Updated on December 30, 2021
It’s time for my annual look back over which cartoons should’ve seen their copyrights expire and enter public domain as of January 1, 2020—but didn’t, thanks to retroactive extensions to copyright lengths.
My usual statement about such copyright lengths:
Under the copyright laws that existed from 1909 through 1978, works could be copyrighted for a single 28 year term, with one 28 year renewal allowed, or a total of 56 years. This was deemed sufficient for most of the 20th century. It also allowed for the creation of a large amount of the entertainment we still enjoy today.
If the former laws were still in effect, material (including comics and animated cartoons) created in 1963 would be entering the public domain in 2020. Instead, copyrights were retroactively extended in the late 70s and 90s, the latter thanks to heavy lobbying by Disney and a few other wealthy interests. As such, it’s now 95 years for most corporate works (as “work for hire”), or life of the author plus 70 years for creator-owned works (such as my blog).
Fortunately, as of 2019, the public domain became active once more, as older material started to see their copyrights expire. In 2020, material created in 1924 will enter the public domain. For example, United Airlines will be free to use George Gershwin’s 1924 classic “Rhapsody in Blue” for their ads without paying his estate royalties. (Gershwin’s heirs were among those pressing for longer copyrights in the 90s.)
Below is a list of cartoons created in 1963 that should’ve entered public domain in 2020 under their original copyright rules.
Wikipedia has a list of major comics published in 1963.
- Superman related characters:
- Nim-El (Jor-El’s brother)
- Batman related characters:
- Aquaman related characters:
- Green Lantern related characters:
- The Tattooed Man
- Dr. Polaris
- Legion of Super-Heroes related characters:
- Element Lad
- Rainbow Girl
- Lightning Lass/Light Lass (Ayla Ranzz)
- Proty II
- The Legion of Substitute Heroes and its founding members:
- Night Girl
- Polar Boy
- Stone Boy
- Fire Lad
- Chlorophyll Kid
- The Doom Patrol and its founding members/related characters:
- Negative Man
- Robotman (Cliff Steele)
- The Chief
- General Immortus
- The Flash related characters:
- Prof. Zoom, the Reverse-Flash
- Heat Wave
- Paul Gambi
- Dexter Myles
- Ira West
- Justice League of America related characters:
- The Queen Bee (Zazzala)
- The Crime Champions
- The first JLA/JSA team-up, “Crisis on Earth-One,” which is also the first time the names “Earth-One” and “Earth-Two” are used
- The Avengers and its founding members/related elements:
- Avengers Mansion
- Spider-Man related characters:
- The Chameleon
- Doctor Octopus
- The Sandman
- J. Jonah Jameson
- John Jameson
- The Lizard
- The Vulture
- Fantastic Four related characters:
- The Hate-Monger
- The Impossible Man
- Willie Lumpkin (in comics; he’d appeared in a short-lived newspaper strip a few years earlier)
- Molecule Man
- The Mad Thinker
- The Awesome Android
- Paste-Pot Pete (later renamed “The Trapster” in “Fantastic Four” #38)
- Rama-Tut (gains his more familiar alias “Kang the Conqueror” in 1964’s “Avengers” #8)
- The Red Ghost and his Super-Apes
- The Super-Skrull
- Uatu the Watcher
- The Yancy Street Gang
- Thor related characters:
- Cobra (Klaus Voorhees)
- Mister Hyde (Calvin Zabo)
- The X-Men and its founding members/related characters:
- Marvel Girl (Jean Grey)
- Professor Charles Xavier
- The Vanisher
- Iron Man and related characters:
- Tony Stark
- Happy Hogan
- The Crimson Dynamo (Anton Vanko)
- The Melter (Bruno Horgan)
- Pepper Pots
- Dr. Strange and related characters:
- Dr. Stephen Strange
- The Ancient One
- Baron Mordo
- Nick Fury
- The Howling Commandos
- Giant-Man (Hank Pym)
- The Eel (Leopold Stryke)
- Plantman (Samuel Smithers)
- The Porcupine (Alexander Gentry)
- Radioactive Man (Chen Lu)
- The Wasp (Janet van Dyne)
- Pebbles Flintstone
- Bamm-Bamm Rubble
Note this is just Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm as infants. The various older versions of them seen in later spin-offs (such as “The Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm Show”) don’t apply here. The sole exception is the teenage version of Pebbles seen in the 1963 flash-forward/dream sequence episode “Groom Gloom.”
Tennessee Tuxedo and His Tales
“Tennessee Tuxedo and His Tales” is probably the most noteworthy early attempt at an educational TV cartoon. It was made on the heels of early 1960s criticism of the then-current state of television, especially educational TV.
Tennessee was a penguin who tried various schemes to better his and his walrus pal Chumley’s lives at their zoo. Said attempts usually met both failure and the consternation of cranky zookeeper Stanley Livingston. (As his theme song states, Tennessee’s “a small penguin, who tries but can’t succeed-o.”) Tennessee and Chumley would often escape from the zoo to seek the advice of Prof. Phineas J. Whoopee, and his “three-dimensional blackboard” (a souped-up expandable iPad-like slate). Professor Whoopee would explain various topics, such as how a (CRT) television works, how rockets work, or how to build a telegraph.
The show stayed around in syndicated reruns for decades. Often Tennessee’s shorts in syndication were mixed with those of fellow Total Television character Underdog (who debuted the following year), plus previous Total show “King Leonardo and His Short Subjects.”
Tennessee Tuxedo’s one of Total’s better remembered characters. A few new shorts were produced in 2014 for online. There’s also some who joke the Tennessee Titans football team (the former Houston Oilers, after moving from Houston in 1997) should’ve named themselves the “Tennessee Tuxedos.” (There is a pro sports team named after a penguin—the Pittsburgh Penguins hockey team.)
The Funny Company
A series of syndicated shorts that were another early attempt at educational TV programming. Being made in the 60s, the cast included a few stereotypical Native American characters.
The Mighty Hercules
A 1963 series of TV shorts based on the mythological character.
A 1963 series of TV shorts involving space travel. Noted as Filmation’s first TV work (as a subcontracted studio).
The Hector Heathcote Show
Hector Heathcote is a late 1950s-created Terrytoons character. He’s an American Revolution-era minuteman who engaged in various comedic adventures.
The New Casper Cartoon Show
Casper the Friendly Ghost’s first made-for-TV series. Of course, Casper, as well as Wendy, the Ghostly Trio, and Spooky, had been comic mainstays until this point.
The Sword in the Stone
The 1963 Disney animated feature about the future King Arthur as a boy, plus his mentor Merlin.
While it’s children’s literature, I thought it’d be worth mentioning that the first “Clifford the Big Red Dog” book was published in 1963. Thus, Clifford himself, along with his owner Emily Elizabeth, would’ve entered public domain under the book’s original copyright. (But not characters created in later “Clifford” incarnations, such as Clifford’s pals T-Bone and Cleo in the 2000s animated series.)
Many of the above characters, particularly those from DC and Marvel, are still big money-makers for their owners. “Avengers: Endgame” became the top-grossing movie of all time in 2019; the Doom Patrol and the DC Multiverse are being used in TV productions; and of course, the X-Men have been multi-million-dollar cash cows for Marvel since the 90s.
Still, it doesn’t change that most of what was created in the 20th century should already be in public domain. That includes most of what Disney and Warner Brothers heavily rely on as intellectual property.
That said, if all of the above cartoons had entered the public domain in 2020 (on “schedule”), Tony Stark, Mera, Pebbles Flintstone, J. Jonah Jameson, and Tennessee Tuxedo would all be as free to use as King Arthur, Sherlock Holmes, and Robin Hood. Instead, we’ll have to wait until 2059 for that to happen, assuming no more retroactive extensions take place.
Image from “The Avengers” #1 (September 1963). Art by Jack Kirby. (Marvel)