20th Century Toy Collector

Yo Joe!

Madballs Water Squirters!

Here’s another blast from the 1980′s. Remember Madballs? They were these tennis ball sized rubber balls with gross and gruesome faces and were all the rage in 1986! I remember buying one of these back in late 1986. I’ve been looking for Madballs sealed inside their original packaging for quite some time and two months ago I managed to score a complete set of three Madballs Water Squirters still sealed in their original packaging!

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Complete set of Madballs Water Squirters (1986) Wonderland

“A Gross-out Hype!”

Madballs came from AmToy, which was a subsidiary of American Greetings Corporation, Inc., who were also responsible for other memorable 1980′s properties like the Get-Along-Gang, the Care Bears, the Popples and Strawberry Shortcake. The original Madballs series came with 8 different Madballs, which are to me the most “memorable” of the bunch. It was expanded a year later with 8 more Madballs and there was even a Madballs vehicle! Lots of third party stuff was released as well. There even was a comic book and a (short lived) cartoon series!

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Madballs comic #1 (1986) Star Comics

It might sound strange that such a weird and freaky toy even had its own comic book, but there was definitely a hype going on in 1986 with anything that could gross you out. I know I dug that vibe as an 11-year-old, because I also owned one of those plastic buckets full of green slime (remember those?). Madballs was released around that same time and the toy line was supported with lots of ad campaigns. Here’s a video of the U.S. commercial :

Madballs U.S. commercial

“Madballs in the Low Countries”

I think this same commercial was shown on Dutch television in late 1986, although translated in Dutch. The first series of Madballs was released in the Netherlands by Dutch toy wholesaler Otto Simon. It was featured in the September 1986 issue of Dutch trade magazine Speelgoed & Hobby, which had an article on Otto Simon’s fall line up of that very year.

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Apparently Belgium had their own packaging for these same first series Madballs. They were bilingual (Dutch and French) and the funny thing is that the Dutch names for the Madballs on the Belgian cards are often different from the Dutch translation available in the Netherlands! Here’s a list of all the Madballs names of the first series. The first column is the original English name of the Madball, the second column is the Dutch translation as used in the Netherlands and the third column is the Dutch (or Flemish) translation as used in Belgium.

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Various Madballs translations (series 1)

“Water Squirters”

Apparently at some point in time three special Water Squirters were made, which added the gimmick of allowing the Madballs to be filled up with water. Kids could then squeeze the ball and make water squirt out the Madball’s mouth. Hilarity would ensue. The three Madballs that got the water squirter treatment were Screamin Meemie, Oculus Orbus and Slobulus.

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Madballs – Screamin’ Meemie Water Squirter (1986) Wonderland

I scored this set of three Madballs Water Squirters from a UK seller back in February. They appear to be the European versions of the Water Squirters, because they contain both English and French on the packaging. It’s not a Canadian release, because it explicitly lists a French address in Orly belonging to “Wonderland”, which is probably the company responsible for the distribution of these European packaged Madballs Water Squirters.

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Madballs – Slobulus Water Squirter (1986) Wonderland

The copyright blurb on the left side of the card shows that these were manufactured by Arco Toys, Ltd. which is the same company that produced Water Squirters for the North American market. The difference between these European cards and the American cards is that the latter came with English only on the packaging and they also had the “Arco” logo on the top left of the card instead of the Wonderland logo, which is shown on these European cards.

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Madballs – Oculus Orbus Water Squirter (1986) Wonderland

“Dustbrain”

I fondly remember owning “Dustbrain” of the first series of Madballs. He was called “Mummie” in the Dutch translation and there was almost no hesitation when I needed to make my pick in my favourite toy store back in 1986. Dustbrain it was!

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Meet the lovely Dustbrain

My mom and my sister were grossed out by it, but I loved it. There was something transcendent about his smile that I latched onto for some strange reason. He rocked. For many, many years Dustbrain was always lying around somewhere in my room. Through the good times and through the bad times, there was always Dustbrain in a corner, on the windowsill, under the bed or on my desk… smiling. I think I must have been at least 18 years old before my mom finally got rid of it one day or maybe I threw it away myself. I can’t really recall, but I do know I regret not having that original Madball around anymore. I’d love to find a Madball in Dutch packaging one day, especially if that were to be Dustbrain, a.k.a. Mummie. Here’s hoping. :-)

posted by 20th Century Toy Collector in Madballs and has Comments (8)


It’s a Dutch F.A.N.G.

My introduction to G.I. Joe occurred in early 1987, which is when I received the very first G.I. Joe mini-catalog showing the inaugural wave of G.I. Joe toys that would hit Dutch toy stores in the spring of 1987. The catalog was included as an insert in the number 16 issue of the weekly Dutch Donald Duck comic in mid-April of 1987.

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Donald Duck 1987-16 with Dutch G.I. Joe catalog

“The 1987 catalog”

The Donald Duck comic had an impressive number of subscribers in the Netherlands running in the hundreds of thousands and that’s not counting newsstand and supermarket circulation. So it was often used as an effective method by advertisers to reach many Dutch boys and girls in the 1980′s (though inserts like these were probably only available to subscribers). I can’t recall exactly whether I was still a Donald Duck subscriber in early 1987, because my parents cancelled the subscription at some point in time, but I definitely got this catalog in the mail and I suspect it was sent to me directly by MB, because I was on their mailing list (I sent in my Transformers cut out points for the S.T.A.R.S. mail away offer in 1986). The catalog was also available as a pack-in with all the boxed G.I. Joe items that debuted in 1987. If you’re interested, a high resolution scan of the complete catalog can be found in a blog post I made here.

Dutch G.I. Joe catalog (spring 1987) MB International BV

Man, I fondly remember this catalog. I knew every centimeter of this catalog by heart. Most of my buddies and class mates also got this catalog through the mail around the same time (which is a testament to the effectiveness of MB’s advertising campaigns in the 1980′s, I guess). I remember some of us sitting in the school yard staring at this catalog and trying to determine which action figure was the coolest. Most of us agreed that Flint (or ‘Kei’ as he was called in the Netherlands) was the coolest of the good guys and he is still one of my favourites today!

“My Mission…”

A couple of years ago I decided I would try and collect all the items shown in this catalog in their original Dutch packaging and I almost have all the vehicles complete. One of the small vehicles that I scored first was the Cobra F.A.N.G., which is shown below :

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Cobra F.A.N.G. shown in 1987 Dutch G.I. Joe catalog

F.A.N.G. stands for Fully Armed Negator Gyrocopter and it was released for the first time in the US in 1983 as part of the second wave of G.I. Joe toys. It was re-released in 1984 and 1985, before being discontinued in 1986. The F.A.N.G. was released in the Netherlands (and the rest of mainland Europe) in 1987 as part of the first wave of G.I. Joe toys.

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Cobra F.A.N.G.

“The Gyrocopter”

The Cobra F.A.N.G. was called the same in the Dutch release, although the acronym didn’t really mean anything. The Dutch translation for F.A.N.G. was “Volledig Bewapende Vernietigings- Gyroskopische Helikopter”. I don’t exactly understand why the F.A.N.G. is called a gyrocopter, because gyrocopters usually have free floating main rotors and a smaller engine powered propeller at the back that creates the forward motion which is needed for the main rotors to start spinning and to create lift. The F.A.N.G. though looks like it has an engine powered main rotor (the engine is located right under the main rotor).

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Cobra F.A.N.G. (1987) Dutch blueprints

The blueprints also tell us that the F.A.N.G. weighs 1,000 kilograms (2200 lbs), can reach speeds up to 320 kilometers/hour (197 mph) and has an operating range of 900 km (550 miles). It also comes with capacity for a total of four heat-seeking air-to-air missiles (two on either side of the F.A.N.G.) , a bomb and a nose mounted movable 30mm rapid firing cannon. Man, I just frickin’ love the detail that went into these toys. These enormously detailed vehicle blueprints combined with the character tech specs really stimulated my imagination when I was a kid (and still do!) Hasbro certainly nailed the execution of this toyline in the 1980′s in my book.

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Donald Duck 1988-09 with Dutch G.I. Joe catalog

“1988 Re-release”

The Cobra F.A.N.G. was re-released in the Netherlands in 1988. Here’s a photo from the Dutch spring 1988 catalog, which was (again) included as an insert with Donald Duck issue number 9 from early March 1988. Here’s a close up of the F.A.N.G. from said catalog, this time with Sneeuwzoeker (Snow Serpent) at the helm.

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Cobra F.A.N.G. shown in spring 1988 Dutch G.I. Joe catalog

“Collection”

I scored my first Cobra F.A.N.G. in Dutch packaging in September of 2010 together with a boat load of other 1987 G.I. Joe vehicles in Dutch packaging. The F.A.N.G. and its packaging were in reasonable condition, but the bomb and missiles were missing as you can see in the photo below. I also placed a loose Cobra action figure inside the F.A.N.G. to match the artwork on the box (the F.A.N.G. did not originally come with any action figure).

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Cobra F.A.N.G. (1987) MB international BV

Lucky for me I scored an upgrade for my F.A.N.G. about a month ago! The cool thing about it was that the toy was still unassembled, with unapplied stickers and accessories still on the tree! Contrary to Transformers, G.I. Joe vehicles often had to be partly assembled out of the box, so it’s not easy to find those untouched. Here’s a snapshot of the complete contents of my new F.A.N.G.:

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Cobra F.A.N.G. (1987) MB international BV

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Cobra F.A.N.G. (1987) MB international BV

“Distribution”

The Cobra F.A.N.G. was distributed in the Netherlands by MB International B.V. The G.I. Joe toys carried the Hasbro logo on the packaging, but the truth was that at that time Hasbro was nothing more than a division of MB International B.V. in the Netherlands. According to records I pulled from the Dutch Chambers of Commerce it was not until late 1991 that Hasbro Netherlands was truely founded as a private, limited liability company (or as is called in Dutch, a BV, a “besloten vennootschap”). Hasbro acquired MB in 1984 and in many European countries the various MB subsidiaries were used to distribute Hasbro toys, before everything was truely vertically consolidated in the early 1990′s under the Hasbro name.

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Distributed by MB international BV, Utrecht, Holland

This particular version of the Cobra F.A.N.G. in Dutch packaging was also available to retailers in Belgium (in Flanders, the Dutch speaking parts of Belgium), which we can glean from the other side of the box. Distribution in Belgium was done by Hasbro-MB N.V., which was a subsidiary of MB International BV.

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Distributed by Hasbro-MB NV, Brussels, Belgium

“SKU”

The stock number (SKU or stock keeping unit number) for the Cobra F.A.N.G. was 9602. MB International numbered all their products with a 4-digit code, which was a seperate numbering scheme from the one used by their American parent Hasbro, Inc. An additional 2-digit suffix was also used that could serve several purposes, although it was primarily used to indicate the language variation of the product (thanks for this info, Martin!)

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9602 04 – Dutch Cobra F.A.N.G.

As you can see from the photo above the 04 suffix indicated that this product was the Dutch language variant. From looking at some of the other European G.I. Joe items I have lying around I also figured out that 01 means French packaging and 97 means bilingual French/Dutch packaging. So that means that the SKU numbers for the Benelux and France were:

  • 9602 01 – F.A.N.G. in French packaging
  • 9602 04 – F.A.N.G. in Dutch packaging
  • 9602 97 – F.A.N.G. in bilingual French/Dutch packaging

 

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9602 01 – French Cobra F.A.N.G.

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9602 04 – Dutch Cobra F.A.N.G.

“Manufacturing info”

As you can see from the two photos above the European Cobra F.A.N.G. was manufactured in Waterford, Ireland. This used to be the location of the Irish subsidiary of Milton Bradley (MB Ireland). The Waterford plant was used a lot for the production of the early vintage G.I. Joe vehicles for the European market. The G.I. Joe action figures were made in Asia, but the vehicles were all made in MB’s Waterford factory in Ireland. This explains the differences which are often found between the American G.I. Joe vehicles and the European ones. The American G.I. Joe vehicles were usually made in the Americas, Hong Kong or China, while the European vehicles were manufactured in Europe by MB.

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MB Ireland factory (Waterford, Ireland)

“Viva MB España”

If only things were as “simple” as that. Just last week I found a collector who was selling off a couple of Dutch G.I. Joe boxes and I cleaned him out, because I could use some of the boxes he was selling as upgrades. One of the boxes that was part of the lot was another Cobra F.A.N.G. box. I compared this new box to the one I already had and dammit, there’s a difference…. It appears that there was a second production run of Cobra F.A.N.G.’s in Europe and this one was in Valencia, Spain!

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9602 04 – Dutch Cobra F.A.N.G. (made in Valencia, Spain)

Are you still with me? :-) Well, it appears we once more have two European G.I. Joe variants of the same toy on our hands (just like the two Chung-Ho variants in post number 94). We have a Cobra F.A.N.G. made in Waterford, Ireland and another made in Valencia, Spain.

It is not a real surprise that the second variation was made in Valencia, because guess what! MB also had a manufacturing plant there. MB International B.V. used to have a Spanish subsidiary called MB España S.A. based in Valencia. MB España S.A. was responsible for the production of various Hasbro products for the European market and distribution in their domestic market in the mid to late 1980′s. Amongst other things they manufactured G.I. Joe vehicles, Jem dolls and Battle Beasts (or “Bestias de Combate” for the Spanish market).

“That Dating Game Again”

So now that we have established that there were two Cobra F.A.N.G variants made in Europe, one in Ireland and one in Spain, which one came first? Well, I think I have the answer to that one. I think the Waterford, Ireland made F.A.N.G. was released in 1987 and the Valencia, Spain made F.A.N.G. was available in 1988. How do I think I know? Well, the answer lies in the Belgian contact information on both boxes, because it is different:

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Louizalaan address in Brussels, Belgium

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Vaartdijk address in Brussels, Belgium

If you look closely you can see that the address information has changed. The Waterford, Ireland made F.A.N.G. has an address in Brussels at the Louizalaan 386, while the Valencia, Spain made F.A.N.G. has an address at the Vaartdijk 109-111 in Brussels. It just so happens that I know that Louizalaan address of Hasbro-MB N.V. is from 1987, because I have a Benelux Ultra Magnus from 1987 that has the same contact information (discussed in post number 90). So the logical conclusion would be that the Waterford, Ireland made F.A.N.G. is the 1987 release and that the Valencia, Spain made F.A.N.G. is a second production run available in 1988!

“Behind the Curtains”

So that’s the Cobra F.A.N.G.! Although I already knew that most (or all?) of the European G.I. Joe vehicles were made in Europe instead of Asia, I did not realize that production was moved from Waterford to Valencia. If anything, it gives an insight into the production and distribution side of things, which is like peaking behind the curtains to me. :-) It will be an interesting exercise to compare the production/manufacturing info on the packaging of the other G.I. Joe vehicles I have and see if any other patterns come to light. Nerdy fun!

 

posted by 20th Century Toy Collector in G.I. Joe and has Comments (8)


G.I. Joe – Two Dutch Chung-Ho variants

I love to collect vintage G.I. Joe toys in their original Dutch packaging. I was born and raised in the Netherlands and fondly remember seeing the all-Dutch packaging in my local toy store back in 1987. The Netherlands (or “Holland” as it is often colloquially referred to) is not exactly a big country in Europe. All the more exciting that we got G.I. Joe toys with fully Dutch translated packaging in the stores between 1987 and 1989 (from 1989 onwards we had to make do with bilingual French/Dutch packaging).

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Vintage G.I. Joe in Dutch packaging (1987)

These early G.I. Joe releases (1987, 1988 and 1989) in all-Dutch packaging are some of the hardest to find of all the European variants, especially the action figures. 

“Chung-Ho Too!”

I currently own a handful of carded G.I. Joe action figures in Dutch packaging and Chung-Ho was the very first MOSC (mint on sealed card) specimen I found about two years ago. I recently stumbled upon a second Dutch Chung-Ho action figure still mint on sealed card and didn’t hesitate to pick it up. The reason I decided to purchase it is because I saw what I believed to be a sticker on the bottom left on the card that wasn’t present on my first Dutch Chung-Ho and my interest was peaked. The sticker looked like it was one of those mail-away special offers that were all the rage with Hasbro back in the 1980′s.

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G.I. Joe – Chung-Ho (1988) MB International B.V.

“Double Dutch”

Imagine my surprise when this second Chung-Ho arrived in the mail and I found out that it was not a sticker at all! It was part of the actual print on the card. This means that there were two different releases of this action figure in the Netherlands (possibly also in the other European countries where MB were responsible for the distribution of G.I. Joe toys).

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Both Chung-Ho variants side by side

“China or Hong Kong?”

I frantically compared both items to see if there were any other differences besides the mail-in offer promotion on the front of the card. There were no easily discernible differences between the action figures themselves from what I can see without removing them from the packaging. But lo and behold, it seems these two variants do have one other difference on the packaging. The first Chung-Ho card says the product was manufactured in China, while the second Chung-Ho card (the one with the special offer promotion) says it was manufactured in Hong Kong!

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Chung-Ho (made in China)

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Chung-Ho (made in Hong Kong)

Note that although today Hong Kong is officially part of China, in 1988 Hong Kong was still a British colony, so these were two seperate sovereignties. It was only in 1997 that Hong Kong became part of China.

“The Dating Game”

I love finding out stuff like this. Previously I had just assumed that there was only one version of every Dutch G.I. Joe release, but this finding throws that assumption squarely out of the window. So I started pondering how these two different releases would fit chronologically speaking. Were they available in stores simultaneously? Or did one come before the other?

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Back of both cards

To try and answer that question I dug up my Dutch G.I. Joe catalogs. Although Chung-Ho is primarily considered to be a 1989 release, he was already available from late 1988 according to the European G.I. Joe FAQ. The release date of the Benelux G.I. Joe catalog that first shows Chung-Ho certainly supports this, because this catalog probably debuted around the fall of 1988. The date code on the catalog mentions October 1988, while records indicate that the weekly Dutch Donald Duck magazine/comic came with a G.I. Joe catalog insert with issue 38 in late September 1988, which is almost certainly this same catalog.

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Chung-Ho in Benelux G.I. Joe catalog (Fall 1988)

So it’s not entirely unthinkable that Chung-Ho, advertised in a fall 1988 catalog, was available in time for the December holiday season of 1988. Chung-Ho is also seen in the 1989 Dutch G.I. Joe catalog, which came in a comic book like form. There’s no date that I could find on that catalog, but it was probably released late February or early March 1989, because Donald Duck issue number 12 of 1989 came with another G.I. Joe insert. The catalog looks like it was co-produced with Dutch Marvel comics publisher JuniorPress, re-affirming a suspicion I’ve long had, which is that JuniorPress and MB International BV (the name of the Dutch MB subsidiary) had a more than average publisher-advertiser relationship.

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Chung-Ho in Dutch G.I. Joe catalog (Spring 1989)

“Super Trooper”

So Chung-Ho was probably available from late 1988 and all through 1989. But what does that tell us about the order in which the above two Chung-Ho variants were available? Well, the most important clue to dating these two variants would lie in the variant with the mail away offer. The version of Chung-Ho with the Super Trooper special offer was probably the second/later release that was only available well into 1989. Why? Well, because if you look closely at the Super Trooper offer sticker it says it’s valid until March 31, 1990. It’s much more likely that this version of Chung-Ho was released in 1989 than in late 1988, because late 1988 until late March 1990 seems like an awfully long time for a mail away offer to be valid. Most Transformers and G.I. Joe mail away offers that MB International B.V. ran in the 1980′s would usually run for about 6 months, maybe a little longer, but certainly not 18 months.

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Close up of Super Trooper offer

So that probably places the “regular” Chung-Ho before the one with the Super Trooper mail away offer (at least that’s what I think with the information I have now). That would probably make the Chung-Ho without the mail away offer a 1988 release and the one with the offer a 1989 release. The obsessive nerd inside me is satisfied with this conclusion…. Oh, by the way, while I don’t have the Super Trooper action figure myself I do have its original Dutch file card that I got as part of a batch of G.I. Joe file cards that I bought a couple of years ago. Here it is:

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Super Trooper – Dutch file card

This hobby just never gets old. I am going to dig into the rest of my G.I. Joe collection to see what other stuff I can find out that I may have been missing. Have a great Easter weekend and see you back soon! ;-)

 

posted by 20th Century Toy Collector in G.I. Joe and has Comments (4)


Postcards from Autobot City

I love it when I accidentally stumble upon something cool. Isn’t that just the best way to discover cool shit? Case in point: a little while ago I was reorganizing my collection room and had a stack of Majokit boxes standing next to some of my Transformers. For those who don’t know what Majokit was (and that’s probably most of you): the Majokit toy line was a modular city that you could build using various parts. You had pavements, traffic lights and signs, street lights, gas stations, the works. It was created somewhere around 1983 by French die-cast metal model car manufacturer Majorette.

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MB Red Tracks and MB Jazz in Autobot City

“Welcome to Metroplex”

When I saw my Transformers stacked next to my Majokit I thought to myself; “wouldn’t it be cool to combine Majokit and Transformers and create a little diorama?” After all, Majokit and the early Transformers Autobot cars were more or less the same scale. So I grabbed a couple of my MB Transformers Autobot cars (Jazz, Red Tracks and Ratchet) and one of my favourite big G1′s : Metroplex and went to town!

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Ratchet and Red Tracks

Within 5 minutes I had laid out a very basic Majokit street. I added some street lights, some signs and traffic lights and a house. Then I placed Ratchet and Jazz in there. That looked pretty cool. I imagined what Autobot City might have looked like and that’s when I decided I would drop big daddy Metroplex in there in city mode. To spice things up I also added the MB Red Tracks to the scene. I positioned Red Tracks as if he were driving down Metroplex’s ramp.

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Metroplex, with laserbeams of awesomeness shooting up behind him

Some seriously geeky fun ensued and I quickly grabbed my iPhone and made some snapshots of the scene, before I had to pack everything up again. I then imported the photos into Photoshop and let the creative juices flow by adding a cool atmospheric background to the scene.

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MB Jazz braking for a red light

As these photos were made in a hurry with a smartphone camera under low light conditions they’re not exactly the best quality, but the end result came out looking pretty OK for a proof of concept. At the very least it made me decide to redo this little project in the near future using my DSLR and on a larger scale (a bigger Majokit street plan, more Autobots). There’s so much cool and nerdy stuff I can think of for the next attempt.

The two photos that I made can be seen in their entirety below:

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“Mega Majokit”

Before I sign off here’s a very cool photo showing what levels of mega coolness were attainable if you had enough dough to buy shitloads of Majokit sets back in 1983-1984. Man I just loved that kind of thing. Just imagine the scene below filled with early G1 Autobots. :-)

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posted by 20th Century Toy Collector in Majokit,Transformers and has Comments (5)


A Tale of Three Primes!

A couple of weeks ago I bought my third European vintage G1 Optimus Prime in MB packaging. Third?! Yes, third. But there’s a perfectly good reason why I have three (…said the crazy person). What most Transformers collectors don’t know is that MB actually released a total of three different Optimus Prime variants more or less simultaneously in continental Europe in late 1985!

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“Keep on truckin’!”  -MB took that seriously.

“Freedom is the Right of All Sentient Beings”

I originally planned on including information on these three Optimus Prime variants in my series of articles on MB Transformers, but ultimately decided it was best to spin off the material I had already written into a stand alone article. It’s basicly a simple guide to the three variations and how to recognize them, with a little background information thrown into the mix to spice things up.

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Ménage à trois

Enough chit chat. You can find the article by clicking on the link in the menu widget on the right, under the MB Transformers articles links or you can go directly to the article just by clicking or tapping here (you’re welcome). I hope you enjoy reading it and see you back soon!! :-)

posted by 20th Century Toy Collector in MB Transformers,Transformers and has No Comments