Back in the halcyon days of the 80s, our younger selves loved nothing more than purchasing a good comic book from our local newsagent, settling down at home to read, and not long after that watching our favourite cartoons on the telly. So when a great comic became the basis for a similarly great animated TV show – well, that just made our whole childhood!
Here are ten examples of great cartoon shows (first hitting screens between the 70s and the 90s) which originally began life as comic books. You might not have realised that all these were comics first…
Starting out as a series of comics by the author and illustrator Carl Banks, DuckTales told the globe-trotting tales of Scrooge McDuck and his cheeky grand-nephews Huey, Dewey, and Louie.
The comic may have been great but the cartoon was the stuff of legend, giving us 100 brilliant episodes and a spin-off movie before undergoing a successful reboot in 2017.
Bananaman made his debut in 1980 as part of the first issue of Nutty, a British comic that was published weekly for five years before merging with The Dandy. The muscle-bound, banana-powered superhero can still be seen within the pages of The Beano.
Of course, many of us remember Bananaman most fondly for the BBC cartoon which ran for 40 episodes between 1983 and 1986, with the characters voiced by Graeme Garden, Tim Brooke-Taylor and Bill Oddie of TV comedy team The Goodies.
8. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Created by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles started life as a joke before making a huge sensation when their first comics appeared in 1984. Within three years of this, the characters made their way to TV screens in the far more colourful and light-hearted animated series.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles sparked controversy for being too violent for kids (and wound up being originally renamed Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles in the UK and parts of Europe) – but that’s nothing compared to how dark and gruesome the original comics got.
7. The Smurfs
How a colony of tiny blue Belgian creatures ever became so popular we have no idea, but after starting out in Pierre Culliford’s comic strip back in 1958, The Smurfs wound up becoming a global phenomenon.
The Smurfs first came to the screen in the 1960s animated series, but naturally the version we remember is the second cartoon that ran from 1981 to 1989. There’s since been two big screen movies and another small screen reboot.
Many of you will remember reading the fantastic Asterix comic books that had titles like Asterix at the Olympic Games and Asterix and the Big Fight, but his adventures were also adapted a long-running series of animated films.
Since the tail end of the 90s, we’ve also had a number of live action Asterix movies too; the most recent of these, Asterix & Obelix: The Middle Kingdom, landed in 2023.
5. King Rollo
There could easily be some debate on whether or not David McKee’s original series of King Rollo books strictly speaking count as comics; they’re more picture books intended for young readers. But both the books and the show were childhood favourites of many in the 80s, so we’ll allow it.
It may surprise you, however, that the beloved King Rollo cartoon series was very short-lived, with only 13 episodes produced in 1980.
4. The Adventures of Tintin
The second franchise on our list to originate from Belgium, The Adventures of Tintin told the story of a spiky haired reporter and his dog and was created by the cartoonist Georges Remi, who published his work under the name Hergé.
Hergé’s books have sold more than 200 million copies across the globe, and The Adventures of Tintin was adapted into two different animated TV shows before Steven Spielberg gave it the Hollywood treatment in his 2011 film.
3. Bucky O’Hare and the Toad Wars
Be honest now: when Bucky O’Hare and the Toad Wars first hit TV screens in the early 90s, were you aware that the character began life in comics? Created back in the late 70s, Bucky’s space-faring adventures were first published in 1984.
The cartoon went down a storm with viewers, yet it’s another one that didn’t last as long as you might think; only 13 episodes were ever made.
2. Captain Pugwash
One of the oldest characters to make the list, Captain Pugwash started life all the way back in 1950 in comic strip form. The first Captain Pugwash cartoon followed in the late 50s, but the version most of us are familiar with is the 30-episode run produced between 1974 and 1975.
A late 90s reboot series followed, and in 2017 a live-action movie was almost produced with Nick Frost in the title role, but was sadly cancelled over budget issues.
1. Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends
Long before Spider-Man headlined some of the most popular movies ever made, we were first exposed to the Marvel Comics superhero in the animated series Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends, which ran for 24 episodes between 1981 and 1983.
Because of the series, we never understood as youngsters why Iceman wasn’t as popular a superhero as Spider-Man – and we certainly didn’t realise that Firestar was an original character who had never appeared in comics beforehand.