Written by: Thomas Graham
Published by: Schiffer Books
If you grew up anywhere from the mid-1950s to the late 1970s, you had the distinct privilege of growing up as part of the “Monster Kid” generation. It was this generation that grew up with wacky characters hosting horror films on late night TV; it was the generation that grew in the heyday of Ben Cooper Halloween costumes often based on classic monsters; it was the generation of shrunken head and other macabre toys that adorned the bedrooms of kids from coast to coast; and it was the Golden Age generation of model kits, punctuated by Aurora’s release of kits based on the Universal monster films of the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s.
Aurora Model Kits (with Polar Lights, Moebius, Atlantis) is the 3rd edition of the bible of model kit fans, written by Thomas Graham. Paging through the book was an instant step back in time. Me, and my two older brothers all build models. While my eldest brother was strictly a car guy, my other brother and I were into the figural kits. The dressers and windowsills in our bedroom were covered with Aurora kits: The Three Musketeers, Knights of the Roundtable, Universal Monsters, Lost in Space, and comic book heroes. Craig grew up to be a graphic artist and even then painted his kits in meticulous fashion, and would NEVER let his little brother put his grubby hands on them. On the other hand my kits were basically action figures to me and I would stage colossal battles between King Kong and Godzilla or Frankenstein throwing with The Wolfman, just like in the movie.
The book traces the beginnings of Aurora Plastics Corporation from its humble beginning in 1950 eventually led to it becoming the standard bearer of the model kit industry and influencing every company that followed them. The story begins with Aurora making simple plastic archery sets and other simple toys and then taking a cue from the old balsa wood model airplanes and producing them in plastic. Their first shop was an old garage in Brooklyn, NY. The book lists the address and you can go on Google Maps and still see the building, changed a bit but still recognizable from the old photo in the book.
Aurora began with airplane kits but by 1953 the demand was so high that they had to move to an even larger plant and began producing other types of kits: Ships, cars, tanks, and construction vehicles. But the most important addition came in 1956 when they purchased their first figural molds of knights in armor. This would forever change the company as over the next 20 years figural kits would dominate the market and the allowance of kids everywhere.
The figural kits were not a big hit with kids until 1960 when the company acquired the rights to do the Universal Monsters and changed the game. Frankenstein was the first and from the instant that it premiered at a trade show in 1962, it was a hit. Aurora quickly followed up with kits for Dracula, The Wolfman, The Creature from the Black Lagoon, The Mummy, and The Phantom of the Opera. More would quickly follow like Godzilla, King Kong, and unique creations like The Forgotten Prisoner and The Witch.
Aurora not only produced fantastic kits but they realized the benefit of marketing and grabbing the attention of kids. The average car model kit box was just a picture of the car while the monster kits featured amazing illustrations by artists such as James Bama whose ghoulish art was exactly what kids loved! Science fiction kits depicting ships and characters from TV shows like Star Trek, Lost in Space, and Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea quickly followed. Not far behind was a series of kits based on popular comic book characters from both Marvel and DC; Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, The Hulk…
Author Thomas Graham guides you on the tour through Aurora from start to finish as well as the history and releases that would take up the torch after Aurora went out of business and keep these great kits in circulation with re-issues from companies like Revell, MPC, Polar Lights, and Moebius. The book contains hundreds of photos of the kits and box art, as well as advertising pieces which were a huge part of the company’s popularity. But there is more to the book than just the history of the company and its products. The book serves equally as well as a reference and price guide for collectors.
The last 80 pages of the 200 page tome feature an illustrated directory of Aurora kits as well as its descendants. The book lists kits by category such as aircraft, ships, Military vehicles, automobiles, figure kits and more. The name of each kit is provided along with its year or years of release, current price range on the aftermarket, the name of the artist who provided the box illustration, as well as pertinent notes about the kit.
Whether you are a model kit fan, a fan of 60s/70s pop culture, or a monster kid, this is a fun and indispensable reference book.