Saturday, June 10, 2006

Aurora: Bama Box Art Blasphemy

If you were a male born in this country 1954-1964 you could have hardly escaped childhood without building or owning (or being friends with someone who did) an Aurora monster model. In the mid-sixies model stores and the kids who built them were as common as cel phone stores are today, and everybody who built kits knew who the hell Aurora plastics was. Revell had some cool figural stuff in the form of some of the popular Ed Roth characters (like Rat-Fink), likewise for Hawk and the Weird-O models...But Aurora --having started in the figure model market with their Knights in Shining Armor series--was now getting a headlock on most things that were Theatrical or TV oriented. In 1961 the Aurora factory in Long Island (NY) roared into production with essentially what became the first styrene monster kit in America...celebrating his 30th anniversary, Universal Pictures' own Frankenstein's Monster (or"Frankie" to most kids.)

Frankenstein would soon be followed by the first ever model kits of Dracula, Wolfman, The Phantom of the Opera, The Mummy, The Creature, The Hunchback, The Bride of Frankenstein, The Witch and eventually (by 1964) even King Kong and Godzilla. Not surprisingly all of the exquisite Box art for these kits was supplied by master painter James Bama, who had already made quite the name for himself with his prolific work on Bantam paperbacks (at this point in his career he had already painted over 500 covers!) Bama was and still is very much a fan of the horror genre (and it shows in his work) so he jumped at the chance to do the box art paintings. "I did all the monsters" He fondly recalled later in his career. " The first one I did was Frankenstein...The second was Dracula...The third was either Wolfman or the Phantom of the Opera. They were all in the verticle format. I did four with the hot rods...the Mummy, Frankenstein, Dracula and the Wolfman. And also King Kong and Godzilla, the Bride of Frankenstein and the the Witch." (Bama used his wife as the model for the witch...and he said it was her favorite modeling assignment.) He normally did the paintings larger than the finished kit box...sometimes nearly twice as large. By his own count he did 22 in all. The renditions of the monsters he painted transcended to being more than just model box art...they became indelible icons representing the finest in commercial art in an era literally exploding with pop-art and graphic imagery.

So where's the Blasphemy you ask? Just getting to that.
In 1969 Aurora figured instead of producing any new figure kits, they could just re-release six of their Monster kits with new glow-in-the-dark parts. This wave would be known as the Frightening Lightning Series. The re-release was so successful that nearly all of the Monster line was reissued the following year-- only now the box format had also changed from long (13" x 5") to square (8" x 8"). This new set of releases were commonly known as the Glow-In-the-Dark series. The new look of these kits would be featured in new campaign ads, and reflected in newly-revised box art.

Here's the blasphemy. Someone --and no one now seems to remember who-- (ack)
painted over the original Bama paintings with brightly colored acrylic paints to accommodate the new Glow-in-the-dark features. Since the original paintings were mostly gouache, the acrylic paint is on there for good. Tragic. Short-sighted. Almost criminal.
So, for the first time I'm aware of in any forum, here are some side-by side comparisons of the ultra-sad evidence.

Unfortunately I have no good comparison shots of the Frankenstein box differences, so we'll just start with Dracula, here...

Since the new format was nearly square, changes outside of those dimensions were unnessessary.
Check out the area below Drac's knees --it remains completely unaltered from the original.

It's like looking at a crime scene.

Here's the Phantom painting before and after...
It was ruined!! What was the thinking in this case? "Let's redo it all in ...Algae green!...Oh, and get rid of that damn guy in the window...he was puttin' off some of the moms anyway." Wah. (The image was flipped for the square box release, to boot!)

Wolfman here got off easy. So many people had already complained that the pose on the box didn't at all look like the kit it when it came Glow time a whole new painting was comissioned to Harry Schaare. While it was considerably less dramatic-- it reflected the pose of the actual kit with much greater accuracy. So this one actually had the glow features painted into the original. It was painted in the verticle format for the initial Frightening Lightning issue and presumably had the background widened and brightened for the next wave Glow-in-the-Dark square box release.

Here's the Bama originals for The Mummy and the Creature --which looks like they were done as one painting, and then cut apart.

While the Creature seems to have been given the blessing of being a
copy of the original painting...The Mummy apparently suffered the same fate as Dracula and was painted over --Though it looks like it's size was expanded on either side, more than likely with gesso.
Some you have written and said The Creature is a paint-over...and others say it's a redo. It's hard to tell. In some cases the photo evidence is pretty conclusive, (Like Dracula) with others it's really who you ask. However all who've written and adressed the subject have said that The Mummy was definitely a redo as well...and --like the Wolfman-- was also painted by Aurora regular Harry Schaare. I thought the base looked kinda different in both paintings...but since I had actually read
in Kitbuilders Magazine a few years back that The Mummy was a paint-over I had no real reason to challenge it.
Chris White wrote and offers this on the subject:"There are some visual clues in the wide painting, but the clincher is that the original was available on an online auction a few years ago. What I suspect is that the redo was first done for the "Frightning Lightning" long box version, and then widened for the later square box release."
So there you have it.

Here's both versions of The Witch, and a shot from Mrs.Bama's modeling session for good measure. I've heard the glow version is --like The Mummy--another copy of the original by Harry Schaare. Considering the image is flipped and doesn't bleed off the top of the page, that's a pretty safe bet.

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde though...not so lucky. This one got literally got murdered. Yuck. What a pink mess.

Even King Kong was doomed to the repaint brush....UPDATE--Or so I thought! I've been informed that this was another new painting Harry Schaare as well!.

As well as Godzilla...Oh Yeah...much better without the lightning...Sheesh!

And even the great painting of The Forgotten Prisoner of Castel Mare was totally desecrated. What's weird here is that even though it's below the cut-off line someone still repainted the skull to "glow" more.

This post wouldn't be complete without The Hunchback and his sad tale...

As the story goes, the original Hunchback box art was changed in 1965 at the insistance of Anthony Quinn, as the box art did bear his likeness. This art was replaced with a modified Hunchback with longer hair. This version was painted over just like the rest...

UPDATED INFO - (The final indignity came when
Polar Lights wanted to re-release the kit a few years ago. Since "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" was still being used by trademarks registered to Disney, Polar Lights decided to play it safe on not use the term "Hunchback" at all anywhere on the box. So, here just for the record is the even MORE altered box art for the Polar Lights release, ...ahem...."The Bellringer". Nice to have a good recast of this one at any rate. (And my thanks to the folks that brought those updated facts to my attention. )

Whew! Okay that about does it for now...Lemme just thank some folks without whom this post wouldn't have been possible. Namely Aurora Plastics, Polar Lights, James Bama, Bill Bruegman, Gordy Dutt and Club Tokyo. (Bill and Gordy for all the great insights and original art pictures.) Thanks large, guys.
...and If I'm amiss on any more of the facts please don't hesitate to let me know.

Til next time...


Blogger Robert Pope said...

Good Gravy! That was one of those posts that should double as a master's degree dissertation! Amazing stuff, very ed-u-cational for those of us who made the scene just a few years later (I admit to still having my "Glow-in-the-dark" Godzilla somewhere in my folk's house...)
I saw on a website a "reproduction box" for sale, and it was for an Invisible Man kit? Is this vintage, or just a Bama-faker messing with my "born in 1967 so I don't remember any of these boxes" head?

11:31 PM

Blogger C. Martin Croker said...

No, it's like a "what if" kit, so it's only a box...but a pretty good box, eh?

11:48 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very cool collection of images!

I'm pretty sure that The Witch and Kong were completely new art, not paint overs.

I believe both the Creature and Mummy still exist in their original versions. I have some art prints made a few years ago from the original art (which you have pictured here).

My understanding of the "Bellringer" mess is that the Playing Mantis lawyers were playing it safe based on trademarks registered by Disney using "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" on plastic figures. I've never heard that Disney actually made any threats.

Of course, I could be wrong about any of this!

Steve Iverson

10:42 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice article, Martin. It brings the images together so that they can be compared. I do have three points of possible disagreement to raise. When I interviewed Harry Schaare for my book "Aurora Model Kits," he said that he painted new box art for the Wolf Man, Mummy, Witch, and King Kong.
Now that would match up with your judgment on the Witch and Wolf Man. However, it seems that the Mummy and King Kong are the new Schaare art (not paint-overs), while the Creature is a paint-over, not new art.

11:57 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very good article on the desecration of the original Bama paintings. appreciated the side-by-side comparisons.
One correction - the Mummy was not a paint over, but rather a redo. There are some visual clues in the wide painting, but the clincher is that the original was available on an online auction a few years ago. What I suspect is that the redo was first done for the "Frightning Lightning" long box version, and then widened for the later square box release.
One thing always disturbed me about the Creature redo. Bama adjusted the Creature's left arm up to fit into the narrow box format. When the redo was painted the artist never bothered to correct its position - even though he had so much room to play with he still left that arm hanging over poor Creech's head!

1:32 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Excellent material. I was one of those who grew up in the exact time period of these models. Some facts I can recall: There was also a kind of division - the kids who made models of hot rods, airplanes, boats, military stuff and then the ones who made monster models - and who spent time really painting them well, the whole thing. Most everyone I knew with the automobiles, airplanes, boats etc... eventually succumbed to playing with them by engaging in "action", i.e. models crash, lit on fire, thrown off cliffs and all that. But the monster-model makers were usually holding on to theirs - these were "sculpture", figures of art.

If only they realized back then it was the box covers that would be the real art!

1:46 PM

Blogger Tony said...

I have the original The Red Knight, see;

I am wondering if anyone knows how or who can value it?


10:19 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi, I just saw this site.The creature and the mummy have not been painted over. I own both of them

12:49 PM


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