TO COLLECTORS AND TOY historians, Mego and its CEO Marty Abrams were the forefathers of the action figure boom. During the 1970s, Mego and Abrams began snatching up toy licenses for comics, television shows, and celebrities. It changed how toy companies approached action figures.
Though Mego filed for bankruptcy in 1982 and shuttered the following year, Abrams managed to reclaim the Mego trademark. After a 35-year absence, Mego products will return to store shelves this fall. To resurrect Mego, Abrams is embracing the successes and failures of his past.
Decades before companies like Funko would thrive off having an expansive library of licenses to mine product, Abrams struck deals that would propel the company founded by his parents to unprecedented sales.
With flowing jet black hair à la Steve Perry circa 1981, and a self-proclaimed “pompous-ass swagger,” Abrams created dolls based on Hollywood icons like Farrah Fawcett and football star “Broadway” Joe Namath, and ultimately seized the market by licensing brands like Star Trek, DC and Marvel superheroes, and Planet of the Apes.
“They were doing Star Trek conventions, but no one was buying Star Trek toys until we came out with it, and we advertised it,” Abrams says. “Then, wham! It explodes.”
During a time when toy companies would cut corners by swapping parts and repainting existing molds, Mego knew kids were no dummies. When Mego landed the DC Comics license, and later Marvel, it paid attention to detail and marketed the characters in a way no one had before.
“Listen to kids,” Abrams says of his brand’s success. “If you talk down to them, they turn off and go away. That became the essence of the product line. If we just reach the collector, we’ll have a catastrophe on our hands.”
If Abrams’ biggest whiff was passing on the Star Wars licence (at the time, toy lines based on films were risky business), his greatest boon was purchasing the Star Trek license for just $5,000. It went on to do $50 million in sales. Mego’s rapid rise during the ‘70s– at one point it was the sixth largest toy company in the world–made its fall from grace tougher to swallow. After struggling to find another breakout hit, years of slumping sales led to Mego filing for bankruptcy. Legal trouble marred Abrams’ record: He was convicted of wire fraud and income tax fraud, defrauding the company’s stockholders. Abrams eventually put his checkered past behind him and continued to innovate. Remember Nintendo’s Power Glove? That was Abrams.
Not many people get a third act. Abrams’ new Mego line, which will be exclusively sold at Target, is not just his greatest hits. Mego will produce new 8” figures like Harley Quinn and rock legend Jimi Hendrix, whose legacy has only grown since we last saw Mego. It will also stock classics like Star Trek, Charlie’s Angels, and Fonzie from Happy Days.
Going on the Mego reunion tour has Abrams grateful to recapture something he thought he lost: “Not everybody gets that opportunity to see their life’s work and relive their glory days.”