Friday, November 27, 2015

Holiday Throwback: The Muppet Show Comic Printer

By Tom Holste

As we enter the holiday season, I would like to take a moment and look back at one of my favorite Muppet-related Christmas gifts while I was growing up.

The Muppet Show Comic Printer was released by Colorforms in 1980, which is exactly 35 years ago this Christmas.

I’ve never seen anything quite like it before or since. Rather than actual Colorforms themselves, this toy consisted of a series of transfer sheets featuring illustrations of different Muppets, along with multiple sheets of paper with blank frames or windows designed to look like the boxes in a Sunday newspaper comic strip. The user could then take the images of the Muppets and rub them onto the paper sheet using a coin or a popsicle stick to create their own comic stories.

There was already ink on the transfer sheets, and the sheets had a secondary page so that the ink wouldn’t get everywhere when you weren’t using it. As long as you kept the pages closed when you weren’t using them (preventing the ink from drying it), you could reuse the same images for dozens (or maybe hundreds?) of different comics.

There was a really good selection of characters. Wisely, the more popular characters, like Kermit, Piggy and Fozzie, had several poses to allow for different stories. 

Some of the other characters only had one image apiece, but there was a pretty good representation of both important supporting characters and some delightfully obscure choices, including Crazy Harry, Beauregard and the Newsman. There was also a selection of props and costumes, like top hats, canes and masks.

For years, I’ve believed that Brad and Guy Gilchrist, who created the Muppets comic strip, had also done the illustrations for the Comic Printer. The illustrations appear to be in their style, and at any rate, I assumed that the popularity of the comic strip was what inspired the idea of allowing kids to recreate the strip at home. Imagine my surprise when researching this article to find that the Comic Printer actually came out a year before the strip launched, and that the Gilchrists are not credited anywhere on the box or on the Muppet Wiki. It’s funny how certain ideas can take hold in our heads.

The Muppets Comic Strip by Guy and Brad Gilchrist
Already a huge Muppet fan at age 6, I was (needless to say) ecstatic when my parents got me the Comic Printer. Even in kindergarten, I had taken to creating little booklets with my own illustrations featuring characters like Bozo the Clown and the Cheerios box (which was the animated mascot for the cereal at the time). Granted, the stories didn’t make much sense because they were written by a four-year-old, but I had fun doing them. So the Comic Printer was a natural gift for someone who already liked making short illustrated stories. 

I don’t remember all the stories that I came up with, but I recall a few. I seem to remember one strip about Sam trying to locate the owner of a missing top hat. Another story had Statler and Waldorf arguing about why they keep coming back to the theater, even though they don’t like the show. They decide that what they like about the show is not liking it. (That’s actually a fairly accurate characterization.) I also remember an Easter-themed strip that inserted the Muppet characters in and around the life of Christ. While such a story would seem like very sacreligious humor from an adult, I was a kid who didn’t know any better. I was just combining two of my favorite things. The craziest moment came when the Swedish Chef prepared the Last Supper!

Sadly, if I still have any of the comics I made using this kit, I have no idea where they are. Still, the Comic Printer was a very cool idea, allowing kids to tell a story in a more permanent way than they could with Colorforms, and I have very fond memories of getting the gift for Christmas and for using it thereafter.

Editors Note: You can read more about The Muppet Show Comic Printer at:

What are some of your favorite Muppet Christmas gifts? Please share below!

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