10th March 2008

Vintage Mego Photos: Circle-Suit Spider-Man

One of my favorite aspects of Mego 8″ Super-Heroes: World’s Greatest Toys! is its documentation of vintage photographs of Mego figures in the proverbial wild.

On the heels of blogging the six-part series of vintage, childhood photographs from Mike Armes, I want to continue by discussing one of the vintage pictures that appears in the book… along with one that does not appear in the book.

Andi Jones is one of my oldest and dearest friends. I met Andi while I was still in high school, and he inspired me to pursue my creative interests and join him at the University of Michigan School of Art. Many years later, while working on the book, Andi mentioned that he probably had childhood pictures of himself with Mego figures. Sure enough, a few days later, Andi sent me two incredible photos:

Andi Jones

The image of Andi holding his RC Batman in 1973 (right) does not appear in the book, but it is a wonderful picture. The picture of Andi holding his Spider-Man (left), however, does appear in the book. Not only is it a great photo (that’s a Big Wheel steering wheel in the foreground, by the way), it is highly unusual documentation of one of the four, scarcest Mego Spider-Man costume variations, known as “Circle-Suit” Spider-Man costumes.

I talk about the “Circle-Suit” Spider-Man (or “CSS”) outfits in World’s Greatest Toys! Here’s a snippet from the book (page 81, for those reading along), followed by a scan of the cited page-spread:

Among the numerous patterns, the most desirable and fascinating are the four “Circle Suit” designs. The earliest product photography, appearing in Captain Company (Warren Publications’ mail order division) and Marvel Merchandise (which ultimately became Heroes World) ads, suggests a Circle Suit preceded all others. The design in Captain Company ads is likely a never-produced prototype, since no specimens have surfaced. The other three designs were demonstrably produced, as there are known specimens for each pattern. Produced only on Type 1 bodies, Circle Suits are quite rare and mysterious to collectors.

Aside from the Circle Suit patterns, several significant variants exists among the more common outfits. Earlier versions of the Type 1 suit feature very tall boots, reaching the knees. Subsequent boots are much shorter, reaching only the calves. The spider emblem on the chest can also be one of many different designs. Some spiders are solid black while others are hollow, revealing the base blue color (particularly on Type 2 outfits). Earlier suits tend to have spiders with short legs, while later designs usually feature long-legged spiders. The webs may be thick or thin. Around the abdomen area, the red dickey may taper toward the belt or flare out from the chest. The reality is that there are too many variants to properly catalog.

Want to read more? Buy Mego 8″ Super-Heroes: World’s Greatest Toys! Just $32.97 (save 34%)

World's Greatest Toys!

The CSS outfits are truly unique and incredibly rare. Here’s an enlarged detail of the four chest patterns that define each Mego Spider-Man costume variation:

CSS
(Above: Circle Suit details, left to right: the “Warren Prototype” pattern, the extremely rare “Diamond” pattern, the “Broken” pattern and the “Standard” pattern.)

The “Standard” pattern earned it’s pedestrian name simply by being the most common of the four patterns; the “Warren Prototype” pattern, for example, has never been seen outside the black-and-white Warren Publishing ads that appear in magazines such as Eerie, Creepy and Vampirella, wherein toys were sold (via mail order) under the name “Captain Company.”

The Comments section is now open! Feel free to post your thoughts and memories, by clicking on the “comments” link below.

Benjamin

posted in Acknowledgements, Book Status, Captain Company/Warren Publications, Christmas Memories, Mego Corporation, Mego Memories, Mego Retailers, Mego World's Greatest Super-Heroes, Vintage Toy Photos, World's Greatest Toys | Comments Off

3rd March 2008

Mego Mailer Boxes: 1975 JC Penney Super-Gals

Among the different packaging styles Mego produced, I have a strange, particular fondness for the plain brown Mailer Boxes utilized by annual Christmas catalogs that retailers distributed throughout the 1970s.

Lacking graphics (beyond boring legal text and item numbers), these utilitarian boxes — designed for direct-to-consumer shipping — were typically discarded, rendering many of them rare and fascinating today. Mego’s factories wrapped each figure in a ‘wrinkly-crinkly’ plastic bag, and the bag is often more scarce than the shipping box itself.

I discuss these ephemeral, vintage collectibles in World’s Greatest Toys! Here’s a snippet from the book (page 52, for those reading along), followed by a scan of the cited page-spread:

In the years before online stores and shopping malls — before many stores maintained year-round toy aisles, even — mail order was a vital tool for manufacturers and retailers to reach consumers. Each year, stores like Sears and Montgomery Ward offered giant, product-filled Christmas catalogs, a source of tremendous joy for children of the 1970s; Kids spent countless hours poring through each catalog’s toy section, circling items on dog-eared pages and compiling a Wish List for Santa.

Mego did a lot of business with catalog-producing retailers, called “catalog houses” by Mego staff. The business was cutthroat, each seeking an exclusive Mego item, such as the Secret Identities and Isis, to differentiate them from the competition.

Linda McNett, administrative assistant to Mego vice president Neal Kublan, recalled the push-and-pull of negotiating catalog placement. “The catalog houses liked their special items, because they were more profitable than a non-special item,” she explained. “Mego could offer them a ‘different’ product with a different stock number, [allowing the retailer to] avoid the legal problems of offering special deals on the same item to select customers.”

Want to read more? Buy Mego 8″ Super-Heroes: World’s Greatest Toys! Just $32.97 (save 34%)

World's Greatest Toys!

While staple characters like Superman, Batman, Robin and Spider-Man benefited from consistent Christmas catalog inclusion (1973-1981), the four Super-Gals (Wonder Woman, Supergirl, Batgirl and Catwoman) were less fortunate in garnering the massive exposure these Christmas catalogs provided.

For example, Supergirl was never once offered in any major U.S. retailer’s Christmas catalog! It’s unlikely Supergirl was offered in catalogs other than Heroes World and the “Captain Company” mail-order ads that appear within the pages of Warren Publishing’s Creepy, Eerie, Vampirella and related magazines.

The other three Super-Gals fared nominally better. Wonder Woman was available through JC Penney (in 1974 and 1975), Aldens (in 1974) and Montgomery Ward (in 1975). Catwoman was available through JC Penney (in 1974 and 1975), Sears Canada (in 1974) and Montgomery Ward (in 1974). Batgirl was granted slightly more exposure than the others, as JC Penney offered the figure in 1974, 1975 and 1976, while Aldens also offered the figure in 1974 (incidentally, a prototype Batgirl figure is depicted in that particular catalog).

1975 was a banner year for Mego and the World’s Greatest Super-Heroes. The line was at its peak in popularity, and retailers fell over themselves promoting the line.

JC Penney

(Above: 1975 JC Penney Mego Super-Heroes Christmas catalog page)

In this magic moment (1975), some retailers willingly promoted new, unproven Mego offerings such as the “Fist-Fighters” and two of the six “3rd Wave” Heroes (Hulk and Falcon). Even the Super-Gals got the attention they deserve. Well, most of ‘em, anyway:

JC Penney

(Above: detail of 1975 JC Penney Mego Super-Heroes Christmas catalog page)

The figures look so immaculate in catalogs! Every once in a while, these gems appear on the market, and a handful of collectors, like myself, beat each other up trying to acquire them… gems like the Super-Gals figures pictured below — all from the aforementioned 1975 JC Penney catalog — that were auctioned on eBay (Catwoman in 2005, Wonder Woman and Batgirl in 2006).

Super-Gals

Oh, I miss childhood!

I love this packaging style because it is tied to such vivid, happy memories of my youth. If you have any Mego Mailer Boxes you wish to sell, please Email me. I’m always looking to buy, and I pay top dollar.

Feel free to post your thoughts and comments on the Mego Museum message board (NB: links to a specific thread about this subject). If you’re not already a member of the Mego Museum, now is the perfect time to join!

I have more great blogs lined up for the near future. Until then, I’ll see you on the boards!

Benjamin

Blog Credits and legal stuff: Images published by Benjamin Holcomb and TwoMorrows Publications. All rights reserved. Images may not be reprinted or published without prior written consent from the publishers.

posted in Aldens, Batgirl, Captain Company/Warren Publications, Catwoman, Heroes World, JC Penney, Mailer Boxes, Mego Corporation, Mego Memories, Mego Packaging, Mego Retailers, Mego World's Greatest Super-Heroes, Montgomery Ward, Sears, Super-Gals, Supergirl, Wonder Woman, World's Greatest Toys | Comments Off

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