As was previously reported by a very dubious source, this week marks the Wooden Anniversary of Action Figure Insider. (No really, it’s wooden! Look it up! Jason Lenzi told me! Seriously!). To celebrate this wonderous occasion, we (yeah, that damn Lenzi again…taking all the credit for himself) thought we’d do something different with our blog privileges, and interview co-founders Daniel "JuliusMarx" Pickett and Jason "ToyOtter" Geyer. I picked Jason because he was the one guy left after Lenzi chose Daniel.
Dammit! I mean, awesome! Actually, Jason and I go back a good 15 years or more, and I consider him a good friend. The "home away from home" that Dan and he have created here at AFi is someplace I’ll always be.
I tried asking the tough, probing questions that the discerning readers of AFi wanted to be asked. Actually, I used the same questions that Lenzi came up with for Dan…they really made sense to my lazy disposition. Anyway, a very very Happy 5th Anniversary to Action Figure Insider! Here’s to the next 5 years being even better! Now…on to Mister Jason Geyer!
So tell me about your life of collecting. Where and when did it start?
I had picked up toys growing up, but once junior high school started I pretty much left them behind (I did get the first series of Return of the Jedi figures, but that was the end). Since I read comics through high school, a friend got me 3 Super Powers figures in 1984 for my birthday; Green Lantern, Batman, and Aquaman. I put them in a drawer and forgot about them. About 5 years later when I was in college, in mid 1989, another friend was going through some boxes of crap I had and stumbled across those old Super Powers figures; he wanted them as he was a big DC comics fan. The guy who originally gave them to me had died a year earlier and I felt odd about giving them away, so my friend went out to find a set for himself. He called me later that day in excitement that they not only had those characters at the flea market, but that they had made A LOT of other DC characters, including Dr. Fate and Green Arrow! Within a few weeks we had tracked down most of them and were now picking up the new Dark Knight Collection from Kenner, along with trying to replace all the Star Wars toys we had as kids. I dropped the comics and a new obsession was born! In short order I got a job at Toys R Us and really became aware of what was being made, and what companies did what (not to mentioned memorizing the old TRU layout completely!)
What are your all time favorite lines to collect?
Super Powers. Vintage Star Wars. 6" Marx figurines. I’m digging DCUC pretty good right now.
Be honest now…just how much stuff do you have?
Too much. A few thousand figures, although I’m in the process of dumping most of them as they’ve been boxed away for 10 years. In general, I didn’t pick up much during the 2000s and now only get DCUC regularly, with the odd new Star Wars or Marvel Universe figure thrown in. I worked as a toy designer for around 10 years, and every week would go look for goofy random stuff to put in my office, so I have boxes and boxes of a "non-collection" that I like for the kitsch factor and don’t want to throw out, but have no idea what to do with.
Tell me a bit about how AFi came to exist?
I had created my first web site in 1995, and my Super Powers archives in 1996, and then merged my site with Eric G. Myer’s awesome website to become the new RTM in 1997. After leaving that in 2000 I pretty much set up ToyOtter.com as a non-updating repository for all my archives and stable content, happy to rarely touch it and let that part of my life go past. Plus, having to design toys all day at that point I no longer was quite as enamored with the business as I had used to be. I had known Daniel Pickett for a few years after I moved to California and greatly admired him, both as a friend and as a web presence. He had more than taken the place that EGM and I once had in providing a conduit between the creators and the fans of the major toy companies and was expanding his reach all the time.
He had been writing the premier column for another website, and after having been there for so many years was thinking about starting his own place where he could be freer to focus on what he wanted to without worrying about the other aspects of the site. I had designed the logo for his existing column (as I did for others there, as well) and so I agreed to make him a new one for his new venture, whenever that might happen. Unfortunately, while we were discussing possibilities the other site locked him out, and so I got mad at the shoddy way they treated him I ended up designing and implementing the entire site within a week. Not a fun time. I still thought of it entirely as Daniel’s site, though, and thought that that was the end of my involvement.
However, being around Daniel and seeing his unbridled enthusiasm for the world of toys really rekindled that same feeling in me, and I found myself being more and more involved, to the point that when we started discussing a refresh of the site and the look Daniel begin deferring much of the design decisions to me. If you ask him, I’m sure he’ll tell you he considered me a partner from day one, it just took a while for me to come around.
From that point on we’ve added other partners and bloggers, and have built up (in my mind) the best toy community on the web.
In five short years, you seem to have become one of the spots for toy news. How does that make you feel?
Both good and disappointed. Good that we have a really fantastic community, and that is is still very open and easy to become a part of for anyone who loves toys. Disappointed in that it could be so, so much bigger than it is. The reality is that we’re all in middle age now, and have demanding jobs and a lot of responsibilities outside of that, so we can only devote so much time to the site to keep it going at the level we want (heck, I’m trying to do these answers in between working on logos during my lunch hour). If we had the time, though, I have no doubt AFi would be the best fan destination online based on the talent involved. The fact that we ARE at the top of the class, so to speak, is due mainly to Daniel’s unceasing efforts in keeping the news and content fresh and Peter "Vader" Go’s unbelievable technical brilliance in keeping us not only running smoothly but also makes sure everything under the hood is the latest and greatest, all in service of delivering the best possibly experience to our community. Everything we do here is done in an effort to streamline and maximize functionality, not to just add layers of crap to wade through to get to more ads, and lots of bells and whistles that may look neat but serve no purpose.
The other thing I have to call out is that we get such great news/scoops/etc. all because of Daniel. *Everybody* talks to him, and they do it not because they are trying to bribe him or use the site in some way, but because he is friends with all of them. There is nothing fake about him, and people become his friends as soon as they meet him, because his passion is genuine and he’s an amazingly smart guy (who is very interesting in his own right) who wants to know about them and their work, not just use them for 10 minutes to get a scoop or a soundbite. I am amazingly lucky to have him as a partner, because he raises the level of my work, and I get to bask in a bit of the reflected glow of his hard work. I’m treated much better as a member of AFi at cons than I ever was before, and that’s all Daniel. Plus, he’s a very good friend to me personally; we have always been on the same page for pretty much everything as far as the site is concerned. I don’t think we’ve ever had an argument in the decade that I’ve known him! I don’t care too much about what people say about AFi, or me at all, but I do get very angry when the bitter ones attack Daniel because of who he knows when they don’t know him at all. It’s totally undeserved. Grrr!
How you think the toy world has changed in the past five years?
Oil prices up, toy prices up, merchants out of business, companies out of business, much less opportunity all the way around. I need a very long blog to articulate my thoughts about the dark days for toys that we are deep into right now. I’m not sure if it’s going to get better.
Do you feel sites like AFi have a certain amount of influence in the industry, ala ‘Ain’t it Cool News’, etc.?
Yes, but only a very small amount. The reality is that the toy process is such a big ship that to turn it around takes a huge amount of will AND a massive lead time. Even when mistakes are caught or new info comes to light, it’s often way too late to do anything about it. So the majority of the things that should be influenced by having these kind of sites don’t really impact the actual day to day running of the toy lines. Where the influence does come in is in the broad strokes, like keeping JLU as a minor collector line, or going after the master DC license for DCUC, or bringing back MOTU online. Or even in the really, really obscure characters getting made for Star Wars. But in general, the industry is such a secretive, labyrinthine behemoth that the influence is more indirect and influences trends more than specific events. I think the sites do influence individuals to become involved where they might not have, and help peel the curtain back on what is still a fairly mysterious process to most folks. Where the influenece has been most felt is just in the very nature of the relationship now; when I was at RTM toy companies treated us as fans only, and it took a long time to get them to see the online world as legitimate press. Now many of them have their own online staff and presence to cater to fans, and that is due largely to the toy sites.
When it comes to toys, like much pop culture, there are some things that you just can’t anticipate. What are some of the biggest surprises of the past five years? Any lines you thought would be big, but failed to find an audience?
That I’m still collecting toys!
I think DCUC in general is a huge surprise, to say nothing of the willingness to fight to get Super Powers represented in that. That KB Toys went out of business. That Hasbro managed to kill Indiana Jones in one year, or Mattel managed to kill Dark Knight in one year. That Marvel decided to get out of the toy business entirely!
What would you like to see more of in the toy world? Less of? (Without offending any of your buddies!)
More small companies making toys. Less licenses. Less nostalgia. Less repacks/repaints. I think toy companies just don’t want to take chances in Boys Toys anymore, and retailers don’t want to sell unlicensed properties.
What are you looking forward to for the rest of 2010?
A DCUC Quadrex (and Silicon, and Rocketman, and Howitzer…). Sleeping. Not going to SDCC. Visiting Daniel in Cali!
Where do you see AFi in the next five years?
Still on top. Hopefully we’ll still have an industry to cover.
Finally…what’s the secret? Why do people collect toys??
Pure insanity. And nostalgia. We’re all chasing what we loved as kids. (See: state of comics industry.)
I wish I could write a lot more in detail on these, but I’m outta time! But I have to call out our awesome "staff" which is all volunteer (like all of us!): Peter Go, who really turned this site into what it is, and did in a few weeks what I couldn’t figure out how to do in a year of trying to learn the code. Peter enables me to not worry about what is possible when figuring out new features or ways to make AFi better. Ryan (Superfly), Dan (CantinaDan), Erik (Superfriend), Jim, Jeff, and Mike for keeping the forums clean, contributing more to our success than they probably realize, and being good friends who got each other’s backs. All of our bloggers, who further enlighten me with their viewpoints and info that I otherwise wouldn’t know….and Abby, for her totally awesome videos that help AFi raise the bar for the other toy sites. And thank you, Chip, for all you’ve done to further cement AFi as THE Super Powers authority (more on that later, folks!) and being a welcome link back to my RTM days when toy collecting was fun!
Jason "ToyOtter" Geyer – April 2010