PopCult Rudy Panucci on Pop Culture

2017 PopCult Gift Guide: EAT LOCAL

gg-eat-localSince Thanksgiving is a traditional day of feasting, our 2017 PopCult Gift Guide pick for today is that you get out and support locally-owned places of dining. Most of our suggested restaurants offer gift certificates. Even if they don’t, you can still take your giftee out and treat them not only to a great meal, but also to the pleasure of your company. Food is a great gift, and you don’t usually have to wrap it.

Charleston is blessed with a wide variety of great, independent eateries. Take that into account when choosing one for the gift-giving experience. You have a lot of great options. Contact info can be found in the links with the names on our list.

The rising star in Charleston this year is Caffe Romeo in South Hills, an authentic Italian-style place where you can get Gelato, Expresso, Sorbet and several other treats. I raved about it last summer.

The Olive Tree Cafe and Catering, is already a reliable favorite on the Charleston culinary scene. Their tasty Mediterrean fare is top-notch and the service is quick and friendly. They offer up great salads and sandwiches, and their shawarma is the stuff of legend. The restaurant is open Monday through Saturday from 11 AM to 7 PM. It’s a casual dining atmosphere and they have lots of other deli goodies for sale.

Other restaurants you might want to consider for a fun, gift-style special meal are The Block and Bricks & Barrels. And of course, there are all the old favorites. You can buy gift cards or certificates for Bluegrass Kitchen, Tricky Fish, Starling’s Coffee and Provisions, Leonoro’s, Mi Cocini De Amor, Pies & Pints, Lola’s, Bridge Road Bistro, Adelphia, Fazio’s, and Taste of Asia.

These are the stores that we know off the top of our heads offer gift certificates or cards. You might want to ask around to see if your favorite local restaurant also offers gift certificates. If they do, please feel free to tell us about it in the comments section.

2017 PopCult Gift Guide: MARY: A Rock Opera

gg-maryA Charleston tradition is our next pick in the 2017 PopCult Gift Guide. Mark Scarpelli and Dan Kehde’s rock opera, MARY, opens the day after Thanksgiving, and you’ll have six chances to see the 21st production put on by Charleston Youth Arts Company. You can sample previous productions in the video at the bottom of this post.

Scarpelli and Kehde’s rock opera MARY follows the life of Mary, mother of Jesus, during the final 9 months before the birth of Christ. A driving score and vibrant young talent brings the story to life on the stage of the WVSU Capitol Center, 123 Summers Street, Charleston. Accompanied by a large orchestra and chorus, MARY has become a seasonal tradition in the greater Kanawha Valley.

This year the production is filled with fresh faces, as CYAC continues to discover and bring to the stage the brightest new talents the area has to offer. One of the great joys of seeing MARY every year is the glimpse into the future of Charleston’s theatre scene that it gives us.

It’s a testament to the depth of talent that can be found in this city that CYAC manages to mount such impressive productions of this show each year. This year’s cast features Grace Javins, Afton Myers and Susannah Atkins, among many other fine young performers.

This is an experience, a wonderful gift of music and theater that is perfect for the person on your list who isn’t just interested in material things. Tickets are $8.00 Students and $15.00 Adults.  Available at the door or by calling 342-6522 for reservations.

You can see Scarpelli and Kehde’s MARY: A Rock Opera at 8 PM November 24, 25 and 30 and December 1,and 2. And there is a 2 PM matinee Sunday, November 26.

This is the perfect gift for the local theater-going patron of the arts on your gift list. It’s a world-class show that really has to be seen in person to be appreciated. CYAC is hard at work making this 21st production special and theater lovers, music lovers as well as followers of the Christian faith should make it a point to attend, and it’s such a special show that it makes a perfect gift.

gg-game-controlThis next choice for the 2017 PopCult Gift Guide is perfect for the videogamer on your list. MyArcade‘s line of Nintendo Classic Edition controllers takes the look and feel of vintage Nintendo controllers, and combines with wireless functionality and Wii and Wii U compatability.

The GamePad Pro features Retro styling featuring the classic four face button configuration that can be used to play either the NES Classic Edition or Wii/ Wii U as an optional classic controller (with supported games).

The new GamePad Classic features retro styling and brings it into the modern age with wireless functionality. Enjoy the classic two face button functionality that can be used to play the NES Classic Edition.

Redefining a classic, their new Super GamePad features retro styling reimagined for the modern gamer with wireless functionality and improved ergonomics. The Super Gamepad is a versatile controller that can be used to play the SNES Classic Edition, NES Classic Edition or classic virtual console titles on Wii/ Wii U(with supported games).

These are perfect for the frustrated gamer of a certain age who can’t quite get the hang of those darned newfangled controllers. The play is perfect and the wireless function very responsive. I hope maybe someday they come up with a wireless version of the Colecovision controllers…or maybe the third-party controllers we had to buy because Coleco’s were so difficult to use.

The GamePad Pro and Super GamePad both have a HOME button for easy access to game selection menu directly from the controller. All three models are wireless and give you over 75 hours of playtime on 2 AA batteries (not included). They’re designed for a great grip and allow for play up to 30 feet away without any lagtime or disconnections. The Super GamePad offers an intuitive TURBO feature that can be assigned easily to any of the action buttons.

Best of all, these controllers sell for under twenty dollars (under twenty-five for the Super GamePad), and can be found at any retailer who carries videogaming accessories, or directly from MyArcade. This is a great gift for the gamer with a big screen TV that’s too far away from the couch. They will thank you profusely as they ask you to bring them a beverage.

gg-toybox Toybox Time Machine
by Marty Baumann
Byron Howard (Introduction), Jim Steranko (Foreword)
IDW Publishing
ISBN-13: 978-1631409073

The next pick in the 2017 PopCult Gift Guide is one of my favorite books of the year. Toybox Time Machine is one of the most wonderful books about classic toys that I’ve ever encountered…and there’s not a single real toy in it. Marty Baumann has created a work of brilliance that manages to hit every nostalgic button in my head without actually depicting any real toys.

Toybox Time Machine is filled with over 150 ads for vintage toys, from the golden era of crunchy mid-century goodness (1950-1966). The thing is, none of these toys were ever really made. Baumann created them all, refining his memories of classic toys and pop culture into an outstanding homage to an entire era of specialty advertising and graphic design.

This book is filled with specific parodies, vague tributes, original concepts and indescribable delights. Toybox Time Machine is just that, a time machine that lets you travel back to the time when toys were cool as hell, and the advertising made them look even better.

Baumann is an acclaimed illustrator, graphic artist, and production designer. He has contributed to some of the most popular, Oscar-winning animated films of all time, such as Toy Story 3, Big Hero 6, Zootopia, Cars 2, Planes, Mater’s Tall Tales, and many others. He also helped develop theme park installations, toy packaging, and Pixar corporate branding. That’s in addition to his work for toy companies, magazines and newspapers and his work creating corporate logos.

What’s clear from Toybox Time Machine is that Baumann grew up in the same era as yours truly, and digested the same Wishbooks, comic books, cartoons and toys that I did. This book takes you to a world informed by Jonny Quest, Marx Toys, Aurora model kits, Carnaby Street, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Big Daddy Roth, Groovie Ghoulies, The Banana Splits and way, way more.

This is a book that has a foreward by the legendary Jim Steranko, and in that foreward, Steranko name-checks Johnny West, GI Joe and Major Matt Mason. I don’t think I had a single pop culture button left unpunched.

Some of these fake ads are so specific that you can immediately identify the inspiration, like Baumann’s riffs on the “Moon Monster” ad or the old DC Comics ads for Palisades Park. Others combine two toys into one, like a combination of Aurora’s Mad Monsters with Ideal’s Boaterrific. Some of the things in this book I can’t place at all, and I don’t know if it’s because Baumann created something new, or I just have a gap in my pop culture knowledge.

Everything in this book looks so genuine that you don’t need to have grown up in the era in order to enjoy it. Even without the historical context Toybox Time Machine is a super-human feat of mid-century style ad design.

This is the perfect gift for anyone who loves vintage toys, or mid-century design, or just has a fondness for the extremely clever.
You can order Toybox Time Machine from any bookseller by using the ISBN code at the top of this post.

2017 PopCult Gift Guide: Scarlet Revolt “Cold Town”

gg-scarletToday’s music pick in the 2017 PopCult Gift Guide is a record I originally reviewed back in May by local favorites, Scarlet Revolt. The band has been in heavy rotation on The AIR and I’ve played just about every track from this album, Cold Town, on Radio Free Charleston.

The first album under their new name with a revised line-up, the former “Under Surveillance” sounds like a whole new band. Progressing beyond their heavily New Wave-inflected prior incarnation, Scarlet Revolt offers up a heavier sound that keeps the tight songwriting and ace musicianship, but adds a harder edge with elements of harder rock and heavy metal taking the band into more contemporary musical territory.

Cold Town shows the power of cross-pollination as the band has been touring extensively and sharing the stage with bands that play a variety of styles of music. The new songs show how Hatfield has learned to reach out to a myriad of new audiences, and how that has, in turn, fueled the band’s enthusiasm and energy.

Cold Town is a very high energy album. Eve Marcum-Atkinson’s vocals give the band a distinctive sound, with a more accomplished vocal style than most heavier-sounding bands feature. It also makes this album a bit hard to pigeonhole stylistically, which is a good sign that something new is being created here. Struggling to find a musical comparison, I would offer up the high praise that fans of Blue Oyster Cult will find a lot to love here.

This is the perfect gift for the local music lover, or anyone who enjoys harder-edged rock ‘n’ roll music. You can find Cold Town at our local record stores, or order it from Amazon. You could also head out to The Empty Glass on December 8 and buy a copy from the band in person. For a sample of the band’s powerful sound, check out the video for their song, “Bleed.”

gg-lucky-catOur next toy pick for the 2017 PopCult Gift Guide comes from right here in West Virginia. Lucky Cat is made by PlanetPlush, located in the beautiful hills of West Virginia, in West Hamlin, to be exact. Mrs. PopCulteer spotted Lucky Cat at the recent Mountain State Pop Expo in South Charleston, and had to have one.

Lucky Cat is almost seven inches (counting the ears) of outstanding cuteness. A Siamese with round, blue eyes, wearing a real bell around her neck. Lucky Cat is the first of the Lucky Cat and Friends line of designer plush, and is the brainchild of Heather Hays, the owner and product designer for PlanetPlush.

PlanetPlush sells both handmade, licensed items and original creations. Some are made by Heather, herself, while others are manufactured overseas, based on her designs and patterns. All of them are certified safe for kids, and I can tell you from the Lucky Cat that Mel purchased that they are exceptionally well-made.

You can order Lucky Cat from the PlanetPlush website. You not only get a cute and cuddly critter, but you’re also helping to support a homegrown, West Virginia business. It’s a win-win. This is perfect for the person on your holiday shopping list who gets all weak in the knees when they see something that is just overwhelmingly cute. How can you say “NO” to this kitteh?

PlanetPlush also sells premium plush of My Little Pony, if you know an MLP addict who probably needs more plush.

Encyclopedia of Marx Action Figures
The Illustration Guide to Marx Action Figures Modules
gg-marx-book-01by Tom Heaton
Sold by www.VintageToyRoom.com
$32 to $49 each, shipping included

I recently reviewed Module 4 of Tom Heaton’s ongoing updates to his Encyclopedia of Marx Action Figures, but it occurs to me that, aside from a brief mention in a PopCulteer in 2009, I’ve never recommended his original book. Today in the 2017 PopCult Gift Guide we remedy that by suggesting the perfect gift for any fan of Johnny West and Marx Action figures, Tom Heaton’s ongoing series of comprensive books that cover the hobby from top to bottom.

Back in 1999 Tom Heaton wrote a the definitive book on Marx action figures, but he realized that it wasn’t quite complete. Due to the necessities of achieving a manageable page count for his publisher, he had to reign in the details and the scope of the book. So he continues to update his original Encyclopedia of Marx Action Figures with expansion modules. His Vintage Toy Room site also offers some great vintage items on sale, and has loads of information on the history of Johnny West.  One of the most refreshing things about Tom’s books is that, unlike a lot of authors who cover collectible toys, he doesn’t pretend to have all the answers.

He freely admits that he’s still learning about the toys. Tom explained that there was still much to learn when he wrote his first book and new sources of information (and new variants of toys) were turning up all the time. Because of ongoing discoveries and the size limitations of his original book, Tom began self-publishing update modules that would focus on one particular type or era of Marx Action Figures, and present in-depth looks at the figures, accessories, packaging, advertising and known variations that exist. His latest module includes revelations about the action figures that just came to light earlier this year.

This approach works perfectly with Marx action figures, because, with the toys originally being produced in this country, there are all sorts of bizarre variants and oddball figures floating around out there, not to mention an entire universe of Marx figures produced in other countries. Louis Marx encouraged his employees to take home examples of the toys he made to see what their kids thought of them, and sometimes they’d take stuff that was made in strange colors or styles that never made it into production. There are times when it seems like there’s some new major discovery every week or two.

We may never know the full story of Johnny West toys. That’s part of why this hobby is still thriving. The recent influx of quality reproductions, made from the original molds that are now in Mexico, is actually reviving interest in Johnny West, bringing tons of new collectors into the hobby more than four decades after the Best of the West gang originally rode off into the sunset. With American Pickers recently visiting the now-closed Marx Toy Museum in Moundsville, interest in all things Marx is higher than ever.

If you have a Johnny West collector on your holiday shopping list, they need these books. Even if they have the original Encyclopedia, the modules are essential to any die-hard Marx Action Figure collector.

gg-marx-book-02After the Encyclopedia, the recently-published Module 4 (seen left, held by the author last June in Wheeling)  is a great primer on the early days of the line, covering the Western action figures made by the Marx Toy Company from 1964 to 1976. It covers the key introductions and changes that happened in the first three years of this classic action figure line.

Module 1 covered rare prototypes, store displays, box art variations and more, with a focus on the Johnny West Adventure Series, from 1976. Module 2 offered in-depth coverage of the 1974 Best of the West line, including the introduction of Princess Wildflower. Module 3 opened up the world of Canadian Marx Action figures with details on Dangerous Dan, Sheriff Goode, Jimmy West and other figures that we didn’t encounter South of the border.

Each module features large, full-color photographs of the figures, both as bare figures and decked out with all their gear, along with descriptions of everything included in the package and photos of all the accessories. This makes identifiying figures a snap.

And there are full details on the horses. Thunderbolt, Comanche, Thundercolt, the Pancho Pony, plus all the wagons, buckboards, corrals and ranches that were sold for Johnny West. You’ll even find info about Johnny’s dogs and the elusive buffalo in these pages.

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. Tom has already completed most of the work on Module 5, which will be published next year and which will focus 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.

gg-byzOur music pick  for the 2017 PopCult Gift Guide today is the perfect gift for the fan of intelligent Heavy Metal music, and it’s also of local interest. The Cicada Tree by Byzantine is a major release from Metal Blade records, but it was recorded at The Bakery, on Charleston’s West Side.

Byzantine has been making internationally-acclaimed music since 2000, and with the addition of a new drummer last year, and a new bassist three years before that, they are still innovating and creating incredible new music. The Cicada Tree is both a return to classic form and a bold step forward, as the new line up gels into a cohesive whole, and their musical journey continues, full speed ahead.

The entire album is terrific, but standout tracks are the lead single, “Vile Maxim” (see the video below), “Trapjaw,” “New Ways To Bear Witness,” and the title track. This is thinking man’s Heavy Metal at its finest. You ought to be able to find physical copies of the album at Budget Tapes and Records or Sullivan’s Records, or you can order them from Metal Blade or Amazon.

You can also pick up the CD or vinyl at their shows, and they have a huge one coming up on December 3. Chris Ojeda of Byzantine has been instrumental in the efforts to save The Bakery (Charleston’s former Purity Bread factory), and Byzantine will be part of a gigantic three-day benefit to transform a huge space in the building into a much-needed all-ages venue.

You can read about the benefit HERE, and donate to the effort HERE. You can also pay to attend the show, buy the album, have the band autograph it, and come away with the coolest Christmas present in the world for the metalurgical music fan on your shopping list.

As we go to press we’ve learned that there will be a Swap Meet at The Bakery Sunday, November 26, starting at 9 AM. We will post full details on that benefit for the Bakery Friday, in our local merchant wrap-up for the Gift Guide. I wouldn’t be surprised if there are a few copies of The Cicada Tree for sale there.

gg-alanna-01Our toy pick for today in the 2017 PopCult Gift Guide is from the AZIAM Girlz line The Dolly Alanna is a great way to let girls play with fashion dolls without getting indoctrinated into the shallow consumerism of most denizens of the pink aisle.

The Dolly Alanna is part of The AZIAM Girlz Soul Model collection. She is from La La Land, Israel. Her doll body is fully articulated so that she can really practice yoga and sit in lotus position to meditate.The Dolly Alanna wears her hair in a single braid with a pink streak running through it that symbolizes peace. Her message of peace is simple: May we accept all beings. May we choose to be kind, happy, and live peacefully, AZIAM.

Alanna’s doll body is made from recycled plastic, is BPA- and phalate-free. Each package contains 1 dressed Dolly Alanna doll; 1 book: The La La Sutra’s of The Dolly Alanna; 1 meditation cushion; 1 tasseled necklace (La La Beads); 1 Girl Power Cuff that doubles as a Doll Yoga Mat; and 1 hair brush.

We met the founder of AZIAM Girlz in 2016 at the International Toy Fair in New York, and recommended one of her other dolls last year. This is really a great gift for a young girl who has an interest in Yoga and spirituality, but still enjoys playing with toys.

By ordering this doll, you’re also helping to support a small business that has been…shall we say “flattered with imitation” by Mattel. After the initial succes of the AZIAM Yoga Girlz, Mattel introduced their “Made to Move” Barbie line, which let the blonde toy icon pose realistically for the first time in her existence. It was a bit like how Mattel introduced different body types of Barbie, but only after the Lammily Doll made a splash and garnered good press and parental interest. So if you buy this doll, not only are you making a little girl happy, but you’re also standing up to a huge corporation.

You can order The Dolly Alanna directly from AZIAM for $26.95, plus shipping, and you can poke around their website to check out their other cool Yoga-centric products.


Mind Melter: A Coloring Book for the Twisted and Unhinged
gg-mind-melter-01by Dirty Donny Gillies
ISBN13: 9780764352805

Our next pick in the 2017 Popcult Gift Guide is a bit of a sequel to one of last year’s gift suggestions. Last year I recommended a coffee table book collection of the art of Dirty Donny Gillies, and this year we have an adult coloring book that lets the reader bring their own color to his work, or simply enjoy it in black and white.

Dirty Donny Gillies is one of the most influential artists to invade the pop culture scene of the punk, rock and roll, and heavy metal underground. His hand-drawn art appearsw all kinds of mediums and merchandise, ranging from skate decks, pinball machines, hot rods, and album covers to guitars, toys, stickers, and logos.

Mind Melter: A Coloring Book for the Twisted and Unhinged invites you to join Gillies on a journey through his warped universe. This is “cool” at its primal core, with instant appeal to the 12-year-old boy in everyone. You can only color mandalas for so long. Step up to the hardcore lowbrow world of cosmic funny cars and flaming serpents.

gg-mind-melter-02Now you can take a twisted trip through the mind’s eye of pop culture legend Dirty Donny Gillies as he brings us the best of his black-and-white ink drawings for artists to color and customize.

Deemed one of today’s most influential artists,Donny has been spreading his art across all mediums for decades,including work for Metallica, Snap-on Tools, Vans skate shoes, CreatureSkateboards, and Stern Pinball, to name a few.

This is simply the perfect gift for the coolest colorist on your list. With subject matter that includes skulls, girls, cars, rock and roll, monsters wizards and pizza, Mind Melter is a trip and a half that you can join in with your own colored pencils or markers. This book can be ordered from the publisher, or from any bookseller by using the ISBN code above.