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What were the earliest non-licensed "named" minifigures?

JadBeanJadBean United StatesMember Posts: 15
I've been getting back into Lego after a LONG absence. I come from the days when Space men were just Space men, Castle knights were distinguished by colors alone, and Pirates were the new kids on the block. It's surprising to me to see themes like Ultra Agents, Galaxy Squad, etc. where the characters have names and allegiances - let alone the full-on mythologies of Chima, Nexo Knights, and Ninjago.

Since I haven't followed the line for many years, I'm wondering when the first non-licensed named characters came along. Was it 1996's Time Cruisers, featuring Dr. Cyber and Timmy? 
catwrangler

Comments

  • LyichirLyichir United StatesMember Posts: 967
    No, it'd predate that for sure.

    Actually pinning down a single theme or character is hard because early on many characters were only named in supplementary media, and the names chosen were not necessarily consistent between different media and different countries. For instance, Johnny Thunder from the Adventurers theme was known by other names like Sam Grant in some countries.

    I do think that Captain Redbeard from the Pirates theme might be considered one of the earliest named characters—he debuted in the 1989 Pirates theme, which was not only one of the earliest themes to have officially named characters but the first theme to have minifigures with non-standard faces. But there may be even earlier examples if you consider characters named only in specific media, since I know Lego had its fair share of supplementary media even before that point (one example being the Jim Spaceborn comics from the mid-1980s).
    catwrangler
  • JadBeanJadBean United StatesMember Posts: 15
    Wow, I never knew about the Jim Spaceborn stuff, thanks for that!

    Let's go with this - what's the earliest example of a character named on a set's box? I had the Black Seas Barracuda as a kid, and I don't remember it saying "Captain Redbeard" on the box, but I reserve the right to be totally wrong about that! :)
  • davee123davee123 USAMember Posts: 832
    edited June 2016
    Minifigures, eh?  Hm.

    The oldest figures with names that I can think of would be Fabuland, in 1979.  But those aren't minifigures, of course.

    As @Lyichir mentions, various pirate figures were mentioned with names in other media (comic books) in 1989, which were arguably specifically represented in their sets.  Jim Spaceborn pre-dates that, but ... is difficult or impossible to tie to a particular minifigure.

    You could argue that "The Black Falcon" or "Robin Hood" are named in LEGO castle, although the set names varied by country, and it was ambiguous which characters where intended to be represented by them.

    You could also argue in favor of Bill & Mary from the 1980 #6000 idea book.  I don't think the figures were included in the set (some sources say they were?), although stickers for their torsos definitely were there.

    DaveE
    TikiLuki
  • TkattTkatt MNMember Posts: 472
    Ricky Racoon and his Scooter-1979


    catwranglerBumblepants
  • davee123davee123 USAMember Posts: 832
    JadBean said:
    Let's go with this - what's the earliest example of a character named on a set's box? I had the Black Seas Barracuda as a kid, and I don't remember it saying "Captain Redbeard" on the box, but I reserve the right to be totally wrong about that! :)
    Nope, sorry. From the inside flap of the Black Seas Barracuda box (US version):



    DaveE
    JadBeannatro220Aanchircatwrangler
  • binaryeyebinaryeye USMember Posts: 1,745
    Were there any names on the UK or European versions of the box? In at least the German and UK catalogs, the set was referred to as Dark Shark instead of Black Seas Barracuda, so surely the box wasn't the same as the US version.
  • natro220natro220 USAMember Posts: 545
    Thank you for posting that, I remember reading that as a kid and loving it!  Also, if I remember correctly, either the Caribbean Clipper or Eldorado Fortress reference Governor Broadside (who later also was referenced in "Broadside's Brig").
    AanchirLyichircatwrangler
  • davee123davee123 USAMember Posts: 832
    edited June 2016
    I think what may have been special about Time Cruisers is that ALL the minifigs in the sets were named characters (including the monkey and the robot).

    Before that... Ice Planet 2002 was sort of interesting because all of its characters were distinct characters (they weren't really generic), although I don't think they all had names (the white-mustache guy had a name, but not the other two that I know of).

    Otherwise, my vote is still for either Bill & Mary, Robin Hood, or the Black Falcon.

    And @natro220, yes, Governer Broadside is mentioned at least in #6274 Caribbean Clipper at least (and quite possibly other sets too)

    DaveE
    catwrangler
  • JadBeanJadBean United StatesMember Posts: 15
    Brilliant stuff, I haven't seen the lid to Black Seas Barracuda since 1989.

    I think DaveE makes a great point - Time Cruisers was the first series where all the characters have names. To my mind, that's a sharp distinction and style of play between the older eras, where essentially all the figures were unnamed blank slates.

    IMHO, this makes for more open-ended play scenarios. I am glad we still see this from some Lego releases - all the Town systems, and the recent Pirates and Castle sets. Ok, now I'll get off my old-man soapbox.
    catwrangler
  • davee123davee123 USAMember Posts: 832
    JadBean said:
    To my mind, that's a sharp distinction and style of play between the older eras, where essentially all the figures were unnamed blank slates.

    IMHO, this makes for more open-ended play scenarios.
    From what I can piece together, this gradual shift was quite probably due to Tyco Super Blocks-- or at least it seems to be the trigger.

    In the early 1980s, everything was generic-- there were no good guys and bad guys, and really not much in the way of "subthemes".  The closest thing we had were lions versus falcons in the castle sets (but neither had clearly defined characteristics like being good or evil).

    However, in 1984, Tyco started selling LEGO-compatible bricks in the US, where the patent had expired (it expired in 1978, but Tyco didn't seem to do anything until '84).

    In an interview, Bjarne Tveskov (designer of the Blacktron theme) said that Blacktron was specifically designed in response to Tyco's aggressive 1986 lineup.  And if you look at the 1986 Tyco catalog?  It's full of "evil" stuff.  Black space aliens, black castles, and so forth.  Clearly distinguishable in terms of being "evil".

    Further, things like Blacktron and Forestmen made it to the US market first (before Europe), which is really strange, considering that up until that point, it was often the other way around.  So it seems pretty clear that LEGO was trying to react to Tyco in the US market around 1987.

    Anyway, starting in 1987, you start getting more clearly defined storylines in LEGO subthemes-- Space Police, Forestmen, Ice Planet, Pirates, Islanders, Spyrius, etc.  Clearly, LEGO seemed to think that these implied or explicit characters would sell better than their previous "generic" stuff.

    And now, we seem to get a few varieties of things.  We see the VERY strong characters and stories in Chima, Ninjago, and Nexo Knights-- but also sometimes a mix of generic stuff, too, like the officers in Space Police III, and the newer Pirates and Kingdoms lineups.  So... interesting to see where they've opted for a mixture of differing levels of specific and generic characters!

    DaveE
    JadBeannatro220Aanchirbandit778DedgeckocatwranglerBrickDancerkbenjes
  • FauchFauch FranceMember Posts: 2,586
    JadBean said:

    I think DaveE makes a great point - Time Cruisers was the first series where all the characters have names. To my mind, that's a sharp distinction and style of play between the older eras, where essentially all the figures were unnamed blank slates.
    I wonder if it was because of the release of the Klick magazine? I think it told the adventures of the time cruisers.
  • AanchirAanchir United StatesMember Posts: 2,976
    binaryeye said:
    Were there any names on the UK or European versions of the box? In at least the German and UK catalogs, the set was referred to as Dark Shark instead of Black Seas Barracuda, so surely the box wasn't the same as the US version.
    Can't answer your question about the box, but I can tell you that the name of Captain Red Beard in the UK and Europe was Captain Roger. That was also the name used for him in the LEGO Pirates books and comics released in 1989, so if the European version of the box did have a story blurb it might've used that name as well.
    davee123 said:

    And now, we seem to get a few varieties of things.  We see the VERY strong characters and stories in Chima, Ninjago, and Nexo Knights-- but also sometimes a mix of generic stuff, too, like the officers in Space Police III, and the newer Pirates and Kingdoms lineups.  So... interesting to see where they've opted for a mixture of differing levels of specific and generic characters!

    DaveE
    Yep! I quite like this mix to be honest. It's especially nice that themes like Castle, Pirates, Space, and City tend to fall on the more open-ended side, since it helps reinforce their "classic" feel. Though, it's kind of a mixed blessing since if those themes' stories were developed more it might help more of them (besides City, which never seems to have any trouble) stick around longer.

    Thanks also for the info about Tyco — that rivalry emerged before my time so it's very interesting to learn how it helped motivate the LEGO Group's strategies going forward.
    catwrangler
  • TheOriginalSimonBTheOriginalSimonB Felixstowe Member Posts: 1,703
    I never knew the couple from the ideas book had names. My copy is from 1979 and they are just referred to as "the couple in the car".
  • davee123davee123 USAMember Posts: 832
    edited June 2016
    I never knew the couple from the ideas book had names. My copy is from 1979 and they are just referred to as "the couple in the car".
    I assume the version on Peeron is the US version (edit: confirmed, the back page says "Enfield, CT")-- quite likely that other countries had different names.  But here's the scan:

    http://www.peeron.com/scans/6000-1/2

    DaveE

  • TheOriginalSimonBTheOriginalSimonB Felixstowe Member Posts: 1,703
    Well well well. Thanks for that. The euro version just has a small paragraph in a zillion languages.
  • davee123davee123 USAMember Posts: 832
    My copy is from 1979 [...]
    Huh-- is the copyright actually 1979 in your version?  All the catalogs I can see seem to suggest that it was new in 1980, even in the UK and Germany!

    DaveE
  • TheOriginalSimonBTheOriginalSimonB Felixstowe Member Posts: 1,703
    Yup.

    Quick iPad photos of inside front and copyright on the back.



    davee123
  • davee123davee123 USAMember Posts: 832
    Huh, neat!  ... And Japanese, too!  I'm surprised to see that in the European version!  ... And no Korean, Russian, Arabic, Hebrew, or other odd character sets.  Interesting!

    DaveE
  • IstokgIstokg MichiganMember Posts: 2,313
    I was doing some research on old LEGO catalogs and sets from the 1970s and 1980s, and sometimes the Copyright year and release year didn't always match up.  So I wouldn't be surprised if this Idea Book wasn't actually released earlier outside of the USA.  Just look at the release dates for the first castle sets... 375/6075 and 383/6083.  I do believe that the yellow fortifications in that idea book were different models on the back of the Yellow Castle set (first released in USA in 1980, but earlier in rest of world).  So the fact that this Idea Book was released a year earlier outside of the USA, could mean a mid 1979 release elsewhere... and a 1980 release in the USA.... to sort of match the years the models were released in different countries.

    What is very interesting is LEGO catalogs from that era that sometimes had 3 unrelated languages in the catalog.  The reason for that was that some sets (especially train sets) had several language box variations.... the 7740 Intercity Train was a good example....

    7740 Intercity Train with German/French/Dutch box top language.  Inside was a catalog that matched the box top languages.



    7740 Intercity with Danish/Swedish/Finnish box top... again with 3 language catalog.



    7740 Intercity with English/Italian/French box top, with 3 language catalog.



    So... many of the catalogs and instructions came in a jumble of languages during that time.  Idea books were sometimes in individual languages, or grouped together, like the one mentioned above.

    More LEGO mayhem! 
    catwranglerJadBean
  • Lawsy23Lawsy23 Norfolk, UKMember Posts: 1
    The characters in the ideas book also appeared in a comic strip in the UK Lego Club magazine for several years in the 80s, where they were known as 'Captain Indigo' and 'Polka Dot'. 
  • MichaelSmithMichaelSmith AdelaideMember Posts: 13
    edited February 2017
    As already mentioned above, Fabuland (1979) was the earliest Lego theme based on story telling, with named characters. However the figures were anthromorphic animals specific to the theme, not minifigs.

    Bill and Mary get the distinction of being the first ever named minifigures, however they were never in a set. The stickers for their torsos were included in the sticker sheet provided with the book. Also as has been noted above, they weren't named in all editions of the book. Although released in 1980 the 6000 Ideas Book would have been put together in 1979 (the sets used for the builds in the book were all available in 1979, plus the book notably does not use some pieces that were introduced in 1980). That would explain the 1979 copyright date on some editions.
    catwrangler
  • TikiLukiTikiLuki ChicagoMember Posts: 64
    You could also argue in favor of Bill & Mary from the 1980 #6000 idea book.  I don't think the figures were included in the set (some sources say they were?), although stickers for their torsos definitely were there.
    This gets my vote, too. The figures were not included with the book, but yes, the decals for their torsos were.
    Pitfall69
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