Plastic Surgery
A Spotlight on Five Famous Covers Customizers

Posted 9/20/00

Customizing action figures is as old as action figures themselves.  Ever since the earliest figures, kids have carved, painted and accessorized existing figures into new and unique characters.  Sometimes it's simply an outlet for their imagination, creating a character no one has ever seen before.  Other times, it's to add a favorite character to their collection, creating a action figure of a character that otherwise might never exist.

In today's custom arena, one of the most popular figure formats is based on the Famous Covers line.  These 9" figures are superbly articulated, very affordable, and fairly easy to turn into your favorite hero or villain.  Some folks have taken this customizing to new heights, creating true art.

I've selected five such customizers to highlight.  These artists are all unique in their ability, selection of characters, and imagination.  Without further ado, let's turn the spotlight on...the fab five!

Ann Larimer - Ann brings a truly unique flair to the world of customizing.  Often doing very unusual characters or those that she has created within her own imagination, she isn't bound by the constraints of comic books.  Below is Jane Lane, from the popular show, Daria. Skip McFarlane - no, he's no relation to that other famous Mcfarlane.  But he too makes toys, his own brand of wonderful customs.  Below is his wonderful Sinestro, and excellent example of his sculpting and costume work.
Jonathan Moore - Jonathan has a particular love for the female characters of comics and film.  He's also well known in the customizing community for his ability to create excellent removable masks, gloves, boots and custom boxes for each of his figures.  Below is an excellent example of his work, a Golden Age Wonder Woman.

Nick Robinson - Nick is a wonderful customizer from the U.K.  He has a terrific eye for detail, finding that extra touch that puts his customs well above the average.  Using unusual items and a lot of imagination, Nick has put together a huge assortment of unique and wonderful customs.  A wonderful example is below, where you can see Nicks' Man-Thing.  And no, this isn't a Beavis and Butthead joke.

Blair Tarleton - Most customizers sew new costumes, paint faces, sculpt hair or additions to base heads and bodies, and create unique accessories.  There are a few that take it to the next step, sculpting heads from scratch, casting unique accessories or body parts themselves, and producing figures that are a real marvel to the eye.  Blair is one of these artists, creating amazing figures, but keeping them all in a style that fits with the Famous Covers you already have on your shelf.  Below you can see his version of Spawn, complete with spikes, chains and stitches.

I took an opportunity recently to ask these artists some questions about customizing, Famous Covers, and life.  
MWC - How long have you been customizing?

Blair - Figures in general, well over 10 years. Famous Covers, about 2 1/2 or
3 years now.

Ann - The first custom I remember making was a Love Bug from a Matchbox Volkswagon and spare model-kit decals - according to the IMDB it was in 1969. It's still with me, minus most of its tires. It lives in the bathroom.

Jonathan - 2-1/2 years.

Nick - Not counting my plasticene-covered micronauts as a kid, just over two years now.

Skip - I've been customizing since I was about 9 with MEGOs. Though I continued to make things on and off, I essentially stopped at about 12, and started up again at about 29.


MWC - Why did you get started?

Blair - I knew there was no chance in hell most of my obscure favorites would ever get made! I also wanted characters from other companies that were compatible to what ToyBiz was putting out, and it seemed like a great new challenge- up until that point, all my customs were pretty much sculpturally based, and pretty simple- things like sculpting in a collar, smoothing an area where something had been trimmed off, or parts swapping, that sort of thing. With Famous Covers, I was able to get into fabrics, create costumes, and expand on my sculpting skills with head work- it's been a lot of fun, and the end product is very satisfying.

Ann - I didn't do action figure customs until (all together now!) Wizard started running custom galleries. At first I was in awe, and then I realized that if these things were made by Wizard readers, it couldn't be that difficult. Twisted Mego Theater came along and ignited an unholy lust for Megos - still largely unfulfilled due to their extreme scarcity in my town and insane eBay prices. I found out that Mego had planned to make a Greatest American Hero figure, and could not rest until I'd made my own - out of an Exclusive Premiere (remember them?) Potsy figure. The final product sucked less than you'd imagine. FCs appeared just as I was finishing him up, and after several false starts the first FC custom I made was Aquaman, from a Spider-Man and Barbie parts. After the DC9 Aquaman came out, he was modified into Flash Gordon, and is much happier.

Jonathan - I wanted DC characters to match my Marvel FCs, like my beloved Megos of yore.

Nick - I saw Exclusive Premiere's 9" Babylon 5 figures and thought I could do better. Then came Toybiz's Famous Covers figures. I only ever wanted a Batman, Catwoman, Batgirl, Aquaman and Spawn when I started...

Skip - I wanted figures that weren't being made either at all or fast enough! I used to get my mom to make new outfits for my MEGO super hero dolls so that I could have all the cool characters that I wanted. The problem was, that with a limited supply of MEGOs to customize, each custom only lasted a week or two. At some point, mom said "Its time for you to learn to sew". She just couldn't keep up. The next thing I knew, Mom supplied me with a bunch of Felt, gave me some sewing tips (by hand) and away I went! I could have any character I wanted! I was also the only boy my age that I knew who could sew! That got me some strange looks, but Home Economics class in Junior High was a breeze!

More recently, I started as part of a project as a graduate student where I created a set of figures that were based on my "relationship" to Visual Design and some real life influences (my wife and our cats). This turned into a larger project (part of my MFA Thesis) and led me to remember making my MEGO customs. However, at this point I was using Toy Biz's 4" to 5" figures. At about that time, I got married and we decided to customize a MEGO Aquaman and Dorothy for the cake topper. That really got my fingers itching to customize and I started to work with a 12" figure as well as a MEGO figure (both still unfinished) when the Famous Covers Figures came out ... I saw that Green Goblin and had to make a Hobgoblin! He was my first Famous Covers Custom and I've been hooked since.


MWC - Approximately how many different characters have you created?

Blair - Yikes, I have no least 60 Famous Covers, and there are SO many "half-done" that sit around my work area waiting for inspiration to come along and give me a clue as to how to do some certain costume element, etc.

Ann - In FCs...three dozen or more completed, more in process. That doesn't include regular action figures, stuffies, Fisher Price Little People, and even a few Megos.

Jonathan - Probably 2 dozen or so, but I tend to produce several versions or eras of the same character, particularly the females.

Nick - Over 100 custom FCs (it's got to the stage where I get different totals whenever I try counting them... but that's probably my grotty math).

Skip - Well, if we include not only the MEGO dolls, but also micronauts, the small 4 inch Toy Biz figures (the ones mentioned above that were part of my graduate studies) along with my Famous Covers I've completed probably about 30 ... though I don't have all of them anymore. Counting the ones not completed, but in various stages, I've got about another 30 Famous Covers customs in various stages. Lately I seem to be making outfits for other people more then for myself.


MWC - Why did you select the Famous Covers figures as the basis for your customs?

Blair - It's a wonderful scale- it feels about the same in my adult hands as a Mego figure did in my hands as a child, so that feeling of nostalgia is there. Also, since they are currently in production it's a lot cheaper to buy extras. Not to mention the FC body is way superior to anything else in it's size range.

Ann - Because of the Mego thing, and because they're inexpensive, super-articulated, a manageable size, and infinitely adaptable. You can make nifty super-heroes, and you can also think outside the box, using different heads and modes of dress to change their proportions and personalities. I've made FC Apes, FC cartoon characters, I did a set of Sith Academy dolls (visit, and anime-style FCs.

Jonathan - Cheap, readily available, perfect size and articulation.

Nick - Great articulation. Nice and easy to make costumes for... plus a nice stock of custom fodder what with all those Daredevils and Dark Phoenixes about!

Skip - They reminded me of my MEGOs and I loved customizing them! Famous Covers give me the same feeling. I also think they are a nice scale to work at, have great articulation, provide a good base to start, and as they went on sale they became cheap! Finally, they just feel darn good when they're in your hands!


MWC - What have you found to be your greatest challenge?

Blair - Sculpting. Pattern design and clothing making comes pretty easy for me, but sculpting gives me the willies- I almost always go into a sculpt thinking "Damn, this one's going to be may be the one that beats me", and then it ends up going really well. No matter how many times it goes nicely, I still am very threatened by unsculpted sculpey that wants to be a head.

Ann - Other than not having Blair killed, making myself sit down and actually sew. Sewing is of the Devil.

Jonathan - Sculpting. I've just ventured into that on a small scale and it's pissing me off.

Nick - It's probably capturing the look of the character from the comic. (and remembering to breathe between customs... not to mention trying to find more space on the shelves for new ones!)

Skip - I've had three big challenges: 1. Sculpting (particularly hair) as I am more of a 2D artist, 2. Finding the fabrics in the right types and colors, and 3.) Time! Time is probably the biggest challenge of all for me right now. I just don't have enough time to do what I want to do in a day, a week, a month.


MWC - Customizing FC's require many skills, from painting to sculpting to sewing.  What do you enjoy most?

Blair - Conceptualizing, making patterns, and painting the figures.

Ann - I like painting, but there usually isn't that much to do on FCs outside of the face. I'm growing fond of sculpting. Sewing is evil.

Jonathan - My favorite part is the mental "prep" work; the challenge of figuring out the best technique or approach to take with certain costume elements. I also love designing my custom boxes.

Nick - Painting a sculpted face and seeing the character (hopefully) come alive.  There's also the final stage; standing back after adding the last lick of paint or accessory and seeing the final figure (especially as halfway through, my customs often look terrible!)

Skip - It really varies for me. Sometimes I really love the sculpting. I find I can really get lost in it. However, there are times when I hate doing it ... like when it's just not working and I have to redo it for the 5th time! Sewing is fun for me, though there are times when I just don't have the time for it. I dislike sewing only when my machine is acting up, or when I have to either, put snaps or Velcro on, or sew in the soles of feet ... I really hate sewing snaps on! Overall, I think I really enjoy the process of seeing my ideas come to reality more then one particular skill that is used.


MWC - How do you get ideas for unique items to use or unusual techniques?

Blair - I go to stores and just wander for hours at a time- I look at EVERYTHING.  It's important to get into a mindset where you can try to match real-world things with a need you have. "Don't see that thing as a needle, see it as a claw", that sort of thinking.

Ann - After you work with various materials for a while, you start to learn what they can do.and think about what they might do. And you learn how to break problems down into component parts. Sometimes literally -- Jim Lee Scully's armor was made by hitting cheap candy toys with a hammer to get different cool techy shapes, gluing them in place, covering the whole business with green spandex, and then painting the crap out of it with metallic paint.

You also learn to adapt techniques and materials from other areas - theater tech and make-up stuff, drawing, that stupid craft crap they made you do in grade school. Developing general scrounging skills is really helpful.

Jonathan - Steal unashamedly from other customizers! And my wife HATES going to ANY store with me now. No matter what, I usually find some odd thing or clothing item to buy because it would
be perfect for some custom I've got in mind.

Nick - Fevered imagination? I don't know - probably after x-many customs you start to get attuned as new (and strange) items and techniques.

Skip - I get my ideas from a variety of places. Sometimes it comes from looking at other toys, sometimes from a item I see in the store, sometimes I just see something and say "that's it!" I also have parents who are supportive of my projects. Sometimes when I'm visiting with them they pull out a bunch of stuff saying "we thought you might be able to use this in a custom!". Then I get to have the fun of playing "what if" with a variety of objects! 

I also get a bunch of ideas just from the stuff that I do or have done in other areas. As an example, I use that Model Putty compound from Testors that comes in a tube a lot. I've never used sculpy on any of my customs or in any of my other work, but that putty I've used for years. I'm used to that putty stuff, and it comes out in thin strands from the tube that is helpful in making hair! The last person I told about it exclaimed "Why doesn't anyone talk about this stuff?" ... I think its just that its what we're used to using. The majority of customizers that I talk with seem to use sculpy.


MWC - What character would you love to do but haven't yet?

Blair - Ghost Rider. I have ideas and materials already, I have just been waiting to make sure ToyBiz isn't threatening to make him. Nexus is another- I will do him at some point.

Ann - Jane Lane needs a Daria.

Jonathan - A Golden-Age Superman. I've found that the simpler-designed characters are actually a little harder... there's less details to tart it up with and "hide" iffy areas.

Nick - I've got a list of about 60 to do here; Hawkman's been on there since virtually day one! Sometime soon I want to start on a 'Farscape' set of FCs.

Skip - Wow, so many to choose from ... but I think the one(s) I really want to do are ones I have started, sitting in my closet waiting to get finished. I've got a set of figures started from the Micronauts line ... I've got a Space Glider about 75% done (not counting the unmade glider wings), a start on Acroyear, and pieces for Bug and Marionette. If I can get the glider wings to snap out then I'll have my figures I really want to make. Of course, come next month, that could change.


MWC - Any advice you could give an aspiring customizer?

Blair - DO NOT GET DISCOURAGED!!! I wish I could show you some of the LUMP OF CRAP heads I made when I was new to this! Your skills will surely improve if you will keep trying, even if your efforts don't satisfy you now. Also, look closely at the real figures- see how the suits are made, etc, and try to immitate that standard- it's a good goal to shoot for- don't cut corners when you make your figures, they will show, and the figures won't be as durable.

Ann - Don't worry too much about screwing up, because you are going to screw up. And you'll learn something unexpected from it that you'll use later on.

Take safety seriously. If you work with X-Acto Knives, boiling water, superglue, and nasty toxic stuff like putty, it's a given that you're going to slice open a finger, glue your hands together*, or drop a rotary tool on your foot. It'll hit 2 a.m. and you'll convince yourself that you're on your second wind and this would be a great time to start modifying that neck peg. You're a moron. Go to bed.

*Not that this has ever happened to me.

Jonathan - Don't be discouraged because your early attempts turn out to be less successful than you hoped. My track record is a testament to trial-and-error. LOTS of error.

Nick - Don't be afraid to ask questions. Start on an 'easy' custom or two at the start to get the hang of things. Don't expect masterpieces straight off. But most of all, have fun and enjoy!

Skip - Don't give up! Some people find they can do this stuff naturally, others will find it takes a lot of work and experimentation. I'd also suggest that you experiment a lot. Don't rely on the obvious answers, or on what people say is the way to do it ... you may find a better way so get crazy and play ... this should be fun! Finally, I'd suggest that you ask a lot of questions. I love talking about this stuff as do others and we all seem pretty willing to share a lot of ideas and suggestions so networking is a good thing!


If you'd like to talk with any of these fine customizers further about their work, you can contact them at the following web sites and emails:

Ann Larimer - email:

Skip McFarlane - email:, web page:

Jonathan Moore - email:

Nick Robinson - email:, web page:

Blair Tarleton - email:, web page:

An excellent web site to see the many custom works of these and other artists is at  Not only do they provide a library of pictures from many customizers, they also sell basic uniforms and other items to make your customizing life a little easier.

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