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Interview with Mattel’s Toy Guru Part II

{mosimage}We continue our conversation with Mattel’s Senior Brand Analyst Toy Guru. Read on for the final installment where the DC manager continues to talk about what the future holds for DC properties at Mattel.

Fwoosh: One of the things that will be always be highly scrutinized by the collector community in any line is the issue of variant and chase figure availability and strategy. With so many people being "completists" and everyone wanting their favorite versions of each character, what is considered when deciding on what should be a chase figure? Without getting too specific will these chase figures be more readily available than those in the past DCSH line? The concern for people being able to get their preferred versions of certain characters (specifically Aquaman and Firestorm) is very apparent already. How would you address and sum up this issue to the fans?

Toy Guru: When we choose characters to make a chase figure, a lot of factors are considered. This ranges from fan interest to ethnic diversity. We also look at what figures could be done as stand alone figures and who really only works as a chase variant. If a character had more then one costume or a simple deco change makes this character unique, then that gets priority over doing a head sculpt change. For example, it made sense to do both versions of Firestorm now, rather then sell classic Firestorm now and modern Firestorm later on.

While there is no set rule, we are shooting to do at least two head sculpts and a deco change in each wave. This will help get as many characters into fans hands as quickly as possible. I’m also personally pushing to make the variants as unique as possible. If fans are going to spend money on a new figure we really need to deliver something that is worth it. Not just a change in expression, but if possible a truly unique character that given a logical head swap could share the “body” of the regular version.

Fwoosh: Being able to find figures at retail or with relative ease from online retailers is also a big concern to a lot of fans. Hunting down DCSH figures has often been a difficult task. Will the expansion of the DC Universe brand name help with availability? Is Mattel moving forward on a possible "Mattel Direct" online store direct from the source?

Toy Guru: This is something we are looking into. I don’t have anything to announce right now but we are well aware of the fan demand for a program like this. If we do launch a DTC website we want to do it right which means a little time and effort need to go into it. Once we have more news you can bet we will make an announcement.

Fwoosh: Everyone has their favorite characters and favorite teams. How important is it to you for this line to "complete teams" and give great diversity to character selection on the collector’s shelves? From what we have seen so far in waves 1 and 2, the JLA seems to be in good hands. What about teams like the JSA, Teen Titans, Justice League International, etcetera? Is equal weight being given to them when deciding on characters?

TG: Absolutely. We are all fans of the DC Universe and we know how important it is to display characters together on a shelf.  Doing teams also opens up the possibility of doing box sets as well. The line is just getting off the ground (heck, wave 1 hasn’t even hit retail yet) But you can be sure that in time we will make an effort to get to all of the major teams out there.

Fwoosh: For you personally, of all the figures in series one and two, which is your personal favorite? What character do you want to see find his/her way into a future line-up the most? How about for a build-a-figure?

TG: Of the characters we have revealed so far, I really like Etrigan and Firestorm. Although some of my favorites are in the works and have yet to be announced. Personally I am a big fan of the WWII era characters. I’d love to see Blackhawk and Hourman in the line. Shazam would be great too.

As for a build-a-figure, Grundy would be cool. I’d also love to do a more in scale Darkseid. 

Fwoosh: For a lot of the fans, they want nothing short of DCUC bringing us the most diverse and expansive selection of characters from the DCU as possible. What is your ultimate hope for the line?

TG: To be an evergreen property and offer hundreds and hundreds (or 3000) of DC characters to fans. I’d love for the line to go for over a decade and give fans every character they have ever wanted in the same style.

Fwoosh: We know that certain characters are considered "off limits" and some have some legal issues that must be hammered out before they can be brought to retail. Are talks between DC and Mattel ongoing to acquire these characters? A lot of these affect not only DCUC but also the Animated universe directly with fan requests. Is acquiring these characters (like the Charlton stable) a priority for Mattel?

TG: Absolutely this is a priority for Mattel. Unfortunately some of these matters are out of our control. There are legal issues surrounding some characters that are internal from DC. Until they give us the go-ahead, we have to sit back and wait just like the fans.

Fwoosh: Speaking of the DC Animated Universe, can you comment on what the future is going to hold for the likes of the JLU line or what it could possibly grow to become?

TG: I’m hoping JLU will have a very bright future. Everyone at Mattel is well aware of the intense fan devotion to this line, myself included. (In fact that poster we offered at Comic Con was actually my personal collection in the photographs. I am a HUGE JLU fan and was collecting well before I came to Mattel. Getting to work on JLU is a dream come true for me).

At this point we still are waiting to make an announcement but are working very hard on finding the right place to continue the line. We just ask fans to be patient with us as we work out the logistics. But I assure you and all the fans we are working on not only continuing JLU but making it better and more collector oriented then ever before. Fans are going to be really, really happy with what we are doing. It is just taking a few months to get things in the pipe. (keep in mind toys take 12-18 months to produce from B-sheets to on the shelf!)

As for dream figure in the JLU style, I’d really like to get to those Charlton characters like Question and Captain Atom in the line. It is something we are actively working on. There are legal hurdles but we are working on them every day. Blackhawk is also a dream figure of mine for the JLU line. This line still has a lot of legs for Mattel. Even though we have not seen too many new figures in late 07, by fall 08 almost all of the major fan requests will be fulfilled with more to come!

Fwoosh: Back to DCUC, if the line takes off and becomes a full blown success in 2008 (like we are all expecting and hoping) will there be plans of expansion? Are things like two packs, box sets, vehicles and playsets all in the cards for possible expansion? Towards that end, will the Build-a-figure always be a figure? Could vehicles or the like be possible down the road?

TG: All of these ideas are on the table. One of the things I’ve found a bit odd this year is that I get pounded by requests from fans asking for boxed sets or this character or that vehicle. But the bottom line is the first year’s worth of figures haven’t even hit retail yet! It is impossible for me to comment on anything past the 2008 line up until we see how the first year performs at retail. I can say this, nothing is off the table and all of us at Mattel see this as our flagship DC line for quite a few years.

Fwoosh: Can you give any hints as to when the next series of DCUC will be revealed. Although the first series has not even hit retail yet, fans are a fickle bunch and always want more info. Do you have a plan on when we will know? Will Toy Fair in October and February bring big news or surprises?

TG: We won’t be revealing Wave 4 and 5 until at least after Wave 1 hits retails. We have to keep some surprises. That’s half the fun. Wave 3 will be revealed in Toy Fare magazine on sale Dec 12th.
Fwoosh: Finally, a lot of people are excited about you being the liaison with the fans. That is something that Mattel has been missing with the DC fans in the past, thank you for your continued hard work. Is there a closing statement you would like to make to the fans about the future of the DC brand and what we can expect as a whole or specifically to DCUC?

TG: First off I want to thank all the fans. This line could not exist at all without the die hard dedication of our action figure fan base. As an action figure collector myself it is a thrill to work on our line of DC products.

One of the biggest surprises to me coming over to this side of the curtain was how much Mattel gets “blamed” for fans not being able to find our product on shelf. I understand that case packs with two many Superman or Batman has become an issue and that has been corrected. You will not see this going forward but unfortunately at the moment these cases are still in the system. But as for not being able to find figures, it really is up to our individual retail partners to decide which Mattel lines to carry. If you are not seeing your favorite line at your favorite retailer please let them know directly. Something like this is not in Mattel’s power to control. Only the retailers can decide what is on their shelf.

I guess I just want fans to know that we do listen to them and are working incredibly hard to get figures out they have been asking for. I know fans are sick of hearing “wait and see” but because things change so quickly at Mattel we can’t announce new toys until we know for sure they will be at retail. (remember the Legion of Superheroes toys? That line wasn’t picked up at mass retail and we are trying to avoid situations like that again, which is why you see us waiting to announce stuff).

Fans should know Mattel is more committed to the adult action figure collector then ever. In the coming months and years you will see some really fantastic product in many scales and styles. Keep those posts coming. If there is enough buzz in the system for certain figures it will be hard for us to miss!

Oh, and here is a little nugget for everyone. At least one of our Comic Con figures for 2008 will be a female. Just which line and which figure will be announced in the coming months….stay tuned.

Fwoosh: Toy Guru, thanks so much for your time. We really appreciate what you are bringing to Mattel’s DC properties as well as your constant interactions with the fn community. Keep up the good work, 2008 is going to be the start of a very exciting time for DC fans! 

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