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Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Aquaman Shrine Interview with Ben Holcomb - 2008

As a lot of you who read this know, Ben is the author of TwoMorrows' Mego 8" Super-Heroes: World's Greatest Toys book, which I reviewed right after it came out, back in December.

Right around that time, I asked Ben for an interview about the book, because Aquaman was one of Mego's initial offerings in the WGSH line, and I genuinely believed having a Mego Aquaman doll out there helped make The Sea King a beloved icon to a generation of kids.

I probably couldn't have picked a worse time to ask, because Ben was right in the middle of doing a massive amount of work promoting the book(going on my pal Javier Hernandez's
Planet Comic Book Radio show being one fine example) and I imagine at a certain point, even he didn't really want to talk about Megos anymore, so we sort of put it aside.

But just recently Ben asked me if I still wanted to run the interview, and I did, because, hey, better late than never! So let's have a chat with Mego expert Ben Holcomb and the company and their pointy-eared Sea King...

Aquaman Shrine: Why a book about Mego's World's Greatest Superheroes line?

Ben Holcomb: Simply put, Mego WGSH changed my life. Mego's magnificent toys provided countless hours of imaginative play, which ultimately guided me toward creative pursuits. For many years of my childhood, my family didn't have a television. I had to find entertainment elsewhere, and Super-Heroes were a constant source of joy.
AMS: Do you remember your first Mego?

BH: I have two older brothers, so technically, my first Mego was a hand-me-down Action Jackson. The first WGSH figures I remember getting were three of the 1st and 2nd Wave figures, which my mom wrapped together for Christmas 1974.

AMS: Any idea why Aquaman was one of the first four Megos? You'd think Wonder Woman would've been ahead of him!
BH: Many collectors question the character's inclusion, but in 1972, Aquaman had recently headlined his own cartoon! Furthermore, even though the line preceded the SuperFriends cartoon, both the WGSH line and the Hanna-Barbera cartoon were conceived by Stan Weston, creator of G.I. Joe and Captain Action. It's likely Aquaman was one of the characters Weston utilized during both concept pitches.

It's also important to consider that Mego didn't know whether or not the line would be successful. Former Mego employees suggested to me that the first four heroes (Superman, Batman, Robin and Aquaman) could be created with minimal investment. The line was 'tested' at E.J. Korvette during Christmas 1972, and Mego vice president Neal Kublan recalled the instant success. That massive popularity allowed Mego to immediately add four new heroes using the same body, as well as re-use the Dinah-mite body to create the Super-Gals. Shortly thereafter, they created a new "fat" body for two of the Super-Foes. As the line grew, Mego was emboldened to diversify the molds (e.g. Lizard and Thing).

AMS: I know that many indivdual characters were discontinued along the WGSH run. How long did Mego make Aquaman?

BH: Mego manufactured Aquaman for the entire ten-year production run (1972-1982), and arguably even longer; Mego formally canceled the line in 1982, but Aquaman was issued on both the Generic 'Red' card as well as re-purposed Superman cards. It seems both of these cards were available after Mego canceled the line, granting Aquaman the distinction of being produced longer than any other character.
AMS:Why did Mego do an Aquaman playset, Aquaman Vs. The Great White Shark? Was it in response to high sales of the figure or where they just trying to ride the post-"Jaws" wave?

BH: Among collectors, speculation abounds regarding the toy's creation. The timing of its release (1978) suggests that Mego was too late to capitalize on the Jaws frenzy, which happened during 1975-76. Some suggest the Shark, which Mego depicts in their 1978 product catalog along with a "Webbed-Hand" Aquaman, could have been developed for a line based on TV's Man from Atlantis. Unfortunately, there is no definitive evidence to support any theories.
AMS: Was Aquaman a consistent seller? He appears in almost every iteration of the WGSH line (8", Pocket, Comic Action).

BH: Yes, but this answer comes with a caveat: Aquaman was consistently 'short-packed,' which is to say Mego generally included just two Aquaman figures with each case of 24 figures. Yes, the character was popular enough to warrant continual production, but that likely would not have been the case if Mego attempted to sell larger quantities of the figure. Aquaman, like Mr. Mxyzptlk, is generally deemed a 'peg-warmer.' I myself adored the Mego Aquaman, and ruined many specimens in the bathtub!
AMS: "Peg-Warmer", that's harsh! What are some of your personal favorite Megos? Which ones do you think they did the best job on?

BH: My two favorites are Batgirl and Riddler. This is because they are beautiful, but more due to the fact that I didn't have either one as a kid. I think collectors tend to glom onto things we don't have, rather than celebrate the things we do have, and I'm certainly guilty of that.

AMS: What was your ultimate goal for doing the book?

BH: Early on in the process, I thought I was creating the book for a handful of collectors. I wanted to make the most ridiculous, thorough examination ever attempted in the collectibles genre. I wanted something akin to a scholarly study. As I got further along, however, I tried to find ways to make it enjoyable and accessible to casual collectors, too. I can't say I was successful in that endeavor, but I do thing the photography helps tremendously. Even if you don't read the words, the pictures are awfully compelling.
Once I finished the book, my hopes and goals changed. I was really happy with the result, and I hoped that people outside the realm of Mego collecting would find the book, enjoy it, and take time to let me know. Surprisingly, that is actually happening. I got a hand-written letter from Stan Weston, and I have been contacted by several famous people who enjoyed it. Just this week, Alex Ross told my publisher that he is a big fan of the book. Things like that are very exciting to a Super-Hero nerd like me.

As I said at the time of the book's release, I do think that Ben achieved in creating something for both the die-hard fan and the more casual toy enthusiast. It was enormously inspiring following along with Ben online as the book went from idea to developmental stage to a work in progress to finally having it arrive on my doorstep. It's a huge achievement--which you can purchase here. Thanks Ben!


Anonymous said...

I went out and ordered a copy from your comments about it in December. And I love it! I used to have most of these figures, but they're long gone. To see them in all their (photographic) beauty is just a trip down memory lane. I thoroughly recommend this book to anybody who ever had a Mego doll.

Damian said...

Awesome interview Rob. Fantastic book, I love it.

I was kind of hoping some light would be shed on why I Mego did not provide me with an Atom.
And they still haven't.
It's not like time travel is so friggin hard.

Again, nice piece.

Anonymous said...

The best toy book EVER. Without a doubt, this has raised the bar so high for such books, I feel sorry for all of those wishing to do one in the wake of Benjamin.

That being said, I thought Aquaman was "officially" pulled from the line by 1980 or so? Meaning new cases orderd of figures only included Supes, Bats, Robin, Spidey, Cap, Hulk and maybe Shazam?

Either way, great interview Rob, and once again, fantastic book Benjamin!!!


Anonymous said...

great book, got it the day it came out! it lets me enjoy the stuff i loved as a kid without having to go out and pay a fortune to buy it all again, the thing is so thoroughly detailed I really feel like everything I'd get out of having the actual toys on a shelf is satisfied by just owning this wonderfully detailed book.
i just wish it had covered the whole mego line.....maybe the sequel, Planet of the Apes, Super Knights, etc. I'd so buy that one too!

Favorite Mego's........Lizard, Falcon and Thor.

dusty abell