The Nintendo Fun Club, a Nintendo of America marketing effort that began in 1987, set out to turn young consumers into devoted fans of the burgeoning console manufacturer. Like many other kid-focused fan clubs at the time, charter members received an official membership card and a newsletter in the mail, referred to as the Nintendo Fun Club News. Subscription came by filling out and sending in the Nintendo Entertainment System’s warranty card.

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The first issue, at only six pages, resembled a trade show pamphlet with a mailbag section. The newsletter became more sophisticated–and grew–in time, with the third installment taking on the appearance of a bonafide, full-colored magazine with actual screenshots and game maps (link).


Punch-Out!! helped to get the message out about the Nintendo Fun Club with this infamously awkward exchange between boxing champ Little Mac and his trainer, Doc Louis.

While offering helpful pointers on Nintendo titles and encouraging readership participation by publishing submitted high scores, flipping through the newsletter, which was saturated with quarter-page-to-full-page paid advertisements for game caddy cartridge organizers, red Nintendo-branded plastic binoculars, and licensees’ quality-questionable game-paks, felt not unlike paging through a Sears Wish Book catalog—if Christmas came bimonthly.

Thanks to Nintendo’s monopolization of toy store shelves the nation over, and with apparently enough local fan chapters opening for the growing gaming giant to peddle $6.95 Fun Club Kits (“a binder for keeping Club records organized”), a little more than a year after its debut, the Nintendo Fun Club reportedly counted over one million strong (link).

After seven issues, Nintendo of America Creative Director Howard Phillips, the dapper president of the Nintendo Fun Club, told members that the Nintendo Fun Club News would end to make room for something better.

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“You’ve been asking for a bigger magazine with more tips, tactics and inside information on every game you play on your Nintendo Entertainment System,” Phillips wrote. “So we’ve come up with a whole new magazine called Nintendo Power. It has over 100 power-packed pages full of special features and the hottest strategies for all the games you play on your NES.”

The successor to the Nintendo Fun Club News had a newsstand price of $3.50, or $15 for a year’s subscription. All Fun Club members received the first issue free of charge.

Nintendo Power blurred the advertorial line, subverting clearly-defined advertising spaces with carefully curated coverage, highlighting Nintendo’s own in-house game line-up first and foremost by touting exclusive insider access.

In a print era, the magazine stood out for its vivid strategy guides—lavishly-assembled, sprawling walkthroughs that oftentimes accompanied gleefully off-beat artwork, courtesy of Nintendo Power‘s Japanese publisher, Tokuma Shoten, and the designers at the Tokyo-based Work House.

The strategies continued with Counselors’ Corner, the area of the magazine where Game Counselors, Nintendo Hotline operators who gave a helping hand to stuck players over the telephone, addressed the most frequently asked questions by teasing out tactics without spoiling the solutions.

Classified Information exposed additional tricks, or cheat codes, pasted against a shadowy manila envelope backdrop to expand gameplay possibilities outside of the normal programmed boundaries.

But perhaps the weirdest and wildest part of Nintendo Power, the one which arguably fused illustration with information most seamlessly, was Howard & Nester.

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The openly malapert, headstrong Nester, a fictional character, created by Phillips, played the clown to the flesh-and-blood straight man in the eponymous comic strip. As senior editor, Phillips, who worked his way up from warehouse and shipping manager to become the company’s “game master,” produced and shaped Nintendo’s software library in the U.S. and also served as the magazine’s penultimate gaming authority and strategy proofreader. Nester, whose name derives from the acronym “NES,” represented the extreme opposite—the audience journeyed, from his naive perspective, through dreamy game worlds, visually learning from his mistakes along the way.

More than to purely entertain readers, the charismatically oddball duo slipped them valuable game tips as part of their act, demonstrating the creative lengths that Nintendo Power went to delivering and diversifying its content. This example of the relaxed, personable tone that the magazine struck contributed to elevating Nintendo Power beyond a simple self-serving tool of corporate synergy into something that mined deeper into child gamers’ hearts.

“Nester was the quintessential video game kid, not wanting to ask for help but needing it,” Phillips said in a 2009 VICE interview. “We could use him as an example of what most kids were trying in the games and wasn’t working” (link).

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As Nester’s popularity grew, so too did the spiky redhead’s role, acting as an appointed mascot for the publication and a collective alias for the staff to speak through. His other duties included serving as figurehead of the annual Nintendo Power Awards, otherwise known as the “Nesters,” from 1989 to 1993, where readers mailed in postcard ballots to vote for the best video games of the previous year.

While the Howard & Nester comics had been illustrated overseas by Japanese artist Shuji Imai, in April 1991, that all changed (link).

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“You might notice that Howard and Nester have a new look this month,” Phillips wrote in the back of that month’s issue. “Don’t worry, I haven’t given up my bow tie! The Howard & Nester comic strip is being drawn by a new artist, Art Nichols, of New York City. He may be new to Nintendo Power, but he’s not new to comics. You can see his work in the Nintendo Comics System produced by Voyager Communications, Inc., where he is a Creative Director. An old hand at Nintendo characters, Art brings plenty of new ideas to the task of producing the monthly strip.”

Voyager Communications owned VALIANT Comics, which published comic books based on the Nintendo properties Captain N: The Game Master, the Game Boy, The Legend of Zelda, Metroid, Punch-Out!!, and Super Mario Bros.

Voyager’s relationship with Nintendo went further than that, as its original co-founder, Steven Massarsky, also ran an entertainment law practice whose clientele included Nintendo (as well as Aerosmith, Willie Mays, and the Cabbage Patch Dolls [link]).

According to Voyager’s other co-founder, Jim Shooter, who had previously been the editor-in-chief at Marvel Comics, Massarsky additionally had Leisure Concepts International, Nintendo’s merchandise licensing representation, as a client, which resulted in “a little self-dealing.”

Shooter wrote on his blog in 2011, “Those deals he made with himself profited him, personally. A lot. And I was stuck with having to create Nintendo and WWF comics” (link).

Massarsky, who died in 2007 from complications related to cancer, would go on to sell Voyager Communications to Acclaim Entertainment for $65 million (link, link).

VALIANT specialized in “custom comic jobs,” promotional tie-ins for companies like Kentucky Fried Chicken and KRAFT Mac & Cheese, which it did on a commission basis.

“The most impressive custom job we ever did at VALIANT was for Nintendo of Japan for their F-Zero game,” Shooter wrote in 2012.

“The Japanese were and are very proud of their comics industry,” he went on to write. “As a rule, at least at that time, they didn’t think American comics were anywhere near as good as theirs. The consensus opinion was that they were the pros and we were quirky, amateurish second-stringers. But, on the basis of our licensed Nintendo comics for America, Nintendo of Japan picked us, Americans, to do their custom comic in-pack and box cover art. An honor.”

The North American version’s instruction manual republished the comic. According to Shooter, Nichols had penciled all of the F-Zero artwork himself (link).

Nichols, who did not respond to an interview request, later was alleged to have pocketed money orders from multiple personal art commissions in 2000 (link). It took one customer I talked to, Dan Moler, a decade of phone calls and e-mails to finally receive his commissioned piece, but he told me there are still several others who have nothing to show.

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A month after Nichols took over Howard & Nester responsibilities, VALIANT created an eight-page Battletoads comic for Nintendo Power, and another eight pages of the toads appeared in June 1991, when an even more radical shift occurred: Phillips left Nintendo for Lucasfilm Games.

David Sheff’s book Game Over alleges that Phillips had gotten listless, and by some accounts, “big-headed.” The man who once gave direct feedback on software to then-Nintendo of America President Minoru Arakawa and Mario creator Shigeru Miyamoto, who played through every game submitted to the company’s internal evaluation department and executive produced titles with second-party companies like Rare, saw himself in an ever-increasing public relations role.

“The new non-gamer marketing guy hired from Colgate (the toothpaste company) wanted 100% of my time (understandably so) and so it got harder and harder to stay close to the games,” Phillips told RetroCollect in 2013. “The GM at Lucasfilm games, Steve Arnold, offered me a compelling role running both their nascent Learning Group as well as launching their Video Game Group (they had been exclusively PC games). Also, after ten years, Nintendo had grown to be 1,000+ people and just wasn’t as much fun as it had been during the early days” (link).

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Nintendo Power announced the departure with a photograph of Phillips in his signature red bow tie and tweed jacket, arm outstretched, accompanying the caption “Give my regards to Nester.”

“There’s no need for all of you Howard & Nester fans to worry–Nester isn’t going anywhere,” the magazine wrote. “It’s the beginning of a new era for him, though, and he’ll be back for new adventures in his monthly strip. As you know, Howard often bailed him out of the messes he got into–who knows what kind of trouble he can get into when he flies solo.”

Nintendo Power introduced a spin-off strip called Nester’s Adventures in July. The formula, on paper, more or less stayed the same: Nester would find himself transported into the latest Nintendo game, hopelessly in trouble. But his newfound independence, coupled with a Westernized art design that shed his boyish looks, made for some growing pains.

Two months later, in September, Editor Scott Pelland explained the developmental brainstorming behind creating the comic.

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“The process begins by choosing a short tip that can fit into a few frames. After that, it’s story time! As you can see in the example, the story begins as a written outline, becomes a rough sketch, and finally, the full color masterpiece you see in Nintendo Power. Along the way, three or four drafts and input from the other Power writers—useful comments like, ‘Scott, I think you’ve completely lost it this time,’–are standard before the script is sent to Voyager Communications. Art ‘Well Named’ Nichols, who has been drawing Nester for the past six months, sketches the roughs and the final ink drawings, bringing my ideas to life.”

In the November issue, Nester’s Adventures tackled F-Zero, ironically without the game’s box artist at hand, for Nester again found himself ushered off to a new cartoonist, this time Dan Spiegle, only without any fanfare from Nintendo Power–or any credit, either, which only came much later when Spiegle made a point to start signing his work.

The son of a nurse mother and a pharmacist father, Spiegle moved around from Washington to Hawaii during childhood, his family finally settling down on a chicken ranch in Northern California during the Great Depression.

It was at his father’s drug store, among the daily newspapers and pulp magazines, where he fell in love with comics, particularly those by Flash Gordon creator Alex Raymond. After graduating high school and serving in the Navy during World War II, Spiegle attended the Chouinard Art Institute, a fine arts school, under the G.I. Bill, where he practiced cartooning a Western strip in private.

Everything came to a head in 1949 when he answered a comic writer help wanted ad at Columbia Records. The job turned out to be for a Bozo the Clown strip, which he thought was out of his wheelhouse. After showing off his secret art portfolio that he had worked on at Chouinard, William Boyd, who happened to be in a nearby office at the time, admired the way that Spiegle drew his horses.

Boyd knew plenty about horses, having ridden his own, Topper, to recent stardom in the role of Hopalong Cassidy, appearing in a series of films about a black-hatted, wholesome cowboy that had blossomed into a hit NBC children’s television program the year prior. Just as Nintendo would do some 40 years later, Boyd had opened his own fan club called Hopalong Cassidy’s Troopers Club, which offered subscribers a membership card and the Troopers News newsletter. At its peak, the Troopers Club rivaled the Boy Scouts with two million members (link).

“He agreed a comic strip would just about cover the market,” Spiegle said in a 2013 biography by John Coates, “as he already had Hoppy toys of all kinds, clothes, games, and had his popular television show.”

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Hopalong Cassidy would be the first of many shows and movies that Spiegle would adapt into comics in an Inkpot Award-winning career that spanned six decades.

In demand for his ability to draw actors’ likenesses, Spiegle found himself sketching stars directly on Hollywood sets, shaking hands with James Gardner through jail cell bars in his role as Maverick; meeting Fess Parker during the making of Old Yeller; Bruce Lee, on an episode of The Green Hornet; and Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke, in Mary Poppins.

Other wide-ranging characters that he inked to life include Walt Disney’s Spin and Marty, The Hardy Boys, Dick Tracy, and Who Framed Roger Rabbit; MGM’s Lassie; Paramount’s Star Trek; Clive Barker’s Hellraiser; and Hanna-Barbera’s Space GhostScooby-Doo, and Jonny Quest. Moreover, he illustrated a number of Masters of the Universe and GoBots Golden storybooks.

Spiegle worked on original properties, as well, most notably Space Family Robinson in 1962, which incontrovertibly inspired the creation of the television series Lost in Space a few years later. Rather than take 20th Century Fox to court over the clear similarities, Western Publishing changed the name to Space Family Robinson: Lost in Space to cash in on the sci-fi show’s popularity and maintain its long-standing business relationship with Fox and broadcaster CBS on other comic projects.

In an interview with Alter Ego magazine, Gil Kane, the renown comic book artist who left his mark on Green Lantern, The Atom, and who penciled debatably the most famous Spider-Man story ever in “The Night Gwen Stacy Died,” singled out Spiegle as a favorite.

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Originally two pages, Nintendo Power pared down the Nester’s Adventures strip to only one in 1992, with The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past and Super Mario Adventures comics, both illustrated by Japanese artists, Shotaro Ishinomori and Charlie Nozawa, respectively, taking front and center with 24 combined pages in each issue.


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According to a random sample of 23,000 subscribers, an overwhelming majority of readers appeared to approve of the sudden changes.

Spiegle, meanwhile, soldiered on with Nester for 23 more months, up until the end of 1993, when Nintendo Power quietly discontinued the comic strip.







Not bound by glossy magazine pages, the well-received red-haired rebel achieved digital immortalization in a couple of video games (NES Play Action FootballPilotwings 64) and enjoyed references in a few others (Dragon WarriorStarTropics, To the Earth).

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He even starred in his very own title, Nester’s Funky Bowling, in 1996 on the Virtual Boy–a system so ill-fated that, given his magnetic attraction to misfortune, it seems like the perfectly-suited send-off for Nester in retrospect. The game’s instruction booklet had some fun filling in the details of his backstory: “After a glorious run of forty-something issues, Nester called it quits. He wanted to prove that he wasn’t just another comic hero. He spent a couple of years as a struggling actor before coming back to his bread and butter, VIDEO GAMES.”

Spiegle produced this original 11 x 15-inch Nester’s Adventures comic art for Nintendo Power Volume 51 (August 1993). His agent, Dave Karlen, dug up the piece during the drafting of this article. The artist first roughed out the general composition using Col-Erase blue pencil, then refined the line work with an HB lead pencil before going over everything with Micron ink pens and painting shadows. He was quoted in his aforementioned 2013 biography as saying “humorous is drawn with less detail,” which may explain the relative sparseness of the panels.

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The strip, which spotlights the then-released The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening, shows the perpetually cocky Nester washing ashore on the uncharted island of Koholint and journeying to the first dungeon, battling an army of skeletal Stalfos and bat-like Keese that stand in his way.


 “The owls are not what they seem.” –Twin Peaks

In thematically the most unconventional entry in the series, Link’s Awakening, Director Takashi Tezuka has cited David Lynch’s surreal televised soap opera, Twin Peaks, which garnered a strong following in Japan, as an inspiration for creating the game’s “suspicious” characters in a small, sleepy, secluded community (link). No doubt the murky relationship between dreams and reality, a favorite Lynchian theme, also weighs heavily on the Game Boy adventure.

The similarities to its 16-bit older brother can be seen in even the retail packaging. According to the United States Copyright Office, the New York-based Tim Girvin Design, an agency that illustrated over 350 video game boxes for Nintendo of America and Nintendo of Europe, composed both games’ covers (link, link). (Image source:

Tezuka admitted that “there was a lot left over that we still wanted to do” from the Super Nintendo’s A Link to Past, which then found its way to Link’s Awakening, resulting in a familiar but “relatively freewheeling” project–an almost parody of what has come to be expected from the franchise–and the first time that an overarching story drove a Zelda title.

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Nester’s quip about the owl having last month’s cover refers to Link’s Awakening being featured on the front of the previous issue, which happened to mark the fifth anniversary of Nintendo’s North American magazine.

When Nester gradually faded from view, the always prolific Spiegle continued his comic conversions with properties as varied as Elvira Mistress of the Dark, Indiana Jones, and Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame. After briefly reviving the classic Terry and the Pirates newspaper strip in 1996, he turned to illustrating famous literary works like Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court for Boys’ Life magazine and assorted biblical stories for the Philadelphia-headquartered non-profit American Bible Society.

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Reflecting upon his many years in the comics industry, from which he never formally retired, he said, “I wouldn’t change a minute! I have met some terrific artists, writers, editors, and fans. Most of all, I was able to work at home and be with my wife and to watch our four kids grow and become responsible citizens in this crazy world.”

Spiegle passed away on January 28, 2017 at the age of 96.