Over the last few months we’ve seen a lot of new lines go the Mego route.
My question is this:
Is there really is a huge untapped demand for figures in this format or is it driven by the fact that manufacturers can produce these type of figures relatively cheaply and still ask for a relatively high retail price?
Personally I have little interest in the Mego format, especially while the elastic band construction is still in use. I had my share of Mego figures as a kit (mainly Marvel and DC, Star Trek and Planet of the Apes) and liked them well enough at the time, but even then the I felt they were doll like and of limited quality, due to weak joints and that darned elastic band. In terms of "new" Mego figures I’ve bought a Planet of the Apes Cornelius and the Mattel Retro Green Lantern. They’re nice novelties, but not something I would collect in earnest.
But I find the recent resurgence in the Mego format to be fascinating. Much of toy collecting is driven by nostalgia, and in the past decade a lot of currently hot properties are classic toy lines or licenses (many from the 1980′s) but done in a modern style; using in most cases state of the art sculpting, paint ops and articulation.
The Mego resurgence however is trading on nostalgia for a specific retro format. In some cases this is paired with a nostalgic license (i.e. Mattel’s DC Super Heroes, Real Ghostbusters, or the many MEGO re-issues like Star Trek, Planet of the Apes, Happy Days, etc.). This makes sense to me, as it’s literally getting the trill of owning a toy you used to have or always wanted.
But recently we’ve seen Biff Bang Pow/EMCE announce that they will be applying the Mego format to modern licenses like The Venture Brothers, Big Lebowski and Lost.
I can’t help but wonder if this embracing of the Mego figure format by both a large company like Mattel and small companies like Biff Bang Pow and EMCE is driven by broad based yet untapped consumer demand or cost effectiveness.
As far as I know, making a figure using a standard existing base body plus primarily a roto cast head and soft goods is a lot cheaper than an all plastic figure with an injection molded body and numerous paint ops.
As manufacturing costs increase and budgets for both manufacturer and consumer tighten, a more cost effective option for action figures no doubt looks very attractive. And it has it’s definite postitives; a Mego style figure typically goes for around $20, and probably costs a lot less per unit to produce than your typical 7" action figure (which is creeping steadily toward that price point anyway.) Plus you can do smaller runs making it good for niche properties.
So what’s the downside?
From my perspective, and I am certainly not a huge Mego fan, I just don’t feel the Mego format works for modern licenses. Yes, nostalgia drives toys, so Mego figures of retro properties makes sense. I think it’s a great idea to make repro and all new DC Superheroes in the Mego style. I think it might work for Real Ghostbusters, but even that license is a bit past the golden age of Mego.
But for modern licenses like Venture Brothers and Lost? All due respect to my fellow Man of Action Jason Lenzi, but I’m really not sure a generation that has lived through the McFarlane Toys era, the Marvel Legends era, the JLU/DC Animated era and the products of the 4 Horsemen are going to be drawn to the best technology the 1970′s had to offer… I feel like toy fans have seen a lot of improvement in terms of styling, sculpt, deco, articulation and durability and Mego figures just can’t compete. (Of course, I’ll be both surprised and pleased at the irony if the EMCE Lost figures do better than the McFarlane ones! Though I suspect the EMCE line will be direct market and made in much more conservative numbers, while the McFarlane line was pushed very hard at mass retail and probably over-produced.)
I hope I’m wrong, as I’m all for variety in toys, and if there really is a huge untapped market for retro format figures of modern properties I say go for it. Just because it’s not my cup of tea doesn’t mean I don’t want it out there to make a fellow fan or collector happy.
My only worry is that it’s a bit of a risk. If fans of Venture Brothers for example want toys but are turned off by the retro format, does that diminish the chances of getting Venture Brothers toys in a different format (be it 7" figures, 4" figures, PVCs, statues or 12" figures? ) The direct market is a bit shrewder than mass retail, but I could see a scenario where if your first offering fails, retailers may begin to brand the license as not viable for any products… Hopefully this current Mego push will offer a wide variety of licenses but keep the productions numbers conservative. That seems to me to be the safest route to start with…
Time will tell, and I’m eager to hear what other fans think of this issue!