Introduction to subseries "Super Friends" (including a list of interviewees).
Fun facts from Darrell:
- Zan and Jayna were named after Tarzan and Jane.
- The year when the title switched from Super Friends to Superfriends was 1978.
- The Legion of Doom was first pitched with a different lineup.
NOTE: As much as possible I have kept Darrell’s lively conversational tone (and playful spellingz) intact!
Darrell’s answers © 2011 Gold Medal Productions. His autobiography is forthcoming!
How did you get the job on Super Friends?
Before getting the Super Friends job I was, among other things, just getting out of Westchester High School in 1975, then attending two classes at Cal State Long Beach and one at UCLA. The main Cal State class I took was an animation class taught by Hanna-Barbera veteran producer (and future All-New Super Friends Hour producer) Art Scott; the UCLA class was on the history of Saturday morning television, taught by future ABC Saturday morning Standards and Practices ace Bonny Dare, where I met Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera.
Mr. Barbera invited 18-year-old moi to pitch several animated series concepts of mine to Hanna-Barbera’s then Directors of Development, Duane Poole and Dick Robbins. Mr. Hanna encouraged me to enter his studio’s training program to supply Hanna-Barbera with the next generation of animators. Despite the discouraging efforts of program administrator and all-around ratsass Harry Love (1911-1997) (overcome by both Mr. Hanna and Mr. Scott), I entered the training program and, while I was still 18, was hired by Hanna-Barbera as an inbetweener (early-level animator). First show? Guess!
What were your responsibilities?
I was a Super Friends layout/assistant animator [on and off] from 1976-83.
I started as an inbetweener, then breakdown artist on all the series Hanna-Barbera produced in-house that season (1976-1977), but because of my speed, my near-fanatic love of the characters and knowledge of same (see later) and the importance that ABC placed on this show, it was decided after a few weeks that I be solely assigned to Super Friends. I cleaned up almost every scene in the All-New Super Friends opening title and ended up cleaning up and finishing the famous group shot of the Super Friends in the final scene of the All-New Super Friends title sequence.
I also laid out the entire Challenge of the Superfriends opening title sequence.
I think I’m gonna elaborate sommore on this one (as my mentor/bestest bud/then in-house workmate Alex Toth (1928-2006) used to say: “Ask me what time it is, I’ll tell you how your watch was built!”). To wit, how my drawing ended up serving as that season’s (All-New Super Friends) title shot: When the studio and series artists get their packets of model sheets showing us our lead characters/props/vehicles, etc., and how draw/make them look consistent from most angles, the first page of the packet is a “comparative size” chart, showing the relative sizes/heights of all our series leads. (You’d be amazed at how many times a layout person would make Zan the same height as Aquaman, for example!)
Well, usually, design supervisor Bob Singer, who assembled our packs, would use fully drawn standing poses of our leads to illustrate their relative heights. For Super Friends, however, the first page was traced outlines of the team. I decided one day, for the holy heck of it, to slap a sheet of animation paper on top of said page and actually draw the characters inside the outlines (on model, of course!). I did this for a couple of hours after I turned in some animation work and, by lunch time, had finished filling the “Friends” in, then went out to lunch with Alex and [veteran comics artist/animator] Tony Sgroi (1924-1998). When I returned to my cubicle…the drawing was gone!
Now, being the youngest person in the studio (except for the occasional appearance of [child voice actor] Sparky Marcus or Jackie Earle Haley—yes, the future Rorschach/Freddy Krueger hisself!), I tended to be, to use the current term, “punked” more than most! So I thought mebbe one ‘a my cubicle-mates took it. It turned out that Super Friends producer Art Scott had just assigned that someone was to put together that group shot (of the Super Friends) to be used as the last scene for the then in-production All-New Super Friends opening titles. (Roughly half the scenes were still, Alex-Toth-drawn layouts-including some scenes I’ll elaborate on later; others were already animated scenes from in-production episodes-which were, ironically, mostly cleaned up by me!)
This (Art’s assignment) was unbeknownst to me at that time and, as it turned out, he had come through the breakdown department, saw my drawing on the desk, assumed I was the person Bob assigned to do it, and thought that was it! (He admitted later that he did find it odd that his assignment had been finished so quickly…) All involved thought my clean-up hit the spot, it got painted up, shot, etc….and two weeks later I got an extra “somethin’-somethin’” from Mr. Hanna in my pay envelope. He and I had an interesting relationship, employer-employee wise, which I shall go into thusly…
I was the first fan of Hanna-Barbera that Hanna-Barbera had ever hired. Most of its animators, who were Disney/Warner Bros./MGM “full” animation vets, hated the place, or saw it just as a job. To most vets’ chagrin, I would, whenever I got my daily quota of footage done early (which was often—I was the fastest breakdown/inbetweener they had), knock on Bill’s door and, if he wasn’t busy, just go right in and jaw with him. (Sometimes Alex’d come in too…and man, if I’d had a tape recorder then…). We all also shared the second floor bathroom where I’d see Bill frequently. (Joe’s first floor office had its own toilet.)
It was a shame that Bill wasn’t my boss, however. That distinction went to a man of dubious character and the closest I dealt with in terms of bigotry that I (naïve, cartoon-loving moi) had thought I’d deal with in my first year of employ in my dream profession. Meet my actual boss, Southern-redneck-Boss-Hogg-wannnabe John Boersema (1921-1999), whose license plate was actually “Big Bwana”…and who ran the inbetween breakdown department like a Southern plantation.
Now, those who’ve seen me in previous stories/articles/columns know that I’m black. If we had [then] the type of publicity we have now, the fact that an 18-year-old black kid had 1) sold three animation ideas to the then-biggest animation producer in the world then 2) became the youngest artist ever hired by them at that time would’ve made a little bit o’ news. The fact is, during the next four years working in-house for three different studios (Hanna-Barbera, Filmation, Ruby-Spears), I was either the first or second black person hired in whatever artistic position I performed at said studio. In Hanna-Barbera’s case, I was the first black inbetweener the studio had hired. In our department, I was the first black person; one other, who was also gay, came in after me. Neither of our hirings made Big Bwana happy…but because gay black guy was somewhat docile and I wasn’t, I tended to get the bulk of his subliminal “massa” rages. The fact that I had fun, loved my job, and was friends with most of the studio higher-ups really teed him off.
How long did you have the job on SF?
I worked in-house for Hanna-Barbera from October 1976 to November 1977, laid off two days after my birthday. Was hired back a month later, after All-New Super Friends Hour was finished, left soon after to become a staff layout artist (what I really wanted to be) for Tarzan and the Super 7 and The Fabulous Funnies [at] crosstown rival studio Filmation Associates. While there, I discovered that union studio Hanna-Barbera used a number of non-union subcontractors in town to facilitate show production. The most prolific local one was Love, Hutten, & Love, headed by veteran animators Bill Hutten, Ed Love, and son Tony Love (the latter two no relation to ratsass Harry).
We in the biz used to have a running joke about LHL: they would always get to layout/animate the series Hanna-Barbera’s in-house least wanted to do…either due to the show’s complexity (read: number of characters) or the inability to produce major chunks of animation footage in our network-mandated limited time (read: number of characters). The show LHL was assigned that season (1978-1979) was Challenge of the Superfriends. (Note that this was when “Super Friends” became “Superfriends”—one word.)
A fellow Filmation layout person who had worked on Challenge of the Superfriends for a week found the show too daunting (read: number of characters), wanted to switch to another Hanna-Barbera show LHL was doing and offered to recommend that I take his Super Friends slot. Now, because I was a union employee and the union frowned upon union ‘toonists doing freelance, non-union work, I’d get no screen credit, but to work again on my favorite DC superheroes plus their greatest villains…well, no freakin’ duh!
And partly due to my layout speed (even while working a full-time Filmation gig), partly due to my previous All-New Super Friends association with Super Friends visual creator/model designer Alex Toth, and partly being flatout from Planet Crazy, Bill Hutten gave me all of the Alex-Toth-boarded Challenge of the Superfriends and Super Friends acts to layout…which I did until that part of the show finished production that summer (1978). Continued picking up freelance inbetweening/assistant animation work (still uncredited, natch) on Super Friends until 1982-1983.
How familiar with the characters were you before you got the job?
Being both a National Periodical Publications/DC freak and a big-time Saturday morning cartoon kid, I not only watched the first season of Super Friends (the Wendy/Marvin/Wonder Dog one), but I made sound tapes of the show (with its original “next week” outros by the cast that don’t exist anymore: “This is Superman. Next week…”) to listen to whenever. (Oh, and I haveta mention as a familiarity source my Unca Alex Toth’s doing a Super Friends special story as a wraparound to Justice League reprints and a 10-pager “How TV Cartoons Are Made” with then-wife Guyla that taught me so much about how Hanna-Barbera worked that I knew more about how it functioned than most of its employees.)
What do you know about the creation of the Wonder Twins, Apache Chief, Black Vulcan, Samurai, and El Dorado?
They were created by Norman Maurer, series developer then story editor of All-New Super Friends Show (it hadn’t become an all-new “Hour” yet) and father of next story editor Jeff Scott (Maurer), as all-new, super-powered “junior Super Friends” to replace the non-powered Wendy, Marvin, and Wonder Dog of the first series. (Though in the first two original episodes, Marvin had a power of sorts…flying/floating in the first episode (“Power Pirate”) which became the ability to “super-leap” “6 or 7 feet” [his estimation] in the second episode (“Professor Goodfellow’s G.E.E.C.”)…which became zip by the third.) They were originally called Dick, Jane, and Mighty Monkey, which evolved into (Tar)Zan, Jane(a), and Squeeks, then finally Zan, Jayna, and Gleek. Originally Zan (Dick) had “Plastic Man” powers and Jayna (Jane) could transform into anything, not just animals, but they were scaled back to their present powers as it made the other Super Friends (even Supes) seem almost superfluous. This decision was made before the decisions to re-expand the show and bring in the guest heroes.
As for said guest heroes, the original, multi-ethnic ones (Apache Chief, Black Vulcan, Samurai, and ‘81-'82’s El Dorado) were created by people at the network partly as a desire to bring racial diversity in a kinda/sorta stereotypical fashion to the show and partly as a reaction to Filmation “running the races” with their in-production Young Sentinels for NBC, which featured a black heroine and Asian hero as leads.
Were there any characters proposed but ultimately unused?
When the then-proposed “Battle of the Superheroes” featured the then-“League of Evil,” it was centered around proposed new Superfriend Captain Marvel, proposed LoE leader and Marvel arch-enemy Dr. Sivana, other Marvel foes Beautia Sivana, Mr. Atom, and King Kull, and Batman foes Joker, Penguin, Mr. Freeze, and Catwoman.
Because of Filmation’s prior securing of animation rights to all those characters, Hanna-Barbera couldn’t use them, but it worked out much to the better because other arch-villains could then be brought in. No Joker? Use Riddler. No Mr. Freeze? Use Captain Cold. No Catwoman? Use Cheetah. I proposed, in the story that missed being approved by one day, bringing both Lois Lane and Black Canary into the Super Friends verse. Lois eventually appeared.
What do you know about the origins of the Hall of Justice and the Hall of Doom?
The former’s my all-time fave headquarters building. As you might’ve guessed, [the Hall of Doom’s] resemblance to a certain bad guys’ helmet in a certain movie that premiered the year before (1977) is merely…coincidental. The day Star Wars premiered, the entire studio took off…including Bill Hanna! I think Joe was the only one who stayed at work that day. The next day, we got a “blast memo” from Hanna, basically hinting that, if we in creative were to “borrow” anything from Star Wars and incorporate it into our shows, neither he nor the network would have a problem with it.
I had the bar scene from “Time Rescue” [a short featuring Superman, Hawkman, and Hawkgirl] on my desk to clean-up, and all the aliens in said scene looked like cowboys in space suits. Two days later, Bob Singer plopped a bunch of quickly-designed Star Wars-ish creatures with the instructions “Change those into these.” And next year, every show had a C3P0 character in it…even Archie!
So combine that kind of thought with a dollop of Alex Toth genius and…voila! One Hall of Doom coming up! My only problem with it: we had to keep cheating sizes since it had to be big enough to house 13 supervillains, living spaces, equipment, etc., yet have it be plausible that it could fly around like a…massive building that flew around. That’s Saturday morning physics for ya!
How much involvement did the network have in shaping scripts?
If there’s one thing I have to smile about in my doting old age (not that, at 52, I am that old), it’s how both fans and creatives (at least when it comes to adventure-oriented toons) like to mock or at least make fun of the restrictive atmosphere we produced our toons in versus the relatively unrestricted one they’re currently in. We had just gone through a roughly four-year period (1969-1973) where, after the MLK and RFK assassinations and the rising outcry against violence on TV in general and in kids’ cartoons in particular, we weren’t doing superhero cartoons at all. (And not that many funny animal toons, either.) The nets (remember when you could only see new cartoons, for the most part, only on ABC, CBS, and NBC, and only during a designated five-hour period one day a week? Cartoon Net-what?) felt because of the success of such shows as Scooby-Doo and Josie that their kid viewers (2-11) wanted to watch toons featuring older versions of themselves…until, having run almost all the variations of same into the ground, they had to try something else.)
Now, the trick was: could we do violent superheroes without said violence and get kids to watch? The answer, judging by the Super Friends ratings (high 30s/low 40s shares) was yes! One of the compromises we as toon producers had to make was to add pro-social/teaching messages to our shows, as well as to do actions that weren’t seen as “imitable” by our audience. That meant no punching, no guns, etc. That lent rise to what we called “cheekensheets” from ABC, listing the various “offenses” in our scripts/boards/finished animation and asking us for possible alternatives. Was this annoying? Lots of times, yeah! Would you have seen a Super Friends series (or any other superhero/adventure show) on any air without said restrictions? Flat out…no. So we hadda make do.
And admittedly, it was fun finding ways of creatively bending the rules every now and then. Example: the opening All-New Super Friends titles. As I hinted earlier, when Alex Toth laid out the opening title, he added three still shots of Batman and Robin that weren’t indicated in the story board…including one of Robin tied to a pole by gangsters as Bats jumped into the shot to rescue him. The net wasn’t too happy when they saw those shots, but in those pre-digital editing days, it would’ve been too costly to edit the scenes out, so ABC kept ‘em in, hoping that no one’d notice.
Another example: ABC wanted to axe the last episode of Challenge of the Superfriends, “History of Doom” (which really should’ve been the episode we called “Doomsday”) because someone at S&P truly thought that “destroying the world” was an imitable act. We convinced them that “No, no one right now (in 1978) could single-handedly destroy the world.” ABC agreed and relented.
[That same year, a] girl in Ohio, I think, saved her sister from choking with [the Heimlich] maneuver, which she learned from watching Batman and Robin do it on All-New Super Friends. And since I did all the clean-up animation on that sequence (and took ribbing from my oversexed colleagues—especially Sandy Young; god, whatta mouth! LOL). Well, it’s one of the prouder moments of my career.
What challenges were involved in doing SF?
Some were brought on by the very nature of being a DC Comics geek who brought it upon himself to make sure that his favorite comic book heroes made it to the show as reasonably intact as possible considering [we had] to simplify them for our kid scripts. I’ve mentioned a number of these before: keeping the net from painting Flash and Atom orange instead of red; justifying Green Lantern having to have a plane; trying to “de-Tarzan” Rima. (Well, two outta three weren’t bad!)
It did help, I felt, when they called me in early to help with “Battle of the Superheroes” (later Challenge of the Superfriends) presentation development, as we were able to keep all the “new” DC elements more consistent from the get-go (though my poor comic collection suffered mightily, condition-wise…ah, well, the sacrifices one must make for their art!). If I had been on Challenge until the end (Alex had stopped boarding on the stories midway through; I then lost interest and shifted more into my Filmation staff work, though I did layout the opening sequence of “Superfriends: Rest in Peace” and the Superboy/Luthor sequence of “History of Doom.”) I guarantee you would not have heard Mr. Mxyzptlk’s name pronounced as “Mit-zul-plik”!
One other behind-the-scenes that I’ve never related: We were originally supposed to do 16 episodes of All-New Super Friends; [that] was the typical network series order then. Fred “Golden Gut” Silverman was the man then in charge of ABC, and if he had a problem with any show’s quality, he’d let you know it in the pocketbook. When the animation came back on the first few episodes (and, mind you, Super Friends was being animated in-house that year, unlike the first series’ production in Australia, Mexico, and Canada), Fred was not happy. He cut the show production order from 16 hours to 15 hours, then designated the money from the 16th hour be used to repair/redo the earlier episodes.
By this time, though, the four scripts for what would’ve been the 16th show were already done (the guest star team-up, for example, would’ve been Wonder Woman and Flash). The half-hour episode for that hour would’ve been “The Energeon Creature.” Never to be seen, right? Well…no.
I used to hang around a number of Super Friends writers’ offices at Hanna-Barbera the season before, among others Norman Maurer, Jeff (Scott) Maurer, and Mark Jones. Well, early in the “Challenge” production and before I left Hanna-Barbera staff to toil at Filmation, I ran into Mark once, who commented that Jeff, who was contracted to write all 32½ hours of Super Friends/Challenge that season (though Norman, his wife Joan [Moe Howard’s daughter], and Jeff’s writer/brother Michael were all “helping”) was having a little trouble coming up with ideas. “Well,” I piped up, “tell him to take that 16th Super Friends he wrote last year and use that!” Mark said he’d tell him. Well, that season, the episode “The Anti-Matter Monster” did air, which was the re-jiggered “Energeon Creature” script. And my cut? I’m still waiting…though he did thank me for the idea.
Do you have a favorite episode you worked on?
My favorite completed segments weren’t the episodes per se, but the two title sequences I was involved with: All-New Super Friends, which I did the bulk of the assistant animation/clean-up on, and Challenge of the Superfriends, which I did the layouts on. Also up there in my favorites stack is the 30-second safety tip [with] Batman and Robin demonstrating the Heimlich maneuver that I mentioned earlier and the opening sequence I laid out for “Superfriends: Rest in Peace,” where, amongst the gravestones in the cemetery I put on one “Larry Huber: Good Riddance.” It was a wink/nudge to Larry’s leaving Hanna-Barbera to go to Ruby-Spears…and I showed it to him the following year (1979) when I wanted to get a layout job at Ruby-Spears on Plastic Man. (Despite that, he still hired me!)
Were there any you were disappointed with?
Probably “Swamp of the Living Dead,” the worst episode of Challenge, animation-wise. Bill Hutten was under a major deadline crunch that week and had to hand out a lot of animation to a lot of newbies…and it showed!
Did you interact with the voice actors?
Voice director Wally Burr would let me hang out and watch the cast record at times (when my own work was done, natch). I also got to see Hoyt Curtin record the Super Friends theme with full orchestra in place…and as much as I love hearing that theme (one of my all-time favorites), to actually see Hoyt conduct it was just toooooo cool! He later gave me a tape that had almost every Hanna-Barbera theme he and Ted Nichols had recorded from 1957-1977, plus a special mix Hoyt recorded combining both the original and “all-new” themes with a coolness “guitar-lick” solo in the middle. Yow! (Or should I say “Zonkers!”)
[A] “bittersweet” voice actor meeting for moi was when I met while doing Challenge none other than “Lurch” hisself, Ted Cassidy, who, in ‘78, was coming in the busiest year, voice-wise, he ever had. After a number of years where even he admitted he couldn’t get arrested vocally, he was doing five different lead characters: The Thing for Fantastic Four, Montaro for Jana of the Jungle, Godzilla for…what else?, and, for Challenge? Instead of Joe Barbera making the obvious choice with Ted’s voice and casting him as, say, Solomon Grundy or his fellow “monster” Bizarro, Joe cast Ted as both Brainiac and Black Manta…definitely out-of-the-box thinking and something that Ted was truly grateful for. His passing soon afterwards due to complications during surgery was truly unfair, considering the rat bastards whose names I won’t mention (John Boersema, Harry Love) who lived past him.
I remember talking to Super Friends narrator William Woodson, and he (a journeyman actor who’d done a lot of prior stuff) smiled and jokingly said, “I owe Ted Knight my career” (since Ted didn’t want to come back to Saturday morning voice work in 1976).
Do you still have any SF scripts, staff photos, or other memorabilia?
Several sold storage spaces ago, I had copies of every script and storyboard from All-New Super Friends and Challenge of the Superfriends. As I said, that was several sold storage spaces ago. (Now I have copies of all the Challenge and Super Friends ‘78 acts that Alex Toth boarded and I laid out, many of Alex’s models, all the series’ stock models, and a Bill Hanna-signed copy of the original All-New Super Friends bible. (It was his and he gave it to me “for correcting him on Wonder Woman [he kept calling her Wonder Girl] above and beyond the call of duty.”)
The one photo from that time I still have is the one of Sandra Young, Art Roman, and I that was printed in Back Issue (#30, 10/08). I have somewhere a copy of a group photo of the entire Hanna-Barbera animation staff taken on the studio roof that summer (of ‘77) in which it wasn’t hard to spot me. Back then I was…three of a kind, let’s say…
How aware are you on the influence that Super Friends had on the current generation of comic book writers?
Through the Challenge DVD commentaries, I’ve heard Geoff Johns, Mark Waid, and Alex Ross speak on how Super Friends influenced them (which is funny ‘cuz I’m not that much older than they are. I was 18-20 during Super Friends.) When I was doing the Friends, most of what I heard as far as “adult” opinion (kids loved us!) came from those in the nascent anime community. And their attitude on the Friends was “it’s just that limited animation American crap. They use the same scenes over and over, their drawings are off-model, they can’t do violence, blah blah blah!”
[Yet] when I read about the adults who now fondly remember the shows, when I hear college kids utter the phrase “Wonder Twin powers, activate!” and touch fists, and I see that two of the more recent DC toons, The Batman and Justice League Unlimited and the current Justice League comics have made the Hall of Justice their home…well, it makes a dude who always believed in them smile and get a bit all over gulpy, you know?
When was the last time you watched one of your SF episodes?
I watch ‘em all the time. And that was before the DVDs came out. Y’see, I’ve been taping Saturday morning toons on sound cassette tape since 1972, bought my first VCR (the old Quasars with the encyclopedia-size tapes) with my first Hanna-Barbera paycheck in 1976 and my first VHS in 1978 (back when tapes were supposed to last only five years!). I work in front of my TV (or portable DVD player) and I am able to watch/pay attention to shows and write/draw and talk on the phone at the same time. Super Friends episodes, particularly the first three series, are high on my playlist.
Do you have children?
Nope, single, never married…nor plan to be. Seeing a groovy chick now, but these days am much more into pro creation than procreation. I do have two nieces and two nephews and they think their ‘toonist uncle’s “the bomb.”
What are you doing these days?
Lotsa stuff I can’t talk about right now! Having said that, however, I’m currently…
- producing an animated pilot for a pretty subversive toon that I’m hoping to show a select few at San Diego [Comic-Con International]
- working on a series whose lead character was co-created by Alex Toth
- developing a labor of love comic book, Mightor & Nexus, with legend and old friend Steve “The Dude” Rude
- penciling a series of pinups of my “uberbabes” characters, with inks and finishes by legend and new friend Bill Sienkiewicz
- producing/stockpiling episodes of various animated and live-action episodes for my launching-in-2011 “Big D’s PC-TV project”
- continuing putting material together for my ‘11 repackage of my thousand remaining copies of my Eisner-nominated Alex Toth: By Design!, which I was working on with Unca during the last years of his life. (And what’s gonna be in here will rock your alternative universe!)
- developing a reality show (then again, isn’t everybody?)
- occasionally eating and sleeping
Have you ever participated at a comic convention?
I’ve been an invited pro to San Diego since my first year at Hanna-Barbera. I’ve done a number of panels over the years, too (none on Super Friends…yet), but I have met many fans and pros who sometimes both flatter me and make me feel really really old (LOL) when they tell and/or show me what Super Friends meant to them. One prime example: A couple of years ago, whilst walking by a booth at San Diego, I saw some Flash animation someone did of a note-by-note replication of the Challenge opening titles…with the South Park characters. And I love South Park…unlike the rolling turd Family Guy, South Park’s actually funny! I mentioned to the person that I was the guy who laid out those opening titles…and man! They made me feel like Jack Kirby!
Are you in touch with anyone from SF?
Unfortunately, I’m not in touch with anyone from my Super Friends days, being that most of them were in their forties or fifties when I was in my 18s and 19s, so most of them have now passed on.
Next: Iraj Paran (art director) and Bob Singer (character designer).