High Concept for Action Figures
The action figure category has come a long way since the early days of GI Joe. Companies such as Dragon and DID have virtually reinvented the larger sized figure sector, and newcomers such as McFarlane Toys and The Collectors Showcase have carved out a very respectable showing that seems to gain added momentum with each new year. As we continue to move forward, it will be interesting to see some of the nuances being advanced by these and other important manufacturers, with workmanship, interest level, and pricing pressures continuing to remain key factors in their success. Just remember, don't ever call them dolls!
Action Figures: A Brief History
The term "action figure" was first used by Hasbro in 1964, to market their G.I. Joe figure to boys who wouldn't play with "dolls". G.I. Joe was initially a military-themed 11.5-inch action figure proposed by marketing and toy idea man Stan Weston. The action figure featured changeable clothes, with various uniforms to suit different purposes.
Takara, then under license by Hasbro to make and sell G.I. Joe toys in Japan, also manufactured an action figure incorporating the licensed G.I. Joe torso for Henshin Cyborg-1, using transparent plastic revealing cyborg innards, and a chrome head and cyborg feet. During the oil supply crisis of the 1970's , like many other manufacturers of action figures, Takara was struggling with the costs associated with making the large 11-1/2 inch figures, So, a smaller version of the cyborg toy was developed, standing at 3-3/4 inches high, and was first sold in 1974 as Microman. The Microman line was also novel in its use of interchangeable parts. This laid the foundation for both the smaller action figure size and the transforming robot toy. Takara began producing characters in the Microman line with increasingly robotic features, including Robotman, a 12" robot with room for a Microman pilot, and Mini-Robotman, a 3-3/4" version of Robotman. These toys also featured interchangeable parts, with emphasis placed on the transformation and combination of the characters.
In 1976, Mego brought the Microman toy line to the United States as the Micronauts, but Mego eventually lost control of the market after rejecting the license to produce Star Wars toys in 1976. The widespread success of Kenner's Star Wars 3-3/4" toy line made the newer, smaller size the industry standard. Instead of a single character with outfits that changed for different applications, toy lines included teams of characters with special functions. Led by Star Wars-themed sales, collectible action figures quickly became a multi-million dollar secondary business for movie studios.
In the early 1980s, the burgeoning popularity of Japanese robot cartoons such as Gundam encouraged Takara to reinvent the Microman line as the Micro Robots, moving from the cyborg action figure concept to the concept of the living robot. This led to the Micro Change line of toys: objects that could "transform" into robots. In 1984 Hasbro licensed Micro Change and another Takara line, the Diaclone transforming cars, and combined them in the US as the Transformers, spawning a still-continuing family of animated cartoons.
The 1980s spawned all sorts of action figure lines, many based on cartoon series, which were one of the largest marketing tools for toy companies. Some of the most popular to come about were Masters of the Universe, G.I. Joe, Thundercats and Super Powers, to name just a few. As the 1980s were ending, more and more collecters started to surface, buying up the toys to keep in their original packaging for display purposes and for future collectability. This led to flooding of the action figure toy market. One of the most popular action figure lines of the late 80s and early 90s, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were produced in such high quantities that the value for most figures would never be higher than a few dollars. In the mid 1990s a new Star Wars figure line had resurfaced and Spawn figures flooded the toy store shelves proving action figures were not just for kids anymore.
Today, comic book firms are able to get figures of their characters produced, regardless of whether or not they appeared in movies or animated cartoons. One difference from the traditionally costumed characters was that all sorts of specialized costumes and variants ("Ice Batman") were being produced. Packaging "errors" and "short-packed" figures were ploys used by toy companies to increase collector interest even more. Currently, figures are made even for player-characters in video games, graphic novels and performers in adult movies, which are aimed towards a limited market of older consumers. (courtesy: Wikipedia)