The joy of Action Transfers

As a child in the 1970’s we made our own fun to escape the beige drabness of a decade that’s looked at more fondly that it probably deserves. One of the ways we did that were Action Transfers, which looked a bit like this.

That’s the Space: 1999 transfer set, It was just one of many sets released by Letraset to a hungry horde of kids who’d lap them up and spend hours (well, I did) trying to work out how to position your transfers.

The concept was simple; you’d have a selection of transfers and a background to position them on. Here’s an example and one of my favourites as a kid, The Red Planet.

You also has a sheet of transfers like so…

And you end up with your own adventure. Imagine it as an early attempt to create interactive adventures without an Occulus Rift or a Playstation. They were amazingly fun, and of course disposable at the time but not with the misty haze of nostalgia in full flow they seem like a crude, but also amazingly sophisticated form of entertainment.

There’s a glorious website that comprehensively outlines the history of these transfers that is quite literally like swimming in the past, especially for what is the iconic age of transfers¬† for me which is the mid 1970’s. This is the era of Super Action Heroes, which is Batman, Superman, Kojak, Star Trek and many others.

The backgrounds for these transfers were amazing. I don’t know who drew them all but there’s fantastic artwork on display, not to mention some glorious 70’s gore.

See they sneaked out subversive sets like the Kung Fu one above which in today’s climate would be unthinkable to market to kids, but fuck it, it was the 1970’s.

These sets were a way to explore spacial dimensions, so you’d have to work out the best positions for the transfers which meant working out scale and perspective. You’d sometimes get hints like the New Avengers set below but most of the time you were left to explore things yourself.

Some of the sets I never got. I wish now looking at them that I did like this Black Hole set which apparently has been drawn by the creator of Spider-Man, Steve Ditko. Sadly Action Transfers went the way of many a kids entertainment in the 70’s as other forms of entertainment (mainly video games) elbowed Action Transfers out of kids attention and attempts to keep on top of tastes (I would kill to have these 2000AD inspired sets) and they passed into extinction.

35 or so years later these sets are fantastic things. If I could go back in time I’d get my younger self to buy two sets; one to use at the time and one for my future self to play with. Perhaps one day some company somewhere will bring something like these sets back?

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