Throughout my years as a pop culture journalist I’ve seen a lot of toys. I’ve had the pleasure of visiting some of the studios where these things are made and even the most cynical could not come out of those places without a new found respect for the hard work and artistry that goes into making them.
This short film highlights just some of the early process that goes into making your favourite action figure. There’s a lot more that goes into it after this from creation of the expensive steel moulds to paint to mass production to packaging design and more, each with their own challenges. But this film gives you an idea of the hard work that goes into the sculpting, and is worth a watch!
I might not have my finger quite so much on the action figure pulse as I once did but I do follow events. My collection is currently packed in a cargo container and I really don’t have the room for more than a couple of figures so know that if I’m thinking of buying an entire series, it has to be good. So with that in mind, I urge people to take a look at the Gothropolis Kickstarter.
It’s that time of year when old colleagues descend on New York to cover the US ToyFair and my emotions fluctuate between nostalgic jealousy and wanting to tell the newcomers how they have it easy (in my day we had to cover as many as 80 companies over the week). I have little to do with the toy industry any more but I’m happy that once again I was asked to be a judge in the 2012 Poppies Awards. I’m pleased that there was a lot of consensus between the judges (although we do not confer) and a lot of my personal favourites were winners. Congratulations to both nominees and winners for some great sculpts, paint and manufacture this past year.
You can check out all of this year’s award winners HERE
Back in the days when I ran Action-Figure, media plans were the bane of my life. This is where a publicity department or an external media agency will work out the press for any given product along a timeline so to manage their resource and supposedly “maximise consumer impact”.
Back in the day, the major event in the toy & collectible industry calendar was the US ToyFair. This trade event, held every February, was when all the major products for the year ahead got announced in order that retailers could place their orders. The fact that many major summer blockbusters get their trailers to début at this time is no coincidence.
I’m packing up the action figure collection. Most of the Star Wars is now packed, as is the G.I. Joe, and last night with great sadness I packed up two of my favourite lines of all time: ToyBiz’s Marvel Legends and Palisades Toys’ awesome Muppets line. Where I’m going there won’t be the room to display them all and so they will be going into storage for the foreseeable future.
Close to 10 years ago, I wrote a big article on 3D Printers for Action-Figure. They were just starting to be used for prototyping by big industry with machines that cost hundreds of thousands of pounds. But prices were destined to fall and in the article I envisioned a future where you wouldn’t so much go out and buy an action figure or toy, but would buy the plans and print and construct your own. If I weren’t in the midst of packing, I would dig out the article and repost it, but needless to say it was probably the most popular article that year and drew a lot of comment. Maybe after I move, I’ll try and find it out?
I’m back from SFX Weekender but still need to dig out the camera so I’m hoping to do my report tomorrow. In the meantime I wanted to give a shout out to something else I’ve been involved with recently.
Since I stepped down as editor of Action-Figure to concentrate on my writing, I’ve not had too much to do with the toy and collectible industry. I miss it terribly at times but enjoy the new found free-time my retirement has brought about. However, I was honoured when I was asked to be one of the judges for The Poppies awards. Michael Crawford runs the best toy and collectible reviews site out there and so his Poppies awards are one of (if not THE) most important awards in the industry.
I really enjoyed being a judge, especially with so many companies doing so much great product out there, and I spent a lot of time considering my votes. Check out the winners over at MWCtoys.com
I’ve written about my love for Larry Hama’s GI Joe comic series before (see HERE). As far as I’m concerned, Larry is one of the most influential writers to inspire me. Through his comic series, I learned how character drives plot, motivation and the power of great words. GI Joe is not what springs to most people’s mind when they think of great comics, but to me, it’s the greatest.
Digging around on an old hard drive the other day, I came across this interview I did with him in July 1998. This was published on my old website to help promote the limited return of the toy line, but reading over this some 13 years later, I see a lot of it speaks about the craft of writing which I find fascinating in a way I did not back then.
So I thought I’d share that interview with you. Enjoy!
Had I still of been running the old site, I would have probably been in New York City this week. The US ToyFair is a trade-only event where retailers see upcoming product from toy makers for the year ahead and make their orders accordingly.
Of course amongst all the baby products are the things we geeks care about. The action figures, busts and statues of those properties close to our heart: Star Wars, Marvel, DC, Transformers, etc. I’ve often said those items aren’t toys simply due to their target demographic, but the industry has been slow to recognise this.
My mission at ToyFair was always a simple one: report on all the cool things that were there. And it was a ride. Toy Companies often brought in celebrities to help publicise a toy line or a license. It’s part of the reason that the trailers for a lot of the summer geek movies get released around this time – because if they don’t show off the designs for certain characters, you can be sure that the photos of the action figure will be over the web come ToyFair. So many a ToyFair was spent in an elevator with some actor, there were many times I ended up chatting to a wrestler or comics creator.
ToyFair was always one of those events that you enjoyed afterwards. It was probably the hardest work I’ve ever done. The day would be back to back appointments, learning about new properties and what was cool with them before rushing back to the hotel and uploading the pictures to the web until late into the night.
Of course in the original days that was hard. When I started all I had was a local dial-up and a $800 phone bill. As time moved on, so did the technology. But no matter what the improvement, the audience size used to grow. In those days, page impressions meant finance which was needed to finance the servers needed to handle the page impressions. It was a never ending cycle, which meant that aside from walking all day (by the end of the day I would physically rock from one foot to another to alleviate the pain in my feet), all the writing and all the html coding, you were also trying to stop your server from falling over.
I managed to cook at least 2 servers in the years I covered ToyFair. And by that, I mean push the CPU to 100% so much that the machines physically overheated and cooked themselves. One engineer told me you could have fried an egg on the burnt out corpse of one machine. And it’s no surprise. ToyFair traffic was through the roof.
I once got to see the traffic data for a company that created a site that was advertised during the Superbowl. They spent $6million advertising that site and were happy with the results, especially when despite load balancing across 23 servers worldwide, it still went down due to volume of traffic. That was a sign that the campaign was far more successful than they had hoped. And to be fair, they did a lot of hits. But I laid my ToyFair traffic over the top of that and it dwarfed it.
An Iron Maiden collectible was responsible for us receiving 15 million hits inside an hour. 15 million! Are there that many fans? Or did a million forgetful fans each look at it 15 times? Either way, it was not uncommon. Sites would actually hold back their Marvel coverage because they knew whichever site put the pics up first would go down hard. And it wasn’t as if we weren’t running some of the most advanced dedicated hosting in one of the world’s best data centres. This year, I see a lot of people using Flickr. Seriously, they have it so easy now!
Of course getting pictures online first was all part of the race. My site wasn’t the only one providing coverage (and the rivalries weren’t all friendly) and not all companies held events where all the collector media would be gathered at the same time. Scheduling was important. Judging before the event who would have the coolest items and arranging to be first to see them was akin to military planning.
ToyFair would last no more than 4 or 5 days but I would have been working up to it from the start of the year and carry on doing write ups solidly until Easter. It would eat up a good quarter of my year when I would be working non-stop from 6am until gone midnight. By the time Easter came around I’d be a wreck. My friend used to hold an annual film festival for his friends round his house at Easter (basically back to back DVDs) and I’d always get to this, have my first rest since Christmas and then come down with some lurgy or simple exhaustion. ToyFair pretty much killed me.
As a result, there’s a part of me that doesn’t miss those times. It really was ridiculously hard work. But you know, seeing all my friends on Facebook at this year’s event posting their picture next to the Optimus Prime truck from the Transformers movies (he has the trailer in #3) makes me miss it more than just a little.