TOYHEM! They may be dated — but they never get old…
Welcome to TOYHEM! For the holiday season, we’re bringing you a series of features and columns celebrating the toys of our youth, which often made for the best memories this time of year. You’ll be hearing from comics creators, regular 13th Dimension contributors and more. Click here to check out the complete index of stories — and have a Merry Christmas, a Happy Chanukah and Happy Holidays! — Dan
There’s no toy or poster that can’t be made better by having it glow in the dark. I couldn’t explain why but 13th Dimension contributor Karl Heitmueller Jr. can — and does below.
By KARL HEITMUELLER JR.
Though way more commonplace than in decades past, adult toy collectors still face a certain stigma among the general public for a continued passion for things usually thought of as juvenile and best left in childhood.
I live in a home that’s filled with geeky ephemera: thousands of comics and graphic novels, framed superhero and movie posters, shelves and boxes full of action figures, and more. But there’s one thing (actually, two) in my apartment that has drawn maybe more eyerolls than even my display of hundreds of Superman toys: two working black lights, one 4-foot fluorescent tube hung in the hallway (“The Black Light Gallery,” as I call it) and a smaller one tucked away behind a speaker in the living room. Both of them are on more often than not, illuminating chosen aspects of my beloved collection of glow-in-the-dark and fluorescent toys and artwork.
I’m not sure when exactly my phosphorescence phixation—er, fixation—began, but I think it may have been with Pro Arts’ Kryptonite Rocks. Released in 1977, packaged in a box with a redrawing of the classic Wayne Boring Superman pose from Superman #53, these were simply chunks of white quartz rock covered with green fluorescent paint. But they instantly became one of my favorite pieces of Superman merch.
Around the same time, one of the neighbors, a married guy in his mid-20s, was starting to cast off the trappings of his youth, and selected teenage me as the lucky recipient of some of this stuff. One of the things he gave me was his 4-foot black light fixture, which no doubt illuminated some fun times during his college days as an engineering student (he also gave me a big stack of early-1970s Playboy magazines, but that’s another story!). I put the black light in the window sill in my bedroom where it served me well as the visual complement to my punk/new wave-fueled angst during high school.
I painted my walls gray (much to the consternation of my mother) and covered the ceiling in glow-in-the-dark stars. I had a handful of black light posters, of course: the Marvel Third Eye Hela beauty (one of my most prized possessions to this day), a Christopher Lee Dracula poster from Dynamite Magazine, and a felt Capricorn poster, to name a few. I covered the windows in paper decorated with band and superhero logos hand-painted with fluorescent paint (I feel like I have to add that I abstained from one enhancement normally associated with this esthetic… I was not then—nor ever—a stoner. I got enough of a buzz just from the visual stimulation of this stuff [aurally abetted by the Psychedelic Furs, Lene Lovich, and Echo and the Bunnymen, for example]).
Curiously, the black light did not follow me to college, nor to my early apartments as I became an adult. It wasn’t until I got divorced at the age of 30 and moved to Hoboken, NJ, with my friend Rob that I resurrected this particular aspect of my arrested adolescence. I bought a small 12-inch black light and hung it in the small, enclosed passageway between the living room and bedrooms in our little railroad apartment.
CD shelves lined the 3-foot space, onto which I also placed some glow-in-the-dark toys. I framed and hung the fluorescent box top from Topps’ 1979 Krypton Bubble Gum and strung the glow-in-the-dark pirate skeleton that was a Cap’n Crunch premium in 1978 from the ceiling. But it wasn’t until two apartments and a decade or so later (after another relationship ended) that I deep-dove back into this particular aspect of my adolescence, hanging a new 4-foot fixture in the hallway, across from a gallery of fluorescent posters and artwork (Hela once again basking in the full-on glorious glow of the black light).
But back to the toys: Aside from the ubiquitous skulls, skeletons and super balls, there have been some instances of crossover between my comic book fandom and my affinity for glow-in-the-dark stuff: Kenner’s 1990 “Bio-Glow Swamp Thing” action figure (tying in with that awful animated series). A glowing Casper from a 1974 Cootie game (which lives in my guest bath). Two different figures of the Spectre (the 2000 DC Direct figure with him floating above the elongated cape is one of my favorite action figures ever). The 2007 Justice Lex Luthor figure is augmented with glowing capsules on his uniform. And, despite a deep antipathy toward Funko Pops, I couldn’t resist the Batman v. Superman glow-in-the-dark two-pack (even though they barely glow, darnit).
Other pop-culture favorites that have been immortalized in fluorescence include the Creature From the Black Lagoon (love that 1963 Marx statue), Nosferatu (ReAction, 2018) and Alien (the Xenomorph figure and six-pack of facehugger eggs, both from NECA).
I once had a friend comment on an Instagram post of my black light gallery that she would “never understand” my affection for this stuff. Which is fine, as I always say, it’s all subjective. And honestly, unlike my passions for Peanuts, Superman, Alfred Hitchcock and Frank Sinatra (on which I could write dissertations), I can’t fully explain what it is about all things glow-in-the-dark that I find so appealing.
Sure, part of it is nostalgia, but that’s not enough to make me put all this stuff on open display. Maybe it’s connected to my affinity for the kind of comforting mood lighting that makes me one of those people who spends too much money on candles and has Christmas lights strung in various parts of the house year-round. Who knows.
But, as with everything that people collect, the reasons don’t matter. I’ll happily suffer the derision of those who don’t get it because ultimately, all that matters is… I like it. And isn’t that was collecting is all about?
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