As San Diego Comic-Con was winding down, I got the chance to accompany the Fwoosh’s VeeBee to a chat with Mattel’s Associate Brand Manager Scott Neitlich, a.k.a. Toy Guru, in the meeting room built atop of Mattycollector’s store at the show. We had the chance to consider and talk about all of the lines he oversees, from DC Universe Classics to Masters of the Universe to Ghost Busters. Being the nice guy that he his, Scott let us pick his brain for quite awhile so we have a good-sized interview to share with you. Read on for Part 1 of conversation where you will get a glimpse at some of the day to day of his job, the challenges of bringing first-rate action figures to market, and maybe even a juicy tidbit or two!
This article is reprinted from TheFwoosh.com, and there’s a discussion thread here: Fwoosh Interview with Toy Guru!
Fwoosh: Scott, thanks so much for sitting down with us again today – it has become an annual event! Just to start off, how has the show been for you this year?
Scott Neitlich: The show has been absolutely phenomenal. We had some of the best exclusives that we have ever done. We had a great response to our improved buying process. Each year gets better and we are dedicated to additional improvements next year to make sure as many fans can purchase product as possible.
F: Were you surprised at the pace that things have been selling out at the show – I think the Wonder Twins sold out on Saturday.
SN: Yeah! For a $40.00 toy, that sold out very quickly. It is quite a Collectible!
F: Indeed, there is a ton of heft to the actual package itself. So, since last year when we talked how have things been going in your world? Have you been met with new challenges in bringing all of your product to market?
SN: I have a lot on my plate these days with DC Universe, which includes Justice League, Classics, Infinite Heroes and the new World’s Greatest line. There is also Matty Collector on my plate which includes Masters of the Universe Classics, Ghostbusters Classics, the 12 inch, the 6 inch and then all of the DC Matty lines which includes Movie Masters, the 12 inch Masters and the Dark Knight figures.
F: Are they adding any new hands to help you out?
SN: I do have a great project coordinator that keeps all of the day to day aspects of Matty going. It’s a team effort.
F: Lets talk about the Mattel panels and I guess we can start in chronological order with the DC panel Friday morning. A lot of new stuff both in continuing lines and new executions were shown so it has been a little overwhelming seeing all of the cool stuff. Is there any one single figure or line up that you are personally most excited about?
SN: The World’s Greatest line is definitely a new line that we are most excited about. We have a great opportunity to work with guys like Dr. Mego and some of the others that were there from the original line. Bill Benecke, our lead designer at Mattel likes to call this line “The world’s greatest figures if you lived on Earth-2”. So, it is as if on Earth-2 vintage cloth figures never ended and just kept going. These are not exact replicas because we are improving on some things and making corrections. For instance, we’re trying to include some of the details that were left out or not accurate on the originals. We fixed the “S-curl” on Superman’s hair and we added the “G” to Green Arrow’s belt because the old ones weren’t quite comic accurate.
F: And they wore oven mitts!
SN: Right! So they are not reproductions but we are keeping the aesthetics of the World’s Greatest line and are trying to make it even better. Also, we want to include characters that were never done before like Sinestro and Hal Jordan and some other great figures that we have lined up for the rest of the year that we are not quite ready to reveal yet.
F: What was the inspiration and motivation behind that line to make you guys want to go after it?
SN: Well, I hope it is pretty obvious that Bill, the Horsemen and I are all toy collectors at heart so we asked ourselves: “If we could have any toy we wanted what would it be?” So with a bit of a renaissance of that style of line like with Twisted Toy Fare Theater and Robot Chicken, we are all friends with those guys and we all felt that it is in demand now.
F: Yeah, you are making them some new characters for their show!
SN: Oh, I hope so! [laughs]
F: So what is Dr. Mego’s involvement with that line?
SN: He has sculpted all of the parts and has designed it all, much like the Four Horsemen with DC Universe Classics. Same kind of relationship.
F: Wow! I did not realize he was so involved with this, that is very cool to hear. Sounds very promising.
F: So, the big line for us, and many Fwooshers with the DCUC line. From what I can tell you have shown off about twice as much product as last year so it is hard to find a place to start. How about themes- 2009 was kind of the year of the New Gods, do you have plans on continuing that or will you switch gears as we head into next year?
SN: Exactly. We kind of pegged the New Gods as an unofficial theme for 2009 because we are all such fans of them. They have been really popular with collectors and they just make great figures. I think you will see them kind of climax, not with series 11 where we are doing two versions of Steppenwolf, but the wave after that. Then we will kind of start a new theme that you will notice start to roll out.
SN: You have already seen a couple of figures that are going to be a part of this theme in release. Even in wave 10 you have started to see figures in this theme so going forward you will notice this getting stronger.
F (SamuRon): So Forager is my favorite figure that you have shown, I am a big Cosmic Odyssey fan. How about a variant for him, like in his black costume?
SN: Well, some waves will not have any variants but that might be a great 5-pack figure like what we did with Two-Face and Catwoman. There are so many New Gods figures out there and several have variants that we could do, that way we could do a new figure like, oh, Metron with his chair.
F (VeeBee): Oooh!
SN: Not to say that we are currently planning this! [laughs] Not confirming that! But obviously we would love to do something like that.
F: Oh, I hope so! But up next is series 9, and I think that Deadshot is one of the nicest figures of the line so far, a lot of people are
excited for him. And the others.
SN: Yeah, he turned out really great. We were able to keep the paint sculpt details in the final figure so we are really happy with that.
F: So series 9 will drop soon then?
SN: Yeah, we are looking at late August/early September.
F (SR): So, you mentioned the Zebra-striped Batman and a lot of people want to know exactly what that figure is.
SN: He’s Zebra-striped Batman! [laughs]
F (VB): I think it was Zebra-striped Batman!
SN: Yes it was! Well, there are no current plans to release him, but it is something we would like to do, you know? We put him out there, much like we put out the He-Man figure a few years ago that essentially became the Classics line, to gauge the fan interest, just like how we also put out the AttiTubes this year. We often use Comic Con to put stuff out for the fans to see the reaction.
F: Speaking of, what has been the response to the AttiTubes?
SN: You know, I have not had a ton of time to spend on the forums since the start of Comic Con, but I have been going back to my room at about 11 at night to check the forums-
F: Really? You are more dedicated than we are!
SN: [laughs] Yeah, but we want to see what the Urban Vinyl trend is right now. Is it going up? Is it going down? Is it still here? I definitely love the stuff that is out there now and we keep track of all of that and if the trend is still up and people like it, it is something we would like to do, but it is going to take a lot of fan interest. We would only do it if we knew fans wanted it. So fans out there- if you want it, let us know!
F: Ah! Fan interest, that brings us to another new one- Superman/Batman Public Enemies. The Horsemen line with the Ed McGuiness-esque head sculpts-
SN: Well, they are not directly Ed McGuiness, it is influenced by the Public Enemies DVD coming out.
F: Right, is that going to be sort of a one-off line or with a Collect and Connect or will there be more?
SN: It is a one-off line just for Target for the fall but it will be 6 inch as well as 3 3/4 scale.
F: What if it has great success and Target comes to you and asks for more, you would continue it, yes?
SN: We would like to do more, but we just have to wait and see.
F: As for the line up, obviously there is Superman and Batman but what about the rest? Were they picked on being heavily featured or was there something else?
SN: One of the big things is that we wanted to pick characters that we had not done before in the 6 inch line, with the exception of Black Lightning but we did a different version. So, it wasn’t the characters that will be getting the most screen time, but the ones that would work the best from a design standpoint. For example, we have never done a Silver Banshee before. We have not done Major Force or Brimstone. So while characters like Power Girl and Shazam have major roles in the movie, they will be out there already so we wanted to get some of the others out there to build teams.
F: Towards that end, with building teams, the Satellite incarnation of the JLA is almost completely finished, there are just a few slots left to be filled so are you changing your focus to another big team like the JSA or something like that?
SN: At this point we have so many figures out there that the teams are just going to start to come together organically. You know, we are definitely going to make a drive to do the smaller teams like Doom Patrol and…
F: Freedom Fighters?
SN: Yeah! You know the teams that have a finite and smaller membership. But you will see the rest of the Satellite team and other larger teams start to come together organically.
F (VB): Oh, and team-ups? Like with wave seven, you had Blue Beetle and Booster Gold together as DC’s GREATEST duo-
F (VB): and one figure helps sell the other, are you looking at making that a regular thing? Fire and Ice? Hawk and Dove?
F (SR): How did I know you were going to go there?
SN: [laughs] Yeah, actually, I think you are going to see a lot more of that in 2010 and 2011 with the waves. You know, they won’t be fully themed with like, seven Green Lanterns or seven Legion members, but it will follow with like we have done with wave 11 with Katma, John, Kilowog and Shark, so you will see more close connections like that.
F: You tease us! But it sounds like we are digging in for long haul.
Thus concludes Part 1. Check back soon when we will further discuss DCUC and jump into more of your favorite toy lines!
For more pictures, check out: San Diego Comic-Con Mattel DC Universe Classics and Superman / Batman: Public Enemies Pics