Monday, February 13, 2017

A Fistful of Toys

Conceived and used with the permission of Matthew Constantine and Brad Gullickson, the original dorks 

Everyone has a “Top 5.”  But Brad and Matt, along with fellow dorks, Darren, Lisa, and Bryan, choose to walk a different path, and amended that to “A Fistful…” with their blog and podcast, In the Mouth of Dorkness.  Topics range from “Heroic Kids” to “Spies” to “Summer Movies” to “Punches” to all things in between.  Always fun, often insightful, and something I have regularly pilfered for Warrior27.  As they say:  If you’re going to steal, steal from those you know relatively well, who will not sue you.

In the Dorks’ latest fistful they offered up their top 5 toys.  Being a film-centric podcast, the choices leaned heavily toward toys utilized in movies, though there were also toys from their childhoods interspersed among the various fistfuls.  It was, no surprise, a great episode, with all dorks on point—great choices, great one-liners, great off-color jokes that kept a smile on my face throughout the whole thing.  Check it out here:   

For my own fistful of toys, though, it’s all about the toys I had as a kid.  This list could easily—like so many reminiscences of my childhood—end up being filled with Star Wars toys, but that wouldn’t be all that fun (maybe I’ll save that for a later Fistful).  Variety is the spice of life (1 point for hoary cliché), and I try, if nothing else, to make these lists interesting.  But, enough preamble, let’s get to it. 

5. Matchbox cars

Matchbox cars hold a special place in my memories.  My first collection (followed by Star Wars, comic books, Tolkien books, Sandman by Gaiman, etc. etc.), it all began when Granddad would take me downtown to Newberry’s or across the river to Hyslop’s (in Canada) to buy me a Matchbox car.  The collection quickly grew, and once he passed away, I didn’t stop, amassing dozens of these little metal cars and trucks, most of which I still have today. 
One of the favorite things to do with my Matchboxes was to play smash-up derby.  My friends would come over, and each of us would choose 20 cars for our respective teams.  The point was to take one car each and, from across the room, whip them toward the center where they would hopefully smash into each other, toppling one or both—the streamlined race cars with front ends low to the ground were good for getting under the other vehicles, but some of the dump trucks were more stable, making them difficult to topple; there was a lot of strategy involved in the choosing of one’s cars.  Whichever vehicle ended up on its side or top, as long as the other car remained on its wheels, went to the other player.  Working through our teams, a winner was declared when the other person lost all their Matchbox cars.  It was a blast!

4. Wild West Fort

This thing was low-tech, and I loved it.  You had to put it all together, clipping the fence pieces in place without busting off the points where they attached, then set out the soldiers and the American Indians—some of which were bow-legged with little nubs on the insides of their ankles so they could sit atop the horses that came with it—and then… attack!  Hours of fun ensued—months’ worth of hours, and it was always magical.  Unless you had one of these (and are old enough not to have so many electronics at your disposal), you are probably looking at this picture and wondering what is wrong with me.  Ah, well, that’s your loss.  Sorry. 

3. Evel Knievel

I was born in ’72.  Evel Knievel was huge in the 70s, and early 80s, a real-life superhero who challenged death and lived to tell about it—launching his rocket cycle across the Snake River Canyon, jumping 13 buses at Wembley Stadium, going fast enough to reach escape velocity of the Earth (that last one…not real, but it was probably something that crossed children’s minds).  I expect I saw Knievel on ABC’s Wide World of Sports (another nostalgic throwback to my youth, which includes features on Muhammad Ali and the Harlem Globetrotters), and like many children, I was enamored.  So, with the advent of the Evel Knievel Stunt Cycle, I had to have that.  Spinning the big white wheel would rev up the engine, then you’d hit the switch and release Knievel, to race across the floor, or stumble through your backyard.  I’m sure it did not live up to the commercials, but that didn’t matter.  It was still a blast.

2. Six Million Dollar Man

The Six Million Dollar Man was a favorite TV show, and the best Lee Majors television role, period (and, yes, I’m including Fall Guy and Big Valley in the discussion [insert smile emoji]).  So, of course, I wanted to have the doll (*ahem*, I mean action figure).  With bionic limbs and a bionic eye—which you could look through by putting your own eye to the hole in the back of Steve Austin’s skull—this toy was…amazingly simple.  Like all the other toys on this list, it was very low-tech, which meant your imagination had to do the heavy lifting when you were playing.  No problem.  “We have the technology” was the prime directive when running around the back yard with the Six Million Dollar Man. 

1. Death Star

It all comes back to Star Wars.  And the Death Star playset was the pinnacle of all Star Wars toys (one could argue that the U.S.S. Flagg from G.I. Joe may be the mother of all playsets, but I was in that limbo between being a kid buying toys and being an adult buying toys—the point, as a teenager, where one is “too cool” for toys—during the Yo Joe craze and missed out…though I did have a handful of the figures).  With four levels, an elevator that could take you to each floor, a trash compactor (accessed through a trap door in the floor) with “trash” and a dianoga (now we knew what it sort of looked like), the cannon at the top (which popped out of its housing when the rebels stuffed a proton torpedo down the nearest exhaust port), a precipice where Obi-Wan could deactivate the tractor beam, and a retractable bridge that revealed a chasm over which Luke and Leia had to swing, this set had it all.  Simply add action figures, preferably Star Wars but any roughly 4-inch figures would suffice, and you had a wealth of fun possibilities before you.  The Death Star—the best Star Wars toy they made. 
And, for bonus points, if you lived in Canada—or right on the border, as my best friend and I did—you could get the Canadian version of the Death Star, a completely different setup that offered just as much fun.  Check it out below. 

So, the top 5 toys of my youth.  There are plenty of others deserving of honorable mentions.  But I think I’ll share that in a different post, soonish.  Now, what are yours?  Drop them into the comments and tell me why I might be wrong, or maybe not as right as I believed.  And thanks for reading. 


Saturday, December 24, 2016

2016 Advent Calendar --- day 24

This online Advent Calendar has been all about injecting positivity into the online world, utilizing things that make me happy.  And on this final day, what is it that makes me happiest?

My boys, who really are the center of my universe.  

Friday, December 23, 2016

2016 Advent Calendar --- day 23

Another collection of classic comic book covers.  This time I chose covers of comic collections.

My favorite superhero story, with the most beautiful superhero art of any comic, by David Mazzucchelli.  And this cover just epitomized the simple beauty of his linework. 

THE classic X-Men story, with a cover from Bill Sienkiewicz.  Come on.

A painted George Perez cover. I love the design of this cover, as well as Perez's sharp linework. Great

Dave McKean's covers for Sandman are breathtaking.  And each of the collections has its own distinct feel.  I went with "The Wake" because I love the metaphorical image the centers it all.  

Scott Morse is one of my all-time favorite comic creators.  Soulwind is his magnum opus.  As with Watchmen, I really loved the design of the covers for the five books of Soulwind--simple but elegant.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

2016 Advent Calendar --- day 22

My favorite Christmas special.  Christmas Eve on Sesame Street.  I watch it every year, and it is still as magical as it was when I was only 5 years old.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

2016 Advent Calendar --- day 21

This Advent Calendar has been an exercise in infusing the online world with a bit of cheer and positivity---posting images and stories and memories that make me happy.

Claude Monet is my favorite classical artist.  His use of color and the way images form from his myriad brush strokes is something I find breath taking.  I was overjoyed to be able to see, firsthand, a few of his paintings in the National Gallery of Art, in Washington D.C., when I visited there ten years ago.  Truly amazing.


Tuesday, December 20, 2016

2016 Advent Calendar --- day 20

Miracle on 34th Street.  Easily my favorite Christmas film of all time.  Grounded in a reality where Santa Claus is real, and is proven so in a legal battle on Christmas Eve in New York City.
It holds a special spot because I love the magic of this story so much.  


Monday, December 19, 2016

2016 Advent Calendar --- day 19

This Advent Calendar is about infusing more joy into the online world, during this holiday season.

Christmas is my favorite time of the year, and decorating for the holidays one of my most anticipated activities.  Here's our house, in Hampden, Maine.  The snow adds so much.  I wouldn't have it any other way.


Sunday, December 18, 2016

2016 Advent Calendar --- day 18

If you're curious what this "Advent Calendar" is all about, check out the preamble here.

This image, with this quote, epitomizes Superman.  Beautiful. 


Saturday, December 17, 2016

2016 Advent Calendar --- day 17

Alan Moore is one of my all-time favorite writers.  His second novel, JERUSALEM, was recently published and clocks in at over 1200 pages.  There's very little of his work that I haven't enjoyed or appreciated, and much of it I have loved.  I'm saving this as a reward for when I finish the first draft of "the crime novel."  A bit of inspiration, you might say.  I'm happy this is out in the world, now, and excited to read it.  

Friday, December 16, 2016

2016 Advent Calendar --- day 16

Another Friday, with another fistful of comic book covers for this Advent Calendar.

An all-time favorite comic series, from my childhood of the 80s, with an iconic Luke McDonnell image of Deadshot, who became a huge hit thanks to Suicide Squad.  

One of the comic series that announced to the world that "comics weren't just for kids, anymore."  The simplicity of this cover is what makes it so amazing. Art by Miller, color by Varley.

Walt Simonson on Thor.  'nuff said.

Don Lomax's Vietnam Journal is a touchstone comic book series, for me.  I've written about it recently.  Search on Vietnam Journal, then seek out the collected editions for these. Amazing.

Not just an iconic image, but an iconic cover design (the title goes up the side?!?).  I spent a year analyzing Moore & Gibbons's Watchmen.  If you've read it, you might give that a try.  If not, this needs to be the next thing on your to-read list.  A defining work from two legends.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

2016 Advent Calendar --- day 15

This Advent Calendar has been about injecting more fun/happiness/enjoyment into the online world.  So...

The "Criminal" podcast is pretty great.  As it states in the title, host Phoebe Judge shares stories around the theme of crime and criminality, but these are not your typical crime stories.  Episode #15, was a particular highlight, about how one man in an Oakland neighborhood changed where he lived for the better just by placing a 2-ft. stone Buddha on a median in the neighborhood.  It's a pretty amazing story.  You should check it out. 


Wednesday, December 14, 2016

2016 Advent Calendar --- day 14

With the cold weather finally landing, here in Maine, this is something truly important, for this time of year.  A coat that doubles as a sleeping bag, to help the homeless better survive their plight.  Learn more about it here:

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

2016 Advent Calendar --- day 13

The first author whose work I fell in love with was J.R.R. Tolkien, and his works still resonate strongly with me, almost 40 years after first being introduced to them.  It was only later that I discovered he was a pretty great artist as well.  So, for day 13, some examples of Professor Tolkien's art.

Monday, December 12, 2016

2016 Advent Calendar --- day 12

One of my favorite comic artists -- and artists, period -- Frank Santoro.

Seek his work out.  I don't think you'd be disappointed.