Sunday, August 31, 2008


The action figure of Fuu from Samurai Champloo. I've had the figures of Mugen and Jin for some time, and only needed Fuu to complete the triad. While Mugen might be the guts of the outfit and Jin the brain, Fuu is the heart of the group. This is not to say she is all mushy and sentimental; rather her common sense and down to earth qualities are what bring the gang together and motivates their adventures.

Fuu as "the girl" action figure has been hard to track down. The paradox of their production is that fewer of them get made because they are supposedly less popular, which makes them more collectible and thus more highly sought. But one came up on eBay last week and I snagged it, and here we are. The packaging was in poor shape, which probably led both to it's reasonable price and it's being up for sale at all; that's fine with me, because I bust them open anyway.

Anyway, to the particulars: the figure was made by Jazwares, Inc. for the Geneon animation company. Fuu is seven inches tall, and comes with a host of acessories. These include two extra heads (Hair Unbound and Wet Weather Gear), a little pink knife with sheath, rice bowl, ship-shaped food server with sushi, journal (yay! a book!), and Momo, her pet flying squirrel. There is also a base for her foot. You can see them all above in the picture I snagged off Google; this is how toys should be displayed and I envy whoever made this set-up.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got: Part 3

Back in the day you had to take your toys however you could get them. The original "Liddle Kiddles" were girl toys that came in large plastic toy perfume bottles. But a subsidiary line consisted of four "Kosmic-Kiddles", that came in the George Jetson-style flying saucer as you can see above. We browbeat our Mom to get us one (in this very color scheme , called the "Purple Gurple") and happily used it with other toys in other playings. The fruity little "kiddle" was subjected to any number of indignities; as a figure we didn't care what happened to it. The saucer came with a rectangular base of jagged purple rocks that was a setting for many an outer space playing. The plastic dome was eventually detached and got cracked and thrown away, but we still have the saucer. Mint condition ones are available, but seeing a complete picture and having the only part that we really cared about is enough.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Conan Series 1

For years I have had an ambivalent attitude to Conan the Barbarian, greatest creation of Robert E. Howard, Texas' native son and most renowned "fantasist." (Neil Hancock and immigrant Michael Moorcock are poor seconds.) I came to him through the black-and-white comic mag "The Savage Sword of Conan" in the late 70's. I tried to read a few of Howard's novels and short stories, but never really liked his prose style; in a strange way his mythology was greater than the actual working out of his stories. Then the 1982 movie came out and I was even more conflicted.

For all the cheese factor, I find I can't just give up on the Hyborian Age. It is indefensible, philosophically despicable, mythopoetically puerile, but on some deep gut level powerfully compelling. I bought eight volumes of Howard's work (admittedly at extremely reduced prices) that I find very hard to read, but I feel I must have them because Howard is such a giant influence in a certain area of my interest (imaginative lit, see my profile).

Anyhow, here I am with at least three incarnations of Conan in action figure form. I have Conan as he appears in Frank Frazetta's cover paintings, by MacFarlane Toys. I have Conan as he appears in Marvel Comics. And now I have Conan as he appeared in the movies, played by Arnold Schwarzeneggar, by NECA Reel Toys. It's Conan as he is in the beginning of the film, as a pit-fighter owned by the Vanir. There is another version (shown in the insert above) of Conan in camouflage as he was when infiltrating Thulsa Doom's cult.

I bought it at Hasting's for $16.99. The sculpt looks particularly accurate for something that must have been done by hand rather than computer scan; Arnold's expression of stultified brutality is very well captured. The figure comes with a base, a Vanir standard, and two hand axes.

Monday, August 25, 2008

I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got: Part 2

Back in the day cereal and chips often had premiums to excite children and make them force their parents to buy comestibles they otherwise would have no interest in. I remember particularly when I was a wee child in the late 60's they had what we called "little animals" in a lot of Lays products, including an incredible set of silvery dinosaurs. And then there were Fritos.

Fritos went through a tumultuous period of change in their advertising icons. Their original spokescartoon, the "Frito Bandido", was deemed too racially insensitive, and had to go. Their next attempt, "W. C. Fritos", was shot down by the estate of the late comedian. Their last effort was a trio of non-descript "Anglo" bandits. All these characters were made as pencil toppers, as you can see above, and we had all of them. Their sculpting was a superb 3D rendering of the animation.

Had 'em. Enjoyed 'em. Do not need 'em.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got: Part 1

While I've been rather dedicated lately to buying some old things I used to have or really wanted in the old days, there are some things that I'm okay with just seeing them in a picture. Why these and not other things? Iuhno.
Here's something we once had, but never the whole set all at once. The Freakies, from Freakies Cereal. Boss Moss, Grumble, Hamhose, Cowmumble, Snorkledorf, Goody Goody, and--er--the purple guy. As I say, I'm satisfied just seeing a picture of them again.
Oh yeah. Gargle.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Harry Potter Year Two Box Set

At last a decent Richard Harris-era Dumbledore! No offense to Michael Gambone, but he does not have the distant congeniality or humor of Richard Harris that seems intrinsic to the character of Dumbledore in the books. The Michael Gambone Dumbledore always seems p----d and portentous. And those dirty sharp fingernails! Where did those come from? Besides the bowl-cut Harry with wand, there are also the most important accessories from The Chamber of Secrets: Fawkes the Phoenix, the Sorting Hat, and the Sword of Godric Gryffindor. Everything is beautifully sculpted, the figures are adequately articulated, and the whole package was about $30.00. Made by NECA Reel Toys.

As a side note, it won't be long until J. K. Rowlings' next little opus in the world of Harry Potter will be out: The Tales of Beedle the Bard. This is a slim collection of five "fairy tales" told in the wizarding world, as established in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. It hasn't taken long for Rowling to re-visit her money maker, and it will be just in time to whip up a little furor for the next Potter movie.

Don't get me wrong: I've enjoyed the Potter books, but I don't think they are superior to any of half a dozen other "juvenile" fantasy series. They merely had better p.r. and merchandising. Perhaps now that the series is over and the mysteries are all explained, the mania can die down and a more just evaluation of her accomplishments can be achieved. But we'll probably have to wait for the last movie adaptation to come out before that will happen.

In the meantime we can hope for more great action figures. Where's the Professor McGonagall? Does Maggie Smith just not want her likeness reproduced? Or is it the prejudice against female action figures? Get cracking, NECA!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

I...Am... Beowulf!

Why? Why? Why? Why can't anyone make a movie about Beowulf that is simply the story of Beowulf? Why must it always be some "take" or "real story of"? Of course it's not only Beowulf, but any old legend or myth, that must be stamped with a "personal vision" or "modern twist" before it can be made into a film. The SciFi Channel is rife with such tripe. Perhaps King Arthur is the worst victim of this syndrome; perhaps the best attempt has been Boorman's Excalibur, but there is yet to be a decent straight out telling.

The latest telling of Beowulf was scripted by Neil Gaiman, from whom I might have hoped for a better effort, but though I find his writing for novels and comics admirable, he seems to be singularly unfortunate in the movies he pens (Stardust, anyone?). Okay, the movie was okay, but it wasn't Beowulf.

Anyhoo, when I went to Hastings Saturday, I saw this figure had gone down to $8, and that was just in my price range. It is a remarkable sculpt of a Dark Age Northern warrior, authentic in details of armor and weaponry. The main drawback is of course in it's posture, which gives it limited posability, but great display presence. It comes with a base and the Dragon Cup, which I must admit was the accessory that sold it for me.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

A Secret Shame

Before I speak of this, I have to say in my defense that i hang around my sister and her daughters for a large part of the day. I am exposed to a lot of things that would not normally come within my purview. I know more about High School Musical and the Jonas Brothers than is entirely comfortable in a forty-five year old man. So when I tell you that I've become addicted to a show on The Style Channel called Clean House, I pray you will be understanding and merciful.

The host of the show, Neicey Nash, brings her crew to a family that is having trouble with "clutter, mayhem, and foolishness." They clean the house, hold a garage sale, and then use the money to redecorate and refurbish. Along the way there is some counselling with the family about what led them to such a pass and how they can keep from relapsing.

What I find fascinating is the stuff the family is always advised to give up. Usually it is some old family keepsake or piece of junk that has memories attached. Their mantra (and it can be a sensible one) is that it is the memories that are important, and not the object. But what is the one category of item that is always targeted if it's in the house? You got it! Action figures!

If there are action figures--especially if they belong (horrors!) to a GROWN MAN!--they must go. If the fellow is lucky they let him keep a small selection. A grown lady's doll collection usually gets more respect, but they can be pretty ruthless there too. And do you really need all these silly books?

The results are admirable. The living conditions are vastly improved. I watch with an uneasy mingling of horror and approval. The physical needs of the family are met. But a little bit of their individuality--what makes them them--seems to be gone. I watch, and each week I ponder the question of how and if each family is helped. I can't really decide, and I can't stop watching.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Seymour S. Sassafras

Seymour S. Sassafras, from the Rankin/Bass classic, Here Comes Peter Cottontail, voiced by and modeled on Danny Kaye. This amazing action figure was produced about five years ago, one of a series of four that included Peter Cottontail (Casey Casem) with Francois the Caterpillar, Dolly with Bonny the Bonnet, and Irontail (Vincent Price). The company was Diamond Select, and there was a second series planned but never produced. The figure from hat to heel stands a whopping nine inches tall; articulated only at neck and shoulders. The hat is removable, a cane and a very colorful Easter egg are included, but not shown in this picture.

Have you ever seen such a manically cheerful action figure?

Ol' Seymour here reminds me of a certain type of character that was fairly pervasive at the time I was growing up. Archetypically, this kind of guy was a combination of The Wise Old Man and The Trickster; sartorially he was reminiscent of the travelling medicine man. He always wore a hat, usually a top hat, but a derby, straw, or Panama was not unknown. He always wore a suit, with a topcoat and a vest. In that vest pocket was invariably a pocket watch. He carried a cane or an umbrella, and at his side might be a mysterious carpetbag or valise. Inside could be a large and impressive book, or the accoutrements of his fabulous trade. He might wear glasses: a pince-nez was favotite, but a monocle or thick round spectacles were acceptable. Helpful, clever, and creative, with an impish sense of humor, he would often help and test the main character at the same time.

I love characters like that. Is there any modern equivalent?

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Late Summer: Favorite Poems


I, dusty and bedraggled as I am,
Pestered with wasps and weeds and making jam,
Blowzy and stale, my welcome long outstayed,
Proved false in every promise that I made,
At my beginning I believed, like you,
Something would come of all my green and blue.
Mortals remember, looking on the thing
I am, that I, even I, was once a spring.

--C. S. Lewis, 1898-1963.

Friday, August 8, 2008

More Pipe-Smoking Action Figures

A couple of days ago I got the figure of "Albert" from The Corpse Bride in the mail. He comes with a most elegant pipe. The character, whose name is never mentioned in the movie, was actually listed on e-Bay as "Albert the Pipesmoker." It got me to thinking about a couple of other pipe-smoking action figures I hadn't listed in my previous posting.

Of course there is Popeye from Mezco. He is part of a very good line that came out a few years ago. One of the great imaginary pipe-smokers of popular culture.

Then there is Captain McCallister from The Simpsons, from the line put out by Playmates. The good Captain has the distinction of having been created for the series by Conan O'Brien.

I think I forgot about these two because their pipes are actually stuck in their mouths, more a part of their figure than an accessory to me.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

The Irony, Kids

Most of you have probably heard this already, but I can't help but repeat it.
The ashes of James Doohan, who played the beloved Mr. Scott on Star Trek and who had passed away some time ago, were due to be launched into orbit around the earth along with about 200 other "cremains". Unfortunately the launch blew up on the pad and Scottie's ashes were burned a second time, unrecoverably.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Odds and Ends 3

A quick catch-up of various toys got in the last two weeks.

From Tuesday Morning: a Water Nation Ang with light-up fists and a Fire Nation Rhino from Avatar. Rhino: $5. Ang: $4.

From Kaybee Toy Store: Sebek the Crocodile God from Spawn: Age of Pharoahs. $5.

From Target: A Cockatrice and a Basilisk from Dragonology. $10.19 each.

And especially appreciated, from my brother Yen in Florida: Susan and Reepicheep, Trumpkin and Trufflehunter, from Prince Caspian. Priceless!

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Pauline Baynes

Pauline Baynes passed away at her home in Surrey on August the third, just one month shy of her 86th year. She was the original illustrator of all the Narnia books, of Farmer Giles of Ham and Smith of Wootton Major and The Adventures of Tom Bombadil and Bilbo's Last Song, of maps of Middle-Earth, and of many other books.
I first saw her drawings when I bought The Tolkien Reader in the mid-70's. Her style influenced me deeply, especially my dragons, as first I traced and re-traced her picture of Chrysophylax Dives, and then took to free-handing my own.
It was with some surprise and pleasure that I found out that she was still alive and producing in the late 90's; I had felt that surely anything so good must belong in the Long Gone Times. The above picture of her, which might be described as her official portrait, is from when she was producing the Narnia Chronicles illustrations back in the Fifties. A much more recent photo featured in Brian Sibley's tribute to this great lady shows she had weathered into one of those amazing, fabulous creatures that only professional British women seem to become.
A melancholy fact that has tinged my whole day. Some mourning to mark her passing; a truly creative person who has subtly touched millions with her art, whose death is hardly a blip on the worldly radar. But we know, and salute her.

Monday, August 4, 2008

The Sea Serpents Around Us

A few posts back I mentioned a book on sea serpents that I read back in grade school, and that I had been trying to hunt down for years. I remembered that it had been written and illustrated by a husband and wife team, was in black and white, and had been published before 1970. After an extensive search, I found a book I thought fit the bill, and at a venture sent off for it. It turned out to be the right one.

The Sea Serpents Around Us, by Louis and Lois Darling, published 1965. Louis Darling is (or was) famous for illustrating all the Beverly Cleary books (Ramona, Ribsy, etc.) and The Mouse On The Motorcycle books. His wife Lois was a keen boatswoman and artist herself. Together they illustrated Silent Spring by Rachel Carson, the early environmentalist. It was undoubtedly their naturalist expertise on the ocean that made them such convincing illustrators for this book, and surely Lois is responsible for the little gems of accuracy of several period ships.

The book itself starts with a wise old sea serpent putting its head on their boat while they're sailing one day. It tells them the history of sea serpents, including several famous examples like the Loch Ness Monster and the Manchester Sea Serpent. A whimsical ancestral chart is shown, which includes dinosaurs, dragons, and crocodiles. The authors explain that after bounties and rewards were placed on sea serpents heads, they all decided to go into hiding and pretend to be extinct. Much of the book is rather tongue-in-cheek, but to us it was a beginning introduction to cryptozoology, and one of the elements that put it over to us was the very solidity of the pictures.

Speaking of pictures, the very dimensions of the book make scanning an example diffcult. Most of them stretch over two pages at a time, making them about 14 inches long. The truncated sample I prepared doesn't seem to want to download right now; but I think that might be Blogger's fault. I'll try again later.
Added note: Success!

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Liz Sherman and Johann Krauss

Just a note today to say I got the last two Hellboy 2 figures of Series One. They are Liz Sherman, Hellboy's firestarting inamorata, and Johann Krauss, his ectoplasmic superior in the BPRD. They are both 7 inches tall.

Liz Sherman has two alternative hands, one with a blue flame and the other with a gun. People who have seen this figure say it doesn't look much like her. I think a female face is much subtler in the features that make it characteristic, and are that much harder to mold convincingly at this scale.

Johann Krauss, being an ectoplasmic person inside a kind of old-fashioned diving suit, has no features, as such. He comes with an alternate broken glass helmet and two alternative "plasma hands," with some finely molded billows coming from the figures.

Will Series Two come out? Time will tell.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Donald Duck Sees South America

Way back in the Forties, the United States was pursuing the "Good Neighbor Policy" with South America. As part of the effort, the Walt Disney studios produced The Three Cabelleros and this little book. It was all to promote tourism, good feelings, and trade between the continents, and keep hostile European forces from getting a hold in the area. Along the way it is a very educational and entertaining look at a continent.

No doubt it was this educational content that led to its inclusion in the library at McQueeney Elementary School. Thirty-five years after its publication it was there, and one of the most eagerly sought after reads over all the grades, because of its ties with Disney, which made it seem more entertaining than the rest of the fare. Over the years we've all kept our eyes open for a copy, whenever we're at a garage sale or used book store.

E-bay strikes again. This Tuesday my copy arrived, and I spent an entranced afternoon poring over it once more. The brilliant color illustrations, the generous line drawing marginalia, are all I remember them to be. The adventures of the neophyte traveller Donald as voyages across South America, his footsteps dogged by the condescending know-it-all Mr. Whelpley, his accommodations always being bumped by the superior importance of El Presidente de la Comision de la America Latina, but always helped by the friendly and hospitable Latin Americans (especially the parrot Jose Carioca), until he ends up a seasoned, feted hero, are still engaging.

Some parts of the book are a little dated in their sensibilities (of course you would expect it to be dated in it's fact; it is after all more than 65 years old). In Peru Donald partakes in a little touristy grave-robbing to get a funerary pot to take home with him, and in a condor hunt, with the express purpose to dispose of the "vicious" condors. But, autres temps, autres moeurs.

It is Donald's impetuous, vain, but generous character that emerges in the story that makes it so endearing. His valiant attempts to eat an exotic meal after being mocked by Mr. Whelply for ordering a ham sandwich would put Anthony Bourdain to shame. His impulsive purchase of a kinkajou set up a pet-desire in us boys that lasted for years. After stepping off his canoe and falling down fifty waterfalls when he thinks his guide has said the water was shallow, he decides to learn Spanish in Uruguay, hires fifty tutors to teach him, learns it in three weeks, then finds out that Portuguese is the language in Uruguay. Adventure follows adventure till Donald has earned serious experience points, and ends up rescuing Mr. Whelply in the Amazon, where the know-it-all has amnesia. Donald has the pleasure of re-educating him with all that he now knows about South America, and his hero status allows him to bump El Presidente for his plane seat home.