Suspended Animation #264
Wally Wood was a popular comic book artist who was equally adept in both realistic and humorous illustration. His style of artwork is instantly recognizable and he inspired many other cartoon artists.
Ralph Bakshi who was working at Paramount brought Wood in to help with some projects like Rocket Robin Hood in the late 1960s. Wood was intrigued by animation and had several ideas for a sword-and-sorcery fantasy series or film based on his The Wizard King trilogy of stories. While at Paramount, he had pitched this idea and it was being considered for development before the studio closed.
Wood also had an idea for a science-fiction Saturday morning animated comedy series that would have a team of human, mechanical and alien characters having adventures in outer space and the different worlds they encountered.
It is challenging to try to document an animated series that was never produced. Like most such projects, there were several variations.
Wood had experimented with this concept about a young spaceman hero named Bucky Ruckus and his eccentric crew. He produced a special limited edition holiday comic strip for NEA to syndicate to newspapers entitled “Bucky’s Christmas Caper” that was printed in December 1967.
The name had come from Bucyrus, a small farming community in southwestern Ohio that he saw on a driving trip with his then wife Tatjana. Wood had hopes that it might spin off into a daily strip but despite it being well-received that never happened. Wood continued to do spot illustrations of Bucky and his crew that often appeared in his fanzine Witzend.
Around the same time, Wood did a fantasy oriented strip entitled “Goody Bumpkin” for the Wham-O Giant Comic one-shot. It featured a young hero with a mixed crew of humorous characters.
In one of Wood’s sketchbooks was an idea he called “Boy Gladiators: Star Fighters” with Captain Jeff (a young human boy), Tinker (a robot), Woogy (a creature) and Alf (an alien humanoid).
Later, for his military distributed comic book, Heroes Inc. Wood came up with a group called The Misfits composed of Mystra (a female telepath), Glomb (a huge rock like creature) and Shag (a furry male alien).
For the animated series proposal, he took many of these ideas he had experimented with and came up with Fearless Ferris and the Misfits. Ferris (“brave… will try anything, cute leader of the bunch” according to Wood’s notes) was a young brunette boy in a costume similar to the superhero Dynamo, the character that Wood had created for T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents.
Ferris didn’t have any powers like the rest of his crew but depended on all kinds of scientific devices that would help him do things like flying.
Wood never seemed to finalize the crew and their names.
At various times he had Glom (“strangest creature in the universe…from Jupiter” who looked like a version of Marvel’s The Thing but with smooth skin), Venus (an attractive blonde female with a pony tail “can walk through walls, from Venus, of course”), Bang Head (“secret weapon…hard nose”), Handy (“friendly Martian, can do four things at once” that looked like a four-legged spider), Ragmop (a spaced out looking child who “can go to the fourth dimension”), The Blur (who moves so fast that people only saw a blur even when he was standing still), Zero (“blank—controls temperature” who was just an outline), Scat (a cat-like alien who “can see in the dark”), Miss Fitt (a different version of the Venus character but with brunette hair), and I.Q. (a “baby brain…scientific genius”).
“Whenever something develops normal authorities can’t handle” said Wood’s notes, “Fearless Ferris and his crew would go into action from their Sky Island floating high in the atmosphere.” The various foes would be menacing “Shadows with Eyes”, little aliens inside of giant robots and the huge Devourosaurus.
At the time, this juxtaposition of bizarre funny characters would have been unique and Paramount’s animation studio was definitely interested.
“After I penciled the presentation from Wood’s character sketches, Wood inked and delivered. And Paramount chose that same month to close down its cartoon studio (December 1, 1967): end of brilliance,” wrote Wood’s friend and assistant at the time, Bhob Stewart.
Fearful that this idea might be stolen by Bakshi (as he done with some of Wood’s concepts for a sword-and-sorcery fantasy story he had developed called The Wizard King – and had shared with Bakshi who used some of the ideas and names in his animated feature Wizards), Wood teamed with Bhob Stewart (as a writer) to produce a three page story featuring similar characters and printed it in Witzend #4 (1968) where the team was called “The Rejects”.
A Wood creation did come close to inspiring an animated series. Following the success of Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends, Marvel attempted a Daredevil cartoon. Writer Mark Evanier produced a bible and pilot script for the series.
“I basically turned it back into the version of Daredevil drawn by Wally Wood. Matt Murdock did have the seeing-eye dog, which was not an illogical thing for a blind guy to have, and the dog sometimes aided him a la Lassie but wasn’t any sort of superdog.”
“ABC agreed to buy the series and it was even announced in the Hollywood trade papers…but then a gent who worked for Marvel said the wrong thing to a top exec at ABC who, I suspect, was looking for an excuse to not buy the show and to give the time slot to another project that he preferred.”
Harvey Kurtzman recalled, “Wally had a tension in him, an intensity that he locked away in an internal steam boiler. I think it ate away his insides, and the work really used him up. I think he delivered some of the finest work that was ever drawn, and I think it’s to his credit that he put so much intensity into his work at great sacrifice to himself.”
While much of Wood’s comic book work has been reprinted, none of the work he did for animation has been captured in a permanent form. Perhaps one day, J. David Spurlock director of the Wallace Wood Estate and founder and publisher of Vanguard Productions may release a book about Wood’s work in animation.