Saturday, August 23, 2014

A "Literary" History of the Golden Age of Video Games - Golden Age Video Game Books Part 2

Next up is another Pac-Man cartoon book, written by Mike Thaler and published by Pocket Books in 1982.  (I am still waiting for my copy to come in the mail, so the photos below are from another website)


While this one goes beyond the single-panel drawings of Pac-Man found in Pac-Mania, it does tread a similar path, with many of the cartoons based on puns. In also includes other types of cartoons like the one below on “The Birth of Pac-Man”.



As with Pac-Mania’s Dick Chodksowski, Mike Thaler has an interesting story. Billing himself as “America’s Riddle King”, Thaler has penned over 200 children’s books, for including the Blue Lagoon series of picture and chapter books (published by Scholastic), the Christian-themed Tales From the Back Pew series (“The Preacher Creature Strikes on Sunday”, “Walking the Plank to the Baptism Plank” etc.), and a number of other tiles (“A Hippopotamus Ate the Teacher”, “Cinderella Bigfoot”), including over 45 riddle books. For most of the books other than the riddle books, Thaler wrote the text while Jared Lee provided the illustrations (for the riddle books, Thaler did both, as it seems he did with The Pac-Man Riddle and Joke Book). He also created “The Adventures of Letterman”, a popular series of animated skits spoofing super-heroes that appeared on the PBS educational series Electric Company.

Mike Thaler - from the author's website

Born in Los Angeles in 1936, Thaler originally drew cartoons for adults until 1961, when Ursula Nordstrom, editor-in-chief of juvenile books at Harper & Row, saw one of his cartoons in a magazine and suggested that he write for children. He sat down and wrote “the Magic Boy” about a boy with various magical powers (like the ability to turn off the moon so he could go to sleep). He solid it the next day and followed up with “Penny Pencil”. For more on Mike, visit his website at

Next up is Shoot the Robot, Then Shoot Mom by Tim Skelly


I don't actually have a copy of this one as it is a bit rich for my blood (Amazon is currently one for $100). This is a collection of 73 video game cartoons created by Tim Skelly. Yes - THAT Tim Skelly. The one who designed Star Castle, Rip Off, Armor Attack, Warrior, Reactor etc. While I don't have the book, I did manage to find a few of the cartoons in the June, 1983 issue of Electronic Fun and the April, 1983 issue of Video Games

As an interesting note, the back cover of the book featured a photo of Skelly lying atop a row of Reactor machines. According to a poster on KLOV, Skelly got in trouble for the photograph either because it leaked the game or because it leaked the factory layout.
Here's another example of Skelly's cartooning skills, from a tongue-in-cheek article on the history of video games that was printed in 1979 in either RePlay or Play Meter (I forget which)

Finally, we come to what may be the most significant of the video game cartoon books, Blips! The First Book of Video Game Funnies, by Jovial Bob Stine with illustrations by Bryan Hendrix.


This one had cartoons that were a bit more Mad-magazine in style. Note that the last example includes only the second page of a two-page gag. In the first, the kids tell mom that she should let them play video games because they can do so indoors and avoid getting into fights (personally, I like it better without page one - seems more like a random act of violence).


Illustrator Bryan Hendrix owned Bryan Hendrix Funny Pictures, which he opened in 1981. He has illustrated a number of other books, including 100 Monsters in My School.

But that's what's so significant about the book.

So what IS so significant about Blips?

It's the author - Jovial Bob Stine.

Stine penned a number of books for Scholastic, including 101 Silly Monster Jokes, Don't Stand in the Soup, and Pork and Beans Play Date.
But that's not the significant part.

Stine also founded Scholastic's 1970s teen magazine Bananas.

OK. I'll pause for a minute while you recover from the 70s nostalgia OD (who here remembers Cheryl Tiegs? Who hadn't thought of her for years until they read this post?).


Once again, for those too young to remember, Bananas was one of two magazines produced by Scholastic Books. Bananas was aimed at high schoolers while Dynamite was aimed at junior high school students. I read them both, but since I was in JHS at the time, I mostly read Dynamite (remember Count Morbida anyone?), though I occasionally cadged my older brother's copy of Bananas. Back in the day, which is to say MY day, you used to be able to order Scholastic Books right from your classroom. IIRC, every year, or maybe twice a year, they would give out lists of the various books that you could order and they would deliver them to you in class. (True confessions time - I was the dork who ordered more books than anyone else).

But anyway, that's STILL not the significant part.
The significant part is that in 1986 Stine wrote a kiddie horror novel called Blind Date, launching a new career as a children's horror author. Yes, that's right "Jovial Bob" Stine is none other than R.L. Stine - the "Stephen King of children's horror" and creator of such series as Goosebumps and Fear Street.



  1. "Back in the day, which is to say MY day, you used to be able to order Scholastic Books right from your classroom. IIRC, every year, or maybe twice a year, they would give out lists of the various books that you could order and they would deliver them to you in class. (True confessions time - I was the dork who ordered more books than anyone else)."

    Hey, it worked on all of us! (that and the book fairs)

  2. When I Saw the title I was hoping it would include blips! As a child I read through my personal copy hundreds of times, I even taped a quarter to the 1st page where it says insert coin here. Thanks for the trip down memory lane! Can't believe I didn't know it was RL stine, loved those book in my youth as well.

  3. I wanna know how the birth of Pac Man happens. How do we go from an apple pie and cheesecake to Pac?

    Once again Keith I can't tell you how much I enjoy your blog and your writing.

  4. on Tim Skelly's book: Tim did not secure permission for the small photo shoot. Gottlieb was very aggressive about secrecy. After the incident was discovered Tim was banned from the development area. Gottlieb set him up with equipment at his apartment. When he visited to collaborate with me (the sound guy) or bring in his work to be evaluated he had to have a chaperone. By the time the book came out the coin-op game market was crashing and the popular wave of interest had passed. Tim ended up with a thousand copies of the book.
    david thiel

    1. Thanks for the comment. I talked to you several years ago for an article I wrote on Gottlieb video games and you gave me some great info.