Plastic Butts in the Marvel Bullpen!

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Falcon Plastic Butt4


A few words about this picture…

You are looking at a figurine of The Falcon, longtime evil fighting partner of Captain America. The Falcon figurine was a part of the series of toys or playthings put together by Hasbro-Bradley—a major toy manufacturer. They were caught flat-footed by Kenner Toys who did the figurines for DC characters first.
H-B came to Marvel Marketing, deciding they also needed a “back story” to help sell the toys, help the kids – and enthusiastic adults – of the world, to play with them. G.I. Joe had such a back story, penned by world-famous Larry Hama, which appeared on the backs of each “blister pack” and of course, a long-running comic of the same name.

Someone, somewhere thought a “toy-tie-in” comic might be nice and thus came forth the 12-issue Limited Series we all know and love: Secret Wars. Then, Secret Wars II—but that’s another story.
Now—behind the scenes… and I use ‘behind’ guardedly… Marketing and Licensing were busy hammering-and-tonging their way through the agreements and wherefores, how-tos – all manner of compromises and pay schedules.

During that process, it was made clear that a copyright notice needed to be placed on the figurine.

Falcon Plastic Butt2

Falcon Plastic Butt1

These are fairly small figurines. A little history, if you will. Not long after Barbie settled into the human consciousness, fulfilling all the needs of little girls everywhere—a manly alternative was needed. Then came G. I. Joe—A Real American Hero. The size of these feminine and manly figures was just about 11” tall. How this relates to people is controversial; let’s just say, Barbie is ready to slip on high-heels at the drop of a product line and G. I. Joe is a combat veteran. So, about a foot in all– a goodly size to flail around when playing.

I can barely understand the efficiencies of mass-production when applied to toys, but I can agree that a set of figurines would be cost-INeffiecient if they were a foot tall. Kenner—who was very well known for things like Spirograph and Stretch Armstrong— lucked into the Star Wars license—made their toy line 3-5/8” tall. They must’ve been daffy with success with the SW figurines, because they had fabric costumes and accessories. By the time they got to “Super Powers” (a sad and transparent side-step from the jointly-held trademark of Marvel and DC: Super-Heroes) the figurines were bare.

Then in strode Hasbro-Bradley! They weren’t afraid of accessories—no sir! Every Secret Wars figure had to have a gun of some kind. (Everyone knows The Hulk wanted a gun, c’mon!) It didn’t matter if the character would never use one in their own books (Captain America). They also got this odd shield that held a “lensatic” image switcho-changeo gimmick. What it showed hardly mattered, it was supposedly the “secret” part of Secret Wars. Maybe—I dunno; it’s been a long time.

All of those gimmicks didn’t matter, because the fellow who wrote those comics, Jim Shooter, had to work with them but vowed to dispose of them as quickly as possible.

The point of all this “history” is that… there wasn’t much room to put a copyright notice on these little figurines. Let me now spin a “thought experiment”—a story best left in the world of the unrealized – a set of outright falsehoods– the scene is a workshop, where, I do not know. Let’s say somewhere in the middle of America. Could be a vast sterile laboratory peopled with PhDs in neat white coats, could be a squalid rat-infested den of freelancers squatting over the coals. Either way works, because at some point the question was posed to the people—these people, sculptors, engineers, prototypers, machine shop techs, pantograph operators — who had to put a physical copyright notice somewhere.

A certain few words must be a part of this notice—will they fit? Can they be read? Can they withstand being chewed, scraped, beaten by a customer? How? How! HOW!? Black ink squished on to the feet? A tag riveted to the elbow? Can it be hidden under a helmet? – Hair? A costume accessory? I can picture a debate of lawyers and artisans hurling barely-concealed derisive comments at each other—when suddenly someone says, You are a butt head!

A murmur arises, the butt—of course, the butt! Nice and wide, nothing the mechanical nightmare that machines words into a steel mold cannot handle…

And so it is decided, that the butts are exactly where the Marvel copyright notice will go!
So all of that is done.

Some time passes. The toys are made, sold, are a wild success. Into my Special Projects (my function at the time) office walks Merchandising Doyenne, graceful and sultry Sally Pomeroy. Sally was one of the women who walked among the Executives of the Eleventh Floor. Never really knowing what any of them did, it was best to avert one’s eyes when walking around them. Not that one might not sneak a glance at Ms Pomeroy’s charms now and then—but only a glance, I can assure you. Then eyes back to the carpet, buddy.
But there’s Sally asking me an odd question. Can a picture be taken of this? And she hands me The Falcon figurine, pointing to the little, tiny words.

Well! Not only did she come to the right department, she came to the right man. Me and cameras were a daily nuisance around Marvel. It was well known that Brown would stick a lens in your face at the drop of a “Go away!” Luckily for Sally, Close-up Lenses are my middle name (which can get damned awkward). Not only did I have a Nikon 55mm f3.5 Micro-Nikkor lens, which got me in pretty close– I had a series of magnifying lenses that could allow me to capture the nose hairs of a buffalo off a fresh nickel.

Now, what on earth legal and merchandising was going to do with this, I do not know. Perhaps Sally told me, but it’s gone swept from memory by a single smile. Could it be some form of legal ‘proof’ needed to show “the revenuers?” or the friendly IRS, I could not say.

Even though I saw things through the viewfinder (on my antiquated film camera) which showed me exactly what I was going to see on film—I used a strobe light to take the picture. So I could not really be sure what I was going to get until I had the film processed. With a strobe that is detached from the camera, you can aim or bounce the light all about but the exact end result has to be seen on film.

So when I got this series of shots back—I had a pretty good laugh at the taut firm buttocks, shiny and well-rounded by the photographic flash, of this fabulous hero. I took it upon myself to have a mini poster printed—which I gave to Sally as a gift. This was the era of The Chippendale Dancers (young’uns today may not know of those hardy and hardly dressed men who danced cabaret style for the entertainment of women) and all the calendars they inspired. She may still have this lone poster of The Falcon’s butt– celebrating an average afternoon in the Marvel Bullpen!

Falcon Plastic Butt3




One Response to Plastic Butts in the Marvel Bullpen!

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  • Terry Kavanagh says:

    Always fun, Eliot!