubbing his face and thinking.

By the way, he had the coolest office. It was filled with toys of all his characters and awards and he even showed off his private shower! He didn't get naked or anything, luckily.

Joe said, "Son, I want you on this show but I gotta figure out how to do it without offending Bob and Iwao. These guys got feelings you know. They been here a long time and figure they have seniority. But don't worry, I'll work it out and get you on."

To be continued:

I have so many stories that I think I will spread them out for a bit.

Coming soon:

Being a development artist for Joe on a project for Fred Silverman.

My stint on the Jetsons and trying out an early version of the Spumco production system.

Developing "Perry Gunite" in a trailor with Eddie's wife on the HB lot.

Being consultants for Cartoon Network with Bill, Joe, Friz and Don Messick.

Helping Fred Seibert revolutionize Hanna Barbera and starting the shorts program.

Making Hanna Barbera merchandise with Fred and showing the products to Bill and Joe.

Interviewing Bill, Joe and Friz for the Hollywood Reporter.

Joe reveals his selling secrets to me.

Joe's thoughts on "writers" and "executives"

Making my own caricatured Hanna Barbera cartoons and having other cartoonists try to imitate them.



Anonymous said...

wow John! More stories! There are a lot of us out here going through our rough first job experiences and all of the stuff you're telling is really inspiring. Thanks and happy holidays!

PCUnfunny said...

"Me too kid. I've never understood why the networks keep ordering more episodes of it. What is there to it? A big dumb dog and some teenagers. Every show is the same Goddamn story! It doesn't make sense to me but they can have it as long they want it."

I fuckin' died when I read this. And yes John, more stories.

JasonMoore said...

Riveting stuff to read! YOu need to write a book about your experiences John!! Looking forward to the next chapters...dont make us wait too long :)

Anonymous said...

That's really cool.

I guess sometimes you have to go straight to the source and not let any self-important toolboxes get in your way.

Looking forward to more stories!

Dennis Culver said...

Hell yes i'm interested.

I was just reading the Toth tribute in Alter Ego and they had a few HB stories. Fascintating stuff.

Anonymous said...

damn, John. your stories are always the best! keep 'em comin' sir!

Anonymous said...

Great story John!
I always wondered what Joe or Bill thought of their great dane and repeating storylines.
More stories please!

Max Ward said...

I love aanimation job stories, even if they are about dark depressing times, please tell as many as you can.

Pedro Vargas said...

Yes, John! I'm super interested! I can't wait to hear more stories! This one's the coolest one I've heard so far from you. There's stuff I still need to know before I go into the animation business. I'm glad Joe thought that Scooby Doo was shit and that shit's everywhere now! Un-fuckin'-believable! But,yes please tell more tales!

Ryan G. said...

Yeah John! I was hoping that you would elaborate more on your expieriences in the industry. I cant wait for more!

Nico said...

PLEASE SHARE all these stories! heh, I know it must be a TON of typing, but we are LOVING this stuff.

John, did Bill or Joe ever tell you their thoughts on Boo Boo Runs Wild?

Kitty said...

I am interested in more of your stories.

Anonymous said...

This story was fantastic! I can't wait to read more!!

Brett W. Thompson said...

Holy smoke!!!

What an amazing story, John! I'm SO glad you ran into Alex Lovy like that :)

Please post more, wow!!! :D

Josh "Just What the Doctor Ordered" Heisie said...

Oh yes, more stories...! I hope one day I meet my heroes...

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I want to read more. I love the behind the scenes stuff. I also love when bigshots have enough confidence and honesty to admit when they do something that sucks.

Shawn said...

Wow! What a story! I can't wait to read more!

Hey John! What a coincidence you posted a picture of that Huckleberry Hound record! I was just visiting my parents up in Washington a couple days ago and I found that very same record in an antique shop (in mint condition). Of course I grabbed it and bought myself a fantastic Christmas present! Daws Butler and Don Messick were great!

Mr. Semaj said...

I went on, like an idiot to tell him I hated Scooby Doo and all modern cartoons, and Joe said "Me too kid. I've never understood why the networks keep ordering more episodes of it. What is there to it? A big dumb dog and some teenagers. Every show is the same Goddamn story! It doesn't make sense to me but they can have it as long they want it."

Joe hating his own creation? Now THIS I'd like to hear!

These are the kind of animation stories I like to hear. How people battled thru the Dark Ages of the 70's and 80's. I especially can't wait to hear how Hanna-Barbera was reinvigorated.

Anonymous said...

Hey John, thank you for this!!
It's great stuff to read, would love to read more personal stories of the young artist!

Thank you so much!

Anonymous said...

True stories from John K.? Wow, this is what I've been waiting for! I've been reading about them, but now I get to hear it from the source. There are a few questions I have concerning this story, and I hope they get cleared up soon. Keep 'em coming!

I loved the whole "getting nervous around a childhood hero" part. I've learned from past experience, but it still gave me something to think about.

And Jetsons and UPA style being flat? I never thought of it as flat, just 2-D.

Anonymous said...

I read an interview with Bill Hanna in an spanish magazine and he said his fave cartoons were Flinstones, Tom and Jerry and Scooby Doo. Was he lying, had the interview passed through too many translators or did Hanna-unlike Barbera- like Scooby Doo?

Pretty cool stories, I can't wait to read more!

Craig D said...



Anonymous said...

I couldn't stand another day of the Smurfs and listening to the toddlers in the next room deciding that Superman was easier to animate than Fred Flintstone, because Superman was more 3 dimensional.

HA! HA! That reminds me of some of the whining I heard back in animation school when we had to draw pictures of Daffy Duck for an assignment. One of them kept saying "I have a Glen Keane influence" over and over. (By the way, that same guy ended up turning his back on animation as well as illustration and simply get into hard drugs). The irony of statement is that if Glen Keane were there at the time and given that assignment, I'm sure he'd have finished it without any problems.

Yes! Yes! Yes! Please elaborate on your encounter with Joe Barbera. This is great stuff so far.

Anonymous said...

Interesting Post, John, as always! I had thought that you had forgotten to write something of the great Joe… Thanks for to share your histories! Tell me John, if you are interested in my idea to translate some articles of his blog, for the South American public. I believe that much people would thank for it. And for me would be an honor to collaborate with this task.

Anonymous said...



I'm too into this story. I've always been heavily into stories and anecdotes about the Business. Whatever that means. In this case, the animation industry.

Wow. The I-Met-Barbera story.

This rules, man. Get these collected into a book.

Anonymous said...

I taught myself to draw by watching H-B's cartoons. Huckleberry Hound was a natural.

H-B animation may have been limited, but they understaood how to create memorable characters.

Please, more stories!

Kevin W. Martinez said...

"I went on, like an idiot to tell him I hated Scooby Doo and all modern cartoons, and Joe said "Me too kid. I've never understood why the networks keep ordering more episodes of it. What is there to it? A big dumb dog and some teenagers. Every show is the same Goddamn story! It doesn't make sense to me but they can have it as long they want it.""

I'm loving every word of text of this, John. You truly are an asset to budding cartoonists and animators everywhere.

Rob Bodnar said...

That took some guts to find the man and talk to him. Thanks for sharing that, looking forward to hearing more.

Anonymous said...

Way to take matters into your own hands.

Keep 'em coming! I'd love to hear more.

I was a freak for Scooby Doo when I was a kid, but can't stand to watch it now.

Charlie J. said...

I'd kill to know Joe's selling techniques!
Thank you John!

Anonymous said...

Interested? Hell yes! John, I've been dying for you to tell us stories like this. More! More!

Max Ward said...

Another story (or stories) I would like to hear is your first job in animation, and how you first reacted to the state of the production system. I think everyone on here loves to hear stories about the animation industry.

Jorge Garrido said...

WOW!!!!! John, that was one of the best stories I've ever read!!! You're amazing at telling anecdotes!

It warms my heart to hear him say he hated Scooby Doo. Don Messick reportedly loved it! :(




As a kid I was always mad when I'd wtach the Jetsons, get revved up by the old theme song and opening sequence, only to, at the end of the title sequence, get hit by that 80s title card music. "da-da-da-DA-da-da-da-da-da-da-da-DA-da-da-da-da-da-daaaaaaaaaa." I knew it meant I'd be watching a cartoon from the 80s not the 60s, but maybe I need to go back adn give them a chance.

John, did Iwao design Magilla Gorilla?

Anonymous said...

great story, would love to hear more!

Anonymous said...

Great story, John - It reads like one of your cartoons. Joe Barbera had a lot in common with George Liquor.

lyris said...

Wow, that story brought a smile to my face. Tell us more!

Anonymous said...

What an amazing story! You and Uncle Eddie are fantastic storytellers. I can picture a 20-something John K meeting one of his heroes - how cute and sweet!

This story is a fantastic example of someone who took initiative and damned the protocol to reach one's ultimate goal.

Please tell more stories! I think this, and other stories, will give future animators an idea of what happened (and probably still happens) in an animation house.

JohnK said...

>>John, did Iwao design Magilla Gorilla?<<

No, that was one of Ed's last characters. Gene Hazelton designed the cute little girl. Iwao probably designed a lot of incidental characters in the series.

Eric C. said...

It seems like you have alot of fun making cartoons at Spumco where you can have alsorts of creative freedom. But isn't the work (drawing and animating) really tough and complicated?

_Eric ;)

Citizen Drummond said...

Yes, more stories. That made my day. Thank you.

tedrex said...

Holy Cats! I'm getting an art boner! These stories are the reason I read your blog! Reading about your struggles and experiences makes it seem like we can make it too, if we keep the pressure on. More please!

Anonymous said...

Every show is the same Goddamn story! It doesn't make sense to me but they can have it as long they want it."

Once again, the almighty dollar performs the magic trick of turning art into crap... ¬¬

Rob Bodnar said...

I will never look at a SMURF the same way again.

Anonymous said...

Excellent!!! Thanks for telling your "origin" story, John. I'm actually at the edge of my seat waiting to read what happens next.

What a great experience--to connect with some of your heroes like that. The fact that you had to force your way in, over the heads of others, in order to do so, makes the story all the more powerful.

You have some brass-ones, my friend!

Loking forward to the next exciting episode...

Jorge Noujaim said...

great story John! Thanks for sharing! Can`t wait for more.

Jorge Noujaim said...

Great story John!! Thanks for sharing, can`t wait to hear more.

antikewl said...

Absolutely fantastic post. I'd love to hear more. :)

David DeGrand said...

That was one incredible and inspiring story, can't wait to read the rest!

Anonymous said...

Whoa John!

That was great! Please continue! You are truly the cartoonist at heart, having so much of yourself into it, the depression etc... I need to be more passionate about my cartooning.
You could easily wrote a book via cafepress and even include the best of the archives, just an idea John.

Anonymous said...

Man, everytime I leave your Blog I am inspired in one way or another. Thanks so much for being so intouch with your fans and sharing these stories. BTW, I can't hold in my laughter everytime I see those George Jetson sketches. (In a good way.) Simply Amazing!

Anonymous said...


I have to agree with everyone else.

More stories John!



also, I've always wanted to ask, what did you think of that "Flinstones: On the Rocks" movie that Tartakovsky and his team made a few years ago?
Cartoon Network showed it like...once..and then it disappeared.

Hryma said...

Wow what a great story!

So it was worth getting depressed for a little bit then?!

Should I stop putting off not sending my CV to crap animation companies and send my stuff (so I can work in the Industry) in the hopes to make good one day?

Anonymous said...

Really neat story, John. Looking forward to reading the rest.

stiff said...

What a great story! I know it's not always easy, but I've always believed that talent and dedication will earn recognition sooner or later, because I've done it myself in fields other than cartoons. Very inspiring, thanks John.

Dave_the_Turnip said...

That was a very informative and entertaining story.

I'd love to hear more.

Kevy Metal said...


uhhhhhhh... YEAH! If they're even half as awesome as this, then sign me up! (I guess I already am signed up...)

Anonymous said...

Wow...I'm looking forward to reading all of the other stories you have. Considering my high school guidance counselor steered me AWAY from a career in animation, I'm intrigued to hear more. Makes me feel even more motivated.

(And for the record, I've never been a big Scooby-Doo fan, either.)

Christmas is over, but have a Happy New Year!

Jesse Oliver said...

Hi John

Those Fred Flinstone doodles of yours are so cool that you should produce a hole Flintsones cartoon for Adult Swim.


Anonymous said...

Wonderful story! More please.
I gotta go rewatch me some Heathcliff.

IZA said...

AWESOME STUFF JOHN!!! Always love all the stories, and info from your experiences that you share. Just letting you know a bunch of us appreciate the HELL outta you!

Dustin said...

Oh man, AWESOME stories! These are the type of stories Iv'e been wondering about for years now and it's great to finally hear them.

I'm all atingle waiting for part two!

sean said...

good stuff man. classic..rough biz

C. Martin Croker said...

Hey John,
Long time no-see.
Been lovin' the Blog. May it continue to be a wellspring of great stories, outstanding art, useful insights and crazy/"had to be there" factoids for years to come.

And YES, definitely interested in hearing more H-B experiences!

But I had a question about the Jetsons series you worked on.

Semms like so much effort was put into re-assembling to original voice cast, and making the show to feel graphically like a extention of the '60's series, I've never been able to understand why they opted to go with ALL NEW crappy music instead of the original brilliant Hoyt Curtain tracks.
Was it a question of money ...or reasons even harder to fathom?
Knowing the close attention to underscoring and the (somewhat groundbreaking) sound-effects work that all your own cartoons are famous for, I can only guess you were somewhat opposed to this decision.

Allan L. said...

Great story! Can't wait for the rest.
I have that issue of Animation Blast. It was one of the first things I ordered online.

Anonymous said...

Yes siree, I would love to hear more stories. I love what I've been reading. So much to share, thanks, J!

Julián höek said...

plase john keep the stories coming! i love them!
best of luck

GG said...

Holly Brooke,

High school counselors don't know everything. My counselor tried to get me to go to a junior college. I went to a four year college instead.

eurobikermcdog said...

I love you! Keep it up please!

Jorge Garrido said...

>also, I've always wanted to ask, what did you think of that "Flinstones: On the Rocks" movie that Tartakovsky and his team made a few years ago?
Cartoon Network showed it like...once..and then it disappeared.

I heard that was amazing and I really want to see it! Apparently it was a take-off of the first 1960 season and even Barney's voice was like the early voice. From the amazing screenshots I've seen, it looked like a huge John K ripoff, directed by former Ren & Stimpy artistst Chris Savino and his fellow Dexter's Lab colleague David Smith. In the interview I read with them they said all the rights things regarding the choices they made regarding the movie, such as ignoring Pebbles and Bam Bam.

To answer your question, though, John once said this:

"They decided it would be more fun to copy my style in house at their own studio, so they made some Flintstone thing. After that I don't know what happened."

It should be a series on primetime and John K should direct on it.

ninaberries said...

great stories, john. can't wait to

M. Rasheed said...


Meg said...

LORD YES, I'm interested! More! More!

rodineisilveira said...

Johnny K.,

I laughed very much of the drawings that you've done about the Fred Flintstone's "after shave" version.
Really funny!

Rodinei Campos da Silveira (from São Paulo, Brazil)



FunkyM said...

Wow, you worked at HB? that's Pretty Awesome.

And it's been too long since I've seen classic "Flat" animation.

Jason Miskimins said...

Great story...I'm going to go back through all of the old posts and catch up on this blog.

Steve Carras said...

Great story, JohnK, and glad to hear JoeB's admittance on how crappy those shows was. I was a teen then and I preferred the OLD 50s ones...give me Sagebrush Sal [Quick Draw] or Judy Jetson anyday over Pebbles and Wiggy..yecccch!

TedM said...

That's a really cool blog. Like you I love Yogi,Huckleberry Hound and Fred Flintstone. Never really cared for HB in the 1970s and the 1980s. Do you have anymore stories about working at HB?

Pokey said...

Definitely the worst time to bad must have been at one of Hanna-Barbera's competitors by now already covered more than once in this blog.

The studio that did The Archies and then went and did them as the Brady Kids.

The studio that would if such a show could be allowed in the 70stake the teenage dolls like Ideal's Tiffany Taylor - "She's what you want her to be"- to make her
an Archie clone. [This was a doll that could be change dby turning her head to change the hair color and had a Partridge Family-like theme with a wolf whistle.YouTube has one of those commercials]. You'd see any of such playing in Archies'type postitions, and since a Tiffany Taylor doll is like Veronica with that name, I can imagine if a
toy-baseed cartoon had been permitted at all during the 1970s, we'd see the same thing if that studio had Tiffany Taylor in a rock group, playing the organ pumping the volume up and down all the time,. And we KNOW that this studio that needs no introduction would have teenager rockers in all their - yuck - so called cartoons.

And flesh colored eyes. [Hey, look what they did to the already crappy 80s He-Man toys!]

But then, what would we expect from Fugmation, huh?

"Cartoons made as fugly while you wait".

Pokey said...

Sad, too, regarding Jabberjaw, etc.--look at Jay Ward's 1967 Superchicken and compare with Jabberjaw--Jaws spoof...Disco fashions, everything spoofable, and the DAMN STUDIO HB DID NOT EVEN TAKE ADVANTAGE of it...but it's those medding kids in the network dept. Every of those teen characters looks like the Scooby Doo desginers worked on them.

Oh, that's right--they DID!!!

Just sick.

Steve Carras

Isaiah Filmore said...

hey John i cant really get to the sites of the links you posted of the interviews with Bill and Joe. plus id love to hear the story of you Being consultants for Cartoon Network with Bill, Joe, Friz and Don Messick.please

Pokey said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Pokey said...


March 31, almost April Fool's day, and that post ain't no April Fool's joke
either,2016. Steve