Monarch gears up to become 21st century Aurora

Originally published Nov. 28, 2006, at GJSentinel.com.

Monarch

In this era of shopper mania about PlayStation 3 or TMX Elmo, it’s easy to grow nostalgic about a time three or four decades past, when the Aurora company’s plastic monster models beckoned menacingly – but quietly – from store shelves.

Wide-eyed boys gazed at the bright artwork on those boxes, created by painters such as James Bama or Mort Kunstler, depicting the Frankenstein Monster, Dracula, the Wolf Man, Dr. Jekyll as Mr. Hyde, the Phantom of the Opera and more. At home, they struggled with the glue and paints needed to assemble the models, then often played with their creations until they fell apart.

Scott McKillop was one of those Aurora fans, and if he has his way, plastic monster models will return to excite boys of all ages by Christmas 2007.

MonarchMcKillop, 40, a doctor in London, Ontario, is dedicating one year of his salary to starting up Monarch Models, which he plans to launch late next year with a “Nosferatu” kit, based on the Max Schreck vampire, Graf Orok, in the 1922 F.W. Murnau silent film based on Bram Stoker’s novel “Dracula.” The film has moved into the public domain, and thus no licensing of the character is required.

The kit, designed by artist Gary Makatura and sculptor Jeff Yagher, and sculpted by Yagher, will be in one-eighth scale, the same as most of Aurora’s best-known monster kits, and will be “packaged to harmonize perfectly with the early Aurora long boxes,” McKillop said in an e-mail interview. He hopes the kit will make “the toughest die-hard Aurora fan feel like a 10-year-old again.”

McKillop wasn’t ready to be specific about what will follow the Orlok kit, but he did say the second offering is “a gift to the sci-fi fans, and the third offering is sure to spook you.” After that, he said, Monarch will “step into the murky waters of licensed properties.”

Makatura said Monarch will aim to be true to what Aurora could have actually produced “in both substance and spirit.” He will be in charge of original kit design and box-art illustration.

Monarch also intends to reissue classic Aurora kits that have been often requested by fans, McKillop said. This will be largely determined by how easily the company can get licensing agreements, and so he couldn’t say yet which kits might be reissued.

The company’s Web site is scheduled to be unveiled in February. McKillop said it will feature illustrations by Rod Keith, who will also be in charge of illustrations for Monarch’s print advertisements.

The company will be headquartered in London, Ontario; the kits will be produced in China, “but I am looking into bringing the work back to North American soil,” McKillop said.

The marketplace will determine the number of kits produced, McKillop said; the initial run of Nosferatus will be 5,000. They’ll be sold “through the usual outlets typical of any hobby kit company, including the Monarch online retail outlet.” McKillop said he hopes to price the kit at $24.99, with a maximum possible price of $29.99.

Monarch

‘THE TIMING SOUNDED RIGHT’

Monarch is attempting to fill the Aurora void left when the Polar Lights company stopped producing figure kits after being purchased by RC2 Corp. in 2004. Polar Lights had built a dedicated following among figure-kit enthusiasts by “repopping” many of Aurora’s classic figure kits as well as creating a few original character models, but RC2 chose to end those efforts.

McKillop said he was inspired about two years ago by Aurora “What If?” paintings Makatura, 40, of Cleveland did for boxes sold by Stratten/Holland Products Co., sold in the 1990s. Makatura’s Bama-style paintings represented characters, including the Invisible Man, the Fly and the Mole Man, in Aurora box-art format. These characters were never actually offered as Aurora models.

“As one candle can light another, in March 2006, I started looking into the nuts and bolts of the plastic model industry,” McKillop said. “I learned from Dave Metzner (formerly of Polar Lights) the basic cost breakdown of taking a concept and putting it on the hobby store shelf. This sounded affordable, and more importantly, the timing sounded right.”

Owning a model manufacturing company was a dream, McKillop said. “How much money would I be willing to spend to finance a dream? My answer: One year’s salary.”

He named the company Monarch partially as an homage to the early Crown/Aurora Knights figure models, and partially because he can use a monarch butterfly as a symbol, similar to the praying mantis of Polar Lights’ parent company, Playing Mantis. Monarch will also use a logo similar to Aurora’s best-known insignia, with red lettering inside a yellow field, surrounded by a sphere of blue.

Monarch

PLASTIC CHALLENGES

Yagher, who lives in Los Angeles and says he’s “over 21,” will have first nod to sculpt all of Monarch’s patterns. He has worked for a variety of producers of resin and vinyl model kits, as well as several of the larger companies that produce pre-painted statue figures, but this is the first sculpture he has done for a styrene plastic kit.

Monarch“The thing about sculpting for styrene that’s really different, and frustrating if you want to know the truth, is having to adhere to the ‘no undercut’ rule,” Yagher said in an e-mail. “Styrene kits are made from metal molds, usually in halves. Because there is no flexibility with the metal, a piece has to be fashioned to separate from the mold cleanly with no details that will catch on the metal and ruin a plastic piece. Accordingly, everything in the middle of a part’s ‘half’ must be higher than anything that radiates from the middle – sort of like a pyramid.

“Things like nostril cavities and mouths must be filled in. It really stifles one’s ability to get ultra-realism and requires a lot of preplanning. I’ve the utmost respect for the great artists at Aurora, who turned out such memorable pieces while having to obey this condition.”

In addition to sculpting, Yagher is an actor and screenplay writer with a long list of credits to his name, including a recurring role on the ABC television series “Day Break.”

WHAT’S NEXT

Monarch’s first kit won’t be available before late 2007. In the meantime, McKillop is working with associates in China to get the tooling ready for producing the Nosferatu and preparing to start introducing the public to the kits.

His plans for 2007 include a booth at WonderFest, the premier show for figure-kit fans, in Louisville, Ky., in late May. He also plans to be at iHobby Expo late next year.

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