Happy 250 year, er, 25th Anniverary Randy & AFTimes!
(Art by Iron-Cow's Matt Cauley)
Randy here... and has been here for 250 years! Well, not really. I had joked on the 10th anniversary of AFTimes that, similar to dog years, staying around on the Internet for one year is like 10 years. So 2019 marks the 250th/25th Anniversary of AFTimes and "Ask Randy". Well, more like Fall of 1994. Fascinating thing, 1994 was: -The only coverage of toys was from monthly paper magazine Tomart's Action Figure Digest and Action Figure News and Toy Review, with occasional articles in Wizard comic magazine. -No Toyfare magazine -Toys R Us was the #1 toy retailer -Kenner was one of the top toy manufacturers -Toy companies like McFarlane Toys, NECA, Mezco, Hot Toys, and Sideshow Collectibles didn't exist or weren't selling at retail. -Consumer internet was in infancy
-I had no home computer
-I posted columns from work via an Apple IIe -I was in LA and had quit working for Toys R Us in Janury. I eventually got work with a small videogame shop, selling old games and system, and POGS... which was mad infection sweeping the nation that summer. In Fall, I got asked the fateful question by my boss: "Hey, Andrew. You know anything about action figures?" "Yes. Yes, I do," I replied. And Action Figure Times, along with my moniker "Randy of Ask Randy" was born.
Sadly, due to multiple server shifts over the years, I can't go ALL the way back to see those early, clunky posts, but about 20 years or so ago? (THANK YOU, Internet Wayback Machine!) ACTION FIGURE TIMES (Dec 1996) ASK RANDY (Feb 1999)
I really was lucky to be there at the beginning of the rise of Action Figures as collectible and art. But at the beginning, it was about being out there, and deciding early on that I wanted the site to be about "personalities", even if they were pseudonyms. I'd be lying if I didn't see us as wanting to be a toy version of Ain't It Cool News. This lead to creating the, rather uncreative, moniker of "Randy". Having (then) only just left working for Toys R Us, I wanted ASK RANDY to be a place to not only answer questions about toys, but to try and give a peek behind what was going on in the industry. I wanted to demystify whatever I could, to show the meaning behind the madness - even if it didn't make sense logically! I talked about the mentality of buying from a retailer's perspective, where they bought by the container and boatload, not the case and pallet. How Chinese New Year affected distribution and availability of toys in stores. The reality of minimums that manufacturers required of smaller retailers - like the $25K minimum order & $5K deposit through Hasbro... and no guarantee you'd get what you ordered! And so, SO many toys that were announced at Toy Fair, only to end up never made, left on the Isle of Misfit Toys! (Looking at you Kenner ALIENS Drop Ship & Space Marines Dutch and Billy, and Playmates' ST: TNG Phaser Rifle!) Whenever I wrote my column, though, I always imagined that there was only a handful of people reading it, interested in what I had to say. We weren't the "big boys", we were more the "tabloid"-type... but not as sleazy! But slowly being acknowledged over those first few years, by the likes of Toyfare for Site of the Month, being brought in to CNN as a "toy expert" (which sadly never aired), to being recognized by companies the first year I was at the American International Toy Fair in New York. Toy Fair was The place to be in the late 90's & early 2000's! It was not only the place to see what was coming out for toys, but to meet the "competition"-other toy websites. Though I'm happy to say that it was friendly camaraderie with them, including Bobbie & Rob at RTM and Adrian at Action-Figure (most sites..) While we grew, so did the Toy Industry... Toy Biz continued it's rise from the Batman license of 1989, to release Marvel and X-Men figures that dominated store shelves. Then it exploded thanks to the upstart known as... Todd Toys! Soon to be changed to McFarlane Toys. From that initial starting point in late '94/early '95, McFarlane Toys proved that you didn't need Kenner, Hasbro, or Mattel to make the action figures for you (and take the lion's share of profits) - You could do it for yourself. And that was a game changer. During this time we saw the rise of so many new and exciting companies: 21st Century Toys, Collectibles, NECA, Mezco, Palisades, ReSaurus, SOTA Toys, Plan B, Moore Action Collectibles, Hot Toys, Thinkway, Diamond Select, Four Horsemen, and plenty more!
Some survived, many did not, as the Great Collectibles Crash of 2004/5 came for companies and retailers alike. It was an end of an era, but not The End. While the amounts of retailers and shelf space have greatly changed over the years, action figures and action collectibles have managed to not only stay alive, but thrive. We've gone from finding a rainbow spectrum of Batmans all from the same mold, to having classic comic series and artists versions of the Batman and the DC pantheon on a local Walmart shelf. From R-rated toys by smaller companies only available in comic shops to classic ALIENS, Terminator, and Predator toys by NECA available at Target!
It was a rollercoaster ride... and one that I wasn't on alone. We've had a lot of great columnists covering such a variety of toys over the past 25 years: Idgie, Scaraboto, Julius Marx, Doc Owen, Realistikk, among them. But Toygodd and Umpire have been beside me the longest. Toygodd is a force unto himself, and you are either on the ride or left behind! (Ask anyone who met him in the press room at his first Toy Fair!) The first time I hit Comic Con International in San Diego with him, he was front and center, in your face-to the point that we had to have a "talk" about how best to work together for the best of AFTimes. From that point on since, we were a team, from San Diego to Hollywood to NYC! Woe be those who got in the way, whether they be overzealous E3 officials or New York blizzards! His work for the site was not only the best for us, but for our readers as well. He managed to get SO MANY prizes for contests, and giveaways for our SDCC panels unlike anyone else. To the point that EVERYONE who came to one of our last panels-several hundred-got a free toy from the likes of Sideshow Toys and Mattel! He was onto the vinyl toy scene before nearly everyone-even when I had no idea what he was talking about. Whatever you think of it, Toygodd was one of the drivers behind what Action Figure Times became. Toygodd may not write for the site anymore, but his influence is impossible to ignore. And he's ALWAYS had my back. I am happy to call him friend after all these years. Umpire I met because of his talent and sick sense of humor. When I met him at the collectibles shop, he mentioned that he'd made custom Star Wars action figures. This intrigued me, as I was having no luck getting Seth Green to sell his at the shop (ask me about that story later) His talent was evident upon first seeing his unmasked Boba Fett-which was still "sealed" on the card! He had some custom figures so very, VERY WRONG, that I can't even describe them here. From there, he started writing about customizing and overtime became one of the most reliable and nicest guys I'd ever met. His level head and technical ability always helped us during our times down at SDCC. And when it came time for me to step down as Editor in 2004, Umpire was the best and easiest choice to fulfill that position. Umpire continues to keep this site rolling along, changing formats where necessary to insure that we are still here. And never doubt, without his behind-the-scene work, AFTimes would have been offline LONG ago. Thanks for keeping the lights on Umpire.
So after 25 years, I am always amazed at what talking about toys has opened up for me:
-I've met and photographed Emmy & Academy winning artists like Stan Winston, four porn stars, and a Playboy Playmate of the Year. -Been praised for my Toy Fair coverage by Jim Lee -Met and talked with SEAL Team 6 "plank owner" Richard Marcinko -Helped influence the direction of several toy lines.
-Congratulated the cast, crew, and director Peter Jackson on the night of their Oscar wins for The Return of the King. -Had my head in 1/6 scale available to purchase. -Walked in to Toy Biz's showroom to see AFTimes' awards prominently posted.
That's some highlight reel. I don't know if I'll be around for another 250 years. The industry, both making and covering toys is vastly different than it once was. What once took hours to upload on a dialup now can be video that livestreamed directly in real-time.. which is pretty mind-blowing. Maybe I should step away. Maybe write a book on this time. But right now, I've no plans for going anywhere. So I'll be here, typing away. Hopefully, you'll still be here reading it. Thank you all who've stayed around with me this far. As always... Be seeing you. Andrew G. aka RANDY OF AFTIMES