Animation History
March 30, 2013 posted by Jerry Beck

The Marvel Super-Hero Cartoons (1966)

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I was the perfect age to soak in the super-hero craze of the 1960s. We all knew way back when how cheap these Grantray-Lawrence Marvel Super Heroes cartoons were – but we forgave them. It was TV versions of Captain America (on Mondays), The Hulk (on Tuesday), Iron Man (Wednesday), Thor (on Thursday) and Submariner (on Friday). In New York, we had some guy in a Captain Marvel suit named “Captain Universe” climb down a ladder to introduce the films and sell us Cocoa Marsh or Bosko chocolate syrups.

What these cartoons lacked in animation, they made up for it in other ways. The voice acting was ernest and intense – and pretty much how I expected to hear my favorite super heroes speak. The theme songs were catchy and memorable (I suspect more money was spent on them than anything else); and best of all – I enjoyed seeing Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, Gene Colon, and Bill Everett artwork on TV. Like radio shows of old, we had to bring something from our own imaginations to make these cartoons work – but we did.

Here’s the original sales brouchure that went out to TV stations (cover above, click below to enlarge the center spread below):

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Yeah, Krantz Films distributed the show. The same Krantz who would later produce Bakshi’s Fritz The Cat and Heavy Traffic. The animation in the individual episodes is still awful, but the bumpers, opening titles and closing credits have a little more effort in them – perhaps because they were going to be used repeatedly. Unfortunetly the opening and closing sections are apparently very rare. Here’s the opening theme, and some Captain America interstitials:

World_of_Comic_Art_3_(1967)145The four page article below originally appeared in a professional cartoonists journal, The World Of Cartoons #3 (1967, cover at left). This might be the best (and only) article showing the process on how these cartoons were produced (click thumbnails below to enlarge). It should be noted that the Thor cartoons were produced in New York at the Paramount Cartoon Studio, under the direction of Shamus Culhane(!), the rest of the cartoons were made in Hollywood. Below that are the rare end credits (forgive the funky copy below; as already stated these are very rare) listing the folks responsible, including such veterans as Sid Marcus, Otto Feuer, Doug Wildey and Clyde Geronimi (who co-directed Disney’s Cinderella and Peter Pan – oh, how the mighty had fallen). Not sure why NY kids-show host Sandy Becker isn’t credited with the voices (he was Captain America), perhaps the show was non-union and he’s under a pseudonym?

World_of_Comic_Art_1 World_of_Comic_Art_2 World_of_Comic_Art_3 World_of_Comic_Art_4

(Special Thanks to Shaun Clancy and Albert Bryan Biglee)

34 Comments

  • Like you say, it was great to see Kirby, Colon, Everett and Ditko on the screen. That and the true to form stories actually make the some of tv’s better comics adaptations! I’m kind of over hearing people mention the extremely limited animation in this series though. Frame for frame I’ll wager there’s more movement in these than the best anime ever done! :/

    • “Frame for frame I’ll wager there’s more movement in these than the best anime ever done!” Are you really suggesting that these things have more movement than Summer Wars, Akira, or any of Studio Ghibli’s films? You should be careful not to oversimplify a nation’s animation industry. It’s not all Yu-Gi-Oh, you know. I’m just saying.

      Although I do agree it is good to see Kirby in motion.

  • Some of the voices had to be recorded in Toronto. That’s unmistakeably Bernard Cowan narrating about Captain America.

  • Yes, the voice actors listed in the credits are Canadians, including Bernard Cowan. Also, John Vernon before he became a familiar Hollywood actor.

    • Because of that, I’m sure this show got a lot of playback up there in the great white north!

    • Actually I don’t remember this series having much of a life at all on Canadian TV. Its original run was before my time but since then it’s been scarce, especially compared to Spider-Man which has been airing nearly continuously. I do recall a brief run of the Hulk cartoons on one of the Teletoon networks a few years ago.

    • I think the Hulk cartoon aired on Teletoon Retro in 2002, when TR was a block, and not a standalone channel. I distinctly remember the Fox Kids logo at the end of each 30-minute Hulk “episode,” and I wonder why Teletoon didn’t opt for the entire Marvel Super Heroes package. Did Fox Kids shop Marvel Super Heroes around in 1996-2001, or just parts of it?

      Spider-Man 1967 is a Teletoon Retro staple even today. I’m actually surprised at its healthy shelf life in Canada. I wonder if it’s Paul Soles’ and Paul Kligman’s voice-work that keeps it going. The animation in Spider-Man ’67 isn’t great, but I’ll always remember Kligman as THE J. Jonah Jameson.

    • These ran on New Brunswick’s CHSJ (a Canadian broadcasting anomaly: a privately-owned CBC-TV affiliate) well into the 1980s, and possibly even later, during those hours that they weren’t showing CBC stuff. I grew up on these shows, and the theme songs were embedded in my brain long into adulthood. I think I even heard the IRON MAN theme in muzak form during the first Robert Downey Jr. film.

      CHSJ also showed the ’60s SPIDER-MAN cartoons, at a time when you couldn’t see them anywhere else (we lived in the next province over, Nova Scotia, but would visit relatives in New Brunswick on a regular basis), as well as stuff like MAX THE 2000 YEAR OLD MOUSE and JOT. Scraping the barrel, perhaps, but I still enjoyed watching ‘em.

  • Marcus left Lantz for this?!

    • It is pretty sad how the choices one makes in life don’t always go the way they’re planned.

  • The show aired on WOR in New York,which pretty much was the Witness Protection Program of made-for-TV cartoons in the 1960s in the New York market. Ch. 9′s only Hanna-Barbera buys were the Abbott & Costello. Laurel & Hardy and the Sinbad Jr. cartoons (with the Sam Singer ones as well), while their theatrical cartoons were the B&W Looney Tunes and the Terrytoons package, and they got all of those in the late 1950s-early 60s basically because WNEW (Ch. 5) and WPIX (Ch. 11) passed. If your cartoons ended up on WOR, it was because nobody else wanted them.

    Marvel Super Heroes was an interesting one-time viewing curio, and the success of the comic books no doubt goosed the ratings a bit. But even in an era of very limited TV animation, it was tough to maintain an attention span for multiple viewings, which no doubt is why when Marvel and Krantz did the Amazing Spider-Man and Stan Lee licensed the Fantastic Four for animated shows over the next two years, they bumped up the budgets to at least get in line with what everyone else was doing (and in the case of FF, H-B did it on the same level as the other superhero shows they started doing at Fred Silverman’s behest in 1966).

  • In my estimation, the MARVEL SUPER HEROES cartoons are much purer adaptations of Marvel comics than any subsequent Marvel cartoons or movies. The original stories AND dialogue, and most importantly, the original art (albeit animated in the ’60s version of Flash) were good enough for me to watch them constantly, over and over as long as they were aired (two or three years, at least, in Milwaukee). Sure, the standards to sell to ABC were higher, which is why SPIDER-MAN was up to standards, but those are diluted designwise and storywise, as were the FF episodes done by Hanna-Barbera–and nothing done since then has even vaguely interested me, probably because the comics no longer do, though the reproduction of the originals gets paler and paler with each iteration.

    What exists in those reproduced comics panels really only exists in several earlier cartoons (CLUTCH CARGO, SPACE ANGEL, CAPTAIN FATHOM, and most importantly, Doug Wildey’s JONNY QUEST–and that is black shadows. Prior to ROGER RABBIT, of course, nobody did any shadow modeling at all, but everything Hanna-Barbera did in their realistic style (same with Filmation, and everyone after) after JQ dropped the shadows altogether (obviously due to the expense)–which naturally made the flat, solid-color figures even more divorced from the artwork present in comic books of that time.

    Sure, MSH had the problem of never having enough source material to work with, especially for SUB-MARINER, which had only just begun as a ’60s series, resulting in incredibly jarring jumps from Gene Colan to Jack Kirby to Wally Wood (and other pre-series appearances Namor made)–and it’s even worse with HULK, switching from Kirby to older Kirby to Ditko, to Burgos, to Powell, to Andru and (I’m not sure they went that late) perhaps Romita, thankfully, not all in the same episode–but I’m sure only those of us who had been reading the comics recognized the odd juxtapositions.

    To quote your own statement about LINUS THE LION-HEARTED, Jerry, I’d be the first in line to buy the complete series on DVD, if they ever get around to scheduling it again (it was officially released in the UK in 2007, sans the HULK segments due to rights issues–which would imply that the rare opening and closing credits are missing). Amazon started taking pre-orders in 2004 for a U.S. version with all five heroes, cancelled by early 2005, and only one Canadian collection of CAPTAIN AMERICA/HULK/THOR (single stories) and one separate THOR story (also Canadian) seem to have ever come out in North America. I suspect embarrassment is the culprit here–unjustified by my estimation.

  • The thing that struck me then and still strikes me now is what an odd bunch of characters this is. None are generic Superman/Batman super-hero clones. There’s a green monster, a mythological god, who knows what the Sub-Mariner is, a guy who doesn’t just wave the flag but wears it, and somebody in a high-tech suit of armor. Sure, it’s what Marvel was publishing and had available to license, but I wonder if the “offbeat” (to use a word Stan often used) quality of this wildly assorted group of characters worked against them in marketing because they seemed a little *too* strange. On the other hand, that very different quality might have worked in their favor, at least for us in the audience, because they weren’t slick corporate clones somebody pitched in a boardroom last week, and each character was not only different but had a different story to him that had developed over time.

  • In Hartford, CT, I watched the MARVEL SUPERHEROES cartoons on WHCT Channel 18 during the mid 60′s. WHCT, like WOR, was then owned by RKO General, who was good for making a last bid on items like for its “budget programming”. WHCT also ran the Abbott & Costello cartoons, which were made by Hanna-Barbera for RKO-Jomar Productions.

    • Another RKO station serving the Detroit area (via CKLW-TV in Windsor, ON, Canada) aired these as well.

  • Not savvy enough to recognize different artists’ work, but definitely noticed that Loki would alternate between horned helmet and crown in the same conversation. And they did mess with storylines a bit. In the one where Captain America joins the Avengers, a stranded space alien collecting rocket parts was converted into a regular human villain, sticking around for a story that wasn’t in the comics.

    Meanwhile, the HB Fantastic Four did a couple of Sub Mariner stories without Sub Mariner. In one, a marine scientist turns himself into a fishman. In another, Namor, his girlfriend and his chief villain are all present but thinly disguised. Think they did similar tricks with other villains who evidently got packaged with the other heroes. Neat instrumental theme.

    Spider-Man was cool because it didn’t quite look or sound like any other series, since it came from a studio that wasn’t doing anything else on Saturday mornings. And at that moment in history, the theme song really was hip. The Bakshi season was less slick, but a fascinating mess of higher ambitions, lower budgets and random great poses.

  • In the Los Angeles area, this package was seen on KHJ-TV, Channel 9—also owned by RKO General, as it happens.

    I remember being quite turned off by all the individual theme songs, with their silly (and in one notable case, ungrammatical) lyrics, earnestly sung by a session chorale who (we hope!) got at least union scale!

    KHJ had, at various times, the monochrome “Looney Tunes”, “Kimba, the White Lion”, “Astro Boy”, “The Astronut Show”, “The Mighty Hercules”, “The Funny Company”, “The King and Odie Show”, some miscellaneous UPA shorts, “Spunky and Tadpole”, “Q. T. Hush”, “Herge’s Adventures of Tintin”, “Colonel Bleep”, and even “The Mighty Mister Titan” (animated calisthenics!). These were sometimes stand-alone shows, while others were dropped into various hosted or un-hosted shows.
    Ah, those were the days! Nowadays, if kids want to find animated entertainment, they look to the cable channels–there is virtually none on broadcast television (at least in the Los Angeles market).

    • Don’t forget Netflix and the other IPTV avenues that is replacing cable as we speak!

  • Love seeing that piece or black tape show up on the right side of the film indication when the station needed to go to ad break (saw a bit of that in my collection).

  • Strangely enough, while I remember the Hulk, Sub-Mariner and Iron Man cartoons well, I don’t recall the Captain America or Thor ones at all, I liked the ones I saw well enough, though when another station in my city started showing Looney Toons opposite them, I changed over without a backward glance.

  • I do enjoy these cartoons, but at 5 years old, not understanding how animation was made, I pictured some guys filming Super hero cut-outs on popsicle sticks.

    • I think I would love to watch that Gerard!

  • I was a huge Marvel fan, especially the Sub-Mariner. But I grew up in Indianapolis and I don’t ever remember seeing these. Marvel Comics used to print promo ads showing where the cartoons were being broadcast, and I kept waiting for them to show up on an Indy TV screen. Unfortunately we had only one Independent station, and this must have been even too cheap for them to show. We took a summer vacation to Atlantic City in 1966 and I was amazed how many more TV channels there were, with all the Speed Racer you could handle. At some point I caught an episode of the Marvel cartoons, a Captain America I think, and I realized I’d missed nothing important. To this day I can’t believe no one has made a Sub-Mariner movie. What a perfect anti-hero, that could be done brilliantly with the technology they have now.

  • I also echo the comment that, if all these shorts, along with the rare end credit clip, were issued on DVD in this country, I would buy ‘em. I, too, recall their airing on WOR-TV (our channel 9) in the 6:00 p.m. time slot, following “THE HUCKLEBERRY HOUND SHOW”, and I was in front of that TV every weeknight, as our house had just gotten a color TV, and I enjoyed anything animated in color for those few first weeks. Hey, if they were suddenly airing all classic theatrical MGM cartoons on some other station, sure, I would have probably switched away to just as religiously watch that since, by that time, WABC-TV axed all the MGM cartoons from its local early morning lineup, leaving us only with “COURAGEOUS CAT” which also looked great to me at that time, but, in the evening time slot, it was a nice way to spend an hour in front of the TV, and it neatly led into what I considered a fairly good Friday night on our WABC-TV affiliate which climaxed with “THE AVENGERS” with Emma Peel!

    Thanks for posting this!

  • Ha! Fish on Fridays.

  • The Spider-Man series was actually pretty decent animation in it’s first season. It’s after the budget got cut the following season that everything from the scripts, animation to the music began to get recycled. Sadly the prints aired in Canada on Teletoon Retro are not the Remastered prints that Disney cleaned up some years ago. Considering TTR is always starving for Canadian Content-I’m surprised that they haven’t picked up the rest of the Grantray-Lawrence/Krantz produced Marvel series. BTW, as someone who grew up on shows like these and Rocket Robin Hood-I can think of worse shows(much of the mid 70′s/early 80′s HB is pretty sappy and poorly animated by comparison.

    • Well, someone they were stuck with Rocket Robin Hood for the duration! Weird they hadn’t picked up the rest of those shows though I’m sure the rights to those are still very sticky at this point.

  • Was the Enchantress in any of the Thor cartoons? I found her to be a strong female villian and I think she deubt shortly after Thor begain.

  • Thanks for the shout out! But, my name is “Al Bigley,” and my site is “Big Glee!”

    Loved the above piece! I didn’t see MSH until the summer of 1978 (I suspect Marvel shopped the shows around then, due to their then-new popularity in live-action prime-time TV)! As a 13-year-old comics fan, I loved seeing these old (as they seemed then) stories brought to life, using the actual Marvel art and tales!

    Remember, this was the era of the “kiddy-fying” and dumbing/watering down of superhero cartoons. Just try to watch SUPERFRIENDS or SPIDER-MAN AND HIS AMAZING FRIENDS. Ugh.

    But MSH didn’t pull any punches! Sure, they whited-out Hitler’s ‘stache in the CAP cartons, but…the shows seemed so refreshing, and, yes you’d think a DVD set woulda been released when AVENGERS made the movie theatre rounds…I hear Marvel is embarrassed by the series.

    To be so is to be embarrassed by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, and all the other genius that laid the Marvel foundation…

    Al BIgley

  • The timing of the Marvel Cartoons was perfect for me as I was a recent Marvel convert and didn’t own ANY of the issues they adapted. Thor is my favorite character so I bought a tape of just the Thor episodes more than a decade ago. I’ll have to see if I can find it and answer Nic Kramer’s question about the Enchantress.

  • As a kid, I would save my allowance to buy Archie comics. The Marvel Superheros was my introduction to comics beyond Archie. I was really young at the time, watching each super hero every night on WOR-TV Channel 9 in NYC. My favorite was Thor. I thought they were great.

  • This 1st appearance of Titanium Man was adapted to animated film in 1966, from the original comic books, Tales of Suspense #69-71. The story was adapted to the original Iron Man cartoon as “If I Die, Let It Be With Honor.” The grand finale of both the cartoon and the print issue (ToS#71), featured art by Don Heck & WALLACE WOOD. Though primitive by today’s standards, the unique thing about the historic, first Marvel cartoons is that they used actual art from the comics so we get to see Iron Man (and others) by such legendary talents as Kirby, Ditko, Wood, Colan, Heck, Severin, etc. Had they adapted Daredevil as part of this series, it would have been nearly all Wood.
    http://youtu.be/PqmRLzBgyeY

  • Why do you say oh how the mighty have fallen? Do you think it’s a huge downgrade to work on comics? All of those men were amazing animator and directors. Geronimi worked there at the end of his career for something to do because retirement was boring him. It was not some low grade job out of necessity. Not sure about the others.

  • I’d love to see this website do a similar review of the 1967 Superman/Aquaman Hour of Adventure. It aired Saturday mornings on CBS. It was produced by DC/Filmation and the animation quality was FAR superior to this Monday to Friday after school cartoon show by Marvel. Sadly, people remember this Marvel stab at animation more than the DC one due to the fact that Marvel’s version will remain one of the worst animation endeavors ever to go on television. Ironically, both only lasted one season each. Marvel 1966/67 and DC 1967/68.

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