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An AFI Round Table Interview: A Conversation With The Man In Charge Of DC Direct

Georg Brewer, Tim Bruckner, Shawn Knapp

Howdy, folks!  Welcome to another installment of Open Mike!  As you know, the largest Comic Book and Toy Show in North America took place last weekend: Comic-Con International: San Diego!  Daniel “Julius Marx” Pickett (Mr. Action Figure Insider Himself), the always dapper Jason “ToyOtter” Geyer (Editor-in-Chief) and yours truly (Mike “SD Comics” Walker) were there at the state-of-the-art San Diego Convention Center covering the event live.  I have several tapes of interviews, over four hundred pictures and four different action figure panels recorded.  My next several columns will feature all the news and insights that we gathered during the Convention, covering all aspects of the toy, comic book and movie industries.

First up, Julius, Jason and I were lucky enough to get an interview with Georg Brewer, Vice-President of Design and Retail Product Development at DC Comics (And boy, does that title look nifty on a business card).  As a Vice-President at the company, Georg is a man who wears many hats, and as a result, therewere many people he had to meet with during the convention.  He had a very full schedule, but he graciously and cordially took the time to give Julius, Jason and myself an in-depth interview.  The four of us found a spot out in the lobby of the convention center, and we sat down for an early morning conversation with the man in charge of one of the most talked about toy companies in America today.  I turned on my tape recorder just as Georg gave us an exclusive scoop about two characters that fans on the DC Direct message board have long been requesting be made into action figures …

Earth 2 Huntress, Booster Gold

Georg: There will be a Booster Gold and there will be an Earth Two Huntress.  Not necessarily part of the same wave and I’m not gonna say what wave they’re in, but they are definitely on the schedule …

Mike: For ’06?

Georg: For ’06.

Julius: That’s huge.

Georg: We have control art and we have sculptors picked.  So, there ya go. That’s your big scoop of the day.

Jason: That’s a heck’uva scoop.

Julius: Wow.

Mike: Are they gonna be generic or artist specific?

Georg: They will be, well, they will be true to their appearances in the comics, yeah.  They will be “generic”, per se.  Booster will be classic, not modern.

Mike: Outstanding.

Julius: That is big news that a lot of folks have been waiting for.

Mike: I’ve got some questions for you, sir. 

(Laughter)

Mike: You wanna do the tough ones first and get those out of the way?

Georg: Yeah, that’s fine.  The main thing I wanna talk about, I was looking at your list of questions, apparently there’s a lot of problems with the Crisis figures …

Shawn Knapp, Barsom, Tim Bruckner, Jim Fletcher

Julius: Yeah.

Georg: … at retail, and we’ve started doing store checks.  Because, see, the vendor who did it is a vendor that’s worked for us for years.  They’ve done good work.  We’ve never had a problem with them before.  But then you (looks at Julius) mentioned it to me first, and then we saw the line, so we started to do store checks.  Because all the samples we got back were fine.  They looked really good. And, y’know, we don’t know until we see it. My frustration is with the fans when they say “We don’t care, we don’t listen”, but if we don’t know, we don’t know.  I’m not in Iowa, I’m not in California, there’s no way I can see it.  So, because of quality control issues, and a few other logistics issues, I’ve actually, um, I now have someone in Hong Kong full time.  He’s going to be in the factories, he’s going to be doing line checks, he’s going to be doing quality control. He’s going to be working with us on some technical issues to make sure this stuff doesn’t happen in the future.  We need to know about these things when they happen, and it’s good that they (The fans) tell us.  Now, again, the horse is well out of the gate now, and I’m not sure what we can do about it other than go back to the vendor and tell them “Make sure that doesn’t happen again”.  We’ve been hearing from certain retailers and we’ve been getting complaints. Again, we don’t know.  We’re on the other side of the world. We went around to some stores in the city and I didn’t see a problem.  We just didn’t know.  So, because we’ve had certain issues with certain vendors, and because we produce so much work that we can’t use just one or two vendors and we have to spread it out, it’s harder to control that stuff.  And that’s why we now have someone who lives over there and is working with us on it.  So, we do take it seriously and we do wanna know about it.  We’ve made a pretty big commitment by basically hiring a consultant who’s going to be there full time working on our stuff.    So hopefully we’ll avoid this kinda stuff in the future.

Mike: Great.  Thank you.  Now, uh, next thing I wanna talk about is JSA.

Georg: It’s on the schedule.  It’s in sculpting.

"Fin Headed" Atom

Mike: Well.  That answers that.

(Laughter)

Georg: They look hot.

Mike: Will we see them in ’06?

Georg: Yep.

Mike: Outstanding!

Julius: Is there a possibility we might see them as soon as Wizard World?

Georg: Yeah.  It’s gonna be four of the modern and Fin-headed Atom.

Mike: Fin-headed Atom?  Woooooooow.

Georg:  We did a poll …

Julius: Is that okay to say?

Georg: Yes.  We did that poll last year to see what you wanted, traditional or fin-head, and fin-head won out so that’s what we’re doing.

Mike: What quarter in ’06?

Georg: Fourth quarter.

Mike: Wow, this is exciting.  Who’s actually doing the sculpting, do you know?

Jim Fletcher

Georg: Actually, we have two people doing the sculpting.  One of them is one of our new guys and I can’t think of his name right now.  Jim (Fletcher) can tell ya who it is. He worked out really well. For consistency we sent him all the Golden Age stuff.  We wanna make sure it’s consistent and it works together. And I’m probably gonna get Tim to do the Atom, just for giggles.

Mike: Oh! Oh! Beautiful!  That’s great!!  I know that you aren’t wild about that costume, because we talked about it a few years ago …

Georg: I would go traditional myself, but that’s what the fans wanted, so, that’s what we’re gonna give’em.

Mike: Outstanding.  Very, very cool.  Well, that answers that.

(Laughter)

Mike: Next, the Silver Age Superman figures.  I know you’ve had some sculpted for awhile that were kind of based on Curt Swan’s art …

Georg: Yeah, more or less.

Mike: Are we gonna see those anytime in the near future?

Georg: Yes.

Julius: Perhaps in the year of Superman?

Georg: Gee … what a great idea.

(Laughter)

Georg: You know, we switched up one of the figures (In the assortment) based on a fan suggestion.

Mike: Really?

Julius: Are you gonna call it “Curt Swan”?

Georg: No, no.  Daily Planet.  That’s the wave title.

Mike: Okay, the Wizard Exclusive Green Lantern figure, that was really sweet.

Julius: It wasn’t going to get it, but I broke down.  I dug it.

Mike: I liked that.  Um, are you gonna be doing anymore exclusives with Wizard, ya think?

Georg: Yes. We had a meeting … um, two weeks ago, maybe?  And we were kicking around ideas.  We’ve had a lot of success with it. They were really happy with it.  The Hush figure did great, the Green Lantern figure did great, and we had sort of a brainstorming meeting about things we could do together.  We came up with a really fun list.  It was funny, too, because, Unmasked came out of a meeting with them.  Originally, we were kicking around ideas and we thought wouldn’t it be kinda cool to do an unmasked figure, and then we thought, “Ya know what?  Let’s make it a wave”. The Red Hood was great.  It’s a fun figure.  It’s like a new figure when it really isn’t.  It’s a nice bit of retro-engineering.  We try to do stuff like that when it makes sense.

Julius: Everyone reuses parts, bodies …it’s the price of doing business, especially now with oil prices what they are…

Ed McGuinness Style JLA

Jason: You get new characters that way.  Mattel’s been doing a lot of repaints because it [gives the fans] new characters.

Georg: The thing about the Mattel (JLU) line is the style allows you to do it.  With us, we don’t have one particular style and with the amount of detail that we do it’s hard for us to do that, share tools and things like that. 

Jason: Right, right.

Georg: That’s why, with the McGuiness line, we purposely didn’t add many details so we can re-use parts and have more selection.  And we’ll be debuting that …

Julius: Today.

Georg: Yes, today.

Jason: The Unmasked Superman … can he put his hands on his shirt?

Georg: Yes, he can do that. I think we gave him a bicep twist, too.

Mike: Now … shipping dates.  Um, there’s been some lately that have been missed …

Georg: Yeah.

Mike: Early on, you were shipping product early.  Now, you’ve been shipping it late.  Is that because of the backlog at U.S. Ports of entry?

Georg: You know, it’s a combination of things.  Everything that has shipped late has been for different reasons, really.  In one case, at the dock we had a shipping container that was dropped from a crane and it destroyed a bunch of product.  We had a truck fire.  It was leaving the port and it got hit by lightening or something and it blew up.  There’s been weird, technical things.  There was a port strike at one point. Honestly, the thing that consistently causes the late shipping for the most part is quality issues that we’re trying to resolve.  Because we just don’t … because we try and do everything we can to make sure it gets done right.  If it means being late versus getting it done right … We will do better, trust me.

Mike: Next question.  I’ve had a lot of people … I must have had twenty people ask me to ask you about a Neal Adams Batman wave.

Neal Adams Batman & Joker

Georg: Y’know, I saw that too.  And it’s interesting to see what they’re looking for, because they’re asking for Neal Adams classic rogues.  He didn’t do as many as people think.  If you look at the comics, he did Joker, which was great, and he did Two-Face which is kinda cool, um,  Man-Bat … Man-Bat is real sweet too, but … y’know, it’ll find it’s time.  Some of what I’m trying to do right now is a mix of some of what’s going on in the comics right now to try and take advantage of people who are excited about the comics, and also a mix of … y’know, I see messages on the board that say “Am I ever gonna see fill-in-the-blank in my lifetime” or messages that say “You’ve only done two waves from such and such an era this year compared to ten from this era”  And, y’know, we’re trying to space it out.  You know, the stuff that’s twenty years old or fifty years old or whatever, we’re trying to space it out.  We’ll find a place for it, but I don’t wanna burn it out too early, either.  What am I gonna have two years from now?  We’re trying to balance it out.

Julius: (Jokingly): Zero Hour?

(Laughter)

Georg: Waverider!!  That’ll be the new campaign once Booster comes out.

(Laughter)

Georg: I know people want it (Adams Batman).  I’d love to do it.  It’ll happen.  Y’know, we just need to find the right time for it.  We’ve done a lot of classic rogues in other waves, so I want to let those play through before we do it again.

Mike: Well, that segues nicely to my next question, which is you guys have a lot of big books coming up on your publishing schedule.  All Star Batman and Robin, All Star Superman, Infinite Crisis … would you plan waves around those books?

Georg: Anything that sells well as a comic, you can pretty much bet that figures are possible.

Infinite Crisis Art

Mike: With Infinite Crisis, you’ve got three big name artists.  You’ve got Jim Lee and George Perez doing alternate covers, and you have Phil Jimenez doing interiors.  Hypothetically speaking, if you were going to produce a line of Infinite Crisis figures, whose work would you base them on?

Georg: IF I were going to do an Infinite Crisis assortment …

Mike: Yeah, this is all hypothetical, of course …

Georg: Hypothetical, of course.  My guess would be working with Phil.  His style is very reminiscent of George’s, and it would make a nice bridge from the old Crisis to the new Crisis.   But Jim’s stuff sells like hot cakes.  When we get to that place, that’s when it’ll be time to make that decision.

Mike: I got a lot of questions from people wanting to know about Crisis on Infinite Earths and First Appearance.  Will there be more assortments of those?

Georg: There will be.

Mike: Oh.  Good.  Excellent.  Man, you’re easy today.

Georg: I’m not telling ya anything.

(Laughter)

Mike: Last year, you had mentioned something about figures and a book, coming as a set.

Georg: I did?

Mike: Yeah.  Because last year we were talking about boxed sets …

Georg: Right…

Mike: You said you were planning two.  One turned out to be JLA …

Georg: Right, right.

Mike: And you said something else about two figures and a book.

Georg: Oh, I remember what I was talking about now.  It didn’t get off the ground. 

Mike: Okay.

Georg: Mostly because we never found the right configuration.  Obviously, the comics are a natural part of our evolution of what we’re doing creatively, and we’re playing with a bunch of different ideas.  It’s just a matter of finding the right mix.

Mike: Yeah, that would have been a dream for me.  I’ve bought all the Archives so far.

Georg: It would probably be a trade and not an Archive, but you never know.  You never know.

Mike: Any plans for you guys to do mass-market stuff, like go into Wal-Mart and Target?

Looney Tunes Figures

Georg: Well, Looney Tunes is our first mass-market line.  We have world-wide distribution now, and we hope to get it out to the major chains. That’s our first sort of step out into the world.  It’s difficult because we do have a license with Mattel and we don’t want to compete with each other, but we’re hoping that if Looney Tunes succeeds, that’ll open the door for us to try lots of other things, and that’ll broaden the scope of what DC Direct can do. 

Jason: Those (The Looney Tunes) look artist specific.  They look like they were designed off specific animators.  Chuck Jones, Bob Clampett, …

Georg: They are.

Jason: That’s cool.

Georg: We don’t want this line to be generic.  The goal is to very, very carefully pull from specific episodes to reflect what the episode is.  We’ve got a good hook, and pulling from the animation is good. It’s sort of an original direction to take. We’ve got a lot of high hopes for it, and we’re encouraged that it’s getting a good reception.  We’re never sure with this crowd.  Like the Vertigo question, are ya gonna do more Vertigo, well, the Vertigo stuff just doesn’t sell.  Ya know, it’s really hard.

Julius: The high end (Vertigo) stuff sells better, right?

Georg: Ya know, even that’s flattened out.  But we’re gonna continue to try, we’re gonna continue to bring new stuff out, we’re always looking for the next opportunity.

Mike: Now, I’ve noticed that, in general, the figures are starting to come with more articulation.  Obviously, you made a conscious decision to do that.  What prompted you guys to add more articulation?

Georg: The fans.

Mike: The fans did?

Georg: Yep.

John Byrne, George Peréz, David Mazzuchelli Art

Mike: Great.  All righty.  Now, 2006 is the 20th anniversary of Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One, John Byrne’s Superman and George Perez’s Wonder Woman.  Have you guys thought about doing something in conjunction with that?

Georg: We haven’t talked about it specifically.  Actually, the first time I made the connection was when you guys mentioned it on the boards.  And when it came up, I

thought it was great.  Certainly, it’s possible we’ll do an anniversary wave of figures.  That was a great suggestion.

Mike: I would love to see something like that.

Georg: And maybe that’s where we can do the book and the figures.

Mike: Cool. 

Georg: It’s also the 10th anniversary of Kingdom Come.

Mike: That’s true.  I never thought of that.  Now, I’ve had people ask me about a Superman and Batman that will fit in with the JSA.  Like maybe a Golden Age Superman and Batman two pack.

Georg:  The Crisis Superman doesn’t work?

Mike: Uh …

Georg: He’s got the grey temples, I know, but …

Mike: Some people, myself included, would like to see a Golden Age Superman and Batman that are in their prime, as they appeared in All Star back in the ‘40’s …

Georg: Oh, I see.  Well, if we ever get the right moment, it’s certainly possible.

Mike: Speaking of the two-packs, you guys haven’t done one of those in a long time, or the deluxe figures …

Georg: Y’know, after some initial success, we had some price point resistance to them, so we’ve kind of moved away from them.  We’re doing better with the boxed sets because there’s more value there, but we’ve moved away from the two-packs.  It doesn’t mean we won’t go back, but there are none planned at the moment.

Mike: Okay, you’re not gonna like this one.

(Laughter)

Mike: Some people have asked if it’s possible to bump up the assortments to eighteen a year instead of twelve.  Shawn almost strangled me when I asked him about that.

(Laughter)
13" Green Lantern & Superman Bodies

Georg: The thing is, I’m always mindful of, and always thinking about, and always researching, saturation at retail.  And the truth is, on the schedule we’re always doing at least one assortment a month, and there must be at least two or three months when we’re doing two.  And it’s tough.  The retailers are spending dollars, the fans are spending dollars, and it’s a lot of stuff.  So … could we do it?  The best way to tap into that much shelf space is to throw Looney Tunes in there, diversify the line a little bit so we’re not cannibalizing ourselves, because ultimately what will happen is the consumer base will start making choices and their collecting patterns will change, and that won’t be good.

Mike: So the Looney Tunes won’t be the only figures solicited the month they appear in Previews?

Georg: Correct.

Mike: Great.  Hopefully, that’ll stop some of the bellyachin’.  I haven’t been online all week, and I can just imagine what that board looks like. 

Georg: I’ve got it printed out if you’d like to see it.

(Laughter)

Mike: Um … no.  Thanks anyway.

(Laughter)

Julius: You printed it out last night?

Georg: My assistant printed it out a couple of days ago and I brought it with me to read on the plane.

Syndee Barwick & Amy Dresser

Mike: I imagine they flipped out when they saw the Looney Tunes …

Georg: You know what really surprised me the most?  We had the talent contest …

Julius: Right.

Georg: And someone posted that on the board, and you had people go (switches to whiny voice) “Well, they’re gonna get this amateur to do our stuff and it’s gonna look like shit” and they start ragging on the guy before they even give him a chance.  We’re trying to do something, to bring the community in our house and to wind it up and get some excitement going, to get people talking, and yet, no matter what we do …

Julius: The guy’s stuff looks great.

Georg: We’re very excited about him working on our stuff.

Mike: Okay, a couple of more questions.  This one’s a toughie.  Lately, you guys have been giving a lot of ink to ToyFare. 

Georg: Yeah?

Mike: Personally …I freakin’ hate ToyFare. 

(Laughter)

Georg: I can’t validate that comment.  ToyFare is a force in this industry.  ToyFare covers something, and it generates a lot of sales.  A lot of people read ToyFare.

Mike: I …

Georg: A lot of people read ToyFare. 

Mike: Ugh.

Georg: Mike …

Mike: Well, yeah.  I am now.  I have to if I want to find out what’s going with you guys.

Barsom

Georg: We try and spread the love.  ToyFare has been a very good partner for our company.  The ToyFare/Wizard relationship has been very good … (SD rolls his eyes and lets out an audible sigh) … You know, you can roll your eyes, but it’s true.  They’ve been a very solid partner for us. They meet us half-way.

Mike: (Points to JM)    He’s got a great website.

Julius: No, no.  I’m not asking for any favors. The folks at DCD have been very good to me when it comes to letting me break news.

Georg: Yes, he’s got a great website. And we try and share the love.  But honestly? ToyFare generates sales.  And when they get behind something, we see a difference.

Mike: (Sighs)  All righty.  I think that’s just about it … one last question.  Back in January, Shawn …

Georg: That kid?  That lay about?

(Laughter)

Mike: We’ll have to get him a job.  (Laughter)  Back in January, he sent me an e-mail and said there’d be a third assortment of classic JLA, following up the Firestorm, Atom, Elongated Man and Adam Strange wave.  Still true?

Georg: (Looks confused)  No way.

(Laughter)

Georg: I don’t know what he’s talking about.

Mike: Okay.

Georg: I mean, yes, I would love to do it.  The challenge is, you know, where do you start pulling from there?  Do you pull Hawkman in?  Zatanna? …

Mike: What about the Giffen/DeMatteis/Maguire stuff?

Georg: You know, that would be a lot of fun. We actually talked about that.  There’s so much you could in the way of head sculpts with the facial expressions, that it’s really cool.  So, you never know.

Mike: ONE LAST QUESTION.

Georg: (Groans)

(Laughter)

Mike: I love the boxed sets.

Georg: Okay.

Mike: The JLA set looks awesome. Are you gonna be doing more of those?  Like maybe one a year, or something?

Georg: One or two a year. 

Mike: Great Interview.  Thank you for your time, sir.

Georg: No problem.

Julius: Can we talk about the direction you’re going in with the 13” figures?

Georg: Yeah, yeah.  We should talk about that.  I mean, what we decided to do should be evident, but um,  they’re going to be single costume with some accessories, we’re going to be lowering the price point,  to make it more affordable and more accessible. 

Julius: (Looks at Jason) Didn’t we get some questions last night, about who sculpted what?

Georg: Are they saying things about us online?

Julius: We’ve stayed up until like 2 in the morning … writing down questions …

Jason: Posting pictures and writing something to go along with them, labeling every single shot …

Darwyn Cooke's New Frontier

Georg: (Nods)

Jason: What’s the possibility of a New Frontier line?

Georg: (Nods knowingly)  That’s a great suggestion …

Jason: And, along those lines … any possibility of a Spirit figure, now that you’re doing a new ongoing Spirit series?

Georg: Y’know, ya never know.  It’s a very good idea.  It depends on how it evolves.  Yeah, I would love to do Spirit stuff.  That would be a lot of fun.

Julius: Are the (Spirit) Archives selling?

Georg: Yeah, we’re up to 16 now, I think.  They’re still doing well for us.

Jason:  One thing a lot of people are asking us about, is it possible for you guys to do something in the style of JLU, and incorporate the characters that Mattel can’t do, like the Charlton characters, even if it’s direct only … have you guys looked into that at all?

Georg:  Yeah … I’ll never say never, but really, that’s their thing.  We may do something with them at some point … that’s an idea we may explore.

Mike: What if Mattel chooses not to make figures based on V For Vendetta or Watchmen?  Would you guys be willing to do that?

V For Vendetta

Georg: I don’t know that anyone will do V figures … If Watchmen gets back on track, and product gets produced, it’ll be by us.  Just like the V Mask.  We have product planned for Watchmen, based on the movie.

Jason: Is the comic stuff totally dead, with the 20th anniversary coming up?

Georg: I don’t know if those figures will ever see the light of day.  I’d love for it to happen, but it’s a very sticky situation.

Julius: That’s it.

Georg: We’re done?

Jason: Thank you!

Mike: Thanks, Georg!  We appreciate it very much.

Georg: You’re welcome.

Again, our thanks to Mr. Brewer for a fun, enlightening interview.  Georg has one of the best jobs in all of fandom and is the envy of many people.  He gets to play with some of the most iconic characters in the world, and bring them to 3-D life.  But conversely, he also has a very difficult job, as well.  He’s aware that every single month he’s going to make people happy and yet at the same time disappoint others.  Georg is a man that does care deeply about his fan base and he’d love nothing more than to give everyone what they want, but he has to balance what he does with financial concerns.  First and foremost, he’s in the business of making toys, and sadly, the business side must take precedence.  In my opinion, Georg has done a brilliant job guiding DC Direct.  He hired some very talented people, and working as a team they basically built a toy company from the ground up.  In a relatively short time, DC Direct has set an incredibly high standard in sculpt and quality, and they’ve raised a bar that other companies who have been around far longer must now try and reach.

Next week, more DC Direct.  I’ll have more pictures from their booth and a few words from Shawn Knapp and Jim Fletcher.  Also, a look at Mattel and their new highly articulated DC Heroes 6” line.

Thanks for reading, and we’ll see you here next time!  

 

Click here for previous columns.

Got a comment? Send me a line at Sdcomics@actionfigureinsider.com!


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All images, format, content, and design are copyright © 1999-2008 D. ”Julius Marx” Pickett unless otherwise noted. No part of these pages may be reproduced without express written consent of D. Pickett. Licensed character names and images are copyright © their respective companies. But hey, ask me; you just never know what I'll say. - Logo Design by Matt Cauley. Web Design by Jason Geyer.