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Alex Toth and The Herculoids helped define science fiction in animation

By Dany Roth
The Herculoids

From 1957 until around 1964, Hanna-Barbera was an animation company defined by its stable of animal stars: Huckleberry Hound, Yogi Bear, Quickgraw McGraw, Ruff and Reddy, and Top Cat. Each of these characters were of a theme, one that would change drastically by 1967.

In a way the writing was on the wall, that a seismic shift was coming for Hanna-Barbera. With The Flinstones, they started exploring the speculative prehistoric past in 1960 and with The Jetsons they did the same for the future in 1962. Combined with Johnny Quest in 1964, Hanna-Barbera was starting to move in a very different direction.

But it wasn't until the folks behind the popular animation house caught on to the work of Alex Toth that the game really started to change. Toth worked on a series called Space Angel, which attracted the attention of Hanna-Barbera. They brought him on for a little show called Space Ghost which you may have heard of. That show, unlike the other speculative properties before it, was, as the title suggests, set in space.

But what makes Toth a true icon, a cartoonist's cartoonist, is his ability to create dynamic and original characters with simplicity. Space Ghost has a very simple design, even though he's a superhero in space with two kid sidekicks and a monkey.

Space Ghost is a triumph of animation, but it's what would come next that really starts to set the bar for Hanna-Barbera and for science fiction in animation forever after. A year after Space Ghost started airing, a new show was released: The Herculoids. Herculoids is set on an alien world, Amzot, where a simultaneously prehistoric and futuristic family lives. Three of the family are humans, or, at least, human-ish. But the show also features a flying space dragon named Zok, a rock ape named Igoo, a ten-legged rhinosaurus with a projectile-firing horn named Tundro, and two amorphous blobs named Gleep and Gloop. A thoroughly modern family, if ever there was.

The Herculoids ran for only 18 episodes in 1967 but returned again in 1981 as part of a Space Stars lineup of Hanna-Barbera's science fiction characters. The impact of the show is enormous. You can see its influence on Star Trek, which was also airing at the time. You can draw a line between The Herculoids and Star Wars, even. Toth, himself inspired by the works of Ray Harryhausen, would go on to influence animators and comic book artists for decades after. And The Herculoids is arguably the crown jewel of his achievements because every episode featured dynamic new creatures, all totally original and all perfectly simple. 

Creator of upcoming the Sword and Scandal podcast, Chico Leo, joins Every Day Animation to talk about Alex Toth, The Herculoids, and the way that show and its creator inspired cartoons to embrace the genre of science fiction and how science fiction grew as a whole.

On the next episode of Every Day Animation, creator of the Nyx Fears YouTube channel, May Leitz, talks about the man, the myth, the not-actually-a-man-at-all, Invader Zim. Get ready to talk about body horror for kids!

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