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Television Cartoon Shows: An Illustrated Encyclopedia, 1949-1993
The first 55 years of television animation laid bare
Television Cartoon Shows:An Illustrated Encyclopedia,
1949-1993

Hal Erickson
McFarland & Company
640 pp.
It's about time someone devoted an entire book to television cartoons. The 'toons on the tube greatly outnumber feature-length animation, either in terms of hours or individual titles. It can also be said that made-for-TV cartoons are more diverse in content and style than animated theatrical output.

Until now, the only guide to television cartoons has been Jeff Lenburg's The Encyclopedia of Animated Cartoons. Lenburg's book is a good overall reference for theatrical and TV cartoons, movies, series, and TV specials. Unfortunately, in covering such a wide range, it skimps a bit on detail. It's also rife with errors.

Television Cartoon Shows, having a bit more focus, is significantly more in-depth. A typical Lenburg entry would have the title, dates, a brief description, episode titles, and credits for the producer, director, and principal voice actors. Television Cartoon Shows has all this save the episode listing, and throws in additional credits for such things as character design, music, background design, and editing. The voice credits are comprehensive, including guest voices where applicable--the listing for Batman: The Animated Series takes up over a full column.

Where Television Cartoon Shows really shines is in its prose. The book opens with a broad history of television animation in the United States, then a brief introductory note. The entries in the body of the encyclopedia itself are personal, wry, and generally relate a given show to what was happening in the world of TV animation at the time. Unlike Lenburg, Erickson makes sure that we can relate how an individual show fits into the overall scheme of things. Shows are related to one another in terms of content or artistic influence, and we see how shifting winds with respect to politics and pressure groups have affected the content of various shows.

This is a big plus, and overshadows the book's only failing: like Lenburg's book, it's also chock full of errors. The first entry I looked at arbitrarily (X-Men) contained three errors early in the entry, and more accumulated as I continued. I went through 29 shows that I know fairly well, and found mistakes in 11 of them. One hopes revisions will be forthcoming.

In the meantime, this book is still an excellent resource. While the details on a given show might be suspect, the "big picture" approach is more than welcome. Is anyone working on a similar book for theatrical cartoons?

Originally printed in fps #8 (Winter 1996)
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