Diamond Select Toys is a sibling of the venerable Diamond Comics Distributors, and was started only a few years ago to bring high quality collectibles to the market. Over the last year Diamond Select Toys has been expanding into more varied licenses, action figures and mini-busts, and is debuting a new line of figures for both Marvel and Battle of the Planets this year to join the recently released Peter Cottontail line.
Eric Lyga is the marketing coordinator for Diamond Select Toys, and RTM had a chance to catch up with Eric about some of the new products from Diamond Select Toys (DST), the directions the company is taking and to get a look at what we'll see in the near future.
Raving Toy Maniac (RTM): Diamond has been either distributing or ordering toys and related items from others for years, so why did they create DS to actually enter the market directly?
Eric Lyga, Diamond Select Toys (DST): Diamond Select was created because the people in charge of Diamond Comics saw the opportunity to take the products in the collectors' market to the next level. For years now, many manufacturers have been copying each other, vying to be the best/most popular at a specific product. DST was envisioned as a company that would innovate, rather than copy what others have done.
1) The Dark Alliance line, combining the darkness of Chaos! Comics with the inmates of Art Asylum
2) The Painted Orb, a Diamond Select creation that truly must be seen to be appreciated
3) our Marvel busts, whose action poses, bases, and tremendous size have inspired our competitors to change their own designs to mimic ours
4) our figures from Battle of the Planets…a property that has a huge following but has sat around untouched for 20 years.
RTM: What does DST hope to achieve in the collectibles market?
DST: DST strives to create a brand name that is as popular in the mass market as the collectors and specialty markets. We want consumers to say, "Have you heard what Diamond Select is doing? It's going to be great! We want licensors to say, "We're looking for someone to make toys for our new movie/comic book/TV show... let's call DST." Right now people are still confusing us with our big sister (Diamond Comics Distributors), so we have a ways to go, and we understand that.
RTM: Will DST continue with the current mix of toys and other collectibles?
DST: Absolutely. Otherwise, you're selling yourself short. Action figures are always going to have a market, that almost doesn't need to be said, and, for me personally anyway, they're a lot more fun to work on. But at the same time the high-end collectibles (busts, statues, bookends, etc.) have created a market for themselves by being more appropriate and more impressive for the collectors who would rather not have an action figure sitting out on display.
RTM: In regard to the Marvel Select line, which characters do you currently have the rights to work with?
DST: We have the rights to all characters in the Ultimate Universe and the Marvel Knights titles. But we are also working in conjunction with Toy Biz, and they've already widened the range a little bit for us to include some other characters that they're not planning on doing. One of the first figures in the line has just recently been confirmed as a Wolverine figure, as seen in the Origin comic.
RTM: Where would you like to go in terms of characters with the line?
DST: For a line that will eventually be 36 figures (1 a month for 3 years), we have a great deal of latitude. I'd like to see us start out strong with some brand new characters so we can show people something new and of an amazing quality that they haven't seen before, then do some of the older characters that are fan favorites. For example, we're much more likely to do an Ultimate Wolverine or Ultimate Captain America figure that hasn't been done before we go back and do a Captain Britain or classic Spider-Man that's already been done by Toy Biz.
RTM: What sets Marvel Select apart from Marvel Legends or other Marvel figures?
DST: The Marvel Select figures were designed to be deluxe figures - they are dioramas, ultra-detailed versions of the characters. They follow the lead that McFarlane has set with his figures, and they are aimed at the most particular of collectors, the kinds of collectors that have told us that they prefer more detail, less articulation, and more product for their dollar. There's a reason these aren't going to be everywhere. Legends and other Toy Biz figures are designed for playability and mass market appeal. These are designed for the collector market and will retail around $20. These figures aren't going to appeal to everyone, and they aren't supposed to. They are targeted at a very specific consumer.
RTM: Why the larger scale for Marvel Select as opposed to the 6" scale used by many current Toy Biz products?
DST: A 6" scale in this line would not be acceptable, and I think people will agree with that as the line progresses. A 6" scale would mean that Ultimate Spider-Man is going to be 5 ˝" (after all, he's a short, slim high school kid again), and Elektra is going to be 5". I don't know too many collectors who are going to be excited about paying $20 for a 5" figure. Obviously, we know that we've ruffled some feathers with the scale decision, but look at our Ultimate busts. People said we were crazy for putting out a 7" bust for $50, but the added value of the size has not been lost on the collectors. Right off the bat, people are upset because they can't stand the Ultimate Spider-Man figure next to their Legends figures, but after the 10th and 11th figures ship, the overall size of these figures with their bases is going to make it impossible for them to be displayed together anyway.
In a nutshell, we wouldn't be putting out a product that is out of scale on purpose if we hadn't been told by collectors that there was a market for it. It would have been a heck of a lot easier for us to make it in scale and avoid the arguments and emails that we've stirred up, but we believe the final products will speak for themselves. Remember, this isn't a $6 toy that's going to be everywhere, it's a specialty market exclusive with a $20 price tag and collectors expect it to be different.
RTM: For Marvel Select are you making these more as collectibles or toys?
DST: Collectibles. These figures have been designed to be displayed and appreciated, not played with. That's why we've included incredibly deluxe bases and highly-detailed figures. We'll be posting more pictures on our website of the Punisher and Ultimate Spider-Man fairly soon, so those of you who didn't get a chance to see it at Toy Fair will know what I'm talking about.
RTM: What differentiates the DS busts and collectibles from Bowen or Dynamic Forces?
DST: We wouldn't be anywhere without Bowen, and I have to acknowledge that before discussing this. His run has been fantastic, and none of us would be making mini-busts if it weren't for him stepping out and creating an amazing product. But like I said earlier, Diamond Select's goal is to take products to the next level. Let's start with the "extras" we provide. On the Ultimate busts, we work hand-in-hand with the characters' designers/artists (Adam Kubert and Mark Bagley) on creating a piece that they feel accurately represents their character in three dimensions. The artist and Marvel Comics both approve every stage of the piece's production, from concept art to sculpt to final paint. The artist also creates a brand new piece of artwork, inspired by our bust, exclusively for the side of the box.
Then you come to quality. We work with some of the best sculptors in the business - guys like Gabriel Marquez who've been huge in the industry for years, and Rudy Garcia who personally signs busts at his local comic book store. They create amazing detail and then are followed with impeccable paint jobs that are unmatchable. Besides that, our busts have been placed in "active" poses and been given bases that have some thematic correlation to the characters, instead of an arbitrary design.
When all is said and done, we feel that we provide a great value to our customers…a seven-inch tall piece for $50 is pretty much unheard of in these circles.
RTM: With the collectible nature of mini-busts, will you be also numbered the runs?
DST: We've heard some complaints about people wanting our busts numbered, like some of our competitors, but unfortunately, it's not logistically possible. Without going into too much boring detail, let me just say that the legalities in our contract differ from some others out there, so we can't physically do it. However, we're going to do what we can. Beginning with the Ultimate Cyclops and Lizard busts that were solicited in March Previews, we're going to be hand-numbering the Certificates of Authenticity that come with each bust. It's the best solution we found, and hopefully people will see that.
RTM: Is DS going to stay close to comic book roots, or will there be a focus on more non-comics items (like Peter Cottontail and Battle of the Planets) and diversity in the lines?
DS: Diversity is really the key for us. As with a stock market portfolio, you never want to put all your eggs in one basket (no pun intended). We have a solid market in the comic book world, and we love being able to spread our wings with Marvel, Chaos!, Kabuki, Dawn, and all of the comic book properties that we bring into the third dimension, but we also love being able to work on something with the mass market appeal of an Edward Scissorhands or Battle of the Planets. Everything we do has to have a core "cool collector appeal." I mean, how cool is a rabbit figure with an iron tail that looks like Vincent Price? If we aren't constantly trying new things and pushing ourselves to the next level, we'll never get there, and someone else might find it first.
RTM: Who are some of the people and companies that you are working with on the various DS products?
DST: There are so many, it's impossible to mention them all. Classic Media and Sandy Frank Entertainment have both been exceptional licensors that have been extremely helpful in all aspects of working with Peter Cottontail and Battle of the Planets, respectively. Brian Pulido with Chaos! Comics/Eternal Toys gave us a chance when no one else would, and we are "eternally" grateful to him for that. The people at Rhino Video have been great at working on cross-promotions with us, and I would definitely be remiss if I didn't mention the constant assistance from the media like yourselves, ToyFare, TV Guide, and so many more that would probably annoy you for me to mention. In another vein, Digger, Donna, and the whole gang at Art Asylum are absolutely amazing to work with, and we consider it an honor that we are one of the only companies that they will work-for-hire with, due to all of their own products that they manufacture.
RTM: Are you going to use Diamond to distribute everything or any other distributors?
DST: Diamond is our primary distributor, but we do utilize other outlets. Companies such as John's Toys, Best Comics, and Georgia Music have all come on board and taken an interest in distributing Diamond Select's merchandise. We've also recently found several new international distributors that will be handling our products everywhere from France to New Zealand to Australia to Africa. Besides that, Electronics Boutique and Tower Records are national retail chains that have always been supportive of DST and carry a good number of our products.
RTM: As far as licenses, how has the mix been in terms of people you have approached and people who have approached you?
DST: In the beginning, it was all about us going after licenses, but lately the swing has started to flow in the other direction. For the bigger licenses (Edward Scissorhands, Battle of the Planets), we're still making the first call, but for smaller ones, or for licensors that we're already working with, they contact us. It's a good feeling when some of the biggest studios in Hollywood are requesting meetings with you to offer licenses from their films to you.
In fact, right now we're working on a bunch of new licenses for 2003, and we look forward to bringing our customers the very best products on the market.
Special thanks goes out to Eric Lyga for his time and assistance with this interview!