Two-Fisted Toy Talk!

These Toys Aren't Going to Photograph Themselves…

I’ve Got A Little Black Book With My Poems In

I have this little spiral-bound Pomegranate notebook covered in Robert Crumb’s inexplicable “Keep On Truckin’” illustrations, and I fill it with lists of possible character names and possible story titles and particularly insightful, unsettling or amusing quotes from whatever novel I happen to be reading. The notebook serves as a sort of portable muse and a convenient shortcut to inspiration, which probably implies that I am a creative writer.

I am not a creative writer.

I am a toy photographer.

The first thing I scribbled in my notebook is “Black Jack Davey”. I love the White Stripes version of the old standard, but I copied the title into my notebook because I think it’d make an interesting name for a late-1800s gothic gunslinger; whenever I open the notebook and see “Black Jack Davey”, I picture Dan of the Dead’s Man in Black custom:


Below that, I scribbled—some months ago—“walking tall, machine gun man”, which is a lyric from an old Alice in Chains song called “Rooster”, and which will someday be the title of a toy photo, presumably of G.I. Joe’s heavy machine gunner, Roadblock, soon to be made famous by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson in this summer’s G.I. Joe Retaliation. There’s another Alice in Chains lyrics on the next page: “aim my smiling skull at you”. I think I ended up using that one for a photo of a Ghost Rider toy; I never claimed to be anything other than obvious.

Then there’s the Bad Religion lyric that I’ve always thought would be a funny title for a portrait of Cobra Commander: “I’m gonna build a world, independent and exempt”. And a lyric from Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds that’d make for a suitable title for a photo of resident G.I. Joe sailor, Shipwreck: “in came a sailor”.

The character names I’ve recorded in my notebook include a half-dozen or so I intend to steal from my Flickr pal GigaMach, who unwittingly provided the name of the lazy custom figure in the previous post. These include Caspar “Ghost Rat” Templeton and Dr. Jack “Bully” Broughton.

There’s also an original character named Verbatim who I’ve been wanting to put together in toy form for two years now, and I have a vague sense of some of his colleagues as well, and so the bottom of one of the pages of my notebook reads, “Verbatim, Lexicon, Ventriloquist”.

(I wonder what my wife would make of these strange notes if I died tomorrow and she started flipping through my notebook?)

You might remember William Winchester, shown here with a delightful custom steampunk backpack crafted by my friend Django:


As I said in a recent post, my thinking is Winchester’s an adventurer type in the late 1800s, and so whenever I come across a Latin phrase in a novel—which happens rather frequently, considering I mostly just read genre trash—I copy it down in my notebook for future reference, ‘cause I think it’d be fun to have William Winchester run afoul of, say, a dinosaur, and exclaim, “In nomine Domini Sabaoth sui filiique ite ad infernos.” (In the name of the Holy Father and His Son, go to Hell).

I recently read Clive Barker’s Sacrament for the first time in a decade or so, and I have quoted it several times in my notebook, including the kinds of pretty but borderline-pretentious phrases you’d expect from the talented but self-conscious Barker (“marinated in midnight profundities”, “riot and rot in speedy succession”), but also some disarmingly (and intentionally) comical bits, like “as sure as God put tits on trees” and “there’s only so much pretension I can take from a dog”.

I find that, while Cormac McCarthy is clearly a talented writer, he is also overrated, particularly by pretentious aspiring intellectuals. Nonetheless, the man has a way with words, and so when I read The Road with my English 11 students last month, I copied down several of its choicest passages and phrases. Some, like those in Barker’s Sacrament, are examples of self-parody, while others are arresting in their stark beauty. Still others are clear examples of self-parody that are nonetheless arresting in their stark beauty: “The air was full of sweat and noise and blood and terror” comes to mind, and calls to mind in turn Vanity Fair’s “Cooking with Cormac McCarthy” gag from 2010, wherein “McCarthy” offers a pasta recipe which ends, “and and and and and and”.

Finally, I have absurd little notes to self throughout the notebook, such as “make Gummi Bears figures out of Ewoks?” This is Pulitzer material, kids.

Toy photography is a strange habit as it is, if also a more common one than most people probably realize. Scribbling these nonsensical notes in a tiny notebook just makes it all seem stranger than it already is, particularly in light of the fact that I almost never remember to consult the notebook when it comes time to name my photos. Here’s a photo from my latest shoot, for example:


Had I referred to my notebook, I’d probably have found a fitting title. Instead, a line from an old Buffy the Vampire Slayer rerun popped into my head, and I went with that as the title: “From Beneath You, It Devours”.

I sometimes forget all about the notebook for days or even weeks at a time, and yet I feel an anxious need to record these little scraps and identities that I seldom use.

I wonder about my fellow toy photographers sometimes. Do they approach the hobby in this same sort of simultaneously half-assed and overwrought manner?

Whatever the case, I am currently reading Isabel Allende’s Zorro, about which much, much more soon, either here or at the Autobotic Asphyxiation blog, and I’m thinking I need to try to capture a photo worthy of this passage:

Heroism is a badly remunerated occupation, and often it leads to an early end, which is why it appeals to fanatics or persons with an unhealthy fascination with death.

I better go write it down in my notebook.


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