PAULS VALLEY – A squadron of GI Joes, led by Captain America surfboarding on top of a tank, stormed the miniature town of Normandy, blasting their way through a the battalion of Nazi soldiers and space aliens led by General Rommel, who sniped them from open windows in burned-out buildings.
Across the carpet, another war took place. Emperor Hirohito’s forces reluctantly point their rifles away from the US Military, to help combat Godzilla rising out of the water off the shores of Iwo Jima.
These toy dioramas come from the playfully twisted mind of Kevin Stark, the impresario of the Toy and Action Figure Museum at 111 S. Chickasaw in downtown Pauls Valley.
“I’ve collected toys for the past 23 years and 85 percent of what you see here comes from my personal collection,” said Stark.
He used to keep his toys in his art studio, but in 2005 he opened the museum’s doors, offering his collection to the public in a way that offers nostalgic fun for children, both young and grown.
Stark said you’ve either played with these toys, or stepped on them.
“I love that the public can see this collection, but really, I miss playing with my toys,” said Stark.
When speaking with Stark, the first impression he gives, with his long hair, pinstriped sports coat and fluffy chartreuse tie, is that he might see himself as an alter-ego of a brainy, funny super-villain.
If you are a child of the 80’s or 90’s, chances are you once held his work in your grubby kid fingers. For example, Stark is one of the designers of the Technodrome, the spherical eye-topped base that the evil Shredder and Krang used to plot the demise of the Ninja Turtles.
Stark is currently writing Geezer Comics, about a super-powered octogenarian in an American Flag style adult diaper. He recently finished up a re-launch of Zorro figurines, where the Spaniard avenger has traded in his rapier for a light-saber, and hitched his horse to ride the chromium steed of a motorcycle.
Lisa Driskill was hired by Stark to be the Museum’s director. She said the aesthetic of the museum fits perfectly with the spirit of Route 66.
“This place is great piece of roadside Americana,” said Driskill.
“We’ve got 6,000 Sq ft and 13 rooms. People come from all over the world to see this place,” said Driskill.
Driskill said that toys don’t get the credit they deserve in the cultural/arts world.
“They start in comic books, which are highly creative and artistic. Then the action figures are made from sculptures and paint,” she said.
Stark fervent agreement is obvious, judging by how he’s lined the museum walls, floor to ceiling with these little plastic statuettes that are used as vessels for the storytelling of kids.
“To me a lot of the toys and action figures today are sculpture for the masses. In the art world, years ago, people could buy a print of a painting they liked for a relatively inexpensive price, but statues and sculptures, they couldn’t afford those,” Stark said.
“Now with the high quality toys that are being made, you’ve got stuff that’s affordable for everybody,” he said.
Other collectors help add to Starks vision by loaning them exhibits. One of the loaned collections were rows filled with hundreds of WWE Pro Wrestlers, they stand flexing and grimacing under a pane of glass.
One loaned toy was particularly impressive, the 2 ft prototype model of a massive fire demon that towered ominously on a gilt pedestal. It’s the Balrog from Lord of the Rings, as crafted by Purcell toy designer Kyle Windrix.
Driskill said it’s worth $10,000 and took two years to sculpt.
Volunteer museum worker Kris Porterfield greets the people wandering in and offers them tours. She’s a Barbie fan, and is a little sore that Barbie’s girly dolls are not allowed in the hallowed halls of the Action Figure museum.
She said Stark’s favorite room was the Batcave. Inside over a thousand Batman toys are affixed to the walls, surrounding many displays of different characters and playsets throughout the years, from Adam West’s MEGO crusader to Heath Ledgers Joker.
On the right side of the building is a rumpus room for little kids, where they are provided with boxes of toys that aren’t in mint condition, super hero costumes, and a life size play-set that includes flashing lights and dead telephones that offer an imaginary line to the president and pizza delivery.
A young boy was sitting Indian style on the floor dressed in an Iron Man Halloween costume. He was banging around a WWE wrestling figure against his sisters Transformer robot, yelling out sound effects.
“Really what we offer is a history of pop culture from the early 60’s to today,” Stark said.
Along with industry professionals and fans worldwide, Stark chooses two toy-lines each year to induct into the Action Figure Hall Of Fame.
Last year, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and the Power Rangers made the cut, this year, he said he’s thinking the Thundercats will get their day in t