As if 2020 weren't bad enough, I recently read of the death of animation giant Ken Spears, co-creator of the classic television cartoon Scooby Do Where Are You! (sic). To compound this bummer, I also learned that Ken Spears' friend and collaborator Joe Ruby died last August (and am somewhat chastened by not having known this when it happened). The original 'Scooby Doo', which I blogged about last year on its 50th anniversary, was an improbable mélange of slapstick comedy, Gothic trappings, bubblegum pop, and mystery procedural. Each episode was formulaic (the 'gang' would drive into town in their groovy van and encounter a mystery involving a haunting, then hijinx would ensue until the gang could determine the nature of the mystery), but the formula was a winner. There would always be a slapsticky chase scene accompanied by a pop song, brainy Velma would amass clues, clever Fred would build a Rube-Goldberg contraption to thwart the 'monster', accident-prone Daphne would trip a secret door and disappear for a bit, cowardly gluttons Shaggy and Scooby would inexplicably find the ingredients to make enormous sandwiches, and a cast of malfeasors voiced by Don Messick would be exposed by the meddling kids.
The Scooby Doo series was, in an era in which there was a mainstream backlash against the subversive youth culture, unabashedly pro-teenager. The meddling kids invariably foiled the plots of petty crooks who used deception to further their own ends... we could have used them for the past four years:
The show was also unabashedly pro-reason... the supernatural manifestations always turned out to be smoke-and-mirrors illusions perpetrated by local crooks trying to scare people away so they could bring their nefarious plans to fruition. Empiracism beats superstition, inquiry beats fear. By keeping your eyes open and your wits about you, and trusting your friends, you could figure out what's really going on and save the day.
Ken Spears and Joe Ruby went on to form their own production company in 1977, and among other cartoons, produced the post-apocalyptic Conan-Meets-Star Wars adventure cartoon Thundarr the Barbarian in collaboration with comic book titans Jack Kirby and Alex Toth. Too bad there wasn't a Scooby Doo/Tundarr crossover, with the Mystery Gang pitting their wits against savagery, super-science, and sorcery. Still, if their only contribution to cartoon history was creating the Scooby Doo Industrial Complex, they would be considered titans.
Again, the original Scooby Doo series was a beacon of reason in an era which produced supernatural thrillers such as Rosemary's Baby and The Exorcist... and told us that the Devil wasn't the villain of the story, only greedy Old Man Higgins from the opening scene.
As a coda to this panegyric for Messers Ruby and Spears, I have to note that skeptic and debunker James Randi also died this year after a lifetime of exposing fraudulent claims of the supernatural and paranormal. I don't know if he was a fan of the cartoon, but I imagine he would have supported its premise.