When I had the cash, way back when, I used to go to a bunch of science fiction and fantasy conventions. No, I’d never dress up in fan costumes — I never wanted to. I wanted to go to hear the authors and the filmmakers talk about their work. I wanted to see movies and tv shows I’d never seen before. I wanted to see and buy art. I wanted books and posters and prints and t-shirts from the dealers room.
It was at a Balticon in the early ’80s when I first learned that Superman cartoons had been produced in the 1940s. It wasn’t even in the film room where I saw them; it was in an aisle outside the dealers room. Somebody had set up a tv and a vcr and was showing a few of them for the crowd.
I stood there transfixed until, during the third cartoon, Maria tugged me away. The animation was elegant and stylized — clearly a period piece — and highly realistic, yet strangely stereotypical at the same time. Even then, at first glance, I knew that the artists who made those cartoons were better than Disney’s at that time.
Paramount, who had the film rights to Superman at that time, paid the Max Fleischer Studio an exorbitant amount of money to make that series of cartoons, and it shows on the screen. The animation is without parallel; and if the stories seem hokey — and they are — then the quality of the art makes up for it. Subtle shadings; special effects. Superman didn’t fly — he leapt far distances in a semblance of flying. And the the theme music! If you watch the cartoons all in one sitting, I guarantee you won’t be able to get that theme out of your head for days.
The Fleischer Studios merged with another studio during production and they finished the series in 1942. The cartoons have been available for a long time in unofficial formats, both dvd and vhs, but the prints have been scratchy, flawed and seem amateurish. Warner Home Video eventually cleaned them up and restored them, and placed the cartoons in several Superman dvd sets during the last years, combining them with the Christopher Reeve movies. This April . . . well, here’s the info from Wikipedia:
On April 7th, 2009, yet another release will be made, this time a collection of all the cartoons released by Warner Home Video as the first authorized collection from the original masters, titled Max Fleischer’s Superman: 1941-1942 with a suggested price at $26.99; the set will include one new special feature in the form of “The Man, The Myth, Superman” featurette, along with an old special feature seen in the Superman II 2006 DVD release entitled “First Flight: The Fleischer Superman Series“.
What are you waiting for? Go reserve your set. While you’re at it, get one of these, too: