Category Archives: Branded in the 80s

Peel Here & Scream, Day 4!

It’s the first Sunday of the Countdown to Halloween.  It’s been a pretty good October so far.  The girlfriend and I decorated our place yesterday so there’s plenty of spooky stuff and orange lights all around the house.  Really getting into the spirit.  Today I have another Hallmark sticker sheet to share, this time from 1983.  Again, the illustration work on these is really fun and very much of the early 80s.  Just look at that ten ton chin on the witch in that top left sticker!  Love it.

1983 Hallmark

Tomorrow starts the first full week of the month so check back by for some more Halloweeny sticker fun. Though I’m not helping to run it this year, I urge anyone who digs this kind of season blog fun to check out the official Countdown to Halloween site for a list of hundreds of other sites participating in the month-long madness.


Peel Here & SCREAM! Day 3…

Welcome back to the Branded in the 80s Halloween Sticker Spooktac…er…actually I’ve decided to rename the countdown this year at the totally on point suggestion by my good buddy Paxton (of the Cavalcade of Awesome and my co-host on the Cult Film Club)! He came up with the Peel Here & Scream idea and I’m running with it.  Anyway, It’s day three and I’m moving right along through my favorite decade, this time to 1982 and yet another Hallmark monster-filed sticker sheet…

1982 Hallmark Halloween Stickers 3

This sheet is similar to the one I shared yesterday, but with a slightly cleaner illustration style.  I love the inclusion of the London After Midnight-esque vampire and the grave-digger skeleton.  Also, patches must have been huge in 82 because practically every character on this sheet has some sort of patch on their garments.  Now that I’m thinking about it I love the look of patches on a ghost as it reinforces the who entity under a sheet visual.  The one aspect of this sheet that’s off is the glaringly inappropriate wizard character.  Sigh, c’mon Hallmark, get your act together.  Monsters or bust!

Come back by tomorrow for another piece of vintage Halloween sticker ephemera, and be sure to head on over to the Countdown to Halloween to check out a metric ton of other sites participating in this month-long celebration of spooky goodness.


Peel Here: Halloween Sticker Spooktacular, Day 2…

Continuing the Halloweeny sticker fun this month, today I have another sheet of vintage Hallmark stickers.  This one hails from 1981 and has a really nice mix of monsters in a very fun early 80s illustration style.  I really miss this kind of loose cartooning in merchandising and company mascots…

1981 Hallmark Halloween stickers

I also really dug this sheet for the monsters that are included.  It’s pretty standard to see Vampires, Frankenstein’s Monsters, Witches and Werewolves, but this sheet also features Hags, Pumpkin-men, carnival barker skeletons and even a devil.  Pretty cool.

Swing back by tomorrow for another sheet of vintage Halloween stickers, and remember to check out the Countdown to Halloween website for a huge list of other participating websites in this season event!


Peel Here: Halloween Sticker Spooktacular

It’s hard to break tradition, and the October tradition at Branded is to do my very best to treat write about or share something Halloweeny every day until Halloween.  It’s the annual Countdown to Halloween, and this year is my 10th time celebrating this at the site.  There are a couple of changes this year for those keeping track.  First of all, I decided that it was time to step down from helping to run the official Countdown to Halloween site that I’ve been working on with John Rozum for the past five years.  It’s been an honor and a pleasure, and I still love working on it, but over the last year I’ve not only made a move across country, but I’ve also essentially started work on a second full time job as a freelance graphic designer.  If only there were 36 hours in a day.  Second, this lack of time has also bitten into my plans for a countdown this year and I’ve decided to not sweat it when it comes to a well developed theme.  Last year’s Month of Monster Squad was a crap ton of work and I’m so glad I was able to get it all done.  So this year I’m easing off on the throttle a little and have decided to concentrate on sharing some fun Halloweeny sticker ephemera.

So with that being said, here’s the first piece of vintage spooky sticker goodness that I just stumbled upon this past year.  This is a Hallmark sticker sheet hailing from 1980 and it features some seriously badass monsters totally rocking out.  This is the first time I’ve seen a one-off sticker sheet and thought that it absolutely needs to be adapted into an ongoing cartoon series!

1980 Hallmark Halloween Rock stickers

Also, I need that Frankenstein’s Monster illustration on a t-shirt pronto!

So check back each day this month for some more sticker fun.  And make sure to head on over to the Countdown to Halloween site where John Rozum is still keeping the spooky candles lit at the site which hosts a list of all the blogs participating in the Halloween festivities.


Thunder in Your Heart Thunderdome!

Back in 1997 when I first saw the Paul Thomas Anderson flick Boogie Nights I felt like my brain was going to melt.  It wasn’t just that the film was amazing, it was and is still one of my favorite Anderson films, but it was one of the first times I experienced the weird pangs of childhood nostalgia in a situation that made zero sense to me.  When Mark Whalberg’s Dirk Diggler holes up in a studio to record a cover of Stan Bush’s The Touch from the 1986 animated Transformers: The Movie soundtrack my jaw dropped.  It’s like a pop culture Thunderdome.  Two pop culture properties enter, one new amazing property leaves…


This was pre-internet and a good four or five years before there was even a murmur of an 80s nostalgia wave about to hit pop culture. At the time I felt like I was the only person on the planet who adored the Transformers movie, let alone owned a copy of the soundtrack on CD and cassette. So the thought of Anderson (or whoever was helping to arrange the soundtrack for Boogie Nights) was aware of that song seemed weirdly impossible to me. Fast forward a decade and with a while new world of internet chat rooms, message boards, podcasts and blogs I realized that the fandom for Bush’s The Touch was much larger than I ever would have guessed. Still, that cross-pollination of musical pop culture fun has remained a fascinating moment for me.

Well, a couple weeks ago while on vacation with my girlfriend Jaime in Myrtle Beach, we stumbled on another instance of pop culture musical worlds colliding that again left me in a state of shock and awe. While digging through Spotify for some fun 80s era anthems to serve as our soundtrack as we made our final approach to the beach house, Jaime queued up one of my favorite songs, John Farnham’s Thunder in Your Heart from the Rad soundtrack. I’m pretty sure the whole Rad soundtrack is up on Spotify, but for once she was looking for that specific song and when it popped up in the search something amazing happened. It popped up with multiple results, two of which had me doing a double take. Right under John Farnham were versions of the song performed by two other 80s anthem powerhouses, Stan Bush and Joe Esposito! I’ve already mentioned Bush’s The Touch from Transformers, but for those unfamiliar with Esposito’s work, he worked on a little song you might have heard from the Karate Kid soundtrack called You’re The Best. Now there are a lot of great 80s anthems, and most folks will quickly point to bands like Huey Lewis and the News or Journey as some of the best at the craft. But for me, it’s all about the triumvirate of soundtracks from Rad, Transformers, and the Karate Kid when it comes to super motivational, montage rock.


I know Rad has a very rabid fan base, but for all that love, the film has still yet to make the transition to the modern home video age.  It’s never being officially released on DVD, let alone Blu-Ray or HD streaming, and the VHS release was only aimed at video stores and not the general public. Though I’ve heard through the grapevine that this is finally about to change next year, Rad is for all intents and purposes a pretty obscure cult flick. I’ve talked Ad nauseam about my love for the film (just take a look at the trading cards I designed for the flick, the episodes of the Cult Film club where we discussed the flick and interviewed star Bill “Cru” Allen, or my review of Mr. Allen’s memoir), but I’ve never really written all that much about the soundtrack.  It’s an album that I love dearly.  I own it on vinyl, on a bootleg, semi-official CD pressing that came out in the mid-2000′s, and even the official digital release that came out a couple of years ago.  The whole album is great (Sparks is probably in my top five favorite bands), but the handful of John Farnham songs, specifically Break the Ice and Thunder in Your Heart, are some of my all time favorite anthems.  So when I found out that not just one, but both of my other favorite anthem singers covered Farnham’s song from Rad I was gobsmacked.

John Farnham

John Farnham

As soon as we got back from vacation I had to figure out more about these Esposito and Bush TiYH covers, as well as the origins of the Farnham song.  I never really stopped to think about who actually wrote the song.  Honestly, I figured that it was a Farnham original, especially since he provided three songs for the Rad soundtrack, I was under the impression that he was contracted out by the production to provide some original music for the film.  As it turns out though, not only did Farnham not write the song, I think it may have even predated Rad.  In fact there is a possibility that the song was actually written with the intention of debuting on a completely different soundtrack.  Before I dig into that I wanted to take a second and look at the duo who is actually responsible for writing Thunder in Your Heart, Gloria Sklerov & Lenny Macaluso.

Left: Lenny Macaluso & Tina Turner. Right: Gloria Sklerov & Stan Bush

Left: Lenny Macaluso & Tina Turner. Right: Gloria Sklerov & Stan Bush

Lenny Macaluso and Gloria Sklerov are a couple of the unsung heroes of 80s era anthems.  Macaluso was the main composer on the show My Two Dads, co-wrote “The Touch” with Stan Bush and the duo wrote and composed the romance theme “Let the Love Begin” from Thrashin’ and more importantly “Thunder in Your Heart”.  Sklerov also co-wrote with Stan Bush.  The duo won an Emmy for their work on the song “Until I was Loved By You” for the soap opera Guiding Light.  Sklerov has also written songs for The Carpenters, Dusty Springfield and the song “Ain’t Love Good Tonight” for the film Clint Eastwood flick Every Which Way But Loose.  It’s rare that the composers ever get much of the spotlight, but the duo are definitely an important in bringing us some iconic 80s music for sure.

So let’s take a look at the actual versions of the song.  From what I can tell there are four versions that I know of,  two are from Rad (performed by John Farnham), one that made it into the film and on the soundtrack which is 3 minutes and 38 seconds long, and a second, alternate extended version that was released when the soundtrack was released digitally which clocks in at 4 minutes, 38 seconds.  Then there is a cover of the song performed by Joe Espositio that I’m having a little bit of trouble nailing down release information for.  That track clocks in at 3 minutes, 18 seconds and is the shortest version of the four.  Lastly, there’s a version by Stan Bush that was released this past year with his latest album, The Ultimate.  That version clocks in at 3 minutes, 30 seconds.  All four versions feature the same basic overall structure with slight differences in pace and timing, and in Esposito’s case some alternate lyrics.

In my mind, the Farnham version from the film and Soundtrack is the definitive version.  It’s the one I heard first and the version that just…sounds right, for lack of a better description. The second that song plays I see the qualifying race from Rad in my mind’s eye, without fail.  I know for a lot of people “You’re the Best” is the go to 80s anthem, and I do love it, but whenever I’m out running and need to finish that last mile or something like that, it’s TiYH for me.  As far as the difference between the original and extended versions of the song, the longer one is pretty much the same (though the guitar solo comes in a few seconds earlier) and at the 3:38 mark the song slows down with a more groovy feel to the beat in the background as it plays out the chorus one more time.

Here are the lyrics for those not familiar…

Thunder in Your Heart – John Farnham Version

You’re taking a chance, risking it all
For the thrill of the moment
Taking a stand, you ain’t gonna fall
And you’ve always known it
They’re dying to shake you,
Trying their best to break you
And though the going is rough, you’re going home as a hero

‘Cause there’s thunder in your heart
Every move is like lightning
It’s the power you feel when you get your taste of the glory
There’s a fire gonna start
And you know they’re going under
You can light the dark when they hear your heart of thunder.

Cry of the wind, spirit of fire
The heart of a lion
Taking control, burning desire
Your flame never dying

Don’t lose that feeling
Don’t ever stop believing
There’s one more moment of truth and you’re gonna face it

‘Cause there’s thunder in your heart
Every move is like lightning
It’s the power you feel when you get your taste of the glory
There’s a fire gonna start
and you know they’re going under
you can light the dark when they hear your heart of thunder.

When they hear your heart of thunder.

‘Cause there’s thunder in your heart
And you know they’re going under
You can light the dark when they hear your heart of thunder.

There is thunder in your heart
And you know they’re going under
You can light the dark when they hear your heart of thunder.

Powerful stuff.  So, as I mentioned above, as far as I knew up until a couple weeks ago the song was a John Farnham original, but now that I’ve heard the Joe Esposito version there are a few context clues that are making me wonder if it might pre-date the version from Rad.  First off, Esposito’s version is a little cleaner or stripped down, not as heavily layered with instrumentation.  Again, I haven’t been able to find any concrete release information for his version of the song, so I have no idea if it’s modern (like the Bush cover) or if it was released in the 80s when he was in his heyday.


Left: Joe Esposito

Another clue that makes me wonder is that there are some variations with the lyrics in the Esposito version.  Maybe it’s just me but it seems weird to think that Esposito would bother changing the lyrics if he were covering the song.  The differences between the two versions is also not stark, there really seems to be no obvious reason as to why the lyrics would have been changed.  It’s mainly the line “It’s the power you feel when you get your taste of the glory”, which Esposito changes to, “And you hit the mark with your hand on the wall you’ve been striking”.

Again, to me this feels like a slight shift in how the song was conceived and how it was potentially changed to fit in a bit better with the placement in the movie Rad.  Overall, the song is all about pushing through and kicking butt when the going gets tough.  But the line “It’s the power you feel when you get your taste of the glory” feels like it’s pointing towards winning in a competition, not just pushing through a tough point.  Esposito’s variation just reads a little more broad to me, and that feels like a first draft.  The theory that I have is that Esposito was the first to perform the song, very likely for inclusion in the Karate Kid soundtrack, but for some reason it was pulled.  Maybe Allee Willis was working on “You’re The Best” in tandem with Macaluso & Sklerov working on “Thunder in Your Heart”.  Maybe they were both in consideration for the final karate tournament montage.  Who knows.  But that’s the theory I’m going with as it’s all just conjecture on my part.  In an effort to be thorough I’ve reached out to both Macaluso and Sklerov (both are on Facebook), but have yet to hear back.

As for his version itself, I dig it, but I’m not nearly as fond of it as I am of Farnham & Bush’s versions.  His voice is raspier and his guitar solo isn’t nearly as fun as the other two.  That being said, there are some fun aspects to this version.  For one it’s much heavier on backing keyboards which I do enjoy, and at around the 2 minute 10 second mark there are some over the top thunderstorm sound effect overlays that are so goofy and spot on that you have to love them (like the Door’s Rider’s on the Storm…)


Last, but certainly not least, sees the reteaming of Lenny Macaluso & Stan Bush for a modern cover of Thunder in Your Heart that is in many ways similar to the Farnham performance of the song.  It was included on Bush’s most recent album, The Ultimate, and I hope that there are a bunch of Bush fans that will be exposed to the wonder that is TiYH.  Maybe, just maybe someone will dig a little deeper into the song and it’ll lead them to discovering the Rad soundtrack and eventually the film itself.  That’s what I hope at least.

So how is Bush’s cover?  Again, I enjoy it, but not as much as Farnham’s.  Bush has a much more tremble-y voice than Farnham, and he plays the song at a quicker pace. Because of this he doesn;t pause on the beats quite as much and to me it loses some of the power of the anthem.  There’s an art to performing a heart pounding song that really grabs you by the metaphorical balls and gets you pumped.  I think a big part of that is knowing when to be fast with a lot of intensity and energy, and when to pull back and let the audience soak in what they’re hearing.  Bush misses a lot of those dramatic beats in the song in my opinion.  On the other hand his solo is probably the best of the three, and like Esposito, Bush layers on thunderstorm effects and amps up the keyboards. So it’s not a total loss.

Before I sat down to write this article I was chatting with my girlfriend Jaime about it and she had a brilliantly silly idea that I totally fell in love with.  She suggested we create the audio equivalent all three versions of these songs battling it out for supremacy, in an environment like Thunderdome (from the 3rd Mad Max film.)  So she set to work to merging all three tracks into one, realigning them so that they all play basically at the same pace.  We call this the Thunder in Your Heart: The Thunderdome Remix.  It’s a cacophony of insanity, but it’s also probably the first time that John Farnham, Stan Bush, and Joe Esposito have every all played together at once (virtually that is!)

You can listen or down the Thunderdome Remix here


Retro Con or Bust…

A couple weekends ago my girlfriend Jaime and I made the trek up to Oaks, Pennsylvania for Retro Con, a relatively recent toy and pop culture convention that I’ve wanted to check out for a few years and I had an absolute blast.


There was a time in my life when I never missed a local comic or pop culture convention that was within sane driving distance, usually Dragon Con in Atlanta which I hit up every year between 1994-2009 or so.  As I get older though, my tolerance for waiting in 4-hour ticket lines, browsing over-priced dealers rooms, and wading through sticky, sweltering masses of humanity to get access to bathrooms or food stalls has almost evaporated.  Honestly, there’s usually not all that much that entices me to come out.  So when I first heard about Retro Con I was a feeling pretty dubious about attending, but after hearing a bunch of online friends raving about the show I decided it finally time to check it out.


First and foremost, the thing that had me the most stoked about attending was finally getting the chance to meet a bunch of folks who I’d only known through Twitter and Facebook that I knew were going to be at the show.  Upon reflection I’m bummed that I didn’t have the presence of mind to take pictures with all of the folks I met, but at least I got to pop into this pic with the really swell Classick of the Cold Slither Podcast (@classickmateria – and I totally swiped that picture from him!)  I also got the opportunity to meet and chat with Dean Schaeffer (aka @LamarRevenger), who has been endlessly cool and supportive of Branded pretty much since it’s inception (he was just as rad, jovial, and gregarious as I’d imagined.)  I also had the opportunity to rub elbows with a bunch of other swell folks like John Kent (aka @JohnDoctorKent, indie movie producer and the new caretaker of Robo Force), @MeisterShake (who has one hell of an impressive collection of toys), Jonathan Zelenak (aka @TheSewerDen, a very dapper man with an awesome take on TMNT fandom), the very cool @NecroticDoctor (who also have a very cool toy and pop culture collection), William Bruce West (aka @WilliamBWest whose trivia skill is basically like that robot on Jeopardy, only he specializes in arcane pop culture knowledge and sitcoms), Jason Gross (aka @RD80s) & Wyatt Bloom (aka @infamouswb) the duo behind Agents of Mask, not to mention Jason’s badass nostalgia site Rediscover the 80s!  It’s been a few years since I was able to meet a bunch of online folks in real life like this, so that was a pretty awesome experience and now I can totally put faces and names to Twitter handles.  Next time I’m gonna have to remember to get more pictures…

As far as the convention itself, there were a couple of things that I was getting excited about before the show.  Though the announced guest list was pretty short, there were a handful of folks attending that were instrumental in making my childhood 2000% more fun.  In particular I was really looking forward to meeting Michael Bell, the gentleman who provided the voice acting for a ton of my favorite cartoon characters.  He’s probably most recognized as the voice of Duke on the G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero cartoon, but he also brought life to a ton of other characters including Grouchy Smurf, Sideswipe & Prowl from the Transformers, and Hiro on Spiral Zone just to name a few.  And as much as I love those cartoons (and his Duke was basically the voice of my internal monologue moral center as a kid), the one project he worked on that means the most to me, the one that fills me with the most nostalgia for my childhood is the work he did on the 1977 A&M Halloween Horrors story and sound effect record.


I’ve written at length about this album before, but the 14 minute Story of Halloween short on Side A is something that I’ve listened to hundreds of times over the past 38 years.  My parents picked this record up the year I was born and it was a staple of every Halloween season all throughout my childhood.  I used to drag this album and my portable record player into my closet as a kid and listen to it over and over in the dark, to a point where I practically know every second of it by heart.  So when I read that Bell would be attending the show I knew that if nothing else I had to track him down, shake his hand and get him to sign my copy of the record.


The look on his face when I handed him the record was worth the 4-hour round trip to the convention alone.  I can’t be sure, but I have a feeling that I may be the only person who has ever brought this up to him to sign, and I’m so happy to have gotten the chance to tell him thank you for the years of entertainment.

Again, though the guest list was short, the folks that made it out to the show were pretty damn cool.  Not only did I get to meet Duke in person, but sitting just a couple tables to the left was the legendary Rankin/Bass voice actor Larry Kenney, Lion-O himself!


Aside from the DVD collection and a couple action figures I don’t have a ton of Thundercats stuff that I could get him to autograph, so I thought it would be fun to bring the first issue of the Thundercats magazine.  As much as I like vintage toys and DVDs, and even though Kenney had nothing whatsoever to do with the publication of the magazine, my heart really lies with vintage ephemera so that seemed like the perfect thing to bring.  I’m glad I did too, because after shaking his hand, saying thank you and asking for an autograph, he picked up the magazine, flipped through it, and then opened it up to the middle and took a really big whiff before signing it.  I guess Mr. Kenney appreciates the smell of vintage paper as much as I do!  There were a few other cool actors on hand, Doug Stone who played Matt Trakker on M.A.S.K. and John Moschitta, Jr. who starred in the 80s era Micro Machine commercials as well as voicing Blur in Transformers: The Movie.  There were a couple other voice actors and puppeteers on hand, but none that I had the opportunity to meet on Saturday.

When I wasn’t hanging around the back of the con blathering about the 80s and cartoons to Michael Bell, my girlfriend Jaime and I had a lot of fun perusing the dealer’s room.  Unlike most conventions I’ve been to, Retro Con’s dealer’s room was packed to the gills with vendors selling vintage toys and ephemera.  I mean, I was kind of blown away by the selection and the prices.  Usually it seems like dealer’s rooms are seriously overpriced as the sort of unspoken agreement is that the attendees are traveling out to attend a show to find stuff they don’t normally find in antique and comic shops in their area, then they’re willing to drop a little more cash than usual.  I didn’t get that vibe here at all which was pretty damn refreshing.  I mean I saw a vintage Metroplex on one table that was only missing a couple of accessories for $10!  I also found that most of the vendors I chatted with were willing to haggle, so if one was inclined there were a ton of good deals on vintage toys to be had.

Jaime and I both walked away with a few small treasures, but by far the coolest thing we found on the floor that weekend was a booth that specialized in custom built light boxes that had vintage arcade game marquees.  When Jaime saw the marquee for the TMNT game we knew that piece was going home with us…


Rounding out our experience was the fun of people watching at the show.  It’s pretty common that a bunch of folks will cosplay at conventions these days (heck, I see Stormtroopers, Ghostbusters, and Klingons doing Toys For Tots outside of Toys ‘R Us each year), but the folks who decked themselves out at this show seemed to focus their creative efforts more on 80s era cartoon properties.  I saw a really nice Miles Mayhem from M.A.S.K., a whole squadron of Cobra characters from G.I. Joe (including a Serpentor complete with working air chariot!), and a few other fun costumes, but hands down, my favorite cosplayers of the event were the Misfits…


Stormer and Roxy even stuck the familiar box art poses for this shot which was a nice touch. All in all, if you’re looking for a show that caters more towards the 80s era nostalgia and toy crowd, Retro Con is a much better answer than the typical Wizard World and Comic Con shows.  Not nearly as congested with people, but still a lot of good deals and fun to be had on the floor.  I’m really looking forward to hitting up the show again in 2016…

These Should Exist: the Jem & the Holograms edition!

With the release of the first two trailers for the new big screen, live action adaptation of Jem & the Holograms only a couple of months away it’s had me thinking a lot about the original cartoon and toy line and what made those so special to me growing up in the 80s.  I pretty much have zero interest in the new movie because I feel like the production has completely shrugged off the original concept and vision of the property that it’s all but unrecognizable.  In fact it feels like a more earnest adaptation of the Hannah Montana television series, which was itself a lesser derivative of the original Jem cartoon.  On a brighter note, I finally managed to pick up the first five issues of the IDW comic book adaptation of Jem written by Kelly Thompson and lavishly illustrated by Sofie (formerly Ross) Campbell, a favorite artist of mine for the past 15 years or so.

Jem comic

The comic series is great and manages to hit all the notes of the original while still updating the plot and characters into a more modern take.  We hear a lot about comic book adaptations and mining comics for film these days, but this is the type of material and a philosophy for how to write fan favorite material that Hollywood just isn’t grasping.  That said, I’m not trying to knock the wind out of the film industry, though if there are ever any executives out there reading this, you’re getting it wrong.  Anyway, since I’ve been diving back into the story of Jem a lot lately I thought it would be the perfect time to try my hand at designing another set of trading cards that SHOULD have existed back in the 80s but for whatever reason never happened…

Jem_Wrapper_v1    Jem_Wrapper_v2

Like the previous sets I created (or co-created) for The Monster Squad, Adventures in Babysitting, Rad, Young Guns and Young Guns II, I had a blast working on these.  I love trying to slip into the creative mindset of a Topps employee circa 1985 when laying out and utilizing artwork to create these wax wrapper and card designs.  Finding colors that work well with the content or trying to make the cards dynamic yet still true to the aesthetic of the 80s…


Jem_Cards_1_combo     Jem_Cards_3_Combo

First and foremost, since there is a lot of gorgeous Jem & the Holograms toy box art for each of the characters I wanted to highlight that before utilizing any of the animation imagery.  Though there were some cartoon series that had trading card sets in the 80s (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Masters of the Universe immediately spring to mind), the majority of trading card sets seemed to focus mainly on film and live action TV.  Also, the cartoon sets tended to add speech bubbles with puns and dialogue to the cards and I really didn’t want to do that.  It’s not like I feel I’d have to per-se, but it would be more accurate which is half of what I’m striving for when making these sets…

Jem_Cards_4_Combo     Jem_Cards_5_Combo


Jem_Cards_7_combo     Jem_Cards_6_combo

The crazy 80s-inspired design of these cards is also a bit personal for me because I was able to tap into my childhood experience growing up in central Florida.  The color scheme I went with is heavily evocative of what I remember seeing all over the place from the design on the scratch-off lottery tickets that became legal around 1988.  It’s a mix of a beachy feel with a splash of flamingo, aqua and neon.  I had so many pairs of surf & skate shirts and shorts that sported these colors…


Jem_Cards_11_combo     Jem_Cards_12_combo


Making these cards was also an excuse to seek out a ton of Jem-related research materials including interviews with series mastermind Christy Marx, making-of featurettes from the Shout! Factory DVD release, as well as diving back into watching the cartoon itself.  I always love re-watching cartoons when I’m doing research for a project like this because it makes me stop and take a closer look at what’s going on both in the episode and behind the scenes…

Jem_Cards_13_combo     Jem_Cards_17_combo



Jem_Cards_16_combo     Jem_Cards_15_combo

All in all, I think this is my favorite of the digital trading cards sets I’ve worked on solo thus far.  And at the risk of sounding like a broken record I really wish that I had a set of these in hard copy cards to stick in my collecting binders sandwiched in between my Robocop and Harry and the Hendersons cards.  Maybe someday.

*UPDATE* this is pretty darn cool

These are excellent. Hasbro should totally do these.

Posted by Christy Marx Clubhouse on Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Of Mystery Boxes, Laserpunks, and Kismet…

A few months ago my buddy Ed over at AEIOU & Sometimes Why tipped me off to a mystery box swap that he was planning for this summer.  Basically, he filled a box full of miscellaneous fun stuff (movies, toys, and ephemera) and a host toy (a Dracula Mego figure that also travels around with the box.)  The idea is to send the box out across the country to various folks who sign up who can take whatever they want from the box and then add more before sending it on to the next recipient.  I’ve participated in a couple of fun experiments like this over the last decade (once while hosting Spock and another time hosting King Kong), though this time there would be the added excitement of getting to peruse a box full of free mystery items as well as getting a chance to donate some cool stuff that I’ve had lying around gathering dust that could find much better homes.

The box arrived on my doorstep this past week and my girlfriend Jaime and I had a blast fishing through the box.  There were a handful of items that peaked our interest including a rad Stylophone pocket synthesizer that Jaime has been fawning over, a couple movies and a pack of recent Garbage Pail Kids.  But my eyes lit up when I spotted something in the box that I’ve wanted to get my hands on for awhile but had been putting off because there never seemed to be enough funds to justify.  Tucked underneath a couple Halloween plush dolls and a Mad Libs book was a small package of some really cool independent resin art toys from France called P.U.N.K.S. by Laserpunk Toys!


I first found out about these little M.A.S.K.-inspired resin art toys back at the end of 2013 on Facebook.  Somehow or another I stumbled upon their FB page and instantly fell in love with the concept, design and execution of these 3″ figures.  I’ve seen a lot of folks making really cool art toys paying homage to the scale and design of the Masters of the Universe, Transformers, M.U.S.C.L.E. and G.I. Joe lines, but I had yet to see anyone tackling the M.A.S.K. aesthetic.


I spent a good year lusting after these figures while I waited for Laserpunks to finish their fundraising campaign and prep them for sale, but was a little bummed when they were released because they were out of my price range for impulse buys.  They retailed for $40 + international shipping which is completely understandable when you consider they’re independently produced hand crafted resin figures.  That process isn’t cheap, and they even manged to squeeze in 5 points of articulation and accessories, which for resin is difficult.  Still, I put these on the virtual wishlist and shuffled them to the back of my mind.


So when I saw the package of P.U.N.K.S. in the mystery swap box my heart skipped a beat.  A case of total kismet!  I’m not sure exactly who put these little fellas in the box (though I have a good idea from looking over the list of folks who have signed up to host the swap), but I’m eternally grateful and want to assure them they found a good home and will be displayed along side the handful of M.A.S.K. toys I have here at Branded HQ.


Hopefully the items that Jaime and I added to the box will find a new home and make someone else do a double take.  If you curious to learn more about the Laserpunk P.U.N.K.S. figures, it looks like they’re still for sale over at their site.  There’s a very fun commercial for the toys as well the definitely evokes that 80s era merchandising feel!

These 1984 Donruss BMX trading cards are Rad!

There are a lot of great 80s era pop culture collectibles on display at Branded HQ; toys, books, lunchboxes, stickers, vinyl albums, animation cels, and heaps of magazines and comics. Though I love all of that stuff, when I’m feeling really nostalgic the one collectible that I find myself going back to time and again are my vintage trading cards.  If you think about it, flipping through sets of cards is a lot like getting lost while surfing the internet.  They’re like a hard-copy version of tumblr, only instead of snarky memes and gifs there are pun-laden captions and lenticular or hologram chase cards (well, at least later on the 80s and into the 90s.)  And though I spend a lot of time flipping through my stack of card binders, it’s rare that I actually share these here on the site.

Sure, I’ve been making my own digital sets of cards to share here (for movies like The Monster Squad, Adventures in Babysitting, Young Guns, Young Guns II and Rad), but I typically tend to skip scanning and sharing vintage trading card sets in lieu of concentrating on any sticker-card subsets that may have been included.  Unless a set is completely comprised of sticker cards (like all the Little Shop of Horrors, Three’s Company, Supergirl, CHiPs, and all of the Garbage Pail Kids sets), I usually held off on sharing them for some odd reason.  Well, today I thought I’d finally share a set of straight up trading cards that are pretty darn cool.  Hailing from 1984 and printed & distributed by Donruss, here is the complete set of BMX cards…

1 A

This set consists of 59 different cards (yeah, that is a weird number) that are broken up into 10 different BMX bike brands including Redline, Torker, Hutch, Murray, Schwinn, Kuwahara, Hyper, Diamond Back, Huffy, and Raleigh.

19 A

Right: Kuwahara Laser Lite from E.T.

This consists of a pretty wide swath of 80s era BMX bike brands, though noticeably absent are GT, Haro, Skyway and Mongoose. I’m actually wondering if this set involved a partnership between Donruss and the included bike companies where these cards basically were issued as collectible advertisements.  I mean, I know that yes, literally that’s how these cards function, but I’m wondering if the companies paid a set price per card to be featured? It would explain the odd number of cards and the lack of some major BMX companies being represented…


Though the cards are broken down by company within the set, each company section is divided into two categories, riders and bikes.  The cards that only feature the bikes have a list of specs and a description on the back, while the rider cards feature either company blurbs, short biographies and/or vital statistics…

6    15

Also of note, this set is almost strictly geared towards BMX racing as opposed to the freestyle movement, so there aren’t any cards featuring “tricks”, mainly just riders getting air off of track jumps (or potentially while riding in and around skate and bike parks…


I really loved that the set also included female riders…


Card #15, Christy Anderson riding for Hutch

…well, one female rider.  Still though, I’m glad they included Christy Anderson.


Clockwise from top left: R. L. Osborn, The Redline Factory Team, D. D. Leone, the Redline Pro-Styler, and the Redline Carrera II.

Going back to the idea that each one of these cards was a paid advertisement from the bike companies, again, it would explain why there were 7 cards for a larger company like the Redline team, yet only 1 for Hyper (above) and 2 for Torker (below).  I’d never even heard of those brands until I got my hands on this set of cards a few years ago…


Torker Magnum 200 & the Torker 280


Clockwise from top left: Michael Joseph Buff, Monte Gray, Tim Judge, The Hutch Pro Star Complete, & Brian Deam

It seems like most of the teams topped out at 7 cards, like Hutch,  Redline (both above), and Schwinn (below), but Team Murray potentially had a much larger budget as they feature on 11 of the cards in this set…


Clockwise from top left: Jeff Botema, Murray Factory Team, Keith Gaynor, the Team Murray 330, Jeff Ruminer


Clockwise from top left: Rusty Cable, Anthony Sewell, Mike Horton, the Team Murray X20FS III, and Scott Clark


Clockwise from top left: Sam Arellano, Stu Thomsen, the Team Murray X20r, and the Schwinn Predator P2600

Yet, there are also inconsistencies where some of the riders go unnamed on the cards as is the case for Schwinn.  All three pictures below appear to be of the same rider, but he isn’t named on the cards and his number plate on the bike is always hidden.  If these were all paid advertisements, Schwinn seemed to have wasted some real estate on these three cards…


Bikes, from left to right: Schwinn Predator P2000, Predator Team edition, and the Schwinn Sting Frameset

One of the brands that I was really happy to see in this set is Kuwahara, the company responsible for all the bikes in the film E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial.  In fact the first card in this article is the Kuwahara Laser Lite, Elliots bike in the film and the card features a very familiar backdrop…


Clockwise from top left: Deric Garcia, Dick Miller, Gary Ellis (top right & bottom)


Clockwise from top left: Brent Romero, Brent Romero (again), Doug Davis, Doug Davis (again), the Diamond Back Turbo, and the Diamond Back Formula One


From left to right: Andrew Soule, Mike King, Rodney Cooper, and John Paint


Clockwise from top left: Don Johle. Raleigh Logo, George Antill, Ron House, and Sam Arellano

If you enjoyed taking a look at this set and you love 80s era BMX, then take a moment and check out the set of cards I made for the 1986 Bill Allen movie Rad as there’s a good chance you’ll dig those too!

Awesome 80s Bedrooms: The Making Contact Edition

It’s been a little while since I dove in and deconstructed an awesome 80s era pop culture bedroom.  This past week I had my mind blown a couple times when Pee-wee Herman shared the piece I did on his room from Pee-wee’s Big Adventure on Facebook and Twitter…

…and Zack Ryder and André Gower were discussing the breakdown I did on the Monster Squad Clubhouse on twitter…

I was honored to say the least!

This got me thinking about some of the films that I have on a list that I want to tackle at some point; stuff like Ferris Bueller’s room, or Chainsaw’s room from Summer School. A lot of what’s on my to-do list at this point is more in the realm of teenaged characters as I feel like I’ve exhausted most of the cool room for the younger characters (or the rooms I haven’t covered are kinda boring.)  But there was one more movie with a younger kid’s room that I’ve been meaning to tackle for over a year now, a film that I had completely missed out on in the 80s and didn’t find out about it until just a couple years ago.  The flick in question is an obscure and weird Austrian film from 1985 called Making Contact (though it’s also known as Joey in some parts of the world) that is mostly known for being one of Roland Emmerich’s first projects.


Though the flick was shot in German, an English dub was released on VHS back in the late 80s.  I think thins might be why I missed it.  Around that time I was increasingly becoming obsessed with horror flicks and spent most of my time in the video rental store browsing through A Nightmare on Elm Street, Halloween, and Friday the 13th flicks.  Luckily though, I stumbled across this flick a couple years ago via a suggestion from a reader.  As soon as I could source a copy I sat down and took in this semi-lost 80s gem.  Let me just say that this movie is pretty amazing as a relic of a bygone days, but it’s also one of the weirdest 80s kid’s flicks I’ve ever seen.  Emmerich not only directed, but also co-wrote this supernatural thriller that centers on a young boy named Joey who is mourning the loss of his father.  Joey finds that he has the ability to mystically contact his dad through a toy phone, though whether he’s really talking to his father or some other malevolent force is part of what makes this film so weirdly captivating.  Let’s just say that there is a lot of telekinesis, living puppets & toy robots, and about 200 homages to Steven Spielberg films that very obviously had a huge impact on Emmerich.

If you haven’t seen Making Contact, do yourself a favor and seek it out.  It’s a little uneven and weird, but totally worth the time investment.  Not only is it a weirdly fun film, but Joey has one of the most densely packed 80s era bedrooms that I’ve ever seen on film (definitely giving Elliott from E.T. a run for his money.)  I’m gonna do my best to breakdown as much of it as I could identify…


Joey has toys littered all over his room.  There’s stuff stacked on every surface including shelves, bureaus, tables, all over the floor and spilling out of his closet…

1). Felt Steelers football pennant

Steelers Pennant

2). Felt Giants football pennant

Giants Pennant

3). Felt Lakers basketball pennant

Lakers Pennant

4). Sesame Street curtains


5). Cool BMX Poster (couldn’t identify it, but wanted to point it out)

6). Smurf stickers on the bureau

7). Return of the Jedi Sheets circa 1983


So, are felt sports pennants still a thing?  I remember as a really young kid in Tampa, FL it seemed like it was mandatory for all kids to have a Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Rowdies (soccer) pennants hanging on the walls.  I’m having a hard time remembering any friends who didn’t actually.  Also, I totally had these exact Return of the Jedi sheets around the same time too.  In fact, I still remember the exact moment when I stopped “having” these sheets as well.  For some reason my mom left me in my bedroom with a hair dryer when I was about 6, and I got the bright idea to heat up the sheets by turning on the dryer and sticking it underneath my balled up sheets.  They totally caught fire, though it was a slow burn and I managed to get it out out before things got crazy.  Man, I miss those sheets…


8). Terry Bradshaw Poster

1982 Marketcom Terry Bradshaw poster

9). Kenner Star Wars Tie-Fighter 1978


10). Kenner Star Wars Slave I, 1980

Photo from Collector’s Club of Great Britain


11). Kenner Star Wars Imperial Troop Transporter 1979


12). Tomy Racing Turbo Dashboard game circa 1983

tomy tubo

13). Tomy Zoids Giant ZRK circa 1983


So, really quick I want to point to another item in the above screen shot, the race car helmet lamp.  Half of the reason that it’s taken me two years to write this Making Contact bedroom breakdown is because I’ve been wracking my brain while searching the internet for where that thing came from.  I haven’t been able to figure it out and it’s been driving me a bit insane.  Does anyone know where that thing originated or when it was released?  It seems so specific, which usually makes tracking it down easier, but not in this case.

**UPDATE** Thanks to reader Jack Frost for finding some auctions for the racing helmet lamp that have partically solved the mystery of where these things came from.  Apparently they were produced in Austria in the 70s, though the manufacturer is possibly still in question.  Looks like it was made by FF Leuchte.  Here’s a clearer picture of the lamp…



14). Milton Bradley Pac-Man board game, circa 1980


15). Milton Bradley Donkey Kong board game, circa 1980


16). E.T. wallpaper (lining both his closet and this trashcan), circa 1982



17). Tomy wind-up walking shoes, circa 1981


18). Kid Stuff Records Pink Panther’s County Album picturedisc, circa 1982


19). Vanity Fair Smurfs Record Player, circa 1982


20). Horikawa Batter Operated Super Space Explorer, circa 1962



21). E.T. Plush doll (I can’t identify this specific plush, honestly it looks like a bootleg or carnival prize.)

21). Blow Mold Disney Donald Duck coin bank, circa late 70s

donald duck

23). Dinky Star Trek USS Enterprise, circa 1976



24). Tamiya Wild Willy 2 motorized jeep circa 1984


25). Kenner Star Wars Ewok Village play set, circa 1983


26). Kenner Star Wars Millennium Falcon play set, circa 1983


27). Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University poster

28). Empire Strikes Back Yoda poster

Yoda - Dagobah -


29). Kenner Star Wars At-At play set, circa 1980


30). Kenner Star Wars Scout Walker, circa 1983


As you can see from the previous shots, Joey loved Star Wars and was fastidious enough to keep a bunch of the boxes for his play sets.


31). DC Comics Phantom Zone, #4, April 1982


32). Tomy Peepers wind-up walking binoculars, circa 1984

peepers walking binoculars by Tomy

In doing research for this breakdown I noticed that the production designers were fond of Tomy toy products.  I thought it was interesting that the Peepers wind-up toy above was actually the star of his very own Disney movie back in 1984 called Where the Toys Come From.  The flick sounds like it may have even been the blueprint for the eventual Toy Story movies as well…



33). Pac-Man Pacmania toy drum set, circa 1982



34). Whitman Disney Donald Duck jigsaw puzzle


35). Tomy Hoomdorm Jumper toy, circa 1982



36). Parker Brothers Q-bert boardgame, circa 1983

5 copy


37). APC A-Team jigsaw puzzle, circa 1983

a-team jigsaw puzzle

And finally, before I end this mammoth bedroom breakdown, there’s one more thing I wanted to point out from the film that’s outside the bedroom arena.  During a scene set in Joey’s school, he stops and takes a pretty rad school folder out of his bag…


38). Masters of the Universe school folder, circa 1983


Pretty darn spiffy if you ask me.

So, for those of you that have seen this film, did I miss anything?  Let me know int eh comments!