Category Archives: Overdue Books

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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Just try prying me apart from Lego: A Love Story…

One of the most vivid sense memories I have from when I was a child is of lying on the floor and trying to pry apart two short, flat Lego planks (2x2s) with my teeth.  The tips of my fingers kept painfully slipping off of the bottom piece as my incisors clamped tight on the other, but I needed these separated desperately so that I could finish my masterpiece, a replica of the Airwolf helicopter.  When I finally managed to get the two bricks apart (opening just enough space between them to pry them loose with a fingernail), I can still remember unceremoniously spitting out the one between my teeth as I affixed the other to the undercarriage of the helicopter’s cockpit section which helped to secure a section of unstable bricks.  Though Lego bricks weren’t the only toy I played with as a kid, they were the one constant that I’ve always found myself going back to from around the time I was five, up until today.

When I first saw Jonathan Bender’s book, Lego: A Love Story, I was hoping that he managed to tap into my lifelong fondness for these universally loved bricks, and I wasn’t disappointed in the least.  It seems that when it comes to writing about nostalgia laden topics, two extremes seem to dominate the landscape, the overly saccharine sweet or the dismissive, snarky and sarcastic.  Both show a level of fondness, but both are also hard to plow through as any extreme viewpoint can be.  It’s a battle I fight every time I sit down to write something for this site and it’s sort of rare that you can find someone who can actually manage an evenhanded voice when writing about nostalgia.   Bender has done just that with his first book in which he reacquaints himself with Lego brick building after having put the toys away as a preteen almost twenty years ago.

Though I’d hesitate to call myself an AFOL (Adult Fan of Lego), it seem that there hasn’t been a time in my life when I have had at least one set worth of Lego bricks hanging around the home or office.  I feel like I have a decent handle over the general history of the toy, yet Bender manages to uncover all sorts of interesting tidbits of information, from the split between Lego traditionalists and the customizers, to the rules, habits and vernacular of the dedicated Lego fandom.  Did you know that gluing pieces together or painting them is a cardinal sin to some purists?  But it’s not just about the hardcore fans.  Through his own experience dipping his feet back into the world of Lego, Bender does an excellent job of relating to the common fans by sharing his childhood building stories as well as showcasing new attempts at building his own creations (called MOCs, or My Own Creations by the fan community.)

One tidbit that stuck me was that feminine hairpieces for the mini-figures tend to be rarer because most of the figures are geared towards boys and men (like most toy-lines actually.)  It reminded me of a good friend I had back in high school who used to customize his Lego mini-figures to look like Marvel comics characters (way back before Lego started putting out so many licensed sets) and he’d always have to make female character’s hair out of hot glue (which he shaped while it was hot and then painted later to get the likeness just right.)

I found it fascinating that Bender approached the bricks so apprehensively, where he seemed almost ashamed of sharing his creations for fear of rejection by the experienced fans and masters he’s met while researching the book.  It’s also amazingly heartening to find out that so many of these master builders don’t think twice about Bender’s novice status, applauding his multicolored delivery vans and biplanes and encouraging him to build bigger and better stuff.  This is the wonder of Lego in that at it’s core the toy is about creating and learning and it attracts (for the most part) a legion of fans who completely believe in these principles.

At the end of the day Jonathan Bender has done a wonderful job of showcasing Lego in a way that I think anyone would find interesting, from the kid who packed away their bricks when they were twelve to the hardcore fanatic that thinks they know every fact and facet about the toys.  It’s personable, funny and interesting, not to mention taking an honest and thoughtful look at the nostalgia for Lego without slipping into the too-sweet or too-jaded that we tend to see in similar books, articles and homages.

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Okay boys, this time it’s girl’s choice only…

For this week’s Awesomely Overdue Books column I thought I’d continue on with some more Find Your Fate books from my collection, in particular some of the more girl-centric volumes.  First up are three volumes of the Jem FYF series, titled Jewels in the Dark (written by Rusty Hallock), The Video Caper (written by Jean Waricha) and The Secret of Rainbow Island (written by Judith Bauer Stamper) respectively.  There were three published Jem Find Your Fate books, though there are an additional three rumored unpublished volumes.

Though not quite as action packed as other shows animated by Sunbow back in the 80s (like G.I. Joe, the Transformers, and the Visionaries), Jem was still exciting, filled with intrigue and had its fair share of science-fiction elements, so much so that I never felt weird watching it after school.   In fact it shared a lot of the aspects that made She-Ra feel more like a cross demographic show, and not just another girl’s cartoon.  When I first cracked the cover on the Video Caper I was curious if these books would have the same bad choice pitfalls that he Transformers books featured. I was curious if you could end up getting Jem or one of the Holograms (her fashionable band-mates) killed by choosing too hastily.  I couldn’t help myself and I broke one of the cardinal rules of CYOA-style books, I flipped forward to find some of the ending pages, and sure enough, there is a death scene.  I still find this really disconcerting considering these are branded properties and kids can get really invested in the characters, even if they could make different choices next time and have Jem save the day.

Anyway, another concern I had when cracking open these books are just how well the authors handled the material.   Were they “written down” to a kid’s level?  Were they just sort of knocked-out considering the format, or did they try and put a little more effort into them?  With the Video Caper I can honestly say that Ms. Waricha dropped the ball a bit.  One of the first lines in the book is so hackneyed it’s laughable, “Before you leave , you can’t help but notice yourself in the mirror and think how truly outrageous you look…“  ‘Cause you know that Jem is truly outrageous right?  Truly, truly, truly outrageous.

Along these lines, the choices, or more accurately the paths that you take after making choices, are poorly handled as well.  The initial choice forked in two directions, and if you pick path A, lit leads to path B anyway without advancing the story or adding anything.  It’s almost as if there really is no choice.  Also there are only a handful of choices to make with each ensuing path, with most of the pages instructing to turn to a specific page with no decision-making needed.  Actually, in the Secrets of Rainbow Island there are only four choices in the entire book.  Heck the plot even gets left behind in a number of the paths.  In the Video Caper the build up to the story involves a couple of speed-bumps that are completely left out of the second half of the story including the fact that Jem and her alter ego Jerrica are expected to tour London together with Jerrica’s more-or-less boyfriend Rio (and unless Synergy projects a hologram version of one or the other, this ain’t happening.)  Also a princess is abducted in the first half of the story and in the second half this plot point is forgotten in some of the paths.

I was also surprised to see that the books were written in the second person, so the reader is not only a character in the story, but takes on the role of Jem. The Transformers books, a couple of which were also written by Judith Bauer Stamper, were in a more comfortable 3rd person narrative where the reader was urged to make choices for the Autobot and human characters.  So not only can a path end with Jem’s death, in essence the reader dies along with her.  Again, for kids I would think this could be heady stuff.  All in all I’d have to say that these Jem Find Your Fate books are pretty much at the bottom of the CYOA-style book barrel.  Not only are they painful to read, they’re also not illustrated, so there isn’t even fun stuff to look at.  These were a total cash grab by Ballantine who must have done the math and figured anything with the Jem logo would turn a profit regardless of who badly written they were.  It’s a shame too because the cartoon was pretty good and I’d hate to think there were any girls turned off to the series because of the books.

The other book I wanted to mention is titled Morgan Swift and the Kidnapped Goddess (written by Sara Hughes in 1986.)  From what I can gather the main character Swift, was created by Random House/Ballentine as an answer to Indiana Jones for girls.   Swift is a high school science teacher with a keen fashion sense and a penchant for exploring jungles and pyramids in her off time.  There are two Swift Find Your Fate books (including M.S. and the Treasure of Crocodile Key), as well as a few prose books also published by Ballantine/Random House in 1985-6.  The two Swift FYF books are actually part of a larger series of Find Your Fate books that also includes a series of Indiana Jones and James Bond (all based on A View to a Kill) books.  I suppose this was considered their action/adventure line of Find Your Fate books, though all of the books really fall into that category.

This volume is also written in the second person, which is a format very common to CYOA-style writing and one that grates on my nerves.  Probably the lest used in the history of fiction, the second person narrative is by design an affront to the reader’s sensibilities, forcing them to agree with statements of character and desire.  For instance, in the Morgan Swift book there’s a passage that reads:

“She’s your science teacher, only the coolest thing to grace the halls of Coolidge High.  She’s wearing a dark purple jumpsuit and her red leather cowboy boots.  She never looks like anybody else, and she always looks great.”

Now I can get onboard with the idea of the author using the second person perspective to force one idea on the reader, say that we think Ms. Swift is the coolest thing on two feet.  But to further suggest that the eye-piercing matchup of a dark red jumpsuit and red leather boots looks great is just too much for me.  At that moment I’m ripped from the story and all good faith from the author’s words are gone.  My suspension of disbelief is shattered, and yes I realize that this is just a kid’s book, but it shouldn’t matter.  I never feel this way reading Judy Blume or James Howe, both of which hold up to adult scrutiny.   Again, the second person is just a very difficult perspective to sell to the reader.  You have to REALLY be able to target the intended audience, and people, as much as we might believe can be completely predictable, are usually too varied to target in such a manner.

Similarly there’s an issue with prior knowledge that is in my opinion impossible to pull off without some sort of amazing familiarity to back it up.  Another line in the book reads, “It’s on the tip of your tongue to ask, ‘Is that when you were in the monastery?’”  Before this reference we literally know nothing about Ms. Swift except that she’s qualified to teach high school science, has horrible fashion sense and has spent at least a day in Southeast Asia.   So the author is forcing the reader to have instant background knowledge of Swift, and it’s very jarring.  This is where second person leads and it’s a very perilous and annoying road.  At least after this reveal the reader is informed of a slew of other rumors about Ms. Swift (she used to date Sting!), so later on this sort of trick will work better as we actually have prior knowledge.  Anyway, even though the book is written in the second person, this time you play the sidekick, a student, Shortround to Morgan Swift’s Indiana Jones.

When it comes to decision making time this raises another unfortunate issue as Swift is the main protagonist and it’s laughable that when the chips are down she’ll rely on you to lead the way.  The first choice is presented after it’s revealed that your town has a traveling art exhibit from Meronga.  After bumping into Ms. Swift at the museum she explains a little bit about a priceless wooden statue, when all of a sudden three masked men burst in and steal the artifact.  Without thinking or hesitation you follow Swift outside to her car and speed after the thieves when you’re presented with a choice of two paths.  Honestly at this point Swift is in control so why is the reader prompted to decide?

Anyway, even for these pitfalls the book reads much better than the Jem volumes.  The Swift character is strange, a mix between Indiana Jones, MacGyver and a witch.  The book does have some great illustrations by Ann Meisel as well.

In future installments of Awesomely Overdue Books I’ll get to at least one other “mostly for girls” series, a handful of Dungeons & Dragons branded romance CYOA-style books.

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What would Optimus Prime do? You Decide!

Recently a couple of blogs that I frequent celebrated their four-year anniversaries (Old Man Musings and Cavalcade of Awesome), and it got me thinking about Branded’s upcoming 4-year (which hits this coming Wednesday the 17th), but not necessarily about any jubilation. Though I’m glad to have stuck it out this long and I’ve met all sorts of great people since starting this site, what I really started thinking about was the fact that I have all kinds of stuff that I’ve accumulated over the years, specifically to write about, which has been pushed to the side. On a side note, my wife and I have been watching an inordinate amount of episodes of Clean House recently and though we’re no where near as clutter intensive than any of those families, we’ve been asking ourselves what we would do in their situation (where they’re encouraged to donate or sell the majority of their stuff for the good of an organized clean house.) The wife had even commented on my ever growing collection of Choose Your Own Adventure style books the other day, wondering when I was ever going to get around to reading them and I mentally put myself in the Clean House mode and tried to imagine getting rid of them.

All I could think of was Hell No. But I have to admit that they’ve been sitting for over two years unread (in fact, here’s where I first mentioned getting bitten by the CYOA collecting bug almost exactly two years ago), and I began to wonder when I’d have the time to tackle them. Well, now is as good a time as any I guess. I decided to start with my run of Transformers Find Your Fate books.

The Find Your Fate books published by Ballantine were potentially the biggest single competitor of Bantam’s Choose Your Own Adventure series bringing all sorts of brand-name properties to this style of children’s book entertainment. With such branded luminaries as Indiana Jones, James Bond, Dr. Who, G.I. Joe, Jem, Tales From the Crypt, Thundercats, the Three Investigators, Golden Girl and Transformers, Ballantine was betting on character familiarity to win out over the originality and popularity of the CYOA series. Ultimately Ballentine published sixty seven books under the FYF heading and they ended the series in 1987 (trying unsuccessfully to revive the franchise in 1995 with a single volume of Find Your Unfortunate Fate Tales From the Crypt), bowing out to the CYOA empire (which ran until 1998 initially and had over two hundred entries published.) Though these two publishing houses clashed throughout the 80s on the CYOA-style adventure book front, the ultimate irony is that both companies are now divisions of Random House.

Anyway, as far as the Find Your Fate series is considered, for a nostalgia buff like me, these books are all gems because of their branded nature. Though I didn’t have any Find Your Fate books while growing up, I can imagine how awesome it must have been to more or less get a chance to control the actions of some of your favorite cartoon and movie characters while reading about their adventures. To me it seems like one step closer in getting into that character’s head than just playing with a toy, and much more involving than any of the branded Atari games of the period (for all of their generic boring adventures, e.g. E.T.) So what were the Transformers books like? First off they were part of the Junior subset of FYF books, so they only clock in at around 75 pages, and they’re slightly larger in format, sort of like a pre-chapter book.

    

There were nine books in the series, the first six of which were released between December 1985 and April 1986 and were concerned (more or less) with pre-Transformers the Movie events in the timeline, while the last three books were published in September 1986, a month after the movie hit theaters and they involved the post movie characters. Here’s the list:

#1, The Dinobots Strike Back (written by Casey Todd)

#2, Battle Drive (written by Barbara & Scott Siegel)

#3, Attack of the Insecticons (written by Lynn Beach)

#4, Earthquake (written by Ann Matthews)

#5, Desert Flight (written by Jim Razzi)

#6, Decepticon Poison (written by Judith Bauer Stamper)

#7, Autobot Alert! (written by Judith Bauer Stamper)

#8, Project Brain Drain (written by Barbara & Scott Siegel)

#9, The Invisibility Factor (written by Josepha Sherman)

    

    

William Schmidt handled the artwork on all nine of the books, and was responsible for executing one of the more interesting aspects of this series of books, namely the choice to use the toy designs for the characters rather than the cartoon incarnations. This was sort of a running theme with a lot of the Transformers merchandising, in particular the early Marvel comics and a bunch of stickers and lunchboxes (which heavily used repurposed toy-packaging art.) Though a lot of toys resembled their cartoon counterparts pretty closely, there are some glaring exceptions like Ironhide and Bummblebee who look quite different, and in Ironhide’s case not at all like a robot. Also fans of the toys will surely mock Megatron’s, um, manly stature as the design of the action figure ended up with an unfortunate placement of his gun-mode’s trigger. So to see these weird designs pop up in the artwork of the books can be kind of comical at times. Also, it’s kind of weird to see Schmidt re-draw some of the characters from their exact pose on the toy packaging artwork, again something that longtime fans will notice immediately. My favorite contribution by Schmidt though involves his use of reference material for some of the background elements in the ninth book, The Invisibility Factor…

The design of a scientist’s spaceship is a direct rip of the Millennium Falcon and later on in the story the Autobots are flying through an asteroid field in a ship that is unmistakably one of the Imperial Shuttles from Return of the Jedi. I sure hope those Autobots have the proper code clearance to get by the Star Destroyers and to continue on to Endor…

Schmidt also worked on a series of Star Wars novels in the 80s, the Lando Calrissien books, so my guess is that he had some SW reference material lying around and decided, “Why not?”

Along with the choice to use the character designs from the toys as opposed to the cartoon, the writers were also given notes that appear to have come from the Marvel comics instead of the Sunbow show. The most obvious example of this is the inclusion of the human character Buster Witwicky in place of the more common character Spike from the cartoon. In both the comics and the cartoons (and the new movies as well, though Shia Labeof is playing a variation named Sam) the Autobots are aided by the Witwicky family, namely Spike (in the cartoons), Buster (in the comics), and their father Sparkplug (comics and cartoons.) Whereas Buster was initially the same character as Spike for the comic book continuity, he was eventually retroactively turned into Spike Brother when Spike was introduced into the comic series as the Headmaster counterpart to Fortress Maximus (as he was also on the toy.) Anyway, the books feature Buster, which leads me to believe that the authors were probably given a series bible that related to the comics, as well as character designs from the actual toys. My guess is that this was a little bit confusing to kids who didn’t read the comics and were just fans of the cartoon.

    

Similarly some of the Tranformers characters are miscast in the last three books of the Find Your Fate series, in particular Hot Rod who hadn’t turned into Rodimus Prime even though the books feature Galvatron, so the stories are definitely post-movie in continuity. Maybe the writers were working from a bible that didn’t reveal the ending of the movie? Also there are a handful of characters that pop up in these last three books which were killed off in the movie, namely Prowl.

All in all, as CYOA-style books go, these Transformers Find Your Fate Junior books are sort of on the annoying side in that they read as if there is only one true path through the story. Though I’m not steeped in the CYOA community (if there even is one, and I’m sure there is), my guess would be that there is a fundamental rift between fans as to how the books read in terms of decision-making. The are two camps as I see it, one in which the decision trees give the impression that there is a right and wrong choice, and by continuing to make the “right” decision leads to the some sort of prize (be it a longer more satisfying read or the “best” ending), and a second in which the decision-making is less about winning the adventure and more about crafting the story as you go.

As a kid I fell into the former camp, but as an adult reader I’m way more interested in the latter concept, that this style of writing is to make the adventures more involving by giving the reader a chance to participate. This also strengthens the idea that you could read these books numerous times choosing differently each time to get a completely different, yet satisfying experience. The thing is that not all CYOA-style books are written so that you can feel satisfied in making whatever choice you desire, in particular these Transformers volumes. In a lot of cases the choices are clearly right and wrong, and by choosing the “wrong” option you’re directed to a bitter end for the characters involved. This in essence punishes the reader for making a hasty, in most cases violent or greedy, choice and promotes the idea that there is only one correct path through the story and the trick is to find it. In most of these Transformers books there is one point that a choice leads to a character’s grisly death. I actually find this kind of disturbing as it really puts this outcome in the reader’s hands, and for some kids this must have been heart wrenching. Heck watching Optimus die in the ’86 movie was bad enough without me having to feel responsible on top! Little Bobby is so excited about the prospect of defeating Galvatron one and for all that he decides to have Hot Rod and Kup take an invisibility device away from it’s designer, only to have Hot Rod disintegrated by a booby trapped self-destruct option on the device.

On the other hand, maybe this is the sort of tactic that really hammers home moral responsibility, much more so than the famous PSAs at the end of so many of 80s cartoons. Taking the horror movie route and illustrating that bad behavior results in death.

I do have to say that the stories end up mirroring the three act structure of the cartoon episodes pretty well, and the overall concepts are relatively fun. The various writers do a pretty good job of sticking to the overall character traits as well, so these are a fun way to expand on the universe of the cartoons and comics if you’re a fan of the Transformers. Oh and for all you kids out there, if we are going to treat these books as if they’re a game to win, don’t cheat by writing in the book…

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Fee, Fi, Fo Fom, this Rodeo is really Dumb!

During this past Halloween season the wife and I were browsing around some of the outlet stores in North Georgia and I had another one of those lightening strike nostalgic moments while in an antique shop.  Sitting on top of a stack of old records was a copy of Scooby Doo and the Mystery of the Rider Without a Head record and storybook issued by Peter Pan records back in 1977.  I’ve mentioned this feeling before, but it’s my favorite sort of nostalgia moment, the kind when I can’t believe I forget whatever it is that made me slap myself upside the head with disbelief.  There are plenty of these bits of pop culture flotsam and jetsam that I come across that will put a smile on my face or make me stop for a second and say “Huh”, but it’s really a great an rare feeling when I feel like a part of me has been lost and is there sitting in front of me again.

This particular book must have been a hand-me-down from my sister as I was born the same year it was released and probably wouldn’t have used or appreciated it until I was five or six.  I’m also not sure how often I actually listened to the record as I didn’t recall much when I listened to it recently…

(You can listen to the record at the great read-along site, the Secret Cavern of Read-Along Treasures.) What really grabbed me when I found this in the antique shop, and what I really remember pouring over as a kid is the interior artwork.  Unfortunately the artist on this particular book wasn’t credited, and I have a feeling it’s because it was more of a quickie in-house art department rush job as opposed to shopping the work out to freelance talent.

Honestly, looking back at this stuff so many years later I have to say that I’m a bit underwhelmed at the quality.  Actually it’s pretty sloppy in a lot of places, smacking of a bad tracing job.  The line work is very stiff with almost no grace or variance to the line width and weight, but even for all of this, I still love it.  It makes me feel like I’m six years old again…

My favorite bit in the book is the Rider Without a Head, not only because of the monster-esque subject matter, but because the character is rendered with the most detail and attention throughout.  In fact, the stiff art style paired with the watercolor in the book reminded me of the work of one of my favorite artists, Quinton Hoover.  When I started playing the Magic: the Gathering collectable card game back in the mid 90s, Hoover artwork was the one that really stood out and spoke to me.  I’m a big fan of the exacting lines and the colored pencil & watercolor work in the color.  It’s the essence of comic book art, minus the thick black shadowing.  There’s something in this type of clean line work that makes me think of cartoons or the type of simple effective illustration used in product packaging.

Even though the artwork in the Scooby Doo book isn’t nearly as elegant as Quniton Hoover’s work (example of which you can see here and here), it makes me wonder if spending hours pouring over the book helped to predispose me to enjoying this sort of clean style (though obviously there were the hundreds of hours of cartoon watching and comic book reading that didn’t hurt.)  Looking at the pieces above and below, I really do see a close connection to Hoover’s style, so much so that I would have to say that there is some sort of connection (as tenuous as it seems.)  At the end of the day it’s another piece of the puzzle at least.

On a side note, I thought it was interesting how on-model the above image of Scooby is compared to the art in the rest of the book.  You see this exact same pose repeated in the final image in the book, again leading me to think that a good bit of the artwork was traced from other existing Scooby Doo work.

 

 

Though I had a handful of other read-along storybook and record sets (namely Gremlins, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, and the various weird Star Wars exopanded universe books like Planet of the Hoojibs), I don’t remember if I had any others released by Peter Pan Records.  I seem to remember the company character icon pretty well though.  I wonder if it was from pouring over this Scooby Doo book so many times?

I am going to choose my OWN adventure…

I thought I’d take a moment and talk about my current nostalgia obsession. I’ve been spending the last three or four months scouring my local used bookstores for all the Choose You Own Adventure style books that I can find. I only had a handful growing up, most of which were books from the actual Choose Your Own Adventure series, but there were a couple others that I read and re-read a few times including a Marvel Super Heroes Gamebook featuring Wolverine, and one of the Which Way series of books starring Batman. Though I loved both of these latter books because of the characters, I always sort of thought of them as CYOA knock offs because they didn’t have that branding.

Well, when I first started buying up all of the CYOA books I could find I was getting a little discouraged because I wasn’t finding all that many. In fact, without resorting to eBay I only managed to find about 20 (there were something like a hundred and fifty or so I think), and another 5 that my friend has had since he was a kid. One of the reasons that I wanted to track these books down was to get some more material for the site as I’m getting towards the end of my sticker collection (I have a good 6 months worth of material left, but I’ve sort of tapped that reservoir), and 25 books just isn’t going to cut it. Then I remembered the Batman and Wolverine books and it got me thinking about what other CYOA style paperbacks were available in the 80s. Let me go on record as saying that there were a ton, and I’ve been buying them left and right. I was sort of blown away when I started taking stock of the books that are stacking up on my shelves. I’ve found no less than 20 different series that range in branding from generic/original (like CYOA, Find Your Fate, Which Way, Your Amazing Adventures, and Wizards, Warriors and You) to a ton of popular 80s properties (including Marvel, DC, D&D, G.I. Joe, Transformers, Thundercats, Jem, Indiana Jones, James Bond, Star Trek, and even Blackstone the magician.) I’ve even discovered the world of paperback gamebooks (including stuff like Lone Wolf, Fighting Fantasy, and Sagard), which are basically one player role playing games that act a lot like CYOA style books except you use dice and make decisions based on what weapons and spells your character has amassed.

What’s kind of crazy is that I’m currently about a hundred or so paperbacks in to a collection that I think might just be gargantuan. The good news is that I should have plenty to talk about when I finally tackle how I want to approach these books. The bad news is that since there are so darned many of them I’m not sure where to start. I guess there are worse problems to have though. Anyway, I thought I’d share a few cover scans to give an idea of the kinds of books I’ve found and what’s going to come up eventually on Branded…

First up we have an entry in the Twist-a-Plot series (I don’t have the date handy as I type this.)  I was completely unaware of these books growing up and though I’ve been scouring the kids section of used bookstores for years I never paid any attention to these because they’re kind of light on the page count. I have a couple that are around the CYOA standard (which is around 110 pages), but most seem to be around 50 to 60.

Next we have book one in the Lazer Tag series published by TSR (again, don’t have the book in front of me so the date escapes me.) TSR, the publishers of the Dungeons and Dragons roleplaying game system, seems to be the second largest publisher of CYOA style books (next to Bantam who were responsible for CYOA, the Time Machine series, as well as the Be An Interplanetary Spy series.) Not only did they publish about 50 novels in their D&D branded CYOA series called Endless Quest, they were also responsible for a series of Marvel Super Hero books and the above Lazer Tag books.

Last up today is one the rarer series (well at least in suburban Georgia), the Heart Quest books, which were also published by TSR and took place in the D&D universe. These were aimed at girls and I believe are more in the vein of romances (which ought to be a trip to read.) They even have die-cut covers, so that when you open the book you get a full version of the picture on the cover. Classy. Anyway, I thought I’d throw these up on the site since I haven’t made an update in awhile. Hopefully I’ll get back on schedule with more Peel Here columns next week.