I’ve never met anyone else in real life that remembers The Comic Strip and this anomaly haunts me. The show’s existence is easily confirmed on the internet, but the second you bring it up face-to-face, it’s like you made a Pants Chapley reference. Did it leave no lasting impression on anyone but me? Was I the only one who watched it and survived to adulthood? Were there coded flashes in the animation that provoked a kind of late-onset Crib Death? Is this a Candle Cove scenario? Am I revealing a complicated and whimsical dementia, or was there a period in the late ‘80s where Child Brockway and a handful of others picked up transmissions from a parallel, inferior universe? One similar to ours in a superficial way, but somehow worse on a fundamental level — every detail carefully and minorly incorrect, like some kind of cartoon Toronto?
Like I said, a quick Google will explain that The Comic Strip was a half-hour long cartoon variety show which consisted of rotating 10 minute segments — but can you guys even see that image? Are these search results just for me? I called my wife into the office and she watched me type every single letter in “TigerSharks” and then asked me what the ThunderCats were. We’re now getting divorced for several reasons, but are my perceptions tainted here? Am I trapped in the prison of my own mind like some kind of bullshit cartoon Shutter Island? There’s only one way to tell, and that’s to write an entire column about Street Frogs, then come back and check the comments to see if they’re all complaining about how we write about Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles too often.
Every one of The Comic Strip’s “properties” were just one letter to the left of an existing show. They were the “is Sierra Mist okay?” of Saturday morning cartoons. And the reason this falls on Punching Day is because I want most to talk about Karate Kat. The ‘80s loved three things in equal measure: talking cartoon cats, karate, and pure cocaine. They could only make a cartoon openly about two of those things, and had to leave the third to implication.
It was a pretty strong implication.
Karate Kat dressed like every guy you knew who was definitely holding cocaine, but he acted like every guy you knew who was definitely holding cocaine fifteen minutes ago:
“Karate Kat” is not just a descriptor of his ability and species, it’s also his first and last name. It’s like if I changed my name to Painthuff Man — that is a fully accurate encapsulation of all that I am, but it does take some of the mystique out of my spinning transformation sequence.
Karate Kat dressed like Joe Piscopo and sounded like Joe Piscopo doing a Sylvester Stallone impression right before you asked “is that supposed to be Dolph Lundgren?” The show’s central villains were Big Papa and his two henchmen, Boom Boom and Sumo Sai.
Did you already guess, based off of that screencap, that Sumo Sai was going to be a bit of a problem? Guess again, motherfucker — he is a huge problem.
Sumo’s voice actor sounds like somebody told him there’s an Oscar for cartoonish racism and Clint Eastwood got disqualified that year. He turns every syllable into eight syllables just so you’ll have more time to process how much he hates the Japanese. Sumo was both a chauffeur and a sumo wrestler, and if the sushi craze had hit a few years earlier, you can bet he would’ve been rubbing raw fish on his genitals while hard-pronouncing every ‘L’ in the word “WARRIOR.”
But somehow I remembered Karate Kat fondly. Perhaps the show was so moving to Child Brockway because I was absolutely certain that one could major in Karate. Karate in the ‘80s had the same publicist as Algebra in the ‘90s — “one day you’ll need this. Your life will depend on it. No follow-up questions.” The ‘80s were so insistent on the flexible importance of karate in your daily life that I didn’t even question it, but I have literally never had a non-drunk reason for a spinning jumpkick, and that means 30% of my education was a lie. It didn’t matter that the only joke in Karate Kat was that Karate Kat was bad at Karate, I believed in him — I sat in front of the TV every morning taking careful notes: “Sometimes be bad at Karate?” I scribbled. “Distraction or humility? Combo into MONTAGE???”
Next up was TigerSharks, which was kind of a SilverHawks ripoff which was actually a pretty impressive trick to pull since SilverHawks was a ThunderCats ripoff.
Child Brockway did not care: if you had a ragtag team of anyone that transformed into anything, I was there for it. TigerSharks seemed custom-designed to test the limits of that claim.
“You like transformations?” TigerSharks sneered. “How about unlikable dipshits turning into, I don’t know, fish? Yeah? You into that? How about not even cool fish? How about one girl transforms into an Angelfish – the ‘I guess that’s okay’ main attraction of every dentist office aquarium? Still rad? How about one fat old man transforms into a walrus so shitty he still has to use a cane underwater? You’ll buy that toy, you little fuck. You wretched little squirming fuck.”
I mean, the TigerSharks lived on a planet called Water-O and transformed using a device called the Fish Tank, so this premise was almost certainly conceived of by an embarrassed cartoonist caught jerking it to his own hand-drawn fish pornography. He panicked out a hasty explanation for this:
And it fooled nobody at first, so he had to keep pressing the issue, hoping that actually getting the cartoon made would save his marriage. And it probably didn’t work on his wife, but it sure worked on me: I watched some aquaphiliac’s jerk material repurposed into spite merchandise by child-hating executives and I was happy to do it. I would’ve bought the TigerSharks cereal, if they had succeeded enough to have a cereal, which they didn’t. And that should tell you something since even Rainbow Brite got a cereal.
Then there was Mini Monsters, which existed so you had time to take a shit between better cartoons.
Better cartoons like Street Frogs!
Street Frogs was clearly a very loose attempt to capitalize on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, from a time when confused TV executives could only take wild stabs in the dark, trying to pin down which word the kids were so nuts about.
“Is it the ‘teenage’ part? Let’s make everything from 1987 to 1995 about teenagers, just in case. Mutants? Maybe. Let’s come out as ‘pro-mutation’ for the next six years. Okay, it’s definitely ‘ninja’ — greenlight everything you can about ninjas. What is Victor Wong doing? Because now he’s teaching three white children about ninjitsu and I don’t give a fuck that he’s Chinese, Gary! If I wanted an Oriental Correction I’d pay ten dollars extra at the massage parlor. What about turtles? Maybe the kids are into terrarium animals? It’s a longshot, but there’s an extra ten grand in the budget so here comes Street Frogs.”
Do you want to know what Street Frogs was about? There’s only one line in the theme song, and it explains everything:
“Who can do hip hop better than a frog can? Street Frogs!”
That is artfully bare storytelling. I am a sucker for expository theme songs — if I had my way Game of Thrones would have started with a twenty minute guitar jam breakdown of the whole plot that rhymed “flayed man” with “splayed Bran,” and Street Frogs is the pinnacle of this artform. That is indeed all the show was about: hip hop frogs just having a good time — no adventures, no fights, no story, just feel-good slices of life from a universe where minorities were amphibians but nothing else changed. It sounds like the first draft of a vile David Icke rant, but the show was utterly charming.
And man, just… fuck you, Child Brockway. You went hard for Karate Kat when you could’ve been all about this? If I had replaced every cell in my brain dedicated to karate with learning how to execute this Dr. Slick intro instead, I would have died fifteen years ago from a lethal combination of pussy overdose and funk poisoning.
That is, of course, if the show even existed in this sad timeline we dwell in. Because honestly? I just wrote 1400 words about The Comic Strip, and an animated lineup consisting of Karate Kat, TigerSharks, Mini-Monsters and Street Frogs still sounds like an entertainment lawyer forced me to change all my references to real ‘80s cartoons.