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In addition to books and toys, I buy a lot of DVDs. Mainly old movies, because I’ve already discovered that they don’t always stay in print for long, and then command crazy insane prices on eBay once they’re out of print. Plus, the past few years have been great as far as the rarer films are concerned, with studios realizing that if they do a good job with restoring this stuff it will sell, and at a premium price.

Unfortunately, the marketing dept. in these studios seem to think that buyers need some kind of bribe to get them to purchase these sets (they also eschew good package art in favor of a lot of photoshopped crap, but that’s another topic).  Hey, I can understand this; I’m in marketing myself and am sometimes involved in the same kind of inane “plussing up” of a product for no reason (forgive me for not naming specifics 😉 ). But above all else, these special offers should not interfere with the actual item being purchased.

Which leads me to today’s rant: the newly released Walt Disney Legacy series. This first series packages every last “True-Life Adventure” film in four stuffed volumes. On one hand now that Roy Disney is back in the fold the studio has done a truly fantastic job putting these together, with tons of extras, documentaries, and nice restorations of films that have too long been unavailable. And as far as I can tell it’s a pretty comprehensive package. On the other hand, the marketing dept. thinks that the films themselves are not enough, and takes the path of the tin outer cases they made for the ‘Walt Disney Treasures’ line on step further: the DVDs are loose inside a tin “film reel canister”!

The ‘Treasures’ tin cases at least could be removed and inside was a normal dvd case (otherwise when they are on a shelf you cannot tell what they are since there is no printing on the spine…if they fit on the shelf in the first place).  But these new film reels can’t be put on a shelf without them rolling off, and you can’t tell what’s inside without picking each one up and looking at the front cover. Granted, the packaging is very handsome, but how on Earth do these things get decided without ever thinking about the purpose of the item and the functionality in a collection (since by and large it is the core Disney fans who are buying these limited sets)? This is the same mentality that leads to crazy figure packaging that makes it impossible to remove the darn figure (and jacks up the price) just because some designer thinks it looks cool. I’m looking at you, SDCC Solomon Grundy.

Anyway, this whole thing got me so aggravated that I made my own covers and bought some double dvd cases online. So everyone can now benefit from my frustrations- right-click on a cover below and choose “save as” to download a hi-res pdf of each cover that you can print out and use on your own dvds. All for free! (Caution: files are large!)

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If there is one thing I enjoy collecting more than toys, it has to be books. I like books in all shapes and sizes, but mostly concentrate on biographies, books on history, art, and films. But one genre is the most near and dear to my heart: compilations of classic comic strips.

I think my love affair with the art and stories of yesteryear was first kindled when my parents gave me The Smithsonian Collection of Newspaper Comics one year for Christmas. I think it was 1980, because the previous year they had given me the Abbeville Press book of Mickey Mouse strip reprints. I guess because I wore out the poor Mickey Mouse book they figured that I liked the old comic strips…and I did! In fact, I started collecting comics after looking for new comic strip collections led me to the then new phenomenon of comic shops. I eventually found all of the Disney “Best Comics” books, but the Smithsonian volume had turned me on to much more than just Disney; there was the non-stop adventure of Roy Crane’s Wash Tubbs and Cap’n Easy, the hard boiled detective work of Chester Gould’s Dick Tracy, the dogged determination of Harold Gray’s Annie and Sandy, the everyday living adventures of Frank King’s Gasoline Alley, Billy DeBeck’s Barney Google, and Frank Willard’s Moon Mullins and the surreal and mesmorizing artwork of Cliff Sterrett, Milt Gross, George Herriman, and Windsor McKay.

But the one strip that really grabbed me (outside of Floyd Gottfredson’s Mickey and Carl Bark’s Duck stories) was the absurdist fantasy world of E.C. Segar’s Thimble Theatre, aka Popeye (At one point, I thought I would even make the ‘definitive’ Popeye website!). Now, growing up with classic cartoons on tv every afternoon in the 70s had given me an already healthy appreciation of the spinach-eating sailor. But that Popeye was nowhere near as rich a character as the one to be found in the original run of comic strips. Sadly, what passed for Popeye in the comic pages of the day was a pale imitation of ‘gag-a-day’ strips done by Segar’s old assistant, Bud Sagendorf. And Popeye was by no means alone in this regard: Mickey, Moon Mullins, Barney Google (now Snuffy Smith) and others had all been reduced to simple comedy, eschewing more complicated continuities and abdication almost all storytelling to comic books and TV. Even those strips like Dick Tracy and Mary Worth that still continued to run longer storylines couldn’t hold a candle to their glory days. And don’t even get me started on the newspaper version of Spider-Man, where sometimes it took weeks for Peter Parker to walk out of his apartment door!

But it turned out that I was in luck! I was growing up at just the right time, as numerous publishers had seen fit to reprint selected titles from the Golden age of newspaper strips, most likely in response to Bill Blackbeard’s Smithsonian volume. Shel Dorf was reprinting numerous title with his Blackthorne label, Bill Blackbeard was covering Wash Tubbs & Easy (and an ill-fated attempt at reprinting the Gottfredson’s Mickeys), Another Rainbow was publishing a massive B&W Carl Bark’s Library, and Kitchen Sink was undertaking the first comprehensive reprinting of Li’l Abner, from 1934 to 1977! Even better, Fantagraphics begin publishing a magazine devoted to comics strips, Nemo, a selection of Little Orphan Annie books, and the jewel in the crown: The Complete E.C. Segar Popeye.

I gobbled up all of these books and devoured them time and again. The intricacy of the art and the cinematic nature of the storytelling all left me lamenting the state of the modern comics page. But at least I had the reprints…for a time. By the early 90s a shift had taken place. Video games and “grim ‘n gritty’ comics were crowding out simpler fare, and by the middle of the decade even the last of the reprints had died out. Collections of classic strips would be all but forgotten. But there were a few signs of life: DC Comics had been publishing archives of Will Eisner’s Spirit since the late 90s, and in recent years both Calvin & Hobbes and The Far Side debuted single volume collections that contained EVERY strips from each’s respective runs. But classic strips still had not gotten their due. Until 2004, that is. That’s when our old friends at Fantagraphics were able to fulfill a lifelong dream of theirs: comprehensively reprinting Charles Shultz’s Peanuts in chronological order (which amazingly had never been done). The sales of these initial volumes far exceeded expectations, leading to a new boom in reprints- not only are the old strips being rediscovered, but this time around (unlike in the 80s) they are being given the upscale designer treatment with heavy stock, handsome covers, and in some cases full color Sundays at the original publication sizes.

In the past year we’ve seen new editions of Buz Sawyer, Peanuts, Gasoline Alley, Dennis the Menace, Dick Tracy, Mary Perkins, Li’l Abner, Steve Canyon, and yes, Popeye, finally printed in a huge edition complete with color Sunday pages. And even more are coming in the future? Who knows. Even though I really would like to see someone tackle Annie and Moon Mullins, my biggest wish would be for Disney to recognize the market out there for a quality B&W reprinting of the Mickey Mouse strips in chronological order. They’ve never been reprinting unedited since publication. But with sequences like this they probably will never have the guts to release it. Which is why I blew a few hundred bucks last year on decent quality xeroxes of the fabled Comic Buch Club Germany portfolio. Still, I’d much rather have a nice clean official version. If these compilations continue to do well in the marketplace, I may yet get my wish someday. And they we might even see toys based on the classic Gottfredson Mouse and Barks Ducks! Oh, and if you really want a good look at the sorry state of today’s comic strips, why not give The Comics Curmudgeon a read?

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Ok, I know the blogging has been inconsistent at best, but hopefully now that I have some massive projects coming to an end I can post the bits of "Otter Wisdom" a bit more frequently. First, though, I need to give massive props to our friend "Vader" who has been a tremendous help in keeping the site afloat during our weird outages over the past month. He has also streamlined the underlying code of our front page and fixed the blog links there so they are now arranged by date; so if you notice how everything loads a lot quicker now, thank Vader! Anyway, my New Year’s resolution will be to try and post at least once a day. There are a lot of things out there to be commenting on, so I might as well shoot my mouth off (so to speak).

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I have a more apropos post for the christmas season coming soon, but have been too busy to write it.

Instead, why not marvel at the spectacle of nature that is…Baboon vs Hyrax?!?

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Like the previous entry on the BK Lord of the Rings figures, these were pitched to Burger King in 2001 as a tie-in to the then airing X-Men Evolution cartoon.

The earlier idea of figure packs was such a hit internally, when the X-Men license rolled around it was thought that the perfect “never been done before” concept would be 14 two-packs, each containing hero and villain figures. This is the overall “beauty shot” of all the figures together- each would have it’s own unique action feature the pairs would be somewhat appropriate to the characters, i.e. Professor X & Magneto, Wolverine & Sabretooth, etc.

Sadly, the powers that be at Burger King didn’t see the fun in making the “same old figure toys” and instead opted for a rival concept of static figurines that came with an interactive CD. While Jack in the Box later made a nice set of Justice League figures, this would have been a nice chance to own a lot of the more obscure characters that never saw toy representation.

One note: some of the designs (Boom Boom, Wolfsbane, etc) were based off the comics and not the show due to only a list of names for the upcoming characters was provided to BK and not character art. These would have been corrected had the concept made it too production. For more unseen X-Men Evolution art, go check out designer Steve Gordon’s great website!

Click the picture for the full assortment. 

Pictures cannot be used without express written permission. All images © 2001 Alcone Marketing, Kid’s WB!, and Burger King.

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Ottertorials 2006 December