Awesome 80s Bedrooms: The Making Contact Edition

It’s been a little while since I dove in and deconstructed an awesome 80s era pop culture bedroom.  This past week I had my mind blown a couple times when Pee-wee Herman shared the piece I did on his room from Pee-wee’s Big Adventure on Facebook and Twitter…

…and Zack Ryder and André Gower were discussing the breakdown I did on the Monster Squad Clubhouse on twitter…

I was honored to say the least!

This got me thinking about some of the films that I have on a list that I want to tackle at some point; stuff like Ferris Bueller’s room, or Chainsaw’s room from Summer School. A lot of what’s on my to-do list at this point is more in the realm of teenaged characters as I feel like I’ve exhausted most of the cool room for the younger characters (or the rooms I haven’t covered are kinda boring.)  But there was one more movie with a younger kid’s room that I’ve been meaning to tackle for over a year now, a film that I had completely missed out on in the 80s and didn’t find out about it until just a couple years ago.  The flick in question is an obscure and weird Austrian film from 1985 called Making Contact (though it’s also known as Joey in some parts of the world) that is mostly known for being one of Roland Emmerich’s first projects.

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Though the flick was shot in German, an English dub was released on VHS back in the late 80s.  I think thins might be why I missed it.  Around that time I was increasingly becoming obsessed with horror flicks and spent most of my time in the video rental store browsing through A Nightmare on Elm Street, Halloween, and Friday the 13th flicks.  Luckily though, I stumbled across this flick a couple years ago via a suggestion from a reader.  As soon as I could source a copy I sat down and took in this semi-lost 80s gem.  Let me just say that this movie is pretty amazing as a relic of a bygone days, but it’s also one of the weirdest 80s kid’s flicks I’ve ever seen.  Emmerich not only directed, but also co-wrote this supernatural thriller that centers on a young boy named Joey who is mourning the loss of his father.  Joey finds that he has the ability to mystically contact his dad through a toy phone, though whether he’s really talking to his father or some other malevolent force is part of what makes this film so weirdly captivating.  Let’s just say that there is a lot of telekinesis, living puppets & toy robots, and about 200 homages to Steven Spielberg films that very obviously had a huge impact on Emmerich.

If you haven’t seen Making Contact, do yourself a favor and seek it out.  It’s a little uneven and weird, but totally worth the time investment.  Not only is it a weirdly fun film, but Joey has one of the most densely packed 80s era bedrooms that I’ve ever seen on film (definitely giving Elliott from E.T. a run for his money.)  I’m gonna do my best to breakdown as much of it as I could identify…

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Joey has toys littered all over his room.  There’s stuff stacked on every surface including shelves, bureaus, tables, all over the floor and spilling out of his closet…

1). Felt Steelers football pennant

Steelers Pennant

2). Felt Giants football pennant

Giants Pennant

3). Felt Lakers basketball pennant

Lakers Pennant

4). Sesame Street curtains

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5). Cool BMX Poster (couldn’t identify it, but wanted to point it out)

6). Smurf stickers on the bureau

7). Return of the Jedi Sheets circa 1983

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So, are felt sports pennants still a thing?  I remember as a really young kid in Tampa, FL it seemed like it was mandatory for all kids to have a Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Rowdies (soccer) pennants hanging on the walls.  I’m having a hard time remembering any friends who didn’t actually.  Also, I totally had these exact Return of the Jedi sheets around the same time too.  In fact, I still remember the exact moment when I stopped “having” these sheets as well.  For some reason my mom left me in my bedroom with a hair dryer when I was about 6, and I got the bright idea to heat up the sheets by turning on the dryer and sticking it underneath my balled up sheets.  They totally caught fire, though it was a slow burn and I managed to get it out out before things got crazy.  Man, I miss those sheets…

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8). Terry Bradshaw Poster

1982 Marketcom Terry Bradshaw poster

9). Kenner Star Wars Tie-Fighter 1978

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10). Kenner Star Wars Slave I, 1980

Photo from Collector’s Club of Great Britain

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11). Kenner Star Wars Imperial Troop Transporter 1979

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12). Tomy Racing Turbo Dashboard game circa 1983

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13). Tomy Zoids Giant ZRK circa 1983

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So, really quick I want to point to another item in the above screen shot, the race car helmet lamp.  Half of the reason that it’s taken me two years to write this Making Contact bedroom breakdown is because I’ve been wracking my brain while searching the internet for where that thing came from.  I haven’t been able to figure it out and it’s been driving me a bit insane.  Does anyone know where that thing originated or when it was released?  It seems so specific, which usually makes tracking it down easier, but not in this case.

**UPDATE** Thanks to reader Jack Frost for finding some auctions for the racing helmet lamp that have partically solved the mystery of where these things came from.  Apparently they were produced in Austria in the 70s, though the manufacturer is possibly still in question.  Looks like it was made by FF Leuchte.  Here’s a clearer picture of the lamp…

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14). Milton Bradley Pac-Man board game, circa 1980

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15). Milton Bradley Donkey Kong board game, circa 1980

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16). E.T. wallpaper (lining both his closet and this trashcan), circa 1982

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17). Tomy wind-up walking shoes, circa 1981

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18). Kid Stuff Records Pink Panther’s County Album picturedisc, circa 1982

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19). Vanity Fair Smurfs Record Player, circa 1982

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20). Horikawa Batter Operated Super Space Explorer, circa 1962

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21). E.T. Plush doll (I can’t identify this specific plush, honestly it looks like a bootleg or carnival prize.)

21). Blow Mold Disney Donald Duck coin bank, circa late 70s

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23). Dinky Star Trek USS Enterprise, circa 1976

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24). Tamiya Wild Willy 2 motorized jeep circa 1984

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25). Kenner Star Wars Ewok Village play set, circa 1983

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26). Kenner Star Wars Millennium Falcon play set, circa 1983

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27). Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University poster

28). Empire Strikes Back Yoda poster

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29). Kenner Star Wars At-At play set, circa 1980

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30). Kenner Star Wars Scout Walker, circa 1983

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As you can see from the previous shots, Joey loved Star Wars and was fastidious enough to keep a bunch of the boxes for his play sets.

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31). DC Comics Phantom Zone, #4, April 1982

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32). Tomy Peepers wind-up walking binoculars, circa 1984

peepers walking binoculars by Tomy

In doing research for this breakdown I noticed that the production designers were fond of Tomy toy products.  I thought it was interesting that the Peepers wind-up toy above was actually the star of his very own Disney movie back in 1984 called Where the Toys Come From.  The flick sounds like it may have even been the blueprint for the eventual Toy Story movies as well…

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33). Pac-Man Pacmania toy drum set, circa 1982

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34). Whitman Disney Donald Duck jigsaw puzzle

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35). Tomy Hoomdorm Jumper toy, circa 1982

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36). Parker Brothers Q-bert boardgame, circa 1983

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37). APC A-Team jigsaw puzzle, circa 1983

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And finally, before I end this mammoth bedroom breakdown, there’s one more thing I wanted to point out from the film that’s outside the bedroom arena.  During a scene set in Joey’s school, he stops and takes a pretty rad school folder out of his bag…

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38). Masters of the Universe school folder, circa 1983

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Pretty darn spiffy if you ask me.

So, for those of you that have seen this film, did I miss anything?  Let me know int eh comments!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Official Unofficial Visionaries Collectors Guide & Contest!

4461391534_02cce86892_oFor fans of 80s era cartoons and toys it’s hard to argue that we’re truly living in a Renaissance that is seeing so many of our beloved properties being celebrated.  Not only are a lot of these brands being re-envisioned with upgraded “classics” style product launches like the new Mattel Masters of the Universe figures, Transformers Classics, and the recent 25th anniversary G.I. Joe line of action figures, but there are also a lot of outlets focusing on the original toys and animation who are producing some amazing stuff like the 3D-Joes Carded Figure prints or the recent Masters of the Universe and Transformers art books.  If you’re a fan there are literally thousands of cool and eclectic collectibles on the market to quench your nostalgic thirst.

Sometimes it even feels like there may be too much new stuff, like there’s a tidal wave of products about to come crashing down on the fandom, drowning us all in an ocean of cool stuff.  I know that probably sounds a little dark, but it’s honestly how I feel at times while trying to keep up.  That’s why I often find myself tuning out and just try and focus on one interest at a time.  It’s why I was never all that interested in treating Branded as a hub for 80s fan news as it’s just too much work for one person to stay on top of everything.  Hell, even focused sites (like the ones concentrating on singular 80s era brands like YoJoe.com or or any of the million Star Wars sites) must have a hell of a time keeping up.  Luckily though I’ve met a lot of amazing people over the years through Branded, and they’ve been super cool tipping me off to cool new relaunches and products.  One of these folks has always gone above and beyond, the witty, kind and super gracious HooveR, and I feel lucky to call him a friend.

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Hoov recently sent me a couple copies of the official, unofficial Visionaries Collectors Guide that was published this past April by Punch Party Press, a small two-man outfit out of the UK.  Though I was a huge fan of the cartoon as a kid I only manged to get my hands on a single action figure, Witterquick (I wrote a piece about re-acquiring him after 25+ years), and I’ve always been a little surprised that the Visionaries seemed like they didn’t have the same sort of fan love that other similar b-level properties have (like the ThunderCats and the Silverhawks.)  So when Hoov told me that there was a small press company working on a collector’s guide I was pretty darn excited.

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The book was crowdfunded on Kickstarter this past year and somewhere along the way Hasbro (who produced the original toy line and own the rights to the property) stepped in and sort of changed the focus of the book in terms of how it would be marketed and released after publication.  Christopher Ibbit and Gemma Tovee came to an agreement with Hasbro that would let them print and distribute the book, but they were only allowed to sell it for 1¢.  I don’t know the specifics of the deal, but I’d have to assume that they were allowed to keep and use the money raised on Kickstarter to fund the bulk printing and shipping of the books to the backers.  Since the books were also available for a time after the crowdfunding ended, I’m also assuming that the pair had more books printed than were needed to fulfill the backer pledges.

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The volume itself is really cool and focuses strictly on the 2 waves of the original toy line, the 1st originally released in 1987, and a second that was designed and marketed but ultimately never released.  Clocking in at 54 pages, the full color guide is printed on heavy matte cardstock and is about the size of a standard DVD case, almost like a pocket guide.  The book also features a couple of cool single-color neon ink cover illustrations by Bob Hall, that are really bright and vibrant.  All of the action figure photography in the book is excellent with a mixture of views for each figure including action poses as well as front and back shots with the accessories.  The pages are also complete with all of the bio and flavor text from the back of the toys, which was a really nice addition.

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For me the book works as a collector’s guide (as intended), but it’s also sort of an unofficial art book as well as Ibbit and Tovee took pains to find unaltered versions of the packaging artwork for the majority of the toys in the book, even the unreleased second wave of figures.  I have to wonder if they had access to this via the connection to Hasbro or if there were other sources for the action figure card art.  They even managed to devote a two-page spread to the original hologram illustrations for this second series as well, which was a really awesome added bonus.  There’s even a scan of a later comic book-style ad featuring some of the unproduced toys as well.

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Though I would have loved to see the book be a little more comprehensive and also tackle other Visionaries merchandise like the short-lived Star comics series or the Marvel Big Looker Storybooks, I know that for a small press run of books like this that was probably impossible.

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In fact my only real gripe would be that there are a couple of major pieces of card art missing from the first series of toys.  I’m not sure if this was a mistake or if it was a challenge to nail down nice artwork, but the cards for Leoric & Darkstorm are missing.  Considering they were able to provide nice imagery for the rest of the line (including vehicles and the second unreleased wave), these missing pieces stand out and keep this volume from being a perfect guide for the line.

All in all, considering the issues with Hasbro limiting their ability to sell the book, and the relatively obscure nature of the line it’s simply amazing to see a book this nice being released.  For Visionaries fans this is a must have collectible and unfortunately if you didn’t manage to get a hold of one via the Kickstarter or through their site after the campaign, it’s now out of print.  Well, as I mentioned above, my good buddy HooveR was super awesome for sending me not one, but TWO copies of the book!  So I’m going to give away my extra copy to one lucky Visionaries fan.

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So, what do you have to do to win this awesome book?  Well, for starters it would be really cool if you follow me on twitter (@smurfwreck), like the Branded Facebook page, and follow me on Instragram (@smurfwreck), but I’m not going to make those mandatory.  Instead let’s make this a fun exercise.  Below I’m going to post a very cool piece of Masters of the Universe artwork by the amazing Earl Norem (who sadly, just recently passed away.)  This painting was featured as a puzzle in an issue of the Masters of the Universe magazine and contains 16 intentional errors in the artwork (in the original magazine there were 17 errors, but one of them is kind of ridiculous so I’ll use it as an example below that doesn’t count.)

What I would like you to do is to send me an e-mail listing all 16 errors, your name and the name of  your favorite Visionaries character.  The contest will end on 8/2/2015 at Midnight est, and I’ll pick a winner at random on August 3rd and notify them via e-mail.

So the example of an error in this painting (that doesn’t count for this contest), the Land Shark is literally depicted as being in the water (and we all know it’s an evil land vehicle.)  So, find the other 16 things wrong with this picture and win a copy of the Visionaries Collectors Guide!

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Click on the image to make it bigger!

Lost in the wonderful world of Mr. Product

4461391534_02cce86892_oAs a kid I spent a disproportionate amount of time wandering around supermarkets and discount outlets every weekend with my mother.  Like most kids my mom would drag me out to the store to do the weekly grocery shopping, but unlike most (I think) my mother usually went out close to midnight and would spent hours picking through the aisles looking for new products and browsing endlessly for stuff.  Since I knew she was going to be awhile, it was pretty common for me to wander off, lost in my own head and making up stories as I let my eyes scan across the thousands of boxes, cans, jars, bottles and packaging. Much later I’d come to the realization that this time was her precious escape from the isolation of being a homemaker, her chance to get out and just not be cooped up in the house and the routine.

For me, it was the beginning of what would become a life-long obsession with branding, packaging, and art.  Every product on those shelves had a story, many of which even had convenient main stars right there on the box.  Tony the Tiger, Cap’n Crunch, the Kool-Aid Man, Big John (he of the beans & fixin’s fame), Mr, Clean, Chef Boyardee,Mr. Bubble, the old timey lady on the raisins box, all of these characters, all of this art and branding was swimming around my head as I tried to keep myself entertained and sane while wandering the aisles, lost in the supermarket.

From the collection of Jason Liebig, CollectingCandy.com

This love of branding, product mascots and art was reinforced in my teens and early 20s after I got a job stocking grocery store shelves on the night crew of my local Kroger.  Again, to keep myself sane I’d lose myself in the various labels and boxes, making sure all the packaging was upright and facing front at the end of the night.  It was very centering in a weirdly zen way, being a sort of shepherd for products, making sure they were presented as they were designed.  Again, this just reinforced my love of branding, and has informed my taste when it came to doing my own freelance design and artwork.

Recently my friend Belle Dee had shared a picture of some books she’d just bought, a couple volumes called Meet Mr. Product and simply Mr. Product, Vol.2, and they really caught my eye.  Written and compiled by Warren Dotz and designed by Masud Husain, this two volume set features the graphic art of advertising characters and mascots covering a plethora of brands over the majority of the 20th century.  Well, I got my hands on a copy of the second volume and I am in love…

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This volume’s 272 pages are crammed full of hundreds of mascot illustrations and paintings mainly covering the years 1960-1985.  The book is broken into two halves, the first deals with short essays and examinations centering on the design trends of those two and a half decades.  Transitioning away from the Googie futurism of the late forties and fifties, the book chronicles the tumultuous era of design that saw America through the ultra-hip beatniks, flower-power psychedelia, anthropomorphic machines and electronics, the surf, mod, and monster cultures and on to the ultra-weird Sid & Marty Kroft-inspired McDonalndland gang, the salacious playboy and disco era, and eventually to the height of product merchandising in the Regan era. I really enjoyed reading through these micro-chapters.  They’re not only fun and conversational, making connections between mascots and trends, but they lay the groundwork for really appreciating the second, larger half of the book which focuses solely on on the advertising mascot artwork.

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As much as I enjoyed the first 80 or so pages of examinations, it’s in the last couple hundred pages where I fell in love with this volume.  The artwork is broken down into 7 sections, Food & Drinks, Kids are King, Fast Food Franchises, Car Culture, Modern Life, Travel and Amusement, and Public Services and Safety.  Inside these chapters each two page spread is a curated collection of similar mascots, be it because of design or sub category.  For example, in the Fast Food section there’s the wonderful couple of pages that feature early illustrations of the Chuck E. Cheese and Showbiz characters (in this case using imagery from various promo buttons as seen above.)

The pages above also underline another aspect that I really love about his book which is that there was a lot of time and care taken with the artwork to showcase the actual illustrations as they were originally designed.  At first this might seem like a pretty simple thing, but I know from 10 years of sharing ephemera on this site that it requires a lot more than just snapping pictures or scanning old packaging or items.  There was a tremendous amount of care taken with cleaning up the artwork so that it could be presented in a very crisp and clean fashion enabling the reader to fully appreciated the design which I love.  It’s this attention to detail in the presentation that makes this book an indispensable resource for graphic designers, both for inspiration and research.

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Another aspect that I was very pleasantly surprised by was the sheer volume of mascots and characters presented.  Being a collector myself and having been steeping in this world for over 30 years you get to a point where it feels like you’ve seen it all.  Even though I was born around the middle of the period this book covers, I’ve spent years thumbing through old magazines, deconstructing the products found in the backgrounds of old movies and television shows, and scouring the internet for examples of product packaging and I still was only familiar with about half of what’s presented in Mr. Product.  Flipping through the book I noticed a mascot I that looked sort of like the Fruit Stripes Gum Zebra, Yipes, but was instead the Beech-Nut Gum-Fetti Giraffe.  Turns out the two were both offshoots of the same company and might be representing the same gum, but this is something I never stumbled across in 30 years of paying attention to this kind of stuff.

In the photo above you can also see a really cool piece of artwork for Count Cola.  Again, longtime readers of this site know that I adore Halloween and monster branding, and I hard never stumbled across that particular brand of cola or its awesome cartoon vampire mascot.  I even Googled it, looking for pictures or info about Count Cola and was only able to find one tiny pixelated illustration, so this book has some really great obscure artwork from Dotz’s collection.

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If you’re a fan of design, product branding or artwork, the Mr. Product books should be mandatory purchases.  Not only will they provide a wealth of inspiration, but for those that think they’ve seen it all, I’m pretty sure this book will prove otherwise and be a very welcome addition to your collection.  Dotz and Husain have really outdone themselves with this volume and as soon as I started flipping through the book I immediately logged into Amazon and ordered the first one as well.  My hope is that sometime soon the duo will reconvene and put together a third volume that covers the latter half of the 80s and the 90s to finish off the archive of a century of advertising mascots.

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These Should Exist: the Young Guns II Edition

A couple months ago my buddy Paxton and I shared a set of digital vintage-style trading cards we created for the woefully under-merchandised film Young Guns (here’s the half I shared, and here’s the half that Pax shared.).  We’re both huge fans of the flicks, which if you give our Cult Film Club podcast double feature episodes a listen – part 1 & part 2,you can plainly hear. Of course, like most fans of the Young Guns movies (as well as Billy the Kid on film fans that dig these 80s interpretations), it’s hard to consider the one flick without the other. Though it’s considered a sequel, the continuing story of Billy the Kid and the Regulators of Lincoln County New Mexico in Young Guns II really is just the second half of a larger single story. So when we set out to make these cards for the 1988 film it was a given that we’d also have to create a Series 2 set.

Like before we’ve split up the set between our respective sites, so collect them all by heading over to the very aptly named Cavalcade of Awesome and check out the rest of the cards (and some really awesome variants!)

Wrapper YG2 B

Wrapper YG2 A Wrapper YG2 C

Again, we wanted to set the tone with some awesome wax wrappers, this time featuring three different variations. Billy’s hero wrapper, Pat Garrett’s “villain”, and newcomer Arkansas Dave Rudabaugh (played exquisitely by Christian Slater.) A keen eye will notice that we chose to go backwards in terms of the Topps logo (this was the logo they used in the late 70s/early 80s and by 1990 when this flick came out Topps had moved onto a more spindly art deco font. I’ve never been a fan of that late 80s early 90s logo personally (you can see it on this Who Framed Roger Rabbit wax wrapper.)  So we thought it would be fun to throw back to the 70s, early 80s version of the logo…

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YG2_23_Chavez YG2_25_Dave

Working on this project with Pax was the first time I’ve done a series two of a digital card set so we had to think about some minor aesthetic design elements that we wanted to work with. One of them was the idea of carrying over the numbering from the first set, picking up where that one left off. So instead of starting the number over at “1″, we chose “21″. This was common for Topps in the 80s with sets ranging from Garbage Pail Kids (which had consecutive numbering from sets 1-15) to the various Star Wars sets (that first movie had five separate series, each picking up the numbering where the last left off.)

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We also felt it would connect the sets by keeping the card backs relatively the same, just shifting the coloring scheme to fit the sequel a bit better. In keeping with the natural realistic border motif, we made sure to work in the purple and black tribal blanket pattern that was used in the Young Guns II marketing. I like that both sets have a textural boarder (the first with the wood grain, and now the blanket.)  I was really happy with how both sets came out and how they compliment and contrast each other…

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All in all making these cards with Paxton was a hell of a lot of fun, and to beat this dead horse a bit more, I really am surprised that there was never any sort of marketing push for these films. Sure, westerns in the 80s weren’t as popular as they were in the 50s and 60s, but with the cast and the amped up action, these movies were ripe for cool products like this. Hell, Robocop and Robocop 2 had a combined card set, why not Young Guns?

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Once again, if you dig these digital trading cards, please head on over to the Cavalcade of Awesome and complete your set! For those taking a close look at the numbering, you might see that there are some chase cards for these sets that we’ve be shared elsewhere as well!

As a special bonus to these sets Pax and I created a couple more fun “These Should Exist” style pieces for the two Young Guns films.  Not only are we huge trading card fans, but both Pax and I have a great love of movie novelizations and these two films were also snubbed when it came to that particular marketing push as well.  So we took it upon ourselves to create novelization covers that we thought looked accurate and vintage, as well as being something we’d love to see on our bookshelves…

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Now at some point Pax and I have to create that exhaustive movie souvenir magazine for these flicks we’ve been talking about…

35 Years later this Big Wheel is still tearing up the streets…

It’s kind of weird when you think about the difference in experiences between “normal” folks and nostalgia addicts when we stumble upon something that makes us flash back on our youth.  I think there’s a yin and yang to how we perceive nostalgia situations reflect each other like a mirrored image.  For instance, when I find myself out searching through antique stores or flea markets with friends who don’t live with and embrace nostalgia on a daily basis we tend to have completely different reactions when we stumble across items.  Say we happen upon a booth with a bunch of old NES consoles and games.  For me, this is a pretty common thing to see out in the wild and it’s not something that stops me in my tracks or really grabs me when I see it.  I’ve had friends that happen upon a dealer like this and their mind is blown as they’re rocketed back to the fifth grade and memories of all their favorite games start rushing back.  It’s not to say that I have no nostalgia for Nintendo games, just that I live with it enough that it’s not something that wows me.  For me, to really be wowed anymore I usually have to stumble upon something that simply should not exist 30 years after it was released.  So when I find stuff like old cereal boxes, figural shampoo bottles, or toys that weren’t designed to be stored or “collected” (like the infamous MOTU Battle Cat Hopper kid’s riding toy.)

bazooka-clean   Battle-Cat-Hopper

What’s weird is that I’ve been with friends who look at this stuff and think I’m a little crazy for getting excited about what they basically view as trash.  I mean who saved or wants to buy an old shampoo bottle, even if it looks like Bazooka from G.I. Joe (I slowly raise my hand.)  Who would drop $600 on a broken kid’s hopper toy even if it is a blow mold shaped like Battle Cat (I start to raise my hand, then agree that $600 is way too much – if it were $200 though…)  I guess it’s all in the experience of collecting and how that changes the way someone views thinks as treasure or junk.  As collectors and folks who live and breath nostalgia it’s easy to become desensitized to the wonder that common antiques can have on those who aren’t mired in collecting.

The reason that I’ve been thinking about this is that I had a weird experience while out on my daily run this morning.  As I made my way around the neighborhood I came to a point with a lengthy straightaway where you can see down the street for three or four blocks.  As I got closer to a cross street where I usually hang a right I saw a couple of kid’s big wheels out on a lawn and it occurred to me that, that is something you don’t see very often these days.  There were a number of years from the mid-90s to the just recently when there weren’t any companies producing them anymore in favor of stuff like razor scooters or mini dirt bikes.  I had heard that they were making a comeback though, and figured that they were finally starting to get out there again.  I kind of silently half joked that it would be amazing if one of them was an old school Dukes of Hazzard model since at a distance it looked black and orange much like the one I had when I was a kid…

125189906_0ee1fbc27dWhen I actually made my way up to the toy I ended up gasping and stopping dead in my tracks.  I’m sure I looked like a maniac to anyone who might have been watching, but I cupped my hand to my mouth and just stared at the big wheel for a minute not believing what I was seeing.  Out on the corner of someone’s lawn in the middle of suburbia in 2015 was a 1980 Empire Toys CHiPs big wheel (with awesome bonus Topps Empire Strikes Back stickers on the seat…)

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If I had to guess I’d say that 97% of the population that might be jogging past this big wheel wouldn’t have given it a second glance or even realized that it was a 35 year-old antique that was miraculously still in use.  Maybe another 2% would recognize the CHiPs branding and would probably wonder if it was set out for the trash.  Then there are folks like me who are literally shocked and amazed into stopping dead in their tracks and then are seen awkwardly fumbling for their iPhone so they can snap some pictures of a relic that is literally out in the wild when it clearly should not exist.  I mean think about it.  Most parents don’t have the presence of mind to hang onto old action figures, dolls, or books let alone a toddler’s toy that was most likely heavily used and abused.  To store that away for 30-odd years in the hops that their child would someday have children of their own who could play with it?  I mean c’mon, that just doesn’t happen.  People buy new toys like this, they don’t save them.  And it’s not like the kid at the time had the presence of mind to save a CHiPs big wheel right?  “Hey mom, I hope some day that I also have a kid who loves Erik Estrada as much as I do, so I think we should put this awesome big wheel up in the attic…”

The thing is though, that, that is exactly what happened, or at least one of those scenarios.  After snapping some pictures and posting them on Instagram I went back to my run and tried to image who this person was.  When I made my way back around for the second lap I saw that the CHiPs big wheel was now in use by kid who was out shredding up the pavement, doing doughnuts around his dad who was out walking the dog.  The guy looked like he was about my age and I really wanted to stop and ask him about the history of the toy and how he manged to hang on to it for all these years.  But the more I thought about doing that the more insane it the proposed conversation started to sound in my head.  How would you react to some stranger jogging by excitedly asking about your son’s toys.  Yeah, pretty weird.

Well, I may not have had the opportunity to hear the story behind this CHiPs big wheel, but I’m glad that I stumbled across it this morning and that it got me thinking about how sometimes it can be really weird to be a nostalgia addict…

From the Archives: The Pee-wee Herman Muppet Magazine edition…

It’s been awhile since I’ve waded into my personal archive of old magazine back issues and yesterday while moving something in the closet I saw a stack of them piled high and decided to scan through a few.  Next thing I knew I was organizing a hundred misc issues in stacks all around the office, flipping through every other one looking for fun stuff that I hadn’t seen in years.  I knew that if I completely gave into the urge I’d be sitting amongst them all night, so I decided to pick a stack and find something to write about.  At least then I’d feel like I did something productive with the time.  The stack I ended up choosing contained my entire collection of old Muppet Magazine issues, a publication that I’ve written about in the past (when they covered Weird Al, breakdancing, and Mr. T)  and one that I love dearly.

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While looking through the various issues, the one that kept going back to was the Winter 1987 issue that featured Pee-wee Herman.  Pee-wee’s been on my brain lately since he’s been filming his new Netflix film and I’ve been dying to see some footage cut together from it.  I’m really curious to see if he and the crew can recapture the magic of his 80s and 90s era flick.  I’ll probably love it regardless, I mean hell, I’m one of those fans that unironically loves Big Top Pee-wee, but it’s so rare for studios and performers to rekindle that magic when there are so many years between projects (for me Tron: Legacy and Mad Max Fury Road were some of the only ones that managed to do it successfully.)  I know that Rebuens has had a really great run with his Broadway revival of Pee-wee’s Playhouse, but I’ve yet to see it.

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Anyway, though I’m gonna take a deeper look at the Pee-wee interview in the Winter 1987 issue, it wasn’t the first time the magazine featured him, well kind of.  The previous Fall ’87issue had a pin-up of Kermit…er….Ker-mee Herman…

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I love that they did these parody poster pin-ups in the latter issues of the publication (I have a Kermit as He-Man, with full mullet, that I adore.)  Is it weird that I can totally hear Kermit doing a Pee-wee impression while singing Tequila and laughing in my head?  Also, seconds before this Miss Piggy stepped up to him in biker leathers and said: “I say you give him to me first!”  Anyway, back to the issue at hand…

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Though I want to concentrate on the Pee-wee interview, there’s a lot of fun stuff in this issue (I mean holy heck, there’s a Johnathan “Weekend At Bernie’s” Silverman interview for crying out loud.)  Here’s a couple of ads that stood out for me….

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Before he won out hearts as the cocksure Buck in The Great Outdoors, Chris Young was a pitchman for Kool-Aid Koolers.  So it wasn’t just the Jett’s pimping the Kool-Aid branded juice boxes back in the day.  Someone should have told him that only Cosby can pull off sweaters like that, and NO ONE can pull off Kool-Aid colored pants.  No one.  The other ad I wanted to highlight is awesome because of the great action-packed painted artwork for one of my favorite cartoons from the 80s, the Silverhawks…

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There were actually two variations of the same ad in the magazine, this one announcing the show coming to TV and another with the same art announcing the release of the first arc of episodes on VHS.  Guess this was one of those series that they had a marketing blitz ready to go!

Anyway, getting back to Pee-wee, the main feature in this issue is a 1987 interview by Kermit the Frog (or, um, Fred Newman)…

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I love that they chose to frame this article in a way where Pee-wee is living in the playhouse even when not filming, and very much in the spirit of the Muppets, the puppet characters from the show are all included in the interview.  I’m sure this can be cynically viewed as pandering to kids, but I see it as preserving the magic of the world these shows exist in.  Much in the same way that I don’t care for the hipster jokes about Muppets breaking the 4th wall to realize that they’re puppets (imagine the plethora of “art” pieces featuring x-ray images of Kermit with a human arm bone inside of him), I think there’s something to be respected about keeping the magic of a show like Pee-wee’s playhouse alive.

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Even though there’s nothing Earth-shattering in this interview, I love the thought of Kermit hanging out in the playhouse and talking about Christmas parties with Pee-wee.  Also, I imagine that the secret word of the day on Kermit’s visit was: “Yaaaayyyyyyy”.  So every time something said “Yaaaayyyyyy” everyone else would have to yell “Yaaaayyyyyy”.  It would be insane….

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Transformers & G.I. Joe, finally the shared universe I always dreamed of…

As an 80s nostalgia nerd it’s kind of hard to pick a favorite brand or property from my childhood. There are just way too many fond memories and of the thousands of things that I love from that decade each and every one of them has the power to take me back and give me the warm fuzzies. However, looking back and remembering how I felt at the time, if I had to nail down the stuff that I considered my favorites it would unquestionably be G.I. Joe and the Transformers. Not only was I completely smitten by both toy lines, I was also heavily invested in both cartoon series. Between the ages of 7 to 13 almost every afternoon you could find me in front of the TV after school emersed in the worlds that the Sunbow animation staff created, or in our dining room setting up epic battles with my collection of Hasbro toys.

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Those two universes were practically sacred to me and they felt very interconnected. As I grew older and started digging into the background of the properties it downed on me that there were a lot of reasons for this. I mean the toys were all developed or marketed by Hasbro, the cartoons were both handled by Sunbow/Marvel Animation utilizing the same pool of voice talent, show runners and writers, and much of the periphery merchandise was also handled by the same companies (both comic book series were Marvel for example.) At the time I didn’t realize this and as I sat in rapt attention during the cartoon or when coming up with stories to play out with my toys I always chose to entertwine the universes. The idea of Cobra Commander and his legion of terrorists and Megatron and his armada of Decepticons teaming up to face off against the Optimus Prime and the Autobots and the entire roster of G.I. Joe was always a go-to story for me. Even though I planned out a ton of epic battles in my head there was always a part of me that was bummed out because this crossover universe wasn’t official. It never stopped my from day dreaming about it, but I always felt a tinge of sadness because what I really wanted was to see some actual “official” crossovers and for the most part it never really officially existed until now. There were a handful of teases, specifically in the Sunbow cartoons that stoked the flames of my crossover desires like the time that a character who was for all intents and purposes Cobra Commander popped up in a season three episode of Transformers titled Only Human

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This character was named Old Snake in the episode and is almostly undeniably Cobra Commander as he was voiced by Chris Latta (who provided the voices of Cobra Commander and Starscream on the Sunbow cartoons), was the defunt leader of a one great terrorist orginization and even has the iconic mirrored face plate. But as they never referred to him specifically as Cobra Commander, nor did they evoke Cobra or even feature a Cobra logo insignia, it leaves it up to question enough that it feels way more like an homage to me than an actual crossover. There’s also an episode featuring an older version of the Joe team character Flint (whose real name is Dashiell Faireborn) in that thrid season of Transformers. But again, the connection isn’t explicit. He’s not refferred to as “Flint” and there are no G.I. Joe connections beyond inferring the identity of that character through context clues based on his appearance and the fact that, that character’s daughter’s name is Marissa Faireborn. The closest connection between the universes in the cartoon series is the appearance of a newscaster named Hector Ramirez that pops up in most of the Sunbow series set in modern times (G.I. Joe, Transformers, Jem, and the Inhumanoids.) But as solid a connection as this is, it doesn’t have the panache of seeing Autobots pop up in an episode of G.I. Joe.

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Now, there is a very popular and very explicit connection between the two universes that I’m sure readers are screaming about right now, and that’s the Marvel comics crossover G.I. Joe and the Transformers that was published back in 1987. You know, this is about as clear cut as you can get in terms of universes crossing over, and I’ll agree that it’s cool and groundbreaking, but there are a couple of reasons that I kind of dismiss these comics. For one, I never stumbled upon those comics until well into my adulthood, and two, the comics always seemed like they were outside of the official continuity to me. Much in the same way that it’s arguable whether the Star Wars novelizations are cannon, or if it’s just a product to enrich the brand which is the officially released movies. For me, when it comes to G.I. Joe and Transformers the official continuity begins and ends with the cartoon series, animated films, and the toy lines. Again, I’ll be the first to admit that this is more or less just my weird way of perceiving the universes, but it just feels right to me. So I’ve been waiting for over 20 years to see something released in one of these two realms that unites the properties.

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So when I learned that Hasbro was releasing an official crossover toy in the new Transformer Combiner Wars line I was absolutely floored. The toy, a hybrid Decepticon/Cobra jet named Viper that was modeled after a variation of the Cobra Rattler and it’s main pilot Wild Weasel, is one of the first pieces of widely released Hasbro merchandise that finally officially merges the universes of G.I. Joe and the Transformers. As soon as I laid eyes on grainy pictures online I knew I had to get my hands on one asap, and I want to give a huge thank you and shout out to my buddy HooveR for hooking me up with the toy of my dreams.

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Now, as far as I’m concerned Viper is (for me) one of the most important pieces in the modern Hasbro offerings because it acts as a link that has the potential to spark an entire line of toys that I feel are in a way tailor-made to fill a void in my nostalgic past. Now, I know that there are still folks out there that are going to want to point to earlier examples of the G.I. Joe and Transformers universe’s crossing over in toy form. I mean there are a couple of specific examples that spring to mind, namely the 2004 Transformers Energon figure Snow Cat which is an homage to the G.I. Joe vehicle of the same name and general design. But again, as cool as an homage as this is, it’s not explicitly a crossover. There’s no G.I. Joe logo and storyline attached.

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A more apt example would be the SDCC exclusive release of the Starscream decoed Sky Striker set that was released back in 2011. The set came with a Cobra Commander pilot figure armed with an appropriately-sized Megatron laser pistol. Again, this is a super cool set that I really wanted to get my hands on, but there were some aspects to the release that again make me feel like it’s outside of an official crossover. First, the set was a limited edition only sold at the SDCC which means that most folks couldn’t get their hands on it, and second, even though the repainted Sky Striker looks really awesome as “Starscream”, it was just a repainted Joe toy. They didn’t re-tool it so that it could transform or anything. So as cool as it is, it doesn’t feel official to me.

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Viper on the other hand is about as official as you can get, widely released, branded with both G.I. Joe and Transformers insignia logos, and functions as both an action figure, vehicle (with the ability to transform.)  It may be a narrow view for some, but for me, this is the toy I’ve been waiting for for over 20 years!  Here’s some more views of Viper….

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I love the way they made Viper an homage to Wild Weasel too, a really nice touch…

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I have no idea whether Hasbro is testing the waters with a figure like Viper, but I hope they are.  I’d love to see a whole line of hybrid releases like this.  I can totally imagine transformer Hiss Tanks, Vamp jeeps, or Tomahawk helicopters.  I can even see a combiner made out of the various Dreadnok vehicles.  The possibilities are limitless!

 

Help Kickstart Buy the Rights!

A few months ago a good buddy shared his idea for a new project he was working on, a project that I immediately knew was going to be awesome.  Fast forward to today and that project is on the brink of becoming a reality and I couldn’t be happier.  What am I talking about?  My friend and fellow nostalgia buff, Tommy Day from Top Hat Sasquatch has developed a wicked awesome card game called Buy the Rights.  In a nutshell, it’s a cinema-themed party game where the players develop movie pitches based on a mix of Plot, Genre, Hero, & Hero Descriptor cards they draw.  Each turn players pitch their movie to a producer who has a set budget to spend any way they see fit.  Then the role of producer passes on to the next character, everyone else draws new cards and makes pitches, and so on.  At the end of the game the player with the most money wins.

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Being a huge movie buff (I do co-host a podcast about Cult Films) and an avid game player I was immediately sold on the concept.  And now Tommy has taken the game to Kickstarter to raise the funds to get the game properly manufactured and into the hands of gaming enthusiasts everywhere.  Before he launched the campaign Tommy had a batch of prototypes printed up and my girlfriend Jaime and I were lucky enough to receive a copy to play-test.  Recently we had a bunch of friends over for a cookout and figured it was the perfect opportunity to pull out the game ad kick the tires a bit…

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As I mentioned, the game is comprised of four decks of cards, Plot, Genre, Hero, & Hero Descriptor.  Each deck has 100 different cards, so there are almost limitless combinations that can be formed when devising movie pitches.  Half of the fun of the game is trying to put together a halfway coherent idea with the randomly drawn cards, and the other half of the fun is “selling” the pitch to the producer.  So when the best movie idea in your hand is Horror Film (Genre) about a Dyslexic Plumber (Descriptor & Hero cards), who has to play a championship basketball game against aliens (plot), you really have to pull out the charisma to get the producer on your side.  In all seriousness, the game is a lot of fun and while we were playing we were constantly laughing at the pitches…

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Buy the Rights follows in the tradition of games like Cards Against Humanity and Apples to Apples, and is perfect for both audiences (it can be played perfectly clean, or depending on the players and ages can get pretty hilariously “adult”.)

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I was also super stoked to have Tommy commission me to draw a piece of Buy the Rights art for the Kickstarter campaign.  Right now if you pledge at certain levels you can get a nifty vinyl sticker of this piece I illustrated…

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There’s a lot of fun rewards too, aside from the game itself which is the real gem, there’s also a really swell print that was illustrated by Cole Roberts, as well as a cool T-Shirt.

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So if this seems like something you’d be interested in, please take a few minutes to check out the campaign, watch the video, and help Tommy make Buy the Rights a reality. This one fully gets the Branded in the 80s stamp of approval!

Transformers through the eyes of a 10 year-old…

If there’s one thing that I try very hard to do with this site it’s to attempt to transport my perspective into the mind of my 10 year-old self so that I can try and see things (like all the old cartoons, toys, and ephemera) as I did almost 30 years ago.  This is way easier said than done as it’s next to impossible to let go of a lifetime’s worth of baggage and my pesky adult perspective that I need to have in place for most of the time.  It’s at those times when it’s proving a real struggle to get back into that childlike mindset when I wonder what it would be like to have a child of my own who I could share all of the stuff that I grew up with and watch their reaction firsthand.  Having children just hasn’t been something that was in the cards for me up to this point, and most of my friends who have had children did so later in life and so most of them are still too young to share this kind of stuff with.

Well this past week I had the opportunity to babysit a friend’s 10 year-old son Alex for a few afternoons, and after spending the last decade literally reclaiming my childhood in the form of comics, toys, and a mountain of cartoons on DVD I figured I’d be in the perfect person to watch and entertain the kid for a few afternoons.  Well, even though I feel like I had a pretty good shot at relating to him and the stuff he’s into, I do remember what it was like being a kid and being babysat by someone who was trying their damnedest but failing to relate to me.  That was probably my biggest concern going in, that I’d attempt to be hip by knowing about stuff like current cartoons or cool for having a huge collection of toys, yet still failing to make a connection. I mean, I have a wall full of Masters of the Universe and G.I. Joe toys still mint on card.  Would Alex think I was crazy for not opening them?  Basically all I knew for certain was that he was a huge Transformers fan who thinks that the Decepticons are jerks and that his favorite characters are all of the Autobots.  All of them.

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I knew I’d be watching him for three days and on the first it was pretty much just as awkward as I’d expected.  Being really into Transformers Alex brought his copy of the War for Cybertron XBox game so that we could play it.  Well, if I haven’t already mentioned it on the site before, when it comes to modern video games I suck.  I’ll be honest, I very happily peaced out after the Nintendo 64/Playstaion era of gaming and never really had any interest in picking it back up.  I’d much rather play Galaga than Skyrim, and I’m totally fine with that.  I’m just not a gamer and if you hand me a controller that has more than 4 buttons and a D-pad I’m totally lost.

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So when Alex busted out his copy of War for Cybertron I was actually nervous about having to try and play co-op with him.  Luckily he didn’t understand what the co-op option meant, so I just played dumb when there was no option for the second player to join after he launched the single-player campaign.  At that point I was fine just watching him blast a bunch of Transformers to rubble.  Actually, watching him play the game was kind of hilariously interesting because regardless of the fact that I mentioned to him that I was well versed in the lore of the Transformers he took it upon himself to tell me all about the characters and the world.  I decided to just play dumb and learn from the master.  “Whoa, that guy is named Jetfire?  What does he transform into?  A jet?  Whoa!”  Mind you, I wasn’t being sarcastic or patronizing, just trying to let him take the reigns of the discussion.  He played the game non-stop for 5 hours straight while I watched and asked about all the characters and locations.

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Actually, this was kind interesting for me on another level since I’d never played the game before and have very distinct tastes when it comes to the Transformers.  The game is an amalgamation of visual design and continuity from all iterations of the mythology and universes.  So you have dialogue directly lifted from the 1986 Transformers movie mixed with references to the Bayformer movies, and character designs that are somewhere in between those live action films and the Classics toy versions of the characters that were released about a decade ago.  Mix that with dialogue from Frank Welker and Peter Cullen and it makes for a very trippy experience.  There are even nods to the original Marvel comics, specifically the smelting pits.

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This also underlined something for me that I was well aware of, but never really out much thought into which is that a brand like the Transformers has a longevity that is kind of amazing.  I mean, I feel kind of old thinking about it, but having been around before they were originally designed and released, enough time has passed that there are almost three generations worth of folks who can lay claim to a variation of the characters.  In another decade we’ll being seeing families where the grandparents were into the original G1 versions of the characters, parents who grew up on the later 90s, early 2000s cartoons and the Bayformers, and there will be a new generation of kids whose reference point for the characters will be the new video games and the latest trilogy of Bayformer movies that are on deck to be released over the next few years.  We’re already seeing that with brands like G.I. Joe, but I find it fascinating that something that was developed and launched when I was a kid will have that sort of generational longevity soon.

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Well, on the second day I was only watching Alex for a couple of hours and honestly I still had a headache from the constant barrage of crap blowing up in ultra HD in that game the day before, so I decided instead of firing the XBox back up, instead we’d watch a movie.  Knowing he loved the Transformers and since I’ve never been able to share some of my childhood favorite flicks with a kid of my own I decided that I’d take a chance and screen the 1986 Transformers movie for him.  I knew he’d never seen it and honestly I was dying to know if the flick still held up for today’s kids who have their own, way more kinetic versions of the characters than the ones I grew up loving.  I always felt the movie was ahead of its time in terms of the violence, the sort of crazy level of action and a plot that basically moves at the speed of light.  So what would a modern 10 year-old make of this film I love so dearly?

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Well, I’m pleased to say that it held up pretty damn good, though there are some scenes where it was painfully obvious that Alex was getting bored.  All of the jokes seemed to hit him in just the right place (we both turned to each other and laughed during the scene where Grimlock is begging Kup to tell his war stories), and for the most part the fast-moving plot seemed to keep his attention.  The opening scene with the Lithonian’s planet getting eaten by Unicron seemed to bore him, and any scene that was devoted to back and forth bickering between Unicron and Galvatron also made him snooze.  But throughout the rest of the film there was definitely a mix of him literally being on the edge of his seat and standing up cheering.  It was really interesting seeing him react to the vehicle character of Daniel, one that most fans who grew up with the film tend to deride and mock, but Alex was all in.  Whenever Daniel was in peril I’d hear audible gasps from Alex, even in early scenes where he busts his hoover-board.

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Probably the most gratifying experience was watching Alex react to a couple of key scenes in the movie, namely the death of Optimus Prime and the psuedo-death of Ultra Magnus before the final siege on Unicron.  There were no tears during Prime’s death, but this was probably the moment when Alex became fully invested in the story (at least judging from his body language.)  You could tell he was heavily focused on the characters and really wanted the Autobots to survive and to defeat the Decepticons.

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He also really seemed to get behind the idea of the Matrix of Leadership because when it came around to the scene where Galvatron has Ultra Magnus ripped apart to get at it, Alex was really bummed out.  He actually screamed out “No!” when Magnus fell.  So even though at the outset he had that sort of disinterest because the movie seemed so old, three quarters of the way in he was hooked.  I attempted to ask him some questions afterwards, but being a sort of shy 10 year-old who never really spent all that much time around me, he was pretty tight lipped.  I was really curious if he noticed that some of the lines in this movie were also in the game he loved (“One shall stand, one shall fall”, “Bah Weep Grah Na Weep Ninibon”, “First we crack the shell, then we crack the nuts inside…”, etc.), but he didn’t seem to notice.  Granted, I’ve seen that ’86 movie over two hundred times, so the dialogue is permanently etched into my brain.

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I was also curious about the infamous scene where Spike utters the word “Shit” when they try and blow up Unicron with Moon Base Two.  Again, he didn’t seem to notice during the actual film, and I wasn’t going to ask him a point question about curse words afterwards.  The final little bit of a litmus test to gauge his enjoyment with the older G1 versions of the characters, my girlfriend and I picked up a six-inch vinyl Optimus Prime figure (that is strikingly accurate in terms of the depiction from the original cartoon) as a gift for Alex.  I gave it to him right before we watched the movie and all throughout he was clutching it and posing it towards the screen. On the third day when he came back, he still had the toy with him, so I’m taking that as a sign that he enjoyed that 1986 film.

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All in all, it was really fascinating to get a glimpse into what it would be like to share my nostalgia with a kid, and it gives me hope that if I do decide that the time is right to have a child of my own soon, that I’ll be able to pass down a love for some of my favorite 80s era stuff.  That actually gives me a lot of hope for the future and it reminds me that I might get a lot of use out of the overflowing shelves of cartoons I own on DVD some day.

Branded in the 80s is also on Instagram

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Just wanted to take a moment and point out that Branded in the 80s is also on Instagram.  There’s a lot of stuff that I have in my collection that doesn’t always make it to the site, stuff that’s a lot of fun, but not necessarily something I feel the need to write about in a long winded fashion (as I’m prone to do :p ).  So a few years ago I set up an Instagram as an outlet to share pictures of the collection.  I also tend to post stuff there pretty regularly, at least four or five times a week, so if you’re looking for a quick 80s fix you can follow me there @smurfwreck.  Here’s some examples of stuff I’ve posted recently…

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