Saturday, 28 March 2015

Sunday Afternoon Reader: Each Sold Separately/Action Figures Not Included

Each Sold Separately


Action Figures Not Included

by Phil Reed

Phil Reed is the CEO of Steve Jackson Games and the driving force behind, one of my favourite toy-related sites. In his spare time (and honestly, I don’t know where he finds it – with his day job and the sheer number of posts he puts up on Battlegrip the man must only sleep about 2 hours a night) he finds time to publish books centred around his interests.  

Today, we look at two of those books – Each Sold Separately and Action Figures Not Included. I’ve chosen to review them together, as they really should be read in conjunction with one another. During the initial Kickstarter for Each Sold Separately, Phil announced that he had put together some extra pages beyond the original book – and suddenly, one book became two. I contributed to the initial campaign, and Phil was kind enough to also send me a .pdf of Action Figures Not Included when the two books were finalised earlier this year.      

Ostensibly based around the 1980s but self-admittedly touching on plenty of the 1970s and 1990s too, these books are great reading for anyone who remembers the childhood toys of this era fondly. Rather than being a comprehensive assessment of the toys of the era, it’s more of a look at the unusual and creative ways they were marketed. The usual suspects, such as TV shows and comics, are encompassed, while light is also shed on more obscure promotions such as cereal and “Book & Record” sets.

While the two books may not delve terribly deeply into most of the toy lines covered, that’s not really their purpose – we tend to remember the toys fondly, while often forgetting the huge amount of ephemera that were used to promote them in the first place. It’s great to see some of them rescued from total obscurity, as many of them had a great deal of time and creativity put into them, belying their blatant cash-in origins. As someone who works as an advertising copywriter by day, it’s an interesting insight into the way marketing has evolved – and also how much modern-day marketers could learn from these early-80s mavericks!

My big find was that there used to be G.I. Joe-based Find your Fate books – at least one of which was written by R.L. Stine of Goosebumps fame! How I missed this as a kid is something I may never understand. I may have to investigate further on eBay...  

Transformers and Star Wars get a lot of coverage, which is appropriate given both the enormous marketing success of the two properties at the time, Phil’s personal fandom and the sheer fact that both brands are still going strong today. However, plenty of others get a look-in too. Famous names like He-Man and The Masters of the Universe and G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero sit comfortably alongside comparatively obscure names like Power Lords, Crystar and ROM. A few names pop up that I’d never even heard of, which is always exciting for an 80s buff like myself. The main name which stands out as curiously absent is Thundercats.       

These books serve as a great jumping-off point for people who are interested in learning more about toys or marketing, and a bibliography is provided for those who are looking to broaden their own reading on either subject. Overall, it’s a fun coffee table book for toy and broader 1980s fans.  

You can also purchase the books reviewed here today on Amazon, as well as Phil’s other currently available books, which look at the world of third-party Transformers. Phil is currently working on a book based on the late-1990s Star Wars Expanded Universe action figure series. It’s being funded via Kickstarter, and looks like it will be another great read – I’d strongly suggest backing it if you get the chance.  

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