Ginger Nuts of Horror
Monsters and mythology were significant in the child culture of late 1980s UK. Though the likes of Dungeons and Dragons never became quite the cultural phenomenon it was in its parent US, a recent resurgence in J.R.R Tolkien's The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, C.S. Lewis's The Chronicles of Narnia, not to mention the swathe of swords and sorcery, RPG and action video games on systems such as the Sinclair Spectrum and Commodore Amiga, meant that mtyhological and fantastical subjects were our bread and butter; an entire generation raised on Ray Harryhausen special effects extravaganzas and monster circuses such as Jason and the Argonauts, Clash of the Titans, The Seven Voyages of Sinbad etc.
Much of the media created for and marketed directly at us catered massively to this obsession; cartoons, comics and toylines often consisting of peculiar hybrids or mish-mashes of the fantastical, the horrific and the science fictional.
This was also an era in love with horror. Thanks to the proliferation of VHS casette media, it was possible for more of us to access materials our predecessors had been largely forbidden than ever before. As well as dragons and wizards and unicorns, our dreamscapes were also haunted by parasitic aliens, masked, knife-wielding serial killers, possessing demons, immortal sadists from beyond the known world, cannibals, zombies and cackling, inbred butchers of humanity, to name but a handful.
The collectable toy range Monsters in My Pocket was at once an expression of and fuel for the appetites that such input and influences stoked: the toys nothing to write home about, in and of themselves; little more than miniature, rubber statues of certain classic, mythological monsters, gods, fairy-tale horrors and icons of literature and cinema. But matters of obsession for children that imagined monsters as readily as breathing; whose sleeping nightmares and waking moments of idle fantasy were infested with every dark thing that mythology, literature or cinema could contrive, as well as a number they could not and never have.
As well as tapping into this swelling child sub-culture, the Monsters in my Pocket were also classic playground fodder; each pack consisting of a range of five garishly coloured figures, each with a number sculpted into their backs demonstrating their power and hierarchy in the overall line. In many respects, they occupy the same space that Top Trumps or Pogs would come to; the kind of fodder designed to sweep the schoolyard; for kids to collect and swap and fight over, no doubt the sources of innumerable arguments and cloakroom brawls...
Though the line never quite pervaded quite as deeply as it intended (it certainly never took over the schoolyard to the same degree as Pogs), it certainly penetrated deeply enough into the collective psyche of the children of the day to be fondly remembered:
I still recall the figures that came in my very first pack: a green rendition of the Victorian urban myth and anti-hero of many a Penny Dreadful, Spring-Heeled jack, a yellow skeleton (complete with missing leg, forced to amble along ape-like using a combination of its remaining limbs), a purple rendition of the invisible man (bandages peeling away to reveal the nothing beneath) and a rendition of the ancient Egyptian God, Karnak, two skulls clutched in his fists, a bestial snarl decorating his death mask.
Though many of the various creatures and monsters were familiar to me from the myths, fairy tales and horror films I'd already beeen exposed to (the likes of The Harpy and the Chimera, the Manticore, Hydra and Behemoth I'd encountered long before), others (the aforementioned Spring-Heeled Jack, the Aztec Goddess Coatlicue, the Japanese demon Tengu, to name but a few) were entirely new, prompting me to obsessively research them using books from the local library (access to the internet from home computers still an absurd, science fiction fantasy at that point; the internet itself consisting of only a handful of pages), not to mention endless questions for teachers, parents and anyone who would listen.
The figures very much became a touch-stone that inspired interest in stories and wider mythology; I became immersed in a far wider range of characters and cultures than I otherwise would have as a result, not to mention developing my own imaginative and story-telling capacities with the (often elaborate) games and scenarios I would conjure involving an entire array of unlikely and incongruous entities.
The original line proved successful enough to inspire a wide range of other media, the most fondly recalled for me being the packs of tradeable cards that could be purchased from newsagents and corner shops: each pack consisting of a random collection of cards based on the toys, each one decorated with lavish artwork of the character with a biography describing its origins and nature on the reverse. For me, these cards soon supplanted the toys in fascination, the mythologies they referenced soon researched in full and ravenously devoured.
As for the toys themselves, I recall finding them endlessly fascinating and exciting; many strange and unlikely scenarios conjured from the denizens of conflicting mythologies and traditions; wars between Gods and demons, states in which dreams and nightmares had burst their banks and were running rampant throughout waking reality...cyphers for the same exercises I now practice on the written page.
Their popularity soon inspired several subsequent lines, the range of creatures expanding to incorporate the likes of Nordic Frost Giants, fairy-tale Changelings, gods and monsters of various stripe, each one with its own particular back mythology and rendered in a new range of luminescent colours. The line also expanded into other media, from board games that allowed the toys themselves to be used as playing pieces to a fairly well received video game on the NES.
Towards its waning years, the line diversified into even more elaborate figures; larger entities that had paint applications and variations in colour, and that boasted possibly the strangest, most detailed and lurid sculpts of all (certainly some of the most disturbing of the lot).
Sadly, in an effort to sustain the line as interest inevtiably waned, it began to expand into territories that didn't particularly fit or feel appropriate considering what had gone before: ranges of dinosaurs and insects and space aliens, that marked the end of the franchise in its original form.
Since then, however (largely thanks to a committed internet sub-culture), the line has been resurrected in an all new format, many of the classic monsters re-imagined in much more elaborate, less cartoonish designs, making Monsters in my Pocket one of those enduring toy ranges kept alive simply by the love abd passion it evoked in the children it was originally marketed at.
For my part, I will always, always remember it as a part of my childhoood where my love of not only consuming but creating stories found expression; where the seeds of what would become the work I love in later life were sewn.