Action Figures for Adults Who Won't Grow Up

"It's just stuff. It's just pop culture stuff," he said. "It's stuff that says 'I like a little of this and I like a little of that', you know? No big deal."

McFarlane is probably best known for his hit comic-book "Spawn," which was made into an animated television series for HBO and a movie for New Line Cinema. "Spawn" is the dark tale of a government assassin who, after being killed, is sent to Hell and makes a deal with the devil to command Hell's armies in exchange for a chance to see his wife again.

The comic book's title character has been re-created and re-imagined by the action figure wizards at McFarlane Toys scores of times.

McFarlane launched his toy business back in 1994 because none of the companies making action figures from the "Spawn" comics met his high standards.

The company built a reputation as the gold standard for adult-oriented action figures, and has now expanded its toy-making business beyond "Spawn," winning licenses from Major League Baseball, "The Matrix" films and other major properties.

"The same people that were buying these toys as kids never stopped," said Gareb Shamus, publisher of Wizard: The Comics Magazine and ToyFare: The Toy Magazine.

And mainstream manufacturers have taken note of the adult market. "Hasbro and Mattel are doing it with some collectible series of figures," Shamus said.

The entry of Hasbro and Mattel -- considered the two giants of the action figure industry -- is more evidence of just how stiff competition is for adult toy dollars.

Still, smaller companies like Palisades Toys and Mezco Toyz are jockeying for sales amongst the industry's adult clientele. Palisades produces action figures based on properties like "The Muppet Show," "Alien" and "Predator"; Mezco lists Al Pacino in "Scarface" among its products.

An Artistic Connection

Palisades' president and chief executive officer, Mark Horn, says it's important to make an "emotional connection" with the consumer. "That's really what our business is about."

Horn remembers a statuette his company made of the title character from the 1987 movie "Predator." The designers chose a specific crouching pose for the extraterrestrial creature -- and hit the nail on the head in terms of making a connection with "Predator" fans.

"If you like 'Predator,' there's no way you can look at that and not think it's totally amazing," he said. "If you don't, then you probably weren't the intended audience anyway."

For buyers like Vilmenay, the emotional connection he has with the figures he collects isn't simply a nostalgic one, but an artistic one as well.

"To me they're a form of art," he said. "The attention to detail and the creativity. I would say they're not too far off from sculpture or what's considered 'proper' art."

Palisades Toys believes so strongly that its figures are art that it promotes the figures' creators on the product's packaging.

On the packaging of every figure Palisades produces is a list of credits, similar to those at the end of a movie, where the forces behind the figure are recognized.

"We list the art director, sculptors, artists, everybody," said Horn. "We're making commercial art. It's commercial art because it's being sold, but it is art nonetheless."

For Jessica Vilmenay, who often finds herself crawling around on her hands and knees picking up various appendages from aliens, monsters and medieval heroes, art might not be the right word.

"In some cases I can see them as art," she said. "But for me, most of the time, they're just a nuisance!"

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