The crafting of action figures is a business that normally focuses on the assumed physical likeness of world-famous comic book superheroes. These are the make-believe characters possessing superpowers, characters with a selfless desire to change the world, those who appeal to all demographics.
Now, a few toymakers with their ear to the ground have taken these simple principles to heart. They’ve decided to make action figures based upon the glorious likeness of rock musicians. Think Star Wars merch, but with music action figures instead! Or… perhaps we’re getting ahead of ourselves with the marketing potential rap.
Of course, this follows in the footsteps of marketing strategies of bands like KISS, who, starting with the 70’s, focused heavily on the merchandising side of their business. KISS dolls are one thing. But, some of the other action figures available to fervent collectors, tread the line between the weirdly uncomfortable and the down right fun. (For the record KISS officially licenses guitar strings for air guitar! Dwell on that for a moment!)
When it comes to the emerging market of rock n roll star action figures, Iggy Pop is represented, naturally. (Note that while I understand that there’s a difference between dolls and action figures, I’m not entirely clear on the details). It makes perfect sense that he should. One look at a towering performance of the great man and visions of superheroes are instantly drawn up by the imagination.
Described by fans and peers alike as the godfather of punk, seen by Henry Rollins as the Bruce Lee of rock and, to some, even worshiped as the king of rock n’ roll (a statement I would back up gladly) it makes sense that a larger than life character such as Iggy would be bestowed with the honor of having his very own action figure.
The character of Iggy Pop has become akin to a myth of folk tale. It now belongs as much to the world as it does to its creator Jim Osterberg. For those interested in the toy, web sites still sell it for around $15 in all its chiseled glory.
The Iggy punk rock action figure is made by NECA. The company specializes in 7-inch statuettes of the likes of Jimmy Page, Jimi Hendrix, or Freddie Mercury. Ebay features numerous deals on these pint-sized collectibles.
There are action figures you would hardly be surprised to be flooding the market. There is a Johnny Cash action figure, as there are numerous other products endorsed by the Cash estate. There are AC/DC and Jimi Hendrix figures. The Funko Pop toy shop looks set to corner this market niche. But, for our taste, we prefer something a bit more adventurous.
But, there also exist action figures of musicians from the alternative spectrum of the rock world. Given their stance against commercialism some may see this as disrespectful. Of course, others aren’t keen to take this as seriously and would rather regard this as another piece of merchandise, not unlike a poster or band shirt. There are a couple different versions of a true to life Kurt Cobain action figure. In the mode seen below, the Nirvana singer/guitarist is seen wearing the attire from the Smells like teen spirit video and with his trademark Fender Mustang guitar. Fame comes with its consequences as Cobain himself would certainly know.
Punk rock fans can delight in a number of action figures centered around legendary bands in this genre. There are action figures depicting the Ramones (below you can see two very determined-looking Joey and Johnny figurines). In all fairness, we tend to feel that these are rather tactful and in keeping with the image of bubblegum meets biker gang that the Ramones created for themselves.
However, it should be noted how commercial opportunities for the Ramones have been never-ending in recent years, with the members unable to benefit from them. Instead, at their peak, the band enjoyed far less success than some of their New York peers and were routinely snubbed by the mainstream music industry. Oh, well.
Metal fans can get their holly as well. There are action figures depicting the late Lemmy Kilmister, Slash, Metallica or Zakk Wylde. Frankly, they all look terrifying and ready to kick up a Jack Daniels fueled action figure fistfight.
The Macfarlane toy company, that specializes in tiny depictions of comic books heroes and wrestlers, has also made room for rock star action figures. We admit Ritchie Sambora and Slash figurines do stir some ol’ teenage emotions. But, the company’s toy depiction of KISS’ Love Gun album cover has to be believed. If we have one qualm is that it only features three semi-naked groupies when the original artwork clearly showed a horde. Rock n roll Hall of Fame exhibit material, perhaps?
Ownership over image rights for action figures
We know how musicians control their compositions, but what about their distinctive looks? An interesting judicial case sprung up in 2011 which dealt with artists’ ownership of their image.
The bass player and singer of the psychobilly band the Horrorpops, Patricia Day, sued the company manufacturing the famed Barbie dolls over a model that the singer claimed was directly based by her image.
Allegedly, the toy company had decided to market a set of dolls that featured a rock theme. They had obtained permission from the likes of Joan Jett and Debbie Harry. However, for their rockabilly/psychobilly styled doll they had not spoken to or their Patricia Day, the musician they had based on the doll’s look on. The singer claimed that the company had, in fact, used the cover of one of the band’s albums as inspiration for the doll, something you may judge for yourself in the picture below.
The tiny rock action figures, the curiosities and general monstrosities
Bobbleheads of rock musicians also exist. Some look more convincing than others. The company Aggronautix makes bobbleheads specialized in alternative and punk rock. One of the ones easiest to acquire is that depicting punk rock agitator, the late GG Allin. In all fairness, even a superficial glance at this show that great work seems to have been put into the making of this. Allin’s unsettling stage presentation is displayed together with the filth, blood-soaked skin and indecipherable tattoos. The company also designs models depicting card-carrying members of the indie-rock elite, such as Mojo Nixon, J Mascis of Dinosaur Jr, Keith Morris or Wendy O. Williams.
Moving forward, recently it was announced that Steve Ignorant of punk rock collective Crass would be getting his own action figure. The news was greeted with strained amusement by some, given the anarcho-punk group’s legacy. If that wasn’t a problem than the extremely passing resemblance to Ignorant maybe something to get worked up about.
And, if what you’ve seen so far simply does not possess the horror factor that you crave, Clark Toys has you covered. The Ed Hunter doll looks even more abominable then its original Iron Maiden design may have been intended to be.
Mike Patton, a man of many talents and many strange, important bands such as Faith No More and Mr. Bungle decided to use the action figure concept as a marketing ploy for his roster of artists featured on the Ipecac Records which he owns and runs. The models, as the man himself, look odd and great. If the forums are anything to go by, they have been received well by fans, who’ve seen it as an innovative promotional tool, rather than a just cash grab scheme.
The world of music merchandise is alive with ideas, some great, some not. Whether a consequence of music sales plummeting, or the proud results of artists imagination, the action figures are rock n’ roll’s final legacy: a small, plastic ode to the hero worship of musicians.