Wednesday, October 22, 2014

After These Messages....the Slow Death of Saturday Morning Cartoons

Several weeks ago on September 27th, many of my compatriots in the world signified it as the day that Saturday Morning Cartoons died. It passed away quietly to say the least; no one knelt by it's bedside, no one took note of the symptoms. At 11:59am, after the credits rolled and whatever regularly scheduled programming cued up, Saturday Morning Cartoons faded into our collective memories like hypercolor shirts and Home Alone movies. But in all seriousness, what we know as Saturday Morning Cartoons has slowly been dying since the early to mid 90s. With the advent of weekday cartoon programming along with channels dedicated to cartoon programs like The Hub, Fox Family, Cartoon Network, Boomerang, and Nickelodeon this has been a death long in the making.

Taking a poll, when was the last time any of us got up early to watch a Saturday Morning Cartoon on Network TV? That mean up and present at the time it was being played, not streamed after the fact or TiVo'd and watched later. I bet it's not many, but that's not the main contributing factor to why they are gone now. Over the last 20 years of Saturday Morning Cartoons has become less of a major factor in all of our lives. Since it's inception in the 1960s, Saturday Morning Cartoons grew from it's simple beginnings of Flintstones, Jetsons, and Scooby-Doo. In the 1970s, Hanna Barbera stepped up their game and brought us all a new flood of colourful characters. Then the 1980s explosion of Filmation, Warner Brothers, Rankin Bass and other companies brought us the staples of true nostalgia like He-Man, Thundercats, GI Joe, Transformers and other shows far too numerous to mention in one post alone. Another thing happened in the 1980s, and that was mass marketing of children's programming. That was amplified in the 90s but another thing that happened was the first blow to the sanctity of Saturday Morning Cartoons; September 10th 1990 brought us the Disney Afternoon.

The Disney Afternoon wasn't the first time there was children's programming during the week, but it was the first time there was shows exclusively in the middle of the week that weren't recapped or replayed on the weekend. Also, being the heavy hitter cartoon powerhouse that was Disney, not only did we get great original programming like Gummi Bears, Ducktales, Bonkers, and Darkwing Duck but we also got further adventures of Disney movie blockbusters like Aladdin and Buzz Lightyear of Star Command. I'm not sure if Disney has the same power now that it did back then, but I knew kids growing up that if it wasn't Disney; they didn't watch it and didn't care.

Warner Brothers isn't one to take the undeclared cartoon cold war sitting down. 4 days later on September 14th, 1990, Warner Bros presented Tiny Toon Adventures. Tiny Toon Adventures opened the door for Warner Bros to roll out not only other shows like Animaniacs, Pinky and the Brain, Freakzoid, and other shows but for a good portion of the mid-to-late 90s and early 2000s Warner Bros had their own TV station that played cartoons during the weekday afternoons and Saturday mornings. Joining forces with Steven Spielberg as an executive producer was just about the best way to secure not only a top notch product that would be enjoyed by both kids and adults, but also garner the attention of the media and the awards committee.

Both the Disney Afternoon and the Warner Bros animation block (sorry, not sure if it had it's own designation) had taken it's toll on the to-that-point revered Saturday morning cartoons. Sure there was in-fighting between Disney and Warner Bros; pitting their trademark characters against each other for TV time slot supremacy. In the fray we got a couple of great, gritty and more adult shows from both companies with Batman the Animated Series and Gargoyles. The other channels had their hand in undermining both the Disney and Warner Bros powerhouses and Saturday Morning Cartoons by playing cartoons early in the morning on weekdays.

Let's not forget the onslaught of cable network cartoons, spearheaded by the fine folks over at Nickelodeon / MTV / Viacom as a whole. Shows like Doug, Rugrats, Wild Thornberry's, and other lighter fare appealed to both younger and older viewers while Aeon Flux, Ren and Stimpy, Liquid Television and Beavis and Butthead are the reasons I became a preteen insomniac. They were fresh, different and had more realistic themes along with crazy, grotesque, drug induced frenzy of the late night shows. They revolutionized cartoon viewing by bringing back the essence of old freak out comics of the 70s in animated form, which was great because I've been a fan of R. Crumb, Ralph Bakshi, and Harvey Peakar since I was about 6 years old. You can look at the work of Clasky-Csupo and see a lot of references back to those artists in their work. Nickelodeon has continued to be a big player in the televised cartoon world, most recently with the newest incarnation of the Ninja Turtles.

Also in the early 1990s we got Cartoon Network. Granted it wasn't till the late 1990s when most of the country got to know it better when their original programming started to garner the attention of both kids and adults. It was the beginning of the end for Saturday Morning Cartoons as we knew it. Cartoon Network branched out for the first time in the late 1990s from it's repertoire of classic Warner Bros and MGM/Universal cartoons and started it's own in-house productions like Powerpuff Girls and Dexter's Lab. Another exciting time for animation fans for sure, not only were they shows that all ages clicked with but many of the in-house shows from Cartoon Network still bring back great nostalgia moments with people who aren't active cartoon watchers. Cartoon Network was also instrumental in bringing anime back to American TV in their Toonami animation block that ran every weekday in the afternoon and late nights on the weekends. Other channels followed suit by adding mainstream shows like Pokemon and Digimon to their Saturday Morning line ups, but it may have just been too little too late.

Let us also not forget more adult oriented cartoons in general. Simpsons led the way, which ran strong and unopposed for years till South Park and the never ending glut of cartoons from Seth MacFarlane along with the programming on Cartoon Network's Adult Swim. They provided cartoons for us who never really grew up who still loved cartoons but grew tired of the silly simplicity of happy animated characters. They gave us foul mouthed kids, talking action figures, and mildly alcoholic pets that expressed the inner us better than Friends or other sitcoms could. Now these adults (and sometimes unmonitored children) didn't have to get up early for our cartoon fix, sleep in and stay up late because the good stuff comes on later.

From about 2000 up to a few weeks back, Saturday Morning Cartoons on network TV was lackluster to say the least. Better shows have migrated to the bigger cable TV channels like HUB, Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon and other channels. Occasionally you'd hear some buzz about a Sonic the Hedgehog cartoon or other relatively under the radar show, but just as soon as you'd hear about it the show was over and cancelled and those not in the know were reduced to hunting down the show somewhere online. A long, lingering death was the ultimate end of what we all knew as Saturday Morning Cartoons. A few of us noticed but few of us cared, for many of us they've been dead for a long time.

I hope you've enjoyed this haphazard rehash of cartoon history.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Blue SWAT figure by Bandai 1994

I have recently gotten into a kick of buying older Japanese toys. Lots of vinyl and diecast toys, stuff from the late 70s to fairly current releases. It came when I had a certain desire to branch out into something different than what everyone else is talking about and reviewing. It also comes from a lack of being wowed by most modern release toys. Most of the best stuff hitting shelves right now is coming from companies like Marvel Select, Mezco, NECA, DC Direct, and other "specialty retailer" companies who are putting forth a lot more effort in their releases than Hasbro, Mattel, and Playmates. I've come across some really awesome pieces over the last 6 months, and some of them I found at the flea market.

I found this still boxed Blue SWAT figure on E row at the Oldsmar flea market only a month ago. You never know what you'll find stashed in old flea market booths and this particular booth was full of all kinds of treasures, shame most of them I owned already. Tucked behind Marvel Famous Covers figures on a rear shelf was this boxed figure. Originally it had an outrageous price tag of near $60 on it, after talking with the owner and seeing that the figure was missing a gun and shoulder pad he dropped the price significantly. I'm not usually much for an incomplete figure that I may never find the pieces for but at the final price he was willing to give me the figure for, I'll deal with it.

The premise of the show is a Space Mafia invades Earth while the human race is busy tearing itself apart with war and crime (some elements of pollution too because it's the 90s!). The Japanese government establishes the Blue SWAT, a military-like world police to combat the evil Space Mafia. Things go awry when an alien infects the chief of Blue SWAT, causing him to blow up headquarters and all but three Blue SWAT members perish in the explosion . Members Show, Sig, and Sara are left alone to defend Earth from the Space Mafia with their assortment of equipment and weapons.


Blue Swat was the 13th installment of the Metal Hero Series from Japan. Those not familiar with it, some of the Henshin Hero footage from the Space Sheriff series was used to make VR Troopers and Juukuo B-Fighter was used to make Beetleborgs. Watching these series in their original entirety is nothing short of amazing and sure makes what we grew up with seem very juvenile. In Japan, Blue SWAT was not well recieved by their children's demographic due to it's very sinister undertones but the adults loved it. Airing for 51 episodes and a full length movie, Blue SWAT still remains one of my favorite hidden gems of the Henshin genre.

The Blue SWAT figure I got at the market was Show. He comes packaged wearing a blue lame' sleeveless jump suit and snap on armor pieces. I wasn't really too impressed until I noticed the chestplate was heavy die-cast metal and hinged instead of being made into two pieces that snap together. He doesn't look like much in the package but fully suited up he's got a great Daft Punk look to him. All of the larger weapons have firing mechanisms and great details like flip down shoulder rests, red "laser" lights or sights. Every crate opens up to store equipment and the smaller cases have alcoves to fit the specific weapons inside. Unfortunately, one of the cases is missing a pistol but it doesn't really take away from the overall displaying of the figure. One of the best things about the figure nearly being complete is the instructions were tucked away inside. A great bonus for a 20 year old toy from the other side of the world.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Suckerman : a review 23 years in the making!


I will be the first to say that I have very few wants that go unanswered. It's the result of a lifetime having to budget myself and using my hobby to feed my hobby by selling lesser pieces for something more desirable. I often do hit walls where certain toys are just either not worth the price tag to me or just simply having eyes bigger than my wallet; sometimes you just have to let go of the desire to have a 4 foot tall Gamera in your living room. I've nearly had my hands on everything I ever wanted by having a really good working relationship with other sellers and collectors, mainly because I understand everyone needs to make money and not being afraid to put money on the table for something I really want. But there's been one piece that's eluded me for years, just because it's importance slipped further and further down my want list. I happily added him to the collection this month for $15.

Suckerman was released by Mattel in 1978 to combat the influx of space and alien themed toys brought on by the Star Wars craze. Granted Mattel was riding the wave of their imported Shogun Warriors, but was dabbling in some house brand characters to lead their sales. In this time they created unique boys toys like Grey-Gory the Vampire Bat and Krusher but they needed an alien to spearhead an outerspace line up. Aptly named Suckerman, his rubery, lanky body is covered in 26 suction cups, giving him the uncanny ability to stick to nearly any smooth surface with ease. Sadly though, Suckerman was the only character in the line. He was released in a rainbow of different colors, hardest to find in black and glow in the dark but easier to find in other colors.

(you can tell it's Mattel!)

With Mattel's history being a predominantly girl brand company they had some success in the late 60s with a little line known as Major Matt Mason, which would have been perfect for a reboot in the late 70s but Mattel opted for something fresh. It was a cool idea, the package encouraged you to throw him against the wall and watch him in action and the sculpting was really decent; you could tell they had a lot of faith in Suckerman not failing them at retail. The more I look at him, to me he screams 60s sci-fi with his scaly skin and fanged bat-like head. Suckerman's legacy at Mattel wasn't as illustrious as say He-Man but it's still a worthy footnote in toy history, he just had the rotten luck of being created in the wrong decade.

In person, Suckerman lives up to the hype I created in my head over this toy. I can imagine being much younger I would have had a ball with it. As an adult, I mostly use it to creep my wife out by sticking him to the wall in the shower or to the bedroom ceiling fan, which is equally fulfilling to my inner child. Suckerman looks great next to the toys of that era like Stretch Armstrong, Grey-Gory, Krusher, Micronauts, and assorted Mego and other 8 inch figure lines of the era. The only problem I've encounted so far is properly displaying Suckerman. He doesn't stand on his own and the suction cup gives out after a little while, so I'm stuck on how to display him.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Stuff I Consider Bullshit : Power-Con Pandhandling

Within the last week, I've seen several blogs pleading for people to support Power-Con. I'm all for conventions and celebrations of Fandom but it seems like every time He-Man is attached to something in the realm of any media, someone is begging and pleading for something. I'm also all for drumming up support for a worthy cause but it seems like this may be the end of the line for He-Man. It's had a good run over the last decade or more with the 200X revival, the Four Horsemen Studios, NECA, the Classics line, and successful years of Power-Con. That's all stuff to be proud of especially those involved at the top, but as the image says "all toy lines must end".

I love supporting Fandoms, even when they are things that aren't my interest. I give away My Little Pony figures, give away tickets to conventions to people who'd enjoy it more than I would, and I cover a wide range of toys and collectibles on my website. I liked He-Man when I was growing up, I did like Thundercats better but everyone seems to have better memories of He-Man for some reason. In the passing years the fans have been wanting a new He-Man cartoon and figure line but when it comes time to support it, they get fickle about pulling out their wallets. But it's a great struggle, Mattel pulls support from their lines due to lack of support from the fans and fans pull their support due to lack of product released by Mattel. It's a vicious cycle but in the end it boils down to best business practices in favor of Mattel. Granted, Mattel has shown their ass on a couple of instances with the He-Man lines so maybe the fans wavering support is warranted.

(remember this bullshit?)

Those in charge of Power-Con have not wowed me over the last few years. There's been a lot of in-fighting between different groups, the openly trashing of Emiliano Santalucia, the main people in charge of the website treating the Fandom like their own personal sandbox (which is fine by my account but many people haven't felt like it's fair), and the constant asking for monetary support to keep things afloat. You're not good enough to be one of us but do you have some money to spare to help us keep this place up and running is a paradox worthy of a thousand face-palms. I've enjoyed my visits but after they trashed Emiliano, things took a turn for the worse. Power-Con has had the feeling of a private party you're begrudgingly invited to.

(but to be clear, this guy is still a dumb ass)

Conventions aren't that hard to put together, the hardest part is securing and paying celebrity talent to show up. I won't go into long details but even a complete moron can run a show and break even in the end, even if that means putting your own money into the show and paying yourself back from the receipts. If you're any good at what you do with conventions you can make a decent living off of them. With the poor planning by moving the convention across the country to New York from California and not opting for having TMNT be a part of the convention (in a movie year no less) are two of the many reason I'd point my finger to if the convention fails.

(I just like this photo, all credit to the artist.)

In the end, He-Man is a fringe interest. It's a strong fringe interest but still not strong enough to carry itself like Star Wars or one of the major comic book stories out there. I don't like seeing things fail that bring people happiness and generate a buzz for anything to do with toys or anything 80s or 90s. But in the end it won't be the fan's fault if Power-Con goes broke, it'll be those who made the bad decisions in the first place.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Transformers : Age of Extinction review

Michael Bay, you have brought this upon yourself.

Transformers : AOE (Age of Extinction and get used to the abbreviation because I will be using it a lot) was a CGI dripping mess of a movie with stale actors and a few decent actors that they must have tricked into doing the movie to give it more credibility.  I'm not sure why I went into this movie expecting more than it's predecessors, Dark of the Moon was by far the best of all 3 films at the time. That movie still had it's problems like being stuffed full of so many new characters without so much as a background story (unless you read the back of the toy package or flipped through a comic book) and giving the viewers more of what we still didn't give any fucks about; Sam, his love life and more importantly his mugging parents. Transformers: AOE was a long, painful theater experience that I won't soon forget.

(I will add that I saw this movie for free and I'm very happy that I did. Paying money to see AOE would have meant theater hopping till I felt like I had been reimbursed my ticket price.)

(Yabba Dabba Doo!)

First, this is a near three hour movie and it feels like every minute of three hours. The movie just seems to go on for eternity and for no good reason than to justify the effects team's passion for exploding shit. They also dragged Kelsey Grammer and Stanley Tucci into this movie and their parts are just as memorable as John Malkovich's role in the previous movie. I mean I know they got paid for what they did but you can't tell me that their parts seemed forced, like when you have to do something you don't want to do (for example the Ghostbusters II/ Bill Murray debate). And I finally figured out why the movie is two hours and forty-six minutes, they forgot to put the Dinobots in and slapped another forty-six minutes on the film. The Dinobots barley even feel like they are in the movie and the designs alone make me say, "Those aren't Dinobots, it's Truck-a-saurus from the monster truck rally." I know it's the Michael Bay Universe / "Bay-formers" but it doesn't make it any better, it's deplorable no matter how you explain it.

(these are Dino-Bots)

(these are not)

I don't want to drone on and on, or at least any further so I'll end it with; Transformers: AOE earned 0 out of 5 stars, two thumbs down, it stinks, Redbox it if you must watch it, wait for the cable tv debut, borrow a friend's copy of the movie, catch it on Video On Demand......I think you get the picture.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

The Complicated life of Tom Khayos

The complicated life of Tom Khayos is a collection of writings I'll be releasing in no particular order. It mainly is to explain how I became me and it will always involve toys, comics, video games and other nonsense.

The Complicated life of Tom Khayos

                                         The Ballad of Frankenstein Snake Eyes

To tell you the story of Frankenstein Snake Eyes, I have to give you some background on my life. My knowledge of the toy world wasn't divine intuition, it was cultivated by some key people in my life. My mother and grandmother were very integral in my background as a toy collector and dealer. I would be brought to doll shows as a young child and roam around with them and scout out good finds and when they were set up selling dolls, I could be found under the table taking a nap in between my scouting trips. Both my mother and grandmother taught me how to identify dolls, clothing, accessories and other collectibles as well as know the difference between reproductions and originals. 

But there was three other people who taught me just as much as my immediate family members did, those three I considered close enough that I would call them family. One of those three is my friend Doug, a man who has been buying and selling toys longer than I've been alive. I met Doug formally in my late teens and he helped me refine my skills as a negotiator and helped me become more savvy when tracking down collections to buy and sell. With his help, I learned just about every trick in the book in the toy world and the convention circuit. With the knowledge I gained from him I consider myself one of the most knowledgeable individuals in the collectible toy industry.  

The other two on my short list of honing my skills and cultivating my knowledge of toys and collectibles was my mom’s friends Dena and Helen. Both of them collectors in their own right, I got to know them through their collectibles shop Re-Play Toys. Being young, I looked up to both of them. “This is what I want to do when I grow up!” I thought.Over the years, I grew up hanging around the store pretty much every free moment I had. After school, on the weekends and during the summer I could be found helping out, cleaning, assembling, pricing and selling toys that were brought in and bought by the store. Both ladies were very sweet and treated me very well and I still consider them family to this day and have spent lots of time with them and their families over the years. I learned a lot at the store and still look back fondly at that time in my life. While I may not be doing what I said I wanted to do all those years ago, I’m still involved in the toy world and it probably wouldn't be that way if they hadn't helped fuel my passion for this field.

And the moment this has all been leading to: The story behind Frankenstein Snake Eyes

Recently, Dena had passed away. It was rough on my mother and I, we hadn't had a family member or someone we considered a family member die since my grandmother’s passing in 2003 and Helen and Dena’s father passing in 2005. Dena had a big impact on my life, she encouraged me to learn more about what was sold in the store and always rewarded my hard work both on store projects and school work. I’d sit around the store with my nose in a collectibles book or Toy Shop magazine and use my recently gained knowledge to piece together dozens of GI Joes, Star Wars figures and vehicles and boxes of loose Transformers. I feel it’s important not to mourn someone’s passing but celebrate their life the way they would have wanted to have been remembered so I dedicated a weekend worth of toy hunting at the flea market to her and went for lunch with my mom to Dena’s favorite restaurant, a little Italian restaurant known as Gino’s. The funeral and wake came and went, the family had their moment of grieving behind them and so came the task of cleaning out Dena’s house. 

Re-Play Toys had been closed for nearly 12 years and Dena had decided to take her business online through eBay. I had no idea how business went or even if the title of Re-Play Toys was still being used in any capacity. Dena’s sister Helen still bought and sold toys, collectibles and other nicknacks online but had branched out under her own name online and as I mentioned before I still do conventions and occasionally sell online under my own name but had kind of lost track of what Dena was doing or if she was still involved in the business. I feel kind of bad in a way, like many of you I have grown apart from some of my friends and family.

What was left at her house was distributed among family and friends that it would mean the most to. What I received was something I hadn't seen in nearly over a decade, Frankenstein Snake Eyes. What I received brought back so many good memories, to the average person it just looks like a cobbled together figure just kind of slapped together but to me it’s a prized possession. The kind of thing I’d run into a burning building to save. I felt it needed to be shared in the only way I felt it could be described, a lengthy blog posting involving a bit of my personal history and a kind of a last tribute to a friend/ family member now gone.

No one knows the story behind Frankenstein Snake Eyes. I was under the impression that I had created it out of a pile of leftovers from a GI Joe collection but I found out that I was mistaken. Then I thought possibly Dena had made it during a slow day at the store out of the store’s random pieces box but no one could verify that either. For all I know, Frankie could have showed up this way in a collection but his origin remains a mystery. I had memories of Frankie hanging out at the register at Re-Play Toys and remembering Dena was quite attached to it. People offered money on numerous occasions and even I asked if my day’s work could be paid for with Frankenstein Snake Eyes, but all offers were turned down. No matter wherever it came from, it was very special to her and I felt very honored to inherit this legendary figure. 

The only thing I’d like to do with the figure is make a vehicle and do a throwback package to put it all in. Let’s face it, most of the cool GI Joe figures came as a pack in with the vehicles in the line. The feel I get from the toy is Frankenstein would command a fairly impressive vehicle that looks  like something out of Mad Max, not so much the missiles and machine guns but something with some muscle and armor. Something along the lines of a modified dump truck with a shovel or cow catcher on the front with armored or spiked hub caps. And then package it up in a classic style box, I feel it would be a fitting tribute to the toy.

And here I sit with this epic figure, still admiring it like I did all those years ago. An heirloom piece of local toy history from what I gather. I wouldn't change anything about it’s scratched paint job, loose joints or anything else about it; it’s this way for a reason and I’d only fix it if it became broken for some reason. I happen to be significantly younger than a good portion of the local toy collectors in the Tampa area but they all remember the rag tag unofficial mascot of Re-Play Toys hanging out by the register, holding on to the business cards or hanging off of the cup full of pens. Just commenting on it to my small group of friends who are toy collectors brought up a lot of nostalgic moments with them as well. They all remembered how cool the store was and how nice Dena and her sister Helen were to anyone who came in the shop. It had traveled from their original shop at the Floriland Mall Flea Market to their shop off of Busch boulevard to Dena’s house and finally into my possession. I’ll really cherish it for the rest of my life and it will always remind me of one of the key people in my life who helped me develop the deep appreciation I have for toys and their history.

**written June 2012