Toy Fair 2010 – Interview with Mattel’s Scott Neitlich (Toy Guru), Part 1

Scott Neitlich, Mattel’s Associate Brand Manager for its collector-oriented lines, was kind enough to sit down with Hagop (my tag team partner from the Fwoosh) and me for a catch-up session following the Mattel Collectors Preview.

We were all a little tired from the sensory overload, so a big thanks to Scott for taking the time to sit down with us, and to Hagop for recording and transcribing the interview.  What follows is the first part of our discussion.

H: In other comic lines, we always hear about how obscure characters are hard to do because the retailers don’t want them.  How are you able to pull off so many obscure characters in DCUC?  I’m thinking of Killer Moth, Gentleman Ghost, Forager-in an exclusive wave no less.

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TG: With the refresher cases and “all stars” retailers are getting Batman or Superman or whoever, every time they open a box, even if they’re not “in” the wave.  And I think it just helps when the toy is cool looking.  I mean, someone may walk by a Gentleman Ghost and just think, “That’s cool, I want that!”  I’ve got him displayed in my office getting captured by the Ghostbusters.

H: You’ve done a great job of steadily building a library of “bucks” to pull from.  Without giving away any specific characters, can you tell us what new tools we will see coming soon?  New teen body for example?  Or new female bucks?

TG: Honestly, I think at this point we have almost all of the bucks out there.  We’ve got now with Wonder Girl–she’s a new “teen age” buck, a female buck; we already have the male from Robin and Kid Flash.  We’ve got male skinny, large, and extra large.

H: The Sinestro body ended up working in your favor in a way; it was originally a mistake but now it’s useful for a lot of other stuff.

TG: We’ll get to fixing Sinestro.  Probably when the movie comes out we might do something.  But yeah, there’s really not too many generic body types left. At this point the line’s kind of paying for itself.

H: Matty 2-packs for DCUC are gone-

TG: At the moment on hiatus.  They’re not gone for good.

H: But meanwhile, will there be other exclusive DCUC stuff?

TG: All of the waves will be available on Matty as box sets. Wave 12 will be out in March. And yes, we do have some other stuff planned for later in 2010 but not 2-packs.  There are some other multipacks we’re looking at.  Again, this stuff is all in the hands of the fans.  If you guys want more, you need to support them.  A lot of the fans want this one, but not that one.   But we need, much like MOTU, we need to have a baseline of fans that are going to buy a 2-pack or single figure no matter who the character is.  Now, obviously there will be spikes, like say Batman characters are going to sell more or say New Gods, or whatever happens to be the theme people like, but unless we hit a baseline of ‘X’ number of fans that will buy any character, its hard for us to continue it.

H: Do you think it made any difference that Adam Strange/Starfire (one of the less popular packs) was the first out of the gate, rather than something like say the yellow Lanterns?

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TG: Even the Lantern one didn’t sell well enough.  It was our best seller, but it wasn’t even close [to what we needed].  We actually kept lowering production and we were basically not doing the number we needed to.  The reason that one [Color of Fear] couldn’t lead off, is that was the soonest we could do that.

R: it seems like that came out in a really sweet spot for DCUC collectors with all the Lantern stories going on right now.  What do you think caused it to miss at Mattycollector? Price Point, or…?

TG: No, I think it really is the fans are, in a lot of ways, more vocal than they are numerous.  They’re very loud online, but at the end of the day there may only be ‘X’ number of them.

H: Not to be pessimistic, but what makes you think then that other types of multipacks on Matty will hit your baseline?

TG: Basically, we’re going to keep trying to find that magic number of figures and price point that works and hopefully we can hit it.  We really want to make this work.

H: Have you thought about single figure exclusives on Matty?

TG: Yes.  For instance Lobo will be a single JLU figure.  We’re going to try a lot of different things and if it works, it works, y’know?

H: On the subject of 2-packs, the Golden Age Hawks 2-pack didn’t have enough retailer support to go through.  But which mask would that Hawkman have had?

TG: It wasn’t demand based on character selection, it was the number of 2-packs.  Retailers only wanted three 2-packs, not four. But it had nothing to do with who was in it.

H: So which head-

TG: I think it was the yellow…

H: Cowl?

TG: Yes.

H: Just to double-check, when Martian Manhunter comes out, he will have Zook as a pack in, right?

TG: (laughing) I can’t comment on that.  But that would be cool.

RON:  we got some new DC product that got unveiled today.  Let’s talk about the Wal Mart 5-pack exclusive Green Lanterns.  Really exciting; you’re hitting a lot of my most wanted Lanterns.  How did you decide on Green Lantern for a 5-pack?

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TG: Well there’s this little movie I’m hearing about coming around the corner, and we want to start and get more Green Lantern stuff out there both movie and comic book style.  Obviously we’re not going to have movie style until closer to the film but we have this great master license so I think you’re going to see more Green Lantern themed stuff as we get closer to the movie.  And it made sense to do it as a 5-pack since we wanted to get so many of them out.  And we only had so much tooling for the 5-pack but we knew we had a nice bank of characters with some fan-demanded repaints that made sense.  We don’t want to do a repaint just for the sake of it.

H: So other than heads, Guy Gardner will be the only major new tooling in that pack.

TG: Yeah.  Much like Lex Luthor had some new tooling [in the Gotham 5-pack].  So, this pack has more new tooling than the previous one.

R: And the body for Sinestro-

TG: Is going to be the Hal Jordan body.  We don’t yet have a…what would be kind of a tall, thin body.

H: Have you thought about the Deadman body?

TG: We looked at it and it wasn’t working.  It didn’t look right.  Obviously Sinestro didn’t come out perfect that first time, and we want to do him perfect.  But if we did [a new tool for] Sinestro, we couldn’t have afforded to do Guy.

H: I think everyone’s going to love guy.

TG: Guy is amazing.

H: You’re doing the Metal Men.  We’ve got Iron, we’re getting Gold.  Is there any issue about marketing a toy on the shelf labeled-

TG: Mercury?

H: Well I was going to say Lead, but yeah.

TG: No, there’s not.

H: For Infinite Heroes, I think the biggest thing with collectors is the new design, new articulation.  Given the lead time in design, you must have been making those changes pretty early on, before the first waves were even shipping, so

TG: Yeah, that was pretty much when I came on the line. Not at all to discount the people that were working on the line before me but one of the first things I did when I came on the line was say, “We’re taking this back to formula. These are not the toys I want, and if I’m not happy with them then collectors aren’t going to be.”

H: You had the Crisis theme last year for DCIH.  What is it for this year?

TG: DC’s 75th.  And that’s throughout the DC lines.  They’ll all have the buttons…

H: What can you tell us about the GL movie?

TG: It’s going to be awesome!

H: Will there be 6” movie figures?

TG: I can’t comment, obviously, on any sku’s but I can tell you there’ll be kid figures and collector figures.  Let’s put it this way; I’m the brand manager for the movie.

(Laughter all around)

H: Regardless of scale or sku, will it be strictly movie designs, or might there be comic designs snuck into the movie line?

TG: The comic stuff will stay in the DC Universe, but you may see more Green Lantern characters in the DC Universe.

R: So the movie will have some pull in terms of character selection?

TG: Yes.  The 5-pack is our first turn towards doing more Green Lantern stuff around the movie.

H: So, hypothetically, the chances for a comic accurate Hector Hammond in DCUC are better, with him being in the movie.

TG: Correct.  And then we could also look at doing a movie style Hector Hammond in the movie line.  But you won’t see Green Lantern comic book style in movie packaging.

H: Speaking of styles crossing lines, what is your feeling on cartoon characters in DCUC?  You have done Batman Beyond and the Wonder Twins exclusive.  Is it possible to see more of the animated stuff coming into DCUC?

TG: You’ll see it, but you’ll see it in Classics style.  Like the Wonder Twins.  The Wonder Twins weren’t done in animated style, the Horsemen did them in the same style as everyone else.  Same with Batman Beyond.  So yes, you’ll still see characters pulled from different sources like that, but everything will be in one unified, Horsemen style.

R: But to be specific, what about characters like the Justice Lords, that would cause a lot of comic fans’ heads to explode?

TG: You mean JLU Justice Lords?

R: Yes.

TG: You’d be more likely to see characters like Ultra Man and Power Ring and that kind of thing.

H: So you’d be more likely to do Dr. Phosphorus than Blight, for instance?

TG: Yeah, probably. Yeah.  Blight would be more in the JLU.  I know we did Batman Beyond, but he has appeared in the comic books.  But for the most part, those kind of characters, like Blight, like the Ulti-Men.  I don’t think we would do the Ulti-Men in DCUC. But we would do them in JLU.  Unless there was an overwhelming demand, but I don’t think we’re seeing that.

H: Well that will put a lot of people’s minds at rest.

TG: I didn’t know people were losing sleep over that one.

Stay tuned for part 2 of our interview with Toy Guru, where we’ll discuss Masters of the Universe Clasics, Ghostbusters, and more!

6 thoughts on “Toy Fair 2010 – Interview with Mattel’s Scott Neitlich (Toy Guru), Part 1”

  1. For some reason I clued into the comment about the line now essentially paying for itself. Given that naturally this was more a figure of speech than actual reality, still, why the price increase at retail? And please don’t use the SRP excuse, because that price is suggested by Mattel and has been wholeheartedly embraced (and then some) by retailers. If the line is (in theory) now becoming even cheaper to produce (i.e., less tooling, etc.), why are the figures now more expensive than they’ve ever been?! More expensive than they were even before the line gained as much traction as it has! This seems like opportunism to me, and although I realize that Mattel produces an above the board product that I adore, price gouging is uncool no matter how you slice it.

  2. I’m perfectly willing to buy figures regardless of character in support of the DCUC line (I’m a sucker for CnC figs), provided they’re AVAILABLE for me to buy. So, as long as the lines aren’t exclusive and readily available as sets, I’ll be there to buy them.

    As a matter of fact, I have the Darkseid and Trigon waves on pre-order. If only I could complete Brimstone and Imperiex…

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