Juvenilia,  Toy Soldiers,  Vintage

1979 — Backyard Battalion

Many thanks go to Mark, the Man of Tin for alerting me to the existence of the Backyard Battalion miniatures. I refer you to Mark’s four excellent blog posts on the figures for more details — particularly the final one, with his visual references for painting:





Once I had studied my set, I elected to follow Mark’s lead for a few characters, and was inspired to go in a different direction for the rest. Of course, the numerous details in the sculpts brought me right back to my own younger days. Friends and I didn’t create any supporting accoutrements as elaborate as in the Backyard Battalion, but they certainly existed in our imaginations. In true Gen X fashion, our “weapons” included fireworks launched from pvc pipe and flaming, gasoline-soaked tennis balls — somehow we all managed to make it through relatively unscathed…

My wife is currently following a podcast created by Julia Louis-Dryfus in which she interviews people who are wiser (e.g., older) than she. One typical question she might ask of her guests is “how old do you feel?” I imagine that many of these cultural-powerhouses respond “30 ” or “40,” but at least one — Carol Burnett, whose comedy show I enjoyed as a child — responded “11.” I realized that is about how old I feel as well. I just retired from teaching kindergarten for 30 years, but I definitely don’t feel 5. Kindergartners have a magic all their own. I guess I’m more like the older sibling — 11 years old — who was supposed to keep an eye on them but didn’t earn babysitting pay.

Thus, I looked to 1979 — the year I was 11 — for my inspiration.

The included play mat showed the very bike I lived on in 1979 —  Schwinn Sting-Ray (though mine was a yellow). Around 1979 I would have been BMX “modding” mine with mag wheels, hand breaks, a new seat and handlebars, and a coat of black spray paint. In my memory, though, it looks like this.

I painted the dog as a German Shepherd, carrying a University of Minnesota backpack. Despite the fact that my parents went there, I wasn’t a college sports enthusiast in those days. Friends of mine were.

The medical crew makes a great vignette. I don’t recall a lot of “skull” decorations from 1979, so I chose “Daphne” (from Scooby-Doo) colors for the first, resolute stretcher bearer. We did wear a lot of tie-dye.

The second bearer had a molded-on “23” on his jersey, which worked out perfectly to be running back Ted Brown, who was drafted and played his first season for my beloved Minnesota Vikings in 1979. Mr. Brown was probably known most infamously for accidentally shooting himself in the thigh — yikes!

The medic is carrying a Capri Sun juice pouch and wearing a Fisher Price toy stethoscope. I think the “red” crosses on the head gear were supposed to be tape — maybe red electrical tape — but I got it into my head that they would be “band aids” and painted them as such.

I’ll note that none of my crowd would have been wearing shoes like these in 1979. Converse didn’t “arrive” in my circles until the 80s. I painted these as homage to the black-and-white saddle shoes favored by Peanuts characters.

I did follow Mark’s lead by painting the wounded soldier as Lucas from Stranger Things, a few years before bad things began to happen to his home town …

The mine sweeper got a “camo” shirt (which I need more practice painting) and a football (American) helmet in my high school colors, which are shared by the college here in NC which both my sons attended. I’m sure it’s the sculpt, but his face looks suitably worried. The chap on the left is the only “joke” I included. His fur hat was so Schultzian, that I had no choice but to paint him as a bellicose Charlie Brown.

His colleague armed with a bazooka sports the same Minnesota Twins baseball hat that I wore as a lad.

A duly menacing duo.

The “Captain” is decidedly hipper than I was, sporting a shirt with Prince’s 1979 debut album. I have discovered that I am not a very good freehand painter.

These two wear run-of-the-mill 1970s attire. I painted some of the knees as having patches, and some, as with the chap on the left, as holes with fraying threads.

We wore a lot of “rugby” shirts in those days. The radioing general’s is in the colors of our short lived (1976-1981) Minnesota Kicks soccer (football) team. I don’t recall us wearing “puffer” vests, but a little googling tells me they did exist. I did have a silver “racing jacket” which were briefly popular; perhaps this fellow cut the sleeves off of his?

And finally, I followed Mark in painting the sniper as Max from Stranger Things. I think I did sort-of OK in painting the stripes on her shirt.

I absolutely love these figures and look forward to building a 3-D backyard / empty lot for them to battle in.


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