I grew up in a time when television was in its infancy and comic books were so popular that even grocery stores featured shelves of them. My mother was rather selective in what she allowed me and my brothers to watch and read. She limited the number of hours that we could sit in front of the t.v. and took us regularly to the library to borrow educational books. We mostly sated our taste for adventurous programing on Saturday mornings when when we watched the programs that we preferred while our mother slept longer than on the other days of the week.
We became familiar with all of the fictional heroes of the era and marveled at characters like Tarzan and Superman and the Lone Ranger. We mostly surreptitiously learned about the superheroes of comic books from our cousins and friends because Mama thought it was a waste of time and money to purchase the pulpy magazines designed for lovers of imagined adventures and prowess. Surprisingly my grandmother kept a stock of comics on a bookshelf in her home. I would sneak into the room where they were stored and devour them each time I visited. Even though I never told her what I was doing she somehow knew to regularly purchase the latest editions and set them out in view so that I would find them. In retrospect I wonder if she liked the comics because of their illustrations that allowed her to “read” them even though she was illiterate or perhaps it was a habit that she developed for my father who was quite a fan of comic book humor and stories of fantastic worlds.
I had a cousin who collected comic books like some people collect stamps or coins. There were stacks and stacks of them in his home and I have to admit to being somewhat envious that he had so much exciting reading matter at his fingertips. I too enjoyed the adventures of the great superheroes, bu it was not a well known comic book superhero who caught my fancy when I was young, but a silly cartoon squirrel named Rocky and his sidekick, Bullwinkle.
In 1959, Rocky and Bullwinkle premiered on television. I would have been around ten years old when I first saw the show and I was immediately taken by its satirical stories that poked fun at the world of spies and Cold War intrigue. Rocky, aka Rocket J. Squirrel, was a flying squirrel who always wore World War I type flight goggles and seemed to have more common sense than most humans. His best friend was Bullwinkle J. Moose who always appeared to be confused by whatever he encountered in the world, but he was a loyal and affable sidekick who did his best to help with the cause. Together they fought the evil spies Boris Badenov and Natasha Fatale who had infiltrated their once peaceful town of Frostbite Falls. Week after week they foiled the nefarious plots of this often frustrated couple who seemed overwhelmed by the superior intellect of Rocky.
The show began each episode with a little ditty that seemed to sum up the both ridiculousness and delightfulness of the plot,
“A thunder of jets and an open sky,
A streak of gray and a cheerful “Hi!”
A loop, a whirl, a vertical climb
And once again you know it’s time
For the adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle and Friends”
Whenever I heard that silly rhyme I knew that I would be transported to an hilarious world that would leave me laughing and wondering if everyone else understood the jokes that tumbled out so quickly that it was difficult to keep up with them. I so loved the stories and the characters that I would continue following them long after I was grown whenever I found them being rerun on some channel that featured old programs from my youth.
The best thing about Rocky and Bullwinkle was that my mother liked it as well. She somehow viewed it as being a cut above ordinary cartoons and she shared our delight in the stories. Rocky became our family favorite and we still marvel at how intelligently creative it was. I suppose that I was even impressed when I found out that my husband was a fan as well. Sometimes we would laugh about our favorite moments on the cartoon and even fake accents to become silly versions of Boris and Natasha. We would both laugh at the very adult jokes that we heard on the program and wonder if our mothers had thought that we had been too young and inexperienced to understand the double entendres that slipped into the script. It was a closely guarded secret among kids that Rocky and Bullwinkle introduced us to a very intellectual and daring kind of humor.
My father loved comedy and he even had a number of books in his collection that featured illustrated comic strips. If he had lived long enough I suspect that he would have been guffawing at Rocky and Bullwinkle along with me and the rest of my family. While I’m a huge fan of Batman and I really enjoy Iron Man, Rocket J. Squirrel will always be my favorite superhero. Who wouldn’t love a flying squirrel who constantly saved the world from horrible fates in a time when we were still climbing under our tasks to practice duck and cover lest the Soviet Union bomb or nation? Somehow Rocky seems as relevant now as he was back then.