Sunday 17 December 2017

Skeezix at the Military Acacemy Big Little Book

The Big Little Books were small, compact books designed with an illustration opposite each page of text. First published during 1932 by the Whitman Publishing Company of Racine, Wisconsin, Big Little Books were typically 3⅝″ wide and 4½″ high, and approximately of 1½″ thick. The interior book design usually displayed full-page black-and-white captioned illustrations on the right-hand page, facing the pages of text on the left. The first Big Little Books, The Adventures of Dick Tracy, came off the presses just before Christmas in 1932 and preceded the first true comic book by a year. Rapid sales of the books through the five-and-dime chains led to the quick creation of other titles. The books were produced at a rate of about six titles per month. Initially priced at 10¢ each, Big Little Books were related to radio programs, children's books, novels, movies, and, as is the case with the example shown above, comic strips. Subsequent Big Little Books production spanned more than a half century.

Gasoline Alley, a comic strip created by Frank King, was first published November 24, 1918. The strip received critical accolades for its influential innovations, inventive color and page design concepts, and the introduction of real-time continuity to comic strips. One notable example of this was the arrival of baby Skeezix on February 14, 1921, when main character Walt Wallet found a baby abandoned on his doorstep. That was the day Gasoline Alley entered history as the first comic strip in which the characters aged normally. As such, when this Big Little Book was published in 1938 by Whitman Publishing, “baby” Skeezix was now old enough to attend the military academy! Mid-1938 brought an end to the “golden Age” of Big Little Books, with Whitman changing their copyrighted logos to Better Little Books, so this edition would have been one of the last, true “Big Little Books”.

Friday 10 March 2017

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Twentieth Anniversary Retrospective ~ Part 7

In 2002, in time for the seventh and final season, Dart Flipcards Inc. produced a line of Mini Lunch Boxes (8.25cm x 5cm x 2.5cm) filled with chewing gum, and with licensed images on them. Although the images were not directly tied to the final season, they still demonstrate how Buffy firmly remained on the pop culture radar.  

That same year, in a release that truly indicated how Buffy the Vampire Slayer was able to transcend the limitations usually associated with a TV series, Rounder Records released a Soundtrack CD for the episode ‘Once More with Feeling’ from season six. Chief executive of Rounder, John Virant, told the Los Angeles Times, "I remember watching the episode when it aired last October, and after it was over, I said to my wife, 'That's the best hour of TV I've ever seen. Someone should put that [soundtrack] out.' With a gorgeous cover by noted comic book artist Adam Hughes, copious liner notes by Joss Whedon, lyrics, and various pictures from the episode, Rounder Records succeeded in producing a first class product.

Alas, all good things must come to an end, as Entertainment Weekly pointed out in their March 7, 2003, issue. By now, the quirky little mid-season replacement was a bona fide pop culture phenomenon, able to command the entire cover of a major magazine. And though the televised adventures of Buffy Summers and her ‘Scooby Gang’ went off the air May 20, 2003, the ensuing fourteen years have not shown any decrease in the number of collectibles being released. Perhaps we all want to own a small piece of something we so loved? Regardless, in honour of that fateful night twenty years ago when Buffy Summers was first introduced to the small screen, let’s all dust off our DVD players, drop in "Welcome to the Hellmouth", and press play…


Thursday 9 March 2017

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Twentieth Anniversary Retrospective ~ Part 6

Season five (September 26, 2000 - May 22, 2001) was a momentous one for Buffy the Vampire Slayer: it was the final season to be broadcast by the WB before Buffy moved to UPN, and the season finale also happened to be the 100th episode! Needless to say, to have survived as a mid-season replacement was amazing enough, but to reach 100 episodes was almost unprecedented. In honour, the Hollywood Reporter magazine ran a special issue in celebration of this feat.

After the move to UPN Buffy continued to push creative boundaries. One of the most notable of these episodes was the genre-blending ‘Once More with Feeling’, aka ‘the musical episode’ (November 6, 2001). Writers agree that the episode was risky and could have failed spectacularly. Critic Jonathan Bernstein writes "What could have been, at best, an eccentric diversion and, at worst, a shuddering embarrassment, succeeded on every level”. This large promotional poster demonstrates UPN believed, as well, that the episode was noteworthy. In 2009 TV Guide ranked the episode #14 on its list of "TV's Top 100 Episodes of All Time".

The switch of networks didn’t affect the enthusiasm of Dark Horse Comics, either, who continued to find creative ways to bring Buffy to the masses. In 2001 they released Pop-out People: Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Consisting of nine perforated figures of Season five's cast printed on heavy card-stock, and a two sided background, the set came (as was the norm for Dark Horse) with either photo or artwork characters.


Coming up next: Lunch boxes, CDs, and more!!

Wednesday 8 March 2017

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Twentieth Anniversary Retrospective ~ Part 5

By the year 2000, Buffy merchandise entered a bold new era with the release of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer video game for the Game Boy Color handheld game console. It was the first video game based on the franchise to be released, and the only Buffy game to be rated 'E' by the ESRB. Although the game itself is generally poorly reviewed on game websites, it is still a historic piece of Buffy memorabilia. 

Buffy related confectioneries also entered a bold new era in 2000 when True Confections debuted their chocolate bars based on characters from the series. Their thematic recipes included dark chocolate and raspberry crème (Buffy) and chocolate & crispies (Spike), among others.

As season four continued, with Buffy now enrolled in college at UC Sunnydale, in the year 2000 we see the first collectibles appear with images of Riley Finn, soldier of the Initiative and erstwhile Buffy love interest. This year we also see a growing iconography associated with Buffy, the animated-style image emblazoned on this t-shirt far removed from an image more easily associated with the TV show, like those being produced only a few years previous.


Coming up next: 100th episode, UPN, and more!!

Tuesday 7 March 2017

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Twentieth Anniversary Retrospective ~ Part 4

Although Buffy the Vampire Slayer was not the highest rated program on TV, both it and the WB Network did a very effective job reaching a youthful demographic. Often advertisers have difficulty trying to reach this elusive group, and one of the cleverest campaigns to capitalize on this popularity was the Barq’s Root beer ‘Barq’s Has Bite’ tie-in. 

Coinciding with the start of season four in the autumn of 1999, not only did Barq’s release a collection of Buffy the Vampire Slayer root beer cans, but the whole promotion culminated in the ‘Barq’s Halloween Bash’ as advertised on point-of-sale displays and t-shirts (I wonder who won the trip to Hollywood to party with “members of the cast”?).

1999 was a banner year for Buffy the Vampire Slayer related merchandise, and saw the release of a variety of items by several manufacturers. Dark Horse Comics continued with creative promotions, such as the Buffy the Vampire Slayer #1/2, a limited edition comic book presented in conjunction with Wizard Magazine, complete with a certificate of authenticity. Varner Studios released a series of 9" collectible figures, and even body art was represented with Temporary Tattoos distributed by Mehndi Body Art of California. 


Coming up next: Game BoyRiley Finn, and more!!

Monday 6 March 2017

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Twentieth Anniversary Retrospective ~ Part 3

The third season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer averaged 5.3 million viewers, the show’s highest rated season, undoubtedly helped by the fact that both Gellar and Alyson Hannigan had hit movies out (Cruel Intentions and American Pie respectively). By this time Sarah Michelle Gellar was appearing on numerous mainstream magazine covers. On July 13, 1999, the season finale was broadcast in which the ‘Scooby Gang’ graduates from Sunnydale High School. A great souvenir of this season finale is the commemorative “Class of 1999” t-shirt.

Also in 1999 came the initial release of the action figure line produced Moore Action Collectibles. Series One consisted of Angel, the Master, Willow Rosenberg & Buffy Summers. In addition to the ‘standard’ figures, Moore also offered a constant supply of ‘limited edition’ figures. One of the first of these was the ‘Willow Variant Figure in Tight Red Pants’ made available through the online retailer Another Universe. These ‘exclusive variants’ functioned to keep collectors interested and allowed retailers to capitalise on the public's burgeoning interest in Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Chupa-chups, a popular Spanish brand of confectionery, had some sweet tie-ins, with both tins and boxes of various types of lollipops available. The ‘Fantasy Ball’ variety, in particular, appealed to collectors as the inside of each individual wrapper contained a small sticker.


Coming up next: Root beer, tattoos, and more!!

Sunday 5 March 2017

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Twentieth Anniversary Retrospective ~ Part 2

An early convert to Buffymania were the good folks at Dark Horse Comics. Buffy the Vampire Slayer #1 was released September 23, 1998, a week before the premiere of the third season. Written by Andi Watson, with interior art by Joe Bennett (p), Rick Ketcham (i) & Guy Major (c), the comic featured either a photo cover, or a cover with artwork by Art Adams. So anticipated was this new series that it was featured as the lead story for Comic Shop News the month before its release!

1998 also saw the launch of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer Official Fan Club! For a nominal fee, which included a subscription to Buffy the Vampire Slayer Magazine, the new member was sent a welcome package chock full of glossy ephemera. Buffy the Vampire Slayer Magazine was also published by Dark Horse Comics, with its premiere issue hitting the shelves in September 1998. For the ardent fan who signed up for the fan club, the real reward of membership was often the “special cover version” of this magazine, which was put to good use showcasing great photography of the cast.

To serve this growing fandom, 1998 also saw the release of several other items by various manufacturers. These included a bedroom doorknob hanger produced by Antioch Publishing of Ohio, t-shirts, and, of course, the first release of Buffy the Vampire Slayer VHS tapes for the home video market!


Coming up next: graduation, action figures, and more!!

Saturday 4 March 2017

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Twentieth Anniversary Retrospective ~ Part 1

March 10, 2017, will mark the twentieth anniversary of the debut of the television series Buffy the Vampire Slayer! As described by Wikipedia, the series follows Buffy Summers (played by Sarah Michelle Gellar), the latest in a line of young women known as "Vampire Slayers". Aided by a Watcher, who guides, teaches, and trains her, Buffy battles against vampires, demons, and other forces of darkness. The series received critical and popular acclaim, usually reaching between four and six million viewers on original airings, and this success led to hundreds of tie-in products, including novels, comics, and video games. Much of this merchandise has been produced in the years since the series went off the air, to capitalise on the growing popularity of Buffy as a “cult” series. To celebrate the twentieth anniversary of its television debut, however, over the next week we are going to have a look back at some of the merchandise released during the original 1997-2003 run of the series.

The first season consisted of only 12 episodes (March 10, 1997 - June 2, 1997), and was aired as a mid-season replacement on The WB Network. Perhaps it was this short season, or perhaps the lingering memory of the 1992 movie caused many to underestimate the series, but no contemporaneous memorabilia appears to exist from the broadcast period of the first season. In fact, the first example of Buffy the Vampire Slayer merchandise seems to be the novels published by Archway Paperbacks starting in September 1997 to coincide with the start of the second season. Since the release of ‘The Harvest’ (an adaptation of the episode of the same name), there have been over eighty additional novels published, written by dozens of authors.

By the time the second season was drawing to a close, notice was starting to be paid to the Buffy phenomenon. Sarah Michelle Gellar netted her first Entertainment Weekly cover in March, 1998, in recognition of the fact Buffy had quickly climbed to the top of The WB ratings, and was destined to be one of their highest-rated shows for the remainder of its time on the network.

During this period other notable collectibles made their debut. In 1998 Inkworks released the Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 1 trading cards. With a base set of 72-cards, the set recapped all 12 episodes of the first season, had subsets for character profiles, backgrounds on different types of monsters, and one called "Slayer Speak." A title card and a checklist rounded out the set. 

One of the rarest chase cards in this set was the Coffin Card (1:108 packs), a die-cut card that flips open to explain how one might go about slaying a vampire. Another great addition to this set was the mail-order binder designed to house the cards.


Coming up next: Dark Horse, door knob hangers, and more!!

Thursday 23 February 2017

DC Special Series #27 Batman vs. the Incredible Hulk

In 1975, DC and Marvel both attempted to gain the rights to publish a comic adaptation of the Wizard of Oz, eventually deciding to co-publish the project. The result was the tabloid-sized "MGM's Marvelous Wizard of Oz". DC and Marvel quickly agreed to another co-publishing venture, and in early 1976 "Superman vs. Spider-Man" was released as a one-shot tabloid. Five years later DC and Marvel revisited the Superman and Spider-Man team-up in Marvel Treasury Edition #28, and later that same year DC took their turn at an inter-company crossover in the final issue of DC Special Series. DC Special Series was an umbrella title for one-shots and special issues published by DC Comics since 1977. Each issue featured a different character and varied in format, published as either Dollar Comics, 48 page giants, digests, or treasury editions. 

DC Special Series #27, released September 24, 1981, is a comic book of 64 tabloid-sized pages (25 cm x 33 cm), with a cover price of $2.50. Neither the umbrella title nor the numbering system appear on the cover, the title "DC Special Series" appearing only in the indicia, with the cover banner reading “DC and Marvel Present: Batman vs. the Incredible Hulk”. DC Special Series #27 features cover and interior artwork by Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez & Dick Giordano (Inker), with a story, “The Monster and the Madman", by the legendary Len Wein. When a story features Bruce Banner working at a division of Wayne Research, assisting in the development of a gamma-gun designed to cure diseases, and the Joker is intent on stealing that selfsame gamma-gun, well, you know serious mayhem is going to follow! This epic tale was the last tabloid-sized comic published by DC for almost twenty years.

Friday 17 February 2017

Disney’s Peter Pan Lenticular Image

1966 seems to have been a banner year for the W. C. Jones Publishing Co. out of Los Angeles, CA. This was the year they released a slew of licensed lenticular images based on Walt Disney productions. Lenticular printing is a technology in which an array of magnifying lenses are used to produce printed images with an illusion of depth, or 3D. One of the nicest of these W. C. Jones images we have come cross is this 20 cm x 25 cm example of Peter Pan flying over Captain Hook’s ship! Most of the lenticular images released by W. C. Jones were postcards, only about 13 cm x 18 cm, and did not include a plastic frame. The fact that this item has survived with its frame for more than fifty years, while showing very few signs of wear, is remarkable!

Peter Pan is a 1953 animated fantasy-adventure film produced by Walt Disney and based on the play ‘Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up’ by J. M. Barrie. It is the 14th Disney animated feature film and was originally released on February 5, 1953, by RKO Radio Pictures. Peter Pan was one of Walt Disney's favourite stories and he had intended for Peter Pan to be his second film after Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. However he could not get the rights until several years later, after he came to an arrangement with Great Ormond Street Hospital in London, to whom Barrie had given the rights to the play. Peter Pan was praised by most critics during its initial release, and Peter Pan is today considered one of Disney's animated classics.

Saturday 11 February 2017

Ronson Premier Varaflame Lighter

During the 1950's, as butane lighters gained popularity, Ronson launched its own butane-run lighter, the Premier Varaflame (short for variable flame), in 1957. A breakthrough in gas-lighter development, this lighter had it all, from a beautiful design by Seymour Rappaport, to a state-of-the-art burner-valve mechanism conceived by Conrad Zellweger. The Premier Varaflame was Ronson’s largest product launch and was an immediate success. In 1958 many previous models were re-engineered and introduced into the Ronson Varaflame collection. This example, approximately 6.5 x 3.8 cm, comes complete with the original box, case, and warranty, and has beautiful blue enamel running along both sides of the body. 

The Ronson lighter company was started as The Art Metal Works in 1886 by Louis V. Aronson, and began by designing various decorative home related objects, such as figurines, bookends, and table lamps. By 1910 Aronson had created and patented his first lighter, and in 1926 released an "automatic operation" lighter, which became a great success and led to further patents. In the 1940’s, lighters had become so popular that Ronson discontinued all other products to concentrate on their development, and by 1954 “Art Metal Works” was completely dropped from the company name. At almost sixty years old, this lighter still shines when brought into the light.