Lance Anderson Interview
May 15th, 2006
Lance Anderson was one of the artists who worked on the MASK toy line. He is responsible for the creation of the MASK logo. On this page, you will be able to view some early art work for the toy boxes, advertisements and logo design. You will also get to know him through background information and an interview. A little background on Lance Anderson written by Lance himself.
“My name is Lance Anderson and I had worked for a number of years in Japan and the far east for a publishing company prior to working for Kenner toys in the mid-80’s. MASK was a huge breakout hit and I was very excited to have been on the line since its inception. I was based in Charleston, SC and everything was done through DHL except with face-to-face meetings in Cincinnati, Ohio at the corporate offices. Other toy lines I worked on were Rose-Petal Place (there were a couple of animated specials with these characters and Marie Osmond was the voice) and Silverhawks, which was a huge hit. I put a tremendous amount of work on a toy line called MegaForce that was pretty successful but there was no TV series to go along with it to add popularity. I also worked on some other lines that were not too successful such as Battle Brawlers. The reason the toy biz had such a downturn after Silverhawks was the pressure put on TV to not promote toys with TV shows. Of course Disney and Sesame Street were the big lobbiers behind that push to not have the commercial tie-ins. After the toy business I worked in the wildlife business producing magazines and publicity for an outdoor organization. I am currently the department head of Commercial Art at Piedmont Technical College in Greenwood, SC.”
1. Were you in charge of designing the logos and packages?
Everything was done as a collaborative effort with varying degrees of input from each person involved in each stage of a project. I would create and draw up widely varied logo ideas and submit them to committees for review, each idea would be numbered and suggestions were made for each idea the committee wanted to pursue further. I came up with hundreds of ideas and variations before the final approved logo design was settled on. Suggestions were usually pretty specific such as: “Pull helmet shape down more and change ridges on mouthpiece from verticals to horizontals” (from the May 9, 1984 Cincinnati meeting). Eventually the design was approved and signed-off on by the project manager (Jim Block) and a few other folks and I would then draw up a final logo. All the work was done by hand, there was no computer generated lettering or gimmickry-just India ink on illustration board. As the final logo for M.A.S.K. neared I designed the V.E.N.O.M. logo – which went through fairly quickly. A note of interest is that in those early days VENOM stood for “Vicious, Evil, Nature Of Man.” I think I may still have the original black and white logos.
2. How long did it take to finalize the M.A.S.K. logo? V.E.N.O.M. logo?
I began working on the project in January 1984. It was initially called “A.T.Wheeler” and some of the vehicles were called “A.T.Wheeler Tractor Rig” and A.T.Wheeler Villain Bronco.” The marketing strategy was to “provide a unique vehicle/figure fantasy concept based on changing real life, ordinary vehicles into extraordinary ‘action’ vehicles.” Deception was stressed as the main quality of this line of toys in which each vehicle is not as it appears and turns into something else. The bad guys were to be led by General Miles Mayhem/Contra-World and the good guys were led by Matt Trakker (spelled Tracker at the time)/P.N.A. (Peaceful Nations Alliance) who was the lone survivor of an ambush in the Middle East. Within a few weeks of my involvement the name was changed to M.A.S.K. and I also began working on package designs. By August the logo was still being tweaked, according to my old job sheets, and I don’t believe it was finally finished until the beginning of November. VENOM was probably finished by the end of November. Without a doubt that was the most time I ever spent working on a logo.
3. Was this the first successful project you had been a part of?
At the time I began working on M.A.S.K. I had been involved in a few other toy projects, most notable was a very well done line of scented dolls – RosePetalPlace that was done in cooperation with Dave Kirschner Productions. The toys were to accompany a series of television specials (two were completed and broadcast) that featured the voice and singing of Marie Osmond. I did a lot of design work for the packaging and painted up all the illustrations used by Kenner but the actual design and look for the characters was done by Kirschner’s artist, a very talented lady that I never got the chance to meet. Unfortunately for Kenner they had trouble with suppliers in the Far East and were unable to meet timely delivery with the toys and as a result sales were disappointing. When a show airs on TV and the child wants the toy it had better be available or sales are lost. Despite the poor delivery record the line was pretty successful and lasted for about three years.
4. Was there any logo designs other than the final one that could have been the logo that went into distribution?
As I was designing logo possibilities the initial focus was on the idea that the vehicles changed and a lot of the earlier logo studies reflected that push. However, as the project evolved and the storyline developed, the concept of using masks that have powerful capabilities became the dominant idea. Since the masks were still in the planning stages I had no frame of reference on how they would eventually look. As you can see from the final logo’s mask there is no relationship to any of the masks that were eventually used in the storyline – but it is still effective without being specific. The use of a vehicle is important in the fact that that is what the concept of the line was built around, but it doesn’t show a dramatic change from the ordinary to the spectacular. Some of the designs I did explored that idea and I felt that was the direction to go with initially but over time the dual purpose logo did seem to be the best. Anyway, to answer the question, although a number of different designs would have been just as effective as the final one, there was no other one that could have been put into production. There were two main reasons for that (1) the V.E.N.O.M. logo was tied in stylistically to the M.A.S.K. logo and (2) the time factor that was involved, ie; printing and production delivery schedules and television production deadlines.
5. As an artist which of the pieces that you worked on was the most enjoyable?
Drawing vehicles is very time consuming and I took great pains in creating an accurate looking vehicle in an environment that would seem natural and realistic. Since the vehicles were the real focus of the illustrations and the masks were not shown in action very often I enjoyed the opportunity to portray the mask’s capabilities, I think there are some blister cards that show that action. Because of the large quantity of illustrations I had to produce (I was also working on other toys lines at the same time) I would be working on one in preliminary sketches then wait for approval from the Product Manager, but at the same time I would work on the final pencil rendering for another. I would spend anywhere from fifteen to forty hours drawing up the final detailed illustration with accurate lettering and everything else imaginable included. The final drawing would then go to an airbrush specialist who would apply the color over the pencil. Because of tight deadlines I would very often spend all night working, but I loved it! Only on about 15% of the art was I able to spend the time to personally complete an illustration from pencil to paint. It was a process that was similar to comic book art where one person does the pencils and then an inker finishes up the work – to apply that process specifically to the M.A.S.K. comics from DC; Curt Swan did the pencils and Murphy Anderson or Kurt Schafenberger inked over the pencil for reproduction. Curt Swan, by the way, was always my favorite comic book artist and he did the entire run of the series. I was absolutely thrilled. But, back to the question – my favorite was an oversize point-of-purchase display that showed a large number of vehicles in action in an interesting environment (attached is a series of photos that show a lenticular device that has three different images of Thunderhawk). I will take this opportunity to complain. The painter that did many of the earlier images spent no time at all on the tedious backgrounds that I created. He would go over my pencil backgrounds with a marker in a very sketchy manner then airbrush on top of that, but he did do a good job on most of the vehicles – although Condor is pretty badly done. One image that he did do that I was very pleased with was Thunderhawk. The painter that did Raven had the style that I was very happy with.
6. As an artist, which of the pieces that you worked on did you like the least?
Each of the initial line was an exciting and fun process and I got involved in each one intensely. The same with the racing series, which, by the way, would probably be hugely popular today because of the nationalization of NASCAR. At the time it was still a southern-oriented sport that I personally was quite familiar with, having been to races in nearby Darlington. I thought the SplitSeconds would be great but it got kind of derivative and some of the later ones just were not interesting to do. And besides, I was very involved in every aspect of Silverhawks at the time, doing each one from pencil to paint.
7. What were some of the different variations of names you’ve seen for certain vehicles?
- Thunderhawk – The Chameleon; proposed names for the leader were Matt Trakker, Duke Hunter, and Grant Noble.
- Rhino – Trojan Horse, Command Cruiser, Wall Buster Gator – Dust Diver, The Frog; proposed names for the driver were Dusty Hayes, “Tug” Malone, and Dash Davis.
- Firecracker – Battledog, Wardog; proposed names for the driver were Russel Mags, Cliff Archer, and Austin Ames.
- Condor – Whirly Bike; proposed names for the driver were Mike Avery, Willie Geers, and “Chopper” McGee. And in addition there was a proposed helicopter for the M.A.S.K. team to be called – “Switchblade” with proposed names for the driver Marshall Ayer, Buddie Hawkes, and Skye Masters.
- A Jet/tank vehicle – Treadwing Terror, Condor, Dreadwing; and driven by Miles Mayhem.
- An armored Motorcycle – Hydrocycle; proposed drivers were Arlo Rocks, Gus Braker, and Herman Rake.
- A turbo tank vehicle with proposed drivers Randall Payne, Clay Stalker, and Sylvester “Sly” Wheeler.
8. With the toyline, what were some of the vehicles based on?
Originally the idea was to use just basically ordinary vehicles that could be changed into really unusual and extraordinary fighting vehicles. M.A.S.K. was a hybrid of Transformers and G.I.Joe, taking the best of both with a new twist. Some of the Transformers were really just silly gimmicks – change just for the sake of change, but the overall concept was very effective, and still is. The Transformers continue to have a life because the comics have kept them going throughout the years. Maybe we need another M.A.S.K. comic because I think the concept is even better than Transformers. The M.A.S.K. toyline was created before the animated episodes so the animators had to work with existing concepts.
9. In the first episodes/toyline all MASK vehicles were colored bright red/orange (except for Condor), while all VENOM vehicles were colored dark blueish/black. Did they do this on purpose, to make it easier for the kids to see who’s good or bad, or is this just pure coincidence?
Very observant, but I do not recall any one ever writing or speaking about a specific color range for good vs bad, so it probably is just a coincidence. However, the study of color does have many subtle implications and without realizing it the color choices were quite possibly made with good vs bad. That Condor in the mix really messes up a great theory.
10. Was your primary medium for the MASK packages airbrush?
Yes, but I answer that with qualifications – because while I drew the illustrations for all the packages I did not paint all of them. Kenner had a stable of illustrators/specialists that did many of the painted portions, for example most all of the folks painting were specialists in rendering vehicles with the airbrush and you can see by the work on the vehicles they were very good – however, some were very weak in rendering the detailed backgrounds, even sloppy, and some were weak in rendering the characters in action. When I painted a package I would use gouache (an opaque watercolor) and mix it up to a milky consistency to use in the airbrush.
11. How involved were you in the actual design process for the toy and character concepts?
Initially, not at all. The teams that established the concept and toys were not designers or illustrators, but engineers and specialists in making the ideas into practical reality. It is one thing to come up with a really cool idea but a totally different matter to put the idea into workable action. After time the exchange of ideas was very active and I saw a few of my design ideas incorporated into the line.
12. Was there anything you designed for Kenner that didn’t make it that you were really fond of?
I loved M.A.S.K. and thought it should go on for years and years. Once I proposed a line of endangered species toys that I thought was very relevant at the time but Kenner turned it down. Of course, a few years later another company came out with a similar concept and did pretty well with it. At the time Kenner was Kenner-Parker, which meant they also put out games. I pitched a game based on how quick the player could identify a phrase on a license plate using minimal letters and it was to be called “Licensanity.” They passed on that one also.