September 6, the final day of Salt Lake Comic Con, was a Saturday and the day begun like any respectable Saturday should, with cartoons. The first round of panels began at 11:00 a.m. and among them (perhaps the crown jewel of the hour) was a discussion on Saturday morning Cartoons.
The panel was moderated by Geek Show’s Shannon Barnson who was joined by Clark Schaffer (Schaffer Studios), Kristyn Crow (author of children’s book “Zombelina”), Chris Bodily (Illustrator), Tom Cook (Animator), and yours truly (I’m not biased).
The hour opened with a quick word from Barnson on why cartoons are important and what they mean to us growing up as well as into adulthood. What followed was an hour of geeking out over what each of us loved about cartoons, what we disliked or outright hated, as well as where cartoons have been and where they are going.
Highlights were chosen, among them “Thundarr the Barbarian,” “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” and many more. Lowlights were also discussed, including “The Legend of Zelda,” (you can find my scathing review here) and an undetermined “He-Man” rip-off.
Tom Cook, a 35 year veteran of animation, including work for Funimation and Hannah Barbera on such notable titles as “Thundarr,” “The Smurfs,” “Scooby Doo,” “He-Man” and too many more to note, discussed what he sees as the losses modern cartoons have suffered at the hands of computer technology. While some personal touches are lost when working with computer models versus hand drawn cells, Cook was quick to point out that it’s not all bad, and some truly wonderful things have been done with the technology.
Crow discussed the influence that cartoons had on her as a young girl and how those elements have impacted the way she rights, as well as the balance that can be found between what some consider to be content meant specifically for boys or girls. Crow noted her book “Zombelina” as an example of finding that balance that can appeal to both sides of the childhood aisle. Having seen my own child choose her book from among hundreds on the shelf at the library, I’m inclined to agree.
One of the many highlights of the hour was watching Barnson and the rest of the panel become continually impressed and awe-struck at the influence Tom Cook had over most of our lives. By the end of our time Cook’s phrase “I worked on that” had become a running joke among those gathered in the room, even to the point of beginning to ask him ahead of time if he had anything to do with a particular title before we moved on.
Questions from the audience sparked a discussion on whether or not the rise of merchandising and the shifting of a lot of animation overseas had a negative impact on the quality of cartoons we’ve received over time. The short answer is, sometimes.
If I could go back and do the panel again, I’d change only one thing. There seemed to be an atmosphere in the room that cartoons got better as you went back in time, the implication being that there are no modern cartoons that are any good. In that I disagree whole heartedly. I could spend an entire article talking about the good cartoons that exist right not, today. Nickelodeon’s current “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” comes immediately to mind. Marvel’s “Ultimate Spider-Man” and “Avengers Assemble” are also excellent cartoons currently on the air. And kids don’t have a monopoly on quality animated programming, “Adventure Time,” “Archer,” and “Rick and Morty” are all examples of well written, funny, entertaining programs that you should be watching if you’re a fan of animation. The latter proving that a show doesn’t have to be beautifully animated to be great, and let us not forget “Rebels” (sneak peak anyone?) coming to a galaxy near you very soon.
There is no lack of great animation and while some may believe that the golden age of cartoons is over it doesn’t seem to be going anywhere any time soon, and I’m glad.
For those of you who made it out the panel over the weekend, I personally thank you and hope you had a great time. If you didn’t get enough cartoons you can find the link to last week’s Saturday Morning Cartoon column here or type Saturday Morning Cartoon in the search bar, it should hold you over or a little while.
Remember to come back this Saturday and watch something with me.