Saturday, December 31, 2016

2016 Year in Review

Why are people bitching about 2016? Just because we lost a lot of greats and elected a human cartoon character to run the free world doesn't mean the year hasn't yielded some positive things, especially in the realm of pop culture. Here are some of our faves.

Ghostbusters was a great movie. Much better than Ghostbusters II. At any rate they did what they had to do with it.

Rogue One is is right up there. Gareth Edwards is the new FX film Master. 

Dead & Co. is kicking ass. Beautiful spinners are in every pic I've seen, making it look like time traveling back to the 90's is a reality.

Micronauts are poised for a major comeback, thanks to the Hasbro SDCC set, and a well received comic book.

The small regional fan event is thriving across the U.S. It's no longer Wizard's game. Will Diamond soon fall? Joking.

The Hobbit is officially great thanks to the Extended Edition. Everything the films needed is there now, and the extra features are positively hysterical. 

Pen Pineapple Apple Pen is the thing you need to watch anytime you feel like you're having trouble operating as a functioning human being. Pikotaro is a genius.

Binge watching television shows all the time is a thing now, and nobody thinks you're weird for doing it. Netflix is making it easier to be a couch potato. 

Super 7 has He Man and the MOTU and they're already pissing off fans. Boutique toy manufacturing continues it's big takeover of licensed merch.

Happy New year eeveryone! May 2017 be just as good!

Sunday, August 14, 2016

A Decade of Blogging (infrequently)

This year marks the tenth anniversary of Materialist Zen, and even a blogger as apathetic as I cannot deny the excitement and joy of celebrating such a momentous occasion.  So here, without further ado, is the very first post of the year!

Blogging is fun but blogging is also a drag. It takes time to type and coming up with ideas to write about is hard, so I don't do it much. I'm usually too in the moment to take a picture or ask a relevant question, then I forget the idea altogether because I'm too dumb to make a note. After all that I normally settle into the idea that this is just the most redundant activity. Blogging really is entirely unnecessary and it takes a certain level of self-absorption to be any good at it. So it is that spirit, the spirit of self-absorption, that I kick off this year of celebration with a brief conversion with myself discussing what it's like to blog over a period of ten years. 

Congratulations on my ten years! How does it feel to write of such a long-running blog?

 It feels great, thanks! When I started I never imagined I would still be doing this ten years later.  

How has blogging changed since I started out?

The blogging itself hasn't changed much, but the interconnection with other social media certainly has. It was such a pain in the neck to make people aware of my blog that I basically still can't be bothered with it. It was that time consuming to cross promote. Things like Google Ads were so terrible, absolutely getting in the way of what I am trying to do here and not delivering on the promise. There's an ease of use and access now that wasn't present ten year ago that I would say is the biggest change. People are blogging with their cell phones!

How have I changed?

(Laughs) I've changed but I'm not getting any smarter, stronger, or better looking! Seriously, if I've changed it's probably in that I'm more focused and have lower expectations. Maybe not "lower"  but more reasonable and within reach. Life isn't as tumultuous as it once was. That's given me a chance to pause in self-reflection, and come to some realizations, like what it is I'm doing by immersing myself in the hobby like I do.

What is it I'm doing by immersing myself in the hobby like I do? 

I had to ask! Maybe I spoke to soon. I know I'm more active than I ever was, with things like the toy show, various Facebook groups and Twitter, but what is it I'm doing? It definitely qualifies as an avocation, and even though I don't see that changing anytime soon, I'm likely to keep putting my energy into it. It's the simple pleasure of acquiring a dumb thing, and sharing that love with as many people as possible. 

I haven't posted in almost two years. Why?

Well, there where technical issues, such as my 17 year old Dell finally crashing, but I was sort of burned out anyway. I have several drafts I never published because I just lost interest in finishing them. I also became preoccupied with Twitter and Instagram, and got really involved with the Facebook hobby community, then starting promoting the show which has a sizable online commitment attached to it, so I wasn't really thinking about the blog. When I finally saw The Force Awakens I knew I couldn't blog because people aren't interested in how bad that film is. It was everything I could do to not go on the internet and lash out at the incredible levels of suck that is Star Wars The Force Awakens. Now I've had a chance to cool down and my opinion of the film has softened enough that I can go online and pretend it doesn't exist. In the meantime it became 2017, MZ's 10th anniversary, so returning attention to the blog is a must.

Has my subject matter changed, and if so how?  

It has changed, particularly with toys, which aren't really made for kids these days. Sure, they still make kids toys, but they sneak all this elaborate, expensive junk for adults onto the shelves that gets in the way of the things that should be there, which is more stuff specifically for kids. I know a kid probably likes the transformer toy while it's still not broken, but I kind of feel sorry for him having to help his dad vicariously relive his childhood. Then again, everything is so expensive that nothing can get made unless Wal-Mart says so, so I guess terminal adolescence is better than nothing. The reality of these marketing considerations seems to have enabled an acceptance level of toy collecting among adults that is mind-boggling. Even ten years ago, an adult collecting toys and comics was seen as at least somewhat peculiar. Not so much anymore. 

Pittsburgh is obviously a very different place, in ways both good and bad. There is more attention being paid to the city thanks to the Tech boom, so the types of local quirks I like to write about are being covered by mass media outlets now. I didn't expect people to ever take our greasy spoons so seriously,  yet, on the other hand, the music scene is exactly where I said it would be, sounding like Philly did ten years ago. I'm happy to be able to say the people associated with my core subject matter are still the same down to earth folks they always were. 

Perhaps more specifically my subject matter has changed in that I deleted several posts I felt were too off topic, such as my Olympic satire and tribute to Tailgate Magazine. The Tailgate post was one of my better essays, just not something that fits in with the grand design as I now understand it, so it's gone. I've narrowed my subject matter slightly, and continue to fine tune it. I understand now that there are some things I'm better qualified to discuss than others.

What, if anything, do I see happening with blogging as it continues to move forward?

I can't say I have any idea what's happening now, let alone what the future might hold.

Materialist Zen still gets multiple hits every day, even though it hasn't been updated for so long. How do I explain that? 

I think the topics I've discussed are gaining more traction in the realm of everyday people, as everyday people continue to be made aware and accept things like japanese toys and french fries on a salad. I know a lot of times this blog is the first thing they'll encounter when doing a search for, say, banana seat bikes or HG Toys Godzilla, stuff the average person didn't know about or forgot until more recently. I tend to dig a little deeper and consider things for longer periods, so some of the content I've developed has aged very well. Also, the name of the blog is somewhat brilliant, even if I do say so myself, and has the type of universal appeal that continues to draw in readers.  That was one of the smarter decisions I made. There's more people every year, and they're always curious about what others are getting into. People are the one resource we are not going to run out of soon.

Are there any special plans to help celebrate my anniversary?

I'm working on a few concepts. I'll probably finally update the imagery and layout (who is Tom D. anyhow?) and start publishing in terms of a series of articles. I have ideas I can't really talk about because I like surprises and don't want to promise something I'll change my mind about later.

Finally, is there anything I'd like to say before I wrap things up? 

I would just thank readers for their continued support. It means a lot when someone takes the time to comment on a post or stop me in real life to continue the conversation. I do this mainly for my own satisfaction, only vaguely aware of others impressions, so when I get direct feedback I'm compelled to double down and push a little further. Thank you!

Thank me for the time I took to answer my own questions.

(pause) Wait, what?

So there it is, the first post of the year. Pretty interesting stuff, and maybe the weirdest thing I've blogged yet. Stay tuned for more of our tenth anniversary celebration over the coming four months.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Too Groovy Toy Show

A new toy collectors event emerged in Pittsburgh this past weekend. The Too Groovy Toy Show.

The idea was to recreate the halcyon days of the late 80's, when smaller cons offered a more relaxed atmosphere. Admission wouldn't break the bank and a handful of dealers would cater to a dizzying array of interests. It was to be a quick shot instead of a binge weekend. A fun and productive afternoon doing something we love, with plenty of time leftover for whatever else. I'm happy to report that by most accounts the Too Groovy Toy Show was successful in accomplishing this.

MZ spread at Too Groovy Toy Show.

 Organized by several local collectors (including yours truly) the Too Groovy Toy Show was thrown together over the course of four months with a minimal budget. Only 25 tables, they all sold out and the offerings heaped on display rivaled any event I've attended. So much great stuff was crammed into such a small venue that it took some time to absorb. The buyer turnout was also substantial, with people lined up outside the door. It was great to see such a response to what we feel is something new and cool for the hobby in Pittsburgh. Jokingly referred to as the "Beta" Too Groovy Toy Show, this event was the first in a planned series that looks to be continued.

 D & E Collectibles brought some great vintage SW stuff. 
This was nearer to the end of the day, so it's somewhat picked over.

 A personal highlight was when Glenn (not Big Glenn, although he is always a highlight) started talking to me about the ARK Black King in the MZ spread. He was amazed and explained that he had one too, as well as several others and never new how to start researching them. I got to enjoy a fun conversation about obscure robot toys and maybe even help him out a little. But it gets better. Since he was local, he ran home and brought out some of the finest examples of Marukai Trading UFO robot toys I'll likely ever see. The most minor paint wear and everything 100% complete and fully functioning. Amazing stuff that wouldn't happen if Glenn were zipping past my table because there's "so much to see."

It's a great show when gems like these are discovered.

Please, somebody time machine me back to 1978.

 Another highlight of any proper toy show is the presence of a grail or two. In my case, some very nice Yamakatsu Godzilla, some Kenner Raiders figures, and the '82 Bandai Godzilla. I held off on all of it because I wanted patrons to get first crack, so whoever it is playing with Indiana Jones and Cairo Swordsman right now owes me one. I did score the gojis, which still made for the best day I've had at any show in quite a while. That stuff is always overpriced online and you never really know what you're getting, so it's great to get to examine it in person. Finding all three at the rinky-dink show we put together for kicks is a karma thing, I am certain.

 ... for one cannot live on vinyl kaiju alone.

Being involved in this type of event is logical for Materialist Zen. I am proud of what we have accomplished and grateful for the tremendous response. Patrick Senatro and Bob Novotny are gentlemen and a credit to the local scene, with Bobby in particular deserving of praise for his efforts in both the show and his store, Too Groovy Pop Culture Toys. There is no question this guy contributes so much to the Pittsburgh toy collecting community. He's friendly, too, so stop by after show season ends if you're itching for something retro-cool and fun.

And don't forget to keep an eye out for the Return of Too Groovy Toy Show.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014


Recently, the center button of my Ipod 2 started sticking and now won't depress at all. This occurs a little less than a year after I sold off the entirety of my extensive CD collection (the Kindle made it seem alright) to the local CD Exchange. Of course, I continue to further immerse myself in collecting vinyl records as a coping mechanism for all these bad music listening decisions, so it comes as a true materialist zen moment when I stumble upon this:

I should add that I worked for NRM for five years starting in 1992, during the height of the grundge explosion. I pushed Badmotorfinger so hard, it was uncool before it was even officially released. Three nights a week and opening on weekends while studying as an undergrad, NRM was my college life, my fraternity.

NRM is, of course, a tedious acronym for Nation Record Mart, a company that fell under the same mid-90's malaise as Kentucky Fried Chicken. Please remember that by this time actual LPs were regarded as a thing of the past, just like artery clogging fast food. In fact, the music industry's demise can be directly attributed to it's inability to dictate the prevelant technology. It was the Compact Disc, not the mp3, that did in the music industry. The mp3 was merely the deathblow strike after an awkward and prohibitively costly ten year transition period from LP to CD. The disaster that was the Compact Disc went beyond obvious merchandising considerations and straight into how companies were forced to market themselves. National Record Mart is says it all, NRM Music is saying something. I had no idea at the time.

As a suburban kid in the late 70's/early 80's, landing a gig with the record mart was a validation of ones music knowledge credentials. That said, I had no idea what I was in for in terms of my education. I could never have guessed that I would work for a guy who loved the Boss, the Dead, and the Clash equally. A guy who would encourage King Sunny Ade, but let his employees in-store play Beasties, G'N'R, Pearl Jam... all the played out shit we loved. It was like a party at work everyday in some ways. The people you worked with could not be more in line with the core philosophical belief in the power of music, and if you got bitched at by a customer, take out from the Taco Bell in the food court made it feel like a party again. Store #41 was a Ticket Master outlet. In order to keep us loyal and away from scalpers, said guy from Teaneck, NJ would allow us a number of seats before the gate opened. We earned it by dealing with hostile ticket buyers all the time. There were so many perks attached to working at NRM; I sat (boogied) in the fourth row at several Phish concerts, met TLC before they hit big, learned to navigate the service hallways of the mall were Dawn of the Dead was filmed, possessed a promotional cassette copy of the aforementioned Sound Garden album 8 months before release, and boxed up the last 75 vinyl cut-outs for the scrap heap, thus truly ending an era of Monroeville Mall. The working at NRM stories go on forever.

Here's an article from the PG back in 2002 that sums things up quite nicely.

Seeing that store logo again brought back so many great memories, but that's the type of experience one can expect from going to Hannastown Fleatique in Hempfield Township, PA. It's the longest running outdoor antique show in the country, and it's were famous hoarder Andy Warhol would gather cool stuff to load into the lower floors of his NYC brownstone. I inquired about the price and got $275, and not much else on the history of the object. Apparently former NRM employees inundate these type of pop-ups, and the seller had grown tired of the tale.  It's not a complete sign, so I didn't bite, but I suppose the rest of it could be fabricated cheaply enough. With this type of thing it's a space consideration, not a money consideration. Also, it's a Do I want to hire an electrician so I don't kill myself trying to install a utility electrical line in my living room?-type consideration.

So, the NRM signage is still out there, for you weirdo CD collectors trying to do up the communal space right. CD collectors are the 8-Track collectors of the future. Vinyl is the new hard-copy format of choice. National Record Mart, however, remains a thing of the past.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Love for The Temple Of Doom

 Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom is my favorite of the four films. It does what a proper sequel should, which is give you more of what you like about the first film, while being something unique and unto itself. Temple of Doom does this. It's got it's own atmosphere, the other two films are just rehash.


One thing I remember coming away from seeing this movie, besides being supremely satisfied with my visit to the 1930's, was the realization that there wasn't going to be anymore Star Wars films. I knew the SW story was told in full, yet it wasn't until Temple of Doom that the reality hit home. In this way, Temple of Doom becomes one of my first adult experiences. 

Celebrating a 30 year old film from my youth is kind of depressing. Then again, movies like this one are one of my life's guide posts. Watching Harry Ford take the amount of physical abuse that he does really puts my own aches and pains into perspective. They don't make movies the way they used to, that's for sure.

The truth is, when you make a comment like that (They don't make...) you're really acknowledging that your own time has passed. The experience if seeing this film on the big screen is a distant memory, even if the film itself remains timeless

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Anatomy of a Thing

I've been in the habit of offering a small token of thanks when set up and selling at organized events or online, usually being a small rubber or plastic bulk monster or robot toy such as you'd find in a party supply store. Cool, colorful trinkets in keeping with my theme of late 70's/early 80's awesomeness. They are something I can offer to someone just for stopping at my table and they help make the event a better experience for everyone.

Six years ago I found a huge bag of brightly colored plastic Gundam figures that I couldn't pass up, although I was never sure of what to do with them until recently when the local party store, Paper Mart, closed it's doors forever. Up until that point I would toss a few in a shipping box, or leave them on my table in a small candy dish with a sign saying "Take One". I've dispersed these guys over the years and have a finite number left. They are a diminishing resource so it's important that they be fully utilized before they're gone forever!

The venerable Paper Mart is closed after thirty years. I guess the kids didn't want to go up against Wal-Mart and Target anymore. It was a big groovy place with cards, gift wrap, novelties, and tons of Steelers stuff all year round. At one time I would have gone there to rummage for Star Wars supplies, another for Halloween stuff. Yet at another point in life I would have bought everything glow I could find, but those stories aren't appropriate for this blog. This time, my last time, I went to Paper Mart and found several bags of small, jiggly, squishy dinosaur toys, perfect for my Gundams to fight, and priced next to nothing.

I now understood what need to be done with my remaining Gundams. They would each be bagged with a rubber dinosaur in a claustrophobic struggle for survival which would also serve as a contact point. So, I created some header card art; I used Copic markers and took some liberties with the designs, then cleaned it up and added background and additional layout on the computer. I think the results capture the fun atmosphere I was going for.

Then comes the tedious assembly portion of this project. Once I got to putting the things together and discovered that the dinosaurs were so stretchy that any 'bot could ride one, (plus they fit into the bag more easily,) it became a lot more enjoyable. Dino Riders redux?

The result is a freebie I'm most proud of. While the concept stands well enough of it's own, through happy accident the various color combinations serve as tribute to so many great, classic toys and characters. The appropriation of various properties and the packaging might be borderline keshi. I can only hope the kan (editor: Sans ji ) translates to "Thank You" but that's part of the fun (editor: It loosely translates to "Positive". Win!) I included contact info and formatted the card to fit in a business card holder. The creation is totally fun and functional, and I like to think it's a pretty cool, real world way to stay on the radar of the collectors I do business with.

Anyhow, I'll be making more of these things throughout what is looking like a busy summer show schedule. Please let me know if you get one and which favorite toy it reminds you of. So much of why people select whichever one they do depends on personal history, and we here at MZ are all about sharing the toy collecting experience!

Friday, January 31, 2014

Straub Beer... Mmmmmm!

"Please Return"

Something totally unique to the Pittsburgh region is Straub 16oz returnables. Not only is Straub the second oldest brewery in the U.S., they are also the only brewery anywhere in the states still offering returnables. It's cheaper than Pabst and as fresh as anything poured into a growler, and there's something nice about filling your pint glass to the rim with just one bottle (that will not break.) It's sustainable, but Hipsters don't know this exists. You won't find this on any bourgeois white kid's "20 Things About Pittsburgh" list. This is how your great granddad brought home his beer, which makes it pretty effin' cool. In a throwaway society that can only pretend to respect tradition it does not get any more real than this. Quaff!