Saturday, June 09, 2012

Well, I'm off on another cerebral safari ...

It's been a really busy ten days and I haven't had time to sit down and do much more than sketch out some ideas and do a little bit of thinking.  I was at the end of my wick, basically, and just needed some time to veg.  A week ago Friday I did manage to stop by my local hobby shop on my way home and finally picked up my AMT Leif Ericson Galactic Cruiser model kit.  I won't go into a lot about this kit because what I could say has been said before and maybe said better by others.

The Leif Ericson had a very interesting history including its relative failure as a new line of model kit for AMT way back in the late 1960's.  Fast forward to the mid-'70's when the LE was re-issued not as the LE but as a "Interplanetary U.F.O. Mystery Ship" which looked a lot less like anything traditionally associated with UFOs and more like something from the Gerry Anderson TV Series "UFO".  In fact, I've often thought that the LE had a lot in common with the SHADO SkyDiver ... and that if you put the LE in an ocean it would have fit in a universe pretty much like the one that brought us the SHADO SkyDiver and of course Irwin Allen's "Seaview" submarine from "Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea."

Anyway, way back in 1978 the first time that I had this kit (or knew of it) was as a 9 year old newly anointed sci-fi fanatic and the LE was given to me in its second format ... the AMT glow-in-the-dark "Interplanetary UFO Mystery Ship" (because UFOs and Bigfoot and ESP were all big / hot topics in the 1970's).  I received this kit along with the AMT "K-7 Space Station" model kit as a Christmas gift at a Christmas party at my dad's place of work (then First Magnolia Federal Bank where he was VP).  

 The original kits I received at that Christmas party oh so long ago ...

I'm really glad that these kits have been reintroduced and are affordable because with no real canon background (and a rather limited background as it is), a kit like this is just waiting to be fleshed out.  There's a lot of talk over on the Starship Modeler discussion forums about this kit but most if not all of that is simply about the LE itself.  Some of the discussion was interesting but when it was decided by group to have the evil alien race in the LE "universe" to be called the "Zork Empire" I had to throw my hands up and walk away.

That was years ago and my interest in the LE was put on the back burner amid other projects (like writing about 1200 pages of the adventures of my life).  Fast forward a few years and Round 2 has bought up the molds from AMT and re-released a cherished childhood memory.  The Leif Ericson is now available in two flavors; Original and Extra Crispy (or LE and Ghost Ship).

Original recipe (with original artwork, lighting kit, ooolala!) 

 Extra crispy recipe (missing a few pieces that the original LE kit contains)

Isn't life grand?

Anyway, lately I'd started thinking about the Leif Ericson / IUFOMS again and decided to finally do something about it.  I had some spare time one night so I sat down and just started typing out a history of the LE universe, real stream of consciousness type stuff.  Three glasses of sweet tea and one hour later I had basically almost 30 pages of history, notes, things I wanted to do with the model, technology, political and social movements, etc. and of course a worthy protagonist for the LE ... and it damn sure isn't the Zork Empire.



In fact, I've pretty much thrown out everything about the Leif Ericson and the Strategic Space Command other than the name of the ship and the design of the ship as well.  Two of the things that I threw out first were the scale debate and the duck-looking scoutship.  If you sand off the lightly pressed portholes in the ship you can make it any scale you want and I'm thinking that it's more of the 1/600 scale rather than the 1/500 that everyone is so happy with.  As for the mini scout ship ...

Quack-Quack!  Now with Doric style landing gear!

Starting from scratch has been the best thing about this project because it gives me a chance to combine a lot of scratch-building and intellectual projects that I've been meaning to get to together under one focus.

So, with the new re-release of the LE (and my probable purchase of at least two more examples of this kit) work begins on a new intellectual diversion and cerebral safari for me.  Look for updates on the Gray Stuff part of my webplace.  Here's a hint ... I'm building the bad guys first and I'm building them from scratch just because no one else has been building the bad guys.  


I like to do stuff that other people aren't doing and I like to do it first so that others can follow in my footsteps but then that's just me.

Marx military playsets

Growing up in the early 1970’s was a really fun time.  It was a time of military toys and my Christmas wish lists would have been the stuff of any bleeding heart liberal parents’ nightmares.  I grew up playing with war toys and toys which represented not only violence but organized violence and mass destruction on a scale which had boundaries only limited by my young imagination.  I grew up building plastic models of bombers, fighter planes, naval warships and armored vehicles (Monogram rocked hard during this time and Sheppard Paine was my modeling hero).

I grew up checking out library books on World War Two, Korea, Vietnam, and anything that had weapons or combat in it.  I grew up playing with cap guns, dart guns, tracer disc guns, BB guns and fireworks and burning stuff with gasoline or any other flammable incendiary liquid that I could get my hands on.  I grew up pretending to kill my friends in games of "guns", using my imagination to gun them down in vacant lots, half-built houses and the woods down the street.  We built forts in the woods and turned tree houses into fortresses.  It was run and gun, jumping ditches, hiding in culverts, playing in the woods, vacant lots and half-built houses of my still unfinished neighborhood.  When my friends couldn’t come out to play or it was raining, I turned to some of the greatest toys ever created … “army men” made by a lot of different companies but the greatest "army men" of all time were those made by the Marx Toy Company.

I remember 1973 to 1977 being my really big green army men days when I had buckets and tubs full of Marx military playsets and figures.  I had played a lot with the MPC / Timmee bagged sets of military soldiers (the Vietnam era green figures with the M16s, Bazooka, Flamethrower and mortar) and generic 1960’s era tanks but then my parents bought me a present for my 6th birthday that was one of the greatest presents ever … the Marx Battleground Playset.  It was freaking huge!  The box I could barely hold and it included more pieces than I could count!

 Happy happy joy joy!

There was a tank, a small towed cannon, a big 155mm howitzer, a 88mm Flak gun, a half track, a jeep, a landing craft with drop down ramp and twin MG turret, a raft, a two piece pontoon bridge, twin flag poles … there was barb wire fences, rolled barb wire, trees, ruins, a damaged pillbox, sandbag emplacements, a recoilless rifle on a tripod, lots of crates, a table with a radio … more soldiers than you could carry in both of your arms held tight and, sweet mother of plastic there were accessory weapons … not exactly to scale but who cared!  You had spare tommy guns, hand grenades, BARs, grease guns, M3 carbines, and Colt .45 pistols … all manner of battlefield accessories you could pull off of a sprue and give to your soldiers to pretend to carry or to place around the battlefield and have your soldiers capture.

Basically, the Marx Battlefield Playset was countless hours of solitary fun in a box and it was worth every single penny that my parents paid for it.  I’d lose myself in the den playing on a battlefield of deep shag carpet or across the great divide that separated my two single beds in my room.  A seasonal visit to my cousins in Virginia netted me my first experience with Airfix military figures … these were far more detailed than the Marx figures (and a good bit more expensive) but I went home with some World War II British desert soldiers and some Russian soldiers, marveling at their weapons and equipment.

I lived for those little green army men during those early years of my life and my imagination ran wild, creating battlefields in my parents’ den (we had shag carpet), across the Great Divide that was the space between my oppositely opposed single beds and outside in the sand box (where you could make some really cool beach assaults and hand-built fortifications).

All of that ceaseless warfare began to wane in late 1976 and early 1977 as my interest in science fiction began to grow.  Little did I know that in May of 1977 George Lucas’ “Star Wars” would become a veritable science fiction supernova in my life, catching me totally by surprise and unleashing the boundaries of my imagination in ways that the poor Marx company never had before.  

But in the fall of 1976 that was still months away and not even on my radar yet and I was still playing with my green army men.  My last big hurrah with the Marx military playsets was the granddaddy of them all … the Navarone Playset which I received as a gift on Christmas, 1976.  

I’d watched “The Guns of Navarone” with Gregory Peck a few years before and now I had a playset of that!  Well, there wasn’t Gregory Peck or any of the other commandos but the Navarone Playset had a lot more than I’d ever had before … including German figures and wounded Germans … and I had a huge mountain with two giant cannons to assault.  As far as figures and vehicles went, it was more of the same from the older Battlefield Playset only without a lot of the accessories like the extra weapons and landscape items.  The German figures, again, were new to me and a welcome addition to my battles.

Strangely enough, the Christmas that I got the Marx Navarone Playset I also received another coveted childhood toy … the Mattel Space 1999 Eagle Transporter with its three tiny Alphan figures (a prelude to what was to come from Kenner later with their Star Wars line).  

I guess if you’re going to transition from green army men and Marx military playsets to science fiction, the Mattel Space 1999: Eagle 1 Transporter was about as good a toy as any to carry you there.