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SDCC2008 – Toy Guru Interview – Part 2

mattel.gifWelcome back to our continuing conversation with Mattel’s resident Toy Guru- Scott Neitlich. In this installment we jump right into the DC Universe and talk about the process of getting our favorite characters to toy shelves everywhere as well as possibilities for the future. Mattel had a very impressive showing at the San Diego Comic Con but it sounds like they are not resting on their laurels.

Fwoosh: Speaking of the DC Universe, at The Fwoosh, that is certainly our bread and butter-

Scott Neitlich: Oh, and mine too!

Fwoosh: The fan base for the DC Classics line is just blowing up right now and our membership and participation at the Fwoosh has gotten huge because people are so excited to talk about it as well as collect it. I have not seen a reception like this for a line since, well-

SN: Marvel Legends?

Fwoosh: Yeah!

SN: Yeah, we are just thrilled with the line right now, couldn’t be happier. Right out of the gate though, please let everyone know that there has been a little bit of a delay in product this and we are very close to getting back on schedule. One of the main reasons is because we were simply not happy with paint applications we were getting from our factory so we switched vendors. Fans here at the show can check out the case- we have two versions of the Captain Atom gold figure, you will see that one is very vivid and one is much more dull in terms of paint. The vivid, shiny one is the new sample that comes from the vendor that we switched to so we could get that level of quality. However, because of that, and since we switched in the middle of the production of wave two, it cut off the second half of the production run and that is why it has been so hard to find. So now, the Green Lantern and Sinestro wave, [wave three] hits next week or so and then after wave three, the second half of wave two with the Jason version of Firestorm will hit.

Fwoosh: So it will be all Jason Firestorm from that point?

SN: Yeah, exactly.

Fwoosh: So the top shelf of the main DC Classics case at the booth is all production samples now?

SN: Pretty close, yeah. I have not gotten a package sample of wave four yet but you can see the package samples of wave three are up there. So those should be out next week or so. Past that we are already tooled through wave five- we have the Hawkman figure all tooled up as well for wave six so they are going to be coming fast now through the end of the year.

Fwoosh: So taking the licks in delays during the first half of the year is going to pay off in the end?

SN: Absolutely, and when 2009 hits, everything will be rolling. The Horsemen are working so far ahead at this point we should be moving along well from here on out. We hit a few bumps in the road there at first, but it has worked itself out and we are on track.

Fwoosh: It seems like it was just a natural growing pain that most lines go through at one point or another.

SN: Yeah, all lines usually have something, bumps are hard to avoid in this business sometimes.

Fwoosh: So what is the post-mortem then on the first year since this line was announced? How has the retail reception been and how has it been working so closely with the Horsemen on the line? How has the experience been?

SN: Oh, it has been absolutely fantastic. I talk to the guys about every week through emails and phone calls- and that is the cool thing, to be able to just pick up the phone and call them. With the 2002 He-Man line, before I even worked at Mattel, I was collecting that so now I just get to call these guys up, it is pretty cool. A fan boy’s dream come true!

Fwoosh: And they are the same way, they are great to talk to and you can hear the excitement in their voices about all the stuff they are doing with you guys.

SN: They get so many great ideas. We will hash out variant ideas together, things like that, the conversations are great and it is all fan-talk. "Oh, we could do this!" or "Yeah, let’s do that, that would be cool!". So they come up with ideas, we do, they are just great partners to work with and they are so creative and so talented. DC too- our partners at DC/Warner Brothers, they were the ones that actually came up with the idea of doing the modern Skeets that opens up with Mr. Mind inside.

Fwoosh: That was such an unexpected and nice touch.

SN: They suggested it and we were like, "We are SO going to do that!"

Fwoosh: So Mr. Mind, is he sculpted in there or…

SN: He is not removable, he is sculpted in. We wanted to make him removable but that would have meant we would have to make another tool and it just didn’t cost out this time. However, I am sure that further on down the line when we do Dr. Sivana or someone, Mr. Mind can come with him.

Fwoosh: That would be a great place for him. So then, the retail response- has it been good?

SN: Oh yeah, oh yeah. Basically, they just want more and more and more. Unfortunately, like I said, we have had a bit of a slow down but I think that will all be behind us after the next week or so. The retail response has been huge and we are going to keep running with the positive reception.

Fwoosh: That is great to hear, I hope you guys can get to the 3000 or characters still unmade from the DCU in this line.

SN: That is the hope [laughs]

Fwoosh: Let’s talk about influences on this line. With the reference and direction for the figures that you bring and that the Horsemen bring, is this a comic-based line or are you incorporating other media like TV and movies into the character choices and appearances?

SN: The DC Universe Classics line is PURELY comic books and it is the Four Horsemen’s interpretations of the comic-based characters. So while you wont see George Perez or Jim Lee versions of characters, that is DC Direct’s thing, the figures will be translations and interpretations right from the comics. That being said, we do have access to all of the other media from the past 30-35 years or so which includes things like the Christopher Reeve Superman, Michael Keaton Batman, so we are looking at ways of continuing the Movie Masters line and doing some of that stuff there.

Fwoosh: Speaking of Movie Masters, aside from that awesome Batpod, there has not been a lot on display from that line. I thought for sure we would see at least a Two-Face or Ra’s or someone like that.

SN: The reason is that you have not seen Two-Face is actually because his look was created so late in the course of the film’s post-production with CGI, so late in the game that we did not get any reference material until just a few months ago. Now that we have reference material, we are going to do it, we are absolutely going to do a Two-Face figure, but since we just got the reference four months ago and it takes about a year to make it all the way through production, he will be out in 2009. We are going to continue the line.

Fwoosh: That is great news for a lot of people, and as I said, the Batpod is really neat. It is good you were able to get a vehicle out for six-inch stuff.

SN: Yeah, it is really a good size.

Fwoosh: Let’s go back to DC Classics and talk about character selection for a minute. Is there a formula that you follow when you are deciding on a series? Series seven is all over the place in some aspects but then so many of the characters fit together. What drives it?

SN: Well, there is not really a mathematical formula to it. The characters are first selected by a team at Mattel, myself, our lead designers and engineers. We basically come up with a map of the entire year, we plan a year at a time, not just one series. We start off making sure that every wave has an A-lister, so we will get a grouping of the twenty A-list characters or versions of characters that we are interested in and then start to plug the whole year into a grid, a spreadsheet. We will have our anchor, and then we like to do at least one or two connection figures, like Kid Flash and Captain Cold for Flash in series seven. So as the waves go across the grid we have our anchor characters in the first column, then the connection figures, then we will have two universe builders, as we call it to plug in. That is where Big Barda comes in, these spots are there to not only expand the universe, but we are consciously trying to build teams. So guys like the Doom Patrol or the Metal Men we try to fill in there too. Now in the case of those two teams, you might only see one or two here and there, but after three years or so you will have them all.

So while the line is released one series at a time, we are looking at it overall, all the way to 2012 when the license ends, and hopefully beyond. We actually have the next two years roughly worked out with some blank spots, obviously, because characters pop up that suddenly become really popular- like Blue and Gold who we’re able to do now. I am such a huge Booster Gold fan and a fan of his book, I was like- "We are getting him in there NOW!"

Fwoosh: We were talking to the Horsemen yesterday and they said that Eric Treadaway was sculpting Blue and Chris Dahlberg was doing Gold at the same time-

SN: They had their own Blue and Gold!

Fwoosh: Exactly.

SN: So yeah, we will do one or two universe builders, then we will pick a category, maybe like magic, or space or…

Fwoosh: New Gods?

SN: Yeah! Like this year, New Gods was a big one and you saw one of them in about every wave. We are trying to build up as many things as we can organically as opposed to a wave of ALL New Gods or ALL Green Lanterns because that just doesn’t work as well. You might get someone that doesn’t like the Green Lantern stuff. We want to have as much appeal to as many people as possible.

Then, even with the Collect and Connects, we are trying to connect them back too. Like Kalibak compliments all of the New Gods we have been doing. Then we have a "Fan’s Choice" figure every year. We will do a vote next year as well, just like this year and just because a character doesn’t win that vote doesn’t mean they won’t show up again or in another place. It doesn’t mean they are out forever, just for that current poll.

Fwoosh: So how long are you going to run the vote? It looks like the Question is starting to run away with it now.

SN: The poll is actually being run completely by Toy Fare magazine, we just supplied them with the names of the characters and the artwork and told them to go with it. I think it will be up for another month or so, a few weeks- we just wanted it to run during Comic Con, that was our stipulation. We will then announce the figure in December or January of this year and then the figure will actually come out in December of 2009. Then the process will run pretty much the same each year.

Fwoosh: Well, I am still pulling for Catman. Earlier you were talking about team building- the Satellite era of the Justice League moving right along, I think Barry puts us over half-way there.

SN: Yeah, people have been asking a lot about that. While we are making conscious efforts to build teams, that one has just kind of happened by coincidence. The characters that we have done so far- those are just their iconic looks that most people identify with them. Also, I think those are often times just the versions that the Horsemen really like and we have obviously had no complaints. It does actually leave the room open for everything. We have a couple of Golden Age characters planned for 2009 as well as some more modern characters.

Fwoosh: One team that is locked in the "which era?" debate is the JSA. Do you personally have a preference one way or another? More modern? Golden Age? 1970s?

SN: Oh, I love the modern team quite bit. I really like Wildcat and Star Girl-

Fwoosh: STRIPES would be an awesome C&C!

SN: Oh yeah, he would be so awesome. I mean, I even love Cyclone, the new Ma Hunkle/Red Tornado chick. They are ALL great.

Fwoosh: So it sounds like you are wanting to mine deep into the DCU, but just how deep? Are we talking Swamp Thing? Trickster? Chronos? Black Orchid? Kamandi? Fire and Ice?

SN: I can tell you one thing- I am a HUGE Kamandi fan.

Fwoosh: Oh yeah?

SN: Yeah, and I will just leave it at that. [laughs]

Fwoosh: Fair enough.

SN: I mean, I don’t know if he will be popping up immediately, but I don’t think there has ever been a Kamandi figure. That goes along with one of the things I am really trying to bring to this line: characters that have never been done before. Ever.

Fwoosh: Killer Moth!

SN: That is a great example! You know, we really want to try to sprinkle the line with figures of characters that have never been done before.

Fwoosh: Like maybe those from Wildstorm- is that open at all?

SN: No, we don’t have the rights to Wildstorm.

Fwoosh: Well, one thing that has popped up recently on the Fwoosh and I think several other websites is the possibility of counterpart figure to the SDCC exclusive Hasbro did last year of Stan Lee-

SN: Oh, the Jack Kirby thing?

Fwoosh: Yeah. Is that anything that would or could be explored at all? Jack had a relatively short, but very important run at DC, it sounds like several fans are possibly interested maybe getting a figure of "The King".

SN: Yeah, I am looking into it, and I have asked DC about it. The thing is, Stan Lee has a lifetime contract with Marvel, he works for Marvel. Jack unfortunately passed away and he was for hire with DC, so it is almost something that we would have to do outside of the Classics line, outside of the branded DC Universe. We would have to work with his estate and maybe just do a stand alone Jack Kirby, maybe through Matty Collector. I would love to do one, I think it would be great but it really depends on his family and whether or not they are interested. We are definitely going to ask and put resources towards that but it is nothing I can give a certain answer on right now. He doesn’t have an official relationship with DC the way Stan Lee does with Marvel. But yeah- how cool would that be? I agree, awesome idea, pie in the sky type thing.

With talk of The King we will bring part two to a close. Be sure to check soon for part three where we will continue talk of DCUC as well as the other two big Mattel DC lines- JLU and DC Infinite Heroes. There are a lot of surprises still ahead!

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