Monday, January 03, 2011

The name's Man... Action Man

If there was anything bigger than Batmania back in 1966 it was Action Man mania. Once Dads across the Western world had realized that their young sons playing with dolls wouldn't necessarily lead to cross-dressing, parents were happy to buy the new 12" multi-articulated action figures for their lads. It was the toy of 1966.

Action Man was produced by Palitoy in Leicester, although the first dolls they issued were re-boxed G.I. Joe figures from the USA, and had a Hasbro 1964 copyright embossed on their bum cheek. Once the dolls took off in a big way, Palitoy began making their own with permission from Hasbro.

What does this have to do with comics? Not a lot, although Action Man did have his own long-running comic from Panini several years ago of course, and Action Force, a sort of offshoot of the franchise, was a comic in the 1980s. However, long before that, Action Man appeared as a set of illustrated paperback books in 1967.

Six of the books were published in all; Dive to Danger, Artctic Mystery, Race for the Moon, Suicide Saboteurs, Date with Disaster, and versus The Master Spy. The format was an unusual design, five inches square, with 64 pages on pulp paper.

In order to connect the character with the various outfits available for the doll, Action Man became the code name of a special agent for International Military Intelligence, or "Intermil". We don't discover his real name. The publisher, Purnell, was obviously hoping to capitalize on the success of the James Bond character and in these books Action Man is pretty much a Bond-like character but without the sex drive. He even looks a little like Sean Connery on the cover of versus The Master Spy.

The artwork within the books is basic and does the job, albeit a bit derivative in places. In this illustration for example Action Man bears a strong resemblance to Willie Garvin from Modesty Blaise:

The scripts are briskly paced and as tough as they could be considering they're children's books. Sadly, neither the writer or the artist are credited.

As far as I know, a second series of the books didn't appear, so perhaps kids preferred to enact their own adventures with Action Man rather than read someone else's interpretation. I know I did when I was seven. I had the three books shown here but I wasn't bothered about the rest.

Just for nostalgia, here's the first equipment manual for Action Man products, from 1966 which I found tucked in the corner of my time machine yesterday:

Don't worry; toy-related items won't become a regular feature of this blog but as these books aren't really covered too well on the net I thought they might be of interest to visitors here.

Unofficial Action Man collectors website:


Martin said...

There was another set of illustrated Action books, published around 1977. I'm not sure if he wrote them all, but wiki Mike Brogan (aka Fred Baker). I have some of these books somewhere and remember enjoying them greatly as a child, probably between issues of Warlord and Bullet.

Mike said...

My brother was into Action Man in the 90's briefly, he even got a few issues of the comic (was it US reprints or new material? Either way i thought the storylines were rubbish, the sort of thing DC Thomson would save for the last annual of a long-defunct comic).
By then he was on a space station with some other forgettable characters, though one of them was in a wheelchair. You couldn't get toy versions of those characters though, but they were in some cartoons you could buy on videos (which also included profoundly dissapointing live action segments). His 'real' identity was still secret but apparently he was made an orphan by a house fire and lost his memory.
Also by the 90's GI Joe toys were much smaller, and didn't have interchangable outfits, instead they were all different characters with moulded-on clothes who could hold various weapons and items.
I always preferred the plain toy soldiers and lego, those didn't have a "story", you could make up anything!

Anonymous said...

There was indeed a set of late 70s/early 80s novels geaturing Action Man - with a WWII setting that was more tradition to the character. The one I had specifically referenced Monte Casino and - I recall - had an early scene in which someone explained to a secondary character (who I think may have ended up as a sidekick figure), why the strong silent bloke at the other end of the plane was just known as 'Action Man'. The whole thing was very Commando/Battle Picture Library but in text form and, as a child, I remember reading it again and again.

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