Category Archives: Personal

It’s the End, the End of the Century

Wall to, wall-to-wall toys, Lets Go!
Wall to, wall-to-wall toys, Lets Go!
Wall to, wall-to-wall toys, Lets Go!
Wall to, wall-to-wall toys, Lets Go!

Will you remember Kaycee Kangaroo, Peter Panda, Mr. Kay Bee,
and Geoffrey the Giraffe?
It’s the end, the end of the toy stores!
It’s the end, the end of the Century!

Imagine the above set to the tune of the Ramones “Do You Remember Rock ‘n Roll Radio”.  This year we’re seeing the end of an era as the bankruptcy and eventual liquidation of the world’s largest (and honestly last) brick and mortar toy store chain, Toys R Us, begins to unfold. The story of how the retail giant stumbled and fell is a long and complex tale involving mismanagement, buyouts, greedy venture capital firms and an unwillingness to adapt to the modern marketplace, and it’s not one that I feel comfortable enough interpreting here. This also isn’t intended to be a eulogy piece for the chain. There are plenty of folks out there doing a way better job of sending off the toy store. In fact, if you want to read a short and incredibly poignant reflection, check out Matt from Dinosaur Dracula sharing some of his thoughts on twitter in a thread that sums up the way a lot of us are feeling.

Matt touches on this concept of the store acting as a sort of battery recharge station for our soul. This idea that just ducking in and scanning the aisles for a few minutes was way more important than actually shopping for toys in the store. I highly identify with that notion, having found myself practicing that very act on many occasions over the last twenty years. Matt is lucky (in my opinion) in that he’s lived his entire life in the vicinity of the same exact location and thus has formed a pretty tight bond with the store which I’m sure increases the sadness of losing Toys R Us. Having bounced all over the country in my forty years, I have a much more tenuous bond with any one location, but I have had some pretty emotional experiences revisiting the store that was located in Altamonte Springs, FL near Orlando. That was the location where I was first introduced to the chain, and one where I have some vivid memories of scanning through pegs full of G.I. Joe and Star Wars figures. Again, like Matt, it wasn’t so much the actual layout or aisles of the store that resonated with me as these have changed so many times over the decades that they are nothing like what I remember as a kid.  But it was the location, the building, sunken parking lot, and the ramp up to the front door. Those are things that have stayed exactly the same for the last 30 or so years.

Even more so than the end of Toys R Us in particular, what I’m really struck by in the wake of the bankruptcy is the end of the concept of wall-to-wall toy stores. The landscape is littered with the empty husks of fallen chain stores. Some of these buildings have found new tenants. There is a PetCo where the Duluth, GA Toys R Us store once anchored the Mall Corners strip mall. There’s a Goodwill Superstore where a Kiddie City once stood in Bel Air, MD. Sometimes these empty storefronts are just rusting cancers that are slowly draining the life out of once great indoor malls like a lot of Kay Bee store locations.

What I’m realizing as I try and look at this trend from outside of my own nostalgia is that this is a sign of the end of the golden era for my own generation. I can’t count how many times I sat and listened to my father talk about how different the world seemed in the first 40 years of his life. How much seemed to change during the 70s and 80s that obliterated the world that he was accustomed to growing up in the 40s and 50s. Institutions that he imagined would be around forever that had disappeared almost overnight. Soda fountains, local pharmacies, 5 & Dimes, seasonal burger or fry stands, car hops, diners, drive-ins or his favorite, smoking in restaurants. This is the way of the world. Things change, the center does not hold.

But I think what we might want to take away from this situation isn’t that things fall apart. Just that things change. It’s hard not to feel like the whole way of life we’re accustomed to is dying, and it is for the most part. But the next generation will not care. I think back to when I was a kid and there were still some institutions around like Drive-Ins and Woolworth’s. When they basically evaporated I was totally cool with it. I was a kid. There were still movie theaters to go to and even though the local Woolworth’s closed, there was still K-Mart, Wal-Mart and eventually Target. So kids these days, they’ll bounce back. There are still Targets and Wal-Marts with huge toy sections. Amazon is basically a virtual Toys R Us. And probably one of the biggest realizations that we as adults have to come to grips with? Kids just don’t play with toys the same way that we did 20 and 30 years ago. Video games, television and Youtube have superseded toys in a lot of households. Sure, we still buy a lot of toys for kids, but I’ve watched first-hand has nieces and nephews receive the kind of toys that I had as a kid and they just sit in their rooms collecting dust.

If we grieve for the loss of Toys R Us, we’re grieving for a past that we’re no longer living in. It’s the essence of nostalgia. Though it might seem like the world is falling apart, it’s really just shifting to accommodate a new generation. I’m not saying we shouldn’t get misty-eyed, or plan that big final trip to the store nearest us for one last hurrah, just that we shouldn’t worry too much about how the next generation is going to handle this. Those kids are going to be just fine and will be obsessing over something today that we could probably care less about. Just like our parents, who most likely didn’t like seeing Toys R Us dominate the landscape in the 70s and 80s, helping to usher in the age of the big box store and sending the death knell for all the smaller and more local shops they loved their whole lives. The wheel turns.

Finding the “Truth” in Collecting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What would you do?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TFC

Oh wow man, that Tayble really ties the room together…

Ever since becoming an actual home owner this past year my outlook on spending money has changed drastically.  I’ve curbed most of my spending on my various collections in lieu of saving enough money to make sure I can afford things like mortgage payments, much higher electric bills, and buying the small stuff like new roofs (that one hurt even though we knew about it when we bought the place.)  So no more toys, Garbage Pail Kids, 35 year-old mom magazines, or animation cels.  Though this has certainly been an adjustment, the upside to this is that I’ve been totally retraining my brain when it comes to larger purchases.  When you nickel and dime yourself, picking up a bunch of small stuff here and there you really don’t feel the impact on your wallet, and it’s not until years later when you look back and wonder where all the money went.  Scanning your shelves you could probably pick out a pricey treasured item or two, but you probably don’t see thousands (or tens of thousands) of dollars in the collection per se.  But when you do save up for a bit and bite the bullet and make a larger purchase, that item tends to jump right out at you every time you walk past it.  The first time you buy a new bed, couch, or refrigerator you tend to appreciate that item more than the rarest toy you might have (or at least, that’s been my experience.)

So, when I stumbled upon a small company specializing in designing and manufacturing a very particular, retro-inspired, piece of furniture, a piece of furniture I just happened to be in in the market for, I got pretty damn excited.  But let me back up for a second.  The significant other and I have been slowly making this new house we bought into our home, one room at a time.   One of the areas we’ve been concentrating on is out cozy basement.  Jaime is a video game nut, so we’ve been slowly turning the basement into a sort of retro clubhouse.  Embarrassingly large TV?  Check.  Comfy overstuffed furniture for maximum marathon gaming comfort?  Check.  Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle arcade cabinet marquee lightbox?  Check.  But something’s been missing, something we can set our snacks on, or set up the Lego Dimensions portal on so that we’re not jumping up constantly to move our minifigs around.  We’ve been needing a coffee table, but nothing was really grabbing us, nothing was fun or retro enough to really speak to us.  That is until this past week when I discovered Taybles!

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I stumbled on the Taybles site after posting a picture of a cherished Some Kind of Wonderful cassette soundtrack on Instagram.  The Taybles crew happened to like the photo, and out of curiosity I clicked through to their account and I practically fell out of my chair when I saw what they were up to…

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Just look at that beautiful cassette tape table!  I was immediately in love and absolutely had to have one.  Jaime and I love dead media and this would be such a great way to solve our coffee table needs while also bringing in a much needed bit of retro fun into the space.  It’s just too perfect. Constructed out of birch hardwood in a number of different natural stains, these tables aren’t just pretty to look at, they’re also pretty functional as well.  The exposed tape section on the one side flips down to expose a hidden shelf where you can store TV remotes or wireless Playstation controllers.  And the sunken tape holes are stainless steel cup holders (with embedded leds for some rad mood lighting.) I kind of want to marry this table.

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Of course, like most things this freaking rad that I want for the house, these Taybles were a bit pricey.  Okay, they’re downright expensive as hell.  All of the selections on their website range somewhere in between $1600 to $2300 dollars.  As much as we need a wicked awesome coffee table, there’s no way we can justify that price.  I did consider not eating lunch for a few years, but in the end I resigned myself to never kicking my feet up on an oversized cassette tape.

But just as I was about to give up on attaining the perfect coffee table, a ray of hope broke through the clouds.  I saw that there was an impending Taybles Kickstarter campaign on the way and I decided it was worth it to sign up for the mailing list.  Then, yesterday I received a bit of news that got me excited all over again.  According to the e-mail, the Kickstarter was going to have the coffee tables up at the much more affordable price of $250!  Well, the campaign went live today and low and behold there are indeed two new models that they’re making available at a much more attainable price…

Whereas the tables on their main site are considered part of the “A-Side” collection, these Kickstarter tables are the “B-Sides”.  They’re almost identical to the originals, except they lack the led lighting in the cup holders and instead of birch, these B-Sides are made of fir.  Though fir isn’t a hardwood, it is one of the more dense and hard of the soft woods and is a much more readily available and cheaper wood.  This is a pretty small trade off for making these tables well over a grand cheaper.  The B-Side collection is available in two difference color schemes, classic black and retro brown….

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And as an added cool factor, the tabletops on these B-Sides are manufactured of whiteboard material so you can customize your own mixtape titles for special occasions!

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The kickstarter has only been live for just over 12 hours and they’ve already raised about $20k towards the $35k goal, so I think it’s a pretty safe bet that this project is going to meet its funding.  If you’re in the market for a supremely awesome piece of furniture that really ties the room together you might want to jump on this kickstarter before its March 21st end date.  I’m not sure if the company has any plans to offer these B-Sides after the kickstarter.  $250 might still seem a bit high for a coffee table, but I can attest that taking a break from picking up vintage toys, comics, and collectibles for a few months is totally worth the savings so that you can pick up a rad piece of furniture like this.

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If you end up backing this project do me a favor and tell them that Branded sent ya, and after you’ve pledged, come back here and let me know which version you’re picking up.  Me?  I’m going for the classic black…

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The League Re-Revisited!

6883501769_16f5716f51_oLong Time readers might remember that I used to have a lot of fun participating in a weekly pop culture project called the League of Extraordinary Bloggers, or just the League as I preferred to call it.  The project was spearheaded by Brain over at CoolandCollected.com, as a way for folks to find new sites and share inspiration.  I met a bunch of cool folks through the exercise, and though I didn’t participate every week, I always had a blast when I did.  The League has come and gone a couple of times, and finally Brian is giving it another go, though this time a bit rejiggered for a more modern content sharing community.  With the rise in folks ditching traditional sites for Tumblr, Instagram, and Facebook he wanted to make sure that everyone felt they could participate no mater how they interact with the pop culture community, so the Project is now been re-dubbed the Pop Culture League and has a spiffy new logo to boot…

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The first new assignment is up which is simply, Shelfie.  So to answer the call and jump back in the saddle with the folks who are participating I present my most recent obsession, my Dead Media collection of copies of the 1987 Fred Dekker flick Monster Squad on VHS from all over the world!

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This is actually not literally on a shelf, they’re currently giving me inspiration on my desk, but you get the idea.  I’ve made no secret that Monster Squad is one of my favorite films and even though there isn’t a ton of merchandise floating around for the film, there’s enough to keep a true fan busy for awhile trying to pick it all up.  Since I don’t have the wall space for the various movie posters I’ve mainly been concentrating on acquiring Squad ephemera (press kits, photos, international programs and fliers, and magazine articles), but this past year I decided to challenge myself by trying to hunt down copies of all the various releases of the film on VHS.  What I really wanted was a way to display my love for the film literally here at Branded HQ and this seemed to be a fun way to do it.  Not only do these tapes feature a lot of the alternate poster art, but it’s just really cool seeing all of these together.  So what do we have in that picture above?  Going from left to right we have…

The CNR Video, ex-rental VHS from the Netherlands…

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Next up is the Australian Filmpac ex-rental VHS in that snazzy red clamshell case…

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This one is a little worn, but I kind of like that.  I imagine it was rented a bazillion times which makes me happy.  Next, a couple of releases from the UK, an Braveworld/World Vision ex-rental and the Braveworld/World Vision mass market releases of the film on VHS…

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Note the altered Craig Nelson poster art and the alternate UK log on the ex-rental (and Horace’s rad Monster Squad shirt!)  Also, I love that red tape cover on the ex-rental as well, it reminds me of the green on that was on all of the E.T. VHS releases…

Moving right along, here are a couple of German releases.  First is the VPS Video mass market release of the VHS (where the film was re-titled Monster Busters!)

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Then here’s a German ex-rental from Videoplay-Spielfilm that has the most boring VHS tpae stickers ever…

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Now let’s jump over to Spain for a couple more releases.  Here we have the Record Pictures ex-rental VHS with some of the gaudiest cover art ever (and a re-titling of the film to Una Pandilla Alucinante), as well as an Action Time Video ex-rental release of the Beta version of the film…

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Staying in and around the area of Spain, here’s the Transvideo ex-rental release of the VHS from Portugal (re-titled Deu A Louca Nos Monstros)…

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Next up was a very hard VHS to find, and I wasn’t even sure it existed until I had it in my grubby little hands, this beautiful Italian ex-renal from Gallery Panarecord (the Italian subsidary of Worldvision) complete with the most bizarre poster for the film (re-titled Scuola Di Monstri, Monster School)…

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Next, let jump to a completely different continent with my absolute favorite VHS release of the film all the way from Japan, this Hearld Videogram ex-rental that is appropriately Halloween-y!

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The next release came out a little later, but it’s still cool all the same, it’s Danish VHS where the film was re-titled Monster Klubben.  This is also the only international paper sleeve release that I’ve found…

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Rounding out the international releases of the film that I’ve been able to source is another rare one, this time from Mexico.  I am super intrigued by this Videomax ex-rental (from Blockbuster of all places), because this is the only release of the film that has a longer running time than the standard North American release.  Most versions of this film are 93 minutes long, with a handful of the international releases edited down to 89 minutes.  But this Mexican release is 100 minutes!  I’m working on getting a new VCR set-up so that I can figure out what exactly is in those extra 7 minutes of film…

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Last, but certainly not least, is the US/Canadian release of the film by Vestron Video.  This copy came from my favorite Mom & Pop video rental store in Duluth, GA, Home Video, and it’s teh absolute gem in my collection.  I’ve personally watched this copy at least 20 times over the years, both as a rental, and then after I bought it from the store when it closed…

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So there you have it.  There are at least two more international copies of the film that I have yet to get my hands on, one from Turkey and another from South Korea.  If anyone out there has any connection that could help me get copies of those two I would be eternally grateful!

If you dug this tour of my pop culture shelfie and would like to see more posts in this vein, or if you want to join in on the fun, then here are some links to other sites participating this week as well as to Cool and Collected, who hosts the League…

Here’s the collection of Chris over at Stunt Zombie

The collection of Brother Midnight at Green Plastic Squirtgun is insane…

Linz over at Pop Rewind loves her some Terminator collectibles!

Cody at Copyright 1984 showcases a bunch of pictures of his rad collection…

And finally Brian over at Cool and Collected short a great video of his Batman shelf…

The All New Branded in the 80s podcast, Episode 7!

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On this episode of the All New Branded in the 80s podcast I spend some time talking about what it’s like to be a nostalgia addicted guy in the world of pop culture collecting.  Though I adore most all 80s nostalgic kid’s stuff, these days it takes more than a tub full of Masters of the Universe figures or a wall of Nintendo NES cartridges to get me excited about collecting.  No, to really make my head spin the stuff that I love to find has to be the kind of things that simply just should exist anymore.  So join me as I talk about a few items I’ve stumbled upon in the wild that really made my eyes bug and gave me that metaphorical punch of nostalgia to the gut.

Here are some pictures of the stuff I talk about in this episode…

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You can find the episode on iTunes, Stitcher, the Branded Facebook page, or you can also stream it directly from the handy player below, or download it directly by right-clicking and saving here.

You can subscribe to the podcast here!

If you want to chat about the show or other fun 80s junk, you can send me an e-mail to smurfwreck@gmail.com

The All New Branded in the 80s Podcast: Episode 5!

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So for those of you who are into hearing me talk instead of reading Branded pieces, the latest episode of the Branded in the 80s podcast is an audiobook rendition of the latest article I wrote, Thrashin’ and Trashin’ all about my years as an 80s skateboarding poser.  There’s a few extras thrown in for good measure as well as a shout out and a call back to last episode from the seriously awesome Michael of RetroMASH.com!

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You can find the episode on iTunes, Stitcher, the Branded Facebook page, or you can also stream it directly from the handy player below, or download it directly by right-clicking and saving here.

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Thrashin’ and Trashin’

In 1988 I was a number of things, a comic book fan, a budding artist, a metalhead (more specifically a Metalikat), a lover of cartoons, a Garbage Pail Kid collector, but more importantly, I was a skateboarding poser. As much as I loved the culture, brands, imagery and artistry of skateboarding, I was super timid and afraid of getting hurt, and thus I spent a couple of years steeped in the sport, standing on a board very comfortably on the sidelines.  I bought issues of Thrasher magazine, I adored movies like Gleaming the Cube and Thrashin’, and I had more fingerboard key chains than fingers. That was one of the first times in my life when I desperately wanted to be a part of a clique that I absolutely knew I’d never be accepted into.  I’m not throwing blame on anyone but myself here, but being a heavy kid who was awkward at best and downright terrifyingly clumsy at worst, it felt impossible to break into the culture.  That didn’t stop me from wearing the clothes, obsessing over the movies and begging my mom for a skateboard in the months leading up to Christmas 1987.

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Sadly, not my original board, but this is quickly becoming my next collecting holy grail…

I actually lucked into my first hand-me-down skateboard sometime in early 1987.  It was an Action Sports Kamikaze, a white board with a knock-off red, Hosoi rising sun graphic on the deck, red wheels, and black rails, tail and nose guards.  I have no idea how I ended up with it, whether I traded with someone to get it or if I found it in a yard sale, but I know it wasn’t purchased new by my parents.  It was beat up with gouges scraped into the art, which I artfully covered with some extra Garbage Pail Kids stickers from my collection, in particular a Greaser Greg which I thought added a nice level of badass to the deck.  I happily rode that board up and down my street doing the only “trick” I knew how to do, kickturns, which is about as basic as you can get.

Where I grew up in Florida in the mid to late 80s, the BMX, surf and skate culture was pretty hardcore.  I’m sure it was noting in comparison to southern California, but you couldn’t throw a rock in my neighborhood without hitting a homemade launch ramp in the street or a gang of kids out “shredding” the pavement.  Hell, every 7-Eleven in my area (just north of Orlando) sold bars of Sex Wax (for waxing down your surfboard) next to the candy! Everyone was decked out in Powel/Peralta, Sims, T&C, or Santa Cruz t-shits, wore Vans, Dynos, Chuck Taylors, or Airwalks (before they were co-opted by Payless Shoes of all places), and had the hairdos to go along with it ( either the ‘Tony Hawk’, semi-shaved on one side and along the back, with long bangs flipped to the other side, or the ‘Brian Kelly’, short-ish and gelled to either wave to one side or be semi spiked.)

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I had a weird mix of the Brian Kelly and the Tony Hawk cut, lived in T&C shirts and surf shorts and wore a lot of Dynos and dual color Chuck Taylors.  I used to sport a Tracker Trucks painter’s cap with the bill flipped up and the word ‘Rad’ written in sharpie across the bottom.  In the winter I wore a grey and aqua green Billabong corduroy denim jacket.  Actually, I pretty much lived in that jacket from the winter of 1987 until my sophomore year in high school, during the fall of 1992.  The only reason I finally took it off was because my friends were so sick of seeing me in it that they chided me until I go so pissed off that I literally took a pair of scissors to it during home room and cut it into small pieces so I could throw it at them like confetti in the hallway at the end of fifth period.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Mine was like this, one with aqua green sleeves and a grey torso...

Mine was like this, one with aqua green sleeves and a grey torso…

I was an all out poser.  Though I did have a love for the culture surrounding skating, I hardly participated.  I just rode my board up and down the street, and would sit on it by the curb when friends and neighborhood kids would take turns flying off the homemade plywood launch-ramps they’d build on the weekends.  What solidified it for me, in my mind, was when I started obsessing over the idea of getting a brand new deck.  The year before I got a really awesome BMX bike, a baby blue GT Performer with white grips, mags and wheels.  I loved that bike so damn much and would ride it at top speed everywhere.  When I was on that bike I felt invincible, like Bill Denbrough on Silver (his 28-inch Schwinn) in Stephen King’s IT, I could do anything on it from jumping curbs to speeding down the steepest hills at full tilt.  So in my 10 year-old brain I thought this would translate to getting a new flashy skateboard that I dreamed of having built custom from a local skate and surf shop.  Makes sense right?

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Well, somehow or another I convinced my mom to drop $150 on a brand new board for me in Christmas of 1987.  By this point my parents had tired of surprising me and they usually either took me out to the store to pick out a few gifts, or like in this fateful year we made the trek out to a surf and skate shop down in Orlando.  Now, I knew about a lot of the pro skaters by this point from endlessly scanning the pages of Thrasher magazine, and when I walked into that shop I knew exactly what I wanted, a Mike McGill Powell/Peralta deck.  I mean, everyone knew that the Bones Brigade was the shit, and of all the pages I tore out of my skate magazines, the McGill handplant pictures were my favorites and the ones that ended up tacked to my bedroom walls.  So I had the opportunity to pick out all the components for my new board and I was very stoked.  The board itself was silver with the classic skull and snake design, but with a subtle purple coiled snakeskin pattern in the background…

Not my actual board, but this is exactly what it looked like…

The first thing I picked out was the grip-tape for the top of the deck.  I wanted mine to stand out, so I decided to go with a clear version.  I also got a couple of intact sheets so that I could cut it up into a sort of rough camouflage pattern, little silver-dollar-sized pieces in weird shapes that I applied myself later.  Since there was purple on the board, I decided to get a set of matching purple Tracker Trucks with a set of black risers.  I picked out a couple of black rail guards and a black tail guard to match the risers.  Then the coup de grace, a set of 4 lime green Santa Cruz Slimeball wheels…

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So, I loved this deck.  Like love, loved it.  Took it everywhere with me.  I practiced handplants on the edge of my bed with it, sat on it in the living room while watching cartoons, and rode it all around three neighborhoods (the one in Florida where I grew up, then in New Hampshire for the 9 months we were there and then for a couple years in Georgia.)  I just wanted to be clear that I loved that board to death, and I was in good company too.  I mean, Axel Rose was also a fan so…

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But at the end of the day I always felt like a phony.  Unlike the GT Performer, this McGill deck did nothing to bolster my skateboarding prowess.  It didn’t help my with my anxiety of breaking every part of my body on a launch ramp, help improve my balance, or assist in the weight loss I so desperately needed at the time to help with my self image issues.  This is all plainly obvious of course, and I knew it at the time in my heart, but damn if I didn’t hope that a cool pro deck would make me, well, cool.

The cherry on the top of this crap sundae is that even though I felt like such a poser on the inside I did love that board.  So, a few years later when I was living in Georgia and it was stolen out of our garage by some local doucebag, that really hurt.  Kind of like how you never mess with a man’s car (ala Pulp Fiction), you do not steal a kid’s skateboard.  I eventually manged to find out through the very active neighborhood kid grapevine that it was taken by a fifth grader who thought I looked like a jerk.  He didn’t even keep the skateboard, he instead threw it down a sewer one neighborhood over.  It was one of those kinds that didn’t have a handy manhole cover either, because I was all set to go spelunking to get that skateboard back.  It was gone, lost to the underground, and with it pretty much my entire identity of that surf/skate/BMX culture that I had wrapped myself in.  By this point my parents had given away my GT Explorer without asking me, stores had pretty much stopped carrying T&C clothing, and all I really had left (now living in Georgia, light years away from the beachy atmosphere of Florida) was that old and by this point ragged Billabong jacket.

So when my friends started giving me crap for wearing it everyday, even in the sweltering Georgia summer heat, I had had enough.  That was the day I literally cut the poser off of myself, into pieces, and threw it away.