Fred Rogers did it right and we can gain from his sage advice and guidance. I’ve always admired Mister Rogers. Is it really that difficult for a man to be gentle and sensitive? I am certain a lot of us don’t think so. The age of Trump, with its unkind and insensitive mindset, is a travesty. There is nothing courageous about it. And then you take a look at what can be accomplished when you listen to a child and do something positive.
Fred Rogers managed to do quite a lot of good in his day, don’t you think? Well, this upcoming documentary, WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR?, appears to offer up a lot to be joyful and inspired about. As is the case with many documentaries and books of this nature, the timing is perfect. 2018 marks the 50th anniversary of the first broadcast of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” on PBS.
WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR? will be in select theaters as of June 8, 2018.
On a recent trip to Tacoma, I went to visit my dear friend, Dalton and his family. Our first stop was Tinkertopia. Dalton said it was just the place to go and he was so right. This place has everything in the way of quirky and functional art supplies and curios and such. Well, there’s a very practical and worthwhile side to this. Tinkertopia plays a vital role in the community as it is in the forefront of the reuse and do-it-yourself movement. Much of what is on display and for sale has been salvaged and recycled in some way in order to enjoy a new life as alternate artwork and arts & crafts supplies. Tinkertopia is also a prime location for workshops of all kinds, especially for kids.
As a cartoonist, I was quite taken with the mini-comics on display which, after a closer look, were the results of numerous 24-Hour Comics Day marathons. I am something of an expert of 24HCD, I suppose, as I’ve been creating comics during that event for a number of years. It’s always fun to see what comes from these comics experiments. The merry band of cartoonists that congregate at Tinkertopia enjoy a perfectly built-in ecosystem for such endeavors. The books on display are by R.R., that’s short for Rerun (aka RR Anderson), the master of ceremonies at Tinkertopia.
A fine and dandy drawing style by Rerun!
Many comics fans, young and old, are familiar with Rerun’s cartooning antics which feature the Hairy Mermaid. Rerun has as a clean and polished style. His sense of humor is highly irreverent and just a lot of fun. Rerun’s fluid line makes it all looks effortless and graceful. But I can see that he’s put in the elbow grease necessary to have a facile way with drawing trucks and squids flying through space from one panel to the next. A nice crisp style like Rerun’s comes from dedication and a genuine tireless love for the comics medium.
If you have a young inventor in the family, or want to throw a unique birthday party, or maybe need help with recycling, come to Tinkertopia. Founded by two Tacoma artists, Tinkertopia is all about resource conservation in partnership with local industries, educators, and activists. There’s always something on to inspire and to educate. In March, for example, you can take part in a workshop to build Tiny Treehouses and Leprechaun Lairs! There are numerous workshops and events at Tinkertopia that will have something for everyone. Go visit Tinkertopia right here.
And one final note: You want to know more about RR Anderson? Well, he’s the real deal trifecta: a cartoonist, inventor, and author. Check out his book, “The Tacomic.” As he puts it himself: “RR Anderson is one of the most curious alternative political cartoonists in FeedTacoma.com history. He fought bizarre underground beings in the lava tubes of Juneau, Alaska; was wounded by a laser before it was invented; and was a founding father of the Cartoonists League of Absurd Washingtonians (C.L.A.W.). Questions? Seek him out drawing on the sidewalk at Friday’s Frost Park Chalk Challenge in the center of downtown Tacoma. Ultimately his work is about friendship, need and other timeless values.” Visit RR Anderson right here.
Has a major American city ever commissioned a graphic novel as a public art piece before? Seattle is on board! Cartoonist David Lasky and writer Mairead Case have been selected (from 71 applicants) by the City of Seattle to create a fictional graphic novel centered around the historic Georgetown Steam Plant. The goal is to increase awareness of this unique landmark with a graphic novel geared toward young adults.
Panel from “The Carter Family: Don’t Forget This Song”
David Lasky is the co-author (with Frank Young) of the Eisner-Award-winning graphic novel biography, “The Carter Family: Don’t Forget This Song.” Chicago writer Mairead Case is the author of the acclaimed prose novel, “See You in the Morning.” A story by Lasky and Case, “Soixante Neuf,” was featured in Best American Comics 2011.
West elevation exterior of engine room. The Georgetown Steam Turbine Station, built in 1906 is now a National Historic Landmark. The plant is owned by Seattle City Light and has been working to restore the plant. It is open for tours the second Saturday of each month and is occasionally used as a teaching facility for steam power engineers and hobbyists.
Here is a brief email interview I did with Mairead Case today:
What went through your head when you got the news about being chosen for this special graphic novel project?
Well I was, am, sincerely grateful: to be from a city that celebrates public monuments with comics, and to have visibility and support for the creative relationship David and I have pretty much always had, even when nobody else was looking. Grateful to have work that includes time for oral histories and site-specific research (no screens!). And aware of the responsibility to accurately represent Georgetown’s diverse history—we want to use this platform to amplify and illuminate the stories that are already here, not co-opt them. For real. (Also, I was really happy to have news that would make my mom proud.)
Are you already envisioning what your routine will be like with the project?
David and I are both pretty focused, detailed nightowls so I expect we’ll have a focused, detailed, nightowl routine. That said, it’s amazing to have financial support for this project so it’s really exciting to think about how we might work in new ways with that gift. (We might even work in the daytime, ha!) But no matter what we’ll be collaborating closely. And we will probably listen to Bowie at some point.
Did you ever think you’d be creating a graphic novel about a steam plant?
I feel like I’m supposed to say no here, but why not? When I was a kid I wanted to be a tightrope walker so maybe this is not that far off.
What do you think this project might say about the role of graphic novels in America?
Ah, I think our role is to make the book and then other people can tell us! But it is terrific terrific terrific that Seattle is supporting a project like this—it’s really wonderful that an American city in 2017 is using art to build community, as defined and remembered by that community. I’m used to telling (maybe yelling a little too) at the government about that, and am still gobsmacked that this time the government was all “we know. Go.” I hope that other cities say “Go” too. The talent is here! American cities, if you want me to send you lists about the talented storytellers I know in your neighborhoods, just send a flare.
You can keep up with this intriguing project right here.
And, if you’re in Seattle this weekend, be sure to stop by and see David Lasky at the annual comic arts festival, Short Run.
“Pantheon: The True Story of The Egyptian Deities” by Hamish Steele
Who knew that ancient Egyptian (3000 BCE – 30 BC) mythology could be so much fun? Well, a very creative and funny guy named Hamish Steele sure does. Read his take on these creation tales in his new graphic novel, “Pantheon: The True Story of The Egyptian Deities,” published by Nobrow Press. It is always a pleasure to review a book by Nobrow as they consistently bring out books that will appeal to a wide readership. This book I peg at ages 13 and up. A tongue-in-cheek blurb on the back provides a friendly warning. It states that this book contains depictions of “incest, decapitation, suspicious salad, fighting hippos, lots of scorpions, and a golden willy.” So, keep that in mind.
Osiris weighs in.
Steele has created a “disruptive” comic interpretation of Egyptian mtyhology. It is as if he picked the brains of countless students who have had to slog through arcane history and literature and given them exactly what they wanted. How about The Canterbury Tales as told by Borat? The original is “bawdy” but still a bit distant. There is no harm in making it more accessible. In fact, the great Seymour Chwast gave us his take on The Canterbury Tales a few years ago and brings things to life in way that only the comics medium can do. What Steele does is follow the pantheon of gods and pharaohs as they attempt to rule over ancient Egypt, warts and all.
Isis on the hunt.
Take, for example, just how badly things go when a god is insecure. Ra, the sun god, senses that he has outworn his welcome among humans. So, what does he do? He turns his one and only duaghter, Hathor, into fury itself, hell-bent on killing humans. Not the best solution to a problem. Steele plays that up with sly wit. Of course, things get far more complicated once Ra drops off a few gods to fight over who will rule over humans as pharaoh. Gods being gods, nothing is beneath them. And here, Steele runs with it.
With an appealing style, Steele infuses these tales of gods and mortals with a zesty contemporary vibe. Steele’s approach is uninhibited, playful, and spot on. This would be a welcome addition in a high school or college classroom.
“Pantheon: The True Story of The Egyptian Deities” is a 216 page full-color trade paperback, available as of September 15, 2017. For more details, and how to purchase, visit Nobrow Press right here. You can also find this book by visiting Amazon right here.
“Let Some Word That Is Heard Be Yours” by Alex Nall
Comics is uniquely suited for any form of biography and to quite a fascinating degree. I’ve said that before and, to prove my point, I have all sorts of new things I can say about this theme in regards to Alex Nall‘s graphic novella, “Let Some Word That Is Heard Be Yours.” This is a look at the life and times of Fred Rogers (1928-2003), the host of the landmark PBS children’s program, “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.” Intertwined in this biography is a look at Nall’s own life as a grade school art teacher. As often is the case, the comics creator has created a mashup of bio and auto-bio. It’s a natural occurance among cartoonists to include themselves into the narrative. When done right, the results can feel like a smooth dreamy story.
A mashup of bio and autobio.
Nall’s artwork has a primitive child-like quality about it. He depicts himsself with a cumbersome bulbous pink nose. It is all hand-drawn, down to the lettering and color washes. This is a style that falls right in line with a lot of alt-comics: keep it simple; keep it slapdash. In this case, that look fits in. Nall evokes the frenetic energy of children: the good, the bad, and the ugly. Kids, the little angels we’d wish them to be, usually are far from saints. Time and again, Nall shares with the reader the reality of the daily grind of interacting with these wee people. Ah, big segue: Nall comes to find inspiration in his nightly revisits on his laptop to “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.” This triggers an exploration by Nall thus leading to confronting more than he bargained for.
A young and feisty Fred Rogers.
First, some words on Fred Rogers and his monumental achievement. Keep in mind, the “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” program ran from 1968 to 2001. There was nothing like it before and there will probably never be anything like it again. This is a show that speaks to kids on their own terms — and in a distinctive format that defies duplication. The viewership is mostly meant for 2 to 5 year-olds, but it appeals to any age. Fred Rogers became sort of a surrogate parent for countless children, spanning generations, simply by being there with kind and gentle entertainment mixed in with thoughtful observation and guidance. Everyone seems to fondly remember Fred Rogers and have a favorable opinion of him. You may have seen footage of a young and feisty Rogers testifying before Congress in support of PBS funding. Rogers was able to melt the heart of at least one tough and jaded senator.
Nall highlights a particular aspect in his story and provides an excellent example of how one element can affect the balance of the whole. Comics, with their panels and unique narrative structure, are inherently tricky balancing acts. You can include a scene in one panel and the ripple effect is under way. Refer back to it and the overriding subject behind it, and you’ve underscored it, boosted its significance. Return to the subject again, and the whole story points back to it, in a way, as if in service to that one aspect. These sort of shifts in focus happen all the time in big prose works. For example, a book on current events will have its most newsworthy items plucked for greater scrutiny by all the news outlets.
The Washing of Feet.
Nall makes a strategic choice to focus upon the relationship between Mister Rogers and Police Officer Clemmons. The scenes are from the point of view of Francois Clemmons. Rogers hired Clemmons to play the role of a police officer on the show. This was the late 1960s and police brutality was a hot news topic. In one particular panel, we see what looks like Mister Rogers washing the feet of Officer Clemmons. The unique nature of comics allows the reader to linger on a panel. The panel is already a highlighted moment, suspended in time, radiating beyond its borders. The actual moment that occurred on the show was held together by a very different medium. In the course of that scene with Clemmons, he and Rogers are indeed enjoying a moment of peace and quiet. As they are about to complete the scene, they both begin to get their feet out of the water. For a split second, Rogers takes a towel and passes it over Clemmons’s feet. It occurred so fast as to be subliminal. Certainly, it was packed with Christian symbolism.
Francois Clemmons speaks out.
That moment, both subliminal and highly symbolic, is what Nall sort of plucked and focused upon to keep the reader wondering. It is unusual. Once you see it, you can’t unsee it. Sure, it is benign. You could see it as ideal too. But it is also unusual. It was Rogers’s way of gently and kindly getting a message across, specifically of racial tolerance but transcendent as well. A moment of kindness. Done. We move on. However, Nall has tapped into something that he pursues further and which he would be hard pressed to avoid. His research consisted of four articles and two books. It is really the one book, 2015’s “Peaceful Neighbor,” by Michael Long, that is at the crux of this. In the book, Francois Clemmons claims that he was told by Rogers that, while Rogers supported Clemmons coming out as gay, the program was not ready for an openly gay character. If he came out, he would have to be let go. To further complicate matters, Clemmons claims that Rogers advised him to marry a woman and Clemmons did just that. Considering the era, Clemmons would certainly not be alone among closeted gays. Even today, there is no openly gay character on a children’s program.
Overall, Nall has done a good job in conveying some compelling facts. He is not bringing to light anything that was not already covered in “Peaceful Neighbor” but he has presented these facts in a different format and reached a number of new readers. Nall’s book is an achievement in the sense that any book of this kind put together by one individual is a small miracle in itself. So, yes, of course, I wholeheartedly congratulate Nall. It would be very interesting to chat with him on what parts of his book are style choices and what parts are simply the result of his current skill set. Personally, I am a strong believer in cartoonists perpetually pushing themselves to make the smoothest and most readable content.
I look forward to what Nall does next as he considers his next project. Nall has demonstrated that he’s not afraid to tackle as ambitious a project as the life and times of Fred Rogers. And, as I say, he has a good grasp of how the comics medium works. It can be a deceptively simple affair but, in fact, it has quite a built-in complexity. Once the process is set in motion, just like any other creative endeavor, it takes on a life of its own.
“Let Some Word That Is Heard Be Yours” is the latest installment of Nall’s “Teaching Comics” series. Visit him right here.
“Lucy & Andy Neanderthal: The Stone Cold Age” by Jeffrey Brown
Jeffrey Brown has the uncanny ability to get in touch with his inner tween. He has all the snarky put-downs and sulky sighs down pat. It all adds up to a lot of fun for young readers with his latest graphic novel, “Lucy & Andy Neanderthal: The Stone Cold Age,” published by Crown Books. If you have patience and a sense of humor, you too can appreciate the angst of the pre-teen. For starters, nothing goes to plan in this world. Then set your pre-teen story 40,000 years ago during the Ice Age, and you’re set.
Andy can’t get a break!
Our title characters prove to be two highly mercurial tweens. Lucy seems nice but she is prone to not participate and let the team down. Andy seems capable but he is prone to self-serving behavior and hurtful naysaying–not admirable qualities when trying to live with others. Neither Lucy nor Andy appear to possess even one valuable character trait needed to survive the severe conditions in this story. These two characters are not particularly likable nor admirable and that’s part of the humor that Brown likes to play with.
Learning through humor.
Brown really doesn’t sweat over having things tidy and proper. His artwork, and his script, have a very casual vibe. In fact, it is a clever mix of irreverence and thoughtful planning. While it feels like one of the young characters created this book, clearly there is a well-crafted structure. Alternating between the Ice Age story is a contemporary story that follows Pam and Eric, a couple of intrepid young paleontologists. From Pam and Eric we learn such things as the climate has been consistently warming up for the last 12,000 years. And, intertwined within the narrative, Brown provides all sorts of educational goodies like Timeline of Key Discoveries, Ice Age Fact vs. Fiction, Silly Cavemen Myths, and more.
This book is intended for an age range of 8 to 12 years-old. This will definitely appeal to fans of Big Nate, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, and The Terrible Two. “Lucy & Andy Neanderthal: The Stone Cold Age” is a 224-page hardcover, the second in a series, published by Crown Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House. It will be available as of August 29, 2017, and is available for pre-order.
Dinosaurs fascinate us on a level all its own. Over a hundred years ago, when Winsor McKay was looking for a way to wow the public with his animation, he turned to a brontosaurus, Gertie the Dinosaur. Beyond that wow factor, there is a need to know what these creatures were really like. And that is where the work of writer/artist Ted Rechlin is so important for young readers…and even older readers. In a series of books that use a comic book format, Rechlin brings to life a fascinating assortment of facts about dinosaurs. Rechlin’s approach evokes the best in wildlife documentaries with the unique storytelling qualities of comics. Rechlin’s latest book is simply entitled, “Jurassic,” published by Rextooth Studios, and distributed by Farcountry Press.
The mighty Supersaurus!
“Jurassic” is the new graphic novel from Ted Rechlin (Tyrannosaurs Rex, Bears). Printed in a hardbound, comic-book style, “Jurassic” is a thrilling prehistoric adventure for all ages. Featuring epic action, stunning artwork, and the return of the Brontosaurus. Ted Rechlin is a phenomenal Montana artist who has worked for DC Comics and Dover Publication and currently runs Rextooth Studios. He also just released Dinosaurs Live! (coloring book, Farcountry Press). “Jurassic” is part nature documentary, part action epic, and follows a brontosaurs calf navigating through the perilous age of the dinosaurs.
Allosaurus vs. Torvosaurus
Author and Illustrator Ted Rechlin is becoming a king of the dinosaurs. “I just keep drawing them” says Rechlin. “I love getting the chance to show them as living, breathing creatures. I love knowing that people will read this and imagine how they might have behaved.” Having already published Tyrannosaurus Rex and just recently completed Dinosaurs Live! The Ultimate Coloring Book, Rechlin’s love and knowledge of the Mesozoic world shines in all his work.
His newest release, “Jurassic,” is a primeval adventure in animal behavior. Part nature documentary, part action epic, Rechlin welcomes readers of all ages to experience the golden age of dinosaurs. “One of my favorite parts of this time period is the sheer scale of these creatures,” Rechlin says, “We have mega-carnivores like the Torvosaurus hunting prey alongside the massive and whale-sized Camarasaurus.”
One of these giant-sized herbivores, and the central protagonist in “Jurassic,” Brontosaurus, has just recently come back into prominence thanks to new scientific discoveries. Years ago, the species had been downgraded and grouped as a subspecies of Apatosaurus, but recent findings confirmed that it was a distinct and valid species of sauropod. “Brontosaurus was one of my favorite dinosaurs as a kid,” says Rechlin. “After paleontologists reconfirmed its existence as a species, I knew I wanted the book to feature a young brontosaurs’ journey to become the ‘thunder lizard’ he was born to be.”
Beautifully illustrated, packed with thrilling action sequences, the most up-to-date science, and a passion for the prehistoric world, “Jurassic” (ISBN: 978-1-59152-203-4, $19.95, Sweetgrass Books, 2017) is available at local bookstores and gift shops, through online retailers, or from Farcountry Press right here. And be sure to visit Ted Rechlin right here.
GUM LUCK is the second in the Gumazing Gum Girl series, published by Disney-Hyperion Books, and it is as irreverent and quirky as you may expect. Illustrated by Rhode Montijo, written by Montijo, with Luke Reynolds, this is a perfect book for young readers. This book is hilarious and there is method to all the madness too. Gabby Gomez has quite a conflict to deal with: bubblegum gives Gabby superpowers but her dentist dad is totally against bubblegum. Gabby feels compelled to confess her big gum secret but she can’t risk losing her powers.
Reading GUM GIRL
The script by Montijo and Reynolds provides a fun mix of kid reality and kid fantasy. For example, in one chapter, Gabby is alarmed to see a car skidding its way towards a collision. Instantly, Gabby sets loose her gum powers and brings the car to a sticky, but safe, stop. However, once Gabby arrives at school, she discovers her permission slip to go to the zoo is covered in bubblegum. Without a readable permission slip, Gabby is forced to stay behind in a classroom with other kids who can’t go to the zoo.
Pages from THE GUMAZING GUM GIRL: GUM LUCK
Montijo’s bold artwork is a real treat and keeps the action moving along. Montijo has managed to channel is own take on the Power Puff Girls. Gabby Gomez and her family are easy to relate to while Gum Girl is whimsical and fun to follow along. Montijo offers up a very pleasant and animated style. It is spare and clear and will be especially appealing to a younger age group of ages 6-8. This book also happens to have a pleasing hint of bubblegum scent!
THE GUMAZING GUM GIRL: GUM LUCK is a 160-page color hardcover, available as of June 13th. You can find it at Amazon right here.
Virtual reality and augmented reality are fast becoming part of our new reality, it’s as simple as that. There will be plenty of skeptics, naysayers, and the like, but we’ve always had that when new technology comes along. I say this after not having held any prior opinion on VR and AR before my visit to this year’s Seattle Interactive Conference. But I feel that I’ve really come around to this new tech. It began to intrigue me after listening to the session put together by POP VP Dave Curry and HTC Vive Creative Director Jonathan Faunce.
The Gear is Here: It’s a Virtual World We Live In!
Faunce and Curry provided a lively look at how new tech is already becoming the new normal in the way companies present their products. A great example is the old store catalog model. Forget print catalogs. Forget even PDF catalogs. The new trend is to provide an immersive experience. Consider Lowe’s Virtual Room Designer. Or IKEA’s Virtual Reality Kitchen Experience. Just type in “virtual” or “VR” and you will soon find that virtually everything will have its own virtual reality experience.
The signs of change are coming. Take 3D GIFs. They’ve been making the rounds these last couple of years and you’ll be seeing more and more of them. As the landscape shifts, big traditional companies will seek help. They needed it with the advent of the internet, and then with the emergence of social media. Faunce at HTC Vive and Curry at POP invite them all to give them a call.
One point that Curry and Faunce made really stuck with me: no matter how much they described VR and AR, you really have to try it to see for yourself. So, I did just that. SIC has a couple of stations, one by 8ninths and one by Samsung, and I dived in. The tech, at this point, is pretty remarkable. At 8ninths, I was completely blown away by my tour of a virtual car. I even got to look into the interior as well as check under the hood.
Samsung Gear VR
At the Samsung booth, I can tell, because I was looking for it, there is no motion sickness that’s going to grab you. If you get a chance, try the rollercoaster demo. In fact, stick around and try as many demos as you want. The more I did, the more I came away with a confidence in the tech. Who knew, but you can go inside a volcano and feel all giddy and get educated all in one.
Resolution will keep getting sharper and the immersive experience will continue to improve but we’ve clearly reached a tipping point. Imagine it this way: we’re already a couple of years in; we’re at the third generation level right now; and it’s just a matter of a few more production cycles. You can choose to join in or miss the boat and let your friend clue you in on how cool her goggles are. Nah, you’ll want to have a pair of your own too.
Once a toy has become an artifact of childhood, it has reached a very special place. For the purposes of this exhibit, a look at American toys spanning three decades, the focus is upon the joy and comfort these toys provided. The context is both simple and complex as viewers are invited to study the various exhibits from their own personal point of view. Did you have a happy childhood? If not, maybe a toy helped you along the way? Sectioned off into three decades worth of childhoods, there is plenty to recollect and reassess.
Contemplating Toys and Childhood
“Toys from the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s” is enjoying its West Coast premiere on display at MOHAI here in Seattle. Originating from the Minnesota History Center, this exhibit asks you to revisit many toys that, by today’s standards, would not be deemed suitable for children on many grounds, including common sense safety! Lawn darts, anyone?? Yep, we don’t see lawn darts sold in today’s toy market. They’re basically sharp steel projectiles. They’re not going to cut it, or rather, they ARE going to cut it! But, you see, lawn darts have a home here–on display only. Lawn darts are not subject to recall within the bounds of this exhibit. They are here to conjure up good lawn dart memories, for those who have them. And they’re also here as a subject for discussion. As much as this exhibit is a trip down memory lane, it also invites viewers to draw their own conclusions.
The Game of Cootie, originally launched in 1949
What are your thoughts on Barbie dolls or toy guns? You’ll find them here ready for your marvel or scrutiny. The point is that you’ll find all sorts of toys, whether or not they pass today’s safety or societal tests. The overwhelming nature of childhood memory takes over. Countless kids loved their toys and now we have the nostalgia for yesteryear and contemporary perspective to guide us. You’ll find a lot of kids attracted to the exhibits. You’ll see lots of families with their toddlers, too young to appreciate any nuances but ready to grab at anything not secured. And then there are the adults who grew up in these respective decades. For them, especially, the exhibit features living room re-creations for each decade on view. For these viewers, the couch is right there to sit and go back in time with, alone or perhaps to share with younger family members.
1960s Living Room Re-creation at MOHAI Toys exhibit
Toys are certainly not easy to pin down. Toys resist being dismissed even if the originals are stored away or thrown away. Toys come at you from every direction. At a certain age, they define your leisure, your means of escape. They can become your world, your identity. They’re based upon all you think you know about the world whether from books, movies, television, just about anything. What does a choice in a toy say about a child? What does a toy say about the adult who chose it for the child? The adult who created it? The manufacturer that produced it? The country that embraced it?
Atomic Disintegrator repeating cap pistol, introduced by Hubley in 1954
Alpha-1 Ballistic Missile, introduced by Amsco Industries in 1958
One of the best examples of how toys can make a difference is the American reaction to the Soviet’s being the first in space in 1957 with the Sputnik satellite. That little object in space caused shockwaves in the United States. Toy makers would definitively enter the Space Age and Space Race. Hubley’s 1954 Atomic Disintegrator, right out of science fiction, was all well and good. But now was the time to step up a focus on science and technology. Amsco Industries responded in 1958 with the Alpha-1 Ballistic Missile, “designed by missile engineers, tested in Cape Canaveral.” And, as the display makes clear, kids ate it up! There’s this priceless quote from the exhibit:
“How did I get interested in science and make it my life’s work? Kids in the late ’50s and ’60s could get toys that complemented that interest. My friends and I loved my Alpha-1 Ballistic Missile: Mix up some baking soda and vinegar, put it into the missile, put it on the launch pad, and pull the string. That baby could really fly.”
–Mike Smith, b. 1952, meteorologist
It was fun, as a discerning adult, to wander back and forth between the three living room areas: the wonder and innocence in the 1950s; the keen interest in science and exploration in the 1960s; and a full circle escape to wonder and innocence in the 1970s. It seemed like, after having landed on the moon, and the rise of the Vietnam War, Americans were ready to refocus. Instead of looking to actual stars, Americans were ready to go see the new blockbuster hit, “Star Wars,” entertainment with its roots in 1930s pulp fiction. They were also ready to buy all the Star Wars toys.
Hey, that’s Han Solo’s Millennium Falcon!
I have fond memories of the ’70s as a kid. And I recall seeing “Star Wars” in 1977, at age 14, at our local movie theater at the mall. It would not have occurred to me to buy all the Star Wars figures, let alone a toy replica of the Millennium Falcon. But it was really nice to see the whole Star Wars set on display here at MOHAI. Any kid would have been thrilled to have owned them back then. But I’m sure that I owned a couple of figures. And I know that I went to see “Star Wars” more than once, despite the very long lines. I didn’t question any of it back then, although I was certainly old enough to do so. I was more than happy to accept it just as fun. I didn’t think about profit motives or the future of franchises or the American spirit. This brand new thing called “Star Wars” left you with a good feeling inside. And that’s the best thing any toy can offer.
TOYS at MOHAI!
“Toys from the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s” is on display at MOHAI through September 25th. For more details, visit MOHAI right here.