Curioverse

Spaceman Jax

Spaceman Jax and the Galactic Adventures was first broadcast in 1961, sponsored by Sunnington Morn Breakfast Cereals. It was created by Bill Pendergast and Leo Ulrich, and designed by Philip La Carta (who also designed Brigadier Buffalo and Manfred J. Platypus, P.I.). The show was the first big success for p.u.d. Film, and though it originally ran for just three seasons, it has continued to enjoy success in syndication.

Like every profit-minded company in the 1960s, Bunchy Soft Drinks jumped on the Space Race bandwagon. Although real astronauts would have been an obvious choice for a spokesman, they were a little too expensive for this mostly-regional soft drink. Their next choice was much more animated: Spaceman Jax. He represented the excitement of space travel - saving planets in peril and defending the innocent from marauding Mantagons - without any of the danger.

Spaceman Jax was the hero with the 'heart of gold' - perfect to remind consumers of those simulated gold flakes, as ridiculous as they might seem today. As an animated character, he was part of everything that was good about the artificial world. (Better living through plastics!) Why have expensive real gold flakes in your soft drink when you could have simulated gold flakes created in a laboratory at a tiny fraction of the cost? (Why have them at all is another question altogether.) Spaceman Jax could be forever charming and funny for the simple reason that he wasn't real.

Most importantly, however, Spaceman Jax was the ideal pitchman for Bunchy because he came with a built-in audience. He was in comics and on national television, and most importantly, his audience was made up of the demographic that all soft drink companies want to reach: children. You couldn't ask for better than that.

Whether you grew up watching Spaceman Jax and the Galactic Adventures or the Sneekey Twins Mystery Club, Ringer comics had a knack for taking our favorite shows and turning them into our favorite comics. Although Ringer featured several original titles (including the popular Doctor Remarkable and Space Station Europa), the bulk of their output was licensed properties based on popular TV series of the day, and especially comics based on p.u.d. Film animated properties.

In fact, artists for some of the comics based on animated shows just lifted the stories from the episodes outright, especially for the first few issues. Apparently, Bill Pendergast at p.u.d. Film liked to review everything personally and he was apt to request lots of changes until it fit expectations. Artists found that the best way to get Pendergast off their case was to simply adapt the TV plots to the comics for the first few issues, so there would be nothing for Pendergast to complain of - story-wise at least.

PUD Film (also p.u.d. Film) was an animation studio, active in the 1950s through the 1970s. The studio was run by Leo Ulrich and Bill Pendergast, and featured work by animators such as Jim Dewicky and production designer Philip LaCarta. The studio began creating animation for advertisements, and then went into animated series such as Spaceman Jax and the Galactic Adventures and Brigadier Buffalo.

The show chronicled the continuing exploits of intrepid but dimwitted Spaceman Jax and his friends in the Star Year 6354 ¾. Spaceman Jax and his young niece Dekkin were the only survivors of Tiberion 3, a planet destroyed for its energy-producing crystals. Jax vowed to avenge his planet and bring the perpetrators to justice, while ensuring that no harm ever comes to young Dekkin. Working as a freight pilot shipping crystals for Tarloc Industries, Jax’s travels across the quadrants brought him into weekly encounters with the armed fleet of the Mantagons, across the path of the power-hungry Tarloc, and into the clutches of the Zalfonens. He succeeded through sheer dumb luck, and with the help of his long-suffering girlfriend Red and his loyal friends Rusty and Star Cowboy. With each adventure Spaceman Jax brought “truth and justice to the farthest reaches of the galaxy,” even if only by accident.

The show featured work by animators such as Jim Dewicky and Bud Marsh. Spaceman Jax (the “hero with a heart of gold, and the intellect of a Ploridian Lunar Beast”) was voiced hilariously by actor Jay Bernard, and other voice actors for the series included Barbara Daws, Eddie Oarke and Fred Fabray.

Brigadier Buffalo is one of those shows that made Saturday mornings complete when we were kids. Maybe it was the sugar rush from those endless bowls of Sunnington Morn cereal, maybe it was the silly plots, or the appealing characters. Whatever it was, here in the office we’ve been reminiscing over the show (And actually, we could go for a bowl of that cereal now – too bad it’s discontinued!)

The main reason we’ve been thinking about the show, is the package from Philip La Carta that Mr. Druthers received recently. La Carta, of course, designed Brigadier Buffalo, along with other great shows like Spaceman Jax and the Galactic Adventures and Manfred J. Platypus, P.I. 

It’s hard to imagine that someone still has this original material – but in the late 50s/early 60s no one was looking to collect his material and the garbage bins were full of this good stuff.  You just needed to know where to look. James Tim Walker tells stories of how as a child he used to go digging through the Hanna-Barbera bins for original work – and he found some amazing stuff. We’ve seen it!

Mr. Druthers hasn’t shown us the whole package, but we got a look at some of the designs La Carta did for Brigadier Buffalo – and we’re pretty excited!


History

The Dawn of Sunnington Morn

Martin Jr. And Gabe Sunnington never set out to get into the cereal game, but after several attempts at creating their fortune in the film industry, they needed to take a different approach. With their inheritance of Sunnington Farms after the death of their father Martin Sr., the brothers took to manufacturing All-Grain, a no-sugar (no-taste) breakfast cereal that floundered on the market.

A few years later, Gabe married Margaret Sue LeCrowse - and married her family's business (sugar cane plantations) with his own, which resulted in many hyper but happy children, and their breakfast cereal empire had begun.

Not to be outdone by his kid brother, Martin Jr. made their dream of working in pictures a reality, in a round-about way. He jumped on the television sponsorship bandwagon early, and sealed the deal to have Sunnington Morn sponsor animated programs for children, such as Brigadier Buffalo and Spaceman Jax and the Galactic Adventures.

Spaceman Jax: Lost in Spaaaace!

With more than 170 billion galaxies in the observable universe, it's more than likely that Jax is causing trouble in some other galaxy altogether. Neither the show nor the comics ever mention the Earth, and no planet is shown with our distinctive arrangement of continents. With the exception of the Space Cadet fan club pins, no reference is ever made to any of the planets in our solar system or any stellar body humans have observed.

Considering that the show was created during the atomic age of the early 1960s, with fears of the destructive power of the H-bomb running high, it's possible that in the show's timeline the Earth was destroyed - just as Spaceman Jax's home planet Tiberion 3 had been destroyed in a tug-of-war over its previous resources. In that case, perhaps the Earth's absence in storylines is simply because after four thousand years, the rest of the galaxy has simply forgotten this piece of history. 

Another theory explaining where the Earth is in the Spaceman Jax Galaxy, is that it is there all along, just going under another name. Tarloc, the show's greedy industrialist bad guy, uses the profits from his Tarloc Industries to buy up planets to exploit their resources. Each planet that he buys, he renames after himself (Tarloc XVII or Tarloc XIX, for example). It sounds a little self-centered, but it's pretty darn cost-effective. So perhaps the Earth was swallowed up in his galactic land grab, and by 6354 ¾ we're known as Tarloc XXVII.

Dekkin

Spaceman Jax's 7-year-old niece is an energetic little firecracker. Despite her adorable sweetness, she loves nothing more than to jump into the action and take on the Mantagons, much to the dismay of their home service robot RT, who tries to get her to do her homework and go to bed on time.