MEGO: Wave of the Future?
April 10, 2010

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!

Spy

 

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Jeremy "SpyMagician" Sung
It's the all new, all different SpyMagician! No longer single, no longer an educator, but still 100% Toygeek! "I make good customized actions figures, but I also collect Pokemon. Go figure..."
Read other articles by Jeremy "SpyMagician" Sung.

 

 

 

27 Comments »

  • j1h15233 says:

    As a kid of the 90’s (born in 85) who was grew up with BTAS, STAS and then eventually JL and JLU, I have ZERO interest in figures like this. To be quite honest, I think they look like crappy toys from the 70’s and I don’t understand the appeal at all. Maybe I’m just not old enough to get it but when I saw them in TRU I just laughed and couldn’t believe they were trying to sell those at retail. How could I justify spending my limited amount of money on something like this when I could get a DCUC or JLU figures?

  • Briggs says:

    Personally this is a nostalgia item for me. As a child of the 70’s I had a ton of MEGO figures. But while I bought the RASH Green Arrow the $20 price point has kept me from buying the others at retail. It is just difficult on a limited budget to spent $20 each on a figure line. Especially when a series is 4 or 5 figures a wave. That would keep me from any line.
    But with misty eyes I secured my Green Arrow, a childhood favorite. I’m just torn over the rest of them and can’t justify the price.

  • demoncat says:

    the mego style is just the toy companies doing the what is the in thing right now have to be on board to compete and its mego. as for if the mego style will backfire. that will be decided by the buyers and fans if they do not want mego style venture brothers then the company will no doubt switch to something else for mego is just a tred that is hot till the next big toy craze has companies jumping to make.

  • Hourman says:

    Either they’ll sell or they won’t. If they don’t, all you “oh I’m not sure they’re sophisticated enough for modern collectors” types can pat yourselves on the back for how insightful and discerning you are. Til then, let people who like them have their fun. Those elastic bands are no worse than those flimsy-ankled, cheap re-ground plastic JLU figures Mattel has dumped on the collectors’ market for a decade. Maybe Spy Magician can next write an article comparing the cost-versus-nostalgia paradigm behind JLU figures.

  • Shellhead says:

    I’m not a big fan of the resurgence, but I’ll be picking up Aquaman (and maybe Manta)for exactly the reason you mentioned. I used to have Mego Aquaman back when I was a kid.
    The rest of them and the other properties . . . meh.

  • Lt. Clutch says:

    I feel just like Briggs does. Back in the 70’s, Mego was the only company to give us superhero figures. The quality wasn’t top notch but these were meant for kids, not collectors. I had no inkling regarding toy production and how it would develop in later decades. All I knew was that these toys rocked when I was seven years old! But I don’t feel the same way about spending $20 on this kind of figure today, even more so on lines that came out after technology had long moved on. Take a TV show brand like Married With Children, for example: Same deal as Lost. But if a Mego fan enjoys having Al Bundy or John Locke hanging out with Alfalfa and The Fonz, I have no problem with it and am enjoying the resurgence for those of us who miss the good old days.

  • Newton says:

    It’s all about making cheap toys. The original Mego revival came purely because there was no rights to acquire. The Mego body is in public domain. It’s a really cheap way to make figures. Oddball licenses like Married with Children were picked up in hopes that they would entice classic Mego collectors. Now, everything is going the format of Mego because it’s super cheap to produce. The problem is like Lt. Clutch said… The PRICEPOINT! These things cost peanuts to make, but they’re charging a premium price tag. If they could get these out for $10, everyone would likely give them a try. Although Mattel’s bodies are terrible and worthless, so until they get a decent body out it’s a moot point.

  • Tekwych says:

    To push the Mego nostalgia further Hasbro now owns Mego’s Micronauts line and will be be announcing its resurrection later this year. Weather we like it or not everything 70s is new again. Most ‘major’ toy lines have shrunk from 6″ to 3.75″, toy isles are shrinking and the few remaining ‘tent pole’ lines are offering a lot more re-issues.

    • Jeremy SpyMagician says:

      I’m really hoping with Micronauts that Hasbro totally avoids the “retro” re-issue trend. That was one of the reasons IMO that the Palisades line failed. I love Microman/nauts, but the originals are very delicate toys, always were. Granted, Palisades had QC issues with the factories they used, but honestly, the Micro designs were far to delicate to be worth copying in terms of construction. If any line needs classics styling with upgraded durability and construction, Micros are it. And if Hasbro can use the Marvel connection and make Micronaut comic characters like Bugg a reality, that will be a big win indeed!

      • Lt. Clutch says:

        You said it! With Hasbro already holding the Marvel character license, a marriage with the Micros would be truly made in heaven. They could go the 3 3/4 line route with stuff such as comic packs using the classic Michael Golden issues. Micro fans have been waiting decades to see guys like Acroyear and Baron Karza joined by Arcturus, Marionette, and Bug on the shelves. This could be the Micronauts’ best chance ever at a proper revival.

      • Danny CantinaDan says:

        I’m glad you mentioned this fellas. I know lots of folks are big vintage MEGO Micronauts fans. I had a couple as a kid and I bought a bunch of the Palisades ones (a few of which broke and Palisades replaced – loved that company!). But, yes, these are fragile toys. I feel like they have almost zero play factor because they’re always falling apart. Its like: “Here comes Time Traveler. Oh, wait, let me put his hand back on.”

  • JuliusMarx says:

    They DO hook me on the nostalgia factor. Megos were the first action figures I ever owned. I loved them as a kid and was spoiled a bit on their articulation, so Kenner’s Star Wars figures, while very cool, we’re a bit of a disappointment for me.

    I had a CRAP load of Mego figures as a youth, so much so that it would be cost prohibitive at today’s secondary market to go back and pick all of them back up again. Megos were the first toys to fall victim to mom “making room.” The Megos had to go in order to make room for all the Star Wars stuff. While I have picked up a few replacements here and there, I haven never really gone back and re-claimed my Mego collection. So for me, this is a good substitute.

  • Hey Spy!

    Wow, I feel like I’ve officially “arrived” if I’m getting name checked in someone else’s blog. Cool!

    So I couldn’t help feeling like I should chime in on this topic, for several obvious reasons. Starting with our initial thinking for going ‘retro’ with these licenses. It started with ‘Flash Gordon’ and us wanting to do a little something extra with it, trying to imagine what Mego would have done with the property had they obtained it back in the day. That buzz started to build, and as we were evaluating our other properties (and the ratio of interest from ‘main’ character to ‘secondary’ characters), we started to explore the possibilities for all of our titles. And also, around the exact same time, I first started talking to the ‘Venture’ guys, and they were very keen to go this way, to NOT go with a traditional action figure, for their characters. So, as they say, all of the planets seemed to line up the right way.

    Of course there are cost issues and considerations, and many other aspects make this attractive to us as well. But honestly, it’s been a huge risk for us, an experiment, because we had no idea how it was going to be received. ‘LOST’ had already had action figures, we tried going more ‘traditional’ with it originally and the response was luke warm, but as soon as we went ‘retro’- BAM, loads of interest.

    Long story short, we’re not thinking the ‘retro’ revolution is going to have people screaming in the aisles and rounding up their other toys for mid 60’s Beatles-style record burnings. If anyone’s followed our progress over the years, they’ve seen a nice variety in action figure styles, and 2010 is taking us in another direction. It doesn’t mean we’re abandoning the future for the past from now on.

    To address whether it’s working or not, all I can tell you, from our perspective, is that every license we showed at Toy Fair is coming to fruition, and for several of them (‘LOST’ and ‘Venture’ included), we’re already heading deep into designs for the next waves. So, in a nutshell, they’re working.

    That said, we don’t expect to have JLU and Clone Wars figures quaking their little plastic boots. But we’re happy that we’ll soon be on the pegs with them, showing solidarity for all action creatures, everywhere. And speaking for myself, if I dig it, I grab it, so my shelves have every kinda plastic man and woman there is. I grab the ‘retro’ figures I like, but not all across the board.

    Thanks again for the shout outs and topic! Great blog!

    (Oh, and sorry to be a noodge, but there’s ONE ‘F’ in our name. Common mistake!)

    • Jeremy SpyMagician says:

      Jason!

      Thanks for the great thoughts on the topic! I really do hope that most of the Mego lines succeed, mainly for the reason I’d stated; that I’m all for variety. For a while (in the 90’s especially) it seemed comic books and action figure lines had to be “EXTREME” with crazy detail, filled with overly muscular men scantily clad yet heavily armed women and that was all you had to choose from. Today’s toy market is much more varied, with everything from very art deco designer toys, to action figures, to block figures, to hyper real 12″ figures.

      I wish you and Bif(!) Bang Pow the best of luck with the Mego figures and will follow the progress with great interest!

      Spy

  • Terry Wood says:

    I’m on the opposite end of the spectrum, and while I will admit nostalgia is involved and it’s just my opinion, for playability there’s never been a better action figure than the type-2 megoes. GI Joes were too big and star Wars figure were too small and the arms and legs allowed too limited playability. Plus, you could swap their heads and exchange their costumes.

    Now, I won’t argue that the action figures of the last 20 years have gotten increasingly better looking.

    But if you look at Bif Pow Wham Flash Gordon figures, they look just as good as the 7 inch figures Flash Gordon figures.

    And if Mattel had not wanted to go the retro route, it could have made DC figures that would look as good or better than the very overpriced DC Direct figures. There is no telling what the mark-up on those figures are. Retailers get them at 45 percent of the listed price.

    There are customizers who make mego-like figures that put anything on the toy market to shame other than sideshow and other high-end figures. Obviously, a mass market figure could not duplicate the exact quality of these figures, but if Mattel put the 4-horseman on the sculpts and did not strap them into a retro style those figures would look much better.

    Mattel’s 12-inch Zod figure is an example of the quality they could produce at the 8-inch size.

  • George says:

    I have no interest in the line. You’d think they would be a little cheaper than $20. $14.99 would be a better price point.

  • Erik superfriend says:

    Just not my cup of tea. Although I did pick up several of the Hasbro cloth DC 9″ figures back a few years ago. Still have Green Arrow and Green Lantern from then.

  • Lightso says:

    The Mego “fad” is nothing recent, proof being Toybiz’ Famous Covers and Hasbro’s companion 9″ line. The market has tried again, only this time with something more accurate to the originals, well…not much more accurate as far as Mattel is concerned. Mattel probably thought they were improving on the old design, no doubt seeing the potential for tooling reuse inherent in “Mego-style” that made Mego the predominant toy manufacturer for several years.
    The irony is that Kenner’s over-simplified Star Wars line killed Mego’s reign as cheap and innovative as the price of petroleum skyrocketed. Now with petrol having been steadily going up again, companies are turning back to Mego-made style yet again.
    Megos were $3 thirty years ago, and Doc Mego’s repro Star Trek line through Diamond were around $15 each for limited runs. With inflation causing 30-40% increases across the board, $20 seems logical but will the market bite? I think nostaglia only runs so far.

  • stewbacca says:

    As a child of the late 70’s the only scale I have ever had and ever loved is 3-3/4″. As a kid I never understood Mego’s– they were dolls not figures-and I still feel that way to this day- I’m all for retro – but when redoing things for the new age- I wish they would use the modern technologies as well.. The DC line in the store looks old (I know the packaging is supposed to)and dated on the shelves– and looks as quality as a dollar store toy – or those horrible TV show figures from a couple of years ago that people have problems getting rid of as freebies- it just doesnt look right in the modern action figure market. Toy makers keep trotting this format out— they last for one wave and then just start to stack up on the shelves (Famous Covers line for example)- no matter what the property– I just dont see this format as viable and personally I just dont get the allure– but to each their own I guess.

  • Danny CantinaDan says:

    Great blog, J. Thanks for raising the topic. Like many of you I had lots of 8″ MEGOs as a kid. Fondly remember favorites like The Thing and Mugato. So there is a bit of nostalgia in it for me as well. But more than that I’m a fan of kitsch. Often times, the kookier the better. I’m not exactly sure which of these neo-MEGOs I’ll get but I can say that there is something drawing me to the LOST line. I didn’t like the McF attempt because each character was WAY too specific. But even if I don’t get sucked in myself, I totally agree with Spy: the variety is awesome. I really like that these are out there. I mean, when you’re walking through TRU now tell me that the Mattel DC Retro’s don’t jump out at you!

  • Dr. Mego says:

    In the late 80s and early 90s I got back into buying toys and bought
    Playmates Star Trek and Toy Biz DC and Marvel superheroes figuring that
    it would be like MEGO toys were in the 70s, but it wasn’t.

    The painted-on costumes definitely looked cooler than the cloth costumes but they didn’t come off as real physical versions of the
    characters – they seemed more like 3D artwork, and often the sculpting
    lost its cohesion when posed out of the package.

    I like to see the fabric mimic reality when posing a mego-style figure.
    To be able to take on and off Batman’s cowl or his cape or boots or to
    customize the accessories. 12 inch and megos give you more options to
    make the figure unique to you.

  • Joe Sena says:

    “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).”

    Boy, could you not have been any more wrong.

    I launched the EMCE brand with my partner Paul initially because of the potential we saw in the 8″ format, but I will tell you that the actual price and process of production aged me ten years. I’d love to be able to do simple solid-plastic figs with the limited articulation and simple automated paint masks I see clogging up the aisles, versus the complex and expensive assembly of no less than five different disciplines needed for a MEGO. However, those other formats are overcrowded, the licenses are expensive and more than enough companies run by good people are hurting for that business, so we’re grateful for what we’ve been able to do for our partners like Diamond, Mattel, Bif Bang Pow and others.

    And clearly, the format has appeal beyond just old farts like myself who want their Shazams back. It’s parents buying them for their kids, kids buying them because they saw them on “Robot Chicken” or in “Toyfare”, customizers and animators using them as canvasses to express themselves. And above all, at least they’re getting taken out of their packages, played with and withstanding wear-and tear, which is more than I can say for most of the glorified dashboard Jesuses that have dominated the industry the last decade or so.

    As for realism within the format, as said here by someone else, there are customizers who do a spectacular job on making highly detailed, very personalized versions. There is also at least one company out there in the process of developing plans for a highly-realistic MEGO format line, and we’ll be there cheering them on when they’re ready to go to market.

    So, a “fad”? No. A return to value, imagination and versatility? Yes.

    • Jeremy SpyMagician says:

      Thanks for the very informative reply!

      I won’t presume to tell someone who’s actually developed a Mego figure line about costs.

      I’m sure you’re right and developing a fully articulated clothed 8″ figure line from the ground up is extremely expensive. The cost comparison I was using was not for a Mego line developed from scratch, but but for a line where a licensee brings a property to market using a existing 8″ body from a 3rd party. What Jason Lenzi posted seems to indicate that this scenario where you utilize existing common tooling for an entire line has it’s cost advantages over developing any type of action figure line from scratch.

      Spy

      • Joe Sena says:

        The body is just a foundation; the work goes into the softgoods, head, accessories, etc.

        And whether it’s what seems like a detailed paint app or just the color of eyes or hair, the process of paintmasking is all the same. With a hard plastic line you have most of the work going into the sculpt and initial paint, but after that it’s molded once, snapped together and paint masks are made from electroplating. Snap-snap, spray-spray, with brush work reserved for small details and texture rubs. Same process, if it’s a MEGO or not.

        Regarding “common tooling”, that’s just for the body. It doesn’t mean that tools aren’t made for heads, hands, accessories, etc. Plus, there is the cost of assembling the costume. A hard plastic figure comes out of one tool, if planned right.

        Lastly, with a MEGO, each figure still needs to be assembled and as labor costs rise the cost of each body go up, so frankly the use of the MEGO body indicates a willingness to spend more on assembly. The only cost Jason saved was in the master body tool itself. If he does 3-inch figures he’ll still be paying considerably less on a per-item basis than he is with our MEGOs, even taking the amortization of the tool into account.

        Bottom line is, a MEGO costs as much, if not more, than any hard-plastic figure of a ssimilar size or smaller, period, close-quotes, end-of-story. Anyone thinking otherwise is misinformed.

        • Joe Sena says:

          …I realized that the last line may have seemed accusatory; I should add that I was among the misinformed when I started this MEGO revival with Paul. I too, assumed, “Wow, this must be so much cheaper if they’re all using the same body.” Flash forward two years later and all my house money is sitting in China to cover production for the first Star Trek line due to all the unaccounted-for tooling and other costs that we assumed wouldn’t apply and my hair is falling out. I still twitch like a Vietnam vet hearing a truck backfire when I think about it.

          Please, oh please, tell me I can make little 3″ plastic men one day. I’ll be very happy.

          • Jeremy SpyMagician says:

            I stand corrected my friend!

            Thanks for adding some much needed insight to the topic!

            Spy

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