Vintage Film and Television Trading Cards

Back in the 70′s and 80′s, there seemed to be a set of trading cards for every mildly successful TV show and movie. Even the cringeworthy Mork & Mindy had trading cards. Each pack usually included ten cards and a cracked piece of petrified chewing gum, which mostly served to make the cards smell good. No kid is his right mind dared to chew it.

Looking at these things for the first time in years is hilarious, the registration was guaranteed to be way off on every card, you could play connect the dots with the halftone patterns, and the cards weren’t trimmed straight. But that’s what makes them so awesome. All these imperfections added up to whole pile of personality in every card. You can’t find that today, everything is printed so perfectly that there isn’t any discernible difference from card to card. I can remember getting doubles or triples of the same cards back then, but each one was printed differently. Each one had it’s own unique quirks…loved that stuff.

Primarily for me, the E.T. and The Empire Strikes Back cards were what I was most into back then. I posted a collection of ‘Empire’ cards over on Swivelarms, give them a look if you’re interested in some Hoth-sized adventure.

Looking back now, I realize there were so many good sets of cards ( the Superman the Movie and Star Trek the Motion Picture cards were truly wicked ) that I wish I had collected more of them. At the same time, however, I’m glad that I can discover them now as if they were new thanks to Flickr users who upload gobs of this stuff.

Nothing can quite compare to the rush of excitement I got as a kid seeing this stuff for the first time, but it’s important to me as a creative person to remember how that feels, and to try to find ways to experience it still.

Signalnoise from the Year 2000

• Why anyone would hire that weirdo, I have no idea.

If you follow me on Twitter, you might have seen these posted late last night. I wandered home after hanging out with some friends and started rooting around in some old archive CDs of my past work, way back from the year 2000.

I was working with my friends at Internet Solutions at the time, the company that gave me my first real design job in the web industry. They took a gamble and hired that spiky-haired punk right out of school and put up with my loud music and nerdy antics. Good, patient people they were.

That said, I was always trying to dress up my computer to look all cool and stuff so I made a bunch of custom desktops for my screen. Just another way to do something creative and explore some trendy design. I came across 3 of them last night. Fond memories right here. Just look at that weird yellow Japanese-looking Signalnoise wordmark. Yikes. Lots of jokes waiting to happen there, along with my online moniker ‘James Evil’. Good god.

The computer I used to make these is long gone, but the pixels live on. Great memories.

Oh, and that photo was taken around the same time. That’s me and my friend Lisa having what I’m SURE is some deep/hilarious conversation about something we hate. Or she’s just disagreeing with me for some good reason.

Battle Beasts

Fire! Wood! Water! Hasbro licensed these wicked dudes from Takara Japan to sell in the States and elsewhere in 1987. They were a Transformers spin-off in Japan, but Hasbro decided not to tie into that continuity with their own marketing. The mid 80′s was a time when many toys had some sort of gimmick to help sell them, in this case, each Battle Beast had a heat sensitive sticker on its chest that revealed either fire, wood, or water. A sort of paper, rock, scissors in toy form. Fire beat wood, wood beat water, and water beat fire…if you were a super lucky kid, there existed rare and mythical Sunburst figures; find one, and you could beat anyone. Bad ass.

Battle Beasts came packaged in pairs, which was strange at the time. I remember thinking how cool it was to get “two for the price of one”, although it’s a pretty commonplace tactic these days. I always considered the pairings to be like pro wrestling tag teams. My first pack consisted of the Rhino and the Fox; whenever there was a Beast Battle Royal in my back yard, those two always found a way to come out victorious. Still my favorites to this day.

My brother and I collected every one of these pint-sized animal warriors along with their many play sets; looking back, we had some really fun times with them. Unfortunately, somewhere along the road to adulthood my collection must have landed in the trash. The same old sad story. When I took a quick peek on eBay for some of these figures, I was astonished at how much they are going for. Like adding salt to the wound. While it doesn’t seem as if I’ll be scooping up any replacements anytime soon, at least I’ve got the memories.

Awesome figure photography by =Disney-Stock on DeviantArt.

Pepsi Cool Cans

Back in the summer of 1990 Pepsi released some limited edition “Cool Cans.” I was 14 years old, and I clearly remember going nuts for these things. I was firmly entrenched in the Pepsi camp of the Cola Wars and we had plenty of bottles in my parents fridge, but I also needed these cans. The nearest vending machine was just passed the woods in my backyard at the local community swimming pool. I used to ‘borrow’ some change from my dad’s coin bucket and sprint through the trails leading to that Pepsi machine. There were days I made many trips to that pool just for a cold can of soda.

There were only four different can designs, however it took me the entire summer to collect them all. I was sure Pepsi had staggered their release just to prolong my agony. I ended up with tons of the surfer dude design, which ensured that it became my least favorite of the bunch. That guy used to roll out of the bottom of the vending machine and taunt me, I’m telling you.

The design I most coveted was the neon one, it was the most unique of the group and was downright badass. Some internet psychologists may claim that I was somehow subliminally drawn to the neon design because it contained a hidden message. When stacked 3-high and positioned just right, the larger letterforms on the can kinda-sorta spell out the word “SEX.” So even though I never saw the cans stacked that way, and getting them from a vending machine assured that I didn’t know which one I was getting, I still must have been brainwashed by Pepsi into unconsciously choosing it for its “sexiness.” Hogwash.

These designs, paired with Pepsi’s most iconic logo, are my first memories of a true marketing campaign. Stepping up from toy packaging and advertising, I began to recognize there was a larger world of design and branding out there for me to explore.

Oh, and a little Young MC never hurt anyone hurt either…

Happy Halloween!

I love it when a costume comes together.

Happy Halloween, everyone. Have a safe one.

Robo Force

Robo Force Magazine

Maxx Steele & Hun-dred

Robo Force Packaging

Ideal Robo Force 1984 Toy Fair Catalog

Robo Force Read-Along Book

Robo Force Fan Club Certificate

Remember Robo Force? Didn’t think so. Even if you grew up in the 80′s there’s a pretty good chance you missed out on these radical robots. Ideal Toys debuted them at the 1984 Toy Fair; unwittingly pitting them head-to-head with the Gobots and the Transformers, both of which apparently caught the company by surprise. Without the power to transform and very limited poseability, Robo Force simply couldn’t compete with rival toy lines. Ideal pulled the plug on Robo Force in 1985, a planned second series was prototyped, but never saw the store shelves.

Ideal put a huge amount of marketing muscle behind Robo Force for its initial launch, with a one-shot cartoon special, commercials, story books, board games, lunchboxes, a magazine…and that’s just the short list. There was even a Maxx Steele telephone and an official Robo Force fan club. They really went all out, unfortunately it just wasn’t enough to overcome the toys inherent shortcomings.

My brother and I had a few of these, he started out with the mighty leader Maxx Steele while I went for his evil counterpart, Hun-dred. My fondest memories of these toys was in the early summer of 1984 when we left Western New York to live in sunny Florida. My parents packed us up in the Chevy Monte Carlo and we were off on a three day journey to parts unknown. Keeping my brother and I company in the back seat were our Robo Force guys, mini command centers my dad carved out of solid styrofoam, and a cooler full of Dr Pepper. To this day, with the potent combination of indestructible robots (these things were built like tanks), squeaky breaking styrofoam, and a seemingly endless supply of caffeine, I have no idea how my parents retained their sanity. By the time we had settled in Orlando, Transformers had taken over our robot play time and good ol’ Maxx and Hun-dred were relegated to the dustbin. Sorry guys.

My Robo Force figures are long gone and trying to find quality images of them on the web can prove to be insanely difficult. Thankfully, there are a couple of sites that helped me put this post together: BattleGrip & Roboplastic. Give them a look, they are both bursting at the seams with awesome stuff.

Tutorial culture vs. Two Goldfish

First thing this morning I followed a link dealt on Twitter by friend Tom Muller entitled You Are Not a Designer and I Am Not a Musician. I’m not one for reading high-falootin articles labelling people this and that, but this article is very well written and got the gears turning. I enjoy articles like that. Interesting points, makes us question our progression and all that, something we should all do to keep things in perspective.

Then, right after that I went to check out someone’s new design and caught a comment below: “This is great! You should write a tutorial on how you did it.” Since the gears were already turning, this one little comment kind of hit home. Right time? Wrong time? Who knows, but here we are.

I got into using Photoshop and Illustrator way back in ’95 when the internet was still getting it’s footing. Years before it would transform from something neat to something very useful. And certainly long before the rise of the tutorial. Back then we had nothing to go on, just the small classes on how to use the basics to create projects in school. Outside of that, thousands and thousands of hours noodling around. In order to achieve new things we had to figure it out. Just want to repeat that, we had to figure it out.

Most of what I know about Photoshop came from one of my favorite artists, Dave McKean. Back in ’97 he and Neil Gaiman released a children’s book called The Day I Swapped my Dad for Two Goldfish. Beautiful book with brilliant artwork by McKean. I spent hundreds of hours pouring over the pages, closely inspecting his art and dissecting the layers of texture. Looking at the effects on his hand-drawn linework. Trying to discern what was paint, drawings, photography or scanned texture. Then jumping into Photoshop (or my sketchbook) to figure it out. I failed miserably most times, but that wasn’t the point. I learned a huge amount about how Photoshop worked … but more importantly, how I worked.

Fast-forward to now. We have a crazy amount of great tutorials online. Some of my best friends are tutorial wizards who have created a living doing so, such as Fabio Sasso and everyone at the Tuts+ Network. The most important reason I think these resources are valuable is because they teach people technique outside of base-level knowledge of graphic software. They show a concept, then how to make it. Awesome. I’m a big advocate of helping people out, and it’s one of the core reasons I run Signalnoise.

That comment I mentioned above, I’ve been seeing that more and more these days and it’s concerning. When I read that today an immediate translation popped into my head: “I don’t want to figure this out, so why don’t you just tell me?” That’s it, and that’s big. So many levels to that which can’t possibly by contained in one blog post.

I learned skills from my time with Two Goldfish which I still use today. Heck, I used them in creating that graphic above. I’ll probably use them forever. No step-by-step instructions, no downloadable pre-made assets. Just a kid with Photoshop and a lot of time on his hands. That’s what it comes down to.

So why on earth am I writing this? Well, I’m getting the impression that more and more people are becoming dependant on tutorials for what they make. That makes me sad because it’s the complete opposite of how I learned. If you only do tutorials without exploring things on your own, then you learn only 1 thing: how to read. They’re a wonderful place to start, but it’s up to you after that. You should figure out how to do that thing you want to make instead of waiting for the tutorial to emerge. What does Fabio do before he writes his great tutorials? He figures it out.

When you figure things out for yourself it stays with you forever. It’s a sense of pride and richness. It’s an adventure. It’s fun. Because of that, those 2 little goldfish are more valuable to me than all the tutorials in the world.

My Winnipeg Jets logo

As most of us Canadians (or hockey fans at large) know by now, our beloved Winnipeg Jets will be coming back to the NHL real soon. Being a hockey fan back in the ’80s and ’90s those Jets were part of our team, and by “our team” I mean being on this side of the border. We’re a patriotic bunch up here and tend to cheer for our Canadian teams. So it was a sad day to hear that Winnipeg’s team was being packed up and shipped down to Phoenix. Sad day indeed.

Well here we are. The Jets are back and us Canadians are pretty happy about it. I was cheering for you ‘Peggers the whole time, hoping luck would swing your way and your team would come back.

Now for what it’s worth, I loved their old logo for too many reasons to list. BOTH of them actually. Simple, obvious and whatever else. Nice colors, somehow very Winnipeg and it fit in nicely with the other Canadian teams at the time.

With the team returning to Winnipeg it was inevitable that they go through the process of a re-brand. I would have been ecstatic to see that old logo return as their official, but this is 2011. Fat chance with all the re-brands that sports teams go through these days in the first place. Last Friday, Buffalo correspondent Paul Pants gave the word that they’d be releasing the new identity “in an hour” so I was pretty excited to see what they came up with. I was also a bit frightened …

I’ll go on record here. Just personal taste so don’t chew my head off. I have a pretty strong dislike for modern sports logos. It started back in the 90s when teams started going through all kinds of changes in identity and the logos moved away from the simple and iconic to these over-beveled, character-based, swooshing, snarling hunks of shit. They became interchangeable pretty quickly, and it wasn’t only with one sport. Baseball, basketball, football, hockey … they all started to look the same. No respect for individual identities or team legacy. I completely understand that design and printing technologies are far better than they were before, allowing us to do much more with jerseys and stuff, but just because we can doesn’t mean we should. Logos transformed into illustrations.

I urge you to look through the logo histories on this site. So much good stuff lost to the years.

This is why I was frightened while waiting for the new Jets logo unveiling. “What if it’s some jet zooming forward, shooting fire, with a big angry mouth on the front?” Seriously, could have happened. I was pretty nervous. So when I’m in a situation like that I always ask myself “What would I do if given the opportunity?”. I fired up Illustrator and threw together a Jets logo that I’d like to see on a jersey. That’s it at the top, and here it is mocked onto a player.

I’m still tampering with the logo even as I write this post. I did it for fun. I did a Jets logo the way I’d like to see it done in an attempt to play off the previous identity, something you Winnipeg inhabitants might recognize and enjoy. Not much more to the story, really.

Just a little note in conclusion for what they did release as the new Jets identity. My first reaction was genuine relief. They didn’t go the direction of “crappy, hip, typical sports logo” and for that I send every thumbs-up I can to the team involved in creating it. Huge relief. It was obviously created with respect to the team and Canadian air force history.

It’s catching some beef online and I’m not sure it deserves it. Yes it looks a bit military, and I’m curious to see the logo from afar (like on a player’s jersey during a game) to see if the design holds up, but it DOESN’T look like a damn beveled raptor, or a silver shark or whatever that “thrasher” was supposed to be. It’s simplified, plays off the Royal Canadian Air Force roundel, and has the leaf worked in. Not so bad.

As for my little logo, might get some stickers of this guy printed up. This one’s for you, Winnipeg.