DesignLifeNostalgia

Update – 7/06/2015

comicstripssSo in the nine years since the first installment of this post, the vintage comic strips reprints has absolutely exploded. I would never have imagined in 2006 that what I was calling “The Golden Age of Comic Strip” would REALLY be a gold age. Seriously, I don’t know how this will ever be surpassed, except that someday everything will be available digitally. But for the quality of the reprints that are being made now and the sheer quantity of titles, I don’t see how it could get better. Pretty much all of my personal grails have been addressed, and a lot of secondary ones are on the way. I mean, we’re on volume 25 of Peanuts! Volume 19 of Dick Tracy! Volume 14 of Mary Perkins, which wraps up over 20 years of continuity, just as that strip’s creator, the very talented Leonard Starr, died last week. It’s good that he was able to see such love for his work at that stage of his life. I’m happy I got to meet him briefly during a San Diego Comic Con a few years ago (as he was chatting with Ray Bradbury!) It would be even better if someone would reprint his run that revived Annie in the wake of the hit stage show. In any case, it’s not unusual now for comic strips to be back in the headlines. There is a Peanuts movie hitting the theaters soon (the first since Bon Voyage, Charlie Brown in 1980), the New Yorker is running articles about Gasoline Alley, you can go on a cruise with the top cartoonists of today, and there is a recent documentary that has hit Netflix and VOD about the gradual fall of the comic strip and newspapers in general, and what that means for the future of the medium.

Having begun as a successful Kickstarter campaign, this documentary, Stripped, is pretty good and for those who haven’t been following the industry very informative. Director Dave Kellett interviews over 70 people connected to the comic strip biz including most of the stars from the past 30 years. But there’s one “get” that is truly astounding, seeing as this person doesn’t general give interviews, talk to the public, or have his picture taken: Bill Watterson, the creator of Calvin and Hobbes. I don’t think anyone who was alive during 1985-1995 needs to be told the hold that Calvin and Hobbes has on that generation. Or that Bill Watterson is considered a genius for the way he translated universal feelings about growing up into the adventures of a boy and his (stuffed?) tiger. But since his voluntary retirement in 1995, Watterson has been as reclusive as Thomas Pynchon or J.D. Salinger, not making any appearances, not giving any interviews, just generally staying away from any kind of limelight. He preferred to let his work speak for him, which it did indeed, being continually in print throughout the years. And a massive hardcover box set reprinting every single strip was produced in 2005 with a paperback version following in 2012. And that was it. For nearly 20 years only the strip remained to remind us of his genius.

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So I was browsing through Netflix the other night, looking at their range of mediocre to abysmal choices of things I haven’t seen when I stumbled across the newish documentary “The People vs George Lucas”. With no better choices at hand I proceeded to watch it as I wrapped up some late night editing for a project I’m behind on at my “real job”. Let me rephrase that: I tried to watch it. I got about halfway through it before I had to turn it off and put on a Beatles album (FYI: A Hard Day’s Night) to wash away the taste it left in my brain. At its most basic, this was nothing more than what any Star Wars fan has seen thousands of times in every nerd/geek/fanboy forum online since the special editions were released in 1997 up through Revenge of the Sith in 2005. And honestly, I’m kind of tired of going over the same ground over and over and over (Han shot first, Jar Jar sucks, George doesn’t care about us, fans have equal ownership, ad infinitum).

To make it perfectly clear, I didn’t really care for the film. Decently made, but I didn’t see the point to it (even if you tell me at the end they defend George’s right to do whatever he wants with his films…who cares? That point was debated a decade ago). But it did really open my eyes to something I’ve never really thought about before: George absolutely did the right thing when he made the prequels. What did he do right, you ask? Well, going all the way back to Star Wars in 1977, George has continually said that these are kid’s movies. Made for kids. Now, most fans see that as a cop-out. An excuse, a shoddy justification for everything they don’t like about the prequels. And I’m not the first person to point out that he is right, these are kid’s movies. We fell in love with them as children. If you really go back and look at Star Wars today with a clear, cynical grown-up’s eye, you can see how juvenile the first movie was. How black and white. How simplistic.  And there is nothing wrong with that.

Somewhere down the line, “kid’s movie” became synonymous with “dumbed down crap”, but it wasn’t always that way. E.T. is a “kid’s movie”. Every Disney classic is a “kid’s movie”. You can say that The Wizard of Oz is a kid’s movie. But what we’re really saying is that these are family films- enjoyable for all ages. Now, the prequels are regrettably lacking in finesse. They definitely could have used a rewrite or two and a little better character motivations. But look around: kid’s today still love these movies. They like Jar Jar. They think the Battle Droids are funny. Go read Drew McWeeny’s great series on introducing his sons to the Saga: http://in-my-head.org/2011/11/07/recommended-reading-drew-mcweenys-film-nerd-2-0-star-wars-edition/

George made the right call here. He kept aiming that target in the same place he aimed it in 1977 and 1980 and 1983. And the kids that are enjoying the prequels today (and the Clone Wars, and the video games, and the toys) are going to grow up thinking just as fondly about all of this as we did 20-30 years ago.

I know what you’re thinking. I know, I know. You wanted to see something else. You want Jar Jar gone. You didn’t want silly Battle Droids and endless Jedi fighting. Or C-3PO’s antics. I get it, I really do. But let me point you in the direction of a comparable genre that didn’t take the path that Lucas did. No, this property at some point decided that instead of staying aimed at kids, it would grow up with them. It would evolve and start experimenting with just how far it could push the characters and the existing boundaries. It would get dark, it would get edgy. You know where I’m going with this: it’s comics.

At the same moment that Star Wars was capturing a generation of kids, comics was telling those kids that it was OK to never grown up and leave them behind like the previous generations did. No, once the 1980s hit continuity became king. If you weren’t on board from the beginning it became harder and harder to get on the ride. And every year less and less kids were reading comics. And comics responded by catering to that 80s generation’s every whim in a self-destructing feedback loop. So here we are. Comics exist almost solely as fodder for merchandise and movies and once the 40 and 50 year olds stop buying them the industry is pretty much going to die off (How’s that New 52 treating ya, fans?). Or move onto the web. And collectors alone can’t sustain all the toys or even movies when they are anything but a crowd pleasing, family friendly hit (looking at you, Green Lantern!) But Star Wars? Well, kids will be watching that just like they do the Disney films. Every seven years a new generation will pick it up, and the juggernaut starts up all over again.

Because George Lucas was right.

NostalgiaPolitics

…but the GOP ain’t one?

As I was driving to work last week on my hour long commute I was listening to the Sirius XM channel “Backspin”, which for those who don’t know is a Hip Hop station. Well, really a “Rap” station. Actually, to be specific, an oldies Rap station. And I pondered that: has Rap really been around so long that it has an oldies station?!?

Well, yes. Back when I was in my formative years (the 1980s) I would often listen to the local oldies station (on AM radio!) while my friends were listening to Heavy Metal or New Wave, or yes, Rap. And it felt like that music was from a much distant time, one that had no reflection on what was happening around me. But I was seeing it strictly from the eyes of youth, where all time flow seems long and past events seem ancient. The truth is that the music being played, rock from the 1950s and 1960s, was really only about 10-15 years old at it’s tail end. And because it hadn’t happened within my lifetime it only seemed very old.

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“You take out ‘of Mars,’ you don’t tell where he came from? That’s what makes it unique!” a former Disney executive said. “They choose to ignore that, and the whole campaign ends up meaning nothing. It’s boiled down to something no one wants to see. – ‘John Carter’: Disney’s Quarter-Billion-Dollar Movie Fiasco”

So in a couple of weeks we’re going to see the long awaited (and I mean long awaited!) debut of both the first big-screen adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs “John Carter of Mars” books, and the first live-action film from noted Pixar director Andrew Stanton. Sadly, most of the people who might be the target audience for this film probably have zero awareness of either of those two facts. And that is unfortunately only a very small part of the utter failure of Disney to market this movie.

But before I talk about the marketing muddle, first I need to address a few issues with the movie itself that did the marketing team no favors in my eyes. Let me preface all of this by saying that I haven’t seen any of the film past the trailers and featurettes released, and that I’m assuming that it is a good solid film based on Stanton’s track record. Word trickling out so far has been good to great, from the journalists who have seen it so far. I’m not really a fan of the character, having never read any of the books. However, it has permeated pop culture enough that I am fairly aware of the popular image of John Carter & co. And although Taylor Kitsch may be a great actor, he just doesn’t seem right for the part of a Civil War veteran described as being a 6’2″, steel-eyed, clean shaven, man in his 30s. Kitsch is just too “current”, he seems every bit a boyish young man of the 21st century. This part needs a Sean Connery, a Harrison Ford, a Gregory Peck. A “man”. And a man who not only has a steely resolve, but a sense of humor. A swashbuckler. That is not Kitsch.

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As the years have gone by and I’ve gotten older (and wiser?) I’ve come to notice that every time one of our “distinguished men of AFi” have posted pictures of their past childhood holiday toy pictures that something has been missing from my life: namely, and similar pictures of MY childhood Christmases filled with toys. For that matter, I really never had any pictures of much of my childhood, period, outside of the typical family portraits. Or so I thought. Last year while home for the holidays I made an off-hand remark to that effect to my mother, who then asked why didn’t I look in all the boxes of slides we had stored upstairs. Turns out that my parents DID take a tremendous amount of pictures, only they were almost all slide film and then put away once we stopped gathering around the ol’ Kodak Carousel. Since I was curious as to what slides we had, I took it upon myself to scan them all and convert them into nice digital files.

fettlegWell, over 6000 slides, 12 months, and many hundreds of hours later, I now know what is on all of those slides (and might I add they date back into the 1950s, well before I was around). And I still have around 2000 more slides to scan…unless they find even more boxes, which is a very distinct possibility. But within all of those pictures, I did find a number of great shots of what I received for Christmases past. I haven’t gotten into the 1980s yet, and if you had asked me before I scanned them what toys I received, I would have told you that I mainly got cars & planes, model trains, and a toy drum set until 1978. At that point my life was overtaken by Star Wars, (I even made my own xmas stocking shaped like Boba Fett’s leg, seen at right!) and I can’t really remember owning any other toys until I started collecting in earnest in college (well after throwing away everything I had in childhood).

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The Space Shuttle Columbia Lands at Kelly Air Force Base, San Antonio, Texas, March 1979

Or, what the Space Shuttle means to me.

On Thursday, July 21 2011,  US Space Shuttle Atlantis touched down for the final time, returning from the last mission that the shuttle program will fly for the United States.  The program and the shuttles themselves have been retired, cast aside due to a national lack of enthusiasm and a casualty of the ludicrous economic battles that pass for governance these days. But none of that matters to me when I think of the Space Shuttle.

First and foremost, to me it remains the last exciting moment of the US Space program that really touched people when I was growing up. Sure, the Mars rover and the various interstellar missions of the past 20 years have been interesting, but the Space Shuttle program was a continuance of that bright, shining age when it really looked as if the science fiction was being coming the science reality. It was totally conceivable that by the year 2000 we might have (small) colonies on the moon, or a floating city in space to replace Skylab.

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rubenFive years ago, shortly before I left California for Texas, Julius Marx and I paid a visit to the studio of a truly fantastic artist, sculptor, and all-around great guy: Rubén Procopio. If you don’t recognize the name you surely will recognize his work (and if you don’t recognize the name, shame on you!).

First, Rubén has recently written an awesome book (with Tim Bruckner and Zach Oat), Pop Sculpture, that anyone who is interested in sculpture should read. If you want to be a sculptor, I would even say stop reading this blog right now and go buy a copy. It’s a really, really informative look at the whole process of creating action figures and statues based on popular media properties.

Second, Rubén has been involved in so many areas that are near and dear to my heart that I alternate being in awe of him and being bitterly jealous. 😉 Just kidding! But seriously, he started at the Disney Studios in the 1970s, following in the footsteps of his father, Adolfo Procopio (and if you’ve ever been to Disneyland or Disneyworld, you’ve seen a lot of Adolfo spectacular sculpts), and was mentored by the fabled Nine Old Men (Eric Larson in particular) as he rose through the ranks of Disney Animation.

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with James “Sallah” Sawyer.

So there was that thing back a few years ago where we found out all about the plans for the final years of the Super Powers Collection including concept art for many possible figures. And that other thing, where some extension plans for the original Kenner Star Wars line showed up in a found presentation. Or the ill-fated Mattel Wonder Woman and the Star Riders? And how about when it was revealed that there was another Raiders of the Lost Ark assortment to be made in Hasbro’s Indiana Jones line (OK, that one still hurts). You’d think we would have heard all about toys that never made it into production by now. You’d think that with so many collectors and so much time having passed, there are no surprises left any more from the golden days of action figures (1970s & 1980s).

Well, partner, you’d be wrong. What if we told you that there were more gems out there? Gems that might Dazzle and Annihilate your senses with their Fantastic concepts? Can you keep a secret?

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When I first started collecting toys back around 1990 I would run into other collectors sporadically (this being in the dark days before the internet collecting community at large had coalesced around USENET, for the most part). One way I would know that they were die-hard toy hunters was that they had had “The Dream”. Usually this centered around Star Wars, but every collector who I talked with had it at one point or another after they had become totally immersed in hunting down old toys.

Make no mistake, The Dream never involved new toys. It always started with you being in a store (most likely a store that no longer existed, frequently a department store that still had a toy section) and as you wander through the store you find all the toys you wish were still there brand new on the shelves. And tons of them: the first 12-back Star Wars figures, all MOC. The original run of Master of the Universe. The 3rd wave of Super Powers. Maybe a Bionic Bigfoot, or Micronauts vehicle peeking around the endcap. And even better, toys that were never made! A vintage Tie Bomber! A Bantha playset!  A whole rack of He-Ro figures!

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Ok, so I finally saw the Wachowski Bros’ Speed Racer the other day.

Holy. Cow. This was one of the most amazing movies I’ve ever seen. I’m not sure I know how else to describe it. It was, hands down, the best adaptation of a comic or cartoon to movie EVER.

Now, before I get tons of hate mail, let me explain what I mean. I do not mean that it was the best comic/cartoon based film I’ve ever seen. I do not mean it is the best film of it’s kind. In fact, I don’t even mean I liked it all that much. I did find it entertaining, don’t get me wrong. But it’s not a great movie.

What it is, though, is a great spectacle. You almost can’t take your eyes off of it.  It is such a huge leap in the construction of these types of “green screen” spectaculars that I think it needs it’s own classification. It’s not really live action (although the actors are not modified). It definitely isn’t one of those zombie filled motion capture movies, and it certainly isn’t animated. But the entire thing is alive- the actors, the backgrounds, the cars. The way they treat the overall world the character’s inhabit outdoes video games. It really is something amazing. as it is totally like a cartoon (and a crazy cartoon at that) and yet everything has a very grounded feel, as if the cars all behave according to actual physics, if not the physics we must obey ourselves.

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So I started this year vowing to cut back on the toy buying. In fact, I had quit buying almost all together, thanks in part to it being so hard to find Mattel’s latest offerings and the fact that Hasbro has delayed the next batch of Marvel Legends for so long. In any case I wasn’t planning on starting any new lines. And then I went to see this:
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And within a few days I had bought everything seen in the picture above!

Now, don’t get me wrong; I love Indiana Jones. It’s just that I hadn’t planned collecting any of these, really, especially after dropping the Star Wars line in 2001. I was narrowing the collection down to just the DCUC line and a few Marvel Legends that filled gaps in my nostalgia collection. Mainly because as I get older I care less about owning toys, and also the small fact of having 60+ boxes of action figures sealed away that i will probably never open or display every again.

indy2But once I saw the film and then saw all the toys on sale the next day something deep within me snapped and before I knew it I was carrying them to the register and buying a good chunk of what was out there. It didn’t help that I had ordered the “Making of” book and the soundtrack the morning before I saw the film (the book is good, but not anywhere near as good as the great Making of Star Wars book they put out last year. Much of the info here is from the documentaries that were on the DVDs!)

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misterdogcrocOk, so I’m in the grocery store the other day and while I was walking down the aisle between the fine products from Campbell’s Soup Company and the displays of healthy Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups there was a sidecap rack with Little Golden Books on it. (Not to be confused with the German dog food brand, seen at right.)

Never one to pass by a literary opportunity, I glanced over at the rack and perused the title held within. What caught my eye was an intriguing tome labeled, “Mister Dog”. Even more intriguing was the fact that in 2008 there was a book marketed to children with a cover illustration of a dog smoking a pipe!

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Now, I don’t know what was in Mister Dog’s pipe, but I do know what it felt like *I* had been smoking after reading this book. I’m not sure I can do the crazy, mixed-up world of Mister Dog justice, but suffice it to say that I bought that book then and there! The story generally follows the adventures of a dog that belonged to himself, with the challenging name of Crispin’s Crispian. Who is Crispin? Is the dog Crispin and “Crispian” is a term of endearment? Is it one of those weird cultural oddities, like “Carl’s Jr.” or  “Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse”? 

8c8a7e93c8f83e5a1aca6ca0d877dcaaAnyway, the dog screws around, then meets a boy who is apparently a runaway. They go buy some food and take it back to the two-story doghouse, where they eat and go to sleep. The boy helps him clean the house. The dog almost never stops smoking. And was he chewing on his own hat? I wouldn’t put it past him, he is a dog. Seriously, it’s just some crazy-ass stuff. But don’t take my word for it, why not read this fine review. I wish Michael Bay would concentrate on classics to adapt like Mister Dog, rather than that Transformers crap.

The sad dénouement of all this was finding out that this was the last story of the author, Margaret Wise Brown. Ms. Brown was more famous as the writer of the wistful tale of nighttime ritual, “Goodnight, Moon”. But while on a promotional tour of Europe she fell ill and was hospitalized. After recuperating somewhat she tried to demonstrate her renewed health to her nurse by performing a high-kick, which triggered a sudden embolism that killed her on the spot. Oh, and she also owned a dog named “Crispin’s Crispian”, so I guess that explains that.

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In addition to books and toys, I buy a lot of DVDs. Mainly old movies, because I’ve already discovered that they don’t always stay in print for long, and then command crazy insane prices on eBay once they’re out of print. Plus, the past few years have been great as far as the rarer films are concerned, with studios realizing that if they do a good job with restoring this stuff it will sell, and at a premium price.

Unfortunately, the marketing dept. in these studios seem to think that buyers need some kind of bribe to get them to purchase these sets (they also eschew good package art in favor of a lot of photoshopped crap, but that’s another topic).  Hey, I can understand this; I’m in marketing myself and am sometimes involved in the same kind of inane “plussing up” of a product for no reason (forgive me for not naming specifics 😉 ). But above all else, these special offers should not interfere with the actual item being purchased.

legacycoversWhich leads me to today’s rant: the newly released Walt Disney Legacy series. This first series packages every last “True-Life Adventure” film in four stuffed volumes. On one hand now that Roy Disney is back in the fold the studio has done a truly fantastic job putting these together, with tons of extras, documentaries, and nice restorations of films that have too long been unavailable. And as far as I can tell it’s a pretty comprehensive package. On the other hand, the marketing dept. thinks that the films themselves are not enough, and takes the path of the tin outer cases they made for the ‘Walt Disney Treasures’ line on step further: the DVDs are loose inside a tin “film reel canister”!

The ‘Treasures’ tin cases at least could be removed and inside was a normal dvd case (otherwise when they are on a shelf you cannot tell what they are since there is no printing on the spine…if they fit on the shelf in the first place).  But these new film reels can’t be put on a shelf without them rolling off, and you can’t tell what’s inside without picking each one up and looking at the front cover. Granted, the packaging is very handsome, but how on Earth do these things get decided without ever thinking about the purpose of the item and the functionality in a collection (since by and large it is the core Disney fans who are buying these limited sets)? This is the same mentality that leads to crazy figure packaging that makes it impossible to remove the darn figure (and jacks up the price) just because some designer thinks it looks cool. I’m looking at you, SDCC Solomon Grundy.

Anyway, this whole thing got me so aggravated that I made my own covers and bought some double dvd cases online. So everyone can now benefit from my frustrations- right-click on a cover below and choose “save as” to download a hi-res pdf of each cover that you can print out and use on your own dvds. All for free! (Caution: files are large!)

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DesignNostalgiaToys

funkoboothI’ve been a collector for as long as I can remember. When I was around three years old, I collected sticks. Yes, ordinary branches that had fallen from trees, which came in all sorts of varieties and limited editions. After that I picked up stuffed animals whenever I could, the more unusual the critter (plush skunks, possums, hyraxes…) the better. Once 1977 hit, though, my entire collecting focus changed. I think we all know what happened in the summer of 1977. From that moment on, my life became Star Wars- Star Wars cookie jars, Star Wars bedsheets, and of course Kenner Star Wars toys. I even started collecting comics by picking up the adaptation of The Empire Strikes Back and discovering Spider-Man on my trips to the comic shop. Once I hit Jr High School my fascination with toys faded away to be replaced by a fascination with girls. But I never stopped collecting, moving on to books, music, sticks…well, maybe not sticks again. Still, I never ceased to find things that once acquired would somehow turn out to be a collection eventually.

Of course, once I was firmly settled in college the toy bug bit again and has led me down the path of both hobby and career, with a little web pioneering thrown in along the way. And so it has gone over the past 10 years; it doesn’t take me long after dropping one collection to gain another one just as quickly. Since entering the promotional premium field I have been acutely interested in Advertising Icons. These are the mascots and slogan bearers of major companies past and present, who have entered the pop culture zeitgeist throughout the decades since the concept first gained traction in the 1930s. Thanks to the wonder of eBay it has become much easier to track down various advertising merchandise made to promote specific businesses, which was great since I wanted a collection for my office only- a collection that others in my field could appreciate a bit more than the usual Spawn figures in every artist’s cubeicle. The problem with collecting these is that with the vast differences in scale, material and quality between pieces is that it never quite felt like a coherent collection. And anyone who knows me knows that I value consistency above nearly all other factors in my collections. One look at the picture on the left will show you the depth of this problem that I faced. (As always, click on each image for a larger view.)

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