My very first toy was a Magilla Gorilla stuffed animal. I had two of them, actually. On the day I was born, two different relatives showed up at the hospital with the same toy. I remember seeing pictures of me as a tiny baby, with that toy. I remember seeing pictures of my first birthday, a cake decorated as a carousel, with toy horses and straws holding up a canopy, and in the picture I’m clutching Magilla. I remember one iteration of him or the other — he was one gorilla in two bodies, never two characters that interacted with each other when I played, and I had no preference of one doll over the other — until I was 5 or 6 years old. I don’t know whatever happened to him, and I no longer have relatives to ask. I don’t have photos, either. Just vivid memories.
On my 50th birthday Katie and I were walking around Santa Fe, because we had to go up there for the followup appointment with her surgeon (all good, healing normally). We stopped in a quirky little toy store, and just inside the door was a display of unusual figurines. The first one I saw was a crocodile man holding a spear. There was also a lion man, a rhino man, and other strange but incredibly detailed animal men. On shelf below were figurines of dragons, knights, faeries, and more usual stuff, but I’d never seen anything like these animals before.
I’m trying to divest myself of material things, especially knicknacks, in preparation for the move to Finland. I don’t want stuff. I mentioned to Katie that maybe, once we’re settled, I’d like to have stuff like that on a shelf in my office. Cool dragons, weird beast men. She looked me in the eye and said “You’re getting that gorilla. It’s your birthday. Don’t argue. It’s cool and you need it.”
Katie didn’t know about Magilla Gorilla.
The gorilla is cool. His left arm and right leg are cybernetic. He’s wearing a loincloth that is incredibly detailed if you flip him upside-down (I’ll leave it at that). He’s got an axe-type weapon and a katana, both of which can be placed in his “real” hand or strapped to his back. On his left foot, he’s wearing a sneaker. Aside from the incredibly authentic posture and face, the sneaker is what sold me.
The figurines are made by a French company called Papo, and what I really like about them is that they’re not based on some licensed property. They’re not characters from a video game, a movie, a comic book. They’re just their own thing. That gives the person playing with them free reign to make up their own stories, their own backgrounds, their own world. That’s very appealing. We need more toys like that. We need more creative play opportunities, without corporations foisting their own visions upon us.
Katie insisted that I give him a name. I bounced around some ideas, and decided on Santa Maguila. I have reasons. First, I wanted some homage to Magilla Gorilla. I wanted to bookend the day I was born with my 50th birthday. I wasn’t just going to call him Magilla, though. He came with no corporate mandated-identity, so it wouldn’t be fair to stick him with a corporate property name. He is not Magilla. In the Spanish language version of the cartoon, though, he’s called Maguila Gorila. I can deal with Maguila as part of his name.
We were also in Santa Fe. In our wanderings we’d also visited the Cathedral of St. Francis of Assisi, an absolutely gorgeous building. St. Francis is known as a patron of the animals, and they hold blessings of animals at the cathedral. Something about uplifted mutant animals working for some post-apocalyptic order devoted to St. Francis appealed to me. An animal blessed and, in turn, working as a protector of the people. A good guy gorilla. Santo Maguila. That it also evokes El Santo, the famous Mexican lucadore, doesn’t hurt.
His real name might be St. Michael, or San Miguel, with his enemies calling him Santo Maguila as a slur. He embraces it and turns it around. I thought about the other animals in the figurine line, and how I might give each of them the names of saints. The post-apocalyptic Order of St Francis are scientists who “bless” the animals, teach them to be protector, name them for saints. Shadowrun-meets-Ninja Turtles by way of Mad Max and Tank Girl.
Now I need to write a story about him, write him up as a roleplaying game character, and work on a roleplaying game setting based on this rough backstory. Everything is a project with me. That’s the curse of being creative.