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Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Figures Toy Company Q & A

As surveyors of all things DC comics-related and retro, DC in the 80s tends to keep an eye on what's going on in the action figure market. The Figures Toy Company, who've been making waves among collectors -- particularly for their attention to detail in recreating MEGO-sized action figures along with the little cloth outfits that go with them -- has caught our attention for their diverse variety of DC-themed action figures they've been producing. We were lucky enough to get a chance to sit down and talk with company representative, Chris Depetrillo, and get the inside story of how this company came to be and what we can expect to see from them in the future. Enjoy!

Justin (for DC in the 80s): So, most people may not have realized that the Figures Toy Company has been around for a while -- it was originally known as Figures Inc. in 1989 and specialized in selling collectible toys and action figures via print catalogs, magazine ads or direct selling at collectible shows in New England. I understand that back then it was a one-man operation, run by Anthony Balasco.




Chris (for Figures Toy Company): Yeah, at the time it was a wide array of toys and collectibles. Our catalogs featured everything from original Masters of the Universe to vintage Star Wars figures to Kenner and Toy Biz superheroes to wrestling figures. A lot of the items we acquired were deadstock, clearance, and warehouse/factory sale items that we were able to build into an amazing selection of merchandise for the collectors out there. If you had built a collection in those days, there was no eBay or Facebook marketplace to scan for what you needed. Keeping a varied stock of such classic toy lines (and some oddities as well) helped us build the business by allowing fans to fill the voids in their collections or "buy back" their childhood.


Justin: In 1993, Figures Inc. decided to re-strategize itself and focus its' attention on selling Collectible Wrestling Merchandise. This was an important move because it would ultimately lead to the creation of the Figures Toy Company (partnering with Steve Sandberg), the purchase of Figures Toy Company's first licenses (WCW and ECW), the launch of your WrestlingSuperStore.com e-commerce website, and your first manufactured products (WCW and ECW Replica Belts). The Replica Belts were a huge hit with wrestling fans and are now highly sought-after collectibles:


Figures Inc. WCW replica belt (1999). Photo source: www.ebay.com

Chris: When we were acquiring merchandise for Figures Inc., we wound up with a tremendous amount of the WWF Hasbro action figures. We had stock of nearly every character, including earlier releases and the final "green card" wave which was not widely available and features some of the most sought after figures in the entire Hasbro line. Once we had those available they became a huge seller for Figures Inc., and it led to Anthony [Balasco] looking into other avenues to enter the wrestling merchandise market. The only belts fans could buy in those days were plastic toy belts unless they had the money to commission an actual replica, which is of course very costly. We were able to gain licensing rights with both World Championship Wrestling and Extreme Championship Wrestling right as the wrestling industry began to boom, and released replicas of all of their championships at a much more affordable price. This allowed fans who always wanted their own belt(s) to choose from the same titles they saw defended on TV every week.

I'll also note here that it was those WWF Hasbro figures that led to my hiring at Figures Toy Company. Back in 1999, my friend placed an order for a figure through an ad in a wrestling magazine, not realizing that the Figures Toy Company office and warehouse was just minutes away. He called to ask if he could pick the item up, and I took the ride with him. After meeting the staff and engaging in some chit chat, Anthony felt that my fandom and enthusiasm for pro wrestling and pop culture would make me a good fit for the company. I was hired in December of 1999 and have had a hand in numerous aspects of company business. I had graduated high school only a year before and was in my freshmen year of college and managed to land a dream job.

Justin: The Figures Toy Company started manufacturing 'classic 8" action figures and accessories remeniscent of action figures from the 1970s' in 2004. (Which is pretty much saying you were creating Mego-compatible action figures.) Was there a major change to the original Mego designs/molds? Or did you stick to the original designs as much as possible? Also, I'm going to assume that the choice to go with 8" action figures versus, say, 3.75" figures was mainly due to Anthony's love of his Mego KISS action figures when he was younger...

Anthony Balasco with favorite Mego KISS action figure (circa 1978). Source: figurestoycompany.com 

Chris: The goal was to try and recreate as much of the original aesthetic as possible. Our figures were and are very obviously influenced by the original 70's figures and Anthony's love for them (especially those KISS figures you mentioned). We wanted our figures to be able to stand alongside those childhood favorites and also serve as an extension of the format.

Justin: You've picked up a lot of licenses since 2014 (most notably, DC Comics -- which is what prompted today's interview). I've also browsed your website and seen then you've obtained licenses for Evel Knievel, Dukes of Hazzard, Dallas, KISS, Harry Potter, Hanna-Barbera, Three Stooges, Gilliagan's Island, and the US Presidents... can you tell us what other licenses you may have in the works? Also, I've always wondered: how does the whole 'toy-licensing thing' work? For example, if Figures Toy Company purchases the license to manufacture DC Comics figures at an 8" scale, no other company can do the same until you've released the license -- essentialy making the license-holder the exclusive manfucturer of that product while they hold the license?



Chris: Licensing varies on a case by case basis, so there's not really one blanket way to go about it. There are different options and aspects that go into every deal. While I can't speak to anything in regards to new licenses, I can say that new products based on the licenses we currently have, such as DC, are always in the works. With DC especially, we'll always market the cornerstone characters like Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman, but have done a lot of deep dives into the DC Universe as you can see by our release of The Creeper and upcoming release of Blue Devil and Kid Devil. The goal is to appeal to both the casual collector and the diehard fan, and I think our company has done a great job in finding that balance.

Justin: As a collector of DC action figures, I just want to tell you that I'm really excited with the selection of DC action figures the Figures Toy Company has been manufacturing: lots of DC retro characters, Super Friends, and Batman '66. Now, with a teaser of modern-age DC characters to come [ex: Bane] it really opens up some possibilities:
Bane

Justin: Are you allowed to give us a hint on what new modern figures we might expect to see? I'm also equally impressed with the vehicles and playsets, but these seem to be only be released sporadically and sell out quickly. Are there any plans in development to release new DC-themed playsets? (ex: Hall of Justice, Legion of Doom Swamp, Titans Tower, etc)



Chris: There's so much that's in the pipeline right now, a lot of which was delayed due to the pandemic and the ensuing factory shutdowns. Now that things are up and running, there are so many items in different stages of production that I can't wait to get on our site for fans to collect. Characters from Watchmen, Blue Devil, Kid Devil, Bat-Mite, Hourman, John Constantine, Geo-Force...we've been going to every corner of the DC Universe, looking at hundreds of characters from comic history so that we can give collectors the largest variety of retro figures on the market


Chris: Vehicles and playsets are a different animal. Tooling varies from piece to piece and some items just may not be cost effective. That's not to say there won't be more, because we've had great success with items like the Batcave and the variety of DC vehicles. But that's also why, as you said, they're sporadic in their release.

Justin: Speaking of Geo-Force, I do remember seeing a preview for him and having a bit of a 'fanboy' moment. While Mike W. Barr's Batman and the Outsiders was a comic I remember fondly from my youth, no way did I ever expect *that* incarnation of the team to get the 8" action figure treatment. With Batman, Geo-Force and Metamorpho available, does this mean we'll be getting the rest of the team (ex: Black Lightning, Halo, Katana, Looker) in the near future? If so, can't wait to add that to my collection!


Metamorpho

Chris: We'll be doing a whole lineup of Outsiders, so yes, many of the names you mentioned are already being designed.

Justin: On that note, a very common question among DC action figure enthusiasts who are purchasing your products seem to be "do they plan on making [x] figure?" Some of the more popular requests include 1940s Justice Society of America/All-Star Squadron figs, the original Doom Patrol (Elasti-Girl, Chief, Robotman, Mento, Negative Man and Beast Boy), and the Legion of Super-Heroes.

How do you decide what figs get made next? Do you send a request to DC asking for permission to create so-and-so? Or is it as simple as DC told you that can manfacture ANY character in it's library? (including, say, figs based on Neil Gaiman's Sandman). I mean, Abby Cable (Swamp Thing's love interest) is pretty obscure -- so it would appear that the sky's the limit:



Chris: Everything has to be cleared, from character to the particular design of character. We have to look at it from a marketing perspective to, from the character's popularity to how it fits in with what we're doing to how many requests we have seen the figure get. We pay close attention to the "wish lists" out there and a lot of figures have come from the fact that we appreciate our fans and hear them. The flip side to it is that not every character may be available, or may not be available in the form we'd want to do them in. Certain characters from the Batman Classic TV Series could not be made due to the rights to those actors being unavailable. We're doing our best to ensure that the line stays fan friendly and delivers characters that DC fans have been hoping for.

There's also a domino effect when it comes to brainstorming, because we consider the character appeal on its own, how it would fit in with other heroes on a team/series basis, and which version of the character might be the best choice. A lot of thought goes into our choices because as comic fans and toy collectors ourselves, we look at it from both the business and the fan perspectives.

It's also fitting that you mention Justice Society here, because last March, right when things started shutting down, one of our figure announcements was of a Golden Age Sandman. We've already done Beast Boy as part of the Teen Titans line, but as you can tell by scrolling through figurestoycompany.com, we've done variant versions of characters numerous times.


Justin: I was going to comment on your Teen Titans collection: not only do you have the Bob Haney/Nick Cardy roster (ex: Robin, Speedy, Kid Flash, Aqualad, Wonder Girl), but you also included a few obscure Titans like the original Hawk & Dove and Duela Dent. For the Marv Wolfman/George Perez 1980s roster, you even went to the trouble of including Jericho and Terra. That's how I know there must be some DC comics fans in your company if you're taking deep-dives like that.


Duela Dent (aka: Joker's Daughter)

Justin: Your Super Friends line of DC figs are pretty extensive, too. Based on the Hanna-Barbara cartoon, you guys cover some pretty obscure figs -- like the time Joker was revealed to be a member of the Royal Flush Gang (which only happened in the cartoon) or Superman from that infamous 'Death of Superman' episode.


Justin: I also noticed that a lot of figs, vehicles and playsets are retired after x amount of time. Not counting the Limited Edition products that were only offered for a limited quantities at conventions and etc, are there any plans to bring a few retired products back from 'limbo' for a while? I know a few friends who would probably be interested in purchasing a Dr. Fate fig if they knew it was up for grabs again.



Chris: Some items do return, others don't, but the "don't" could be for a variety of reasons. When something sells out it's not always necessarily a hard "no" that we won't carry it again, because we have restocked some of our most popular items. If it's an item that does well for us and is a hit with the customer base, the odds are in favor of us pushing to be able to release more of them at some point in the future. Limited and exclusive items are just that, but for any of the core Figures Toy Company releases we do our best to ensure that our fans can get their hands on all of the characters they wish to have.


Teen Titans van with exclusive Wonder Girl fig 


Justin: This is great, Chris. Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with me. I can't wait to see what surprises the Figures Toy Company has planned for us in the future.

Chris: It's been a pleasure, Justin.

---

Chris was also nice enough to share a preview of the new Phantom Stranger figure they will be releasing soon:

Check out the Figures Toy Company at www.figurestoycompany.com. Production runs appear to be limited, so if you see something you like, grab it before it sells out.

-Justin

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