From the ashes of a desolate time arose a figure that set the standard for all who will follow. It was the first action figure, from which formed a legacy, which has probably brought you here, reading this. He was Action Man. Born 1966, and now at 40 years old, he was recently celebrated by 40 international contemporary artists working in the contemporary toy scene.
Action Man (a brief history)
Action Man is seen either as a icon of a lost time, when war was about heroism and the gadgets were there to work as a last resort. Or he is an awkward looking chap, a slightly oversized head, way too gangly, and having no genitalia... what sort of a soldier would that make? Possibly the greatest that ever lived, as whichever direction you look at him he is an icon of the toy world. History always judges the warriors of our times, and at 40 years down the line (whilst he has practically been decommissioned from the toy shelves) he is still standing to the attention of collectors and enthusiasts around the world.
Track back 40 years, the why's, how's and who's of AM history. It was the first of its kind, the first action figure. He came in the form of a soldier, a sailor and a pilot. He was the Dad, Grandad or Uncle who had fought in real wars. He was the UK equivalent of GI Joe - from the USA side of the operation. Various changes were made over the years - and it's very much a sign of when you were a kid as to your memories of who Action Man was. Fuzzy hair, permanent blue pants and Eagle Eyes mean were the final form of the original AM character.
Other things had happened in the toy world during the various generations of AM. It had blown earth based melée battling out of the mind of any child - now we fought in space, in a galaxy far, far away... Star Wars merchandise was the main contender in the market.
In the mid 1980s Action Man was put on hold and a new era beckoned - it was Action Force. If names such as Cobra Commander, Snake-Eyes and Storm Shadow mean nothing to you, well you didn't miss much! Whilst the regeneration of AM in the early 90s brought him back to prominence, he was always standing in the shadow of his legendary forefather.
Rob, Luc and James form Triclops. By day they are product developers for Hasbro UK, by night they adopt superhero like disguises of ApeMan, RobotBoy and TattooMan - glueing, welding, getting dizzy on toxic fumes and causing all sorts of chaos as artists, designers and master customisers.
They used their specially developed skills to enlist 40 troops into service. Michael Lau, Eric So, Brothersfree (Kenny, William and Winson each producing one each), Tim Tsui, Jason Siu, Ultraman, Voltaire, Klim, Clutter, Dene Mason, Tristan Eaton, Huck Gee, Frank Kozik, Glynn Dillon, Jon Burgerman, Kenn Munk, Joe Ledbetter, Kidrobot, Mad*L, Mark James, Pete Fowler, Peskimo, Medicom, Maharishi, Morpheus, Puma, Sket One, TADO, Filth, Tilt, Devil Robots, Amos-Silas, JAKe, Toy2r, Zoodio, TDR, Playlounge, Triclops and special guest artist Bob Brechin Chief Designer at Palitoy the man responsible for the design of the Man. They each had to produce a custom reproduction first edition Action Man.
With the aid of the special operations unit at Clutter Magazine the army moved into action at Blink in London. For VA readers, here is a run down of a few of the pieces on display. All descriptions are editorial from Vinyl Abuse and not the official interpretation intended by the artist.
A master signature piece in his established Skullhead style. Huck used his highly evolved ninja-like skills to create a highly evolved ninja!
A great use of Mad's own production piece, the Mad*L made this a really powerful signature piece. Comes armed with a weapon of mass destruction Sharpie.
Another great signature piece from a master of 12" figure design. The old AM head has gone and has been replaced with a new sculpt. Also out with the battle fatigues and in with a velour tracksuit. But most spectacular of all is the accompanying speaker set-up.
Member of Brothersfree, Winson, is embarking on a solo project Winson Classic Creations. This piece reflects how strongly Winson's influence was on the wear-and-tear look of many of the Brothersworker 12" figures. An incredible suit has been engineered to dress this AM on an expedition of a lifetime.
Comic book artist Glynn Dillon pushed the boundaries of quality on this piece of military might. Half WW2 soldier, half industrial accident.
Full body armour, check. Helicopter pack, check. Elvis pose, check. Incredible work all round this figure.
The display of contemporary usage of this classic charcter stirred up a bit of debate in the UK press. One piece from the show was catch-phrased with the media-friendly name: Graffiti Action Man. Thankfully, there was a far higher level of intellect used when creating this piece.
Two pieces were on display, both significantly different. First up, a great twist in taking the flexible and dynamic posable form of AM and turning him into the far more simple soldier which AM was created to overcome.
Secondly, AM as battle scarred and retired from duty and resting easy in an armchair. He now wears slippers and a smoking jacket, and ponders the meaning of life with a stroke of his beard.
Each figure was up for auction - with proceeds going to a variety of charitable organisations. In life he was a fighter, at the age of 40 he is a survivor, what next for the Action Man? A tasty dog snack perhaps...?