John Kent is many things: a film producer, a collector, writer, entrepreneur. Above all, he's a serious student of pop culture, especially the forgotten toys of the 70's and 80's. With Toyfinity, Kent has resurrected obscure American gems like Rock and Bugs and Things, The Manglors, and Robo Force.
What's your background? When and where did you grow up?
I grew up in Philadelphia, PA - born in 1976, so I'm right in the middle of the culture change of that decade - too young to really remember Charlie's Angels, but completely influenced by Star Wars, Battle Beyond the Stars, Creepshow, and Piranha.
I come from a family skilled in the custodial arts - my dad was a school custodian and my mom cleaned trains for a number of years. My brother and myself were even custodians for a few years, here and there. A fairly normal life for a child of the 80s - parents divorced, spent lots of time with my brother at home while my parents worked hard to give us a good life.
What were you favorite toys as a kid?
Its a tough question - there were so many! I remember carrying around an X-Wing Luke for years. With my initials on the back in black magic marker - one of mom's touches to make sure no one stole "my" Luke. I had some Adventure People - the Alpha Probe and what I called the Scooby Van (actually some camping set with motorcycles) survived many of my childhood toybox clean-outs, along with a couple of astronaut figures, including the blue-haired, green-skinned guy who helps to influence me today (evil is a mirror reflection of YOU or IS YOU! We've really had this concept drilled into us through Star Trek and so many other media properties, but it continues to have relevance in my life). I think back and I think my love of robots and space was directly from Star Wars and the amount of different movies/television shows which came in its wake that explored space life.
I had a ragtag grouping of toys that were all from space properties - Buck Rogers and Twiki, VINCENT and Maximillian, the green monster dude from Battlestar Galactica (I know he has an official name, but I always thought of him as the monster from the Beast Within turned good) - that all supplemented my Star Wars collection. Anything that was in-scale became a member of the team. Later additions included Voltes V and Dangard Ace from the mini-Shogun Warriors, Luke Duke, and the Remco Creature from the Black Lagoon.
The concept of Toyfinity really started here - it didn't matter if toys were from different collections, they could all play together. I feel the same way about people - we're all humans, so having massive hatred for other groups of humans based on arbitrary groupings makes very little sense. Hate should be earned if it is going to exist at all.
So for the first few years, it was all Star Wars, all the time. My mom used to go to whatever stores she shopped in and buy me a new figure - so I had most, if not all, of the figures through Return of the Jedi. But she also would buy multiples of the figures who were armies in the movies if there were no new characters there at the time, so I had a bunch of Stormtroopers and Death Squad Commanders. I learned to play with Luke and Han actually facing down a group of Stormtroopers. Conceptually, the idea of a group of baddies that were there primarily for the heroes to overcome is important; the big evil shouldn't be something tackled so casually.
Later, new properties were introduced that stole a lot of the thunder from Star Wars. My little brother was crazy for MOTU, but the first real replacement of Star Wars in my life was Gi Joe: A Real American Hero. For my 1982 birthday, I received five figures. The most influential to me out of those original five was Flash, because he was a laser trooper. Laser guns were something influential in science fiction movies, so the idea that an American soldier could carry one around? I wondered at the time why every soldier wasn't carrying around a laser gun. The Marvel comics filled in that blank for me.
Joe was probably the dominant toyline in my life after it was introduced. Transformers were incredible, but they were so much more expensive than Joes. I had Soundwave - a great, all-time Christmas gift - and his full roster of year one cassette minions, but that was pretty much the extent of my TF collection for the first couple of years until I received the entire Computron combiner for a birthday or other holiday.
I think a big part of why Joe was so important was that they nailed the idea of a cheap price point on the figure, much as Star Wars had. You could get a jeep or a base for the figures to interact with, but a base figure being $3 or less meant it could be a casual purchase.
Another biggie was Space Lego. I've recently been moving a lot of my stuff around, so I've been trying to pinpoint my first Lego set. It’s strange the way memory allows you to recall some things so perfectly and others through clouds. I've got it narrowed down to two: 6842 or 6870. (check out images of all the classic Space sets on Brickset.com!) I had chronologically older sets than that as a kid, but I know those were the first ones. I remember being fascinated by the CATALOGS Lego would pack into the sets, as they made me want to get the older sets. The first feeling of lust in a child's life is being given a colorful leaflet of images of things they can't have. I wore holes in that catalog with my stare. Luckily TRU then was much less obsessed with deleting the older product, and I found a few of the sets from previous years still there at retail.
Space Lego was important because it allowed you to build an entire world - there were plenty of cool spaceships, but you also had a set which was nothing more than a digger to get core samples from the planets the spacemen would land on. Not the most exciting set in the world, but necessary to build the world. Then they could go back to the space outpost and drink together after a tough day of work, something I understood intimately from the work my parents did.
Over what I consider my childhood, I acquired things from a lot of other lines that interested me - Inhumanoids, MASK, Robo Force, Wheeled Warriors, AD&D, Roadblasters, Centurions, Fast 111s - but the biggest influences were Lego, Star Wars from Kenner, Gi Joe, and Transformers.
Why do you think an interest in toys has persisted into your adult life?
A notable occurrence of our shared childhoods - anyone alive for Star Wars or active in childhood through the 90s - is that we were EXTENSIVELY used as test subjects by marketers. I'm sure it happened to kids before that - A Christmas Story certainly relates some early attempts at this - but Star Wars was promoted as a LIFESTYLE. Star Wars sheets, Star Wars role play, clothing, etc - everything Star Wars. You are immersed in the experience. I have recently been going through a move of my collection and talked to a number of friends about the old Read-Along Book and Record sets. Younger people don't remember a time when you couldn't get access to a movie at the touch of your fingers, but there was a point when STAR WARS WAS AN EVENT. It was going to come on Channel Six ABC in Philadelphia (because there was no cable in those days) on some Friday night and you wanted to see it again so bad! But in the meantime, you had a book and record that would relive the adventure for you.
Beyond Star Wars, which I think was the first really significant version of this, the marketers of the 80s used some changes in governmental laws which said you could not make a 30 minute commercial for something that would be sold to children to make...well, 30 minute commercials! Internet links and books say that He-Man was the first cartoon that did this, but the influential ones to me were Gi Joe and Transformers. They'd spend 30 minutes a day convincing you why you needed to have Bazooka and Spirit in your Gi Joe collection - that you had to bother your mom and dad every minute of every day to get Zartan and the Dreadnoks. Even lines like Inhumanoids and Robotix (yes, they threw away hundreds of thousands of dollars animating ROBOTIX, which didn't even have a proper toy line to capitalize on the advertising) could get a child fervent to purchase some toys based on those lines. At the same time, for kids who preferred comics, there were drawn adventure tales to immerse you in other interpretations of those same characters. Larry Hama could spend twenty issues making Ripcord an integral part of the Joe team that made you want to own that toy and live out his adventures. The comics made Transformers characters like Blaster important - more important that the animated series ever did.
The bottom line here is that these characters were drilled into our heads. I read a recent interview with a gentleman named Ron Friedman which is essential reading for anyone interested in why they can't forget about Optimus Prime, and WHY the Michael Bay movies turn you off in a core way that may be hard to verbalize. Because the Bay Prime is and is not "Optimus Prime". He's not our Prime. The men and women who wrote those cartoons in the 80s were schooled in things other than comics and cartoons. The template for making long-lasting characters who cement into your mind was put down by Shakespeare and other classic writers. Another great person to look up is Gene Roddenberry. He didn't go to school to learn how to write television - he went out and lived multiple lives and then used that to make a show which still has an effect on people five decades later.
I don't think I can get away from Optimus Prime and the rest because they are my fathers and brothers and cousins, in a way that some of my blood relations are not. On a base psychological level to a child of divorce, that child is looking for father figures. Is there anyone more relevant to an 80s child than Optimus Prime? He had more children than the Brady Bunch to take care of - impetuous Cliffjumper, the Dinobots and their mental issues, wacky yahoos like Smokescreen...and he always took care of them properly. At least until the '86 movie.
The toys that have persisted the most throughout my life have some element of character to them, either imbued by the creators or given life in my own mind (more on this in a bit). This is a big part of why I wanted to make toys. I grew up during a time of masterful "junk" storytelling under the guise of merchandising, the endless franchising of everything possible (and attempts that failed oh so miserably), and movies which people will reference long after we are gone. Its ingrained in me, and in many of us. What's real life though? I spent close to two decades working in cubicles and boiler rooms, making sure people had heat in their building or the correct paperwork to play night basketball. It's satisfying to be in public service helping people with their everyday needs, but not fulfilling. Not when you feel the need to do something creative inside.
Now, what's beautiful is that it can be done at an independent level. My primary interest in life is not making a billion dollars. Its about giving people a story and some neat toys that are part of that story - and it can literally go as long as we want it to, because we don't need 10,000 kids to "Buy Batman so we can get Red Tornado".
There's a sea of voices out there who want something that the big companies are not providing. I see it out there on the forums every day. I'm not trying to exploit people with product because I had to release something in March. I want each release to feel important and part of a story that YOU are a part of. Toyfinity is not limited by needing to sell a million pieces. If people want Seizor the Grappler, who we showed off for the first time publicly at the recent NJCC show (and will also make an appearance at the Lowell Collection DX show this month) that uses two full Robo Force kits to build, in a fully-painted and realized color scheme, we can do it as long as the same fans who have already been supporting the line purchase it.
What do you collect today?
I've considered myself a collector since I switched from grade school to high school. And since then, I've run the gamut on the big lines and the little lines from Star Wars to Spawn. After a recent collection purge, my collecting is focused on a few select things:
- Glyos. I don't pimp Glyos because I have a Glyos System line or because of my friendship with Matt Doughty. I pimp Glyos because it gives me a level of control over things in a way that other lines like Xevoz and Wheeled Warriors attempted to, but never fully pulled off. I like the interchangeable aspect, but I also love the characters and their storylines. The figures themselves are durable, can stand up to handling, and are the right size to interact with vehicles. Part of my non-interest in six-inch scaled figures is that it is very difficult to make any vehicles or playsets for them that aren't ridiculously large. I like building out a world, as Kenner's Star Wars did (note to Hasbro: I'd collect every Cantina Alien in the modern line if I HAD A REAL PLASTIC CANTINA PLAYSET TO PUT THEM IN). Glyos is not so story-heavy that I feel like I am recreating a movie - I can add my own flourishes to it. And the expansion of the system with the different artists using the line (Kabuto Mushi, Outlander, the Outer Space Men and Power Lords, Banimon, Weaponeers of Monkaa, to say nothing of the customizers doing incredible work with the pieces) allows for even more customizability.
- Transformers. I've had an obsession with Transformers since the first one I purchased with my own money, Powermaster Optimus Prime. There was really no hope for me after that. As I obtained better-paying jobs, Transformers was what I delved into the most.
The characters created by a handful of comic writers, marketers, and artists in the 80s are something that I don't know I'll ever be able to forget. Noble fatherly Optimus Prime. Scatterbrained scientist Wheeljack. Bumblebee, who wants to be the warrior that his friends are. Brothers Sideswipe and Sunstreaker - one having a good time fighting, the other more bloodthirsty and vain - potentially more of a Decepticon than an Autobot. I've collected all of G1, G2 - really anything I've wanted from the US and Japan since (and including) Diaclone and Microchange. My current collection is all modern product - the rise of the "third party" manufacturer to give the fans things they want but Hasbro cannot provide for financial reasons has spun things in an entirely new direction I never could have imagined. But I'd be happy to accept a G1 Skystalker if any Robo Force fans out there want to send me one.
- vintage Atari 2600 games. It may be laughable to people now, but Atari games inspired imagination. Its easy to look at a game like Adventure now and think, "man, why did people enjoy this?" if you weren't there, but let me take you through it. The system had only a limited range of graphic potential. Much greater than those first programmers realized, if you look at some of the final games on the system, but still limited. So what the marketers at Atari realized was that they would have to grab your imagination. The money for Adventure was put into the painting on the box. Dragons, a maze, a heroic knight - this is what you were thinking about when you played the game, not I'm a square fighting other squares. And the controls are TIGHT. You move, the square moves. So you have an adventure in your mind that matches up to the adventure on the screen. Later games like Superman push your limits - how many pixels do we need to use to make you think you are controlling Superman? How can we emulate things like Space Invaders and Pac-Man to make you feel like you are playing them at home? It comes down to a box and imagination. I'm about twenty games away from what I consider "the collection", so I enjoy popping out to local flea markets and shows trying to find those last few games.
- vintage and misc. I've spent my life immersed in toys and had the collections to prove it. I'm much more selective now with what goes into my collection. To give you an idea of this category, I have on one shelf a recent NECA "Mego" style Jason Vorhees, a magnemo Maximillian from the Black Hole, a vintage Evil Beetle from Rocks and Bugs and Things, two figures from Mummies Alive (the last of the original Kenner lines), and a custom Seaborg figure from James Felix McKenney. Basically, anything I feel like adding to the collection.
- and, because I feel it needs to be stated, my own stuff! I made Robo Force and Mordles come back because I WANTED them to return. Maxx Zero is the realization of everything that Maxx Steele could have been if he wasn't steamrolled by Transformers. I always wanted a green Mordle, like they showed on the box art. And NOTHING gets made at Toyfinity that I don't want in my own collection.
How did Toyfinity come to be? Tell us about resurrecting the great forgotten properties of the eighties. I's exciting to think that a fan could recreate an iconic toy. How did you go about acquiring those licenses?
As I said, Toyfinity as a concept was something I've been working on in one fashion since I was a kid. But a few years back, I was speaking with a buddy of mine Charlie Parry (of the ParryGamePreserve) and we were talking about the various holes in the different archive websites which had stopped updating or disappeared over the years. It's ridiculous that some of the definitive pictures of lesser-known toylines are still Alex Bickmore's 1998 sales pics over on SuperToyArchive. So Charlie and I partnered up to make Toyfinity.com.
What we realized together at that point was that it was nuts to try and collect lines from scratch and take pics of them when eBay sellers were already doing this on a daily basis as part of their business. So we've put together some strong archives of different lines based on those pics. I don't need to buy a rare boxed Starcom piece when a great partner of ours over in Germany has already taken fifteen pics of the box alone for an eBay auction. So we started building that out, with the intention to feature some lines I had definitive coverage and knowledge of. But to talk about the license acquisition, we have to jump back a few years.
In the early 2000s, I was feeling the urge to make a website. But everything I looked up had a definitive site - YoJoe, TFArchive, and so on. Even M.A.S.K. had a site which was comprehensive! So I looked through the toybox and found a Terrorantula figure. After I remembered what the line was called, I used...man, what was the precursor to Google? How we forget some things. Yahoo search or something. WEBCRAWLER! Man, so many things just eradicated from history. And there were no sites on Rocks and Bugs and Things. So I started one, bought a digital camera, and opened up a site. After filling that out nicely and going on an odyssey to pick up the rest of the figures in the line, I opened up similar sites for Roadblasters (a criminally underrated Matchbox line tied-in to the Atari video game) and what I called Toy Clearinghouse, which was just scans of various catalogs and magazines that I thought were interesting. I had, as far as I am aware, the first scans on the internet of the Food Fighters Fridge playset, which was never produced, as well as the unproduced Robo Force Nazgar and second series robots.
After a few years of running the site, I was contacted by someone who identified himself as the inventor of Rocks and Bugs and Things. Things checked out, we had some nice talks, and his recollection was that the line was owned by Ideal and he had no idea where the rights had gone. I always kept that in the back of my mine, because the rights had to go somewhere.
In my personal life, I moved out of being a custodian and into an administrative job running accounts and handling legal contracts and paperwork for various events. So I became used to researching different things and putting together the paperwork associated with making things happen. At the same time, I struck up a friendship with the owner of a Philadelphia-based independent film company, Potent Media; over time, I became a producer for this company, making different independent films that have been featured in Redboxes around the country, as well as Netflix and in Blockbuster Video stores. While this was happening, I was introduced in person to Matt Doughty, someone I had interacted with over the years through Microman collecting. We share a ton of the same interests, and I have assisted him at a few conventions with his booth and other things.
I told him years ago about my ideas for my own toy line - basically a little bit Joe, a little bit Buck, and a little bit Inhumanoids about this space ranger tasked with monitoring black holes for the appearance of world-destroying space dogs who played with planets like chew toys, and a space centurion who was the protector of the universe against these animals. Totally off the wall stuff, but totally me if you've ever talked to me during one of those late-night post-con delirium times. Matt was incredibly generous in telling me the general costs for a project of that magnitude, and I told him eventually it would be something we would work on together. I'm sure plenty of people tell him that…
While all of this had been happening, I delved into the history of toys with a research-based eye. As you know, there isn't a ton of public information out there about what toys actually cost to make, or sales figures. You have to delve into industry magazines and find people to talk to about this. There are more people out there than I could publicly recognize here who have helped me with information and friendship along the way.
After years of looking into it, I could see certain patterns, which I have come to call Toyfinity.
Before I get into this, let me say I'm still working on how Marx and Ideal fully fit into this with the help of my buddy Mike over at ToyMemories.com. But this is the gist of it: The originator of US action figures is...Barbie. The creators of Barbie are overseas and see fashion dolls. They want to bring that to America, so they create Barbie. Barbie is a hit, so Hasbro says they want some Barbie-level cash. In realizing that "Boys want a Barbie", they narrow down the concept to a couple of things before going military - the birth of Gi Joe. Mattel wants to get the boy market money, so they want to make something different than Joe, which gives us Matt Mason. Matt Mason makes other companies want that money, which gives us Zeroids and Outer Space Men. Japan wants that Gi Joe money, but they don't want a US military figure for obvious reasons (and after giving it a shot anyway), so they develop Henshin Cyborg using Joe tooling. Those lines lead us through today, and as part of the pattern, the same concepts come back every so many years. Robo Force is a direct descendant of Zeroids, and it had an uncle in Star Team. But even before that, you have Ideal's Robert the Robot, which was the working name for Maxx Steele. In the 90s, the robot line was Z-Bots; in the 2010s, Zibits. It comes back in new permutations as the people who were influenced by something put their stamp on toys. It can be hilarious when you look at the stylistic differences between decades - in the 60s, you have Mel Birnkrant developing the OSM as a serious space line; in the 80s, the aliens concept returns with Power Lords, with Wayne Barlowe developing alien races with an eye toward them actually existing; and in the 2000s, the concept becomes "Planet Heroes", a Playskool line where the Sun is a character that is the literal personification of the sun.
A great example is Mattel's DC Classics. They threw away slots on Golden Pharoah, Cyclotron, and other characters who have little-to-no bearing on the 75 year plus history of the DC Universe other than Kenner made toys of them. That's Toyfinity, where one man can convince a major toy company and licensor that the fans want Golden Pharoah instead of a modern Manhunter or any number of other characters.
But, the licenses. I've related the story in other places, so I'll give it to you briefly: I was always on the lookout for the RBT rights, and had been in touch with a number of different people who worked at Ideal over the years to find out where the rights had gone. Back in 2012, an unproduced Robo Force figure named Tiltor the Changer popped up for sale on eBay, I missed out on it due to a problem with my e-mail alerts, did a podcast with the current owner of the figure, and then through the luck of the cosmos, found a schematic drawing of Tiltor on a robot forum. This led me to Mike over at ToyMemories.com, who connected me with the entity that had held the rights all those years. Once acquired, in the company of my buddies Charlie Parry and Mike Hart, we formed Toyfinity Toys to bring Robo Force, Manglors, and Rocks and Bugs and Things back to the public.
The hard work actually started after getting the licenses. How many times have you seen on a forum what Some Guy would do if he were in charge of some classic property? Well, here I was, Some Guy, and faced with the task of what I wanted and what would be best for the toy-buying public. As I've said before, Robo Force was not a hit. RBT was not a hit. Manglors actually ran for TWO years, making it the most successful of those properties. And I am not a toy designer. Generally, I'm not too critical of the toys I buy unless there is a massive flaw. I've always been more of a story person than a strict articulation junkie or deco lover. How does character A interact with character B? Its why I could get so much out of a line like Roadblasters - I could imagine the entire race based on the descriptions on the back of the boxes. Who was the driver of Thunder Gunner? Why was the race so important to the world? I had even done this with RBT when I had my site - the only story Ideal had was a blurb on the back of the box and short descriptions of the creatures on the instructions. Who or what was Terrorantula? I imagined this whole insane scenario that was straight out of a Jules Verne book crossed with Army of Darkness - a Vietnam vet (I mean, anyone who grew up in the 80s knows why this is important in fiction) was trapped in a faraway land after falling through a dimensional portal containing giant insects with monsters inside them! On the run, he finds heroic monsters encased in rock and learns of the eternal war between Rock and Bug, and the innocent creatures caught in the middle.
My idea for Robo Force was to take the original designs at their original sizes, put Glyos joints into them, and bring back the characters. This would have cost approximately $$$$$$$. I traveled up to see Matt Doughty after telling him that I had the rights and securing my full funding to make Year One of the project happen. It was one hell of a weekend, taking the story ideas I had and culling them into a coherent narrative, as well as formulating the toys that would go along with telling this story. Because it is an entirely different experience to do this in an independent fashion, as opposed to being a corporation that needs to move 100,000,000 pieces of something. You can see this in the movies I produce. In that capacity, I am the tool of the writer/director. It is not my job to judge the piece of work that has been created by that individual, but to make sure that the best vision of it reaches the public. For the toys, I am in that creative position and I have themes to explore and stories I want to tell.
If you have been following the Robo Force comic, there are giant questions to me thematically that I continuously find running through my life: who am I? Who am I to others? What is my purpose? What am I supposed to do with my life? How do I deal with the darker sides of my nature? I try not to hit people over the head with the thematic links, but they are there in the undercurrent. Characters can become the literal personification of something I am trying to work out in my head.
But that's answering an entirely different question. The toys themselves...well, I had received a crash course from Matt over the years on what could and could not be done. Case in point: Hun-Dred's visor. One of the iconic bits of Hun-Dred is his flip up visor. He needed to have that on the figure. But PVC is not set up to work in the way that the raising of the visor would work. So I let Matt percolate that one in his mind, and what he came back with was what you see on the final figure.
an early concept sketch
Design-wise, the base design was collaborated on by myself and Matt, with execution by Matt, and suggestions for tweaks made by myself and Matt.I wanted the new Robo Force to not be saddled with the things that make the vintage line somewhat of a joke to collectors. So the suction cup and huggy arms had to go. I love them on the vintage figures! Don't get me wrong. But they weren't going to work for something in 2014 that is more inspired by the vintage lines than a slave to it. I have plans for a future add-on which will give you something that looks like the suction cup if that's what people want. It's just not going to be a suction cup.
previously unpublished Maxx prototype
I knew that new Maxx had to have treads. Matt suggested the legs. Seeing that drawing for the first time of him with the legs, I was unsure. But it was something that needed to happen. What I've learned is that you need to have a certain mind - the mind of Doughty, essentially- to understand things during the process. I'm looking at pics of squares and circles that he is sending over and I can't relate them to the drawing. But then all of a sudden, blam! There is Maxx.
Another of my suggestions was that the kit be able to make Sentinel and Enemy. Matt was probably already thinking of this, but I insisted on it. There's a certain point when the figure just becomes too expensive to make. Robo Force was a massively expensive figure to make. But there were a lot of things I wanted it to be able to do, and I think that comes across in the kit itself. You get a Maxx that is massively different from Hun-Dred from Enemy from Sentinel from Wrecker. Matt would still be working on it if he didn't stop the design process.
I would have loved to have the main chest piece of Maxx be two pieces so you could remove the center core from the chest. Would have been great to get more heads in there and the suction cup base...but those things are coming eventually.
What’s next for Robo Force?
What is coming up in the here and now in March is the first appearance of Sentinel the Protector in the line. His edition this month is called the Hunter Edition. You'll want at least two if you are following the comics, because Enemy also makes an appearance in this colorway.He'll be $16. We also have the first appearance of Wrecker the Demolisher in the line, in his Reforged Edition. He's the first entry in our new DX line of figures, with a $30 pricepoint. Why so expensive? Well, Wrecker is comprised of more than one kit - over fifty total parts. He's gigantic and weighty compared to Maxx, who is already a nice brick of plastic.
He's also made of glow-in-the-dark plastic, which unfortunately costs more to produce. But this is exactly what I was talking about earlier - the EXPERIENCE of the figures. I'm not going to churn out DX figures every month, but this was my vision and what I wanted to see happen.
Story-wise, why is Wrecker stuck in his illumination mode? Why does he wear the battle mask of the Hun-Dred Soldiers? You'll have to read the comics to find out!
As far as the rest of the year, we tentatively have another Robo Force release scheduled for May which will introduce another new character to the Robo Force team. He shares a head with his "brother" Sentinel, but he has an interesting backstory for Glyos fans...tentatively, there will be three editions in May.
In the summer, we're hoping to have the Classic Editions of Maxx and Hun-Dred ready for purchase. I know that is something people really want, so we're trying to deliver it without making people wait too long.
Later in the fall, you'll meet Cruel and Vulgar. They have a mission to hunt down Maxx and Sentinel, and they won't stop until they or Maxx no longer function. They'll also be DX figures...Cruel and Vulgar are actually good examples in the "reimagining" situation we talked about earlier. Cruel is actually pretty easy - he's an evil, silent robot of the same classification as Wrecker. I've come up for an entirely different build for him that I think people will like that is similar to Wrecker but entirely different...just teasing that concept for now. But what was Vulgar in the original line? He's basically "drill head". So my current design on him is a lot different - he's another construction robot with an entirely different build that what has been seen so far, but his new function is tool master. So he has a bunch of weapons instead of just a drill face.
One of the beautiful things about being independent is that you aren't tied to anything specific as far as deadlines. I'm working on two other potential new tools with Matt which may or may not happen this year that would expand the Robo Force world a bit...but they might be 2015 at this point. I try not to announce too many potential things, because you never know when a new license might fall into your grasp and throw things off. There are even a couple of other licenses I have which are probably obvious to those who are reading the Robo Force comic...(Note: they are Ideal properties. Sorry to the Starriors fans! My Robo Force artist Jerzy Drozd draws a kick-ass Slaughter Steelgrave, but the rights are not available.)
And the Mordles?
Mordles continues to do well with new releases. In March, we have the Seas of Uzalek Edition and Big Mordle QUINHOZ, who is really JAWSome. April will see the return of the fan-favorite GEIHOZA and the Geist Mordles. We'll be closing the first year Mordle club and reopening in June with three new Mordle Editions for the fans. The Mordle comic will continue with artwork by James Groman, detailing the adventure of the Explorer Mordles and how it changes things for the Mordles literally forever.
Unreleased Mordles colorways
Pages from the Mordles comic
I'm in the slow burn stage with James on something which I'm hoping sees the light of day this year, but will utilize the Glyos vinyl joint system if it happens.
We're in active development on a new Mordle tool - again, maybe 2015 at this point- but that is mostly because our main development is on the first of the all-new MANGLORS!
Manglors was a toyline that I only knew slightly from childhood, the remnant reminder in a friend's collection being a Manglor Mountain that we used to torture Gi Joes. I LOVE the box art, and we've never actually had toys of those characters - just some lumps of material which were supposedly them. I want to have Manglodemon, King Manglor, and the rest back on my shelves, as well as the all-new MANGLOBEAST. We've hoping to have the prototype for show at NYCC in October, if not a first product. It's just super tough to line up everything to make it happen at this level. But you will see a new Manglors figure sooner rather than later.
I’m assuming the Manglors will be PVC too? No attempt to recreate that strange spongy substance?
The first of the new Manglors will be PVC. Much in the same way that Robo Force was reimagined to work within the budget we have to tool it, Manglors is also being looked at in the same way. I can actually relate what happened with Robo Force as an example. I went to Matt and said, "let's make all of the original figures in an updated manner". He explained what it would cost, and he helped to open my eyes to what the core essences of the characters were. Maxx Zero is the most important, so the majority of the pieces had to work to give you the definitive Maxx Zero. Maxx's big characteristics are his prominent chest and eye piece; I made sure the guns were included. You can see we modernized the hands to make them work better inside of the Glyos system (well, Matt did). When it came to Hun-Dred, we were faced with the question of what really makes him different than Maxx. The original toys are just different geometric shapes when you break them down. Its why the Sentinel/Enemy head shocked me so much. I originally had concerns about being able to fit them both into the tooling, and Matt broke them down and realized they were very, very close to the same geometric shape. Because we don't have an unlimited tooling budget, we have to look at these things with a harsh eye to be able to bring the best experience to the fans.
Manglor eggs, ready to hatch
We're going through a similar process with Manglors. In the original line, you have six figures, three of which are on humanoid bodies and three of which have beast bodies. Manglodemon has a body covered in horrible pimples and warts; he's a little thicker than a person, and not super buff. Manglord is like human perfection, endless muscles and a distinctive face. Manglodactyl has a thin humanoid body, with hands and feet that are unique to him. So, we have to look at these characters and determine what should be made from them.Ideally, we'd be able to do all of it. But that's just not possible at the indie level. I might get one tool for Manglors and that's the end of the line. So I think what you are going to see is a hybrid body - something pretty buff but with the embellishment of the Demon, and including wings that can attach to the arms to give you a Dactyl look, with unique heads for each character class. You never know where inspiration will come from - maybe the heads will have other looks which reference other classic toy properties...maybe.
Now, what I've told Matt I want to do is make vinyl pieces as we go to give you a completely "classic" version of figures from my properties.
I think a seven-inch Manglodemon that looks exactly like the box art - or perhaps, using the box art as a template and embellished a bit by a sculptural artist like James Groman, Matt, or Eric Treadaway - would be a fantastic piece, with a limited amount of articulation but really nailing that original design. Same thing with Robo Force - I want to do some figures that are in-scale to the vintage ones, but slightly updated with some different articulation in the arms because we're not going to do bendy pieces. Are these the expansions of the line people want? I know I do, but I have to convince my partners that it is a great idea that we'll be able to sell some quantities of.
Honestly, it's a tough call. If I'm going to put out five to six figures of cash on a new item, it can't just be my whims. Otherwise we'd have a giant Nazgar and maybe nothing else. Personally, I don't like the idea of using Kickstarter for my products, but it allows people to actually vote with their cash instead of trying to guess what the people want. I might consider it for something like this - this way we only move forward with the "risky" products if enough people show they want it.
To answer your question about the alien foam, I don't have plans for it. If someone presented me a good business plan and wanted a license to make it happen again, I might consider it. One of my buddies actually suggested making them as bendies. I'm keeping a close eye on how the Realm of the Underworld Flexzors do; if people make those a smash hit, maybe we'll do a Manglor or two in rubber.
In looking at the future, I have to say thanks to all the fans and customers who have purchased product from Toyfinity, everyone in the Glyos family, and all of the different entities who have given us support along the way by reviewing the toys and putting our press releases on their site. At this level, it literally cannot be done without you. And thanks to you, Josh, for taking the time to talk to me about everything.