Tag Archives: Thundarr

A ton of 80s cartoons finally coming to DVD!

The last few years we’ve been going through a relative drought of 80s cartoons on DVD.  Though I was super happy with Shout! Factory re-issuing Transformers (recently vastly encheapened) and G.I. Joe on DVD in the past couple of years, there are still some big holes in my collection that seemed would go unfilled forever.  Well some 80s cartoon god must have heard my laments because there are a ton of new to DVD titles coming in the next six months or so!

As you can see from the advertisement above, the Warner Archive (manufactured on demand DVDs) is releasing some great catalog titles including the Go Bots (shipping on May 17th), Mr. T (shipping today), and finally a complete set of the Herculoids (shipping on June 14th) on DVD!

In addition to these awesome WB titles, Shout! Factory is currently prepping releases of M.A.S.K. (shipping in August), the Japanese Transformers Headmasters series (shipping on July 5th), as well as a re-issue of Jem (to be announced officially soon) on DVD.

Still keeping my fingers crossed that the Warner Archive will release the second half of the Silverhawks someday…

Man, I miss Steve Gerber…

I found some time this weekend and scanned another Thundarr the Barbarian article.  This one comes from an issue of Fantastic from 1980, though for the life of me I can’t remember which month.  It was written by Adam Eisenberg and makes a nice companion piece to the Fangoria/Buzz Dixon article I posted before, though it centers on more of the limitations and censorship the series had to overcome because of the imposed network standards and practices…

I know I tend to go on and on about this idea time and again, but I think it’s interesting to note just how important the 1980-1983 timeframe was for modern action animation.  In the piece Steve Gerber talks a little bit about the collective intentions to bring the “action” back to action/adventure cartoons while creating Thundarr with Joe Ruby (of Ruby Spears.)   First off, though he was already working in animation doing production design for Hanna Barbera, Jack Kirby was probably hot on Gerber and Ruby’s minds because of what he brought to the table for Marvel and DC comics.   I think it’s really cool to see an animation production team playing to the strengths of their contracted talent instead of trying to force them to bend in another direction, which doesn’t always bode well in network/studio environment.

At the same time, Gerber admits that even while shooting for the stars in terms of creating a thrilling action oriented cartoon they still had their hands tied to an extent where their barbarian hero couldn’t “…throw a punch or…even hit anybody.  He can do all kids of acrobatic things, but he can’t even trip anyone.”  This kind of over protective standards and practices is equal parts infuriating and incredibly flooring.  Whereas it’s frustrating to watch a cartoon that centers around a barbarian that you just know wants to knock the block off of every douche-bag wizard that he runs across (they are enslaving humanity you know), these limitations opened the door to exploring another heroic archetype, the strong non-violent hero (think He-Man.)  Though I know it’s really easy to bag on the He-Man ideal for being too goodie good and unrealistic, this kind of storytelling is not always about focusing on the visceral and gritty realism.  Sometimes it’s about fables and though I know this is obvious, morality.  This is what’s really cool about a great creative environment, that there is room to explore both paths (and more), so you can have something more fist in the face like G.I. Joe, something more moral like Masters of the Universe, and something inbetween like Thundarr.

So this short period in animation is so interesting to me because it marks the beginning of the end of 10 long years of anti-integrity self-imposed studio censorship…

Similarly Gerber and Ruby found themselves challenged by another aspect of depicting violence in cartoons in that they weren’t allowed to have any kind of traditional barbarian sword for the Thundarr character.  According to S&P there could be no sharp objects like knives or swords.  Though it could have hampered some of the design aesthetic on the show this limitation pushed them to create something interesting and new in Thundarr’s Sunsword.   Trying to sidestep riffing too much off of Star Wars the sword was designed to have a blade forged from a bolt of lightning.   Again, even though they were hampered by network S&P the crew ended up treating this as a chance to bring something relatively new to the table, or at least they used it as an opportunity to tie in a different set of influences than a barbarian fantasy cartoon would normally lean on.  It’s less Conan and more Norse god in look and design.  Again, this is certainly playing to the strengths of Jack Kirby who brought a taste of his work on characters such as Thor and the various 4th World creations for DC.

   

Here’s another Gerber quote from the article that I love…

“The big thing that we’ve had to overcome is that the censors tend to treat children as if they’re not just morons, but lunatics, potentially dangerous creatures.”

 

Demon Dogs!

I’ve been getting pretty excited about the impending release of Warner Bros. Saturday Morning Cartoons: 1980s, Vol. 1 as it’ll finally give me a chance to revisit one of the shows I never got a chance to see much of as a kid, Thundarr the Barbarian.   Granted, it’s only a taste with one episode on this two-disc set, but it’ll be better quality than the various youtube videos that have been satiating my hunger in the interim.  Besides, if this set is successful it might lead to more Thundarr on DVD.

Regardless, I’ve been thinking about the series lately and in a moment of kismet I stumbled upon a couple of Thundarr-centric articles while doing some magazine back-issue research on another project.  These articles are pretty cool considering they largely feature Jack Kirby’s production artwork, not to mention a few Alex Toth model sheets.  I thought it would be fun to share one of them today; written by Buzz Dixon (of Sunbow animation fame) this article was originally featured in issue number 9 of Fangoria magazine back in November of 1980 (when the horror magazine felt a whole heck of a lot more like its sister publication Starlog.)

Since I haven’t really seen a full episode of Thundarr since I was a kid, reading this article puts me right back into that mindset of speculation and hoping the cartoon will be as cool as it potentially can be based on this artwork and Dixon’s enthusiasm for the project…

  

Like Blackstar, Thundarr unfortunately debuted right before the landscape of network and syndicated television was drastically changed in 1982-83.   Because of strict regulations and pressure from parent activist groups there were some crucial missing ingredients that kept most cartoons from reaching their true potential in the 70s and very early 80s.  In particular there was a ban on fully merchandising cartoon series, in particular releasing toys of popular shows, and I think this lack of product awareness hurt that instant recognition a good toy line has on kids.  When He-Man and the Masters of the Universe came on the scene it shattered all expectations of just how popular the combination of a well-designed toy line and thought out cartoon series could be.  Had Thundarr gestated in the minds of Steve Gerber and Ruby Spears just a little longer I think it had the potential to depose He-Man from the throne it seized in the early 80s. 

Not only was it similar in style, design and tone, and thus obviously a successful to the audience, Thundarr pushed the envelope of action animation much further as it was coming from the likes of Gerber and Kirby who were well steeped in comics dynamic storytelling.  The unbridled power that Kirby is well known for can be felt in every second of the animation, even if it’s only a shadow of what he brought to the comics medium.  Add to that Steve Gerber’s wackiness and biting social commentary and you have a powder keg just waiting to explode.   Again, there was so much potential in this series, and I truly believe that a toy line, even a mediocre one, would have ignited it.

  

If I get a chance I’ll scan the second Thundarr article I found this past weekend, though I think it’s filled with the same production artwork.   Now to go back to waiting, though it’s just a couple more weeks before the DVD finally hits store shelves

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