Ray Van Horn, Jr. is a veteran entertainment journalist whose writing and live photography has been featured in Blabbermouth.net, Dee Snider’s House of Hair Online, Fangoria.com, Horror News.net, About.com Heavy Metal, MetalManiacs, New Noise, Music Dish, AMP, Hails & Horns, Unrestrained,Noisecreep, Impose, Pit, The Big Takeover.com, Rough Edge.com, Pitriff and others. His blog The Metal Minute won a “Best Personal Blog” award in 2009 from Metal Hammer magazine and he wrote and produced his own hard rock e-zine, Retaliate.

He has contributed essays to UK author Neil Daniels’ Iron Maiden and ZZ Top biographies. Ray’s fiction has been published in various periodicals and anthologies, including his flash fiction piece “Off the Record” for Akashic Books’ “Mondays Are Murder” noir series. His recent short stories “Before the Ball” and “Widow” were featured in subsequent editions of Alex S. Johnson’s Axes of Evil anthologies. Ray wrote serialized original superhero fiction for Cyber Age Adventures and five of those stories appear in the anthology Playing Solitaire. He was the winner of Quantum Muse’s fiction contest in 1999.

Ray is a former NHL game analyst for The Hockey Nut and one-time host of the forum “Comic Books” at ReadWave. He has done beat reporting, photography and lifestyle articles for Metromix, an affiliate of The Baltimore Sun, Carroll Magazine, The Northern News and The Emmitsburg Dispatch.


Saturday, February 15, 2014

In Memory of the Saturday Morning Cartoon


Let's face the facts; Saturday morning t.v. sucks these days.

From as far back as the Fabulous Fifties, Saturday morning air waves were ruled by kids.  While I never grew up with Captain Video, Captain Midnight, Howdy Doody, Kit Carson and Hopalong Cassidy, I was seldom not near the boob tube from 7:00 a.m. to noon on Saturday mornings from the 1970s through the nineties.  Only until Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network made 'toons a 24-7 anytime fix and network sold out could I be broken of my Saturday morning habit. 

During the eighties after my parents had divorced, I would still get control of the t.v. when my dad picked me up for visitations and we stopped at my grandparents' house.  Its to my father and my late grandparents' credit they stomached the morning onslaught of cartoons all those years, but my Saturday morning chemical dependency carried well into the first five or six years of my married life.  I can remember refusing to budge from the living room on Saturdays until the WB and Fox cartoons were finished before moving on with our weekend plans.  It was no different than when I grew up during the seventies, only leaving the house to go out and play with my friends once Fat Albert had concluded.  I wasn't alone in that.  Just ask anyone from my generation.


Most of favorite Saturday morning cartoons were superhero related, which of course, if you know me, you're probably saying, well duh.  As early as the syndicated re-runs of the 1960's Spiderman show that carried throughout the seventies and early eighties, I was afflicted by the Saturday morning cartoon bug.  I knew the lyrics to the Spiderman show as did most young American boys my age.  Don't ask us to sing "Little Drummer Boy," as we're bound to screw that up, even with the gimme repeat words. 

Yet it's not just superheroes that captivated me all those years, since Star Wars and Orioles baseball also dominated my life as a youngster.  I blew my weekly allowance on comic books and trading cards as far back as I can remember, yet no matter how bad a lot of the Saturday cartoons could be (and there were thrice the amount of turkeys as there were winners), those 4 to 5 hour blocks of time became my weekly drug.  That was, until I was introduced to kung-fu flicks and Ghost Host on late Saturday nights; then my world really opened up.  Of course, I'd really loved Hong Kong Phooey first...

As I said, there's a ton of stinkers from Saturday morning lineups of the past and as we all know, the primary function of cartoons comes from the always evil yet always trusty plot by marketers to peddle toys.  Hulk Hogan's Rock 'n Wrestling was inexcusable trash, but I watched it since I liked the WWF back then as well, and lo, those bendable action figures came trailing to toy stores right behind the show.  I could tee off a hundred excruciating, crappy cartoons like Shirt Tales, Gilligan's Planet, Super Mario World, Pokémon, Digimon and Dink the Little Dinosaur.   But why go there?


The nineties represent the final threshold of goodness for Saturday morning cartoons.  Not everything the WB and Fox ushered out from the mid-nineties to the early 2000s was spot-on, but there was a lot of good stuff that came and went without a chance to flourish, Silver Surfer, The Magician, Static Shock, The Spectacular Spiderman and Freakazoid! being a few that come to mind.  I know we all have to grow up sometime, but it's been years since I've woken up on a Saturday, switched on the t.v., filled a bowl with cereal that's terrible for you and only gotten up from the couch to visit the bathroom during commercial breaks.  Nowadays, it's the same for me as any weekday morning, get up super early, make the coffee and work on my projects before the household awakes.  Honestly, now that I have a son, I miss the opportunity to lounge and watch mindless cartoons delegated to that specific block of time.  I can put on a DVD, sure, but it's nowhere near the same.  Poor child, what fun he's missed.

That being said, here's a quick run of some of my all-time favorite Saturday morning cartoons through the ages:


What kid doesn't like Scooby Doo?  Outside of The Simpsons and Looney Tunes, Scoob and the gang have filled more years with material and they just keep coming back.  We'll forgive Hanna Barbera for the abominations that were Scrappy Doo and A Pup Named Scooby Doo. 


The greatest cartoons ever.  In my day, we were fed an hour and a half of these classics by CBS under The Bugs Bunny and Road Runner Show.  Overture...hit the lights...this is it... you know the rest.  Big raspberries go to ABC, who bought the rights to the Looney Tunes during the nineties and then butchered the snot out of them in response to censorship groups.  Dark times, those were.


What I like to think of the best cartoon to eat your cereal by.  Superfriends is so very naïve and tame by today's standards, and whoever did the coloring work should've been fired, since there's at least one miscue per episode.  Still, we kids of the seventies were young, we weren't allowed to see anything truly explosive until Star Wars and this was the right way to come up in establishing good versus evil.  I ate Boo Berry religiously while this was on.


One thing I cherish about our Saturday morning programming is that we had cool stuff to watch in-between shows.  CBS had "In the News," a modified, family friendly look at world events that were more often than not, positive and full of inspiration.  ABC could have us zipping back from whatever station we might be on to catch Schoolhouse Rock to hopefully sing along to "Conjunction Junction," "I'm Just a Bill," "Interjections" or to count off by fives to "Ready Or Not, Here I Come."  Schoolhouse Rock, like The Electric Company, defines my generation and together, I think the two are the best educational programs that have ever been conceived.


Hey hey hey...  Fat Albert broke the racial lines faster than the freedom fighters of the sixties.  Bill Cosby managed to find a nonviolent way to cross over between races to the point none of us white kids ever thought of Fat Albert and his friends as anything but teenaged boys coming up in a tough neighborhood.  They were learning life's lessons that had nothing to do with disseminating skin pigmentation and we all learned them together.  We lived vicariously in that junkyard and thus, Fat Albert was for everyone.


Yeah, I admit it.  I was a Smurf freak.  I suppose the equivalent nowadays is the Bronie (i.e. male fans of My Little Pony) but Smurfs somehow became transitory where it was cool for boys and girls to enjoy them, even if girls were the dominant target audience.  I didn't care.  I thought the art was always magical and I wanted to know what it would be like to actually live in a house with a mushroom cap.  I still do.  Those live action films?  As heard in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, I fart in their general direction.


Like Smurfs, Spiderman and His Amazing Friends was a big deal during the eighties.  Both shows could often make you wince and groan from their stupidity, this one especially.  Yet, this unlikely alliance of Spiderman, Firestar and Iceman was progressive thinking for the early eighties and with a number of other Marvel hero cameos later in the series, this was more often than not worth watching.  Swarm and Video Man, though...oh, my sweet Lord...


I only played D&D for about a year on Fridays with some close friends of mine when it all came to a halt in favor of emptying bourbon bottles with pizza, Farscape, Lexx and drunken commentary thrown at Beastmaster.  Dungeons and Dragons, the eighties cartoon, was that sleeper Saturday show many kids bailed on as the last program of the day.  It was a slow cooker, but the animation was phenomenal for its time and the action could erupt sometimes.  In its own class.


The always bodacious Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  I'm still today fascinated how the first show from the eighties became a pop culture sensation, considering Eastman and Laird's original comic books were hardly for kids.  Looking at the eighties show today, well, it bites the big one more often than not.  The Fox redux during the nineties was spectacular until they marooned the Turtles in space.  The current Nickelodeon show is decent, but for nostalgic purposes and nothing else, I still dig the first series a lot.  I was working in a comic shop during this one's long run and would read my books with this show on...after eating my cereal, of course.  I also dated a girl who had to put on a Raphael costume for a promotion at another job from yesteryear when this show was red-hot.  She offered to do improper things to me with the costume on, and I'm hardly a prude, but yick.


Along with The Simpsons and Batman:  The Animated Series, Animaniacs was one of the greatest 'toons of the nineties and of all-time, in my opinion.  Nobody has the guts or patience to hurl a hundred one-liners in eight minute skits anymore, but Animaniacs did, and they could leave your sides throbbing from the relentless flurry of comedy.  The Great Wakkarotti.  Need I say more?  Also worth mentioning, spinoff Pinky and the Brain was genius on all sorts of levels and indirect spinoff Freakazoid! was the little engine that could, but got stalled by the powers that be.


I'm lumping these together, since there was a Batman and Superman team-up show that merged after the successful run of Batman:  The Animated Series and Superman.  Individually, both heroes prospered in the nineties with fantastic, hard-hitting shows.  Batman:  The Animated Series first started out on Sunday nights, then flocked to Saturdays and weekday afternoons.  I still have yet to see a superhero series that merges noir with traditional heroing like Batman:  The Animated Series.  Superman's show was almost as brilliant, never short on energy.  Together, they outclassed even X-Men, which did for well itself during the nineties in the regular show and X-Men:  Evolution.  Let's not forget Batman Beyond, which surpassed all expectations by putting an elderly Bruce Wayne and Barbara Gordon in the future to keep a rein over the young new Batdude, who wasn't too shabby in his far-flung cyber adventures.


One of the first CGI animated shows to crop up, Reboot was exceptional with its fantastic imagery and it was shrewder than even Tron at bringing the computer world to life by using allegory and characterizations of central processing lingo.  I'm old school and prefer traditional animation, but Reboot captivated me along with Beast Wars, Action Man, Max Steel and Cybersix. 


The Transformers franchise can thank the electrifying Beast Wars and Beast Machines for holding the fort until the recent return to the classic robots in disguise format.  Both series were also testing grounds for the Transformers movie series in terms of seeing how far CGI could be fluidly morphed and pushed.  Frankly, I've come to prefer the "Beast" shows, outmoded as they already appear in light of technological advances.  There was always a striving for purity between conflicting machina and the organic worlds they battled over.  These two series were hitting the green campaign trail long before Gore.



            Listenin' to:  It's Casual - Stop Listening to Bad Music





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