Every saga has a beginning, or so goes the famous saying.
Daily lives are no different. We all have a motivating factor which guides our sense of purpose, be it education, finances, idealism, politics, artistic talent, or a particular interest. Seeing how most of us end up in a different place from where we set out to be, it helps a lot if we have something to take the edge off a bit whenever things become too unbearable. That’s where hobbies come in. And chances are that if you’re reading this, your hobby of choice deals with plastic. Lots of it.
I’m considered a second generation collector, fond of toys in general and action figures in particular. The son of a Baby Boomer, I arrived late in the game to witness the arrival of the first, true action figures: Hasbro’s original G.I. Joe and Ideal’s Captain Action. In addition, I grew up in Spain. Much of the stuff that made its way to toy shelves there was a mix of domestic and foreign product, often re-branded for overseas markets.
Post-Franco Spain in the mid-70′s was already being relatively influenced by American toy making. G.I. Joe’s military aspects were blended with their later Adventure Team offerings to give Spanish kids Geyper Man – the best of both worlds and as high-end an item as you could find. There was also a home-grown competitor line called Madelman along with Mattel’s Big Jim, which was popular enough to warrant a line extension there long after the U.S. shut down domestic production. I owned a bunch of them, namely Dr. Steel, the pirate Captain Flint (and his cap-firing boat) plus some Geyper Men, including a U.N. Peacekeeper soldier, a Black Adventurer, a Helicopter Pilot, and a Tank Driver. I really wish I’d kept the catalogs that came with the toys because there are no Geyper Man books out there that I know of, unlike its U.K. equivalent, Action Man and their mutual U.S. progenitor, the now immortal G.I. Joe.
I was heavily into Playmobil, (or Famobil in Spain) a revered brand which produced fairly generic, preschool level figures not unlike those found in Lego sets, but more than made up for it by giving us some of the most beautifully detailed and authentic playsets created to this day for any toy line. Just ask any Playmobil aficionado and they’ll tell ya.
We also had Airgam Boys, who were slightly bigger in size. This brand drew a majority of its material from history and military periods ranging from the Napoleonic era to the U.S. Civil War. For those kids whose parents were on a tight budget there were also the Coman Boys, similar in size to Mego’s Eagle Force or Kenner’s M.A.S.K. figures. Somebody needs to write a book about these as well. (Or at least let me know if one is out already!)
The thing I remember most about my earliest forays into action figure collecting was a heavy emphasis on realistic and educative toys. This was, of course, before the Golden Age of Character Licensing took off, which was beginning to take root on these shores courtesy of a company called Mego.
Then, there was also the “SH” factor.
Having read mostly European-produced Disney comics up to that point, somebody bought me an issue of World’s Finest Comics #260 on a return visit home in 1979, not long after I had received my first Mego figure, a cool-looking masked man called Batman. Y’see, my father had grown up reading about these guys called “super-heroes” during his own youth. Really awesome mystical types with names like Superman, Aquaman, Shazam, and the aforementioned Caped Crusader.
I’d spotted another two on my own via TV which piqued my interest: The wall-crawling, building-swinging Spider-Man, (whose face was fully covered by a highly intricate mask) and a majestic, colorful champion of justice, aptly named Captain America. Cap would soon become a ticket to ride into the post-Disney comics reading era which I’d enjoyed for so long. And right about then, a chance trip to a shopping mall led me to discover a whole different phenomenon: Tinier, expertly detailed plastic figures based on a live-action movie called Star Wars. I wondered what that was all about?
Like I said, it was a time for beginnings. Ripe full of ‘em.
More next time. In the meantime, check out these links:
Geyper Man is celebrating its anniversary with limited edition figures which range from 150 to 300 units. Available in 2011 for the Spanish market, the company has a website promoting the comeback. It’s in Spanish, but Adventure Team fans will find some very familiar faces here. There is also an splendid archival guide covering most of the items from the vintage line, which used a mix of scarred faces, fuzzy beards and Kung Fu Grips to offer kids a wide variety of characters.
Madelman collectors should enjoy this bilingual site which details the history of Geyper Man’s closest competitor.
Playmobil is pretty much a household name in various parts of the world, including right here at home.
Airgam Boys hasn’t fared as well, but there are still fans helping keep the flame alive.
Photos courtesy of:
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