Oh, how many of us misspent our youth by rushing home from school and forgetting all about our homework to vegetate in front of “He-Man and the Masters of the Universe” or ancient reruns of “The Flintstones”? Well, the idea of reading a hernia-inducing, two-volume encyclopedia of such animated trifles may actually seem like homework. At least it might until you delve into Hal Erickson’s delightful though dryly titled Television Cartoon Shows: An Illustrated Encyclopedia, 1949-2003. The great surprise of these books is not that their 950-plus pages bulge with history (I was unaware of how troubled the first season of “The Simpsons” was…or that “Ren & Stimpy” creator John Kricfalusi, who’d address his Nickelodeon bosses as “scum-sucking pigs,” was as irreverently outrageous as his dog and cat team), production info, trivia (Wait… “Scooby Doo” was patterned after “The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis”? Jodie Foster voiced Pugsley on the “Addams Family” cartoon? Belgium produced nine Smurfs feature films in the sixties?), and criticism; it’s that Erickson captures the fun of his topic with writing that is polished and informative but also cracks wise quite regularly. What a relief.
I defy anyone to pick up these books and not immediately leap to her or his favorite shows, and Erickson generally does not disappoint by giving due room and attention to cult items such as “Duck Man” and “Liquid Television” as well as perennial favorites like “Space Ghost” and “The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show”. If there’s a significant flaw to this collection it's that it does not live up to its “Illustrated” designation a bit more, but I guess more pictures would have necessitated a third volume, and I’m not sure my puny, sunshine and exercise-deprived, “Groovie Goolies”-weakened muscles would be capable of lifting it.
Television Cartoon Shows: An Illustrated Encyclopedia, 1949-2003 was originally published in 2005, and it is now going be reissued in its third revised edition. I received the second edition for review, so I'm not sure about what those new revisions entail.