INTERVIEW: Marty Abrams, Founder of Mego Toys, Talks Comebacks, Figures, And The Future Of His Iconic Company
This month, Mego’s iconic 8- and 14-inch figures return exclusively to Target shelves. The line offers a wide array of characters from hit shows like Star Trek, Cheers, I Dream of Jeanie, Happy Days, and The Brady Bunch and includes pop culture paragons like Jimi Hendrix and Lynda Carter’s Wonder Woman. I recently had a chance to sit down with Mego founder Marty Abrams and Mego consultant Paul “Dr. Mego” Clarke to chat comebacks, old favorites, and the future of Mego. Here are some highlights:
Q: Why Mego 2018? What about our current cultural moment drives you to bring back Mego now?
ABRAMS: “The reality is that, in order to make it work, there’s no way we could do it in the collector’s market. I’ve been offered that type of deal in the last 30-40 years, and, if you hit the timing right, you’ll sell, but if you don’t, you won’t. The failure rate is too high. There are all sorts of companies that sell what we call ‘Mego-like’ product, where you can find products that are similar to Mego in the specialty stores [like comic shops], but you can’t go to the mass market for them. So stuff that would be $14.95 is more like $49.95. Now, kids aren’t gonna pay $49.95 for this stuff. So we knew the only way for this to work is we had to go in mass [market]. And what happened was, finally, this great, fantastic company called Target said, ‘Yeah, we’d love to do this. We’ll give it to you in mass. We’ll give you end caps. We’ll change every product line every 45 days, so we’re refreshing it. And we’re gonna get behind this as a company.’ So that’s what the mystical moment was. It was the first time we had a partner that we knew would help this product sell. It has to work with the collectors, but we have to bring in this new audience of kids to come in and say, ‘Okay this is truly an action figure that we can play with.’ Over the past 35 years, the collector market has been selling [Mego-like product], but the kids haven’t had the chance to play with these figures, and we think that’s a big market. So that’s why now.”
Q: Target has done a lot of work in terms of nostalgia, bringing back My Little Pony in its original packaging, for example. Is that sort of what they’re envisioning for Mego, too?
ABRAMS: “Paul [‘Dr. Mego’ Clarke] has kept us as authentic as we can in terms of the body style and how the clothing fits, so the answer is yes – Target has been just amazing.”
DR. MEGO: “We’re using the body we used for Star Trek, but we altered the head plug so that instead of a plug twisting into a tack, it’s got a post, similar to the original G.I. Joe, where the head goes on [a ball joint]. It’s easier for mass production.”
Q: Who is the perfect audience for the new Mego line?
ABRAMS: “Our audience now is 40-60 years old. Our perfect audience would be the grandfather or the father who has kids of grandkids who buys one [figure] for himself and then another one for the kids and says, ‘You go play with this one.’ That would be the perfect scenario.”
Q: What do you think about the brick-and-mortar toy buying experience now that Toys R Us is gone?
DR. MEGO: “Everyone goes to Target, so you can pick these things up right where you find everything else.”
“There will be an online presence as well, at target.com
. We also have what we call The Ambassador’s Club because we went to Mego Meet in Columbus, Ohio, and there were over 1,000 people there. These people deserve to be rewarded, so we created The Ambassador’s Club.”
DR. MEGO: “They sign up and there’s a series of challenges, like ‘Post Your Collection,’ and we basically want them to go out there on social media and really talk it up, so it’s not just something people stumble across in Target.”
Q: Do you have any thoughts about the 3.75-inch figures?
ABRAMS: “We’re looking at all of it. The reason we didn’t go down that road is because in those characters you have to be very specific in terms of the body type, the look, so you have to do a lot of tooling there.”
DR. MEGO: “ReAction kind of ran pretty deep with that, and they did a lot. So I just said if we want to go that size, we should think about it first.”
Q: Do you have a favorite Mego?
ABRAMS: “A favorite Mego? I have a lot of favorite Megos, for a lot of different reasons. Batman is a favorite because Batman was the first to reach mass. That was the first one we did as a licensed character. Right behind that would be Spider-Man, because they became one and two. And Kirk, who can’t love Kirk?”
DR. MEGO: “To me, it’s Mego Captain America. But you have to understand: there are two different Megos. You had the early days where everyone got the same boots and the same gloves, and then the later days when we did stuff like Thor and everyone’s got unique accessories that are more specific to the character, but that was a more mature company that had the resources to put into it. So Captain America was still early, but he was selling the whole 10 year line and it never changed. He sold year after year and it never went back to ‘Let’s change this or correct that.'”
Q: This comeback is so exciting!
ABRAMS: “We’re very excited about what’s cooking here.”
DR. MEGO: “Yeah, and it says, ‘MEGO,’ like, to have the company back… And it’s the same logo, but updated a bit.”
ABRAMS: “And we did a rainbow [on the logo] for a reason. We’re very inclusive!”
As we talked, it became very clear that the Mego comeback is not just a financially-motivated business decision or an attempt to play into nostalgia; it’s a passion project carried out by a team of people who are fans. The figures themselves are physical manifestations of their fandoms.
When we were wrapping up after about an hour of generously-provided time, Marty remarked, “Y’know, I have one fear. That it won’t work.” It is now August. The figures are out. I’ve seen the endcaps at Target. I’ve seen how eager fans are to have each new Mego figure. I felt the excitement as I bought as many Megos as I could hold. I know that the toy business can be tough, and the future always uncertain. However, I can’t help but think that the delight I’ve experienced is infectious. The new Megos represent the best-case scenario of the toy world: a groundswell of kids, adults, and businesspeople creating and consuming a product that all involved feel connected to. Marty, it worked.
Jonathan Alexandratos writes essays and plays about action figures and grief. Collect them all on Twitter @jalexan.