Mighty Men and Monster Maker
My love of comics developed at an early age. I would read any comics I could get my hands on, from Spider-Man to Batman to Sgt. Rock, heck, even Casper and Uncle Scrooge. These days, a comic has to have a good story and fairly well-developed characters for me to be hooked, but back then, it was mostly the artwork that grabbed me. Neal Adams, Jim Aparo, Jack Kirby, all the artists we consider to be masters of the Silver and Bronze Ages of comics helped form my love for comics.
It was only natural that I would try my hand at drawing the heroes I loved so much. Drawing pictures is something all kids do, one of their earliest forms of expressing themselves. So, I drew superheroes. I would copy the pictures out of the comics, off of ads, covers of books, any kind of picture that caught my eye. And of course, it sucked. What did you expect, I was 4 years old. The problem was, as I got older, my skills didn’t get any better and I didn’t have the patience to practice and get better, so I mostly gave up on drawing. Then, in 1978, Tomy came out with a toy that rekindled my artistic side. (Man, Tomy made a lot of toys that I had growing up!)
Tomy’s Mighty Men and Monster Maker enabled me to create heroes, villains and monsters that looked like a professional artist had drawn them (sort of). This toy consisted of a tray with a hinged window and a storage compartment, 18 tiles with raised etchings (6 heads, 6 torsos and 6 legs), colored pencils and black crayons with a handle. You would select one of each of the tiles and place them in the tray, place a piece of paper over the tiles and lower the window on top of it. Then, taking the handle with the crayon in it, you would lightly rub the crayon against the paper within the window and the impression of the tiles would appear on the paper. Then you could color in your character any way you wanted. The tiles could be combined in many different ways to create many different characters and once created, the hero/monster could be modified to your heart’s content. The tiles were designed by Dave Stevens, creator of the Rocketeer! I believe that it was created to be the boys version of another Tomy product called Fashion Plates.
I loved this toy. I created so many different characters I’m surprised I didn’t wear down the raised etchings on the plates. I would color them in or make modifications with a marker so that they had the features that I wanted. I used them to make versions of the Justice League, the Legion, Captain America, all the DC and Marvel heroes that I knew, and then made changes to those characters. It was one of the best gifts I ever received for Christmas in my young life at that point. I wish some of those sheets had survived so I could post them here.
After a year or two, I grew tired of it and gave it to one of my friends and I think he played with it for about a week before it got handed off to his little brother. My parents had gotten their money’s worth on that purchase. Hasbro or Mattel should resurrect this toy concept to use with their licensing of Marvel’s and DC’s Characters, as well as original character tiles. It would be a great low-tech toy for kids that stimulates their creativity and imagination.