Totally Tubular 80s Toys by Mark Bellomo is exactly how he describes it in the acknowledgements; a tome. Originally published in 2010 by Krause Publications, Totally Tubular 80s Toys has a few layers to it that make it a unique bible.
So, unlike many of Bellomo’s other toy books that are toy pricing guides to G.I. Joe, Transformers, and Star Wars (and something that all collectors and vintage toy vendors should really have on hand in addition to scouring eBay on the regular), Totally Tubular 80s Toys reads like a coffee table book.
We have three interesting layers here that came to my mind while reading this book. In essence, the book is a time machine that is taking the reader on a journey from 1980-1989. Therefore as we go through the book, the layers are peeled away as such:
1) Sociological break down of television, media, and pop culture during the 80s.
By this, I mean that Bellomo has chosen to discuss what was happening in real life and on popular live action television during each year. Certain chapters open with cast photos from certain television shows and discuss (in either free flow or list form) what was popular among the masses during that point in the 80s. This includes movies and top ten songs of the year.
2) Popular and/or common toys that existed during the 80s
Collectible or not by today’s standards, Bellomo discusses the toys that children in the 80s had. Thus, if you were a casual toy enthusiast, you could flip through the pages of this book, see a toy from your childhood that you might have forgotten, and smile at getting to see it again. For me, this includes Muppet Babies, Rainbow Brite dolls, and Barbie and the Rockers.
3) The Collector’s Deep Dive
This is more of a nuance, but it comes through in Bellomo’s writing and the length of an entry. For example, the G.I. Joe, Masters of the Universe, She-Ra, and Transformers sections of the book are, unsurprisingly, longer than let’s say, the My Little Pony or Alvin and the Chipmunks section. Because hello, if the author is more passionate about a certain franchise over another, or they’re ones that he (likely) prefers to collect, then those are going to pop in the book.
Now, because Mark is someone I truly like a lot as a person and I consider to be a friend, I’ve heard him say this before– ‘I’m a collector that writes’. And while that sentiment speaks for itself, the writing needs to be acknowledged. Because damn, the writing is amazing. Mark is a very smart person with a fantastic outlook and perspective on really, every topic, especially that of ‘girl’s toys’. Trust me when I say that I’ve already interviewed him and that will be up on Toy Wizards very soon.
My only criticism of the book is that I felt there were a few girl toys missing that I would have loved to see in the book. I was personally born in 1985, but my two older sisters were born in 1981 and 1983. Therefore, we already had 80s toys in the house when I landed. While Totally Tubular 80s Toys of course touched on Care Bears, Cabbage Patch Kids, and My Little Pony, I really wanted to see some Maxie dolls, which was another Barbie type doll.
There was nothing about Moon Dreamers, which were so huge they spawned a cartoon in typical 80s fashion. Or what about Lady Lovely Locks, another Rainbow Brite-esque doll who had little colorful rabbit-creatures that you clipped into your hair? Or what about those little platform toys with dolls you made move with a magnetic key?
And while Bellomo does discuss the video game revival and breaks down early systems (such as the Atari and Mattel video game systems leading up to the Nintendo Entertainment System), I personally would have loved to read more about the toys we didn’t get from those video game franchises because early marketing was garbage.
Although whoever was behind Pac Man and Donkey Kong’s PR was a genius.
Honestly, this book is packed and amazing. The photography is excellent and I love the layout. Mark’s writing is approachable and lighthearted (he has a very distinct voice too, which is amazing) but the level of research is professional, deep, succinct, and comes from a place of love. Part reference guide and part nostalgia fodder, Totally Tubular 80s Toys is a satisfying read whether you’re an 80s enthusiast, a deep toy collector, or someone who wants to look at cool stuff from the best time in American pop culture.
I give Totally Tubular 80s Toys by Mark Bellomo 4.5/5 Rubik’s Cubes.