Action Figures for Adults Who Won't Grow Up

When you're strolling down the toy aisles this holiday season, don't forget to pick up something for the grown-up in your life who refuses to grow up.

A small but successful portion of the toy industry is targeting "kids" aged 15-40 who don't see anything wrong with collecting toys.

"I know what kind of fun I had as a kid. Why wouldn't it be fun now?" said Jason Vilmenay, a 27-year-old biology student and avid toy collector.

Jason is one of thousands of adult toy collectors in the United States who passionately collect a new, more adult breed of action figures.

These aren't the same generic, plastic playthings many of us remember from our youth.

Instead, some manufacturers are creating pop culture statuettes based on popular movies, television shows, musicians -- and of course superheroes -- to take a bite out of an action figure market that generated sales of $1.2 billion last year, according to the NPD Group, an organization that tracks toy industry data.

The level of craftsmanship, along with pop culture characters like Austin Powers and Kermit the Frog, are meant to say as much about the action figure as they do the buyer.

'More Power to Them'

With a wife, a 2-year-old daughter, a full-time job and a full roster of college classes, Vilmenay doesn't have a lot of time to relax.

Toys, he says, give him the freedom to goof off a little -- at least when his homework's done.

"As serious as I have to be in my career and school, that's the thing that keeps me from getting too serious," said Vilmenay. "There should be a little part of everyone that never grows up."

Vilmenay, boasts a collection of European car models, giant robots and an abundance of action figures that litter his Long Island, N.Y., home.

His 26-year-old wife, Jessica, is tolerant of her husband's hobby, but would prefer it if his interests took up a little less space.

"Of course they bother me," she said. "We had to buy shelves and he bought a display case -- and I'm always finding little guns and legs all over the house!"

But, Jessica says, aside from the occasional nuisance, she doesn't see anything wrong with it.

"Personally, I don't have the mindset to play with toys," she said, "but if he can -- if anyone can -- more power to them."

'It's Just Stuff'

One of the better known players in the adult action figure business is famed comic-book artist Todd McFarlane.

McFarlane says that for most people the word "toy" conjures up images of children playing with dolls.

But for people who "get it," he says, it's just another way to express one's individuality.

"It basically says: This is who I am to the world," said McFarlane. "It's your hair color and your clothes and the TV programs you watch."

McFarlane uses the example of one worker passing by the desk of another worker who has decorated his cubicle with a Dana Scully action figure, the character played by Gillian Anderson on "The X-Files."

"They walk by your cubicle and they turn and they go, 'is that Scully from the 'X-Files'? There's a little bit of a sheepish moment and you go 'Yeah' and they say 'Oh, I love that show'," he said. "And you're off to a conversation. I don't think the conversation is 'Hey, why the heck you got a Scully? What are you -- a geek?"

McFarlane likes to refer to the figures he makes -- and just about anything else people buy that's related to pop culture -- as "stuff."

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