"With art, if you look hard enough there's a lot of answers right there in front of you."
Part 2 (back to part 1)


Hornetroid oil on canvas 30" x 40"


Hornetroid rough courtesy of Gordon Smuder


ISO : Well that kind of answers a question for some of us, probably minor to you, but interesting to us, that the Aliens you painted all had different colored brains, and the first set of produced figures had them for a short time. Later on, they were all released with glow-in-the-dark green brains, so it looks like your paintings (especially with the second series of Aliens) represented Mego's intended idea with the brain colors.

KK : "You know, I never saw actual product. I never saw the completed finished product until I went to a toy store and saw it."

ISO : They didn't comp you any samples?

KK : "The one I did have a sample on…let me see, it's coming back to me…I did see the Terraphant when the whole thing was done, I think a couple of the colors were changed regarding like the legs or something. But I did see a finished product, don't think I took it home…"

ISO : Did they show you maybe a Hornetroid that was colored orange or yellow, and they changed it to black?

KK : "No…I saw the black. I don't recall any other…I was intimidated by that black. I had not worked in that specific color before, and with everything shining and reflecting off into the next item, I was just like damn! This was a complicated piece of painting here! I remember them saying 'you know, you can do it.' And I say, 'ok fine!' You think I can do it, I'll go home and do it…"


ISO : So you kind of learned on that…

KK : "Learned as I went on that. You gotta understand I was just 6, 7, 8 years outta the Marine Corp., no professional training at all, so I was learning all the time. Everything I got…on KISS, I was learning. I had 3 or 4 years at Warren which was the Creepy, Eerie, Vampirella stuff, and that was tremendously challenging cuz it was a bi-weekly magazine and they had deadlines left, right and the other way. So you learned to paint fast. I had to, it was learn or die, and I had a family to feed so I says 'hey, I'm gonna learn!' I've been doing it 35 years and love it. You got to, or you're dead. At Warren I was mainly a Famous Monsters guy, I think I've done 95 of those things. I did a lot of that, and it just exploded. They needed the work and bang!…then KISS and Conan happened at about the same time I think. I remember walking back to the Conan office with the KISS gold album under my arm, and not really realizing that it was a nice award? I had no clue. 'Hey Ken, you won this here.' 'Oh good, fine, great, what the hell was it…a record, what am I gonna do with this?' (laughter)"



ISO : I can't put it on my turntable, it's made-a gold!

KK : " 'Why is it all cased up like this?' (laughter) I had no clue. I had no experience with the record biz, I had no idea that these guys just had sold over a hundred million records or whatever, who knew."

ISO : Yeah…who knew these guys in their silly disco costumes would do that, right? So what other bands have you worked with other than KISS?


KK : "Manowar…and a lot of little ones that didn't work. A lot of guys jumped on the bandwagon, like 'you're the KISS guy, so do me', and their music didn't hit so that was it…"

ISO : So they were expecting your cover to sell their album.

KK : "Yeah…"

ISO : Does Joey (DeMaio- bass player for Manowar) buy all the paintings?

KK : "Joey does, yeah. He pays a stiff fee for the Manowar paintings..."

ISO : Wow…do you remember what you were paid back then for the Micronauts paintings?

KK : "It was a good price…I think it was about four grand? That's why I stayed on…it was a healthy price at the time. You have to understand, you're a new artist, you're working for Warren and you're getting a $175 per painting, then you move on to another company and they give you 2 to 3 grand you know, it's a world you're just…wha? 2 to 3 grand…sure! I'll do whatever you want! What am I gonna do?" (laughter)

ISO : So it was a good payday…

Kronos oil on canvas 30" x 34"
Centaurus oil on canvas 30" x 34"

KK : "And the good thing with the toy industry was, it's usually times two or three. With the toy business, they have these products that have more than one. So you always jump at the toys, because they want to keep the product looking consistent."

ISO : And with these Micronauts, I think it could have been one of the first times an American toy company used an actual real painting, some real artistic intent behind the packaging to help sell the toys. Using a great science fiction illustration to help sell, and I think that made a huge difference.

KK : "That very well could be. A lot of work came out of the Mego thing; LJN and all kinds of different companies, and it all came after Mego. They introduced me to the toy world. I picked up with an agency, and they kept throwing work at me…and then when Mego went out of business, and all accounting was taken over by a different entity (I don't know who it was) Mego still owed me for some of the paintings. And I don't think it was their responsibility to pay me, but I went into their offices and there was a gentleman who was there, and when I mentioned it to him that I wasn't paid for a few things, he just wrote me a check. Very nice, didn't question me at all, and that was very good considering the circumstances they were going through at the time. You know, it was Marty's company, and I don't know what happened, but they were gigantic at the time I worked for them, gigantic. I felt so bad that one of their products didn't work and it had such ramifications…because they were good. I don't have a bad word to say about Mego…they were straight up and right up there, boy. They were right up there in front."



ISO : After those initial paintings that you did…did they ever have you work on any other proposed products for a future line? Did you do any kind of sketching for that?

KK : "I did sketches for a dinosaur product that I had introduced and Neal Kublin had approved, and that's just before they went under…so it was a very sad day in the Kelly household…I came up with this product that was a small piece of another line that they were trying to introduce, a toy that starts off as one thing and ends up as another. A transforming thing. So I tried it myself, like you know, I think I could do this. I did like 40 or 50, and Neal liked a few of them. And it was just about that stage where he would take them in and see what would happen, but then all that stuff happened, and I'm like, damn. As usual, the Kelly timing."



ISO : Well Ken, thanks you very much for your time…I don't want to waste anymore of it with old toy talk…

KK :"No problem it wasn't a waste at all. I finished the rocks! While we were talking, I finished the rocks on the painting, I've been painting the whole time!"

Inner Space Online would like to thank the great Ken Kelly for taking time out of his busy schedule to do this interview...but the story doesn't end here. Ken mentioned that Marty Abrams still owns the original Antron painting, but who has the rest of the Micronauts paintings from the series? Enter collector Rumel Tomiampos...


Lobros oil on canvas 30" x 34"


"The individuals (other than Ken Kelly and Marty Abrams) who actually made this possible are Michael Jaecks and Christi Cole. Years ago Michael e-mailed me and said that someone had the original Membros card art for sale. I think it was either on Ron Pringle's Micronaut site or The Big Red Toy Box. It was selling for around $1,850 and it hadn't sold. I contacted the seller and asked if it was still available. The seller e-mailed me back and told me that she already had an offer for it and that it was basically sold. I then told her that if the deal fell through that I would be willing to purchase it for $1,850. The seller e-mailed me back and told me that if I was willing to pay the full price that she would let me have it.

This when I met Christi Cole and we began to exchange e-mails. As it turns out, she's an art dealer and she works for someone who used to represent Ken Kelly. This person had purchased the paintings from Ken Kelly when he was still an upcoming artist. The only painting he didn't purchase was Antron, so this is the one that Marty Abrams (Mego's president) ended up with. This person then sold the paintings to his assistant Christi Cole. Now let me say that Christi Cole is a terrific lady. After she agreed to sell me the Membros, I asked her if she owned any of the other Micronaut Paintings... she informed me that she owned 7 of the original 8 Ken Kelly pieces, but really didn't want to sell anymore of them (Terraphant is her favorite).

She then e-mailed me back and said that she would sell me a few more. I told her that I would buy as many as she would sell, but only if she was okay with it. She knew how much I wanted them, so she agreed to sell me the entire collection. I don't think she really wanted to sell all of them, but she did me a favor and sold me the entire collection... she even sold them to me for less than what she paid for them! Christi is a true art lover, and I consider her a friend... she didn't offer them to anyone else, only me. She easily could have gone on ebay and sold them for a much higher price, but it was more important for her to keep the set together and wanted to make sure that they went to a good home. Now this was a person who had gave me a great deal on them because she wanted me to have them.

Out of respect for Christi, if I ever sell them, I would only sell them as a set. I would also ensure that they went to a good home. I've had an offer as high as $70,000 for the set, but don't want to sell them. If the Smithsonian or the Museum of Art (in D.C) wanted them, I would consider donating them so that everyone could enjoy them. It's kind of a shame that no one else gets to see them... they're probably some of Ken Kelly's best work. Anyway, that's the short version of how I came to acquire them."

back to Part 1

Many thanks to Ken Kelly and Rumel Tomiampos for sharing these beautiful images with us!
Don't forget to visit Ken Kelly's website for more details on his new book "Ken Kelly, ESCAPE".
All images copyright © their individual owners