TOYETICA by Marty LeGrow
The four-issue "The Big Key" story arc of TOYETICA will delight adults with a childlike spirit as well as anyone who's trying to find themselves. Despite a jumpy plot and some distracting visuals, Marty LeGrow has created a powerful story that is both cute and serious.
86 %

Imagine a doll-sized race of people, historically oppressed, exiled, and forgotten by all of humankind. TOYETICA launches readers into a fantasy world of people very similar to us, called bittles. These bittles differ from humans only in their tiny stature; they are humans the size of dolls. With story and art by Marty LeGrow, TOYETICA explores the lives and ambitions of teenage bittleson their way to becoming human toys. The first volume of Action Labs Entertainment‘s new series features the four-issue story arc titled “The Big Key.”

Image courtesy of Action Labs Entertainment.

TOYETICA follows Trixie Tangle, a student at Dollington Academy. There, bittles study to become the most marketable human toys. When a new student, Minky Mermille, arrives, her differences force Trixie to rethink what it means to succeed. TOYETICA is, at once, a commentary on consumerism as well as an exploration of how children grow up to define their identities. TOYETICA tells of how in a world where market value and personal expression are hopelessly intertwined, a fulfilling path can be hard to find.

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The Students of Dollington Academy

The cast of characters is far and away the highlight of TOYETICA. Clearly, LeGrow has spent hours cultivating these characters to perfection. In fact, the entire first issue of “The Big Key” succeeds thanks to its character introductions. All the high school archetypes have their place in Dollington Academy. Sweetina von Bonne plays the spoiled princess. Becky Badluck is the tough girl who wears skulls. Angel Inx’s dark eyes and demeanor make him the class heartthrob.

Thankfully, what could have been a list of tired clichés TOYETICA instead reanimates with a fantasy twist. For example, the class contains Unicole Safari-Sidekick. She is not only Dollington Academy’s it-girl but also genetically part-unicorn. The successful blend of the familiar and the unfamiliar keeps TOYETICA’s characters likable and surprising.

Image courtesy of Action Labs Entertainment.

Leading Ladies

Of course, the best developed are TOYETICA’s leading pair, Trixie and Minky. Each feels misunderstood in her own way. Trixie’s hand-me-down accessories alienate her from hyper-materialistic Dollington culture. Forced to use her famous older sister’s batons, Trixie shoulders the expectation of greatness. Similarly, Minky looks different from the rest of the class, not only because she is a mermaid, but also because of her darker skin.

The interactions between these two outcasts are the most rewarding element of TOYETICA. Their relationship is dynamic, growing out of Trixie’s chatty persistence. At first, this one-sided pressure elicits only vacant responses from Minky. By the end of “The Big Key,” however, Minky grows to trust Trixie. Together, they face Minky’s own familial expectations and realize that their differences are actually quite similar.

Overall, TOYETICA’s characters earn the highest marks, embodying human problems in bittle bodies. LeGrow cleverly subverts reader’s expectations, turning a would-be protagonist Trixie into the most doubting player.

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TOYETICA’s Plot Focuses on Identity

In addition to TOYETICA’s characters, the rest of the world LeGrow has imagined is rich and engaging enough to make up for a sometimes jumpy plot. Over the course of the four issues of “The Big Key,” we watch the Dollington students try on various identities, coming into conflict with the school’s mission.

In the first issue, we meet the students of Dollington Academy through Trixie’s eyes, lending their identities the illusion of permanence. In the second issue, students receive the official accessories that will define their toy’s theme. We watch characters reevaluate their own identities, based on how they react to their given objects. Like Trixie and Minky, the painfully shy Bunnard rejects his assigned identity. Will trading his rabbit accessory for a sword make him as brave as he wishes to be?

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By the third and fourth issues, TOYETICA bounces back and forth between various sets of characters. While the plot still centers on the central question of identity, the story loses the unity of its earlier issues. Bunnard learns that he doesn’t want a sword since it cannot change his character. Sweetina confronts the possibility that her given accessory, a horse, may not want her. Along the way, Trixie and Minky discover a school secret that will change the way they view themselves. These bits and pieces coalesce into a story of breadth rather than depth.

As an introduction to a series, TOYETICA’s strength lies not in the actions of its plot. Indeed, the entirety of “The Big Key” feels like the set-up for a more plot-oriented issue to come. While certain turns of story align too seamlessly to feel natural, the themes humming in the background of TOYETICA are the engine that drives the story forward.

TOYETICA Is More Than Cute

Through both its art and plot, one question remains uncertain: is TOYETICA supposed to be cute or serious? After all, the story features future toys and dolls, complete with frills and big, glassy eyes.

We learn early on, however, that these bittles at Dollington Academy take themselves very seriously. Indeed, Trixie advises that “anybody who’s serious about being a toy model goes here.” Learning how to be a marketable model requires rigorous classes in advertising, economics — even chemistry. Ultimately, the characters learn to toe the line between cute and serious, as does the art of the comic itself.

Image courtesy of Action Labs Entertainment.

In general, TOYETICA’s art is not particularly complex, a visual strategy that matches the childlike spirit of the story. For instance, the one-dimensional quality of the coloring recalls the plastic sheen of a manufactured toy. While LeGrow exhibits a range of creative ideas in the characters’ costumes and designs, the execution results in bittles with similar hair and facial features. On the surface they are unique, but stripped down they are less distinguishable.

Likewise, a lack of unity between certain visual moments is distracting to the reader. For example, the oddly geometric roses appear flat on Sweetina’s otherwise fluffy costume. Similarly, the fine, mechanical lettering on Dollington’s big key statue clashes with the cartoon style of the rest of the drawings. These kinds of details detract from TOYETICA’s art as a cohesive whole.

Although it has room to grow, TOYETICA’s art conveys a powerful message. Through its visuals, it suggests that art need not be either cute or serious, but can exist somewhere in between.

Toys Can Be Serious Too

TOYETICA also interrogates the motives behind personal expression and art in general. Is good art that which is most marketable or most true? At first, we are led to believe that market value matters most. According to Trixie, human desires and whims are the forces that decide which products fly off the shelves. As such, bittles should shape themselves as something that humans want.

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By the end of “The Big Key,” however, Minky teaches Trixie a lesson. Because of her identity as a mermaid, Minky has fewer opportunities than other students. When Trixie doesn’t understand her own privilege, Minky has an outburst: “That’s easy for you to say! You get to be anything you want! Do you have any idea what it’s like to be a mermaid?…All the other toys here get to define themselves however they want, but I only have one choice available, and I’m sick of it.”

It is difficult to avoid comparisons with racial privilege here. For example, while white students have the privilege of choosing from many versions of themselves, students of color are bound by societal expectations. These students have a harder time coming to terms with their own identity, especially as they watch their privileged peers. TOYETICA does a wonderful job of reframing the complicated topic of privilege for all kinds of readers to access.

Ultimately, TOYETICA insists that authenticity matters most. Finding and accepting yourself will make you the most marketable. Fame, it turns out, is an unworthy goal in itself.

Image courtesy of Action Labs Entertainment.

TOYETICA: Marketable or Not?

Throughout “The Big Key” story arc, the motif of a key symbolizes fame and success. Like the key that powers a wind-up doll, Dollington Academy’s key logo ideologically drives its students towards a singular version of success. Minky, feeling isolated and misunderstood, complains about the Academy: “They’re just like that stupid big key of yours: they don’t understand who I am on the inside. They want life to stick a big key in my back and wind me up until I go down the path that’s already been chosen for me.” By the end of “The Big Key,” Minky finds the power to choose her own dream of success. With Trixie’s help, she will become the inventor she always wanted to be, instead of the toy model that everyone expects.

Now that Trixie has helped Minky and knows the real key to finding herself, she is one step closer to finding the personal theme that will make her a marketable toy model. But that’s not the point. More importantly, she has learned to look beyond success as it has been defined for her. True success, it is implied, will come when she chooses to accept her identity.

Like Trixie and Minky are finding themselves, TOYETICA is carving a unique niche for itself among comics. Authentic in its ideas and characters, TOYETICA introduces its own brand of childhood for adult readers. In addition to lovable characters and a whimsical new world, the story’s central drive — the struggle to be understood — should make TOYETICA a hit on the market.

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