Attention conservation notice: this guy makes crazy fun toys and comics. I talked to him about bespoke action figures, comics and the pros and cons of nostalgia. (2564 words)
Brandon Barker is the man behind Warlords of Wor, a series of handmade limited-run toys coming out of Barker’s own ManOrMonster? Studios. Warlords of Wor celebrates 1980s fantasy barbarian action figures (think He-Man) right down to their awkward bodybuilder physiques, furry underpants and goofy names.
Figures released so far include the claw-handed Clawbber (“Two-fisted General of Justice!”), the evil scientist-turned-swamp-monster Bog-Nar (“Mutant Muck Menace!”) and the skull-headed albino gorilla Beastor-9 (“Twisted Abomination of Science!”).
In addition to the action figures, Brandon has released 5 minicomics featuring stories about the characters in the toy line. They’re fun little reads, great examples of shortform genre comic writing that pack a lot of plot and character in between action scenes and still leave time for a bunch of playful riffs on childrens’ activity books and the crazy ads you used to see in 1970s comic books.
What makes Warlords of Wor different from other retronostalgic offerings out there is that, while it’s following in the tradition of the toys and comics I loved as a kid (and still love), it never crosses the line into simple pastiche, mere mashup or thinly veiled fan fiction. They’re a great example of using tropes to tell new stories instead of slavishly referencing and remixing characters and stories that are already out there.
A little while back I got to swap some emails with Brandon, talking to him about how he got started making his own toys, how he negotiates the pitfalls of nostalgia and how he comes up with such cool and kooky names.
To start with, how did you get into making your own action figures?
I got interested in model kits when I was young, and I’ve always drawn and created in other ways, so building and customizing toys is something that developed very early for me.
“…it just takes a little DIY, punk rock spirit.”
I think the first “custom” toys I made were cyborg army men. I would take green army men, cut off arms or legs, and glue on pieces of chrome model kit sprues (the plastic “trees” that model kit parts were attached to). I would also repaint action figures to give them new, mission-specific outfits like night ops, desert camouflage, or arctic gear.
As an adult I decided I wanted to create my own comics and toy lines, so I just started doing it. The materials and resources are out there… it just takes a little DIY, punk rock spirit.