Category Archives: Branded in the 80s

Finding the “Truth” in Collecting

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how and why I collect.  Whether it’s refining and focusing on specific items, trying to curb the urge to splurge on modern collectibles, or just simply questioning why I want to do it on a fundamental level.  A good portion of this pondering has led me to question what is it exactly that I care about in the things that I collect.  When breaking a piece down there are a number of aspects that add or detract from the collectability of the item.  Is it vintage, what kind of shape is it in, is there any personal attachment of a similar item from my childhood, is it “worth” anything, is it rare or obscure, is there a pedigree to this particular item (e.g. did the piece come from a famous collection or was it owned by someone noteworthy), etc.  Every one of these criteria have different levels of importance for every individual piece, and this is something that makes collecting a rich experience.  Every piece has a story.  But sometimes there are things that we just want.  There’s a pull in the gut to pick something up and that desire can be so overriding that the collector, the curator of your museum of storied pieces, takes a backseat to convenience.

A few years ago, before I made the move from Atlanta to Baltimore, I took a tour of some of my favorite places knowing that I was probably never going to get the chance to visit them again.  One of these was a great vintage toy store out in the middle of nowhere that I was always able to find some decent, cheap vintage toys.  On one of these final trips I ended up picking up a cherished childhood Transformer, Afterburner from the Computron combiner set.  The toy was still mint on card and included inside the package was a short comic and mail-away order form for a set of three figures, a mini-combiner set known as the Decepticon Reflector.  Reflector, a toy made up of three robots that form into a single lens reflex camera, has forever been a piece that I’ve wanted to own.  Of all the Transformers action figures my favorites have typically been ones that change into everyday objects.  So Soundwave the tape deck, Blaster the Boombox, Perceptor the microscope or those rad Kronoform watches.  The cars and jets are cool, but it’s harder to suspend one’s disbelief since none of these are to scare for obvious reasons, but the everyday items are usually pretty damn close (with the exception of Blaster of course.)

It was only ever available as a mail-away in the 80s, so it was kind of rare and I’ve never seen one in all my years of digging through antique and comic book stores.  Though I never had the opportunity to get my hands on a Reflector, I always hoped that at some point the set would be reissued.  Well, the other day I stumbled on an auction on eBay with a very affordable set of figures that were still mint in box.  Something felt very wrong about the auction though.  I knew that since the toy was a mail-away that the likelihood that Hasbro ever produced actual packing was highly unlikely (most mail-away toys come shipped in plain brown or white boxes and are sealed in plastic bags.  On top of the packaging, the toy was shipping from China.  Everything about this just screaming bootleg.  But, offered with the Buy-It-Now option at $25 with free shipping it gave me pause.  It made me rethink what it was exactly about my desire to own this figure that mattered.  What is the “truth” of this toy for me?

It very quickly occurred to me that none of the typical criteria for collecting mattered with this piece.  It isn’t a toy I had as a kid, vintage Reflectors in decent shape with all of the accessories command a fairly hefty price tag, and there are plenty of other pieces I’d rather buy in it’s place if I was going to spend that kind of money.  But I still wanted it, and I was extremely curious about the quality of this bootleg toy.  The seller seemed to be specializing in vintage, mint-in-box Transformer knock-offs that were all pretty affordable considering how much their “real” counterparts cost on the secondary market.  Some of those knock-offs are toys that I used to own and that are pretty high up on my hunt list, and what if the quality was nice enough that I could own these pieces again?  I decided to throw caution to the wind and buy the Reflector to test the waters.  For $25 it’d at least be worth satiating my curiosity and I knew that I could at least get some use out of the experience.

Though it took a while to ship out, I received the bootleg Reflector in the mail this past week and I have to say that I’m pretty shocked at just how good the quality of this knock off really is.  I was expecting a super flimsy box with poor printing and super cheap plastic reproductions of the figures and this couldn’t have been further from the truth.  The box feels and looks like an honest to goodness vintage Hasbro product with heavy cardboard, great diecuts on the corners and crisp saturated package art.  A lot of care was taken with the presentation from recreating the official tech specs, to including accurate correct English on all of the text.  I’ve seen plenty of bootlegs at flea markets before, but they always have a ton of broken English and very poor packaging.  The only detail that I noticed that was a bit off was the 1984 copyright/Trademark notice at the bottom of the package since this figure was released in 1986.

So, what about the toys themselves?  Again, I was expecting super cheap, light weight plastic with absolutely no metal accents.  And again, I was wrong on all counts.  Not only did the figures have metal core pieces, but the plastic feels very much in line with similar toys I had as a kid.  The paint is on par for 80s era Hasbro as well and not sloppy at all.  The included stickers look accurate, are printed on nice foil paper and the figure even came with one of those old school heat sensitive stickers that you rub to uncover their Decepticon logo.  In the world of bootlegs I’m pretty sure that is going way above and beyond!

It wasn’t until I transformed the figures and combined them to form the camera alt mode that I noticed some issues with the quality.  There was a little bit of plastic flashing on the figures, a couple little extra bits of excess plastic that needed to be shaved off with a knife in order to make the pieces fit properly in place.  But this is also an issue I’ve had with actual legitimate Transformers toys from Hasbro, so it was hardly that big of a deal overall.

All in all I am pretty stoked with this purchase.  For only a little more than the original toy cost back in 1986 I was able to nab this piece for my collection.  But this raises some interesting questions for me.  Since this toy is a bootleg, shouldn’t I feel, well, bad?  Granted, it’s not like I’m putting anyone out of work buy buying this since no one is officially manufacturing and selling legitimate re-issue Transformers like this, but isn’t there something inherently wrong about adding a bootleg like this to a collection?  Sure, there are a lot of folks that almost exclusively collect knock-off toys, but it’s very rarely toys that are so accurate that it takes a master toy detective to tell the bootlegs from the originals.  Most folks who collect knock-offs do so because they are so cheaply and horribly produced.  The attraction is the sadness of the doppleganger, the deformity, the horribly flashing issues, the terrible paint and plastic color choices.  With a replica bootleg like this though, the only draw is in acquiring seemingly legitimate pieces at bargain basement prices.

To be 100% honest, I’m pretty conflicted.  Though I’m not trying to pass this off as a credible G1 Transformer toy, it’s certainly something I’d have to mention if I ever had a fellow collector over to the house.  At the end of the day, I know that I want this toy on my toy shelf.  Looking at it and playing with it makes me happy, so it has found a home in my collection.  The question now becomes, how far down this rabbit hole do I allow myself to go.  The eBay seller also has a really nice gift set of the complete Computron combiner toys.  That’s an item that I would very much like to reclaim for the collection, but now I have to figure out what is essential about the piece.  What is the “truth” of the piece.  Do I stick to hunting down a vintage set, waiting until I find something I’m happy with at the best quality/price ratio?  Or do I tic this one off the list and order an affordable bootleg from China?

What would you do?

Going Back to Next Saturday Morning…in 1985!

I’ve written before about a personal hole in my pop culture nostalgia when it comes to certain memories of stuff that aired on TV back in the day.  As much as I loved Saturday morning cartoons, cheesy sitcom, and celebrity mash-up specials (like the Battle of the Network Stars or special crossover episodes of shows like Family Matters and Full House), I was never aware that every year the three main networks had special shows showcasing their upcoming fall line-ups (for both prime time and Saturday mornings.)  Over the course of the last decade I’ve discovered a ton of these specials while flipping through old issues of TV Guide and while browsing the dark web for old obscure television broadcasts and I have fallen head over heels for every cartoon preview show I’ve stumbled upon. A few years ago I wrote a bit about one of these, the 1984 NBC special called Laugh Busters.  Though I have a few more of these tucked away in my digital collection that I’ve been meaning to dig into, I just found a new one this past weekend that I really want to talk about.

Originally airing on NBC on September 13, 1985, the special was called Back to Next Saturday and promised to not only showcase the new season of NBC cartoons, but was also potentially cloaked in a Back-to-the-Future-inspired wrap around story. Sign. Me. Up. I mean, just take a look at the TV Guide ad above featuring Keshia “Rudy Huxtable” Pulliam in that sweet Marty McFly pose (complete with shades and puffy vest.)  Billed as a Spectacular Comedy Adventure Special, I can’t believe that I missed this gem of a show over 30 years ago.

One of the reasons that I love rediscovering these specials is that they flesh out the experience of what the excitement of a new season of cartoons was like growing up.  Not only were there a plethora of commercials airing between other shows during the week, but we were getting bombarded with teases of the new line-up in the pages of our favorite comic books as well.  I have a fairly decent archive of these comic book ads here on the site, and the 1985 NBC ad was a real gem.  In fact most of the NBC ads were pretty awesome in how they were framed, but I really loved this one in particular…

I adore the idea of all of the characters from the various cartoons getting together in a secret bunker underneath NBC headquarters in Burbank, CA.  There’s some pretty groan-worthy humor in this ad, but there’s also some pretty biting commentary as well, specifically from the Snorks complaining that they’re up early in the line-up.  I look at that as an acknowledgement that they probably get low ratings due to kids sleeping in past their show.  Anyway, like I was saying, these 30 minute commercial specials give these ads way more context and they usually pull in actors from a few of the sitcoms to made the whole experience a smorgasbord of pop culture fun (no matter how poorly written, acted and conceived these shows are.)

I’m really curious how the special got away with lifting the Back to the Future logo font.  Was NBC tied into Universal back in the 80s?  I didn’t think they merged until the mid 2000s.  Anyway, pretty quickly as the special starts it becomes clear that the font is the only thing that even resembles Back to the Future.  The wrapping story, written by Glenn Leopold & Christopher Brough (Brough was also responsible for Laugh Busters) resembles the Wizard of Oz way more than BTTF.

The set up is that Keisha Knight Pulliam (playing herself) is being babysat by Lisa Welchel (also playing herself, not Blair from the Facts of Life) and after Welchel reads Keisha a bedtime story she is whisked away to a magical island of cartoons.  Real quick, I wanted to point out that Keisha’s room is full of references to the new NBC cartoon line-up, from Smurf and Snork stuffed animals, drawings of her watching NBC, and even the story that Welchel reads to her from is out of a Punky Brewster & Friends book…

    

Of course immediately Keisha wants to go home, so as soon as she runs into Glomer from the It’s Punky Brewster cartoon she begins an adventure to find out how to leave the island.  Glomer introduces Keisha to his show and in order to help her, he pulls Soleil Moon Frye and her actor pals right out of the cartoon into reality to help Keisha.

    

This is where the special gets a little trippy for me.  It’s hard to tell who is real and who is a character.  Stay with me here.  As soon as Glomer (obviously a character because he’s animated) pulls Punky and her friends out of the cartoon, Punky talks about needing to get back so that they can star in the cartoon this fall on the network.  So is that Punky talking, or is it Soleil?  I mean, it’s Keisha, not Rudy Huxtable.  Is the idea that the characters in the Punky Brewster live action sitcom are aware that they’re making a cartoon?  I’m not sure exactly why this confounds me, but I find it weirdly interesting in a mind-bending sort of way.

Anyway, much like in the Wizard of Oz Keisha has now recruited some friends to help her on her way around the island looking for a way home.  Their next stop?  The Snork’s lagoon where they meet up with All*Star and are given a tour of the new season of the underwater animated series…

   

All*Star isn’t much help so they continue on past the lagoon and pretty soon they find themselves walking through a cave into the heart of the island.  They stumble on a room filled with pirate corpses and treasure chests. What’s in those chests you ask?  Why all of the previous cartoons that were cancelled by the network!  Of course this spurs Punky on as she shivers at the idea of having her show cancelled.  Of course, being the heavily nostalgic person that I am I just want to find this mystic island with all of these hidden cartoons!

   

After the group moves on from the cave they find themselves back outside where they run into some Smurfs in the woods.  Well, they run into a TV that has Papa Smurf and Smurfette frolicking in that same patch of forest.  They pause just long enough to meet the four new Smurfs that are joining the show that season (the “Cousin Olivers” of the series, Natural, Baby, Snappy and Sassette), before moving on to a clearing where they run into smoke and a weird Fire Alarm Box…

    

This is also a weird moment in the show.  Up until now when they met up with some of the cartoon characters on the island there is sort of a general vibe to the encounters.  Just cartoon characters minding their own and new voice work recorded to make it seem like the animation is interacting with the live action characters.  But the fire sequence is where the group meets up with Alvin and the Chipmunks and the only reason there is a smoky Fire Alarm Box is because the footage used from that particular Chipmunks episode involves the brothers dressed as firemen and riding a fire engine.  I mean, could they not find an episode with more general animation? Or at least they could have had the giant Chipmunk suits make another appearance from the Laugh Busters special.  Kinda weird…

After they chat with Alvin, the group moves on from the smokey area into an Aztec grove where Punky makes an Indiana Jones reference and Allen screws with a stature that causes them all to fall into another network of caves that also just happens to be right next to some of the Gummi Bears secret Quick Tunnels. Speaking of those giant Chipmunk suits, here we get a huge Cubbi Gummi live action appearance. I was kind of hoping that Cubbi would join the group on the adventure, but alas, he’s only there to showcase the inaugural season of Disney’s the Gummi Bears joining the NBC Saturday morning line up…

    

After the gang watches the preview they crawl into the Quick Tunnel and then find themselves back outside of the caves.  This island is starting to feel more and more like the island in Lost, just instead of black smog monsters and polar bears there are Snorks and Master Blaster jukeboxes from Kidd Video.  This is probably my favorite bit in the special as Kidd Video is hands down one of my favorite Saturday Morning cartoons from the 80s, and since the show is sitting in licensing hell and will never be released on DVD (due to the liberal use of pop music from the decade incorporated into almost every aspect of the series), any appearance of KV is gold to me.

    

After Keisha, Punky and the gang play a preview on the giant jukebox, my favorite fictional rock band is pulled out of the Flipside onto this island to join the group and help Keisha find her way home.  Seriously, not only is that cartoon so much fun (you really have to find some episodes on youtube and check it out for yourself if you don’t remember), but the music in the series is so damn good.  I listen to the one semi-officially-released album at least once a week on the commute to and from work.  And for all you Robbie “Cousin Oliver” Rist haters out there, I faithfully submit that his work on this cartoon and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie elevates him to pop culture hero.  Just saying…

So now, nine strong, like a certain Fellowship of the Ring, Keisha, Punky Brewster, Cherrie, Margo, Allen and Kidd Video and the gang all walk through the giant jukebox and into the bowels of the island once more.  Speaking of Lord of the Rings, the group finds themselves stuck on one side of a giant chasm.  Luckily, Peter Parker’s patented Spidey Sense goes off and he dons his Spider-Man outfit just in time to save everyone from falling into some liquid hot magma.  Hmmm, reminds me of when he showed up to join Danny Cooksey and K.I.T.T. in that Laugh Busters special

    

At this point in the special I feel like the writers were getting sick of the concept and they kind of hamfistedly shove in an awfully edited appearance by Mr. T and then they rush into the closing bit that sees Lisa Welchel return, doing her best Glinda the Good Witch of the North impression.  Welchel summons everyone together in a cave to sing a pretty catchy song about Saturday Morning cartoons that was written by music superstar Jeff Barry (who happened to compose the Jefferson’s theme song, as well as And Then He Kissed Me, Leader of the Pack, and the Archie’s hit Sugar, Sugar.)

    

Cue gratuitous dancing and literal television appearances of the various cartoons in the new NBC line up. Gotta say, even though I’m not the biggest Welchel fan, she knocks that song out of the park…

   

    

All in all, even though the acting was awful, the writing was ridiculous, and the whole premise was tired and silly, I loved every single frame of this special.  I mean where else are you going to see udy from the Cosby Show got lost on a cartoon dream island and had to team up with the kids from Punky Brewster, Kidd Video, Spider-man, Cubbi Gummi the Gummi Bears and Blair from the Facts of Life to get back home!  These cartoon previews are like a casserole of 80s pop culture, and the older they get the more satisfying they are to consume.

If you’re so inclined you can watch the special on youtube (it’s in two chunks, Part 1 & Part 2).  And if you just want to listen to that rad song at the end, you can hear it below, or right-click and download it here.

The warm embrace of the 80s, literally.

As a kid growing up in Florida for most of my formative years, winter was more of a concept than an actual season.  Sure, there were days in Orlando when it dipped down into the 40s and I’d break out a pair of sweatpants to wear to school, but by and large I never experienced a true winter until I moved to New Hampshire when I was almost 13.  The heaviest coat I ever needed was either a Member’s Only or a Billabong denim jacket, and the idea of galoshes or winter boots is as foreign to my childhood as snow in Miami.  My hi-top Converse suited me just fine year round.

So it should come as no surprise that up until a few years ago I’d never heard of Freezy Freakies winter gloves, and it wasn’t until this year’s Christmas season that I finally discovered how much cooler my childhood could have been.  My wife is always a thoughtful giver of gifts, and she always manages to find stuff for me that I never realized I wanted until I rip into the wrapping paper on Christmas morning.  She has a knack of making me feel like a kid again, and it’s rad.  This year, one of the biggest surprises was a pair of adult-sized Freezy Freakies Turbo Race Car gloves, and I am completely smitten with these mittens!

For those who aren’t familiar (i.e. all of you who grew up in in the Southern US or sub tropical climates like me), Freezy Freakies were a line of winter gloves for kids that had some awesome temperature-activated imagery that appeared when exposed to cold weather.  Think Hypercolor shirts, but in reverse.  The frigid kiss of winter made race cars, unicorns, and robots appear on the gloves like magic.  This kind of interactive clothing and accessories is an aspect of the 80s that I adore and I’m actually kind of bummed that I didn’t know about these gloves until recently.  I coveted stuff like the shoes that had lenticular Transformers on the sides, or the sunglasses glasses with holographic lenses that looked like eyes.

I’m super tempted to pick up another pair of these so that I can have a set in the car for when I forget to grab them before leaving the house (you can take the kid out of Florida, but it’s hard to take the Florida out of the kid.)  I’m seriously considering the Alpine Skiing design…

But there are a bunch of cool ones available now (including Game of Thrones, Unicorn, Robot and Spaceship designs…)

The All New Branded in the 80s Podcast – Star Wars Then and Now

On this episode of the show I take a minute to focus some of my thoughts about the latest chapter in the Star Wars film saga, Episode 8 – The Last Jedi.  I dig into idea of how years worth of official canon affect how we view the movies and characters, then and now.  I don’t dig into all aspects of the new film, but I do dwell a bit on some of the aspects that left me very conflicted.  This is intended to spark a conversation in a safer environment than that can be found on most social media now.  In a very sad turn of events the new flick is pretty damn divisive and though not everyone is falling into the trap, a lot of people are taking sides and a accusing the “opposing” side of being dumb for not agreeing.  That is kind of insane and is the worst kind of fandom.  If you love the movie, awesome, celebrate it.  If you hate it, great, hate on it.  But don’t hate on each other.  THAT is stupid.

Totally Awesome: The Greatest Cartoons of the 80s is, well, Totally AWESOME

Over the past year Publisher Insight Editions has comes across my radar a lot.  In addition to the super cool Ghostbusters: A Visual History that I was gifted a couple Christmas seasons ago, I suddenly realized that I had a ton of their books either on my wish list or already on my shelves.  It didn’t dawn on me at first, but after picking up the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Pizza Cookbook, Labyrinth & The Dark Crystal: The Ultimate Visual Histories, and their book on Quentin Tarantino I was apparently a fan.  When I came to that realization I started digging through their website and ended up stumbling on yet another book that I knew immediately I wanted for my collection, Totally Awesome: The Greatest Cartoons of the 80s by Andrew Farago.

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I’m a huge 80s film, television and animation nerd and it seems like when it comes to books that cover these interests there are no shortage of volumes dedicated to the former two and very few to the latter.  Sure, there are a handful of books floating around out there, namely the volume on Lou Scheimer and Filmation by Andy Mangels and a few books that only partially cover the cartoons of the Transformers and Smurfs, but nothing dedicated to the insanity of the 80s era of animation.  Most of the books deal with the golden age (and were mainly written by animation historian Jerry Beck) and only touch on the 80s heyday.  So when I learned about Totally Awesome, it shot up to the top of my “I need this in my life” pile.

The book was finally released a couple weeks ago and thanks to the fine folks at Insight I now have a copy sitting on my desk as I type this review.  So, what does the book cover you ask?  Farago chronicles 17 of the most notable cartoons of the decade, taking care to pick shows that cover a multitude of animation studios, networks, time-slots and genres.  Saturday mornings on the major networks during the decade were a treasure trove of great shows, but it wasn’t the only place to find great cartoons in the 80s.  Lest we not forget, most UHF and network channels also had impressive line-ups of syndicated animation that aired after school let out every Monday through Friday as well.  So for every Saturday Morning hit like The Smurfs, there was also a weekday show like DuckTales.  For every Spider-Man & His Amazing Friends there was a Transformers.  This volume highlights the above four series as well as He-Man & The Masters of the Universe, She-Ra: Princess of Power, Inspector Gadget, G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero, Jem, Thundercats, Muppet Babies, The Real Ghostbusters, Disney’s Adventures of the Gummi Bears, Chip & Dale Rescue Rangers, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Garfield and Friends, and the Ralph Bakshi & Jim Kricfalusi re-launch of Mighty Mouse.

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Before I dive into the book, I wanted to take a second and address the fact that this book isn’t an exhaustive reference of all 80s cartoons.  I’ve been writing about 80s era animation long enough that it’s been my experience that the first reaction to a book like this (or columns and pieces I’ve written) is usually: “But why didn’t you cover <insert favorite neglected cartoon here>?!”  When I was sharing pictures of the cover to Totally Awesome on social media some folks seemed to wonder why certain cartoons weren’t represented in the illustration by Christian Cornia above. Whereas the idea of a single giant tome that covered all 80s cartoons sounds great on the face of things, an undertaking of that magnitude would be huge, and the amount of research, time and licensing clearance would probably make such a work cost prohibitive.  Farago, as I mention above, does a great job of picking out 17 shows, most given their own chapter, that are a very nice cross section of the decade.  It gives him the space to dig into each series in a fairly in-depth manner.  So take that for what it’s worth. Now, that aside, let’s dig into what IS covered in the book…

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The first thing that jumped out at me about the book was that with a few exceptions each chapter is illustrated with actual animation cels from the series.  Being a collector of animation art myself, it can sometimes be a subtle difference between screenshots and scans of actual cels, but I love that the time an effort was put in to track down these pieces of art.  There’s a crispness to scanning the actual individual cels that gives the reader an opportunity to really examine the artistry of the animators.  Screenshots tend to be hazy and vary in quality based on the source they’re pulled from, and the accurateness of how well they can be paused (believe it or not this varies by software.) It also provides a view of the process that is rarely showcased in books like this,  pulling out to illuminate the little details like cel edges (that feature the handwritten episode numbers and show codes of the production) as well as unfinished illustrations (cels used for closeup that there was no point in finishing.)  There are also under-drawings (the original pencil illustrations that are eventually copied onto the cels before they’re painted), which is very cool.

Another interesting aspect about this which is implied in the presentation is that not all cels were created alike.  Different companies used different stock and techniques and some cels age better than others.  A studio like Filmation thought of as cheapskates becasue of their re-use of run cycles and key animation sequences actually invested quite a bit in the actual quality of the hand painted cels.  They are one of the few companies who kept their animation in-house and in the United States during the 80s and you can literally see a difference in the cels 30 years later.  The copied animation outlines are still crisp and dark and the paint vibrant.  Other shows, particularly shows produced by DiC, didn’t fare so well in the longevity department.  Granted, these cels were never meant to be kept, treated as disposable assets by the studios who stockpiled them in storage lockers for years before letting the leases lapse.  Cels for shows like The Real Ghostbusters are kind of a crap shoot, quality wise.  Some of the paint has dulled with age, and the transferred illustration lines on the cels have faded (in some cases to almost nothing.)  It’s a fascinating little detail that the book features.

So long story short, for an animation nut like me this book is a bounty.  As far as the in-depth coverage of the shows goes, I was pleasantly surprised that there was a lot of work done on telling the story of both the studios, how the shows came about and highlighting the folks responsible for bringing the shows to life.  Again, as I’ve written about before, in my experience it can be kind of difficult to nail down exactly who did what behind the scenes as the credits attached to the opening and endings of cartoons tend to be vague.  Episode writers are typically highlighted, but most of the rest of the credits aren’t broken down to match characters to performers, and there are a lot of folks who aren’t given credit in a lot of series.  It can be difficult to figure out who was responsible for story editing for instance.  Back when I was writing about the Dungeons and Dragons cartoon I never realized that Steve Gerber was the story editor on the series (it wasn’t made clear in the cartoons or on the DVD sets of the series), and it wasn’t until Gerber piped to answer my question on this site that I found out.  Well Farago does a bang up job of tracking down all of this stuff for the series he covers and it’s pretty awesome.

All in all, if you’re a fan of 80s era animation this book is a must-buy.  I’m really hoping that there is enough positive response to the release that Insight and Farago could be convinced to work on future volumes.  In fact, I think a perfect follow-up would be a book that focused on some of the more obscure series of the 80s covering shows like Turbo Teen, The Spiral Zone, Robo Fore, Dinosaucers, the Trollkins, and Kidd Video.  But for now I’m content digging into the volume where I’ve already been learning more about series that I thought I already knew backwards and forwards.

The All New Branded in the 80s – Walter Kellog Cereal Detective

On this new episode of the Branded in the 80s podcast I’m going to attempt to solve a mystery, a cold case 30 years in the making.  It’s a twisted tale of deception, a famous advertising slogan, mistaken identities, and murder.  Welcome to Cereal, presented by Branded in the 80s. This story is an obscure, mostly forgotten and dark period in cereal history.  Breakfast cereal history.  It begins with a beloved 80s commercial jingle and it will eventually uncover the death of a third tier cereal mascot and the cover-up that has slipped under the radar of a generation.

Join me as I talk about a series of weird coincidences that led me to discovering that no less than 4 different Kelloggs cereals have been masquerading as separate products, but have in fact been the same flaky breakfast for almost 40 years.

For this episode’s shout out I wanted to point to a very cool project by my bud Chance Raspberry, one of the lead animators on The Simpsons, called Little Billy.

Little Billy is the ultimate 80s homage cartoon and the world’s first animated series about neurodiversity, special needs and the power of being different.  As a child Chance was the spazz, weirdo or strange kid, growing up in the 80s with special needs and cartoons were and escape and healing force for him.  Not only did watching healthy does of Saturday morning cartoons and afternoon syndication series give him an outlet for his Tourettes, it showed him a path to discover his true calling, illustration and animation.

Now Chance wants to bring life to his own animated stories and to bring some awareness to special needs kids along the way.  Chance has been animating the Little Billy special solo, which is an arduous process. He’s set up an Indiegogo campaign to help him launch a collection of Little Billy merch so he can get the ball rolling both with the project and to help raise awareness for Tourettes.  This is totally a project that I can get behind, both conceptually and actually as I just donated this past week!

Chance is over halfway to his funding goal and as of the episode he has about another five days to go. A portion of all the funds raised will go to the Tourette Association of American, while the rest will help fund the animated special and Little Billy merch.  Chance has set up a lot of fun pledge rewards like t-shirts, stickers, animation lessons and he just released a couple of new pledges that might be of specific interest to listeners of this show.

Up for grabs are some authentic original animation drawings and finished animation cels from the super rad 80s flick One Crazy Summer signed by animator Bill Kopp!  Those are incredibly rare pieces of cinema history, especially for John Cusack or Savage Steve Holland fans.  So if you dig 80s animation and want to support a great cause and fun project, check out Little Billy at LittleBilly.com  You can also connect with chance on twitter where he’s @chanceraspberry or on Instagram @chanceraz.

 

Masters of the Universe Vs The A-Team: Or What’s in a Pose Anyway…

One of the aspects that I adore about collecting and sifting through 80s era ephemera is finding all the hidden gems and weird little connections between things that nine times out of ten we’d all miss until we really started paying closer attention. Whether it was figuring out that conceptually, the idea behind the Garbage Pail Kids’ Cabbage Path Kids parodies were introduced by Scholatic in their Maniac magazine almost a year before the Topps cards hit shelves

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…or that even though I grew up yearning for a Star Wars-themed jungle gym play set that I thought didn’t exist, it did in fact exist.

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Ephemera like this can lead to some fun and interesting discoveries.  Well recently my pal HooveR made a connection between two pieces of obscure ephemera from 1983 that I thought was pretty cool. He sent me a set of A-Team Colorform Rub N’ Play Transfers with a note attached that referenced a similar set of Masters of the Universe transfers from the same year.  I wrote about the MOTU set way back in 2011

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These sets were like the cheap-o versions of standard Colorforms sets, one off sheets that you could transfer onto an included backdrop to create your own battle scenes.  There were a few companies making them besides Colorforms, the most popular being Presto Magix.  I used to enjoy mixing up the different branded sets so that I could have He-Man fighting Darth Vader or hanging out with Thundarr the Barbarian.  That made for some interesting combinations when you really let your creativity flow (like this masterpiece below that I put together)…

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But getting back to that sheet of A-Team transfers that I was gifted; what HooveR pointed out though, was that whoever illustrated these sets decided to take a few creative shortcuts back in 1983.  Our guess is that being overworked (most likely as illustrators tend to be), whoever had the assignment to do the Masters of the Universe set decided to make it easier for themselves on the A-Team set by re-using a bunch of the same classic poses.  The results are pretty hilarious when you put them back to back!

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Do you notice the similarities?  How about now…

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I love this.  It’s like watching characters from one of my favorite live action TV shows in the 80s play acting scenes from one of my favorite cartoons!  What makes it extra hilarious to me is that knowing how strained the relationship was between Mr. T and George Peppard behind the scenes, it’s pretty freaking funny that they’re in the He-Man and Skeletor poses. I was also hoping that this carried forward into other Colorforms Rub N’ Play sets, but of the other ones I own (Gremlins & Michael Jackson), and the sets I’ve scoped online (Knight Rider, Pee-wee’s Playhouse, Mork & Mindy, Barbie, and Rainbow Brite) none of them reuse any Masters of the Universe poses (or any other famous poses that I can recognize.)

So, what are some fun things you’ve come to realize while shuffling through ephemera?

The All New Branded in the 80s Podcast – Refining my Quest to Collect

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In this episode of the show I switch gears from looking backwards to what it’s like to be a collector in the modern age.  How does getting older change the way I look at collecting, and how can I refine and focus my efforts to best accomplish my goal to reconnect with my childhood.

How about you?  How has getting older reshaped the way you collect?  Have you gone though any collection purges lately?  Focused or refined your hunt?  Let me know in the comments.

For this episode’s shout out I want to take a moment to point to my good friend Paxton’s new solo podcast called I Read Movies.  It’s all about movie novelizations, specifically how these book adaptations differ from their cinematic counterparts.  Pax and I both share a love of novelizations and he does a bang up job of highlighting what they bring to the table for fans of film.  You can find the show on iTunes, Stitcher, or at the show’s site.

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Clearing the guilt cache, or Fortress Maximus is the MAXIMEST!

I want to preface this piece by bringing up a simple fact. Sometimes real life sucks. It’s awkward, weird, painful, and tends to derail us when we least expect it.  Last August my father was diagnosed with an aggressive cancer and just a year after I had made the decision to uproot from my previous home of 20 years to move in with the love of my life, I was faced with the challenge of moving my parents across country so that I could take care of them. The past year has been rough to say the least. This is not typically something I’d mention here at Branded, but in the end dealing with real life junk kept me away from the site at a time when I just starting to prep for some big things and partnerships. It sucks, I sucked it up, I dealt with the things that needed to be handled and the site got thrown on the back burner. Family is certainly more important than this site, but in the mix of moving them, a million doctors appointments, and my father passing away I dropped the ball with a promotion that has been eating away at the back of my brain.

I haven’t done a ton of promotions on the site. Typically I end up buying stuff myself to give away and front all the shipping. It’s just how I roll. But the super gracious folks at Entertainment Earth reached out to me and wanted to partner up. I was hoping maybe they’d send some inexpensive 80s-centric tchotchkes, maybe a modern He-Man lunchbox or a Back to the Future pint glass or something that I could write about and then host a contest to give away. But they kind of insisted on sending one of the largest, most expensive modern Transformers toys on the market, the Titans Return Fort Max play set. I agreed, worked on an article while I waited for it to be shipped out, and was getting pretty excited to be able to gift one of these things to some lucky reader of the site. Fort Max arrived, I unboxed it, took a bunch of pictures and was all set to finish the review and set up the contest when the news about my father hit me like a ton of bricks.

Over the next three months I had every intention of finding a couple hours to throw the contest up on the site, and every time I finally found some free time to myself something would pop up. I kept telling myself that as long as I got the review and contest up and running by the end of November it would all be cool. I’m sure sending me a free Fortress Maximus is hardly going to bankrupt Entertainment Earth, but I still felt guilty all the same. That monster of a toy cost over $100 at retail and I had made a commitment to help pimp their site for their trouble. And there it sat in the corner of my office like a 2 foot tall guilt monster staring at me.  When the middle of December rolled around I had, had enough. I boxed Fort Max back up and gave it to my nephew for Christmas. Ultimately, that was where he was going to go anyway as my nephew is a Transformers nut and seriously, what the hell was I going to do with it anyway.  It’s not a bad toy, but I’m just not enough of a Transformers nerd to give it the home it deserves. So at least it found an appreciative owner and I was safely away from it’s frozen-faced stare.

Of course, that didn’t change the fact that I still didn’t deliver on my end of the bargain. Having just recently found some balance in my life I’ve been able to pick back up with Branded a bit. This review has been sitting in my drafts folder for over a year and honestly, I didn’t have the heart to delete it. Long story short, the super rad folks at Entertainment Earth gave me a very cool toy, and here is a review of that toy. Unfortunately I can’t give one away in a contest now (pretty sure that bridge has fallen to ashes), but I can at least ask anyone who reads this to hop on over to the site and consider buying some plastic fun for someone this holiday season. And if you’re curious what I think about a giant toy robot, then by all means, please continue reading…

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As a kid growing up in the 80s it was tough not to covet like, ALL the toys. All of them.  Between daydreaming about winning the Toys R Us Toy Run Sweepstakes where I’d get a chance to have five whole minutes to grab everything I could get my hands on in the store or pouring over all the little toy catalogs that came packed with vehicles and figures from toy lines like G.I. Joe, M.A.S.K. and Transformers, I was always thinking about toys that I didn’t and in most cases would never own.  Even though I think it’s safe to say that as a kid I wanted ALL of the toys, there was a series of toys that I never managed to get my hands on that I desperately wanted, the Transformers Headmasters series that were initially released back in 1987.

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At this point in the Transformers mythos we were about a year past the release of Transformers: The Movie, the Hasbro toy line was starting to dip in popularity, I was starting to shift my collecting focus from toys to comic books and according to my parents I was too old to be asking for these for birthdays and Christmas.  Of all the various toy design gimmicks of the 80s, none had captured my attention quite like the Headmasters.  I was always very ‘action figure’ focused in my toy collecting, and weirdly I was always sort of obsessed with any kind of interesting head-related accoutrements.  I adored any figures with removable helmets or working visors, not to mention characters that had some sort of head gimmick (like Kobra Kahn from the Mattel Masters of the Universe line with his water-spraying technology or Mumm-Ra’s light up eyes from the LJN ThunderCats line.)  So the idea of a series of Transformers with removable heads that were themselves transforming robots?  OMG.

Well, after almost 30 years I’ve finally been able to get my hands on a Transformers Headmasters toy.  For those who aren’t aware, Hasbro has been releasing a series of Transformers Classics toys over the last decade under a number of different product line names (Classics, Combiner Wars, etc), and the most recent series is called Titans Return which has finally brought back the Headmasters gimmick to Transformers.  There are a bunch of figures starting to trickle out into stores (including characters like Scourage, Blurr, and Blaster), and by far the most impressive (and imposing) is the Classics re-release of one of the largest Transformers toys ever released, Fortress Maximus!

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Full disclosure, I received this toy to review from the folks at Entertainment Earth, and I typically don’t do reviews of releases from modern versions of classic toy lines (unless of course they do crazy things like combining brands like G.I. Joe and Transformers.)  That being said, they very cool folks at EE made me and offer that I just could not refuse which is the ability to hold and contest to give away one of these massive toys to one lucky reader of Branded.  I love being able to pay it forward whenever I can and there was no way that I was going to pass on the opportunity to get one of these rad toys out to the folks who read this site.  I’ll get to the nitty gritty of the contest at the bottom of this post, so with that out of the way, let’s take a look at the new Transformers Titans Return Fortress Maximus…

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First and foremost, this thing is MASSIVE.  I mean like almost two feet tall and the size of a toddler massive.  Having never had the original toy that this new figure (playset?) is based on I have no idea if it’s larger, but I did have a friend who had a Metroplex toy and this Fortress Maximus seems to be a lot larger by far.  Second, for a toy this large Hasbro really pulled out all the stops in terms of pose-ability and articulation.  Now that may seem like a weird statement on the surface, I mean with a larger scale format figure like this there is obviously way more room to implement articulation and detail into the design, but from what I’ve seen in the larger scale toys like this there is usually a distinct lack of articulation.  Bottom line, for once it seems like you can realistically recreate the poses and action stances from the packaging with this toy and I find that pretty darn awesome…

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The level of detail is also off the charts.  Not only articulation-wise where can you independently move his fingers, but in the mold as well.  There are a million tiny details in the mold that make the figure incredibly realistic without falling off the cliff into the Bayformers territory of becoming too alien in design.  This figure really is like a beautiful, highly detailed, ultimate version of what the character was meant to look like.  Like a cross between the old Marvel comics and cartoon episodes mixed with the base of the original G1 toy.

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Now, as cool and massive as this toy is, it’s not without its drawbacks.  Even though you can put Fortress Maximus into some cool poses, because of his heft it’s hard to have him standing up independently in them.  Also, again, because of the size and weight I don’t see this being a great toy for kids as it would be quite unwieldy to try and play with, and I say that as a kid who had a G.I. Joe U.S.S. Flagg as a kid and hated it.  Just because something is big does not make it awesome when it comes to playtime.  No, Fortress Maximus here is very much for the adult collector.

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Another drawback is the way the head connects to the body.  Much like the original G1 version, Fortress Maximus is a headmaster, so his head detaches and becomes Cerebros.  And to finish off this nestled doll of a Transformer, Cerebros is also a headmaster, where his noggin comes off to become Titan Master Emissary.  As cool as this is from a conceptual standpoint, there are some logistical problems that make the overall head attachment on Fortress Maximus a bit precarious.  When Cerebros transforms to form FM’s head, Emissary acts as the connector piece.  Because it’s so small and the over all head piece is so big I’m betting it would be pretty easy to accidentally snap off Emissary when trying to remove or attach Cerebros to Fortress Maximus.  It just felt a little fragile to me when playing with it.  So again, an aspect that puts this in the camp of the adult collector that will most likely just transform the toy once and then display it.

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Lastly, and this is just an aesthetic thing for me, I’m not a huge fan of Fortress Maximus’ city alt mode.  Much like Tom Hanks in big I just found myself holding it wondering why a kid would want to play with a city instead of the robot…

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That being said, I am still really stoked about the overall toy in general and think that for Transformers fans this would make an amazing centerpiece to any collection.

The All New Branded Podcast – Passing down the Matrix of Nostalgia

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The second season of the All New Branded in the 80s podcast continues with episode 10 where I talk a bit about passing the torch of nostalgia to the next generation.  Having had the opportunity to babysit my nephew, a 10 year-old Transformers superfan, I got a chance to see how he reacted to the original generation of toys and cartoons.  We played the XBox game Transformers: War for Cybertron and I screened the 1986 Transformers the movie.  Does the old stuff still hold up for this new generation?  And how weird is it that Transformers is now a generational fandom?

What are some experiences you’ve had sharing your fandom with your children, nieces and nephews?  Are the kids open to our nostalgia, or did they just think our cartoons, movies and toys sucked?  Share your experiences in the comments below.

For this episode’s shout out I take a moment to point to the fine folks behind The Future Cyborg.  Part comedy show, part retro toy review show, and an all around good experience.  You can watch season 1 a their youtube page, or check them out on social media on Twitter or Instagram.

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