Marvel Mego figures are back! Courtesy of Diamond Select and EMCE toys.
With the recent release of Diamond Select’s new Legendary Marvel Retro Line with the Amazing Spider-Man, your friendly neighborhood jman was fortunate enough to as a few questions to Chris Schaff (Marvel Retro Line’s project manager), Joe Sena and Paul “Dr. Mego” Clarke from EMCE Toys. We briefly cover the history of Mego, the evolution of EMCE Toys and the work that went into bringing a new line of Mego-inspired figures to the market.
Jman: Mego Superheroes were the de facto superhero toy of the 70’s. They had the license to produce both Marvel and DC figures (as well as others). Unfortunately, Mego went out of business in the early 80’s. There have been some hit or miss 8 inch doll/figures over the years. Nowhere nearly as successful as the Mego figure. Where did the idea for this project come from? Why now? And what was the thought behind making it a customizable figure rather than a new line of figures?
Chris Schaff: Chuck (Terceira, President of DST) gets official credit for the idea. He negotiated the terms with Marvel and put the line in motion. However, everyone involved with the line has been dreaming of doing something like this for years. We all grew up with Mego toys; we all had access to the Captain Action and GI Joe sets that allowed us to swap outfits as we pleased; we all supported the Famous Covers and Signature Series lines when they came out. There isn’t one of us who didn’t, at one point or another, wish we could do exactly what we are doing now.
The timing is simply a matter of contracts. Licensing is a tricky and complex business. It’s not as simple as saying what you want and then just paying to do it. It took some time to negotiate the parameters of a collectible product that did not step on another licensee’s toes in terms of content or price-point.
A new line of individual figures simply wasn’t an option open to any licensor. Our terms call for a deluxe, limited edition product that is pitched to collector outlets at a “collectable” price. We played around with numerous configurations of outfits and figures and ultimately agreed upon what you hold in your hands today. Part of being a group of Mego-era children is remembering all the times we pulled apart our figures’ outfits in the name of customizing and/or just seeing how the costumes were put together. We all felt it was important to include the spare outfits and parts rather than making a set of 3 fully dressed figures.
Jman: One of the best features of the set is the booklet that’s packaged with the figure. It’s filled with information about Spidey, the team at EMCE and the project itself. What’s the history behind EMCE? How did the company come together?
Joe Sena: A few years ago I bought the old scifi fan magazine Cinefantastique. The intention was to reboot it, but the magazine business model is so ancient that there’s no way to bring it back with the kind of top notch editorial the title was known for and not lose money. So, what we do is we apply CFQ’s editorial philosophy (authoritative, thoroughly researched information written by experts) to things like convention programs and companion booklets like this. We figured that the CFQ approach would enlighten the collector coming in from any angle and hopefully fill in any of their blind spots – if you’re a young collector who just likes Spider-Man, here’s the history of the character and his previous toy incarnations. If you’re an older collector who just wants his original Mego, here’s why we selected this particular Mego version, and the thinking behind the secret-identity and the “modern” incarnations. Whenever we do a Mego of a character, whether it’s a reproduction or a reimagining, there’s so much intense online conversation about why we went a particular way with it, so this gives people a chance to go as deep as possible into why we do what we do.
Paul “Dr. Mego” Clark: I was making replacement boots, capes, gloves, etc. for vintage 8 inch Megos once I found out that I wasn’t the only grown man who was collecting his old toys from childhood. Communicating with other fans on message boards, it seemed like we were all needing a boot or belt since, like all kids, accessories are the first thing to be lost when playing with toys. I was working in database management and searched for a mold material that would allow me to cast replicas without too much shrinkage. I fixed Megos so I called myself “Dr.Mego” and sewed capes on the Long Island Railroad on my way to work.
JS: We’ve known each other since high school, but I moved away to LA for a decade, and when I came back to NY in 2005, I discovered that Paul had been making a living doing replacement parts for Mego collectors. By then, I had been producing licensed merch for fan event pioneers Creation Entertainment for pretty much anything with a rocket, robot or raygun, so I suggested we go get a license and make entire Megos. DC and Marvel seemed like windmills, and I had done so much Star trek stuff that it seemed a good place to start. Paramount put us in touch with Diamond Select Toys, who had the action figure license, and we pitched the idea to them. We launched with a Kirk and Spock and we’ve had a long, awesome relationship with DST doing Megos and more since then.
Jman: Another interesting tidbit out of the booklet was that Diamond Select has been using a Mego body for a while now. What figures was Diamond Select making with it prior to the Legendary Marvel Super-heroes?
CF: We began our “Cloth Retro” line, in collaboration with EMCE Toys, with the Star Trek and Planet of the Apes licenses. We reproduced figures that everyone remembered from their youth and then expanded Star Trek to include characters that fans wish they’d been able to buy. We then branched out to Universal Monsters. The most recent pre-Marvel release was based on the Kevin Smith film “Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back”, specifically on the premise of “What if there really was a Bluntman & Chronic movie; and what if someone made toys based on that movie?”.
DM: Our first figures were Kirk, the Klingon, Spock, the Andorian, Dr.McCoy and the Romulan – straight reproductions of the vintage Mego figures. The next year was four Planet of the Apes apes and Khan – the first new Mego style figure since 1982 – followed by Scotty, the Keeper, Lt. Uhura, the Mugato, Chekov, the Cheron, Lt. Sulu and a show accurate Gorn instead of the brown Lizard headed Klingon that Mego made.
Jman: Speaking of the body, what’s the difference between a “type 1” body and a “type 2” body? What type is DST using for the Legendary set?
CF: Dr. Mego is best qualified to answer this one, but the Type 1 bodies had metal rivets instead of plastic joints. I also believe there was a difference in the elastic in the figures and how they were held together.
DM: The first 8 inch body was skinny, less defined, and held together with elastic. Most have lead rivets connecting the joints, but there are some with all plastic joints. In 1974 Mego transitioned to a better sculpted, all plastic body that collectors call “type 2”.
Jman: A lot of this, if not all of it, seems like it was born out of Paul’s, aka Dr. Mego, love of Mego. The booklet recounts that you reproduced the original body for Diamond Select. How long did it take you to do reproduce the original body? Are any of the parts in the Legendary set cast from original Mego molds? Or are they all reproductions of original parts? Do any of the original molds still exist?
DM: In 2001 I started working with a factory in China to re-tool the later type 2 Mego body and some other parts. Mego’s original tooling had long ago been re-sold or melted down for the steel, so everything has had to be recreated. It takes several weeks to months going back and forth between 3D modeling, hand made sculpts, and the factory people to work out the details until they sent us the first output from the steel tooling.
CF: In many cases, vintage Mego parts are used as the basis for the parts in our sets. Dr. Mego has an extensive library of parts and figures. When a set is planned, he looks to see what can be reused. Due to the high cost of tooling, he also factors in whether or not the part has already been mass-produced for another Cloth Retro figure. EMCE also takes parts of multiple vintage parts to create the new ones. We even mention in the booklet that the web shooters and camera belts are combinations of parts from old lines. When reproductions and kit-bashes are exhausted, brand new sculpts are created, but they are done with such skill that the casual observer wouldn’t be able to tell what is new and what isn’t.
Jman: The figure that’s packaged together in the set is the “original” Mego Spider-Man. Over the years that Mego was producing the figure, there have been any number of variations of Spider-Man, mostly in costume, it seems. The team decided to go with the rare “circle” Spider-Man costume. How much effort went into reproducing that costume?
CF: It’s hard to call it “effort” when we’re all doing something we love. However, I’m sure it took a few trips up and down the aisles to locate a fabric match; then they had to dye it to the right colors (unless they lucked out and found the right Pantone match); then the logo and webbing had to be hand-drawn to create the screen print pattern. You also have to account for the multiple copies that needed to be made for trade show display, and the ones for the factory to use as color and pattern guides – every copy was handmade. You’d have to ask EMCE if there is a record of the number of hours spent on the costume, but I guarantee this was not a fast project to complete.
DM: As Chris says, it’s hard to think of this as “effort”. The nice thing about having access to a community of die-hard Mego fans is knowing that someone has already worked out a template for the circle suit Spidey costume and being able to call him. It saved us hours of trial and error – hours we could spent on the new outfits and accessories.
Jman: While the “original” Spider-Man is a very faithful reproduction of the Mego version, the Peter Parker figure isn’t. From the sounds of it, the EMCE team wasn’t all that crazy about Mego’s Secret Identities Peter Parker. How long did it take to design the look of the new Peter Parker? Who sculpted the new likeness of Peter?
CF: Ha, if I had to guess I would say it took Dr. Mego all of 4 seconds to redesign Parker. We toymakers are a scary breed when we get ideas in our heads. Then I’d tack on another 5 minutes to sketch it out on paper so the prototype could be made to his specifications.
JOE: The Mego Secret Identities line was a quick cash grab by the founder of Mego, so it was really just a cobbled-together line of existing heads and civilian clothes. We wanted something that actually looked like the Peter Parker we grew up with, a blend of Ditko and Romita.
DM: Chris is right – it only took us seconds to discard the Mego Peter Parker with his simple turtleneck and stretch pants. I have to take responsibility for the sweater. I should have added an opening in the back to allow for easier use.
Jman: The third figure of the set, is an updated Spider-Man. He really reminds me of the old 70’s live action TV show. Was there any intention in that?
CF: I don’t know if Andy was watching old VHS tapes of the show while sculpting, but I can tell you that we definitely modeled this version on the look of the comics, toys, and countless other products from the 70’s. It’s such an iconic/classic look.
JOE: Only in that it wasn’t really possible to have the webshooters and belt under the costume without looking like Spidey had swollen glands.
DM: Not really. We thought more about the pages in old Spidey comics that showed the web belt and webshooters worn under Peter’s clothing, but the reality of sculpting made it only possible for the figure to wear them over the costume – like the old 70s show.
Jman: The Updated Spider-Man is really a kind of dream Mego version for EMCE. From the head sculpt, to the costume, it’s pretty much all new parts. Was it difficult to get everyone together on one page for the look of the figure? How did you guys decide what era Spider-Man to use as inspiration?
CF: To answer the second part first – EMCE showed me a mock-up they’d made of the set, and it included a 70’s era Spider-man outfit. I loved it, so they moved forward with no changes. As far as getting on the same page goes, I don’t believe there were any problems. I did not interact with the people who made the various elements of the figure, EMCE funneled all progress reports/photos/samples to me in batches. I’m sure there had to be some level of internal discussion/debate about the best way to proceed with the figure; but the fact that we produced such a good-looking product should be a testament to everyone working together with the same goal in mind.
DM: As ‘70s kids, John Romita Sr. was the definitive Spider-Man artist for us, but we wanted to include the web wings that were part of the costume from the early days.
Jman: You guys have a real love of Mego. Were there things you wanted to do with the Spider-Man set, but couldn’t?
CF: No, not that they ever mentioned to me. EMCE and DST worked together from the moment the contract was signed with Marvel. I don’t want to diminish DST’s contributions to making this happen, but in many ways, this is the product EMCE wanted to make. When we told them what we were doing, they had sketches ready to show us before we knew it. We made our fair share of changes to the initial pitch and then adjusted some more elements as we worked with the factories, but I can’t think of anything that we changed that would cause them to say “I wish we’d done that.”
JOE: Functional webshooters.
DM: We wanted to give the new Spidey a removeable mask so you could the Green Goblin unmasked him, but it just didn’t work out. Maybe some other day.
Jman: One of the upcoming sets is a totally original Wolverine; Mego never made a Wolverine figure. What was the process like to design a Mego figure from scratch, with no Mego points of reference?
CF: The process was fun, pure and simple. Remember, our Trek additions and Kevin Smith creations have already given us considerable experience in saying “What if?” Once we decided on which versions we would do, the rest fell into place. The Logan and ‘modern’ versions came together just like the ‘civilian’ and ‘modern’ components of the other sets. There was a little trial and error with the figure that went into the little box, but that was because Joe (Sena of EMCE Toys) called me with an idea on redesigning the removable mask. I remember him saying “We thought about it and we really think THIS is more in line with how Mego WOULD have done it.” The biggest hurdle on a project like this is making something and hoping the fans “get it” the way we’d hoped. One thing people will notice is that the brown costume has a lot of orange. Remember the brown Gorn from Trek? Remember the orange pants on the Trek Mugato? Mego didn’t always get it 100% right. Our products are of the highest possible quality, but we also intentionally made them in the spirit of the company that started it all.
JOE: Read the booklet 🙂
DM: Yes, you will actually be able to read an article in the booklet that speaks about the process. Of course that means you will have to open the box.
Jman: Upcoming sets will feature Captain America and Thor. What figures would you guys like to do next?
CF: Of course! You should see the files I’ve got with character options, costumes for those characters, potential release orders, and the emails from EMCE and my own coworkers offering their thoughts on who should be next/included in the line. I’m sure your readers could put together their own “pool” of ideas, but I wouldn’t “dare” say anything myself for fear they would think I am trying to “punish” them with misdirection. The Marvel universe is limitless in its supply of iconic characters. There are also a lot of opportunities to produce new sets of the characters we’ve already done (the older the character, the more costume changes they’ve had). Who can say what the future will bring.
DM: Everyone has their favorites. I’m more a traditional superhero fan, but I’ll be happy to let DST call the tunes.
JOE: The Punisher. Then, there’s all my favorites from the 70s: Ghost Rider, Wolfman/Colan’s Dracula, Man –Thing, Dr. Strange, Werewolf By Night, Son Of Satan. Of course, none of these would work in the 3-iteration kit we’re doing now, but who knows what can happen in the future 🙂
You can pick up your Legendary Marvel Super-Hero Spider-Man at your local comic book shop or at Diamond Select Toys.
Many thanks to Chris, Joe and Dr. Mego for taking the time to answer my questions.