Sometime in 1960, Wildey did his last work for Atlas. He was working almost exclusively in comic strips by then, even briefly, for one month, as the ghost artist of "Steve Canyon" for his idol, Milton Caniff. Except for a few Dr. Kildare stories for Dell, Wildey would be absent from comic books until the late-1960's. He made several attempts at creating his own comic strip around this time, that, while they never sold to a syndicate, they would have a significant effect on his career in animation.
In his own words: "I once tried an automobile comic strip…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. Then later on, I tried another strip about a writer-artist team that traveled the world together 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." 4
However, the "Stretch Bannon" strip has a greater importance to the world of animation beyond just the name. As can be seen in the original art for one of the only two known examples of the strip, the title character of Stretch, clearly depicted in the last two panels, is visually, the Race Bannon of Jonny Quest. And even more startling is the appearance of his young sidekick, Chip, found in the first four panels. Chip is Jonny Quest.
Again, the words of Doug Wildey: "…Joe Barbera just asked me to create a new character for them. I came up with Jonny Quest, but at first it was called "The Ballad of Chip Balloo." The characters were all the same and had the same relationship, but that was my first title."5 Apart from the historic significance of this strip, the art stands as a wonderful example of his ever-improving illustrative style.
The failure of these strips to sell and the ending of "The Saint" in 1962, prompted Wildey to look elsewhere for work.
(It should be mentioned here that Wildey often expressed a disdain for his comic book work, "…actually, I was a little ashamed of working in the business. I thought it was a crummy, trashy, non-literate business." 6Considering the quality of his art, this is, at first reading, a startling statement. But placing it in the context of referring to the bulk of his comic work, produced in the 1950's, it is a bit more understandable. Writer Mark Evanier knew Wildey personally and once wrote, "He professed to care nothing about artistry, but then he'd sit down to work and put the lie to his own defense mechanism…He took no short cuts, trimmed no corners and-incredibly- imitated no one…you couldn't draw like that, if you didn't care." Evanier goes on to note that eventually Wildey made comments like these, "with a wink and a touch of self-parody."7)
While reading the help wanted section of the National Cartoonists Society newsletter in 1962, Wildey came across an ad looking for an animation artist. His phone call led to a job offer in Los Angeles with Cambria Studios, which hired him on a one-week trial basis. The project was a cartoon series named Space Angel and the art director was Alex Toth.
As art director, the great Toth had to be an influence on the novice animator Wildey. Toth's legendary sense of design and ability to find and draw the perfect expressive line, has made him an "artist's artist." It is no stretch to assume that Wildey assimilated some of Toth's technique while working in close proximity to him. This temporary position of one week developed into a job lasting about three months.
One more observation: it is interesting to note the similarities and virtually parallel career paths shared by Wildey and Toth. Both started in comic books, spent time as strip artists, became giants of the animation industry and eventually drifted back into comic books. Noteworthy, too, are the times their careers came together and the quality of work that was produced.
When the Space Angel project ended, Wildey applied for a position as a storyboard artist for director Stanley Kramer. Before this became actualized, though, he found out about another animation job down the street at Hanna-Barbera. Hired because of his comic strip background, the assignment was to develop a cartoon based upon the old radio show, Jack Armstrong. This concept was never totally realized, due to the cost of liscensing the Jack Armstrong character and the project was given over to Wildey to create anew. This, of course, became Jonny Quest, the quintessential adventure cartoon series. Since Jonny Quest and Wildey's essential part in it has been covered extensively elsewhere, it will only be discussed here in passing.
An aspect that should be mentioned is the artists Wildey recruited to this series. Most of the staff artists at Hanna-Barbera had a difficult time drawing the more realistic characters necessary for Jonny Quest. To remedy this, Wildey brought in Warren Tufts, the outstanding artist of the Casey Ruggles strip, and not surprisingly, Alex Toth.
(Wildey had a similar, but inverse problem, to the Hanna-Barbera staff artists. He once was assigned to draw a cartoon version of actress Ann-Margret to appear in an episode of The Flintstones. He easily drew the semi-realistic head of the character, but due to his life-like drawing style, he could not complete a Flintstones-like version of her body to fit in with the rest of the cartoons characters. That was left to one of the regular staff artists.)