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.
Hi had a Stretch Monster. I carried that thing around everywhere.
Also “built” a lot with legos.
I still have my MMaMM from back in the 80's. Every decade or so it still gets taken out for some old school fun.
Wow Dan, Thanks for that blast from the past! I had one of these as a kid. There's no telling how many hours i spent creating these monsters. It's good to go back and revisit your childhood inspirations. On that note, i got a box of old Creepy and Eerie magazines calling my name…
Hell yes! This brought back sweet memories.
Rubber band guns and wooden swords we made nearly tops the list. Of course my epic collection of army men. But at the top was my bike. I do remember having a Spirograph. That was probably my only “art” toy. Guess we could call Legos an art toy? Had those too. I don't remember the monster thing you are showing. Cool though. Probably after my time.
I grew up with the Mighty Men and Monster Maker as well! and my mom still has it and gets it out for my kids and anyone else to play with. The art on those was amazing!
I had that kit as a kid and LOVED it. Unfortunately, I think it got taken to Goodwill somewhere along the way and I have not seen it since. I guess I should make one last sweep of my mom's basement to see if it is still hiding somewhere.
Cool toy! I've not seen one of those. My favorite art toy was a John Gnagy draw along set. It came with erasers, pencils, paper and art book. I also enjoyed a Draft-a-Plan set. That set came with paper and pencils, book and a light box! I used the two together and had lots of fun. That is what sparked the artist in me. Great post, really enjoyed this one!
The toy was made in 1978. I don't know when you were born, but you may have been a little too old to appreciate it.
John Gnagy is fantastic. He had a TV that was very similar to a man named 'Capt. Bob', the later of whom was a BIG inspiration for me. There are still a lot of Gnagy's videos on Youtube, btw. We have to dedicate a post to him.
Oh man, I remember Stretch Armstrong. You know those originals go for a small fortune nowadays if they're in good shape.
That's what it was called! I've been trying to remember the name of this kit for a while now.
Oh man, so cool.
I was obsessed with 1) those giant coloring posters that had black velvet on them, and 2) coloring books of Egyptian murals. *shrug* I was just really into packs of colorful markers, man. I had the giant Pentech set in the yellow case….ahhh, memories.
I had this toy too. My mom bought it for me and I thought it was ultra cool. My friends and I used to spend hours coloring the results of the tracings.
But mom was a professional artist and saw that I had aspirations to be an artist. So after playing with it for a few months, she kind of let me know that I wasn't really drawing and that the use of the templates was cheating. And eventually she wore me down and I put it away.
Great to hear that it was Dave Stevens who was the artist. Not surprised. One of the true charms of the thing was just how good the drawings were.
My Sis and I did those velvet posters all the time too! My parents would also buy us these large plastic coloring pages that you would lay on the floor. They were like 5 feet across, easy. You'd color them with crayons, but the wax never took very well. I don't know why, but they were immensely popular for a while, and I did a LOT of them.
I was into coloring books, army men, and Legos. So many Legos. And I can't forget the acres of scratch paper I scribbled away on. Good times, good times…
Comic books, Jonny Quest cartoons, Saturday afternoon TV matinees, and a Jon Gnagy “Learn to Draw” kit were my early inspirations. My GI Joes (the 12″ tall originals) were my first “art models.” 🙂
I used to love paint by numbers! I felt so grown up and “artsy” using real oil colors and painting tiny, tiny details with them, and ending up with something that looked like a “real painting”. 🙂
Before any of us painted with pixels there was Lite-Brite .
I had one of those plate rubbing toys. One was for Batman Returns and the other was a generic monsters and space men I think. They were fun.
Yessss…. I had one of those plate rubbing drawing toys! Your post just brought back all the memories of putting my face right in front of the paper and plate working on the drawing. I loved the hell outta it! Except mine was a “fashion” version: http://www.ebay.com/itm/Vintage-Tomy-1978-2508-Fashion-Plates-Designer-Playset-w-Original-Box-VHTF-/121551006183. 'Cause, you know, being a girl that was my marketed option at the time. But man, that monster one looks great! Imagine mixing the monsters with the fashion pieces… endless possibilities.
Loved this as a kid. I did pretty well at keeping all the plates together when I had it. But where it is now, I have no clue. sigh
Great post! Got one in my basement I was thinking of pulling out this week and stumbled across your piece today looking for images to share with friends who didn't know what i was talking about. I have to ask where you learned about Dave Steven's involvement…I'm a fan of his work and never ever heard anything about this before…do tell
Thanks for this Dan! You just opened an old door from my childhood. Haven’t seen one of those in a long, long time. There was a Mighty Men & Monster Maker set at my Grandma’s house. I loved it!
Just ran across this, trying to remember what they were called. I had this set AND “Fashion Plates” (thankfully I just predated the sneaky trend to divide boys’ and girls’ toys so as to force parents of both sexes to buy more stuff). It was my greatest joy giving superheroes dowdy plaid skirts or the fashionable tennis star blue scales and a tail.
It took a little fiddling to match plates from different sets, since they were different shapes, but one just captured each plate one at a time. It was relatively easy to pull up the fabric or skin textures from one character and apply them to another.