Rad Plastic – Chris Fawcett

5 out of 5

This gorgeous, dense, thorough review of the entire original TMNT toyline – from 1987, to one piece from 1999 (!) – is clearly a labor of love, but should be fascinating to any casual toy collector, whether or not Turtles is their chosen fandom.

While some commentors in the TMNT forums backed out of this as it was not a “full” catalogue of Turtles toys (nor was it intended to be), I can’t see how this isn’t a valuable addition to a fan’s shelf: featuring a brief but still informative review of the genesis of the toyline (which is a good read, even if you’ve known the history via others avenues), the book is then a year-by-year divide of the productions, starting with a full list of produced / unproduced toys from that year, and then select photos and notes of things from various states of production: sketches, molds, and etc. The “not full catalogue” bit is because this isn’t about showing photos of all the finalized toys, but rather, exposing either the iterations things went through, rare alternates, or the stuff that gets left on the production floor – wax casts and whatnot – that are still collectors’ items but don’t fit the “standard” idea of what collecting a full set of toys might mean. This exposes how much work goes into something that seems super silly, from multiple sketches of never-made characters to endless margin notes on functionality. It’s endlessly fascinating, even at hundreds of pages and across the years: just seeing how ideas are recycled or upcycled, how trends are followed and chased to keep the toys alive – it’s nuts. After the reviews of each year, you get a small section of un-dateable items, and then a brief behind the scenes glimpse of all the people that made the book possible, which seems like just a drop in the bucket – when you consider how many sources and photos had to be contacted and collected and documented… this was an incredible amount of work.

The production / design (Chance Sanderson) is also no joke. The large, square-ish bound dimensions – perhaps 12″ x 12″ – are required to get in close on these sketches, and to see some of the fine details on pre-production versions of toys, all of which are reproduced via high quality photography, and incredibly rich color. The way the years are separated by color-tabbed pages is super helpful, and I know it should be a norm but it’s not: having page numbers is much appreciated. The layouts / font have also been well-considered, making the notes (from author Chris Fawcett) and numbering (to align the notes to images) on each page unobtrusive but easy and clear to read.

And regarding Fawcett’s written contributions, Chris maintains a great balance throughout, clearly informed by fandom (how could this book exist without that!) but not overly indulgent; allowing for criticism where it makes sense but otherwise respectful of the craft and process and offering some well paced wit here and there. The same is true for his history overview, which juggles fact and fawning perfectly.

RAD Plastic really is the ideal coffee table book. It’s endlessly flippable-through, jam-packed enough to be interesting to a random onlooker and detailed enough to hold the attention of a TMNT fan who may already have other more “full” type of catalogue listings. It’s also a unique production on its own, neither exactly such a catalogue, or a making-of book, but some fascinating combination of those, and maybe more fulfilling than either in certain regards.