CM: Any Personal Info you are willing to share: (married? Kids? Pets? Occupation? Where from? Other hobbies,/Interests?).
MJ: I am a medical doctor currently doing my residency at Rush Medical Center in Chicago. My specialty is Anesthesiology and Critical Care. I have been married for seven years, but no kids yet. I am originally from the Chicago suburbs, and my main collecting interests are Classic Movie Monsters and pretty much any collectible having to do with them. I prefer the vintage stuff from the 60s and 70s, but I also collect much of the new stuff as well. I also love anything having to do with adventure and swashbuckler type heroes, such as Zorro, Captain Blood etc. In other words, if Errol Flynn could have played it, I am usually a huge fan.
CM: How did you get started collecting mego?
MJ: I started re-collecting Megos when I was in my last year of college in 1995. The awful "Batman Forever" had come out a few months before and when I went to the Chicago Comic Con that Summer, there was a plethora of Batman stuff including a Mego Riddler for the unheard of sum of $25. I had no idea it was called Mego, or how many of them there were. I knew he bore a strong similarity to many of the toys I had had a kid, including Batman, Superman, Spidey, Hulk, Green Goblin. There was nothing in the way of internet resources in those days, so I had to build my knowledge through personal correspondence, and the occasional article in Tomarts. All my purchases in those days were made by perusing the back page ads of "Toy Shop" and "Collecting Toys" magazine. No Ebay. I remember the thrill of calling up the store to see if they still had the item, asking them to describe the condition over the phone, and waiting for it to arrive in the mail. There are times when I miss that feeling. What Ebay has provided in the way of knowledge and availability, it has sacrificed somewhat in the loss of the thrill of the hunt.
CM: What is your favorite original mego figure and line?
MJ: I bet you thought I was going to say the Mad Monsters. Actually, my favorite line is Robin Hood and His Merry Men. Those are not only the best figures Mego made overall (with all due deference to the Super Knights), but are some of the best action figures ever made. But my favorite figure by them is Mad Monster Frankenstein. It is actually the only Mego I have a picture of myself owning as a kid. I had so much fun with him when I was young. I like the fact that he doesn't bear a strong resemblance to the Universal Frankenstein. He seems more like he has wandered out of a storybook. Though I think there is a slight evoking of Lon Chaney Jr. in the sculpt, which only enhances the appeal for me.
CM: What is, in your opinion, the biggest "hole" in mego's original lines. (what figure or figure line is missing that should have been done).
MJ: Some have, at times, expressed disappointment that Mego didn't pursue or get the Universal Monster license. It has never really bothered me. Mego's rigid quality control and uniformity of features would have prevented so much of what many find charming in the AHI line of "Super Monsters," such as the frequent variations in head sculpt, paint scheme and body styles. No, for me the biggest hole was The Three Musketeers. This line always seemed an obvious choice to me. They could have used existing heads, and props, and extended the "Legends" line without paying a license fee. These characters were really popular in the 70s based on two sources: The Richard Lester movies starring Oliver Reed and Michael York; and the Three Musketeers cartoon they showed on the "Banana Splits." I can only assume it was an oversight. I have also never understood why they restricted Zorro to the foreign market as I think it would have sold like crazy over here. Another HUGE hole was "Lost in Space." This show was also really popular in the 70s. But perhaps they figured they had cast their lot with Star Trek and didn't want to do another Sci Fi line. So, again, AHI had to pick up the slack and make the Robot (although I suppose it's possible that Remco/AHI held the license, and Mego couldn't have picked it up even if they had wanted to). I also wished they had done "Sherlock Holmes."
CM: What motivated you to start customizing?
MJ: I stumbled across an article in an old issue of Tomarts Action Figure Digest about Charlee Flatt. I was blown away by all the brilliant stuff he had done. It went beyond Mego customs in to a whole different arena. Shortly thereafter, he and I began a correspondence. Although I was ALWAYS too shy to ask him how he did anything. I figured he'd want to keep his secrets. Which, if anyone knows Charlee, knows is completely inaccurate. He is one of then humblest and most generous of customizers, always willing to give a tip. Instead, I kinda had to puzzle it out on my own, using his work as a guide, or guidepost. Something to work towards. I already knew how to sew, although not on this small a scale. But I reasoned I could figure it out by disassembling some existing costumes and making patterns.
CM: What was your first custom?
MJ: The Spectre. One of my favorite characters. I figured he wouldn't be complicated, so I gave him a shot. It took me couple of days, and I was so pleased with the result, that the next day I attempted Dr. Strange, using Charlee's as my inspiration.
CM: How did it come out? (looking back on it now)
MJ: Judge for yourself. It was pretty crude. I made his head by pushing some Sculpy into an epoxy mould I made of Thor's head, and then baking it. It had no ears, and the paint job made up for a lot of it (I was a painter first and foremost and had wanted to go into illustration as a child. My Mom sent me to art classes and took my school on field trips to the Art Institute). Although kinda primitive compared to what is being done today, if these customs had not turned out as "well" as they had, I probably would have given up on the hobby from the outset.
CM: What have you done/learned that has improved your customizing skills?
MJ: Well, I have been doing this for ten years, so the amount of things I have learned is too numerous to list here. But I guess the most important is learning to sculpt small heads. There are a lot of custom Flash heads out there, and many resources if you want one. Likewise the various Batmans. But if you want a Mego scale "Hideous Sun Demon"? You're kinda on your own. A Wolfman as he appeared in "Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein"? Better get out the sculpting epoxy. Don't get me wrong-this is not what attracts me to this area of customizing. I would love it if such resources existed. Anyone who knows my work knows I will use existing stuff if I can. Most of my Boris Karloff sculpts are re-workings of Sideshow's Son of Frankenstein figure . My Bela Lugosi monsters use a brilliant sculpt by Thomas Kuntz as their base. But the Hammer Monsters are all my own work. (Full disclosure, "Evil of Frankenstein" uses an Aurora Superman head as the base-he had the perfect chin and shape of the face). But the single biggest improvement with me came with the advent of commercially available "shrinking" resins and molds such as Hydrospan and Reducit. It is common practice in the toy industry to sculpt items one or two scales above the size in which they will eventually be produced-so called "two-ups". It allows for greater ease and detail in the sculpt. But custom-made items and garage resin kits are almost always 1:1, which is my feeling why you see so few 1/8th scale resin garage kits. It's hard to do good detail in that size, especially if you are an amateur. These days, I find that unless the base head I am using is in 8" scale already, I will sculpt the master in 10" scale and then shrink it down. It adds an extra step to the whole process, having to shrink it down. But it increases the fidelity of the sculpt-the verisimilitude if you will. And that's a very important consideration when you are trying to do film-accurate likenesses.
CM: What areas of customizing is your strongest points, or favorite things to do?
MJ: Monsters. Without a doubt. They present a huge challenge-with the likenesses, to the clothing, to the painting required. But nothing I have ever done in the way of a craft has been as rewarding. Many of my favorite childhood memories involve staying up late on Saturdays watching "Creature Features," or "Son of Svengoolie" on TV, eating stove top popped corn and pot pies. (I was usually only allowed to do these things when my parents were out and my brothers were baby-sitting And frozen pizzas and pot-pies were the limit of their cooking abilities. To this day I associate pot pies very strongly with monster movies.). Monsters are my favorite thing to do because they are just so cool. I mean, who wouldn't want a poseable playable version of Christopher Lee as Dracula, or as the Frankenstein monster? These guys haunted my dreams as a kid.
CM: Why do you choose the projects you choose?
MJ: I think dread is remembered far more vividly than anything "fun." I know I went to Disney World several times as a child, and I could probably tell you when if I thought about it for awhile. But I remember vividly each and every separate instance of going to a haunted house, or to a chamber of horrors at the wax museum. I remember the Saturday morning I hid in the basement watching Christopher Lee in "Scars of Dracula" on Saturday afternoon Chiller theater. I was chewing orange flavor Bubblicious bubble gum. The windows were open and I could smell the crab-apple blossoms mixed with the scent of freshly-cut grass. Chris Lee's Dracula was on the TV staring imperiously out over the rolling landscape of the town beneath his castle tower. And there I sat, dreaming wide awake in the dark, senses on full tilt. And then the movie ends and you emerge into the light of the afternoon and everything seems so much more, and less, real. It's a perfect moment, and in some respects, the customs I make are a way of trying to recapture those perfect moments-or at least solidify them.
I think It's kinda cool that so few other people do them in Mego scale. For years it seemed like it was just me and Laurie Halbritter (who, I must add, was a constant inspiration, and remains so). Because of that, I had to adjust many of my techniques in a vacuum, because I didn't have people to trade knowledge with. A such, it forced me to come up with ways to achieve certain characters on my own, and I think led me to create certain characters I would not have otherwise done. For instance, I am never going to make a Blue Beetle custom. So many people have done so many wonderful Blue Beetle customs. It holds no attraction for me any more. Now imagine; what if those same people had all done "Frankenstein's Daughter" customs? I probably never would have done one. And yet one day I found myself making one, and no one was more surprised than me (because this is simply one of the worst movies ever made). But it makes sense, if you think about it. I have a buddy who thinks that the true quality of ANY action figure line lies not in the staples of the line (such as Batman, Spidey, Superman etc..) but in the third-stringers. the "scrubs" such as Falcon, Aquaman, or "tall Mxytlplk." You can't get more of a scrub than "Frankenstein's Daughter."
CM: What resources make it easier for you as a customizer? (is there a source for parts? Information? Etc. that aids you more than anything else?).
MJ: The best resources I have for what I do are the Figure Kit Modeling magazines such as "Amazing Figure Modeler," the now out-of-publication "Modeler's Resource" and "Kitbuilder's" magazine. These are magazines geared toward the resin and garage kit hobby. They are great for me because monsters form the bulk of that hobby, and so they are invaluable as a resource. It is a lot easier to sculpt an 8" head using a 3-D model as a guide, than it is just using 2-D pictures or stills from the movie. Plus, they are filled with tips on modifying plastic kits, and advanced painting techniques. There are also lots of articles and tutorials on making dioramas, which I love to do for my customs. A lot of these guys have been at this hobby a lot longer than we as a Mego community have been customizing, and so they have a lot of neat tips. In some instances, as well, I have bought 12" resin kits just to get the likeness of the character to use as a guide, or to shrink down to Mego scale. It can be an expensive proposition, to be sure-but if you love Monsters the way I do, you do what you have to in order to get the figures you want (not surprisingly, one of the most famous of books written about resin kits was called "Revenge of the Garage Kit that ate my wallet")
CM: What is your favorite custom you've done and do you think it's your best work? If not, what do you think is your best work?
MJ: The best part about doing customs for me is the creation of a whole universe of characters all supposedly in the same "toy line," just as all Megos were Worlds Greatest Superheroes etc. So on my custom boxes, I show the other customs I have done on the side panels. I subtly alter the packaging from time to time to make it seems as if certain characters came out in the same assortment, much like with the '72 and '77 cards of Mego. So, to that end-the making of a whole universe-my favorite thing I have done is the "Counter Top Display Box" I made for my custom boxed toys to go into. I wanted it to look like the Counter Top display boxes that you saw for Megos in the Walgreens and Kresge's when we were children. It completes the picture for me. It makes it seem more real. There is just something so cool about standing a bunch of boxed monsters up inside it. I feel like I have completed some rare run of Megos that was only sold in a foreign market, and that no one else has. The only thing is I have way more boxed monsters than I have space for inside it. I might have to make a second one with different art.
But if you were to ask what my favorite figure is? Hard to say. I am particularly fond of my Frankenstein from "Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein" because for as long as I have been customizing, I have wanted a Glenn Strange Frankenstein who comes complete with the wooden McDougal's House of Horror shipping crate. It was one of my top 5 dream figures. However, the Wolf Man is my favorite character in any movie ever, so I would probably have to say my favorite figure is the Wolfman as he appeared in "Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein." As you can probably guess, that was one of my favorite movies from childhood. The make-up on the monsters in that movie was markedly different than their previous incarnations in the "serious" Universal movies. So to get film-accurate looks to the figures was a big challenge and a lot of fun.
CM: What are your favorite customs others have done and why?
MJ: I have never made a secret of what a great inspiration to me Charlee Flatt was. In many ways he started our hobby. How many people saw his Dr. Strange and thought "Damn, I could make that!" Similarly Scott Metzger was an enormous inspiration to me, and source of early encouragement. I think Scott has done more Mego customs than anyone else. To date, he remains the only customizer I have seen who work is both a refinement of the Mego style, and a validation of it at the same time. I have never been quite sure of how he pulls that one off. My favorite Charlee custom was his Green Lantern, and my favorite Scott custom was his Martian Manhunter.
Along Monster lines, Laurie Halbritter's stuff has always been among my favorites. She did this terrific custom of the "Pinhead closet monster" from the B-film "The Brain that Wouldn't Die." It contains some of her best work. I think it is her finest sculpture yet, and is an awesome looking monster. It is one of the few customs done by someone else that I have in my collection, and I love it to pieces.
But there are so many incredible customizers out there now. Far too numerous to name. But my current favorite was done by somebody whom I'm embarrassed to admit, I don't know his name. A couple months ago, someone posted a custom "Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes" that is simply one of the most jaw-droppingly beautiful things I have seen. I was so upset that I missed the auction for it, because I would have mortgaged to house to pay for it if I needed to. Unfortunately the very talented artist in question stated that it was a OOAK, never to be reproduced. Which is a position I can totally understand. I hate to chew my cabbage twice as well, as the saying goes. But I really hope the customizing gods smile and he makes another one someday.
CM: What is on your "to do" list in the near future?
MJ: A simple one is up next: Boris Karloff in "The Raven." To be followed by Boris in "The Black Cat." Then I plan to make D'Artagnan for my "Three Musketeers" line, and a set of boxes for them as well, along the lines of the Super Knights boxes. Then maybe Hammer's "the Reptile," and what I am hoping will turn out to be a Gene Colan-faithful sculpt of "Tomb of Dracula."
CM: How do you think customizing affects the mego collecting hobby?
MJ: I think it makes a lot more people into "completists." Because no one is going to start expanding the World's Greatest Superhero line with new characters if they don't also have the intention of getting all the characters already made by Mego.
CM: Any tips or words of customizing advise to new customizers?
MJ: Make your art for you, not for someone else. Make it to make yourself happy. Not to get praise from others. Finally: you are not going to get rich selling customs. Just tired. I have seen a lot of people get embittered and burnt out on this hobby from deals gone bad, or customs that didn't sell for as much as their maker intended. A hobby should be a life's pursuit, a passion. It shouldn't aggravate you-or if it does, it shouldn't be because someone stiffed you on the money for a Flash custom. That being said, I think the plethora of resources available for people who want to make their own customs is fantastic. From Austin Hough's site, to Notdolls to Dr. Mego to all the others. I think that is great. I recommend using those resources. I would also, however, recommend learning to sew. You'll only save yourself some heartache down the road. Plus-it is a useful skill to have.
CM: Do you sell custom figures or parts? If so, why?
MJ: Nope. (see above)
CM: What does your family/friends think of your mego custom work/hobby?
MJ: Over time, it has run the whole gamut: from "you're collecting dolls?", to bemusement, to acceptance, to participation, to active encouragement, to bragging on my behalf. I find it funny. It's like the "Five Stages of Grief". only with dollies.
CM: Thanks for your participation Matt! We leave you with a few more great customs from Matt Jaycox.