Finding ‘Courage’ Again: An Interview with Marty Grabstein

If you’re anything like me, you grew up watching Cartoon Network cartoons in the late ’90s and early ’00s. There were a ton to enjoy, from Powerpuff Girls to Dexter’s Lab, and even classics like Samurai Jack. However one of the best and most underrated was a little cartoon called Courage the Cowardly Dog.

Based on an Oscar-nominated animated short, The Chicken from Outer Space, Courage was about a small pink, easily frightened dog, named Courage, who lived in the middle of a town called Nowhere with his owners Muriel and Eustice Bagge, spending his weeks protecting his masters from the various supernatural and demonic forces that would plague the town. Running from November 1999 to November 2002, the show was easily one of the best animated shows the network ever aired, garnering several awards, and building up a loyal and dedicated fanbase due to the fact that it was scary, yet funny, and incredibly full of charm and eccentric characters.

After almost 20 long years since the show aired its final season, the appetite to see a new adventure with the character has only grown thanks to repeat viewings of the series on platforms like HBO Max. And now, thankfully, on September 14, our favorite cowardly pink dog will finally make his grand return in the new film Straight Outta Nowhere: Scooby Doo Meets Courage the Cowardly Dog! The film sees Courage teaming up with one of the most legendary cartoon canines of all time, Scooby Doo, for a brand new spooky adventure!

In celebration of the film’s release, The Nerds of Color was given the opportunity to speak directly to the voice behind Courage himself, Marty Grabstein. And let me tell you, as a fan of the show since 1999, this was such a huge deal for me! Here’s what Grabstein had to say about Straight Outta Nowhere and the enduring legacy of Courage the Cowardly Dog:

NOC: I wanted to tell you it’s an honor to speak with you, Marty! I’m a big fan of Courage. I wish I could say I was a kid when I watched it, but I was actually in my teens when it aired in the early 2000s. And I still loved it! I watched it from the first season to the final season, and I loved it. And it was so great seeing him again in this new film.

Grabstein: Aww. Thank you! How old were you when you saw it?

I was about 15 at the time, and I still loved it! It got dark and scary at times, but I loved it because back then you could have darker and scarier tones for kids shows and it would be great!

You’re right about that, Mike!

What I loved about the movie is that in a lot of ways, it’s a love letter to the original show. It’s a Courage story with Scooby Doo in it. And I really enjoyed that. From the callbacks to answers about why creepy stuff happens in Nowhere. It was a nice way to return to the universe. And I wanted to ask how does it feel coming back to the role since the original series wrapped back in 2002?

It’s a wonderful thing. It really is so great, Mike… To be honest with you I think it’s long overdue. I’ve wanted a Courage movie 20 years ago! Where’s the Courage movie? We got the Powerpuff Girls Movie! I don’t care about Powerpuff Girls! Anyway that’s the way I was feeling. Every once in a while I channel [Courage] without any warning! But I’m very, very happy and was very, very excited when Warner Bros. called me about this. And I’ll be honest with you, it’s not a Courage-alone movie. The idea that such an icon as Scooby Doo stepped in basically says — we’re going to do another Scooby Doo movie, but we’re going to feature Courage in this one. I thought that was wonderful! I thought it would be so terrific. And the fact that the movie was going to take place in Nowhere was a great touch. A generous sensibility that works! I think it works.

It was a great concept and a great idea, and a great way to bring back Courage, because I missed him very much. So I really enjoyed it.

I’m so happy about that man. I’m really glad.

Courage has such an iconic gallery of villains. Between the Purple Foot, and Freaky Fred, or the alien ducks, did you have a personal favorite villain from any of the episodes?

For me, I really think my favorite actual villain — the kind you love to hate, was Katz, I would suppose. I really liked Katz because he was so smooth. Like Hannibal Lector… But Freaky Fred is, for me, the creepiest one, and certainly one of the top two or three of the Courage episodes. The whole “Naughty” [bit]. Really creepy stuff.

He was really creepy. And the music that accompanied him. I remember to this day! *shudder*

By the way, in terms of the actors coming back, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Thea White. Her recent passing was so sad. Very, very sad. A very close friend of mine also. So truly I am so pleased that she got to do this. Not knowing that it was her swan song of this Muriel character that she created so beautifully. So it’s really kind of cool that she’s in there with us.

I definitely agree. And I will miss her so much. I love that this movie is a wonderful way to honor her. I wanted to ask did you have any favorite memories just working and collaborating with her?

A favorite memory. Interesting point. Because collaborations were few and far between. The idea that generally for recording I would go right into the studio alone without anybody there. Each one of us would be scheduled separately, and they would mix and match the lines together… so there was limited amount of collaboration. But when you say my favorite memory, I have two favorite memories of Thea White. The best stuff about her was seeing her when we would overlap outside of the booth in the area where the director said “come in and go into the booth.” The “answer” room so to speak. She would come in earlier, and I would still be there, and we would be talking and the connection would be so great between she and I. Humorous. Laughing. It was just naturally there. It had to have translated into the warmth and the love that Courage and Muriel had for one another in the series. So that is quite a cool memory. Of course the best memories of her were sitting with her on the phone at 2 o’clock in the morning in the last year, talking about 2-3 nights a week, because I’m a late nighter, she’s a late nighter. Just talking and having lots of fun chatting up all kinds of nonsense. Just laughing and talking. So that for me is something that I will always treasure. That the last year of her life, our relationship really got quite, quite close. But anyway. I wax metaphysical on this one. So…

It is wonderful that you got to spend all that time with her. And we’re definitely going to miss her. I love that between this movie and the series, she’ll live on through those, especially to us fans. We love her and we’ll miss her for sure. You mentioned during the recording process, you would record separately. I imagine it was the same with this movie. But were you able to meet the legendary Frank Welker, because you two meeting would be as epic as Courage meeting Scooby.

Well I have not met Frank Welker. I’m going to put it out to the world, and to Warner Bros., and anyone who can make it happen — can we bring Marty and Frank Welker together? Bring Marty and Frank Welker together. He truly is an icon. Truly the man when it comes to Scooby Doo. And I show respect in his expertise in his voice over roles. I think it’s a no-brainer. I think we have to somehow bring Marty and Frank Welker together! I would love to meet him. It’d be great to meet him. I was so happy to be working with Matthew Lillard, and Kate Micucci and Grey Griffin, and of course, Jeff Bergman! He did a great job of doing Eustice. Very close to Lionel Wilson who left us after the third season. So great job. They did a wonderful job with this film, as far as I’m concerned. I’ll be honest, I did not see the entire film. I saw bits and pieces of it, because I went into the ADR and saw the animation, and hear the music, and how they shot it. And I was amazed at how they were able to bring in both universes together. Because they’re very different kinds of universes. The idea that Scooby is such a very family friendly kind of character, primarily focused on kids and family. And Courage… the older kids got into it. So I think Courage is darker and more edgy. And the idea of somehow bringing both of these characters together in one universe together, and managing to stay true to the spirit of both is quite a trick. And I think they did a very nice job of that. It was so seamless, I can’t always tell how Courage was slightly altered and how Scooby was slightly altered — each one to accommodate the other one’s spirit. I don’t know where it is. I can’t even point to a moment where that’s happening. I think that’s cool. The magic of filmmaking.

My favorite scenes were really Courage teaming up with Shaggy and Scooby. The trio is so brilliant and so funny. Are there any other Hanna Barbera characters you’d like Courage to team up with as well?

Oh yes! That’s a good question! A very good question! It’s so funny. I was just thinking about just the other day, I have a friend who’s an artist… named Michael Crosia. And he’s a huge fan of Hanna Barbera. And lots of his style draws from the old Hanna Barbera cartoons. And I asked Michael, “can you draw a fun thing with Courage the Cowardly Dog and Huckleberry Hound?” Huckleberry Hound who’s almost… almost like on the bring of falling asleep. And Courage is so hyper. That bringing them together — you couldn’t find a more unlikely duo. So that would be a fun combination. And also, totally off the wall, but in my mind is the idea of somehow Courage being propelled backwards in time to where? Bedrock! I would love to see Fred Flintstone, and Barney and the girls with Courage! And see what happens there. And Courage bringing evil and scary villains all over with Courage into Bedrock. Freaking out the generally relaxed sensibility of the town! It would be really fun somehow!

I would love to see that! For my last question, I wanted to ask — there were rumors that creator John R. Dilworth was working on a revival for the Courage show. Do you think that we’ll get to see Courage again? Or does this movie feel like the final closure for Courage, Muriel, and Eustace?

Oh bite your tongue sir. The final closure? No, that cannot be! We will not accept that! That’s how it is with the world of comics and cartoons. You think it’s over, and guess what? It ain’t over! I know John has been approached numerous times. And he’s tried to get things going with certain things. But for all the reasons, for one or another, they didn’t necessarily materialize. One was – the most recent one — was a prequel. A prequel to Courage. It was a fun idea. Courage before he was the Courage as we know him. Back in time when he’s with his actual dog parents. And the beginnings with Courage. So we did do a fun pilot for it, but it just somehow didn’t happen. I’m not sure the reasoning why. But don’t you think it’s sort of a no-brainer? If Scooby Doo, the icon — one of the great icons in the history of animated cartoon characters — you don’t get much more popular… if the people behind Scooby Doo say “Let’s get together with Courage and make it happen,” they must have known that Courage has his fanbase. That there’s a whole lot of people… generally seeking the idea. Because I go to these conventions, and I see people very excited to see Courage. Hungry because the show has had such a powerful effect on them. And I got a chance to be a part of that. To breathe life into this character… So I’d like to believe there are rumblings in the world saying we gotta bring back Courage the Cowardly Dog. Why wouldn’t we do that? It just doesn’t make any sense to not do it… So that’s my prediction. It’s a bold prediction. What do you think about that, Mike?

As a member of the fanbase I want it! I don’t care if it’s a prequel, a sequel, or anything. I just want more Courage. That’s for sure! And I have a feeling inside that we’re definitely going to see more of Courage again! Especially after people see this movie. I think we’re going to get more!

And until the day we do, for the time being, you can watch Marty’s triumphant return as Courage when Straight Outta Nowhere: Scooby Doo Meets Courage the Cowardly Dog hits home entertainment and digital on September 14!