Category Archives: Overdue Books

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.

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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.

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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…

Alternative Movie Posters bringing the Art back to Design

I’ll be the first person to admit that I have my gaze set firmly in the past when thinking about pop culture art and design.   The packaging, ad campaigns and poster designs, all of the branding that I love to examine, catalog and collect.  I know a big part of this is because of my nostalgia, looking back to my childhood to what I consider the heyday of innovative and interesting artwork and design.  And I know that this can become a trap, where I’m blinded to great modern work because it’s doing something different than what I might prefer.  In my defense though, there are what seem like unending trends in graphic design these days that have made the landscape truly mind numbing and boring. In particular I’ve noticed this with a lot of modern poster design for films and DVDs, which I’ve mentioned before bugs me to no end.  I mean seriously, is it just me or do the following posters all blend into one giant mess of bland, sad, white noise?

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I would certainly not lay this at the feet of the films themselves as there are some really great movies in this bunch (as well as some truly horrible films.)  All I know is that if I walked into a theater with a wall of these posters all lined up and had to pick a movie based only on this imagery I’d be confounded as to which one to pick.  They’re all the same.  Even when the campaigns are a little more successful in terms of good design, you quickly see so many other designers jump on the bandwagon, diluting interesting concepts and bringing it all back down into the pool of white noise, boring static…

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Obviously this isn’t always the case.  There is still some great poster design out there in the mainstream, for instance the campaign that was recently run for the 2013 release of The Wolverine

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Simple, beautiful and tied into the story of the film (what little coherent story there was in that very horrible movie), the artwork in the above poster is a breath of fresh air even though it was the cream in an ad campaign that was rife with other horrible designs like this argument for banning the “brightness/contrast” function in Photoshop…

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So, does this mean that the art of design died sometime in the late 80s?  Of course not, it’s all about trust for creative vision and the lack of which exists in the large movie studio system.  These companies have millions of dollars riding on marketing and design campaigns and when attempting to sell their product to as large an audience as possible they can so very easily lose sight of the merits true art, favoring instead to stay the course of design by committee honed by market research and focus groups.

But there is a fascinating response to this bland design in film art, and in his new book Matthew Chojnacki explores this phenomena.  Alternative Movie Posters: Film Art from the Underground dives into the limited run screen prints, glycees and digital prints created for revival and festival screenings of movies that have been cropping up over the last decade.  There’s been a movement to bring the intimacy and limited edition of band gig posters to the film world where thousands of artists celebrate screenings with interesting conceptual designs.

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For those of us that don’t want to do battle with the shopping cart at Mondo (trying to land a copy of their popular, insanely fast selling screen prints), or who can’t afford to keep up with all of the amazing artwork with these alternative posters, Chojnacki’s book is a great archive highlighting the work of over a hundred different artists from all over the world.  Much like he did with his previous book, Put the Needle on the Record, he really does an amazing job curating this collection of independent artwork.  Whether it’s double page spreads highlighting a specific artist or using these opposing pages to compare and contrast between artists, focusing on a particular style, medium, or similar concepts, there was a lot of care put in the arrangement of the designs.

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There are over 200 posters spanning the gamut of the past 80 years of film, from stark expressionistic takes on M through to unbelievably creative spatial collages for The Dark Knight Rises.  For lovers of film and design Chojnacki’s Alternative Movie Posters is a welcome raft in the sea of uninspired corporate design.  Not every piece of artwork in the book will win you over, but all of them go a long way to recapturing a time when studios actually seemed to care about producing and commissioning true works of film inspired art.

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Each work is accompanied by artist commentary including poster specific inspiration, the art, films and other artists that influence their work, as well as what they use to create and their thoughts on film.  The book also annotates each piece with biographical info and how to contact the artists to find further work or commission some of your own.  Though the book doesn’t focus on any specific genre or era of film, for children of the 80s there is a lot of work focusing on the films we grew up loving.  Tron, Robocop, The Dark Crystal, Gremlins, Goonies, Labyrinth, The Burbs, The Lost Boys, Ghostbusters, Beetlejuice, Big and a ton more…

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I also love that Chojnacki didn’t limit himself to work being released in America, the roster of artists is truly international and an interesting mix of well known and up and coming designers.  I was just as excited to spot artwork from folks I recognize like Joe Simko, Tim Doyle and  Jason Edmiston, as I was to be introduced to folks like Gary Pullin (contributing outstanding Teen Wolf and Street Trash posters), Laurie Shipley (with a great Revenge of the Cheerleaders piece), Rocco Malatesta (with a great eye for minimalism and spacial conceptualization in his Raging Bull piece) , and Ryan Luckoo (who did a phenomenal job with the Dark Knight Rises.)

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If you have a film buff, artist, or designer on your Christmas list this year, do yourself a favor and pick up Matthew Chojnacki’s Alternative Movie Posters: Film Art From the Underground (and while you’re at it, pick up a copy of Put the Needle on the Record too.)  You won’t be sorry you did!

 

I measure my years in Coreys…

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Corey Feldman and I both share an interesting trait in common, we both use his filmography as a means of charting the timeline of our lives (well to a point, for, um, both of us.) Seriously, when St. Martin’s press kindly offered a review copy of Feldman’s newly published memoir, Coreyography, I figured why not, I knew I loved a bunch of his movies and was curious to read how he reflected on his life to this point. But in the preface, when he writes, “I’ve always marked the chronology of my life not by the year, but by the film…”, it really struck a chord with me. Looking back I’ve personally done the same thing, using movies to mark the years, but when I consider my childhood and adolescence, Corey Feldman stands out in so many of my favorite films. Gremlins, Goonies, Friday the 13th 4&5, Stand By Me, The Lost Boys, License to Drive, The ‘Burbs, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and yes, even if not especially Rock and Roll High School Forever. These are all films I’ve watched a million times, and all of them very clearly chart my time growing up in the 80s and 90s. I was also an avid fan of the Bad News Bears sitcom when it aired in repeats on Nickelodeon, and watched my fair share of Madame as well.

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When I found my copy of the book on my porch this past Thursday I was excited, but also not really sure what I was getting myself into. Sure, I love most of Feldman’s 80s era films, but I’ll be honest I’m not a devotee of his personal life. In fact I’ve sort of purposely tried to ignore the press on him dating all the way back to when my mom would clip out the articles on him and lifelong friend Corey Haim from her copies of People magazine. She thought I’d find them cool, but I really didn’t want to know about his drug busts or legendary hotel-trashing parties. So I was in the dark for the majority of his big sound bites over the past decade or so, whether it be his comments on Michael Jackson, his declaration of war on Hollywood pedophilia, or even his reunion with Haim on The Two Coreys and the bombshells about molestation and rape. Blissfully ignorant. So when I cracked the cover and dug into the preface(filling myself in on all of the personal Corey stuff I managed to miss over the years), I again asked myself, what was I getting into?

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First and foremost, the memoir is a very quick read, light and breezy with a conversational tone that belies the fact that Feldman wrote it himself (I mean seriously, so many memoirs are ghost or “co-“ written.) It also skirts dramatic license when considering the prose. I’ve read a handful of memoirs and am consistently bugged by the way the authors chose to fill their recollections with an absurd amount of detail and massive amounts of quoted conversation. As much as I’d love to trust their writing, I spend a lot of time thinking and writing about the past and know that when you get right down to it, very few of us have the ability to remember in exacting details the events of our lives. Feldman doesn’t fall trap to this and stays true to the snippets of memory, which is both refreshing and honest.

Circling back to the “light and breezy”, well, that’s just as much of a positive as it is a negative. When you get to the content, the book reads like a Cliff’s notes edition. He scurries from topic to topic, only barely touching on any one movie or experience for a moment before flitting onto the next. For anyone who is a fan of his movies, don’t hold your breath for much in the way of behind the scenes tidbits. He devotes a decent amount of time to the filming of the Goonies, but honestly, most of that time is spent describing himself lusting after the opportunity to meet his childhood hero Michael Jackson on set. Similarly, for those hoping for a lot of behind the scenes stories with his best friend Corey Haim, well, there honestly isn’t much of that either. When it comes to Haim, Feldman spends a lot of time dancing around the rape Haim suffered on the set of Lucas, and the rest painting a portrait of a friend who seemed to annoy way, way more than ever endear. In fact, Feldman seems to be distancing himself from Haim with this memoir, down playing their friendship.

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For those looking for the gritty details of Feldman’s days spent snorting or injecting every drug within reach or details into his sexual escapades either consensual or non, it’s all there, but written in such a flippant tone that it all ends up seeming so very inconsequential. It certainly isn’t a tell-all, as he (probably) wisely chose not to name, accuse or implicate anyone in his own or Corey Haim’s experiences with molestation and rape, though he does spend a lengthy portion of the book addressing the abuse he suffered at the hands of his mother. Speaking of tone, I was also surprised how easily Feldman relates the stories of his life as if he were speaking about them as they happened. He doesn’t really look back and dig into his life, examining and offering up a perspective more wise with distance and age. He tone is in the moment, as defiant as when he was on the set of The ‘Burbs and was approached by Joe Dante and Carrie Fisher about his drug usage, or as childlike and naive when consistently pestering Stephen Spielberg for a meet and greet with Michael Jackson on the set of the Goonies. Again, this is both boon and bane, equally putting the reader in the moment, but also lacking much in the way of depth.

It’s not to say that there’s nothing to the book, or that it wasn’t and interesting and entertaining read, it’s just, well, light. There is enough here fans of his films will sure to gleam a fun detail or two about some of their favorite films, but don’t expect anything groundbreaking. All in all, the book feels like a really good outline for a much longer, more detailed look at Feldman’s life. Who knows, maybe in another ten or fifteen years he’ll use Coreyography as a guide to sit down and write it.

Coreyography hits book stores on October 29th!

There’s only one thing to say about the Topps Mars Attacks Book: Ack Ack Ack!

As an avid collector of trading cards, specifically those non-sports pop culture sets released by Topps over the last 50 years, I have to say that there has never been a better time to be steeped in the hobby.  Between re-releases of classic cards and stickers (ala the Garbage Pail Kids and Wacky Packages flashbacks series) and new sets there is plenty of pieces of cardboard crack to procure and spend hours organizing, trading and starring at.  By far though, my favorite aspect to the card collecting hobby of late has been the team-up between Topps and the fine folks at Abrams books to bring the community a series of well-crafted and beautiful volumes archiving some of my favorite sticker and card sets.  I’ve mentioned my love for some of the previous books including the two Wacky Packages and first Garbage Pail Kids entries, and I was equally excited to finally receive my copy of the Topps Mars Attacks 50th Anniversary Collection

  

As with all the volumes in this series the book features a clever wax paper-inspired dust cover that recreates the appearance of the original pack of Mars Attack cards, a set of 4 never before printed trading cards, and large-scale images of all 55 original cards in the set.  But for the first time the folks who designed and compiled the content for this volume went the extra mile and included all 55 card-backs, as well as photos of rare test-run packaging, pre-production sketches, running commentary throughout the book, as well as images of some of the Mars Attacks spin-off card sets and paintings from the last 50 years.

The introduction (by Len Brown) is also much more in depth than the previous Abrams Topps books, not only summing up the events that led to the production of the set, but also featuring photos of previous/similar card sets and influences.  There’s also a touching afterward by Zina Saunders, artist and daughter of Mars Attacks main artist Norm Saunders.

 

All in all, this Mars Attacks book not only lives up to the previous Abrams/Topps volumes, but it also raises the bar in terms of how exhaustive these retrospectives can be, and hopefully sets the standard for any future entries into the series.  I’d love to see volumes tackling the Civil War, Ugly Stickers, Weird Wheels, Monster Valentines, and of course a continuation of both the Wacky Packages and Garbage Pail Kids sets.  There’s a ton of great material left in the Topps vaults that would make for some amazing books and could serve as love letters to such great artists as Wally Wood, Jack Davis, and B.K. Taylor…

You can get your own copy from Amazon right here!

Octopus, or how the film Popeye taught me to fear and hate unconditionally…

For this Overdue Books column I wanted to try something a little different.  Instead of reaching over to a bookshelf full of overlooked 80s paperback treasures and modern nostalgia-driven coffee table books, I decided to delve a little deeper.  Today I’m going to take a look at one of my own works, one of my first penned at the age of six, my 1983 magnum opus, Octopus

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This is largely a work of non-fiction, a scant few pages containing my astute observations concentrating mainly on the physiology and to an extent the psyche of the octopus.  My memory is cloudy concerning the exact circumstances in which this hand-bound book was conceived and written, but if I had to hazard a guess I’d say that the following was my response to having watched the final waterlogged set piece in the seminal 1980 Robert Altman film, Popeye.

If you’ll recall, Robin Williams and crew engage in a harrowing battle with a psychotic cephalopod, and the ferocity of the choreography mixed with the stellar special effects work must have had a profound affect on my impressionable mind.  I’m positive that this pushed me to put pencil to paper, feverishly interpreting the sights and sounds mixed with my fears, to produce the final work you see before you.  I’m also pretty sure my mother was steadfast in her ability to take dictation as she aptly hand-wrote the narrative of the story you are about to read.

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(Me pictured above, working hard at my craft.)

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I’ll forgive my mother for describing the sea creature in the singular as I’m sure the tone of that day was one of strenuous creativity that left little room for proper grammer.  None the less, the ideas presented are clear and precise; cutting even.  Octopuses, proportionately speaking, do have much longer appendages than most sea dwellers, if not in all of the animal kingdom.  They are indeed identified as “tentacles”, and particularly if you are a crab, a polychaete worm, a whelk, a clam, or Popeye, they will be used to do harm.  I’m not sure exactly why I chose to dedicate the majority of the text to the tentacles, 60% in fact, but I’m sure a lifelong aversion to arachnids predisposed me to a certain fascination, dwelling on them unduly…

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As we can see on page two, I already had a stern grasp on math, though luckily my muse did not push my knowledge into the double digits.  Nevertheless, and again, drawing off of the frenetic experiences I witnessed in that Altman classic, I felt it important to reaffirm the dangers of sparing with these formidable mollusks.  I don’t want to overlook the disproportionate joke Mother Nature played on the creature though as I weighed the differences between their ocular diameter and the gargantuan nature of their apparent cranium, but I was too young to realize that the bulk of this trunk is more likely considered a soft pouch containing their stomach and organs.  Ah the folly of youth.

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Though in the middle of this tome I took a detour for the descriptive, we certainly hit the climax of the narrative by page four with a re-reassertion of the inherent danger associated with mingling with this species.  Though it’s very obviously my bias based on limited experience with the creatures, I can’t help but appreciate the passion with which I sought to warn the reader of the potential for danger.  The sea is vast and largely unknown, and back in 1983 there was still the potential for running across a variation of the species that had, shall we say, a questionable moral turpitude.  I also think it’s fascinating that only three short years past a decade filled with stories that ended with an ambiguous and/or depressing conclusion, I was already taken in by the “yes we can”, conqueror attitude of the 80s, ending on a note of not ennui, but a masterful control over my fear of the species.  Not only did I best my perceived opponent, but I ingested it, taking it into my own being and drawing strength and sustenance from it.  In the immortal words of Weird Al Yankovic, I did in fact “Eat It”.  To this day, I still do.  I still do.

As a postscript to this deconstruction, I wanted to note that my mother also hand-bound the book in the finest contact paper we had on hand.  Also, I totally considered releasing this as a kindle or iPad ready ebook, but felt that, that would be incongruous with my strategy for sharing my memories on this site.  Instead, it’s free for all to read.  Also, on a final note, it was exhausting using this tone in writing the column, and please bear with me as I remove my tongue which was planted firmly in my left cheek.

Filed under obscure comic book adaptations…

I’ve recently rekindled my passion for finding and reading 80s era movie tie-in novelizations, and in restarting the hunt for books there were a few candidates that jumped up to the top of my list.  One in particular has proven super difficult to track down, the novelization of the Tom Hanks/Penny Marshall movie Big.  I can’t confirm that a novelization actually exists as I’ve never seen it, and finding evidence on the internet is proving to be way more difficult than I could ever have imagined.  First off, there aren’t that many folks talking about novelizations as it is, but this is drastically compounded by the fact that using “Big” as a search term is about as useful as searching for a determiner like the world “the”.  Adding insult to injury is combining it with “Tom Hanks”, “Movie”, “Tie-in”, “Novelization”, or “Book”.  Try looking up “Big” in fiction and literature on Amazon, and then decide whether it’s worth the 16 hours it would take to flip through the six billion books the database brings up.  Long story short, I can’t confirm this novelization exists outside of a few forum posts, and none of these ever list anything remotely useful, like say the name of the author.  The search wasn’t completely fruitless though, as it did turn up one piece of obscure Big merchandise that I had been totally unaware of, a 1988 comic book adaptation!

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I know, “What the what?!?” indeed.  It’s not that comic book adaptations of flicks are all that rare, it’s just weird to find one that wasn’t action, horror, or science fiction-oriented.  You don’t tend to see dramas or comedies adapted because the target audience, especially in the 80s was almost always 12 year-old boys, and by and large most comics aimed at this audience are almost always super hero-related, with the stray Archie and cartoon adaptation thrown in for good measure.  What makes this even weirder, at least for me, is that this single issue was published by Hit Comics, which was a division of Dark Horse, the company at the time that was responsible for bringing us a line of very adult and graphic movie tie-ins including Terminator, Aliens, Predator, and RobocopBig just doesn’t seem like a likely candidate to fit in with this line’s tone or audience appeal.  Regardless it exists, and when I first found out about it I really hard my hopes up that it was going to be amazing considering it was largely advertised as featuring the artwork of Paul Chadwick, the man behind Dark Horse’s Concrete

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Before I get into the actual comic though, I wanted to take a look at the single most important reason this comic book exists, which is the back cover (featured above.)  A full page advertisement for Big coming to store on VHS seems a little redundant, but then again it explains the entire endeavor.  I know this is obvious, but this comic is just one giant advertisement for the home video release, but considering it was released via Dark Horse is where it gets a little weird in my eyes.  See, back in ’88 DH didn’t have the market presence of some of their rivals like Marvel and DC.  To be honest, I don’t remember seeing any DH titles in grocery or convenience stores, only in the specialty comic stores.  So it’s weird that an obvious 32 page advertisement would be produced, with writers, pencilers, inkers, and colorists brought on board just to have it sit on a rack in a comic store being largely overshadowed by a plethora of more popular titles.  If I had to take a guess, I’d say that this was comic ended up as a marketing blunder and an eventual lesson learned by both DH and 20th Century Fox, that in the future the future it might be a better idea to try something else (like Dark Horse partnering with New Line to reverse the process and bring their comics properties to the screen, ala The Mask.)

Anyway, this obscure gem exists, and I thought I’d take a few moments to take a look at what it is we did get.  So, as I was saying earlier, I was pretty excited by the idea of Paul Chadwick handing the illustrative duties on the book, but then was sorely disappointed when I had the comic in hand and realized he only worked on the cover.  The actual comic was penciled by Jack Pollock, inked by John Nyberg, and adapted by Mark Verheiden.  Pollock worked in the production department at DH and brought a very Mad Magazine-esqe cartoony-ness to the project.  It’s not that this is awful, but it wasn’t the wistful tone that I was expecting from Chadwick’s brush.  As far as the adaptation of the film goes, well, it’s all basically there, though extremely abbreviated considering the actual comic only runs 28 pages.  Most scenes only get a panel or two, and a majority of the dialogue is reserved for the key quotes from the flick.  I was actually surprised that they really managed to fit it all in considering…

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Back to the artwork, again, it’s not awful, though it is pretty loose and a lot of the caricatures and exaggeration tend to go way too far.  There are a bunch of places in the book where Pollock tries to ramp up the intensity of a scene, or to capture the action of the film and he just ends up going way too far off the grid.  Take this segment where Josh Baskin wakes up as a fully grown man…

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Egads, no one ever needed to see that particular angle of comic book Tom Hank’s underwear-covered taint.  The effect this has on the tone of the overall book can be quite drastic at time.  Consider this next scene when Josh first confronts his mother…

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Wow, vicious and kind of scary.  This cartoon-y approach does make for some weirdly fun interpretations though.  My favorite by far is Pollock’s take on the segment where Josh and Billy decide to check into the Saint James hotel in the city.  Pollock’s version of a run-down New York is pretty bonkers, and evokes something you’d be more likely to see in a Troma or John Waters film.  Speaking of John Waters, I think the caricature on the far left was an homage to the pencil-thin mustachioed king of sleazy cinema…

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Of all the scenes to leave in or cut, I was actually surprised that the touching love scene between Josh and Susan was one of the ones that made the cut.  Granted, we’re luckily spared of seeing the comic version of Hanks getting to second base.  But the scene is alluded to and we do get the “lights on” quote/gag…

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All in all I thought this was a thoroughly weird piece of obscure 80s merchandising, and quite possibly the only for the film Big (unless I eventually track down an actual novelization.)  It certainly makes me wonder if there are comic adaptations of The Money Pit or the Man with One Red Shoe floating around out there.  Better yet, I could actually see Dark Horse having done The ‘Burbs.  As it stands, I guess I’ll just have to console myself with this parody of Splash in the meantime…

Delving into Ghostbusters: The Expanded Supernatural Spectacular Universe…

I had such a fun time reading the long sought-after Goonies novelization recently that I decided to dip back into my collection to find another fun one to devour.  I wasn’t sure what to dip into next when I stumbled across a very reasonably priced copy of the Ghostbusters tie-in (reasonable being less than $10), so I decided that had to be the next on the reading pile.  As a quick side note, I really can’t believe how insane some of the secondary market prices are on a handful of these movie novelizations.  A nice copy of the American Ghostbusters (subtitled The Supernatural Spectacular) typically goes for around $30-$100, which is just loony toons.  A reader named Erin also recently pointed to the scarcity of the Labyrinth tie-in, and doing some research I found that it sells for between $50-$200?!?  WTF?  I understand that these can sometimes be a bit rarer than say your average Stephen King or Janet Evanovitch paperback, but those prices are downright crazy town.  Actually, I’m surprised that these two in particular haven’t been re-issued over the years due to the popularity of their respective franchises.  There’s some new-ish Labyrinth manga and a slew of special edition DVDs, why not a newer printing of the novelization?  I guess I feel lucky that I’ve managed to pick a bunch of these up here and there over the years for a buck or less, but there are still a few volumes that are just too rich for my blood (in particular the horror novelizations like Return of the Living Dead, Friday the 13th, and the Thing.)  Anyway, back to Ghostbusters

Ghostbusters Novelization

This paperback, which was printed in 1985 by TOR, was written by Richard Mueller and was adapted from and expanded on the screenplay by Aykroyd and Ramis.  The book is a little odd in that it’s not the first adaptation/novelization of Ghostbusters, that honor goes to Larry Miline who wrote a very faithful and dry translation of the script for Coronet, which was published in ’84 in the U.K.  That isn’t a slight against Miline, by the by, it just points to the fact that in the world of movie novelizations there are basically two philosophies, straight/faithful adaptation into prose or expansion.  Are either better or worse?  Well, I don’t think there’s a right and a wrong, just expectation and desire and what experience you want out of reading one of these.  I’m finding that I’m falling into the expansion camp.  I mean, the standard complaint one hears when watching a film that’s been adapted from a novel is that there was so much left out (whether it be plotlines or subtext.)  So when we reverse the polarity and adapt a movie to the novel format, it just stands to reason that there should be ample room to add a bit more story.  My wife, on the other hand, is four square against the idea of expanding the story and considers stray plotlines and subtext to be outside of “official” cannon.  Having grown up reading comics, I have to say that it’s a hard point to argue against.  But I’m also really fond of the Laser Disc/DVD/Blu-Ray format and all the wonderful bits and pieces it brings to the experience of watching films.  Deleted scenes, director and actor commentaries, and alternate casting snafus (like the original segments of Back to the Future shot with Eric Stoltz), all this stuff really goes a long way to enriching my love of these films.  Are deleted scenes canonical?  Who the hell knows.  All I know is that I love watching Michael Beihn and Bill Paxton set up the defensive robot machine guns in Aliens, or Troy picking on Mouth, Chunk, Data, and Mikey in the convenience store scene in Goonies.  Even though a lot of the stuff I’ve been finding in these novelizations is weird and at times swarthy (see my update on the Goonies novel review), I love that it exists.

So how does Ghostbusters: The Supernatural Spectacular fair in terms of expanded novelizations?  I’d have to say that so far it’s setting the gold standard for what a great expansion can be.  Whereas James Kahn took all sorts of weird twists and turns with the Goonies (both in the formatting, tone and added material), Mueller has done a pretty darn good job of keeping the added material and odd formatting in line with the experience of watching the film.  There are some included scenes that were either filmed and deleted (like a framing device for the film featuring two bums, Harlan Bojay and Leonard Cooms, that witness most of the story from afar), or some that I don’t think ever made it from script to production (like a sequence involving a newly wed couple encountering Slimer in their honeymoon sweet, prompting the hotel to contact the Ghostbusters.)  There’s also some space given to fleshing out the backgrounds of the majority of the main players; nothing too in-depth, but enough to flesh out the characters a bit more.  That’s not to say that there aren’t some weird aspects and wrong turns in the novel…

Some of the weirder aspects involve some odd point-of-view work in the text.  Though the book is largely written in 3rd person/omniscient, every so often Mueller dips into 1st person when he wants the characters to offer commentary.  It’s generally a weird shift in narration, but like I mentioned in the Goonies novelization, 1st person is a really tricky device to use when dealing with the transition of characters from film to page.  Dipping into the mind of a character that we’ve come to know and love though a film can be a very weird and disconcerting experience the writer goes “off script”.  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 pretty 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…”  I might be reading too much into the passage, but I’m pretty sure he’s referring to having a boner.  WTF?  On the other hand though, these dips into character’s minds can sometimes be fascinating, like the sequence when one of the terror dogs, Vince Clortho the keymaster, is hiding in Louis Tully’s spare bedroom during his client soiree.  Mueller actually dips into the terror dog’s mind to get his take on Louis.  Weird, but cool!

There’s another weird sequence that actually manages to answer a nagging question I’ve always had about the flick.  In the movie, during the big Ghostbusters success montage, there’s an odd dream sequence bit where Ray is being, um, “serviced” by a rather fetching ghost.  The bit that’s always bugged me is that Ray is wearing some sort of period military outfit in the scene with no explanation as to why.  I guess, since it’s framed as a dream (the screen has one of those flowing wavey filters as a transition into the scene) I always just assumed he was dreaming about being in the Civil War or something.  As it turns out, there’s an explanation for the military garb.  In the book (as well as in the shooting script), there’s a sequence 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.  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.  Weird.

Ghostbusters Novelization 2

As far as what’s new, there are a ton of little interesting tidbits like the fact that Janine designed the Ghostbusters logo (the iconic no-ghosts image), while Peter came up with the name.  In the Ghostbusters success montage (and yes, there is even a montage in the book) there are segments when the GB’s are contacted by Revell models, Marvel Comics and TSR about licensing deals (none of which came to pass in reality even though all of this merchandising did end up at other companies including a West End role playing game, an Ertl AMT model kit, and a NOW comics series.)  Ok, there was a UK Marvel comics, but not a domestic one.  Their phone is also different in the book, consisting of a real number, 1-212-NO-GHOST.  There’s also some neat details with Ecto-1 and their equipment that is different than in the movie.  Part of the rig on top of Ecto-1 is there to sense and destroy (with lasers) anything placed on the vehicle when it’s locked and left alone, like parking tickets.  Also, the proton packs produce a generator field when powered on that will affect people standing near by that don’t have their own pack on.  This field will make your hair follicles itch as well as heat up any metal on your person including the fillings in your mouth.  Another interesting tidbit is a slight difference in the containment unit.  In the book (and I believe in the script as well), there is a observatory window on the unit so that you can see the ghosts that are inside.  This comes up in a few scenes, most effectively when Ray ends up coming down at night to look inside, getting bummed by all the sad trapped ghosts that are just pacing around inside.

Ghostbusters Novelization 3

I don’t want to spoil all the differences in the book for those that might want to read it, but I did want to point to the fact that Mueller did a really good job of fleshing out Peter, Ray, Egon, and Winston.  There are sequences that illustrate the friendship of Peter and Ray, including a scene where Ray takes Peter home with him for a family reunion only to have him run off with his sister and his brother’s rental car, effectively making Ray an outcast in his own family.  According to Mueller, Egon has a bit of a destructive thread in him starting back in childhood when he constructed homemade bombs that he used to detonate in deserted parking lots.  Egon is also painted as fairly asexual, much in the same way that Sheldon Cooper is portrayed on The Big Bang Theory, though he does end up hooking up with Janine by the end of the book.  My favorite bit of character background involves Peter’s family being part of a traveling carnival.  He grew up a carney, and extremely devoted to his family (both immediate and communal), and viewed all other outsiders as rubes, marks, or those to be avoided.  It illustrates why he has the extremely outsider and sarcastic streak in him…

All in all, this is the type of reading experience I’m loving with these movie novelizations, and I’m dreading the first book that reads chapter and verse straight from the finished film.  I think the next book I’m going to cover will be Gremlins, by George Gipe, as I’ve heard that there’s an expanded back-story involving the Mogwai as aliens.  Here’s to hoping it’s half as good as Mueller’s Ghostbusters.  Oh, and before I forget, here’s a link to where you can download PDF copies of either Larry Miline’s original novelization, or Mueller’s The Supernatural Spectacular.  I don’t condone piracy by nature, but this book tends to be so darned over priced on the secondary market that it might take awhile to luck into an affordable copy like I did…

There’s a little more adventure in the Goonies novelization…

I’ve talked before about my love of souvenir movie magazines and novelizations of 80s flicks because they were a great source of obscure information and deleted content from a lot of the films I grew up loving.  Back before DVD and the internet, which provides such easy access to deleted scenes or behind the scenes commentary and the like, it was really hard to track down more about movies like The Goonies, Karate Kid, or the first Batman flick.  So when you were the only one of your friends that happened to catch a screening Batman in the theater and you remembered a scene with a little homeless girl in a trash pile and no one believed you because that scene was edited out of the theatrical cut for the VHS release, well, you had your work cut out for you in proving it.

Over the last few years I’ve been picking up cheap copies of souvenir magazines and movie novelizations when I can find them.  Lately I’ve been lucky enough to stumble upon a bunch of these 80s novelizations and I thought it would be fun to pull one out of the pile from time to time to share what insights or differences these offer from the versions of the films that we know and love.  I had a lot of fun when I read the E.T. novelization by William Kotzwinkle, and I’m hoping more of these books were written with the same sort of changes in perspective that open me up to experiencing the flick with a fresh set of eyes.  Real quick, I’d like to point out that I’m going to concentrate on novelizations, books based on screenplays, and not movies that were adapted from existing novels.  For one it narrows the field a bit, and it pretty common for film adaptations to excise material from the original books because of time and pacing considerations.

This week I thought I’d take a look at one of the harder books to track down, the novelization of the Goonies by James Kahn (adapted from the Chris Columbus screenplay.)

I say it’s hard to track it down, but mainly I’m referring to copies of the book that were printed here in the US by Warner Bros.  The book was also printed in the U.K. by Coronet in 1985, and from what I can tell there is no real differences it the text except an odd Britishism here and there (I compared it to a snippet of the American edition available on Google Books), and some minor differences in the cover blurbs.  My UK edition simply states, “Take the Oath.  Join the Adventure.”, whereas the US edition is a lot more wordy.  Anyway, the UK edition is more or less readily available on ebay, and lately with the exchange rate equaling out it’s kind of a bargain.

Upon cracking the cover and diving into the book the first main difference that I noticed is that the book is presented in a slightly odd format.  The text is bookended by excerpts from local Astoria newspaper articles, first detailing the escape of Jake Fratelli, and later covering the “rescue” of the kids, the arrests and prosecution of the Fratelli gang, and some other interesting footnotes to the story I’ll get into in a minute.  The main reason for this is that for the bulk of the book Kahn chose to use Mikey as the narrator with a first person perspective.  If I had to guess I’d say that this was in an attempt to make the novel more approachable for kids, but it ends up making the who thing very difficult to read.  First person is a tricky perspective, and when adapting an omniscient film experience it forces the narrative to constantly explain why the narrator knows about sequences that they didn’t take part in or know little about.  Thus the newspaper articles are Mikey’s way of opening the story with the facts of the breakout and the ensuring police chase.  What killed me is how dry this approach came off, lacking any of the humor and excitement that was in the opening scenes of Donner’s film.  Not only that but some little details are lost, most importantly how the chase manages to cross the paths of all the Goonies, Andy and Steph.  Not a huge deal, but it’s a detail I love in the first film as it both introduces us to the characters and gives some background details on each of them (Mouth’s dad being a plumber, Steph’s family working as fishermen on the docks, and Chunk being a spaz to name a few.)

On the other hand, the “articles” that close out the story are kind of interesting.  For one, they take the ending of the movie a bit further in that there is confirmation, through a series of excerpts, that the Goon docks are safe as the plans for the new golf course are ditched in favor of building more low cost housing.  The already constructed country club was even rumored to be converted into a community center that will feature a children’s center, a Chinese restaurant, a plumbing supply house, a fish market, a new addition to the museum, and a public-access invention laboratory.  A little goofy, but still pretty darn cute.  The last article is a notice of the Bar Mitzvah for Jason “Sloth” Cohen, the newly adopted son of Mr. & Mrs. Jerry Cohen.  So I guess Chunk made good on his promise to have Sloth come live with him…

As for the narrative being from the perspective of Mikey, this is also a little 50/50 in terms of execution and insight.  On the plus side, it’s kind of fun to “hear” him tell the story, as he adds some background (most of it pointless, but still fun) and adding his thoughts on every aspect of the adventure.  He makes a metric ton of Star Wars references (probably infused because Kahn also wrote the Return of the Jedi novelization), which is always fun, as well as playing the cool, level-headed leader of the group while describing each of the Goonies and their various quirks, annoying habits, and strengths.  He even ends up explaining some of the subtle references that made it into the performances in the final film (like when Mouth first comes to the Walsh house and starts trying to cheer the brothers up with a slight John Belushi impression.)  At the same time Kahn has him hating Saturday morning cartoons (I guess he’d rather be outside adventuring), already dating (and smooching girls before Andy), and comparing the Mad magazine “fold-in” concept to the Playboy centerfolds, which is just weird.  Again, the danger of writing in the first person like this is that we’re in Mikey’s head, and being inside there is nothing like what I thought it would be in the movie.  Granted, I know we’re really inside Kahn’s head, but you get my drift.

Anyway, some of the slight differences in the book include Mouth’s propensity for rhyming, Data pulling out inventions three times as much, and Mikey tending to censor some of the racier jokes and sight gags from the film with his descriptions (remember the broken stature of David, well Mikey didn’t want to repeat Brand saying that, “…If God made it that way, you’d all be pissing in your faces…”.)  By the by, in the book Mikey’s mom discovers the broken statue.  There’s also some interesting cross-pollinating with other Spielberg projects like Poltergeist.  At one point Mikey shares and anecdote about how he broke his arm falling into an excavation in the newly built Cuesta Verde Estates housing development.  Did I mention that James Kahn also wrote the novelization for Poltergeist?  The thought that, Cuesta Verde would be within biking distance from Astoria is pretty cool, as if there really was this specific Spielberg suburbia out in the pacific northwest where all kinds of crazy shit happened.  Maybe E.T. would have landed there too if that novelization hadn’t already been written by Kotzwinkle.

Also, for all those kids out there that only caught the Goonies when it aired on cable (specifically the Disney Channel in the early 90s), the book provides vindication of some of the deleted scenes that appeared in that cut of the film.  I always thought it was weird that there were so many different versions of flicks in the 80s, one for theaters, one for vhs, one for cable, one for airline exhibitions, etc.  Deleted scenes sort of meant more then, as they were potential filler for some of the other raunchier stuff that needed to be cut for cable.  Anyway, I was one of those kids that saw the octopus scene, and the segment at the beginning when Mikey, Data, Chunk and Mouth have a run in with Troy in the minimart when the flick aired on the Disney channel, and later when watching the official VHS with friends none of them believed me that these scenes existed.  Can’t express how happy I was to see them finally pop up on the DVD.  There are also a couple of extensions of the wishing well scene.  One involves Andy being inducted as an official Goony by repeating the oath: “I will never betray my Goon dock friends, We will stick together until the whole world ends, Through Heaven and Hell and nuclear war, good pals like us will stick like tar, In the city, or the country, or the forest, or the boonies, I am proudly declared a fellow…”  The oath is finished off with the exclamation of “Leech!” as Mikey realizes they’re all covered in leeches.  These scenes were new to me when I ready the youth adaptation of the movie back in 2010 during my Goonies 25th anniversary week.  Glad to see them in this full on novelization as well.

I don’t want to spoil all the good stuff from the novel that didn’t make it into the film, but there’s one more segment that’s really cool involving an underground river.  While the gang is trying to find their way to One-Eyed Willie’s ship, they come upon a cave with only one exit, which is almost completely submerged in water.  There’s a raft, so they all get on as they hear the Fratelli’s hot on their trail.  Along the ride they all take turns telling stories to keep each other from freaking out in the dark water-filled tunnel.  Again, nothing that needed to be in the film, but it’s really fun to stumble upon an extra like this in the book.  All in all I think this one is worth the read, even though the first person narrative is awkward.  It’s a great way to spend a little more time with the gang while getting some new aspects to the adventure along the way.  If nothing else it has me really jazzed to read the Three Weeks with the Goonies book by Mick Alderman.  I can never get enough of this flick!

***UPDATE***

Okay, so there was one other thing that I wanted to point out about the book, one small segment of a scene that was cut from the film involving the leeches.  I wasn’t sure I wanted to mention it because it’s kind of messed up, but I thought about it and I can’t help it, it’s just too damn weird.  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!?!  W-T-F?!?

I think it’s safe to say that this is my favorite book ever!

Yesterday I opened the mailbox to see a package from Amazon and my heart skipped a beat. For well over 15 years I’ve been dreaming about the idea of my perfect coffee table book, and in that little brown box I knew it was about to become a reality.  For anyone who’s been reading the site for any length of time probably already knows, I’m a huge Garbage Pail Kids nut.  Collecting and trading those stickers was a very big part of my youth, and though my original collection was lost decades ago I still cherished my memories of those gross and funny sticker cards.  By hook and by crook I’ve managed to rebuild a pretty decent collection of the vintage GPKs, including a near complete series one set that I never thought I’d manage.  All the while though I keep hoping that one day Topps would step up and release a nice photo book that reprinted all the awesome artwork from the original 15 series.  Heck, at least the first three series would have been awesome.

A few years ago my hopes got a big boost when Abrams and Topps released the first two volumes of their Wacky Packages retrospective (Volume 1 and Volume 2); I mean a nice GPK book would surely have to follow.  Well, one of the wonderful editors at Abrams assured me that something was in the works, and for the past six months I’ve been dying to see the final product.  Well, the wait was finally over…

Needless to say I ripped through the Amazon packaging so that I could finally put my hands on this coveted Garbage Pail Kids  tome and it’s pretty much everything I could ever want in a coffee table book.  This volume reprints the first five GPK series (206 separate paintings in all) which covers the initial boom of the phenomena.  There’s a forward by series mastermind Art Spiegelman that gives a nice overview of how the original series came about, and a short but sweet afterword by the original GPK artist John Pound which has some fun insights into his participation as well.  This book isn’t about the history of the stickers though, it’s all about a gorgeous presentation of the cards themselves.  In that department I think the book is amazing with only a few caveats in the missed-opportunity department.

  

First and foremost, the volume is beautifully designed in the same fashion as the Wacky Packages books, including a wax paper dust cover (which is still a very clever detail) and various bits of GPK collecting imagery (empty sticker backs, empty card boxes, stale sticks of chewing gum, and examples of the first five wax packages.) T he artwork of the cards themselves is presented pretty close to the actual size of the original paintings if I’m not mistaken, which is a very nice touch as well.  There was also a lot of care in how the “sister/brother – A& B” naming of the cards was represented, as well as working in imagery from the checklist design, and a handful of the series one Nutty Awards cardbacks.  There are even 4 included stickers that never made it press in any of the original series (for various reasons, but mostly due to overly violent imagery is my guess.)

There are a couple details that I think would have been nice to see though.  Since part of the deal with Topps was that the artists didn’t sign their work, it would have been nice if the various artists had some sort of attribution by each piece in the book.  Granted, John Pound did all the sticker artwork for the first two series, but Tom Bunk joined in on series three, and for those not versed in telling the two artists apart it would have been a nice touch.  The other thing that I would have wanted to see would have been a better representation of the cardbacks for each series.  As I mentioned above, there are a handful of the series one Nutty Award backs on the inside front cover of the book, but there aren’t any from the remaining 4 series in this volume at all.  Even if there were only a couple sampled at a smaller size in each chapter it would have gone a long way to completing the experience of collecting these sticker cards in the book.  Again, not a huge complaint, just a missed opportunity.

  

All in all though, I am so excited that this Garbage Pail Kids book finally exists and is sitting here right in front of me as I type this.  I’ve already flipped though this book 10 times and I still kind of can’t believe it’s actually real.  I know that may sound like hyperbole, but it’s true.  The only thing that could top this would be seeing two more volumes collecting the remaining ten vintage sets in the near future. Abrams, are you listening?

Secret Mail Order Mysteries Fun!

Coming back off of a hiatus always feels a little herky-jerky, what with trying to dig up some inspiration and cleaning off the cobwebs of my practically non-existent HTML skills.  This year was a little different in that over the last few months I’ve been bombarded with all sorts of cool things to write about.  One thing that I’ve been meaning to write about for awhile is the new book by Kirk Demarais, Mail Order Mysteries: Real Stuff from Old Comic Book Ads!  For those who don’t know, Kirk runs the Secret Fun Spot (as well as its weblog the Secret fun Blog) and is a freelance artist and designer who has been doing some amazing colored pencil portraits of some very familiar families of late.  He’s a regular contributor to the Gallery 88 shows and an all around swell guy.  Though I’ve never gotten the chance to meet him, he’s had a pretty big impact on Branded from the get-go, so when I saw that he was having his second book published I was pretty excited.

Mail Order Mysteries is the logical progression of nostalgic blogs, talking a niche topic and really digging into all the nitty gritty (sometimes literally into the Grit of gritty.)  Do you remember all those tempting ads in the backs of comics and magazines like Famous Monsters?  You know, the ones for the $2 Topstone rubber monster masks, the life-size Frankenstein’s Monster, or the footlocker full of 100 toy soldiers for only $1.25.  Well Kirk sure does, and he’s spent years tracking all of this stuff down, finding out what all this stuff was really like and cataloging his findings in this beautifully written and designed tome.

The book is divided up into 8 sections including superhero related stuff, war junk, monster merchandise, monkey making schemes, mail-order miscellanea, secret stuff, jokes & gags, and all kinds of oddities.  From the facts behind the fabled X-Ray Spex to what that $7 Polaris Nuclear Sub was really like, every single page of this volume is filled with the highs and lows of the mail-order products of the 50s through to the 80s.  Kirk lovingly photographed over a hundred pieces (most from his own collection), as well as including scans of the original advertisements so you can judge for yourself whether or not that allowance was or would have been well spent.  The icing on the cake is Kirk’s keen eye for design, both modern and retro, which can be felt all over the book, from the yellowing, newsprint color-scheme of the pages, to the hidden glow-in-the-dark embellishments on the covers and spine.

For those of us who never got a chance to be lucky enough to order our own cardboard Polaris Sub (or to feel swindled by said sub), to join one of those intoxicating selling for prizes clubs like the Olympic Sales Club, or for those who just want to know how those darn X-Ray Spex work, Mail Order Mysteries is the perfect book.  You can see some more preview pages at Kirk’s site.