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Quest In Show


The 1980s saw a swarm of small independent comic book companies. Many of them only lasted a year or two; some achieved an iconic status due to one or two innovative flagship titles; and a few are still going today. One aspect that many of these companies had in common was that many of them bought licenses to adapt popular TV series as comic books. The quality of these books varied with the talent the companies were able to bring to them. In some cases, the popularity of a licensed title might be the only thing keeping a struggling company afloat; but even in the case of a fairly well-established independent with decent-selling original titles in its stable, a popular licensed title added prestige and readers to the company.

For much of the '80s, Comico was one of the notable Independents. It came to prominence publishing original comics such as Mark Wagner's MAGE and GRENDEL and Bill Willingham's ELEMENTALS. Over the course of its run, Comico published licensed versions of the anime series ROBOTECH and STAR BLAZERS; but my favorite title from that company would have to be their version of JONNY QUEST.

JONNY QUEST was created by comics artist Doug Wildey, who started off drawing western comics for Atlas Comics, the successor to Timely Comics which later still became Marvel. He drew for a number of adventure anthology comics and for a time did a newspaper comic strip based on THE SAINT and a little ghosting for STEVE CANYON. He came to Hollywood to work briefly under Alex Toth on SPACE ANGEL, a semi-animated TV show legendary for superimposing actual footage of moving lips over static images of the characters to make it look like the characters were speaking. While in Hollywood, he visited Hanna-Barbara Studios looking for work. At the time, Joe Barbara was interested in developing a cartoon based on “Jack Armstrong: All-American Boy”, a radio adventure drama, and hired Wildey to work on it.

As it turned out, Joe was unable to get the rights to adapt Jack Armstrong, so he had Wildey re-work the material into an original character. Wildey used magazines such as “Popular Science”, “Popular Mechanics” and “Science Digest” as inspiration to give the technology used in the series a sense of being futuristic, but just around the corner. He also drew on classic movies featuring adventurous kids, and the comic strip TERRY AND THE PIRATES by one of his major artistic influences Milton Caniff. At Joe Barbara's request, he also stirred in a bit of James Bond; “Doctor No” had recently appeared in theaters, and spy stories were hot.

Jonny Quest, of course, was an adventurous boy who traveled the world with his father, a brilliant scientist along with his best friend and adopted brother Hadji, an ex-secret agent who acts as a bodyguard for Dr. Quest and his family, and Jonny's yappy dog Bandit. (Doug Wildey originally wanted to give Jonny a pet monkey, but Hanna-Barbara insisted on a more traditional pet drawn in a cartoony style). The series was full of exotic locations, exciting action and had one of the best opening themes of any cartoon ever. (“Tank!”, the opening theme music from the anime series COWBOY BEBOP is a close second, but I give the JQ theme an edge because it has a pterodactyl).

The animation on JONNY QUEST was extremely limited; not as bad as the animation from SPACE ANGEL, but you can still see every shortcut they used if you look for them. But the base character design, rendered with strong inks by Wildey, was so strong that the look carried the deficiencies in animation.

The artwork was something of a liability. Wildey drew in a realistic style and wanted the series to be as realistic as possible; but there were very few animators in Hollywood at that time who could draw like that. Wildey had to do much of the key animation himself. This made the show expensive to produce and it only ran for twenty-six episodes; but it had a long life in syndication.

The show was produced for an evening time slot rather than a Saturday Morning one. H-B had success running THE FLINTSTONES as an evening show, essentially a sitcom aimed at a grown up audience; and JQ was also aimed at the same audience that would enjoy a Bond movie or an adventure novel. There was a lot of action, and a fair amount of violence; although the show avoided explicit blood and gore, bad guys often met brutal and highly ironic fates. This became a problem in the '70s when people became more concerned with Violence in Children's Television and well-meaning watchdogs put us on the slippery slope to THE GET-ALONG GANG.

The Comico adaptation came about twenty years after the show went off the air, but they did it right. Doug Wildey was involved with the comic, doing promotional artwork for it and writing a story and doing the art for the first issue. He also wrote and illustrated a three-part limited series adapting three of his favorite episodes in his lush, painterly style.

The rest of the series was written by William Messner-Loebs, a writer who previous created and drew JOURNEY: THE ADVENTURES OF WOLVERINE MacALLISTAIR for Aardvark-Vanaheim, a quirky series set in frontier Michigan during the early 19th Century.. Messner-Loebs wrote 31 issues of JONNY QUEST and went on to write respectable runs on THE FLASH and WONDER WOMAN. For about title's first year, several different artists worked on the book, including Wendi Pini, Adam Kubert, Dan Speigel and others, before it settled down to the regular artistic team of Marc Hempel and Mark Wheatley.

The series did a good job of capturing the spirit of adventure from the original series. Messner-Loebs built on some of the characters, giving Dr. Benton Quest more of a personality beyond the Serious Scientist, and exploring Race Bannon's background.

One interesting thing the comic established was that Race is not only a bodyguard, he also doubles as a tutor for the boys. Since he is primarily trained as a secret agent and not an educator, that means that much of the time he's only a few pages ahead of the boys in the lessons he's teaching them.

One of the interesting characters added to Team Quest's supporting cast is Kathy Martin, a social worker who shows up in issue #7 to demand to know why Jonny and Hadji haven't been in school, only to get swept up in one of the Quest's adventures. She becomes a recurring character and something of a romantic interest for Dr. Quest.

Some of the notable stories include #2, “Enter Race Bannon”, in which we get the story of how Race Bannon is first assigned to bodyguard the Quest family, at a time when Dr. Quest's wife is dying in a hospital. We get some lovely glimpses in flashback of Dr. Quest's romance with her that are sad but sweet. The scene in which Dr. Quest talks to the grieving Jonny about his mother and her passing is sensitive and I think true to the character.

Mrs. Quest appears again in #15, “The Sins of Zin”, another flashback story about Dr, Quest's first meeting with the sinister Dr. Zin when he and his wife are attending a science conference. The friendly verbal fencing between Zin and Mama Quest, the only one in the story who recognizes that Zin is more than he seems, shows that she may not be a brilliant scientist like her husband, but she has plenty of smarts herself.

Issue #5, “Jade, Incorporated”, brought back fan favorite Jezebel Jade, the bad girl from Race's past, in a tale of exotic intrigue reminiscent of TERRY AND THE PIRATES, and which paved the way for a later JEZEBEL JADE limited series.

Issues #23-24 are fun homage to The Prisoner of Zenda, in which Dr. Quest must impersonate the look-alike prince of a Ruritanian nation.

Bandit takes the spotlight in #25, “Butch”, as the dog gets separated from Jonny and wanders about a city alone.

Some of the stories were better than others. Issue #16, “Plague”, about a weird epidemic of lycanthropy, was I think supposed to be a parable about hysteria over the AIDS epidemic, but just seemed ham-handed to me. #22, “Vantage Point”, was an interesting idea: Dr. Quest agrees to participate in an experiment where a camera will record what goes on in his compound for a week; and hilarity ensues. The story is seen entirely from the camera's point of view, which is an interesting idea from the storytelling end, but is visually boring.

Overall, though, Comico's JONNY QUEST was a good series that more than did justice to the cartoon on which it was based.


Kurt Wilcken draws the webcomic “Hannibal Tesla Adventure Magazine” at and writes a weekly blog about obscure Bible stories, “The Ones You Didn’t Hear in Sunday School” at: He also sometimes refers to himself in the third person and he lives for feedback.