Category Archives: Personal

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…


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.


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…


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!


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.


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.


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!

Wanna help me and one of my favorite local bands The Serenaders?!?

For the last couple months I’ve been working with my favorite local Atlanta band, the Serenaders, on their new album My One and Only You (the album cover is featured above.)  I’ve been doing a bunch of graphic design and illustrations for their CD and vinyl LP, as well as on some record release party flyers and posters.  I’ve been super psyched as this stuff has been coming together at the same time as they’ve been hard at work recording the album and I can’t wait to see everything done and in print.  I’ve gotten a chance to listen to a bunch of tracks off the album and they are really nailing the sound without losing any of the intensity of their live show.

The album is set to be released on May 24th, but in the interim the band is looking to raise some additional funds to help promote the record and to get it out into the hands of the public.  So they’ve begun a Kickstarter campaign to help out and I really want to help get the word out about the band and their music.  If you’re unfamiliar with Kicksterter, it’s basically a pledged fund drive, but instead of simple donations there are a bunch of tiered rewards that people receive for their pledges.  So it’s not charity, but a way to help the band while buying copies of their record, T-Shirts (featuring the above heart illustration I did) and gig posters, win-win.  But they have to make their projected goat of $6500 in order to receive any of the funds or all of the pledges are cancelled.  I’m also super excited about this since I designed and illustrated the album art as well as the artwork for the T-shirts and posters, so I’d love to know that this stuff was getting out there.  So, help the band out with a pledge today and you can get your hands on some awesome music and some of my artwork.  There are 42 days to go and they still have a ways to go, so if this sounds like something you might want to help support, please head on over to their kickstarter page, watch their pitch, and listen to some of their tunes while you’re at it!  Thanks for taking a gander…

Also, if you live in the Atlanta area and want to attend the Serenaders record release party, it’s being held on May 28th, at 8:00pm at the Goat Farm.  Admission is $10, and with that you get a complimentary copy of the CD, so again, win-win.  Go on over and RSVP to the event today…

Spock boldy went where not many Mego action figures have gone before, the house of Branded!

Well, as I’ve hinted at in the past month, the house of Branded was visited by none other than that crazy stone-faced, logical Vulcan Spock!  I recently played host to Eclectorama’s traveling Spock Mego figure on it way around North America, and it was my duty to show him a good time around Duluth, Atlanta, and Athens, Georgia.  Well, the pictures are back from the photomat and they’re up over at Charles’ site!  So click on the picture of Spock below to skate on over to see his vacation photos!

I had a lot of fun with Spock and was a little sad to see him go, but on the bright side, I handed him off to the wonderfully talented Liz Vitale of Puppatoons fame, so I know he’s in good hands.

Come out and meet me at the Up! Fair this Friday and Saturday!

Just wanted to break radio silence one more time to remind everyone that coming this Friday and Saturday I’ll be at the 1st Up! Fair!  What’s the Up! Fair you ask?  Well, I’m joining Jerzy & Anne Drozd (of Tiny Astronaut, Make Like a Tree Comics, and the Art & Story Podcast), Sara & Brian Turner (of Cricket Press and Make Like a Tree Comics), Mark Rudolph (of Control Voice Comics, the Requiem Metal Podcast, and the Art & Story Podcast), Kevin Cross (of the Art & Story Podcast, as well as being a swell freelance artist), and my wife Carrie Robare ( in putting on one heck of an independently minded comic book and zine fair in Lexington, Kentucky.  You can get an idea of what we’re shooting for in the below comic by Sara Turner and Jerzy Drozd…

We’ve all put a good year’s worth of work into this project and we’re bursting at the seams to see it finally realized.  If you’re in the Lexington, KY area and would like to stop by and meet me and the other organizers, we’d love to see you.  Admission to the event is free to the public and we’ve got a great roster of artists and writers on hand selling their stuff as well as leading all sorts of awesome workshops (you can download a pdf of the program by right-clicking and saving here.)  I’ll see you at the Up! Fair!

Small Interview thingie…

Marty Weil, who’s got a really sweet blog dealing with all things ephemeral including interviews, tips and some intersting pieces, and I recently did a little conversation/interview thing about my burgeoning obsession with 80′s stickers and stuff.  Go check out his site, there’s some really great info and some fun collectors and collections profiled.