Category Archives: Personal

Introducing Pop Culture Confessions…

So, I’ve been thinking that it’s high time that I set the record straight and unburden my soul a bit here at Branded by talking about some of the 80s era pop culture that’s either eluded, intimidated, or out and out confounded me.  This is sort of a Pop Culture Confessional, a place where I can take a look at stuff that I feel like I should be familiar with, but am not, for whatever reason.  I think running a site like this can sometimes give off the wrong impression, that I know more than I do, whatever.  So with that in mind, I couldn’t think of a better topic to break in this new column than one of the most recognizable heavy metal bands of the last quarter century, Iron Maiden.

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Though I’m not 100% oblivious to this operatic British metal band, I have never sat down and listened to any of their albums.  Like most kids growing up in the 70s and 80s I had a fascination with their twisted ghoul of a mascot, the glowing-eyed zombie Eddie, but beyond this and their seat belt commercial from the 90s, this is pretty much where my exposure ends.  What’s strange to me is that there is absolutely no reason why I should have gotten into the music when I was 9 or 10.  It was around that time that I met and befriended a kid in the fifth grade who schooled me in heavy metal, though he was pretty heavy-handed with his infectious love of Metallica.  So while I was becoming a tried and true Metalli-Cat, banging my head along with Kill ‘Em All, Ride the Lightning and Master of Puppets, it would take another couple years to open my eyes to other bands.  With Peanut (my friend’s nickname), it was pretty much Metallica or nothing.  There was one opportunity to listen to some Maiden back in 1988 though.  Another older kid down the street from me had seen me proudly wearing my only Metallica shirt (the “Metal Up Your Ass” shirt featuring a knife-wielding hand coming up out of a toilet bowl), and he asked me if I was into Maiden.  I didn’t want to seem uncool, so I said yeah, but only some of their early stuff (what a dork I was.)  So he ran home and quickly came back with the Somewhere in Time album and he told me I needed to hear this.  I eagerly took the album from him and then ran back into my house excited and depressed at the same time.  See, he lent me the album on CD, and at the time our family didn’t own a player.  Heck, they were still like $300, and there was absolutely no way I was going to convince my parents that we needed one just so that I could finally hear what all the fuss was about with this mysterious band.

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Time passed and I eventually opened up musically, but for the most part my interest in metal kind of waned.  I was getting into some weirder stuff like Faith No More, Devo, and eventually Ween.  As intriguing as the visage of Eddie was, getting into Iron Maiden was put on the back burner.  The next thing I know I’m 35 and now I’m almost a little ashamed that it’s taken me over 20 years to catch back up with the band.  There have been signs recently, little things here and there that have been peaking my interest and nudging me back towards the band.  Whether it was scoping out some of the awesome NECA Eddie toys that were on the pegs right next to the Robocop figures I was buying, friends posting facebook updates about attending Maiden concerts (consequently Mark also co-hosts the awesome Requiem Metal Podcast), or even when I started getting into an author’s work recently and while checking out her youtube page I found the most adorable karaoke video of her performing the intro to Number of the Beast with backup by her cats.  Iron Maiden just seems to continue to jump out at me.  Well, last night, after holding a regular movie night with my friend we started talking music, and I couldn’t help but lead the conversation over to my eagerness to finally dive into Maiden.  Lucky for me he had a handful of albums that I swiped off his shelf and am preparing myself to gorge on over the next week.  For the record I have copies of The Number of the Best (1982), Piece of Mind (1983), and Somewhere in Time (1986).

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Anyone have any suggestions as far as the order I should listen to these?  Over the years I’ve realized that there tend to be key albums by bands that can really do wonders for unlocking their catalog.  Chocolate and Cheese for Ween, Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots for the Flaming Lips, or how Stephen Malkmus’ first solo album opened me up to the entire Pavement catalog.  So any suggestions for listening to Iron Maiden?  Am I missing a key album?

Branded in the 80s Headquarters, or creating the clubhouse I never had as a kid

I was prompted by Andrew Jones to document my recent room renervations in a conversation on twitter.  If you have a second, check out his site as he has a bunch of cool stuff up there…

A few weeks ago I’d wanted to go through my set of Topps Goonies trading cards (I’d wanted to take a closer look at the card with Sloth having his prosthetics applied for some reason), and had a hell of a time finding them.  Though I’d managed over the years to put my vast collection of sticker cards in binder pages, I had a ton of card sets that were literally laying all over in our second bedroom/office.  After an annoying search I finally found them, and then promptly went out and secured enough trading card pages to put everything I had in binders.  This was the first sign that I’ve been denying my problem with ephemera organizing, and that I needed to do something about it before the wife decided to call TLC and report me to Hoarders.

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The second sign was when a friend mentioned that they wanted to see the Branded archive and to get a feel for the real location where this site is more or less broadcast out of.  Though we have a bunch of friends and family that come over to our place, none of them are all that interested in my nostalgic hobbies, so our second room has always been cluttered and a general mess.  The idea that I had some sort of archive for my collection was a little hilarious, at least an organized one.  Though I got a chuckle out of it, pretty soon I had to backtrack and ask myself why I wasn’t more on top of things with the various stuff I’ve been collecting and writing about all these years.  That weekend the wife and I took on the monumental task of sifting through every single piece of paper and plastic in that room (along with the “collection annex stashes” that littered the rest of our place) so that we could get this stuff properly organized.  The first step was tackling the dreaded closet.  That thing was packed floor to ceiling with 10 years worth of stuff, not all of it wanted or needed, and it took the better part of two days to get it all sorted, cleaned, and put into keep, toss and donate piles.  Along the way we found some things that we had completely forgotten we owned like a veritable arsenal of ninja-esque weaponry…

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I mean, everyone has a set of batarangs, shuriken, nunchucks, and a couple samurai swords in their closet, right?  Hell, we were a bo-staff and a pair of sai away from outfitting the Ninja Turtles.  Anyway, though it seemed like it took forever, we finally managed to get it all done, and had two carloads of stuff to take over to the Goodwill.

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If you’re wondering, yes we kept the weapons.  For one, I’m not sure if you can actually donate them to the Goodwill, and for another, well, you never know when Shredder and the Foot Clan is going to break into your home looking for the secret of the ooze or something.  When all was said and done we’d given away over hundred books, 30lbs of clothes, and a bunch of those white elephant-y gifts that you get from relatives, except they were serious when they handed them to us.  Though we appreciated the thought, we weren’t sure we were ever going to really find a use for the dragon in a glass ball with the strobe light attachment.  Trust me, it sounds way cooler than it actually was.

All of this work left us with a second bedroom that was feeling rather sparse now.  It used to do double duty housing half our library of books as well as our computer and my cartoon collection, but now most of the books were in the other room.  It was neat but sort of sad now…

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Pretty much the only stuff on the walls were a couple of framed animation cels and my collection of 25th anniversary G.I. Joe figures.  The wife never uses the computer, so she basically turned the room over to me to do with as I pleased.  Immediately I began scheming, trying to figure out how I could convert the room into the cockpit of an AT-ST from Star Wars so that I could finally live out my dream of the perfect clubhouse I never had as a kid.  By the by, would you call the area in the AT-ST “head” a cockpit?  Anyway, since that was a dream that would never materialize (I don’t have access to the room from above anyway), I decided to instead stick with the idea of a clubhouse and proceeded to figure out a way that I could make this room feel like the 8 year-old me had decorated it.  The first thing I needed was to find the proper wall art!

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It was hard narrowing it down as far as movie posters went, but I ended up picking a bunch of flicks that meant a lot to me growing up.  Some of these are replicas of posters that adorned my walls as a kid (Tales From the Darkside was one I loved), and others are for flicks that I’ve watched so many times I’ve just about memorized the scripts (UHF and Rad.)  These were all sized to 11×17 so that I could maximize the space by the way.  Not pictured are mini posters for The Lost Boys, The Monster Squad, and the Star Wars trilogy.  I didn’t just want to stick to movie posters though, and I was wracking my brain trying to figure out a way to represent some of these cherished movies from youth.  Then, last week, TL from Flashlights are Something to Eat pointed to a badass miniposter/prop from The Karate Kid featuring the tournament announcement as seen in the Cobra Kai dojo.  A geeky designer had recreated the poster pretty darn well and is offering the digital image of the poster for free on his site.  A quick trip to Kinkos, two bucks and a little white lie about this being a real tournament announcement later and I had my own copy for the Branded HQ wall!

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I also really wanted to represent the Goonies, but again, not particularly with another poster.  I liked the idea of procuring some replica props from the film when I came across this awesome map on eBay!  Not only does it look great (aside from the Photoshop-y burnt edges), but it was only $10 and I am certainly on a budget with this clubhouse remodel.  Today I even managed to find some pretty authentic looking replicas of the map doubloon and the copper bones key as well.  I’m crossing my fingers that they’ll fit inside the frame I bought for the map…

When attempting to narrow down the number of posters I wanted to hang, there were a lot of runners up that I still really wanted to hang, but just didn’t have the room.  On a recent trip to Target though, I found a solution to this problem in super cheap decent looking 4×6 inch frames.  So another trip to Kinkos, and 4 bucks (plus $6 more for the frames) later I have a bunch of these to put up as well (I posed them with Brad Turner from M.A.S.K. for scale)…

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I also framed a few more animation cels, some other original art and a couple prints.  I think I’ve done a pretty good job of capturing most of the nostalgic highlights, from toys and cartoons, to TV, Flims, and even stuff like the Garbage Pail Kids…

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I even managed to pull in all of my favorite horror and nostalgia DVDs, as well as keeping a small bookcase just for my ridiculous Choose Your Own Adventure-style and novelization paperback collection.  Though I still have a few more odds and ends to frame and hang, I’ve more or less created an official Branded HQ/Clubhouse.  The last thing the room needed, in a “really tying it together” sort of way, was a lamp.  Wouldn’t you know it, Target had this brand new beauty on the shelf this week…

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Now I can sit back and write in an environment exclusively designed to keep me Branded in the 80s.  Here’s to hoping I don’t spent all that time with a glazed look on my face just starring at the walls though…

Top ten childhood crushes (Yup, I like-liked them…)

I’ve been feeling a little under the weather this week, not to mention in a very silly mood (did you read the last article?), so I’ve decided to finish off the week a bit weirder than usual here at Branded by posting another top-ten list, something I’m not prone to doing, but I’m going to let you into my head a bit.  When I was a kid I started having crushes around age 3 or so.  Not sure if this is early for a boy, but I do know that I had a “girlfriend” by age 4 (Robin – she dumped me by the by), and was madly in love at 5 with a girl, Heather, down the street when we lived in Tampa.

(That’s me in yellow & green on the far right, and Heather is the blonde next to me.  Oh and that was my birthday at Showbiz and I was peeved at my Dad for sticking me in the back, no one puts Shawn in the corner!)

Anyway, I’ve been threatening (myself) that I’d eventually do a top ten list of my childhood crushes, so here it is.  You’ll notice the absence of Punky Brewster, Drew Barrymore, and Vicki the Small Wonder robot because even as a boy I was into older women (TMI, I know.)  First off, a couple of honorable mentions…

Honorable Mention 1: E.G. Daily (Pee Wee’s Big Adventure, Better Off Dead, and the Rugrats)

How can you not be in love with Dotti from Pee Wee’s Big Adventure?  Not only was she the cool bike store chick, but she was also playing herself as a rock star in Better Off Dead (pick up some of her albums by the way, they’re great!)

Honorable Mention 2: The Guys – John Cusack (the holy trinity of Lloyd Dobler, Lane Meyer, and Hoops McCann), Matt Adler (Teen Wolf, White Water Summer, and North Shore), and Clayton Rohner (as Rick Morehouse in Just One of the Guys)…

I’m pretty comfortable with my sexuality, enough so to admit that I had crushes on all three of the above mentioned gentlemen, Matt Adler in particular.

Okay, now on to the main list.  These were kind of tough to put in an order, but after a lot of deliberation this is how it plays out…

10). Erin Grey (Buck Rogers & Silver Spoons)

Mrs. Grey is probably one of my first big crushes.  While Star Wars introduced me to Carrie Fisher, I spent the better part of my youth watching Buck Rogers and Silver Spoons week in and week out so it was hard to ignore Mrs. Grey charms.  I’m also not sure how much this crush was that I wanted her as my alternate mom…

9). Mitzi the Mouse from the Rock-Afire-Explosion Showbiz Pizza Band

As much as I’m willing to admit that I had a crush on a bunch of guys, I can also admit that I had a crush on an audio-animatronic mouse.  Was it the cheerleader outfit?  Shalisa James’ singing?  I’ll never know, but I do know that I looked forward to seeing her every time a birthday came around in the early 80s.

8). Lea Thompson (Howard the Duck, Back to the Future, Red Dawn, & SpaceCamp)

Lea Thompson didn’t jump out at me at first, but as I was looking through my DVDs to compile this list I couldn’t help but notice that she starred in a number of my favorite films.  The more I thought about it the more I realized that I had most certainly had a crush on her growing up.  She was my favorite junior-naut in SpaceCamp, was one of the only ones to make it out of Red Dawn alive, and was quite the flirtatious bad-girl in Back to the Future.  Did I mention she was the awesome lead of the Cherry Bombs in Howard the Duck?  If I can love a mouse and she can love a duck, well, there has to be something there…

7). Diane “Monique” Franklin (Better Off Dead)

Cute as a button and a tomboy to boot.  She can throw a lemon like no other, and you have to give her props for lasting as long as she did under the same roof as Rickey…

6). Joyce “Terry Griffith” Hyser (Just One of the Guys)

I’m not sure this was intentional on the part of the filmmakers or not, but I found Joyce Hyser way more attractive as Terrance then Terry.  I guess I dug the short hair and bravado, but she was my deamgirl for a couple years in middle school.  The final confrontation scene in the flick didn’t hurt either…

5). Tie between Jane “Diana” Balder & Faye “Julie Parrish” Grant (V)

Jane Balder’s Diana ate a guinea pig in V.  I still had a crush on her.  Julie Parrish was also a big crush of mine, I’ll admit for her weirdly sexy white get-up in the torture scenes.  If I ever speak to a therapist, I’m positive that scene will come into the conversation.  I’m also noticing a trend of girls with guns here.  Hmmm….

4). Christine “Moose” McGlade (You Can’t Do That on Television)

YCDTOTV was my first real experience with sketch comedy, and by far my favorite actor on the show was Moose.  Well, I guess I probably had a crush on Alister too, but Moose was where it was at.

3). Susan “Boof” Ursitti (Teen Wolf)

Teen Wolf is a film that I love, but is rife with huge problems, not the least of which is the insanity that Scott would rebuff Boof.  Seriously.  Oh, as TL, of Flashlights are Something to Eat, brought up on instagram today, where did she get a name like Boof?

2). Evil Lyn, specifically Linda Gary’s voice-acting and the Mattel action figure (He-Man and the Masters of the Universe)

Yup, I’ll admit it.  I scraped off the paint on my Evil Lyn breast plate because I wanted to see what was underneath.  I was six.  Little did I know that I’d just have to wait a couple years to watch Just One of the Guys to find out what was really under there.  By the way, after that my mom never bought me any of the female action figures in any line of toys, so I never had a Scarlett, Lady Jaye or Baroness.  I had to buy Jinx with my allowance.

1). Michelle “Jordan” Meyrink (Real Genius)

Hands down, Michelle Meyrink is the ultimate 80s nerd girl (starring in Real Genius and Revenge of the Nerds.)  Jordan is someone who would drive me insane, what with the non-sleep and six million projects all running at once, but still, she was awesome in my book.  She’s also one of those actresses that I thought should have been in more flick.  Thanks to Jamie over at Shezcrafti for reminding me of the flick Nice Girls Don’t Explode for a starring turn by Meyrink.

Well, that’s the list, what about you guys and gals, any crushes you’re afraid to admit to from back in the day?

Hi, my name is Shawn and I’m a mechanical pencil nerd…

A couple weeks ago I shared my love for the vintage Mead Trapper Keeper folder system.  Well, writing that post reminded me that I also wanted to expose my slightly geekier side by talking a little bit about my nerdy mechanical pencil memories.  Though I’d hesitate to say that I enjoyed my time in elementary, middle and high school, I can say without a doubt that I loved “gearing up” for the new school year with all new supplies.  Of all this stuff, folders, figural erasers, writing instruments, and lunch boxes, my all time favorite school supply had to be mechanical pencils.

I was given my first “mechanical” pencil (using air quotes because these barely qualify) by my sister as a hand-me-down.  It was a strawberry-scented push pencil (I wrote about these a few years ago) that no longer had a berry scent and was missing some of the pencil tip nibs, so I had to stuff little wads of paper inside the barrel to get the pencil to work.  A little later on I remember getting my hands on a new one, Transformers branded that was light purple and covered in little Megatrons and Decepticon logos.  I was constantly losing the nibs though (they made great darts for my rubber-band slingshot), and had to make the leap to something a little more utilitarian for actual writing.  My mom bought me a package of Papermate Sharpwriters, those ugly yellow pencils where you’d twist the point to advance the lead inside…

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Though the bland “useful” design kept me from wanting to tear it apart and play with it, I never really liked these Sharpwriters because the tips aren’t tight (by design) and therefore they’re a little awkward to write with.  Well, even though I didn’t want to play with it, as you can see in the picture above, I do have a predilection for taking these kinds of things apart, though as a kid it was so that I could try and figure out a way to make it feel a little more solid.  I remember that I was supremely frustrated when I discovered that once you remove the tip, the pencil is basically dead.  These are ultimately the most disposable mechanical pencils anyway, but after breaking it trying to fix it I knew I was going to begging my mom for something better and studier.  So sometime during the 2nd grade I got my hands on my first Pentel Sharplet-2…

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This is truly where my mechanical pencil fetish began.  How can I adequately explain this discovery?  I think what really got me hooked on these Pentel pencils was the bright colors and the fact that they were built to be somewhat dismantled.  You could unscrew the tip to get to the lead-advancing mechanism inside, as well as remove the eraser cover to get at or replace both the erasers and lead.  It didn’t take me very long to find a couple colors I really liked that I could swap out the tips and eraser caps to make my own designer pencil creations.  In fact I seem to remember a bunch of kids in my class doing this and personalizing their pencils…

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These Sharplet-2′s were a revelation and a lot of fun, but as far as I know they were only available with two lead sizes, 0.5 and 0.7.  During elementary school 0.5 was what I loved because the lead was thin enough to always feel sharp and ready.  But by the time I got to middle and high school, I was yearning for something a little more versatile.  For one, the erasers were so thin that they’d wear out really quick and before I knew it all I had was the little aluminum eraser holder on the end.  Again, I’d have to wad up a piece of paper to keep the extra lead from falling out when the cap was off.  So by the time I entered the 5th grade I was upgrading yet again, this time to my favorite mechanical pencil, the Quicker Clicker!

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Though I’m certain there are “better” pencils on the market, once I received my first few quicker clickers I was done searching.  Design, color, customizability, multiple lead sizes, these suckers had it all.  Not only that, but for the first time I had access to pencils that had super cool translucent plastic barrels, and much wider, more useful erasers.  The overall design of the quicker clicker, with its lead advancing button right at your finger tip, better erasers, and availability in a 0.9 lead thickness made then super useful for drawing (which I had taken up around that time.)  Also, I always thought the eraser cap looked a whole heck of a lot like Megatron’s head, which reminded me of my old push-pencil, so these sort of felt like a good replacement.

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The 0.9 lead was a bit softer and would dull like a regular wooden pencil tip which made it really versatile for sketching and being able to vary the line width and contrast of the pencil work.  From 1987 until today, the Quicker Clickers have been my pencil of choice, with only a few road bumps along the way…

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I’m not sure when they changed, but sometime after the year 2000, Pentel decided to alter the design of the Quicker Clickers to add a rubberized grip around the front of the barrel (around the lead advance button), as well as changing out the tip a bit.  It’s not a huge deal, but part of me had become so accustomed to the feel of the non-rubberized grip that this addition actually affected my drawing for awhile.  Though I’m a pencil nerd, and this change did bug me, I tend to obsess a little over using the same pencil. I guess it’s sort of like ballplayers wearing the same jockstrap during a good season (or career if you’re Cal Ripken, Jr.), so when Pentel switched to the new design I never thought to stock up on some back-up pencils in the older style.  Well, in the ensuing years the value of vintage Quicker Clickers (without the rubber grip) has skyrocketed.  A 0.9 lead QC in the original solid red or brown can cost as much as $50 on eBay!  As for the more standard translucent 0.5 lead versions in blue and smoke are almost non-existent on the secondary market.  Apparently though, recently a few boxes of old overstock 0.5 translucent smoke pencils have made their way onto eBay and you can get a package for around $10 to $15.  It’s still much higher than a mechanical pencil should cost, but it’s a lot better than what the standard vintage pencil scalpers are asking.

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I couldn’t write about my favorite pencils without bringing up their constant companions, the Pentel Clic Erasers…

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As most pencil nerds will attest, the idea of using the included eraser on the pencils is sort of frowned upon.  The eraser is more of a last ditch, backup incase your eraser of choice is misplaced or used up.  Besides, though you could adjust the eraser on the Quicker Clickers as it wore down (by pulling out the eraser and the little metal clasp that surrounds it and then pulling it up and snapping it back in), it made the eraser unstable and a little fugly.  For me, the eraser of choice has always been the Pentel Clic because it was long and for all intents and purposes it’s the mechanical pencil of erasers.  The material of the eraser is great for drawing too, soft enough to not tear up the paper, yet sturdy enough to erase most pencil lines (unless you’re a heavy-handed penciler.)

So that’s my nerdly little secret obsession, 30 year old mechanical pencils.  Anyone out there also a closet pencil nerd?  If so, what’s your favorite brand, color or lead thickness?  Anyone ever drop some serious money to re-buy a pencil from your youth, or is that just me…?

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Of Trapper Keepers and childhood identity…

Life presents us with a lot of opportunities to experience a right of passage, and the first one I remember taking an active hand in was when I turned 10 years-old in 1987. Not only was I finally breaking into double digits on the birthday cake, but it was also mid-summer and around the time my mom would start thinking about all the crap I’d need for the next year at school. I was entering the 5th grade, becoming one of the head honchos of the elementary school, and for the first time I wanted to have a say in what sort of junk I’d need. Clothes-wise, there was no question that the wardrobe had to include a bunch of surf and skate shirts (preferably T&C and featuring Thrilla Gorilla, but I also dug Op, Powell Peralta, and Billabong), baggy shorts featuring loud prints (usually Maui brand if I recall), and Airwalk shoes (I ended up with a pair that were covered in purple and black bats.) The lunchbox? G.I. Joe. Backpack? Nope, this was the year I ditched the bag (for god knows what reason.) All these decisions seemed important, but the most important one was finally graduating away from a handful of flimsy pocket folders to the one school supply item I coveted over any other, the Mead Trapper Keeper…

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My sister had been using Trapper Keepers for a few years at this point, and though I’d wanted one earlier, my mom didn’t think I’d need it. This year though, I had a plan. Having broken my wrist a few weeks earlier in a front-yard no-holds-barred neighborhood wrestling match, I knew it would be difficult to carry my books and folders with my clunky cast. I’d already practiced my fumbling act with the previous year’s folders and a couple of encyclopedia volumes for a bit before I decided to put it on for my mom at the store. My argument was that the coveted all-in-one binder would make it so much easier for me between classes. Of course no mom who knew her son would buy that kind of act, but regardless, with the 5th grade looming (my final year in elementary school), I somehow convinced my mother that it was imperative that I had one. Flipping through the designs in the Woolworths, none of them were really speaking to me until I stumbled on the one above. By 1987 loud, obnoxious color schemes were becoming the norm in advertising and clothing, and something about the secondary color combination of orange, green, and purple really caught my eye. After pulling the binder off the shelf I was hit with the below design and I was in love. What could be cooler than sunglasses, palm trees and a Lamborghini? In 1987, nothing.

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My original Trapper Keeper managed to last me a good three years before falling apart at the seams. I’m pretty sure I had a couple others before the end of high school, but this first one was the “one”. I’ve been keeping an eye out for a replacement to pop up on eBay for years now, but I never found one that I was happy with. They were either too beat up from years of use, or priced in the range where only Scrooge McDuck could afford them. But then recently I managed to find this one and the stars just sort of aligned. Not only was it the design I wanted, but it was also brand new, old store stock that never found its way into the hands of a loving kid. It still had its original label on the back, though a little worse for ware due to storage issues. I couldn’t resist, and now I finally have another one…

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Something else that was kind of cool about getting a hold of a brand new Trapper Keeper, was that I got a chance to be irritated with removing the above label just as much as from when I was a kid. There are two little metal tacks that punch though the back of the binder and hold the note pad clip in place inside. The label is held in place by these tacks, but because it’s made of a light weight paperboard, it doesn’t easily come off. You have to rip at it, and inevitably there is always some leftover label under the tacks that is impossible to remove. I hated this design flaw then, and even more now!

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When you stop and think about it, it’s not like these binders were all that revolutionary. Sure, they had folders that would lock into the rings, and there was a clip for a pad of paper in the back, but that’s about it. At the end of the day there was just something super appealing about the overall, all-in-one design that was intoxicating. By the time in the mid to late 80s when Mead starting covering the folders with all sorts of outrageous airbrushed graphics, these binders became the equivalent of how we use internet avatars these days. You picked the folder that best represented “you”. Heck, I can distinctly remember referring to other students who I didn’t know by what their Trapper Keeper looked like. I don’t know, at the time they just seemed important.

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Though I was addicted to my TK back in the day, there were a couple of things that I had completely forgotten about over the years. For one, I didn’t remember just how awkward the 3-ring binder clip mechanism was. There’s a colored tap at the bottom of the binder that you pull down to slide open the rings. Not nearly as secure as your standard binder clips, and containing way too many parts made out of plastic to really last the test of time, this was sort of a weirdly deflating revelation. Looking back on it, I wonder if this was a clever purposeful design flourish meant to break so that kids would have to buy a new Trapper Keeper each year…

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I’d also forgotten about the interesting design of the interior subject folders. Not only were the pockets designed into the long sides (so that loose papers wouldn’t fall out of the top of the Trapper Keeper), but each folder also featured rulers, and a crap load of metric conversions and math tidbits. I’m also a fan of these color-schemes, in particular the pink lemonade of the folder to the left…

The one last thing I wanted to point out represents probably the most visceral memories people have for Trapper Keepers, the patented Velcro ripping noise you heard when opening the main flap. After opening up the package and pulling this out to show my wife, she immediately ripped it from my hands and proceeded to open and close it repeatedly, to which we both replied with a satisfied sigh. Sounds like some of the best memories from school.

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So, what did your Trapper Keeper look like?

Six years of kicks…

Cleaning out a closet today I found a bunch of my old kicks that were in desperate need of being thrown away.  Decided I’d take a picture and while setting it up I realized that these consist of all the shoes I’ve worn over the last six years plus, which means these represent my tenure doing Branded in the 80s.  The red and pink ones are my current shoes.  The pink ones are just about dead as well…

Branding and nostalgia, what keeps me buying…

Since I’m so enthralled with the pop culture of my youth, it can get kind of dicey when navigating today’s modern boom of 80s and 90s nostalgia with any sort of cost-conscious mindset.  10 years ago, when I first started reaching back into my childhood, there weren’t many options as far satiating my need for 80s stuff.  Either I hit up eBay and tried to buy back some of my memories, or I could scour the internet looking for tiny image files of cartoon screen captures or poorly recorded mp3s of sitcom theme songs.  It’s partly because of this that I started Branded in the 80s.  If I was going to drop 15 bucks on a sticker-themed magazine from 1985, I wanted to make sure it was readily available for others as well.

Over the past decade the options for nostalgia addicts has exploded like an atom bomb.  Actually, more like an Adam Bomb.  Released by Topps back in 2003, The All New Garbage Pail Kids sticker cards were one of the first big product lines cashing in on the fondness for the 80s.  Like the re-launch of the Masters of the Universe line the previous year, these GPKs featured new artwork and concepts (though yes, some were taken from the original 16th series that never saw print back in the day) and provided more than just fresh stickers to procure, it provided fans a second chance to experience the heady feeling of procuring this stuff.  I’ve written about this before, but half of the fondness we have for this pop culture stuff was in the experience of discovering it.  Finding it, buying it, and collecting it.  It’s not just the artwork on the stickers, it’s the wax wrappers and gum they were packaged in.  The shared cultural experience of chewing hard stale sticks of gum, of walking into a gas station or pharmacy and finding your first packs by the register; it’s the memories of begging your parents for money to buy them and then the idle time spent day-dreaming about the future where you’d spend all your money as an adult on Garbage Pail Kids and junk like it.

When I first walked into my local gas station back in 2003 and I saw a full, fresh box of the new GPK stickers I had to do a double take.  I had no idea these were coming out, and I couldn’t believe they were sitting there on the counter.  I actually got giddy as I scooped up the entire box and had to sit and wait while the cashier scanned each individual pack.  I was finally getting a chance to be that “adult” that I day-dreamed about becoming as a kid.  In the grand scheme of things, this isn’t all that important, but at the same time, these experiences don’t come all that often so it’s best to relish them when given the opportunity.

Again, fast forward a few years and the opportunity to buy 80s era nostalgic pop culture junk has exploded, and these days you really have to be picky where you plop down your 30 bucks to try and relive your childhood.  I’m definitely not complaining about the glut of stuff that seems marketed directly to me, but I’ve also kind of become numb to the new breed of 80s branded incarnations that surround us on a daily basis.  Do I really need that box of Smurf Cereal just because one side of the box has a passing resemblance to the Smurfberry cereal of my youth?  Do I really need that snap-back billed ball cap that looks like an extreme close-up of Kermit the Frog’s face?  How about that ironic T-shirt with the cast of Sesame Street that says “Raised on the Street”?  Monster Cereal or He-Man branded Hot Wheels?  Back to the Future Mini Mates?  Hyper-realistic Beetlejuice action figures?  G.I. Joe Resolute DVDs?  Probably not.  But there are some things that catch my eye that I can’t pass up, and 9 times out of 10 it has to do with the packaging and presentation of the product.  Case in point, and going back to Topps and the Garbage Pail Kids, there’s these new GPK magnet and candy sets…

While out at my local Toys ‘R Us the other day I spotted these on a kiosk at the front of the store.  John Pound’s Acne Amy artwork is super iconic to me because it was a card that I saw a lot when I first got into GPKs back in the 80s.  Though I entered around the time the 3rd series was on store shelves, there were rack packs (holding the equivalent of three packs of cards, two 3rd series and one 2nd series) on the shelves that seemed to always have an Acne Amy (or Ghastly Ashley) on top viewable through the clear cellophane.  This new set of magnet cards is available in 4 different packages ($4 each), with either Ghastly Ashley, Potty Scotty, Beastly Boyd, or Adam Bomb on the front.  I’m kind of surprised the designers didn’t go with Dead Ted or Evil Eddie, but they’re all still iconic images that immediately evoke the GPK branding, specifically images that would relate to the adult collector.  The packaging is even cut I such a way that it resembles one of the original die-cut stickers peeled off of the backing.  As soon as I saw them I knew I wasn’t leaving the store without one of each package.

I thought it was interesting that I recently read that Michael Eisner had procured Topps, and looking at projects like these magnet cards, I can kind of see the sort of thing he was doing with Disney back in the 90s.  Can’t say for sure he was involved obviously, but love him or hate him, he did revitalize Disney’s branding.  Back to these magnet cards, I thought it was interesting that nostalgia was the ploy used to get the prospective buyer to snag a bag of these.  Of the 16 cards in the set, only four are from the original vintage sets, the same four that are on the packages.  In a smart sorting decision, each pack comes with one of these vintage magnets (matching the packaging.)  So this was a nice way of satiating the nostalgia bug with keeping up the collectability of the set to keep you buying more.  Out of four packages I am still missing three of the new designs for instance.

On a final note, if you pick any of these up, don’t bother unwrapping and eating the included gummy candy.  Much like the hard sticks of dried out gum that came with the original sticker cards, these body part-shaped gummies are just about inedible.  I guess it’s almost better that way.

Yeah, I was that guy in high school…

It just dawned on me that Monkey Goggles seems to have shuttered (there’s been no new content since last year when editor Geoff Carter and Archie McPhee amicably ended their partnership.)  So just in case the site ends up folding completely I’ve decided to repost the two articles I wrote for them here at Branded.  This first one concerns my unhealthy high school obsession with Spam.  Mr. Carter aptly titled it, Leaving Spamalot: Taking a Joke Too Far

I’ve never eaten a single bite of Spam in my life, yet I probably have more goofy stories surrounding the iconic slab of preserved, pork product than most people living outside of Hawaii or Guam.  I’m hardly what you’d call a super-fan of the wartime staple.  I don’t go to canned ham or potted meat conventions, and I don’t dress up in a specially-constructed costume of my own design trying to meet up with other enthusiasts obsessed with chopped-and-formed foodstuffs.  I don’t write Spam slash fiction.  I was just a weird kid who, back in the early 1990s, took a joke just a little too far.  Five years too far.

I’m sure most people hate high school, and I’m no different.  I’ve got a few scars, but I was lucky enough to find an anti-clique that got me through mostly unnoticed.  I was part of a group of four kids who loved comic books and role playing, who were smart enough to avoid getting into fights and just dumb enough to not care all that much about what anyone else thought.  We were those kids who took any available art class and managed to avoid every single pep rally.  We were basically invisible.

This can have a strangely unexpected effect on a kid.  It made me yearn to be noticed, even as I did my best to hide.  I was that guy who sweated bullets while trying to talk in speech class, the one who lived in fear of getting called on by a teacher, the one who walked the long way around the gym to avoid getting catcalls from the cool crowd at the smoking area.

My outlet came after a late-bloomer’s introduction to Monty Python in the 10th grade.  There was something completely enchanting about the absurd use of the iconic meat treat in the Spam sketch, as well as the throw-away line during the approach-to-Camelot song in Monty Python and the Holy Grail.  My tiny cadre of friends and I made Spam jokes for weeks.  It got to the point where the word lost all meaning for a while and eventually it became a generic stand-in, a variable for in-joke comedy.  After that first month my friends got sick of it and moved on.

I took it further.  I bought my first seven-ounce can of Spam with the leftovers from my weekly comic book allowance.  The plan was to wear it around my neck to school the next day.  I carefully wove together a handful of homemade friendship bracelets, fashioned them into a sturdy necklace, and strung them through the pull tab on the top of the can.  I made sure to put a few dollops of superglue onto the tab to keep it from lifting open.  The last thing I wanted was gelatinous ham all over my carefully ripped and worn flannel shirt.

I unveiled my masterpiece on the bus ride that next morning.  It got some chuckles out of my friends and a lot of weird stares from the rest of the crowd, so I was feeling pretty proud of myself.  I decided the event called for a super-jump from the top of the bus steps, and I was in mid-freefall when it occurred to me that this was a stupid idea.  As my feet hit the concrete, there was an audible click as the necklace pulled taut and the pop top ripped open.  It was almost as if I’d pulled the pin on a hand grenade; everyone standing around took three big steps away from me.  As luck and science would have it, gravity and inertia pulled the can outward, and its contents just splattered with a juicy thump on the pavement.

The next can I bought weighed in at a more respectable 12 ounces, and I carried it around like a pet rock.  I even made a leash for it.  This can lasted for three weeks.  Sometimes I’d sit it on the corner of my desk during class, and other times I rested it on my shoulder like a parrot.  I was beginning to get a reputation for being “that Spam guy.”  In the middle of that pet can’s third week, a cute skater girl sauntered up to me during advanced pottery class and started asking flirty questions.  I was dying for the attention and summoned up as much wit and courage as possible.  In the middle of explaining why I couldn’t decide on a name for the can, she pulled a potter’s knife out of her pocket and stabbed the living hell out of the Spam.  I sat in disbelief, staring at the wet blade of the knife and her twisted, satisfied sneer.  Into the trash it went, right alongside my ego.

Undeterred, I soon moved on to Deviled Spam.  I took cans of it everywhere I went because they were smaller and less prone to knife attacks.  After graduating high school and getting a summer job at a grocery store, I used my first paycheck to buy a case of these tiny cans of Spam.  I thought it would be hilarious to collect one for every day that I worked, thinking this was just a short-lived summer job.  Ninety-odd cans and four months later, I stopped buying them.

In 1996, during the sci-fi fantasy convention Dragon Con, I had one last run at the Spam joke that would never end.  The gag had lasted for four-and-a-half years at this point and my friends were tired of it, but I’d kept pushing.  I was running on two days with no food, stuck in the Atlanta Hilton with three of my closest friends and no money for meals.  We were subsisting on complimentary corn chips and Kool-Aid from the Con suite, when I noticed a shiny new can of Spam on the table.  I asked the volunteer manning the room who owned that can, and he just shrugged and said it was purchased as a joke and that no one was going to eat it.  He said I could have it, and I immediately darted over to scoop it up.

Famished, halfway delirious from a lack of protein and hopped up on way too much sugar water, I marched down to the dealers’ room/exhibitors’ hall – and over the course of the next five hours, I made it my mission to cover the can in pseudo-celebrity autographs.  I got a bevy of comic book and fantasy artists to sign the can (Mark Bagley, John Bryne, Ken Meyer Jr., Bernie Wrightson, and Bo Hampton to name a few), as well as Darth Vader himself, convention legend David Prowse.  In my mind, it was the coup de grace of my very long experiment in absurdist comedy.  I was only made fun of twice and verbally abused once (by Jim Steranko, who let out a Christmas Story-like stream of profanities).

The last guy to sign the can, Glen Danzig, was even a personal hero of mine, though the whole experience failed to even faze him (makes you wonder what he’s been asked to sign over the years.)  I’m pretty sure it was at that point where I finally got tired of the whole thing.  I guess you can take a joke too far … but I still have that last can.

90s era SNICK is coming back, and I hope it brings Pete and Pete with it…

Did you know that Nickelodeon, based on fan outcry, was planning to bring back a chunk of their early 90s original programming back to the network?  Starting Monday night TeenNick will begin airing a block called “The 90s Were All That”, which will feature episodes of Doug, All That, Kenan and Kel, and Clarissa Explains It All.  They’re also launching a new Facebook page that’ll let viewers vote on 90s era programming for possible inclusion in the block (hoping to see Pete & Pete, Rocko’s Modern Life, Nick Arcade, and Double Dare.)  If it wasn’t already evident, I tend to find nostalgia fascinating, and now that we’re breaking into a new decade it seems like the kids who grew up in the 90s are starting to get the same pangs to revisit the wistful days of their childhoods that I was suffering from back in 2001.  I’ve already noticed a bunch of 90s era ephemera and branding popping up on websites and in stores, most notably with the initial crop of DVD sets of cartoons and teen shows from the era.  Through Amazon’s MOD DVD program we’ve already seen a bunch Nickelodeon shows like Doug, Rugrats, and Ahhhhh! Real Monsters, but just recently Shout! Factory announced they were going to start distributing these along with some new to DVD content like my personal favorite Hey Dude.

I was recently interviewed by Jessica Goldstein of The Washington Post about why there’s so much interest in these 20 year old Nickelodeon series, as well as why those shows in particular tend to hold up so well.  You can read the article here, or click on the image below.

Personally, one of the reasons that I think Nickelodeon shows were so cool, especially back in the early 90s when the channel started producing a ton of original content for the first time, is that the network had a very interesting viewpoint dating back to its inception in the late 70s.  First, most likely in an effort to save money when it first launched, Nickelodeon ignored the typical American programming standards and sought to distribute mainly international programming (mainly from Canada, but also from France, Japan, the U.K and other countries) that had a vastly different and less hindered take on children’s programming. Coming off of this broad worldly influence and bolstered by the ideal to provide shows that felt like they were made for kids, by kids, the network concentrated on creating content that felt like nothing was off the table.  The shows catered to the idea that anything was possible, which is a viewpoint that most adults lose along the way, but it’s something that kids never forget.

I’m really curious to see where this fan initiated change in programming will lead, as it’s a step away from the older network standards of relying on outdated ratings structures that don’t represent the audience’s viewing habits like they did 40 years ago.  These days people want their content on their own terms (DVR, DVD, streaming, etc.) and it’s kind of cool to see Nickelodeon going outside the comfort zone to see what their audience really wants to watch…

Branded in the 80s on Facebook…

Just wanted to give a quick heads up that Branded in the 80s now has a Facebook page.  The general idea is to use it as a place to host future contests as well as a point of contact for the future Postcard Project waves.  I’ve also been posting some pictures there that have never popped up here on the main Branded site like book covers from my collection of Choose Your Own Adventure style paperbacks…

If you’re so inclined, click on the picture above to head on over, “like” the site, and join in on the conversation!