Thursday, July 10, 2008

Vintage Space Toast Tour ALASKA-Strange Ads in a Strange Land

Last month the Vintage Space Toast Tour took me to the Z. J. Loussac Public Library in Anchorage, Alaska. When I was there Anchorage was getting nearly 22 hours of sunlight a day (and those other two hours weren't all that dark, either). Mostly I felt like I was at a Martian Barnes & Noble. I could be leaving the library at 9 p.m. and there would be just as much daylight outside as there was when the library opened at 10 a.m. It was a surreal and otherworldly place, and I'm not just saying that because the library architecture looks like it was designed by drunken Micronauts.


The small room with the microfilm readers was in a wing of the library only accessible by navigating a complicated maze of hallways and elevators much like the Micronauts Rocket Tubes. Speaking of which, whoever put together this Rocket Tubes ad for JC Penny in 1979 wasn't paying attention because they used a line art drawing of the Millennium Falcon. Yeah I totally remember that Death Star trench scene in Star Wars when Vader was about to blow up Luke's X-Wing and Han saved the day flying in on his Rocket Tubes. But were these JC Penny ad guys morons or brilliant marketers? Was this a simple mistake or something far more sinister? I needed more data.


It turns out these Alaskan newspaper guys had been preying on the public's love of Star Wars to sell all sorts of other toy robots stuff for a while. Check out this Shogun Warriors ad from November of '79 that tells people to buy Shogun Warriors to complete their Star Wars collection. Kirk Demarais the Secret Fun Guy coined this tactic "StarWarsploitation". Remember that weird Alaskan transfer kid in kindergarten everyone laughed at when he said the Jawa Sandcrawler was all gigantic huge because it was piloted by 80 foot tall Shogun Warriors robots? That kid was merely a misunderstood victim of StarWarsploitation.


But that wasn't the only 'sploitation conspiracy I was able to uncover in Alaska. I also found that in the eighties there was much 'sploitating of gummi candy. You're probably already familiar with gummi bears, worms, butterflies and other gummi roadkill, but this ain't no outdoor wildlife blog I'm running so you know what kind of gummisploitation I was excited to see. This Safeway ad from October of '85 features gummi Transformers . For me much of the allure of old ads is the lineart and I was really excited to see art for the Autobot guy that turns into a Honda City Turbo. I guess gummi candy really hit the Skids.


Skids wasn't the only thing being hit in Alaska-so was Leader-1. I was bowled over when I saw a store called Pay 'n Save ran this ad for an inflatable GoBots bop bag back in November of '85. I rarely come across ads for GoBots novelty items beyond the Power Cycle so when I find ads for somewhat obscure stuff like the GoBots watch or model kits I get excited. I was looking for any mention of this particular artifact on the internet and I couldn't find a single webpage with any info about GoBots bop bag. (Actually all I did was look for it on the GoBots novelty items page at Is this proof of the existence of one of the rarest GoBots artifacts in the history of mankind? When I first saw this ad I felt chills and I heard the Indiana Jones theme song go off in my head. I expect to be knighted by the GoBots archaeological society for this.


Look at all those Robotechs! Alaska continually surprised me with ads that had new lineart I'd never seen before. I was pretty excited about this ad featuring the Excite Cyclones and Alphas from Robotech. The story behind the large Alpha is pretty interesting. The Japanese company Gakken got the license to make and release the larger transforming Alpha under the Robotech brand name in the US. They did so and their boxes have the Excite logo on them. The Alphas were made in three different colors. Matchbox also had US distribution rights for the Robotech brand name since they were the master license holder and they took the same Gakken Alphas and put them in their boxes. Matchbox Alphas have totally different boxes that say "Collector's Series" on them. So in this case you have the exact same toys made by the same manufacturer but in two different boxes. The Matchbox box versions are stupid rare and coincidentally there's one on eBay right now. I expect it to go for no less than $200. There's also an online store with a Gakken/Excite Alpha and they want $155 for it. I think that's a bit high but here's the link just so you can see the different box.


I ended up finding a great deal more than I expected in Anchorage-the final total was somewhere in the neighborhood of 150 new ads. That's a pretty good roundup for a place that I wasn't even sure had retail stores in the 80s. I hope I can get it all up at the Vintage Space Toaster Palace within a month or so. I had fun. I will certainly not forget the Z. J. Loussac Public Library / Rocket Tubes Complex (mostly since I tried to keep my eyes on the microfilm reader screen the whole time because I was afraid if I looked at the other people in the room I would see them taking off their fake rubber human masks and revealing their leathery reptilian faces with big lizard eyes and long flicking tongues.)


Anonymous said...

Leader-1? I'd hit that.

Weasel said...

So there's more to Alaska than snow and caribou? Wow, I had no idea.

Evil King Macrocranios said...

Just for posterity's sake I want to mention that the eBay auction ended well under what I expected with a final winning bid of US $127.50.


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