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My Interview with Action Figure Insider’s Julius Marx and ToyOtter – Part 3

Posted by: vader at 12:07 am on Friday, July 3, 2009

Here’s the final installment of my interview with Daniel Pickett and Jason Geyer, the 2 gentlemen responsible for ActionFigureInsider.com. Today, they talk about the different toy companies – what they’re doing right and what they could be improving on.

 

Have either of you worked in an actual toy company? In what capacity? Tell us the most unforgettable story about that job.

Julius Marx: Not in an “official” on-the-payroll capacity, but I have consulted with a lot of companies on a lot of different lines. I’d still love to do that someday, but I always worry about burnout when your hobby becomes your profession.

That being said I’m still willing to give it a try.

It’s always sort of mind-bending to me that I have friends who work for places like DC, Marvel Comics or Mattel and that I can go to those offices when I’m in town. I think if you would have told my 8-year-old self that I would have friends there and get to go there and see the offices, my little head would have exploded!

ToyOtter: I’ve worked for a few toy companies, but they all made promotional merchandise, like the toy sin cereal boxes or for fast food places. I spent 4 years making toys for Wendy’s at my last toy job. My most unique experience was working and living at a factory in Shenzen for a few months making life size Star Wars characters for Pepsi, teaching the factory workers how to paint Jar Jar Binks.


Jason also holds the official title: “Action Figure Historian” :-)

 

Regarding the following toy companies (not in any specific order), tell us what you think are their main strengths and weaknesses; in what areas are they doing a great job and which ones could use some help.

 

Mattel

Julius Marx: Great bunch of guys. They are really excited about what they are doing. Unfortunately, they are a BIG boat, so when they need to make a course correction it takes some time to turn something that large. The great thing is they DO listen to the fans and want to make them happy. I can’t say I agree or understand every decision they make, but I’m really enjoying a lot of their product right now.

ToyOtter: Good license, super fans running things, means well.

 

Hasbro

ToyOtter: Good engineering, depth of character, good distribution.

Julius Marx: Hasbro is starting to change a bit from the “old guard.” They are still a tough nut to crack. I think they get a bit caught up in the corporate rules and branding nonsense, and that hurts them a bit. But the teams as separate entities from Hasbro all seem to be enjoying what they are doing. They totally have me hooked back into their Star Wars line with that Droid Factory build a figure program.

 

DC Direct

Julius Marx: Again, a great bunch of guys that I really do consider to be friends. It feels like they are constantly being pushed to do more and more, and I think they are over the tipping point and stuff is falling through the cracks. I think they either need to do LESS product and focus on doing it the best they can, or they need to hire more people to direct product (and the right people) and give the regular team a hand. They are a really small team, so it’s amazing they are able to do as much as they do each year.

ToyOtter: nice statues

 

Diamond Select Toys

ToyOtter: can find in comic shops

Julius Marx: These guys do an incredible job of putting out a diverse line of products. I love Minimates and the Battlestar Galactica stuff. They’ve had several turnovers in their product manager position over the years. Kudos to them for getting so much new product into Toys R Us and winning them over with exclusives. I love being able to walk into TRU and buy DST stuff.

 

McFarlane

Julius Marx: I collected a lot of McFarlane stuff when they first hit the scene, but not much since they cancelled the LOST line. I pick up a few of their figures here and there. They really did change the game on how to make action figures and the level of detail. Then they did it again with their sports figures. Those are head and shoulders above what Starting Lineup was doing. We’ve all been hearing the rumors/stories of layoffs and trouble at the House that Spawn built. I hope they can hold on and pull through.

ToyOtter: Lives in Arizona?

 

Mezco

ToyOtter: Sticking in there

Julius Marx: I don’t currently collect a lot of Mezco stuff but I like it. They have done some AMAZING stuff like their Hellboy line, their King Kong stuff and kitschy lines like the Warriors. I was really looking forward to their Little Big Planet line, but the rumor is that line is dead now.

 

NECA

Julius Marx: Randy just gets it. He and his team do amazing work. Randy is getting up there in my mind with the likes of Jesse Falcon and Ken Lilly as a real innovator. Randy’s brilliance just kind of sneaks up on you because he’s so quiet and doesn’t really crave the spotlight. I love talking to him about the state of the industry, and I think he blew us ALL away with his Ninja Turtles line.

ToyOtter: Damn good sculpts and thinking behind toys.

 

Sideshow Collectibles

ToyOtter: Just really nice work. Solid.

Julius Marx: Ugh. If I were richer I would have SO much Sideshow product! I don’t have very much right now and so far I have resisted jumping into their 12″ Star Wars line. But if I had a money tree in my back yard, I would fill my house with their stuff. I think Hot Toys is the only company that does costuming better at this scale, and Sideshow had the good sense to partner with them and import a lot of their stuff. I wish I got to hang out with these guys more.

 

Which toy company (past and/or present) would you say makes (made) the best toys? Explain why.

Julius Marx: This would probably be a two way tie for me. Palisades and Toy Biz/Marvel Toys. The people who made these products put so much LOVE and care into their lines. It knew no bounds. Ken Lilly and Kim Mattison at Palisades… what they did with the Muppets line for playsets, accessories and attention to detail… I don’t think that has ever been matched. They worked REALLY well together and just fed off of each other’s creativity.

For Toy Biz- Jesse, Damon, Eddie, Phil, Dave, Joanne, etc… They all love cool toys as much as we do, and they LOVED making the Marvel Legends, Lord of the Rings and all the peripheral product lines.


Daniel with Jesse Falcon.

All of the people above were TOY MAKERS. Not publishers, not marketing people, not anything else. They loved cool toys and they wanted cool stuff just as much as we do.

There are lots of other companies I like and admire, but those are my top two… and sadly neither one of them are making product any more. That can be the tragedy of those that break from the rest of the pack.

ToyOtter: Kenner. There were really fun toys, that appealed to kids and collectors. Toy Biz is close, but doesn’t have the breadth of product that Kenner did. Thanks Hasbro, for killing both of them.

 

Is there a toy line that hasn’t been made yet that you feel should be made?

ToyOtter: Classic Disney comic line: Barks’ Ducks, Gottfredson Mouse, Super Goof?

Julius Marx: Hmmm… Not too many of those. I always loved Star Blazers as a kid. I’ve never seen a full line of those characters. I really want an Audrey II from Little Shop of Horrors in one of the horror movie lines (preferably from NECA). But I think my #1 most wanted, never made toy line would be the cast of Mystery Science Theater 3000. I would give Jason’s left arm to get a line of MST3k figures!

 

What do you predict would be the biggest breakthrough for the future of the industry?

Julius Marx: I think the new breakthroughs in scanning and rapid prototyping will change the face of collectibles fairly soon. We’ve already started to see a bit of that, but it’s just on the verge of being really affordable… and that’s when you will be able to have just about anything you’ve ever wanted.


3D scan of Julius Marx – Meet Digital Daniel

What some companies are starting to do now with fans being able to create and get a hard copy of their avatar for games like World of Warcraft and Spore, that’s going to be a game changer, if you will pardon the pun.

ToyOtter: Getting product into new venues to replace collapsing toy stores. Go back to Dept stores (grocery stores, Bed, Bath, Beyond, etc.) have toy depts.

 

With current economic crunch being felt worldwide, what do you think is the short- and long-term outlook for this hobby? Tell us how it affects you as a collector.

ToyOtter: More stores and companies going under, higher prices, licenses pricing themselves out of the game.

Julius Marx: I think the real “golden age” of toy collecting is over for a while. I hate to say it, but it’s true. That’s not to say there won’t still be cool stuff being made that we’ll want to collect, but with all of the smaller retailers like KB Toys, Kids World, Tower Records, Suncoast Video, etc dead or dying off, it’s a lot harder for companies that aren’t Mattel or Hasbro to get their stuff in stores.


Julius Marx (with daughter Paige): “I think the real ‘golden age’
of toy collecting is over for a while.”

Fortunately, Toys R Us is realizing its potential as “The World’s Biggest Toy Store”and taking some risks on some smaller lines and companies. I think we, as collectors, need to reward that effort with our business.

The big retailers are not taking risks. Almost every line is being ordered on its minimum quantity by Target and Walmart. What that translates to now, is if you see something you want on the shelf, you had better pick it up right then because there are no guarantees you will see it ever again!

Everything runs in cycles, so it won’t be this way forever… but I don’t see us coming out of this anytime soon.

— end of part 3 —

 

Daniel and Jason – my biggest thanks to you both for allocating much of your precious time in helping make this interview possible. It was great fun reading through the answers and seeing the differences, as well as the similarities, between the two of you.

Click here to read Part 1 of the interview and here for Part 2. And assuming you haven’t yet, please go check out ActionFigureInsider.com.

 

 

 

 

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