Category Archives: Branded in the 80s

It was finally time to up my watch game…

It feels really good to be able to finally start catching up with writing articles here at Branded.  Over the past few years there’s been a lot of changes in my life behind the scenes, and in particular a lot of stuff has been going on over the last six months including helping my girlfriend sell her townhome, securing a new job, and the one that has been the most frightening and fulfilling, buying my first house.  But the dust has begun to settle, I’m in the middle up setting up a new and improved Branded HQ, and I can get back to what I’ve missed the most, writing about all kinds of fun 80s junk.  In fact I’m currently having a blast revisiting some of the cool stuff I’ve acquired that I’ve been meaning to write about.  For instance, a very cool new (well, vintage) watch that I’ve been wanting to reconnect with for the last 25 years…

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Back around 1985 or ’86, I was pretty obsessed with getting my hands on the amazing transforming robot watch depicted in the Bonkers candy ad above.  I first saw these in the little red candy and trinket vending machines at my local Pizza Hut as the “main” prize, the one thing you could get out of the machine for a quarter where you’d actually be getting more than your money’s worth.  I can’t count how many quarters I sunk into these machines only to get endless amounts of plastic army men, colorful puffballs with glued on felt feet and googlie eyes, or generic pencil topper erasers.  I was never a lucky kid when it came to winning stuff like this.  And here’s the thing, from my estimation at the time, you had to either win one of these robot watches or convince your parents that it was safe for them to send a check or cash to Nabisco to score one.  Lets just say that I could never get my parents to believe that these comic ads were not a scam.

At the end of the day I did eventually end up getting one of these watches by trading some Garbage Pail Kids to a friend, though it didn’t have the watch band and it looked like he had chewed on the little blue and red buttons on the front.  None the less I cherished that red robot watch and kept it in my pocket for years.  It didn’t matter that the one I had was used, or that it wasn’t an official Kronoform watch (a fact I wouldn’t even be aware of until 20 years later when I really started getting nostalgic for my youth.)  I’m not sure what happened to my specific watch, but for the last 10 years or so I’ve been yearning to get a new one.  The thing is, they’re kind of rare and when they do pop up on eBay they’re kind of outrageously priced.  So I’ve been biding my time, waiting for the right opportunity.  That opportunity happened a couple of months ago after I posted the Bonkers advertisement above on my instagram account.  I mentioned how I wanted to get my hands on one of these and a very kind gentleman from Canada that goes by the handle No_Thriller had just scoped one at his local toy/comic store.  After working out the details No_Thriller picked up the watch for me and then shipped it down to the states where I was eagerly awaiting its arrival!  And yes, that is also an awesome Steve Nazar signed print of the T&C characters in the background that my good bud HooveR sent and that also arrived that day…

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Not only did this one still have the watch band fully intact, it was a beautiful almost brand new official Takara Transformers Kronoform release!  Also, it still worked (the super kind No_Thriller was nice enough to replace the old battery before shipping it.)  Even though this one isn’t red, I still love it to pieces…

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This also reminds me of that piece I wrote about having a crush on Helen Hunt’s character Lynne Stone form Girls Just Want to Have Fun if for no other reason that she also wore a sweet red robot watch in that flick.

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Now maybe if I can ever build that time-traveling-DeLorean I can go back in time and ask her out to the prom.  I mean we have the same taste in Transformers watches, that’s all that matters right?

Hi-C Ecto Cooler is back and it’s….

…Glorious!

image1ssdBut before I get to that, let me back up a second.

One of the most bittersweet nostalgic experiences is the yearning for food and drink products that are long gone from this Earth.  I mean, so many other things can easily be revisited.  The prints and master tapes of long lost television shows and movies are typically stored in studio vaults and can be re-released at will (well, as long as it’s profitable.)  Old books and magazines are all floating around in dusty second hand and comic shops (or in the middle of a precariously stacked section of trash in a horder’s bedroom.)  Any pretty much every toy, video game or or plush doll is available on eBay, Etsy, or digitized as a rom for your downloading pleasure.  But defunct food and drink products become extinct by design.  Sure, there are actually plenty of old, full boxes of cereal, cans of pasta and cases of soda readily available for purchase, but it is all beyond safely consuming (not that some amazingly brave souls aren’t trying.)

So where does that leave a generation of kids who grew up loving certain tastes and textures?  It leaves us mostly unfulfilled.  Hey, no one ever promised us we’d have Keebler Pizzarias, Quackers, Fruit Corner branded fruit snacks, Bonkers candy, or yes, Hi-C Ecto Cooler forever.  And on the scale of things that one needs to survive in this world, re-experieincing the flavor sensations of old junk food is pretty low.  That being said, when left to our own devices we will try pretty damn hard to recreate those products.  Whether it’s finding the closest possible substitutions (did you know that El Sabroso brand Salsitas chips make a pretty damn good stand in for Keebler Pizzarias?)…

pizzaria substitution…or trying our best to recreate the recipe.  About five or six years ago an Ecto Cooler recipe started floating around the internet.  I’m not sure who originated it, but I scoped it at my bud’s site, Strange Kids Club, and tried it myself for a special Halloween treat.  It consisted of 1.5 cups of sugar, 1 packet of orange Kool-Aid mix, 1/2 packet of Lemonade Kool-Aid mix, 3/4 cup orange juice (with no pulp), 3/4 cup of tangerine juice, 14 cups of water, and 4-5 drops green food coloring.  The concoction tasted pretty close, but it was way off in consistency and because it used orange and tangerine juices as a base it was way too opaque.

homemade ecto coolerAnd backing up again for a second, why is Ecto Cooler so beloved anyway?  Where did this drink originate? Well, it might be a bit of a surprise to some but Ecto Cooler as we know and love it is actually a rebranded version of one of Hi-C’s earliest flavor varieties from 1965, Citrus Cooler Drink (which was the same green, tangerine-flavored 10% juice drink…)

Image courtesy of Dan Goodsell

Image courtesy of Dan Goodsell

That’s right, kids and families have been chugging that sweet green tangerine drink since the 60s.  In 1986-87, as part of a deal to work a Real Ghostbusters cartoon promotion into the Hi-C drink line the Citrus Cooler was rebranded to Ecto Cooler and featured everyone’s favorite ugly spud Slimer on the packaging.  Though the actual drink was not new, it was one of the coolest and longest lived of all the Ghostbusters merchandising tie-ins that not only outlasted the cartoon series it was shilling, it far exceeded the company’s expectations fandom-wise.  Even if it was just a rebranded Citrus Cooler, a who generation of kids thought it was new and amazing.  It was like drinking citrus-flavored ectoplasm, or as I used to think of it, the essence of Slimer. It’s such a simple tie in that fit so perfectly that it became a part of the fabric of so many kid’s lives for a full decade (from 1987 to 1997.)

old ecto 1 Old Ecto 2In 1997 the Slimer and Ghostbusters promotional aspect of the drink was dropped and it was again rebranded to Shoutin’ Orange Tangergreen for the next few years.  In fact, back before I started Branded in the 80s, around 2001 or 2002 I was doing some research online to try and find out if Ecto Cooler was still being manufactured when I stumbled on a site called X-Entertainment (run by Matt from Dinosaur Dracula.)  Pretty sure it was there that I learned that the drink was now called Shoutin’ Orange Tangergreen, and after reading his article I just had to have a taste of Ecto Cooler again.  Unfortunately no stores in my area at the time stocked it, so in what seemed like a very desperate and insane choice at the time I ended up contacting a store in upstate New York and had them ship me a case down to Georgia.  I think I paid something crazy like $40 in shipping for $9 worth of the drink, but for a couple months or so I had my Ecto Cooler nostalgic drink fix.

Since it was so expensive to procure, I didn’t try and order any more, so I was unaware until recently that the drink had one final rebranding back in 2006.  The Coca Cola Company brought the drink almost full circle by renaming it Crazy Citrus Cooler before finally retiring it for good a year later in 2007.  I think it was pretty safe to say that up until the announcement of the new Paul Fieg Ghostbusters movie starring Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Leslie Jones and Kate McKinnon, Ghostbusters and nostalgic food fans had given up any hope that we’d ever have a taste of that electric green tangerine flavored beverage.  Thus, the fan concocted recipes began bouncing around the internet and a hundred online petitions to Coke were created.  Every time there was a whisper of a potential Ghostbusters 3 movie in the works all of us fans would speculate as to whether it would be a big enough deal to raise Ecto Cooler like a spectral form from the junkfood graveyard.

Then a few months ago something amazing happened.  With all the hubbub surrounding the new Ghostbusters flick taking the internet by storm, a lone empty can of Ecto Cooler popped up on eBay that very possibly signaled the return of our beloved juice drink…

the canIt looked official, was obviously not vintage (because of the calorie count shield and the 2016 Coke copyright), and was hotly bid over.  In fact, it topped out at about $200.  Now this is noting new for empty Ecto Cooler packaging.  There are routinely empty cases, juice boxes, and even full 32 ounce cans popping up on the auction site for up to $300.  But at the time no one was quite sure if this was an elaborate ruse or the real deal.  And if it was the real deal, wouldn’t it be less impulsive to wait until the movie came out to get cans at retain for way cheaper?  But this is the life of Ecto Cooler fans, and really all nostalgia fans.  We pay crazy amounts of money for tangible evidence of our pop culture obsessions.

Well, it turns out that that can was in fact the real deal, and we can fast forward back to the present and this past Thursday when a handful of bloggers and websites received care packages from Hi-C containing a very special advance shipment of one of the most desired soft drinks of the past 30 years, Ecto Freaking Cooler!

box 1I have to hand it to the marketing department on the production of this advance giftbox.  Having it designed to look like a cross between a ghost trap and a containment until was pretty rad.  The two doors on top flip open to reveal the contents inside, a single can and juice box of the newly released Ecto Cooler…

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Rounding out this set is a small barrel of toy slime which as you can see in the first picture above made for some great photo opportunities…

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So how about the taste?  How closely was the Coca Cola Company able to reformulate the original taste of Hi-C Ecto Cooler?  Perfectly.  To me it tastes the same as it did back in 2002 when I last had it, and as close as I can remember to those hazy days in the 80s when I was drinking a 32 ounce can every week.  In fact, I had pretty much no doubt in my mind that it would taste the same as it’s a specific product variety that they’d manufactured for over 40 years before they retired it in 2007.  I mean, it’s only been 9 years since it was last on store shelves, though it feels more like 20 since it wasn’t called Ecto Cooler since the late nineties.

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It was hard getting accurate pictures of just how green this amazing drink is, but rest assured, it looks exactly as you remember it too.  As an added bonus, the Hi-C logo on the can changes colors when the drink inside is chilled.  Pretty nifty little design element.

The cans and juice boxes should be hitting retail chains on May 30th.  I’m going to go ahead and say that your best bet will probably be checking out your local Target or Wal-Mart, which typically carry specialty movie tie-in merchandise like this.  My hope is that much like the original launch of Ecto Cooler, this one outlasts the movie that it’s tied to and that it hangs around for the next decade.  But just in case, stock up because it’s advertised as being a limited run only…

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So, are you excited for the return of Ecto Cooler?  Any plans to do anything crazy with it, like making popsicles, mixed drinks, or baking?  Will you be checking your local stores on May 30th?

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Peel Here #120: What do Smurfs smell like anyway?

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Looking back at the past 10 years of running this site, it’s occurred to me that a lot has changed since those early days.  One of the things that really stands out to me is that I found it incredibly important to rigorously categorize the pieces I was writing into columns for the first few years.  At first this really helped me focus on topics and to keep a regular posting schedule.  But as time went on I really started to feel like I was boxing myself in a bit and that a lot of what I was writing became formulaic.  I don’t remember if it was a conscious decision on my part, but I know that I broke free of that and started letting my current passions and collections steer the content that I write about.  Though at the end of the day I much happier with where Branded is today, I do kind of miss some of the columns that I started way back when.  So I figured it would be fun to resurrect a few of them from time to time.

So today I’m dipping back into my Peel Here column by sharing some more of my favorite scratch and sniff stickers.  This time it’s a first series of Ganz Brothers Smurfs scratch and sniff stickers from 1983.  Though I know that these were released in both the US and Canada, when I was seeking these out for my collection I could only find packaging that was originally released in Canada…

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There were 12 different sets of stickers in the first series, each with a unique scent and three different designs related designs.  Each pack as contained 12 stickers, 4 of each design…

Smurfs Strawberry

I always loved these kind of branded and themed stickers as a kid.  I think a lot of it had to do with the idea that the characters on the stickers were also experiencing the same scent sensation, but it was also fun to see how the artists would work in the different smells into the artwork.  So of course Grumpy’s strawberry scented ice cream fell off his cone…

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On the other hand, I never would have guess that the Smurfs turned mint leaves into skateboards, but it’s pretty rad.

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It’s also interesting that Papa Smurf ends up very prominently it all the stickers that had red colored scents (strawberry, peppermint, cherry and rose.)  Granted, he’s also in a couple of the other sets, but I think it’s neat that the designers were probably thinking about the red ink and Papa Smurfs outfit.  If you’re going to keep these stickers three-color, you might as well capitalize on that…

Smurfs Peppermint

Similarly, in all the sets that feature Smurfette other designs would sometimes work in yellow since her hair color was already included.  There are exceptions of course like this peanut butter sticker set below.  Speaking of which, is that Grumpy or Handy about to massacre that peanut?!

Smurfs Peanut Butter

Smurfs Orange

As an adult it’s kind of fun to find the missed opportunities, like in this chocolate scented set below.  Why not have Chef Smurf carrying that cake?

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Or the fact that this cherry set below could have been branded Smurf Berry scented!

Smurfs Cherry

And come on.  How can you not work Jokey into this banana set?!

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I think one of my favorite designs from this first series of stickers is the Grumpy Smurf with the popped bubblegum bubble (heck, anything that points to my online handle, Smurfwreck…)

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Lastly, I think it’s surprising that Brainy only ends up on a single sticker design in the first series.  Just this below root beer sticker…

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I love the suggestions on the back of the packaging as to where to stick your new Smurfy stickers.  Stick ‘em on your books (nope, nope, nope)!  Stick ‘em on your pirate puffy shirts (wha?!)

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I’m not positive how many series of these were made, but I know that I’ve seen a handful of other scents over the years including pizza, lemon, and fruit punch.  So I’d have to guess that there are at least two series.  Anyone know of any other scratch and sniff Smuff sticker scents?

My tiny weird Star Wars collection…

Nostalgia is such a weird beast that pulls me in some very strange directions. When it comes to collecting and impulse buys I find that I am consistently picking up some very unconventional items like being drawn to collecting 80s stickers and sticker-collecting ephemera including hobby magazines and old photo albums that had been used to house vintage collections.  Then a few years later I was building a rather large collection of old “mom magazines” (stuff like Working Woman, Woman’s Day and McCalls) because I felt a strong urge to find pictures of old household products in advertisements and stuff.  And let me just say that I have found some pretty amazing advertisements in those magazines like this badass Return of the Jedi jungle gym play set!

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Lately my attention has been focused on old school supplies (vintage Pentel mechanical pencils, Trapper Keepers, and old school folders.)   At the end of the day what I’m really seeking is that gut-punch feeling I get when I see something that very strongly reminds me of my childhood.  Sure, vintage toys and releases of old cartoons and sitcoms on DVD are cool, but the smell of a specific kind of Trend scratch and sniff sticker or the sound the Velcro makes on a Trapper Keeper flap is so vivid and clear that it’s like stepping back in time.

So when I stumbled across a gentleman that was selling mint, in-package vintage Star Wars Return of the Jedi Oral-B toothbrushes and perfectly stored empty boxes of Star Wars Pepperidge Farms cookies I didn’t hesitate and immediately plunked down $30 to reclaim a few tiny pieces of my childhood that really should not exist anymore.  Before I forget, everyone hunting for vintage toys should totally check out @FarToys_Vintage for some great stuff!

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I’m pretty sure I’ve brought this up in the past, but it still dumbfounds and amazes me that some of this stuff is still bouncing around in people’s pop culture and ephemera collections.  I mean these two Star Wars Return of the Jedi cookie boxes are the definition of trash.  I mean thousands if not hundreds of thousands of these boxes were purchased by parents around the country (even world maybe?), the cookies were eaten, and then the boxes were unceremoniously thrown in the garbage.  Who in the hell had the presence of mind to think, “Hey, I should hold onto these because 30 years from now there will be a dude who will give me $20 for these two cookie boxes.”

Granted, I know that there is/was a craze for collecting anything Star Wars related and that makes the fact that these were carefully flattened and shelved for three decades a little easier to understand.  I mean, hell, I was so into the Tim Burton Batman flick that I distinctly remember filling a short comic book box with every scrap of Batman-related anything that I could get my hands on, up to and including a full sealed box of Batman cereal (the one shrink-wrapped with the creepy Batman coin bank.)  But even though I was a rabid collector that box only stayed in my collection for a few years before it eventually ended up in the trash.

batman-cerealSimilarly, who was buying up Oral-B Star Wars toothbrushes back in 1983 and storing them in their original packaging for posterity?  Now I don’t want to come across as mocking, because as this article points out I not only bought these 30 years later, but and very, very happy that they still exist.  I just can’t help wondering how I can even be in a position to buy these things.

Anyway, on to these miracle treasures that I’ve recently been able to reconnect with.  The first item that I stumbled across was the Oral-B toothbrush.  I can so distinctly remember the day my mom bought me one of these back in 1983.  I’d already seen the movie a couple of times in the theater and I was still practically begging her to take me back to see it again.  It was a rainy overcast day in central FL and I remember driving down a back road to a local Drug Emporium in my mom’s copper-colored Mazda 626.  Though I have no proof of this I would swear that I was wearing my awesome blue Empire Strikes Back Darth Vader iron-on T-shirt as I pretty much had Star Wars on the brain 24/7 that year.

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I remember walking into the store with my mom, feeling how weirdly slick the low-pile carpeting felt underneath my Buster Browns, and then making a b-line to an aisle that had a bunch of candy and toys.  As my mom went in the back to fill a prescription I was making my way up and down the aisles scanning the shelves for anything of interest when I stopped dead in my tracks in the toothpaste section. There on a set of pegs were a bunch of colorful slim boxes with a very family logo and bunch of characters that I practically thought were my real life friends (and enemies.)  Holy crap, there were Star Wars toothbrushes and I had to have one.  I hated brushing my teeth (what kid doesn’t?) and had recently gotten into the practice of counting to counting to 60 out loud in mushy toothpaste mouth to know exactly when I could stop scrubbing.  Immediately my mind started compiling all the reasons why a Luke Skywalker toothbrush would solve all of my (and my parent’s) frustration with at bedtime as I would now love brushing my teeth.

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I’m not sure exactly how eloquent I made the argument, but that day I went home with an awesome shiny red brush with my hero, Luke Skywalker, painted on the handle.  As a very predictable postscript to this story the toothbrush did absolutely nothing to enliven my brushing experience and I’m sure I was just as cranky every night at 9:00pm as I ever was.  Either way, that day in the Drug Emporium was burnt into my brain and when I saw a mint in box toothbrush pop up in my instagram feed I absolutely had to have it.  Now, the only question that remains, and it’s a question that’s subconsciously plagued me since that fateful day, why did the designer of this series choose red as the color of the packaging and brush?  Why wasn’t it green like his lightsaber in that third movie?  There was also a Darth Vader brush in the set.  Why wasn’t that one red?

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The whole ad campaign for these was pretty awesome considering they were just cheap toothbrushes.  There were posters produced, as well as activity books and even an official plaque-fighting club that you could join!

ROTJ TOOTHBRUSH

Moving on to the second nostalgia gut punch.  About a week after I picked up the toothbrush from Faraway Toys on instagram, he blew me away again by offering up a set of two Pepperidge Farms Star Wars Return of the Jedi cookie boxes.  Holy hell did I ever eat my weight in these as a kid.  If memory serves they weren’t even that good, but anything edible and shaped like Chewbacca, Admiral Ackbar, and Luke Skywalker was a favorite.  These came in three varieties, Peanut Butter, Vanilla, and Chocolate (the latter being offered exclusively in the “dark side” villain character shapes.)  Though I remember the dry, crumbly cookies coming in a foil bag inside these boxes, I don’t really have any specific memories of eating them.  I just know that I did because I can recall almost every aspect of these boxes that I undoubtedly poured over while munching on the cookies.  I was always a food container reader, something that I continue to this day.

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No matter how these things ended up surviving, I can’t thank @FarToys_Vintage enough for allowing me to reconnect with some very obscure treasures from my past.

What’s your favorite weird tiny nostalgic collection?

But Does it Hold Up?

It’s weird when you come to the realization that you’re getting older, especially when you’re a kid at heart. Sure, we all tick off each year with a birthday and we watch the holidays and seasons fly by, but as we run through our twenties and thirties, it’s hard not to continuously feel like a teenager.  I make plenty of jokes about being the grump out on the stoop shaking a toy lightsaber at the “youngins” barking at them to get off my lawn, but it wasn’t until the past few years when I really started to feel older.  It started with generally losing track of the music scene and who the comedians were on the cast of Saturday Night Live, but the next thing I knew I was walking out of the movie theater bitching about all the teens texting and how loud and ridiculously disorienting the film was.  Then at work I found myself explaining to my younger co-workers what 8-Trac and cassette tapes are, as well as describing what playing the original Nintendo Entertainment System was so much fun.  They couldn’t get past the fact that most games didn’t have save points or that you couldn’t respawn where your character bit the dust and that you’d have to play the whole level over again from scratch.  Long story short, I really began to start feeling old, like I was officially part of a generation removed that is no longer driving pop culture at all.

cassette1_3033301bI can totally accept that, but there are aspects to this shift in generation that bug me, and it’s not just feeling like I have to defend my pop culture to a younger generation, what really bothers me is having to defend it to my own. I get why the younger generation mocks the TV shows and cartoons that I grew up on, I mean I did the same thing to a certain extent with my parent’s pop culture.  It’s just a symptom of the changing of the guard.  But what really kills me is when folks my age look back to our shared pop culture experiences and they sneer and inevitably say the four words that really burrow under my skin in the worst way, “It Doesn’t Hold Up.”  This typically comes after I’ve been chatting with someone and I mention that I collect 80s era ephemera and cartoons on DVD.  I’ll bring up a series like the Silverhawks or Jem and they’re get really excited as they remember something that’s long been buried in their psyche.  “Oh, I used to love that show!” is what they say, followed by a promise to look it up on Netflix or Hulu.  Then, about a week or so later I’ll run into them again and there will be a weird hostility in their voice as they inform me that they watched a few episodes of that long forgotten cartoon and they were “sooooo disappointed…” because “It Didn’t Hold Up.”

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This always makes me wonder what exactly folks are expecting out of revisiting the pop culture of their youth. Are they expecting the shows to feel like they were written today, with current day ethics and attention spans taken into consideration?  Are they expecting there to be a layer of adult innuendo that they missed as a kid?  Or are they simply hoping that what made them excited, laugh or smile as a kid would still be the thing that hit them in the same place as an adult?  Honestly, it’s probably all three, and after realizing that the first two expectations didn’t pan out they’re disappointed (sometimes angrily so.)  This typically also leads to the ranking game, the “what were the best (fill in the blank) back in the day”, that also usually raises my hackles a little.  Don’t get me wrong.  I have no problem with folks ranking their favorite shows or movies, but it inevitably becomes a competition (well a perceived one at least) where I’m asked to make my list for comparison.  I hate being put in that position as it makes me feel defensive and weird if the other person has already decided something on my list “doesn’t hold up.”  Nostalgia is a celebration and an acknowledgement of the shared pop culture experience, it’s not a competition or a dick measuring contest.

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I think this also brings me back to an ideal that I try very hard to adhere to when writing for Branded, the idea that every cartoon, comic book, toy, live action show, sitcom, band, song and movie is someone’s favorite thing in the world.  Even the Mon Chi Chi’s Rubix the Amazing Cube, or the seasons of Diff’rent Strokes with Danny Cooksey.

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I always try my best to invoke this perspective when I approach a subject, to put myself in the shoes of a superfan so that I can get to the heart of why something works or is cool.  In this online era of negativity with all the snark, butt-hurt expectations and angry backlash from fandom at the mere mention of re-launching a dormant brand for a new generation, I truly believe that I have to take the optimistic perspective and earn the right to bag on something.  I know it’s not popular to continuously play the optimist, but I’d rather sacrifice pageviews, comments, likes and followers for a more fun and upbeat nostalgia experience.  It’s not simply just a matter of “If you don’t have nothing nice to say…”, because I think there is a very important place for dissent, criticism, and anger.  But I do think that that perspective has to be earned or else it rings hollow, argumentative or baiting.

I guess this all leads me to a few questions.  Am I weird for not caring if a show or movie from my childhood “holds up” or not?  Does anyone think that today’s pop culture will hold up twenty years from now?  Have you ever been in a situation where you felt weird for loving a TV show or movie that everyone around you thought was stupid because it didn’t hold up for them?  If there is a show that doesn’t hold up for you, have you still been able to find any enjoyment revisiting it, or does it sort of become something that you divorce yourself from?

Lets Talk About that Epic HBO Feature Presentation Intro from the 80s

I always felt very lucky to have had access to cable television as a kid growing up in the 80s.  Whether it was the fact that I had access to WGN so that I could be exposed to the Bozo Show (and more importantly the Grand Prize Game segments), Nickelodeon and the plethora of awesome programming on the network, or the handful of years when my folks popped for the extra $20 a month to subscribe to HBO.  Home Box Office was chock full of really cool stuff back in the day, shows like Fraggle Rock, Encyclopedia, and the Buy Me That specials hosted by Jim Fyfe.

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But hands down the single coolest thing on HBO was the minute and a half intro that played before all of the first run movies in the evenings.  If you had HBO in the 80s and 90s you know the one…

This awesome Feature Presentation introduction with is bombastic score and its extremely 80s era effects work is one of those pieces of media that is burned into the memory of anyone who was subscribed during the decade.  In fact there are some movies that I’ve watched a hundred times off of a VHS that taped from an HBO broadcast where this intro feels like it’s part of the film.  Much in the same way that the 20th Century Fox intro feels like a part of the original Star Wars trilogy or the Tri Star Pegasus intro feels like a part of the Monster Squad, this HBO intro has become associated with a ton of films for me.

I can’t count how many times my co-hosts Paxton and Jaime have brought it up when we’re recording the Cult Film Club podcast, sharing memories of the films it played before and breaking down some of the little details (like how neat it is that the HBO logo is basically a space station beaming down movies to the earth below.)  Yet, in all our conversations in never occurred to me just how detailed this short introduction really is.  In fact, up until this past weekend I was under the impression that a portion of the intro, the HBO shaped space station/satellite, was a (literal) shining example of some early CGI animation.  Turns out, not so much!

HBO Intro

After falling down the rabbit hole that is youtube for a few hours I stumbled upon a pretty amazing bit of vintage HBO, a behind the scenes special on the making of the HBO Feature Presentation intro!

You know that HBO knew they had something special on their hands when they took the time to produce a Making-Of alongside the actual intro.  First of all, I love that this short video exists because now I have some insight into who actually worked on the intro.  Folks like that are usually the unsung heroes of pop culture because they’re working in a marketing capacity.  I mean, show of hands, how many people can name at least 10 different Transformers characters from the 80s toyline?  Most of you right?  Now, how many of you can name at least one of the artists who painted box art for those toys? I’m guessing not nearly as many.  This isn’t to say the we’re not interested in these artists, it’s just that there is almost no visibility into who these folks are.  So after almost 30 years of loving this HBO intro, I finally get to learn who some of the folks are who worked on it, folks who’s art and talent have burned its way into my permanent memory.

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The video (embedded above) is about 10 minutes long and it details the work done on some of the 60 plus visual elements that went into making the intro.  The intro was written, designed and shot by Liberty Studios out of NYC headed up by company president Anthony Lover (wow, what a name!)

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Their idea was to create a look and feel to the HBO brand that really set it apart from anything that had previously been on TV or cable by metaphorically bridging the gap between the cable company and its audience.  That’s why the intro begins with a shot looking through the window of a family’s home where they are sitting down to watch TV.  The piece starts with us, and then it pans out to a building, then a city street, then a city, the country, the horizon, and eventually into space and the HBO signal space station.  By pushing forward even more, entering the giant spinning HBO logo we’re brought full circle into the Feature Presentation animation which is what would be playing on the TV in that first home.

One of the things that really struck me was just how much of this intro was practically shot with actual props, up to and including that brilliant shiny metal HBO logo in space (with a fun practical backlit starburst effect created by David Bruce!)

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I never would have guessed that they manufactured that piece out of brass, and now I’m insanely curious to know where that piece is now?  I assume it’s in the office of some HBO bigwig, but it’s just as likely in a landfill (I mean, look at where the Deathstar shooting model would have ended up had it not been for my friend Todd over at Neato Coolville, Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3!)

I also think it’s rad that the 6-person model team and the Special Effects Model director (James Kowalski) built and shot a huge cityscape in about 1:64 scale (Hot Wheel car size.)

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They built all the building facades, trees, lamp posts, and even working traffic lights, as well as putting in a ton of details like potted plants sitting on the fire escapes, the painted lines in the streets and even tiny signs.  They went so far to put in working lights in every room in every building and house in the model.  Even the headlights on all the cars and buses work.  The artists even peppered the city with bums and hookers, so if you have a keen eye and a fast finger for the pause button you can scope some crazy details.  Overall the model is about 10 feet wide and 30 feet long.  That’s 300 square feet of awesome that took three months to build!

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I love that there ended up being so much detail, so many tiny flourishes that caught the eye that they realized in order to make it look real and not fake in a hyper-reality sort of way, they had to pump in smoke to blur the horizon and give the perception of a more natural three dimensional environment.  As you travel through the model the foreground becomes crisp and clear while the background stays slightly fuzzy.  The effect is pretty damn amazing and points to why practical effects will always trump CGI for realism.

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The music for the HBO intro is just as important as the effects that go into the visuals too.  The piece was composed by Ferdinand J. Smith and performed by a 65 piece orchestra, illustrating that HBO spared no expense for this short one and a half minute introduction. Also, before I forget and neglect to mention it, the music in this making of video is amazingly reminiscent of the 70s/early 80s Sesame Street music which makes the whole thing that much more fun.

So, if you’re like me and you grew up with your eyes glued to HBO, it’s totally worth checking out this 10 minute making of video.  Now, if I could only get similar behind the scenes pieces on the Tri-Star, 20th Century Fox, and 80s era Nickelodeon intros!

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Rekindling the Awesome 80s Kid Adventure Genre

As a kid in the 80s there was a sub-genre of movies, books and TV that I was addicted to focusing on kid adventurers.  I think these stories really struck a nerve with me because I could identify with the characters so closely.  They didn’t have super powers, weren’t typically super well off, and yet they all had a thirst for discovery, exploration and adventure that led them to unlocking mysteries, fighting against villains and monsters, and basically becoming heroes.  You see this in movies like the Goonies, Monster Squad, the Explorers, E.T. and Stand By Me, books like the Choose Your Own Adventure or the Samantha Slade: Monster Sitter series, and TV shows like Whiz Kids and Voyagers.  Though the genre has persisted through the 90s and on to today the tone has shifted dramatically and these days to a point where these kid characters are either super powered themselves or live in a world so unrelateable that it doesn’t feel that the kid audience could ever stumble into the same story (I’m looking at you Hunger Games, Maze Runner, Harry Potter, et al.)

So, when my artist friend Scott Serkland reached out to me about his new comic book Young and the Dead I was super stoked to see what he has in store!  Set in the 80s, the story follows a group of neighborhood kids who find themselves in the middle of the zombie apocalypse. From the kickstarter page:

Young and the Dead follows the adventures of 11-year-old Sam Young and his little brother Tad, who wake up one morning to find that most of the adults in their quiet suburban neighborhood have fallen victim to a nasty virus that has transformed them into flesh eating zombies. Together, with a rag-tag team of neighborhood misfits: Sam’s wisecracking best friend Mitch, a live action role-play aficionado named Lloyd, a tough as nails tomboy named Oxsana, Sam’s secret crush Stephanie, and her overprotective older brother Ricardo, aka Rocky. It’s a race against time as these unlikely heroes fight to survive and unlock the clues to a cure that could possibly reverse the effects of the deadly zombie outbreak and save the world in the process.

Young in the Dead is an homage to all the great kid-centric adventure films of the 1980′s. Films like The Goonies, Monster Squad, Explorers, and ET The Extra Terrestrial, to name a few. Think Goonies meets Night of the Living Dead. Young and the Dead combines 80′s nostalgia, adventure, humor, horror, mystery, and danger, and throws in a healthy helping of zombies (You all remember the zombie apocalypse of the 1980s, right?) There will be thrills, chills, and guts will spill (mostly zombie guts)!”

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I’ve been a fan of Scott’s artwork for years and it’s really awesome to see him branching out into sequential storytelling. He has a really great design aesthetic that bleeds out of his art and into his presentation at conventions and appearances.  I mean take a look at his setup!

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I’ve gotten a chance to read the first two issues and I fell head over heels for the story.  I love Scott’s attention to detail and his take on these kids coming from some semi-broken homes.

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He also has a great sense of whimsy, yet when it comes to bringing the violence and gore of the zombie horror he pulls no punches!

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All in all, I think fans of 80s nostalgia, horror and most importantly the kid adventure genre will really dig Scotts new comic.  You can find the project over on kickstarter where he’s making the story available in a number of formats with a lot of cool perks and add-ons.  In particular I’m hoping that the project reaches the Trading Card stretch goal as I’d love to see some Young and the Dead wax packs!

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So again, if you dig horror, the 80s or kid adventure, take a moment to head over to the funding page, watch Scott’s introduction video and consider backing the project.  I know I did…

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Weird Collectables, or the Most Awesome Swatch of Wallpaper Ever…

Considering the rant-ish piece I wrote last week about the exclusivity of the upcoming Mondo Monster Squad “Rock Until You Drop” vinyl singles, I thought it would behoove me to switch gears from focusing on that sort of manufactured collectible to a much more organic and meaningful piece that I was privileged to put in my personal collection recently.

A couple of months ago I was surprised with one of the weirdest yet coolest gifts that I’ve ever received, and it touched me so deeply that I actually shed a few tears when I realized what I was holding in my hand.  I had been contacted by a really kind former crew member (Jim Clarke) who had worked on one of my favorite childhood television shows, You Can’t Do That on Television.  Apparently he’d read and dug a couple of the pieces I’d written that surrounded the show here at Branded (a review of the You Can’t Do That On Film documentary and the Slimed book), and had mentioned that he wanted to send me a piece of ephemera for my collection.  A couple of weeks went by and with a ton of crazy things going on behind the scenes of Branded I let this exchange slip from my mind a bit until I received a small envelope in the mail with a Canadian postal return address.

As I carefully opened the package I was trying to guess at what the contents might be.  Mr. Clarke was purposely vague as to what he was sending, and I’m glad he was.  The packaged contained a folded letter on official CTV letterhead and a swatch of blue and green flowered wallpaper.  For a second I was confused, and then it dawned on me that I was holding a very small and very awesome piece of the You Can’t Do That On Television filming set!  This was a piece of wallpaper that adorned the walls of the main family living room set where Les Lye’s Lance Prevert and Abby Hagyard’s Mom character cracked wise with dozens of kid actors during the 80s and early 90s.  I mean, holy crap, if this piece of wallpaper could talk.

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You Can’t Do That On Television was such a huge show for me.  Not only was it the cornerstone show of a network that I watched all the time as a kid and teen, but it was my first real introduction to sketch comedy.  YCDTOTV was my gateway to shows like Monty Python, SCTV, Kids in the Hall and the Upright Citizens Brigade.  That style of comedy is what kept me sane as an overweight, geeky teenager, and I can’t even count how often my mind would drift back to the dozen characters Les Lye played when I was struggling to fit in at school and with friends.  Those characters were the backbone of my inner monologue comedy, and they shaped me as a person to an extent.  So to have a piece, even something as small and insignificant as a piece of wallpaper from that show is almost like having a magic talisman.

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Never in a million years did I ever think I’d own and cherish a small patch of wallpaper, a piece of wallpaper that I’m totally going to frame and hang proudly in Branded HQ.  This just reinforces the idea that maybe, instead of dropping a ton of cash on eBay for nostalgic toys or cool new manufactured collectibles, maybe it’s better to put out as much positive energy out into the void as possible and then let the universe return the favor.  I’m not a super spiritual individual, but I do know that the things that I cherish the most, collection-wise, is stuff that has come my way through connections I’ve made because of writing and podcasting here at Branded in the 80s.  I’ve had the honor to meet (online and in person) some amazingly friendly and talented people that I never would have met had I not started this project, and the gifts, trades and purchases are the things that truly make my heart swell.

I can’t thank Jim Clarke enough for reaching out like he did and helping to keep the flame of You Can’t Do That On Television alive.  Clarke is one of the few people who was forward thinking enough to save some of the sets and props from the show.  In addition to saving some of the wallpaper from the living room set, Clarke also owns the wooden post from the firing squad set, the microphone Les Lye’s announcer character used, and the freaking lockers from the mid-show joke segments!  How cool is that?  You can check out an interview with him here.

What’s the weirdest/coolest piece in your nostalgia collection?

Exclusivity Vs. Fandom, or Why it Sucks to be a Collector These Days *UPDATED*

I’ve mentioned this in the past, but it bears repeating, I don’t like being negative here at Branded in the 80s.  First and foremost this site is about celebrating the nostalgia of the 80s and all of the cool stuff that goes along with loving that decade.  But I’m human and just like everyone else there is some stuff that just really grinds my gears.  Typically when there’s something that really gets on my nerves I’ll force my better half to listen to me gripe about it for a few days, then I’ll focus on something positive and just get over it.  But every once in awhile I just want to get all my thoughts out on paper (so to speak) and process the negativity in a slightly more productive manner.  Can I get a decent article or editorial out of it?  Well, let’s see.

This past week one of my favorite movies of all time, the Monster Squad, was suddenly trending in the news due to the announcement that Mondo would be releasing the film’s soundtrack on vinyl this October.  To get people excited for that release the company decided to also release a vinyl single this May featuring the two pop songs from the film, Michael Sembello’s “Rock Until You Drop” and the end credits “Monster Squad Rap”.  Frankly, this is outstanding news as I’ve been dying for the soundtrack and score on vinyl for years.  La-La Land Records had just recently released the Bruce Broughton score on CD (and it sounds amazing), but I was really hoping for a nice piece of artistic vinyl, something that I could put out and display.

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So, considering this awesome news, why am I so bummed?  Well, the Mondo single release is going to be made available in four variant editions, each featuring beautiful sleeve artwork by some really swell artists and different colored vinyl pressings.  The releases include artwork by Gary Pullin, Randy Ortiz, Jason Edmiston, and the folks at Phantom City Creative (the latter two I featured during my Month of the Monster Squad a couple years ago.)  Here’s a look at the four release variants…

Dracula cover with art by Phantom City Creative

Dracula cover with art by Phantom City Creative

Wolfman cover with art by Gary Pullin

Wolfman cover with art by Gary Pullin

Frankenstein cover with art by Jason Edmiston

Frankenstein cover with art by Jason Edmiston

Gillman cover with art by Randy Ortiz

Gillman cover with art by Randy Ortiz

Alright, amazing cover at and super cool colored vinyl, so far so good.  While I’m not crazy about variants and the thought of paying for the same two songs four times, that’s totally something I’m willing to do as a huge fan of the Monster Squad.  So what’s my problem?  Well, two of these variants are going to be exclusives.  Actually technically three of these are exclusives, I just happen to live in an area where one of them will be readily available.  The Gary Pullin Wolfman variant will be exclusively available at Texas Frightmare starting this weekend and the Ortiz Gillman edition will only be available in record stores in the UK in May.  The Edmiston Frankenstein edition is going to be exclusively sold in record stores in the US in May, and the PCC Dracula version will be sold online at the Mondo site also starting in May.  So, for Monster Squad fans like me living outside of Texas in the US the Wolfman and Gillman editions are going to be a bit tricky to get our hands on.

Though record stores in the UK will be offering copies of the Gillman pressing for sale online (for instance Transmission Records and Norman Records), I’ve been hearing that they will be refusing or refunding orders coming in from the US to keep the European exclusivity intact.  This is frankly (excuse my french), frustrating as shit.  On the one hand I applaud the convictions of these record store owners for sticking to their guns, but on the other I just want to give them my money in return for a product they are selling that I really want to buy.  Similarly, with the Pullin variant, from what I understand you have to attend Texas Frightmare in order to get a copy.  So, I live roughly 1,400 miles from Dallas, TX and had pretty much zero chance of making it out to the show this weekend.  If I want to snag a copy of that disc I have to crowd-source my shopping list and hope that I’ve made a contact on one of the social media channels I frequent who might be going to the show.  I also have to hope that they don’t mind standing in line for me, hauling the record around all day, and then taking the time to ship it to me after the show.  I’ve met a bunch of super gracious folks who have done similar “muleing” for me in the past, but I hate asking this of people every time there’s some exclusive I want at a show I just can’t get to.

Exclusivity.  I’ll be honest, the whole concept just baffles and enrages me.  It’s not that I feel a sense of entitlement or that I should be able to get everything that I want.  Trust me, I learned at a very early age that not only do we not typically get what we want, but that it’s probably better for our moral character that we don’t.  If these records were simply limited editions (which they are, on top of being regionally exclusive), and they all sold out in a matter of minutes I could deal with that.  But being denied even the chance at getting them based purely on my geographic location is like kicking a wolfman in the nards when he’s down.

Hell, I’ve even been on the lucky end of this stick in the past having easy access to exclusives (like the Halloween Hot Wheels Ghostbusters Ecto-1 variants at my at-the-time local Kroger grocery stores) and I’ll be honest, it didn’t feel that great.  Being a collector I was acutely aware that there were a ton of people in other states that wanted those exclusives that didn’t have access to them.  I had to make the tough choice one year of either leaving these Hot Wheel toys on the store shelves, or buying them all up and sending them out to friends in other states for cost.  Sure, I got to feel good about making sure collectors that wanted the cars got them at an affordable price, but I also was put in the position of a scalper, keeping other local folks from being able to buy them. It just felt crummy all around.

Bottom line.  I’m a super fan of a cult film who already feels a little marginalized because there isn’t a whole of collectible merchandise available for said film.  I’m already scouring the internet for rare items to celebrate my love for the Monster Squad (from Japanese movie pamphlets to rare publicity photos from the film’s premier.)  So now, on top of that I have to basically be denied access to cool new collectibles, or choose to pay ridiculously inflated prices on eBay for those collectibles from the scalpers that will inevitably flood the market days after the release.  That is the environment that exclusivity breeds.  These records that sell for £12 at the UK shops will be bought up by bottom feeding scalpers that will turn around and sell them for upwards of £40 to £50 on eBay or the Amazon Marketplace.  The sad fact is that this is a trend that I do not see ending anytime soon.  The companies that release these exclusives are getting exactly what they want (which is selling through all of their product in a short window of time), so why would they change to a more fan-friendly model?

*UPDATE*

So, just as I figured two things happened.  First, the Wolfman Texas Frightmare variant was next to impossible to get for all the reasons stated above.  Not only was I unable to source a copy from the show by reaching out on social media, but the leftover copies were put online at Mondo and sold out in a few minutes.  I’m not saying I have a huge reach on social media mind you, but I have a decent number of contacts and I even had both the cover artist, Gary Pullin, and Andre Gower from Monster Squad retweeting my call for help to no avail.  Second, checking eBay only a week after these records started going on sale and we can already see scalpers reselling these Monster Squad releases for two to five times their suggested retail price!

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This is after just one week!  When folks start getting these records in hand I can almost guarantee that the Wolfman, Gillman, and Frankenstein variants are going to be selling for upwards of $100.  In fact…

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For a two-song, 7-inch single.  I’ve heard arguments for both sides of this exclusivity game, and both have their merits, but I just can’t believe that this is the best way to go about marketing niche products aimed at fans, to fans.  Again, I am a huge Monster Squad fan who is willing to drop the $60 plus shipping for the four variants, and yet, with cash in hand I am barred access from the get-go.  I mean, I’m looking at the list of things required to pick up a release like this (money, awareness of the releases, checking availability the moment they go on sale, connections in areas where the exclusive releases are going on sale, etc.) and I check every box.  Well, every box except the one that reads: “Willing to pay upwards of 700% the price to douchebags who want to price gouge because the item is exclusive.”  Screw that check box.  Like I said, these days it really sucks to be a collector.

What about you, where do you stand on exclusivity?  Is there something awesome about this marketing concept that I’m missing?

These Should Exist: The Robo Force Edition!

Well, I’m finally back from my winter hiatus and I have a lot of stuff I want to write about here at Branded in the coming year.  2016 marks my 10 year running this site and I’m kind of floored that I’m still loving it after all these years.  Hell, I’ve officially been writing about the 80s as long as that decade lasted and I still have a ton of articles in mind that I’d love to tackle.  Bottom line, I want to take a second to thank each and every person who has ever stopped by to read an article, leave a comment, or strike up a conversation on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook.  I’ve gotten a chance to meet a bunch of you at various conventions and live events, and there are still a lot of folks I’d love to say “Hi” to in person someday.  It’s been a crazy ride and it’s not even close to being over yet.

I wanted to ease my way back into writing articles so I thought this would be the perfect time to share another set of digital trading cards that I’ve been slowly working on over the last year.  Looking back to the beginning of this site, there was one 80s brand that came up a lot when I was fondly remembering obscure nostalgia from my childhood.  It’s a toy line that is a real underdog when it comes to under-loved properties, and one that has had a great resurgence over the past couple of years.  I’m talking about those loveable, hugable robots, Maxx Steele’s Robo Force!

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When I started designing these digital 80s trading cards I knew that I wanted to not only fill in the pop culture cards for sets based on TV shows and movies, I also wanted to create sets for other fun stuff like bands, book series and toy lines.  Robo Force was always right up there at the top of the list of sets I wanted to work on, not only because I have a lot of fondness for the line, but also because there is a lot of great artwork that really hasn’t been showcased.

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I took this opportunity to scan the back of one of the packages that had some great art featuring all the characters from wave one of the toy line.  I also scanned in some of the book covers and took some fun screenshots from the one cartoon episode that was finally released on DVD this past year…

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All in all, I had a blast working on this cards.  To beat a dead horse, I really wish that I could get these professionally printed up, but until I can make that happen I guess I’ll just have to be content in creating them.

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This is also one of those sets where I had a hard time holding back when it came to the amount of cards I wanted to design.  Between trying to feature all of the characters, the great artwork from the books and screenshots from the DVD, if I had the time this set would have easily had 100 cards or more.  As it stands I tried to cap myself at 26 to keep it down to a manageable project.

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RoboForce_Combo_19     RoboForce_Combo_20

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I was really happy with how these turned out.  In fact, I’m toying around with the idea of making a second series that exclusively focuses on the animated special so that I can try my hand at putting together a set that is more in line with the Masters of the Universe cards that Topps did (complete with scene by scene breakdowns and speech bubbles added to all the screenshots.)  But we’ll see…

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