Thursday, February 03, 2005
Scott McCloud, Space Angel
I can remember, as a very young ape in the 1960s, watching our old black and white TV and a cartoon called Space Angel. Freaky is a good description of this program. And I loved it! I used to pretend I was Scott McCloud and I was the captain of the Starduster. McCloud and his two cohorts traveled through space fighting bad guys.
The Starduster was this cool rocket/plane spaceship in which the heroes rode around the galaxy. I remember being totally absorbed into this alternate hipster goofball universe. I might be wrong, but I think I remember the picture of the rocket with an actual flame superimposed over the back end to make it look like the Starduster was haulin' arse. Isn't she a beaut'?
This was not a cartoon in the traditional sense. It was more like a comic book. The animation was almost non-existent, consisting of cool frame drawings of scenes with dialog voiced over. But the wackiest part of it all was that the characters, although paralyzed in every other way, moved their lips when they talked. Very much like on Conan O'Brien's show, when he would "interview" Bill Clinton, and they would have a picture of Clinton with a pair of live-action lips superimposed on the photo where his lips would be. It is hard to describe if you haven't seen it. The technique was called Synchro-Vox. So they would film the actor's lips while speaking the dialog, and superimpose this on the character's drawing. Nothing else would happen in the frame of the cartoon except the moving of the lips.
The main character on the show (Scott McCloud) wore an eye patch. A freaking eye patch! So let's get this straight- civilization had advanced to the point where we could build space stations and zip around the universe in complicated rocketry, but nothing else had yet been found suitable to replace a simple black eye patch. At any rate, it did give our hero quite an interesting look.
The other characters on the show, besides Scott McCloud (who was Space Angel) were Taurus, the Scottish mechanic/engineer (yes, this was before Star Trek), and Crystal Mace, the navigator babe. Taurus was voiced by Mayberry town drunk Otis Campbell (Hal Smith). As a preschooler, my favorite character was Space Angel himself, but my older brother liked Taurus the best. Probably because of his thick accent. There was also a guy who as I remember was sort of Space Angel's boss, and also a scientist guy who I found out was Crystal's daddy. But these two never traveled with McCloud, Taurus, or Mace.
You can kind of tell from the picture below that their lips are real persons lips, and you can sort of visualize them moving, perfectly synchronized, as the character talked. The technology I thought was kind of cool, but I've read elsewhere that this was nothing more than a cheap way to animate. Even funnier, to save even more money, they would sometimes place a microphone in front of the character's mouth, so they didn't even have to employ the Synchro-Vox (like in the middle picture above). The same people who did this cartoon did one a few years earlier called Clutch Cargo, using the same technique.
I had almost totally forgot about this until in 2002 I stumbled across the website Toon Tracker. If you love old cartoons, this is a great website. They even have the Space Angel theme you can play. It was not until then that I even discovered this series was in color. Since we had a black and white TV, I never knew. I recently found out from Amazon that there are actual episodes out there. I would guarantee if some cable network got a hold of these, this program would make a comeback and become a cult classic. That's a lead pipe lock. It is that fascinating to watch. Google Space Angel and there are a lot of great links.
Frigging Space Angel. Hilarious. What a trip.