Category Archives: Overdue Books

This book will give you a sugary nostalgic high!

One aspect of the American pop culture experience that I find endlessly intriguing is how certain portions of it so completely subvert class, race, religion, and creed.  It’s hard these days to pin down someone’s race or religious beliefs based solely on the music they listen to, or the video games they play. We’re becoming more and more eclectic as a nation, but the foundations of this cultural oneness has been steadily built over the last century with some unlikely materials.  If I had to point to one thing that ties most Americans together it would have to involve food as it’s something we all need.  Through the lens of pop culture, it’s the brands that stand out, the merchandising, packaging, and promotion that we are attracted to and hold dear.  One product over all else really shines through this lens, and is not only an important part of our shared pop culture experience, but also a very important part of one’s daily breakfast, Cereal!  It’s sugary, sweet, fruity, colorful, corny, wheaty, full of rice, oats, and the occasional marshmallow marbits.  It provides fiber, iron, whole grains, and most importantly for those seeking to break through the walls of the time-space continuum, high levels of riboflavin.  Through over a century of ad campaigns, commercials, and cool prizes we’ve all been influenced by breakfast cereal, and now writers Marty Gitlin & Topher Ellis have taken a shot at condensing this shared snap, crackle, and pop culture experience into The Great American Cereal Book.

Published by Abrams (for a February 1st release), this beautiful volume chronicles America’s favorite breakfast food with a semi-chronological listing of ready-to-eat cereals from seven of the largest manufacturers of the last century including General Mills, Kellogg’s, Nabisco, Nestle, Post, the Quaker Oats Company, and Ralston.  Each product listed features some vital statistics including a description, when it was introduced and/or discontinued, the various popular slogans, characters and endorsements associated with it, as well as various tidbits and trivia.  The book is also heavily illustrated with beautiful color photos of many of the more popular and eclectic varieties.  Breaking up the timeline of sweet crunchy nostalgia are a bevy of lists, essays and mascot profiles including a glimpse into the development of characters such as Cap’n Crunch and the Trix rabbit.

What really struck me when I first cracked the cover on this massive tome was the high level of thought and care put into the presentation.  The design of the book is absolutely gorgeous and has a perfect tongue-in-cheek humor imbedded into every page.  The book resembles a box of cereal, from the hilariously placed nutritional chart and ingredients list on the spine, to the rainbow variety of cereals adorning the inside front and back covers.  This book was envisioned and designed with those that are truly a kid at heart.  I also love that the photos lean more towards the kid’s section of the cereal aisle, including so many of the sadly extinct varieties like Smurf-Berry Crunch, Pac-Man, Batman, C3PO’s, and the dearly missed Croonchy Stars (the Sweddish Chef’s Muppet-themed cereal from the late 80s.)

Abrams really has their finger on the pulse of nostalgia when it comes to their line of books aimed at pop culture fans, whether it’s their inventive layout and design of their “vault” editions (like the World of the Smurfs and the Transformers Vault), or their stunning art books (like Wacky Packages, More Wacky Packages, and the upcoming Garbage Pail Kids book.)  The Great American Cereal Book is a fine addition to their lineup and would fit nicely on anyone’s shelf or coffee table who grew up glued to the television on Saturday mornings watching cartoons and slurping up a huge bowl of Cap’n Crunch or Fruit Loops.

Digging deeper into the story of E.T.

Here’s my second and final Monkey Goggles article that was originally published a little over a year ago on the Archie McPhee literary webzine.  As I mentioned yesterday, I’m putting these articles up here as it seems that MG isn’t going to be publishing any longer and in case that site fades away I’d like to have a record of the article.  This piece centers on the differences between the final cuts of films and the book adaptations of the screenplays those films were based upon. T he main example I use is the novelization of E.T. and how it could have been, and in the novel is, a much darker story.  You can also find my thoughts on the sequel story, E.T. The Book of the Green Planet, that was never made into a film, only published as a stand alone novel…

In the realm of film novelizations, there’s rarely room for originality, but every once in a while these books can be a treasure trove of interesting material.

Novelizations were originally a brilliant marketing scheme to bring a sense of weight and establishment to otherwise light genre flicks, at least in the case of the print editions of stories like Star Wars.  It’s rumored that Alan Dean Foster was hired to ghost-write the novel in George Lucas’ name so that the film would have the “literary” background of at the time recent hits like Mario Puzo’s The Godfather and Peter Benchley’s Jaws.  Later, in a pre-home video world, these novelizations became a merchandising phenomenon, giving hungry audiences an outlet for reliving their favorite films and breathing new life into genre publishing.

The novelization of E.T. sold more than one million copies and gave a generation of fans a glimpse into an alternate view of the story that almost was.  The original idea behind the movie was not to make a tranquil boy-loves-alien adventure, but instead a darker, more sinister sequel to Close Encounters of the Third Kind.  Originally titled “Night Skies”, the story centered around a malevolent race of aliens that land on earth and besiege a family living on a farm.  Though there was a script written by John Sayles, Spielberg eventually decided that he didn’t want to produce a violent extra-terrestrial sequel to Close Encounters, and instead broke up the script, reusing aspects that what would eventually become story points in later Spielberg productions — namely Poltergeist, Gremlins, and E.T.

Though the character of E.T. became much tamer in the eventual film, author William Kotzwinkle had a much deeper and slightly darker tone in mind when he was commissioned to pen the novelization.  First and foremost, the book contains a fascinating shift in the story’s point-of-view.  Whereas Spielberg chose to ape Charles Schultz’s child’s height world-view perspective, rarely showing the faces or upper torsos of adult characters and basking in the wonderment of a kid’s point-of-view, the book instead takes on a more omniscient angle.  Instead of approaching the alien from Elliott’s perspective, we are instead invited into the mind’s eye of E.T. himself, seeing Earth as it appears to him.  He loses the infant-like quality that made him so loveable in the film, and is instead imbued with the sage wisdom of a ten million year-old wanderer.

One of my favorite moments in the novelization is when, E.T. plays the role of the audience for a second, and it gives the author an opportunity to provide some commentary on Spielberg’s filmic charm.  Kotzwinkle has E.T. strolling out to the edge of the redwood forest where the aliens have landed at the beginning of the film.  After securing a sapling for examination and cataloging, E.T. is enraptured by the lights of the suburban neighborhood sitting at the foot of the valley.  Knowing that this is going to be their last visit to Earth for centuries, E.T. lingers, longing to peek into the windows of the homes, to get a glimpse of the human middle class life.  Again, it’s just a bit of commentary on what makes Spielberg’s early work so special.

It’s also interesting that, with this shift in viewpoint, certain aspects of the story take on a much darker tone.  At the beginning when the humans come to the landing site and start searching the woods, we’re introduced to “Keys”, Peter Coyote’s nameless scientist character who is known in the story by the jangling key-ring on his belt.  When E.T. sees him for the first time, the keys are described thus: “…the old botanist saw the man’s belt, with something hanging from it like an assemblage of teeth, jagged-edged, trophies possibly, wrenched from the mouth of some other unfortunate space creature, and placed on a ring…”  A bit later, the author has E.T. describing the circular key ring as a sort of open-mouthed grin with jangling teeth.

There’s also an isolationist’s tone to the opening of the novel. E.T.’s species survive for millennia and have cultivated a vast knowledge as well as a Zen-like understanding of peace and harmony, yet they refuse to attempt to communicate with the humans, instead centering all their attention on Earth’s flora because they are afraid of being ridiculed and mocked.  It’s a very odd and dark way to approach the material, for sure.  E.T. was Wall-E before there was a “Wall-E”.

Another interesting aspect that Kotzwinkle either added to the “E.T.” universe or amped up from the script was the idea of the alien race being so closely connected to plant-life that they not only communicate with it, but also have the ability to physically manipulate it. It’s either that, or that plants defy their normal physics in their presence. In the opening scene when the humans have descended upon the landing site and E.T. is trying to get back to the ship, there are trees that lift their roots to trip the pursuing earthlings, while a patch of emotionally-clingy weeds hold the alien back, wanting him to stay with them. It exudes a passion for the story that goes beyond simple script adaptation, which I think is rare in these 1980s era movie novelizations.

I could go on and on with how much deeper the original novelization probes into the characters – how 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.

Who would have thought that there’d be room for this sort of storytelling in what amounts to simple movie merchandising in a decade known for its hollow commercialism?  I honestly didn’t think there was anything left for me to learn from a story I grew up with and thought I knew so well. Never in a million years did I think I’d get so sucked into reading the E.T. novelization that I’d be skipping lunch breaks and desperately wondering what happens next.

Put the Needle on the Record…

I have my sister Beth to thank for introducing me to music in the early 80s.  It started with her giving me a copy of Weird Al’s first album on cassette, and then continued on for years while she endured my constant presence in her room where I’d sit Indian-style in front of her turntable, endlessly flipping through her albums and studying the artwork intensely.  Beth was eight years older than me and as far as I was concerned she knew everything there was to know about being cool.  The record covers, the artwork and design choices made by the bands, photographers, artists and the graphic designers who worked on their albums, was just as important as the music was in helping to define my sister’s personality.  After my sister passed late last year my mother encouraged me to take some of her stuff, things that reminded me of her, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it.  All I really wanted was her phone because it held her collection of music, and that was all I wanted since it was stuff that I know was running through her head.  On a trip back down to visit my parents this past July my mom surprised me with a stack of Beth’s old records that she found in her closet.  I couldn’t have taken them from my sister’s house, but I’m glad my mom could because it gave me another chance to feel like I was seven years old again, sitting in my sister’s room and trying to decipher her code for being cool.

This isn’t the sort of thing that I typically open up about on the site, but it’s an example of how visceral and personal music and all the trappings that surround it can be.  As we break new ground funneling our personal collections of albums and singles onto tiny devices and phones I think we’re losing an important aspect of the music.  Album covers, specifically the sleeves on 45 singles, added another dimension to the music we loved and gave the musicians an opportunity to explore their ideas even further through art and we’re limiting the size of that canvas to half of a credit card.  I’ve been reading Vincent Price’s autobiography I Like What I Know (which is really an excuse to examine his love of art), and he mentions that his first real exposure to the artwork of the world masters was in a book that featured most of the paintings crammed down to the size of a postage stamp.  For him it was the definition of frustration, and he was only liberated when he was first able to travel abroad and see these works first hand in the museums of Eastern Europe.  Liberated is actually an understatement as he describes being devastated by the beauty and intricacy of Rembrandt’s full canvases.  While I hesitate to claim that seeing the full-size album artwork will devastate the viewer to provide some special appreciation and insight into the music that an iPod screen won’t afford, I do think it’s a shame how we’re marginalizing the work none the less.

This is one of the reasons that I’m excited about the release of Matthew Chojnacki’s new book, Put the Needle on the Record: The 1980s At 45 Revolutions Per Minute, which celebrates the 45 sleeve artwork of musicians like Kate Bush, the Smiths, Cyndi Lauper, Madonna, the B-52′s, Prince and more…

Chojnacki, who culled the images of the covers from his own extensive collection, has done an excellent job of chronicling the styles, artwork and design of 80s music.  The book is set up so that each cover is featured on it’s own page with commentary on the art provided by Chojnacki as well as the artists, musicians and executives that worked on them.  There’s some interesting anecdotes on the covers, for example, the hullabaloo surrounding the Smith’s third single off of their debut album, “What Difference Does it Make”

 

The band initially wanted to use a still of Terrance Stamp from the 1965 thriller The Collector, but after the actor objected they reshot the cover staging a note-perfect parody of the still in question.  I find this fascinating as the whole situation is almost a shorthand for describing the tone of a lot of the band’s music, which tends to play with juxtaposition of dark lyrics beautifully sung over very pop-y hooks and melodies.  This dueling tonality is reflected in the band’s response at replacing a still from a disturbing film (featuring Stamp’s character Frederick standing at a door with chloroform, about to subdue a woman he’s kidnapped and held captive – which closely echoes the lyrics to the song) with a similar shot that is so much more wholesome and cheeky (in which Morrissey is holding a glass of milk and looks slightly less depraved.)  Add to that the title of the song, and it almost seems as if the whole thing were planned.

Chojnacki also does a great job of pairing up covers, displaying them in two page spreads, so that you can see the similarities in style and design choices that ultimately defined the era.  Whether it’s focusing on the disinterested, heavily made up (almost clownish) portraits of New Wave icons like Pat Benatar and Gary Numan, or showcasing the eerie similarities between the covers of two popular female musicians that couldn’t be further apart in style (Kate Bush & Dolly Parton)…

 

…Chojnacki is really paying a lot of attention to the layout of the book which I find really exciting.

Speaking of that Kate Bush cover to her single Army Dreamers, this is yet another great example of how the artwork can really accentuate the music.  Whereas the album that the single is derived from has a much more general tone playing off of Bush’s overall personality as a musician, the single offers the opportunity to switch gears and focus on the message of the song.  Playing off of the idea of a mother welcoming home her son who has been killed in action, the cover features Bush made up to resemble a 40′s era WWII bombshell.  I think it’s ingenious how John Carder Bush (Kate’s brother and the graphic designer of the cover) pulls out a bit to feature the photo actually pinned to a piece of corkboard, metaphorically showcasing her as a “pinup”.  Again, like the Smith’s, the image is a little silly and upbeat with the inviting pink background, while the song features dreadfully depressing lyrics accompanied by up beat music.  The design was actually taken another step further with the actual vinyl record which featured a dull military drab green center sticker that plays off of the tone of the lyrics.

All in all, I’m really excited about this book and the chance to flip through a bunch of this artwork from the eighties.  Not only does it give an opportunity to relive the art and design of the era, it also helps to highlight some wonderful songs, helping to put them more in the context of how they were envisioned when they were released. I know these graphic designers and artists put a lot of thought into the covers, and Put the Needle on the Record is the perfect way to explore their work.  Having just come off of illustrating and designing the cover to a friend’s debut album (The Serenaders My One and Only You), I can attest to time and effort that goes into the process…

The smurfiest book I’ve read all summer!

One night when I was about 4 years old my mother was helping me get ready for bed when she asked me a silly question, if I could change my name to anything that I wanted, what would it be?  This was the first time I was challenged with this sort of idea, of being given the power to create my own personality and identity.  Without much thought and with almost no hesitation I declared that I wanted to be named Tiger (most likely because I loved He-Man’s steed Battle Cat.)  15 years later I was taking my first plunge into the world wide web and was again presented with the question of picking a name, an identity that would be my handle in that brave new technological community.  I was barely an adult at 19 and was living on my own for the first time.  When thinking about how I wanted to represent myself online there was one thing that I wanted to point to when it came to identity, a childlike wonder.  If there was one thing I knew for sure it was that I’d never stopped feeling like a young boy and I’d since had enough distance from the glamour of barbarian and giant cat fantasies I wanted to come up with something a bit more meaningful to my experience as a kid.  Upon reflection there was a much more iconic and universally identifiable property than the Masters of the Universe that encapsulated what it was like being a kid in the eighties, The Smurfs.  For anyone familiar with the odd linguistic tic of these little blue guys, you’ll certainly know their penchant for replacing nouns and verbs with the word “smurf”.  I settled on an adjectival use when picking my online handle, Smurfwreck (which is in homage to the final landing thud Brainy Smurf always made after being ejected from the village for being a useless know-it-all.)

30 years ago on a Saturday morning in 1981 I was introduced to the wonder that is the Smurfs, and though I didn’t realize it at the time these little blue creatures would burrow their way so deeply into my consciousness that I’ve been living with them ever since.  Though they were introduced by Belgian artist and entrepreneur Pierre Culliford (better known by his nom de plume “Peyo”) as side characters in his successful comic The Adventures of Johan & Pirlouit in 1958, The Smurfs (Les Schtroumpfs) helped usher in an amazing decade of Saturday morning cartoons for North American children during the 80s and have since become synonymous with the era.  Though the Rubik’s Cube might be the most iconic single item from the eighties, I would argue that the decade was personified by the Smurfs (coming out on top of the likes of Michael Jackson, Mr. T, and even ALF.)  Unlike the straight comedic or action cartoons, the Smurfs was one of a few series that really painted an interesting escape into the realm of fantasy that the whole family could get into.

I wanted to talk about the Smurfs today because I recently had the opportunity to sit down with a copy of Matt. Murray’s (punctuation his) excellent new book called The World of the Smurfs, A Celebration of Tiny Blue Proportions.  This coffee table book published by Abrams (the same folks who brought us the wonderful Wacky Packages books) is unique in that it combines a beautifully illustrated look at the phenomena of the Smurfs with the styling of a scrapbook that includes replica mini posters, sticker sheets, replica animation cells and model sheets, as well as reproduction mini comics in the same style that the Smurfs were originally printed in the pages of Spirou in the 60s.  I first stumbled across this style of book with the Star Wars Vault (published by Simon and Schuster) that came out during the 30th anniversary of the first film, and this Smurf volume follows in the steps of another Abrams scrapbook, The Transformers Vault, which hit bookshelves earlier in the year.  Though these scrapbooks can evoke the feeling of reading a pop-up book at times, The World of the Smurfs strikes a nice balance between a book and a binder full of props.  It’s pretty darn cool to be able to pull out a replica animation cel while learning about the origins of the Hanna Barbera cartoon, or to unfold a detailed map of the Smurf village while reading up on some of the key characters in the universe.  It makes the whole experience one hundred times more visceral than reading a straight prose history, or even a heavily illustrated one.  For the generation of collectors that grew up in the 80s this style of publishing really taps into the nostalgia much in the same way that eBay and other auction sites have helped fans connect to ephemera from their past.  Here Abrams does that legwork for you.

Though the actual book reads pretty fast, not dwelling on any one topic for very long, Murray, the self-proclaimed World’s Leading Smurfologist, does a rather decent job of covering the history of the property and its creator without it feeling like a long wikipedia entry.  Actually if there was one thing that I felt was a bit lacking was that after reading through the book I wished there was a bit more coverage of the merchandising.  There are some very interesting images that show some of the various video games, food products and ephemera that aren’t talked about or really mentioned.  I also wanted to see more of the PVC figurines that have been produced over the years.  Even so, there are a lot of treasures to be found, in particular the artwork and pictures which dig a bit deeper than what you might find on the average fan site, illustrating the history with some personal photos culled from the Culliford family archive as well as the various Belgian publications that have most likely not seen print before in North America.  Included is also a look into the making of the Smurfs’ first foray into live action filmmaking which is set to hit theater screens later this month.

Overall, this volume is beautifully bound and presented and would make a great addition to the library of anyone who grew up during the 80s, in particular for casual fans of animation and the Smurfs property.  Hardcore fans will still enjoy the book, though they might find it lacking as a reference for the toys, merchandising, cartoons or comics.  After reading this volume I immediately did two things, ordered a copy of The Transformers Vault and put in the Season One, Volume Two Smurfs DVD to re-watch the Purple Smurfs episode (Gnap!)  If you’d like to pick up a copy of this book you can head on over to the Abrams site, or you can pre-order it from Amazon (it’ll be released on August 1st.)

Mystery Solved!

So it’s been almost a year since I stumbled upon a mystery that I like to call “Michal Knight and the Mystery of K.I.T.T. and the Blue Prowler“.  The basic gist of the story is that while I was looking up Knight Rider read-along books on eBay I stumbled upon an auction for one that was originally published in Greece.  Though at first it didn’t seem all that special, the title font for the book looked weirdly familiar.  It struck me that the company that produced this foreign read-along had used the Transformers font for the book.  Upon closer inspection I noticed a really small grainy picture on the back of the packing highlighting some of the other books in the series and I could have sworn that one of them featured either Prowl or Blue Streak from the Transformers.

As I wrote in the article detailing this mystery, I’m not completely unaware of these sorts of cross product mash-ups, as the Transformers Vs. G.I. Joe comic books were pretty darn popular back in the day.  Typically though, these cross-over events took place between two product lines released by the same company, whereas the idea of Knight Rider meeting a Transformer was just the sort of thing that doesn’t happen.  Anyway, I couldn’t be completely sure that I wasn’t just seeing things as I didn’t have an really good proof that this book even existed outside of the tiny grainy photo on eBay, so after writing about it I promptly tucked that memory away incase I ever found some better evidence.

Well that day has come as I’ve finally managed to track down a copy of this crazy Greek book!

Published by El Gre Co sometime in the early to mid 80s (there is no publication info, at least nothing numerical), this book does indeed feature a giant robot facing off against Michael Knight and K.I.T.T., though I’m pretty sure it wasn’t supposed to be a Transformer.  The artists who worked on this book obviously swiped the character design of Blue Streak from the toy’s packaging art…

Though I’m not having much luck translating any of the text in the book, there are some context clues in the design that lead me to believe one of two things.  Either El Gre Co was a foreign partner of the Kid Stuff record company, or they completely pirated both properties to make bootleg books.  The Kid Stuff connection, though tenuous, makes some sense as they were the American publishers of the Knight Rider and Transformer branded read-along books.  There’s also some design and artwork on the book that’s taken directly from Kid Stuff like a “This Book Belongs to” page that is a spitting image for the ones they typically used.  It wouldn’t be that crazy to figure that when sending over some sample art for a foreign Knight Rider book they also shipped some artwork from other properties they held the license to.  Heck, maybe there are El Gre Co brand Transformers read-along books out there as well.

  

Either way, I wasn’t crazy and this book does indeed exist.  I have to say that I was a little disappointed after opening up the set as it wasn’t as artistically cool as I’d hoped.  Though the cover is pretty awesome, the inside of the book is filled with some pretty terrible artwork.  Not only that, but the artist was super lazy and continuously re-drew the Blue Streak robot in the same pose as the packaging art it was originally stolen from with only minor tweaks here and there.

  

There was one cool picture of the robot sprouting a couple sets of helicopter propeller blades and taking to the sky, but honestly it just looks like some really loose fan art that I might have done when I was five or six.  I guess in a way this adds to the charm of the whole book, but only a little.

This all raises yet another crazy mystery though, as the original auction that brought this all to my attention was for another Knight Rider book that had what appeared to be the alien mothership from E.T. on the cover.  There’s some pictures in that previous article, as well as on the back of the gift set below…

Though I’d love to track that book down as well, I’m not so sure it’s worth the effort as the interior art would probably be horrible.  Maybe the meeting of Michael Knight and E.T. is best left a mystery for the ages.  In fact the image in my head of the two standing next to K.I.T.T. and giving a dual thumbs up could probably never be topped anyway…

Vintage Book Club Flyers Part 3, Scholastic’s Arrow, TAB, and Honeybee clubs…

This week brings yet another set of vintage book club flyers from the 80s, though sadly it’s also the last.  So far I’ve covered the Troll and Weekly Reader flyers, and for this last installment I’m going to take a look at the largest of the various clubs, Scholastic.  As I mentioned last week Scholastic was the last book club company standing after the various mergers and acquisitions over the past decade, most likely because they’re not just a book distributor, but also a publishing house as well.  Another way that the Scholastic book club set itself apart was by really developing its branding.  Though both Weekly Reader and Toll had different catalog flyers aimed at the various grade and age groups in public school, Scholastic differentiated these flyers by issuing them under unique brand names.  For instance, the grades 4-6 received the Arrow book club flyers, while middle school and high school students received copies of the TAB club flyer.   This splintering of the main brand was just one of the ways that Scholastic tried to stay relevant to students, who would quickly outgrow the various clubs and would be looking for stuff that appeal to them and seemed more tailored.

Like Weekly Reader, the Scholastic book club flyers came bound inside a monthly educational newsletter.  This was where you got a chance to see the main company branding as the handout was called the Scholastic News…

   

Another way that Scholastic set itself apart from the other clubs was by offering back-issues of their entertainment magazines like Dynamite, Hot Dog, Maniac, and Bananas.  Actually, I didn’t see any full-on subscriptions for these magazines in the book club flyers below, so I wonder if this was the only way to get access to these magazines to begin with.  I don’t remember seeing any of them on the newsstands or spinner racks growing up.  Maybe Scholastic would hook you by offering up an issue each month and then you could get the exclusive subscription mailer inside of the actual magazine.  Anyone out there remember subscribing to any of these or finding them outside of the Scholastic book club flyers?

Anyway, for this last vintage book club article I have four more flyers to share from the collection of Esteban, who runs the awesome Roboplastic Apocalypse.  Three of them are from the Arrow club which was handed out to grades 4-6, and the last one is from the TAB club which was handed out to the 7th-12th grade students.   First up is the January 1985 issue of Arrow…

So after looking through a number of these book club flyers from the various companies I have to say that I am surprised by the gusto with which Heathcliff was advertised compared to Garfield.  In the battle of the little orange tabby cats, Heathcliff always comes out on top (front and center, page one) of these book club flyers.  I wonder if the various companies sold flyer space like ad space is sold in newspapers?   If so, Ace books sure were willing to shell out a shinier dime than Ballintine.  Either that or because Garfield was most likely much more popular in brick and mortar stores, the company didn’t feel the need to compete in these school book club flyers…

   

I also thought it was interesting, from a design standpoint, that the guys and gals that worked on these Arrow flyers chose to highlight the publisher imprint logos on a lot of these book listings.  So when you see a listing for a Twist-a-Plot book like the one on the 3rd page of the flyer above, the T-a-P logo was separated out and placed at the top of the blurb.  I know I was always on the lookout for specific branding when it came to books, as even at a young age I was responding to the various publisher and series logos.   Again, it’s another in a long line of examples in how Scholastic was trying harder to reach these kids (and in turn reaching into their parent’s wallets…)

There are a couple of cool books in this first flyer, in particular Robot Race which was part of the Micro Adventures series of paperbacks that were trying for a sense of interactivity back in the day.   Instead of letting the reader guide the story as in a Choose Your Own Adventure style book, the Micro Adventures stories featured BASIC style computer programs printed through out the book that he reader could program into their home computing systems to play games and solve problems from the story.  I’m amazed at just how many ways the writers and publishers of the 80s were trying to heighten the reading experience for kids.

As I mentioned above, there were a handful of entertainment magazines published by scholastic in the 70s and 80s, two of which were available in this flyer, Maniac (aimed at high school kids that were in tune with the MTV generation), and Dynamite (which I’ve written about before.)

The first thing that jumped out at me in this February 1985 flyer is the rock and roll themed poster/sticker sheet combo.  Stickers were typical of these flyers, but I’ve never seen a sheet that listed the artist and gag writer before.  Apparently R.L. Stine (of Goosebumps fame and who often whet by Jovial Bob Stine) got together with B.K. Taylor (the artist for the Awesome All*Stars! sticker cards as well as a regular feature artist in the pages of Hot Dog and Dynamite) and whipped up a sheet of rock inspired stickers.  I’m guessing that they were featured because they both worked at Scholastic on the various magazines, but it’s still a little weird…

  

This May 1985 flyer is also pretty interesting as it’s an example of the end of the school year edition.  Since the kids would be out of school in the first week or so of June, May was the last good chance Scholastic had to sell some swag, and I think it’s interesting that they eschewed the standard flyer for a two page blow-out sale…

  

Though I don’t remember the Arrow book club, or any of these end-of-the-year blowouts, being the bargain shopper that I am I think I would have flipped for the flyer in May of ’85.  In particular I would have really dug picking up multipacks of the Micro Adventures and Twist-a-Plot series all for the price of one book.  It even appears that there was some really old stock being pushed, as the 1983 Return of the Jedi storybook was bundled with a 1980 Empire era poster of Darth Vader.  I know for a fact that there was a metric ton of overstock on this particular Jedi story book as I’ve consistently seen brand new copies of this book in dollar stores and overstock book stores over the last 20 years.

The last vintage book club flyer I have to share is from the Scholastic imprint called TAB which was aimed at 7th graders and above.   This particular edition is from February of 1987 and barely survived to be shared…

My first impression of this flyer is that it’s sort of schizophrenic in its odd mixture of offerings.  On the one hand there are some more adult fare like teen romance novels, classics (such as the Count of Monte Crisco, Animal Farm, Lord of the Flies and Dracula), and books on writing term papers, but on the other there are still kid oriented books (like one about race cars) and sticker collecting kits.  Then again, when I think back to my 7th grade days I know I was going through a similar period of weird reading habits, bouncing back and forth between thousand-page Stephen King epics and cracking open Judy Blume’s Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing for the umpteenth time.  I guess the 7th grade really does mark an awkward transition period for children.  Most are turning thirteen, and depending on individual predilection, most are probably also facing that time when it isn’t cool to collect toys, read comic books, or bring your lunch to school in a lunchbox anymore.  I know that I personally rebelled against the idea that these things had to stop, but I was also far from popular…

As a special bonus, friend of the site Jose Anibal Gonzalez (who has a great art blog by the by), went above and beyond and sent in a scan of his daughter’s current Scholastic book club flyer from this past January.  It’s the perfect way to end this series as we can see how these flyers have changed over the last quarter century.  Thanks Jose!

   

  

  

  

School Book Club Flyers from the Past part 2, Weekly Reader!

So this week I thought I’d dig a little deeper into the whole school book club flyer phenomenon of the 80s while also taking a look at one of the more recognizable clubs, Weekly Reader.  Again, all of these scans come from the personal collection of the Evil King Macrocranios, or Steve if you prefer, to whom I am indebted.

When I was originally looking for some examples of these book club flyers to share them, I was a bit uncertain as to who the actual companies were that produced them in the 80s.  After doing a little digging there were a few names that sprang up, namely Weekly Reader and Scholastic, but I know that there were others that I remembered more fondly like Troll and Arrow.  This past week I shared a few Troll flyers, and I’ll have some Arrow flyers to post about next week.  The big question that was still sort of hovering over all of this for me was were these all difference companies, or were they just different imprints aimed at certain regions or age levels there were all from the same corporation?  Turns out, it’s a little bit of both.

From what I can gather off the fine print of the various Weekly Reader and Scholastic websites, back in the 80s there was a whole bunch of different companies distributing discount books through catalog flyers in classrooms.  Some of the services, like Troll, seemed to be more concentrated on liquidating discount books, while others (namely Weekly Reader) seemed to be interested in selling books as well as distributing their own branded periodicals providing news and articles for teachers and students.  Over the last 20-odd years there has been a lot of focus-shifting and consolidation and there seems to be only two companies left, Scholastic (who bought up a lot of other clubs like Troll and Trumpet) and Weekly Reader who seem to have strayed away from regular book distribution and begun offering mostly their own branded products (teaching aids, study books, and WR non-fiction picture books for young kids.)  These days Scholastic provides a whole slew of book club flyers aimed at various age groups and it appears that they’ve also taken over most if not all of the in-school book fairs, but we’ll talk a little more about that next week.   This week it’s all about the Weekly Reader…

These WR book club flyers were distributed as a part of the Weekly Reader Eye periodical handout, and were a bit different in terms of layout and advertising.  Again, there seemed to be a dual motive with this company in that they seemed to want to educate as much, if not more, than they wanted to distribute books in the classrooms.  Another variation of their magazine was called Senior Weekly Reader and seemed to delve into some much more adult topics and current events including the crack epidemic, the Challenger disaster, homelessness and the government’s plans to create an anti-nuclear missile defense system in space.  All of this seems pretty heady for preteens who were most likely more concerned about whether or not their friends would think they were dorks because they still wanted to order Choose Your Own Adventure books in middle school…

You have to hand it to the publishers though, they were trying their best to not write down to middle-school-aged kids.   Actually that reminds me of similar memories I have of watching the fledgling Channel 1 in my homeroom when we had TVs installed in our high school class rooms back in the early 90s.  The snippets of news stories seemed to be almost on par with what my mom and dad were watching on the evening news.  Of course it bored me to tears back in the day, but there’s a part of me that appreciates what they were trying to do education-wise now that I’m a little older. 

Anyway, back to the meat of this post and on to our first Weekly Reader book club flyer, which is from November of 1984…

The first thing I noticed while flipping through these was a slightly less commercial feel to the design.  They’re printed in mostly black and white with a single accent color that I’m sure was intended to lessen the printing cost (which was mostly likely deferred to help supply the news portion of these handouts.)  They’re also a bit less shilly in that it was much easier to obtain the “free” posters as you only had to buy a single book instead of the requisite three from clubs like Troll.  These flyers also had a secondary, longer term, incentive program in what they called PaperBucks.  For every item that you purchased from the catalogs you’d received one of these Paperbucks (see the 4th page of the flyer below for an image) which could be saved up to “pay” for specialty items like sticker sheets, plush dolls, instant cameras and posters…

    

This flyer also has some pretty damn nifty offerings including one of the Mr. T Antioch sticker books (featuring stickers with B.A. Baracus skiing), another of the Serendipity books by Brian Cosgrove (called Morgan and Me), a Masters of the Universe picture book (always loved the art in these), a Fraggle Rock poster and an offer for 100 stickers for only $0.75!  Oh, to go back in time with 5 bucks and access to one of these flyers…

Next up is the December 1984 flyer/insert…

This flyer also has some great books, but what really got me excited was the offer for a sticker collecting wallet for only $0.95.  I’ve seen official sticker collecting books, photo albums, stapled together sheets of construction paper, and even childhood furniture used to house a sticker collection, but never a wallet.  How neat would it have been to whip out a bill fold to show off your stickers on the go?!?

  

There’s also an interesting special offer on the Garfield collection in this flyer which comes with four Garfield branded brown paper lunch sacks.  However neat these would have been to carry my lunch to school when I was in-between lunch boxes or in that gray area where I was getting too old to bring a lunch box, they still seem like a pretty weird thing to bundle with a comic strip collection.  It’s like winning a contest and getting new socks or something.  Practical, but not exciting…

The last flyer I have for both today and for the Weekly Readers was released back in February of 1985…

This flyer is chock full of awesome swag including a Go Bots picture book (featuring art by none other than Steve “Spiderman” Ditko), another Serendipity book (Flutterby), and a sweet Break Dancing poster…

  

There were also a couple of interesting Choose Your Own Adventure style books with offers for an Indiana Jones Find Your Fate paperback and one for one of the more obscure brands, Wizards, Warriors, & You.

Last, but certainly not least, we have a handful of Weekly Reader posters which were a bit different than their counterparts in the Troll book club flyers.  Granted, I’m only going on a selection of three flyers from each club as reference, but the Weekly Reader posters seem to be a little less generic.  Not only do they feature some pop culture icons like E.T., the cast of the Empire Strikes Back and Wicket from Return of the Jedi, but even the goofy kitten and puppy posters are a little neater with printed titles on them.  These posters often featured ads for books on the back as well…

  

Next week I’ll be back with a closer look at the Scholastic book club called Arrow…

Can you hear me Major Tom, it’s Webster and I’m floating in a most peculiar way!

Since I started sharing Ste-vil King Macrocranios’s collection of vintage school book club flyers this week, I thought it would also be a cool opportunity to take a closer look at some of the stuff one might have ordered back in the day.  Today I thought I’d take a look at a rather odd read-along storybook featuring the characters from the 80s sitcom Webster.  It’s also an opportune time considering that the show was finally released on DVD this past Tuesday from the fine folks at Shout! Factory…

Before I get into the book I wanted to talk about the series for a second.  Webster was part of an interesting subset of sitcoms released in the early to mid-80s that were aimed at a younger than typical audience including shows like Punky Brewster, Silver Spoons, Charles in Charge, and ALF.  This explosion of new kid-centric series came in the wake of the success of shows like Diff’rent Strokes and its spin-off The Facts of Life, as well as the popularity of goofier sitcoms like Mork and Mindy which certainly catered to a younger demographic.  I think it was also in response to the booming Saturday morning and weekday syndicated cartoon markets, which was proving to be lucrative for advertising dollars.  I’m sure the big wigs at the big three wanted to try and get some of these viewers watching in prime time with their parents so they could scream “buy me that” a bit more often.

Anyway, all network and commercial jadedness aside, even though the networks were all scrambling to address this audience, the ratings numbers must not have been stellar because this fad of kid-vid in prime time died down pretty quickly.  Shows were getting canned by the big three left and right, including Webster, but there was an interesting turn of events in store for a number of these series.  Again, based on the booming first-run syndication boom of cartoons at the time, the producers of these shows decided not to throw in the towel and instead shopped these canceled shows to local affiliates to run new episodes in the post-cartoon/pre-prime time slots between 6:00-8:00pm.  Shows like Charles in Charge, Punky Brewster, Silver Spoons, and Webster found reprieves and would stay on the air a couple more years (in most cases long enough to complete a 4-season backlog to ensure there were enough episodes to qualify for regular re-run syndication packages.)

So, getting back to the meat of today’s post, this read-along book is called Webster’s Great Space Adventure which was released by Kid Stuff Records back in 1986.   Though the sitcom was firmly grounded in reality, this book takes a very Muppet Babies-esque ride on Webster’s imagination train (or space capsule in this case), rocketing Emmanuel Lewis into the stratosphere and beyond.  Weirdly enough, the last episode of the sitcom before it was ended featured a similar plot in which Webster is beamed aboard the Next Generation Starship Enterprise and guest stars Michael Dorn reprising his role of Worf…

The book was written by Michael J. Pellowski and featured illustrations by Walt and Cheryl Schoonmaker.  I don’t have a list of the voice actors that narrated the accompanying tape, but I can honestly say that the cast didn’t include Emmanuel Lewis, Alex Karras or Susan Clark.  You can listen to the audio for this read-along here (or you can right click on it and save it for your own listening pleasure.)

  

The basic gist of the story involves the Papadapolis’ taking a trip to a Chicago area space museum.  Webster gets a chance to sit in a real rocket capsule, but then quickly falls asleep and dreams of taking a ride into outer space…

  

   

After experiencing some meteor turbulence, he crash lands on a crazy planet with huge flora and insane freaky human-headed bee-people!  Yikes!

  

The freaky bee-people help him back into space and he goes on looking for a new adventure.   He encounters a crazy used spaceship moon and realizes that aliens are just as un-protective of their environment in an oddly placed PSA about litterbugs…

The last stop involves Webster docking at a space station populated by a couple of the freakiest robot Papadapolis’ adoptive parents ever.  David Bowie, eat your heart out!

As a quick side note, I think it’s really interesting how dedicated Alex Karras and Susan Clark were to each other.  A real life married couple, I’ve pretty much only ever seem them acting together.  In addition to co-producing and starring in Webster, they were also both in Porky’s, a couple of made-for-TV movies, not to mention appearing together in a bunch of furniture advertisements in the 70s and 80s.  I wonder if they ended up with any of this art for their personal collection?  I know I would have wanted it…

   

Honestly, as weird and insane as some of the imagery from the book is, it’s not nearly as wild as I thought when I first flipped through it, though it is probably one of the most heavy-handed 16 minute PSAs about littering that I’ve ever heard…

  

Even though it’s cheesy, I do love these old read-alongs, in particular the catalog offered by Kid Stuff. In addition to Webster, they were also the company that brought us branded titles like Transformers, G.I. Joe, the Marvel and DC super heroes, Rainbow Brite, Masters of the Universe, Care Bears, the Sectaurs, Knight Rider, the Smurfs, and I believe the A-Team as well…

Holy crap! Vintage Book Club Flyers!

I wanted to start off 2011 and the end of my winter hiatus with something that I think is pretty damn cool.   One of my goals with this site was to try and track down and share some of the more obscure things that I was really fond of as a kid.  Sure, talking about the Transformers and G.I. Joe is cool, but so are the Donruss Zero Heroes sticker cards and issues of Stickers magazine.  Trouble is, the majority of the obscure stuff I’d love to track down and talk about isn’t all that easy to present in an interesting manner.  It’s one thing to just talk or write about something, say the Screwball brand sherbet/bubblegum treats that used to only be available on the various ice cream trucks back in the day, but it’s hard to provide that heady feeling of instant forgotten memory recall without some sort of scan-able packaging, or a theme song, anything that’s a bit more visceral.  So I have a list of stuff, a wish list of sorts, that I’m patiently waiting to dig into when I have something more tangible to share.

Well, this past December, a very awesome friend of the site dug deep into his archive of school papers and ephemera from over 25 years ago, and he came out with some very amazing pieces of newsprint. Esteban, the Evil King Macrocranios, the ruler of the kingdom roboplastico home to muchas robots fantasticos and metalicos, not to mention the host of the Roboplastic Podcastalypse (which if you dig any of the podcasts I’ve done in the past you’ll probably love this show), found his old stash of elementary and middle school book club flyers which he has very graciously scanned and sent over to be shared here, and I can’t thank him enough.

Much like vintage food packaging, school book club flyers are in my opinion so of the rarest pieces of ephemera as there is absolutely no reason to archive them.   It’s rare enough that kids would keep their homework and school paper work longer than it takes to peel off a congratulatory scratch and sniff sticker, let alone any peripheral materials that would just clog up your backpack, but for it to survive for 25 or more years is just astounding.  Even if these flyers were kept, it’s not there’s any sort of market or demand to get them out into the hands of collectors.  The closest thing would be the very niche market of people selling old Saturday morning cartoon ads on ebay, but it seems like no one is selling book club flyers.  Hell, I remember wracking my brain just to try and remember a single name of one of these book clubs when I first started this site and I couldn’t find anything on the interwebs that really helped.  Either people don’t care or these book clubs have become obscure enough nostalgia-wise that there isn’t really anyone talking about them in the shadow of conversations about potential Thundercats movies, Smurfs as CGI, and Return-of-the-Jedi-themed jungle gyms.  Honestly, that’s all right, because this is the stuff, the more obscure stuff, that still gets me the most excited nostalgia-wise…

So thank you Esteban for braving your old pile of school papers to dust off these amazing gems.  I’m going to be sharing his collection over the next couple of weeks, and today I’m going to start with a few Troll Book Club Flyers, the first of which is from April of 1982…

For the most part my memories of these book club flyers surrounds the excited jolt I’d get when the homeroom teacher would hand out them out each month.   In fact, I was kind of a nerd for anything that involved school and spending money; be it browsing for cool figural erasers and themed pencils in the school store, the occasional book sale held in the library, or the yearly Christmas fun raisers where we’d sell gaudy wrapping paper and off-brand meat & cheese gift-sets, I always got excited at the prospect of spending money at school.   Maybe it was because I didn’t typically buy my lunch in favor of a packed lunchbox, but I always felt so independent and grown-up when I’d be trusted with a few dollars to spend any way I saw fit.  These flyers were a monthly opportunity to tap into the bettering-Shawn’s-schooling fund and to pick up some nifty stuff like stickers and posters along the way…

   

With this first flyer, I realized that at least one company, Troll, issued different monthly fliers for the various grade ranges.  This one represents books available for kindergarten through 1st grade, and mostly features the large format floppy picture books and read-alongs.  Highlights for me include the Astrosmurf which featured artwork by Peyo (I wasn’t sure if his work was repurposed back in the 80s or if it was all derivative stuff based on the Hanna Barbera cartoon adaptation of the comics), and Leo the Lop by Stephen Cosgrove.  Leo the Lop was part of a series of books by Serendipity written by Cosgrove and illustrated by Robin James that really knocked my socks off as a kid (illustration-wise.)  Also included in the series were books like Little Mouse on the Prarie, Trapper (about a little while seal), and the Gnome from Nome (my favorite.)  You also get your first glimpse at the book club flyer up-sale which includes the concept of a free poster with the purchase of three or more books.  For a kid in the first grade back in the 80s, I’m sure that 11×17 of two white rabbits peeking out of a top hat was mesmerizing.

This next flyer is for a slightly older set (grades 4th through 6th) and was released in February of 1985…

This is a bit more of what I remember from back in school.  Though I have all sorts of fond memories of these flyers aesthetically speaking, I have to believe it’s mostly just nostalgia.  I mean look at the horrible job on that curved block font around the dog poster.  Don’t even get me started on the six million different fonts used for the various book titles in the descriptions.  Wowzers.   I mean using the specific font as an image lift from a book like with the Heathcliff offering is one thing, but mixing in the serif and sans serif fonts is hurting my eyes a little.  Anyway, enough grousing about design, I mean look, original solicitations for Choose Your Own Adventure books are in this flyer!

   

I also love the fact that even though some of these posters are super cheesy, they were al least also super cheap.  $0.75 for 24″x18″ poster?  Hell, I’d have a hard time passing up the one with the collies at that price.   Also, notice the solicitation for Mad Libs #11.   Though I never had any Mad Libs books as a kid I know they were huge and these book club flyers were most certainly one of the main places to score them.

Book club flyers were also a place to score stickers, and if memory serves there was also a sheet of stickers in the flyers offered by Troll. 

Lastly, one of my favorite stand outs from this first ’85 flyer is the special on the break dancing book on the back.   I’m sure this was the gateway for a bunch of fourth graders to get the instruction they needed to properly pop and lock like a pro…

The last Troll flyer I have is from December 1985…

Featuring more Heathcliff and Mad Libs, as well as Encyclopedia Brown, a handful of classics, and a trio of different Choose Your Own Adventure Style seris (including CYOA, Indiana Jones Find Your Fate, and Zork books), this was one heck of a flyer.  My favorite listing is for yet another of my holy grail items, the 1985 Antioch sticker book, Hogan Wins the Belt.  I’ve managed to find the majority of the Antioch book and sticker sets (from the Ghostbusters and Karate Kid, to Mr. T and the Bigfoot Monster Truck), but this WWF Hulk Hogan wrestling entry is proving one of the harder ones to find (at least with the stickers intact.)  So it’s pretty awesome to get a glimpse at the stickers that were included with this book…

 

Rounding out this book club flyer are a sweet looking generic BMX book and a How To on Babysitting for Fun and Profit…

But before I end this post, I have a few more treats.  Along with these flyers Esteban also found some of the sweet posters that he and his sister ordered back in the day.  I’ll let the Evil Macrocranios set the mood for these:

“Among my childhood school papers were some of the posters of horses and kittens and puppies we got from various book clubs.  It all seemed silly to me and as I unfolded yet another sickeningly cute poster of kittens I asked my mom what kind of little boy likes this stuff.  Then my three year old son walked into the room and when he saw the poster he started yelling ‘CATS! CATS!’ and he did a little dance and grabbed the poster from me like it was the best Christmas present ever.  Troll sure knew their audience.”

     

E.T. went home alright, and maybe he should have stayed there…

I think I’ve written about this before, but there’s aspect to American pop culture that I find endlessly fascinating; this deep need for sustainable continuity.   Though we’re fanatics for origin stories, once an idea is set into motion we very rarely want to see it end.  So when a successful sitcom invades our television schedule, the hope is that it will be continually produced for as along as possible, ten, twenty years down the line. When it ends, there’s still hope in our hearts for spin-offs, and reunion specials, and when all else fails, hopefully it will eventually end up as a big screen adaptation (which will hopefully be successful enough to garner a trilogy.)

I’m not sure what it is in our culture that makes us so clingy as an audience.  Maybe subconsciously the idea of a story having a distinct ending echoes fears of our own eventual mortality.  Maybe we just love a good success story and nothing says success like sequels and long running TV which have a validating effect on our own enjoyment.  I loved Ghostbusters something fierce growing up and I pined for the eventual sequel that seemed to take a million years to materialize.  Sure, I’d watch the original when ever it came on TV, but somewhere in the back of my mind I felt that I deserved to see the continuing story.

Battling against this cultural yearning are the hopes and dreams of the very people who makes these stories possible.  Sure, Dan Akaroyd, Harold Ramis, Ernie Hudson, and Sigorny Weaver seemed more than willing to make a sequel but how did Bill Murray and Rick Moranis feel?  Word is that they weren’t all that keen on the idea, that as actors and creative-minded individuals they were more interested in pursuing something new, something that was interesting to them at the time.  Often this creative reluctance to suit up for a sequel is what quashes projects, but it’s not necessarily the end of the story.  There are other outlets for continuity, especially for entertainment that feeds the all-ages sensibility of an audience.  The cartoon spin-off for instance.  While waiting the five years in-between Ghostbusters films, DiC started production on the Real Ghostbusters cartoon, which featured the continuing adventures of our favorite spectral sleuths.  But for various reasons the creative yearnings of writers, and the monetary needs of the studio forced the story to change.  Egon became blonde, the group all began wearing colored coded jumpsuits, Janine became a punk, the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man became an ally and Slimer switched from being a chaotic-neutral villain to a bungling, Baby Huey-esque sidekick.

This leads me to the gist of today’s subject, which is the continuing story of the beloved plant-friendly alien, E.T. the Extra Terrestrial in his only sequel story, The Book of the Green Planet.  Published in 1985 and written by William Kotzwinkle, the same gentleman responsible for the film-to-book novelization of the original story, Book of the Green Planet follows E.T.’s adventures after reuniting with his species as they travel back to the home planet to study the flora specimens they’ve been collecting from Earth over the millennia.  In the original novelization we got a peek into a different view of the movie as Kotzwinkle tended to write from E.T.’s perspective, giving the reader an insight absent from the movie.  In that book E.T. comes across as a wholly different character, at times a centered peaceful monk-like being wise beyond his ten million years of age (yup in the book he’s 10,000,000 years old for crying out loud), a others a tired curmudgeon afraid of offending Elliott and his siblings as he sees them as the rulers of the planet.  It’s an odd balancing act that takes a weird shift in the follow-up sequel novel.

Unburdened by adhering to a script, Kotzwinkle decides to let loose in the sequel revealing that E.T. is not merely an alien from another world, but a traveler from outside of our universe/dimension.  Kotzwinkle also decided to mold the character more into the image we get in the film, drawing him as playfully ignorant, continuously spouting incorrect English to his friends as if he had learned to master the language during his layover on Earth.  He’s also shown depressed, having left his newfound friends behind, never to see them again, yet I find this awkward and weird considering that he’s literally lived throughout the millennia.  Was this experience with Elliott so profound, and if so, how boring was the rest of his existence?  Besides, for a being of that age who travels through out dimensions and across galaxies with ease, isn’t it a bit naive to assume you’d never see your friends again?

Anyway, the basic plot involves E.T. returning home only to be demoted for his shenanigans on Earth.  Sad and lonely, it becomes his quest to find a way to travel back to the Milky Way and to his beloved friend Elliott.  The book flits back and forth between E.T.’s adventures trying to secure a vessel to make the trip and a slightly older Elliott on Earth who is struggling with puberty and his newfound obsession with girls (which troubles E.T., through their psychic connection, to no end.)   Trying to help (but coming across as a dumped ex stalker) E.T. sends astral projections of himself towards Earth in the hopes that they will meld with Elliott’s troubled soul and help him to find peace (as well as the nerve to finally step up and mingle with the girl of his dreams.)  In a sort of anticlimactic ending E.T. grows a ship (making it easier to hide from his people) and embarks on the long journey back to Elliott, though the story ends before the trip is finished leaving the book open to an obvious sequel (though unlike this one, a sequel that never materialized.)

All in all, this book (and the original novelization) gives the audience what it craves, a continuation of the story with so much more to explore.  It’s weird and not much like the original film, but it is something which in and of itself is sort of a treasure.  Also, believe it or not, with the re-release of this book in 2002 there was a teacher’s guide printed that has artistic rendering of a couple of the odder creatures mentioned in the book including the ellusive flopgopple!

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