Once upon a time I felt entirely alone in the world for one very specific reason: I still got toys regularly despite being out of grade school. I was in junior high, sixth or seventh grade, and it was a small school. We’re talking maybe 40 kids in my grade alone and even that seems rather steep from what I recall. Regardless it was small and as such it was easy to sort of go along with the crowd as part of this clique or that one. I of course didn’t fit into either because as I said I still got toys. I say ‘got’ because I didn’t really buy them myself. I was lucky enough to have parents that were happy to entertain my habit or habits. This was the heyday of Toybiz’s Marvel/X-Men run. Spawn figures were very popular as well, and Star Wars had returned in the form of overly buff sculpts and enlarged weapons. I loved all three! Yet I always felt like I’d missed the boat on “growing up”. Whatever that means. Needless to say it didn’t bother my folks any that I’d somehow skipped over the phase where one gives up playing with toys and moved on to pot and porn. However, eleven-year-old me was simply convinced that he was alone.
Then one day I was in a Wal-Mart scouring over the books and magazines for the latest issue of Wizard. Wizard was a magazine entirely devoted to comics and fandom that used to set apart a half a page (sometimes a full) for toy stuff, and I was placated by that familiarity to purchase the mag. But on this particular day I spied something different. It was next to Wizard, but separate. The cover featured the classic John Byrne era X-Men only in toy form. More specifically these were custom Megos. I didn’t know what the hell a Mego was at that time, but anything called Toyfare seemed to be worth a good look so I flipped through eagerly…. And there they were. Toy people. Nerdy perverse toy people, but toy people nonetheless. My people.
Amidst the plethora of industry insights, and fanboy rants, and Twisted Mego Theatre there was a two page spread called “Homemade Heroes” that consisted of photos people had sent in of their custom figures. More than anything that’s what spoke to me as I’d once tried to turn my 12” GI Joe Hall Of Fame Duke into Superman, and later attempted to repaint a Keaton Batman in classic Super Powers colors. Every issue of Toyfare I got after that I immediately flipped to the table of contents eager to see the Homemade Heroes article. I wanted to see what people were doing. I guessed the recipes, and then saw if I was right in the blurb underneath. It was my NY Times crossword.
It would be some years before I was really able to try it out myself. First toying with oven-bake clays, and later moving on to a two-part plumbers epoxy. It was around this time my brother began collecting Warhammer 40,000 miniature gaming models, and I cut my teeth on painting those little militant guys. And so I explored the crafty side of collecting using figures I no longer cared for, and acquiring new bodies for parts etc. when I could. There was lot of trial and error in those days as I was teaching my fingers to bring to life what I had seen in my head.
Fast forward over a decade and here I sit with a fistful of projects on the table. My tastes haven’t changed much. I’m as Batshit crazy as ever. The only difference is now I don’t buy as many toys. I guess you could say I’ve lost the taste for it. The truth is I find toy aisles to be astoundingly depressing these days, and the variety of franchises is equally underwhelming. Be it restlessness or disinterest the customizing aspect of collecting has come full circle for me. Where once it was simply a creative outlet it has since transcended into an art form unto itself. Opening a new figure and just sticking it on the shelf doesn’t really hold much interest for me these days. I find myself reaching for something to do to it to make it mine.
And that about sums it up. I’m no longer content to accept what “they”, the toy makers, give us. Why should I be? If they don’t make the toys you want, make them yourself.