Tag Archives: Nostalgia

Wax Paper Pop Art #32, Drawn to women who are drawn bad…

It seems odd that in just over six years of running Branded in the 80s I haven’t really talked about a film like Roger Rabbit.  Hmm, I’ll have to remedy that in the future.  In the meantime, here’s the wax wrapper for the 1987 Topps card and sticker set…

Wax Paper Pop Art #31:Duh Da Duh Duuunnnn, Dun Dun Dun!

Since I’ve been starring at my tiny Hot Wheels A-Team van all week, and since I have a contest going where you can win one of these toys, I decided that this would be a good time to share my 1983 Topps A-Team wax wrappers…

I talked about the stickers from this card set a while back too.

Wax Paper Pop Art #30, the Big Hairy Ape edition…

This week’s Wax Paper Pop Art is all about big hairy apemen.  Whether it’s the hilarious misadventures of an unruly adopted sasquatch with the 1987 Topps Harry and the Henderson’s card and sticker set (which I talked about here)…

…the weird romance and ennui of the master of the apes, from the 1976 Topps King Kong card and sticker set…

…or these next two wrappers from 1967 and 1969 (respectively) featuring the Topps Planet of the Apes card sets.

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Which reminds me, I need to break out my Planet of the Apes cartoon DVD and watch it again…

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Wax Paper Pop Art #29, Assembling some of the Avengers…

Well, it’s Friday and I’m really looking forward to the weekend and catching the Avengers sometime tomorrow morning.  Seems like a good opportunity to share my two main Marvel comics wax wrappers.  First up is the wrapper for the Topps Marvel Comic Book Heroes Stickers from 1974

I didn’t have any wrappers that were more in line with the Avengers, so I figured it’d be fun to pair the above with my favorite wax wrapper of all time from the 1979 Topps Incredible Hulk card set!

Here’s to hoping the Hulk gets to smash a bunch of stuff tomorrow…

Wax Paper Pop Art #28, The Ewoks Join the Fight!

Wow, I can’t believe it’s been almost a year since I slapped together a Wax Paper Pop Art post.  I’ve got to get on the ball and finish scanning my collection so I can start these up again.  In the meantime, and in honor of my BFF Wicket W. Warrick stuffed toy, here are a couple of wrappers from Topps Return of the Jedi card series circa 1983…

I find it fascinating that the designers decided that out of all the Ewoks they could have featured on one of these wax packs they decided to include a baby.  Granted, they were cute as hell, but aesthetically speaking wouldn’t Logray or Chief Chirpa have been a better choice?

Taking a look at the first season of the ThunderCats!

So I recently caught the first couple episodes of the newly relaunched ThunderCats cartoon and it got me in the mood to break out the first season of the original show on DVD and watch a bunch of episodes.  Sort of like the Transformers posts last month, I figured I’d run through a bunch of scenes and aspects that I found interesting.  Before I get to that though, I wanted to say that I’m enjoying this new series even though I think it’s making some very weird choices story-wise.  For the most part I really like the changes the writers have made to the back-story, picking a relate-able age for Lion-O, ignoring the Superman origin of escaping the destruction of Thundera, and introducing some familial ties to the characters; heck, even tying in Mumm-Ra to the legend of the Eye of Thundera feels like a move in the right direction of making sense of the enormous amount of ideas presented in the original series. T here are some odd aspects to the story though, that I feel just don’t work.

First, the concept of treating “technology” like magic, as if it were some mystical unknown fairytale, is just weird and goes against the logic of what technology is.  With magic, which is heavily prevalent in the world of the ThunderCats in both series, there is no real basis for why it works or exists because it’s completely fictional and a product of fantasy.  There’s no science or reason to it, it just is.  Technology on the other hand has its roots in reality, in the simplest of tools (levers, wheels and inclined planes), and even though a graphing calculator might be light years ahead of an abacus, it’s a natural progression of the concept.  Granted the tech introduced in the show is of a more advanced and alien design than what we currently have in the world, but it’s not to say it’s stuff that out of the realm of possibility.  It’s the science fiction aspect of the series.  So to treat technology as if it were a fairy tale, a part of fantasy, though interesting, just seems like a plot device full that’s at odds with itself by the very nature of the difference between science fiction and fantasy.

The other weird plot point is that at the end of the first episode we’re left with a group of ThunderCats that are more less seeking vengeance for the destruction of their kingdom and the murder of their people and king.  Don’t get me wrong, I love a good vengeance/revenge story, but I think it’s the wrong way to frame a story about heroes.  The Punisher, the Bride from Kill Bill, Lone Wolf and Cub; these characters aren’t heroes and are beyond redemption.  It’s a weird choice to frame the ThunderCats story with this sort of anger and intensity.  Not only does it possibly lead to unjustifiable actions by the “good” characters, it’s also hard to keep that intensity going over the course of an extended series.  Either every story has to tie into Mumm-Ra and the revolt of the Mutants, or there’s going to have to be a pretty darn good reason to stray from the path to have a stand alone story without it feeling like a waste of time.  The beauty of a lot of 80s era cartoons was that they were set up in such a way that you could go anywhere with the characters.

Well, anyway, that’s how the new show’s introduction came off to me.  Getting back to the original series and the point of this article though, first thing’s first, let’s get the naked cat out of the bag so to speak.  By that I mean…

Why were the ThunderCats freaking naked in the pilot episode!?!

I have absolutely no idea why Leonard Starr (the pilot’s writer) or the guys in charge of production on this series decided it would be a good idea to introduce the ThunderCats as a race of seriously naked cat people.  Not only are the characters naked, but they don’t even have any distinguishing genitalia.  They all have creepy Barbie Doll crotches and it’s just weird and disturbing.  I mean I know there is a history of anthropomorphized cartoon animals that aren’t wearing clothes (Porky Pig’s missing pants anyone), and I understand that there are plenty of mammals in nature that just have the fur on their backs, but this goes beyond that.  Way beyond that…

I mean there’s even a point where Jaga takes all the characters aside and gives them each magical clothing (and weapons) stating that “…on our planet you needed no protective clothing or special weaponry…”.  My question then is why is Jaga wearing clothes from the very beginning then?  I almost get the vibe that Jaga’s been traveling off-world or something, which he may very well have, but from a design standpoint it’s just really wonky.  Maybe it was the writer’s intent to showcase the characters getting fancy new uniforms, but then why not introduce them in some common bland tunics or something that they eventually change out of?

  

Honestly, it probably wouldn’t seem so weird if the character design on all the ThunderCats didn’t allude to the idea that their faces, chests and neither regions aren’t covered in fur. Or the fact that though naked, they’re all wearing boots.  It also doesn’t help seeing scenes with Kit and Kat, or a naked Cheetara waking up a very young, naked Lino-O.  Maybe it’s just me, but seeing naked women and adolescent young boys and girls in cartoons for kids is just wrong…

Speaking of weird decisions in the pilot episode, why did Lion-O grow to full adulthood while in the suspension capsule?

  

While preparing for the long journey to Third Earth the ThunderCats are ordered by Jaga to make the trip in a series of suspension capsules that will slow their aging and enable them to survive the trip.  He mentions offhand that some aging does occur, but when their ship crash lands on Third Earth Lion-O has grown to full adulthood and it’s treated like an anomaly.  What’s weird is that none of the other characters seem to have aged at all, including Wiley Kit and Kat who were roughly the same age as Lion-O.  Again, I have a feeling the writers and/or producers wanted the character to be like a child in a man’s body who has to learn to lead the ThunderCats, but their choice to age him up with no real reason was just weird.  How hard would it have been to write a quick segment that showed his capsule being damaged somehow?  I mentioned above that one of the cool aspects to 80s era cartoons was that they were usually set up in such a way that nothing was off the table.  The guys and gals who put this show together really took that to heart though, and these sorts of decisions, to age Lion-O, etc., really point to that freedom to try anything (even if it doesn’t make sense.)

I completely forgot that Wiley Kit and Kat were just as likely to shred some waves as the Autobots and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles!

One of the first things that Panthro creates for Wiley Kit & Kat are surf/hover boards to give them a little bit more mobility and something to do.  Growing up in Florida it was really hard to not be inundated with the surf and skate culture of the 80s, but I’m not sure how other areas of the country reacted to it.  After moving up to New Hampshire at the end of 1989 I was shocked by the lack of T&C, Billabong, and Maui surf and skate T-shirts at school, and I even ran into some kids that didn’t know what surfing was.  Watching these cartoons though, it’s really weird to see the surfing trend popping up so often.  It makes me wonder how many of the other series feature it?

Sometimes, life REQUIRES arm wrestling!

  

In Episode 15, The Time Capsule, Lion-O is getting a bit depressed and home sick for Thundera.  At the same time he doesn’t remember all that much about it and Jaga appears to him and mentions that part of their ship’s cargo was a Time Capsule that contained the collective knowledge of Thundera.  The ThunderCats go on a quest to seek out the capsule and Lion-O eventually finds it in a cave, though it’s now apparently been claimed by a caveman that isn’t going to give it up without a fight.  Actually, he won’t give it up unless Lion-O beats him in the most macho of all manly contests, the arm wrestling match!  It’s like watch an animated version of Over the Top, just with no estranged children in military academy, eating cigars and drinking motor oil, or big rig trucks.

The last thing I wanted to bring up today is an aspect of the series that’s very close to my heart, the amazing amount of branding in the cartoon!

Not that long ago I met a guy though my day job that used to play with the Misfits back when the band was still coming together for the first time.  I have a Misfits messenger bag, and he noticed the Crimson Ghost Skull logo and we got to talking about how amazing it is that over thirty years later there are still kids picking up stuff stamped with that image.  Heck, though Jerry Only has been trying his damnedest to keep the band going, most people really only dig the original stuff when Danzig was a part of the band, and that’s been over for about 25 years.  Yet still, that iconic skull has power.  If there’s one thing that came out of the commercial design of the 70s and 80s, this type of powerfully iconic branding was it.  The Autobot and Decpticon symbols, the Ghostbusters logo, Pac-Man, the Atari Logo, the Nike Swoosh, and the ThunderCats logo are just a few of the hundreds of popular logos that are still around to this day.  This show really took this banding to heart and you can see it in almost every aspect of the design from the vehicles…

   

…to the castles…

   

…and even the villains. Mumm-Ra’s logo, though almost as iconic as the cat’s head logo, is actually the one aspect of this sort of branding in the show that was really underused.  I’m surprised, seeing as how Mumm-Ra is basically the leader of the Mutants, that they weren’t all sporting the entwined snakes on their outfits, vehicles and gear.  This is actually something addressed in the new series that I really loved.

In particular I love how the ThunderCats logo is worked into the stories of the various episodes because of the Sword of Omens.  Whenever Lion-O is in trouble he can call upon the other ThunderCats by reciting a chant (“Thunder, Thunder, Thunder, ThunderCats HOOOOOOO!”) and then holding the sword aloft.  It then projects the ThunderCats logo into the sky so that any member of the team within sight of the symbol will feel the call and come running…

So not only is the logo plastered on every building, vehicle, article of clothing, etc, it’s even an integral part of the narrative.  In my opinion this is hands down the most brilliant use of branding in a cartoon during the 80s.

Well, come back next week for part 2 of this article where I’ll be talking a look at some of the ThunderCats characters, the crazy designs, and more.

Move over TMNTs, The Transformers are going to Hang Ten!

So, picking up from where I left off last week when discussing some of the things that jumped out at me while re-watching the 1st season of the original Transformers cartoon, there were a lot of things that I didn’t remember from watching the show as a kid.  I really curious to see how the second season holds up to the first considering the franchise really caught on and became hugely popular between the two.  At some point I also need to go back and see how these first 16 episodes stack up against the Marvel comics.

Did you know that the Autobots can SURF!

Whereas a motif in the series is to introduce new characters with specific alt-modes that work in a specific environment (ala Jetfire to help give the Autobots flight capabilities or the Constructicons to enable the Decepticons to burrow under the Autobots base), sometimes this is thrown out the window because there are no toys to back up these needs.  In episode 13, “Revival”, part 3 of “The Ultimate Doom” mini series, the Autobots need to infiltrate the Decepticons new energy station from the sea.  Instead of building a boat or introducing a new character (Sea Spray was a year or so away from release), the Autobots instead decide to catch a tidal wave and secretly surf into the complex.  Hey, maybe skateboarding mutated giant turtles weren’t such a groundbreaking idea after all!?!

Did you know that Soundwave can read your mind?

   

In episode 5, “Roll For It”, we’re introduced to a new human, Chip Case, who is working in a laboratory with a scientist on an antimatter formula.  Of course Megatron wants to steal it as a means of producing energon cubes, and though he tried to out-smart those big evil bozos by memorizing the formula and destroying the only electronic copy, Chip Chase soon learns the folly of underestimating the Decepticons!  Again, another motif of the Transformers was for the writers to introduce new powers for each of the robots, but largely these were dictated by the plots and from a continuity standpoint didn’t make a whole lot of sense.  For instance, sometimes Optimus Prime’s antennae on his head can work as a long range communications device, yet other times when he’s stranded and needs help these aren’t utilized.  Hell, just consider his trailer which rounds out his vehicle form nicely, but then typically it disappears when he transforms (except the episode where he’s badly injured and Huffer helps out by hauling it back to their base.)

So when Megatron is confronted with Chip holding the antimatter formula hostage in his brain, he simply orders Soundwave to read the puny human’s un-evolved mind.  At first I thought Soundwave was going to utilize some sort of device, but then I was surprised to see him bend down and place his index fingers to Chip’s head, downloading all the pertinent aspects to the formula.  How utterly weird!

So Soundwave was a streetlight on Cybertron?!?

One of the cool aspects to the first episode, and something I’m really glad that the writers and story editors decided to include in the Transformers series was to highlight the Autobot and Decepticon’s alien natures by giving them different alt-modes before they come to Earth.  It isn’t until crashing on the planet and being awoken millions of years later that the Transformers get their iconic alternate modes (Teletran-1 is awakened and send out a satellite that scans various vehicles and items and then sends that data back to be reprogrammed into the Transformers.)  For instance, before becoming fighter jets, the Decepticon seekers Starscream, Thundercracker, and Skywarp have an interesting pyramidal alt-mode, referred to by the fans as Tetrajets…

These al-modes back on Cybertron were typically similar in nature to their eventual vehicles counterparts, with a couple weird exceptions.  Apparently on Cybertron Soundwave was a streetlight!  Granted, as far as spying on the enemy faction goes, this would be an awesome alt-mode, but with the playability factor in mind for the toys this would have been a nightmare.  Some of the characters were also somewhere in the middle of oddly alien and their new Earth counterpart.  Take Laserbeak for instance.  He seems like a weird flying disk, but also has the head of an avian…

   

Even though this concept was decently thought out by the writers, there was one major stumbling block that couldn’t be overcome (at least not without confusing the young target audience.)  Having an alien alt-mode is one thing, but what about the iconic appearance of the robot characters?  How would the kids know who is who if for instance Bumblebee is introduced in a robot mode that retains some of the parts of his Cybertronian alt-mode, and then changes after he’s programmed to convert into a VW Beetle on Earth?  Sure, he might still be yellow, but then so is Sunstreaker.  Nope, to circumvent any confusion and to keep the iconic designs of the robots intact Sunbow decided to keep aspects of the eventual Earth alt-modes on the characters.  So Bumblebee’s feet are still the front end of the VW Beetle, Optimus Prime still has the big rig front end on his chest, and Soundwave still has the playback buttons of a tape recorder on his chest…

So there was already a 2nd set of seekers, before the introduction of Dirge, Thrust, Ramjet?

In episode 6, “Divide and Conquer”, a group of Autobots travel over the spacebridge back to Cybertron in an attempt to find a crucial component to save Optimus Prime’s life.  While there Megatron orders three Decepticon seeker jets to attack them by causing an acid rain storm.  These seekers have mostly different color schemes than Starscream (red, white and blue), Thundercracker (mainly blue with red accents), and Skywarp (purple, grey and black), and are neon green, bright yellow and completely blue…

Though not named in the episode, these characters are dubbed the Rainmakers by fans (since they create the acid rain storm), and eventually some of them would get monikers.  The green one is named Acid Storm, and was released by Hasbro recently in their Transformers Classic line of toys.  The yellow one is technically unnamed by Hasbro, though there is a seeker jet named Sunstorm with similar coloring that some fans assume is this character.  I don’t believe the blue one was ever given a name or a back story.

So Transformers 3: Dark of the Moon swiped the overall plot MacGuffin from the original cartoon?

Yup, from the three part series “The Ultimate Doom”, episodes 11-13, Megatron conceives of a plan to conquer Earth by building the ultimate spacebride, large enough to reach through space and transport Cybertron into the planet’s orbit.  The idea is to capture the energy released by this cataclysmic cosmic disturbance and funnel it into Cybertron.  Part of this plan even involves setting up Pylons around the globe, all of which is part of the new big screen movie.  Personally I’m not a fan of these films, but it was interesting to see this plot point ripped out of the cartoon…

   

As a last bit of interesting trivia for the Transformers 1st season, I thought it would important to point out the level of action and violence.  Generally, when I think about the action cartoons of the 80s I tend to remember them having a whole lot of lasers with none of them actually finding any of their targets.  I mean there are running jokes about Cobra Troopers being horrible marksmen and then there’s the idea that the Decepticons must of have a lot of accuracy training between the end of the second season and the beginning of the ’86 film.  The fact of the matter is that there was a ton of violence in the 1st season of the Transformers and actually there are scenes that rival the movie for its gritty reality.  In episode 6 Optimus is hurt so badly in a fight that he’s on the verge of death.  This scene could have been ripped right out of the ’86 film, complete with him lying on an operating table with exposed inards and such…

The main difference between the movie and the 1st season is the finality of the violence.  No one dies in the series, not like in the film, but there are plenty of scenes that surprised me because of how gritty and action packed they were.  Just goes to show that the zeitgeist, though ever-present and affecting everyone, isn’t always accurate.

Taking a closer look at Season 1 of the Transformers…

I’ve spent the last five years building a library of cartoons on DVD and sometimes I fear that I get too caught up in acquiring new series and not spending nearly enough time actually sitting down and watching them.  Since it had been awhile, I decided to devote an entire afternoon of my recent vacation to planting myself on the couch and getting reacquainted with the first season of the Sunbow Transformers cartoon, a feat that I haven’t attempted since I was in middle school.  I’ve always been more apt to watch the 1986 film than the actual series that proceeded it, and over the years I’d forgotten how many of the little things that I loved about those first 16 episodes.  I thought I’d talk a bit about some of the highlights over the next week or so…

So, first things first, can the Autobots fly?

For some reason I was always under the impression that one of the things that separated the Autobots from the Decepticons was the enemy’s ability to fly, regardless if they had some sort of aircraft for their alternative mode.  In fact some of the most common scenes from the series are consist of a sky full of Decepticons either flying into the extended opening to their hidden sea base or while retreating from battle.  But the Autobots on the other hand seemed to very rarely take flight, and when they did it seemed to be limited to Sideswipe or Sunstreaker (the two flashy Lamborghinis of the team) who had jet packs.  That concept always made sense to me since the Autobots mainly consisted of cars and trucks while the Decepticons were an assemblage of jets, birds and insects.  If nothing else, the Decepticons alt modes are fashioned after war or spy-influenced devices and it kind of makes sense for them to have powers above and beyond the heroes.

So I was taken aback a bit by the first few episodes that showcase the entire Autobot team flying into battle.  This is the kind of storyline continuity debate that really brings the nerdiness out in the fandom, and honestly it’s something easily explained by the differences in cartoon writers ideas and how difficult it is to create a consistent set of rules and guidelines when creating a fictional universe.  I’m not sure whether flight was addressed in the Transformers series bible (developed by the story editors and show creators to help the writers keep the series consistent), but my guess would be that writers like George Arthur Bloom and Donald F. Glut wanted/needed the characters to fly for the scenes they were working on and so they didn’t hesitate in making that happen.  I can imagine it’s a pain to have to constantly flip through the bible while writing a script, and I doubt at the time that they were considering that people would be watching these episodes almost 30 years later.

Spike really wanted to blast some Deceptichops!

  

When the Decepticons come calling the Autobots are usually there to stand up and fight, but every so often they’re just too damaged or scared to carry on the fight.  That’s when it’s Spike’s time to shine, and these scenes usually involve him grabbing one of the Autobots oversized laser guns and then comedically hoofing it into battle.  There’s something really absurd about these scenes, and it’s not the huge blaster he’s toting and firing, but the fact that the Autobots let him get that involved in the battles.  This is the kind of weird logic-defying writing (employing a relatable vehicle character for the audience to feel connected to) that bugs me a bit about the cartoon, and honestly it’s one of the main things that keep me from enjoying the recent big screen adaptations.  I’m watching the Transformers to see giant robots square off, and all the human drama tends to get in the way.  Don’t get me wrong, it can be done well, just look at the original Japanese Godzilla film, but there are times when it’s just a bunch of whining and overly implausible situations that take me right out of the story.  I do have to admit that Spike’s passion to fight the good fight gets to me emotionally; I just wish it didn’t typically involve hefting a blaster that’s bigger than his own body…

Energon Cubes = the Flashiest MacGuffin ever!

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from re-watching these episodes it’s that Megatron wants his damn energon Cubes, and like right NOW!  Every single episode revolves around the Decepticon tyrant devising a plan to manufacture energon Cubes, be it stealing energy from a power plant, tapping into the Earth’s core, or utilizing an antimatter formula.  And in every single episode his plans are thwarted, the energon Cubes are destroyed, and it’s back to the drawing board.  What I never understood as a kid was why the Autobots weren’t on a similar quest to find the fuel they need to replenish themselves and to get them back home to Cybertron.  If energon is the fuel that these sentient robots need in order to survive, wouldn’t they all need it regardless of political stance or faction?

   

Regardless, I love how crazy and versatile these cubes are.  Typically created by Soundwave out of his tape-deck chest, the cubes are clear and empty until filled with some form of energy (from fire and lightning, to oil or ever the energy released by volcanos and natural disasters) after which they turn into a rainbow of flowing back-lit colors.  It’s one of the most stunning light and animation effects in the series, and it certainly helped to define and differentiate the look of the Transformers series from other syndicated action fare of the 80s.

Wait … Hauler?  I thought his name was Grapple, and he didn’t come until later!

One of the things that I was really curious about when re-watching these episodes were which characters appeared and when.  I’ve read in interviews with some of the Sunbow story editors that Hasbro wasn’t overly restrictive in terms of trying to match up characters that were on the toy shelves to those in the current episodes, but then again there was that idea to kill off the majority of the original Autobots and Decepticons for the ’86 film to make room for all the new movie characters on the toy shelves.  From what I can gather though, all of the characters present in the first season were part of the first two waves of toys from 1984-85, and most were from wave one.  The wave two exceptions were the Dinobots, Skyfire, the Insecticons and the Constructicons, all of which were special and more or less had specific origin stories.  Well, except for a character named Hauler who shows up in the first episode only in his alt mode.  What I find strange about this is that Hauler would later appear as the character Grapple both in the cartoon’s second season and in the second wave of toys.  I’m sure George Arthur Bloom, the writer for this episode, included the character in the script with no thought to the release schedule of the toyline, probably after seeing a variation of the toy or box art.  I always find these little mistakes in continuity interesting though…

Reflector, generic Decepticon clone or just as cool as Soundwave?

Finally I wanted to talk about another odd character from the first season that I feel never really got a fair shake, the Decepticon Reflector.  Though he, and by he I mean the three robots that speak in conjunction and make up “Reflector”, gets plenty of screen time in the first sixteen episodes, there’s something awfully generic about his character design that tends to keep him in the background.  I think a big part of this is that he is comprised of three robots that all look alike with the exception of the “main” bot who has different markings on his legs and has the lens of his alt mode camera on his chest.  Since repeated character designs are extremely common in the series (consider the Decepticon seeker jets Starscream, Skywarp, and Thundercracker or Ironhide and Ratchet), when you see a set that has the same color scheme and design it tends to make them feel like drones instead of main characters.  It also didn’t help that the character didn’t receive an American toy release until 1986, and even then only as a mail-away figure which made him even more rare.

  

I find that this kind of a shame because when you stop and think about it, Reflector is just as dynamic and interesting as Soundwave, but not nearly as popular.  Both characters are comprised of multiple robots (if you consider Soundwave’s arsenal of cassettes), both transform into common household electronics (camera/tape deck), and both are commissioned by Megatron to spy on the Autobots.  Soundwave does have a leg up in that his voice (provided by the ever awesome Frank Welker) is a bit more interesting and iconic.  I think in the pantheon of Transformers characters Reflector is the one that got the shortest shrift and probably deserves a nice Classics redeco toy to be released.

Next week I’ll discuss another handful of topics that struck me including the characters pre-Earth designs, some more interesting and weird powers, and a weird plot connection to the new summer blockbuster Transformers 3!

Easy Cheese Part Deux, I love the smell of cheese in the morning…

A couple weeks ago I wrote a piece taking a look at the general history of that crazy canned, pasteurized, spray cheese known as Easy Cheese (or Snack Mate circa 1966-1984 or so.)  Though I don’t remember when I first came into contact with this wonderfully odd product, I do know that there always seemed to be a can in our pantry.  Actually, now that I’m thinking about it, I don’t remember my mom ever really using it for snacks and meals, so I’m wondering why she always bought them?  Regardless, I have a lot of fond memories of artistically playing with Easy Cheese in the attempt at creating some sort of impressionist cheese masterpiece on top of a Ritz cracker canvas.  Years before Ritz Bits hit the shelves I was drawing happy faces on crackers, marveling at my work for a second, and then smashing down a second cracker to make a creamy cheese and cracker sandwich.  I also seem to remember also having contests with friends to see who could squirt the most cheese into our mouths without suffocating to death.

Looking back, even though Easy Cheese’s frilly decorative snazzy origins didn’t really stick around very long, it’s interesting to note that Nabisco was still trying to push the canned product as an important addition to any home cook’s pantry as late as 1981 with the release of the Quick’n Easy Ideas with Snack Mate cookbook…

Again, I learned about this cookbook from an old ad I found in Woman’s Day, and I couldn’t imagine writing an article on Easy Cheese without tracking down a copy of this tome to share on the site.  Luckily, I managed to find a copy being sold by an mom and pop cookbook website, and I quickly snatched it up hoping that there were a bounty of mind blowing canned cheese recipes between those 30 year-old covers.  After receiving it and cracking it open I was a little disappointed.  I should have seen it coming, but of the 62 “recipes” contained in this 18 page leaflet, almost every one can be condensed to the following phrase, “…and top with Snack Mate cheese.”  Hey, grab a Triscuit and top with Snack Mate cheese.  Hollow out a cherry tomato and top with Snack Mate cheese.  Boil 4 ears of corn and top with Snack Mate cheese.  The list goes on and on of the various stuff you can top with Snack Mate cheese.  I’m not sure exactly what I was expecting, maybe a bunch of cheese sauce recipes or some actually cooking, but again, I should have seen it coming.  Actually, one of the most disappointing aspects is that there was no mention of anything like the Twinkie Weiner Sandwich (which I’ll get to below)…

That doesn’t mean that there aren’t some crazy stand-out ideas in this guide book.  In fact one of the weirder revelations was how often the Nabisco test kitchen urged the reader to mix the canned cheese with unlikely products like fresh fruit or desert items.  One reoccurring theme was mixing Snack Mate with canned pineapple, which is about as unappetizing a thought as I can muster, and I’ve eaten a Twinkie Weiner Sandwich (seriously, I’ll get to it in a minute…)  There are also a couple of recipes that call for squirting Easy Cheese on raisin bread, which is just wrong!

 

Well, even if Easy Cheese never really caught on as the home chef’s answer to amazing dinner party preparation, it has achieved a sort of cult status as a weird, truly American product.  I’m sure there are a ton of people who have dreamed about pulling out the little black stopper on the bottom of the can, but have held back because they feared that it would explode like a cheesy hand grenade.  I’d also bet that somewhere out there someone has coined a hilarious term for the hardened nub of excess cheese that forms on the nozzle between uses.  More importantly, Easy Cheese has popped up on the silver screen in a few classic films including the Blues Brothers…

  

Actually, the appearance in the Blues Brothers has kind of stirred up some weird controversy in the pasteurized cheese fan community (and if you through Trekies were nuts.)  Basically, there’s a scene with Jake and Elwood coming home to their apartment and there’s an old guy who stops them and says, “Where’s my Cheez Whiz, boy?”, after which Elwood (Dan Aykroyd) reaches into his pocket, pulls out a can of Snack Mate and tosses it to the geezer.  This one silly miscommunication has led to a belief that the king of pasteurized cheese products, Cheez Whiz, once came in a pressurized spray can.  I can’t disprove the rumor 100%, but I can say for a fact that the can in the movie is indeed a can of Nabisco Snack Mate and not Cheez Whiz.

Here’s the thing, in the zeitgeist of the year 1980 (when the film was released), the Cheez Whiz brand name was, and probably still is, the most recognized term for a pasteurized cheese product known to mankind.  It’s also 3,000% more funny than the phrase Snack Mate, and thus I’d guess that it won out in the wording of that joke (whether it was thought-out and scripted or if it was a spur of the moment ad-lib on set.)  Vice versa, the appearance and packaging of Snack Mate is 3,000% more iconic and side-splittingly hilarious than the Cheez Whiz bottle, not to mention more handy for keeping in one’s pocket and much easier to throw without hurting anyone.  So just by breaking down the logic, I’d have to say that it was an unfortunate amalgamation that gave birth to a rumor that honestly no one really cares about.  Except me.  And this guy.

Another notable appearance of Easy Cheese on the silver screen was in an animated form in a couple of scenes in the Goofy Movie…

  

One of the side characters, Bobby Zimmeruski (voiced by Pauley Shore), was a bona fide cheese-a-holic who can be seen making his own Easy Cheese art and eating the product by the can-full.  A special thanks goes out to Devin who helped me find this scene…

Personally, the most classic and famous appearance of Easy Cheese on the big screen was during one of my favorite all time flicks, Weird Al Yankovic’s UHF!  It’s in this wondrous film that I was introduced to the majesty that is the Twinkie Weiner Sandwich.  After losing yet another menial job, George Newman (Weird Al) tries to cheer up his best friend Bob by making him one of these legendary sandwiches.

Step one, cut a slit down the center of an upside-down Twinkie, taking care not to cut all the way though the cake.  Step two, place a standard hot dog wiener, fresh from the package, inside the slit…

   

Step three, apply a liberal amount of Easy Cheese on top of the hot dog.  Step four, dunk the sandwich in a mug of milk, and enjoy!

   

Actually, there should be a step five, which would consist of making a second sandwich and giving it to a friend…

   

Weird Al mentioned on the commentary track that he probably ended up eating 7-8 of these sandwiches to get the iconic sequence on film.  He even enjoys one of these amazing wonders of culinary delight from time to time, though he’s a vegetarian these days and substitutes the hot dog for a tofu dog.

No article on Easy Cheese would be complete without making my own Twinkie Weiner Sandwich, which is what I did this past weekend with the wife.  I decided to change mine up a bit as I’m not a big fan of eating cold, unprepared hot dogs, so we broiled ours first.  We also went with a more New York deli style hot dog as we generally prefer them to the standard Oscar Meyer wieners.  The resulting TWS was no where near as pretty as Al’s was in the film, but they were still a sight to behold…

So how did it taste you might be asking?  Well, it was both unlike anything I’ve ever eaten, and not nearly as bad as the description makes them out to be.  Actually, it reminded me a lot of eating sweet northern cornbread with barbeque.  The Twinkie was an adequate replacement for a bun, though there was an unfortunate side effect of broiling the hot dogs that we weren’t prepared for which resulted in the Twinkie basically melting and falling apart halfway through the sandwich.  On the upside though, the heat from the dog made the filling inside the Twinkie taste like toasted marshmallow.  The final verdict?  Eating a Twinkie Weiner Sandwich is a lot like what I expect eating one of the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man’s fingers might taste like.  Meaty, sweet, and full of unholy rage!  But more important, the Easy Cheese tied the whole thing together…

Peel Here #112, Of course Robo Force stickers are puffy, makes them more hugable!

I was rifling though my personal cabinet at work looking for my sketchbook when I came across this sheet of Robo Force puffy stickers that I meant to scan and write about awhile ago.  Though I’m sure there was a name brand version of these stickers, I’ve only ever seen them issued as generic unbranded knock-offs on eBay and elsewhere.  I’m pretty sure these were released in 1984 along with the rest of the toy-line and Robo Force merchandise before the franchise took a nose dive into obscurity.  I’ve written about these toys on the site before, and actually I just recently managed to find a mint in box S.O.T.A. figure (pictured in the stickers below to the left) to add to my 80s robot collection…

The other sticker featured is Wrecker which has a bit of resonance with me since he was the only Robo Force figure I had as a kid.  The missing sticker on this sheet featured one of the cooler Robo Force characters, Sentinel, which is probably why he’s absent.  There was also a second set of three sticker availalbe that featured the main hero and some of the villains from the line (Hun-Dred, Cruel, and Max Steele himself).  I’d also like to point out that these stickers were gifted to my by the gracious Jerzy Drozd of the Art & Story and Comics Are Great podcasts.

In other Peel Here news, yours truly was referenced on the Retroist website recently in a wonderfully odd Alternate History of the Sticker by none other than the Claymation Werewolf himself, J.C. Beirau.  I can only hope to be half as reclusive in my old age as he made me out to be…