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Tuesday, October 22, 2002 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Erik Lacitis / Times staff columnist

Jesus Action Figure works miracles in a down economy

Now for a bit of good economic news — and proof that we have managed to keep our sense of humor in these shaky times.

Among the publications I read is Fortune magazine, as I'm always interested in the lifestyles of executives who make $500 million a year and take our 401(k) money and run. But it wasn't the latest corporate corruption story that caught my eye in the Oct. 14 issue.

It was a mention of the best-selling Jesus Action Figure that is sold out of Seattle.

The toy "has been selling 'briskly' at hip stores like Urban Outfitters ... the company has moved 'thousands' of Jesus dolls at around $7 each. ... " said the story. It quoted a Toy Industry Association spokesman as saying that given all that's going on in the world, "it's a good time for these toys."

Of course, the Archie McPhee folks are behind it all. You know them, the people who sell the Pink Flamingos, Tiki Mugs, Hula Girls and Hula Boys for your car dashboard. Their store is in wonderful, historical Ballard on Market Street Northwest, right across the parking lot from the state liquor store.

"Well, we wanted to start with the most-recognizable figure in history," David Wahl told me, as I stood in the store, moving the five-inch plastic Jesus' figure so its poseable arms reached to the sky to send a message to my editor. Please, for Erik, the guy who gets this paper the most e-mails of anybody on the staff, couldn't you give him a raise? Bless you for your kindness.

Wahl is the Web and catalog manager for Accoutrements, a wholesale firm that's the parent company of the retail McPhee. In this sour economy, the company he works for is making plenty of money (no exact figures; it's privately held) selling us a ton of under-$10 stuff that, for a few seconds each day, makes us smile.

Apparently that Jesus Action Figure, and its accompanying Jesus Nodder (with a bobbing head) have cut across the spectrum of America.

If you're into that David Letterman heavy-irony-nothing-matters sort of thing, this is for you. If you're more of your basic straight-ahead fundamentalist, it's hard to argue with this particular merchandising of Jesus. The box comes with quotes from the Bible and a message about, "To the downtrodden, he taught restraint and charity in the face of oppression. As a result, the powerless learned to maintain dignity without being arrogant."

I asked Wahl about any negative comments. He said there had been e-mail about the Jesus figure looking a little too hippie, and that a pastor in Scotland was worried about anti-Jesus types sticking needles into the plastic figures or burning them.

Otherwise, the figure keeps selling and selling. It even got into the Weekly World News, which headlined: "MOVE OVER G.I. JOE. JESUS ACTION FIGURE HEALS THE SICK."

As with any Weekly World News story, it is wise to remember the disclaimer it carries, "Articles are drawn from different sources, including the world press, free-lance correspondents and our readers, and are published strictly for the enjoyment of our readers."

Isn't that also the disclaimer for Fox News?

The Jesus figure has become so popular that the company is coming out with another one. It is the same basic Jesus figure (those overseas factories don't like too many changes in the mold), but in this one you can put fish and bread loaves into the figure's arms.

I asked Wahl if there was something about Seattle that allowed for such ... creativity.

"Let me make sure I word this right," Wahl said. "Seattle has a great mix of people. We don't take life quite as seriously."

Actually, what I think is that we take life real seriously here, but we might as well make some bucks off of those rain-induced personality quirks, one of our great Pacific Northwest natural resources.

Which is why another great best-selling action figure for Accoutrements is Fuzz, named for the 21-year-old hipster-philosopher-cynic guy who in real life works in the collections department for the company, and who still hasn't moved out of his parents' home.

Fuzz hopes enough people buy his figurine "to buy some decent furniture and move out of my parents' house." The figure comes with three detachable heads, one with a real ugly cap, another with a real ugly hat and the third with real ugly green hair. Seattle guys, yeah!!!

Another Seattle-inspired action figure is the female barista, whose name is Nico. She's just like that young woman serving you lattes from that cart down the street. "She's kind of smarter than her job, kind of a free spirit," Wahl said. The box says about Nico, "Drawn here by the music scene and the abundance of thrift stores, she bought a used Vespa, and rented a bedroom in a shared apartment above a tattoo studio."

There you are: how to make big money in this recession.

Take our co-workers, neighbors — and our saviors — and market them. There's even a Sigmund Freud action figurine (he's holding a cigar and the box has his famous quote that sometimes a cigar is just a cigar) that customers give as presents to their psychologists.

"We're doing fine," Wahl said, "just fine."

Erik Lacitis: elacitis@seattletimes.com

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