The All New Branded in the 80s – Walter Kellog Cereal Detective

On this new episode of the Branded in the 80s podcast I’m going to attempt to solve a mystery, a cold case 30 years in the making.  It’s a twisted tale of deception, a famous advertising slogan, mistaken identities, and murder.  Welcome to Cereal, presented by Branded in the 80s. This story is an obscure, mostly forgotten and dark period in cereal history.  Breakfast cereal history.  It begins with a beloved 80s commercial jingle and it will eventually uncover the death of a third tier cereal mascot and the cover-up that has slipped under the radar of a generation.

Join me as I talk about a series of weird coincidences that led me to discovering that no less than 4 different Kelloggs cereals have been masquerading as separate products, but have in fact been the same flaky breakfast for almost 40 years.

For this episode’s shout out I wanted to point to a very cool project by my bud Chance Raspberry, one of the lead animators on The Simpsons, called Little Billy.

Little Billy is the ultimate 80s homage cartoon and the world’s first animated series about neurodiversity, special needs and the power of being different.  As a child Chance was the spazz, weirdo or strange kid, growing up in the 80s with special needs and cartoons were and escape and healing force for him.  Not only did watching healthy does of Saturday morning cartoons and afternoon syndication series give him an outlet for his Tourettes, it showed him a path to discover his true calling, illustration and animation.

Now Chance wants to bring life to his own animated stories and to bring some awareness to special needs kids along the way.  Chance has been animating the Little Billy special solo, which is an arduous process. He’s set up an Indiegogo campaign to help him launch a collection of Little Billy merch so he can get the ball rolling both with the project and to help raise awareness for Tourettes.  This is totally a project that I can get behind, both conceptually and actually as I just donated this past week!

Chance is over halfway to his funding goal and as of the episode he has about another five days to go. A portion of all the funds raised will go to the Tourette Association of American, while the rest will help fund the animated special and Little Billy merch.  Chance has set up a lot of fun pledge rewards like t-shirts, stickers, animation lessons and he just released a couple of new pledges that might be of specific interest to listeners of this show.

Up for grabs are some authentic original animation drawings and finished animation cels from the super rad 80s flick One Crazy Summer signed by animator Bill Kopp!  Those are incredibly rare pieces of cinema history, especially for John Cusack or Savage Steve Holland fans.  So if you dig 80s animation and want to support a great cause and fun project, check out Little Billy at LittleBilly.com  You can also connect with chance on twitter where he’s @chanceraspberry or on Instagram @chanceraz.

 

Masters of the Universe Vs The A-Team: Or What’s in a Pose Anyway…

One of the aspects that I adore about collecting and sifting through 80s era ephemera is finding all the hidden gems and weird little connections between things that nine times out of ten we’d all miss until we really started paying closer attention. Whether it was figuring out that conceptually, the idea behind the Garbage Pail Kids’ Cabbage Path Kids parodies were introduced by Scholatic in their Maniac magazine almost a year before the Topps cards hit shelves

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…or that even though I grew up yearning for a Star Wars-themed jungle gym play set that I thought didn’t exist, it did in fact exist.

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Ephemera like this can lead to some fun and interesting discoveries.  Well recently my pal HooveR made a connection between two pieces of obscure ephemera from 1983 that I thought was pretty cool. He sent me a set of A-Team Colorform Rub N’ Play Transfers with a note attached that referenced a similar set of Masters of the Universe transfers from the same year.  I wrote about the MOTU set way back in 2011

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These sets were like the cheap-o versions of standard Colorforms sets, one off sheets that you could transfer onto an included backdrop to create your own battle scenes.  There were a few companies making them besides Colorforms, the most popular being Presto Magix.  I used to enjoy mixing up the different branded sets so that I could have He-Man fighting Darth Vader or hanging out with Thundarr the Barbarian.  That made for some interesting combinations when you really let your creativity flow (like this masterpiece below that I put together)…

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But getting back to that sheet of A-Team transfers that I was gifted; what HooveR pointed out though, was that whoever illustrated these sets decided to take a few creative shortcuts back in 1983.  Our guess is that being overworked (most likely as illustrators tend to be), whoever had the assignment to do the Masters of the Universe set decided to make it easier for themselves on the A-Team set by re-using a bunch of the same classic poses.  The results are pretty hilarious when you put them back to back!

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Do you notice the similarities?  How about now…

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I love this.  It’s like watching characters from one of my favorite live action TV shows in the 80s play acting scenes from one of my favorite cartoons!  What makes it extra hilarious to me is that knowing how strained the relationship was between Mr. T and George Peppard behind the scenes, it’s pretty freaking funny that they’re in the He-Man and Skeletor poses. I was also hoping that this carried forward into other Colorforms Rub N’ Play sets, but of the other ones I own (Gremlins & Michael Jackson), and the sets I’ve scoped online (Knight Rider, Pee-wee’s Playhouse, Mork & Mindy, Barbie, and Rainbow Brite) none of them reuse any Masters of the Universe poses (or any other famous poses that I can recognize.)

So, what are some fun things you’ve come to realize while shuffling through ephemera?

The All New Branded in the 80s Podcast – Refining my Quest to Collect

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In this episode of the show I switch gears from looking backwards to what it’s like to be a collector in the modern age.  How does getting older change the way I look at collecting, and how can I refine and focus my efforts to best accomplish my goal to reconnect with my childhood.

How about you?  How has getting older reshaped the way you collect?  Have you gone though any collection purges lately?  Focused or refined your hunt?  Let me know in the comments.

For this episode’s shout out I want to take a moment to point to my good friend Paxton’s new solo podcast called I Read Movies.  It’s all about movie novelizations, specifically how these book adaptations differ from their cinematic counterparts.  Pax and I both share a love of novelizations and he does a bang up job of highlighting what they bring to the table for fans of film.  You can find the show on iTunes, Stitcher, or at the show’s site.

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Clearing the guilt cache, or Fortress Maximus is the MAXIMEST!

I want to preface this piece by bringing up a simple fact. Sometimes real life sucks. It’s awkward, weird, painful, and tends to derail us when we least expect it.  Last August my father was diagnosed with an aggressive cancer and just a year after I had made the decision to uproot from my previous home of 20 years to move in with the love of my life, I was faced with the challenge of moving my parents across country so that I could take care of them. The past year has been rough to say the least. This is not typically something I’d mention here at Branded, but in the end dealing with real life junk kept me away from the site at a time when I just starting to prep for some big things and partnerships. It sucks, I sucked it up, I dealt with the things that needed to be handled and the site got thrown on the back burner. Family is certainly more important than this site, but in the mix of moving them, a million doctors appointments, and my father passing away I dropped the ball with a promotion that has been eating away at the back of my brain.

I haven’t done a ton of promotions on the site. Typically I end up buying stuff myself to give away and front all the shipping. It’s just how I roll. But the super gracious folks at Entertainment Earth reached out to me and wanted to partner up. I was hoping maybe they’d send some inexpensive 80s-centric tchotchkes, maybe a modern He-Man lunchbox or a Back to the Future pint glass or something that I could write about and then host a contest to give away. But they kind of insisted on sending one of the largest, most expensive modern Transformers toys on the market, the Titans Return Fort Max play set. I agreed, worked on an article while I waited for it to be shipped out, and was getting pretty excited to be able to gift one of these things to some lucky reader of the site. Fort Max arrived, I unboxed it, took a bunch of pictures and was all set to finish the review and set up the contest when the news about my father hit me like a ton of bricks.

Over the next three months I had every intention of finding a couple hours to throw the contest up on the site, and every time I finally found some free time to myself something would pop up. I kept telling myself that as long as I got the review and contest up and running by the end of November it would all be cool. I’m sure sending me a free Fortress Maximus is hardly going to bankrupt Entertainment Earth, but I still felt guilty all the same. That monster of a toy cost over $100 at retail and I had made a commitment to help pimp their site for their trouble. And there it sat in the corner of my office like a 2 foot tall guilt monster staring at me.  When the middle of December rolled around I had, had enough. I boxed Fort Max back up and gave it to my nephew for Christmas. Ultimately, that was where he was going to go anyway as my nephew is a Transformers nut and seriously, what the hell was I going to do with it anyway.  It’s not a bad toy, but I’m just not enough of a Transformers nerd to give it the home it deserves. So at least it found an appreciative owner and I was safely away from it’s frozen-faced stare.

Of course, that didn’t change the fact that I still didn’t deliver on my end of the bargain. Having just recently found some balance in my life I’ve been able to pick back up with Branded a bit. This review has been sitting in my drafts folder for over a year and honestly, I didn’t have the heart to delete it. Long story short, the super rad folks at Entertainment Earth gave me a very cool toy, and here is a review of that toy. Unfortunately I can’t give one away in a contest now (pretty sure that bridge has fallen to ashes), but I can at least ask anyone who reads this to hop on over to the site and consider buying some plastic fun for someone this holiday season. And if you’re curious what I think about a giant toy robot, then by all means, please continue reading…

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As a kid growing up in the 80s it was tough not to covet like, ALL the toys. All of them.  Between daydreaming about winning the Toys R Us Toy Run Sweepstakes where I’d get a chance to have five whole minutes to grab everything I could get my hands on in the store or pouring over all the little toy catalogs that came packed with vehicles and figures from toy lines like G.I. Joe, M.A.S.K. and Transformers, I was always thinking about toys that I didn’t and in most cases would never own.  Even though I think it’s safe to say that as a kid I wanted ALL of the toys, there was a series of toys that I never managed to get my hands on that I desperately wanted, the Transformers Headmasters series that were initially released back in 1987.

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At this point in the Transformers mythos we were about a year past the release of Transformers: The Movie, the Hasbro toy line was starting to dip in popularity, I was starting to shift my collecting focus from toys to comic books and according to my parents I was too old to be asking for these for birthdays and Christmas.  Of all the various toy design gimmicks of the 80s, none had captured my attention quite like the Headmasters.  I was always very ‘action figure’ focused in my toy collecting, and weirdly I was always sort of obsessed with any kind of interesting head-related accoutrements.  I adored any figures with removable helmets or working visors, not to mention characters that had some sort of head gimmick (like Kobra Kahn from the Mattel Masters of the Universe line with his water-spraying technology or Mumm-Ra’s light up eyes from the LJN ThunderCats line.)  So the idea of a series of Transformers with removable heads that were themselves transforming robots?  OMG.

Well, after almost 30 years I’ve finally been able to get my hands on a Transformers Headmasters toy.  For those who aren’t aware, Hasbro has been releasing a series of Transformers Classics toys over the last decade under a number of different product line names (Classics, Combiner Wars, etc), and the most recent series is called Titans Return which has finally brought back the Headmasters gimmick to Transformers.  There are a bunch of figures starting to trickle out into stores (including characters like Scourage, Blurr, and Blaster), and by far the most impressive (and imposing) is the Classics re-release of one of the largest Transformers toys ever released, Fortress Maximus!

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Full disclosure, I received this toy to review from the folks at Entertainment Earth, and I typically don’t do reviews of releases from modern versions of classic toy lines (unless of course they do crazy things like combining brands like G.I. Joe and Transformers.)  That being said, they very cool folks at EE made me and offer that I just could not refuse which is the ability to hold and contest to give away one of these massive toys to one lucky reader of Branded.  I love being able to pay it forward whenever I can and there was no way that I was going to pass on the opportunity to get one of these rad toys out to the folks who read this site.  I’ll get to the nitty gritty of the contest at the bottom of this post, so with that out of the way, let’s take a look at the new Transformers Titans Return Fortress Maximus…

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First and foremost, this thing is MASSIVE.  I mean like almost two feet tall and the size of a toddler massive.  Having never had the original toy that this new figure (playset?) is based on I have no idea if it’s larger, but I did have a friend who had a Metroplex toy and this Fortress Maximus seems to be a lot larger by far.  Second, for a toy this large Hasbro really pulled out all the stops in terms of pose-ability and articulation.  Now that may seem like a weird statement on the surface, I mean with a larger scale format figure like this there is obviously way more room to implement articulation and detail into the design, but from what I’ve seen in the larger scale toys like this there is usually a distinct lack of articulation.  Bottom line, for once it seems like you can realistically recreate the poses and action stances from the packaging with this toy and I find that pretty darn awesome…

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The level of detail is also off the charts.  Not only articulation-wise where can you independently move his fingers, but in the mold as well.  There are a million tiny details in the mold that make the figure incredibly realistic without falling off the cliff into the Bayformers territory of becoming too alien in design.  This figure really is like a beautiful, highly detailed, ultimate version of what the character was meant to look like.  Like a cross between the old Marvel comics and cartoon episodes mixed with the base of the original G1 toy.

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Now, as cool and massive as this toy is, it’s not without its drawbacks.  Even though you can put Fortress Maximus into some cool poses, because of his heft it’s hard to have him standing up independently in them.  Also, again, because of the size and weight I don’t see this being a great toy for kids as it would be quite unwieldy to try and play with, and I say that as a kid who had a G.I. Joe U.S.S. Flagg as a kid and hated it.  Just because something is big does not make it awesome when it comes to playtime.  No, Fortress Maximus here is very much for the adult collector.

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Another drawback is the way the head connects to the body.  Much like the original G1 version, Fortress Maximus is a headmaster, so his head detaches and becomes Cerebros.  And to finish off this nestled doll of a Transformer, Cerebros is also a headmaster, where his noggin comes off to become Titan Master Emissary.  As cool as this is from a conceptual standpoint, there are some logistical problems that make the overall head attachment on Fortress Maximus a bit precarious.  When Cerebros transforms to form FM’s head, Emissary acts as the connector piece.  Because it’s so small and the over all head piece is so big I’m betting it would be pretty easy to accidentally snap off Emissary when trying to remove or attach Cerebros to Fortress Maximus.  It just felt a little fragile to me when playing with it.  So again, an aspect that puts this in the camp of the adult collector that will most likely just transform the toy once and then display it.

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Lastly, and this is just an aesthetic thing for me, I’m not a huge fan of Fortress Maximus’ city alt mode.  Much like Tom Hanks in big I just found myself holding it wondering why a kid would want to play with a city instead of the robot…

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That being said, I am still really stoked about the overall toy in general and think that for Transformers fans this would make an amazing centerpiece to any collection.

The All New Branded Podcast – Passing down the Matrix of Nostalgia

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The second season of the All New Branded in the 80s podcast continues with episode 10 where I talk a bit about passing the torch of nostalgia to the next generation.  Having had the opportunity to babysit my nephew, a 10 year-old Transformers superfan, I got a chance to see how he reacted to the original generation of toys and cartoons.  We played the XBox game Transformers: War for Cybertron and I screened the 1986 Transformers the movie.  Does the old stuff still hold up for this new generation?  And how weird is it that Transformers is now a generational fandom?

What are some experiences you’ve had sharing your fandom with your children, nieces and nephews?  Are the kids open to our nostalgia, or did they just think our cartoons, movies and toys sucked?  Share your experiences in the comments below.

For this episode’s shout out I take a moment to point to the fine folks behind The Future Cyborg.  Part comedy show, part retro toy review show, and an all around good experience.  You can watch season 1 a their youtube page, or check them out on social media on Twitter or Instagram.

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Essential 80s Cartoon Logos and Title Screens

Not only am I a professed lover of the 80s, and in particular 80s era cartoons and animation, but I’m also pretty damn interested in branding and design (I mean, I did kinda name my site after that.)  So when these paths cross I can get pretty nerdy.  I mean heck, I wrote an entire piece centered specifically on the logo design of the movie The Monster Squad a few years ago.  Recently I found myself with a lot of time on my hands while also being stuck in a situation where I was away from home caring for one of my elderly parents.  I was in the hospital with my father, waiting with him while he was having chemo treatments and he was lost in a movie on one of the complementary iPads the treatment center provided.  I really needed something that could distract me from reality, and the warm embrace of nostalgia is usually the thing that does the trick for me.

So I pulled up my Plex app on my phone so that I could scroll through my collection of cartoons from the 80s and I landed on an episode of Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors.  As the episode was starting, playing through the opening credits, I paused when the title screen came up to marvel at the design of the font and how much fun the logo was in general.  The mix of the fantasy banner lettering in “Jayce” and the totally 80s brushed metal of the “Wheeled Warriors”.  Two genres coming together perfectly in this one logo and cartoon.

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I got this inspiration all of a sudden.  What would it be like to compare and contrast all of the 80s era cartoon title screens and logos? Because we live in a world where we basically have Star Trek level technology in the palm of our hands, I had the ability to take screen shots of at least 90% of the cartoons that were released during that decade right from my phone. So I did just that, for the next three hours I systematically went through my library of cartoons and captured as many as I could.

So let’s have some fun and break these up by theme.  For instance, here are all of the video and arcade game based series. There were a couple more shows in this genre in the 80s like Pitfall and Frogger, but these are the series I have digitally…

Most of these tend to be character-centric logos, but I find it interesting that one of the best series has the most boring logo (Pole Position.)

Next up let’s take a look at some of the super hero, comic book cartoons…

A couple of these surprised me, in particular Plastic Man and the Hulk.  Plastic man was a little frustrating because it really doesn’t have a title/logo screen (there is just a comic cover that comes flying at the screen.) Then the Incredible Hulk had two separate screens.  Also, that X-Men screen is from Pryde of the X-Men, so before anyone starts screaming about it being a 90s cartoon

So let’s switch gears a bit and take a look at some foreign cartoons.  I was exposed to all of these on  Nickelodeon as a kid (either as a part of Pinwheel or just part of their programming.) For those not familiar, Chapi Chapo was a stop motion cartoon from France that aired in short five minute segments during Pinwheel back in the day. I have some others (Bunny in a Suitcase and Hatty Town), but they really don’t have title screens. Also, Mysterious Cities of Gold and The Little Prince were French/Canadian co-productions, so foreign-ish.

Let’s move on now to some of the heavy hitters of the 80s, some of the action cartoons that aired in weekday afternoon syndication…

I find it kind of interesting that the majority of these logos are pretty similar.  These are heavy on the metallic fonts, and are blocky (some of them like the Go-Bots and She-Ra are literally 3D) and sans serif for the most part.  I also find it interesting that a few of them are also “mirrored” and are reflecting a barren landscape (ThunderCats, Transformers, and Go Bots.)  Also glad to see that every show that featured some sort of faction logos, the designs are incorporated into the show logo (Ghostbusters, ThunderCats, Transformers, Silverhawks, the Filmation Ghostbusters, heck even the Galaxy Rangers and COPS.)

Next up, let’s take a gander at some of the series that were based on either movies or live action TV shows…

To be frank, the first this that this batch makes me think of is just how many movies and TV shows in the 80s WEREN’T adapted into animated series.  I’m thinking stuff like The Gremlins, Goonies, Knight Rider, The A-Team (and not just Mr. T with a bunch of gymnast kids), Airwolf, Webster or Small Wonder.  All of those seem ripe for animated counterparts.  Or hell, a Michael Jackson animated series (and yes, again, I know that there was a Jackson 5 show, but I’m thinking like an adult MJ who would solve crimes while moonwalking and stuff.)  Also, I know that the Gary Coleman might seem to be in left field in this category, but it was actually based on the movie The Kid With the Broken Halo.  Lastly, I’m throwing in both of the Rambo logos because even though the blue one with the eagle crest is the main title screen, I love the starker one with the flames inside the letters.  It better embodies the tone of the character for sure…

How about all those series that featured lovable little critters?

There is so much cuteness in that block that I don’t even know where to start!  All I can think of for certain is that there is an overwhelming number of title screens that feature the characters, enough that it makes the screens with just the logos look weird in comparison.

Next, let’s look at some of the series that were based on toy lines…

For the rest of these I think I’m just going to call them the leftovers…

It’s pretty damn overwhelming when you step back and take a look at all of these title screens.  And again, this isn’t even all of the series out in the 80s.  There are some shows that I don’t have on DVD or digital (like the Mork & Mindy, Laverne & Shirley, Gilligan’s Planet and some of the seasons of Scooby Doo from the 80s), and a couple that I haven’t been able to convert and didn’t have access to grabbing the screens (like Ulysses 31, the Ruby Spears Superman, My Little Pony and Galtar and the Golden Lance.)

I’m sure there are more shows I’m forgetting, let me know what I missed in the comments section below!

The All New Branded in the 80s Podcast is back!

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Finally found some time to start working on season 2 of the All New Branded in the 80s Podcast.  In this new episode I take a few minutes to talk about some of the behind the scenes talent in our favorite 80s cartoons, or more precisely, just how hard it can be to nail down just who is responsible for creating the animation and cartoon theme songs we all love.

For this episode’s shout out I want to point to Michael at Culturally Significant.  Great website, and even better pin maker!

If you haven’t already, I’d be honored if you took a second to rate or write a review of the show in iTunes (good, bad, indifferent.)

Oh wow man, that Tayble really ties the room together…

Ever since becoming an actual home owner this past year my outlook on spending money has changed drastically.  I’ve curbed most of my spending on my various collections in lieu of saving enough money to make sure I can afford things like mortgage payments, much higher electric bills, and buying the small stuff like new roofs (that one hurt even though we knew about it when we bought the place.)  So no more toys, Garbage Pail Kids, 35 year-old mom magazines, or animation cels.  Though this has certainly been an adjustment, the upside to this is that I’ve been totally retraining my brain when it comes to larger purchases.  When you nickel and dime yourself, picking up a bunch of small stuff here and there you really don’t feel the impact on your wallet, and it’s not until years later when you look back and wonder where all the money went.  Scanning your shelves you could probably pick out a pricey treasured item or two, but you probably don’t see thousands (or tens of thousands) of dollars in the collection per se.  But when you do save up for a bit and bite the bullet and make a larger purchase, that item tends to jump right out at you every time you walk past it.  The first time you buy a new bed, couch, or refrigerator you tend to appreciate that item more than the rarest toy you might have (or at least, that’s been my experience.)

So, when I stumbled upon a small company specializing in designing and manufacturing a very particular, retro-inspired, piece of furniture, a piece of furniture I just happened to be in in the market for, I got pretty damn excited.  But let me back up for a second.  The significant other and I have been slowly making this new house we bought into our home, one room at a time.   One of the areas we’ve been concentrating on is out cozy basement.  Jaime is a video game nut, so we’ve been slowly turning the basement into a sort of retro clubhouse.  Embarrassingly large TV?  Check.  Comfy overstuffed furniture for maximum marathon gaming comfort?  Check.  Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle arcade cabinet marquee lightbox?  Check.  But something’s been missing, something we can set our snacks on, or set up the Lego Dimensions portal on so that we’re not jumping up constantly to move our minifigs around.  We’ve been needing a coffee table, but nothing was really grabbing us, nothing was fun or retro enough to really speak to us.  That is until this past week when I discovered Taybles!

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I stumbled on the Taybles site after posting a picture of a cherished Some Kind of Wonderful cassette soundtrack on Instagram.  The Taybles crew happened to like the photo, and out of curiosity I clicked through to their account and I practically fell out of my chair when I saw what they were up to…

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Just look at that beautiful cassette tape table!  I was immediately in love and absolutely had to have one.  Jaime and I love dead media and this would be such a great way to solve our coffee table needs while also bringing in a much needed bit of retro fun into the space.  It’s just too perfect. Constructed out of birch hardwood in a number of different natural stains, these tables aren’t just pretty to look at, they’re also pretty functional as well.  The exposed tape section on the one side flips down to expose a hidden shelf where you can store TV remotes or wireless Playstation controllers.  And the sunken tape holes are stainless steel cup holders (with embedded leds for some rad mood lighting.) I kind of want to marry this table.

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Of course, like most things this freaking rad that I want for the house, these Taybles were a bit pricey.  Okay, they’re downright expensive as hell.  All of the selections on their website range somewhere in between $1600 to $2300 dollars.  As much as we need a wicked awesome coffee table, there’s no way we can justify that price.  I did consider not eating lunch for a few years, but in the end I resigned myself to never kicking my feet up on an oversized cassette tape.

But just as I was about to give up on attaining the perfect coffee table, a ray of hope broke through the clouds.  I saw that there was an impending Taybles Kickstarter campaign on the way and I decided it was worth it to sign up for the mailing list.  Then, yesterday I received a bit of news that got me excited all over again.  According to the e-mail, the Kickstarter was going to have the coffee tables up at the much more affordable price of $250!  Well, the campaign went live today and low and behold there are indeed two new models that they’re making available at a much more attainable price…

Whereas the tables on their main site are considered part of the “A-Side” collection, these Kickstarter tables are the “B-Sides”.  They’re almost identical to the originals, except they lack the led lighting in the cup holders and instead of birch, these B-Sides are made of fir.  Though fir isn’t a hardwood, it is one of the more dense and hard of the soft woods and is a much more readily available and cheaper wood.  This is a pretty small trade off for making these tables well over a grand cheaper.  The B-Side collection is available in two difference color schemes, classic black and retro brown….

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And as an added cool factor, the tabletops on these B-Sides are manufactured of whiteboard material so you can customize your own mixtape titles for special occasions!

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The kickstarter has only been live for just over 12 hours and they’ve already raised about $20k towards the $35k goal, so I think it’s a pretty safe bet that this project is going to meet its funding.  If you’re in the market for a supremely awesome piece of furniture that really ties the room together you might want to jump on this kickstarter before its March 21st end date.  I’m not sure if the company has any plans to offer these B-Sides after the kickstarter.  $250 might still seem a bit high for a coffee table, but I can attest that taking a break from picking up vintage toys, comics, and collectibles for a few months is totally worth the savings so that you can pick up a rad piece of furniture like this.

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If you end up backing this project do me a favor and tell them that Branded sent ya, and after you’ve pledged, come back here and let me know which version you’re picking up.  Me?  I’m going for the classic black…

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Breaking into The Impossible Fortress

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I think it’s fair to say that I am pretty well versed in the pop culture of the 1980s, and sometimes I wonder if that hampers my enjoyment of the current nostalgic revival of that wonderful decade.  I spend almost every day of my life looking back at some aspect of my childhood, whether it’s getting lost while looking through all of the 30 year-old treasures I have set up in an Ikea glass case in my office, popping in one of my favorite 80s era kid’s flicks into the Blu-ray player for background noise while I do chores around the house, or surfing through the posts of my like-minded friends on the various social media outlets I obsessively check during breaks at work.  Turning my gaze back to the eighties is like comfort food for me, and it’s something I indulge in so often that when I stumble on something new that is supposedly tailor-made for my intense nostalgia, say a remake of a beloved television show or film, a updated retro toy line or a novel chock full of references and homages that I’m sure to love, I usually find myself loathe to give that new thing a chance.  I mean with a plethora of movies, hundreds of television shows with thousands of episodes, and mountains of vintage ephemera that I have at my fingertips to revisit or rediscover, why would I want to dive into something new to strum my nostalgic heart strings?

Maybe I feel like this because I’ve been burned by so many subpar movie remakes, or because I had such a hard time making my way through books like Ready Player One that feel like every other passage is just another in an absurdly long line of attempts to “wow” me with the author’s encyclopedic knowledge of 80s pop culture.  I mean the reason that we love Ferris Bueller, Hall & Oates, and Magnum P.I. is because of what they are, the stories they told, and the iconic characters or personalities.  If all you’re doing is machine-gunning references to 30 year-old pop culture then all else falls flat.  There’s also a tendency in these movies and books to over compensate for the all the references and homages.  You can feel the heavy hand of the editors and producers insisting that these pop culture nods be painstakingly explained and annotated for the audience to make sure that they don’t get lost in the nostalgic noise.  I think this might be what bugs me the most as a reader or viewer, that these asides and Easter eggs aren’t just there to set the mood, they’re treated like they’re integral to the plot of the story and therefore the whole thing starts to unravel for me.  I can’t help but roll my eyes while the characters get overshadowed by descriptions of their overly accurate 80s wardrobe, what television shows they watch, and their favorite junk food.  The simple fact that the story is set in the eighties trumps any motivations or character development.

Well, that’s the pessimist grump in me at least, and lately I’ve been trying hard not to let that part of my brain get the better of me.  I’d like to think that at heart I’m an optimist, so even though I’m usually not super fond of new nostalgic stories, I still try and give them a shot whenever I can.  I mean, for every five crappy Transformers movies that hit theaters there’s a brilliant film like the throwback, musical, love story Sing Street.  For every failed Knight Rider reboot there’s an amazing short-lived show like Freaks & Geeks.  So when I was approached by the folks at Simon & Schuster recently to check out the debut novel by Jason Rekulak, The Impossible Fortress, I figured why not give it a go.  Maybe this was the book that would make up for the hours I spent reading books like 8-Bit Christmas or Ready Player One…

The Impossible Fortress by Jason Rekulak due out from Simon & Schulster February 7th, 2017

Set in the armpit of New Jersey during May of 1987, The Impossible Fortress is mixed genre novel that follows three fourteen year-old boys on a quest to obtain the holy grail of smut, the newest issue of Playboy featuring a pictorial of America’s favorite game show hostess, Vanna White.  In an attempt to snag a copy of the magazine and make a fortune selling photocopies to their classmates, the boys have to devise a plan in order to evade the local hard-nosed beat cop, outwit a curmudgeonly store owner, seduce the store owner’s daughter, and partner with a dangerous town punk.  The novel is a very fun mash-up of the coming of age teen dramedies, kid’s adventure flicks, and heist movies that defined the 80s, yet has enough character and heart to stand out on its own.

The first third of the novel was a little slow going for me as Rekulak was falling into the trap of setting over substance, hitting up the 80s references pretty fast and hard that it really started to feel like the whole book was just an excuse to talk about 30 year-old pop culture.  I mean one of the main characters is named Alf just like everyone’s favorite Melmacian, cat-hunting sarcastic alien.  The central focus of getting ahold of a copy of the latest issue of Playboy, and the difficulties thereof was also a bit silly, over the top and slapsticky, but as soon as the main protagonist, Billy Marvin, bumps into the cute as hell computer programmer Mary Zelinsky, the book took a turn and had me hooked.  It’s at this point where the story shifts gears a bit and lets the characters really come to the forefront.  Rekulak pulls back from the gimmicks that frame the plot and what’s left is a purely nerdy romance between two young characters wrapped around the creation of a computer game, the titular Impossible Fortress.  This is where the novel really shines, in the all too relatable and awkward moments between Billy and Mary and their discussions on game design.  I wasn’t expecting to fall so hard for these two characters, but as soon as they’re hip deep in code, talking about animating sprites and writing secret love notes trapped within playable text adventure games I was smitten.

It certainly doesn’t hurt that the novel touches on so many things that I can very viscerally relate to.  Like Billy and his friends Alf and Clark, I was part of a small close-nit group of kids who were a tiny clique unto ourselves in our middle and high schools.  We didn’t fit into any of the larger groups, we weren’t smart enough to hang with the brains, sporty enough to sit with the jocks, or wasted enough to really fit in with the artsy kids or the punks.  I also spent a summer with my best friend working on designing a 80s era adventure game in the tradition of the Data Soft, Lucas Arts or Sierra games like King’s Quest, Monkey Island or Police Quest, so the back and fourth between Billy and Mary really hit home.  Hell, I even have my own over the top and silly experiences scoring my own first issues of Playboy back in 1987 (though I was 10 at the time and not quite the world weary 14 of the heroes in this book and the cover girl was Brigitte Nielsen not Vanna White.)

On a side note, it was also at this point where I realized that for me this story is a spiritual sequel of sorts to the TV show Freaks & Geeks.  There are some (to me) pretty clear homages to the series in this book, and even though I’m sure I’m reading way more into this connection that I probably should, I can’t help but feel that Billy Marvin is Bill Haverchuck (the impossibly and beautifully awkward character Martin Starr portrayed in the show.)  I know it’s unfair to make the comparison between the two characters as it’s just me merging the two, but once I made that connection I couldn’t get it out of my head.  I always wished we’d gotten a second season of Freaks & Geeks and in a weird way The Impossible Fortress was sort of a bit of wish fulfillment in that department.

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Any way you slice it though, if you’re a fan of 80s nostalgia, computer games, or awkward romances do yourself a favor and seek out a copy of Jason Rekulak’s debut novel, The Impossible Fortress.  And since we’re living in such an amazing time of multimedia branding and marketing, Rekulak’s fictional game in the book was actually made a reality and is playable on the author’s website!  Holy crap, the game is a lot of fun and just cements my love for Billy & Mary and the game that brought them together.

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I’m in the Gosh Darn Club, right?!

I wanted to take a second and point to something very awesome, the Halloween 2016 release from one of my favorite independent companies, 8 Bit Zombie!

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I’ve mentioned Ross and his rad clothing and merch outfit 8BZ on Branded before what with his super cool vintage-inspired lunchbox releases and his badass Masters of the Universe-style action figure Thrashor.  While there are a lot of neat independent companies putting out fun t-shirts and toys, there’s just something that feels dead-on when it comes to 8 Bit Zombie in terms of the design aesthetic and products that Ross and his cadre of artists realize and produce that speaks directly to my eight year-old brain.  Whether it’s the attention to detail (like the accurately nostalgia-ridden fonts and illustration styles), the quality of the products, or how Ross and company manage to fill in the gaps missing in vintage pop culture collecting with all new very cool stuff, I always feel like this stuff was tailor-made for me.  And like I’m want to say about the era 80s kids grew up in, this feeling is such a shared experience that I’d be willing to be that quite a few of you will feel the same when you browse through the 8 Bit Zombie catalog.  It’s like 8BZ took all of the stuff we loved as kids, put it in a blender, and made something new, yet still very nostalgic.  And I love that.

Which brings me to the brand new 2016 Halloween product drop scheduled for 2pm eastern, 11am pacific this very afternoon.  If I already felt like 8BZ was aimed at me specifically, you can only imagine how excited I was when Ross reached out and gave me an early glimpse at the stuff he had in store which for the first time is going to be centered on a single nostalgic theme.  What’s that theme?  Well, just so happens the new 8BA release is riffing off of one of my most favorite movies of all time, the 1987 Fred Dekker classic, Monster Squad!

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I mean, holy freaking crap.  For a film that was woefully under-merchandized back in the day, the new stuff 8 Bit Zombie has put together makes up for that ball being dropped in spades!  Today’s release includes a metric ton of cool stuff, but lets start with that beautiful old school plastic lunchbox you see above.  Available in two colors (red or black), this thing is literally a dream come true for me.  I can’t tell you how long I’ve dreamed of owning a Monster Squad lunchbox.  Like I’ve mentioned a million times on the site before, the film should have had a huge marketing push as it was released at an apex of kid’s pop culture branding and merchandise, but somehow it fell through the cracks and was forgotten way too easily.  This Scooby Doo-inspired design just reminds me how rad a Monster Squad animated series could have been.  Instead of a thermos, each lunchbox comes packed with a very neat pint glass that features the same beautiful artwork by the super talented Matthew Skiff…

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In addition to this bad ass lunchbox, 8 Bit Zombie is also putting out a couple of new t-shirt designs celebrating the film.  First up, there’s a riff on the original UK logo with the an updated version featuring homages to all five monsters that appear in the film featured on a black shirt…

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So now you can show off your membership in one of the coolest goddamn clubs around!  The second t-shirt dropping this afternoon is a Ratfink-inspired take on the monsters that is both an homage to the 1987 film and the 50s and 60s monster culture that originally influenced Fred Dekker to create the film…

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Again, talking about the amazing attention to detail, I freaking adore that the Monster Squad font chosen for this shirt is a throwback to the font used in the German release of the film (under the title Monster Busters)!  Don’t even get me started on the nods to Dracula’s hearse, the dynamite that absolutely can not kill the Wolfman and the fact that the Mummy is hanging off the back like in the climax of the film.  This shirt just puts a huge smile on my face…

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The coup de grace?  Well, last but certainly not least is the official Monster Squad-themed membership pack that includes a plethora of awesome goodies, way more than any of the past 8 Bit Zombie member packs…

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So what’s in this thing? Included in each pack is a pair of Rudy Halloran-style shades, one each of a Monster Squad membership patch, sticker, pin and membership card, a set of three monster patches and an extremely badass decision coin!

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Here’s a close up of the rad patches you can totally sew to your jean jacket…

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And wouldya look as this too-cool-for-words decision coin!?!

I can pretty much state unequivocally that I will be making all of my important decisions with this coin very soon.

If you’re a fan of Monster Squad, or just like really bitchin stuff I highly suggest you head on over to 8 Bit Zombie this afternoon and load up on some of these amazing goodies.  Ross is also brining back some retired Halloween-themed t-shirts from the graveyard (in particular a couple very cool Lost Boys and Return of the Living Dead shirts.)  He also still has some Return of the Living Dead-inspired Body Bag old school jointed paper Halloween decorations in the shop (I have one hanging at my house right now!)  So head on over and pick up some fun stuff.  Make sure you tell him that Branded sent ya, and if you pick up some of this stuff, please send me pictures.  That would really brighten what has been a pretty crappy start of Fall here at Branded…