Usually toy shopping for me today looks to be something more akin to dumpster diving than browsing the spacious and well-lit aisles of the local five and dimes like I did as a kid. The funny thing is I am often hunting for the same toys I was back in the 80s.
Most all of my GI Joe collection as a kid came from one of two places, either the Sears Catalog, which was my parents’ go-to for Christmas shopping, or retail chain TG&Y. TG&Y was really the only place in the small rural town I grew up in to pick up toys much as the local gas station was the only place to pick up comic books.
If TG&Y didn’t have it then I would have to hope we would stop by a larger store such as Montgomery Wards or, surprisingly, a Western Auto the next town over. Sometimes we would go into one of the few remaining Woolworths and they would only carry M*A*S*H or Sgt. Rock figures. I considered them the “cheaper” lines because the rubber bands holding them together always broke.
Once I got into TMNT, I found that the TG&Y in town only carried the main figures in the line. Expanding my collection to any of the secondary figures or vehicles was always a long quest involving visiting several different towns and a number of stores. I often wonder if this sort of hunt is what pushes me to look for vintage toys today. An addicting mixture of nostalgia and the thrill of the finding all the toys I had and lost or could never find as a kid.
I do buy some toys online, if I can get a bargain, but the vast majority of my collection comes from flea markets, dust malls, yard sells and out-of-the-way junk stores. The highs of the finds can be pretty extreme. There was the day I found a complete Shogun Warriors Godzilla for a dollar or my recent find of the 1990 TMNT helicopter for two bucks.
A lot of my work, the interviews with current retro toymakers, for Action Figure Fury centers on vintage toys, or really, the toys of my childhood. I think everyone thinks of the toys they played with as a child as being special, but the 70s and 80s saw Star Wars, the rebirth of GI Joe, the Super Powers and in the late 80s came my personal favorite, TMNT.
Although I love action figures and consider myself a dedicated collector, I don’t collect modern action figures. In most cases I think they have way too many points of articulation and lack much of the charm of older, sleeker figures. Recently, when my fiancé suggested we browse a local Toys R Us I was surprised how quickly I agreed. I really didn’t expect much other than to walk the aisles and casually confirm my lack of interest in modern figures. The opposite actually occurred.
First off, any Turtles fan not aware of the current Playmates line supporting the Nickelodeon show is really missing out. There is a renaissance of TMNT toys happening right now and that became clear from our first steps into the store when we greeted by a TMNT entryway. It was like a portal into a Turtles toys wonderland.
It has been years since I have seen such a wide toy aisle filled with Turtles toys. Part of the aisle was filled with toys based on the last movie (I haven’t seen it) but the vast majority was devoted to the new cartoon series. I was skeptical on the new show at first but I have to admit its pretty quickly won a fond spot in my heart. Judging by the sheer number of figures of figures in the line I can’t be the only person who feels that way.
I was pleasantly surprised to find that the line also called back to the Turtles origins by producing figures based on the original Eastman and Laird comics. I had thought the figures sculpted after the old black and white comics I loved so much would be the highlight of the Turtles section but then I laid my eyes on the greatest toy I have ever seen.
A LIFE-SIZED MICHELANGELO! An honest-to-God four-foot tall Turtle. I would have killed for this as a kid. I would have saved very penny from any after school odd job I could have pulled together to afford this. It is really the toy of my dreams. Only the reminder that we had limited space in our apartment for toys made me reluctantly leave life-sized Mikey behind.
The following day I was right back in the second-hand stores looking to rescue the toys of yesterday from endless stacks of junk and loved every minute of it. That said, I look forward to my next trip back to the toy store.