Tag Archives: 1980s

Octopus, or how the film Popeye taught me to fear and hate unconditionally…

For this Overdue Books column I wanted to try something a little different.  Instead of reaching over to a bookshelf full of overlooked 80s paperback treasures and modern nostalgia-driven coffee table books, I decided to delve a little deeper.  Today I’m going to take a look at one of my own works, one of my first penned at the age of six, my 1983 magnum opus, Octopus

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This is largely a work of non-fiction, a scant few pages containing my astute observations concentrating mainly on the physiology and to an extent the psyche of the octopus.  My memory is cloudy concerning the exact circumstances in which this hand-bound book was conceived and written, but if I had to hazard a guess I’d say that the following was my response to having watched the final waterlogged set piece in the seminal 1980 Robert Altman film, Popeye.

If you’ll recall, Robin Williams and crew engage in a harrowing battle with a psychotic cephalopod, and the ferocity of the choreography mixed with the stellar special effects work must have had a profound affect on my impressionable mind.  I’m positive that this pushed me to put pencil to paper, feverishly interpreting the sights and sounds mixed with my fears, to produce the final work you see before you.  I’m also pretty sure my mother was steadfast in her ability to take dictation as she aptly hand-wrote the narrative of the story you are about to read.

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(Me pictured above, working hard at my craft.)

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I’ll forgive my mother for describing the sea creature in the singular as I’m sure the tone of that day was one of strenuous creativity that left little room for proper grammer.  None the less, the ideas presented are clear and precise; cutting even.  Octopuses, proportionately speaking, do have much longer appendages than most sea dwellers, if not in all of the animal kingdom.  They are indeed identified as “tentacles”, and particularly if you are a crab, a polychaete worm, a whelk, a clam, or Popeye, they will be used to do harm.  I’m not sure exactly why I chose to dedicate the majority of the text to the tentacles, 60% in fact, but I’m sure a lifelong aversion to arachnids predisposed me to a certain fascination, dwelling on them unduly…

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As we can see on page two, I already had a stern grasp on math, though luckily my muse did not push my knowledge into the double digits.  Nevertheless, and again, drawing off of the frenetic experiences I witnessed in that Altman classic, I felt it important to reaffirm the dangers of sparing with these formidable mollusks.  I don’t want to overlook the disproportionate joke Mother Nature played on the creature though as I weighed the differences between their ocular diameter and the gargantuan nature of their apparent cranium, but I was too young to realize that the bulk of this trunk is more likely considered a soft pouch containing their stomach and organs.  Ah the folly of youth.

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Though in the middle of this tome I took a detour for the descriptive, we certainly hit the climax of the narrative by page four with a re-reassertion of the inherent danger associated with mingling with this species.  Though it’s very obviously my bias based on limited experience with the creatures, I can’t help but appreciate the passion with which I sought to warn the reader of the potential for danger.  The sea is vast and largely unknown, and back in 1983 there was still the potential for running across a variation of the species that had, shall we say, a questionable moral turpitude.  I also think it’s fascinating that only three short years past a decade filled with stories that ended with an ambiguous and/or depressing conclusion, I was already taken in by the “yes we can”, conqueror attitude of the 80s, ending on a note of not ennui, but a masterful control over my fear of the species.  Not only did I best my perceived opponent, but I ingested it, taking it into my own being and drawing strength and sustenance from it.  In the immortal words of Weird Al Yankovic, I did in fact “Eat It”.  To this day, I still do.  I still do.

As a postscript to this deconstruction, I wanted to note that my mother also hand-bound the book in the finest contact paper we had on hand.  Also, I totally considered releasing this as a kindle or iPad ready ebook, but felt that, that would be incongruous with my strategy for sharing my memories on this site.  Instead, it’s free for all to read.  Also, on a final note, it was exhausting using this tone in writing the column, and please bear with me as I remove my tongue which was planted firmly in my left cheek.

Wax Paper Pop Art #34, A Very Special Episode in which Klinger Doesn’t Cross-dress…

I had a fun conversation with a fellow on twitter this week about the line of M*A*S*H action figures that was released back I the early 80s.  I find it fascinating that series like M*A*S*H and Dallas were merchandised as much as they were considering they’re more or less aimed at an adult audience.  In particular, the idea of dedicating a line of trading cards to a dramedy like M*A*S*H just seems insane.  “Got it, got it, got it, ooohh, a Hot Lips Houlihan!  I’ll trade you two Klinger’s for your Father Francis…”

1982 Donruss M*A*S*H trading cards

I guess when Doc and Lifeline weren’t enough medics to collectively care for your battle-damaged G.I. Joes, you could always call in the M*A*S*H unit.  And it lightens my heart to know that kids had a Father Francis figure to see those poor souls, the ones with the broken O-rings, got the last rites they deserved…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The most powerful cake pans in the universe!

While cleaning up and organizing Branded HQ I found a handful of loose catalog pages that my good buddy HooveR sent me awhile back.  They were from the 1987 Wilton Yearbook of Cake Decorating, and featured their line of pop culture cartoon figural cake pans.  Since I’ve sort of been on a food-centric nostalgic kick of late I thought this would be the perfect thing to share.

Though I have plenty of memories seeing this style of cake pans in grocery stores back in the day, I was never treated to a cake baked in one during my childhood.  It’s not for lack of asking mind you, just that my mom wasn’t keen on that level of preparation and patience when it came to birthday cakes.  She always bought something at the store and put some special candles or action figures on my cakes.  There’s still a part of me that kind of wants to track one of these down and do it myself one of these days…

I’m not sure if it’s the date when the catalog was printed, or if Wilton didn’t have a huge licensing department, but I was kind of sad not to see any Transformers or Star Wars cake pans in the pages.  That being said, there are still some pretty cool franchises represented in sugar and flour, not the least of which are He-Man, General Hawk from G.I. Joe, Superman and Batman.  I love how these came with plastic faceplates so that some sort of recognizable figure would emerge from even the sloppiest cake decorator’s piping tip.  I also love that apparently Superman and Batman were more or less interchangeable when it comes to their cake-y bodies…

  

By far, the majority of the pans in this catalog were geared towards girls with Rainbow Brite, The Poppels, Cabbage Patch Kids, Care Bears, Barbie, and the Wuzzles represented.  Makes me feel like there should at least be a Thundercats cake pan in the mix, but again I’m not sure if it was licensing or when this was released.  Can you imagine the fun that would come from piping out Lion-O’s red frosting hair!

   

For all those curious about getting some pointers on just how to go about frosting one of these beauties, here’s a spotlight on the Snoopy and He-Man cakes…

The weirdest thing about these cakes for me is the extremely sharp and spiky nature inherent in this style of frosting a cake.  Granted, it makes it much easier to keep the colors from mixing, but it always seemed weirdly antagonistic to me.  Is it just me?

Wax Paper Pop Art #33, The Arcade and Video Game edition…

It’s been a long time since I was super excited to catch an upcoming Disney animated film that wasn’t a Pixar creation.  That’s why I was so happy after catching the Wreck-It Ralph trailer that was released this week.  Though I’m not usually all that happy with non-voice actor casting, John C. Riley sounds great as the titular character, and the film has the potential to do for video game characters what Roger Rabbit and Toy Story did for cartoons and toys respectively.  In honor of the trailer, here’s my collection of arcade-centric Wax Wrappers from the 80s…

1st up is the 1980 Fleer Pac-Man wrapper…

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Next, from1982, the Topps Donkey Kong stickers

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Moving right along, we find ourselves in 1983 with the Topps Video City set

Finally, here are four wrappers from the 1989 Topps Nintendo Game Packs featuring Mario, Link, The Princess, and the spin-off set of Temporary Tattoos released later that year.  By the by, I talked about these Nintendo stickers in the Peel Here column before

 

 

Is that Kraft Mac and Cheese under that pepperoni, or do you just want to die for dinner?

It’s been awhile since I dipped into my collection of old advertisements I clipped from my collection of 80s era Woman’s Day magazines, so I thought it would be fun to take a look at one of the crazier ads from 1983.  Alright, raise your hand if you’ve been to a Ci-Ci’s or Stevie-B’s pizza buffet.  C’mon, I know we’ve all tried it at least once, I mean quality aside, it’s the best damn pizza value in town.  Seriously though, for anyone who has eaten at one of these pizza buffets in the last 20 years you’ve probably noticed that they have all sorts of weird pizzas to please kids and parents alike.  Whether it’s the taco pizza (replacing the sauce with salsa and adding lettuce and sour cream as toppings) or the baked potato (sour cream sauce, topped with cheddar cheese and slices of baked potato), there’s usually some funky stuff to keep it interesting and as unhealthy as possible.  The craziest buffet pizza in my opinion is the Mac ‘n Cheese pizza which has a cheese-based sauce, pasta, and loads of extra cheese to boot.  Not only is it a little slice of heart-attack, but there’s enough carbohydrates in one slice to make the pickiest vegan into a diabetic.

Well, while flipping through a 1983 issue of Woman’s Day I found an ad that puts the Stevie-B’s pasta pizza to shame. How about a pizza where the crust is entirely made out of Kraft Macaroni & Cheese!?!

That’s right, who needs working arteries when you can taste the awe-inspiring scrumptiousness that must be a slice of pizza made entirely out of Mac ‘n Cheese!  I’m so tempted to make this monstrosity, but I’m not sure my mouth can withstand the insanity.  What were the ad reps at Kraft thinking when they came up with this idea?  I can only assume these are the same geniuses that convinced KFC that fried chicken would made an awesome substitute for bread in a sandwich.

So has anyone out there ever experienced this gastronomical indulgence?

Wax Paper Pop Art #32, Drawn to women who are drawn bad…

It seems odd that in just over six years of running Branded in the 80s I haven’t really talked about a film like Roger Rabbit.  Hmm, I’ll have to remedy that in the future.  In the meantime, here’s the wax wrapper for the 1987 Topps card and sticker set…

Don’t Talk to Strangers, said the toughest man in the world…

So I’m a little late to the 60th birthday celebration of Mr. T, but I want to rectify that today by sharing this trade advertisement for the Mr. T’s Commandments EP record that was released back in 1984…

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I came across this while flipping through back issues of Billboard and was immediately struck by the Godzilla-sized version of Mr. T standing head and shoulders above the building-tops of what I’m assuming is the south side of Chicago (I’m not great with skylines, but that’s what’s referenced in track 3, The Toughest Man in the World.)  I love flipping through these old magazine back issues because it gives me a chance to find stuff I never knew existed, like this EP, and then I get a chance to seek this stuff out and experience it with a fresh perspective (like finding the movie The Quest.)  I was able to track down a copy of the album, a collection of pseudo-rap/r&b aimed at kids and containing 7 tracks of inspirational and educational warnings and thoughts, and give it a listen.  Man, I’m pretty sure at the age of 7, the gruffness in Mr. T’s voice would have easily deterred me from thinking twice about back-talking to my parents or mainlining heroin…

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The whole dichotomy between Mr. T’s brutish image and his gospel of walking the straight and narrow is interesting.  I know all the positive vibes are genuine, but the whole massive amount of bling deal and his roles as Clubber Lang and B.A. on the A-Team have always seemed a bit in opposition to his message.  It doesn’t help when he’s belting out lyrics like, “It’s a dog eat dog world, and you have to play the game…”, especially when they’re balanced by “…the toughest man in the world is the one that knows the right way to go…he’s the strongest guy, he don’t never hide…”  I’m not bashing on the T though, trust me I like my teeth just right where they are, in my head and not in a puddle of blood at my feet.  Anyway, adding to the novelty of this record is the rap-direction by the one and only Ice-T.  I have to assume that was a weird combo in the production booth…

On a personal level, I feel a rather weirdly deep connection to this album because even though I don’t remember ever owning or listening to it when I was a kid I did record myself singing a who slew of songs that are almost identical.  I guess it’s probably just a phase that some 80s kids went through.  I mean we had these sort of slogan based anti-everything-bad campaigns hammered into our heads from every direction.  I guess it’s pretty natural to make up songs about not taking drugs or talking to strangers.  Now I wish I still had the audio tapes from when I was a kid to compare them to this album, maybe I did have it and I’ve blocked it out…

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There is some pretty fun backing music/beats on the album.  Hints of Parliament, though subtle, and an overall old school hip hop feel.  If you’re interested in hearing this lost gem, head on over to the Lost Turntable and give it a listen.

Filed under obscure comic book adaptations…

I’ve recently rekindled my passion for finding and reading 80s era movie tie-in novelizations, and in restarting the hunt for books there were a few candidates that jumped up to the top of my list.  One in particular has proven super difficult to track down, the novelization of the Tom Hanks/Penny Marshall movie Big.  I can’t confirm that a novelization actually exists as I’ve never seen it, and finding evidence on the internet is proving to be way more difficult than I could ever have imagined.  First off, there aren’t that many folks talking about novelizations as it is, but this is drastically compounded by the fact that using “Big” as a search term is about as useful as searching for a determiner like the world “the”.  Adding insult to injury is combining it with “Tom Hanks”, “Movie”, “Tie-in”, “Novelization”, or “Book”.  Try looking up “Big” in fiction and literature on Amazon, and then decide whether it’s worth the 16 hours it would take to flip through the six billion books the database brings up.  Long story short, I can’t confirm this novelization exists outside of a few forum posts, and none of these ever list anything remotely useful, like say the name of the author.  The search wasn’t completely fruitless though, as it did turn up one piece of obscure Big merchandise that I had been totally unaware of, a 1988 comic book adaptation!

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I know, “What the what?!?” indeed.  It’s not that comic book adaptations of flicks are all that rare, it’s just weird to find one that wasn’t action, horror, or science fiction-oriented.  You don’t tend to see dramas or comedies adapted because the target audience, especially in the 80s was almost always 12 year-old boys, and by and large most comics aimed at this audience are almost always super hero-related, with the stray Archie and cartoon adaptation thrown in for good measure.  What makes this even weirder, at least for me, is that this single issue was published by Hit Comics, which was a division of Dark Horse, the company at the time that was responsible for bringing us a line of very adult and graphic movie tie-ins including Terminator, Aliens, Predator, and RobocopBig just doesn’t seem like a likely candidate to fit in with this line’s tone or audience appeal.  Regardless it exists, and when I first found out about it I really hard my hopes up that it was going to be amazing considering it was largely advertised as featuring the artwork of Paul Chadwick, the man behind Dark Horse’s Concrete

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Before I get into the actual comic though, I wanted to take a look at the single most important reason this comic book exists, which is the back cover (featured above.)  A full page advertisement for Big coming to store on VHS seems a little redundant, but then again it explains the entire endeavor.  I know this is obvious, but this comic is just one giant advertisement for the home video release, but considering it was released via Dark Horse is where it gets a little weird in my eyes.  See, back in ’88 DH didn’t have the market presence of some of their rivals like Marvel and DC.  To be honest, I don’t remember seeing any DH titles in grocery or convenience stores, only in the specialty comic stores.  So it’s weird that an obvious 32 page advertisement would be produced, with writers, pencilers, inkers, and colorists brought on board just to have it sit on a rack in a comic store being largely overshadowed by a plethora of more popular titles.  If I had to take a guess, I’d say that this was comic ended up as a marketing blunder and an eventual lesson learned by both DH and 20th Century Fox, that in the future the future it might be a better idea to try something else (like Dark Horse partnering with New Line to reverse the process and bring their comics properties to the screen, ala The Mask.)

Anyway, this obscure gem exists, and I thought I’d take a few moments to take a look at what it is we did get.  So, as I was saying earlier, I was pretty excited by the idea of Paul Chadwick handing the illustrative duties on the book, but then was sorely disappointed when I had the comic in hand and realized he only worked on the cover.  The actual comic was penciled by Jack Pollock, inked by John Nyberg, and adapted by Mark Verheiden.  Pollock worked in the production department at DH and brought a very Mad Magazine-esqe cartoony-ness to the project.  It’s not that this is awful, but it wasn’t the wistful tone that I was expecting from Chadwick’s brush.  As far as the adaptation of the film goes, well, it’s all basically there, though extremely abbreviated considering the actual comic only runs 28 pages.  Most scenes only get a panel or two, and a majority of the dialogue is reserved for the key quotes from the flick.  I was actually surprised that they really managed to fit it all in considering…

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Back to the artwork, again, it’s not awful, though it is pretty loose and a lot of the caricatures and exaggeration tend to go way too far.  There are a bunch of places in the book where Pollock tries to ramp up the intensity of a scene, or to capture the action of the film and he just ends up going way too far off the grid.  Take this segment where Josh Baskin wakes up as a fully grown man…

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Egads, no one ever needed to see that particular angle of comic book Tom Hank’s underwear-covered taint.  The effect this has on the tone of the overall book can be quite drastic at time.  Consider this next scene when Josh first confronts his mother…

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Wow, vicious and kind of scary.  This cartoon-y approach does make for some weirdly fun interpretations though.  My favorite by far is Pollock’s take on the segment where Josh and Billy decide to check into the Saint James hotel in the city.  Pollock’s version of a run-down New York is pretty bonkers, and evokes something you’d be more likely to see in a Troma or John Waters film.  Speaking of John Waters, I think the caricature on the far left was an homage to the pencil-thin mustachioed king of sleazy cinema…

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Of all the scenes to leave in or cut, I was actually surprised that the touching love scene between Josh and Susan was one of the ones that made the cut.  Granted, we’re luckily spared of seeing the comic version of Hanks getting to second base.  But the scene is alluded to and we do get the “lights on” quote/gag…

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All in all I thought this was a thoroughly weird piece of obscure 80s merchandising, and quite possibly the only for the film Big (unless I eventually track down an actual novelization.)  It certainly makes me wonder if there are comic adaptations of The Money Pit or the Man with One Red Shoe floating around out there.  Better yet, I could actually see Dark Horse having done The ‘Burbs.  As it stands, I guess I’ll just have to console myself with this parody of Splash in the meantime…

Wax Paper Pop Art #31:Duh Da Duh Duuunnnn, Dun Dun Dun!

Since I’ve been starring at my tiny Hot Wheels A-Team van all week, and since I have a contest going where you can win one of these toys, I decided that this would be a good time to share my 1983 Topps A-Team wax wrappers…

I talked about the stickers from this card set a while back too.