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Gareth von Kallenbach of SKNR.NET spoke with P.A. Wlodarczyk about his new book about the toys of the Alien franchise, Hideous Plastic: In Stores Everyone Can Hear You Scream.

The book looks at the release of a large-scale Alien figure by Kenner to tie into the success of the film and the complications that arose from targeting it at children.


What is your background with the Alien universe and which films and games are your favorites?

For me, I’ve been a fan since the beginning, in 1979. I knew of the movie and followed its development in magazines leading up to its release. I enjoy all of the movies, but all for very different reasons. They each have merit, as far as I am concerned. I’m not the kind of guy that wants more of the same thing so the diversity on display in the Alien series is tremendous.

I love that about the series. If the movie is going to feature the word “ALIEN” in its title, it’s got to push audiences expectations. It’s got to be subversive and challenging. Otherwise, it’s just not ALIEN; it’s just SAFE. As for games, I’m still a big fan of Rebellion’s 1999 AvP and Monolith’s AvP2. They’re great vintage titles. More recently, ALIEN Isolation was such a fabulously different take on what the series has to offer and I loved it.

We first met on the Planet AVP forums. What have you done since that the site and have you kept in touch with any of the other Mods/Regulars from there over the years?

That’s going back a long way. Maybe twenty years ago. So, yeah.

Occasionally I talk to some of the other modders. I released a multiplayer map back in 2017 for the old AvP2 game featuring the Nostromo in dry dock but I haven’t done anything since then. I’ve worked on contract-level design from time to time during the past fifteen years. That activity has been a mixed bag of experiences.

What inspired you to write Hideous Plastic?

As I hinted above, my experiences in game dev haven’t all been positive. I didn’t originally plan to write a book but I wanted to take a break from game dev. I have developed some early working projects but felt the market was suffering from being flooded and I was getting jaded with the whole game dev scene. I needed to move on. Writing a book about
the Kenner toy was an evolutionary process that started when I dropped my own Kenner ALIEN toy and severed the head in the process.

The figure was in immaculate condition until that mishap. I already had other samples of the toy but none that were up to the standard I needed to cannibalize to use as parts. So, I bought a wrecked figure with a pair of ruined legs but it still possessed an excellent condition head. Once the figure was repaired, I had a number of good leftover parts. A pair of arms, a tail, and a handful of other pieces that were OK. So, I upgraded some of my other less worthy figures to bring them up to a decent standard using those parts. I started keeping notes and the book grew from that. As a result, the book features an extensive repair and maintenance section for the old toy. That’s where it all began when I dropped my own. I guess David is right. In order to create, first, you must destroy. Even if it’s accidental.

How long did Hideous Plastic take you to research and write?

I already had a good base knowledge of the toy before I started taking notes. I commenced writing the book in mid-2015 and researched right up until it was published in 2020. I actually had to pause the publisher right before it went to print because I received some incredible content that had to be included. It was just one of those ucky moments that drop in your lap that makes you stand up and say, “Hey. WOW! Now, this… THIS I have to include!” and so it was a process that was ongoing right up to when the book was published, around twelve months ago.

What are some of your favorite Alien themed merchandise and is there something you wish you could find?

Obviously, the original 1979 Kenner ALIEN toy is a big hit with me. I love a lot of the other merchandise, too. NECA and Super7 among other vintage and recent adopters of the license have made some great stuff. If you want to talk about a “holy grail” piece though, then yeah. I would love to know what happened to the various prototypes Kenner made of the original ALIEN toy.

We see photos of one of them on the box the figure was packaged in. Images of the toy on the box differ from the production version of the toy. I would love to know what happened to it. It was most likely destroyed in the purge Kenner did to clear premises floor space to focus on the more family-friendly product. The prototype could just easily have survived being tossed into a dumpster. It could be in someone’s collection, a storage unit, may be forgotten in the darkest dank recesses of someone’s garage… I’d just be happy to know its fate. Obviously, it existed but no one appears to know where it is or what happened to it. It’s a lost and significant treasure whose fate is completely unknown and it is unattainable. That’s the correct definition of a “holy grail”, right?

What are some of the interesting things you learned in your research?

Firstly, there is nothing normal about this toy. Nothing. Starting from that standpoint and exploring the history of the toy will send you into all kinds of surprising directions. Here’s just a few. It was the first toy based on an R-rated movie and it was marketed towards children aged 5 and up. We know why that happened, too. The answer is Star Wars.

Kenner wanted ALIEN merchandise to replicate Star Wars’ success. It didn’t happen. The toy is simply full of surprises like that. There have been no less than twelve different versions of it made over the past four decades. It originally retailed in 1979 for around $14.95. In 1980, it was discounted to $4.95. Today, a pristine sample in a box can cost you $1495, one hundred times its original retail price.

Kenner made an estimated 150,000 units of the toy and you can always buy one on eBay.

For years now, there’s always been around a dozen of them available on the service. As I said, it is just full of surprises. Some of the anecdotes and experiences from then young owners of the toy are no less remarkable. From the stories I’ve heard of kids not being able to have one present in their room at night because it was too disturbing to those children that actually slept with it, and then the majority of those who did sleep with the ALIEN toy were young girls. Then there’s the guy whose mom traded his Alien for a second-hand vacuum cleaner. I swear, these tales I kept hearing were just incredible and I found almost everyone who owned one of these grotesque toys as a child in 1980 has a story to tell about it.

How is the book distributed?

The book was published in 2020. Right now, it’s available on eBay. As everyone knows, a global health crisis has been devastating so distribution beyond that was put on hold. Nonetheless, I still have people contacting me wanting a copy. I’m fine with that. The worst part as I live in Australia and I am very conscious of how much it costs to post internationally. Distribution is expensive no matter what you do and I really am not in a position to set up further distribution at this point. We shall see. More research is required on my part as the world slowly eases out of this historically significant event.

You mentioned that you have worked with a copyright attorney, have Have you had any contact from Disney/Fox and do you know if they are aware of the project?

This is an extremely important question and I am glad you asked. I don’t know about Disney as much of the book was written prior to the Fox buyout, but Fox was certainly aware of the book. As is Hasbro, who now owns the Kenner name. All of the legal sides of publication were handled by a professional trademark attorney with thirty-five years of experience in his field, so all the correspondence items happened between him and whoever he contacted at relevant organizations. During the course of development, we’d get together at milestone meetings and he would tell me what I could and couldn’t do. It was definitely an expensive exercise with multiple meetings during a five-year period to have the book be copyright compliant.

It’s actually amazing what can be accomplished and of course just as equally surprising what can’t. I certainly didn’t find it intuitive and I am more than glad I hired a professional to achieve this goal. I would say it’s 100% necessary and unavoidable. Especially when you take into consideration a book of this nature is an unlicensed and unauthorized publication. Thankfully, there are provisions within copyright law that can accommodate such activity. What’s more, official licensing is expensive and even if I was in a position to afford such a privilege I would still have needed independent legal advice.

Tackling a project of this nature means the legal component MUST be taken seriously. Otherwise don’t do it. At all.
No matter how much you may love it, it’s too easy to step on someone’s toes and get into serious trouble. Solid legal advice is absolutely mandatory and there’s no avoiding it.

How difficult was it to track down information for the book and get in contact with people to speak with?

Some photo permissions were difficult, I must say. You see all kinds of copyright image material flooding the internet being used by posters on, say, Facebook groups. All of this content is owned by someone and in many cases not by the person posting them. I was lucky in most instances and could track down owners of such material. Others were long chains that led nowhere. Most people are happy to talk about all kinds of things and I managed to make friends with a lot of other Kenner ALIEN enthusiasts and they were great sources to help and point me in the right direction. I think some of their contacts found it somewhat charming and curious that someone wanted to write a book about an ugly
forty-year-old toy that didn’t sell well.

What have been your biggest challenges and your greatest success stories with the book?

Oh, wow. Early on I identified three critical areas I needed to address in order to complete the project. Firstly, was there enough content for a book? Well, it’s kind of obvious now that is the case but starting out, I had to wonder, will it be warranted? Simply writing a thirty-page document about your favorite toy isn’t enough. I managed to write over three hundred pages before both the editor and legal advisor pared it back to just under three hundred. Secondly, how to make it legal? It’s got to be legal. At least to the point where third-party content is either provided with permission or compliance with copyright laws can be applied to make it so.

Being non-fiction made it a lot easier in this regard. Finally, funding? You do know, right, 90% of all problems have the same answer: Money. Funding the project wasn’t easy. I had to recover from a costly failed Kickstarter campaign. A benefactor pulled out of the project right before publication when covid was obviously going to become a real problem. So I had to self-fund the entire project. Of course, the biggest success is actually completing the entire production cycle and knowing people who have read it have been impressed with the outcome. I think that’s where the real success lies,
in the positive feedback I have received from those who’ve read it.

What are your hopes and goals for the book and do you have any future projects in mind?

Right now, the world is still suffering from covid. It’s been hard on everyone in one way or another. As things pick up again, as they slowly are, sales of the book have been improving. Let’s keep pushing ahead.

We’ve all had a difficult time with it. I am slowly pushing forward on writing HIDEOUS PLASTIC Vol. 2 which encompasses all the ALIEN action figures made in a twenty-year period from 1979 to when Kenner was shut down by its owner, Hasbro, in 2000.

That’s my next goal. The infrastructure is in place. I’ve already done it once before. I am now in a much stronger position to achieve this goal. It will take at least five years to do. Beyond that, I also intend to write a third volume spanning 2001 to 2020. There are some great milestones that make these twenty-year periods very feasible and help to ease the incredible task at hand. It’s almost overwhelming but with one book already written, I’ve proven a trilogy can be achieved.

What are your thoughts on Aliens Fireteam Elite and the upcoming FX Television series?

I’ve never played the game. It seemed a little bare-bones and needed more content. I hear content is coming and I am happy to wait. As for the TV series, it’s got me intrigued. I’ve enjoyed what Hawley did with Fargo and placing its various dramas across multiple different time zones for each season kept it very much alive as each period was incredibly well represented. I am very much looking forward to seeing his vision of what his vision of the future is like, having it placed in the ALIEN property just makes it so much more enticing. So yes. I really want to see it.

You can learn more about the book and get a copy here.

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Gareth Von Kallenbach
Gareth Von Kallenbach

Gareth is the mastermind behind the popular pop media site Skewed and Reviewed. He lives in Arizona with his wife Em McBride.

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