Tag Archives: Barbie

Holy Estrogen! Batman With Breasts?


Too Pretty to Be Batman?

I was in Double Midnight Comics over the weekend and was thrilled to stumble across what I thought was one of my favorite action figures from childhood. Readers of this blog are familiar with my love for all things 1966 Batman, and it was awesome to see Adam West make a comeback in the toy aisle.

But wait a minute: Aren’t those eyes a little too bright and cheery to be Batman’s?  Hey, are those girl’s eyes? — and doesn’t it look a little like there are breasts protruding underneath the bat logo?  Continue reading

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Candy Wars: Toymaker hopes to behead PEZ

Herobuilders once promised to do to PEZ what Bratz dolls (temporarily) did to Barbie, starting with this presidential “Candy Date” dispenser of Republican Rudy Guiliani. Herobuilders, under pressure from PEZ lawyers, stopped using PEZ bodies and designed their own mechanism for delivering treats.

By Darren Garnick
The Boston Herald
Original Publication Date: January 27, 2010
Of all the possible reasons to enter the candy business, vengeance doesn’t immediately come to mind.

But for a toy manufacturer best known for its “good guy” action figures of U.S. presidents and its “bad guy” figures of America’s enemies, perhaps it’s not so strange that the war metaphor would apply to its latest product launch, too.

Emil Vicale, CEO of Connecticut-based Herobuilders.com, ambitiously aims to behead PEZ Candy, the iconic company that’s been making plastic cartoon and animal characters for its sugary pellets since the 1950s.

Herobuilders’ new “Head Candy” dispensers will be available this summer as both mass-produced licensed characters and as personalized novelty toys that put a customer’s face on the body of a superhero or a business executive. Vicale is now taking orders for the customized candy dispensers, which cost $299.99 for the first one and $29.95 for duplicates. The price point for the cartoon dispensers, which will go head-to-head with $1.50 packages of PEZ, has not been announced.

Vicale has been making hand-sculpted customized toys for more than a decade. His upcoming Don Quixote-esque retail battle stems from a conflict last year over his practice of selling Herobuilder heads on PEZ bodies.  PEZ threatened legal action against Vicale if he did not stop producing so-called “fantasy” dispensers.  The company is also suing the Burlingame Museum of PEZ Memorabilia in California for putting its name on smiley face PEZ and other alleged trademark infractions. The case is expected to go to trial in November.

Both Herobuilders and the Burlingame Museum insist they have the legal right to modify any product and resell it, just like a garage that customizes souped-up motorcycles or cars. But Vicale has since stopped using rectangular PEZ bodies and has designed his own cylinder-shaped dispenser instead. His candies, featuring bright-colored “over the top” flavors such as “Extreme Cherry,” and “Crazy Strawberry,” will be round — and the spring-loaded mechanisms will also hold Sweet Tarts and Spree brand candies.

Vicale dismissively calls Pez candies “chalk,” and predicts a loyal following because his dispensers will be “made in America, by Americans for Americans” at his Connecticut facility. Although PEZ candy itself is made in Orange, Conn., most dispensers are imported from China and Eastern Europe.

The most obvious difference between the two products is what’s underneath their candy-spouting necks. PEZ characters famously sport stick figures with no arms or legs. Vicale gives “Head Candy” dispensers full bodies, hoping children will play with them like they do with action figures. “We’re going to take over this market just like Bratz took down Barbie and took over the entire doll world,” he says.

Want to see yourself immortalized as a candy dispenser? Herobuilders CEO Emil Vicale did.

Repeated efforts to interview PEZ CEO Joe Vittoria about his upcoming competition were unsuccessful. But chances are, he is not losing any sleep over it. According to the official PEZ Web site, Americans currently consume three billion pellets each year. And their market dominance even extends into the Vicale household.

“Whenever my daughter sees a frickin’ Pez, I have to buy one,” Vicale admits. “I have them all over my house.”

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Welcome to the Dollhouse, Senator

Trading in Barbie's Dreamhouse for Capitol Hill: Does Sen. Kelly Ayotte merit her own doll yet? (New Hampshire Magazine cartoon by Brad Fitzpatrick).

Politicians are known for skirting the issues, but here’s a bizarre case of a Senator scared to comment on a skirt.

An itsy-bitsy Barbie-sized skirt that — so far — carries no scandals.

To be fair, it was the staff of U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) that is running away from her new action figure and my questions about the appropriateness/eeriness of Republican groupies dressing the toy in provocative outfits.  For all I know, the Senator herself might roll her eyes or smirk at the surreality of it all.

But as I wrote in this month’s New Hampshire Magazine, the Herobuilders toy company has done the Ayotte staff a HUGE favor. If I were an Ayotte event planner, I’d want to know who my doll-fetish constituents were — and be very careful about where I sat them at the next fundraising dinner.

(As an aside, I remain a huge fan of illustrator Brad Fitzpatrick, who also did the cartoon for my piranha pedicure column in NH Magazine.)

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Filed under Election 2012, Political Satire, Politically Incorrect Products, politics

Kentucky toy surgeon rescues G.I. Joes on their deathbeds

GI Joe Surgery

GI Joe Surgery

Culture Schlock — By Darren Garnick
“Kentucky toy surgeon rescues GI Joes on their deathbeds”

The Telegraph — February 15, 2002


LOUISVILLE — It may sound a little bizarre at first, but it makes perfect sense why Joe “The Medic” DeGrella wants all his G.I. Joes to be naked.

“The clothing and accessories are actually worth more than the figures themselves,” the 43-year-old toy surgeon says. “I don’t want the boxes. I don’t want the clothing. I just don’t want to be responsible.”

DeGrella runs a triage unit for military action figures in the basement of his suburban home just outside Louisville, Kentucky. The patients, who arrive by mail, are predominantly GI Joes from the 1960s and early 1970s – although the occasional Barbie or Chatty Cathy has never been refused treatment. Typical hospital bills range from $20 to $100, and customers who spend more than $30 receive a complimentary mini Purple Heart.

Action figure surgery may be bloodless, but the operating room is hardly pretty. To tighten loose vintage figures, DeGrella needs to crack open the torso and completely gut out the rubber intestines. The quality of elastics – as anyone who used to bundle baseball cards knows – was horrendous years ago, but new technology ensures that this procedure will likely only happen once.

DeGrella’s cellar has emerged into one of the nation’s leading centers for GI Joe health care. It was here where researchers (well, OK, it’s a one-man faculty) developed a new nylon joint that revolutionized shoulder replacements for future generations.

DeGrella, a former building contractor who turned full-time toy medic in the early 1990s, claims he can fix just about any ailment. Only twice in his career have figures arrived DOA — the worst casualty was a GI Joe with a burned head and torso along with missing limbs. In the cosmetic arena, the medic also retouches hair and beards with magnetized fibers.

The biggest health hazards to GI Joes are “children and dogs,” in that order, DeGrella says. Another huge problem is osteoporosis, which means “stress cracks” in the limbs and torso. In the dermatology department, vintage black GI Joes have experienced major longevity issues. The chemical used to color the figures’ skin inadvertently caused them to crumble with age.

Fortunately, there is no need to get Jesse Jackson involved — modern African-American Joes no longer use the same kind of plastic

DeGrella began his self-taught medical career at age 9, when he recovered a GI Joe that he lost in a creek. The missing soldier was found pinned under a rock and the prognosis wasn’t optimistic: “He had been underwater for three months. The elastic had just rotted away, so when I picked him up, he basically fell apart in my hand,” the medic recalls. “The body was faded. The hair was washed off.”

The boy improvised his first restrung torso and used model paint to restore various features. Throwing the doll away would’ve been heresy. “It was like finding a long lost friend. I probably had seven or eight GI Joes, but this one remained my favorite,” says DeGrella.

He later gave up collecting as a teenager, cashing in his entire collection for a paltry $20. Enjoying a much higher budget years later, DeGrella relaunched his interest as an adult. Oddly enough, though, his skill at fixing GI Joes led to his collection’s second demise.

Prospective clients “would ask me if I was a collector and I’d say yes. They’d say, ‘Well, how do I know you’re not going to keep my GI Joe parts and send me back some junk?'” remembers DeGrella. “In order to gain the trust of my customers, I needed to give up collecting. So I sold my GI Joes just to give others peace of mind.”

But the choice between collector and healer was not a difficult one. Reliving his childhood every day, DeGrella insists that he doesn’t miss his acquisition years: “I get to play with GI Joes every day. I basically see every piece of GI Joe that was ever made by Hasbro… “It’s almost like therapy to me.”

Darren Garnick’s “Culture Schlock” column appears in The Telegraph’s Encore magazine every Friday. His Six Million Dollar Man doll remains missing in action. Feedback and suggestions are welcomed via e-mail at cultureschlock (at) gmail.com.

The GI Joe Medic with some spare body parts

The GI Joe Medic with some spare body parts

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Filed under Darren's Archive Vault, Health, War Toys

Pink Aisle Refugees – Guys who shop for (and train) Barbie commandos

Customized militarized Barbies at a recent G.I. Joe Convention

Customized militarized Barbies at a recent G.I. Joe Convention

CULTURE SCHLOCK – By Darren Garnick
“Pink Aisle Refugees: Guys not afraid to call a doll a doll’”

The Telegraph — August 8, 2002
They call themselves “Pink Aisle Refugees.”  At best, they are a courageous bunch of men shattering society’s prohibition against boys who play with dolls.  At worst, they are hack plastic surgeons, forcing countless Barbies to go under the knife against their will.

Welcome to the Internet’s “Men With Dolls Forum,” a place where female action figures are put on a special pedestal above all toys with a Y-chromosome.

“A grown man shopping in the ‘Pink Aisle’ for Barbie clothes for his female action figures can feel more than a little alienated,” explains MWD member Matt Black, a corporate communications consultant from Philadelphia. “When we come together and discuss this feeling, we are refugees — seeking refuge in each others company.”

“But usually, this feeling doesn’t last long,”  he adds. “Either people become confident and proud — they say to the high school girl at the register, ‘Yes, this is for me, this is for MY doll!’ — or they’ve created their own cover-story. ‘It’s my niece’s birthday tomorrow, I don’t think she has this yet, but her mom can always exchange it, right?’  I started with the latter, but have graduated to the former.”

But the forum is far more than a messageboard for the Doll Pride Movement.  MWD brings together hobbyists who like to “customize” their figures, creating their own characters by altering hair color, facial expressions, body parts, clothing and accessories. Some changes are done by switching clothes and body parts from existing dolls. Other additions are designed from scratch.

Black, who goes by the screen name “TheRenCapt,” recently came to the aid of a colleague who accidentally smeared permanent marker on a Posh Spice doll while trying to touch up her eyebrows. Needless to say, cosmetology isn’t for amateurs.

LAM001: “… I’ve been left with a large purple stain over her left eye, that the goof off WON’T remove… Must I repaint her whole face?  Or has anyone any ideas for getting this stain off? Right now, she looks like she’s been beaten up.”

TheRenCapt: “I know that doll head well… Rule #1 of repaints — NO MARKERS! Put your Sharpies and felt-tips away! … It will bleed over time. Markers sink die INTO the vinyl. You want to paint on the surface. Acrylics are your friend. I use the tip of a needle (no joke) to paint eyebrows. As for the head, if you are deadset on using it, yes, it is a total repaint. Best advice: trash it and find a new one.”

The once non-existent (or closeted) world of men who collect dolls is now a booming market. Mattel has licensed a new line of Lingerie Barbies and it’s likely that women collectors aren’t the ones getting excited over teeny-weeny pink bras. Playboy figured they may as well move in on the silk turf, too. You can turn any G.I. Joe into Hugh Hefner with just two of their scantily-clad Playmate dolls.

“I wish I could give you some socially enlightened response,” says Rob Caswell, a Massachusetts-based artist who grew up in Nashua. “But alas, the main draw for me is quality 1/6th scale cheesecake… I can’t find any attraction in collecting a figure of, say, a frumpy meter maid.”

Thus, it may come as no shock that many of the doll alterations on the MWD forum are breast enhancement operations. Blue Box International has a popular line of well-endowed figures called Cy Girls Perfect Body, which are selling faster than the company can make them. The doll comes with a separate snap-on breast plate for enthusiasts who wish to make her chest even larger.

Merging Barbie with a Cy Girl Perfect Body is one of the more common procedures. “She’s generally accepted as an organ donor,” jokes Mark Volk Jr., a Washington D.C. systems analyst who founded Men With Dolls last June.  “Heads are used most often, usually with surgery to remove the awful smile or a face repaint,” he adds. “Though some members do use the super-articulated Gymnast Barbie body for some of their custom figures.”

Be forewarned: MWD members say it is often tough to fit standard-issue Barbie tube tops or halter tops over the new Perfect Body torso.

Men With Dolls welcomes members of all ages and genders, but the risque content might not be suitable for the collector who prefers Cinderella ballgowns over Madonna leather. Fashion tastes aside, the forum does attract its share of women participants.

“Their passion and craft abilities are easily on par with the male membership,” concedes Caswell, the ex-Nashuan. “They’re just like ‘one of the guys’ … or us guys are all ‘just one of the girls.’  I guess either fits, depending on your perspective about collecting female dolls.”

Craig Wren, a graphic designer based in Ohio, maintains that the MWD Forum is the ultimate compliment to women

“You can name just about any of our five senses and women have some way of delighting that sense,” he explains. “They look nice, they smell good, they feel soft and warm, they appeal to our need for nurturing and comfort, and of course, they provide us with love in many ways – from mothers to wives to daughters.”

“We would all be in a terribly miserable world if there were no females in it,” adds Wren, “and this is reflected in our collections.”

If behind every bust-enhanced Barbie are sentiments like these, maybe the “Men With Dolls”  should issue their own line of Mother’s Day and wedding anniversary cards.

Darren Garnick currently owns no Cy Girls or Barbies, but does boast dolls of Jerry Springer and Jesse Ventura.  Garnick’s “Culture Schlock” column appears every Thursday in The Telegraph’s “Encore” magazine.  Feedback and ideas are welcome via e-mail at cultureschlock (at) gmail.com.

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Filed under Darren's Archive Vault, Fashion, Guys Who Play With Dolls, War Toys

What Me Worry? Barack Obama finds MADdening common ground with George W. Bush

In an odd political pairing, Obama and George W. Bush have both been redefined by the MAD magazine’s mascot. Astoundingly, Obama compared his protruding ears to those of Alfred E. Neuman’s at the annual Al Smith political dinner in Manhattan. Bush as been hammered as a guy who’s way too lackadaisical in a crisis.

How long will it be before President Obama is slammed with the “What Me Worry?” image?

If you like offbeat political and pop culture memorabilia like this, then please check out my new Slate magazine slideshow devoted to the fake presidential bids of Archie Bunker, Fred Flintstone, Snoopy, Charile Brown, Lucy Van Pelt, Linus Van Pelt, Barbie, Ken Griffey, Jr., Mr. Clean, Captain Morgan the Rum Pirate, Fonzie, Yogi Bear, Boo Boo, Huckleberry Hound, Magilla Gorilla, and MAD magazine’s Alfred E. Neuman!

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Filed under Election 2008, politics

Help me solve a cartoon and political mystery: Who was Magilla Gorilla’s 1964 running mate?

In a brilliant marketing move, Hanna-Barbera studios plunged Yogi Bear and Magilla Gorilla into the presidential race against LBJ and Barry Goldwater. Yogi was already an established cartoon star, but Magilla had just been created as a vehicle to sell a new line of toys.

Now, my self-esteem is in jeopardy, as I cannot identify the slouchy Droopy character that H-B put up as Magilla’s running mate. I know there is a sad-sack Droopy the Dog character, but he is not the same animal pictured on the button.

Anyone deemed particularly helpful in solving this mystery will be entitled to a vintage 1960 “Peanuts for President” cocktail napkin, from the same box that I comment on in this Slate magazine analysis of fictitious presidential advertising campaigns.

Offer good while supplies last.

(I always wanted to say that).

Looking forward to hearing from some cartoon scholars!

If you like offbeat political and pop culture memorabilia like this, then please check out my new Slate magazine slideshow devoted to the fake presidential bids of Archie Bunker, Fred Flintstone, Snoopy, Charile Brown, Lucy Van Pelt, Linus Van Pelt, Barbie, Ken Griffey, Jr., Mr. Clean, Captain Morgan the Rum Pirate, Fonzie, Yogi Bear, Boo Boo, Huckleberry Hound, Magilla Gorilla, and MAD magazine’s Alfred E. Neuman!


Filed under Election 2008, politics