Monday, May 13, 2019

I FOUND YOU: The Dream We All Had

Skye writes:

 The DREAM. You know the dream. We’ve all had the dream. The one where you walk into an old toy store that is filled floor to ceiling with vintage toys. The one where you discover a room filled with factory overstock. The dream from which you hate to wake.

 What if you could recreate that dream? Let’s go even further, what if you could recreate the experience of dreaming that dream.

Montreal based artist Eric Bond has tried to do just that with his astonishing, befuddling and not-a-little-bit disturbing video series entitled “I Found You.” His dreamscape is made entirely in miniature and with painstaking detail. Star Wars toys, Nintendo games, cereal boxes, GI Joe playsets, comics… the entire pop culture menagerie of a child of the 80s and of the middle-aged collector of the 2000s is reproduced, destroyed, submerged and lit with a sickly neon glow.

These works are clearly and overtly inspired by Vaporwave, a recent genre of music that takes 1980s cheesy pop and distorts it to the point of grotesquery. This is usually paired with visuals of 1980s Mall consumer culture. When listening to this music you feel the warmth of nostalgia in your bones, but also sick to your stomach as you are stuck in an uncanny recreation of a disappearing culture. Here's a great compilation of Vaporwave to familiarize yourself with the genre.

Bond’s art works on the similar nightmare/dream aspect of Vaporwave, but he deals exclusively in the memories and artifacts of 1980s youth culture. Take a look at the photos in this gallery, or better yet, check out these videos:

I’ve seen these in person, and it is unbelievable the amount of work that has gone into this. Each recreation is an object of art, yet he is not afraid to deform his work and to make it ugly. He easily could have made a toy store from 1983 and lit it well. It would have been spectacular and frankly, would have received more attention and admiration from a larger public. But that would have been a mere trick, and this has realized aspirations to art and an individual’s artistic vision. He is not recreating our youth, he is recreating our youth as it is recreated in our subconscious.

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

'Chive Cast Blog Log Pod Episode 11 - Protomold Fudge

What is a Protomold? How is it different from a Hardcopy? How was it made? Who made it? So many questions and amazing amounts of answers coming from Ben Sheehan, who just wrote the blog post about. Ron Salvatore joins to add his prototype knowledge, Steve keeps it on the rails, and Skye talks about his mom's underpants. In other's a typical 'Chive Cast!

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Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Polish Figures and Jakub Burzyński's "Far Far Away"

Ron writes:

 Bootleg action figures from Poland were among the first items I can recall being wowed by on the Star Wars Collectors Archive.

Actually, I don't think they were even considered Polish at that time; all anyone knew was that they were weird and ugly.

Here's an old entry by Chris Georgoulias. Somehow, the internet has preserved it for decades, along with countless other crazy things, like "you've released the fooking fury," Selleck Waterfall Sandwich, and that dodgy Limp Bizkit fansite you made using GeoCities after Becky dumped you and went to Lollapalooza with some guy named Chad.

Those old SWCA entries were my introduction to Polish bootlegs. I was immediately smitten, especially so in the case of the crazy Princess Leia with AT-AT Driver limbs and silver star puffs hairdo.

By that way, that last link leads to a later entry written by yours truly. I'd forgotten that I'd described that Leia figure as Blue Snaggletooth's prom date. Funny.

As a collector, I've always been drawn to novelty. Here was an area of collecting that was wholly mysterious! In the '90s, only a few collectors in the States owned examples of these figures, and almost no one knew their full story. Seeing them was exciting. It opened a door.

Somewhat weirdly, it wasn't long before I had the opportunity to purchase all of the figures that I'd seen on the SWCA. The man who owned them was selling large portions of his collection. Of course, I jumped at the opportunity. I recall paying about $20 each for them. When I proudly told a collecting friend of this, he looked at me in horror. Twenty bucks a pop for those dire things? He thought I got robbed.

Maybe I did get robbed. At the time, you could buy many carded figures for $20. But it seemed worth it to me to own something obscure. And I already had a bunch of carded figures.
Well, flash forward 20 or so years, and Polish figures have ceased to be obscure. They're an accepted part of the hobby; some collectors even focus on them. For this we can thank collectors like Joseph Yglesias and John Alvarez, who continued gathering information on these figures long after I'd grown too lazy to keep up. In fact, I traded a good portion of my material -- which had come to include a couple of very rare carded examples -- to Joseph sometime in the early 2000s. I sort of regret it. I got some very nice things in trade, though.

Fortunately, I still have some relics of those days.

Here you see the original photographs that were featured on the Archive. They're dated February of 1994.

And here are two of the ziplock baggies in which they came to me. I love the little stickers reading "RARE." Such melodrama!

Finally, here's the box in which all the bagged figures were stored. In case you didn't get the hint, rare figures were inside.

The inside cover even bears a sticker with some Polish text on it.

Anyway, all of this is but an introduction to the real topic of this post: Jakub Burzyński's excellent new book, Far Far Away: A Guide to Unlicensed Vintage Polish Star Wars Action Figures.

As you may have guessed from the title, it's a thoroughly deep dive into the realm of Polish bootlegs. I think it's likely to remain the authoritative source on this area of collecting for the foreseeable future.

Jakub appears to have a gift for organization, as the book is scrupulously structured and logically laid out, with its sections corresponding to different series of Polish bootlegs. Jakub identifies eight such series from the vintage era, ranging from a early articulated Chewbacca (a series consisting of one figure!), to a second and final set of articulated figures, the production of which wound up around 1990. Two additional series are covered in subsequent sections, including one whose figures included capes decorated with bizarre designs.

But as anyone who has any interest in this stuff knows, to collect Polish is to collect variations. There are scads of color variants available within some of the individual series. If you want them all, you need to find the blue, the pink, the green, and so on.

Fortunately, Far Far Away contains a lot of color photography to help you get a handle on what exactly is out there.

There are even sections devoted to non-Star Wars items. My favorite: a Rambo figure that looks something like Phyllis Diller wearing a bandanna and green pants.

Take it from someone who knows a little bit about compiling collecting information: a lot of work went into this project, and we can thank Jakub and his many sponsors and contributors for putting so much effort into a collectibles book that truly does justice to its subject.

Judging by the photos of the author featured at the back of the book, Jakub is a tasteful dude who knows how to rock a velvet jacket. That sense of taste is evident throughout this production. It's easy to appreciate the book as an object. The cover design is simple but striking, featuring Leia as Blue Snaggletooth's prom date on a black background. The exterior of the book has a rubberized texture that makes it feel grippy and thoroughly high-class. And the print quality, paper, and writing are ace from start to finish.

If you're interested in purchasing a copy, you can contact Jakub via his Facebook profile. The price isn't cheap -- but then neither is the product. This is a classic example of the purchaser getting exactly what he pays for.

If you'd like more information, check out Jakub's interview on a recent episode of our podcast.

Friday, April 26, 2019

So, Just What is a Protomold?

Steve writes:

 Recurring guest blogger Ben Sheehan is here to shed some light on the intricacies of protomolds -- a desirable yet often understood vintage action figure prototype stage.

Ben writes:

If you want to see what a confused vintage Star Wars prototype collector looks like, you couldn't do much worse than to ask one to explain exactly what a protomolded action figure is. Better yet, ask them to explain why a protomold even exists.

Chances are, that at some point during the conversation, they’ll wind up stumped.

To be fair, confusion surrounding protomolds has a long and reasonably rich history. From the time they were dubbed “Internal First Shots” by collectors back in the 1990s, or even sold as regular action figures or hardcopies by Kenner employees, they’ve been a touchstone for head scratching in the vintage community (I found this out the hard way in 2000, when a Kenner designer sold me Nikto and Emperor “hardcopies” that were protomolds).

“They’re all hardcopies, it doesn’t matter what they’re made of,” lamented one Kenner designer when asked about the subject. See, even some Kenner people who worked with them aren’t able to easily define exactly what they are.

One thing has been clear: protomolds were used for marketing and sales purposes, in photography, and at presentations by Kenner from early on in the Star Wars line. Loose or carded, they have shown up fairly consistently dating back to nearly the beginning of the Star Wars toy era. How early? Pretty much from the second release of Star Wars action figures in 1978.

The Rocket-firing Boba Fett seen in Kenner imagery and on some store displays (though it looks like original art) is a protomold, for example. Several of the Cantina Creatures have shown up in protomold form as well. There is one release of figures during ESB that seems to be a protomold free zone: no known examples exist for the first 11 new figures released in 1980.

By and large though, they have been discovered for every other release, right through to the end of the line in 1985.

So what are they exactly -- these off-white, injection-molded prototypes, that will sometimes show up in hybrid form with unusually light resin, dynacast and carbalon torsos or heads?

Many people know the answer to that question, they’re in house, Kenner-made samples shot in low-yield (designed to have a limited lifespan) molds, under less pressure, on smaller injection molding machines. 
While the molds they’re made in are often referred to as ‘aluminum,’ protomold action figures were cast, and then injection molded in Kirksite — a proprietary mix of aluminum and zinc. Only protomolded vehicles were shot from aluminium mold cavities, according to Kenner Tooling Engineers.
But why did Kenner go to all the trouble of doing this, when these same prototypes could be made early using the silicone molds that produced tooling hardcopies? Why bother with creating a set of molds, instead of just pouring and casting multiple resin pieces?

The answer to that question is time.

In the toy manufacturing process, time is money. Lots of money. It’s a relatively long and messy process to make hardcopies, particularly multiple examples. It’s not just a case of mixing up a batch of resin, pouring it into a mold, then waiting a few hours for each example to cure. Kenner’s sculpting staff, who were initially responsible for making hardcopies, almost right to the end of Empire, had a lot to do already, and by their own admission, weren’t very good (for the most part) at making them.

It often took multiple attempts to make a single example, and by the time they’d gotten around to making enough for every Kenner department that needed one, productivity had slowed to a crawl.

Tooling needed one. So did sales, marketing and packaging. The model shop needed at least one, and the molds to make their own. Then you had trade shows or presentations, international sister companies, and foreign tooling vendors who wanted them.

Really though, the only people who “needed” a hardcopy, were the tooling vendors themselves. Everyone who wasn’t cutting molds could get by with a rougher facsimile of a hardcopy (even though hardcopies were great for most any purpose they were used for).

A quickly machined and relatively soft Kirksite mold could quickly crank out a dozen or more prototype figures that were ready for use the same day. Better still, the whole process could take place inside Kenner, who had been set up for rapid prototyping well before Star Wars arrived. Better again, protomolds didn’t break easily.

And it took just one hardcopy to create Kirksite tooling for as many protomolds as Sales, Marketing, and other departments required (just to hammer the point home, only a hard resin hardcopy is suitable to produce tooling for production or prototyping -- they are unique in this respect).

So why are protomolds constructed differently sometimes?

Protomolds are fairly easy to identify. They’re hand painted (only a handful of unpainted examples have been found), with both the final production plastic color and detail added using paint or an air-brush. They don’t have peg holes in their feet (with maybe one exception), and will be a variation of the same milky white color. Often the heads will be pinned using a plastic rod molded into it, though not always. In the case of 8D8, the limbs are attached this way as well. Some ESB (TIE Pilot, Leia Hoth, Rebel Commander) and ROTJ figures have resin torsos made out of carbalon, dynacast, or lightweight resin (Black Bespin Guard and Nikto has shown up with this construction). Luke Jedi is found with an alternate dynacast hardcopy head.

There are a variety of reasons for these differences. Most, I believe, relate to revisions done by sculpting or tooling. In some cases though, things were done in the way that would provide an end product as quickly as possible.

Part of the confusion about protomolds stems from the fact that a lot of figures that aren’t protomolds are claimed as such by their owners. One might argue, “my first shot action figure is different to production, and you can tell that the mold was changed prior to release. The plastic is also different to production. It’s all ABS, with no PVC. Or it’s molded in white, or another color, so I guess it’s a protomold too right?”

Sadly no, it’s not -- particularly if it’s from the "First 12" release. But then that’s a topic for another blog post.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

'Chive Cast 98 - 'Chive Cast vs. The Filthy Patch Traders

Hear Skye and Steve live from the Collectors Social Lounge podcast stage and from the show floor of Celebration Chicago 2019. We talk about the Archive Party, C-3POs eating competition, the Archive's Collecting Track panel, grooming Wookiees, buying lobby cards and interview Derby, Salvatore, Lev, Warren and our very own Grammy Daddy. All this and some iffy sound quality on the 98th Vintage Pod.

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02:10 – Jasper Nixon Returns
05:56 – Archive Party IV Recap
09:31 – C-3POs Eating Competitions
12:07 – Positivity and mending rifts
14:09 – Talk about the Panel
16:15 – Skye’s Big Purchase of a Plush Display
23:43 – Steve’s Lobby Cards
27:40 – Canadian Paploo
30:50 – Anthony “Grammy Daddy” Spinnickie announces contest winners
34:45 – Ron Salvatore Hates Star Wars (and the podcast)
39:30 – The Rocket Fett
40:56 – Tom Derby joins the show briefly
46:33 – Bruce White Talks Leia
49:21 – Jasper from the Show Floor
50:51 – Interview with Lev (from Toy Tokyo) about his last Uzay
53:04 – Warren Tells a happy tale
56:17 – Skye Meets the New Chewbacca