Category Archives: Personal

Monster Squad, my VHS holy grail…

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For the longest time it seemed like I was the only person who even knew that The Monster Squad existed.  After moving away from Florida during the winter of 1990 it seemed like I left behind everything I thought I knew and moved to a snowy wilderness where none of the other kids wore T&C Thrilla Gorilla shirts or obnoxiously colored surf shorts, nobody seemed to have a skateboard, and no one I met had heard of The Monster Squad.  New Hampshire felt like a completely different planet as a preteen who had spent the last 11 years growing up in sunny Tampa and Orlando.  During this period of change my mother and I developed some strange habits to try and stay connected to the world we left behind.  We had these daily ritual movie-watching sessions where we’d watch and rewatch the same handful of movies to a point where we knew every line of dialogue by heart and the tapes started to deteriorate.  VHS ownership was still an expensive hobby in 1990 as it was still in the middle of the initial boom and many catalog titles were only being manufactured for sale to video rental stores at exorbitant prices.  We had a handful of movies we’d taped off of HBO including a copy of Willow that I know for a fact was played over three hundred times during that year or so where we felt like we were in limbo.  And regular trips to the video rental shop were as important as eating or breathing.

I subsisted on a steady diet of about six VHS tapes that I watched to death, copies of Robocop and the first Tim Burton Batman flick that we owned, that beat up, taped copy of Willow, and rental copies of Rad, Red Dawn and The Monster Squad.  It was around this time that I developed a desire to own copies of the movies that I loved.  As I mentioned, buying copies of a lot of films was cost prohibitive as you had to purchase them through video store distributors and a single movie carried a price tag anywhere between $79.95 to well over $100.  For a thirteen year-old kid that seemed like an impossible dream.  When I could I’d tape movies off of HBO, which wasn’t perfect, but with recording in EXP mode and cramming three full movies on a single tape, the $5.99 per blank tape cost was much more in the realm of my budget.  Even so, I never managed to record The Monster Squad on TV, so it became the first hole in my collection, the movie I was constantly on the lookout for.

US Retail - Store VHS Vestron Advertisement 1988

I would have battled the vampire in the above VHS trade advertisement for a chance to own the flick.  Also, on a side note, I think it’s kind of funny just how much of the Monster Squad marketing riffed off of Ghostbusters, specifically in the ad above.  I guess the copy writers were trying their best to align it with the gold standard of horror comedies at the time.  “The Monster Squad ain’t afraid of no Ghouls!” indeed.

Getting back to my collecting woes, I wouldn’t own a copy of the film until a couple years after I graduated from high school.  In and around 1998 there was a rental store called Home Video in my neck of the woods that was beginning to thin out some of its stock to start making room for DVD rentals.  I had a full time job and was buying up VHS tapes left and right.  Though I had a pretty sizable collection (around 250 tapes at that point, which was a lot for the time) I still had yet to find a copy of The Monster Squad and by this time Vestron was no longer distributing the flick (if they were even still in business at all) so I was always on the hunt for video stores that were selling off their tapes.  So when I walked in and saw their clearance shelves I immediately started scanning the racks.  Right there in the middle of the second row was a copy of the movie complete with a faded cover from being in line of the direct sun for years on end, but I had to have it.  The store was asking for $30, which was still a pretty hefty price tag for me, but I plunked down a twenty and a ten and walked out with mt prize.

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I watched the ever living hell out of this copy of The Monster Squad, well over 200 times between 1998 and 2007 when the flick was finally released on DVD.  It’s still the gem in my movie collection even though I haven’t owned a VCR in almost a decade, and I can’t imagine ever parting with it.  Since this was released I’ve picked up the DVD, a copy of the laserdisc, and now the Blu-Ray.  I’m sure I’ll buy a copy when it’s released on a  holocube or whatever the hell the next format is.  Some people continuously buy copies of Star Wars over and over, but for me, it’s The Monster Squad.

Alright, now for today’s Monster Squad trading card!

Monster Squad Wrapper

Since there was never any MS merchandise produced, specifically a Topps trading card set, I thought it would be fun to make a mini set of 80s-style digital trading cards for my favorite movie of all time. So come back each day for Trick or Treats and collect them all!

Today’s card is # 1, Sean Crenshaw!

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How I discovered the Monster Squad…

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I’m sure most Monster Kids can recall that moment when they were exposed to and ultimately fell head over heels in love with classic horror. That first experience where they stumbled upon an issue of Famous Monsters of Filmland, when they caught a glimpse of a Basil Gogos painting, found their first Aurora monster model kit, or tuned into their first local horror host screening a beat up old print of one of the universal classics on a Saturday afternoon. For me, I can pinpoint that moment to an almost exact place, date and time. I had just recently turned ten years-old, it was in Orlando on August 22nd 1987, at the Altamonte Springs Cineplex Odeon theater at roughly 4:00pm. I know that because that was when I attended a screening of Fred Dekker’s The Monster Squad with my childhood friend Bryan and my mind was blown by what transpired on that huge movie screen over the course of the next hour and twenty minutes.

The excitement had been building for a couple weeks prior to that screening. I had about $10 worth of saved birthday money in my black Velcro Jimmy Z wallet that was earmarked for a matinee at my local theater and there were a handful of flicks that I really wanted to see that summer. I wasn’t sure if I should get a ticket to North Shore (I lived in FL and was in the middle of my surfing/BMX/Skateboarding phase), the new live action Masters of the Universe flick (I was in the waning days of my initial love of that cartoon and toy line), or Garbage Pail Kids: The Movie. Then one afternoon I was hanging out with my friend Bryan at another kid’s house that I didn’t know all that well. That kid’s parents were out shopping and we were sitting at the kitchen table flipping through the Orlando Sentinel looking for the comics and movie announcements. We were making a mess of the Arts and Entertainment section, spreading it all over the kitchen trying to find the fun stuff when out of the corner of my eye I glimpsed an ad for a film I hadn’t heard of and the tagline had me diving over Bryan to snatch up the page.

“You know who to call when you have Ghosts. But who do you call when you have Monsters?”

Monster Squad Newspaper Ad August 14 1987 2

I wish the above picture was ripped from the Orlando Sentinel, but unfortunately their archive is mainly text, but pretty much everything else besides the theater location is what I saw that afternoon.  I remember drooling over the artwork in the ad, the iconic painting by Craig Nelson featuring a group of kid monster hunters hanging out on the hood of a hearse underneath a sky literally filled with monsters. It was like the Mt. Rushmore of classic movie monsters, and at that moment I knew exactly where the remainder of my birthday money was going. All thoughts of surfing vacations in Hawaii, Dolph Lundgren as He-Man, or little people in GPK costumes evaporated from my consciousness. In my spastic excitement Bryan and his friend had stopped spreading and paper out and they hovered over my shoulders to get a look at what I was obsessing over. They were hooked too. The Monster Squad sounded amazing to our 10 year-old brains, it was like The Goonies versus Halloween and we all decided that come hell or high water we’d be catching that movie as soon as possible.

Spokane Chronicle Page Spread Aug 14 1987

That afternoon was capped off with some weird drama as Bryan and I got into an argument with his friend about the use of his home phone and our now immediate need to call a 1-900 number to “hear a special monster message”, part of the Monster Squad theatrical advertisement that ran in the August 14th papers across the country (as seen above.) By calling 1-900-660-6666 we could actually talk to a freaking monster! Bryan’s friend was having none of it as he wisely knew that he’d get into huge trouble when the phone bill came and there were a bunch of charges that he’s have a tough time explaining away. No matter how much we needled him, no matter how much we cajoled, or offered a month’s worth of sack lunch Twinkies, he would not budge.  Needless to say we were bummed and in a fit of childhood stupidity Bryan and I stormed out of his house and sped away on our bikes in a huff. That little row lasted the entire week and on that next Saturday it was just Bryan and I packed into the rear-facing, fold-up station wagon seat en route to catch a screening of a film that would forever change my life.

Twenty Seven years later and I can still feel the visceral pull of needed to call that 900 number.  When I sat down to write this my mind raced.  Dare I dial it?  Would that recording still be ready to play, sitting on an aging cassette tape in some call center switchboard, just waiting for me to finally be brave enough (and financially stable enough) to accept the charges and hear a real live (er…recorded) monster tell me some juicy tidbits about their life, or my Horror-scope, or whatever cheesy message was in store?  I had some Skype-Out credit sitting in my account so I decided what the hell, what’s the worst that can happen?  Well, it’s my sad duty to report that the number is no longer in service.  Sigh.  That doesn’t mean my research stopped there.  I dug into the internet archives hoping someone else had written about, or hopefully recorded that original message.  No dice.  Well, not exactly.  Thankfully someone on youtube managed to rip an old 1-900-660-6666 commercial from a VHS tape and upload it, though for the final nail of my despair coffin the commercial was Christmas themed.  Apparently whoever held that number changed it out seasonally.  Still, kinda neat that my detective skills were unable to unlock that tidbit I guess.

So in place of the actual Call a Monster message, here’s asimilar horror-themed 900 hotline from back in the day.  I’m particularly fond of it as it was pimped by Al Lewis, Grandpa Munster himself and called the Jr. Vampires of America Club!

Also, this first post is just the taste of a much longer article that I recently wrote for the premiere issue of Monster Shindig magazine which should be debuting later this month!

Lastly today’s first Monster Squad Trading Card!!!

Monster Squad Wrapper

I made a mini set of 80s Topps-style digital trading cards for my favorite movie of all time, one that unfortunately never had an official set released (or any merchandise for that matter.) So come back each day for Trick or Treats and collect them all!

Today’s card is #10, The Mummy!

10 Mummy F-B

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Awkward Toy Family Photos…

Though I’ve been more or less away from the site for the last few months, I’ve still been mucking about with some geeky nostalgic stuff.  In particular I’ve been having some fun on Instagram taking a series of photos of my current toy collection.  Since I’ve broken down and started picking up some more vintage toys lately (ones that I used to own not mint on card or in box), as well as picking up some modern nostalgic figures here and there, I thought it would be cool to jumble these up and create some goofy Awkward Toy Family photos to document the collection.  That’s one of the things that I enjoy about Instagram is that it only takes a few minutes to grab a few toys from the shelf and snap a picture before heading out to work.  It’s never going to replace Branded, but when I’ve got a crap ton of real life things eradicating my time to write, it’s a great way to still feel engaged. So, with that in mind, here are some of the photos I’ve shot over the summer…

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This is one of the first I shot, and it was just totally on a whim.  I love the idea of Faker giving piggyback rides.  My good buddy HooveR had sent me this Captain Power figure and that small act of kindness is pretty much what helped me break through my aversion to procuring loose, used, old toys.  I had forgotten how cool the Captain figure was and had a blast pairing him up with my Masters of the Universe figures, so I just said “screw it” and started hitting up eBay.  So thanks Hoov! ;)

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Speaking of the Captain, here’s a photo for a failed 80s band that could never reproduce the popularity of their first and only major label record.  Emmdubs, a swell dude I follow on the social media was kind enough to send me his old Miles Mayhem figure, and I had just recently picked up that sweet Tux Go Bot mint on card at a local antique shop for only $7.

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I envisioned this photo as three hard working dudes getting together after a tough day of doing whatever jobs requires wearing these cumbersome masks.  Emmdubs has also sent me this Matt Tracker figure, and I went ahead and pulled the trigger on two of my favorite childhood action figures from the Star Wars and G.I. Joe lines (the AT-AT Driver and Wet Suit.)

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Next up is my cadre of feathered heroes including Quicksilver from the Silverhawks (the only Silverhawks figure I owned as a kid), Jason from Battle of the Planets, and Gizmoduck from DuckTales.  I had this GD cereal premium as a teen and cherished it so much that I turned it into a lucky necklace and wore it to my high school graduation.  Some ridiculous teacher saw it and snatched it away from me and I never found her to get it back.  By the by, man is it ever hard to find a decent condition Silverhawks figure.  The chrome plating wears off so easily so 97% of the loose figures I’ve seen look terrible.  Took forever to find this one…

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Here’s a weird toy robot family photo including my all time favorite Transformer Sideswipe, Cliffjumper, a cool Decoy of Smokescreen, and my favorite Go Bots toy, the Super Go Bot Psycho!

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Switching gears a bit, here’s a picture of some of my favorite childhood motorcycles (Sly and Piranha & Brad Turner and Condor from M.A.S.K. along with Afterburner from the Transformers.)

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Here’s another early one that I’ve posted before featuring a D&D Wardule, Tonto from the Gabriel Lone Ranger line and a demon from Blackstar.

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For those of you who are longtime readers you’ll know that I love Robo Force and I REALLY love their sweet hugging action feature…

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Remember that time He-Man and Teela ended up in the spirit world and really needed some help getting the new tenants of Castle Greyskull to move out?  Beetlejuice was not the greatest option, but they had to try…

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Some of my favorite super hungry and ornery aliens and ghosts!

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Hands down, my favorite G.I. Joe figure had to be Dial Tone.  Such an under appreciated figure and character.  He’s posing with a sweet water color portrait by the kickass Christopher Tupa!

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I also ran across some of my Micro Machines star wars tiny mini figures, so I did a couple of shoots with them and their larger counterparts.  Admiral Ackbar can not repel cuteness of that magnitude!  As for the Gamorean Guard and Greedo, I think the guard got the better end of this trade by far…

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And speaking of Greedo, last but not least, Greedo playing Space Invaders (which was what I was fiddling with while recording a recent episode of the Nerd Lunch podcast with the Retroist as a guest…)

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So check me out over on instagram.  I try and post regularly and do my best to keep it fun!

 

I’m basically still Chunk at heart

For the majority of my life I was, well, let’s say pretty husky.  As a very young kid I was actually pretty skinny, say up until I was six or seven, but starting with my family’s first big move across state, and then all over the east coast things got a little difficult for me and well for a bunch of reasons food became my comfort.  But I’m not really sitting down to write about that as much as describing an aspect that contributed to my personality as a kid.  Moving around a lot, overweight, and to be quite honest I was one hell of a weird kid.  My mom has always kept an unusual schedule, sleeping during the day when my sister and I were at school and my dad at work, and then staying up till all hours of the morning watching late night cable.  When she would go grocery shopping it was usually at one of the stores in the area that was open 24 hours and she liked to hit them up between 10:00pm to 12:00am to avoid a bunch of other customers and to basically have a stress free experience.  When she went on the weekends I’d tag along and wander around the vast empty store, browsing the toy aisle for 45 minutes talking to myself out loud and making mental lists of all the stuff I would ask for on my upcoming birthdays and Christmas.  From the outside I’m sure I appeared pretty damn weird, but I was fully aware of it and for the most part didn’t care how I looked or seemed to others.  I was entertaining myself and that’s all that mattered.

So when relating to characters from pop culture, it should come as no surprise that I’ve always felt that Chunk (Jeff Cohen) from the Goonies is more or less my spirit animal…

Goonies

I was never great at making friends though I always managed to, and when I did I tended to over compensate, exaggerate and be kind of a handful just like the loveable Lawrence.  In my defense Michael Jackson, nor his sister, ever came to my house to use the bathroom…but I saw Stephen King in a Maine bookstore once on vacation (sure I did…)  I wouldn’t say I was using the character as a role model, but I sure did feel his pain whenever he’d spaz out or make a fool of himself…

Chunk a Mess in ActionTruffle Shuffle

I also had a weird habit of wearing Halloween costumes was past the point of being “acceptable” for normal attire.  I mean I’d be hanging out in the house dressed up in my sweet ninja gear during Christmas or I’d be tooling around the neighborhood in my “G.I. Joe fatigues” and beret for instance…

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…so later on in life when I found out about Jeff Cohen’s penchant for waring weird and wacky headgear both on and off the set of Goonies, I totally related.  Part of it was that need to perform, part just trying to over compensate.

Jeff Cohen Hat Obsession

Anyway, this is all a lot of lead up to the fact that I just found this old back issue of Starlog magazine in a used bookshop this past week and I was overjoyed to see that it included an interview with Jeff Cohen (and Corey Feldman, but Jeff steals the show)!  Usually these articles only focused on the adult actors or crew, so it’s pretty rad to find one that was concentrating on the kids, but wasn’t fluff from an 80s teeny-bop magazine.  Hope everyone enjoys reading this as much as I did…

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Again, from the article Cohen has a quote about his character Chunk that really echos my childhood experience as a pseudo-Chunk…

“Chunk is too much, but he doesn’t care.  He likes it.  He doesn’t like being fat, but he likes having his own personality.  He’s a little bit flashy, wears plaid pants and a big Hawaiian shirt and struts around…he’s a klutz and a liar.  He lies to his friends, but nothing to hurt ‘em.”

Anyway, the interview is all over the place as both Feldman and Cohen are hyped up and excited, but I still think it’s a fun read and a great snapshot of these two actors in the prime of their Goonies experience.  So glad I found this…

Goodbye Mr. Williams…

So, it’s been a bit since I sat down to write anything for Branded. Life has been…hectic…as it tends to be for most of us, and this site has been comfortably warming on the back burner. That being said, I wanted to take a moment and mention the passing of Robin Williams. To be honest, I didn’t think I was going to write anything, I mean aside from adding my voice to the cacophony of those who are mourning him there’s not a whole lot I can really say beyond the simple fact that Mr. Williams had an impact on my life. He’s always been there for me, from his pop culture breakthrough in Mork & Mindy when I was just a child up to his short bit in an amazing season three episode of Louie. And you know what? I took that for granted and more often than I’d really like to admit I felt kind of weary of seeing him pop up in films. I hate saying that, but it’s true and it made the whole thing sting that much more. My friend Dave Roman mentioned something similar (something that I’m sure a lot of us have found ourselves thinking over the years), that he felt a bit guilty about being “tired” of Williams. Hearing him echo what I had been thinking pushed me to remember that when it comes to celebrity and the pop culture zeitgeist there is a distinct separation between a person and their persona.

Garp

I was struggling with this and was curious. Over the course of the last 8 years while writing about my nostalgic recollections what did I write about Mr. Williams, and was I honest or filtering my thoughts through rose-tinted glasses? Back in 2007, in a piece on the 1978 Mork & Mindy Topps sticker cards I wrote:

“Williams has always been a really weird guy and I’m never quite sure how I feel about him. On the one hand there’s Mork & Mindy, The Fisher King, and some of his more subdued performances like in the World According to Garp, Awakenings and Good Will Hunting. Then there’s his annoying manic insanity in flicks like Mrs. Doubtfire and Jack, not to mention his Stand-Up, which is equal parts hilarious and repetitive. He seems to take delight in flipping from “can’t contain him” zany comedies to parts that are so somber that it seems like he’s sleeping with his eyes open on film. Watching his Inside the Actor’s studio episode gave me a headache even, yet I still love it when he’s on. What’s kind of funny to me is that he’s sort of blazed a trail for this style of personality in Hollywood, I mean between Jim Carey and Adam Sandler it’s hard to tell the three apart, performance-wise.”

Mork and Mindy

Again, that stings. And again, I wasn’t sure there was anything I could contribute to the discussion.

With that in mind and feeling a little guilty, I wanted to reconnect with some of Mr. Williams’ work that I hadn’t seen in years, stuff that had an impact on me at a point in my life. I decided to watch The Fisher King because I had only seen it a couple of times back in the 90s and because it’s been sitting on my DVD shelves for over a decade still wrapped in the original cellophane. There was a part of me that was afraid. Afraid that I wouldn’t react the way I did when I first saw it 20 odd years ago. So I stuck the disc in the player and hit play. 20 minutes in, after barely seeing Williams on screen for about a minute I had to turn off the film. It was too hard to watch. I felt raw and gut-punched by that mere 60 seconds, and that wasn’t even close to touching how amazing his performance becomes over the course of the story. Two days later I stuck the disc back in. I made it 10 minutes further before shutting it off. The last week I’ve been watching The Fisher King in these tiny snapshots, no more than 10 minutes at a time. I still haven’t brought myself to finish it.

Fisher King

So we feel guilty, we remember and we mourn. It doesn’t matter how he left this world, or whether or not we focused on the persona, only that for brief moments in darkened theaters and while sitting in our collective living rooms this talented, gentle performer made us laugh. He made us cry. He made us think deeper about the life we live. He made us smile. This one amazing individual interconnects millions of people on the planet with this shared experience of profound jubilance, art and melancholy. That loss, that feeling that was sadly too easy to take for granted, will be felt for generations to come.

Louie

Before I end this I’d like to point to the 2010 Williams interview that Marc Maron did on his podcast.  It’s an eye-opening, laugh out loud, and amazingly somber talk with a man who was known for his mania.  It’s also gut-wrenching…

Maron Interview

 

Bonkers will be bonking you out again soon!

5741481453_25e5050515_oSo, the scuttlebutt in the independent candy world is that Bonkers are set to make a triumphant return to the market sometime this year.  On the heels of their relaunch of the Astro Pop, the reformed Leaf candy company has been hard at work to follow up that re-issue with the long lusted-after chewy fruit candy with the patented “Extra Flavor Boosted Center”.

Strawberry

There’s been rumors of the confections return for the past three or so years, but after launching a Bonkers Facebook page this past January it seemed like the this time it might be for real.  After teasing with some rough shots of Photoshopped packaging, they finally revealed a first look at the candy this morning…

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It’s been roughly seven years since I last waxed nostalgic for my all time favorite extinct candy here at Branded, and it’s probably been about 25 years since i last had the opportunity to enjoy them.  At some point, no matter how alluring the memories are, no matter how fond one was for some treasure lost, you have to move on and let what’s past lay in the rear view mirror growing fainter with ever year.  I should know, being a self confessed nostalgia junkie, the tighter you try to hold onto things long gone the harder they are to get a true grasp on.  The past is like a wisp of smoke, pretty, out of focus and lingering, but as soon as you reach out for it, it breaks ups.  Dissipates.  In my mind there is a pantry of lost edibles, branded, packaged, preprocessed food stuffs that no longer exist and haunt my taste buds.  Sour Cream & Onion Quackers crackers, Thunder Jets Fruit Snacks, Hi-C Ecto-Cooler, and Bonkers candy.  I’ve tried to find replacements (Annie’s Sour Cream & Onion Bunny crackers don’t hold a candle to Quackers for the record), but it’s the closest thing to “chasing the dragon” I’ve experienced nostalgia-wise.  I will say that I had a lot of fun trying to recreate Hi-C Ecto-Cooler that one time though.

Grape

But wait a second, didn’t I kick this article off by announcing to the return of Bonkers candy?  Yes, yes I did, and I’m certainly not trying to put a damper on that news.  Trust me, when it comes to this news I’m probably one of the most excited folks I know.  But as intensely curious as I am to get my hands on this fruity Lazarus, I can’t help but realize that as hard as I might try, I can’t really remember what these tasted like.  Sure, the general idea is there.  I remember they were softer than Starburst, and even more so than Now and Laters.  They weren’t as sour as L&L’s, and taste much more natural than Laffy Taffy.  But at the end of the day I have to be honest, I just don’t remember.  So no matter how excited I am, I kind of have to temper it with the thought that I won’t be reliving my Bonkers eating past much as buying the brand.

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The main thing that sparked this thought is that Leaf is having a contest to send some pre-release samples out to fans to taste-test.  I’d love to be picked, but it made me think about the fact that when all is said and done I wouldn’t be able to give a particularly objective opinion on how authentic the new recipe is.

Orange

That aside, I’m curious about the pictures above because there’s a mystery flavor mixed in that bunch.  I see the Strawberry, Orange, Grape and Watermelon varieties, but I’m not sure what the yellow and green fruit chew is.  Is it a lemon/lime?  Banana/Kiwi?  It’s certainly not chocolate, the other announced flavor…

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So, anyone out there with a photographic memory or an intensely detailed journal of their tastes experiences from the 80s that has a confident idea of what these used to taste like?

I’m obsessed with the LoEB’s return!

6883501769_16f5716f51_oThe League of Extraordinary Bloggers has been on hiatus for a while as Brian over at Cool & Collected has been “extraordinarily” busy with his C&C print magazine project, but it’s finally back this week with a new topic. To kick things off again Brian asks what our current obsessions are, and this just happens to coincide with a slight shift in my personal 80s collecting habits of late. Outside of a few sets of Garbage Pail Kids, I really didn’t start buying up stuff from my in and around childhood until I started work on this site. Then for the first 7 years or so of running Branded I focused most of my efforts on acquiring all sorts of ephemera, be it stickers, old magazines, or trading card wax pack wrappers that spanned all sorts of pop culture subjects from cartoons to food. I love talking about the 80s, specifically the marketing and “branding”, and I wanted to touch on all sorts of stuff from Sizzlean to amazing Return of the Jedi Jungle Gyms. Needless to say, digging up all of this stuff wasn’t cheap, so finding content to talk about on the site sort of dominated my collecting. The majority of the stuff I was hoarding storing in my flat-file, while awesome, didn’t necessarily always reflect the stuff I personally had as a kid.

Over the last year though I’ve decided to concentrate on rebuilding a small collection of things that I actually had as a kid.  Whether it’s the reproduction Masters of the Universe figures Mattel put out just after the millennium…

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…or picking up the occasional mint on card vintage toy like the super cool Transformers Afterburner I recently found.

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I think this all started just over a year ago when I managed to get a hold of my original childhood Atari 2600 system.  Reconnecting with that faux wood-paneled beauty really got me thinking about where I really wanted to spend my money when it came to my collecting habits.

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Lately this turn towards reacquiring treasures from when I was a kid has morphed into some more obscure purchases.  Instead of trying to get all the actual toys I had I’ve been cherry-picking specific pieces I owned from various toy lines, stuff that when put out on a shelf illustrates my childhood experience.  This has led to some more obscure toy hunting leading up to snagging stuff like a Demon from Blackstarr, Warduke from the D&D line, and Tonto from the Gabriel Legend of the Lone Ranger line

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I’ve also started following this urge to round out my collection with more offbeat stuff by picking up some weirder childhood reading material.  For instance, I was just recently reminded by my mom during one of our weekly phone calls about a cookbook she gave me when I was eight, the Betty Crocker Cookbook for Boys and Girls (a version published in 1985 by Golden.)  I immediately flashed upon the iconic cover and felt an insane desire to pick it up and hold it again.  So I logged on to eBay immediately after the call an proceeded to track down and buy a copy…

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I must have stared at those disturbing cheeseburger people a million times as a kid.  Even though this isn’t my original copy (which is probably no longer in existence or mostly disintegrated in a landfill in Florida somewhere), mine was as beat-up and well read as this copy I now have on my shelf.  Clocking in at just under 100 pages, this cookbook was my go-to tome when learning the basics of recipe-reading and trying my hand at some culinary concoctions that were always just this side of edible.  Though I learned a lot from watching my mom in the kitchen, I always took pride in exploring on my own and trying to make lunches or breakfasts on the weekends, and a lot of that inspiration came form the dishes in this book.  Speaking of, the recipes range from the ridiculous yet fun arrangement of canned fruit on a lettuce leaf like this Friendly Dog Salad below…

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…to the surprisingly difficult to master (as a kid) Eggs in Bologna Cups.  Mine never tasted right.  In fact they were pretty noxious if I remember (probably due to over-use of the paprika which I practically caked on top of each cup…)

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The book is filled with glorious 70s/80s era design, from the style and color of the cookware depicted in the recipes to the bodacious font choices.  I actually kind of love it to death and am curious about seeking out some other more standard 80s era cookbooks for my kitchen…

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Reading back through it I was surprised at the level of complexity in some of the recipes (like a giant baked ham loaf that required grinding up smoked ham steaks), and some of it actually looks like stuff I’d love to try today as a way more accomplished home cook.  In fact I’m toying with the idea of trying to replicate all 120 or so dishes in the book at some point.  I mean a lot of this stuff is pretty simple, but I remember it being sort of like comfort food.  It might be easy to turn one’s nose up at it as an adult, but stuff like this Polka Dot Pizza (aka Hot Dog Pizza) looks like the perfect comfort food for a lazy Saturday afternoon…

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If you enjoyed reading about my currently 80s collecting obsession, why not take a moment to check out some of the other League participants to see what they’re focusing on like…

Brian at Cool & Collected who is currently binge watching Band of Brothers and True Detective

Lee & Linz at Pop Rewind who are obsession over McDonald’s Orange Drink

Derek at Really Rather Random Guy who is having a an existential obsession crisis

Victoria at Vikki Verka who is glad she found the sci-fi series Charlie Jade

Tim at Flashlights Are Something to Eat is listening to the Scorchers, watching Breaking Bad, and buying some Atari games!

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Apparently 8 is the magic number…

So, in just a couple of weeks Branded in the 80s will turn 8 years old.  Though it’s kind of arbitrary, we tend to focus on the “big” anniversaries in the five-year increment territory, but I had a couple of milestones I really wanted to hit when I started this project.  The first was making it to the seven year mark because I have a special fondness for that particular digit.  The second is marking the 8th birthday of the site because again, it has a special meaning to me.  I first dreamed of having my own little spot on the internet back around 1998.  I’d been farting around the interwebs via AOL and Compuserve and I really wanted to stake out a small piece of the digital landscape to do something.  My best friend, who was in the midst of getting his computer science degree at the time, had just recently built a website for a class project and he promised me he’d help me build one of my own.  It never materialized, though a lot of that had to do with my not knowing exactly what it was that I wanted to do with a website.  Regardless, that marks the beginning of what would eventually become Branded, and it took me eight long years of brainstorming and procrastinating before I eventually settled on what I wanted to do.  So in the back of my brain I’ve always hoped that I’d be able to keep this thing going at least as long as it took me to get it off the ground.  Well, mission accomplished I guess.  As for my next milestone, well, I don’t really have one I guess.  I’m kind of curious to see what will happen at the eleven year mark considering that will mean that I would have spent slightly more time talking about the 80s than the decade itself lasted.

Anyway, when I look back at where the site started and where it really took off for me the one aspect that kind of changed everything was when I started investing in a pretty stupidly large collection of 80s stickers to scan and share.  Part of this came out of wanting to acquire a bunch of the stickers I had as a kid, but another was that there was a distinct lack of sticker scans floating around on the internet and I felt like it was an opportunity to contribute a small portion to the digital nostalgic pop culture zeitgeist.  One of the aspects I love about the nostalgia-minded community is the eagerness to share the cool junk that we love.  So it was pretty neat timing that while I was thinking back on all of this I was approached by the cool lady behind the rad RainbowBrite.co.uk website with to help share some fun stuff.

cologo01She obviously runs a pretty neat Rainbow Brite fan site, so she acquired a bunch of info and ephemera to post up there.  But in her research and collecting she’s amassed a bunch of other cool non-RB stuff that she felt needed to get out there.  So she graciously offered to send me some scans of a pretty neat 1985 Mattel Events Guide to share here at Branded.  Tying this in a bit more into my silly milestone is that I just happened to turn eight the year this Event guide was published (seriously, there has to be something to this, numerology-wise…)

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These event guides were sent out to retailers as a way for Mattel to bolster excitement for their product lines and I’m sure to secure a larger market share of the retail market by encouraging stores to increase orders and devote more shelf and peg space to Mattel stuff.  They did this by helping to host local in-store meet and greet events with some of Mattel’s most popular brands and characters.  So if you were lucky enough to shake hands with Skeletor at a Toys R Us back int he day, most likely this was one of the guides that the store had to help them schedule and promote the event…

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It’s really cool to get a glimpse into this aspect of the marketing and promotion of some of our favorite toys from back in the 80s.  Not only is it cool to see some rad artwork that only exists to promote these in-store events (like the neat illustration of the Hot Wheels play area that was shipped to the store), but it’s also awesome to see and read about some of the swag for the event that was either given away (like the Hot Wheels kid’s drivers licenses) or became a “free item with purchase” like the super cool Hot Wheels combination watch/wallet below!

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1985 was also a great year for Mattel toys because they were hip deep in the Marvel Secret Wars toy line…

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What really struck me about this Secret Wars event is that it wasn’t just geared towards boys.  Mattel makes it clear that “boys AND girls” will received a free water color poster.  That kind of inclusion back in the 80s seems pretty rare, but then again, Mattel worked on some pretty progressive toy lines like these two favorites, Princess of Power and Masters of the Universe!  I mean I know most of the boys who were into He-Man were also secretly into She-Ra…

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Man, I feel like I missed out so much on these in-store events.  I never managed to attend one and after reading through this guide I feel like I missed out on some amazing experiences and swag.  So, I wonder if a little boy could have been initiated into the Legion of Good receiving a free golden power ring and poster?  I sure as hell hope so.  Also, holy crap, a 15 foot high replica of the Crystal Castle?!?  How awesome would that have been to see?  I wonder if the stores had to ship them back or of they were ordered to destroy them.  I have to imagine that one of these must have made it into a private collection.  Hell, at that size it would practically be big enough for kids to play in as a fort.  The mid boggles at the possibilities…

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Apparently for ’85 Mattel introduced new full body costumes for He-Man and Skeletor.  I’ve seen photos of buff guys in the He-Man duds before, but never a full body costume like this complete with toy-accurate mask and all.  I like that they even managed to replicate the spiny fin on Skeletor’s wrists (like on the toy…)  Sadly there was no 15 foot Castle Greyskull or Snake Mountain, but there were some pretty rad glow in the dark posters!

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A lot of this stuff has to be pretty rare.  I searched for awhile and couldn’t find and example of the glow in the dark Masters of the Universe poster (not even on He-Man.org!)  So it;s cool at least to get a glimpse into this promotional world to know that this stuff exists.  FYI, there’s a bit more to this Event Guide, specifically the Rainbow Brite section, but if you want to see that head on over to the cool RainbowBrite.co.uk to find out what was in that in-store event.  Thanks again to them for sharing this rad piece of 80s toy ephemera and helping to make the nostalgia community that much richer!

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Reclaiming my Childhood: Miscellaneous Edition

So I’ve written numerous times about how much I want to rebuild the toy collection I had as a child and how difficult that is for me because I’m not all that fond of buying loose used toys.  I have a  mental block against buying another kid’s memories if that makes sense.  So my stance has been to patiently wait until I find min on card (or mint in box) versions of the stuff I want.  Again, this comes with its own set of hurdles, mainly monetary in nature.  As much as I want to re-collect these treasures, I find it next to impossible to fork over much money to procure them.  Same story told a million times by other toy collectors and nostalgia buffs.  Lately my tactic has been to ignore the really popular toy lines, the Transformers, G.I. Joe, Masters of the Universe, Star Wars and M.A.S.K. in lieu of searching out the more obscure stuff.  Depending, the prices can be much cheaper and there aren’t quite as many 30-somethings clamoring for them so they’re easier to snag without getting into bidding wars on eBay.

I was pretty excited this past weekend when I stumbled upon one of these slightly more obscure toys at the local vintage toy shop I’ve been frequenting.  Sitting there in a glass display case was a single carded Tonto action figure from The Legend of the Lone Ranger line by Gabriel from 1980…

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Sure, the card was pretty beat up with a huge crease across the top, but this is exactly the kind of thing I’m looking for on my vintage toy hunt.  The intention isn’t to keep the figure hermetically sealed on the card anyway; I want to open it up and hold it again.  So for $10 how could I pass this up?

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I originally had both Tonto and the Lone Ranger from this Gabriel line based on the 1980 film.  I honestly don’t think I ever saw the movie but I did catch the old black and white series on reruns and loved the Filmation cartoon, so at some point I must have begged my parents for these.  I must have been 3 or 4 at the time.  Though I’d love to reacquire both figures, Tonto was always my favorite because he came with both a pistol and a really neat buck knife.  I wrote about this action figure line awhile back as well

Tonto

I also vividly remember loving his purple belt/sash.  Even as a kid I appreciated fun color matching in my action figures.  With both of the figures I had, my favorite aspect was that you could actually holster their pistols and sheath Tonto’s buck knife.  This was pretty advanced for action figures this early in the 80s.  I mean aside from some removable helmets and the lightsaber action on the early Star Wars figures most toys weren’t that intricate.  These also had knee-joint articulation as opposed to the Kenner figures, a stepping stone that would lead to the broader range of joints that Hasbro would use with G.I. Joe.

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I love the card art for these toys as well, working in the tone and style of the movie’s poster art, but instead of just cloning the painting they did a new piece just for the toys…

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I also love the Silver Bullet on the back of the card.  I’m not positive, but I wonder if the idea was to treat the bullets like the Kenner Star Wars points (or the later Robot and Flag points that Hasbro offered with Transformers and G.I. Joe) so that kids could save them up and use them to mail away for special promotional figures or sets.  There was actually a mail-away cardboard playset for these Gabriel figures, but weirdly enough the form requested that kids cut out the character names from the cards to act as the proof of purchase?!?  Check out this ad my good friend Paxton posted on his site The Cavalcade of Awesome when he was taking about the similar Kenner Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid toy line from the same year…

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Total missed opportunity to use the Silver Bullet Points!  Just another example that I was born too late to make awesome branding decisions for these companies.  Gotta work on that time machine…

Anyway, over the past couple of months I managed to pick up some more slightly obscure action figures I had when I was a kid.  I thought this would be a fun time to share those as well.  My parents took some chances on odd toy lines and I’m curious whether they thought that I wasn’t interested in them or if they just bought them as a fluke?  I had a bunch of figures in which I only owned one or two of the toys like the ThunderCats (just had Mumm-Ra and Slithe), Silverhawks (just had a Quicksilver), or Tonto and the Lone Ranger.  In this same camp were Warduke (from the LJN Advanced Dungeons & Dragons) and some miscellaneous Blackstar villain figure (which I must have quickly rejected or lost) because I had one of the little included neon green demon PVC figures…

Blackstar Demon

I’m really loving picking up this miscellaneous figures since they’re basically one and done.  They really feel a lot like a true missing piece to my past being put back in place.  I will say that I broke my normal loose figure buying rules with these.  I saw the Galoob Blackstar Demon at a toy show up in Baltimore and I couldn’t beat the price.  Besides, it’s not like I want to shell out the moolah for a mint Blackstar villain on the card when I’m not even sure which one I had.

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As for Warduke here, well, I recently won a D&D Dwarf figure from this same line from The Garage Sale of Awesome and it felt weird owning that and not my long lost Warduke.  I had some Amazon cash burning a hole in my pocket so I picked one up blindly from a third party seller for a couple bucks.  He’s not in the best shape (mostly some gauntlet paint wear and he’s missing his rad shield and ice sword, but I’ve researched MOC prices for this little guy and man, that is just never going to happen on my budget!

All in all these guys make for one awesomely Awkward Toy Family Photo!

Awkward Family Photo 80s Toys Edition

They also look great in my collection that adorns (read: is taking over) my entertainment center…

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Now, if I can just find a cheap Quicksilver figure from the Silverhawks line…

I was a Teenage Mutant Ninja Gamer & Other Strangeness

Recently while organizing one of my bookshelves I found myself reminiscing over a stack of my old RPG game books.  I haven’t gamed in well over a decade and a half, but I’ve clung to the various modules, rulebooks and expansions because I spent so much time pouring over them I can’t imagine not having them around.  I first discovered table-top gaming as a dorky teen.  My father had just recently moved our family across country twice within a year and I felt disconnected from everything save what was going on in the pages of the Uncanny X-Men and Wolverine.  It was the end of 1990, and having just turned thirteen I was also caught up in the whirlwind hype of another group of “teens”, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, thanks to becoming slightly obsessed with the first live action film that was released in theaters earlier that year.  I was basically living exclusively through and for the fantasy worlds of cartoons, movies and comics having had to leave my friends and sister in Florida, and then not even getting a chance to connect with any other kids while I was up north for 9 months.  Our family ended up putting down roots just outside of Atlanta and after scouting out a local comic store where I could get my monthly sequential art fix I began to feel at home.  At the time comics were my lifeline for sure…

AmazingSpider-Man328It wasn’t long after that I was enrolled in the local middle school, finally starting my eighth grade year of school about three weeks late.  I spent my bonus summer vacation time in an extended-stay suite while our family was waiting for our new house to be finished being built, and I was suffering from terrible case of cabin fever and feeling utterly disconnected from other kids.  Though normally an extreme introvert, when I first started riding the bus to my new school I was kind of dying to break out of my shell and meet some new kids.  One afternoon I was sitting alone behind two guys that were having an animated conversation about comics.  I wish I could remember exactly what they were talking about (if I had to guess it was probably McFarlane’s art on issue 328 of the Amazing Spider-Man featuring the “Mr. Fixit” grey Hulk), but whatever it was I was so happy to have found some other comic readers that I did something I had never done before.  I butted myself into the conversation telling them all about my comic collection and how one of my favorite comics was issue 8 of Wolverine that also featured a guest appearance by Mr. Fixit.

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I offered to bring in doubles I had for that issue for both of them the next day, and thus started a friendship with a group of local misfits that lasted all through high school and college.  It wasn’t long after this that they introduced me to another friend of theirs and before I knew it we’d sort of formed a tight nit group of four, like the Three Musketeers and d’Artagnan, or more appropriately, the TMNT.  We all watched the Fred Wolf cartoon and had a smattering of action figures, but after a chance encounter with another local teen on the bus that winter we were introduced to the glue that would keep our little cadre together for years to come, the core rulebook for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Other Strangeness…

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There was a couple of older kids that were a grade ahead of us (in high school!) that we kind of knew and traded comics with occasionally and one day they brought the above book on the bus and it kind of blew our 8th grade minds.  I think we’d all heard of Dungeons & Dragons, but none of us was really all that into high fantasy and never contemplated that there might be role playing games that were outside of that genre, let alone based on a comic/cartoon series that we all liked.  Within the week all four of us had manged to secure copies of the main book and we were all on the lookout for sets of non-standard dice so we could start creating characters and figure out how to play this game.  I remember bugging my parents relentlessly to find a place where I could get some role playing dice, and after consulting the phone book I found a store in a ritzy mall 30 miles away called the Sword of the Phoenix that specialized in stocking all sorts of dice and game books.  That weekend we made the trek out and I bought my first two sets of clear gem dice (one purple and one blue.)  I only have a couple of these left in my collection (two four-sided) that you can see below…

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Looking back this entirety of the experience is kind of a blur, but for about three or four years we had a standing Saturday gaming session that rotated between a handful of our houses.  Typically these involved a metric ton of Cheetos, Cool Ranch Doritos, white cheddar Smartfood popcorn, yellow vanilla Zingers, and gallons upon gallons of store-brand soda.  At the time these weekend meetups seemed so epic in scale.  We’d all take turns acting as the gamemaster, writing what we thought were magnum opus stories to test the intelligence and mettle if our group, though in reality only a couple of us were semi-decent at running the campaigns (certainly not me) and the rest of us were more concerned with equipping our characters with stuff and jukeing up their abilities.

The basic concept of TMNT & Other Strangeness is creating mutant animal characters that exist in same world of Eastman & Laird’s creations.  It’s sort of like combining the A-Team and the Turtles, where the game master creates environments for a group of characters to have an adventure in.  I say the A-Team because the game is sort of geared towards creating mercenary-like characters in battle-torn militant environments.  It didn’t help that we all read comics like the X-Men and were well versed in the Star Wars universe, so when we wrote stories they tended up feature a tyrannical villain with hordes of nameless soldiers put in the story specifically for our characters to annihilate.

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It’s actually funny that we ended up playing as long as we did as we all kind of sucked at the core concepts of role playing.  We all tended to try and shoehorn the play into a more hack and slash video game experience, and we very rarely worked together as a team no matter how hard we tried.  When it was all said and done, each of us was way more interested in creating a whole bunch of characters, outfitting them, and doodling pictures of them, rather than actually playing them in a game.  It wouldn’t be until a few years later when we all made the switch from the Palladium gaming system (the publisher of TMNT and other games like Robotech and After the Bomb) to the more story-oriented system published by White Wolf (Vampire: The Masquerade, Werewolf: The Apocalypse, etc.) that we’d evolve a bit.

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In fact, it got so bad in our group that we all became game-lawyers, spending hours debating and arguing over rule and character creation minutia.  All of our copies of the core rule book were heavily underlined, with highlighted passages and notes in the margins.  We probably spent more time arguing than we did gaming, yet it still kept us regularly meeting up and “playing” for years.  Over time we also drafted other friends into playing with us, and at one point there was about 10 of us rotating in and out of the group.  The fighting between the group became so fever pitched that it eventually came to a head and it formed a schism between the founding four members and we split the group in two to play separately, complete with spying between the two factions and a whole bucket-load of hurt feelings.

Weird TMNT

I hate to admit it but at the end of the day we all sucked at role playing.  Even so, I wouldn’t have changed a single second of the experiences I had being a part of that group of friends.  When I look aback at these books now I get a visceral sense of what I felt like at the time, a mix of heady nostalgia and fear that I’ll have to try and create a campaign all on my own again!  I also fondly remember what it was like finding a group of friends and what it felt like to be included.  To have our own little clique where it was us against everyone else.  Back when we first started hanging out we all chose one of the Turtles as our mascot.  Over the years my recollection of who picked who was kind of hazy, and I would have sworn that I picked Donatello since he’s my favorite character.  But while flipping through my copy of the book last night I was greeted by some very awesome notes that were scribbled in the book that reminded me that I was totally a Raphael guy…

TMNT Friends

Just four geeky teens against the world.