Category Archives: Toys

Of new homes and AT-STs…

The more time I spend gliding through this wondrous existence I can’t help but keep coming back to this underlying thread of kismet that has ruled my pop culture collecting.  Not trying to toot my own horn here, but I try my very hardest to put out as many good vibes as I can into the collecting and nostalgia community as I can afford.  I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t get satisfaction from sharing my collection, through this site and often just sending out pieces to those that I find are looking.  The point is, that I enjoy sharing the love so to speak, and every so often, that love comes back my way and for that I am grateful.

A few year ago I wrote a little bit about my childhood experience with a very particular Star Wars toy, the AT-ST Scout Walker released by Kenner back in 1983.  As I mentioned in that piece my family was uprooting itself from Tampa, Florida and the 1st home that I spent any substantial time in.  My father had landed a new job a couple of hours east in Orlando, and we were in the midst of packing everything up.  I was preparing to leave behind everything that I knew, five years worth of friends, secret short-cuts throughout the neighborhood, and the only house I could remember.  It felt like a pretty big deal at the time, I’d just turned six and hadn’t realized that moving was something that people did.

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Before we completely pulled up stakes and left Tampa for good, we took a couple of exploratory trips to the suburbs of Orlando looking for a new house.  Again, this idea was pretty alien to me, and we ended up going to a series of house showings that had a very weird effect on me, in particular I was introduced the concept of coveting other people’s junk.  There were a couple of experiences I had during these trips that had a pretty big impact on me as a kid.  Growing up in the small neighborhood in Tampa we our family lived often times felt very communal.  For instance, there was an old couple at the far end of our oval-shaped development that had a pool that was open to all the neighborhood kids.  All you had to do was knock on their door and ask and you could swim to your heart’s content.  It also seemed like all of the friends I had at the time were really good about sharing our toys.  We were always borrowing each other’s Star Wars or Masters of the Universe figures with little to no squabbling (like in the picture below where I can be seen holding a friend’s Millennium Falcon with joy.)

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But the first time we scheduled a house showing at a home that was still occupied by the family trying to sell it, well, that’s when I first started to covet.  What was the object of my affection?  A lone Star Wars AT-ST Scout Walker toy that was perched up on a chest of drawers in the kid’s room in the house we were walking through.  Being six, the thought hadn’t occurred to me that the stuff in the house wasn’t part of the bargain.  In fact, I spent the next three hours trying to convince my parents that out of all the houses we’d looked through to that point, this last one was obviously the one we should go with.  I mean it was two stories, had hardwoo…screw it, it was because there was an AT-ST in one of the rooms that I really freaking wanted.  After it was explained to me that buying a house didn’t quite work the way I’d hoped (and boy was I a tad relieved when they pointed out that if it had I’d be losing all MY STUFF to some other kid), I was a little crushed.  Getting to have Hungry Howie’s Pizza later that night really didn’t make it better.  Getting to listen to my Michael Jackson Thriller tape on infinite repeat during the two hour trip back to Tampa only helped a little.

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That one encounter in some strange kid’s room was the only time I ever saw an AT-ST toy in real life.  None of my friends had one, and none of the friends I’d eventually make in Orlando did either.  As much as I wanted one, it was six months until Christmas, and in kid time comprehension that was like years.  So I’m pretty sure that I let it slip from my mind, and by the time Christmas of 1983 rolled around I was probably begging for some other toy that had caught my eye.  If I have to be honest I’ve always sort of had an AT-ST-shaped hole in my heart over the years though.  I never sought it out, mainly because by the time that I was starting to have nostalgic pangs for old Star Wars toys they were already becoming collector’s items and were way outside of my budget.  But also, as I’ve mentioned in the past, there’s this idea I subscribe to, that the hunt is more than half of the thrill of collecting.  Somewhere in the back of my mind I think I knew that I should just hold off.

Then, in an amazing turn of kismet, everything changed recently.  First off, over the past year I’ve been working incredibly hard with my fiancee to save up a nest egg that we could use to buy a house.  It’s my first time as a home buyer (and not just a goofy little kid tagging along with his family looking for one), and this would be the first honest to goodness house that I’d be living in since the early 90s, back when I was in high school and my family lost ours when we had to downgrade after a rough patch.  The idea of finally biting the bullet and buying a house terrified me as I’d become more than accustomed to living in apartments, but the time was finally right and all of the pieces were starting to fall into place.  It was an amazingly hard process where we pretty much had to deal with every possible thing that could go wrong (buyers on my fiancee’s town-home pulling out at a week before closing, contracts on houses that had Tom Hanks The Money Pit level hidden problems, and shyster real estate agents that were stealing thousands of dollars from us.)  But at the end of the day we finally found the home of our dreams and for the first time in 23 years I was living in a house again…

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It’s a little rough around the edges and needs some TLC, but we love it.  At the same time that we were hip deep in this process and not sure whether or not we’d even end up in a house, I received a very kind e-mail from a reader in the UK named Andrew who had stumbled upon the original piece I’d written about my childhood lust for the Star Wars AT-ST Scout Walker toy.  It just so happened that he was looking to part with his childhood AT-ST and we made arrangements to give it a new home here in the States.  Something about the timing of this filled me with a metric ton of hope while facing off against all the house buying pitfalls we were experiencing.  I just knew that this was all meant to be, again, that the pieces were all falling in place, and that for the second time in my life, while house-hunting I was encountering this specific Star Wars toy!

Long story short, just after moving into our new house, Andrew’s gift arrived safe and sound at its new home (my office) where it will be loved and displayed proudly at Branded in the 80s HQ…

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Don’t think I can thank Andrew enough for this gift and for convincing me that the best practice is to keep putting out as much positive energy and actions out into the world.  Some day, if I’m patient and lucky, lady kismet will make sure that all my pop culture desires are met, and then some!

Collecting the Art of G.I. JOE

As I get older the way I celebrate and appreciate my nostalgic memories changes.  Back in my mid-twenties, broke and living in a two-bedroom apartment I really didn’t have the means to procure or display any sort of vintage collection.  I spent hours scouring eBay for deals on Garbage Pail Kids, old toys, and albums on vinyl.  I very rarely pulled the trigger on any of these auctions, but I loved looking and hope that I’d eventually be in a better position to finally pick up and display some of these treasures.  At the time I kept wishing that there was more of a market that catered directly to fans like me.  People who wanted to endless flip through pictures of nostalgic treasures without having to wade waist deep in the expense of investing in a collection.  I used to daydream about coffee table books that collected nice scans of all the Garbage Pail Kids, reference books that cataloged all of the toys I used to love, or art books that featured vast collections of album cover and skateboard deck art. Slowly, as my generation has come into its own and started infiltrating publishing houses and coming on board with the same companies and brands we used to be the target audience for, my dreams have begun to be realized.  A few years ago we saw the Abrams company team up with Topps to start releasing awesome collections of Wacky Packages, Garbage Pail Kids, and Star Wars trading cards.  Then came a series of really cool toy identification guides for Transformers and G.I. Joe toys by 80s toy guru Mark Bellomo. More recently we saw the release of a couple of awesome books chronicling the brand artwork of Masters of the Universe and the box art packaging of all the Generation 1 Transformers toys.  Add to this a couple of wonderful books that focus on 80s era 45rpm cover at (Put the Needle on the Record by the supremely cool Matthew Chojnacki) and skateboard deck art (The Disposable Skateboard Bible by Sean Cliver) and I am pretty much in heaven.

But this is just the beginning and there are a lot more books I’ve love to see.  This is where independent publishing and the fans have come to the rescue to start filling in the gaps where the larger companies are dropping the ball.  For instance, this past year we saw the release of a badass little Visionaries Toy and art guide thanks to Kickstarter.  Speaking of Kickstarter, my bud Philip Reed has almost funded his new book project, Action Figure Carrying Cases, a Photographic Overview!

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This leads me to another huge gap in the 80s toy art book landscape, the Art of G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero.  Though we’ve seen some really awesome new vintage-style G.I. Joe toy lines from Hasbro in the last decade, they really seem to not understand the power of the brand they hold.  They are so focused on trying to produce lucrative new movies that they undermine the vintage brand consistently, focusing less and less time and money on the property which is a shame.  The Transformers: Legacy box art book, though delayed for almost a year and not as entirely complete as it could have been (both art and artist recognition-wise), was a great release and it would be a no-brainer for them to compile and release a very similar version for G.I. Joe.  But they haven’t and from what I can tell, they don’t plan to either.

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That’s where the exhaustive work of Carson Mataxis and his site 3D-Joes comes to the rescue.  Mataxis has been putting a metric ton of work into an online 3D gallery chronicling the entire G.I. Joe toy line.  In order to pay for the software licensing fees and hosting he’s been creating some beautiful giant poster/prints of mint on card G.I. Joe figure collections, the sales of which directly fund his site.  I have a few of these posters, and they are magnificent to say the least.

Well recently he’s decided to go all out on acquiring a ton of vintage packaging and merchandising that features all of the 80s era G.I. Joe artwork from the likes of Earl Norem and Hector Garrido just to name a couple.  He’s been meticulously restoring the artwork in photoshop in order to create a series of prestige floppy books that collect all of this art.  I finally got around to picking up the first three books that collect a good portion of the G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero art from 1982-1987…

Though these books are a little pricy at $35 per volume, for the collector of G.I. Joe art these are a must buy.  Each book features an absolutely stunning 11″x16″ wrap-around, enhanced, foil cover that’s printed on very heavy cardstock.  The interiors are all full-color and feature every single carded action figure, vehicle box, and play set package, not to mention covers for all of the Find Your Fate and floppy kid’s books, as well as a bunch of other products.  Each book also features an introduction by Kirk Bozigian, the original G.I. Joe brand manager from 1982-1994 who was also the inspiration for the likeness of Law, the MP (who also came with sidekick dog Order.)

Volume One concentrates on all of the toy releases from the 1982-1983 lines, and is the sparsest volume at 62 pages (including inside front and back covers.)

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Volume Two contains all the toy releases from the 1984-1985 years and clocks in at 78 pages (including inside front and back covers.)

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Finally the newly released Volume Three collects all the toys from the 1986-1987 releases and is also 78 pages (including inside front and back covers.)

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From what I understand there will be at least one more volume produced that covers the 1988-90 years, with a potential follow up that will cover the remaining years worth of releases.  For my money these first three volumes cover all of the toys that I had as a kid and they’re the perfect way to sit back and appreciate all of the amazing artwork and design that was put into the G.I. Joe toy line. I can’t thank Carson enough for all the time and work he’s put into his site and these amazing books!

If you swing by and pick up copies of these, be sure to tell him Branded sent ya, thanks!

It was finally time to up my watch game…

It feels really good to be able to finally start catching up with writing articles here at Branded.  Over the past few years there’s been a lot of changes in my life behind the scenes, and in particular a lot of stuff has been going on over the last six months including helping my girlfriend sell her townhome, securing a new job, and the one that has been the most frightening and fulfilling, buying my first house.  But the dust has begun to settle, I’m in the middle up setting up a new and improved Branded HQ, and I can get back to what I’ve missed the most, writing about all kinds of fun 80s junk.  In fact I’m currently having a blast revisiting some of the cool stuff I’ve acquired that I’ve been meaning to write about.  For instance, a very cool new (well, vintage) watch that I’ve been wanting to reconnect with for the last 25 years…

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Back around 1985 or ’86, I was pretty obsessed with getting my hands on the amazing transforming robot watch depicted in the Bonkers candy ad above.  I first saw these in the little red candy and trinket vending machines at my local Pizza Hut as the “main” prize, the one thing you could get out of the machine for a quarter where you’d actually be getting more than your money’s worth.  I can’t count how many quarters I sunk into these machines only to get endless amounts of plastic army men, colorful puffballs with glued on felt feet and googlie eyes, or generic pencil topper erasers.  I was never a lucky kid when it came to winning stuff like this.  And here’s the thing, from my estimation at the time, you had to either win one of these robot watches or convince your parents that it was safe for them to send a check or cash to Nabisco to score one.  Lets just say that I could never get my parents to believe that these comic ads were not a scam.

At the end of the day I did eventually end up getting one of these watches by trading some Garbage Pail Kids to a friend, though it didn’t have the watch band and it looked like he had chewed on the little blue and red buttons on the front.  None the less I cherished that red robot watch and kept it in my pocket for years.  It didn’t matter that the one I had was used, or that it wasn’t an official Kronoform watch (a fact I wouldn’t even be aware of until 20 years later when I really started getting nostalgic for my youth.)  I’m not sure what happened to my specific watch, but for the last 10 years or so I’ve been yearning to get a new one.  The thing is, they’re kind of rare and when they do pop up on eBay they’re kind of outrageously priced.  So I’ve been biding my time, waiting for the right opportunity.  That opportunity happened a couple of months ago after I posted the Bonkers advertisement above on my instagram account.  I mentioned how I wanted to get my hands on one of these and a very kind gentleman from Canada that goes by the handle No_Thriller had just scoped one at his local toy/comic store.  After working out the details No_Thriller picked up the watch for me and then shipped it down to the states where I was eagerly awaiting its arrival!  And yes, that is also an awesome Steve Nazar signed print of the T&C characters in the background that my good bud HooveR sent and that also arrived that day…

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Not only did this one still have the watch band fully intact, it was a beautiful almost brand new official Takara Transformers Kronoform release!  Also, it still worked (the super kind No_Thriller was nice enough to replace the old battery before shipping it.)  Even though this one isn’t red, I still love it to pieces…

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This also reminds me of that piece I wrote about having a crush on Helen Hunt’s character Lynne Stone form Girls Just Want to Have Fun if for no other reason that she also wore a sweet red robot watch in that flick.

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Now maybe if I can ever build that time-traveling-DeLorean I can go back in time and ask her out to the prom.  I mean we have the same taste in Transformers watches, that’s all that matters right?

Of Mystery Boxes, Laserpunks, and Kismet…

A few months ago my buddy Ed over at AEIOU & Sometimes Why tipped me off to a mystery box swap that he was planning for this summer.  Basically, he filled a box full of miscellaneous fun stuff (movies, toys, and ephemera) and a host toy (a Dracula Mego figure that also travels around with the box.)  The idea is to send the box out across the country to various folks who sign up who can take whatever they want from the box and then add more before sending it on to the next recipient.  I’ve participated in a couple of fun experiments like this over the last decade (once while hosting Spock and another time hosting King Kong), though this time there would be the added excitement of getting to peruse a box full of free mystery items as well as getting a chance to donate some cool stuff that I’ve had lying around gathering dust that could find much better homes.

The box arrived on my doorstep this past week and my girlfriend Jaime and I had a blast fishing through the box.  There were a handful of items that peaked our interest including a rad Stylophone pocket synthesizer that Jaime has been fawning over, a couple movies and a pack of recent Garbage Pail Kids.  But my eyes lit up when I spotted something in the box that I’ve wanted to get my hands on for awhile but had been putting off because there never seemed to be enough funds to justify.  Tucked underneath a couple Halloween plush dolls and a Mad Libs book was a small package of some really cool independent resin art toys from France called P.U.N.K.S. by Laserpunk Toys!

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I first found out about these little M.A.S.K.-inspired resin art toys back at the end of 2013 on Facebook.  Somehow or another I stumbled upon their FB page and instantly fell in love with the concept, design and execution of these 3″ figures.  I’ve seen a lot of folks making really cool art toys paying homage to the scale and design of the Masters of the Universe, Transformers, M.U.S.C.L.E. and G.I. Joe lines, but I had yet to see anyone tackling the M.A.S.K. aesthetic.

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I spent a good year lusting after these figures while I waited for Laserpunks to finish their fundraising campaign and prep them for sale, but was a little bummed when they were released because they were out of my price range for impulse buys.  They retailed for $40 + international shipping which is completely understandable when you consider they’re independently produced hand crafted resin figures.  That process isn’t cheap, and they even manged to squeeze in 5 points of articulation and accessories, which for resin is difficult.  Still, I put these on the virtual wishlist and shuffled them to the back of my mind.

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So when I saw the package of P.U.N.K.S. in the mystery swap box my heart skipped a beat.  A case of total kismet!  I’m not sure exactly who put these little fellas in the box (though I have a good idea from looking over the list of folks who have signed up to host the swap), but I’m eternally grateful and want to assure them they found a good home and will be displayed along side the handful of M.A.S.K. toys I have here at Branded HQ.

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Hopefully the items that Jaime and I added to the box will find a new home and make someone else do a double take.  If you curious to learn more about the Laserpunk P.U.N.K.S. figures, it looks like they’re still for sale over at their site.  There’s a very fun commercial for the toys as well the definitely evokes that 80s era merchandising feel!

Awesome 80s Bedrooms: The Making Contact Edition

It’s been a little while since I dove in and deconstructed an awesome 80s era pop culture bedroom.  This past week I had my mind blown a couple times when Pee-wee Herman shared the piece I did on his room from Pee-wee’s Big Adventure on Facebook and Twitter…

…and Zack Ryder and André Gower were discussing the breakdown I did on the Monster Squad Clubhouse on twitter…

I was honored to say the least!

This got me thinking about some of the films that I have on a list that I want to tackle at some point; stuff like Ferris Bueller’s room, or Chainsaw’s room from Summer School. A lot of what’s on my to-do list at this point is more in the realm of teenaged characters as I feel like I’ve exhausted most of the cool room for the younger characters (or the rooms I haven’t covered are kinda boring.)  But there was one more movie with a younger kid’s room that I’ve been meaning to tackle for over a year now, a film that I had completely missed out on in the 80s and didn’t find out about it until just a couple years ago.  The flick in question is an obscure and weird Austrian film from 1985 called Making Contact (though it’s also known as Joey in some parts of the world) that is mostly known for being one of Roland Emmerich’s first projects.

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Though the flick was shot in German, an English dub was released on VHS back in the late 80s.  I think thins might be why I missed it.  Around that time I was increasingly becoming obsessed with horror flicks and spent most of my time in the video rental store browsing through A Nightmare on Elm Street, Halloween, and Friday the 13th flicks.  Luckily though, I stumbled across this flick a couple years ago via a suggestion from a reader.  As soon as I could source a copy I sat down and took in this semi-lost 80s gem.  Let me just say that this movie is pretty amazing as a relic of a bygone days, but it’s also one of the weirdest 80s kid’s flicks I’ve ever seen.  Emmerich not only directed, but also co-wrote this supernatural thriller that centers on a young boy named Joey who is mourning the loss of his father.  Joey finds that he has the ability to mystically contact his dad through a toy phone, though whether he’s really talking to his father or some other malevolent force is part of what makes this film so weirdly captivating.  Let’s just say that there is a lot of telekinesis, living puppets & toy robots, and about 200 homages to Steven Spielberg films that very obviously had a huge impact on Emmerich.

If you haven’t seen Making Contact, do yourself a favor and seek it out.  It’s a little uneven and weird, but totally worth the time investment.  Not only is it a weirdly fun film, but Joey has one of the most densely packed 80s era bedrooms that I’ve ever seen on film (definitely giving Elliott from E.T. a run for his money.)  I’m gonna do my best to breakdown as much of it as I could identify…

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Joey has toys littered all over his room.  There’s stuff stacked on every surface including shelves, bureaus, tables, all over the floor and spilling out of his closet…

1). Felt Steelers football pennant

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2). Felt Giants football pennant

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3). Felt Lakers basketball pennant

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4). Sesame Street curtains

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5). Cool BMX Poster (couldn’t identify it, but wanted to point it out)

6). Smurf stickers on the bureau

7). Return of the Jedi Sheets circa 1983

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So, are felt sports pennants still a thing?  I remember as a really young kid in Tampa, FL it seemed like it was mandatory for all kids to have a Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Rowdies (soccer) pennants hanging on the walls.  I’m having a hard time remembering any friends who didn’t actually.  Also, I totally had these exact Return of the Jedi sheets around the same time too.  In fact, I still remember the exact moment when I stopped “having” these sheets as well.  For some reason my mom left me in my bedroom with a hair dryer when I was about 6, and I got the bright idea to heat up the sheets by turning on the dryer and sticking it underneath my balled up sheets.  They totally caught fire, though it was a slow burn and I managed to get it out out before things got crazy.  Man, I miss those sheets…

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8). Terry Bradshaw Poster

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9). Kenner Star Wars Tie-Fighter 1978

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10). Kenner Star Wars Slave I, 1980

Photo from Collector’s Club of Great Britain

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11). Kenner Star Wars Imperial Troop Transporter 1979

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12). Tomy Racing Turbo Dashboard game circa 1983

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13). Tomy Zoids Giant ZRK circa 1983

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So, really quick I want to point to another item in the above screen shot, the race car helmet lamp.  Half of the reason that it’s taken me two years to write this Making Contact bedroom breakdown is because I’ve been wracking my brain while searching the internet for where that thing came from.  I haven’t been able to figure it out and it’s been driving me a bit insane.  Does anyone know where that thing originated or when it was released?  It seems so specific, which usually makes tracking it down easier, but not in this case.

**UPDATE** Thanks to reader Jack Frost for finding some auctions for the racing helmet lamp that have partically solved the mystery of where these things came from.  Apparently they were produced in Austria in the 70s, though the manufacturer is possibly still in question.  Looks like it was made by FF Leuchte.  Here’s a clearer picture of the lamp…

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14). Milton Bradley Pac-Man board game, circa 1980

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15). Milton Bradley Donkey Kong board game, circa 1980

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16). E.T. wallpaper (lining both his closet and this trashcan), circa 1982

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17). Tomy wind-up walking shoes, circa 1981

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18). Kid Stuff Records Pink Panther’s County Album picturedisc, circa 1982

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19). Vanity Fair Smurfs Record Player, circa 1982

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20). Horikawa Batter Operated Super Space Explorer, circa 1962

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21). E.T. Plush doll (I can’t identify this specific plush, honestly it looks like a bootleg or carnival prize.)

21). Blow Mold Disney Donald Duck coin bank, circa late 70s

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23). Dinky Star Trek USS Enterprise, circa 1976

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24). Tamiya Wild Willy 2 motorized jeep circa 1984

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25). Kenner Star Wars Ewok Village play set, circa 1983

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26). Kenner Star Wars Millennium Falcon play set, circa 1983

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27). Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University poster

28). Empire Strikes Back Yoda poster

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29). Kenner Star Wars At-At play set, circa 1980

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30). Kenner Star Wars Scout Walker, circa 1983

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As you can see from the previous shots, Joey loved Star Wars and was fastidious enough to keep a bunch of the boxes for his play sets.

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31). DC Comics Phantom Zone, #4, April 1982

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32). Tomy Peepers wind-up walking binoculars, circa 1984

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In doing research for this breakdown I noticed that the production designers were fond of Tomy toy products.  I thought it was interesting that the Peepers wind-up toy above was actually the star of his very own Disney movie back in 1984 called Where the Toys Come From.  The flick sounds like it may have even been the blueprint for the eventual Toy Story movies as well…

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33). Pac-Man Pacmania toy drum set, circa 1982

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34). Whitman Disney Donald Duck jigsaw puzzle

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35). Tomy Hoomdorm Jumper toy, circa 1982

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36). Parker Brothers Q-bert boardgame, circa 1983

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37). APC A-Team jigsaw puzzle, circa 1983

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And finally, before I end this mammoth bedroom breakdown, there’s one more thing I wanted to point out from the film that’s outside the bedroom arena.  During a scene set in Joey’s school, he stops and takes a pretty rad school folder out of his bag…

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38). Masters of the Universe school folder, circa 1983

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Pretty darn spiffy if you ask me.

So, for those of you that have seen this film, did I miss anything?  Let me know int eh comments!

The Official Unofficial Visionaries Collectors Guide & Contest!

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**CONTEST UPDATE**  And the winner of the Visionaries Collector’s Guide is… Ryan, @no_thriller!  Congrats Ryan!

For fans of 80s era cartoons and toys it’s hard to argue that we’re truly living in a Renaissance that is seeing so many of our beloved properties being celebrated.  Not only are a lot of these brands being re-envisioned with upgraded “classics” style product launches like the new Mattel Masters of the Universe figures, Transformers Classics, and the recent 25th anniversary G.I. Joe line of action figures, but there are also a lot of outlets focusing on the original toys and animation who are producing some amazing stuff like the 3D-Joes Carded Figure prints or the recent Masters of the Universe and Transformers art books.  If you’re a fan there are literally thousands of cool and eclectic collectibles on the market to quench your nostalgic thirst.

Sometimes it even feels like there may be too much new stuff, like there’s a tidal wave of products about to come crashing down on the fandom, drowning us all in an ocean of cool stuff.  I know that probably sounds a little dark, but it’s honestly how I feel at times while trying to keep up.  That’s why I often find myself tuning out and just try and focus on one interest at a time.  It’s why I was never all that interested in treating Branded as a hub for 80s fan news as it’s just too much work for one person to stay on top of everything.  Hell, even focused sites (like the ones concentrating on singular 80s era brands like YoJoe.com or or any of the million Star Wars sites) must have a hell of a time keeping up.  Luckily though I’ve met a lot of amazing people over the years through Branded, and they’ve been super cool tipping me off to cool new relaunches and products.  One of these folks has always gone above and beyond, the witty, kind and super gracious HooveR, and I feel lucky to call him a friend.

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Hoov recently sent me a couple copies of the official, unofficial Visionaries Collectors Guide that was published this past April by Punch Party Press, a small two-man outfit out of the UK.  Though I was a huge fan of the cartoon as a kid I only manged to get my hands on a single action figure, Witterquick (I wrote a piece about re-acquiring him after 25+ years), and I’ve always been a little surprised that the Visionaries seemed like they didn’t have the same sort of fan love that other similar b-level properties have (like the ThunderCats and the Silverhawks.)  So when Hoov told me that there was a small press company working on a collector’s guide I was pretty darn excited.

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The book was crowdfunded on Kickstarter this past year and somewhere along the way Hasbro (who produced the original toy line and own the rights to the property) stepped in and sort of changed the focus of the book in terms of how it would be marketed and released after publication.  Christopher Ibbit and Gemma Tovee came to an agreement with Hasbro that would let them print and distribute the book, but they were only allowed to sell it for 1¢.  I don’t know the specifics of the deal, but I’d have to assume that they were allowed to keep and use the money raised on Kickstarter to fund the bulk printing and shipping of the books to the backers.  Since the books were also available for a time after the crowdfunding ended, I’m also assuming that the pair had more books printed than were needed to fulfill the backer pledges.

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The volume itself is really cool and focuses strictly on the 2 waves of the original toy line, the 1st originally released in 1987, and a second that was designed and marketed but ultimately never released.  Clocking in at 54 pages, the full color guide is printed on heavy matte cardstock and is about the size of a standard DVD case, almost like a pocket guide.  The book also features a couple of cool single-color neon ink cover illustrations by Bob Hall, that are really bright and vibrant.  All of the action figure photography in the book is excellent with a mixture of views for each figure including action poses as well as front and back shots with the accessories.  The pages are also complete with all of the bio and flavor text from the back of the toys, which was a really nice addition.

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For me the book works as a collector’s guide (as intended), but it’s also sort of an unofficial art book as well as Ibbit and Tovee took pains to find unaltered versions of the packaging artwork for the majority of the toys in the book, even the unreleased second wave of figures.  I have to wonder if they had access to this via the connection to Hasbro or if there were other sources for the action figure card art.  They even managed to devote a two-page spread to the original hologram illustrations for this second series as well, which was a really awesome added bonus.  There’s even a scan of a later comic book-style ad featuring some of the unproduced toys as well.

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Though I would have loved to see the book be a little more comprehensive and also tackle other Visionaries merchandise like the short-lived Star comics series or the Marvel Big Looker Storybooks, I know that for a small press run of books like this that was probably impossible.

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In fact my only real gripe would be that there are a couple of major pieces of card art missing from the first series of toys.  I’m not sure if this was a mistake or if it was a challenge to nail down nice artwork, but the cards for Leoric & Darkstorm are missing.  Considering they were able to provide nice imagery for the rest of the line (including vehicles and the second unreleased wave), these missing pieces stand out and keep this volume from being a perfect guide for the line.

All in all, considering the issues with Hasbro limiting their ability to sell the book, and the relatively obscure nature of the line it’s simply amazing to see a book this nice being released.  For Visionaries fans this is a must have collectible and unfortunately if you didn’t manage to get a hold of one via the Kickstarter or through their site after the campaign, it’s now out of print.  Well, as I mentioned above, my good buddy HooveR was super awesome for sending me not one, but TWO copies of the book!  So I’m going to give away my extra copy to one lucky Visionaries fan.

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So, what do you have to do to win this awesome book?  Well, for starters it would be really cool if you follow me on twitter (@smurfwreck), like the Branded Facebook page, and follow me on Instragram (@smurfwreck), but I’m not going to make those mandatory.  Instead let’s make this a fun exercise.  Below I’m going to post a very cool piece of Masters of the Universe artwork by the amazing Earl Norem (who sadly, just recently passed away.)  This painting was featured as a puzzle in an issue of the Masters of the Universe magazine and contains 16 intentional errors in the artwork (in the original magazine there were 17 errors, but one of them is kind of ridiculous so I’ll use it as an example below that doesn’t count.)

What I would like you to do is to send me an e-mail listing all 16 errors, your name and the name of  your favorite Visionaries character.  The contest will end on 8/2/2015 at Midnight est, and I’ll pick a winner at random on August 3rd and notify them via e-mail.

So the example of an error in this painting (that doesn’t count for this contest), the Land Shark is literally depicted as being in the water (and we all know it’s an evil land vehicle.)  So, find the other 16 things wrong with this picture and win a copy of the Visionaries Collectors Guide!

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Click on the image to make it bigger!

35 Years later this Big Wheel is still tearing up the streets…

It’s kind of weird when you think about the difference in experiences between “normal” folks and nostalgia addicts when we stumble upon something that makes us flash back on our youth.  I think there’s a yin and yang to how we perceive nostalgia situations reflect each other like a mirrored image.  For instance, when I find myself out searching through antique stores or flea markets with friends who don’t live with and embrace nostalgia on a daily basis we tend to have completely different reactions when we stumble across items.  Say we happen upon a booth with a bunch of old NES consoles and games.  For me, this is a pretty common thing to see out in the wild and it’s not something that stops me in my tracks or really grabs me when I see it.  I’ve had friends that happen upon a dealer like this and their mind is blown as they’re rocketed back to the fifth grade and memories of all their favorite games start rushing back.  It’s not to say that I have no nostalgia for Nintendo games, just that I live with it enough that it’s not something that wows me.  For me, to really be wowed anymore I usually have to stumble upon something that simply should not exist 30 years after it was released.  So when I find stuff like old cereal boxes, figural shampoo bottles, or toys that weren’t designed to be stored or “collected” (like the infamous MOTU Battle Cat Hopper kid’s riding toy.)

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What’s weird is that I’ve been with friends who look at this stuff and think I’m a little crazy for getting excited about what they basically view as trash.  I mean who saved or wants to buy an old shampoo bottle, even if it looks like Bazooka from G.I. Joe (I slowly raise my hand.)  Who would drop $600 on a broken kid’s hopper toy even if it is a blow mold shaped like Battle Cat (I start to raise my hand, then agree that $600 is way too much – if it were $200 though…)  I guess it’s all in the experience of collecting and how that changes the way someone views thinks as treasure or junk.  As collectors and folks who live and breath nostalgia it’s easy to become desensitized to the wonder that common antiques can have on those who aren’t mired in collecting.

The reason that I’ve been thinking about this is that I had a weird experience while out on my daily run this morning.  As I made my way around the neighborhood I came to a point with a lengthy straightaway where you can see down the street for three or four blocks.  As I got closer to a cross street where I usually hang a right I saw a couple of kid’s big wheels out on a lawn and it occurred to me that, that is something you don’t see very often these days.  There were a number of years from the mid-90s to the just recently when there weren’t any companies producing them anymore in favor of stuff like razor scooters or mini dirt bikes.  I had heard that they were making a comeback though, and figured that they were finally starting to get out there again.  I kind of silently half joked that it would be amazing if one of them was an old school Dukes of Hazzard model since at a distance it looked black and orange much like the one I had when I was a kid…

125189906_0ee1fbc27dWhen I actually made my way up to the toy I ended up gasping and stopping dead in my tracks.  I’m sure I looked like a maniac to anyone who might have been watching, but I cupped my hand to my mouth and just stared at the big wheel for a minute not believing what I was seeing.  Out on the corner of someone’s lawn in the middle of suburbia in 2015 was a 1980 Empire Toys CHiPs big wheel (with awesome bonus Topps Empire Strikes Back stickers on the seat…)

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If I had to guess I’d say that 97% of the population that might be jogging past this big wheel wouldn’t have given it a second glance or even realized that it was a 35 year-old antique that was miraculously still in use.  Maybe another 2% would recognize the CHiPs branding and would probably wonder if it was set out for the trash.  Then there are folks like me who are literally shocked and amazed into stopping dead in their tracks and then are seen awkwardly fumbling for their iPhone so they can snap some pictures of a relic that is literally out in the wild when it clearly should not exist.  I mean think about it.  Most parents don’t have the presence of mind to hang onto old action figures, dolls, or books let alone a toddler’s toy that was most likely heavily used and abused.  To store that away for 30-odd years in the hops that their child would someday have children of their own who could play with it?  I mean c’mon, that just doesn’t happen.  People buy new toys like this, they don’t save them.  And it’s not like the kid at the time had the presence of mind to save a CHiPs big wheel right?  “Hey mom, I hope some day that I also have a kid who loves Erik Estrada as much as I do, so I think we should put this awesome big wheel up in the attic…”

The thing is though, that, that is exactly what happened, or at least one of those scenarios.  After snapping some pictures and posting them on Instagram I went back to my run and tried to image who this person was.  When I made my way back around for the second lap I saw that the CHiPs big wheel was now in use by kid who was out shredding up the pavement, doing doughnuts around his dad who was out walking the dog.  The guy looked like he was about my age and I really wanted to stop and ask him about the history of the toy and how he manged to hang on to it for all these years.  But the more I thought about doing that the more insane it the proposed conversation started to sound in my head.  How would you react to some stranger jogging by excitedly asking about your son’s toys.  Yeah, pretty weird.

Well, I may not have had the opportunity to hear the story behind this CHiPs big wheel, but I’m glad that I stumbled across it this morning and that it got me thinking about how sometimes it can be really weird to be a nostalgia addict…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Awesome 80s Bedrooms: Who’s the Boss Edition

While writing about a bunch of these awesome bedrooms from 80s movies I figured at some point, if I want to keep finding new rooms to deconstruct I’d eventually have to branch out into TV series as well.  I was actually kind of psyched about this because I remember there being some amazing bedrooms in shows like Silver Spoons and Punky Brewster, and while both of those series do feature neat bedrooms (Rickey has a race car bed and Punky slept in a freaking wheel barrow/carriage) surprisingly there really is little to no actual pop culture junk to dissect.  Then the other night the girlfriend and I were watching some old episodes of Who’s the Boss when a bunch of fun stuff caught my eye in Johnathan’s room.  Enough that I felt like it warranted a bit more examination, so let’s take a closer look at Johnathan Bower’s awesome bedroom…

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As you can see in the screenshot above the majority of the stuff in Johnathan’s room is pretty generic kid’s junk ranging from the super cheapo carnival stuffed animals to over-sized novelty sunglasses.  But the Darth Vader Star Wars action figure carrying case caught my eye which is what prompted me to take a closer look at the room, so let’s start there…

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1). Kenner Darth Vader Star Wars Collector’s Case from 1980

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2). Giant Crayola Crayon Plastic Novelty Coin Bank

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3). Imperial Dragons & Daggers Battle Sword from 1983

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If ever there was a product in the 80s that I coveted hard core and never managed to procure it was those damn giant crayon banks.  At some point I managed to get my hands on a giant Coke bottle bank, but what I really wanted was the crayon bank because they looked so cool.  I remember seeing over-sized stuff like this in flicks like The toy, Big, and Jumpin’ Jack Flash and for some reason felt like my life wouldn’t be complete without one.  Guess I managed to survive alright though.  As for that Imperial Battle Sword, one of the set designers must of loved that line of toys because as you can see in this next shot Johnathan had practically one of every release from that series…

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4). Imperial Dragons, Knight & Daggers Sabretooth Serpent from 1983

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5). Imperial Dragons, Knight & Daggers Battle Beast from 1983

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6). Imperial Dragons & Daggers Fantasy Creatures from 1983

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7). Imperial Dragons, Knight & Daggers Rhino Revenger from 1983

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From what I can gather on these Imperial fantasy toys, they all came in multiple color combinations, so there were green and orange Sabretooth Serpents with red saddles as well as Purple and blue with gold (or red) saddles, and ever combo in between.  Any which way you cut it these were cheaper Masters of the Universe knock-offs that are pretty damn awesome for what they are.  Basically they were designed to be interchangeable with the MOTU figures as animal beast accessories that all came advertised with “12 Warrior Weapons” that you could use for your existing Masters figures.  Kind of ingenious.

Speaking of Masters of the Universe, the last main thing I wanted to point out in Johnathan’s room is a pretty super rare sought after item….

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8). Spectra Star Trap Jaw Kite from 1982

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These Spectra Star kites were freaking awesome and featured an almost 5 foot full body version of the character.  I love that Johnathan has his hanging on his wall (as it’s what I would do with one if I could get my hands on a cheap one now.)  From time to time you see the He-Man and Skeletor kites pop up on ebay, but I’ve never seen a Trap Jaw.

Huge thanks to Liz Vitale from the rad Puppatoons site for identifying a couple more toys!  When it comes to stuff like plush dolls and horses, unless they’re Ewoks or 30-30 from Bravestarr I’m pretty clueless, so thanks Liz for adding a bit more info!  Here they are…

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9). JC Penny Exclusive Breyer Chestnut Stallion from 1982

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10). Giant Pink stuffed Snake from Kay Bee Toys

Pink Stuffed Snake from Kaybee Toys

Be sure to check out all the other Awesome 80s Bedrooms I’ve deconstructed

Awesome 80s Bedrooms: The Boy Who Could Fly Edition!

It’s been a little while since I took the time to deconstruct an awesome 80s kid’s bedroom and I was recently in the mood to re-watch some Fred Savage movies so I thought it was high time that I take a closer look at Louis’ room from the 1986 flick, The Boy Who Could Fly!

Boy Who Could Fly PosterIt’s been forever since I saw this movie the last, in fact it was probably sometime in 1987 when it was playing non-stop on HBO.  This flick is sort of feels like a made-for-tv after school special, but it’s actually the big screen follow-up project for Nick Castle after his work on The Last Starfighter.  It’s one of those movies that most of my friends from high school and on never saw when they were young and thus they would never believe me when I described it.

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Though he only had a supporting role, this was the film that introduced me to Fred Savage and of all the neat 80s rooms I saw on screen as a kid, Louis’ was the one I coveted the most.  I think a lot of this had to do with the fact that both his character and I were slightly obsessed with G.I Joe toys as you’ll see in this break down.  So lets dig into the room and all of Louis’ stuff…

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1). G.I. Joe Sleeping Bag

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2). Alton Tobey Print of the Apollo 11 Astronauts

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3). Teddy Bear Lamp

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4). G.I. Joe HQ Command Center playset from 1982

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5). Sentinel Toy Robot by Kamco

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5a). Imperial Great White Shark and Frilled Dinosaur toys

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In the above screenshot we get the largest amount of non-G.I. Joe toys in Louis’ room.  There’s some more miscellaneous stuff on his desk in another shot, but there isn’t a good enough angle to really get a look at what’s there.  Also, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the rad dirt bike wallpaper.  Pretty much everything from here on out is G.I. Joe stuff, like this better look at the stuff at his feet…

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6). G.I. Joe Slugger from 1984

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7). G.I. Joe Footloose Action Figure from 1985

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8). G.I. Joe Amphibious Personnel Carrier from 1983

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9). G.I. Joe Wild Bill figure from 1983 (Pilot of the Dragonfly helicopter)

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10). G.I. Joe Spirit action figure from 1984

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11). G.I. Joe Recondo figure from 1984

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12). G.I. Joe MOBAT (motorized battle tank) from 1982 *UPDATED* Road Power Commander’s Tank by Echo (Thanks tothe rad @Twitziller for the correction!)

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13). G.I. Joe Thunder action figure (driver for the Slugger) from 1984

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One of the things I noticed while re-watching this flick is that Savage’s character Louis has a ton of multiple figures and vehicles.  For instance in the shot above you can clearly see three Thunder and two Footloose action figures.  Later there are multiple Barbecue figures and Cobra F.A.N.G. helicopters.  Bottom line, his mother loved him.  Also, the super cool Rob Lammle (SpaceMonkeyX) pointed out that there is a Doc figure I neglected to mention in the shot above, Thanks Rob!  Upon further inspection I also noticed a Cobra Eels figure on the back of the tank too, and @twitziller pointed out that there’s a Firefly figure on top of the APC.

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14). G.I. Joe Cobra Rattler from 1984

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15). Gumby and Pokey bend-em figures

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16). G.I. Joe Dragonfly helicopter from 1983

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17). G.I. Joe Skystriker from 1983

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18). G.I. Joe Cobra F.A.N.G. from 1983

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19). Customized Tonka Sidewinder Cycle from 1984

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I think it’s interesting that the set designers/prop masters chose to repaint and augment a Tonka Sidewinder big wheel to look like it was army themed instead of just buying an actual G.I. Joe branded cycle.  They were both available at the same time.  Either way, because of the new paint job Louis’ cycle had it took me forever to identify it…

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20). G.I. Joe Torch action figure from 1985

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21). G.I. Joe Alpine action figure from 1985

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22). G.I. Joe Mutt action figure from 1984

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23). G.I. Joe RAM motorcycle from 1982

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There’s definitely a story point about it in the actual movie, but can I just say how adorable it is that Louis buried his “fallen soldiers” in actual graves in his back yard? As I mentioned, this is brought up in the flick when he freaks out one stormy night and goes out back digging through the mud looking for some of them as you can see below.  Maybe this is why his mother always bought him so many doubles…

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24). G.I. Joe Barbecue action figure from 1985

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25). G.I. Joe Snow Job action figure from 1983

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That about does it for Louis’ room and toys.  I wanted to take a second and give a huge shout out to the amazing 3D-Joes site where I sourced the images for all of these toys.  They are doing an amazing job of showcasing the classic Real American Hero toy line with scans, photos, and 3D turnarounds that you need to see to believe.  They also have a bunch of prints for sale including some really great ones that cobble together all the carded G.I. Joe action figures from 1982-1989.  I have both of these and they are hanging proudly in Branded in the 80s HQ!

If you enjoyed this breakdown, here are a bunch of other Awesome 80s Bedrooms I’ve deconstructed…

Sean’s Room and The Monster Squad Clubhouse!

Sara’s Room from Adventures in Babysitting

Eugene’s Room from The Monster Squad

Mikey’s room from the Goonies

David’s room from Flight of the Navigator

Robbie’s room from Poltergeist

Ben’s room from The Explorers

Pee Wee’s room from Pee Wee’s Big Adventure

Elliott’s room from E.T. Part 1 Elliott’s room Part 2

Fred Savage’s room from The Princess Bride

Josh’s room from Big

Sarah’s room from Labyrinth