Articulating Some Thoughts
March 26, 2010

The great author and toy maker Willl.I.Am Shakespeare once wrote the immortal line, “To articulate, or not to articulate, that is the question”. He then goes on to ask whether it’s more noble to suffocate Green Arrow or get a good fortune after a Chinese meal, or some such thing, but the important part is about the articulation. Ever since that golden age, toy manufacturers and designers have struggled with the same nagging conundrum, and the inevitable fall out from making those difficult decisions. But, let me pose something to you  (see what I did there? ‘Pose’? Ha!) : are we all getting just a little too hung up on articulation these days?

 

Now, before you start flaming me right away, hear me out.  I realize everything comes and goes in cycles. Obviously, most folks don’t think the Atari console and cassette tapes are quite as impressive as they were back in the day. God knows most cell phones now seem to do everything BUT make phone calls, and supposedly the 3D of ‘Avatar’ is so mind blowing that people are killing themselves because they can’t live on Pandora (personally, I couldn’t wait to get OFF of Pandora), so it’s getting harder and harder to impress the general population right now. But honestly, doesn’t the good ‘ol Five Points of Articulation still, ya know, do the trick? Generally speaking?

Maybe I should break this down a bit more, I can see I’m already losing some of you. Let me start by saying that I love a well articulated figure as much as the next geek, believe me. As some of you may have read recently, my company, Bif Bang Pow! has decided to go ‘retro’ for 2010, making all of our action figures in the 8” Mego style from the 70’s.  We’re doing this for a number of reasons, but one of ‘em is, yep, you guessed it, articulation. Which seems to have grown into a major bone of contention in the past ten years.

I’m probably re-educating a group of people that are already well aware of this information, but making action figures isn’t cheap. Besides the acquiring of the license and sculpting and R and D costs, there are the production costs them selves. Much of this is due to the many pieces and parts of the figure all requiring their own molds. The more articulation there is, the higher the costs are.

But I digress, let’s get away from the practicalities of budget, and get to the merits of doing what we’re doing. And those are, well, that the figures are gonna be awesome!! Well, and, um, also, that you’re all going to be able to pose the hell outta them til your fingers go blue.  See, from way back when BBP! got started, with each new property, we were always brainstorming the best ways to present the characters. For ‘The Big Lebowski’ we thought we’d try something a bit more stylized, slightly ‘comical’, and in the Urban Vinyl vein (it also happened to work out beautifully that we could use the moniker ‘Urban Achiever’ on the packaging).  For ‘Flash Gordon’ I’d always pictured them looking DC Direct-like. And once Alex Ross got involved, it just made even more sense. But I’d be lying if I said some of those choices weren’t based on budgeting. I wish we had the unlimited resources of a Mattel or a Hasbro, but we don’t, and these are cult properties we’re talking about, so hard choices have to be made to bring certain products to light.

But, back to the ‘basic’ point I made earlier.  Our Ming figure, for example, only had about four or five points of articulation, mainly for aesthetic reasons. However, it made not one bit of difference to THIS fan, because after 27 years, I finally got a Ming to go on my shelf. Would I have been disappointed if we couldn’t have made Flash holding his sword with both hands, ala the iconic image from the film? Sure I would. But I would have taken him with less articulation, than not get him at all. I think, and this is just an opinion separate from AFI or any political party, that as adults and collectors, we sometimes get a little too focused on the tiny, nit picky details and not on the bigger forest. Or something.

In an earlier post, I went on about how exciting it is to finally get some of the properties we’re getting made into action figures, how this is a ‘Golden Age’ for cult toys. I’ll be the first to loudly say how we’ve been let down over the years, and how many times it’s been done just plain wrong. But more often than not, I’d say the cult properties are being represented very well. And not just in comic shops, in places like Toys R Us and Target too! So, if the new figure of Beetlejuice doesn’t have knuckle and ankle joints, I’m not going to moan about it. ‘Cause, well, man, we got a cool new Beetlejuice figure! Who’d a thunk it??

So, back to the ‘retro’ thing we’re doing (sorry for all the jumping around, but I just ate half a bag of Robin’s Eggs and am wired!). Yeah, sure, again there were budgetary considerations for making this decision. But, more importantly and super cool-ly, all of our properties are gonna live in the same ‘world’ for the first time! We’ve talked about it for ages, but it turns out the easiest way for us to do that was to go ‘retro’, with the standard, accepted 8” height and fabric clothing style. And best of all, they have LOADS of articulation. No more having to decide just what ‘style’ we should make a particular line up, or where they should be jointed, now they’re all gonna have the same vibe. Believe me, selfishly, that avoids a lot of headaches.

Now, personally, I love this. The thought of the Gremlin from ‘The Twilight Zone’ going mano e mano with Superman makes me grin from ear to ear.  Brock Samson beating the crap out of Batman (or, yeah, vice versa) is just too cool for school. And Jeff Lebowski comparing facial hair with Scott Ian fills me with glee.  I realize that not everyone feels the same way. (Believe me, I realize it, and have the hate posts to prove it). I also know that we work in a field where it’s especially hard to please everyone, so we have to thicken our skins and push forward all the time. Besides, the positive feedback and momentum has been tremendous for our decision, and it helps wash some of the pain away.

Ok, so now, jumping back to my original point, obviously I’ve strayed again (I’ve moved on to Peeps dunked in Mountain Dew Throwback-forgive me). Do you think, just maybe, the toy community has gotten a little hard to please of late?  The 70’s were an absolutely astounding time for Hollywood. For the first time, the lunatics were running the asylums, and a younger breed of executive and filmmaker was ruling the screens. Spielberg, Lucas, Friedkin, et al, were also the first bunch of brats to come out of film school, standing on the shoulder of the giants that came before them and whom they studied endlessly. I feel like something very similar is happening in the toy world. The guys and gals that grew up with all these things that we’ve loved for so many years, are now in the positions to help manage and celebrate them, by bringing them to fruition or by shaping their futures. And that, in this humble author’s opinion, is an amazing thing.

Anyone who knows me knows I’m not immune to moaning about how certain action figures are brought to the market. I’d much prefer a little more mobility with my ‘Twilight’ figures too (kidding!!), but as the esteemed authors Jagger and Richards once wrote, you can’t always get what you want. But, sometimes, we get what we need. I’ve said it before, but I believe the world needs more cult toys, however they’re articulated. It’s most likely gonna be guys like us doing it too, since Mattel probably hasn’t been looking into the license for ‘A Man Called Sloan’ recently.

So if NECA decides to grab ‘Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang’ and Robert Downey, Jr. doesn’t have elbow joints, he’ll still get bought by yours truly. If someone has the br

ass won tons to finally get the James Bond license (not ‘cult’, I know, but someone’s obviously scared of it), and ends up making 3 ¾” action figures with five points of articulation and one accessory each, you better believe I’ll buy two of every single one of the suckers.  Because what really matters is the journey, the thought involved, and the drive to go slightly ‘left of center’ and make it happen in the first place. Isn’t that why we all love this plastic madness? Because the guys behind the guys who made all this crap way back when (and some currently) inspired us all to love it from the start? Points of articulation be damned, bring me the head of Bruce Vilanch in ‘The Ice Pirates’, and make it snappy! (Or, I could be wrong, the Cadbury Cream Eggs went off, and certainly shouldn’t have been rolled in brown sugar). Think about it, and articulate your thoughts below. I’ll be up all night.

 

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Jason "Plastic Soul" Lenzi
A successful television producer and voice-over artist, pop culture fanatic Jason Lenzi established Bif Bang Pow! in 2005, channeling his boundless enthusiasm as a fan and collector into the creation of the company’s highly-desired toy lines. His enthusiasm has proven contagious, earning BBP! unanimous praise from the toy community and leading to creative partnerships with the likes of comics giant Alex Ross and rock icon Scott Ian. BBP! has so far released action figures and bobble heads for 'Flash Gordon', 'The Big Lebowski', 'The Twilight Zone', 'Dexter', 'LOST', HBO's 'Eastbound and Down' and 'The Venture Brothers'. When he's not chasing down new licenses, producing and narrating various TV series, or reading every music magazine on the shelves, he's obsessively playing Beatles: Rock Band until he gets every song right.
Read other articles by Jason "Plastic Soul" Lenzi.

 

 

 

12 Comments »

  • NoisyDvL5 says:

    I’ve kind of, sort of learned to let go of my nitpickiness. There’s things that bother me, like when an articulation point is there, but doesn’t work properly. I try to stay on the positive side of my hobby and leave the ranting to others for the most part. I find it makes me a happier collector.

    But I’ve also found that as I’m a happy collector, I buy a lot less. I can remember wanting every toy under the sun and my cellar has the scars to prove it. I can remember a time where a Beetlejuice figure, in particular, would have been the bee’s knees, but nowadays, not so much. If I still wanted a little plastic Beetlejuice, I don’t think I’d pass on it because of articulation though. Even in my nitpicky days. I have The Mummy figures for crying out loud.

    Specifically to articulation though? I don’t know. I really like knees, ankles, elbows, and I really, really love ball-jointed heads. I don’t care about toes, knuckles, and double-joints, so I maybe I’m simply floating around in the middle somewhere.

  • Lt. Clutch says:

    Man, you’re on one heck of a wild Easter ride, Jason! Me, it’s mostly Ambien and Goldfish crackers at this time of the night, although I could go for those Cadbury cream eggs right now. Anyway, what Noisy said. I like articulation but never to the point of sacrificing aesthetic value. That’s probably why I don’t miss Marvel Legends so much as compared to what the 4H are doing over at Mattel. I’m happy that the Mego style is back in vogue, though. Good luck with it.

  • Shellhead says:

    I was so spoiled by Marvel Legends that I’m a pretty big articulation snob. But the MU line has gotten me to soften a bit on POA. Not much, but a little. Ball-joint neck and shoulders, elbows, wrists, waist, hips, knees, and ankles are a must. Ab-crunch, upper arm, and thigh cuts have their place, especially on male figures, but I’m learning to do without them. Finger joints and mid-foot joints I not longer need (alternate hands are a much better option).
    That’s why I simply don’t understand the allure of JLU. They suck as action figures. You might as well buy maquettes or plastic statues!
    The other day, I was staring longingly at the (relatively) new Venom figure from Hasbro’s 3.75 Spider-man line. Really nice head sculpt. Torso and arms look great. But his legs suck. He has no knees! Come on, Hasbro. This isn’t the 90′s anymore.
    I left Venom trapped in his plastic bubble.
    Articulation is HUGE. And I don’t think that trend is going away any time soon.

  • dayraven says:

    to be honest, i think it’s unfair to single out articulation… sure, there a few articulation geeks out there that like each and every knuckle to move… but there are sculpt junkies, paint huffers, line-up afiaciandos, accessory whores, etc… for whom said feature is most important to them.

    like the example you gave of the bond toys… five points of articulation would be OK for the figures, but i would buy a bond toy unless it was supported by a lengthy cast of characters and a ton of vehicles, weapons and playsets whether he has five points of articulation or 25. same issue on the scale, i don’t care if he was 1/18, 1/12, or 1/6, to be bond, we need the characters and the “stuff.” but on the other hand, when NECA first proposed the Shaw Brothers line, that’s a concept i immediately said “i want to see the articulation” for… cuz kung fu guys need to be engineered to do kung fu stuff.

    as for the BBPs 2010 retro concept… i hope that works out for y’all, i truly do… but personally, i wouldn’t do that on a dare… cuz while it eliminates some headaches in planning, to be honest, i see it as disrespecting the individual properties that will be locked into that look. as you were saying, how great it was to get a ming that looked like the movie ming, imagine if somebody out there gave you a choice between the BBP ming you did and a mego ming… which do you chose? to me, like yourself, i’d go the movie accurate styling, the look for him would be more important than the articulation. i am however a collector on a budget… if i don’t get the toy i’m personally after, i don’t buy just “to fill the hole in my collection,” i wait until the toy i really really want gets made. that’s what separates my “adult collection” from the character/property based buying decisions my kids make. my tastes are specific and i’m a patient buyer.

    • Hey Dayraven!

      All excellent points you’ve made, and thanks for reading the piece!

      One thing I wanted to clarify, though, regarding us ‘going retro’ for 2010. I’ve said it in a couple of places already on the interweb, but just because we’re doing this for 2010, doesn’t mean those properties won’t get to dip in the pool again down the road a ways, in a different scale. For ‘Lebowski’, ‘FG’ and ‘Dexter’, we’ve already done other styles of figures in the 7″ and 8″ scales, so for those titles, we’re trying something new. And for the others (‘Twilight Zone’. ‘Venture Brothers’), we’re fully planning to explore other scales and possibilities. Particularly if we don’t get the momentum we’d hoped for. As it is, and as of now, pre sales are very healthy, across all of the properties, for the ‘retro’ figures, so we can breathe a sigh of relief that the “gamble” paid off, and we can plan ahead to the next batch of characters. Oh, and to clarify, in case there’s any confusion on your end, the ‘retro’ Ming and FG we’re doing are indeed movie accurate!

      Oh, and I agree with you: if someone gets off their hinie and gives us Bond, I want all the “stuff” too!! Whatever the scale!

  • chad says:

    articulation has never matter to me when i am buying a figure for if the compnay takes the time to make the character or icon like flash gordon right i could care less if he is going to hold something or not.for one buys what one likes. as for James bond think the though of some exec having to go through the steps to get the okay to use sir Sean conory likeness or timmothy dalton is one of the main reasons they are scared to go after the license not to mention knowing the uproar of bonds fans if they got something wrong. and if the day comes some company does bond will be happy to have Jaws and odd job and goldfinger done right in plastic. as for twilight zone look forward to seeing the pig doctors from beughty in the eye of the beholder in plastic and maybe Burges meridith from time enough at last.

  • Hourman says:

    Mountain Dew Throwback tastes so much better than regular Mountain Dew, its ridiculous.

  • Danny Cantina-Dan says:

    “Our Ming figure, for example, only had about four or five points of articulation, mainly for aesthetic reasons.”
    Eh, so did the ’79 Mattel Ming and I love that action figure, too!
    As a boy I played long and happily with Star Wars figures. Just 4 or 5 pts of artic there. (So, no, JLU do not “suck as action figures”, imho.) Its JUST that basic arm, leg, head movement that differentiates a statue from an action figure. Perhaps what sucks is the deterioration of imagination kids suffer from too much reality in their playthings.
    Different lines beg different levels and types of articulation. After years of Star Wars I happily embraced G.I. Joes and their increased levels of poseability. But then enjoyed He-Man, too, which went back to a basic 4-5 points.
    Now as an adult I’ll always prefer aesthetics to mobility. But if a company can achieve both, then cool. Today’s Star Wars figures are a great example. Fantastic levels of articulation for a small scale, WITHOUT sacrificing visual quality. Oh, and I’m totally down with the retro ’cause, well, I like the way they look!
    Another great installment, Jason.

  • stewbacca says:

    Im sorry but the articulation demanders have caused major problems (in my opinion) for the star wars line.

    Ankle articulation is the worst thing in the history of action figure design -its an unncessary cost- and it causes many more problems than that extra little bit of poseability you get.. Aayla secura cans stand up because her legs are to thin and they tip over because of ankle articulation, so to combat women figures having this problem-we got cankles leia in the comic pack- because they needed to make them thicker to fit in the pin, and the third- most figures with that articulation- now cant have deep enough peg holes to use the stands– so this one “innovation” has effected playability, displayability and sculpt (not to mention paint (since sometimes the pins arent molded in the same color).

    In this world where everyone demands vintage- I wish we really would get it– I have no problem with 5 POAs– in fact I relish them (however I do prefer the ball joints to the old cut joints (I will accept that innovation.)

    But I will be honest- I would prefer 8-10 at max — I dont need 14 POAs

    Maybe just ball joint shoulders, heads and hips, and a cut torso. I can accept elbows and knees but thats all we need…

    Keep those figure costs down and stop demanding that C-3PO should be SA– he toy shouldnt have more motion than the actual character did.

  • Shellhead says:

    Can’t disagree with you more, Stew. The ankle articulation, especially in the trooper types, has made my battle diorama SO much better. As I primarily collect Troopers, Droids, and the occasional Jedi, I haven’t noticed any of those problems (then again, I don’t worry about paint all that much).
    But to each his own, I suppose.

  • Eric Qel-Droma says:

    I think that it’s ultimately a question of what is “necessary” and what is “possible.” There is no reason to not have ball-joint shoulders at this point, as far as I can see. Elbows, hips, knees, ball-neck are all absolutes. However, things need to be done well. Troopers work with ankles – girls often don’t. Hips are a big one for me – I’m so sick of DCIH women that I want to cry. However, the newer DCIH’s ball hips look nasty, and SW has been doing nice T-crotches for years, and I still love me some modern SW figs.

    When there’s too much articulation, the figure is ruined. Too little, and posing becomes an issue. I really think Hasbro’s Star Wars have hit the mark 75% of the time, and that’s pretty good, when you think about it.

  • [...] not interested in Lost or Venture Bros figures, so I had no opinion on Bif Bang Pow!’s decision to go retro and make figures in the Mego format. I wished them well and still do. The DC Retro Heroes, at $20, [...]

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