Okay, we are at the middle of Black History Month so I have a pleasant surprise. Debbie Garrett, the author of several doll articles and books, the blogger of Black Doll Collecting, and the moderator of the WeLoveBlackDolls Yahoo Group, has allowed this e-mail interview about her perspective on Black playscale dolls and action figures (abbreviated in this article as "DAFs.")
PhillyCollector (PC): When did you first notice Black playscale dolls and action figures?
Debbie Garrett (DBG):
I first noticed Black playscale DAFs through Barbie and other fashion dolls purchased for my daughter and GI Joes and other action figures purchased for my son during the late 1970s through the 1980s. After I began collecting in 1991, it took approximately four or five years for me to form an interest in adding playscale-size dolls to my collection. The first additions were mostly vintage friends of Barbie and other vintage and modern playscale dolls manufactured by Hasbro, Ideal, Kenner, Marx, Mego, Olmec, Shillman, Shindana, and others from the 1960s and 1970s.
PC: How did you feel about them then?
I was as excited about finding a vintage playscale doll in the 1990s as I am today. My mission had been to add all non-Barbie, Black playscale dolls from prior years to my collection.
PC: How did they compare to other dolls you had/have?
Playscale dolls initially only served one purpose for me: to model fashions and represent fashion trends. I enjoy redressing most of my dolls, when time permits, but playscale dolls are my least favorite to redress. This is mainly because of their size and the size of their clothing. It's much easier to redress an 18-inch doll than a playscale.
PC: Oh, I "understand" the difficulty of dressing small scale figures. Do you otherwise distinguish between antique dolls, artist dolls, and playscale dolls? (Note: some antique doll collectors dismiss Barbie type and scale.)
Absolutely I do! During the "formative" years of doll collecting, I preferred artist dolls, most of which were life-size babies. I have also maintained a constant interest in all dolls made during my childhood era (1950s-1960s) most of which are non-playscale. Within the past three years, networking with other playscale collectors, like you, led to my incorporating more modern playscale males and additional females into my collection.
PC: If you do not mind sharing the count, how many DAFs do you have?
I actually have no idea how many dolls of any one genre I own. What I can say is that collectively they are too numerous to count.
PC: Or what proportion of DAFs do you have compared with your other scale, other medium dolls? Half, quarter of your collection etc.
My playscale dolls might comprise ... one-sixth of my collection.
PC: Which DAFs are your least favorites and why?
In the past, Barbie (not friends of, but Barbie herself) was my least favorite. As an adult collector, I rebelled against her. White Barbie had been one of my main doll companions as a child, chosen for me by my fashion-conscious mother. I do not recall ever asking for a Barbie as a child. I was more interested in Skipper. Not the fashionista my mother still is, as an adult collector, until recently, I no longer desired or needed Barbie's companionship.
As a result of recent problems with Triad DAFs due to faulty joints, theirs are my least favorite.
The second wave of Barbie Fashionistas "posed" a problem for me due to Artsy’s weak joints and inability to hold a pose unless seated or on a doll stand.
PC: Could/would you list your top 10 DAFs?
1. So In Style dolls offer a male and females representing the various shades of the African American color spectrum with variations in hair texture. Each female has her own set of academic interests and hobbies. If the line continues beyond 2012, post Stacey McBride Irby’s designs, I would like to see more articulation added.
2. The Byron Lars Collection ranks high because these dolls do not fit into anyone else's mold. They are not just another fashion doll. A collector rarely knows what to expect from Mr. Lars, except that the dolls will be different with a style of their own.
3. Mixis offers a variety of playscale dolls for everyone. The dolls are well proportioned, can stand without the assistance of a doll stand, have well-made clothing, and each one has her own personality/story.
4. Integrity's Dynamite Girls have nice facial sculpts, articulation, and well-made, trendy fashions.
5. Integrity's Adele (even though I do not own one… yet) is fierce!
6. The vintage Black Barbie family is among my top 10 choices and I was quite pleased that Mattel finally offered a dark skinned doll that uses the #1 Barbie mold. My childhood doll world would have been complete had I owned Black Francie, vintage Christie, Brad, Curtis and Cara.
7. Hot Toys has mastered the ability to capture the likeness of many Black/African American celebrities and their figures are of high quality.
8. World Peacekeepers are inexpensive action figures, yet very well made.
9. Mattel offers a variety of head sculpts, themes, and price variations in playscale. They too are able to flawlessly capture the likeness of celebrities (Brandy, MC Hammer, Halle Berry, Kimora Lee Simmons, etc.).
10. Any Black DAF with articulation, realistic features, well-made construct and clothing usually appeals to me. Mattel’s discontinued Flavas is an example of DAFs that possess these qualities. Appeal plus price ultimately determine whether a DAF will be added to my collection.
PC: What trends excite you about Black dolls in this scale?
I am usually excited by out of the box, unusual dolls that stray from normal trends. I am enthused by variations in complexions, hair color and texture; ethnically correct facial sculpts, pose-ability, use of hip-hop fashion brands, and three P’s: positivity, personality, and purpose. They need to do more than just stand still and look good.
PC: Is there anything else you would like to state or to comment about Black DAFs?
I would like to see more African American artists enter the DAF design arena and an increase in Black dolls in this scale in general.
PC: Thanks again, Debbie, for your time. For additional questions for Debbie Behan Garrett, please contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .
Debbie Behan Garrett is a Black-doll enthusiast, doll historian, and the author of The Definitive Guide to Collecting Black Dolls; Black Dolls: A Comprehensive Guide to Celebrating, Collecting, and Experiencing the Passion; and The Doll Blogs: When Dolls Speak, I Listen (the latter two titles available now as Google e-books!)
All text in this article belongs to Debbie Behan Garrett and Dana E. Cooper.