Monday, November 25, 2019

'Chive Cast 102 - Nien Nunb: Revenge of Old Flapjacks

Lando's halibut-faced co-pilot takes center stage in this month's show as Skye and Steve return to the silver mic once again. Broc Walker comes on to talk Nien Nunb hardcopies, Toltoys, Sweepstakes fever, proofs and Coca-Cola tumblers. This episode features the great 2010 Hardcopy Auction and outlines how a first shot went from Toy Shop to Broc. Plus an EPIC MarketWatch game that proves that James Brown is better than Prince on the next Vintage Pod.

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00:00 – Intro
02:29 – The Havens Interview fallout
07:09 – Skye and Steve's personal lives and the show
14:40 – Muppet, Language, Racist, Labia (Very Diverse Nien Nunb Thoughts)
30:07 – Skye-Ku
32:35 – Vintage Vocab: ROTJ 48 Backs
41:54 – Australian and Canadian Nien Nunb
46:36 – Kenner Commercial Break
50:42 – What if you wanted to collect ALL carded figures with Nien Nunb on it?
53:05 – Broc joins the Show
54:08 – Nugget from the Archive (2010 Hardcopy Auction Story)
1:00:30 – First Shot: From Toy Shop to Broc
1:03:54 – Revenge of the Jedi Mock-Up Proof Card
1:07:43 – The ROTJ Kenner Sweepstakes
1:19:41 – Unloved Item (Coca-Cola Tumbler)
1:23:05 – Super MarketWatch Game: Prince v. James Brown
1:35:58 – Baseball Talk
1:45:03 – Outro

Image Sources and Show Note Links:

Monday, November 18, 2019

This Time Kenner is Ready: Tracking Empire's Release Through Advertising

Ron writes:

 Below you see an advertisement, dated May 4, 1978, that announces the debut in stores of Kenner's Star Wars action figures and related toys. On that date, if you were a kid in the St. Louis area (the ad is from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch), you could run to Target and buy one of the first nine action figures -- if, that is, any remained in stock.

Why spring of 1978 rather than spring of 1977, when Star Wars premiered in theaters?

Well, as most nerdlingers know, fans of the first entry in the Star Wars franchise were forced to wait nearly a year, reckoned from the premiere of the film, to buy action figures toys based on the movie. It's not that Kenner was unprepared. The mid-sized Cincinnati company had only signed on as a licensee in spring of 1977, just prior to the film's release. Once Star Wars proved a massive hit, Kenner's nose was forced to the grindstone. The mission: get product onto store shelves as quickly as possible. Generally, it takes a year for a toy company to bring action figures to market. Kenner managed to shave more than a month off that schedule.

But the release of The Empire Strikes Back would have to be different. By then, May of 1980, Kenner would need to have a full range of new product on store shelves. A kid would need to be able to tromp out of his local movie theater, into the toy area of his favorite department store, and right up to the cash register, Empire Strikes Back product in hand.

 The big question: Would Empire deliver?

I'm sure Mattel was thrilled by the photo used to illustrate this piece.

According to this article, written by Clarence Petersen for the Chicago Tribune of May 4, 1980, retailers remained skeptical. So skeptical that an anonymous local toy buyer, surely a congenital grouch, is quoted as saying "We're not planning for a major push. Everyone is leery of space toys this year. Sales fell off in 1979, but no one knows what the new movie will do. The whole thing is up for grabs."

Sue Sandler, an editor at Toys, Hobbies, and Crafts, agreed, saying "There will be a lot of caution, at least until the movie comes out and they see how much money it's making in the first couple of weeks."

Kenner PR guy Dave DeMala was slightly more optimistic. "We've had a couple of people here see the movie," he said, "and they say it's absolutely spectacular."

Hey, Dave's a PR guy; he's paid to be optimistic.

But in the final words of his quote, I detect a hint of trepidation. "Goodness," he told Petersen, "I hope they're right."

Well, we should probably forgive Dave his doubts. At the time, no company had ever based a toy line on a film trilogy. Remember, prior to the Star Wars Trilogy, sequential storytelling in movies was just about unheard of. Would audiences follow a story across three films and six years? And would they continue to want licensed trinkets tied to those films?

In 1980, these were big questions.

But while we can forgive DeMala, others we cannot forgive. Among these is the unnamed Kenner spokesperson who referred to the upcoming Tauntaun toy as a kangaroo.

Kenner's biggest product roll-out of all time is at stake. There's a huge advertising budget. The whole company is striving to present the product in the best possible light. And this guy pitches the Tauntaun as "not a vehicle but, like, well, like a kangaroo." Nice.

As we all know, Dave's coworkers were right: Empire was spectacular. And when the movie finally hit theaters, accompanied in major markets by full-page newspaper ads like the one seen above (complete with space kangaroo), its box-office performance put the turbulent minds of toy buyers at ease. It was a hit rivaled in recent memory only by its predecessor.

Empire did so well in its early bookings that, by June 13, when Petersen's article was reprinted in Mississippi's Jackson Daily News, the skeptical comments had been edited out of it. So, for that matter, had the kangaroo.

The emphasis this time around was less on speculation regarding the movie's performance than on Kenner's ability to meet demand.

The gist of the piece can be boiled down to one line: "This time Kenner is ready."

Why, you ask, was Petersen's article re-run in Jackson, Mississippi, over a month after its debut in Chicago?

Well, the release of Empire was staggered. Although 70mm prints were released in key markets on May 21, 1980, many areas didn't get the movie until June 18. According to this helpful site, Empire didn't screen anywhere in Mississippi during the month of May. So the Jackson Daily News ran the story on June 13 in anticipation of the movie's local opening later that week.

Audiences in Memphis, Tennessee were luckier than those in Jackson, Mississippi: they got to see Empire right off the bat, and in nothing less than 70mm. This ad ran in the local Commercial Appeal on June 4, 1980, nearly two weeks after the movie opened at the Park Theater.

The ad combines a photographic image from Kenner's 1980 Toy Fair catalog with Kenner-supplied line art, a reproduction of Roger Kastel's art for the theatrical one-sheet poster, and some wonky hand-drawn imagery. It makes for a gloriously full-page impression.

In support of the movie (and in support of sales), the retailer responsible for the ad, Goldsmith's, offered a free record or coloring book to the first 100 shoppers who purchased an action figure. Not a bad deal! What's more, the department store ran a contest whose winners received four tickets to see Empire at the Park.

Chances are the folks who won those tickets had already seen the movie. But who's going to complain about seeing The Empire Strikes Back twice?

Audiences in the Los Angeles area had ample opportunity to see the movie on multiple occasions: Several theaters in Orange County had the movie as soon as it was available. The above ad, from the May Company, spotlights Kenner's toys and the bedding products produced by the Bibb company.

The sharp observer will noticed that May used a representation of MPC's model kit version of Darth Vader's TIE Fighter rather than Kenner's larger action figure toy. Oops.

Like Goldsmith's in Memphis, May offered free movie tickets to winners of a store-sponsored contest. They also offered something more special: personal appearances by Darth Vader and Boba Fett.

The latter is described as "wily," leading me to believe that more than a few kids walked into a May location demanding to be introduced to that fearsome intergalactic bounty hunter, Willy Boba Fett.

Hey, as names go, it's no stupider than Salacious B. Crumb.

Not to be outdone, the proprietors of Manhattan's Gimbels commanded their customers to "strike back with space-dream savings." Whatever those are.

Gotta love this young gangsta just flat-out mackin with his Star Wars comforter and large-size figures.

Interestingly, the ad, from the New York Times, dates from late June, when Empire had been in local theaters for about a month. Maybe special guests Darth Vader and Willy Boba Fett were delayed by their duties on the West Coast? The ad does say that they planned to travel to Gimbels through hyperspace...

Not to be outdone by their competitors in other parts of the country, Gimbels offered movie tickets to select customers. In this case, anyone who bought more than $5 worth of licensed merchandise received two passes for Empire.

In Milwaukee, the Boston Store followed Gimbels' lead by running its big Empire promotion about a month after the movie debuted locally at the Southtown Cinema (but just in time for the wider 35mm release).

Alas, Darth Vader and Willy Boba Fett didn't make it out to Wisconsin. I mean, would you?

This ad is similar to the others featured in this post in that it utilizes a reproduction of the Kastel one-sheet art and offers free movie tickets as a promotional tie-in. Also, it repeats the Goldsmith's offer of a free coloring book or record with the purchase of a toy.

It's cool to see the scarce retail version of the Action Display Stand featured so prominently.

But even cooler is the introductory text, which reads:
Once, a long time ago in a distant galaxy . . . the most popular entertainment idea in the history of man was born. It was a time of great war, great love, and great adventure. It was a time of STAR WARS.
Well, here we are nearly 40 years later and it's still a time of Star Wars.

When The Rise of Skywalker hits theaters next month, you probably won't be able to meet Darth Vader at your local department store, and you won't be able to see it in 70mm. Most of the old department stores have closed, and movies today are typically measured in pixels rather than millimeters. Shoot, you probably won't even be able to admire a full-page newspaper ad related to the movie, because who reads newspapers these days?

Happily, for those who are sentimental about such things, there are still toys -- for now, anyway.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

'Chive Cast Blog Log Pod Episode 12 - Cakes and Fakes

Jonathan McElwain joins the show to talk about all things vintage custom Star Wars cakes, before the dark times, before the Wilton License. Then he talks about Wilton! Also, a new fake item from Argentina is confirmed at the end of the episode.

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00:52 – Intro
04:44 – Comedy Bang-Bang Interlude
05:32 – Porg Cake Story
08:13 – Jonathan McElwain's Heartwarming Cake Story
09:53 – Mail Box News Magazine
18:48 – Steve Starts the Chewbacca Cake Discussion
22:47 – Jonathan's Favorite Cakes
26:36 – Wilton Cake Memorabilia
32:00 – The Argentinian Fake Issue


Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Build a Display Island for Your Collection

My dear guests...

Ron writes:

 Back in 2018 I built a display island in my collecting area.

That sounds really bougie, right? A display island.

I'm sure you're picturing me leaning against my display island while eating Grey Poupon straight from the jar using a caviar spoon.

Bougie or not, a few visitors have asked me for instructions. They've experienced the allure of the display island and they want one of their own. So I figured I'd do it in a blog post.

First, here are a few photos of the island.

It has glass display doors on each side and a flat area on the top. The latter is painted and covered in acrylic.

The cases are lit so that the items they contain are easily viewable. As you've no doubt noticed, I have carded figures in mine. You can put Funko Pops in yours, or whatever other dumb thing you collect. It's really up to you.

The core of the display island consists of six Billy bookcases from IKEA that have been bolted together on the inside. The side you see in the first photo (we'll call it the front) consists of one case that is 31.5 inches wide and another that is 15.75 inches wide. The arrangement of the back is the same as the front. Each side consists of one case that is 31.5 inches wide.

This yields an island is that is approximately 52.5 inches long and 46 inches wide.

I had initially planned to use two 31.5-inch-wide cases on the front and back. That is, no 15.75-inchers. Alas, I didn't have the room to accommodate two of the larger cases. Maybe you do?

Of course, you can also forgo the second case on the front and back, and simply bolt together four 31.5-inch-wide cases. This will result in an island that is substantially thinner.

Billy! Billy don't you lose my number.

Now, if you're familiar with IKEA's Billy line of cases, you know that, like pizza and monster trucks, they're endlessly customizable. You also know that, if you want them to be serviceable as display cases, you need to outfit them with glass shelves and LED lighting, both sold separately.

Oh, and you need doors.

Although IKEA sells a traditional glass door for the Billy, you'll want to avoid that and go with the Morliden door. The trad glass door has an obtrusive wooden frame that will harsh your mellow.

Remove the inserts so that everyone can see your Funko Pops.

Although the Morliden is shown on IKEA's website with fogged glass, the fog effect is generated by a chipboard insert that attaches to the door's interior. If you ditch the insert, you're left with a clear glass door with a thin aluminum frame -- nice for display purposes.

Here, off the top of my head, is a list of materials you will need to build your display island:
After you buy the stuff from IKEA, you can begin assembly. To do this, follow the instructions provided by IKEA. You'll want to assemble each Billy, then install the lighting, and then arrange them into the desired configuration. You can worry about the shelves and the doors once everything is bolted together.

For the bolting, use corner braces at the corners and mending plates at the joint areas between the two cases on the front and back. These are easy to screw into the unfinished backsides of the particle-board horizontals at the spots where they meet.

Once bolted, you should have a solid rectangle of cases with a void in the center into which the wiring for the lighting is dangling.

The wire extending from each light needs to be inserted into IKEA's Ansluta transformer.

Here are step-by-step instructions for obtaining the Ansluta:
  1. Walk into IKEA, preferably wearing a lounge jacket.
  2. Locate a reasonably no-nonsense-looking female staff member.
  3. In a loud Ron Burgundy voice, tell her that you're looking for an sluta. Then say that she looks like just the kind of person who might be able to assist you in your quest to find an sluta. Pause a few times between words and wink ostentatiously. 
  4. After she finishes clobbering you about the head and shoulders with the Hugad curtain rod, proceed to the lighting section and pick up your Ansluta.
Two six-input transformers should work. Remember that you also need power cords to connect the transformers to an extension cord. IKEA sells those.

All of that unsightly electrical stuff will be inside the island. Meaning you'll need to run the extension cord out of the island and into a power strip. Be strategic here. What you want is a straight line running to a power strip that is concealed somewhere against the wall.

I initially thought that I'd need to drill a hole in the base of one of the cases in order to run the cord to the wall. Fortunately, each Billy has a notch in its back to accommodate a baseboard. Perfect!

Use an overfloor cord protector to cover the cord and prevent your homies from tripping.

You can also try running the cord beneath the floor and up to the power strip against the wall. But that's some real Bob Vila sh*t and possibly not worth the effort for Funko Pops.

You'll now want to test the lighting setup to ensure that it works. Leave the switches on the IKEA power cords in the "on" position, so that everything lights up when you flip the switch on the power strip.

When you turn it on for the first time, be sure to say something like "By the power of Grayskuuulllll!" or "You've released the fookin fury!" just to set an appropriately momentous tone. And maybe play "The Final Countdown" by Europe.

Now for the top of the display island.

You'll want to go to Home Depot or Lowe's or whatever big-box outfit has put mom-and-pop hardware stores in your area out of business. Get a large piece of medium density fiberboard (MDF) cut to fit the top of your island. They'll cut it for you right there at the store.

On the above list of ingredients I linked to a piece of MDF that is .75 inch thick. I think the one I have is .5 inch thick, but I don't see that on Home Depot's website. Whatever. Go to the store and choose something that works for you. Try not to offend anyone like you did at IKEA.

You'll also want to get some paint.

The paint I used is a Glidden-brand variety called Wheat Stalk. It's pretty close to the color used on the back of Kenner's Return of the Jedi blister cards.

Prime the MDF and cover it with a couple of coats. You can then put the board on top of your Billys to see how it looks.

I originally planned to make the top of my island removable, so that I could store things in the interior and easily access the lighting stuff in the event of a problem. Unfortunately, after I painted it, it warped slightly, causing the corners to rise in an unsightly way. So I ended up drilling it into the cases using some wood screws, then covering the screw heads with wood filler.

Okay, so the acrylic. I'm sure you're wondering about the acrylic.

You can also buy this at Home Depot. Comes in large sheets. Cutting it is dicey, though. Home Depot doesn't want to do it for you. Though they claim it can be cut using a scoring knife and lots of patience, I didn't fare too well when I tried it. I recommend having a professional cut it for you.

This is from a home-improvement site, not my project, but you get the idea.

I got the idea for the color effect from this home-improvement article. What you want to do is paint one side of the acrylic the same color as the MDF. The painted side will then be affixed to the MDF using clear silicone caulk. When it's done, the unpainted side will appear glossy and bright.

I recommend using a conservative amount of silicone with a slight amount of weight applied while it's curing. I used a lot of silicone and also weighted the acrylic with quite a few books. When the weight was removed, the acrylic rebounded slightly, resulting in a few chips in the paint. Annoying, but not very noticeable. Anyway, I don't think a lot of adhesive and weight are necessary.

At this point your display island should be complete. The only question is: What do you display on it?

C'mon, you're a Star Wars collector with a big collection. You're basically a hoarder who gets things graded. I'm sure you'll figure something out.

In my case, I used the island to highlight one of the largest items in my collection, the piece of art I wrote about here.

A good idea in theory, but more difficult to realize than you might imagine. I asked a few folks in my area if they could build a rig that would hold the art upright on the island. No dice. Most seemed to think the idea was maybe a little wacky.

Okay, I guess the idea was kind of wacky. Still, I couldn't get the idea out of my head. I needed to see that art on top of the island!

So I was happy that, when I mentioned the idea to my friend Tom Derby, he immediately said, "Oh, that's easy. We'll build a case. Just let me know when you want to pick it up." No hesitation or anything. Awesome!

But Tom is in Atlanta. I'm in New York. That's a two-day trip each way by car. I gotta pick this thing up and haul it back.

Luckily, I was able to con some friends into chauffeuring me down there. My feet up the whole way, like I was Richie Rich or something. I even conned some other friends into meeting us at Tom's. And then I conned Tom into taking us out to dinner. Man, what a racket!

I'm maybe 30% joking.

I had a great time driving down with Chris and Stephanie Riehle. We spent a couple of nights with Chris and Sharon Georgoulias, and we got to see several collections and lots of friends. We even crashed a meeting of the Georgia Alliance of Star Wars Collectors that was hosted at the home of Narayan Naik. Great people.

Here you see Tom and the Chrises calculating what it'll take to safely pack this beastly case.

Chris G. is an engineer and Chris R. builds stuff, so best not to get in their way while they're measuring crap. Best to just sit back and sip a wine cooler while taking photos of everyone else doing the work.

In the photo, you can see that Stephanie is marveling at my ability to get people to do stuff for me.

Geez, we kinda got sidetracked, didn't we? This was supposed to be a blog post about building an island to display your Funko Pops, and I've gone and turned it into some kind of personal reminiscence combined with a primer on how to exploit your friends.

Whatever. It's not like your time is worth wasting.

What would you be doing if you weren't reading this, writing fan mail to the Knights of Ren?

I suppose the only way to end this post is with a photo of the final result. I'm pretty happy with it.

Good luck building your island.