As we’ve established, everyone wanted a piece of that delicious Ninja Turtles pizza pie in the early ’90s. So the creators of Snailiens must have thought, ok, what made the turtles so huge? They’re little green guys with shells… what else is small, green, and has a shell? Snails! It’s snails, goddamnit it! And uh… they’re aliens! Snailiens! We’re gonna be rich! By god, boys, in a year’s time we’ll be doing lines off a novelty coffee table shaped like a giant snail.
And so, the Snailiens were born. The influence of the Ninja Turtles is obvious in their designs, being four muscular green dudes with no noses. Rather than masks, the Snailiens have color-coded facial hair. Only it’s not hair, exactly, it’s sort of like a bony protrusion. Which is the closest they get to having shells. Honestly, they don’t look anything like snails. They look like weightlifters who were transporting barrels of acid and had a terrible accident. The fact that the Abraham Lincoln one is wearing a singlet only furthers this impression. Oh, that’s right, there’s an Abraham Lincoln one:
Sold as cheaply-made rubber figurines, Snailiens were compelling not for their inherent quality but for the boatlands of garbage they came with. My grandmother bought me one of these things from a Toys ‘R’ Us in the early ’90s, and it included a veritable deluge of plastic crap to inspire the imagination of lonely and socially maladjusted children. In addition to the figure, you got snap-on armor, a little sidekick, two rubber “satellite” projectiles, and a hard rubber half-sphere called the “Turbo-Flex Shell.” (Everything was Turbo, it was the ’90s.) What it looked like was an undressed maniac, a non-working diaphragm, and the baby they made:
By turning the shell inside out then placing the sidekick figure or the satellites inside, you could then invert it and launch the projectile at some hapless Snailien’s enemy. The packaging insisted that you not aim the shell at animals or people, and rightfully so — it was effectively a small rubber bullet. Hell, the generic versions of these toys are actually called “eye poppers.” Imagine: a ’90s remake of A Christmas Story where Ralphie shoots his eye out with a Snailien. Ah, what could have been.
The Snailiens also came with trading cards and a comic book explaining their backstory. See, there’s another dimension six feet below San Francisco, there’s a war going on down there, and it’s explained across this pile of debris:
The hideous Lunarticks and their leader Zug plot to invade Earth and have selected the tiny city of Snail Francisco as their first target. Whether there’s another outer space in the dimension under San Francisco or they’re coming from another planet in our dimension is kind of unclear. Who cares! We’ve got aliens, dimensions, kids love all that horseshit.
The Lunarticks and their allies, the short-statured “Infects,” begin their assault on Snail Francisco. The city’s occupants, who are, as you might expect, snails, put out a distress call. The Snailiens, who I guess are aliens but also live in the subterranean dimension under San Francisco, respond and fly their ship, the S. Cargo (boooo) to help out the besieged citizens.
But while they’re kicking Lunartick ass, one of the kids who lives in the regular human San Francisco finds their spaceship, thinks it’s a cool shell, and takes it to his room. The Snailiens are thus stranded on Earth, where they help the citizens of Snail Francisco resist the Tick invaders. Said citizens “knight” them with names found on coins that have fallen into their world because they can’t pronounce their “Snailienese” names, and they become Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt, and Lincoln. Because they’re not just another Ninja Turtle knockoff. They’re more like a local car dealer’s President’s Day Sale parody of a Christian parody of the Ninja Turtles.
The toy line included the four Snailiens as well as four of the Lunartick villains: Zug, Armokillo, Drool, and Blastar. Each Snailien and Lunartick had their own little buddy who could be fitted into the Turbo-Flex Shell and sent careening across the room, or simply be attached to the character’s armor like a stupid little baby. The commercial did its best to make them seem cool, with animated depictions of the characters throwing their rubber shells around and a song describing them as “Supersonic Shell Fighters,” but this looks like single Go-Bot dads trying to identify a testicle in a police lineup. This fucking sucked and every kid knew it.
“Give them a bounce, they’ll blow you away,” the ’90s toy commercial announcer excitedly intones, as a Snailien’s little buddy is seen smashing through a window. Immediately after, we see kids cowering in fear from the supersonic shell onslaught. Sure, there were warnings not to point these things at other people, but they knew what they were doing.
It seems like a silly and cheap attempt to cash in on a trend now, but I have to admit that I adored the Snailiens as a child. I only ever had the one, but how many toys came with their own comics with elaborate backstories involving subterranean dimensions populated by insect people? Maybe a dozen? How many toys had cool plastic armor suits you could snap on and off, giving your non-articulated Snail man essentially two different outfits depending on the social and/or combat situation that your imagination placed him in? Still a lot, sure! But how many snail-based superheroes were there? Only these. And I loved these little bastards.
But despite all of this — the comic, the high potential for injury, the term “Turbo-Flex Shell,” the Snailiens, very much unlike a snail climbing up a wall, didn’t stick. They were relegated to the memory hole of history, never even receiving a cheaply-produced animated TV pilot to be discovered by someone with a VHS ripper and a self-hosted website in the early 2000s. So thoroughly has history forgotten the Snailiens that there are zero results for “Snailiens” on every major illustrated pornography search engine. There are over 100 results for Street Sharks on e621, but zero for Snailiens. Hell, there’s art of the Creepy Crawlers television series on Deviantart — god, I’m going to have to get into that sometime — but none of Snailiens. Is it because of all the mucus? No, no, I’m seeing a lot of results for that.
Woe unto the Snailiens! Woe unto Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt and Lincoln, the defenders of Snail Francisco! Woe unto these musclebound mollusks, these gastropods with gains. Are there none who wish, within their secret hearts, to feel their strong yet tender embrace? Nay, there are none. And so, their story ends. Here lie the Snailiens — nobody wants to fuck them.
But here’s where things get really weird. Nowhere in the thriving Snailiens online fandom seems to mention this, but like TMNT, Snailiens were based on a comic. And while the Ninja Turtles were changed slightly in the process of becoming Saturday morning cartoons, the Snailiens became utterly unrecognizable from their source material. See, according to artist Dwayne Ferguson (art director on the ’90s Mutant League TV series), the Snailien toys were based on characters from his Hamster Vice comic, a series about hamsters with guns and sometimes also breasts.
In a parody of Aliens, he had his protagonists travel into space to rescue kids captured by the “Snailien Queen.” Ferguson wanted to get some toys made, ended up working with a company called J.P.I. International Corp, and the Snailiens as I and six other people now know them were born. Here’s how the original looked:
Ferguson points out that the toys bore little resemblance to his original work and notes this kind of thing happens all the time in comics adaptations. For instance, how Rogue became a lot younger in the X-Men films, or how Harley Quinn turned into a camgirl. But in this case it really does feel like some toy company executives liked the name “Snailiens,” realized how big the Ninja Turtles were, and decided to dump everything but the title. In popular comic terms, it would be like if the first Spider-Man movie had been about a terrifying arachnid monster that kidnapped children to feast on their bone marrow instead of a kid who makes homophobic remarks to Macho Man Randy Savage.
At some point, Snailiens were acquired by a company called Abrams Gentile Entertainment. I’m not sure whether this company even exists anymore, but they seem to have bought up a number of children’s properties that were popular to varying degrees in the ’80s and ’90s. In describing Snailiens, AGE’s site says that it “takes the classic ‘snail out of water’ backdrop and places our intergalactic team of out-of-the-world Snailiens on Earth’s insect populated Snail Francisco where they match wits and kicks against the nefarious Lunar-Ticks.” Snail out of water? Fuck off, man.
In addition to Snailiens, their website boasts their ownership of Sky Dancers, Bucky O’Hare, Van-Pires (god, there’s another I’m going to have to cover someday), and even Visionaries, which they claim has a live-action film in development from the producers of Transformers. Remember the Visionaries? They were action figures with holograms in their torsos. Not really surprised that franchise failed to make a resurgence with the ’80s cartoon revival of the 2000s. Given how hard Michael Bay’s Transformers was to look at, can you imagine what he’d do with characters made of fucking holograms?
Today, if you’d like to own a Snailien of your very own, you can expect to pay many times the original retail price on eBay. The rubber used to make the Turbo-Flex Shells have rotted and cracked, the plastic pins on the armor suits have snapped off, and the vast majority of the trading cards and comics have since been discarded and recycled into toilet paper or those communist newspapers they hand out on college campuses (the toilet paper of Freedom).
But the Snailiens live on. In an often misattributed quote, existential psychologist Irvin Yalom says you die two deaths — one when your heart stops beating and another when someone speaks your name for the last time. In writing this piece, then, I have kept the Snailiens alive a little longer. They may crave death, these supersonic fighters, but they cannot taste its sweet fruit. Not while I’m around, anyway. Live, unfuckable snot monsters! Live!!
This article was brought to you by our fine sponsor and Hot Dog Supreme: AnAndy, also known as the Visionary with a mustache.