Suspended Animation #210
The original Jonny Quest animated prime time series that debuted on ABC on September 18th, 1964 is iconic and has been so inspirational over the decades – and yet there are still things to be discovered about it.
For instance, ABC wanted a second season of Jonny Quest but Bill Hanna told them “no”. In the mid-1980s, creator Doug Wildey suggested to Joe Barbera to do a new version of Jonny Quest to be called Young Dr. Quest about Jonny as a twenty-two year old who has graduated from M.I.T. and sharing adventures with an older Hadji and Race Bannon. Barbera wasn’t interested.
Jonny Quest the series is about the globe-trotting adventures of an eleven-year old boy (Jonny), his scientist father (Dr. Benton Quest), his adopted brother Hadji (from Calcutta, India), his government bodyguard (Race Bannon) and his bulldog (Bandit).
The series ran for only one season of twenty-six episodes but those episodes were so popular that they continued for many years in reruns.
Hanna-Barbera produced thirteen new episodes to add to the syndication package in 1986. Two feature length made-for-television movies were produced: Jonny’s Golden Quest (1993) and Jonny Quest Vs. the Cyber Insects (1995). The Real Adventures of Jonny Quest (1997) ran for two seasons on Cartoon Network and then years of reruns.
Back in 1986 when I was working on article about the Jonny Quest show for Amazing Heroes magazine, I got an opportunity to talk with cartoonist Doug Wildey. He told me many of the same stories, sometimes in the exact same way, as he told others over the years. The following are some excerpts from that conversation with him.
Producer Joe Barbera asked Wildey to do some design work on a series to be based on the vintage popular radio show Jack Armstrong but updated to the current age. The intent was to have a young teen protagonist in fast-paced adventures and mysteries.
“So I storyboarded one, wrote some dialogue, wrote a little script and then I did a kind of presentation, showing a little continuity, a little color, and what the characters looked like,” remembered Wildey.
“I worked on that thing for, I guess, three months. The hovercraft with the natives throwing spears was done for that presentation and when there were difficulties with Hanna-Barbera getting the rights to Jack Armstrong… I guess they wanted too much money or something… we ended up using that animation in the Jonny Quest closing credits as well as some other bits.”
It was decided that an original project, rather than a licensed property, made more sense since it would be less expensive and allow greater studio control. Wildey drew on his knowledge of old movies, including Frankie Darrow and Jackie Cooper films, as well as Milt Caniff’s newspaper strip Terry and the Pirates.
Barbera loved the James Bond movie, Dr. No (1962), which is where the character of Dr. Zin as the main villain originated as well as the overall pseudo-spy tone for the show.
“I came up with the name The Saga of Chip Ballou as a working title. The characters were all the same as the final series and had the same relationships but I continued to find just the right names,” recalled Wildey.
“I picked the name Quest out of the Los Angeles phone book because it just sounded good to me and implied adventure. It was Joe who came up with the name ‘Jonny’ without the “h” so his name is really ‘Jonathan’.
“The name Race Bannon came from two comic strips that I never sold. One was about an American race car driver named Stretch Bannon and the other was about a world traveling writer named Race Dunhill. So I just put the two together.
“The dog (Bandit) was not mine. I never liked the dog and still don’t. I had drawn a small white cheetah and a monkey. There are a lot of story possibilities for a monkey and it can do things realistically that a dog could never do. But they wanted a dog for some reason, maybe merchandising. It was designed by Dick Bickenbach who had done a lot of work on The Flintstones. They used (the dog) for comic relief and it was easier for some of the artists to draw funny dog stuff.”
Paul Powers has many accomplishments including being a cartoonist. He was mentored by Alex Toth when they both worked on H-B’s Superfriends in Sydney, Australia in 1973. Powers along with Anson and Benton Jew did an extensive interview with Toth in early May 2006 shortly before Toth’s death later than month. Here is a very short excerpt from that interview where Toth talks about working on Jonny Quest.
“Jonny Quest was Doug Wildey’s idea. That was his baby. That was his creation. We were working over there at Cambria (on Space Angel) and he wandered off to Hanna-Barbera. Eventually, when I was out on the streets without a job, he gave me a call. Somehow we connected and I was working with him. He had so many other people involved in that thing. It was a hard job to do because these cartoonists had never worked illustratively. All they knew was the roly-poly little figures.
“It was rough to control and it cost Hanna fortune. And when the sponsor wanted to go for another season, Bill Hanna said ‘no’. It cost too much and he said, ‘Our studio can’t afford this’. Which was an invitation for the client to say, ‘We’ll cover those costs’ but they didn’t. So they just let it go. It became Hanna’s property again. It was solely his without any connection. Lucky for him.
“I brought in Warren Tufts on the thing. Mel Keefer worked on it for a bit. Moe Gollub, Tony Sgori, Bob Singer and Hy Mankin did as well. Homer Jonas who was from Disney did some storyboard work. By the time we would have been ready for a second series with everybody kind of having learned, it was too late. It was over. It was gone.
“It still stands up today. But still, it’s only half of what Wildey wanted to do. Doug had a live action line and eye and feel for the material and he wanted it to be that way, which is what everybody has tried to do since in animation. But they would not give him the time and the money to do those little things. And that’s what makes it special.”
As Doug Wildey remembered, “The philosophy I had behind Jonny Quest was I wanted characters and scenes that people would remember. I tried to put in the things that I liked as a kid. I was able to control about eighteen of the shows and designed the characters in maybe ninety-five percent of them. It is a factory and once it starts, you have to turn out so much material because of deadlines that you can’t keep an eye on everything.”