From the Lost ASM Archives: A Little Q&A With Joe Ruby

This interview was given to ASM in 2005, but for reasons unknown it was never published.  Greg Sepelak asked if he could publish the Mega Man portions on his Tumblr blog, and that gave me the impetus to put the rest of this interview online.  Sit back, then, and enjoy this “new to you” lost article, an interview with Joe Ruby from Ruby Spears productions.  This interview was conducted by Matthew Karpowich and Greg Sepelak in February 2005.

General Topics

ASM: Did you ever imagine you’d be working on TV animation productions, or that you’d be in this line of work for the long haul?

Joe Ruby: Yes, I did. In fact, as a kid, I used to create my own cartoon characters and write comic books for them. After high school I went to Art Center, then to work for Disney.

ASM: What was your attitude towards the business when you first started? How has it changed since then?

JR: I was eager and excited. With the advent of T.V. Animation, opportunities were opening up as the business grew in leaps and bounds. Since then the business has changed dramatically, due to the “majors” re-entering the field.

ASM: What do your feel your greatest achievements have been in the field of animation?

JR: Creating Scooby Doo and establishing our own studio.

ASM: If you hadn’t made it into the entertainment business, where do you think you’d be today?

JR: It never entered my mind.

ASM: What’s a favorite ancedote from your career(s)?

JR: We were working at another studio and had a presentation meeting with the V.P. of Children’s Programming at one of the major networks in New York. With us was the studio head and the studio’s agent. Artwork, written development and story premises were presented to the network. The V.P. said he was delighted with the artwork. “Any changes?” we asked. “None,” answered the V.P. “How about the written development – concept and characters?” we asked. “Perfect…no changes,” he replied. “Which story premise should we base the pilot script on?” we asked. “They’re all great – pick any one you like,” he answered.

When we left the meeting the studio head and the studio agent were ecstatic. They were sure the show would be picked up. They looked over at us, with glum expressions on our faces. They wanted to know what was the matter. We said we were positive the show was dead. No one we knew of had ever had a “perfect” development. Unfortunately, we were right!

ASM: Which, of all the animated shows you’ve worked on, was the most enjoyable?

JR: Wow! That’s a tough one. That’s like asking who’s your favorite kid. With so many shows, each brought something new and exciting to our experiences. But without a doubt, the best of the best were Scooby, Thundarr, Skysurfer Strike Force, Superman and Mega Man.

ASM: Anything in your career you’d do different, given a second chance?

JR: Probably. But that’s water under the bridge.

ASM: Do you own many action figures from the toy-based shows you brought to life?

JR: My kids got most of them.

ASM: Any tips for those aspiring to get into the field of animation? Producing, writing?

JR: Become a Doctor or marry rich. Seriously, set your goals and persevere. If you keep trying, you’ll just likely get there.

ASM: What future projects do you have planned?

JR: If you visit our website you’ll see featured several of our projects with artwork.

ASM: Ruby-Spears Productions employed a number of high profile names from the field of comic books – among them Gil Kane, Jack Kirby and Alex Toth. Do you have any particular fond memories of working with these gentlemen?

JR: All three were dynamic. The best. But Jack could come up with more artwork than anyone I’ve ever known.

ASM: Too, I imagine you had plenty of contact with the personalities around whom you based some shows (such as Chuck Norris and Mister T). How were your experiences with them? Was Mister T, say, as gruff as he seems? Or is he really a nice guy at heart?

JR: Both Chuck Norris and Mr. T were nice guys. And the kids knew it too. The first time I met Mr. T, a busload of kids drove by and cheered him.

ASM: Jack Cole’s PLASTIC MAN is regarded as one of the most innovative series from the Golden Age of comics. Had you read any of his work prior to starting on the Plastic Man show?

JR: Yes, many of his comics.

ASM: Was there any specific reason behind changing Plastic Man’s comedic sidekick from the comic book’s Woozy Winks to Hula-Hula?

JR: There must have been, but I can’t remember.

ASM: Who was the actor that played Plas in the live action sequences of the syndicated PLASTIC MAN show? No one seems to know.

JR: Steve Whiting played Plas. In fact, Steve was the producer who actually put the show together and wrote and directed all the wrap-around live action segments. He turned out to be a very funny, creative guy.

ASM: RUBIK THE AMAZING CUBE was based on the famous Rubik’s cube puzzle. Was conceptualizing the show for animation particularly difficult, given the basic non-anthropomorphic nature of the cube?

JR: We had to go through many possible concepts before settling on the one we used. Once we did, it was fairly easy.

ASM: Likewise, was there much difficulty in producing the RAMBO cartoon thanks to the violent reputation of the movies? Any complaints about LAZER TAG’s use of laser “guns”?

JR: There were many complaints on Rambo and some on Laser Tag. But the ratings were great.

ASM: TURBO TEEN starred a boy who could turn into a car depending on if he was hot or cold. How did the idea for that come about, exactly?

JR: I was trying to think of something a little different that a teen could turn into. A car seemed pretty different at the time. Some people thought I was nuts.

ASM: Building on that thought, TURBO TEEN was (apparently) one of the few regular series Ruby-Spears worked on in the ’80s that wasn’t based on a pre-existing property (ranging from toys and books to celebrity personalities). Was there a conscious motive behind this, or is it just happenstance?

JR: Selling original shows at that time was becoming more and more difficult. Luckily the network thought this one didn’t need to come from a pre-sold property.

ASM: Not many people in general seem aware of the Ruby-Spears SUPERMAN cartoon – yet from what I’ve seen, it was a wonderful series. What happened there? I’ve heard bad scheduling led to early cancellation.

JR: You’re right. Our 8:30AM time slot had the smallest audiences and the youngest demographics…mainly 4 to 6 year olds with a heavy proportion of girls…who watch the softer shows. It was not where Superman belonged.

And not surprisingly, we still get a lot of fan mail and inquiries about the show from people who think our version was one of the best.

ASM: Was it particularly difficult to update the CHIPMUNKS for the ’80s? At the time, they hadn’t been featured on a regular series since the early ’60s.

JR: Actually, no. It was just coming up with a concept that would feature them as a comedy team, working as a team with Alvin as their leader. And putting more focus on the team following Alvin’s crazy schemes. The characters were also redesigned.

For the rest of the interview, check out Part 2 and Greg’s Tumblr blog.  Then, take a look at some items from the Mega-Man cartoon in our gallery!