Tuesday, November 29, 2016

The Junk Box: MIMP Comics [Guest Post]

By GW Thomas

You’re a grown-ass man and you’re not supposed to play with toys. But like any good fanboy I have my favorites. My thark from Trendmasters (1995) and my various Godzilla bendies, but the rest - old eBay failures and such - I keep in The Junk Box. It’s not really junk. Just an old carton from the liquor store. (In Canada, when you move, you go to the liquor store for empty boxes. We must look like a nation of itinerant alcoholics!) Anyway, let’s take a look inside... THE JUNK BOX!

In this age of Pokemon Go, it may be hard to remember that monster collectors existed before 1995 when Satoshi Tajiri and Ken Sagimori created the phrase: “Gotta Catch’em All!” But in 1989, Morrison Entertainment Company, run by two former Mattel executives, Joe Morrison and John Weams, offered the world its own series of collectible critters with Monster in My Pocket (known as MIMP by fans): thirteen collections of rubbery toy creatures to buy and collect. The toys were small, soft, plastic, single-color figures manufactured by Matchbox. The idea was not new. A Japanese company, Kinnikuman had started a small figure line in 1979 called MUSCLE, based on a manga. These fighters were muscular wrestlers that look monstrous at times. Like MIMP, it had dozens of figures to collect.

MIMP started small with only forty-eight creatures, but grew quickly. The creatures included everything from Universal monsters like Vampire and Mummy to dinosaurs to creatures of legend such as Nessie and Spring-Heeled Jack to some pretty obscure mythological critters like Yama and Hanuman. Some of the deities they chose are still worshipped today and got the toys in trouble in certain Asian countries. Here's a complete list. In the end, over two hundred monsters were released. The series would span other media such as a board game, breakfast cereal prizes, trading cards, a video game, animated cartoons, and other tie-ins.

One of these other products was a four-issue comic book produced by Harvey Comics (recently resurrected, but not for long) in 1991. The comic was written by ex-Marvel writer, Dwayne McDuffie. McDuffie worked on Damage Control, a humorous superhero comic with artist Ernie Colon. Like Damage Control, the tone of Monster In My Pocket is tongue-in-cheek with bad puns. It should be no surprise that the premiere issue was drawn by Ernie Colon, of Richie Rich and Arak, Son of Thunder fame, now returned to Harvey. The next three issues were done by the Cover Master, Gil Kane. Ernie may have done only the first issue because he had begun Bullwinkle & Rocky for Star Comics. Gil Kane may have stepped in, having a vacancy after leaving DC, and had not yet started the Jurassic Park comic for Topps. Whatever the reason, the comic got top-notch artists who could handle the plethora of characters.

The first issue begins with two warring factions of monsters, one lead by Vampire and the other by Warlock. At a convention of creatures, the two factions are supposed to vote democratically to see who will rule. Warlock sees he is going to lose, so he casts a spell that sends the monsters into our world, where they appear to be living toys. This kind of Us vs Them plotting is typical of most toy product stories, such as Transformers, GI Joe, and Masters of the Universe. And we know it from movies like Small Soldiers (1998). In this first tale, we meet Jack and Tom Miles, brothers who end up with the monsters living in their house. Subplots revolve around their parents not finding out and the enemy monsters invading the house.

Issue Two has the boys take the monsters to school. It is their hope that Dr. Jekyll can create a formula that will undo the spell. Jack has been skipping Chemistry class and so the Invisible Man (a chemist by trade) does his homework for him. The baddies show up and force-feed Jekyll his formula, turning him into Hyde. They try to recruit the evil Hyde for their side but the Good Guys turn him back to Jekyll with another dose. From this we can see that McDuffie is not a stickler for monster lore, as a second dose would do nothing of the sort. He may have been embracing all the Jekyll and Hyde material from the original to Bugs Bunny cartoons. This is unfortunate, because the toy creators had done a lot of research and the bar could have been set higher.

The second half of this issue was a Punisher parody written by McDuffie and drawn by Nelson Dewey. Not in the same league as either Colon or Kane, the art is adequate at best. The humor is fun though, with Frank Rook, Exterminator, coming to the house to wage war on vermin. He doesn’t find any insects, but he does discover the monsters and try to kill them. He is taken away by the men in the white coats. The best part of this parody is his “War Journal” where he chronicles his battles with bugs.

The third issue has Tyrannosaurus attack the house. Since the name Godzilla is copyright protected, the MIMP producers had to settle for a name similar to other monster dinosaur characters. T Rex wants to eat radioactive material so he can grow bigger. When he gets thrown in the microwave he grows to human size and it is up to the creature called Swamp Beast to best him. SB looks like a combination of Swamp Thing and Man-Thing and The Heap.

The fourth issue begins a storyline that is not completed. The boys need a house for the monsters and go to a toyshop to buy a doll house. The Bad Guys attack, but are stymied when a spoiled little girl named Theresa buys the house first and takes the monsters home. The two factions join forces for the moment. She bakes Swamp Beast in a microwave reducing him to hard chunks (which they suggest they can revive with some water). She makes Werewolf do dog tricks. Theresa’s reign of terror is stopped when Spring-Heeled Jack uses his power to terrify by creating the illusion of a person’s greatest fear. Theresa leaves the monsters alone because Jack reminded her of her father, the disciplinarian of the house.

We can only guess that the next issue would feature Jack and Tom finding and rescuing the monsters. We’ll never know. The comic was cancelled, which was a little surprising since the first issue sold out. But the toy line was done and MIMP disappeared from 7-11s everywhere by 1992, mutating into Ninjas in My Pocket in 1996. By that time, the word Pokemon was beginning to surface…

The comics are gone and the toys have ended up in the Junk Box. And all that remains are questions. Had MUSCLE inspired MIMP? Did MIMP inspire Pokemon? I can’t help but wonder if the Pokemon creators had any knowledge of these toy lines sold all over the world? The collecting aspect of the Pokemon games and toys is the same, as is that dire directive to own them all (and put lots of money in the company’s pocket.) And that incentive hasn’t changed much, with Pokemon Go pulling in $200 million in the first month. Oh, hey, I gotta go. My Kakuna has enough Weedle candy to evolve...

GW Thomas has appeared in over 400 different books, magazines and ezines including The Writer, Writer's Digest, Black October Magazine and Contact. His website is gwthomas.org. He is editor of Dark Worlds magazine.

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