Here are a few early video games, all of which predate the release of Pong in 1973.
Tennis for Two: Designed in 1958.
Spacewar!: Designed in 1962.
Magnavox Odyssey: Designed in 1968, released commercially in 1972:
Dark Horse recently revived Doctor Solar, the nuclear-powered hero with a nuclear physics Ph.D. As a pre-teen, I remember hanging around in the comic shop after school – the owner was a distant friend of the family who knew I was harmless (and had a direct line to my mom if I wasn't) and therefore never bothered kicking me out – and checking out all the cool stuff I didn't remotely have the funds to purchase. For some reason, Doctor Solar always stood out. He looked, to me, like a cooler version of the pre-Jim Lee (or post-John Cassaday) -era Cylcops. I thought he may have been a ripoff, what with the popularity of Valiant, the publisher of his first revival, long waning by the time I got into comics. It turns out that Solar's first appearance, published by Gold Key, was in 1962 – beating the debut of the X-Men by almost a year.
My favorite aspect of Doctor Solar is the Golden Age covers art. While the internals were pretty standard Golden Age work, the covers were painted and resembled dimestore pulp novels. I found a number of them on this website and want to share a few of my favorites. Unfortunately, I can't find who the artist was, so if anyone has a clue, let me know in the comments:
Back in Russia, my grandmother owned a piece of cutting-edge consumer electronics: a VCR. Along with the VCR, she also had a number of tapes with Disney and MGM cartoons. I can still remember my favorite two. One was 1936's “Thru the Mirror,” which starred Mickey Mouse and was inspired by (and featured a copy of) Lewis Carroll's book 15 years before the Disney film. The other was a Tom and Jerry spy parody entitled “The Mouse from H.U.N.G.E.R.”, an obvious take on 60s spy series The Man from U.N.C.L.E.. I was, apparently, born with an innate taste for referential media.
Dashiell Hammett wrote two seminal hardboiled detective fiction novels: Red Harvest and The Glass Key. The Glass Key was later made into two films; one in 1935 and another much more popular version in in 1942. The noir stylings of the 1942 version were used as the visual/thematic basis for the 1946 Bogart classic The Big Sleep, based on the Raymond Chandler novel.
The Big Sleep was then used as the framework for the Coen Brothers' film The Big Lebowski. That's not all for the Coen Brothers, however. A line of dialogue in Red Harvest was used as the title for their film Blood Simple and The Glass Key was used as the plot source for Miller's Crossing.
Akira Kurosawa's classic ronin film Yojimbo had two big influences. The plot clearly came from either The Glass Key or Red Harvest, depending on who you ask. The visual styling came from classic American Western films. The favor would be returned when Sergio Leone remade it as the Spaghetti Western A Fistful of Dollars. Yojimbo would later be taken back to its Prohibition-era roots when remade again as the Bruce Willis action-noir Last Man Standing.
I was recently turned on to this website, where a man named Igor Sergeev has, since 1976, collected thousands upon thousands of cigarettes, and archived images of them for our viewing pleasure. Obviously, I turned directly to the Russian ones. I've always admired Russian cigarette package design, and now I can share it with you! All images are courtesy of Mr. Sergeev, of course.
Беломорканал (Belomorkanal) are the cigarettes I grew up around. They weren't exactly cigarettes in the Western conception, but papirosi: a long filterless tube with the top quarter stuffed. Stuffed with what I can only assume to be the tobacco shavings collected off the floor of company making more tolerable cigarettes. I remember my mother's stories of her youth, of sons-of-bitches at parties putting these things out into empty sardine tins, stinking up the house to no end. When I asked her to pick me up a pack as a souvenier, she gaped, asking “you want a pack of the cigarettes that killed your father? She got them anyway. They were godawful. I never thought I would encounter a cigarette so foul I'd rather go through nic fits than smoke but here they were, in all their horrendous glory.
Now, on to more exciting territory. The first thing you should be aware of is that many of these are novelty packs. They're not all the Marlboros or Camels or Newports of the USSR/Russia. One of the first things I noticed was that animals, apparently, sell cigarettes. That makes sense. Who wouldn't want to buy a pack with an animal symbolizing strength and power. Like a wolf, or bear, or … penguin?
Ships and seafaring vessels are popular too. When I was a kid, Robert Louis Stevenson was the man to be reading. I love the gold-and-black “Corsairs brand the most. They're so classy.
The biggest constant theme, outside of “pictures of landmarks,” (which I'm not really going to go into as my grasp of pre-Cold War Russian history is tenuous at best) is SPACE. I'm not sure what America was like during the late 1980s, but in the Soviet Union, kids were absolutely inundated with space-related books and toys. At the age of four, I already knew who Yuri Gagarin (featured in the blog logo) was, and why he was important. The first package is a little blurry, but I'm almost entirely sure that it's Russia's old space station Мир (Mir):
Along with space technology, there are also the heavenly bodies. The red-and-white one is Mars:
Лайка (Laika, “Barker”) the Soviet space dog, makes it into a number of designs and even has a brand named after her. One of the things which never fails to break my heart is knowing that at least one of the scientists admits that “we did not learn enough from this mission to justify the death of the dog:
On to lighter faire, here's a few packs clearly marketed toward women. The zebra print one, particularly, reminds me of just about every young woman I've ever seen outside of a Russian restaurant:
Here's a few celebrating the mainstays of Russian popular culture, with no particular political bent. The chess one is my favorite, having grown up losing match after match after match to my grandfather, frustrated at the idea that I showed no interest in his hobby:
America Chic was in its prime during the Perestroika period. We had American Stores opening up all Leningrad, where you could buy imported goods, no longer solely available on the black market. They were, of course, inordinately expensive. The name of the cigarettes in the black pack is “Jeans.” Jeans were considered a uniquely American fashion choice, although they widely available since the 70s.
The single funniest results of the America Chic fad, is the following packet of “Brighton Beach" cigarettes. Brighton Beach is an area of Brooklyn which has been populated by Russian emigres since the 70s and has a unique culture that does not resemble modern Russia at all. Meanwhile, “Beach," being part of a proper name, is spelled phonetically, so the actually translation is “Brighton Scourge."
Ironic Soviet Chic, of the sort we see in the U.S., was not far off from the collapse. Strangely enough, far from being angry about the past, my parents' (although not so much grandparents', who bore the full brunt of Stalin) generation is delighted in the fact that their American-raised kids wear Che and Hammer and Sickle t-shirts. Probably because it is a complete capitalist dismantling of the sacred cows of the USSR, which anyone not fond of the place is glad to see. The last pack is a parody of this poster warding off idle chatter. The original said “Don't Gossip," the cigarettes say “Don't Smoke." Double reverse irony, indeed:
That's all! Make sure to check out Igor Segeev's site for more designs from around the world.
Some quick advice to all of us struggling, courtesy of Bruce Banner and Stephin Merritt:
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The Incredible Hulk, v2 #19.
I've watched this video repeatedly since I discovered it. I'm not a big Peter Serafinowicz fan. Not that I don't like him; I've liked what I've seen, but I have not seen very much. Anyway, everything about this is hilarious and wonderful and saying anymore would spoil it.
I went to a wedding this weekend; my first one. Technically. I've been to two other weddings before, but I didn't know anyone – I was a plus one – at one, and the other was my mom's courthouse wedding. This was the first real wedding of a pair of friends I've ever attended. It was fun. Exhausting. The only reason I really mention it is to give me an awkward lead in to play my favorite track off Gogol Bordello's Super Taranta:
And in that vein (okay, not even remotely in that vein,) here's Russian pop group Balagan Limited. One of the things I'm rather fond of is that for a purely disposable pop song, it's got very traditional sounding vocals: