Saturday, 8 November 2014

A Trip to Dimension Zero

1966 was a pretty good year for some animation studios. In California, Hanna-Barbera announced retail sales of $160,000,000 (Variety, Oct. 25) and construction of a new wing of 16,000 square feet (Variety, Nov. 30), while Warner Bros reactivated its own cartoon studio (Variety, May 17). And in New York, things were humming along for Joe Oriolo.

He had found success in the growing TV cartoon field in the late ‘50s with Felix the Cat, even though Felix the Cat Productions claimed insolvency in 1961. Oriolo was vice president and executive producer. The Felix company had plans. Sponsor magazine of September 5, 1960 revealed some cartoons you never saw.
Felix the Cat Creations will try to quadruplicate the success of its Felix series now being handled by Trans-Lux TV.
Pilots are now being shown for three new cartoon series: The Kewpies, Don Poco, and Albert and Cholmondeley — pronounced, of course, Chumley.
Oriolo moved on to set up Adventure Cartoon Productions, which inflicted the iron-thighed Mighty Hercules on syndicated TV in 1963. Reaching ever lower in 1966, his studio came up with “Johnny Cypher in the Dimension Zero.” Ol’ Johnny has the distinction of making Jerry Beck’s list of the Worst Cartoons of All Time (see Jerry’s clarifying note in the comments).

There was a ready pool of veteran theatrical animators in New York City at the time but Oriolo elected to have the cartoons animated in Japan, presumably to save money. According to Variety of Oct. 29, 1969, George Kashdan wrote the stories, just as he did with Herc, did with Herc (Newton, get offa my blog). Some of the voices were handled by Gene Allen, who later appeared on “Taro, Giant of the Jungle.”

Oriolo had been syndicating cartoons through Trans-Lux but he worked out a deal with a different company for Johnny.
New series of "Astro-Drama" color cartoons, "Johnny Cypher In Dimension-Zero," will be syndicated by Seven Arts Television Aug. 1. The company will place 130 six-minute segments in worldwide distribution. (Variety, July 26, 1966)

A new syndication cartoon for kid slotting, "Johnny Cypher in Dimension Zero," is on the launch pad via Seven Arts TV. Color series of 130 six-minute segments is being produced by Oriolo Film Studios. It's fifth new syndication property to bow this year from 7A. (
Variety, July 27, 1966).
Ads such as the one above touted some of the stations that had signed to run Johnny. Trade publications in 1967 mentioned he had been sold in Peru and Mexico.

I asked Charles Brubaker, who is knowledgeable on the subject of Japanese cartoon studios of that era, where Johnny was animated. His response:
Japan Tele-Cartoons, which is an English name for TV Doga (the name literally means "TV Animation"). Also, Children's Corner, which did some anime in the 1960s.
Japan Tele-Cartoons probably handled most (all) of the animation/art side.
Several Japanese sources also list "Studio Bees" as another studio involved, but I have no idea what they are or what else they worked on. Likely one of the smaller subcontract studio in Tokyo that handled extra work for larger studios.
Poor Johnny didn’t get a lot of ink in the popular press. Perhaps it’s because Seven Arts would soon have its own cartoon studio to promote after formally taking over Warner Bros following a stockholders vote on July 14, 1967 and didn’t really need him. But here’s a piece mentioning the cartoon from the Buffalo Courier-Express of May 20, 1967. I’ll bite my tongue on the matter of cartoon violence and children other than to say that as soon as the network TV industry realised what a gold mine cartoons were, it suddenly got panicky as it always does when it comes to potentially losing profits and started listening to clean-up-cartoons crusaders, to the detriment of the cartoons themselves.
U.S., Japan to Exchange More Children’s Shows

A NEW FEATURE of children’s programs next fall will be a stream of shows exchanged between Japan and the United States.
Contrary to our myths of U.S. superiority in all fields, the danger seems to lie in the possible effects of U.S. programs on Japanese children, rather than vice versa.
In the matter of violence, for instance, it was recently pointed out by Morris Ernst, author and critic, that in one year of U.S. TV viewing — mostly aimed at youngsters — there were 10,000 murders depicted. This was 2,000 more than had been committed in the United States that year.
ONE OF THE LARGEST syndicators of foreign programs here and U.S. programs overseas is Seven Arts Television.
A recent interview with a Seven Arts official in New York revealed some interesting points about exchanges in TV shows internationally.
The syndicators are currently working with Japan on two series, “Marine Boy” and “Johnny Cypher in Dimension Zero,” both animated offerings.
ON VIOLENCE, the official said, “it has to be kept to a minimum if you expect to make the show saleable overseas. And even in animated shows, mini-mini-skirts draw objections from parents who, at least sometimes, control what children watch.
“In Belgium and in the Scandinavian countries, parents’ groups are very watchful, and the governments themselves are very conscious of standards of acceptability in children’s programs.”
“Still,” continued the Seven Arts man, “American-produced programs have been very successful in cautious Japan. Top-rated ones include the Andy Griffith show, “Lucy,” “Flipper,” “Bonanza,” and even "The Man From U.N.C.L.E.”
“THE JAPANESE ARE very big for cartoons of the type you see on U.S. stations Saturday mornings. They’re sending a lot of theirs over here, too. “The Japanese are superb mechanics in the field of animation, which in this country it very costly.”
How “superb” were they? Judge for yourself by looking into Dimension Zero yourself. If you can sit through annoying kids chanting the less-than-charming theme song.


  1. This wasn't the last time TV Doga/Japan Tele-Cartoons had ties with Seven Arts. "Marine Boy" was also produced through the studio, with Seven Arts syndicating it.

    "Marine Boy" itself has an interesting history. If you'll even write about that, let me know and I can fill in a few details.

  2. The end credits list one Japanese person for "animation coordinator": Tsuguyuki Kubo. He did a ton of work on various anime (he was an animator on "Speed Racer"), and also had further ties with American studios, having worked as a supervisor on many Rankin/Bass productions when they set up Topcraft.

    Not only is Kubo still alive, he's still working in anime today. I've seen older Japanese shows that Kubo was credited on, and he was, to put it mildly, not a good animator. He must be doing something right, though, since he's still working.

    In fact, I discovered that Studio Bees was Kubo's company, and I was right. It was a boutique studio set up so that larger studios can subcontract animation work whenever they're filled to the brim.

    Even better, they did further work for American television, both through Toei Animation via Rankin/Bass: special "Mouse on the Mayflower" and the TV series "Smokey Bear Show". The company existed from 1966 to 1971.

    1. "Not only is Kubo still alive, he's still working in anime today. I've seen older Japanese shows that Kubo was credited on, and he was, to put it mildly, not a good animator. He must be doing something right, though, since he's still working."

      No doubt luck is on his side (of course I see he was on Naruto, Bleach and Polar Bear's Cafe in recent years).

      "Even better, they did further work for American television, both through Toei Animation via Rankin/Bass: special "Mouse on the Mayflower" and the TV series "Smokey Bear Show". The company existed from 1966 to 1971."

      If you ever manage to get the chance to interview Kubo someday in the future, I'd love to hear/read it, at least if you wanted to talk to him on his early years.

  3. To be clear, I'm actually a big fan of Johnny Cypher In Dimension Zero. It never ran in New York (where I grew up) and I discovered it years ago when I found 16mm prints at a film convention. The show is unintentionally funny in a campy, entertaining way - a great example of 60s adventure anime. Warner Archives is considering a release of this series next year. I'm crossing my fingers! ;)

    1. What? I can buy Johnny Cypher but not Quick Draw McGraw?! Grumble grumble.

    2. Do you mean the entire cartoon series of Johnny Cypher in Dimension Zero Jerry Beck? Would really like to know please, I'm also a big fan of it!!!

    3. Is there any more news about this being released Jerry Beck? I'm also a big fan of Johnny Cypher in Dimension Zero, and have been trying to get the series for a very long time now!! I remember seeing some of the episodes on Channel 17 with the Wee Willy/Bill Webber show in our area!!

  4. I sure wish there would be an update or follow up Jerry Beck! I'm a big fan of it just like you and the others have said before now!! I also saw some of the Channel 17 episodes from the Wee Willy/Bill Webber show! I've also seen it mentioned of some of the episodes being available, but not the entire collection!! Would really like or love to get all of it!!