Todd McFarlane has been an inspiration in comics before he was commanding presence in action figures. I fondly remember growing up with Macfarlane Toys completely changing the way I looked at toys on the shelf. They were a revelation, they were giving characters and detail people couldn’t find anywhere else and threatened to change the landscape of action figure aisles forever.
Now, twenty odd years later McFarlane aims to change the game again, but this time with building toys. The prospect is tantalizing. Lego was always something that I adored growing up and imagining a building toy with McFarlane levels of detail used to be a pipedream. But not anymore, today marks the unveiling of McFarlane Toys Walking Dead building line.
A Toy R Us exclusive line of Walking Dead action figures that can be used to world build the perfect apocalypse and Bloody Disgusting was afforded the incredible opportunity to chat with Todd as to why this line is going to change the building toy game forever.
Bloody Disgusting: I’ve been a big fan of McFarlane Toys for a really long time, I was a member of the collector’s club growing up, and personally believe you changed the action figure market for the better. Why building toys, and why now?
Todd McFarlane: I got into asking the same question that I asked twenty years ago when I used to up and down the action figure aisle “Why can’t this stuff just look cooler?” I wouldn’t buy it, I was this huge sports fan, but I couldn’t bring myself to buy them. The action figures were at best reasonable facsimiles. They weren’t what they were supposed to be. I answered my own simple question with a simple answer. “They can.”
What we did in the last twenty years could have been done twenty years before the start of my company. So now I’ve gone up and down that other aisle filled with construction building blocks, and I’m saying the same thing. I’ve got three kids, we’ve got block all over the place. I’ve taken my kids to the usual places and I appreciate when someone builds a twelve foot Chewbacca. For my eye, the problem with it you’ve got to be further away from it. The closer you are the more it’s just a bunch of blocks. It becomes what I call “bitmapping” everything has this square edge to it.
A couple mature brands came out with building toys, and some of the stuff is an upgrade. It’s still not there. Is it just me or does anyone else notice the proportions on these things are distorted? I spent twenty years trying to do realism. I refuse to accept construction toys without realism. And for me to sell you something it has to look like what I’m selling you. So if I’m going to sell you “Walking Dead” product it better look like it. It’ll just be at a smaller scale. They can’t have big goofy feet that click into place, people’s feet are not that big. We’re not going to have a big 10×10 green plate and call it grass. Why can’t they make it look like grass? The answer is they can, they just choose not to.
Bingo. They’ve now left another opportunity for a guy like me. I’m going to fill the gaps artistically and visually. I don’t get why it can’t look better, and I’m going to prove this year at Christmas time that it can. Period.
BD: Why The Walking Dead for the first sets?
TM: Historically businesses get noticed when they come out with a brand. You’ve got to work to get people to notice original ideas, but this brand is a global phenomenon. We’ll have instant street cred. “The Walking Dead” is perfect for a huge character base, you can buy 100 figures that I could never do in the action figure aisle. I don’t have to be selective. We can do everyone. You could conceivably have 100 humans versus 200 zombies in a two-foot span on the shelf. That’s all the space you’ll need.
Construction toys build environments, and the environments are meaningful in “The Walking Dead.” The prison, Woodbury, The rooftop in Atlanta, Morgan’s place, I can take advantage of these meaningful places.
We’ll have three type of people who support our products. The guys who build it put it on the shelf and think it’s cool. Then we have the person who collects all the figures to build their own zombie horde. Finally we have the people who want to build their own sets, they look at the photos we have on the back of the boxes that showcase bigger scenes and know how much cooler it can look. They’ll be simulating the attacks they witnessed in that area.
We’ll be selling the prison tower and the fence. You could keep the cost down and just have Glenn and a couple zombies. But I’ve gotta tell ya, if you put fifty zombies against that fence, it’s way cooler. You can build the cool army men diorama’s you’ve always dreamed of.
The majority of my pieces are compatible and will swap with any of the competitors blocks. It’s the same block system, if you will that is available to every other competitor. Once I make the silhouette of the shapes I’m looking for, and that’s where the competitors stop. I put another layer on that stuff which is the art.
When I showed the working prototypes people didn’t understand the building block of it. I showed the Governor’s room at just under 300 pieces and people would scoff and say “That’s 300 pieces!” We just built it and put a veneer on it. Once I pulled up the veneers, and they could see the dimples on the blocks everyone gets it. It’s all blocks we just put a sexy piece on top of it and you get rid of the dimples. It looks cooler, it’s not for mom, and it’s not for seven year olds.
If you’re twenty five years old and you still want to collect building blocks I’ll show you how it’s done.
BD: So it’s Lego you can grow into?
TM: I think in five years I’ll have a whole sub category that people will be buying to build their custom stuff. They can use competitor’s blocks, but if they’re going to put a window they’re going to want a McFarlane window. Why? Because mine’s going to be cooler than theirs. A blocks, a blocks, a block at the end of the day. But it’s the rest of the stuff that’s going to make it shine.
I’m not saying it’s better or worse. I’ll leave that to the consumer. I’m saying it will be cooler, more detailed, and is guaranteed to have more realism. I’ll stand by those three to my death. I’ll let the consumer decide if they want any of that, but nobody can beat me. Nobodies going to make a cooler window or bush than I am.
We’re going to take all the skill we already have, shrink it down and bring it to blocks.
BD: Why the huge interest in world building?
TM: You can world build with the competitors but mine is going to look cooler. Mature themed brands are doing well “The Walking Dead” is going to fit in well, because it’s going to look mature. No thirty year old is waiting anxiously for a disproportioned figure that looks nothing like what’s on screen. That’s a weird concept for me.
I want my stuff to be exactly like what’s on the screen. I’m not willing to give up reality for the sake of having the brand. The logo is right at the top but everything below the logo is usually wrong. I’m not willing to go that way.
You’ve got to see photos of these things. These things are big and cool. I’m probably biased, but these things turned out better than the vision in my head. We’ve almost got this right out of the gate.
And here’s the press release from McFarlane Toys:
July 8, 2014 – Tempe, AZ – Famed artist and award-winning toy designer Todd McFarlane and McFarlane Toys are unveiling a revolutionary evolution in brick building toys based on television’s most watched drama, AMC’s The Walking Dead. Known as a game-changer for its realistic action figures, including those based on The Walking Dead, McFarlane Toys is adding a new licensed category to the company’s portfolio. The new The Walking Dead toys will extend McFarlane’s high standards of artistic vision, realistic accuracy and incredible detail into the brick building toy aisle alongside of other leading manufacturers. McFarlane Toys’ The Walking Dead building sets and figures will be available this fall only at Toys“R”Us stores nationwide and online at Toysrus.com
The initial McFarlane Toys’ The Walking Dead brick building line will feature realistic sculpts, light-up and shaped features, iconic environments, and dozens of your fan-favorite characters and walkers. Both collectors and fans of the cult phenomenon can literally recreate their favorite scenes with this new highly detailed and realistic The Walking Dead product line.
“Twenty years ago I walked into the action figure aisle, saw an artistic void, and asked, can these toys look cooler? The answer was yes, they could, and I’ve survived twenty years next to the big boys creating those artistic toys,” said McFarlane. “Now I’m walking into another aisle with that same question, and the answer is still yes!”
“Will these be the best building sets out there? I’ll leave it up to the consumer to decide,” said McFarlane. But, will it look cooler? Yes. Will it be more detailed? Absolutely. Will it be more realistic? I guarantee it!”
The Walking Dead series one product line will feature building sets, expansion packs, and figure blind bags for consumers to build their own The Walking Dead apocalypse:
The Building Sets: MSRP $9.99-64.99 – Daryl Dixon with Chopper, The Governor’s Room, and Prison Tower with Gate. Expand your brick building apocalypse with additional figure and accessory packs.
Blind Bag Figures: MSRP $2.99 – Daryl Dixon, Michonne, The Governor, Carl Grimes, Riot Gear Walker, Michonne’s Pet Walker, and Herd Walkers.