The year was 1966. Outer space was the place in the popular imagination and the space race was in full effect. All of this was not lost on the Mattel toy company. As an alternative to the Earthbound G.I. Joe, they introduced the moon inhabiting astronaut, Major Matt Mason.
This wire-framed bendable action figure became an inspiration to toy collector/inventor/designer, Mel Birnkrant, and with the partnership of Harry Kislivitz – the president and creator of Colorforms toys – Birnkrant developed what would be the first of their kind: boys ‘fantasy’ action figures. Introduced in 1968, when the world was abuzz about the coming first US moon landing, ‘The Outer Space Men‘ – 3.5′ to 7’ tall bendy action figures – took to the stage of pop culture and turned into an icon of the age.
The concept…was to make equivalent figures to Matt Mason that would be basically astronauts from other planets and solar systems. The premise would be ambivalent and heroic.
We wanted them to be bad or good and let the kid decide how he wanted to use them.
Series 1 had seven original figures and the first shipment of units from the manufacturers sold with success. During the introduction of ‘The Outer Space Men’ to the markets, Birnkrant was busy developing Series 2. This series would become known as ‘The World Of The Future‘ but it would never see mass production.
The 1969 moon landing was a disappointment to the imagination. Cold and desolate, it seemed to slip out of popular consciousness in a flash. Major Matt Mason soon fell to Earth with a crash and according to Birnkrant, ‘in the toy industry space had become a dirty word.’
With the release of Star Wars in 1977, a renewed interest in things space-related cropped up. Colorforms – forever known for their two dimensional vinyl collage kits – released the Space Warriors adventure set. The kits included figures from Series 1 and 2. Through the years, The Outer Space Men-like figures would pop up in various places – most notably in their tiny forms from supermarket gumball machines.
Flash forward to 1991. Enter Wall Street Specialist, Gary Schaeffer. A chance meeting between Birnkrant and Scaeffer at the Atlantique City Antiques & Collectibles Show would lead to a two-decade-plus friendship and a revival of the Outer Space Men line. The Outer Space Men, LLC, was created in 2008 and Birnkrant’s 1968 breakthrough is once again back in the sci-fi universe.
December 23, 2008, marked the release date of the graphic novel, The Outer Space Men, and the reintroduction of the crew. In 2010, Birnkrant licensed the use of The Outer Space Men to the collectible figure design studio and manufacturer, Four Horsemen Toy Design. Waves one and two of the Outer Space Men Cosmic Creators series went on sale as a Comic-Con International exclusive in late July 2010. Referred to as the Four Horsemen series as they were designed and sculpted by the studio.
This year, 2013, marked the official return of the original Outer Space Men designer, Mel Birnkrant, in the Cosmic Creators Birnkrant Edition. Instead of the older wire armatures, a proprietary Glyos joint system, created by Onell designs, is used. Sculpted by The Four Horsemen, this set of Limited Edition figures is available ONLY through the Official OSM site, TheOuterSpaceMen.com! As of this writing, there are only seven sets still available of this signed and highly collectable edition.
Birnkrant is very proud and excited about these figures – you can see them in all their outer spacely glory, along with details as described by Birnkrant, by hitting this link. With the return of the Outer Space Men in their newer designs, perhaps another generation will be introduced to the original cast that started it all – at the heart of the space age.