Cornfield Meet

Things collide here.

Steve Sansweet and the Tales of the Blue Snaggletooth

18 years ago, Steve Sansweet – who’s leaving his position at Lucasfilm next spring – validated a tiny, almost-forgotten piece of my childhood.

From Collect All 21!

During this second surge of Star Wars stuff, my family and I paid a visit to grandma over in Upper Sandusky, Ohio. Among Upper Sandusky’s claims to fame are an old Wyandot Indian mill, a cemetery headstone recognized by Ripley’s Believe It or Not because it says “Feb. 31”, and being the home of a character in the Infocom text adventure “Leather Goddesses of Phobos” when those games were the computer geek rage in the 1980s.

My grandma was a librarian at the Carnegie Public Library in Upper, so I spent a lot of time there. Classic old brick building with narrow staircases and a basement that felt dark all the time. I can almost imagine into existence the wood and plaster and book-page smell of the place.

Up near the front door was a glass case where people would display collections of things, and on one visit, my grandma wanted me to see the collection of Star Wars toys in there. And that’s where I saw something that would confound me for years: an action figure that looked kind of like the short, red-suited Snaggletooth I had – same face, same hands, same belt buckle design – but this guy was tall and blue and had shiny silver moon boots.

I stared at this thing, trying to figure out what it was and where it had come from and why wasn’t it in any of the Kenner Star Wars catalog booklets and how, good God, could I get my hands on one?

I remember telling my friends about it, and none of them had seen or heard of one of these things either, and I probably sounded like that kid on my street talking about his supposed Grand Moff Tarkin toothbrush. It didn’t help that I never saw another Blue Snaggletooth as a kid.

I was eight or nine years old at the time. Fast-forward to 1992, when I’m 21 and in the middle of a difficult stretch of my life. Walking toward a Waldenbooks in a Toledo, Ohio mall, I see this staring out at me from a storefront display:

Star Wars: From Concept to Screen to Collectible by Stephen J. Sansweet.

Though it’s hard to remember, this was a time when there weren’t whole shelves full of Star Wars books and piles of Expanded Universe comics – so seeing this black-and-gold Darth Vader visage was a very cool sort of shock.

Inside is the incredibly detailed story of how the Kenner Star Wars guys I loved as a kid had come to life. And as I flipped through these pages, taken back years by the pictures of action figures and spaceships and sketches and models, here’s the one that had me giddy:

Because there it was: That BLUE Snaggletooth that I hadn’t seen or heard of in ages, and which part of me had maybe started to believe had been a figment of my imagination after all. It was REAL – and it had a HISTORY – and I wished somehow I could reach back through time to those incredulous looks I got from my friends when I was talking about this figure and point them to that page and say, “See? Seee?!?!”

I still think this is the best book Sansweet’s ever done, partly because it holds a special place in my memory, and partly because from a purely journalistic point of view, his writing and reporting roots shine through in the interviews and research and the level of work he put into in covering the early Star Wars merchandising history – work which hadn’t been done by anyone at that point. I think it’s fair to say a large part of the roots of vintage collecting archaeology trace back to this book, and I know it played a big role in re-igniting my own memories and fandom.

I got to meet Steve for the first time at Celebration V in August, and had him sign that very same and by now well-worn paperback. “Gee,” he wrote inside the cover, next to a smiley face, “can’t you afford a better condition book?”

Not one that would be worth as much to me as this one.

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October 20, 2010 Posted by | 1990s, Books, Current Affairs, Film, Games, science fiction, writing | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Return of the JediCon WV – Episode VII

You know what snuck up on me?

JediCon West Virginia VII is this Saturday! (That’s October 9, 2010, starting at 10 a.m., at the Kruger Street Toy & Train Museum.)

I really enjoyed my first trip to Wheeling for the 2009 show, so I happily accepted the invitation to share some more Collect All 21! memories this fall – and check THIS out: Former Kenner toy photographer Kim Simmons – “The Man Who Shot Luke Skywalker” – is not only coming back to this year’s JediCon, he designed this amazing toy-populated Empire Strikes Back-inspired poster as a commemorative bonus:

JediCon WV VII poster by Kim Simmons.

I mean, come ON – that’ s just Too. Freaking. Cool.

Kim will be giving another retrospective on his Kenner years, and Star Wars animator Jon Seay is expected to attend with some pieces of the original Death Star to show off. Besides, how much of an excuse do you need, really, to spend a fall day hanging out with some fellow Star Wars fans in a fun and truly nostalgia-inducing atmosphere?

October 4, 2010 Posted by | 1980s, Current Affairs, eighties, Film, geek, science fiction, Travel | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Moviemaking, nostalgia and Star Wars toys

Fresh off last night’s world premiere of The Meat Locker (an incredibly fun evening about which I’ll write more when I can share the movie online), and on the brink of leaving for Star Wars Celebration V on Monday, it seems a good time to share this bit of nostalgia:

That’s a scrap from the floor of my room in the house where I grew up. My youngest brother and his family live there now, and they’re replacing this carpet – which, it should be noted, is the only original remaining carpet from when we moved into the house in 1976.

This particular piece includes the evidence from this recollection in Collect All 21! (Chapter – “Along A Different Path: Taking Star Wars into Our Own Hands”)

When I was in middle school, I fished our family’s old 8mm movie camera out of the crawlspace, shelled out my allowance for batteries and a light bulb and tried to make my own Star Wars films.

One winter, I took it outside in the snow, dug a makeshift Death Star trench – I added twists and turns to make it, you know, more exciting – and then filmed my own point-of-view attack run, never thinking that, duh, I was holding the camera by its handle – in other words, upside down.

I was a little more successful with the flick I made using my little brothers’ Scout Walker. I managed to do some fairly steady stop-motion animation of the AT-ST’s head rotating back and forth, its side guns twitching up and down, and then I had my brother Adam work its legs, stomping them up and down while I shot a close-up. Then we stop-motioned the top hatch opening and a Scout Trooper emerging (okay, he didn’t so much “emerge” as he popped into existence from one frame to the next) and then – gasp! – quick cut to a skyward shot and a streaking meteor that was, in actuality, a lava rock my parents had brought me back from their 15th anniversary trip to Hawaii. And again, not so much streaking against the sky as being dropped by my brother with my textured white ceiling in the background.

Poor trooper never saw it coming. Caught it on the noggin, and… as the black haze closed in on his battle-scarred mind, he barely felt his walker toppling, its legs crumpling, never to stride into war again.

Aaaaaaaaand – scene.

Trooper down!

The four-minute film reel containing this 30- or 40-second masterpiece survived long enough to make it onto a DVD we compiled as a Christmas present for Mom a couple decades later. Holding up the cardboard sign labeled “Assistant: Adam Booth,” – I’d taken top billing as director and cameraman, naturally – my youngest brother looks like he’s squinting into binary suns, the lamp on the movie camera’s so freaking bright. We actually melted a tennis-ball-sized circle of carpet during filming when I accidentally put the bulb housing on the floor after a shot.

It’s actually probably closer to racquetball-sized, for the record. And I can still remember the sour plasticky smell that tipped me off to the puff of smoke rising from my bedroom floor, and how for years afterward I would pick absentmindedly at the little misshapen fused lumps of carpet fiber.

August 6, 2010 Posted by | 1980s, Current Affairs, eighties, Family history, Film, geek, Ohio, science fiction, writing | , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Nerding in L.A.

In Collect All 21, I wrote about the day I got my dad to take me to Kmart on a quest to find some of the new second wave of original Kenner Star Wars figures, which included the first action figure incarnations of several of the cantina scene aliens.  None were to be found. Utterly disheartened, I settled for a pair of Battlestar Galactica figures instead: the six-limbed Ovion and the purple lizard Imperious Leader.

So yesterday, some thirty-odd years later, I’m making my first visit to Los Angeles, where a few friends are treating me to the nerdtastic and occasionally slightly creepy wonderland that is Frank & Son’s.

And look what I found:

He’s every bit as ungainly and strangely textured and so unlike my Star Wars guys as I remembered, but as sad as I was that day to settle for him in place of a Hammerhead or Greedo or Snaggletooth, over the years the Imperious Leader came to hold a special place in my memory. This time around, he turned out to be exactly what I was looking for.

June 20, 2010 Posted by | 1980s, geek, Ohio, science fiction | , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Past Heroes’ Glory

This isn’t the Marvel Star Wars ad I was looking for – it’s better.

I was actually flipping through the few old Star Wars comics I have looking for this Heroes World advertisement, but instead – ohhhhh, man, I found this one:

Seriously: Two movies and 39 comics in, and Heroes World doesn't know it's not "Hans" Solo yet?

Collect All 31 - or just click for larger versions.

From the horror-movie title font to the Epic Flying Landspeeder to the “Hell-With-The-Fourth-Wing-It’ll-Mess-Up-The-Composition” X-Wing Fighter, I challenge you to find a better collective piece of vintage Star Wars advertising art.

And just in case you missed them, please make note of Mighty Walrusman Snaggletooth (Totally Ripped Abs Edition!) –

Heeeere I come to drink blue miiiiiiilk!

The MightyWalruSnag.

and the Duck-Footed R5-D4, which presaged the Bloom County Banana Jr. aesthetic by a year or two!

This artoo unit has a bad motivator and three left feet.

Worst split-screen effects ever.

April 27, 2010 Posted by | 1980s, eighties, Film, geek, science fiction | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Survivor types

Pure nostalgia, man. Pure. Freaking. Nostalgia.

My original Kenner X-Wing – the second Star Wars ship I ever had, right after my Landspeeder (Dead these many years, The Maker rest its plastic soul.)  – and the long-lost Greedo figure I found behind our family’s deep freezer on one of my trips back to Ohio in the early 1990s.

April 2, 2010 Posted by | 1980s, eighties, Film, geek, science fiction | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Wookiee Lament: A Haiku

Come spring, Hoth’s plains fade,

and Chewie battles mem’ries

of Kashyyyk’s fallen.

This fall, on HBO: Band of Wookiees.

This fall, HBO presents: "Band of Wookiees."

March 13, 2010 Posted by | 1980s, eighties, geek, science fiction | , , | 1 Comment

Too much time spent in Toshi Station.

(For those of you curious to know which figures left the silhouettes, clicking on the photo should take you to the image on Flickr, where you’ll find the trio in the description.)

…because apparently it’s been awhile since I’ve dusted the shelves in here:

Ghosts of Kenner

Bonus points for figuring out which three figures created the silhouettes.

January 8, 2010 Posted by | 1980s, eighties, Film, geek, science fiction | , , | 3 Comments

Plastic art nostalgia.

Several years ago, I had this idea that I wanted to shoot cool pictures of vintage Star Wars figures. But while I do okay with snapshots and basic scenery and things, when it comes to setting up detailed photos and working with light and angles and all that, y’know, fo-to-graffy stuff, I kinda suck. I can never quite get what I have in my head to come out that way in photo form.

A couple days ago, I got an email about Collect All 21! from a guy who, it turns out, is succeeding magnificently where I would utterly fail. It’s not that there are loads of detailed backgrounds or anything – in fact, most of the shots are pretty minimalist, with just figures and shadows – but I can’t get over the composition and the contrast in focus and colors.

I like this one a lot, and this one, and this one, too (some, like that last one of R2, have sort of abstract backdrops that really fit well with the figures and remind me of Kenner’s back-of-the-package photos from early in the original line).

My favorite, though, is this one:

Vintage Walrus Man, Greedo and Snaggletooth

Red.

It absolutely takes me back to the release of Kenner’s “second wave” of Star Wars figures, when suddenly we had all these weird aliens and robots in bright colors to go along with the original 12.

Go check all of them out, and prepare to wonder where the time went.

December 18, 2009 Posted by | 1980s, eighties, Film, geek, science fiction, Weblogs | , , , , , | 3 Comments

Road Trip: JediCon WV

I was glad that JediCon WV was on my calendar Saturday, not just for the whole spend-a-day-with-other-Star-Wars-fans thing, but also because I figured it would prevent me from basically pacing around the house and worrying about running my first marathon the next day.

Up at six o’clock, then, intent on leaving by seven for the two-hour drive to Wheeling, West Virginia.

JediCon, though it was a small event, was a milestone for me: It was the first show to which I’d been invited as a guest by the organizers, who got in touch with me shortly after I relaunched “Collect All 21” back in April. And just a few weeks back, they asked if I’d like to do a presentation/reading from the book – another first for me.

I’m a huge fan of road trips: I love checking out different routes and figuring out how to see places I’ve never been without going too far out of my way. I love stocking the car with maps and music and audiobooks. I love that feeling of pulling out of the driveway before sunup knowing that daylight will illuminate things I’ve never seen.

This was also the first Saturday in 18 weeks that I wouldn’t be running.

For the drive to Wheeling, I’d chosen a route mostly clear of the main freeways: U.S. Route 250, running forty miles shorter than the trip by interstates 77 and 70, but comparable in terms of estimated travel time. I had, in fact traveled a small part of this road before: An Arby’s at a rural intersection struck me as familiar, and I remembered it was where Jenn and I had stopped for lunch a few years ago after dropping Kelsey off for a week at the YMCA’s Camp Tippecanoe. It was her first time away from home not being spent with family, and it was the same camp where I’d spent a few weeks over a couple summers when I was a kid. It was a quiet lunch that day, and a little sad.

Beyond that, I was mostly on a two-lane road I’d never driven, and it was a beautiful morning for the trip, with a low, gray sky, hills all around, and the woods nearing their seasonal-change color peak. To keep myself in a nostalgic mood fitting for my reading and a day around Star Wars, I listened to Wil Wheaton’s “The Happiest Days of Our Lives.”

I reached the Kruger Street Toy and Train Museum just after 9 a.m., and saw a couple guys unloading a life-sized Darth Vader statue built from Legos. The convention was in the museum’s basement, in a room much smaller than I’d expected. A few of the vendors and fan organizations were no-shows, and one of the other guests – a guy who’d worked on the original Star Wars and was supposed to bring pieces of the original Death Star to display – had canceled the day before.

Still, I was here, as was Kim Simmons, a photographer who had worked for Kenner and shot many of the original packaging photos and action-figure setups, and spending a day with fellow Star Wars fans has, to me, never failed to be fun.

Kim sat down at my table, recognizing me and my book from the OSWCC Summer Social in 2008, right after I’d launched the first edition, and we wound up talking for a half-hour or so. A super-nice guy, he was going to buy a copy, but instead we settled on a trade for a signed print of the old Dewback box scene he’d created.

He also said he’d let me use his laptop and projector for my reading, since I’d brought along a slideshow of childhood pictures to accompany some of my memories. My reading started a little later than the 11 a.m. scheduled time, due to a slight technical glitch with the projector, but when it started, there were probably about a dozen people in the room, and a handful of others arrived after I’d begun. I had fun, and it seemed like I got laughs at the right moments, and I think I saw smiles of recognized shared nostalgia while I read and clicked through the slides.

Over the eight hours I was there, even though this was easily the smallest convention I’ve ever attended, I sold more copies of “Collect All 21!” than I ever have before, probably because it was aimed directly at Star Wars fans, and I had something in common with every visitor who walked in.

Other stuff:

In the silent auction for charity, I wound up the high bidder for a sweet DVD packed with a hundred and ten 1970s and 80s Kenner Star Wars commercials. (Wampaaa! Wampaaaaaaaa!)

Spent some time talking Legos with a very friendly builder from the Toy and Plastic Brick Museum (practically right across the river in Bellaire, Ohio, and if I’d had more time, I’d have tried to work a stop there into the trip, because she made it sound awfully neat).

I left for home just before 5 p.m., my boxes of books a bit lighter, my spirits high, my nerves about the race still at bay, and the sun just starting to turn the hills to fire and rust.

October 14, 2009 Posted by | 1980s, Books, eighties, Film, geek, Ohio, science fiction, Travel | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

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