Author Archives: Shawn Robare

1.21 Gigawatts of fun…

This past weekend I stumbled upon something pretty cool while I was browsing through Alternate Worlds, a Baltimore area comic shop, with my girlfriend Jaime.  A co-worker had suggested the store to her since they have a great selection of comics, games and toys.  I was curious if there was anything eighties-centric that I might want to pick up, so we jumped in the car and took a trip over to check it out this past Saturday.  Though the store did have a few vintage G.I. Joe, Star Wars, and Transformers, the item that caught my attention was actually something that was released just a few years ago, the Back to the Future Card Game by Looney Labs

BTTF-Card-Game-1-e1390236695944

Though the game debuted in 2010, this is the first time I saw it and I couldn’t pass up the chance to snag a copy.  I mean, it was my density, er, destiny because Jaime and I were looking for some more 2-player games we could play and, well, Back to the Future.  I mean how often do you see 80s movie-themed card or board games that aren’t stupidly expensive?  When we got home, after a quick game of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Trouble (which we found an the 5 Below in the same shopping center as the comic shop), we ripped open the shrink wrap so we could check out the game…

BTTF Card Game 2

Included are three sets of cards, the main game deck, a small stack of player character ID cards, and set of 28 timeline cards that act as a game board of sorts.  The concept is pretty simple, each player is randomly dealt an ID card featuring a descendant of one of the main characters from the Back to the Future movie trilogy.  There are various McFlys, Browns, Tannens as well as some of the more obscure families like the Needles and Berrys and Stricklands (even the Strickland descendants know the McFlys have always been slackers…)

BTTF Card Game 3

Each character has a list of events associated with them that they need to make sure happen in order for them to both exist and to win the game.  These events are recorded on the timeline cards which are spread out chronologically and act a game board.  Each timeline card has two possible variations of the event listed, and these can be manipulated by the players using cards from the game deck…

BTTF Card Game 4

In the set of timeline cards there are specific “linchpin” events that the player can alter (flip to show a different outcome – like when Marty McFly Jr. agrees to help Griff Tannen and his gang in BTTF 2), and changing them has a ripple effect that flips subsequent cards.  Based on the character that you draw you’ll be targeting some of these “linchpin” events, changing the past so that your den…destiny can be fulfilled.  (Alright, stopping with the density jokes.)  The characters/players alter these event cards by using cards from the main game deck which consists of various items and actions.

BTTF Card Game 5

For me this is where the game really shines as the cards feature a bunch of fun stuff from the movies like cases of plutonium (thanks to your friendly neighborhood Libyan nationalists), the Gray’s Sports Almanac, hooverboards, or copies of George McFly’s debut novel A Match Made in Space.  There are also six time machine cards which feature the various incarnations of the classic DeLorean as well as the train from BTTF 3.

All in all the game is a little confusing on the first play through as it takes a while to get used to how the cards interact, and there are some play/draw variations that are hard to keep straight, but the game goes pretty quick and by the second time it should be a lot smoother.  I wasn’t familiar with Looney Labs when I picked this Back to the Future game up, but apparently after doing a little digging it looks like it’s this set is based on their Chrononauts Card Game.  So if you’re familiar with that than this one should be a cinch to pick up on the mechanics.

Unfortunately the BTTF Card Game is no longer in print, but there are still reasonably priced copies available on Amazon.  Now, if only someone would come out with a Monster Squad-themed card game I’d be in heaven…

My Pop Culture Parking Lot…

It’s been awhile since I’ve talked about my love for tiny pop culture vehicles here at Branded so I decided to gather up all of my little die-cast beauties and go outside for a little photo-shoot this past weekend.  I can’t even begin to say how happy I am that companies like Hot Wheels and Johnny Lightning are putting out so many 1:64 scale toys to feed my obsession with 80s era cars, trucks, and other rad modes of transportation from all the films and TV that I loved as a kid…

Pop Culture Parking Lot

I don’t have everything that I’d like to have in the collection, but it’s getting to the point where the tiny valets are having a hard time finding a place to park these babies!  I shared the handful of vehicles I managed to procure a couple years ago on the site a while back, like the Back to the Future DeLorean and Tron: Legacy Lightcycle in the picture above.  Since then I’ve managed to track down a bunch of new releases, as well as a couple of older pieces that I’m really excited about.  For instance, right behind the DeLorean you can spot Cooter’s Mustang from the Dukes of Hazzard.  Speaking of the DoH, I finally managed to track down an ERTL General Lee!

General Lee

That’s been a huge hole in my collection for years, but now I can start jumping over all sorts of 1:64 scale lakes and ravines.  Of course, what fun is having Bo & Luke’s sweet ride without Roscoe’s Sheriff Cruiser to chase it?

Roscoes Car DoH

I didn’t have that many little toy cars as a kid (though I distinctly remember playing with the yellow Incredible Hulk Hot Wheels Scene Machine), but I always wanted these Dukes of Hazzard cars.  I had a friend named Timmy who had a bunch of them as well as a large fold up plastic floor mat that had all of Hazzard county on it that he received for his birthday.  I have some vivid memories of laying down near that mat tracing the various roads with my finger while munching on some novelty bologna bubble gum slices that Timmy also got for his birthday…

One of the rad aspects of 80s era TV was all of the shows that either featured some cool cars or were dedicated to an awesome vehicle like Street Hawk, Riptide, Magnum P.I., Airwolf or the ridiculously awesome Knightrider!  Thanks to the recent Hot Wheels releases I now have K.I.T.T. and even K.A.R.R.!

KITT and KARR

I was just reading that there should be a third Knightrider release in the 2014 Retro Entertainment series from Hot Wheels, so I’m curious whether we’ll be getting one of the two cool Semis, either the Knight Foundations mobile command 16-wheeler or the evil Goliath!

Of course any collection of neat TV vehicles wouldn’t be complete without B.A. Baracus’ van and Face’s cool white Vette from the A-Team

BAB Van A-Team

Face Vett A-TEam

But not all of my favorite TV vehicles hail from the 80s as there were some other shows that I adored as a kid which I caught in reruns on Nickelodeon (either during weekdays or on Nick at Night.)  I was so excited when I realized that Johnny Lightning released the Monkees’ Monkee-Mobile back in 1998…

Monkees

Similarly Johnny Lightning put out the Munsters’ Koach in the early 2000s…

Munsters Koach

I decided that I wouldn’t limit my acquisitions to just real vehicles either and was super stoked when Hot Wheels started putting out cartoon-accurate stuff this past year as well.  I had to have the Scooby Doo Mystery Machine…

Mystery Machine

Hot Wheels has also begun releasing some other Hanna Barbera vehicles like the Flintstones family car and the Jetsons spaceship.  It’s kind of blurry in the background of that first parking lot photo, but if you squint you can make out the Flintstones car on the back right.  I decided not to feature it as there’s a better version hitting store shelves soon that has more accurate colors that I’d like to pick up.

Drawing from the 60s (and another show I caught in reruns) as well as the 80s are a couple of my favorite variations of the Batmobile…

Batmobiles 66 and 89

I used to have an ERTL Burton Batmobile, but lost it along the way over the years so I was really happy to replace it with the newer Hot Wheels release.  I was also happy to finally pick up the ’66 version from the old Adam West show recently as well.  Segueing into films, I wanted to share the first pop culture vehicle that sparked off this current trend in Hot Wheels retro cars, the 2010 release of the Ecto-1 from Ghostbusters

Ecto-1

According to that 2014 release article I linked to above we’re in store for a second Ghostbusters vehicle release this year which I’m assuming is the Ecto-2 from the sequel (with the digital marquee and the checker tape siderunners.)  It would be kind of cool to get the beat-up original version of the hearse before it was pimped out by Ray though.

IMG_1608

Even though Hot Wheels has ramped up their production of these pop culture cars they’re still pretty difficult to find on store pegs.  I’m sure it’s a mix of scalpers snatching up all the product and the popularity of these coveted 1/64th scale cars, but it can be a real headache for collectors.  For instance I’ve been looking everywhere for the recent release of the Muppet’s converted school bus from the first flick.  I have yet to see one in the wild, but I was super lucky when gentleman and scholar CT over at Nerd Lunch very graciously gifted me with one this past Christmas!

Electric Mayhem Muppets

In fact that’s also how I managed to procure the Knightrider K.A.R.R. above, when the super cool William Bruce West sent me one he found.  I’ve been trying to spread the tiny car karma around whenever I find stuff that are hard to track down (like the Kroger grocery store Halloween Hot Wheels exclusive Slimer redeco Ecto-1 above…)

The most recent car I’ve tracked down for my collection isn’t an official pop culture car release, but close enough for me, this 1958 Plymouth Fury, AKA Christine from the Stephen King novel and John Carpenter movie…

Christine

Even though my pop culture parking lot is getting pretty full there are still some wishlist items that I’d love to hunt down, both releases I know are coming and some that I’m hopeful for (but not holding my breath.  So I’ll end this with my wishlist, but I’m curious, what vehicles do you have in your collection and what are you looking to procure?

Branded 1:64 scale vehicle wishlist….

1). Airwolf (Released by ETRL in the 80s, but also a Japanese Hot Wheels exclusive)

2). 1948 yellow Ford Super DeLuxe Club convertible from Karate Kid (potentially this year!)

3). 250 GT California model Ferrari from Ferris Bueller (Available from Hot Wheels)

4). Ecto-2 from Ghostbusters II (There is a Johnny Lightning release)

5). Buckaroo Banzai Jetcar (no chance in hell, sigh)

6). Porkchop Express from Big Trouble in Little China

7). Mad Max’s Interceptor (maybe with the new flick?)

8). Street Hawk motorcycle

9). Megaforce Dune Buggy & Motorcycle (Hot Wheels 80s)

10). Flight of the Navigator Spaceship

11). Thunder Road from the Explorers

12). Dracula’s Hearse from The Monster Squad

13). Mama Fatelli’s 4×4 from The Goonies

14). Light up VW Bug from The Money Pit

15). Harry’s Mutt Cutts Van from Dumb & Dumber

16). Wagon Queen Family Truckster from National Lampoon’s Vacation

The Seedy Adult Underworld of 80s Family Entertainment

I know every generation says this about the decades when they came of age, but growing up in the 80s was seriously a whole different world; like living on another planet at times.  There was a lot more going on when it came to entertainment aimed at kids in terms of adult themes and material that surely went over the head of most of the viewing audience.  Looking back I love this and really appreciate that the creators and writers didn’t dumb down the content, even if some of it might stray a little further towards “adult” than many people might realize. You definitely saw this in a cartoon like Ren & Stimpy (which granted was the early 90s, but was the culmination of the freedom the previous decade expressed), which constantly toed the line of what was considered decent for a kid’s show.  Heck, I’ve mentioned before that I think John Kricfalusi is very probably the guy responsible for animating anthropomorphic penis aliens into the background sequences in the Saturday morning cartoon Galaxy High (particularly in the first and second episodes)…

Galaxy High penis creature 2

I was having a conversation with a co-worker the other day about catching up with some 80s flicks that they hadn’t seen in over 20 years, in particular Ghostbusters and the Goonies.  The topic turned to the awkward dream sequence featuring a sex scene between Dan Aykroyd’s Ray Stanz and spectral “presence”.  I guess you could call it oral innuendo, but the background behind that sequence is pretty plain.  Ray banged a ghost.  It’s one of the interesting aspects of reading the original Richard Mueller novelization

Ghostbusters Novelization

In the book (which is based on the Aykroyd/Ramis screenplay) we learn that, that dream sequence was actually from a real sequence planned for later in the film.  Right after Ray and Winston are driving through the city talking about the end of the world, when the two go to Fort Detmerring looking for a spook. They split up and Ray stumbles upon a room that is a replica of a revolutionary war officer’s barracks. He finds a uniform and puts it on, lays on a bed and promptly falls asleep. When he wakes, the ghost they were looking for is about to go to town on his junk. Apparently this sequence was largely cut, but I’m betting none of them wanted to ditch the blowjob joke, so they sandwiched it into the montage (and it also explains the old war uniform Ray is wearing beyond the fact that they morphed the scene into a dream.)  What’s even weirder is that this is actually the culmination of a plot thread in the book where Ray is both lonely and changing his feelings about catching the ghosts. Since Peter is courting Dana and (in the book) Egon and Janine are becoming an item, Ray is looking to blow off some steam, and the experience with the ghost is just what he was looking for. Also, there’s a bit with Ray thinking about how it might be wrong to catch these ghosts just to jail them in the containment unit, and when he awakes to his spectral date-night he wonders if maybe some ghosts are good.

The author, Mueller, actually expands the sexuality in the novel here and there. For instance, everyone thinks about sex to one degree or another, but if I’m used to dealing with a character where this is never brought up, say the Librarian in the opening sequence of Ghostbusters, then when she starts “thinking” about how she feels guilty for seeking out all kinds of ancient kinky woodcuts featuring taboo sexual practices in the library’s non-public collection, well, I get a little weirded out. As far as I can tell, the librarian character in the script is slightly different; she’s written to be rotund and in her mid to late twenties, but for all intents and purposes the scene in the script is almost shot for shot what we’ve come to know and love in the final film. Mueller, though, felt the need to paint her as a bit more sad and depraved, which for an incidental character is pretty weird. This sort of thing pops up here and there in the novel, including in the scene where we’re first introduced to Dana as she gets out of a cab and goes into her building. The narrative is fractured into a bunch of perspectives as a handful of people on the street take notice of her and give their two cents. One of these includes an elderly man walking his dog who glances at her and thinks, “…how long (has) it been since it’s been long…

This is actually a trend in 80s era novelizations, and for some movies that might be surprising, like say, the Goonies book

Goonies Novelization

Now you may be asking what could possibly be sexualized in the Goonies, I mean it’s not like there’s a secret love scene between Chunk and Sloth right?!?  Well, Sloth love Chunk, but that’s actually (and thankfully) not explored in the novel, but that didn’t stop author James Kahn from evoking electricity-induced orgasms.  Say what?!  Um yeah.  So in the wishing well sequence, at the end, after Andy has sent up the bucket empty, all the kids realize that they’re covered in leeches. Data has a bright idea and end up strapping two wires to a 20-volt battery. He sticks the wires in the water by his feet sending a light electrical charge through his body that’s lethal enough to kill the leeches. He does this for the rest of them, and afterwards, James Kahn tags on a small scene that is, well, almost obscene. After getting the shock, Andy and Stef are standing off to the side, and Kahn describes them as having “…limp smile(s) and small sigh(s)…” Then Stef says to Andy, “I got all tingly – just my luck, I’m in love with a pond!” After which the following passage appears: ‘It annoyed Andy, for some reason, I don’t know, like someone had made her feel good and she didn’t want to…’ Then Andy hauls off and slaps Data saying “Don’t-you-ever-try-that-again-with-me-Buster!” What the hell! Did Kahn actually suggest that Andy and Stef had orgasms from the electric shock!?!  Yeah, yeas he did.

What I’m really curious about is how much of this was in the original shooting script.  I know the leech sequence was in the script (as it made it’s way into both version of the book, including the leaner kid’s version) and was shot and deleted (and has sadly been lost to time), but how much of the subtly was in the actual film versus something that Kahn added for the book.  On the one hand, looking back this is so weird and out of place in the story, yet I have to remind myself that I was reading about pre-teen and teen orgasms in Judy Blume books when I was 7 years old!

There had to be flicks that were completely pure and free from blowjobs and sexual innuendo though right?  I mean you’d never see any of that in E.T. The Extra Terrestrial right?!  Wrong.  Again, taking a look at the novelization by William Kotzwinkle we get a much darker depiction of the story than what would eventually end up on film (well, I’m assuming the following sequences weren’t shot…)

ET Novelization

There’s a sequence in the novel where Elliot, Steve and Gertie’s mother Mary (played by an exasperated Dee Wallace in the film) is so lonely and lost in her own mind that she fantasizes about disappearing from life and, believe it or not, masturbation. (See page 17; the innuendo is there.) She’s also simultaneously dreading the world her children have to face, wondering if they’ll succumb to overdosing on drugs, all while listening in on them playing a campaign of Dungeons and Dragons in the kitchen.  There’s also portions of the book where E.T. becomes weirdly stalker-ish and longs to bond with Mary, starring at her from the closet, thinking about how he could fulfill her needs.  E.T. even gets pretty downright creepy in the sequel novel, E.T. The Book of the Green Planet, where he reaches out to his long lost friend from Earth, melding with the now older Elliot’s mind from across the cosmos.  It comes across very peeping Tom-like, and sort of disturbing.  Experiencing love and yearning “through” Elliot.

ET sequel

All in all, though all of this adult stuff might seem really questionable on the surface of things, again, I’m really glad that these authors and creators took the chance to expose kids to the real world.  Some of it is for the sake of comedy, some of it is important info that awkward pre-teens probably need, and some of it is just exploring deeper adult themes.  Weird, interesting and kind of neat…

The Transformers Legacy Boxart book will melt your mind…

On the heels of my Transformers Afterburner toy acquisition from this past weekend I wanted to take a second and point to the super rad new book about to be released, Transformers Legacy: A Celebration of Transformers Package Art.

tflegacy

One of the things that really gets me excited about finding toys in their original packaging (or “with” in the case of Afterburner) is that I get to get a real up close and personal look at the accompanying artwork that I loved staring at as a kid.  It puts me right back into my 10 year-old shoes as I was walking up and down the toy aisles of my local Albertson’s or Lionel Playworld.  I used to love going grocery shopping with my mom late at night on a Friday or Saturday as I could just obsess over all the toys for an hour or so as she went about her business.  I wish I could afford to pick more vintage stuff MIB on mint on card, but I win the lottery ten or fifteen times that just isn’t going to happen.  Luckily publishers are starting to come around to the idea of archiving this wonderful art, as is the case with the Transformers Legacy book being put out by IDW in May…

Legacy pg 4

I’m pretty stoked to get my hands on this tome of amazing airbrushed robot madness, and from the sound of it, at 300 pages with with interviews and essays with/by the original artists this book sounds like it’s going to be pretty exhaustive.  I’m really curious to see what Jim Sorenson and Bill Forster have put together.  Honestly, this sort of thing is the culmination of the whole 80s nostalgia boom.  I mean when we’re getting nice hardcover editions of toy box art from our childhood you know our generation is running things! Seriously though, I hope this is just the first of many such volumes.  Since IDW is also doing a bang up job with the G.I. Joe license as well I hope we’ll get to see that artwork in a similar format.

Legacy pg 1

Transformers Legacy is set to be released on May 6th, and you can pre-order it at Amazon right now!

Reclaiming another small piece of my childhood…

I think it might surprise folks that I don’t have a huge collection of vintage toys from the 80s.  Almost none of my original toys made it through the plethora of family moves throughout the 90s (my parents secretly disposed of most of my childhood things claiming they were lost), the the few pieces that survived were either foolishly destroyed or traded away.  It didn’t help matters that as a kid I was always a “trader” swapping toys with friends as a means of getting stuff my parents didn’t gift me on birthdays and Christmas.  My history is littered with boneheaded toy transactions where I was most assuredly on the losing end of the bargain.

Case in point, my rash decision at age 12 to trade a garbage bag full of my Transformers for a Hot Wheels Rally Case full of about  40 Micro Machines cars and planes.  For some reason my parents ignored my pleas for some of these, and the rad commercials staring John Moschitta were driving me crazy with tiny vehicle lust.  Since I never had an allowance until in my later teen years, there was no way I could buy these on my own (40 MM, at $4 per pack of 5, works out to about $32 which to me at the time was nearing Scrooge McDuck net worth territory.)  So it made perfect sense to trade almost all of my transformers.  What did I give up?  Optimus Prime, Red Alert, Ironhide, Ratchet, Inferno, Sideswipe, Swoop, Soundwave, Buzzsaw, Dirge, Shrapnel, Kickback, Bombshell, Crosshairs, all five Terrorcons, a couple of Stunticons, Wreckgar, Beachcomber, Brawn, Warpath, Cliffjumper, and all of Computron.  Easily $250 worth of toys for a measly handful of Micro Machines.  I’m super glad my parents never found out (or let me know if they did uncover my black market toy swaps.)  For years I’d regretted it, and it wasn’t until the past six or seven years that I was able to come to terms with it after replacing a few of these toys with some Toys R Us reissues.  But there are a bunch of Transformers what weren’t put out again, and have been way too over-priced to even contemplate picking up mint on card or MIB.  This past weekend though, after visiting a toy store I thought was no longer open, I finally managed to reconnect with another of these lost Transformers (well, sort of.)

Afterburner 1

While browsing the tiny, impossibly cramped vintage toy shop I locked eyes with one of my favorite Transformers, Computron’s right arm, the Techobot Afterburner.  I’m not sure whether it’s his Tron-esque design, the cool looking white canopy/cockpit, the orange color scheme or the simple fact that he was one of the rare 80s era motorcycle toys, but Afterburner has always been burned into my psyche as a childhood favorite toy.  When I saw this carded figure I had to have it and was temporarily blinded by the fact that the bubble had been lifter and he was missing his rad pulse cannon.

Afterburner 4

Honestly, I didn’t care all that much because missing pieces or not, this was still a brand new Afterburner complete with card.  I’ve mentioned in the past that I have some weird issues when it comes to “buying back my childhood” and how I’m not all that keen on acquiring vintage opened toys as they’re essentially someone else’s memories.  Sure, we all share the common pop culture pool of toys and cartoons which binds us in a sense, but the specific toys that were loved and played with are very individual.  So when I happen upon old/new stock at a reasonable price it’s like having my birthday and Christmas all rolled up in one.  Extra added bonus with this particular Afterburner is that it was also packaged with a Transformers Decoy minifig, something I never had and have always wanted.  Win Win!

Afterburner 2

I immediately purchased the figure and the first thing I did on the way to the car was take a snapshot to share on instagram, twitter and facebook.  Inevitably the question came up about whether I intended to open the figure or to keep him (relatively) sealed.  Well I ended up opening him and here’s why…

Afterburner 3

First of all, the card and bubble weren’t in the best shape, and the bubble had been lifted further off the card that I realized initially (in my excitement I didn’t inspect it too closely, I just assumed the one pulse cannon had been removed.)  That alone would have bugged me, what with the staples used to close the bottom bubble and all.  More importantly I just really wanted to hold the toy again and to transform and pose him.  So I took out my sharpest knife and proceeded to cut away the portions of the bubble that weren’t glued down to free my new treasure…

Well, it was mush to my chagrin after opening Afterburner when I realized that this was not an almost mint on card toy.  In fact, this was a well played with and kinda grungy figure!  I should have realized this as the stickers had already been placed on the toy, but I really figured it out when I took him out and the side of the toy that was facing inward towards the card was dirty as all hell.  There was some sort of sticky gunk in the wheel well and there were years of dust and dirt in the crevasses.  Sigh.  I’m 95% sure this specific figure and card weren’t originally together either.  If I had to guess, the shop owner found the card with the bubble, weapons, and Decoy attached and put in a loose Afterburner he had on hand.  The fact that the one side was all clean sort of confirms that for me.  Am I pissed?  No.  But it confirmed that my decision to open the toy was the best bet.

Afterburner 7

Not only was the toy dirty, but he was a bitch and a half to transform.  I thought for certain that I was going to snap it in half while trying to bend the waist joint.  Judging by what looks like some super glue residue at the base of his head (which doubles as the connecting pin for attaching it as Computron’s arm), the head/neck piece was also broken and glued back on.  Still though, after I cleaned him up and very gingerly transformed him I did get a little thrill and it felt nice to hold him in my hands almost 25 years after stupidly giving him up.  Seriously, is his alt mode not the coolest toy motorcycle since Condor from M.A.S.K?

Afterburner 5

Afterburner 8

Luckily I was able to preserve his cardback and the inserts.  Because the package came from a Decoy edition, it was packed with a mini fold out comic which is really fun.  There was also a mail in form for Reflector (something I’ve coveted for years), as well as instructions on how to form Computron.  Isn’t this card artwork just the coolest?!?  I’m so happy that a nice hardcover book featuring Transformers box art is coming out in May (I’ve already pre-ordered my copy!)

Transformers Afterburner Cardback 1987 front

Transformers Afterburner Cardback 1987

Here’s the Decoy minicomic…

Transformers Decoy mini comic 1987 2

Transformers Decoy mini comic 1987 1

And that rad Reflector mail-away…

Transformers Reflector Mailaway 2 1987

Transformers Reflector Mailaway 1 1987

Only 2 Robot Points huh?  Well, I guess I only need one and a half more!!!

Transformers Robot Points 1987

Lastly, for anyone curious about how to form Computron, here you go…

Transformers Computron Instructions

I sure would love to have the other 4 figures to be able to form the full Computron again.  Since this Afterburner was originally someone else’s memory maybe I’ll be able to make an exception and pick up some opened figures.  Who knows.  Maybe someday…

Afterburner 6

Punching in for 9 to 5 Warriors

One of the really cool aspects of the 80s/90s era nostalgia boom is getting a chance to see certain aspects and pop culture fads of the past re-embraced.  Sure, it’s cool when popular brands make a comeback, like all of the 80s cartoons and toy lines, but what I get a little more excited about is when more general (yet specific) aspects of these properties are revived.  Like when the 25th anniversary G.I. Joe figures were released by Hasbro and they brought back the painted package art for the figures or when some recent horror movies had special VHS edition releases or packaging.  Granted, there are usually good reasons why companies have moved on from some of these things (better technology, cheaper production, etc), but it’s always fun when they or the community gives a nod back to what came before.  One of the really cool things that’s been making a resurgence over the last five years or so has been wax wrapper packaging for trading cards.  Though the major card companies aren’t embracing this per-se, I’ve seen a lot of third-parties embracing it.  Whether it’s the super awesome dust covers on the Abrams Topps books (like the Garbage Pail Kids, Wacky Packages, or Mars Attacks volumes) or the interest in using vintage wax packs as either bonus swag shipped with orders (very common when you order from nostalgia-minded companies like 8-Bit Zombie.)  Heck, there are also folks selling these as the main product itself, like my good friend Tommy’s rad Boxsome (where you can build your own gift bag of vintage trading card packs.)

What’s been really exciting is watching as this has evolved from a nostalgic look backwards into an integration in all new art, which is what the talented Brandon Braswell is doing which is new project 9 to 5 Warriors!

9to5warriros

Taking his inspiration from 80s/90s era cartoons, trading cards and minifigures, Brandon has created his own story about the epic struggle between good and evil and he’s utilizing vintage merchandising and packaging to get that story across.  So what’s the story?  I’ll let Brandon spell it out…

“A warm cup of joe isn’t the only thing brewing inside the cubicles of McMillians Plastic Co, underneath the desks is a full scale war between the Water Cooler Commandos (W.C.C.) and the Break Room Bandits. During regular business hours, these 9 to 5 Warriors move in the shadows but when it’s quitting time, the real work begins. It all started when a can of Jinsei, a potent foreign energy drink, is accidentally spilled onto a surge protector that sparks life into a trash can full of discarded supplies and food. Soon after coming into existence, the group of 10 split into 2 factions of 5.

Led by the battle-hardened Major Eraser, a supply known to fix any mistake, The W.C.C. puts in the overtime to thwart the evil mastermind of the Bandits, Colonel Custard. This ‘Mad Dough’ is hell bent on total office domination after realizing the power of ‘Jinsei’. Now he and his rotten goons search the office for every last drop, creating new and loyal soldiers along the way. Will the Commandos sweep the office free of leftover trash, or will the Bandits reign supreme and retire the supplies for good? Only time will tell…

When you punch out, they come punching in.  They’re the 9 to 5 Warriors!”

9to5warriors2s

The first product to launch are the vintage-style trading cards complete with awesomely authentic wax wrappers…

9to5Warriors 4

I love the attention to detail Brandon has put into these trading cards from the coffee cup numbering to the stylized character borders on the cardbacks.

9to5Warriors 5

The coup de grâce are the way the trading cards were shipped out complete with pencil shavings, misc. office supplies, sugar packets and sticky notes!

9to5Warriors 1

These trading card packs are seriously awesome and I love that there’s a who new story to experience collecting one card at a time.  Opening these up I was getting flashbacks of what it was like getting into Garbage Pail Kids and Zero Heroes as a kid.  I love the homages to toys like the Food Fighters, movies like Small Soldiers, and the off the wall action humor that reminds me so much of cartoons like The Tick and Freakazoid!  You can really see that in the animated cartoon intro that Brandon created as well…

That theme song is totally stuck in my head.  I’m really stoked to see where Brandon and company are going to take the 9 to 5 Warriors, in particular the mini figure line that’s planned.  I can also imagine this making for a great series of 5 minute cartoon shorts as well.  So head on over and like their facebook page, check out the site and more importantly pick up some of the trading cards and start collecting the 9 to 5 Warriors!

Did I mention that all of the wax packs are sorted and sealed by hand!

Getting Slimed by the Oral History of Nickelodeon…

Sometimes it’s really hard to find the balance between being a fan of something and being, well, fanatical. I’m not making a judgment call on one being better or worse, it’s more of a perspective thing; how often times I have a hard time knowing where the line is between wading out far enough into the pop culture sea to swim and where it begins to get so deep that I’m constantly worried about drowning in useless knowledge. I’ve been thinking about this idea a lot while reading the recently published book, Slimed!: An Oral History of Nickelodeon’s Golden Age by Mathew Klickstein. When I saw the book on Amazon I immediately put it on my wish list as I’m a huge fan of Nick, particularly the stuff that aired between ’81-’95 or so. I grew up on the fledgling channel’s syndicated content like Pinwheel, Mr. Wizard’s World, Out of Control, Danger Mouse, Count Duckula, Paddington Bear, and You Can’t Do That on Television, and loved the shift into original programming in the mid to late 80s through the 90s with stuff like Double Dare, Nick Arcade, Hey Dude, Welcome Freshman, Salute Your Shorts, The Adventures of Pete & Pete, and Clarissa Explains It All, not to mention their groundbreaking foray into animation with shows like Rugrats, Ren & Stimpy, Doug, and Rocko’s Modern Life. I was lucky to be one of the kids with access to cable in the early 80s and had a chance to watch the network blossom from a very independent-minded kids channel into the juggernaut of a brand that it is today.

Slimed

I was super stoked when my parents sent me the book for Christmas and immediately tore into it looking for the story behind the network and shows I loved so much as a kid. But after only a few pages I noticed something that really started to bug me, specifically with the format the author chose to deliver the history of Nickelodeon, the “oral history”. For those unfamiliar, oral histories utilize firsthand accounts on a subject via interviews with those who were intimately involved. Whether it’s using vintage print or video interviews, or new ones with pointed questions to document a specific period of time or event, the idea is to capture the thoughts and feelings unfiltered by a single person’s perspective (outside of editing of course.) Though information gathered in this manner is still biased from interviewee to interviewee, a balance forms as more and more subjects are brought in to speak on a particular subject. Though the technique is far from new, there have been a bunch of books utilizing this format to tackle sprawling subjects like the birth and rise of punk rock (Legs McNeil & Gillian McCain’s Please Kill Me), the Post Punk music landscape (Michael Azerrad’s Our Band Could Be Your Life), or the history of Saturday Night Live (Tom Shale’s Live From New York.) These books range from brilliant (Please Kill Me) to brilliant train wrecks (Live From New York), with much of the praise or problems falling squarely on how well organized the information is presented. You see these books are largely if not completely a collection of attributed quotes; page after page of snippets strung together by theme or timeline (or both), with little to no summation by the author/editor. In the case of Please Kill Me, McNeil and McCain exhaustively separate the interview snippets in bite-size four-year chunks, sub-categorized by theme (or band.) Though there is an appendix listing every participating interviewee and how they fit into the story of punk, the way they’re presented you get to know these contributors and the need to flip to the end of the book to figure out who is speaking is rare. On the other end of the spectrum you have Live From New York, which flits from topic to topic with little to no connective tissues between interview blurbs.

Unfortunately Slimed! falls into the category of brilliant train wreck. How many of you recognize the laundry list of shows I mentioned in the opening paragraph? Okay, for all those that raised their hand, how many of you can name the actual actors, voice actors, animators, directors and producers on more than one of those shows? I’m betting a lot of those hands dropped. I hardly consider myself a Nick historian, but after a bunch of conversations with friends I’ve found that I’ve managed to remember way more stuff about the channel than I probably should know. But if my life depended on naming anyone in the cast of Clarissa Explains It All besides Melissa Joan Hart, well, let’s just say I’d be price-shopping for cheap cremations. This is the first place where this book falls down. Though there is a detailed alphabetically ordered list of interviewees at the back of the book, I found myself constantly flipping to the back to figure out who was talking. Though the author goes to pains to defend his formatting choices (specifically in response to any 1-3 star reviews on Amazon that mention the formatting issues) stating that he put a lot of thought into trying to make sure each person’s opening quote mentioned any pertinent shows they were involved in, I think he’s deluded himself into thinking that the readers are as versed in Nickelodeon as he’s become over conducting the numerous interviews and research to put the book together. Klickstein goes on to champion the “oral history” format by mentioning the thematic threads in the seven chapters of the book (target demographics, music & sound design, visual design, diversity in cast & crew, problems at the network, and the end of the pre-corporate era) and how they supposedly help to keep the reader engaged in the “story of Nickelodeon”, any tonal threads he attempts to weave are dashed by the reader consistently having to flip to the back to figure out who is talking, and about which show. The author/editor references McNeil and McCain’s Please Kill Me numerous times (in the acknowledgements and in responses to reviews on Amazon) as the gold standard and what he took inspiration from when formatting his Nick history. Unfortunately he seems to have missed the forest for the trees as he utilizes little to none of the clear organization of that book. PKM goes year by year, band by band, whereas Slimed! constantly jumps around throughout the 80s and 90s, and never stays on a show for more than a quote or two at a time. While he would like to think that the thematical separation addresses this, the first three chapters have a ton of overlap that makes the initial hundred pages annoying to try and follow.

The formatting issue is compounded by Klickstein’s reluctance to insert his presence into the book as the interviewer. With absolutely no summary or synopsis to lead the interviewee responses the reader is left with only the very general themed topics to try and figure out what the conversation is driving at during a good chunk of the book. There are things brought up that aren’t explained, like the failed Clarissa sequel series pilot called Clarissa Now or references to people who weren’t interviewed (and thus not given a bio in the book), which requires some time spent on Wikipedia to fill in the gaps that the book just does not even bother to try addressing. There are also frequent points in which the quotes reference the inferred questions Klickstein asked, which makes it awkward when you’re left guessing exactly what that question is.  I find it hard to believe that the idea of ordering the quotes by year or grouping them show by show (or at least adding a series annotation by each quote instead of just the name of the person speaking) would have hurt the narrative flow of the book that Klickstein is trying to establish.

For all my nit picking about format, I want to stress that this book is a “brilliant” train wreck. Just because it’s super annoying to try and sift through, doesn’t mean that it’s not well worth the time as it’s chock full of interesting facts and observations from the folks that brought Nickelodeon to life. There’s some great background on You Can’t Do That On Television that wasn’t covered in David Dillehunt’s documentary (You Can’t Do That On Film), as well as some amazing behind the scenes stories about that first wave of Nicktoons (particularly Doug which is a show that seems to get lost between the insanity of Ren & Stimpy and the popularity of Rugrats.) I loved reading about the thought put into the Double Dare obstacle course, how ahead of its time Nick Arcade was, finding out about the awkward teenage romance and breakups behind the scenes of shows like Hey Dude, Clarissa Explains It All and Welcome Freshman. Did you know Michael “Donkey Lips” Bower actually broke that fishing reel in the credits sequence of Salute Your Shorts (and ending up ad-libbing the line about it falling apart?) The book is a treasure trove of fun trivia and helps to pull the curtain back on the shows and a network that helped to define our collective childhoods. It’s just unfortunate that getting through it all is a lot like reading stereo instructions.

Though I wish the formatting had kept the reader in mind, and it would have been nice to get more information oon the ’79-’85 Nick lineup of series (it barely mentions stuff like Pinwheel, Out of Control, Mr. Wizard’s World or the slew of other early shows, and completely omits Turkey Television, Belle and Sebastian, The Mysterious Cities of Gold and The Little Prince), I’d have to recommend the book on the trivia alone.  If you’re a fan of the channel and don’t mind risking a case of carpel tunnel after flipping to the back of the book six billion times, check out Slimed!: An Oral History of Nickelodeon’s Golden Age

Awesome 80s Bedrooms: Pee Wee’s Big Adventure Edition

In my quest to search through and document all the fun junk in 80s era pop culture bedrooms there are a few films that I thought I was going to have to skip over because I figured there wouldn’t be much fun 80s stuff.  Like say, Stand By Me, which features a scene in Gordie’s room, but being set in 1959 it kind of rules itself out in terms of rad 80s stuff.  Similarly I knew that there was a super cool room in Pee Wee’s Big Adventure but honestly I didn’t remember much in the way of stuff that would make much sense to talk about here.  I mean Pee Wee, and most likely Tim Burton, is really deep into the whole kitsch movement of collecting and decorating (he’s close friends with Allee Willis, the Queen of Kitsch), and a lot of that stuff hails from the 50s, 60s, and 70s.  Sure, there are definitely things in the 80s that would eventually become kitsch, but I figured they’s be largely absent from his room.  Well, I stuck the film in the other night just to scope out his room anyway, and I was surprised by a handful of the items I saw laying around and figured, what the heck, lets dissect Pee Wee’s bedroom…

Pee Wees Big Adventure

Before I get into, I just want to say that I’m not documenting every single thing in the room (or house as lets be realistic here, that whole place is worthy of dissection.)  For one, there’s just too much stuff, and for another, a lot of it is pretty much beyond the scope of this site and my pop culture knowledge.  I will try and point out a couple things from the 50s and 60s I recognize, but I’m not gonna beat myself up over missing stuff…

pee wee 2

1). Ultraman, Godzilla and some T-Rex plastic dinosaurs…

2). Zoids Gojulas (for Godzilla-esque Zoid)

zoids gojulas

3). Howdy Doody

4). Giant Stripe from LJN’s Gremlins line

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

So, if I’m learning anything from some of the recent rooms I’ve been studying, it’s that the Gremlins was way more popular that I remembered.  I mean stuff shows up in The Explorers (granted, directed by Joe Dante), Goonies, and now Pee Wee’s Big Adventure!  As for the rest of the stuff in this screengrab, there’s some sort of Disney Pluto statue or toy (not sure), a giant coloring book I can’t make out, some toys in boxes on the floor and a bunch of dolls hanging from the ceiling and beams around Howdy Doody.

pee wee 1

5). Gilbert Stuart’s unfinished portrait of George Washington

gilbert-stuart-portrait-george-washington-1796

6). Giant Gumby Toy

7). Mr. Potato Head

8). Late 60′s Red Tin Batmobile

late 60s era Japanese tin Batmobile

9). Saturn Robot

Saturn Toy Robot

10). Huckleberry Hound Marionette

11). Disney Drum Set from the 70s

Disney 70s era drum set

Again, there’s a lot to process in this shot, from the evil-eyed ostrich with the African pigmy warrior on its back to the giant wooden Jack-o-lantern man sitting on the windowsill.  Looks like there’s a set of the Encyclopedia Britannica there, a weird UFO diorama, there’s a toy train around the fireman’s pole, multiple fire truck toys, and a little wooden alligator pull toy.  Again, lots to take in…

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12). Bambi rug

I’ll be honest, I never noticed what was on this rug because I was always transfixed by the utter cuteness of Pee Wee putting on the bunny slippers and having them go after that weird anthropomorphic carrot!  So, that’s the bulk of the stuff in his room, but I’m going to go ahead and look at a few more rooms just because there is so much fun stuff…

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13). Mister Action Scuba Diver (though it might be a MA Scuba outfit on another doll, not sure if these came in all sorts of varieties, with/without beard, etc.)

Mister Action Scuba Diver

14). Bugs Bunny Electric Toothbrush Set

Bugs Bunny elestric toothbrush set

Is, uh, Bugs giving me the finger?  I think he’s giving me the finger.  “Eh, brush up, Doc!” indeed…

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15). Planters Cheez Curls can

Planters Cheese Curls

16). E.T. metal lunchbox

ET Lunchbox

So, I wanted to point out the can of Planters Cheez Curls because, one, I miss the ever living crap out of them and used to eat them all the time, and also because I still think it’s weird to see non-nut products from Planters.  Seriously though, I prefer the Planters Cheez Curls and Balls over Cheetos any day.

So last, but certainly not least, I felt it was only appropriate to point to the super fun sprinkler system outside…

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17). Whammo Willy Water Bug

Whamo Willy Water Bug

So, anything I missed, or anything from a an earlier decade that you feel deserves a mention?  Oh, and I’m well aware that I left out the Mr. T cereal ’cause that one’s pretty obvious…

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

Elliot’s room from E.T.

Fred Savage’s room from The Princess Bride

Josh’s room from Big

Spotting some fun stuff in the new Robo Force comic!

So, as I mentioned last month the 1980′s era toyline Robo Force has made a triumphant return with new customizable figure sets from the fine folks over at Toyfinity.  Along with this relaunch of the toys, head honcho John Kent has tapped Jerzy Drozd to help him bring the story of the new Robo Force to life with a webcomic.  The first handful of pages have begun to update and the latest page is slap full of some fun, hidden, 80s cartoon and toy homages!  I thought it would be fun to break them down and see all the cool stuff Jerzy packed in the panels…

Robo Force Comic Page Six labeled

1). First and foremost there’s a little bit of foreshadowing on this page.  In the large middle monitor you can see the shoulder spikes, arm, and chest of Robo Force villain Hun-Dred!

Roboforce 3

2). Speaking of 80s Robot Evil Villains, there is a decimated Slaughter Steelgrave on the floor.  Arch nemesis of Hot Shot from the Starriors figures by Tomy.  I’ve talked about my love for these rad interchangeable wind-up figures before

Slaughter Steelgrave

3). Now I didn’t catch this at first (I needed a hint from Jerzy to figure it out), but up in insert panel you can see the avian hood ornament from the Masters of the Universe Wind Raider!

Wind Raider

4). Speaking of cool animal-themed 80s vehicles, jutting out from underneath that insert panel is none other than one of the arms from the ThunderCats Thunder Tank!

thunder tank

5). But not all of these references are from the far flung corners of the galaxy, off to the right in that above mentioned insert panel you can catch a glimpse at part of Cobra’s Weather Dominator from G.I. Joe!

Weather Dominator

6). If you’ve been following this Robo Force comic then so far we’ve seen a very wrecked looking Wrecker and the sad sight of Maxx Zero (Maxx Steele from the original toys) in pieces.  Looks like he could use this next item to light his darkest hour, the Autobot Matrix of Leadership from the Transformers!

Autobot Matrix

7 & 8). The next two hidden items get a little more obscure and are linked to the same character.  The helmet and power staff of the villainous Cravex from the Visionaries!

Visionaries_Cravex_Cut_Bubble

9). This last hidden item made me blush, and that’s all I’m gonna say about that… ;)

So, if you’re a fan of 80s toys and haven’t had a chance to pick up one of the rad new Robo Force figure sets, keep your eyes peeled on the Toyfinty site for an announcement on the next drop of new stock.  In the meantime head on over to their comic and keep up as the story of the new Robo Force unfolds with a new page each week!  I’ve known Jerzy for a number of years, have tabled with him at conventions, talked at length with him and other friends about 80s cartoons and have loved reading his comics work over the years so believe me when I say that he’s putting his all into this new Robo Force comic and it’s well worth your attention!

 

8-Bit Christmas is the Fruitcake of 80s Nostalgia Novels…

This is the first year in a long time when I’m doing my best to get into the holiday spirit for the Christmas season. For a good portion of my life Halloween has basically been my “Christmas”, and for all intents and purposes the period between November 1st through to January 1st is usually a time when I duck my head down and try and run as fast as I can through the rest of the year trying my best not to knock down any family and friends along the way. It’s a mixture of being burnt out after celebrating a month-long Halloween, and trying to fend off the insanity that comes with trying to find the perfect gifts, visiting with a modern fractured family and trying my best not to go broke in the process. But this year? I’m going all out by letting go of my worries and embracing the holiday.

So I was pretty stoked when I was approached by DB Press to take a look at the first novel from scriptwriter Kevin Jakubowski titled 8-Bit Christmas. Being described as “…A Christmas Story for the Nintendo generation…” (by author James Frey), 8-Bit Christmas tells the story of one kid’s epic quest of Super Mario Bros. proportions to secure a NES for Christmas. Amidst flaming wreaths, speeding minivans, lost retainers, fake Santas, hot teachers, snotty sisters, “Super Bowl Shuffles” and one very naked Cabbage Patch Kid, Kevin’s book vividly weaves a nostalgic tale of Christmas magic and 8-bit glory. Honestly this book being touted as packed with 80s era Christmas nostalgia sounded like just what I needed to kick off my own attempt to embrace the holiday again.

8-bit christmas

First and foremost, 8-Bit Christmas delivers on the nostalgia. Set in the late 80s and centering on Jake Doyle, a nine year-old who covets a neighbor’s NES to the extent where it borders on single-minded stalker-level obsession, the book makes reference to practically every major pop culture aspects from the decade. The Super Bowl Shuffle, baseball card collecting, Showbiz pizza and the Rock-Afire Explosion, the Pizza Hut Book It program, KangaRoos zipper pocket shoes, Max Headroom, Members Only Jackets, Moon Boots, as well as a litany of bands, cartoons, movies, TV shows, and toys way too numerous to name. Karate Kid references? Yup, there’s more than the entire Cobra Kai can battle. Star Wars? G.I. Joe? Transformers? Go Bots? Strawberry Shortcake? Cabbage Patch Kids? Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, and yes. Much like Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One before it, the novel is an outlet to celebrate all of the stuff we 30-Somethings loved so much about our 80s childhoods, and all of our hyper-collective shared experiences. If there’s one thing our generation does well, it’s bonding over the insane level of pop culture awareness and merchandising from that decade. Jakubowski does an admirable job of shoehorning in so many references, and touching on so many aspects of what it was like being a kid during that time that I’d be hard-pressed to imagine any rock he left unturned. Well, he does skip over the mentioning branded lunchboxes when comparing and contrasting packed lunches versus buying the hot tray at school. Is every reference accurate and researched? No. He fudges release dates (mentioning the Karate Kid cartoon as a favorite even though it didn’t debut until a year after the winter of ’88 when the book is set) and mashes together experiences (like listing cartoons that only aired during the after school animation blocks or on cable like Inspector Gadget, Transformers and G.I. Joe as Saturday Morning cartoons.) But when you consider the sheer volume of nostalgic references, nit picking the errors and decade blending is pretty pointless.

8-bit christmas 2

Where the book sort of falls apart for me can be summed up by James Frey’s pull quote from above which evokes the film A Christmas Story; Jakubowski doesn’t just shoot for ACS‘s tone, he basically uses it as a point-for-point outline. Whether it’s aping the aged and slightly sarcastic narration of the main character reflecting on his youth, the plot device of a kid yearning for that one specific Christmas gift and then dealing with parents that basically tell him he’ll shoot his eye out with the NES Zapper, being forced to wear an item of goofy, girly clothing, reminiscing over the old man’s curmudgeonly ways, dealing with an annoying and whiny younger sibling, battling the town bully, or using the exact turn of phrases that seem uniquely in the voice of A Christmas Story, the book starts to feel a little hollow when you get past 80s homages. This is amp-ed up by a sort of ridiculous conceit that in 1988 only one kid in an entire Illinois county has a Nintendo Entertainment System, and only because his parents are filthy stinking rich. Having grown up in a decidedly middle class family with plenty of friends on both sides of the financial spectrum, I’m having a hard time remembering many kids who DIDN’T have an NES. Amp the story up even further with a Footloose-level county-wide ban on both owning AND selling Nintendo after the system is blamed for the accidental death of a yappy dog and all the reader is left being able to relate to is the plethora of 80s references. I think the problem lies with Jakubowski slavishly relying on A Christmas Story for inspiration. He riffs on Ralphie’s obsessive daydreams in that film as a jumping off point to tell Jake Doyle’s story, but forgets that with the exception of an all out attack by a pack of wild neighbor dogs on the family’s beloved turkey and an outlandishly sexualized leg lamp, that film is pretty firmly grounded in a very believable reality. 8-Bit Christmas has its head in the clouds and packs the book so full of wacky adventures in addition to Doyle’s Nintendo obsessed daydreams, that for me it was hard to relate to the story. As a film it would probably be easier to get behind, with only an hour and a half’s investment, but spending 8 or so hours reading a book it just sort of left me a little cold. It also doesn’t help that the singular obsession with obtaining an NES overshadows most if not all of the Christmas spirit in the book. I won’t spoil the ending, but I will say that instead of helping me get into the mood the book kind of reinforced a lot of insanity I’ve been trying to avoid for the past 15 years.

When all is said and done, even though the story didn’t resonate with me as much as I’d hoped, I can’t help but recommend 8-Bit Christmas purely on the richness of the 80s pop culture experience. There are enough obscure observations to balance the obvious references and that alone makes the book a worthwhile read.  It’s so literally heavy and densely packed, it’s like the fruitcake of 80s nostalgia novels…