Talking Toys (and more) with Toy Galaxy's Dan Larson
Dan Larson is the creator and host of Toy Galaxy, a YouTube channel with over 100,000 subscribers that covers current and nostalgic pop culture, especially in the realm of action figures. An avid collector, Dan Larson gives his insight to what is currently on store shelves and also takes a look back at the rise (and many times fall) of popular toy lines of the past. Many of his videos also discuss his personal take on the hobby of action figure collection and allows viewers to see how he has accumulated and appreciated his collection over the years. He doesn’t shy away from self-reflection on his journey as a collector, and because of this gives a healthy perspective on how enthusiasts can go about enjoying the hobby without allowing it consume them.
Thanks to the wonders of Twitter, I reached out to Dan to get his thoughts on a series of questions that I had about action figure collecting, the current state of action figures, and the hobby as a whole, and he was incredibly gracious enough to answer my questions.
Ted - I was wondering if you could help me figure out whether my nostalgia is clouding my judgement or if my perception is reality: When I was a child, I was an avid collector of He-Man figures, and my younger brother was into Ninja Turtles and Power Rangers. When I visit my parent’s house and go through both my old collection and my brother’s all of the figures seem very well made and have stood the test of time. The three lines of figures that my brother and I had were just a small sample of the dozens of different toy lines that came out during the 80’s and 90’s. Now, when I look at the action figures on the shelves at the big box stores that are intended for kids to play with and not just for collectors, they seem far inferior in quality. Is this actually the case, or am I either looking in the wrong places for well-made toys for kids to collect and enjoy?
Dan - That's a pretty broad question. I can point to several lines from the past that DON'T hold up and several lines from the present that WILL. FOR THE MOST PART, I would say that a lot of the toys from back in the day (your day may vary) were made with kids in mind and they have a lot fewer points of articulation (fewer places where they could break) and an emphasis on PLAY. Figures today, for the most part, are geared toward an older audience that wants more articulation and fine details which make the figure more delicate. However, there are PLENTY of toys being made now that can take a beating.
What current action figure lines are figures that you feel will appeal to both kids and adult collectors? In many of the 2018 episodes of Toy Galaxy, you seem to be very fond of the Disney Toybox line (based off of the now defunct Disney Infinity line of toys-to-life figures…a personal favorite of mine), but are there any others that you enjoy that are currently in circulation?
That's going to depend on the kid and the parent. Star Wars and Marvel have a range of toys that appeal to different age groups, lines like Power Rangers as well. Ninja Turtles are still around as is Ben 10. Some kids will want a more complex toy, others will be fine with the simple things. It's something that the kids and the parents are going to have to work together to figure out. The bigger question for me is whether the kids are into action figures at all. That audience is shrinking for sure.
What action figure line, either old or new, are you surprised never caught on with the general public, and why do you think it failed to gain an audience?
Oof. There's just too many to name. I loved Xevoz from Hasbro but it didn't have a very long shelf life. Lots of fun play and customization. Brilliant color, a game system if you wanted to use it that way. I really think it was ahead of it's time.
Based off of what I’ve observed in watching Toy Galaxy videos, you are a collector that seems to not have a problem enjoying the figures out of the original packaging. Have you ever received grief from other collectors (especially since you have such a large audience on YouTube) for playing with and enjoying your figures and not necessarily preserving them all of the time?
Nah. I think coming into the channel people know that that's who I am. And even if I DID get some of those kinds of comments it went in one ear and right out the other because that's just not something I care about. You enjoy collecting your way, I'll enjoy it my way. My happiness isn't dependent upon anyone's approval of HOW I do it.
I really enjoyed your video “Why I Sold My Collection,” especially for how personal the reflections that you had about the hobby of action figure collecting were, yet at the same time were all issues that any collector could relate to. At what points during your journey in collecting did you come to the realization that you needed to correct the way you pursued the hobby, and do you think your course direction is one that could benefit others, or were your revelations specific just to you?
That video was definitely designed to speak to any and all collectors whose hobby was getting out of hand. Addiction is addiction. Whether it's gambling or alcohol or collecting stuff. You need to be able to step back and assess whether or not what you're doing is healthy and if it's making you happy or hurting you (or someone else). For me it really just came down to the money, time spent looking for stuff and realization that I didn't actually WANT all of the stuff I was buying. It was just this need to have a COMPLETE collection.
Another video I greatly enjoyed is the Stages in Reboot Grief episode. The internet can be a fascinating place, and yet it can also be a sludge-filled wasteland that prevents constructive growth by constantly tearing apart anything and everything. The toxicity of pop culture fandom, especially when changes are made to any intellectual property, seems to be the most volatile. How much do you think this volatility towards any type of change has affected creativity and progress with pop culture? Do you see creative outlets succumbing to the impossible demands of internet rage, or do you think that they can move forward despite a very tiny but incredibly loud negative culture?
It is a very big problem that I just don't know if there is a fix unless people suddenly learn the golden rule and stop being selfish jerks. There is this phenomenon where people have their entire identity wrapped up in their knowledge of or "love" for a character or brand or whatever. It is VERY unhealthy. It is something that we try to speak to constantly on the channel. Trying to help people understand that change is necessary and there are healthy ways to handle a change in creative direction. The best being to just... go find something else to enjoy.
Speaking of reboots, it does feel like there is much less experimentation when it comes to toy lines, especially in the field of action figures. Do you see this trend changing in which companies will return to making their own intellectual properties, or will we continue to see the same six to eight IP’s getting rebooted over and over again?
If people stop buying it... the companies will stop making it. Us kids of the 80s and 90s are wholly to blame for what is happening right now. If we didn't keep throwing money at it, they would be forced to move on to other things. As long as that continues, nothing will change.
It seems as though every hobby and activity, from sports to hunting to the arts, seem to blame video games and mobile devices as the reason that their sales numbers are declining. Do you think this is true for action figures as well, or is this just an excuse that toy companies are making to justify their lower numbers?
I think it is 100% true for everything and I don't think it's a BLAME thing it's just the natural progression of technology. You don't blame the light bulb for putting the whale oil salesman out of business. You embrace the incandescent bulb. It's possible that the pendulum could swing back in the future to a love of physical stuff, but for now, I don't blame kids for wanting to play with videogames more than toys.
If a new parent asked you what action figure should be their child’s first action figure, what would it be and why?
Depends on the kid and the parent. There's no one figure that would appeal to every kid out there. It's going to depend on what they're into and if that works for the parents.
In your opinion, what characteristics make up a great action figure?
For me, I like just about every thing, but I prefer figures with a focus on articulation and not so much action gimmicks. Always have even as a kid. I don't want anything spring loaded getting in the way of a figure have an elbow joint. Other than that, I'm down for any scale, genre, etc. I love it all.
Make sure to check out Dan Larson’s YouTube channel, Toy Galaxy, by visiting http://www.youtube.com/toygalaxytv .
Originally published on January 1, 2019