Confessions of a Comic Book Guy is a weekly column by retailer Steve Bennett of Super-Fly Comics and Games in Yellow Springs, Ohio.  This week, Bennett discusses trends in cartoons on TV:


Not only did I grow up on a steady diet of cartoons, I still watch them; this admission should fill me with more shame than it does but luckily I’ve found it’s just not me.  One Saturday I got up early to service my car and while the oil was being changed I waited in the lounge, where thanks to its slightly out of focus color TV, I learned somebody actually cared enough to make a new version of Biker Mice From Mars.  (This is when Dirk Squarejaw, suburban minivan drive and part-time J.C. Penny catalog model (a.k.a. “regular guy”) entered, looked at the screen and asked, “You’re not watching this, are you?.” 


Years ago this sort of question might have sent me into a shame spiral but then I just said “No” and after a beat Dirk replied, “Oh, I watch cartoons; just not this one.”  Of course ordinary guys watch cartoons; corporate America is counting on it.  It’s why they’ve made a movie out of Land of the Lost and there are upcoming big screen versions of Sigmund & the Sea Monsters (totally called it), Yogi Bear, and Mighty Mouse.*  And it’s not just because these characters have enormous Q ratings, it’s because in a era when post-ironic cynicism hovers near absolute zero, childhood favorites provide ready access to both our hearts and wallets.


The peculiar institution that was Saturday Morning Television is going the way of the digest sized TV Guide, with only a couple players still in the field, the strangest of which being that 4Kids operates two networks, even if its programming does run at about 50% reruns.  But it did its job, giving a love of cartoons to the Baby Boomers and Generations X and Y who have never found a good enough reason to stop loving them once they got their driver’s licenses.


Last time I wrote about the reasons behind the sudden lack of anime on Adult Swim, and now I’d like to address its growing absence from kids’ TV.  I know it’s a radical notion but I’d like to suggest kids don’t (necessarily) like anime.  Oh, it was an easy mistake to make – kids loved Pokemon. It was anime so it stood to reason kids liked anime.  I’m sure they liked the art style and the monsters but I think kids really loved about the show was the wish fulfillment, the one at the core of all the successful Japanese imports from Yu-Gi-Oh! to Bakugan Battle Brawlers.  They all take place in a fantasy world where a kids’ game is vital to the ultimate battle between good and evil, and by playing it the hero becomes the most important person in the world (allowing them to ditch school, leave home and travel to exotic locations without adult supervision).


So while there are certainly elements of anime kids like (the creatures, the extremes of comedy and drama, heroes who clearly never have to comb their hair, etc.), they clearly don’t mind one bit watching them once they’ve become assimilated in cheap Flash animation European/Canadian imports that have supplanted anime like Chaotic, Da-Gata Defenders and even Johnny Test.


But anime that were hits in Japan that have nothing to do with playing some kind of game, like Shaman King, One Piece or Astro Boy have found it hard finding an audience in the USA.  Basic cable has an even twitchier trigger finger when it comes to underperforming programs, which is why Cartoon Network ditched the much more interesting Blue Dragon after only a couple of airings and Bakugan has become a hit for them.


But helpless in the thrall of things I loved when I was a kid, I’d like it if today’s kids could have the same kind of action/adventure shows I had, which is why I hope at least some of you caught the premiere of Jay Stephens' The Secret Saturdays (if you didn’t, it’s playing on the Cartoon Network Website) last Friday.  The elements are a rich stew of pulpy stuff I’d like to think of as timeless, but if I wrote “a cross between Jonny Quest  and The Herculoid” that would be pretty much right.


I suppose it says something about our world that it has gone completely unremarked upon that our young hero Zak is the first biracial hero of an American cartoon series, his father being essentially a black Doc Savage. The show is also self aware and sophisticated enough that its grotesque central villain V.V. Argost hides in plain sight as a reality TV host (though older viewers will recognize that for no apparent reason he looks more like an old local TV horror movie host).  And in a world that has The Venture Bros. in it, I suppose it only makes sense the pilot takes a moment to raise the concept of child endangerment, trying hard to differentiate between “adventure” and “danger.”


*I know it may not generate the highest Q ratings, but Hollywood is foolish if they don’t make a movie version of Danger Island, a live action segment of the old Banana Splits  show (which is something else I would have never thought could be revived, but right now the guys in costumes are currently appearing between shows on Cartoon Network).  Directed by Richard Donner (yes, that one), it was a serial about a group of explorers looking for the mythical city of Tubania, repeatedly menaced by pirates and some decidedly un-P.C. natives.  But it also featured Morgan, that rarest of things, a black adventure hero who ranks as one of the manliest males of the 1960s, the second manliest decade of the last century (somewhere between Captain Kirk and Gomez Addams).


The opinions expressed in this Talk Back article are solely those of the writer, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the editorial staff of