NILES, IL — Most would agree 2020 has been a tough year. For one custom toymaker, though, it has been fueling his niche business. Part Santa’s elf, part satirist and a kid at heart, Dan Polydoris' home in Niles, Illinois is a shrine to toys.
But for the avid toy collector, it wasn’t enough to just collect. A decade ago, he decided to create.
“Most of the time, for figures, I start with some kind of existing figure,” he explained. “I have parts upon parts.”
Death by Toys was born out of that need. But his re-purposed action figures and throwback novelties aren’t just toys, they’re often imbued with scathing social commentary.
“I like a good jab at a fragile male ego as much as I love just a forklift driver who looks sexy or something like that,” said Polydoris.
Everything is painstakingly made by hand. Nothing is mass-produced, which means everything is made in small batches or even as one-of-a-kind creations.
Items like the limited edition "Karen" figure sell for $125. A $20 package of air is sold as "100% Genuine Thoughts & Prayers."
Last month after a fly landed on Mike Pence’s head during the vice-presidential debate, Polydoris offered up 50 "Mike Pence Head Fly" toys. They sold out almost immediately.
“We're just all the worst. And we all were like, 'That fly is the hero we needed.’”
In 2016, horror filmmaker Eli Roth gifted one of Polydoris’ Maniac-inspired bloody scalps to writer Stephen King.
His toy-making handiwork has even been featured on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon.
“I will say the generally positive response to the garbage that I make has been surprising and has been a pleasure and a nice little treat," the toy maker said.
But Polydoris says it’s not the mass appeal he’s interested in and he knows his edgy brand of "art" may not be for everyone.
“The truth is anything that has a point of view will have someone that doesn't like that,” he said. “So, that's just the deal.”
Still, in a year like 2020 where his bestselling items include the coronavirus and a garbage fire, Polydoris says his custom collectibles may just be the brand of humor we all need right now.
“Someone who might have at the beginning of the year been like, ‘No thank you,’ but now, after a year of living alone and growing a beard down to here, you know we're all kind of pushed to the edge a little bit. So, I think that that kind of stuff speaks to all of us right now.”