21st May2013

Best of the West #3: Knight Rider Knight 2000 Voice Car

by Will

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I don’t do these posts much, so you know it’s a special occasion. If you’re new here, then let me explain Best of the West to you: these are pieces of my collection that hold more meaning than the others. These are the “I’d grab if there’s ever a fire” items. This ain’t your average Thrift Justice stuff – these are the top shelf items. OK, now that I’ve got that out of the way, why am I doing this today? Well, it’s really all but the timing of some real life events. Yesterday was the funeral for one of the kids at work. I didn’t know him, but I wanted to feel a part of the community, so I volunteered to sing in the choir for the service. It was really moving, and it was a feeling I hadn’t experienced since glee club days. It got me to thinking how I’d want to be remembered when my time comes. I hope people think I was hilarious. Not just “haha” funny, but “why wasn’t he a comedian?!” funny. I hope they think I was a good person and a good friend. Also, I hope I’m remembered as a caring and magnificent lover, despite my average endowment (at least according to my spam folder…). Anyway, this also got me to thinking about my first funeral experience: my dad’s.

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Courtesy of Orangeslime.com

My father passed away from an aneurysm when I was three. For this reason, I’m always scared of head trauma, and I never make fun of aneurysms. Because I was so young, I wasn’t really privy to the funeral proceedings. In fact, my cousin was tasked with taking me to Toys “R” Us to distract me. While there, I remember getting a radio controlled Knight Rider K.I.T.T. that had a working scanner light. You don’t give an RC car to a three year old! I just kept driving it into walls. It was really cool, but I was always rough with toys, so it didn’t last long. Sure, I kept it, but the electronics surely didn’t work, and the car looked like it did at the end of “Knight of the Juggernaut Part 1”.

knight of the juggernaut

Still, I remember the car always angered me because I couldn’t put a figure inside. I think I eventually even broke the window, like an inner city youth, just so I could stick a G.I. Joe in it. I didn’t realize there was actually a version that did what I needed it to do. No, I had my “distraction” K.I.T.T. so I wouldn’t realize my dad was gone. In fact, it wasn’t until years later that I pieced together what had happened that day. Until then, I always remembered it as “the time all my relatives came to see me”.

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Fast forward to about a year ago. My former employer, Diamond Comic Distributors, was releasing a Previews exclusive Knight Rider K.I.T.T. with lights and sounds, and included a 3.75″ Michael Knight Figure. Of course I was gonna buy it! Even if it was $50, and the Michael Knight looked NOTHING like David Hasselhoff. That reminded me that I already had a nearly 6″ Michael Knight from the 80s, and I never really knew why he was released. Remember that post about my Cousin Oliver and the G.I. Joe mystery? Well, that was also the first and only time I saw Knight Rider toys at retail. With the exception of the Whip Shifter (which I also had), I had completely forgotten there was essentially a full line of toys. So I took to eBay, to learn more about the line, and find out if there were any figures other than Michael. It turns out he’s the only one, and that he came packed in with an electronic K.I.T.T. That had opening doors! What I always wanted had existed all the time! And the vintage K.I.T.T. had dropped in price since the announcement of the newer version, so you could get one for about $100. Why buy a newer copy when I could have the original? So, a few weeks before my wedding, I told Lindsay, “I’m about to drop about $100 on a Knight Rider car, and I just want you to know that.” Thankfully, she knew the importance and was cool with it. It actually arrived just before our honeymoon, but I didn’t really get a chance to look at it until weeks later. At the end of the day, it cost about $80 after shipping, and it had its original box! Oh, and IT WORKS! Let’s take a closer look at it, shall we?

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This thing was $26.96 in 1985! That’s, like, $80 in today’s money. NOTE: I am not an economist, nor an expert on inflation

 

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Nowhere on this box does it say “Child’s hand not included”. I demand my white child’s hand!

 

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I wonder if it even had pack-in directions, as the whole shebang is told on the back of the box.

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I love the detail of the stickers inside, but Michael needs to do some dusting!

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I just like pushing it along my carpet, pretending K.I.T.T.’s driving through the desert. Of course, it’d be more effective if the friggin’ white child hand had been in the box!

As you can see from the box, K.I.T.T. says 6 different phrases. I couldn’t really verify them all, ’cause we’re a household with no C batteries; lots of Ds for some reason, though… Anyway, with the voice of someone who’s just roofied you, the car said “Callll mee K.T.T. for shorrrtt.” Supposedly, he also says:

“Engaging Infrared Tracking Scope”

“Scanner Indicates Danger Ahead”

“I Shall Activate The Turbo Boost”

“Your Reflexes Are Slow”

“What Is Our Next Mission?”

Well, the circle is now complete. Like a phoenix, my fallen K.I.T.T. has arisen, with all the qualities I originally wanted. Screw Diamond and their imposter. I now have the real thing! I hope you’ve enjoyed this “shadowy flight into the dangerous world of a man who does not exist”. Anyway, tomorrow’s promised to no one, so try to enjoy today. Thanks for reading, and let me know some of your “holy grails” in the comments!

06th May2013

Monday Musings: Underestimating Batman’s Sheer Brutality

by Will

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Confused by the title? That’s really just me using a bunch of words to say “Batman’s a badass.” More appropriately, he’s a dangerous badass. In recent years, especially due to his many cartoons and animated appearances, two things have become prevalent about Batman: he doesn’t use guns AND he doesn’t kill. That’s all well and good, but this had led somewhat to what you might call “the Pussification of the Bat”. People seem to forget that there are fates worse than death, and Batman has dealt out this kind of justice time and time again. After all, why else would criminals be afraid of him? Anyway, this is just my way of saying that Chris Sims isn’t the only one devoting more thought that necessary to the legacy of Batman.

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One thing that leads folks to forget about Batman’s brutality is his public persona. I’ve said it time and time again, but Batman doesn’t really work as a public character. It’s not in his best interest to be in a group like the Justice League because it not only requires him to go out in daylight, but it also makes him look like a hero. Yes, Batman works alongside the GCPD, but he shouldn’t be seen as a “hero” – at least not the same way that Superman, Flash, and Wonder Woman are seen. If your primary goal is to strike fear into the hearts of criminals, you’re not going to accomplish much when you’re publicly known as Superman’s friend. Sure, criminals might be afraid of his powerful friends in that case, but they wouldn’t necessarily be afraid of him. That’s why I feel Batman works better when he’s considered an urban legend.

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The comics go back and forth on this, but his most effective “mode” is when the majority of Gotham see Batman as the boogeyman. He’s not necessarily “real”, and he’s seen more as a story told to frighten. He doesn’t operate in the daylight as his 60s predecessor did, and the only ones to actually see him are frightened victims and criminals caught in the act. Sure, he fights Arkham villains, but most of his time is spent dealing with street level thugs and henchmen. He never really inflicts much damage on a Penguin or Joker, but he does all sorts of terrible things to their henchmen. This is why “The Bat” is only discussed in frightened whispers amongst that set. He may not kill, but he leaves them with more than memories. The cartoons depict a Batman who ends things with one punch, but that’s not true of the Urban Legend Defender of Gotham. The “real” Batman operates from the shadows. He tends to leave thugs unable to walk, in traction, or worse – usually dependent upon the severity of the crime. Just look at this example:

Batman Thug

And that’s just Comic Batman. Don’t even get me started on the movies. Cinematic Batman hasn’t even clung to the “doesn’t use guns” thing, so surely some of those thugs died – if not, they wish they were dead! Let’s go back to the very first Tim Burton movie. When Batman is fighting his way up the belltower, thugs are being knocked off and thrown down the shaft. This isn’t Spider-Man, where he quickly webs up a safety net, so they’re stuck until the police arrive. The Joker Thug body count was at least at 3 by the end of that movie.

Taken from http://batmancity.over-blog.com/article-batman-the-movie-series-2-145-leap-from-the-belltower-topps-usa-1989-58578862.html

Taken from http://batmancity.over-blog.com/article-batman-the-movie-series-2-145-leap-from-the-belltower-topps-usa-1989-58578862.html

And before that, he blew up the whole chemical plant – you know, the one that surely had a night crew in it, even if they weren’t all thugs.

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Taken from chickslovethecar.com

Speaking of the Batmobile, it had guns, and there’s no confirmation they were rubber bullets. Yes, Batman gets in his car and shoots the fuck out of people! NOW do you understand why criminals are scared of him?

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Taken from the ComicsAlliance Batman ’89 review where they were bewildered by the same thing

In Batman Begins, he made no real attempt to save Ra’s Al Ghul, AT ALL.

"Use of of your 'many talents' to save you from THIS, asshole!"

“Use one of your ‘many talents’ to save you from THIS, asshole!”

Finally, if you doubt Batman’s brutality, play Arkham Asylum or Arkham City for just five minutes. I worked at TRU when the first AA demo came out, and I almost needed a towel while playing that thing! The bones crunching beneath your fists, the noises being made. Bottom line: Batman ain’t playing around!

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So, what have we learned today? Well, first off, they say Batman won’t kill you, but that’s only true if no one’s filming it. Also, even if he lets you live, he will Fuck. Your. Shit. Up. And something tells me the DC Universe doesn’t have Obamacare yet…

26th Apr2013

West Week Ever – 4/26/13

by Will

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I wanna start things off with a grammar lesson. Actually, it’s more of a grammar pet peeve, but I hate the phrase “pet peeve” – what the fuck is a “peeve”? Sounds like a lady problem. Anyway, I try to stay away from grammatical issues, as I think everyone has a blind spot. Lord knows I don’t always have the period within the quotation marks, nor do I say everything properly. Still, this is an epidemic that MUST be stopped: the improper use of and I.

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Back in the late 90s, and I wasn’t being used properly. In fact, it really wasn’t being used much at all. Everyone was using and me. Suddenly, a bumper crop of Grammar Nazis appeared. Whenever someone would say, “Kelly and me are going to the mall”, a Grammar Nazi would pop up and, in a condescending tone, say “Kelly and I are going to the mall.” The original speaker would usually roll her eyes, and respond with a curt “Whatever.” Pretty soon, it seemed like the Grammar Nazis had a recruitment drive, as the began to pop up everywhere. They were in coffee shops, PTA meetings, even at the bank! Eventually, the Grammar Nazis won, but that victory came at a price.

You see, once it was ingrained in people’s heads that and I was sometimes the suitable choice, these people began to use it ALL the time. It’s like and me no longer existed, as they were scared of the Grammar Nazis, even though they had already moved on to other things, like correcting there/their/they’re on the Internet. Soon, it became common to hear someone say something like, “Grandma gave $20 to Timmy and I.” Or “She was speaking to Christy and I.” NO! This is wrong. You see, here’s something to keep in mind: how would you say it if there was no other person involved in the situation? You wouldn’t say “Grandma gave $20 to I”, nor would you say “She was speaking to I.” In both cases, you would use ME. So, when someone else is added to the mix, YOU WOULD STILL USE ME! “Grandma gave $20 to me/Grandma gave $20 to Timmy and me”. It’s that simple. Just take a second to think about it before you say it, and eventually it’ll happen without you even needing to think about it. And by NO MEANS, should you ever say and I’s. I’ve actually heard things, like “My wife and I’s commute is usually 3 hours.” NO! This one is a bit more tricky. It should be “My wife’s and my commute…” Got it? Good.

So, who’s ready for some pop culture?

I rarely have to do this, but I need to issue a correction about something I wrote earlier this week. You see, I said that Psych-Out was my first G.I. Joe figure, but that’s not entirely true. There’s a caveat to that: he’s my first G.I. Joe to survive. Let me take you back a little.

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I’ve said it before, but I wasn’t exactly a G.I.Joe kid growing up – at least not as much as my friends on Twitter. I think it’s because most of them are about 4-5 years older than me, so it was more prominent in their formative years. I, actually, grew up on the much-derided DiC era of Joe (Got! To get! Tough! Yo! Joe!). Sometimes, I’d rent the older episodes from Erol’s Video (this was pre-Blockbuster, in the DC area), but I know more about Metal Head and Ski Weekend Snake Eyes than I do about the MASS Device and the USS Flagg. My formative Joe years were around the ages of 10 and 11, while they were more 5-8 for other folks. So, when the earlier toys were on shelves, I didn’t exactly have a frame of reference, and didn’t go near them.

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Around the late 80s, my cousin came from Mississippi to live with us, as she thought it would be easier to get a job in DC. When she’d go off on business trips, I’d always beg her to bring me something back. I meant a souvenir, but I think she just stopped at a KMart before getting on the bus. So, one time she came back, and she had brought me the L.C.V. Recon Sled. I didn’t know anything about G.I. Joe at the time (I was about 5 at this time, and didn’t watch a lot of cartoons), but it looked cool. The only problem was that I didn’t have any figures to drive it. Looking at the box, it appeared to be driven by a guy wearing a baseball jersey. In my mind, that meant that the Recon Sled must have been his personal vehicle. So, I told my mom I had to have that particular guy. Luckily, toy distribution was better at that time, as the next time we went to Toys “R” Us, there he was, and his name was “Bazooka”. Now, my mom had a really strict stance on toy guns at that time, which I’ll probably write about at some point. The main thing here was that he was shown shooting on the package, but I used my 5 year old mojo to convince her that “It’s not a gun. It’s a bazooka.” Seeing as how she’d never been to war, that seemed to work. I still think I agreed not to play with the bazooka, ya know, with the guy fucking named Bazooka.

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So, we get home, and I finally have the driver for my sled. All was right with the world. Since I’d never had a Joe before, I was fascinated by all of its joints – especially the fact that he could do a cycle spin if you twisted him enough at the waist. Do you see where this is going? Yeah, one turn too many, and POP! Bazooka go down de hole. I cried and cried, and showed him to my mom. She was going to take him back to the store (my mom would, and still will, take back anything), and I assumed get me a new one. Well, she took him back, but I never got another Bazooka. I don’t think he was on the pegs anymore when she went back. And, since I was still new to the world of action figures, I didn’t think any other figure would work. Only Bazooka could drive the Recon Sled! Over time, the sled got battered, as I ran it, driverless, into walls and shit. About a year later, I would get Psych-Out, and having learned my lesson, he wouldn’t be doing any cyclone punching. Eventually, I got another Bazooka, but my Recon Sled had left this world. Years later, it was finding a newer edition of Bazooka that ushered me into collection the G.I. Joe 25th anniversary line.

Recently at work, I’ve taken to streaming stand-up specials from YouTube to listen to in the background. Yesterday, I came across this bit from Steve Harvey’s final stand-up show. The funny thing about it is that Lindsay and I watched this exact episode of Family Feud last week, and she swore that they had to have been the dumbest family in the history of the show. It turns out she was right.

Links I Loved:

Agony, Ecstasy, Irony: The Fight For The Soul Of College A Cappella (NPR)

Administrators Gotta Administrate! The 20 Best Fictional Administrative Professionals (UnderScoopFire!)

King Kong World Tour — York, Pennsylvania (Cool and Collected)

22 Unbelievable Places that are Hard to Believe Really Exist (Bored Panda)

This Week’s Posts:
Mail Call Monday – Batman, Empowered, Joes and More!

Pitch Perfect and the True Story of Collegiate A Cappella

10 Superheroes Whose Current Costume Design Will Never Appear in a Movie

WWE Divas to Star in New E! Reality Series + 10 More WWE Superstars and the Reality Shows They’d Be Perfect For

Thrift Justice – The One With All The DVDs

And the 90s TV Sitcom podcast I told you about was posted over at Nerd Lunch

So, one of them drunkenly cussed out a cop, while the other saved rock and roll. One’s begging for fan money, while the other is “the world’s most beautiful woman”. Only one them, however, had the West Week Ever.

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I love the Hell out of Fall Out Boy. I discovered them when their third album, Infinity on High, was released – an album that was perfect from beginning to end. I went back and listened to their second album, From Under The Cork Tree, and hated it. I was starting to think they were a one hit wonder until I heard their Welcome to the New Administration mixtape , which I blogged about years ago. Needless to say, I loved that. Seeing as how it was a primer for their upcoming album, Folie A Deux, I expected good things from that album. Unfortunately, it was a “folly of DON’T”. They broke up shortly afterwards, and that wasn’t the note on which I wanted them to go out. Their hiatus was shortlived, though – especially after Patrick Stump’s solo album bombed, and they released Save Rock And Roll last week, which entered the Billboard charts as their second #1 album. Having listened to it, I’m not sure if they saved rock, but it’s certainly good to have them back. Just like Trek movies, it seems that every other FOB album is “the good one”, and luckily this fell in the right place in that sequence. For this, Fall Out Boy has the West Week Ever.

12th Apr2013

West Week Ever – 4/12/13

by Will
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Who had the West Week Ever? KEEP READING!

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We took a week off, but we’re back! Why am I saying “we”? I’m the only one here… Anyway, it’s been an interesting week online, to say the least.

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Anyone remember back when The Craft came out, and every white girl you knew decided she wanted to be a witch? This was right before her “Lesbian, For The Attention” phase. I’ve been thinking about college lately, as I’m avoiding committing to my 10 year reunion. One thing I laugh about every time I think about it is the time my friend Ted and I got two girls to kiss. Not just a peck, but full on making out. They were SUCH attention whores, and I was such a douche. Anyway, I said, and I quote, “No one will ever take this away from us!” How sad was it that I considered that to be a high point in life? Now I think about it and just laugh and laugh. At myself.

My pal Jon over at Double Dumbass On You sent me this clip last night:

I have so many issues! First off, this kid’s belly button makes me retch. I’m sorry for any of you guys with outies, but it looks like a tumor or something. I’m also really curious about the cultural distinctions in the video: only the “white bitches” (that’s not derogatory – that’s their music video rank) actually pop their booties near the kid. The black girls keep their distance, probably because he’s their cousin or something. And how hard up for meth do you have to be to perform in such a thing? Take a look at that one chick – sure, she’s poppin’ her cheeks, but it looks like no one told her she’d need waterproof mascara. And what’s with that other chick?! SHE AIN’T GOT NO BOOTY TO POP! Did she win a contest or something? Or was this community service? Was she being held hostage?

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He’s the biggest boss that was fired this week: Rick Ross lost his Reebok deal after rapping about rape. Not sure why you’d have a fat guy promoting your athletic shoe, but whatever. America. So, with this precedent, I bet we’re gonna take a whole bunch of other shit off the shelves and out of the iTunes store, right? RIGHT? Oh, this was just an isolated incident? Even though hip hop’s been saying fucked up shit forever? Oh, OK. I’d get some heat for this if I actually had a sizable black readership, but I’m constantly amazed by the shit Black America gets mad about. No, I’m not justifying rape or rape culture. I just don’t get how hip hop culture chooses its battles. I mean, how does Rick Ross even still have fans to be angry? Everybody makes fun of his weight, everyone makes fun of his titties, everyone makes fun of his dislike for wearing shirts. Hell, everyone mocked him when it came out that he was a fraud and former prison guard. There were MANY chances to get off that train, and folks stayed on. What he said was wrong, but he’s targeted because America’s on High Rape Alert in the media. Once the focus shifts over to gun control, the entire hip hop community better be scared. Oh, They don’t rap about guns and getting shot anymore? Fuck, what is hip hop about these days? Oh, right – they rap about going to Cuba.

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OK, I need some help with this one. I’m not exactly loved in the G.I. Joe circles of the internet, for whatever reason, but I need someone to clear something up for me. You see, my love of G.I. Joe came from my older cousin, Oliver. He lived in New York, and was about 6 years older than me. I eventually inherited his Joe collection once he discovered girls, but I have a very distinct memory that I can’t back up. One year, in the mid 80s (I know it was mid, as this was the ONLY time I’d ever seen Knight Rider toys at retail), his family came down to visit and we all went to Toys “R” Us. He got one of the most recent Joes, as I couldn’t wait for him to open it so that I could play with it. Here’s where it gets weird: I remember him taking something out of the pack, and pop it in his mouth. Originally, I thought it was a backpack, but it was an odd purple color at a time when G.I. Joe hadn’t journeyed too far from actual military colors. I remember going, “Ew, why did you put that in your mouth?!” and he told me that it was candy and began to chomp away. Now, since then, I have noticed many different G.I. Joe pack-ins, from body transfers to standard mail-in pamphlets, but I’ve found no reference of a candy promo. I always thought it was a Bonkers chew, but I can’t any proof of such a pack-in. So, was he just fucking with me OR was there actually a candy pack-in for G.I. Joes back in the 80s? Help me, Internet!

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While I’m help from the Internet, I’ve got another question: do any of you have music in your iTunes that you’ve never heard? Here’s my dilemma: I am a music HOARDER. I’ve forgotten all the stuff I have, but I feel like I have to give everything a “once through” before it gets synced to my iPod. That way, I can weed out tracks I don’t like and save some space. At least, that was the original intent, when I still had a 30 GB iPod. About a year and a half ago, my wife got me the 160 GB iPod where space isn’t an issue. But I’ve never taken it out of the box. Why? Well, I got a new computer during that time, and all my music is scattered across multiple external hard drives. Every time I have an extended break, my plan is to finally get everything on the new iPod, but it never happens. A bigger problem is that my music comes from the back alleys of the internet, so I have to clean up tags and album art; it’s the OCD in me. So, I’ve probably got as many gigs of music I’ve never heard as I have of music that’s already been vetted. So, do I suck it up, throw everything on the iPod and discover the songs that way, or do I continue on my “preview” path, which just prolongs my getting the iPod set up? Anyone else deal with this? Thoughts?

My posts this week have been all over the place, so we can’t go with the usual list format. First off, I threw together the rare Sunday post in order to submit my uber popular submission for the League of Extraordinary Bloggers’ weekly topic. Then, I felt guilty for missing last week’s West Week Ever, so I pseudo made up for it on Monday with The Week That Wasn’t. Then, I brought back Thrift Justice Road Trip to talk about the antique mall that I explored with @LamarRevenger. Finally, I was welcomed to pen a guest post over at The Cold Slither Podcast’s site to commemorate the start of the Masters Golf Tournament. So, be sure to check out all of those links!

Speaking of Lamar, I’d like to congratulate him for his winning prediction in the Cold Slither Podcast’s Slither Madness Tournament! It couldn’t have happened to a greater dude, and he’ll be receiving something from Will’s World of Wonder. Be sure to check out the site yourself, as I’m sure I’ve got something you’d love to add to your collection! Why catch waves or fill yourself with rage when I’ve done the legwork for you?

One set race relations back to House of Buggin’ levels, while one set off the boners of fanboys everywhere. One punked everyone with a tweet, while the other is the world’s most famous Kim Jong-Il impersonator. Only one, however, had the West Week Ever!

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Sorry, America, but it’s my site. I could’ve gone with LL and Brad, but they released a newer song by week’s end. I couldn’t give a shit about Carrie Kelley, and I REALLY don’t care about Morris Chestnut. So, that leaves us with Psy. This week, he released “Gentleman”, which everyone expects to replace Gangnam Style. It won’t, but people can still dream. Apparently, there’s a dance with it, but the video isn’t out yet. Anyway, it’s got a good beat, and the man shouts “Westside!” More appropriately, he correctly shouts it as “West SaYEED!” Get this man a Green Card! You can listen below, but for this, Psy had the West Week Ever

UPDATE: The video has arrived! If only I’d waited 24 hours…

12th Jan2013

Toy Review – Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles “Anchovy Alley” Pop-Up Pizza Playset #TMNT

by Will

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Forgive my pics – I only had my phone!

I’m not really a toy review guy. I’m kinda the juxtaposition of my pal Howie over at UnderScoopFire. Sure, I give my two cents on comics, but I never really delve into the world of the toy review. I guess it’s because I have enough online friends who are much better at this, so I never wanted to insult either of us. That said, I think I’ve stumbled upon something that isn’t in wide release, so I can’t miss the opportunity to be FIRST! After all, that’s what the internet is built upon. So, here we are! I was lucky enough to find most of the first series of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles figures for Christmas, but Donatello has been eluding me. I’ve driven up and down I-95 for the past week, but all I managed to do was complete my TMNT Classics collection. The new Mutagen Ooze figures have started shipping, making me think Series 1 may not be restocked in places. Well, Toys “R” Us finally decided to send me some Rewards Bucks, so I crossed my fingers and hoped for the best. I did not find Don, but I did find this little gem that I didn’t even know existed: The “Anchovy Alley” Pop-Up Pizza Playset.

At a glance, it looked like this was some sort of micro playset, incompatible with the regular-sized figures. Upon closer inspection, I realized it’s a pop-up playset, similar to the ones that Mattel made The Dark Knight, as well as their Matchbox playsets. Unlike the TDK playsets, which were scaled to smaller figures, this was actually made for the regular, series 1 Turtles. While the box measures approx 12″ by 12″, it said that the playset expanded to 18″. I’d been interested in the TRU-exclusive Sewer Playset, but it’s simply too large and too expensive for me. TRU was raising the price on it weekly, and I just don’t have room for it. This is great, though, as it still provides the sewer experience at a fraction of the space and price. While the Sewer got up to $139.99 in local Bump-Up* Toys “R” Us stores, this rang up at $27.99 at a non-Bump-Up location. After using Rewards Bucks, it was down to $22.99. In the box, that price seems a tad high, but I’d have to see it unveiled before I could make that call.

 

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Before we get there, let’s talk about the packaging. As you saw up top, the box is designed to look like a pizza box, and serves as reusable storage for the playset. I thought that the outer case of the playset would carry the same motif, but it doesn’t really. You get the checkerboard pattern along the edge of the playset “lid”, but you wouldn’t confuse it for a pizza box, even if you saw it out of the corner of your eye.

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 As you can see, it opens like a pizza box, and you’re presented with a somewhat generic “basic pizza box”, with a small Turtle sigil in the top left hand corner (I just really wanted to use “sigil”). I’m not sure if they were worried it might bleed through to the otherside, but I kinda wish it had “PIZZA” emblazoned across it. Anyway, just like real pizza, you’ll notice that the corners have plastic protectors to keep the lid from smashing down on the “cargo” inside.

After removing the folded playset, you find that it includes one sheet of stickers to apply, and it opens up to initially look like this:


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 The brown piece is the pizza shooter in its stored position. Once the playset pops up, it can be mounted in three different places.

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 One sticker sheet later, and it looks like this:

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While there’s not a world of difference after you apply the stickers, you’ll notice that they really bring out the pizza parlor, as well as the depth of the sewer tunnels. If you look at the picture, you’ll notice that there are 3 main action features to the playset. Above ground, if you place a figure on the No Parking sign, the spring-loaded sign will cause the figure to kick through the doors of the pizzeria. Likewise, you can swing a figure from the ledge of the second partial story, which allows a figure to kick an enemy through the vault on the right. Finally, the manhole cover is activated by a lever, which will launch off any enemies standing on it.

The thing that really stood out for me as a MAJOR selling point was the fact that there’s nothing extremely “TMNT” about it. Some might see this as a detriment, but I grew up repurposing my The Real Ghostbusters Firehouse into everything from Stately Wayne Manor to Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters. Being able to use this playset for toylines outside of TMNT makes it that much more awesome to me. I’ve heard a lot of toy folks lament the fact that today’s kids aren’t encouraged to use their imagination, and I think this playset is perfectly suited for that. It still has the pizza restaurant and action-feature manhole cover, but these are more subtle than they might have been in the past. I know that toy photographers will be glad to have another backdrop, and it’s not needlessly marred by ooze stickers or excessive pizza references like the old toys were.

There are a few downsides to this playset, but not many. First off, the manhole cover is glaringly large, so it’s scaled great for Turtles figures, but might look odd with figures from some other toyline. Considering the fact that the lid exists as a lever and not a passageway, I feel like they could’ve gotten away with making it smaller. The main con, in my mind, is the price. I mentioned that I got it down to about $22.99 before tax, but that’s still a bit much. I know the cost of plastic is going up, but I think this should clock in at around $19.99 at a non Bump-Up store. I’m just not sure this is a $27.99 toy, even in the current toy landscape. This means that Bump-Up TRUs are going to charge about $32 for it, and it’s DEFINITELY not worth that. I feel like this is the kind of item that I’m going to see quite a few of in thrift stores in about a year, but the current success of the TMNT revival might bump that timeline another year. I didn’t feel like waiting, and I know I’ll get a lot of use out of this, even if it’s just sitting on a shelf looking pretty. If you’re a TMNT fan, this is a great addition to your collection. If you’re a TMNT fan who’d been thinking about getting the Sewer Playset, I think you could get your feet wet with this and be just fine -especially if you live in an apartment.

Oh, wondering why there are no pics with the Turtles in the playset? I haven’t opened them yet. Yeah, I know…I just don’t feel right opening them until I’ve got all four. I’m weird like that.

Epilogue: I forgot to show you my favorite “treat” that came along with the playset:

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Ever since the days of the Kenner Action Toy Guides, I LOVE toy pamphlets. Outside of Bandai, I don’t really know any company that has released them in recent years. After all, there’s an internet and dead trees and shit. Still, I’m gonna cherish this til my constant folding and unfolding causes it to fall apart along the creases!

*Bump-Up Toys “R” Us stores are locations that raise prices based on the socioeconomic level of the surrounding area. Typically, richer areas charge more, though there have been reports of Bump-Up stores in less affluent areas. For more info, go here (yeah, I wrote that, too).

17th Oct2012

Loot Crate – It’s a Box Full O’ Stuff!

by Will

No, that’s not their actual slogan, but it could be. Before we get there, let’s take a walk back in time, shall we? Back in the day, every quarter or so, Toys “R” Us used to give out something called an “R” Treat box. They used to make a big deal about it by putting it in the circular, and even included a coupon to make it seem like you couldn’t get the box without it (you totally could). When you’re a kid, you like free shit. It’s written in the Kidstitution. Since I’ve gotten older, I realize these things were really geared towards moms, but you’re dumb when you’re a kid. Usually, the “R” Treat Box was the size of an off-brand kids meal box, and was usually filled with samples. You’d get a small box of Grape Nuts, maybe some stickers, maybe some cookies, and some coupons. Sounds kinda boring now, but I used to lose my shit to get one of those free boxes of mom-centered samples! Like most things in life, it was all about the journey and NOT the destination. So, when I first stumbled upon the idea of Loot Crate over on Top Hat Sasquatch, I was flooded with memories of the “R” Treat box. Like most things when you grow up, I had to pay for the experience. Was it worth the price? Well, let’s see.

First off, is it wrong that I wanted the box to look like an actual crate? I wanted to experience the feeling of a pirate as he was about to open a chest of newfound loot. When I opened the box, the first thing I saw was this clever postcard. If I were an actual journalist, I’d tell you what that postcard was actually promoting. Anyway, I was greeted with another card, from Loot Crate, explaining that September’s theme was “8-Bit”. This was kinda cool, but I’ve never been the most hardcore gamer, so it didn’t excite me like it probably should have.

So, here’s everything I saw once I unpacked the box. Here were my initial thoughts on things

– Loot Crate sticker: who doesn’t love a sticker?

-Radium Energy Powder: I like that it’s in a vial, but I’ll never eat it because it’s blue. I’m still scarred from the Blue Raspberry craze from the 90s. Apparently, it’s caffeinated. So, it’s basically powder that gives you energy. I’m fairly certain that neither the FDA nor the DEA know about this.

-Pixel sunglasses: I wear glasses, so I’ll never get to use these. Plus, I ended up with hot pink. I say that in the same voice as Adam from Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie, when he said “I’m a frog.”

-Party Mustache: OH MY GOD! I HATE THIS HIPSTER GARBAGE!!!! ARRGHHH!! You don’t get it – I live not too far from Baltimore, where the whole hipster, ironic mustache thing has risen to new heights. It’s probably the 2nd worst thing about that city (next to Ray Lewis killing people). Then, I calmed down and realized that this was actually meant to stand in as Mario’s mustache. It does a poor job, but I give them credit for the effort.

Legend of Zelda Mints: nice presentation, but they’re the kind of thing you leave on a desk. If these were in your pocket, you’d walk around sounding like you’re smuggling maracas into the country.

-20-sided die: this was interesting, almost like an afterthought. I mean, the topic was “8-Bit”, yet this is decidedly analog and tabletop. Plus, there’s no real need for it. If they’d thrown in a starter RPG game or something, I’d get it, but this is just kinda like “Ya never know when you might need a 20-sided die. Just go with it.”

-Pikachu button: great if you like buttons and/or work at TGI Fridays. Pretty straight forward. Not too large. Basically the size of the promo buttons DC Comics gives out at conventions.

Super Mario Bros Power Up Energy Drink: Yeah, there’s no way I’m drinking this. I avoid all energy drinks because I have a premonition of my heart exploding. Hell, I avoid exercise for the exact same reason. I had 2 cans of Four Loko (the good stuff, with the caffeine) in my fridge for over a year without touching it. I’m a scaredy cat who’s afraid of anything with “energy” on it. I will, however, eat McDonalds three times a day. God bless America!

So, down to brass tacks: was it worth it? Well, I didn’t sound too kind above, but I didn’t hate anything. At the end of the day, I like getting mail. Always have. If they really try to shut down the post office, I might actually finally march for something. I will say that it’s kinda odd that I’m paying for it. It’s like paying for an escort – yeah, it’s great you’re getting banged and all, but it’d mean so much more if you hadn’t given someone your credit card information beforehand.

Loot Crate offers 3 types of subscriptions – one month for $13.37, three months for $55.11, or six months for $105.99 (all include $6/month for shipping and handling). I didn’t feel like one month would be long enough to get the full experience, but I couldn’t justify a six month subscription, sight unseen. So, I settled on the three month deal. My October crate should be shipping at the end of the week, so look for a follow up soon. At the moment, I’ll say that your mileage may vary, but for now I don’t think it was a bad decision. I’ve wasted more money on less, and I still love the anticipation aspect of it. Maybe the contents of October’s crate will be closer to my interests.

For another opinion on the Loot Crate, check here:

http://www.crookedninja.com/2012/09/lootcrate-unboxing.html

For more background on the “R” Treat Box, check here:

http://dinosaurdracula.com/features/toys-r-us-r-treat-box/

08th Feb2012

The Toy Fair Post

by Will

This is part of a post that I teased all the way back at the tail end of 2011, and here we are, almost 2 months later. Before we jump into things, I should probably tell you that you won’t get the whole story this go-round, but it’ll lead into wonderful new things. That’s worth it, right? Anyway, I thought this would be a great time for the post, as many of my e-friends are gearing up to head to NYC for Toy Fair, and what you’ll see here ties into that. What’s Toy Fair? Well, I’m glad you asked!

The American International Toy Fair is held every February at both The Javits Center and the Toy Building in NYC. It’s a trade show for the industry, where buyers come to see the toys that are expected to be the hot items during the next holiday season. As it’s a trade show, it’s not open to the public. So, this has caused the show to be surrounded by a certain mystique, as toy fans have wondered what occurred within those halls. To a toy fan, going to Toy Fair is like going to Mecca. In recent years, however, it has been easier to gain access, as blogs have been able to gain press access. What used to be relegated to a ten-minute segment on 48 Hours is now the bread and butter of the toy blog set. Toy Fair news, especially the exclusive kind, is guaranteed site hits.

As we’ve already covered on the site, I love learning about the toy industry. Sure, the product is nice, but there tends to be a more interesting story behind the product. It recently occurred to me that I never wrote about my own Toy Fair experience. I, like other toy fans, have had dreams of entering the halls of Toy Fair. Remember that 48 Hours special I mentioned in the last paragraph? Well, that’s how it all started. I remember it clearly: 1988 – I was eating one of those giant chocolate chip cookies that you get from delis. And since I had a loose tooth, chewing said cookie knocked out my tooth. Anyway, while eating this cookie, I was watching 48 Hours (I was a weird kid), and they were showing the Galoob Star Trek: The Next Generation toys. This was also the dawn of my Trekkiedom, so seeing toys and Star Trek at the same time sent my little heart a-flutter. I noticed that the toys were being presented by spokesmodels wearing Starfleet uniforms. As I continued watching, I learned that this show happened EVERY year! Unfortunately, it was also only open to people in the toy industry. I didn’t know how, but I was going to find some way into that show. That was the plan.

Fast forward 20 years later. Yes, it really took 20 years. I was working at Diamond Comic Distributors, and I’d pretty much exploited that job for every opportunity it presented. I got sent to New York Comic-Con, San Diego Comic-Con, and worked with the dude who wrote most of the episodes of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Hell, my biggest account handled Transformers, G.I. Joe and Ghostbusters! I’d made all my dreams come true – except one. It was time to go for the brass ring. You see, Diamond also has a toy department. Well, they actually kind have two: there’s Diamond Select Toys, which is basically Art Asylum in sheep’s clothing and there’s the Diamond Toy Department, which buys up mass market things, like Marvel Legends from Hasbro, and then distributes them to comic shops. Due to its role in the toy industry, Diamond also has a presence at Toy Fair. I don’t know how I pulled this. I honestly never expected this to go through, but I mentioned to my awesome, awesome boss that I’d always wanted to go to Toy Fair. A few days later, he tells me that he can get me a pass. Sure, I’d have to get up there on my own, find my own lodging, etc, but I could get into the show. To this day, I wonder how he pulled that off, as they really loved to say “no” around there. So, one Vamoose Bus ticket purchased, and I was in NYC.

So, Toy Fair. It was everything I ever wanted yet nothing I expected, all at the same time. First off, while the news outlets focus on the hot popular stuff, like Star Wars, Cabbage Patch (well, in the 80s), and G.I. Joe, I was amazed by how much of the show actually catered to toys you’d never really think much about. See, as a Toy Fair novice, I didn’t realize that the GOOD stuff is at the Toy Building. Most of the major companies, like Hasbro, Mattel, etc, have year round showrooms at the Toy Building, and they hold most of their presentations there. The Javits Center is where they might set up a booth, but it’s not where they’re showing the best stuff. Instead, the Javits Center is comprised of smaller vendors. To make a comic analogy, Marvel and DC are in the Toy Building, while Javits is the small press.

Walking around, it was interesting to see 10 different Chinese vendors trying to sell the same little pedal car. I guess they all use the same factory, and then it becomes a bidding war to see who can give retailers the best price. Oh, right. I forgot that part. The purpose of Toy Fair (in theory) is so that retail buyers can get a sneak peak at the holiday season’s projected hits, so that they can place their orders for the season. I said “in theory” because it’s a not-so-well known fact that there’s actually an earlier November Toy Fair that’s just for the big guys like Toys “R” Us, Target, and Walmart. So, while the February Toy Fair might feature “new” stuff for some buyers, it’s more of a refresher for the bigger guys. Anyway, you end up seeing more stuff that would end up in a mom and pop toy store than you would in a major market retailer. For example, this was during the Mentos/Coke craze, so there was actually a science kit with elaborate tubes and stuff, allowing you to really get some mileage out of that explosion.

Since I didn’t know about the Toy Building showrooms at the time, I missed out on all the cool stuff. Still, I made my dream come true, and I got into Toy Fair. There was a lot of other stuff that happened during that trip, worst of all was me losing my cell phone in a cab. It was like a scene from a movie – I realized I’d left it in there just as it pulled off. I ran after it, but it turned a corner. As I ran around the corner, there was a SEA of yellow cabs. Which one was it?!! So yeah, lost my cell phone in a cab, in New York City, on a government holiday ( I think it was Presidents Day).

So why did I post this now? Well, one of the best parts about Toy Fair is the exclusives. Some of these are rare toys, while some are just industry-specific brochures. I’m sad to say that I didn’t leave with much during my adventure. I still have the program, and I think I have a picture frame, but that’s about it. However, over Christmas, I went to Denver and found a few Toy Fair items that I simply couldn’t leave behind. I think any child of the 80s would love to see these, and that’s exactly what’s going to happen…tomorrow.

04th Nov2011

Best of the West #2: Toys “R” US Aisle 6D Sign

by Will

image

So, I’m not sure if anyone remembers, but I created “Best of the West” to showcase the jewels of my personal collection. I only posted under that heading once, and that was to discuss my autographed Obama Spidey comic. I kinda got preoccupied with yard sales, and let’s face it – a collect a lot of shit! Anyway, I know my pal Mike enjoyed this feature, and Brian over at Cool and Collected recently asked when we’d see the West Collection. I don’t know when I’ll ever get around to a full collection post, so the Best of the West segments will have to do for now.

Today’s item is a quirky one. If it’s your first time reading about me, I worked for Toys “R” Us in a part time capacity for 10 years. It was my first job out of high school, and I just couldn’t tear myself away. I fought on the beaches of the Great Gundam War of ’01. I waged the storms of the Pokemon Tsunami. I tickled many an Elmo, and I laughed in the face of the fabled NeoPet epidemic. We lost a lot of good men out there.

Before working at TRU, I thought I had a love for toys. I thought I loved toys of all shapes and sizes. Just say the word “toy” and my face would light up. About 2 weeks into my TRU career, I began to realize that I didn’t love “toys”. I loved “action figures”. You see, when you’re a customer, you just go right in to the aisle that holds the stuff you like. All the other stuff is just part of the TRU obstacle course. Fuck a bike! If you’re serious about cycling, you ain’t buying a bike at TRU. And I didn’t give a shit about car seats and Pack ‘N Plays. No, I just loved aisles 6D and 7D – home of the action figures. Sadly, when you work for the store, you’re forced to worry about those aforementioned departments. It didn’t matter to me. They could assign me to diapers, bikes, or cart duty – I always found my way back to those 2 aisles.

Now, let me give you a little retail history lesson. In TRU’s heyday, it was essentially a supermarket for toys. During the late 90s, it was decided that it had too much of a warehouse feel. So, aisles were partially done away with, as the company migrated towards the “racetrack” layout. In this new floorplan, the guest would follow a winding path around the store, with different “worlds” situated outside the track. There was Boys World, Girls World, Wheel World, etc. Supervisors were now “World Leaders”, and the whole thing was supposed to make the shopping experience flow more easily for guests. Only important stores got the full floor plan. My store wasn’t that important, so it still retained some of the old signage.

Then, the day after Christmas 2005, old Geoffrey decided that he didn’t need us in his empire any longer. It wasn’t too bad, though. Let me tell you this: there are few things more exciting than working for a store going through liquidation. No, seriously! I know some former Borders and Filene’s employees might disagree, but there are no rules, and you no longer have corporate oversight. We hosted fake radio shows over the PA system, some chick wished cancer on my Asst.Manager because he couldn’t process a return. Oh, and a mentally challenged guy came in and started masturbating in the R-Zone! I can’t remember the last time my life was that exciting. But the one thing that remained was my love of action figures. It was that love that brought me there in the first place. So, as we were closing the place down, I grabbed the sign for aisle 6D. What I love about it is that it was promoting lines that weren’t even really hot at the time, but I collected everything on this sign. If it had Ghostbusters, Batman, and Star Trek, you’d have my toy resume.

So, here it sits in my “office”. Before taking it, I had no clue how heavy it would be. It’s got to be a good 50 lbs, which is why it’s just leaning against the wall. I can’t hang that thing, and I’m amazed we’ve never heard of them falling and killing some kid. It’s big, heavy, and doesn’t really tie the decor of the room together, but it’s my past. Batman has a giant penny, and I’ve got the sign to aisle 6D. After 10 years of lying about truck shipments, helping lost grandmas, and selling D batteries to lonely single moms, this is my trophy.

12th Sep2011

Book Report – Toyland: The High-Stakes Game of the Toy Industry

by Will

This will come as a surprise to no one, but I used to want to work in the toy industry. Yeah, I did the whole 10 years at Toy “R” Us, but I also chose my college major in the hopes of landing a position at Kenner (hey, it was still around then!) or Mattel. My major was early childhood development, with a focus on play and interaction. Since there was no real “toy curriculum”, I figured knowledge of how children go about playing would point me in the right direction. I couldn’t have been more wrong. It turns out that toy companies want *designers*. Instead of trying to make educational toys that look pretty, toy companies attempt to make pretty toys that seem educational. Like with dating and job interviews, looks come first. I did, however, manage to snag an internship at a small specialty toy company in Chicago, called Manhattan Toy. Now, during my time at TRU, I’d learned that I didn’t really care about ALL toys – I just loved aisles 6D and 7D. So, when this small stuffed animal company came along, brash 19-year old me blew it off and jetted of to London. By the time I graduated, I started to realize my dream may not come true. Then came Diamond.

Many people may not realize this, but Diamond has a toy team. Sure, most of the focus is on comics, but they’re also the ones responsible for getting those overpriced toys and busts to your local comic shop. Sadly, the extent of Diamond’s toy decisions are usually something like “How can we get Kotabukiya to give us a great price on these Slutty Sakura statues?” By this point, I was already pretty much over the idea of working in the toy industry. I’d already been a brand manager, albeit in the comic world, and I was really just tired of the sense of entitlement. I didn’t wanna shift over to DST, ’cause a lot of those guys were asshats. Don’t get me wrong – like anything, there were some cool folks, but there were also quite a few douchebags. So, there ended my toy dream. Or so I thought. The moment I cracked open Toyland: The High-Stakes Game of the Toy Industry, it all came rushing back to me. This might sound like hyperbole, but I feel this book should be required reading for anyone with an interest in the business side of toys. If you ever want to bitch about Mattel’s distribution, or wondered why NECA picked up a particular license, or needed to know how toy marketing and development actually work, you MUST READ THIS BOOK.

Toyland, by Sydney Ladensohn Stern and Ted Schoenhaus, primarily follows the creation, development, and release of Tyco’s Dino-Riders toyline. Along the way, however, they provide a great history of the industry – citing major players, as well as the stories behind all of the major toy companies. Published in 1991, many of the companies have since merged or folded, but that doesn’t change any of the history. I got the book about 8 years ago at a used book store, but never really got into it as I didn’t have a lot of attachment to the Dino-Riders line. To be honest, I didn’t even remember it being successful. Now, I clearly see that I was wrong.

I don’t want to give away all of the good parts, so I’ll just give you a sample of what’s inside:

-Sure, you knew about Toy Fair, but did you know about “pre-Toy Fair”?

-Toy companies, while always looking for the next hit, do better with “staples”. In fact, a success could actually be detrimental, as they may be unable to keep up with demand – which is what drove Worlds of Wonder out of business following supply problems with Teddy Ruxpin and Lazer Tag. Hasbro’s acquisition of Milton Bradley helped them stay afloat in lean years, as board games are staples.

-Mattel was considered the “University of Toyland”, as many of its alums have gone on to lead other companies in the industry, bringing Mattel’s systems, terminology, and practices along with them. Most other toy companies ran like family businesses, but Ruth and Elliot Handler built Mattel into the first professional toy operation. Then, they were ousted for fraudulent stock claims, and Mattel eventually became the model of how NOT to run a toy company. Still, it’s nice to read about what it was like before it sucked.Due to its position in the industry at the time the book was written, much of the book serves as an “official history of Mattel”.

-It’s believed that Jem dolls ultimately failed because she was created in a different scale than Barbie. Had they been the same size, they could’ve shared clothes and accessories, despite coming from different companies.

-It’s somewhat amazing to read about the conception of Dino-Riders, and then follow along as it evolves into a completely differrent animal. By no means was the end result what the creators had envisioned, but it was close enough that they could still be proud that their idea ended in a finished product – something few can say.

– Of course a big chunk of the book is about how toy companies felt sidelined when home computing and video game systems came on the scene in the early 80s.

-While the Teddy Bear was originally seen as a fad named for Theodore Roosevelt, it was expected to be replaced by Billy Possum, named for William Taft. Apparently, Taft had eaten roast possum on a trip to Atlanta, but there was no demand for the product.

-When Stanley Weston invented G.I.Joe for Hasbro, the normal inventor’s fee was 5% of net wholesale revenue. Hasbro, however, cited high development costs and only offered Weston 0.5% . Weston countered with 3%, and Hasbro offered him 1% – prompting Weston to sue. In a private meeting before the 1964 Toy Fair, Hasbro asked Weston if they could just buy the concept from him outright, as they felt they were taking a gamble. Eventually, Weston agreed to sell for $100,000. Had he kept the original deal, he would’ve made $150,000 on the first year alone. Weston, however, wasn’t too upset, and had this to say: “I’ve been married and divorced twice. If I’d had all that money I probably would’ve been divorced four times instead of two.”

-Hasbro’s problems surrounding Flubber deserve an entire book of their own. Long story short, a massive Flubber recall resulted in the supply being buried under Hasbro’s parking lot, which has pushed the property about  2 inches higher than the rest of the site.

My Little Pony was the result of market research where Hasbro asked little girls “What do you see when you go to bed and close your eyes?”

-In the great GoBots vs Transformers debate, Tonka’s development team felt they were doing kids a favor by simplifying the transformations, while later research indicated that kids enjoyed the more complex transformations of the Transformers line.

-Toy companies seem to have more moles than a season of 24, which results in specs and samples being leaked to bootleggers and the competition. Most companies, however, take it as proof than they’re onto something big if other are that interested in stealing the idea.

-Xavier Roberts, creator of the Cabbage Patch Kids, is an eccentric genius. He was an artist first and foremost, making him a terrible businessman.

-There’s a goof chunk about the deregulation of the 80s, leading to the Program Length Commercial. It also into the deals that were cut between television stations and syndicators. For example, Lorimar syndicated Thundercats. If a station agreed to air the cartoon, they would get a percentage of LJN’s Thundercats toy sales.

-There’s a great comparison between the business practices of Toys “R” Us, Kay-Bee, and FAO Schwartz. Two of these companies don’t exist any longer, and the remaining one doesn’t look like it did then. Still, it’s an interesting snapshot in time.

Anyway, I’ve teased enough. If you’re interested in the business of the toy industry, I highly recommend Toyland: The High-Stakes Game of the Toy Industry. How do you get it? I dunno. Do I look like Barnes OR Noble? Maybe it’s on bit torrent or Amazon or something. Geez, I can’t do everything for you!

16th Sep2010

Live Free or Origin Hard

by Will

Comics as escapism – this is a concept that is always bandied about when people try to explain the notion of collecting & reading comics. Supposedly, we read superhero comics because they take us out of our day to day lives, and might even inspire us to greatness, as we observe acts of heroism. I don’t discount any of this, but I know that, for me, I enjoyed the escapism that the hobby provided me. This is going to get into a lot of family stuff, and may not be as action-packed as the other stuff, but there is a point here. Trust me.

So, we already covered that my mom had me late in life, but it should also be said that my father passed away from an aneurysm when I was three. So, I tell people that I was raised by the Black Golden Girls: Mommy, Muddear, and the Aunts. Being a single mother, my mom was at work most of the time, so I spent most of my time with Muddear, hence the Alabama trips and whatnot. Then, around 1993, something changed.

To go even further back, my mom had been married before. This is actually a bit of an odd story. She got married when she was 26, to a guy named Fred West. He was a bit of a cad, but their marriage lasted about 14 years. When it ended, she said that she was never changing her name again. She eventually met my father, Willie West, who was not related to Fred. So, she got to keep that name-change promise.

In any case, I bring up Fred because he resurfaced around 1993. You see, he had time to think about what he had done (whatever that may have been), and he decided that he wanted her back. Since he had “con man tendencies” about him, he knew how to get to people. He realized that the best way to get to her was through me. Now, this isn’t a standard “creepy stepdad/mom’s boyfriend” kind of thing. I LOVED him. He was a really fun guy. It was hard for me to think he could’ve done anything wrong, and he genuinely seemed to care about me.

So, how does this relate to comics? Well, he used to SHOWER me with toys and comics. Of course it was in order to curry favor with my mom, but I would have these free-for-all days, where he would pick me up in the morning, and we would hit 4 comic shops, 3 Toys R Us stores, and a McDonalds. Even though I’ve exhibited the whole “I’m asking for this just to see if I can get it” behavior, it wasn’t like that here. We’d get in the car, and he’d ask, “So, where to today, buddy?” This was how I learned about comic shops and the back-issue market, as I was always looking for new places for us to go. This took place during the summer, so we’d make these runs about 2 or 3 times a week. Honestly, it got to the point where I had run out of shops and things to buy.

These Fred Sprees were fruitful, as they taught me about local comic stores, like Geppi’s Comic World and Barbarian Books. I also had my introduction to back issues, as I tried to catch up with what the characters had been doing before I got into comics. Geppi’s used to have these $5 grab bags, where you’d just end up with the worst comics. I didn’t know that then, of course. They ALL seemed cool to me, even if it was a Crystar comic from the 80s, or Moon Knight #27. I loved those grab bags because they taught me about other types of books on the market, and they all seemed like these ancient treasures. Even if they were just 10 years old, they felt like these relics from forgotten times. I loved seeing the ads for canceled cartoons and failed breakfast cereals. I also realized that many of them didn’t also didn’t end in one issue, but that just gave me something to search for next time. The seeds were being planted for my love of The Hunt. I was beginning to see comics as things to be collected, and as I had already learned from the Happy Meal toys, I’m a bit addicted to collecting.

*Not actual family. I wasn’t that lame.

Anyway, as this was going on, there was a period where we were almost like a nuclear family. Sure, the aunts and Muddear were still around, but Fred would come by and take Mommy and me to dinner. We’d be in a booth at the Hot Shoppe (that’s for you MD/DC folks!), and I’d be reading an old copy of All-Star Squadron, as they laughed at some joke he just told. I liked that, as it was something I had never had before, but had always seen on TV. It was like I had a mom and a dad, and we were all just happy together.

So, eventually my mom put a stop to the Fred Sprees because she really didn’t think he had changed, and she didn’t want to give him false hope. There was no need for him to waste all his money on comics and toys if it was going to be in vain. Fred stuck around for a while, but he finally moved to Virginia. He died a few years ago, from Alzheimer’s. I could tell he wasn’t necessarily “all there” back in the day, but that was part of his charm. Just another reason I loved him.

So, when I think of “comics as escapism”, I’m not thinking of how cool it would be to be Batman, or what it must be like to live in Metropolis. I fondly think back to the time when I had what society considers a “family”, and how much I liked that feeling. It was fleeting, but comics were there for the whole thing. I can look at a copy of All-Star Squadron now, and it all comes back to me. Maybe that’s more accurately “comics as nostalgia”, but isn’t nostalgia just escapism from the present? Next time, I wrap this all up and bring us to the present.

Part One
Part Two
Part Three
Part Five

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