Tag Archives: jem

Retro Con or Bust…

A couple weekends ago my girlfriend Jaime and I made the trek up to Oaks, Pennsylvania for Retro Con, a relatively recent toy and pop culture convention that I’ve wanted to check out for a few years and I had an absolute blast.


There was a time in my life when I never missed a local comic or pop culture convention that was within sane driving distance, usually Dragon Con in Atlanta which I hit up every year between 1994-2009 or so.  As I get older though, my tolerance for waiting in 4-hour ticket lines, browsing over-priced dealers rooms, and wading through sticky, sweltering masses of humanity to get access to bathrooms or food stalls has almost evaporated.  Honestly, there’s usually not all that much that entices me to come out.  So when I first heard about Retro Con I was a feeling pretty dubious about attending, but after hearing a bunch of online friends raving about the show I decided it finally time to check it out.


First and foremost, the thing that had me the most stoked about attending was finally getting the chance to meet a bunch of folks who I’d only known through Twitter and Facebook that I knew were going to be at the show.  Upon reflection I’m bummed that I didn’t have the presence of mind to take pictures with all of the folks I met, but at least I got to pop into this pic with the really swell Classick of the Cold Slither Podcast (@classickmateria – and I totally swiped that picture from him!)  I also got the opportunity to meet and chat with Dean Schaeffer (aka @LamarRevenger), who has been endlessly cool and supportive of Branded pretty much since it’s inception (he was just as rad, jovial, and gregarious as I’d imagined.)  I also had the opportunity to rub elbows with a bunch of other swell folks like John Kent (aka @JohnDoctorKent, indie movie producer and the new caretaker of Robo Force), @MeisterShake (who has one hell of an impressive collection of toys), Jonathan Zelenak (aka @TheSewerDen, a very dapper man with an awesome take on TMNT fandom), the very cool @NecroticDoctor (who also have a very cool toy and pop culture collection), William Bruce West (aka @WilliamBWest whose trivia skill is basically like that robot on Jeopardy, only he specializes in arcane pop culture knowledge and sitcoms), Jason Gross (aka @RD80s) & Wyatt Bloom (aka @infamouswb) the duo behind Agents of Mask, not to mention Jason’s badass nostalgia site Rediscover the 80s!  It’s been a few years since I was able to meet a bunch of online folks in real life like this, so that was a pretty awesome experience and now I can totally put faces and names to Twitter handles.  Next time I’m gonna have to remember to get more pictures…

As far as the convention itself, there were a couple of things that I was getting excited about before the show.  Though the announced guest list was pretty short, there were a handful of folks attending that were instrumental in making my childhood 2000% more fun.  In particular I was really looking forward to meeting Michael Bell, the gentleman who provided the voice acting for a ton of my favorite cartoon characters.  He’s probably most recognized as the voice of Duke on the G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero cartoon, but he also brought life to a ton of other characters including Grouchy Smurf, Sideswipe & Prowl from the Transformers, and Hiro on Spiral Zone just to name a few.  And as much as I love those cartoons (and his Duke was basically the voice of my internal monologue moral center as a kid), the one project he worked on that means the most to me, the one that fills me with the most nostalgia for my childhood is the work he did on the 1977 A&M Halloween Horrors story and sound effect record.


I’ve written at length about this album before, but the 14 minute Story of Halloween short on Side A is something that I’ve listened to hundreds of times over the past 38 years.  My parents picked this record up the year I was born and it was a staple of every Halloween season all throughout my childhood.  I used to drag this album and my portable record player into my closet as a kid and listen to it over and over in the dark, to a point where I practically know every second of it by heart.  So when I read that Bell would be attending the show I knew that if nothing else I had to track him down, shake his hand and get him to sign my copy of the record.


The look on his face when I handed him the record was worth the 4-hour round trip to the convention alone.  I can’t be sure, but I have a feeling that I may be the only person who has ever brought this up to him to sign, and I’m so happy to have gotten the chance to tell him thank you for the years of entertainment.

Again, though the guest list was short, the folks that made it out to the show were pretty damn cool.  Not only did I get to meet Duke in person, but sitting just a couple tables to the left was the legendary Rankin/Bass voice actor Larry Kenney, Lion-O himself!


Aside from the DVD collection and a couple action figures I don’t have a ton of Thundercats stuff that I could get him to autograph, so I thought it would be fun to bring the first issue of the Thundercats magazine.  As much as I like vintage toys and DVDs, and even though Kenney had nothing whatsoever to do with the publication of the magazine, my heart really lies with vintage ephemera so that seemed like the perfect thing to bring.  I’m glad I did too, because after shaking his hand, saying thank you and asking for an autograph, he picked up the magazine, flipped through it, and then opened it up to the middle and took a really big whiff before signing it.  I guess Mr. Kenney appreciates the smell of vintage paper as much as I do!  There were a few other cool actors on hand, Doug Stone who played Matt Trakker on M.A.S.K. and John Moschitta, Jr. who starred in the 80s era Micro Machine commercials as well as voicing Blur in Transformers: The Movie.  There were a couple other voice actors and puppeteers on hand, but none that I had the opportunity to meet on Saturday.

When I wasn’t hanging around the back of the con blathering about the 80s and cartoons to Michael Bell, my girlfriend Jaime and I had a lot of fun perusing the dealer’s room.  Unlike most conventions I’ve been to, Retro Con’s dealer’s room was packed to the gills with vendors selling vintage toys and ephemera.  I mean, I was kind of blown away by the selection and the prices.  Usually it seems like dealer’s rooms are seriously overpriced as the sort of unspoken agreement is that the attendees are traveling out to attend a show to find stuff they don’t normally find in antique and comic shops in their area, then they’re willing to drop a little more cash than usual.  I didn’t get that vibe here at all which was pretty damn refreshing.  I mean I saw a vintage Metroplex on one table that was only missing a couple of accessories for $10!  I also found that most of the vendors I chatted with were willing to haggle, so if one was inclined there were a ton of good deals on vintage toys to be had.

Jaime and I both walked away with a few small treasures, but by far the coolest thing we found on the floor that weekend was a booth that specialized in custom built light boxes that had vintage arcade game marquees.  When Jaime saw the marquee for the TMNT game we knew that piece was going home with us…


Rounding out our experience was the fun of people watching at the show.  It’s pretty common that a bunch of folks will cosplay at conventions these days (heck, I see Stormtroopers, Ghostbusters, and Klingons doing Toys For Tots outside of Toys ‘R Us each year), but the folks who decked themselves out at this show seemed to focus their creative efforts more on 80s era cartoon properties.  I saw a really nice Miles Mayhem from M.A.S.K., a whole squadron of Cobra characters from G.I. Joe (including a Serpentor complete with working air chariot!), and a few other fun costumes, but hands down, my favorite cosplayers of the event were the Misfits…


Stormer and Roxy even stuck the familiar box art poses for this shot which was a nice touch. All in all, if you’re looking for a show that caters more towards the 80s era nostalgia and toy crowd, Retro Con is a much better answer than the typical Wizard World and Comic Con shows.  Not nearly as congested with people, but still a lot of good deals and fun to be had on the floor.  I’m really looking forward to hitting up the show again in 2016…

These Should Exist: the Jem & the Holograms edition!

With the release of the first two trailers for the new big screen, live action adaptation of Jem & the Holograms only a couple of months away it’s had me thinking a lot about the original cartoon and toy line and what made those so special to me growing up in the 80s.  I pretty much have zero interest in the new movie because I feel like the production has completely shrugged off the original concept and vision of the property that it’s all but unrecognizable.  In fact it feels like a more earnest adaptation of the Hannah Montana television series, which was itself a lesser derivative of the original Jem cartoon.  On a brighter note, I finally managed to pick up the first five issues of the IDW comic book adaptation of Jem written by Kelly Thompson and lavishly illustrated by Sofie (formerly Ross) Campbell, a favorite artist of mine for the past 15 years or so.

Jem comic

The comic series is great and manages to hit all the notes of the original while still updating the plot and characters into a more modern take.  We hear a lot about comic book adaptations and mining comics for film these days, but this is the type of material and a philosophy for how to write fan favorite material that Hollywood just isn’t grasping.  That said, I’m not trying to knock the wind out of the film industry, though if there are ever any executives out there reading this, you’re getting it wrong.  Anyway, since I’ve been diving back into the story of Jem a lot lately I thought it would be the perfect time to try my hand at designing another set of trading cards that SHOULD have existed back in the 80s but for whatever reason never happened…

Jem_Wrapper_v1    Jem_Wrapper_v2

Like the previous sets I created (or co-created) for The Monster Squad, Adventures in Babysitting, Rad, Young Guns and Young Guns II, I had a blast working on these.  I love trying to slip into the creative mindset of a Topps employee circa 1985 when laying out and utilizing artwork to create these wax wrapper and card designs.  Finding colors that work well with the content or trying to make the cards dynamic yet still true to the aesthetic of the 80s…


Jem_Cards_1_combo     Jem_Cards_3_Combo

First and foremost, since there is a lot of gorgeous Jem & the Holograms toy box art for each of the characters I wanted to highlight that before utilizing any of the animation imagery.  Though there were some cartoon series that had trading card sets in the 80s (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Masters of the Universe immediately spring to mind), the majority of trading card sets seemed to focus mainly on film and live action TV.  Also, the cartoon sets tended to add speech bubbles with puns and dialogue to the cards and I really didn’t want to do that.  It’s not like I feel I’d have to per-se, but it would be more accurate which is half of what I’m striving for when making these sets…

Jem_Cards_4_Combo     Jem_Cards_5_Combo


Jem_Cards_7_combo     Jem_Cards_6_combo

The crazy 80s-inspired design of these cards is also a bit personal for me because I was able to tap into my childhood experience growing up in central Florida.  The color scheme I went with is heavily evocative of what I remember seeing all over the place from the design on the scratch-off lottery tickets that became legal around 1988.  It’s a mix of a beachy feel with a splash of flamingo, aqua and neon.  I had so many pairs of surf & skate shirts and shorts that sported these colors…


Jem_Cards_11_combo     Jem_Cards_12_combo


Making these cards was also an excuse to seek out a ton of Jem-related research materials including interviews with series mastermind Christy Marx, making-of featurettes from the Shout! Factory DVD release, as well as diving back into watching the cartoon itself.  I always love re-watching cartoons when I’m doing research for a project like this because it makes me stop and take a closer look at what’s going on both in the episode and behind the scenes…

Jem_Cards_13_combo     Jem_Cards_17_combo



Jem_Cards_16_combo     Jem_Cards_15_combo

All in all, I think this is my favorite of the digital trading cards sets I’ve worked on solo thus far.  And at the risk of sounding like a broken record I really wish that I had a set of these in hard copy cards to stick in my collecting binders sandwiched in between my Robocop and Harry and the Hendersons cards.  Maybe someday.

*UPDATE* this is pretty darn cool

These are excellent. Hasbro should totally do these.

Posted by Christy Marx Clubhouse on Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Talking about some stuff I LOVE TO DEATH!

Holy crap!  It’s freaking Podcast-a-polooza here at Branded today.  I have not one, but two new shows that went live this morning.  First up is episode 4 of the Cult Film Club, the show I co-host with Paxton Holley and Jaime Hood.  This is our Valentine’s Day episode, and for us that meant sitting down to watch the mostly naked Marc Singer, the topless Tanya Roberts, and John Amos’ butt cheeks in the amazing 1982 flick The Beastmaster!

For those uninitiated with the flick, it follows Dar, a warrior with the power to communicate with the animal kingdom, on his quest to avenge the destruction and mass murder of his village by the tyrannical wizard Maax.  Along the way there are plenty of painted tigers, hot-bodied Stygian witches, and freaky bird people that make this film a true fantasy cult classic!  In the episode we discuss the fantasy/barbarian genre, the violence and adult content in the film, cinematographer John Alcott and his amazing use of lighting, the special effects, and the wonderful score by Lee Holdridge.  We take a closer look at some of the actors in our regular segment, Hey Do I Know That Guy, as well as playing Hollywood moguls in a segment we like to call It’s Time For a Recast!

You can head on over to the Cult Film Club, or you can download it directed by right-clicking and saving here!

On the other end of the Valentine’s day spectrum I joined back up with the Saturday Supercast, this time talking with Jerzy Drozd and Dave Roman all about what it was like being a boy growing up in the 80s who watched girl’s cartoons…

We kick off with talk about the surprisingly intense My Little Pony: Rescue at Midnight Castle, then move on to The World of Strawberry Shortcake, and close with a chat about outrageous rocker gals on guitar-shaped motorcycles, Jem!  You can find the episode at Sugary Serials.com, or you can right click and download it here!

If these shows don’t say “I love you”, then I don’t know what does…