Tag Archives: action figure dollhouse

The gothest action figure custom ever.

Nico Minoru action figure custom by Suzanne Forbes on balcony Sept 2017Even though I don’t know much about this Nico Minoru character, I had to snap up the adorbs babybat action figure of her!

Hasbro did an incredible job with her, as they have with so many female Marvel Legends figures in the last few years. She’s so goth!

But…I felt she could be MORE goth.

I started this project as a proof of concept for the absurdly male-dominated world of action figure collectors and customizers.

I wanted to demonstrate that there are fantastic customizing resources available in lady-land. Like nail art decals, nail art stripes, nail art “dotters”, flocking, etc.

These materials are cheap, widely available and already scaled tiny as fuck. They’re perfect for action figure customs.

So I began with using nail art decals to enhance Nico’s gothic lace.

I LOVE nail art decals because they remind me of Letratype and LetraSet! Old school! The tiny packets of decals are so cheap, you can get a hundred sheets on eBay for a euro.

I masked the areas I didn’t plan to decorate off, with a cut up rubber glove and tape. Then I sprayed the figure with my clear primer for plastic.

Nico Minoru action figure custom by Suzanne Forbes wipOnce she was dry, I added glitter piping to her corset, more lace to her shirt, lace thigh-highs over her stripey stockings, and so on.

And that was great! Though very subtle.

Then I realized I could use the same miniature making materials I used for my Snow Queen and other mini projects, such as my Horribella Dolls.

Like tiny eyelash picot trim and wired ribbon and elastic ruffle tape.

And all my tiny little rhinestones and crystals and stars and moons! And my little tiny top hats!!!!

Nico Minoru action figure custom by Suzanne Forbes on balcony Sept 2017I just went bananas. I decided to dress Nico full-on San Francisco Goth, Circa 2005.

She would be an homage to all the amazing goth-girls I’ve known, all the beautiful and amazing muses I had the privilege to draw and paint in the Bay Area goth scene for ten years.

Nico Minoru action figure custom by Suzanne Forbes Sept 2017

Six more hours of ferociously focused detail work and one enormous mess later, there she was!

Nico Minoru action figure custom by Suzanne Forbes Sept 2017

Illustration by Tasha Tudor for A LIttle Princess

Illustration by Tasha Tudor for A LIttle Princess

She reminds me of the ur-goth image all little girls of my generation imprinted on, Sara Crewe in her outgrown mourning dress.

That Classic Victorian ragamuffin look commingled with circus and harlequin style in the early years of the new century, in the Bay.

My muses wore stripes and bustles and tiny top hats, and so did I. We all looked fucking great!

That look was replaced by the great wave of Steampunk starting in 2007. I loved the Steampunk just as much, so it was alright!

Look how amazing she looks on the Sorcerers’ Porch of my Action Figure Dollhouse.

Nico Minoru action figure custom by Suzanne Forbes porch with Magic Watch

Toy customizers, please note that I was able to preserve full shoulder and waist articulation under the miniature clothing. Use of stretch fabrics and gluing the clothes only to strategic, rigid areas of the figure allow her a full range of posability.

Oh, action figure customizers and Instagram toy photography bros who find this page by googling, I pity you. They’re dolls, dude. Accept it.

A poseable toy figure of a human with cloth clothing is a doll.

As is often the case, what appears to be a simple doll-making project has a deep cultural wound behind it.

Like most of the toy industry, amazing toy company Mezco (who I love and have supported since their beginnings with Silent Screamers in 2000) has a gender problem. They make dolls, and have from the early days: they make Living Dead Dolls.

They also make action figures, and since 2015, they’ve been combining the two with the 1:12 Collective, a 6″ (DOLLHOUSE) scale line of action figures with cloth clothing. (In action figure parlance, dolly clothes are called “cloth applications”.) They started slow, with a Frank Miller Dark Knight Batman (red flag? more likely the chunky design was an easy pilot project).

Then in 2016 they started releasing a cavalcade of fantastic cloth-costumed takes on the heavy hitters of the Marvel and DC universes, plus Classic Trek! These figures are unreal. They are crazy good. For 2017 they announced even more upcoming licenses and figures. Ghostbusters, Space Ghost, Universal Monsters and more. But there was only one planned female figure announced in 2016 – Harley Quinn.

Mezco Harley Quinn figure pre orderI was on their Instagram hassling them for months before she was announced, asking, “What the hell, dudes?”

Once she was announced, I thought we’d see a wave of female figures. In 2017, as the success of the Wonder Woman movie exploded on mainstream media, they announced a 1:12 Wonder Woman. But neither Harley Quinn or WW have shipped yet.

And no other female figures have been announced, despite the release of multiple male Classic Trek figures and Marvel heroes AND villains. *cough*Uhura*cough*Storm*. Know who is expected to ship by December? The Red Skull. Who is the Red Skull? He is a fucking Nazi.

That’s right, 1:12 toy collectors will get a NAZI before Wonder Woman.

As a woman, as a comics fan and former DC comics professional, as a serious lifelong toy collector, I gotta say, the optics are bad.

Mezco Wonder Woman 1 12Do better, Mezco. Do better, toy industry.

Meanwhile, guess I gotta make my own action figures with doll clothes “cloth applications”. Been plunging into male-dominated spaces since I became a graffiti writer in 1980, a hardcore comics fan in 1984 and a comics pro in 1993. Been genderqueering the toy space since the 1970s, when me and my best friend Bradley played with my Dawn Dolls. Not gonna stop, despite Nazis.Rachel Ketchum and Bradley Jankowitz 1974

See my mini projects that use similar techniques here:

Early Horribella dolls

Action figure customizing, June 2016

Berlin Horribellas: Mark V, Sept 2016, Mark IV, July 2016

and my Sideshow Bride of Frankenstein custom, October 2016.

A very old 12″ Living Dead Doll converted to a horrifying spider monster woman, October 2016.

Fearless Pink Gay Santa and his Jolly Ally Reindeer, December 2016.

1:12 scale gilt insect carriage and harness, June 2017.

Valentines Monster Doll Armada, February 2017.

1/12th scale Snow Queen/Jadis of Narnia, May 2017.

Using epoxy clay, November 2015.

 

My biggest little project of all, finished at last.

Action Figure Dollhouse by Suzanne ForbesThis is my dollhouse. I built it myself, and it took over a decade.

Action figure dollhouse Suzanne ForbesMy dollhouse is a memory palace for every story I’ve ever cherished, a way to hold close every character I love and the things they taught me about being human.

It’s a safe house for my dreams. It holds my recollections of the times those characters gave me strength when nothing else did, and this week it is finally, truly finished.Action figure dollhouse Suzanne Forbes

I’d wanted a big fancy dollhouse my whole adult life, but I had always resisted. In ’96, when I was working at Dean & DeLuca in Georgetown and living in Arlington, there was a dollhouse store nearby.

Action figure dollhouse Suzanne ForbesIt shared a parking lot with the building where my recovery meetings were, and I carefully arranged to be there only when it was closed. I used to peer in the windows, and say to myself, “Not yet.”

I had never lived anywhere I could imagine staying for the rest of my life. I knew my decorator crab shell couldn’t support the financial and psychic overhead of a huge, heavy, utterly fragile dollhouse.

It was starting a collection of 6″ (1/12th scale) superhero action figures in my mid 30’s that led me to begin building my dollhouse.

I didn’t start collecting figures on purpose. A co-worker with a crush on me gave me the DC Direct Death figure, and I took her out of the package and saw that she was exactly the right size for a dollhouse. I’d heard they were going to make more dollhouse scale figures of DC and Marvel characters. I knew then I was done holding out against the completely silly business of miniatures.Action Figure Dollhouse by Suzanne Forbes

So I started collecting figures, and planning a dollhouse for them. They needed a place to live! Little did I know how long they would wait.

Action Figure Dollhouse by Suzanne ForbesI made sketches of scenes, like this one. The entire ten-year labor of my dollhouse was for this one joke. It’s still hilarious to me! I am an idiot. But a happy idiot.

The Edward Scissorhands figure is a customized mashup of the McFarlane one, for the likeness, and a Japanese figure with a generic face that was closer to the correct scale.

Action Figure Dollhouse by Suzanne Forbes

In 2001 or so I bought a die-cut 1/8” plywood dollhouse kit, the cheapest and most labor-intensive kind of kit. I had fallen in love with its style, a ridiculous Addams Family mansard-roofed Victorian, and none of the easy-build kits appealed to me.

A die-cut kit is a box of plywood sheets with hundreds of pieces you have to punch out, sand, prime and paint.

I had never built any kind of kit before, so it seemed reasonable to me to start with a huge Victorian. Being as I’m not very reasonable.

Action Figure Dollhouse by Suzanne ForbesHalfway through building I learned that if I wanted to use the fancy, detailed pre-made doors and windows from HouseWorks instead of the flimsy ones that came with the kit, i would need 3/8″-1/2″ thick walls.

So I painstakingly, insanely, cut pieces of heavier wood to fit every wall of the partially assembled dollhouse. I didn’t have any power tools, so I used a hacksaw and exacto knife to cut everything.

Cutting the shingles for the roof to fit perfectly took months, because half the time they split and were useless.

Then I decided it wasn’t big enough, so I scratch-built the extension you see on the right side. This is called kitbashing in the dollhouse world.

Action Figure Dollhouse by Suzanne ForbesThis is my other favorite joke. What’s even better is what my Beloved Ex-Boyfriend Clear said about it: “I bet Constantine paid Harry to take a dive.”

Action figure dollhouse Suzanne ForbesI read that soldered wiring was less likely to fail than brad wiring, so I took the mostly finished house to Jim Cooper’s Dollhouse Studio in Benicia and he taught me how to solder wiring, and I wired the whole house.

Then I started wallpapering and staining trim and painting windows and installing moldings. After a couple of years I just couldn’t stand it anymore; I absolutely hated cutting the little beveled moldings so they lined up right.

So I took the house back to Cooper’s and wonderful June Gailey, a lovely senior lady who spent her days working on dollhouse projects at Cooper’s, finished the interior detailing. It took about a year.

dollhouse_Suzanne_Forbes

June & Jim with my dollhouse when I first brought it to June.

Meanwhile, for like 7 years I’d been collecting stuff to go in it.
The weirdest stuff I could find.

dollhouse laboratory Suzanne ForbesAction Figure Dollhouse by Suzanne ForbesBabies and tiny jars to put them in, spellbooks, poison bottles, skulls, canopic jars, squid, rayguns, test tube sets and labware, sinister medical tools, urine and blood samples, gimp hoods, whips, handcuffs, stockings, and course fancy food, especially lots and lots of cake, and as many coffee makers as i could secure.Action Figure Dollhouse by Suzanne Forbes

 

 

The stuff came from four main sources:

-action figure accessories, mainly Todd Mcfarlane
-handmade by miniature artisans
-commercially made miniatures
-and Re-Ment and MegaHouse blind box miniatures from Japan.

Action Figure Dollhouse by Suzanne ForbesFriends gave me some of the most special things, like the handmade Doubtful Guest.

I made all of Bettie’s vibrators and sex toys myself- there are some mini sex toys available but they’re in 1/18 scale. That was how I began to sculpt for the first time.

And I collected a LOT of action figures. Like, a really frightening lot. They kept coming out with more, of characters I adored!Action Figure Dollhouse by Suzanne Forbes

Who would ever have guessed they’d make an X-Men movie, and toys to go with it? Who could have imagined they’d make Lord of the Rings movies?

Action figure dollhouse Suzanne ForbesWho could have imagined that the comic/SF/Fantasy culture I’d grown up on would become popular in the mainstream, and then hugely, commercially viable? Or that adults collecting toys would go from ironic and clever to simply ordinary?

I sure as hell wouldn’t have.

dollhouse_Suzanne_Forbes

My dollhouse in 2008.

 

The house itself was finally finished in the Fall of 2008, when I had lost my (human-size) house in a divorce/real estate collapse and was living in a small apartment in Albany.

I had already boxed up some of my figures and put them in storage, so I couldn’t access the Wolverine I wanted to use for the shrubbery joke or my custom Edward.

Action figure dollhouse Suzanne Forbes

I put an assortment of the figures I had around in the house, and realized it looked ridiculous without landscaping. I started on the flowers for the landscaping, and then the Great Recession hit.

My art business collapsed, and I moved to a smaller apartment, and then to a friend’s basement.

The dollhouse went into storage for almost three years. But life is made of second chances, and in 2011 I moved in with my now-husband, to a beautiful little Craftsmen fourplex in Oakland.

Action figure dollhouse Suzanne ForbesOne of my beloved friend-muse-patrons and her husband carried my dollhouse up our narrow, twisting stairs.

Action figure dollhouse Suzanne ForbesI will never forget that moment, watching a small circus-athlete woman and her tall geek husband dancing around each other as they moved the single creative object I’ve spent the most time on in my life.

It was such a testament to marriage, to friendship, to love and to trust. It was goddam amazing, and they got it upstairs in perfect safety.

So I built the landscaping at last, using balsa wood for the brick walls, and finally found the perfect greenhouse on eBay.

Action figure dollhouse Suzanne ForbesI painted the greenhouse, cut paths out of faux brick tiles, and painted and poured the resin pond I had been planning for a decade.

I put all the furnishings and accessories back in, and restored the figures that had been in it in Albany. My Swamp Thing was still somewhere in storage.

Our little jewel-box apartment was only 800 square feet, and I didn’t dare open any of the ten boxes of figures in my storage locker.Action figure dollhouse Suzanne Forbes

I decided the shrubbery joke would have to wait a while longer, until I lived somewhere I could put down roots.

Action figure dollhouse Suzanne ForbesPacking the dollhouse and its contents for Berlin was deranged.

I shaped tin foil shields over the furnishings attached to the walls, carefully stuffed the entire house with acid-free tissue, and built cardboard structures that precisely covered every part of the outside.

Then I bubble-wrapped it, and then I shrink-wrapped it, and then I had it professionally crated.

I sold tons of my vintage clothing collection to pay for the crating; it was the only thing we had crated.

Lifting the crate into the shipping container took three guys, including the abnormal wiry strength of SFSlim; unloading it here took four healthy young Australians.

action figure dollhouse Suzanne ForbesI waited almost three months to unwrap it here, because I wanted to get most of the art hung up and stuff put away, and I needed to rebuild the enormous chambered rolling base it sits on.

But I did it, and then I screwed the dollhouse to its base for the first time.

Because we hope to live here the rest of our lives, and it was time for all my heroes to have a home.

action figure dollhouse Suzanne ForbesI knelt and said prayers of gratitude as I unpacked my figures and tiny things, to everyone who’d helped me bring something so huge and yet so tiny, so silly and yet so serious, so old-fashioned and so full of plastic, to such a distant land. I have never felt so safe and so whole.

Next, I’m going to start building the underground Danger Room, superhero powers testing facilities, laboratories and stables.

I’ve got fourteen X-Men figures who’ve been waiting for a place to train for a long time.

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