Friday, 17 May 2013

The Wonders of Glow in the Dark

The Wonders of Glow in the Dark

Ever since I was quite young, I’ve had a fascination with objects that glow in the dark. It is a love affair that has spanned about 2 decades, multiple houses and many an unnecessary purchase.
My earliest memory of glowing items stems from when I was 7 or 8 years old. My parents had bought me a set of glow in the dark stickers in the shape of stars, which were intended to be stuck to your bedroom ceiling. The packaging came with images of constellations, to provide suggestions on how to replicate the night sky within the confines of your bedroom. As I recall, I followed a few of them, then promptly continued with (clumsier) patterns of my own design.

Photo from

I don’t remember exactly how things went down that evening when the lights went off, but I’ve got little doubt that it was quite spectacular. A starscape on my roof? INCREDIBLE! Close your eyes and imagine it. Isn’t the effect impressive?
Since then, I’ve been quite hooked. I wouldn’t call it an obsession – but there have definitely been a few things that I’ve bought over the years almost solely because it glowed in the dark. One of the main ways this showed up was in my late primary school years, when a fad for “Glo Caps” went through my school. Glo Caps were very similar to POGs – small cardboard circles, stamped with an image of a character or a scene from a TV show or movie.

There was also an associated game you could play; there were a number of variant ways to play the game, but most of them involved stacking a pile of the things together, then hurling a large plastic “slammer” at them to win them from other people. As with most playground games, cheating was rife and playing “for keeps” was quickly shut down by teachers, just as it had been a number of years before when marbles were all the rage.
Nonetheless, illicit "for keeps" games would still take place, usually among close friends who wouldn’t dob each other in – or sometimes older kids who wanted to take advantage of a younger kid with an impressive collection of the things. In hindsight, it was somewhat similar to an underground gambling ring.

One of the most interesting things that the Glo-Caps exposed to me was the existence of a red glow. Red glowing (and blue, for that matter) items are reasonably common now, but in the mid-90s most of us were only familiar with the traditional yellow-green glow. They glowed a colour that was somewhere between pink and orange, and it was an experience that I treasure even years after the original Glo-Caps have long since been lost to history. They certainly didn’t hold their charge or glow nearly as brightly, but they were impressive nonetheless.
There was a particularly cool TV ad which depicted a kid with an entire room full of the things; I had hoped to find it and post it here, but YouTube seems lacking. If anyone knows of it, please feel free to post it in the comments. 

Strangely enough, I don’t think “real” POGs caught on around the Central Coast; I knew a handful of people who had them, but most of my childhood friends preferred Glo-Caps and their chip-distributed companions, Tazos. Possibly it was connected to the extensive amount of licensed characters featured on them – Glo-Caps not only had the lure of glow in the dark, but featured large Simpsons and Disney sets. Among other designs, Tazos featured Looney Tunes and when the 1997 re-release of the original trilogy took place (much to my excitement), Star Wars.
For a more comprehensive overview of POGs, Glo Caps and Tazos, check this link out.

When I was eighteen or nineteen, I decided that it was time to make my roof glow again. The reasons behind this are fairly unclear to me, but I was super-keen on the early-noughties remakes of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Transformers at the time, so I suspect that it may have had something to do with wanting to relive my childhood. A year or so before, I had also bought a glow in the dark wolf t-shirt (which was as awesome as it sounds. Sadly, it has also been lost to the sands of time), and that may have also played a part.
As I remember, stickering the ceiling followed a fairly similar pattern to the one it had more than a decade earlier. Follow a few of the constellations on the box, and simply wing the rest. When I was finished, it certainly wasn’t the Sistine Chapel, but I was happy with it. Sadly, no photos are known to exist of this particular phase of my bedroom.

For a number of years, things went pretty quiet on the glow in the dark front. Between late ’05 and early ’09 I lived in a number of different sharehouses, and putting stickers on the ceiling of a rental property is usually frowned upon. After a year back with my parents, it was off to Sydney to live in a number of different rentals again. During my phase of heavy comic collecting (’06-’08) I had Flash and Green Lantern shirts that glowed, but the glow was secondary to the character logos.

But the interest was revived in a small way after my then-girlfriend (and now wife) returned from a trip to America in early 2012. She had brought me back a model dinosaur skeleton – a T-Rex, easily my favourite of these extinct but magnificent creatures. This was pretty cool in and of itself, but its coolness factor was instantly quadrupled when I saw those four magic words on the box – “Glow in the Dark.”

Image from
It certainly hasn’t been an onslaught of silly novelty purchases since then, but I do get a little thrill whenever I see that something glows in the dark. A few months ago, I found myself searching for Robocop merchandise, and discovered that NECA had released a “Night Fighter Robocop” to coincide with last year’s 25th anniversary of the film. It’s totally unnecessary, and would probably be looked at all of twice before it went into the cupboard…but I sure did give some serious thought to clicking the “Buy” button. Examine the picture and decide for yourself.  

Photo from

One item that did make it to purchase stage was a Super Mario baseball cap. It’s noticeably too small for my head, but that hasn’t stopped me from wearing it numerous occasions – and of course, pointing out that it glows in the dark to all and sundry.  
(Really, I should give it to someone who will be able to fit their head into it properly, and let them enjoy its magnificent glow.)

Exactly why I enjoy glow in the dark stuff remains something of a mystery to me. It’s got a vaguely sci-fi feel to it, I suppose, but I don’t think that quite covers it. Readers are welcome to provide their own hypotheses.  

And T-Rex? Well, he sits on our mantelpiece, doing battle with a model ship that a friend gave me when I moved to Sydney in 2010. It doesn’t look quite as awesome as you probably just imagined – a glowing skeleton Tyrannosaurus Rex fighting against a Dutch trading ship from the 16th-19th century is quite the mental image, after all. But I still like to think it’s something of a centrepiece in our loungeroom.