PopCult Rudy Panucci on Pop Culture

The RFC Flashback: Episode 114

This week we’re going back to November, 2010, for an episode of the show loaded with great music and animation. Above, you see a rarely-seen episode of Radio Free Charleston, “Flash Photography Shirt.”  The wide-ranging music on this show comes from Andrea Anderson, The Dad Horse Experience, and Shayla Leftridge. Our animation is Frank Panucci’s very first animated film.  We also have some Super Fancy Dancing.

For the full story on this edition of RFC, check out the production notes HERE.

Disco Music For A Late Summer Sinus Headache

The PopCulteer
September 11, 2020

It’s our post-Labor Day lull. I could use this space to remember the terror attacks of 911, but there is no shortage of such things on the web, and your PopCulteer is in the midst of his annual late-summer sinus infection. I have been fairly useless all week, but I did get some reading done, so you can expect more of The PopCult Bookshelf in the coming week or three. But I didn’t quite feel up to cranking out an eloquent essay on a pertinent subject for this space this week.

Luckily, I did feel like producing a new episode of MIRRORBALL, hosted by my lovely wife, Mel Larch, and that’s what I’m going to tell you about this week.

It’s hard to believe, but we’re already up to our tenth edition of MIRRORBALL  Friday afternoon on The AIR. and that’s followed by two great encore epsodes of Sydney’s Big Electric Cat.  You can hear all this good stuff on The AIR website, or just click on this embedded radio player…

This week we open the show with Kool and The Gang’s “Celebration,” which, aside from being a great show-opening tune, is also here in memory of Ronald “Khalis” Bell, who wrote the song as a member of The Gang. He passed away this week at his home in the Virgin Islands. That celebration of his life kicks off an hour of top-notch Disco music, to which buttocks may start a-jigglin’. Check out the playlist:


Kool And The Gang “Celebration”
Teena Marie “I Need Your Lovin'”
The Village People “Macho Man”
The Detroit Spinners “Working My Way Back To You”
Luther Vandross “Never Too Much”
Stephanie Mills “Never Knew Love Like This Before”
McFadden and Whitehead “Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now”
Eddie Kendricks “Keep On Truckin'”
Rufus “Tell Me Something Good”
George McCrae “Rock Your Baby”
Shalamar “The Second Time Around”
Evelyn ‘Champagne’ King “Shame”
Earth Wind and Fire “Mighty Mighty”
Kelly Marie “Feels Like I’m In Love”
Chic “Good Times”

You can tune in at 2 PM (Eastern time) and hear the latest edition of MIRRORBALL. The plan is to drop a new episode roughly every other Friday afternoon, until Mel gets tired of doing it, or people stop listening. Later today, it will go up in the Podcast section of The AIR website, so you can listen on demand.  MIRRORBALL will also be replayed Friday night at 10 PM, Saturday at 7 PM (part of a mini-marathon), Sunday at 11 PM and Tuesday at 1 PM. We’ll probably sneak in a few more airings during the week.

And that wraps up this short, headache-y PopCulteer.  Check back for fresh content every day, even if some of it is prepared while fighting with a throbbing noggin.

John Byner’s Life In Comedy

The PopCult Bookshelf

Five Minutes, Mr. Byner: A Lifetime of Laughter
by John Byner and Douglas Wellman
foreword by Nathan Lane
WriteLife Publishing
ISBN-13 : 978-1608082346
$13.99 Kindle Edition $3.99

When I was a wee lad, John Byner was one of my favorite comedians. He was a talented impressionist (much better than Rich Little), he appeared on shows like Ed Sullivan, The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, Get Smart, Dean Martin and others too countless to mention. What got my interest initially was his cartoon voices, beginning with The Ant and The Aardvark (more on that later) and continuing for decades, up to this day. He was even the voice of Bill The Cat in the Bloom County animated TV Special, The Wish For Wings That Work.

He was always funny, talented and very likeable.

Five Minutes, Mr. Byner: A Lifetime of Laughter, is a funny, pleasant likeable story of Byner’s life in show business. He spends some time on his early life, not dwelling on the negatives (his father passing away when he was young) but concentrating on his generally positive outlook and how he cultivated his talents into a long career. Byner, and his co-writer, Douglas Wellman, have crafted a very enjoyable showbiz book.

In briskly-written chapters, Byner gives first-hand accounts of working as a stand-up in The Hungry I, a legendary comedy club, and tells his readers what it was like appearing on shows with Ed Sullivan and Johnny Carson. He talks about his many film roles, dropping some big names along the way, and gives accounts of what it was like appearing on TV shows like Soap and Bizarre, which Byner hosted for five years, and which was the show that made Super Dave Osbourne a star years after he first appeared on another variety show hosted by Byner.

We don’t get a lot of personal details, and to be honest, that’s a bit of a relief. I wanted to read the story of Byner’s career, and didn’t need to hear the warts-and-all details of his three divorces. We do get a chapter on dealing with hecklers and difficult people (like Woody Allen and Alan King), but the book is overwhelmingly positive and enjoyable.

Five Minutes, Mr. Byner: A Lifetime of Laughter is a fascinating time-capsule into show business in the 1960s and beyond that doesn’t weigh down the reader with dark stories of personal demons. It’s a quick and enjoyable read, but it’s got lots of meaty showbiz stories.

You have to indulge me here for a moment. I do have one quibble with the book, and this may very well be an example of The Mandela Effect in action. Growing up, I ate, slept, drank and lived for cartoons. I loved everything about animation, and would even get excited about animated commercials. And one reason I was a fan of John Byner was that I saw an interview with him where he talked about creating the voices for The Ant and The Aardvark.

I have vivid memories of Byner, in that interview, talking about how he based the voice of The Ant, on Dean Martin, one of the top television stars of the day and a member of the legendary Rat Pack. I also remember Byner saying that he based the voice of The Aardvark on another member of The Rat Pack, Joey Bishop, who at that time was hosting a talk show on ABC that attempted to compete with The Tonight Show, starring Johnny Carson.

It has been very frustrating for me seeing references all over the internet to the voice of The Aardvark being based on comedian, Jackie Mason. It’s an easy mistake to make. Basically Joey Bishop and Jackie Mason have the same very Jewish, very New York voice.

I can understand the confusion, but when production began on The Ant and The Aardvark cartoon series in 1968, Joey Bishop was a household name. He was hosting a late-night talk show (Regis Philbin was his announcer) and he’d co-starred in several high-grossing movies during the 1960s. Mason, on the other hand, was still in what he has described as a “twenty year slump” after the 1964 “Middle Finger Incident” and was fairly obscure at the time.

Byner did know Jackie Mason, and was even on the same episode of Ed Sullivan where the “Middle Finger Incident” happened, but it seems to me that a cartoon producer would be more likely to base a character’s voice on a high-profile member of The Rat Pack than he would an obscure stand-up comic.

But in this book, and also in Nathan Lane’s intro, the voice is said to be an impression of Jackie Mason. It is entirely possible that I am totally mis-remembering something that I saw when I was seven or eight years old over half a century ago, but I’m wondering if maybe Byner could be remembering it incorrectly too. Maybe for years, people asked him why he was doing Jackie Mason’s voice for the Aardvark, and he just decided to go along with them since Joey Bishop had pretty much sunk into oscurity. Since Bishop and Mason have identical voices, it’s pretty much a moot point, but I had to get that off my chest.

Aside from that quibble, which probably wasn’t worth the effort it took to write, I do recommend this book for anybody who wants to hear some great showbiz tales without any heavy overtones. Five Minutes, Mr. Byner: A Lifetime of Laughter can be ordered from Amazon in print in or Kindle form.

Snap Into Space With Cool New Toys

The PopCult Toybox

I was a lucky kid. I grew up in the golden age of really cool space toys. I got to experience Major Matt Mason, Zeroids, Billy Blastoff, Outer Space Men and others first-hand.

Since that time, the majority of space-based toys were licensed stuff, Star Trek, Star Wars, Space: 1999 and the like, and it all has its charm, but it’s been a while since we’ve seen a space toy concept debut based on an original idea.

Playmonster has released a new series of building toy space ships called Snap Ships, and they’re pretty darned cool. They come in a variety of sizes and price points. There are tons of them to collect. Each set allows kids to reconfigure the ships in several different ways. And there is a YouTube series that tells the story behind these cool ships that do battle in the stars. I have a feeling that a lot of adult collectors are going to want to get there hands on these.

Snap Ships is a collectible, durable and versatile modular building system that stands up to action play. Snap Ships invite kids to build, battle and display an exciting array of cool spacecrafts, merging two of the biggest play patterns for boys—action-play and construction.

Designed for kids ages 8 and up, the exciting new Snap Ships fleet launches with eleven ships at a suggested retail price of $9.99–$39.99, each coming with a mysterious UJU tech piece that holds special value hidden inside the box. Snap Ships come with multiple build options and are available at Amazon, Target and other retailers.

More than just a toy line, Snap Ships creates a 360-degree play experience inviting kids into the Snap Ships universe through an immersive animated series from acclaimed content studio Wind Sun Sky Entertainment, and a free interactive AR app from highly successful video game developers.

“Snap Ships is so much more than a great toy line; it is a content-driven franchise that allows kids to not only build, but also play, battle, rebuild, customize, watch content, engage with the app and then do it all over again,” said Tim Kilpin, PlayMonster’s newly appointed President. “We set out to change the building play experience, and it is the biggest launch in Play Monster’s history.”

To tell the epic story of the Snap Ships universe, PlayMonster joined forces with award-winning content studio Wind Sun Sky to produce a fast-paced and edgy animated series. Season one of the series, Snap Ships Dawn of Battle launched in August on YouTube, with new episodes releasing each week. Check out the first episode here…

The epic storyline introduces viewers to The Forge, an elite team assembled to pilot a fleet of versatile and specialized Snap Ships defense attack craft, and The Komplex, an alien species determined to annihilate all life, that has invaded with no warning. Along the way, The Forge discovers mysterious UJU tech, left behind by an ancient civilization, that can be added to their Snap Ships to give them unheard-of abilities.

Rounding out the Snap Ships launch is the release of the free interactive Snap Ships app, designed to complement the toy line and animated series, allowing users to explore the vibrant world of Snap Ships. Highly detailed digital versions of the constructible toys come to life in the app and can be summoned into your room via Augmented Reality. Kids are invited to “Build to Battle” with digital building instructions for the core Snap Ships kits, as well as a huge assortment of custom ships unique to the app. Track your collection, prep ships for flight in AR, and test fire your ship’s weapons as you battle against the ever advancing Komplex.

Developed by Scott Pease and Jeff Swenty, AAA video game veterans (Tony Hawk, Guitar Hero, Call of Duty) and the inventors of Snap Ships, the app, rated E for everyone, is available now for free for iOS on the Apple App Store and for Android via the Google Play Store.

“To us, Snap Ships are more than toys—we imagine them as real, working spaceships,” said Pease. “The Snap Ships app brings that fantasy to life: summon life sized ships in Augmented Reality, walk around them, test their weapons, and fly them into Battle. You also get access to an endless supply of unique ships with detailed, 3D building instructions, so you can build them all with your real-life toy kits!”

Each Snap Ship set comes with at least one buildable figure, plus a tool to help assemble and disassemble the ships. All ships can fire projectiles. The top of the box converts into a cool base so that the ships can be displayed in flight. These are also great for collectors who don’t have a lot of room. A full collection might take up one decent-sized shelf.

With a huge ad campaign behind, plus inherently cool toys and a nifty animated series, Snap Ships has the potential to be a breakout hit this holiday season, and could rank up there with the evergreen space toys of the past.

DC War Comics Collected

The PopCult Comix Bookshelf

DC Goes to War
by Robert Kanigher and various
DC Comics
ISBN-13 : 978-1779500151

This is a bit of a strange compilation of great comics. From the 1950s to the 1980s DC’s War comics boasted some of the top creators in the company’s history, and this hardcover collection includes work by Joe Kubert, Joe Simon & Jack Kirby, Alex Toth, Russ Heath, Mort Drucker, John Severin, Garth Ennis, Eduardo Baretto and more, but aside from having a stellar line-up of classic war stories, this book has a bit of a half-assed feel to it.

There are no text pages in DC Goes To War. Nothing gives you the history behind these stories or provides any context. There is nothing to explain the evolution from the comics in the 1940s, when the characters are preoccupied with “killing Krauts,” to the nuanced anti-war stance of a story like “Head-Count,” where the reader is left to ponder whether or not a medal winner was also a murderous psychopath.

Like I mentioned, the stories within this collection include some amazing work by the finest artists to ever work in the medium, but they were assembled in the laziest manner possible.

I realize that it’s really not fair to compare a reprint collection to another reprint collection that came out 41 years earlier, but of 17 stories collected in DC Goes To War, 13 of them were previously published in 1979 in a collection called America at War: The Best of DC War Comics, which was edited and compiled by Michael Uslan. That book also included Uslan’s 7-page essay that did provide the historical context and background information that this new collection is sorely lacking.

Only four of the stories collected in DC Goes To War were not included in the previous collection, and only three of those were published in the ensuing forty-plus years since that first collection. One of those newer stories, an excellect Enemy Ace mini-series from 2001, written by Garth Ennis, takes up the last 100 pages of this 352-page collection. It’s a great story and well deserving of a reprint, but because of its length it crowds out a lot of other notable works.

I can’t quite understand why DC didn’t simply publish an updated edition of America at War: The Best of DC War Comics, and then, if that did well, produce a second volume with newer stories and some of the gems that were missed. Both books include the first notable appearances of Blackhawk, Hop Harrigan, Sgt. Rock, The Haunted Tank, The Unknown Soldier, Capt. Hunter, Gunner and Pooch, Mlle. Marie and Enemy Ace. Each book makes for a good overview and introduction, but there are so many high-quality stories in those series that warrant more than just a “Secret Origins” collection.

Since DC shut down their war comics in the mid-1980s, there haven’t been many memorable war comics published by them. Many of the better recent stories are already collected in hardcover or paperback form.

DC has produced Archive Editions and Showcase collections of some of their classic war comics, but most of those are out of print, and there is still a wealth of top-quality material in the DC Comics war library that has never been reprinted before, from dozens of classic Kanigher/Kubert Sgt. Rock tales to stories with spectacular art by Russ Heath, Alex Toth, Frank Redondo and Sam Glanzman, among many others. It would’ve been nice if DC had chosen to tap into that motherlode, rather than simply copy their own previous collection.

As I said, DC Goes To War is a terrific collection, if you don’t already have America at War: The Best of DC War Comics. It’s a good introduction to DC’s war comics, and the production is pretty decent. You can order it from any bookseller by using the ISBN code, or you can get it at a discount from Amazon.

Monday Morning Art: The Girl At The Newsstand



This week we have another timed piece, only this time I gave myself three full hours to work on this mixed media on artboard imaginary portrait. The base sketch was done in pencil, then I turned to oil pastels and a little colored pencil before attempting a light wash over it and touching it up with watercolor and ink.

I had to let it dry for a day before scanning it.

It’s just a sketch of a girl in a newsstand. I used photos online to help me figure out the lighting, but otherwise this is reference-free.

If you want to see it bigger, just click on the image.

Meanwhile, Monday on The AIR, we are in the middle of our Labor Day Weekend Marathon of Radio Free Charleston. This one goes on until Tuesday evening, so tune in and check out a unique mix of local music, with the best classic and obscure music from around the world! You can listen to The AIR at the website, or on this embedded radio player…

If you are of a certain age, Labor Day seems synonymous with The Jerry Lewis Labor Day MDA Telethon, which the famed comedian hosted for almost sixty years.

The telethon is gone, as is Jerry, but MDA (the Muscular Dystrophy Association) maintains a YouTube page where they still post highlights from the vaults.

Above you see a playlist with 104 videos of musical legends like Frank Sinatra, Aretha Franklin, Smokey Robinson, B.B. King, Diana Ross, Ray Charles, Elton John, Paul McCartney, Tony Bennett, Little Richard, Johnny Cash, Toni Basil and many others. Best of all, you can watch these clips without sitting through four hours of corporate spokespeople droning on in a monotone about how much they care about the kids. I mean, no offense to the guy from 7 11, but I’m pretty sure they play those parts on an endless loop in hell. Above you see the good stuff, the cream of the crop.

Seriously, there are some gems in there like Duran Duran, MC Hammer and Charo. There’s lots of Charo. Lots of MC Hammer, too, now that I think about it.


The RFC Flashback: Episode 1

Since this weekend marks the 31st anniversary of the debut of the original version of Radio Free Charleston, this week The RFC Flashback will take you back to the first episode of the second incarnation of RFC as a video program.

This video pilot episode from 2006 featured the alterna-bombastic rock of Whistlepunk and the comedy stylings of the No Pants Players.  It’s hard to believe that this was the beginning of more than 200 (and counting) episodes of Radio Free Charleston as a video show, and we even had a spin-off, The RFC MINI SHOW.

So wallow in a little nostalgia and see where the second life of RFC began.

Toy-Ventures Brings The Toy Magazine Back To Life!

The PopCulteer
September 4, 2020

I’ve probably mentioned this before, but I’m old. In fact, I am old enough to have begun my toy-collecting life as an adult in the time before there was such a thing as “The Internet.”

Back in those days, toy collectors got their news from magazines. There were several on the stands back in the early 90s: Jim Main’s Collectible Toys & Values, Lee’s Action Figure News and Toy Review, Tomart’s Action Figure Digest, Kalmbach’s Classic Toys, Toy Shop. I’m probably leaving out a few, but those were the leaders in the field.

Some of these magazines offered detailed, in-depth articles, printed on cheap newsprint, while others presented high-quality photographs of rare toys on expensive slick paper. They all filled a reference niche that the book market hadn’t quite caught up with yet. This was how you learned the history of the various toy companies and kept up with the hobby.

Then the internet happened and eventually they all went out of business.

Those classic toy magazines peddled nostalgia, and now those of us who were old enough to read them have nostalgia for them.

Happily, the nostalgia-merchants at Plaid Stallions.com (which is really Brian Heiler of MEGO Museum fame–Hi, Brian!) have created a new toy magazine, Toy-Ventures, and after a harrowing experience in crowdfunding, it is available and it’s an absolute treat.

Brian has a passion for the toys of his youth, particularly the lesser lights that don’t get that much attention from the average toy collector. Over seven years ago I raved about Brian’s book, Rack Toys, which looked at the cheap and cheesy toys sold in grocery stores and pharmacies.

This first issue of Toy-Ventures is devoted to Azrak-Hamway International, a little company that scooped up some terrific licenses and earned a spot in the hearts and fuzzy memories of millions of children of the 70s.

Azrak Hamway also scooped up Remco Toys along the way, and AHI, as they became know, produced a line of action figures that managed to ride the coattails of MEGO by snatching up one of the few major licenses that MEGO didn’t managed to get their hands on–The Universal Monsters.

The bulk of this first issue, printed on high-quality, thick paper with great photography and high production values, is devoted to AHI’s “Official World Famous Super Monsters Line” of figures, with full-color photos of the actualy toys, in and out of the package, the many package variants and knockoffs that came out over the years, and detailed notes. It’s pretty much the definitive guide to these figures.

However, there’s more AHI goodness in this issue. We get photos of rare, bizarre and sometimes cheesy rack toys that AHI made for Star Trek, Space: 1999 and Planet Of The Apes. There’s also a pretty entertaining piece on AHI’s parachute figures, and a great piece on one collector’s long hunt for AHI’s KISS wireless microphone. This is just a very well-produced magazine, with great production and graphics and terrific writing.

We even get a few pages that offer us a glimpse at other AHI product lines.

This first issue of Toy-Ventures is not only an entertaining read, but it’s also an impeccable work of reference. Kudos to Brian for hitting it out of the park with such a great theme for his first issue.

To get your own copy of Toy-Ventures, visit the MegoMuseum/Plaid Stallions/Odeon Toys store (where you can find some other pretty cool things to order) or check eBay. At the moment, it’s going to run you about sixteen bucks shipped to the US, and it’s well worth it if you have any interest in cool toys of the 1970s.

While you’re at it, check out MEGOMuseum. They just posted all sorts of huge news items about MEGO this week.

Radio Free Charleston Marathon

Longtime readers of PopCult probably remember that during Labor Day Weekend 1989, Radio Free Charleston made its debut on WVNS radio. Since RFC is now back in its original form as a radio program on The AIR, every Labor Day Weekend we do something to commemorate this. You can tune in to The AIR website, or just park your browser on this page and listen to this embedded radio player…

This weekend, starting at 5 PM, The AIR will run all of our 2020 episodes of the new, three-hour, Radio Free Charleston. This will take us well into next Tuesday, since we have to pause Sunday at Midnight for our overnight marathon of The Swing Shift. Right after this marathon concludes, the first twenty of these episodes will go into storage because they eat up so much server space.

If you want to listen to a great mix of music, with more than one-third of it being local, you know where you can find us.

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

Let Loose The Foam Darts Of War!

The PopCult Toybox

Kids and adults alike have been cooped up in their homes for months now (if they’re smart), and the stress of the quarantine is building. Families are confined together. Conflicts can arise. Nerves are stretched to the breaking point. People are walking on eggshells, and any second can push people over the edge and make them snap.

People need a release. Something…anything…to break the tension.

If it comes down to open warfare, why not do it as safely as possible, with foam dart guns?

The X-SHOT Crusher is a new player on the scene, a foam dart blaster with a 35-dart belt, described by the manufacturer as “the ultimate beast.” Wearing proper eye protection, kids and adults can empty their weapons at each other and then laugh about it afterward.

This epic dart blaster, with brightly-colored sci-fi styling and a very reasonable price features a 35-dart rotating barrel that can shoot up to 90 feet. Powered by load handle pump-action, the X-SHOT Crusher offers two styles of blasting: Single shot or “Slam-Fire Modus” which enables you to fire up to four darts per second.

Over a foot high and almost 28 inches long, the X-SHOT Crusher is an intimidating foam dart weapon of mass distraction. The foam darts are much safer for kids than a conventional firearm, and can even be used indoors without causing injury or large holes in the walls. There are no batteries to buy because The X-SHOT Crusher is powered by air. Best of all, it’s only a toy.

The X SHOT Crusher is available at Target for under thirty bucks, and it’s a great stress reliever. It can encourage physical activity, which a lot of kids haven’t gotten much of lately, and even bored adults might want one so they can sit across the room and try to knock over action figures on a display shelf.

The X-Shot Crusher is the only blaster a kid really needs.