Category: Cartoons

Race and April O'Neil

This post recycles some bits of previous posts I wrote on Brontoforumus (2013-11-15) and the Avocado (2017-11-06).


There's a new TMNT cartoon series coming, Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Here's a video introducing the cast:

I don't recognize any of those people except the guy who plays Big Head on Silicon Valley, but they look like a good group, assembled by new voice director Rob Paulsen (who played Raphael on the 1987 cartoon series and Donatello on the 2012 one).

An E! article aptly titled Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Makes History With Kat Graham as First African-American April O'Neil had this to say:

The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are back—with a historical twist. Nickelodeon is returning to 2D for the new animated series Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles with a new voice cast including The Vampire Diaries' Kat Graham as April O'Neil, marking the first time April has been portrayed as an African-American.

And while this is a first for cross-media adaptations of TMNT, and a milestone to be celebrated, it's not quite the whole story. In the original Mirage comics series, April's race is ambiguous.

In her first appearance, in issue #2, she looks like this:

April O'Neil's first appearance: straight hair

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #2
By Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird
© 1985 Nickelodeon
Scan courtesy of Ian Pérez Zayas

That look is clearly the basis for her design in the cartoon a few years later, which every subsequent version has been based on.

But in #4, she got a redesign:

April O'Neil redesign: curly black hair

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #4
By Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird
© 1985 Nickelodeon
Scan courtesy of Ian Pérez Zayas

And that's more or less what she looked like for the duration of the original Mirage run.

I cribbed both of those scans from Ian Pérez Zayas's website, Chasing Sheep, which has a seven-part series on this subject called A Visual History of April O'Neil. Those pieces are exhaustive and I recommend you read them; they go into far more detail than I'm going into here.

At any rate, many readers saw April's design in the Mirage comics and inferred that she was African-American.

So was that deliberate? Well, yes and no. Here's what co-creator Peter Laird had to say about it:

[I]t depends on which co-creator of the TMNT you ask. If you ask me, I always saw April O'Neil as white. If you ask Kevin, I suspect he would say -- as he has in a number of interviews -- that she was of mixed race, much like his former girlfriend (then wife, then ex-wife) April.

Unfortunately, I can't find any of those "number of interviews" online. (Warning: do not search for "April O'Neil" at work.) But here's the best reference I can find, from the Talk section on the April O'Neil Wikipedia entry:

I found a blog in which the writer talks to creators Eastman and Laird about April's look in the early Mirage comics. Eastman says that he thought of her as a fair-skinned Black woman like her namesake (and his first wife) April Fisher. The last name O'Neil and the later comic/other media look as a white redhead was Laird's vision. Eastman's drawing was what we saw due to his being better at drawing women. Source? http://the-5th-turtle.blogspot.com/2007/12/pieces-of-april.html?showComment=1199129280001

The 5th Turtle was Steve Murphy's blog. Unfortunately, it's been down for years, and the post linked above is not available at archive.org.

But there's a 1991 article from the Greensboro News & Record that says this:

[Eastman] settles into a sofa beside girlfriend April Fisher - the model for one of the characters in his comic books - and chats about how the turtles have changed his life.

So it seems pretty clear that Eastman based April's name and appearance on his then-girlfriend, April Fisher, and intended for her to be African-American, but that he apparently never mentioned this to Laird, who always thought of April O'Neil as caucasian.

Now, it does seem a bit odd that Laird wouldn't make the connection given April's name, but I've got a theory: he knew that April O'Neil was named after April Fisher, but didn't know that she was visually based on her. So, why wouldn't he have made that connection? Well, here's a picture of Kevin Eastman's second wife, Julie Strain:

Julie Strain has curly black hair

Courtesy of Wikipedia/Wikimedia Commons
Do not search for "Julie Strain" at work either.

So I'm thinkin' dude has a type.

At any rate, Kat Graham will be the first African-American actress to play April O'Neil. Congratulations to her, and I look forward to the new show.

Podcasts

Expanded from a couple of posts at Brontoforumus, 2017-10-08.


I like listening to NPR on the drive to work.

I do not like listening to NPR on the drive home. I have had just about enough of Kai Ryssdahl acting surprised about the Internet.

So I decided to look into some podcasts. I'm not really looking for scripted stuff at the moment (I've got a buttload of Big Finish Doctor Who I haven't listened to yet as it is); I want something where if I lose the thread for a minute to concentrate on the road, I'm not going to miss out on important story details.

So here's what I've been looking at so far:

Brontoforumus regular Niku recommended Talkin Toons with Rob Paulsen; I listened to the Rick and Morty episode and thoroughly enjoyed it. The website hasn't been updated in a couple of years; it has episodes up through Christmas 2015. It went on hiatus after that (Paulsen had throat cancer; he's better now) and came back in January. Tech Jives has episodes up through May. More recently, the show has moved to Nerdist, which has a bunch of short videos but no episodes; there are some articles referring me to a subscription service called Alpha but it's not mentioned on the website and I really have no idea if the show's even available in audio format anymore? It's really not clear and I hope they fix that.

Retronauts is a podcast started by Jeremy Parish and currently hosted by Bob Mackey, about retro games.

Axe of the Blood God is USgamer's RPG podcast. I've only listened to it a couple of times, when my old friend Steve Tramer was a guest; he hasn't been on it recently, but it's still a good group.

Gilbert Gottfried's Amazing Colossal Podcast is pretty great. So far I've listened to some great interviews there, with Frank Conniff, Rob Paulsen, and Carl Reiner.

And speaking of Frank Conniff, he and Trace Beaulieu have a podcast called Movie Sign with The Mads where, as the name implies, they talk about movies.

I don't listen to a lot of political podcasts at the moment, but I like Larry Wilmore: Black on the Air. Larry's a good interviewer; I'll never understand why he went with a panel format on The Nightly Show, which was easily its weakest component. (It's not an original sentiment, but I do wish he'd gotten to take over The Daily Show and Noah had gotten a chance to do his own thing in Colbert's timeslot.)

I hear good things about Flop House (failed movies), Kevin Smith's Fatman on Batman (comics, movies, the sort of stuff characters in Kevin Smith movies talk about), and WTF. I've mentioned Kumail Nanjiani's X-Files Files before, back in 2015. I've listened to one episode of Talking Simpsons with Bob Mackey (another Niku recommendation) and it was pretty good; I expect I'll check out more.

As for actually-scripted podcasts (not what I'm currently looking for, but there are some good ones!), I enjoyed the one episode of Dead Pilots Society I listened to. It's a podcast where they do read-throughs of TV pilot scripts that never made it into production; the one I listened to and enjoyed was Only Child, a John Hodgman vehicle (the hook was he was playing himself as a teenager; all the other kids would have been played by age-appropriate actors).

And, lastly (for now!), I see that yesterday saw the launch of Nathan Rabin's Happy Cast. I haven't had a chance to listen yet, but I bet it's pretty good!

Cheap DVD's: The Real Ghostbusters, vol 1

So I happened to notice, the other day, that The Real Ghostbusters, vol 1 (affiliate link) was on sale at Amazon for $10.49.

You can also get the complete series for $123.99, which is a screamin' deal if you actually want the full run. But I remember that even at the age of 6 I wasn't too impressed by the season 3 rejiggering of the show, and there's not much sense paying extra for 43 episodes I don't want.

I've watched the first few episodes, and man, it mostly still holds up, but Slimer sure is annoying. To the point where I am beginning to understand why people actually hate this show.

I wouldn't go that far -- I quite like it in fact -- but I can understand it. Slimer is one of those obnoxious comic-relief mascot characters who constantly fucks everything up and yet you're supposed to like him anyway. (He makes me think of Red Foreman's line on That 70's Show: "Gilligan screwed it up. Why don't they just kill him?")

On the other hand, Frank Welker does a great voice for him (which he'd later reuse as Nibbler on Futurama).

Also: The first episode features a group of imposter Ghostbusters. Wonder if that's another deliberate knock against Filmation's Ghostbusters cartoon series, like the show's title, The Real Ghostbusters.

Some other initial thoughts:

  • Good: If you can get over the characters looking nothing like the live-action versions, the designs are pretty great; each one clearly distinct in shape and color. I noticed Dan Riba's name in the credits; he went on to be a prominent artist in DC's animated shows.
  • Good: Great cast, including Frank Welker as Slimer and Ray, Mo LaMarche doing an uncanny Harold Ramis, Arsenio Hall inexplicably getting the part of Winston despite Ernie Hudson auditioning for it, and Lorenzo Music as Garfield.
  • Good: The animation is better than the vast majority of the show's contemporaries...
  • Bad: ...most of the time, but it can get pretty inconsistent.
  • Bad: Slimer. Mostly.
  • Good: But not always. Sometimes Slimer is good, and again, Welker's voice is a delight.
  • Good: The writing. I haven't liked everything J Michael Straczynski has ever written, but this show is solid. It does a good job of expanding the universe from the movie and creating a satisfying world of supernatural weirdness.
  • Good: Thirty episodes for under eleven bucks!

Cheap DVD's: Earthworm Jim

I was perusing Amazon the other day and, under my recommendations, I noticed that it listed Earthworm Jim: The Complete Series (affiliate link). As EWJ is easily one of my two favorite 1990's animated video game adaptations to feature Kath Soucie as a redheaded princess and Jim Cummings as the bad guy, I went ahead and ordered it.

Initial Impressions

The Good:

  • Good animation
  • Great cast
  • Still funny
  • All 23 episodes for only eleven bucks
  • Way better quality than that torrent you grabbed a few years ago that somebody made from old VHS tapes

The Bad:

  • Totally barebones; no special features or even scene selection.
  • If you buy this, part of that money probably goes to Doug TenNapel.

Edna

There's no new Simpsons tonight, so, in honor of the late, great Marcia Wallace, might I recommend breaking out your DVD collection and watching one of these classic Edna Krabappel episodes:

Bart the Lover, Season 3

If there's a better Mrs. K episode, I can't think of one. This shows Edna at her most complex and human -- and Bart too, for that matter. Wallace won an Emmy for this one.

Bart Gets an F, Season 2

And speaking of emotions we don't often see from Bart, the climax of this one -- where he breaks down in tears on finding that he failed his test despite really trying his hardest this time -- shows us a seldom-seen side of both characters, without giving in too much to sentimentality. I love Mrs. K's attempt to comfort Bart -- "I would have thought you'd be used to it by now!" could so easily have come across as sarcastic, but Wallace chooses to read it as a gentle, tender statement. Now that's comedy.

The PTA Disbands, Season 6

So many classic moments in this episode purple monkey dishwasher. It's Simpsons at its satirical finest, highlighting the conflict between teachers and administration, the public's simultaneous desire for better schools and lower taxes, and the terrifying reality that if you pick up some random person off the street, they'll be a worse teacher than Miss Hoover or Mrs. Krabappel. And the resolution is so ludicrous that it can only serve to hang a lampshade on how intractable these issues really are.

Grade School Confidential, Season 8

Mrs. Krabappel and Principal Skinner were in the closet making babies and I saw one of the babies and the baby looked at me.

The Ned-Liest Catch, Season 22

Say what you will about modern-era Simpsons, pairing off Ned with Edna was a rare and legitimately pleasant surprise. It's not the sort of thing I would ever have seen coming, but it makes its own unexpected kind of sense -- two characters who have seemingly nothing in common but their loneliness, but who complement each other so thoroughly and who can each stand to learn so much from the other. This episode highlights how difficult those differences can be, and they almost don't make it as a couple -- but, thanks to an Internet vote, they stay together.

Marvel's Statement of Purpose

I'm in the home stretch of Sean Howe's excellent Marvel Comics: The Untold Story, and this quote from the beginning of chapter 17, I think, sums up what's wrong with the company in a nutshell:

The Los Angeles Times, CNN, and USA Today all chimed in about Liefeld, Lee, McFarlane, and the other renegade artists who were standing up to big business. In response, Marvel president Terry Stewart made a statement that "the importance of the creative people is still secondary to the (comic book) characters," a stance that hardly discouraged Marvel's new image as a corporate overlord.

(Brackets in original.)

Howe comes back to this point in chapter 19:

In June 1994, Frank Miller paid tribute to Jack Kirby, delivering a keynote speech at an industry seminar in Baltimore. [...]

Marvel Comics is trying to sell you all on the notion that characters are the only important component of its comics. As if nobody had to create these characters, as if the audience is so brain-dead they can't tell a good job from a bad one. You can almost forgive them this, since their characters aren't leaving in droves like the talent is. For me it's a bit of a relief to finally see the old "work-made-for-hire talent don't matter" mentality put to the test. We've all seen the results, and they don't even seem to be rearranging the deck chairs.

Creators who complained about defections to Image and other companies, he continued, were "like galley slaves complaining that the boat is leaking." The age of company-owned superhero universes -- the Jack Kirby age -- was over. "It's gone supernova and burned itself out, and begun a slow steady collapse into a black hole. We couldn't feed off the genius of Jack Kirby forever. The King is dead, and he has no successor. We will not see his like again. No single artist can replace him. No art form can be expected to be gifted with more than one talent as brilliant as his. It's a scary time because change is always scary. But all the pieces are in place for a new proud era, a new age of comics. Nothing's standing in our way, nothing too big and awful, nothing except some old bad habits and our own fears, and we won't let that stop us."

The crowd rose to its feet.

(Ellipsis mine.)

Miller was right in some ways and wrong in others.

The bottom fell out of the market soon after, for both Marvel and Image. Jim Lee is now one of the Editors in Chief at DC; McFarlane and Liefeld have become punchlines (and so, for that matter, has Miller). Post-bankruptcy Marvel has done a pretty damn good job feeding off the genius of Jack Kirby -- in films. As for the comics, well, they're selling decently enough but are, at this point, largely the R&D branch for upcoming Disney movies.

Marvel still believes the creative people are secondary (and that's giving them the benefit of the doubt). Marvel is wrong.

Yes, Iron Man is more popular now than he was during Jack Kirby or Don Heck's lifetime. That's not just because Iron Man's a great character -- though I happen to think he is --, it's because of Robert Downey Jr, and Jon Favreau, and Gwyneth Paltrow, and Jeff Bridges.

When you think the characters are primary and the creative people secondary, you get a film like Daredevil. Or, at best, Fantastic Four. Compare the numbers -- and you'll forgive me from switching over to DC for this, but they've got a much longer history of film franchises -- compare the numbers from Batman and Robin to the numbers from The Dark Knight, or the numbers from Superman Returns to the numbers from Man of Steel, and tell me that the characters are more important than the creative people.

And that, of course, is just looking at it from a mercenary standpoint -- because really, that's what Marvel as a company cares about. That's not even getting into quality. My unsurprising opinion is that you're a lot likelier to get a high-quality film or comic when you've got high-quality creative people working on it.

And Marvel's policy of treating its characters as primary and their creators as secondary has resulted in fewer and fewer original characters added to its stable. Sure, lots of creative people still love to play in Marvel's sandbox -- and then save their original ideas for creator-owned work.

Take a look at the characters who've starred in films or TV shows over the past couple of decades. Superman and Batman are from the 1930's. Green Arrow and Captain America are from the 1940's. The Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, Iron Man, Daredevil, and the Avengers are from the 1960's. The X-Men are also from the 1960's, though their most popular character, Wolverine, is from the 1970's. Blade, Ghost Rider, and Swamp Thing are from the 1970's too (and so is Howard the Duck, if you really want to bring that up). The New Teen Titans, Elektra, the Tick, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and the Mystery Men are from the 1980's. Static, Spawn, Hellboy, and the Men in Black are from the 1990's. The Walking Dead started in 2003, Kick-Ass in 2008.

It's not an exhaustive list (see Nat Gertler for that), but it's an eye-opening one. Marvel and DC have a strong library of characters -- from decades ago. Most of the successful new characters, though, are creator-owned.

But hey -- Disney's biggest franchises are already from the 1920's to the 1950's (and many of them are based on public-domain material that's a lot older than that). Disney doesn't need to create new product. When the copyrights to the first Mickey Mouse cartoons come close to expiring, Disney can bribe Congress to extend them. If Disney needs to add new material to its portfolio, it can buy a company like Pixar or Marvel.

And as Disney's purchase of Lucasfilm and, to a lesser extent, Viacom's purchase of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, shows, even the most successful creator-owners eventually want to retire and are willing to part with their works.

Star Wars -- hm. Maybe I have found an example where the characters are more important than the creator.

Course, that's just because he was ripping off Jack Kirby.

Hank is Dr. Venture's Greatest Triumph.

Spoilers for the Venture Bros. season finale follow.

I read the Zack Handlen's review of The Devil's Grip at AV Club, and these bits stuck out to me:

[...I]f part of this season has been seeing how Dean deals with the fall-out of learning his super science origins, just as important has been realizing that Hank’s goofy enthusiasm actually puts him far ahead of nearly everyone else on the show. In many ways, Dean’s mopiness and stress are easier to relate to, as they seem like the only sane response to the Venture-verse. [...] But sinking into despair, and dwelling on the inconvenience and humiliation, isn’t going to change things.

[...W]hile the Ventures and friends are holding a funeral for Dr. Entmann at the Venture compound, Dean finally breaks down and tells Hank that they’re both clones. To Dean, this knowledge is painful, confirming his deepest, darkest fears about his own validity and place in the world. To Hank: “That is awesome.” While it’s not always possible to find the bright side of things, Hank’s optimism is a healthy, even enlightened way to approach the world. For a long time, Hank Venture looked like the dumb part of the Venture equation, a nice kid whose failure to fully grasp what was happening around him kept him in a perpetual state of Pollyanna-ish bliss. But the truth is, he knows what’s going down, and while sometimes it upsets him, he’s still doing his best to have the time of his life.

This recalls last season, when Hank, hurt that his father was ignoring him to groom Dean as his successor, staged a phony kidnapping to ask him why.

Rusty, in a moment of candor, responded that Hank is too much like him -- he doesn't want the pressure of living in his father's shadow, isn't cut out for the lofty expectations everyone's set for him. Rusty has chosen to give Dean his burden -- and to spare Hank from it.

And we've seen that dynamic playing out. Dean has spent this season wracked with existential dread at finding out that he's literally not the person he thought he was. Hank, on the other hand, knows exactly who he is -- and so he's a clone besides? Well, how cool is that? As far as he's concerned, that makes him more unique, not less.

And Dean smiles.

Like Hatred's disarmingly perfect advice, earlier in the season, that he's the best Dean there is, only moreso, this was exactly what Dean needed to hear. And I'd like to think this is going to be the beginning of him coming out of his funk and becoming -- well, not the same old Dean we knew before, because that would be boring and that's not what this show is about. But to grow and change and maybe even someday become a well-adjusted adult.

Hank's already well on his way there. And he'll be there to help his brother along, because that's what brothers do.

The Venture Bros. is a show about failure. And Dr. Venture, more than anyone else, is a failure. His greatest joys come from willful ignorance and self-delusion.

But amid everything that's gone wrong in his life, he's raised a son who's turned out pretty well, and who's on his way to helping the other son turn out pretty well too.

Course, the fact that his greatest contribution to Hank's success was leaving him the fuck alone to figure out his own way carries its own little ironic sting. But even that took a kind of melancholy self-awareness that Doc shows only at his most vulnerable, a level of empathy he's never shown anyone else before or since, and, for once in Doc's life, was exactly the right choice.

Bender's Back, Baby!

"Guess this is your lucky day, Pimparoo."

That would have been my one-sentence reaction to the returning Futurama, but then the third act happened. (I haven't watched Fry and Leela's Big Fling yet, just 2-D Blacktop.)

There are a lot of great Futurama episodes. The best have an emotional core to them -- Jurassic Bark, Luck of the Fry-rish, Godfellas. Other great episodes experiment with the format of the show -- any of the Anthology episodes, for example. (Well, I wouldn't describe the Holiday Spectacular as great, but all the rest.) Some are deftly-written time-travel stories, like Time Keeps On Slippin', Roswell that Ends Well, The Why of Fry, Bender's Big Score, and The Late Philip J Fry. Some are biting political satire, like any episode with Nixon in it. And some of them do clever things with the medium of animation -- like Reincarnation. And this one.

The Professor's hypercube was a nice touch. The Mobius strip played with the concept a little more. But the actual segment where they're caught in the Second Dimension is fucking ingenious. The writing -- the Professor explaining how everything works here -- is brilliant, and the design is even better.

This is an episode that did immensely fucking clever things with science fiction and with animation. I've never seen anything quite like it -- the closest thing I can think of is Homer3, which played on the same premise in the opposite direction.

The show's had its ups and downs. But as this just-started thirteen-episode run is the last we'll be seeing of it for awhile, it's great seeing it fire on all creative cylinders and do shit that I've never seen it or any other show do.

Also: the latest issue of the comic is legitimately great too. Zoidberg becomes unstuck in time and has to prevent a catastrophe from happening while still trying to piece together just what exactly is going on.

The Zappas on Video Games

The benefits of being a pack rat:

Sharkey posted this on his blog in...according to the date stamp, November of 2002.

I remembered it a couple days ago and I thought, you know what? I bet I don't even have to dig through old hard drives to find it. I bet my obsessive process of backing up data and copying it over from old computer to new has survived two new computers, four different Linux distributions, and I don't even know how the hell many hard drives. (I am, after all, the guy who corrupted his hard drive when he installed Windows 98 and recovered the data in 2008.)

Anyhow, I was right. Sitting right here on my current computer, after all those moves.

(And then I get to thinking, "Wait...I've only gotten two new computers in the last decade?" But then I remember no, there's also the Mac Mini I used to have hooked up to my TV and now use as a backup server, the Win7 desktop I currently have hooked up to my TV, my laptop, my phone, my tablet, and assorted old towers that have managed to pile up in my office and get used occasionally for various purposes. Plus my wife's desktop and two laptops.)

You know, just the other day my coworkers were talking about Hoarders, and I commented that the nice thing about being a digital packrat is that the data I've been holding on to for decades doesn't take up a hell of a lot of space. My comic collection, on the other hand...

Anyhow, not the point. The point is, here's Innerview: The Zappas on Video Games, by Merl H Reagle, JoyStik, January 1983. Scanned by, and from the personal collection of, Scott Sharkey, and preserved through over a decade's worth of computer migrations by packrat Thaddeus R R Boyd.

Innerview, Page 1Innerview, Page 2

Interesting, but not altogether surprising, that games were already being scapegoated by politicians and the media for juvenile delinquency as far back as 1983.

I also love the story of Frank recording the noise in an airport arcade and then listening to it on the plane. I think he also tells the story in The Real Frank Zappa Book -- that or I've been misremembering where I read it for the past decade.

(Christ. An interview from 30 years ago which I've been copying from hard drive to hard drive for one-third of that time...)

Babysitting

Not much time to write this evening as my wife and I are taking care of our two-year-old nephew. So far we've made it through a Ninja Turtles (2012), a Yo Gabba Gabba (with Weird Al!) and a Batman: The Brave and the Bold.

That's after a trip to the comic shop -- I still haven't finished the comics I bought two weeks ago, but I had to grab the new Astro City.

Nephew made a beeline for the display case with the Batman figures in it. His favorite was the Aragonés one. He's got good taste.