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Action Figures - an Interesting Tale

Updated on November 23, 2017

Legendary action figures

When I was young....

Recently while taking a stroll by the sand pit in my Grandmother's garden, I noticed a little gold head peering out through the sand. It was my old C-3PO action figure that must have been buried there 30 years and somehow managed to surface again. It brought back fond memories of childhood days playing in the sand pit with my favourite figures. After watching Return to the Jedi as a child, I would bring my figures out to the sand pit and play out the scenes. Battles would take place, figures would be buried, hidden and then rescued again. The next part of the adventure was to bring the figures into the small wood on the other side of the garden and make bases in trees, hideout places and battle stations. It was the perfect place to re-live the adventures in Return of the Jedi. What else did I do with figures? If one guy lost a fight, as punishment, he might be put in the freezer for awhile, or even a glass of water. The things you do! Other favourites included monster in my pocket. This was a collectible series of ancient and legendary monsters. At the same time I was a major fan of street fighter 2, so I would play out fights between two of them, doing all the moves - Flying torpedo, dragon punch and Hadouken to name but a few. There is something special about action figures compared to other toys. There is no toy like them that can play out a childhood fantasy so well. There is som much that you can do with them. They can be used with other toys - put into vehicles or toy buildings. They are certainly the toys that I remember the most.

History

There is no doubt that dolls pre-dated action figures. The only problem was that most boys did not want to play with dolls. Hasbro introduced the first action figure "G. I. Joe" in the early sixties from brainchild Stan Weston. It was a military figure with changeable clothes and spawned a action figure future generation. Hasbro decided to license the product to other companies and markets and it was not long before similar figures were put into production and sold worldwide. Following the success of this, Marvel and DC comics figures were licensed by other companies such as Mego. Kenner another global player won the license from Mego for Star Wars figures, which became incredibly popular during the first 3 releases and forever after that. These days, nearly every figure from every action / sci film and cartoon are available to buy in shops all over the world and online.

G.I. Joe Original Action Figure

The new toy that paved the way...
The new toy that paved the way...

Production

Action figures are generally made by the following process. A prototpye is made by sclupting modelling clay with various tools.The actual figure then is made from this, using a harder plastic such as ABS (acrylonitrile butadiene styrene). The figure is then painted usually with some sort of acrylic paint. Other parts may be added to the figure such as clothes and electronic components to make the figure move and talk or make a sound. What is really increcible about the process is firstly the modelling. To get an action figure to look like a real movie character must be no easy feat. In addition to this, it has to be engineered well so that it stands up for example. Equally impressive is the tooling process. It must take some amount of thought and planning to program the machine / robots to actually make the figure from the protoype. A lot of trial and error is inevitable. China is now the main country mass producing these figures. There is something eerie about looking at a picture of one of these factories to see literally thousands of the same figure about to start their journey in life.

Action figures in the making

The paint job!
The paint job!

Packaging

The way action figures are packaged is important. The simplest of packaging can be clear plastic bags or blister packs which is more at the lower priced end of the spectrum.

During the 70's the carded bubble packing method became popular with companies like Mego. The packages have a cardboard back with the figure encased in a PVC plastic sort of a window. This made the packages easy to stack on shop shelves and could give curious buyers a clear view of what the figure looked like. This is still a popular way of packing them in this day and age.

Window box packaging is another method. It consists of a thin carboard box which can be stacked easily. The front of a box usually has a thin cut out which the figure is placed in and soft plastic covers the area, which makes the figure visible.

Tube packaging became popular in the 2000's. The figure is placed in a cylinder shaped tube with carboard ends and plastic surrounding, again for easy visibility.

What is your favourite childhood action figure?

I had many favourites so it is difficult to pick out one. Aside from the star wars and monser in my pocket, the teenage mutant ninja turtles were great fun too. There were also many completely generic action figures. These figures were not based on any one type of film or cartoon. Instead, they were just completely made up. You might have some sort of monster with 3 eyes, or a large tail. Other figures were based on animals, dinosaurs, aliens, or maybe a human / animal hybrid. you could have weird skin colours such as blue, green or purple.

Tell us about your favourite figures or childhood stories in the comments below.

Thanks for reading.

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