Tag Archives: 80s Cartoons

8-Bit Christmas is the Fruitcake of 80s Nostalgia Novels…

This is the first year in a long time when I’m doing my best to get into the holiday spirit for the Christmas season. For a good portion of my life Halloween has basically been my “Christmas”, and for all intents and purposes the period between November 1st through to January 1st is usually a time when I duck my head down and try and run as fast as I can through the rest of the year trying my best not to knock down any family and friends along the way. It’s a mixture of being burnt out after celebrating a month-long Halloween, and trying to fend off the insanity that comes with trying to find the perfect gifts, visiting with a modern fractured family and trying my best not to go broke in the process. But this year? I’m going all out by letting go of my worries and embracing the holiday.

So I was pretty stoked when I was approached by DB Press to take a look at the first novel from scriptwriter Kevin Jakubowski titled 8-Bit Christmas. Being described as “…A Christmas Story for the Nintendo generation…” (by author James Frey), 8-Bit Christmas tells the story of one kid’s epic quest of Super Mario Bros. proportions to secure a NES for Christmas. Amidst flaming wreaths, speeding minivans, lost retainers, fake Santas, hot teachers, snotty sisters, “Super Bowl Shuffles” and one very naked Cabbage Patch Kid, Kevin’s book vividly weaves a nostalgic tale of Christmas magic and 8-bit glory. Honestly this book being touted as packed with 80s era Christmas nostalgia sounded like just what I needed to kick off my own attempt to embrace the holiday again.

8-bit christmas

First and foremost, 8-Bit Christmas delivers on the nostalgia. Set in the late 80s and centering on Jake Doyle, a nine year-old who covets a neighbor’s NES to the extent where it borders on single-minded stalker-level obsession, the book makes reference to practically every major pop culture aspects from the decade. The Super Bowl Shuffle, baseball card collecting, Showbiz pizza and the Rock-Afire Explosion, the Pizza Hut Book It program, KangaRoos zipper pocket shoes, Max Headroom, Members Only Jackets, Moon Boots, as well as a litany of bands, cartoons, movies, TV shows, and toys way too numerous to name. Karate Kid references? Yup, there’s more than the entire Cobra Kai can battle. Star Wars? G.I. Joe? Transformers? Go Bots? Strawberry Shortcake? Cabbage Patch Kids? Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, and yes. Much like Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One before it, the novel is an outlet to celebrate all of the stuff we 30-Somethings loved so much about our 80s childhoods, and all of our hyper-collective shared experiences. If there’s one thing our generation does well, it’s bonding over the insane level of pop culture awareness and merchandising from that decade. Jakubowski does an admirable job of shoehorning in so many references, and touching on so many aspects of what it was like being a kid during that time that I’d be hard-pressed to imagine any rock he left unturned. Well, he does skip over the mentioning branded lunchboxes when comparing and contrasting packed lunches versus buying the hot tray at school. Is every reference accurate and researched? No. He fudges release dates (mentioning the Karate Kid cartoon as a favorite even though it didn’t debut until a year after the winter of ’88 when the book is set) and mashes together experiences (like listing cartoons that only aired during the after school animation blocks or on cable like Inspector Gadget, Transformers and G.I. Joe as Saturday Morning cartoons.) But when you consider the sheer volume of nostalgic references, nit picking the errors and decade blending is pretty pointless.

8-bit christmas 2

Where the book sort of falls apart for me can be summed up by James Frey’s pull quote from above which evokes the film A Christmas Story; Jakubowski doesn’t just shoot for ACS‘s tone, he basically uses it as a point-for-point outline. Whether it’s aping the aged and slightly sarcastic narration of the main character reflecting on his youth, the plot device of a kid yearning for that one specific Christmas gift and then dealing with parents that basically tell him he’ll shoot his eye out with the NES Zapper, being forced to wear an item of goofy, girly clothing, reminiscing over the old man’s curmudgeonly ways, dealing with an annoying and whiny younger sibling, battling the town bully, or using the exact turn of phrases that seem uniquely in the voice of A Christmas Story, the book starts to feel a little hollow when you get past 80s homages. This is amp-ed up by a sort of ridiculous conceit that in 1988 only one kid in an entire Illinois county has a Nintendo Entertainment System, and only because his parents are filthy stinking rich. Having grown up in a decidedly middle class family with plenty of friends on both sides of the financial spectrum, I’m having a hard time remembering many kids who DIDN’T have an NES. Amp the story up even further with a Footloose-level county-wide ban on both owning AND selling Nintendo after the system is blamed for the accidental death of a yappy dog and all the reader is left being able to relate to is the plethora of 80s references. I think the problem lies with Jakubowski slavishly relying on A Christmas Story for inspiration. He riffs on Ralphie’s obsessive daydreams in that film as a jumping off point to tell Jake Doyle’s story, but forgets that with the exception of an all out attack by a pack of wild neighbor dogs on the family’s beloved turkey and an outlandishly sexualized leg lamp, that film is pretty firmly grounded in a very believable reality. 8-Bit Christmas has its head in the clouds and packs the book so full of wacky adventures in addition to Doyle’s Nintendo obsessed daydreams, that for me it was hard to relate to the story. As a film it would probably be easier to get behind, with only an hour and a half’s investment, but spending 8 or so hours reading a book it just sort of left me a little cold. It also doesn’t help that the singular obsession with obtaining an NES overshadows most if not all of the Christmas spirit in the book. I won’t spoil the ending, but I will say that instead of helping me get into the mood the book kind of reinforced a lot of insanity I’ve been trying to avoid for the past 15 years.

When all is said and done, even though the story didn’t resonate with me as much as I’d hoped, I can’t help but recommend 8-Bit Christmas purely on the richness of the 80s pop culture experience. There are enough obscure observations to balance the obvious references and that alone makes the book a worthwhile read.  It’s so literally heavy and densely packed, it’s like the fruitcake of 80s nostalgia novels…

My Beastmen…

Sometimes I have to remind myself that not every post has to be something precious where I do a bunch of research and try and dig into my memories of the 80s.  Sometimes I can just throw up a picture of my Beastmen…

31 Days of Monsters, Days 16 & 17: Cute Little Gobllins and one ugly Gorgon!

Alright, with today’s two monster animation cels I’ve finally gotten caught up on my 31 Days of Monsters Countdown!  These cover days 16 & 17, and once again features creatures from both the Filmation and Real Ghostbusters cartoons.  First up is this cel/production photocopy background from the Filmation show featuring the main gorgon herself, Medusa!

Unfortunately Eddie Spencer, Jr. is part of the photocopy in this image, but it does go really well paired with the Medusa cel (and seeing as how he’s holding up a mirror I can pretty safely assume that this is an accurate background image.)

Though it would have been nice to get a cel that showed her full face, I’m going to go ahead and make the claim that I didn’t want to inadvertently turn any Branded readers into stone.  Yeah, that’s the ticket (said in my best imitation of Jon Lovitz…)

Next up we have this cute little guy from the Real Ghostbusters cartoon…

Unfortunately I can’t quite place this character from a specific episode at the moment.  I’ve been watching so many episodes lately that my brain is becoming fried and resembles a ghost trap after it’s just slammed shut and is still smoking…

So come back each day this month for a new monster animation cel, and also, for more Halloween-y fun all month long, be sure to check out the Countdown to Halloween website for the complete list of sites participating in this year’s spooky fun.  John Rozum has been working hard compiling the list, and it looks like there is a lot of awesome sites already signed up.

31 Days of Monsters, Days 14 & 15: Of Witches and Brat-A-Rats!

Still playing catch-up this week, so I have another double feature of monster animation cels to share today.  Being the 16th, we’re officially at the halfway point of the season, a time to start making those last minute costume plans and to start looking for sales on jumbo bags of candy to hand out to the kids!  Also, I’ve gone though the responses to the Monster Cereal Prints Scavenger Hunt Contest, and will be sending out notices to the winners via e-mail.  Thanks again to Manny Galán of Cartoon Lagoon Studios for the prize packs and remember that you still have a chance to win a set of these awesome prints (signed by Galán and the voice actors of the Monsters) by heading over to the Strange Kids Club and submitting your very own cereal monster creation!

Back to the monster animation cels though, first up today we have this fun piece from the Filmation Ghostbusters cartoon featuring the whimpering yes-man to mail baddy Prime Evil, Brat-A-Rat!

Voiced by Peter Cullen, Brat-A-Rat is a weird, alien, bat-rat-lizard creature with the ability to levitate.  He’s is to Prime Evil, sort of what Salacious Crumb is like to Jabba the Hut in the Star Wars universe, and ends up tattling on the other ghosts as well as dishing out some of PE’s punishments for failure.  He always reminded me of having a sort of Don Bluth-inspired character design, which is probably why I’m so fond of him…

Next up in today’s double feature we have our second evil Witch of the countdown, Kestrel, who hails from the season five Real Ghostbusters episode “If I Were a Witch Man”, circa 1989…

In the episode Kestrel, a witch imprisoned in a crystal ball by Puritans during the late 1600s, gets free and begins looking for revenge in modern day Lewison (which just happens to be the ancestral town of the Spenglers!)  Kestrel possesses the body of Margaret Prandish, the headmistress of a local girl’s academy that was built upon the Elron Witchcraft Altar where Kestrel was held captive in the crystal ball for centuries.  The above cel has the in-between form that is a mixture of Kestrel and Prandish, and it’s pretty freaky to boot!

So come back each day this month for a new monster animation cel, and also, for more Halloween-y fun all month long, be sure to check out the Countdown to Halloween website for the complete list of sites participating in this year’s spooky fun.  John Rozum has been working hard compiling the list, and it looks like there is a lot of awesome sites already signed up.

31 Days of Monsters, Day 12 & 13: Raul Julia would have made a lovely Bello Micawb…

Ack! I’m so unprepared for this year’s countdown, but it hasn’t hindered me from enjoying the heck out of the season thus far.  Though I missed a couple days this past weekend, I’m not going to sweat it.  I’ll just double up on some stuff as we enter day 15, the half-way point on the countdown this year!  So today I have two spooks to share (well one spook and one creepy dude.)  The first animation cel is of the Addams-Family-inspired character Mr. Bello Micawb (pronounced like “macabre”) from the Real Ghostbusters episode Loathe Thy Neighbor which debuted in November of 1987…

Bello, the patriarch of the Micawb family, is sort of the Gomez Addams/Herman Munster of the family (though he leans much more towards Gomez in design and in the voice acting.)  The episode is one of my favorites, which doesn’t surprise me as Michael Reeves was the main writer listed.  From what I’ve found during my 80s cartoon explorations, Reeves tends to be responsible for some of the better episodes of all the series he wrote for.

The second creature I have today is this adorable purple brute from Filmation’s Ghostbusters episode, The Battle for Ghost Command…

Again, though this fellow came with a production photocopy background, it’s not from the same scene as the actual animation cel I acquired.  As you can see from the below screenshots, I managed to snag a cel that has this grape-colored fur monster right in mid-snack in an alleyway…

  

So come back each day this month for a new monster animation cel, and also, for more Halloween-y fun all month long, be sure to check out the Countdown to Halloween website for the complete list of sites participating in this year’s spooky fun.  John Rozum has been working hard compiling the list, and it looks like there is a lot of awesome sites already signed up.

31 Days of Monsters, Day 11: Deadtime Synergy!

It’s day eleven of the countdown and unfortunately I have another Real Ghostbusters animation cel that I haven’t been able to place in a specific episode.  Sometimes I wonder if I watch too many cartoons to a point where these things get so scrambled in my brain that it’s hard to remember anything.  Anyway, what drew me to this one was that for one, it was a woman (rare on my past Monster countdowns), and two she sort of brought the idea of a zombie Jem to mind.  Granted, she’s not as awesome as this zombie Jem by Christopher Tupa, but still, I like toying with the idea…

Actually, she kind of looks like a cross between Jem and Zombie Geena Davis from the end sequence of Beetlejuice now that I think about it (just without the wedding dress…)

So come back each day this month for a new monster animation cel, and also, for more Halloween-y fun all month long, be sure to check out the Countdown to Halloween website for the complete list of sites participating in this year’s spooky fun.  John Rozum has been working hard compiling the list, and it looks like there is a lot of awesome sites already signed up.

31 Days of Monsters, Day 10: Scared Stiff, er, uh, he’s actually kind of scared melty here…

We’re all the way up to day 10 of the countdown, and one-third of the way though the month of October already.  It seems like the days take forever to pass during September, but once we hit October it just flies by.  Anyway, today I present another Filmation Ghostbusters animation cel, another featuring one of Prime Evil’s main henchmen, the robot ghost Scared Stiff!

Scared Stiff is basically the evil ghost equivalent of C3-P0 from Star Wars, though just as bumbling, harmless and ready to fall apart at the seams during times of stress.  His place is more for comic relief in the series, but as a kid I still enjoyed watching him, especially when he was “destroyed” by the other villains in the show.

So come back each day this month for a new monster animation cel, and also, for more Halloween-y fun all month long, be sure to check out the Countdown to Halloween website for the complete list of sites participating in this year’s spooky fun.  John Rozum has been working hard compiling the list, and it looks like there is a lot of awesome sites already signed up.

31 Days of Monsters, Day 9: Twinkie’s Witch

Day nine brings us our first witch of the countdown (there should be at least two more coming), and I believe the first witch animation cel overall on Branded.  This character didn’t have a name in the series as the episode she hails from, Kitty-Cornered, it one of the more Slimer-centric later season 5 mini-episodes…

She’s referred to as Twinkie’s Witch as she’s the owner of a wish-granting cat named Twinkie who in the episodes is knocked off the witch’s broom and lands on Slimer.  The spud then proceeds to have his wishes granted causing havoc in the firehouse while the Witch looks frantically for her cat.

When I procured this animation cel I ended up receiving a number of tandem cels that feature the witch flying around what I assume is the corner of a building.  Most of the cels were pretty sparse, only featuring her hand or are from her head up (sort of like that Simpsons episode where Bart gets the Scratchy cel with only the floating arm.)  But along with the cels I also received a number of fuller production drawings including the one below featuring the witch noticing that it was snowing around the firehouse…

 

So come back each day this month for a new monster animation cel, and also, for more Halloween-y fun all month long, be sure to check out the Countdown to Halloween website for the complete list of sites participating in this year’s spooky fun.  John Rozum has been working hard compiling the list, and it looks like there is a lot of awesome sites already signed up.

31 Days of Monsters, Day 8: Battly for Belfry!

It’s Day 8 of the 31 Days of Monsters Countdown, and today’s creature is a little more on the cute and harmless side, Belfry from Filmation’s Ghostbusters…

Belfry was introduced in the first episode shortly after the Ghostbusters and their sons imprison Prime Evil in a vault in an abandoned mine shaft.  They make a joke about leaving him in the vault for 100 years, which actually comes to pass.  On the eve of the hundredth year Prime Evil finally gets tired of waiting to be released and starts yelling for help.  Belfry, this tiny, pink, lonely, hog-nosed bat (who strongly resembles Piglet from the Winnie the Pooh series) happens upon the vault and overhears PE’s pleas for help.  Thinking he’s another bat that he can be friends with, Belfry opens the vault and lets Prime Evil free, whose first order of business is to recruit a bunch of ghosts so that they can travel back in time and kidnap the original Ghostbusters.

Belfry is sort of a combination of Cringer and Orko from the He-Man cartoon, archetypes that Filmation used a lot to give the viewer a character that they could glom onto and sort of experience the action through.  He also popped up at the end of every episode with the GB haunted TV, Skelevision, to offer PSA’s and to recount the moral learned in some of the episodes.

So come back each day this month for a new monster animation cel, and also, for more Halloween-y fun all month long, be sure to check out the Countdown to Halloween website for the complete list of sites participating in this year’s spooky fun.  John Rozum has been working hard compiling the list, and it looks like there is a lot of awesome sites already signed up.

31 Days of Monsters, Day 7: The Scared Crow Spector…

Being as un-prepared for the countdown as I was this year, there are a few of these monster cels that I haven’t been able to pin down and do the proper research on their background.  Today’s little spook is one of these, so for sake of argument I’ll just call him the “scared” crow spector!

Though I’m sure this little spook comes from the Real Ghostbusters series, I’m not sure which episode or the context.  When I picked this one up I was drawn to the interesting design.  It really speaks to the fall, scarecrows, and weird tentacle-d creatures which I tend to flip over.  Hopefully by the time the countdown is over I’ll have figured out how this guy is…

So come back each day this month for a new monster animation cel, and also, for more Halloween-y fun all month long, be sure to check out the Countdown to Halloween website for the complete list of sites participating in this year’s spooky fun.  John Rozum has been working hard compiling the list, and it looks like there is a lot of awesome sites already signed up.