"Oh Antron, Where Are You?"
Master Painter Ken Kelly and The Micronauts
Text and photography by Dave Waugh
Originally published in Super 7 Magazine issue #13
June 2006


While the combination of art and toys is a revolutionary concept for media mavens and trend seekers, master painter Ken Kelly has apparently never perceived a division between these two worlds. Or at least that seems true when one considers Kelly's work on one of the most popular and successful toy lines of the '70s and '80s-the Micronauts.

Although Kelly is most famous for his work on KISS record covers (Destroyer and Love Gun) and for his fabulous fantasy paintings depicting Conan, Vampirella, Darth Vader and more, Kelly's Micronauts paintings represent a truly amazing body of work. Commissioned by toy corporation Mego in the '70s to produce package art for their first line of original Micronauts figures for the US market called the Aliens, Ken faced an ironically titanic task.


Artist Ken Kelly w/Hornetroid study
  As many Super7 readers know, the Micronauts began as an imported Japanese property (Takara's Microman line) that was repackaged and renamed for sale in America. Spurred by Mego's desire to branch out from the pre-existing Takara products with brand new characters, the bizarre Aliens featured shocking glow-in-the-dark brains and interchangeable weaponry that made them an instant hit with children. Today, they are highly sought after by Micronauts collectors across the globe.

When Kelly first received the call from Mego in 1978 about the opportunity to paint the Aliens packaging, he'd been crafting covers paintings for Creepy and Eerie magazines as well as producing work for KISS. The designs hat Mego had in mind for the line were right up Ken's alley-fantastical and larger than life. Ken recalls, "They wanted me to make this 4-inch piece of plastic look like a 30-foot-tall, living breathing menace. I said, that's cool. I can do that." Obviously, Kelly achieved the desired effect and more, producing some of the most breathtaking paintings that toy aficionados have ever laid eyes upon.

The first two paintings that were completed took Kens approximately 2 to 3 weeks. "The Antron and the Hornetroid were the first [in that order]." Kelly recalls. Considered by many to be the best of the batch, Antron was painted by Kelly and handed over directly to Mego founder Marty Abrams only to disappear entirely form the public realm for almost 30 years. Only recently, the Antron painting has resurfaced. But more on that in a moment…
Meanwhile, back in the '70s, production continued as the Micronauts Aliens were released in two different waves. The first series of toys was mass-produced for the US market, while the next would be under-produced and sold largely in Italy. The remaining six paintings in the Aliens series were completed at a furious pace and created under the high stress of corporate deadlines. "Suddenly, Mego said 'Hey! We need six of them. Now.' You could almost see it in the paintings-like an assembly line thing. And that's not the way you want to do this stuff, but hey, that's what the call was and I stepped up.Those all happened a week apart. Bang, bang, bang ,bang, bang," says Kelly. The paintings that Kelly speaks of were the Repto, Membros, the Terraphant vehicle and the 2nd series Centaurus, Lobros and Kronos figures. They were oil on canvas and each were about 30" by 34".

The idea to switch from the photographic style box art previously used for the Micronauts to colorful fantasy artwork was brilliant and it fit well with the organic design of the Aliens. Although Mego went out of business shortly after the release of these toys for unrelated reason, the legacy of this original line and Kelly's paintings lives on in the hearts of today's collectors. In fact, the very paintings themselves actually reside with on of today's top Micronauts collectors, Rumel Tomiampos.

After the original paintings were photographed for the production cycle, Mego returned all the Aliens artwork to Kelly except for the oh-so-elusive Antron. Ken, in turn, sold these works to private buyers. The paintings shifted hands a couple of times over the years until the finally fell into the capable care of hardcore Micronaut fan and art lover Tomiampos.


MEGO's Marty Abrams and the original Antron painting

Tomiampos vividly remembers the day that another old-school toy collector told him someone had the original Membros art for sale. He says, "I think it was selling for around $1,850. I contracted the seller and told her if her initial deal feel through (there was another interested buyer), I would be willing to pay that price that she would let me have it." Tomiampos continues, "This person had purchased the paintings from Ken Kelly when he was still an upcoming artist. After she agreed to sell me the Membros, I asked her if she owned any of the other Micronauts paintings. She informed me that she owned seven of the original eight pieces, buy really didn't want to sell anymore of them, the Terraphant being her favorite."

Eventually, she did break down and let them go. This dealer's only wish was that the paintings would go to a good home and that they'd remain in a set; of course Tamiampos had displayed these treasures with all the pride of a brand-new parent. "If I ever would consider selling them," he said assuredly, "I would only sell them as a set and to a good home too. I've had an offer as high as $70,000, but don't want to part with them. IF the Smithsonian of the Museum of Art in D.C. wanted them, I would most likely donate them so that everyone could enjoy them." Tamiampos has also generously lent the paintings to be photographed for the 2002 Hero Factory Micronauts card set. Still, even with all seven of the masterpieces in one place, the Antron painting was nowhere to be found. Just where in the world was the very first and oft considered best paintings in Kelly's series? The answer, it seems, was to be found in the darkest depths of the Abrams family home.

"If I couldn't be Trump's kid born into money," Ken Abrams quips, "at least I was born into the Micronauts." Abram is the son of Marty Abrams, the founder of Mego toys. Ken Kelly's prize Antron painting used to hang in young Abrams' bedroom when he was a boy. It remained there as the centerpiece of his living quarters surrounded by Led Zeppelin and Springsteen posters until he left home to attend college in 1984. However, even for the Abrams, Antron too became a faded memory.


Until 2002, that is, when the Palisades Retro Series of Micronauts was released. A card set featured the seven original Kelly paintings was created, from which the Antron was conspicuously missing. After several failed attempts at acquiring a photograph of the painting from Marty Abrams himself, it was thought that the paintings was lost forever. Then, in 2004 at MegoCon in NYC, a convention dedicated to everything Mego, the entire Abrams' clan was in attendance. This was the chance to set the record straight on the whereabouts of one of Kelly's keenest sci-fi paintings.

Your humble author asked Ken directly what happened to the painting that hung in his bedroom as a child. He redirected the question to his mother who responded with the following statement, "I think I threw that ugly thing out." Immediately, hundreds of die-hard Micronauts and Ken Kelly fans' hearts dropped deep into their bellies as a collective gasp seemed to resound across the universe. Ken Abrams quickly calmed the potentially riotous crowd with these words: "There's no way Marty let her throw that thing out. No way, no how, is that thing in the garbage." Ken soon took it upon himself to scavenge the old Abrams household that very weekend. After his fourth attempt at rummaging through the basement, he found the missing painting tucked between a few framed family paintings and buried deep in a crawl space. The mystery was finally solved, to the delight of a multitude of Micronauts devotees. Today, it seems that the Abrams will never again let Antron out of their view; the piece now hands high above Marty Abrams desk in his personal office in New York. So please, enjoy this photograph of little ol' Antron. This is the first time he's ever been in a magazine and he's apparently made quite a journey to be here.