This interview was conducted in May of 2004, weeks before the Mego Convention of that year. Intended as a followup to the amazing series of interviews conducted by Scott Adams, Little did we know it would turn out to be the last Mego Museum interview with Neal.
MM: Do you remember anything about the Fist Fighting heroes line?
NK: I certainly remember the name.
MM: In England, Palitoy did a great deal more with the line?
NK: The way we were operating at the time, we had someone that covered the UK as well as the rest of Europe and while I occasionally made a trip there, I really wasn't privvy because many of [ the Palitoy] orders went straight to the factory. So as to what [Palitoy] did was not something I would keep track of.
MM: So I guess all the Palitoy packaging was handled by them as well?
NK: That was their responsibility so it was probably handled in house by Palitoy.
MM: I recently read an old article with Sol Harrison from DC comics that alluded to his department designing the Wayne Foundation and the Jokermobile. The problem I have is that when you look at the Joker Mobile, it was obvious it was a Mego In house design.
NK: He did have to approve it, Sol at the time, ran DC Comics but they had no concept of how to design a toy. We actually did design the toy, I specifically remember designing a Spider-Man car and Stan Lee went nuts! [Stan] said "Spidey wouldn't drive a car!"
Stan spoke of Spider-man as if he were in the next room and he still does. We did those designs ourselves and they either got approved or changes were made.
MM: Was Mego responsible for creating the artwork?
NK: They gave us the artwork for all the characters.
MM: Right, the style guides.
NK: In those days they didn't call them style guides, they just sent us a whole bunch of artwork or we'd go up there and pick what we want. We would work directly with DC, I think after Sol, Carmine Infantino came in and then after Carmine, Jeannette Khan. I had more to do with Carmine but he wasn't terribly involved, Sol was more the manager type and Carmine was an artist at heart.
MM: In 1974, Mego seemed to be having a great year with the heroes and two lines you came out with were the Super Softies and the Bend N Flex Heroes. Any memories of those?
NK: The softies were a bomb, the Bendy's did very well! Their price and the smaller size, that was really the key factor I think.
NK: I think we took a shot because of the long running series and they were cheap to get into. I don't even remember doing a license deal and I did most of them. It was that forgettable.
MM: I collect the Super Softies and they are really tough to find.
NK: They weren't succesful, we didn't ship many so ultimately probably dogs chewed them up.
MM: Now the Comic Action Heroes were a revolutionary line seeing as they were one of the first 3 3/4" series of figures. How did they come to be?
NK: A number of things, one, we were always driven by the Licensing corporation of America, for more product . Two, the concept of having a little small [figure] a child could put in his pocket made it attractive. As long as the [WGSH] didn't suffer in terms of pirating revenue there was no reason not to smaller figures.
One of the big things was, I remember it was the Fortress of Solitude playset. We did it in molded plastic, the other play sets like the Batcave, we did in Vinyl. We did want to get into plastic play sets, the only way to do it economically was with smaller figures.
MM: That's an underrated play set, it's very well done.
NK: I will say that we were continually improving.
MM: How were the Comic Action Heroes received in the marketplace?
NK: Good, not great but good. The other reason we did them if I remember was that we needed to get more pegs, more shelf space but that was secondary to the play sets.
MM: Any memories of CB McHaul?
NK: Yeah that was to capitilize on the CB craze, everybody was jumping that, there were movies and this and that. Everybody thought that craze would really last but it really didn't, it was a passing fad. I think it lasted a year, those days you could get three out of a decent line.
MM: It made two Sears catalogs but in the second, the whole line was marked down.
NK: We always had good relationships with the buyers from Catalogs. Then in the toy business, the catalogs were very important. They moved the play sets, you couldn't do much in catalogs with just figures so by going into the playsets, you got impact.
MM: This is a long running rumour, Doc Savage, was there ever a Mego line planned?
NK: Yes, I don't think it went very far, there was a movie and it was just a disaster and the line never did go anywhere.
MM: A lot of people say that the Sonny and Cher car is the Doc Savage car.
NK: It probably was, I don't remember frankly but i know [Mego] considered Doc Savage.
MM: Any other films that Mego was considering that we wouldn't know about.
NK: Are you ready?
NK: It was a sleeper, a cult film Buckeroo Banzai. I saw little things from it and I loved it but came to realize it was not a kids movie. There wasn't enough "stuff", they really weren't superheroes.[Editor's note: This must have been when Neil was consulting for Mego because Banzai went into product after he left the R and D department at Mego] The stuff they did have didn't make for good toys, that was one of the problems of the first Star Trek films.
MM: Speaking of movies, Mego's Black Hole line seems to have been quickly killed, most figures never got released.
NK: The film didn't do well and it was a big disapointment. Alot of those films never went that well, it was a Disney film and we'd thought it'd do great but it didn't.
MM: Mego was developing a series of robots that were remote controlled.
NK: We were trying to ship that to have more channels, we did release an RC item, an unlicensed Dune Buggy that we showed at toyfair and it didn't work.
MM: The Dune Machine?
NK: Yeah, we had real problems with it. The chip didn't seem to work well, at least when I was involved I worked on the development of that.
MM: What are your best memories of Planet of the Apes?
NK: Well what got us started was the first things out were [the Addar] model kits [Editors note: Maybe this is why the Mego Urko figure is purple] and they were doing well. I remember seeing it in a hobby shop, infact our product development guy named Vinnie Baiera lived up the street from this place. I went in and the owner said "I can't keep these in stock" so I ran and called the guy who was doing the licensing and he was ready to do a deal with Azrak Hamway, we took it right out from under them.
MM: That leads me to another question, there was a lawsuit between AHI and Mego over the Apes wasn't there?
NK: Oh yeah there was a knockoff, I think Mego and Fox probably sued them jointly. We had very little contact with AHI, they were a much smaller company at the time. They followed us, they started off by getting the license for a Batmobile pullback car. They hired someone away from Mego, a VP [Editors Note: This was most likely Neal Saul]
MM: Now Remco and AHI are connected right?
NK: AHI bought the Remco name, if i remember correctly, they bought it for $10,000.00. I've known Marvin Azrak for years, we have a great relationship.
MM: Now Kresge Cards, were they exclusive to K-Mart?
NK: Yes, originally they would buy the goods FOB (Free On Board) meaning they would buy it straight from Hong Kong and because of this, they would demand their brand on it. At point in time, they were one of the big four, them, Penneys, Sears and probably Wards. It's a negotiation, they would buy enough to justify them getting their own brand on it.
Eventually, we stopped selling FOB shortly after that.
MM: I guess that precipitated Mego switching from boxes to cards.
NK: Yeah we did that fairly early, kids were ripping the boxes. We didn't stay in boxes very long, not in my memory, of course, my memory is a little compressed. As soon as we could heat seal blister cards without stapling them, we moved to blister cards, we always had problems with boxes.
The first time we put the heroes out, we had problems with them.
MM: Ah yes, the Solid boxes, did the windows improve matters?
NK: A little bit but if you go and buy a toy today, it's nearly impossible to get it out of it's package.
MM: Tell me about the Micronauts Aliens, those were obviously developed in house by Mego. Was that to get away from using Takara molds?
NK: Well the original plan was to put it out with the Takara molds and change colours, hence the black packaging and we were going to go with much more dramatic [colours for the figures] instead of the white and blue but the thing took off! It really started to sell and when we did well in those days, we would extend and the natural extension was more little guys. At that point, extensions were a group effort, it was no longer Kublan saying "Oh let's put brains in it". It became a big debate with everyone saying "I was the one who came up with the brains" It became a group mentality.
The whole Micronauts thing was very simple, Marty was at Cal R&D and told me to fly out. I saw the [Micronauts] and said "Done deal" I was actually in earthquake with Larry [Jones of Cal R&D] and Marty when i was there.
MM: The Aliens line looks classic Mego, the Ken Kelly artwork is terrific.
NK: We found Ken Kelly, we also found sculptor Ken Sheller who by the way also invented the Hasbro rumbling RC, he's still around in the industry.
MM: Tell me about your involvement with Hasbro?
NK: After I left Mego, I did a product line that I sold [Hasbro] a line called Ninja Warriors, we even did animatics of it.
MM: Sounds like it would have been a natural for the 80's
NK: I was the first Ninja guy, what killed it was that Mattel with one of their action figure lines, [ most likely Masters of the Universe ] they left the counters filled! Hasbro decided to not pursue because the retailers weren't buying because they had inventory problems. I got a very big deal out of it, a huge deal.
NK: I consulted for Joe Ruzzi, Marty also worked with him on some sort of cat line. (Editors Note: it was the fabulous felines) I worked on Lords of Light, I never saw it. [Pac Toys] also did Rocky Toys.
Lords of Light was my name, I named it. [Pac] pulled these molds together, they didn't know what the hell to do with them. They were going to do Knights or something, I said "Knights! we did Knights and we failed, kids don't know what knights are" and I had been working with American cyanimade and thats what put it together.
(Editor's note: American Cyanimade were the manufacturers of the Glow sticks that become integral to the Lords of light line, the glow sticks were inserted into the figures themselves or used as weapons)
MM: What about Mego and Marx?
NK: Marty and I went up to Marx, they were selling things out the backdoor before they went bankrupt. [This led to a deal where Mego licensed several best selling Marx playsets] but I was on my way out and I don't remember where it went from there.
MM: Since Scott last interviewed you there has been a great deal of Mexican Discoveries from Lili Ledy, can you tell me anything about them?
NK: Yeah I remember them, it was a licensing deal, we didn't have much to do with the Mexican market but I remember doing that deal with Lili Ledy.
MM: Do you have any memory of the Elastic Heroes Line?
NK: Only that they were a problem.
MM: In what way because Kenner sued?
NK: That and the manufacturing, as I recall, they were filled with corn syrup at our plant (stateside) and the rats became a big problem for us. There were other technical problems as well.
MM: The stretch dolls are giving collectors problems to this day, myself included, they tend to burst after a while.
NK: Really? That's one they didn't know about!
MM: One thing collectors always ask when they talk about the first figures from the World's Greatest Superheroes line is, why Tarzan?
NK: My Dad used to call me Tarzan when I was a kid, he read me those stories. I arranged that deal, even flew out to Tarzana and met with the Burroghs estate.
MM: Why did Tarzan get pulled from the WGSH line up so early?
NK: [The license holders] had a movie coming out and they wanted to license action figures from it and we didn't want to pay extra for that, so we dropped Tarzan. [Note: This was around the time of the Filmation Tarzan Cartoon series and Mattel scooped up the Tarzan brand pretty quickly after]
MM: That sort of thing is fairly common now.
NK: It also happened with the first Star Trek movie, Paramount tried to get us to pay for it as a separate license but we fought it and eventually won. [Note: Is this why Mego Star Trek 8" figures mysteriously appeared in the 1978 Sears catalog after not being produced for nearly two years? Perhaps Mego was trying to flood the market with Trek merch in case the license was awarded to another company....]
MM: Is there anything else about Mego that folks wouldn't normally know?
NK: One of the things we tried to do for years was develop a basic product, one year we tried to emulate Fisher Price with Woodies. We were always looking for basic products because one of the things about licenses is [they would fluctuate] We even at one point tried to buy Tonka, we liquidated some Superhero product in order to raise cash flow. Basically, it was dumped for cash.
MM: Can you explain to me why a lot of later Mego items in US stores had European packaging?
NK: We had a sales guy in Europe, who would say "These guys are going to buy 12,000 units" and they'd end up buying 3,000. So the factory would end up with a surplus and sometimes they wouldn't even tell us and send us the junk.
In fact, it was the first or year of the Micronauts, I didn't have any samples for a show. I found out the factory had them all done but didn't tell us, of course, I went crazy.
MM: I can imagine.
NK: You know, while I'm talking to you I'm looking at something we did. I don't know if you know this but on every friends episode they have a Magna-Doodle by the door. I designed that case. Now on this website, they announced the Magna-Doodle message board, it's coming back, everything comes back.
Neal Kublan passed away December 23rd 2005, he left behind a loving family and a fantastic series of accomplishments. We at the Museum were grateful to have known Neal and to have been able to have said "Thank you" to a person who gave so much to us in our childhood and later in our adult lives.
Thanks Neal, we'll miss you.