-By Dan dos Santos

I take a real enjoyment in going back to the things that inspired me as a kid, and got me into art in the first place. Lately I’ve been on a kick of re-watching old television shows I enjoyed as a kid (introducing them to my children now), and re-readng the comic books that later inspired me as a teenager.

There’s no real “reason” for doing this. I’m not trying to bone up on basics, or re-evalute why I do what I do… it’s just FUN.

Sadly, a lot of these old things don’t hold up as well as I remember, especially in a technical sense. But sometimes I get lucky and they’re even better than I remember.

Recently, I purchased a vintage “Mighty Men & Monster Maker” plate rubbing set off Ebay. They aren’t super hard to come by, but it is hard to find a complete set at a reasonable price.

I didn’t own my own as a kid, but a friend had one, and I always coveted it. The set comes with 10 different heads, 10 torsos, and 8 legs, which you can mix and match to your heart’s content. Place a sheet of paper over the plates, rub a crayon over the surface, and you just made your own super hero or monster!

Now that I have one of my own (which I begrudgingly have share with my two boys), it’s just as much fun as it was back then. It really is a fantastic toy, and my boys enjoy it so much, that I can’t understand why they don’t still make ‘fashion plate’ sets like these now.

Part of what makes this toy so successful is that the art on the plates is really good. Surprisingly good for a children’s toy. Why is that? Well, it turns out an artist named Dave Stevens drew the plates. Yeah, THAT Dave Stevens!

As a child, it was the seemingly limitless possibilities that intrigued me about this toy. As an adult, I can see the limited options. Now, the fun for me lies not in the options, but instead in the restrictions. There is something inspiring about working within a confine, and trying to create something fresh out it. Mixing plates in ways they shouldn’t be mixed, or embellishing them with your own elements.

Needless to say, my kids and I have gone through a LOT of paper in the past 2 days.

What were some of your favorite “art toys” as a kid? Was there a particular cartoon, or action figure that inspired you to draw? Share your favorites with us in the comments section.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IRPX0-nxdsg?rel=0]