Sunday, June 20, 2010

The Cartoon Historian Lesson 18-A: The Spider-Man Cartoon Trilogy Pt. 1

*It's a beautiful breezy late-afternoon in New York City.Stefan the Cartoon Historian and his assistant Mina [a pretty blonde girl] are on on top of one of the city's buildings. Mina is looking at the atmosphere through binoculars.*

Welcome to a special edition of the Cartoon Historian. Mina,what are you doing?

Mina: What does it look like? I'm enjoying the scenery.

The Lesson is about to begin and you're supposed to helping me with it,not enjoying the scenery. You can do that After out This is my new assistant Mina.

Mina: *sighs,puts away binoculars* Fine. Hey everyone,It's cool to be here. Stefan needed an assistant to keep things fresh,so he asked me. This is gonna be a blast,because today it's all about Spider-Man cartoons.

Right Mina. In this multi-part episode,we're gonna take a look at the history of the Spider-Man cartoons. Well,let's get things started.

Mina: Let's start at the beginning. After the success of the Comic Book,Marvel decided to turn their hit comic into a Cartoon series. In 1967 the very first Spider-Man cartoon was made,a Cartoon that aired from September 9, 1967 to June 14, 1970.

Yup Yup. It was jointly produced in Canada (for voice talent) and the United States (for animation).It was created by writer Stan Lee and artist Steve Ditko.

The show first aired on the ABC television network in the US,but went into full syndication at the start of the third season. Grantray-Lawrence Animation produced the first season. Seasons 2 and 3 were crafted by producer Ralph Bakshi in New York City.

Mina: The series revolves around the scientific-minded teenager Peter Parker who, after being bitten by a radioactive spider, develops amazing strength and spider-like powers.

Mina: He decides to become a crime-fighting, costumed superhero; all the while dealing with his personal problems and the insecurities resulting from being a teenager.

Spider-Man risks his life to fight super-powered criminals such as Mysterio and the Green Goblin. However, New York Daily Bugle editor J. Jonah Jameson views him as a criminal.

The first season of the show dealt primarily with Peter working at the Daily Bugle as a teenage freelance photographer,capturing his relationship with the gruff, demanding J. Jonah Jameson and shyly romancing Betty Brant over the reception desk.

Mina:Of course when crime's afoot,Pete must ditch his normal life for a while and dawn the identity of our favorate Wall Crawler.

Peter's life away from the Bugle,his Aunt May's Forest Hills home,as well as his Collage life were never seen. Although he would sometimes visit various professors he knew.

Mina: The character design for young Parker was spot-on, combining the conceptualizations of both Steve Ditko and John Romita Sr., who served as art consultant for the show.

Season 1 contained mostly stories involving classic Spider-Man villains from the comic book series. Character creator Stan Lee served as story consultant for this season of the show.

Mina: The Ralph Bakshi-helmed Seasons 2 and 3, however, almost entirely eliminated villains from the comic book as a cost-cutting measure, choosing to instead have Spider-Man face generic magical villains and monsters, thereby enabling re-use of stock footage from Rocket Robin Hood, another animated cartoon TV show Bakshi produced. Dude,that is so cheap and lame.

Mina: Basically,what these guys did was splice 2 unrelated shows together. Hmm,splicing shows together..sounds familiar right? V.R. Troopers and Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers,anyone?

Uh,yeah. Anyway,Season 1 episodes were in production for three months before their initial broadcast. For example, 'Farewell Performance' was under the camera in late August 1967, as evident by the description of President Lyndon Johnson's 59th birthday in a newspaper clipping.

This episode first aired on December 2, 1967. Ralph Bakshi's episodes were more rushed; an early second-season episode from the fall of 1968 has a newspaper clipping from October 9, 1968.

Mina: The show's acting talent included Bernard Cowan, who was the dialogue director, narrator, and voice of some supporting characters. Paul Soles provided both the light, mild-mannered voice for college student/photographer Peter Parker and the much deeper, heroic tone for Spider-Man.

Peg Dixon provided the voice of Betty Brant as well as other various love interests for Peter in later seasons. Paul Kligman's distinctive, high-pitched voice was utilized on J. Jonah Jameson and several villains.

Mina: Also appearing were Vern Chapman as Doctor Octopus, Gillie Fenwick as Dr. Smarter, Curt Conners as both the Lizard and the Vulture. Tom Harvey was the voice of Electro and the Sandman.

Mina: Chris Wiggins was the voice of Mysterio. Carl Banas was the voice of the Scorpion. Len Carlson was the voice of the Green Goblin,Parafino,and one of the Fly brothers (Stan Patterson). Len Carlson,wasn't he the voice of Ganon in the Zelda Cartoon?

I forgot. Anyway,Harry Ramer was the voice of Dr. Smythe, Dr. Noah Boddy, and the other Fly brother (Lee Patterson). Ed McNamera was the voice of the Rhino. Billie Mae Richards was Billy Connors and Max Ferguson was the Phantom.

Mina: Now it's time to talk about the budget.

Yup. In order to be more cost-effective, given the limited budget for the show, Spider-Man's costume for this series only has webbed areas on his head, arms and boots; the rest of his costume is plain.

Additionally, the series also relied upon re-used stock animation from one episode to the next, stock animation which included everything from Spider-Man swinging across the New York City skyline, to Peter Parker stripping off his white dress shirt to reveal his supersuit and putting on his mask during his hidden transformations into Spidey.

Mina: Character movement was also kept to a minimum, though there was more character movement here than in other Marvel-themed animated projects at the time.

The opening credits depicts a scene of robbers burgling a jewellery store. In the first shot, the sign reads "Fine Jewlery." Then in the next shot, it changes to the correct spelling ("Jewelry," US spelling).

Mina: Mysterio's appearance in the series differed throughout the series. In his first appearance, his mask was off periodically, and his head had pointed ears.

Mina: In his second appearance,his mask and costume were the same as the previous episode, but the mask was never removed. In Season Three's "The Madness of Mysterio," he was never wearing his costume, but he had started carrying a cigar in his mouth, and his ears were no longer pointed.

After Grantray-Lawrence went bankrupt,the second and third seasons were produced at a dramatically reduced budget by Krantz Films under Ralph Bakshi.

This cost cutting is most apparent in the third season with two episodes re-using almost the entire footage from two Rocket Robin Hood episodes,as well as remaking previous episodes with minimal changes.

Mina: An error on Spider-Man's costume appeared through Season 1. The spider on his costume was depicted with only 6 legs. By Season 2 new drawings of the costume showed an 8 legged spider. However,when they started reusing Season 1's footage,that error remained unfixed. Lazy!

In addition, the episodes adopted a darker tone with darkly colored settings and atmospheric music. But while the reduced budget took its toll, Bakshi tried to dive further into Peter Parker's everyday life as a college student,such as where he tries out for the football team,only to fail miserably and becomes a star pitcher for the baseball team.

Peter's romantic life also began to take shape as he started dating a variety of women who were either concealing secrets or found themselves angrily waiting for him while Spider-Man was saving the city.

Bakshi also provided fans with the first origin story for the character ever presented on TV. The Episode "Origin Of Spider-Man," used entire chunks of Stan Lee's dialogue,not from the hero's first appearance in Amazing Fantasy #15,but instead from the drastically updated retelling in Spectacular Spider-Man #1,which was published in July of '68,a few months before the episode was aired.

Mina: 2 episodes were,for a large part,recycled animation from two episodes of a cartoon show called Rocket Robin Hood. In those episodes,Spider-Man was substituted for Robin Hood on the animation cells. Ladies and Gentlemen,I give you,Ralph Bakshi,the Original Haim Saban.

*chuckles* Anyway,As well as having two similar episodes to that of Rocket Robin Hood, Spider-Man featured many voice actors previously heard on that very cartoon show. And many of the second season Spider-Man episodes used the show's music cues.

Mina: The theme song of the show has become a popular standard. The lyrics were written by Academy Award winner Paul Francis Webster, while the music was composed by Bob Harris.

Mina: The song's opening lines became almost as synonymous with the character as his costume. The 2002 and 2004 film adaptations have featured the song. Jayce Bartok preformed the song for the first movie and Elyse Dinh preformed the song for the 2nd.

Both films also feature a variation the song at the credits. The 1st movie featured the original 1967 recording while it's sequel had a re-recording by Michael Bublé (also featured on the film's soundtrack).

2007's Spider-Man 3 features a performance of the song by a marching band at a public rally celebrating Spider-Man.

Meanwhile,the music from the series,with its jangling surf guitar,groovy brass lines,and jazzy scoring, is highly regarded by fans and much sought after by soundtrack collectors.

Mina: The 1st season featured an original score written by Ray Ellis, who also adapted the Bob Harris theme, in the same way John Barry utilized Monty Norman's "James Bond Theme" in various 007 films, or Nelson Riddle utilized Neal Hefti's "Batman Theme" in addition to new material.

The 2nd & 3rd seasons reused the Ellis score while adding a good amount of new music taken from KPM Library tracks featuring such English composers as Johnny Hawksworth, Syd Dale, David Lindup, Johnny Pearson, Alan Hawkshaw, Johnny Harris and the team of Bill Martin & Phil Coulter.

Mina: Phil Coulter,no relation to Ann Coulter.

Be serious,Mina. Anyway,Spider-Man was initially broadcast on Saturday mornings on ABC. The first episode aired on September 9, 1967. ABC's last Saturday morning broadcast of Spider-Man was on August 30, 1969. The show went on hiatus until the following March. That's when the third season began a six-month run, from March 22 to September 6 of 1970.

Mina: The series also aired on ABC Family in 2002 as part of the network's Memorial Day weekend-long "Spidey-Mania" marathon, timed to coincide with the release of the 1st film.

Mina: However, it appeared that airings of the show were only limited to the special marathons. As it wouldn't be seen again until a third "Spidey-Mania" marathon in 2004.The second "Spidey-Mania" marathon,aired in 2003,did not feature this series.

Mina: After the 3rd "Spidey-Mania" marathon this old series was never seen on television again.

Stay Tuned for part 2 of this lesson,where Mina and myself go discuss The 2 80's Spider-Man series.


KingsSideCastle said...

Great episode Stefan. ^_^ A lot of cool Spidey info in this one.

I have to ask is your cohost a Sailor Senshi?

P.S. Like the new layouts ^_^

Stefan said...

I enjoyed working on this. I think it was a good idea to have an assistant/Co-host. Just to keep things fresh.

And Yes,Mina is based on Sailor Venus.

This is gonna be a 4-part episode.Part 2 should be up soon.