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The Outer Space Men:
More with Mel Birnkrant…

It’s been four months since our first interview with Outer Space Men creator Mel Birnkrant. In that session, we focused on the history of the OSM. Now, with the Alpha Phase in our grubby hands and the Beta and Regular Editions just weeks away, we thought it was time to talk to Mel about the present and future.

IAT: The Alpha Phase figures are already in collector’s hands, the Beta Wave debuted at NYCC this weekend, and the Pre-Orders for the regular editions are live now – tell us, how does it feel to see the Outer Space Men reappear?

Mel Birnkrant : How does it feel to see the Outer Space Men reappear? I guess I’d have to say just the opposite of how it felt to see them disappear some forty years ago! Or in a word: Exhilarating! I ask myself repeatedly: Is this a manifestation of Destiny or merely an arbitrary twist of Fate? After all, the Outer Space Men were just one of my many halfhearted attempts to make a living while avoiding both reality and pain. I devoted two years of my life to them, then left them by the roadside and moved on.

When I was a kid of nine or ten, the 1946 movie “Ziegfeld Follies” had a lasting impact on me. In it, the great impresario, Florenz Ziegfeld, from his cloud-lined condo up in Heaven, sees his life reenacted in a series of perfect tiny puppet theatres. From my perch here in “Mouse Heaven”, I sort of feel that way today. Fate, of late, has raised the curtain on a revival of The Outer Space Men and I find myself falling under their spell again; seeing them more clearly now than I ever did back then.

Little did I know, forty years ago, that what I was doing, in innocence and ignorance, would, one day, have a place in Acton Figure History. Well, how could I? Action Figures hadn’t been invented then. So how could I know that inventing them was, in fact, what I was doing? Well, there was Matt Mason, of course, who was the OSM’s inspiration. But he was more of an In-action Figure as there was no one for him to interact with. As far as aliens go, there was soon Callisto, but he followed on the tail of the OSM, wagging his scrawny little butt behind him.

Reflecting back, I wonder: if I had I followed the road down which the OSM were leading, where would I be today? I might have become a Master of the action figure Universe. Instead, the Outer Space Men occupy just one small cloud clad puppet stage, among a multitude of many. How far “Off Broadway” can you get? I know the audience will never swell to “Standing Room Only”. But, nonetheless, to You Cherished Few I say, please take your seats. The Show is just beginning.

IAT: Now that you’ve had the Alpha Phase in-hand you’ve seen the Glyos system first hand. So… what do you think? What opportunities do you see or its use in the line and are there any specific colorways you’d like to see?

MB: Having the Alpha Phase in-hand was an Experience I was not prepared for. When I finally saw the Alpha Phase figures in person, I was stunned by their size. These are no mere 3 ¾” figures; they are actually a whole new size. I found myself Mesmerized by their pristine delicate detail and precious jewel-like quality, monumental in form and concept, meticulously miniature, and Magical in size. Is anyone else struck by this elusive quality or is my reaction merely evidence of my unfamiliarity with modern-day action figures?

Now, I guess this might surprise, and even disappoint some readers – it’s sort of a confession. I never play with the toys in my collection. I’ll restore them without hesitation, and, in that respect, have my way with them. But I play with them only with my mind and once I find a place to place them, I touch them only with my eyes. Nonetheless, I forced myself to pop an arm off of Inferno, then quickly put it back again. I wanted it to remain just exactly as I got it; as if there is some mystical significance in the hands that assembled each figure “officially” in the factory – hands more “official” than mine. The four figures of the Alpha Phase stand here, beside my computer in a row, each one posed “just so”. They are surrounded by a cornucopia of priceless treasures, longtime favorites that I like to keep close to my heart and eye. Nevertheless, it’s the OSM that capture and hold my gaze these days. They’ve been standing there for several weeks now and they’ve never lost their Glow.

I’ve learned to love the Glyos system, especially as manifested in the OSM. In my opinion, it’s a marriage made in Heaven. And although, I regard the OSM, so far, as Fully Realized by the 4 Horsemen, and consider what they’ve accomplished in the first four figures to be sheer Perfection, I believe they are only beginning to explore the ever expanding Universe of endless possibilities that the Glyos system offers. As the 4 Horsemen travel to the farthest reaches of the Glyos galaxy, I think you’ll find that some Glyosian Surprises will soon be on the way.

Colorways? Yes, I do have Colorways choices that I’d love to see someday. Each OSM has an intrinsic Aura, the color that it radiates, just as people do. Some people can see auras more easily than others. Some people’s auras are easier to see. The OSM have obvious auras. Of course, I see them clearly, choices that seem so obvious, that the fact they were not chosen for the Alpha Wave came as a shock to me.

There is one choice I have been championing from the get-go. It’s for Inferno: a beautiful, bright crystal clear flaming Red-Orange, infused with Day-Glow! Another thing I’d do is choose the color theme for all 13, simultaneously, so there would be no duplication, or chance of someone’s most intrinsic color used prematurely by another OSM.

IAT: You’ve recently joined the Fantastic Forum and are interacting more with fans via the internet. What’s that been like? How is that different from when you were starting out in the toy industry?

MB: I’d been looking in on ItsAllTrue and several others, including the Fantastic Forum, for quite a while, enjoying anonymity and the joys of invisibility, feeling like a cross between a peeping Tom and God. Every once in a while, I’d come across a question or a misconception, to which I had the answer or correction, and I was momentarily tempted to chime in. God, probably, feels the same. But I also felt that if I entered the discussion, I’d no longer overhear honest opinion. And, above all, I was aware that this the Four Horsemen’s show, not mine. Then circumstances beyond my self-control, brought me to where I swore I’d never go. The 4Horsemen wisely cut off the discussion. I was about to slink away with my tail between my legs when the friendly Forum member’s irresistibly seductive questions, along with a generous act of kindness, lured me back again, for a while anyway. I’ve met amazing people there, friendly, bright, brilliant even, and I’m loving (almost) every minute of it.

Gosh was that the question? What’s it been like? Answer: Great! How is this different form when I started out in the toy industry? Well, to begin with, I never started out in the toy industry, I only ended up there. In the beginning, there were no computers, and there was NO feedback. And children, big and little – myself included, thought toys just “were”, never dreaming anybody actually created them or thought of being a toy designer as a possible career.

Years later, when I created the Outer Space Men, the toy industry still remained an abstract dream to me. For my mysterious unseen mentor, and fantasy father figure, Harry Kislevitz, insulated both himself and me from the nightmare reality of the Toy Industry. Later still, when Fate forced me to intermingle, I never rode a crowded elevator at the Annual Toy Fair without being overwhelmed by feelings of alienation and gratitude that I could work at home.

What was it like then in the average toy company? At the top of the corporate ladder would usually be some omnipotent executive, overpaid and often obnoxious, who dictated the big “decisions”. If the toys the company produced that year sold, then he’d get all the credit; and if they didn’t, he’d get the axe. On the very bottom rung, somewhere in the basement, would be the art department – underappreciated, underpaid, and always under pressure. These were the folks who actually made the toys. Those above them were dependent on them and, at the same time, they were threatened by their creativity. They did everything they could to keep them down. In between, were the bookkeepers, accountants, product managers, secretaries, and every shape and size of salesman, who’d just as soon be selling cars as toys. Of course, there were some great people mixed in there as well, like stray peanuts in a box of Cracker Jack. But talented young toy designers had to think and act “outside the box” if they hoped to find a prize.

That is exactly what the 4 Horsemen did – stepped outside the corporate system – and rode their Talent to the stars. This never could have happened in my day. The times have changed dramatically. I first saw this take place in the movies, where once unknown make-up artists like Dick Smith and Stan Winston could, themselves, become Stars and the primary reason why a multitude of fans would flock to see a film. Now it has happened in the World of Toys as well with the 4Horsemen leading the pack and galloping to the fore. I’m enjoying chatting with their adoring fans at the Fantastic Forum, and warming my old bones in the reflected radiance of the 4 Horsemen’s afterglow.
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More with Mel Birnkrant…