Posts Tagged ‘steddy toys’

Fire Flies pogs and water squirters (1994/1995)

2016/02/27

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So today (yesterday?) marks the 20th anniversary of the United States release of the Pokémon video game (games?). I’m a librarian, and my uncertainty in that last sentence should clue you in to how little I care to read about the franchise.  I was 11 when it first came out.  I had a Gameboy back then, and all I ever played on it was Zelda: Link’s Awakening, Tetris Blast, and The Ren and Stimpy Show: Veediots! (boy howdy was that game hard!).  I remember Pokémon being a Gameboy game… also a Nintendo 64 game?  Also that it was really popular and featured way too many characters and that the art held absolutely no appeal for me.

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You see, it was too simple.  And my preadolescent cortical folds associated simple art with simple concepts.  Pokémon read as very much for small children.  To me, this was the beginning of the end of the kind of art & design in cartoons and toys that appealed to me. In my formative years, I watched cartoons like Police Academy: The Series, Inspector Gadget, The Real Ghostbusters.

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There were at least three or four prevailing design aesthetics I can think of from my childhood. Police Academy: the Series was a Ruby-Spears production, and I can recognize it in other cartoons (Alvin and the Chipmunks, f’rinstance). You had the Disney/CalArts aesthetic and its various derivates. Then you’d get the odd French design (Inspector Gadget, Heathcliff, The All-New Dennis the Menace, various other DiC/Nelvana productions).  The Real Ghostbusters, I’m now realizing, was also produced by DiC, but in retrospect the art has a definite Japanese bent to it, especially with some of the ghosts. Obviously there’s lots I don’t know about these aesthetics, but I see trends.  Plus, when Nicktoons premiered in 1991, you had a variety of shows with their own quirky styles.  I could go on (Beavis and Butt-Head, Ren & Stimpy, The Maxx, Animaniacs) but the point, I suppose, is that there was a lot going on–in terms of diversity and in terms of design.  We weren’t talking shitty rubber hose animation or rotoscoping, you had real squash and stretch going on, even if some of it was very cheaply produced.  It, at least to my 11-year-old mind, was more realistic. There was often–I point you again to The Real Ghostbusters–a celebration of the grotesque and weird.  The late 80s/early 90s were a fun time, and I say this with full knowledge that I’m as biased as anyone who grew up 10 years before me, or 10 years after me.  I’m sure they were all fun times.  And everything I said about cartoons? Same thing for toys.  Again, I point you to The Real Ghostbusters.

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But by 1994, even, I saw this celebration of the grotesque on the downswing. I look back on the Mighty Max toyline now with a lot of fondness, but even back then it seemed a little watered down from hideously cool shit like the Brain Blaster Ghost (and his mini-lobe ghosts). By the time Pokémon came along, it seemed that the images of my youth were dead forever, and that a world of simplified, heavily-Japanese-influenced, cute characters were there to stay.

I’m as swayed by packaging as much as the next person, I suppose.  I like TaB cola primarily because it’s in a pink can.  My experience of Weezer’s Make Believe is shaded greatly by the fact that the album cover is black.  So, even though I was big into pogs in 1994, I sure as fuck wasn’t going to try to get my parents to by my Slammer Whammers.

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Forget that it wasn’t the official POG brand–look at this shit! I still react to it.  It’s trying way too fucking hard!  That font, trying to trademark some spin on the word “slammer”, the colors are four years out of style, the shapes were 25 years out of style… everything about this packaging screams “bargain bin”.  But looking back?  I far prefer this to Pokémon and everything that came after it.  But even the packaging pales in comparison to the art on the pogs themselves. I bought three packages of these so I could open one up.

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I hope you’ll forgive the shitty photos–my camera’s probably a decade old by now–and the dirty scans–made on the same scanner where I scan the pencil and crayon art for Jimmy Jone. But what we’ve got here is a derivative of the Ed Roth/Rat Fink/Weird-Ohs/Nutty Mads monster style, which itself was decades old at that point.  You’ll see the Rat Fink brand try to assert itself and catch on again every few years with a new toyline–there was one in 1991, Rat Fink Rad Rods–but it never really meets with much success.  I always get the impression that the Rat Fink brand is overseen by old men who wear “I’m in the Dickie-Do Club” shirts and have too much extra money. Anyway, Rat Fink never really catches on big no matter how many times it tries, and the same is even more true for anything that mimics the aesthetic.

I have no idea who did the art for Fire Flies, but it’s decent art! There were 24 pogs total, plus the pack I opened had an extra pog featuring “Hatchet Man”, as well as two slammers featuring a “Cap-Vac”, which I guess was a special vacuum for pogs that I now wish I owned. I could throw these pogs on the floor and vacuum them. The Imperial company made cheap toys all through the 80s and 90s–many of you probably know them through the Garbage Pail Kids toys they made.  So I have to imagine that they bought up a number of cheap properties that didn’t find any success with bigger companies.  There were probably grand ideas for a cartoon series, comic books, and even a full-fledged action figure line!  But what we ended up with, here in the wasteland of the mid-90s, were 24 pogs and 6 water-squirting toys.  Oh yeah, the toys!  Here’s some pictures:

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There were six Fire Flies toys total, released as carded two-packs. And maybe also individually in baggies? There’s a choking warning on the bag, so probably.  But again, look at that packaging design.  ABSOLUTE SHIT.  Two friggin’ layers of “reduced” price stickers on these things.  And yet I paid close to $100 for everything you see here today!  But that’s okay, because the point I’m trying to make here is that I prefer stuff I would have thrown away as a kid to Pokémon.

Did these Fire Flies have names?  Yes!  Well, almost…

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Chief, Chopper, Seltzer, Wrench, Trucker, and Snake. These aren’t so much names as they are identification instructions for the workers at the Chinese factory who had to paint and sort these into various bins. (Sidebar: I always hated that crap where a toy’s packaging or a cereal box purported to offer you “trading cards” that you had to cut out. I never liked it when the procurement of collectables depended on my subpar hand-eye coordination.)

Also, parents get some handy safety tips that were never, ever mentioned by the liberal 90s media, like using Class A.B.C extinguishers, or never using gasoline to bathe your children.  I feel like there should have been a warning not to use these water-squirters to try to put out a fire, but obviously the target audience for these things needed to be told that smoke detectors detect smoke, so nevermind.

For completeness, and for you collectors out there who will soon construct your eBay saved searches, the Slammer Whammers pogs are Series III, packaging dated 1994, with both US and Canadian releases.  The toys themselves are marked 1995, both on the cardbacks and the toys themselves.  The stamp on the figures’ bases lists both Steddy Toys as well as Imperial.  For those of you with time machines, these figures can be found in fine retailers like Kmart.

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