A library is my casino and when I sit at the microfilm machines looking at old newspapers I'm a high stakes gambler at the slot machines, popping in reels and hoping I strike the jackpot. While "real" gamblers are blowing their hard earned money, what I'm gambling away is my precious precious time. Every reel I pick up is not guaranteed to contain tons of exciting toy robots ads, just like not every lottery ticket is a winner. And if the hours start ticking away and I'm not finding anything then it's just like sitting at a stingy slot machine. But I was feeling lucky as I sat down this weekend with some reels from the year I consider the dawn of the Modern Roboplastic Age-1977!
THAT'S NO MOON! (AND THAT'S NOT DARTH VADER, EITHER)
Do you remember back in 1977 when the question on every young boy's mind was 'How do I join Star Team?' No? That's probably because it was really WHERE THE HELL ARE ALL THE STAR WARS TOYS? Toy company Ideal must have been looking to capitalize on Kenner's post '77 Christmas season launch of Star Wars when they released Star Team, a line of figures using their Zeroids robots. Zeroids are officially recognized by the Kingdom of Macrocrania as the first roboplastic toyline ever!Now Star Team may not have been anywhere near as good as Star Wars but people were desperate. This Jordan Marsh ad from 13 December of '77 fantastically illustrates not only that desperation, but also how awesome the 70s used to be for toy robots newspaper ads. It's a gigantic ad taking up half a page and it's devoted almost entirely to Star Team. Why did an obscure toyline like Star Team get half a page? I think retailers were eager to cash in on the sci-fi craze unleashed by the debut of Star Wars that year, but there were no Star Wars figures on the shelves in time for Christmas. Star Team was as good a stand in as any so it got some undeserved showcasing as retailers tried to fill the void. This ad more than any other I've seen emphasizes the overt Star Warsiness of Star Team and even goes so far as to include a Star Wars board game alongside the Star Team figures, as if they were all products of the same brand. Would anyone remember that C-3P0 didn't have a green alien head or that R2-D2 wasn't an upside down garbage can on wheels? Hopefully, but if you were a kid in '77 and you liked Star Wars, the terrible reality was Star Team was as close as you were gonna get.
DID I HIT THE JACKPOT HERE?
Well not directly. The only reason this Star Team ad is cool is because of how it's presented. However, while writing this I checked up on Moonstone, the company doing the comic book relaunch of Zeroids and I found out they're also doing the awesomest book I've ever heard of-M.I.L.F. Magnet! I scored some great booty there!
WE NAUT NEED NO STINKIN' STAR WARS!
While Ideal was infamous for putting Star Wars-ish toys on the market in '77, it was rival toy company Mego who was infamous for passing on the Star Wars license when it was offered to them! I need to track down the source where I read the reason they did so was because they couldn't handle both Star Wars and their own sci-fi action figure line the Micronauts. Micronauts was a joint venture between Japanese toy maker Takara and Mego, much like how Transformers was a Takara/Hasbro team up seven years later. But imagine if the Mego/Takara team worked together on Star Wars! Could Mego have gotten Star Wars figures to the shelves by Christmas season 1977? Imagine how much money they would have made. Would it have saved the company? Imagine if a joint Mego/Takara juggernaut stayed solvent through Star Wars, making figures from Empire Strikes Back then Return of the Jedi, all the while keeping Micronauts alive. When it came time for Takara to export their transforming robots from Diaclone and Microman would they have taken them to Mego for the US? If the Transformers were a Mego property would they have been an extension of Micronauts? What would they have been called? Microtrons? Megotrons? Autonauts? Sweathogs? We'll never know.
Playworld 12/01/77But I do know Mego's Micronauts were really popular with retailers as evidenced by all the ads I've accumulated in the Micronauts section of the Vintage Space Toaster Palace. The bulk of the 42 Micronauts ads I've found though are from 1978 and '79-only four of them are from 1977. This is mostly my fault since I never spend much time in 1977, but I got a little lucky in Miami and found some new* Micronaut ads from '77 with line art I've never seen before. Take for example this Baron Karza ad from Lionel Playworld. What I find extremely intriguing is how I can come across so many different examples of line art for the same Micronauts figures and vehicles. I remember writing once about the Battle Cruiser having multiple different line arts. Now I'm finding evidence of that being the case with Karza. Yet some figures like Time Traveler, Biotron and Acroyear had the same line art used by multiple different retail chains. It's confusing to me because other toy lines from around the same time like Shogun Warriors and Star Wars had consistently uniform line art shared by all retailers instead of different illustrations for the same figure coming from individual stores. Maybe what I'm noticing is the evolution of action figure marketing in newspapers as line art goes from retailer generated to made by the toy manufacturers. Or maybe I need to get outside some more! Holy hell!
ALL FOR NAUT
KMart 11/30/77Back during Vintage Space Toast Tour El Paso I got extremely excited over a K-Mart ad from late November '77 featuring line art of the Space Glider, Galactic Warrior, Galactic Cruiser, Acroyear, Hydra and Biotron. Well since then I've found that K-Marts nationwide ran variants of that ad during the same time period. Sometimes I'll find either that exact same arrangement of Micronaut line art or they'll mix it up a little depending on the city. Well here in Miami not only did K-Mart run that one but they also ran this fantastic collection of Micronaut line art featuring the Crater Cruncher, Photon Sled, Ultronic Scooter, Warp Racer and Time Traveler. What sucks is that most of the ad is darkened out and I can't read any text. I am going to try to find a better copy of this particular K-Mart circular for the Space Toaster Palace or see if I can channel Photoshop Jesus to tweak the hell out of it and get some product descriptions.
KMart 12/21/77Rounding out the Nauty bits is this ad from late December '77 also from K-Mart. What makes it unique is its use of Hydro Copter line art I've never seen before and I think it's the only time I've found the Strata Station in a Micronauts ad. Unfortunately it suffers from really tiny type. Usually if you can't read an ad in these highlights posts I do it's because I only use low res previews and the much better, super legible versions go up at the Vintage Space Toaster Palace, but this ad had type so tiny it caused eyestrain even when viewed at its original newspaper size. Maybe this was a promotional gimmick and K-Mart wanted me to use a magnifying glass to read a Micronauts ad. I'd rather not have to enter the microverse just to see what's on sale, though.
DID I HIT THE JACKPOT HERE?
Well these early Micronaut ads are cool but I could name a couple other Micronaut vehicles that I'd really like to see ads for from the tail end of the line. Like the Zeroids I came across something I thought was cool while doing some background checking-the Micronaut Emperor! If that guy doesn't look like a Mego Darth Vader then the secret rebel base isn't on Dantooine.
YOU'LL ALWAYS LOSE THE PASSENGER SEAT TO THE SHOTGUN WARRIORS
|JM Fields 11/24/77||JC Penny 12/01/77|
It looks like a Shogun Warriors dance party, but that first ad above left from J.M. Fields is actually showing off the articulation of the Shogun Warriors action figures. It's exciting to me how this is just black and white line art but you can still tell these are first release versions by how the figures are bent at the knees and have stickered details-Poseidon has the black "V" below the belt and Dragun has those bands above his arms, etc., etc. The JC Penny ad above right is notable not just because they goofed up the name but because JC Penny in the 70s used to do their own line art different from any other retailer. By now if you're familiar with the Shogun Warriors section of the VSTP you'll have noticed there was some pretty standard line art used no matter what retailer was advertising their selection of large Shoguns, but I guarantee you will never see the illustrations JC Penny used here in any other store's ad. That's probably a good thing if you hate drawings of robots that look like they're wearing bell bottoms. Ah, the seventies.
JM Fields 12/11/77J.M. Fields again comes through in a big way with this 11 December 1977 ad featuring Shogun Warriors model kits. I don't usually find ads for Shogun Warrior merchandise that is not the figures so this was really exciting. Finding anything that isn't the 2 foot jumbos in an ad from 1977 has been uncommon in my experience. I think between this ad and the earlier one for Shogun Warriors dance party, J.M. Fields may be the only retailer I've ever seen advertising non-jumbo Shogun Warrior merchandise in 1977. And speaking of the 2 foot jumbos, this next ad from Zayre is my all time favorite Shogun Warrior ad ever. Again we have evidence of first release versions-Mazinga has the full compliment of 14 rockets with triangle vanes and Raydeen has the red diamond stickers on his thighs. Actually I'm not sure if the red diamond stickers are exclusive to the first release only but there's an example of a second release Raydeen at Collection DX and it doesn't have them. It wouldn't surprise me if after 32 years the stickers on any Shogun Warrior just fell off and the glue disintegrated so it looked like they were never there. There are more definitive ways to tell if a Shogun is first release like the pointedness of the corners and the softness of the heads but it's hard to make out subtle details like that from a grainy black and white microfilm image. Still, it's a beautiful ad from the early days of the line and when the full size version goes up at the Vintage Space Toaster Palace you'll see why it's my favorite.
DID I HIT THE JACKPOT HERE?
Yes, most definitely! The jumbo Shogun ad stuck out in my mind as the best thing I found from 1977, followed closely by...
EMPTY BOXES FROM A GALAXY FAR, FAR AGO
12/11/77The impact Star Wars made on pop culture is extremely evident in the newspapers of 1977. It was everywhere. It is only fitting that I wrap up here with something Star Wars action figure related, especially after I wrote about the effects its existence had on other lines like Star Team and Micronauts. But I knew there were no Star Wars action figures in 1977 so the last thing I expected to find was this ad that ran in papers on 11 December! It's a newspaper ad for the famous empty box of Star Wars promises that was all Kenner was able to deliver to stores in time for the holiday season of 1977.
DID I HIT THE JACKPOT HERE? You know, at first I thought I did. I was blown away by this ad, especially since in every writeup of the early bird kit the exact date of release for these first figures is never given. People always write things like "they were shipped in the spring" or some vague generalization like that. But here I had proof that the early bird packages made it out by February 15th of '78! It was the best documented evidence of the "birthday" of Star Wars action figures in history! I thought I found something really special that nobody had seen before. But how likely was it that I had really unearthed something not previously known to the collective intelligence of the billions of Star Wars fans on Earth? Not likely at all. It turns out that if you're into Star Wars this ad is old news. But since I never knew about it I figure it must be the Star Wars nerd monolith one must find in order to advance to the next level of Star Warsiness. I may not have made any new Star Warsian discovery, but after accomplishing the feat of finding this on my own I am pretty sure I AM NOW A MEMBER OF THE STAR TEAM! Also possibly, a MILF magnet.
* 32 year old