MUSINGSOnce upon a time, around 1960, Christian leaders began to question if moral-building characters could be used to help spread the gospel. Could they ever. Here is a list of ten familiar icons many of us grew up with. Surprisingly, most are still going strong and feature official websites.
Davey and Goliath
Davey and Goliath was a stop-motion animated television show produced by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. The was first show in 1960 and featured Davey Hansen and his talking dog, Goliath, who acted as Davey's conscience. Art and Ruth Clokey, creators of Gumby and Pokey, created 65 15-minute episodes.
Jot lived with his dot parents and attended school with all of the other dots. When they stood still, Jot and friends sprouted arms and legs but when they moved, they shaped back into a dot and bounced around. Each four and one-half minute episode of Jot was told from a child’s point of view, featured a moral lesson and a Bible verse or two. Jot was syndicated from 1965 to the 1980’s. The episodes were distributed internationally and translated into 19 different languages. Jot was also a big hit around the country as part of a vacation Bible school curriculum. In 2009, Jot was featured as the official mascot of FamilyNet Television and even had his own MySpace and Facebook page.
Spire Christian Comics was a line of comic books started in 1972. They were mostly adaptations of Bible stories or Christian books including Corrie ten Boom’s The Hiding Place and David Wilkerson’s The Cross and the Switchblade. However, 19 issues were Christianized versions of Archie and his friends. Al Hatley, who was working for Archie Comics at the same time, was given permission to use the Archie characters in this way. While Christian comics were nothing new (some date back as far as 1942), Spire comics have seen a longer-than-most shelf life. Many were reprinted for many years after their original printing. Overall sales of Mr. Hartley’s comics are said to be more than 40 million copies including international sales. More on the history of Christian comics can be found at the Christian Comics International website.
Created by Ernie and Debby Rettino in 1980, Psalty is a songbook who travels all around the world telling kids about how much God loves them. Sort of like that purple dinosaur, Barney. Psalty is married to Psaltina and together they have three booklets: Melody, Harmony and Rhythm. The songbook family live in Happyville with their friends Charity Churchmouse, Farley McFirefly and others. The character, first brought to life on Maranatha’s Kid’s Praise albums, has been featured on TV, made into stuffed creatures and has made “live” stage appearances. Though, not as popular as he once was, Psalty is still alive and well.
Superbook was a Japanese anime television series that was produced by Tatsunoko Productions in conjunction with the Christian Broadcasting Network in the United States. The series featured 52 episodes telling many stories from the old and new testaments. Each episode featured a young boy, Christopher Peeper, who discovers a magical Bible “superbook” that speaks to him, his friend Joy and his toy robot Gizmo. The trio would be sent back in time to interact with Bible characters and their stories. The show had a few critics who claimed the show condensed or glossed over some of the stories. Some weren’t happy with a “magical” Bible either. The Superbook series continued to be broadcast world-wide in over 106 countries, translated into 43 languages and viewed by 500 million people.
A new re-imagined version of Superbook was developed in 2011 for CBN with thirteen new 22-minute episodes. The animation technology is new and the characters have a whole new look.
In 1985, Hanna-Barbera, creators of cartoon legends The Flintstones and Scooby-Doo Where are You?, created a direct-to-video series called The Greatest Adventure: Stories of the Bible. It featured stories of three young adventurers, Derek, Mango and Moki who travel back in time to watch biblical accounts happen first hand. Although a similar premise with Superbook, the series was quite different in style and story telling. Only 13 episodes were created between 1985 and 1993. Rumor has it that Joe Barbera had tried to get support for the project for 17 years prior, but Bill Hanna was never on board with the project. Each episode featured the voices of many TV and movie stars including James Earl Jones as Pharaoh, Robby Benson as David and Vincent Price as King Herod.
Rob Evans is “The Donut Man,” a children’s songwriter and performer known for his many sing-along videos and albums with Integrity Music. For over 20 years, Rob has taught young children bible stories and lessons through song and story telling. His sidekick is Duncan, a donut who never leaves his box. One of Rob’s first songs included the line, “Life without Jesus is like a donut. There’s a hole in the middle of your heart.” Rob is still going strong with live appearances and a new CD, Paul in a Basket.
Since 1987, Adventures in Odyssey has filled the radio airwaves with original audio stories brought to life by real actors. Adventures are the brainchild of Dr. James Dobson and the Focus on the Family Company. The adventures began as a 13-week test series on the Focus on the Family broadcast called Family Portraits that focused on the lives of the residents of the town of Odyssey. Most of the stories are centered in a soda shop and discovery emporium called Whit’s End owned by proprietor Mr. Whittaker and operated by employees Connie Kendall and Eugene Meltsner. With over 650 stories produced, Adventures can be heard on more than 2,000 radio stations around the world. In addition to the radio show, versions of the stories have been made into animated DVDs, novels and even stage presentations. If you visit the Focus on the Family Welcome Center in Colorado Springs, you can visit a real-life Whit’s End soda fountain.
In 1993, Phil Vischer and Mike Nawrocki created probably the biggest Christian pop culture phenomenon enterprise known as VeggieTales. Originally released in a direct-to-video format, Vischer and Nawrocki’s aim was to create quality programming for children with good moral messages and be enjoyable for their parents too. One original “Big Idea” was to animate candy bars, but that idea was scrapped in favor of the produce aisle.
Many of the videos begin on a kitchen counter with hosts, Bob the Tomato and Larry the Cucumber answering a “viewer’s letter” by sharing a story that is acted out by vegetables and fruits of all shapes and sizes. Almost every video features a “Silly Song” segment where “Larry comes out and sings a silly song.”
In addition to the videos, a myriad of toys, books, stuffed creatures, t-shirts, video games and more has been produced. From 2006-2009, VeggieTales was picked up by NBC and shown as part of their children’s programming and then later shown on the Gospel Music Channel. In addition, two feature-length movies made it to the big screen: Jonah: A Veggie Tales Movie in 2002 and The Pirates Who Don’t Do Anything in 2008.
Even Christian children need a superhero that they can believe in. Clad in the “armor of God” in royal purple and gold, Bibleman is sort of a Christian version of 1960's Batman. From 1996 to 2004, Willie Aames (Eight is Enough) portrayed businessman Miles Peterson/Bibleman on multiple videos and live appearances. In 2006, Aames was replaced with children’s pastor, Robert T. Schlipp who continued the crimefighting in Bibleman PowerSource and was aided by Cypher (Brady Williams) and Melody (Lindsay Lewis).