British designer Jon Daniel’s collection of African American action figures includes Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali and a coveted 1975 Super Agent Slade toy. Here, he explains what led him to look to the US for cultural inspiration and to start collecting…
Daniel recently contributed to CR’s October Monograph, Stamps from the African Diaspora, which included a series of stamps featuring prominent black cultural figures and also formed the basis for an exhibition at the Stanley Gibbons shop in London.
Growing up through the late 1960s and early 1970s, writes Daniel, I think I am fairly typical of the British-born, first generation offspring of West Indian parents, in my search for identity.
It took me a long time to come to terms with Britain being a part of who I am. There was little in the British culture that either appealed to me or I felt I could be a part of. Any positive images or messages, were all coming from the West Indian culture of my family and the African American culture of the United States.
I was fortunate as a child to visit America on a few occasions to visit other members of my family living there. Everything about America seemed brighter, bolder, blacker and better.
The sheer volume of the sophisticated tv programming available such as The Jeffersons; cartoon series like The Jackson 5 and The Harlem Globetrotters; motion pictures like Shaft, Car Wash and The Wiz; and the music, funk, soul and R’n’B that we could also access in the UK through import records or pirate radio, all had a profound influence on me.
If I could have grown up in Harlem at that time, I could not have been happier.
And no doubt, this is a desire that has been instrumental in the nature of the collection of action figures I have subsequently acquired. Contrary to the nature of the subject matter, I did not start collecting them until I was in my late twenties / early thirties. Possibly, the birth of my children was a major factor.
But more likely, it is due to the rise of the internet, as the availability to scour the globe and find these items more easily became a reality.
My main focus is collecting figures from the 1970s and 80s, as they are naturally the rarest and embody the period of time I most identify with. One such figure that I am most proud of (and only recently acquired after a search for several years and many unsuccessful eBay bids) is the 1975 Shindana Super Agent Slade action figure.
A truly ‘superfly’ figure, modelled on Richard Roundtree’s black private detective character, Shaft, it is highly sought after by collectors of this genre.
So what’s next? One day I hope to finally acquire a Medicom Jean-Michel Basquiat RAH action figure. It’s not extremely rare, but it is extremely cool.
And at the end of the day that’s what it’s all about.
Jon Daniel is a designer and art director and leads the creative team at branding and design studio, ebb&flow. See jon-daniel.com.
Mr. T and the Lando Calrissian character from Return of the Jedi