Q&A: Toy Storage, Star Wars On Demand, and Requests Galore

By Adam Pawlus — Sunday, April 10, 2016

1. Have you done any tackle box/storage research for 6" figures, if so what did you learn?

Your Plano and Flambeau tip solved a whole bunch of problems for me. Also you might want to check out this wire rack, it's made my teetering stacks of Plano boxes easier to sort through.

Thanks for the rack link, Ben - it turns out there are numerous sizes of these, which could be useful. I have to say that the idea of storage for my storage is not something I expected to see when I got in to this hobby, but here we are. If they make one that can better store a couple hundred tackle boxes, I'm in!

I have yet to hear of a fantastic system for the storage of 6-inch scale action figures. Action Figure Archival Trays has compartmentalized boxes that can hold 8 figures per tray at a cost of about $1.50 per figure before shipping and the cardboard boxes.

Due to the nature of The Black Series packaging, I'd probably suggest that you just hold on to the boxes and put them back inside when you're done with them. It's about as cheap and efficient as you can get, being basically free.

When I had to move a few years ago, I put my larger-scale figures inside paper lunch bags - the brown bags you used when you were a kid - standing up inside a cardboard box. (You could also use a comic box.) It works great! My Masters of the Universe Classics and Transformers Alternators made a couple of big moves unscathed, as the paper bags effectively functioned as packing paper - a nice cushion against other plastic and gravity. It's a different way to provide compartments and there's less wasted space thanks to the flexibility of the bags, however you don't get the satisfying hard plastic shell.

If there is a top-notch and cheap storage case, I'd love to hear about it. Plano and Flambeau tackle boxes are usually $4-$6 ($0.33 - $0.50 per figure) to store my 3 3/4-inch figures, so if you kind readers have anything that just plain works well and is easy to find in a big box or hardware store, I'm all ears.



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2. My White Whale is considerably less ambitious than yours: a 6-inch Bespin Han. Before recently, a popular version of a popular character would be a no-brainer, but with new movies to fill with new characters, he may be in Hasbro's infamous Parking Lot for a while.

I've been tweeting @HasbroNews every day in hopes of planting some kind of seed and lately I've been using #BespinHan. I know you've said letter writing campaigns and message board posts can be effective, but I'd love for anyone who wants their own 6-inch Bespin Han to join me in this endeavor.

I guess my question for you is: Do you think an initiative like this has any hope of coaxing Hasbro to do something they probably planned to get to eventually anyway? I don't want to wait for the 40th anniversary of Empire.

I've heard more than a few people in multiple walks of life tell me the difference a letter makes. And when I say letter, I mean the paper thing with a stamp on it. I've been handed actual letters requesting certain toys - those are harder to ignore than a hashtag or an email forward. It's real, it's tangible, and as someone who gets people writing in requests at my job - including boycotts for products we never actually sold - a form letter email does not pack the same punch as a paper typed or especially a hand-written note. That guy who hand-writes a letter in 2016 cares a lot more than, probably, anybody else.

There have been instances where fan outcry - or enthusiasm - has resulted in one figure coming out before another one, which in this era I would say is of tip-top importance. 5 years ago, would you have expected the era of super-articulated action figures to come to an abrupt end? For all we know Hasbro could cancel 6-inch tomorrow. Or switch over to new movie only. This is why you have to ask for these things.

I don't think a Twitter campaign of and by collectors alone will work, simply because the venn diagram is too narrow. How many old-school Trilogy collectors are there? Who are also on social media? And will also agree with you and not see your post as an idea to start their own campaign for something less reasonable than your idea? What you're looking for is so reasonable it's almost painful - but we're 3 years in on 6-inch figures and so far we've had a pretty decent selection of regular Han Solo, a frozen Han Solo, Stormtrooper Han Solo, Hoth Han Solo, and now last stand Han Solo. Since POTF2 started 21 years ago and we've yet to see 3 3/4-inch remakes of the original Imperial Dignitary, I'd hate to say anything is a foregone conclusion - Bespin Han is something they should and probably will do, but if you care (and you do care) why take the chance?

It's also worth noting that Bespin Han Solo is a great figure to make other figures. I'd love to see a deluxe Carbonite Block with removable Han solo - and many parts and pieces could be shared. Endor Trenchcoat Han Solo would be swell too, again sharing those Bespin Han parts. Never mind the fact they could do a "Kenner color jacket" as an exclusive for somebody, it's a solid mold that has a lot of juice in it. Since we have Bespin Luke, I hope we get Bespin Han - and Bespin Chewbacca with a C-3PO backpack, maybe, just throwing that out there.




3. Ignoring the legality (or lack thereof), do you think the future will bring 3D printed figures by fans to fulfill their requested characters?

I think the answer is both yes and no - because fans have different needs. For the sake of argument, I'm assuming the technology will get to the point where you can squeeze out a high-resolution glossy plastic figure before I'm too old to stop caring about such things. Right now, squirting out a production-level toy with the safety requirements and quality level you're used to isn't possible, but I've seen some things that make it look like 3D Systems and others are getting closer and closer. To the plastic quality. Deco and articulation, well, no.

Let's take a long-running duo that fans ask for and Hasbro won't make - the Tonnika Sisters. We've been told that Hasbro can do one or both once, in 2005. On every other occasion, we've been told that Hasbro can't do it. With Transformers, we've seen a whole weird avenue open up with something called "third party" toys. This euphemism is used for figures made in (usually) Asia that are in no way approved by Hasbro and in most cases try to avoid tripping over various trademarks - the "Transformers" brand name, the actual character names, and Autobot/Decepticon symbols are never used - but they're clearly an appropriation of Hasbro's character library. There are fans who are over the moon for these, despite the quality control and feel being different than what Hasbro would have made. They're also several times more expensive.

To some people, these are just as good - or better. Transformers fans are (typically) more likely to open toys and possibly customize them, so opening up a figure and slapping on an Autobot sticker isn't exactly a big deal to make it close to official. With Star Wars, we've been a lot less receptive to compatible products. Given the amount of adult collectors that demand packaging - vintage packaging, no less - I don't think most fans would be satisfied with a product that did not come from a factory in China on a boat that is sealed on a cardboard slab and was officially sanctioned by the House of Mouse.

We're not going to see "good enough" figures being squeezed out of 3D printers for a while, and I assume we're never going to see something that's going to perfectly match the look and feel of what Hasbro does - especially not super-articulated ones. Maybe it won't be glossy in the same way, maybe the details will be soft, or maybe it will just be a plain plastic figure that we have to give our one friend who knows how to paint things. (You know the guy.) The reason I bring up the Tonnika Sisters is because it's very very likely that this is something we'll never see Hasbro produce, and as such I don't think it's totally out of the question that someone out there will produce 3D files for "Space Barfly." (I'm pronouncing it "barfly" like an adverb, not "bar fly" because it's funnier that way.)

Since Hasbro and Kenner have been selling us branded Star Wars figures since 1995 with no real breaks and have yet to update the original 1980s line completely, I think we as a community are going to have to wake up to the reality that some things may never happen. It's a short list, but I'd say that if someone can make "Space Barfly" figures or statuettes that are the right size to fit in my Cantina diorama that I would probably shell out $20 tops per figure to have them. Of course, then we'd have issues with which version to get - with no actual license being granted or offered, there are numerous companies in China making third-party takes on Optimus Prime, Grimlock, and other toys - which one do you buy? Since none are official, there's no definitive version. Maybe one is too tall, another is too busty, another lacks key articulation, and so on.

...having said that, I don't think most fans will ever be satisfied until the sanctified Hasbro packaged action figures get made. A fake Vlix wouldn't do it for me, because that's the thing that I've been chasing since the late 1980s. I can buy a fake one - I want a real one. A fake Brea or Senni Tonnika may not do the trick for some people either because as a community, we're quite fond of packaging. Also I don't think any fan-made dioramas or accessories have as of yet set the collecting world on fire, but I also think that's because the amount of "us" left is smaller than everybody realizes.

The one thing I didn't tackle was official 3D printed versions, as I don't think Hasbro should ever contemplate them. They might - perhaps they can someday come up with a really good product - but I have to assume such an offering would be immediately cracked and pirated. Hasbro engaged in a few pilot programs to do officially licensed items for Transformers and My Little Pony through Shapeways (and Marvel with made-on-demand personalized 12-inch Titan Hero Series Super Hero figures) plus statues and accessories with very high prices and no packaging. Were Hasbro to somehow, in the future, be able to make full-blown toys this way I assume it would be the beginning of the end of toy collecting because once supply reaches infinity demand will probably be limited to we happy compulsive few. Once you remove "mint in package" and "scarcity," all you have left are the weirdos like me who open our toys and don't much give a rip about what something is worth beyond the passing curiosity of such things (unless I want to buy one). Once the file to make a toy exists in the wild, you can make as many as you want, and for the time being it is not necessarily cost-effective to do made on demand items. Doing products this way would result in a seismic shift in power, though, mostly because some aspects of toys and toymaking are dictated by the real customers - the big box stores, and not the collectors or even the kids.

...if the end product was identical (or very very close) to a legit store-bought product, I'd be in to it. But I don't think it's possible - we're going to see build lines, or the coloring will be weird, or the detail will be soft. For now. I'm sure some day manufacturing automation will be amazing, but assembly could be a hiccup - someone still has to shove the parts together. Having just built a Masterpiece Zoids kit, I can say that I have newfound respect and admiration for those who make it a career to put our toys together for us.




One of the recurring issues we've had is the playset question, which at times is also the vehicle question. Every few years a major motion picture comes out and has a one-wave-wonder line with a big vehicle and sometimes even a big playset - Pirates of the Caribbean pulled this off three times, and even Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull had a big playset that just happened to be a retooled version of an existing Star Wars environment. Most toy makers won't touch these bigger toys without massive media support and hopes of a strong kid push in addition to the increasingly splintered and aging collector community. (I don't mean we're merely old, but let's be honest - a lot of us who were hardcore fans unified in our fandom in 1997 don't see eye-to-eye with what makes a good toy in 2016, and that can be problematic.)

I stalk toy aisles to see what else is out there, and one area that's pretty cool is one that the vast majority of you are overlooking, mostly because you rightly don't care. Chap Mei toys has put out a series of cheap - cheap - toy 3 3/4-inch action figures and vehicles over the past decade and change. In the USA they're virtually unknown, the OEM source for Toys R Us' "exclusive" Animal Planet lines plus their various military, fantasy, and pirate offerings. Since there is no license and these things are made for global audiences without a license to saddle them down and parents like big cheap toys, they tend to do well. And I don't know if you've been looking at these things lately, but there's some mighty impressive toys that have come and gone in recent years - the quality is all over the place, but if you're a dyed-in-the-wool 3 3/4-inch figure fan you might find some nice "plays with" action for your Joes and Jedi. Heck, Marvel too.

Outside Toys R Us you'll find toys packaged in other configurations with brand names like "Ocean Quest" or "Dino Quest." There are a few boards dedicated to Chap Mei's own branded toys, and I'm having a heck of a time finding many good sources for news and information on this manufacturer. But I must say, I do like what I see - this Yeti play set brings to mind my constant demands that someone, somewhere, make a big 3 3/4-inch snow cave for our Wampas (this is too small) - but these items are nifty enough to watch. I bought a squid set and a Liopleurodon pack in 2013, and as a small child I'd be demanding the entire collection of this stuff. The vehicle and suit were of a decent quality - not bad, not great - while the creatures were actually pretty fantastic. (The human figures, well, they're not going to satisfy any deep throbbing urges for new G.I. Joes.)

Because they have a big customer in Toys R Us, with no license to sunset or any end in sight to a child's fascination with dinosaurs, sea creatures, and monsters - you'll see some of the biggest 3 3/4-inch action figures available in today's toy market. There are huge military vehicles. I'm not going to lie to you, I'm probably going to buy this sea lab set because it's huge and I dig whale toys. I've been eyeballing this elasmosaurus for years - it's been packaged a few different ways since then, and the thing is a foot tall. It's bigger than a Rancor monster toy. These are the toys of legend that nobody cares about because nobody paid the House of Mouse a tax to license some brand, but they're the kinds of toys all of us are wishing exist. And they do exist.

I bring this up not to salt your collective wounds, but to remind you the benefit of checking out other toy aisles. These are meant to be sold as real toys - they're sold for several years, produced under different brands in new boxes with different accessories. My limited interactions with them showed these to be better than museum gift shop toys but not as good as what Hasbro typically does, but they're still pretty ridiculous for the price, and if you can provide your own action figures these would probably be worthwhile additions to diorama builders or a kid toy box. I keep meaning to buy more of these but space and the fact that my toy collection is keeping me from enjoying my toy collection has kept me from getting too out there in newer categories, but if you're looking for ruins or tree houses you should probably hit the TRU and spend a half hour or so really giving these a look. (The employees may call security. That's OK.)

As far as I know Chap Mei has yet to delve into space fantasy in any meaningful (read: useful) way, but as we see what Transformers fans generously refer to as "third party" toys (generally high-quality original collectibles that are close enough to Hasbro's IP that you want it but not so close that anyone is getting sued) I continue to see great potential in this category. Could a space station playset be all that unrealistic? Might we see Lazer Sword Warriors? Or a bigger Yeti Snow Cave? Or Skunk Ape Treehouse City? The possibilities for interesting purchases in the outer fringes of the action figure and baby toy aisles are endless, so here's hoping that Star Wars continues to provide a big enough powerhouse that other manufacturers will want a piece of the action. And that the scale-of-choice won't get diluted to the point where it becomes less of a no-brainer.

...and since it's a kid line, you'll also find these dumped at Goodwill on the cheap from time to time. And they're even cheaper. And they may smell. Hey, it's not like you're ever going to see a big successful Indiana Jones toy line. These provide some pretty nifty compatible toys for the 2008 line.

...and also BotCon was last weekend. New Weirdwolf and Highbrow, people! Yeah yeah I know you don't care but I'm finding a lot more joy in the transparency of Transformers announcements compared to the opacity of Star Wars these days.

--Adam Pawlus

Got questions? Email me with Q&A in the subject line now! I'll answer your questions as soon as time (or facts) permit.