I’ve been collecting action figures since I was in fifth grade, and over the years, I’ve tailored and re-tailored my displays and collecting motives more times than I can count, so it’s always exciting to meet a collector whose own action figure collecting visits an aesthetic or thematic scope that’s never occurred to me previously.
Enter Darryl Jefferson, a fine gentleman who collects but one thing : action figures depicting African Americans. Well, ‘Americans’ might not universally apply when you’re also collecting space aliens and other fictional characters that don’t necessarily have an Earthly domain. We had the opportunity to talk to Darryl about his unique collection.
Collin : So, I suppose I should start by asking your name, age and day job.
Darryl : My name is Darryl Jefferson, I am 37 years old, and I am the Director of Post Production Operations at NBC Olympics Division.
C : And what is the main thing that you actively collect?
Darryl : I collect African American action figures, or what I call “Blaction”. I guess some are not necessarily human, but they are mostly easily recognizable as black.
C : It’s a really interesting thing to collect based on ethnicity, and even as a long-time figure collector, it never really occurred to me. Where did it all start?
Darryl : Where so many good ideas start, I guess… during a drunken rant. I believe I was having a lengthy conversation with a group of friends, and everyone was relating their favorite toys growing up. I made the comment that I had Star Wars figures, but one could only “be” Lando so many times. There really were very few toys that actively looked like me growing up. I guess I decided to start collecting ones that did.
C : That’s similar to how ‘Sun Man’ and Olmec Toys got started – which is awesome. So you’ve been collecting since ‘the rant’?
Darryl : Yes, with some years more obsessive than others. I love figures that are either super-over-the-top, obscure, or flat out ridiculous. It’s much more important to me to have one talking Nelson Mandela or Zombie Thriller Michael Jackson than 140 random black figures which are unremarkable.
C : How many of these have you managed to collect? And is it an active hunt, or an ‘if I see it, I’ll get it’ kind of thing?
Darryl : I have around 200 or so – and I troll the local shops when I get a chance. If I hear that one is being released, I hunt it down. If not, I just go looking. Friends are also responsible for many figures from all over the world. I’ve been getting figures from family and friends for years. I also admit to sometimes going to web stores like Entertainment Earth to see what is out there.
C : Now, when you mention ‘not necessarily human’, are you talking about figures like Star Trek’s Lt. Worf?
Darryl : Indeed. I have also created honorary places for characters like Dr. Teeth, Black Manta, and… for my wife… Johnny Cash. Her Man in Blaction.
C : Ha! That’s awesome. I was curious – do the Klingons played by Christopher Lloyd and John Laroquette count towards your criteria for this particular collection? What ARE the criteria when dealing with alien species?
Darryl : I knew one day I’d be faced with that question. I guess if the species speaks to me, I include. The Klingons of the Next Generation always read to me as representing race rather than species. Most (not all) of the Klingons were portrayed by black actors, and viola. As for the unfortunate Christopher Lloyd and all 60s-era Klingons, I try not to think of them. Black Manta, conversely, Aquaman’s nemesis from the Legion of Doom – no one has ever seen his face, and if Aquaman HAD a polar opposite, I think he must be black.
C : I love that answer.
Darryl : Thank you.
C : So, what were the first few that you began your collection with, other than Lando?
Darryl : I guess the post rant, early 90s first figures were Chris Rock as Nat X, Mr. T, Carl (not Lenny), Guinan, and Run DMC.
C : Man, that brings back some early collecting memories. My mom had her own Guinan because she dug the character so much. Do you have a favorite from among your collection?
Darryl : Funny that – I was just saying today that my favorite one is always the new one… but I do have a soft spot for the beautiful busts of Black Falcon & Power Man. And my most recent purchase was a whole group of “Hoodiez”, which are super-stylized. And a Japanese interpretation of MJ’s Thriller, pre- and post-zombied. And there are a few I wish I had as a kid, like Dr. J, or Ali.
C : Did they ever made Dr. J or Ali figures?
Darryl : I never saw them as a kid, though I ate the crap out of Ali spicy potato chips and Reggie Jackson candy bars. I forgot one too – my Michael Vick doggie chew toy. That never gets old
C : Aw man, I love celebrity branded potato chips.
Darryl : I know! Wish they brought those back.
C : Do you have any especially rare or valuable pieces?
Darryl : Hmm. I think the Flava Flav alarm clock is valuable, now, and the full statues were on the expensive side, like the “modern” Luke Cage. I think one of the things that I really enjoyed about the hobby was that everything, more or less, is reasonably priced – just hard to find. And people can get me a gift, and really make me happy for under $20.
C : The Bowen statues? They’re really awesome.
Darryl : Indeed. I love looking at them. And the chew toy is also valuable, as the company got a cease and desist.
C : Is there a kind of Holy Grail you’re always kinda watching for?
Darryl : I guess obscure and well done. I’d love to get my hands on Samuel L. Jackson’s character from Unbreakable, “Mr. Glass”. I do not have any disabled figures. And without a doubt, my personal Holy Grail would be a Sly Stewart live at Woodstock. I don’t know what I’d do if I found that.
C : Would you go for a customized Mr. Glass, or does it have to be a ‘production’ figure?
Darryl : I guess I would do a custom, though I never have… never really though about it….
C : About how much do you end up investing in this collection per month?
Darryl : Maybe $50-$75 per month – but I do get a lot of gifts, too.
C : Okay, I’m going to name a few action figures, and I’m curious if you have them in your collection, if you don’t mind.
Darryl : Please!
Darryl : Yep – in his dress whites. A great, stylized figure, complete with cigar & cane.
C : Winston Zeddemore from the old Ghostbusters line. Any of the million variations.
Darryl : Funny – no! Never found a good likeness. I should redouble my efforts!
C : I’m not sure if that was an era when likenesses mattered as much as action features. I know I was big on collecting all of the Egons for a while. Captain Sisko, or Geordi LaForge?
Darryl : True, true. I have Geordi, and Captain Sisko, in his Captain’s chair.
C : Oh man, I didn’t even know there was a Captain’s chair one. I love that guy.
Darryl : Me too. I’d love to see him do more stuff
C : Storm, Black Panther, Blade, War Machine, Patriot?
Darryl : Storm, yes. Black Panther I pre-ordered, 3x Blades (different takes), yes on War Machine and no on Patriot.
Darryl : I got two of them. I’m a sucker for black presidents.
C : Ha ha! Truly. Do you have any other active collections?
Darryl : Nope – that is my only one, so far.
C : It’s kinda rare to find a collector who only collects one thing. I wish I had that restraint.
Darryl : I can’t say that I haven’t purchased my wife figures, too, like Betty Page, Willow Rosenberg, and Wonder Woman.
C : Is she more of a collector than you are? Or are you both on the same collecting page?
Darryl : Nope, I collect for her. And just a few.
C : Neatly displayed or stored safely away?
Darryl : The Blaction are all displayed in one room, except the Mr. T & James Brown Rubber Duckies, which guard the bathroom. My wife’s are displayed elsewhere.
C : I suppose it’s important to ask : do you collect for the cultural significance, the fun, or both?
Darryl : I think it started with fun, but now the collection is flat out impressive. People are not accustomed to seeing all of the black Simpsons characters together, for instance. Now, I guess it is both.
C : Ooh. Interesting visual dynamic there. Well, sir – I think that’s about all I have! Is there anything you’d like to add? A location for donations to be sent or anything?
Darryl : Sure! I am always looking for tips, ideas, or figures! Send to 3 Landmark Square, Ste. 401, NBC, Stamford, CT 06901. Thanks so much, Collin!
C : Awesome. This has been a blast – and kinda redefined a little of how I see collecting toys.