Episode Zero: A Prologue…
It’s the kind of lesson that can only play out on Black Friday, a day that in the past was considered to be the unofficial starting bell to Xmas, and that has this year become the sequel to Black Thursday, a day that old-timers like myself once referred to as Thanksgiving. It’s the kind of lesson that can only play one day in the year, today, Black Friday, as I prepare for my Skype with Andy Mangels (my first Skype interview; truth be told Skype will just break your heart—putting you in a place where you watch all those gigs of data fly by, only to get you to a place where you’re ok with watching all those gigs of data fly by; something dies inside when you think of that in terms of ‘90s interview what with its Yahoo! sideshow and its AOL carousel, but it’s also something that you probably no longer remember not wanting to see die). The simple lesson of Black Friday is this; there’s a difference between wealth and glut.
Wealth isn’t what the GOP assumed the strike against its most recent Presidential Nominee would be. It isn’t a measure of the money you have in the bank. But is how you made bank. It is the skills you developed to earn the material and monetary and experiential moments you’ve engaged in on your trip forward through life. It is sharing in Walt Whitman or in Edgar Allan Poe. It is Jay-Z’s new album as much for Jay-Z himself, as for the loyal fans. And in a very real sense it is the emotional and psychological yield that comes from decades of fans engaging with Lou Scheimer’s life’s work—Filmation.
“My big hope is really of course is that [Lou Scheimer: Creating the Filmation Generation] will have a success beyond just a niche market. But really what I wanted to do with the book, and what Lou wanted to do with me with the book was to talk honestly about how television changed and adapted over the years, what role Filmation played in that honestly, and what were the successes, what were the failures, things like that”, Andy says over the digital wasteland that is the 21st century on Skype.
There’s a strangely energetic turn to Andy Mangels’ voice. Himself an accomplished popculture historian, Andy brings a seasoned optimism and a practicable creative insight to the book he coauthors with Lou Scheimer. As Andy’s voice crackles into life over the ghostland of Skype’s VOIP engine, some strange and distant, almost primordial, energy kicks in. There’s diffuse hesitancy rather than an specific hesitation, that’s the perfectionist in Andy measuring that what he says is accurate, as much as on the fly wanting to ensure his meaning is as accessible as it can be. But there’s also a kind of hopefulness mixed in—a sort of second wind for the spirit of popculture. With just his tone, Andy speaks volumes about the nature of the Lou Scheimer project.
Left to Right (Caricature): Hal Sutherland, Lou Scheimer, Norm Prescott (with Ira Epstein in inset) (caricature by Eddie Friedman)
“The hope with the book is that it will actually, both entertain the audience who reads it, because there’re some fantastic stories that are told within the book. But also that it will really give them a sense as to how did television animation, how did Saturday morning television develop… how did the syndicated animation market develop…how did we get from Point A at the beginning of television where they were only utilizing theatrical cartoons repackaged for television, to the point in the late ‘80s where Filmation ended where every single day there were 20 or 30 original series on, to Cartoon Network.
“All of those things are discussed in the book, the hows and the whys. We talk about the various animation strikes and why those happened, and what effect CGI had on the industry—Filmation was one of the first companies if not the first to actually utilize CGI in a cartoon, that was Flash Gordon. The hope is that this will really put into context Filmation’s place in history, but also, on a larger level, put into context the entire history of television animation. And it’s why the book is so big, I mean, it’s a big book, and it’s very dense…”
As the conversation unfolds, we begin to unwind. It’s easy to talk to Andy; his passion for the project as clearly visible as his mastery of craft is in writing the book. But if there’s one theme we return to, time and again, a theme that neither of us mention by name, it’s that of wealth versus glut. It’s the same theme that Bill Gibson responds to in his most recent trilogy, that began with 2002’s Pattern Recognition and ended with 2010’s Zero History.
What Gibson struggled with was the idea of complexity. It’s clear enough as a theme in Zero History when Cayce and Hollis talk about the economic and social complexity required to make “simple” denim from the 1920s. But it’s also apparent the earlier volume, Spook Country’s surveillance and self-surveillance dramas, and in Pattern Recognition’s protagonist chasing down a viral video. Gibson’s grand idea for this most recent trilogy is a radical inversion of traditional scifi. It’s the idea that given social complexity of the present, it’s not only more interesting but perhaps even more appropriate, perhaps even more honest to be writing scifi set in the present. Gibson’s already mentioned that between situations like the AIDS pandemic, the Mayan calendar terminating, climate change and economic collapse that the actual 21st century is far stranger than any 21st century imagined in literature.
Talking with Andy now, this reads very much like a wrestling with the idea of glut, a moment when wealth grows so complex and so abstracted, it loses all accessibility. And if anything, what Andy says next defines how Filmation and how Lou’s life’s work manage to escape that cage of far-too-much.
To Be Continued…