Category Archives: Personal

Transformers & G.I. Joe, finally the shared universe I always dreamed of…

As an 80s nostalgia nerd it’s kind of hard to pick a favorite brand or property from my childhood. There are just way too many fond memories and of the thousands of things that I love from that decade each and every one of them has the power to take me back and give me the warm fuzzies. However, looking back and remembering how I felt at the time, if I had to nail down the stuff that I considered my favorites it would unquestionably be G.I. Joe and the Transformers. Not only was I completely smitten by both toy lines, I was also heavily invested in both cartoon series. Between the ages of 7 to 13 almost every afternoon you could find me in front of the TV after school emersed in the worlds that the Sunbow animation staff created, or in our dining room setting up epic battles with my collection of Hasbro toys.

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Those two universes were practically sacred to me and they felt very interconnected. As I grew older and started digging into the background of the properties it downed on me that there were a lot of reasons for this. I mean the toys were all developed or marketed by Hasbro, the cartoons were both handled by Sunbow/Marvel Animation utilizing the same pool of voice talent, show runners and writers, and much of the periphery merchandise was also handled by the same companies (both comic book series were Marvel for example.) At the time I didn’t realize this and as I sat in rapt attention during the cartoon or when coming up with stories to play out with my toys I always chose to entertwine the universes. The idea of Cobra Commander and his legion of terrorists and Megatron and his armada of Decepticons teaming up to face off against the Optimus Prime and the Autobots and the entire roster of G.I. Joe was always a go-to story for me. Even though I planned out a ton of epic battles in my head there was always a part of me that was bummed out because this crossover universe wasn’t official. It never stopped my from day dreaming about it, but I always felt a tinge of sadness because what I really wanted was to see some actual “official” crossovers and for the most part it never really officially existed until now. There were a handful of teases, specifically in the Sunbow cartoons that stoked the flames of my crossover desires like the time that a character who was for all intents and purposes Cobra Commander popped up in a season three episode of Transformers titled Only Human

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This character was named Old Snake in the episode and is almostly undeniably Cobra Commander as he was voiced by Chris Latta (who provided the voices of Cobra Commander and Starscream on the Sunbow cartoons), was the defunt leader of a one great terrorist orginization and even has the iconic mirrored face plate. But as they never referred to him specifically as Cobra Commander, nor did they evoke Cobra or even feature a Cobra logo insignia, it leaves it up to question enough that it feels way more like an homage to me than an actual crossover. There’s also an episode featuring an older version of the Joe team character Flint (whose real name is Dashiell Faireborn) in that thrid season of Transformers. But again, the connection isn’t explicit. He’s not refferred to as “Flint” and there are no G.I. Joe connections beyond inferring the identity of that character through context clues based on his appearance and the fact that, that character’s daughter’s name is Marissa Faireborn. The closest connection between the universes in the cartoon series is the appearance of a newscaster named Hector Ramirez that pops up in most of the Sunbow series set in modern times (G.I. Joe, Transformers, Jem, and the Inhumanoids.) But as solid a connection as this is, it doesn’t have the panache of seeing Autobots pop up in an episode of G.I. Joe.

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Now, there is a very popular and very explicit connection between the two universes that I’m sure readers are screaming about right now, and that’s the Marvel comics crossover G.I. Joe and the Transformers that was published back in 1987. You know, this is about as clear cut as you can get in terms of universes crossing over, and I’ll agree that it’s cool and groundbreaking, but there are a couple of reasons that I kind of dismiss these comics. For one, I never stumbled upon those comics until well into my adulthood, and two, the comics always seemed like they were outside of the official continuity to me. Much in the same way that it’s arguable whether the Star Wars novelizations are cannon, or if it’s just a product to enrich the brand which is the officially released movies. For me, when it comes to G.I. Joe and Transformers the official continuity begins and ends with the cartoon series, animated films, and the toy lines. Again, I’ll be the first to admit that this is more or less just my weird way of perceiving the universes, but it just feels right to me. So I’ve been waiting for over 20 years to see something released in one of these two realms that unites the properties.

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So when I learned that Hasbro was releasing an official crossover toy in the new Transformer Combiner Wars line I was absolutely floored. The toy, a hybrid Decepticon/Cobra jet named Viper that was modeled after a variation of the Cobra Rattler and it’s main pilot Wild Weasel, is one of the first pieces of widely released Hasbro merchandise that finally officially merges the universes of G.I. Joe and the Transformers. As soon as I laid eyes on grainy pictures online I knew I had to get my hands on one asap, and I want to give a huge thank you and shout out to my buddy HooveR for hooking me up with the toy of my dreams.

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Now, as far as I’m concerned Viper is (for me) one of the most important pieces in the modern Hasbro offerings because it acts as a link that has the potential to spark an entire line of toys that I feel are in a way tailor-made to fill a void in my nostalgic past. Now, I know that there are still folks out there that are going to want to point to earlier examples of the G.I. Joe and Transformers universe’s crossing over in toy form. I mean there are a couple of specific examples that spring to mind, namely the 2004 Transformers Energon figure Snow Cat which is an homage to the G.I. Joe vehicle of the same name and general design. But again, as cool as an homage as this is, it’s not explicitly a crossover. There’s no G.I. Joe logo and storyline attached.

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A more apt example would be the SDCC exclusive release of the Starscream decoed Sky Striker set that was released back in 2011. The set came with a Cobra Commander pilot figure armed with an appropriately-sized Megatron laser pistol. Again, this is a super cool set that I really wanted to get my hands on, but there were some aspects to the release that again make me feel like it’s outside of an official crossover. First, the set was a limited edition only sold at the SDCC which means that most folks couldn’t get their hands on it, and second, even though the repainted Sky Striker looks really awesome as “Starscream”, it was just a repainted Joe toy. They didn’t re-tool it so that it could transform or anything. So as cool as it is, it doesn’t feel official to me.

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Viper on the other hand is about as official as you can get, widely released, branded with both G.I. Joe and Transformers insignia logos, and functions as both an action figure, vehicle (with the ability to transform.)  It may be a narrow view for some, but for me, this is the toy I’ve been waiting for for over 20 years!  Here’s some more views of Viper….

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I love the way they made Viper an homage to Wild Weasel too, a really nice touch…

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I have no idea whether Hasbro is testing the waters with a figure like Viper, but I hope they are.  I’d love to see a whole line of hybrid releases like this.  I can totally imagine transformer Hiss Tanks, Vamp jeeps, or Tomahawk helicopters.  I can even see a combiner made out of the various Dreadnok vehicles.  The possibilities are limitless!

 

Help Kickstart Buy the Rights!

A few months ago a good buddy shared his idea for a new project he was working on, a project that I immediately knew was going to be awesome.  Fast forward to today and that project is on the brink of becoming a reality and I couldn’t be happier.  What am I talking about?  My friend and fellow nostalgia buff, Tommy Day from Top Hat Sasquatch has developed a wicked awesome card game called Buy the Rights.  In a nutshell, it’s a cinema-themed party game where the players develop movie pitches based on a mix of Plot, Genre, Hero, & Hero Descriptor cards they draw.  Each turn players pitch their movie to a producer who has a set budget to spend any way they see fit.  Then the role of producer passes on to the next character, everyone else draws new cards and makes pitches, and so on.  At the end of the game the player with the most money wins.

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Being a huge movie buff (I do co-host a podcast about Cult Films) and an avid game player I was immediately sold on the concept.  And now Tommy has taken the game to Kickstarter to raise the funds to get the game properly manufactured and into the hands of gaming enthusiasts everywhere.  Before he launched the campaign Tommy had a batch of prototypes printed up and my girlfriend Jaime and I were lucky enough to receive a copy to play-test.  Recently we had a bunch of friends over for a cookout and figured it was the perfect opportunity to pull out the game ad kick the tires a bit…

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As I mentioned, the game is comprised of four decks of cards, Plot, Genre, Hero, & Hero Descriptor.  Each deck has 100 different cards, so there are almost limitless combinations that can be formed when devising movie pitches.  Half of the fun of the game is trying to put together a halfway coherent idea with the randomly drawn cards, and the other half of the fun is “selling” the pitch to the producer.  So when the best movie idea in your hand is Horror Film (Genre) about a Dyslexic Plumber (Descriptor & Hero cards), who has to play a championship basketball game against aliens (plot), you really have to pull out the charisma to get the producer on your side.  In all seriousness, the game is a lot of fun and while we were playing we were constantly laughing at the pitches…

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Buy the Rights follows in the tradition of games like Cards Against Humanity and Apples to Apples, and is perfect for both audiences (it can be played perfectly clean, or depending on the players and ages can get pretty hilariously “adult”.)

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I was also super stoked to have Tommy commission me to draw a piece of Buy the Rights art for the Kickstarter campaign.  Right now if you pledge at certain levels you can get a nifty vinyl sticker of this piece I illustrated…

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There’s a lot of fun rewards too, aside from the game itself which is the real gem, there’s also a really swell print that was illustrated by Cole Roberts, as well as a cool T-Shirt.

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So if this seems like something you’d be interested in, please take a few minutes to check out the campaign, watch the video, and help Tommy make Buy the Rights a reality. This one fully gets the Branded in the 80s stamp of approval!

Transformers through the eyes of a 10 year-old…

If there’s one thing that I try very hard to do with this site it’s to attempt to transport my perspective into the mind of my 10 year-old self so that I can try and see things (like all the old cartoons, toys, and ephemera) as I did almost 30 years ago.  This is way easier said than done as it’s next to impossible to let go of a lifetime’s worth of baggage and my pesky adult perspective that I need to have in place for most of the time.  It’s at those times when it’s proving a real struggle to get back into that childlike mindset when I wonder what it would be like to have a child of my own who I could share all of the stuff that I grew up with and watch their reaction firsthand.  Having children just hasn’t been something that was in the cards for me up to this point, and most of my friends who have had children did so later in life and so most of them are still too young to share this kind of stuff with.

Well this past week I had the opportunity to babysit a friend’s 10 year-old son Alex for a few afternoons, and after spending the last decade literally reclaiming my childhood in the form of comics, toys, and a mountain of cartoons on DVD I figured I’d be in the perfect person to watch and entertain the kid for a few afternoons.  Well, even though I feel like I had a pretty good shot at relating to him and the stuff he’s into, I do remember what it was like being a kid and being babysat by someone who was trying their damnedest but failing to relate to me.  That was probably my biggest concern going in, that I’d attempt to be hip by knowing about stuff like current cartoons or cool for having a huge collection of toys, yet still failing to make a connection. I mean, I have a wall full of Masters of the Universe and G.I. Joe toys still mint on card.  Would Alex think I was crazy for not opening them?  Basically all I knew for certain was that he was a huge Transformers fan who thinks that the Decepticons are jerks and that his favorite characters are all of the Autobots.  All of them.

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I knew I’d be watching him for three days and on the first it was pretty much just as awkward as I’d expected.  Being really into Transformers Alex brought his copy of the War for Cybertron XBox game so that we could play it.  Well, if I haven’t already mentioned it on the site before, when it comes to modern video games I suck.  I’ll be honest, I very happily peaced out after the Nintendo 64/Playstaion era of gaming and never really had any interest in picking it back up.  I’d much rather play Galaga than Skyrim, and I’m totally fine with that.  I’m just not a gamer and if you hand me a controller that has more than 4 buttons and a D-pad I’m totally lost.

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So when Alex busted out his copy of War for Cybertron I was actually nervous about having to try and play co-op with him.  Luckily he didn’t understand what the co-op option meant, so I just played dumb when there was no option for the second player to join after he launched the single-player campaign.  At that point I was fine just watching him blast a bunch of Transformers to rubble.  Actually, watching him play the game was kind of hilariously interesting because regardless of the fact that I mentioned to him that I was well versed in the lore of the Transformers he took it upon himself to tell me all about the characters and the world.  I decided to just play dumb and learn from the master.  “Whoa, that guy is named Jetfire?  What does he transform into?  A jet?  Whoa!”  Mind you, I wasn’t being sarcastic or patronizing, just trying to let him take the reigns of the discussion.  He played the game non-stop for 5 hours straight while I watched and asked about all the characters and locations.

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Actually, this was kind interesting for me on another level since I’d never played the game before and have very distinct tastes when it comes to the Transformers.  The game is an amalgamation of visual design and continuity from all iterations of the mythology and universes.  So you have dialogue directly lifted from the 1986 Transformers movie mixed with references to the Bayformer movies, and character designs that are somewhere in between those live action films and the Classics toy versions of the characters that were released about a decade ago.  Mix that with dialogue from Frank Welker and Peter Cullen and it makes for a very trippy experience.  There are even nods to the original Marvel comics, specifically the smelting pits.

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This also underlined something for me that I was well aware of, but never really out much thought into which is that a brand like the Transformers has a longevity that is kind of amazing.  I mean, I feel kind of old thinking about it, but having been around before they were originally designed and released, enough time has passed that there are almost three generations worth of folks who can lay claim to a variation of the characters.  In another decade we’ll being seeing families where the grandparents were into the original G1 versions of the characters, parents who grew up on the later 90s, early 2000s cartoons and the Bayformers, and there will be a new generation of kids whose reference point for the characters will be the new video games and the latest trilogy of Bayformer movies that are on deck to be released over the next few years.  We’re already seeing that with brands like G.I. Joe, but I find it fascinating that something that was developed and launched when I was a kid will have that sort of generational longevity soon.

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Well, on the second day I was only watching Alex for a couple of hours and honestly I still had a headache from the constant barrage of crap blowing up in ultra HD in that game the day before, so I decided instead of firing the XBox back up, instead we’d watch a movie.  Knowing he loved the Transformers and since I’ve never been able to share some of my childhood favorite flicks with a kid of my own I decided that I’d take a chance and screen the 1986 Transformers movie for him.  I knew he’d never seen it and honestly I was dying to know if the flick still held up for today’s kids who have their own, way more kinetic versions of the characters than the ones I grew up loving.  I always felt the movie was ahead of its time in terms of the violence, the sort of crazy level of action and a plot that basically moves at the speed of light.  So what would a modern 10 year-old make of this film I love so dearly?

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Well, I’m pleased to say that it held up pretty damn good, though there are some scenes where it was painfully obvious that Alex was getting bored.  All of the jokes seemed to hit him in just the right place (we both turned to each other and laughed during the scene where Grimlock is begging Kup to tell his war stories), and for the most part the fast-moving plot seemed to keep his attention.  The opening scene with the Lithonian’s planet getting eaten by Unicron seemed to bore him, and any scene that was devoted to back and forth bickering between Unicron and Galvatron also made him snooze.  But throughout the rest of the film there was definitely a mix of him literally being on the edge of his seat and standing up cheering.  It was really interesting seeing him react to the vehicle character of Daniel, one that most fans who grew up with the film tend to deride and mock, but Alex was all in.  Whenever Daniel was in peril I’d hear audible gasps from Alex, even in early scenes where he busts his hoover-board.

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Probably the most gratifying experience was watching Alex react to a couple of key scenes in the movie, namely the death of Optimus Prime and the psuedo-death of Ultra Magnus before the final siege on Unicron.  There were no tears during Prime’s death, but this was probably the moment when Alex became fully invested in the story (at least judging from his body language.)  You could tell he was heavily focused on the characters and really wanted the Autobots to survive and to defeat the Decepticons.

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He also really seemed to get behind the idea of the Matrix of Leadership because when it came around to the scene where Galvatron has Ultra Magnus ripped apart to get at it, Alex was really bummed out.  He actually screamed out “No!” when Magnus fell.  So even though at the outset he had that sort of disinterest because the movie seemed so old, three quarters of the way in he was hooked.  I attempted to ask him some questions afterwards, but being a sort of shy 10 year-old who never really spent all that much time around me, he was pretty tight lipped.  I was really curious if he noticed that some of the lines in this movie were also in the game he loved (“One shall stand, one shall fall”, “Bah Weep Grah Na Weep Ninibon”, “First we crack the shell, then we crack the nuts inside…”, etc.), but he didn’t seem to notice.  Granted, I’ve seen that ’86 movie over two hundred times, so the dialogue is permanently etched into my brain.

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I was also curious about the infamous scene where Spike utters the word “Shit” when they try and blow up Unicron with Moon Base Two.  Again, he didn’t seem to notice during the actual film, and I wasn’t going to ask him a point question about curse words afterwards.  The final little bit of a litmus test to gauge his enjoyment with the older G1 versions of the characters, my girlfriend and I picked up a six-inch vinyl Optimus Prime figure (that is strikingly accurate in terms of the depiction from the original cartoon) as a gift for Alex.  I gave it to him right before we watched the movie and all throughout he was clutching it and posing it towards the screen. On the third day when he came back, he still had the toy with him, so I’m taking that as a sign that he enjoyed that 1986 film.

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All in all, it was really fascinating to get a glimpse into what it would be like to share my nostalgia with a kid, and it gives me hope that if I do decide that the time is right to have a child of my own soon, that I’ll be able to pass down a love for some of my favorite 80s era stuff.  That actually gives me a lot of hope for the future and it reminds me that I might get a lot of use out of the overflowing shelves of cartoons I own on DVD some day.

For me the 80s didn’t end with a whimper or a bang, but with a fake puking noise…

5741481453_25e5050515_oI spend a lot of time writing and creating stuff for Branded to celebrate all the things that I loved about growing up in the eighties.  Part of why I do this is to share my collection of junk that I’ve amassed over the years, and part of it is trying to capture and share that intense feeling of “holy crap, I had that” that one feels when they encounter something that had been completely forgotten up until that point.  That rush of memory and familiarity is like a drug to me, and it’s as rare as it is fleeting.  It’s basically chasing the dragon of nostalgia.  I can only hope that there are folks who visit this site and are reminded of something lost from their childhoods.  Something small and relatively inconsequential that they’ve completely forgotten about and that by stumbling across a post or picture they stop whatever they’re doing and get that wave of sweet nostalgia that starts in the pit of your stomach and quickly spreads like adrenaline through the rest of your body.

This past week I had one of those magical moments where I was just scrolling through facebook and then all of the sudden I felt like a Mack truck slammed into me as my eyes landed on something that I hadn’t seen or thought about since 1989…

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Facebook friend and all around awesome vintage candy collector R. Vandiver shared the above Topps sales sheet to the Novelty Candy Marketplace FB group and I just froze for a few minutes in disbelief.  I couldn’t believe that I had forgotten about these Barfo Family Candy containers!

Barfo Candy Box 1Not only had I forgotten about these, but on a personal level, this amazingly gross novelty candy is one of the last official pop culture experiences I had during that golden decade as a kid.  I spend the entirety of the 80s living in central Florida (in the both the Tampa and Orlando areas) and it was on the last day of December of 1989 when my family packed up, picked up stakes, and moved north to the Massachusetts/New  Hampshire area.  My father had recently been transferred to a new office and he’d already taken a trip up by himself to drive one of our two cars up to the small apartment we were going to stay in for a couple of months while our new house was being built.  I distinctly remember we kicked off a two-day road trip on New Years eve as there was a live band playing Auld Lang Syne in the motel restaurant/bar we stayed at that night in Virginia.

That morning, after we’d been on the road for a couple hours, my dad stopped at a Stuckey’s somewhere in north FL to fuel up.  I think I’d begged for some money so that I could go inside and load up on Yes & No Invisible Ink Question & Answer books, Slim Jims and candy for the trip.  The particular Stuckey’s we stopped at was a weird combination of gas station and diner, with two separate buildings.  I poked my head in the diner area first where there was an area towards the back that a had a spinner rack full of comics and the Yes & No books as well as coolers full of soda and a rack full of beef jerky.  I couldn’t find any Slim Jims, so I settled on a small bag of jerky, a glass bottle of blue Fanta, and a Battleship heavy edition of the Yes & No books.  Strangely, there was no candy in this section, so after I paid for my junk I headed over to the gas station building next door to see if there was any in there.  I’d already spent the majority of the money my dad gave me (beef jerky is always so damn expensive) and I think I had about a dollar and a half left when I stumbled unto candy nirvana.  I definitely considered myself a sort of candy connoisseur at this point in my life having spent endless hours in our local 7-Elevens and Walgreens trying every possible thing that I could get a sugar high off of, but this Stuckey’s had some stuff that I’d never even dreamed existed.  I was hoping I’d find some of those little cartons full of orange and fruit punch-flavored bubble gum, or maybe a Mr. Bones Coffin full of the chalky Sweettarts-like candy, but there was a whole shelf full of novelty plastic heads full of candy as well as a full box of Barfo Family candy that just about made my head explode.

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I was still a huge fan of Garbage Pail Kids at the time and was all into the super gross art in MAD and Cracked magazines, so when I saw the Barfo candy I was in love.  Sitting right next to these were a box full of plastic Batman heads full of candy, and I was also a super fan of that film, so I was torn trying to decide how to spend the rest of my loot.  In the end I had just enough for one Batman head and one Barfo head, but I vowed that I’d find a place to pick up the rest of the Barfo heads as soon as I had more money…

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The Barfo head that I chose was Ralph, the kid, and if I’m recalling correctly it was filled with a grape flavored goo that came oozing out of his mouth when you pushed down on the accordion plunger.  This terrified and sickened my parents, but I loved it.  It didn’t even bother me that I was basically making out with a tiny candy dispenser.  I spent the next hour in the backseat making fake puking noises in between squirting the liquid candy into my mouth.  I’m sure my parents thought long and hard about leaving me on the side of the road all throughout that trip…

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In doing some research it turns out there were four members in the Barfo family, the kid, Ralph as I mentioned above, his two parents What’s Up Chuck and Oozie Suzie, and the family dog Arf-Barf.  The concept of these little disgusting novelties was the brainchild of Abe Morgenstern who, according to Topps alum Drew Friedman, came into the office with a turkey baster one day after Thanksgiving and demanded to know how they could turn the baster into a candy dispenser.  From there it was passed on to a few folks at Topps including Art Speigelman & Mark Newgarden who came up with the idea to model the dispensers after a 50′s era nuclear family, and eventually Drew Friedman and Patrick Pigott who designed and illustrated the box art.  Stan Hart, a MAD magazine writer, coined the Barfo name.

Barfo Candy Family

Whats Up Chuck                   Oozie Suize                   Arf-Barf

After we got up to New England I recall searching for stores that had the Barfo candy on sale, but sadly I never found any.  Not only were these amazing designs in terms of gross-out candy dispensers, but as far as I can remember these were also years ahead of of the whole liquid lollipop phenomenon of the mid 90s.

Man, I can’t thank R. Vandiver enough for reminding me about these, and Drew Friedman for detailing the history of the development of the product over on his blog.  He even posted pictures of the super rare prototype dispenser that is perhaps even more nightmare inducing than the final candy heads!  All in all, as far as the 80s go, literally, one of the last pop culture memories I have before ringing in 1990 with the house band at some less than memorable motel bar is of making my own personal Sofie’s choice as to which member of the Barfo family I took home with me on the morning of December 31st 1989.  That and all the fake puking sounds I made in the car while eating the candy…

 

Interview in Non-Sport Magazine

So, speaking of all these throwback digital trading cards I’ve been working on, I totally forgot that I was interviewed last October by Ryan Cracknell of Non-Sport Update Magazine (and his site Trader Cracks)!  Just got my hands on a copy of the issue, the Feb-Mar 2015 edition, Volume 26, Number 1.

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The interview mainly deals with the set of The Monster Squad cards I made last Halloween, but it also touches on my non-sport card collecting during the 80s as well.  Here’s a picture of the article if anyone’s interested in reading it…

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Peel Here #117: Nostalgia from two angles!

Getting old is weird.  As if succumbing to the crippling pull of childhood nostalgia in my mid-twenties wasn’t weird enough, lately I’ve been feeling a similar wave of emotion towards the content that I presented at the outset of this very website.  Back in 2006 when I started Branded I wasn’t sure exactly what form the site was going to take.  I know that I wanted to discuss a bunch of 80s era childhood memories, but I wasn’t concrete about how I was going to pursue that discussion.  It wasn’t until later in the year, after the podcasting bug had worn off a bit and I started switching my focus to writing that I hit upon something that really got me excited which was procuring a bunch of 80s era ephemera and scanning it to share and to be the spark of something to reflect on.  That’s when I decided to get my hands on as many examples of stickers from the decade that I could find, and in that search I reconnected with a piece of my childhood that (at the time) seemed that no one save one random eBay seller remembered, the 7-11 Slurpee lenticular rock coins from 1984-85.

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I was so happy to have found a set of these and even happier when I realized that these were actually stickers and not just collector coins.  I wrote about them back in November 2006 and after scanning them in and sharing them felt pretty confident that I had these little bits of lenticular nostalgia nailed down and “out of my system”.  A few months later in an attempt to recoup the costs of sourcing so many stickers for the site I decided to liquidate my rather larger collection of stickers in order to use the dough to buy even more.  This created a couple of issues though.  For one, at the time vintage stickers were pretty damn cheap on eBay as it seemed like no one was actively buying them.  My hope was that buy selling all the stickers in one large lot I would have a better chance at making back at least what I put into acquiring them as it was an instant collection (featuring pretty much everything I covered on Peel Here for the first 60-70 columns).  Unfortunately I ended up taking a bath on the auction barely making back a fourth of what I originally spent on the stickers.  To add insult to injury, over the next few months I started to notice that the prices of 80s stickers on eBay started to exponentially increase.  All of a sudden people were in the market, so the meager funds I was about to recoup didn’t stretch all that far.

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Well, at least I still had all of the scans I made right?  I figured that if nothing else I had all the imagery of the stickers and felt certain at the time that when ever I felt the nostalgic wave of sticker love wash over me I could just flip though the image archives I have on the site and saved to my hard drives.  I didn’t think about it much for the next few years, but eventually, around 2010 I started wishing I hadn’t sold so much of my collection.  There were a couple of examples in particular that just didn’t translate into the scans as well as I’d hoped, specifically all of the Lazer Blazers holographic stickers and the various lenticular stickers.  It was next to impossible to get scans of both images featured on the stickers (as evidenced above.)  Thanks to friends of the site and some decent eBay auctions over the past 9 years I’ve been able to reacquire a bunch of the lenticular stickers (like the Transformers and Go Bots puffy stickers), but the price of Lazer Blazers and the 7-Eleven Slurpee Rock Coins have been way too high to justify.

Well, after years of waiting and watching eBay like a hawk I finally managed to reclaim a set of the 7-Eleven Rock Coins for a very reasonable price and was super thrilled when they came in the mail this past week.

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It’s so weird, but I feel like I’ve reconnected with an important part of what made Branded in the 80s work for me.  Back during the early days of the site I heavily used these in the site design.  Everywhere on the site that had bulleted lists (like the list of other sites I dig) I used a tiny sprite of the Dio rock coin.  It was too small for anyone to really notice, but I was happy knowing that they were plastered all over the site.

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Looking back at the fact that I’ve almost been running this site for a decade has made me realize just how important it’s been in changing who I am, providing me with a ton of new connections to friends and was the portal to experiences that never would have happened otherwise.  These little lenticular stickers are a very specific symbol of that for me…

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I’m glad I finally got my hands on these again, and having a second shot I’m gonna use this opportunity to showcase them a bit better by literally sharing them from different angles so hopefully folks can get a better view of them.  As an aside, I still find the collection of bands here really strangely eclectic (Rush, Loverboy, .38 Special, Go West, Ratt, Dio, Tears for Fears, Ozzy Osbourne, Huey Lewis and the News, The Police, Night Ranger, Billy Squier, Journey, Bryan and Adams, I guess it’s like MTV threw up all over these…)

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Not only has almost entire decade past since I first shared these, but so many other things on the internet have changed that there are way more resources available to gleam a bit more of what the experience was like collecting these back int he day.  Back in ’06 there were a handful of vintage commercials available on youtube, but not quite to the extent that there are today where there seems to be a dedicated fanbase of people constantly ripping video from old VHS tapes.  So imagine my excitement when I stumbled upon this Slurpee commercial advertising these rock coins!

I’ve also since learned that this 1985 set is the second series.  There was another smaller series done in 1984 that had many of these same bands (and specific sticker coins), but there were a few differences including R.E.M., Krokus, the Tubes, and Big Country.  Also the Ozzy sticker was black instead of red.  I have yet to find a set of these 1984 stickers that aren’t astronomically priced, but there was one extremely blurry picture on eBay, so I figured I’d include it as proof that they exist.

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It’s weird to realize that nostalgia is a motile phenomenon, that it grows with us as we age and isn’t just about the rose-colored view of our childhoods.  It’s also a very personal and selective thing that effects everyone differently.  Whereas I find myself getting nostalgic for the mid 2000′s and the start of Branded, I’ve yet to feel any real pull towards the my time as a teen in the 90s (which some exceptions for friends long gone).  Maybe it points to the fact that the 90s pop culture just didn’t grab me in the same way that the 80s have, and so that 80s nostalgia can jump to even my discussions about it.

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Either way, I finally feel a little bit more at ease knowing that I’ve reconnected with these small bits of my past yet again, and hopefully this time I’ll have the foresight to hold on to them.  Even the Billy Squier sticker coin, which was the first one that I pulled from the bottom of a Slurpee cup in the summer of 1985….

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Chef Boyardee Mini Ravioli is in my DNA…

5741481453_25e5050515_oChef Boyardee is what being six years-old tastes like. Of all my senses the sheer power of the one-two punch of taste and smell as a means of time travel is unrivaled. Sure, the immediacy of sight, seeing imagery of our favorite toys, clothes, TV shows and movies is transportive, and audio, hearing favorite songs, dialogue from movies, or something as incidental as the specific ring my childhood telephone made is enveloping. As far as touch is concerned, for me this is the sense that is overshadowed the most by the others as it’s the one that is next to impossible to turn off and thus it just becomes a part of being. I’m hardly totally discounting it, I mean I have very distinct memories of what it felt like to play with Lego for instance, the sharp edges, the pain under my fingernails from hours of trying to pry apart two flat 1×2 pieces, or the way it felt to chew on one of the bulbous rubber Space set tires. But of all my senses the almost inseparable combination of taste and smell has the unique ability to overwhelm me, almost drowning me in a flood of memory, almost literally enabling me to travel back in time when I reconnect with certain stalwart flavors.

admin-ajax.phpeThis past December I decided to relocate, packing up all my collectible junk and moving from Atlanta to Baltimore. Though I’d hardly say that I’ve been homesick these past three months (I had no problem trading in the Falcons for the Ravens, peaches for crabs, or the really shitty traffic on I-85 for the really shitty traffic on I-95), I have been feeling the pull for homey comfort food. I’m sure part of this is dealing with my first real snowy winter in the last 25 years, as well as wanting to lean on some small part of my past, something that feels like it’s a part of my down to the level of my DNA. While doing some grocery shopping and browsing the aisles of my new local supermarkets I was on the hunt for something that would make me feel like a kid again, something easy, cheap, and undeniable; something that hasn’t changed over the last three decades. For me this pretty much meant picking up a can of Chef Boyardee Mini Ravioli.

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Of all the branded food products I grew up with none had quite the impact on my life as Chef Boyardee, positive and negative. I’ll be the first person to admit that it’s not good food. Hell, even as a kid I know that, and now that I’m a “responsible” adult doing my best to watch what I cram in my body, these heavily processed cans of pasta are probably right under the 1lb block of Velvetta on the list of things that humans should never consume. Even though I know for a fact that my consumption of way too much Chef Boyardee as a kid let to my issues with weight as a kid, the nutritional value isn’t really what I’m getting at. Without these cans of faux Italian goodness I sometimes wonder if I’d be as comfortable in the kitchen as I am today.

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In the eighties I had two distinctly different experiences with Chef Boyardee Mini Ravioli that changed my life for decades. I was six at the time of my first life changing event. My family lived in a quaint slice of suburbia in Tampa, Florida and my best friend was a kid from down the street named Anthony. I remember that his parents were a little on the eccentric side, in fact my dad always used to joke about the fact that Anthony’s father caught and caged a peacock he found on the golf course that butted up to the back of his property. They kept the bird in their garage and always had the door rolled up so they could display it to the neighborhood as a sort of status symbol. I actually thought it was pretty cool and totally identified with how his dad must have felt when he caught it. I myself spent an inordinate amount of time as a kid searching that golf course for wildlife and was always coming home with a mini travel cooler filled with creek shrimp, crawfish, turtles and frogs. At some point during that summer of ’83, Anthony, his little sister and I ventured out onto the green that was beside his house. There was a short bridge that connected a path leading around the green over a small creek that ran alongside it, and underneath where the earth had eroded away there was a decent amount of natural red clay soil exposed. We dug up a couple buckets full of clay with the idea of making some small pottery that we could sell to the neighborhood. We spent the afternoon shaping crude clay ashtrays and a couple sad little clay ducks before leaving them in his driveway to bake under the scorching Florida sun.

Anthony’s mom came out and saw us completely filthy; arms and clothes caked in orange clay mud, and immediately pulled us into the house to get washed up. I remember being very concerned about leaving my handiwork outside and unsupervised where anyone could swipe it and told her as much. Though I don’t remember her exact reaction, I’m pretty sure she had a laugh at that and she ended up buying my duck and ashtray for $15 to put my mind at ease. By the time we were mostly free of mud, and she’d sent the two kids to their rooms to change into fresh clothes it was starting to get dark out. I remember feeling a little strange in their house because I hadn’t really spent much time inside it before and it smelled completely different than my own home. Anthony’s parents didn’t smoke like mine did, and there was a very flowery scent that wafted up from the carpet from the powdered deodorizer I saw his mom using while I waited for Anthony to get done changing.

The family invited me to stay for dinner, so I called home and asked if I could stay out past the time when the street lights came on (the international sign for when to call it quits) to have dinner with Anthony’s family. I must have gotten the okay because the next thing I recall is sitting up on a stool at their kitchen counter with a view of Anthony’s mom breaking out a few cans of Chef Boyardee. I can still see the yellow cans when I close my eyes and remember being excited. Well, that was until I saw his mom bring out a frying pan and crack a couple of eggs into it. My mom was never one to cook breakfast for dinner, so I had no idea why she was frying up eggs when there was also some ravioli simmering on the stove next to it. What happened next changed the way I would view food for the next 30 years. Anthony’s mom dished out two bowls of ravioli for us and topped each one with a sunny side up fried egg. I can’t quite explain why, but the sight of Anthony breaking into the super runny yolk and mixing it with a heaping spoonful of Chef Boyardee made me so disgusted that I freaked out a little. It’s not that I had an issue with either the pasta or runny eggs, I loved both, but the combination of the two had me so nauseous that I had to abruptly excuse myself and I ended up running home, crying and feeling really weird and embarrassed.

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I’m not sure exactly what it was about that mix of food, carpet cleaner, and the strange (to me) odors in the house, but from that day forward it because nearly impossible for me to eat food prepared by anyone besides my parents or stuff I’d get out at fast food or restaurants. Whenever I attempted to eat outside my comfort zone I would have a physical reaction to the food, usually gaging or dry heaving. School lunches, eating at friend’s houses, visiting family, pot lucks at work, or dinner with the in-laws became my own private hell over the next three decades. I spent the first two years of middle school only eating Hostess Dunkin’ Sticks out of the vending machine instead of ever attempting getting a real plate of food. I’ve made so many excuses for why I wasn’t hungry or didn’t feel well as an excuse not to eat that people started to think I had serious health issues.

Over the past few years I’ve loosened up quite a bit, and I think I’ve finally managed to shake my food phobias. Though I’ve always been able to eat stuff that I’ve prepared myself (even weird stuff), the idea of mixing eggs and canned pasta has sort of haunted me. The other morning I was making breakfast for my girlfriend and she requested fried eggs sunny side up so she could dip some toast in them. I’d actually gotten up a bit earlier than her and wanting something comforting I already had a bowl of mini ravioli prepared for myself. While frying my girlfriend’s eggs I screwed up and broke the yolk on one, so I set it aside and made another. Not wanting to waste any food I unconsciously plopped the egg on top of my bowl of ravioli and proceeded to eat. It wasn’t until I was finished that I realized what I had done and the memories of that night in Anthony’s house came flooding back. Sometimes it’s strange the way we change as we age. I’m not sure what triggered inside that let the phobia subside, but I’m glad that I’m more or less free of the fear of eating.

admin-ajax.phpGetting back to the positive way the Chef has changed my life, I’d have to go back to sometime during the fall of 1985. I had just turned eight and was just starting the third grade. That was an interesting time for me because we’d just moved from Tampa to Orlando into another super quaint suburb of Florida and all of a sudden the scope of my world had grown exponentially. For the first time I was allowed to leave the neighborhood so that I could ride my bike the mile and change to my elementary school. I started earning an allowance and found myself “flush” with five bucks a week at a time when most of the stuff I wanted cost between $0.25 and $1.99. And it was around this time that my parents decided to trust me to use the stove top burners to “cook” my own lunches when I got home from school and on the weekends. Now I use the term cook lightly here because all I was really doing was heating up junk that I dumped out of a can into a saucepot (almost exclusively Chef Boyardee Mini Ravioli), but this was an important step for me at an age when I was being seduced by the siren call of fast food. Granted, I was still eating a form of fast food, but it was a form that I had to “cook”. It took a modicum of effort and got me comfortable with using a stove and making stuff for myself.

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This is most likely what urged my mother to buy me a copy of the Betty Crocker Cookbook for Boys and Girls that same year, which seriously upped my game in the kitchen (well, if making hot dog pizza and eggs baked in bologna cups game changers.) By the time I was in my late teens I was regularly cooking for myself at a time when none of my friends were willing to do much more than nuking their lukewarm chicken McNuggets in the microwave. It seems like such a trivial thing, but when I think back on it, having the freedom to cook my own mini raviolis was the catalyst that has led me to being as competent as I am in the kitchen today.

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In a lot of ways, for good or for ill, Chef Boyardee really is part of my DNA. When I’m in the mood for comfort, when I seriously want to time travel back to the eighties, all I have to do is crack open a can, heat it up and with the first spoonful I’m instantly 30 years younger in a way that watching cartoons, reading old kid’s books, or playing around with my vintage toys can never unlock.

Filling a gap in my pop culture past…

There are a million reasons why I’m thankful for being brought into this world in the late seventies, but the one that I’ve been focusing on lately is that I feel a very deep appreciation for my luck in experiencing what the world has been like before and after the internet. I do my best to not take the wonderland of the World Wide Web for granted, and I consistently marvel at the level of access we have to information, even if it seems banal and trivial on the surface. With the tools, databases and connections at hand we can use these resources to practically break through the implausibility of a concept like time travel and experience things that should be long gone and forgotten. I spend the majority of my time here at Branded writing and talking about all the stuff from my childhood that I hold dear in particular my personal experiences with the shows, movies, books, toys and pop culture ephemera that I grew up loving. Today I want to talk about something I completely missed out on, something that I only discovered after starting this site almost a decade ago, the Saturday morning entertainment showcase specials that were broadcast by the major TV stations back in the 80s.

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Growing up I never really had a say in what the family would watch on TV. I know, everyone is crying me a river, right? Honestly, it’s not a complaint; I had food, shelter, and more than my fair share of toys and entertainment, but when it came to TV there were only a few windows when I had access to controlling the dial (and much later the remote), especially as soon as my father would come home from work. As soon as he got in the door he immediately changed the station from the afternoon cartoons I might be watching on the UHF channels to whatever station would have local news. So if that meant suffering through syndicated reruns of Alice or the Jefferson’s for the billionth time so that the channel would be tuned in to the news as soon as it started, that’s what we watched. Then it was the local news, then national news, then Entertainment Tonight, and finally onto whatever stuff caught my dad’s interest for the rest of the evening. My TV time was mostly regulated to 30 minutes in the morning before school (where I caught old Our Gang and Three Stooges shorts or the odd episode of Woody Woodpecker or Chilly Willy), an hour after school (where I caught most of my syndicated cartoons like He-Man, G.I. Joe, Bravestarr and the Silverhawks), and a couple hours on Saturday morning for cartoons. Because of this I never tended to flip through the actual programming portion (the B&W newsprint part) of our copies of the TV Guide and therefore I never stumbled across any of the advertisements for the one-off showcase specials that aired during the kickoff of the new network lineup in fall.

So at 8:30pm on Saturday the 8th of September in 1984 I had no idea that there was a 30-minute special called Laugh Busters airing on NBC. In fact I didn’t even learn that it existed until about five years ago when I broke down the 1984 Fall Preview issue of the TV Guide here at Branded. At the time it was a bit of a curiosity that I wished I could explore further but there was nothing online about it except for a glorified placeholder entry on IMDB.

IMDB Laugh Busters

Well, a few years went by and Laugh Busters slipped to the back of my mind as one of those oddities, a hole in my childhood experience that I wished I could fill but knew I’d probably never get a chance to see as something like that would never merit a DVD release (way too many licenses and clearances would be needed.) But, as I stated above, the internet and all its connections are pretty damn miraculous and my buddy Tim over at Flashlights Are Something to Eat had his own Laugh Busters journey going on. Unlike me, Tim had actually seen the original broadcast as a kid and even had the presence of mind to tape the audio on a blank cassette! He did a short synopsis/write-up on his site but was still yearning to re-watch the full special, so he kept up his search and a couple of years later he finally found one of his childhood holy grails, an old VHS copy that had been ripped to DVD. Tim, being the super awesome guy that he is, offered to let me borrow his copy and finally, 30 years after it originally aired, I was able to experience a small part of 1984 that I thought was lost to time. As a bonus the copy of the special was complete with the commercials that originally aired with it, so this was as close to time travel that the internet has made possible.

Laugh Busters

As I mentioned above, Laugh Busters was a Saturday Morning showcase special which was designed to sell the kids of America on NBC’s new line-up of shows, particularly because half of the schedule was brand new for 1984. Here’s a copy of the SMC comic book ad for NBC from which introduced 4 new shows including Kidd Video, Pink Panther and Sons, the Snorks and the live action sitcom Going Bananas starring JR the orangutan as Roxanna Banana a simian zapped by a U.F.O. and given super powers.

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The basic premise of Laugh Busters revolves around the making of the NBC Special starring all of the new cartoon characters as well as the Smurfs, Spider-Man, Mr. T, Alvin & the Chipmunks, and the cast of Going Bananas. The director in charge, D.W. (played by Sandy Helberg), has his plans put in peril by Gargamore O’Dette, a super evil wizard (also portrayed by Helberg) bent on the end of laughter and the ultimate destruction of NBC. Why you ask? Because he’s allergic to laughter of course!  Here’s some audio from that opening segment

Director DW and Assistant

Gargamore ODette

Right off the bat after hitting play I was taken aback as there was a scene during the opening credits that featured a team up between an animated Mr. T and Alvin, Simon and Theodore. At first I thought this was a weird composting of elements from the two Ruby Spears cartoons, but upon digging a bit I found out that Mr. T was featured in the first segment in the premier episode of the 80s Chipmunks series (both shows debuted together the year prior in 1983.) There’s also a great song in the middle of the episode.  Somehow I’ve managed to miss out on this epic bit of pop culture fun for the last 31 years.

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After the detour of watching the first episode of Alvin and the Chipmunks I dove back into the Laugh Busters special. To execute his nefarious plan Gargamore kidnaps the Smurfs off screen and recruits two live action henchmen (played by James “Uncle Phil” Avery and Bill Saluga reprising their roles of the Grit Brothers Hank and Hubert from Going Bananas) to stop the rest of the characters from making it onto the special.

Captured Smurfs

Grit Brothers

Of course Thom Bray (Boz and his rad orange robot Roboz from Riptide) show up at the studio for the Special and they end up helping to track down the missing stars and cartoon characters starting with Spider-Man.

Thom Bray

Dan Gilvezan, voice of Spider-Man from the cartoon, redubs animation segments from the show to talk about being excited for the new season as well as taking a trip across country to appear on the new NBC special. He then proceeds to web-swing from NYC all the way to Burbank (seriously) set to the sweet dulcet melody of the city-name-dropping portion of the Huey Lewis song Heart of Rock and Roll.

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Of course he encounters the infamous Grit Brothers near the city of One Horse USA, swinging into and getting trapped on a gigantic piece of ACME Fly Paper (in a live action segment that looks like it was straight out of an episode of the Electric Company)! Boz uses Roboz to call a honkytonk out there to enlist the help of Danny Cooksey (from Diff’rent Strokes and later Salute Your Shorts) to help. After performing his best Waylon Jennings imitation of the Ed Bruce song “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys” (where the keen observer will notices the entire Kidd Video and Going Bananas cast in attendance as well as Alfonzo Ribero), Danny takes Boz’s call and agrees to help, though he needs a ride to go help Spider-Man since he’s just a kid and all.

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Boz then enlists the help of KITT from Knightrider to drive Danny out to rescue Spider-Man. What I love about this segment (aside from seeing a pint-sized Danny Cooksey behind the wheel of K.I.T.T.) is that this is the only onscreen pairing of Spider-Man and K.I.T.T. (I have a soft spot in my heart of Knightrider crossovers.) I also love that William Daniel voiced K.I.T.T. in this special uncredited…

Cooksey KITT Spiderman

With Spider-Man rescued, the Grit brothers turn their attention that that new up and coming rock ‘n roll band Kidd Video, and they literally roll a rock at the gang’s, knocking them and the Kiddmobile right out of the flipside back into the real world. Since their ship is messed up they decide to practice their new hit song (Video to Radio) out on a bridge near the wreckage.

Kidd Video

The special then cuts to Roxanna Banana listening to Kid Video on the radio and a reworking of the opening segment of the Going Bananas series then plays out. This bleeds back into the GB cast in their jalopy bus running into Kidd Video still playing out on the bridge and they decide to pick them up and head out to Burbank together.

Going Bananas

Things get a little weird when the special moves on to Alvin and the Chipmunks. Again, like with Spider-Man, Ross Bagdasarian Jr. reprises the role of Alvin to voice new material over clips from one of the cartoon episodes to tie it into the plot of this new story. The Grit brothers have boarded a train carrying the Chipmunks and Dave to Burbank, and the plan is to steal their train tickets so they’ll get kicked off, which they do. But when the Chipmunks get thrown off the train the special switches from animation to live action with three very bulky and ridiculously large chipmunk outfits. They’re rescued by Boz who sends the Riptide Helicopter (the Screaming Mimi) to pick them up.

Chipmunks

As the special moves into its second half the pace starts to pick up dramatically and the amount of original non-clip material is reduced. The last longish bit involves Mr. T and his gymnasts stopping at a meet they were invited to only to realize that it was a trap and they have a run in with the Grit brothers. Luckily they foil the Grit Bros. plan to steal their bus in a weird mix of live action and animation.  Though you hear his voice, you only ever see Mr. T’s real life arm (well, it was supposed to be Mr. T, but I’m sure it was just a stand-in double…)

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Next up is the Pink Panther and Sons segment where Pinky and Panky, the sons of the Pink Panther are taking a bike ride through a city. The grit brothers show up and decide to paint a fake tunnel opening on a huge rock in the hopes that they will ride smack dab into it. The animation switches over to live action as a person in a huge Panky costume rides a bike straight through the painting much like in a cartoon. It’s just assumed that the false tunnel has become a wormhole to Burbank.

Pink Panther

In the second to last segment the Grit brothers are sitting in a raft and have a plan to obliterate the Snorks. They explain that everything in the Snorks underwater kingdom is run on steam and so they take control of one of NASA’s inter-continental ballistic missiles with a remote control and crash it into the sea sealing off an underwater volcano that is the source of the Snork’s steam production. This then switches over to animation where there is a clip of the Snorks removing said missile from the volcano and foiling the Grit Brother’s plan.

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In the last segment Papa Smurf, the only Smurf not captured by Gargamore, figures out that O’Dette is trying not to laugh. So he develops a potion which he slips to Gargamore that makes him evaporate. Yes, Papa Smurf apparently kills Gargamore!

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This leads to an all-out dance celebration with all of the live action characters, cartoons and the guest stars (minus Panky and Thom Bray), rocking out to a spoof of the Ghostbusters theme by Ray Parker Jr.

Dance Party

I’ll be the first to admit that this Laugh Busters showcase special was super hokey and kind of hard to watch in spots, but I’m glad I finally caught up with one of these because it was great to see the mash-up of properties and characters. I know I would have loved it had I seen it back in 1984. It’s kind of a shame that it’s mostly lost to time, so as a small little capper to this experience I took the time to submit a bunch of information about the special to the pathetic IMDB listing. It’s slowly updating, but at least there’s now a synopsis, more crew and some trivia added. Hopefully they’ll add the rest of the cast that I submitted soon and this won’t be a completely lost bit of 80s fun.

And before I close this out, here’s a list of the original commercials that aired during the special…

Commercial Break

1). Fun with McNuggets: This is a fun early McNuggets commercial that still featured some of the older McDonaldland characters like the Professor and Captain Crook…

Fun With McNuggets

2). Raisin Bran BMX: This commercial is like a mash-up of the movie Rad and a kid crazy for his two scoops of raisins.  So crazy in fact that he decides to ditch halfway through the race to go eat more raisins…

Raisin Bran BMX

3). Wrangler Clothes (Live It to the Limit with Wrangler): This is the first time I’ve seen a Wrangler ad that was aimed at a young teen audience.  I’ve always associated these jeans with like older guys who work on farms or construction, so it was weird seeing the brand try and take a more Jordache spin.  Also, the commercial is an excuse to strip out of the clothes, a weird choice if you ask me…

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4). Wendy’s Where’s the Beef?: The classic 80s Where’s the Beef commercial, ‘Nuff Said.

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5). Sneak Week with Punky Brewster, Silver Spoons, Highway to Heaven: Always fun seeing the 1st season promo material for Punky Brewster and the most adorable Brandon with an afro…

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6). Pop Tarts: Color coordinate your Pop Tarts kids.  Also, I forgot how much I missed seeing the bit where the knife is spread over the fruit filling that spells out fruit…

Pop Tarts

7). Chef Boyardee: This commercial wins the award for worst mom ever.  The little girls wants a cookie, but the mom thinking that’s unhealthy (why do you have them in the kitchen then?) stops her and gives her a full can of Chef Boyardee spaghetti and meatballs instead.  Because that’s SOOOOO MUCH BETTER.  Sigh…

Chef Boyardee

Commercial Break 2

Voltron Assembler < Voltron Giant Commander

It was nearly impossible to be a kid growing up in the 80s suffering through the onslaught of product merchandising and not have a moment of pure greed and weakness where you simply just “had to have” some ridiculously expensive and outlandish toy.  Whether it was the elusive Transformers Devastator gift set, the shimmering She-Ra Crystal Castle, or the juggernaut that was the G.I. Joe U.S.S. Flagg aircraft carrier.  You begged, pleaded, bargained, and schemed in order to score that thing you just couldn’t bear to live without regardless if your parents could afford it, or in the case of the Flagg, if there was even room to house it!  Whether or not you managed to secure your grail, I have to assume that there was an epic battle of wills with the parental units when attempting to acquire it, and years later the scars of that battle are probably still healing.

For me, that battle was fought in the attempt to get my grubby little hands on what I considered the most epic toy of all time (or at least the years between 1982-1988), the Voltron Giant Commander!  Released in 1984, it was almost 24 inches tall, had nine brilliant points of articulation, came with his patented flaming sword, and best of all, it was freaking motorized!

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That 2lb hunk of beautiful plastic was what I considered the pinnacle of toy technology as a kid and I coveted it something fierce.  What’s weird is that even though I watched the Voltron cartoon from time to time I was never really a huge fan of the show.  But the design of the Lion Voltron completely knocked my socks off and it was one of the sets of toys that my parents never saw fit to pick up for my birthdays or Christmas.  That just added fuel to the fire of my lust after I saw the commercial for the Giant Commander on TV, most likely in the middle of watching Saturday morning cartoons.  I used to lay in our den and daydream about how much more awesome my life would be if I had a two-foot tall Voltron at my beck and call.  Sure, it wasn’t strictly a remote control toy as the control box was connected by a three foot length of wire, but that almost made it even cooler in my mind as if that wire were a leash, and the Voltron was my motorized pet!

I seem to remember pleading my case to my parents for at least two solid years straight at every chance I got, much like Ralphie and his Red Ryder BB Gun shenanigans from A Christmas Story.  Needless to say, unlike Ralphie, I never got my wish, and even though as a kid there was always a hole in my heart for that toy, I did eventually get over it.  And bless his heart, there was one time when my Dad attempted to “get my that damn toy” I was always harping about, but in pure parent fashion he sort of completely missed the mark.  My father was a fiend for visiting our local flea market where I grew up.  It was (and still is) called Flea World and was located out on 17-92 just outside of the Orlando area.  It boasted a hundred stalls located inside an air-conditioned space (which was actually 3-4 trailer units, like schools use, jury-rigged together), and he loved seeking out deals on off-brand golf equipment and getting burgers from the food court.  Well one day he came home from Flea World and told me he got me that Voltron I wanted.  To his credit, he did but A Voltron…

Voltron Assembler

Five inches tall and made of cheap, hollow plastic, this Voltron Assembler was not at all what I had in mind when he said I could go grab it out of the car.  As a kid it sort of felt like my dad was messing with me on purpose, but he was very earnest and proud that he managed to find that “damn toy robot”.  I never let him know I was disappointed, doubly so when one of the arm and leg connector knobs each broke off after only ten minutes of play (which I masterfully hid by inconspicuously Super Gluing it back together, as well as gluing my fingers together in the process.)

Looking back, I’m actually glad I never managed to win my parents over because I’m sure the Giant Commander was a let-down.  A couple years later then ended up getting me that monstrosity that was the U.S.S. Flagg (for the record I never asked for it) and it was such a waste of their money.  Sometimes those huge, expensive toy holy grails are just not what they’re cracked up to be…

Voltron Assembler 2

A Very T&C Christmas!

It seems like the older I get the more my collecting urges tend to focus on some weirder things.  For instance, you can file this under obscure ephemera, but one of my favorite 80s era treasures in my collection is this lone Christmas card released back in the winter of 1988 by T&C (Town & Country Surf & Skate company.)

TandC Christmas Steve Nazar 1988

I’ve mentioned before that I practically lived in T&C shirts as a boy growing up in central Florida between 1980-1989.  I was such a huge fan of the design of the characters Thrilla Gorilla, Joe Cool, the Caveman, the little Tiki guys, Cool Cat, and the weirdo, green 3-eyed alien with the huge head.  So back in ’88 my head nearly exploded when I received an NES and the T&C Surf and Skate game cartridge for Christmas.  Even though that game was stupidly impossible to play I loved it and would stick it in before school each morning in an attempt to master the ability to surf for more than four straight seconds, or to ollie without stumbling over cracked pavement.

It wasn’t until almost 20 years later that I would finally learn that Steve Nazar was the artist responsible for bringing these rad characters to life, and only in the past year did I stumble upon the above piece of amazing holiday-themed artwork.  If I had found this card back in the 80s it would have unlocked the mystery of the artist as this one is attributed with his signature right under the worktable where the Caveman is assembling skateboards.

If you’re a fan of Nazar’s work for T&C and want to check out what he’s up to these days, head on over to his Instagram profile and check out the fun pieces he’s been sharing recently.  And tell him Branded sent ya!