Tag Archives: Overdue Books

Delving into Ghostbusters: The Expanded Supernatural Spectacular Universe…

I had such a fun time reading the long sought-after Goonies novelization recently that I decided to dip back into my collection to find another fun one to devour.  I wasn’t sure what to dip into next when I stumbled across a very reasonably priced copy of the Ghostbusters tie-in (reasonable being less than $10), so I decided that had to be the next on the reading pile.  As a quick side note, I really can’t believe how insane some of the secondary market prices are on a handful of these movie novelizations.  A nice copy of the American Ghostbusters (subtitled The Supernatural Spectacular) typically goes for around $30-$100, which is just loony toons.  A reader named Erin also recently pointed to the scarcity of the Labyrinth tie-in, and doing some research I found that it sells for between $50-$200?!?  WTF?  I understand that these can sometimes be a bit rarer than say your average Stephen King or Janet Evanovitch paperback, but those prices are downright crazy town.  Actually, I’m surprised that these two in particular haven’t been re-issued over the years due to the popularity of their respective franchises.  There’s some new-ish Labyrinth manga and a slew of special edition DVDs, why not a newer printing of the novelization?  I guess I feel lucky that I’ve managed to pick a bunch of these up here and there over the years for a buck or less, but there are still a few volumes that are just too rich for my blood (in particular the horror novelizations like Return of the Living Dead, Friday the 13th, and the Thing.)  Anyway, back to Ghostbusters

Ghostbusters Novelization

This paperback, which was printed in 1985 by TOR, was written by Richard Mueller and was adapted from and expanded on the screenplay by Aykroyd and Ramis.  The book is a little odd in that it’s not the first adaptation/novelization of Ghostbusters, that honor goes to Larry Miline who wrote a very faithful and dry translation of the script for Coronet, which was published in ’84 in the U.K.  That isn’t a slight against Miline, by the by, it just points to the fact that in the world of movie novelizations there are basically two philosophies, straight/faithful adaptation into prose or expansion.  Are either better or worse?  Well, I don’t think there’s a right and a wrong, just expectation and desire and what experience you want out of reading one of these.  I’m finding that I’m falling into the expansion camp.  I mean, the standard complaint one hears when watching a film that’s been adapted from a novel is that there was so much left out (whether it be plotlines or subtext.)  So when we reverse the polarity and adapt a movie to the novel format, it just stands to reason that there should be ample room to add a bit more story.  My wife, on the other hand, is four square against the idea of expanding the story and considers stray plotlines and subtext to be outside of “official” cannon.  Having grown up reading comics, I have to say that it’s a hard point to argue against.  But I’m also really fond of the Laser Disc/DVD/Blu-Ray format and all the wonderful bits and pieces it brings to the experience of watching films.  Deleted scenes, director and actor commentaries, and alternate casting snafus (like the original segments of Back to the Future shot with Eric Stoltz), all this stuff really goes a long way to enriching my love of these films.  Are deleted scenes canonical?  Who the hell knows.  All I know is that I love watching Michael Beihn and Bill Paxton set up the defensive robot machine guns in Aliens, or Troy picking on Mouth, Chunk, Data, and Mikey in the convenience store scene in Goonies.  Even though a lot of the stuff I’ve been finding in these novelizations is weird and at times swarthy (see my update on the Goonies novel review), I love that it exists.

So how does Ghostbusters: The Supernatural Spectacular fair in terms of expanded novelizations?  I’d have to say that so far it’s setting the gold standard for what a great expansion can be.  Whereas James Kahn took all sorts of weird twists and turns with the Goonies (both in the formatting, tone and added material), Mueller has done a pretty darn good job of keeping the added material and odd formatting in line with the experience of watching the film.  There are some included scenes that were either filmed and deleted (like a framing device for the film featuring two bums, Harlan Bojay and Leonard Cooms, that witness most of the story from afar), or some that I don’t think ever made it from script to production (like a sequence involving a newly wed couple encountering Slimer in their honeymoon sweet, prompting the hotel to contact the Ghostbusters.)  There’s also some space given to fleshing out the backgrounds of the majority of the main players; nothing too in-depth, but enough to flesh out the characters a bit more.  That’s not to say that there aren’t some weird aspects and wrong turns in the novel…

Some of the weirder aspects involve some odd point-of-view work in the text.  Though the book is largely written in 3rd person/omniscient, every so often Mueller dips into 1st person when he wants the characters to offer commentary.  It’s generally a weird shift in narration, but like I mentioned in the Goonies novelization, 1st person is a really tricky device to use when dealing with the transition of characters from film to page.  Dipping into the mind of a character that we’ve come to know and love though a film can be a very weird and disconcerting experience the writer goes “off script”.  For instance, everyone thinks about sex to one degree or another, but if I’m used to dealing with a character where this is never brought up, say the Librarian in the opening sequence of Ghostbusters, then when she starts “thinking” about how she feels guilty for seeking out all kinds of ancient kinky woodcuts featuring taboo sexual practices in the library’s non-public collection, well, I get pretty weirded out.  As far as I can tell, the librarian character in the script is slightly different; she’s written to be rotund and in her mid to late twenties, but for all intents and purposes the scene in the script is almost shot for shot what we’ve come to know and love in the final film.  Mueller, though, felt the need to paint her as a bit more sad and depraved, which for an incidental character is pretty weird.  This sort of thing pops up here and there in the novel, including in the scene where we’re first introduced to Dana as she gets out of a cab and goes into her building.  The narrative is fractured into a bunch of perspectives as a handful of people on the street take notice of her and give their two cents.  One of these includes an elderly man walking his dog who glances at her and thinks, “…how long (has) it been since it’s been long…”  I might be reading too much into the passage, but I’m pretty sure he’s referring to having a boner.  WTF?  On the other hand though, these dips into character’s minds can sometimes be fascinating, like the sequence when one of the terror dogs, Vince Clortho the keymaster, is hiding in Louis Tully’s spare bedroom during his client soiree.  Mueller actually dips into the terror dog’s mind to get his take on Louis.  Weird, but cool!

There’s another weird sequence that actually manages to answer a nagging question I’ve always had about the flick.  In the movie, during the big Ghostbusters success montage, there’s an odd dream sequence bit where Ray is being, um, “serviced” by a rather fetching ghost.  The bit that’s always bugged me is that Ray is wearing some sort of period military outfit in the scene with no explanation as to why.  I guess, since it’s framed as a dream (the screen has one of those flowing wavey filters as a transition into the scene) I always just assumed he was dreaming about being in the Civil War or something.  As it turns out, there’s an explanation for the military garb.

Ghostbusters Deleted Scene

In the book (as well as in the shooting script), there’s a sequence later in the film, right after Ray and Winston are driving through the city talking about the end of the world, when the two go to Fort Detmerring looking for a spook.  They split up and Ray stumbles upon a room that is a replica of a revolutionary war officer’s barracks.  He finds a uniform and puts it on, lays on a bed and promptly falls asleep.  When he wakes, the ghost they were looking for is about to go to town on his junk.  Apparently this sequence was largely cut, but I’m betting none of them wanted to ditch the blowjob joke, so they sandwiched it into the montage.  What’s even weirder is that this is actually the culmination of a plot thread in the book where Ray is both lonely and changing his feelings about catching the ghosts.  Since Peter is courting Dana and (in the book) Egon and Janine are becoming an item, Ray is looking to blow off some steam, and the experience with the ghost is just what he was looking for.  Also, there’s a bit with Ray thinking about how it might be wrong to catch these ghosts just to jail them in the containment unit, and when he awakes to his spectral date-night he wonders if maybe some ghosts are good.  Weird.

Ghostbusters Novelization 2

As far as what’s new, there are a ton of little interesting tidbits like the fact that Janine designed the Ghostbusters logo (the iconic no-ghosts image), while Peter came up with the name.  In the Ghostbusters success montage (and yes, there is even a montage in the book) there are segments when the GB’s are contacted by Revell models, Marvel Comics and TSR about licensing deals (none of which came to pass in reality even though all of this merchandising did end up at other companies including a West End role playing game, an Ertl AMT model kit, and a NOW comics series.)  Ok, there was a UK Marvel comics, but not a domestic one.  Their phone is also different in the book, consisting of a real number, 1-212-NO-GHOST.  There’s also some neat details with Ecto-1 and their equipment that is different than in the movie.  Part of the rig on top of Ecto-1 is there to sense and destroy (with lasers) anything placed on the vehicle when it’s locked and left alone, like parking tickets.  Also, the proton packs produce a generator field when powered on that will affect people standing near by that don’t have their own pack on.  This field will make your hair follicles itch as well as heat up any metal on your person including the fillings in your mouth.  Another interesting tidbit is a slight difference in the containment unit.  In the book (and I believe in the script as well), there is a observatory window on the unit so that you can see the ghosts that are inside.  This comes up in a few scenes, most effectively when Ray ends up coming down at night to look inside, getting bummed by all the sad trapped ghosts that are just pacing around inside.

Ghostbusters Novelization 3

I don’t want to spoil all the differences in the book for those that might want to read it, but I did want to point to the fact that Mueller did a really good job of fleshing out Peter, Ray, Egon, and Winston.  There are sequences that illustrate the friendship of Peter and Ray, including a scene where Ray takes Peter home with him for a family reunion only to have him run off with his sister and his brother’s rental car, effectively making Ray an outcast in his own family.  According to Mueller, Egon has a bit of a destructive thread in him starting back in childhood when he constructed homemade bombs that he used to detonate in deserted parking lots.  Egon is also painted as fairly asexual, much in the same way that Sheldon Cooper is portrayed on The Big Bang Theory, though he does end up hooking up with Janine by the end of the book.  My favorite bit of character background involves Peter’s family being part of a traveling carnival.  He grew up a carney, and extremely devoted to his family (both immediate and communal), and viewed all other outsiders as rubes, marks, or those to be avoided.  It illustrates why he has the extremely outsider and sarcastic streak in him…

All in all, this is the type of reading experience I’m loving with these movie novelizations, and I’m dreading the first book that reads chapter and verse straight from the finished film.  I think the next book I’m going to cover will be Gremlins, by George Gipe, as I’ve heard that there’s an expanded back-story involving the Mogwai as aliens.  Here’s to hoping it’s half as good as Mueller’s Ghostbusters.  Oh, and before I forget, here’s a link to where you can download PDF copies of either Larry Miline’s original novelization, or Mueller’s The Supernatural Spectacular.  I don’t condone piracy by nature, but this book tends to be so darned over priced on the secondary market that it might take awhile to luck into an affordable copy like I did…

There’s a little more adventure in the Goonies novelization…

I’ve talked before about my love of souvenir movie magazines and novelizations of 80s flicks because they were a great source of obscure information and deleted content from a lot of the films I grew up loving.  Back before DVD and the internet, which provides such easy access to deleted scenes or behind the scenes commentary and the like, it was really hard to track down more about movies like The Goonies, Karate Kid, or the first Batman flick.  So when you were the only one of your friends that happened to catch a screening Batman in the theater and you remembered a scene with a little homeless girl in a trash pile and no one believed you because that scene was edited out of the theatrical cut for the VHS release, well, you had your work cut out for you in proving it.

Over the last few years I’ve been picking up cheap copies of souvenir magazines and movie novelizations when I can find them.  Lately I’ve been lucky enough to stumble upon a bunch of these 80s novelizations and I thought it would be fun to pull one out of the pile from time to time to share what insights or differences these offer from the versions of the films that we know and love.  I had a lot of fun when I read the E.T. novelization by William Kotzwinkle, and I’m hoping more of these books were written with the same sort of changes in perspective that open me up to experiencing the flick with a fresh set of eyes.  Real quick, I’d like to point out that I’m going to concentrate on novelizations, books based on screenplays, and not movies that were adapted from existing novels.  For one it narrows the field a bit, and it pretty common for film adaptations to excise material from the original books because of time and pacing considerations.

This week I thought I’d take a look at one of the harder books to track down, the novelization of the Goonies by James Kahn (adapted from the Chris Columbus screenplay.)

I say it’s hard to track it down, but mainly I’m referring to copies of the book that were printed here in the US by Warner Bros.  The book was also printed in the U.K. by Coronet in 1985, and from what I can tell there is no real differences it the text except an odd Britishism here and there (I compared it to a snippet of the American edition available on Google Books), and some minor differences in the cover blurbs.  My UK edition simply states, “Take the Oath.  Join the Adventure.”, whereas the US edition is a lot more wordy.  Anyway, the UK edition is more or less readily available on ebay, and lately with the exchange rate equaling out it’s kind of a bargain.

Upon cracking the cover and diving into the book the first main difference that I noticed is that the book is presented in a slightly odd format.  The text is bookended by excerpts from local Astoria newspaper articles, first detailing the escape of Jake Fratelli, and later covering the “rescue” of the kids, the arrests and prosecution of the Fratelli gang, and some other interesting footnotes to the story I’ll get into in a minute.  The main reason for this is that for the bulk of the book Kahn chose to use Mikey as the narrator with a first person perspective.  If I had to guess I’d say that this was in an attempt to make the novel more approachable for kids, but it ends up making the whole thing very difficult to read.  First person is a tricky perspective, and when adapting an omniscient film experience it forces the narrative to constantly explain why the narrator knows about sequences that they didn’t take part in or know little about.  Thus the newspaper articles are Mikey’s way of opening the story with the facts of the breakout and the ensuring police chase.  What killed me is how dry this approach came off, lacking any of the humor and excitement that was in the opening scenes of Donner’s film.  Not only that but some little details are lost, most importantly how the chase manages to cross the paths of all the Goonies, Andy and Steph.  Not a huge deal, but it’s a detail I love in the first film as it both introduces us to the characters and gives some background details on each of them (Mouth’s dad being a plumber, Steph’s family working as fishermen on the docks, and Chunk being a spaz to name a few.)

On the other hand, the “articles” that close out the story are kind of interesting.  For one, they take the ending of the movie a bit further in that there is confirmation, through a series of excerpts, that the Goon docks are safe as the plans for the new golf course are ditched in favor of building more low cost housing.  The already constructed country club was even rumored to be converted into a community center that will feature a children’s center, a Chinese restaurant, a plumbing supply house, a fish market, a new addition to the museum, and a public-access invention laboratory.  A little goofy, but still pretty darn cute.  The last article is a notice of the Bar Mitzvah for Jason “Sloth” Cohen, the newly adopted son of Mr. & Mrs. Jerry Cohen.  So I guess Chunk made good on his promise to have Sloth come live with him…

As for the narrative being from the perspective of Mikey, this is also a little 50/50 in terms of execution and insight.  On the plus side, it’s kind of fun to “hear” him tell the story, as he adds some background (most of it pointless, but still fun) and adding his thoughts on every aspect of the adventure.  He makes a metric ton of Star Wars references (probably infused because Kahn also wrote the Return of the Jedi novelization), which is always fun, as well as playing the cool, level-headed leader of the group while describing each of the Goonies and their various quirks, annoying habits, and strengths.  He even ends up explaining some of the subtle references that made it into the performances in the final film (like when Mouth first comes to the Walsh house and starts trying to cheer the brothers up with a slight John Belushi impression.)  At the same time Kahn has him hating Saturday morning cartoons (I guess he’d rather be outside adventuring), already dating (and smooching girls before Andy), and comparing the Mad magazine “fold-in” concept to the Playboy centerfolds, which is just weird.  Again, the danger of writing in the first person like this is that we’re in Mikey’s head, and being inside there is nothing like what I thought it would be in the movie.  Granted, I know we’re really inside Kahn’s head, but you get my drift.

Anyway, some of the slight differences in the book include Mouth’s propensity for rhyming, Data pulling out inventions three times as much, and Mikey tending to censor some of the racier jokes and sight gags from the film with his descriptions (remember the broken stature of David, well Mikey didn’t want to repeat Brand saying that, “…If God made it that way, you’d all be pissing in your faces…”.)  By the by, in the book Mikey’s mom discovers the broken statue.  There’s also some interesting cross-pollinating with other Spielberg projects like Poltergeist.  At one point Mikey shares and anecdote about how he broke his arm falling into an excavation in the newly built Cuesta Verde Estates housing development.  Did I mention that James Kahn also wrote the novelization for Poltergeist?  The thought that, Cuesta Verde would be within biking distance from Astoria is pretty cool, as if there really was this specific Spielberg suburbia out in the pacific northwest where all kinds of crazy shit happened.  Maybe E.T. would have landed there too if that novelization hadn’t already been written by Kotzwinkle.

Also, for all those kids out there that only caught the Goonies when it aired on cable (specifically the Disney Channel in the early 90s), the book provides vindication of some of the deleted scenes that appeared in that cut of the film.  I always thought it was weird that there were so many different versions of flicks in the 80s, one for theaters, one for vhs, one for cable, one for airline exhibitions, etc.  Deleted scenes sort of meant more then, as they were potential filler for some of the other raunchier stuff that needed to be cut for cable.  Anyway, I was one of those kids that saw the octopus scene, and the segment at the beginning when Mikey, Data, Chunk and Mouth have a run in with Troy in the minimart when the flick aired on the Disney channel, and later when watching the official VHS with friends none of them believed me that these scenes existed.  Can’t express how happy I was to see them finally pop up on the DVD.  There are also a couple of extensions of the wishing well scene.  One involves Andy being inducted as an official Goony by repeating the oath: “I will never betray my Goon dock friends, We will stick together until the whole world ends, Through Heaven and Hell and nuclear war, good pals like us will stick like tar, In the city, or the country, or the forest, or the boonies, I am proudly declared a fellow…”  The oath is finished off with the exclamation of “Leech!” as Mikey realizes they’re all covered in leeches.  These scenes were new to me when I ready the youth adaptation of the movie back in 2010 during my Goonies 25th anniversary week.  Glad to see them in this full on novelization as well.

I don’t want to spoil all the good stuff from the novel that didn’t make it into the film, but there’s one more segment that’s really cool involving an underground river.  While the gang is trying to find their way to One-Eyed Willie’s ship, they come upon a cave with only one exit, which is almost completely submerged in water.  There’s a raft, so they all get on as they hear the Fratelli’s hot on their trail.  Along the ride they all take turns telling stories to keep each other from freaking out in the dark water-filled tunnel.  Again, nothing that needed to be in the film, but it’s really fun to stumble upon an extra like this in the book.  All in all I think this one is worth the read, even though the first person narrative is awkward.  It’s a great way to spend a little more time with the gang while getting some new aspects to the adventure along the way.  If nothing else it has me really jazzed to read the Three Weeks with the Goonies book by Mick Alderman.  I can never get enough of this flick!


Okay, so there was one other thing that I wanted to point out about the book, one small segment of a scene that was cut from the film involving the leeches.  I wasn’t sure I wanted to mention it because it’s kind of messed up, but I thought about it and I can’t help it, it’s just too damn weird.  So in the wishing well sequence, at the end, after Andy has sent up the bucket empty, all the kids realize that they’re covered in leeches.  Data has a bright idea and end up strapping two wires to a 20-volt battery.  He sticks the wires in the water by his feet sending a light electrical charge through his body that’s lethal enough to kill the leeches.  He does this for the rest of them, and afterwards, James Kahn tags on a small scene that is, well, almost obscene.  After getting the shock, Andy and Stef are standing off to the side, and Kahn describes them as having “…limp smile(s) and small sigh(s)…”  Then Stef says to Andy, “I got all tingly – just my luck, I’m in love with a pond!”  After which the following passage appears: ‘It annoyed Andy, for some reason, I don’t know, like someone had made her feel good and she didn’t want to…’  Then Andy hauls off and slaps Data saying “Don’t-you-ever-try-that-again-with-me-Buster!”  What the hell!  Did Kahn actually suggest that Andy and Stef had orgasms from the electric shock!?!  W-T-F?!?

I think it’s safe to say that this is my favorite book ever!

Yesterday I opened the mailbox to see a package from Amazon and my heart skipped a beat. For well over 15 years I’ve been dreaming about the idea of my perfect coffee table book, and in that little brown box I knew it was about to become a reality.  For anyone who’s been reading the site for any length of time probably already knows, I’m a huge Garbage Pail Kids nut.  Collecting and trading those stickers was a very big part of my youth, and though my original collection was lost decades ago I still cherished my memories of those gross and funny sticker cards.  By hook and by crook I’ve managed to rebuild a pretty decent collection of the vintage GPKs, including a near complete series one set that I never thought I’d manage.  All the while though I keep hoping that one day Topps would step up and release a nice photo book that reprinted all the awesome artwork from the original 15 series.  Heck, at least the first three series would have been awesome.

A few years ago my hopes got a big boost when Abrams and Topps released the first two volumes of their Wacky Packages retrospective (Volume 1 and Volume 2); I mean a nice GPK book would surely have to follow.  Well, one of the wonderful editors at Abrams assured me that something was in the works, and for the past six months I’ve been dying to see the final product.  Well, the wait was finally over…

Needless to say I ripped through the Amazon packaging so that I could finally put my hands on this coveted Garbage Pail Kids  tome and it’s pretty much everything I could ever want in a coffee table book.  This volume reprints the first five GPK series (206 separate paintings in all) which covers the initial boom of the phenomena.  There’s a forward by series mastermind Art Spiegelman that gives a nice overview of how the original series came about, and a short but sweet afterword by the original GPK artist John Pound which has some fun insights into his participation as well.  This book isn’t about the history of the stickers though, it’s all about a gorgeous presentation of the cards themselves.  In that department I think the book is amazing with only a few caveats in the missed-opportunity department.


First and foremost, the volume is beautifully designed in the same fashion as the Wacky Packages books, including a wax paper dust cover (which is still a very clever detail) and various bits of GPK collecting imagery (empty sticker backs, empty card boxes, stale sticks of chewing gum, and examples of the first five wax packages.) T he artwork of the cards themselves is presented pretty close to the actual size of the original paintings if I’m not mistaken, which is a very nice touch as well.  There was also a lot of care in how the “sister/brother – A& B” naming of the cards was represented, as well as working in imagery from the checklist design, and a handful of the series one Nutty Awards cardbacks.  There are even 4 included stickers that never made it press in any of the original series (for various reasons, but mostly due to overly violent imagery is my guess.)

There are a couple details that I think would have been nice to see though.  Since part of the deal with Topps was that the artists didn’t sign their work, it would have been nice if the various artists had some sort of attribution by each piece in the book.  Granted, John Pound did all the sticker artwork for the first two series, but Tom Bunk joined in on series three, and for those not versed in telling the two artists apart it would have been a nice touch.  The other thing that I would have wanted to see would have been a better representation of the cardbacks for each series.  As I mentioned above, there are a handful of the series one Nutty Award backs on the inside front cover of the book, but there aren’t any from the remaining 4 series in this volume at all.  Even if there were only a couple sampled at a smaller size in each chapter it would have gone a long way to completing the experience of collecting these sticker cards in the book.  Again, not a huge complaint, just a missed opportunity.


All in all though, I am so excited that this Garbage Pail Kids book finally exists and is sitting here right in front of me as I type this.  I’ve already flipped though this book 10 times and I still kind of can’t believe it’s actually real.  I know that may sound like hyperbole, but it’s true.  The only thing that could top this would be seeing two more volumes collecting the remaining ten vintage sets in the near future. Abrams, are you listening?

Secret Mail Order Mysteries Fun!

Coming back off of a hiatus always feels a little herky-jerky, what with trying to dig up some inspiration and cleaning off the cobwebs of my practically non-existent HTML skills.  This year was a little different in that over the last few months I’ve been bombarded with all sorts of cool things to write about.  One thing that I’ve been meaning to write about for awhile is the new book by Kirk Demarais, Mail Order Mysteries: Real Stuff from Old Comic Book Ads!  For those who don’t know, Kirk runs the Secret Fun Spot (as well as its weblog the Secret fun Blog) and is a freelance artist and designer who has been doing some amazing colored pencil portraits of some very familiar families of late.  He’s a regular contributor to the Gallery 88 shows and an all around swell guy.  Though I’ve never gotten the chance to meet him, he’s had a pretty big impact on Branded from the get-go, so when I saw that he was having his second book published I was pretty excited.

Mail Order Mysteries is the logical progression of nostalgic blogs, talking a niche topic and really digging into all the nitty gritty (sometimes literally into the Grit of gritty.)  Do you remember all those tempting ads in the backs of comics and magazines like Famous Monsters?  You know, the ones for the $2 Topstone rubber monster masks, the life-size Frankenstein’s Monster, or the footlocker full of 100 toy soldiers for only $1.25.  Well Kirk sure does, and he’s spent years tracking all of this stuff down, finding out what all this stuff was really like and cataloging his findings in this beautifully written and designed tome.

The book is divided up into 8 sections including superhero related stuff, war junk, monster merchandise, monkey making schemes, mail-order miscellanea, secret stuff, jokes & gags, and all kinds of oddities.  From the facts behind the fabled X-Ray Spex to what that $7 Polaris Nuclear Sub was really like, every single page of this volume is filled with the highs and lows of the mail-order products of the 50s through to the 80s.  Kirk lovingly photographed over a hundred pieces (most from his own collection), as well as including scans of the original advertisements so you can judge for yourself whether or not that allowance was or would have been well spent.  The icing on the cake is Kirk’s keen eye for design, both modern and retro, which can be felt all over the book, from the yellowing, newsprint color-scheme of the pages, to the hidden glow-in-the-dark embellishments on the covers and spine.

For those of us who never got a chance to be lucky enough to order our own cardboard Polaris Sub (or to feel swindled by said sub), to join one of those intoxicating selling for prizes clubs like the Olympic Sales Club, or for those who just want to know how those darn X-Ray Spex work, Mail Order Mysteries is the perfect book.  You can see some more preview pages at Kirk’s site.

This book will give you a sugary nostalgic high!

One aspect of the American pop culture experience that I find endlessly intriguing is how certain portions of it so completely subvert class, race, religion, and creed.  It’s hard these days to pin down someone’s race or religious beliefs based solely on the music they listen to, or the video games they play. We’re becoming more and more eclectic as a nation, but the foundations of this cultural oneness has been steadily built over the last century with some unlikely materials.  If I had to point to one thing that ties most Americans together it would have to involve food as it’s something we all need.  Through the lens of pop culture, it’s the brands that stand out, the merchandising, packaging, and promotion that we are attracted to and hold dear.  One product over all else really shines through this lens, and is not only an important part of our shared pop culture experience, but also a very important part of one’s daily breakfast, Cereal!  It’s sugary, sweet, fruity, colorful, corny, wheaty, full of rice, oats, and the occasional marshmallow marbits.  It provides fiber, iron, whole grains, and most importantly for those seeking to break through the walls of the time-space continuum, high levels of riboflavin.  Through over a century of ad campaigns, commercials, and cool prizes we’ve all been influenced by breakfast cereal, and now writers Marty Gitlin & Topher Ellis have taken a shot at condensing this shared snap, crackle, and pop culture experience into The Great American Cereal Book.

Published by Abrams (for a February 1st release), this beautiful volume chronicles America’s favorite breakfast food with a semi-chronological listing of ready-to-eat cereals from seven of the largest manufacturers of the last century including General Mills, Kellogg’s, Nabisco, Nestle, Post, the Quaker Oats Company, and Ralston.  Each product listed features some vital statistics including a description, when it was introduced and/or discontinued, the various popular slogans, characters and endorsements associated with it, as well as various tidbits and trivia.  The book is also heavily illustrated with beautiful color photos of many of the more popular and eclectic varieties.  Breaking up the timeline of sweet crunchy nostalgia are a bevy of lists, essays and mascot profiles including a glimpse into the development of characters such as Cap’n Crunch and the Trix rabbit.

What really struck me when I first cracked the cover on this massive tome was the high level of thought and care put into the presentation.  The design of the book is absolutely gorgeous and has a perfect tongue-in-cheek humor imbedded into every page.  The book resembles a box of cereal, from the hilariously placed nutritional chart and ingredients list on the spine, to the rainbow variety of cereals adorning the inside front and back covers.  This book was envisioned and designed with those that are truly a kid at heart.  I also love that the photos lean more towards the kid’s section of the cereal aisle, including so many of the sadly extinct varieties like Smurf-Berry Crunch, Pac-Man, Batman, C3PO’s, and the dearly missed Croonchy Stars (the Sweddish Chef’s Muppet-themed cereal from the late 80s.)

Abrams really has their finger on the pulse of nostalgia when it comes to their line of books aimed at pop culture fans, whether it’s their inventive layout and design of their “vault” editions (like the World of the Smurfs and the Transformers Vault), or their stunning art books (like Wacky Packages, More Wacky Packages, and the upcoming Garbage Pail Kids book.)  The Great American Cereal Book is a fine addition to their lineup and would fit nicely on anyone’s shelf or coffee table who grew up glued to the television on Saturday mornings watching cartoons and slurping up a huge bowl of Cap’n Crunch or Fruit Loops.

Digging deeper into the story of E.T.

Here’s my second and final Monkey Goggles article that was originally published a little over a year ago on the Archie McPhee literary webzine.  As I mentioned yesterday, I’m putting these articles up here as it seems that MG isn’t going to be publishing any longer and in case that site fades away I’d like to have a record of the article.  This piece centers on the differences between the final cuts of films and the book adaptations of the screenplays those films were based upon. T he main example I use is the novelization of E.T. and how it could have been, and in the novel is, a much darker story.  You can also find my thoughts on the sequel story, E.T. The Book of the Green Planet, that was never made into a film, only published as a stand alone novel…

In the realm of film novelizations, there’s rarely room for originality, but every once in a while these books can be a treasure trove of interesting material.

Novelizations were originally a brilliant marketing scheme to bring a sense of weight and establishment to otherwise light genre flicks, at least in the case of the print editions of stories like Star Wars.  It’s rumored that Alan Dean Foster was hired to ghost-write the novel in George Lucas’ name so that the film would have the “literary” background of at the time recent hits like Mario Puzo’s The Godfather and Peter Benchley’s Jaws.  Later, in a pre-home video world, these novelizations became a merchandising phenomenon, giving hungry audiences an outlet for reliving their favorite films and breathing new life into genre publishing.

The novelization of E.T. sold more than one million copies and gave a generation of fans a glimpse into an alternate view of the story that almost was.  The original idea behind the movie was not to make a tranquil boy-loves-alien adventure, but instead a darker, more sinister sequel to Close Encounters of the Third Kind.  Originally titled “Night Skies”, the story centered around a malevolent race of aliens that land on earth and besiege a family living on a farm.  Though there was a script written by John Sayles, Spielberg eventually decided that he didn’t want to produce a violent extra-terrestrial sequel to Close Encounters, and instead broke up the script, reusing aspects that what would eventually become story points in later Spielberg productions — namely Poltergeist, Gremlins, and E.T.

Though the character of E.T. became much tamer in the eventual film, author William Kotzwinkle had a much deeper and slightly darker tone in mind when he was commissioned to pen the novelization.  First and foremost, the book contains a fascinating shift in the story’s point-of-view.  Whereas Spielberg chose to ape Charles Schultz’s child’s height world-view perspective, rarely showing the faces or upper torsos of adult characters and basking in the wonderment of a kid’s point-of-view, the book instead takes on a more omniscient angle.  Instead of approaching the alien from Elliott’s perspective, we are instead invited into the mind’s eye of E.T. himself, seeing Earth as it appears to him.  He loses the infant-like quality that made him so loveable in the film, and is instead imbued with the sage wisdom of a ten million year-old wanderer.

One of my favorite moments in the novelization is when, E.T. plays the role of the audience for a second, and it gives the author an opportunity to provide some commentary on Spielberg’s filmic charm.  Kotzwinkle has E.T. strolling out to the edge of the redwood forest where the aliens have landed at the beginning of the film.  After securing a sapling for examination and cataloging, E.T. is enraptured by the lights of the suburban neighborhood sitting at the foot of the valley.  Knowing that this is going to be their last visit to Earth for centuries, E.T. lingers, longing to peek into the windows of the homes, to get a glimpse of the human middle class life.  Again, it’s just a bit of commentary on what makes Spielberg’s early work so special.

It’s also interesting that, with this shift in viewpoint, certain aspects of the story take on a much darker tone.  At the beginning when the humans come to the landing site and start searching the woods, we’re introduced to “Keys”, Peter Coyote’s nameless scientist character who is known in the story by the jangling key-ring on his belt.  When E.T. sees him for the first time, the keys are described thus: “…the old botanist saw the man’s belt, with something hanging from it like an assemblage of teeth, jagged-edged, trophies possibly, wrenched from the mouth of some other unfortunate space creature, and placed on a ring…”  A bit later, the author has E.T. describing the circular key ring as a sort of open-mouthed grin with jangling teeth.

There’s also an isolationist’s tone to the opening of the novel. E.T.’s species survive for millennia and have cultivated a vast knowledge as well as a Zen-like understanding of peace and harmony, yet they refuse to attempt to communicate with the humans, instead centering all their attention on Earth’s flora because they are afraid of being ridiculed and mocked.  It’s a very odd and dark way to approach the material, for sure.  E.T. was Wall-E before there was a “Wall-E”.

Another interesting aspect that Kotzwinkle either added to the “E.T.” universe or amped up from the script was the idea of the alien race being so closely connected to plant-life that they not only communicate with it, but also have the ability to physically manipulate it. It’s either that, or that plants defy their normal physics in their presence. In the opening scene when the humans have descended upon the landing site and E.T. is trying to get back to the ship, there are trees that lift their roots to trip the pursuing earthlings, while a patch of emotionally-clingy weeds hold the alien back, wanting him to stay with them. It exudes a passion for the story that goes beyond simple script adaptation, which I think is rare in these 1980s era movie novelizations.

I could go on and on with how much deeper the original novelization probes into the characters – how Elliot, Steve and Gertie’s mother Mary (played by an exasperated Dee Wallace in the film) is so lonely and lost in her own mind that she fantasizes about disappearing from life and, believe it or not, masturbation.  (See page 17; the innuendo is there.)  She’s also simultaneously dreading the world her children have to face, wondering if they’ll succumb to overdosing on drugs, all while listening in on them playing a campaign of Dungeons and Dragons in the kitchen.

Who would have thought that there’d be room for this sort of storytelling in what amounts to simple movie merchandising in a decade known for its hollow commercialism?  I honestly didn’t think there was anything left for me to learn from a story I grew up with and thought I knew so well. Never in a million years did I think I’d get so sucked into reading the E.T. novelization that I’d be skipping lunch breaks and desperately wondering what happens next.

Put the Needle on the Record…

I have my sister Beth to thank for introducing me to music in the early 80s.  It started with her giving me a copy of Weird Al’s first album on cassette, and then continued on for years while she endured my constant presence in her room where I’d sit Indian-style in front of her turntable, endlessly flipping through her albums and studying the artwork intensely.  Beth was eight years older than me and as far as I was concerned she knew everything there was to know about being cool.  The record covers, the artwork and design choices made by the bands, photographers, artists and the graphic designers who worked on their albums, was just as important as the music was in helping to define my sister’s personality.  After my sister passed late last year my mother encouraged me to take some of her stuff, things that reminded me of her, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it.  All I really wanted was her phone because it held her collection of music, and that was all I wanted since it was stuff that I know was running through her head.  On a trip back down to visit my parents this past July my mom surprised me with a stack of Beth’s old records that she found in her closet.  I couldn’t have taken them from my sister’s house, but I’m glad my mom could because it gave me another chance to feel like I was seven years old again, sitting in my sister’s room and trying to decipher her code for being cool.

This isn’t the sort of thing that I typically open up about on the site, but it’s an example of how visceral and personal music and all the trappings that surround it can be.  As we break new ground funneling our personal collections of albums and singles onto tiny devices and phones I think we’re losing an important aspect of the music.  Album covers, specifically the sleeves on 45 singles, added another dimension to the music we loved and gave the musicians an opportunity to explore their ideas even further through art and we’re limiting the size of that canvas to half of a credit card.  I’ve been reading Vincent Price’s autobiography I Like What I Know (which is really an excuse to examine his love of art), and he mentions that his first real exposure to the artwork of the world masters was in a book that featured most of the paintings crammed down to the size of a postage stamp.  For him it was the definition of frustration, and he was only liberated when he was first able to travel abroad and see these works first hand in the museums of Eastern Europe.  Liberated is actually an understatement as he describes being devastated by the beauty and intricacy of Rembrandt’s full canvases.  While I hesitate to claim that seeing the full-size album artwork will devastate the viewer to provide some special appreciation and insight into the music that an iPod screen won’t afford, I do think it’s a shame how we’re marginalizing the work none the less.

This is one of the reasons that I’m excited about the release of Matthew Chojnacki’s new book, Put the Needle on the Record: The 1980s At 45 Revolutions Per Minute, which celebrates the 45 sleeve artwork of musicians like Kate Bush, the Smiths, Cyndi Lauper, Madonna, the B-52’s, Prince and more…

Chojnacki, who culled the images of the covers from his own extensive collection, has done an excellent job of chronicling the styles, artwork and design of 80s music.  The book is set up so that each cover is featured on it’s own page with commentary on the art provided by Chojnacki as well as the artists, musicians and executives that worked on them.  There’s some interesting anecdotes on the covers, for example, the hullabaloo surrounding the Smith’s third single off of their debut album, “What Difference Does it Make”


The band initially wanted to use a still of Terrance Stamp from the 1965 thriller The Collector, but after the actor objected they reshot the cover staging a note-perfect parody of the still in question.  I find this fascinating as the whole situation is almost a shorthand for describing the tone of a lot of the band’s music, which tends to play with juxtaposition of dark lyrics beautifully sung over very pop-y hooks and melodies.  This dueling tonality is reflected in the band’s response at replacing a still from a disturbing film (featuring Stamp’s character Frederick standing at a door with chloroform, about to subdue a woman he’s kidnapped and held captive – which closely echoes the lyrics to the song) with a similar shot that is so much more wholesome and cheeky (in which Morrissey is holding a glass of milk and looks slightly less depraved.)  Add to that the title of the song, and it almost seems as if the whole thing were planned.

Chojnacki also does a great job of pairing up covers, displaying them in two page spreads, so that you can see the similarities in style and design choices that ultimately defined the era.  Whether it’s focusing on the disinterested, heavily made up (almost clownish) portraits of New Wave icons like Pat Benatar and Gary Numan, or showcasing the eerie similarities between the covers of two popular female musicians that couldn’t be further apart in style (Kate Bush & Dolly Parton)…


…Chojnacki is really paying a lot of attention to the layout of the book which I find really exciting.

Speaking of that Kate Bush cover to her single Army Dreamers, this is yet another great example of how the artwork can really accentuate the music.  Whereas the album that the single is derived from has a much more general tone playing off of Bush’s overall personality as a musician, the single offers the opportunity to switch gears and focus on the message of the song.  Playing off of the idea of a mother welcoming home her son who has been killed in action, the cover features Bush made up to resemble a 40’s era WWII bombshell.  I think it’s ingenious how John Carder Bush (Kate’s brother and the graphic designer of the cover) pulls out a bit to feature the photo actually pinned to a piece of corkboard, metaphorically showcasing her as a “pinup”.  Again, like the Smith’s, the image is a little silly and upbeat with the inviting pink background, while the song features dreadfully depressing lyrics accompanied by up beat music.  The design was actually taken another step further with the actual vinyl record which featured a dull military drab green center sticker that plays off of the tone of the lyrics.

All in all, I’m really excited about this book and the chance to flip through a bunch of this artwork from the eighties.  Not only does it give an opportunity to relive the art and design of the era, it also helps to highlight some wonderful songs, helping to put them more in the context of how they were envisioned when they were released. I know these graphic designers and artists put a lot of thought into the covers, and Put the Needle on the Record is the perfect way to explore their work.  Having just come off of illustrating and designing the cover to a friend’s debut album (The Serenaders My One and Only You), I can attest to time and effort that goes into the process…

The smurfiest book I’ve read all summer!

One night when I was about 4 years old my mother was helping me get ready for bed when she asked me a silly question, if I could change my name to anything that I wanted, what would it be?  This was the first time I was challenged with this sort of idea, of being given the power to create my own personality and identity.  Without much thought and with almost no hesitation I declared that I wanted to be named Tiger (most likely because I loved He-Man’s steed Battle Cat.)  15 years later I was taking my first plunge into the world wide web and was again presented with the question of picking a name, an identity that would be my handle in that brave new technological community.  I was barely an adult at 19 and was living on my own for the first time.  When thinking about how I wanted to represent myself online there was one thing that I wanted to point to when it came to identity, a childlike wonder.  If there was one thing I knew for sure it was that I’d never stopped feeling like a young boy and I’d since had enough distance from the glamour of barbarian and giant cat fantasies I wanted to come up with something a bit more meaningful to my experience as a kid.  Upon reflection there was a much more iconic and universally identifiable property than the Masters of the Universe that encapsulated what it was like being a kid in the eighties, The Smurfs.  For anyone familiar with the odd linguistic tic of these little blue guys, you’ll certainly know their penchant for replacing nouns and verbs with the word “smurf”.  I settled on an adjectival use when picking my online handle, Smurfwreck (which is in homage to the final landing thud Brainy Smurf always made after being ejected from the village for being a useless know-it-all.)

30 years ago on a Saturday morning in 1981 I was introduced to the wonder that is the Smurfs, and though I didn’t realize it at the time these little blue creatures would burrow their way so deeply into my consciousness that I’ve been living with them ever since.  Though they were introduced by Belgian artist and entrepreneur Pierre Culliford (better known by his nom de plume “Peyo”) as side characters in his successful comic The Adventures of Johan & Pirlouit in 1958, The Smurfs (Les Schtroumpfs) helped usher in an amazing decade of Saturday morning cartoons for North American children during the 80s and have since become synonymous with the era.  Though the Rubik’s Cube might be the most iconic single item from the eighties, I would argue that the decade was personified by the Smurfs (coming out on top of the likes of Michael Jackson, Mr. T, and even ALF.)  Unlike the straight comedic or action cartoons, the Smurfs was one of a few series that really painted an interesting escape into the realm of fantasy that the whole family could get into.

I wanted to talk about the Smurfs today because I recently had the opportunity to sit down with a copy of Matt. Murray’s (punctuation his) excellent new book called The World of the Smurfs, A Celebration of Tiny Blue Proportions.  This coffee table book published by Abrams (the same folks who brought us the wonderful Wacky Packages books) is unique in that it combines a beautifully illustrated look at the phenomena of the Smurfs with the styling of a scrapbook that includes replica mini posters, sticker sheets, replica animation cells and model sheets, as well as reproduction mini comics in the same style that the Smurfs were originally printed in the pages of Spirou in the 60s.  I first stumbled across this style of book with the Star Wars Vault (published by Simon and Schuster) that came out during the 30th anniversary of the first film, and this Smurf volume follows in the steps of another Abrams scrapbook, The Transformers Vault, which hit bookshelves earlier in the year.  Though these scrapbooks can evoke the feeling of reading a pop-up book at times, The World of the Smurfs strikes a nice balance between a book and a binder full of props.  It’s pretty darn cool to be able to pull out a replica animation cel while learning about the origins of the Hanna Barbera cartoon, or to unfold a detailed map of the Smurf village while reading up on some of the key characters in the universe.  It makes the whole experience one hundred times more visceral than reading a straight prose history, or even a heavily illustrated one.  For the generation of collectors that grew up in the 80s this style of publishing really taps into the nostalgia much in the same way that eBay and other auction sites have helped fans connect to ephemera from their past.  Here Abrams does that legwork for you.

Though the actual book reads pretty fast, not dwelling on any one topic for very long, Murray, the self-proclaimed World’s Leading Smurfologist, does a rather decent job of covering the history of the property and its creator without it feeling like a long wikipedia entry.  Actually if there was one thing that I felt was a bit lacking was that after reading through the book I wished there was a bit more coverage of the merchandising.  There are some very interesting images that show some of the various video games, food products and ephemera that aren’t talked about or really mentioned.  I also wanted to see more of the PVC figurines that have been produced over the years.  Even so, there are a lot of treasures to be found, in particular the artwork and pictures which dig a bit deeper than what you might find on the average fan site, illustrating the history with some personal photos culled from the Culliford family archive as well as the various Belgian publications that have most likely not seen print before in North America.  Included is also a look into the making of the Smurfs’ first foray into live action filmmaking which is set to hit theater screens later this month.

Overall, this volume is beautifully bound and presented and would make a great addition to the library of anyone who grew up during the 80s, in particular for casual fans of animation and the Smurfs property.  Hardcore fans will still enjoy the book, though they might find it lacking as a reference for the toys, merchandising, cartoons or comics.  After reading this volume I immediately did two things, ordered a copy of The Transformers Vault and put in the Season One, Volume Two Smurfs DVD to re-watch the Purple Smurfs episode (Gnap!)  If you’d like to pick up a copy of this book you can head on over to the Abrams site, or you can pre-order it from Amazon (it’ll be released on August 1st.)

Mystery Solved!

So it’s been almost a year since I stumbled upon a mystery that I like to call “Michal Knight and the Mystery of K.I.T.T. and the Blue Prowler“.  The basic gist of the story is that while I was looking up Knight Rider read-along books on eBay I stumbled upon an auction for one that was originally published in Greece.  Though at first it didn’t seem all that special, the title font for the book looked weirdly familiar.  It struck me that the company that produced this foreign read-along had used the Transformers font for the book.  Upon closer inspection I noticed a really small grainy picture on the back of the packing highlighting some of the other books in the series and I could have sworn that one of them featured either Prowl or Blue Streak from the Transformers.

As I wrote in the article detailing this mystery, I’m not completely unaware of these sorts of cross product mash-ups, as the Transformers Vs. G.I. Joe comic books were pretty darn popular back in the day.  Typically though, these cross-over events took place between two product lines released by the same company, whereas the idea of Knight Rider meeting a Transformer was just the sort of thing that doesn’t happen.  Anyway, I couldn’t be completely sure that I wasn’t just seeing things as I didn’t have an really good proof that this book even existed outside of the tiny grainy photo on eBay, so after writing about it I promptly tucked that memory away incase I ever found some better evidence.

Well that day has come as I’ve finally managed to track down a copy of this crazy Greek book!

Published by El Gre Co sometime in the early to mid 80s (there is no publication info, at least nothing numerical), this book does indeed feature a giant robot facing off against Michael Knight and K.I.T.T., though I’m pretty sure it wasn’t supposed to be a Transformer.  The artists who worked on this book obviously swiped the character design of Blue Streak from the toy’s packaging art…

Though I’m not having much luck translating any of the text in the book, there are some context clues in the design that lead me to believe one of two things.  Either El Gre Co was a foreign partner of the Kid Stuff record company, or they completely pirated both properties to make bootleg books.  The Kid Stuff connection, though tenuous, makes some sense as they were the American publishers of the Knight Rider and Transformer branded read-along books.  There’s also some design and artwork on the book that’s taken directly from Kid Stuff like a “This Book Belongs to” page that is a spitting image for the ones they typically used.  It wouldn’t be that crazy to figure that when sending over some sample art for a foreign Knight Rider book they also shipped some artwork from other properties they held the license to.  Heck, maybe there are El Gre Co brand Transformers read-along books out there as well.


Either way, I wasn’t crazy and this book does indeed exist.  I have to say that I was a little disappointed after opening up the set as it wasn’t as artistically cool as I’d hoped.  Though the cover is pretty awesome, the inside of the book is filled with some pretty terrible artwork.  Not only that, but the artist was super lazy and continuously re-drew the Blue Streak robot in the same pose as the packaging art it was originally stolen from with only minor tweaks here and there.


There was one cool picture of the robot sprouting a couple sets of helicopter propeller blades and taking to the sky, but honestly it just looks like some really loose fan art that I might have done when I was five or six.  I guess in a way this adds to the charm of the whole book, but only a little.

This all raises yet another crazy mystery though, as the original auction that brought this all to my attention was for another Knight Rider book that had what appeared to be the alien mothership from E.T. on the cover.  There’s some pictures in that previous article, as well as on the back of the gift set below…

Though I’d love to track that book down as well, I’m not so sure it’s worth the effort as the interior art would probably be horrible.  Maybe the meeting of Michael Knight and E.T. is best left a mystery for the ages.  In fact the image in my head of the two standing next to K.I.T.T. and giving a dual thumbs up could probably never be topped anyway…

Vintage Book Club Flyers Part 3, Scholastic’s Arrow, TAB, and Honeybee clubs…

This week brings yet another set of vintage book club flyers from the 80s, though sadly it’s also the last.  So far I’ve covered the Troll and Weekly Reader flyers, and for this last installment I’m going to take a look at the largest of the various clubs, Scholastic.  As I mentioned last week Scholastic was the last book club company standing after the various mergers and acquisitions over the past decade, most likely because they’re not just a book distributor, but also a publishing house as well.  Another way that the Scholastic book club set itself apart was by really developing its branding.  Though both Weekly Reader and Toll had different catalog flyers aimed at the various grade and age groups in public school, Scholastic differentiated these flyers by issuing them under unique brand names.  For instance, the grades 4-6 received the Arrow book club flyers, while middle school and high school students received copies of the TAB club flyer.   This splintering of the main brand was just one of the ways that Scholastic tried to stay relevant to students, who would quickly outgrow the various clubs and would be looking for stuff that appeal to them and seemed more tailored.

Like Weekly Reader, the Scholastic book club flyers came bound inside a monthly educational newsletter.  This was where you got a chance to see the main company branding as the handout was called the Scholastic News…


Another way that Scholastic set itself apart from the other clubs was by offering back-issues of their entertainment magazines like Dynamite, Hot Dog, Maniac, and Bananas.  Actually, I didn’t see any full-on subscriptions for these magazines in the book club flyers below, so I wonder if this was the only way to get access to these magazines to begin with.  I don’t remember seeing any of them on the newsstands or spinner racks growing up.  Maybe Scholastic would hook you by offering up an issue each month and then you could get the exclusive subscription mailer inside of the actual magazine.  Anyone out there remember subscribing to any of these or finding them outside of the Scholastic book club flyers?

Anyway, for this last vintage book club article I have four more flyers to share from the collection of Esteban, who runs the awesome Roboplastic Apocalypse.  Three of them are from the Arrow club which was handed out to grades 4-6, and the last one is from the TAB club which was handed out to the 7th-12th grade students.   First up is the January 1985 issue of Arrow…

So after looking through a number of these book club flyers from the various companies I have to say that I am surprised by the gusto with which Heathcliff was advertised compared to Garfield.  In the battle of the little orange tabby cats, Heathcliff always comes out on top (front and center, page one) of these book club flyers.  I wonder if the various companies sold flyer space like ad space is sold in newspapers?   If so, Ace books sure were willing to shell out a shinier dime than Ballintine.  Either that or because Garfield was most likely much more popular in brick and mortar stores, the company didn’t feel the need to compete in these school book club flyers…


I also thought it was interesting, from a design standpoint, that the guys and gals that worked on these Arrow flyers chose to highlight the publisher imprint logos on a lot of these book listings.  So when you see a listing for a Twist-a-Plot book like the one on the 3rd page of the flyer above, the T-a-P logo was separated out and placed at the top of the blurb.  I know I was always on the lookout for specific branding when it came to books, as even at a young age I was responding to the various publisher and series logos.   Again, it’s another in a long line of examples in how Scholastic was trying harder to reach these kids (and in turn reaching into their parent’s wallets…)

There are a couple of cool books in this first flyer, in particular Robot Race which was part of the Micro Adventures series of paperbacks that were trying for a sense of interactivity back in the day.   Instead of letting the reader guide the story as in a Choose Your Own Adventure style book, the Micro Adventures stories featured BASIC style computer programs printed through out the book that he reader could program into their home computing systems to play games and solve problems from the story.  I’m amazed at just how many ways the writers and publishers of the 80s were trying to heighten the reading experience for kids.

As I mentioned above, there were a handful of entertainment magazines published by scholastic in the 70s and 80s, two of which were available in this flyer, Maniac (aimed at high school kids that were in tune with the MTV generation), and Dynamite (which I’ve written about before.)

The first thing that jumped out at me in this February 1985 flyer is the rock and roll themed poster/sticker sheet combo.  Stickers were typical of these flyers, but I’ve never seen a sheet that listed the artist and gag writer before.  Apparently R.L. Stine (of Goosebumps fame and who often whet by Jovial Bob Stine) got together with B.K. Taylor (the artist for the Awesome All*Stars! sticker cards as well as a regular feature artist in the pages of Hot Dog and Dynamite) and whipped up a sheet of rock inspired stickers.  I’m guessing that they were featured because they both worked at Scholastic on the various magazines, but it’s still a little weird…


This May 1985 flyer is also pretty interesting as it’s an example of the end of the school year edition.  Since the kids would be out of school in the first week or so of June, May was the last good chance Scholastic had to sell some swag, and I think it’s interesting that they eschewed the standard flyer for a two page blow-out sale…


Though I don’t remember the Arrow book club, or any of these end-of-the-year blowouts, being the bargain shopper that I am I think I would have flipped for the flyer in May of ’85.  In particular I would have really dug picking up multipacks of the Micro Adventures and Twist-a-Plot series all for the price of one book.  It even appears that there was some really old stock being pushed, as the 1983 Return of the Jedi storybook was bundled with a 1980 Empire era poster of Darth Vader.  I know for a fact that there was a metric ton of overstock on this particular Jedi story book as I’ve consistently seen brand new copies of this book in dollar stores and overstock book stores over the last 20 years.

The last vintage book club flyer I have to share is from the Scholastic imprint called TAB which was aimed at 7th graders and above.   This particular edition is from February of 1987 and barely survived to be shared…

My first impression of this flyer is that it’s sort of schizophrenic in its odd mixture of offerings.  On the one hand there are some more adult fare like teen romance novels, classics (such as the Count of Monte Crisco, Animal Farm, Lord of the Flies and Dracula), and books on writing term papers, but on the other there are still kid oriented books (like one about race cars) and sticker collecting kits.  Then again, when I think back to my 7th grade days I know I was going through a similar period of weird reading habits, bouncing back and forth between thousand-page Stephen King epics and cracking open Judy Blume’s Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing for the umpteenth time.  I guess the 7th grade really does mark an awkward transition period for children.  Most are turning thirteen, and depending on individual predilection, most are probably also facing that time when it isn’t cool to collect toys, read comic books, or bring your lunch to school in a lunchbox anymore.  I know that I personally rebelled against the idea that these things had to stop, but I was also far from popular…

As a special bonus, friend of the site Jose Anibal Gonzalez (who has a great art blog by the by), went above and beyond and sent in a scan of his daughter’s current Scholastic book club flyer from this past January.  It’s the perfect way to end this series as we can see how these flyers have changed over the last quarter century.  Thanks Jose!