A short while ago I got the opportunity to try my hand at writing an article for a magazine. My friend John Kelly started his own publication called ToyHero Magazine (https://toyh3ro.wixsite.com/toyheromag) The article in question swang wildly away from any kind of review or test and instead fell to how my toys as a child inspired my imagination. John has been kind enough to let me post that article here.
It’s a tense moment on the bridge of the Enterprise, Captain Picard gives the order for Data to scan the surface of the planet. The Captain orders the Borg and Worf to prepare to beam down (that’s right, I had a friendly borg crew member first, in your face Voyager!) Data’s console beeps, it appears they are orbiting a planet populated by a giant cat-like race of people, they call themselves the Thundercats.
If you can’t tell I grew up in the late 80’s and early 90’s fed on a diet of Saturday morning cartoons and reruns of popular 80’s shows like Thundercats, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Transformers to name a few. Before cartoons had their own dedicated channels we had to make do with early Saturdays and a small slot after school. I can vividly remember sitting in my Nans’ living room watching Turtles on the DJ Kat Show or Spider-Man and X-men on Live and Kicking. Star Trek was there too, nurturing an early love of sci-fi and exploration along with short lived shows like Space Precinct. The great thing about these shows, and most of the cartoons that provide a flashback into my childhood, was that they came with a host of figures and toys.
I remember getting my first Power Ranger figure (Jason the red ranger) and I was thrilled with just how articulated with how it was. Ball and socket joints on action figures were not very common, and how could you hope to replicate the high-flying martial arts action of the Power Rangers with a figure whose arms merely went up and down. It was a revelation for me. My cousin chewed his head shortly after I got him, he went through life with teeth marks and a slightly squashed head. I love my cousin but to this day I’m still a little bitter about that. There were many times I gave myself a sore throat by imitating voices such as Mumm-Ra or making the noise a Transformer does when it transforms (it took me a lot longer than it does on the show.)
Besides the happy nerdiness of pouring over long forgotten toys I also could not pass up the opportunity to try my hand at a different style of writing. I saw what John was doing with ToyHero Magazine (THM) and it got me thinking about how truly appreciative I am of the toys I loved as a child. All the imaginative scenarios they let me play out, such as the bridge crew of the Enterprise stumbling across Thundera or the Skeleton Warriors vs The Ghostbusters. It seemed such an interesting concept to me, after all we have magazines for every other walk of life, clothes, movies and video games spring to mind. Why not one to appreciate the things, that for many of us, helped build our creativity.
I work in toy retail, so it is encouraging to see more of this kind of publication. Geek culture and the toys it spawns has never been larger, or more accepted. Throughout the northwest we now have toy fairs and cons on a regular basis, places for toy enthusiasts, artists and cosplayers to get together and bond over our mutual love of the fandoms out there. There are lines for children to enjoy as well as more delicate (and pricier) items that are designed for the collectors out there.
There was a rich culture of cartoons and shows that spawned line after line of action figures. Street sharks, Ghostbusters, James Bond Junior, Batman (both the films and the amazing animated series), Conan, Pirates of Dark Water, the list goes on. Most of these toys expanded well beyond the range of the shows, with side characters and a whole host of accessories that only came in toy form. Batman the Animated Series Toys by Kenner produced no less than eight different batman figures, each with a unique colour scheme and gadget I don’t recall ever seeing in the series. My uncle gave me a box of original star wars figures, dozens of them (which I sadly treated roughly as a child) and I was amazed that there were figures for even the smallest of character roles (looking at you Gonk Droid)
Figures and play-sets were a way for me to expand my imagination as a child, we lived on a busy road so many of my days were spent indoors. The bridge crew of the enterprise would encounter a strange planet filled with giant cat-like people, or a robot that turned into a car would be battling with bike riding mice from mars. I was free to add or remove any character I wanted into my own little narratives. If I wanted Batman to show up in Spider-man, he would, and for good measure the Turtles and He-Man would make an appearance too. I would create serial stories with these toys, often picking up where I last left off the next time I played with them. Looking back on it, this is probably the first instance of me creating my own stories, something that is now my passion.
I just had to take the time and opportunity to express my appreciation and love for the toys of my childhood and the creativity that they inspired and a quick apology to all of the army men I buried in the garden, your sacrifice was not in vain boys.