Feb 132014
 

Jem and the HologramsThis week’s minorities in cartoons entry is “Jem and the Holograms.” Airing in first-run syndication between 1985 and 1988, “Jem” featured the adventures of a rock group called the Holograms.

The overall set-up of the series: Jerrica Benton is the owner and manager of both Starlight Music and Starlight House (the latter a foster home for girls), both inherited from her deceased genius father. Her father also left Jerrica with his greatest invention, “Synergy,” a powerful audio-visual computer with holographic capabilities. Synergy’s verbally controlled or communicated with via the use of special “Jemstar” earrings Jerrica wears. Along with various holographic illusions, Synergy also allows Jerrica to create her “Jem” identity as a hologram projected over herself. As Jem, Jerrica serves as the lead singer for the Holograms. Episodes would often see the Holograms travel the world, giving concerts and having assorted adventures, similar to Josie and the Pussycats 15 years earlier.

Other members of the Holograms include:

  • Kimber Benton, Jerrica’s younger sister. Kimber is the main songwriter for the Holograms, and also performs various instruments.
  • Aja Leith, the band’s lead guitarist and back-up vocalist. An Asian-American woman who, along with the other Holograms, grew up at Starlight House.
  • Shana Elmsford, an African-American woman who plays the group’s bass guitar, synth drums, and backup vocals.
  • Carman “Raya” Alonso, a Mexican-American drummer and backup singer for the group.

The main nemesis/rival to the Holograms in the series is the fellow rock group “The Misfits,” who seem reasonably popular in their own right, but not as popular as the Holograms. Episodes often revolve around the Misfits’ glory-hound (or outright dangerous) tactics to gain fame at the expense of (and sometimes risk to) the Holograms. The Misfits often relied on the aid of their sleazy manager, Eric Raymond, the former co-owner of Starlight Music. The third season saw a second rival group, “The Stingers,” introduced.

“Jem” ran for three seasons with a total of 65 episodes. Each episode featured various song numbers, often in the form of a music video—per MTV’s raging success back when they actually played music videos. The usual tie-in toys, etc. were also released.

Since the series ended, however, there’s not been much sign of the Holograms, save in 80s nostalgia references. “Jem” aired for awhile on The Hub a few years ago—the first time it’d aired on TV in decades. (Wikipedia claims “Jem”‘s last TV broadcast before that was in 1993 on USA Network, by which time the show must’ve already seemed dated.) However, the entire series is now available on Netflix. “Jem” has also been recently released to DVD, both in a “complete series” format (with the usual extras, interviews, etc.) and as individual season sets.

On a final note, here’s the opening title for “Jem,” in all its 80s glory:

Feb 062014
 

Pete JonesThis week’s minorities in cartoons entry is Pete Jones, a supporting character on the 1969 Saturday morning cartoon series “The Hardy Boys,” based on the classic children’s mystery/adventure novels.

In this Filmation-produced animated series, the Hardy Boys and their friends—Pete, Chubby, and Wanda—would travel the country as a rock group. Pete served as the group’s drummer. Similar to their source novels, the Hardys and company would inevitably get involved in some mystery or crime that needed to be solved. The half-hour show featured two separate 12-minute episodes, plus a live-action set of opening and closing credits. Similar to Filmation’s previous season’s hit “The Archie Show,” there’d be a musical number in each episode by the animated Hardy Boys band.

“The Hardy Boys” ran on ABC during the 1969-70 season, and again in reruns the following season. While this is an early entry in the “kids solving mysteries/fighting crime” genre, the show’s extremely stiff competition is probably what led to its short run: NBC’s “The Banana Splits Adventure Hour” and, moreso, CBS’ “Scooby-Doo, Where Are You?” Yes, this was also the debut season of “Scooby-Doo,” which was the biggest hit of the 1969-70 season. Scooby, of course, would go on to become one of Saturday morning’s most popular cartoon characters, remaining popular right to this day.

“The Hardy Boys” is also known these days for another thing: Pete’s the first African-American recurring character in an American TV cartoon! Before this point, African-Americans in cartoons were either non-existent or (in theatrical animated shorts) shown as some form of degrading, offensive stereotypes. Pete marked the first time viewers (of all races) could regularly see a Black animated cartoon character that looked and acted like a normal person, and was treated with respect by his peers. The following few TV seasons would see more African-American cartoon characters, including Valerie Smith (the first African-American female TV cartoon character), “The Jackson Five” and “Harlem Globetrotters” cartoons, etc.

Outside of animation, Pete also appeared in the Gold Key “Hardy Boys” comic tie-in, which ran for four issues.

Pete’s animated self was voiced by Dallas McKennon. While some sources cite a Byron Kane as Pete’s voice, McKennon seems the more correct voice. McKennon did a fair amount of voices for Filmation at the time, including Archie, Mr. Weatherbee, and Chuck Clayton. His live-action self, however, was played by Bob Crowder, a session drummer who performed as such for various R&B musicians in the 70s.

Finally, YouTube has the live-action opening credits for the series, complete with Pete on the drums.

Jan 302014
 

Friday FosterThis week’s minorities in cartoons entry is the early 1970s comic strip (and its star) “Friday Foster.” Friday was created by writer Jim Lawrence and artist Jorge Longaron.

“Friday Foster,” debuting in 1970, was the first mainstream newspaper syndicated comic strip to star a non-stereotyped African-American woman. The strip focused on the adventures of Friday Foster, a former model who became the assistant to a world famous fashion photographer. Early installments of the strip focused on Friday’s background and family in Harlem, but the strip eventually shifted to a soap opera/romance format. The writing shift also saw Friday traveling the world, with stories taking place in Paris, Hong Kong, and London.

“Friday Foster” came to an end in 1974. Dave Karlen’s blog suggests it ended due to the logistics of producing the strip (Longaron was a Spanish artist living in Spain) and a decline in popularity.

However, the comic strip did see a few media spinoffs. Dell (of “Four Color Comics” fame) published a one-shot comic book of Friday in 1972. A few online sources claim it was Dell’s final published comic, but that’s incorrect, as Dell continued to publish comics for another year before going under in 1973.

In 1975, a live-action feature film debuted, with actress Pam Grier playing Friday. The film had the usual “blaxploitation” elements of the era.

In 2009, a line of Friday Foster dolls were produced, suggesting that there’s people who still fondly remember Ms. Foster. While there doesn’t seem to be a reprint collection of her comic strip/book, perhaps that’ll change in the future?

Jan 232014
 

El DoradoCompleting the various “minority” Super Friends members, this week we’ll look at El Dorado. El Dorado was introduced during the early 1980s run of the show.

El Dorado possessed various vaguely defined powers, including the ability to cast illusions and some mental abilities (including possibly telepathy). One episode features El Dorado physically fighting the villainous Kalibak, which’d suggest he also possesses super-strength. El Dorado’s most noted ability, however, is his teleportation power, which he accomplished by wrapping his cape around himself (and whatever or whoever he’s teleporting).

Unlike Samurai and Apache Chief, El Dorado never received an origin story, nor an actual civilian name. However, his debut episode (dealing with Aztec ruins) reveals he’s Mexican.

Similar to the other “ethnic” Super Friends, El Dorado largely vanished after the end of the “Super Friends” series. Since then, he’s only been seen either in parodies, such as on Adult Swim, or through pastiches, such as on “Young Justice.”

El Dorado was voiced by Fernando Escandon, a Mexican live-action and voice actor (and radio announcer). He’s since done various roles, including (according to IMDB) a voiceover in the TV series “Breaking Bad.”

Finally, no, I don’t know why he was named after the fabled lost Latin American city…

Jan 162014
 

SamuraiContinuing from last week’s Super Friends theme, this week’s minorities in cartoons entry is Samurai, another Super Friend.

Samurai is a Japanese hero who was created as part of a diversity effort for the famed superhero team in the late 70s. Similar heroes created alongside Samurai were Apache Chief, Black Vulcan, and El Dorado.

Samurai’s powers are similar to those of DC Comics superhero the Red Tornado: the ability to make his body generate high-velocity winds, and use such to move at super-speed; said abilities were activated by saying a specific Japanese term. Episodes would often show Samurai’s entire body or just his lower half as a swirling tornado-like wind. Samurai also had the ability to become invisible. Wikipedia claims Samurai also had the ability to cast illusions, as well as set his entire body on fire… I suspect given his show’s time-era, that last ability was rarely seen for good reason.

To my surprise, Samurai does have an origin story, as well as a real name! Both come from a “Super Powers” tie-in comic published during the mid-80s. Samurai’s backstory: in his civilian identity as history professor Toshio Eto, Toshio was struck by a beam of light sent from New Genesis, home of the New Gods. The New Gods were attempting to create more super-powered individuals on Earth as a means of defending it against Darkseid’s machinations. Toshio gained superpowers as a result, and eventually decided to become a superhero, joining the Super Friends.

Similar to the other minority Super Friends, Samurai’s been infrequently seen since the series ended, aside from parodies of the original series (such as “Harvey Birdman” on Adult Swim) or through pastiches, such as “Wind Dragon” in “Justice League Unlimited.” Toshio himself did eventually appear in the actual DC Universe, appearing in a few 2000s “Justice League” comics (the “Brightest Day” storyline).

Samurai was voiced by Jack Angel, who also voiced Hawkman and the Flash on “Super Friends.” Angel’s also done some more recent voicework, including in “Ice Age” and “Toy Story.”

Jan 092014
 

Apache ChiefThis week’s minorities in cartoons entry is Apache Chief, of the long-running Saturday morning series “Super Friends.”

Chief (no real name was ever given) joined the Super Friends during the now famed 1978-1979 “Challenge of the Super Friends” season, created as part of a push to add a more ethnically diverse range of characters to the World’s Greatest Superheroes (such as fellow newcomer Black Vulcan).

Unlike his pal Black Vulcan, Apache Chief actually got an origin story! Apache Chief’s backstory (as revealed in the episode “History of Doom”) states he grew up in an Apache village alongside his grandfather. While encountering a grizzly bear one day, Chief’s grandfather gave him magic powder to sprinkle over his head, along with the magic word that’d invoke his powers, “inuk-chuk!” Said word grants Apache Chief the ability to grow to over 50 feet in height, also amplifying his strength in the process. Chief quickly took care of the bear, and eventually went on to join the Super Friends.

Also present at Chief’s origin above was the woman who’d become his archfoe, Giganta, who also has size-changing powers (thanks to stealing his magic powder). In the comics, Giganta’s a long-time foe of Wonder Woman; however, Giganta did also face off against the Amazing Amazon during the series’ run.

Post-”Super Friends,” Apache Chief appeared in various satires of his original series, most famously Adult Swim’s “Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law.” There, Apache Chief hires Harvey’s services after spilling hot coffee on his lap at a coffeeshop prevents him from “growing bigger,” as part of a series of double entendres and jokes throughout the episode. Here, Apache Chief is voiced by Maurice LaMarche.

There’s also been a few analogue characters of Apache Chief created for series such as “Young Justice,” “Justice League,” and the actual JLA comic.

In the “Super Friends,” Apache Chief had several voices, the longest lasting one being Michael Rye, who also voiced Green Lantern (Hal Jordan) on “Super Friends.” Rye had a long radio and television voice acting career, including portraying the Lone Ranger in one animated version, as well as Wilma’s father on “The Flintstone Kids.”

Dec 262013
 

RamoneThis week’s minorities in cartoons entry is Ramone, a supporting character on the PBS Kids’ cartoon series “Peg + Cat.”

The series focuses on the various adventures of a young girl named Peg and her pat cat named, well, Cat. Each episode sees the two try to solve some type of problem (herding 100 baby chicks, getting teenagers to help wash farm animals, etc.), which they solve using basic math skills.

Ramone is one of the show’s supporting characters. He’s often seen doing activities that suggest he’s quite the “renaissance man”—er, kid: building inventions; playing music; flying his own spacecraft; etc. Ramone will usually give Peg and Cat a math-related hint on how to solve the problem in question.

Ramone is voiced by Thamela Mpumlwana, a child actor whose only other animation voice credit as of this writing is a role on “Arthur.” He’s also appeared in a live-action role: in 2013′s “The Warrior and the Savior,” Mpumlwana plays a South African orphan who moves to the United States.

Dec 192013
 

Doc McStuffinsMerry Christmas, everyone!

This year, I thought I’d look at how various minority characters I’ve written about have “saved Christmas.” It seems to be mandatory for cartoon characters to save said holiday, which is more endangered than every other holiday for some reason. So, let’s look at how our heroes and heroines have saved the 25th of December.

Doc McStuffins

Doc has her own Christmas special, “A Very McStuffins Christmas.” There, she visits Santa’s workshop to fix a broken Christmas present.

Go, Diego, Go!

In “Diego Saves Christmas,” Santa’s sleigh is stuck under a snow hill, requiring Diego to find a very strong llama to help pull St. Nick free.

Handy Manny

In the episode “Flicker Saves Christmas,” a fierce snowstorm forces Santa to land in Sheetrock Hills, where Manny and the tools help Santa make his deliveries and save the holiday.

Cyberchase

While Cyberspace doesn’t have Christmas (or it’s only a minor holiday at best—Hacker mentions something being “lit up like a Christmas tree” in one episode), it does have an analogue, “Starlight Night” (Christmas and New Year’s combined). And yes, you guessed it, Starlight Night saved on two occasions by Jackie, Inez, and Matt.

Dora the Explorer

Not to be outdone by her cousin Diego, Dora saves two holidays from ruin. In “Dora’s Christmas Carol Adventure,” Dora tries to get Swiper off Santa’s naughty list…and learns (via time-travel) that if Swiper doesn’t get off the list, he’ll apparently turn bitter and be destined to ruin future Christmases by stealing enough stuff to make Batman’s rogues gallery look like amateurs. Then in “Dora Saves Three Kings Day,” Dora saves the holiday of, well, Three Kings Day (or “Epiphany” as it’s known as in some countries).

Ron Stoppable

Ron Stoppable of “Kim Possible” tries in one episode (“A Very Possible Christmas”) to save the world single-handedly from being attacked at Christmas by Drakken. This was meant to be Ron’s “gift” to Kim, a day off from heroics. With both Ron and Drakken prone to bumbling, however, things didn’t go as planned for either character. The Possible family end up uniting at Christmas to find, and save, Ron.

 

Dec 122013
 

Maxine GibsonThis week’s minorities in cartoons entry is Maxine “Max” Gibson, a character on the TV series “Batman Beyond.”

Max is the best friend of Terry McGinnis, the newest person to become Batman (replacing the then-long-retired, elderly Bruce Wayne in the series’ futuristic setting). Like Terry, Max lives in Gotham City and attends the same high school. Unlike Terry’s parents, Max’s parents are separated, with Max spending a lot of time alone. Still, Max is one of her school’s top students, with a genius-level intellect and excellent computer programming skills, as well as street smarts.

Max deduces early on that Terry’s the new Batman. Similar to Barbara Gordon‘s role as Oracle, Max assists Terry in technological aspects, as well as moral support as a friend. However, Terry’s “boss” Bruce Wayne initially distrusts her, given his trademark distrust of others, as well as Bruce’s increased levels of solitude in his senior years.

Unlike some other TV shows with male/female friends forcibly “promoted” to becoming a couple, Max and Terry remain just friends, with no romantic “tension” or whatnot. (Terry does have a girlfriend through the series’ run…)

For whatever reason, Max doesn’t appear in the direct-to-video movie “Return of the Joker” or the episode of “Justice League Unlimited” (“Epilogue”) that provides a final wrap-up of the “Batman Beyond” setting. Max has appeared in some of the “Batman Beyond” comics, however.

During “Batman Beyond”‘s run on Kids WB, Max did make at least one appearance in their then-infamous stock-footage-recycling promotional bumpers, though for a positive reason: Max, along with Agent J from the “Men in Black” animated series, promoted Black History Month.

Max is voiced by Cree Summer.

Dec 052013
 

WayneheadThis week’s minorities in cartoons entry is the 1996 series “Waynehead.” The series ran for one season (1996-1997) on Kids’ WB.

The series featured the adventures of Damien “Damey” Wayne, a young boy with a club foot, who lives with his family in an inner-city neighborhood. Similar to “Fat Albert,” Damey had a group of friends with who he had various misadventures. The series was partly based on creator Damon Wayans’ childhood in the Chelsea neighborhood of New York City.

Voices on the series included: Gary Coleman; Marlon, Kim and Shawn Wayans; Jamil Walker Smith; Tico Wells; John Witherspoon; Frank Welker; and T’Keyah Crystal Keymah (the voice of Bumblebee on “Teen Titans”).

The series saw some promotion by the network, but was ultimately canceled due to low ratings. “Waynehead” appeared in reruns for a few years on Cartoon Network, before vanishing from the airwaves entirely. To date, it’s yet to see a home video release, and doesn’t seem to be available anywhere on streaming video (Netflix, Amazon, etc.). The only place to see episodes of “Waynehead” are via individuals’ uploads of the show to YouTube.

In spite of its short run, the show did get referenced at least once elsewhere. The “Pinky and the Brain” episode “Dangerous Brains” sees the lab mice’s latest scheme involve Brain working as a teacher in a run-down, chaotic high school classroom. Meanwhile, Pinky poses as one of Brain’s students, “Pinkhead.” They even parody the “Waynehead” theme song!

Here’s “Waynehead”‘s opening credits: