Today on the Blog I’m delighted to be able to feature a guest post by Jen Williams, author of The Copper Promise (complete novel) (Copper Cat) and The Iron Ghost (Copper Cat), whose latest novel The Silver Tide (Copper Cat)
(reviewed here) is out today – happy book birthday, Jen!
I asked Jen if she would write me a guest blog about something she was enthusiastic and passionate about, and she asked, would 80’s cartoons be ok? Now, as someone who spent far too much of her formative years watching cartoons, what else could I say but “hell yeah!”
So may I present, without further ado…
The Haunting Leotards of 80’s Cartoons
They say there are some things from your childhood that you shouldn’t revisit. Rounders, puberty, chicken pox… Staying round a friend’s house once I noticed that he had the entirety of Dungeons and Dragons on DVD, a cartoon I was very fond of as a kid. Solemnly he prized the box set from my mitts. ‘No Jen,’ he said, ‘you’ll only be disappointed.’
Never being one to listen to advice, over the last year or so my partner and I have been watching some old Saturday morning cartoons, and I have to tell you it has been entertaining, satisfying, and even enlightening. Let me tell you some things about 80s cartoons that won’t have been immediately obvious when we originally watched them, eating cocoa pops in our My Little Pony pyjamas.
Tygra had a drug problem
Let’s get this out of the way. Tygra is my favourite Thundercat, okay? He had a deeply cheesy voice, could make himself invisible, and he was an architect. An invisible architect
with a whip. Come on. He could also create ‘illusions’, which happened in one episode (the rather excellent ‘Lion-O’s Anointment) but it makes him really tired, so don’t ask him to do it too often, yeah? Or, indeed, at all. Unfortunately for me, Tygra very rarely got an episode to himself, and even gets mostly phased out towards the end of series two, replaced by Bengali, who is essentially Tygra with a slightly more hilarious voice. And when Tygra does get an episode to showcase his awesomeness, he immediately gets addicted to drugs. I shit you not.
In one episode he becomes addicted to a fruit given to him by a strange plant lady who is actually Mumm-ra (not his finest hour). In another, he becomes addicted to the effects of a magical stone that makes the holder feel invincible. This is a particularly alarming episode, and I watched it with my eyebrows gradually creeping up towards my hairline – not only does Tygra become a total dick, obsessed with the stone, but it also starts to have a physical effect on him; he looks ill, with gaunt cheeks and dark circles around his eyes. And no one mentions it, which actually makes it worse. Poor Tygra. Don’t do drugs, kids.
Snarf was an actual saint and deserves your respect
Now, I know Snarf looked like a weird cat/care-bear/lizard hybrid and when we were at
school the least popular kid got forced to be Snarf in any playground games, but let me tell you, Snarf has been done wrong. Yes, he has an annoying voice and doesn’t sport a fancy leotard like the rest of the Thundercats, but without him they would be lost. Not only is Snarf Lion-O’s nanny, looking after the little sod probably from birth (and even after he has grown into a hulking giant of an orange-thighed man) Snarf also cooks all their food, does maintenance around the Cat’s Lair AND the Tower of Omens, keeps the place tidy and is repeatedly electrocuted for his trouble. He probably does everyone’s laundry too, and the Cat’s Lair isn’t even designed for a creature of his stature! And what does he get for looking after this precious bunch of leotard-botherers? They gather in a circle at the end of every episode to laugh at him. Nice.
Other things to note about Snarf – his real name is Osbert, and he’s not as irritating as his nephew Snarfer.
Dungeon Master was a prick
Oh Dungeon Master, with your big blue eyes and your pleasingly round head, your words of wisdom and cryptic clues. So sweet, so trustworthy. Nonsense! Re-watching Dungeons and Dragons it becomes clear very swiftly that Dungeon Master has no intention of ever sending the kids home, at least not while he’s playing power games with Venger, his son. Look mate, you clearly have some complicated family issues, so maybe just have a sit down with your son (and his rather bad-ass and only-mentioned-once sister, Karena) and hash it out. Don’t, for example, steal away a bunch of hapless children, dump a bunch of dubious ‘weapons’ on them and then watch, no doubt chortling to yourself, as they are very nearly killed on a weekly basis. If you ever doubt that Dungeon Master was a ruthless shit, witness the episode where Hank and the gang come across the skeletal remains of Dungeon Master’s previous pawns – the inference is that he has had many pupils over the centuries, and they’re all dead. All because he won’t let Venger paint his room black, or something.
Kudos to Dungeons and Dragons for not entirely hiding from this fact – a couple of the darker episodes do feature Dungeon Master being shifty, and Eric calling him on it, because:
Eric was the voice of sanity
Eric the Cavalier was always my favourite when I was little – I remembered pretty nothing else about the cartoon as an adult, but I remembered this. Watching it again, it’s obvious that Eric is meant to be the smart-mouth comedy character, the one who gets things wrong and shows himself up to be a coward. However, the writers of D&D were a tiny bit more subversive than that. Eric is who we would be, if we were in his situation. When
Dungeon Master turns up spouting his ‘you must look for the key of light in the door of darkness’ nonsense, we would also be the ones saying ‘fuck that shit, how do we get HOME?’ Eric even, bless him, writes down what Dungeon Master says in an effort to decode his clues (for clues, read MASSIVE LIES) and let’s face it, if we were shown the portal home, we’d be hot on Eric’s heels as he sprinted through it, bellowing ‘Fuck the unicorn, I’m off!’
Interestingly, most of the characters got a sort of ‘love interest episode’, and Eric’s featured a rather bishy-looking boy who he became instant snarky-besties with and, uh, shared his cloak with at night. He even went off after the kid when he ran away, just in case he got himself murdered – quite a thing for Eric to do, given he was the coward of the group. You go, subversive Eric.
Cheetara was a bad ass and didn’t even care
When I was a kid and we played Thundercats in the playground, we used to run races to see who would have the honour of being Cheetara. It’s possible that I came up with this system, because I was about a foot taller than everyone else and therefore pretty good at running (I was the same height when I left primary school as I am now. Talk about an early growth spurt). Thankfully, watching as a grown-up, Cheetara is still brilliant. It’s true that she doesn’t get a huge amount to do (still more than Tygra) but she does do a lot of stuff – she pilots the various space vehicles, gets to drive the Thundertank, does science stuff in space, runs around beating up the mutants whilst having epic hair. She is also secretly the most powerful of the Thundercats in that she has super-useful psychic powers, which she can’t use very often because it makes her very tired… Ahem. Cheetara is never a love interest for anyone in the group, which is weirdly refreshing (there is one odd scene where she makes a mildly flirty comment at Lion-O, but you can kind of feel everyone involved grimacing and shuddering at how wrong that feels) and there is only really one moment of ‘jeez, women are silly’, when she briefly becomes obsessed with some gold they find. But, you know, Cheetara would look totally fierce with some bling so I’m willing to let that one pass.
Thanks very much to Jen for bringing back some memories (as well as inadvertently traumatising me with Eric / Presto – I need a few cups of tea to recover from that). Don’t forget that The Silver Tide is out TODAY in all good bookshops – it’s a fabulous read, so go get it! And Jen is also interviewed by those sterling folks at Fantasy Faction this morning, so check that out to, but beware of spoilers for books one and two…