Todd McFarlane is working with DC for the first time in a quarter century - but this time, he's doing it in his other medium: toys. At Toy Fair earlier this month, McFarlane Toys announced a three-year deal to produce action figures from DC comics, TV, and films titled DC Multiverse beginning in 2020.
“It’s interesting that I’m not sitting here going ‘oh, they’ve all been doing it wrong’; that’s not my goal,” McFarlane told Newsarama.. “My goal is to acknowledge that there is this 365 day, evergreen brand called DC Multiverse and at the top of this list is Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman and just do all this high-quality stuff that we’re known for and I don’t think we have to reinvent anything.”
McFarlane also explained about how he’s going to approach not just the hardcore collectors, but the everyday fans who just like the characters.
“Every few months, there’s always a new fan coming in and saying ‘I like those characters’. I just don’t need to overthink it,” he said. “I think if you overthink it, you start to add things that start to jack up the price and I always have been price sensitive. We’ll do some two-packs and things that Amazon can spend more money on, but at its core, I just need to do those characters right in a variety of looks that people can just pick the ones they want.”
In recent years DC has produced a number if artist-specific lines ranging from Jim Lee to Ivan Reis; could the same be happening, with a McFarlane-designed line of DC action figures? Short answer: "yes."
“I think the answer is yes. Now, do I want to do designs based on TV shows as well? Of course I do. Then do I want to do an interpretation of comic book-designed look, yes. So if people like those, we’ll give them to them," McFarlane said. "Now, if DC says, 'We just need a cool looking Batman,' then I get to put on my Todd McFarlane hat and go 'Okay, what’s that look like?' They’re pretty wide open to most of our suggestions. I’m not saying they’re going to approve every little thing we put out to them, but they’re saying if I have a cool idea in my head, then show it to them.”
But that’s the thing though, what does Todd McFarlane visualize when he thinks of cool? As he said, "cool" is "a big word."
“It all depends on my age,” he explained. “If I’m 25 and not a comic book collector, I may want something from the movies. Take for example, Aquaman, if you took everybody that reads the comic book today and got them to go to the movie, it would have made maybe half a million dollars. Instead it made a billion worldwide. That tells me that not just comic readers are going to these movies, but people who just like the concept of superheroes. That doesn’t always mean they like comic books.”
He went on to say that he feels that the entire planet is “drunk on superhero type of storytelling” and how he wants to take that hunger into consideration.
“That 25-year-old is probably going to want something that looks like what he saw coming out of the theater. A six-year-old kid and his mom who buys something for his birthday, might not be as discriminatory. She might want something at a value, doesn’t look like it’ll break in a week, and something with a bulk to it so it can be played with. It’s a toy! Take both of these people and put them at the store together both wanting Aquaman because he’s sort of hot right now then they may be looking for something different on the shelf.”
McFarlane said he intends to release a "visual range" in the market and then see how sales come back to determine what do to more of.
“Are there more of the 25 year olds or the kids?," he asked, rhetorically. "I hope to do both, but the data and the sales have to come through first.”
The figures themselves are only part of the visual aspect though. McFarlane had other thoughts, including the packaging and how it can grab attention.
“No matter what I end up doing though, it has to end up looking good in the package," he said. "I want to do a Frank Miller Batman but it still has to look super cool for any age range to take notice. The average consumer might not now it’s Frank Miller, and I bet they probably don’t, much like how they don’t know who I am, so the only reason I would do a Todd McFarlane Batman because the cape and the set up would be interesting and not just for the comic fans.”
For his sports figures, McFarlane splits the figure in two and the customer has to assemble it together, especially with the NBA players doing a trademark dunk. He talked about the problems with doing that with superheroes.
“There’s something weird about that though and people don’t see the whole picture, just like with our dragons and their wings, but when you get it out of the package it’s awesome! You can’t expect the consumer to be educated with the whole package.”
When responding to the suggestion about the visuals on the back on the package, McFarlane felt that customers, notably when passing by, are literally “going to judge a book by its cover."
“So for ones we can’t figure out how the cape is supposed to work, may just have to be in something where the boxes are allowed to be a little bigger and the price can be a bit more. We’re limited to box sizes when we get into the stores.”
DC's recently released Primal Age series with Funko reintroduced the idea of playsets, including a Castle Grayskull-inspired Bat Cave. McFarlane does see the opportunity there to do it with the DC Multiverse line, but there is a catch.
“If it makes sense. It all makes sense. I’d like to take a crack at some vehicles, too. So all of the above. The Warner Bros people said to me, and I’ll take them up on it, was again 'Put it on paper and show it to us.' They might say no to 90% of that, but they’re still saying yes to 10%, but at this point there are no ‘no’s’. I have high hopes of doing some fun stuff!”
Another huge thing for collectors was the build-a-figure feature (which DC Classics had dubbed Collect n’ Connect). McFarlane said he wanted to keep that idea intact, but not just having one huge figure.
“I think there’s a couple different ways of doing that, too,” he explained. “I think there’s the way of physically connecting them and then there’s the connecting them by a visual connection. Think about the Movie Maniac line where they all had the movie poster and the stand so if you got them all, they looked like they all belonged to the same family. I think there’s other ways to get that.”
McFarlane Toys' DC Multiverse line is announced to debut in 2020, so 2019 for Todd McFarlane will be about prototypes, sculpting finalization, paint jobs, and such - but he aims to debut the first chance he can.
"Our license begins in 2020 and to me, that means January 1,” he said. “So to have product on the shelf on January 1 or at least at close to it, means we’re getting started right after Toy Fair and dive bombing into this. We have to start manufacturing soon so we can have it in our warehouses so we can have it on shelves in just ten months. That’s the selling point.”
That does mean he'll just miss Christmas 2018 - but that's okay.
“I get it, I’ll miss Christmas," McFarlane sighed. "But I know there are people out there who want to see a Todd Batman and Superman.”
After being in the industry for 30 years, the topic came up about what Todd himself is excited for most with this license and getting to play in this legendary sandbox.
“Getting to do the core characters because I don’t want to sit there and complain how I never got to do a Batman,” he stated. “Every week there is a new Batman fan walking through those stores.”
This is the second major license McFarlane Toys has acquired in recent months, following the reveal of a Harry Potter line. Thinking bigger picture, McFarlane has a vision of what his company could do next.
“It would be cool to do a Star Wars line, one DC, and one Marvel, maybe a Spidey, but I just want to do one! So finally after twenty years we finally got a piece of it. So here’s the big Todd dream! But we come out and do this piece for Fortnite and people go ‘oh hey that’s pretty cool’ then see me and ‘oh now he’s doing DC Multiverse’ but then some other big brands come over and carve me a little corner and then all of a sudden I’m doing four or five big brands at once. I don’t know if that’ll happen, though, but that’s what I want.”