Have you ever heard of toys that were suppose to come out or wondered why a toy line never had more than one wave? Well Blake Wright author of the Kickstarter book Toys that Time Forgot may just have the answers you been looking for. Since 2015 he has been researching toys that never saw the light of day and collected that information in a 212 page volume that has been successfully funded on Kickstarter.
Toy-Lines: Why did you decide to write this book?
Blake Wright: The short answer to that is because I wanted this book and I didn’t see anybody else stepping up to the plate, so to speak. It’s been a subject of great interest in the collector community for a long, long time, but even on the internet no one’s made the move to collect it all in one place. If you wanted to go try to find some of the information about these lines. Then I started getting interested in what does the internet not know? Heaven forbid in the year 2017 the internet doesn’t know everything, but guess what? The internet doesn’t know everything. It just became one of those sort of mini-obsessions. And then I did a toy magazine in 2014 similar to the guitar one that I do now, but I did it as a quarterly, and one of the columns I wrote for it was all about unproduced toys, and it was the most popular column in the magazine. So that kind of fueled the quest for more information and the more I started digging around, the more I thought someone should really do a book on this subject. And so I created 20 dummy pages of what I thought the book could look like and I took it to Toy Fair in 2015 and took it around to some of my industry contacts and asked them to talk me out of doing it, and nobody did. So I came home from that Toy Fair knowing that I was going to be writing a book. So that’s really where it all came from.
TL: Is your toy magazine still available?
BW: You can see it online. I only did it for one year. There’s four issues at littleplasticmen.com. It was kind of a labor-of-love deal. By 2014, most of the toy magazines had gone the way of the dodo already and I think I might have been hanging on, and it was interesting to me to go and try to find some information just two or three lines on the internet, try to get some long-form feature type stuff brought in to take a look at certain sculptors who have been in the business for a long time, or toy company executives that have moved in and out of the business. If it would have made any money, I’d probably still be doing it. But I adopted an ad revenue-based structure for it, which is the same as the guitar magazine. It works really well for guitars; it doesn’t work very well for toys. It really needed to be a subscription-based magazine; if I was going to do it over again, that’s how I would have done it.
TL: How did you get started after Toy Fair?
BW: Before Little Plastic Men was a magazine in 2014, from 2003 to 2006 it was an online store which my wife ran, and we had contacts from back then. We would go to Toy Fair back then as a buyer, so I’ve known people in the industry for a long time, been friends with a lot of folks who knew a lot of folks who could get me in contact with people without too much hassle. And then it’s just a matter of finding a contact and maybe if he’s not the guy you need to talk to, maybe he knows the guy you need to talk to. So it became one of those if I phone somebody up and they’re not exactly the right person, here’s three other people that maybe you can see if they recall exactly what you’re talking about. Laundry list of names and hopefully by the end you’ve gotten somebody who recalls the project and maybe even still has some artifacts from it.
TL: Tell me a little bit about the book. I know from doing some research on you, you mentioned that Dino Riders led to Independence Day and things of that nature?
BW: Not quite. There was a line called Invasion Earth that was pitched to Tyco as a successor to Dino Riders and it looked like Tyco was going to do it, but at the eleventh hour they basically pulled the plug on it because the Dino Riders series had just gone to wave three, I believe, wave 4 didn’t really have any dinosaurs in it, so they took that line to Toy Fair thinking they were going to come back with 30 million in orders, but they only came back with three million. So that’s what happens when you have a dinosaur line that you don’t have any dinosaurs in, because it was like a sabre-tooth tiger and a wooly mammoth and it was all this Ice Age stuff. So they got cold feet — pun intended, I guess, and they pulled the plug on Invasion Earth. And Invasion Earth went on to be optioned by other companies, including Hasbro — who didn’t do anything with it ultimately — and a production company called Film Roman who was going to do a 30-minute live action series based on it, but by the time they had gotten to where they were writing scripts and getting very serious about moving ahead with it, Independence Day came out. And it was basically the same story. Invaders from a faraway planet come; the whole world has to unite as one force to battle them; blah-blah-blah. And it wasn’t, at that time, it knocked the wind out of its sales. And so they ultimately didn’t pursue the television show, but that little toy line, for not ever being produced, had probably as many shots at being produced as I have ever seen for one property.
TL: How big is the book? How many pages?
BW: Currently it’s about 212. I think there are going to be a few more pages added, because I still — people keep sending me stuff. Once the Kickstarter went on, I started getting emails from a few folks who had some items that they thought I’d be interested in, and some of them would be interesting for a second book, but then some of them were natural add-ons to some of the stuff that I was already covering in this book. So I may go in and sneak a few more pages in, just mainly photography and drawing scans, and that sort of stuff, just to supplement the items I already have in there.
TL: Are you considering doing a volume two?
BW: I call it volume one for a reason. The main reason not necessarily being because I’m looking forward to doing a volume two, but I don’t want to give anybody the impression that this is it, that this is the end-all, be-all, that this is everything that’s — I am touching the very tip of the tip of the iceberg with this stuff, because there’s so much material out there. When you really start looking, it becomes overwhelming. So there are plenty of lines that fall into this category that I didn’t touch. Finding like folks who still have prototypes or some sort of hard copy, some sort of 3D representation of the toys, isn’t quite as hard as you would think; what’s really hard is trying to find some people who still have 2D material related to it — drawings or turnarounds, sketches — because a lot of that stuff on paper just gets thrown out. So I like to have — the book is — each line I cover in the book, as best I can, is supplemented by not only the photographs of the actual prototypes but a lot of 2D material as well, like drawings and interoffice memos and just that kind of stuff, which is really hard to come by, especially the further back you go.
TL: Was everyone helpful that you talked to, or were there any roadblocks?
BW: Yeah, I mean, I would say 85 percent of the people I contacted were helpful and 15 percent probably either didn’t fully understand what I was doing or just had no interest in helping, which I respect. A lot of these guys, when it comes to old toy executives, guys that worked in the industry forever, those guys get pursued by collectors sometimes just relentlessly, and even though I wasn’t there to collect anything but maybe just a stray photograph and a story or two, they’re not interested in me getting that far into the story to even let me keep talking. I’ll say I want to talk about toys and the shield goes up and it’s pretty much over. And there were a few collectors that wanted to keep their stuff private, which I respect too. If they don’t want to share and help highlight some of these lines with the material that they’ve collected, that’s fine. But for the most part, folks were receptive. Once I explained the project, they were really receptive to helping out.
TL: What was your most interesting discovery, for you personally?
BW: Personally, it probably had to be Krell, because that’s a line, a property, a movie that I always thought while it wasn’t good — and even back when it came out in ’83 I didn’t think it was a very good movie — but it just had so much toy potential. You’ve got these heroes and villains and these horses that shoot fire out of their hooves and a cyclops; really cool stuff and it just screamed toy line, and, of course, there never was one. And even in the magazine, the very first issue of Little Plastic Men I put out, I picked five properties from the past that needed to have action figures made and my number one was Krell, just because there was so much potential there. Not necessarily because it was an outstanding film and deserved toys, but so flash forward to me doing my research for the book and lo and behold I come across the fact that there were toys in the works for Krell. Knickerbocker. It was not a name you’d normally associate with action figures but they did a lot of more play-oriented stuff back in the day, but their most famous action figure line was probably the Ralph Bakshi Lord of the Rings line, which is very tough to come by now but back then it was a bomb. It basically went straight to the bargain bins, which is why they’re so hard to find now because they didn’t produce a whole lot of them. But they had the Krell license and they were making toys. They sculpted figures. They had play sets planned but not actually prototyped. There was going to be a glaive role-play weapon, soft, like Nerf foam tips on it. So to come across that and actually come across some of the prototypes of the figures and drawings related to other figures was just really, really cool. Because I had no idea, then you start looking around and you see, you wonder if anybody had any idea.
TL: There’s a lot of companies that are no longer with us. Did you do any research on them, like SOTA TOYS?
BW: Yeah. Jerry Macaluso, who sold SOTA — he was the owner and sold the company back in the middle of the 2000s — has been very good to me when it came to this project. He’s been a friend for a while, as had some of the old Palisades hands and some of the old Resaurus guys from even further back in the late ’90s. So there’s a lot of companies that are defunct that had — in the case of Resaurus, they probably had more stuff that didn’t make it out than actually did. Just a ton of work put into a bunch of different lines that never saw the light of day.
TL: Why do you supposed that is though?
BW: Different reasons. Money is usually the big one. In the case of Resaurus, towards the end I know that the principals there were directing a lot of the cash flow to a different business so there wasn’t a lot of money to put into toy projects because it was being diverted. But then you have a company like Palisades who basically got undone by a combination of bad luck in China and losing a ton of retailers when it came to the Musicland bankruptcy when you lost Musicland and Sam Goody and Suncoast and Media Play all at once. That was a huge blow to a lot of smaller toy manufacturers when those guys went away. So yeah, there’s a lot of [line distortion 00:20:01] are represented in the book one way of another through lines that almost made it out but didn’t quite.
TL: You refer to this book as an art book, but isn’t it more of a combination of a history book as well?
BW: Yeah. I basically call it an art/history book. The reason I called it an art book first and foremost is because I firmly believe that once you go, once you take a production toy or action figure or whatever it would be and work it all the way back to the very beginnings, an artist got paid to sculpt a clay version of it, and that’s where it starts. It starts as a piece of art. And when you go through the production process and there’s a machine out in China that spits out 20,000 of them, maybe you lose a little bit. But at their root a person, an artist sculpted that. The second reason I wanted to use the term art book is I didn’t want people to think it was a guide of any kind. So many toy books that come out, these days you think they’re a guide to something so you have very sterile pictures of figures and their accessories and that sort of thing, and that’s not where I was going with this. I wanted people to — number one, it would make no sense to do a guide for this stuff because most of it’s just not for sale.
TL: Right. You can’t find it.
BW: Or hasn’t been sold within a precedence to where you could put a price tag on any of it. But I wanted that to be clear that I wasn’t going to represent these toys as most guides would with these real sterile here’s the front of the figure, here’s the back of the figure, here’s the other side of the figure, here’s accessories, all on a white background.
TL: You’re not actually reviewing it.
BW: Right. And I’m not trying to assign any value to it, either.
TL: Tell me more about the book, I noticed from some of the research I did, you found a dinosaur that Mattel was going to release for the Powers of Grayskull line?
BW: Yeah, that was actually in an old Toy Fair catalog, yeah, from I forget what year. It was right at the end of Masters. There was a very large dinosaur playset, looks like a big brontosaurus playset, it was there towards the end and rumor has it that that was a one-of-one prototype which was destroyed. So I didn’t cover Masters in the book mainly because I think that the Power and Honor Foundation did a wonderful job with their catalog and I couldn’t come anywhere near what they did in that book so I stayed away from — a lot of the bigger lines, I actually stayed away from. GI Joe has books and books and books written on it. There was nothing I could add to GI Joe. Masters, I felt kind of the same way.
TL: So mostly the book is like stuff from Kenner or …
BW: I did touch on Star Wars, really interested in the second series of Droids and Ewoks figures that never came out. Towards the end there, they each had prototyped a second series of Droids and Ewoks but they had pulled the plug on just about everything Star Wars by the time that that stuff was going to start moving to stores, so they canceled it.
TL: You also found stuff on Ren & Stimpy?
BW: Yeah, the Ren & Stimpy stuff was another Palisades line. They did get the first series of that line out but they had a second series almost ready to go which would have been Sven Hoek, Powdered Toast Man, the big fat guy, Kowalski; and then another Stimpy. It may have been Space Stimpy. They produced four figures, which was like Mr. Horse, the Shaven Yak, and Ren and Stimpy, and then they were going to follow that up with four more figures which were those four that I just named, but they never — again, this was at a time when the company was on its way out so it just never happened. But fortunately their VP of production is a gentleman by the name of Ken Lilly and he was very diligent about recording and saving a lot of the material from his time there, so he’s been really, really helpful in supplying a lot of the material that you’ll see for the Palisades entries in the book. So I owe him
TL: You also did stuff with The Muppets?
BW Sesame Street. Yeah, that’s the Palisades line from the mid-2000s that came very, very, very close to going into production but again, at the end of it all, it was — Palisades was already kind of running into rough water financially and could they have gotten that line out it might actually have helped, but it was just too much to bear at that time.
Q: Would any of those stretch goals, if you do decide to make a volume two, would any of those stretch goals that don’t come out in this volume, would they be saved for your next volume?
A: Yes, they certainly could be. The work is done on those so it’s not like me having to go back and okay, this stretch goal was unlocked, I need to go back and make this chapter, or go out and start doing a lot of research. All of that work is done. So yeah, those would be very easy additions to a second volume for user.
****Some of the stretch goals have been unlocked as of this interview
TL: After the Kickstarter, is there — will the book go out to retailers like Barnes and Noble or for people that missed out on the Kickstarter but still would like the book?
BW: Yeah, there’s going to be very, very few left over. From the production plan that I have, there won’t be enough to go to major retailers like that. What you may see is maybe like a few pop up on Amazon that would be direct from me, or I may actually send out just a small website that you can go with a PayPal link and you can PayPal and get some books that way. I do believe I’m going to be at San Diego Comic-Con in July. The plan there is to have some books with me if they’re done by then. Hopefully they’ll be done by then. That’s the target date, anyway. So I’ll have a handful to take with me to Comic-Con as well, but if you want in on the book, the only way is to go to Kickstarter.
TL: You didn’t do that much with the major ones, but did you do anything with failed toy lines like Cops or Cops and Crooks?
BW: Yeah, there were some series two, series three type stuff that I did get into. Cops wasn’t one of them but I do know that I’ve been — I’ve talked to some folks about Cops before but again just didn’t have — didn’t get the volume of material that I would have needed to make an entry in the book. But like Sectaurs series two is in the book. There’s also some concept drawings for like potential future toys for Sectaurs that’s in the book. Let me see. Bucky O’Hare series two and series three — traces of series three, anyway — are in the — is in the book. So yeah, there are a handful of lines that were these kind of one-and-done lines, they got into preproduction but then either the program it was based on, the movie it was based on flopped or was canceled or what have you so the second series, which was — yeah, usually by the time the first series lands at retail the second series is well on its way to being production-ready. So when something flops, you’re almost always so close to ready to go on a second series of stuff. And even sometimes you’re working farther in advance because you never know what’s going to be a smash and what’s not. Which is why sometimes when you look back at a line like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, why there were so few of them to begin with, the line was very modest because they didn’t have any idea that Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles would be Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. So it creates this kind of fictitious shortage of the toys but it really wasn’t any more than it was because the demand was so great, but at the same time it doesn’t do a toy company any favors to flood the market with a ton of stuff if you don’t know how it’s going to perform. So that’s why most of them are pretty cautious about breaking this stuff up into waves and trying to see how something will perform for the first three to six months on the shelf before you greenlight something else.
TL: How’s the experience with Kickstarter been for you?
BW: Kickstarter’s been great. Nerve wracking. But I’m sitting here four days until the end and it’s at 91 percent and it’s just kind of been a slow — that first day, that first couple of days. I think we had a third of our goal in the first day or the first 36 hours, so you get real excited, and then it’s the slow march to the end. It’s just been kind of trickling up and trickling up and trickling up, and occasionally someone will cancel their pledge and it upsets me for a minute, but I get over it. And it trickles up, trickles up, trickles up. So we’re hopeful that as with most Kickstarters, in the last 48 hours they tend to get extremely active so I am hopeful that within the last 48 hours of this campaign we may not only exceed the goal to create the book, but maybe even put a little pressure on a couple of those stretch goals. Fingers crossed.
BW: I can’t stress enough how this — I want this book just as bad as everybody, and I’ve spent my last two years of my life putting it together. But I want the finished product just as much as the next guy and beyond that, who knows what happens? There could be a volume two. Maybe a small publisher picks up this version, likes what he sees and wants to redistribute. I don’t know. It’s possible. It’s not impossible for certain but I never took this to any other smaller publishers who I thought might be interested in it. I wanted to do it as a Kickstarter just because I was always fascinated by Kickstarter for whatever reason and I was always looking to do one, but I never had reason to do one. So, you know, almost instantly I said this is going to be my Kickstarter. I’m going to go through the process and this will be the Kickstarter. And so it’s been, like I said, it’s a little nerve wracking but for the most part a very pleasurable experience and hopefully by the end we’re all excited about where we’ve landed, and then more work begins as I’ve got to send the book off to get printed then when it returns I’ll be boxing up a bunch of them and shipping them out to everybody.
TL: Once the book is published and is out there, I know Brian Flynn was going through it and he said I have to get the license for some of this stuff and actually create it. How does that make you feel?
BW: Yeah, Brian’s been another one of those really supportive guys when it came to this project. He was very excited about it. The line that got him a bit crazed was Krell. He really wants to do Krell figures. His thing has always been those kind of lost four-inch-scale action figures like the Alien line from Kenner that they redid. He’s got a thing for that particular niche and he desperately wants to go out and get the Krell license and make those Krell figures so yeah, I’ll help him in any way I can because I would love to have them.
TL: Oh, sure. That’s awesome. What’s next for you as far as toys go? I know you have your …
BW: I’m taking a break. I’m going on vacation. No, I’ll let a few months go by and take in the experience and get feedback, what people take in, what people liked, what people didn’t. And come towards the end of the year, I’ll probably assess things and see how things are going in my professional life and all that. And I’ve always said that I would consider the volume two if it made sense. I would think there is a market for this stuff — I mean, I’ve got four hundred and some-odd backers, which is, from a backer count, actually pretty impressive for a Kickstarter. A lot of my problem is I didn’t have a ton of — not stretch goals, reward levels. Basically the reward level I was most interested in was I was trying to sell you a book. I’m not trying to sell a keychain or T-shirt or anything like that. But we had some backer levels that I thought were interesting and pertained closely to the material that was in the book. That’s probably the one place, if I did a Kickstarter again, I would try to improve there just because I think that I should have had probably a little more variety. But again, this is my first time out so I’ll scrutinize the whole process once I’m distanced from it for a little bit.
There is still time to get this one of a kind piece of art, log onto Kickstarter now.
Thank you to Blake Wright for his time.