Today I’m here to talk about Karnov. More specifically the odyssey that led me to making a custom Karnov action figure. They just don’t make games like Karnov anymore. Then again, they rarely made games like Karnov back in the day. Remember Karnov? Well if you don’t remember him, here’s a brief refresher.
Karnov was a video game by Data East, about at it’s core, a giant fat bald man who breathed fire and fought demons, dinosaurs and pretty much anything else in his path. You might suspect that this illogical hero is a poor idea for a video game, but then I’d point you to the most famous video game character of all time: It’s a Me! A plumber who spits fire and uses mushrooms to fight turtles. Video games don’t have to make sense to be good.
The US localization of the game simply listed Karnov as a Russian Circus Strongman in search of treasure. That’s simple enough. The Japanese version was a bit more in depth, explaining that Karnov was once a bad man and God had personally selected Karnov to be a warrior in his battle against the plague of demons that have infested the planet. Karnov is fighting to gain entrance into heaven.
Both stories work and neither cancel one another out, so let’s just roll with it. The point is, Karnov was a big star in the mid-to-late 1980’s. Seriously! He was one of the first celebrity video game characters. Not only did Karnov see release as an arcade game, it was ported over to the NES (Nintendo) as well as Commodore 64.
He even got a Tiger electronic version of his game!
That alone didn’t make Karnov a star. Karnov became a celebrity because he showed up in other Data East games. Most memorably, Bad Dudes! Data East didn’t just borrow a sprite for Karnov, they made sure you knew it was Karnov by having him breath fire (Karnov’s specialty) and having a version of his music play.
Karnov eventually became a playable character in the Fighter’s History arcade games, which saw Karnov do battle in Street Fighter type settings. One of those games was actually titled “Karnov’s Revenge” and was enough of a Street Fighter clone that Capcom sued Data East.
But that was the 1990’s and nobody has really seen or heard from Karnov since, aside from some surreal parodies on SomethingAwful.com a few years ago. Myself? I’ve always loved Karnov and I think it’s one of the best old school platform games around. It was chocked full of neat powerups and weapons, had cool level designs and it featured a titular character that just had to be seen to be believed.
So I decided I wanted a Karnov action figure. The problem of course is that getting a Karnov action figure is about as likely as getting NECA’s TMNT Wave 2. Unless you want to make a custom. Which brings us to the purpose of today’s post. I made Karnov and he’s actually quite simple to make.
It first occurred to me one night while looking at my action figure of Abdullah the Butcher. Let’s face it, Abdullah is basically a real life, African American version of Karnov, right down to the pointy toed boots. Once I realized this, I knew a Karnov was within reach.
Then I just needed a Caucasian skinned body that was fat and a head that looked like Karnov. Thankfully, once again, pro wrestling was my salvation. Are there any famous pro wrestlers with a crazy face and bushy moustache? Enter, The Iron Sheik.
As for a fat white wrestler? There are literally thousands. I chose King Kong Bundy, because he fit the bill the best, but Jakks pretty much used the same body for every fat guy anyway. Then it was just a matter of stealing the boots and pants from Abdullah, the head from the Sheik and the body from Bundy.
Swapping body parts on Jakks figures is pretty easy. It’s just a matter of boil and pop. The feet are a little harder because you have to stretch the pegs a bit. I opted for Abdullah’s black boots because they are the closest to what I imagine Karnov’s basic outfit to be. Karnov is at times seen wearing gold and/or red boots as well. There is an Iron Sheik with red boots, but it would require a bit more customizing.
Finally, sometimes Karnov is depicted as just having a bushy moustache and sometimes he has a thin moustache and a full Fu-Manchu look going on. Personally, I’ve always preferred the thick moustache as he appeared on the cover of Data East’s NES game. So that’s the look I went with. You could add your own beard if you wanted but again, that requires more painting and sculpting. Using three figures to create one isn’t the cheapest method around, but it does allow you the most seamless way to create a video game legend.
As the end of the day what I have is a completely playable, poseable version of Karnov. I’m sure someone like Jin Satome could do something better, but I’m really happy with this. There is a place that makes custom Abdullah pants and I might order a pair without the white stripe, just to make my Karnov slightly more accurate. Perhaps one day Mattel will make an Abdullah and then we can have a even more articulated version of Karnov but for now I’m content to have a Jakks Karnov in my collection.