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John's Action Figure Column 6/13/96


     Okay, so I'm out of the office on a systems training all
week this week.  First day begins bright and early, and we're
called upon to introduce ourselves to our nearest neighbor, and
vice versa.  You know, "name," "company," "computer experience,"
and "hobby."  It's one of those right-out-of-the-manual
"encounter" techniques, to get us to loosen up and be a little
bit more relaxed with each other -- and then to the crowd
thereafter when we introduce our neighbor around.  Not a bad
idea, and our ex-Marine netware instructor manages to convey the
good intention behind it without making us feel like we'll get kp
if we screw it up.
     Now, it just happens (hey, I got there *early*, and sat
first) that the person who sat next to me was a young woman.  An
attractive young woman.  A _rather_ attractive young woman.  Who,
it turned out, worked as a medical librarian in LA and was up in
San Francisco to take the netware course because it wouldn't be
offered down south for several months.  More important (from
where I was sitting, chastely admiring her, ah, hospital curves,
and decidedly un-librarian-ish aspect) was the nature of her
     "Exotic dancing."
     "Pfnorhgnhuh!" I retorted (well how would *you* sound with
most of a blueberry muffin cascading out of your nose?).  And
then choked out a further, "pardon?"
     She repeated the pronouncement, glee dancing in her soft
brown eyes.  I had the distinct feeling this was not the first
time this scene had been played out.  Regardless, I vamped with a
classic "hominahominahomina" for a few seconds, then managed to
stammer out a quiet "uh, that's, um, ah, interesting."  (All this
while wiping muffin crumbs from my face and neck.)  And despite
my sudden, awkward internal reversion to age 14 (hey, Beavis, she
said "exotic dancing, heh heh heh...."), I managed to double-
check her credentials with a quick glance -- yep, crossed tee's
and dotted eyes (mine, mostly) -- her choice of hobby didn't
surprise me that much after all.  As for the seeming discrepancy
between her vocation and her avocation, well, what the hell --
chalk it up to life in L.A.

     She had to repeat *her* question a couple of times before I
realized she was now asking _me_ something.  "Oh!  My hobby? 
     Hell, it was probably no more than a few seconds, but it
seemed like quite a long time to me before I bit the bullet and
came out with it.  I mean, c'mon -- honesty and loyalty to rtm be
hanged -- would *you* like the first thing you say to an exotic
dancer you're partnered with for the next four days to be "Gee,
Miss, I collect gee-whiz nifty Batman and Robin toys.  Sorry, did
I get drool on your shoe?"
     But I reminded myself that (a) being true to my self, and my
love for toys -- to say nothing of my devotion to
-- was nothing to the fact that (b) oh boy oh *boy* am I married,
and in any event (c) well, let's just say that, all fantasies
aside, I had good reason to believe that I was out of her league,
and let it go at that.  So it didn't really matter anyway if I
threw water on a raging puddle...
     ...and so I just came out with it.
     "I collect action figures."
     "Oh."  You could almost hear the "thud."  And I thought the
conversation, and the week, were going to end right there, egg
running down my face and right into my shoes.  But bless her
charitable heart, she continued on -- after a breathy sigh and a
slight sideways turn of the head that set her soft brown curls a-
flutter -- asking "what kind?"  So, as the world wavered before
my eyes and my throat took an express bus back to territory it
hadn't visited since my voice changed, I explained, croakingly,
in a "Marvel comics, basically," kind of nutshell, and she
smiled, satisfied.
     Amidst my sudden dizziness, I had an idea about bringing one
in to show her -- you know, I'd show her a sample from my hobby,
and, she, you know, she could show me -- harumph!  Married, boy,
married.  I began repeating this, my newfound mantra.

     And the moment passed.  We stumbled on to finish up my end
of the interview (well, I did most of the stumbling; she kind of
flowed forward in a graceful gait that reminded me of summer
breezes through green leaves, and silk curtains in gentle winds)
and moved on to the public introductions.
     Just to conclude this portion of the story, when this
walking cliche (admittedly, it was a sinuous walk, but really --
"librarian by day, exotic dancer by night," I mean, come *on*, I
stopped renting those flicks _decades_ ago....) finished making
my introduction, concluding with "and John collects action
figures," I felt just a wee bit silly, despite my convictions.
     Of course, it got worse when a voice from the peanut gallery
chimed in with "he means _dolls_."  What can you say to that?  I
wasn't about to debate the point.  And it probably didn't help
that the two people who'd gone before me were a white water
rafter and a guy who builds truck engines from scratch.  Where
are all the stamp collectors these days, I ask you....
     Anyway, because of the general lack-of-comprehension on the
part of the group at my declaration of toy collecting as a hobby
(not to mention the faintest of thoughts about my afore-imagined
one-on, uh, -one trade-off), I decided to take part of the lunch
hour to check out the (admittedly mega-expensive) toy store in
the area and see if I could "bring one back alive," you know,
come in after the break with a shining example of what toy
collecting means to me.  And my little exchange fantasy aside, I
figured -- still wishfully, though of a different order -- that
if I could return with a spanking-new (hey, no ideas) Blood
Queen, some of the folks in the crowd might revise their
dismissive opinion of action figures.

     And so, after eating lunch I walked the block or so to the
toy store.  And I should explain:  Jeffrey's Toys is also a comic
shop, though -- don't get me wrong -- it is first and foremost a
real toy store; most comic shops don't carry jungle gyms, plastic
pools and plush stuffed animals, Giant Crazy Soap Bubble kits and
alphabetical block sets.
     Alas, the distribution gods were not smiling down upon me
this day.  Jeffrey's Toys had high prices, but no high-profile
figures.  Just a wee bit crestfallen, I turned to leave...
     ...and then I saw it.
     Sitting there on the "New Arrivals" shelf, just sitting
there like it was no big deal, was a copy of the first of three
issues of the comic book adaptation of...
     ...wait for it...
     Yes, the Roger Zelazny masterpiece.
     Please, folks, resume breathing immediately -- I wouldn't
want any threatening letters from your insurance companies.  But
it's true, and I hope you can keep the tears from your eyes so
that you can continue reading.  After all these years, sigh,
heck, double-deep-down-sigh, Zelazny's magical, wonderful epic is
getting four-color treatment.
     Now, for those of you who are wondering why this is such a
big deal, well, I don't want to cover old ground; see my column
of 5/9/96 (archived for your convenience on my web site at for a full explanation of
why the works (and words) of the late Mr. Zelazny are among the
finest in the science-fiction and fantasy genres.
     As for this brand-new comic book itself, well, okay, the art
doesn't depict the characters at all how I imagined them (Lou
Harrison's art comes across like the poor person's Paul Gulacy --
who, incidentally, would have been *perfect* to draw the book),
and they did take a few liberties with the story, only some of
which can be attributed to the size (Terry Bisson has only three
issues to put forth the entire novel) and nature of the medium
(comics vs. the purely written word).  But in one sense -- who
cares?  Because it isn't the _quality_ of the adaption that
matters, no no no.
     Which leads us to the long-delayed question of why this is
appearing *here*, in a column purportedly about action figures. 
Ahhhh, I'm so glad you asked.

     You see, if a comic book of Amber is finally appearing (from
DC, no less -- who'd'a thunk it?!?), it becomes that much less
ridiculous to hope at the farthest edges of hope
animated tv cartoon based on the same material!  (C'mon, it
*could* happen -- let a guy have his dreams....)  And if it
becomes an animated series, no matter how bad it is, no matter
how they bastardize, simplify and gut it, no matter how much
disregard and contempt they visit upon the magnificent original
underlying source material...
     ...then they just might make ACTION FIGURES of the freakin'
characters.  And friends, that's the point at which you'll find
me nearly-expired, stunned and exalted into cardiac shock, and
then convalescing in the intensive care ward of the nearest
hospital (well, on second thought, you know, it doesn't have to
be *that* near -- I've heard of this great hospital in LA....)
with a wide grin on my face.  Because more than any lost-
childhood toys, more than any film, or tv program, or any other
kind of art, figures based on these Zelazny books would throw the
child inside me into paroxysms of complete and total toy-and-icon
     (Incidentally, if you're a cards fan, and a Zelazny fan, I
wouldn't worry too much -- if ever a story cried out for cards,
it's this one.  If you don't know why, don't take my word for it.
Just grab a copy of "Nine Princes In Amber," and start working
your way through the epic.  You will NOT be disappointed; while
very few things in life are certain, this one I can guarantee.)
     As for Amber figures -- their very existence would simply
be...incredible.  It would be heaven on earth, the cat's
pajamas -- hell, it'd yank the cat right out of its pajamas and
summarily replace it with technicolor Bananas!  Bunches upon
bunches of 'em!  Singing songs of Amber, setting off fireworks in
my heart, yippeeee!  I wouldn't even care if _Kenner_ got the
Zelazny figure license (Kenner "We Can Oversimplify 'Em For Ya
Wholesale" Toys).  McFarlane could make 'em all shortpacks;
Playmates could make them each 1,701 figures -- I wouldn't care. 
I'd find them all.  (Hmmm, "Playmates" ... why was I thinking of
that company this morning....)
     Well, I went back to the training with a smile upon my face,
and hope in my heart, and no figures in my grasp.  And, for
the record, no bananas in my pocket either, pajama-ed or
otherwise.  It was just better that way for everyone involved....

Copyright (c) 1996 by John Gersten. All rights reserved.

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