Parents today can delight in Scooby Doo for several reasons, but there’s crackin’ deep history there too.
Today, Scooby and company enchant my daughter so much that she requests that I tell her bedtime stories about the Mystery Inc gang. And I can because their story logic is wrapped into my psyche. True, Daphne has evolved into a functional adventurer instead of a damsel, and Velma has developed a nerdy chic, but Fred is still in the closet and Shaggy still smokes the wacky tobacky offscreen. Ruh roh! As I told my umpteenth Scooby story, I wondered where did the gang and the cowardly mutt come from. Harken!
In the late 1960s, a parent group, A.C.T. (Aimless Control Tyrants), worried about violence in cartoons, and lobbied against them. Our jaded, modern minds might look at Jonny Quest, the Herculoids, and Space Ghost and wonder – “what violence?” – but back then cartoons were supposed to focus solely on mouse-on-cat violence. While we can credit the A.C.T. for limiting some nefarious marketing activities aimed at kids, they effectively killed all the cool cartoons. Lame fair like the Archies replaced it.
If you’ve stood in a grocery checkout line and flipped through a mild-to-the-point-of-suicide-would-be-fun Archies comic while waiting for grandma to figure out her new debit card, then you know why some TV executive finally said: deliver me from this poxy shite.
Enter the only pre-Pixar animation outfit to rival Disney: Hanna-Barbera. Main H-B writers, Joe Ruby and Ken Spears, created Scooby scripts that were actually scary, and Iwao Takamoto’s art did not feature a Great Dane, but they were eventually toned down, and the tiny dog evolved into skittish Scoob. Takomoto learned art in Manzanar, the WW2 internment camp for Americans that looked Japanese, so Scoob touches that tragedy as well. Thank Takei we’re past those times (Guantanowhat?). Takomoto also directed Charlotte’s Web (which was written by author E.B. White, who also penned Stuart Little, and was presumably the funnier half of Strunk and White, the grammar gurus).
Back to Scooby Doo. Go and search for images of the 60’s black-and-white TV show, Dobie Gillis. Look for a young, goateed Maynard Krebs aka Gilligan. That’s Shaggy. Scooby Doo was influenced by Dobie Gillis, 40’s radio serial, I Love a Mystery, and Enid Blyton’s Famous Five mystery books. Or so Wikipedia tells me.
After Scooby-success paid for their diamond-encrusted bell-bottoms, Ruby-Spears knew shame with the Jabberjaw cartoon, but also managed to scrawl catchy tunes with Josie and the Pussycats (try not to sing the theme song once you’ve heard it), and then they finally came full circle to reclaim that old Herculoids fun with the ultimate hero of post-apocalyptic earth: Thundarr the Barbarian.
Princess Ariel. Ucla the Mok. Super-sorcery and sun swords. Fuck yeah.