IT'S ALL TRUE.NET, October 11, 2010
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MEL BIRNKRANT INTERVIEW PART II, by NoisyDVL5
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?
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.
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,
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.
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
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.
MB: I’ve thought a lot about collecting, and believed I knew most of what there was to know about it. But entering the world of Action Figure Collectors has proved to be enlightening and exciting. Observing the Fans of the 4 Horsemen has been a Revelation. It taught me that collecting, as I saw it develop over the years, has undergone yet another change.
Every Human Being on Planet Earth is a collector. Each of us stepped into this world, eager to collect. And we began our First Collection, not long after we were born. No matter what our place of origin, in the beginning we all collected the same thing: WORDS! We started collecting words as soon as we began to talk. And each of our collections has continued to grow throughout our lifetime. Like any major collection, it grew very fast at first, but as our collections became more advanced, new words, rare words, words we had never heard before, became harder to find, harder to add to the collection.
And we store our collection of words in our heads. I sometimes wonder how they are organized in there. I can’t quite visualize it, but I have tried. The arrangement must be quite efficient, for most of the time, I know exactly where each word I want is kept, ready to use at a split-second’s notice. Sometimes, I will misplace a word, and I must dig around to find it, not always with success. I thought I knew where I had put it. In fact, the last time I detected it, it was right on the tip of my tongue. The person, who had the world’s biggest collection of words might well have been Noah Webster. He displayed the words in his collection rather unimaginatively, neatly lined up in alphabetical order, on shelves of equal size, in something called a Dictionary.
Others display their collection of words in more creative ways, arranging them in infinitely unique combinations. Their displays can move, inspire, enlighten, entertain and delight. They can make the viewer see things that they have never noticed, and think thoughts that they have never thought before. William Shakespeare is a good example of someone who displayed his collection well. He illustrates that how a collection is displayed counts! The commonest words can appear beautiful when well displayed. And, by the same token, a poor arrangement can make even the rarest and most beautiful words seem dull.
I always found it fascinating to note the curious speech patterns of our former president. As he brought out the biggest and best words in his collection, some of which had, obviously, been broken, and amateurishly restored, he seemed to savor each word slowly, carefully pronouncing it, and enjoying every syllable, as if he was discovering it for the first time. Would that I could recapture the joy that I once felt, the first time I beheld my favorite toys, and relive that, all too fleeting, feeling of initial excitement and delight, each time I look at them again.
Now, thanks to my new found friends at the Fantastic Forum, that theory has been amended and extended. They have introduced me to some aspects of collecting I never thought about before. One is “Articulation”. It seems that Words, and Action Figures too, should, both, be well “articulated”. Another one is “Play”. Action figure collectors actually “play” with the toys in their collection. Some, it seems, can’t wait to get their hands on the OSM, to customize them, fix them up, take them apart, mix them up, and, thanks to the Glyos System, put them back together agai in combinations hitherto unknown to man.
I’ve often “played” with Words before and must admit,I find it Fun. And some folks have said I am “articulate”. But, I never, never… well, hardly ever, “Played” with the toys in my collection. Maybe, when my regular edition OSM arrive, I’ll give it a try.
How BIG could The Outer Space Men be? HUGE, to put it modestly. But before we venture out beyond our Galaxy, there are Worlds of Wonder to be discovered right here at “Home”. Each planet in our Solar System could be a Toy Line of its own:
Inferno is just one of many Mercurial Warriors, ablaze with flames of every color, like fireworks, or those chemical soaked logs at Christmas time. And we learn that the molten Planet Mercury is alive with a fiery multitude of Flaming Creatures, of every inconceivable design.
Amid the lofty Cloud Cities of Venus, we find that Commander Comet commands a vast regiment of Winged Warriors, Majestic Men, and Angelic Women who soar above a Celestial Paradise, populated by a citizenry, resembling the Gods, Goddesses, and Monstrous Anomalies of Planet Earth’s Ancient Mythology.
Meanwhile, on Mother Earth: some of you are wondering if we might discover an alluring team of Titan Asstronauts, who conceal their heavenly bodies beneath the bulky pressure suits required to perform extra-vehicular activities, in the vast vacuum of Outer Space? Maybe! Just wait and see….
But, rest assured, below the surface of our planet, deep in the depths of Hollow Earth, we will meet Mystron’s Mighty Minions, Ghouls, Gargoyles and every sort of Demon Warrior; among them, Eyeless Entities, born in darkness, who hunger for the light of day and you, and Nameless Nocturnal Creatures that, bat-like, pour forth from secret fissures, to circle above our sleeping planet, silently sailing on the Winds of Darkness, seeking prey.
High in the Midnight Sky, we enter the elusive Kingdom of the Northern Lights, to encounter Equinox, legendary Keeper of the Light, and his Legions of Light Infantry, Luminescent Warriors, who glow eternally, with the passion of Saint Elmo’s Fire, longing to bask forever in the radiant beauty of Aurora Borealis, the Princess of the Night.
And so it goes, one world after another, the 13 Outer Space Men that we know already merely scratch the surface. If Fate is kind and Luck permitting, we will travel with Gamma X, through the 4th Dimension, a Nightmare World of Alien Geometry, where everything and everybody is taken apart and put together, Glyos-like, in a most unearthly way.
Then dive beneath the Seas of Neptune, to discover that Astro Nautilus is the most “normal” looking of his brothers, and tentacles are only the beginning. But, hush, a moment, and listen well! Is that the seductive sound of Sirens singing? Let us flee, before we fall under their spell.
And so, we shall continue, farther still, out past our own familiar Planets to others, yet to be discovered. Imagine one, similar to Earth in history and appearance, on which, dinosaurs never became extinct, but instead, evolved into intelligent beings, who now set out to explore and conquer Intergalactic Space.
Onward we travel, and onward thorough the Universe, amid the familiar Constellations, once thought friendly, Taurus, Leo, Cancer the Crab, and the mighty Bears, Ursa Major and his Minor brother, to rediscover the Awesome Creatures, from whence these star groups got their names, eons before all life on Earth began.
The Impossibilities are infinite as we voyage out among the farthest Galaxies, across vast distances, expanding faster than the speed of light, to the very Edge of Infinity, where, driven on by curiosity, we dive head-first into the very Birthplace of the Universe, the bottomless depths of the ultimate Black Hole. What Wonders will we encounter there? Only the Four Horsemen know.
How does our journey end? Perhaps, the Cataclysmic Chaos carries us through Time and Space, and spits us out in a different place, back Home again. Sitting in front of our computer, nothing’s changed! Everything is exactly as it was before!
Or is it? What’s that knocking at the door?
A few months later, there was a second interview with “It’s All True.” Hopefully it has survived online, and you can still read it in its original format, HERE, with all the comments and responses intact. It was written at a time when both the present and the future for the Outer Space Men promised to be bright. Now, four years later, reality has decreed that the original 13 Outer Space Men have been recreated by the Four Horsemen, as well as a couple of new ones. And that's that! The grandiose hopes and dreams, imagined in this interview are not destined to take place, at least, not in the Horsemen’s stable, which is not to say these optimistic Fantasies have been tabled! At this very moment, they are on their way to happening, in a new time, which for those used to waiting for 4H deliveries, will not seem that far away, and a new place, the Infinite Universe of TV.
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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.
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.
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?
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?
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: Every young toy inventor, who manages to place a toy in play, inevitably becomes intoxicated, drunk on dreams, fantasizing all the amazing places to which their humble offering could lead. The sky’s the limit! To the Moon and Beyond. Then there is this thing called Reality that, sooner or later, raises its ugly head. And by the cold light of the following day, or, maybe a year later, one wakes up to discover that their item, and the dreams that it ignited, are dead. Well, if you will, just for a moment, permit an old man to dream again. I’ll tell you where, in the Best of All “Pose-able” Worlds, I would take the Outer Space Men.
IAT: Kinda the same question, but on the collecting side of things. While you’ve been engaging the fans, you’ve also been speaking with fellow collectors online. What’s that been like for you?
IAT: Last time, we closed with your hopes for the future of the Outer Space Men. We went to re-ask that question, but in a different way. Where would you like to see the OSM go? Where would you take them if you could?