If you haven’t already noticed, this week marks the Wooden Anniversary of Action Figure Insider. (No, really, it’s wooden. Look it up. Luckily it’s not the third anniversary: leather). And to celebrate and contribute a bit more, I thought I’d do something different with my blog privileges, and interview co founder Daniel Pickett. I picked Pickett, ’cause he’s the guy that first got in touch with me all those years ago, asking if I’d like to be on a SDCC panel. And it’s been a beautiful friendship ever since. I tried asking the tough, probing questions that the discerning readers of AFI wanted asked. Let’s see if I succeeded. Either way, Happy Anniversary from me to Action Figure Insider! Take it away Daniel! :
Ok, first things first. Tell me about your life of collecting, where and when did it start?
I feel like I’ve always collected action figures or at least been
surrounded by action figures. It started when I was a wee lad back in
the early 70’s with Mego’s World’s Greatest Super Heroes, Micronauts,
Shogun Warriors and then all of that dovetailed into Star Wars (and
the original Lego castle and space lines).
There were only two years in my life, my Jr. and Sr. year in High
School that I DIDN’T collect action figures. At that time I was
getting a lot of the G1 Transformers stuff. I never got RID of my
collection in those two years I just stopped buying new stuff.
Thinking back on it now, that’s when I first started dating and had my
first car… so I imagine most of my disposable income went to those
Then in 1989 the first Burton Batman movie came out, and after that I
was back in. I started buying the Toy Biz Batman line (which turned
into the DC Super Heroes line), then the Hasbro Batman: The Animated
Series line, and then the Playmates Star Trek line, and then Toy Biz’s
Marvel/X-Men lines…and I was officially BACK into toy collecting!
It was also about that time 1991 that I was reading DC Comics again
and I found out about Kenner’s Super Powers line which I had ignored
when it was originally out. My buddy Doug had let me borrow the run
of J.M. DeMattis “Dr. Fate,” which I really liked. That’s when he
said the words that would forever change my collecting “Ya know…
there’s a figure of him…”
What are your all time favorite lines to collect? (honestly, I was expecting two or three titles from Daniel!).
• Super Powers (loose, carded and custom)
• DC Direct 6.5″
• DC Direct 13″
• Justice League Unlimited
• DC Universe Classics
• DC Infinite Heroes
• Doctor Who
• Marvel Legends
• Marvel Universe 3 ¾”
• Disney/Pixar’s Cars
• Battlestar Galctica
• MiniMates (Marvel, DC, BSG, misc)
• NECA’s TMNT
• Classic Star Wars (OT and EU stuff)
• Vintage Star Wars
Ok, be honest, just how much stuff do you have?
Too much! I’ve really got more stuff than I know what to do with.
I’m embarrassed by the amount of stuff I have… close to 40 years of
stuff. I would need a 6 bedroom home to display it all.
On top of what I have on display at home and at work, my garage is
FULL, I have a large storage unit FULL and there’s still an
unreasonable amount of stuff back in my folks attic.
And that’s JUST toys. I have over 30 long boxes of comics between
home, storage and folks garage. Just typing all that makes my heart
hurt a bit.
I remember someone describing my old toy room as: “You know that
moment in a movie about a serial killer when the protagonist walks
into a hidden room and there are all the articles and pictures of the
protagonist and the room starts spinning? Being around this many
toys at once is THAT disorienting!”
Tell me a bit about how AFI came to be.
The nutshell version of this story is: I was a volunteer writer for
another toy website for 5 years. It was always a pipedream of mine to
have my own site, but I didn’t have the skills to build a site or run
it. Eventually things fell apart at the old site, and I was forced to
move quite suddenly.
It was then Jason and I teamed up to start a new site. Jason built AFi
from the ground up in 3 weeks. We worked close to each other in our
“day jobs” so we started having lunch together and planning/reviewing
the site each day. I had already come up with the name, and I told
Jason I wanted it to sort of look like that tabloid format.
Jason is SUCH a creative force… He has such an eye for design. He’s
an idea factory. He’s all about keeping things simple. Jason and I
just click and work really well together. I don’t think we’ve ever
really had a disagreement in four years. He can always back up his
opinions and choices in a logical manor, so I just go with what he
We talk on the phone at least once a week and we email each other all the time.
I miss not living/working in the same city anymore and I miss our
In five short years, you seem to have become one of THE spots for
toy news. How does that make you feel?
Great. It’s what I always wanted. When I first started writing about
toys it was because I couldn’t find any information on the lines I was
collecting. I figured that instead of waiting around for someone to
cover “super hero” figures, that I could just do it myself. And 11
years later, with the help of a lot of great friends and really
incredible people, we have just the kind of site that I always wanted
to “hang out” at and be a part of.
I LOVE the community that comes to AFi to read the news and discuss
the issues. What Jason and I always wanted was a site where
like-minded collectors could come and be safe from the lunatic fringe
of the hobby and where industry people know that their products will
be treated with respect.
Tell me how you think the toy world has changed in the past five years?
Wow. A lot has changed. A lot of the smaller retailers have folded
and the industry has really felt the huge void left by Tower Records,
Musicland, Suncoast, PlayCo, KayBee and the others. It’s harder for
the medium and smaller sized companies to justify certain projects.
Toys R Us is attempting to pick up the slack where some of those
fallen retailers and want to become “Collector Headquarters” but they
still have a way to go as far as getting reliable inventory into
Playsets are mostly a thing of the past. Vehicles are getting fewer
and further between. Many retailers are ordering the bare minimum of
product to justify it’s manufacture, so collectors pass on items when
the first see things there is a chance they won’t see them again at
their local stores.
Prices are going up and it’s tougher to justify some purchases. $9
is the new $5.
But in the “plus column” there are so many great licenses being picked
up now. Great retro properties that I always wished they would have
made figures of.
Do you feel sites like AFI have a certain amount of influence in
the industry, ala ‘Ain’t it Cool News’, etc.?
Yes. I absolutely do. 11 years ago when I started writing about
action figures there was little to NO communication between most of
the large toy companies and the collector press. Now companies use
sites like Afi as sort of mini-focus groups and quite often solicit
information from our readers both officially and unofficially.
I consult with different companies all the time. I wouldn’t have that
opportunity to do that without Afi. And I know that there are a lot
of industry folks that read and respect the work we are doing at Afi.
The polls, posts and constructive criticisms posted on AFi have had a
direct result in products getting made and sometimes changed/improved.
When it comes to toys, like much of 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?
Hmmmm… I don’t know that I’ve been surprised by anything. I feel
like after all this time I have a pretty good sense on what will be a
hit or not. There are certainly lines that I really liked that I
wish would have run longer, such as the DC Comics Mini-Mates, Toy
Biz’s 12” Marvel line…
Ok. Here’s one- I still REALLY want to see the continuation of NECA’s
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle line. That was hands down one of the BEST
lines of 2008-2009. I understand that they didn’t really take off in
the overseas market, but MAN they are great figures, and NECA had such
great plans for the line. I’d love to see that line continue. But I
also understand what’s holding it up.
What would you like to see MORE of in the toy world? LESS of?
I’d like to see MORE OF:
Playsets- even if they are just cardboard like Hasbro did for the
Cantina and Jabba’s Palace a few years back. Or laminated like the old
Mego sets. And if not playsets than at least cool “set pieces.” Toy
companies have fully caught on that if done well this is a great
alternative to Build-a-figures.
Taking chances on licenses- I still want an Audrey II figure from
“Little Shop of Horrors” and a line of “Greatest American Hero”
Repaints that make sense.
More crazy reviews from Anthony James!
I’d like to see LESS OF:
Repackaging the SAME version of the SAME figure over and over again.
Let’s change it up a bit with some clever repaints!
Collector hostility and sense of entitlement. It seems to be getting
worse and worse. I keep reading collectors talking about companies
doing things that are “slaps in the face” and even describing events
as “rapes.” There’s just no filter on some people and they think they
can say whatever they want, even on topics they don’t understand. No
one is out to get you. And typing “Screw You!” or “f#@% Off!” isn’t
constructive criticism and I really doubt that it makes the writer
feel any better after they type it.
If you are getting that angry at your HOBBY… then maybe you need a new hobby.
What are you looking forward to for the rest of 2010?
I’m really looking forward to what will be shown at SDCC 2010. Comic
Con seems to be even more important than Toy Fair these days as far as
new reveals from most companies. It really is “Burning Man for
Nerds” as Abby calls it.
Also my daughter will finish up 1st grade and start 2nd grade in 2010.
Jason has warned me he might come out to visit me in LA sometime this year.
We’ve got some cool new stuff cooking for Afi still to come this year.
Where do you see AFI in the next five years?
Bigger and more robust. We hope more people find us and join the
community and join in the discussions on the message boards and blog
comments. We want to continue to promote ALL toy lines. I know some
folks still kind of think of us as the Mattel toy boards or the super
hero toy boards, but we all collect other lines and like to talk about
a lot of other lines too. I’d like to grow the site so there’s a lot
more chatter about things like urban vinyl, or 1/6th scale figures, or
Lego… all of it. We need more Transformers guys here talking
Transformers, and MiniMates guys here talking Minimates. We want all
of those like-minded fans and collectors to come over and join in the
discussion, even if they are part of other sites and message boards.
It’s a big internet! There’s room for all!
We want to have more authorities on more/different lines call Afi home
to help lead those discussions and to help us feature more diverse
products on the main page and in the archives.
There’s some other really cool stuff that we have just started talking
about doing with Afi that I’m excited about and hope to be able to
talk about soon.
When I think about what we started from, and what we have already
become in just 5 years I almost can’t believe it. And very little of
it is because of anything I’ve done. It has to do with what Jason and
Peter have done. Because without them this whole thing would probably
just be an email new letter that I sent out every 3 months. Peter Go
is a miracle worker. He does SO much stuff behind the scenes at Afi,
and the crazy thing is I’ve never actually met him in person or even
spoken to him on the phone. He’s single handedly responsible for
getting Afi back up and running after that one bad hack to the site a
few years back. He does things that I can’t begin to understand. He
does things for us that I would never even think of. It’s not an
exaggeration to say that without him Afi would not be here 5 years
later. I can’t thank Peter aka Vader enough.
Jason is never satisfied. And I mean that in a good way. He is
constantly looking at how to streamline things or make them look
better. His eye for design is like no one I have ever met. I’ve said
before that I don’t think Jason really understands how talented he is.
Jason just gets it. Anything you ask him to do he exceeds
expectations. You couldn’t ask for a better partner.
It’s because of the guys like Superfly, Superfriend, Cantina Dan,
SDComics, Jim Able and the other mods and support staff at Afi.
These guys are all old friends of ours that take time out of their
lives to help out. They are a huge help both on the message boards,
at cons and behind the scenes.
I also have to give a lot of props to my girlfriend Abby. She REALLY
goes above and beyond the call of duty at every turn. This sort of
thing was never her world, but she recognizes my passion for it and
not only accepts it, but she participates in it. The videos that she
produces for AFi are professional quality and blow me away.
Everyone reading this should subscribe to the AFi YouTube channel and
check out her work: http://www.youtube.com/user/JuliusMarxAFI
Finally I have to give props to the AFi community. You guys are so
great, so smart, so generous and so fun. I read every single post on
the message boards each day and I love the respect you treat each
other with, the diversity you bring to the boards and the
level-headedness with which you discuss things. That’s not to say
that it never gets heated or passionate on the boards, but the
community polices themselves so well that it’s rare that we ever have
to step into anything.
Finally, what’s the secret? WHY do people collect toys??
I think we’re all addicted to that new toy smell!
I can’t speak for every other collector, but for me I just like having
the stuff. I loved my toys as a kid and I played with most of my old
toys until they broke down into their periodic elements. However,
there was always stuff that I wanted them to make back in the day, and
now, thanks to this “Golden Age of toys” I can HAVE that bigger
Millennium Falcon and AT-AT, I can HAVE toys based on that old Flash
Gordon movie, or Muppets, or the Doom Patrol, or Ghostbusters, or
Dragon’s Lair, or Superman the Movie… the possibilities are ENDLESS!
Plus NEW stuff that I’m into like LOST or Battlestar Galactica… they
are making that stuff too! It’s out there, I can have it. So I buy
it. And I love it!
Thanks to EVERYONE that helped get us to our 5 year anniversary! We
couldn’t have done it without you!
Daniel “JuliusMarx” Pickett – April 2010