Thursday, November 28, 2013

Video Game Collector Syd Bolton

Like many of my articles, this one recently appeared in AntiqueWeek:
Canadian Syd Bolton has “just under” 15,000 video games, one of the largest private video game collections in the world. His electronic obsession ranges from old Pong units to Intellivision cartridges to computer discs to Xbox 360 games, and just about everything in between.
Bolton, who owns the Personal Computer Museum in Branford, Ontario, was recently featured on an episode of Extreme Collectors, where host Andrew Zegers visited his home, marveling over the amazing amassment of interactive media.

“I love this!,” Zegers exclaimed upon entering the first of several of Bolton’s game rooms. “Are you kidding me?”

A 30-year veteran of the antique/appraising industry, Zegers travels the country in search of collectors and their vast collections, which range from yoyos to vintage automobiles to Barbie dolls and G.I. Joes. He’s even profiled celebrities, such as Penny Marshall, who collects sports memorabilia, and Corbin Bernsen, who collects snow globes.

While checking out Bolton’s collection, Zegers was obviously having a blast, playing such favorites as The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker for the GameCube and the original arcade version of Pac-Man, and exclaiming excitedly about such obscurities as the Virtual Boy 3D console and Extra Terrestrials (not to be confused with the infamously bad E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial game), which is a recently discovered, under-produced Atari 2600 cartridge worth $10,000.
Zegers always appraises the collections he investigates. Bolton was hoping his video games were worth at least $500,000 and was pleasantly surprised when Zegers quoted a figure of $650,000.

There’s no doubting that Bolton’s video games are valuable, but Zegers may have overshot the mark by a sizable margin. While examining a used Virtual Boy, for example, he told Bolton it was worth $500. A quick eBay search, however, showed several of those systems selling for around $100 (with shipping). Further, a new-in-box Virtual Boy with nine complete games recently sold for $749.99 (free shipping).

Regardless, Bolton isn’t in it for the money. He simply loves video games and the nostalgic pleasures they bring, pointing to Pitfall! for the Atari 2600 as the title that turned his hobby into an obsession. “Pitfall! got me into video game collecting,” he said. “Pitfall! for me isn’t just a video game—it’s like a time machine.”

A software developer, technology broadcaster, museum curator, and author, Bolton enjoys a full, well-rounded existence, with plenty of time spent away from the small screen.

“(My video game collection) hasn’t taken over my life, not yet anyway,” he said. I have a job; I have friends; I have other interests. A lot of people have accused me of being a hoarder, but everything is extremely organized and in alphabetical order.” 

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

SCARS Magazine Interview

I was interviewed by Jonathan Plombon for the Winter 2012/2013installment of SCARS magazine, a special “Big 80s Issue.” The brief interview, which was done for a feature on classic video game movies, wasn’t published per se, but the author did give me credit at the end of the article: “Thanks to Brett Weiss, author of the “Classic Home Video Games” series of books for his insight on the topic.”

Here’s the complete interview:

SCARS: What originally attracted players to video games? What attracted you?

WEISS: As a kid, the ability to manipulate images on the television screen—to control the action—was awesome. No longer was TV a strictly passive recreational vehicle.

SCARS: What do you think players are trying to accomplish and hoping to find in video games?

WEISS: I hate to read too much into it, but I suppose for some it’s the feeling of control and power that they don’t have in real life. Also, beating a game (or a friend) or improving upon your high score gives you a sense of accomplishment.

SCARS: What were most video games about in the early 1980s?

WEISS: Good, simple, challenging fun.

SCARS: How was the video game industry in the years 1982, 1983, and 1984?

WEISS: 1982 and '83, exciting. 1984, depressing—I was bummed when the ColecoVision and Atari 5200 ceased production.

SCARS: How would you describe the social atmosphere of early ’80s arcades?

WEISS: They were at once competitive, welcoming, loud, frenetic, flashy, and fun. The games were simple to learn, yet tough to master, creating a diverse, highly charged environment.

SCARS: Joysticks was obviously done for laughs, but does the film capture the time accurately?

WEISS: Joysticks has some entertainment value as a so-bad-it’s-good film, but it doesn’t resemble reality in any form or fashion. It’s silly, sophomoric, poorly acted, poorly plotted, and just plain dumb. Having said that, the girls in the film are cute, and it’s cool to see games like Satan’s Hollow, Gorf, and Super Pac-Man in action. For a film that better captures the era, stick with Fast Times at Ridgemont High.

SCARS: What's your opinion of Cloak and Dagger?

WEISS: For an adventure/spy/video game film aimed at younger viewers, it’s not bad. It’s very watchable, actually. The performances are sincere, and I’ve always wished I could go to that game store depicted in the film.

SCARS: Cloak and Dagger features the Atari 5200. What's the legacy of the 5200?

WEISS: The Atari 5200 is a great system with lousy, non-centering controllers. I have a Wico replacement joystick, and it works great. I still play Pengo, Space Invaders, Robotron, and several other games for the system on a semi-regular basis.

SCARS: What caused the industry to bounce back after The Great Video Game Crash?

WEISS: The release of the NES in 1985 was a major factor in resurrecting the console industry. In particular, Super Mario Bros. was such a revelation and so much fun to play. It gave gamers unprecedented control over the protagonist, tons of secrets to uncover, cartoon-like graphics, and a sense of movement and progression seen in few previous games.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Flash TV Show

The fastest man in the DC Universe will soon be the fastest man on television, the CW’s Mark Pedowitz has announced. Beginning next year, in season two of the hit show Arrow, the Scarlet Speedster’s origin story will be retold, giving viewers the rundown (so to speak) on Barry Allen, the Silver Age Flash.

The Flash will appear in episodes 8, 9 and 20 of Arrow, each of which will be written by Arrow co-creators Greg Berlanti and Andrew Kreisberg and comic book writer Geoff Johns. David Nutter will direct the episodes, with #20 acting as a “back-door pilot” for a potential Flash television series.

This won’t be the Crimson Comet’s first live action foray onto the small screen. In addition to appearing on NBC’s campy Legends of the Superheroes specials (The Challenge and The Roast) in 1979, the character starred in The Flash, which ran on CBS for one season (22 episodes), from 1990-1991. Produced by Danny Bilson and Paul DeMeo, with story editing by Howard Chaykin, The Flash featured soap opera veteran and future Dawson’s Creek dad John Wesley Shipp in the title role.
According to an interview with Bilson published in Comics Interview #88 (1990), the inspiration for the show came from such darkly intelligent, cutting edge works of graphic fiction as Chaykin’s American Flagg (1983-89), Frank Miller’s Batman: The Dark Knight Returns (1986),  and Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ The Watchmen (1986).

Bilson, assuring Comics Interview readers that The Flash would not be campy, said, “If you ever read comic books, you read them to believe them, not to make fun of them. So those books that I was talking about made them believable for adults. And that’s the kind of tone we use. You absolutely believe it. We don’t make fun of it at all. And it does have humor, but it’s all humor that comes out of the character, and not laughing at itself.”

Shipp took the show seriously as well. In an appearance at the 2011 Dallas Comic-Con, he said, “They wanted us to play the show for real. The comedy was there if it needed to be as a result of the characters. The humor was character-based, such as Paula Marshall [as Barry’s gal pal, Iris West] saying, ‘I can’t believe it was over so quickly,’ and it turns out we were watching a boxing match. Obviously, the viewer thought she was talking about sex.”

Despite being cancelled after only one season, The Flash, which was part police procedural, part super-hero hijinks, did spawn some merchandise, including a DVD boxed set ($20), a Flash TV Special comic book ($8), a Tiger Electronics LCD Video Game ($60 unopened), a Game Boy video game ($50 complete in box), a CD soundtrack ($40), and several T-Shirt designs ($25 each).

One of the hardest-to-find collectibles from the show is a life-size cardboard cutout depicting a costumed John Wesley Ship in action with a promotional speech balloon saying, “Watch me on CBS and you could win $100,000.” This item was displayed at various 7-11 stores during the show’s run and today is worth more than $100 in nice condition.  
 If The Flash had been renewed for a second season, a toy line would have been introduced, including action figures from Toy Biz. In 2007, Hake's Americana & Collectibles, which is a division of Geppi’s Entertainment Auctions, auctioned off an unpainted Flash TV show prototype action figure for $335.22. In 2011, a fully painted prototype figure was offered on eBay for $1,999.99, but, despite the toy never being mass produced, failed to receive any bids.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Tom Clancy R.I.P.

*As with many of my articles, this one first appeared in AntiqueWeek:
“The difference between fiction and reality? Fiction has to make sense.”
~Tom Clancy

Best-selling author Tom Clancy, who died October 1 at the age of 66, wrote military novels that made a whole lot of sense. So much sense, in fact, that he was viewed suspiciously by certain members of the military.

According to Hillel Italie of The Associated Press, “In 1985, a year after the Cold War thriller The Hunt for Red October came out, author Tom Clancy was invited to lunch at the Reagan White House, where he was questioned by Navy Secretary John Lehman. Who, the secretary wanted to know, gave him access to all that secret material?”

Clancy, a meticulous researcher, insisted that he gathered all his information from unclassified, easily obtainable books, interviews, and technical manuals, a practice he continued until his death.

Like Ian Fleming, whose James Bond novels were touted by John F. Kennedy, Clancy’s work was given the unofficial presidential seal of approval by President Ronald Reagan, ironically enough. Reagan called The Hunt for Red October “the perfect yarn” when a reporter asked what he was reading as he stepped off Marine One, the book tucked under his arm.

Originally published by the U.S. Naval Institute Press, The Hunt for Red October had a first run of 15,000 copies, according to The Making of a Bestseller: From Author to Reader (1999, McFarland Publishers). However, shortly after the remarks by Reagan, the novel was picked up by Berkley Books and became a New York Times Best Seller.
According to some sources, including and, first print, first edition copies of The Hunt for Red October are worth $400-$800 in Fine condition or better. However, other sources, such as, list the book at more than $3,000. Uncorrected proofs of the first edition, which, of course, are scarcer, typically command $2,000-$4,000.

The Hunt for Red October, which kick-started the techno-thriller subgenre, tells the tale of the pursuit of a runaway top secret Russian missile submarine. The hero is Jack Ryan, who was played by Alec Baldwin in the 1990 feature film based on the book. Other popular actors would portray Ryan in movies based on Clancy works as well, including Ben Affleck (The Sum of All Fears) and Harrison Ford (Patriot Games, Clear and Present Danger).

Comic book scripter and science fiction novelist John Jackson Miller (Star Wars: Kenobi) credits Clancy as an influence on his personal and professional life. “There was a time when I was first in line for the new book and movie,” he said. “I saw The Hunt for Red October three times opening weekend, and Clancy’s work partially inspired me to pursue my foreign policy studies.”

Despite his keen interest in the armed forces, Clancy, who suffered from poor eyesight, never served in the military, a point Miller acknowledges: “My year on (Marvel Comics’) Iron Man was very much a Clancy homage, mimicking his drive for technical accuracy. He showed that you didn't have to spend a career in the military to write about it if you did your homework.”

Seventeen of Clancy’s novels have reached number one on the New York Times Best Seller list, and his books have sold more than 100 million copies worldwide.  His final book, Command Authority, co-authored with Mark Greaney and starring Jack Ryan, is scheduled for release December 3.