ABSURD TOY LINES FROM THE 80s

Here is where we explore the interests and curiosities of our Studio members. The process begins when one member of the studio nominates a subject they are currently interested in. The studio shares a discussion on the subject. The member who holds the interest is asked 5 questions. The discussion held and the responses to the questions are used as subject and content to create visual interpretations by the interviewer.

Highlights of the discussion, Q&A, and final visuals will be posted in this section of our site for all to see. The intent of this exercise is to shed transparency on how the studio thinks, discusses, or works.

CARLOS:
WHAT ARE ABSURD TOY LINES FROM THE 80s?


ANDREW:
In the 1980's there seemed to be an action figure or toy boom as a result of the massive success Star Wars saw with it's Kenner toy line. Star Wars not only changed character licensing it changed the toy industry in general. With that change it seemed like proven toy brands and new ambitious companies were looking to out do each other. Action figure lines were no longer created as tie-ins to movies or cartoons. Rather cartoons were created as tie-ins to sell toys. It seemed like from 1985 to 1991, out-doing meant having a more absurd premise for a toy line than the other guys. What's absurd? A toy line based off the idea that your every day farm animals have become segregated by type of livestock to the point of all out war and militarization—Playmates actually produced a toy line like this called Barnyard Commandoes—We are talking pigs versus rams, missile launchers, machine guns, torpedo’s, tanks, etc. Militarization of usually non-violent creatures and objects didn't stop at farm livestock. It bled into your fridge. In the 1980's, Mattel released Food Fighters. The premise of this toy line was that the food items in your fridge have divided to two sides and have become militant to resolve their differences. Hot dogs in buns, short stack of pancakes, slices of pizza, and chicken drumsticks became anthropomorphized by growing human like limbs and humanized faces. Each toy figure came with a backpack and pistol or rifle. Militarization doesn't slow down in this era of toy making, because Hasbro threw in their absurd military toy bid with Army Ants. Like Food Fight, Hasbro was instinctually led to transform the humble army ants into Army Ants. Two tribes of ants, divided again by their differences, only to solve their squabbles by way of guns and army fueled action.

Other common absurdity of toys in the 80's and early 90's was a practice of involving slime. He-man, Ghostbusters, Swamp Thing, Toxic Crusaders all sold actual gooey accessories to be utilized in play with their figures.

Exaggerated features and character design also led trends for these toys. Each toy line seemed to feature one or several characters who was either severely disfigured or mutated. Mutation itself was a common theme from TMNT, Toxic Crusaders, and Swamp Thing. Often mutation was just not a style or back-story, but a play feature itself. A figure would either change appearance by help of action feature or accessory.

In the end, absurdity is subjective. But there are clear trends and traits that were heavily shared in the 1980's between toy companies that you just don’t see today.

C:
HOW IS COLOR IMPORTANT TO THE AESTHETIC QUALITIES OF THESE TOYS?


A:
I think color was very important, in packaging sometimes more so than the toys themselves. Colors ranged from very bright and neon colors. To more restrictive color palettes that utilize high contrasting colors. Colors also informed each individual character within the line. Or defined a good guy from a bad guy.

C:
HOW IS TYPOGRAPHY USED IN THESE TOY LINES? 

A:
There was always a very default and poorly set typeface used to describe the play features or list character descriptions to each available figure. However, hand drawn logos where always prominent and often the product of an airbrush artist.

C:
DO THESE TOYS REFLECT THE ERA IN WHICH THEY WERE MADE IN?

A:
I think so. Horror movies saw similar trends in the 80s. Music as well. Everything was very loud and over the top. Nothing was considered politically incorrect it seems. I think all media at the time was having fun and not thinking too much. It was just about an idea or a story and making it engaging and fun anyway you can. And selling it to kids. It almost seemed like, if someone’s mom or grandma wouldn’t like it, than it’s a moneymaker. From toys, cartoons, movies, and music.

C:
WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE ABSURD TOY? WHY?


A:
I honestly almost love them all. But I would have to say TMNT is up there. It’s in the name—Teenage. Mutant. Ninja. Turtles. That toy line was huge and it seemed like the toy designers had so much freedom. At one point I heard that there was an unwritten law between the designers that no figure can have any two limbs be sculpted alike. For example, a figure couldn’t have two shoes or feet be similar. If he had a shoe on the right, he had to be barefoot on the left. Or one leg was normal and the other mutated. The character range was great, you can tell they had fun and explored a lot of ideas.

I am also a sucker for Food Fighters, it's so ridiculous but the story is fun and simple. The movie Toy Story explores the idea we have all thought about, what happens to our toys when we are not there, do they come alive? That's what Food Fighters did, except no one ever thought what the food in their fridge does when the doors is closed. That just adds to the charm and the absurdity of it. I think I also just like the way that the toys look. Someone sculpted semi realistic looking food items and had to design how a human face would work into the anatomy of food. Human facial anatomy got thrown together with the anatomy of food. I don’t know, that’s interesting to me. I want to meet the people who sculpted these. I am curious about some of their decisions.

END
09.16.16