Friday, November 18, 2011

The Tragic Tale of a Micronauts Creator

So many of us who grew up with Micronauts eagerly awaited every issue of the Micronauts comic book from Marvel. Today, many of us are also aware of the sad fate of Bill Mantlo - the writer who brought us an amazing, complex science fiction epic told in the pages of a comic book series that continued long after Micronauts left the toy stores and even after the Mego Corporation closed its doors and left the toy industry. The driven, energetic man's life as a comic book writer and full-time Legal Aid Society lawyer ended when he was struck by hit-and-run driver who left Mantalo with traumatic brain injuries from which his body and intellect has never recovered.

A detailed look at Mantlo's life, injury and long, tragic road afterward was surprisingly offered recently by LifeHealthPro - a website and on-line journal for the US health insurance industry:

"Bill Mantlo was a legendary writer for Marvel Comics in the 1970s and 1980s. But today, he inhabits a broken body abandoned by both the health insurance industry and the federal healthcare reform meant to help people like him. This is his story."

Tragic Tale - from LifeHealthPro

Bill Mantlo's tale is indeed tragic and difficult to read, and certainly - under the pen of LifeHealthPro's author - impossible to not consider even more acutely (by myself at least) in the light of the United States' current cultural and political re-assessment of privatized, corporate health care in our society.

Give it a read and some thought - the respect due a man who brought a great deal to many of our childhoods, but who lives now having lost so much.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

A long-lost piece of Micronauts history finally revealed...

Several years ago, collector Austin Richards acquired several drawings of unproduced Micronauts toys: elaborate expansion sets for the Rocket Tubes system. While we're all slavering for new Micronauts news from Hasbro, there is still much more the original Micronauts line has to offer us! Rush right on over there now and allow your cogitator to feast upon the images and history behind one of Mego's most ambitious Micronaut offerings:

The Rocket Tubes Diaries - Part 1

And, to jog your memory, another finely re-tuned Micronaut TV commercial from my laboratory...

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Followup on Hasbro's NYCC Micronauts tease

Thanks to friend Jon Riddick, I've got a copy of the Hasbro NYCC comic book in-hand. So, what's it all about? Micronauts, I'm happy to report, is central to the whole work.

A young, new Acroyear has taken the armor and title handed down to him by his father, and awakens from a long period in stasis to find Biotron and a hologramatic A.I. named Synergy (originating from Jem and the Holograms) as his guardians and guides in a quest to find allies and inspirations from Earth and across the galaxy in a battle against Baron Karza. The Micronaut storytelling content is penciled by Robert Atkins.

In the story, Synergy shows the fledgling Acroyear various heroes (all from the classic game and 80's toy properties Hasbro is in the process of rebranding and revitalizing) that she strongly suggests he acquire as allies, teachers and inspirations.

In the comic's afterward, Andy Schmidt - Hasbro's marketing manager for these properties and ex-IDW editor for Transformers and GI Joe - notes that the books is a 'love letter' of sorts to the fans of these properties, and isn't intended to be 'the ultimate brand expression for any one' of them. Meaning that the form of the final products these items are delivered to toy store shelves as might look and read absolutely nothing like this. I'd say that things are - as we're all aware - still in development and subject to approval. So, what does this say to those of us eager to know what Micronauts will look like next?

Judging by the mish-mash of styles at work in the Micronauts-related artwork in the issue and in spite of all the color and elaborate linework ... not too very much, in my analysis. But that's not a bad thing. Certainly, there's a lot there that indicates current design styles and classic influences will be there. If the rules-of-thumb we see here will continue to play out in the final products, we'll have figures that will be elaborately textured and colorful like the Micronauts of the past, and Micronaut toys that are largely recognizable as the classic Micronaut characters and toys. One spread (the third image above) shows this new trio of Micronauts relating to GI Joe, Generation 1 Transformers, and the other revitalized Hasbro properties. This suggests to me that perhaps something like the older Takara SF-Land standards might be put into play in the way that original Micronauts, Transformers and other toys originating from - or influenced by (GI Joe RAH?)- Takara can all interchange and play together based on a shared set of mechanical standards and scales. My kids love mixing Micronaut, Microman and Transformers toys and parts together, and populating the results with some other 1/18 scale figures.

My 2-cents? Hasbro and Tomy-Takara may develop Micronauts into something like the Magnepower Microman line combined with the Transformers Human Alliance line.

As a note of trivia - the two-page Micronauts spread is by Italian comic artist Emiliano Santalucia. He's been involved with the recent revitalization of the classic verisons of Transformers, GI Joe and Masters of the Universe for IDW, Hasbro and others. In his spread, astute eyes can see influences pulled from SOTA Toys' abandoned Micronauts:Evolution, Henshin Cyborg, Magnepower Microman, Microforce, and others. The thick stable of past iterations of Micronauts has been used as a resource for this printed work, at least.

It doesn't give us much concrete information to work with, but it will generate a lot of speculation and conversation among fans and collectors, which is a good thing! As they say, even bad press (not to say this is bad in any way!) is better than no press at all.

Followup on Hasbro

Friday, October 14, 2011

First look at Hasbro's Micronauts, at NYCC?

Thanks to Micropolis Embassy member John Kent's keen observations, we've got a look at what is quite possibly Acroyear from Hasbro's upcoming Micronauts line, revealed in artwork promoting Hasbro's "Unit:E" (Unity, get it?) package of properties on display at New York Comicon this weekend. The image is on display at TFW2005 Transformers board, and is quickly spreading around the net today:

Word has it that this is a 24-page comic book available at the show. (Now I have to somehow score a copy!)

How representative this is of actual product is, of course, subject to speculation. There have been several iterations of the core Micronauts characters in the last few years, generated by subcontractors for AGE as Marty Abrams' company tried to re-launch the property. Kenetic Underground cooked up some appealing stuff for AGE during that period.

I get the distinct impression, however, that the design is based on the Takara Magnepower Arden or LED Acroyears from the end of the 1990s...

Saturday, July 2, 2011

And now, a commercial break…

When I was a child, my first exposure to Micronauts was a TV commercial, which showed me the most amazing toys! I’m not certain which commercial it was, but I recall it involved the Astro Station’s double-missile launcher knocking over an Acroyear at one point. I asked my Grandma for “Micronauts!” for my birthday that year, and she got me Astro Station and one each of the four first-series figures. They were absolutely the best toys I ever received for a birthday. After that, I actually looked forward to more Micronauts commercials with the same enthusiasm that I looked forward to the next episode of Speed Racer, Ultraman or Superhost. What thrilling new Micronauts toys would Mego bring me next?

Mego spent significant dollars on Micronauts TV advertising. The company hired DuRona Productions – a film company with a long, active history creating TV advertising for the North American toy industry stretching back to the 1950s – to create colorful, lush commercials presenting the Micronauts toys in play, or to parents with appreciations for good products. Nearly two dozen spots were produced from 1977 through to 1980, beginning with dubbed commercials with stop-motion animation from Japan by Takara, to a last spot for the un-released Iguanos and Equestron toys.

The TV spot I’ve presented above can in particular be appreciated by we grown collectors. It is called “Youngminds”, and the spot targets the ‘adult’ viewer – which is apparent when watched. Mego wasn't just selling toys to kids. They were selling the unique values of Micronauts to appreciative adults. A grown man, well-dressed but a little progressive-looking, lectures on the features of the Micronauts toys and their developmental value for children. “Look what I made!” is a powerful statement for a youngster, and something every parent or teacher hears proudly from their youngsters. On the TV commercial’s sets, careful lighting and staging present the Micronauts toys with all the style of fine jewelry or the best Rolex watches. A lush, dense production packed with gorgeous product and all the right words. This spot perfectly encapsulates what the Micronauts line is all about.

It is also worth noting that this particular commercial features young Kenny Abrams – the son of Mego’s legendary president, Marty Abrams. One day, dad asked him to help with a commercial shoot by inviting along some of his new classmates to play with toys. That must have been a great opportunity to make some new friends! Kenny is seen in the spot here:

Mego released their TV commercials to stations via advertising agencies on short, small reels of 16mm film, with a title and spot ID code stamped on the box.

They would have been played via film-chain – a system to project film directly into a video camera for broadcast – by the individual reel or spliced into a larger reel holding a series of other commercials. Unfortunately, these little reels weren’t intended to last, and over the years – if they weren’t eventually thrown away by stations - generally turn pink from chemical instability and the acids in the brown cardboard boxes they were stored in. On rare occasions you can find them for sale, often from collectors who specialize in film. They may come in their original boxes – possibly unused and culled from larger stock piles of advertising films – or spliced into larger, collected reels. They’re something for the Micronauts collector who has just about everything else. But they’re little more than curiosities if you don’t have easy access to a projector to watch them.

I’ve got about a dozen various original Micronauts commercials in this format, and have been fortunate enough to have had several transferred professionally by one of the best post-production companies in the United States. (Their work has been presented during the Super Bowl, for example.) This is all thanks to John DiMaggio, who is a member of the Micropolis Embassy, and several of the staff of NICE SHOES LLC, who also happened to have fondly remembered the Micronauts.

I don’t want this blog to become a stage to present rare things I own that other collectors don’t. But in the case of artifacts like these, they are somewhat rare but can be shared with some effort, and they offer a lot of opportunity to present Micronauts history and archaeology. I’ve released my film-transfers of these spots into ‘the wild’ of the internet and the collecting community in the past, on VHS or via lower-resolution video files. You can see these occasionally on YouTube or in bootleg video collections of Mego or 1970s toy commercials. You can usually spot them because of the inclusion of the countdowns. Now, I’m going back to my source reels to make these available with higher quality via YouTube and my blog. So look for more, with commentary, from AcroRay’s Laboratory in the future.

Questions or recollections? Please leave a comment!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Two-Faced Robot Terror…

If you’re fortunate enough to have one of the uncommon Micronaut PHOBOS, or have been in the Micronaut collecting community for long enough, you’ve probably encountered the conundrum of the two faces on this Micronaut’s head. There’s been some debate about which is the proper ‘face’ - or if one side or the other should be regarded as a face at all…

Phobos is Mego’s unique redeco of the earlier Takara-designed Micronaut toy, Biotron (or Robotman, in Microman parlance.) The Biotron toy has been recolored and given a new head. Perhaps we’re to assume he is ‘evil’ based on Phobos’ Baron Karza-styled color combination. The box even lacks the use of Mego’s typically vague marketing tag lines.

So, Phobos’ enormous head seems to have two faces. A rather silly, frightened looking face:

… and a face with a much more sinister, slit-eyed, reptile-toothed scowl:

I got my first Phobos at the end of the 1980s, back in college. I immediately gravitated to the more ‘sinister’ of Phobos’ two faces, rather than the one that looked – to me – like a screaming robotic cow. However, Mego’s packaging displayed the face I didn’t like. To make matters more confusing, the product photo had the robot’s entire torso turned around backwards, with the tread assembly up front and the pilot’s cockpit in the back.

That didn't seem to make much sense. As far as I was concerned, it looked like Mego didn’t know what the heck was going on with the toy in their typically ethereal packaging fashion, so who could tell if the two 5 millimeter sockets and the apparent vents and grilles on the ‘cow faced’ side of Phobos’ head were really supposed to be a face or not? If I was an evil giant robot, I knew which face I’d prefer to meet my foes with.

Later, when the Micronauts collecting community became connected in the on-line Microverse, more people shared the same small confusion. At least one website – now sadly off line – explored the toy’s entertaining dilemma. Although some folks inexplicably preferred the robot cow face…

Recently, I obtained copies from one of Mego’s rare salesman’s marketing booklets. These books featured information about the toys Mego was currently offering, with clip art and some marketing write-ups to help retailers put together advertising for the products. The page for Phobos features a solid look at what Mego actually thought about their own toy (and a quick correction for misspelling his name!), but which they failed to convey on the toy’s own packaging.

The page also features a great photo of Phobos in a prototype stage, with his torso turned around backwards, the hard copy head showing the cow-face unchromed and decorated with star stickers, and his body color apparently lacking the red later applied in place of Biotron’s white areas.

So it would appear that Phobos is supposed to deliberately sow confusion! His head is indeed “two-sided” – part of his many disguises!

That sneaky Mego … leaving so much of Phobos up to the imagination... which was really one of the most important action features of the Interchangeable World of the Micronauts.