Meeting Darth Vader....at Wal-Mart!

You can't make this stuff up.  The year is 1978; it's mid-October.  Star Wars has already been back to the theater, and it is more than fresh in every child's mind.  In fact, in my case, that was a gross understatement.

I owe my historical and archival skills to my mother.  In fact, if it wasn't for her, I wouldn't have any of the items I'm showing you today! It was her combing the newspaper that led to the discovery of the full-page ad above, which begins our tale with the question of, "Would you like to go and meet Darth Vader on Saturday?"

You can imagine the sheer rapture that ensued.  This was a 5-year-old that had already met Spider-Man (twice! We'll have to cover that story sometime), and now the Dark Lord of the Sith? 
A cynical adult might think it was odd, but, to a kindergartener, it wasn't the least bit bizarre that he would be visiting a Wal-Mart.  And it was only slightly strange that he didn't speak to me, and that he had a "handler" that did the communicating for him.  No, it was just too incredibly, overwhelmingly cool to even consider things like where his spaceship was parked, and whether he was going to force-choke me.
Nor was it strange to me that Darth Vader needed police protection.
I already had the Texas Instruments watch advertised in the above ad, and I'm sure I was wearing it that day....and of course they were sponsoring the Dark Lord's visit, whoever they were...I just knew they made my "Speak & Spell," so they had to be cool.
The suit was pretty fancy.  The handler told my mother (when I wasn't listening) that it was an actual costume from the film, which I now take to mean "one of" the ones, but it still was amazingly convincing.

In the second photo, I think Vader is about to hand me my very own 8x10" glossy commemorative photo, which I have treasured even to this good day!
As a footnote to the event, Halloween was just a mere two weeks later...would my encounter with meeting a cinematic idol inspire me in my choice of costumes??? Would I turn to the dark side?
Nope; I went as C-3PO.  I still don't know why!


Some of My Personal FAILs... (part six: holidays)

I love the "dollar section" at my local Target store...I see more screwed-up and mislabeled products there!

World War II Artifacts

We are going to take a historical detour today.  These items were discovered amongst old papers belonging to my grandfather, who served in the Navy in World War II.  The first item of interest is a letter, dated 1943.  The content isn't as important as the amazing artwork on the letterhead (in fact, my grandfather had no idea who either party mentioned in the letter even was, or why he had it)!
Here is the letter in its entirety.  It appears to be a bit of an inside joke, but the exact impact has been lost to the ages:
And now we move to the real mind-blowing find...this is a daily newsletter from the ship my grandfather served on, crudely printed on some sort of offset printing-press.  It starts out innocently enough, with a schedule for the day:
And then there is a "Notes" section, where "need to know" items of interest are pointed out to the sailors, especially those about to head out for some leave time.  Note 4 says this [Warning, delicate wartime cultural and ethnic troubles ahead; hide the children]:
And continues on the entire second side of this legal-sized page:
There's nothing I can add to THAT, is there? On the one hand, you would think this was something that had to be pointed out to a rabid group of 18-year-old-and-above young sailors, and after all, it wasn't ever intended for public consumption.  On the other hand, well, let's just say I'm thankful to be living in a free country, and that we are friends with Japan, because they are pretty much awesome.
You may now resume normal blog activity....


Godzilla article from FAMOUS MONSTERS #184 (June 1982)

Here's one last hurrah from going through a pile of vintage Famous Monsters issues.  It's a great article, and there are two really cool bonuses from elsewhere in the issue! First, an ad for the ultra-rare GODZILLA vs TRICEPHALON playset, and second, a behind-the-scenes, on-set shot from the original MOTHRA! Enjoy!


Collections Tour, continued

Let's conclude our tour of some random selections from the Casa del Sphinx, "Collections Department":
Glass case: the top shelf houses my treasured complete "Kenner 100" Star Wars figures (see an earlier post for a photo of the group out of the case)

Glass case, second shelf:  Super Powers, Secret Wars, a little Micronauts and Battlestar Galactica, Marvel Hot Wheels vehicles, and Monster and McDonald's dolls by Remco!

My Marvel Minimates collection--luckily I had just added the new MODOK when I took this photo!

The newest version of each of the bounty hunters! Thanks, Hasbro! Even Lego can't manage to give us all six of them!

Most of my G1 Transformers collection!
Lovely vintage tin locomotive I just inherited!

This one amazed me--a tin toy of John Glenn and Friendship 7!

Here's a jewel that just came in the mail this week--from a warehouse find, a sealed Battle of the Planets frame-tray puzzle!!


My Cantina Diorama

This year, I spent three solid months building a detailed diorama of the Mos Eisley Cantina, in scale with the relevant action figures I have been amassing since the mid-90's.  "Why," you ask? We'll leave that to the therapists to decide, but it's something I've always wanted to do.  When I was researching my cantina book (which badly needs to be updated), this goal kept moving toward the top of my list, mostly because I was inspired by the work of others.
My goal here is just to share some pictures, rather than just blather on. I wanted to include some how-to information in my next edition of the Cantina book, but it could become a separate entity in itself.  I took a lot of pictures as I went, and I plan on going into detail about my trials and tribulations, and successes and failures, because I realized that it might help somebody else in the same predicament.

I've found that there are lots of good sites on the Internets that cover various customizing and diorama techniques.
If you are so inclined, check it out! If not, carry on!


How to Display Minifigures in a Built-In Shelf

This is how I display my non-Star Wars minifigs, which mostly consist of the eight series of "Collectible Minifigs" that Lego has done, as well as super-hero themes.  I modified a shelf of a built-in bookcase (but of course you could do this with any type of bookcase or shelf).  The shelves are actually made out of yardsticks, which are exactly the right dimensions, and about 50 cents apiece.  The shelves are glued to panels (in the same manner as the shadowboxes), which makes it possible to remove them if I ever needed to.  I put down baseplate along the bottom of the built-in, which gives me room for expansion in the future.
Now, here's the coolest part--since it was a built-in shelf, I drilled holes at each of the four corners, and glued in threaded posts (actually these were bolts I cut the head off of with a hacksaw), which you can see sticking out in the picture.  From there, I cut a piece of plexiglass, and drilled holes in it.  Using some brass cap-style nuts, I have a removable window that keeps this collection dust-free, and it's a win-win situation.
Left half view.

View of the right half. You can see the screws that mount the backing to the shelf are hidden with white covers, available at any hardware store.
Since this is one of the most-viewed posts on this blog, I thought it was appropriate to update it a little bit.  Of course we have had two more series of Collectible Minifigs since I first wrote this post, and my super-hero collection has grown quite a bit as well.  Mostly, though, I wanted to better show the solution I devised to hold the plexiglass over the front of the case.  As I said above, I bought hex-head bolts, sawed off the head, and mounted the threaded pieces at the corners, like so:
I drilled a hole slightly larger than the bolt, coated it in Gorilla Glue, and set the bolt into the hole. Below is a photo of the fancy brass cap-nuts that hold the plexiglass on:
So far, this has been an excellent solution that isn't too difficult to remove, and really keeps the dust out.  Here's an updated photo of the collection; you can see that all the shelves are full, now that we are up to 160 Collectible Minifigs (and I refuse to count "Mr. Gold."  After all, Lego still gave us 16 in series 10 and kept him separate.)  Super-heroes have now moved to the front while the floor of the display begins to fill up!
Please excuse the crappy I-phone photo!
Also, I don't think I did a great job explaining this, but the left, middle, and right sides of the display are separate pieces of spray-painted fiberboard that are attached to the built-in shelf with screws, and THEN the shelves are glued in--this way they can be 100% level as well as line up with their neighbors. As it turned out, the shelves held 151 minifigs.  Happy displaying!

If you missed the post on the shadowboxes I use for Star Wars minifigs, check it out!


What's The Best Way To Display Minifigures?

shadowbox number 4
I recently borrowed a fancy camera, to document a model-making project I completed (more on that in the near future), and while I had it, I took some extra photos so that I could show you a "virtual tour" of the old Casa del Sphinx.  Today we are going to focus on a subject near and dear to my heart.  I love Lego.  I never get to discuss them here, but at last count, there were over 109,000 bricks in my house, not counting minifigures of course.

My particular favorite is the Star Wars line--I felt that Lego was able to succeed where Lucas has failed, namely making Star Wars fun again.  A site I read daily is From Bricks to Bothans, and I have read several threads on the "best" way to display minifigures.

The answer is, whatever works best for you.  Lego tends to pile up, and then get bagged and stored, but I definitely wanted to display my figures.  I tried the "spice rack" approach.  This is where you go to the Container Store, or some such place, and buy one of those stair-step plastic racks that are intended to organize cabinets.  I glued pieces of baseplates to them, and that worked very well for quite a while.....until they were full to overflowing.  But that wasn't the worst problem--you will have to contend with dust!

So I decided on a more expensive route, but in the end it was definitely worth it.  If you watch ads, you can buy shadowboxes at a Michael's or Hobby Lobby for 40-50% off any given week.  They come in all sizes, but I ultimately went with the 16x20" one for a couple of reasons.  First, anything bigger just gets monolithically heavy; second, this particular style has a door that closes with an embedded magnet.
number 3

With this configuration, you can hold somewhere around 100 minifigures, which is a good use of the space.  (I will warn you though, there is just no room for Jabba....ok, for that first edition, I disassembled him, but for the latest one, you are on your own!)

If you want to go this route, here are a few instructions, so that you will hopefully avoid some of the mistakes I made.  First, remove the screws that hold the door on.  It will just get in the way.  Put it aside somewhere safe.

Now, remove the screws that hold the back wall of the shadowbox on.  It will probably have some foam padding (designed to pin things to), and you will notice that the solid part of the back is made of the cheapest, waviest, shoddiest material you have ever seen.  Throw it away.

We are going to replace the back anyway.  For this, go to the hardware store and buy some fiber board (or masonite, whichever you prefer).  A Home Depot will probably even cut it for you. You may have to sand it a bit, but get it where it exactly replaces the old backing. [NOTE: I have recently discovered that my Home Depot sells BLACK fiberboard...would have been nice to know at the time! Sheesh.]
number 2
Now map out the locations of your shelves with a yardstick, and draw pencil lines.  As a rule, I use 2 & 3/4" as the distance between shelves. [The top shelf turns out to be more like 3", but this is a very important safety; you may need it for unusual minifigures!]  You just want to make sure you have room for your tallest minifigure.  For the shelves, I used balsa wood for two reasons:  first,  you can cut it with a sharp knife, and second, I was trying not to add too much weight to the finished shadowbox.
The morning sun is coming through the blinds, but you can see the two pieces that make up the shelf, about to be glued together with wood glue.

SHELVES (x6):  15 1/2" long, 1 5/8" deep, 1/4" thick (balsa wood)
SHELF BASE (x6): 1/2" x 1/2" balsa wood strips (glued to shelf, as in the photos below):

You will need two types of balsa pieces--one to make the shelf, and another for the brace.  For that part, I bought some square-shaped balsa strips.  Cut the shelves to the right length, and lightly clamp a strip of the same width to the shelf with some wood glue.  This gives you more surface area to glue to the shelf to the back wall that we replaced.  Balsa wood is very absorbent, so you will have to spray-paint the finished shelves from all directions (except the back) more than once.

After which, clamps are applied, LIGHTLY as possible.  You want to ensure the shelf bonds together straight, but balsa wood is very fragile.  You also want to ensure they are clamped together on a flat surface, so the back of the shelf is completely flush.  Remember though, some of the wood glue is going to squeeze out, so make sure you carefully wipe the excess off.  Then leave them to dry.
 Let me recommend something I only recently discovered that has been a REAL life-saver:
For a few dollars, you can buy a spray handle that clamps onto any paint can, and effectively turns it into an airbrush...keeps your hands and fingers clean, too! If only I'd had this simple invention years ago! Anyway, moving on, after the shelves are painted, temporarily mount your replaced backing board into the shadowbox, and lightly sand the horizontal areas where the shelves will be glued--masonite can be a bit slick, and this will ensure your glue gets a better hold.  There are lots of good glues, but I went with a new one that Loc-Tite makes.  It comes in a tube, and is sort of like super Elmer's, but it's contact cement. You have plenty of time to apply the glue to both areas, let it dry, and then position your shelf with a level, so that it will be straight:
Make sure you use a level so you can ensure that each one is, well, level.  Not only side-to-side level, but front-to-back as well.  It's not as hard as it sounds, but it is crucial to the outcome. Let the glue cure for quite a while; overnight is best.
Anyway, once all that is done, carefully remove the backing and shelves, and give them a touch-up coat with spray paint.  The glue dries clear, but you can still paint over it if you need to.

MINIFIGURE STANDS (x7): 12 black 2x4 plates each = 84 plates


The actual stands are rows of plates, super-glued together.  I buy plates in bulk from sellers at Bricklink.  They are pennies each.  The actual gluing is tedious, but pretty important.  One tip I can give you is, buy plenty of cotton swabs.  Use them to clean the edges of each plate with rubbing alcohol, which gets rid of dirt or oil, and ensures the super-glue will stick MUCH better.  Then, apply super-glue with a cotton swab, one brick at a time...there is a trick to the process that requires simply doing it over and over to refine it, and learning the right amount of glue, because excess with super-glue can get ugly quickly! And it's nearly impossible to type when your fingers are glued together.

These are Kre-O's (Kreons I think is the technical term), but you get the point.
Okay, now you have stands.  I usually let them sit overnight, so the super-glue can cure.  Once they are solid (enough), start spacing out minifigures on them.  You should be able to get eleven, leaving roughly two studs between each.  Of course, your mileage will vary, because not all minifigures are human-shaped.
Once you are satisfied with the positioning of your figures, lay each row on their backs, and use your trusty cotton swabs to paint a bit of glue both on the bottoms of the stands, as well as on your painted balsa shelves.  The contact cement is forgiving enough to allow you some freedom in positioning your stands...keep in mind that some rows are going to be closer to the front, because of large backpacks or gear that some minifigures have, but there's plenty of room (unless you are Jabba #2, like I said).  Just make sure each row is well-centered.

Give the seven glued rows of stands time to cure (again, overnight), and replace the door on the shadowbox.  Your quest is now at an end.

With everything black, it gives each unit a sleek look.  The glass door allows perfect visibility, keeps the dust out, and still gives you access to your figures.  Then you can hang them up, display them on a shelf, or whatever you prefer.  I'm going to have six total; see photo at the end of this post!
number 1
I have one more minifigure storage project to share with you, but it's completely different, so we will cover that in our next installment.
I ordered two "crown moulding" low-profile-type shelves from shelving.com that were 60" each.  They mount to the wall on wooden blocks, which attach to studs, so I finally have a way to display the shadowboxes, and some room to allow for growth. Project completed!