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So the news hit today that a county in California has banned fast food toys in some fashion. As someone who designed these toys for many years I’m of two minds on the subject.

First and foremost, it’s not really the government’s job to police what you are allowed to purchase if it is not harmful. Yes, childhood obesity is a pretty bad thing, and is even worse for our future than it is today (see: Wall-E). But I’d much rather see them crack down on the way things are cooked, the ingredients in them, and the choices being offered first. I do applaud that they at least try to make this make sense, and only take away toys from kids’ meals that exceed a certain calorie/fat level. But the sad fact is that pretty much all of them exceed that level.

What makes me not hate this altogether is that I think by leaning so heavily on licenses you are de facto bribing the kids to eat at your restaurant. Fast food places learned in the 1980s that kids are the one who make the decision where to eat in the family, and they saw that by dangling the best toy property in front of those kids they’ll win the battle. Dave Thomas never liked that Wendy’s had toys, because he wanted the food to stand on its own feet. But he was realistic enough to know that he couldn’t compete with McDonald’s and Burger King without them.

I think it you went back to having non-licensed toys that are once again just something to keep kids quiet and not used as a traffic builder/profit center it might make the licenses last a bit longer in the retail toy world instead of burning out so quick, and let creativity and craftsmanship rise in the fast food toys without having the license as a crutch. And maybe then parents and kids would pick the place to eat at that had the best food and not the coolest superhero of the month.

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For the first time, I’m actually getting all of a new DC Universe Classics wave without looking for it, without hunting it down, and without paying more than retail cost. In fact, I’m paying less! I ordered the entire wave through Amazon a couple of weeks ago, and got them all for the average retail price of $14.99 each. Plus, there is no tax going through Amazon, and since I’m signed up for Amazon Prime I didn’t pay shipping, either. Pretty cool! I got a notice that they all shipped today, and Negative Man is already here, having shipped a few days early for some reason.

If I can pull this off for every wave I may never go on a toy hunt again. And I’ll be all the happier for it, too!

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OK, I didn’t make any new predictions for 2010, but in all honesty my predictions for 2009 can pretty much be reused without much modifications (the less said about my 2009 resolutions, the better. Ahem.) So how did I do in forecasting the future? Let’s take a look:

The toy industry is going to get worse in 2009.

I would say this one was on the money. Prices went up, quality went down, distribution was terrible across the board. SDCC exclusives caused a panic. Online toy sales were incredibly erratic. Lines were canceled, Star Wars/GI Joe faltered. It goes on and on.  Will it get better in 2010? I hope so, but really the most I’m wishing for right now is for prices to stay where they are, and not increase yet again before the economic recovery picks up steam. Every dollar they go up is a dollar that the companies will continue to keep even after things get better.

Toys R Us and Walmart will do very well. 

I think this was also true. Walmart is getting more and more exclusives, and we saw this year that they’ve been almost the only game in town for many new toys while Target has the same old stock languishing on shelves.  TRU needs to pick up the slack on distribution and quantities, but no one can deny that they are on an upswing over the last decade, and are filling the gap left by the collapse of Tower and Suncoast for smaller collector driven lines.

Hasbro & Mattel to initiate mergers…or spin-offs.

I kind of blew this one. I really though we’d see some consolidation with the industry in turmoil, but it seems they’d rather hike prices to make up for the shortfall in sales. With the economy showing signs of life, I’m backing off this one even further. 

Licensed toys will stay strong…but become even less worth paying big bucks for the license.

Yeah. Avatar, Terminator, Star Trek, TMNT, GI Joe, Star Wars have all fallen far from their heights or didn’t hit those heights to begin with.  The perennial superhero lines are doing OK, but only the Marvel movie lines are really hot. We’ll see overall how "How to Train Your Dragon" does as a Walmart exclusive line, but everything is still easy to find. Don’t look for Shrek to burn up the sales charts, either, although Toy Story 3 might do decent numbers. The sad fact is that no matter how bad sales get, don’t expect studios to back off the cost of these licenses anytime soon.

And those were my predictions! And as an added bonus, here is your moment of Bollywood greatness; is it Teen Wolf? E.T.? The Absent-Minded Professor? You got me!

YouTube Preview Image


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Wow, five years. I think this makes it the longest that I’ve been at one online "home" (not counting ToyOtter.com, which is really more of a rest stop than a home for new content). And it’s easily been the best place I’ve had the pleasure to be a part of.

So, to celebrate our "wooden anniversary" (thanks for that bit of knowledge, Mr. Lenzi), I’m going to write a series of blogs this week with each one being a follow-up to an older post that I’ve made, possibly even going back to old content on RTM and ToyOtter in the spirit of celebrating what has come before. Yes, believe it or not that means a new Ottertorial for every day this week!

I don’t believe it either.

And what could be a better way to kick this off than revisiting my very first blog that ran here at AFi? I’m speaking specifically about my appreciation of Funko’s Wacky Wobblers, in particular the ones based on Ad Icons. When I started collecting these things were much different in my life: I was a toy designer who liked the old marketing mascots, but outside of Wendy I hadn’t had a lot of contact with them (although you won’t believe how many times I pushed to get a head bobber made of Dave Thomas!)


These days, though, I actually do work in marketing, thinking up promotions for such diverse brands as Kraft, Castrol, Frito-Lay, Campbell’s, etc. And while I’ve tried a couple of times to push promotional merchandise on my bosses (sad to say I can guarantee you won’t be seeing a Frito Bandito Wobbler anytime soon) I really haven’t had much more opportunities to see cool retro stuff make it out than I used to.

And it seems like that’s how it goes for Funko, too. It’s been awhile since they’ve really pushed out any nostalgia properties; I talked with Brian Mariotti at Toy Fair this year and he confirms that they really don’t have any plans to make ad icon wobblers anymore. I can see where he’s coming from: back when they were a smaller company, Funko only made a few thousand of each Wobbler and the licenses were for small, one-shot runs. Those sold OK, but many of them took a little while to sell through all the way. And that was when they had outlets to sell them like Tower Records and Suncoast, which have gone the way of the dodo. Nowadays Funko plays with the big boys: they make hundred of thousands of Marvel and Star Wars Wobblers and sell them in big chains. The last one they made was the modern Burger King, and he’s easily available still.

So what it appears to be is that my collection is more or less complete…at least, it is as of a week ago. That’s when I acquired the last of the Wacky Wobbler Holy Grails: the Outback Kangaroo! Who, you say? The Outback Kangaroo?!? Since when does Outback Steakhouse have a mascot? Well, they don’t. Except for this Wobbler that was made solely for a corporate event and never available on the mass market. Funko used to (and stay may for all I know) make small runs of custom Wobblers for whoever wanted them, and better yet made them with actual packaging so they were considered as part of the overall collection. So you could pick up great icons like the Gorton’s Fisherman or the Empire Carpet Guy if you went to a little effort and expense. The only other corporate one I know that they did was Magic, the Old Navy dog who kinda existed as a real dog in their ads 10 years ago.

But Outback had no such mascot, so they created this boomerang throwing Kangaroo to fill the gap. I had never picked him up before as I refuse to spend more than $20 or so on any wobbler (I got lucky to start collecting when they first came out, as prices for some of these hit the hundreds of dollars, easily). I only have a few of the rarest ones already because I traded logos and website designs for them. So I pretty much forgot about getting a Kangaroo, and since he’s not really a legit mascot it didn’t bother me too much. Not enough to spend $100 in any case.

And then a couple of weeks ago I was looking over some old emails and noticed one from a few years back where I was watching an eBay auction for one. So I went to do a search to see if any of them still show up. And found one…for a Buy-It-Now of $12.95. Sold! And that, my friends, is the end of a collection. Why so cheap, you ask? Well, I think two things are in play here: one is the principle of "all good things come to those who wait", namely that toy prices in general are their highest shortly after the toy is released, when the maximum amount of competition is after it. As each collector’s need is satisfied, the demand goes down and supply goes up. Unless an item is truly rare, the longer you wait the easier it is to find. Ebay helps this factor tremendously. Second, the hobby of collecting these Wobblers has diminished quite a bit from the mid 2000s, when Funko was releasing new Wobblers every few months at short runs. So like me, if you aren’t always on the prowl for new items you just aren’t paying attention to what’s out there. Pretty much all of the "rare" wobblers that commanded hundreds of dollars a few years ago are readily available at reasonable prices.

Still, I do hope that one day Funko cranks out a few more of these. I really would like the rest of my favorite icons to make the grade: CrunchBerry Beast, Pizza Hut Pete, Sugar Pops Pete, King Ding Dong, or the Piggly Wiggly Pig among others. But if this is all I get, them I guess I’m pretty happy. After all, who would have though ANY of these guys would get a toy 30-40 years after their heyday? Not me. Although one day I still would like to see that Dave Thomas sitting on my shelf, pitching his square hamburgers to the rest of the marketing legends…


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Ok, so I broke down last night and bought a bunch of toys that I don’t technically collect or was looking for. And one of them, Luke Skywalker Snowspeeder Pilot, is so well-made that it just might be my favorite figure in a long, long time.


So I think I’m going to make a decision on my Star Wars collection in general based on this one figure: get rid of almost everything else. Now, I’ve been working to ditch the majority of my collection over the past year. How I’m going to do it will remain under wraps for the moment, but I’ve been sorting and documenting what I’ve picked up in the past 20 years as time has permitted (most of it is in storage). I had planned on getting rid of most of my Star Wars figures, having given away my entire vintage collection a few years back to friends with kids. But now that I’ve seen how nice the latest figures actually are (I stopped collecting Star Wars around the time of Attack of the Clones, with their stupid action features) I’m rethinking that a bit.

The toys that I’m keeping are small representative batches that make good displays. And the things that got me started in the first place, the figures that hold the only nostalgia for me are the original 21 figure from Star Wars, and the first set from The Empire Strikes Back. In fact, that first set from Empire holds the most memories from my childhood (although I can tell you where I got each and every one of the first 40 or so Kenner figures).  So here is what I’m going to do: replace a set of the first 32 Kenner vintage figures, and acquire the best Hasbro modern day versions of those figures to make one big display. And that’s it. No more Star Wars figures outside of those. I’d be lying if I didn’t say this idea wasn’t heavily inspired by our pal CantinaDan’s awesome evolution blogs. No joke, go check them out now!

And since I haven’t been paying attention the SW for the past 6 years or so, I’m asking all of you: What are the definitive versions of those original 32 characters? Post a link to the figure you think is the best one in the comments below, and I’ll keep everyone updated with my progress as I pick them up. (Picture links are a must, especially for ones like Boba Fett, who has way too many to choose from!)



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So I just got back from a futile trip to my local Walmart to look for DCUC 11, but I didn’t leave empty handed.

No, I instead found a plethora of Hasbro products that wore down my resolve and forced me to purchase them. Which items? Well, I’m glad you asked.  First off, I had decided to only acquire the Marvel Universe figures that were in the original Mattel Secret Wars line. But tonight I saw the new 3 3/4" Spider-Man line and had to pick up the Green Goblin and Venom. The Goblin will replace (in my mind) my old Mego Pocket Heroes Green Goblin, which I loved dearly as a lad of 8.  And now we finally have a Todd McFarlane version of Venom that can replace the one by Toy Biz waaaaay back in 1992. (Hey, do you realize that it’s been longer since Dazed & Confused was released in ’92 than it was from 1976 until 1992? Crazy!)

I would have left it at that, but I had to pass the Star Wars display on my way out. Now, I haven’t bought any Star Wars figures except the McQuarrie ones since 2002. But of course they now have a NEW SW concept figure out, the Empire Concept Snowtrooper (#2). And with it they have a finally perfect on-model Snowspeeder Luke, which was another favorite figure of mine as a lad of 9. 

So that was it. But as I left to toy section, I happened to look at the Xmas clearance section…where they had the MU Giant Battles figures for 50% off. I don’t really care about the big figures, but I did kind of want that Bucky Cap…

Damn you, Hasbro.



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Well, in the six or so months since I last updated the classic Super Powers line-up with DCUC figures we’ve seen a few more slots filled. It’s amazing to think of it, but within a year we should have (for the first time!) the entire Super Powers roster recreated with a modern day line. So once again, I’ve recreated the well known shot from the back of the 3rd series cards using DCUC figures that have been released or revealed as of now. It’s a lot bigger than the last one, and with all-new, nice big pictures of these greats sculpts (and big thanks to Cornboy for helping to fill in a few gaps!). Click on the pic to embiggen.

Lots of rumors are hitting as to what’s coming next. The biggest being that next year’s SDCC exclusive will be a Plastic Man figure with multiple attachments.  Fans are already going nuts over the news (and not entirely in a good way) so we’ll see what actually plans out in the next year. There has also been talk of completing the line-up by SDCC, with Desaad in Wave 12, and a Golden Pharaoh/ Cyclotron 2-pack to be revealed on MattyCollector.com next year. 

Is any of this true? Who knows for sure. We did get a pretty accurate leak about Waves 10 & 11 all the way back in Nov. 2008, so anything is possible. It’s a pretty safe bet in any case that we’ll wrap up the Super Powers homage sooner rather than later. And that’s where it gets really interesting for me:once the full lineup is released, will we see any of the characters that WEREN’T produced? We already have a few of them: Man-Bat, Bizarro, Kid Flash, Vigilante, John Stewart, Deathstroke, Supergirl, and the Wonder Twins. But is it possible we might see Quadrex? Silicon? Howitzer?!? 

Only time will tell. 


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Well, this year at SDCC I ended buying much more than I usually do, albeit a lot of it for friends and co-workers. I’m not normally one who wants exclusives unless it’s a new character than fits into an existing collection. not just a variant or retool (slimed Egon, anyone?)

But this year I did get what is probably my favorite exclusive yet: Hasbro’s Marvel Universe Invaders set! (Although the Wonder Twins were neck and neck. I love those goofy bastards!) True, it is a bunch of repainted and/or kitbashed figures, but they did such a good job I can’t really complain. And Mattel take note: this is how you do exclusive packaging! New art by Marvel EIC Joe Quesada, all on new individual cards that fit in with the regular collection, in a special case with Cho’s pencil art backing each figure PLUS a neat Marvel 70th Anniversary magnet holding the front closed. 

And if you pick up Union Jack you have almost the whole Invaders team (although it’s a shame that the upcoming WW2 Cap and Bucky figures weren’t ready before this set was made. They really would have plussed it up). As is, at least they repainted Cap in desaturated colors befitting the period. If you repaint Firestar’s hair yellow and give her Hobgoblin’s cape she makes for a convincing Spitfire. I did a photoshop mock-up of the sorely needed Baron Blood to round out the lineup. Can you believe we’ve never gotten a figure of this guy?

This set is what’s forced me to give in and pick up a few select MU figures. I’m not going to be a completist on this line, by far. I’ll outline my MU collecting strategy in an upcoming blog, though. I hope Hasbro fulfills the promise of this line, with a few playsets and even crazier forays into depth of character down the road.

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So it was a strange week, with 4 deaths in the entertainment world in short succession. First Farrah Fawcett, then Michael Jackson, followed this weekend by Billy Mays and Fred Travelena.  It certainly ranks up there with previous back to back passings, such as 2003’s Johnny Cash/John Ritter event, or 1997’s back to back travelers Robert Mitchum and Jimmy Stewart. Or even 1991’s Sammy Davis Jr. and Jim Henson. Still, nothing may top Thomas Jefferson and John Adams dying on July 4, 1826.

But I don’t want to remember them like that, as an odd factoid. Nor do I want to remember them by just their hits, although they had many. No, this is the way I like to remember them:







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So it’s taken quite a bit longer than I planned on to get back to another installment of my unproduced Star Wars gems. But here at last is the untold story of the promotion that you never got to see, and what a doozy it is! A couple of caveats right off the bat: I did not actually have anything to do with this promotion. It was developed and presented by another marketing agency in the wake of the Star Wars Trilogy re-release in 1997 as a possible idea to launch the Prequels, in specific Episode I.  So most of this is strictly going from my memory of how it was explained to me. And the bag illustration at right is just something I whipped up based on what it might have looked like. Cool?

In the wake of the big hits of the Lay’s Spirit of Obi-Wan offer in 1996 and the  Froot Loops Stormtrooper Han Solo in 1995, Lucasfilm wanted another big product tie-in to push Episode I on the masses. Unfortunately for the marketing gurus, pretty much every brand under the sun would be also launching Episode I promotions at the same time. Pepsi cans, Pizza Hut boxes, Taco Bell toys, and KFC cups were just the tip of the iceberg of what would probably be the largest promotional movie launch ever to be seen. Multiple companies pitched ideas to Frito-Lay as to what their big promotion would be, one that would stand out from all the other Star Wars items on grocery shelves and most importantly, what would sell more bags of chips. Keep in mind that Pepsi/TriCon/Frito-Lay paid up to $2 Billion for the license, so you better believe they needed to move product to make that worthwhile.

So what was pitched was this: trading on the success of the Spirit of Obi-Wan, each bag of chips would have a mini-figure inside it. There would be 128 (!) different figures to collect, from Episode I and the Original Trilogy. Not only that, but there would be a handful of rare figures, and a possible mail-away display case for all of them. Talk about an incentive to buy chips! And you have to think back to how it was in 1998: still relatively little Star Wars product was out there, and you had a ravenous base of fans who were desperate for new items to collect! And these would hit months before the movie actually came out, so it didn’t rely on how well the movie was anyway. It really was the only time this program could have been pulled off and been a massive success (and anyone who doubts it would have been a success didn’t go through the pain that was the initial Hasbro Midnight Madness launch!) But Lucasfilm pulled way back on promotions for the next two films, so this was the one shot it had.

Ok, so if I didn’t work on this at all, how do I know about it? Well, my company was contacted to help out a bit on the toy aspect of it, and make some prototypes for the pitch itself. This was fun, if a bit frustrating as we couldn’t affect any details of the actual promotion, just what the figures might be. And that in itself was a challenge; to be fiscally viable, each figure could only cost a few cents! So much of the work we did was exploring the possibilities with such a limited budget.

We had Gentle Giant sculpt and cast a few sample figures. You can see how fragile these had made resin figures are; I don’t think any of the Luke’s lightsabers survived the first time we moved them around. One way to save money was to have limited paint on each one. To save even more, we could have them as only one color. We also experimented with themed materials, as seen below: Luke is a sandstone finish, Leia is pearlescent white, and Yoda is glow in the dark! Another possibility would be for each figure to have a flat back with a peg that would plug into a cardboard diorama that featured a background from the respective movie that the character is from. These dioramas could then be fitted into each other, making one long scene when all connected. The backs of the dioramas would have character/film information on them.


But even then the cost might have been too high for Frito-Lays’ tastes. If that were the case, we also had a back-up plan: two-dimensional characters that would be die-cut from styrene that could plug into “puzzle bases” that you could make a large display out of.  The bottom of the bases would have added info about each character. The art would either be photos from the films or would be drawn by popular comic artists as almost 3-D trading cards. These samples were drawn by Art Nichols and myself (and I had to cut A LOT of these by hand the night before the presentation…not fun!)


So why did you never see these on store shelves? Well, unfortunately the simple answer is that back then it was hard to explain just how big the collector base had become. Frito-Lay executives thought that it didn’t have a big enough payoff apparently, and they went with an instant win game with a limited number of game pieces that had the same movie pics that everyone was using. But it had one million dollar winner, and they felt that was a bigger draw than a tiny plastic figure. But what they just couldn’t grasp was that the chance in millions to be that one winner was no going to drive you to buy more chips. But you would if you were trying to collect 128 different figures!!! Hasbro proved the viability of the mini-figure idea nearly 10 years later with their 2006 Star Wars Saga mini Hologram pack-ins (one of which is shown in some pics above for scale). We tried to explain to them why the collectibility aspect would sell more chips, even if it had less of a surface “wow” factor, but they didn’t get it. We talked about seeding in some gold Yodas that could be redeemed for an instant full collection OR $1000. And we even talked about posing online as a wealthy collector who offered $5000 to the first person who could put together a full set for him. 😉 Not sure if we could have gotten away with that one…

So that’s this installment of regrets from my past. Sorry for the huge watermarks on  all the pics, but the last one of these I ran ended up with lots of folks just taking the pics for their websites without a link back here. At least one more Rejected! Star Wars article to come, probably two!


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