Any time I walk into a big-box store, I can’t resist the impulse to take a stroll through the toy aisle. I still remember the thrill of excitement when browsing the action figures looking for a new acquisition. These days, I don’t buy anything, but I still get a small charge out of seeing what’s out there. Growing up in the 80’s I got in on the ground floor of the merchandising cycle that is still trying to emulate the success of Star Wars today. My brother had all of the Star Wars action figures; and while I wanted so badly to play with them, they were off limits to me. To ease the pain of this quarantine, my mom and dad got me my own set of action figures, a quartet of Super Powers figures: Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman, and the Flash.
As someone who wore out several VHS tapes of Chris Reeves Superman movies, I loved the Man of Steel the hardest, and hung onto him long after I’d lost or destroyed the other action figures. I took that Superman everywhere. Eventually, I lost the little fabric cape and the “S” shield was almost worn away completely when the leg broke off. My heart was also broken that day.
The next phase of my action figure addiction was the squat, simian-limbed He-Man and the Master’s of the Universe line.
I owned an obscene amount of He-Man action figures, and kept them all crammed in a blue and orange Masters of the Universe gym bag. This was also when I began to use my action figures to tell stories. Next came my Thundercats phase. My cousin, Chris, and I had just about every single Thundercat figure between the two of us and we used them to tell some pretty cool stories. But it was G.I. Joe that really allowed me to hit my stride.
While my G.I. Joe collection never reached “He-Man critical mass,” it was substantial enough that I had to keep it in a tackle box. A fishing tackle box was the perfect organizational system for G.I. Joe action figures. The slots designed for fishing tackle were the perfect size to fit the figures and weapons. I took that tackle box with me everywhere. I never got too attached to any one action figure because Joes were notorious for breaking because they had so many moving parts. This is why I loved them the most. Turns out the more poseable the character, the more kick ass action scenes you could dream up. I consider this to be my John Woo phase of storytelling, constructing three act yarns that culminated in explosions, in the form of Black Cats and violent, climactic martial arts fights. This is when I also began to consider setting and backdrop. After a heavy rain, I’d take my Joes down to a ditch so I could have a swamp as my setting. My sand box became a vast desert. Lakes became oceans. The gnarled roots of trees were alien worlds. Long after my friends outgrew action figures I played with them, all because I loved telling stories that I made up in my head.
It would be years later in a hospital school room that I would write my first short story with pen and paper, but I can trace my humble beginnings back to a muddy hole with a handful of action figures on a soggy Saturday afternoon.