Thursday, January 28, 2010

Beyond Crap: How Many Things Have To Go Wrong For This To Exist

I used to wonder about how many people it took to let things get to the state of affairs of animation in the 70s and 80s.

If I had a time machine, I would travel back to 1945 and show some animators these images and tell them what was going to happen to cartoons in a mere 25 years. I just want to see the look in their eyes before they lock me away in the crazy house.
Even in 1960, nobody would believe you could get something that looks this awful on TV.
"In the glorious future of the 1980s, we won't be able to afford toes."

Yet this was totally acceptable when I started in the business.
I used to try to calculate how many wrong decisions it would take for shows this ugly and amateurish to get on the air.
First, the studio head has to think it's alright to have his name on the product. He doesn't mind being spit on on the street by mothers whose children they've punished.
The design department has to be filled with people who can barely hold a pencil and who hate cartoons.
An executive or 2 or 3 has to have grown up without ever seeing a Disney cartoon, or a Looney Tunes or even an early Hanna Barbera cartoon. They have to have never opened a comic book to know what professional standards or good drawing, design and appeal were just a few years earlier.
A million unlikely accidents have to have taken place to allow the implausibility of this to actually occur. Maybe there are a million universes and the laws of chance just stuck this one with all the right mutations to allow cartoons that are the exact opposite of what common sense decisions would evolve naturally.
Imagine that it's possible for someone to be in charge of an animation studio who has never animated; someone who doesn't know that the more "realistic" you design your cartoons, the harder it is to animate and therefore the crummier it will look. Imagine that he doesn't know that it costs a lot more to draw semi-realistic characters and so therefore there will be less animation. Or that it's ok to animate for peanuts with slave labor in the Orient.
Imagine this person doesn't know that action characters or superheroes are not allowed to be violent on television. That's a lot of things to not know about animation. Can such a person exist? Apparently lots of them did and probably still do. OK, even if a person that ignorant could theoretically exist and had power - and he wanted to go ahead and do everything wrong by animating "realistic" characters on tiny budgets, you would think he would at least hire a professional superhero artist who can draw well and has an appealing style to design the show. At least!Ruby-Spears (just about one of the worst studios in history) actually did hire Jack Kirby - but never used his designs or poses! I remember asking people about that and the excuse was "well Kirby's great, but you can't use his style as is. It's not 'animatable'."

Like this is?
Look how Goddamn dynamic these poses are!
This can't be real, but it is! I actually saw it on television. The odds against anything this ugly and stupid are so high that it is nigh impossible.

Actually, Ruby Spears had at least 2 geniuses in-house, and probably more, so how is it that the cartoons are so Godawful? Every studio had some top talent in it, but refused to take advantage of it.

Even characters that were once appealing and funny became hideous by the 1970s. How?

Who would OK drawings like these? Apparently, lots of people did.

Think about it: A whole bunch of important people had to look at this drawing and approve it. The designer, the layout supervisor, the animation director, the executive, the studio head and more. They all took a look at it and said "Yeah, that's just fine. Dandy! Put it on the air, pronto!"
Here is what passed for "cartoony" shows.
Ye Gods! ...then there's this abomination!
What's even more unbelievable than the mere fact that all cartoons degraded to this state after the glorious Golden Age of the 30s to 50s is that today, there are people who are nostalgic about it. I got most of these off some site that thinks the 80s had a high artistic and creative standard.

This is proof that we are living in an alternate universe.


litlgrey said...

John, I hold to blame for this sort of excretion, well of course the sponsors and the studios, but also the severe reductionist atmosphere which was most demonstrably produced by HB beginning with, and following, "Jonny Quest." Tell me please if you think I am wrong here, but I hold accountable people who damn well ought to have known better, like Alex Lovy and Iwao Takamoto. I feel they set the pattern for the clumsy, cookie-cutter designs which led to disasterously clumsy, cheap pencilwork (sometimes even visible on screen), and a willingness to allow horrific errors to go through unchecked. As I said, please tell me if you think I'm wrong.

KennethJ said...

I actually liked a lot of these cartoons when I was a kid... but then again I was too young to know what good writing was and I hadn't started drawing yet. It wasn't until I started watching old 80's shows that I realized how chunky and boring it was, but I can watch a Tex Avery cartoon and laugh out loud and even be awed by the dynamic motions of the characters and beauty of the backgrounds. I have to agree comics are best kept on paper, a TV translation rarely works, and making a cartoon to sell a toy is just...

Andrew said...

Even if I grew up with these cartoons in this style, I can feel now how insincere they are in trying to be real entertainment or art... beyond just the art of commercialism and merchandise tie-ins. It's as if studios saw how animation was being done across the world, and exploited what it was trying to be over with "japanamation" (haha, i love the dated terminology). Maybe the focus for these shows was more on the script writing, (your choice to say to what end, creativity or product placement) which is a shame because honestly, with more inventive artists on board, these 70's and 80's cartoons would have been better.

The anime style, I'm not sure what they were trying to accomplish with it, or whether they started this trend in animation. There are beautiful feature length films, and cheesy made-for-tv shows just as there was in the western world...

JohnK said...

The scripts were even worse than the designs.

Still are.

That's the worst problem we've had for 40 years.

M. Smith said...

I find it hilarious how that red ship looking thing has "666" on the side of it. Someone else must've thought it was hell too!

C said...

That kid mutating into a car is probably the last thing I'm going to see before I die.

Alberto said...

what is going on in that picture below that Avengers cover?? Are they naked or aren't they, and if they are naked how do they procreate?

FishStix said...

all these crappy cartoons seems to be a huge inspiration to the creator of the Family Guy... boring and lame.

Elana Pritchard said...

Makes you wonder why bland people like that got involved in the cartoon industry in the first place.

Boring immortality?

agent_x said...

John, this is still occurring, even today.
The latest example that I have seen is the "Black Panther" cartoon, produced by marvel animation.

They seem to account for the shoddy work in it, by labeling it a "Motion comic".

All I know is that it makes John Romita Jr's art look worthless and appears as though they don't care about it at all, due to the way it is produced.

It makes me cry.

Oliver_A said...

The scripts were even worse than the designs.

I second and triple that. From all the shows I watched in the 80's, there is not ONE memorable episode I could remember. It's all the same throw-away crap over and over, euthanising a whole generation into a mindless zombie state of unimaginative purple-cyan-neon-plastic consumerism.

Watching each of those cartoons is about as inspiring and interesting as watching paint dry ,though with the paint, at least you'll learn some aspects of the dynamics of fluids...

With Ren & Stimpy, each part of an episode is a delicate, unique cartoon. Hooray, the central nerve system if firing up again, because there is something HAPPENING on the TV screen! Look, there are drawings coming to LIFE! What are they DOING?!? Hey, that's funny, did you SEE that?

Everyone recognized it, loved it, and finally, the dark ages of the 70's and 80's were smashed to pieces... well, for some time.

CJ Grebb said...

John, we're not nostalgic about Thundercats and GI Joe because they were well drawn. Our nine-year-old brains had no concept of good posing, solid construction, balanced layout, foreground-background, line-of-action, or ANY of the axioms that really good artists use when they're drawing.

We loved those shows because they were COOL. Kung-Fu Cat-people from space who fight mutants led by a space mummy? COOL. An American Para-military force that uses high-tech vehicles and gadgets to defeat a terrorist organization led by a crazy leader in a chrome faceplate? COOL. Giant space robots that transform into trucks and planes? TOTALLY COOL. That's really all it was.

I understand this post is mostly lamenting how badly DRAWN these shows were - but questioning our love for them based on that criteria is silly.

On a secondary note - watch the opening credits of some of those shows to see that those designs could actually be animated very well. The Thundercats opening was very well drawn and animated.

JohnK said...

As dumb and uncool as I think all those concepts are, they could have been executed professionally at least.

And why did every cartoon have to be equally stupid and the same?

Oliver_A said...

We loved those shows because they were COOL.

We watched those shows because they were SOLD to us as the next COOL thing. Buy more toys, and show your friends how COOL you are!

A whole generation flogged to greedy corporations.

I understand this post is mostly lamenting how badly DRAWN these shows were - but questioning our love for them based on that criteria is silly.

Yeah, so silly, because we all know how great the stories and scripts were.

And how silly it is to judge a VISUAL medium based on VISUAL characteristics.

aalong64 said...

As someone who DIDN'T grow up watching these shows and has no nostalgia for them, I can objectively agree that they're pretty awful. It's not just the bad drawing and writing-- the basic premises are pretty stupid.

BTW John, this is probably my favourite title of any of your posts so far.

Jeff M said...

I remember a co-worker of mine telling me about the show with the kid that turns into a car. I honestly thought he was making it up because it was so absurd. But here it is, a real cartoon, and it's not even supposed to be funny.

Zazoo Pitts said...

Never seen Poppies hideous!

I think the Turbo Teen animation is hilariously bad especially the parts where his ass turns into the bumper and the mouth into the front of the car. I would love to see your take on it John!

The characters just standing around in boring (barely?) poses and just talking was inspired by Japanese Anime wasn't it? They had a lot of that stuff too.

drawingtherightway said...

One thing you would notice when watching many 80's cartoons was the coloring mistakes. Another thing I remember is sometimes when you would hear a character talk, the voice was coming from the wrong character! How hard is that to screw up! I assume these 2 kinds of mistakes were because of outsourcing.

JohnK said...

"The characters just standing around in boring (barely?) poses and just talking was inspired by Japanese Anime wasn't it? They had a lot of that stuff too."

no, America has been doing that ever since Saturday Morning cartoons started, or even earlier in the 1950s.

"Another thing I remember is sometimes when you would hear a character talk, the voice was coming from the wrong character! How hard is that to screw up!"

It's easy when you can't tell one voice from the next.

RooniMan said...


(Dear God, what have we done...)

Niki said...

Turbo Teen! I remember the jokes they sing about! The guy who had that idea must have been neutered.

Niki said...

I'm just going to say that I saw a lot of the shows growing up and when they came on I'd ask my dad to change the channel but for some reason I remember Thundercats having at least one decent episode that got me to watch it more. Does anyone else have that strange memory or am I goofing myself?

Bazil said...

I wasn't born in the 80's, so I could never stand these shows. I always thought I was weird because everyone loved shows like Scooby Doo, TMNT, and Transfomers while I found them boring. Mostly because they had too much talk and no funny.

Ian Merch! said...

I grew up with these cartoons initially. Before Nicktoons and all that came out when I was six or seven. I used to rent Popples all the time for some ungodly reason.
But I'm not nostalgic about them. I remember seeking these, and a few other shows, out recently and being horrified. Insipid isn't a strong enough word for these. I am bewildered that I was able to like these shows at all. Maybe there was nothing else on?

John Pannozzi said...

I'm one of the few people who disliked Thundercats, even as a kid.

And I must say that He-Man had some of the worst character designs in the history of animation. They looked more like men in costumes than creatures from another planet (even the worst costumes in Japanese monster movies look more animalistic)

G.I. Joe, on the other hand, I find to be so dumb and ludicrous that's actually kinda fun (and I think that was the intention).

Never saw Turbo Teen and I'm glad I didn't (I remember a bumper on Cartoon Network that actually bashed it!)

I don't feel 70's cartoons belong in this post, as they're a different kind of bad than the '80s stuff (at least there were even a very few '80s cartoons like Bakshi's Mighty Mouse that were good, and even G.I. Joe and maybe a few He-Man episodes are more watchable than ANY American TV cartoon series from the '70s)

Even writers have bad memories of the '80s. Paul Dini and Mark Evanier have gone on the record about how they felt the vast majority of the shows they worked on at the time were terrible (one reason I respect them immensely)

It's work pointing out that show that were made for first-run syndication (like G.I. Joe, Thundercats, Transformers, and certain seasons of Ninja Turtles and the Real Ghostbusters), and as a general rule of thumb they had more freedom concerning violence and risky subject matter than the shows made for networks (like the Smurfs, Dungeons and Dragons, and Scooby-Doo) did. Not that it helped.

Chip Butty said...

Hey Niki, I think if anything good happened on Thundercats it was because a precious few genuine talents like Bob Camp were character designers on them. Same for The Real Gag - er, Ghostbusters.

That unconstructed Popeye is a particularly hideous blasphemy.

About stuff like GI Joe being "cool": should we be happy that the film industry which hack cartoon "writers" of the 80s couldn't break into is now mining all that cool stuff like Transformers and Thundercats for "marquee value"? What's next, "creator-driven movies"?

American pop culture has become a bulimic snake eating it's own regurgitated tail for a fraction of the nutritional value.

Juan said...

John What do you think about "The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack" ?

Aaron Borst said...

John, you are right the 70s and 80s were crap, but you have to understand that this is what my generation grew up with. It's like McNuggets. They were my favorite food as a kid. I have fond memories of the deliciousness that was to be had eating overcooked ground and breded chicken parts. I bought a 6 piece recently for nostalgia. The things taste like the deepest depths of hell but that taste has a certain warmth to them that I still love. Just the smell makes my heart flutter.

I have fond memories of watching the cartoons of the 80s. I have watched them again, once or twice, I know that they suck, badly. the story lines are thin if they exist at all. The art is so bad, some times I cant even recognize what they are trying to draw. I still like them though they bring back fond memories of Saturday mornings sitting with my husky younger brothers and enjoying our brains rotting as we smell the pancakes my mom had just poured onto the griddle.

AnArchyAl said...

maybe kids thought it was cool because it was all there was that was anywhere close to anything "fantastic". i grew up in the 80's i think i was 4 when popples came out. i would imagine i was the target audience for such a thing. cause shortly after i HAD to have one of those things. why? i didnt really poop parties and turn every occasion into...well i dont want to call poppel adventures exciteing but...but i sure thought it was the most important thing in the world. all it did was turn inside out. my socks do that. something lead my brain to think it though.

Pokey said...

Litlgrey, firsy, welcome, old friend! [From YourPalDoug, Yowp,Schadenfruedian Therapy, and my own Your Pony Pal pokey, Too [and no, I am NOT related to the Clokeys.]

Alex Toth should be cited as well as the other Alex and Iwao..

Pokey said...

Two other true geniuses worked on Thundercats, or as a entity whom I'll just keep anonymous said over a decade ago: Thundercraps.

Those would be the true kings of 1960s-early 70s TV Christmas specials:
Rankin and Bass.

Too bad their glory days were behind them by Thundercraps's arrival, though.

SunshineFox said...

How about Heathcliff and the Cadillac cats John?? just to throw it in the mix :)

Pokey said...

In reponse to Mr.Chip Butty [:) LOL love the name!] I notice My Little Cash horsies-I mean, ca$h cows, I mean, ponis, have not made it to the screen a la the "boys's" toys..

Jeff Overturf said...

People can try and justify crap all they just turns into crap covered crap!

The world is full of people who are bad at what they do John, and like you I feel they all came of age and became decision making adults in the 1970's and continue to today.

As far as people being nostalgic for this crap??? I'm as frustrated with this as you, too! Something happened along the way, where instead of people looking fondly at the past because of quality things, people look back fondly on things just because they remember them...crap, crap, crap!

There's nothing you can do about it except keep tring to do things well and hope that one day the balance will shift.

Ryan said...

I get the point CJ Grebb was going for. If you ask the 8-year-old version of me if I want to watch a show about a cat and mouse or a show about a boy who turns into a car, he'd say car. If you ask him if he wants to see a show about a bear and a forest ranger or a show where the Rubik's cube is some kind of magical gnome, he'd go with the magical gnome.

And theme song sequences. I'm sure they all blew the budget equivalent of three episodes on 60 seconds of animation, but kid version of me would be completely pumped up to watch this show by that point.

I'm very sorry to say this, but when I was a kid, I had the chance to watch Mighty Mouse, and I always turned it off because I didn't make it through the corny theme song. Maybe if it had a dozen characters running down a canyon firing lasers, I would have given it a shot, I dunno.

Operation GutterBall said...

If you like to laugh at bad drawings, then these are the holy grail of comedy.

Zoran Taylor said...

I remember seeing an interview with David Silverman on BoingBoing wherein the host actually played him a clip of Turbo Teen, which he worked on. His instant gut reaction was to say "No, no, oh god no..." and cover his eyes. He REFUSED to watch it. I think he nearly got up and left after some five seconds of footage.

Mr. Semaj said...

Every one of these clips make me glad that I am unfamiliar with much of the 70's and 80's series. It's even worse that so many talented artists from the Golden Age ended their careers (sometimes lives!) working on these.

Guy Cx said...

That boy morphing into a car was REALLY scary.

It should be the "glorious moment" of that "cartoon", and still it looked scary, crappy, poorly animated.

Kids used to like this crap back in the day not because they were stupid kids, but because they were victims of some well-done marketing strategies. I mean, that's what I think...

chardday said...

It seems like the big falloff in animation quality came when cartoons segued from being a form meant for all audiences (the early Disney features; before-the-movie Warner Bros. shorts) into one aimed almost solely at children (nearly everything since.)

Kids will watch any cartoon; maybe they appreciate good work when they get it but they definitely don't mind crap. I grew up in the seventies and see all your points now, but none of it bothered me then.

That must wear on the artists too, and even whom the field attracts. What's the point of doing good work when some dead-eyed brat is just going to stare blankly at whatever they get anyway?

Today Pixar has the world's attention and are doing first-class work. When CG loses its hip factor and is busted down to the children-only club I bet the same thing happens all over again.

We should care about our children blah blah blah but it's a big mean world.

CJ Grebb said...

Oliver A said:
"Yeah, so silly, because we all know how great the stories and scripts were.

And how silly it is to judge a VISUAL medium based on VISUAL characteristics."

I respond:
Its not silly to judge them NOW, as adults, but as a kid I didn't care all that much.

Watch this:

Now even if you think its a waste to use animation to portray something as commercial as "Thundercats," and even if you hate the designs, I submit that the drawings in that sequence are constructed well, the poses are dynamic, the animation is well timed, and the emotional impact is high. For what they were trying to do - that sequence is VERY WELL ANIMATED. Visually, it is possible to animate a show like this with quality. It just usually wasn't.

No defending the scripts, of course. Those shows are all unwatchable to me now - the writing was, indeed, awful. But as a kid (which was my point), I lapped it up. And not because there was a toy to buy, I assure you. I never owned a "Thundercats" toy and never asked for one.

MattyD said...

Everyone is entitled to their mistakes aren't they? Even the best of us.

MattyD said...

These are pretty lame though.

sharprm said...

funny post no-one would believe you like in 12 monkeys.

I think I was lucky growing up even though there was crap like smurfs and captain planet there were some good alternatives like count duckula, gargoyles etc.

stiff cartoons might be okay sometimes because i really liked star trek animated series as a kid:

SoleilSmile said...

...of course you screen capped the worst drawings from all of these cartoons to use for your commentary. You do know that only 13 out of 39-65 episodes for each 80's cartoon series is animated by the lead crew, don't you? I'm sure you do and you give me a scathing rebuttal about it.

I like to think that the 80's producers did the best they could with the resources they had.

Try screen caps from the eps of these 80's cartoons instead:

Fairytale Flakeout- Beverly Hills Teens

Call of the Primitives- Transformers

Roll for it (LOVE the boards)- Transformers

Million Dollar Medic- G.I. Joe

Dollars and Sense-Galaxy High

House Party- Bionic Six

Happy Birthday- Bionic Six

Then there's STORY. Best cartoon of the 80's IMO: Robotech!

Other cartoons has their moments too: The Ultimate Doom from the Transformers, The Music Awards from Jem and There's No Place Like Springfield from G.I. Joe.


In my opinion the eps of the cartoons above aged well. You and I have different standards when it comes to animation. Design and story will always win over acting in my book--but that's ME. I totally appreciate your passion for animation production.But c'mon John, must you be so inflexible? Or are the battle scars are too deep?

JohnK said...

I didn't screen cap any of these. I just grabbed them off fan sites who think the images are great. They are totally typical of the whole decade that I was a part of.

And none of them have a remote sense of design - let alone story.

Every studio in the 80s hated anything with style or originality or story. They just recycled the same stories - that were all ripped off from popular movies. They ripped off each others' rip offs constantly. It was a never-ending cycle of sameness and decay.

This is a ridiculous argument. There is no rational defense for this stuff.

It's all anti-animation and is against every principle of quality.

Oliver_A said...

Now even if you think its a waste to use animation to portray something as commercial as "Thundercats," and even if you hate the designs, I submit that the drawings in that sequence are constructed well, the poses are dynamic, the animation is well timed, and the emotional impact is high

The intro was, in many cases, the most interesting visual aspect about the shows (plus the title music). I mean, it's a good investment, since the intro needs to sell the show, and it can be recycled for every single episode.

Once the intro is over, the stock movements, awkward posings and unexpressive faces return:

We have seen this in hundreds of other 80's cartoons

The concept of the show itself is about as bland and uninspiring as it can get. It's basically a mutated He-Man rip-off with better drawings (which is not saying much, since He-Man is one of the absolute low points in Saturday Morning Cartoons). It's like saying the plague is better than Ebola.

But as a kid (which was my point), I lapped it up. And not because there was a toy to buy, I assure you. I never owned a "Thundercats" toy and never asked for one.

Did you never watch any classic cartoons as a kid? I did. And even if I watched many of those Saturday Morning Shows as a kid (they were, at some point, the only thing left in kid's programming), I always KNEW that they were not as good as the classic cartoons.

Thanks to DVD, you can make a test with almost any child: show them the classics, and as a result, you will get the BEST emotional responses.

Oliver_A said...

@CJ Grebb

Another important point is: our own imagination as kids retroactively makes those shows way better than they were. Do you know how I came to this point? By reading your description of Thundercats, which, as a concept, sounds way more exciting than the actual show.

I stand by my point: all those feelings towards those shows are just us remembering our own childhood.

The good stuff, however, passes the test of time.

Peter Bernard said...

I am not going to bicker over this with anybody, but I fail to see using youth as an excuse for LIKING any of this stuff. I admit I would watch Scooby Doo back in the 70s but I knew it was bad, even as a kid. I would marvel at how bad it was and try to understand WHY it was so terrible when the Bugs Bunny cartoons in syndication on the other channel were so good. In that sense, terrible cartoons helped me become interested in cartoons as much as the good ones, but I never thought bad cartoons were "cool."

Ha, but then again I have broken up with a girl who wanted me to move in because her taste in television was poor, I can't be around boring media, I have to leave the room. I haven't had cable since I think 1996. If it's good, someone will send me an internet link and I'll see it that way.

The people I know who work in television watch TV far less than the other people I know. I think that tells you something right there.

JohnK said...

Darn, I think I accidentally deleted Felicity's comment and wanted to answer back.

Sorry about that. If you saved it, you can try reposting it.

Someone else wrote a post insulting another commenter and that one I deleted on purpose for reasons I stated before.

Steve Hogan said...

I agree with Alberto...those naked genital-less cat people are disturbing.

The Rubik's cube cartoon is one of the greatest example of 80's cartoons cluelessly latching onto toy tie-ins. Kids liked rubik's cubes because they were a puzzle to be solved, not because they wanted them to sprout heads and go on adventures! Why not make a cartoon about a box of pickup sticks that fights crime while your at it?

Whit said...

John Kimball animated the Turbo Teen transformation in the show's main title. I don't know if he also animated the one shown here, but it follows the same idea.

Shannon said...

Those car transformation sequences are some of the most disturbing animation I've ever seen.

Someone's rear end turning into a bumper. Exactly what I needed to see today :|

SoleilSmile said...

Alright then, John. Design an animated action-adventure show that ISN'T a comedy.

No rubber hoses...

I'd like to see how your own design sensibilities will be applied to this genre. This isn't a cheeky dare. I sincerely want to know what your ideals for the genre would be using your own work.

Aaron Borst said...

The point is that we all know it is bad, everything in the 80s was bad. I don't watch those cartoons or listen to music from that era on a regular basis anymore, but it is nice to go back and look at the things that we enjoyed as an ignorant 5 year old. I am sure there are cheap, poorly made things from your past that you enjoy.

My biggest problem is that no one has learned from this era. Movie and television studios are reproducing and trying to pass off all this stuff on the next generation of kids. Instead of complaining about the crappiness of the past why don't we just make better stuff. Create website, educate people. It is easier the ever to get the ball rolling.

Anonymous said...

It's easy to make a piece of crap and sell it as the next cool thing. It always has been. That's why Scooby-Doo is still consistently popular after 40 years.

Look at Johnny Test. It looks crappy, the animators know it, everyone does, yet it still gets great ratings because kids are more or less commanded to watch it, while genuinely good shows get canceled.

Brian said...

Hi John,

Is it possible to create a well-animated "realistic" drawing? Milt Kahl animated very appealing people, but they weren't quite realistic. I'm wondering if you've seen any, or if you think it's even possible. Were these 80's era shows suffering from a lack of skill, or was the concept unsuited to animation?


John Pannozzi said...

The ironic thing is that one of the animation subcontractors on Thundercats went on to form Studio Ghibli. Pretty chilly that Thundercats and Hayao Miyazaki can connected so closely.

Ben Cohen said... a kid, LOVED it.

Jay said...

That Popeye, seriously? Popeye is probably my favorite cartoon character of all time - my childhood hero, right up there with Godzilla (and, come to think of it, those two were my first Halloween costumes... water wings for forearm muscles!)

A side-effect of being born in the 80's is that, I'd often end up seeing "The New Adventures Of..." or "...The Next Generation!" versions of older cartoons. I'm certain I've seen those chop-job versions of the HB characters before, but somehow I was lucky enough to miss that browless Sailor Man.

glamaFez said...

How could anyone hate Popeye enough to make him look like...THAT

Anonymous said...

I'm guessing it was all the drugs that people were doing in the 60s.

Ted Blackman said...

Hey John, I'm guilty. It was my job at Ruby Spears to take Jack Kirby's awesome vehicles and make them 'animatable'. I hated doing that. One day Jack walked into my office and was standing over me as I worked, just talking, when I suddenly realized I was caught red-handed erasing and re-drawing the wheels on his machine so they would sit flat for animation, which naturally took away all the charm from his design. I stopped and apologized to him, but he was such a sweet guy, and he said that's okay, keep going, that's your job. He wasn't the KING because he was such a great designer, he was also a great guy. -Ted

CJ Grebb said...

"I always KNEW that they were not as good as the classic cartoons."

I'll preface this by saying that my all-time favorite piece of animation is "Magical Mestro." That was true back then as it is now.

But . . .

Comparing "Thundercats" to (in this example) Tex Avery is a little like comparing "Citizen Kane" to "Police Academy."

Under no circumstances would any reasonable person consider the latter to be even in the same galaxy of quality as the former. But that fact doesn't mean that "Citizen Kane" is the only kind of movie WORTHY of being committed to celluloid, it it?

There can be room for something of more base, commercial quality if it's enjoyable in its own right, yes?

Look, the classic cartoons of the 40s and 50s are great, but none of those guys were interested in giving me animated fantasy or sci-fi, which is something I greatly enjoy ALONG WITH the more classic cartoons. It can't ONLY be "Bugs Bunny." A little "Ninja Scroll" has its place.

JohnK said...

No one in the 80s was interested or capable of giving you animated sci fi either.

They couldn't do anything halfway decent.

Comics were much better at that.

Guy said...

You've got the wrong analogy there, CJ Grebb.

It should be a fine meal prepared by a world-class chef compared to some gunk you scraped off the inside of a dumpster.

Oliver_A said...


Hmm, how can I continue arguing with you when you start to base the discussion on claims I never made?

First of all, I think your comparison between animation and life action films is like comparing apples to oranges.

In life action, what you see are real people. Real people have lots of visual advantages compared to animation, thanks to our complex body and facial anatomy. For a trained actor, it's very easy to create a huge range of expressions and therefore emotions using his face and body.

Since years, John stresses the point in this blog that "acting" in animation is a very hard task to pull off. One fundamental aspect to counterbalance it is having appealing designs, which requires skill, professionality, and the most important aspect: a production system where animators are IN CHARGE of their OWN medium.

The point now is: Thundercats is, like most 80's cartoons, a show which does not take advantage of its own medium, because it was concieved by executives who watch trends and like to sell toys, instead of animators/cartoonists who care about their audience and the quality of their work. It's like hearing music made by non-musicians. It's phony, a forgery.

Thundercats, like all 80's saturday morning shows, belongs to this cathegory. Unappealing, hard to animate mannequin designs with low budgets and bad scripts. There is nothing memorable or even remotely interesting to look at. A visual medium bereft of EVERYTHING which made it great just 25 years earlier, when cartoonists were still in charge.

Comparing "Thundercats" to (in this example) Tex Avery is a little like comparing "Citizen Kane" to "Police Academy."

To take your analogy, in my opinion, it's more like comparing a real motion picture to a teleshop commercial.

But that fact doesn't mean that "Citizen Kane" is the only kind of movie WORTHY of being committed to celluloid, it it?

When I want to go to the cinema, I want to SEE a motion picture. As much as when I buy Orange juice, I expect that Orange Juice is in the package, and not the morning contents of a bedpan.

There can be room for something of more base, commercial quality if it's enjoyable in its own right, yes?

If you have tasted and recognized a better product, then why keep on defending the rotten apples?

I mean, what redeeming aspects does a show like Thundercats, Turbo Teen or He-Man have?

Look, the classic cartoons of the 40s and 50s are great, but none of those guys were interested in giving me animated fantasy or sci-fi

Does sci-fi and fantasy in animation have to be dumb and visually unappealing?

, which is something I greatly enjoy ALONG WITH the more classic cartoons. It can't ONLY be "Bugs Bunny." A little "Ninja Scroll" has its place.

The 70's and 80's were the decades where no real cartoons were produced anymore. It was the time when TV animation was in its most degraded state, almost an extinct art form.

The only way to see what the medium was capable of WAS to watch classic cartoons. Real cartoons came back on television for a short period in the 90's.

Pokey said...

That stuff from the eighties is IMO so bad I don't know where to begin.


ca60gregory said...

Im not nostalgic about crummy 80s cartoons due to their own merits, Its more likely that being constantly exposed to them at a young age has created some kind of weird attachment, However I find the stuff unwatchable now, usually a few bars of the opening theme is enough to get my nostalgia kicks, then I put something good on.

John Paul Cassidy said...

The fact that some of the cartoons you cited (particularly THUNDERCATS, GI JOE, JEM, and POPPLES) were animated in Japan is very forgivable, at least in my opinion.

The fact that the scripts were so lame is *not* forgivable. See, I do have good things to say about THUNDERCATS, GI JOE and stuff, but I don't hold them to the highest level like the retro-80s fans do. I enjoyed those shows as a kid, but when looking back, I realized how lame they were, especially after I watched FAR BETTER shows, both American and Japanese (and beyond), old and new. I felt so patronized as a kid, and I wanted to rebel!

talkingtj said...

not much i can add except weve forgotten why these cartoons were created in the first place, TO SELL TOYS- the thinking was that the cartoons were half hour commercials for the various toys and accessories they were selling,they figured the kids were either too excited, indifferent or stupid to notice the lack of professionalism these shows had,funny how they all replaced stuff like casper, baby huey,warner brothers,which originally occupied the timeslots, maybe if the kiddies noticed the difference they wouldnt have watched and no toys wouldve been sold.thank god i was a teenager at the time, i thought they were awful then and i was right.

SoleilSmile said...

Action-Adventure shows today are better because of 80's cartoons. I see the 80's as a period of transition, which never easy. It seemed that most animation artist were green and there were no old masters to show them the ropes and enforce quality control. Then again, today's animation leaders where green minions in the 80's and because of that time they know what NOT to do in an animated series. I appreciate the 80's. There were more cartoons for girls and women were actually included in boys cartoons and they weren't stupid tokens. Lady Jaye is my hero! I love the stories too. Sure the cartoons were designed to sell toys, but I didn't feel I was hit over the head with a pitch. The storylines of these cartoons acted independently of the commercialism and stand pretty well on their own. If anything the commercialism helped preproduction, for none of the characters had "throw away" designs. New toy simply meant new character and that character would be interesting to look at. Much better than the slouchy omega male characters we have in modern American cartoons. People now have to look to anime for confident male characters and I find that rather sad.

JohnK said...


chardday said...

Those of us who grew up in that era got boned all over the place.

All I ever heard from my dad was how his toys were wood and metal instead of plastic, his chocolate bars huge and rich instead of plastic. Nevermind all the cool pirate and cowboy movies he got, compared to our zero-budget Disney live-action crap invariably starring Bob Crane.

And then there's now, when kids get all the Harry Potter movies they can eat, and the junk food is delicious again and their toys are smarter than they are. Their stuff blows ours away across the board all over again.

It was a cheeseball era, after pride-in-manufacturing but before computers and the global economy.

Our cartoons sucked too and animation is of course the subject that has brought us all to your site, but really the shows from that era were just one aspect of a whole sorry trend.

Bwanasonic said...

"It's all anti-animation and is against every principle of quality."

This is pretty much the exact phrase that goes through my head whenever my kids are watching Chowder, or pretty much anything else on CN these days. As for the 80's stuff, I used to get up saturday mornings, get baked and watch that stuff, but I never was so out of it I thought it was good.

Michael said...

Excellent meta tagging!

Labels: poor, stupid, ugly

SoleilSmile said...

Write me off as brain-washed John. I just finished an epic graphic novel that was influenced by among other things, 80's cartoons. Tying up all the loose ends has been madness. Therefore, I can empathize with 80's producers.

Sorry. we'll have to agree to disagree.

Michael said...

CJ Grebb's response is evidence of what corporate executives know. Corporate executives have tons of data to verify that our minds are mush at age nine. Whatever went in at that age is very difficult to de-program.

CJ's response is a testament to their devious success.

CJ's response is a similar outcome but thankfully much less acute damage than we've seen from those neglected orphans in Romania during the Nicolae Ceau┼čescu's dictatorship.

Guy said...

My mind sure was mush after I stopped watching modern cartoons. It was so bad I could barely function.

But I never, EVER thought that my childhood trash was great. (I admit to joining in on the internet cartoon nerd pastime of hyping up poo for a little while, though.)

Chance said...

Thanks John! Very informative! It was a rough time for animation but I'm sort of glad animation didn't simply die out in the 70s and 80s because without its crappy efforts, it may have not rebounded as strongly as it has since. At least we kept feeding our animators during these dark ages so they'd be around later.

Thanks for Ren and Stimpy! Next to watching old Bugs Bunny, Walt Disney and Tex Avery cartoons, your cartoons as well left a lasting impression on me when I was younger!

It's odd, you know... I may have spent an equal amount of my youth watching crapamation of the 80s, yet my surviving memories are all of the classic shows.

JLG said...

These kinds of arguments strike me as pretty silly.

I joined the human race in 1982. So I was surrounded by a lot of these toy-driven shows. Thank the gods, I was also a child of the dawn of the video age---old Disney/Warner/MGM stuff bent me in a certain direction from day one and I'm very grateful for that.

But the all-or-nothing viewpoint expressed by a lot of folks 'round 'ere is hard to stomach. Come the heck on. It may be hard for ye to believe this, but to an artistic mind, value can be found in even the crummiest of places.

You'll get no argument from me about the usually atrocious writing. And you'll also get no argument about the stiff (or near-nil) animation on most of them.

But here's where you fail to see the forest. As children, we absorb what we see, and we internalize it in our own individual ways. Often, when we watch a show as young kids, we internalize qualities from them that are incidental or completely unintentional, yet they affect us deeply and inform our developing artistic sensibility, sometimes in very pivotal ways.

In my case, one show I'm very attached to is the 1985 Care Bears series from DIC. Yes, that sappy, ridiculously written, badly designed, choppily animated cheap-jack toy commercial hack job of a is something I have a deep bond with. And why's that, especially when I "know better?" Because, whether the the drudgeworkers knew it or not (and they surely didn't), they created a rather somber, melancholy little show that struck certain emotional and psychological notes in li'l ol' me, notes that stayed with me long enough to evolve and change with adulthood. The result: in my own creative endeavors, the "adult version" of what that show stirred within me is a central part of my sensibility. And I wouldn't trade it for anything.

What I just described is exactly the sort of impact WB and early Hanna-Barbara had on a certain J. Kricfalusi during his larval stage, as is evidenced by the paticular way that he writes about them. He, unlike we 80s kids, had the incidental fortune of being surrounded ONLY by superior material. But it's the same process regardless. That's how the soul of an artist always forms---from whatever's around them, everything from the diamonds to the drek.

This is, I promise you, not an attempt to argue artistic merit to Care Bears and its comtemporaries, but rather to remind ya'll that value can be found anywhere, and many, many artists over time have taken something meaningless and made it into something meaningful (at least to them).

P.S. As bad as the writing, design and animation on early 80s shows usually were, I love (ya hear me?) LOVE the colors and film texture of so many Japanese-made shows of that period. I don't know what accounts for it, and I'd give anything to know how to duplicate that look.

JLG said...

It does amaze me, though, how animators in the 1970s didn't simply drop dead of ennui. At least most 1980s designs actually had some MEAT (even if it was worm-infested) and were allowed at least some actual movement now and then. Most 70s designs I've seen barely even seem to exist at all. They're rice cakes. No, diet rice cakes drenched with water and dried out in the sun for a few days. There's almost nothing THERE. I share the blogmaster's puzzlement over just how things ever got that state, especially since most of the poor saps forced to churn out those diet rice cakes were Rod Scribners and Virgil Rosses.

Martin Juneau said...

As a kid who lived in the mid-80's, i was also saturated by Toys cartoons like Transformers, Popples, and G.I. Joe simply the reason that they was the only shows who was in trend. Thanks god, i watching a lot of Warner Bros., Disney and Walter Lantz cartoons and i wasn't affected by the 80's craze that the actual generation rase off.

A few 80's shows having a lot of potentials like the 1980's Astro Boy and Mysterious Cities of Gold who created a legion of fans around the world the same what happen to Oban Star-Racers 20 years later.

talkingtj said...

am i crazy? are people defending 80s cartoons? i cant be reading that right! THEY WERE CRAP, THERE WAS NO MALE/FEMALE AGENDA YOU FRIGGIN HIPPIES, IT WAS CORPORATIONS SELLING CRAP TO KIDS THRU CARTOONS!i cant believe there living breathing brainwashed-acid washed disciples of this crap-never underestimate corporate america and its ability t influence-FRIGGIN ZOMBIES!

SoleilSmile said...

Make your own cartoon 80's opponenents. Go on. Do it. Oh, and there has to be more than three characters on the screen. Make that a minimum of 5 characters who interact with each other and there has to be one crowd scene where all the characters move. BTW, crowd is 15 or more. Oh, and no organic BG's.
Your cartoon also has to take place in or around buildings.

Now go ahead. Dazzle us with your execution of this typical 80's set up that you can do so much better with your current skill level >:)

JohnK said...

Isn't that the whole point?

You could add: draw everyone standing straight up and down, don't draw with style or individuality and send the layouts and animation overseas to people who trace model sheets - who aren't even artists for the most part.

This whole system is designed for failure.

SoleilSmile said...

My argument is that you're not being fair, John. You chose the WORST screen shots to use for this blog entry. It's unfair to the production designers of 80's cartoons.

Why didn't you get the good ones drawn by the A-list crews on those shows?
The screen caps I took below are a better example of how the most experienced artists knew how work within the limits of their 80's shows. The artists who help develop a show always have more artistic freedom. Whoever the layout artists are in the following screen caps, they were trusted to stay within the style of the show, therefore the producers allowed them a bit of freedom. I think Peter Chung did some of these. Poses like that marvelous twist on Starscream as he stands next to Megs, has not been replicated in today's American action-adventure cartoons. How I miss that.

Scroll down for the G.I. Joe caps.
Gi Joe


Martin Juneau said...

"am i crazy? are people defending 80s cartoons? i cant be reading that right! THEY WERE CRAP, THERE WAS NO MALE/FEMALE AGENDA YOU FRIGGIN HIPPIES, IT WAS CORPORATIONS SELLING CRAP TO KIDS THRU CARTOONS!i cant believe there living breathing brainwashed-acid washed disciples of this crap-never underestimate corporate america and its ability t influence-FRIGGIN ZOMBIES!"

Same thing happen to music but we will never confess. A lot of peoples claims Michael Jackson like the Pop's king without think this man having problems with the justice about his little boy's obsession. Since i learning that, i stopped my cares to him and to this decade of degradation of entertainment art.

I remember during my last year in high-school, they having a 80's dance party during a lunch time but the music is composed of... 1970's songs!!! If they take times to choose and found informations who was made at this times (Between 1980 and 1989), the party didn't turn to crap for peoples who never lived at this time. It's like made a 1940's hommage in animation but the selection you choose was from... cartoons dated of 1960!!! Find the error!

Alvaro said...

Brian:"Is it possible to create a well-animated "realistic" drawing?"
See "American Pop" and "Fire & Ice" of Ralph Bakshi.

Also, the animated short of Alexander Petrov "The Old man and the sea":

Those cartoons were bland and generic, but I´m not amazed that some people defend it. Everything has fans today, even Uwe Boll and Ed Wood.
The bad things is that, as boring and dull those cartoons were, modern animations are getting worse and uglier.
Just look at this awful stuff:


Alvaro said...

"Two other true geniuses worked on Thundercats, or as a entity whom I'll just keep anonymous said over a decade ago: Thundercraps.

Those would be the true kings of 1960s-early 70s TV Christmas specials:
Rankin and Bass.

Too bad their glory days were behind them by Thundercraps's arrival, though."

I think that the downfall of Rankin and Bass animations started before "The Thundercats": It started with that ugly-looking tv-movie called "The Hobbit" and the dreadful animated version of the "The return of the king" made in 1980.

Kaiser Fate said...

Things like Popples always used to stun me - even when I was a kid and hadn't learned about animation principals, I could tell there was no easing to any of the movements. I used to wonder why cartoons from that era were so jerky compared to the supple Droopy cartoons.

Bwanasonic said...

People seem to be confusing their own personal fetishes with the reality of artists actually having to work under the conditions these cartoons were made. OK, you may like Dinty Moore Beef Stew, and it beats starving to death. But don't pretend it's not glorified dog food, or worse yet, pretend it's mom's home cooking or gourmet cuisine. Would you rather be a chef in quality restaurant, or a worker in a stew factory?

SoleilSmile said...

Bwanasonic, I AM one of those artist who have to work on such conditions. Very few animators get to work on quality projects. Therefore, as a Dinty Moore grade animation artist, I would prefer to work on 80's cartoons than Family Guy or Super Jail. I like Jem, Starscream and Cobra Commander a lot better than Fry Farnsworth.
Family Guy and the Simpsons are the only successful ongoing cartoons in town right now. Everything else really doesn't have much staying power.

I really hope you sell your next project soon, John. Start another q/c trend. Give us hope.

Pokey said...

Sorry, Soleil, but if you like better, 80s cartons, and those Warner Bros.revivals [that Chuck Jones did not work on those is an irony after the Chipmunk 1979 Christmas special and after things like Rageddy Ann and Gloopstick], then I can only assume I had a better childhood [I'm of JohnK's generation, and littlegrey, roughly., myself.:)]

Nicol3 said...

I think that turbo teen stuff counts as eyeball rape.

A lot of these recycled 70's 80's to (refiltered) 90's shows were rape-based, but a lot more consensual.

Mini-me agreed to sit through the ball-bustingly boring episodes in exchange for their highly produced, eye-bulging openings.

It was more so-- based on hope. Me praying that "this episode will look as good as the opener." Or maybe this time I'll be able to remember what happens this time"

litlgrey said...

It's true! I am horifically old.

Hey by the way, did I mix up Alex Lovy and Alex Toth? I think I did. Ulp!

CJ Grebb said...

@Oliver A

My apologies if I put words in your mouth. Not my intention.

However, to the rest of your post:

I don't think we're discussing the same thing here. I'm not defending Thundercats artistically. I'm merely explaining why a few of us out here have fond memories of it. The fact that it was crass, commercial, and created by executives who had no love of animation as a medium is immaterial. I was nine - I didn't know about the finer points of quality animation - I simply enjoyed the show.

Yes, I can now see that the storytelling and animation was sub-par. My memories of watching the show are still fond ones. That's all I was attempting to communicate.

I would encourage you to read JLG's post above that begins "These kinds of arguments . . ." He/she has beautifully explained the nostagic nice-nice feelings from my youth.

I would however, like to respond directly to this:

If you have tasted and recognized a better product, then why keep on defending the rotten apples?

You know, sometimes on the African plains, the fruit that appears after the brief rains is so plentiful that it ripens and falls to the ground before the tree-dwelling animals can get to it all. There it rots, fermenting and alchoholizing before being eaten by pretty much any and all land animals that happen upon it. The result is the most amazing display of drunken animals you've ever seen:

Guy said...

CJ Grebb, if all you were saying was that you have nostalgic memories of the show, that would be fine.

But you're making some sort of defense for this stuff, and that's not fine.

Like how you seem to think you need to "know" how good animation works for it to matter. Do you need to "know" how ice cream works to enjoy it? It doesn't matter how much you know about animation, good animation is still good animation and bad animation is still bad animation. People who know a lot about animation simply know why that is and can appreciate animation in different ways.

And how you're acting as if the difference between great Golden Age cartoons and this stuff is the difference between Citizen Kane and mediocre Hollywood output. It is not mediocre, it is horrible. Even children's live action is better. (Except maybe the things on the Disney Channel today where idiots stand around insulting each other.)

And you're calling the opening well-animated, which it is not.

And so on...

If you like your nostalgic memories, fine. There's no problem with that. I have nostalgic memories. But don't pretend there's anything more to it than that. It's really irritating how you can't criticize anything in the world of animation, no matter how awful, without someone leaping to its defense.

JLG said...

To everyone who who is black-and-white about the 1980s cartoons being horrific:

Like I said, I ain't gonna argue that it was drudgework made under stifling, artless conditions. But I tell you---I look at the graphic trends that have been prevalent in US television animation over the past seven or eight years, and it makes me downright long for the 80s in comaparison. Why? Because---and I'm sure to an extent, some of you will agree with this---the angle-ridden bitmap characters of todays landscape have no, for lack of a better word, physicality. To me, they don't have any physical presence. They're just angles and vectors. The backgrounds, to me, have no physical presence either---they don't feel cold or warm, they have no atmosphere, no sense of place----thus, no semblence of an EXPERIENCE. Even the churned-out, dime-a-dozen background paintings sloshed out by the Japanese drudgworkers 25 years ago had some physical presence, some solidity. You felt, as a viewer, that you were in an environment of some sort. You can certainly call many of them artless, but you can't call them placeless.

The quality I'm thinking of that the 80s had that's missing from a lot of today's product is a word the blogmaster uses a lot: organic. Even bad art, made by flesh and blood, is organic compared to vector characters Flashing their way through minimal bitmap settings.

You know what REALLY bugs me about all the vector-y stuff? It seems to exist outside time and space. There's nothing physical to grab onto, no precise "moment" of capture, or of photography. This doesn't have to be a bad thing in itself, but since so much of it is designed with an "all angles all the time" approach (as JohnK's always saying, UPA with the nutritional parts cut out) it just emphasizes how bloodless the whole thing is.
Yeah, bloodless. That's the word I'm looking for. Modern vector-y stuff is BLOODLESS. Visually, I'll take badly-designed 1980s Japanese-produced drek over "Johnny Quest" or "Total Drama Island" any day. No contest at all.

Writing is another story...

CJ Grebb said...


CJ Grebb, if all you were saying was that you have nostalgic memories of the show, that would be fine.

Umm . . that IS all I'm saying. Please re-read all of my posts and point out where I ever made a defense of anything except my nostalgic feelings for the shows.

To your other point: I'm calling the Thundercats opening well animated because it is. You and I will have to simply disagree.