Action figures were my total jam as a kid. Once I got my hands on one or two (I believe my first few were Ninja Turtles...my mom could verify that) I couldn't possibly have enough. They presented a chance for me to create my own stories, mimicking the superhero shows and comics by which I was so entertained. I would invent whole universes with needlessly complex continuities (and this was before I knew that Marvel and DC were doing the same) and then eventually demolish them so I could create entirely new personas for each of my "guys," as I sexistly called them. I spent hours at it, creating teams based on size, costume color, how many joints each figure had, etc. And for a while, this was my private activity, until I became friends with Nick.
Nick had his own collection of action figures, and he used them in the same way I did, creating his own characters and universes. What I liked about Nick, though, was that he didn't care if we collaborated or not, which meant sometimes we did and sometimes we didn't. At his house we used his toys, and at my house we used mine, and when we felt like it we played together and came up with brand new stories and casts, but more often than not, we sat on opposite sides of the room and just did our own things. I can't speak for Nick, but he sure seemed to like that arrangement, and I know I appreciated it immensely. Getting a whole other house full of action figures, essentially doubling my pool of available characters, was awesome, but I didn't always want to write with a partner. When I did, Nick was a great one, and that's why we were friends, but our mutual desire to sometimes play alone together was another big part of our bond.
The other thing about Nick is that he was an exceptional artist. Like seriously, head-spinningly good for a kid in elementary school. And because of his age and interest, a lot of what he drew were superheroes and comicstrip characters, which made me wild about him. He provided access to a small, private gallery of great comic artwork right around the time I was first connecting with comics. I was jealous, but I was also too impressed by his work to let any negative feelings prevent me from seeing more of it.
In the long run, Nick and I had a weird relationship. He directly announced to me that we were no longer friends in third grade, and then freshman year of high school we reconnected by virtue of being in the same homeroom, and by senior year he was living with me and my family after a huge fight with his dad. Now he's going to be a groomsman in my wedding in July, and the whole reason I know the guy is that he had toys I didn't have and we were both willing to share. Action figures helped me stretch my mind and explore storytelling in a more active way than TV or comics ever could, which is great and probably reason enough to value my history with them. Connecting me with Nick is why they really matter to me all these years later, though, and why I'll probably buy way too many of them for my kids when the time comes.
Tomorrow: Trading cards and my second best friend (chronologically, not by rank).