Wednesday, June 17, 2009


I saw a 2 DVD set of 1970s Hanna Barbera cartoons at the store yesterday and holy crap it had an episode of Wheelie and the Chopper Bunch on it. Although that show originally came out when I did in 1974, I remember it being in reruns long enough that I got to see it up until I started kindergarten in '79. It was my favorite anthropomorphic cartoon Volkswagen show ever. You know how that guy figured out Garfield is actually funny if you take Garfield out of it? Well Wheelie and the Chopper Bunch is like GoBots without robot modes. Imagine if the GoBots never turned into robots and they played practical jokes on each other the whole cartoon. It would have been brilliant! It would have been Wheelie and the Chopper Bunch.


Wheelie and the Chopper Bunch had all sorts of talking cars and bikes, each very memorable in their own right but the character I most remember besides Wheelie was this one annoying minibike named Scrambles voiced by Don Messick. Messick is most famous for voicing Scooby Doo, Papa Smurf and of course Ratchet and Gears from the Transformers. And speaking of voice actors from WatCB who would achieve toy robots cartoon voice immortality, Wheelie and Chopper were voiced by Frank Welker, who went on to super stardom as the unforgettable robot named Scooter in Challenge of the GoBots. Scooter's voice was so awful that every time he talked he unleashed several roboplastic apocalypses but thankfully Mr. Welker's career survived despite his creating a voice even more unbearable than Scrambles.


I've wondered if Wheelie and the Chopper Bunch was the gateway drug that softened me up to the idea of talking alien robot Volkswagens and their transforming motorcycle cohorts and I'm really glad to see at least some of it is getting issued on DVD 35 years later. I'd really like to see all 13 episodes of Wheelie and the Chopper Bunch on DVD so please all five of you, please go out and get Saturday Morning Cartoons: 1970s, Volume One. It has my highest recommendation, although the rest of the cartoons on it that are not Wheelie are pretty much all crap. Hey just think-maybe supporting this set will lead to GoBots on DVD if Hanna Barbera does a "Saturday Morning Cartoons: 1980s". I DO NOT KNOW IF THAT IS HELPING MY ARGUMENT.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

REVERSE VACATION: When the movers take your stuff its like your life is taking a vacation from you

The movers have been packing up and taking away my kingdom over the last few days, transforming what was once a vintage space toaster palace into nothing more than an empty room with a bunch of holes in the wall where my shelves used to be. I will miss my shelves and the roboplasticos that used to fill them. But when I think back on my time in Rapid City, my favorite memories are not of the toy robots I bought on ebay or at KMart while I was here, what I will really remember and what makes this move hard is leaving this house where my son took his first steps and laughed for the first time and all the other countless things that make this the place he spent his first two years. I guess I should be used to it since over the last 14 years I've never stayed in the same place for more than three years. Still it is never easy leaving. Moving so much has taught me how to say goodbye but I still haven't learned how to let go. Either the roboplastic apocalypse is upon me or maybe this is just how everybody feels before they move to Florida.


My son took one last look at all the robots in the laundry room the other night before the movers came. I know he doesn't have the faintest clue what they are but he still said wow. When the movers came they too said wow (although like the baby I don't think they had the faintest clue what all those toy robots were either). One of the movers asked me what was my most expensive piece-what was the most money I could get on eBay for my most valuable toy robot. I guess this is the gauge by which people measure the worth of something when just being impressed is not enough. We talked about it a bit but all I could think about was if this guy really knew anything about Transformers this collection would not be all that impressive. Still, judging by my toddler son's reaction and that of the furniture movers I think there may be an untapped blog audience of babies and sofa lifters who like robots that I haven't yet exploited. The problem is I wouldn't know how to write stuff catering to this niche market because I've never moved furniture for a living and it's been a long time since I was two.


This is the point where I was sure I would stop blogging for the rest of eternity as I left South Dakota for a life of adventure and excitement like Luke Skywalker leaving for Alderaan (except he took some of his robots with him). This is the point where, stripped of the toy robots that were the source of my blog powers, I was sure there would be nothing to write about and no motivation to continue. But as it turns out the ideas keep coming. Or what I really mean is I keep buying crap on ebay that I want to write about even though I won't have a mailbox anymore soon. So I still have much to write about and there's still a lot of robostastic acropolypses to go around. I'll just be taking an internet break for a few months as we drive down there and get settled and find a nice safe place to live amongst the robot collecting alligators and hurricanes and drug dealers from Cuba. But no matter where I go the writing urge will still be with me and one day I'll have more ideas for you, and you'll have things you'll want to talk about. I will, too. And so I leave you now with something that occurred to me as I was looking at the empty room that once was my very own vintage space toaster palace. My fellow Macrocranians, it doesn't matter how much robots you have or what they're worth in the eyes of babies and guys who move refrigerators, if you like the toy robots you will always be a weirdo.

Friday, June 05, 2009

VINTAGE SPACE TOAST TOUR PASADENA (CONCLUSION): Mired in the past like a wooly mammoth in the La Brea tar pits of roboplastic history

Digging through the reels and reels of library newspaper microfilm searching for 25 year old toy robots ads is like fishing for fossils in the La Brea tar pits. Deeper and deeper I dove into the tar of time to find fossilized records that stand as the only proof these invincible guardians of world freedom and robot cars from the future roamed the southern California plain ages ago. As I waded through the amassed murky microfilm depths of the Pasadena Star and Los Angeles Times, I wondered what great catastrophe caused all these mighty robots and mighty vehicles to become extinct? Why is it that only the Transformers survived today, the coelacanth cockroaches of toy robot space toaster evolution? Considering the colossal marketing failures of many of these lines it's a miracle that toy robots ever found an audience. As I dug deeper I realized these ads weren't the fossilized historical record of a great catastrophe that wiped out toy super robots, they were more like the Darwin awards of la evoluciĆ³n roboplastico.


Toys International 11/29/84
I noticed that early GoDaiKin ads tended to not specify the cost of individual figures but instead included a general range of prices for the whole line, or not mention price at all. The cost of these figures is often cited as the reason GoDaiKins became extinct, but what a beautiful failure they were. I've found that during the early years of the line, GoDaiKins were advertised mostly by department stores and independent toy stores who were trying to cater to a more discriminating toy robots buyer-someone who didn't mind paying extra for imported Japanese robots significantly larger than what Transformers or GoBots had to offer (and with crazier helmets). By 1985 Toys R Us began advertising them but they were still amongst the most expensive robots TRU carried. I once talked to the husband of a former toy store owner here in Rapid City and he said the market was just not ready for GoDaiKins because there was no reasonably priced entry level robot-they only came in "expensive" and "more expensive". But boy were those ads pretty. GoDaiKin was the only way you could get a Voltron toy in 1984 and oftentimes during Christmas season of '84 retailers would take full advantage of this, prominently placing GoDaiKin GoLion at the center of attention. One such example is this November 29, 1984 ad from Toys International. There are no prices stated but it features a great lineup of robots including the GoDaiKin Gardian, Combattra, GoLion, Daimos and a Scopedog from Armored Trooper VOTOMS. Here's to you, GoDaiKin and all the other early 80s high end imported Japanese super robots-the world has never seen a finer display of ornate robots with complicated space hats.


The Guild 12/14/83
I've been doing this ad looking thing for a while now and in all my travels I only ever found one for Takara's Diakron Robot Cars of the Future. That was during Vintage Space Toast Tour Denverado and boy did I almost die of excitement that day. After running a couple rolls in Los Angeles it became clear to me that there wasn't a Circus World there in '83 so I wasn't expecting to find Diakron ads. I thought it was possible Diakron was exclusive to that chain, since George Dunsay said it was exclusive to Toys R Us and I figured maybe he just meant Circus World because they were the only place I've ever found running an ad for Diakron Robot Cars. But lo and behold, a store I've never heard of called "The Guild" had 'em and they even mention a competitor selling them for $11.95. That makes at least three places in '83 selling these things. Now that I've got ads for the cars, the Multiforce 14 and the Robot Watch, the only Diakron ad I'd like to find now would be one for the Power Dashers. Normally I'd say my chances of finding those wouldn't be that great, but who knows what the future holds? (Besides robot Lamborghinis, of course.)


Karls Toys 12/18/86
Last time on Spacy Vintage Pasadena Toasters I was writing about how some good stuff from Robotech wasn't in the Robotech toy line. There was at least one great piece, though-the large Robotech SDF-1 by Matchbox. But ads for it have proven to be the most elusive 'moldy grails' I've searched for in my career as a toy robots archaeologist. The large SDF-1 was the Omega Supreme of the Robotech line and I know I saw it at Playworld lots of times as a kid, but why why WHY couldn't I find anyone amongst all the different 80s toy retailers advertising it? Well leave it to Karls Toys in Los Angeles to come through, and not only once but a couple of times. Thanks to Karl I now have ads for the SDF-1 at both regular price and this clearance "coupon" for $12.99. Karls was always a bit on the high side, though, and Kay Bee ended up trying to give these away at 10 bucks. I think it's funny how in the cartoon they could never get the SDF-1's spacefold system to work but ultimately it did do one last successful hyperspace jump-to the clearance bin galaxy.


With the licensing frenzy that surrounded Transformers in 1985, one would think Hasbro had the monopoly on crazy transforming licensed merchandise. But while there were Transformers robot wristwatches and some TF radios with detachable figures, that was as far as the Transformers went in terms of transforming mechanical or electronic merchandise not part of the figure line. Actually it was other toy robots lines that way outdid the Transformers when it came to tie-in transforming robot products that had real world applications. GoBots had the transforming radio car and Voltron went all sorts of crazy with flashlights, binoculars, calculators and even 110 film cameras, all of which had an element of Voltronic transformation to them. In the study of roboplastic evolution this gaining of extra functionality demonstrates how toy robots were extremely adaptive to their environments. However, just because you can make a Voltron that turns into binoculars doesn't mean you should. Toy robots archaeologists have a term for these failed adaptive mutations as demonstrated by Voltron's willingness to turn into just about anything-it's "bad third party licensing".

Karls Toys 12/12/85

What's great about this Karls Toys ad from December of '85 is how it features many of the more interesting products from the world of transforming Voltron calculators and other wilderness survival gear. But as I look at these things I'm beginning to understand why a primary license holder like Hasbro would be reluctant to let other companies make transforming figures outside of Takara. Some of these Voltron transforming things don't communicate effectively the core aspect of Voltron-combining space lions-and they don't fit well within the established Voltron fantasy. Sure there were Voltrons in multiple places throughout the fictitious Voltron galaxy, but in what universe could you count on calculator Voltron to save the day? Hasbro doesn't seem so wrong now for not licensing everything that came their way (but I think that 110 camera would have been the basis for a great Reflector). HASBRO KNEW SOME THINGS JUST DON'T MAKE SENSE WITHIN THE CONTEXT OF A TRANSFORMING ROBOT SPACE WAR.


While I'm searching through the old newspapers I come across a lot of announcements promoting 'live' appearances by many action figure celebrities. Darth Vader is the king of these types of celebrity appearances, followed closely by He-Man and then probably Spider-Man. So when I saw this ad for a Mattel "Mighty Toys Explorama" being held at the Glendale Galleria from October 31-November 3 1985 I figured it was just another He-Man appearance. But then I looked closer and holy crap was I surprised!

It was also a Wheeled Warriors live appearance! Oh what I would give to see pictures of a golf cart sized Saw Boss! Knowing that once there was a time when giant talking, spinning Wheeled Warriors roamed the California basin is almost too much to take! Since the Wheeled Warriors online fandom is super small and powerless I don't know where to even begin looking to find out more about these or see if they even still exist. Chances are they were probably lost, destroyed or people working at Mattel still use them as personal mobility scooters to ride around their offices.


Toy City 12/03/90
Finding Zargons buried in those reels was every bit as tough as freeing a mammoth from the tar but Vintage Space Toast Tour Pasadena was a great time with many exciting new things learned about the toy robots wars of the 80s. It was also pretty hellacious because the library was open 12 hours in a row and boy was I tempted to stay that whole time. Of the three days I went, the longest shift I did was 10 hours and boy was I dying. Old microfilms don't turn into robots ads by themselves so I just had to power through it. Even on the days I only did 8 hours straight I never took a break for lunch. I think I lost some weight. I was in danger of being fossilized by my work just like the La Brea tar pits turn sabretooth tigers into bones. And the already old and busted microfilm machine even broke down halfway through but I just took the lens apart and taped the broken bits back together and kept going. It was a marathon endurance test of man and machine but I came away with a couple hundred new* ads of long since extinct roboplastic species for the Vintage Space Toaster Palace. I'm happy with what I found and as I flew back home I was reminded of that last scene in Jurassic Park where Jeff Goldblum is looking out the window of the helicopter. As he watched the birds fly over the ocean I know he was thinking two thoughts: a) the past can suck you in like the La Brea tar pits and b) like the dinosaurs, man and toy robots weren't meant to live together.

*over 23 years old

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

VINTAGE SPACE TOAST TOUR PASADENA (part 1): Momma always told me a library is like a box of robots

My mom is from Los Angeles so when I was little I was able to go there on summer vacations and visit my grandfather's house where she grew up. I remember the summer of '85 when we were visiting L.A. and I got to go to the Universal Studios Transformers Base Camp. My aunt bought me my first Constructicons at a Thrifty Drug store there. I haven't been back to my grandfather's house since Botcon was last held in Pasadena in 2004. So after all these years I was really excited to hear that Botcon would be in Pasadena again, and not just because of its proximity to places of great importance in Transfromers cartoon history. I was excited because Vintage Space Toast Tour Pasadena would be a chance to look through the full uncut archive of Los Angeles Times microfilm newspapers and see my grandfather's house again. I didn't hit up the Pasadena library back in '04 so this time I swore I would take a couple days to spend at the library, just as normal people take a couple days to go visit Disneyland or Universal Studios when they're in Los Angeles. That excitement and anticipation I have over going to the library is why I initially wanted to name this post "Vintage Space Toast Tour Pasadena: SOMETHING IS VERY WRONG WITH ME JUNE 2009 UPDATE".


Sears 10/03/78
So finally after all these years, like a professional sport fisherman journeying to the perfect spot to fish the biggest, rarest fish, I journeyed to the Pasadena main library to search for the biggest, rarest toy robots ads. And holy crap is this Sears ad from October 3, 1978 a whopper of a find. So far as I know the only mechanized Shogun Warrior ever released in the US was Zargon, who was actually Gaiking (the guy with the skull chest and big horns) from the Japanese Mecharobo line, just renamed and repackaged by Mattel. In Japan, the Mecharobo line consisted of Gaiking and Combattler V, but the general consensus amongst toy robots archaeologists is that a Mattel version of Mecharobo Combattler V was never released in the US. Or was it? The great thing about this ad is that while Zargon is the name used, the line art depicts not Gaiking/Zargon, but Combattler V! Why would Sears use line art of a toy that was never released stateside? How would they even get line art of a toy that was never released stateside? Is this proof of a rare Mattel version of Mecharobo Combattler V? I don't know! It is quite possibly more likely proof of something else-that I am dumb about Shogun Warriors.


The Guild 12/14/83
I was already feeling a bit out of my league after finding Zargon-that-was-not-Zargon when I stumbled upon this 14 December '83 ad from a store called "The Guild" for a Zoid that I never knew existed. I wasn't at all aware that there was such a thing as the "Power Zoids" line but after much internet searching I found out this subline of the original American release consisted of two battery powered Zoids-Tank and Serpent. They were exclusive to Europe and the US and were never released in Japan. I thought the only battery powered Zoid from '83 was the Giant Zrk, speaking of which I found a couple ads for that guy, too. I remember last year when finding a Giant Zrk ad was like a holy grail of my toy robots ad collecting and then in Pasadena I found no less than three of them! The strange thing is that two of those Zrk ads came from stores during a time period (late 1983) that I swore I had already searched through before. Either I completely missed them or TRU and K-Mart ran ads in Los Angeles that they didn't run in the other cities I've been to. But while it was fun and fascinating to think L.A. was a source of exclusive content, it was also very disappointing when I found that after 1986 the Los Angeles Times microfilms no longer included the pull out ad circulars. All that post-1986 toy robots ad history is lost and it sucks because there are ads for certain holy grail items like the unconfirmed GoBotron Fortress that if they existed would probably have been advertised in a Los Angeles newspaper.

ToysRUs 12/01/83
KMart 11/06/83

Speaking of GoBots, Los Angeles had some of the best GoBots ads I have ever seen. While there's not much left to find that would excite me about Transformers or Voltron ads, there's still much to uncover when it comes to GoBots ads. For example, you know how every major licensed toy property from the 80s had an electric racing track? Ads for the Transformers and Voltron electric racing tracks have become quite common in my searches but I'd never found one for the GoBots race track until I found this Zody's ad from December 1st 1985. Ads for the GoBots model kits are always tough to find and this Sav-On ad from November 28 1984 is the first time I've ever seen one for the big Cy-Kill (which is the recolored Monogram version of the Imai Mospeada 1/12 Lancer Cyclone variable kit). Did Robotech have anything cool left for their own line?

SavOn 11/28/84
Zodys 12/01/85

Well I gotta cut it short now but in the final installment of highlights from Vintage Space Toast Tour Pasadena I'll show a pretty cool Godaikin ad, a super rare ad for those crazy Diakron Robot Cars from the Future, a heartbreaking Robotech ad, some ridiculous Voltron tie-ins and an old announcement for quite possibly the most insanely awesome store appearance ever by Wheeled Warriors the size of golf carts.

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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.