You can read Part I of this interview, about the history of Onell Design, here.
PG: So tell me how Outer Space Men came about.
MD: I love toys that go all the way back into the 1920s. Anything that was a toy, I was fascinated. The Outer Space Men came out after Major Matt Mason…
And they were supposed to be kind of like those old Remco He-Man knock-offs–”plays with” Major Matt Mason.
Exactly. But what happens when someone “knocks off” someone else but they are superior to it? That’s sort of unprecedented now. Outer Space Men was so damned cool, it would replace playing with Major Matt Mason.
I was born in ’73. I had an uncle who was a lot younger than my father, and I sort of inherited a lot of his leftover toys. I first saw the Outer Space Men in his leftover stuff–which was like a metal bucket, dented from BB shots, of dinosaurs, army men, and a couple Outer Space Men. Colossus Rex was in there. It was the coolest damn thing. I didn’t know what the hell it was; all the way into the ’80s, I had no idea what it was. I mean, how do you find out? I didn’t even go on to the Internet until the ’90s–and I mean the late ’90s.
One of the original Outer Space Men.
When I learned about [the Outer Space Men] and I learned about Mel [Birnkrant, creator of the OSM], I felt a kinship with him because I had designed full-spectrum things, had good and bad luck as well. I just liked his process. He was very into it, deep into this stuff. A passionate guy, and you could tell he’d covered all the bases, which I really appreciated. He’d draw stuff, he’d sculpt stuff, he’d take photographs, he’d write stories, he’d do all this stuff and you don’t really see that anymore. I think [Onell is] one of the few places that does that–truly, from the top to the bottom, build the whole thing.
I first met the Four Horsemen when I was doing hand-cast stuff. I met Cornboy first, he was encouraging us–they’re really affable guys. People thought we were nuts doing injection stuff on our own, but they were cool about it. So a couple years ago, at the second New York Comic Con, Gary [Schaeffer], the guy who works with Mel, set up this crazy display of OSM. Now I have no interest in licenses (though I’d love to do some videogame stuff) but I went over there and saw that stuff, and I was blown away. He had the master molds out. It was a mind-blower. They had two sets of the second series–loose and carded.
I stared at that stuff for so long. I never thought I’d see it all in one place. He had the Bullmark vinyl pieces from Japan. It was just really shocking to see all that stuff. I met this guy Gary. I didn’t feel like it was the right feel for us, but I happened to talk to the Horsemen about it, and they said they also were interested in it.
So through a series of other circumstances, Eric Treadaway ended up contacting Mel directly.
The vintage Outer Space Men.
Now, we had wanted to do something Glyos-related with the Horsemen. After a couple conversations they said, “Well, we’re thinking about doing something a little less risky, something different, and maybe we could do something with your model that you’re doing.” It [the Glyos model] is small–dinky–but it pays for itself. The money goes in and each release you make money and continue to grow–slowly, but it’s positive. So I said, “Sure!”
Now I know Mel initially was very “It’s gotta be the bendies–I just want to reproduce these things.” But someone–maybe Cornboy or Eric, I don’t know what they did, but they wove their magic with him and he agreed to let them modify it. Initially they had done some more Horsemen-y type versions, which were very in line with the original aesthetic, but Mel wanted them to stay almost identical [to the originals]. So they went back and forth for a while, and at the end of the day Mel approved the sculpts. And he didn’t know what the hell Glyos was, so we had to make sure he was aware of us.
So now, the Horsemen send the masters up, I look them over and manage it for them with my guy overseas, using the same plastics [as Glyos], the same Fit Function, the same tool master, everything.
So basically, what’s the Horsemen’s level of involvement versus your own?
They hold the license, they sculpted the figures completely. I manage their line overseas, make sure the plastics are right, the tooling is correct, help them get their quote, and make sure [the factory] is getting stuff done correctly.
Because of their workload, I volunteered to do more than I normally would. So Cornboy did some drawings and we created mechanicals off them. Mechanicals are the color sheets we send over [to the factory] with the artwork to determine what color goes were. The Horsemen usually do spray masters and paint masters. So we created mechanicals for them, they’re referencing our history of plastics that we’ve used, colors, glows, clears, that match specifically to [toys] we’ve actually run, so they’re compatible colorwise.
It’s like we built the racetrack and they put their car in there. We built the track, we know how the track operates, what corners not to go fast on, how fast the pit stop is, we know what kind of crowd comes to these races–we understand all this stuff. It’s our structure, but they’re bringing their car in. It’s their baby–it’s Mel’s baby–we’re just lucky they elected to use the Fit Function. Cornboy and his kids play with the Glyos stuff and they’re aware of the potential for it.
Because what Mel doesn’t know yet is what’s going to happen on the other side. If you go to our forum, [the fans] have really embraced what our Glyos system is about. You take these things, and they exist as an aesthetic, but you can combine them. I’d love it if all toys could be compatible–if the Horsemen have success with Outer Space Men, and then they get Sectaurs, they get Power Lords, they get any of these other lines, and then they’re compatible. And then by default every time you make something, you’re getting parts. So even if you don’t care for the full aesthetic of the line, maybe you want that guy’s boots, or you want his chest…
Sort of like Xevoz or Stikfas.
Very much like that. But imagine if it was cross-line. That’s what drew us into it. I love the Horsemen, I truly think they’re going to go down in history as one of the best teams ever to work on toys, because they’re so prolific and they do have an incredible range between all of them. But if I didn’t think it was going to be something that was valuable to what we’re doing, I wouldn’t have done it. It’s great to be affiliated with them, but we have developed our own base to this point where it’s sufficient, we sell through everything we make because we’re absolutely transparent with our fan base.
A lot of people don’t know what the hell Outer Space Men is. That’s why there’s such a buzz about it. A lot of people seem a little bit disappointed because the Horsemen won’t be doing the normal thing they do with the hyper-articulated versions. But I’ve seen through our interaction with our customers that things have also shifted a little bit. Income’s not as high; when they buy this stuff, people are more apt to spend it on Masters of the Universe Classics. So I think the thing about using the different scale and using the Glyos parts is that you are free to do what you want, and the buy-in isn’t as risky.
I hope that whatever happens with Outer Space Men, it works out well for the Horsemen and Mel. I hope the fans give it a chance. Even if it’s not going to be a massively-articulated super-G.I. Joe thing, that’s another market. If everything was the same all the time, nothing would stand out. So we rolled the dice. But if you get these figures in your hands and you use your imagination you can make some crazy jointed things. You’re being given paintbrushes to some degree.
On a personal level I love the Outer Space Men. It’s a dream for me as a geek, and working with the Horsemen is great. But I think it’s going to open a door to other opportunities for all our ventures–Mel, the Horsemen and us. It’s already been great for all of us, and I just want to make sure the things come out really good and everybody’s happy. I went Mel and the Horsemen to be stoked, and I want the fans of all of our stuff, to really feel like they got something special.