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SDCC2008 – Four Horsemen Interview – Part 1

Just like in 2007, one of the highlights of this year’s San Diego Comic Con was the opportunity for Samuron and I to sit and talk with three-fourths of the superstar toy makers The Four Horsemen. We joined them and ventured through the back hallways of the San Diego Convention Center only to end up on the bustling and somewhat smelly loading dock. While there, we got to the bottom of some of the most exciting toys being produced right now and even had a few notable celebrities drop by. Or at least walk by. Join us as we talk to Chris Dahlberg, Eric Treadaway and Eric "Cornboy" Mayse about all of their major current projects from the Fantastic Exclusive to DC Universe Classics and everything in between. The interview will be split into several parts so check back often for further installments. Enough with the introductions- on to the good stuff!

Fwoosh: Guys, thanks so much for taking the time to sit, or stand as it were, with us today. So, the convention this year- how is it going overall for you?

Cornboy: You know, it’s crazy. It’s crazy this year, Wednesday and Thursday were busier than we have ever seen it before, it was insane. Then it seemed like it died down quite a bit on Friday and today in overall attendance which is kind of strange.

Fwoosh: The lines at all of the booths, like Mattel, seem to be a little lighter today than earlier, but they are still wrapped around the booth.

Chris Dahlberg: Our signings have been going really well though, they have done a good job of keeping it all organized.

Cornboy: Yeah, the signings and reactions and sales of the [SDCC exclusive] Time Keepers have been really good, really brisk.

Fwoosh: That is great, the final products turned out looking really nice. The Time Keepers are a good place to start today. How is everything going with the Fantastic Exclusive and 7th Kingdom figures right now? Ramathorr went on sale for the first time at SDCC 2007, how have things progressed one year later?

Eric Treadaway: It feels like we have finally gotten things back on track, and that is the key right now because, as most people know, the Elephant thing has been a long and painful road and it seems like we have finally gotten up to date on all of the returns and exchanges now. So the Time Keepers actually feel really good right now because we are just feeling like it is the first step in getting back on the forward track again, and the response to them has been really good. We are really happy.

Cornboy: Yeah, we are going to have Scarabus done hopefully in time for Christmas, if not at least in time for the New York Comic Con, maybe late January, early February. Then we are going to release Queen Aluxxandra and her "Royal Court", for a lack of a better term, probably around mid-spring.

Fwoosh: Oh, so this spring?

Cornboy: Yeah, that is the hope right now, that is what we are shooting for.

Fwoosh: Speaking of Aluxxandra, the variants that you have on display for her were not at all what I was expecting the direction was going to be. The variety of the different "races" and "species" is pretty amazing, were did you take your direction and inspiration?

Eric Treadaway: Well, with the variants, part of it is that you are essentially buying a lot of basically the same figure over and over so the challenge, which is a fun challenge to do, is how do you make it worth buying again? How do you put as much value as you can in there? So, it was fun for us to do because everyone was expecting us to do something more along the lines of an African-American variant or and Asian or whatever, everyone has been thinking human.

Cornboy: Yeah, everyone has been thinking different ethnicities…

Eric Treadaway: But this is 7th Kingdom, so if you are doing different ethnicities you are not doing something as minimal as skin tone- you are going with animals, you are going with robots, mutants, stuff like that. What is cool here too is that it is also an opportunity to diversify. People have, for the most part, been voting [in the Fantastic Exclusive polls] for animals, which is cool, I have no problem with that, but the Queen was second place to Ramathorr last year and we figured if we put up another vote, another animal would probably win. So that was a big part of the reason we thought it would be good to separate it, get another one of the Kingdoms represented and then we took that even further and we feel like we have really broadened the overall line with her variants.

Fwoosh: The coloration on the leopard-looking variant is just beautiful and the more robot-esque variant reminded me a lot of "Metropolis" when I saw it. Were you going for the widest range of variation possible between each version?

Cornboy: The cat one that you mention is definitely the most popular version so far here at the con so we will have to do a few different variants on that variant to make everyone happy.

Fwoosh: What is the current plan for the release and sales for that? Since 7th Kingdom is no longer the Fantastic Exclusive are you going to continue to partner with websites or will this be done through your store or normal specialty etailer outlets?

Cornboy: We will see. We are going to contact some of the previous partners that worked with us on the Fantastic Exclusive and see how interested they are. Then, we are going to contact some new people too, there has been some interest from people that have never partnered with us before. Of course we will be contacting guys like AFX, and Fwoosh and Raving Toy Maniac, some of which have already expressed interest, and the guys from Cornerstore Comics just stopped by the day before yesterday and said make sure that we contact them. So yeah, we are going to show them what we have got and see what the interest is and if they want to jump on board, sure- we are going to pass exclusives around to everyone who would like to participate.

Eric Treadaway: One of the things too, as far as the way we are going to approach the Queen, is that we have learned by doing this is that selling these things at the conventions is not the end-all be-all of the process. Of course we sell well at the convention, but the process continues throughout the year. That was part of our mistake with the Ramathorr figure last year- we rushed them to get them to San Diego and now we have stacks, literally twenty feet tall of boxes that we brought out. Now instead we are going to take a more steady approach and see when we can get them done and when we can get them done right. Then we can do things more like the Time Keepers for conventions that are very portable, very easy to bring out and have a lower price point. In the end, you are not going to make a fortune at the conventions but what you can do is spread the word and the Time Keepers have been great because they have allowed us to get more people involved in the line to keep it going for years to come.

Cornboy: And the Time Keepers that are available here at the convention are also going to be available through for $10 each or $25 for the set of three. Also, those three colors and decos that are out now will not be repeated when the Time Keepers are released with Scarabus later on. If you want those, you have to get them now.

Fwoosh: Can you give us some information on the story that goes with Scarabus and the Time Keepers?

Cornboy: You know, we want to reveal some of that when the actual figures are released, through write ups on the back of the package. Like on Xetheus and Ramathorr, we love putting the story line and character origins on the actual package so when the fans get them the package, not just the figure itself, has a lot of interesting elements to it. So, we don’t want to reveal a whole lot on that just yet, but stay tuned.

The thing about Scarabus, and you can probably tell just by looking at him, is that he is really not a very nice guy.

Eric Treadaway: I would say this: he really is the main character in Gothitropolis, he is what everything is really based around in the story- very important. Actually, the fans have done a really good job of voting for the main characters of the properties. Xetheus was always meant to be the main character of 7th Kingdom, and he was the very first choice and now with Gothitropolis, Scarabus is the main guy and, once again, people chose him. So good for the fans!

Fwoosh: Sounds like there is a lot of fun stuff in store for the fans for 7th Kingdom and the continuing Gothitropolis. This whole concept is a very refreshing direction in a time when so many action figures are tied to other outlets, I hope it continues to do very well for you in the years to come.

Now, to change directions a little bit, let’s talk about a little line that was kind of quiet at first and then snuck up on everyone- the NECA Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. People are already applying lines like "figures of the year" to these guys.

Cornboy: Wow! Good for NECA.

Fwoosh: How did you guys come to be involved in that? Was it based on previous collaborations with NECA or was it more of a draw to the property?

Cornboy: Yeah. We had done some stuff for them before and Randy [Faulk, product manager at NECA] needed some help because they were kind of busy over there and things had slowed down a bit with the work we had been doing for Mattel so we were able to help them out on this job. Then it turned out to be a job that we really loved, same with the property, so it has been a lot of fun.

Eric Treadaway: It is one of those things where the property had been tied up with Playmates for as long as I can remember and we have never done any work with them so we never thought we would be able to touch Turtles in any form. So with this, it has been a nice opportunity to do a really fun project and it is really cool that people have liked it so much.

Fwoosh: They are certainly some of the best translations from page to plastic that has been done in a long time.

Cornboy: Thanks. The style of the books are very distinct so it was a fun challenge to get all of the little details into the sculpts. Also, we know that people have been questioning our involvement with the line past the actual Turtles but April and the Foot Soldiers are us too.

Fwoosh: Shredder?

Chris Dahlberg: Yeah, he is one of ours too. Mousers, the whole thing.

Fwoosh: Yeah, there had been some rumors that you guys weren’t able to continue past April.

Eric Treadaway: Well, I think at the time we had stopped. Shredder and those guys have all been done in the past three weeks or so. It was a true rumor at the time, it just didn’t remain true. [laughs]

Fwoosh: So, then… is Casey Jones just not quite finished then? I am hoping!

Eric Treadaway: [laughs] I wish!

Cornboy: We are dying to get to him.

Eric Treadaway: You know it is something that has been talked about on some of the panels this year- the industry is really tough right now with prices and whatnot so even a company as successful as NECA right now needs to be careful with how much they release at a time. They need to see what the responses are so that is what kind of happened with the Turtles, it took awhile to get a real read on how successful the line is. They didn’t want to jump into anything until they got a feel for it. So I would say that will be the same thing here- we will see how this next round does and go from there.

Fwoosh: I personally think they are going to sell about a million of those Foot Ninjas…

Eric Treadaway: It is THE perfect army builder.

Fwoosh: None better than ninjas.

Okay guys, now of course the big property that you guys are working on, at least in terms of popularity at The Fwoosh, is the DC Universe Classics line-

Cornboy: Wait, what are you talking about? I have never heard of that line! [laughs]

*On that little tease we will wrap up part one. Stay tuned for part two coming soon. I promise.

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