Back to a different future: The Jetsons get an emotionally-gritty DC Comics makeover

(image via Newsarama (c) Amanda Conner (DC Comics))

 

Following the recent trend to give much-loved Hanna-Barbera a bright, sparkly new leg-up into the current pop culture firmament, which has includes Scooby Doo, Wacky Races and The Flintstones, DC Comics has now turned its attention to The Jetsons.

Presented at the time as the future equivalent of The Flintstones – the two series share considerable similarities and tackled similar issues – the relatively shortlived series (1962-1963;1985-1987) bore all the retro future 1950s flourishes you could ask for such as flying cars, homes in the sky and travelators. (By the way, did you know The Flintstones and The Jetsons once met? See here and here for futuristic Stone Age proof.)

It was, at the time, exactly what everyone imagined the future would look like.

Now we’re off course, we know it’s nothing like what the show imagined and so DC Comics are giving George, Elroy, Judy and Jane, dog Astro and maid/robot/overseer of the family Rosie the Robot, are a good postmodern makeover, courtesy of from writers Amanda Conner & Jimmy Palmiotti and artist Pier Brito, including notes CBR, some very dark overtones befitting our modern less rose-tinted view of the future:

“We get a sense of the sprawling world, packed with hover-cars, funky hairdos and futuristic slang, and even get a taste of the world’s origin; at some point in their past and our future, the Earth flooded, forcing humans to live above sea-level in their mid-air floating homes. Rather than depicting the future as an optimistic place, the issue sets up a world where people wouldn’t be able to survive on ground- (or sea-)level. There’s a deeply sad, almost disturbing element to this story. Yes, mankind escaped extinction, but do people even belong on Earth anymore? If we need to rely so heavily on technology, do humans deserve to stick around?”

 

(image via CBR (c) DC Comics)

 

So it’s as dark and dire a future as that envisaged for Scooby Doo or Wacky Races but with a far glossier sheen and more edgy aesthetic.

Even so, with humanity in a fairly mess predicament, you get the feeling that what will anchor the 6-part comic mini-series, is a real appreciation for the innate humanity of The Jetsons, and how in the midst of mild-dystopia, that it’s family that remains the core point of life experience for everyone.

This element appears to be injected in fairly full-on style as CBR outlines:

“The first few pages establish that Judy is secretly seeing her grandmother in 124-year-old woman’s final moments.The process, which will transfer her consciousness into some sort of machine, is deemed “better” than life. That’s right — storing your memories on a hard drive somewhere is considered superior to the daily pain of mortality, at least in the world of DC’s Jetsons.

“Managing to pack a lot of emotion into very few panels, Conner and Palmiotti establish a strong bond between Judy and her grandmother, showing us how close they are, and how aging is a horrific experience, even in the distant future. Despite Rosemary’s ability to live on as a machine, she feels a deep sadness as she leaves her mortal body. However, it’s her choice: Rosemary wants to die and relegate her memories to technology. She chooses technology over life, an idea which is sadly relatable even now, in the 21st century.”

But it helps ground the series in the sort of real world issues that confront humanity now, and if DC’s Jetsons are any guide, well into the future.

The first issue of Jetsons hits comic book shops on 1 November.

 

 

And if you think a revamped, ultra-modern take on The Jetsons is only happening in comic book form think again. Vulture has revealed that a live-action TV series is in the works on the ABC network in USA, written by Family Guy and Will & Grace’s Gary Janetti. Not only that but Warner Animation Group is looking at a new animated version overseen by Sausage Party’s Conrad Vernon.

 

Drink cranberry juice! There’s a New New New New Doctor in town #LeighLahav

There’s a new Doctor! Really! (image via Patreon (c) Leigh Lahav)

 

You may recall that the BBC recently announced that the Doctor would be regenerating from Peter Capaldi’s distinctly male form to a – gasp! horror! (fake gasp and horror obviously on my part) – woman, specifically Jodie Whittaker, in this year’s Christmas special.

Quite why this was such a surprise is a mystery; after all, we already had a very gender-fluid Gallifreyan gleefully, and winningly, chewing up the scenery in the form of Missy (Michelle Gomez), the female incarnation of the Doctor’s longtime adversary, The Master.

And yet for the precedent this most certainly set, and even given its 2017 and Doctor Who is a sci-fi icon so anything is possible, a number of fans (very Capaldi-like in gender) kicked up a right royal misogynist stink with hashtags like #notmyDoctor briefly gaining some (very) limited currency.

Leigh Lahav, who I support on Patreon – trust me, you should too; she’s a brilliant animator with a very clever and incisive outlook – and who has given us such gems as Peanuts meets Stranger Things and Frozen is the New Black, decided to make merry with this regressive storm-in-a-social-media-teacup in her latest Whovian effort.

It’s every bit as good as you’d expect even given a male gender-obsessed Dalek who can’t get his tin head around a female Doctor.

It’s hilarious but also very instructive and trust me, puts the idiotic attacks on what is a very fine choice by the BBC firmly into a right perspective.

 

Saturday morning cartoons: Moby Dick and the Mighty Mightor

(image (c) Hanna-Barbera Productions)

 

Created by Alex Toth, an American cartoonist whose work successfully bridged the worlds of comics books and Hanna-Barbera cartoons (Space Ghost, Herculoids), Moby Dick and the Mighty Mightor was a sci-fi animated series where the title inversely reflected the weighting of the protagonists featured within.

In each episode of this series, which ran from 1967-1969 on CBS (18 episodes in total), there were three segments with Mightor bookending the sole one of Moby Dick, with each full episode lasting a nice child-friendly 22 minutes.

Mightor (voiced by Paul Stewart) was, despite his secondary place in the title, the main hero of the piece, a prehistoric man of superhuman strength and endurability who, along with his fire-breathing dragon sidekick Tog (voiced by John Stephenson) saved the village of chief Pondo (Stephenson again) and daughter Sheera (Patsy Garett), the perennial damsel-in-distress, over and over again.

In reality, Mightor was the transformed version of Tor (voiced by Bobby Diamond) who, thanks to a magical club given to him by an old man he saved, was able to pack on the muscles and the superhero ability, any time he wanted.

As with any hero, he had his fans, particularly Little Rok (voiced by Norma MacMillan), Sheera’s younger brother, who rode through the sky on his bird Ork (Stephenson again), pretending to save the village, sometimes simultaneously with Mightor, which, not surprisingly, caused all kinds of problems.

It was, admittedly not sophisticated storytelling with a grave threat presenting itself – stampeding dinosaurs controlled by an evil, green-eye glowing exiled villager (ep. 1 “The Monster Keeper”) or an invading would-be despot (ep. 4 “Brutor the Barbarian”) – everyone in the village running in fear and Mightor, through overwhelming strength and heroism, saving the day.

Not that he really got thanked for with the prehistoric superhero disappearing off from whence he came and Tor, noticeably absent every damn time, reappearing as he left.

Just like Superman, no one seemed to notice the Tor gone-Mightor there dynamic, and Sheera especially treated Tor like some dissolute, cowardly waste of space, a status he seemed content to endure.

As a young gay man of just 10, I have to admit I was transfixed by how masculine and muscular Mightor, and yes Tor were, although it was something I realised later as an adult; at the time they were simply brave, heroic superheroes who saved the day and vanquished the bad guys every time.

As a kid getting horribly bullied at school for my sexuality, the appeal of a bully-vanquishing hero was undeniable, and so I looked past, aided by the unfiltered adoration of childhood, the repetitive storylines, gender imbalances, clunky narration and exposition – much of the time it’s like being trapped in a cinema next to two old dears who insisted on stating the obvious through every scene of the movie – and the cutsieness of it all.

After Mightor always won out, and who didn’t want that kind of success rate, no matter how old you were?

 

 

Moby Dick on the other hand, while he won out just as regularly as his show mate, was more explorative, over the top fun.

There wasn’t a single tight crevice, or small rocky wall or giant sea creature that Moby, fortunately not pursued by Captain Ahab, couldn’t push his way through, demolish or crush and kill, and so his two human companions Tom Tom (voiced by Bobby Resnick) and Tub (voiced by Barry Balkin) and their dog-like seal pal Scooby (voiced by Don Messick) – cross promotion much? To be fair Scooby Doo did come slightly later – stuck pretty close by.

Oddly they never showed any real inclination to return to their uncle’s ship – not that you ever saw anyway; you had to assume they had or that Moby had officially adopted them which frankly wouldn’t be the weirdest thing ever in a Hanna-Barbera cartoon – a fairly important part of their backstory touched on in the introductory exposition (Mightor had a similar plot-saving intro device).

Regardless of their parenting arrangements, and their dubious ability to stay underwater for ridiculously long period of times, Tom and Tubb were a lot of fun to watch, getting up to all kinds of adventures, pretty much all of which ended in them getting into trouble and having to be saved by Moby while Scooby “barked” ineffectually nearby.

Again, not terribly sophisticated storytelling, and one that featured, through adult lens and sensibilities, a considerable amount of wanton death and destruction – not for Hanna-Barbera the cartoon-esque deaths of Warner Bros. Looney Tunes – and some morally questionable activities (invade an underseas realm and kill the inhabitants when they defend themselves? Why sure!), but delightfully escapist and just what the fleeing-from-the-reality-of-bullying doctor ordered.

Though the characters from the show lived on in various forms after their headlining demise – they guest-starred in the final six episodes of Space Ghost and even had cameos in Scooby-Doo! Mask of the Blue Falcon – Moby Dick and the Mighty Mightor was their brief moment in the sun.

Even so for all the brevity of the show, it had a profound impact on me, offering me escapism, bold adventure and characters who were deeply appealing (for all kinds of reasons) and really, as a kid, and yes, even as a semi-critical adult rewatching it and laughing knowingly as its weird plot devices and narrative quirks, that’s all you want from a cartoon show.

 

 

Weekend pop art: It’s time for your favourite character to put pedal to metal

Batman and Robin, circa 1960s (artwork (c) Mark Chilcott)

 

I am not a car person. Not even a little bit.

But the only sphere in which I will make an exception for vehicles, and really just about anything (bar pretty anything the extreme right advocates), is pop culture where transportation of all kinds has long been associated with many iconic characters.

Artist Mark Chilcott has honoures these vehicles with a series of beautifully fun watercolour artworks that were the subject of a recent exhibition in Brooklyn.

Everyone from Batman to Ghostbusters, the A-Team to Star Trek: The Original Series got a look-in in this delightful homage to pop culture vehicles of all stripes, many of them so idiosyncratically that even a car-ambivalent person like myself would mind owning some of them.

It appears that prints were only available during the actual run of the exhibition but it would be worth keeping an eye for these prints which would be a fab addition to anyone’s collection, car lover or not.

For more information on the art and the exhibition, go to io9

 

Ghostbusters (artwork (c) Mark Chilcott)

 

Buzz Lightyear (artwork (c) Mark Chilcott)

 

Back to the Future (artwork (c) Mark Chilcott)

 

Addams Family (artwork (c) Mark Chilcott)

Weekend pop art: The thoughtful fun of Joey Spiotto’s Firefly Back From the Black

(image via IO9 (c) Joey Spiotto)

 

I love the work of Joey Spiotto.

He has a keen eye and obvious love for pop culture and invests all this art with a playful sensibility that still manages to convey everything you love about the characters and shows or movies he draws inspiration from.

Take his Little Golden Books designs, which were exhibited in L.A. this year, and in 2015, which are exactly what you’d expect to see appearing in the much-loved children’s book series, but are wholly unique and fun too.

Now he has turned his attention to Firefly, that lamentably short-lived but iconic show from Fox, which saw Malcoln Reynolds and his ragtag crew/family flying around the badlands of the galaxy, dispensing justice and helping themselves to stuff with equal abandon.

I previewed his book Firefly: Back From the Black last year, and was excited at the idea of what it might look like if Mal and the team made it to Earth (they never did in the 13-episode TV series or follow-up movie Serenity) and saw what the race who ended populating much of the galaxy, with often less than stellar results (no surprise there; we have a track record) did back on their home planet.

It’s quirky, insightful and beautiful true to the show and its characters and if you’re a Browncoat (a Firefly fan) then you have to have this book.

Firefly: Back From the Black is available for sale now.

(source: io9)

 

(image via IO9 (c) Joey Spiotto)

 

(image via IO9 (c) Joey Spiotto)

 

(image via IO9 (c) Joey Spiotto)

 

(image via IO9 (c) Joey Spiotto)

 

(image via IO9 (c) Joey Spiotto)

Dead Friends: Even zombies need loyal companions

(poster (c) Changsik Lee)

 

SNAPSHOT
Decades after a mysterious incurable zombie virus spreads throughout the world mankind is in danger of going extinct. Among the infected there is an old zombie and a dog that remains loyal to his master and hopes he will become human again one day. (synopsis via Laughing Squid (c) Changski Lee)

Love is a powerful thing.

It has the ability to change peoples lives for the better, unite fractious enemies (if they will be open to that happening) and make the world into a better place.

(And also fuel a multi-billion dollar Valetine’s day industry; but hey that could just be my cynicism talking.)

If you’re a devoted, faithful dog deep in the zombie apocalypse, love can also impel you, still with a smile on your face, to trot along happily after your undead master, begging him to throw a stick (or a detached hand), rub your belly and um, chow down together (best not to ask what but you can probably guess).

In Dead Friends, which Toronto 2D and 3D animator Changsik Lee created as his graduation project for Sheridan College Animation in Oakville, Canada, we witness how powerful the love of one devoted canine can be, and the lengths he will go to to stay at his master’s side, come what may.

The emotionally-resoannt short film has premiered at over 30 film festivals worldwide and it’s not hard to see why – it’s poignant, deeply-moving, funny with a clever twist that underscores how close the bond of undead master and dog is, and will always be.

 

The short and the short of it: The delightful hand drawn slapstick of The Inspector and the Umbrella

Let the battle of comical wills begin (image via Vimeo (c) Maël Gourmelen)

 

We’ve all been there on a rainy day.

We go to pop up our umbrella, our flimsy but vital protection against a soacking from the elements, and end up in a battle royale to get it to perform the very task for which it was designed.

If any proof was needed that it’s often Humanity 0 Umbrella 1 or 1000, you only have to look at the pile of discarded, broken umbrellas lying in, on and around rubbish bins at railway stations and on city corners.

French animator Maël Gourmelen, who cites his mentors as contemporary master Eric Goldberg, and Disney animation legend Ward Kimball and who has worked for the likes of Disney, Dreamworks, and Aardman, and other major studios, feels your pain, and no doubt some of his own, channelling it all into the hand-drawn wonder that is The Inspector and the Umbrella.

Set on a rainy day in New York in 1952, and taking about four years to animate after-work and on weekends, it’s a thing of beauty and vivid, often slapstick humourous, emotional expression, accompanied by deliciously apt, jaunty music by Mathieu Alvado.

You can find our more about Gourmelen’s style and what led him to create this short film masterpiece at Cartoon Brew; then watch this short again, which reminds me of the work of the superlative Fritz Freleng, and marvel at the beautiful work therein, and how absolutely perfectly it captures our neverending battle with inanimate objects.

 

Archer and Scooby Doo in the same cartoon? Butch Hartman winningly marries up kids and adult cartoons

South Park meets Peanuts (artwork via YouTube (c) Butch Hartman)

 

Unless you want to spend the next month answering awkward questions and/or potentially scarring dear little John, Judy or Millicent for life, you’re likely not to sit them down with you to watch Family Guy, Rick and Morty or South Park.

SpongeBob SquarePants or Peanuts? Sure! Archer or The Simpsons? Not so much.

But Butch Hartman, cartoonist extraordinaire may have a fun-filled, bright and colourful solution.

In this entertaining video, he combines very adult characters like Cartman, Rick and Bo Jack Horseman with more child-friendly characters to create a child-friendly version of characters adults love for their non-PC wit and charm but who are not exactly welcome entertainment for the preschool demo.

It’s a lot of fun to watch, a reminder that you can bring Peanuts and South Park together, join up Archer and Scooby Doo, and in the process, make the world a far richer, fabulously synergistic cartoon place.

 

So long Mr Mayor! Family Guy farewells Adam West

(image via YouTube (c) Fox)

 

The recent death of Adam West at 88 was justifiably mourned by many, especially those who remember his scene-stealing turn as Batman in the 1960s TV series.

But what many people didn’t realise is how active West had remained up to the present day, particularly with voiceover work for Seth Marfarlane’s cartoon series Family Guy, which is about to start its 15th season in October.

For 111 episodes (2000-2017), and counting (yes there are appearances still to come), West played an hilarious fictionalised version of himself, which spoke to his much-admired and talked-about sense of mischief and great fun.

 

 

The good news, according to Entertainment Weekly, is that we haven’t seen the last of this impressive man with five more Family Guy instalments to come:

“He’s gone, but we can still enjoy his tremendous work for a while longer.

“Adam West’s legacy in the Family Guy universe is that of an incredibly kind, upbeat, and hysterical man who played an incredibly kind, upbeat, and hysterical — but also totally insane — version of himself. We will miss him greatly and truly think of him as utterly irreplaceable.”

In honour of his considerable contribution to the one of the funniest, most-imaginative, envelope-pushing animated show of our time, Family Guy has crafted a beautiful tribute to West which, as it should, will hit with all the feels and then some.

(source: Crave)

 

Saturday morning cartoons: Rocko’s Modern Life

(image courtesy Nickelodeon)

 

I have always liked my cartoons larger-than-life, super-absurd, colourful, silly and full of clever ideas and witty oversized characters.

In other words, just like Nickolodeon’s ’90s classic Rocko’s Modern Life.

Created by Joe Murray, who originally invented the character of Rocko the wallaby for a comic book series that never saw the light of day, the series rang for 4 season (1993-1996) and 52 episodes, sporting a theme song by none other than the B-52s.

Every single one of those 52 episodes was an exercise in imaginative insanity, taking a basic idea such as O-Town residents  Rocko (voiced by Carlos Alazraqui) and his best pal, super excitable steer Heffer (Tom Kenny), joining a gym or going shopping with a credit card they couldn’t afford and … RUNNING WITH IT.

It didn’t matter how outlandish, madcap or downright nuts, the idea was, it often made it in which is how you end up with episodes such as “Jet Stream” which has just about every outlandish, weird thing that can happen in airline travel such as misplaced bags (off in space being with by aliens), annoying kids (off to the overhead luggage compartment with you) and dubious maintenance standards (plane held together by tape anyone?) parodied like there is no tomorrow.

It’s that element of deliciously-realised parody of the beige-mundanities of life that makes Rocko’s Modern Life such an effervescent, technicolour delight.

Lampooning was not simply done for the sake of a great visual gag, although there were many of those, but with a clear intent in mind to expose the absurdity of consumer culture (“Who Gives a Buck?”) or lack of understanding of where our food really comes from (“The Good, the Bad and the Wallaby”).

In other words, all that screwball, hyper-real absurdity had a point and damn good, finely-realised one that meant you were laughing, and laughing often, but always with your brain engaged too which made all the pleasure of Rocko’s company all the more rewarding.

It was silliness with brains, and it worked an absolute treat.

 

 

But all that inventive parodying, and imaginative artwork – everything resembled a warped Salvador Dali-creation from the doors and furniture to the buildings and car; O-Town was not a town in love with symmetry – wouldn’t have meant nearly as much without characters you gave a damn about.

In that respect, Rocko’s Modern Life excelled too.

Central to the absurdist theatre was the enduring friendship of thoughtful, cautious Rocko and garrulous, impetuous Heffer.

Like many BBFs, they annoyed the heck out of each other at times – to be fair it was mostly Heffer annoying Rocko who ended up in all kinds of weird scrapes and situations thanks to his ill-thinking “woohoo let’s do it!” friend – but they always had each other’s backs, were solid company for each other and got through the oddities of life in O-Town, one fuelled by its owner Conglom-O Corporation which had as its not entirely reassuring slogan “We Own You”.

Their relationship gave the show, which was known for its racy humour – it once has a chicken outlet called Chokey Chicken, changed to Chewy Chicken when its connection to a particularly pleasurable solo act was made a thing of – and Looney Tunes-esque scenes, a great deal of its emotional resonance.

With that anchoring of real, solid, true friendship, Rocko’s Modern Life would not have had anywhere near as much appeal.

After all, all the great over the top parodies have always had a central emotional core underpinning their adventures in the out-there and the extreme, and Murray’s creation was no different, giving something to care about as we clutched ourselves laughing.

Throw in a neurotic turtle named Filburt (Mr. Lawrence), Rocko’s adorably faithful dog Spunky (Alazraqui) and the toad couple next door Ed and Bev  Bighead (Charlie Adler) and you had an impressive cast of characters that made watching the show as nourishing for the soul as it was a treat for the eyes and the mind.

This was cartooning writ large, with bold ideas, a willingness to push the envelope until everything crazy and colourful burst through, brilliantly-outsized characters and narratives that went there and back and then all way back there again, an underrated cartoon series that showed us clever the artform can be if you have a bunch of people brave enough to play around with it and see what happens.

For more detail on Rocko’s Modern Life, check out Wikipedia and Mental Floss.

 

 

 

 


* For lots more fantastic Rocko’s Modern Life clips, go to NickSplat on YouTube.

But wait! There’s more …

 

(image courtesy Nickelodeon)

 

Putting the “modern” back into Rocko’s Modern Life is a brand new reboot movie from the original creators and with the original voice cast that sees the gang grappling with an altogether different decade to their beloved ’90s as EW details:

“After having been blasted into outer space with Heffer and Filburt in 1996, Rocko returns to Earth and struggles to fit into the world that the 21st century has long since accepted. Food trucks, iPhones, energy drinks, 3-D printers, and social media are all ripe for skewering by the gang.”

Rocko, heffer and Filburt with iPhones, superhero blockbusters and food gone mega-sized and postmodern? This will be a hoot of a parody!

For more on the reboot, slated to debut in 2018, go to Entertainment Weekly.