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 Post subject: The SDCC Toy Guru Interview
PostPosted: Tue Jul 27, 2010 12:11 am 
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Scott Neitlich, known as Toy Guru to fans online, is the brand manager for DC Comics, Ghostbusters and Masters of the Universe at Mattel. Being that Mattel is the biggest toy company in the world and DC is one of it's biggest licenses, you can pretty much guess that Scott is a very busy man at fan events like the San Diego Comic Con. Everybody and his brother wants to ask him questions and spend time with him. Thankfully, Scott graciously granted our request for an interview. He was very generous with his time and thoughtfully answered all our questions. A million thanks to him and the publicity department at Mattel for allowing this interview to happen. And a big thank you to the men of Critical Mess for coming up with some great questions.

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Scott is on the left. Eric "Cornboy" Mayse of the Fabulous Four Horsemen is on the right.

And so, on Preview Night, a couple of days before Mattel's DC panel, Scott and I found a quiet little corner of San Diego that no one was using. I turned on my tape recorder, handed him the microphone and off we went.

SDcomics: There often seems to be at least one nice surprise in each DCUC wave. Does the Mattel team specifically like to choose characters that have never before seen plastic, 6" or otherwise, as a welcome challenge, or is that even a consideration in selection?

Toy Guru: That's absolutely something we look at. I mean, it's always about keeping that balance of making sure the core guys are out there, both the core guys that moms and kids know, like Batman, Aquaman and Flash, and the core guys that fans know, like Blue Beetle and Martian Manhunter, and then on top of that, doing characters like Jonah Hex and Golden Pharaoh. We love doing characters that have never seen plastic before. Kamandi was a huge one, because he's never had a toy. Ever.

SD: We seem to be halfway through the projected 'five-year-plan' for DCUC. Has the line developed as it was originally mapped out, especially in respect to character selection and team/group building? What sort of changes, if any, have occurred, and why?

TG: Well, I actually should clarify something. There's never been a "five-year plan". That's something that fans have propagated. With Masters of the Universe, we actually do have a Seven Year Plan and we know who's coming out but that's because we have a finite number of characters with them. With DC, we make sure that each year we do a nice representation of fan demanded, obscure and mom friendly characters. It changes everyday. It's a constantly changing animal. There is no master plan. We had characters we knew we wanted to get to, like we held Martian Manhunter for a later wave. We wanted to make sure we didn't burn through characters too quick. But we don't have a master calendar listing every character like we do with MOTU.

SD: Do you ever worry about running out of iconic characters?

TG: Not with the countless variations that DC has. I mean, you have Aquaman, and you have bearded Aquaman, and classic Hal Jordan, and White Lantern Hal Jordan, and Batman has had a zillion outfits. So ... no.

SD: The success of the Batman: Brave and the Bold animated series has brought a wealth of obscure and under-represented DC characters into the mainstream. Has the cartoon had an effect on what Mattel might consider too 'out there' for DCUC, as well as other lines?

TG: Well, we do love the fact that the show has gotten out so many obscure characters. There was Kite Man. Kamandi was in two episodes. It's been great that kids recognize them more. But at the end of the day, the DC Universe Classics line is not aimed at kids. We felt confident that we could have done those characters even if they weren't on the show. It's awesome that they were. I mean, there might be characters that appear on the show that might make us say "Oh, we should totally do him!" but we would have done them anyway.

SD: So you don't necessarily worry about media tie-ins with DC Universe Classics?

TG: It's great when they happen, like we'll be doing Jonah Hex around the time that the DVD comes out, but other than that, no. It's all fair game.

SD: Does the classic colored Robin repaint from the Wal-Mart 2 pack mean we will not see a newly sculpted Robin in his iconic costume he had for nearly 20 years?

TG: Not at all. That does not take the place of a classic Robin at all. That was actually aimed at moms. I'll confess. Those Wal-Mart packs are aimed at moms. Anytime you see main characters paired up, it's a mom pack. We know that collectors want a classic Robin, and that does not take the place of one.

SD: Okay, but for the most part, DC Universe Classics is aimed at adult characters?

TG: It is, but it has to have that "mom" interest too, to keep going. That's why you always see Superman, Batman and Aquaman out there. But we find ways to get them out there, like in the two packs, as opposed to putting them in the main line over and over again.

SD: Are we any closer to an accurate George Perez/Crisis on Infinite Earths Lex Luthor battlesuit in DCUC?

TG: We get that one a lot. We'd love to. The problem is that would take the place of another re-tooled figure. I know that the version that came out was not 100 percent correct for the comics. But at the time that it was done our license was more limited than it is now. So now we do have the rights to that exact look. The question is, do we do that or do we tool a new character? And usually, it's like "Do we not do Obsidian in wave 14 so we can do a Battlesuit Lex that's slightly different?" Yeah, we can do that, but it's tough, because that would cancel out another new one. Yeah, it's a tough one. We do wanna do it, but there's nothing on the books now.

SD: Are there any figures you wanted to do but couldn't for some reason?

TG: There's a lot. Swamp Thing has come up a lot. We still don't have the rights for Swamp Thing. He's got to appear in the comic books, back in the DC Universe proper. Not a flashback like in Action Comics a few months back. Um, we wouldn't do some of the 1940's Nazi type characters for obvious reasons.

SD: So you wouldn't do Captain Nazi?

TG: No, we're not going to do Captain Nazi, even with a different name. We're not touching that. We're Mattel. We're the world's biggest toy company. We make Fisher Price toys. We're not making a Nazi. I'll say that on the record. For the most part, DC's been a great partner. There are characters that we didn't have access to, but because of fan demand, like Lobo with JLU and DC Universe Classics, we were able to do that because fans showed that they really wanted it. We keep fighting the good fight everyday. We keep going to our partners and working with them to find unique ways to bring out those characters. And I think we've done a good job.

SD: Some of us would love to see a horse sculpted for DCUC for the characters like Shining Knight and Jonah Hex. A Winged Victory would be so cool. Is this something you've discussed doing?

TG: We've absolutely discussed this. Multiple times. We've talked about doing a build-a-horse for a wave and releasing different characters so you can customize the horse and have, say, Comet. It just keeps getting pushed out by other things that happen. It's tough. You only have like five waves a year. And a horse would not only take the place of a collect-and-connect, but all the characters in that wave. Like doing Shining Knight, doing Jonah Hex, or something. We'd love to do it. We are doing Swift Wind, which is a six inch scale horse. There might be a chance to do it as maybe a boxed set or something. We'd love to do it. There's no plans right now. But it's been talked about.

SD: Speaking of the Shining Knight, there are two versions of the Seven Soldiers of Victory in the DC Universe. Which would you be more inclined to make first, the classic team from the 1940's or Grant Morrison's more modern version?

TG: You know, I throw that back at the fans. Which would you guys like to see? Let us know on mattycollector.com Which would you like to see?

SD: Me? Both.

TG: Which would you like first?

SD: I would take the classic first.

TG: Alright.

SD: Okay, now for the JSA. Is there any chance of a Justice Society boxed set, with Golden Age versions of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman?

TG: Again, that's something that has come up in discussions. There's no plans right now, but we're definitely big on JSA, big on Golden Age. We're still working on ways to bring them out. Nothing to confirm right now, though.

SD: Would reissues of Alan Scott, Dr. Fate and Wildcat with different colors be possible? For example, Alan Scott's cape was originally supposed to be black. It's purple now, but in the comics it was originally supposed to be black. Wildcat had gloves instead of taped fists and Dr. Fate should have gold instead of yellow.

TG: You know, things like that, if it's a straight repaint, it's a lot easier. If there's new tooling involved, like with Wildcat's hands, that's going to be a lot tougher. Because, again: Do we redo Wildcat with a different set of hands? Or do a completely new character that has a new head and a new cape? Doing a hand is just as expensive as doing a whole cape. It's the tool, it's not the size of the tool. We're always looking at ways of doing this and finding creative solutions. We know fans want it.

SD: What about the JSA characters that have never seen plastic? I know you don't like answering questions about specific characters, but there's the Golden Age Mr. Terrific and Johnny Thunder. Are they considered too obscure?

TG: C'mon. We just did Kamandi. We did Golden Pharaoh. No one is too obscure.

SD: Golden Age Atom. Which costume would you use?

TG: Which one would fans like to see? Let us know.

SD: Would it be possible to do both?

TG: That would probably be a good variant, I think, for that character. Just like we did with Starman in wave 15. We try to cover characters that way.

SD: Do you plan on extending into the 1970s for the JSA figures, like you did with Power Girl? Any chance the other 4 members (E2 Robin, red and purple Red Tornado, Huntress, and Star Spangled Kid) might get some love?

TG: Like I said, it's all possible. We're only up to wave 15. We'd love for this line to keep going for years and years. There's a lot of characters. The question you asked earlier, about running out of characters, just because you see one version now, just because we've done one Robin, it doesn't mean we won't do another one. Even Obsidian, it doesn't mean we won't do another version of him.

SD: You've mentioned before that you will finish groups you start. What about Doc Magnus (Metal Men), Snapper Carr (JLA) and the Chief (Doom Patrol)? Are non-costumed characters considered viable?

TG: Yeah, absolutely. I don't think the Doom Patrol's complete without the Chief. The wheelchair doesn't stop him from being made. We can always reuse it for Oracle or something. Snapper Carr would be awesome.

SD: Are we going to get a better ranged ball mounter head with more movement?

TG: We are always, always looking at ways to improve articulation and working with our vendors and sculpting. Look what we did with Blue Beetle. Remember back in waves four and five when people were getting errors. We've fixed that. I think people know that we're committed to fixing issues and constantly making improvements.

SD: Are the waves going to shrink in number of figures per wave or are they going to remain the same?

TG: Some things change from year to year. We'll announce what's happening in 2011 at our fan panel. It'll be enough to support a collect and connect, basically.

SD: What are your plans for Movie Masters? Any chance of the Christopher Reeve Superman or Michael Keaton Batman characters?

TG: We do have plans for more Movie Masters. We're not saying what films yet, but we're interested in all the big ones from DC.

SD: I know that you've said you have plans for the Legion. Are you going to stick with one particular era or will be picking and choosing from the Legion's entire 51 year history? What about the Legion of Super-Villains or the Legion of Substitute Heroes? What have been some of the design challenges you've encountered or think you will encounter when looking at the Legion's cast?

TG: The Legion's a tough one, because it's such a huge team, and there have been so many different versions of them over the years. I can definitely tell fans, when they see what we are doing, we'll announce it at the panel, we are in no way sticking with just one era. We'd love to get to the Legion in lots of eras. We will focus on one specific era with our first release. With the Substitutes, I'd love to get to Rainbow Girl, Chlorophyll Kid ... they're great. Both Bill (Benecke) and I are huge Legion fans. You'll see that tomorrow.

SD: What were some of the design challenges for the Legion?

TG: Just like with any other DC characters, some of them are 100 percent new tool, some of them are just new heads.

SD: Which DCUC figures have been the most difficult to design/produce since Gentleman Ghost?

TG: That would be more of a Bill Benecke question. He's our designer. I don't see him around. I'm trying to think of anyone that had specific issues where we had to go back. Almost every character has had some issues we've had to work out. No one's coming to mind who was in any way more difficult than others. We're always fixing problems and bugs and just trying to make the best figures possible.

SD: As the larger BAF choices dry up, could we see additional accessories in the DCUC line? Metron's chair, for example?

TG: That's something we've looked at. Metron's chair might not be something exciting to do as a collect and connect, but it might be something we do in a boxed set or as a comic-con item or something like that.

SD: How many large size characters are left that you think are viable?

TG: I think there's a lot. You have A-List characters like Doomsday, we have five of them on our collect and connect running on Wizard right now. There's new characters being created all the time, like Nekron just came back. There's plenty of big characters left. But we are looking at other things too.

SD: Freedom Fighters. You've name checked them a couple of times. Where do we stand on Freedom Fighters figures with DC Comics starting a new ongoing FF comic?

TG: We'd love to do them as toys.

SD: Would you be more inclined to do classic Freedom Fighters before the modern versions?

TG: Again, what would fans like to see? Usually, fans go overwhelmingly more in one direction than another. We usually go by them.

SD: Finally, one last question from SDcomics: What about a blue and white Perez era Zatanna? Some of us don't consider the Satellite era of the JLA complete without Zee in that costume.

TG: Just like with your first question about Robin, it's absolutely not off the table to do a variant. Zatanna's a major character with a lot of fan power. When it comes to fans of the comics, she's an A-List character. When it comes to moms, she's a C-List character. But yeah, Zatanna's huge. We'll get to other versions of her. We know everyone wants to finish the Satellite team. We're totally aware of that. Everyone thinks we're in this bubble and we don't read these things online. Like Danielle right here can attest, we both spend so much time online reading the boards. Danielle, introduce yourself to actionfigureinsider.com and Critical Mess.

Danielle McLachlan: Hello, my name is Danielle McLachlan. I started on the brand about two months ago.

SD: Nice! You work with Scott?

DM: Yes, I'm now working with Scott on DC, Ghostbusters and Masters of the Universe.

SD: How long have you been a fan of DC Comics?

DM: Um, about two months. (Laughs)

TG: Danielle was brought on more to help with the online experience. Her background is more with social networking. And really improving the experience of buying and going on matty. Bill and I are kind of the DC Comics nerds, and Danielle is more the social networking expert.

DM: Yes. And I have been doing that for quite a long time. You know, because the fan community is such a big part of the brand. We're really looking to enhance that experience, looking to be the fan connection online, send questions to the forums and taking social networking to the next level.

SD: Excellent. By any chance, do you have a business card?

DM: I do.

SD: If I email you the links to our forums, could take a look?

DM: Oh, definitely.

SD: Outstanding! Thank you so much! And that concludes the interview. Thank you so much, Scott!

TG: Thank you!

DM: Thanks!


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 Post subject: Re: The SDCC Toy Guru Interview
PostPosted: Tue Jul 27, 2010 5:19 am 
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Wow! Great interview, Mike! :D


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 Post subject: Re: The SDCC Toy Guru Interview
PostPosted: Tue Jul 27, 2010 1:03 pm 
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Thanks Mike! Some great insight.


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 Post subject: Re: The SDCC Toy Guru Interview
PostPosted: Tue Jul 27, 2010 5:09 pm 
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If only the monthly Q & A read like that we wouldn't have anything to complain about.

Kudos to you and those that helped you organize it. Very well done.

Thanks for sharing.

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"It's not perfect, but I'm kinda excited to have 'em" - Jason Lenzi.

Couldn't have said it better myself.


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