DC Collectibles: SRIBBLENAUTS UNMASKED - Blind Box Vinyl Figures
Q&A With DC’s Kevin Kiniry & Jim Fletcher...
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In stores now is a very unique collaboration between DC Collectibles and 5th Cell’s Scribblenauts video game series, the figures of Scribblenauts Unmasked: A DC Comics Adventure! Capturing familiar comic book characters in the iconic style of the Scribblenauts universe, these figures represent the first blind-box vinyl offering from DC Collectibles and should be a big hit with kids and collectors. Standing just over 2 inches tall on average, the figures of Scribblenauts Unmasked Series 1 include a nice variety of characters from the DC “Trinity” of Superman, Wonder Woman, and Batman to other favorites like Joker, Bizarro, Aquaman, Deadman, Black Manta, and Vampire Batman. With a blind-box series you know there will be chases as well, and Series 1 fulfills that need with a Gold Superman and a very special versions of Scribblenauts hero Maxwell (in silhouette on the packaging but revealed to be the boy in a Green Lantern costume!). Even better, each figure has 5 points of articulation for actual posing and a Maxwell’s magic notebook display base for perfect balance. We got to take a look at two of the Scribblenauts figures, Batman and Black Manta, and they’re a lot of fun to pose and display!
I had a chance to speak with a couple of the people behind this Scribblenauts phenomenon at DC Collectibles, Kevin Kiniry (VP, Creative Services) and Jim Fletcher (Design Director, Creative Services)!
SR - Scribblenauts Unmasked is your first blind-box vinyl figure line. What was it about this property that connected with that format and made it the right choice for you, right now?
KK - We tried a few years back with DC Direct to do a blind-box version of our regular DC Universe characters called Who’s Who, but at the time the market wasn’t really ready for it. They were used to seeing imports, mainly from Asia, that were blind boxed, but anything from the US weren’t as successful and eventually we had to mark the boxes, which made them not “blind” anymore. This time around we were coming up with some ideas for products and the designs for the Scribblenauts game A DC Comics Adventure started coming in and we got really excited from the look of them. They just tickled us, especially Black Manta. That was actually the one; we saw that and said “he’s adorable.” We wanted a way to do this and go really deep into character. And at the same time we were noticing the trend in the industry that there were some blind boxes going out there from all different kinds of manufacturers that were being accepted by the comic market. So we thought it was time for us to try it for real. We looked at the Scribblenauts offering of thousands and thousands of characters and said this is one of the things we want people to deep in and to create this cool collector community. We also wanted to do something that was fun. If we were going to do it with a lower priced item (DC’s Scribblenauts figures are only $4.99) we wanted it to still feel collectible by making it harder to know what you’re getting.
SR - Blind-box figures seem to be all the rage these days, both foreign and domestic. What have you learned from other endeavors with regards to vinyl figures and the blind-boxed format in particular?
JF - We’d experimented with some vinyl stuff before, notably with the Uniformz figures that were larger scale, big chunky guys. We had fun with those but they were obviously too big to be a blind box purchase. We still fool around with ideas for doing more, going into that vinyl world. That’s what we really enjoy about Scribblenauts; the designs were already made, the format was great for them, and to make smaller figures at an affordable price was really the main lesson we learned. We hope people will respond well to them. We also had a line of Blammoids a while back, with no media or real push behind it. This time, though, with the game there’s much more support.
KK - Jim and the team here at DC Collectibles is very aware of the vinyl community. These guys attend Designer Con and watch what’s going on with vinyl right now... and it’s so diverse. We definitely wanted to be a part of it, but didn’t want to do it without reason. “Why is DC Collectibles getting into it?” Scribblenauts is a great reason.
JF - It’s a great launch pad. The [design] work is already done for us, why not try it out?
SR - Designer Con is awesome! Maybe you guys could have a presence there?
JF - Maybe. That would be awesome to be at that show.
KK - We definitely have a relationship with the people there too, bouncing ideas off of them when it comes to vinyl stuff
SR - As a fan of small scale vinyl and blind box figures myself (I actually just bought a couple today), I have to say I’m really impressed with these and also the price point and relatively easy to collect rarity scheme. Companies can sometimes go way overboard with those... With the exception of maybe an extra Aquaman and Deadman, fans aren’t likely to get stuck with a lot of doubles unless they buy a whole bunch. Was there an effort to keep the rarity more even across the board instead of heavily weighting it? I know fans and kids will appreciate it.
JF - That was definitely a concentrated effort because like you I’m also a big fan of collecting blind box stuff. In fact when we go down to San Diego [Comic-Con] I’m not allowed to go anywhere near the vinyl section. We wanted to be careful so people wouldn’t get stuck with five hundred of one guy so we actually went back and forth a lot on that.
KK - We had some fun meetings where we discussed which characters would go into a wave, and which ones should be the more common vs. rare. We sometimes took it and for someone you’d expect to be the character we’d want to dump out there we’d make more rare, re-balance it.
JF - No one should get a case full of Batmans. Hopefully as it goes on people will agree with our strategy.
KK - And collect them all!
SR - We’ve seen the rarity scheme for the first assortment. Will every “case” include the same selection of figures, and will it include at least one of every figure and chase?
KK - Right now the wave going out now has 24 boxes and the rarity scheme is such that if you bought a whole box you’ll get the full set. We’ve also announced Wave 2, which comes out in March or April, will have a new set of characters somewhere in the range of 10-12. It’ll have a similar ratio of rarities to what the first wave is doing. But, it’s still open so if we go on to wave three or four (if this is as popular as we think it’ll be) we may play with the ratios depending on what we hear from the fans.
SR - Were there any challenges adapting the unique Scribblenauts art style to sculpts for these figures?
KK - Yes, actually. Interesting that for as small as they are there was some real thought we had to put into them, especially with the articulation.
JF - They’re deceptively simple. They really do feel like Scribblenauts if they jumped out of the game and came to life, but there are some subtle differences because of the articulation. We wanted them to be able to move somewhat. There were quite a number of design experiments and sculpting changes we had to do to really capture that feel.
KK - You see it mostly in the shoulders and hips. It was also tricky because we were interpreting this flat, 2D style into 3D for the first time. The designers of Scribblenauts don’t necessarily consider what’s going to happen when the character turns around. The great thing was our relationship with WB Games; we could talk back and forth with the team at Scribblenauts and say this is how we’re thinking of interpreting it, does it match what you would’ve imagined? They were really great and gave us lots of feedback. They were really supportive and I think they’re happy with it.
SR - I think the figures really capture that special mix of cute, fun, and stylized you want in vinyl figures, and the articulation is a really nice added bonus.
KK - That was actually something we really thought about, with discussions about whether these would be solid figures or do they have a little bit of movement. I think we were so tickled by the designs that we wanted to give them even more personality even with just a tilt of the head and a little bit of arm movement.
JF - And they come with the notebook base so you can kick one leg out, etc. They’re pretty fun little things to play with, and on their own they’re not easy to balance since their heads are so big.
SR - At Comic-Con last year we had the pleasure of covering the early Scribblenauts prototypes that included Bane, Sinestro, an “Ocean Warrior” 80s Aquaman... and even a Green Lantern Maxwell. Can we expect to see these in more upcoming Series?
KK - Or maybe even in this one...? [It has since been revealed that the Green Lantern Maxwell is the hidden Wave 1 chase.] We had a lot of fun developing many, many characters. Back at San Diego we maybe made the decision a week or two before the show that we were going to be going ahead with this line and we wanted to get them out there to see the reaction but we had no info on how we were going to package them, or anything. We didn’t know what the character assortment would be so we just threw some of the guys out there and did it. One of the important things you noticed is with that Maxwell; we definitely wanted to support Maxwell since he’s the key character in Scribblenauts but this is still a DC Comics Adventure so you’ll only ever see a Maxwell in a costume of a DC character. And, they have so many designs of Maxwell in costumes that we couldn’t even decide what to pick from; I’d say that the Maxwell that appears in the second wave is my most favorite thing in the world.
SR - The character selection is very interesting in Assortment 1, with the standard DC Comics “Trinity” and Joker, but then some unexpected additions like Bizarro, Aquaman/Black Manta, and especially Vampire Batman and Deadman. Were there any particular reasons for including those? Are they your favorites?
JF - Well, we want this line to continue for as long as possible and we all feel that since there are so many characters in each wave we’re not just going to blow through all the top characters and call it a day. We want to be able to keep the top tier characters as drivers for the line but also include others that the fans will respond to, especially the comic book fans.
KK - Here’s a cool thing that we didn’t necessarily make a big deal about because we weren’t sure we were going to be able to do it... but the Deadman figure you mentioned has a glow in the dark head! We weren’t sure we were going to be able to afford to do it. There are more surprises like that coming, like in Series 2 there’s some translucent plastic, etc. You’re going to see that each one has more personality even than what you think at first.
JF - We have all sorts of crazy tricks up our sleeves. We really want it to go forward because we can have all sorts of fun with this line.
KK - Yeah, even in character choices like you said we want to show that we’re not going to shy away from some of these obscure characters. And funny enough in Wave 1 we almost played it a little safe; there are some really obscure characters in this line and we were going to look at some of those going forward. They made thousands of characters in the game!
JF - Even Kevin and I were baffled by about three of them. Who would you like to see?
SR - I’m a huge Green Lantern fan so I’m really looking forward to those characters.
JF - How about something more obscure?
KK - What’s the most obscure Green Lantern?
SR - Well, I’d love to see a Rot Lop Fan, of the F-Sharp Bell Corps!
KK - Ooh, digging deep. Yeah, the depth of characters is staggering. One of the things we haven’t really broached yet - who knows if this is super popular - but there’s a part of the game I’m really enamored by which is the character creation system that lets you mix and match parts to make your own new character to help you out of a situation. There’s a lot of discussion we have behind the scenes about if that’s something we want to capture at some point, as well as large characters, playsets, and all that other stuff. Who knows? The more things are popular the more we might do.
JF - Kevin just wants an Anti-Monitor.
KK - I do, it would be so cool!
SR - An in-scale Anti-Monitor!
KK - Oh yeah, that would be the easiest in-scale Anti-Monitor we could do in any line.
SR - So I was going to ask that with the game boasting that includes just about every single DC character ever, where do you see this line of figure going, but clearly you want it to go as far as it possible can.
KK - Our goal is to get a couple thousand of these out.
SR - With the popularity of Do It Yourself figures in the vinyl world would you consider offering blank figures of main characters?
KK - It’s an interesting idea, but in a weird way this isn’t necessarily our form factor (it’s Scribblenauts) and we’re putting our brand onto it. We’re not opposed to it, especially with the create your own hero character builder, but there’s no current plan to do a blank figure. But it is interesting.
SR - Understood. Thanks a lot for chatting with me today!
You can pick up Scribblenauts Unmasked: A DC Comics Adventure figures at your local comic store or GameStop now, and at $5 a pop they’re easy to collect and share with younger fans too. In addition, Scribblenauts are coming to actual DC Comics with their own Scribblenauts Unmasked: A Crisis of Imagination comic as well as unique Scribblenauts variant covers on current books this month. And finally, thanks to some early solicitations we know that Series 2 should be coming in March and will include Blue Beetle (Jaime Reyes), Batman, Cyborg, Superman Blue, Flash (Barry Allen), Green Lantern Sinestro, Ocean Warrior Aquaman, Bane, Gold Batman, and two chase figures! More coverage on those as we get it.
-Photos and Interview by Scott Rubin
-Samples Courtesy of DC Collectibles