If you were a boy who grew up in the 1980s, you almost definitely had at least one M.U.S.C.L.E. figure somewhere in your toybox, or wedged into that shoebox under your bed that had a tangle of worms, a firecracker, and a picture of a boob. While my mom wasn’t really down with action figures, I was usually able to bring home duplicates and cast-offs that the neighbor kids no longer wanted. One of my first action figures was a TMNT Casey Jones, the result of a neighborhood friend’s birthday excess. After that, it was all a sad, confused stumble downhill into the mess of a human being that I am today. And I still have Casey Jones, and all of his accessories.
I don’t remember if I had any M.U.S.C.L.E.s in my collection, but I know those rich-ass neighbor kids did. They had Technodromes and piles of Nintendo games and doctors for parents, and I had a simmering resentment and the well-developed ability to pretend that I liked them enough to get to play Mega Man or F-Zero, if even for a few moments. But I knew that M.U.S.C.L.E. was awesome. If pro wrestling was the sweaty soap opera that snuck onto TV after American Gladiators every Saturday, M.U.S.C.L.E. was everything it should have been. Hulk Hogan was just a dude, but he acted like he was thirty feet tall and made of car parts. The Undertaker was just another dude, but he carried himself like a walking death machine. Leave it to Japan to bring these things to their spiritual apex.
My affection for M.U.S.C.L.E. is not unusual, and the thousands of aging nerds who also enjoyed those little guys couldn’t bear to see them fade into toy history. If there’s one good thing about getting old, it’s that you can make the shift between being a consumer into being a creator with greater ease, and you can make whatever you damn well please.
OMFG capitalizes on the ground broken by M.U.S.C.L.E. and continues the original line in spirit, if not by name. Artists and personalities known to the insular “art toy” scene get together and crank out drawings and sculpts that fit into the world of M.U.S.C.L.E., and occasionally, a few ideas by lesser-known artists are voted on and introduced. I have my own contender for the next series of OMFG.
OMFG’s excellent range of characters covers just about any kind of kid- and id-driven madness you could imagine, and that’s the point. There are monsters made entirely of bricks and skulls, and others that explore anthropomorphized animals, and others that cling to the always-favorite gross-out stuff. It’s a line unrestrained by theme, other than ‘things that are awesome’ and/or ‘things that look like they’d be good in a fight’, all designed for the adult toy collector.
And if you can actively collect toys as an adult, it only means that you’re probably a pretty damned successful adult. What’s more symbolic of a guy who can get what he wants than a Batman action figure on top of that ‘to do’ pile? You can’t buy Batman if you’re struggling to eat.
A favorite from Series One is King Castor, designed by Dominic Campisi. It’s hard to articulate the moment of inspiration that you have as a kid when you realize that your Ghostbusters Firehouse Playset could theoretically become severely haunted and become the giant, shambling bad guy that all of your heroes are fighting against, inside and out, but King Castor comes close to understanding that moment (as well as Mattel’s recent Castle Greyskullman). It’s an important point of creative revelation when you realize that you can flip the script.
Years of overmothering magazines and articles have decried the use of action figures as playthings because they “stifle the imagination”, but I don’t think that there’s a single kid out there who followed any kind of property-defined rules of play. Rather than seeing action figures as corporate advertising tools, kids have instead seen them as seeds for inspiration. You don’t buy an action figure so you can re-enact a story you saw on TV; you buy it so you have an actor for the story you want to write.
So take that, you stupid moms.
A close second favorite is Multiskull by Monsterforge, because one skull is awesome, but a million skulls is a million awesome.
Series Two didn’t capture me like the others did, so I only opted for the ‘blood red’ version. Pumpkins and robot babies are great… but not quite as great as lobster monsters.
Because I have a weird attraction to toys that depict food items, like McDonald’s transforming dinosaur burgers and Trash Pack pizza cars, Fruit Punch is one of my favorite OMFG figures (and a reason for my own hot-dog-themed contribution to the possible 5th series). It’s a clever pun, but it isn’t a parody. Parody is one of the lowest forms of comedy after TV shows that just replay stuff from the Internet, most Geico commercials, and anyone with the last name ‘Dunham’, Jeff and Lena inclusive. OMFG defines originality, in an era where the understanding of ‘original’ has devolved into which memes you post and the images you reblog on Instagram.
Here’s the twist in the ongoing spirit of originality, though: the original M.U.S.C.L.E. line was based on a Japanese manga and anime called Kinnikuman, which itself was a parody of Ultraman, so it’s not completely free from corporate motives and the drive to sell toys, nor from the inherent embarrassment of being a parody. But to kids in the US who weren’t familiar with foreign cartoons, these were just unnamed monster wrestler guys that Mattel was putting out (cheaply, in association with Bandai). They lacked the context of a TV show to design their narrative, so there was no telling who was a good guy and who was a bad guy, or if these were just a bunch of guys who got together to play chess or something. Without context, American kids grew their own story in a unique way – but would it have turned out the same even if we had those comics in America?
Even today, when we have access to the full story of Kinnikuman in English, somewhere probably, these guys still carry whatever meaning we assigned to them when we were kids. Slash, the over-mutated Ninja Turtle, wasn’t a bad guy to me; he was just a guy who was misunderstood for being different, and being what those handsome Turtles could have all been if they stayed in that radioactive goulash for a few more minutes. Kids strip and reconfigure the narratives that come with their toys, and sometimes, decades later, those narratives come back and expand into things like OMFG. These aren’t only the continuing story monster toys fighting with each other, but it’s the story of how we grow the narratives that we love and carry them with us, even when we’re old and fat.
OMFG Series 4 recently shipped to Kickstarter backers, so I’m posting an updated gallery here. Enjoy!
C. David is a writer and artist living in the Hudson Valley, NY. He loves pinball, Wazmo Nariz, Rem Lezar, MODOK, pogs, Ultra Monsters, 80s horror, and is secretly very enthusiastic about everything else not listed here.