30th April 2008

Interview: Mego-Head F.J. DeSanto!

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. DeSanto

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 an… ahem… 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 70’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 O’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 couldn’t even tell you when but it was VERY early on. I honestly can’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 wouldn’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 didn’t play with anything besides Mego Super-Heroes. I’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 don’t buy a lot of vintage or modern stuff now, mostly because I’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 I’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 it’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.

F.J. DeSanto

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: I’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 can’t reveal anything specifically, but I can say that people are going to surprised and excited by what Frank has done with this movie. He’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 it’s going to be a very spirited convention this year…

WGT: Where can WGT readers learn more about your upcoming projects?

DESANTO: Stay tuned….

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

posted in Acknowledgements, Batcopter, Film & Television, Green Arrow, JC Penney, Mego Questions, Pop Culture, World's Greatest Toys | Comments Off

18th April 2008

Mego Price Stickers: JC Penney!

Daily Mego Adoration Here’s our Daily Mego Adoration for Friday, April 18, 2008:

Mego Price Stickers - JC Penney!

This week is all about vintage 1970s Mego price stickers, so today we keep on rockin’ memories of retail toys in the good ol’ days.

Courtesy of extraordinary Mego-head Don Cassetori, we have this vintage JC Penney price sticker, which is affixed to a “4-Panel” 1st Issue/3rd Version Batman box (for more information about this Mego packaging variation, please see page 61 of World’s Greatest Toys!):

JC Penney

The sticker reads:

  • JC Penney
  • 655 2B
  • 15869-1
  • 3630 144
  • $2.99

I don’t know much about Penney’s internal item code nomenclature, but I noticed the price sticker illuminates one interesting fact about catalog sales during the 1970s:

Retailers felt compelled to offer products at reduced prices in their Christmas catalogs.

In other words, in the ’70s, it was actually cheaper to purchase a product through a retailer’s Christmas catalog than from their actual ‘brick-and-mortar’ stores.

I find this selling paradigm eerily consistent with today’s internet sales. Jeez, I desperately miss those big, fat printed Christmas catalogs, arriving in my mailbox every winter. But I suppose the internet is the new Christmas catalog.


It’s just not the same thing. At all. Anyway, I digress. I discuss this issue on page 52 of World’s Greatest Toys!, in an interview with Linda McNett, who was Mego vice president Neal Kublan’s Personal Assistant during the 1970s:

Working directly for Kublan, McNett had plenty of experience working to appease each store. “Everyone hated doing catalog items,” she declared in a 2006 interview with the author. “Retailer demands would often force Mego to minimize regular items, in order to sell them at a price in the catalog that allowed retailers to maintain their margin. Sometimes a plain brown package could be enough to make the difference. More often, pieces or equipment from the original retail items were subtracted until the cost came out to what the buyer expected.”

“So how, exactly, does this price sticker illuminate that little factoid?!” you might ask.

Simple: Mego issued this particular box variation around Fall of 1973, and the price sticker reads, “$2.99.” However, JC Penney didn’t offer any Mego WGSH toys in their catalog until the following year’s Christmas catalog (distributed in late 1974):

JC Penney

The price of a Mego Batman in the 1974 JC Penney catalog shown above?

$2.77 ea. figure, any 2 for $5.00

If anything, Mego prices should have gone UP between the Fall 1973 release of this packaging style and the Christmas 1974 JC Penney catalog… but, in fact, JC Penney reduced the price by $0.22!

Cool stuff!

Incidentally, JC Penney was actually pretty expensive at the time! Future blogs will demonstrate that several of Penney’s competitors offered Mego Super-Heroes in the same “4-Panel” box for much less money: West-coast department store chain Mervyn’s offered Tarzan for $1.88 and Canadian retailer Simpson’s offered Spider-Man for $2.49.

Big thanks to Don Cassetori (AKA “DCSting” on the Mego Museum message boards)! More great “DCSting” price sticker blogs are coming soon.

I am actively seeking more contributions to my Price Sticker Library, so if you have access to vintage price stickers affixed to Mego toys, I want to hear from you! Please post in the comments below, or send me an Email.


posted in Batman, Christmas Memories, Daily Mego Adoration, JC Penney, Mego Retailers, Price Stickers, Window Boxes, World's Greatest Toys | 2 Comments

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).


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!


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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