Welcome back He-Fans and She-Ravers (never get sick of that fan coined term!).
So King Grayskull’s success was behind us. Now what? How (and can we) do a full line of MOTU characters using these new shared parts?
Grayskull was a bit easier to green light since we already had an approved “slot” for him for SDCC (before we ever saw the Horsemen He-Man proto!). Switching him from being the “last” 200X figure to the first “Classics” figure was a bit easier (due to having the slot already for one SDCC MOTU figure). Pitching an entire line would now come with its fare share of hurdles.
The original idea from the management team was to pack MOTUC figures as two packs pairing an A list figure with a B or C list figure. Experience from other brands had shown that only the top guys tend to sell so if we could pair a top guy with a not so top guy it might help move more units. (little did we know that in time the customer base would prove almost any MOTU character would sell! A true exception in toy making and a testament to the strength of the brand and the fans!)
We knew that MOTUC needed to use heavy shared tooling and parts to work from a financial stand point. Luckily the vintage line shared this strategy so we had precedent for this tactic without looking like we were going cheap. It also made the figures feel very “MOTU” by having them use common arms, legs, and furry loin clothes! Additionally, we came up with a creative direction for sculpting (more on this in a later blog).
All figures would be done in the new “Classics style” the Horsemen so brilliantly created. Much like 200X is a (and I know fans hate this phrase) “hyper detail” interpretation of the vintage toys, Classics was a new interpretation of the same vintage figures but in a new style. Yes, there were many fans who wanted more 200X style figures, but that was not what Classics was about. We took the same starting point that 200X did (the vintage line) but created a new look and style called “Classics” that would work for any character. Essentially, this was the idea:
-All characters would be considered modern upgrades of MOTU Vintage figures from the 1982-1987 line.
-If a figure did not have a vintage counterpart from the 1982 line, we would first “imagine” what that figure might look like had he or she hypothetically been in the vintage 1982 line and then make the update into Classics style.
So for example, a POP figure that was originally a doll figure in the 1980’s girl’s line would first be reimagined as what she (or “he” for Bow) would look like had the POP figures not been in a girl’s doll line but rather were females in the boy’s MOTU 82-87 line (like Teela or Sorceress who were female action figures not dolls). Then we would update that hypothetical vintage figure into Classics using shared parts. While this meant doing away with some of the POP soft goods and rooted hair, it helped make them into female action figures, not dolls, which was the idea. (Additionally the original vendor couldn’t do rooted hair so that sealed the deal on that option).
This was also applied to NA and 200X original characters (i.e. Carnivus, Faceless One etc…) We didn’t want to do a direct 200X character with all the Spawn inspired hyper details of early 2000’s toy making. Besides, management was VERY clear that this style was to be retired. We could do 200X weapons or armor in the Classics style, but not character faces or bodies (so Beastman for example would not be larger like he was in 200X but rather in scale to all other figures like he was in the vintage line).
We wanted all Classic figs to have the same style based on this new look the Horsemen created. So even a 200X character was first reimagined as if he or she had “had a vintage MOTU fig” and then updated for the Classics line. Same with NA to ensure we had the beefed up look for the Galactic Protectors and Space Mutants and not the super skinny look they had in the vintage NA line.
With this creative direction in place, we put together a proposal to management for how we wanted to do a handful of skus. 3 actually. The plan was to create 3 different 2 packs pairing a good guy and a bad guy together. By using these packs to tool the 3 main body types we would be set up for success should these sell well. The original plan was:
He-Man vs. Beastman
Skeletor vs. Stratos
Man-At-Arms vs. Zodac
Yes, yes you can argue that Zodac is not a bad guy but really this was about zeroing in on 6 characters that could use the human, reptile and beast bucks with minimal new parts. Mer Man needed more new parts vs Zodac so he didn’t make the cut.
Very late in the game the choice was made to split these 2 packs up into single figures to spread the releases out and have 6 months worth of product. This would give us time to gage success of the line and whether we could move forward with a 7th figure. (and on a personal note I am so glad this choice was approved!)
While most of “He-Man” was paid for already though King Grayskull, obviously a few additional items were needed. Originally design only wanted to give He-Man the half power sword. In one of those (not so rare) occasions of me stepping out of my marketing silo, I literally begged design to please throw in the full sword as well.
Additionally, the original plan was not to have the swappable heads or armor (which is why King Grayskull’s head and armor was not removable). As a fan, I really wanted swappable heads and armor for customization, and I extrapolated that my desires for multiple heads likely mirrored most fans’ desires. So again I literally pleaded and begged the design group to please look into this as an added feature.
While this meant a two month delay in product launch, design was willing to execute on my proposal to make removable heads and armor. He-Man was reworked to have this feature. This is why He-Man was delayed from early fall to the very end of 2008. I think it was worth it!
Packaging was also a major issue from the start. Management was pretty clear that we needed to do this on a very minimal budget and we had almost zero resources for new packaging. Actually, the specific direction from management was to slap them in a plain white box and send them out. Because this was an online toy line, management did not see why we needed full color packaging (retail needs packaging for obvious reasons). As a toy fan, again I knew many customers want to keep their figures mint in box as “art” pieces so it was important to go all the way (if we could). I was willing to fight for this too.
I sat down with packaging and pretty much begged them for any resources possible. While we couldn’t go with the red rock vintage homage concept that the Horsemen had pitched, we had the great Green Brick design from the SDCC figure already in the can. If we could use these existing graphic elements it would save a huge amount of time.
I was also very insistent that the bubble blister had the inverted belly button mark that was an homage to the vintage line. Because this was a simple addition, packaging agreed to add this even though they had little budget or resources. Essentially a few MOTU fans in the package group stayed late on their own time to make this package happen. (so while some fans have complained about the package over the years, you have to realize this was all done on spit and wax. It was pretty much reusing the green brick from the SDCC figure or having a plain white box. The option for a more elaborate package was just not available or possible).
We also knew that there was no new entertainment planned to support the line and we had no budget for mini comics (like I said, we could barely afford to create a new package!). Especially when fans voted for multiple heads over mini comics at NYCC in Feb of 2008.
To give fans some type of “entertainment” we decided to put bios on the back panel. Obviously there are tons of contradictory cannons for MOTU. We didn’t intend (and still don’t) for MOTUC to be the definitive cannon. There is no definitive cannon. The stories fans make up in their play and imaginations are just as valid.
But what we did do is take the best elements from different (often contradictory) cannons and merge them into one storyline. I’ll have more to say on this when we get to Stratos which was about the time all of the bios (beyond the first 6) were written.
The last packaging element was getting the vintage art for the shield. Luckily most of the vintage figures had art across the top. I put in a request to the archive department and pulled the 6 vintage figures that corresponded to the 6 figures in the roll out. (boy was there a lot of dust!) Cards were scanned and the art was good to go.
One quick side bar to note. All of the vintage figures also had one line of “copy” across the art. He-Man’s was something like “He-Man defends Eternia with his friends and allies” or something like that. I thought it would be really cool if the one line of copy from the vintage figures was incorporated into the bios so we made sure that the “last” line of most bios (Skeletor is an early exception) was the final line of the new bios. The idea (kinda) was “what if these bios were around for the vintage line, they just got cut down to one line on the final figure”. Now for the first time we were presenting the hypothetical “full bio” for each character as written in the vintage days (at least this is kinda how I saw it in my head, take it or leave it).
So there we had it. 6 figures ready to go, 6 bios written and we even managed to find a way to create packaging with almost no resources available What a month that was.
But I digress. Back to He-Man specifically.
So here was our flagship guy. The most powerful man in the Universe ready to kick off what could potentially be an entire line of new updated collector aimed figures. Man I hoped this worked! A lot was on the line.
The first samples came back and he looked great. A little bit too much overspray on the eyes and a few small adjustments, but the head was now removable as was the power vest. He had the half sword and the full sword that I begged for. At this point it was time to see if he would sell.
He-Man went up on Mattycollector.com in late fall 2008 and did “okay”. He was not at all a runaway success. We sold a modest number of units, but not anywhere what I expected or what Mattel needed to sell in order to green lit more figures.
Oh well. At least we got He-Man, King Grayskull and Beastman and Skeletor were already in production so we knew they would at least be sold. I had little hope after He-Man’s slow initial sell that we would ever get to another figure beyond the first 6 (well 7 if you count King Grayskull – which I do!).
One side note I should add is that He-Man was actually the first figure to suffer from the dreaded “reversed shoulder” issue. When He-Man was assembled (and actually the original King Grayskull too I should add) the male human shoulders were new to us and no one but the Horsemen caught that the shoulders were reversed. Obviously we made this correction with the second run, but man, now embarrassing. Luckily the detail that differentiated left from right was very minor. But still. A figure that wasn’t perfect was not what we wanted to sell.
Luckily (for us) fans did not have much exposure to these figures yet and no one really caught his until Skeletor came out with corrected shoulders (more on that when I get to Skeletor in this blog series). Plus, since He-Man was our main guy, we were able to get the resources to swap his shoulders for a second release later on.
Packaging and accessory issues aside, the line was kicked off. It wasn’t a run away success yet and no one (including myself) was looking or even thinking we could do more then these 6 figures ending with Zodac. At least we had 6 in the pipe and if sales picked up maybe, maybe we would get to more. Only time and fan interest would tell.
I love this stuff!