Recently I’ve been ‘playing’ with Playmobil figures again, or ‘playpeople’ as my brother and I knew them back in the day. No, I haven’t completely regressed to my childhood, I’ve been exploring options of representing Helen of Troy through this format. Why? Well, it was partly sparked off by being invited to participate in a ‘show and tell’ day at Roehampton University, connected to the Our mythical childhood project. Participants have been asked to bring a “classical themed object of children’s culture” to talk about (I’ll blog about this event once it has happened). I’ve decided on my object (it’s a book, but I’ll not talk about it now), but I started wondering about what else I would like to bring, which got me thinking about Lego and Playmobil representations of classical culture. I suddenly wanted a Helen of Troy, if this seems a bit weird then you should know that my PhD was about representations of Helen in Greek myth and literature, and that since last year I have started looking at comic and graphic novel versions of Helen.
Playmobil have a ‘history’ range which encompasses Romans and Egyptians, and they produced two Greek Gods – Zeus and Athena – in 2016, and four more recently (Poseidon, Demeter, Artemis and Hermes). Sadly, they haven’t produced any other Greek figures, even though I am sure a Trojan Horse would be a hit. A quick look online shows that people have improvised their own Trojan War, so I realised I needed to improvise my own Helen. Scouting around for figures I could possibly use I’ve resorted to doing a bit of shopping on ebay as I didn’t think the figures I already had (mostly dating back to late 70s early 80s) would do. I remember getting my first playperson, I possibly had a voucher or something to spend in the shop, and I chose a female figure with a horse, I called her Nina. Looking back I didn’t have that many playmobil figures, my brother had more, and his seemed more exciting – Native American Indians, and American Civil war cavalry, Robin Hood and his merry men (and Maid Marian of course). I had nurses and doctors, but he also had construction workers, so it wasn’t all glamorous. I think the yellow car I had was the most exciting accessory. I collected all these from my parent’s house the other year so have them to hand, but none look like Helen. These days there is a far greater range of figures and accessories than I could ever have dreamed of back in my youth; but this means I have a far greater chance of constructing Helen now – even though she might end of being a cobbled version of a Roman woman, Athena, and a fairy or a princess!
My research has recently been looking into the colour of the outfit that Helen is depicted wearing in comics/graphic novels, and apart from white one colour that rises to the fore is pink. The colour pink has so many connotations these days, and we are all aware that it used to be a favourite for boys rather than girls. Now it can be associated with femininity and being girly, but it can also have a sexual overtone, seen for example in Hollywood sex symbol Jayne Mansfield who basically adopted the colour as her own, and even had her own ‘Pink Palace‘ a whole house painted pink, filled with pink accoutrements such as a heart shaped pink bath, and pink furs. By putting Helen in pink I believe artists are unsurprisingly tapping into the idea of Helen as a sex symbol, and differentiating her from the other, more sedately portrayed, women around her. I’m presenting a poster about the ways Helen is depicted in comics at the Drawing on the Past conference in September so will leave the discussion here for now.
So I want to give my Helen a pink dress as a nod to her sexuality and femininity (whilst being aware I am using a children’s toy so don’t want to get too creepy about it!). She will have blonde hair, to acknowledge that she is described as ‘golden’ or ‘tawny’ haired. But I’m still a little stumped about what accessory she should have. I think a hand-mirror would be great if I can get one, but there is no real object or symbol associated with her that I can think of, as she was only semi-divine. Unlike Athena, with her owl, aegis and helmet for example.
So here is my first attempt, (she could be improved but I need to get the knack of pulling bodies apart to start on embellishments!). There may be other versions to follow.