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: