Category Archives: Toys

The Most Marvelously Monstrous Monster Models

 

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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).

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Cagney or…

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…Chaney? I think it might be based on Cagney.

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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).

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This is the first of the non-Luminators reissues I worked on.

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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.

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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.

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Ghidorah is just a damn cool monster!

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And finally! The King of All Monsters!

Packing Peanuts!

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Moms – Increasing The Rarity Of Valuable Items Since…

The other day, while waiting in the check-out line at Walgreen’s, I became part of a conversation about the ways people would light their Christmas trees back when we were kids. Back in the Stone Age. Actually, one way in particular. The cashier was describing the lighted, rotating color wheel that would project colors on the tree or house or whatever you would aim it at. They still exist, but the customer ahead of me had never heard of them.

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I chimed in to say that I was pretty sure I had one at home. One from the Stone Age that used to belong to my wife’s parents and was in the basement somewhere. I should maybe see it I can dig it out and set it up for some bonus lighting on Christmas Eve.

The conversation continued as it became my turn to make my purchases. The cashier marveled at all the things we got rid of over the years. “If only we’d kept them. We’d be millionaires,” she lamented wistfully.

Um, well, unless we got rid of those Matisse originals stuffed in the back of the closet for so long, being potential millionaires would be a stretch. Perhaps she meant we’d feel like a million bucks to be able to still connect with an object from our past. Yeah, I don’t think she meant that either.

On the drive home, I got to thinking about how we lose our treasured items from our youth. Most of us simply outgrow the toys we prized so highly. We decided money would be more valuable at the moment and sold those items at garage sales. Maybe we were less monetarily motivated and gave our treasures to Goodwill. Maybe Mom got sick and damn tired of our room being such a mess…

Oh, yeah. The Great Toy Purge of 1976. (Or thereabout.)

I shared a room with my younger brother in those days. My brother was more of the unkempt sort than I was when it came to the cleanliness of our room. However, I wasn’t exactly Felix Unger. And one day, Mom had had enough. We hadn’t heeded her warnings to get that room clean or else!

“Or else what?” we shrugged to each other. “What’s she gonna do? Throw everything away? Riiiight.”

Well, that’s exactly what she did. She finally snapped and began scooping up our toys that had been so carelessly strewn about our room. Then out into the trash it all went. All of it. She really did it. Trip after trip, our collection of toys disappeared.

Then, she turned and eyed my box of comic books.

“NO!” I cried, “Not my comic books! Mom! Pleeeeaaase!

And, much like a soldier leaping onto a live grenade to save his comrades, I threw myself in harm’s way to save my precious comic books. My look of terror quickly turned into a sneer of defiance, “Do what you will with my toys, woman! But you shall not lay a finger on my comic books! Not one step closer if you value your life!”

Mom hesitated. The tension of this standoff could be cut with a knife.

She gave it some thought and finally capitulated, “No, your comic books shall not be touched. They are put away where they belong, which is what I wanted to be done with your toys. And I would suggest you bag and back them with Mylar bags and acid free backing boards, if you want to keep them in good condition.”

I’m not sure she actually said that last part.

Anyway, as the day waned with her boys still whimpering over the purge of their toys, Mom’s heart softened. “All right,” she said, “I may have overreacted a little, but I hope you boys have learned I’m serious when I say you need to put your toys away. You may go out to the trash and retrieve one toy.”

I don’t recall which item my brother rescued, but I grabbed out my Hugo: Man of a Thousand Faces.

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Oh, he was a cool toy. He came with a wig, mustaches, warts, scars, two extra noses, sideburns, fangs, eyeglasses, etc. You could make him look so many different ways. Like a thousand different ways!

I cut a window in his box and covered it with plastic wrap, so that when he was boxed up he could still see out. I used put Hugo in his box, looking out the window I made for him, and I’d zoom him around as though his box was a rocket ship. Boy, did I like that toy.

Do I still have Hugo?

Nah. I gave him away.

Packing Peanuts!

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When It Comes To GI Joe – Size Matters!

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Photo source: Wikipedia

It was 52 years ago when two highly important items came into this world: Me and GI Joe.

All right, sure, maybe I’m not as important or interesting as GI Joe, but I wanted to let you know that Joe and I have been around for pretty much the same amount of time. (He predates me by about nine months. Hang on. Perhaps my parents were celebrating the release of this awesome new toy. Ew. I don’t want to think about it.)

It was in February 1964 when Hasbro released GI Joe. It was intended as a doll that boys would play with, but they didn’t call it a doll. Oh, no. Boys don’t play with dolls. Hasbro called it “America’s moveable fighting man.” And they released four versions: Action Soldier, Action Sailor, Action Marine, and Action Pilot. Using “action” in their titles led to the coining of the term “action figure.”

The original Joes had hard hands and painted hair. Later would come the lifelike hair and beards, talking Joes, and that ever-popular Kung-Fu Grip. I prefer the hard hands and painted hair ones, myself. There also soon came an African-American version and then versions of the enemies of WWII – German and Japanese versions. And much later came female versions.

Because the human body cannot be copyrighted or trademarked, Hasbro came up with the scar on the cheek as a way to protect their product from cheap knock-off toy makers. Another trademark in the early years was the unintentional, incorrect placement of the right thumbnail on the underside of the thumb. It was a goof that Hasbro turned into something useful.

As the Vietnam War dragged on and became more and more unpopular, Hasbro rebranded GI Joe as an adventurer rather than a soldier. He was part of an Adventure Team. There were land, sea and air adventurers. And astronauts!

From the beginning there were whole lines of accessories and vehicles that could be purchased separately. There were also playsets big enough for Joe and his team. I recall a friend having one of those. I was quite envious.

Well, I got older. And, wouldn’t you know it, a whole bunch of new kids cropped up. And, in 1982, Hasbro launched a new kind of GI Joe toy line. These Joes were miniature. The original Joes towered over these usurpers! A proper GI Joe is 12″ tall, not those less than four inch tall pathetic little hunks of multi-colored plastic.

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And there were so many of them. Dozens and dozens! I remember a little comic book shop that I frequented was about half comic books and half those little monstrosities. They had the accessories and the playsets, but they also had comic books and TV cartoons and posters and all manner of ancillary items for purchase. They were taking over the world!

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I guess I was just too old to appreciate the new style of one of my favorite toys.

Oh, well, to each their own.

There is a tradition in my household. Each year when it comes time for putting up the Christmas tree, the first ornament placed on the tree is my 1999 35th Anniversary Hallmark GI Joe ornament. And that ornament is about the same size as those miniature GI Joes.

Hm.

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Packing Peanuts!

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