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Q&A Today: Doug Knoth

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It’s not every day that Long Island’s own Doug Knoth gets to chime in on VINTAGE TOYS and all things geek, so let’s do this, with relish.

Q:  How did your journey as a vintage toy collector begin?

DK:  It began early, and I mean EARLY. When I was a kid, I always had a keen eye for exciting toys, it all began when I was sick as a child with meningitis. I was 3 or so and was literally the boy-in-the-bubble. After entire days of being poked and tested by doctors from around the world, the only seeming rest I got was watching STAR TREK. Mind you this was a pre STAR WARS world, and I was already grasping characters but alas, not the title of the show. Like any other kid I simply called the show “Spock.” Being a sick kid with no physical contact allowed, everyone always asked if I wanted toys. I always told them I wanted “Spock” dolls. After the 3rd Mego Mr. Spock arrived. I grew frustrated that I had to learn to communicate better if I ever wanted more characters. I said to my dad after the 4th Spock arrived “I want the guy with the Yellow shirt, and the lady.” That Christmas, I got the USS Enterprise, Kirk, Klingon and Uhura. From then on, I loved action figures.

I started getting multiples of some STAR WARS figures, I left those in the boxes in case I broke or lost weapons for them. I hung Boba on the wall, and till this day he remains sealed. When SECRET WARS came out, I purposely bought two of each and left a set sealed. In between I probably had some toys from every toy line, no matter if the other kids had them or not.

I had LotR figures from the animated movie, BUCK ROGERS, BATTLESTAR GALACTICA and tons of GI JOE. But I always had the cool action figures, like ringwraiths, Tiamat from the D&D line and the large IG-88 Star Wars figures; the ones that I simply can’t afford to replace nowadays without breaking the bank. Thanks mom for making me share my toys with kids that broke them!

Q:  Why do you suppose the Star Wars action figures were so much smaller than most other action figures of that time? 

DK:  It’s genius when you think about it. STAR WARS changed the market for the better. Popularizing the 3 ¾” format out of necessity. STAR WARS was the most toyetic (that’s right, watch FREAKAZOID) line to come along. The most popular format at that time was the 8’ figure. Mego came up with a way to use one body for a multitude of action figure lines.  They merely swapped the head and accessories, and Thor became Batman, or a PLANET OF THE APES action figure. But the one thing that was always awkward was the way the Mego action figures fit into their vehicles. The Batmobile looked like they were riding in a Shriners car.

To maximize playability and keep the franchise alive, they realized that the space battles needed to be a strong portion of the playability. They couldn’t make TIE fighters and the Millennium Falcon logistically work with an 8” line. So they simply shrunk the figures to make vehicles affordable and accessible to kids. Imagine trying to play with a 48″ X-wing and to simulate a space battle? It just was thinking outside-the-box and at great risk. Kenner executives took a huge gamble on the 3 ¾” format. It also was more profitable for Kenner, who pretty much dominated the market for a few years there.

Q:  Knowing full well that film is art (and art is subjective,) which three (3) notable films did the mainstream miss or ignore, and what is it that makes those films so special?

DK:  Wow I could fill volumes on this subject.  But IF I am limited to three, I would have to pick KRULL, which did get some attention but was overshadowed by other films of the time. It had a comic adaptation, and even a fun ATARI 2600 game. I think if there was a KRULL toy line (even TRON got toys) that could have been the kick-in-the-can kids needed to pick up on this.

FRAILTY was largely overlooked. It has great acting (Powers Boothe, Bill Paxton) and a mind twist you will never see coming. Bill Paxton’s character is a single parent to two boys, who wakes them in the middle of the night telling them that an angel visited him, and that God would deliver them three weapons to hunt demons. It is not tongue-in-cheek at all. It’s a roller coaster of a thriller. When it was released on DVD, everyone got a copy for Christmas. They were all blown away, and they commented “How did I miss this one?” Answer: Poor publicity.

Another overlooked gem, that until recently nabbed a lot of attention was THE IRON GIANT; a bona-fide classic. This is the kind of movie that, had it been released in the 1980s, would have been a staple of those holiday network TV presentations like THE WIZARD OF OZ.

Q:  KRULL meant so many different things to so many people.  What did it mean to you?

DK:   I absolutely loved it, KRULL had it all: monsters, creatures, magic, heroes, and (at the time) great special effects.  To this day, the glaive is one of the most impressive movie weapons ever. There was also a strong potential to tell many various stories featuring the legendary weapon.  This movie needs, no…BEGS to be remade. I watch it now and part of me cringes when people that never saw it start trashing the effects. Same with CLASH OF THE TITANS, which Hollywood remade into an inferior film with better effects. That’s a fear I always reserved for a KRULL remake.

Q:  Which three (3) sci-fi films and/or television shows of the past ten years are worthy of praise and why?

DK:  SyFy and USA cable networks have been churning out absolute crap since sci-fi became hot again. I’m not going to focus on those two cable networks, but the last decade has been abysmal for sci-fi television shows. There are of course exceptions; DR WHO has been consistently strong and extremely enjoyable ever since it has returned. Tom Baker was and always will be my favorite, but hot damn, every time there is a regeneration I’m like THIS is where they are going to blow it. I have been completely wrong in every instance. I am sad to see each actor leave the role.

LOST was a tremendous breakthrough in prime time, being at one time the hottest show on television! Kudos to ABC for giving it a shot. People do not even realize how important that show is in TV history, and it’s likely that the show will be re-discovered by a future generation, like TWIN PEAKS is being rediscovered now. Someone is reading this right now and saying LOST isn’t science fiction…reevaluate that thought. Time travel, supernatural beings, science experiments going awry, it was BRILLIANT! I hate giving away too many specifics but damn the show has you hooked from the plane crash, all the way through to the very last scene. Why is it great? The writing was fresh and original. It was unafraid to bring in real world concepts and they mixed science with religion… who the hell can get away with that? Sci-fi disguised as a soap opera… your grandmas, moms and girlfriends followed it and closely watched sci-fi!

Netflix is doing the most interesting things too, STRANGER THINGS for instance. It’s basically The Montauk Project moved westward. While they are still dragging out any hope for a cohesive story on THE WALKING DEAD, STRANGER THINGS came, saw and kicked ass in one season. And it’s coming back for another. Netflix has a host of original sci-fi shows; some great gems hiding in there, and some of it is too out there for me (SENSE8 et. al.)

Q:  In ten words or less, how would you describe the state of geekdom today?

DK:  One word actually: TRENDY. For years growing up, those of us basement-dwelling D&D campaign playing, comic book reading, Klingon speaking kids who were too old to play with toys, were the target of ridicule, even beatings and torture. Now everyone loves a geek. I hope that never goes away, but now you can buy collectibles everywhere, and grown men can play with toys. People often ask the difference between Geeks and Nerds. NERDS HAVE MORE MONEY!

Q:  Which three (3) Saturday morning cartoons of the 1970s rank among your all-time favorites, and why?

DK:   In the 1970s Hanna Barbera ruled the airwaves. There was a very different take on afternoon cartoons Saturday morning cartoons. Most people will not comprehend the fact that WE HAD NO WAY OF RECORDING TV SHOWS THEN!!! So Saturday morning cartoons were only overshadowed by network prime-time specials. You got to see these cartoons once during the week, and in most cases it was hard to catch a re-run. In the 1970s it was THE SUPERFRIENDS that ruled my world. These fantastic adventures managed to be a mainstay on ABC until the late 1980s. It never hurt being supported by fantastic toys. So, us being Mego superheros’ kids, we could later use these adventures for play fuel! Great stories, and imaginative themes kept me coming back for years. THE LAFF-A-LYMPICS was also a great one I watched until they yanked it. You had three teams of Hanna Barbera all-stars competing in Olympic style events (not actual Olympic events) and it was a great showcase for the very vast universe of characters. From Scooby Doo to Dyno-Mutt, from Dick Dastardly to Captain Caveman; a very varied community of characters were represented in one show. How could any kid resist that? Lastly there was Hanna Barbera’s WORLD OF SUPER ADVENTURE. They would essentially take an hour, and jam pack it with different hero-related characters that were mostly originals. They rotated out a few here and again, so one week you might get The Fantastic Four, The Herculoids and Space Ghost, and the next week see The Galaxy Trio, Frankenstein Junior and The Impossibles, or Moby Dick. I miss Hanna Barbera.

Q:  Nostalgia is big business.  We’re due for a live action Herculoids full-length feature-length film, aren’t we?

DK:   I read snippets about it here and there, but nothing full-out announcing it. I also heard that they had Space Ghost on the table!  I hope they don’t stray too far from the source material. SPEED RACER (despite getting panned by most critics) was a true translation handled very well. It was just like bringing the original cartoon to life. Somewhere there has to be a happy medium!

Q:  When you think of three (3) films that really capture the essence of Dungeons & Dragons, which films come to mind, and why?

DK:  Well certainly not the Dungeons and Dragons movie. It got the “fart joke” treatment.

There were so many great fantasy movies that were D&D inspired for sure. The animated film FIRE AND ICE is probably the closest to what our campaigns were like when we were kids. Frazetta art animated by Bakshi? The strong threat, mini obstacles to overcome before confronting the big threat, and a party built to confront a common enemy.  I don’t think it gets closer to D&D than that.

On a more lighthearted side, WILLOW was great as well. You could argue that the entire story reads like one of the old expansion modules; a sort of D&D for young kids. It shows a sorcerer beginning from a weak level and progressing through his experiences. Filled with strong characters, fantastic creatures, and fairly reasonable swordplay. Ron Howard wrapped it all into a family-friendly film.  A

third is kind of hard to settle on. THE BEASTMASTER and DRAGONSLAYER are certainly worthy of mention, but I may again go family-friendly with LEGEND. It’s the cinematic adventure that just unfolds like a D&D module would. Most of the movies we watched as kids shaped our campaigns in some form or another.  But I specifically remember the adventures depicted in these films directly inspiring many events in the D&D campaigns in which we played.

Q:  Which three (3) Saturday morning cartoons of the 1980s rank among your all-time favorites, and why?

DK:   The 1980s brought about a lot of change. Video games and trendy celebrities like Gary Coleman, Mr. T, and even New Kids on the Block got cartoons. This killed off most of the Hanna Barbera cartoons that dominated Saturday mornings.

Dungeons and Dragons was a never-miss. If you never saw it, go out and grab the series set. It was magnificent. I always hated the fact that they never brought the series to a close with a final episode. BUT there was actually a final episode written for it. They did a table-read of it and it was presented as a radio drama extra on one of the DVD sets. After many years, CLOSURE!

Thundarr the Barbarian was another could-not-miss, action packed Jack Kirby style adventure! Barbarians? CHECK. Sword and sorcery? CHECK. A post-apocalyptic world filled with dazzling and gruesome threats? CHECK! This was amazing. I seriously expect a revival for this series.

Spiderman and his Amazing Friends – this was truly fantastic. Spidey teams up with Iceman of the X-Men, and a heroine created for the show “Firestar” who became adopted into the Marvel universe to take on both show-created (Video-Man) villains as well as genuine Marvel baddies (Doctor Doom, Green Goblin, et. al.) Add to that the guest appearances by Captain America, Doctor Strange and even the X-Men!

These three shows were absolute favorites my sister had to suffer through. Back then most families had to SHARE a TV, and divide a set schedule where you had to pick and choose. Kids now will never know what Saturday morning magic is. Cartoons, cereals, and the threat of dad watching Hee-Haw at 11 am.

Q:  Which board games have you enjoyed most?

DK:  Over the years there were many, starting in the game aisle at Toys r Us, and Play World, and evolving when I discovered “hobby shop games.”

JAWS was an all-time favorite. If you aren’t familiar, you had a plastic shark (JAWS of the movie fame) and he had a rubber-band latched jaw. You filled his belly with various junk, and had to retrieve it with a gaffing stick. If the jaws snapped shut on you, you were out. A less-skilled Operation in some ways, but always a crowd-pleaser.

Dark Tower was an expensive game that a few of us had, and we were usually asked to play with older kids who cheated.

My dad used to build R/C planes, so trips to the hobby shop were frequent on Saturday afternoons. It was there I discovered some of the TSR games like The Awful Green Things from Outer Space and Top Secret. From there it was D&D, Star Frontiers, and Robotech!

I returned to the world of traditional board games as well. 13 Dead End Drive and Heroquest were to thank for that. My little brother James, had gotten a few and I was asked to play. From there, Fireball Island and Rock Jocks filled a void I never knew I still had. Recently I have rediscovered my love with some of the newer tabletop offerings.

Q:  Are you amazed that JAWS was rated PG (not R) and became a game for kids?

DK:  That always puzzled me as a kid. Spielberg walked the absolute razor’s edge with that movie to draw mass appeal! It could have been gorier, and taken that “R” rating, but I think through the years it would have been lost among the rest of the “shock and awe” movies. It would have been merely a cult classic, rather than a bona fide sensation. Watching it later in life, it’s a very story-driven movie with dynamic characters. I think he knew just where to draw the line. Exercising that kind of restraint and still coming along with a movie that scared the bejeezus out of people shows why Spielberg was so brilliant.

Q:  Which card game do you wish that you were playing right now?

DK:  Family Business, the mobster game. My buddies had it in the early 1990s and I loved it. I went to buy my own and it had gone out of print! Last week I finally got it! It’s set up on my table right now (Thanks Judy) waiting for me to finish this interview! (laughter)

Q:  How awesome was Vincent Price?

DK:  COMPLETELY AMAZING! The Godfather of horror. So many incredible roles, in movies and pop culture favorites. Most people can remember him in The Brady Bunch Hawaii episode. He also played a vampire on F-Troop. Go to Netflix or Amazon Video and watch a few of his movies. All of them are worth a watch. THE FLY, MADHOUSE and THE MAD MAGICIAN are among my favorites. We recently met his daughter Victoria, who told us many wonderful stories and shared a glimpse of his private life with us. A very fascinating man on top of all else. We even got to make the officially-licensed pinback button sets for his website. It’s an honor to be involved in his legacy in any capacity.

Q:  Where did you meet his daughter Victoria?

DK:  My girlfriend Judy suggested we go to this local Horror mini-con “the bizarre haunted flea market.” Victoria had a table there and was a guest speaker. She’s a dynamite person. She gave a lecture and showed private home movies (which, in the end, made us have even more respect for Vincent Price.) I bet most folks would never guess that he was a talented painter!

Q:  That’s really something.  And a “bizarre haunted flea market” sounds marvelous.  What else did you see there?

DK:  It was kind of small and bizarre. There were the typical memorabilia vendors, but some of the art was fantastic. Glass etchings, and paintings, homemade dolls and such. But the oddities were to be found as well. Do you have any need for latex-mounted nipples? Seriously who the hell is buying nipples mounted like trophies? There were also vendors selling horror-themed coffee, and makeup supplies. All in all, a cool day. I am actually thinking of getting a table at their Christmas affair.

Q:  Five dinner guests. Which five (5) living celebrities from the 1970s and/or 1980s would you invite to a dinner party?

DK:  Wow that’s a great one, you could have a multitude of great conversations. I’d have to say Jackie Gleason, Johnny Cash, Stephen King, Muhammad Ali, and Hulk Hogan. Imagine the conversations those guys could have. Or, better yet, imagine if they collaborated on a film and a soundtrack together?

Q:  That’s quite a list.  What would you like to ask Jackie Gleason about?

DK:  Most people only remember Jackie from THE HONEYMOONERS which is all well and good, but he was such an amazing actor outside of comedy, and a talented conductor as well.  Of course I’d have to talk HONEYMOONERS with him as well, I think it’s the #1 TV show of all time. But for some reason, I LOVE LUCY always seems to win that honor. Imagine Jackie talking music with Johnny?

Q:  Jackie talking Music with…Johnny Carson?

DK:  No, Johnny Cash.  But they could have done a duet on Carson. Instant ratings. Funny thing is Celebrities are perceived completely different today. I’m still trying to figure out why the Kardashians are famous?

Q:  What hasn’t happened yet in the world of tabletop gaming that you would love to see happen next?

DK:  I really would rather show it to the world! Coming soon!

Q:  What are you most looking forward to in 2017? 

DK:  I have to admit the kid in me is looking forward to STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI. The past two years I have been fortunate enough to have a good old-fashioned group of us attend together. That always makes it extra special! The adult in me wants to see all the politicians knock it off. I really had hoped that world peace would come about. I imagine often what we could accomplish if we all put greed and agendas aside; if we all worked for the betterment of humanity. It sounds corny, but we do have to learn to work together if we are going to survive.

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