Tuesday, May 24, 2016

For the Honor of Justine Part 1

I had the great honor of getting to speak with Justine Dantzer, a remarkable woman who has worked with numerous toy companies and toy lines. She has a variety of talents that have helped make our toy collections that much more special. Read on to learn more!




Before I can share about Justine Dantzer, I feel it best to at least explain a little as to how the opportunity to communicate with her was able to present itself. For a little over a year Jordan Hembrough and I have followed each other on social media. In that time we've messaged each other a few times and commented on our various social media pictures and what-not. He has enjoyed Diary of a Dorkette and I have been a fan of his show Toy Hunter. Plus I always love being able to talk to other toy collectors. Toy collecting is what makes my heart sing.

Anyways, I am getting off track. A couple weeks ago I posted a Mermista photo from the Princess of Power toy line for #MerMay, a May event celebrating mermaids. (Thank you Erik Johnson for informing me of this fun event!) Jordan commented on the photo and told me he had a lead for me. Well I put on my yellow jumpsuit and followed the trail of this mysterious lead. The lead was of course Justine Dantzer. I was put into contact with Justine by Jordan. Now I had heard a little of her before. I knew she was responsible for designing and creating the image of She-Ra for Mattel's Princess of Power toy line, but there was so much I had no clue about. To be clear real quick, she did not come up with the name of She-Ra, but as she would tell me in our conversation, she came up with the original drawings of She-Ra and many other characters from the Princess of Power toy line. More on all of this will be discussed, I promise! 

Back to the moment that Jordan introduced Justine and I to each other via email. Seeing the email and reading the introductions that Jordan had for us, I was in total shock. Absolute shock. You all know how special the She-Ra toy line has been to me. I love the Filmation She-Ra series, there's no doubt about that. However the She-Ra toy line has long been so near and dear to my heart, that I totally lost it when I found out I'd be getting to talk to the woman that designed the action dolls and look of the toy line. I later found out that she was behind so many other toy lines. It simply made my head spin. So let's get to some of the details!

Justine's first job was at Mattel on the craft line. This led to her painting the faces on toys like Liddle Kiddles, Sesame Street, and Barbie. She had a great skill with face painting. Mattel soon found out Justine could draw and they had her working on some designs for them. Eventually there was a shakeup at Mattel and she moved into the role of a freelancer.

This led her to find work with Aurora Toys and Hobbies and then to Toy Invention Co. Both of these jobs saw her working in the craft department as well as prototypes and other inventive ideas. I learned that Justine is a Jill of all trades, she has skills with drawing, toy design, and toy invention. Those are just a few of the many things this woman has been accomplishing in her career.

Her next move followed her to Kenner where she worked in the Preliminary Department. I want to clarify something regarding the Prelim Department. Justine explained that the Prelim Department did everything for a toy line that needed more creativity. For example, George Lucas would send a number of black/white glossies and a rough script from one of the Star Wars films. If a character in the movie had a main role with an already determined outfit and was shown in the glossies, it would be directly handed over to engineering and/or sculpting. However, if a character had a main dramatic scene that was pivotal to the movie, it would require a playset which would require creativity with mechanisms and preliminary involvement. (i.e. preliminary prototyping) After the prototype/sketch went through all of the long presentational processes and was given the go ahead, then it would be turned over to engineering. During the long presentational process there would be meetings where engineering and costing would be called in to make sure the toy was still a viable product. Justine explained this all to me and I found it to be completely fascinating.

While at Kenner Justine worked on a variety of lines, including one of my favorites: Glamour Gals. We talked about the Wedding Playset which I've always loved. To my surprise and delight Justine illuminated that she created the Glamour Gals Wedding Playset. There was so much to learn! One of the aspects to this playset that was added thanks to her was a netting fabric around the columns of the wedding gazebo. She explained that back then materials like fabric and cloth were not used in playsets for girls and that the addition of cloth to the Glamour Gals Wedding Playset was unheard of at the time. She emphasized greatly how many of her ideas were ahead of the times. She even designed the garden label image that went around the gazebo. Kenner liked the image so much it got approved! I just about died! When I saw this playset in stores as a child I remember telling my Uncle Pat that I would one day grow up and have a wedding look just like this.

Things weren’t always smooth sailing for the Glamour Gals line. There was a Beauty Salon Playset that Justine had designed but sadly it got altered drastically in engineering. This was common practice and a further example of how the toy industry could change throughout the various stages of a toy being made.

Certain aspects of Glamour Gals never even made it to retail and they included a special Glamour Gals wave of “American Beauties” which was to continue the popular doll line. Each doll was to represent a region of the United States with a special regional flower that would be scented like Strawberry Shortcake. During the Final Line Review where Justine was presenting everything, a salesman stood up and clapped saying that this had been the best doll line he had ever seen. Even though Kenner (sadly) never completed the line, Justine never forgot the positive message she had received from the kind salesman. This would be important because as I have mentioned, the toy industry can be challenging. As I would learn in our conversations, Justine was not always given proper credit at times to say nothing of the lines she would create that would not be fully realized, so to be able to have a positive reaction was a very wonderful thing.

Some of the items she has held onto from Glamour Gals (and is looking to find new homes for) include a presentational sketch of the Wedding Playset along with a hand painted and dressed bride and groom along with slides taken of the original playset in-house at Kenner. These are dated. There is also a manufactured/boxed Wedding set that Justine will sign for those interested in purchasing her memorabilia

Wedding presentational sketch


Wedding playset slide image


Wedding playset slide images


Hand painted Bride and Groom


Hand painted Bride and Groom reverse


Hand painted Bride and Groom side view


Wedding playset slide
Wedding playset slide
More Glamour Gals goodness consists of a presentational sketch for the Beauty Salon Playset, one hand painted and dressed prototype doll and wig accessory as well as slides of the original playset taken in-house at Kenner and dated. Like the Wedding set, there is a manufactured boxed playset that can be signed too. Just look over these images, the illustrations and designs have such a nice flair to them.

Beauty Salon presentational sketch


Beauty Salon slide image


Beauty Salon slide images


Beauty Salon slide


Hand painted Beauty Salon doll prototype


Hand painted Beauty Salon doll prototype reverse
The American Beauties wave of Glamour Gals also has special items for sale, those include six original presentational art boards of the dolls from the line. There are also three of the original hand painted and hand costumed dolls with a few in-house slides of this line. She is hoping to sell these items to toy fans who will be able to appreciate this wonderful toy era. She also has a great deal of other items related to her work in the toy industry for sale too, but more on that in just a bit. 

American Beauties art board
American Beauties art board


American Beauties art board


American Beauties art board


American Beauties art board


American Beauties art board


American Beauties art board


Hand painted and hand costumed doll and slide


Hand painted and hand costumed doll and slide


Hand painted and hand costumed doll reverse


American Beauties slide
I want to round this first part off with more of her work at Kenner. She was a part of the preliminary design for a very adventurous toy line. George Lucas called Howard Bollinger (Senior VP of Kenner) and was unsure if toys would be possible or not for a new film he was working on. Lucas invited the prelim department to catch a viewing of this movie which was of course Raiders of the Lost Ark. The prelim department knew they could make a toy line out of this and after the film the team went to the worst and only Mexican restaurant in town and with margaritas at their side the team created the prelims for the Raiders toy line. They got the designs together in a week. How cool is that?

Justine also proved she knew how to care a lot. Those Characters in Cleveland brought a number of illustrations and names of bears with symbols on their chests to Cincinnati. Following the success of Strawberry Shortcake (a line Justine worked on as well) Kenner was interested in producing some items from this line. Dave Winslow and Justine were asked by Kenner if they thought they could do something creative with the Care Bear property. Justine and Dave agreed and they ended up creating Care Bear World. Among the toys that she designed for this line was the beloved Cloud Car. Soon Justine, Dave, and a boss of theirs went to Cleveland to present their ideas for Care Bear World to American Greetings. The big wigs at the company liked what they read for the line and from then on Dave and Justine went about creating and working on products for the line. From this section of toys Justine has a number of items for sale including a presentational sketch for the Care Bear Cloud Car, several in-house slides of the original Cloud Car prototype (dated) and a copy of the Patent for the car. She also has a voucher that was sent to her by General Mills with a letter describing the Cloud Car. Two boxed Cloud Cars that can be signed by Justine are also up for grabs. Two presentational sketches for Care Bear toys that were never produced like the Care Bear Cloud Castle round everything out. I can’t stress enough how highly spectacular it is that Justine has so many iconic pieces of toy history in her hands that she is wanting to sell! The Cloud Car was such a great item. I remember having so much fun playing with that car. To know that she has so much to part with that she created is simply astonishing.

While Care Bears was certainly a great toy line to be involved in, Justine also had experience working with the DC License at Kenner. DC wanted a line of fashion dolls and Justine worked on that line though it never got the chance to take off. For fans of Jordan's show Toy Hunter, Justine did appear with her Wonder Woman and Supergirl prototype dolls. One of the very fascinating things I learned from Justine was that she had a design for a different version of Wonder Woman's invisible jet. Her design consisted of a single person plane with two pods on the wings that could come apart. She called the two pods air skies and the character could ride the pods with wheels on the bottom. She also included a net and ladder to the bottom of the plane. All would have been in clear plastic. The design was liked so well that the lady handling the DC License said that if a Wonder Woman movie were to be made this design would be perfect for her jet.

Some of the items that Justine has from her work with the DC License include slides of the plane, various Wonder Woman drawings, a slide of Wonder Woman's alter ego, as well as three Polaroids of a proposed Lois Lane doll with three different fashions consisting of Lois Lane at a computer with Superman, dressed to impress at a banquet, in an arctic scene saving a seal, and an adventurous parachute outfit. I wish these had come to pass, but knowing that the designs and concepts could have been a part of a real life line makes me smile.

Of course Justine wasn't always designing and creating for lines that already existed, she even got to create lines of her own. Dream Fairies was meant to be a line of Blythe inspired fairy dolls for Kenner. (I so wish this line had come to pass.) A final line she mentioned to me that she had hoped to see fully realized was a line of Kewpie styled baby dolls emulating the world of adults called Little Big Babes. Justine has items from both lines that were never produced. For Dream Fairies she has two prototypes and an accessory for sale along with Kenner slides of the art. 

Dream Fairies art board blown up from in-house Kenner slide


Dream Fairies art board blown up from in-house Kenner slide


Dream Fairies art board blown up from in-house Kenner slide


Dream Fairies prototype with accessory
Larger image of two Dream Fairies prototypes

In terms of Little Big Babes, Justine has 6 presentational art boards to go with three prototype dolls and two mocked-up blisters. It is important to note that both prototype dolls for Dream Fairies and Little Big Babes are caste from handmade resin/epoxy.

Little Big Babes presentational art board


Little Big Babes presentational art board


Little Big Babes presentational art board


Little Big Babes presentational art board


Little Big Babes presentational art board


Little Big Babes presentational art board


Little Big Babes image for mock up blister


Little Big Babes image for mock up blister


Little Big Babes image for mock up blister


Little Big Babes prototype doll with mock up blister card


Little Big Babes prototype doll


Little Big Babes image for mock up blister
All of these rare pieces are for sale. I can only imagine what could have been produced had Justine's lines made it to that stage. Talking with her informed me a great deal about the toy business and its step by step process. There are many moments where toy lines simply do not get the go ahead. She had to work hard at being rather inventive with the promoting of her designs and creations.

While at Kenner, Justine was one of two women that worked in the prelim department and they were responsible for putting out so much work, everything from the beginning pencils down to the sketches on the packaging. I found this to be astonishing. Simply think about some of the great toy lines from that era! Justine was there creating, drawing, inventing, and sculpting. During this time at Kenner, Justine was drawing a line of dolls with a powerful theme to them. At the time she was calling this line Andromeda, and there were some in house slides of these sketches. The line would not become a reality at Kenner, but Andromeda contained a special spirit. While Andromeda would stay a concept, it would not be the last time Justine got to draw a line of dolls filled with action and powerful women. With an eventual move back to Mattel, Justine would be asked to create some designs for a brand new line. This line would be called Princess of Power. At this point in our conversation I was supremely giddy that I was talking to the woman that created the images for that first line of She-Ra action dolls. Now, cue the ‘to be continued’ music, because that’s it for this first part in a series of articles about the immensely talented Justine Dantzer.

There is so much information I want to share with you all. My conversations with Justine are just the beginning. This woman is incredible. I have so much more to share that involves some of your favorite toy lines like Barbie, Robotech, Pound Puppies, Anastasia, Popples, and Swans Crossing. (Swans Crossing!!!) Oh, and that little toy line with She-Ra in it. Maybe you’ve heard of it? (Honestly, who hasn’t?) Be sure to check back as more of my conversations with Justine will be up soon!

Also, if anyone is interested in purchasing these rare items that Justine has for sale please email me at missmermista@gmail.com. I have only been able to discuss a fraction of the rare pieces she has for sale. Please email me and I will be able to give more detailed information. She has a wealth of information and ideas. I am honored that she is wanting to finally come forward with her stories of her career in the toy industry. This is the kind of information toy fans everywhere need to know.

Since she is a fantastic artist Justine is also currently involved in a growing business that sees people drawn as their favorite super hero, princess, or any pop culture character that one can come up with. You As Art is her exciting way to put you right into the action of your favorite character. Her designs for this new venture not only consist of hand drawn and colored illustrations, but she can also add materials to the item to provide a 3D effect. For example the man below is a dear friend of Justine's (Randy.) Randy wanted her to draw him as one of his favorite characters: the Jolly Green Giant.



Here is the finished product showing Randy as the Jolly Green Giant holding one of his favorite characters a Reddy Kilowatt figure. Very inventive and I feel like she has something special on her hands. Who wouldn't want one of the greatest toy designers and creators to draw something like this? Here is her business card for those interested in You As Art!



Interested in meeting Justine Dantzer? She will be at this year's Power-Con in Los Angeles California on June 4th and 5th. Power-Con is the ultimate He-Man and She-Ra Toy and Comic Book experience. You can learn more about tickets and other information right here.

I really want to thank Jordan Hembrough and Justine Dantzer so much for this chance to learn and share about the history of toys. I have more posts coming so stick around! Hope you are all doing well!




6 comments:

  1. Glad I could play some small role in bringing you two together! Haha

    Even though I'm unfamiliar with some of these toys I love the behind the scenes look at these Art presentation boards and hearing about Justine's trailblazing techniques! I as a fellow commercial artist I would love to learn more about her work in the industry and how she got involved in it!

    I am both jealous and proud of you for dream opportunity!

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    1. Thank you Erik! She has so many interesting things to say and was a part of some major toy lines that I so many of us have collected through the years. It's just so cool. I am glad you are enjoying this and I hope the next articles will be great too. Hope all is well!

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  2. Wow, this is Amazing! Looking forward to reading more.

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    1. Thank you Dex! I agree, this is all so amazing. She has so many stories. I wish there was a way to capture it all on video. It's just so cool. Thank you for reading and I hope you enjoy the other ones. Hope all is well too!

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  3. a really interesting interview.....although I didn't play with any of these toys, it's easy to forgot the hard work that went into bringing these toy lines to market, we just ripped them from their packets (which now makes me shudder) and played with them until parts were gobbled up by the vacuum cleaner and finally finding their resting place buried in the garden.

    I will keep my eyes peeled for more thanks

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    1. Thank you for the comment Neil! I know what you mean. Growing up there wasn't a terrible lot of thought about the process and everything but as I have gotten older I have wondered about that. It's all so fascinating! So much work goes into all these things that it's just mind blowing. I hope you continue to enjoy the rest. Thanks again for commenting and I hope you are well!

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