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James Zahn

James Zahn

James Zahn is not a journalist, nor a blogger, though he may be credited as such by others, or even accept the title... depending on the circumstance.  Instead, he considers himself largely to be an "entertainment and lifestyle writer," bringing 25+ years of experience in the entertainment and publishing industries into the family realm as THE ROCK FATHER™.

As a media personality, commentator, adventurer and raconteur, James now finds himself raising a pair young girls - The Rock Daughters™ - along with his wife from their Illinois home.

He is a member of The Toy Insider Parent Advisory Board, has contributed to The Toy Book and writes a regular Star Wars column - Transmissions from a Galaxy Far, Far Away for The Pop Insider. He also regularly serves as a Brand Ambassador and spokesperson for several Globally-recognized pop culture and lifestyle brands in addition to consulting for a number of toy manufacturers. 

Creatively, James has directed/edited music videos, lyric videos, and album trailers for bands such as FEAR FACTORY, has appeared as an actor in feature films and commercials, written comic books, and performed in bands. He currently serves as an artist manager and video director for PRODUCT OF HATE, whose debut album was released by Napalm Records in 2016, distributed by ADA/Warner Music in the U.S. with Universal Music handling global.

James and/or his work have been featured in/on CNN, FOX Business, NBC, ABC, WGN, G4, The Chicago Tribune, BusinessWire, Babble, Fangoria, Starlog and more. He's appeared as a music expert on CNN's AC360 alongside Anderson Cooper, and has been interviewed by Larry King. In the past he served as a writer for the Netflix Stream Team,  Fandango Family and PBS KIDS, penned articles for Sprout and PopSugar, and was a contributor to Chicago Parent.

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It's officially Chicago Toy & Game Week, the annual gathering of toy industry players here on the Third Coast. Toy & game designers, inventors and innovators will be meeting with acquisition executives from major toymakers as a variety of conferences take place leading up to the annual TAGIE Awards on Friday, followed by the main event on Saturday and Sunday - #ChiTAG: the public Chicago Toy & Game Fair. Happening at Navy Pier, November 17 & 18, 2018, ChiTAG has become a Chicago tradition to usher in the holiday shopping season by allowing families to go hands-on with some of the hottest toys of the season, along with some under-the-radar picks from major manufacturers and independent toymakers alike. There's fun for the whole family, and this year there's some new additions on opposite ends of the spectrum... like the baby and toddler play area and a beer garden (with games!) for the "big kids" (21+).

There's some new MONSTER competition coming to town next year. Earlier this summer, I was one of the first to highlight Mattel's new collection of Hot Wheels Monster Trucks, but in 2019 they're jumping from toys into arenas with Hot Wheels Monster Trucks Live! Created in partnership between Raycom-Legacy Content Company and Mattel, this new nationwide tour will create an immersive experience for Monster Truck fans. This new live entertainment tour will visit arenas and stadiums throughout the U.S. beginning in January 2019 - with one of the first events scheduled for the Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates, Illinois. 

We're entering award season, and that means we've hit a time of the year in which I question a lot of choices and inject my opinion as awards and nominees are pretty subjective. Earlier this week, the Toy Association unveiled their annual list of nominees for the coveted Toy of The Year (TOTY) in a variety of categories, and while there's some great stuff in the mix - there's some that hit me like the GRAMMYS... a little off and with some that seem to be on the list just to have representation from certain brands. Prime example, Playmates Toys scored a nom for their Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Deluxe Ninja Action Figure Assortment. Overall, the Rise of the TMNT line is fantastic - another huge win for Playmates, but I would've chosen the more extensive (and creative) Basic Action Figure Assortment. Why? I think the "Deluxe" figures sorta suck. They're gimmicky, oddly proportioned (to hide the mechanics of the gimmick), and above all - I see kids play with this stuff on a regular basis. But maybe I'm over-analyzing things... doing my "Tom Hanks in BIG" ("I don't get it?") routine.  It'll be a tough call to choose the winners, and you can take part by casting some votes (early and often, as we say here in Illinois) at www.toyawards.org. Now let's check out the full list...

When Ralph Breaks the Internet hits theaters on November 21, audiences will get their first big-screen look at Disney•Pixar's Toy Story 4. But today that teaser is available early, hitting the web to give fans their long-awaited first-look at what adventures lie ahead as the toys head to a new location... Bonnie’s room. “Like most people, I assumed that ‘Toy Story 3’ was the end of the story,” said director Josh Cooley. “And it was the end of Woody’s story with Andy. But just like in life, every ending is a new beginning. Woody now being in a new room, with new toys, and a new kid, was something we have never seen before. The questions of what that would be like became the beginning of an entertaining story worth exploring.” Check out the teaser below!

A Special Veterans Day Feature to Kick-off the 2018 Holiday Season...

At Toy Fair in New York earlier this year, I finally had the opportunity to meet Tom Murdough, founder and CEO of The Simplay3 Company. Launched in 2016 and based in Ohio, the name reflects the power of simple play, but the "3" is indicative of the fact that this is the third toy company from Murdough, who famously founded both Little Tikes (1969) and The Step2 Company (1991) before taking a detour into "retirement" (at least from toys) for a portion of the past decade. While Simplay3 is a rare example of of an American toymaker that actually produces American-made toys (along with "grownup" items like mailboxes and wheelbarrows), it's also unique in that it's a privately-held, Veteran-owned business. Mr. Murdough was a member of the United States Marine Corps, having served from 1961-1964.

With Veterans Day placing a much-deserved focus on members of the American Armed Forces, many companies are taking the opportunity to say "thanks" with special offers and promotions that are only available for a limited time. At Great Wolf Lodge, the gratitude is year-round as they pay respect to those who have served to product us all year long. The Howlin’ Heroes discount welcomes veterans with up to 30% savings on each stay with the special code: heroes. Great Wolf Lodge knows veterans have continued to protect our families and it’s time to reconnect with theirs. 

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