Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Mickey Mouse III


Mickey is pushing hard on this enamel pin. This is Mickey's 3rd appearance on BPA, and his 2nd in pin form (his debut appearance was as a bendable figure). This is the old style Mickey from the '30s before he had pupils and Caucasian skin. I can't find a date or much of any info on this pin online, which is a little weird considering there seems to be a big Disney pin trading community.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Peanuts Mini Skateboard




The 2nd Peanuts skateboarding series features most of the same figures as the original Skate N Surf series. I can't find a year for this series but I believe these are late '70s or early '80s. It appears these were made by 2 different companies at different times so the latter run may have been mid to late '80s. For this series, billed as "Snoopy Mini Skateboard with Free Wheeling Action," they moved away from the slightly oversized die-cast metal skateboards and went to an extremely oversized plastic deck. In addition to the less aesthetic look, they also exchanged Beach Party Snoopy for a Snoopy that is dancing or ice skating (bottom left pic). Either way it is a big step down. That leaves only 2 figures that are more or less in a skating position: Charlie Brown and Joe Cool. Both these figures were in the original series as well as the 3 sitting figures (Snoopy with Woodstock, Woodstock, and WWI Flying Ace). Fear not though, Beach Party Snoopy returns in the 3rd series where each figure is riding in tandem with another.

Friday, April 11, 2014

The Most Important Skateboarding Game You've Never Played


Now for a scholarly* essay on the least-known Skate or Die title.  It's a game you've probably never played, because, well, it's pretty much crap...but it's IMPORTANT CRAP.

The game is Skate or Die: Tour De Thrash, and it was released by Electronic Arts in 1991.

Chief developers Kosaka, Bunch, and Knopp made this game from components recycled from their other games in Electronic Arts' Skate or Die franchise, and they added nothing to really tie these different bits together.

The main chunk of the game (The "Stale Fish (sic) Tour") is just a reworked version of the halfpipe snowboarding event from Ski or Die which was released in 1990.

Luckily for us, the event was reworked into the best form of skateboarding known to man: drainage ditch skating. You bomb down miles and miles of ditch and try to not fly out of the side or smack into walls. There are no tricks other than a defensive ollie, but you can carve and weave around huge obstacles that really have no business being in a drainage ditch in the first place.  I mean...adding a wall that blocks the entire basin of the ditch will kind of do the exact opposite of you want a ditch to do.

Left: Ski or Die, Right: Skate or Die Tour de Thrash
The other part is just the "Double Trouble" halfpipe from Skate or Die 2; except in this game it's been renamed the "Retro Rocket Ramp." This name change can be attributed to the bonus round that was added to it in the jump from NES to Game Boy.


awkvert.
At random points in play, a UFO will fly across the top of the screen, and you can reach the ship if you perform...a rocket air.

*Sound of waiter dropping a tray full of dishes in the background*

"Rocket Airs, Guys!"

Your rocket air gains little boosters, and it propels you up into a UFO. Then you're bombdropped into a moon crater where you can skate despite the fact that you are not donning the requisite googie-style bubble space helmet.


Lunar Landing

The graphics on this part are obviously recycled from the Skate or Die pool joust sequence. The only major change is that a little volcano was added into the middle to accommodate the "Double Trouble" skating mechanics.

So yes, the two main parts of this game are made up of parts recycled from literally every other "__ or Die" game and haphazardly slapped together.

The remaining elements that hold the game together are also mostly recycled.

The music, for example, was lifted from Ski or Die, a fact impossible to overlook for anyone who cares at all about game music. It was composed by Commodore 64 legend Rob Hubbard who created the Skate or Die theme song that everyone knows and loves.

The one-player ditch skating mode includes more content lifted from Skate or Die 2, i.e. the graphics for Lester and CJ whose presence is explained in no way whatsoever.**

Game Boy Lester (left) looks like he got a sunburn.

That digression brings us to the important part of the game.  The Stale Fish Tour has two modes: one player, and versus mode.

The versus mode actually pits you against the 1991 Santa Cruz Skate team in a worldwide ditch skating tour circuit.

Sessions Advertising in 720 Degrees
Officially, Sessions was the first skateboarding-related company to lend its brand to a video game. Atari Corp's legendary 720 Degrees from 1986 featured a couple of well-placed Sessions adverts.

It was extremely basic, but it was a first.

Santa Cruz came in a relatively close second with its appearance as a sponsor in Epyx's California Games just one year later.

With Tour de Thrash, Santa Cruz took the next big marketing/sellout step.  It became the first skate company to license out the likeness of its skaters for use in a video game.

That's right, Skate or Die: Tour De Thrash was the first video game to feature actual skaters, and it wasn't the Bones Brigade!

So the one thing about this game that wasn't recycled from another game was actually a first in the history of video games.

What's more, the skate team it features is awesome. It's part of the Risk It/Reason for Living-era Santa Cruz line up, including:

  • Eric Dressen
  • Jason Jessee
  • Tom Knox
  • Corey O'Brien
  • Bod Boyle
  • Claus Grabke
  • Rob Roskopp
  • Jeff Kendall
In this part of the game, you and one member of the Santa Cruz team race to the finish down those long, perilous, and poorly engineered drainage ditches.
Doubles Run in the L.A. River

These ditches are located in places like Los Angeles, Baghdad, Hanoi, Easter Island, Chernobyl, and Atlantis...places that could have only been chosen by someone with the bugout sensibilities of a Reagan-era Californian.

Before each race, you're shown your location on a world map, and then given a bio of the skater you're racing against.

This screen is where we learn intimate details of the Santa Cruz team. You learn, for example, that Jeff Kendall has a pet snake named 'Snake,' or that Jason Jesse's favorite breakfast food is bean curd.

b'gosh!

There are no pictures of the skaters or graphics to represent them.  Rather, they're all the same exact sprite, which is also the same sprite as player one.

Despite the bland profiles and lack of unique graphics for the skaters, their simple appearance represented a major breakthrough in skateboarding culture.  Their identities were important enough to be licensed to an EA sports franchise at a time when skateboarding was tumbling toward a post-vert nadir of popularity.

This sinking popularity might actually explain why Skate or Die: Tour de Thrash is so half-assed, but it's more likely that Electronic Arts was just putting out whatever it could on Nintendo's platforms.

Because as skateboarding was sinking in popularity, so too was Electronic Arts.

According to author David Sheff, EA had "backed the wrong horse" in the late 80's by putting massive support behind the Commodore Amiga.  In hindsight, it was a bonehead move, but back then, it wasn't a bad choice at all. The Amiga had amazing graphics and audio, and had a devoted body of users largely in the arts and entertainment community.
Andy Warhol, Debbie Harry, and an Amiga, 1985

However, home video game consoles proved to be infinitely more popular for video games, and EA watched Nintendo and Sega thoroughly trounce the previous titans of the home computer industry.

In 1989, EA had its worst year on record, and posted its first losses in more than six years. Its PC software business shrank from 93 percent of total sales to 66 percent, and the company did a quick turnaround and sunk more effort into non-PC gaming.

Long story short, between 1989 and 1991, EA was going through a major change.  It lost its CEO and founder, went public, and started the EA Sports label, putting the Skate or Die series to bed for good.

Like skateboarding, EA quickly rebounded in popularity, but it left a lot of its kookiness and personality in the past.




*not really as funny as it could be.

**I failed to mention that Rodney also skates by at random points in the halfpipe part of the game, too.  It would be wrong to not include him in a Skate or Die game...This is why Skate or Die: Bad n' Rad is the ultimate travesty, but we'll talk about that at a later date.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Skaterdater


Skaterdater is a short film from 1966 that claims to be "the first theatrical film to capitalize on the new skateboarding craze." According to the back of this LP the film was made by two UCLA film grads who worked in the industry and borrowed equipment and worked on weekends to complete the film. IMDB features a review by Bill McKaig who is one of the skaters in the movie. According to him their skate club was called The Imperials.  They "won a skateboard contest in Hermosa Beach around 1964 and [writer/director] Noel Black was there looking for some kids. Since most of the other teams were sponsored by Hobie, Jack's Surfboard, etc., he talked with us."

The film in its entirety is on YouTube (linked below). It follows a skate team as they roll around town. When their leader starts paying too much attention to a girl he is challenged to a downhill race for control of the team. As I type this out I realize this is also the plot of Thrashin'. The film itself is about 17 minutes but the soundtrack contains 26 minutes of instrumental surf. It was written by Mike Curb and performed by Davie Allan & the Arrows. (The Arrows seems to be a generic name that Allan used for his backing band, whoever that happened to be at the time. There are actually no musician credits on the sleeve but it is widely credited to Davie Allan & the Arrows since Allan is known to have played on the album.) Due to a track called "Skaterdater Rock" that features Allan's signature buzzsaw distortion, Allan gained some minor acclaim and, together with Curb, worked on many other soundtracks, primarily for mid to late '60s biker films. This album was later parodied when the Phantom Surfers teamed up with Davie Allan on the 1998 LP Skaterhater.

"Skaterdater Rock" is almost certainly the first time skateboarding met distortion. Davie Allan is not too remembered but he did pioneer some fuzzed out guitar sounds that fall between Link Wray's early distortion experimentation of the late '50s / early '60s and Jimi Hendrix's guitar wizardry of the late '60s. 


Saturday, April 5, 2014

Skateboardin' Tugs


Those of us who lived through the Koosh fad of the mid-'90s look back in confusion and regret, or have just completely blocked it out of our minds. Building on the momentum provided by The Rosie O'Donnell show, Koosh branched out from the ball market to include Koosh Kins, balls with a face and arms, and Koosh Lings, balls with a face, arms and legs. Koosh Kins had a much more extensive backstory thanks to an Archie published comic, but Koosh Lings were promoted by various female child stars of the time. After the original line of Koosh Lings in 1996, a follow-up line called "Wild Times" was released which made the child stars exclaim "They're into the same stuff we are!" These were followed by the "Cool Scenes" line with the updated tag line "Doin' the same stuff you do!"

Tugs was in the original line and marketed as a body builder. Skateboardin' Tugs is from the "Wild Times" line and has traded in his boots for some fake Chucks and donned elbow and knee pads. The main thing I remember about Koosh products was the unique rubbery smell. This guy's still got it after nearly 20 years.


Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Tom & Jerry II


I've been watching quite a bit of Tom & Jerry on Boomerang lately and I've been paying a bit more attention to the different eras. As a kid it was obvious that there was something weird going on with a handful of episodes. These 13 were made in Czechoslovakia and are a departure from the original Hanna Barbara cartoons. Following the Czech cartoons (known as the Deitch era after animator Gene Deitch), Chuck Jones took up the Tom & Jerry mantle and put out cartoons that looked and felt a bit like his earlier Roadrunner cartoons. These 3 eras were lumped together and aired in the '80s where I first saw them. The 4th and 5th incarnations of Tom & Jerry were created in the late '70s/early '80s and aired as their own shows (The Tom & Jerry Show and The Tom and Jerry Comedy Show respectively). The former featured Jerry in a bow tie and presented the duo as friends (there's that crusade against violent children's shows again) and the latter returned to predictable cat and mouse scenario but this time used noticeably inferior animation and sound effects. This 5th incarnation has been added to the bundle that Boomerang aires. Each time they come on they seem just vaguely familiar and stick out as drastically lower quality. At least it doesn't include the 6th era, The Tom & Jerry Kids Show.

This figure is from 1986 and was made by Comics Spain. Like Tom & Jerry's previous appearance, this figure doesn't appear to be connected to any specific incarnation of the show. Also like their previous appearance, Jerry is the only one skating. Jerry is on a pretty unusual board although it might just be a single roller skate that he is riding like a skateboard.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

No Cheese!


The Stupids, England's premier skate punk band, team up with Aussie punk legends The Hard-Ons on this Australian tour 10". It was put out in 1988 and is a joint release by Waterfront (AU) and Vinyl Solution (UK). The EP features 3 tracks by each band and 2 tracks by "all star" bands which are made up of members from each band as well as some roadies. The record consists entirely of cover tracks, with the 2 all star bands covering traditional songs; The Stupids covering The Hard-Ons, Minor Threat and The Ramones; and The Hard-Ons covering The Stupids, AC/DC and the UK Subs. There is also some inter-song banter that consists primarily of the bands making fun of each other.

The cover features caricatures of the band members and roadies on a gigantic pizza. Hidden amongst the toppings are various items such as a broken record, a beer can, rats, cats and, partially obscured by Stupids bassist Ed Shred, a skateboard.


The insert consists of a comic detailing some of the bands' misadventures through Australia, including the below panels where the bands watch "classic slammer" Dave Ross.