Monday, May 24, 2010

'GO HERO' Interview

Well, they say the good things in life are worth waiting for - this is an interview I conducted with GO HERO's head honcho Steve Forde back in 2008. That's right: 2008. For reasons that are still beyond me, it was sat on by a venerable and supposedly honorable 'news' website that had promised to post it and never did. With all the hub-bub recently over Go Hero's new Shadow figure and other cool new releases, I remembered I still had this. The news is old, I guess, but maybe it will offer a unique look into Steve's mind two years ago - or maybe it will just be fun. You decide! And apologies to Steve!

Jim Beard – 7/8/08

Go Hero! – Interview with Steve Forde

While perusing the crowded aisles of vendors at this year’s Wizard World Chicago con I stumbled upon a small oasis in the midst of the chaos. There I found a neat little table occupied with some of the nicest 1/6 scale action figures I’ve ever seen – and the man behind them, both literally and figuratively. That would be Steve Forde and his company, Go Hero!

Steve and I got into a fantastic conversation about the Buck Rogers figures he was showing, what he went through to get them made, and our own shared admiration for all things pulp. After only a few minutes of talk I knew this was a venture that deserved more attention and I knew that readers of Super-Articulate would enjoy Steve’s journey as much as I did.

If you read only one interview today - read on! The 25th century awaits!

Jim Beard – Steve, what's your background as a genre fan? What's influenced your past and current projects with Go Hero?

Steve Forde - I grew up on a steady diet of robots, superheroes, and monsters. My literal first word was Batman! I cannot count the hours spent with Star Wars audio tapes (pre VHS), Godzilla movies, and Adam West "climbing" up the side of a building! My older brothers also imparted to me a love for Speed Racer and Ultraman as well!

So in my adult years I started Go Hero as a platform for me to create my own characters. In the process of developing Plutia (ploo-sha), a film and toy line about the daughter of a 30s style Flash Gordon or Buck Rogers type character, I heavily researched the original sources of retro sci-fi. In so doing, I rediscovered my affection for retro Buck Rogers.

JB – I just realized your initials are “S.F.”! Too cool! So, how did Go Hero get its start?

SF - Like a million other artists / designers, I have ideas for characters. Maybe 20% of those designers will make a drawing and really try to show it to the world. But at the time I was among only about 25 other companies / designers were willing and able to make an actual toy. Making a toy is a different level of commitment, not just a sculpture, but producing an original design in toy form and taking it to market - it shows that you are

My first character was Mechabot ( It was a 60s-70s Japanese style, 8.5" vinyl robot, with 12 points of articulation. People really responded well and I was actually in discussion for cartoons, comics and film within days of debuting it. To my surprise and delight, we sold out of the first version in 1 day and it won toy of the year from a affiliate - Toy Toons.

In the next couple of years the offshoot of Designer Toys really bloomed. I think of it like birth of "grunge" music in Seattle. There were a handful of people all doing something interesting and we sort of banded together at SDCC for the first Cultyard. Then came books, magazines, and a lot more toys. I pursued a lot of development rabbit trails and slowly released Tentikill: the Sea Monster, Yira: Dragon of Doom, and a reissue of Zagora.

JB - What if any action figures of the past or present have inspired your own

SF - I love vintage Bullmark Japanese vinyl and enjoy seeing a Godzilla figures that look very little like the film incarnations. That to me is similar to the modern toy designers. When a company or artist interprets the character and that interpretation becomes fused in the mind of a child with the actual character they saw on the show or film. I think that is cool that a single designer can have the same effect as a corporate committee.

I am also a collector of Medicom RAH figures. Medicom understood detail and proportion before others caught on. Hot Toys has become a force as well, their attention to detail is exquisite. I remember buying the 12" McFarlane style Spiderman and then Sideshow announced they were distributing and I could buy it for less! It was a good day, even though I lost about $50.

There was also a company called Toys McCoy who made an Indiana Jones figure that had incredible detail. It amazed me to see a company create something when there was no new media to speak of. It seemed they just wanted to pay tribute to a great character and not about just making any figure, but exploring how far they could go with their craft. My wife had a difficult time when I preordered that at about $300. She however understands now.

JB – Ha! If only all spouse understood… How did you choose Buck Rogers (and the 1930s-40s) to start your pulp odyssey?

SF - There are moments in pop culture when styles leap forward and there are actual people behind those leaps. I like Sound Garden, who came from Led Zeppelin - the original innovators. In the same way, the world loves Star Wars in large part because of Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers. Many of the designs are distilled, timeless, influential, and still hold up to this day. Buck's chest emblem leads to Iron Man's chest emblem. The embellishments on the helmet are similar to Gatchaman. The visor is Cyclops from X-men. We all love great hero designs and so many of them started with Buck Rogers.

Go back and look at those designs by Calkins and the Flash Gordon serials and you will never look at Star Wars the same way. One day it dawned on me that no one had yet made an accurate version of these characters. I conferred with members of my unofficial board of directors Mark Nagata (Max Toy Co) and Patrick Ma (Rocketworld) and they confirmed my thoughts. I knew I had to do it!

JB - Can you tell us a bit about what you went through to get the permissions for Buck Rogers and for your Buster Crabbe figure?

SF - This is a long story that starts with a Gun. In my own research I went to purchase an Atomic Disintegrator on Ebay. It is by all counts the best ray gun of all time. It represents the best in design and function. They would show up and consistently sell for nearly $200 for ones that were not even fully working. I could not believe that after 70 years it was never reissued. I thought, "This has to be done." Others had tried and it did not happen and I have a knack for pulling together difficult projects.

I called the Daisy gun corporation - who put me in touch with their Museum. They were all for the idea, but I had to get permission from the Buck Rogers' people - whoever they were. I found the name of the people who owned Buck - The Dille Family Trust. Myself and Mark Nagata went on Google and Wikipedia. I found the name Flint Dille, grandson of the original owner, and some contact info. I cold-called him. He loved the idea of bringing the gun back, but he wanted to make sure it was done right. Quickly the project included 1:6 scale figures and all was a "go".

Little did I know that Flint Dille was an influential role in many other properties that I love including Transformers cartoons, G.I. Joe cartoons, and various movie based video games. I popped in my Transformers DVD, and there is the guy I am working with. As if that were not enough his sister started T.S.R. This family was royalty in my mind. The next time we spoke, I think my voice cracked and I felt 12 years old. I have since regained my composure and they continue to be a delight to work with.

Once I committed to the 1:6 scale arena, it was the natural choice to do what came next in Sci-Fi - Flash Gordon. But not just any version of Flash. I wanted to create the version based on Larry "Buster" Crabbe. Buster Crabbe was the Harrison Ford of the day. He was the first action hero – starring as Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers, Tarzan, in westerns and as himself in his very own comic books! Again, no one had done real justice to him in this 1:6 scale realm.

I contacted Hearst (King Features) and they would not touch it because of the age of the serials, it would be too problematic to do the project. Unless...I got permission from the Crabbe family. And so...

I found a biography written about him and contacted the author who put me in touch. I spoke to Mr. Crabbe's son and daughter. It was like a lucid dream hearing the voice of his son Cuffy Crabbe, who sounded exactly like him. They also are a delight to work with, loved the idea, and off we went.

JB – That’s an incredible story, Steve. Other than the licensing saga, what have been the most challenging aspects of creating these figures?

SF - Time management. I know people want them, and I know I can make them, especially working with great licensors and my partners D2D ( former BBI and Hot Toys designers. This has been 9 months in the making and somehow I am still trying to keep the lights on while this is developing. So it is a lot of 18 hour days. The other good thing is the projects have evolved. We are developing our own 1:6 scale bodies and the sound device to really show we are innovators. But innovations take time. This is truly a labor of love and I am honored to be entrusted with these international icons.

JB – As I can imagine you are! Can you tell us a bit about the audio feature of the figures?

SF - Essentially we have developed a 1 Gig MP3 player that fits in the abdomen of the 1:6 scale figure. With it you can listen to the old Buck Rogers radio shows, control volume, fast forward, rewind. And it has a USB to connect to the web and download more files. It will be perfect for Buck and other media driven characters.

JB – Here’s the important part, Steve - when and how can people get these figures?

SF - The figures will first be available on our website - And we are in talks for distribution.

JB – You’ve already had a full course of adventures, but what does the future hold for you, as far as projects, dreams, etc?

SF - Well, along with the theme of iconic innovators - we are working with Bluewater Production to bring collectibles based on their titles including the Ray Harryhausen Presents series.

We are developing:
Sinbad w/ Humunculos 1:6 Scale Figures,
Cyclops w/ Club 1:6 Scale Figures
Skeleton Warriors 1:6 Scale Figures
Perseus w/ Bubo 1:6 Scale Figures
Apparel and MORE!!!

We are in development on some other retro characters as well as original properties. We will be showing the Perseus at SDCC in a few weeks along with a Buck limited edition mini-gun exclusive. And that is just the beginning!

JB – Whew! More than I imagined! Thanks for all the good words and works, Steve, and we’ll keep checking in with you as things progress – Happy Skies!

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