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Thursday, Apr. 2, 2015

Action figures recreate battles

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Just for the record, Bill Taylor does not play with dolls.

They're action figures.

And when it comes to describing the battlefield dioramas that fill a large part of the basement of his Burlington home, play isn't the right word, either.

Taylor, 54, is a history buff in a family with a military tradition dating to the Civil War, when his Kentucky ancestors took up arms on both sides of the conflict.

"It's part of my obsession with American history," said Taylor, himself an Army veteran. "Especially military history."

Taylor, who is married, the father of three and a counselor for Iowa Vocational Rehabilitation Services, has owned River City Coins since 1989. Through his business, Taylor rediscovered an interest in a toy from his youth.

A convention he attended eight years ago in St. Louis introduced him to a community of enthusiasts for 12-inch action figures who were there trading and swapping soldiers and accessories and buying from 25 different vendors.

"It was my downfall," said Taylor, who once had an 8-by-4-foot diorama of 1-inch Civil War soldiers.

In addition to the action figures he roughs up and details out for his dioramas, Taylor also has a few that are only for looking at, such as a 1960s West Point cadet he is keeping for his son, Nathan, 20, who is now a second-year cadet at the U.S. Military Academy.

The hobby has developed well beyond the original G.I. Joes, which were introduced in Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine variants. The level of accuracy and the research that goes into producing it is, Taylor said, "just incredible."

Born in 1953, Taylor was 11 when the first 12-inch G.I. Joe toys - Hasbro's answer to the Barbie doll aimed at boys - were introduced in 1964. At that time, he said, the question of whether boys would play with what amounted to dolls led to the term action figure.

That semantic change seemed to do the trick.

"You had to have at least a half-dozen," Taylor said. "How could you have a decent battle (with less)?"

The original G.I. Joe line was discontinued in 1976. Taylor said playing with toy replicas of service members likely fell out of favor due to the unpopular Vietnam War. Online sources pin G.I. Joe's demise on the rising cost of petroleum associated with the oil crisis occurring in the United States during the same period.

Either way, 12-inch action figures faded from the marketplace, only to be replaced by a new generation of 3 3/4-inch poseable figures developed as a marketing strategy for the movie "Star Wars."

G.I. Joe was reborn in that form in the 1980s in a bid to capture some of that market.

Over the past 20 years, action figures have "evolved incredibly," Taylor said, adding there are at least 15 companies manufacturing 1/6th-scale figures and accessories which are marketed to enthusiasts of ancient militaries, American Indians, World War II and the Vietnam War, among others.

"You could just pick your area of interest and really go with it," he said.

Much like model railroading, scrapbooking and other hobbies, there is almost no end to the depth and breadth of accessories large and small for collectors to add to their battle scenes _ from cigarette packs and uniform insignia to a remote-control tank costing $4,000 that makes smoke and battle noises.

Until about three years ago, Taylor was just a casual collector. He started a diorama about four years ago, beginning with the French village scene, but laid off for a while and really got going again in the past year.

In his basement today, Taylor has built a diorama containing scenes from four battles from the European theater of World War II.

Taylor says his battle scenes are "like a snapshot in time."

Characters are individualized to their nationality - he adds battle damage, even frostbite. "It's just the challenge of being able to recreate an historical event," he said. "Battles are about more than just the two sides."



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