In early 2002, the Palisades toy company embarked on a journey to make Micronaut fans all over the world rejoice...they began the production of the Micronauts Retro Series of figures. Their mission was to painstakingly reproduce the vintage Mego Micronauts, and make them better than they were before. Better, stronger, faster...with new color schemes, tighter detail in sculpting and new accessories. To reproduce, improve and bring back to life one of the most innovative toy lines from the 70's ever. The Micronauts. This is their story...
the very first factory test shots of the Palisades Micronauts, retro series 1
Bill McClinton (Director of Licensing at Global Icons, the licensing agency who represents, among others, Abrams Gentile): "Hey, you guys are the kings of collectible figures." Michael Horn (Palisades President): "Yeah, thanks." McClinton: "You remember the Micronauts?" Michael Renegar (Palisades Executive VP): "Hell, yeah! I have a bunch at home." Horn: "Of course, doesn't everyone?" McClinton: "How would you like to bring 'em back?" Renegar: "You mean, the original Micronauts. The Mego stuff? Are you serious?" Horn: "Can you make the deal work for us?" McClinton: "Don't I always?" Renegar: "Well...." McClinton: "Yes, we can make the terms work." Renegar: "I want it." Horn: "Let's do it." McClinton: "Done. Let's get a beer."
And pretty much just like that, in a coversation taking place outside of the San Deigo Comic Con in August of 2001, the deal to reproduce the Micronauts was a go. After many years of failed attempts to bring back the Micronauts property, Marty Abrams' A.G.E. company had finally found a toy manufacturer that could do the job. It was the Maryland based Palisades Toys that stepped up to bat.
Mike Horn (prez of Palisades) Ken Lilly (Head of Product Development) and Dave Waugh examining vintage samples
Ken continues: "My first thought was, Damn...these aren't as cool as I remember them being. They seemed dorky to me, compared to what I was into. But they kind of started growing on me. Call it an induced childhood memory recapture or something, I don't know. But I started to see the value in them and gain a new appreciation after I had them in my hands for a while. They really are much more playable than most toys even on the market today. That says something."
Thrown into the hands of the Head of Production for Palisades, Ken Lilly knew he had a daunting task ahead of him. "I was skeptical at first," he said, "to tell you the truth, I wasn't sure how today's market would respond."
Bill Kaufman and Ken Lilly
Ken's first look at vintage samples
And so began the initial stages of the return of the Micronauts. But in order to make a reproduction toy, you first need vintage samples to work from. The big hunt on eBay began, but word soon got out to Micronauts fans...and what a big difference they would make. One of the first to contact Ken about production was Ray Miller, moderator of the Yahoo! group "Micropolis Embassy". At the same time Micheal Renegar began contacting friends to score vintage samples, and Bill Kaufman, an old time friend and collector was thrown into the mix. Bill had a few samples, but knew Palisades would need more. Bill then contacted one of the only persons he knew who had more than enough of what Palisades needed, and your humble webmaster, Dave Waugh entered the fray. This kind of fan support and insight was just what the doctor ordered...and the production was kicked into high gear.
Palisades "Magno" horse and figure 1st run test shots
Ken soon began consulting with the fans/collectors from the Micropolis Embassy mailing list and they acted as a kind of "research and development" team for the line. When more vintage figures were needed to send to the factory in Hong Kong and for Toy Fare samples, fans like Kristof Erkiletian were more than happy to help by supplying even more toys for the factory tooling.
Acroyear and Membros 1st shot prototypes
After Toy Fare in February the pre-orders werern't what Palisades had expected. A major retailer like TRU didn't bite. But production continued regardless, because Palisades had faith in the Micronaut property and knew it could turn into something special. New ideas were then discussed regarding the future of the line, and then some changes were implemented...
Centaurus and Pharoid Series 2 Card mock ups used at Toy Fare 2002
The initial repro line was to include all the figures from the old line (minus Kronos), including the bigger motorized robot types like Biotron, Phobos and Microtron as deluxe boxed sets. But this idea was quickly scaled down due to production and tooling costs. "As soon as we saw what the tooling was going to cost, we decided to narrow it down," said Ken "We originally thought we would have access to the old tools. When we found out we actually did not, we had to rethink it. Tooling Biotron for example would have probably cost 80K."
When the first few line plans were then laid out, Ken began thinking that the Micronauts needed to be something a little more than just replicas of the old line. So at this point, the possible retro packaging of the figures was also cancelled. "They needed some new accessories to make them more sellable and distiguishable from the vintage pieces." This meant that the original Ken Kelly graphics would also not be used, "Because we could not get all of it, only most of it. I like consistency. Besides, a fresh look was good for the reproductions. Fresh."
Ken Lilly's new accessories designs
Along with Ken, Dave Waugh and Bryan Wilkinson began designing new and compatible goodies to go along with the new figures. Among Kens designs for a "space blaster" and new longer Acroyear sword, he also designed the new hands for Membros. A new figure stand was also decided upon as an extra. Bryan was hired to do the computer color mock up's as well as designing a majority of accessories for series 2 as well.
Dave Waugh's new chest plate designs
So with many new ideas floating around, it was then decided to commission Dave Dorman to do the card art. "He's a good guy and the art rocks", Ken said "He has even cooler stuff planned for Series 2." But again, the packaging for the figures beacme an issue, so Dave's art was then used to become part of a collectible "file card" on the back of the packaging, and again displayed in the front as another new addition; a sticker. New color schemes and accessories were decided upon. Again, with the help and advice of the Micropolis Embassy members, ideas were bounced back and forth.
Dave Dorman's Karza sketch (l) and the finished painting (r)
Clockwise, starting from top left: Acroyear test shot #2, Membros test shot #2, Time Traveler test shot #2 and Space Glider test shot #2, all on card mock up's. On these cards, the J-hook is not centered and was moved to the opposite direction. Also, the Acroyear sword was moved to the rear of the figure, and in one of many mistakes made by the series 1 factory, all 6 chest plates were added to the Time Traveler packaging, instead of the 2 new ones being randomly packed.
During this time also, Ken had made a trip to Hong Kong to oversee initial production. His thought on the series 1 factory? "They suck. Next question." Truer words were never spoken, as re-occuring problems with this factory would prove to be a tremendous headache as the figures hit the sheleves almost seven months later.
Left, is the blue coloring approved for the Acroyear color, and right is the purple the factory ran instead.
"I went two times for Micronauts S1, Muppets S2, YWASC and Resident Evil," said Ken "I was there a total of 11 weeks. What a waste!" Some of the problems included the wrong assembling of the basic figures hands/wrist cuff to wrong colors used in final production. Even a return trip in August of 2002 to correct all these problems didn't seem to help.
Shades of Karza: 2 test shot red's for the clear Baron Karza figure.
left is the production run gold Acroyear, right is the rejected "yellow gold" Acroyear test shot
The factory tells the head of production one thing, and then as soon as he leaves they do something else. "To be honest I have no idea (what they were doing). The factory had this "secret" system that they would not give me the full skinny on. For all I know they used Chinese Black Magic on the freakin' things..." But as production wound down it looked like all was going to be well in Micro-land until a dock workers strike in October of 2002 held up all shipments in San Francisco. This left Micro-collectors around the country drooling, as they knew the Micronauts were done but couldn't get to them! At the end of October word was begining to spread that the new Micronauts had reached the UK, apparently shipped straight from the factory in Hong Kong. Early November saw the Dynamic Forces Time Traveler shipping, and soon the new Micronauts trickled out to various Suncoast video outlets in the U.S.
As a thank you to all the fans from the Micropolis Embassy group for all their help, Palisades ran a limited edition Membros figure as a group exclusive. In what may be one of the smallest production runs ever, only 250 Bio-scan Membros' were produced. Another thank you directed to even a smaller group of individuals who were a major help in the lines production yeilded the ultra-rare Gold Baron Karza set.
With all these cool new variations, the Palisades line continues to grow strong well into series 2. Depending on the success of the first 2 lines, series 3 will look to bring forth the first ever "new" Micronauts figures since about 1980. The road for this production run was long and rough, lasting almost a full year. But as the toys are finally hitting the shelves, as far as fans are concerned, it's been well worth the wait! Many thanks go out to Mike Horn, president of Palisades Toys and especially Ken Lilly , head of production for Palisades for making many fans dreams come true, and allowing us this exclusive look into the making of the Micronauts Retro Series 1 toys.
Dave Waugh November 9, 2002