Monday, February 25, 2013

Doctor Who

Doctor Who has been a favorite of mine since pre-school for me.  I remember when I was a little kid, Doctor Who was shown during the day on PBS, and my first experience with the show was the episode "The Robot" first of the Tom Baker episodes.  I was too young to really pick up on the nuances and really science fiction aspects to the program but I knew I liked it.  I remember the first time I heard that theme music I thought it was scary and mysterious, it gave the show that much more appeal.

Over the years I grew to really love the show and around 7th or 8th grade I considered myself a Wholigan (I know it's Whovian but it sounds better).  It was around this time that I discovered the other actors who played The Doctor, and have grown to really like all of the actors who played him.   To this day Jon Pertwee is my absolute favorite!  I've always liked his cool and collected approach to solving problems.  He was kind of the James Bond of the Doctors with his Venusian Aikido, his ties to U.N.I.T. (spy organization) and the various gadgets and vehicles that he had at his disposal.

I found my love for the show wasn't really shared with a lot of American kids my age, most of my peers hadn't heard of it and when I would lend them a VHS tape they just didn't get it or thought the special effects were too terrible.  It was very much a niche market back then rather than being the hipster icon that the character is today.

I've gone to a few of the conventions and have met quite a few of the classic actors like Peter Davidson (5th Doctor) and Sylvester McCoy (7th Doctor), Sophie Aldred (Ace), Deborah Watling (Victoria), Nicola Bryant (Peri), and Gabriel Woolf (Sutekh from "The Pyramids Of Mars").    My brother even directed and produced a fan made film "Time And Again", which I helped a bit with and also had a bit part (I'm not an actor and never really had aspirations to).  It was fun and we had some good feedback on it over the years.

I've watched the newer program and feel that it's lost a lot of the feel of the original show.  In a lot of ways I think it's been dumbed down a bit (Doctor Who was never really serious minded sci-fi in the first place).  Every once in a while I'll come across an episode that hits the mark but mostly it's a miss in my opinion.  I still enjoy the original show and will remain a fan of the series.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

"Astron Belt" and pizza

It was 1983-84 that I took my first real job.  I had been a paperboy for awhile, before this 'real' job, but I never considered throwing rolled up newpapers onto peoples porches, from my bicycle, much of a job. It was basically 'cigarette money' (explanation coming). So I got this 'real' job. I had taken the job during the summer of 1983, and worked there through the summer and fall, and into the winter of 1984. So I was 13 when I started. I worked between school hours, of course. It was at a Rosati's Pizza in a strip mall.

At that time, my older brother, who is four years older than I, was a pizza delivery driver for them. I used to go along with him, like a side-kick, on his pizza deliveries. I think he was driving a gold or green 1970's Gran Torino. Deliveries with my brother also included hanging out at the Rosati's waiting for deliveries, and over time, and probably mentioning that I wanted a job, the manager (whose brother owned the place) offered me a dish washing job. At 13, I was under age, so he said he'd just pay me 'under the counter'. I'd go in for maybe four hours a day (which probably felt like a long day to me, at that age), and would wash their 'dishes'... pots, pans, utensils, the big mixer, racks, steam table trays, etc..

It was an okay job for 13/14 years old. Between washing dishes we (the other workers there, and I) would hang out by the back door and smoke cigarettes, eat pizza, and crank music. Yeah, I was thirteen, but in 1983 no one was carding for cigarettes yet. I could walk into a White Hen Pantry and buy a pack of smokes, and they'd just give you a look but sell them to you anyway... no problem. I think in about 1986 the 'note' thing started. And nowadays a store won't even give them to you without being of age, or they face legal punishment. But I was a punk... and stupid (I no longer smoke, btw).

So there I was, an under age worker, in my tomato-stained apron, washing pizza kitchen dishes, blaring The Scorpions and Roth-era Van Halen from a boom-box out back, smoking Marlboro Reds, drinking soda, bullshitting, and sometimes even hanging out at the Bally's Arcade, two doors down, in the strip mall, playing video games. Good gig, this job... with cash bills in my pocket at the end of the night. And my parents didn't care... they've always had a strong work ethic and were thinking "Good... make him work... make him earn some money for himself". So they were cool with me working there at that age, for under the counter pay. I bought my first boom-box, and my first denim jean jacket with this dish washing job.  Eventually, by '85 (15 y.o.), I was cooking in the kitchen, helping make pizzas and other dishes, etc.. Ownership changed, shortly thereafter though, and I ended up leaving Rosati's. But that was my first real job.

To get on with my story -- back to the Bally's Arcade. We had a Bally's Arcade two doors down from Rosati's, in the strip mall, and I'd hang out in there when things were slow, or wanted a break, whatever. The arcade was awesome... the sounds, the lights, excitement. There were always a lot of people in there. They had all your typical games of the day -- Pac Man, Galaga, Donkey Kong, Joust, Asteroids, Space Invaders, Tempest, Defender, etc. etc.. One game that stands out in my memory from that arcade, because I had never seen anything like it in it's time, was a game called "Astron Belt".

Now, I had to look this up (it's name). I remembered the game, but could not remember the name of the game for the life of me. But I found out it was called "Astron Belt", it was created by Sega, and it may have been one of the first, if not THE first, live-action video games. Bally's had "Dragon's Lair" too, as well as "Space Ace", and those were neat. They were cartoons, and it was cool how seamlessly the characters moved and such, with the animation technology they incorporated into the game... that was 'new' also, at that time. But "Astron Belt" was something very different. It was a laser-disc game, when laser-disc technology was still fairly new.

In the game, you piloted a space craft and would fly through different live-action environments, like canyons and tunnels, . You'd fire on enemy craft, through explosions and fire, and enemy craft firing back at you! The Star Wars movies were big at this time too, "The Empire Strikes Back" and "Return of the Jedi" still being pretty fresh. Also, shows like Buck Rogers and Battlestar Galactica, were on television. So Sci-Fi was very much "in" at that time. It's probably not an impressive game today, but in 1984, at 14 years old, this was the coolest thing in video games I had seen yet.

I think I read somewhere that they used scenes from Battlestar Galactica and a Star Trek movie. If you don't remember, or have never seen "Astron Belt", check it out below. It was innovative for it's time.


Monday, February 11, 2013

Mazinger Z

Piggybacking on the Shogun Warrior post, here's a series that made it to the US for a while, Tranzor Z (aka Mazinga, Mazinger from the Shogun Warriors).  A friend of mine used to record these on television along with Robotech.  Unfortunately it was on Beta Max tapes so I couldn't borrow them, but I remember spending a few nights at his house and we'd stay up till morning watching Mazinger Z!  I remember as a 12 year old, getting a kick out of the female robot who had missles for breasts!

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Colgate Pump Commercial Meets Madness!

I remember watching this commercial on TV, especially Saturday morning cartoon day.  I really liked the tune and used to sing it not realizing that this was "House Of Fun" by the Ska/New Wave band Madness.  Now everytime I get out my old Madness records I only hear the Colgate Pump commercial!

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Shogun Warriors

Back in the Christmas of 1977  I went with my parents to the mall to ask Santa Claus what I wanted for Christmas.  I sat in his lap and told him exactly what I wanted,  A Shogun Warrior!  I distincly remember telling him I wanted "Gaiking" but would've been happy with any of them.  I was sure to tell my parents just what I told Santa, mainly because I was already hip to the Santa gig.

Later that Christmas I notice an oblong christmas package with my name on it and knew exactly what it was.  I tore it open only to find "Raideen" (aka Reideen and Raydeen) Shogun Warrior on the cover.  I wasn't disappointed, in fact I had mixed up the names and thought Raideen was Gaiking.  No matter, I ripped open the package and put all of the sticker decals on him and he was ready to play with!

If you're not familiar with The Shogun Warriors, they are giant robots with human pilots who fight monsters and save humanity.  Based on various animated series (mostly by Go Nagai) that were collected and presented in the U.S. as "Force Five".  It had a very short run here but Marvel Comics picked up the series and ran it for 19 issues.

The toys were really cool, many of them had spring action missiles and spring action fits to knock down the bad guys.  It also knocks down baby brothers which I found out gets you in trouble.  The only bad guy that Mattel got around to making was Godzilla, I eventually got him for my birthday the following year.

Over the years I've seemed to have lost them somehow, I'm not sure how you can lose two 2 ft. high robots but I did.  At one time I had a Raideen coloring book, and I've since bought "Mazinga" and "Gaiking" and other memorabilia like Shogun Warrior Colorforms, Comics, Models and some Raideen Children's Board Books (in Japanese).  It's a series that still captures my imagination today.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Kenner Stretch Armstrong & Stretch Monster

Who can forget Stretch Armstrong and his enemy Stretch Monster? They still make these, I believe.. I had both of these dolls sometime between 1976 and 1980. That's the actual timeline for production of this toy... '76-'80. The original ones, I mean, shown here.  I was anywhere from 6 to 10 years old. More than once too, since, after only a few weeks of abuse at the hands of me and my brothers, the rubber skin of these dolls would eventually rip open and out would seep a red gooey substance... gelled corn syrup . The wound usually started as a pin hole, or a small tear, and with continual stretching would get worse, and tear open more, until the gel was leaking out and the doll was junk. We never could figure out a way to repair one of these things, despite following the repair instructions that came with it. I remember the doll getting so stretched out and the syrup so hardened up over time that we couldn't get it back to it's original shape. So we just threw the doll out and would get another one. I've had at least two of each (Armstrong, and Monster). I got mine for Christmas. I do remember that.

The monster was the one I remember being fascinated with the very most. He looked awesome!. His green rubber skin was textured with scales... and just look at that face. I believe he was a favorite toy of mine for awhile. Because he really stands stronger in my memory than Armstrong.

These dolls would stiffen up when cold, or with age, and if you submersed them in warm water, it would soften them up again. I remember it being a heavy toy (as a kid) and a good toy to strangle someone with, as we were always stretching their arms and legs to great lengths and then tying the limbs around our necks.

There's an entire website devoted to the classic stretch figures, called "Stretch Armstrong World". Plaid Stallions has some cool Stretch Armstrong material also.


"It's A Leaping And Laughing Frog Giggle Riot"

I remembered this game from childhood, but couldn't remember its name. After hunting around online, I discovered that, easily enough, it was called "LeapFrogs" (one word). Surprisingly, info on this old game was sort of hard to find. It seems to be one of the forgotten ones. In my searching, I discovered that it was a product of the old Schaper Toy Company, the same company that produced the childhood classic games "Cooties", "Ants In The Pants", and "Don't Break The Ice".

LeapFrogs was first manufactured in 1978 (when I was 8 years old). I have no idea how many years it was in production, but I had one of these around that time.

The game was made for up to four players, ages 5 and up, and the object of this game was, simply enough, for players to catch leaping plastic frogs into small yellow nets (they look like fisherman's nets to me).

The game came with a sheet of stickers that you had to apply yourself. I remember this being a pretty common thing back then, and the stickers rarely stayed on, eventually peeling at a corner and curling up. There was a sticker for each corner of the "board", and one for the underside of each green plastic frog (of which there were ten). The frog stickers were numbers. I don't recall how high the numbers went... maybe up to 4. I do not remember. I believe the pond sticker, on the game board's turntable, may have been applied already at the factory, but my memory is foggy on that.

The game required no batteries (a bonus for parents). It had an "on/off" switch, and with the game switched to "off", you would wind-up the turntable by turning the big red knob in the center, clockwise until it could turn no more. You would then push in the little spring-loaded platforms on the turntable. When pushed in, and with a slight turn, they would stay down, so you could place a frog in each "well" (I'm sure this is all making sense). Once all of the frogs were placed in the wells, players would pick up their nets, sit at each corner of the game board, turn the switch to "on", and watch the turntable slowly spin as, one by one, at random (maybe), the spring-loaded platforms would pop up sending frogs flying into the air. Players would catch the frogs in their nets. I remember the game being kind of noisy. It made a buzzing sound or a fast clicking sound, as it turned, much like the sound the game "Perfection" makes.

There were two ways to play. You could add up the numbers on the underside of the frogs that you caught in your net, or you could simply count up the number of frogs you caught. Either way, you played over and over, until the first player with 30 points total wins the game. Simple... probably easy for an adult... but to an 8 year old, it was a lot of fun. A leaping and laughing frog giggle riot.

A later version of LeapFrogs

In my searches I discovered a more recent version of LeapFrogs, which looks somewhat different. I have no idea when it was in production, and who produced it, as Schaper was sold to Tyco Toys (a division of Mattel) around 1986. Tyco eventually sold off four different Schaper games to The Milton Bradley Company, but I have no idea if this was one of them. It may have been sold to a different company.

Newspaper Ad from Nov. 1979

I don't know whatever happened to my own LeapFrogs game. These are not my photos. It most likely ended up in a garage sale for $2 or some-such, minus a few frogs. I recall using one of them as a mini in a Dungeons & Dragons game once. In 1978 the game went for around $12.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Uncle Don's Terror Theater

As a kid growing up in De Kalb Illinois (1985-1989) I discovered a late night Television Shows that featured old horror movies.   Uncle Don's Terror Theater (which later became Uncle Don's Theater).  Every Saturday night my brothers I would pop microwave popcorn and turn to WQRF channel 39 in Rockford, IL at 10:30 pm.  His jingle would come on I knew I was in for a night of fun horror movies and hilarious parodies and hi-jinx from Uncle Don (Matt Swan).  

On top of great schlocky movies he did some comedy bits in between the movies and commercials which to me really was the whole draw to the show.  It was great fun all around! He would make even the worst horror films better.  He his shark sidekick (Sharkey) that would set up his jokes as Uncle Don knocked them down and he'd always read fan mail every week as his nephew "Ramsey" (also played by Matt Swan) would bring in the mail. 

Some of the movies I remembered he showed were War Of The Worlds, Food Of The Gods, The Dunwich Horror,  A Bucket of Blood,  Count Yorga, The Leach Woman,  King Kong, Mighty Joe Young, Godzilla (all of the ones from the 50s, 60s and 70s) Creature From the Black Lagoon, The Invisible Man, Dracula, Frankenstein, Wolfman, Pit And The Pendulum, The Black Cat, Murders In The Rue Morgue (pretty much most of the Universal Monster movies)....

On top of great schlocky movies he did some comedy bits in between the movies and commercials which to me really was the whole draw to the show.  It was great fun all around!

In last year the show was on it moved to Saturday afternoons and he dropped the "Terror" and just called it Uncle Don's Theater.  He had broadened the focus of the show, I remember he showed the mini-series "Shogun" which was great!

Horror movie hosts have had a bit of a resurgence with Elvira restarting her old show and Svengoolie which is currently my favorite.  But overall I've got great memories of Uncle Don!

Oddly enough Uncle Don lives in De Kalb now and is the Communication Communication Instructor at Northern Illinois University.  One of these days I'll have to get in contact with him!

Check out some of these hilarious bits from his show!

Friday, February 1, 2013

Monster Magazines

Back when I was a young kid of 6 or 7, I lived in a really old house that had a great big, creepy attic.  I used to love going up there and exploring because it was filled with long forgotten Halloween costumes , furniture, lamps, steam trunks and other odds and ends.

I vividly remember the way it smelled, a sort of odd potpourri of old wood, dust and insulation.  I remember every time I would open the door to the attic I was always greeted by Red Devil Paint cans sitting on the steps on the way up.  I'd always give the devil on the can a wary look and run past it hoping that he didn't reach out a claw and grab my leg as I ran up the stairs.  And to add to the creepiness the attic used to have bats living in it.  I always looked up in the rafters hoping to catch a glimpse of a bat hanging upside down.

One day I was digging around and in an old apple crate I found two piles of monster magazines and my life was changed forever!

Warren Publishing was known for putting out Famous Monsters Of Filmland, Creepy, Eerie, Vampirella and a whole slew of action comics back in the 50s, 60s and 70s.  I didn't fully appreciate the treasure trove that I uncovered until much later in life, and long after the magazines were gone.

I remember picking up Eerie and how the Frazetta artwork attacked me visually with images of evil wizards, shambling undead, damsels in distress (I mean come on who drew women better than Frank Frazetta), and mindless beasts attacking brawny heroes.  I made many a trip up to my creepy spider haunted abode to force-feed myself horrific images in the creepiest part of my house and later to subject myself to nightmares.  In fact my parents cut out Scooby-Doo and Doctor Who from my TV time because they thought that was the source of my nightmares.  I didn't want the magazines to disappear so I didn't mention them.

Every once in a while I'll pick up a copy of Famous Monsters, Eerie or Creepy and let the memories run back in.  The images are great inspiration to me when working on illustrations and a great read on a cold winter night!

Welcome White Bear

I just wanted to welcome White Bear to "My Decade", my new parter in crime in shameless nostalgia reminiscing!

Thursday, January 31, 2013

"The Empire Strikes Back" Read-Along Record - 1980

In February of 1980, I turned ten years old.  Three months later, “The Empire Strikes Back” was released in theaters for the first time.  I was already way into “Star Wars”, and my best friend’s mom took he and I to see the new movie. They lived right next door, and he (Shawn) was a couple of years younger than me. Not that that has anything to do with anything, but he was one of my “Star Wars” buddies. I believe most kids at that time were into the “Star Wars” craze. Saturday morning cartoon breaks were riddled with commercials for the latest "Star Wars" toys... so like a lot of kids, I had a lot of "Star Wars" merchandise.

In this post I recall a particular “Star Wars” item from my memory, which I had nearly forgotten about -- a read-along record of "The Empire Strikes Back". There’s no particular reason I remember this thing… no great tale to tell. Just having a flashback here, to a time before there was a trilogy... before there was VHS or DVDs... before there was cable TV... before there was an internet... and Yoda and Tauntauns were still pretty new to me.

blue portable record player
Exhibit A.
TESB read-along record
Exhibit B.
So it’s 1980. I’m ten years old, sitting on my bedroom floor (of sky blue carpet), indian-style, in front of a small blue portable record player (see Exhibit A.)... it might even be around Christmas-time... listening to a small record I just got, while reading an equally small booklet that accompanies it (see Exhibit B.). There’s probably even a plush Chewbacca lying somewhere nearby.  "Big deal.", you might say. Well, this is how kids, at that time, got to experience the movie, over and over again (aside from going to the theater, over and over again). You could experience it at home, in about 15 minutes time, depending on how long it took you to flip the record over.
I don't think I have seen nor heard this record since I was ten. Funny, listening to it now (through the video below)... it probably never occurred to me (in 1980), that the voices were not the actors from the film. The voice-overs are not too far off, as far as sounding similar to the actors... although Han is a little over-the-top. I remember the scene of Vader’s confession giving me the shivers. How dramatic! C’mon... I was ten.

And here it is, in its entirety (Side A and Side B)… “The Empire Strikes Back” (sort of), executed in 15-16 minutes. Although this is a cassette version, the booklet images and the audio are identical to the 1980 product.

These are not my videos, but the memory is.

“The Empire Strikes Back” Read-Along Record - Side A  

“The Empire Strikes Back” Read-Along Record – Side B