Let us travel back in time to the days of my youth when cartoons ruled Saturday mornings. I remember getting up early, making myself a bowl of Cap’n Crunch with crushed up Oreos (don’t knock it until you try it), grabbing my drawing supplies and planting myself in front of the television for hours. It was in 1976 when I was born but my earliest cartoon memories started in the 80’s. I can honestly say that my first cartoon memory is of Ricochet Rabbit. It was obviously a rerun and to this day still one of my favorite characters.
The cartoons of 1980s was the heyday of cartoons, at least that’s the opinion of most people my age. Sure, the cartoons were meant to sell toys but what options we had! Transformers, G.I. Joe, Super Friends, Thundercats, He-Man, Saturday Supercade, The Smurfs, and so much more. We had cartoons based on our favorite movies like The Real Ghostbusters or our favorite video games like Captain N the Game Master or Super Mario Bros. It was amazing and I absorbed these cartoons nonstop as I laid on the floor drawing. I taught myself how to draw by recording the cartoons, pausing a frame, and drawing what I saw. My collection of recorded cartoons on VHS tapes was only rivaled by my future comic book collection.
In a previous blog most I mentioned how I loved the Dungeons & Dragons cartoon. It may be my all time favorite animated adventure series and inspired a lot of what I like to do creatively but other cartoons inspired me as well. I’m a huge science fiction fan because of the cartoons I grew up on. Also, the silliness of a cartoony style was inspirational to me. I may have loved watching Superman but I’d rather draw him in a simple funny style like he should be in an episode of Casper the Friendly Ghost than make him look as he appeared in the comics.
Now let’s get in toon with one of the cartoons from my youth...Thundarr the Barbarian.
On October 4, 1980 Thundarr the Barbarian premiered. The series follows Thundarr an escaped slave and his friends Ookla the Mok and the magical Princess Ariel as the fight the forces of evil on a post-apocalyptic Earth set in the distant future. Thundarr’s weapon was the Sunsword, a magic sword that produced an energy blade when actives. When the sword wasn’t active is was just a hilt and rested on Thundarr’s armband. Ookla was a large strong monster like creature who was enslaved with Thundarr. Princess Ariel was the stepdaughter of the main antagonist, the evil wizard Sabien and helped Thundarr and Ookla escape. Together they travel the lands defending the weak and fighting to defeat Sabien.
After Stars Wars came out in 1977 it really changed the types of cartoons on television. Of course there was fantasy cartoons and science fiction cartoons but none really ever combined the both. Star Wars did that and elements of Star Wars appeared in many cartoons that followed. Thundarr was no different. Thundarr’s Sunsword was based of the lightsaber and Ookla was based off Chewbacca. He even spoke in howls that only Thundarr and Ariel seemed to understand much like those close to Chewbacca understood him.
The artwork for the series was beautiful. Legendary comic artists Alex Toth and Jack “The King” Kirby designed the characters. Alex Toth previously designed animated superheroes like Space Ghost, Birdman, Mightor and others for Hanna-Barbera in the 1960s. Alex designed the main cast but had to leave and Jack Kirby took over. Jack is best known for co-creating tons of Marvel Comics characters such as Captain America, The Fantastic Four, Iron Man, the Hulk and more. The backgrounds were also inspirational.
Jack "The King" Kirby
It really had a comic feel and truly gave us the impression as if we were in that post-apocalyptic wold. Included in the background we saw recognizable builds and statues from our time. There were houses and vehicles that were ruined and covered by nature. These talented and skilled background artists really knew how to set the atmosphere of the environment that made us believe. In the type of work I do my goal is to create believability over realism. When I look back at the artwork from Thundarr, I see how this cartoon shaped my thought process.
For the time the stories were fun and entertaining to a child. They definitely don’t hold up to today’s storytelling. I would still show this cartoon to children that are into science fiction and fantasy. When I look back on the show the nostalgia factor takes over and I truly enjoy it.
Thundarr the Barbarian ran only for two years ending in September 1982. Other shows with a similar format followed like Blackstar, He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, and Galtar and the Golden Lance. There are too many to name but Thundarr is still one of the cartoons most remembered. Maybe it’s because it was one of the first cartoons like this or maybe it’s because the characters, story, and backgrounds were just so memorable. It could be one of those things or maybe it’s because the Sunsword is just so awesome and people still dream of owning one? Whatever the reason, Thundarr the Barbarian still lives in the heart and mines of fans and can be relived on DVD.
Join me next Saturday when I revisit another cartoon from my youth. I leave you with a clip of the series intro and remember...there is always time to GET IN TOON!