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Monday, August 30, 2021

DC Comics Super Heroes Trace n' Color Drawing Set

DC in the 80s is the real deal; we're in the trenches with you guys. We're out there visiting flea markets and consignment shops looking for treasure in that seaweed, we're on our knees digging through $1 back issue bins, we're answering those sketchy craigslist ads about someone selling their collection of bronze age comics in 'nice condition', we're arguing with comic book vendors about why the newsstand version of a comic is $20 more expensive than the direct version, and we're accumulating junk precious memorabilia that gets our spouses mad at us for taking up too much closet space. Today, as I take a break from working on our upcoming fanzine, we take a look at something I picked up during the cold winter months of last year:

I think this was from a Facebook Marketplace ad that I spotted. After a few messages back and forth with the seller, the price seemed fair and I went to pick it up. It's always dicey picking up 30+ year old electronics because, hey, there's a pretty good chance something burned out and it's not working anymore. However, I figured the sheer novelty value of the packaging was worth it alone. Also, I needed a light table (I like to draw. I'm not good at it, but I enjoy it.),... so these were all the reasons I used to justify driving through a Canadian blizzard to pick up this item before someone else snatched it up.

IdeasThatWork Inc., as far as what the internet tells me, was a short-lived New York-based company that operated between 1986 and 1992. They produced and released another DC comics-themed Trace N' Color Drawing Set around the same time:

source: ebay

The packaging on both of these products were very similar to the DC Heroes action figures produced by Toy Biz in 1989/1990 (which is what initially caught my attention)...

source: ebay I'm led to believe that IdeasThatWork Inc. might have been connected to Toy Biz in some way?

Alright, so, examining the box some more:

Apparently, you get a few coloring pencils and several design sheets to work with. This box has been taped shut, so your guess is as good as mine if all the items are included.

Well, curiosity got the better of me and I'm going to take the plunge -- this is now going to be an 'unboxing' article. I carefully removed the tape and opened 'er up. What do you get?

Hmmm... exactly as described on the package, minus the coloring pencils? I guess someone nicked the coloring pencils. Oh well. I'm surprised I got this as is. The light table looks smaller than I was expecting.

I examined the light table (opened it up and check where the batteries go), and it turns out the coloring pencils were inside. So I guess everything is intact. How rare! 

Okay, so the answer to the question you're all burning to ask... what Superman art is included in this Trace N' Color?


I'm not an expert, but I'm thinking this might be Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez art, probably from the DC Style Guide. Note the copyright date on the images? 1982. Of course the art isn't signed, so unless I had something to compare to, I really can't be 100% correct.

This light table required 3 massive D batteries, and once I installed them, the light table just didn't want to work for me. (For anyone who isn't aware, a light table is exactly what it sounds like -- it's a bright lit-up surface that allows you to put a piece of art down on it, and you can put tracing paper over it to copy the design. Tattoo artists and artists who are using a photograph as a reference tend to use these.) 

It's only once I realized that the metal strip on the right wasn't touching the end of the D battery on the right that the connection wasn't complete hence no way to light up the lightbulb. Easy fix.

Great it works! The paper is pretty thin -- thinner than your average 8x10 computer paper, but a little thicker than tracing paper. So, when used with the light table, this is the effect you get:

Well, hey, it works! It's a bit smaller than your average light table -- I'd say it's 'kid size' and those three massive D batteries means it's expensive to run (like do you know how much a 4-pack of D batteries cost?). I take the batteries out when I'm not using it, just in case the thing decided to overheat and catch on fire -- because hey, you never know.

To someone reading this article who was born after the year 2000, their reaction would probably be "it's a light table, so what? Why all the fuss?" but you've got to realize that in the late 80s/early 90s these were a pretty exciting gift to receive. You were on your way to becoming an artist! Why not learn from the great JLGL by tracing? Another company called Toymax was also producing Trace N' Color Drawing Sets based on popular properties (i.e. Barbie, The Simpsons) using the exact same model of light table and... lo and behold... it has been revealed that the founder of Toymax, Steve Lebensfeld, also co-founded Toy Biz

A few years later, in the early 90s, Trace Plates would become the big thing produced by Hasbro:

Trace Plates were a totally different thing altogether (but still looked just as interesting) and actually included plastic plates you could trace over:

I never actually owned any Trace Plates (nor knew anyone who did), but maybe I'll get lucky someday and find one in the wild. 

Did you own a Trace N' Color Drawing Set or a Trace Plate? We would love to hear your memories/experiences. Feel free to leave one it the comments below. 


1 comment:

  1. Regarding a possible IdeasThatWork Inc./Toy Biz connection. There isn't any reason to belive that they were connected (they may have been, of course). DC would have provided a package of stock artwork for the characters they were licencing, and a style guide for it's implimentation, so it's no surprise two seperate licensors produced similar looking packages!