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Mego Crazy

On a Friday evening, I’m in a hotel banquet hall bartering my action figures with other adults. We’re behaving in a friendly manner. No mother interjects when a transaction turns sour. No one admonishes me for blending beer-drinking with toy-swapping.

At the Hotel Pennsylvania, I purchased a costly domestic bottle from a hotel worker who looked at us with an impish grin. There were around twenty guys present, all at tables full of action figures from the 1970s.

The event was MegoCon 2004, a celebration of the greatest action-figure company ever, Mego. It was only fitting that the first convention solely devoted to Mego would be held on the corner of

Thirty-third and Seventh in Manhattan, just a block away from Macy’s, the place of many past Christmas wonders. Mego is renowned for creating action figures from superheroes and characters from several TV shows such as Star Trek, CHiPs, Happy Days, and Starsky & Hutch. Sadly, the company closed its doors in 1983, partly due to a well-known decision: Mego declined the opportunity to make toys for Star Wars. This is perceived as Mego’s major mistake, similar to losing the high ground at Gettysburg.

This afternoon I had a flight to Tallahassee. My friends were quite curious when I informed them I was attending a convention for action figures. MegoCon had people coming from all over the United States, even a few from Canada. It was a gathering of devoted collectors who would take home cereal boxes for the toy inside. Some of them resembled Comic Book Guy from the Simpsons.

I met some creative and eccentric people who spent time repairing and painting their figures. I noticed some familiar faces from the online forum at the Mego Museum (www.megomuseum.com). We exchanged our screen names before running out of conversation topics. I noticed there weren’t many women present at MegoCon.

I have a bunch of toys that no one seems to want. That’s alright, I’ve gathered the bits that we all amass eventually–a sack of Kirk and Spock figures. Batman and Robin are among the most widely-available Megos out there. I put them together and go to my chamber.

Mitts for the Oven

In the 1950s, Mego (pronounced “Mee-goh”) sold eighty-eight-cent novelties called “hush ups.” The company was founded by David Abrams, whose son Howie came up with the name when he felt excluded, saying “Me go, me go too.” In 1971, Martin Abrams, who had just graduated from NYU with a marketing degree, became president.

Under his leadership, Mego became one of the six largest toy companies in the world by the mid-seventies. Martin Abrams made the eight-inch Action Jackson to compete with Hasbro’s twelve-inch G.I. Joe, taking advantage of the term “action figure,” which was created to appeal to boys who didn’t want to play with dolls when G.I. Joe was released in the sixties. In 1972, Mego launched Dinah-mite, an eight-inch alternative to Mattel’s Barbie.

In the early days of the toy industry, licensing was not commonplace and the quality of the toys had generally been subpar. It was Abrams who had the next major breakthrough, as Mego ushered in a new era with its success in incorporating licensed figures from films like The Wizard of Oz and King Kong as well as celebrities like Joe Namath, Diana Ross, and even the rock group KISS.

The success of Mego was a lucky happenstance. Neal Kublan, who was Abrams’s assistant, spotted the potential of the already existing Action Jackson figures to be tailored into a range of characters.

This was enabled by simply switching their heads and changing clothes, which was cost-effective. Therefore, in 1972 the World’s Greatest Super Heroes were made: Superman, Batman, Shazam, Green Arrow, and Captain America were given boots of various colors; Joker and Penguin were given the same shoes as John Boy Walton from The Waltons.

The team at Mego had a flair for repurposing their supplies; Dinah-mite’s beach house was modified and sold as a treehouse for Planet of the Apes. Though the figures were not particularly mindful of size variation, Robin and Batman were the same height, with the Incredible Hulk being shorter.

What’s the big deal? That’s Mego. Soft and rubbery heads, removable costumes, endearing imperfections, and silly charm. Many figures can be seen wearing body suits that look like sleepwear, including feet and all.

The Riddler in his jammies covered with question marks can be difficult to take seriously. Tarzan has wild sideburns and a flesh-colored body suit.

Thor, with his rooted hair like Barbie’s, can be easily mistaken for Morgan Fairchild. Mister Fantastic, who’s supposed to be able to stretch, actually doesn’t, and Invisible Girl is quite visible. Imagination is necessary. The most laughable and infamous of them all is Batman and Robin, who wear gloves that look like oven mitts – fully prepared to fight crime and handle the hottest dishes.

Never Experienced

My first toys as a kid were Megos, and I assumed they were extinct. It hadn’t occurred to me that they were being preserved, or that it was possible to buy them online. Eventually, I realized that these figures were for sale and fairly reasonably priced, even when they came with the scent of an old attic attached to Superman’s cape.

eBay is rife with passionate collectors chasing figures that have never been handled: Mint in Box (MIB) and Mint on Card (MOC).

These figures can be quite costly, ranging from $200 to $2,000, even if the original K-Mart price tag was only $2.44. Variations of the same toy can come in different packages; some have as many as five or six. The completist wants to own them all, while toys that have been removed from their package are referred to as “loose.” As for me, I avoid using that term when referring to Wonder Woman.

When I read the phrase “never played with” in online-auction descriptions, I can’t help but think of a child who passed away before they could unwrap their holiday gifts. Those presents were then never touched, and remained in the closet since 1976. The thought of this scene is what always moves me to create the saddest of stories.

Last year I got my initial Mego through the web, a Star Trek character, Scotty, who was not in its original packaging. When I put him on my desk, I recalled my childhood days of playing in my grandmother’s room while too young to attend school, when the vacuum cleaner’s wire was my imaginative rope for my figures.

After staring at Scotty for an hour, I returned to my everyday duties such as grading tests, sipping coffee, putting together essays, and being anxious.

I was irresistibly drawn to the idea of getting back the vivid and simple objects from my childhood. I had convinced myself that I would only purchase those figures I had once owned, replacing the ones which I had donated away when I was growing up. I had no intention of “Collecting Them All” as the Mego packages suggested. But my determination quickly weakened.

I ended up buying not only those figures that I had owned, but also some of my siblings’ figures. As a result, we had the entire Enterprise crew plus a Klingon villain. My credit card enabled me to buy Captain Kirk, Dr. McCoy and the beautiful Lt. Uhura.

The temptation of Spider-Man was too great and I could not resist. Despite never having owned one as a child, the availability of numerous figures at prices below thirty dollars on eBay was too inviting. After that, it was easy to further proceed to acquire figures from Planet of the Apes. My credit card enabled me to satisfy my childhood longings and act as my own Santa Claus.

I became an accumulator of sorts, which I never wanted to do since I’m short on both funds and space. Collecting is an extreme hobby–I may buy two of a shirt I like in a store, but I don’t just get every single one in different colors. With Megos though, I feel that I need to own everything from the ape general to the unfortunate human astronaut. Fortunately, I don’t desire Mego’s rarer lines like the Teen Titans or Space 1999, because then I’d have to pay what’s equivalent to a pre-owned Toyota.

I possess more figurines than I want to take the time to count, but I’m confident it’s a reasonable total, likely under a hundred. It’s never easy to know when to put the brakes on. What would be the red flags that a fond recollection has morphed into an obsession? Could it be the day you figure out you have enough pieces and add-ons in a shoebox to manufacture six Batman action figures? Or could it be when you spot a MOC Human Torch figure for $89 and think, “That’s not an awful cost.”

Maybe it’s when you’re delicately scrubbing the Batmobile with Q-tips and water while your own car–a real vehicle for traveling in the actual world–sits in the driveway uncleaned, un-waxed.

Vendors

Dealers of goods and services can be referred to as vendors.

Early on Saturday morning I arrived at the dealer expo with my wish list in hand, but I was quite apprehensive. The dealers seemed like an entirely different species to me, as a collector of secondhand figures that were usually a bit battered and bruised.

The items the dealers had on their tables were immaculate, both MOC and MIB, and they were stunning the crowds of people that had gathered around. It was as if a robbery had occurred at a toy store three decades ago and the stolen merchandise had only just been put on display. Everything was too expensive for me; I couldn’t bring myself to buy anything for less than fifty dollars, so I left empty-handed.

Despite it all, I find the bartering of the surrounding people amusing. An individual looking to buy something is nearly settled on a deal with a stressed merchant, yet they cannot agree on a five dollar difference. “Come on, that’s the cost of a hamburger,” the merchant states. “Exactly my point,” replies the buyer. No agreement has been reached.

I often question why some people choose to keep their action figures in their boxes, as these toys were created to be used. If I was unable to move their joints, I wouldn’t have as many Megos. Maybe it’s reassuring to know that at any time, you can open the box and have a brand new item. It’s almost like having a backup plan; like a fire extinguisher ready to go.

I am amazed by the amount of imitation Mego packages that are being sold. People used to play with their Megos, breaking and burning them, but now they protect their figures from light, heat and moisture. Some collectors even put their boxed figures in clear acrylic cases, while some create replica boxes and blister cards to match the originals. It seems that some even go as far as to bring the figure into a store and put it on the shelf, hiring actors to pretend to be their parents and asking for it. Even though creating replica boxes is harmless and tidy, it still brings to mind people who have sex with robots.

Procreation

The act of reproducing or propagating a new generation of living things is known as reproduction.

At the dealer expo, the real deals are to be found in replicated components. MegoCon’s two patron companies, Dr. Mego and Not Dolls, are fabricating accessories and attire. Dr. Mego is having a sale where customers can buy two items for the price of one and I’m jumping on that offer.

The statement of purpose for Dr. Mego’s website is expressed in a touching way: “To give every Mego all of the components that it was originally intended to have, so that it can be complete again.” At the beginning, Dr. Mego created the parts in his own garage using silicon rubber molds and resin. Now, he has numerous parts produced for him in China, like Mego used to do.

Collectors who have been trying to locate Batgirl’s belt without success can buy a cheaper alternative and carry on. People who customise figures have a range of inexpensive parts that are comparable to Mego.

However, some buyers have been duped by deceitful sellers on eBay, who offer copies of parts as if they were originals. Genuine items are worth a lot more – a Batman figure in its original box might fetch $300. But if the cape, boots, emblem or gloves are replicas, the figure is only worth the same as a $10 Mego.

Dr. Mego has an abundance of supplies on tables arranged in a horseshoe, including resin heads, body suits, helmets, and cowls. When the individual purchases an Abraham Lincoln head, the doctor and his nephew have a good chuckle. The buyer wonders what color to give the head – brown hair or black? – and if they should have been taught this in school. They then purchase a business suit and white shirt, though they have a feeling eventually they will give the head a cape and utility belt.

Those who customize

As a kid, I had few action figures, but a lot of ambition. My mom assisted in the process of making my dreams come true, for example, she sewed a fabric swatch into a mask to make Scotty Spider-Man. I didn’t have the strength to pull off the heads from the bodies, so my mom would help or I’d use a letter opener. This led to the accident of me puncturing Mr. Spock’s neck plug and decapitating him. Last year, I found him in my parents’ garage, damaged, wearing a dress, and with a yellow painted face. Spock had been passed on to my younger brother and was almost unrecognizable. As the only Mego figure to make it through my childhood, I’m taking better care of him now. I just wish I could say sorry for what happened.

Customers have the capability to fix the errors of the past. Although Super Friends featured Green Lantern and the Flash, and Mego had the authority to create any DC Comics character, they were never brought to life. Followers have remedied this by forming heads, piecing together body suits, and designing emblems for the figures’ chests–all crafted with such admiration for the Mego style that they fit in perfectly with Superman and the others.

Those who customize toys may make improvements to figures Mego didn’t quite get right. Occasionally Mego released a figure that wasn’t as detailed as it could have been, like the Gorn, a reptilian alien from Star Trek who wore the Klingon’s clothes and had a head similar to the Lizard, Spider-Man’s enemy.

Fortunately, Captain Dunsel has created a Gorn head, forearms, and feet that can be attached to a Hulk body to look more realistic. Another customizer makes a “belly shirt” to replicate the one William Shatner wore in some episodes. This shirt can be worn by Captain Kirk.

I choose to abstain from the customizing contest at the convention. Participants bring in some lesser-known antagonists from comic books as well as original creations such as the Village People. These artists are incredibly talented–the vast majority of their custom dolls appear like real Megos. Mego customizers are similar to those who modify classic cars to create low-riders. They recognize one another, their partners put up with their pastime, and the remainder of the world looks on with surprise.

A Guide to Mego: Steps for Playing

These toys have been around for three decades. The plastics used in them tend to become dangerously fragile, often fracturing in the feet, knees, or arms. Plus, the heads can take on discolored tones.

If you are considering adding some of these to your collection, you should be prepared to make some repairs–such as restringing the elastic cords, replacing parts, and tidying up the clothing. MegoCon has some useful lectures on topics including restoring head colors, casting, squish molds, and sculpting methods.

I’m not concerned with understanding why it works, I just know it does! The procedure is to attach a faded head to a pencil, spray it with Tire Wet and submerge it in Plasti-dip. Be sure to not inhale the fumes from the Plasti-dip. Then, let the head dry and remove the Plasti-dip. Voila! The vibrant color from the seventies is back!

I’ve made a vow to myself that I won’t try casting. My goals are planned out in this order: graduate college, land a job, tie the knot, have kids, after that fool around with toys in the garage. For the time being, when I want to customize something, I put Captain Kirk’s shirt on Batman and call it a day.

Unveiling the Mystery of Mego

Despite the fact that some of the figures can be appreciated in a tongue-in-cheek manner, MegoCon is anything but campy. In fact, it is quite serious – the atmosphere is much like any industry meeting or event I have been to, with the obvious exception of the dolls that are everywhere.

Robert Acquarulo and Chris Johnson were the masterminds behind the entire weekend. On Saturday afternoon, Martin Abrams and Neal Kublan, Mego’s vice-president of research and development, gave us an insight into their work. Both men remain highly respected figures within the toy industry.

At the start of his 60s, Marty Abrams portrays self-assurance. Despite the fact that he is pleased to relate corporate backstories, he does not have much enthusiasm for Supergirl’s footwear or whether Peter Parker had a camera. To Abrams, it is the major concept. He paid $40,000 for the rights to make Planet of the Apes toys, quadrupling his rival’s offer, in light of the fact that his instinct guided him. He had recently seen an Apes film fest with his child and that was sufficient exploration–no requirement for center gatherings or experimentation.

Abrams and Kublan look at the World’s Greatest Super Heroes as a lucrative and dependable collection. Kublan jests that they rode in limousines to the restroom. (Films such as Boogie Nights and Goodfellas momentarily come to mind.) They reminisce from the point of view of grown-ups who have experienced a wild success, not as astonished children messing around with the Incredible Hulk on a picnic table while their folks grumble about gas costs and contemplate divorce. Abrams maintains his composure during the Q&A, reserving his excitement for a toy line he created called Micronauts.

Kublan and Abrams went to Cher’s house in Beverly Hills after she had split from Sonny and was living with Greg Allman.

The purpose of their visit was to get Cher’s approval for the doll that was modeled after her. She had previously declined the offer multiple times, so Kublan had to repaint the doll many times in order to win her consent.

During their last meeting, which involved Kublan, Abrams, and Cher’s attorneys and bankers, Cher and Allman burst in and started passionately embracing each other on the floor.

Abrams pointed out that Mego sometimes procured licensing rights in order to prevent another company from doing it. Mego was not particularly interested in manufacturing Sonny Bono dolls, but they did it to safeguard their Cher investment. It was possible to exploit loopholes when it came to licenses. Mego were highly adept at exploiting such loopholes; they devised a plan to negotiate with Farrah Fawcett for creating both a twelve-inch doll and a plastic bust for applying makeup, even though another toy firm had the rights to _Charlie ‘s Angels. _

Abrams claims that the factory workers in Hong Kong had to make decisions based on a lack of materials, which resulted in Figure errors. These “running changes” caused some interesting variations, such as Aquaman with blue gloves rather than green, and a red-headed Dracula. The only major mistake they made was giving the African-American superhero the Falcon furry ape hands.

Soon enough, the persistent inquiry arises: Star Wars. What happened? Abrams suggests that the answer is not straightforward. Had he and Kublan been elsewhere, the outcome may have been different. Mego had a good rapport with Twentieth Century Fox, who profited over a million dollars from Planet of the Apes toys. Thus, they might have easily acquired the Star Wars license. Mego procured numerous licenses, from Muhammad Ali to Dr. Who, so why not add one more sci-fi property to the list?

Abrams and Kublan were the only people at Mego who could sign off on the deal, so Fox’s lawyer had to take the elevator up to make the sale to Kenner. Star Wars figures changed the shape of the action-figure market, but not in the way Mego thought; they were only three inches tall in comparison to Mego’s eight inches, designed to keep the size of the ships more manageable.

They also had clothes and accessories that were painted on, so there was no way to switch out Han Solo’s look for Darth Vader’s or put Luke Skywalker’s head on Obi-Wan. Toys from the most popular movie of the decade didn’t have to be the best, and these certainly weren’t. Other companies soon followed Kenner’s lead and made figures with limited mobility. It was only a few years later that a major release of something similar to the Mego figures was put out, and the eight-inch scale wasn’t seen again.

The downfall of Mego was not caused by Star Wars alone. The company had taken a major step by constructing a costly factory in China, though this proved to be a mistake due to the high interest rates. In addition, the oil crisis caused the plastic used for their toys to be of an inconsistent quality, making it more expensive.

Furthermore, while they had obtained licenses for different films, not all of them performed well; Star Trek: The Motion Picture was a major flop, as were The Black Hole and Buck Rogers. As a result, Mego had to file for bankruptcy protection in 1982.

For two hours, the people in the audience heard tales from former Mego executives about licensing, design, and errors in factories.

All the whispers and assumptions were clarified, and they were also told that there are still old commercials for Megos on video, which may be transferred to DVD and sold to those who are passionate about the brand. Though Abrams and Kublan have apparently resolved the disputes on the prototypes of The Greatest American Hero, new debates will emerge about Marty’s memory of a pre-production batch of a thousand figures for Logan’s Run, which never made it to stores. The question remains: where are they? On the other hand, a former Mego employee is believed to possess a secret stock of Bend ‘n Flex superhero prototypes.

It was obvious that the presence of the fathers of such beloved toys was something special, as the room was filled with reverence when they spoke.

Kublan expressed pride in being remembered for his work done over thirty years ago, stating that his children and grandchildren, as well as the beloved Megos, were his legacy. When looking around at the Mego enthusiasts, it was clear that Kublan had created the toys for us.

When the show is done, the supporters of Abrams and Kublan are eager for autographs and thankful handshakes. I contemplate: are they expressing gratitude to these executives for today’s performance or for all the toys they had made 30 years ago? It is hard to believe it is not both.

“I remember I had something similar to this in the past”

The hotel has a separate room dedicated to Mego’s figures, playsets, and vehicles. Two security guards stand guard over the vast collection of brightly colored, pristine toys and packaging. It feels like visiting a museum with no explanatory plaques; although, some may be unnecessary–“This is Superman,” “This is Superman in the yellow box.” What could benefit from some context, though, is the Action Jackson figures with their packages touting “Mod Styled Hair” and “Stick-On Tattoos.” His motto reads like a gay personal ad: “Action Jackson is my name. Bold adventure is my game. Think of what you want to be and call on me.” It brings to mind simpler times.

This past weekend, I have been pondering what motivates people to collect Megos. It can’t be just because they are aficionados of superheroes, Fonzie, or action figures in general.

What is it that makes MegoCon attendees distinct from those who momentarily pick up a Batman figure at a flea market, realizing “Ah, I used to have one of these,” and then proceed to place it back? Maybe Megos evoke a time when fantasy was greater than reality, when our only obligations were with homework and brushing our teeth. With these playthings, we had the opportunity to be anyone and anything.

I have a fond memory of riding in my mom’s Dodge Dart around Washington D.C. with my grandpa, a retired professor from Georgetown, who had been partially paralyzed after a stroke. In the back, I had Batman and the box he came in, which was like a house for him. My mom would point out things like the Washington Monument, and I would look out the window before going back to my game.

This memory is why I’m so fond of Megos, even though it doesn’t have a story or a punch line. It’s one of my rare moments of pure happiness, and when I look at my Batman figure on the shelf, I’m reminded of it.

The implication of the current situation is that it has become necessary to alter how things are done. This means that the traditional methods of doing things must be changed in order to keep up with the times. It is essential to embrace the new approaches and make the necessary adjustments in order to remain competitive.

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