TG Blog #6 Faker - I Hardly knew her!
So Faker is an interesting story. He has the lucky - or unlucky - feature of being one of the only figures in all of MOTU lore that is a direct repaint with zero new tooling.
A lot of fans have posted and complained over the years that Faker is never given his due. In the 200X line he was a mail away figure and in Classics he started off as a convention exclusive.
Pretty much he was a candidate for both of these programs because of how easy he was to do logistically. In both cases (in 2002 and in 2008) there was a need for a quick figure to fill a PR need (mail-away slot/con item). And as a deco only character, he became the go-to choice both times (independently, I should add).
It was never anything against Faker, and yes, had he been a normal monthly figure and not a character who could fill a last minute PR program need, he would have gotten a better shake (likely in both lines). I would have loved to give him a second head (maybe with battle damage, ŕ la the Terminator, or a flip-up head to reveal robot parts or something) but just as was needed in 2002, in 2008 we had the opportunity to do a PR slot for NYCC and as a deco-only option (and pretty much the only one we had with the existing tooling for the first seven figures), he was the best/only choice.
One of the other interesting things about Faker is he is one of the few figures in the entire MOTUC line that was not deco’d by the Four Horsemen. When word came that we were going to be attending NYCC that year, the MOTUC team rushed to get a figure ready for the show. Terry did the deco himself and then we just used the existing packaging (due to the rush, there was no time to do a special convention package or anything).
Essentially, he was a pretty easy figure to do. I do remember Terry really having a ball recreating the vintage tape deck sticker on his chest. Martin Arriola, who was Terry’s boss and had worked on the vintage line, came over and saw Terry working on the sticker and said, “Hey, I did that back in the day!” It was a cool nostalgia moment. Martin is actually one of the few current employees who worked on the vintage line and one of the nicest guys around. He was very supportive of the line in the early days and it was good to have another member of management in our corner.
Although Faker was originally slotted to be just a NYCC item (with remaining stock perhaps sold online), Mer-Man and Zodac were running very late so we were pretty much forced to use him as a monthly figure in March 2009, but letting him be available “first” at NYCC.
Delays in product would wind up being a bane of my existence for years on MOTUC. It is funny, but 99.9% of the time I personally had nothing to do with almost any delay (from Faker to Demo-Man) but as the “public face” of the brand I tend to take the blunt of fans' anger and frustration (understandably so). I used to think, “Man, if they only knew how much I am working on this line in my spare time just to keep it going!” But nowadays I pretty much just accept that all delays and shipping and customer service issues are 100% my fault in the eyes of the customer. And you know what, that is totally fine. If it means people are angry at me personally but in the end we get more MOTU toys, then it is fine. But man, delays suck and on such a tiny tiny tiny tiny tiny line like MOTUC they are 100% inevitable.
So the Mer-Man and Zodac delay meant we needed to fill the monthly slot. Even though we didn’t have a subscription yet, we still wanted to guarantee a figure per month. Thank our lucky starts we had Faker ready for NYCC. If we had not, there would have been no March figure at all. Phew. Just made it though that one!
Before I hit the bio creation tale (which honestly has been told many times already) there is one last “Faker” story.
An early sample that Terry had was not glued properly and the hair piece fell off. It was actually neat because under the hair on the head piece is a T-slot. I brought it over to Terry and asked “what if we actually don’t glue the hair on and paint the T-slot to look like a bunch of computer chips?” This way fans could remove the hair and see his “computer brain!”
While a cool idea, by the time it was pitched it was WAY too late to make any changes. Since there wasn’t precedent for this, it is not like it was a miss. But man, to this day I wish we could have done that. (Yeah, we could do a Faker 2.0 and give him this feature and a new battle damage head or something, but that would mean bumping another figure and we have so precious few slots as it is that I honestly can’t see this happening anytime soon, but hey, you never know. Maybe in a movie year this would be a cool way to refresh him for a retail release?)
So that's about it on Faker. Let's chat a bit about the bios and how they came to be:
After Stratos sold out quickly we green lit more figuress beyond Mer-Man and Hordak. This meant we needed bios too. We didn’t want to just churn out the bios one month at a time and write them as we went along (as we did for the first six), for several reasons. Chiefly, as has always been the point of the bios, we wanted to create a storyline that would justify the greatest number of figures possible. We also didn’t want to give the impression that we were “making this up as we went along.” Fans/customers can see through that in a minute.
From the comments we had already received online from the bios for the first few figures, we knew fans were reading into these bios a lot more than was ever intended. We were not trying to create the definitive cannon to MOTU (which is impossible due to all the different contradictory stories over the years) but rather create a story that would allow us access and justify the highest number of potential toys to make. Other brands like GI Joe or Transformers have many, many different cannons. By creating a new cannon for the MOTUC line, we were essentially doing just this. This was not meant to replace previous cannons, but rather to be a new, exciting direction to take the story in.
Now for starters, I should state that from Day 1 we knew no matter what angle we took, there would be some backlash from customers and fans. I’ve stated earlier in another blog that we are well aware that our hard core fans hate any “change” but come to embrace new elements in the long term. (Keldor being Skeletor’s real name/origin is a great example of something fans hated at first in 2003, but it is now a concept fans embrace for the most part unilaterally). And that is fine. Totally get that. And we knew from Day 1 that all the “new” elements from the bios were the ones that would be the most controversial. This is why we deliberately spaced these elements out, introducing them slowly over the course of the bios (such as naming the power sword, “The Sword of He” but waiting about a year into the bios before introducing this element – even though it was written into the story from Day 1).
With that said, and expecting exactly the reaction the bios received, we set about on an almost insurmountable task of writing bios for all characters in the proposed lineup (through 2016!) together to create one giant storyline to support making the largest variety of figures.
There has been a lot of backlash over the years that the bios are there to “explain away this, or justify that” but in the end, really the main goal of the bios was to provide a story for fans to talk about (which they did/do) since we knew there was no other form of entertainment planned (i.e., a new comic or cartoon) and to again provide justification for more toys.
We started with the list. We had a list of all of the characters we knew we had access to. Knowing Filmation was off limits (at the time) that animated series was completely ignored. We are not saying it did not happen, but we tended to look at it more as the version of the story as told to children (perhaps by a royal bard or something – Songster???) to make the story more kid friendly.
Because we did have access to the 200X series, which essentially was the same story as Filmation (basic concepts, not all the details), it was decided very early on that the 200X storyline would form the backbone of the bios and connect the dots. The 200X story also provided a lot of definitive origins for characters, whether from episodes like Stinkor/Fisto/Kobra Kahn, or from the comic book with Trap Jaw/Mer-Man, etc.)
Additionally, before Ian Richter left Mattel to pursue new opportunities, I met with him in his office and explained what we were doing with the line (Ian was Mattel’s rep from the Entertainment group who headed up the 200X animated series from our end). Ian was thrilled to hear we were doing an adult collector-aimed line and he loaded me up with tons of goodies on his way out. Most important, were all of his notes for where the potential third season of the 200X series would have gone. This was the meeting where he really handed over the “keys to Castle Grayskull” to me on his last day with Mattel. I was honored.
Now yes, different creatives on the 200X series had different ideas of where the show was going (i.e., Dean, Gary, etc.), but since we were talking about a Mattel toy line for Classics, the only third season notes we looked at were what Ian provided since these represented what Mattel was going to do with the 200X series, not necessarily what other people involved in the 200X series might have done.
With Ian’s notes in hand and access to other early storylines from Don Glut, Michael Halprin, and others (some of which I unearthed during my archive search - see previous blogs) we set about beating out the major points of the “Classics bio story.”
Now before I dive in further, I should point out that it was also always intentional that the information in the bios would not be “released” in perfect chronological order. Of course we knew this would be different and would cause some backlash, but, hey, no one had ever tried anything like this before, telling a new story though bios one month at a time, released out of order on the back of toy packages! What a novel idea and approach to storytelling!
Now I am not saying everything that has “never been done” should be done. Hey, no one has tried to make a comic book out of mud and snow, and they probably should not. But in the lack of other entertainment for the brand (i.e., no new mini-comics or cartoon), the bios would provide something for the fans to follow and talk about. And if they were released out of order, it would provide fans with the opportunity to piece them together and create the story in order (which they have -- exactly as we hoped they would!).
And honestly, with that as our goal, we succeeded beyond out hopes. We 100% expected the backlash we got (as I said, all hard core fans shy away from any change) but the idea of the bios was to justify figures and give fans something to talk about. In that sense, we succeeded beyond our hopes.
As we set about writing these, I knew personally that this was not only a HUGE honor, but we were writing them with permission from the fans. Yes, Mattel owns the brand, but it is the fans that have kept the brand alive for years. This was not something done lightly or in haste.
So to start off, with the 200X series and season 3 notes as our backbone of the story, we now went through a lot of the early material from people like Don Glut and Michael Halprin for what other ideas would work. We never intended for the bios to be an all-inclusive continuity, but rather intended to pick some of the best elements from different storylines over the years and include them where they make sense.
It also really helped that many of the figures had definitive bios and origins from either the 200X series (the show, like Stinkor or Fisto, or the comic, like Trap Jaw) or from the 1987 licensor kits. We actually started with these elements and in the case of the 1987 licensor kits, I spent hours literally hand typing out every single licensor kit to try and use as much exact test as possible. These licensor kits also provided the tone and manner of the bios.
Many fans and customers over the years have pointed out that the bios read a bit “childish” or have run-on sentences. To say this was intentional is an understatement! All of the bios were written deliberately to be in the style of the 1987 licensor kit bios. Since these often represented the only published definitive origin for many characters, we wanted to use the wording from the kits word-for-word whenever possible. If a licensor kit bio did not exist, we tried to write one in the style of the kits.
We also deliberately used the single line of text from the back of most vintage figures, trying whenever possible to work this line of text in as the “last line” of each bio. Again, if a figure did not have a vintage figure with a single line of text (like Gygor), we would write a final bio line that was in the style and structure of these single lines.
One of the things that cracked me up was when fans would specifically point out these final lines of the bios and flame about how poorly worded they were. In particular, I remember when Scareglow came out, people would flame the final bio line saying it felt out of place. All the while, this was the one line in his bio that was 100% accurate to the vintage toy! So some loved the new stuff we created for him (since he did not have a 1987 kit bio) but hated the one existing the vintage line we worked in. Oh, well, can’t please everyone!
It also really helped that the NA figures had long bios on the back of their cards, too. I also spent hours retyping these by hand so that we could use as much existing copy as possible. Of course, we would need to make up some sentences and ideas to fill in the gaps (or entire bios for characters, again like Gygor) who did not have a vintage figure or licensor kit bio. But there was so much existing copy from these sources and we tried to use it as much as possible, avoiding making up anything “new” where we could. This also kept the tone and manner, (run-on sentences) that were from the vintage days. Like it or hate it, the style did help unify the bios and more importantly let us use as much existing copy as possible.
We also knew from online posts that there were a group of figures fans wanted that contradicted themselves in previous stories. Most notable was King Grayskull and He-Ro. Both characters were originally He-Man’s ancestor in different stories (1987 mini-comic vs 200X series episode 35) and we knew we wanted to get to both figures in the new line (well, we already did King Grayskull, so you know what I mean).
So to zero in on this one specific issue, it was proposed that King Grayskull be the origin of the bloodline and He-Ro be the origin of the sword (the one who brings the sword to Eternia). This would allow both characters to play a key role in He-Man’s origin.
We also had challenges with characters like Orko. He was originally created for Filmation as a source of comedic relief. Now that he didn’t need this role, we really wanted to bump up his importance. Obviously we were not birds with our heads in the sand. Of course we knew this would be “controversial” to older fans. But we also wanted to use the bios to bring the story forward and explore new areas of the world. We didn’t want to just stick to the guidelines of what happened in the 200X series and the proposed third season. We wanted to use these bios and the figures to move the brand forward to explore new worlds and new storylines, often leaving them a bit vague in order for future creators and writers to take the helm and have a cool jumping off point to explore.
Wun-Dar and characters based on prototype art were also a challenge. Another goal was to make all of the characters as marketable as possible. Even joke characters were recast as serious players. This way, if the brand ever got to the point of expanding (oh, for example say into a line of mini-figures at retail, or Retro-Action figures, or whatever) that the Classics line’s bios would provide more fully marketable characters for us to use, not just characters called “Wonderbread mail-away bootleg figure” or “concept art He-Man.” You just can’t put characters like this into a potential retail line. But “Wun-Dar – the Savage He-Man” or “Demo-Man – Evil Spirit of Despondos” are way more marketable and their figure sales have proven this.
In the end, I could not be more proud of how the bios turned out. To this day, we really have not changed much from the draft that was written around the time of Strato’s sell-out.
After the first 200 or so bios were written, they were sent to the Mattel legal team, the Entertainment team (Ian’s old team) and the Design and Marketing team. We also sent them off to the Horsemen for their input.
And much like the rollout and release schedule, we received almost no comments. Overwhelmingly, the bios served their intended purpose:
1: Include the greatest number of characters possible in order to justify the greatest number of figures (potentially) to keep MOTUC going as long as possible (knowing we would burn through the vintage toys in time).
2: Use the best elements from existing stories based primarily around the 200X series storyline knowing the new bios were not a definitive cannon but a new story.
3: Use as much existing copy as possible from the 1987 kits, vintage figure backs and NA bio copy and use these to set the tone and wording of the bios (again, hence the run-on sentences and childish elements).
4: Create new story elements to help bridge gaps and/or make joke/concept characters marketable in the long term.
5: Introduce new elements/times/locations in order to move the brand forward.
6: Give fans something to talk about in lieu of new entertainment being available (even if they were only talking smack – as Oscar Wilde says, the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about!).
7: Release them purposely out of order as a new way of telling a story. Something no one had tried before letting fans enjoy (or hate) putting them together in order.
Given these goals, I would say we succeeded beyond out hopes. Yes, there are absolutely some fans who HATE the new bios. And to say this was expected is an understatement. But it is kinda interesting how the “hate” tends to be online only. (Customers are usually a lot more blunt when they can be at home posting using an avatar.) At conventions, the overwhelming feedback live in person has been the opposite, with fans coming out asking how we put up with all the online hate and how much they love the bios!
It is also interesting to gage the success of the bios on the number of requests for figures from concepts first introduced in bio form. The Fighting Foe Men and Demo-Man are both great examples. Both were introduced first in the bios, but since then there have been quite a large number of fans asking for them as toys (sometimes, as in the case with the Foe Men, not even knowing who they are – we do by the way! ). – And yes, we also knew there were fans asking us to never do a Demo-Man figure, but he actually wound up being one of our best sellers of all 2011! We sold more Demo-Man figures than we did Snout Spout or Bubble Power She-Ra that quarter.
Oh, I should also end this entry (in regard to the bios) on a few mistakes that 100% did happen. At first we had the time span between King Grayskull and He-Man to be 500 years. This was changed after a while to 5,000 years per the entertainment group. We knew we had several characters we wanted alive for King Grayskull and He-Man’s time, and at first 500 years felt like a better time span. But after rethinking it, the Entertainment group was totally right and 5,000 years felt more epic, even if it did mean having several characters be really old (or preserved through magic making them ageless!).
The other big, big mistake was on Tytus’ bio. His bio was one of those turnkey bios that was supposed to clear up a lot of order of event issues (much like Thunderpunch He-Man will). We actually messed up multiple times on his bio, first reversing the order of the Tree Towers being built and Castle Grayskull following. We also messed up the time line by “killing Tytus off” in the First Ultimate Battleground. This proved a mistake because we also wanted Tytus and the giants to be the “unknown hands that helped build Castle Grayskull” (per Glut’s mini-comic) Because the Castle was built after the First Ultimate Battleground it didn’t work to have Tytus die in the battle. It was felt it would be more important to have him help build the Castle vs. having him be one of the casualties of the battle. To “correct” this we just removed the final line from his bio. This was totally my fault, and my biggest and almost only regret with the bios. Hopefully, with this correction, the timeline of events is easier to follow. For those I threw off with this error, I am so sorry. It was a case of biting off more than we could chew!
So while the bios were expected to get exactly the reaction they got, they have helped us give fans something to talk about each month, a way to justify more figures in the line, and have added something new and fun with a new way of storytelling never tried before. They won’t be perfect, but we love them and plan to continue them for the length of the line! Hope you do, too.
Until next time!
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I really enjoy most of this Blog, though there are parts that still sound a little snarky, but there are a lot of great little tid bits, like know who the Fight Foe Men are, writing 200 bios!, and I have to wonder if they have found a spot for those little MOTU figures!