Thursday, July 23, 2009

Vinyl Impressions Part II

After creating the custom action figure for Jim Six and seeing what a great reaction it got, I became hooked on the satisfaction of making something that made someone happy. Although I would've loved to make custom figures of all my friends and family, it just wasn't feasible to find figures, clothing, and accessories which would exactly suit everyone. I was a bit lost as to what I should make next.

This was the fall of 2004, and Christmas was fast approaching. As in years past, my wife Kathy was participating in the Adopt a Family program at work where the people in her office buy gifts for one needy family. Kathy showed me the list of family members and the suggested gifts for each person. I noticed that there was a son named Tyrone who was about 6 or 7, I can't recall exactly anymore. Other people at Kathy's office were buying him the toys he requested, but I kept thinking about how I loved my action figures at that age and how I viewed them as adult versions of myself. I kept thinking that I would grow up to become part of G.I. Joe's Adventure Team, digging up mummies in Egypt or braving the jungles of Africa. Action Jackson was another figure through whom I lived vicariously. They could do all the things I couldn't then but maybe could do as an adult. If I had those feelings as a kid, I was sure Tyrone was looking for some kind of hope and inspiration for his future. What if I turned Tyrone into a superhero?

Immediately, the name Tyrone the Cyclone popped into my head. Of course, with "cyclone" in the name, he would have to have super speed. Okay, I had the basic concept, but I needed a costume. With only a few weeks to put the whole thing together, I couldn't afford to poke around on eBay. I had to rely on what I had in my boxes of action figure stuff. I settled on using a Captain Action leotard with the chest emblem removed. Kathy created a wonderful logo for the character using a "T" with a swirling cyclone pattern laid on top. From this logo, I printed a chest emblem on sticker paper and gave it extra gloss with decoupage glue. For boots, I used some flashy silver ones from a Flash Gordon costume, and the mask was made from blue electrical tape cut to shape and applied to his face.

Finally, I needed accessories. One of the disappointments I had as a kid was that both my Batman action figures, whether it be the Batman costume for my Captain Action doll or the Mego Batman doll, did not have functioning utility belts. The Batman costume for Captain Action came with accessories, but they had hooks on them which fit into holes on the belt, so the accessories hung from Batman's utility belt like he was a plumber. Mego, cheapskates that they were, didn't even include accessories with their Batman figure. There would be no half measures for Tyrone. His utility belt would have gadgets and gizmos.

I started with a belt from one of my policeman figures which had numerous pockets on it. I then created various made-up gadgets by splicing together bits and pieces of plastic from my vast collection of action figure do-dads. As I glued these little devices together, I gave each one a specific name: the flying sensor probe, the multi-tasking cosmic wrench, the hi-speed digital camera, the time travel stop watch, and the inter-dimensional communicator. Each little gadget fit neatly into the pockets on the belt. Tyrone the Cyclone was now fully armed and ready for battle.

Of course, that begged the question: Who was he to battle? I had to create an arch-enemy for Tyrone to fight. Since Tyrone the Cyclone's main power was super speed, his villain should be similarly equipped. Like Stan Lee on a deadline, I came up with the name Speed Demon and set about making a new figure.

To start, I had purchased a villainous looking figure a couple years earlier who had just the right mean look to him, but his body was rather slight, so I popped his head off the skinny body and put it on my Van Helsing figure. Not only was the Van Helsing body beefier, but it came already fitted with black gloves. I then put together an all-black outfit for him using a black leotard, funky black boots, and a pleather vest. His belt came from a G.I. Joe set, but I added little rocket jets to it and dubbed it his hover-belt. He also wielded an ornate scepter that I picked up somewhere along the way, and a spinning multi-bladed gizmo that I modified from my Van Helsing action figure. At any rate, he looked pretty bad-ass.

With the figures put together, I felt obligated to concoct a back story for these guys so that, when Tyrone opened the box on Christmas morning, he had some clue as to what the heck these goofy characters were. I wrote up the following story: Tyrone the Cyclone gained his powers when he encountered a sickly old man on a secluded street one night. The man said his name was Galdorn and he was the Supreme Guardian for his people who lived in another dimension. He had just completed his greatest achievement: banishing the worst super-criminal of his race to a nether-region between his dimension and Earth’s. Unfortunately, the super-criminal overpowered him and stole Galdorn’s magic scepter to escape to Earth. Galdorn expended all his energy to chase the super-criminal to Earth, but he was too old and weak to continue the pursuit. With all the energy left in him, Galdorn transferred his remaining powers to Tyrone. Instantly, Tyrone had the ability to travel through time and space at lightning speed. He also possessed the superior technological knowledge of Galdorn, enabling him to create amazing gadgets to hunt down and capture the escaped super-criminal. Calling himself Tyrone the Cyclone, he fashioned himself a costume impervious to the heat and friction of traveling at high speed. He also created a utility belt that carried his useful crime-fighting tools: Flying sensor probe, Multi-tasking cosmic wrench, Hi-speed digital camera, Time travel stop watch, and Inter-dimensional communicator. With his newly found powers, Tyrone the Cyclone scours the Earth to find the super-criminal - now known on Earth as Speed Demon – and return him to his prison beyond our world.

With Kathy's help, the little back story was put on a laminated card with pictures of the figures and fancy graphics. I also needed a box to put the figures in. Because of the time crunch, I couldn't create a mock-up action figure box like I had done with the Jim Six figure. Instead, I found a plain cardboard box that could hold both figures and Kathy helped me create a graphics piece that could be glued onto the front flap. It had all the usual hyperbole that toy boxes usually have and Kathy's graphics were amazing, especially how she designed a cartoon image of the spinning blade weapon that Speed Demon carried.

The whole thing was packaged and ready just in time for the people at Kathy's office to drop off the gifts to the family. I never got a chance to see Tyrone's reaction to his custom-made super hero. I'd like to think that he got a kick out of it, but he may have thought it was the lamest gift ever. I'll never know. I just think every kid should get a chance to feel like a super hero while they are still young enough to believe.

A whole mess of personal changes occurred for me during that Christmas, and I set aside my custom action figures for awhile. Still, there was one idea that kept creeping back into my brain...

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