T H E F L A S H G O R D O N
A C T I O N F I G U R E P O R T F O L I O
Gordon Is Alive! is proud to present the exclusive story of how one fan’s childhood dream became a reality. Through sheer persistence and by surrounding himself with some of the best and most recognised names in the business, the long unexploited property that was the 1980 Flash Gordon film would finally get the action figures it so richly deserved. In a brand new and exclusive interview, founder and President of Bif Bang Pow Jason Lenzi shares his recollections of what has now become the definitive toy line devoted solely to the movie. Below is the chronicle of the 7″, Mego Style and brand new 3 3/4″ ranges from concept, through sculpt to production, accompanied by rare images and text direct from the source…
Original BBP announcement – Sept 2006 –
LOS ANGELES, CA – For the first time ever, toys based on the 1980 film Flash Gordon are coming to retail stores. Bif Bang Pow! is teaming up with renowned comic book artist Alex Ross and King Features Syndicate to create collectible action figures based on the cult 1980 film classic, Flash Gordon, which featured the fight between Flash Gordon (Sam J. Jones) and Ming the Merciless (Max von Sydow). The worldwide license covers figures standing between 2 and 13-inches tall as well as related accessories, vehicles and plush toys.
“We’re thrilled to bring the best talent and the best licensed properties together,” said Jason Lenzi, president and founder of Bif Bang Pow! “When we first started to explore the license, I knew we had to reach out to Flash Gordon’s biggest fan in the industry, Alex Ross, to get involved. Having Alex contribute to and approve the designs for the action figures is a real milestone. Combining his unmistakable style applied to the likes of Flash Gordon, Dale, Prince Barin and of course, Ming, is a match made in pop culture heaven.”
“Flash Gordon is still my favorite movie of all time. It inspires me to this day,” said Alex Ross. Best known for his vintage inspired artwork of DC Comic’s superheroes in comics such as Kingdom Come, Ross will be serving as art director for the action figure line. Providing his trademark look and feel on the range of Flash Gordon characters, Ross will bring his legendary eye for detail to the classic costumes and characters of director Mike Hodges’ original film.
“When I was a kid I custom-made a set of Flash Gordon action figures for myself,” Ross said. “Now I’m finally going to get the real thing. It’s one of my strongest childhood dreams come true.”
Scheduled for initial release in 2007, the entire Flash Gordon movie toy line will be exclusively distributed through EE Distribution (www.eedistribution.com), a division of Entertainment Earth, Inc., and sold direct to consumers at www.entertainmentearth.com and other fine toy retailers throughout the world.
SERIES 1 (2007)
SERIES 2 (2008)
CON EXCLUSIVES (2010)
A CONVERSATION WITH
J A S O N L E N Z I
Jason thanks so much or taking the time to talk to Gordon’s Alive! As co-founder of Bif Bang Pow! What was the motivation for you to pursue the Flash Gordon Licence for your first foray into action figures?
I had been mulling around the notion of starting a toy company maybe a dozen years or so ago. Once I took the ‘plunge’, so to speak, I came up with my “dream list” of properties I wanted to go after. First on the list was a TV series called ‘Spaced’, which was created/written by the then far less known Simon Pegg and Jessica Stevenson (now Hynes), and directed by Edgar Wright. That story is another complicated adventure all round, but while I was trying to put that together, I began exploring the possibilities with two other titles, ‘The Big Lebowski’ and ‘Flash Gordon’, the 1980 film. Why? Well, for a number of reasons, one of which being that it’s unlike anything else out there before or since, a true ‘one off’ of a film; but selfishly because I loved them all and wanted action figures for myself! I think partial motivation to kick Bif Bang Pow! pff was that no one had ever tackled those licenses, and I thought, ‘well, guess I should do it myself’. (if I knew then what I know now, oh boy…). To this day, the ‘Spaced’ license has never come through, but we’re now in the middle of our second round of adventures with Flash and Lebowski.
Flash Gordon had not had a figure line since the short-lived animated series in 1996 by Playmates. What is it about the movie in particular you found so inspirational and what was your overall ambition for the line?
So much to say to the first half of that question. Without making my answer too overcomplicated, let’s just say that to the kid sat in the theater seeing the FG trailer for the first time, it felt like someone had been rummaging round inside my brain and gave me a movie tailored to my needs. Nothing in the wake of ‘Star Wars’ had truly taken hold of me, except for the Filmation series that aired in 1979. I was obsessed with it, and devoured every bit of merchandise I could get my mitts on. Then Han Solo went and got frozen, and a severe depression set in (I’m not joking!), occasionally offset by my love of pop music. The Beatles were (and still are) my religion, but a band called Queen had been in constant rotation on the portable cassette player with an album called ‘The Game’. Suddenly this burst of mind-melting sunshine of a trailer plays, and it combines FG and Queen in one package?? I had found my new hero and a lifelong obsession. As for my ambition for the line we launched back in ’07, it was mainly to be able to get through at least three waves of characters. We did two waves and some exclusives, so we came close. Also, that first dance with King Features/’Flash Gordon’ only covered action figures and bobble heads. But remember, way back in the ancient days of 2007, FG was still in moratorium on DVD in the US. And no one really cared much about it, so our work was cut out for us!
No other toy company to date had produced figures based on the movie despite fan demand. Was the acquisition of the licence problematic and what was your brief to King Features Syndicate/Universal?
I wouldn’t say ‘problematic’, we’ve had a great relationship with King Features for a long time now. The only snag was confusion between the license holder and the studio, as to where the rights lay. After some diligence and many phone calls, they got it sussed and we moved forward. I knew in my heart of hearts that King Features held the rights, it’s just that we needed everyone to know that and to make sure the paperwork reflected it!
It’s well-documented that artist Alex Ross is a huge fan of the film but at what point did he become involved in the project and what were his initial ideas for the designs? Was there a particular aspect of the characters he wanted to explore?
I was stood down at SDCC in 2005 or so, making the announcement that ‘Spaced’ figures were on the way (!!!) at the Entertainment Earth booth. While standing there, and to this day, from the EE booth vantage point you can look straight across the SDCC floor and see the Alex Ross booth. Now, I knew he loved Flash Gordon, but had never met the man, and although I knew some of his work I wouldn’t ever call myself a massive comic book fan. But I noticed his logo was a riff on the FG movie logo. On a whim, and just because this is kind of how I work, throwing a ‘pebble out into the stream’ to see where the ripples lead, I walked over to the Ross booth at some point to see if the man himself was attending Comic Con. I ended up chatting to his manager about BBP! And what we were about to embark on, and by November, I was chatting to Alex Ross on the phone for the first time. Much later I discovered just why: his manager Sal told me that all SDCC he’s fielding questions and offers from folks who want to work with Alex, but I said three magic words that broke through: Flash. Gordon. Movie. And ten years later, we’re still friends and collaborators. We basically wanted the same out of the line, especially to make the first wave extra impressive in hopes of making more characters…
With such rich source material and lavish designs, what characters were you keenest to see make up the first wave and why? Was the idea always to make the sculpts ‘realistic’and how did you collaborate on such things as accessories, scale and points of articulation?
That’s always a tricky one. You want to tease, but you also want to play it safe a bit, keeping in mind you may only get one wave out of the license if no one turns up to the party. So it was only logical to start with Flash and Ming. Flash sword was a must, but we thought Ming would be fine on his own. As for articulation, making action figures is a very expensive process, so you always need to walk that line again between geek love-obsession and finance. Ultimately, I think our thought was, at the very least we want Flash, Ming and Dale to emulate their poses on the Richard Amsel one sheet. I think we pulled it off, but then I’m a bit biased!
With all these hurdles overcome your prototypes were first shown at Toyfair in 2007. Do you recall fan reaction and do you have any memories of the product launch at SDCC? Were you convinced of its success based on this?
I remember NY toy fair very well, but probably for the wrong reasons! Yes, we started to get ripples of attention and awareness, but sadly I remember that February Toy Fair more as being about a horrible blizzard, ending with me as one of the passengers on the very last Jetblue flight off of the ground at JFK after sitting on the runway for about 8 hours!!
The attention to detail and accuracy to the movie costumes in the finished figures is astounding. Who were the sculptors for these and what directives were they given?
The sculptor on both was the great Jean St. Jean. He had a bit of a history with Alex Ross work already, and between Ross’ detailed designs and what little reference we had at the time, he did absolutely stunning work. His only directive was to do the characters and the film justice. We stay in touch, and to this day he says his sculpt of Ming is one of the best things he’s ever done. He’s a great guy…
THE SCULPTURE OF
J E A N St. J E A N
“The BBP guys had an idea as to how they wanted to approach it. We talked about the 7″ scale, amount of articulation and accessories, and Alex did detailed turn drawings and provided me with art direction and screen caps from the movie. It was one of the smoothest jobs I’ve ever worked on, and we’re all huge fans of the movie, so it made it a lot of fun as well!”
The introduction of Bobbleheads and later, Mego style dolls indicated there were much bigger plans for the licence beyond the action figures back then. Much of that has come to fruition now but were there any items that were planned but never made?
I played around with a ‘build-a-figure’ type concept, which would have had separate pieces of the Hawk City ‘Battle Floor’ packed in with the wave two figures; we were going to make a Flash figure with cloth windbreaker jacket and mini copy of ‘People’ Magazine and a Ming repaint with floating security droid, and those would have had a talking base that had about 7 lines from different characters. We made some plush prototypes of Flash and Ming –
And what of playsets? Surely vehicles such as the Rocket Cycle were considered so what happened and does any concept art exist for these?
No, unfortunately we never got quite that far, they would have been just too cost prohibitive. Years later, through uber Flashfan Chris King, I managed to obtain one of the few Rocket Cycle customs made for our 7″ figures, so it’s all good!
Waves one and two plus the Comic-Con exclusives made up the entirety of the line and were a smash with collectors and fanboys alike. With expectations high for a wave three what characters would it have comprised of and why did they ultimately go unproduced?
The simple, often repeated answer: there just wasn’t enough support for the line. Wave 3 was to have consisted of General Kala, Ming in black skull cap, Vultan and one of the guards or Flash in his Mongo ‘military’ outfit. I also had the radical idea of getting Alex to do his own take on Thun the Lion Man, what he thought he should have looked like in the movie. I’ll never forget calling Alex the day the idea struck me. After my ‘pitch’, Alex said: “um, well….Yeah….We could do that, I guess, but remember ‘Thun’ did in fact appear in the film. They called him ‘Prince Thun’ and remember Ming made him-“. “yes, I remember, never mind..”, said I. And that should tell you all you need to know about my obsessive artist friend!
And now, in 2015, your 3 3/4” Flash Gordon range has fulfilled many a fanboy childhood dream. Beyond these and your other accessories from the film what can we look forward to in the future?
Well, slightly related to the above answer, it all depends on who comes out to support the line. I can not stress that enough. With something like FG, even with all the love for it now thanks to the likes of ‘Ted’, it’s always an uphill climb. There’s support, for sure, but if it’s not there over all it will definitely cut into the possibilities of what we can do in the time frame of the license. My plan is to not only give more overall merchandise to this woefully underrated gem, like pint glasses, prop replicas and journals, but to treat the 3 3/4″ action figure line as if it’s the FG equivilent of Kenner’s ‘star wars’ line circa ’79 or so. Fingers crossed we get to do it all!!
And finally, which figure from the 7” line was your favourite and why?
Am I allowed to give two characters in one go? Good! It has to be the Flash and Ming figures we released back in 2007. As one of the kids that scoured the shops for anything at all from that amazing film way back in 1980, to cut open the first box of action figures and hold Ming and Flash smelling ‘case fresh’ was quite the ‘time travel’ moment. The only thing that bettered it was seeing our new fg line of 3 3/4″ carded figures. In this kid’s mind’s eye, those are exactly what I would’ve wanted to find on those store shelves after coming out of the theater. I hope all Flashfans feel the same!
Jason, thanks so much for your insights!
Thanks for taking the time to inquire about such things, Martin, much appreciated – this has been a great trip down memory lane. Thanks for all your support and interest in Bif Bang Pow! And our ‘Flash’-related endeavors. And thanks also for finally giving Flash Gordon it’s due with the great site!
T H E R E V I V A L
This year, BBP returned to the Savior of the Universe property with an all-new range of figures in collector-friendly 3 3/4″ scale. Finally plugging a 30+ year gap for those wanting to mesh the worlds of Star Wars and more with new characters sculpted in retro style to perfectly match vintage figures –
“We’re excited to be working with King Features Syndicate once again,” said Jason Lenzi, co-founder of Bif Bang Pow! “Fans have missed our Flash Gordon products, and have always wished we had taken things further than we were originally able to. Now, with a renewed interest in that colorful cast of characters, thanks to projects like Ted and a brand-new Flash Gordon movie in the works, we believe now is the perfect time to introduce new collectibles to veteran and novice fans alike. It would seem that the rest of the world has finally caught up with us Flash Gordon true believers, and to paraphrase the words of the immortal Queen, ‘the continuation is OURS for the making’!”
Packaging concepts for the 3 3/4 line by Jason Geyer – read his story here