Nerdist recently sat down with Todd McFarlane to discuss his upcoming The Walking Dead building sets! The sets will make their exclusive debut this fall at Toys ‘R’ Us stores and Toys ‘R’ Us online. Now read what McFarlane has to say about this exciting new toy line:
Nerdist: Do you see this project as one in which you’re combining the action figure toys you’re known for with construction toys?
Todd McFarlane: Yeah, for me the opportunity is the same opportunity that was there twenty years ago when I began in the action figure aisles. Do the big boys have it covered? Yes. Do they know how to do it like clockwork? Yes. But there’s still one burning question that I have every time I walk down the aisle – why can’t it look cooler? Why can’t it just look cooler? So I built a twenty-year reputation with our company in answering that question. And the answer is it can. It’s just plastic. It will go into any shape you want. It’s just like jello molds. So jello molds can be really cool too. The jello doesn’t care what shape it goes into. I know how to do it.
Back then, twenty years ago, I was sort of new to the toy industry. I was learning on the fly. Although there will be the same learning curve, I don’t believe it will be nearly as steep, because I understand the cheap plastic goods business. So I go, “It can look cooler!” Why they choose not to do it… God bless them, because it leaves opportunities now for a guy like me to come in and say, “There’s another way to skin this cat.” If the goal is to make it look more realistic, I will accomplish that goal better than anybody in that aisle when my product hits. Will they still sell way more than me? Yes, they will. Will they have more product opportunities? Yeah. But will they have stuff that’s more realistic looking and cooler? Nope.
N: How did The Walking Dead come to be the first subject you decided to apply this new approach to construction toys?
TM: Well, Walking Dead just on its surface came from a comic book. I wear a bunch of different hats. I’m also the president of Image comics, and Image has been publishing The Walking Dead since its inception over ten years ago. So I’ve been around this property for a long time. Robert Kirkman who co-created it is now a partner at Image because of the hard work he’s put in. And most people know the brand because of the TV show that’s on cable and shattering all these viewership records. So this is a big brand. If I’m gonna walk into another toy aisle – because for twenty years I’ve been in the same aisle – then I need to go there with some help. As good as I think our company is, we need a brand that’s recognizable. So we’re walking in with the strongest brand on cable TV.
Now I go, “What are we trying to accomplish in that aisle?” Number one, we’ve got to build environments. This show is perfect for having backdrops that are relevant. You can’t necessarily say that about a lot of shows, movies and comic books — that what’s behind the people is as well known as the characters themselves. So when you say to people who are Walking Dead fans, “Woodbury,” or “The Governor’s room,” or “the prison yard,” or “downtown Atlanta,” people go, “Oh, I know what that backdrop is!” All that is valuable, given that we’re gonna start building environments. It’s what building blocks do.
Then the second piece is that we have to put some figures around it. So you go, “Okay, here’s a show that is now littered with dozens and dozens of human figures, and literally thousands of zombie characters.” I think we’ll have fans that will choose to ignore my building sets and say, “I don’t care about your building sets, but I’m gonna buy your figures.” Besides the building sets, we’ll come out with, for example, a five-pack of figures and what they call a blind bag program, where you buy something and open it up and one of the figures comes out but you don’t know in advance who’s in there. I’m pretty sure we’ll let the audience know which bags have zombies and which bags have humans so if you want to build more of one than the other then the other I’m not gonna frustrate you.
But the great thing about that program, that’s better than what we’re doing in the action figure aisle, and why you could arguably go, “No, I don’t want to buy building block stock,” is that I can literally do fifty, seventy-five of the human characters. I could never do that in the action figure aisle. Because in that aisle I only have a limited amount of space and I have to pick the top characters. So I could never do the thirty-fifth most popular human character in The Walking Dead. And I can now do that.
The cool thing is – and now I’m just gonna geek out on you – from a geek perspective I can go, “Wow, these things are only a couple of inches tall and if I can find two feet of shelf space there may come a day where if I buy these little packs and these five-packs I can have all the relevant cast members of the first five, six, seven, eight seasons – and a horde of zombies around them. And just put them up like the choir at school, stack them like in those school photos we all used to take, and go, “There it is. Whoever your favorite guy or gal is I guarantee I got them sitting right here.” And you only need two. If I gave you the top 100 characters and zombies in six inches you might need an addition to your house. And now you can get all this stuff in a short period of time.