Before Branded, and hiking towards where the sidewalk ends…


By Shawn Robare

I thought I’d take a quick break from this year’s Halloween countdown to try and tackle this week’s League of Extraordinary Bloggers assignment, which is all about pulling back the curtain and writing a State of the Site address (where it’s at and where I see it going in the future.)  This isn’t something I typically indulge in, but the site has been inching closer and closer to its 7th birthday which is a personal milestone I had set when I began this project.  I’m going to shamelessly steal the framing perspective of this piece from Jaime over at Shezcrafti and start at the beginning, which for me was 1996, a decade before I’d actually launch Branded in the 80s and the year that I was fully introduced to the world wide web.

In ’96 I’d been out of high school for a year, had just moved out on my own and was spending my nights working on the stock crew at a local grocery store.  A friend had just bought his first computer and after the excitement of watching the included Weezer “Buddy Holly” video ten times in a row we were hooking it up to a modem and creating our first AOL e-mail accounts within in the hour.  Of course we’d over dosed on the movie Hackers the year before, and I knew that being presented with my first opportunity to create a screen name wasn’t a task to be taken lightly.  Would it be the Master of Disaster, Ultra Laser, or Doctor Doom?  No, I wasn’t the type of guy who could live up to something like Zero Cool, Cereal Killer, Acid Burn, Lord Nikon, or The Plague.  Even with the opportunity to create ANY identity, I couldn’t help but be something that was more in line with my actual self.  Pondering the possibilities I immediately went to thoughts of my childhood (though still a teenager at the time, the irony isn’t lost on me now) and the cartoon that sort of defines the 80s Saturday Morning experience for me, the Smurfs. DualSmurf was born in my attempt to address my love of the 80s mixed with the idea that I had two lives (online and real life) that were both the same.  Yeah, doesn’t make much more sense to me now as I’m sure it sounded back then.  My next step though was trying my best to get a homepage of my own up and running asap.

Fast forward 10 years, a handful of Smurf-related handles, and one odd Angelfire site dedicated to a fictional conspiracy in which the Yoo Hoo Corporation was trying to cause widespread color-blindness in consumers, and I’m buying a new PC and finally severing my ties with dial-up internet.  It’s February of 2006 and I had still yet to create that homepage or website that I could call my own.  I’d been using Deviant Art as a sort of place-holder for an online presence, but I never really considered myself all that much of an artist so it just felt weird hanging around there all the time.  I’d just discovered the concept of podcasting and the evening after setting up the PC I decided that come hell or high water I was going to create a website and a podcast.  Inspired by Matt at X-Entertainment, Todd at Neato Coolville and Kirk at the Secret Fun Spot (and blog), I again decided that the way to go was to concentrate on my childhood and nostalgia.

Enter Branded in the 80s, which began as a podcast, but pretty soon I was writing more than recording and it’s become the site it is today.  Coming back to the 7th anniversary of the site, again, I’ve always been a pretty big fan of the number seven.  I was born in 1977, on the 17th of July and years of writing that number on applications and forms has led to a semi-obsession.  It even popped up on the initial design of the site back when it launched (and stayed that way for the first two or three years…

The initial goal was to make it to the 7-year mark.  I honestly never thought I’d still be working on Branded this many years later, but the impact running the site has had on my life is large enough that I can’t imagine not doing it after I reach that goal next March.  Over the last seven years and through contacts and friendships made through the site I’ve had a ton of amazing experiences.  I’ve published a couple zines, traveled around the country to table at conventions, heck, I even helped plan and execute an independent art event for cartoonists a couple years ago.  I’ve also had a lot of fun working on the Countdown to Halloween website with John Rozum, providing a hub for like-minded sites to find each other during one of our favorite holidays.  I’ve been a guest on numerous podcasts, was mentioned on NPR and in the Guardian, and even had the opportunity to be interviewed by the Washington Post.  Over the last year I feel like I’ve been getting pretty close to a few website milestones (just about to 1000 articles/posts and I just passed 2 million pageviews), I’ve also met a ton of new folks through activities like The League, on Twitter and in starting a Facebook page for Branded.  I contributed an article to the upcoming Strange Kids Club Anthology and I’ve also sort of jumped back into podcasting (as a guest on 6 episodes of the Nerd Lunch show, and there are a few other appearances on other podcasts in the pipeline including the 1st episode of a newly launched Top Hat Sasquatch show.)

Obviously none of this would have happened without the site and as far as where I see it going, well, I never really know.  There are a couple places I’d like to take the site in terms of making it feel a little more tangible, but I’d hate to stick my foot in my mouth and announce plans that I might not execute.  Let’s just say that I’d really like to work on writing a book, but I haven’t nailed down exactly what that would be just yet.  Besides, I’d need to find one hell of an editor to put up with the jumbled mess that tends to spew out of my keyboard.  As far as I can say though, I see myself re-aligning for a ten-year goal and I look forward to whatever the next three or so years bring.

So, did you enjoy what you read about the state of Branded in the 80s?  Well, why not head on over to some of the other League member’s sites and see where they’re at!

Tommy, Top Hat Sasquatch, is launching a new podcast and is thinking about breaking out the video camera

Jaime, Shezcrafti, is breaking out of her shell and yet still keeping it Crafty

Kev, That Figures, is coming out of a toy drought and looking to do more reviews

The Goodwill Geek, GoodWill Hunting 4 Geeks, is just starting, but having a blast

William, WillaimBruceWest.com, kind of wants to take over the world, pop culturally speaking

  • http://www.strangekidsclub.com/ Rondal

    Wow – 7 seven years, that’s so surreal! I love this idea for a post, looking back at the origins of things, and I can’t wait to read the other members’ entries. I’m glad that you were able to get Branded started, Shawn. I know that without it SKC probably would not exist in quite the same way and I’m looking forward to seeing you carry on the Branded legacy!

  • http://www.coolandcollected.com/ Brian (Cool and Collected)

    Shawn, what can I say other than the fact that your site has influenced just about all of us who decided to try their hand at writing on topics that touched the 80′s. You’ve set a very high bar for the rest of us to reach for. Congrats on 7 totally tubular years!

  • http://jephso.blogspot.com/ Jephso

    I’m a fan from the first podcasts you did, and it’s strange to think the site has been going for 7 years now. That’s a long time. Here’s to many more. One of my fave sites on the www.

  • Chris

    Thanks for running this site/blog, it’s part of my daily routine to check what goodness you’ve posted! As a child of the 80s (born in ’78), this helps re-kindle my own obsession with my childhood. And I totally forgot about that “Buddy Holly” video that was included with Windows!