Monday, July 07, 2008

THE WAR WITH INK

As I was digging up old toy robots ads I ran across a newspaper article from December of 1986 about an anti-war toys protest organized by a freelance artist named Bob Staake. Staake had a very ambitious idea in that he tried to get a bunch of cartoonists to wage war on war toys in the comics sections and editorial pages of newspapers across the country. (His assembling of specifically talented individuals to wage battle is not unlike what the Beyonder did in the first Secret Wars, which was one of my favorite war toy lines.) Usually I wouldn't give a crap, but one cartoonist mentioned Voltron in his strip and when you mess with imaginary robot lions from 1985 you're messing with me.

THANKS TO THE COMICS CODE WE LIVE IN A UTOPIA FREE OF JUVENILE DELINQUENCY

I found the idea of political cartoonists uniting against the evils of plastic toy Rambos fascinating, but why exactly were they doing this? Weren't there better things to political cartoon about in '86? The reasons for the protest are not explained beyond some vague speculation about "damaging effects" Staake thought these war toys would have on children. Staake asked "What's going to happen to these kids?", which reminded me of the arguments that brought about censorship of comic books in the 1950s in the name of preventing juvenile delinquency. We all know how that turned out. Since I was 12 years old in '86 I think I'm qualified to answer Staake's question now almost 25 years later. And the answer is-thanks to Voltron war toys I am better prepared to defend the Earth from King Zarkon's impending robeast invasion.

CHRISTMAS IS NOT ACTUALLY ABOUT CELEBRATING PEACE, IT'S ABOUT BABY JESUS COMING TO EARTH TO KICK THEOLOGICAL ASS

I did a little internet digging and found a Time magazine article mentioning Staake's boycott where he explains a bit more about his underlying motivations. "Our art asks America to put Gumby, not Rambo, under the Christmas tree. At a time when we are supposed to be celebrating peace, it seems insane to turn war into a Christmas present." I'd empathize with his fight if Staake had made his arguments more about the overt commercialization of Christmas instead of Plastic Rambo=Satan. He kind of lost me when he made his battle against Voltron a big Gumby commercial.

IN THE FUTURE, WAR TOYS WILL PROTEST YOU

So was it successful? Did the artists bring about any sort of social change? Was the cartoonist war on war toys even necessary? All these years later it seems rather pointless and silly to me. I will say now that I'm a dad I'm really sick of not being able to find a children's book that isn't officially licensed propaganda advertising for the latest computer animated movie featuring talking teddy bears. One thing that came out of me reading about Staake's crusade is my discovery of his website and his line of children's books. I think I really like the kid's book he did about robots and I will definitely be buying it. I'm a little unnerved by how he portrays robots as indentured servants of mankind, relegated to lowly maintenance and service jobs. But hey, it's not like robot cartoonists are going to be rising up against Bob Staake anytime soon.

6 comments:

Weasel said...

I'd empathize with his fight if Staake had made his arguments more about the overt commercialization of Christmas instead of Plastic Rambo=Satan.

Makes two of us. I've been saying that Christmas has been way too damned commercialized for about 5 years now. But then again, I work in retail so what does that tell ya?

I'm a little unnerved by how he portrays robots as indentured servants of mankind, relegated to lowly maintenance and service jobs.

Probably because you and I have a more "Japanese" view on robots while Staake has an "Americanized" view. I'll explain:
There was an atricle in a magazine quite a few years ago dealing with robots and technology. It seems most Westerners (read: Americans) have a very unromantic view of robots. They are seen as tools, nothing more. They should do exactly as they are told and that's it. No real interaction.

The Japanese view them a lot differently; robots are helpers and friends to humanity. They're not just another tool you can find out in the garden shed. The robot doesn't just clean your house it also offers you companionship. (Man, that'd be nice...)

And I'm still hoping that one of these days I'll find a robot best friend. I've been waiting for over 20 years dammit!

But hey, it's not like robot cartoonists are going to be rising up against Bob Staake anytime soon.

Well, the robots might kick his ass... ;)

Evil King Macrocranios said...

I never thought about how the Japanese perspective is a lot more robot friendly. Conversely, it seems to me that the American cartoons of the 80s tended to give the robots more human personalities , which is funny because you're right about the character interactions being shallow. Old Japanese anime from the 80s had a lot of hero pilots using their mecha to save the day, which I guess is more intimate interaction but still not very deep.

But I do see it changing a bit on the American side. It wasn't until this current TF:Animated cartoon that I ever saw robots talking about their feelings. One scene in particular where ptimus asks Ratchet if he'd like to talk at the end of the Lockdown intro episode struck me as a robot character interaction I'd never seen before.

I guess it's necessary to portray them with their own motivations if the robot bad guys are to be effective. It's way scarier to think there are crazy robots instead of crazy pilots making the robot do bad things. If Megatron were actually some sort of armored suit I don't think Transformers would have been as interesting.

Heavyarms said...

I kinda see the guy's point. In 1986 I got a Cobra Night Raven and here it is, 20+ years later and I would still work for a terrorist organization if it meant I got to fly a big black Mach 3 aircraft with red windows.

It was the greatest Christmas present I ever received.

Mick said...

If you outlaw toy robots, only outlaws will have toy robots.


I want to be an outlaw.

Weasel said...

It wasn't until this current TF:Animated cartoon that I ever saw robots talking about their feelings.

Don't even go there. "Autoboot Camp" had me choking up at the end.

You know, I might be a little more sympathetic to Mr. Staake if he were asking to ban BB guns or the like. But honestly, I just can't get worked up about Christmas anymore. My job has killed what little joy the holiday had. (Yep, total cynic here. Nice to meetcha.)

Evil King Macrocranios said...

BB guns, as in BumbleBee guns? Sorry Lynn, but I must correct you by pointing out that at the time of the article Bumblebee figures did not come with guns.

That would be a good platform for political candidates today, though. Does Obama have a stance on Bumblebee guns? I feel that any Transformers figure named Bumblebee should not come with guns. I think Autobot Bumblebees should be small, yellow and unarmed. Otherwise it's just teenage Sunstreaker.

I wonder what Staake's position would have been had Hasbro said, "Okay, we'll sell Transformers but we won't make little guns and rocket launchers for them." Would they still be war toys?

 

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Evil King Macrocranios was voted king by the evil peoples of the Kingdom of Macrocrania. They listen to Iron Maiden all day and try to take pictures of ghosts with their webcams.