Watching ‘The Watchmen’ – An Interview With Mattel’s Scott Neitlich
November 19, 2013

clubblackfreighterThis month we got the final piece in Mattel’s “The Watchmen” line of 6″ action figures and the “Club Black Freighter” subscription.   As with any action figure line there are some hits and misses and things that not everyone agrees on.   Some folks didn’t like the scale of the figures since they use the DCUC 4HM bucks didn’t reflect the size of the characters in the books.  Some characters such as Rorschach came out too tall and some characters such as Dr. Manhattan came out too short.  Also some fans believe that Mattel made them look like the general characters, but didn’t work hard enough to really capture the art style of the book and how Dave Gibbons drew them.   All that aside, I think we are ALL amazed that a big company like Mattel took a chance and made these figures at ALL.  The fact that within 5 years we now have both movie versions and comic versions of “The Watchmen” after waiting almost 25 years for ANY Watchmen figures should not be lost on fans.

As many of you will recall, over a decade ago, DC Direct showed a series of four prototypes of Watchmen figures sculpted by Tim Bruckner based on the original comic series by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons.   The 4 characters were: The Comedian, Silk Spectre and two version of Dr. Manhattan (regular and translucent).   These were to be for the 15th Anniversary of “The Watchmen” but tension between DC and Moore led to no celebration of that anniversary to happen at all.    Every year fans asked DC Direct what the future of those figures would be and every year we were told “no plans.”    I even asked about them at the newly reformed DC Collectibles panel at Comic Con 2012 since the Before Watchmen books were still on the forefront of everyone’s mind.

Naturally I was bowled over when I went to the ‘Mattel and DC: A Heroic Partnership’ panel the very next day and told that there would be a 6 figure subscription in 2013 focusing on 6″ scale, DCUC-ish, comic book style line based on the Watchmen.  Six figures, the main team, were released every other month with the final figure being Ozymandias.

Ozymandias is still available RIGHT NOW on MattyCollector.com.    Maybe we might see the other sold out figures in limited quantity at the upcoming Cyber Monday sale.

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Now that the line is winding down we sat down with Mattel’s Scott Neitlich to talk about how the line came to be, why certain decisions were made for the line and what might have come next if the subscription had gone a second year:

 

AFi:  What made Mattel take on “The Watchmen” as an action figure line?   While being a seminal work, at’s a fairly R-rated comic and not something you’d think a mainstream toy company would take on.

Scott Neitlich: That is exactly the benefit of having Mattycollector.com! As a web based toy seller aimed at the adult collector market, having Mattycollector.com is exactly the reason we were able to tackle a toy line like this. Clearly a line that would not have been developed for retail. But when you have a business arm directly engaged with creating adult collector product, it makes it so much more feasible to attempt something like this. Having Mattycollector.com as an asset in its over portfolio is just one more thing that makes Mattel the world’s greatest toy company!

AFi:   When you started working on this line did you already know that “Before Watchmen” would be happening or did you start planning around the release of the feature film?

Scott: The Before Watchmen series is what opened up the character to us. Previous to that we did not have right to the Watchmen characters. Our series is based on the comics, not the film.

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AFi:   What did DC Entertainment say when you came to them with the idea (since they had an assortment already sculpted that they never used)?

Scott: They were very enthusiastic about the project. DC and Warner Bros have always been great partners to work with. While it was something that had been attempted in artistic specific style  in the past, because Mattel does not have right to artist specific looks, we knew form day 1 that if we tackled this it would be using “generic” DCUC parts. Also, the artist specific prototypes that DC Direct had developed back in the day were 100% new tools each, and that was not a model that would work for us with the high quality low runs we do on Mattycollector.com. Using shared parts became an essential part to making these figures happen.

 

AFi:   Can you talk a bit about the scale of characters in the line? Was there ever any thought to maybe making some shorter shins for someone like Rorschach or find a way to make Dr. Manhattan taller so they would be closer to their scales in the comics?

Scott:  We would have loved to do that. But to be that specific would have required way more tooling and based on the sales projections (and actual sales) the fan base, while very passionate, was not large enough to sustain fully tool’d figures to capture these details. Shared parts were a key to making this line happen. Also, we all agreed while the heights might not be 100% to the comic, using the shared parts made them flow seamlessly with the DCUC/Signature collection for a “one shelf” display. And that was a factor we took into consideration too.

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AFi:     The packaging on this line was top notch from the outside (mailer boxes) in (main packaging) with a lot of different ways you could display them.  Can you talk about that choice and why don’t you do that sort of thing more with the mailer boxes?

Scott:  We knew the buildup and wait for this line was long and coming. And likewise we really wanted to go all out. Watchmen is a very special comic series and we felt it deserved a package treatment that would make the figures very premium. Frank Varela did the package and the original card art included with the figs. He really knocked it out of the park!

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AFi:   Were there ever any other accessories you explored like Bubastis or a flaming spray paint can?

Scott:  Bubastis never went farther than words spoken out loud. He would have been the size of a full figure if we made him, and we only had 6 skus to play with (so obviously went with the 6 characters). He might have made a great 7th character,(much like the action figure line in the comic book!). But then again he would have been a 100% tool which makes him that much harder to do. Bottom line is Bubastis as an accessory was not possible. He was way to big. Other hand held accessories (like the flaming spray paint or an “In Gratitude” statue were all talked about, but in the end our budget only allowed limited accessories so we tried to go with the most signature weapon/accessory possible when budget/tooling allowed.

 

AFi:   Did you have an actual plan on paper for what might have been wave/year 2?  Or was is just a wishlist in your head?

Scott:  Year 2 would have been the Minute Men had sales supported a second year. But it was always a wishlist. We never designed or did any work on year 2 once we saw the sales on the first few figures, which fell a little short of expectations. We can only make toys when there is an audience buying them and the reach was a little short of what we would have liked.

 

AFi:   Was there ever any though of seeding these in to the regular DCSC sub or was the thinking that they would always be their own sub?

Scott:  We always wanted the Watchmen figures to be there own sub. As they do not interact with the DC Universe proper, we never considered putting them into the DCUC sub. It was just a question of whether we could do a full WM club or if they were stand alone items (like Con figures)once we received the rights when the Before Watchmen  series happened.

 

AFi:   How deliberate was the release schedule of the figures (with Rorschach being first and Ozymandias) being last?

Scott:  Extremely. We wanted to start with Rorschach as he is arguably the most popular figure and would help us determine how well the line as a whole would sell and therefore whether we could do a year 2  or not. It turned out not.

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AFi:   Was there ever a consideration that if these did well you could do other mini-subs based on popular specific DC Comics storylines, series or miniseries for Matty?

Scott:  Yes, but as noted, they did not meet the sales expectations we needed so we dropped any other ideas for other mini subs.

 

AFi:  You’ve now come to the end of this line, after a year of releases in this sub.  Can you tell us “who watches the Watchmen?”

Scott:  I believe it is fan boys everywhere. Now we need to make those Watchmen Babies in “V is for Vacation” bit. (okay, just kidding!)

On a personal note, I can say doing Watchmen figs was one of my “dream lines” for years. I definitely rank this line right up there with things like the Hoverboard, JLU Question/Captain Atom and MOTUC as some of the most amazing lines I have had the privilege to work on.  When I started working on DCU (at Wave 4) I was really hoping we could do a Watchmen Wave (maybe in conjunction with the film release, but in comic style).Alas, Mattel did not have the rights at the time, but once the Before Watchmen series hit and the rights were opened, getting to this set was a true toy  dream come true! I hope all the other Mattel toy and Watchmen fans enjoy them just as much!

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You can check out our features on these figures here:

Comedian

Rorschach

Ozymandias

Doctor Manhattan

Daniel Pickett
Daniel “Julius Marx” Pickett has been around toys his whole life. The first line he ever collected was Mego’s World’s Greatest Super Heroes line back in the 70s. He has been surrounded by collectables ever since. In 1999 he was confounded by a lack of information and news about some of his favorite toy lines he was collecting. Since he couldn’t find the information he decided to pursue it himself thinking other people might also be interested in the same news. He started writing a weekly column on the toy industry and action figure for a toy news site and in a years time he tripled the sites daily traffic with his updates, reviews and product features. He built relationships with every major toy manufacturer and many sculptors, painters and mold makers. He grew his hobby into a world wide expertise that the industry has embraced. In 2004 he teamed up with his toy buddy Jason “ToyOtter” Geyer and they created their own website www.ActionFigureInsider.com. Daniel has been quoted in both industry and mass media press outlets. Over the years Daniel and AFi have been sought out as experts in the field. Daniel was regularly featured on “Attack of the Show” on the G4 network as the primary contributor to their “Mint On Card” segment, and our front page has been linked to from USA Today’s “Pop Candy” Blog twice. Daniel’s content has also been featured on MSNBC.com, Wired.com, Fark.com, Boing-Boing, Gizmodo.com, Ain’t It Cool News, the Official Star Wars blog, Geekologie, G4, CNet and Toy Fare magazine, among many others. He has consulted on toy lines, books, documentaries and TV shows. But all of that really just sounds snooty and “tootin’ his own horn” – the long and short of it is that Daniel loves toys and he LOVES talking about them.
Read other articles by Daniel Pickett.

 

 

 

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