Monday, September 24, 2012

The Jetsons 50th Anniversary: Gold Key Comics.


Our previous post (HERE) wished a happy Fiftieth Anniversary to THE JETSONS! 

For Part Two, we’ll examine some Jetsons highlights from the pages of Gold Key Comics and other arms and subsidiaries of the late, great Western Publishing Company!


As with each previous new Hanna-Barbera television series, RUFF AND REDDY, HUCKLEBERRY HOUND, YOGI BEAR, QUICK DRAW MC GRAW, THE FLINTSTONES, and TOP CAT, Western Publishing Company, under its Dell and later Gold Key Comics lines, quickly followed with a comic book adaptation.  This practice would continue until the mid-1970s, with comics based on MAGILLA GORILLA, SPACE GHOST, WACKY RACES, SCOOBY-DOO, and many others.
First Issue: 1962.

 Gold Key’s THE JETSONS # 1 (Above, cover dated January, 1963), was released in October, 1962, which would mean it was produced long before most persons had actually seen the TV show, given the necessary lead-times of comic book production.  It could be considered a less than perfect first effort, perhaps, owing to the situation above.  The series would improve considerably with its second issue, as we will see later in this post. 
Last Issue: 1970.

Gold Key would release 36 issues of THE JETSONS between 1962 and 1970.  These are generally considered to be the best examples of adapting the property to comic books, and are the focus of this post.  But, there were many publishers associated with The Jetsons…
Gold Key... Yay!
Charlton... Boo!
Charlton Comics would inflict 20 issues of very poor quality story and art upon us from 1970 to 1973.  Marvel Comics would offer one issue in 1978.  Harvey Comics would inexplicably reprint the inferior Charlton material during 1992-1993.  Archie Comics brought us all new stories throughout 1995-1996.  Finally, DC Comics would produce some fine material in a title they called THE FLINTSTONES AND THE JETSONS from 1997 to 1999.  Somewhat ironically, THE JETSONS has yet to appear in comic book form during the 21st Century.  …Though we should never truly count them out.   

The Issue at Hand is:  THE JETSONS # 1  (January, 1963)  Published by Gold Key Comics.   Cover by Tony Strobl.

As mentioned earlier, THE JETSONS # 1 was most likely in production long before the look, feel, and characterization of the series became common knowledge.  Indeed, Western Publishing, the company behind Dell and Gold Key Comics, had a reputation for working up to TWO YEARS in advance of publication date.  Given this, THE JETSONS television series might still have been in some phase of “production evolution” at the time work on this comic book began. 
Shorten that LEAD TIME, Jetson - or You're FIRED!
There are known instances of such long lead times working to Western Publishing’s disadvantage.  A promotional comic for a well-known automaker, 1954’s WOODY WOODPECKER IN CHEVROLET WONDERLAND, was prepared so far in advance that the finished comic art was completed prior to the final design of the new automobiles it was to promote. 

Writer Don R. Christensen told me he was forced to be as vague as possible in his script, as he hadn’t the slightest idea what the new cars would look like.  Drawings of the autos were “pasted-in” later, once the designs were released by Chevy.

 During the second season of TV Sci-Fi classic VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA, “The Flying Sub” was introduced.  Perhaps my favorite vehicle in all of fiction, this compact craft would descend from a docking bay in the nose of the great submarine Seaview, and maneuver both below the waves and above the clouds with great speed and agility. 

The Gold Key comic book adaptation’s initial depiction of the Flying Sub was drawn incorrectly by artists Mike Sekowsky and Alberto Giolitti (…yet, somehow, remained a reasonable interpretation of what such a craft MIGHT look like!) in issues 6-9.  This, too, would have been a case of the comic book being prepared while the “actual” Flying Sub was still on producer Irwin Allen’s drawing board at 20th Century Fox.  The correct design would finally turn up in issue # 11… not so coincidently, released two years and two months after the Flying Sub’s first television appearance. 

THE JETSONS # 1 might also have fallen victim to similar circumstances.  Artist Dick Hall, who did much fine work with WOODY WOODPECKER and other Walter Lantz characters in the late 1940s – mid 1950s, may not have been up to the task as well. 

 The issue’s lead story, set in the “no longer incomprehensible” year of 2062 (…only 50 years from now, folks!), saw George taking his family on an interplanetary picnic.  The story neither looked nor felt quite “right”, especially given the unerring quality of the Dell and Gold Key comics of the time.  Hall simply failed to capture the “texture” of the series, as well as the general “Hanna-Barbera style”.  Though, again, his source material, model sheets, etc. may have originated from an earlier stage of the show’s development. 
Futuristic Donald by Tony Strobl
Tony Strobl (…a veteran of many DONALD  DUCK  and BUGS BUNNY comic books for the same publisher) supplied the art for one of the interior stories, as well as the issue’s cover, and was far more successful at recreating the proper visuals for the printed page.  Strobl and fellow artist Pete Alvarado would provide the artwork for the rest of the series’ life at Gold Key, with Strobl producing the bulk of it. 

The Issue at Hand is:  THE JETSONS # 2  (April, 1963)  Published by Gold Key Comics.   Cover by Tony Strobl.
 

The Jetsons  (Untitled)  10 pages.   Writer:  Vic Lockman.   Artist:  Tony Strobl.

With Tony Strobl now the book’s primary artist, the series blasts-off on a regular bi-monthly schedule, beginning with this tale of the Jetsons’ jealous neighbors – The Jones Family. 

 Long frustrated by George’s late model space car, Jane’s newest designer hats, and Elroy’s advanced techno-toys, John, Jan, and little Jimmy Jones resolve to remedy the situation.  They agree to become “Model-Testers” for the various manufacturers that must continuously develop grandiose gizmos and fantastic fashions to satisfy Earth’s futuristic folks.  With their neighbors now flaunting the latest and greatest in all things, the Jetsons now find themselves in the unfamiliar position of having to “…keep up with the Joneses!” 

Each Jetson is stymied in his or her quest for consumer-goods superiority by the fact that the Joneses are field-testing one-of-a-kind prototypes for the manufacturers they serve.  Even teen-age daughter Judy falls behind her counterpart, Jill Jones, who begins dating a more handsome beau – who is ALSO a model-tester!  Some days, it just doesn’t pay to get out of the temperature regulating, auto-rocking, self-changing bed-o-matic!  

Demonstrating that shallow behavior will endure for the ages, the Jetson family falls into a state of despair, until the forces of the cosmos begin to balance themselves, as they are wont to do.  The various materialistic marvels of the Joneses each begin to reveal the hidden flaws associated with everyday consumer use.  One after another, the pseudo status symbols fail and fall before the eyes of the jolted Joneses and joyous Jetsons.  
You're ALL the status I need, dear!
In the interests of fair play, the “comic-book gods” also dictate that a number of the Jetsons’ precious possessions almost simultaneously “give-out” from normal wear and age, leaving each family as embarrassed equals on the “keeping-up” scale. 

Vowing to set aside their feelings of superiority and envy, respectively, the Jetsons and Joneses agree to join forces on a “joint picnic”.  It is only a matter of moments, however, before Elroy and Jimmy begin arguing over which family’s “floating picnic basket” travels faster!   
Top this DRUMMING, Jonesey!

Lockman and Strobl, who would collaborate throughout this title’s life, produce a winner by satirizing the intense consumerism of the 1950s and 1960s – and using the “family of the future” as the medium for the message, only adds to the delicious irony!

He never worried about keeping-up with the Joneses before, because he was never behind them before!” 

The Issue at Hand Is:  MARCH OF COMICS # 276   THE JETSONS 

(Released August, 1965)  Published by Western Publishing Company. 


MARCH OF COMICS was a completely separate line from Western Publishing, the parent company of Gold Key Comics, to be intended as “giveaway” or promotional items.  Large retail chains, like Sears, often used such comics to generate consumer good will.  The line began in 1946 and ran until 1982 (…ending with # 488). 
     

MARCH OF COMICS featured the same characters and properties Western produced for its “standard” Dell, Gold Key, and Whitman comics series – Disney, Warner Bros., Hanna-Barbera, etc.  Earlier issues were full comic book size, with later versions produced in an oblong 7 ½” x 5 1/8” size, finally settling into a more book-like rectangular 5” by 7”.
   

Interplanetary Picnickers  14 pg.   Writer: Vic Lockman.   Artist: Tony Strobl.
   

Thwarted by the poison ivy, mosquitoes, ants, and thunderstorms of Earth, the picnicking Jetsons opt for an off-world alternative.  Finding the Moon totally littered with 20th century moon-shot debris, Mercury “too hot”, and Pluto “too cold”, they inquire at a floating “Tourist Information Space Bubble”, as to the perfect picnic planet.  Despite the inconvenience of a five-minute trip to travel the “91,000,001.6 Miles” to the planet Tarium, the environment appears to be ideal.  At least, at first… 

Soon, the indigenous phenomena of the planet reveal themselves, and the Jetsons are beset by a plethora of peculiar plant life.  There are sticky-tongued plants, laughing gas dispensing plants, and plants that pinch, snap, grab, and hold.  All except for one curious clump of such flora, that doesn’t react offensively at all.  The reason?  It is a rubber simulation that conceals a hidden tunnel, used by space pirates.
   

As the pirate craft departs for plunder, George finds that his space car is immobilized by the rapid plant growth, leaving the family marooned, to later be found by the pirates.  Moving quickly, George, Jane, Elroy, and Judy substitute some of the REAL plants for the rubber ones, and watch the fun as the pirates return. 
    

Soon, the unsuspecting baddies are stuck, held, and “laughing-gassed” into submission by the displaced plants.  George radios the Space Police, and the pirates are taken into custody.  Taking a laughing-gas plant back with them, the bothers of Earth picnicking are now simply laughed-off.
   

After nearly three years, Lockman and Strobl finally give us a good version of the “space picnicking” story that fell so short in issue # 1.  Oddly, 36 years later, in 2001, the concept would be revisited by comics writer supreme Alan Moore and his “science hero”: Tom Strong. 
Not exactly a "picnic"?
TOM STRONG # 14 (October, 2001) featured the Strong family on its own “interplanetary picnic”.  Owing to the more explicit and over-the-top graphic storytelling of modern times, the Family Strong would face such picnic perils as “Brain-Sucking Marco-Megamorphs”, killer sun-tans from twin super novas, corrosive acid swimming holes, and hostile mirco-civilizations.  Oh, for the good ol’ days of laughing gas plants! 
    

In the letter column of TOM STRONG # 15, I noted the parallels between the two stories: 
Perhaps my favorite comics of all time would be the 1950s – 1960s Dell and Gold Key Comics, and “Space Family Strong” resembles nothing if not a mid-‘60s Jetsons comic.  Just imagine Tom, Dhalua, Tesla, Solomon, and Pneuman suffering the same ‘inconveniences of interplanetary picnicking’ as would George, Jane, Judy, Elroy, Astro, and Rosey!  Hard to believe, but it worked magnificently!”
   

Beyond basic plot similarities, what made for such a perfect parallel was that for each “Strong” family member, there was a “Jetson” counterpart.  Father, mother, child / children, pet, and robot servant!  The saying is true.  The more things change… etc., etc. 
 

The Issue at Hand is:  THE FLINTSTONES AT THE NEW YORK WORLD’S FAIR  ( 1964 )   Published by JW Books/Warren Publishing. 
Prepared and packaged by Western Publishing Company. 

In one of the most unusual comic books of its time, all of the existing Hanna-Barbera cartoon characters of the day converge on the 1964 New York World’s Fair!  I would presume this “specialty comic book” was offered for sale as a souvenir at the fair. 
"Goin' to the Fai-i-i-r!"

 I was only there twice as a 9-10 year old, and never saw any copies – but, as I recall, we certainly didn’t see the entire fair during our visits.  My original copy of this giant size comic came from a newsstand in the Jamaica Bus Terminal, in Queens, NY, so it was in general release and circulation as well. 

The interior art by Pete Alavarado and Phil De Lara nicely depicts the various H-B characters amid such fair attractions as the U.S. Royal Tire Ferris Wheel, IBM, Kodak, Johnson’s Wax, and General Cigar pavilions… and, of course, Sinclair’s Dinoland!   
   

The Hanna-Barbera characters included The Flintstones, the entire casts of the Huckleberry Hound, Quick Draw Mc Graw, and Yogi Bear Shows, Top Cat… and The Jetsons.   To me, clearly, the strangest thing about this comic was seeing both The Flintstones and The Jetsons in what was, unquestionably, the 1964 I lived in – and on grounds that I visited!  The same applied to all those talking animal characters, too!  If a kid could find anything to be equally awesome and weird at the same time, this was it!
    
 The Issue at Hand is:  THE JETSONS # 13  (January, 1965)  Published by Gold Key Comics.   Cover by Tony Strobl.
   
 ’Z’ is for Zoom   6  pages.   Writer:  Vic Lockman.   Artist:  Tony Strobl.
With the aid of a “Gusto-Tube”, Elroy soups-up his low-flying, low-powered, levitating sky-scooter to unprecedented levels of speed.  Now ready to take on the mean old neighbor bulldog (…who gives pursuit on his “floating doggie platform”) and the school bully (…who does likewise on his own scooter), Elroy taunts them and leaves them both far behind.   That is, until his Gusto-Tube burns out, and his not-so-super-scooter falls back to Earth. 

Now, down and confronted by both dog and bully, Elroy discovers “…a fantastic new thing”, that allows him to escape his furious floating foes.  Believe it or not, it is just plain old RUNNING!  It seems that, in this world of moving sidewalks, sliding chairs, flying cars, sky-scooters, and levitating motion platforms…. nobody just walks or runs anymore.  Such an unexpected act takes both bully and dog completely by surprise, providing Elroy with an easy exit from harm! 
    

Bizarre, you say?  Perhaps.  But, in our own time, are there not people who would drive to the corner mailbox to mail a letter?  As we grow more and more lazy and feeble as a population, would such a future be so completely out of the question?  You decide…
    

Feet are zoomy enough for me!  Especially when others have forgotten how to use them!”
     

Of the 36 issues of THE JETSONS published by Gold Key Comics, alas only the first 22 were original – with the balance being all reprint. 
  
Original and Reprint.

Jetsons comics would never reach this level of quality again, though the Archie and DC material would occasionally come close. 

In our THIRD and final post (click HERE, or just scroll down), we’ll look at a good DC story – and one very unusual animated use of the Jetsons characters that had me laughing long and loud. 

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

Gold Key's artists seemed to have trouble with Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. For some time, the Seaview looked wrong. That finally improved, although, IIRC, they continued to use the design from the movie and first TV season (with eight front ports) long after it had been changed on the show. Then they got the Flying Sub wrong (although that may have been because the TV series had not yet perfected the final design). My biggest gripe was that Nelson usually looked too young to be a four-star admiral and a veteran of WWII and Korea.

Joe Torcivia said...

Oh, together we could run off a LIST of things that should have been better about the Gold Key VOYAGE comic, Anon! Still, I’m glad we had it! Loved the painted covers and the photos. And, as I said back in the Gold Key post, it eased the pain of “Seven-Day Separation” – as did the JETSONS comic, and most every GK TV title.

But, where were Chip, Sharkey, Kowalski, Patterson, Sparks, and Doc?

On the art lagging behind the series’ changing visuals, I’m convinced that Don R. Christensen had the answer when he and I talked back in the ‘80s. Western worked too far in advance. The First Season Seaview seemed to appear in merchandising too often, and I’ve never known exactly why.

Finally, why was the comic book Nelson given to saying “Great Thunder!”? He never said that on TV!

Oddly (and it sticks out BECAUSE it’s such an unusual exclamation – even for older comics, where “Great Scott!” would suffice), I recall another comic of that era where “Great Thunder!” was used.

I’m positive that it was RIP HUNTER TIME MASTER, but don’t have the urge to going paging through them right now.

My guess is that “Great Thunder!” was a favored expression of one of the regular writers of non-superhero adventure comics – like Gaylord DuBois or France Herron – and he simply employed it wherever he could!

Anonymous said...

That seems to be another common complaint about the comic: the only characters from the TV show were Nelson and Crane. The other officers and crewmen were nameless drones. The chief petty officer did look like Curly, but they probably continued to use him long after he had been replaced by CPO Sharkey on the TV show.

Joe Torcivia said...

Curley was actually named as such in Issues 1 &2. Past that, I’d have to look the issues up to refresh my memory. And, in Issue # 2, he was drawn rather accurately. Later issues, however, didn’t seem to use a Chief.

With the exceptions of adding the Flying Sub, and following the show into a few more sci-fi based plots as the comic went on, it seemed to remain stuck in a general first season mode -- to the point that they never updated the crew uniforms from Season One’s “basic sailor togs” to the red and blue jumpsuits that became the standard.

I should write-up one of those someday. In fact, I should do more comic reviews overall.

rodineisilveira said...

Joe Torcivia,

In the Plenty 'O' Fun blog (http://plentyo.blogspot.com), there's a topic that brings the integral version from this Flintstones special edition.
The topic is located on the following link: http://plentyo.blogspot.com/2009/11/coming-soonthe-flintstones-at-new-york.html.
Enjoy to give a peek on this topic!

Joe Torcivia said...

That’s a really nice look at the covers and interior stories from THE FLINTSTONES AT THE NEW YORK WORLD’S FAIR. Since I didn’t illustrate the interior, it complements the post quite well. Thanks for pointing this out!

rodineisilveira said...

Joe Torcivia,

I could notice a small detail in the Flintstones special edition from the New York Expo-64: in a sequence drawn by Phil de Lara, there are special appearances of Dick Van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore (the central pair from The Dick Van Dyke Show [1961-66]) in the middle of crowd, on the scene where Fred, Barney and Wally Gator are on the Hollywood pavillion.
It's that, when this Flintstones special edition was being published, The Dick Van Dyke Show was a big hit in the world-wide TV.

Joe Torcivia said...

I took me a day or two, Rodinei, to find the time to look at my copy… but I’ll be darned if that isn’t Rob and Laura Petrie (Dick Van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore) in the crowd!

That is one AMAZING FIND, that I never noticed – and I’ve read and re-read that comic since I bought it new off a newsstand in Jamaica, Queens (NY) all those years ago!

And, to something meaningful only to me, you just happened to make that observation on the very day that I received the Complete DICK VAN DYKE SHOW on DVD, and had just watched the first two episodes, before discovering your comment waiting in my inbox. Isn’t life funny?

There’s someone else that De Lara appears to have snuck in too, now that you had me looking closely at every panel of the issue. In the same story, where Fred runs off the stage of the magic act with a big “WHOOOSH!” Can’t quite discern who it might be… Steve Allen?

I may do a separate Blog post on this, just to bring your discovery to light… and, if I do, will certainly credit you!