Tag Archives: 80s toys

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…

With a handle like Smurfwreck you’d think blue would be my favorite color…

…but it’s not, it’s hot pink.  Now that, that random bit of trivia is out of the way, I wanted to take a second and tackle this week’s League assignment where we’re charged with taking photos highlighting the color blue.  Last time we had an assignment like this (with Red), I totally didn’t notice the photo assignment and wrote and essay about blood and how it worked into my first and only fight as a kid.  This time I paid better attention and collected some of my favorite blue stuff from around Branded HQ.

First up, one of my two favorite blue t-shirts, and the classiest one I own for sure…

Top Hat Sas

Next up, some chilly and wet stickers from my favorite vintage collection, Garbage Pail Kids…

GPK Blue

I was surprised at how many blue robots I had within reaching distance…

blue robots

Posing my Soundwave statue it occurred to me that there were a hell of a lot of blue villains in the 80s cartoons and toy lines I loved.  Like Fakor, Skeletor and Trap Jaw!

blue fakor

Not to mention the supreme blue badass that is Mumm-Ra!

blue mummy

And who can forget the rad blue fashion sense of Cobra!

blue terrorist fashion

But by far, my favorite blue thing is the totally amazing birthday gift I received this year, my very own furry blue My Pet Monster!

mpm 1 mpm2

Oh, and there’s my other favorite blue t-shirt, DeLorean represent.

If you like all the blue-i-ness you see here, why not check out some of the other League members to see what blue caught their camera eye…

Jaime, Shezcrafti, shares 21 (not) boring blue things about her

Dex, AEIOU and Sometimes Why, opens a vintage pack of Blue Star Wars Topps trading cards

Miss M, Diary of a Dorkette, gets blue with her Dorky Snaps

Derek, Goodwill Hunting 4 Geeks, shows off his very impressive blue toy collection

Laura, Boo Bobby, shows off her Boglins, Gonzos, Rad T-shirts, and Turtles, oh my

Todd, Neato Coolvile, has quite an impressive collection of vintage blue wonderful

Tommy, Top Hat Sasquatch, is feeling blue, so Batman made cookies!

Chris, Garage Sale of Awesome, shares their super rad blue M.A.S.K. bedsheets!

Thrashor is the Master of the Radical Universe

So this summer has probably been the most insane I’ve dealt with in a very long time, mostly of my own doing. Not bad stuff per-se, just crazy happenings going on behind the scenes that have me scrambling and changing things up all over the place. That being said, I feel like I’m finally getting back to being on an even keel and will hopefully be back to being a more productive website writer/maintenance/person guy. Or whatever.


So, first things first, I wanted to write a bit about some of the super rad stuff I’ve picked up over the last few months. In particular I’ve been meaning to write about 8 Bit Zombie’s last merchandise drop, the one I mentioned a few posts down. I was really excited to see the new crop of T-Shirts, Hats, and swag, but in particular there were a couple items that really knocked me for a loop. Spinning off the popularity of the themed Power Packs (that I raved about awhile back), 8BZ head honcho Ross and his talented artists put together a really cool Garbage Pail Kid inspired pack Garbage Bag!


Featuring four die-cut stickers GPK style stickers, a random giant print, a large scale “create your own” sticker set, and a collector pin, this $15 package is a love letter to pop culture and Garbage Pail Kids nostalgia. For folks like me who have a mostly complete vintage GPK run, these rad homages are the perfect way to both celebrate and add the collection. In fact, I could easily see myself buying a whole 40-card set of these inspired sticker cards.



The coup de grace from this past drop though, is 8 Bit Zombie’s first toy, Thrashor, an amazing collaboration between owner Ross, artist Matthew Skiff, Shinbone Creative and True Cast Studio. Thrashor is totally the master of the radical universe made from solid slime-green resin. Based on last year’s Masters of the Universe inspired T-Shirt design, the figure features zero points of articulation, and yet he still manages to be a way better skater than I ever was.


Not only is this a rad MOTU-inspired inaction figure, but there are a lot of fun little details that I really love including his Power Glove gauntlet and his super cool 8-bit Skeletor skateboard.

3      4

Though the figure sold out of its first production run super quick, fret not as he’ll be back in a new edition soon.

I am a pretty huge fan of what Ross and artists like Matthew Skiff are creating over at 8BZ, pulling the nostalgia heart strings while providing all sorts of cool clothing, gear, swag, and now toys. I’m pretty sure the next step is world domination.

I’m Down With OPP, er, Coveting Other People’s Property…

This week The League is hosting another virtual shopping spree through a very real (and pretty darn awesome) auction being held over at Hakes.  In the last auction I put in my bid on a set of Sanrio prototype aquatic action figures that never saw full fledged production.  It was pretty rad stumbling across the archeological remnants of proposed and designed toy line that sadly never came to be, and there are some more rare production prototypes and carded figures for some rares 80s toy lines in this new auction.  But I wanted to take a slightly different slant with my shopping spree this time.  In fact, I don’t really want to go on a spree at all.  There’s one item in particular that I have my sights on, but I’ll get to that in a moment.  First I wanted to highlight a few items that I would have, um, virtually bought, had I not put put the brakes on my fake spending.

Hakes Stuff

Pictured above are a few of the 80s centric items that caught my eye in the most recent Hakes auction.  There are some pretty cool Flintstone Kids Pizza Hut premiums that I would proudly pin to my messenger bag (not to mention that I sort of have a fetish for pinback buttons.)  There are a handful of rad and kind of rare Infaceables action figures released by Galoob in 1984.  I love the idea of action figures built around transforming from human to monster and back again.  And last but not least, a seriously awesome Street Hawk lunchbox.  I came pretty darn close to winning the original artwork for this lunchbox back around the time I started this site and I’ve always been a little miffed at myself for not bidding just 20 bucks more, ’cause if I had it’d probably be framed and hanging in Branded HQ right now.  As it stands I’d love to have the actual lunchbox as a memento of balking at the auction price 7 years ago…

But as I mentioned, I had to take a trip back around the virtual auction house, virtually putting all these cool things back on the virtual shelves.  Why you might ask?  Well, because as I was browsing through all this neat stuff I was feeling a little bit like I was walking through someone else’s house full of bitchin collectibles.  I can’t explain it, but I get this vibe a lot when I’m hunting through flea markets and picking through antique stores.  All these things came from someone else’s childhood or estate.  Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not going all Mikey from Goonies here.  I’m not saying we should all thROW back the rich stuff from the bottom of the wishing well.  It’s just a thing I struggle with from time to time.  What cemented it for me was stumbling upon this next item, a toy that I have a very covetous history with, the Star Wars Return of the Jedi At-ST Scout Walker released by Kenner in 1983


Now I had a lot of Star Wars stuff as a kid, a ton of the action figures and my fare share of vehicles including not one, but two At-At Walkers.  But, as it goes, and like I mentioned in this post a couple weeks ago, it’s always the things that you don’t own that seem to be what’s coveted the most.  In the case of the At-ST Walker, well, I never came across one in the store or at any of my friend’s houses.  I saw my first and only AT-ST toy back in the summer of 1983.  My family was picking up stakes from our home in Tampa, FL to move a couple hours due east to Orlando.  I had just turned six and my folks decided to let me tag along on some trips out of town while they did some house-hunting.  On one of these excursions we stopped at a house that still had a family living in it, and while we were taking a tour I spotted the above toy sitting on the bureau of some strange kid’s bedroom.  Being six, the thought hadn’t occurred to me that the stuff in the house wasn’t part of the bargain.  In fact, I spent the next three hours trying to convince my parents that out of all the houses we’d looked through to that point, this last one was obviously the one we should go with.  I mean it was two stories, had hardwoo…screw it, it was because there was an AT-ST in one of the rooms that I really freaking wanted.  After it was explained to me that buying a house didn’t quite work the way I’d hoped (and boy was I a tad relieved when they pointed out that if it had I’d be losing all MY STUFF), I was a little crushed.  Hungry Howie’s Pizza later that night didn’t make it better.  Getting to listen to my Michael Jackson Thriller tape on infinite repeat during the two hour trip back only helped a little.  If I have to be honest I’ve always sort of had an AT-ST-sized hole in my heart over the years.

Seeing that piece up for auction, well it both reminded me that I still kinda sorta (read – desperately) want this toy and that even if I don’t get it, wanting it still feels pretty good in it’s own weird way.  So that’s why if money were no object, I think I’d walk away from the auction with just this one treasure to fill that mechanical chicken-shaped hole in me…

So, check out the Hakes Auction, pick out your own weirdly shaped coveted item and fill in that hole that’ll make you feel a bit more, well, whole.  When you’re done, check out these other League posts to see what they found…

Jaime, Shezcrafti, seems to have some pretty damn similar tastes in stuff as me

Dex, AEIOU and Sometimes Why, picks some choice items

Chris, Random Nerdness, has a basket full of, well, random nerdy things

Victoria, VikkiVerka, has a taste for BLOOD, well, books about blood and guts

RobotPJs, Robot’s Pajamas, runs down some fun bad Ditko artwork

Thinking About Becoming a Professional Podcast Guest…

So, diving back into the online world after the last couple of months not only means more articles in the works at Branded, but I’ve also switched back on my microphone and honored to be asked to guest host (or take part on a panel) on a number of podcasts.

First up, I was part of an 11-blogger panel on the first episode of the Rediscover the 80s Podcast (and I’ve been remiss in getting the word out as this show went live at the end of May!)


The brainchild of Jason Gross, this is one mammoth show done in the style of VH1′s Do You Remember series where the panel discusses all sorts of 80s pop culture facets and we provide a running commentary.  From Ghostbusters to Turbo Teen there’s a lot of ground covered and pretty darn fascinating getting so many of us pop culture histories talking about these movies, cartoons, commercials and musical acts!  Gross is currently hip deep in putting together the 2nd and 3rd installments and I can’t wait to hear them!  So head on over and give it a listen, well worth your time if you’re a child of the 80s…

Next up (an a much more recent announcement ;) ), I was asked to come on to the Forgotten Filmcast to discuss one of my top ten favorite flicks from the 80s, Streets of Fire!  I chatted with host Todd all about Walter Hill, Michael Pare, Diane Lane, Rick Moranis, Willem DaFoe, the rad music (in particular the work of Face to Face as the real band behind Ellen Aim and the Attackers), and some spiritual film connections!

Forgotten Filmcast

Todd is a really knowledgeable and charismatic guy who knows his cult films!  I had a blast on the show and can’t wait to hear what he covers next.  Check out episode 8: Streets of Fire and tell him Branded sent ya!

Nerd Lunch

Last, but certainly not least, a new episode of the Nerd Lunch Podcast dropped today, episode 91, where I joined hosts CT, Pax, and 4th chair guest Howie Decker to discuss the 80s era G.I. Joe A Real American Hero toyline!


We discuss what we had, what we coveted, what we lost, and what we’d like to acquire in our collecting over the past 30 years.  Head on over, give the episode a listen, and weigh in on whether or not Crystal Ball, Raptor, and Dr. Mindbender need to reunite for a soul singing trio called No Shirts Required!

A Good Thing About Moving…

So I recently moved house, which is part of what’s been keeping me so silent on the internet these past few months, but in the process I found some treasures I didn’t even realize I had!  A little while after my sister passed away I took charge of all the family photos so that I could organize and scan them all so we’d have an easy to share set of digital snapshots.  My main focus was getting to all the pictures of my sister, but I kept a stack of photos of myself as a kid that I haven’t had a chance to look through until this past month.  One of the awesome side effects of a move (seriously, you have to try and look on the bright side right?) is that it forces you to take stock of everything you own.  It all has to be packed up, moved and unpacked, so you get a couple chances to find things that have been lost or discover things you never realized you had.

One of laments about my childhood is that by the time I came along my parents had lost a lot of the zest for taking pictures that they had with my sister.  So I don’t have any Halloween photos, or all that many Christmas morning shots.  Well, apparently my parents had been sitting on some pictures that are exactly the kind of things I’ve been dying to post on Branded but thought didn’t exist.  There weren’t a ton, but there were a few really cool snapshots, like this one of me and my friend Timmy playing with his Millennium Falcon sometime in 1982…

Shawn Star Wars small

Man, how I remember coveting that thing!  I had some really cool Star Wars junk as a kid (a couple of At-Ats, an X-Wing, Snow Speeder, and a Y-Wing), but isn’t it always the case that the stuff you didn’t have always seemed cooler than the stuff you did?  Well, at least I got a chance to play with it and wasn’t just drooling over the pages in the Sears or JC Penny Catalogs…

Hun-Dred Crushed the Life Out of My Comments Section…

So, just wanted to post something quick to acknowledge that, yes, the technical aspect of the comments section of this website suck.  Like, the ability to post or see comments that is, not anyone’s fine musings (which like most folks who run sites I love hearing and responding to.)  The framework that this site is based on is pretty poor and basically held together by my heartfelt wishes and duck tape anyway, so it’s not surprising.  That being said, I’m always available via Facebook, Twitter, or Email, so yeah.

In other non-integral news, yesterday was an amazing mail day.  When I came home I was greeted with a mint-in-package Robo Force Hun-Dred 30 year-old toy robot.  I’ll probably be writing more about this beautiful specimen in the coming week, but for anyone that cares I’ll be spending the rest of the week and weekend staring at and most likely cuddling with it when I sleep.  TMRLI, I know.  (Too Much Robot Love Info.)  Now if you’ll excuse me I have to go exercise his hugging crushing action on some of my other action figures…

Just playing with some toys…

Been rearranging the toys on my bookshelves in Branded HQ.  Though I don’t have a ton of vintage 80s stuff, there is a little bit peppered in with the more or less retro themed toys…

Some of my favorites are the Transformers Classics Jetfire (just a great toy all around), the new Nickelodeon Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, my Weaponeers of Monkaa Crystar custom build, and my ginormous Mumm-Ra who is currently the king of my collection…

What are some of your favorite toys?

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…

Talking Failed Movie Toy Lines on the Nerd Lunch Podcast…

I recently had the opportunity to sit down with the folks at the Nerd Lunch podcast to have an interesting conversation about failed movie toy lines…

CT, Paxton, 4th chair guest Kirk from the Schlock Treatment podcast and I talk about what we think goes into making a successful movie toy line, what movie toy lines we though tanked and why, and what lines we would develop given the opportunity.  We throw out some pulp detectives, Visitors from another planet, professional arm wrestlers, crane-kicking kids, and those Lone Ranger figures I mentioned in the League post yesterday.

So if you want to hear me and the guys talking about toys, head on over to the Nerd Lunch site, or heck, you can download the episode by subscribing to the show on iTunes, or even directly right here!