Monday, September 24, 2012

Happy 50th Anniversary to The Jetsons! (...in Three Parts!)


Okay, everyone… Sing along with me:  Meet George Jetson.   His boy, Elroy.  Daughter Judy.  Jane, his wife. 

Wow!  I don’t know what producers William Hanna and Joseph Barbera paid composer Hoyt Curtin for the lyrics of this theme, but he certainly got the better of the deal.  ELEVEN WORDS… and only “boy” and “Elroy” manage to rhyme!  

Despite one of the simplest sets of TV theme lyrics this side of the one-word BATMAN TV theme (…unless one chooses to count the prefix “Na-na-na-na-nana-na-na, Na-na-na-na-nana-na-na…Batman!” as a long series of words), THE JETSONS theme has, nevertheless, become a classic.  
Combined with its visual of George dropping off Elroy, Judy, and Jane at their respective destinations, from his bubble-domed, flying space car, the song DOES introduce the principal characters, and efficiently communicates everything you need to know in order to begin enjoying the show.  Jane’s trademark moment, in which she takes George’s entire wallet, rather than the few dollars he offers her for a shopping jaunt, is one that universally hits home for any married – or, especially divorced – man! 

And, so it is that we honor THE JETSONS, on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of the show’s debut for the 1962-1963 television season, with what was our fortieth anniversary tribute from my (now retired) APA and fanzine column The Issue At Hand # 62 from 2002.  …Waste Not, Want Not, when it comes to feeding the Blog-beast, I always say!    

THE JETSONS was an important early influence on my life.  One that convinced me to “Look toward the future”, because it will be great!  For the next several years, television series would follow with similar themes – VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA (1964), LOST IN SPACE (1965), STAR TREK (1966) – contributing to the mindset that had young me spending a large portion of my life looking forward to the year 2000 and the coming of the 21 st Century.  Anyone else feel as let down by what actually happened as I do?   Just askin’. 

…Then again, we DO have this Blog to bring us joy, so maybe things turned out okay after all. 

Following the earlier success of THE FLINTSTONES, THE JETSONS opened on ABC, Sunday evening, September 23, 1962.  Where the “Modern Stone Age Family” was clearly patterned after Jackie Gleason’s THE HONEYMOONERS, and Hanna-Barbera’s second prime time animated effort, TOP CAT was based on Phil Silvers’ SERGEANT BILKO, THE JETSONS had a slightly more obscure media-predecessor as its primary influence. 

This was the BLONDIE series of movie comedies, starring Penny Singleton (more at THIS LINK) and Arthur Lake as Blondie and Dagwood.  More subtle and less recognizable than the Gleason and Silvers influences, to be sure, but deliberate to the point of casting Ms. Singleton as the voice of Jane Jetson.  Thankfully, George O’ Hanlon’s voice for George Jetson was far less whiny and annoying than Mr. Lake’s Dagwood. 

O’Hanlon’s long period starring as the put-upon “Joe McDoakes”, in a hilarious series of comedy shorts for Warner Bros. – alas, now forgotten, prepared him well for the role of similarly put-upon George Jetson.  Indeed, Joe McDoakes was for the ‘40s and ‘50s the exact counterpart of the future Mr. Jetson. 

Other, more familiar, cartoon voice actors, applied their talents to the rest of the JETSONS cast.  Janet Waldo as Judy.  Mel Blanc (Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Barney Rubble) as George’s mean ol’ boss Mr. Spacely.  Daws Butler (Huckleberry Hound, Yogi Bear, Quick Draw Mc Graw) as Elroy, Handyman Henry Orbit, and Mr. Spacely’s business rival Mr. Cogswell.  Jean Vander Pyl (Wilma Flintstone) as Rosey the Robot Maid.  Don Messick (Scooby-Doo, Ranger Smith) would round out the cast as the Jetson family dog, Astro.  

 Alas, Hanna and Barbera were unable to again catch that FLINTSTONES lightning in their shiny new, twenty-first century, synthi-perma-plastic bottle. THE JETSONS would be cancelled after one season, and last air in Sunday prime time on September 08, 1963.  Though a new, imaginative series called MY FAVORITE MARTIAN would debut in three weeks -- and Sunday night stalwart ED SULLIVAN would seemingly ALWAYS be there -- for me, the night would somehow be “less special”, until VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA would sail Sunday-ward (…from Monday evening) in 1965.


But, don’t shed too many techno-tears for THE JETSONS.  The series quickly became a staple of the then-budding Saturday morning cartoon blocks, along with other former ABC prime time animated series THE BUGS BUNNY SHOW, TOP CAT, and BEANY AND CECIL. After two decades (!),THE JETSONS would also become a top program in weekday afternoon syndication, prompting Hanna-Barbera to produce several more seasons of the show between 1985 and 1987.  Remarkably, the original voice cast was still ready and available for duty.  The great advantage to being a cartoon, I suppose, is that the players looked as if they hardly aged a day!  
Back to the 1985 Future!
 
NEXT:  We’ll look at The Jetsons, as presented in Gold Key Comics.  …Say, didn’t they have a fiftieth anniversary too? 

Page down or CLICK HERE for that!


And, you can find more on The Jetsons at YOWP!  Be sure to go there and HERE too! 
 

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. 

The Jetsons Fiftieth Anniversary: “DC and FG”.


We wished a happy Fiftieth Anniversary to THE JETSONS (HERE), and discussed some JETSONS Gold Key Comics HERE.


We’ll wrap up by giving some props to DC Comics for their version – and note a “very special” recent animated appearance – the latter being an original addition to this series of posts, and not reproduced from my decade-old APA and fanzine writings.

As our own technology advanced to new heights, it may have become more and more challenging to create stories about The Jetsons. Here’s an example of how DC Comics rose to that challenge.


The Issue at Hand is: THE FLINTSTONES AND THE JETSONS # 15

(November, 1998) Published by DC Comics.


Hey!  No Jetsons on the COVER?  What gives?
Cybersox” 8 pg. Writer: M. Kupperman. Artists: F. Yache and D. Davis.


Despite the unusually provocative title (…especially for a magazine ostensibly aimed at the “younger set”), this is simply a story about the travails George experiences in merely attempting to purchase a pair of socks online!

As many of us have become accustomed to “shopping over the Internet”, we find George Jetson doing the same in his time. There, however, it has taken on an added dimension… one of virtual reality.

And so it is that George dons a “VR” helmet, suit, and gloves, in an attempt to secure some socks by entering that limitless realm of retailing known as “The Virtual Mall”.

Intimidated by the many “shop-options” offered by the Virtual Mall’s vast Access Menu, the uneasy George presses the wrong buttons (…you’d THINK he’d be more computer literate by this time!) and finds himself in one erroneous situation after another.

George’s misdirected mall-surfing leads him to a music store (…where he is zapped into a “virtual demo” of a hard rock hologram), an art gallery (…featuring sculptures of socks), and the “Virtual Mall Chat Room”, occupied by his grumbling boss Mr. Spacely.
Virtual Mall... You're FIRED!

After a visit to the “Virtual Complaint Department”, George is finally digitally deposited at the V-Mall’s “Sockworld”, where he is techno-talked into buying a pair of “Voice Controlled Computerized Socks”. Once home, the “Cybersox” abruptly walk out of George’s life after he issues a series of invalid voice commands. Wiser for his experience, he resolves to leave all future “virtual shopping” to wife Jane – who’s probably STILL taking his whole wallet!


Quick digression: On the subject of Jane still taking George’s whole wallet, we flash forward from 1962 (…or, if you’re in The Jetsons’ time – flash backward) to 2007, and the FAMILY GUY episode “Meet the Quagmires”.

In one of FAMILY GUY’s trademark “cutaway” gags, we see the wallet bit play out – only with George finally deciding to do something about it!

Funny thing is, the Jetson characters are drawn and animated in their ORIGINAL style – and not in typical “Family Guy fashion”, as The Flintstones have been on several occasions.
The Jetsons - as seen on Family Guy!

…And, there’s an amazing “call-back” to this gag that factors into the episode later on!

Meet the Quagmires” can be found on the DVD set FAMILY GUY Volume Six.




But, back to “Cybersox”… Though clever and entertaining, this story just might reveal the inherent difficulties involved in coming up with new ideas for The Jestons from the perspective of the early 21st Century – vs. the early 1960s, when the characters were first imagined.

Humorous exaggeration aside, is the core concept of the “Virtual Mall” so vastly different from the online shopping capabilities we possess today? An incorrectly entered “Google Search” can take you to as many unintended destinations as George’s fumbling at the VM’s Access Menu Board.

(…And you DON’T WANNA SEE half the stuff that comes up under “The Jetsons” on a Google “Images” search! Trust me on that… )

Have we, as a society, moved close enough to The Jetsons as to render them irrelevant? Or, to paraphrase POGO creator Walt Kelly: Have we met ‘The Future’, only to find that it is US?”



…I hope not, and would like to see The Jetsons continue to push our imaginations further and further into the realm of the “someday possible”!

Happy fiftieth to THE JETSONS! And, thank you for all the futuristic fun!