Professor turns colleagues into action figures

Release Date: 2/25/2010

Clarksville, Ark. --- Q: What do these things have in common? G.I. Joe, Hulk Hogan, Luke Skywalker, Gene Simmons from Kiss, Spider-Man, and Ozarks President Dr. Rick Niece.

A: They are all action figures.

Action figures? Even Dr. Niece? Yes, even our beloved president, turned into miniaturized 3-D movable art (with bendable joints), thanks to the hobby crafting of Sociology professor Dr. Jesse Weiss.

Dr. Jesse Weiss with the action figure Weiss.

Dr. Jesse Weiss poses with the action figure Dr. Jesse Weiss.

“I’ve always liked toys,” says Dr. Weiss. “I started a collection of action figures in college, a mishmash of superhero and sports star figures – everyone from Michael Jordan to Batman – and rock stars.” He points to the bookshelves in his office, which also contain incredibly lifelike figures of Elvis Presley, Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain, and Joey Ramone of the Ramones.

“Then one day I noticed that you could take them apart without destroying them,” he says. “I always enjoyed painting models as a kid, so I started making new characters out of the parts, professional wrestlers or movie characters that didn’t already have action figures based on them.”

Dr. Weiss says once he mastered using a dremel tool to be able to carve the figures, and sculpey, a clay-like product that hardens when heated, he was able to create new hair, beards, and glasses. “I did one of my dad, my brothers and myself,” he said. “Since then I’ve done Dr. Niece, Dr. [Sean] Coleman, and some others. It’s kind of random – you can’t really do one for everybody. I have done a few on commission through eBay, though.”

The action figure Dr. Rick Niece, still in its "original" box.

The Dr. Rick Niece action figure, still in its "original" box.

He said he did one figure based on the father of a tattoo artist from Fayetteville who had been a wrestler. “My wife and I have standing offers for free tattoos from that guy,” Dr. Weiss says. “We haven’t taken him up on it yet.”

He says he has a large plastic bin with drawers filled with spare parts. “The figures I use are from a manufacturer called Jakks Pacific. Unfortunately, they quit making the figures last December, but I have enough spares to keep me going for awhile.”

Toy modification has made its way into Dr. Weiss’s sociology classes, where he often uses a “Barbie Bash” to teach about gender roles to his students. “After Christmas I buy up a lot of Barbies off the clearance racks,” he says. “The students are asked to examine gender roles and to redesign their Barbies against gender roles. So on display downstairs are the Stay-At-Home Ken doll and the President of the United States Barbie, among others.”

At the end of the interview for this piece, Dr. Weiss presented its astonished author with a remarkable sight – a Web Site Content Media Writer Don Lee action figure, its fingers curled just right to tackle the keyboard.