Its always nice to find others out there who share the strange kid mentality and Shawn Robare from Branded in the 80s is without a doubt one of the most well versed nostalgia alumni that I've ever come across. I remember having first come across Robare's blog last years thanks to his massive Halloween feature during the month of October which he has since extended into an entire online collaboration amongst multiple blogging enthusiasts.So Shawn, how did you first get into blogging?
In fact, everything that Robare writes about is done so with a child's enthusiasm as if these artifacts, whether they be stickers, sodas or even "wax packs" cover art, are still as commonplace as they were back then. And while Branded in the 80s serves as his time capsule of culture, he also keeps himself busy with a plethora of podcasts, supercasts and soda pop. I'll digress, however, and let the man himself fill you in on the details of what it means to truly be: Branded in the 80s.
Around 1999 or so I really started getting intense pangs of nostalgia for my childhood, and I was constantly scouring the internet for pictures of toys, books, and screen-grabs of cartoons that I’d loved as a kid. Then early in 2005 I stumbled across the flickr account of Todd Franklin (of Neato Coolville). In particular, I found cover scans from a couple of children’s books that I had been searching for called the Crestwood House Monster series. I was so jazzed to finally get a look at these covers again, and I couldn’t thank Todd enough. It got me thinking about the power of the internet as a portal to finding these lost pop culture treasures. I’d also started listening to podcasts around the same time, and I really wanted to find a way to sort of give back to the online community. After stumbling across a few other real swell sites, in particular the Secret Fun Blog, Scar Stuff, and the sadly defunct Bubblegum Fink, I thought it would be cool to start up a podcast and a blog to share my own memories and ephemera.
What does it mean to be Branded in the 80s?
I think the 80s were the apex of commercialism in America with thousands upon thousands of products, services, and outlets vying for our attention in every facet of our lives. It was a time when branding became so pervasive that it melded into our culture so completely that it became impossible to know where product placements ended and regular day to day life began. When I think back on my childhood, all of this branding, all of this stuff that I remember because it was relentlessly beaten into my mind through commercials, jingles, package and print ads, has become intertwined with my memories of family and friends. I’ve found that this branding has become a sort of Rosetta stone that helps me remember so much of my childhood. It’s sort of the way hearing a song can take you back to a specific moment in your past, so can the packaging art on a Transformer or on a bottle of Jhirmack hair spray.
What is the single best thing to ever to come out the 80s?
For me, the coolest thing was the onslaught of cartoons in the wake of the deregulation of the animation industry and the first-run syndication model that led to thousands of hours of programming. Most critics tend to deride the 80s era cartoons, but I find so much inspiration and entertaining content in that era of animation. It also provided fertile ground for a ton of creative talent who are still creating amazing stuff 30 years later.
How do you keep yourself motivated to write? Do you ever get burned-out?
Harlan Ellison included a doodle that a friend of his drew in one of his books that encapsulated his motivation to write, and it’s something that I take to heart. It had a guy sitting at a typewriter, the top of his head was flipped open, and there was an angry little man where his brain should be, pointing to the typewriter and screaming “Write!” I think about that every Monday morning, that I sort of need to write or else the little angry man in my head is going to yell at me. Also, I’ve tried really hard to intertwine writing for Branded into my general hobbies and interests so that it feels natural. I’m going to be thinking about this stuff anyway, so I might as well write about it. That said, I do find that I need to hibernate for about three months each year around December-February, to take a break from the site and to try not to get burnt out.
You seem to have amassed quite a collection of nostalgic whatnots. Which collectible is your favorite and why?
My favorite has to be my collection of animation cels from a handful of 80s series like He-Man, Bravestarr, and the Real Ghostbusters. I love cartoons, and being able to literally have a piece of some of them is pretty cool. I have this one series of cels, it’s the walk cycle of Whiplash, a character from the He-Man and the Masters of the Universe cartoon, that is so neat. Not only does it capture a couple seconds of animation from one of my favorite cartoons, but it’s also an example of one of the iconic diagonal running sequences that Filmation Studios is known for. I also really dig these because even though there are literally millions of cels floating around for all of these cartoons, most of them are boxed up and forgotten in warehouses so it’s really hard to come across them. I think part of the enchantment of collecting lies in the hunt, and finding animation cels is proving to be quite challenging.
What are some of your favorite blogs and what sets them apart from other sites?
I really dig stuff like the Roboplastic Apocalypse and Frankensteinia because of their singular focus and exhaustive research into pop culture that’s adding a wealth of information to the internet archive. I also really dig the Cavalcade of Awesome because Paxton Holley can consistently make me laugh with his pop culture observations. He tends to find bits and pieces that most other blogs don’t take the time to investigate.
You seem to also have a strong place in your inner fanboy for Halloween. What's the significance of that holiday for you?
here’s something magical about October and the Halloween season. As a kid the school year is really what defines the demarcation of years, and Halloween was the first milestone to look forward to after getting back to the grindstone. It’s also the one time of year as a kid where everything gets turned on its head, where we can be anything, stay up way too late, go to strangers’ houses and get free candy. It’s like all the rules are put aside for an evening. I also really dig the imagery of the holiday: the jack-o-lanterns, ghosts, and monsters. It’s the one time of year where I get to be a kid again.
Do you have any side projects that you're currently working on?
There are a couple of things actually. Speaking of Halloween, I’ve been redesigning the Countdown to Halloween website, gearing up for the next annual community blog-a-thon. In the past five or so years there’s been this impromptu celebration on a lot of blogs during the month of October where people try and update for 31 days straight talking about all facets of the holiday. The Countdown site acts sort of as a hub for finding all the sites that are participating.
I’m also helping to co-organize a comic book conference/convention called the Up! Fair that’s going to be held this November in Lexington, KY. We’re trying to provide an alternative convention experience for independent creators that focuses more on creating comics & zines and getting the word out without having to feel like you’re shut off in a corner like the Artist Alleys at most established shows (like the various Wizard and Comic Con shows.) We’re not only trying to give a voice to independent creators, we’re also trying to provide an environment chock full of workshops and panels that will hopefully give artists and writers a reason to want to attend beyond selling some books.
What words of wisdom would you give to new bloggers out there who are just beginning?
Two things. First, mess around with your site design, even if you have no idea what you’re doing. There are a handful of services out there that provide free blogging platforms and most of them are really limited in terms of their standard templates, so I tend to see a million sites that all look the same. No matter how interesting your content is, if there’s nothing personal to the aesthetic of the site design then it’s going to be hard to get people to stop long enough to read. Second, take the time to come up with an interesting over-arching concept for your content that will help focus your writing, but make sure that it leaves room for change.
What's the strangest thing you can remember doing as a kid?
Probably the strangest was a period of time during high school where I carried around a can of Spam as a pet. I wrote an essay about it on Archie McPhee’s literary site, Monkey Goggles, but long story short I was infatuated with Monty Python and absurd humor to a point where I thought having a can of Spam as a pet was the funniest thing known to man. Not many people seemed to share in the humor, and at one point a girl in my art class stabbed the can with a pottery knife. That was pretty strange…