Some of the happiest memories of my life are around playing with toys with my friends. I was a kid in the 1970s, so toys like the Evel Knieval stunt cycle and the first generation G.I. Joes have warm places in my memories. I remember my impatience while sitting in my second grade classroom, counting the minutes until the afternoon bell rang and I was free to ride bikes to my friend Frank’s house. Frank and I would have Evel crash into walls of bricks or create great heroic adventures for our G.I. Joes to go on — and occasionally we would steal our sisters’ Barbies so the heroes would have a damsel in distress that they could rescue.
My passion for toys reached a fever pitch when the first Star Wars movie came out in 1977. I was 11 then, at the perfect nexus of childhood nearly gone and impending teen years, ready and able to attribute terrible and great motivations that our beloved Luke, Han and Leia could use in fighting Darth and his stormtroopers. That first set of toys was generous, too. With its Sand Creatures and Jawas, we were able to recreate a lot of the first movie (and one of my friends even had a Millennium Falcon set, something my tight-fisted parents would never think to give me) and create our own unique expanded universe.
My passion had a flare-up with the dawn of the original Super Powers toys. To this day I still treasure the Darkseid, Joker and Firestorm toys I have from that line, and I can’t resist collecting them when they appear at conventions at a reasonable price.
So I’m the perfect target for Toybox Time Machine: A Catalog for the Coolest Toys Never Made. Like a tour through an alternate universe childhood, creator Marty Baumann delivers a catalog of tantalizing toys that seem like they should be real. I can imagine myself as a pre-schooler being fascinated by Wee-Art Toys’ Talking Book of Airplanes and getting in a fight with my sister (three years younger than me) about breaking up her friends playing Aloha Bitsy Bongo Party (complete with a Bitsy lotus print dress and instructional dance record – so cool!). I imagined myself getting Crank Casey’s Goofy Goo everywhere in the house (joking all the time with my parents about how goofy the goo was) and playing the Mystery Mansion game (collect all four skills to make your escape! – from Fungo!).
Toybox Time Machine is an absolute joy to page through. Baumann does a masterful job of delivering graphics and designs that look and feel appropriate for their era. He obviously has a lot of fun with design elements from out of the Don Draper playbook. He even creates dozens of new company logos for each of his fictional vendors, a charming way to frame this concept.
I know this book is real, but part of me expects to find a Monster Maker game or a battery-operated Dyna-Show projector at a garage sale or thrift store sometime. This book has merged Baumann’s delightful ideas with my beloved stuntmen and movie heroes, and I couldn’t be happier about that.