A 12″ tall Parker Stevenson action figure lived in my toy box when I was young. To be fair, it was less of an action figure than it was a doll, and felt to me like it might prefer the company of Barbie and Ken over the citizens of Eternia. He came from the Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries TV show line of toys, and how he found his way in my possession is a mystery indeed as I wasn’t a Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew fan. In any case, the toy served as a perfect test subject for my Junior Dr. Frankenstein experiments where I’d press modeling clay onto its hunky features, transforming him into all manner of strange beast.
My want to create fantastic creatures continued into my teens, as I entertained the idea of becoming a special effects artist. Fascinated by the behind the scenes features in magazines like Fangoria, and Starlog, I’d study the articles that described the sculpting, mold making, and casting processes necessary to create creatures for the screen. Eventually, my want to become the next Ray Harryhausen or Tom Savini waned, and I opted to study art instead.
Over the past several months, I’ve found myself immersed in a new hobby that isn’t too far from my days of disfiguring Parker Stevenson. Drawing inspiration from my love for vintage toys, retro pop culture, and the designer toy movement, I’ve set out to make my own custom toys. With the help of some internet tutorials, I’ve resumed my informal training which involves many of the skills I’d hoped to learn when I wanted to be a special effects artist. I’ve cleared an area in my basement to make room for a small laboratory and have amassed the tools and supplies necessary for creating my plastic golems. To the untrained eye it might look like a starter meth lab. I assure you, it is not.
I started practicing by creating molds of existing vintage action figure parts, casting them in resin, and reassembling them into new figures. This “bootlegging” practice was pioneered The Sucklord, a New York artist who compares the process to the sample-based culture of hip-hop, remixing old material into something new.
There certainly has been some trial and error in my learning process. The first mold making material that I tried required heating in a microwave. After following the instructions, which omitted the part about the hot silicone smelling like a room full of fish corpses doing hot yoga, I abandoned the product for a less nauseating alternative. Similarly, I’ve glued my fingers together more times than I can count, but with each mistake comes knowledge, and now I opt to glue nitrile gloves together instead.
After a number of false starts, I managed to complete my first custom action figure, a play on the sometime rival fandoms of Star Wars and Star Trek. As a fan of both mythologies, I’ve concocted an alternate universe in which Mr. Spock disguises himself as a Stormtrooper who inexplicably has the same coloration as Spock’s Starfleet uniform. Highly illogical. Honestly, the idea stemmed from my dissatisfaction with the line of 3.75″ Star Trek action figures by Mego. I’d always wished they were dressed in the Starfleet uniforms from the original series rather than the boring pajamas from Star Trek Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Mashing Spock together with a Stormtrooper is my jab at fans who argue that one mythology is superior to the other. Also, Stormtrooper uniforms are bad-ass. Considering that it’s my first attempt, I’m very pleased with the outcome. I’m especially happy with the addition of the small Starfleet badge that I sculpted onto the Stormtrooper armor, and look forward to more custom sculpting in the future.
Since that first Spocktrooper, I’ve spent countless hours in my lab under buzzing halogen bulbs with episodes of Star Trek, Veronica Mars, or Doctor Who playing on an iPad. I hunch and squint as I mold, cast, assemble, paint, and package my weirdo toys. The Spocktrooper has since branched out into a series of Space Madness toys, which so far includes an R2-D2/prescription bottle hybrid called RX-DX, and plans for a number of retro space anomalies.
A positive response to my Spocktrooper and RX-DX figures has prompted me to sell them online. While I do enjoy the time spent in my lab, despite the fumes and occasional painful slips of the X-Acto knife, the process is time-consuming. It’s great to find that folks appreciate the hours spent cobbling together these custom toys. Also, it balances out my consumer/producer ratio which I find more fulfilling than just consuming.
What’s most rewarding is the feeling of proactively incorporating my creativity, fandom, and nostalgia into a wholly enjoyable pastime. I’ve always felt an urgent need to create which has manifested in drawing, painting, sculpting, and graphic design throughout my lifetime. Custom toy making incorporates elements of each, and calls upon skills that I’d once abandoned. Also, I gives me one more excuse to play with toys. Parker Stevenson’s time on my experiment table was not in vain.
Here are some process photos of the Imperial Spocktrooper