Monday, April 30, 2012

March & April Table of Contents

Just the beginning... (quick links to archived posts)

Mary Doodles
Clever Timelapse Illustration Videos

Made in China (Part 1)

Goodbye Norma Jeane
Marilyn Monroe Mix Tapes

Hallmark Road Rovers and Wallace Berrie Funkymobiles
Toy Archive

An appreciation:
Woman in the Dunes

Retro-styled comic:
A Friday in '52

Biltmore Estate
(Spring 2012 photo essay)

North Carolina Museum of Art
(remixed for April Fool's Day)

An appreciation:
Frank Frazetta (painter)

One Swell Foop
(absurd comedy)

World Travel:
Photo Essay (Part 2)

World Travel:
Photo Essay (Part 1)

(a poem)

Logos through the eyes of youth
A 5-year old's humorous reaction to corporate branding

Freshman Year Sketchpad

North Carolina Museum of Art
(a few photos)

Works of Heart

Where names come from...
mine anyway

The Boy In The Yard
(my clay cartoon) Part 2

The Boy In The Yard
(my clay cartoon) Part 1

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Did you know Mary doodles?

Ahhh to travel through time... Here's a new one from Mary. She "draws" videos.
Spoiler: And at the end.... she smiles.
Have a nice weekend people!

And if you like.... have some more from Mary Doodles.

China: Through a Lens (Episode 1)

Here's some photos I shot in 2007, on a tour across mainland China. I've added a texture to some of these images, as the camera can capture how things look, but it takes human input to illustrate how it feels. So I've tried to present and preserve visually the emotional experience of being on the receiving end of the lens. Much of China seems either very old, or very new. And the ancient sites interested me more as they had such rich history attached. They quietly told their own stories. Their influence is evident in these photographs. Please enjoy.
Chrysanthemum Festival
Water Village

I was leaving a park when I noticed these guys playing checkers. It sort of had that Norman Rockwell-esque feeling about it. Something about the subject, or the composition. But either my camera battery was dying or my memory was full (can't remember which). But I remember struggling with my gear to get any shot at all. Plus my group was pulling me away. I managed to get a few not-so-clear shots. Later I do remember deleting all but one, as I needed the space for something else. I really wasn't prepared for how many shots I took. With digital, I tend to enjoy the feeling of "shoot and decide if it's worth keeping later". I eventually bought an additional memory card in Shanghai. But until then, I had to be really picky about what I shot. No fun. I've learned my lesson and now travel with more than enough batteries and memory. Better safe than sorry.

I'll see you again...

Friday, April 20, 2012

Goodbye Norma Jeane

In 1987 I became fascinated with the life and tragic death of Norma Jeane Baker (better known as actress and iconic sex symbol Marilyn Monroe). I'm not sure what triggered it. Perhaps it was because of the recent wonderful live recording of Elton John's Candle in the Wind playing incessantly on college radio. 

But I devoured several library books about her. I still remember how affected I was, upon seeing her post-mortem photos for the first time in one of those books. She always looked so "put together" and then seeing her like that... *sigh*. It was a strange feeling.

Anyway at the time, as a hobbie I would make "mix tapes". Probably most people who grew up in the eighties remember mix tapes. I would record my favorite tracks (off of vinyl records usually) and mix in little bits of dialogue from movies. So that each song and sample worked together to create a theme, or even told a story, for 90 minutes. Then I created my own tape covers from imaginary music groups to go with it. 

And, I guess because she was of interest to me, I did a series of tapes featuring Marilyn on the cover. I came across them the other day... and thought I'd explore them again. These were all created before computers, when dinosaurs still roamed the Earth. Utilizing copy machines (a nickel a copy), magic markers, colored pencil, x-acto knives and rubber cement. The rubber cement has now bled through staining the paper, giving Marilyn a somewhat tarnished look. Perhaps appropriate, given how I felt after seeing those photos. I still prefer to remember her as she lived, not as she died.  

To quote the song:
And I would have liked to have known you, 
but I was just a kid. 
Your candle burned out long before 
your legend ever did.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Road Rovers and Funkymobiles

In 1974, Kansas City, Missouri-based greeting card giant HALLMARK licensed a line of die-cast metal cartoony-looking cars from LJN Toys in New York. They called them ROAD ROVERS (linkand gave them all silly names like Scuttle Bug and Little Dumpy. They were cute, lumpy, brightly painted and one of my early memories of childhood fun. I did not own any at the time, but played with my next door neighbor who had some. I remember them being kinda cold and heavy. And they sorta looked like they were made of Play-Doh.

Initially 10 cars were produced in a limited run. They were made in Hong Kong and individually hand-painted, so each one was slightly unique. They were packaged on individual blister cards with really cool 1970's style art (current for it's time). It's kind of a mix of The Adventures of Letterman cartoons from original The Electric Company series and Heinz Edlemann's designs for The Beatles Yellow Submarine animated film. The artwork was so cheerful and appealing I wanted to shrink myself down and run around in the little Road Rover's world. Well instead, I just played with them in mine. The art was the work of the amazingly talented Robert Blair Martin (usually signed "Bob" Martin) who was a freelance artist for Hallmark in the 1970s, and later joined them in the role of "senior illustrator" in the 1980s dispite him being only in his thirties. He is well known for his line of intricately illustrated Springbok jigsaw puzzles featuring elaborately busy Richard Scary-esque scenes.

Now what's interesting to collectors today is that in the 1974 series, they introduced a pink and yellow car called Rosey Racer. Perhaps because of it's feminine name and color scheme, the predominantly young male market was not that interested in Rosey and it sold poorly enough to get a face lift and a name change for the 1975 revamped line of Road Rovers. Of course today, little Rosey is the crown jewel of many a collection due to it's rarity. 

Here's all 10 of the original '74 line-up featuring: Fuzz Mobile, Scuttle Bug, Flash the Garbage Eater, Banana Bus, Blue Blob, Firey Fred, Little Dumpy, Red Rover, Rosey Racer, and Merry Mover.

Inexplicable minutia: Scuttle Bug, Banana Bus and Bue Blob have white cardboard floors inside their clear bubble. And Merry Mover does not have "NON TOXIC" written on the package (and it also features a different font). 

The reverse side features a complete checklist of all 10 cars available at that time and the slogan "The Biggest Thing Yet in Tiny Car Fun!".

In 1975, the Rovers were relaunched (more widely this time) with 9 of the original 10 Rovers, while poor Rosey had her pink parts painted dark brown and her yellow bits red. And wahla... Fudge Drudge was born. Plus two new cars were added to the line. (Purple Squash and Chocolate Mouse). Another change was the packaging. Instead of blister cards, Hallmark sold them in little "garage" style boxes that featured a clear plastic slipcover that slid open to let the little car out. But could also be used to store the car back inside when not being played with. Reusable packaging! And they looked cool too. Utilizing the same basic fun artwork only now revamped to fit a 3D wraparound box. Here's all 12 of the popular 1975 series (clear plastic slipcovers not shown, as they don't photograph well):

Here's the bottom of the 1975 garage-style box:

Here's a comparison of Rosey Racer and Fudge Drudge:
Hallmark had a hit, but wasn't done. To compliment the 12 Rovers, for your hard-earned $2 you could buy the rather elaborately designed cardboard ROAD ROVER'S GARAGE. You put it together yourself (or more likely with your parents help) and it featured two levels, a play car wash and parking spaces for all 12 cars. Plus a working "hand-operated" elevator. It also sported the same idyllic fun artwork. Here's the garage packaging and the garage assembled:

Note: Although I've found no evidence that the product shown below actually shipped to stores, a 1976 LJN Toys Catalog features a photo of a Road Rovers Vinyl Garage. This carrying case-style vinyl playset is similar in overall construction to LJN's other sets produced for their mid-seventies TV properties such as EMERGENCY! and S.W.A.T. It's most likely that the photo is of a prototype and was never mass-produced. Perhaps the less expensive all-paper version shown above was seen as a more economic, and quite honestly better looking, alternative and therefore the vinyl version never made it out of the catalog. Until evidence surfaces to prove otherwise, the "vinyl garage" remains a curious oddity in Road Rovers toy history. 

Then, in 1976 something unexpected happened. At that time, Wallace Berrie Co. was a maker of cheap toys and novelty items. (They would go on to great success six years later with a line of Smurf figurines.) Well, someone over at WB must've been a big fan of the little Rovers, as they decided to do a knock-off line of VERY similar little vehicles. They called theirs... FUNKYMOBILES (link). 
They had the same overall design, hand-painted with silly names, bright colors, white wall tires, garage-style boxes with clear plastic slipcovers, even the 1970's style artwork looked almost like it came from the same artist. I'm not sure how they got away with it. Most kids at the time thought these were just the next series of Road Rovers. Even the Wallace Berrie logo (a jester's hat), looks like a silly droopy version of the elegant Hallmark crown. See for yourself:
Here's a comparison of the art on the inside of the Road Rover Firey Fred box and the Funkymobile Flamer Tamer box. Notice the similarities: helmets hanging on wall, boots paired up on the floor, one man on pole, one man putting on his boots, even two windows with drawstring blinds.
The main difference was that the Funkymobiles were made of plastic instead of die-cast metal. This afforded more detail. (The Funkymobiles would have a painted and scultped door edge whereas the Road Rovers would have the edge of the door only painted on.) Over time, with heavy play the paint on a Funkymobile would rub off (usually revealing a white base) whereas the Road Rovers were more likely to chip. To keep them fresh looking in the box Wallace Berrie included an additional clear plastic molded vehicle holder inside the printed cardboard box (in addition to the clear plastic outer slipcover). Unfortunately they did not include a checklist on the packaging, but 20 different toy vehicles were released. They consist of: Copper Bopper, Ramblin' Wreck, Garbage GuzzlerDouble Decker, Haulin' Harry, Flamer TamerDirty Dumpster, Crasher DasherMighty Mo, Brown Bomber, Golden Gooch, Rumble Roadster, Razzle Dazzle, Gallopin' Grape, HoodMobile, Sir Drag-a-Long, Maxi the Taxi, ScrubMobile, Razzamagas, and the very rare Pupil Packer (school bus). (Clear plastic slipcovers and vehicle holder not shown.)

There was some variation in the Funkies during the production run. They were hand painted so each vehicle had unique details, but their were some slight fluctuations in overall base color, such as the shade of purple on Gallopin' Grape. There was a production run of the vehicles produced in Hong Kong, and another run from Taiwan. Perhaps for this reason some cars were produced without the white painted rim on the tires. It was just left black. (Most, if not all, vehicles were available with and without white rims. This variation does not affect the collector value of the car.) And apparently a small number of the Copper Boppers had a light blue star on the door instead of the more common red star. 

Here's the rare "light blue star" version of Copper Bopper as seen on the Funkymobiles facebook page:
Here's the bottom of a Funkymobiles box:

Each Funkymobiles box featured a cartoon rendering of the vehicle on the bottom. Here's several of those drawings:

In 1983 someone at Hallmark had the bright idea of bringing the ROAD ROVERS back! Six cars were chosen from the 1975 line-up. But instead of just re-releasing the exact same cars. Hallmark had them all re-designed to take advantage of new casting techniques. So the new versions had slightly more detail and a little less "lumpiness" (similar to the Funkymobiles). Also of note, Banana Bus (originally orange) was now actually painted yellow (appropriately) with a lightning bolt added down the side, and was released under the new name Banana Flash (perhaps a nod to Flash, the Garbage Eater, from where they borrowed the lightning bolt). Old Fudge Drudge was given a revamp like the others, but was released under the name Chocolate Mouse (although it's obviously NOT a redesign of the old Chocolate Mouse.) Little Dumpy, previously green, was now a dark plum. Another change, instead of white wall tires, they all had Road Rovers written in metallic silver on each tire. 

The first batch consisted of redesigns of Little Dumpy, Firey Fred, Banana Flash (really Banana Bus), Chocolate Mouse (really Fudge Drudge), FuzzMobile (now written as one word instead of two) , and Blue Blob. They were presented in the most elaborate packaging yet. Each featured a unique die-cut "re-sealable box on a card". Combining elements from both the 1974 and 1975 packaging into one, with new full-color wraparound artwork rendered in the old 1970's style (Again by artist Bob Martin,who then worked "in-house" for Hallmark from 1982 to 1989). Sporting a clear window box, a tall card for artwork, and a series checklist on the back. Although not quite as easy to open as the 1975 "garage" style boxes, kids could store the car back inside after use. But they did not feature a hole for hanging the card/box on a peg, so they were shelf-displayed at the time in stores. Here's the 1983 Road Rovers in (and out of) their packaging:

The next (and final) series of Road Rovers, released in 1984, consisted of six entirely new vehicles. These were slightly more cartoonish in nature. Instead of simply a lumpy-looking fire truck, Hallmark offered a pig on wheels and called it Road Hog, and a postal truck which looks like a mailbox (Letter Limo), a street sweeper which resembles a vacuum (Vroom Broom), etc. 

And, perhaps to save on production costs, Hallmark released these six cars with no packaging at all. Just an oval sticker on the bottom (as seen on the right). From day one, all Road Rovers had their name embossed on the bottom. (Although it's hard to see in the photo, it reads Cash Cargo on the bottom of the bumper here in raised letters.) Also the 1983 line were re-released in late 1984 with just the white oval stickers on the bottom and no other packaging.

I don't think the 1980's line made as big of a splash with consumers and this, sadly, was the end of Road Rovers.

Here is the complete 1984 series of Road Rovers: Car Pool, Road Hog, Cash Cargo, Vroom Broom, Letter Limo and Scoop Coupe:  

In addition to the toy cars, Hallmark released a die-cut sticker sheet to accompany the 1975 series:

And again in 1984, another sticker sheet, featuring a mix of the '83 and '84 series. (Apparently they had no love for: Blue Blob, Little Dumpy and Banana Flash.) On this sticker sheet Fuzz Mobile went back to being written as two words.

Also in 1975 Hallmark held a "Color, Draw ,and Name Contest". The contest form was printed on a 12 x 17 inch sheet (seen below) and the instructions were as follows:
'Color each of the Road Rovers, then create your own drawing of a new Road Rover in the blank space, and give it a name. Return this entry blank to your Hallmark store for judging.'

1. When you complete this entry blank, return it to your Hallmark store and you will receive a free FUZZ Mobile door decal for your room
2. Six grand prize winners will receive a free Road Rovers garage.
Many thanks to reader "Zipactonal" for contributing the above info an image.

Here is the crack-n-peel Fuzz Mobile door decal prize:

Due to interest I've now included a Market Value List (as of 2012). 
If you are a collector is still one of your best bets for finding them.
But they do turn up on other online auctions sites, and of course yard/garage/estate sales from time to time.

Keep in mind these are only as valuable as the buyer's desire.
You may get lucky and get a bargain, or you may be up against another collector heart-set on getting that last piece. Rosey Racer has been known to fetch nearly $200 on rare occasions.

All evaluations are in US Dollars.

Hallmark Road Rovers:
MIB= Mint Condition In Box  

1974 Fuzz Mobile ~ MIB: $25/Loose: $15  
1974 Scuttle Bug ~ MIB: $25/Loose: $15
1974 Flash the Garbage Eater ~ MIB: $25/Loose: $15
1974 Banana Bus MIB: ~ $25/Loose: $15
1974 Blue Blob MIB: ~ $25/Loose: $15
1974 Firey Fred MIB: ~ $25/Loose: $15
1974 Little Dumpy MIB: ~ $25/Loose: $15
1974 Red Rover MIB: ~ $25/Loose: $15
1974 Rosey Racer MIB: ~ $95/Loose: $65
1974 Merry Mover MIB: ~ $25/Loose: $15

1975 Fuzz Mobile ~ MIB: $15/Loose: $10  
1975 Scuttle Bug ~ MIB: $15/Loose: $10 
1975 Flash the Garbage Eater ~ MIB: $15/Loose: $10 
1975 Banana Bus ~ MIB: $15/Loose: $10 
1975 Blue Blob ~ MIB: $15/Loose: $10 
1975 Firey Fred ~ MIB: $15/Loose: $10 
1975 Little Dumpy ~ MIB: $15/Loose: $10 
1975 Red Rover ~ MIB: $15/Loose: $10 
1975 Fudge Drudge ~ MIB: $15/Loose: $10 
1975 Merry Mover ~ MIB: $15/Loose: $10 
1975 Purple Squash ~ MIB: $15/Loose: $10 
1975 Chocolate Mouse ~ MIB: $15/Loose: $10 

1975 Garage ~ MIB: $100 

1983 Fuzz Mobile ~ MIB: $15/Loose: $10  
1983 Banana Flash ~ MIB: $15/Loose: $10 
1983 Little Dumpy ~ MIB: $15/Loose: $10 
1983 Firey Fred ~ MIB: $15/Loose: $10 
1983 Blue Blob ~ MIB: $15/Loose: $10 
1983 Chocolate Mouse ~ MIB: $15/Loose: $10

1984 Road Hog ~ Mint: $20 
1984 Car Pool ~ Mint: $20 
1984 Cash Cargo ~ Mint: $20 
1984 Scoop Coupe ~ Mint: $20 
1984 Letter Limo ~ Mint: $20 
1984 Vroom Broom ~ Mint: $20  

Wallace Berrie Funkymobiles:
MIB= Mint Condition In Box  

1976 Copper Bopper (Red Star Version) (model # 8514) ~ MIB: $20/Loose: $15 
1976 Copper Booper (Blue Star Version) (model # 8514) ~ MIB: $45/Loose: $40
1976 Ramblin' Wreck  (model # 8506) ~ MIB: $20/Loose: $15
1976 Garbage Guzzler (model # ????) ~ MIB: $45/Loose: $40
1976 Double Decker (model # 8509) ~ MIB: $20/Loose: $15
1976 Haulin' Harry (model # 8505) ~ MIB: $20/Loose: $15
1976 Flamer Tamer (model # 8507) ~ MIB: $20/Loose: $15
1976 Dirty Dumpster (model # 8510) ~ MIB: $30/Loose: $25
1976 Crasher Dasher (model # 8513) ~ MIB: $20/Loose: $15
1976 Mighty Mo (model # 8508) ~ MIB: $25/Loose: $20
1976 Brown Bomber (model # 8516) ~ MIB: $20/Loose: $15
1976 Golden Gooch (model # 8511) ~ MIB: $30/Loose: $25
1976 Rumble Roadster (model # 8512) ~ MIB: $20/Loose: $15
1976 Razzle Dazzle (model # 8522) ~ MIB: $45/Loose: $40
1976 Gallopin' Grape (model # 8515) ~ MIB: $20/Loose: $15
1976 HoodMobile (model # 8520) ~ MIB: $65/Loose: $60
1976 Sir Drag-a-Long (model # 8523) ~ MIB: $85/Loose: $80
1976 Maxi the Taxi (model # ????) ~ MIB: $100/Loose: $90
1976 ScrubMobile (model # 8517) ~ MIB: $45/Loose: $40
1976 Razzamagas (model # 8524) ~ MIB: $95/Loose: $90
1976 Pupil Packer (model # 8519) ~ MIB: $135/Loose: $120

Here's a nice article with more information from the Collector's Club of Great Britain.

So that's the history of the Hallmark Road Rovers and Wallace Berrie Funkymobiles. I'll update this post with new information or better images as they become available. Happy childhood memories! And please leave me a comment if you liked this post. ~ Thanks!