Greetings and salutations fellow toy fans and Action Figure Insiders-
Allow me to introduce myself. I’m Jason Lenzi, and I have a toy company called Bif Bang Pow! Some of you may have heard of us, but for those that haven’t, we’ve been around about four and a half years, and have produced action figures and bobble heads for various properties: ‘Flash Gordon’, ‘The Big Lebowski’, Showtime’s ‘Dexter’, ‘The Twilight Zone’, and ABC’s ‘LOST’. AFI and Daniel Pickett in particular have been big supporters of all of our activities, and when I mentioned to Daniel recently that I was thinking of doing some guest blogging here and there, he very graciously offered the ‘Men of Action’ board for me to set my soap box up on. So here I am.
I’ve been a follower of AFI and its blogs for a while now, and I enjoy them very much. I love the diversity of the subjects being tackled, but have noticed one pleasant underlying theme (while not a complete shock) is the sense of nostalgia everyone has. Whether writing about toys of the past, or the newest catch from a day’s run to Target, everyone seems to be motivated in their passion for collecting by what they loved as kids. Sure, sometimes that means junior high as well, maybe even high school. (And some folks never stopped collecting at all). But people seem to especially cling to the lines or characters they were introduced to as kids.
Which brings me to my motivation for writing on here in the first place. I’m sort of a pop culture junkie, always feeling like I’m going to run out of time before I see, hear and read all the things out there in the ether I’ve been seeing, hearing and reading so much about. I read a stack of magazines every month, cover to cover, and tend to make lists of all the new music, DVDs and books I have to seek out (whether old or new) so I can update the file cabinet I keep stored in my skull. But, similar to the point I was making earlier, if I was to make a family tree of all those interests rattling around up there in my melon, I could trace most of them back to the greatest years of my life: 1976-1984.
One of the things I thought I could bring to the blog that might be of interest to it’s readers, was my perspective as a guy who started his own toy company. We have our own Bif Bang Pow! blog that we update occasionally with new releases and announcements, but as far as I know, there’s no one out there from inside a toy company that’s giving out any inside scoop. My “day job”, as it were, in Los Angeles, is working in television production, but whenever BBP! comes up in conversation, I find that people are endlessly curious about the why, how, and where of the entire operation. And looking back, it has been a wild and fascinating ride. If I knew then what I know now…..I probably STILL would have taken the trip, but I would have brought more aspirin with me. Now, I’m not saying this is going to read like the Watergate transcripts, or be a ‘how to’ through the toy business. No , no, no. I came here to talk about all the things I dig about toys, past and present, but there will be some juice along the way.
And it will all most likely tie into those glorious, youthful 10 years or so. Case in point: ‘Flash Gordon’. In 1977, there was a great animated series on CBS called ‘Tarzan: Lord of the Jungle”. It was about four teenagers and their talking dog, and they drove around in a van solving spooky mysteries. (No, it wasn’t, it was actually about Tarzan. I just wanted to see if you’ve stayed with me through this first column). Anyway, I loved it, watched it every week. Then, a couple of years later, fall of 1979, NBC started airing what I consider to be one of the best, if not THE best, animated series of all time, ‘Flash Gordon’. Immediately, my 9 year old eyes and ears noticed the similarities to the ‘Tarzan’ series that came before, especially because Tarzan and Flash had the same voice. (A year later, Thundarr had it too!). Since May of 1977, I had eaten, slept and drank ‘Star Wars’, so anything remotely sci fi was going to be diligently followed by me. My father had given me some Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon reprint books for a birthday that summer, to show me that yes, there WAS life before Vader, and I loved Alex Raymond’s artwork. So I was slightly primed when the animated series began to air, and was immediately hooked from the first episode. It was must see television every Saturday morning that season, and I collected the entire line of Mattel toys, the coloring books, lunch box and whatever else I could beg to get my hands on. Still have ‘em all, too.
Then, a cosmic event took place a year later that I’m still reeling from today: a big budget, live action ‘Flash Gordon’ movie was about to come out. WITH A SOUNDTRACK BY QUEEN. (I wrongly assumed some Hollywood studio executive had singled me out for a ‘remote viewing’ project, thinking my pure Minnesota mind must have box office gold buried somewhere in it). The movie came out, and while it still wasn’t as cool as the cartoon, I saw it four times. I bought the soundtrack on vinyl, transferred it to cassette, and walked around with my tape recorder, re enacting the film and air guitaring through the house. At B Dalton’s I managed to find the official storybook, and the hardcover comic adaptation (and hey! Isn’t this the same guy who drew the ‘Empire Strikes Back’ adaptation?). I even found some puffy stickers at the local drug store. But something in the merchandise department was sorely lacking.
Toys. That’s right, zip, zilch, nada. Not a thing. I hunted high and low, from Target (a Minnesota born enterprise, so there were a lot to sift through), to Children’s Palace, Kidsville in the Maplewood Mall, Borgstrom Pharmacy, Wards and JC Penny’s. Not a thing. There must be some mistake, I thought. Every OTHER Sci Fi movie got it’s own toys, and I grabbed ‘em all. ‘The Black Hole’, ‘Star Trek the Motion Picture’, ‘Buck Rogers in the 25th Century’. But nothing for one of the coolest, loudest, most garish and freaky, rock and roll sound tracked space flicks of all? Nope.
So when I did finally decide to give this toy company thing a go, I made a list of all the properties that I’d always wanted action figures of. And right at the top of that list was 1980’s ‘Flash Gordon’. How it all eventually happened and the craziness involved with getting the license is a story for another column. But the beauty of all of it was, I found a kindred spirit through the process. Another lost soul who felt that one of the most overlooked movies of the past 100 years was also criminally short changed in the action figure aisles. That man was Alex Ross. Except he went even further than I did when he was a kid, and custom made his own Flash, Ming and Prince Barin, out of various Mego 12” figures. (And if you know Alex at all you’ll know how unsurprising that little tidbit is). So 27 years after the film first came out, little ‘ol Bif Bang Pow! brought the world what I knew it always needed: action figures from the ‘Flash Gordon’ movie.
So there you go. Proof, conclusive I think, that it all comes full circle, and in some way that probably reflects on all of us and why we collect and come to sites like this in the first place. I look forward to posting on here, hearing your feedback and hopefully connecting with all of you in the near future. Hope you all enjoy it, and thanks in advance for your future time. Here’s to the start of a beautiful friendship.