Wednesday 21 December 2022

Santa Claus Meets Gene Deitch

Gene Deitch wasn’t very happy with me.

I dislike Deitch’s Tom and Jerry cartoons. The stories meander, the music sounds like it was made in a tunnel, and the layouts are so awkward that you can barely see Jerry sometimes. Then there’s the stiff animation. And the weird sound effects.

For ages, Gene made excuses for how poor they were. Then something happened. Some animation fans, perhaps feeling sorry for them, or out of respect for Mr. Deitch, yapped endlessly on-line about their greatness. After that, Gene started to believe his own press clippings, so to speak, and got defensive about any criticism of the cartoons. Including my criticism. “If they’re so bad, why are they on DVD?” he asked me. Well, Wheelie and the Chopper Bunch is on DVD, too. Release on home video is not quite an acid test of quality.

There are things Gene invented which I like. I enjoy Sidney the Elephant. The Juggler of Our Lady is a fine, serious cartoon. I watched Tom Terrific when I was little; all kids, I’ll bet, loved the almost comatose Manfred the Wonder Dog and Tom turning into all kinds of things.

So allow me to give you the Christmas present of Gene Deitch. Tom Terrific had a prototype, an heroic kid character in a comic strip. Terr’ble Thompson appeared in newspapers in 1955-56. If nothing else, it has Gene’s stylistic stamp. The strip was in serial format (like Tom Terrific), with the “episodes” tied together with a frame or two and some dialogue. Terr’ble was involved in a Christmas adventure, which we post below. The comics start on December 13, 1955 and end on December 28th. We include comics from Sunday colour sections.

Note: After clipping all the comics from a newspaper, correcting the colour balance, uploading them and HTML coding the post, I discovered they are already on-line, minus the United Features Syndicate copyright notice. So, we have substituted these cleaner, web-site versions instead.

Deitch was on the move. Long gone from UPA, by March 1956 he had left John Hubley’s Storyboard, Inc. and accepted a job with Robert Lawrence Productions. The strip came to an end on Sunday, April 15th. In June, Deitch was hired by Terrytoons as its creative supervisor. He admitted a full-time job plus a full-time comic strip was hurting his family life.

50 years after T.T. vanished from newspapers, someone decided a product from the mind of Gene Deitch must be re-examined. In 2006, Fantagraphics reprinted the strips in a book, including the Sunday editions in full colour (digitised in some cases due to the washed-out quality of the Ben-Day dots on newsprint). You can see the book at this site. Gene and his son Kim talk about the strip. Best of all, there’s not a Dicky Moe or Landing Stripling to be found.


  1. Tom Terrific's arch nemesis was Crabby Appleton... rotten to the core.

  2. Ah yes. The "there's no such thing as a bad cartoon" contingent of animation fandom. Closely related to the "no cartoon is bad if I enjoyed watching it when I was a child" group.

  3. I happen to love Deitch's cartoons because they have bizarre, off kilter quality to them. I can't really defend those films but I still adore them.