Category Archives: Personal

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…)

Mattel Events Guide 1

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!

Mattel Events Guide 8

 

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.

DandD Warduke

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.

TMNT Space

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.

 

Geeky Valentines weekend shenanigans

This past weekend my girlfriend Jaime and I took the opportunity of some downtime to check out a couple of cool sites in and around Baltimore.  I’m still seeing a lot of the city for the first time and we lucked into a pair of free tickets to Geppi’s Entertainment Museum right across the street from the Orioles Stadium, so we thought it would be fun to head downtown and check it out.  I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect.  I only heard the words comic museum and toys, but I was intrigued.  When we pulled up to the building on Saturday morning it was a little unassuming, but as soon as you walk inside you’re bombarded by large-scale banners of all sorts of pop culture fun from 50s era tin toys to recreations of famous comic covers done in a more modern style.  Once you get past the front desk you’re greeted by an amazing hallway covered from floor to ceiling with rare film one-sheets, product merchandising ephemera, and some pretty inspiring artwork (including a couple breathtaking conceptual pieces from the ’66 era Batman TV series!

museum

The museum is broken up into a series of seven or eight individual exhibits including a comic book retrospective, a turn of the century comic strip showcase, a local Baltimore pop culture collection, a collectible and art show centered on African American works, and a number of rooms full to the brim of collectibles and antiques divided by decade.  There’s so much amazing stuff on display that you could probably spend an hour in each of the rooms and not see everything in one visit.  The comic retrospective alone is worth the price of admission as there are some truly “amazing” pieces in the collection including copies of Amazing Fantasy #15 and Action Comics #1!

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shawn Jaime

In addition to some of the heavy hitter powerhouse comics above, there was a really nice collection of 50s & 60s era EC, Atlas, and Dell comics, as well as a bunch of those really cool mini hardcover digests from the 30s and 40s featuring The Shadow, Buck Rogers, and Tarzan.  There were some nice Esiner Spirit inserts which I’ve also never seen in person before.  I loved getting a chance to see some of the rarer formative books in person for the first time, but it was also rad to see copies of more modern books like issue one of Eastman & Laird’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, or the wall of 90s era books featuring all sorts of gimmicks and cover enhancements (that I bought into back in the day hook, line, and sinker!)

In the comic strip exhibit I was a little bummed that there were no copies of Little Nemo in Slumberland, but there was a surprise that totally made up for it.  I was really excited to see a couple of Winsor McCay Gertie the Dinosaur drawings.  I mean talk about animation history!

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All of the comic book stuff was really neat, but the rooms where my eyes really lit up were the rooms dedicated to pop culture collectibles and toys.  From Disney, Popeye, and Little Orphan Annie all the way to the Transformers, Masters of the Universe and (gasp!) Vanilla Ice, there was something for everyone on display.  

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Some of my favorite older pieces included a LOA decoder pin (which of course elicited a series of A Christmas Story quotes from both Jaime and I) and a really nice collection of vintage PEZ dispensers (featuring three of my favorite Universal Monsters)…

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There was also a display of Monkees memorabilia, teen magazines and and a sweet insulated lunchbox that I would have killed for as a kid.  I grew up watching the series on Nickelodeon and for all intents and purposes they were my first favorite band (with a little competition form the Beach Boys and Weird Al.)

monkees

As far as the more recent stuff, the toys and collectibles that I have some true nostalgia for, Geppi’s did not disappoint.  Though I wouldn’t call the collection exhaustive, it was diverse enough to be really fun and it featured items that don’t tend to get the same spotlight shown on them.  So whereas they had a very nice mint in package Transformers Jetfire, as well as an Optimus Prime and Grimlock, I was honestly more excited to see their collection of Super Friends (Nabisco) and Star Wars cookie and cereal boxes!  I remember collecting the Super Friends boxes for awhile around the time that the first Burton Batman film hit theaters…

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There was also a nice collection of vintage MOC Dukes of Hazzard toys.  Not quite as obscure, but still not as popular as the Transformers.

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I loved seeing these because of it just drives home how cool the impending Funko/Super7 ReAction figures are that are about to start hitting the pegs.   In addition to all this there were also some weirder pieces and arrangements in the collection that showcased the sense of humor of the curators.  Whether it was the BFF placement of the Buger King and Ronald McDonald or the oddly suggestive C3P0 tape dispenser, Geppi’s surely has a lighter side to their exhibits…

best buds

C3P-Wow

If you’re in the Baltimore area and you want a fun place to spend and afternoon I’d highly suggest stopping into Geppi’s Entertainment museum.  There’s a to to see and they also have a pretty decent pop culture gift shop.  I could leave with out a swell ThunderCats Mumm-ra vinyl Funko Pop figure!

On Sunday we braved the icy streets and made our way further south into Washington, DC, specifically the Georgetown area so that we could visit a cinematic landmark I’ve wanted to see for a long time.  For those of you that are horror fans, you’ve probably already figured out what I’m talking about by the mere suggestion of film and georgetown, but for those who might not know, The Exorcist was filmed in and around this area back in 1972.  I’ve wanted to visit this town and walk the staircase where Father Karras took his fatal plunge in the film…

excorcist 2

Let me just say that picking the dead of winter to visit this site was a precarious decision indeed.  The streets leading to the steps were on steep hills and coated in inches of thick slippery ice.  Luckily the steps themselves were pretty much ice-free, so we could still traverse them.  Also, in an odd turn of events, Jaime had secretly cued up the Exorcist theme so she could be set to play it as we walked the staircase, and before she could actually play it it automatically started playing as we approached it!  Maybe there’s a weird hidden glitch where based on your GPS Spotify will surprise you with rad music cues.  Or maybe Pazuzu possessed her phone :p

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All in all is was an amazing Valentines day weekend…

Reclaiming another small piece of my childhood…

I think it might surprise folks that I don’t have a huge collection of vintage toys from the 80s.  Almost none of my original toys made it through the plethora of family moves throughout the 90s (my parents secretly disposed of most of my childhood things claiming they were lost), the the few pieces that survived were either foolishly destroyed or traded away.  It didn’t help matters that as a kid I was always a “trader” swapping toys with friends as a means of getting stuff my parents didn’t gift me on birthdays and Christmas.  My history is littered with boneheaded toy transactions where I was most assuredly on the losing end of the bargain.

Case in point, my rash decision at age 12 to trade a garbage bag full of my Transformers for a Hot Wheels Rally Case full of about  40 Micro Machines cars and planes.  For some reason my parents ignored my pleas for some of these, and the rad commercials staring John Moschitta were driving me crazy with tiny vehicle lust.  Since I never had an allowance until in my later teen years, there was no way I could buy these on my own (40 MM, at $4 per pack of 5, works out to about $32 which to me at the time was nearing Scrooge McDuck net worth territory.)  So it made perfect sense to trade almost all of my transformers.  What did I give up?  Optimus Prime, Red Alert, Ironhide, Ratchet, Inferno, Sideswipe, Swoop, Soundwave, Buzzsaw, Dirge, Shrapnel, Kickback, Bombshell, Crosshairs, all five Terrorcons, a couple of Stunticons, Wreckgar, Beachcomber, Brawn, Warpath, Cliffjumper, and all of Computron.  Easily $250 worth of toys for a measly handful of Micro Machines.  I’m super glad my parents never found out (or let me know if they did uncover my black market toy swaps.)  For years I’d regretted it, and it wasn’t until the past six or seven years that I was able to come to terms with it after replacing a few of these toys with some Toys R Us reissues.  But there are a bunch of Transformers what weren’t put out again, and have been way too over-priced to even contemplate picking up mint on card or MIB.  This past weekend though, after visiting a toy store I thought was no longer open, I finally managed to reconnect with another of these lost Transformers (well, sort of.)

Afterburner 1

While browsing the tiny, impossibly cramped vintage toy shop I locked eyes with one of my favorite Transformers, Computron’s right arm, the Techobot Afterburner.  I’m not sure whether it’s his Tron-esque design, the cool looking white canopy/cockpit, the orange color scheme or the simple fact that he was one of the rare 80s era motorcycle toys, but Afterburner has always been burned into my psyche as a childhood favorite toy.  When I saw this carded figure I had to have it and was temporarily blinded by the fact that the bubble had been lifter and he was missing his rad pulse cannon.

Afterburner 4

Honestly, I didn’t care all that much because missing pieces or not, this was still a brand new Afterburner complete with card.  I’ve mentioned in the past that I have some weird issues when it comes to “buying back my childhood” and how I’m not all that keen on acquiring vintage opened toys as they’re essentially someone else’s memories.  Sure, we all share the common pop culture pool of toys and cartoons which binds us in a sense, but the specific toys that were loved and played with are very individual.  So when I happen upon old/new stock at a reasonable price it’s like having my birthday and Christmas all rolled up in one.  Extra added bonus with this particular Afterburner is that it was also packaged with a Transformers Decoy minifig, something I never had and have always wanted.  Win Win!

Afterburner 2

I immediately purchased the figure and the first thing I did on the way to the car was take a snapshot to share on instagram, twitter and facebook.  Inevitably the question came up about whether I intended to open the figure or to keep him (relatively) sealed.  Well I ended up opening him and here’s why…

Afterburner 3

First of all, the card and bubble weren’t in the best shape, and the bubble had been lifted further off the card that I realized initially (in my excitement I didn’t inspect it too closely, I just assumed the one pulse cannon had been removed.)  That alone would have bugged me, what with the staples used to close the bottom bubble and all.  More importantly I just really wanted to hold the toy again and to transform and pose him.  So I took out my sharpest knife and proceeded to cut away the portions of the bubble that weren’t glued down to free my new treasure…

Well, it was mush to my chagrin after opening Afterburner when I realized that this was not an almost mint on card toy.  In fact, this was a well played with and kinda grungy figure!  I should have realized this as the stickers had already been placed on the toy, but I really figured it out when I took him out and the side of the toy that was facing inward towards the card was dirty as all hell.  There was some sort of sticky gunk in the wheel well and there were years of dust and dirt in the crevasses.  Sigh.  I’m 95% sure this specific figure and card weren’t originally together either.  If I had to guess, the shop owner found the card with the bubble, weapons, and Decoy attached and put in a loose Afterburner he had on hand.  The fact that the one side was all clean sort of confirms that for me.  Am I pissed?  No.  But it confirmed that my decision to open the toy was the best bet.

Afterburner 7

Not only was the toy dirty, but he was a bitch and a half to transform.  I thought for certain that I was going to snap it in half while trying to bend the waist joint.  Judging by what looks like some super glue residue at the base of his head (which doubles as the connecting pin for attaching it as Computron’s arm), the head/neck piece was also broken and glued back on.  Still though, after I cleaned him up and very gingerly transformed him I did get a little thrill and it felt nice to hold him in my hands almost 25 years after stupidly giving him up.  Seriously, is his alt mode not the coolest toy motorcycle since Condor from M.A.S.K?

Afterburner 5

Afterburner 8

Luckily I was able to preserve his cardback and the inserts.  Because the package came from a Decoy edition, it was packed with a mini fold out comic which is really fun.  There was also a mail in form for Reflector (something I’ve coveted for years), as well as instructions on how to form Computron.  Isn’t this card artwork just the coolest?!?  I’m so happy that a nice hardcover book featuring Transformers box art is coming out in May (I’ve already pre-ordered my copy!)

Transformers Afterburner Cardback 1987 front

Transformers Afterburner Cardback 1987

Here’s the Decoy minicomic…

Transformers Decoy mini comic 1987 2

Transformers Decoy mini comic 1987 1

And that rad Reflector mail-away…

Transformers Reflector Mailaway 2 1987

Transformers Reflector Mailaway 1 1987

Only 2 Robot Points huh?  Well, I guess I only need one and a half more!!!

Transformers Robot Points 1987

Lastly, for anyone curious about how to form Computron, here you go…

Transformers Computron Instructions

I sure would love to have the other 4 figures to be able to form the full Computron again.  Since this Afterburner was originally someone else’s memory maybe I’ll be able to make an exception and pick up some opened figures.  Who knows.  Maybe someday…

Afterburner 6

Thank you Mr. Scheimer.

I never had the opportunity to meet Lou Scheimer and I regret that I was never able, in person, to say those two little words that can’t even begin to express how I felt, “Thank you.”

Like so many kids who grew up or came of age in the 70s and 80s, cartoons were the cornerstone of our lives. For some maybe only during those formative years pre-K to third grade or so, but for others like me, cartoons have been an essential part of my life for over three decades. As a kid cartoons were an alarm clock on weekends, as well as my introduction to comedy, tragedy, drama, and heroes and villains. They were my inspiration to pick up a pencil and start drawing. They were an escape, a comfort. They helped instill in me a moral compass. They were/are magic. Over my lifetime there are a handful of studios that have greatly affected me to different degrees, Sunbow, Hanna Barbera, Ruby Spears, Disney and DiC, but at the end of the day there really was only one that helped to define my voice as a person and that was Filmation. And Lou Scheimer basically was Filmation.

FilmationTrio_Big

I’m well aware that no one person is solely responsible for a studio, and I have a very long list of artists, animators, writers, producers, voice actors, secretaries and interns to be grateful for, but from all the documentaries, interviews, and articles I’ve read, Lou Scheimer really did put his all into Filmation and so many of his ideas and principals shine through in every production they released. He wasn’t just a figurehead; he was involved and invested in the art that was being created. The more familiar you become with Scheimer, the more and more you see him in the Filmation stable of cartoons, not only in just tone, but in all aspects of production. The most obvious example is his contribution of voice-work for so many characters I grew up listening to. In so many of the live action series Scheimer provided both credits narration and was constantly heard breathing life into robots and creatures, over intercoms and on computers. He was Dumb Donald on Fat Albert, Bat-Mite and the super computer on Filmation’s Batman. He played Tracey the Gorilla in Filmation’s Ghostbusters, was Zero, the off-screen boss from the live action Ghostbusters show from the 70s, and was Sandstorm on Bravestarr. But to me he was one of the major players that helped to define the vocal sound of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe and She-Ra Princess of Power voicing so many of my favorite characters including Stratos, Orko, Trap-Jaw, King Randor, Swift Wind, Kowl, Mantenna, Grizzlor, Fisto, Spikor, Two-Bad, Moss Man, and the Attack Trak computer just to name a few. Scheimer’s voice has been with me in one form or another for practically my entire life.

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Scheimer was also instrumental in keeping animation in the US, and was one of the last hold outs with a studio that had all aspects of creation in-house for the majority of their run. Though a lot of people like to make fun of the studio for its budgetary restraints and re-use of animation, the work, to my eyes, is still beautiful and well worthy of study and deconstruction. I’m still really proud of the two episodes of the Saturday Supercast where Jerzy Drozd, Kevin Cross and I took a stab at breaking down the Masters of the Universe cartoon (Part one and Part two.)

If nothing else, I’m glad that Scheimer had a chance to see the impact that he had on so many lives and that over the last decade we fans have been treated to wonderful releases of a good majority of the Filmation library on DVD. These initial releases, the ones produced by BCI Eclipse, are also chock full of lengthy documentaries on Filmation, the shows, and Scheimer and his family. He made it out to conventions to meet with the fans and together they celebrated a lot of great animation art and childhood memories. Andy Mangels, who produced most of the special features content on those DVDs, also sat down with Lou and co-wrote his biography, Lou Scheimer: Creating the Filmation Generation, so for anyone interested in his story, there is plenty to delve into.

It’s a little late, but I guess this is my way of saying thank you Lou, for all you did, for living the life that you did and making mine immeasurably better off for it. Thank you.

6+6+6= Day 18 of the GPK Halloween Countdown!

We’re up to day 18, the second to last Friday in the countdown.  You know what you get when you add 6+6+6?  Day 18, and the Devil!  Er, or these series 2 Garbage Pail Kids stickers, 64a&b, Hot Scott and Luke Warm…

18 - Hot Scott

There’s something supremely creepy about a baby devil.  Whether it’s the little bit of hair creeping up his little baby belly, or the pencil thin mustache.  Shudder.  I’m glad the name plate and logo were red, only enhancing John Pound’s gorgeous artwork in this painting.  Oh, and speaking of baby devils being creepy (and other creepy evil babies), here’s some more proof.  I made this baby devil, baby Pinhead, and Baby Leatherface for my sister years ago for Christmas (she dug weird things like I do.)

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Once again, I’m also helping to organize the annual Countdown to Halloween alongside the tireless and super cool monster kid John Rozum. So if you like what I’m doing over here, you might want to head on over to the Countdown site and check out the huge list of other sites participating in this year’s spooky festivities. There’s also a like-minded sister collective called Blog-O-Ween being put together by my pal Cody, the Crooked Ninja Turtle Sensi. Be sure to check them out as well.

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