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It’s October and that means one thing here in the Ant Hill — Halloween! Let’s kick off the ghoulish fun with a killer entry from 1978!

Growing up in the mid-’70s, super-heroes were everywhere — on TV, in the movies, at Sea World — but most importantly, they were found every week in comic books. As a kid, comics were like sunlight and oxygen to me, essential components of daily existence. Finding a new issue of The Amazing Spider-Man was a celebrated occurrence, but finding an old one was better than Christmas in July. When I wasn’t reading about superheroes, I was drawing them, but unlike Alex Ross or Todd MacFarlane, I never went on to comics super-stardom. I just couldn’t get my heroes to look like heroes; my Spider-Man appeared to be made of balloons, my Hulk looked more like the Kingpin with spinach for hair. Like countless kids, I couldn’t really draw, but thanks to TOMY, I didn’t have to!

The MIGHTY MEN & MONSTER-MAKER debuted in 1978 and became an instant classic. Anyone who ever had one will remember it, and if you didn’t have one, well, brother, you missed out. As a toy it actually delivered on the promise of “hours of fun,” keeping me busy on many a rainy day. I mean, even the box is cool!

You assemble your creation from a selection of head, torso and leg tiles (you get six of each) that connect within the drawing frame. A piece of paper is placed over the tiles but under the frame, and then rub the “special” crayon over the paper, and Eureka! You’ve created a creature!

Yeah, I’d buy a comic with those guys in it. Someone get Grant Morrison on the phone.

The tiles represent heroic and monstrous archetypes of the 20th century. You’ve got both Marvel- and DC-style heroes, a Flash Gordon/Buck Rodgers-type spaceman, a Frankenstein Monster and Mummy, as well as some truly interesting “alien” designs that look like something out of Barlow’s Guide to Extraterrestrials. The art is terrific, top-notch spot illos by Dave Stevens, who later went on to create a little comic called The Rocketeer.

Hubba-hubba! I mean, nice line-work…

So let’s use this puppy! I’ve chosen a “mighty man” to demonstrate, but don’t worry — there will be monsters, too.

Pick your tiles, lay ’em in the tray, and cover with a nice clean piece of paper like so:

Take your special crayon (OK, any crayon) and rub firmly across the paper’s surface. You end up with this:

Pretty cool, huh? It works as well as the day it was made; however, the unique, hard-wax wedge of crayon the kit came with is long gone, and the pastels I chose in it’s stead were a bit too soft, so I didn’t get the full effect. Still, it was a blast to play with again. The seemingly-infinite possibilities returned, as the heroes and monsters I’d created three decades ago came back to life before my eyes. It was the best kind of nostalgia, a quiet confirmation that something I’d once loved was just as great as I remembered.

Belated kudos to Stevens and TOMY. It’s obvious a lot of thought went into the artwork, since all of the tiles are compatible. This allows for some truly mad science, as you fuse hero and villain together in impossible combinations.

This baby stands the test of time — it’s just as cool and fun as it was when it was first released. In fact, it would be a smart move on a contemporary toy company’s part to reissue it, perhaps with extra sets of updated tiles reflecting other art styles and genres. It’s a great toy that’s also a great value. With no batteries needed or parts to wear out (other than your crayon), it could conceivably last forever, as long as you don’t lose the tiles, that is. As a kid I couldn’t help it, using the heads as holograms or pressing them into clay to make cool patterns. Alas, my kit didn’t stay complete for very long.

There was a “girls” version as well, called “Fashion Plates.” It featured gals wearing dresses instead of sportin’ scaly lizard torsos. Now, I’ve never seen it in person, but the Monster-Maker in me has to wonder how a stylish young lady might look with tentacles instead of arms. I’m thinkin’ it would be pretty cool…

Happy Halloween from the Ant Hill!

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