Classic Jonny Quest
Jonny Quest Origins
© 1998, Lyle P. Blosser

The Origin of Jonny Quest
Jonny Quest Character Development

The following information was gathered from numerous sources, but major sources were:
  • Television Chronicles (issue #2).
  • The Art of Hanna-Barbera.
  • My Life in 'toons. Barbera, Joseph. Turner Publishing, Inc. 1994
  • Jonny Quest Classics (issues 1-3), Comico.
  • Toon (vol 1. no.8 - Doug Wildey tribute issue), Evanier, Mark.
  • Amazing Heroes (#95 - Jonny Quest issue), Olbrich, David W.
  • Comics Feature (issues #30 and #31), Van Hise, James.
  • The Forgotten Art of Doug Wildey, Quattro, Ken.

1964-65, ABC. 26 episodes.
Produced and directed by William Hanna and Joseph Barbera
Musical direction and theme by Hoyt Curtin
Based on an idea by Doug Wildey

The Origin of Jonny Quest

Although at first Jonny Quest seems most closely related to the Tom Swift, Jr. juvenile science fiction novels of the 50's and 60's penned under the name Victor Appleton, Hanna-Barbera co-founder Joseph Barbera in his autobiography My Life in 'toons cites the comic strip Terry and the Pirates as being the primary inspiration for Jonny Quest.

"It was a major departure for us, but both Bill and I had been hooked on adventure stories and superheroes since we were kids. As I've said, Bill and I really don't have much in common, but we both spent our nickels and dimes on movie serials and had read Frank Merriwell and Tom Swift novels as kids. I particularly admired Milt Caniff's long-running newspaper comic strip Terry and the Pirates, and that was the main inspiration for Jonny Quest - not only for some of the characters...but also in the sharp, angular look of the artwork, the emphasis on scientific gadgets and high-tech hardware, and the far-flung, exotic locales for the action."

Click here for a image of Caniff's "Dragon Lady", one of the inspirations for Wildey's "Jade".

In The Art of Hanna-Barbera, Barbera elaborates:

"It had always been one of my long-standing dreams to do an action-adventure series. We tossed around a lot of ideas at the time. Actually, the inspiration for the series was Terry and the Pirates, the long-time popular comic by Milt Caniff. I had always liked and admired this strip which had a blond, a good-looking hero like Race Bannon, and an adventurous young kid like Jonny Quest. They also operated all over the world, taking on exotic villains like the Dragon Lady. You could say that Terry and the Pirates even influenced the artwork for Jonny Quest. In fact, if you want to see a technique that's reminiscent of Jonny Quest, just look at any strip of Terry and the Pirates, at how the shadows are done and the way the characters are drawn."

The Television Chronicles states:

"Regarding the genesis of the overall project, the Quest format was born out of a thwarted attempt by illustrator Doug Wildey and H-B to adapt radio hero Jack Armstrong into an animated series. In fact, it was this unrealized Jack Armstrong project which provided the segments in the series' closing credits showing African tribesmen attacking the Quest party, as these scenes do not appear in any of the final episodes." Apparently, negotiations with the owners of the Jack Armstrong property went on for quite some time, but eventually fell through, it is thought, sometime in 1962. After some re-working, the series was finally given the green light in early 1963, and work began in earnest.

In an interview for Amazing Heroes, Wildey elaborates:

AH: Can you go through the creation process of Jonny Quest? Now, Hanna-Barbera had found a way to get The Flinstones on prime-time TV, on ABC. What happened next that inspired them to try Jonny Quest?

DW: I was looking for a job. I was coming from another studio where I'd worked for about 12 or 14 weeks under Alex Toth, on a thing called Space Angel. I had applied to Universal (which was called something else at the time) as sort of a storyboard/production designer. Stanley Kramer's office got interested in my stuff, so I figured, rather than move back to Arizona, where my family lives, maybe I could latch onto Stanley Kramer. Hanna-Barbera was up the street from there, so I simply crossed the street, went up to Hanna-Barbera, and said, "Look, I'm an artist" and so forth. A couple of people there had read some of my comic strips and comic books, so they said, "Come in and see [Joe] Barbera." The following day, or maybe even the same day, Barbera called me up and said "Can you design, in your style, a show: Jack Armstrong?"

AH: This is the radio character, right?

DW: Right. I said "Yeah." So I storyboarded one, wrote some dialogue, wrote a little script, and then I did a kind of a presentation, showing a little continuity, a little color, and what the characters looked like. I worked on that thing for I guess three months, and listened to tapes of guys auditioning for a whole day.

Now that I think of it -- and I never honestly thought about it before -- you had almost the Jonny Quest setup in Jack Armstrong. It had Jack Armstrong, a young guy, about 17, Uncle -- Frank or Uncle Jack, I'm not sure -- a sidekick, and a girl, and they went around having adventures. Again, referring to Jonny Quest, it was a sort of global adventure type of thing, so I put them in Africa. I wanted to get into science, so I read Popular Science, Popular Mechanics, Science Digest, all that stuff, trying to project what would be happening 10 years hence.

By the way, that's how Jonny Quest was set up. We figured it might run for years, so I wanted to keep it current for ten years. As it worked out, the things I came up with were all out my head, other than projections from Scientific American and the like. We had one show where they went to the South Pole
[later changed to the Arctic ("Arctic Splashdown" - LPB]. I needed a vehicle, so I invented a thing which I called a "snowskimmer." Now in retrospect, why didn't I think of "snowmobile"? A simple thing like that, right? There was no snowmobile at the time, so I patterned the thing after those swamp buggies in Louisiana that had the big propeller on the back and would go stomping through the water -- they're nice visual things anyway. That's what I came up with, this vehicle that would ride on the snow, and I called it a snowskimmer. I was projecting okay? Now, of course, snowmobiles are everyday things. I would read about things like hydrofoils. I had hydrofoils only because I thought America, with all its waterways, would be inundated by hydrofoils like they are with snowmobiles. I had a hovercraft.

AH: The hovercraft that natives were throwing spears at in the credits.

DW: Right. That is all stuff we did for Jack Armstrong none of that was from Jonny Quest. Now, the rights to Jack Armstrong were owned by someone, and Hanna-Barbera, I presume, after watching what I had been doing on Jack Armstrong said "Why do we need Jack Armstrong?"

AH: Why license it? Why not just create something you could own?

DW: At which point Barbera came and said, "Can you create a show for us?" And I said "Yeah!" and went home and wrote Jonny Quest that night -- which was not that tough.

However, in The Art of Hanna-Barbera, Barbera indicates that Wildey was called in after the original concept had been established, and that Wildey's job was to work on designing the features of the show. Influenced by Popular Mechanics and Scientific American articles, Wildey created the character models, the hardware, and, indeed, the very "ambiance" that gave Jonny Quest such an air of authenticity, and made the show stand out from other animated features. Barbera states in My Life in 'toons:

"The result of the Jonny Quest promo film was even better than we had hoped for. It blew the clients out of the screening room, and they bought the series right away."

Regarding the naming of the characters, Doug Wildey stated the following in an interview for Amazing Heroes:

AH: Where did the name Jonny Quest come from?

DW: I can give you the dope on all the names. I originally named the show The Saga of Chip Balloo. It was a working title, I wasn't really serious, but that was it for the beginning.

As everybody in the illustrative cartoon business has done, I once tried an automobile comic strip. Because this whole country runs on the automobile economy, right? I know at least five other cartoonists -- I can't name them all any more, but I think they include Leonard Starr, Mel Kiefer, Frank Frazetta -- who all tried something with an automotive background. In my case, my guy was sort of an automobile designer. He raced cars. He had this glamorous European background, and raced on American tracks. I called him Stretch Bannon. I liked the name Stretch Bannon. Then, later on, I tried another strip about a writer-artist team that traveled the world getting into adventures. The name was Race Dunhill. So I put the Race and the Bannon together and that's where Race Bannon came from.

[Editor's note: The "Chip" in "The Saga of Chip Balloo" also came from the "Stretch Bannon" strip; Chip was Stretch's teenaged sidekick.]

[Editor's note: See some images from this strip in Ken Quattro's web article The Forgotten Art of Doug Wildey, especially the characters of Stretch and Chip, which are strikingly similar to Race and Jonny.]

We started to think about names and got serious. So, I thought, where do you get names? The L.A. phone book. Went through the L.A. phone book and finally Quest hit me. "Quest" has an adventure sound to it.

So, I pulled "Quest" out of the L.A. phone book. And Joe contributed Jonny without the "h" -- in other words, Jonathan. I liked that. It worked well in the title: the letters kind of came together. And that was acceptable to all hands.

After the name Quest was chosen for the main characters, the show's title was then altered to Quest File O-37. File O-37 was the label on the intelligence file that contained the data on the Quests and was shown in the first broadcast episode, "The Mystery of the Lizard Men". Finally, the name was changed again to the final Jonny Quest. The name does appear in some reports as The Adventures of Jonny Quest, which matches the form of the earlier title The Saga of Chip Balloo, but series credits and titles only show the abbreviated Jonny Quest.

Back to top of page

Jonny Quest Character Development

As Doug Wildey stated in the Amazing Heroes interview:

What I tried to concentrate on were the characters and the relationships between the characters, not just talking heads. By and large it seems to me that the show worked as a whole only because of the way the relationships between the characters themselves worked, and their relationships to other characters -- incidentals, villains, whatever.

Wildey drew inspiration for the Jonny Quest characters from a number of sources:
  • Jonny Quest was not based on a specific person, but Jackie Cooper's child-actor persona inspired the characterization. Wildey had also drawn a character for an earlier strip ("Stretch Bannon") of a teen-aged blond-haired boy named Chip (!), which looks amazingly like one would expect Jonny to look at age 16 or 17. An image of Chip can be seen in Ken Quattro's web article, The Forgotten Art of Doug Wildey.

    Again, for Amazing Heroes, Wildey states:

    I had a lot to draw on. I drew on Jackie Cooper's movies, his relationship to, let us say, George Raft or Wallace Beery -- that type of relationship. I drew upon some of the Frankie Darrow movies -- there's a name you never heard. Frankie Darrow was always the misunderstood kid --still a good guy, but nobody understood him. But he worked with a male lead in most cases; I had him to draw from. And then of course I had, let's face it, Terry and the Pirates. Not only do I think Caniff is still the greatest storyteller in the business, but after I worked for him and got to know the guy ... I mean, they say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery [laughs]. So drawing upon all of those, it was not all that tough.

    The Barbera influence was felt there because he had gone to see a movie called Dr. No and wanted to get in stuff like "007"-- numbers. Which we included, by the way, in the first Jonny Quest. It was called "Jonny Quest File 037" or something. We dropped that later; it didn't work. But that was his father's code name as he worked for the government as a scientist and that kind of thing. That influence was felt.

    The actual putting together of the kid and his father and the bodyguard was no big thing. Couple of hours' work and I had the outline. And I believe the following day I wrote the first premise, which was the Sargasso Sea
    [aka "Mystery of the Lizard Men" - LPB]. I wanted a mysterious element. The Sargasso Sea exists -- not quite as strongly as I had it -- but it was at one time called the Sea of Dead Ships, or whatever the heck it was. It seemed like a good setting for adventure. And then of course I wanted a real plausible adventure -- if you could call it plausible -- in the sense that things were being manipulated by real people.

  • Jonny's pal Hadji was created in response to Barbera's desire to add a dog to the show, which Wildey resisted. When Bandit was added, they realized that now they had a show where the hero would be basically talking to his dog. So they added Hadji, another character near to Jonny's age. Based on the Indian actor Sabu, Hadji's character was one of mystery and magic, a counterpoint to Jonny's more Western persona. In another odd twist, Sabu's son, Paul Sabu, auditioned for the part of Hadji, according Wildey.

    In the interview for Amazing Heroes, Wildey digs a little deeper into the story behind Hadji's development:

    And Hadji. We worked it out, not all that cleverly, that Hadji was supposed to be a child of the street in India and he saved Race's life from an assassin who threw a knife at him. [A pretty amazing goof, which has been picked up and passed along in several other publications. Hadji saved Dr. Quest's life, not Race's, in "Calcutta Adventure" - LPB] Then Hadji the poor child of the street was picked up and adopted by our group, became part of the cast. People later have asked, if he was a child of the street, where did he get all this magic knowledge and all these nice suits? I pass; I don't know.

    I've got pictures here of Hadji the child of the street, in a turban and a loin cloth, which is nice if you are in your own environment but somehow I couldn't see him traveling around with this group with just his loin cloth. It just didn't work. It was one of those things where you figure no matter what kind of cartoon or animated show this is it simply won't wash so I simply re-costumed him.

    I wanted a minority character who would work other than just a black kid from the ghetto, which was the usual-thing. Which brings us to the other thing through the years I've gone to the networks or productions studios with various show ideas. I had one with an Indian kid and an Eagle which was a period piece where this Indian kid worked with the U.S. cavalry and would have been kind of a showy thing and a little tough to make but the idea was the kid would hold the bow, hold onto the bowstrings and the eagle would grab the bow and fly the kid from place to place. It was a little kid [laughs] and not too heavy. But it was a big eagle [laughs]. Anyway the phrase that stands out in my mind from the network people that I talked to about it was flat "Indians don't go!" Period. I translated this to mean that there is not that much interest in Indians -- which to me is a complete surprise because I thought regardless of what the character was, if the character did interesting things, that would do it. But the word was, "Indians don't go" so the show never got anyplace. It was called "Little Bow" and he had contact with bears and outlaws and the whole schtick.

    And based on that, I guess there were some objections to Hadji. I had heard this but I couldn't pin it down as to who said what or how official it was but I felt there was enough disparity between these two kids who were roughly the same age-rather than have two twins or two kids who came from the same lifestyle.

    I figured Hadji would work better. The magic he could perform I believe was a little overdone. I did a bunch of promotional stuff on Hadji once I had the character incorporated into the cast. Then we did the old rope trick where he climbed up the rope. The cobras. That stuff I figured, okay, I'll go that far. I let him crawl up a rope no one is holding. However, it went a little too far with the disappearing act that was in show #2 or #3 with the mummy
    ["The Curse of Anubis"; the third show aired - LPB] where he jumps from one water jug to another. Which we later saw in Mr. Spielberg's film, Raiders of the Lost Ark. We also saw the snake pit in Raiders. Maybe that's why I liked that picture so much -- I was saying, "Boy what great writing ... wait a minute, I wrote that."

  • Dr. Quest was based on a character Wildey had drawn in the comic strip version of The Saint.

  • Race Bannon was based partly on actor Jeff Chandler, according to The Art of Hanna-Barbera and, according to Joseph Barbera in My Life in 'toons:
    "...our Race Bannon resembled the good-looking blond hero of Caniff's [Terry and the Pirates] strip...".

    Here's a publicity still of actor Jeff Chandler which seems to show an uncanny resemblance to Race, white hair and red shirt included!

    The name Race Bannon was a combination from two of Wildey's earlier comic strip characters, Race Dunhill and Stretch Bannon. And as seen in a panel displayed in "The Forgotten Art of Doug Wildey", Ken Quattro's biographical article, Stretch even looked like Race Bannon.

  • Bandit was added at the insistence of Joseph Barbera, although Wildey pushed for a more exotic pet. After proposing a number of alternatives, and strongly urging consideration of a monkey instead of a dog, Wildey was overruled, and the black-masked bulldog pup was added to the cast.

    In the Amazing Heroes interview, Wildey fills us in:

    DW: A guy named Dick Bickenbach designed the dog. Prior to the designing of the dog Joe Barbera and I had talked about a pet for Jonny, and somehow a dog didn't seem all that adventurous to me. I happen to like dog shows, Lassie and whatever, but they'd pretty much been done. Lassie had been a TV show and a series of movies. I believe Bandit was a suggestion on the part of a toy manufacturer to get a saleable stuffed toy. (See the FAQ entry on Bandit for more on this.) Because I had designed a whole gang of other pets for Jonny.

    AH: Other than dogs.

    DW: I had a small white cheetah and a monkey. Of course I liked the idea of the monkey, only because of the story possibilities -- what a monkey could do that a dog couldn't do realistically. I thought that would work a little better. But the dog is the thing we went with. Bickenbach did a nice job, but he was a Flintstone-type of designer. Somehow the dog worked, though I thought it was probably the weakest part of the show from that standpoint.

    AH: Bandit seemed to be used for comic relief.

    DW: Yeah, I tried to keep him working as comic relief so he wouldn't look so much like a prop thrown in to lighten things up. But it worked. Oddly enough, if you talk to people who are not fans but are simply in the 40-year-old age bracket, they will always remember the dog -- what it looked like and what its name was. So it was an identifiable character in the show and I guess you can't argue with something like that. But if a monkey or whatever had been in there, the same people would probably have remembered that pet.
    This is something that has never been publicized before. I was not all that crazy about the dog. As a matter of fact, I was rather volatile about the dog. I couldn't see any way to make it work on a reasonably intelligent level with a kid where the dog gets in trouble and the kid comes along to save the dog. I just couldn't buy it.

Jonny Quest and distinctive likenesses © Hanna-Barbera. All other images, image designs and other image work on this site are ©, © Hanna-Barbera or as noted. Text content is ©, except where noted otherwise, and may not be shared or re-published without the consent of the author. This is strictly a fan-based site, and is in no way affiliated with or approved by Hanna-Barbera or any other organizations, unless specifically indicated otherwise.