I realize that this might be extremely difficult for some of you to believe, but once upon a time in America animated cartoons were treated like a controlled substance. Instead of being available on demand 24-7 they were carefully doled out in small doses; the most we kids could get back then was maybe an hour or two on weekdays and Saturday mornings between 8 a.m. to noon (EST).
Something else you should know about those dark days; there was no easy way to watch cartoons over and over again. Besides memories and the occasional piece of merchandise once my shows were over there was no evidence that they had ever existed at all (during the 1970′s I almost began to believe Jonny Quest had just been an extremely vivid dream I once had). Which helps explain why licensed comics were so important to us back then — they were proof.
So you can understand why America’s Best TV Comics, which had so many different comics based on cartoons, is one of the seminal comic books of my youth. That and the fact it was so unbelievably weird; I mean, what other comic book had Spider-Man rubbing shoulders on the cover with Casper the Friendly Ghost and King Kong?
Published by Marvel Comics in conjunction with ABC Television the comic existed to promote not just their Saturday Morning cartoons but the entire ABC schedule. Which is is why in it they had such comic book style ads for mostly forgotten (except by guys like me) programs such as:
And while I wouldn’t mind seeing DVD releases of Cowboy In Africa and The Second Hundred Years (though that could be dangerous; I have fond memories of both shows but then my memories aren’t always dependable) clearly the jewel in ABC’s crown that year was the legendary Flying Nun. Four issues of a Flying Nun comic were published by Dell in 1968 but why oh why was there never an animated follow-up to it — like 1973′s My Favorite Martians, the cartoon version of My Favorite Martian.
Hard-core comic books guys undoubtedly know this title for it’s two Marvel Comic reprints which were heavily edited down to 10 pages, “Prisoner of the Pharaoh” from Fantastic Four #19 and “The Birth of the Super-Hero” from Amazing Spider-Man #42. But me, I’m more interested in some of the other features.
Like Journey to the Center of the Earth, an animated series based on the 1959 film version which had Ted Knight as the voice of Professor Lindenbrook. ”The People of the Styx” is based on an episode of the series drawn by Paul Reinman who’s known for inking Jack Kirby and creating the character John Force for American Comics Group’s Magic Agent #1. Like most Filmation cartoons I remember this series as being rather static and dull and a quick check of episodes available on YouTube pretty much confirmed that.
Done by person or persons unknown is “Kong Joins the Circus” which is based on an episode of The King Kong Show, which, yes, does in fact sound more like a comedy than an action/adventure show. But while Kong did share his program with a more humorous co-feature, a diminutive secret agent named Tom of T.H.U.M.B, he did in fact fight mad scientists (specifically Dr. Who; no relation), monsters and aliens. I had fond memories of this show as a kid and why not; it was produced by Rankin-Bass and animated by Toei Animation and when it comes to pure unfiltered wish fulfillment you really can’t can’t beat the notion of a boy bossing around a giant gorilla. For a long time it wasn’t available on DVD, which just made me want to see it more — and when it finally was it almost inevitably proved to be something of a letdown.
Something I learned while researching this that I probably should have known for decades; the 1967 film King Kong Escapes was a co-production of Rankin-Bass and Toho and was a loose adaptation of episodes of the cartoon (though in the live action movie Dr. Who became “Dr. Hu”).
And finally “Shep’s Burial Ground”, which doesn’t seem to be an adaptation of an episode of the classic Jay Ward cartoon. I also have no idea who drew this; they did a spot-on George but, what’s the deal with the blonde Ursula?
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention networks also scheduled cartoons on Sundays mornings, though they were repeats of their Saturday shows. I didn’t mention this before because I usually didn’t get to see them; the Cleveland affiliates preferred showing local programming Sunday mornings.
— Steve Bennett