Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Scheimer! And the Unreal Ghostbusters

There's an interesting discussion going on in the Cartoon Brew comments regarding Amid Amidi's dismissive post about Lou Scheimer's upcoming book (co-written with Scheimer's faithful Boswell, Andy Mangels). The comments start out mostly agreeing with Amid that this is "the book nobody's been waiting for," but Mark Evanier arrives to counterattack Amid for his snide tone, and other commenters point out the usual extenuating facts about Filmation: 1) It trained a lot of people who went on to help create the improved animation of the mid-'80s onward; 2) It was the only company that resisted the pressure to outsource the animation overseas; 3) A lot of people who worked for Filmation still have fond memories of the experience; 4) A lot of the shows were and still are beloved.

As a child, I was on both sides of the Filmation fence: I was addicted to He-Man, but Filmation cartoons were also the first cartoons whose shoddiness I really began to notice. (Once I realized that Filmation cartoons all had terrible -- or, really, nonexistent -- animation, I could move on to noticing the same problems in other shows. But Filmation's level of craftsmanship was so low that even a kid could become aware of it.) I don't think it's fair to say that Scheimer made the best cartoons he could with the resources and restrictions he had; if anything, Filmation was always coming up with ways to bring the level of Saturday morning cartoons down just a little bit further. Filmation may actually look worse from the point of view of a viewer than it does from the point of view of an animator. If you're an animator, at least it was a decent training ground. If you're a viewer, and you don't have a nostalgic fondness for these shows, then it can be argued that Filmation helped the quality of animation, voice acting and (especially) scriptwriting deteriorate even faster than it otherwise would have.

On the other hand, even if you think these shows were bad, Filmation and Scheimer have their fingerprints all over modern animation history. He may have made animation better and worse, in the sense that his shows drove the art form downward while many of his trainees helped drive it upward. So I don't quite get Amid's assumption that nobody would want to read a book like this; I'd think someone who wants to know what went wrong in animation would want to read it most of all (though Scheimer will talk as though it was all great, so we'll have to read between the lines).

But as someone who used to write posts entitled "things that suck" (and stopped because I realized it was nasty, and making the posts seem worse than they really were), I don't have standing to criticize Amid for his tone. So I'll end this post with what may be the first appearance of Lou Scheimer in comic book form. When Filmation started doing the (terrible) Archie TV cartoon, the comics did a story where the characters went to Filmation studios and met Scheimer (the man in the green suit), Norm Prescott (the guy with the pipe and glasses) and Hal Sutherland (the man in the black suit), whose name is misspelled "Southerland" by the comics' somewhat typo-prone letterer, Bill Yoshida.

The great Harry Lucey drew this rather sycophantic visit to Filmation (around the same time as another story that sucked up to music producer Don Kirschner), and as he often did, he drew the "real" characters in a less-cartoony-than-usual style. He makes the Filmation studio look better than Filmation made the comic characters look.


J Lee said...

Actually, when the original Archie Show debuted on CBS in 1968, it was a bit of a breath of fresh air from the other Saturday morning series, mainly because Filmation couldn't cheat on this series. Since they hadn't done any comedy shows before, all the stock looks, walks, cars-riding-over-a-series-of-hills-into-the-distance, etc. had to be done new for the show. It was only in the wake of The Archies success that you began to notice that every Filmation cartoon used the same animation, simply traced over to fit a new character, and every show had to have a band, and every show had to have the same reaction shots to corny jokes in the vein of another show the debuted in 1968, "Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In".

You can't watch those episodes today without knowing about the mediocrity that was to come. But for at least one year, Filmation stood out from the growing H-B dominance of the TV animation cartoon world.

Yowp said...

Hey, how come Hot Dog isn't there? ;)

Poor Hal Sutherland. They couldn't spell his name right.


Thad said...

It's funny Amid's comments caused such an uproar because he pretty much was right - the cartoons sucked. And I would challenge the viewpoint of it being good 'training' ground. All of the great artists I know who worked there said they had to shake bad habits. (Some still have them all these years later.)

Like you Jaime, I can't take Amid to task for his snark (nor would I want to), but I think snark is getting old in the blogosphere in general. I think that the transparencies in Amid's writing and the constant trolling for web traffic/income is trying people's patience more than anything though.

Ricardo Cantoral said...

"And I would challenge the viewpoint of it being good 'training' ground."

One could argue that at the very least they familiarized themselves with the tools they needed to create a cartoon. That is invaluable knowledge; especially since the burden of the expense of these tools were not on the artists.

The cartoons did suck of course so I have to agree with Amid about this being "the book nobody's been waiting for".

Steve said...

Thanks for posting the color panels from "Everything's Archie." I have a paperback copy from the day with the cartoons in black & white only, and rather small. The book includes the Kirshner story as well. One of the funny things I picked up early on from the book was that writers of these stories apparently had only a vague idea of how the TV show would work. In one story the band would suck. In the next the band was a sensation. In one story the Archies look like the Beatles circa 1965.

As for the TV show... Yeah, even at the age of 6 I noticed the animation during the musical sequences never matched the music. But I watched it every week.

Unknown said...

Wow! Wotta blast from the past! Filmation was the first studio I ever worked for, starting there in 1978, about a decade after this story was drawn.

The studio was located at the corner of Sherman Way and Lindley. Here's a MapQuest street level view:

Added trivia: Many of the exteriors for BOOGIE NIGHTS were filmed a few blocks away, including the nightclubs and the donut shop where the shootout occurs. The donut shop, in fact, is still there and is located at the far end of the same block Filmation Studios was located at.

I have many fond memories from my time at Filmation, and more than a few frustrating ones as well. Filmation was reputed to hire only two types of people: Those on their way in, and those on their way out.