Marvel Select is a new line of highly detailed action figures being produced by Diamond Select Toys (DST) and Toy Biz to highlight characters in the Marvel Universe. The line's inaugural figure was the Ultimate Spider-Man, followed up by the Punisher - both of which are in stores now. Elektra will be the third figure and she will be available on December 18th, followed by Ultimate WW2 Captain America on January 8th, 2003. From there on (starting with the Black Widow) the figures will be released on a monthly basis over the next few years for a total of 36 figures in the line.
In December 2002, RTM had a chance to sit down with Eric Lyga (Marketing Manager at Diamond Select Toys) and Jesse Falcon (Senior Product Designer for Toy Biz) to take a closer look at the Marvel Select line. One thing is sure - both are very excited to be working on this line of figures!
Raving Toy Maniac (RTM) - Could each of you give us the Cliff's Notes description of Marvel Select?
Jesse Falcon (JF) - This is the ultimate line of collectible action figures.
Eric Lyga (EL) - The action figures a bookshelf puts on its Wish List.
RTM - Which characters are covered in the line?
JF - Most of the figures will be Marvel Knights or from the Ultimate books, but we can stray outside of those characters. We've already done that with Wolverine of Origin, so the future is very open.
RTM - Are any characters limited to only the Marvel Select line, or other prior lines from being in Marvel Select?
EL - There really isn't anything that will keep a character in one line or out of another. We would be open to doing characters that Toy Biz has done and they are open to do characters from this line in other lines.
JF - That being said, we would never produce a character in another line at the same time as the Marvel Select one is being produced. We aren't going to have two products of the same character out at the same time, so if this were to happen it would certainly be at a different time than the Marvel Select figures were in stores.
RTM - How has the character selection process been going? Has it been more of a 'here's our list and here's your list' or more of a collaborative effort?
JF - The process has been very collaborative with a lot of back and forth on characters for the line. There are plenty of people here at Toy Biz who love this line, like Avi Arad (noted toy designer and the man leading the charge for Marvel movies), Bill Jemas (Marvel's President), and Alan Fine (Toy Biz President), and they have made suggestions as well. It's been very much give and take, and both companies have brought characters to the table. For Bill Jemas, he's been a big supporter of the Ultimate books, so he wants to see these characters as toys. Plus, being downstairs from Marvel Comics we can get a feel for where books may be going, which characters are getting popular, and get feedback for characters.
Bill Jemas helped create the Ultimate books, so they hold a special place for him. It's one of the reasons we did Ultimate Spider-Man (that and the movie).
EL - One figure that came from Toy Biz was the Black Cat because Kevin Smith is planning on using her in his work on Spider-Man. That was a suggestion from them and it has turned out extremely well and she looks really good. We should have images of her available at the DST site by the time people are reading this (on Monday, December 16th). There is plenty of give and take, but DST has the final say on which characters are chosen.
RTM - There seems to be a higher ratio of female to male figures for Marvel Select over most comic hero lines.
EL - Yes, and that's because there are so many strong female characters from Marvel. You have a lot of popular women as characters, like Elektra, and Marvel Select gives us the chance to cover more of them. Being more a collector line and not mass-market we can have more women in the line-up without having to worry about a huge sell-through as would be the case for a larger line. And there are lots of collectors who want the female characters.
JF - Being in more of a direct market makes it much easier to make the female characters because they just don't sell as well as male ones in mass-market lines. We can also make the women look much sexier in this line than one that is for kids.
RTM - Are the character choices for the line going to weigh towards only newer characters, or characters that have changed recently?
EL - Not necessarily. We're making Elektra, and she's been part of Marvel for a long time. But we are looking at many newer characters and ones that haven't been made into toys yet. The line won't be about covering every character in the Marvel Universe as some may have thought initially, but to cover some newer characters or characters that have gone through changes. We also want to cover some of the coolest characters, so that's a factor in our choices.
JF - Marvel Select really isn't the line to cover every possible character from Marvel even though many people compare it with DC Direct. Georg (Brewer, VP in charge of DC Direct) is doing great work with DC Direct, but they are working towards a different goal than Marvel Select. Marvel Select isn't going to cover every character, but the more interesting and newer characters mixed with a few older ones.
RTM - Once characters are chosen is the same collaborative environment there for products design?
EL - Definitely. Once we have the character picked out, Jesse will work with people at Toy Biz to work on control art and start the design for the figure itself. From there we'll go back and forth on the look of the character, the pose, accessories and any extras and the design of the base. We'll go back and forth on this design before it goes on to being sculpted and eventually produced.
JF - We are doing a lot of the design work with feedback and suggestions from DST. It's a great chance for us to work together regularly with people at DST, and it's been a lot of fun.
RTM - One of the issues for the design has been over scale. What thoughts do you have on scale issues?
JF - Scale is one of those issues that is very hard to nail down because of comic book artists. Every artist approaches a character differently and some draw them larger than others, so finding a definitive scale is nearly impossible. In reference books they do try to pick a height but again, they are just trying to make a best guess because the scale changes with different artists.
And for every fan, there was an artist that defined that character for them or was the big artist at the time, whether it is Ditko, Kirby, Byrne or one of the Romitas. That is the scale that each person wants and you try to make the best choice, but you really can't please everyone all the time.
RTM - So far Shawn Nagle and Steve Kiwus have been doing the sculpting for the Marvel Select figures, are they going to do the entire line?
JF - We'll be using other sculptors besides Shawn and Steve. They've both done great work and their schedules have worked out very well for the early figures in the line, but as it develops we'll be using other people. Sam Greenwell is on board and we have plans for a fan favorite sculptor (from the Legends line) in the future. The biggest problem in working with some sculptors is scheduling time with them, and working around their other projects.
EL - So far we've been very happy with the work from both Shawn and Steve and the figures we've shown, and the ones that they've worked on but haven't been revealed yet.
RTM - The early figures in the line don't have credits on the package. Is this going to be consistent for the entire line?
EL - At DST it's been customary to credit the sculptor (and only the sculptor) for projects like this, though we aren't doing that for Marvel Select. It isn't a make or break issue for us, and even though we're not crediting the sculptors on the package, our website does list who did it.
JF - I know there are people in the industry who make a big deal about credits on the package, but you run into problems once you start with it. One question is how many people you list and who really deserves a credit for the figure. Where do you draw the line on that? Even the people at the factory who make the toys deserve credit. I think that the people who really care about who did the sculpting and work will be able to find out. They have them listed on the DST website and there are plenty of other places online where you can find out who did the work.
On one issue of credit though I want to make sure people know that I'm not the only product designer from Toy Biz on this line. Damon Nee is also working on the line.
RTM - Who is doing the actual manufacture for the toys?
JF - That's all being done by Toy Biz.
RTM - How are marketing and distributions being split on the line?
EL - Most of the marketing is being done by DST and we will be handling the official release of information, show off the figures at shows, taking the official photography and write-ups and handling the ads. We're also keeping everything up to date on our website, and that is the first place to look for breaking news on Marvel Select. Toy Biz is helping out by putting some information on their website. The distribution is being done by Diamond Comics Distributors. You'll be seeing the Marvel Select line in comic shops, smaller retailers and places like Musicland, Electronics Boutique, and Tower. They won't be in the larger mass-market retailers like Wal-Mart or Target. Honestly, I don't think anyone goes into Wal-mart or Target looking for a figure like Marvel Select.
JF - We have been releasing information and images on the Toy Biz website for the line, and DST is getting them out to the stores.
RTM - What are some of the big advantages for the Marvel Select line over mass-market lines that Toy Biz has worked on?
JF - Probably the biggest one is being able to work on one character at a time and this lets us really focus on that character and that one figure. We can put a lot more into the figure in terms of sculpting and design, and we have the time to make sure we get it right. Not having to work around an action feature eliminates some of the engineering for the figure, and there are many problems that get eliminated by doing a line like this.
The figure of Elektra is one that really shows what I mean. She has two sets of arms, and the hands are sculpted so she can hold her sais the same way she does in the comics. It's kind of a Mr. Spock 'live long and prosper' hand pose, but something that we have been able to incorporate into the figures. I don't know if we've seen any pictures of the figure that really show that off, but it's something that we were able to do because of the focus on a single figure at a time.
Another example is in the Black Widow figure, where her arms are articulated so she can bring up her M16 and then put her head down so her eye is looking into the scope. These are some of the smaller details that might get missed on a line where we would be working several figures for an assortment at the same time, but that we were able to get it right because we're able to spend the extra time with each figure. I really love all the characters and being able to work with them to get the details right is really great.
Another advantage that we hit on earlier is that we can do more female characters than a mass-market line.
RTM - What would you say is a disadvantage?
JF - For me, probably the biggest one is having to wait for the characters to get produced! I'm used to working on lines so you get several figures all produced at the same time, but with this one the time between them is more spaced out than with other lines.
RTM - Who has been your favorite figure to work on so far?
EL - I really like Elektra and the Black Cat is just amazing. Both have turned out extremely well and we'll be showing off the Black Cat here soon. They are both just great.
JF - I think my favorite is the next one! (laughs) Really, the next figure after Black Cat is the one I think I like best so far. I just can't say who it is yet!
(Note - Currently the next figure in the line is scheduled for announcement in January. The DST website is the place to check for the first announcement of this figure.)
RTM - How has the experience been working with Toy Biz for DST?
EL - Diamond has been working with Toy Biz in some capacity for years, so this isn't really anything new. But working with Toy Biz has been great, and a real learning experience for us. DST is about innovation and combining that with the high quality that Toy Biz brings has made some really great products. It's built on mutual respect from both companies.
RTM - How has the experience been working with DST for Toy Biz?
JF - It's been a lot of fun really. We've worked with them for years, and this is a project where we can work more regularly with friends. It's a big line with 36 figures planned, and that's a big commitment so it's good to be able to see that through all the way. I'm just having a lot of fun on this line!
RTM - How has the line been received at each company?
EL - Very well! Steve Geppi (CEO of Diamond) has been very happy with the figures so far, and everyone is very pleased with how things have turned out. Steve has just loved the toys, and it's been very well received.
JF - We've seen the same thing here. Because of the way we're working together on this, we don't usually get samples sent here the same as we would with much of what we manufacture, so we order the extra samples for the people here through DST. For that we have to make sure we get everything in during manufacturing, so the first set of samples we've been able to get distributed around the offices have been of the Punisher figure. When Bill Jemas got his he showed it off around the office, and everyone here is very pleased with the way these have turned out.
RTM - What has each company learned from this experience that will be translated into other lines in the future?
EL - We've really been able to learn a lot from this. Toy Biz has been making toys for years, and Jesse has been involved in the toy industry longer than DST has been around. They bring a lot of experience with them and we've been able to pick things up to help us better design and manufacture things in the future.
JF - One thing that has been really fun and interesting is the way this line is being designed. Being able to work on one character at a time and having the extra time to spend on each character has been very different from what I'm used to. It's great to be able to do things a little differently than the usual.
RTM - So, when will we see a complete list of Marvel Select figures?
EL - Most of the characters haven't been chosen yet, and working too far in advance could be bad if the characters change before we get to them. So the simple answer is when we announce the 36th figure, you'll have a complete list!
RTM would like to thank both Eric and Jesse for their time in preparing this interview! And thanks for making the toys!!