Friday, December 21, 2018

Tentacles of a Pilgrim Girl: The Patent DNA of Bib Fortuna

Steve writes:

 By the time Return of the Jedi was well on its way as both a forthcoming summer blockbuster and merchandising extravaganza, the number of Star Wars toy patents filed with the United States Patent & Trademark Office (USPTO) was understandably increasing. As the breadth of new spaceships and creatures exponentially expanded onscreen, so did the ambition of Lucasfilm's and Kenner's upcoming product line.

While licensing laws might not be all that exciting on the whole to most, digging into patent details can provide insights into the history of Star Wars as a simultaneously cinematic and toyetic enterprise. In some cases, it can even offer additional collecting avenues for the most fanatical (or dedicated, depending on your point of view) focus collectors to pursue.

Such is the case with everyone's favorite tentacled majordomo with awful teeth: Bib Fortuna. The patent for the "toy figure" pictured below was filed on September 28th, 1982 with one Philip A. Tippett credited as its Inventor. As was typical, the individual(s) primarily responsible for the design of a character or vehicle were listed as Inventors on the toy patents, connecting behind-the-scenes luminaries like Tippett, Joe Johnston, Ralph McQuarrie, and George Lucas himself to the prospective toy products that would derive from their creations. As owners of the actual intellectual property, Lucasfilm, Ltd. is listed as the Assignee.

While patents for figures from The Empire Strikes Back feature renderings that unmistakably resemble the Kenner toys, the designs for Jedi figures more closely match the characters onscreen or in other instances such as Wicket (who wouldn't be released in action figure form until 1984), are more akin to concept art. As to why that is, I'm not sure. Perhaps the broader scope of products that the characters could be depicted on has something to do with it? Regardless, the patents trace creative and legal processes that eventually brought these action figures and vehicles to the toy aisle. Once an "idea" or design was finished, applying for a patent involved seeking out and referencing prior patented items that may share certain aesthetic qualities or physical characteristics. Lucasfilm and Kenner had a patent law firm (on most of the Jedi era patents, Townsend & Townsend is listed) review and verify the originality of the designs and cite patents for earlier related entries to aid USPTO reviewers.  

Sometimes, such as with Max Rebo and this stuffed toy elephant from 1947, the relationship is logical and quite clear. Rebo's ability to jam on those keys easily set him apart from Dorothy Mason Pierce's Dumbo doppelganger. With Bib Fortuna, however, the correlations are much more obscure and subtle. Three items are referenced on his patent dating back to the 1920s. Inspired by this thread on the Rebelscum Forums, Fortuna focus collector Phidias Barrios set out to track them all down.

First on the list was an ornamental flower holder with a patent filed in 1926 by R. Guy Cowan of Lakewood, Ohio, presumably referenced for the similarities in robe styles between those of the elegant female figure of the vase and the "gruesome looking, low-life creature" that is Bib Fortuna.

Next was another item along the same lines in terms of robe parallels. The patent for this Seminole doll was filed by Royal W. and Josephine A. Gudgen of Fort Lauderdale, Florida in 1932. While completely unrelated conceptually, the layering of the garments in each design is strikingly alike, especially when looking at the actual doll and Bib's patent side by side.

Finally, and perhaps most bizarre, a patent filed in 1943 by Ruth P. Grams of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania for this Pilgrim girl doll was cited in Bib's USPTO filing. At first glance, these two objects and the characters they represent could not be less affiliated with one another. But upon closer inspection, one could surmise that the Pilgrim girl's braided locks sort of resemble our majordomo's slimy head tentacles. (As an aside, the word "majordomo" really needs to be used more often). These patent lawyers must really need to be in a strange state of mind to establish these abstract visual tangents.

That said, it can be argued that focus collecting is a strange state of mind, too. Phidias was remarkably successful in his quest to bring together these peculiar and seemingly unrelated items using so-phisticated searching techniques to extract the preserved relics from eBay Bib Fortuna DNA. It's a testament to his ingenuity and resourcefulness as a collector.

Monday, December 17, 2018

Was This Art Intended for a Kenner Store Display?

Ron writes:

 One of my favorite pieces of Kenner art was discovered by legendary Cincinnati-area collector Steve Denny. It's a large, action-packed piece showing a battle between the Rebels and Imperials on the forest moon of Endor. As mentioned by Steve in an interview conducted by Kenner Collector, the piece originated with the individual from whom Steve acquired his enormous trove of proof cards -- the trove that is the source of the majority of proof cards that exist today.

Years ago I speculated, in this SWCA database entry, that the art represents an unused alternate or second side of the large store display header, issued in 1984, depicting the space battle surrounding the second Death Star.

Since I recently got the opportunity to examine the art up close, I thought it would be fun to put this theory to the test by comparing it side-by-side with the store display.

You may have already noticed the similarity in the look and placement of the ROTJ logos. Here they are together, the art on top and the display on the bottom. The former is a piece of printed paper that was affixed to the painting; over time, the adhesive used to set it in place has bled through the surface, causing some discoloration. But even so I think it's pretty obvious that they are very similar, right down to the "reflections" present in the "racetracks" delineating their perimeters.

These faux reflections are, as far as I an tell, fairly unique; they don't exactly match those present in the logos featured on production carded figures.

What does that prove? Well, not a whole lot, but it's fairly interesting. I think it's hard to deny that the logos used on these items derive from the same source graphic.

Stylistically, the two pieces are fairly similar. The artist seems to have favored a rather dry paint application, with tight details layered on top of careful underpainting. And, of course, he's taken care to depict the Kenner toys.

In fact, it's very clear that the vehicles and implements depicted in both works are based on Kenner products rather than on the props used in the films. On the display, that is obviously the Kenner Millennium Falcon, not an ILM effects model. Similarly, it's hard to mistake the Scout Walker featured on the artwork for anything but the Kenner toy; it even features those rails attached to the back of the "legs," which facilitated the toy's action feature.

From the evidence of the toys included on the artwork we can reasonably date it to 1983 or early 1984.

The Scout Walker, Speeder Bike, Ewok Village, Ewok Assault Catapult, and Ewok Combat Glider all debuted in 1983. And, with one exception, the ROTJ characters depicted on the piece were released as action figures in 1983: Luke as a Jedi Knight, the Biker Scout, and the Rebel Commando.

The exception concerns the Ewoks. If I'm not mistaken, that's Teebo visible in the above detail. Teebo was released in 1984. The only other Ewok that suggests an action figure is the one standing behind C-3PO. I believe that's Chief Chirpa, released as an action figure in 1983.

The mix of 1984 and pre-1984 products recalls that featured on the store display. The display shows the Y-Wing, Kenner's big vehicle release of 1983, alongside pre-existing products like the Falcon and two from 1984: the B-Wing Fighter and TIE Interceptor. That makes a lot of sense, as the display was released in 1984.

You're probably asking yourself, "Well, Princess Leia in Combat Poncho and Han Solo in Trench Coat were released in 1984, and they're explicitly Endor-related figures. Why aren't they featured on the artwork, Mr. Smartypants?" It's hard to say with any certainty. Maybe Han and Leia are making out behind a tree somewhere? Or perhaps the designs of those figures weren't finalized at the time the piece was created?

Regardless, I feel confident in identifying that one Ewok as Teebo, and Teebo debuted in 1984.

Obviously, Luke is wearing his black Jedi outfit because the Battle Poncho figure wasn't released until 1985, and probably wasn't even on the drawing board at the time the painting was made.

Before I move on to size comparisons, I'd like to point out that the explosions featured on both items are pretty similar.

The painting displays greater resolution and texture, because, well, it's a painting and not a printed copy of a painting. But I think it's pretty obvious that the explosion elements were created using a similar technique of painting.

Okay, how do the two items compare in terms of size?

Above you see both items. Obviously, the art is larger. Still, both pieces exhibit a similar length-to-height ratio.

Here is the display laid on top of the art. Again, I think you can see that, although the art is larger, the two pieces have strikingly similar formats.

Now, there's no requirement that art used to generate a store display be exactly the size of the intended display. Often, Kenner artists worked in an exaggerated size, and their pieces were scaled down for production. For proof of this, see the piece discussed here.

Still, it's a little annoying that the art and display aren't exactly the same size. If they were,  I'd be pretty convinced that the two items are related.

Alas, the graphical area of the art measures 50 inches by 26 inches, whereas the display is 45 inches by 24 inches. A considerable difference.

Wait a second, though. If you haven't noticed, the board supporting the art features lines drawn at each corner. Presumably, these define the areas of the piece that would eventually be reproduced. In other words, everything outside of those lines was in the bleed area, meaning those areas shouldn't be factored into our measurements.

Measuring the portions of the art within those lines, we get 48 inches by 24 inches.

Still a bit off of 45 by 24. Rats.

Something about this didn't sit right with me.

Frankly, I was a little surprised to discover that the store display was a measly 45 inches long. I'd always considered it a four-footer. 

When I took a look at Kenner's 1984 Pre-Toy Fair Catalog, I realized why: Kenner advertised it as being four feet in length, providing an overall size of 48 inches by 28 inches.

So the length as originally advertised was the same as the length of the usable area of the art.


But what about that advertised height of 28 inches?

Honestly, I don't know. At first I thought the 28 inches included the mounting tabs attached to the display's bottom. But when those are included, the height of the display exceeds 28 inches.

Also, the dimensions given in the catalog for the ROTJ foil display header don't appear to factor in the mounting tab. Why would the dimensions of the "four-foot" header include the tabs when the dimensions of the foil header don't?

I'm stumped.

The bottom line is that the dimensions given in the catalog are wrong where the "four-foot" display is concerned. It's not 48 by 28, it's 45 by 24.

Why did Kenner advertise the display as being larger than it actually is? Certainly, it's possible that the display was scaled down for some reason. But if that is what happened, the scaling wasn't proportional.

If it was scaled down from the dimensions listed in the catalog, 48 by 28, three inches were subtracted from the length, and four were subtracted from the height.

If it was scaled down from the dimensions of the usable area of the art, 48 by 24, three inches were subtracted from the length, and none were subtracted from the height.

To get our art down to 45 inches in length, while retaining the 24-inch height, it would have to be cropped on the left and right side at points inside the bleed lines inscribed in its border.

According to Steve, the art was utilized at Toy Fair; that's what he was told by the person from whom it was acquired. Unfortunately, no photos from Toy Fair have surfaced that show the artwork in the New York showroom. But that doesn't mean it wasn't used in that capacity. If anyone finds a photo of it in use at Toy Fair, please let me know.

Eventual usage aside, was it originally created with a store display in mind?

We may never know for sure, but, as I've tried to express in this post, I think there's at least some evidence to suggest just that. I even think it's possible that the "four-foot" ROTJ header was originally intended to feature unique art on each of its sides. An earlier Empire Strikes Back display boasted a two-image format; even the "Collect All 79" display, released in the same year as the ROTJ header, featured two unique sides.

But I'm not totally convinced, as not all the measurements add up.

What do you think?

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

'Chive Cast Blog Log Pod Episode 9 - Anatomy of a Grail OR Joseph Y. and the Quest for the Uzay Mock-Up

What is a grail? Is there a definition? What about so-called "Grail Inflation?" Is it about the objective rarity, or, about the subjective desire? Either way, Joe Yglesias’s most recent purchase of a Bootleg Uzay Mock-Up Prototype Hoth Troopie qualifies. He tells the 20 YEAR story of its discovery and purchase.

For the first time, the blog logged by the Blog Log Pod is being released simultaneously with the episode, so here is the entire package. Be sure to check out Joe's full post with photos below!

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00:56  Intro to Switzerland
02:55  Brick Through Joe’s Window
06:03  The Archive Grail Classification System Explained
09:21  The Archive Grail Classification System Illustrated with Chewbacca
12:50  What is the prototype Mock-Up bootleg Uzay Hoth Trooper?
17:14  Lev brings the trail out of Turkey
19:43  Lee buys it from Lev…who is Lee?
20:58  The time Joe traded a Rocket Fett for a Head Man
26:57  The grail makes its first magazine appearance in 1999
27:46  Who is Tom Derby and how did he help get the grail to Joe
33:42  Outro to Switzerland

Joseph Y. writes:

Let me preface this by saying that I feel the term "Grail" is widely overused in the collecting world. Too often it's used to describe items that are readily available, but the person fawning for them is either unwilling or unable to spend the money that the item is selling for. My opinion may not match that of the Archive staff or readers, but that’s where I stand on the overuse of that term.

Now that I've stated my opinion on the misuse of that buzz word in the hobby... let us get on with our quest for a true hobby grail: The mock-up early logo Uzay Hoth Stormtrooper. To a bootleg collector, this piece is the equivalent of the kit-bashed Fett surfacing, in terms of its significance. This quest and its end show that determination, networking (friends), as well having the money when it's needed are all essential to achieve long term goals in this hobby. Not just a combination of 2 of the 3.

The mock-up Uzay card, made in the early stages of the process at SB Products, has a full Star Wars logo and all of the characters names on the back are spelled correctly. Surely the reason the produced cards were changed and given the “Uzay Savascilari” (meaning "Space War") and “StarsWar” logos was to attempt avoid the long arm of LFL and copyright laws. It is a sole survivor from the factory that was bought out in the early 90s by toy dealer Lev from Toy Tokyo. In his travels he went to Turkey and purchased every figure related piece they had, including the mock-up, and brought them back to America. Lev's involvement in importing these pieces accounts for at least 2/3 of the carded Uzay figures known to exist in collections today.

My portion of this story, along with my obsession with bootleg Star Wars starts in the 90s: I'd started collecting Uzay figures, as well as other bootleg figures starting in '94. My first 2 carded Uzays were the Imperial Gunner with his amazing calculator as a computer console, very shortly followed by a carded Blue Stars.

I was using the old Lee's Action Figure News article as my guide to what was out there, and what to look for, as there was limited documentation available otherwise. In 1998 or 1999 I had the chance to acquire a carded Uzay Head Man -- only one known to still exist at that time -- to finish my basic set of Uzay carded. It cost me my J-slot rocket Fett as it was a trade deal. A trade that I've never once second guessed or regretted in any way. Then in late '99 I see in AFN's "Rare Toy Showcase" this Uzay Hoth Stromtrooper that doesn’t match any other known Uzays. No Uzay logo on the front, same photo art as the production one, with the banner “Action Mechanic Robotics” in the lower right corner. It captivates me.

I end up getting Lenny’s (Lenny Lee from Lee's Action Figure News magazine) email from a friend. I email and attempt to buy it, and am met with silence. When Lenny Lee brokers his Uzay set through Tom Derby, it's not among the offered items. It was sold to an off the radar collector.

Distracted with my other bootleg hunting for a bit, the piece slides to the back of my mind. My bootleg collection grows, and then I start asking around about the piece again in the mid 2000s. I'm given a list of the people that it may have gone to. ALL dead ends and no progress made.

On and off I have spent the last 20 years hunting for this piece. It has become my holy grail and white whale all rolled up into one. For years, Tom Derby was helping dig around to see if he could turn up who had it. He found hi-res pics that Lenny had him take of the piece. But no clue as to who the current owner was. Every lead was exhausted at that point.

Rumblings of another collector having found the owner of the mock-up began to surface, with him emailing me and claiming to be in negotiations to purchase it starting about 3 years ago, which turned out to be false. They gave me false hope that the piece at least having survived, as well as potential for me to acquire it as at the same time I had started talking to a person that also claimed to be the owner. The pics they sent looked legit, but communications were sporadic at best and fueled by the moody nature of the person claiming to be the owner. That false lead was just that. It was disheartening and disappointing to the point that I had pretty much resigned myself to believing that the Uzay mock-up was lost to time. Perhaps it was sitting, forgotten about in storage or lost to disaster.

Then in June of this year (2018), I get the text from Tom Derby that made my heart almost jump out of my chest... it was out of the blue and simply read "I found the prototype Uzay." Discussions were had over the next few weeks, prices were hammered out and solidified. A brief moment of worry about the money to make it happen was shushed by my girlfriend's insistence that I just push forward and get it...Once a price was agreed on, I started to look at what I could sell to get the money together quickly. In early July I sold an equally iconic and grail-worthy piece to get most of the money to buy this amazing and illusive piece: the steel injection molds for the Uzay Chewbacca figure. With the mock-up mostly paid for, I had to wait until I could take some time away from work to go pick it up. I had originally planned on a fall road trip down to get it, but my schedule did not allow for that. Anxious to finally have it in my possession, I finally booked a flight and picked it up just last week.

The unreleased version of what the Uzay card back could have looked like had they not changed it is finally in my collection. This quest is finished. No more lost sleep. I breathe a sigh of relief now that it’s home safe and sound. Now onto some of the other vintage bootleg items that I know were produced, but no examples of them have surfaced yet. No rest for those with the collector gene in our DNA. Thank you to: Thomas Derby of CIB. Without your help from day one, this piece would not be resting in Mos Yglesias.