Tag Archives: 80s Books

The Explorers, Expanded…

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In the pantheon of of 80s era kid adventure films, there are a few that really struggle to keep up with some of the most popular flicks.  Whereas the Goonies, E.T., Gremlins and Stand By Me are considered the gold standard of the genre, I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for the flicks that just don’t have the same huge fan-bases.  Movies like the Manhattan Project, the Monster Squad SpaceCamp and Cloak and Dagger are prime examples; they certainly have their fans, some more rabid than others, but they tend to get overlooked and I’ve always felt like they deserved more respect.  Another film that would fall into this category but is a very difficult film to defend is The Explorers.  Directed by Joe Dante and released in 1985 this sci-fi kids adventure flick is kind of a brilliant disaster.  There are a lot of great ideas, some great young actors, and some really fun special effects, but none of that can really save from the flick from an awkward second half, a rushed production and a script that was probably a couple drafts away from being a much more solid story.

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The Explorers is one of those movies that I managed to completely miss out on during my younger years in the 80s, but I eventually connected with in in the late 90s on a fox affiliate Saturday afternoon TV screening.  At the time it felt like a missing puzzle piece to my childhood, another sci-fi component that complimented both E.T. and the other kid adventure flicks I loved as a kid (Monster Squad and the Gate for horror, Goonies and Stand By Me for grand adventure, Cloak and Dagger and the Manhattan Project for spy thrillers.)  But it always felt off, even from the first viewing.  There was something about the super-cartoon-y aliens at the end of the flick that just really ruin the movie for me.  I know that Joe Dante is a huge fan of Chuck Jones and the Looney Tunes in general, but he does a much better job of working that style of wacky cartoon influence into his other films (Gremlins and his segment of Twilight Zone: The Movie.)

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So when I started collecting 80s era movie novelizations, one of the books that was at the top of my list to find was the adaptation of The Explorers

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My good friend and Cult Film Club co-host Paxton Holley recently guested on the Atomic Geeks podcast where he re-envisioned the Thunder Road spaceship from the Explorers into an evil,Christine-like possessed vehicle, and the ensuing conversation really got me into the mood to revisit the film and finally dig into the novelization.  It’s been over a decade since I watched the film all the way through (though I did skip through it recently in order to break down Ben’s room for my Awesome 80s Bedrooms series.)  So I did my best to go into the story with fresh eyes this time.  I decided to read the book first and then compare and contrast with the film.  I was pretty surprised by what I found.  The novel was written by George Gipe, sort of a notorious figure in the movie novelization circle for his weird take on the first Back to the Future and Gremlins adaptations.  So I was hoping for some batshit crazy additions to the story.  What I ended up finding is that Gipe’s take on the story is probably the best interpretation of The Explorers.

First and foremost, I think most fans of the movie would probably agree that the best part of the film (and story in general) is the opening 50 minutes that deals with the three main heroes Ben, Wolfgang, and Darren discovering, building, and testing their force field technology.  Though it has its head in the clouds, this part of the story is firmly grounded for the most part and has a lot of fun interactions between the characters and alludes to deeper aspects of the childhood experience.  It’s no Stand By Me, but there are some great bits that could stand toe to toe with any of the other, higher profile kid’s flicks of the time.  Well, the book takes this to heart and then some.  In fact, this portion of the story is the main focus of the book taking up easily the first 4/5ths of the page count.  Every scene from the movie is present, though highly expanded upon.  The story starts with Ben (Ethan Hawke in the movie) having a very vivid dream about an out of body experience flying over a landscape that looks like a circuit board.  This is the discovery that leads to him and Wolfgang (River Phoenix) designing an attachment to a computer terminal that creates a programmable force field bubble.  In the book, this segment of the story is fleshed out much more and we really get into the head of Wolfgang and Ben during this process.  We also get a lot more backstory on the dynamics between the kids, not only between Ben, Wolfgang, and Darren, but also between Ben and Lori (his school crush) and all three and the dreaded Steve Jackson, the school bully.

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While reading these first two hundred or so pages of the book I actually felt that it was keeping pace with the movie pretty well as I remembered it.  But when I popped in the movie in after finishing the book I was astounded at how fast the movie moved, glossing over so much of the story.  There are so many sequences that are covered in multiple pages in the book that fly by with a single line of dialogue or even just a look from one of the actors.  For instance, there’s a sequence in the story where Ben follows Darren home after Darren saves him from getting a serious beat down from the bully Steve.  When the two approach Darren’s house he explains to Ben about his home situation, how his father has been out of work for awhile, how his dad’s girlfriend is living with them and mostly alright but that his dad and her can really get into some crazy fights.  In the actual film though, this is truncated to practically nothing, all nuance stripped, and all that’s left is a couple leading lines of dialogue that suggest what’s actually in the book.  Similarly, there’s a whole bit where Darren is running away from Jackson and his cronies where you learn that his father taught him how to handle himself in a fight, and to know when it’s time to run.  All of that is pretty much missing from the film, though I know from reading interviews with Dante that the footage was shot, it’s just that it had to be cut to make the film ‘work’.

What’s weird, is that I could have sworn it was all in there when I watched this as a teen.  Again, I have memories of watching Explorers in the 90s and feeling that the first half was pretty darn close to the vibe of Stand By Me, but now that I’m revisiting it, it’s really pretty hollow.  Only after reading the book have I gotten the feeling that the story was elevated up a bit, fleshed out more to how I remembered it.  Another place where the two really differ is in the relationships between the three kids.  In the book, even though Ben and Wolfgang are best friends, they really don’t get along all that well.  Ben constantly has his head in the clouds either thinking about finding a way to escape the planet and go into deep space or trying to figure out a way that he can peep into Lori’s room so that he can get a better idea of what she’s like.  Because of this they really end up butting heads during the development of the force field bubble.  Whereas Wolfgang wants to spend years testing it appropriately, Ben keeps rushing it, and puts them in awkward spots where they could be killed.  In the book Gipe makes pains to underline just how dangerous the force field can be, whether it’s how easily it can shoot through solid concrete with ease or that there is only a finite amount of air trapped inside and anything living will suffocate if they don’t have a steady supply of oxygen.  I know this all makes it into the film in one way or another, but it’s much clearer in the book.  There’s a segment in the adaptation where the boys are taking the craft up into the atmosphere on their first test run and they end up running out of oxygen.  Again, this is also in the film, but in the book this sequence plays out like a scene from Apollo 18.  The boys are practically on the brink of suffocation before they figure out how to fix the problem whereas in the film it’s pretty much glossed over.  This part was really integral in the book too because it really sets the boys at odds in how to proceed, but in the movie it’s just treated as a hiccup that is not a very big deal.

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Then there’s Darren, who really wants nothing to do with either Ben or Wolfgang in the book.  Though he does get pulled back into the fold as the story goes on, there are multiple places in the story where he basically tells the guys to take a hike.  It’s not until he’s pulled into a group dream halfway through the story where he really comes back into the group as he can’t deny the extra terrestrial events.  In fact a lot of the characters are shortchanged in the movie including Charlie Drake. a police helicopter pilot who ends up chasing down the boys in a few sequences.  In the movie his character is given a bit of screen time, every second of which is lovingly portrayed by Dante mainstay Dick Miller.  What we get on screen is great, but there is a lot more to the character that we get in the book.

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Though there aren’t a lot of ‘deleted scenes’ in the book, there are a couple.  The main one centers on a birthday party that Lori invites Ben and the other to.  The sequence is kind of weird as it mainly deals with how Wolfgang considers himself asexual and thus he spends time screwing with both Darren and Ben as they try and pursue the girls at the party.  Like a lot of 80s era novelizations there’s a weird addition of some pretty adult themes in the book.  With Ben, Wolfgang tricks him into thinking that Lori likes Steve, which forces Ben to go and profess his love to Lori.  This ends in a segment where Ben gives Lori a ring made with a fake Mars rock and a super awkward kiss.  Then there’s Darren, who Wolfgang convinces that the reason he’s constantly striking out with girls is because he only approaches the virgins and that in order to land a date he needs to find a girl who has gone all the way.  There’s also a scene after Ben and the kids leave for their final trip when Ben’s mom finds a Playboy hidden in the papers on his desk.  It’s innocent enough on the face of it, but still a little jarring in the book.

All of this expanded material is interesting stuff from a character aspect, and it’s sort of frustrating knowing what is coming at the end of the book.  And I think this more or less sums up how George Gipe felt about the story in the writing process.  After reading the book and really enjoying the first chunk of the story before the kids really go deep into space, I get a feeling that Gipe didn’t want to write about any actual contact with aliens.  As I was reading through the book I was dreading that segment, knowing that it was going to be horribly cartoon-y and not in step with the rest of the story, and for a brief moment I thought Gipe might have had the balls to take it out completely.  In the movie the kids make contact about halfway in, sometime around the 55 minute mark.  In the book, it’s not until almost 210 pages into the 250 page book.  And when they do finally make contact, it goes by pretty quick after only 15 pages.  I honestly think Gipe knew that the better material was all of the stuff leading up to the aliens and it feels like he was doing his best to flesh out all of those scenes.  He seems to gloss over most of the actual alien stuff in the book, giving only vague descriptions of the beings and scuttling the kids away from them as soon as we learn that the aliens are actually kids.

In fact, the coda at the end of the book is longer than the time the kids spent on the alien craft, and looking back, I think it would be really easy to excise all of that from the story completely which would make the whole thing much more poignant.  I mean at the end of the day the story is really about the yearn to discover and the idea of going exploring, it’s not about getting to that destination.  Looking back, I have to wonder if the original drafts or pitches for the story didn’t involve aliens at all, but in the wake of E.T. the studio wanted to try and piggyback on that film’s success.  Speaking of the coda, man is it a huge downer.  Not only are our intrepid explorers really let down by the weird TV-quoting toddler aliens, but when they get back to Earth everything seems to fall apart.  The Thunder Road is destroyed in the landing, most of their keepsakes from the trip are also destroyed, and they all come to the realization that there is no one they can share these experiences with.  A very weird and down ending, but after the run-in with the goofy aliens, it’s oddly welcome.

Joe Dante is on record as being pretty disappointed with the film, both in the final cut and the film-making process which was majorly truncated and rife with problems.  He apparently filmed many of the scenes that are in the book, but had to cut them to make the story work when his release schedule was pushed up halfway through filming.  Because of his hasty editing, there are some things that were left in the film that actually have richer backstories.  In the sequence at the drive in, there is a teenage couple watching the film that are commenting on how fake it looks.  That boy is actually Ben’s older brother who is sort of a pain in Ben’s side in the book because he’s Mr. Perfect with great grades and college prospects.  There are also a number of references to Space Camp in the film with flyers and stickers on Ben’s desk, as well as the big NASA sticker on the inside of the Thunder Road.  These are all part of a sequence in the book where Ben begs his parents to be able to go, but it ended up on the cutting room floor when it came to the film.

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The last big difference I want to point to between the movie and the book is that there is the naming of the space vessel, the Thunder Road.  In both the book and the movie Darren comes up with the name, and in both he mentions that it’s from a Bruce Springsteen song.  But in the book there is a much more important reason it’s called the Thunder Road.  When the boys find the old, discarded tilt-a-whirl ride car, they have a hell of a time getting it out of the junkyard and to the creek bed where they work on it.  There’s a whole chapter where the boys are slowly rolling it through their neighborhood in the dead of night and it’s making a ton of noise as it rolls over the pavement.  This leads to a bit where they lose control of it and it rolls freely down a hill making a thundering racket and waking up all their neighbors.  Thus, Thunder Road.

All in all, I’m glad I finally dug into this book as it’s given me a much better appreciation for the film and story of the Explorers.  Normally I tend to focus on the differences between a book and movie when I read novelizations, but in this case, it was all about helping a struggling movie and story find the footing that it deserved.  If you’re a fan of the film I highly suggest picking up the book as it will only expand on your appreciation for this much maligned 80s flick…

Dead or Alive, You’re Reading with Me…

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After moving into my first house that I actually own, I’ve finally begun the long process of unpacking and organizing my large pile of junk…er….my collections.  Most of my stuff has been tucked away in boxes for the past three years and it’s been fun opening them all up and reminding myself just how much of a packrat I’ve become over the years.  Part of the unpacking process has been setting up a new home office where my fiancée and I have been pulling out all the stops in terms of making the space everything we’ve always wanted in a functional yet fun work area.  For me that means a place to display my modest collection of vintage toys, Monster Squad stuff and my collection of movie novelizations.  Since I co-host the Cult Film Club podcast with Paxton Holley and my fiancée Jaime, one of the things I love doing is tracking down novelizations for the flicks we cover so that I can dip into them for fun differences and details on our show.  So I wanted this collection of paperbacks prominent and handy for when we record, which we’ve been doing in the new office.  Well, I also happened to be chatting the other night with my bud Chris about novelizations and our collections.  I hadn’t set up the new bookshelf yet, but I couldn’t help myself and I went spelunking through the mountain of boxed up books in our spare room so that I could pull the collection back together.  We decided to share top seven novelizations on social media, and while piecing mine together I chose a book that I’d actually never read at that point, Ed Naha’s adaptation of Robocop.

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I debated about putting Robocop in the top seven for a second since I’d never cracked the cover on it, but in the end decided to include it because that novelization holds a special place in my heart.  On one hand it’s one of the books that proven to be the hardest to track down for my collection as I made a pact with myself along the way that I wouldn’t succumb to picking these up on eBay or Amazon if I could avoid it and instead do my best to find them out in the wild at Goodwills, used book stores or rummage sales.  To date I’ve only even seen one copies of Robocop on store shelves, and I bought it so fast it would have made your head spin.  On the other hand, as far as novelizations go, Robocop pretty much sums up why I love these adaptations on a purely conceptual level.  For me novelizations exist in a very odd realm in the world of literature.  They’re completely disposable, have a ridiculous origin in savvy marketing, and are an ironic representation of a thing that I cherish.  Love a movie?  Then buy the book.  The idea of revisiting a bombastic, heavily stylized, multimedia action extravaganza in novel form is so ludicrous that I truly adore it.

This is what was running through my mind when I chose it, but afterwards it got me insanely curious to see just how similar the book is to the film.  When it comes to novelizations, my favorites are always the books that feel a bit meatier when it comes to page count.  So many of the thinner books are strict adaptations of movie scripts with little to no new material.  In fact, they usually have less scenes than the actual film.  Robocop has always made me wonder because it clocks in at a very tight 189 pages.  But this past week, as I finally sequestered myself on breaks and lunches at work to tear through the book, there were quite a few surprises…

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First and foremost, even though it clearly states on the cover that Ed Naha adapted the novel from the Edward Neumeier & Michael Miner script, some of the text belies the fact that Naha must have seen a cut of the film based on descriptions of the characters that are dead-on for the actors that portrayed them.  Clarence Boddicker’s appearance matches Kurtwood Smith’s way too close, and I’ve even scanned through the Neumeier/Miner script which doesn’t describe the character as accurately.  Maybe casting had already begun and the assignment came with actor headshots.

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Playing devil’s advocate though, maybe this is just my brain filling in all the little details of the final film as I read.  This is one of the bits of strange phenomena I struggle with a bit while reading novelizations because the films are so ingrained in my mind that I see it playing out as I read.  This is why, when I’m taking notes I can’t help but refer to new material as “deleted scenes”.  Even though I have no actual memory of ever seeing these bit and pieces that were excised from the film, I can so vividly picture them in my head.  Speaking of which, there are a fair number of deleted scenes in this book (and in the script) that flesh out the characters and situations in the story a bit more.

First of all, the book opens on a quiet moment at home with Murphy and his family.  This is the morning/day before he starts his new shift in Old Detroit and it gets into a little bit more about his past and his family.  In the flick we only ever see Murphy’s wife (Jan) and son (Jimmy) in flashbacks or hallucinations, but in the book we get a couple of scenes with them before and after Murphy is murdered by the Boddicker gang.  In the early scene Murphy is thinking about his new assignment and it reminds him about the death of his father, how he was shot by a stray bullet while standing at the picture window of their home.  There’s not a lot to this short bit, but it underlines a tone in the film when it comes to death and violence.  As his father is dying Alex notes that he seems almost amused, and just manages to say “Sumabitch…” before dying.  This is echoed in the sequence where Murphy is slaughtered by the gang later on, where he finally seems to understand what his dad’s final thoughts were probably like.

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In the second deleted sequence with Murphy’s family we visit Jan & Jimmy as they’re packing up the house in preparation for leaving on a shuttle to a colony on the moon.  There’s just a beat here of somber emotion that is great for filling in the gaps with Alex’s family life, but would have totally thrown off the wacky ultra crazed tone of the film for sure.  In both of these sequences you also get a metric ton more references to the story within a story character of TJ Lazer.  Lazer makes it into the film in a couple bits where Murphy practices twirling his gun before he holsters it so that his kid will think he’s cool just like TJ Lazer.  Well, the book mentions TJL about fifteen additional times going so far as to describe the show so that it sounds like a futuristic version of T.J. Hooker, complete with an overweight, past his prime actor like William Shatner.  When Murphy finally becomes Robocop, we get a short scene with his son Jimmy watching him on TV and then falling in love with him as his new hero (replacing good ‘ol TJ Lazer.)

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There’s also a new sequence early on in the book involving a handful of Old Detroit cops on a night when everything goes wrong.  Two patrol cars are lured into an empty parking lot and then ambushed by Boddicker’s gang.  The book gets pretty descriptive with the murders which are more over the top than Murphy’s murder in the film if you can believe it. This sequences plays to a subplot in the film that I think gets kind of lost in the shuffle.  The whole idea that Old Detroit is as rough and violent as it is, is not just because of the dystopian future, it was made that way by Dick Jones.  Jones, who needs his ED 209 project to have legs enough (pun intended) to go to full production so that they can land some seriously lucrative military contacts, basically calls an open season on Old Detroit and hires Boddicker and his gang to make the place a war zone.  In the film this sub plot is there for sure, but because of the amped up, uber-violent, uber-sarcastic tone to the flick it tends to get lost in my opinion.  This opening scene of the police massacre plays to this subplot though.  Boddicker’s men are sending a message, so much so that they literally paint the deathcount of each murdered cop on the body in spray paint.

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The book further underlines this later during the chase sequence where Murphy and Lewis pursue Boddicker’s gang to their hideout.  During the gunfight in the van Boddicker has some moments where he’s thinking about how much he hates situations like this where he has to kill because he wasn’t specifically paid to do it.  Again, it gets to this idea that every evil event that Boddicker and company perpetrate on Old Detroit is specifically ordered by Dick Jones.  Again, it’s not that this doesn’t make it into the film, it’s just way clearer when you read the story as opposed to experience the stylized version in the film.

There are also a lot of interesting small differences between the book and the film, a lot of which revolve around Murphy after he’s murdered and reconstructed into Robocop.  Most of these are welcome peeks into Murphy/Robocop’s inner monologue, stuff that’s hard to do on film without clunky voiceover.  For instance, there’s a who section where we witness Murphy’s slaughter by the Boddicker gang from his perspective which is vastly different than how we experience it in the film.  In the movie we’re forced to act as a bystander/witness that has to watch the brutality from the point of view of the killers mostly.  In the book, we’re inside Murphy’s head as he slips past shock and unbearable pain into a more detached, transcendental state of consciousness.  The reader is almost treated as if we’re his essence starting an out of body experience as he finds the whole situation almost comical.  It’s during these moments, and in the time when he’s lying waiting for the medical evacuation team when Naha uses a framing device to showcase Murphy’s consciousness flickering in and out.  Murphy checks himself on things, like his ability to remember what a helicopter is as it touches down near his body, or what it feels like to be strapped down to a gurney.  These checks are revisited after he wakes as Robocop, but as the machine he explains his observations with a self awareness that he has been programmed to know these things.  Slowly, as Murphy’s soul and brain overtake the machine these metal checks revert back to how he felt as he was dying.  I’m probably not explaining this as well as it comes across while reading the novelization.

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Some of the other little touches that I really loved include the fact that Robocop has the ability to test a person’s blood alcohol level just by his proximity to their breathing.  So during the new year’s eve party when he is about to be introduced to the police force and the one drunk female scientist comes over to Murphy and kisses his visor he’s able to make a notation about just how inebriated she is based on her breath!

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I also thought it was cool that in the book Robocop isn’t as immune to damage as he appears to be in the film.  Though it’s cool to see Murphy kicking ass and walking through hails of bullets and fire, it was always a little weird to me that he seemed nigh invulnerable up until he tried to arrest Dick Jones, thus initiating directive 4 in his programming.  I never really understood what exactly it was about directive 4 that basically revokes Robocop’s ability to deflect bullets.  He’s shot up a bunch of times early in the film only to have all the bullets bounce off, but after attempting to arrest Jones all bullets seem to penetrate his armor.  In the book this is different.  For one, he’s only really bulletproof to small arms fire, so later when the police are brought in to take him down they’re using armor piercing rounds.  But Robocop’s vulnerability is also addressed in the gas station scene where he’s apprehending Emil.  When the gas station explodes it ends up charring Robocop’s armor, so much so that it remains this way throughout the rest of the book.  In fact, the in sequence right after that incident, when Murphy/Robocop storms into the police records archive he’s still smoldering in that room.

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Naha also has some fun with the product placement in the gas station scene.  He mentions that during the explosion the “S” in the Shell station sign goes flying off the building leaving only a flashing neon “HELL” over the situation.

Robocop is also a lot more expressive in the book than in the film.  He has a more developed sense of humor, makes jokes at times, and has very human mannerisms like shrugging his shoulders at criminals that don’t comply or giving a two finger salute to bystanders after he’s arrested someone.  Though it’s fun to imagine a lighter-hearted Robocop, and I totally understand why Naha inserted this sort of humanizing body language in the book, it feels very out of place with the character and dulls the switch-over from OCP products back to a sentient Murphy.  For all the work he put into the inner awareness framing device, it’s sort of undermined by a more human Robocop.  Similarly, in this vein, Naha also has Robocop make some weird observations as he’s accessing situations.  In the scene where he goes into City Hall to rescue the Mayor from the deranged city councilman, there’s a bit where he’s analyzing the walls of the rooms to try and find a way into the situation without using his gun.  While scanning the wall of the room where the hostages are he notates that the structure was rebuilt in the 80s using subpar building materials that were way overpriced.  This gave me a bit of a pause, because how would Robocop know that the materials were overpriced? Maybe he has access to all of the city’s records up to and including invoices for contract construction work done over the past century?

One of the last bit of differences I want to bring up is the sequence where Boddicker is sent in to kill Morton by Dick Jones.  First off, Naha changes one of the most classic Boddicker lines in the film.  In the film and in the script when he first comes into Morton’s condo he utters the two words that set the tone for this scene, “Bitches Leave.”

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In the book, when Boddicker comes in Naha has him say, “Okay sluts. Take a hike.”  Not nearly as efficiently evil, and no where near as iconic.  I’m not sure why he decided to change this either because it’s plain as day in the script snippet above.  Not only does he change this, but Naha also weirdly adds a softer side to Clarence in this scene with the addition of Morton’s cat.  The cat comes walking into the room while Morton is begging for his life and Boddicker reaches down and pets it.  This pisses off Morton who considers the cat a traitor, and then as Boddicker is leaving, while Morton is fumbling for the grenade, Clarence picks up the cat and takes it with him.  On the one hand, this is kind of weirdly cold to have a killer acting nice to an animal in the middle of murdering someone, but it’s also conflicting a bit with his character that typically comes off as if he has no compassion what so ever.  A sense of humor, yes, but compassion, no.

Lastly, Naha adds some fun little pop culture references in the book that I wanted to point out.  Early on he has Murphy quote from the 1941 Wolfman film with this foreboding line, “Even a man who is pure of heart and says his prayers by night…”.  It foreshadows Murphy’s transformation nicely.  Of course there’s also the William Shatner/T.J. Hooker bits I mentioned above, but there’s another actor reference that really got a chuckle out of me while reading.  After Robocop becomes a fugitive and Dick Jones is settling back into his warzone of an office he flips on the television to a news story about the death of Sylvester Stallone.  Stallone was having his brain transplanted into a clone body and died during the operation.

All in all, I’m glad that I finally sat down and read this novelization, and I can’t wait to dig into another.  But what do I read next?

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There’s only one thing to say about the Topps Mars Attacks Book: Ack Ack Ack!

As an avid collector of trading cards, specifically those non-sports pop culture sets released by Topps over the last 50 years, I have to say that there has never been a better time to be steeped in the hobby.  Between re-releases of classic cards and stickers (ala the Garbage Pail Kids and Wacky Packages flashbacks series) and new sets there is plenty of pieces of cardboard crack to procure and spend hours organizing, trading and starring at.  By far though, my favorite aspect to the card collecting hobby of late has been the team-up between Topps and the fine folks at Abrams books to bring the community a series of well-crafted and beautiful volumes archiving some of my favorite sticker and card sets.  I’ve mentioned my love for some of the previous books including the two Wacky Packages and first Garbage Pail Kids entries, and I was equally excited to finally receive my copy of the Topps Mars Attacks 50th Anniversary Collection

  

As with all the volumes in this series the book features a clever wax paper-inspired dust cover that recreates the appearance of the original pack of Mars Attack cards, a set of 4 never before printed trading cards, and large-scale images of all 55 original cards in the set.  But for the first time the folks who designed and compiled the content for this volume went the extra mile and included all 55 card-backs, as well as photos of rare test-run packaging, pre-production sketches, running commentary throughout the book, as well as images of some of the Mars Attacks spin-off card sets and paintings from the last 50 years.

The introduction (by Len Brown) is also much more in depth than the previous Abrams Topps books, not only summing up the events that led to the production of the set, but also featuring photos of previous/similar card sets and influences.  There’s also a touching afterward by Zina Saunders, artist and daughter of Mars Attacks main artist Norm Saunders.

 

All in all, this Mars Attacks book not only lives up to the previous Abrams/Topps volumes, but it also raises the bar in terms of how exhaustive these retrospectives can be, and hopefully sets the standard for any future entries into the series.  I’d love to see volumes tackling the Civil War, Ugly Stickers, Weird Wheels, Monster Valentines, and of course a continuation of both the Wacky Packages and Garbage Pail Kids sets.  There’s a ton of great material left in the Topps vaults that would make for some amazing books and could serve as love letters to such great artists as Wally Wood, Jack Davis, and B.K. Taylor…

You can get your own copy from Amazon right here!

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.

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…

Delving into Ghostbusters: The Expanded Supernatural Spectacular Universe…

I had such a fun time reading the long sought-after Goonies novelization recently that I decided to dip back into my collection to find another fun one to devour.  I wasn’t sure what to dip into next when I stumbled across a very reasonably priced copy of the Ghostbusters tie-in (reasonable being less than $10), so I decided that had to be the next on the reading pile.  As a quick side note, I really can’t believe how insane some of the secondary market prices are on a handful of these movie novelizations.  A nice copy of the American Ghostbusters (subtitled The Supernatural Spectacular) typically goes for around $30-$100, which is just loony toons.  A reader named Erin also recently pointed to the scarcity of the Labyrinth tie-in, and doing some research I found that it sells for between $50-$200?!?  WTF?  I understand that these can sometimes be a bit rarer than say your average Stephen King or Janet Evanovitch paperback, but those prices are downright crazy town.  Actually, I’m surprised that these two in particular haven’t been re-issued over the years due to the popularity of their respective franchises.  There’s some new-ish Labyrinth manga and a slew of special edition DVDs, why not a newer printing of the novelization?  I guess I feel lucky that I’ve managed to pick a bunch of these up here and there over the years for a buck or less, but there are still a few volumes that are just too rich for my blood (in particular the horror novelizations like Return of the Living Dead, Friday the 13th, and the Thing.)  Anyway, back to Ghostbusters

Ghostbusters Novelization

This paperback, which was printed in 1985 by TOR, was written by Richard Mueller and was adapted from and expanded on the screenplay by Aykroyd and Ramis.  The book is a little odd in that it’s not the first adaptation/novelization of Ghostbusters, that honor goes to Larry Miline who wrote a very faithful and dry translation of the script for Coronet, which was published in ’84 in the U.K.  That isn’t a slight against Miline, by the by, it just points to the fact that in the world of movie novelizations there are basically two philosophies, straight/faithful adaptation into prose or expansion.  Are either better or worse?  Well, I don’t think there’s a right and a wrong, just expectation and desire and what experience you want out of reading one of these.  I’m finding that I’m falling into the expansion camp.  I mean, the standard complaint one hears when watching a film that’s been adapted from a novel is that there was so much left out (whether it be plotlines or subtext.)  So when we reverse the polarity and adapt a movie to the novel format, it just stands to reason that there should be ample room to add a bit more story.  My wife, on the other hand, is four square against the idea of expanding the story and considers stray plotlines and subtext to be outside of “official” cannon.  Having grown up reading comics, I have to say that it’s a hard point to argue against.  But I’m also really fond of the Laser Disc/DVD/Blu-Ray format and all the wonderful bits and pieces it brings to the experience of watching films.  Deleted scenes, director and actor commentaries, and alternate casting snafus (like the original segments of Back to the Future shot with Eric Stoltz), all this stuff really goes a long way to enriching my love of these films.  Are deleted scenes canonical?  Who the hell knows.  All I know is that I love watching Michael Beihn and Bill Paxton set up the defensive robot machine guns in Aliens, or Troy picking on Mouth, Chunk, Data, and Mikey in the convenience store scene in Goonies.  Even though a lot of the stuff I’ve been finding in these novelizations is weird and at times swarthy (see my update on the Goonies novel review), I love that it exists.

So how does Ghostbusters: The Supernatural Spectacular fair in terms of expanded novelizations?  I’d have to say that so far it’s setting the gold standard for what a great expansion can be.  Whereas James Kahn took all sorts of weird twists and turns with the Goonies (both in the formatting, tone and added material), Mueller has done a pretty darn good job of keeping the added material and odd formatting in line with the experience of watching the film.  There are some included scenes that were either filmed and deleted (like a framing device for the film featuring two bums, Harlan Bojay and Leonard Cooms, that witness most of the story from afar), or some that I don’t think ever made it from script to production (like a sequence involving a newly wed couple encountering Slimer in their honeymoon sweet, prompting the hotel to contact the Ghostbusters.)  There’s also some space given to fleshing out the backgrounds of the majority of the main players; nothing too in-depth, but enough to flesh out the characters a bit more.  That’s not to say that there aren’t some weird aspects and wrong turns in the novel…

Some of the weirder aspects involve some odd point-of-view work in the text.  Though the book is largely written in 3rd person/omniscient, every so often Mueller dips into 1st person when he wants the characters to offer commentary.  It’s generally a weird shift in narration, but like I mentioned in the Goonies novelization, 1st person is a really tricky device to use when dealing with the transition of characters from film to page.  Dipping into the mind of a character that we’ve come to know and love though a film can be a very weird and disconcerting experience the writer goes “off script”.  For instance, everyone thinks about sex to one degree or another, but if I’m used to dealing with a character where this is never brought up, say the Librarian in the opening sequence of Ghostbusters, then when she starts “thinking” about how she feels guilty for seeking out all kinds of ancient kinky woodcuts featuring taboo sexual practices in the library’s non-public collection, well, I get pretty weirded out.  As far as I can tell, the librarian character in the script is slightly different; she’s written to be rotund and in her mid to late twenties, but for all intents and purposes the scene in the script is almost shot for shot what we’ve come to know and love in the final film.  Mueller, though, felt the need to paint her as a bit more sad and depraved, which for an incidental character is pretty weird.  This sort of thing pops up here and there in the novel, including in the scene where we’re first introduced to Dana as she gets out of a cab and goes into her building.  The narrative is fractured into a bunch of perspectives as a handful of people on the street take notice of her and give their two cents.  One of these includes an elderly man walking his dog who glances at her and thinks, “…how long (has) it been since it’s been long…”  I might be reading too much into the passage, but I’m pretty sure he’s referring to having a boner.  WTF?  On the other hand though, these dips into character’s minds can sometimes be fascinating, like the sequence when one of the terror dogs, Vince Clortho the keymaster, is hiding in Louis Tully’s spare bedroom during his client soiree.  Mueller actually dips into the terror dog’s mind to get his take on Louis.  Weird, but cool!

There’s another weird sequence that actually manages to answer a nagging question I’ve always had about the flick.  In the movie, during the big Ghostbusters success montage, there’s an odd dream sequence bit where Ray is being, um, “serviced” by a rather fetching ghost.  The bit that’s always bugged me is that Ray is wearing some sort of period military outfit in the scene with no explanation as to why.  I guess, since it’s framed as a dream (the screen has one of those flowing wavey filters as a transition into the scene) I always just assumed he was dreaming about being in the Civil War or something.  As it turns out, there’s an explanation for the military garb.

Ghostbusters Deleted Scene

In the book (as well as in the shooting script), there’s a sequence later in the film, right after Ray and Winston are driving through the city talking about the end of the world, when the two go to Fort Detmerring looking for a spook.  They split up and Ray stumbles upon a room that is a replica of a revolutionary war officer’s barracks.  He finds a uniform and puts it on, lays on a bed and promptly falls asleep.  When he wakes, the ghost they were looking for is about to go to town on his junk.  Apparently this sequence was largely cut, but I’m betting none of them wanted to ditch the blowjob joke, so they sandwiched it into the montage.  What’s even weirder is that this is actually the culmination of a plot thread in the book where Ray is both lonely and changing his feelings about catching the ghosts.  Since Peter is courting Dana and (in the book) Egon and Janine are becoming an item, Ray is looking to blow off some steam, and the experience with the ghost is just what he was looking for.  Also, there’s a bit with Ray thinking about how it might be wrong to catch these ghosts just to jail them in the containment unit, and when he awakes to his spectral date-night he wonders if maybe some ghosts are good.  Weird.

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As far as what’s new, there are a ton of little interesting tidbits like the fact that Janine designed the Ghostbusters logo (the iconic no-ghosts image), while Peter came up with the name.  In the Ghostbusters success montage (and yes, there is even a montage in the book) there are segments when the GB’s are contacted by Revell models, Marvel Comics and TSR about licensing deals (none of which came to pass in reality even though all of this merchandising did end up at other companies including a West End role playing game, an Ertl AMT model kit, and a NOW comics series.)  Ok, there was a UK Marvel comics, but not a domestic one.  Their phone is also different in the book, consisting of a real number, 1-212-NO-GHOST.  There’s also some neat details with Ecto-1 and their equipment that is different than in the movie.  Part of the rig on top of Ecto-1 is there to sense and destroy (with lasers) anything placed on the vehicle when it’s locked and left alone, like parking tickets.  Also, the proton packs produce a generator field when powered on that will affect people standing near by that don’t have their own pack on.  This field will make your hair follicles itch as well as heat up any metal on your person including the fillings in your mouth.  Another interesting tidbit is a slight difference in the containment unit.  In the book (and I believe in the script as well), there is a observatory window on the unit so that you can see the ghosts that are inside.  This comes up in a few scenes, most effectively when Ray ends up coming down at night to look inside, getting bummed by all the sad trapped ghosts that are just pacing around inside.

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I don’t want to spoil all the differences in the book for those that might want to read it, but I did want to point to the fact that Mueller did a really good job of fleshing out Peter, Ray, Egon, and Winston.  There are sequences that illustrate the friendship of Peter and Ray, including a scene where Ray takes Peter home with him for a family reunion only to have him run off with his sister and his brother’s rental car, effectively making Ray an outcast in his own family.  According to Mueller, Egon has a bit of a destructive thread in him starting back in childhood when he constructed homemade bombs that he used to detonate in deserted parking lots.  Egon is also painted as fairly asexual, much in the same way that Sheldon Cooper is portrayed on The Big Bang Theory, though he does end up hooking up with Janine by the end of the book.  My favorite bit of character background involves Peter’s family being part of a traveling carnival.  He grew up a carney, and extremely devoted to his family (both immediate and communal), and viewed all other outsiders as rubes, marks, or those to be avoided.  It illustrates why he has the extremely outsider and sarcastic streak in him…

All in all, this is the type of reading experience I’m loving with these movie novelizations, and I’m dreading the first book that reads chapter and verse straight from the finished film.  I think the next book I’m going to cover will be Gremlins, by George Gipe, as I’ve heard that there’s an expanded back-story involving the Mogwai as aliens.  Here’s to hoping it’s half as good as Mueller’s Ghostbusters.  Oh, and before I forget, here’s a link to where you can download PDF copies of either Larry Miline’s original novelization, or Mueller’s The Supernatural Spectacular.  I don’t condone piracy by nature, but this book tends to be so darned over priced on the secondary market that it might take awhile to luck into an affordable copy like I did…

There’s a little more adventure in the Goonies novelization…

I’ve talked before about my love of souvenir movie magazines and novelizations of 80s flicks because they were a great source of obscure information and deleted content from a lot of the films I grew up loving.  Back before DVD and the internet, which provides such easy access to deleted scenes or behind the scenes commentary and the like, it was really hard to track down more about movies like The Goonies, Karate Kid, or the first Batman flick.  So when you were the only one of your friends that happened to catch a screening Batman in the theater and you remembered a scene with a little homeless girl in a trash pile and no one believed you because that scene was edited out of the theatrical cut for the VHS release, well, you had your work cut out for you in proving it.

Over the last few years I’ve been picking up cheap copies of souvenir magazines and movie novelizations when I can find them.  Lately I’ve been lucky enough to stumble upon a bunch of these 80s novelizations and I thought it would be fun to pull one out of the pile from time to time to share what insights or differences these offer from the versions of the films that we know and love.  I had a lot of fun when I read the E.T. novelization by William Kotzwinkle, and I’m hoping more of these books were written with the same sort of changes in perspective that open me up to experiencing the flick with a fresh set of eyes.  Real quick, I’d like to point out that I’m going to concentrate on novelizations, books based on screenplays, and not movies that were adapted from existing novels.  For one it narrows the field a bit, and it pretty common for film adaptations to excise material from the original books because of time and pacing considerations.

This week I thought I’d take a look at one of the harder books to track down, the novelization of the Goonies by James Kahn (adapted from the Chris Columbus screenplay.)

I say it’s hard to track it down, but mainly I’m referring to copies of the book that were printed here in the US by Warner Bros.  The book was also printed in the U.K. by Coronet in 1985, and from what I can tell there is no real differences it the text except an odd Britishism here and there (I compared it to a snippet of the American edition available on Google Books), and some minor differences in the cover blurbs.  My UK edition simply states, “Take the Oath.  Join the Adventure.”, whereas the US edition is a lot more wordy.  Anyway, the UK edition is more or less readily available on ebay, and lately with the exchange rate equaling out it’s kind of a bargain.

Upon cracking the cover and diving into the book the first main difference that I noticed is that the book is presented in a slightly odd format.  The text is bookended by excerpts from local Astoria newspaper articles, first detailing the escape of Jake Fratelli, and later covering the “rescue” of the kids, the arrests and prosecution of the Fratelli gang, and some other interesting footnotes to the story I’ll get into in a minute.  The main reason for this is that for the bulk of the book Kahn chose to use Mikey as the narrator with a first person perspective.  If I had to guess I’d say that this was in an attempt to make the novel more approachable for kids, but it ends up making the whole thing very difficult to read.  First person is a tricky perspective, and when adapting an omniscient film experience it forces the narrative to constantly explain why the narrator knows about sequences that they didn’t take part in or know little about.  Thus the newspaper articles are Mikey’s way of opening the story with the facts of the breakout and the ensuring police chase.  What killed me is how dry this approach came off, lacking any of the humor and excitement that was in the opening scenes of Donner’s film.  Not only that but some little details are lost, most importantly how the chase manages to cross the paths of all the Goonies, Andy and Steph.  Not a huge deal, but it’s a detail I love in the first film as it both introduces us to the characters and gives some background details on each of them (Mouth’s dad being a plumber, Steph’s family working as fishermen on the docks, and Chunk being a spaz to name a few.)

On the other hand, the “articles” that close out the story are kind of interesting.  For one, they take the ending of the movie a bit further in that there is confirmation, through a series of excerpts, that the Goon docks are safe as the plans for the new golf course are ditched in favor of building more low cost housing.  The already constructed country club was even rumored to be converted into a community center that will feature a children’s center, a Chinese restaurant, a plumbing supply house, a fish market, a new addition to the museum, and a public-access invention laboratory.  A little goofy, but still pretty darn cute.  The last article is a notice of the Bar Mitzvah for Jason “Sloth” Cohen, the newly adopted son of Mr. & Mrs. Jerry Cohen.  So I guess Chunk made good on his promise to have Sloth come live with him…

As for the narrative being from the perspective of Mikey, this is also a little 50/50 in terms of execution and insight.  On the plus side, it’s kind of fun to “hear” him tell the story, as he adds some background (most of it pointless, but still fun) and adding his thoughts on every aspect of the adventure.  He makes a metric ton of Star Wars references (probably infused because Kahn also wrote the Return of the Jedi novelization), which is always fun, as well as playing the cool, level-headed leader of the group while describing each of the Goonies and their various quirks, annoying habits, and strengths.  He even ends up explaining some of the subtle references that made it into the performances in the final film (like when Mouth first comes to the Walsh house and starts trying to cheer the brothers up with a slight John Belushi impression.)  At the same time Kahn has him hating Saturday morning cartoons (I guess he’d rather be outside adventuring), already dating (and smooching girls before Andy), and comparing the Mad magazine “fold-in” concept to the Playboy centerfolds, which is just weird.  Again, the danger of writing in the first person like this is that we’re in Mikey’s head, and being inside there is nothing like what I thought it would be in the movie.  Granted, I know we’re really inside Kahn’s head, but you get my drift.

Anyway, some of the slight differences in the book include Mouth’s propensity for rhyming, Data pulling out inventions three times as much, and Mikey tending to censor some of the racier jokes and sight gags from the film with his descriptions (remember the broken stature of David, well Mikey didn’t want to repeat Brand saying that, “…If God made it that way, you’d all be pissing in your faces…”.)  By the by, in the book Mikey’s mom discovers the broken statue.  There’s also some interesting cross-pollinating with other Spielberg projects like Poltergeist.  At one point Mikey shares and anecdote about how he broke his arm falling into an excavation in the newly built Cuesta Verde Estates housing development.  Did I mention that James Kahn also wrote the novelization for Poltergeist?  The thought that, Cuesta Verde would be within biking distance from Astoria is pretty cool, as if there really was this specific Spielberg suburbia out in the pacific northwest where all kinds of crazy shit happened.  Maybe E.T. would have landed there too if that novelization hadn’t already been written by Kotzwinkle.

Also, for all those kids out there that only caught the Goonies when it aired on cable (specifically the Disney Channel in the early 90s), the book provides vindication of some of the deleted scenes that appeared in that cut of the film.  I always thought it was weird that there were so many different versions of flicks in the 80s, one for theaters, one for vhs, one for cable, one for airline exhibitions, etc.  Deleted scenes sort of meant more then, as they were potential filler for some of the other raunchier stuff that needed to be cut for cable.  Anyway, I was one of those kids that saw the octopus scene, and the segment at the beginning when Mikey, Data, Chunk and Mouth have a run in with Troy in the minimart when the flick aired on the Disney channel, and later when watching the official VHS with friends none of them believed me that these scenes existed.  Can’t express how happy I was to see them finally pop up on the DVD.  There are also a couple of extensions of the wishing well scene.  One involves Andy being inducted as an official Goony by repeating the oath: “I will never betray my Goon dock friends, We will stick together until the whole world ends, Through Heaven and Hell and nuclear war, good pals like us will stick like tar, In the city, or the country, or the forest, or the boonies, I am proudly declared a fellow…”  The oath is finished off with the exclamation of “Leech!” as Mikey realizes they’re all covered in leeches.  These scenes were new to me when I ready the youth adaptation of the movie back in 2010 during my Goonies 25th anniversary week.  Glad to see them in this full on novelization as well.

I don’t want to spoil all the good stuff from the novel that didn’t make it into the film, but there’s one more segment that’s really cool involving an underground river.  While the gang is trying to find their way to One-Eyed Willie’s ship, they come upon a cave with only one exit, which is almost completely submerged in water.  There’s a raft, so they all get on as they hear the Fratelli’s hot on their trail.  Along the ride they all take turns telling stories to keep each other from freaking out in the dark water-filled tunnel.  Again, nothing that needed to be in the film, but it’s really fun to stumble upon an extra like this in the book.  All in all I think this one is worth the read, even though the first person narrative is awkward.  It’s a great way to spend a little more time with the gang while getting some new aspects to the adventure along the way.  If nothing else it has me really jazzed to read the Three Weeks with the Goonies book by Mick Alderman.  I can never get enough of this flick!

***UPDATE***

Okay, so there was one other thing that I wanted to point out about the book, one small segment of a scene that was cut from the film involving the leeches.  I wasn’t sure I wanted to mention it because it’s kind of messed up, but I thought about it and I can’t help it, it’s just too damn weird.  So in the wishing well sequence, at the end, after Andy has sent up the bucket empty, all the kids realize that they’re covered in leeches.  Data has a bright idea and end up strapping two wires to a 20-volt battery.  He sticks the wires in the water by his feet sending a light electrical charge through his body that’s lethal enough to kill the leeches.  He does this for the rest of them, and afterwards, James Kahn tags on a small scene that is, well, almost obscene.  After getting the shock, Andy and Stef are standing off to the side, and Kahn describes them as having “…limp smile(s) and small sigh(s)…”  Then Stef says to Andy, “I got all tingly – just my luck, I’m in love with a pond!”  After which the following passage appears: ‘It annoyed Andy, for some reason, I don’t know, like someone had made her feel good and she didn’t want to…’  Then Andy hauls off and slaps Data saying “Don’t-you-ever-try-that-again-with-me-Buster!”  What the hell!  Did Kahn actually suggest that Andy and Stef had orgasms from the electric shock!?!  W-T-F?!?

I think it’s safe to say that this is my favorite book ever!

Yesterday I opened the mailbox to see a package from Amazon and my heart skipped a beat. For well over 15 years I’ve been dreaming about the idea of my perfect coffee table book, and in that little brown box I knew it was about to become a reality.  For anyone who’s been reading the site for any length of time probably already knows, I’m a huge Garbage Pail Kids nut.  Collecting and trading those stickers was a very big part of my youth, and though my original collection was lost decades ago I still cherished my memories of those gross and funny sticker cards.  By hook and by crook I’ve managed to rebuild a pretty decent collection of the vintage GPKs, including a near complete series one set that I never thought I’d manage.  All the while though I keep hoping that one day Topps would step up and release a nice photo book that reprinted all the awesome artwork from the original 15 series.  Heck, at least the first three series would have been awesome.

A few years ago my hopes got a big boost when Abrams and Topps released the first two volumes of their Wacky Packages retrospective (Volume 1 and Volume 2); I mean a nice GPK book would surely have to follow.  Well, one of the wonderful editors at Abrams assured me that something was in the works, and for the past six months I’ve been dying to see the final product.  Well, the wait was finally over…

Needless to say I ripped through the Amazon packaging so that I could finally put my hands on this coveted Garbage Pail Kids  tome and it’s pretty much everything I could ever want in a coffee table book.  This volume reprints the first five GPK series (206 separate paintings in all) which covers the initial boom of the phenomena.  There’s a forward by series mastermind Art Spiegelman that gives a nice overview of how the original series came about, and a short but sweet afterword by the original GPK artist John Pound which has some fun insights into his participation as well.  This book isn’t about the history of the stickers though, it’s all about a gorgeous presentation of the cards themselves.  In that department I think the book is amazing with only a few caveats in the missed-opportunity department.

  

First and foremost, the volume is beautifully designed in the same fashion as the Wacky Packages books, including a wax paper dust cover (which is still a very clever detail) and various bits of GPK collecting imagery (empty sticker backs, empty card boxes, stale sticks of chewing gum, and examples of the first five wax packages.) T he artwork of the cards themselves is presented pretty close to the actual size of the original paintings if I’m not mistaken, which is a very nice touch as well.  There was also a lot of care in how the “sister/brother – A& B” naming of the cards was represented, as well as working in imagery from the checklist design, and a handful of the series one Nutty Awards cardbacks.  There are even 4 included stickers that never made it press in any of the original series (for various reasons, but mostly due to overly violent imagery is my guess.)

There are a couple details that I think would have been nice to see though.  Since part of the deal with Topps was that the artists didn’t sign their work, it would have been nice if the various artists had some sort of attribution by each piece in the book.  Granted, John Pound did all the sticker artwork for the first two series, but Tom Bunk joined in on series three, and for those not versed in telling the two artists apart it would have been a nice touch.  The other thing that I would have wanted to see would have been a better representation of the cardbacks for each series.  As I mentioned above, there are a handful of the series one Nutty Award backs on the inside front cover of the book, but there aren’t any from the remaining 4 series in this volume at all.  Even if there were only a couple sampled at a smaller size in each chapter it would have gone a long way to completing the experience of collecting these sticker cards in the book.  Again, not a huge complaint, just a missed opportunity.

  

All in all though, I am so excited that this Garbage Pail Kids book finally exists and is sitting here right in front of me as I type this.  I’ve already flipped though this book 10 times and I still kind of can’t believe it’s actually real.  I know that may sound like hyperbole, but it’s true.  The only thing that could top this would be seeing two more volumes collecting the remaining ten vintage sets in the near future. Abrams, are you listening?

Secret Mail Order Mysteries Fun!

Coming back off of a hiatus always feels a little herky-jerky, what with trying to dig up some inspiration and cleaning off the cobwebs of my practically non-existent HTML skills.  This year was a little different in that over the last few months I’ve been bombarded with all sorts of cool things to write about.  One thing that I’ve been meaning to write about for awhile is the new book by Kirk Demarais, Mail Order Mysteries: Real Stuff from Old Comic Book Ads!  For those who don’t know, Kirk runs the Secret Fun Spot (as well as its weblog the Secret fun Blog) and is a freelance artist and designer who has been doing some amazing colored pencil portraits of some very familiar families of late.  He’s a regular contributor to the Gallery 88 shows and an all around swell guy.  Though I’ve never gotten the chance to meet him, he’s had a pretty big impact on Branded from the get-go, so when I saw that he was having his second book published I was pretty excited.

Mail Order Mysteries is the logical progression of nostalgic blogs, talking a niche topic and really digging into all the nitty gritty (sometimes literally into the Grit of gritty.)  Do you remember all those tempting ads in the backs of comics and magazines like Famous Monsters?  You know, the ones for the $2 Topstone rubber monster masks, the life-size Frankenstein’s Monster, or the footlocker full of 100 toy soldiers for only $1.25.  Well Kirk sure does, and he’s spent years tracking all of this stuff down, finding out what all this stuff was really like and cataloging his findings in this beautifully written and designed tome.

The book is divided up into 8 sections including superhero related stuff, war junk, monster merchandise, monkey making schemes, mail-order miscellanea, secret stuff, jokes & gags, and all kinds of oddities.  From the facts behind the fabled X-Ray Spex to what that $7 Polaris Nuclear Sub was really like, every single page of this volume is filled with the highs and lows of the mail-order products of the 50s through to the 80s.  Kirk lovingly photographed over a hundred pieces (most from his own collection), as well as including scans of the original advertisements so you can judge for yourself whether or not that allowance was or would have been well spent.  The icing on the cake is Kirk’s keen eye for design, both modern and retro, which can be felt all over the book, from the yellowing, newsprint color-scheme of the pages, to the hidden glow-in-the-dark embellishments on the covers and spine.

For those of us who never got a chance to be lucky enough to order our own cardboard Polaris Sub (or to feel swindled by said sub), to join one of those intoxicating selling for prizes clubs like the Olympic Sales Club, or for those who just want to know how those darn X-Ray Spex work, Mail Order Mysteries is the perfect book.  You can see some more preview pages at Kirk’s site.

This book will give you a sugary nostalgic high!

One aspect of the American pop culture experience that I find endlessly intriguing is how certain portions of it so completely subvert class, race, religion, and creed.  It’s hard these days to pin down someone’s race or religious beliefs based solely on the music they listen to, or the video games they play. We’re becoming more and more eclectic as a nation, but the foundations of this cultural oneness has been steadily built over the last century with some unlikely materials.  If I had to point to one thing that ties most Americans together it would have to involve food as it’s something we all need.  Through the lens of pop culture, it’s the brands that stand out, the merchandising, packaging, and promotion that we are attracted to and hold dear.  One product over all else really shines through this lens, and is not only an important part of our shared pop culture experience, but also a very important part of one’s daily breakfast, Cereal!  It’s sugary, sweet, fruity, colorful, corny, wheaty, full of rice, oats, and the occasional marshmallow marbits.  It provides fiber, iron, whole grains, and most importantly for those seeking to break through the walls of the time-space continuum, high levels of riboflavin.  Through over a century of ad campaigns, commercials, and cool prizes we’ve all been influenced by breakfast cereal, and now writers Marty Gitlin & Topher Ellis have taken a shot at condensing this shared snap, crackle, and pop culture experience into The Great American Cereal Book.

Published by Abrams (for a February 1st release), this beautiful volume chronicles America’s favorite breakfast food with a semi-chronological listing of ready-to-eat cereals from seven of the largest manufacturers of the last century including General Mills, Kellogg’s, Nabisco, Nestle, Post, the Quaker Oats Company, and Ralston.  Each product listed features some vital statistics including a description, when it was introduced and/or discontinued, the various popular slogans, characters and endorsements associated with it, as well as various tidbits and trivia.  The book is also heavily illustrated with beautiful color photos of many of the more popular and eclectic varieties.  Breaking up the timeline of sweet crunchy nostalgia are a bevy of lists, essays and mascot profiles including a glimpse into the development of characters such as Cap’n Crunch and the Trix rabbit.

What really struck me when I first cracked the cover on this massive tome was the high level of thought and care put into the presentation.  The design of the book is absolutely gorgeous and has a perfect tongue-in-cheek humor imbedded into every page.  The book resembles a box of cereal, from the hilariously placed nutritional chart and ingredients list on the spine, to the rainbow variety of cereals adorning the inside front and back covers.  This book was envisioned and designed with those that are truly a kid at heart.  I also love that the photos lean more towards the kid’s section of the cereal aisle, including so many of the sadly extinct varieties like Smurf-Berry Crunch, Pac-Man, Batman, C3PO’s, and the dearly missed Croonchy Stars (the Sweddish Chef’s Muppet-themed cereal from the late 80s.)

Abrams really has their finger on the pulse of nostalgia when it comes to their line of books aimed at pop culture fans, whether it’s their inventive layout and design of their “vault” editions (like the World of the Smurfs and the Transformers Vault), or their stunning art books (like Wacky Packages, More Wacky Packages, and the upcoming Garbage Pail Kids book.)  The Great American Cereal Book is a fine addition to their lineup and would fit nicely on anyone’s shelf or coffee table who grew up glued to the television on Saturday mornings watching cartoons and slurping up a huge bowl of Cap’n Crunch or Fruit Loops.