Historical Figures Get the Superhero Treatment With New Toy Line

Superhuman strength and the ability to fly have nothing on theoretical physics and psychoanalysis.
(Photo: Little Giants/YouTube)
Aug 30, 2015· 2 MIN READ
Samantha Cowan is an associate editor for culture.

Jason Feinberg is confident his miniature figurines that turn the likes of Nikola Tesla and Albert Einstein into cartoonish toys will be a big hit with children. He’s already got the proof he needs: His two-year-old son, Jackson, loves them.

As Feinberg gears up to launch a Kickstarter campaign in September to fund his toy line, called Little Giants, Jackson serves as his test audience. And the little boy can’t get enough of the three-inch Sigmund Freud.

Feinberg admits his toddler can’t tell you much about Freud’s contributions to the field of psychoanalysis, but he’s able to recognize him—along with Tesla, Einstein, Andy Warhol, and Mahatma Gandhi—the same way he can identify Mickey Mouse.

And that recognition is exactly what Feinberg is going for. “So much of how pop culture infiltrates our minds starts at that early age. It’s just the sort of the ubiquity and the recognition. And over time, that grows into people knowing the entire myth and backstory of that man’s life,” Feinberg told TakePart. “The curiosity develops of, like, ‘Who is this guy, and what’s his story?’ ”

(Photo: Courtesy Jason Feinberg)

Each toy comes with a mini history lesson on the back of its box to jump-start kids’ learning. Feinberg hopes to eventually expand the educational aspect of his toys through an online component.

Feinberg, the co-owner of Brooklyn-based design company FCTRY, and his wife, Alyssa, also sell gummy bear–shaped night-lights and mustache pacifiers. With help from a fellow artist, his company debuted a popular Barack Obama figure in 2008 and a Hillary Clinton action figure earlier this year. The Little Giants figures have been around far longer than the politicans, but advertising those products on Myspace didn’t garner Feinberg much success when he first began promoting them in 2006.

“At the time, everything had to be mass market, sort of pasteurized,” he said. “It was hard to reach directly to the audience who cared about these people.”

In the age of Facebook and crowdfunding platforms, Feinberg thinks 2015 is the perfect time to relaunch his labor of love. “There are niches out there who don’t conform to mass market tastes,” he said. “And now they’re reachable.”

Those niche markets have become a vocal voice for diverse toys, and major companies are slowly falling in line. Target eliminated gendered marketing for toys in August, and Disney has begun to move away from gendering costumes as well. Multiple alternatives to Barbie have popped, including dolls with realistic proportions, diverse ethnicities, or, like Feinberg’s toys, based on historic figures.

(Photo: Courtesy Jason Feinberg)

Feinberg knows that shoppers will likely notice that prominent women are missing from the current lineup. Hoping to appeal to both boys and girls, Feinberg chose figures based on their contributions to their fields. However, as a sculptor and artist, he also considered just how cute he could make them.

Take Gandhi: “He stands out to me as being a really fun sculpture. He has this sort of warm Yoda-ish quality about him,” Feinberg explained. “If you compare Gandhi to say, Madame Curie, there’s not a lot to caricature there.” The exaggerated features are a big part of what sets his figures apart and help make them appealing to kids. But Feinberg’s not giving up on female characters. He’s created a sculpture for the chemist along with designs for artist Frieda Kahlo and author Virginia Woolf, that he’ll produce depending on the success of the first installment.