Tag Archives: action figure dollhouse

A huge new tiny project: a School for Gifted Youngsters at last.

Primed dry build Gables DollhouseOh my word, I am building a new dollhouse.

Dollhouse planning drawing Suzanne Forbes Aug 30 2018

Dollhouse planning drawings by Suzanne Forbes, Aug 30 2018

My first dollhouse became a kind of Valhalla, a safe haven for all the characters and stories I love. it is a large, unwieldy, fragile metaphor for healing, hope and closure.

I imagine the School for Gifted Youngsters will work in a similar way, but more specific. My feelings about the X-Men and The New Mutants are my strongest of all and there is a lot of processing happening within even starting this project.

Also, my first dollhouse took ten years to complete, so I must be out of my mind. But actually, not so much; I have a plan.

I knew from pretty early on in the construction of my first dollhouse, around 2000, that I would need a second dollhouse. I already had too many action figures, even then, and too many weird geek jokes and visual puns and obscure heart-wrenching vignettes to tell with them.

Plus, as more and more X-Men action figures were made, it became clear the X-Men and the New Mutants would need their own house.

As I searched for a second dollhouse over the last ten years, I knew I wanted it to look a certain way. More “mansion”, less Victorian curio. Designed to be front-opening and kept for display against a wall in the English “Dolls House” style rather than open in the back for play like an American “Dollhouse”.

And I wanted it to be a “quick-build” routed MDF style, for fuck’s sake, rather than the insanely laborious die-cut kits that are now almost completely replaced by slightly less laborious laser-cut kits.

I never want to do a die-cut kit again, though I’m glad that I did get the very last Cambridge Dollhouse available on the West Coast in 2000. (For some reason I was obsessively determined that the Cambridge was superior to the nearly identical Greenleaf Beacon Hill).

There’s an excellent explanation of the different types of dollhouse kits here on Mysterious Miniatures for anyone curious about the hell that is punching out and sanding hundreds of die-cut pieces from a stack of 1/8″ plywood sheets. You can also see lots of pictures and read more about the process of building my first house here.

Below, the far superior routed/sawn MDF pieces of my Gables Dolls House kit, primed and laid out yesterday.

primed Gables Dolls House parts Aug 2018

The reason I pulled the trigger and bought my first dollhouse kit was that the model I had been eyeing suddenly disappeared from the tiny pool of online shops that existed then.

Windows for the new house primed and drying before painting.

Panicked, I called all over, looking for a Cambridge, and actually found one, the last one, at The Hobby Co. of San Francisco on Geary. I hauled the box home in triumph and terror, and spent the next three years just building the structure.

Of course, I “kitbashed” the hell out of it too, custom building the extension, rebuilding the dormers and adding new walls and high quality Houseworks wooden windows and doors.

To use routed wood doors and windows I had to reinforce all the interior and exterior walls individually, from 1/8″ to 3/8″, cutting all the pieces to size. Without power tools.

I had to learn to solder to use tape wire for the electrification, because it didn’t have grooves for round wire. It was insane, and I said “I am never doing this again”.

So I kept an eye out for a front-opening, high-quality, quick-build dollhouse that was also really cheap. For a decade.

During that time several models I liked went on and off the market. I didn’t have the wherewithal, on many levels, to acquire any of the models I liked. I finally completely finished the first house and added the landscaping, walls and greenhouse in Oakland around 2013, but  I waited to secure it to its base because I knew we were leaving the US.

I knew if we moved to Europe I’d have access to a completely different dollhouse kit supply chain, the mother lode of front-opening English dollhouses. And when we did, I started researching and pinning and comparing all the houses available. I got my first house set up and truly finished here in 2015.

Then this year, I finished the underground laboratories. It was time to be seriously thinking about a new house.

It had to fit a very specific space, and be a very specific style. After two years of research, I had pretty much settled on The Gables kit from The Dolls House Workshop, a family-run British company.

It was gorgeous, it fit the space next to the first house perfectly, it had big rooms, it had an entry hall, it had bay windows, it had an attic for Ororo, and it was the very epitome of quick-build, including channels routed for the goddam wiring.

Most of all, it was incredibly cheap for a heirloom dollhouse kit, only £209 when they can run to the thousands.

So I was thinking about it, but I am cheap and terrified of spending large sums, so I was hesitating.

Then it started disappearing from the four online sites I had it pinned from. Marked “Discontinued”, then “Permanently Discontinued”. It was still listed on the company’s own site, so after a week of nerve-wracking waiting til my Patreon money came in, I wildly took the plunge and ordered it. Two days of euphoric planning and excitement later, I got an email from DollsHouse Workshop.

They politely explained the kit had been discontinued some time ago and it shouldn’t have been on the site.

They would process me a refund. I was crushed and at a loss. I just didn’t know what to do next. None of their other models had the turned wood windows l love, were the right size, or even had grooves for the damn wiring. The other companies’ houses didn’t move me the same way.

After a couple of days of moping, I emailed the company to check on the refund, which hadn’t shown up. I mentioned that I was devastated, that I had really wanted that particular house. I don’t why I did, I guess I just figured it couldn’t hurt to share my truth!

Later that day, I got an email back from Kelly Wiltshire-Tokeley, co-director of the company, saying she had tracked one down and it would ship that week!

What an angel! Isn’t that amazing?

Oh joy! Oh happiness! The X-Men will have a home at last!

Seriously, this is such a big deal. And of course, such a big project.

Even a quick-build dollhouse is a huge DIY project, with many stages, many decisions, and many materials involved. First I did a dry build, to check for fit and parts.

Then I had to prime. The MDF walls had to be primed with a specialty MDF primer, and the turned wooden parts primed with a wood primer.

On the left you can see some of them! Our whole house smells like primer right now. The stairs will be stained with gel stain, which I’ve ordered.

I have all the paint ready for the exterior and have ordered all the wallpaper and carpets. Putting those in before actual final assembly will make a difference of at least a hundred hours’ labor between this house and the first house.

I will use modern battery powered LED lights and run a single wire through each room rather than tapewiring the whole thing.

Plus, this house has a perfectly simple rectilinear floor plan, rather than the incredibly complex layout of House #1. Which I think I will call SlurkCroft, from now on.

So I’m not making any promises or predictions, but I’m hopeful that the School for Gifted Youngsters will be open by Christmas.

Dollhouse underground Machine shop by Suzanne Forbes photo by Daria Rein

Dollhouse Underground Laboratory finished, and the Reveal party!

Dollhouse Underground Laboratory by Suzanne Forbes. Photo by Daria Rein.

Dollhouse Underground Laboratory by Suzanne Forbes. Photo by Daria Rein.

I finished the Underground Superpowers Laboratory beneath my action figure dollhouse, after almost twenty years.

Suzanne Forbes by Daria Rein

Suzanne Forbes by Daria Rein

And gave a super-fun party to reveal it to friends and the Patreon Patrons  whose monthly support makes my art possible. It was so lovely to show off this ridiculous project, completed after so many years, to people who really got it and enjoyed it.

I was especially lucky that Daria was there to take these beautiful photographs with her clever new lens which clips onto her belt like a superhero gadget.

As you can see, there are brocade panels that fit into the dollhouse base, covering the individual laboratories. They have grosgrain ribbon tabs, allowing them to be quickly removed, revealing the LED-illuminated rooms behind them!

Doc Ock and the Lizard having a shouting match in the back of the Tube Room is my idea of a hilarious joke.

Dollhouse Underground Superpowers Laboratory Tube Room by Suzanne Forbes by Daria Rein

Dollhouse Underground Superpowers Laboratory Tube Room by Suzanne Forbes by Daria Rein

Dollhouse Underground Superpowers Laboratory Tube Room by Suzanne Forbes by Daria Rein

Dollhouse Underground Superpowers Laboratory Tube Room by Suzanne Forbes by Daria Rein

Because you know the old-school tweaker Spider-man Rogue’s Gallery would bitchily fight over everything from the brand of coffee in the break room to the voltage for galvanic experiments.

It wasn’t til I put him in the Tube Room that I had the idea of someone leaving their coffee on Han. Hilarious, right???

I got the excellent resin cast copy of the Han Solo in Carbonite convention exclusive on eBay. It’s from one of the artisans who does action figure casting. I painted him myself, an easy job.

The amazing Creature figure is from Resurrection of Monstress, definitely the best action figure series ever.

Dollhouse Underground Superpowers Laboratory Tube Room by Suzanne Forbes by Daria Rein

Dollhouse Underground Superpowers Laboratory Tube Room by Suzanne Forbes by Daria Rein

My other favorite joke is Vasquez from Aliens and Aeryn Sun from Farscape as the Veterans of Very Foreign Wars. There is an individual LED over the operating theater, which offsets the extreme Cool White of the LEDs in the surgery, but I forgot to turn it on in all the excitement.

Dollhouse Underground Superpowers Surgery by Suzanne Forbes by Daria Rein

Dollhouse Underground Superpowers Surgery by Suzanne Forbes, photo by Daria Rein

Dollhouse Underground Superpowers Surgery by Suzanne Forbes by Daria Rein

Dollhouse Underground Superpowers Surgery by Suzanne Forbes by Daria Rein

The black-haired figure on the gurney is the one who started it all. She was an accessory to the Cabinet of Dr. Caligali figure from Mezco’s Silent Screamers series who I got in 2000 or so.

Something about her hospital-blue gown which opened at the back gave me the idea of this super-powers laboratory, a Human Augmentation center. The wings which fit her perfectly turned up at the same time; I cut them off some other figure. The gurney came from the McFarlane X-Files figures.

I found a resin Christmas ornament dog with matching wings soon after.

I decided the dog should go in the Animal Sciences/gym room, as surely poor Franklin Richards needs a dog! After all the child has been through quite a lot.

Dollhouse Animal Uplift Room and Gym by Suzanne Forbes. Photo by Daria Rein.

Dollhouse Animal Uplift Room and Gym by Suzanne Forbes. Photo by Daria Rein.

Then I gave the dog a pet pangolin because why not?

Dollhouse Animal Uplift Room and Gym by Suzanne Forbes. Photo by Daria Rein.

Dollhouse Animal Uplift Room and Gym by Suzanne Forbes. Photo by Daria Rein.

I thought it would be nice if Reed was doing something useful and nurturing for a change so that’s why he’s making food for the animals.

Once I get the new Walgreen’s Exclusive Marvel Legends Reed with stretch arms I’ll have him using his powers to make the food.

When I realized the tiny spandex workout clothes I had from the 00’s American Girl 1/12th scale dolls would fit She-Hulk I was over the moon.

She-Hulk waving the weight bar around wondering how anyone expects her to exercise with such tiny weights- hilarious!

Truly, I am easily amused.

Dollhouse Machine Shop by Suzanne Forbes. Photo by Daria Rein.

Dollhouse Machine Shop by Suzanne Forbes. Photo by Daria Rein.

The Machine Shop/Break Room came out really well.

It is so pleasing to me to have made this. It is so satisfying to have nearly twenty years of collecting and searching and planning finished at last. It is sillier than the dollhouse itself, less of a sacred repository for the stories that saved me. It’s more about the visceral thrills of science fiction and comics, the ooky body-horror of mutation and the exhilarating potential of Frankenstein’s monster. The Batman tv show I watched as a child, with the super villain lairs and gadgets, played a part too. Olaf Stapleton’s Odd John and Sirius.

All the transcendent wonder and horror of the notion that we can change our bodies and become more…something.

Dollhouse underground Machine shop by Suzanne Forbes photo by Daria Rein

Dollhouse underground Machine shop by Suzanne Forbes photo by Daria Rein

Dollhouse Machine Shop by Suzanne Forbes. Photo by Daria Rein.

Dollhouse Machine Shop by Suzanne Forbes. Photo by Daria Rein.

Thanks so much to Daria Rein for the photos! Including this gorgeous one of the Vegan Chocolate Cake with Vegan Chocolate Mousse I made 🙂

Vegan chocolate cake with vegan chocolate mousse. Photo by Daria Rein.

Vegan chocolate cake with vegan chocolate mousse. Photo by Daria Rein.

 

Dollhouse Underground Laboratory: Work in Progress Part 2

Action figure dollhouse laboratory surgery WIP by Suzanne Forbes April 2018Dang, I have been consumed with this long-delayed project!

SOOO much to do. So many things to figure out. So much foamcore to cut and glue. So many pipes to make out of styrene and straws!

Action figure dollhouse laboratory tube room WIP by Suzanne Forbes April 2018But I am really making serious progress.

Three of the rooms are almost complete, the operating theater (above), the Tube Room, and the Machine Shop.Action figure dollhouse laboratory tube room full view WIP by Suzanne Forbes April 2018

Action figure dollhouse laboratory cryo tube WIP by Suzanne Forbes April 2018What on earth is a Tube Room, you might ask.

Well, in the 90s I had a dear friend named Rob Simpson, who was an editor at DC. We were talking about superhero powers, as we did so often, and he said there was a simple solution to most things in comics.

Somebody loses their powers/needs superpowers? “Put ’em in a tube!” Somebody is dead and needs to be restored to life? “Put ’em in a tube!” Somebody has an evil entity possessing their psyche and needs to be held in stasis so they don’t destroy the world? “Put ’em in a tube!”

Tubes are also known as pods or stasis chambers. Basically they are a MacGuffin where anything can happen. The McFarlane Toys X-Files line from the Oughts provided most of these tubes.

They were intended for alien containment of some kind. I built out the structure around the one above using illustration board covered with chrome selbstklebefolie, which is like contact paper you can’t remove, styrene tubes and the various lids of things painted chrome. Action figure dollhouse laboratory machine shop WIP by Suzanne Forbes April 2018

The Machine Shop also contains the break room/coffee bar.

Action figure dollhouse laboratory making stanchions WIP by Suzanne Forbes April 2018I figured people would be constantly bothering the engineers in the shop for things they want fixed anyway, so they might as well get their coffee while they’re there. The two women robots are “Platinum” from the Metal Men and Angie Spica, “Engineer” from The Authority.

All the rooms are missing a lot of signage and posters (I’m working on figuring out how to get the best results from the self-adhesive inkjet-printable paper I’m using) plus safety tape.

On the right you can see I’m making stanchions for a safety rail using dowels, epoxy clay and blue pearl half-rounds I kept for eight years because I had a feeling I might need them for something.

Most importantly, all the labs need their ceiling panels and lights.

My beloved Friend-Muse-Patron Monique Motil, a fellow creator of Small Art, will bring the lights in May, and then I’ll figure out how to install them, woohoo!

Yes, there will be a “Safety Third” sign!

First Laboratory post is here. Main dollhouse post here.

Work in Progress: the underground superpowers laboratories beneath my dollhouse.

WIP action figure dollhouse by Suzanne Forbes March 2018 Wow, this project has been a long time coming!

I’ve had the plan for it for at least a decade, and the specific structure set up for a good six years. And I’ve had some of the props for it for TWENTY FREAKING YEARS.

Original floorplan underground laboratories Suzanne Forbes 2014Well, I like to say that the older I get, the longer my game gets.

Sometimes in art it takes as long as it takes, and that’s fine.

WIP action figure dollhouse by Suzanne Forbes March 2018 I figured out how to build the wheeled base for my action figure dollhouse back in Oakland, using IKEA Kallax bookshelves.

I assembled them, and hired a taskrabbit to help me with the construction of a platform to attached them to so they could support the dollhouse.

But it seemed crazy to ship IKEA furniture to Berlin, so I took the base apart when the dollhouse was professionally crated, and we sold the Kallax shelves on Craigslist.

“Doc, it hurts when I go like this!” “So don’t go like that.”

That meant I had to get new ones here, assemble them, and then build a new base. (I did keep the high quality wheels with brakes I bought!)

For a person who is as deeply lazy as me, I have created a life that often involves a fucking lot of work.

For the past two years I’ve been working on getting all the other projects I brought with us done, and finishing the full-size house (still at 95%). Most importantly, I’m making new art, working on building our community and growing my Patreon.

Finally, the dust is clearing enough to tackle the laboratories.

WIP action figure dollhouse by Suzanne Forbes March 2018 I have so much cool stuff to put in them! There’s just a bunch of diorama-building, model-building, scratch-building and electrifying work to get them ready to hold my two decades of collected weird body-horror, super-power, Island of Dr. Moreau mad scientist STUFF.

floorplan action figure dollhouse laboratories by Suzanne Forbes 2016I’m not really crazy about the actual construction part of model and dollhouse-building, but I value the workout it gives my brain. Since everything is scratch-built or Frankensteined from components of other things, each part requires a new solution. I have to learn about new materials, source them as cheaply as possible, figure out what I have that can be salvaged, scrapped or rebuilt. And everything has to be customized to work together.

This is an example of how existing stuff can be enhanced: these amazing display screens are accessories for figures from a Dr. Who spin-off show.

However, all Dr. Who toys are 5″ tall or approximately 1/18 scale, rather than the normal dollhouse scale of 1/12 (one inch to one foot).

So I built up the bases to make them the right height for 6″ action figures. I just need to paint them to match.

Same with the little water cooler; I built it a styrene platform. I hadn’t used styrene in a long time, and I’d forgotten how amazing it is.

You score it and it breaks perfectly cleanly; you can glue it or paint it so easily. I used balsa wood for the kitbash of the dollhouse itself, and only got into styrene during the sleigh build. Going forward I plan to use styrene a lot more.

I built the bases and the upper platforms, which make it easier to see the things at the back of the deep cubbies, out of foamcore.

surgery buildout WIP action figure dollhouse by Suzanne Forbes March 2018Foamcore is a material I’m not experienced with, but in this case it’s a good solution. The dollhouse-scale molded tile floors (I got the beige and black one for the Tube Room at least eighteen years ago, and have been saving it!) are attached with double-sided carpet tape. Almost any glue will heat up enough during curing to warp the thin, vacuum-formed plastic.

The side walls are illustration board covered with white vinyl contact paper, which gives a nice satin sheen. It’s cheaper and faster than dollhouse wallpaper, and perfect for this kind of industrial/medical look. The ceilings will be foamcore with leds embedded in them for lighting. When I built the dollhouse I learned to solder and used tapewire, but miniature lighting has improved tremendously in the last twenty years.

LEDS, which don’t heat up, last practically forever, come in the tiniest sizes and all kinds of colors, can be embedded directly in surfaces.

My beloved friend-muse-Patron Monique Motil is coming to visit in May, and has graciously agreed to transport my lights from Model Train Software.

Just as beloved friend-muse-Patron Barbara brought my miniature subway, and my mama brought eight million figures and accessories last Fall!

Because anything you mail from the US takes forever and/or gets lost. Seriously, don’t ever mail us anything bigger than a postcard.

I’ve been waiting for some Tacky Wax (museum wax) I ordered from Amazon, thinking it shipped from the EU, for three weeks.

sketch action figure dollhouse tube room laboratory Suzanne Forbes 2017I used aluminum tape to get some clean metal stripping here and there.

It’s tricky to use and tends to mark up and wrinkle over large areas, so I’m sparing with it. Same with the clear styrene panels that divide the upper and lower areas: it scratches easily so I use it mostly as an accent. I have rhinestuds that will become rivets, fine yellow wire for extension cords, and so much weird stuff to put in the cabinets, once I get my dang Tacky Wax.

More developments soon!

The gothest action figure custom ever.

Nico Minoru action figure custom by Suzanne Forbes on balcony Sept 2017Even though I don’t know much about this Nico Minoru character, I had to snap up the adorbs babybat action figure of her!

Hasbro did an incredible job with her, as they have with so many female Marvel Legends figures in the last few years. She’s so goth!

But…I felt she could be MORE goth.

I started this project as a proof of concept for the absurdly male-dominated world of action figure collectors and customizers.

I wanted to demonstrate that there are fantastic customizing resources available in lady-land. Like nail art decals, nail art stripes, nail art “dotters”, flocking, etc.

These materials are cheap, widely available and already scaled tiny as fuck. They’re perfect for action figure customs.

So I began with using nail art decals to enhance Nico’s gothic lace.

I LOVE nail art decals because they remind me of Letratype and LetraSet! Old school! The tiny packets of decals are so cheap, you can get a hundred sheets on eBay for a euro.

I masked the areas I didn’t plan to decorate off, with a cut up rubber glove and tape. Then I sprayed the figure with my clear primer for plastic.

Nico Minoru action figure custom by Suzanne Forbes wipOnce she was dry, I added glitter piping to her corset, more lace to her shirt, lace thigh-highs over her stripey stockings, and so on.

And that was great! Though very subtle.

Then I realized I could use the same miniature making materials I used for my Snow Queen and other mini projects, such as my Horribella Dolls.

Like tiny eyelash picot trim and wired ribbon and elastic ruffle tape.

And all my tiny little rhinestones and crystals and stars and moons! And my little tiny top hats!!!!

Nico Minoru action figure custom by Suzanne Forbes on balcony Sept 2017I just went bananas. I decided to dress Nico full-on San Francisco Goth, Circa 2005.

She would be an homage to all the amazing goth-girls I’ve known, all the beautiful and amazing muses I had the privilege to draw and paint in the Bay Area goth scene for ten years.

Nico Minoru action figure custom by Suzanne Forbes Sept 2017

Six more hours of ferociously focused detail work and one enormous mess later, there she was!

Nico Minoru action figure custom by Suzanne Forbes Sept 2017

Illustration by Tasha Tudor for A LIttle Princess

Illustration by Tasha Tudor for A LIttle Princess

She reminds me of the ur-goth image all little girls of my generation imprinted on, Sara Crewe in her outgrown mourning dress.

That Classic Victorian ragamuffin look commingled with circus and harlequin style in the early years of the new century, in the Bay.

My muses wore stripes and bustles and tiny top hats, and so did I. We all looked fucking great!

That look was replaced by the great wave of Steampunk starting in 2007. I loved the Steampunk just as much, so it was alright!

Look how amazing she looks on the Sorcerers’ Porch of my Action Figure Dollhouse.

Nico Minoru action figure custom by Suzanne Forbes porch with Magic Watch

Toy customizers, please note that I was able to preserve full shoulder and waist articulation under the miniature clothing. Use of stretch fabrics and gluing the clothes only to strategic, rigid areas of the figure allow her a full range of posability.

Oh, action figure customizers and Instagram toy photography bros who find this page by googling, I pity you. They’re dolls, dude. Accept it.

A poseable toy figure of a human with cloth clothing is a doll.

As is often the case, what appears to be a simple doll-making project has a deep cultural wound behind it.

Like most of the toy industry, amazing toy company Mezco (who I love and have supported since their beginnings with Silent Screamers in 2000) has a gender problem. They make dolls, and have from the early days: they make Living Dead Dolls.

They also make action figures, and since 2015, they’ve been combining the two with the 1:12 Collective, a 6″ (DOLLHOUSE) scale line of action figures with cloth clothing. (In action figure parlance, dolly clothes are called “cloth applications”.) They started slow, with a Frank Miller Dark Knight Batman (red flag? more likely the chunky design was an easy pilot project).

Then in 2016 they started releasing a cavalcade of fantastic cloth-costumed takes on the heavy hitters of the Marvel and DC universes, plus Classic Trek! These figures are unreal. They are crazy good. For 2017 they announced even more upcoming licenses and figures. Ghostbusters, Space Ghost, Universal Monsters and more. But there was only one planned female figure announced in 2016 – Harley Quinn.

Mezco Harley Quinn figure pre orderI was on their Instagram hassling them for months before she was announced, asking, “What the hell, dudes?”

Once she was announced, I thought we’d see a wave of female figures. In 2017, as the success of the Wonder Woman movie exploded on mainstream media, they announced a 1:12 Wonder Woman. But neither Harley Quinn or WW have shipped yet.

And no other female figures have been announced, despite the release of multiple male Classic Trek figures and Marvel heroes AND villains. *cough*Uhura*cough*Storm*. Know who is expected to ship by December? The Red Skull. Who is the Red Skull? He is a fucking Nazi.

That’s right, 1:12 toy collectors will get a NAZI before Wonder Woman.

As a woman, as a comics fan and former DC comics professional, as a serious lifelong toy collector, I gotta say, the optics are bad.

Mezco Wonder Woman 1 12Do better, Mezco. Do better, toy industry.

Meanwhile, guess I gotta make my own action figures with doll clothes “cloth applications”. Been plunging into male-dominated spaces since I became a graffiti writer in 1980, a hardcore comics fan in 1984 and a comics pro in 1993. Been genderqueering the toy space since the 1970s, when me and my best friend Bradley played with my Dawn Dolls. Not gonna stop, despite Nazis.Rachel Ketchum and Bradley Jankowitz 1974

See my mini projects that use similar techniques here:

Early Horribella dolls

Action figure customizing, June 2016

Berlin Horribellas: Mark V, Sept 2016, Mark IV, July 2016

and my Sideshow Bride of Frankenstein custom, October 2016.

A very old 12″ Living Dead Doll converted to a horrifying spider monster woman, October 2016.

Fearless Pink Gay Santa and his Jolly Ally Reindeer, December 2016.

1:12 scale gilt insect carriage and harness, June 2017.

Valentines Monster Doll Armada, February 2017.

1/12th scale Snow Queen/Jadis of Narnia, May 2017.

Using epoxy clay, November 2015.

 

My biggest little project of all, finished at last.

Action Figure Dollhouse by Suzanne ForbesThis is my dollhouse. I built it myself, and it took over a decade.

Action figure dollhouse Suzanne ForbesMy dollhouse is a memory palace for every story I’ve ever cherished, a way to hold close every character I love and the things they taught me about being human.

It’s a safe house for my dreams. It holds my recollections of the times those characters gave me strength when nothing else did, and this week it is finally, truly finished.Action figure dollhouse Suzanne Forbes

I’d wanted a big fancy dollhouse my whole adult life, but I had always resisted. In ’96, when I was working at Dean & DeLuca in Georgetown and living in Arlington, there was a dollhouse store nearby.

Action figure dollhouse Suzanne ForbesIt shared a parking lot with the building where my recovery meetings were, and I carefully arranged to be there only when it was closed. I used to peer in the windows, and say to myself, “Not yet.”

I had never lived anywhere I could imagine staying for the rest of my life. I knew my decorator crab shell couldn’t support the financial and psychic overhead of a huge, heavy, utterly fragile dollhouse.

It was starting a collection of 6″ (1/12th scale) superhero action figures in my mid 30’s that led me to begin building my dollhouse.

I didn’t start collecting 6″ figures on purpose. I had some female superhero action figures in the 90’s 5″ scale around, X-Men women and an Invisible Woman I got when I was driving the truck of my belongings from DC to Berkeley in ’97. In ’98 a co-worker  San Francisco start-up who had a crush on me gave me the DC Direct Death figure, and I took her out of the package and saw that she was exactly the right size for a dollhouse.

I’d heard they were going to make more dollhouse scale figures of DC and Marvel characters. I knew then I was done holding out against the completely silly business of miniatures.Action Figure Dollhouse by Suzanne Forbes

So I started collecting figures, and planning a dollhouse for them. They needed a place to live! Little did I know how long they would wait.

Action Figure Dollhouse by Suzanne ForbesI made sketches of scenes I imagined the dollhouse including, like this one. The entire ten-year labor of my dollhouse was for this one joke. It’s still hilarious to me! I am an idiot. But a happy idiot.

The Edward Scissorhands figure is a customized mashup of the McFarlane one, for the likeness, and a Japanese figure with a generic face that was closer to the correct scale.

Action Figure Dollhouse by Suzanne Forbes

In 2001 or so I bought a die-cut 1/8” plywood dollhouse kit, the cheapest and most labor-intensive kind of kit. I had fallen in love with its style, a ridiculous Addams Family mansard-roofed Victorian, and none of the easy-build kits appealed to me.

A die-cut kit is a box of plywood sheets with hundreds of pieces you have to punch out, sand, prime and paint.

I had never built any kind of kit before, so it seemed reasonable to me to start with a huge Victorian. Being as I’m not very reasonable.

Action Figure Dollhouse by Suzanne ForbesHalfway through building I learned that if I wanted to use the fancy, detailed pre-made doors and windows from HouseWorks instead of the flimsy ones that came with the kit, i would need 3/8″-1/2″ thick walls.

So I painstakingly, insanely, cut pieces of heavier wood to fit every wall of the partially assembled dollhouse. I didn’t have any power tools, so I used a hacksaw and exacto knife to cut everything.

Cutting the shingles for the roof to fit perfectly took months, because half the time they split and were useless.

Then I decided it wasn’t big enough, so I scratch-built the extension you see on the right side. This is called kitbashing in the dollhouse world.

Action Figure Dollhouse by Suzanne ForbesThis is my other favorite joke. What’s even better is what my Beloved Ex-Boyfriend Clear said about it: “I bet Constantine paid Harry to take a dive.”

Action figure dollhouse Suzanne ForbesI read that soldered wiring was less likely to fail than brad wiring, so I took the mostly finished house to Jim Cooper’s Dollhouse Studio in Benicia and he taught me how to solder wiring, and I wired the whole house.

Then I started wallpapering and staining trim and painting windows and installing moldings. After a couple of years I just couldn’t stand it anymore; I absolutely hated cutting the little beveled moldings so they lined up right.

So I took the house back to Cooper’s and wonderful June Gailey, a lovely senior lady who spent her days working on dollhouse projects at Cooper’s, finished the interior detailing. It took about a year.

dollhouse_Suzanne_Forbes

June & Jim with my dollhouse when I first brought it to June.

Meanwhile, for like 7 years I’d been collecting stuff to go in it.
The weirdest stuff I could find.

dollhouse laboratory Suzanne ForbesAction Figure Dollhouse by Suzanne ForbesBabies and tiny jars to put them in, spellbooks, poison bottles, skulls, canopic jars, squid, rayguns, test tube sets and labware, sinister medical tools, urine and blood samples, gimp hoods, whips, handcuffs, stockings, and course fancy food, especially lots and lots of cake, and as many coffee makers as i could secure.Action Figure Dollhouse by Suzanne Forbes

 

 

The stuff came from four main sources:

-action figure accessories, mainly Todd Mcfarlane
-handmade by miniature artisans
-commercially made miniatures
-and Re-Ment and MegaHouse blind box miniatures from Japan.

Action Figure Dollhouse by Suzanne ForbesFriends gave me some of the most special things, like the handmade Doubtful Guest.

I made all of Bettie’s vibrators and sex toys myself- there are some mini sex toys available but they’re in 1/18 scale. That was how I began to sculpt for the first time.

And I collected a LOT of action figures. Like, a really frightening lot. They kept coming out with more figures, of characters I adored!Action Figure Dollhouse by Suzanne Forbes

Who would ever have guessed they’d make an X-Men movie, and toys to go with it? Who could have imagined they’d make Lord of the Rings movies?

Action figure dollhouse Suzanne ForbesWho could have imagined that the comic/SF/Fantasy culture I’d grown up on would become popular in the mainstream, and then hugely, commercially viable? Or that adults collecting toys would go from ironic and clever to simply ordinary?

I sure as hell wouldn’t have.

dollhouse_Suzanne_Forbes

My dollhouse in 2008.

 

The house itself was finally finished in the Fall of 2008, when I had lost my (human-size) house in a double-whammy divorce/real estate collapse and was living in a small apartment in Albany.

I had already boxed up some of my figures and put them in storage, so I couldn’t access the Wolverine I wanted to use for the shrubbery joke or my custom Edward.

Action figure dollhouse Suzanne Forbes

I put an assortment of the figures I had around in the house, and realized it looked ridiculous without landscaping. I started on the flowers for the landscaping, and then the Great Recession hit.

My art business collapsed, and I moved to a smaller apartment, and then to a friend’s basement.

The dollhouse went into storage for almost three years. But life is made of second chances, and in 2011 I moved in with my now-husband, to a beautiful little Craftsmen fourplex in Oakland.

Action figure dollhouse Suzanne ForbesOne of my beloved friend-muse-patrons and her husband carried my dollhouse up our narrow, twisting stairs.

Action figure dollhouse Suzanne ForbesI will never forget that moment, watching a small circus-athlete woman and her tall geek husband dancing around each other as they moved the single creative object I’ve spent the most time on in my life.

It was such a testament to marriage, to friendship, to love and to trust. It was goddam amazing, and they got it upstairs in perfect safety.

So I built the landscaping at last, using balsa wood for the brick walls, and finally found the perfect greenhouse on eBay.

Action figure dollhouse Suzanne ForbesI painted the greenhouse, cut paths out of faux brick tiles, and painted and poured the resin pond I had been planning for a decade.

I put all the furnishings and accessories back in, and restored the figures that had been in it in Albany. My Swamp Thing was still somewhere in storage.

Our little jewel-box apartment was only 800 square feet, and I didn’t dare open any of the ten boxes of figures in my storage locker.Action figure dollhouse Suzanne Forbes

I decided the shrubbery joke would have to wait a while longer, until I lived somewhere I could put down roots.

Action figure dollhouse Suzanne ForbesPacking the dollhouse and its contents for Berlin was deranged.

I shaped tin foil shields over the furnishings attached to the walls, carefully stuffed the entire house with acid-free tissue, and built cardboard structures that precisely covered every part of the outside.

Then I bubble-wrapped it, and then I shrink-wrapped it, and then I had it professionally crated.

I sold tons of my vintage clothing collection to pay for the crating; it was the only thing we had crated.

Lifting the crate into the shipping container took three guys, including the abnormal wiry strength of SFSlim; unloading it here took four healthy young Australians.

action figure dollhouse Suzanne ForbesI waited almost three months to unwrap it here, because I wanted to get most of the art hung up and stuff put away, and I needed to rebuild the enormous chambered rolling base it sits on.

But I did it, and then I screwed the dollhouse to its base for the first time.

Because we hope to live here the rest of our lives, and it was time for all my heroes to have a home.

action figure dollhouse Suzanne ForbesI knelt and said prayers of gratitude as I unpacked my figures and tiny things, to everyone who’d helped me bring something so huge and yet so tiny, so silly and yet so serious, so old-fashioned and so full of plastic, to such a distant land. I have never felt so safe and so whole.

Next, I’m going to start building the underground Danger Room, superhero powers testing facilities, laboratories and stables.

I’ve got fourteen X-Men figures who’ve been waiting for a place to train for a long time.

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