The art that decorates the boxes of toy ray guns is often as remarkable, and as interesting, as the guns it depicts. A reflection of the artistic and cultural trends that produced the guns themselves, the art on ray gun boxes embodies the same fantastic, whimsical, even outlandish sensibilities. Designed to catch the eye and pique the interest with powerful - and often purposely stereotypical - images, the art often utilizes the most dramatic techniques of popular art making, emphasizing bold colors, dramatic shapes and startling forms. Subtlety is not generally a virtue in this art work, whose portrayals of grand galactic battles, creepy green aliens, and fire belching space ships clamors for immediate attention. In this aesthetic, hyperbole is the rule and not the exception. Thus Futuristic Products, the makers of the Strato Gun, could boast on the gun's box that it was "earth's only interplanetary automatic cap gun," and Mercury Plastics, the manufacturers of the Martian Guided Whistle Bloon Rocket Gun, would claim that they were "the exclusive outlet" for the gun "on planet earth."
Ray Gun Targets
Ray gun targets are not easy to find. Produced in relatively limited quantity compared to ray guns, targets were often sold with guns as a "target game set." Nevertheless, despite their limited number, ray gun targets display some of the most remarkable graphic design to be found on any space toys. Generally larger than the surfaces available on ray gun boxes, the surfaces on targets gave talented artists ample room to exercise their skill and imagination, often with stunning results. Unlike the art on ray gun boxes, which, at its best, generally focuses on individual characters and firearms, the art on ray gun targets presents a larger, more involved picture. Using legions of planets, stars, rocket ships, and other space icons as decorative motifs and "bulls eyes," space targets often incorporate many different images together to present a dramatic and sweeping view of the territory of space.
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Ray Gun Holsters
Like the dueling cowboys of the wild west who preceded them, space heroes have often carried their weapons in holsters which not only showcase the firearm but allow (as one advertisement says) for "quick-draw action." Thus, it isn't surprising that one of the most notable recent space heroes, Han Solo, sheathed his deadly blaster in a quick-draw holster, hung low, or "gun-slinger" fashion, on his hip. Indeed, flamboyant holsters have been made for toy space guns since the production of the earliest Daisy Disintegrator Pistols in the 1930s. Fabricated of colorful leather, cloth and plastic, and often embossed and festooned with outlandish and bizarre decorations, the holsters that accompany toy space guns are as wonderfully fanciful and imaginative as the guns they contain. Since they were not produced as plentifully as ray guns and were often sold separately from the guns they accompanied, holsters are difficult to find, especially in good condition. Only one or two are pictured in the few books that illustrate toy ray guns. Nevertheless, holsters are a crucial component to the myth that supports the quick-draw, gun-toting image of the romantic space hero as Americans conceive of him.
Make-believe space play often requires more than just a toy ray gun. Decked out in a fanciful helmet, spacesuit, or sometimes the mask of a favorite space character, youngsters can imagine themselves visiting impossibly faraway places or battling the forces of darkness and evil. Such imagining is an important cultural preoccupation. As part of the activity we call "play," it exists in a special socially sanctioned realm where various of life's possibilities can be "tried on" and and "acted out" without real-life consequences. In all cultures, such "play" (which is undertaken by adults as well as children) is encouraged, in part as a rehearsal for life's often difficult dilemmas. This "play" is often enhanced and dramatized by the wearing of costumes. Whether they be the frightening feathered masks worn in Amazon hunting rites, American Halloween outfits, or a fanciful Buck Rogers helmet and spacesuit, such costumes carry important cultural meanings and are part of significant cultural rituals.
Ray Gun Kitsch
One of the most interesting signs of the popular fascination with space that has occurred in the mid Twentieth Century has been the almost overwhelming number of products which have been merchandised with space themes or motifs. From lamps in the shape of rocket ships to pepper shakers formed like robots and lunch boxes decorated with scenes of astronauts floating in space, an endless number of space-related consumer items have flooded the market. Rayguns have been one of the more popular space motifs used to sell many otherwise unnoteworthy products. Especially in the 1950s and 1960s, many consumables decorated with ray guns, or in the shape of ray guns, were made. The fact that few of these products had much, if any, real relationship to space guns only underscores wide popularity of these fanciful space armaments.
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