He-Man was a big deal for me and my childhood pals. I learned to draw quadriceps and lots of other muscles (most of them real!) from watching He-Man cartoons, and the MOTU dramas my friends and I staged during recess went a long way toward making school bearable. So it was with great excitement when, at the age of nine or ten, I discovered that my best friend, Brett, had acquired some He-Man production art.
Brett's dad was an optometrist, and it happened that a patient of his, Mr. Raddatz, was a REAL LIVE animator who ACTUALLY WORKED ON HE-MAN. Mr. Raddatz was nice enough to give Brett some Xeroxed model sheets from the show, along with an impressive pencil sketch of He-Man's sidekick, Orko. Brett kept that sketch pinned to his wall for many months -- maybe even years -- and I paused to admire it whenever I visited. This was in the days before either of us had been to an animation gallery or comic convention, and before the internet made animation art more accessible, so Mr. Raddatz was our sole ambassador from that mystical world where cartoons were concocted. The very name, "Mr. Raddatz," took on the magical quality of a "Mr. Tumnus" or "Mr. Toad," to my mind. I never met the man myself, but like Santa Claus, the gifts he'd left were ample proof that he was alive and making magic somewhere.
Recently, after watching a He-Man cartoon for the first time in many years, I got curious and decided to do a websearch on kindly Mr. Raddatz. Was he really an animator? Whatever became of him? For that matter, what was his first name?
My first stop was he-man.org, where I confirmed for myself that Mr. Raddatz was indeed one of the many animators who worked on the He-Man cartoons. I also discovered his first name: Virgil. From there, I searched on "Virgil Raddatz," and found the following:
"VIRGIL RADDATZ died on May 9, 2003. From 1954 until 1989, he worked as an animator for Warners, DePatie-Freleng, Filmation, UPA, Ruby-Spears, Hanna-Barbera and Filmation."
That, and numerous cartoon credits, were the only signs of Virgil Raddatz on the web. It saddened me to think that this figure who loomed so large to me and my friends ended up as merely a blip on the webscape. Thirty-five years of effort, from a man talented enough to succeed in the animation biz, and what was his legacy? Credit shared with crowds of other obscure talents? He probably meant plenty to his family and friends, but I couldn't help thinking his skills deserved a better showing.
While mulling over Mr. Raddatz, I happened to watch Disney's The Little Mermaid. At the movie's end, after the more prominent credits rolled by, a tiny name jumped out at me: Mark Kalesniko. Kalesniko is an artist I remembered from his work in comic books. After his initial efforts at Disney, Kalesniko apparently moved back home to Canada, where he recorded his struggles as a 'failed' animator and aspiring gallery artist in a graphic novel called "ALEX." Kaleskino's cartooning voice is unique, and ALEX is a barrel of frantic excellence tumbling over the Niagara of weaker autobio and roman a clef comics that have flooded the scene.
Apart from any question of the relative merits of The Little Mermaid, ALEX, or He-Man, Kalesniko's efforts showed me a distinct advantage of comics over animation. With one book, he achieved among thousands of readers what Mr. Raddatz only achieved among the small handful whose lives he touched more directly. Namely, a shelf in their minds with his name on it. I only wish Mr. R. -- and countless other animators -- had gotten a similar opportunity. He-Man and Disney cartoons may be awesome, but what more individual riches have we missed out on?