Brian “Box” Brown is no stranger to professional wrestling (or this site). He’s written graphic histories (essentially a book-length comic) on both Andy Kaufman and Andre the Giant, as well as other fascinating books, including one with Andrew S. Weiss on Vladimir Putin.

I’ve enjoyed his work, whether it’s his art or writing — or both — and even commissioned him to review the Andre the Giant HBO special for Plus, we’ve interviewed him twice here at the site.

So when he has a new book out, I seek it out.

In the case of The He-Man Effect: How American Toymakers Sold You Your Childhood, it hit home far more than, say, Cannabis: The Illegalization of Weed in America, which I read but never inhaled.

The 272-page The He-Man Effect, which came out in July 2023 from First Second, is described by the publisher:

Powered by the advent of television and super-charged by the deregulation era of the 1980s, media companies and toy manufacturers joined forces to dominate the psyches of American children. But what are the consequences when a developing brain is saturated with the same kind of marketing bombardment found in Red Scare propaganda?

Brian “Box” Brown’s The He-Man Effect shows how corporate manipulation brought muscular, accessory-stuffed action figures to dizzying heights in the 1980s and beyond. Bringing beloved brands like He-Man, Transformers, My Little Pony, and even Mickey Mouse himself into the spotlight, this graphic history exposes a world with no rules and no concern for results beyond profit.

Left out of the description is Star Wars and all the associated toys, which was my own personal demographic, and the foundation upon which the toy industry grew and changed to the point where every one of us has likely been to some sort of collectibles show or store within the last six months. But Star Wars is indeed in the book.

Wrestling less so. There are some hints at pro wrestling in greater context, like how the concept of the ideal body changed in the 1980s and an unnamed image has what is obviously Hulk Hogan towering over Mean Gene Okerlund.

The very style of Brown’s graphic histories is part of the appeal for me. You will learn, but the balance of the straightforward art and the history lesson is just right, as you never feel overwhelmed with data or minutiae.

Brian "Box" Brown

Brian “Box” Brown

Referenced a couple of times in The He-Man Effect is the Netflix series The Toys That Made Us and those shows are both a good comparison point and a reference point for Brown himself.

Toys and the characters/shows they are based on have a way of infiltrating our very beings, and end up meaning more than just a physical object. Brown makes no attempt to be a shrink here, trying to understand the why. It’s more about the steps along the way in society and in the marketplace that allowed toys to become such a big part of popular culture.

Of note, this is a very American-book, and all the political changes only reflect the US and its massive consumer base. Granted, it would be impossible to cover the world and all its variations. Few would argue, though, that American pop culture sets the standard globally.

So, bringing it back to pro wrestling, though wrestling-related toys are not in The He-Man Effect, they are indeed there by sharing our shelf space and, even more appropriately, our mental space.