Book Review: The Totally Sweet ’90s By Gael Fashingbauer Cooper & Brian Bellmont (2013)

the totally sweet 90s by gael fashingbauer cooper & brian bellmont When I was about 12 or 13 years old, I became incredibly nostalgic for my 80s childhood. I don’t know what it was, but all I wanted to do was watch He-Man and Transformers cartoons, which I was able to find at a nearby Blockbuster in a big for-sale box. This was before the days where everything was readily available on DVD or even streaming, so it wound up being a huge find. I also dug out my parents’ Betamax which allowed me to watch old home movies as well as TV shows we taped (I love watching old tapes like that not just because of the cartoon content, but the commercials too!).

But, the truth is that, as much as I feel like a child of the 80s, I’m equally a product of the 90s. That decade took me from 6 to 16 and helped introduce me to some of the most influential things in my life from movies and music to the job I would have for the next five years, the end of grade school and the beginning of high school and crazy-future-tech like cell phones, home computers and the internet. So, when I got a PR email asking if I’d be interested in reviewing Gael Fashingbauer Cooper and Brian Bellmont’s The Totally Sweet 90s: From Clear Cola to Furby, and Grunge to “Whatever”, the Toys, Tastes, and Trends That Defined a Decade, I jumped at the chance.

In addition to having a strong connection to that decade, I also realized that I hadn’t really read or looked into 90s nostalgia. Fashingbauer Cooper and Bellmont’s book does exactly that by running down a list of alphabetically ordered topics, talking about them for a few paragraphs and offering an update as well as a fun fact about each. The book kicks off with “Adam Sandler Songs On Saturday Night Live” and ends with “Zubaz” to give you an idea of what you’ll be dealing with.

It was a lot of fun taking this trip down memory lane which combined with my own experience, but also moved into topics I was unfamiliar with like the short-lived MTV series Austin Stories and Coke’s attempt to get Generation X bucks with OK Soda. The short-and-sweet format of the book kept me moving from section to section with a quickness I wish I could harness when reading fiction.

It might seem like the subject matter is light and somewhat inconsequential (how important can Orbitz, Scrunchies and Pogs be?), but the intro made a really interesting point that I hadn’t thought about: many of the elements of modern life we take for granted began life in the 90s. I’m a firm believer that you can’t really appreciate today without having a fairly good working knowledge of yesterday. The Totally Sweet 90s might not get into in-depth analysis of the decade, but it does start the process by presenting a sample of the things that were popular to the young people of that generation.

My only complaint about the book is that there aren’t enough pictures. I know from being a research assistant for so many years, though, that including a lot of photos of copyrighted materials can be difficult and, worse, pricey. The ones that are included in the book are usually of toys or products which are cool to shoot and print. On a somewhat related note, I haven’t seen the Kindle or digital version of this book, but I can imagine that it would make for a really cool experience, especially if links to various images and/or videos were included. I have no idea what the feasibility of something like that is, but it’d be rad.

Finally, I just want to throw in another way this book made me nostalgic, but for a much more recent time. While reading The Totally Sweet 90s, I had all kinds of flashbacks to my days working for Wizard and ToyFare. This book is basically one giant list and list features were always interesting to work on. I helped with everything from the coolest single issue comic stories and best villains to coolest toy action features and best movie fights, plus many more. Instead of imagining Fashingbauer Cooper and Bellmont sitting around a room trying to figure out their list, I went right back to the old Wizard conference room where we’d first hash out exactly what the list was supposed to be about (an important step some outlets tend to gloss over, resulting in a poor list) and then coming up with every possible entry. From there you start crossing off. Once you’ve witled your kitchen sink list to the number you’re going for (10, 50, 100, whatever), then you get to have the fun talks about what makes one entry better than another which results in the final order. It was a long process, sometimes taking several meetings a week, but I loved taking part when I could.

So, for being a fun time capsule of a very important time in my life and reminding me of some fun professional memories that I’d lost touch with, I give The Totally Sweet ’90s a thumbs up. If you’re interested in checking the book out, follow the above link. The book will be out tomorrow.

Remembering OverPower

overpower card backI’ve had OverPower on the brain lately and it’s all my friend Brett White’s fault. He started tweeting about the collectible card game that launched in the mid 90s and I’ve been reminiscing ever since. Back when the game launched in 1996 I was 13 and super into comic books. My aunt did PR work for one of the malls in Toledo and told me about a comic book, card and collectible show that was going on in the aisles of the mall. My parents drove me out and after buying a few random Image books — Shaman’s Tears #1 and a Shadowhawk comic both caught my eye because of their shiny foil covers — I was shocked to find something, something I had never seen or heard of before: a deck of OverPower cards.

At this point in my life I wasn’t into CCGs, but my friends were. They were all in Boy Scouts at the time and the older kids introduced them to Magic. At that time it seems like just about everyone was getting in on the CCG racket, which probably explains OverPower’s existence in the first place. I don’t remember off the top of my head which deck I found, but it was cheap and I might have actually picked up two of them. I took them in to school and showed them to my friend Geof who was one of the guys into Magic. He was the closest thing I had to a friend who liked comics, having a subscription to a Superman comic or two if memory serves (he would go on to accompany me on my nearly weekly trips to the comic store in high school because I gave him a ride home). Soon enough our other friends were getting in the cards and we started trading and whatnot.

Here’s the strange thing, though: OverPower cards actually became pretty popular among the guys in my class for a few months. The more popular kids (I’m sure it’s shocking to learn that I wasn’t necessarily in the cool group) started buying up decks and booster packs. I should note here that I don’t know much any of us actually played the game. Geof and I faced off quite a bit, but I don’t really remember playing with anyone else. There was even something of a racket going on with a few of the more enterprising kids happening upon what were considered really good or valuable cards and selling them to the highest bidder among the more obsessed of us. I remember Wolverine being a good card and some kid getting $10 or $20 for it.

The first few series’ were all focused on Marvel characters, but I got really excited a few years down the line when it was announced that DC was getting in on the action. I bought those cards up like crazy. One of my favorite parts of collecting OverPower cards — along with pretty much all the comic based cards I collected over the years — was checking out all the cool artwork. I’ve been looking around online to see if I can get a good deal on some cheap unopened boxes (no luck so far) and have been riding all kinds of nostalgia waves seeing these cards. It’s wild, I remember even some of the much later cards.

overpower Booster BoxEventually, I realized that buying cards wasn’t the best use of my money, though and the OverPower cards went the way of my sport and non-sport card collections: boxes in my parents’ basement where they sit to this day. I need that money for important stuff. No, not dating, I had more comics to buy!

To bring things back around full circle, Brett White and his co-host Matt Little bought their own unopened box of OverPower cards and did an unboxing for an upcoming episode of their excellent podcast Matt & Brett Love Comics. I’m excited for the episode, it should bring back even more memories.

Here’s a few final, random thoughts. First, I asked my parents to bring out my boxes of OverPower cards when they come to visit this weekend. There are three of them! Second, I realize now that I really should have raided the InQuest library for OverPower cards after the magazine folded and all that stuff went up for grabs. And three, I have no idea how the rights would work for something like this, but I’m all for an OverPower app. I know they have them for other CCGs. Someone make this happen!

Casting Internets

Got behind on these again, but wanted to get this post up today. I’m heading off on vacation next week, but have posts lined up for every day. Enjoy!

As always, I’m talking to people about comics for CBR including Chris Roberson about his upcoming book Reign and Fiona Staples about Saga.

I also wrote this list for Topless Robot about the raddest mall scenes in movies. I had a blast writing and researching this one.

Sean T Collins wrote a comic called Hottest Chick In The Game, give it a look.

My pal Brett White has a new column at CBR called In Your Face Jam, check out the first post about Deadpool.Did you see Rickey Purdin’s drawing of Doc Holliday, Marty McFly and The Gunslinger? You really should follow him on Sketch Attack.

There’s gonna be a Bond documentary called Everything Or Nothing: The Untold Story of 007, count me in on that one. (via SHH)Speaking of Bond, I want to get this book that features 50 years’ worth of 007 movie posters. Looks so rad. (via Illustrated 007)

If you’re not following Maude Apatow on Twitter you’re really missing out. I really dug her piece on Hello Giggles about the love/hate relationship with the social network site.

Bryan Grazer’s producing a documentary about Jay-Z’s upcoming festival that will also be directed by Ron Howard? That’s an amazing team-up. (via Rolling Stone, THR)I love this Lego Mad Love interpretation posted on Covered. Go look at the comparison.

I really enjoyed Ron Marz’s recent Shelf Life column on CBR about stealing as well as the one it inspired from Darren Kappauff. I’ve never understood how people don’t get that it’s stealing to have something you didn’t pay for or weren’t given. There are serious moral implications here even if it doesn’t seem like it.

I love this quote from Hugh Hefner about how current polities are threatening the sexual freedom he helped champion so many years ago, via my buddy Jim Gibbons. Go read it, now. Have you guys seen Doctor Who Yahtzee? Pretty rad. (via Doctor Who Merch)

RZA’s teaming up with the Black Keys on The Man With The Iron Fists soundtrack? Let’s make that a bigger thing, please. (via THR)

I’m really happy for Tom and Lorenzo. They’ve got a book coming out. Don’t know if it’s the kind of thing I’d buy, but I love browsing their site. DST‘s Star Trek Select figures look so rad they make me wish I was more of a Star Trek fan.

Speaking of action figures, this fake commercial for a line of G.I. Joe-like action figures based on The Thing is pretty amazing. (via Topless Robot)

Quick Doc Review: Darkon (2006)

The reason I like documentaries and reality television is because they offer me a glimpse into lives I’m otherwise unfamiliar with. Now, how accurately those lives are portrayed differ from project to project, but even a skewed look is a look, you know? Darkon seems like a pretty honest look at its subject matter, but I’m not sure how well it explains that world.

The film focuses on a Baltimore-based group of live action role players who play their game in the fictional world of the title. It focuses mainly on the leaders of two rival countries who wind up going to war, which seems to give it a kind of King of Kong feel, but never quite reaching that level of awesomeness for me.

I had two main problems with how the film was put together. First of all, since I’m not a LARPer, I don’t really know all the ins and outs of it. I assumed that many of my practical questions (where do they do their battles, do they need permits, where do they practice, etc.) would have been answered, but I do not believe they were. It’s difficult to bring people into your life when they don’t explain it all that well. The other major problem I had was a seeming lack of knowing what to cut from the film. There’s a long scene of one of the star’s kids doing a sword routine for no real reason. Meanwhile, there’s a single mother the film introduces, but doesn’t really do much with as the focus shifts from the people in general to the two main guys as their conflict intensifies.

I’m also not sure I fully understood the point or the stakes of the conflict. One guy thought the people should be treated one way and the other another way, essentially, though I couldn’t tell you the details. But, I also wasn’t sure what difference the battle would make or what changes victory could or would bring about for either side. At one point we’re told that if you die in a game you’re out for 24 hours, but do other changes stay longer? I think someone said that countries had been absorbed, so maybe some things like death don’t stick, but other things like land grabs do? Again, I was confused. Maybe this was all in the movie, but I didn’t catch it.

At the end of the day, Darkon’s not a bad movie, but maybe an amateurish one. It got me about 70% into this world, but didn’t seem to know who or what it wanted to focus on. Still, I thought the intensity with which these people play this game impressive. People who don’t LARP might look at these folks and giggle because, yes, it does look silly, but the level of dedication and intensity is no different than people who get really into a sport or even fantasy sports. At least the LARPers get outside and get some exercise while doing their thang.

Ad It Up: James Bond RPG II

I like this ad for Victory Games’ James Bond RPG a lot more than the one I posted back in April.It’s still a little sloppy, but you can’t go wrong with Odd Job comic book artwork. Man, I really wish there was a quarterly Bond comic by the best and brightest in the comics biz. This ad’s from the second issue of the Jack of Hearts mini from 1984.

Zen And The Art Of Euchre

Back in grade school my dad, a friend, his dad and I went on a camping trip. Among other things–listening to Cheech & Chong, hiking and cooking over a campfire–they tried teaching me a card game called euchre. I wasn’t very interested at the time, so the game’s complicated hierarchy of trump and whatever-the-heck a bower was went over my head. I think I grasped enough to play for a little while, but most of the knowledge skipped away by the next day. Soon enough I was in high school though and, among my group of friends, euchre was the way to pass the time during lunch. I soon picked the game up and got the hang of it to the point where four of us would sit in pre-ordained seats (two on each side of the end of a lunch table), toss out that year’s deck of cards and play almost on autopilot while talking about who had a test coming up or girl problems or music. You’ve never seen a dirtier, grosser or more bent-in-half deck of cards in your life by the end of the school year thanks to hundreds of games and lunches.

It might seem strange to play a game that you don’t have to pay attention to, but I think we all found it kind of calming. No matter what kind of chaos was going on around us either at school or in our personal lives, I think the rules and structure of the game balanced out with some order. Everyone can use a little order, right?

I guess is a Midwest thing, though because, I’ve never met anyone from a state other than Ohio, Michigan or Indiana who knows how to play the game. One night during my Freshman year of college I sat around with some friends–two of whom were from Ohio even–and tried teaching them the game to no avail. Either I was explaining it poorly (very possible, though liquor was definitely not involved, as some of you might be thinking) or they just didn’t care, whatever the reason, we quit and played something else. I haven’t bothered teaching anyone since then. After nearly 10 years of no euchre I ordered a video game version for my computer earlier this year and recently downloaded the Euchre Online app for my iPhone (I chose that one because it’s free). I still find myself sitting here, mindlessly playing euchre after a long day of baby-watching, work, cooking and doing dishes. It’s a great way to decompress.

The post could easily end here, but I’m going to attempt to explain how the game is played. If you’re interested, hit the jump! Continue reading Zen And The Art Of Euchre