As the members of the Generation X generation come of age, they look back to the joys of their younger years to reminisce and remember about the good times they had. And people take notice – bringing back stories and characters from years gone by, for these kids-now-grown-up, and as fans themselves. Visit your local movieplex and you’ll see its evidence in the popularity of the Transformers movies and the upcoming G.I. Joe film. And from the same toychest that those two franchises emerged, comes an even older memory.
The Outer Space Men, also known as the Colorform Aliens, were a series of bendable action figures introduced in 1968. Their names: Astro-Nautilus, Commander Comet, Colossus Rex, Electron+, Orbitron, Xodiac and Alpha 7. These rare toys now command top dollar on the collector’s market, and demand an even higher price in the minds of the grown-ups who enjoyed them way back when as kids. And now these toys return, in comics form, in the recently released graphic novel The Outer Space Men. Writer Eric C. Hayes, along with artist Rudolf Montemayor, tells a tale of these seven alien superheroes banding together in a conflict of epic and star-spanning proportions.
We talked with the book’s writer about this unlikely revamp, and how it all came about.
Newsarama: Thanks for talking to us, Eric. What can you tell us about The Outer Space Men?
Eric C. Hayes: In 1968, seven poseable figures representing seven planets in our solar system, landed in toy stores across the US. Called The Outer Space Men, these rubber, bendy figures were designed by their creator to be played with alongside Mattel's wildly successful Major Matt Mason line of space toys. It was up to the child, whether these toys would act as "friend" or "foe" to Mattel's Man in Space. Each Outer Space Man was encased in a plastic blister and packaged on imaginatively designed cardboard backing that featured beautiful images from the respective planet the figure originated from. An estimated 500,000 individual pieces were sold in the US that first year. In 1969, a second series of 6, even more incredible OSM were about to hit production. In July of that year, Man touched down safely on the moon. At that moment, we had conquered our imagination, and nearly overnight, "Space was Dead" to all the major toy companies. All production of space related toys was canceled. It would stay that way until Luke Skywalker blew up the Death Star nearly 10 years later.
Nrama: A graphic novel 40 years in the making – how’d this turn from toys to a full comic?
Hayes: In the 1970's several unsuccessful attempts were made to repackage The Outer Space Men in the form of puzzles and peel-and-stick playsets. But the next landmark moment for these cherished toys came in 1991. It was then that "ex-Wallstreeter" Gary Schaeffer met OSM creator Mel Birnkrant, at a toy show. As Gary's childhood memories with The OSM came flooding in, a friendship was born that lasts to this day. The new friends also agreed that it was time to bring back OSM. For the past several years, all 13 OSM action figures (first and second series) have been studied, researched and federally registered with the United States Patent, Trademark and Copyright offices for the express intent of bringing them back to the people who remember what it was like to play with a truly wonderful toy. The mission also included introducing a new generation of toy enthusiasts to the mind-expanding world of OSM. It was decided that the best way to do this would be with an Original Graphic Novel.
Nrama: If you can, could you describe each of the main characters for us?
Hayes: I've written OSM to be an elite inter-planetary peace keeping force. Representing "the best of the best" that their home planets have to offer. Leading the team is the winged Venusian warrior Commander Comet, a direct descendant of the mighty Zeus. The diminutive Alpha7 epitomizes the "little green martian" of the group. Invulnerable to attack, invincible in battle, the "Jovian Giant" Colossus Rex represents Jupiter. Xodiac, the venerable man from Saturn, is able to manipulate gravity with the help of his Saturn Staff and the mysterious rings that surround his home planet. The tentacled Astro-Nautilus, embodies the adventurous spirit of Neptune. From his home planet of Uranus, the enigmatic Orbitron has mastered the art of mental telepathy. Lastly, Electron+ hails from remote Pluto, where the inhabitants posses the ability to travel at light speed. The team is dedicated to protecting Earth and its "sister" planets from those who would do them harm. Each action-figure had a short bio printed on the back of their original packaging. Essentially, this was the only info that I had as in developing their individual characters.
Nrama: These toys, also called ‘the Colorform Aliens’, were created by Mel Birnkrant. What’ shis involvement with this project?
Hayes: The adventure of bringing back OSM would not exist without Mel Birnkrant. His innovative creations has touched the lives of so many children throughout the years. And if it were not for him, the resurrection of The OSM would be impossible. It was Mel's insistence that a comic was essential to generate the interest in OSM needed to re-release the toys themselves. Mel was also instrumental in selecting the artist that would eventually revive his creation as a comic. As we move forward, Mel continues to be a valuable resource t hat we are truly fortunate to have access to.
Nrama: How did you get involved with the OSM as a fan and as a writer now?
Hayes: For many years now, Gary Schaeffer and I have been close friends. I was aware that Gary had been working with several different writers for a Graphic Novel that would feature The Outer Space Men. Ultimately, those efforts didn't work out. After some convincing, and a crash-course in OSMology, Gary said he would be willing to give me a shot, but wouldn't make any promises. Without any guarantees, I spent a year writing a 150 page book, working my day job and raising my newborn son. Upon completion of the manuscript, I sat down with Gary and we spent an evening reading it together. After a few moments of soul-squeezing nervous anticipation, Gary told me he loved it. We started looking for artists the next day.
Nrama: What's your own background in writing and comics?
Hayes: Any discussion about my background as a writer is a quick one as this is my very first literary effort. However, I've been reading and collecting comics for over 20 years. As a kid, I started with Marvel's "The 'Nam." I would use my allowance and buy it off the spinner rack in the local PathMark grocery store. I've always dug "war comics" and was lucky to have an artist like Michael Golden pencil the first book I ever collected. I still have those issues today. And I still go to the comic shop a few times a month. I'm currently loving DC's "Sgt. Rock." Billy Tucci is an amazi g talent and I'm glad he's keeping the "war" genre going strong. I've always had stories running around in my head that I felt would make awesome comics but never had the opportunity like I've had now with OSM.
Nrama: Before we go, I want to ask about this book’s audience. Is there a big fanbase for the Colorform aliens after all these years?
Hayes: Totally! I was blown away when we debuted the book at New York Comic Con this year. We had an army of OSM on display and folks were walking into our booth in shocked amazement. All weekend I took in stories from adults speaking about their childhood adventures with OSM. Most of these stories end with something like, "...and then I ripped Colossus Rex's arms off and I never saw him again." Our website, www.theouterspacemen.com sees tremendous traffic. As do the The OSM related YouTube videos we post occasionally. "The OSM love" from the fanbase is evident on ebay too, where the figures go for outrageous amounts at auction. Sadly, it's these same astonishing auction amounts that have rendered my OSM collection incomplete.