Tag Archives: 80s toys

Knights of the Holographic Light!

After I started reacquiring some of my childhood toys recently, specifically picking up a number of the more obscure figures from the less popular lines, there have been a few figures that have rocketed up to the top of my to-find list.  Taking a break from the more well-known properties like G.I. Joe, Transformers, Masters of the Universe & M.A.S.K. and focusing on the lesser known stuff has been kind of liberating as my personal shopping list has become way more manageable and compartmentalized.  Instead of trying to track down affordable bulk lots or prioritizing my favorites from one of the larger lines I can focus on a single figure from a specific series since I tended to only have one or two figures from each of the weirder properties.  Happening upon a carded Gabriel Tonto figure, a Blackstar  demon, or a Dungeons & Dragons Warduke has been a really fulfilling experience, so when I went on the hunt for the next childhood treasure I had my sights set on a very specific action figure, Witterquick from the Visionaries!

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Released by Hasbro in 1987, the Visionaries were sort of like a mystical, fantasy version of G.I. Joe.  In fact, not only were the toys manufactured by the same company, with similar designs (similar articulation and size), but the accompanying animated series was also produced by Sunbow with a number of the same voice actors and writers and had very similar animation.  Though not as popular, the toy line only had one wave of figures and the animated series had just a single 13-episode season that aired on Saturday mornings.  Though I have very fond memories of plopping in front of the TV and watching the cartoon, I only managed to acquire one action figure, the scarlet speedster who calls upon the power of his totem deity Light Speed by proclaiming “Sheathe these feet in the driving gale, make swift these legs, o’er land I sail!”

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One of the main conceptual draws of this toy line was the inclusion of holograms both in each character’s armor and in a totem staff.  There were two opposing forces, the Spectral Knights (with a unicorn as their group totem) and the Darkling Lords (who have a dragon totem.)  Holograms were pretty darn popular in the 80s and early 90s (as seen in these amazing Lazer Blazers stickers), and as far as I know this was the main toy line that incorporated the technology into the figures.  Though it could easily have come across as super gimmicky, I really love the way they’re used as the holographic images are a great stand in for the magical energy that the characters exhibited in the cartoon series…

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Not only were the holograms pretty darn awesome, but all of the characters had cool removable helmets, which was always a plus in my book.

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I feel pretty lucky that I managed to not only find a complete Witterquick (so many of these figures on the secondary market are missing their chest plate holograms and helmets), but the guy I bought the figure from kept him in very good condition and even had the original filecard clipping!

Witterquick Filecard

I’m glad the I got that as well because it has a some of the original packaging artwork intact.  Like the other Hasbro 80s offerings, the Visionaries boasted some amazing airbrushed artwork.  I also felt pretty lucky as I found this figure at a very reasonable price.  These tend to sell for pretty ludicrously inflated rates, between $50-$120 carded, and even upwards of $30-$40 loose and complete.

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Now that Witterquick has joined my collection, there is only one main obscure action figure left that I need to kind of complete my vintage toy collection, Quicksilver from the Silverhawks.  The hunt is on…

G.I. Joe, a Real French-Canadian Hero!

6883501769_16f5716f51_oI thought I’d take a crack at this week’s League topic (simply: Yo Joe!) since it’s both something I’m interested in (G.I. Joe obviously) and it just so happens that I have something new in my collection that fits in perfectly with the subject.  Not that long ago I was happy that I could provide a friend (the ultra rad Sarah Szefer) with a much-needed toy accessory that she’d been missing for awhile, and as an unexpected “thank you” she sent a small care package.  Since she lives up in Canada, specifically in Quebec, she thought it would be awesome to gift me some cool 80s era French-Canadian ephemera.  One of the bits that caught my eye was this awesome comic book advertisement from 1984-85…

French Canadian G.I. Joe Ad 1985

I’ve never personally seen an English version of this ad, so I’m not sure if it was strictly used in foreign markets or if I just missed it.  Either way this is a really neat ad that is way more in line with all those cool diorama set-ups you’d see in the old Sears Wishbooks.  I always loved the creativity in those since they tended to utilize natural materials mixed with art for the setting like the sand and rocks above.  I love the addition of the fake aquarium vegetation and the awesome impressionist forest fire depicted in the background painting.  Too cool.  I think I also love these types of play set-ups because I spent the majority of my G.I. Joe playtime as a kid setting up battles like this and then never actually acting them out.  It was all about setting the stage for me, and these sorts of advertisements (or the wishbook spreads) were sort of like toy porn in my eyes.

So thanks a million for sending me this Sarah, it totally made my week!  If you like what you saw here and would like to see more League posts about G.I. Joe, check out these other great sites…

Stacey, Geeky Vixen, is waxing nostalgic about old friends and discovering badass Ladies in G.I. Joe!

Michael, Retromash, takes a look at Joes from the UK perspective with Action Force!

Jathaniel shares some artistic Joe pictures from his instagram account!

Derek, Goodwill Hunting 4 Geeks, shares some awesome G.I. Joe kid’s picture books (Earl Norem Art!)

Erik Johnson talks about Joe Gibken from Kaizoku Sentai Gokaiger!

Brian, Cool & Collected, talks about his Joe team, those 82-85 characters!

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I’m obsessed with the LoEB’s return!

6883501769_16f5716f51_oThe League of Extraordinary Bloggers has been on hiatus for a while as Brian over at Cool & Collected has been “extraordinarily” busy with his C&C print magazine project, but it’s finally back this week with a new topic. To kick things off again Brian asks what our current obsessions are, and this just happens to coincide with a slight shift in my personal 80s collecting habits of late. Outside of a few sets of Garbage Pail Kids, I really didn’t start buying up stuff from my in and around childhood until I started work on this site. Then for the first 7 years or so of running Branded I focused most of my efforts on acquiring all sorts of ephemera, be it stickers, old magazines, or trading card wax pack wrappers that spanned all sorts of pop culture subjects from cartoons to food. I love talking about the 80s, specifically the marketing and “branding”, and I wanted to touch on all sorts of stuff from Sizzlean to amazing Return of the Jedi Jungle Gyms. Needless to say, digging up all of this stuff wasn’t cheap, so finding content to talk about on the site sort of dominated my collecting. The majority of the stuff I was hoarding storing in my flat-file, while awesome, didn’t necessarily always reflect the stuff I personally had as a kid.

Over the last year though I’ve decided to concentrate on rebuilding a small collection of things that I actually had as a kid.  Whether it’s the reproduction Masters of the Universe figures Mattel put out just after the millennium…

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…or picking up the occasional mint on card vintage toy like the super cool Transformers Afterburner I recently found.

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I think this all started just over a year ago when I managed to get a hold of my original childhood Atari 2600 system.  Reconnecting with that faux wood-paneled beauty really got me thinking about where I really wanted to spend my money when it came to my collecting habits.

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Lately this turn towards reacquiring treasures from when I was a kid has morphed into some more obscure purchases.  Instead of trying to get all the actual toys I had I’ve been cherry-picking specific pieces I owned from various toy lines, stuff that when put out on a shelf illustrates my childhood experience.  This has led to some more obscure toy hunting leading up to snagging stuff like a Demon from Blackstarr, Warduke from the D&D line, and Tonto from the Gabriel Legend of the Lone Ranger line

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I’ve also started following this urge to round out my collection with more offbeat stuff by picking up some weirder childhood reading material.  For instance, I was just recently reminded by my mom during one of our weekly phone calls about a cookbook she gave me when I was eight, the Betty Crocker Cookbook for Boys and Girls (a version published in 1985 by Golden.)  I immediately flashed upon the iconic cover and felt an insane desire to pick it up and hold it again.  So I logged on to eBay immediately after the call an proceeded to track down and buy a copy…

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I must have stared at those disturbing cheeseburger people a million times as a kid.  Even though this isn’t my original copy (which is probably no longer in existence or mostly disintegrated in a landfill in Florida somewhere), mine was as beat-up and well read as this copy I now have on my shelf.  Clocking in at just under 100 pages, this cookbook was my go-to tome when learning the basics of recipe-reading and trying my hand at some culinary concoctions that were always just this side of edible.  Though I learned a lot from watching my mom in the kitchen, I always took pride in exploring on my own and trying to make lunches or breakfasts on the weekends, and a lot of that inspiration came form the dishes in this book.  Speaking of, the recipes range from the ridiculous yet fun arrangement of canned fruit on a lettuce leaf like this Friendly Dog Salad below…

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…to the surprisingly difficult to master (as a kid) Eggs in Bologna Cups.  Mine never tasted right.  In fact they were pretty noxious if I remember (probably due to over-use of the paprika which I practically caked on top of each cup…)

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The book is filled with glorious 70s/80s era design, from the style and color of the cookware depicted in the recipes to the bodacious font choices.  I actually kind of love it to death and am curious about seeking out some other more standard 80s era cookbooks for my kitchen…

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Reading back through it I was surprised at the level of complexity in some of the recipes (like a giant baked ham loaf that required grinding up smoked ham steaks), and some of it actually looks like stuff I’d love to try today as a way more accomplished home cook.  In fact I’m toying with the idea of trying to replicate all 120 or so dishes in the book at some point.  I mean a lot of this stuff is pretty simple, but I remember it being sort of like comfort food.  It might be easy to turn one’s nose up at it as an adult, but stuff like this Polka Dot Pizza (aka Hot Dog Pizza) looks like the perfect comfort food for a lazy Saturday afternoon…

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If you enjoyed reading about my currently 80s collecting obsession, why not take a moment to check out some of the other League participants to see what they’re focusing on like…

Brian at Cool & Collected who is currently binge watching Band of Brothers and True Detective

Lee & Linz at Pop Rewind who are obsession over McDonald’s Orange Drink

Derek at Really Rather Random Guy who is having a an existential obsession crisis

Victoria at Vikki Verka who is glad she found the sci-fi series Charlie Jade

Tim at Flashlights Are Something to Eat is listening to the Scorchers, watching Breaking Bad, and buying some Atari games!

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Apparently 8 is the magic number…

So, in just a couple of weeks Branded in the 80s will turn 8 years old.  Though it’s kind of arbitrary, we tend to focus on the “big” anniversaries in the five-year increment territory, but I had a couple of milestones I really wanted to hit when I started this project.  The first was making it to the seven year mark because I have a special fondness for that particular digit.  The second is marking the 8th birthday of the site because again, it has a special meaning to me.  I first dreamed of having my own little spot on the internet back around 1998.  I’d been farting around the interwebs via AOL and Compuserve and I really wanted to stake out a small piece of the digital landscape to do something.  My best friend, who was in the midst of getting his computer science degree at the time, had just recently built a website for a class project and he promised me he’d help me build one of my own.  It never materialized, though a lot of that had to do with my not knowing exactly what it was that I wanted to do with a website.  Regardless, that marks the beginning of what would eventually become Branded, and it took me eight long years of brainstorming and procrastinating before I eventually settled on what I wanted to do.  So in the back of my brain I’ve always hoped that I’d be able to keep this thing going at least as long as it took me to get it off the ground.  Well, mission accomplished I guess.  As for my next milestone, well, I don’t really have one I guess.  I’m kind of curious to see what will happen at the eleven year mark considering that will mean that I would have spent slightly more time talking about the 80s than the decade itself lasted.

Anyway, when I look back at where the site started and where it really took off for me the one aspect that kind of changed everything was when I started investing in a pretty stupidly large collection of 80s stickers to scan and share.  Part of this came out of wanting to acquire a bunch of the stickers I had as a kid, but another was that there was a distinct lack of sticker scans floating around on the internet and I felt like it was an opportunity to contribute a small portion to the digital nostalgic pop culture zeitgeist.  One of the aspects I love about the nostalgia-minded community is the eagerness to share the cool junk that we love.  So it was pretty neat timing that while I was thinking back on all of this I was approached by the cool lady behind the rad RainbowBrite.co.uk website with to help share some fun stuff.

cologo01She obviously runs a pretty neat Rainbow Brite fan site, so she acquired a bunch of info and ephemera to post up there.  But in her research and collecting she’s amassed a bunch of other cool non-RB stuff that she felt needed to get out there.  So she graciously offered to send me some scans of a pretty neat 1985 Mattel Events Guide to share here at Branded.  Tying this in a bit more into my silly milestone is that I just happened to turn eight the year this Event guide was published (seriously, there has to be something to this, numerology-wise…)

Mattel Events Guide 1

These event guides were sent out to retailers as a way for Mattel to bolster excitement for their product lines and I’m sure to secure a larger market share of the retail market by encouraging stores to increase orders and devote more shelf and peg space to Mattel stuff.  They did this by helping to host local in-store meet and greet events with some of Mattel’s most popular brands and characters.  So if you were lucky enough to shake hands with Skeletor at a Toys R Us back int he day, most likely this was one of the guides that the store had to help them schedule and promote the event…

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It’s really cool to get a glimpse into this aspect of the marketing and promotion of some of our favorite toys from back in the 80s.  Not only is it cool to see some rad artwork that only exists to promote these in-store events (like the neat illustration of the Hot Wheels play area that was shipped to the store), but it’s also awesome to see and read about some of the swag for the event that was either given away (like the Hot Wheels kid’s drivers licenses) or became a “free item with purchase” like the super cool Hot Wheels combination watch/wallet below!

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1985 was also a great year for Mattel toys because they were hip deep in the Marvel Secret Wars toy line…

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What really struck me about this Secret Wars event is that it wasn’t just geared towards boys.  Mattel makes it clear that “boys AND girls” will received a free water color poster.  That kind of inclusion back in the 80s seems pretty rare, but then again, Mattel worked on some pretty progressive toy lines like these two favorites, Princess of Power and Masters of the Universe!  I mean I know most of the boys who were into He-Man were also secretly into She-Ra…

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Man, I feel like I missed out so much on these in-store events.  I never managed to attend one and after reading through this guide I feel like I missed out on some amazing experiences and swag.  So, I wonder if a little boy could have been initiated into the Legion of Good receiving a free golden power ring and poster?  I sure as hell hope so.  Also, holy crap, a 15 foot high replica of the Crystal Castle?!?  How awesome would that have been to see?  I wonder if the stores had to ship them back or of they were ordered to destroy them.  I have to imagine that one of these must have made it into a private collection.  Hell, at that size it would practically be big enough for kids to play in as a fort.  The mid boggles at the possibilities…

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Apparently for ’85 Mattel introduced new full body costumes for He-Man and Skeletor.  I’ve seen photos of buff guys in the He-Man duds before, but never a full body costume like this complete with toy-accurate mask and all.  I like that they even managed to replicate the spiny fin on Skeletor’s wrists (like on the toy…)  Sadly there was no 15 foot Castle Greyskull or Snake Mountain, but there were some pretty rad glow in the dark posters!

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A lot of this stuff has to be pretty rare.  I searched for awhile and couldn’t find and example of the glow in the dark Masters of the Universe poster (not even on He-Man.org!)  So it;s cool at least to get a glimpse into this promotional world to know that this stuff exists.  FYI, there’s a bit more to this Event Guide, specifically the Rainbow Brite section, but if you want to see that head on over to the cool RainbowBrite.co.uk to find out what was in that in-store event.  Thanks again to them for sharing this rad piece of 80s toy ephemera and helping to make the nostalgia community that much richer!

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Reclaiming my Childhood: Miscellaneous Edition

So I’ve written numerous times about how much I want to rebuild the toy collection I had as a child and how difficult that is for me because I’m not all that fond of buying loose used toys.  I have a  mental block against buying another kid’s memories if that makes sense.  So my stance has been to patiently wait until I find min on card (or mint in box) versions of the stuff I want.  Again, this comes with its own set of hurdles, mainly monetary in nature.  As much as I want to re-collect these treasures, I find it next to impossible to fork over much money to procure them.  Same story told a million times by other toy collectors and nostalgia buffs.  Lately my tactic has been to ignore the really popular toy lines, the Transformers, G.I. Joe, Masters of the Universe, Star Wars and M.A.S.K. in lieu of searching out the more obscure stuff.  Depending, the prices can be much cheaper and there aren’t quite as many 30-somethings clamoring for them so they’re easier to snag without getting into bidding wars on eBay.

I was pretty excited this past weekend when I stumbled upon one of these slightly more obscure toys at the local vintage toy shop I’ve been frequenting.  Sitting there in a glass display case was a single carded Tonto action figure from The Legend of the Lone Ranger line by Gabriel from 1980…

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Sure, the card was pretty beat up with a huge crease across the top, but this is exactly the kind of thing I’m looking for on my vintage toy hunt.  The intention isn’t to keep the figure hermetically sealed on the card anyway; I want to open it up and hold it again.  So for $10 how could I pass this up?

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I originally had both Tonto and the Lone Ranger from this Gabriel line based on the 1980 film.  I honestly don’t think I ever saw the movie but I did catch the old black and white series on reruns and loved the Filmation cartoon, so at some point I must have begged my parents for these.  I must have been 3 or 4 at the time.  Though I’d love to reacquire both figures, Tonto was always my favorite because he came with both a pistol and a really neat buck knife.  I wrote about this action figure line awhile back as well

Tonto

I also vividly remember loving his purple belt/sash.  Even as a kid I appreciated fun color matching in my action figures.  With both of the figures I had, my favorite aspect was that you could actually holster their pistols and sheath Tonto’s buck knife.  This was pretty advanced for action figures this early in the 80s.  I mean aside from some removable helmets and the lightsaber action on the early Star Wars figures most toys weren’t that intricate.  These also had knee-joint articulation as opposed to the Kenner figures, a stepping stone that would lead to the broader range of joints that Hasbro would use with G.I. Joe.

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I love the card art for these toys as well, working in the tone and style of the movie’s poster art, but instead of just cloning the painting they did a new piece just for the toys…

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I also love the Silver Bullet on the back of the card.  I’m not positive, but I wonder if the idea was to treat the bullets like the Kenner Star Wars points (or the later Robot and Flag points that Hasbro offered with Transformers and G.I. Joe) so that kids could save them up and use them to mail away for special promotional figures or sets.  There was actually a mail-away cardboard playset for these Gabriel figures, but weirdly enough the form requested that kids cut out the character names from the cards to act as the proof of purchase?!?  Check out this ad my good friend Paxton posted on his site The Cavalcade of Awesome when he was taking about the similar Kenner Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid toy line from the same year…

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Total missed opportunity to use the Silver Bullet Points!  Just another example that I was born too late to make awesome branding decisions for these companies.  Gotta work on that time machine…

Anyway, over the past couple of months I managed to pick up some more slightly obscure action figures I had when I was a kid.  I thought this would be a fun time to share those as well.  My parents took some chances on odd toy lines and I’m curious whether they thought that I wasn’t interested in them or if they just bought them as a fluke?  I had a bunch of figures in which I only owned one or two of the toys like the ThunderCats (just had Mumm-Ra and Slithe), Silverhawks (just had a Quicksilver), or Tonto and the Lone Ranger.  In this same camp were Warduke (from the LJN Advanced Dungeons & Dragons) and some miscellaneous Blackstar villain figure (which I must have quickly rejected or lost) because I had one of the little included neon green demon PVC figures…

Blackstar Demon

I’m really loving picking up this miscellaneous figures since they’re basically one and done.  They really feel a lot like a true missing piece to my past being put back in place.  I will say that I broke my normal loose figure buying rules with these.  I saw the Galoob Blackstar Demon at a toy show up in Baltimore and I couldn’t beat the price.  Besides, it’s not like I want to shell out the moolah for a mint Blackstar villain on the card when I’m not even sure which one I had.

DandD Warduke

As for Warduke here, well, I recently won a D&D Dwarf figure from this same line from The Garage Sale of Awesome and it felt weird owning that and not my long lost Warduke.  I had some Amazon cash burning a hole in my pocket so I picked one up blindly from a third party seller for a couple bucks.  He’s not in the best shape (mostly some gauntlet paint wear and he’s missing his rad shield and ice sword, but I’ve researched MOC prices for this little guy and man, that is just never going to happen on my budget!

All in all these guys make for one awesomely Awkward Toy Family Photo!

Awkward Family Photo 80s Toys Edition

They also look great in my collection that adorns (read: is taking over) my entertainment center…

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Now, if I can just find a cheap Quicksilver figure from the Silverhawks line…

And then there’s that time you almost spent $600 on a toddler toy…

So, felt a little listless hanging around the apartment this weekend and decided to make the 45 minute trek up to my favorite local vintage shop called Billy’s Toys.  I just recently picked up an almost min-on-card Transformers Afterburner there and I was curious about some of the store stock that I probably missed on my first visit.  The place is literally packed floor to ceiling with toys, statues and comics.  They’re hiding in buckets and boxes, tucked in-between shelves and even slid underneath some of the glass display cases.  It’s kind of ridiculous in the best way imaginable and feels a lot like falling down the rabbit hole when you step inside the small store.  I decided to give myself a strict budget of $30 because if I didn’t I’d probably end up signing over my bank account and all future earnings with the sheer amount of stuff that I want to take home from this place.

There were a few things that caught my eye in the $20-$30 range (in particular a couple of mint carded action figures including Rock 1 from the Bionic Six and a Gabriel Tonto) but I restrained myself and ended up leaving only ten dollars lighter in the wallet.  I’ll be taking some pictures and scanning in some amazing artwork for a piece later in the week to share my new treasure, but I have to share something else I saw in the store today, something I’d only heard rumors about and have never laid eyes on until today.  Much like the supremely rad Star Wars Speeder Bike Jungle Gym, the following holy grail item is proof that there are kids out there that had a way better childhood than I did.  Behold, the Masters of the Universe Battle Cat toddler hopper!

Battle Cat Hopper

This piece was truly a thing of beauty.  It’s easily three feet long, four feet high, and 2 and a half feet across.  Seriously, this would be like having a baby Battle Cat as a pet, it’s that large.  I can’t even count the number of times I daydreamed about hopping on Battle Cat’s back and riding him through the woods near my house, chasing down all the older kids who picked on me and giving rides to all of my close friends.  To find out that I could have had that experience as a kid (well, more or less) is kind of mind blowing.  I have to be honest.  Even with my very strict budgetary limit set, I seriously mulled over the idea of dropping six bills on this guy if only to mount him over my bed or couch.  I practically had to drag myself out of the store!

I wonder what other amazing pieces of ride-able pop culture amazingness I missed out on in my childhood?  Was there a coin-operated Airwolf ride in malls?  A fully decked out Street Hawk BMX bike?  A Transformers Sideswipe Power Wheels?!?

Teeny Tiny Thunderhawk

Things have been pretty nuts this week, but yesterday there was a slight calm in the storm with a very fun mail day.  Last week I showcased my collection of pop culture 1:64th scale die-cast vehicles and in the comments my good buddy Jason Gross of the super cool Rediscover the 80s website and podcast (of which I was a guest) pointed me to something I didn’t know existed, a Hot Wheels-sized Thunderhawk from the cartoon/toy line M.A.S.K.!  It didn’t even occur to me to hunt for 80s era action cartoon vehicles in this scale, and after a quick scan of eBay one of these little beauties was purchased and making its way to my pop culture parking lot…

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According to the original baggie it came sealed in this was a premium offered by Kenner in 1986 and produced by Yatming Diecast, a Chinese toy company that has since moved from 1:64th scale offerings to more upscale adult collectors cars.  I have no idea what the promotion consisted of to snag one of these back in the 80s, but from what I can tell there were no other M.A.S.K. vehicles produced in this size.

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I was so stoked to open the box and release this car from the original baggie.  Though it’s cool having the Scooby Doo Mystery Machine and Flintstones family car in my collection, this is more in line with what I really want parked in my tiny pop culture garage.  If only there were some G.I. Joe, Transformers or Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors vehicles available in this scale!  I suppose I could pick up the Hot Wheels Retro Entertainment release of Ren’s yellow VW Bug from Footloose and add an Autobot symbol to the hood for a makeshift Bumblebee…

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This toy isn’t an exact replica of Thunderhawk unfortunately.  For one, it’s missing the rad spoiler with the purple grid pattern, but more importantly the doors are in the classic style of a standard 1983 Chevy Camero instead of the super cool gull-wing doors from the cartoon and standard M.A.S.K. toy…

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Even though it’s slightly different, it’s still close enough for me, and it’s official!  So happy to add Matt Tracker’s ride to my collection…

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The Transformers Legacy Boxart book will melt your mind…

On the heels of my Transformers Afterburner toy acquisition from this past weekend I wanted to take a second and point to the super rad new book about to be released, Transformers Legacy: A Celebration of Transformers Package Art.

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One of the things that really gets me excited about finding toys in their original packaging (or “with” in the case of Afterburner) is that I get to get a real up close and personal look at the accompanying artwork that I loved staring at as a kid.  It puts me right back into my 10 year-old shoes as I was walking up and down the toy aisles of my local Albertson’s or Lionel Playworld.  I used to love going grocery shopping with my mom late at night on a Friday or Saturday as I could just obsess over all the toys for an hour or so as she went about her business.  I wish I could afford to pick more vintage stuff MIB on mint on card, but I win the lottery ten or fifteen times that just isn’t going to happen.  Luckily publishers are starting to come around to the idea of archiving this wonderful art, as is the case with the Transformers Legacy book being put out by IDW in May…

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I’m pretty stoked to get my hands on this tome of amazing airbrushed robot madness, and from the sound of it, at 300 pages with with interviews and essays with/by the original artists this book sounds like it’s going to be pretty exhaustive.  I’m really curious to see what Jim Sorenson and Bill Forster have put together.  Honestly, this sort of thing is the culmination of the whole 80s nostalgia boom.  I mean when we’re getting nice hardcover editions of toy box art from our childhood you know our generation is running things! Seriously though, I hope this is just the first of many such volumes.  Since IDW is also doing a bang up job with the G.I. Joe license as well I hope we’ll get to see that artwork in a similar format.

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Transformers Legacy is set to be released on May 6th, and you can pre-order it at Amazon right now!

Reclaiming another small piece of my childhood…

I think it might surprise folks that I don’t have a huge collection of vintage toys from the 80s.  Almost none of my original toys made it through the plethora of family moves throughout the 90s (my parents secretly disposed of most of my childhood things claiming they were lost), the the few pieces that survived were either foolishly destroyed or traded away.  It didn’t help matters that as a kid I was always a “trader” swapping toys with friends as a means of getting stuff my parents didn’t gift me on birthdays and Christmas.  My history is littered with boneheaded toy transactions where I was most assuredly on the losing end of the bargain.

Case in point, my rash decision at age 12 to trade a garbage bag full of my Transformers for a Hot Wheels Rally Case full of about  40 Micro Machines cars and planes.  For some reason my parents ignored my pleas for some of these, and the rad commercials staring John Moschitta were driving me crazy with tiny vehicle lust.  Since I never had an allowance until in my later teen years, there was no way I could buy these on my own (40 MM, at $4 per pack of 5, works out to about $32 which to me at the time was nearing Scrooge McDuck net worth territory.)  So it made perfect sense to trade almost all of my transformers.  What did I give up?  Optimus Prime, Red Alert, Ironhide, Ratchet, Inferno, Sideswipe, Swoop, Soundwave, Buzzsaw, Dirge, Shrapnel, Kickback, Bombshell, Crosshairs, all five Terrorcons, a couple of Stunticons, Wreckgar, Beachcomber, Brawn, Warpath, Cliffjumper, and all of Computron.  Easily $250 worth of toys for a measly handful of Micro Machines.  I’m super glad my parents never found out (or let me know if they did uncover my black market toy swaps.)  For years I’d regretted it, and it wasn’t until the past six or seven years that I was able to come to terms with it after replacing a few of these toys with some Toys R Us reissues.  But there are a bunch of Transformers what weren’t put out again, and have been way too over-priced to even contemplate picking up mint on card or MIB.  This past weekend though, after visiting a toy store I thought was no longer open, I finally managed to reconnect with another of these lost Transformers (well, sort of.)

Afterburner 1

While browsing the tiny, impossibly cramped vintage toy shop I locked eyes with one of my favorite Transformers, Computron’s right arm, the Techobot Afterburner.  I’m not sure whether it’s his Tron-esque design, the cool looking white canopy/cockpit, the orange color scheme or the simple fact that he was one of the rare 80s era motorcycle toys, but Afterburner has always been burned into my psyche as a childhood favorite toy.  When I saw this carded figure I had to have it and was temporarily blinded by the fact that the bubble had been lifter and he was missing his rad pulse cannon.

Afterburner 4

Honestly, I didn’t care all that much because missing pieces or not, this was still a brand new Afterburner complete with card.  I’ve mentioned in the past that I have some weird issues when it comes to “buying back my childhood” and how I’m not all that keen on acquiring vintage opened toys as they’re essentially someone else’s memories.  Sure, we all share the common pop culture pool of toys and cartoons which binds us in a sense, but the specific toys that were loved and played with are very individual.  So when I happen upon old/new stock at a reasonable price it’s like having my birthday and Christmas all rolled up in one.  Extra added bonus with this particular Afterburner is that it was also packaged with a Transformers Decoy minifig, something I never had and have always wanted.  Win Win!

Afterburner 2

I immediately purchased the figure and the first thing I did on the way to the car was take a snapshot to share on instagram, twitter and facebook.  Inevitably the question came up about whether I intended to open the figure or to keep him (relatively) sealed.  Well I ended up opening him and here’s why…

Afterburner 3

First of all, the card and bubble weren’t in the best shape, and the bubble had been lifted further off the card that I realized initially (in my excitement I didn’t inspect it too closely, I just assumed the one pulse cannon had been removed.)  That alone would have bugged me, what with the staples used to close the bottom bubble and all.  More importantly I just really wanted to hold the toy again and to transform and pose him.  So I took out my sharpest knife and proceeded to cut away the portions of the bubble that weren’t glued down to free my new treasure…

Well, it was mush to my chagrin after opening Afterburner when I realized that this was not an almost mint on card toy.  In fact, this was a well played with and kinda grungy figure!  I should have realized this as the stickers had already been placed on the toy, but I really figured it out when I took him out and the side of the toy that was facing inward towards the card was dirty as all hell.  There was some sort of sticky gunk in the wheel well and there were years of dust and dirt in the crevasses.  Sigh.  I’m 95% sure this specific figure and card weren’t originally together either.  If I had to guess, the shop owner found the card with the bubble, weapons, and Decoy attached and put in a loose Afterburner he had on hand.  The fact that the one side was all clean sort of confirms that for me.  Am I pissed?  No.  But it confirmed that my decision to open the toy was the best bet.

Afterburner 7

Not only was the toy dirty, but he was a bitch and a half to transform.  I thought for certain that I was going to snap it in half while trying to bend the waist joint.  Judging by what looks like some super glue residue at the base of his head (which doubles as the connecting pin for attaching it as Computron’s arm), the head/neck piece was also broken and glued back on.  Still though, after I cleaned him up and very gingerly transformed him I did get a little thrill and it felt nice to hold him in my hands almost 25 years after stupidly giving him up.  Seriously, is his alt mode not the coolest toy motorcycle since Condor from M.A.S.K?

Afterburner 5

Afterburner 8

Luckily I was able to preserve his cardback and the inserts.  Because the package came from a Decoy edition, it was packed with a mini fold out comic which is really fun.  There was also a mail in form for Reflector (something I’ve coveted for years), as well as instructions on how to form Computron.  Isn’t this card artwork just the coolest?!?  I’m so happy that a nice hardcover book featuring Transformers box art is coming out in May (I’ve already pre-ordered my copy!)

Transformers Afterburner Cardback 1987 front

Transformers Afterburner Cardback 1987

Here’s the Decoy minicomic…

Transformers Decoy mini comic 1987 2

Transformers Decoy mini comic 1987 1

And that rad Reflector mail-away…

Transformers Reflector Mailaway 2 1987

Transformers Reflector Mailaway 1 1987

Only 2 Robot Points huh?  Well, I guess I only need one and a half more!!!

Transformers Robot Points 1987

Lastly, for anyone curious about how to form Computron, here you go…

Transformers Computron Instructions

I sure would love to have the other 4 figures to be able to form the full Computron again.  Since this Afterburner was originally someone else’s memory maybe I’ll be able to make an exception and pick up some opened figures.  Who knows.  Maybe someday…

Afterburner 6

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…