Sunday, July 31, 2011

Super ‘70s and ‘80s: “Super Friends”—Don Jurwich, producer

Introduction to series “Super ‘70s and ‘80s.”

Introduction to subseries “Super Friends” (including list of interviewees).

What was your role on Super Friends?

I produced Super Friends around 1983-1985. It was fun.

Did you make any significant changes?

When I took over the show from Wally Burr, I wanted to change the voice of Wonder Woman, who was Shannon [Farnon]. Wally said “Shannon’s such a wonderful gal” and he had been directing her very butch. So I re-auditioned her and we kept her.

I named names (or he did) and he commented:

Jack Angel was a nice guy.

Bill Callaway was a good talent.

Michael Bell…I worked with him many times over at Marvel. There was something about Michael’s voice that registered strong, it kind of magically cut through. Occasionally caustic.

Frank Welker was another great talent.

Did you know much about the superheroes before you took the job?

We all knew about Superman and Wonder Woman.


The network wanted to audition more characters so I ended up with a cast of about 17 people. Bill Hanna came by and said why so many actors in there?

Would they all be in the studio at the same time?

They had a large studio there (at H-B). Sometimes they had to double up on the mikes but most of the time they had eight or nine mikes.


I have the Scooby cast but not Super Friends.

Did you work exclusively in animation?

Yes, mostly at Hanna-Barbera and Marvel. Also commercials. Ended my career at Sony. Just before I retired there seemed to be a change in the humor in young people. More toilet humor.

Still active in the business?

I retired in 1998. I did fine arts for about seven years after I retired. Now just enjoying life.

Next: Michael Kohler (musician).

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Super ‘70s and ‘80s: “Super Friends”—Iraj Paran, art director, and Bob Singer, character designer

Introduction to series “Super ‘70s and ‘80s.”

Introduction to subseries “Super Friends” (including list of interviewees).

Iraj Paran, art director:

What exactly was your role on Super Friends?

I worked at H-B as an art director for 33 years. I designed the openings, titles, bumper cards, and end credits of the Super Friends, plus certain collateral material including advertising and publicity art, every year. Anything graphic.

What was your background before that?

Before I became in charge of the Title Department, I worked in the background department as a background artist. I painted backgrounds for shows including The Mighty Mightor, Dastardly and Muttley, Josie and the Pussycats, Perils of Penelope, Gulliver’s Travel, etc.

Regarding the original characters the Wonder Twins, Apache Chief, Black Vulcan, Samurai, and El Dorado, what do you know about who created them and what the process was?

As I recall, Alex Toth was the main character designer for many of the superhero shows. He did the rough drawings for approval. Bob Singer was in charge of the layout department and character design. Excluding the non-Hanna-Barbera properties such as the Smurfs, almost all of the H-B characters were created by the layout/character design departments where many talented artists were employed.

What else did you design with regard to the show?

I was involved in producing the commercials for superheroes cereal boxes for General Foods.

How much interaction, if any, did you have with the voice actors? Were you there when they recorded?

I was not present when SF voice actors recorded the show. However, sometimes in passing through the hall when I would see the Recording Studio A’s red light on, I would quietly enter the engineer’s booth and stayed and listened to part of the sessions.

Do you have any other SF memorabilia from the era (i.e. cards signed by cast members, candid photos, etc.)?

[among the images Iraj sent me:]

Bill Hanna, Iraj Paran, Joe Barbera and Hoyt Curtin at Bill Hanna’s last birthday party (possibly 2000)

Did you socialize with any of the voice actors?

Yes. I socialized with Janet Waldo, Wally Burr, Frank Welker, and Casey Kasem.

Are you still in touch with anyone from SF?

Yes, I am in touch with Wally Burr, Bob Singer, Janet Waldo. I saw Casey at the recent H-B reunion.

How do you look back on SF?

Those great Hanna-Barbera days and being part of the excitement of creating everlasting shows fills my memories on a daily basis.

What are you doing these days?

I do some freelancing. I am also working on creating my website as an informative and somehow educational tool for H-B fans all over the world.

Has anyone else interviewed you about SF?


Anything else about the experience I didn’t cover that you’d like to add?

Nothing else other than thanking you for bringing my great memories of those fun days back to me.

Bob Singer, character designer:

How did you get the job to work on Super Friends?

By the time SF began, I had already been in the layout department at the studio for nine years and had just been named as layout head. I was also part of the team put together by Iwao Takamoto to create and develop new shows. Along with half a dozen or so artists, we worked in the off-season doing presentation art to sell the new shows to the various networks. As the shows were sold we turned our attention to developing them by doing full sets of model sheets and color keying them, drawing the key backgrounds, and setting a painting style.

My natural drawing style leaned toward the design-y/cartoon-y style that included Scooby-Doo, Flintstones, and Yogi Bear. It became a stretch for me to draw in comic book style and I remember learning how to draw it by studying various comics such as Tarzan and Prince Valiant. My days drawing from a live model in art school days also helped me make the transition to drawing this adventure style.

What was your role on Super Friends?

We had no character model department at this time. Alex Toth was enlisted to do the new characters, vehicles, and props for each of the 13 shows at a pace of one a week.

Alex worked from home as a freelancer. It was a herculean task, but week after week, Alex delivered his work on time. My job as layout head was to coordinate, making sure Alex got his scripts and, as his work came in, to convert his drawings into model sheets that were delivered to all concerned. I also assigned layout artists to draw the scenes, checked their work, and sent the layouts to animation and the background layouts to the background department.

How familiar were you with these characters before you got the job?

Like all kids I grew up reading comic books, but my dream was to become an illustrator and perhaps follow in the footsteps of Norman Rockwell or work in the animation field at Walt Disney. I never thought I would be drawing in the comic book style. It is ironic that I ended up spending my career in both fields, drawing and creating art for superhero properties.

Were you involved in the creation of other characters in the show, such as Wonder Twins, Apache Chief, Black Vulcan, Samurai, and El Dorado?

I was involved only in the preparation of the presentation art for the Wonder Twins but not directly with their design. Another unit handled those other new characters as by this time I was more involved with other areas of the studio. I have no names to offer [as to] who did [create those characters].

What can you remember about the presentation for the Wonder Twins? How were they received?

[They] must have been Joe Barbera’s decision after a suggestion from network. I feel they didn’t have much of an impact—[or rather lessened] the dramatic tension of the shows. This same thing occurred when the Scooby show introduced Batman and Robin as guest stars. Superheroes didn’t bring much drama to the show and, to me, looked out of place in a comedy format.

Any design proposals that didn’t make it on air?

Alex Toth wanted the characters to have large areas of black shadows as part of their designs to give them more of a comic book look. The studio objected as large black areas were considered a no-no for the small TV screens and so Alex lost that battle. Years later Alex must have felt vindicated as large areas of black were utilized in the Godzilla show and greatly enhanced the look of the show.

Any controversy or debate over any of the original [multi-ethnic] characters?

I’m sure they were accepted with no thought of racism as that battle had been fought and won years before in the comic pages.

Are you still in touch with anyone from SF?

Most of the people who worked on Super Friends have left us, as far as I know. There may be some layout artists, animators, and background painters who are retired, but Joe Barbera, Iwao Takamoto, Alex Toth, Tony Sgroi, and Mo Gollub are gone. Iraj Paran and myself remain with our memories of having contributed to a great show.

How aware are you of the influence the show has had on comic creators of today?

I know Super Friends is still popular because I occasionally get requests for artwork from fans and galleries. Another show that still has a loyal fan base is Jonny Quest, a groundbreaking show. Both series were difficult to produce as most of the storyboarders, layout artists, and animators were cartoon-oriented and had to learn to draw in this different way. I look back to these shows with fond memories and recall all the problems we had to overcome in producing them. It was a very challenging time for all of us.

Has anyone else interviewed you about SF?

I’ve had several TV and radio interviews concerning my time at Hanna-Barbera, but no one has asked about Super Friends before you. I was happy you called and that you are writing of this great show. It’s a story that deserves to be told.

What are you doing these days?

I’ve been retired since 1993 but I’ve continued to work, appearing at many galleries around the country as well as in Hawaii, Australia, England, and even Tasmania. I’ve designed over 40 limited editions, mostly of Hanna-Barbera characters, and have been quite busy drawing for clients through Clampett Studio Collections plus a few private clients. Lately I’ve begun to record videos on how to draw that can be seen on the Internet.

And I have a book I’m preparing on my life in animation, due in 2011.

Next: Don Jurwich (producer).

Friday, July 29, 2011

Super ‘70s and ‘80s: “Super Friends”—Darrell McNeil, animator

Introduction to series “Super ‘70s and ‘80s.”

Introduction to subseries "Super Friends" (including a list of interviewees).

Fun facts from Darrell:
  • Zan and Jayna were named after Tarzan and Jane.
  • The year when the title switched from Super Friends to Superfriends was 1978.
  • The Legion of Doom was first pitched with a different lineup.

NOTE: As much as possible I have kept Darrell’s lively conversational tone (and playful spellingz) intact!

Darrell’s answers © 2011 Gold Medal Productions. His autobiography is forthcoming! 

How did you get the job on Super Friends? 

Before getting the Super Friends job I was, among other things, just getting out of Westchester High School in 1975, then attending two classes at Cal State Long Beach and one at UCLA. The main Cal State class I took was an animation class taught by Hanna-Barbera veteran producer (and future All-New Super Friends Hour producer) Art Scott; the UCLA class was on the history of Saturday morning television, taught by future ABC Saturday morning Standards and Practices ace Bonny Dare, where I met Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera. 

Mr. Barbera invited 18-year-old moi to pitch several animated series concepts of mine to Hanna-Barbera’s then Directors of Development, Duane Poole and Dick Robbins. Mr. Hanna encouraged me to enter his studio’s training program to supply Hanna-Barbera with the next generation of animators. Despite the discouraging efforts of program administrator and all-around ratsass Harry Love (1911-1997) (overcome by both Mr. Hanna and Mr. Scott), I entered the training program and, while I was still 18, was hired by Hanna-Barbera as an inbetweener (early-level animator). First show? Guess!

What were your responsibilities? 

I was a Super Friends layout/assistant animator [on and off] from 1976-83. I started as an inbetweener, then breakdown artist on all the series Hanna-Barbera produced in-house that season (1976-1977), but because of my speed, my near-fanatic love of the characters and knowledge of same (see later) and the importance that ABC placed on this show, it was decided after a few weeks that I be solely assigned to Super Friends. I cleaned up almost every scene in the All-New Super Friends opening title and ended up cleaning up and finishing the famous group shot of the Super Friends in the final scene of the All-New Super Friends title sequence.

I also laid out the entire Challenge of the Superfriends opening title sequence.

I think I’m gonna elaborate sommore on this one (as my mentor/bestest bud/then in-house workmate Alex Toth (1928-2006) used to say: “Ask me what time it is, I’ll tell you how your watch was built!”). To wit, how my drawing ended up serving as that season’s (All-New Super Friends) title shot: When the studio and series artists get their packets of model sheets showing us our lead characters/props/vehicles, etc., and how draw/make them look consistent from most angles, the first page of the packet is a “comparative size” chart, showing the relative sizes/heights of all our series leads. (You’d be amazed at how many times a layout person would make Zan the same height as Aquaman, for example!) Well, usually, design supervisor Bob Singer, who assembled our packs, would use fully drawn standing poses of our leads to illustrate their relative heights. For Super Friends, however, the first page was traced outlines of the team. 

I decided one day, for the holy heck of it, to slap a sheet of animation paper on top of said page and actually draw the characters inside the outlines (on model, of course!). I did this for a couple of hours after I turned in some animation work and, by lunch time, had finished filling the “Friends” in, then went out to lunch with Alex and [veteran comics artist/animator] Tony Sgroi (1924-1998). When I returned to my cubicle…the drawing was gone! 

Now, being the youngest person in the studio (except for the occasional appearance of [child voice actor] Sparky Marcus or Jackie Earle Haley—yes, the future Rorschach/Freddy Krueger hisself!), I tended to be, to use the current term, “punked” more than most! So I thought mebbe one ‘a my cubicle-mates took it. It turned out that Super Friends producer Art Scott had just assigned that someone was to put together that group shot (of the Super Friends) to be used as the last scene for the then in-production All-New Super Friends opening titles. (Roughly half the scenes were still, Alex-Toth-drawn layouts-including some scenes I’ll elaborate on later; others were already animated scenes from in-production episodes-which were, ironically, mostly cleaned up by me!) This (Art’s assignment) was unbeknownst to me at that time and, as it turned out, he had come through the breakdown department, saw my drawing on the desk, assumed I was the person Bob assigned to do it, and thought that was it! (He admitted later that he did find it odd that his assignment had been finished so quickly…) All involved thought my clean-up hit the spot, it got painted up, shot, etc….and two weeks later I got an extra “somethin’-somethin’” from Mr. Hanna in my pay envelope. 

He and I had an interesting relationship, employer-employee wise, which I shall go into thusly… I was the first fan of Hanna-Barbera that Hanna-Barbera had ever hired. Most of its animators, who were Disney/Warner Bros./MGM “full” animation vets, hated the place, or saw it just as a job. To most vets’ chagrin, I would, whenever I got my daily quota of footage done early (which was often—I was the fastest breakdown/inbetweener they had), knock on Bill’s door and, if he wasn’t busy, just go right in and jaw with him. (Sometimes Alex’d come in too…and man, if I’d had a tape recorder then…). We all also shared the second floor bathroom where I’d see Bill frequently. (Joe’s first floor office had its own toilet.) 

It was a shame that Bill wasn’t my boss, however. That distinction went to a man of dubious character and the closest I dealt with in terms of bigotry that I (na├»ve, cartoon-loving moi) had thought I’d deal with in my first year of employ in my dream profession. Meet my actual boss, Southern-redneck-Boss-Hogg-wannnabe John Boersema (1921-1999), whose license plate was actually “Big Bwana”…and who ran the inbetween breakdown department like a Southern plantation.

Now, those who’ve seen me in previous stories/articles/columns know that I’m black. If we had [then] the type of publicity we have now, the fact that an 18-year-old black kid had 1) sold three animation ideas to the then-biggest animation producer in the world then 2) became the youngest artist ever hired by them at that time would’ve made a little bit o’ news. The fact is, during the next four years working in-house for three different studios (Hanna-Barbera, Filmation, Ruby-Spears), I was either the first or second black person hired in whatever artistic position I performed at said studio. In Hanna-Barbera’s case, I was the first black inbetweener the studio had hired. In our department, I was the first black person; one other, who was also gay, came in after me. Neither of our hirings made Big Bwana happy…but because gay black guy was somewhat docile and I wasn’t, I tended to get the bulk of his subliminal “massa” rages. The fact that I had fun, loved my job, and was friends with most of the studio higher-ups really teed him off.

How long did you have the job on SF?

I worked in-house for Hanna-Barbera from October 1976 to November 1977, laid off two days after my birthday. Was hired back a month later, after All-New Super Friends Hour was finished, left soon after to become a staff layout artist (what I really wanted to be) for Tarzan and the Super 7 and The Fabulous Funnies [at] crosstown rival studio Filmation Associates. While there, I discovered that union studio Hanna-Barbera used a number of non-union subcontractors in town to facilitate show production.

The most prolific local one was Love, Hutten, & Love, headed by veteran animators Bill Hutten, Ed Love, and son Tony Love (the latter two no relation to ratsass Harry). We in the biz used to have a running joke about LHL: they would always get to layout/animate the series Hanna-Barbera’s in-house least wanted to do…either due to the show’s complexity (read: number of characters) or the inability to produce major chunks of animation footage in our network-mandated limited time (read: number of characters). The show LHL was assigned that season (1978-1979) was Challenge of the Superfriends. (Note that this was when “Super Friends” became “Superfriends”—one word.) 

A fellow Filmation layout person who had worked on Challenge of the Superfriends for a week found the show too daunting (read: number of characters), wanted to switch to another Hanna-Barbera show LHL was doing and offered to recommend that I take his Super Friends slot. Now, because I was a union employee and the union frowned upon union ‘toonists doing freelance, non-union work, I’d get no screen credit, but to work again on my favorite DC superheroes plus their greatest villains…well, no freakin’ duh!

And partly due to my layout speed (even while working a full-time Filmation gig), partly due to my previous All-New Super Friends association with Super Friends visual creator/model designer Alex Toth, and partly being flatout from Planet Crazy, Bill Hutten gave me all of the Alex-Toth-boarded Challenge of the Superfriends and Super Friends acts to layout…which I did until that part of the show finished production that summer (1978). Continued picking up freelance inbetweening/assistant animation work (still uncredited, natch) on Super Friends until 1982-1983. 

How familiar with the characters were you before you got the job?

Being both a National Periodical Publications/DC freak and a big-time Saturday morning cartoon kid, I not only watched the first season of Super Friends (the Wendy/Marvin/Wonder Dog one), but I made sound tapes of the show (with its original “next week” outros by the cast that don’t exist anymore: “This is Superman. Next week…”) to listen to whenever. (Oh, and I haveta mention as a familiarity source my Unca Alex Toth’s doing a Super Friends special story as a wraparound to Justice League reprints and a 10-pager “How TV Cartoons Are Made” with then-wife Guyla that taught me so much about how Hanna-Barbera worked that I knew more about how it functioned than most of its employees.)

What do you know about the creation of the Wonder Twins, Apache Chief, Black Vulcan, Samurai, and El Dorado?

[The Wonder Twins] were created by Norman Maurer, series developer then story editor of All-New Super Friends Show (it hadn’t become an all-new “Hour” yet) and father of next story editor Jeff Scott (Maurer), as all-new, super-powered “junior Super Friends” to replace the non-powered Wendy, Marvin, and Wonder Dog of the first series. (Though in the first two original episodes, Marvin had a power of sorts…flying/floating in the first episode (“Power Pirate”) which became the ability to “super-leap” “6 or 7 feet” [his estimation] in the second episode (“Professor Goodfellow’s G.E.E.C.”)…which became zip by the third.)

They were originally called Dick, Jane, and Mighty Monkey, which evolved into (Tar)Zan, Jane(a), and Squeeks, then finally Zan, Jayna, and Gleek. Originally Zan (Dick) had “Plastic Man” powers and Jayna (Jane) could transform into anything, not just animals, but they were scaled back to their present powers as it made the other Super Friends (even Supes) seem almost superfluous. This decision was made before the decisions to re-expand the show and bring in the guest heroes.

As for said guest heroes, the original, multi-ethnic ones (Apache Chief, Black Vulcan, Samurai, and ‘81-'82’s El Dorado) were created by people at the network partly as a desire to bring racial diversity in a kinda/sorta stereotypical fashion to the show and partly as a reaction to Filmation “running the races” with their in-production Young Sentinels for NBC, which featured a black heroine and Asian hero as leads.

Were there any characters proposed but ultimately unused?

When the then-proposed Battle of the Superheroes featured the then-League of Evil,” it was centered around proposed new Superfriend Captain Marvel, proposed LoE leader and Marvel arch-enemy Dr. Sivana, other Marvel foes Beautia Sivana, Mr. Atom, and King Kull, and Batman foes Joker, Penguin, Mr. Freeze, and Catwoman.

Courtesy of Darrell McNeil; originally appeared in Eisner-nominated Alex Toth: By Design!

Because of Filmation’s prior securing of animation rights to all those characters, Hanna-Barbera couldn’t use them, but it worked out much to the better because other arch-villains could then be brought in. No Joker? Use Riddler. No Mr. Freeze? Use Captain Cold. No Catwoman? Use Cheetah. I proposed, in the story that missed being approved by one day, bringing both Lois Lane and Black Canary into the Super Friends verse. Lois eventually appeared.

What do you know about the origins of the Hall of Justice and the Hall of Doom?

The former’s my all-time fave headquarters building. As you might’ve guessed, [the Hall of Doom’s] resemblance to a certain bad guys’ helmet in a certain movie that premiered the year before (1977) is merely…coincidental. The day Star Wars premiered, the entire studio took off…including Bill Hanna! I think Joe was the only one who stayed at work that day.

The next day, we got a “blast memo” from Hanna, basically hinting that, if we in creative were to “borrow” anything from Star Wars and incorporate it into our shows, neither he nor the network would have a problem with it. I had the bar scene from “Time Rescue” [a short featuring Superman, Hawkman, and Hawkgirl] on my desk to clean-up, and all the aliens in said scene looked like cowboys in space suits. Two days later, Bob Singer plopped a bunch of quickly-designed Star Wars-ish creatures with the instructions “Change those into these.” And next year, every show had a C3P0 character in it…even Archie!

So combine that kind of thought with a dollop of Alex Toth genius and…voila! One Hall of Doom coming up! My only problem with it: we had to keep cheating sizes since it had to be big enough to house 13 supervillains, living spaces, equipment, etc., yet have it be plausible that it could fly around like a…massive building that flew around. That’s Saturday morning physics for ya!

How much involvement did the network have in shaping scripts?

If there’s one thing I have to smile about in my doting old age (not that, at 52, I am that old), it’s how both fans and creatives (at least when it comes to adventure-oriented toons) like to mock or at least make fun of the restrictive atmosphere we produced our toons in versus the relatively unrestricted one they’re currently in.

We had just gone through a roughly four-year period (1969-1973) where, after the MLK and RFK assassinations and the rising outcry against violence on TV in general and in kids’ cartoons in particular, we weren’t doing superhero cartoons at all. (And not that many funny animal toons, either.) The nets (remember when you could only see new cartoons, for the most part, only on ABC, CBS, and NBC, and only during a designated five-hour period one day a week? Cartoon Net-what?) felt because of the success of such shows as Scooby-Doo and Josie that their kid viewers (2-11) wanted to watch toons featuring older versions of themselves…until, having run almost all the variations of same into the ground, they had to try something else.)

Now, the trick was: could we do violent superheroes without said violence and get kids to watch? The answer, judging by the Super Friends ratings (high 30s/low 40s shares) was yes!

One of the compromises we as toon producers had to make was to add pro-social/teaching messages to our shows, as well as to do actions that weren’t seen as “imitable” by our audience. That meant no punching, no guns, etc. That lent rise to what we called “cheekensheets” from ABC, listing the various “offenses” in our scripts/boards/finished animation and asking us for possible alternatives.

Was this annoying? Lots of times, yeah! Would you have seen a Super Friends series (or any other superhero/adventure show) on any air without said restrictions? Flat out…no. So we hadda make do. And admittedly, it was fun finding ways of creatively bending the rules every now and then.

Example: the opening All-New Super Friends titles. As I hinted earlier, when Alex Toth laid out the opening title, he added three still shots of Batman and Robin that weren’t indicated in the story board…including one of Robin tied to a pole by gangsters as Bats jumped into the shot to rescue him. The net wasn’t too happy when they saw those shots, but in those pre-digital editing days, it would’ve been too costly to edit the scenes out, so ABC kept ‘em in, hoping that no one’d notice.

Another example: ABC wanted to axe the last episode of Challenge of the Superfriends, “History of Doom” (which really should’ve been the episode we called “Doomsday”) because someone at S&P truly thought that “destroying the world” was an imitable act. We convinced them that “No, no one right now (in 1978) could single-handedly destroy the world.” ABC agreed and relented.

[That same year, a] girl in Ohio, I think, saved her sister from choking with [the Heimlich] maneuver, which she learned from watching Batman and Robin do it on All-New Super Friends. And since I did all the clean-up animation on that sequence (and took ribbing from my oversexed colleagues—especially Sandy Young; god, whatta mouth! LOL). Well, it’s one of the prouder moments of my career.

What challenges were involved in doing SF?

Some were brought on by the very nature of being a DC Comics geek who brought it upon himself to make sure that his favorite comic book heroes made it to the show as reasonably intact as possible considering [we had] to simplify them for our kid scripts. I’ve mentioned a number of these before: keeping the net from painting Flash and Atom orange instead of red; justifying Green Lantern having to have a plane; trying to “de-Tarzan” Rima. (Well, two outta three weren’t bad!)

It did help, I felt, when they called me in early to help with Battle of the Superheroes (later Challenge of the Superfriends) presentation development, as we were able to keep all the “new” DC elements more consistent from the get-go (though my poor comic collection suffered mightily, condition-wise…ah, well, the sacrifices one must make for their art!). If I had been on Challenge until the end (Alex had stopped boarding on the stories midway through; I then lost interest and shifted more into my Filmation staff work, though I did layout the opening sequence of “Superfriends: Rest in Peace” and the Superboy/Luthor sequence of “History of Doom.”) I guarantee you would not have heard Mr. Mxyzptlk’s name pronounced as “Mit-zul-plik”!

One other behind-the-scenes that I’ve never related: We were originally supposed to do 16 episodes of All-New Super Friends; [that] was the typical network series order then. Fred “Golden Gut” Silverman was the man then in charge of ABC, and if he had a problem with any show’s quality, he’d let you know it in the pocketbook. When the animation came back on the first few episodes (and, mind you, Super Friends was being animated in-house that year, unlike the first series’ production in Australia, Mexico, and Canada), Fred was not happy. He cut the show production order from 16 hours to 15 hours, then designated the money from the 16th hour be used to repair/redo the earlier episodes. By this time, though, the four scripts for what would’ve been the 16th show were already done (the guest star team-up, for example, would’ve been Wonder Woman and Flash). The half-hour episode for that hour would’ve been “The Energeon Creature.” Never to be seen, right? 

Well…no. I used to hang around a number of Super Friends writers’ offices at Hanna-Barbera the season before, among others Norman Maurer, Jeff (Scott) Maurer, and Mark Jones. Well, early in the “Challenge” production and before I left Hanna-Barbera staff to toil at Filmation, I ran into Mark once, who commented that Jeff, who was contracted to write all 32½ hours of Super Friends/Challenge that season (though Norman, his wife Joan [Moe Howard’s daughter], and Jeff’s writer/brother Michael were all “helping”) was having a little trouble coming up with ideas. “Well,” I piped up, “tell him to take that 16th Super Friends he wrote last year and use that!” Mark said he’d tell him. Well, that season, the episode “The Anti-Matter Monster” did air, which was the re-jiggered “Energeon Creature” script. And my cut? I’m still waiting…though he did thank me for the idea.

Do you have a favorite episode you worked on?

My favorite completed segments weren’t the episodes per se, but the two title sequences I was involved with: All-New Super Friends, which I did the bulk of the assistant animation/clean-up on, and Challenge of the Superfriends, which I did the layouts on. Also up there in my favorites stack is the 30-second safety tip [with] Batman and Robin demonstrating the Heimlich maneuver that I mentioned earlier and the opening sequence I laid out for “Superfriends: Rest in Peace,” where, amongst the gravestones in the cemetery I put on one “Larry Huber: Good Riddance.” It was a wink/nudge to Larry’s leaving Hanna-Barbera to go to Ruby-Spears…and I showed it to him the following year (1979) when I wanted to get a layout job at Ruby-Spears on Plastic Man. (Despite that, he still hired me!)

Were there any you were disappointed with?

Probably “Swamp of the Living Dead,” the worst episode of Challenge, animation-wise. Bill Hutten was under a major deadline crunch that week and had to hand out a lot of animation to a lot of newbies…and it showed!

Did you interact with the voice actors?

Voice director Wally Burr would let me hang out and watch the cast record at times (when my own work was done, natch). I also got to see Hoyt Curtin record the Super Friends theme with full orchestra in place…and as much as I love hearing that theme (one of my all-time favorites), to actually see Hoyt conduct it was just toooooo cool! He later gave me a tape that had almost every Hanna-Barbera theme he and Ted Nichols had recorded from 1957-1977, plus a special mix Hoyt recorded combining both the original and “all-new” themes with a coolness “guitar-lick” solo in the middle. Yow! (Or should I say “Zonkers!”)

[A] “bittersweet” voice actor meeting for moi was when I met while doing Challenge none other than “Lurch” hisself, Ted Cassidy, who, in ‘78, was coming in the busiest year, voice-wise, he ever had. After a number of years where even he admitted he couldn’t get arrested vocally, he was doing five different lead characters: The Thing for Fantastic Four, Montaro for Jana of the Jungle, Godzilla for…what else?, and, for Challenge? Instead of Joe Barbera making the obvious choice with Ted’s voice and casting him as, say, Solomon Grundy or his fellow “monster” Bizarro, Joe cast Ted as both Brainiac and Black Manta…definitely out-of-the-box thinking and something that Ted was truly grateful for. His passing soon afterwards due to complications during surgery was truly unfair, considering the rat bastards whose names I won’t mention (John Boersema, Harry Love) who lived past him.

I remember talking to Super Friends narrator William Woodson, and he (a journeyman actor who’d done a lot of prior stuff) smiled and jokingly said, “I owe Ted Knight my career” (since Ted didn’t want to come back to Saturday morning voice work in 1976).

Do you still have any SF scripts, staff photos, or other memorabilia?

Several sold storage spaces ago, I had copies of every script and storyboard from All-New Super Friends and Challenge of the Superfriends. As I said, that was several sold storage spaces ago. (Now I have copies of all the Challenge and Super Friends ‘78 acts that Alex Toth boarded and I laid out, many of Alex’s models, all the series’ stock models, and a Bill Hanna-signed copy of the original All-New Super Friends bible. (It was his and he gave it to me “for correcting him on Wonder Woman [he kept calling her Wonder Girl] above and beyond the call of duty.”)

The one photo from that time I still have is the one of Sandra Young, Art Roman, and I that was printed in Back Issue (#30, 10/08). I have somewhere a copy of a group photo of the entire Hanna-Barbera animation staff taken on the studio roof that summer (of ‘77) in which it wasn’t hard to spot me. Back then I was…three of a kind, let’s say…

How aware are you on the influence that Super Friends had on the current generation of comic book writers?

Through the Challenge DVD commentaries, I’ve heard Geoff Johns, Mark Waid, and Alex Ross speak on how Super Friends influenced them (which is funny ‘cuz I’m not that much older than they are. I was 18-20 during Super Friends.)

When I was doing the Friends, most of what I heard as far as “adult” opinion (kids loved us!) came from those in the nascent anime community. And their attitude on the Friends was “it’s just that limited animation American crap. They use the same scenes over and over, their drawings are off-model, they can’t do violence, blah blah blah!” [Yet] when I read about the adults who now fondly remember the shows, when I hear college kids utter the phrase “Wonder Twin powers, activate!” and touch fists, and I see that two of the more recent DC toons, The Batman and Justice League Unlimited and the current Justice League comics have made the Hall of Justice their home…well, it makes a dude who always believed in them smile and get a bit all over gulpy, you know?

When was the last time you watched one of your SF episodes?

I watch ‘em all the time. And that was before the DVDs came out. Y’see, I’ve been taping Saturday morning toons on sound cassette tape since 1972, bought my first VCR (the old Quasars with the encyclopedia-size tapes) with my first Hanna-Barbera paycheck in 1976 and my first VHS in 1978 (back when tapes were supposed to last only five years!). I work in front of my TV (or portable DVD player) and I am able to watch/pay attention to shows and write/draw and talk on the phone at the same time. Super Friends episodes, particularly the first three series, are high on my playlist.

Do you have children?

Nope, single, never married…nor plan to be. Seeing a groovy chick now, but these days am much more into pro creation than procreation. I do have two nieces and two nephews and they think their ‘toonist uncle’s “the bomb.” 

What are you doing these days?

Lotsa stuff I can’t talk about right now! Having said that, however, I’m currently…
  • producing an animated pilot for a pretty subversive toon that I’m hoping to show a select few at San Diego [Comic-Con International]
  • working on a series whose lead character was co-created by Alex Toth
  • developing a labor of love comic book, Mightor & Nexus, with legend and old friend Steve “The Dude” Rude
  • penciling a series of pinups of my “uberbabes” characters, with inks and finishes by legend and new friend Bill Sienkiewicz
  • producing/stockpiling episodes of various animated and live-action episodes for my launching-in-2011 “Big D’s PC-TV project
  • continuing putting material together for my ‘11 repackage of my thousand remaining copies of my Eisner-nominated Alex Toth: By Design!, which I was working on with Unca during the last years of his life. (And what’s gonna be in here will rock your alternative universe!)
  • developing a reality show (then again, isn’t everybody?)
  • occasionally eating and sleeping

Have you ever participated at a comic convention?

I’ve been an invited pro to San Diego since my first year at Hanna-Barbera. I’ve done a number of panels over the years, too (none on Super Friends…yet), but I have met many fans and pros who sometimes both flatter me and make me feel really really old (LOL) when they tell and/or show me what Super Friends meant to them. One prime example: A couple of years ago, whilst walking by a booth at San Diego, I saw some Flash animation someone did of a note-by-note replication of the Challenge opening titles…with the South Park characters. And I love South Park…unlike the rolling turd Family Guy, South Park’s actually funny! I mentioned to the person that I was the guy who laid out those opening titles…and man! They made me feel like Jack Kirby!

Are you in touch with anyone from SF?

Unfortunately, I’m not in touch with anyone from my Super Friends days, being that most of them were in their forties or fifties when I was in my 18s and 19s, so most of them have now passed on.

9/10/20 addendum: I learned that Darrell passed away 7/4/18.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Super ‘70s and ‘80s: “Super Friends”—Bob Hathcock, animator

Introduction to series “Super ‘70s and ‘80s.”

Introduction to subseries "Super Friends" (including a list of interviewees).

How did you get the job on Super Friends?

I was working at Hanna-Barbera as an animator. You worked on whatever shows they had. I learned from my father, Jerry Hathcock, who was a feature animator at Disney and one of the original key animators of all the Hanna-Barbera stuff from Flintstones, Jetsons, Scooby-Doo, and most everything until he retired in 1976. I stayed with him as his assistant and then later as an animator on his teams until he retired.

How familiar with the DC superhero characters were you before you got the job?

I had a subscription to Justice League of America in the early ‘60s and may have read some Dell Comic books, too…but I grew up.

Any funny or unusual anecdotes?

Bill Keil, who was the head of animation, had a small argument with me over whether Wonder Woman would throw her lasso underhanded (the bad guys were going to step into the loop). He didn’t like that I animated her throwing underhand so I asked Bill Hanna if he minded me leaving to work on Captain Caveman with Ron Campbell and he said that was fine. By the way, they ended up using that [underhanded lasso] scene in the main title of Challenge of the Superfriends.

What challenges were involved in animating SF?

The animation budget called for pretty limited animation and I always thought that these somewhat realistic designs were not very appropriate for that kind of animation. These H-B shows were a bit ugly.

Do you still have any SF scripts?

Animators did not get scripts. We worked from storyboard and exposure sheets.

Do you have any other SF memorabilia from the era (i.e. cards signed by cast members, candid photos, etc.)?

The only things I may have would be Xerox copies of model sheets and maybe some storyboards. By the way the model sheets were bad model sheets because they were so taken by Alex Toth’s wonderful drawings that they included them in the models even though they were not all the same. It would have been better if they made better model sheets from his designs. I remember that there seemed to be several versions of Aquaman in the model sheets (not sure if Alex drew those or not).

Are you still in touch with anyone from SF?

We would never think of it as “from SF” because, as I said, we just worked for H-B. Maybe the writers were there solely because of Super Friends, but the artists (other than Mr. Toth) were just employees of H-B.

How aware are you of the influence that SF had on the current generation of comic book writers?

No, I don’t follow comic books. I am surrounded by younger colleagues that grew up on comic books and still read them. I know that there are wonderful artists and some pretty good writing, but, as I said, when I was a kid, you were supposed to grow out of it. It wasn’t considered literature in the States like it was in Europe until much later. I think there was a group of religious people that tried to make comic books some kind of evil. One of my colleagues back then had to read Donald Duck comics behind the backs of his extremely strict Methodist parents. He was in therapy for many years. None of this stuff influenced whether I read comic books or not; I was just interested in other stuff (biology) and other forms of literature.

How do you look back on SF?

I thought [the shows] weren’t very well animated. I became pretty successful in this business after that, but it was actually when I left H-B to work on Captain Caveman that people started liking my animation and I got some breaks. Later I went back to H-B, but as a producer/director.

What are you doing these days?

I am Supervising Director for American Greetings. I am doing Strawberry Shortcake which, I am surprised to say, is beautiful. The acting is brilliant and you could never get the subtleties I get in 2D animation without about 20 pencil tests per scene. Before that I was Supervising Director/Producer on The Boondocks (quite a contrast). I have produced or directed The Smurfs, The New Jetsons, Aladdin, DuckTales, DuckTales The Movie, Jumanji, Stuart Little, Harold and the Purple Crayon, Jackie Chan Adventures, and a lot of others.

Next: Darrell McNeil (animator).

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Super ‘70s and ‘80s: “Super Friends”—Mark Jones, writer

Introduction to series “Super ‘70s and ‘80s.”

Introduction to subseries "Super Friends" (including a list of interviewees).

How did you get the job to write for Super Friends?

I started working in animation studios right out of high school, first at De-Patie Freleng as a Xerox processor, transferring the animation drawings onto the cels. From there I managed to get a script assignment for What’s New Mister Magoo and went on staff on that CBS saturday morning show. After the season was over, I hit all the animation studios for freelance writing assignments. I submitted story premises at Hanna-Barbera for all their Saturday morning shows and managed to get a story assignment for Dynomutt: Dog Wonder for ABC. I wrote the story outline but it was never put into a script because the series was cancelled.

Did you come up with the stories on your own or did producers guide you in any way (i.e. “we want a story with dinosaurs,” etc.)?

The two ABC executives, Joe Ruby and Ken Spears, liked my story and felt that they kinda owed me a writing assignment. Joe and Ken were in charge of Super Friends and they were writing the story outlines for all the episodes and giving then to the writers to turn into scripts.

At the time, Jeffrey Scott was the story editor and was doing most of the scripts from Joe and Ken outlines.

The first outline I was given to write a script for was “The Lionmen” and I guess I did a pretty good job because after that I was given outlines to write scripts for four or five other half-hour Super Friends and a half a dozen short episodes to write scripts for.

At the time, Hanna-Barbera paid $750 for a half-hour outline and $1,750 for a script. It was a great gig because I was given the complete outlines and was able to write the scripts in about a week and was paid the $1,750. That was in 1977.

Of the episodes you wrote, do you have a favorite?

I think my favorite episode was “Tiny World of Terror” which had the Super Friends being shrunk down and placed in a swamp where they had to battle off the creatures and dangers there. The story outline was from Joe and Ken and that preceded Honey, I Shrunk The Kids; I always thought maybe the writer [of that movie had seen] the Super Friends episode.

Where did you write—at home, on site at Hanna-Barbera, or a combination?

I’d come in to the studio and pick up the outlines and go home and write on an IBM Selectric typewriter.

How much interaction, if any, did you have with the voice actors? Were you there when they recorded?

I didn’t work with the voice actors but at times was allowed to watch the recording.

What have you written since Super Friends?

After that Super Friends season, Joe and Ken left to open up their animated studio Ruby-Spears and they asked me to write a pilot for a series called Fangface. ABC bought the show and that was Ruby-Spears’s first animated series.

That year Joe Barbera made me an offer to work as a story editor at Hanna-Barbera and I went on staff for a year and worked on Captain Caveman and the Teen Angels along with other shows.

After that year I went to Ruby-Spears as head of development and wrote the pilots for their second season shows Rickety Rocket and Mighty-Man and Yukk. Also wrote many episodes for Plastic Man.

I wrote the pilots for Rubik, The Amazing Cube and Mr. T, among others.

Around 1984, I went to write primetime shows such as The A-Team, Hunter, Riptide, The Fall Guy, Knight Rider, etc.

My Super Friends experience probably helped when I went on to be the showrunner for the live-action syndicated series The New Adventures of Superboy.

After that, in the early ‘90s, I actually wrote the first script with Cary Bates (a Superman comic book writer) for [what was to be] the new Superman movie when the Salkinds were involved.

They ended up selling the rights for the Superman movies back to Warner Brothers and [WB] developed the movie that came out.

After primetime, I wrote Leprechaun to direct and that became a successful horror franchise. My last movie was Triloquist about a demented ventriloquist dummy and a crazy brother and sister. I wrote and directed.

I’m currently writing and directing independent moves. One called Scorned is about a crazy female who seeks revenge against her cheating boyfriend. Kind of a Misery with young people.

Has anyone else interviewed you about SF? Have you ever participated (i.e. signed autographs) at a comic convention? If not, would you be willing to (if the convention paid your way)?

I loved working on Super Friends and have always liked superheroes and sci-fi. I’ve never talked to anyone about the Super Friends show but would be willing to talk to fans and go to conventions, etc.

Next: Bob Hathcock (animator).