Rudy Panucci On Pop Culture

One last look at WonderFest

The PopCulteer
June 18, 2021

Your PopCulteer is in Wheeling, basking in the joys of the Marx Toy Convention, but you lucky people get to go back a couple of weeks to WonderFest 2021, which happened in Louisville.

I’ve already brought you photo essays of WonderFest in general, plus pictures of the model vehicles, heroes and monsters. Plus we had a cool, unplanned video.

Today we’re going to look at the remainder of my meager selection of not-too-blurry photos. If you read the earlier posts you know that I had camera and hand mishaps, and more than half the photos I took were unusable.

Still, you will get a glimpse of some of the cool dioramas and props, and we’ll bring you some of the cheesecake models, including a Vampirella section and a few other examples of the sexy female form, captured in plastic and paint.

Captions will be at a minimum, so if you see a photo with no caption, and don’t know what the hell it is, chances are I don’t know either. Like that big cool thing above right. I think it’s a demon vomiting into the brain of a guy eating a sandwich, but it’s probably from a movie or TV show or something.

On with the photos…

Possibly my favorite thing in the model contest room was this monster building a model of himself to add to his collection of cool monsters.

Trek busts. They looked like part of a cool giant chess set.

What better use for a small blown amp than to house a Jethro Tull diorama?

This is one side of a fantastic two-sided diorama of Snow White and the Evil Queen.

Sadly, I did not get a decent photo of the other side.

The Cheesecake Factor

A big segment of the model-building hobby consists of model kits of lovely young women. Here’s an assortment, starting off with a trio of Vampirellas.  She was, by far, the most-modeled character at the show, edging out Batman and The Creature From The Black Lagoon.

Wednesday Addams, all grown up.

Vampira, from Plan 9 From Outer Space

A cartoony Elvira

A heavily-armed, patriotic young woman in a see-thru bikini.

Looks like tomorrow is another Captain America shirt day. (phrase courtesy of Bill Lynch)

Don’t mess with the well-armed lady wearing assless chaps.


With that we wrap up our WonderFest coverage…except for photos of the stuff I bought there, which might show up next week in this space. Check back with PopCult for all our regular features and fresh content every day.

The Marx Toy Convention Returns Friday!

After one year off due to the pandemic, Marx Toy Convention is happening again this year, and it happens Friday and Saturday at  The Kruger Street Toy & Train Museum in Wheeling.  Your PopCulteer is thrilled to be going to this toy show, which is one of the most enjoyable in the country. I can confess now that last year, in the middle of the pandemic, a small group of convention regulars, including yours truly, kept our hotel reservations and gathered for an informal get-together, where we got to see each other and buy and trade toys while trying to stay as safe as possible. It was a sanity-preserving trip, but it wasn’t a real substitute for the actual convention.

This year, we’re running up for the first day, then we’ll make a brief stop in Moundsville where Francis Turner will re-open the Marx Toy Musuem for one night only for a private sale. Then we have to skitter off for a top-secret adventure. However, if you can’t make it up Friday, give Saturday a shot. What better way is there to spend the day before Father’s day than visiting The Kruger Street Toy & Train Museum and maybe buying Dad some of the toys he cherished as a child?

This is seriously one of the most fun toy shows there is. A few years ago I compiled an index to all the Marx Toy coverage I’ve featured here in PopCult. Since then we’ve left the Gazette-Mail and have new URLs, so here’s a revised and updated index to Marx Toys in PopCult…

Just about every time I’ve gone, I’ve brought you photos or videos or words to show how cool this event is. As promised, today wer’e going to provide a casually-assorted index with links to the best of our coverage of the Marx Toy Convention.

“Would you like to try the Garloo Under Glass?”

Before we jump into that, I want to bring you a link to a post I did many years ago to show some of the sights you can see at the museum. In 2010, back when Kruger Street Toy & Train Museum played host to both The Marx Toy Convention and MEGO Meet, I posted a photo essay to give my readers a hint of what the museum is like. This museum is really a treasure, and anyone travelling the Northern Panhandle should make it a point to stop by. They have all kinds of toys, and you will get a nostalgia rush like you’ve never felt before.

On to the convention coverage:

We didn’t have a convention, per se, last year, but I did get to review what was planned to be the convention figure.

The most recent official Marx Toy Convention was in 2019, and I posted a photo essay and a quick video HERE.  In 2018 I posted a very late photo essay and a  slightly more timely video.

In 2017 I brought you video and photos in a couple of different posts, which you can see HERE and HERE. I also did a thorough rundown of the show in 2016.

2015 marked the 50th anniversary of Johnny West, and at Kruger Street they had a special exhibit, curated by Scott Stewart, who presented a lecture. You can see the preview post HERE.

This was also the year that James Wozniak, Stewart and Terri Coop teamed up to create a 50th Anniversary Johnny West figure, and Suzanne Hackett Morgan assembled a video made up of photos of the new Johnny from collectors all over the country. You can watch both videos in THIS POST, and read that year’s preview HERE.

In 2014 we took Lee Harrah and Mark Wolfe to Wheeling with us, and Mark provided the ultra-cool photos of Kruger Street in his incredible photographic style. The first time I covered The Marx Toy Convention proper was in 2013, although I’m pretty sure that I’d been going since 2009.  See, back then I was sort of killing myself producing video of FestivAll for Radio Free Charleston, so my visits to the Marx Toy Convention were usually just a quick drive to Wheeling, visit and buy stuff for an hour, then drive back, so I didn’t have time to take many photos.

That’s most of our Marx Toy Convention coverage (minus several redundant preview posts from years past) but we also have the now-closed Marx Toy Museum to talk about.

Our first visit to the Marx Toy Museum, the brainchild of Francis Turner, was in 2012,  and we marked that momentous event with a five-part photo essay.  I took so many photos that I had to break them up into different sections: Meet The Museum; Marxism Takes Over The Toy World; Playsets and Plastic People; Girl’s Toys; and fnally my personal favorite, Johnny West and the Cowboys.

The Christmas, 2012 episode of Radio Free Charleston featured host segments recorded at The Marx Toy Museum.

In 2016 we broke the sad news that The Marx Toy Museum was going to close. We noted the closing date, but one year later, Francis opened the doors for one night for a private sale, and let everyone know that American Pickers had visited after he closed his doors. One year after that, Francis opened the museum doors one more time, and told us The Ballad of Big Loo.

Be sure to check PopCult next week because I’m sure we’ll have plenty of photos, and possibly some video from this year’s show.

Vlad and Niki Surprise Us With Toys

The PopCult Toybox

As my readers know, I cover pop culture here in PopCult, and I focus a lot on nostalgia for the pop culture from my childhood. But what about the pop culture of today and tomorrow? What will today’s kids be looking at fondly when they’re my age?

My guess is that they’ll be looking back at Vlad and Niki, two boys from Dubai who have one of the most successful YouTube channels in the world. The boys, (aged 8 and 6) began making unboxing videos in 2018, and have become internet superstars just by having fun. Their parents run 21 YouTube channels in 18 languagues, and their main channel has over 65 million subscribers. These kids are huge stars with today’s kids, with the #1 YouTube channel for boys, and the #2 channel for families.

The energetic videos center on the boys’ daily life adventures, which are brought to life with special effects and animation, superhero narrative, toy testing, and catchy songs. Last year, Vlad and Niki introduced Christian – the boys’ new baby brother, who is delighting in his older brother’s antics. Their mother even gets into the act in some videos.

Now, in partnership with Zuru Toys, Vlad and Niki are getting in the blind box toy business, and they’re doing it in a big way. Vlad & Niki Superhero Surprise provides a complete unboxing experience, allowing kids to bring the included comic book & the story to life! Each super-sized surprise egg features over 20 surprises including mask and cape, Super Hero Vlad and Niki figurines, Baby Christian figurine, a dinosaur or robot figurine, two die-cast car, slime egg, light up skateboard, wrist snap-band, stickers, tattoo and much more.

Vlad & Niki Superhero Surprise is packaged in a giant egg (with ears) and will be available exclusively at Target beginning June 21. You can check out Vlad and Niki’s super-fun and bizarre video of them playing with the Superhero Surprise here…

Next week your PopCulteer will get into the act with his own unboxing video of Zuru’s Vlad & Niki Superhero Surprise. You’l get to see my real-time reaction to seeing these cool toys in person for the first time. I should warn you that superheroes, dinosaurs, robots and toy cars are pretty much in my wheelhouse, so I’m really looking forward to this and may not be completely objective.

I won’t be flying around or chasing dinosaurs or anything though…not at my age.

WonderFest: The Monsters

In this rather long photo essay we’re going to bring you images of some of the monsters, creatures, critters and freaks on display in the model contest room at WonderFest 2021, which took place weekend before last. As with our other photo essays, please excuse the odd blurry photo. Your humble blogger was having hand issues and camera issues, as detailed earlier, and I was not at all satisfied with my work on this.

Still, there’s plenty of cool stuff to look at here. Hit up the list of previous posts in the right column or scroll down for more of our WonderFest pictures and video. I will be posting the last batch of photos Friday.  Your PopCulteer is in a deadline crunch, and has other posts lined up for later this week, so we’ll be bringing you the climax in a few days. That post will also include a handy index to the other photo essays, since they’ve wound up spread out over a longer period than I’d planned.

For the sake of expedience and sanity, these photos are not going to be captioned. They are cool model kits, built by talented artists. That’s all you really need to know.  Enjoy the artistry…


Because of the size of this photo essay, we will continue with more photos after the jump.

Continue reading

Monday Morning Art: Pencil City

This is another workout for my fingers, with my trusty Blackwing Palamino on airbrush paper. It’s a city scene that I had stuck in my head. I’m not certain, but I think it’s Chicago, or maybe New York. My pent up wanderlust from the pandemic year has me longing for a trip to the big city. I did not use photo reference for this, but I absolutely did use a ruler for all those straight lines.

Click the image to see it bigger.

Meanwhile, over at our sister radio station, The AIR, we are spending another weekend in reruns due to server maintainance. This week we are going to do marathons all week long.

Monday you can listen to Prognosis, with Herman Linte, from 7 AM to 7 PM. Then you can hear Psychedelic Shack, presented by Nigel Pye, from 7 PM to 7 AM the next morning.

Tuesday at 7 AM, tune in for 24 hours of Radio Free Charleston.

Wednesday you can hear Beatles Blast from 7 AM to 7 PM, and then stick around for Curtain Call, hosted by Mel Larch, from 7 PM until 7 AM the next morning.

Thursday it’s time for 24 hours of The Swing Shift, beginning at 7 AM.

Friday tune in for 24 hours of Sydney’s Big Electric Cat, presented by Sydney Fileen, starting at 7 AM.

Finally, Saturday we bring you Mel Larch’s Disco showcase, MIRRORBALL, from 7 AM to Midnight.

There is still a chance for brief signal interruptions this week, so don’t be alarmed if you encounter a few seconds of silence here and there.

You can listen to The AIR at the website, or on the embedded radio player at the top of the right-hand column of this blog.

Sunday Evening Video: WonderFest 2021

This is a quick, unplanned, glimpse at part of the model contest entries, recorded June 5, 2021 at WonderFest USA in Louisville, Kentucky. For a few moments, while I was taking photos of the model contest entries at WonderFest last weekend, I handed the Zi8 camera to Melanie, who shot brief clips before she had to depart to get in line to get some stuff signed by Greg Nicotero.

This video was created out of that backup video shot in the model contest room, and is not a comprehensive look at all the entries. It really only covers about half of them. The footage looked good enough that we decided to share it.  For more models from the rest of the room, scroll down the page for our previous photo essays, and stay tuned because we have at least three more of them coming early next week. There was a lot to see at WonderFest.

This video was shot by Mel Larch, for PopCult. Editing was by Rudy Panucci, and the music combines several pieces composed and performed by Rudy Panucci, Mel Larch and Frank Panucci.

The RFC Flashback: MINI SHOW number 59

This week we bring you The RFC MINI SHOW from the middle of May, 2015. While it’s cool to go back six or so years, as we do with most RFC Flashbacks, this time we’re bringing you a special edition of the MINI SHOW that celebrated the ninth anniversary of the very first recording sessions for the Radio Free Charleston video program.

And if you’re good at doing the math in your head, that means that the footage you see above is now FIFTEEN YEARS OLD.  I’m still trying to wrap my head around that.

Let me quote liberally from the original production notes:

Nine years ago this week four guys gathered together in a very cool fifth-floor makeshift television studio to make obscure local music history. I was one of them. The other three were Brian Young, Dan Jordan and Spencer Elliott, the band known as Whistlepunk.

It all started with a phone call. Out of the blue, Brian called me in February, 2006. We hadn’t talked in years. There was no falling out. We simply had life happen and lost touch. Brian had a daughter. I’d spent over eight years taking care of my bedridden mother. A few months earlier I’d begun writing the PopCult blog, which put my name back in circulation.

Brian had taken a rehearsal space in the Quarrier Building and turned it into a recording studio that was prime for the addition of video cameras. I was able to get away and meet with Brian and check out the space, and we cooked up the idea of reviving my old radio show, Radio Free Charleston,  as a video show that would be part of The Gazz. Doug Imbrogno was happy at the prospect of having some regular video content for GazzTV, so we started making plans.

Those plans were interrupted in April, when my mother passed away almost nine years after suffering a major stroke. We pushed back our plans so I could deal with the major life changes, but in May I was ready, and we headed into the studio to record Whistlepunk. It was easy to get them in the studio since Brian was their drummer, and I’d known Spencer and Dan since 1989 and the old RFC radio show when they were in the band Some Forgotten color together.

To mark the ninth anniversary of the first recording session for Radio Free Charleston, this week The RFC MINI SHOW brings you the results of that session. Two songs performed by Whistlepunk– “Reflection (Spy Song)” and “Vampire Love Song.”

These songs originally appeared on episodes one and seven of Radio Free Charleston, and are newly-remastered. The original videos sport audio mixes by Brian Young and editing by Frank Panucci. I’ve cropped the videos into widescreen and bumped them up to HD.

It’s remarkable in the way that this all seems like yesterday to me, but there have been many changes since. Radio Free Charleston is now independent of the Gazette (though we still call PopCult one of our home bases). GazzTV is history. Whistlepunk expanded to five members, then split up as Brian and Spencer re-joined Mother Nang. Spencer has become a major player on the fingerstyle guitar circuit as a solo artist. LiveMix Studio was shut down when Monsignor Landgrab got his mitts on the Quarrier Building. And of course, RFC has grown into three programs–the original full-length Radio Free Charleston, The RFC MINI SHOW and the weekly streaming audio version of RFC at New Appalachian Radio.

I feel that one of the reasons we’ve come so far is because we had such a strong beginning. it’s good to pause once in a while to remember that.

And of course, in the ensuing six years, we’ve seen more changes: PopCult has exited stage right from the Charleston Gazette-Mail, which was the two-headed beast born when Charleston’s two daily newspapers merged; Yours truly has been diagnosed with a chronic illness (Myasthenia Gravis) that has sharply curtailed my video production; The RFC radio show has become the flagship program of The AIR, and there was also ths whole pandemic/lockdown thing you might have heard about.

Yet, it’s still cool to look back fifteen years now, and see the band that helped revive Radio Free Charleston and make it the best locally-produced guerilla video music program hosted on the internet and edited by a toy collector. Many thanks again to my good friends in Whistlepunk.

Stuff To Do For A Late Spring Weekend

The PopCulteer
June 11, 2021

I have to admit, it’s nice to be able to tell people about cool stuff to do in and around Charleston again.

This weekend we have wrestling, Record Store Day and live music.

Your PopCulteer is otherwise occupied with other assignments (AKA “paying work”), but I do plan to make it out to Record Store Day at Budget.

The IWA East Coast shows start tonight, and online ticket sales have ended, so you can’t get the package deal for all three shows. There will be a limited number of tickets available at the door.

You should know the drill by now. These are very cool events happening in or around Charleston this weekend. If you are fully vaccinated and ready to do your best to stay safe, you should go check this stuff out. Outdoor shows are okay for reasonable and vaccinated people to go maskless. Indoor shows leave you at the mercy of your fellow patrons, and be honest…you don’t know where they’ve been. So use your common sense and stay safe.

The WonderFest photo essays will continue over the weekend, as will our regular features. Here’s our graphic guide to some cool stuff happening this weekend…


Record Store Day

Live Music


That is this week’s PopCulteer. Check back for our regular features and continued WonderFest coverage.

WonderFest 2021: Heroes

…and maybe a couple of villains. We are back at it with the entries in the model contest at last weekend’s WonderFest.

In this photo essay we’re going to look at the figural models of Superheroes, with a few movie and videogame heroes and maybe a villain or two thrown in for good measure. There were many more models than what I’m showing you here, but as I mention, camera woes and wonky hands rendered many of the pictures unusable.

Apologies again for the blurriness of some of the pictures. Think of it as my way of raising awareness during Myasthenia Gravis month.

Some of these are simply made using commercially-available kits, while others are scratch-built and a few seem to be 3D-printed, scale up versions of classic model kits. Not being sure of which is which, I will keep my mouth shut about that. They all looked stunning.

Batman and his extended family and rogue’s gallery were very well-represented, but there was plenty of diversity among the ranks of the heroes. We even have some cute heroes wrapping up this batch of photos.

As with yesterday’s photo essay, captions may be sparse. Scroll down and enjoy!

You would’ve gotten used to seeing this guy. Batman, that is. Not so much the rich guy in the background.

A spectacular model by someone who didn’t get the memo about Batman never touching a gun.

Captain America, with spare parts.

Wolverine, back when he was hanging out with Jose Canseco.

Catwoman almost made it into the “Cheesecake models” photo essay.

A life-sized Green Goblin head. Really impressive.

The Hellboy, you say!

Seven of Nine was in with the fantasy figures, but I felt she deserved to be included as a hero.

I think this character is a hero, or hero-ish.

The Cute Heroes…

These guys seemed out of place amid the monster models.

Rumor has it that Baby Groot has become bitter of the success of Baby Yoda, and has been drinking the wood alcohol.

Our last photo today, because everybody runs photos of The Child.

That is our quick look at the Hero Models at WonderFest. Check back later for part one of our look at The Monsters!

WonderFest 2021: The Vehicles

Here’s the first part of our look at the awesome model contest at WonderFest, which took place last weekend in Louisville.

I need to make a confession first. I had a camera disaster of sorts right before I took these photos. I fired up my trusty Canon, and the battery warning flashed on, right before it went dead. I found an unadorned table in the room and put in fresh batteries, and…I got the warning again. My 13-year-old camera seemed to have finally given up the ghost.

It wasn’t a complete disaster because I still had my phone. The only problem with that is, my phone weighs nearly nothing. It has no heft to it. And I have Myasthenia Gravis, and when I get tired or hot, my hands get really shaky.  About half of the photos I took are unusable, and as a result, some of the best models won’t be shown here. It sucks, but I’m doing the best I can.  Apologies in advance for any blurriness you might encounter over the next few days.

Also, the model room was packed with people who have no sense of photographer ettiquette. If you take more than two seconds to snap a photo, somebody will walk in front of your camera. There was one young lady there with a bright green shirt who apparently thought she was the only person in the room taking pictures. I got about two dozen shots of her hands, elbow or camera.

After shooting about 500 photos in the model room. I went out to the hotel hallway and found a comfy chair to rest and wait for Mrs. PopCulteer to show up after she was waiting in line to get some stuff signed by Greg Nicotero. While there, I was able to fiddle with the Canon and get it working again. However, the model room had become a bit like The Black Hole of Calcutta, and yours truly was pretty well spent. At this point my hat was 70% water.

And I hadn’t made my “buy stuff” run in the dealer’s rooms yet, so I didn’t go back in to fight the teeming masses in the model room again.

Even with that, I have several dozen cool images to share with you in the coming days. First up, we have vehicles. This is everything from spacecraft to rockets to The Dude’s car from The Big Lebowski.

Captions will be sparse because I’d rather be silent than stupid.

We’ll start with this cool mini-diorama of an aircraft in front of a cool zoomy sky. It would look more impressive if I’d had my camera with a flash.


A table filled with amazing spacecraft models. You’ll see a few more pics like this.

Ya gotta love a Saturn V.

Go ahead and hum the “Imperial Death March.” You know you’re hearing it in your head.

Wired for lights.

This model was huge, and looked really cool. I wish I could remember what the hell it is. Somebody want to help me out in the comments?

Here it is from another angle, with the Millenium Falcon and other stuff.

A build-up of a vintage Aurora Moon Bus kit, from 2001: A Space Oddyssey.

Interesting kitbashes.

I had to include at least one shot that features a Constitution Class Starship.

Amid the spaceships, you’d find the occasional TV-inspired car.

And a few movie-inspired cars, too. I wonder if the Dude’s car included the homework in the backseat?

That wraps up our look at the vehicle models of WonderFest. Later this week we’ll bring you glimpses of monsters, heros, dioramas and maybe even some cheesecake.

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