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 brass 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.