hunchback model

"The Hunchback of Pay N' Save"

By Jeff Owenby

It was in the fall of 1963 that it all began. I remember the chilly east winds, and occasional blasts of rain that kept us prisoner inside. The latter days of November were a frigid prelude to the coming winter. Newer and more exciting variations of indoor fun were in short supply. With this, I begin the tale of my first encounter with Aurora monster models.

Let us begin with that first day. I was eight years old and in the process of negotiating the third grade. Life was good with some great TV and my constant drawings of battle scenes from World War II. Plastic army men never grew tiresome, and for some small change, good sized bags of them could be purchased at Eastport Plaza. Instead of walking the usual miles to the Plaza, a few of us went by car. It was a Sunday morning, and I had only a few coins jingling in my pants pocket. Giant plastic army men were only a dime apiece, as were large plastic monster figures.

It was on that day that I first discovered the kits that adorned model shelves in our local Pay N' Save store. I'd never imagined that anything like them could have possibly existed. What genius could have been responsible for such wonder? They were altogether beautiful, haunting in a medieval sort of way. It was indeed a renaissance of the creative soul. Stirring images, perhaps conjured up from the spidery eaves of the subconscious mind, were rendered in plastic and entombed in cellophane. It seemed amazing that such marvel and wonder could be bought for only a dollar.

When I turned the corner at the model section, it was like the entire store had been magically transported to another planet. One glance stole the breath from within me. I was pulled into the event horizon of modeldom to which there was no means of escape. On the shelf rested the oblong box that held me spellbound: "The Hunchback of Notre Dame". To me, even the name held the import of fear. The words "Hunchback" and "Notre Dame" were two scary sounding monikers. I had no knowledge of their meanings, and presented on the box in creepy lettering, the words were horrifying.

Shudders rippled my soul. My eyes could not turn away. The "I had to have it" response kicked in, defining yet a third and relatively unknown part of the central nervous system known as the Dollar Sympathetic Nervous System. This kit was available for purchase at the grandiose sum of ninety-eight cents. In those days, one dollar was not a sum to be shrugged off.

Even stranger than this mysterious figure, were the neighboring box kits that surrounded him. I was spellbound, so much so, that I reached up with bare fingers to caress each box. The feel of cellophane and the muffled rattling of plastic pieces like old bones in a cardboard crypt were far too beautiful for mere words to describe. The sound was a mysterious symphony to my ears. The look of each box, with its narrow design and mysterious artwork was alluring.

The paintings that adorned these cardboard coffins were beyond mortal description. They were vivid and colorful. The box art kept me spellbound and terrified all at once! I remember that one was almost better than the next, and the fact that there were so many was beyond the sublime. The coming new year promised to be a great one, with all of my future allowances already spent.

The trip home was long. Every light turned red, and the traffic was against us. I was crazed you see, anxious to get home with my glue and my gloss enamels, and of course, my turpentine. I had brand new model parts that needed to be painted and glued. I imagined the blood red enamel dripping from open wounds; a tint of blue in the fabric of worn trousers; Red and green mixed together could give me the wood grains and other flamboyant flourishes.

As my mind was tortured by expectation, my soul was likewise twisted at the mere prospect of what piece I would begin with first. Would I dare do it? Yes, just one more peek inside the bag to see my precious kit. The Hunchback was beckoning silently from inside his sealed box. Each rattle promised hours of goodness and pleasures. On the box end rested the Aurora logo, a family crest noting an entire brood of wonderful kits.

One month passed before the madness commenced once again. Curses fell upon me as I had enough money to buy another kit! The decision making process was agonizing. Each box had its own stylishly exquisite painting. The Wolfman was all too enticing; Dracula beckoned with his evil claw and hypnotic stare; The Mummy stumbled forth from a pink and purple abyss, one arm taped across his chest, his other hand reaching out.

The Mummy it was. I can still recall the feeling of bringing it to the front counter. It was a toy, yet not a toy; a living thing, yet an inanimate creature trapped in a cardboard sepulcher. Once the cellophane came off, The Mummy's crypt had been opened and invaded. All that was needed to complete the excavation was glue and paint, and I was ready with all.

I eventually collected them all, and over the years, bought, and bought again. As the boxes rested on my dresser, the images bore themselves like tapeworms into the recesses of my memories.To this day they remain probably the most respected and revered kits in the history of fantasy and horror model figures. Though the originals have been extinct since the seventies, replicas are issued and re-issued for random short releases. The Aurora legend indeed lives on forever.

Note: The Aurora Monsters box art paintings were done by James Bama, the noted and renowned painter of southwestern and Native American artworks.