PopCult Rudy Panucci on Pop Culture

Monday Morning Art: Chicago River At Twilight

 

This week’s art is a digital painting that depicts the Chicago riverfront, with the Marina Towers in the background, and a glorious twilight palette of colors.  This painting was done from scratch, but the colors were sampled from several photos I took from our hotel room when we were in the Windy City last month. I think it worked out pretty well considering how little time I put into it.  I’ll probably revisit this technique in the future.

If you wish, you can click this image to see it bigger.

Over in radio-land, Monday on The AIR, this week we bring you a Monday Marathon featuring eight episodes of Mel Larch’s Curtain Call. This will begin a week of new episodes of our afternoon programming on The AIR  So get ready to keep your browsers pointed our way.

You can listen to The AIR at the website, or on this embedded radio player…

At 3 PM Herman Linte’s show, Prognosis marks 50 episodes with the first of a two-part “Prog Rock 101” special that will present songs from the quintessential progressive rock bands. Part two will run next week in the usual timeslot. Check out the playlist below…

Prognosis 050

King Crimson “The Court of the Crimson King”
Genesis “Watcher Of The Skies”
YES “Heart Of The Sunrise”
Pink Floyd “Shine On You Crazy Diamond”
Dream Theater “The Bigger Picture”
Emerson, Lake and Palmer “Karn Evil 9, Impression I part 1”
Emerson, Lake and Palmer “Karn Evil 9, Impression I part 2”
UK “Rendesvous 6:02”
Triumvirat “The March To The Eternal City”
Jethro Tull “Heavy Horses”
Marillion “Bitter Suite”
Camel “Song Within A Song”
Renaissance “Midas Man”
Vand Der Graaf Generator “White Hammer”

Prognosis will be followed by an extra classic episode at 5 PM, and then by replays of last week’s Psychedelic Shack at 7 PM, Radio Free Charleston at 8 PM and RFC International at 9 PM. Then at 11 PM we kick it back over to Prognosis, with an extra eight hour marathon of great progressive rock.

The sad news broke this weekend that legendary animator Richard Williams, who counts Who Framed Roger Rabbit among his many impressive credits, has passed away at the age of 86. Reportedly he was still animating until he took suddenly ill recently.  As a result, we have bumped our previously-scheduled video to next week so we could bring you this.

As a tribute to this largely over-looked genius, we’re bringing you a short video by The Royal Ocean Film Society about Willaims. While it’s a great sampling of his work, it is very short and some of the information about his epic, unfinished work, The Thief and The Cobbler, isn’t entirely accurate, but you can see the sheer beauty and high level of craft on display in his work in the animation they show.

 

The RFC Flashback: MINI SHOW Episode Six

From mid-November, 2013, this week we bring you the sixth episode of The RFC MINI SHOW, starring Snakebox.

This episode of The RFC MINI SHOW was recorded in August of 2013, and songs from that session had already appeared on two prior episodes of Radio Free Charleston.  We recorded Snakebox at The Empty Glass, and grabbed at least four songs.

As their PR said, “Snakebox, from Charleston, WV, is an ever evolving nest of undulating sounds. Original songs and music tangle around guitarist and lead vocalist Kevin Crump, fiddle player and vocalist Beth Summers, bass player Thom Walker and drummer Dave Roberts. This orchestral orgy is often heard with violist Alasha Al-Qudwah, keyboardist Christopher Harris, trombone player Logan Umlor, and other fine specimens from the local music scene. Stick your hand in the box and be surprised!”

This was a very special band, and it’s great to have some of their music preserved here.

Next week The RFC Flashback will bring you more Snakebox, along with other artists, as we have an entire RFC show that was recorded at Third Eye Cabaret.

The PopCulteer
August 16, 2019

Over five years ago I tried the nerd/geek subscription box, Loot Crate, and found it to be a poor value, and I also found the company to have questionable ethics when it came to billing. You can read that review HERE. Basically Loot Crate was a monthly surprise box filled with T-shirts, comics, toys and trinkets. I thought it was overpriced. Currently the price is 25 bucks a month, plus shipping, if you don’t go with one of their slightly cheaper plans that you have to pay for months in advance.

I will give them credit. They managed to milk that lousy value and awful customer service way longer than I thought they would. Loot Crate has been in serious financial trouble for at least three years now, defaulting on loans and stiffing more than a few suppliers, but it wasn’t until earlier this year that the wheels began to fall off completely.

The boxes were arriving later and later, and as I write this, they don’t seem to have sent any out since May. Reportedly they owe customers over twenty million dollars worth of late subscription boxes.

Last year Loot Crate started re-using items from earlier boxes that they’d over-ordered. They also sold tens of thousands of “exclusive Loot Crate T-shirts” to Ollie’s the discount liquidator chain, who sold them for five bucks each or less. Loot Crate had apparently been over-ordering items for their boxes for a few years.

At one point it was believed that Loot Crate had half a million subscribers who were paying twenty-five bucks or so a month for their monthly surprise box of nerd culture items. Evidently, the number has actually been abut half of that for some time. Unfortunately for Loot Crate, they kept buying inventory to fill way more boxes.

In addition to the boxes shipping late, suppliers not being paid and more than a few billing discrepencies, a few weeks ago Loot Crate abruptly shut down their warehouse, laying off over 150 workers.

At the time they claimed that they were outsourcing those jobs to a third-party fullfilment house.

Last week the company laid off an additional 50 workers (leaving them with about 60 full-time employees) and filed for Chapter Eleven bankruptcy. This appears to be part of a plan to sell the company to a new lender, and get out from under tens of millions of dollars of bad debt.

Last week’s layoffs were sudden, and no severence packages were offered to their employees.

At this point the company promises that they will deliver all the ordered subscription boxes to their customers and they even continue to offer new subscriptions. It is remotely possible that they have a plan that will allow them to stay in business, but that really doesn’t seem likely to me.

My guess is that they will try to fulfill their outstanding orders with leftover items from their warehouse…that is if they haven’t already sold all of that to liquidators…and then quietly terminate the subscriptions. At some point after the dust has settled, I think we may see the name pop up on some other form of surprise package, maybe as an exclusive to a major retailer. I don’t see customers remaining loyal enough to the brand to give them their billing information again.

As for what happened–how did it all go wrong? Well, most of the generic subscription boxes have gone under already. The costs of acquiring items for the box, plus the ever-rising cost of shipping, made it necessary for the subscription boxes to start going with cheaper, lower-quality items, and customers started bailing out after realizing that they don’t really need all that crap.

There was also the problem that the folks who curated the boxes were of the mentality that all nerd and geek culture appealed to all nerds and geeks. That is pure nonsense.

I’m a life-long comic book fan. I have never played Dungeons and Dragons or any other RPG. I stopped paying attention to videogames around 1984. I stopped reading Manga when the publishers decided to print it right-to-left, instead of reversing it when they translate it. I collect some toys, but not all of them.

And even though I’m a longtime comics fan, I’m much more of a DC fan than a Marvel fan. The “nerd” culture that people have been targeting of late is actually just Pop Culture, and it’s way too general and diverse to satisfy with one subscription box.

There’s no reason to assume that somebody who likes Adventure Time is also going to like Transformers or Zelda or Back To The Future. There is, of course, some crossover among the various genre, but it’s far from universal. Loot Crate even included stuff based on YouTube influencers, who should not even be a thing.

There are still successful subscription boxes, but they’re all specialized. Pusheen sends out a quarterly box for fifty bucks every three months, and it’s a great value, not only because they include cool stuff, but also because everyone who orders it knows that they like Pusheen. Loot Crate had tried to get into the themed subscription box business, but they sort of proved that they had no idea of how to manage inventory for a subscription box service and wound up losing money on those too.

One of my industry contacts who had dealings with Loot Crate guesstimated that they probably spent around nineteen bucks on buying the custom-printed box and contents that they sent out each month.

If you do the quick math, and assume that they had 250,000 subscribers, that means that they should have been clearing around a million and a half bucks a month. However, reports are that they over-ordered inventory, and bought enough supplies and inventory to fill up and additional 150,000 units per month.

And that was money spent that didn’t bring any revenue back in, so each month they would have been around a million dollars or more in debt. And that’s on top of the overhead of maintaining warehouses and offices and 260 employees.

These are all hypothetical numbers based on rough estimates, but they would explain why the company is so far behind on shipping out Loot Crates.

According to the L.A. Times, the bankruptcy filing claims that they owe suppliers over thirty million dollars, they’re almost six million dollars behind on sales tax remittals and they owe customers twenty million dollars of boxes. Their credit card service has been withholding payments due to customer complaints, so they have no money coming in. This was no shock to me. Below you can see an example of Loot Crate’s typically deceptive promotion, which combined the cream of the crop of several month’s worth of stuff to make it look like you’d get this much cool stuff in one shipment.

My advice for Loot Crate customers: If you haven’t already, cancel your subscription immediately and dispute the charges for the boxes you haven’t received yet. Otherwise you could lose any money that you’ve already sent them. Chances are that, if they do send out the boxes they owe you, they’ll be filled with leftover stuff that you may already have.

That is this week’s PopCulteer. Check back for all our regular features.

Shows And Stuff In Charleston

The weekend is rapidly approaching. ArtWalk happens in Charleston tonight, while Summerfest kicks off in South Charleston. Your PopCulteer will be chained to the computer all day so he can finish a magazine article, so that means you get to look at some colorful graphics of Stuff To Do around town this weekend. I know Glenville is not really “around town,” but it’s an all-ages show, and I really liked the graphic. Which reminds me…if you’d like to see your event plugged in this blog, make a graphic with the date, time, place and if there’s a cover charge. When I put together a post like this because I’m staring down the barrel of a deadline for a paying gig, it’ll almost guarantee that you make the cut. Check The PopCulteer tomorrow for details about how you can contact me on social media.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tom Heaton of The Vintage Toy Room has a new Module in his series of books devoted to the 12″ action figures made by The Marx Toy Company, and even though I don’t have one in my hands yet, I am going to whole-heartedly recommend it based on the excellence of Tom’s other works on the topic.

Tom wrote the great Enclyclopedia of Marx Action Figures back in 1999, but he had to limit his scope to the available page count, and since so much more information is always coming to light he decided to create expansion modules to cover diferent elements of Johnny West and his friends. A couple of years ago I included the whole set (at the time) in the PopCult Gift Guide, and I’m happy to say that long-awaited fifth module is now available for order.

The original Marx Action Figure Encyclopedia and all the modules can be ordered directly from Tom’s website, The Vintage Toy Room. Tom will even sign and personalize these for you, if you wish. Now, in the eagerly-awaited Module 5, we’ll get the lowdown on Stony Smith, The All American Fighters and the Marx Military Action Figures.  These are low-print-run,  full-color books, crammed with vital information for the hobby, and are worth every penny. You can build an instant library of Marx Action Figure knowledge for your giftee, all in one fell swoop.

Let’s go to the press release:

The Vintage Toy Room has completed Module #5, The Military and Secret Agent Spy Era! This is the book many of you have been waiting for! The Marx Military and Secret Agent Spy Era! This book includes many new items not included in the Encyclopedia! Stony Smith Paratrooper variations, All American Fighters, Buddy Charlies, Canadian Buddy, Mike Hazard, Girl from UNCLE, Rat Patrol, Marx Factory visits, Artists, Likeness reviews of characters and celebrities they were based on, deep dives on The Girl from UNCLE original molds, Prototypes, Trade catalog slicks, store displays, test shots, color variations from other countries, Copper Head and Jane Blonde, and many more! I will also be including an 11×17 full color poster on the Military and Secret agent figures poster!

Thanks to all the folks that contributed to the book with pictures , editing, and preorder support to make this book a reality. This module far exceeds what the Encyclopedia delivered adding prototypes, test shots, retail catalogs, Sears combos, and so much more! This is by far our best produced book to date!

In this book you’ll learn all about Stony Smith, the variations and configurations of him and the transition to the All American Fighters. Plus you’ll find out about Mike Hazard and April Dancer and more. Each figures is shown complete with their packaging and all their accessories.

The best way to get this book is to visit The Vintage Toy Room.  It’s now in stock with a laminated cover and freedeluxe 11×17 poster. While you’re there, if you don’t already have them, pick up Tom’s earlier modules. If you like cool vintage action figures, or have a fondness for Johnny West and his friends and foes, this is exactly what you need in your life.

A Week Of Slack On The AIR

No, we have not converted The AIR into an auditory temple to Bob Dobbs (not that it wouldn’t be really cool to do that), but in the spirit of Slack and The Church of the Subgenius, this week we’re all in reruns. Luckily our shows are so fantastic that they hold up to repeated listenings. You can tune in to The AIR website, or listen in on this little virtual doohickey…

The reason for the reruns is simple. It’s my birthday. I produce most of the shows on The AIR, and I don’t wanna work that much this week. I have some long-gestating PopCult posts I need to write, plus a magazine article to finish, and I plan to take my birthday off and just relax.

So, Tuesday, instead of a brand-new episode of Radio Free Charleston, we’re going to bring you all of our most recent shows all day long, with a break at 3 PM to bring you recent episodes of The Swing Shift, one of the other shows I host on The AIR.

But back to Radio Free Charleston, you may have noticed that, for the last month or so, I’ve made the new episodes available as downloads. It was a good idea, but apparently was still too complicated a concept for many people to grasp. It hit me over the weekend that I could upload the shows to YouTube, with just a still frame on the screen while the audio plays. Everybody knows how to use YouTube.

There are many reasons I haven’t tried this before. And some of them may cause me to quit doing this after I try it for a few weeks, but for the time being I plan to embed a YouTube clip of each week’s show here in PopCult, in the same post where I beg people to listen to it at The AIR.

And that is the first reason that I haven’t done this before: I don’t want to cannibalize my audience for The AIR. However, I also want as many people to listen to RFC as possible, so both of those concerns sort of balances this decision out.

Also, Radio Free Charleston is NOT a podcast. It’s a radio program. We pay a (fairly hefty) rights fee so that we can stream music programs on The AIR, but those rights to not extend to posting those shows on YouTube. In the event that a record label files a copyright claim against one of our shows on YouTube (which happens more than you’d think on the RFC video show), then ads may appear before or during our clip. CDBaby is a real jerk about this. In some cases rights owners can order the video clip taken down or muted.

The music rights issue is why we won’t be doing this with our other programs. With RFC most of the music is owned by the artists, and they appreciate the extra exposure. In the case of a show like Beatles Blast, I think that band is pretty happy with the level of exposure that they’ve already received and don’t really need our help.

I also don’t want people to think I’ve thrown in the towel on every doing Radio Free Charleston as a video program again. That will happen, and probably sooner than you expect.

Like I said, we’ll do this for the time being. If nobody bothers listening to the YouTube version of the show, then it won’t be worth the effort of rendering it and uploading it. But if it finds an audience and doesn’t turn into a hassle, then we’ll keep doing it.

Let’s try this out with last week’s episode, right here…

Monday Morning Art: August Dancer

 

Not to be confused with April Dancer, The Girl From U.N.C.L.E., this is actually a tiny drawing, done on the back of an index card, with grease pencil, colored pencil and semi-rancid decaying old oil pastel crayons. It’s inspired by a pose from a 1925 photograph of a nude dancer by Nikolas Muray. If you’re looking at it on a computer monitor you’re probably seeing it larger than it was drawn. This was a twenty-minute sketch, quickly-scanned (with a little digital color adjustment) and posted here so I could go watch TV.

If you wish, you can click this image to see it bigger.

Over in radio-land, Monday on The AIR, this week we bring you a Monday Marathon featuring eight episodes of Nigel Pye’s Psychedelic Shack. This will begin a week of slack, as everyone producing shows for The AIR takes the week off from making new episodes. I want to enjoy some free time during my birthday week, while our partners at Haversham Recording Institute in London want some extra time to work on their big “milestone” shows. We will have a new Beatles Blast on Wednesday, because I knocked out three of those in a row the other week.

You can listen to The AIR at the website, or on this embedded radio player…

At 3 PM Herman Linte’s show, Prognosis, re-presents another classic episode, as the Haversham shows take this additional week off to prepare for the big 50th episode specials of Prognosis and Sydney’s Big Electric Cat, which will now air next week.

Prognosis will be followed by an extra classic episode at 5 PM, and then by replays of last week’s Psychedelic Shack at 7 PM, Radio Free Charleston at 8 PM and RFC International at 9 PM. Then at 11 PM we kick it back over to Prognosis, with an extra eight hour marathon of great progressive rock.

Sunday Evening Videos: Mouse Trap!

Above you see a short clip showing the climactic moments of the classic version of the Rube-Goldbergian board game, Mouse Trap…slowed down so you can follow all the action. Mouse Trap (originally “Mouse Trap Game”) was created by Marvin Glass Associates and was first introduced in 1963 by Ideal Toys. Over the years the game has changed hands a few times, first to Milton Bradley, and now is a product of Hasbro Gaming. The origin of the game is a bit of a sordid story itself, as you can see in this video…

From 1963, here’s the very first commercial…

Over the years elements of the game were redesigned, and at some point the rules were changed so that building the mouse trap was no longer part of the game at all. In the 2000s, a new version of Mouse Trap was introduced, which hardly anybody likes, except for this kid, apparently…

Some British folks love to make videos about Mousetrap, and here a guy and his kids compare the version from the early 2000s to the original…

Hasbro Gaming has recently switched to a redesigned edition to the game that’s somewhat closer to the original design (the stubborn crank has been replaced with a rubber band), and here’s their official video showing how to build it…

 

 

The RFC Flashback: MINI SHOW Episode Five

This week we go back to early November, 2013 for an RFC MINI SHOW starring HARRAH. The fifth RFC MINI SHOW also marked the fifth week that we brought you music recorded at Shocka-Con in September, 2013. Our music this week comes from RFC buddies, HARRAH.

The band  performs “Bloodmoon” and “Sawney Beane,” live from the stage on Beauregard Street outside the Haunted Barn. The correct title of the second song is “Sawney Beane,” the tale of a Scottish patriarch of a cannibal family. It’s misspelled on screen in the show. If you read PopCult regularly, you know that I have mastered the fine art of typos in all forms of media.

We are rapidly approaching the point in our run of The RFC MINI SHOW where I screwed up the numbering and got everything confused. Check back every Saturday to see how I sort that mess out in this space.