The advent of the Star Wars Black 6″ Series got me thinking about how I prefer the 6″ scale for (human) action figures. It’s a strong preference, and yet, the more I thought about it, the more I wasn’t sure how my preference came about.
It’s interesting, because there wasn’t really such thing as a standard 6″ scale for action figures until maybe the late 1990s. The first toy line that I can remember being at (or close to) six inches was McFarlane Toys’ Spawn; I suppose it shouldn’t surprise me that they were, yet again, a trendsetter in that regard. But it wasn’t until Toy Biz began using the scale for their Marvel superhero figures – and then Mattel followed suit with DC Super Heroes and later DC Universe Classics – that the idea of the 6″ action figure became commonplace.
When I was growing up in the 1980s, toys were usually either 3¾” tall (Star Wars, G.I. Joe), 12″ tall (some Star Wars and G.I. Joe figures), or somewhere in between (Masters of the Universe, Ghostbusters, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Inhumanoids, Kenner’s Terminator/Alien/Predator toys, Super Powers, Secret Wars, Kenner’s Robocop). Transformers, of course, were all over the place, from mini-vehicles like Bumblebee to mid-size figures like Optimus Prime and oversize oddities like Shockwave.
It wasn’t until the early 2000s that the 6″ scale actually became a “standard” scale alongside 3¾” and 12″. It was the superhero lines that solidified the scale’s popularity. Toy Biz’s Marvel figures started out at around five inches and crept up slowly over the course of the decade until sometime around 2000, when Spider-Man Classics and its successor, Marvel Legends, cemented six inches as the official scale of Toy Biz’s superhero figures. This carried on into in their Lord of the Rings and Legendary Comic Book Heroes lines, and by then, Mattel had jumped on board with their DC Super Heroes figures. (Mattel’s 2003 Masters of the Universe figures were also roughly in the 6″ scale.)
Meanwhile, McFarlane’s Spawn line started just around six inches (maybe a tad under) but by 2000, their figures, including the mega-popular Movie Maniacs, were close to a 7″ scale (which NECA later took up for their own movie and videogame lines). DC Direct stuck to an on-the-tall-side 6″ scale, while Mattel’s Movie Masters was an on-the-short-side short 6″ scale. Mattel says Masters of the Universe Classics is a 6″ scale but it’s obviously much closer to 7″.
But enough history. Just what is so appealing about the 6″ scale? I’ll admit that I’m not entirely sure, but I’ve got a few ideas.
More articulation – While 3¾” have made strides in this area over the last few years, in a zero-sum sense you can always put more articulation (at a cheaper cost) in a mass-market 6″ figure than you can in a 3¾” figure. This, I suspect, was part of the reason for Toy Biz slightly increasing their figure size from roughly 5″ to 6″ with Spider-Man Classics/Marvel Legends. It’s not that you can’t put more articulation in a 3¾” figure – Takara’s Microman figures from the early 2000s were incredibly poseable – but it’s a lot easier and cheaper to do it with a bigger figure.
The simplicity – One inch equals one foot (for humanoid figures, anyway). As the photo at the top shows, very few toy lines adhere closely to this ratio – even within the same line – but it’s a big part of the appeal. It’s an easy ratio to remembering when determining how tall a figure should be, how large the accessories should be, and so forth.
The sculpting – Six inches is about as small as you can get and still preserve really strong, detailed sculpting within any reasonable mass market retail price (You can do it at the 3¾” scale, but the production costs get prohibitive). To be fair, big strides have been made in 3¾” figure sculpting in the last few years, but take the same character and try to do the best job possible on sculpting it and the 6″ figure’s sculpt is going to be at least a bit better thanks to the larger canvas.
“Crossover” possibilities – Once lines like DC Direct, Marvel Legends, DC Super Heroes/DCUC, Legendary Super Heroes, Lord of the Rings, and a number of smaller collector lines all coalesced around the 6″ scale in the early 2000s, it solidified the 6″ scale as a standard. Fans enjoyed being able to place their Batman next to their Spider-man, or Conan next to Gandalf. Of course, the 3¾” and 12″ scales also offer this, but it’s worth noting that while there are a number of good 6″ lines, as noted above, there is a dearth of good 3¾” DC figures and there’s no 3¾” Conan.
The sense of “more” – Many of today’s adult collectors grew up on Masters of the Universe, Star Wars, G.I. Joe, and Transformers. With the exception of some Transformers, most of these toys stood around 5″ or less. The 6″ scale gives collectors a sense that there had been progress in toys – i.e., the toys were bigger – without being so large as to be overly expensive or difficult to display. The Four Horsemen have said they made the MOTUC figures the size they were because they wanted to preserve that sense of “chunkiness” for adults that a vintage He-Man figure felt like in their hands when they were children.
Bonus question: Why not 12″? – “Well, if you can get so much articulation and detail into a 6″ figure, why don’t collect 12″ figures?” This whole editorial is entirely personal opinion, of course – I don’t think there’s anything inherently superior about the 6″ scale to any other scale – but here are my reasons why I don’t like 12″ figures.
- They just seem too big to me. I grew up loving to create scenes and displays with my figures, and in a very basic sense it was just harder to take in everything at the same time with large figures. And they take up too much display space.
- They’re generally too expensive, at least for a good 12″ figure.
- They don’t seem so much like an “action figure” as a “small person” to me.
- I absolutely hate fabric on action figures. It feels perishable, gets dirty and dusty easily and is a lot more difficult to clean than plastic, and the fabric itself never looks in-scale.
I was hoping I’d have more to say about this when I started writing it, but ultimately this is pure personal preference. The 6″ scale does seem to be particularly popular among action figure collectors in the current era, but that may be solely due to the possibly arbitrary historical fact that a number of companies (particularly Toy Biz) produced some very popular lines in recent memory in that scale, and collectors just got used to it.
Out of curiosity, I asked about the appeal of the 6″ scale on Twitter, and here are some of the responses I received.
@poeghostal 3 & 3/4ths is too small, 5 hasn’t worked since the 90s, and 7 is too much. 6 inch hits the sweet spot.
— Brendan (@toyninjas) April 4, 2013
@poeghostal More detail in the sculpt and usually more articulation with 6″ scale.
— Alex K. (@Porkinak) April 4, 2013
@poeghostal I’m warming up to it, in part because they stand out better on a shelf with a lot of stuff on it due to their being bigger.
— Michael Ivey (@GeneralTekno) April 4, 2013
@poeghostallooks better on a shelf than a bunch of little Joes or whatever. Not that I don’t like Joes, though.
— rxchrisg (@rxchrisg) April 4, 2013