Photo credit: Boy’s Life Magazine
Here at Warehouse Find I’ve written about favorite toys of my youth (Hugo: Man of a Thousand Faces, GI Joe, Jarts, and Shogun Warriors), but I haven’t written about model kits from those days so long ago. I must admit I didn’t build many models back then. I still don’t, even though I have at least half a dozen just waiting to be worked on.
No, my older brother was the model-builder in those days. And he had some of the coolest model kits to ever be made. I’m specifically talking about a popular line of model kits featuring monsters and scenes of the macabre.
In the 1950s, TV stations in America began playing the old Universal Studios horror classics, giving those great old, scary movies new life. Kids all over the country discovered the greatness of horror filmdom’s golden age. Aurora Plastics Corporation had been making model kits for close to ten years; when, in 1961, they hit upon the brilliant idea of capitalizing on those horror films’ new-found popularity. They would issue a line of model kits based on those monsters.
Their first was Frankenstein’s Monster. He was soon followed by Dracula, the Wolf Man, the Mummy, the Creature, and the Phantom of the Opera. Those would be followed by other famous Universal monsters. Later came the giant monsters: King Kong, Godzilla, Rodan, and King Ghidorah. (Click here to get more information on these great monster models.) They were a roaring success with the young-uns!
By the time I was a sentient kid, it was the 1970s. (I turned six in late 1970.) My older brother had found the 70s’ versions of Aurora’s monster models. Those models jumped on the “kids like things that glow in the dark” phenomena. They reissued their original kits with a second set of selected parts that could glow in the dark! It was a cool idea, but it didn’t always translate well.
It was evident I was in my budding years of a lifetime of pedantry, because even at that tender age I thought the glowing pieces that were hands and heads made sense on Dracula and the Phantom, but on the Wolf Man, King Kong, the Creature? And why would Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster, and the Phantom have glowing shoes? Godzilla having a row of glowing fins on his back was cool and it made sense, but his having a glowing head, hands, feet, and a tail was silly.
Well, no matter. The models were excellent. I was so envious of my older brother’s collection.
Photo credit: eBay
Years later, in the 1990s, another set of reissues of some of those models hit the market, this time they were put out by Monogram. They were part of the Luminators model kit series, models made of transparent plastic in neon colors. You could send away for a black light that would make those kits glow in the dark. But they didn’t look so good otherwise. I bought a set (Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster, the Phantom, the Wolf Man, and the Mummy) anyway.
I put Dracula together first, without painting him. He was a bright yellow collection of plastic that vaguely resembled the great monster. It just wasn’t very impressive. Then I remembered the lesson taught to me by the original series of Jonny Quest in the episode The Invisible Monster: Paint will make it visible.
Photo credit: Bill Jones
I took the old vampire apart and began anew. This time I would paint him. But it wouldn’t be the last time.
I put the other sets together, painting the parts as I went along. I had a limited palette consisting of only a few colors of model paint. Those paints were oil-based enamels that didn’t mix very well to create a greater variety of colors. Still I did my best and I thought I had done pretty well. I even showed them off to a few people, including my older brother. I put them proudly on display in my room and then didn’t think about them much again.
Until I made a visit to Chris Mars’ house. Chris Mars is the original drummer of the legendary Minneapolis rock band The Replacements. He is also a very talented artist. His paintings, although disturbing, are fantastic. He is also a good friend of my best friend, Dave. Chris was out of town and Dave was house-sitting when he invited me over for a couple movies and beers.
Let me tell you guys! Chris Mars has a very cool house. His being an artist and into old movie monsters made his house particularly interesting to me. He had all kinds of monster memorabilia, some of which he created himself. And there, in his living room, was his set of Aurora monster models. They were painted so exquisitely, I was positively awestruck.
I’m also an artist. I’m mainly a cartoonist, but I can do portraits and I’m not bad at illustration. I like to think I’m pretty good at the cartooning and portraits. That I’m a decent artist. But looking at Mars’ monster models put me to absolute shame. I felt embarrassed by the models of which I had held such pride.
Chris Mars, without being there, had shown me that I didn’t have to use model paint. He clearly didn’t and he worked with a far greater palette than I had. So, soon after my visit to the artist’s home, I was taking apart those five monsters, breaking out the acrylic paints I’d had since art school, and repainting. And I don’t think I did too badly.
More reissues were released and I picked up several of them. Of the ones I worked on, I started out doing them the right way. From the start. Those turned pretty darn OK, too.
Below are pictures (not the best quality) of the models I’ve completed. The first five are part of the Luminators reissues and they look much better painted.
Look closely at Dracula’s right knee. You can see where the cape broke when I was taking it apart to repaint. This and the next four were the models I repainted after seeing Chris Mars’ collection.
It was clear to me that this was the Monster from The Bride of Frankenstein, so I “muddied” it up a bit to match the look in the movie.
A later version of the Wolf Man was more accurate to the movie versions by Lon Chaney Jr., but this one is still an awesome pose. I love the skull!
It’s been suggested that this Phantom is based on James Cagney’s portrayal of the character as part of the Lon Chaney biopic Man of a Thousand Faces (1957).
…Chaney? I think it might be based on Cagney.
This is not Boris Karloff’s Mummy. It’s Lon Chaney Jr’s from The Mummy’s Tomb (1942) and The Mummy’s Ghost (1944).
This is the first of the non-Luminators reissues I worked on.
Other modelers have Ann facing away from Kong. I think, judging by the look on her face, it makes more sense to have her looking at her giant simian captor.
Sorry about the poor focus of Rodan’s face. This broke as I was trying to get the picture. The overall design makes it prone to breaking this way, besides when put together Rodan’s face is positioned so far down it’s barely visible.
Ghidorah is just a damn cool monster!
And finally! The King of All Monsters!
Feel free to comment and share!