Wednesday, December 15, 2010

how I got this way, pt. 3

Old cartoons are a big topic on Facebook of late.  Someone started a "thing" -- maybe it was to raise awareness of something, I'm not even sure -- where people were changing their profile pictures to their favorite cartoon characters.  The first one I posted was Tobor the Eighth Man, which got a good reaction from my eccentric peers (I include myself in that "eccentric").  Then I changed it to Col. Bleep.

Until the advent of the internet, I only knew two other people who had ever seen Col. Bleep, and one was my brother, who watched it with me.  The other was my dear friend John Jorge, who actually got me a VHS tape (back in those days) with a few episodes on it.  Now I know people who have watched it *and* there are a few episodes on YouTube.

Col. Bleep was the first cartoon made for television, in 1957.  It has that mid-century atomic age design that I love.  When I think about it, it seems to me that it was all orange, blue and black -- which isn't exactly true, though it does have an awful lot of orange, blue and black.  Especially orange.

It's just so bizarre: this atomic, outer-space good guy, Col. Bleep, who travels around with a puppet and a caveman, and fights several villains -- a "space pirate," "Doctor Destructo," an evil robot, et al..(Quite a few of them have "black" as part of their moniker, just in case you somehow couldn't tell they were bad guys.)

Also bizarre was the fact that Col. Bleep was not a very appealing character.  He didn't speak (we'll get to the lack-of-dialogue part in a second), he had this kind of triangle head, his legs terminated in a single wheel instead of feet, and he certainly never smiled.  He just didn't look like a nice or a fun dude.

Hand in hand with the awful limited animation is the fact that the cartoons were pretty much narrated and there wasn't any dialogue to speak of.  There were occasional lines which were very obviously the narrator using a slightly different voice, but mostly, there was some guy saying, "Col. Bleep was patrolling the galaxy with his trusty friends, Squeak the puppet and Scratch the caveman.  What's that?  It looks like that rocket ship is in trouble!  Little did the colonel know that it was a trap set by Black Patch the Pirate! Col. Bleep will think this is a rocketship in distress and when he comes here, I'll spring my trap!    Oh, no!  Col. Bleep doesn't know it's a trap!  Get back, colonel, get back!"  and so on.

The one thing I have not been able to find is an episode  with "Squeak and Scratch blink in wonder!"  They did this bit on a bunch of episodes.  When the narrator says, "Squeak and Scratch blink in wonder," Squeak kind of gets on top of Scratch so they look kind of like a totem pole, and they blink their eyes while opening and closing their hands.  It's synchronized so that the hand is closed when the eyes are closed, and the hands open when the eyes open -- and since it's limited animation, those two pictures just go back and forth in a nice little rhythm.  It would be so much better if you could see it, but I haven't seen it myself in a good 45 years.

First up, there is a compilation of two episodes.  In "Arrival On Earth," which looks to be the first cartoon of the series, we learn that cavemen went extinct!  (Well, with the exception of Scratch, who seems to have slept through extinction.)  "War in Robotland" features Dr. Destructo and a passel of black robots.

Then we come to "Knight of Death," which features several of the bad guys.  Is it me, or does Dr. Destructo look really different?  Also, given all of his Futomic Energy, power to fly through space, and so on, why can't Col. Bleep tell the difference between a real dragon and a fake one?  (Sidebar:  how weird is it to even talk about "the difference between a real dragon and a fake one"?)

Next up is "Lunar Luger."  See Col. Bleep blow a bugle *through* his space helmet!  This episode makes good use of the cool "space noise" that accompanies the colonel.  Also, toward the end, Squeak and Scratch assume the blink-in-wonder totem pole position, but without blinking in wonder.

Now, although they don't say so specifically, I'd have to guess that this cartoon is set in The Future, what with all the space stuff (remember that this was made in 1957, before actual manned spaceflight).  So, I suppose these things will still be au courant in the future:  pirates, knights, dragons, lugers, and (my personal favorite) Morse code.  That just about killed me.  Morse code.

I hope you all still want to be my friends, in spite of this orange weirdness.

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