(Sadly, I couldn't find any pics with Tracymania in it)
1990 was a big year. Batmania 2.0, Turtlemania (TMNT The Movie was out), Tracymania, and Bartmania were all running wild. Couple that with Super Mario Brothers 3, Robocop 2, Gremlins 2 The New Batch, the Beetlejuice action figure line, and Ghostbusters VHS boxset and the earliest months of 1990 was one hell of a time to an XYer. It amazes me how we all loved the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Tim Burton's Batman, Disney's Dick Tracy, Looney Tunes, Garfield, Bart Simpson, Beetlejuice, New Kids on the Block, California Raisins, ALF, The Real Ghostbusters, Robocop, Super Mario, and Mickey Mouse all at once. In 1990, Super Mario and Bart Simpson WERE our Mickey Mouse. 1990 was the year of yellow (the SMB3 package, Bart Simpson, Dick Tracy's trenchcoat, and smiley acid house shirts).
(The Bush 90s)
(When The Simpsons were a new show. I feel old.)
1990 was the first year of the Bush 90s, so we were still watching wholesome family sitcoms like "The Cosby Show", "Full House", and "Growing Pains". All of that changed on January 14th of 1990 when The Simpsons made its debut. There were enough dysfunctional families on television before The Simpsons aired (Married...With Children and Roseanne), but The Simpsons were the most controversial out of them all in the year 1990. While it is hard to believe The Simpsons topped the Married...With Children episode, "Her Cups Runneth Over", many devout Christians were actually offended by Bart Simpson saying damn. It always stood out to me that The Simpsons were a nuclear family with a father that worked at a nuclear power plant. I think evangelists and religious officials took The Simpsons too seriously as if children were going to be brainwashed to mimic the mannerisms and movements of Bart Simpson. Things never went that far.
(I loved Bartman because...you guessed it...Bat-Mania 2.0)
(Outside vendors sold these, Lambada shirts, Don't Worry Be Happy shirts, Afrocentric shirts and Malcolm X shirts)
The Simpsons was the first new 90s program on a major network, therefore you knew there had to be merchandise. In January of 1990 or so, shirts giving Americans a deeper look at the characters were sold at chain department stores everywhere in the US. High schoolers were not wearing Bart Simpson and Simpsons Family Portrait shirts until around March or April of 1990. Bart caught on fast, so independent marketers decided to take a stab at the new Bart craze. The Yo Baby Yo Black Mickey Mouse shirts were retired by that point, thus the Black Bart (not the pirate) shirts were born. Some Black Bart Simpson shirts ranged from being odes to African American stars like Michael Jordan and Bo Jackson to having rap lyrics on them. Black Bart Simpson shirts stopped being produced in late 1992 when the Kris Kross Bugs Bunny and Tasmanian Devil were thought up. To this day, Black Bart Simpson shirts are known as the best bootleg shirts sold at flea markets and thrift stores.
(The earliest Simpsons merchandise)
The shirts were always the top sellers during Bartmania, but diehard Simpsons fans of 1990 had to get the giant big buttons, small buttons, towels, and posters. Folders and other school supplies were also sold around July or August of 1990. The idea was to get as many items with Bart on it to draw your own version of Bart. In the late 80s, everyone wanted to be comic book artists. Well, in the early 90s, that changed. Cartooning was a huge deal all throughout the 90s due to The Simpsons, Beavis and Butthead, and South Park premiering in that time period. (Broken YouTube Link Removed)
(Mmmm...Burger King Kids Club)
Bartmania was the Batmania 1.0 of 1990 meaning there had to be a fast-food promotion somewhere down the line. Instead of plastic cups, the team behind Burger King toy promotions decided The Simpsons were a good fit for the children of the 90s (being a cartoon and all). As I mentioned in my Burger King Kids Club article, The Simpsons Go Camping set was loosely based on the season 1 episode "The Call of the Simpsons". Bear in mind this was early on in the run of The Simpsons, so the Bart figurine did not have on his signature orange shirt (The Simpsons Go Camping set was true to the source material, "Call of the Simpsons"). Each figurine came with a backdrop and a pose or facial expression, that reminded anyone that watched the show, of their character.(Broken YouTube Link Removed)
(Meet the Simpsons dolls)
By mid-summer of 1990, there were only bootleg dolls of the Simpsons clan, so Burger King upped the ante by introducing Meet The Simpsons dolls with their value meals. The designs of the dolls were closer to The Tracey Ullman Show shorts versions of The Simpsons (not even the first season), but that did not seem to matter to us Simpsons-starved folks who wanted a Bart doll without a unibrow. Unfortunately, if you missed a week or two at Burger King, there was no way to get a Simpson that they had in those weeks. The heads of the Meet The Simpsons were made of hard plastic, while the other parts of their bodies were plush. Bart was the most popular of the set because we finally got a Bart that matched what we saw on screen. Maggie was grossly out of scale for this release of dolls (I have yet to see a Maggie doll that is smaller than Bart and Lisa).
(Bart Simpson brown paper bags not included)
The second wave of Simpsons merchandise came shortly after "Bart Gets an F" and sold a lot better than the stuff made in 1989. The least common Simpsons characters (females in the family) all of the sudden had rack toys, shirts, aprons, action figure packages, towels, bedsheets, and etcetera with their image on them. In the fall of 1990, there were shops that sold Simpsons merchandise exclusively. Vending machines had items with their shirt catchphrases on buttons, bracelets, magnets, and keychains. You could not escape The Simpsons from the fall of 1990 to 1991. For the first time ever, there were books featuring The Simpsons such as The Simpsons XMAS Book, Consumer Guide Simpsons Mania, The Simpsons Poster Book, and Greetings From The Simpsons A Postcard Book By Matt Groening. Sadly, none of it stands out today like the earliest Bart Simpson shirts (not even the The Simpsons Sing The Blues album).
(1990: The Year of Bart)
All great things must come to an end. Turtlemania trumped over Bartmania and we didn't really feel it until holiday season came around. Oddly enough, in today's world, 1990 is not remembered for Turtlemania, Bartmania, Tracymania, or Batmania 2.0. Ever since Matt Groening changed the order of the episodes for The Simpsons syndication package in 1994, almost everybody has forgotten that the first episode, "Bart the Genius", aired on January 14th of 1990. Only true children and teens of the 90s will recall things like Umbro shorts, ice cream cone shooters, stick-on earrings, and Bartmania from the early 1990s. Not many people can tell you who the father of The Simpsons is (Matt Groening), but everyone from that time speaks of the Bart Simpson bootleg shirts. Thankfully, because of the website Bootleg Bart and his Twitter account, we will always have the memories of those days intact.
(Here's to you, early to mid 90s kids)
Thank you for reading my article! Stay radical dudes and dudettes! Most of all, try not to ever have a cow! Take care!