Making Time by Making Toys: guest essay by Mark R. Brand

We managed to construct our own custom action figures, which, speaking as someone who lived through the 80s–arguably the best decade ever for action figures–is pretty goddamned cool.


It seems like everywhere I look there are dad–writer dads in particular–staying home with their kids this summer. My north shore suburban pal Jason Fisk (, who teaches middle school English, is home with his son and daughter, as is Patrick Wensink (, who recently made the top 10 sellers list in books at, and my good friend Paul Hughes (, Executive Editor of Silverthought Press, who is the main event in a summer-long festival of fun for his own two toddler boys. The list goes on, and in all sorts of variations. Some of us are in it for the indefinite future, and some just till school starts again, but we’re in it, and (if Facebook statuses and photo albums are any indication) doing it up right.

One of the biggest challenges is just finding something to do, day after day, with energetic, enthusiastic, attentive, inquisitive, and seemingly tireless little people. So far as I know, none of us are made of money, so even the indulgences we do allow ourselves have to be carefully spaced out and controlled so as not to Chuck E. Cheese our way into financial problems. And how exactly do you do that during a Chicago summer like this when the mercury regularly tops 95 degrees for most of the afternoon, marooning you indoors almost as effectively as a blizzard?

Customizing your toys.

Let me explain. Around Christmastime last year I discovered that I worked right around the corner from Rotofugi Chicago (, which is one of these new “Art Toy” stores that sell the peculiar fist-sized vinyl toys (sometimes called “Urban Vinyl”  popular in Japan and increasingly popular in the US in various places. I’m coming way, way late to this party of course, but there’s evidently a whole movement started in the mid 2000’s by musicians, artists, and street-art creative types who made their own custom limited toylines. A company called Kidrobot ( eventually brought this to the rest of us by making small, blank vinyl dolls (which I found at Rotofugi but can also be had at places like Barnes and Noble) called “Munny”s. (Munny, presumably because the original doll was shaped like a miniature cartoon monkey.) They have all sorts now, a cat, a bear, a crocodile, a giraffe, a kangaroo, a bunny, and all of them come with some sort of random equally cartoonish accessory you can use to make your own custom toy. I got one for John at Christmas and made him one, and we’ve made three more so far this summer.

We happened to get a Mini Munny (which is what they call the 4″ ones, they come in several sizes) named “Bub” who was shaped, as far as I can tell, sort of like a little bear. Bub came with a little plastic spear, and of course John immediately said “let’s make him a knight, no wait, a knight that’s a castle guard.” Why a castle guard seemed preferable to a knight, I’m not sure, but we went about it anyway. First I took the blank and added some armor and details to him with bakeable Sculpey clay. Then we baked him on a cookie sheet to harden everything and went about painting him.

Here’s john working on the spear with some basic acrylic paints, which have the dual helpfulness of being both very cheap and easily washable.




I put two coats of spray-on Krylon Matte Finish on him, and he’s ready to play with, alongside the other Munny (a secret agent I made from a blank named “Foomi”).





After creating the secret agent and knight, I brought home two more blanks, a crocodile named “Kracka” and a cat named “Trikky”. I consulted John about what we should make them into, and he said he wanted a viking and a ninja. Specifically a brown-colored ninja. “Trikky” came with an axe as his random accessory, so that was easy enough, but I thought the cat would make a better ninja, so first we made “Kracka” into the viking.

I got a bit more adventurous with the sculpting this time, adding the helmet, horns, beard, and the shield that had to be baked separately. All of these of course are meant to be regular toys mixed in with John’s other toys, and I wanted to see how the Sculpey clay would stand being played with, so I glued everything down and double-coated the whole figure with Krylon matte finish. So far, a week later and even after being played with by John’s younger cousin Gabriel who is three and a half, I’ve only had to glue one horn back on this one after I accidentally knocked it off of a high shelf.

With the cat one, I decided to go for broke. John was firm on wanting a ninja, and my thought was that it wasn’t going to look cool unless I added a bunch of details and sculpted stuff to it. Here’s the cookie sheet with him in pieces right before we baked all of the Sculpey on. The figures are soft vinyl, but they’ll survive 15 minutes in the oven at 275.

Then I re-attached the arms and head and glued together all of the separate hardened pieces and made sure that his arms and head could swing freely without breaking anything off or rubbing against each other.

 John helped paint the body a light brown and decided that the bird on his head (“Kracka”s random accessory) should look red like one of the Angry Birds. I did the detail work after it dried. With these, you have to do lots of coats of thin, watered down acrylic paint in order to get a nice even tone that doesn’t look brushed-on and lumpy. It takes a while, so be patient if you try it. As you can see from the picture we painted it right in front of the air conditioner to help it dry quickly between coats.

 With all the extra stuff I added to the blank figure, the ninja cat (John and I named him and his bird Twitchy and Richelieu) is the most fragile of the four. I’ve had to repair the sculpted ends of his mask ties several times, and I’m kicking myself now that I didn’t find some way to use a cloth mask instead of sculpting it. Sculpey is relatively springy (like hard plastic), but when it’s thin, it’s easy to snap off if you push on it too hard. Otherwise, though, these toys are surprisingly good to go in terms of play. Once they’re Krylon-ed, they can withstand water and pizza sauce fingers and being put in a toy box with each other without chipping or losing much/any paint. John hasn’t taken any of them into the bathtub yet, but I suspect they’d survive it.





So at the cost of about a day’s work each, we managed to construct our own custom action figures, which speaking as someone who lived through the 80’s–arguably the best decade ever for action figures–is pretty goddamned cool. The blanks are $10 and can be bought at Rotofugi ( Chicago,, and Barnes and Noble. If you’re in the Chicago area, I highly recommend stopping into Rotofugi just to see what the whole Urban Vinyl craze is about.

Mark R. Brand is a Chicago-based science-fiction author and the online short fiction editor of Silverthought Press. He is the author of three novels, The Damnation of Memory (2011), Life After Sleep (2011), and Red Ivy Afternoon (2006), and he is the editor of the collection Thank You Death Robot (2009), named a Chicago Author favorite by the Chicago Tribune and recipient of the Silver medal 2009 Independent Publisher Book Award (IPPY) in the category of Science Fiction and Fantasy. He is the producer and host of Breakfast With the Author and lives in Evanston, IL with his wife and son.


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  1. #1 by おすすめ ブランド 財布 on 09/11/2013 - 7:41 PM

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  3. #3 by gistlife4me on 08/29/2015 - 10:41 AM

    I’m impressed! For someone who didn’t know much about the vinyl toy craze, you were very on point at design and originality. Of course having your sons creative little mind with you probably helped with the creative process. I have had a foomy and a munny on my craft table for over 3 months, but can’t decide what to make them. I’m trying to get better with clay working first. But just yesterday I was looking for info on sculpy, and I went to the kidrobot forum where I have had a lot of good advice. They had a discussion about how toxic sculpy is to touch and that it is poison to bake it, since it can make your food contaminated. I don’t know if this is a high risk, but I’m using gloves now and havnt put it in the oven. Do you think it’s something to worry about or did you notice any type of smell when you baked it? Thanks again for the article, Sarah

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