Category Archives: Personal

Reunited with an Uncanny piece of my past…

Been a lot of personal “behind-the-scenes” stuff going on at Branded this year, but I’m doing my best to bounce back and get to some more regular posting soon. In the meantime I wanted to tackle this week’s League assignment as it touches on the very subject I’ve been meaning to write about for the past couple months, comic books. Remember when I talked about the awesome gift, my original Atari 2600 game system and original eight games, a long time friend (D) gave me recently? Well, not only was he gracious enough to restore one huge chunk of my childhood, but he also returned another important part of my past that’s been MIA for over 18 years, my run of Uncanny X-Men comics that I traded him out of desperation in high school.

X-Men 1

At the end of my sophomore year of high school my Dad was laid off from his position as a salesmen for a large semiconductor and telecommunications company. I’ll be honest, he made some pretty decent dough back in the day and throughout all of my life to that point we lived very comfortably. It wasn’t lavish by any means, but we weren’t hurting and there was always a decent allowance that I used to keep myself in toys and comics. When he lost his job though, we were in sort of a pretty tough situation as his company had moved my family across the country twice in the space of two years, so they had fronted my Father a large portion of the down payment on the house we’d been living in. After they laid him off they wanted that money back and it forced us to regroup as a family, cut costs as much as possible and move into a small two bedroom apartment. None of this really mattered to me, but I did lose the bucks that I needed to keep me in comics, so I started to cannibalize my collection, selling off whatever I could to get the money to buy new comics. As any collector knows, this can be very dangerous and usually leads to losing everything, which is basically what happened in my case. There were a few runs that I held off on, stuff that was really personal to me, books like The Uncanny X-Men, Wolverine, and X-Factor. As I started to chip away at the “money” books in these runs my friend “D” made me an offer on my collection of Uncanny X-Men books that I couldn’t refuse so I traded him my run, issues 196-281.

At the time I was sort of relieved because those books were the cornerstone of my collection, the stuff that got me into the hobby, and by parting with them I felt the need to collect comics sort of die. It’s not that I wanted to stop collecting and reading, but it’s an expensive habit and at the time I kind of wanted to just take a break. Well, over the years I’ve drifted back into collecting, though nowhere near as fiercely as I did during that time between 1988 and 1995, and big reason for this is that without those original X-Men comics I sort of feel disconnected from the hobby. More importantly, sort of like Scrooge McDuck has his Number One Dime, the most important piece of currency in his fortune, I had my own lucky book, Uncanny X-Men issue 242. This was the first comic I bought back in 1988, and it’s always been the center of my collection. I’ve picked up copies of the book over the years, but not having the actual copy that I purchased from a grocery store spinner rack back in the day has always been a little pin prick of loss and remorse when it comes to my comic collecting.

x-men 2

That all changed earlier in the year when “D” regifted those books to me along with my long lost Atari. There aren’t even words for how happy I was to reunite with this stuff. Again, I don’t have a ton of surviving stuff from my childhood and so this pile of comics is just beyond amazing. There was a time when I felt like the stories that Chris Claremont wrote in these issues defined me. Like a lot of kids I heavy related to the characters, Wolverine, Storm, Rogue, Longshot, Dazzler, Colossus, Psylocke, and Havok. These were “my X-men”. Later, I fell in love with Gambit, got acquainted with Polaris and Forge, was only mildly annoyed by Jubilee, and dreamed of what it would be like to step through the Siege Perilous. I did a quick tally to see what these books retailed for, not because I give a damn what they’re worth monetarily (they’re priceless artifacts as far as I’m concerned), but I was curious what my friend potentially gave up to reunite me with these books. Let’s just say that at market value was about a month’s rent, and I know that he knows that. Egads, can’t thank “D” enough.

Like what you read here?  Why not visit some of the other League members to see what they had to say about this week’s comic books topic!

Big J talks about the Desert Peach

Eric talks about Plastic Man

Rich talks about Superman

Yelinna talks about a bunch of comics and toys

Tim talks about bird poop and Iceman

Cult Film club Stickers Now Available for Purchase!

So, the stickers I’ve been so excited about making for the Cult Film Club?  Well they’re now available for purchase!  Included in the CFC “No Tipping” Sticker Pack are 4 die-cut stickers, measuring between 2.4″x2.4″ and 3.4″x2.4″, featuring the CFC Logo, Official Membership Badge, our mascot the Phantom Ticket Taker, and the one, the only Mr. Pink (Steve Buscemi)!

Stickers 1

The Cult Film Club is totally siding with Mr. Pink when it comes to the idea of “No Tipping”, at least receiving them that is. We’d love your support in helping to cover our costs, but instead of holding out our grubby hands for a tip or donation we’ve got these rad stickers to sell instead.  All profit goes directly into paying our podcast hosting and equipment fees.  I’d really like to sell through the 40 packs we have by the end of the month, and I’ll be honest, I’m going to need your help to do it.  Right now we’re almost half way to that goal, which is awesome, but we still have a little ways to go.

Plaster these on your car, Trapper Keeper, or your favorite pet!  In addition, if you leave a comment below letting me know you put in an order, I’ll include a Branded in the 80s Logo sticker for free!

Stickers

Thanks in advance for supporting this project, and especially to those who have already picked up a pack or two.  And thanks always for stopping by Branded and reading my silly thoughts!

Click to be whisked away to the Cult Film Club sticker store!

Visiting my bedroom circa 1995…

So I am totally going to steal an idea from Jaime over at Shezcrafti today because I am terribly jealous of the fact that she has a snapshot of her room from when she was a kid. My parents never had the presence of mind to immortalize any of my childhood room set-ups, and the only picture that I have that even remotely counts is this one below of me sleeping when I was three or four. Did they get my Castle Greyskull or At-At in the picture? Nope. Just me hanging off the bed like a goon (this was how they found me pretty much each morning, by the by, apparently I’m a restless sleeper…) At least I can scope my Amazing Spider-man comforter and my Disney sheets. Oh, and footie pjs FTW.

My Room 4

I do however have a couple of pictures that I took of my room during high school, circa 1995 that I can take a look at.  Granted, it’s not the 80s, but it’s basically been 20 years, so it’s still nostalgic and junk.  Looking back I guess I was going through my “dark” phase where I wore a ton of black, made my own goofy Punisher T-shirts, and took selfie photos with my dad’s Pentax 1000 manual camera that I stole so that I could take photojournalism as an elective in school.  I wonder how long I f-ed with my hair until I was happy with this picture at the time (sigh, what a retard I was.)  Also, note the X-Men keychain I turned into a necklace pendant (hanging near the Punisher skull nose area), as that’s a clue to an upcoming post, the second part of this Atari post from a couple weeks ago…

My Room 3

Anyway, now that you’ve had a look at my dumb ass, here’s what my room looked like…

My Room 1

This was is just a smidgen of the cacophony of posters, clippings and miscellaneous crap that I had plastered on almost every square inch of area in that room.  By the time I was done I had the entire ceiling, all four walls, the doors, door frames, bookshelves and dresser covered in stuff.  Wish I had some more shots other than the two in this post.  That being said, lets take a look at some of the junk in that photo above.  First off there’s an awesome Aliens poster that I totally forgot I had.  The two mobiles hanging down from the ceiling are the dissection worksheets of an earthworm and a crayfish that I swiped from biology the year before.  I was full swing into horror movies and I thought they were cool.  Lets see, there’s also at least three Vampire the Masquerade promo posters up (including the two on the top right, and one of a vampire chick coming through a doorway off to the left), as well as a Werewolf the Apocalypse calendar (just to the right of the hanging lamp at the top left of the photo), and a Wraith the Ascension poster all the way to the left.  I was pretty big into the White Wolf role playing games even though I had a tough time finding people to play with (my friends played Werewolf, but Vampire was too weird for them.)  In that same vein (ha, punny) I put up a Red Cross Give Blood sign I nabbed from a local grocery store to go with the Vampire theme.  There’s an image from James O’Barr’s The Crow up at the top.  That was cut from one of the free swag bags at Dragon Con that year.  Speaking of Dragon Con, there’s a flyer for my first show up underneath the one Masquerade poster.   There’s also a chunk of one of Casper’s brothers from the Casper the Ghost movie that came out that year.  I’m pretty sure that came from a cardboard standee that I got from my local Home Video rental store.  On the ceiling you can see the corner of a Star Wars Trilogy poster, as well as a comic book page I drew for my Senior Independent Study class (I was so proud of that class as I was the only student having convinced the school to let me have it as an additional elective.)  Last, but not least there’s a fireman’s helmet, a gift from my uncle Dale who worked for a time as an EMT, and my high school diploma…

My Room 2

In this final photo (taken with a roll of black and white film left over from my photojournalism class) there’s a bit more of the wall to the right of the original photo.  In addition to some Atari ads I cut out of comics (Kool-Aid and Mario Bros.) there are a couple of my favorite Saturday Morning cartoon ads (this one featuring Pryor’s Place and this one with It’s Punky Brewster, Kidd Video and the Smurfs.) There’s also a Highlander the Final Dimension cardboard standee poster and some snapshots of friends from our graduation.

I never realized just who emo and faux-goth I must have seemed at the time.  Le sigh…

Collecting Deconstructed

I made an admission recently about how small my actual personal vintage 80s collection is, and I wanted to expand upon that a bit.  Though it mostly pertained to my collection of things that I actually had from when I was a kid to now, surviving personal pop culture relics, I think sometimes I might give off the wrong impression as to how large my actual vintage collection of stuff really is.  By that I mean it’s kind of small, at least in terms of what I think someone who runs an 80s nostalgia site might, and probably usually owns.  Sure, I’ll be the first to admit that I have a ridiculously large collection of animation cels, specifically monsters, spooks and creeps from the Real Ghostbusters cartoon, and I still have a pretty big collection of sticker cards (Topps, Fleer, Donruss, etc), stuff that I’ve featured in the Peel Here column over the years, but outside of that so much of the stuff I’ve amassed over the last couple decades spent pining after my youth has been more modern tchotchkes.  Take my collection of G.I. Joe 2th anniversary figures.  I have around 50 of those adoring the walls of Branded HQ alongside some vintage style Star Wars figures (emphasis on “style”.)  I have a bunch of mini movie posters printed at the local Kinko’s self-serve copier when the attendants weren’t looking, as well as a scary amount of 80s cartoons on DVD.  But a lot of this stuff is more representational of my nostalgia and not directly linked to it.

Again, there are other things that I have that are more personal, my framed 1977 Halloween Horrors LP, or my sister’s collection of 80s era LPs, but these things by no means make up the bulk of my collection.  So, why am I bringing this up?  Well, I’ve been thinking a lot of what collections and collecting means to me over the last year and I’ve come to the conclusion that the desire to be a completist, or to focus on only vintage items is, for me personally, a fruitless compulsion.  That’s not to say that I’m giving up on collecting, or that I’m only buying a bunch of modern junk, it’s more of a realization that so much of the joy is not in possessing these coveted items, it’s simply the actual desire to own them.  It’s the hunt, not the trophy.  The trophy, if not the specific, actual item I possessed as a kid, is merely a representation, no more real than a memory of that same item held as a child, or a picture scavenged off of Google image search (for me at least.)  So many of the things that I desire to have back, those specific relics from my childhood, are way beyond my ability to ever secure them.  They are gone.  In a landfill most likely. That’s why the Atari system my friend re-gifted to me recently is so sacred to me.

GPKs

Part of what drew me to this conclusion was another amazing acquisition I wrote about awhile back, the near complete set of vintage 1st series Garbage Pail Kids that I lucked into for free.  When sorting the cards that were given to me, and realizing that so many of them were 1st series my heart was a lump in my throat.  After I was done and I noticed that there were about 20 stickers missing, 2 of which were A&B sister cards (meaning there was one image missing from the set of John Pound paintings) I was sort of heart broken.  I’d been searching for an affordable set of 1st series GPKs all of my life and here was one given to me for free and it took me exactly 25 minutes to go from elated beyond belief to deflated and full of grief.  To my stupid credit, it only took me another half an hour to come to the realization that I was given two gifts that day.  One, the set of coveted sticker cards, and two, because it was an incomplete set, I was also re-gifted the hunt.  That desire to keep looking.  If that was totally stripped I fear that the urge to “collect” GPKs would diminish, and I’m not sure I’m ready to ever let go of that desire.

Boxsome pack

The other thing that really knocked home this idea of redefining what collecting means to me was when the absurdly cool Tommy Day of Top Hat Sasquatch decided to launch a new project recently called Boxsome.  In a nutshell, Boxsome is a site where you can purchase little packages of nostalgia in the form of 80s and 90s era trading card packs.  Each Nostalgia pack contains two wax packs of your choice from their inventory, and it comes shipped with a bunch of extra goodies including pogs, stickers, and little designer goodies that I believe will be rotating in and out.  At first blush one might think, what is the point?  Why would I want only two packs of Howard the Duck trading cards?  I can buy the whole set off of eBay for the same price!  But that’s just it, if I’m right, Boxsome isn’t about owning all the Howard the Duck cards (complete with a neatly folded wrapper and a set of the sticker card sub set.)  It’s about revisiting what it was like when you went to the store or gas station and you were only allowed to spend a dollar or two and you could only afford to pick up a few packs here and there.  How many kids ever completed their sets of Topps cards?  Sure, I know some of us did.  I mean I managed to complete the entire 700+ card run of the 1987 Topps Baseball card set.  But I also know that that experience is a lot rarer than we might think.  We might have a full run of a set or two, but most of us only had a handful of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Batman, or Dark Crystal cards.  And you know what?  Maybe that’s all we really need.  Just a handful of vintage cards to remind us how neat these sets were, reminding us how it felt to collect them as a kid, and keeping the “hunt” alive by only buying a pack here and there.

boxsome logo

Money buys a lot of things.  Hell, it can buy you all of the things.  But it doesn’t make one a collector, and the act of buying all there is to buy, that feeling of the purchase, will never feel as good as just the simple desire to own that stuff.  That desire, the hunt, that’s what’s worth preserving.  If you’ll excuse me I’m going to go stare at my collection of 19 Dark Crystal cards I’ve amassed.  And I’m going to dream about one day owning the rest…

For those interested, Tommy was kind enough to offer Branded readers a special offer of 20% off your purchase until April 16th! Just go to Boxsome and use coupon code “BRANDED”. Tell him I sent ya!

Being Re-Gifted My childhood, Part 1

I’ll be honest, for a guy who runs a site dedicated to his love of the 80s even I will admit that it’s weird how much of a void there is of personal vintage junk in my collection.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ve acquired a bunch of stuff over the years that I cherish, but when I look over everything that I have, very little of it is stuff that survived with me through the decades.  Whether it was from my own collection purging, trading, damage, or stuff “lost” in moves (my parent’s favorite excuse for chucking my toys over the years), I only have a handful of things that have been with me forever.  There are a few kid’s paperbacks (Samantha Slade: Monster Sitter, the Lost boys novelization, and a copy of Which Way Batman), some of my sisters records, my Wicket plush, and this 5″ by 5″ square of what’s left of my original woobie…

I have a lot more of my stuff from my high school years, but I do regret not keeping a tighter grip on the stuff I had when I was a little kid.  Well, this past week I was given a couple of rare gifts by a friend (we’ll call him D) who I’ve known since I we were in the 8th grade together.  Over the years we’ve seen less and less of each other even though we only live about 15 miles apart.  You know, life gets in the way and junk.  D is about to have his second child, little D numero 2, and if I had to guess he is looking to clear out as much space as he can find to make room for the new arrival.  Well, he sent me a facebook message asking me if I wanted to take something off his hands.  That something just happened to be an Atari 2600 video game console and a bucket full of games and peripherals that have been gathering dust in his garage.  The thing is, and he knew this obviously, this particular Atari system (and 8 of those games) used to be mine before I gave them to him back in middle school.

I was never an avid gamer by any stretch of the imagination, but there were two game systems that I played a whole hell of a lot, the NES for the most part, but I, like so many other folks growing up in the 70s and 80s, was weaned on the Atari 2600.  I first bought the exact system, controller and the 8 games you see pictured with it below at a garage sale when I was six.  It was 1983, and we’d just moved to Orlando from Tampa.  I didn’t really have any friends yet, and it was kind of boring and lonely in the new house.  Heck, our cat Smokey who had just made the trip with us immediately ran away, so I was sort of in a funk.  One Saturday I ventured out into the neighborhood though, and there was a guy down the street trying to sell the last bits of stuff at a garage sale.  There was a table with the Atari inside a faux-wood paneled Game Center box.  I’d had plenty of experience with the system playing one that was hooked up to a TV in the rec room of a public pool back in Tampa, and for some reason I never imagined having my own at home.  I asked the guy how much it was and he thoughtfully scratched his chin and squinted at me (at least that’s how I “remember” his expression in my mind) before saying “Ten Bucks Kid.”  I asked him to hold it and I sprinted back home to beg for the money from my dad, who quickly relented.  I ran back, slapped the ten buck on the table (again, probably artistic license with my foggy memory) and stole home with the system held high above my head.

As I mentioned, the console had eight games included, Combat, Surround, Berserk, Space Invaders, Asteroids, Chopper Command, and the much maligned E.T. and Atari port of Pac-Man.  For some reason I never acquired any more games, and I was pretty content with these for the next three years until I scored my first Nintendo system.  Back in 1990-91 when I gave the Atari to D, I didn’t think much of it.  Heck, at that point I said had a fair number of my original childhood toys and never thought I’d miss the clunky wood-paneled beauty.  Fast forward 23 years and I can certainly attest to missing the ever-living hell out of it.  I mean, it’s not like I was lying awake at night wondering where it was, but from time to time when I’d see people blog or podcast about their vintage systems I would feel a little pain in my heart.  So when D asked if I wanted the system back after all these years I was pretty damn floored.  When I drove over to pick it up I did everything in my power not to point at it and say something stupid like, “There, there it is, that thing, those beautiful things that I used to have in my house back in Florida, look at it, it’s right there, that thing that I had when I was six!”  Those where statements that I made in the car on the way home though, just saying.

As soon as I got home, I immediately cleaned off a table, took out the system and very gingerly cleaned her up.  There was a massive amount of dirt and grime on it, but with a little warm water and a crap ton of paper towels I was able to get it looking almost like new.  To be honest, I have no idea if the system will even run anymore, and even if it will, if I’ll be able to hook it up to my TV (the vintage R/F switch is looking pretty rough.)  But really, this system isn’t so much about playing it as it is about just having it again, a little reminder of what it was like to be six with my very own copy of Pac-Man, even if it was a super shitty version of the game.  I remember playing Chopper Command, and having to flip a switch on the back of the actual console to change the rate at which my helicopter fired (short bursts or those long laser blasts.)  There was so much joyous frustration trying not to touch the walls in Berserk.  And to this day I still have no idea how the hell you get all the pieces to make the damn phone rig in E.T.

If I ever do get it running there was an included extra surprise of about 50 extra games that D had amassed over the years.  Here’s a few snapshots of what I would call the cream of the crop…

  

 

I can’t thank D enough, and to my amazement, there was another amazing piece of my childhood that came along with the Atari that I’ll be writing about in part two of this article later this week, or next.  Stay tuned.  And now if you’ll excuse me, I have to find a place of honor for the Atari in Branded HQ…

Feeling a little guilty that I’m not a Mom from the 80s…

This week’s topic from the League is all about opening up about our guilty pleasures.  This topic is insanely hard for me to tackle because I’m pretty open about all of the stupid or weird stuff I’m into, and I don’t feel particularly guilty about any of it.  After doing some soul searching I guess the thing that most qualifies as a guilty pleasure for me would be the enormous thrill I get when buying and cracking the cover on a vintage Mom magazine.  You know the ones, McCall’s, Woman’s Day, Working Woman, Woman’s Week, any of the tabloid supermarket checkout magazines aimed at the modern woman in the 80s.

Over the last 4 years I’ve culled a decent amount of content for this site from my rather large “archive” of these magazines.  Return of the Jedi jungle Gym ads?  Check.  Pudding Pop ads?  Check.  Sizzlean and Frank ‘n Stuffs ads?  Check, Check.  I’m not apologetic about this collection in the least, but even I have to admit that I get a little too excited when I scope an eBay listing for a large lot of these cheap.  There isn’t uncontrolled squealing mind you, but there is usually a contented sigh when the auction ends at a reasonable price.  Also, though the intent is to pick these up for use with Branded, I will admit that I scrapbook a ton of stuff from these magazines that’ll never make it to the site because I am well aware of the limits of what is considered interesting.  No one wants to see me write two thousand words about my nostalgia for the Fresh’n Up fragrance towers or how awesome the airbrushed artwork is on the Hanes Comfort Slacks advertisements.  No one.  Also, on a similar note, probably the thing I enjoy the most about going out of town on vacation is visiting the local grocery and super stores hunting from products that I don’t have in my neck of the woods.  There are probably thousands of picture files on my computer of cans of soda, store brand boxes of cereal, snack products, and candy.  I’m pretty sure I’m the antithesis of the “life of the party”…

Wanna know some other hidden secrets of teh League?  Head on over to these sites and read their diaries…

Goodwill Geek, Goodwill Hunting 4 Geeks, shares some dirty movie secrets

Tim, Flashlights are Something to Eat, shares some dirty Vanilla Ice secrets

Jaime, Shezcrafti, shares some dirty Ace of Base secrets

Brian, Cool & Collected, shares some dirty Survivor secrets

Dex, AEIOU and Sometimes Why, shares some dirty secrets about Britney Spears

Cody, Crooked Ninja Turtle Gang, shares some dirty typography secrets

Oh, there was going to be blood…

*Update* Oh man, I’m such a dumbass, I didn’t process the phrase “Photo Assignment” on this week’s League challenge.  Sigh.  What a dink I am…

This week’s topic from the league is pretty broad, just the word Red, which usually makes from some interesting interpretations.  Can’t wait to see what others have written about frankly.  For me, after writing about my sister recently and having to really dig through some of my childhood experiences, there was only one thing that immediately sprang to mind, blood and the only time I was ever in a “fight”.  I was a pretty harmless kid.  A little butterball obsessed with G.I. Joe, action films, and comic books, but if you knew me you knew the likelihood of any actual fisticuffs was beyond silly.  I just really didn’t have it in me.  Still don’t.  There was one time though, one instance where I was pushed a little too far.  I wish I had a Ralphie (from A Christmas Story) experience with a bully that just pushed too far and I beat the tar out of him while letting loose a string of obscenities that were still hanging over Central Florida as I type this, but alas it wasn’t anywhere near that cinematic or therapeutic.  I’ll set the scene.  I was 11 years old.  It was 1987, and I was in the middle of my G.I. Joe phase (i.e. typically wearing a cammo T-shirt and olive drab shorts, and very often wore what I thought was a badass “green beret” beret – see below.)

I’d just begun the sixth grade, which meant riding the big yellow Twinkie to and from school.  I’d also  just recently watched the film La Bamba, and was telling a friend about it on the bus.  For some messed up reason we thought the scene where Ritchie Valens’ mother found out about his passing was funny (I was eleven, cut me some slack), and we kept reenacting the scene, throwing up imaginary laundry in the air and calling each other’s names (instead of “Ritchie!”)  Real quick, looking back, I was being a little callus douche, and if I could reach back through time and hit myself upside the head I totally would.  Anyway, I wasn’t the only Shawn on the bus that day.  There was a kid who lived a couple streets down from me that I was sort of friends with (you know, enough to go over to his house but not sleep over) who shared my name (and spelling.)  I’d had a beef with him earlier that month in a dispute over trading some baseball cards.  He wanted my Bo Jackson rookie card and I didn’t want to trade it.  He kept badgering me relentlessly, so one day I took the card out of my binder, showed it to him and tore it in half.  I thought I was ending an argument, but I guess he took it really personally.  Long story short, while goofily reenacting the scene from La Bamba, he assumed I was making fun of him and when we got off the bus, well, IT WAS ON.

He hung back for a bit, but when I was in my yard heading towards our front door he came running at me full steam, screaming, with his right arm out to the side in preparation to clothesline me.  I turned around and honestly didn’t know what to think.  It was kind of in slow motion, enough so that I thought to myself, “Wow, Shawn’s going to clothesline me, and isn’t it weird that Ritchie Valens’ mom was hanging laundry on a clothesline…?”  While processing the coincidence, he totally clotheslined me, right in the face, hitting me hard enough to give me a couple black eyes but luckily he didn’t break my nose.  Here’s where the story got downright pathetic.  As I confessed, I was quite the pudgy kid, and a little tall for my age group.  The other Shawn?  I swear he weighed 50lbs soaking wet, and for real, his gums would start bleeding if you looked at him askance.  Though he tried his best to waylay me, he just hit my face and them tumbled over me.  A little stunned, and honestly still thinking about clotheslines, it took me a second to really get mad.  But when it hit, I was pissed.  Seriously, like, pissed right the fuck off.  Part of it was the group of other kids that had gathered around and were chiding me, urging me on to fight, and part of it was some twisted pent up rage that I’d apparently been harboring and didn’t realize.  All of a sudden I wanted blood.  Like seriously, I wanted to see Shawn bleed.  So I bent down, grabbed him by the shirt, and hauled back and, um, well, slapped him across the face.  I so wish I had punched him, but like I said, I just didn’t have it in me.  But boy did I give him a slap he’d never forget.  More importantly, the blood started flowing.  From his nose, his gums, it was like I’d turned on a faucet.  Honestly, he was like a little scrawny Andrew WK…

For me, this was mission accomplished.  I proceeded to then resort to the only other thing a butterball like me could do, I sat on him until he calmed the fuck down.  About ten minutes later most of the other kids had dispersed, and Shawn had started clotting.  I got up, he sulked away and I felt like a million freaking dollars.  I was so stupidly proud of what I had done.  And you know what was the real cherry on top of this stupid childhood sundae for me right then?  I had Shawn’s blood all over my shirt.  I couldn’t wait to show my parents and sister.  “Look guys, I was in a fight, and I won!  See, this is his BLOOD!”  Let’s just say my parents didn’t see it quite in that light.  But my sister did.  And at the time, that’s all that mattered.

You can see the residual of what was left of my two black eyes in the picture above, just a little red around the sockets…

If you enjoyed my response to this week’s League assignment, why not check out some of these other member’s posts…

Tim, Flashlights Are Something to Eat, adds a “D” like a Fox!

Jaime, Shezcrafti, shares some random red radness!

IoK, That Figures, shares some of his red action figures!

Eric, Toyriffic, gets intergalactic-catty with Dex-Starr!

Todd, Neato Coolville, has collectables in his blood!

Where the Sidewalk Ends…

I usually try and keep the personal behind the scenes stuff off of Branded, but I’ve been meaning to write about something for awhile and this just seemed like the day to do it.  Next Monday would have been my big sister’s 44th birthday, but it isn’t because on November 27th, 2010 she took her own life on a dreary Sunday morning.  Every single day that’s passed since I received the panicked phone call informing me she had hung herself has been a bit of a struggle.

There’s no doubt in my mind that I spent the first 32 and a half years of my life following in the footsteps of my big sister Beth.  She was, hands down the coolest, nicest, and smartest person I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing, and whether she knew it or not I spent the majority of my childhood hanging on every word she spoke.  I can trace back so many of the things that I feel define me directly to her, whether it’s my ability to draw, my design aesthetic, my taste in movies and music, my choice in cars, or the overall outlook I have on how to lead my life.  She metaphorically laid down the sidewalk that I’ve been following my entire life.

I remember the day when I was four years old and she gave me her old pair of roller skates, these huge blue monsters that were way too big for my feet.  They had sweet white stripes on the sides and red wheels, and she taught me how to tip my toes down to use the “break” peg to slow myself enough so I wouldn’t come crashing into the front door of the house whenever I wanted to stop.  When I wore those skates I felt like I could fly, like I was Superman, and she was the one who taught me how to do that.

Up until I was 8 or 9 Beth also used to let me “camp out” in her room.  She’d get a bunch of sheets that she would tack up to the wall on one end, and tuck underneath the mattress of her bed on the other, and she’d let me hang out all weekend in her room.  It was the only time I was “allowed” in there, and it was usually when she was doing a bunch of stuff for cheerleading or with friends.  This might sound weird since she wasn’t there, but half of the excitement for me was that she gave me full reign over her books, turntable, and record collection (but I wasn’t to touch her dresser or closet!)  I spent so many weekends flipping through her collection of LP’s introducing myself to Cheap Trick, Rick Springfield, Prince, Cyndi Lauper, and the B-52s.  Over the years I borrowed and eventually took ownership of her collection of Judy Blume books as well.

When I was 12 years old, Beth brought home a copy of Peter Jackson’s Bad Taste from the video store, and she let me watch it even though it was one of the horror films my parents had actually forbade me to see.  That same year she drove me out to a second-hand bookstore and encouraged me to pick up my first two “adult” novels Stephen King’s The Shining and Christine.  Beth also gave me my first Weird Al cassette, and didn’t seem to care when I immediately usurped her tape player so that I could listen to those songs every night before I went to sleep.

When I was getting to that awkward age of ten, when she was eighteen and it wasn’t cool to hang out with your little brother, she still let me tag along with her.  There was this one time when she let me pile into a car with three of her girl friends and we all went over to jump on Beth’s boyfriend’s trampoline.  Someone got the bright idea to cover the thing with detergent and to hose it down to make it an extremely fun and stupidly dangerous adventure.  Thank goodness we all had bathing suits on.  I remember we took turns in pairs getting into the shower (in our swimsuits mind you) to get the soap off, and I was paired with one of Beth’s more attractive girl friends that I had a crush on.  All I’ll say is that my sister gave me a knowing wink afterwards.

When we ended up moving to New Hampshire from Florida at the end of 1989, Beth stayed.  She’d already moved out into an apartment earlier that year when she was still 19, and that always stuck with me.  The first thing I did when I turned 19 was move out, not because I felt like I needed to (in fact my parents would have been overjoyed had I stayed), but because Beth did and it just felt right. There are countless other things my sister introduced me to or encouraged me to do, and it kills me when I think that I never got a chance to really repay the favor.  Over the years I tried my best to introduce her to stuff that I loved as birthday and Christmas gifts, but I’m not sure if she realized what I was trying to do for her, repaying what she had done for me.

The last time I saw my sister was in July of 2010.  We’d been meaning to get together and go on a vacation in Savannah ever since I became an adult, but it just never materialized.  That year though we finally did it.  It wasn’t really a vacation as it was only a whirlwind 18 hours total, but I booked a two bedroom bed and breakfast that overlooked the river, and we met up on a Saturday afternoon.  I had been really excited to see her because she had recently asked me to draw a logo and mascot for a new business she was looking to start up.  She’d never asked for anything like that from me before and I was so happy to finally do something creative for her.  We spent the afternoon talking about the drawing I’d done and what her plans were for the company she was going to call Goblin Technologies.

We spent that evening going up and down the river-walk, browsing in all the shops and more or less catching up.  My favorite picture of us together is from that day (the one below), where we were caught making the stupidest faces ever together.  It’s unflattering as all hell, but it’s also hilarious and I love it.

She had scheduled a ghost tour for my birthday, and that night around 10:00pm we met up with our group in one of the town squares and had probably the worst evening ever.  Between the rain, the unseasonable cold weather, and a very boring and pretty lame tour guide, we were all drenched and pissed off.  Though I still enjoyed the experience of walking the streets of Savannah in the dark, it was a rough night.  That next morning Beth had to jet back down to Florida, so we said our goodbyes, and while she was walking away to her car I snapped the below photograph.  After I took the picture, I didn’t look back at her, I was busy fiddling with the camera to make sure the photo looked alright and then was on my way to finish off my mini Savannah vacation.

I didn’t know it at the time, but that photo is literally the last time I saw my sister.

I’m no expert on grief or dealing with death, but I think I can kind of authoritatively say that dealing with the loss of a loved one is compounded tenfold when suicide enters the picture.  There’s a level of disbelief and immense feelings of rejection that are almost impossible to shake, even years later.  At the end of the day, all I do know for certain is that if you have someone in your life that means half as much to you as my sister meant to me, tell them.  Right now.  Write them a letter, send them an e-mail, text them, call them, go over and hug them.

As a positive post script to this, I took all my anger and grief and put it to use since my sister passed.  Though she didn’t leave a traditional note (most don’t I’ve been told), I was able to piece together the last couple months of her life (she kept a lot of journals) and have a pretty good understanding of how she came to the place where she made her ultimate decision.  Part of the digging reveled what I personally feel is her “note”, a lone jump drive that was in her purse that had 12 songs on it.  Each song seems to address someone or something that haunted her at the end of her life.  No one knows where the drive came from, and those songs were not from albums found anywhere else in her music collection.  When I listen to those songs I feel like I can hear what was in her head at the end and it’s been what I’ve needed to drive me to do things that I’ve been meaning to do for years.  In particular, those twelve songs have been my weight loss soundtrack for the last year and a half.  I was always overweight (you can certainly see that in the photo above), but after Beth I knew I had to ditch that extra girth.  The last thing my sister helped me do was to get to a healthy weight, dropping from a high of 400lbs to my lowest since the 9th grade of 252lbs.  So there is that.

I reached the point in my journey where the sidewalk my sister created, ends.  I’ve had to learn over the past 2 and a half years that it’s my job now to keep building it, even if I can’t see where it’s leading.

I’m a member in good standing in some pretty prestigious clubs…

I thought I wasn’t going to find time to post this week, but I didn’t want to sit on the following cool stuff for another month (considering I’m going into Halloween lockdown mode soon.)  I recently had a few extra bucks lying around (rare these days) and felt like it was a great opportunity to pick up some really cool stuff from a couple of really swell sites.

Up first is the mega-awesome 8-Bit Zombie Kid’s Club Pack!

I’ve been drooling over the neat clothes at 8-Bit Zombie for awhile, but I always tend to miss out on the shirts that I really want considering they’re released in pretty low print runs and tend to be gobbled up ultra fast.  So when I saw the tweet go out announcing the release of their new Kid’s Club pack I didn’t hesitate and ended up grabbing one post haste.  Let me tell you, I think I would have plunked down the price of admission for their retro custom lunch box alone.  Included in the pack are the super cool lunch box with artwork by Matthew Skiff (featuring such pop culture, cartoon and video game luminaries as Slimer, King Hippo, Cobra Commander, Mr. T, My Pet Monster, Skullface, and Castle Greyskull, as well as 8-Bit’s own Thrashor zombie skater), a club patch, a swell “Nickelodeon Slime” green club t-shirt, and a handful of stickers and buttons.  8BZ was also kind enough to include a vintage pack of Topps TMNT trading cards and a neat M.U.S.C.L.E. figure (#146, Playerman, the living record player!)

One of the aspects that I really dig about 8-Bit Zombie is their keen sense of design and ostentatious use of branding, which always gets me excited.  Heck, even the box they sent the club pack in was covered with awesome branded rubber stamps featuring some of their past t-shirt designs as well as their various 80s-inspired logos.  Sadly, the Kid’s Club Pack is currently sold out, but I’ve heard rumblings of future offerings in the works, so keep your eyes peeled and maybe you can also become a member in good standing…

The second awesome pack I picked up came from the multi-talented Tommy Day over at Top Hat Sasquatch

Tommy recently had a limited run of rad THS t-shirts screen-printed, and he’s currently offering them over at the site (though I’m not sure how many he has left, so if you want one you better head on over and put in an order!)  I was so excited to open the delivery, not only because the t-shirt is swell, but because he also packed a vintage TMNT goody bag to go along with the purchase.  It goes without saying that I love getting stickers, but the buttons and cool trading cards were a great bonus.  Believe it or not, that pack of ALF cards contained a card I desperately needed to complete my set!

Help the 3rd issue of the Strange Kids Comix get the kickstart in the pants it needs!

Rondal Scott, the very cool and super nice dude who runs the Strange Kids Club, has recently put together the 3rd issue of his Strange Kids Comix anthology.  This time out, instead of a traditional pre-order, he’s taken the release of the magazine over to Kickstarter so that he can help fund not only the magazine, but some awesome goodies to go along with the issue.  This 3rd installment of SKC is themed with all sorts of 80s and 90s era television fun and includes a breathtaking cover by Jason Edmiston!

skc

Not only will there be a ton of great comics in this new issue, but Rondal also decided to pack the issue with articles written by a bunch of swell folks including Paxton Holley (Cavalcade of Awesome and the Nerd Lunch Podcast), Brian Adams (Cool & Collected and head honcho over at the League), and, well, me!  I’m really proud to have been able to contribute an article to the magazine as I enjoyed the ever-living heck out of the first two issues.  If you’re curious about my take on some R-rated flicks from the 80s that were oddly turned into Saturday morning cartoons, you should probably head on over to the Strange Kids Comix Kickstarter page and snag yourself one of the limited number of discounted early-bird copies before they’re sold out!

I know I can’t wait to get my hands on a copy of this new issue.  Reading the first two nearly melted my mind!