Q&A: Let's Talk Paint, Black Series, and How Movies Are Changing Our Toy Runs

By Adam Pawlus — Sunday, May 18, 2014


1. It seems the TBS 6" paint apps are getting worse with each new wave. Do you or any of your customizing friends know of any easy way to remove paint drips/smudges from these figures?

It depends on the nature of the paint issue, and I am generally not skilled enough to repaint things. When it comes to removal, sometimes - it depends on the paint and the plastic and the figure - you can very, very carefully lift a small stray line or blob of paint with a sharp hobby knife. If you are fortunate enough to find figures in brick-and-mortar, sometimes you just need to go through dozens of figures - for example, I examined over 100 Indiana Jones figures before finding one with what I considered to be acceptable (not great, just acceptable) eye paint. Normally I look at one figure, maybe two if there's something visually wrong.




2. There is a great disturbance in traditional brick and mortar retailers. I'm sure that on your travels in search for that Holy Grail, you've noticed that the toy aisles have more empty pegs/shelves than overflowing with products. This is not limited to just Hasbro/Star Wars but almost everything else. For example, Mattel's WWE figures, Hot Wheels/Matchbox, etc. just to name a few. On my travels, I have Toys "R" Us, Wal-Mart and Target as the "Big Three" big box retailers that I frequently explore but unfortunately end up empty-handed. Retailers are eager to blame online retailers for their poor 4th quarter sales. If I were a CEO of one of these companies, I would ensure that my business would be at the forefront of consumer demand. It's seems that they would rather just wither away as a fond memory than re-energize their businesses. I guess we are witnessing an end of an era when back in the day you could go to any retailer and find robust aisles of products instead we are treated to an endless wasteland. What's your take take on this dismal situation?

Between April and August, there are four huge Hollywood movies comprising Hasbro's product catalog. In most years Hasbro had two or maybe three to deal with. The competition for the boy's toy market has gotten less and less varied. Mattel has no significant movie toys, and therefore is trying their hardest with their other, unpopular stuff. (Sorry, Max Steel, nobody likes you outside South America.) Hasbro has multiple studio partners and their own properties to develop, and as crappy as it is for Star Wars just be happy if you aren't a fan of G.I. Joe because this year - Joe's 50th - you get basically nothing short of a couple of repaint exclusives. Kids don't like Joe, so Joe's basically on life support. Unlike 19 years ago when I started writing about this stuff, Hasbro is now completely addicted to the movie blockbuster cycle for the bulk of its boy action toy money - the games division isn't hopping, and girls seems to be doing just fine thanks to the Bronies and the younger, girlier audience that gets less press coverage because they're less fun to mock by your local news team.

As such, I would say that your concern depends on what you're looking at and when. Mattel's Hot Wheels gets restocked at most stores frequently - dozens of full pegs at Walmart may empty within a couple of days, and a few guys come early enough in the morning to rifle through (and buy) all of the new waves at times. If you follow dash codes, the 9-digit assortment code appears on the back of each cardback - Hasbro doesn't even do anything like this - so the collector can tell which assortment(s) shipped to the store based on what remains behind. If you follow the news at HotWheelsCollectors.com, you can see that new stuff is coming - you may not see what you want, but it was there. I hear WWE is pretty dismal right now if you're collecting that, but Hot Wheels, I keep finding new stuff. Not necessarily what I want (The Homer, dagnabbit!) but at least I'm seeing new cars hitting the big stores and evidence of other cars, too.

With Hasbro, you're stuck in their new, locked-in media-driven loop. Toy releases are now hitched up to Hollywood. Hasbro puts nearly 100% of their male action toy focus this season on the new movie toys - so you get Captain America for a few weeks, followed by Spider-Man, followed by Transformers (hitting this week), followed by Guardians of the Galaxy (June), followed by Star Wars Rebels TV in the late July/early August period. They have many properties and are holding back some of it due to the marketing plan - they want one item to do well before rotating in the marketing dollars for the next one, as it isn't to their benefit to compete with themselves for kid and adult souvenir dollars. You may be saying "But what about the collectors?" and to you I say, awwwww. That's cute. We're important, but not that important. We don't always bring the money we used to, or they would be catering to us more like they used to. I can't name a single brand of boy's toy in the Hasbro portfolio aimed at boys ages 4-11 (the young male action figure target demographic) not based on a major property this year. Things are only slightly better for girls, because Baby Alive, FurReal Friends, and a few others - Play-Doh is considered a girl's brand, if you didn't know - don't require TV or a movie for their growth. Of course, that won't stop it from happening anyway.

What you're seeing with Hasbro is largely by design - a mix of the marketplace, their reaction to the marketplace, and a few errors along the way. (I still blame stores for hanging on to 2010-2012 product still as of now, in 2014.) What it seems they want - what they say they want - is to sell fewer product styles, but more of each. That means kids, because if you can get kids into something they're generally less picky and have more birthday parties than most collectors do. Without a ToyFare or other central toy collector hub - and let's face it, the Internet hasn't been able to replicate that sort of an informational one-stop shop - you can't educate collectors about anything they aren't specifically interested in, and in the end you're just going to have a bunch of increasingly isolated brand fans stick around until the line bleeds off enough customers to no longer be financially viable. Again, please reference G.I. Joe.


3. I know that a lot of collectors are getting into the 6 inch figures and I have heard a lot of good things but I was wondering if you think they will start to do vehicles? I know a speeder bike is coming and beasts seem to be something that can be done down the road, but how about X-Wings and Tie Fighters? Possible?

Let me ask you this - what are you willing to pay for them?

The last new Speederbike for 3 3/4-inch figures we saw was over $20. So was the Landspeeder. Is it worth paying double or triple for an enlarged vehicle? It's not unprecedented, but look at the 6-inch scale figures. Mattel produced a Batman 1966 Batmobile (which is pretty cheap feeling and $60) last year, and little else for vehicles for DC. He-Man got a Wind Raider and a Sky Sled, plus some creatures. Marvel Legends got pretty much nothing other than build-a-figures, and those don't count. These things are expensive, and the fact that we even got a Speederbike on deck was pretty astonishing to me.

"Big Wing" TIE Fighters have been $30-$60 for a while, depending on who got it and when. I assume that means that the basement for a 6-inch scale TIE Fighter is $60 and if they stick a figure in there, it goes up another $20. The new 31-inch X-Wing - with no figure compatibility - may be a good rough size for a 6-inch scale figure, but the tooling that needs to be done will raise the cost a bunch. To hollow it out and add moving parts is a complex process because the toy as it is now doesn't have a separate piece for the canopy or opening wings as far as I can tell. Simple is easier and cheap, especially with fewer moving parts.

As a long-time collector I'd be fine if they kept it small - Dewbacks, Tauntauns, and maybe a Landspeeder some day would make me pretty happy. My worry is Hasbro is operating under "Let's do the Speeder Bike because we can sell it to fans again with Luke and Leia on it." It happened with the 12-inch line, and the 3 3/4-inch line. It could happen - if the momentum is there, it will happen - but do you really want to pay for it at this point? I kinda don't need a fleet of them.




Can anyone in Canada hook me up with the new Saga Legends Darth Maul, Snowtrooper, Obi-Wan Kenobi (Clone Wars), and Luke Skywalker (Jedi Knight) figures?  Please and thank you.

Not too much new to comment on - we went from having new waves of action figures and Titanium vehicles every few weeks to it being generally slow - but given the new movie-based Hasbro calendar, this is happening to everybody. Ten years ago, Hasbro was trying to keep G.I. Joe afloat as cheap 2-packs, Star Wars was just about to kick off the Original Trilogy Collection, Transformers was in full swing with Energon, and Marvel was still at Toy Biz. Things have changed a bunch, and hopefully by this time next year we'll be seeing the first leaked pictures of new movie toys.

One of the things introduced with that first prequel was the concept of toy street dates - these simply didn't exist before this in the USA. Sure, stores may not have put stuff out until a new season (like the day after Christmas) but the idea of having a toy stamped "do not sell!" was downright new - and I would argue that the last time they really truly made an event out of this sort of thing was for The Phantom Menace. There was a big midnight event - people stood in lines, aisles were roped off, and whatever stores bought was basically double what any sane retailer should have ordered. The chaos resulted in carts full of toys being bought and there were still shortages of popular characters like Darth Maul due to speculation and all of that nonsense.

Since then Hasbro has added other brands to the street date mix, with dates for The Clone Wars, Revenge of the Sith, Attack of the Clones, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, and even all of the Transformers movies to name a few. In the last week we saw Age of Extinction toys roll out with a whimper. Some stores started putting them out a week ago, even though the target date was Friday of last week. Some stores didn't have anything to put out - and still don't have it out. The whole notion is something of a hassle for all parties involved, particularly when the desired result - a unified retail presence - doesn't happen. It seems Target stores just put out whatever random items they felt, and some put out nothing. Toys R Us did a pretty good job having some stuff out, but it varied from store to store - just like Walmart, who largely put out stuff a week early if they felt like it. It's not the same toy monolith we got in 1999, when Star Wars was given its whole, complete aisle - both sides! This will probably never happen again, mostly because it seems all the retailers put a huge effort in that launch with diminishing returns for each successive Star Wars property and little to no enthusiasm for other big toy release dates.  I was just at a fairly sizable Target that has still yet to put out new movie Transformers.

I would be shocked if we don't see something big for Episode VII at midnight - after all, Toys R Us did something for The Clone Wars smack dab in the middle of San Diego Comic-Con in 2008 - it will be interesting to see how it shakes out. After all, a December movie would have toys most likely hitting in October or November. It usually isn't much earlier than that, but the first Lord of the Rings did land on store shelves in September with seemingly no restrictions. Anyway, all we have to do now is sit and wait - with the new Rebels vehicles looking decidedly more Star Wars-y than much of what the prequels had to offer (no offense to the prequels) I'm hopeful that what we see will eventually be great.

--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.