Our Computers Were Cardboard With Magic Marker Lights

When I was a kid one of my favorite toys was a computer. It had all the world’s knowledge at its beck and call and could hold intelligent and witty conversations with you. It could do all of that provided that you remembered to turn on your imagination. My computer was actually a part from a plastic model kit of a giant insect attacking a city.

I don’t recall which insect kit it came from as there were four or five different ones and I had them all at one point. The kits included a cardboard backdrop and were really pretty cool. They were also pretty fragile. Some insects had very thin plastic legs. Some of the destroyed cityscapes included downed electrical towers with plastic latticework and thin plastic power lines. Thin and plastic usually meant easily broken. My killer bugs were soon consigned to the trash heaps or sold off in a yard sale to make money to buy more toys and model kits, but this one little plastic building had survived and to my child’s brain looked an awful lot like what I thought a computer should look like. Not the modern laptop or tower system mind you, but the old room size units that had to be fed data on punch cards and reel to reel tape. That was what a computer looked like.

I called this hand-sized chunk of plastic HAAL, like HAL from 2001, but with an extra A. HAAL stood for Hydral Any Answer Litrox. I think I had heard the word hydraulic which inspired the Hydral part and Litrox came from a package that contained a watch I wore at the time. It might have been the name of the company for all I know. HAAL wasn’t the only computer I had a kid either. There were the computers that powered my spaceship. In a previous life they had been shoe boxes, but I added colored lights and switches with magic markers. I had an R2 unit that was an old bucket with a piece of paper wrapped around it and designs drawn on it. I was working on it with a friend and we hoped to make it look just like the one in Star Wars. Sadly it never happened.

I’m not sure why these old computers came to mind today, but I couldn’t help but share them. I think I still have HAAL around here somewhere. I also have all of the old HAAL comic strips that I wrote and drew based on this hunk of plastic. Today kids share YouTube videos and other digital media, but back when I was in junior high school my friends and I all wrote and drew our own comic strips and comic books. I probably created over 100 different HAAL strips. One day the school art teachers took a fellow artist and me to meet a true local cartoonist. We both took some of our work with us. One of the things I took was a collection of HAAL strips. The artist looked over our work and when he got to HAAL he looked at it and commented, “That doesn’t actually look like a computer. It looks more like a building.” Damn it. I forgot to turn on the imagination switch before I showed them to him.

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