Just forget the words and sing along

Sunday, August 28, 2011

RIP ToyFare

I know I'm a little late to the party on this one, but I just found out that back in January, my beloved ToyFare magazine ceased publication.

ToyFare was a sister publication to Wizard, which also ceased publication in January.  Wizard was the magazine for coverage of the world of comic books.  Interview with the artists, previews of upcoming storylines, and a comprehensive price guide, for those who might be looking to make a buck off their collections.  And ToyFare did for action figure collecting what Wizard did for comics.  Interviews with the sculptors who actually made the action figures, previews of upcoming toy lines, and a comprehensive price guide, so I could prove to my friends that I was actually making money with my nerdly hobby.

I started collecting action figures way back in high school.  Playmates Toys had just released their Star Trek: The Next Generation action figures, I decided to pick some up, with the goal of tearing them open and sitting them on my desk.  But then, I read some where that keeping an action figure in its package makes it more valuable, so I kept them in the package.  And hell, they still looked as nice sitting on my desk.  Then Deep Space Nine figures came along, new Star Wars action figures came out, and things kind of snowballed.

I first discovered ToyFare magazine in my college days.  It was one frosty November night, when I was taking a study break to make a Sev-Run.  There, on the magazine rack in 7-11, I spotted it.  It must have been frosty November 1996, because there was a bunch of Borg action figures on the cover, and Star Trek: First Contact had just hit theatres.  I started leafing through it, and as I saw page after page of news about action figures, I was hooked.  I bought that issue, and became and immediately became a regular reader.

But of course, it was those regular features that kept me coming back.  ToyFare's most famous regular feature was the comic strip Twisted ToyFare Theatre.  It featured action figures -- mostly superheroes -- all posed, with word balloons added in via photoshop.  And of course, they were doing things that were decidedly out of character, and very very funny.  It soon became so popular, that ToyFare actually started releasing trade paperbacks of Twisted ToyFare Theatre.  I have volumes 1 - 8.

And, of course, let's not forget Twisted ToyFare Theatre's lasting effect on pop culture.  Actor and geek Seth Green was also a big fan of Twisted ToyFare Theatre and thought it would make a great cartoon.  They could bring the action figures to life through stop motion animation.  So, Green poached some of ToyFare's best writers and went out to Hollywood to develop this cartoon.  That cartoon is still on today, and it is known as Robot Chicken.

Another neat thing about ToyFare magazine was they eventually teamed up with several toy companies to offer exclusive action figures in their pages.  You know the drill...send them a cheque or money order, and you'll get it in 6 - 8 weeks.  I didn't take much interest until they hooked up with Playmates Toys to start offering Star Trek figures.  So, I filled out my money order to get "Translucent Identity Crisis Geordi LaForge."

For those who don't care, in the episode Identity Crisis, Geordi LaForge is infected with alien DNA and starts to slowly mutate into an alien.  "Identity Crisis Geordi LaForge" is an action figure of the alien that Geordi turns into.  And since the alien can turn invisible, it was made of translucent plastic to duplicate the invisible effect.

I sent away my order form and my money, and immediately started fretting.  As this is Canada and I had to order to the USA, I really started fretting.  I would pace nervously throughout the halls of the dorm, wondering if it would ever come.  I would obsess over it during lunch in the cafeteria.  I'm pretty sure "Geordi Watch" even became a regular segment on my old college radio show.  I kept reading ToyFare, and sadly, I missed my chance to get a lot more Star Trek action figures as I kept fretting about Geordi, wondering if he would ever arrive.  Friends would point it out to me, "Dude!  I just saw the new ToyFare  on the shelves!  They've got this awesome new Star Trek figure!"  But I'd pass.  I wanted to make sure this would work, first, before going nuts. 

And, Geordi eventually arrived, and still has an honored place in my action figure collection.

Translucent Identity Crisis Geordi LaForge

Ordering exclusive ToyFare action figures became a hell of a lot easier once they opened an online store.  They had one I wanted...I'd just go online and place my order.  When I came back from time in Japan, flush with disposable income, I went on a bit of a shopping spree.

L to R:  Radioactive Homer, Trinity Revealed, 20th Anniversary Snake Eyes and Scarlett, Hawaiian Vacation Fozzie Bear

Radioactive Homer (The Simpsons; Playmates Toys) - Homer Simpson, wearing his radiation suit as seen in the opening credits of the show.  Only, this radiation suit is green and glows in the dark, to give it a healthy radioactive glow.

Trinity Revealed (The Matrix; WB Toys) - Warner Brothers produced some exclusive The Matrix action figures for their studio stores...but the most exclusive was this one.  The Trinity action figure available in the stores features Trinity wearing sunglasses.  This exclusive does not have sunglasses, hence, her face is revealed.

20th Anniversary Snake Eyes and Scarlett (G.I. Joe; Hasbro) - To comemerate the 20th anniversary of G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero, ToyFare teamed up with Hasbro to produce this exclusive two-pack of fan favourite characters Snake Eyes and Scarlett, featuring brand new paint jobs to make them more resemble their original comic book incarnations.

Hawaiian Vacation Fozzie Bear (The Muppet Show; Pallisades Toys) - I like the Muppets.  Fozzie is my favourite.  And Hawaiian shirts are awesome. 

I even wrote a letter to ToyFare magazine once.  During my time in Japan, I found an English-language bookstore that carried it, and new issues helped stave off the homesickness.  At this time in the action figure world, the hot item was 12" figures boasting authentic re-creations of military uniforms.  After reading the latest on this military toys, I sat down and sent an e-mail to ToyFare.  I told them how much I loved their magazine, how it helped on those lonely nights when I was missing Entwistle, and hey, with all these fancy military action figures right now, was there anyone out there producing action figures of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in their trademark red serge.  (I may have also gone off on a tangent about how one of my fanboy wishes would be a line of action figures dedicated to Due South.)  My letter was never published, but they did write me back, saying that Mountie action figures was a darn good idea with all these military figures, and they'd keep their ear to the ground in case anyone ever made them.

And of course, I must not forget, that ToyFare is responsible for the greatest thing in the history of ever.  ToyFare eventually got in the habit of getting comic book artists to sketch action figures in certain situations, you know, for covers, or for big retrospectives on certain toylines.

And then, one day, on one cover, for their retrospective on girls' toys of the 1980s, they had this:

L-R:  She-Ra, Rainbow Brite, Strawberry Shortcake

Yes, that's She-Ra, Rainbow Brite, and Strawberry Shortcake, all depicted as highly attractive 20-somethings and dancing on top of a bar, Coyote Ugly-style.  Working their way through college, no doubt.  ToyFare eventually revealed that they got the most reader feedback in the history of their publication from that picture.  It's my desktop wallpaper at work.  A special guest on my radio show one morning made the comment that you can use it as an age test:  if you know who those three are, then you're a kid of 80s. 

Despite my great affection for their publication, I stopped reading it around 5 years ago or so.  I remember making the decision to stop reading it.  I was in Wal-Mart one day, and I spied a highly rare Dark Phoenix action figure.  I immediately picked it up.  As I was driving home, I started analyzing the purchase in my mind.  "I've never read any X-Men comics," I thought to myself.  "Granted, I loved the cartoon and the movies, but I've never been a die-hard X-Men fan.  Why the hell did I buy a Dark Phoenix action figure?"  And I finally realized it's because ToyFare made such a big deal about how rare it is.  So that's why I stopped buying ToyFare.  It was starting to convince me to buy things I really didn't want. 

I still leafed through it occasionally as I saw it on the newsstand.  I never regretted giving up reading it, as my occasional leafings showed that it was become less about the toys, and more about Twisted ToyFare Theatre style humour.  And the jokes were getting increasingly lame.  I noticed, though, that it was getting increasingly difficult to find on the newsstands over the past year or so, and now I know why.

But before I go, let's not forget the most important lesson that ToyFare taught me.  Whenever a person buys an action figure of a female character, the first thing they do is look up her skirt to see what colour the panties are.

So, good-bye and fare thee well, ToyFare magazine.  For a period in my life, you were a very big part of my life.  And I still have boxes full of action figures as proof.  Not to mention, a long box full of back issues. 

Words That Are Now Part of My Vocabulary, Thanks to ToyFare

Variant - an action figure that is different from the norm in some way.  i.e.  a different paint job, different accessories, etc.
Chase Figure - an action figure produced in smaller numbers than the rest of the toyline.  So named because collectors "chase" after it.  

Shortpacked - An action figure that has the lowest numbers in a case.  e.g.  There's only one Slave Leia in the cases of the new Star Wars figures.  Slave Leia is shortpacked

Blind Boxed - An action figure where the packaging completely conceals what's inside, so you don't know which figure you're getting.  

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