It needs a lot of passion to be in this business. What is your personal toy story?
On a personal level, I had a rough childhood at times, so imagination was a way for me to escape. I would draw a lot of pictures and make up characters and stories and play with my action figures. I even customized at a very early age. I really gravitated toward and grew an appreciation for the role of a superhero, for justice, and the tension of good vs evil. As I became an adult, these things converged into an endeavour of making art toys and other creative ventures. Toys to me are a perfect way to capture my affections for design, characters, stories and experiences. They are like playable, poseable photographs of my fondest memories.
You showed several new figures at New York Comic Con. It was very refreshing to see something different from figures based on modern blockbuster movies. Most of your figures are based on old comic books, TV-Series from the 60s, Italian movies from the 50s to the 70s and so on. It seems you have a heart for pulp culture. What is your personal relationship to these topics?
As you look at the projects we have done, it harkens back to originals and archetypes. The reason we as a society connect to easily with today’s blockbusters is that it draws from a rich history of sci-fi, westerns, mythology, and classic art. Consider Buck Rogers for example, an artist over 80 years ago, working in a little room, created designs so potent and powerful that they are still echoed today. They were not just designers, they were inventors. So, just like a guitar player will hear a song and notice the guitar work, I am a designer and see the influences of today’s character designs and can see the visual math of how that design came to be. Many of our figures are paying homage to the first and best of their genres.
The new figures are the result of cooperation between GoHero, Executive Replicas and Phicen. How did that start? And who makes what?
A number of years ago I produced my first 1:6 scale figure based on the first comic strip sci-fi hero – the aforementioned Buck Rogers. The project was a creative success (but a financial wreck). In the middle of that project Executive Replicas co-founder, Winston Dunlop, called me to congratulate me on the project. It was one of his dream licenses. In a conversation, we could see an opportunity to collaborate…as opposed to compete. Since then, we have worked on each others projects in different ways and searching for reliable production partners…which has been extremely challenging.
In 2013, Executive Replicas met with Phicen and began vetting them. Slowly as we began to trust them and they us, a mutual respect formed and a relationship began to develop. Now, especially after NYCC, the doors have swung open in a wonderful and surprising way. We are no longer concerned about whether we will get what we asked for, but now we can focus on what we do well – producing great products.
“Who makes what?” is an interesting question. Go Hero helps art direct their projects, but releases products more geared toward cartoons, comics, sci-fi that is rated “E” for Everyone. Executive Replicas ranges from E to MA with a cross over in to horror. Phicen ranges from E to MA as well with a focus on more mature content which Go Hero does not get into. The licenses get divided up that way as well, but also has to do with our relationships. It is a little complex, but works for our purposes.
The Domino Lady (Phicen/ Executive Replicas) was the first figure in this context. Rocketman will come soon. Which figures will come next?
Doc Savage is on the boat as I write this, which is a project we started pre-Phicen. We actually worked with a mutual friend Fabio at Kaustic Plastik. Fabio is great!
What is next is being lined up now. We debuted several projects, some of which are ready to go in to production, other have a bit more development before we are ready to go.
We posted tons of photos to give you a glimpse of 2015: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10152522597218621.1073741843.58575568620&type=1
So, I am not dodging your question…ask me again in 2 weeks. 😉
How hard or how easy was it to get all the licenses for the characters?
I have extensive experience in licencing and it varies. Some have taken years to find the rights holders and to convince them what their property means to their fans and what it means to monitize it fairly. Many are simply expensive with 40 page contracts that would scare you from ever being in this business. And every once in a while, I cold call someone and pull together a deal in a 15 minute phone call.
Did you get any reaction from the actors after NYCC?
A few of the rights holders were stunned at how well we treated their image. I saw someone get a bit emotional about it too as seeing it in front of them. A few of our projects are not fully approved or finished yet, but the rights holders know it is a process. They are waiting for that moment to come.
I guess some of the figures rely on older existing concepts, right?
I am not sure I understand this question. If you mean, some of these projects have been shown before then the answer is YES. The production road has been rocky, but we are finally in a place where we can deliver on promises made years ago. It will be worth the wait to have the product be done well.
What is your personal favourite under the upcoming figures?
I don’t know that I have a favourite, they are like my kids. I care about them all equally, but differently. I will say that I am thrilled about Hercules because it was such a shot in the dark. The reaction out of NYCC was incredible! This was a complete surprise to people and yet, once they saw it, they got my vision. Hercule is the original superhero, showing up in many many stories to help others, fight monsters, is very flawed and interesting. Steve Reeves portrayal is the gold standard and I feel like it still holds up in many ways. That last 10 minutes of the film is still amazing!
Action Figure Insider published a project list. But we didn’t see them all in New York. What about Bela Lugosi as Dr. Alex Zorka, The Spider and The She-Creature?
They just were not ready to show at NYCC. So stay tuned, we have them and more.
In New York you showed some prototypes and some work in progress figures. From the outside it’s not easy to figure out what is meant to be finished and which figures are going through changes. Can you put some light on it? For example the Caroline Munro figure had the wrong head. On some boards collectors complained about the Julie Newmar head sculpt, hairline and her costume. I guess this is a typical work in progress figure.
It is a normal thing to show “Works in Progress” to inform the direction a project is headed. Designing is an iterative process and it takes a long time to get each part just right. Several of the projects I was seeing for the first time so we had to decide if they met a threshold worth showing. Caroline Munro’s hair was an oversight as we rushed to get it ready, but we still wanted to show what was right about it. The accessories, outfit, face were so good, but the hair was blonde. I think somewhere at the end, Marilyn Monroe and Caroline Munro cross wires. 😉 Julie is still coming along, but I have only seen 1 or 2 photos that really accurately captured how accurate this piece actually is. Some issues are obvious and we are taking care of them.
The funny thing about the boards is that it is easy and common to view a grainy photo with poor lighting and quip about it being “off”. It is an entirely different challenge to see and hold the prototype in your hand, study it, study the source material, understand what makes it “accurate” and communicate effectively (to another language) exactly what must be done to perfect it or to perfect it yourself. So, I accept the valuable criticism and appreciate when people take the time to reach out…that effort helps to make a better product. But, I disregard the unqualified political bashing from people who don’t design, make products, take risks, want to complain and walk away, or that are just utterly negative. Honestly, life is too short. We aim to please most, and the ones that get it…get it.
Will there be a new developed seamless body for the Steve Reeves Hercules figure?
Yes…there is a new 1:6 scale hero body based on the physique of Steve Reeves. This guy was built like an action figure in real life! So we have plans for using that in several projects. More to come on that!
What bodies will be used for the female characters?
We are using both the new seamless bodies with the steel armature and jointed bodies by Phicen. It will all depend on the appropriateness of the project. Sheena needs a seamless body, but Wilma will likely be jointed. The Lost in Space kid bodies are new as well.
How do you create your heads, do you use 3D technique or are you going the traditional way using clay?
Both, depending on the effect we are trying to achieve. At the moment, even when you print in 3D, you still need the artisan touch to make it right. I don’t see that changing for a long time.
I collect action figures for almost 25 years now. Looking on that time span a lot has changed. In the past I bought most of my figures in a local comic shop. Today I can order worldwide on the internet. The quality made a huge jump. Today we can get very realistic head sculpts – A quality and likeness that was unthinkable 20 years ago. And of course the prices made a pig jump as well. Many new companies showed up in the business. Asian companies publish new bootleg figures every month. And with boards and social media there is much more contact between collectors and manufacturers. What are the most important changes in the business from your point of view?
That is a big question. If anyone can make anything, then what is worth making? What is worth that $150 – $300? What is worth the effort? What is worthy of my limited shelf space?
This new way of doing business has made us and our brand into curators. We have expertise in history, myth, and pop-culture to develop products for people who think and appreciate what we do and what we represent. We have been at the forefront of the boutique designer toy zeitgeist and change agents for these new business models. So the ability to connect direct with fans, to hear from them, steer them, and be informed by it all is critical for us as we seek to make great products and fans as they seek great product. Together we can continue to make some amazing “first-ever figures” that are high-quality, affordable, the right production size and in a timely manner. As for bootlegging…ugh! I only can hope that fans will want the approved, authorized, article and that we will continue to make the best option available. A related direction we are transitioning to is back on developing original IPs that draw from the same great original themes, but with our unique composition. This means we are not scrapping for yet another movie license or making other people the money and buff their brands, while we take all the risk. We know how this stuff works…not just toys, but Intellectual Properties. So that is going to be a big change coming up next year as well.
Thank you for the interview.