Thursday, May 30, 2013

My Four Little Ponies: the Wagner Animals of West Germany

Ponies and seashells: underrated design motif, imho.

When I was a horse-crazed little girl, catalogs were still a thing you ordered from rather than the internet, and one of the most alluring catalogs we received was educational/old-fashioned toy catalog Hearth Song. It was there that I first saw the flocked, smiling Wagner ponies. I believe they were sold with felt and wire elf riders. The catalog noted the colors of the ponies varied and that they would pick for you. This surprise element was exciting. I placed my first order with allowance money, and soon two tiny, chubby ponies arrived: one chestnut and one pinto. I named them Red and Buttercup. I ordered again, and although I was worried about duplicates, this time the ponies were a black one I named Aristocrat and a palomino I named Goldie (good lord).

Sometimes I imagined the four ponies were pulling me in a cart, and sometimes I imagined they belonged to a quartet of brothers and sisters. There was something so friendly and comforting about these little ponies with their hard papier-mache bodies and soft flocking. They were in between the candy-colored My Little Ponies and the hyper-realistic Breyer Models. While I acquired dozens of both of those in various stages of my horse-loving life, they are mostly gone now, donated to new generations of horse-crazy kids. But the four Wagner ponies have stayed with me through high school, college, and various apartments.

Wave your hooves in the air! The famous stickers.

As an adult, I occasionally tried to learn more about the ponies whose bellies were marked with the sticker "Wagner Handwork West-Germany," but I didn't find much online. Even eBay didn't turn up many leads. But the internet grows quickly. Recently, I started looking again in the vintage section of Etsy, and found various Wagner animals: dogs, donkeys, zebra, lions, bunnies...

A listing on Etsy.

Now I was determined to learn more. Soon I had found Wagner Animals, a fairly new blog at the time. The author, children's book author Christina Wilsdon, had the same difficulties I had in trying to find the history of these beguiling toys, but was much more proactive than I had been. She tracked down contact information for the firm to learn its history, and found that it was started in the 1940s by Fritz Wagner. While I just have my four little ponies, Wilsdon has a plethora of Wagner animals and has become an expert on the figurines. Her Wagner blog doesn't have many posts yet, but it already has a wealth of information and photos, from the company's many cute lambs and rams to its odd green pig. She also started a Wagner Shutterfly group where collectors can share their photos (sign-up needed).

Baby ducks in their original packaging on froghollowgift's eBay store.

And the diversity of Wagner animals is truly stunning. From mammoths to pandas to wild boars to anthropomorphic mules (those last two found via Colleen Abbott's extensive Kunstlershutz Pinterest board), there are all sorts of species in this flocked menagerie. The company closed in 1998, but by searching for terms like "Wagner," "Wagner flocked," "Kunstlershutz" (often on the labels, this actually means "artist protection"), or "Wagner-Tiere," one can find various animals available on sites like Etsy, eBay, and other antique shops. European 4 you seems to have quite a lot at the moment.

This pretty cow is the Milka chocolate logo.

Perhaps because of the company's closing and the trans-Atlantic divide of its fanbase, there still isn't a lot of information out there. However, when you can find pictures, it's not uncommon to see commentors noting their own Wagner animals they currently have or had as a child.

Overall, it's an interesting little story. An artist creates a toy company that makes happy-faced, high-quality animals. The company survives the turmoil of Germany's history, but not the inevitable march of time with plastic, mass-produced toys becoming the norm. But decades later, people continue to be captivated by the sweet figurines and seek out their history.

Katy Kristin created this whimsical tableau with a Wagner giraffe.

Thanks to everyone who let me use their pictures! 

Note: I got no kickbacks or financial incentives from any of the vendors I've linked to...I just got really into this Wagner quest! At one point I was pretty sure I was going to end up in Germany in some sort of Dan Brown novel adventure, or at least in how I imagine a Dan Brown novel adventure to be. The Flocked MacGuffin.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Young Avengers #5: Loki is Nikki Minaj and JIM Fans Get Tossed a Bone

Cutesy variant cover by Jim Cheung.

Young Avengers #5 came out today! Spoilers ahead.

What happened:

Billy contemplates killing himself with Noh-Varr's beam-shooty gun to stop the Mother Parasite. I'm grateful that Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie don't provide realistic gun imagery in this scene. However, this does mean that it looks like Billy is trying to off himself with a hot glue gun. Anyways, we then learn that Loki is having some "Nikki Minaj's verse in 'Monster'" problems with sorta-Kid-Loki, his good side/guilty conscience/JIM fan bait. Perhaps swayed by sorta-Kid-Loki, Loki teleports back to Central Park to prevent Billy's self-inflicted crafting scald. Loki has figured out that the dead-fake-parents appear near where they died, which is why dead-fake-Laufey only showed up near the World Tree. Loki then super powers the rest of the Young Avengers long enough for them to escape. Billy is whiny and dramatic, and Noh-Varr hopes to have further sexual relations with Kate. America plans to watch Loki very closely. (As closely as Leah, complete with staring unblinkingly at his bedroom window all night long? He certainly has a type.) Now the team is off to somewhere that isn't New York, Oklahoma, or Colorado. Wherever will they choose?

Lemme get this straight: wait, I'm the rookie?

Random Notes:

-You know how in the 50s, people really, weirdly freaked out about comics? In a totally WTF manner? I really, really want to go back in time and show them this issue featuring a totally out gay couple and Loki's giant pentagram.

-America continues her main pursuits of punching people and dragging Loki around.

Atta girl, Miss America.

-Will Gillen fiddle with his word and bring back more of sorta-Kid-Loki? Maybe something happens in the forthcoming alternate universes issue? Maybe sorta-Kid-Loki becomes more a part of Loki-Loki? I really hope so, because the whole hangin'-with-teens thing is kinda creepy otherwise. Kid Loki, give Jason Todd a call on your Starkphone and get some tips.

-The Young Avengers don't know what make of Loki either. "He exhausted himself saving us, but also he might screw us over later? Um, let's lay him on some grass and stand a safe distance away until he wakes up."

What's next?

Young Avengers #6, with Prodigy and Tommy Sheperd speeding (boo) into the series, will be on sale June 26. Will Kate find herself in a love triangle with two hot, white-haired young guys?


Young Avengers #4
Young Avengers #1-3

The prototype for Noh-Varr's imagination-powered ship.

YA5 variant cover: Marvel
YA5 panels: crappy pics I took with my phone.
South Park: the SP wikia.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Iron Man 3: Favorite Parts (Spoilers)

It's always watching.

Not doing a full review of Iron Man 3, but I really enjoyed it, so I decided to ramble on about my favorite parts:

-The opening. When Eiffel 65's "Blue" started playing, I almost turned to my sister and asked, "Is this 1998?" Then, behold, "1999" appeared on the screen. Close! Also one of my favorite Brian Boitano routines, which I tragically couldn't find on YouTube.

-The giant bunny. When the giant bunny made a micro-seconds-long appearance in an early IM3 trailer, the internet was befuddled and kinda freaked out. This emotional reaction to the giant bunny was shared by the characters in the movie as well.

Did they use focus groups to find what was most slightly unnerving
and yet plausible as a last-ditch gift idea from a rich guy?

-The ladies. When Pepper (Gwyneth Paltrow, always endearing in this role despite GOOP's fishmonger housecall obliviousness) and one of Tony's one-night-stands, Maya (Rebecca Hall, who teamed up with the Black Widow in Vicky Cristina Barcelona), meet, there could have been cliched catfighting. Instead, they are smart people in a crisis who act like smart people in a crisis. Later, even though I was fairly sure she would heroically emerge from the flames, I was a leeeetle worried they had actually fridged Pepper. But nope, she lived to save the day (captured well here).

-Tony's PTSD and panic attacks. These were handled well, without too much comic relief or too much melodrama. You can have panic attacks AND be a superhero AND be funny AND be a genius billionaire playboy philanthropist.

-The little boy. Usually I hate the "little white boy gets to indulge in hero wish-fulfillment because nothing is more important than the egos of little white boys" trope. But thanks to Tony Stark's hatred of sentimentality, this was wickedly funny. The actor, Ty Simpkins, was a cutie without being cloying and had great chemistry with Robert Downey Jr. Good job, kiddo!

-Dale Dickey. Her role, as the grieving mother of a dead soldier, was tiny, but it was good to see her. If you're trying to place her, she beat up Jennifer Lawrence as a methland matriarch in the superb Winter's Bone.

-MIGUEL FERRER!!! I could hardly contain my excitement when Special Agent Albert Rosenfield from Twin Peaks showed up as the vice president (okay, I didn't contain my excitement; I clapped). But Albert would never engage in such deceit! And it seemed a little silly, since the vice-prez's daughter could probably rock a prosthesis without much of a problem. Seriously, I wonder how many actual amputees rolled their eyes at that plot twist?

And we love you, Special Agent Albert Rosenfield. :')

-Don Cheadle. It was kinda weird when they replaced Terrence Howard with Don Cheadle as Rhodey. They look nothing alike, and while Cheadle's a better actor, Howard looks more classically superhero-y. But it was endearing to see Rhodey running around with his polo shirt and hotel-manager physique, kicking ass. Maybe Katie Holmes and Terrence Howard can get drinks.

-The whole Mandarin thing. The decision to resurrect a racist caricature from comics history rightfully raised some eyebrows. Early on in the movie, using this caricature to make a comment on racism was already an interesting way of handling that. Then when Tony discovers the Mandarin is really just Trevor, a drugged-out, washed-up London stage actor hired by a think tank as a cover for its accidental explosions, it's hilarious. Ben Kingsley was awesome in this dual role. Now that he's "battled" Tom Hiddleston and Sir Ben Kingsley, which Shakespeare-rooted thespian should RDJ take on next? Julia Stiles as the Enchantress? Brian Blessed as Doctor Doom? The entire Royal Shakespeare Company and Oregon Shakespeare Festival as an army of Skrull?

Rock it, Trevor.

-The writers' refusal to engage in rote throw-away dialogue. With funny spots like the banter between two goons and Tony (was Tony nicknaming one of the goons "Ponytail" an homage to the similarly coiffed and nicknamed goon in Murakami's 1Q84? I can dream, right?) and a hired gun's last-minute admission that he finds the fake cult he's working for really weird, you could tell people were having a good time during this.

-The Science Bros post-credits scene! Having learned by now, the theater remained packed as the credits dragged on. They never did explain why none of Iron Man's new superhero friends showed up to help him*, but hey, at least Bruce was there to lend an ear afterward. Sort of.

*My theory:
Thor: braiding his hair for Thor 2, possibly in front of messy-haired Loki's rich kid prison cell to taunt him.
Captain and Black Widow: doing Winter Soldier stuff.
Hawkeye: taking Pizza Dog to the vet.
Bruce Banner: actually stoned from giant bag of weed.