June 28, 2021


Imagine being a painter and one day all that you've ever painted suddenly disappears. The canvases are still there but the paint has turned invisible. In a way, that's what happened to me after I deviated from traditional artistic materials and chose a new kind of "paint" called Adobe Flash.

In the year 2000 I worked for a subsidiary of Hallmark making newfangled greeting cards that could be sent and received instantaneously. And the pictures moved! And they were interactive! And they were free! We called them e-cards. All those innovative features were made possible by the program Flash.

When I was off the clock I used my knowledge of this powerful new medium to improve the rest of the internet by enhancing my website SecretFunSpot.com with image galleries of things like vintage bike decals, old Halloween photos, and a couple animated shorts. This was before "web 2.0" where everyone started contributing their own photos and memories via sites like Flickr. So for a long time if you wanted to see an image of Kenner's Hugo, Man of a Thousand Faces, my site was one of like, two places to see it on the world wide web. Thanks to Flash, you could virtually disguise him right on your screen!

Then the iphone came out. In a calculated move to dethrone the format, it didn't support Adobe Flash. This kicked off a decline that eventually resulted in the total demise of Flash in early 2021. Suddenly, the Secret Fun Spot became extra secret when all the content was shrouded in error messages. (My seven hundred plus e-cards had already vanished years ago.)

Truth is, I understand the problem with one company having total control of a format. Though it's amazing that Adobe created something so advanced that practically the entire web became dependent on them. I'd say that's still the case with much of the design and publishing world's reliance on the Creative Suite. The current monopoly isn't a good thing. We have to pay their monthly subscription to maintain our livelihood. (Yes, there are alternative programs, but Adobe is still pretty universal.)
Now that we're living in the future, it's so strange that artists and designers must be cautious of overnight obsolescence. With a flip of a switch a ton of the world's most recent creations became practically inaccessible. (Oh, how I miss orisinal.com.) Meanwhile the pyramids of Giza are over there scoffing. And seriously, how long will things like JPEGs last?

But I'm not here to lament Flash, or even the end of Secret Fun Spot. (I stopped updating it nearly twenty years ago.) Today as I finally cancel my web hosting, I'm reflecting on the ways that silly site literally changed my life. It exemplifies how creating projects for the love of it can connect you with others, and turn into work that will feed your family. The bulk of my creative life including my books, writing gigs, art commissions, gallery shows, and film projects can be traced to the Fun Spot in some form. The culmination of these projects and personal relationships have amounted to countless life-enriching experiences. All of that helped me get into my current visual arts faculty position at a university. At last my work is no longer in danger of iphone compatibility issues or going out of print. 

The Secret Fun Spot reached over 2.5 million "sessions" since its inception in 1998. Over the years I've received hundreds of emails from people who were thrilled and touched by the journey it took them on. J.J. Abrams even mentioned it in an interview in Rolling Stone magazine! (May 15, 2008):

So now I'm going to redirect the Secretfunspot.com domain to this site. (Not that this site is seeing much attention from me these days, but still.) So I offer a hearty thank you to those of you who ever paid a visit to the Secret Fun Spot, and especially those of you who ended up sticking around with me. It's been fun and that's no secret! (ingenious!)

I'll leave you with a memorial image gallery of some of the image galleries. Don't try clicking the buttons because you shouldn't poke at dead things.

June 09, 2021





This article originally appeared on Monkey Goggles, a sadly defunct project from the gang at Archie McPhee.  Of all the things I've ever written, this is one of my favorites. So here it is, back on the internet where it belongs.

The Do’s and Don’ts of Self-Titled Record Albums

We humans have only been able to record our music for a hundred-something years, but in that short time we’ve arrived at some standard practices. For instance, recording artists sell bundles of 10 to 15 songs at a time, and these collections are called albums. Cover artwork and a title are carefully selected and assigned to each album; in many cases this happens well before the record is leaked online.

Likewise, certain conventions have emerged in the realm of album titles. Titles are usually a short phrase or a single word that corresponds with the theme or tone of the music. They can be poetic and profound, consider: Rubber Soul, Loveless, Urban Hymns or Nevermind. Some records are named after a song that appears on the LP; examples include Pet Sounds and Thriller. Others are simply named after music in general, such as Madonna’s album Music as well as Music, the first CD from the band 311.

Many artists have chosen to name albums after themselves; these are known as self-titled or eponymous records. R.E.M. actually called their 1988 singles compilation Eponymous, which was pretty cool. (Though it should be noted that The Alarm did this five years earlier, which deducts some of that coolness.)

At its best, the self-titled record is an act of elegant simplicity; at its worst, it becomes a baffling ordeal. Let’s explore the possible scenarios of self-titling with hopes that future bands might avoid pitfalls such as Santana Syndrome or Weezeritus.


If you’re ever going to self-title, then your first album is the perfect time to do it. It makes an efficient, dignified statement: This is us and this is our music. The eponymous debut album is a respectable move that will place an artist alongside some of the most influential musicians in history. The seemingly endless list of acts who have carried on this rich tradition includes Wilson Phillips, The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Bob Dylan, David Bowie, The Doors, Rush, Black Sabbath, Van Halen, Kraftwerk, Queen, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Aerosmith, The Clash, The Smiths, The Eagles, The Cars, Duran Duran, Journey, The Ramones, The Stooges, Violent Femmes, Madonna and “Weird Al” Yankovic to name just a handful. (Sorry, I really cracked myself up starting that list off with Wilson Phillips.)

The only act who has ever made a mistake in releasing a self-titled debut is Hoobastank. That name should have been avoided entirely.


Groups like Huey Lewis and the News and the The Allman Brothers already took the easy road when they named their band, so a first album title with a little pizzazz would have been nice. (Granted, Huey gets some credit for making up a stage name; he was born Hugh Anthony Cregg III.)

As lame as it is to self-title everything, the efficiency is undeniable. There was a time when Jon Bon Jovi could answer the questions who are you, what’s the name of your band and what’s the name of your album by simply flashing his driver’s license.


Why wait until the third, eighth, or twelfth album to go eponymous? Sometimes it’s meant to indicate reinvention, like when Heart transitioned to a more pop oriented sound on their album Heart. Other times it proclaims the end of artistic integrity, as is the case of Metallica’s fifth album Metallica.

Bands deserve a pass if there is a legitimate reason behind the decision. Take The Beatles, the ninth LP by The Beatles. The record was to be named A Doll’s House until a British group called Family released the similarly titled Music in a Doll’s House. Despite this effort, many listeners still struggle to tell the two bands apart.

Smash Mouth held an online contest inviting their fans to name their third album. Their followers managed to come up with the winning appellation: Smash Mouth. The disgrace was completed by the fact that more people named the album than actually bought it.

The stupidest possible time to self-title is on the second album. (Unless it’s the first release in the States, i.e. Elton John.) It gives the impression that all creativity has been depleted by round two. Prince did it, and so did Collective Soul. What a bunch of goobers.

This practice doesn’t necessarily mean that a band has declared creative bankruptcy; The Velvet Underground, ABBA, and The Carpenters all did it on third albums which weren’t too shabby. But there’s really no method to this practice. Kid Rock went eponymous on his fourth release, Echo & The Bunnymen on their fifth, and The Cult waited until their sixth. Wilco’s seventh album is called Wilco (the album). The Cure held out until album 12 for some reason, and The Beach Boys self-titled their 22nd and final studio album as if to announce that they had officially hit the bottom of the artistic barrel.


A shocking number of recording artists have decided to put out more than one, and in many cases several, self-titled albums. Fleetwood Mac, Diana Ross, Duran Duran, Cher and Cheap Trick are all guilty. Whether their intentions were rooted in profound artistic statement or just plain apathy, it causes grief among the fans. It makes it confusing to discuss an artist’s career and it can even make it tricky to buy their albums. The worst offenders are Seal and Weezer, each with three self-titleds apiece, and then there’s Peter Gabriel, who didn’t bother naming his first four records.

A word of warning to any artist considering mid-career and/or multiple eponymy: fans just won’t put up with that crap. Listeners refuse to go to the trouble of calling a CD “Metallica’s self-titled fifth album” and rightfully so. They avoid this rigmarole by collectively assigning their own title, like “The Black Album.” Trouble is, the public will look to the most obvious visual cues available for inspiration, and the results are predictably dull. An album’s color, for example, is a no-brainer. It started with The White Album and continued with unsanctioned names like They Might Be Giants’ Pink album, Collective Soul’s Blue album and Weezer’s Blue, Green, and Red albums.

If colors aren’t an option, then fans will go with a prominent object on the cover. When Pearl Jam didn’t come up with anything better than Pearl Jam for their eighth effort, the fans looked to the inexplicable chopped avocado featured on the cover. Voila! The Avocado album. The Cult wanted to get back to basics with a self-titled sixth album — title overruled! The Black Sheep record was also renamed for its cover art. And in what is perhaps the only clever instance of this phenomenon, the self-titled Alice In Chains was nicknamed Tripod based on a three-legged dog on its jacket.

Fans used the same technique to deal with the Peter Gabriel debacle. The cover photo on his debut shows Peter in a car. It became Car. Peter’s fingers appear to leave scratch marks on his second album cover. This became Scratch. Can you guess what they named the one where half of Mr. Gabriel’s face is melting? Mr. Melty Face? No, just Melt.

By album number four, the powers that be were through screwing around and released the record with a sticker on its cover that said Security. Gabriel seemed to take the hint and started naming his records. His lack of album-naming practice was evident in the fact that his subsequent three records were respectively named So, Us, and Up.

Some artists like Chicago, Scott Walker, and Led Zeppelin put out multiple self-titled LPs, but they had the courtesy to number them. Seal forced his appreciators to do this, and he further convoluted the situation by giving his third record a proper name. So his unofficial discography goes: Seal I, Seal II, Human Being, Seal IV and so on. It sounds like a horror movie franchise.

Fan-named titles have also spawned from year of release (Cheap Trick ’97) and song names (Genesis, the Mama album). The point is, if you don’t name your album then everyone else will, and you’re not going to like it.


It’s true: Santana released Santana in 1969 and Santana in 1971 (which was the band’s third album, no less), proving that Carlos Santana is the laziest rock star in history.

October 19, 2020


The photo above is the result of a three-year-long hunt that began when I was reviewing a series of vintage Halloween cassette tapes in 2017. The Chamber of Horrors by TONY (USA) has carved its spooky face into the Jack-O'-lantern of Halloween history thanks to its unique, 'decent into madness' approach to sound effects. (See my original review.) But the common release of the recording is literally only half the story. 

Chamber of Horrors was originally the B-side to a more elaborate production called The Haunting: A Horror Story. The rarity of this edition, and the obscured "Side A" and "Side B" markings (see photo below) suggest that it was discontinued and reissued with the Chamber of Horrors sound effects repeated on both sides. Was it it simply too terrifying for young Halloween consumers, as some have suggested?

The second edition containing the same effects loops on both sides

The elusive variant with its perfect ghost and haunted house artwork became the object of my obsession. My hunt didn't involve trips into the wilderness, or even the act of leaving the chair where I currently sit. However, it was an ebay adventure in perseverance and timing. I laid 'email search alert' traps, but the delay from inbox to web site amounted in two painfully lost auctions. I resorted to compulsively live searching whenever I found time. This went on for two years. It was ultimately a late night ebay visit where I, armed with a litany of generic search terms, found it in a nondescript lot, and finally "buy-it-now'd" my way to the grail. The joyous victory was intensely magnified by this year's harrowing months of uncertainty.

Now I share my delight with you. After years of being conspicuously absent from Youtube, I have uploaded the precious Side A. Please enjoy it and use it to help make yours the happiest possible Halloween!

October 30, 2019


In 2003 my all-time favorite graphic design team, the Charles Spencer Anderson design co., created the phenomenal marketing materials (as well as some products) for Target's Halloween campaign. This was the crossover of the century for me— CSA versus Halloween! To make matters better, they used vintage Ben Cooper masks as source material, and enlarged them to be taller than I was as a trick or treater! In fact, I wore the identical Frankenstein mask in 1981.

In 2007 I wrote this blog post about the campaign, where I shared some photos that I took back when photography was forbidden in stores, and when I was still using film. I also lamented my failed attempt to acquire the masks after the season. (Customer service claimed they were to be donated to a local school after use.)

Well, the internet heard my wish, and over the past twelve years I've received a continual trickle of emails about the masks. They came in three categories: those asking me to assess the value of their masks (my lone blog post made me the leading authority on the internet), those offering to sell me their masks (these were the most common), and even a few emails from kind people offering to just give me the masks. I perked up at the latter, but soon discovered that shipping five foot faces can cost hundreds of dollars. A personal pick-up option was offered once, but they were located more than a day's drive away, again amounting to a major chunk of money and time.

About a year ago I received another generous free offer from a woman named Kat. Kat actually worked on the Target marketing team and helped make the campaign a reality! Her set of masks were a job perk, and she'd been using them as Halloween decorations for years. But the time to "pay them forward" had come, and my writing convinced her that I'd provide them with a good home.
I could immediately tell that Kat lives her life with vigorous heart and soul. She initially gave me a list of rules to agree to, should I accept the gift. The first rule was that I too must pass them on freely when my time with them is over.

I loved her approach, but I explained the issues I'd encountered before. Kat persisted. Every couple months she told me about another possible shipping method she was researching. Whenever one thing didn't pan out she would move on to the next. This went on for nearly a year. Eventually she offered to drive someplace near me to make a hand off, even though places near me are far from her.

In July my family took a three hour jaunt to Kansas City to meet Kat. She ended up driving about eight hours (one way) to meet us there in order to give us some free ginormous masks!! Kat invited a good friend of hers to go along on her road trip, and she made the perfect suggestion to meet at the Nelson-Atkins museum of art. We met, and she's exactly the kind of person who would make a sixteen hour round trip to give someone giant masks. For the record, I was bestowed with the princess, the fireman, and yes, Frankenstein's monster.

We talked for about an hour before the museum kicked us out at closing time. We have many shared passions and our careers overlap. Before we parted Kat offered to give me her ongoing advice and perspective in relation to my role as a creative, and an educator, and that's even more valuable than giant costumes. Thanks Kat for being the best possible type of human being! Happy Halloween!

October 27, 2019


Once again, I assembled a list of Halloween activities and then followed my list.  Here is what that looked like this year...

1. Decorate for Halloween
Here's my latest innovation...

2. Make Halloween mood table
This year's theme: Mcfarlane Monsters

3. Change phone wallpaper
This is from a 1970s blacklight poster

4. Seek out new Halloween decorations and spooky toys
This year I made a startling discovery that rocked the Twitterverse.
"Attention Spooky folks: these decorations from Dollar Tree are essentially the Silver Shamrock masks from Halloween III!"

5. Read one of my vintage horror paperbacks
I ended up listening to the first book of Blackwater by Michael McDowell.


6. Play a spooky video game

7. Watch pre-selected pile of Halloween entertainment
I found the bulk of these over the past year at thrift stores and flea markets. (Though a few are perennial watches.)  My greatest score was the entire In Search Of series for $7. Over the past two months I've made it through all of these. Well, not all the In Search Of episodes.)


8. Subscribe to Shudder and watch stuff

9. Make a fire in the backyard fire pit

10. Create a horror playlist. Listen while walking/driving around.
I really just copied a couple peoples' existing lists, and then customized them to my liking.

11. Seek out some of the seasonal stuff that like-minded people are tweeting about
This year it was the Mountain Dew mystery flavor (i.e. Candy Corn), the blow mold decorations from Michaels, and the Universal Monster Bend-ems from Walgreens.


12. Write a blog post

13. and 14. Go on an October day trip/Go Halloween shopping in another town
I've been able to do a lot of this, thankfully. I make it a point to travel roads I've never traveled if possible, and go through towns I've never visited. Naturally I picked up lots of goodies.

15. Spend Halloween with my family 
And this will happen Thursday.

For me, the scariest thing about Halloween is the thought of letting the season slip by without doing whatever I can to enjoy it. This year I have nothing to fear.
Happy Halloween!

October 28, 2018


Greetings internet traveler! I just want to commemorate this Halloween season with a rundown of how things have played out this year. It's been a different type of season for me because this is the first Halloween in nine years that I've had a full time, day-to-day job as opposed to a precarious freelance lifestyle. This has created the classic time vs. money conundrum. Last year I was able to review a different vintage Halloween cassette every single day in October, while this year work-related time constraints kept me from crossing off several major items from my annual list of Halloween goals. (I discovered a couple years ago that lists can help keep the Halloween magic from slipping through my fingers.)  Here's how it went...

1. Decorate house for Halloween 
2. Go on October trip to Toronto
3. Go to Chicago toy show
    Both were not prudent given my work situation  

4. Go to a Halloween event
    See below

5. See a horror movie in the theater
    Saw Halloween (2018)

6. Make my Halloween mood table
    No, but my house evokes a strong Halloween mood this year

7. Drive to a nearby town and go Halloween shopping
    Went to several

8. Play a Halloween themed video game
    I started playing Fortnite to bond with my son earlier this year. Then I kept playing. This October it became Halloween themed

9. Read an 80s horror paperback

   Didn't make the time 

10. Watch my pre-selected Halloween movie pile
Got through almost all of it. It included things like: WNUF Halloween Special, Trick 'r Treat, Hereditary, Channel Zero: Candlestick Cove, Ghost Stories, Ghost Story, Return of the Living Dead, Mandy, The Town that Dreaded Sundown, Phantasm III and more

11. Have friends over to watch scary things 
   Yes, two friends came over on two different nights and watched IT (2017), and Carrie respectively
12. Create something with a Halloween theme
    See Below

13. Make a Halloween blog post
    Work in progress

14. Celebrate Halloween with my family
    Still to come 

It was a work-related errand that kicked off my "pre-Halloween" back in September. I wandered into Lowe's on a Wednesday morning and lit up when I saw a fresh display spooks sitting on hay bales. I picked up my very first life-size plastic skeleton, the kind that GLOWS IN THE DARK. The Lowe's manager lady gave a triumphant shout across the store and declared that I had bought the first Halloween item of the year. Other customers chuckled when I laid him on the floor in front of the cash register. In the parking lot yet another lady made a joke as I was putting him into the passenger seat of the truck. With expert timing I retorted, "Now I have someone to talk to." and a group of shoppers all laughed. It felt like I was in a movie where the happy-go-lucky character has the perfect skeleton buying experience while the opening credits pop on and off the screen.

A week later the skeleton was accompanied by a plastic light-up Jack-o-lantern. I found it at the Tulsa flea market and it has all sorts of sentimental value for me. First, my uncle stored his Matchbox cars and plastic toys in a treat bucket of this very same design. So I would dump out this pumpkin head during nearly every childhood visit to my grandmother's house. It also still has its $1.47 Woolco price tag stuck to it...


And best of all, the man who sold it to me said it was a classroom decoration for years. It has a masking taped label on the bottom that says "[Something] Boys & Girls, Salina, KS" I think Woolos (Wootos?) may be a teacher's name, and it's dated Oct. 26, 1975.
I was about to pay for it when I saw this on the floor under the table...

It's the Kay Lande and Wade Denning Halloween classroom record! It includes the song "Halloween" that we sang in grade school Music class, and was the official theme song for the holiday in my mind. The digital version of this has been my go-to every year since I discovered it on the legendary Scar Stuff blog. It's a great, not-too-scary album that I could play for my son when he was very little.

It's quite possible that this record was stored alongside the jack-o-lantern, only to emerge once a year into a room of lucky children. Those pumpkin eyes probably saw costumed kids dancing to the record on chilly Kansas mornings year after year. Sigh.

September also found me on the ebay, searching for collectible reminders of forgotten Halloween memories. This cloaked skeleton figure popped up...

It's not a toy, or a decoration per se, but more of a craft item for the doll collecting set. I closed the tab and moved on. Yet, obviously I own it now, so what happened? Well, it popped up in another one of my search results and I started thinking about it. It's from 1987, and it reminds me of the sort of thing that might have caught my attention when I was a kid on shopping days when my mom would drag me from store to store. Her stores catered to moms of course, so sometimes anything distantly toy-like was all there was to focus on during the endless visits. Halloween expanded the possibilities. It could be something like a stuffed black cat, or a felt monster, or a witch cake decoration. But I liked this concept of Halloween fun for moms and grandmas.

It still has a tag on it that mentions the Virginian sisters who made it. That caused me to imagine their whole brainstorming session behind the skeleton man. Two sisters sitting in Virginia in 1987 (or '86 if they had a lot of lead time) discussing their upcoming collectible Halloween dolls. This delights me. Then I wondered what I was doing on that day. I also wonder who bought it, and why it reeks of cigarette smoke and perfume.

I was also struck by his little flannel shirt sleeves. This clearly isn't a grim reaper, but an adult wearing a handmade costume of his own design. The bones look hastily painted on the smock, and I can't tell who's craftsmanship that reflects, the doll maker or the doll's. This flannel-and-jeans wearing guy was probably working the 1987 jaycee's haunted house. This portrayal of a homemade haunter also stuck with me. All of these thoughts motivated me to bid, and when I finally did, I grew terrified that I'd lose the auction. (Turns out I had no competition.)

A couple weeks later I got a call from good ol' Mike Becker of Funko fame. He said he was planning a Halloween fundraiser called Monster Mask-O-Raid, and he was seeking vintage Halloween photos, as well as artwork for the show. Thanks to my new job I have access to screen printing equipment, which is an art form that has eluded me all my life. In a moment of revelation, I decided to combine my desire to screen print with this art opportunity, and the spark of inspiration was none other than the flannel shirt-wearing grim reaper.

I spent a couple weeks brainstorming, sketching, and finalizing my design which turned into a series of die cut-style Halloween decorations featuring the skeleton man and his decorated neighborhood.
The night before my shipping deadline I bribed a college student with a pizza dinner in exchange for supervising me as I attempted to ink my first designs. (I had already called in other favors earlier in the week to get assistance with printing the transparent film and burning the screens.) The first batch was a success! My goal was to make a series of 25 sets of three.

After my pizza-fed student teacher left I started having trouble with the black ink. My sets dwindled as the ink bled and dried in all the wrong places. Feeling defeated, I decided to stop before I ruined all my orange prints. Then it dawned on me that if I could salvage just one of each design I could submit a single complete set of three. That's what I did, and here's how they turned out...

The mask on the kid is based on a real mask that I saw on one of my old blog posts about a Traveler's Novelty Catalog. (Bottom left)

Just like this Halloween season itself, I didn't live up to my own grand plan, but I'm still very happy with the outcome.

One thing that did turn out right was number four on my list...
4. Go to a Halloween event

There's a cave in Missouri that's been showing spooky movies inside it around Halloween. (In previous years they've put on a spook house in the cave, which also sounds neat.) Their sign is good too...


The exterior is pretty well decorated which gave us a jolt of Halloween magic...


I took my son to see Beetlejuice, which was his first time to see it. When it was over he looked around and said, "Oh, yeah, I forgot we were in a cave." It was a uniquely surreal experience. Water from the ceiling dripped on me several times. Maybe next year I'll see a horror show there. They screen The Descent (2005) on Halloween night.

Yesterday was another Halloween-ish time spent at a corn maze and pumpkin patch...

Those were my most notable events this month. The weather was super hot in early October, then it turned crazy cold and rainy a couple weeks ago. There were quite a few nice and gloomy days. These offered plenty of smile-inducing moments like picking up my pizza order at the gas station and seeing this guy hanging in the window. (Yes, I eat gas station pizza. Casey's tastes like a childhood pizza party.)

I also got my most popular ever Twitter post with this video and the caption:
"The Halloween decoration I hung outside my own window has legitimately terrified me three times now."
which is very true...

There was also a lot of shopping. Flea markets...

And Target, where you can find an official Mego Frankenstein action figure in the year 2018!..

Last year the big challenge was finding the plastic Skeleton Army that was being sold in some Dollar General stores. My twitter feed was full of boastful people lording them over me. I went to a half dozen locations before I was finally able to track them down in the next town over.  This year they followed with a Mummy Army and I was poised for another hunt, but apparently the success of the skeletons convinced them to put the mummies in nearly every location.

But most of my shopping was online. Like this amazing skeleton from Boss Fight Studio that I found thanks to a tip from a twitter pal, The Pathologist...


And this British import of the mini Stretch X-Ray! Thanks to a tip from another Twitter pal.

And yet another Twitter pal, Andy Nyman, sent me this superb dime store "Lochness Monster," also from the UK!

There's also these (which came from a store, now that I think about it.)

I couldn't resist the amazingly ridiculous, ridiculously amazing Savage World horror figures from Funko...

And light-up Halloween III pins from Camera Viscera...


But my favorite of all Halloween products this year is this perfect Beistle skeleton blanket from Creepy Company.

Welp, it's late and I should post this so I can get back to work. I'll leave you with some pics of graveyards and moons from this season.  Happy Halloween!