Few people have heard of it, yet many consider John Blankenbaker's KENBAK-1 to be the first commercial personal computer.

Koss introduced these headphones over 40 years ago, and they remain affordable favorites to this day.

Superman - Heroic Animation That Still Astonishes Today

In the early 40s, Superman was a big hit in the comics and on the radio. Paramount held the rights to bring the Man of Steel to the silver screen, but they knew it would be expensive and difficult to depict Superman's amazing abilities in live action. They turned instead to Fleischer Studios, the animation studio run by brothers Max & Dave Fleischer and home of Betty Boop and Popeye. The Fleischers were slowing production of Betty Boop cartoons, thanks to the Hayes Code (an early form of movie content censorship) which demanded that theSUPERWEEk mini logo Fleischers cool down what they viewed as Boop's salacious antics. Superman could be another hit for their studio, a technical showcase for amazing new animation effects work, and of course the chance to work in dazzling full Technicolor.

The Fleischers feared that a Superman cartoon might be TOO significant a challenge to bring to life. It wasn't impossible, of course, but the difficulty also stemmed from having a studio staff much more accustomed to drawing funny bouncy animal characters. Hoping to spook Paramount, the Fleischers budgeted the first Superman cartoon at an unheard of $100,000 - many times greater thant the cost of any theatrical short. Surprisingly Paramount didn't flinch. They so wanted to cash in on the Superman craze that they negotiated the Fleischers down to $50,000 for the pilot film, and $30,000 per monthly episode (nearly $450,000 in today's money, and twice what it cost to make a Popeye cartoon).

_Model sheetThe main challenge was to create a cast of realistic-looking characters, and in the case of Superman to create a realistic character doing things that had never been captured on film before. Even the master draftsmen at Disney's and Warner's had significant difficulty in bringing realistic human forms to animation. Snow White hit theaters just a few years before with a realistic lead character which was achieved mostly through a technique originally invented by the Fleischers called "rotoscoping". In rotoscoping, animators start with specially-shot live footage, and essentially trace the action frame-by-frame onto animation cels. Surprisingly, the Fleischers they employed this technique very little in Superman. They reasoned that it was going to be too difficult to rotoscope actions like picking up heavy objects, and other super feats. Pure animation was the way to convey these actions best. Through some brilliantly efficient techniques and a lot of hard work, _holding up buildingFlesicher Studios' animation of the (super) human form has seldom been bested.

Not only are these classic 17 cartoons a breakthrough in animation, but they also gave birth to a number of traits that became permanent trademarks of the Man of Steel. The "Faster than a speeding bullet..." pre-amble came from the cartoon (made even more famous by its use in the TV series a decade later), as well as the rousing opening music that was later adopted by the radio series. Most significantly, it is in the cartoon that Superman went from leaping to flying. In the comics, Superman did a lot of jumping around (hence the line "able to leap tall buildings in_flight a single bound"). Once animated, the Fleishers felt that the leaping action looked silly, so with DC Comics' permission, Superman gained the ability to fly. Students of animation should note how effectively the cartoons convey weight and mass, even when Superman is in flight - a feat that animators on Disney's "Peter Pan"would duplicate a decade later.

_robo shootThe cartoon series of 17 installments ran theatrically from 1941-1943. The first 9 cartoons pitted Superman against science fiction type enemies; mad scientists, monsters, and some really looking brilliant fire breathing robots. Midway through the series, trouble at the Fleischer Studios resulted in Paramount taking over the animation house and renaming it "Famous Studios". The second block of 8 cartoons maintained the high quality and amazing sense of design established by the first batch, but took on a different tone. The second half of Superman became a vehicle for WWII propaganda in the shadow of the attack on Pearl Harbor midway through the series. Supes sabotages Nazi plans, and we even get a cameo of an enraged Hitler at the end of "Jungle Drums".

_lavaParamount lost interest in the series, citing rising costs and waning interest in the central character. Yet Paramount always claimed that "Superman" was their most profitable cartoon series. In the 50s, the shorts were sold to a television distributor, and then through administrative carelessness the copyright on the series wasn't renewed. All 17 shorts are in the public domain, which is why you see them on so many cheap DVD compilations of classic cartoons. That's also why it's hard to secure a really good quality collection of all 17 cartoons - it seems that no one wants to invest in a good quality HD restoration when the cartoons are widely available for free.

_laserThe 90's saw a still-lauded VHS release from Bosko Video that was mastered from the original 35mm elements, and later in the 2000s the cartoons were included with various repackaging of the Christopher Reeve films. Even when those packages were released in HD, the Superman cartoons remained stubbornly in standard definition. The 35mm master elements still exist and are owned by Warner Brothers, but for some reason there are still no Blu Ray versions of these pivotal & influential cartoons available anywhere.

Even though I wish that there were better quality prints of Superman to share, that shouldn't stop any of you who haven't experienced these cartoons yet _sparky(and we've provided links to a couple of favorites). There's a reason why these cartoons are still a source of continued study and influence today. While the political climate that begat the last batch does include unfortunate stereotyping of our wartime enemies, but its worth getting past that to watch the complete series. Even after 70 years, the Flesicher Superman cartoons remain among the finest Golden Age animation ever committed to motion-picture film. 


Fleischer Superman - The Mad Scientist
Fleischer Superman - The Magnetic Telescope
Fleischer Superman - Terror On The Midway 


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