Sunday, January 19, 2014

How did Josie and the Pussycats get on Saturday morning TV anyway?

Philosophical minds have been asking this question for years.  As if to finally answer them, Archie Comics pulled some stories out of their archives for a Best of Josie and the Pussycats collection and thoughtfully included the story "Quiet on the Set" from Josie and the Pussycats #50 (September 1970), written by Dick Malmgren and illustrated by ace Josie artist-creator Dan DeCarlo and inker Rudy Lapick.  An example of cross-promotion, this story shows the band making a visit to Hanna and Barbera studios where they're caricatured and animated in time for their September 12, 1970 debut on CBS television.  Which I probably watched, despite being all of two years old.  Something hooked me on it, anyway.

Perhaps it was the basic idea of the Pussycats tooling around in their Chevy van improvising songs on whatever event they're currently involved in and accompanying themselves on acoustic guitars, so in tune with each other's creativity they can even do it in three-part harmony!

Josie and the Pussycats #50 (September 1970), script by Dick Malmgren, art by Dan DeCarlo and Rudy Lapick

Top that, Archies.  In fact, top that, Beatles!

The band arrives at Hanna-Barbera and none other than Joseph Barbera and William Hanna (charmingly caricatured by DeCarlo and Lapick) turn out to greet them on the homey front step.  I'm not sure who these two guys are or what their relation to the animation studio might have been, but they look very friendly.  Dapper dressers, too.  They must have been fairly important if we're to judge by the Pussycats' impressed reactions.  Generation gap be damned-- the kids take to the two smiling older gentlemen right away.  In fact, it's a mutual admiration society.  But something's amiss, as William Hanna observes.

Script by Malmgren, art by DeCarlo and Lapick

No way!  Josie, Valerie, Melody, Alan.  That's everyone!  Who could they have left out?

She's Josie #1 (September 1970), script by Frank Doyle, art by Dan DeCarlo and Rudy Lapick

Actually, missing are those squabbling siblings, Alex and Alexandra Cabot.  They show up in a sweet limousine.  Alexandra proceeds to sweep into the studio as if she's Elizabeth Taylor and starts dropping advice to all the artists and animators on how she should be depicted in the series. 

Script by Malmgren, art by DeCarlo and Lapick

And Valerie's looking back at us as if to say, "Isn't this the most?" 

The two Hanna-Barbera employees here are Ken Spears (inexplicably referred to here as "Bill") and Joe Ruby.  From what I can gather, they were writers and story editors, but the comic shows them happily working together in the storyboard department.  Barbera's description of their duties is informative and vague at the same time.

Ruby and Spears, like Hanna and Barbera, are real people, as are many of the unnamed employees throughout this story, each of whom DeCarlo has obviously caricatured from life.  Ruby and Spears are the only two important enough for the story to name, and would later create Jabberjaw for the studio.  While it's a mistake to discount the magnetic qualities of its titular character, a talking shark gifted with Curly Howard's comedic persona, 70s kids with discerning Saturday morning cartoon tastes considered that show little more than a store-brand version of Josie and the Pussycats, delicious in its own way but suffering by comparison to its fantabulous inspiration, in much the same manner as Publix Super Markets' Magic Stars cereal versus General Mills' fresher-tasting Lucky Charms.

Simply appearing in a Josie and the Pussycats comic is enough for me to nominate the duo for immortality, but a few years after that, the Ruby-Spears team would found an animation studio of their own.  There they would co-produce The Mork & Mindy/Laverne & Shirley/Fonz Hour with former employers Hanna-Barbera, then famously team artists Alex Toth and Jack Kirby on Thundarr the Barbarian to the delight of Steve Gerber fans everywhere.  Along with their production of the revived Alvin and the Chipmunks series, It's Punky Brewster and a personal favorite of mine, Mister T (I conflated it with Marvel's The New Mutants comic), Ruby and Spears contributed the bulk of my childhood/early teen weekend entertainment that didn't involve reading about stars and wars, drawing stars and wars, or dropping quarters into video game machines and participating in stars and wars.

Back in our story, Alexandra's repeated self-aggrandizement leads only to humiliation for her animated counterpart as the Hanna-Barbera artists somehow manage to design, write, storyboard, animate, film, develop, loop, edit and print (or whatever order they do that in) for a short sequence in which she gets hit in the face with a pie during the band's visit.  Pretty fast turnaround, and it brings to mind the classic line, "Very few cartoons are broadcast live.  It's a terrible strain on the artists' wrists," from the classic eighth season The Simpsons episode, "The Itchy & Scratchy & Poochie Show" (February 9, 1997).  At first angry, but then acquiescing to the joke like the good sport she secretly is (possibly), Alexandra accompanies Hanna and Barbera to an impromptu concert put on by the Pussycats, who have changed into their famous feline-themed performance attire for the occasion.

Script by Malmgren, art by DeCarlo and Lapick

A happy ending.  The original Josie and the Pussycats TV cartoon ran for sixteen episodes during the 1970-71 TV season, then mutated into Josie and the Pussycats in Outer Space for another sixteen the following year.  They beat musical rivals the Partridge Family there by two hundred years.  And there you have it.

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