I collect spores, molds, fungus, and glow in the dark vinyl…

About a month ago my good friend Tim over at Flashlights Are Something to Eat and the Neighborhood Archive tipped me off to the special Record Store Day vinyl re-release of Ray Parker Jr.’s titular hit from the 1984 Ghostbusters soundtrack.  Not only is it special in that it’s part of the 30th anniversary celebration this year, but the 10″ single would also be issued in a “slimed” edition (aka glow in the dark vinyl.)  I’m typically not an avid collector of albums on vinyl since I don’t own a turntable and have pretty much all my favorite music at my fingertips digitally, but the allure of a glow in the dark Ghostbusters album that would look pretty darn rad up on the wall of Branded HQ was a bit too much for me to pass up!

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Though I was vaguely aware of the annual Record Store Day events, I’ve never turned out for one and as the weekend of the release approached I was getting a little apprehensive.  I’d started hearing horror stories about folks waiting in lines and in some places even camping out over night.  “Seriously?!?” I wondered aloud to my empty office last night at work while looking up my local participating stores.  I mean it seems like vinyl enthusiasts are a niche group as it is, and I just can’t imagine that there are enough (in the per-store ratio sense) to necessitate forgoing showers and the comfort of sleeping in on a Saturday just to snag some limited edition records.  I thought it was weird enough when people were lining up for Episode I all those years ago, let alone copies of the Pink Panther soundtrack on pink vinyl or the Nirvana singles collection.  I started wondering if it was even worth trying as the forecast Saturday was calling for rain and temperatures in the 40s.  So I called ahead and made sure there was a store near me that actually had this Ghostbusters release in stock, and luckily there was.  Except they only had two copies.  In fact, I was hearing that the entire release was limited to 1000 copies nationwide.  Now my head was filling with images of having to stand out in the cold rain in a tug of war battle with a couple other aging nostalgia nuts fighting over who got to take one of these home.

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When I arrived at the store (the CD Warehouse in Duluth, GA) 30 minutes before opening there was a small line of record lovers waiting patiently for the place to open.  I didn’t see anyone decked out in full Ghostbusters overalls with proton packs, so I started to feel my chances were pretty decent.  All my worries dissipated when one of the employees came out and made a list of everyone’s name and one record that they wanted to call dibs on.  I was the only one with a wide smile, proudly stating “Put me down for one Ray Parker Jr. please!”

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Three minutes later (and $17 poorer) I had my hands on this beautiful new piece for my Ghostbusters collection.  I didn’t have to elbow anyone in the face or threaten to shut down a containment unit either.  When I got home, being the nerd I am, I immediately help the record up to my overhead kitchen light and charged the vinyl so that I could see it glow in all its spooktacular glory…

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I can’t quite put my finger on why, but there’s something I find amazingly alluring about that pale minty green color of glow in the dark products.  I think it might even be giving hot pink a run for its money as my favorite color…

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Though billed as a 10″ single, this album actually features four tracks.  Side A has the original hit by Parker Jr. as well as an instrumental version, while side B features a DJ remix of Ghostbusters and an extended 6-minute version as well.  So it’s almost like an EP I guess.  I actually stumbled upon one of this compilation’s producers, Michael Duquette, on instagram yesterday when I posted a picture of the record while announcing my intention to hunt one of them down.  I just want to say that he and Jeff James (the other listed producer) did an amazing job on this record.  I love the design, especially how the GB logo backing shows through the translucent vinyl, and the simple clean logo center sticker on the album.  There’s also a nice version of the original trio from the movie poster on the back of the insert…

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Checking online as I left the store I started feeling pretty lucky that I managed to snag a copy of this album.  Seems like a lot of folks who were hunting for a copy were leaving stores empty-handed.  Again, a lot of the news articles online pegged the pressing at 1k copies, as did Duquette when I asked.  The Record Store Day website lists the album as a “RSD First Release” though, which seems to point to the fact that it will possibly be released more widely down the road a bit.  My copy was also numbered 5103, while a friend in another state had one stamped 2340, so I’m not sure how accurate the 1000 pressings figure is.  Maybe there are only 1000 in glow in the dark vinyl?  Either way, I hear they’re going for stupidly high amounts on ebay (man I hate scalpers), so if you’re looking to pick one of these up I’d suggest waiting a bit for a wider release.

So, there were also some other pretty neat albums re-released in limited runs today including the original Muppet Movie soundtrack.  Anyone out there brave the crowds and score some fun vinyl?

The Repo Man has entered The Grid!

Lots of little personal projects going on this month behind the scenes at Branded, but of all the stuff I’m working on the thing I’m probably the most excited for is the launch of Season Two of the Cult Film Club!  It’s been just over a year since I helped launch the CFC Podcast with my bitchin’ co-hosts Paxton Holly (of the aptly named Cavalcade of Awesome & the Nerd Lunch Podcast) and Jaime Hood (who runs my favorite blog on the interwebs Shezcrafti.com.)

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We do our best to get together about once a month to talk about all the cult movies that we love to death.  Outside of 80s era kids junk (and the branding that goes with it) my other main passion/hobby is watching movies and deconstructing them with friends.  So the Cult Film Club has been a great outlet for me to help start the conversation on some of my favorite flicks.  Now we’re not limiting ourselves to just the 80s, but readers of this site will surely be interested in a good chunk of the movies we’ve tackled so far as a lot of them have fallen square in the domain of what I’d normally cover here at Branded like Miami Connection, Better Off Dead, Karate Kid III, Zapped, Beastmaster, Troll 2 and The Wraith.  We just kicked off our new season with an episode dedicated to the late Mr. Harold Ramis (where we cover a trio of his films, Stripes, Ghostbusters and Groundhog Day.)  So for anyone who might enjoy hearing me blather on about 80s stuff in a podcasting format and who hasn’t checked out the show, you might enjoy it.

In honor of the CFC gearing back up, I wanted to take a moment and talk about a segment of an film I just caught last night that is the sort of stuff the Cult Film Club was built to discuss, which also just happens to fall directly into the middle section of the CFC/Branded Venn diagram.  There’s a horror flick from the early 80s that I’ve been meaning to watch forever called Nightmares (released in 1983.)  I first stumbled upon this flick years ago when I was hunting for some of those elusive foil prism horror vending stickers that I had when I was a kid.  I ended up winning a lot on eBay and included in with the Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th Part 6, and Vamp stickers was one with a couple of hands, a pair of eyes and the text Nightmares.  I thought it was just some sort of generic horror sticker the seller threw in, but it turns out that it was for this obscure anthology movie starring Richard Mauser (the dad from License to Drive), Lance Henriksen (Aliens and Near Dark), Billy Jacoby (Just One of the Guys), and an early performance by Emilio Estevez.

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It’s been on my radar to watch for years as I love horror anthology flicks (all those wonderful Amicus films from the 70s and stuff like Creepshow, Tales From the Darkside or The Monster Club.)  Well I saw that the full film was on youtube last night so I threw some pizza rolls in the oven, popped the top of a Red Rock grape soda, and finally caught up with this movie.

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For the most part the flick is a snooze fest, but the second chapter titled The Bishop of Battle was amazing!  Where do I begin?  First off, this segment stars Jacoby and Estevez as a couple of arcade junkies.  Estevez plays J.J. Cooney, a cross between Newman’s The Hustler and Doug Masters from Iron Eagle.  The segment opens with Jacoby and Estevez hopping a bus from their suburban neighborhood in the Valley to Venice Beach so that they can hustle the local gangs that hang out in the arcades.  Estevez’s Cooney is an game wiz, the best in California, and he needs some quick cash that he owes to the mysterious Bishop.

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Cooney finds his mark playing a Pleiades machine and he goes in for the kill setting him up with a spiel from Jacoby’s character about how Cooney is always blowing his money on arcade challenges.  Before you know it Conney is down $6 and decides to go for broke and up the ante with one final game for a whopping $25.  The gang member has to go check with his boss, but gets cleared for the dough and the two battle it out in one final game which of course Cooney wins.

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So aside from the fact that it’s kind of ridiculous how “serious” it becomes when $25 is at stake, I love this sequence because Estevez’s Cooney gets into “game mode” by slipping on his Walkman headphones and blasts some rad early 80s punk.  This is way before similar sequences in Iron Eagle that I also love, and a full year before Estevez would play punk Otto in Repo Man.  In fact this whole segment is set to the music of Black Flag, X, and Fear which is amazing.

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The gang is onto Cooney unfortunately and they end up chasing the two out of the arcade into the streets where Estevez and Jacoby narrowly jump another bus to the safety of the Valley.  The two make their way to the local mall and after an argument about going to see the Bishop, Cooney leaves Jacoby behind and continues on into the local arcade.  Can I just say how sad it is that there aren’t arcades in malls anymore?  You’d think with the amount of teens that still hang out in local malls these wonderlands of video games would still manage to be profitable.  I mean I know that gaming has evolved past what a lot of these machines were capable of and most kids get their fix with apps on their phones, but still there’s something magical about the noise and lights and standing at a cabinet that I miss so much.

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Anyway, we quickly learn that the “Bishop” isn’t a person, but rather a game called The Bishop of Battle, a game that Cooney has yet to beat and is his sole focus.  In fact at one point he tells his parents that after he beats the Bishop he’s going to retire from gaming and concentrate on school again.  No more late nights and missed classes.  No more stealing quarters and hustling Latino street gangs for bread to feed the Bishop.  Cooney decides that today is the day he will finally get to the 13th level and take down his rival.

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The game is very much like Beserk or Nightstalker with a maze-like grid and wandering aliens you have to blast with a laser gun.  As the game opens you hear: “Greetings Earthling.  I am the Bishop of Battle, master of all I survey.  I have 13 progressively harder levels. Try me… if you dare!”  Cooney pumps up the volume on some punk and then proceeds to the 12th level where he’s promptly taken down by the Bishop.  The crowd that gathered dissipates as the arcade closes and the owner literally has to pry Cooney off the machine.

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This is where the film takes a turn for the speculative and horrific.  Later that night after having a huge blowout with his parents, Cooney sneaks back to the mall and breaks into the arcade so that he can have his final showdown with the Bishop.  He’s hot and ends up finally beating the 12th level at which point the arcade cabinet freaks out, overloads, and literally crumbles to pieces…

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Cooney thinks he’s finally beaten the Bishop, but it turns out that the 13th level was way more than he bargained for as he has inadvertently freed the Bishop who sends his pixelated minions to do battle with Cooney in the real world.

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Looking down, Cooney sees he still has the laser gun from the cabinet in his fist so he instinctively starts zapping the flying enemies in the middle of the arcade, destroying arcade games left and right.  It’s sort of like the opposite of Tron and is kind of freaking awesome!

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I can’t believe I went 36 years without catching up with this 25 minutes of pure awesome cinema.  Estevez is at his best, cockily grinning up a storm and is really into the role no matter how cheesy some of the dialogue is.  The effects in the live action arcade sequences are pretty top notch as well and totally hold up 31 years later.  Between the Tron homages, Estevez and the rad punk soundtrack, Nightmares: The Bishop of Battle is well worth seeking out.  Just be careful you don’t buy it on the 13th level because the consequences are much worse than the game being over!

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I’m having a nostalgic ReAction to these toys!

If the 80s was all about an insane amount of merchandising and toy branding, there was one small place where we were all sort of collectively let down by this blitz and that’s movie-themed toy lines.  Sure, we had a ton of Kenner Star Wars figures, there were a handful of Raiders of the Lost Ark toys, and we even got four Legend of the Lone Ranger figures from Gabriel, but there were so many hugely popular flicks that never had lines released.  I’m looking at you Ghostbusters.  Most of the toy lines were tied into either cartoons, or cartoon spin-offs of movies (okay, we did have Real Ghostbusters toys, but it’s just not the same.)  It really wasn’t until the 90s when we started to see movies regularly getting their own short run toy lines (the Shadow, Robin Hood Prince of Thieves, and Dick Tracy all spring to mind.)  So for years us 80s kids had to really concentrate, evoke the theme song of the Muppet Babies, and use our imagination (said with all the extra syllables baby Piggy added in the cartoon.)  I distinctly remember using my G.I. Joe and Star Wars figures to play V or the Last Starfighter (the B-Wing pilot from RoTJ made a good stand in for Alex from the Last Starfighter, and if you turned his head around he makes a nice Shocktrooper from  V.)

In the past couple of decades a lot of toy companies have done some fun work addressing the lack of 80s movie toys, but the figures are usually in the 6-8″ scale and are sculpted in such a way where they tend to only work as one-pose plastic statues.  Again, fun, but it they never really hit that “action figure” nostalgia I have for Star Wars and G.I. Joe figures.  Well, last year a couple of companies teamed up (Funko and Super7) to release vintage Kenner-style figures based on original molds for the movie Alien.  These were a huge hit with really fun retro inspired cardbacks and limited articulation and detail in the sculpts.  Sure, it’s a little gimmicky and it evokes a false sense of nostalgia, but who cares, these figures are a lot of fun!  Based on the success of that line Funko and Super7 have launched a much larger line of these ReAction figures that will start hitting stores this month.  Most of these toys feature characters from movies which either never had toys or never had complete lines, but there are also a few sets of TV Show figures thrown in as well.  There’s a lot of great stuff in the line including stuff from the Terminator, Predator, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th, Hellraiser, Halloween, The Crow, Escape From New York, Pulp Fiction and the Rocketeer, but the two lines that have really grabbed my attention are a series of Goonies and Back to the Future figures!

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I can’t even express how long I’ve wanted to have vintage style Goonies figures.  In this first wave there are five figures including Sloth and the kids (Mikey, Mouth, Chunk and Data), and I hope they sell well enough that we can get a second wave featuring at least Stef, Andy and Brand, but I’d love a set of Fratelli’s for sure.

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I know a lot of folks have been bummed that the sculpting and paint apps are super simple, but I actually like that.  It reminds me a lot of the original Star Wars figures and honestly these toys aren’t about photo-realistic accuracy, they’re about having fun toys to have further make believe Goonies adventures with.  Besides, if you’re like me then you’ll want two sets, one I can open (and have fun with) and one to hang on the wall of Branded HQ.  The card art alone is worth it for me on these.

I’m not quite as jazzed about the BTTF figures, though mostly this is because the design team at Funko/Super7 chose to use one standard image for the card art (and in doing so chose NOT to license/use the bitchin’ Drew Struzan poster art.)

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It’s not a huge deal, but because of the repetitive card art these won’t look as good on the wall, so I’ll probably just end up opening a single set…

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Again, I hope these sell well enough for a second wave because I’d really like to have a Loraine, as well as a Marty in the radioactivity suit as Darth Vader from the planet Vulcan!  As it is, at least I can re-enact George punching Biff in the parking lot of the Enchantment Under the Sea dance…

The Goonies figures are slated to be released in October while the Back to the Future figures should be hitting pegs in June.  They’re all up and available for pre-order at Amazon right now!

Awesome 80s Bedrooms: Labyrinth Edition

So I recently had the chance to catch Jim Henson’s Labyrinth on the big screen and I made sure to use that opportunity to get a really good look at all the cool stuff in Sarah’s bedroom.  I’ve know for awhile that there are a lot of neat items hidden in the room, specifically there are versions of most of the main characters she meets while trapped in the labyrinth laying about her room in one form or another, but I was surprised at how many of them there are.  So for this new Awesome Bedrooms piece I wanted to focus not just on some of the cool real world toys, but these character specific pieces as well…

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I want to preface this by admitting that I know I’m gonna miss some stuff as there seems to be a lot of interesting things in Sarah’s room that I just couldn’t get a good enough look at (specifically some board games and books on her shelves), so if anyone has spotted anything else, please let me know in the comments.  Alright, let’s dive into the bedroom…

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1). Slashing Machine Record (reference to the Cleaners)

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2). Songbird Mini-Market Sweet Shop play set

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3). Ludo plush doll

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4). Montgomery Moose plush doll from the Get Along Gang

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5). M.C. Escher Relativity print (reference to the inside of Jareth’s castle)

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6). Porcelain Hand Sculpture (reference to the Helping Hands)

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7). Evita Poster

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8). King Kong Manhattan Bank toy

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So, I never noticed the Slashing Machine album on Sarah’s shelf (my friend Kevin pointed it out after we saw the flick in the theater.)  Though it’s not a real band (sadly!), I think the album cover is supposed to be in the vein of some of the early Journey or Boston album covers and it’s a reference to the scene with the Cleaners that chase Sarah and Hoggle through one of the labyrinth’s tunnels.  In the above screen capture you also get to see references to Ludo, the layout of the Goblin King’s castle (via the M.C. Escher print), and what I assume is a reference to the Helping Hands (considering the amount of items that reference stuff in the film, I have to assume that hand sculpture was intended.)  I also wanted to point to the Evita poster since Sarah is a theater buff (as her real mother is a theater actress as seen in clippings around her room.)

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9). Where the Wild Things Are book

10). Sir Didymus plush doll

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11). Labyrinth marble game (reference is hopefully pretty obvious ;) )

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In the end credits of the film Henson tips his hat to the works of Maurice Sendak and how much they inspired him, so it’s cool to see a copy of Where the Wild Things Are on Sarah’s desk (and there’s a much more specifically influential book seen later.)  WtWTA certainly points to the idea of a human child transported into a fantasy world, which is the main conceit of Labyrinth.  Speaking of books and fantasy inspiration featuring characters transported to another world…

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12). Classic fairy tale/fantasy story books

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13). Hoggle statue/bookend

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A way more influential Sendak book can be seen on Sarah’s desk than WtWTA which is Outside Over There, which tells the story of a girl who has to rescue her baby sister from Goblins.  This is placed next to other classic works which also feature characters who transverse into the realm of fantasy such as Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass and L. Frank Baum’s Wizard of Oz books.  There is also some of the Grim’s & H.C. Andersen’s fairy tales there as well as a copy of Disney’s version of Snow White (which the amnesia peach is most likely a reference.)

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14). Jareth the Goblin King statue

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15). Firey plush doll

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16). CATS poster (more broadway ephemera)

17). Music box (reference to the amnesia ball sequence)

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18). Dungeons and Dragons Expert Level box set

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I was so happy to scope that D&D box on Sarah’s shelf during the sequence where the hoarding goblins were trying to trap her in a variation of her room after she ate from the poisoned peach.  For one it’s neat to spot some role paying stuff in a bedroom finally, and two it’s really cool to see it in a girl’s room.  Maybe when Toby gets a little older Sarah will introduce him to the world of RPGs…

The last thing I wanted to point out was that there are a lot of hidden images of David Bowie’s profile throughout the movie.  Finding these is a game in and of itself, but I’ll point to the most obvious one that is a series of rocks in a portion of the labyrinth that when viewed from the right angle form everyone’s favorite androgynous glam star…

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Speaking of Bowie, one of his unintentional contributions to the film is his, um, wealth of crotch real estate (yeah, that’s subtle enough right?)  Let me just say that seeing this on the big screen for the first time, well, Bowie’s well-endowed stature is very, very hard to avoid.  Do not make direct eye contact, it just angers his crotch…

Other Awesome 80s Bedrooms I’ve covered…

Sara’s Room from Adventures in Babysitting

Eugene’s Room from The Monster Squad

Mikey’s room from the Goonies

David’s room from Flight of the Navigator

Robbie’s room from Poltergeist

Ben’s room from The Explorers

Pee Wee’s room from Pee Wee’s Big Adventure

Elliott’s room from E.T. Part 1 Elliott’s room Part 2

Fred Savage’s room from The Princess Bride

Josh’s room from Big

I’m obsessed with the LoEB’s return!

6883501769_16f5716f51_oThe League of Extraordinary Bloggers has been on hiatus for a while as Brian over at Cool & Collected has been “extraordinarily” busy with his C&C print magazine project, but it’s finally back this week with a new topic. To kick things off again Brian asks what our current obsessions are, and this just happens to coincide with a slight shift in my personal 80s collecting habits of late. Outside of a few sets of Garbage Pail Kids, I really didn’t start buying up stuff from my in and around childhood until I started work on this site. Then for the first 7 years or so of running Branded I focused most of my efforts on acquiring all sorts of ephemera, be it stickers, old magazines, or trading card wax pack wrappers that spanned all sorts of pop culture subjects from cartoons to food. I love talking about the 80s, specifically the marketing and “branding”, and I wanted to touch on all sorts of stuff from Sizzlean to amazing Return of the Jedi Jungle Gyms. Needless to say, digging up all of this stuff wasn’t cheap, so finding content to talk about on the site sort of dominated my collecting. The majority of the stuff I was hoarding storing in my flat-file, while awesome, didn’t necessarily always reflect the stuff I personally had as a kid.

Over the last year though I’ve decided to concentrate on rebuilding a small collection of things that I actually had as a kid.  Whether it’s the reproduction Masters of the Universe figures Mattel put out just after the millennium…

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…or picking up the occasional mint on card vintage toy like the super cool Transformers Afterburner I recently found.

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I think this all started just over a year ago when I managed to get a hold of my original childhood Atari 2600 system.  Reconnecting with that faux wood-paneled beauty really got me thinking about where I really wanted to spend my money when it came to my collecting habits.

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Lately this turn towards reacquiring treasures from when I was a kid has morphed into some more obscure purchases.  Instead of trying to get all the actual toys I had I’ve been cherry-picking specific pieces I owned from various toy lines, stuff that when put out on a shelf illustrates my childhood experience.  This has led to some more obscure toy hunting leading up to snagging stuff like a Demon from Blackstarr, Warduke from the D&D line, and Tonto from the Gabriel Legend of the Lone Ranger line

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I’ve also started following this urge to round out my collection with more offbeat stuff by picking up some weirder childhood reading material.  For instance, I was just recently reminded by my mom during one of our weekly phone calls about a cookbook she gave me when I was eight, the Betty Crocker Cookbook for Boys and Girls (a version published in 1985 by Golden.)  I immediately flashed upon the iconic cover and felt an insane desire to pick it up and hold it again.  So I logged on to eBay immediately after the call an proceeded to track down and buy a copy…

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I must have stared at those disturbing cheeseburger people a million times as a kid.  Even though this isn’t my original copy (which is probably no longer in existence or mostly disintegrated in a landfill in Florida somewhere), mine was as beat-up and well read as this copy I now have on my shelf.  Clocking in at just under 100 pages, this cookbook was my go-to tome when learning the basics of recipe-reading and trying my hand at some culinary concoctions that were always just this side of edible.  Though I learned a lot from watching my mom in the kitchen, I always took pride in exploring on my own and trying to make lunches or breakfasts on the weekends, and a lot of that inspiration came form the dishes in this book.  Speaking of, the recipes range from the ridiculous yet fun arrangement of canned fruit on a lettuce leaf like this Friendly Dog Salad below…

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…to the surprisingly difficult to master (as a kid) Eggs in Bologna Cups.  Mine never tasted right.  In fact they were pretty noxious if I remember (probably due to over-use of the paprika which I practically caked on top of each cup…)

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The book is filled with glorious 70s/80s era design, from the style and color of the cookware depicted in the recipes to the bodacious font choices.  I actually kind of love it to death and am curious about seeking out some other more standard 80s era cookbooks for my kitchen…

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Reading back through it I was surprised at the level of complexity in some of the recipes (like a giant baked ham loaf that required grinding up smoked ham steaks), and some of it actually looks like stuff I’d love to try today as a way more accomplished home cook.  In fact I’m toying with the idea of trying to replicate all 120 or so dishes in the book at some point.  I mean a lot of this stuff is pretty simple, but I remember it being sort of like comfort food.  It might be easy to turn one’s nose up at it as an adult, but stuff like this Polka Dot Pizza (aka Hot Dog Pizza) looks like the perfect comfort food for a lazy Saturday afternoon…

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If you enjoyed reading about my currently 80s collecting obsession, why not take a moment to check out some of the other League participants to see what they’re focusing on like…

Brian at Cool & Collected who is currently binge watching Band of Brothers and True Detective

Lee & Linz at Pop Rewind who are obsession over McDonald’s Orange Drink

Derek at Really Rather Random Guy who is having a an existential obsession crisis

Victoria at Vikki Verka who is glad she found the sci-fi series Charlie Jade

Tim at Flashlights Are Something to Eat is listening to the Scorchers, watching Breaking Bad, and buying some Atari games!

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Apparently 8 is the magic number…

So, in just a couple of weeks Branded in the 80s will turn 8 years old.  Though it’s kind of arbitrary, we tend to focus on the “big” anniversaries in the five-year increment territory, but I had a couple of milestones I really wanted to hit when I started this project.  The first was making it to the seven year mark because I have a special fondness for that particular digit.  The second is marking the 8th birthday of the site because again, it has a special meaning to me.  I first dreamed of having my own little spot on the internet back around 1998.  I’d been farting around the interwebs via AOL and Compuserve and I really wanted to stake out a small piece of the digital landscape to do something.  My best friend, who was in the midst of getting his computer science degree at the time, had just recently built a website for a class project and he promised me he’d help me build one of my own.  It never materialized, though a lot of that had to do with my not knowing exactly what it was that I wanted to do with a website.  Regardless, that marks the beginning of what would eventually become Branded, and it took me eight long years of brainstorming and procrastinating before I eventually settled on what I wanted to do.  So in the back of my brain I’ve always hoped that I’d be able to keep this thing going at least as long as it took me to get it off the ground.  Well, mission accomplished I guess.  As for my next milestone, well, I don’t really have one I guess.  I’m kind of curious to see what will happen at the eleven year mark considering that will mean that I would have spent slightly more time talking about the 80s than the decade itself lasted.

Anyway, when I look back at where the site started and where it really took off for me the one aspect that kind of changed everything was when I started investing in a pretty stupidly large collection of 80s stickers to scan and share.  Part of this came out of wanting to acquire a bunch of the stickers I had as a kid, but another was that there was a distinct lack of sticker scans floating around on the internet and I felt like it was an opportunity to contribute a small portion to the digital nostalgic pop culture zeitgeist.  One of the aspects I love about the nostalgia-minded community is the eagerness to share the cool junk that we love.  So it was pretty neat timing that while I was thinking back on all of this I was approached by the cool lady behind the rad RainbowBrite.co.uk website with to help share some fun stuff.

cologo01She obviously runs a pretty neat Rainbow Brite fan site, so she acquired a bunch of info and ephemera to post up there.  But in her research and collecting she’s amassed a bunch of other cool non-RB stuff that she felt needed to get out there.  So she graciously offered to send me some scans of a pretty neat 1985 Mattel Events Guide to share here at Branded.  Tying this in a bit more into my silly milestone is that I just happened to turn eight the year this Event guide was published (seriously, there has to be something to this, numerology-wise…)

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These event guides were sent out to retailers as a way for Mattel to bolster excitement for their product lines and I’m sure to secure a larger market share of the retail market by encouraging stores to increase orders and devote more shelf and peg space to Mattel stuff.  They did this by helping to host local in-store meet and greet events with some of Mattel’s most popular brands and characters.  So if you were lucky enough to shake hands with Skeletor at a Toys R Us back int he day, most likely this was one of the guides that the store had to help them schedule and promote the event…

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It’s really cool to get a glimpse into this aspect of the marketing and promotion of some of our favorite toys from back in the 80s.  Not only is it cool to see some rad artwork that only exists to promote these in-store events (like the neat illustration of the Hot Wheels play area that was shipped to the store), but it’s also awesome to see and read about some of the swag for the event that was either given away (like the Hot Wheels kid’s drivers licenses) or became a “free item with purchase” like the super cool Hot Wheels combination watch/wallet below!

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1985 was also a great year for Mattel toys because they were hip deep in the Marvel Secret Wars toy line…

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What really struck me about this Secret Wars event is that it wasn’t just geared towards boys.  Mattel makes it clear that “boys AND girls” will received a free water color poster.  That kind of inclusion back in the 80s seems pretty rare, but then again, Mattel worked on some pretty progressive toy lines like these two favorites, Princess of Power and Masters of the Universe!  I mean I know most of the boys who were into He-Man were also secretly into She-Ra…

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Man, I feel like I missed out so much on these in-store events.  I never managed to attend one and after reading through this guide I feel like I missed out on some amazing experiences and swag.  So, I wonder if a little boy could have been initiated into the Legion of Good receiving a free golden power ring and poster?  I sure as hell hope so.  Also, holy crap, a 15 foot high replica of the Crystal Castle?!?  How awesome would that have been to see?  I wonder if the stores had to ship them back or of they were ordered to destroy them.  I have to imagine that one of these must have made it into a private collection.  Hell, at that size it would practically be big enough for kids to play in as a fort.  The mid boggles at the possibilities…

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Apparently for ’85 Mattel introduced new full body costumes for He-Man and Skeletor.  I’ve seen photos of buff guys in the He-Man duds before, but never a full body costume like this complete with toy-accurate mask and all.  I like that they even managed to replicate the spiny fin on Skeletor’s wrists (like on the toy…)  Sadly there was no 15 foot Castle Greyskull or Snake Mountain, but there were some pretty rad glow in the dark posters!

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A lot of this stuff has to be pretty rare.  I searched for awhile and couldn’t find and example of the glow in the dark Masters of the Universe poster (not even on He-Man.org!)  So it;s cool at least to get a glimpse into this promotional world to know that this stuff exists.  FYI, there’s a bit more to this Event Guide, specifically the Rainbow Brite section, but if you want to see that head on over to the cool RainbowBrite.co.uk to find out what was in that in-store event.  Thanks again to them for sharing this rad piece of 80s toy ephemera and helping to make the nostalgia community that much richer!

Mattel Events Guide 8

 

Reconsidering Billy Francis Kopeke…

This past week I dove back into my Awesome 80s Bedrooms dissections by taking a look at Josh Baskin’s childhood room in the 1988 Penny Marshall film Big.  After posting that article a reader (The Navigator) pointed out the fact that there is an Extended Edition of the flick on DVD with some extra sequences in Josh’s room, so at the next opportunity I got I ran out to my local used DVD shop and picked up a copy.  After watching through the longer version of the film I was sort of taken aback by a slight shift in the tone.  Though the movie has a nice balance of slapstick, heart and sadness that has elevated it past its 80s zany comedy roots into a true cinema classic, most of the excised footage that was added back into film plays to the more somber notes of the story and in particular adds a whole new depth to the character of Baskin’s BFF (or BFK), Billy Francis Kopeke.  About 10 minutes of these restored deleted scenes feature Jared Rushton’s Billy, and a sizable chunk of these are solo scenes focusing on the character’s home life, his interaction with Josh’s Mom and his mission to track down the errant Zoltar machine that will save his friend from a particularly nasty case of early onset adulthood.  This footage gave me a new appreciation for Billy and it forced me to look at the movie with a whole new perspective.  It alters the light-hearted comedic tone for me, as well as sort of switching the focus of the story from appreciating one’s own childhood to a sobering fight to save a friendship.

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Before I dig into my new appreciation for Billy, I wanted to take a second and note that I love Jared Rushton’s performance in the flick.  Rushton brought a realism to Billy that is lacking in so many of the other kid characters from 80s flicks that I adore.  Don’t get me wrong, as much as I love movies like The Monster Squad, Explorers or the Goonies, a lot of the kids in these flicks were very obviously “acting”, lacking that natural, authenticity that made the characters feel, well, real.  They tend to be caricatures of kids, which is great for what it is and for serving those stories, but it tends to hold these films back from feeling like true “classics”.  A good comparison might be the difference between Stand By Me and say the Goonies.  Both top favorites of mine, but no matter how much I praise and love Mikey, Data, Mouth and Chunk they don’t have that effortless relate-ability.  They’re too “loud”, character-wise.  For me, Rushton brought a much more nuanced take on Billy even for his scripted excitement over the Truck-a-Piller, or his overreacting tears when Hanks as Josh first approaches him in the school gym equipment room.

As for the character of Billy, while watching back through to film to try and spot a bunch of pop culture fun I noticed a couple things about Kopeke I hadn’t really processed before.  For instance there’s the fact that he’s apparently a huge fan of monsters.  He’s constantly sporting monster shirts throughout the flick, from the high contrast Wolfman image he’s wearing in the shot above, to the shirts featuring Frankenstein’s monster, the Creature, and even a Forbidden Planet tee in the shots below…

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This also becomes a little more apparent when I took a closer look at Billy’s bedroom in the couple of scenes at the beginning of the film before Josh gets “Big”.  You can see some Frankenstein and Mummy figures on the floor and in a toy crate…

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Nothing Earth-shattering, but it was kind of a cool thing to notice personally since I’ve become such a monster kid over the last couple of decades.  Anyway, getting back to the more developed version of Billy Kopeke, one of the first re-inserted scenes in the extended edition of Big follows Billy as he and Josh split up after coming home from their stick-ball game and massive session of “need it, got it, need it, need it, got it”.  In the original version the sequences cuts to Josh and Billy in their PJs discussing whether or not Josh has a shot with Cynthia, the blonde from the credits sequence that he has a crush on.  In the extended cut Josh gets a little whiny with his parents for insisting they moving his toddler sister into his room.  What I found fascinating is that this is inter-cut with Billy going home to his family (who we see on screen for the first time, well at least we now know that they’re his family), and having to basically play the dual role of the invisible child/housekeeper.

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The sequence shows him making dinner and setting the table as his rather large family bickers and zones out around the dinner table.  No one thanks him as he pulls a roast from the oven and sets it down, or butters the potatoes and brings them to the table.  There’s just a constant set of shrill complaints from his overbearing mother (uncredited but portrayed by the striking Francis Fisher) who ironically is lambasting her family for not lifting a finger to help her (as Billy does all the work.)  He then proceeds to fix himself a plate and goes up alone to his room to eat and then talk with Josh, reassuring, encouraging and supporting his best friend through his girl-crush crisis.

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Again, it’s not like this scene is so pivotal that it necessarily changes the course of the film perse, but it adds a depth to Billy really setting him up as the rock that so many people depend on and take for granted.  The fact that he never complains, is always quick with an answer or joke, and is generally upbeat says a lot about his inner strength which Rushton exudes with ease.  Since so much of the focus of the film rests on Tom Hanks’ shoulders, it’s easy to relegate Kopeke/Rushton to the friend who is there for the silly string puke fight and the confidant that agrees that Baskin needs to get his check changed into three dimes, a single hundred dollar bill, and eighty seven ones.

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When you combine this sequence with the one at the school on the morning when Josh mystically ages up it gets slightly deeper.  Alone in gym class, Billy is the awkward kid who shows a brave face and tries to participate (even if he thinks it’s dumb), only to be ridiculed and mocked by the rest of the class and blamed for a mess he didn’t create by the coach.  Without Josh by his side Billy is utterly alone, both with no other apparent friends and no one in his family that even pays attention to him unless he’s on the phone (and then only to yell at him to get off.)

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When you consider that Josh is off on an adventure in New York for six or seven weeks and then think about how much it must mean to billy to steal into the city and spend some quality time catching up, going out to a Yankees game or dancing on the back of a delivery truck, it makes the betrayal of Josh brushing off the search for the Zoltar machine sting all that much more.  That brings up an interesting point between the two character’s differences too.  When Josh is first freaking out about his predicament, Billy is there at every step of the way with an solution to the problem.  He snags his father’s “emergency” fund risking who knows what kind of punishment from his folks.  He takes Josh to the city and finds the hotel.  He brings him clothes, suggests he get a job, helps him look, and even comes up with the social security number solution (even if it was three digits off, “oh-one-two.”)  He’s also the only one really working to find the Zoltar.  In some additional deleted sequences the film shows him calling through the list of companies and license holders that are on the list they ordered from the city.

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Billy really is the more capable of the two, and when it comes right down to it he’s the only one who is fighting to keep their friendship alive.  If it were up to Josh, he’d so easily move on.  So at the end of the film, when Billy makes his last stand and storm into Josh’s office and throwing down the gauntlet of their friendship, after all the new material cut into the flick it really does make this scene more emotional.  Again, it sort of changes the overall message of the film for me too.  It’s not so much about Josh’s personal journey anymore, but coming back to his senses and ultimately coming back to his steadfast friend Billy Francis Kopeke (which is then underlined by book-ending the film with the two of them walking down the street after another game of stick-ball.)  We should all have a BFF like Billy, or more accurately, a BFK.

 

Awesome 80s Bedrooms: Big Edition

It’s been a little while since I sat down and dissected an awesome pop culture bedroom so I thought I’d dive back in by taking a closer look at Josh Baskin’s childhood room in the 1988 movie Big.  First off I love this movie to death, and love all the little details and weird merchandising (like the wacky comic book adaptation.)  This movie is literally bursting at the seams with amazing 80s toys, I mean between all of the Masters of the Universe, Bravestarr, and ThunderCats posters up in the cubicles where he works at MacMillan Toys, all of the stuff in the Photon Showdown scene in the toy store (Fireball Island, StarCom, Pound Puppies and giant kid-sized Lamborghini’s), the plethora of stuff in his office (including MOTU, Silverhawks, G.I. Joe and M.A.S.K.), or all the junk in his apartment (Thundercats sheets, Inhumanoilds and giant Gumbys) you can kind of go numb trying to spot all the cool stuff.  Matt over at Dinosaur Dracula did a fantastic job of breaking a bunch of that stuff down.  But I’m gonna concentrate on some of the stuff in Josh’s bedroom in his house at the start of the film…

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The flick opens up with some great shots of Josh’s room and in the mess there is some pretty neat stuff…

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1). Galoob Power Machines Flex

Galoob Power Machines Flex

2). Bravestarr Stratocoach from Mattel

Bravestarr Stratocoach

3). G.I. Joe Devilfish

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4). Garbage Pail Kids school folders

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I had a few of those GPK folders and man I wished I’d hung onto them.  For awhile it was the only way I could get a glimpse at some of the 1st series John Pound artwork since those stickers were near impossible to find when I started collecting back when the 2nd and 3rd series were just coming out.  Also, you gotta love that Galoob Flex motorized truck.  From the same folks that brought us The Animal and Leader 16 (aka Truckapiller!)  But, from a slightly different angle we can see Josh also had some Masters of the Universe stuff…

**UPDATE**

So it was killing me the entire time I wrote this post.  There were a couple of toys that I just could not place for the life of me.  But finally after an exhaustive search I finally found them!

13). Gold Chrome Variant Laser Force Spaceship from Gay Toys 1983

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14). Green Laser Force Tank from Gay Toys 1983

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These were apparently available in many different color schemes with various colored attachments and canopy colors.  There, now I can rest easy tonight… :p

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5). Laster Tag bed sheets and comforter

6). Masters of the Universe Bashasaurus

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Josh was also a fan of Spider-Man as we can see in this next shot…

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7). Power Tronic Secret Wars Spider-Man Walkie Talkie

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8). The Amazing Spider-Man light switch cover

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What I totally forgot was that Josh shared a room with his baby sister, and thanks to my girlfriend Jaime I now know that, that huge toy in the crib with her is a Pillow Person!

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9). Pillow People Sweet Dreams doll

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There are a couple of other things I wanted to mention from Josh’s house, namely his super rad taste in, um, undergarments…

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10). Kellogs Strawberry Squares cereal

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11). M.A.S.K. Funpals/Underoos

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You know, I’ve wanted to do an advertising retrospective on Underoos for years.  I have a bunch that I’ve found in old issues of McCalls and Woman’s Day from the 80s, but do you have any idea how hard it is to write and article about kid’s underwear, no matter how freaking awesome the branding might be, without feeling like a skeezy perv?  It’s next to impossible.  I mean just putting all the imagery from the advertisements together, all the kids prancing around super happy in their underwear, well it’s more than a little weird.  Sigh.  At least this movie gives me a good excuse to finally talk about it a little.  And now that I am, um, how mind-meltingly awesome is it that we live in a world where a two-time Oscar winning actor has been caught on film sporting a pair of Underoos featuring one of my favorite cartoons of all time?!?  And people wonder why I love the 80s…

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12). Silverhawks Underoos

15). Tyco Zero Gravity Cliffhangers Slot Car Set (which you can see under his bed in the first screen shot above…)

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16). Etch a Sketch

**UPDATED**

So, thanks to The Navigator for pointing out that there are more shots of Josh’s bedroom in the recent Extended Edition of Big which features 20 minutes of additional scenes Penny Marshall added back in to her director’s cut of the film!  In a screen shot from the below scene we can see that Josh had more Bravestarr toys than I first realized…

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17). Bravestarr Neutra-Laser

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18). Bravestarr 30-30 action figure

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There’s also some sort of boxed robot toy underneath the bed in the light blue/teal box.  I can’t make out the text completely, but it looks like “… Man” and it appears to be some sort of gold Gundam-esque mecha or robot.  Anyone have any ideas on what this might be?

Also, after watching the Extended Edition for the first time last night I was trying to be hyper aware and for the first time I noticed a rather awesome piece of pop culture ephemera in Josh’s supremely UN-awesome NY hotel room.  I’m labeling this as “negative one” because that room sucks!

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-1) Mr. T Air Freshener

$_57Last but certainly not least, I wanted to leave you all with this other neat item that I think gets overlooked in the movie.  In the famous boardroom pitch scene where we’re introduced to the delightful if rather pointless transforming skyscraper (“I don’t get it…”), there is another interesting and totally pointless prototype transformer in the background…

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The Car-nimal!  Seriously, it’s a car that transforms into a car with legs instead of wheels.  The irony isn’t quite as astounding as a transforming skyscraper, but it’s still pretty silly and dumb.  Love these little details in the film.  You know, now that I’m thinking about it, is the Sky Scraper Bot really all that dumb?  I mean, we did have Fortress Maximus and Metroplex.  Think about it…

Other Awesome Bedrooms I’ve covered…

Sara’s Room from Adventures in Babysitting

Eugene’s Room from The Monster Squad

Mikey’s room from the Goonies

David’s room from Flight of the Navigator

Robbie’s room from Poltergeist

Ben’s room from The Explorers

Pee Wee’s room from Pee Wee’s Big Adventure

Elliott’s room from E.T. Part 1    Elliott’s room Part 2

Fred Savage’s room from The Princess Bride

Reclaiming my Childhood: Miscellaneous Edition

So I’ve written numerous times about how much I want to rebuild the toy collection I had as a child and how difficult that is for me because I’m not all that fond of buying loose used toys.  I have a  mental block against buying another kid’s memories if that makes sense.  So my stance has been to patiently wait until I find min on card (or mint in box) versions of the stuff I want.  Again, this comes with its own set of hurdles, mainly monetary in nature.  As much as I want to re-collect these treasures, I find it next to impossible to fork over much money to procure them.  Same story told a million times by other toy collectors and nostalgia buffs.  Lately my tactic has been to ignore the really popular toy lines, the Transformers, G.I. Joe, Masters of the Universe, Star Wars and M.A.S.K. in lieu of searching out the more obscure stuff.  Depending, the prices can be much cheaper and there aren’t quite as many 30-somethings clamoring for them so they’re easier to snag without getting into bidding wars on eBay.

I was pretty excited this past weekend when I stumbled upon one of these slightly more obscure toys at the local vintage toy shop I’ve been frequenting.  Sitting there in a glass display case was a single carded Tonto action figure from The Legend of the Lone Ranger line by Gabriel from 1980…

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Sure, the card was pretty beat up with a huge crease across the top, but this is exactly the kind of thing I’m looking for on my vintage toy hunt.  The intention isn’t to keep the figure hermetically sealed on the card anyway; I want to open it up and hold it again.  So for $10 how could I pass this up?

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I originally had both Tonto and the Lone Ranger from this Gabriel line based on the 1980 film.  I honestly don’t think I ever saw the movie but I did catch the old black and white series on reruns and loved the Filmation cartoon, so at some point I must have begged my parents for these.  I must have been 3 or 4 at the time.  Though I’d love to reacquire both figures, Tonto was always my favorite because he came with both a pistol and a really neat buck knife.  I wrote about this action figure line awhile back as well

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I also vividly remember loving his purple belt/sash.  Even as a kid I appreciated fun color matching in my action figures.  With both of the figures I had, my favorite aspect was that you could actually holster their pistols and sheath Tonto’s buck knife.  This was pretty advanced for action figures this early in the 80s.  I mean aside from some removable helmets and the lightsaber action on the early Star Wars figures most toys weren’t that intricate.  These also had knee-joint articulation as opposed to the Kenner figures, a stepping stone that would lead to the broader range of joints that Hasbro would use with G.I. Joe.

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I love the card art for these toys as well, working in the tone and style of the movie’s poster art, but instead of just cloning the painting they did a new piece just for the toys…

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I also love the Silver Bullet on the back of the card.  I’m not positive, but I wonder if the idea was to treat the bullets like the Kenner Star Wars points (or the later Robot and Flag points that Hasbro offered with Transformers and G.I. Joe) so that kids could save them up and use them to mail away for special promotional figures or sets.  There was actually a mail-away cardboard playset for these Gabriel figures, but weirdly enough the form requested that kids cut out the character names from the cards to act as the proof of purchase?!?  Check out this ad my good friend Paxton posted on his site The Cavalcade of Awesome when he was taking about the similar Kenner Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid toy line from the same year…

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Total missed opportunity to use the Silver Bullet Points!  Just another example that I was born too late to make awesome branding decisions for these companies.  Gotta work on that time machine…

Anyway, over the past couple of months I managed to pick up some more slightly obscure action figures I had when I was a kid.  I thought this would be a fun time to share those as well.  My parents took some chances on odd toy lines and I’m curious whether they thought that I wasn’t interested in them or if they just bought them as a fluke?  I had a bunch of figures in which I only owned one or two of the toys like the ThunderCats (just had Mumm-Ra and Slithe), Silverhawks (just had a Quicksilver), or Tonto and the Lone Ranger.  In this same camp were Warduke (from the LJN Advanced Dungeons & Dragons) and some miscellaneous Blackstar villain figure (which I must have quickly rejected or lost) because I had one of the little included neon green demon PVC figures…

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I’m really loving picking up this miscellaneous figures since they’re basically one and done.  They really feel a lot like a true missing piece to my past being put back in place.  I will say that I broke my normal loose figure buying rules with these.  I saw the Galoob Blackstar Demon at a toy show up in Baltimore and I couldn’t beat the price.  Besides, it’s not like I want to shell out the moolah for a mint Blackstar villain on the card when I’m not even sure which one I had.

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As for Warduke here, well, I recently won a D&D Dwarf figure from this same line from The Garage Sale of Awesome and it felt weird owning that and not my long lost Warduke.  I had some Amazon cash burning a hole in my pocket so I picked one up blindly from a third party seller for a couple bucks.  He’s not in the best shape (mostly some gauntlet paint wear and he’s missing his rad shield and ice sword, but I’ve researched MOC prices for this little guy and man, that is just never going to happen on my budget!

All in all these guys make for one awesomely Awkward Toy Family Photo!

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They also look great in my collection that adorns (read: is taking over) my entertainment center…

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Now, if I can just find a cheap Quicksilver figure from the Silverhawks line…

I was a Teenage Mutant Ninja Gamer & Other Strangeness

Recently while organizing one of my bookshelves I found myself reminiscing over a stack of my old RPG game books.  I haven’t gamed in well over a decade and a half, but I’ve clung to the various modules, rulebooks and expansions because I spent so much time pouring over them I can’t imagine not having them around.  I first discovered table-top gaming as a dorky teen.  My father had just recently moved our family across country twice within a year and I felt disconnected from everything save what was going on in the pages of the Uncanny X-Men and Wolverine.  It was the end of 1990, and having just turned thirteen I was also caught up in the whirlwind hype of another group of “teens”, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, thanks to becoming slightly obsessed with the first live action film that was released in theaters earlier that year.  I was basically living exclusively through and for the fantasy worlds of cartoons, movies and comics having had to leave my friends and sister in Florida, and then not even getting a chance to connect with any other kids while I was up north for 9 months.  Our family ended up putting down roots just outside of Atlanta and after scouting out a local comic store where I could get my monthly sequential art fix I began to feel at home.  At the time comics were my lifeline for sure…

AmazingSpider-Man328It wasn’t long after that I was enrolled in the local middle school, finally starting my eighth grade year of school about three weeks late.  I spent my bonus summer vacation time in an extended-stay suite while our family was waiting for our new house to be finished being built, and I was suffering from terrible case of cabin fever and feeling utterly disconnected from other kids.  Though normally an extreme introvert, when I first started riding the bus to my new school I was kind of dying to break out of my shell and meet some new kids.  One afternoon I was sitting alone behind two guys that were having an animated conversation about comics.  I wish I could remember exactly what they were talking about (if I had to guess it was probably McFarlane’s art on issue 328 of the Amazing Spider-Man featuring the “Mr. Fixit” grey Hulk), but whatever it was I was so happy to have found some other comic readers that I did something I had never done before.  I butted myself into the conversation telling them all about my comic collection and how one of my favorite comics was issue 8 of Wolverine that also featured a guest appearance by Mr. Fixit.

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I offered to bring in doubles I had for that issue for both of them the next day, and thus started a friendship with a group of local misfits that lasted all through high school and college.  It wasn’t long after this that they introduced me to another friend of theirs and before I knew it we’d sort of formed a tight nit group of four, like the Three Musketeers and d’Artagnan, or more appropriately, the TMNT.  We all watched the Fred Wolf cartoon and had a smattering of action figures, but after a chance encounter with another local teen on the bus that winter we were introduced to the glue that would keep our little cadre together for years to come, the core rulebook for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Other Strangeness…

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There was a couple of older kids that were a grade ahead of us (in high school!) that we kind of knew and traded comics with occasionally and one day they brought the above book on the bus and it kind of blew our 8th grade minds.  I think we’d all heard of Dungeons & Dragons, but none of us was really all that into high fantasy and never contemplated that there might be role playing games that were outside of that genre, let alone based on a comic/cartoon series that we all liked.  Within the week all four of us had manged to secure copies of the main book and we were all on the lookout for sets of non-standard dice so we could start creating characters and figure out how to play this game.  I remember bugging my parents relentlessly to find a place where I could get some role playing dice, and after consulting the phone book I found a store in a ritzy mall 30 miles away called the Sword of the Phoenix that specialized in stocking all sorts of dice and game books.  That weekend we made the trek out and I bought my first two sets of clear gem dice (one purple and one blue.)  I only have a couple of these left in my collection (two four-sided) that you can see below…

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Looking back this entirety of the experience is kind of a blur, but for about three or four years we had a standing Saturday gaming session that rotated between a handful of our houses.  Typically these involved a metric ton of Cheetos, Cool Ranch Doritos, white cheddar Smartfood popcorn, yellow vanilla Zingers, and gallons upon gallons of store-brand soda.  At the time these weekend meetups seemed so epic in scale.  We’d all take turns acting as the gamemaster, writing what we thought were magnum opus stories to test the intelligence and mettle if our group, though in reality only a couple of us were semi-decent at running the campaigns (certainly not me) and the rest of us were more concerned with equipping our characters with stuff and jukeing up their abilities.

The basic concept of TMNT & Other Strangeness is creating mutant animal characters that exist in same world of Eastman & Laird’s creations.  It’s sort of like combining the A-Team and the Turtles, where the game master creates environments for a group of characters to have an adventure in.  I say the A-Team because the game is sort of geared towards creating mercenary-like characters in battle-torn militant environments.  It didn’t help that we all read comics like the X-Men and were well versed in the Star Wars universe, so when we wrote stories they tended up feature a tyrannical villain with hordes of nameless soldiers put in the story specifically for our characters to annihilate.

TMNT Space

It’s actually funny that we ended up playing as long as we did as we all kind of sucked at the core concepts of role playing.  We all tended to try and shoehorn the play into a more hack and slash video game experience, and we very rarely worked together as a team no matter how hard we tried.  When it was all said and done, each of us was way more interested in creating a whole bunch of characters, outfitting them, and doodling pictures of them, rather than actually playing them in a game.  It wouldn’t be until a few years later when we all made the switch from the Palladium gaming system (the publisher of TMNT and other games like Robotech and After the Bomb) to the more story-oriented system published by White Wolf (Vampire: The Masquerade, Werewolf: The Apocalypse, etc.) that we’d evolve a bit.

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In fact, it got so bad in our group that we all became game-lawyers, spending hours debating and arguing over rule and character creation minutia.  All of our copies of the core rule book were heavily underlined, with highlighted passages and notes in the margins.  We probably spent more time arguing than we did gaming, yet it still kept us regularly meeting up and “playing” for years.  Over time we also drafted other friends into playing with us, and at one point there was about 10 of us rotating in and out of the group.  The fighting between the group became so fever pitched that it eventually came to a head and it formed a schism between the founding four members and we split the group in two to play separately, complete with spying between the two factions and a whole bucket-load of hurt feelings.

Weird TMNT

I hate to admit it but at the end of the day we all sucked at role playing.  Even so, I wouldn’t have changed a single second of the experiences I had being a part of that group of friends.  When I look aback at these books now I get a visceral sense of what I felt like at the time, a mix of heady nostalgia and fear that I’ll have to try and create a campaign all on my own again!  I also fondly remember what it was like finding a group of friends and what it felt like to be included.  To have our own little clique where it was us against everyone else.  Back when we first started hanging out we all chose one of the Turtles as our mascot.  Over the years my recollection of who picked who was kind of hazy, and I would have sworn that I picked Donatello since he’s my favorite character.  But while flipping through my copy of the book last night I was greeted by some very awesome notes that were scribbled in the book that reminded me that I was totally a Raphael guy…

TMNT Friends

Just four geeky teens against the world.