F.J. DeSanto is a film producer and certified toy geek. F.J. Emailed me a while back, inquiring about a tattered and well-loved toy he still has from childhood, which he thought might have been a Mego product. Turns out it is actually Empire Toys’ Batcopter toy vehicle (shown below, tricked out with an 8″ Mego Batman figure, from the 1977 JC Penney catalog).
F.J. has been involved in some very important film projects, most recently his very first co-producing effort: Will Eisner’s The Spirit.
And F.J. absolutely loves him some Mego! Discussing our shared passion, F.J. shared this amusing Mego vignette:
My aunt, who was the ‘cool’ aunt who bought all the ‘cool’ toys, once surprised me in the mall [by buying me] the Mego Hall Of Justice playset. I freaked out with the box, running around to anyone in sight yelling “SHE GOT ME THE HALL OF JUSTICE!!!!” This story is legendary in my family and one my 9 year-old nephew loves to hear. When I bought your book, I showed everyone, including my nephew, the photos of the Hall of Justice. This brought a lot of laughs.
F.J. further recalled:
Before the preceding story happened, my folks bought me a Mego Green Arrow figure, which I was very excited about, as my family and I were about to go on a trip. While at the airport, an older kid (probably late teens) was impressed with my figures, which travelled with me, of course. [The older kid] told me Mego was planning to make an 8″ Green Lantern figure. I suspected he was lying to me, but I secretly hoped he was right. I patiently waited for said figure, which never arrived. I thought that older kid was a dirty liar!!! Seems as though he was fooled by the HOJ artwork as well** (which I don’t remember cause I was probably too busy playing with it)! Poor guy. I wish I could apologize to him.
- **Editor’s Note: F.J. was referring to a Hall of Justice mention in World’s Greatest Toys (page 186) which discusses Neal Adams’ addition of Green Lantern to the playset’s exterior artwork).
I think it’s safe to say all Mego-heads share F.J.’s Mego Green Lantern pain and disappointment. I recently sat down to talk turkey toys with F.J. and we enjoyed anâ€¦ ahemâ€¦ SPIRITed discussion:
WORLD’S GREATEST TOYS: You have been involved with a variety of super-hero/comic book properties, including “Batman,” “Constantine” and, most recently, “Will Eisner’s The Spirit.” What sparked your interest in super-heroes?
DESANTO: I think a lot of it had to do with the BATMAN TV series re-running when I was a little boy in the 70â€™s. I took it VERY seriously. That certainly led to my now thirty-five years of weekly comic buying. My mother tells me that by three, I was teaching myself to read comics; things like the Denny Oâ€™Neil and Neal Adams BATMAN run, because I was so frustrated having to wait for my dad to read them to me. Around the same time, my folks bought me the Mego Super Hero toys as well as the STAR TREK toys, which I also played with incessantly.
WGT: When did your appreciation of Mego begin? Are your passions for film and toys related in any way?
DESANTO: I couldnâ€™t even tell you when but it was VERY early on. I honestly canâ€™t remember my childhood without Mego toys being a part of it. Both are completely related. Film and toys sparked my imagination at such an early age that I knew. Super-Heroes, Star Trek and Star Wars all converged at the right time in my life. Without these things, my life would be very different. I certainly wouldnâ€™t be producing movies based on comic books or writing Star Trek manga stories for Tokyopop.
WGT: What are some of your all-time favorite super-hero toys? Do you collect both vintage and modern toys?
DESANTO: I loved the Mego playsets: the Batcave, the Hall of Justice (which led to a very frustrating, and ultimately disappointing, search for a Mego Green Lantern figure!), the Star Trek Bridge. I was obsessed with the Wayne Foundation and would brag about the fact that I had a black Batcycle, which no one else I knew had! I have very clear memories of playing with that as a kid. I was also very big on the Corgi Batman vehicles. But literally, until “Star Wars” came out, I didnâ€™t play with anything besides Mego Super-Heroes. Iâ€™m a Robin/Dick Grayson fanatic, so I played with my Robin figure more than any other figure. Today, my apartment is filled with original Robin/Nightwing related art from the likes of George Perez, Nick Cardy, Alex Ross and the late Marshall Rogers. Mego toys played a big part in all this.
I really donâ€™t buy a lot of vintage or modern stuff now, mostly because Iâ€™m a pack rat and still have a lot of stuff, but I am a huge fan of the stuff DC Unlimited puts out. I just love what they do, and they capture that same feeling I had when I was a kid. What they do appeals to that same little kid who loved Mego.
WGT: Why do you think the Mego line continues to enjoy such popularity? I work in Burbank, CA (home to numerous studios), and Iâ€™ve noticed that a lot of hipsters in the film industry have a particular fondness for super-hero toys, and Mego specifically. Presuming you agree, why do you think this is true?
DESANTO: I think itâ€™s very simple. The Mego toys influenced an entire generation of kids who, in the last few years, have become the adults making waves in the entertainment industry. The Mego Generation was able to play with a lot of their favorite heroes for the first time and take them on unique adventures. It had never happened before on that level. There was nothing like the Mego figures and I am sure they inspired many creative people and have provided many wonderful memories to people everywhere. There are probably hundreds of writers, directors, artists, etc. in the entertainment industry who grew up with Mego super-hero toys.
WGT: Your latest film project is “Will Eisner’s The Spirit,” which comes out on January 16, 2009 and already has fan-boys frothing at the mouth. What is your involvement in the project, and can you tell us why you, personally, are excited about the movie?
DESANTO: Iâ€™m a co-producer on the movie and what excites me most, besides the fact that movie is turning out wonderfully, is being able to work with people who truly love, respect and understand the world and characters that Will Eisner created.
WGT: Frank Miller is linked to two of the most unique, highly stylized films I’ve ever seen (”Sin City” and “300″). Can you reveal anything about his aesthetic or stylistic treatment for “The Spirit?”
DESANTO: I canâ€™t reveal anything specifically, but I can say that people are going to surprised and excited by what Frank has done with this movie. Heâ€™s a true artist both in comic books and in cinema and “THE SPIRIT” is going to blow people away.
WGT: Do you have any exciting plans or promotions for Comic-Con in San Diego this year?
DESANTO: I think itâ€™s going to be a very spirited convention this yearâ€¦
WGT: Where can WGT readers learn more about your upcoming projects?
DESANTO: Stay tunedâ€¦.
WGT: (Laughs). “Same Bat-Time, Same Bat-Channel,” eh…?
Many thanks to F.J. DeSanto, for taking time out of his incredibly hectic schedule to speak with us, and best of luck to the highly anticipated movie, Will Eisner’s The Spirit!
RELATED LINKS: Colouring Book Theatre: Will Eisner’s The Spirit at Plaid Stallions