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I’m sorry to report that Lou Scheimer, co-founder and president of Filmation Studios, has passed away. He was 84.
You can trace a pretty direct line from Lou Scheimer’s work animating DC’s superheroes to my sitting here typing these words to you. It was the Filmation cartoons that were my original gateway drug to DC Comics, and that’s what led to, well, everything else. First The New Adventures of Superman, and then The Superman/Aquaman Hour.
Those were the ones that really imprinted on me, when I was seven years old. And today, over forty years later, I can still pull those DVDs off the shelf and feel something of the same visceral thrill I used to feel watching the opening credits of the Superman cartoon. Aquaman, too.
Sure, looking at those old cartoons today, all the seams show. They re-used shots, they had two or three actors doing a multitude of voices (sometimes it felt like the entire Filmation voice pool was Ted Knight and Melendy Britt) and the animation was so limited it was barely a half-step up from a slide show.
But I didn’t care about that when I was seven. Because for me it was all about story and imagination and those cartoons had it in spades. Alien invasions and otherdimensional travel and secret conspiracies reaching back hundreds of years. Filmation didn’t just introduce me to DC superheroes. It was also my road to Jules Verne, though their version of Journey to the Center of the Earth.
And to Isaac Asimov by way of their adaptation of Fantastic Voyage.
On a lighter note, Filmation’s also how I found out about Archie, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, and Josie and the Pussycats.
This indirectly led to my Cartooning class corresponding with Dan and Josie DeCarlo, decades later. (Some day I really am going to write up that story, it’s a good one.)
And of course there’s the Filmation version of Star Trek, which had some of the very best Trek stories ever done… I’m thinking in particular of “Yesteryear,” “Mudd’s Passion,” and “The Magicks of Megas-Tu,” though you might have other favorites.
Speaking of science fiction, I have very fond memories of the Filmation forays into live-action SF on Saturday morning. Jason of Star Command…
Along with Space Academy and Ark II.
I didn’t love them as much as I wanted to– but I did like them, and they hold up pretty well today considering they were shot on a budget of about eleven dollars an episode, Ark II in particular.
Filmation was responsible for the single most faithful adaptations of the Edgar Rice Burroughs Tarzan and the Alex Raymond Flash Gordon ever done in either live-action or animation, too.
Filmation also gave us the live-action Shazam and The Mighty Isis, two shows that apparently imprinted on the generation after mine as hard as their versions of Superman and Aquaman did on me.
And the generation after THAT had He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, along with She-Ra, Princess of Power.
Filmation Studios showed up in my life over and over again one way or another. Years after I had become a professional writer and artist myself (in large part because of what Lou Scheimer and his crew triggered in my childhood) I moved to Seattle and got a job teaching at the Alki Art Studio. It turned out that one of my studio colleagues was Barbara Benedetto, who had spent years as a background painter for Filmation.
She was largely retired by then, happy to spend her days painting landscapes and occasionally exhibiting at local galleries. I tried several times to persuade her to come and talk to my Cartooning kids, but she was horrified at the idea of getting up in front of a crowd– even a crowd of twelve-year-olds that would have thought she was a goddess. But she did give me a bunch of old cels and background paintings that I still use in class today.
When Filmation director Hal Sutherland was in town for Emerald City a few years back I told him that he and his colleagues were responsible for a huge part of my life. He laughed and said, “God, I hope you don’t regret it.” I assured him I didn’t and thanked him profusely for his part in shaping what ended up being a life spent around comics and cartoons. He signed a print of the animated Enterprise for us that we had framed. It’s hanging just in front of me in the office as I type this.
I knew Lou Scheimer was doing conventions too, and I had nursed the hope that maybe someday I’d be able to get him to sign our Trek print as well, and to thank HIM for what Filmation Studios did for me and mine. Sadly, that’s not going to happen now.
I do regret that…. but at least I got to thank him here, sort of. Rest in peace, Mr. Scheimer.
There’s lots more about Scheimer and Filmation in the wonderful book he did with Andy Mangels from TwoMorrows, Lou Scheimer: Creating The Filmation Generation.
Very much recommended.
See you next week.
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