Interview with Kevin Stark (Toy and Action Figure Museum)
As part of our Action Figure month we were lucky enough to speak to Kevin Stark, toy designer and curator of the world's only dedicated Action Figure museum, about his career and how his own incredible collection became an international tourist attraction…..
1) As a kid, what were your action figures of choice?
The twelve inch tall Adventure team G.I. Joes were my favorite figures as a kid. In fact, I got a job at the age of ten so that I could buy my own toys. I had $60. a month to spend how I wanted, so I didn’t have to wait on Christmas or my birthday to get toys I wanted. And in the late ‘60’s that was a lot of money to spend on toys.
2) Do you think action figures play a role in shaping children’s imaginations?
Yes, I do! Most kids will play with ALL of their action figures together and create stories and scenarios that are not limited to one toy line. I did this as a child, and I’ve seen other children do it, too.
3) How did you get your first break in the toy industry?
While in college I did drawings for a guy that had a literary based fanzine. I would illustrate poems, short stories, etc. and I would produce the work really fast. Years later, after college, he tracked me down and asked if I wanted to work on the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
In the time we had been together in college he had started a company that did design work and wrote copy for toy companies. He needed an artist to do designs and he asked if I could be in Los Angeles at 9am Monday morning. This was 6pm on Friday night that he approached me, but I said’ “Sure!”
At the time I was working for an ad agency that was owned by a close friend. I told him I would be gone for three weeks and since I didn’t “punch a clock” at that job, he said that would be all right. So, off I went and I’ve been doing it ever since!
4) Of all the lines you’ve worked on, which was the coolest? And which are you most proud of?
Well, the coolest is the NEXT toy line I’ll be working on. Haha! The one I enjoyed the most and that I’m the most proud of is probably a ZORRO toy line I did. I got to do a lot of different stuff on that including playsets and coming up with totally new villains.
5) How did the idea of a museum become a reality?
In 2000 a group of citizens in this small town got together to plan our growth for the next ten years. Being a somewhat progressive small town, they wanted to steer the growth and identify the things they wanted to see in the community.
One of the elements they wanted was “unique” tourist attractions in the downtown area. I was already a toy designer and a major toy collector. I had thousands of toys! I joked that my studio, where I worked and where my toy collection was housed, was already the “unofficial” tourist attraction of the town, since total strangers would knock on my door to “see the toys.” I said we ought to make it “official” and create a museum devoted to the art and sculpting of action figures. Well, they took me serious! Soon a board of directors was formed for the project and we set about getting our non-profit status as well as all of the other things one needs to be an accredited museum.
We converted a 6,000 square foot downtown building and started putting in the displays. We officially opened in October of 2005. We have had thousands of visitors from all over the world since we opened our doors.
6) Do you still have a personal collection at home? If so, what takes pride of place?
Yes, I have some toys in my office at home, some in my office and art gallery that is located a block from the museum, and I have another building that is FULL of toys. This is my old studio where I do my paintings and where I work on toys that need repair or cleaning.
7) If you could acquire any item for the museum, with price and rarity no object, what would it be?
I would like to acquire a “fleet” of full size Batmobiles. Particularly the 1966 Batmobile. These would be great promotional tools for the museum, but most importantly, I would get to drive them! Haha!
8) Is there any manufacturer or line of figures you have a particular affection for?
I love the newest DC Universe figures that are coming out. They are 6 inches tall and they are putting out lots of secondary characters, which I love. I am a huge Superman and Batman fan, but I really like the older Justice Society characters from the 1940’s, so anything in that vein I purchase.
9) What current projects does the museum have up its sleeve?
We are looking at developing a traveling exhibit to take to schools and other events. We are also hoping to expand the size of the museum in the near future. I could easily fill our space two more times!
10) What’s the best piece of collecting advice you’ve ever been given? And what tips would you offer to other budding collectors out there?
The best piece of advice I’ve been given and would give to others is, COLLECT WHAT YOU LOVE! I don’t collect for financial gain or investment purposes. I just buy what I like and enjoy. You never want it to become a “job” or it’s not fun anymore. So, just get into what you love to have around you.