A writer from the UK contacted me recently with the news that he is writing a book about ThunderCats. I wrote four scripts for the series, which later became a beloved media fetish object. ("Honey, what are you doing with that plush toy?") The writer wants me to reminisce about cartoons and recall stories of my writing cohorts. Well, some are dead, others had out of body (and mind) experiences, and still others are perfectly happy today, procreating, creating fiction and shopping.
There was Bill Overgard. I met him once: I remember only a leather jacket and a puff of smoke; a man of mystery. I had no idea he was a comics icon, a veteran of 31 years of drawing Steve Roper and Mike Nomad, and a protege of Milton Caniff who assisted Caniff on Steve Canyon. Bill wrote screenplays and novels, and when his scripts for ThunderCats came in I had no clue how we were going to get the animators to turn these adventurous works of literature into cartoons.
Every ThunderCats script was reviewed by a psychologist to be sure it would be a positive experience for the young viewer. It worked! If you check the statistics during the period the cartoon aired, you'll see that murder rates went down, school attendance went up and SAT scores went through the roof. When kids weren't scoring really high on their SATs or busy not committing crimes they were peeing their beds, scared to death with nightmares of Mumm-Ra, the bad guy of ThunderCats.
When I look back I wonder: Why did I get that job and why was it useful? Why did my writing journey include furry superheroes? Here's a little story:
Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple Computer, went to Reed College for six months and then dropped out. He slept on the floor in friends' rooms and returned coke bottles for the five-cent deposit. He decided to take a calligraphy class. He learned about serif and san serif typefaces, the varying amount of space between letters and what makes for great typography. He found it fascinating and had no hope of it ever having any practical application in his life.
Ten years later he was designing the Mac computer and it all came back to him. The Mac became the first computer with beautiful typography. Other manufacturers copied the Mac and that's the reason we have all these fonts and we're not writing in courier; because Steve took calligraphy.
It's easy, of course, to connect the dots looking backward. Going forward, well, we've built life's road and we're walking along it. We're always preparing, but what are we preparing for?
My ThunderCats journey didn't have a map. In 1986 we'd just had our first child, I needed a job, my father knew a guy who knew a guy and I found myself in a room with Jules Bass, Arthur Rankin and Peter Lawrence. I couldn't have predicted how they would teach me about visual thinking, a skill I use every day, and also about being a superhero, a necessary thing for any journalist.