|Picture from Deviantart.com|
Their first creation was Huckleberry Hound, a laconic blue dog named after Huckleberry Finn, who got into countless jams trying to fit into the human world.
Many other characters followed, in a bewildering variety of tv shows airing in prime time and on Saturday morning, until by the 1960s Hanna-Barbara was synonymous with television animation.
Kids could relate. We were constantly trying to be more, experience more, and constantly running against adult constrictions: "No, you're too young to do that."
Gay kids could especially relate. The heterosexual longing that we see in the Warner Brothers cartoons was nearly entirely absent. There are no wives (Doggie Daddy is a single parent), few girlfriends, few female characters of any sort. Instead, two males live together, an early glimpse of the gay subtexts that would eventually allow us to realize that "it's not raining upstairs."
I actually couldn't recount the plot of any particular cartoon. I just remember the distinctive Hanna-Barbera running style: legs spinning like airplane propellers, arms straight out in front of you, passing the same background scene over and over.
But it wasn't about the cartoons, it was about the characters. They appeared in mountains of toys, games, clothing, furniture, foodstuffs, and who knows what else? They became iconic images of childhood, familiar faces that guided us into the future, and now inform our memories of the past.
Yogi Bear seems to be balancing a box of his cereal on his bicep. Not really suggesting that he is particularly strong.
Many pastiches, fan creations, and tv shows have revisted the characters. But the DC Comics miniseries Exit, Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles, by Mark Russell and Mike Feehan, is by far the most complex.
Snagglepuss was a pink mountain lion with a flair for the theatrical, modeled after Bert Lahr. with three catchphrases: "Heavens to Murgatroyd!", "Exit, stage left!", and the intensifier "even.": "It's raining. Pouring, even."
He has a wife, but only as a beard, since he must keep his gay identity hidden in the harshly repressive world of the 1950s.
Early episodes involve his testimony before the House Un-American Activities Committee, and friendship with an aspiring writer named Augie Doggie, while he supervises a play about his early life. Then Huckleberry Hound drops in for a permanent visit.
Snagglepuss takes him to the Stonewall Inn, where Gay Liberation will be born in a few years. "It's the only place like it in New York, Maybe the world."
That's ridiculous. There were many gay bars in New York, and in most big cities.
Quick Draw McGraw, the police officer assigned to keep Stonewall under surveillance, gets a kickback for reporting that there are no "deviants." He turns out to be gay himself, and begins dating Huck. But when the bar is raided anyway, he betrays his boyfriend to save his career. Huck soon commits suicide.
A few years later, Huck's son, Huckleberry Hound Junior, comes to town in search of the truth about his famous father. Snagglepuss invites him, along with Quick Draw and other familiar Hanna-Barbara faces, to join the cast of a new animated tv series.
The storytelling is competent, if a bit contrived, and I like the world where animals and humans co-exist.
But it's way too angst-ridden and depressing for my tastes. I like my comics funny.
And what, precisely, is the point of usinng Hanna-Barbera characters to tell this story? It would work just as well without them.
See also: Yogi Bear and Boo-Boo