Action Figures Posts

13 Advertising Spokes Characters Who Aren’t Just for Breakfast

Ron Ruelle

Ron Ruelle hobbyDB

We recently looked at collectibles connected to our favorite food mascots (cereal and otherwise), but there are lots of beloved Advertising Spokes Characters for non-edible markets, too.

The granddaddy of all spokes characters has to be Bibendum. You might know him as The Michelin Man (which is actually his official name in the U.S.). Even though he’s French, his name is a Latin approximation of “I drink nails.” Bib has been around since 1894 when tires were white or light gray.

bibendum pep boysAlso from the world of automotive service, Pep Boys decided they needed not one but three spokes brothers. Manny, Moe, and Jack have been around since 1921. They are based on the three company founders, who are not brothers and none of whom are named “Pep.”

A perfect example of target marketing, Bullseye the miniature bull terrier has been the spokes mutt for Target stores since 1999. There have been various stuffies and toys of this mutt, most of them presumably exclusive to those stores. 

bullseye geoffrey snoopyAnother famous store mascot hasn’t fared as well lately. Geoffrey the Giraffe was the spokes mammal for Toys “R” Us stores since their inception and was there til the end when the chain finally went belly up.

Snoopy is really just a cartoon character, but honestly, he’s probably as well known as a spokes pup for, well just about everything, including MetLife Insurance. He isn’t available as a true spokes collectible, but he is represented in countless toys, possibly more than any other comics character in history.

 

reddy kilowatt naugaElectricity shouldn’t be a hard thing to sell. You kind of need it for all sorts of things all day. But in the 1920s, electricity was still not the dominant source of power in U.S. homes, especially in rural areas. In fact, a lot of farmers were downright skeptical of it. Enter Reddy Kilowatt, the “electric utility ambassador.” Fun fact: By the 1970s, Reddy changed his message to one of energy conservation, not consumption. Another fun fact: He was once a member of the Grateful Dead. No, really!

Fake leather shouldn’t be a hard sell, either, but Naugahyde brought out Nauga, a spokes monster made of that very substance. His legacy has endured longer than the material has, and it was pretty indestructible.

alfred e neuman bazooka joeSeveral magazines have had spokes characters from “Cracked” (Sylvester P. Smyth) to “The New Yorker” (Eustace Tilly), but none reigned as supremely stupid as Alfred E. Neuman, spokes idiot for “MAD.” Sadly, “MAD”
is ending its print run soon, perhaps allowing Alfred to really focus on his next bid for the Presidency (one of these years, he has to win, right?)

Gum isn’t food, is it? I mean, you shouldn’t eat it. Did you know that’s how Bazooka Joe ended up losing his eye? Sadly, they never really explain it in the comics printed inside the wrappers. And they don’t ever clarify whether he actually owns a bazooka.

Joe Camel tagamet tommyMedicine isn’t food either, is it? Alka Seltzer is kind of the antidote for food if you think about it. In addition to a memorable jingle and soothing action shots of tablets fizzing, the brand had its own spokes guy, Speedy.

Cigarettes are definitely not food, right? And certainly not for kids. Never mind the Flintstones shilling Winston cigarettes in TV commercials in the early ’60s. Of course, the most egregious spokes dromedary was Joe Camel, who swears he wasn’t trying to lure kids to the cool, rebellious life. The backlash against Joe was so severe that not only were cuddly characters banned for tobacco marketing, pretty much all cigarette advertising and sports sponsorships were forbidden.

The greatest spokes organ of all time has to be the Tagamet Tommy. Yes, he’s an anthropomorphic stomach. Which begs so many questions, like does he have internal organs? We’re going to say “no.” 

Freddy FunkoOf course, a lot of the collectibles seen here are Funko products.  Their company spokes figure Freddy Funko has taken on a life of his own over the last twenty years. He started out as a large scale store display Wobbler, and has since appeared in more costumes than you can keep track of. A character created to sell figures of characters created to sell other things… no wonder King Freddy wears that crown.

What are your favorite non-food spokes characters and mascots? Let us know in the comments!

Dov Kelemer of DKE Toys Brings His Collective Interests to hobbyDB Advisory Council

Dov Kelemer DKE toysDov Kelemer, founder of DKE Toys, is the latest member of the hobbyDB Advisory Council. He comes from a unique perspective as not only a major action figure dealer, but also as a curator of custom and limited edition mashup figures. His creations include one-off mutations of familiar figures with unusual, often bizarre modifications as well as limited edition resin figures.

dke toys tatooine“DKE Toys started with Star Wars collectibles in the early 90s and still deal in them today,” said Dov. The business evolved into the wholesale distribution of designer vinyl toys by 2005. “We were the exclusive distributor for over 500 artists, brands, and designers. We sold the distribution arm of our business in 2016 to Disburst Ltd (www.disburst.com). Now we set up at 3 or 4 shows a year selling limited edition custom resin action figures.”

DKE toys2004 was when Dov considered a shift in his business model. “Star Wars was getting stale,” he said. “There was a lack of imagination and when I started to see vinyl toys made by artists I admired around 2004 it piqued my interest.”

Dov Kelemer Sarah Jo MarksAs a collector, he was fascinated by the Suckadelic line of custom vinyl art toys and action figures. “The Sucklord started the resin action figure medium in 2005 and I started with his first figure. I continue to this day with not only an archive of all of his work but with scores of other artists influenced by him.”

Like many in this industry, his interest started as a young collector. “I have vintage Star Wars figures from 1977. I have very little before that since that’s the genesis of the Star Wars universe.” There is also a creative energy derived from living near Hollywood with Sarah Jo Marks, originally his business partner, now also his wife. “We met in 2001, so she experienced the transformation with me. By 2005 the distribution company began and we got married that same year.”

dke toys vader projectIn addition to distributing and repping custom artists, Dov has several online presences that occupy his spare time and expand the brand. Spoonful of Star Wars and The Vader Project are two of them. Both are art shows that we curated. The Vader Project, in particular, was a way of introducing Star Wars fans to the artists we were working with in the designer toy business. We sent 100 artists 1/1 scale Darth Vader helmet replicas to paint, modify, and mash-up,” he said. “The show toured the world and ended up at the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh before being auctioned off at Freemans.”

dke toys bootleg gpkAnother of his interests gets really specific. The Bootleg Garbage Pail Kids Project occupies additional time and headspace in the Dov universe. As someone who appreciates custom and original work, he curates the inventive and creative efforts in this area. “As with Star Wars before, I grew tired of the newer products Topps was putting out,” he said. “There was always more interesting content when artists and creators were just creating without permission and bypassing the licensing and approval processes. These releases tended to be very handmade or homemade and produced in very small quantities for a very short time”

There is also a tendency for art to imitate life and vice versa. Dov notes, “I also find it fascinating to witness and document how pop culture has influenced the actual culture. I love how GPK themes just pop up in life. Right now it seems to be most prevalent in the tattoo scene. I have business cards from tattoo artists in Argentina for example who use GPK themes to promote themselves.”

dke toys star warsdke toys akbarDKE Toys is always up for checking out new artists in vinyl or plastic. If you’re such an artist, he would love to hear from you. “Just get in touch. I respond to all serious emails and phone calls and our info is readily available,” said Dov. DKE is willing to distribute items that are produced in certain quantities. Or, if they are making hand made action figures we evaluate if that was a good fit for a convention release and discuss what works best for us.”

With all this unique experience, Dov Kelemer is a welcome addition to the hobbyDB Advisory Council.

19 Food Mascots Who Want You to Join Them for Dinner, Snacks or Dessert

Ron Ruelle

Ron Ruelle hobbyDB

Last week we looked back at some of our favorite cereal spokes characters from big bowlers like Cap’n Crunch to the soggy, forgotten ones like Quake. But there are more meals to the day than just breakfast, so let’s take a look at other Food Mascots from healthy veggies to fast food.

Back when Funko started in the late ’90s, their Wacky Wobblers were heavy on retro, even forgotten, food spokes characters. It was a fun dose of nostalgia, with some deep dives into long retired mascots who still could provide a smile to those who remembered.

big boy toysmcconalds bobblheads

Big Boy was the very first Wobbler, and he has since been immortalized with other figures. During the restaurant’s heyday, vinyl figures and banks representing Big Boy were widely distributed. Bonus fact: It’s fun to guess where someone is from by whether they identify him as Bob’s, Shoney’s, Frisch’s, Azar’s and so on.

Many other restaurants have mascots, but most are on the fast side of the food spectrum. McDonald’s began rolling out friends for Ronald McDonald in the late ’60s. If you’re someone who finds clowns terrifying, you should the original Hamburglar. Also Grimace used to be Evil and had extra arms. The entire cast of characters exploded to enormous size by the 1980s, and has been scaled way back since.

kfc halloween maskIt’s hard to conceive now, but at one time Col. Harlan Sanders was an actual person, not a character played by an ever rotating cast of comedic actors (and also recently by another spokes character, Chester Cheetah!). Burger King used to be a real person, too, possibly a deposed ruler of a far away country, but more likely an actor. Either way, the rubber headed king of the last decade or so has been repping the restaurant and possibly scaring kids since.

kool-aid manwyler's funny faceThe Kool-Aid Man started off as a face drawn in the sweat on the outside of a pitcher of ice cold powdered beverage (didn’t we all?). Eventually, he grew appendages and then an affinity for smashing through walls. Many figures and toys and replica pitchers have honored him over the years, but the best was the early ’80s Kool-Aid Man video game cartridge! Fun fact: Bugs Bunny drank the Kool-aid briefly, too! In the mid ’60s, Wyler’s tried their hand at the powdered juice game with Funny Face. Each flavor had its own distinct character, although they may have tried too hard. While some of them are available in collectible form, several were based on, umm, questionable stereotypes that have not aged well.

poppin fresh familyMany of you know the Pillsbury Dough Boy has a name: Poppin’ Fresh. But did you know he had a family of dough people? Joining him in the 1970s were a wife (or maybe girlfriend, they never specified… Poppie Fresh), a son (Popper), a baby daughter (Bun-Bun), and pets named Flapjack and Biscuit. There are also some older folks, presumably someone’s parents, as well as good ol’ Uncle Rollie. The main family and pets were available as figures and finger puppets for several years.

hostess spokes character toysIf you prefer your baked goods already well, baked… Twinkie the Kid was your guy. Why he dresses as a cowboy is anyone’s guess. There is also a chocolate version of the Twinkie the Kid, also named the same name. Less enduring, but worthy of the Funko treatment were King Ding Dong and Fruit Pie the Magician. Spider-Man and other heroes got in on the Hostess gig for a while as well.

j k simmoms m&mThe kings and queens of the anthropomorphic snack world have to the the M&Ms characters. Starting with just a few different colors, they have added on to the crew increasing diversity, and even an occasional cannibalism joke (well, what do you call it when one candy eats another of itself?) Fun fact: Actor J. K. Simmons has been the voice of the yellow M&M for over 20 years. No, seriously!

jolly green giant toyscalifornia raisins video gameSpokes characters aren’t always trying to lead consumers astray… the Jolly Green Giant seems genuinely interested in selling you healthy vegetables. And of course he had a sidekick… apparently despite the family resemblance, young Sprout was an “apprentice.” Theoretically, the California Raisins were doing the same service, but honestly, they sold a lot of merchandise and stimulated an interest in Motown hits more than they did for shriveled grapes.

noid toyOf course, we need to address perhaps the most annoying, reviled, and despised restaurant mascot of all time… The Noid. Even in the pre-Twitter rage era of the early 1990s, the reaction to this mascot for Domino’s Pizza was swift and unified in revulsion. He was meant to represent the bad, incompetency of “other” pizza chains, but the stink stuck to Domino’s nonetheless. So of course, Funko has honored the Noid with a Pop! figure. The Garbage Pail Kids also did a more fitting tribute.

Of course, many non-food companies have memorable (and sometimes forgotten) spokes characters… we’ll look at those soon, too.

Who’s your favorite food spokes character? Let us know, and if there are relevant toys and collectibles add them to our database.

Introducing the New Mego Database Powered by hobbyDB

Mego Corp is the newest Toy Company to reveal its all-new product database, powered by hobbyDB. While they are best remembered for their wide line of popular figures from movies and TV, the company’s history goes back much further. The Mego Database will include all of that history and more.

Mego was founded in 1954 by D. David and Madeline Abrams as an importer of inexpensive dime-store toys. In 1971, a shift in economics and changing tastes with kids meant it was time to refocus the company.

Mego SuperheroesMarty Abrams, their son, suggested that a line of inexpensive action figures would be a big hit. Many of them shared the same body molds to keep costs down, and all had separate, removable outfits. The figures were 8 inches tall, smaller than some other popular brands, but perfectly sized so accessories like vehicles and playsets weren’t too big or expensive.

Mego managed to get licenses for DC’s Super-Friends, which turned into an instant hit. A subsequent deal with Marvel Comics then meant kids could play with compatible characters from incompatible worlds. 

The rapid success of those first figures meant Mego would lead to the company in securing deals for characters from Star Trek, Wizard of Oz, and Planet of the Apes. In fact, the Planet of the Apes characters were trailblazers, some of the very first movie tie-in merchandising of their kind.

Mego Planet of the Apes

Mego also dabbled in 1/64 diecast cars! Their Jet Wheels cars came packaged with connectable, stackable garages.

Mego Jet Wheels

Mego Action JacksonAmong their next big hits were smaller figures, the Micronauts. They were much smaller than any other toy of their kind, and their futuristic designs fit in with kids’ interest in space travel and science fiction.

Action Jackson was Mego’s response to GI Joe, and competed with the long-running soldier on a less military field. Additional licenses in the late ‘70s included CHiPs, Dukes of Hazzard, and The Greatest America Hero. Only when collectors and kids gravitated towards Kenner’s new (and smaller) Star Wars toys did Mego stop production in the early 1980s.

Even though the company was gone, the memories of Mego stayed strong, and kids of the ‘70s grew into collectors of the ‘90s and 2000s. In 2018, Mego re-introduced a line of characters including many old favorites, as well as some shows from that era that they didn’t do the first time around. Some newer classics like Cheers and Married With Children are in the mix now as well.mego bewitchedOnce completed, the Mego Database will be a great resource for collectors, as it combines accurate, complete information from the actual company with the cross-reference abilities of the hobbyDB database. It will also feature price guide information and give Mego collectors the ability to manage and showcase their collections as well as a wishlist. Interested in getting involved? Just email us here.

Meet Matias Kalaka, Master of Action Figure Mashups

kalaka toys Bart Danzigkalaka toys matiasOver the past few years, we’ve introduced you to various diecast customizers. We recently discovered the work of Matias Kalaka of Buenos Aires, Argentina, who makes custom action figures and vinyl art toys. His crazy mashups of completely unrelated universes somehow make sense when you see the quality of his ideas and execution.

Kalaka creates single one-off, hand crafted figures, as well as very limited molded figures under his Kalaka Toys brand. “I’ve been making custom figurines since 2001, and serialized toys since 2010,” he said.  But his passion for tinkering with figures goes much further back. His earliest custom model along these lines was “a Jesus figure in a tin space ship made in the ’60s.”

Inspiration comes from all kinds of places. His mashup of ‘80s icons Mr. T and E.T. The Extraterrestrial was a natural given their names. “Mr. E.T., it was a fun mashup, so I’d say it’s fun what drives me and inspires me.” On the other hand, His Simpsons/Masters of the Universe mashup idea came from a friend. “They are characters that were present on a friend’s t-shirt brand, we spoke and I decided they were good enough to be made into toys.”

Other mashups don’t really have a particular theme other than crossing Bart Simpson plus Ronald McDonald or musician Glenn Danzig because… well, as he said, it’s all about the  fun.

kalaka toys Mr. E. T.

Mr. E. T., of course.

The original sculpts are done with a mix of found parts and existing components from existing figures. “Whatever works best… some are from scratch, sometimes I take some bases and work up from them.” Either way, the final product is made mostly of plastic resin. He tends to work fairly fast. “From the idea to the figurine, it can be quick or take weeks, as some ideas come out clear in my mind and others require more work to end them as I like.”

kalaka toys matias matt groening

Matias with Matt Groening of Simpsons and Futurama fame.

kalaka toys shogunFor a sense of scale, most of his figures are in the range between 11 to 25 centimeters (about 4.5 to 10 inches). “I don’t have a favorite, I work on the size that inspiration leads me to,” he said. Since they are limited editions, (and really high quality) they don’t come cheap, running anywhere from about $120 to 350.

Matias says his most difficult project was a Shogun Warlord figure (left). “The Shogun Warlord had a lot of development work, as it was produced in a toy factory it needed a lot of work before the matrix was made.” Being able to make slightly less limited runs makes his work more available to the masses and gives him good exposure. In the meantime, he promotes most of his work through his Instagram account at KALAKA_TOYS. Fans can also follow him on Facebook at KALAKA TOYS.

Other big things are on the horizon as well. “I think that in this year, my most prominent figurine will be released by Medicom.” He didn’t tell us what it is just yet, but it’s sure to be a great execution of a wild idea.

kalaka toys street greyskull

Castle Grayskull comes to life.

Mario Villarroel, a developer in hobbyDB’s South American office, conducted this interview in Spanish and translated the repsonses to English. (Yes, even the devs at hobbyDB are required to be well-versed and interested in various pop culture phenomena.)