Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Interview with Retroblasting

Recently, I came across a couple of interesting videos on Youtube – Part One looking at the cartoons of M.A.S.K. and Part Two delving into the toy line. Both of these videos are expertly produced and I recently featured them on my blog.

I was recently in touch with the gang over at Retroblasting and asked them if they would take part in a Q&A Session for my blog…

Who are you?
RetroBlasting is a video channel we started in 2012 to celebrate, revisit and comment on the entertainment of Gen X.  Michael French and Melinda Mock are the creators of the channel.  We were both born in the late 1970's and spent our childhoods in the glorious 80's.

What first got you into M.A.S.K?
(Michael) - I had always loved cars.  Muscle cars, sports cars, DeLoreans.  Plus, I was a fan of Transformers, GoBots and G.I. Joe.  So when M.A.S.K. came along with the best of all those worlds, it was an instant interest! Had to have some of those toys!

My addiction to M.A.S.K. was with the comics - did you collect the comics growing up? 
Although I was born in the U.S. and lived there during the 1980's when M.A.S.K. was popular, I did not have any of the comics.  Funnily enough, my family moved to the UK in 1990.  We lived in Weybridge, Surrey from 1990 to 1993.  I remember going into a Toys R Us in a nearby town and seeing one aisle with shelves fully stocked with M.A.S.K. toys and Kenner Robocop and the Ultra Police toys.  It was kinda weird, because those toys were already three or more years old, and were already gone from US stores.  I asked my parents to buy me some of those M.A.S.K. vehicles.  They said "No."  At present, I own two issues of the DC Comics series from the US and I'm hoping to get more of them.  I also hope to attain all of the mini-comics.

Do you still have your comic collection and have you added to it?
I still have my comics collection from childhood, which is composed mainly of Marvel G.I. Joe comics, some UK digest issues of Complete Spider-Man and way more Superman than is healthy.  I also have the two issues of M.A.S.K. I mentioned.  I'm hoping to collect all of the mini-comics, the US comics and the UK comics one day.

What was your favourite aspect of the comics?
As a rule in the 1980's, the comics were always the better medium to tell the complete stories of these characters.  In the comics, the story is more sophisticated, there's more dramatic depth and more time to delve into the motivations and personalities of the characters.  That's my favourite aspect: the edgier sophistication of the stories.  Knowing that Mayhem killed Trakker's brother.  Understanding he stole the M.A.S.K. technology for criminal intent.  That's compelling!

How do you think the comic compared with the toys and the cartoon?
I always tell people it is a shame the cartoons are consistently more popular because the comics have the meat of the drama.  The cartoons never both explore origins or backgrounds, which in the case of M.A.S.K. (and G.I. Joe and Masters of the Universe) is so essential to truly having a narrative context.  The comics orient the enthusiast far better than any animated show. The toys are wonderful because they largely work for either medium.  Much like G.I. Joe, if you read the comics and played with the toys, you have a richer experience and understanding.  Not that playing with the toys having only seen the cartoon isn't fun, but I don't think you get as deep an appreciation for them.  Same goes with M.A.S.K.

If you collected more than one variant, which is your favourite?
The mini-comics are my favourite because they were the first!  They gave us that initial, hard glimpse into the world of Trakker and his team.  Granted, the glimpse was always a taste compared to the US and UK full format comics, but sometimes, like a good dessert, a taste can be infinitely more satisfying.

How do you think M.A.S.K compared to other comics of the time or now?
In the race to be perceived as "mature," comics have lost that magic.  That whiz-bang feeling of wonderment is all but emptied out of modern comics.  Yes, they're more "realistic" and whatnot, but I don't think they've gained much compared to the stories told in the 1980's M.A.S.K. and G.I. Joe comics.  I also am not a fan of the heavily-digital artwork now.  I miss the cleaner lines of the older art styles and layouts.  Each book was unique, despite the visual structures being familiar. Now, every artist looks the same thanks to all the photoshopping and digital coloring.

You recently produced a couple of Youtube videos on M.A.S.K. – tell us more!
We love watching 1980's cartoons at RetroBlasting!  We make videos about our observations of these cartoons and toys as adults and our recollections of our feelings about them as kids. The first video is about the cartoon, with any relevant information about comics thrown in to give the viewer added context.  In the second part of the videos, we critique the toys (if any) that were tied to the show.  In this instance, we'd just gotten done with a two-parter on Silverhawks and we wanted to move into something else.  Melinda suggested M.A.S.K. because it is an amazing toy line with an interesting show, but it isn't one of the over-mentioned franchises like G.I. Joe or Transformers.  I had purchased the DVD set a while back, so I was ready for a revisit!
Upon doing our research of other discussions about M.A.S.K. and just getting re-familiarized with the toys, we felt the real discussion points that haven't really be explored /critiqued were, 1) The unique format of the MASK cartoon, 2) the scale of the toys compared to other toy lines and 3) the intricate nature of the toy mechanisms and how to repair them.

Tell us more about Retroblasting!
How do I sum this up? HAHA!  Well, the short version is -- everyone tells me I have a weird and unique way of looking at stuff from the 1980's.  I had this rant about Thundercats because I hate them, and always have, and my friends always tried to goad me into that rant with strangers around.  Melinda said I should film it for YouTube.  So we did.  RetroBlasting was born.  Our goal is to "find the funny" while also educating people about nostalgia, but always making sure we are entertaining the audience.  That's the real trick.  Most of the time I will be watching something, a movie or a cartoon or maybe I'm fiddling with an old toy, and even though I've seen that show 100 times or handled that toy 200 times, suddenly I'll make a connection or observation, or recollect something from childhood I did not recall until that moment, and that rapidly becomes a larger concept or learning point.  Then I start scriptwriting so we can make a video!
Also, I should mention, we have an extensive archive of toys and 1980's "stuff" that continues to expand.  Melinda wants to one day open a museum!  Our goal with the toys especially is to preserve them - and we've actually had people give us their childhood toys to protect because they didn't want to sell them off to strangers! It's quite an honor and humbling!  More on that in a moment...

What was your first M.A.S.K toy?
My first MASK toy was the Piranha and Sly Rax!  Mysteriously, while the bike, sidecar, sidecar mount and Stiletto Mask all survived childhood, Sly Rax and the bike windscreen went missing! I've since replaced the missing parts.  I have to mention my second M.A.S.K. toy - Thunderhawk!  Mainly because it is forever my favourite and I recently restored it as well!

How big was/is your collection?
My collection as a child was limited to four vehicles - Piranha, Thunderhawk, Firefly and Raven, along with Scott and T-Bob - all of which I still own.  I did borrow Boulder Hill and Rhino from a friend once.  My next door neighbor had Switchblade, Jackhammer and Vampire.  As an adult, I've purchased Rhino, Switchblade, Jackhammer, Manta and Gator, and the Gloria Baker figure!  I also find myself the caretaker of a big M.A.S.K. collection!  One of our RetroBlasting fans, Chris, needed to make room in his family home and had to get rid of his M.A.S.K. toys - which were his prized possessions as a kid.  Although he'd sold off his other toys, he held onto his M.A.S.K. toys.  He didn't want to see them parted out.  He wanted to know they would stay together and were in a good home.  He sent them to RetroBlasting!  They needed some restoration, new parts and cleaning, but were largely intact with all their pieces!  Inside the box, we discovered a complete core run of vehicles!  He had everything I've already mentioned above, plus Condor, Firecracker, Hurricane, Outlaw, Meteor, Stinger, Slingshot, Goliath, The Collector and Billboard Blast, even Rescue Mission Bruce Sato!
If your readers would like to see RetroBlasting's MASK collection, we have a dedicated photo gallery of part of our MASK collection at our Facebook page, with more photos coming soon.

Quick Fire Questions.
Gloria or Vanessa?
Melinda loves Vanessa.  I like them both equally!  Cool cars and they both know how to DRIVE!

Spectrum or Ultraflash?
Spectrum - hands down.

Hurricane or Firecracker?
Tough one...  Firecracker edges out for me, but just barely!  It's part of the core lineup, there's so much cool engineering on that toy and I like the first Blaster mask far better.  As a sneak preview for your readers, they might like to know that RetroBlasting is preparing another M.A.S.K. video in the near future called "The Trouble with Hondo" that focuses on the Firecracker and Hurricane vehicles.

M.A.S.K, G.I Joe or Transformers?
M.A.S.K. - for sure. G.I. Joe is up there too, but M.A.S.K. had the innovation!  There will never be anything else like it.  Transformers?  Big disappointment.  I've got a two-part video called "Transformers Duped Our Generation" if anyone wants to hear my opinions on that...

Scott Trakker & T-Bob - Love or Hate?
Hate, but only in hindsight.  I also freely admit that no M.A.S.K. collection looks complete without them.  For better or worse, they are an immovable piece of M.A.S.K. canon.

Thunderhawk or Switchblade?
Thunderhawk.  Sports car becomes flying fighter jet! Switchblade?  Flying helicopter becomes flying jet.  Yes, it looks cool, fun toy - but Thunderhawk wins.

You may know that I've written a script, what are your thoughts on a M.A.S.K movie?
I think a M.A.S.K. movie would be great, but the big provision is making sure it stays true to the source in the broad strokes.  That's where the Transformers and GI Joe movies failed badly.  They disregarded the importance of the source material, the real personalities and relationships of the characters.  They threw them out in the trash. If the MASK characters are the same, I'd be fine.

Which characters and vehicles would you like to see?
I think variety would be the best course of action.  In truth, I'd like to see all of the original core vehicles (and the Manta, which I consider core, just late to market) - So, that would be for me - Thunderhawk, Condor, Rhino, Firecracker, Gator, Shark, Switchblade, Piranha, Jackhammer and Manta.

Transformers came under fire for changes to many of the vehicles? What are your thoughts on vehicles for M.A.S.K.?
They can update the vehicles if they want to - provided they aren't wacky different.  Example: Trakker needs a flying sports car (preferably an updated red Camaro).  Turner needs a flying motorcycle.  If they gave Trakker a flying motorcycle, that would tick me off.  The vehicles need to have the same silhouettes as the originals, if that makes sense?  The Rhino needs to be a lorry, but I can see Hollywood turning that into a Humvee or something.  Boulder Hill should be a gas station.  Don't change it into a restaurant or a car dealership.

Thank you Michael and Melinda for taking the time to answer some questions!

Ok, so there you have it.  Retroblasting have their own Webpage, Facebook Page and are on Youtube.  Please take a look and like and share their pages.

Recently on my Facebook Page, I mentioned I was nearing the 10,000 page view mark, I'd like to take this opportunity to ask you all to +1 my blog on Google, Like and Share on Facebook, etc., etc.  Whatever you can do to publicise would be great.

Thank you once again for reading.

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