Monday, January 16, 2017

Macrocranios Jones and the Kingdom of the Brutal Dark Microfilms

I think so far my attempts at colorizing old Transformers newspaper ads have come out pretty decent. They're kind of tricky to execute but the latest ones I wanted to do were supposed to be a piece of oil cake. Whereas the Devastator giftset and early Zayre ads required actual toys and photo manipulations, my latest targets should have been straightforward because those ads used existing catalog photography. Since I had the catalog source material I thought it would be a super simple matter of cut and paste and I'd be done. But of course with old Transformers ads nothing is what it seems and colorizing them would be like fishing out Burmese ruby crystals from the La Brea tar pits.

Hardware Hank 30 Oct 1984


The two ads I wanted to colorize were both from regional chains that ran them as part of their circulars back during the holiday season of 1984. One was from Hardware Hank, a store that still survives to this day in Rapid City and Sturgis, South Dakota. The other was from a now extinct midwest toy store chain called Toy Kingdom. Both of them used the Autobot cars spread in the 1984 Hasbro Toyfair catalog that I'd written about back in 2009. I was familiar with that particular photographic layout so I immediately figured these would be a snap.

Hardware Hank 30 Oct 1984 colorized

Colorizing the Hardware Hank ad did end up being as easy as I envisioned it. You can see in the original underexposed black and white scan that the robot names are superimposed over the photograph and there's even a seam going down the middle of the image, meaning this was a direct copy of the '84 Toyfair catalog pages. The only things added were the Hasbro logos at the bottom right. It was very easy then to take the catalog and crop the pages down to match the Hardware Hank layout. But things would not go so well with the next ad....


I freaked out royally a couple years back when I first came across Toy Kingdom's November 01, 1984 circular on Google's newspaper archive. But I only seized upon it that time to illustrate how 1984 Transformers newspaper ad line art originates from photography in that year's Toy Fair catalog. Now that I was trying to color the thing I found there was a lot more to that tiny little picture than met the eye. Upon closer examination I think that one ad may be the most historically significant piece of Hasbro marketing material ever published in newspapers, or at least the photograph in it is.

At first glance the small rectangle with the blurry toy images seems to be an exact match with the '84 Autobot car spread. But it actually differs in a lot of ways. The most obvious is that it does not have the inset rectangle with the Autobot minicars. Instead there is a blacked out area there. The other differences are more subtle but give clues as to what this picture really is. There were no superimposed toy names next to each robot, and the image's southern border extended further than the Toyfair version. Simply overlaying the Toyfair pages on top of the ad wasn't going to work. That approach would not produce an exact match because the Toy Kingdom ad was the original uncropped, raw photo taken for the '84 Toyfair catalog photoshoot!

Overlaying the catalog pages over the ad image gives an idea of how much more area the original photo had versus the cropped version. The complete reflections of Ratchet, Trailbreaker, and Hound can be seen plus the bottom edge of the photo itself. Then there's the matter of that mysterious dark area...


Ultimately the colorization of Toy Kingdom's November 01, 1984 ad fell short because I did not have the original uncropped, unmodified deluxe Autobot car spread from Hasbro's '84 Toyfair catalog. It would be kind of hard to pull that off since I imagine only one of those exists and I don't have the means of acquiring it. For now I am left with a partial color reconstruction and a whole lot of questions any sane rational person would have. How did the Toy Kingdom ad photographer get the image? Other stores used the Toyfair catalog as source material, so why didn't these guys do the same? Those will probably remain mysteries to me. I am grateful to have a glimpse of the original picture and were it not for this ad I wouldn't even have thought this much about its existence.


However, on the subject of questions insane and irrational, why did they blot out the bottom right hand corner of the photograph? Upon magnifying and level balancing, more details appear in that mysterious dark area. That was the space eventually occupied by the Autobot Minicars sidebar in the Toyfair catalog but this photo was not of the catalog pages, so why did that portion get blacked out? Why not just run the whole photograph with the original dead space there? Or was there any dead space there to begin with? As I was messing with the levels on GIMP I started seeing what I take to be vestiges of an unidentifiable form hiding there in the blackness. Is it just light glare reflecting off the original surface or could it be an entirely other Autobot car? Am I going crazy here or is there more to this picture? My investigation into this particular image is not yet over.


aaron said...

Nice work. It's amazing the stuff you're able to find in these old newspaper ads. Thanks to you I spent way too long looking at scans of my hometown paper from the 80's. :)

Evil King Macrocranios said...

Way too long is never enough! Did you find anything that made you laugh or cry or at least smile? It can be a haul but sometimes you hit that one thing that makes the hours worth it.

My personal favorites are the grand opening announcements of the stores I remember as a kid. I always love finding those. Conversely I appreciate finding their going out of business ads too, even if they are a little depressing.

Anonymous said...

i'm pretty sure i remember that pic from back in the day it had bluestreak there but it was the blue streak that had the blue sides the store probably only had the total grey bluestreaks so covered it

Anonymous said...

maybe it was smokescreen or skids


Minibox 3 Column Blogger Template by James William at 2600 Degrees

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.