23rd May 2006

Exclusive Postcard

As I have stated in the past, I am astonished by the positive response to the book. Members of the Mego Museum have been almost uniformly supportive (when I say “almost,” all I will say is: There is a juicy blog coming up in the near future!).

In anticipation of the announcement and upcoming Mego Meet, I realized I needed to create something cool for the people who stepped up to support the project, and especially those who are able to attend The Gathering of Geeks next week in Wheeling, WV.

For collectors and aficionados of Super-Heroes, one of the more exciting elements of the book is a preponderance of utterly gratuitous, full page “splash” images (oftentimes featuring rare and/or special figure variations). Almost every character will enjoy a decadent, imaginative, full-size poster (finished dimensions of the book: 9″ x 12″). It’s not very sensible from an economical standpoint, but dammit, this is my love letter to Mego, and I’ll do whatever the Hell I want.

It’s not only certain individual characters that get this royal treatment. There are expository chapters, which detail the state of Mego during each and every year the company produced World’s Greatest Super-Heroes (1972-1982).

I needed a giant splash image for the inaugural year. This was a no-brainer for me. The moment I considered the chapter title (1972: 1st Wave Heroes), I knew exactly what I had to do.

I’m only mildly ashamed to admit that I spent more time on this single image than on (perhaps) any image I’ve ever manipulated.

Roughly 14 1/2 hours.

Ouch. But it usually takes a little extra effort to see a vision through to completion. Lord knows I’ve learned that lesson repeatedly while working on this book.

For this image, each figure was photographed independently. The logo and background are original illustrations. The finished image should be recognizable to any child of the ’70s. Upon completion of the image, I felt I had created something special. It was instantly clear that this should be my thank you to everyone who vocally supported the project. This should be the exclusive present to supporters and Mego Meet attendees.

I dropped some coin and had them printed. Those of you who joined the Mego Book Mailing List prior to tonight can expect one of these in your postal mailbox very soon (yes, including those outside the United States!). The importance of support is not lost on me, and I hope you guys enjoy this when it arrives:

Postcard

Benjamin

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19th May 2006

1973: Black and White and In Color

The book World’s Greatest Toys: Mego 8″ Super-Heroes will be a chronological history of Mego Super-Heroes. After two years of diligent research and study, I concluded I had enough information to commence production of the book. I decided to create the book in the same order Mego produced the toys, beginning with 1972 (the year the Super-Heroes were introduced).

Doing this has given me a profound appreciation for the explosive growth the small company experienced. Contrary to popular belief, it wasn’t the Super-Heroes that made the company successful. In fact, it wasn’t even Action Jackson that “made” the company (another commonly-held belief). Numerous inside sources credit the company’s meteoric rise to Maddie Mod, Mego’s line of fashion dolls and outfits. But I will expand on this subject in the book, as I’m already getting off-topic.

The book includes myriad high-resolution scans, to support the original photography. There are Christmas catalogs, product catalogs, store circulars, foreign advertisements… there is no shortage of Mego marketing material to cover.

Astronaut
Mego was founded in 1952. For some 30 years, the company stagnantly distributed cheap, imported toys. Founder D. David Abrams was an old-school salesman. Good at closing the deal, the patriarch was not apt to create the deal. When eldest son Marty graduated from NYU with a Marketing degree, everything started to change. Everything.

This evolution became very clear to me as I painted a picture of the “Birth of the Line” (chapter 2 of the book). With very little interest in the non-proprietary “88¢ promotions” that defined the company before Marty graduated, I pick up the story just before the arrival of the Prodigal Son.

It occurs to me that Marty’s arrival was not unlike Dorothy’s arrival in the Land of Oz.

From the outset, Mego was mired in black-and-white. They sold a respectable number of plastic “Greyhound Bus” and “Walking Astronaut” (shown at right, from the 1971 Mego catalog) toys. The late, amazing Neal Kublan (who went on to become vice president of Research and Development), joined Mego in 1960 as a paste-up artist for newspaper ads.

Black-and-white newspaper ads.

During these years, the margins were microscopic, the costs troubling. Mego struggled to find success in discount bins and the checkout racks designed to relieve exasperated moms shopping with bored, miserable children.

Color

Oh, joy! This pitiful header appears in the 1970 Mego catalog… page after page of cheap, grey products. Seriously, it’s all a bunch of crap. Utter crap.But then Marty arrived. And Marty took over. Paradigms didn’t shift, they were shattered. Mego made a killing with Maddie Mod. Mego entered the Boys’ Toys market with Fighting Yank. Mego put the industry on notice with Action Jackson.

Then Mego created the World’s Greatest Super-Heroes.

WGSH

And just like that, Mego was basking in the illumination of business magnificence. Bright lights and technicolor glory. It wasn’t only evident in the marketing materials. It was international respect and admiration. It was bounteous profits. It was staggering license acquisition. It was flashy Toy Fair exhibitions. And success. Mind-boggling success.The industry dominance had begun.

But Marty was not Dorothy. And Mego was not Oz. However, in that moment in time — shortly after Marty’s arrival — the story becomes very reminiscent of The Wizard of Oz… at least Dorothy’s arrival in the fantasical Oz.

Three years after the Super-Heroes took off, Mego cashed in on a license to produce Wizard of Oz toys. I find that success to be very appropriate.

Perhaps even more fitting is the way both stories end. It was a magical, wonderful ride for Dorothy and for Mego. But when it was over, people questioned what had actually occurred.

I hope this book helps people appreciate the significance and importance of the Mego corporation.

Viva Mego!
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posted in Counter Display Boxes, Mego Catalogs, Mego Corporation, Mego Memories, Mego Packaging, Mego World's Greatest Super-Heroes, Mego's Glory Days, Wizard of Oz | Comments Off

11th May 2006

Behind the Scenes, Part 1: Photography

“… literally thousands of photographs…”

Shooting the photos for the book is not the most difficult part of producing the book. No, sir. That is, without question, the writing and editing. But photography is definitely the most time-consuming. It’s not just the scheduling, arrangements and preparation, although that can be challenging, too. Thus far, I have traveled twice to shoot Mego collections (once by airplane, even… but oh boy, was that ever worth it!) I have plans to fly again soon, and hopefully will do so several more times in the near future.

But I digress. The real time-sucking begins once I get in the same room as the toys.

Perfecting a process for photographing Mego toys has been a seemingly ceaseless parade of failed experiments. Where should I set it up? What aperture should I use? How should I rig the lights? Without getting specific, suffice to say I’ve tried and failed many times over. But now I have a system that works pretty well.

I used to set up the photo rig at my office. I spent quite a few weekends doing photo sessions there… a complete and utter hassle. I finally set up a studio in the same room as the computer I use to design the book. That has made all the difference in the world, as now I can set up and shoot on a whim. I can download and process images immediately. And if they suck? I can just shoot them again. And I don’t even have to drive to the office!

Photo Rig

Setting up a shot of Mr. Mxyzptlk, with lights, diffusion tent, gray card, etc.I generally shoot between twenty and forty photographs for each image that will end up in the book. Let’s see… average thirty… multiply by 1,000… damnit! Time to buy another hard drive!

Among the twenty-odd photos, I’ll find two or three that really work for what I’m setting out to accomplish. I choose one and get to work.

Original

The most desirable of the Mr. Mxyzptlk photos, as it was shot.It takes about 20-25 minutes to clip out and process each image. I’m really anal when it comes to images, and I will go to great lengths to ensure a ridiculously sick-ass image. Over the years, I have developed a few original techniques for getting the most out of my clipped images, and I painstakingly employ them for each and every image. Once the image is clipped, I save the master file, and move into production.

Clipped

The selected Mr. Mxyzptlk photo, rotated and clipped from the background.In this case, the figure’s foot in my favorite shot was partially obscured by the object used to prop the figure (you can see it in the original photo). I opted to paint the missing portion of foot, rather than reposition and reshoot the figure. Gotta make those decisions on the fly. Besides, I was pretty sure that portion of the figure wouldn’t be very apparent in the final composition.

For this particular photo, I had a specific image in mind: a dynamic Superman, the moment before he realizes Mr. Mxyzptlk has emerged from the 5th dimension (with the intention of annoying the Man of Steel, of course!). I envisioned it a bit like a comic book cover. Naturally, I can’t alter the expression of a Mego figure, so composition is vital. I wanted good ol’ Mxyzy to be ghostly, almost transparent… just coming out of his time-travelin’, Indian-style sitting position. And I needed to depict Superman with a sense of trepidation.

I put it all together, and this is the result:

Final

There is nothing quite like finishing an image. It’s very satisfying. Even though I may not end up using this exact image in the final product, I was still pleased with the results.More Behind the Scenes goodness later…

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Mr. Mxyzptlk and Superman are registered trademarks of DC Comics.
All images ©2006 Benjamin Holcomb. All rights reserved. Images may not be republished without express written consent. Please Email me with any questions.
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11th May 2006

What a Day!

I love one of Jack Nicholson’s (many) ad libs, while portraying Joker in the 1989 Tim Burton Batman flick. After maniacally shooting Grissom, he manages a sarcastic “Ah… what a day!” just before sliping off-screen.

No sarcasm here, though. Yesterday was a blast. The book announcement was a day I’ve both anticipated and dreaded for a long time. There have been other Mego book projects in the past, but none seemed to gain any traction. Would it be seen as another Mego Museum hoax? An April Fool’s style prank like dynamically changing the word “Mego” to read “Hasbro?” Would people react with understandable cynicism and disbelief?

Nope.

I had plenty of “worst-case” scenarios in mind leading up to the big day. Hell, I didn’t want to get out of bed yesterday morning, and it was all I could do to log on and read the posts. Alas, the board members lived up to a reputation as a damned cool online community. And I only got six death threats.

OK, I didn’t get any death-threats.

But 21 people did sign up for the Mego Book Mailing List, which is fantastic. Those original subscribers will be glad they did. Without giving too much away, they’re in for a pleasant surprise.

Now I’m really looking forward to Mego Meet. If the response I’ve received from those tiny teaser samples is any indication, I think collectors are going to be thrilled with the presentation of complete chapters.

I’m charged up by the energy surrounding this book, which I expect will carry me through the difficult stages ahead. My hat’s off to all of the Mego Museum board members who took time out of their lives to reach out to me. Especially to those who have generously offered up their beloved collectibles for possible inclusion.

This is going to be a lot of fun, and I’m pleased to have so many people behind the project, rooting for its release. It can’t come soon enough. For any of us.

posted in Random Musings | Comments Off

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