Published on June 8th, 2020 | by gareth0
We Talk Collectible Figures With Diamond Select Toys
Recently we spoke with
Zach Oat, Marketing Supervisor, Diamond Select Toys
and Gentle Giant Ltd. about their company, new items, and how the loss of conventions in 2020 has changed how they reveal new products.
Genevieve Mc Bride and Michael Newman also supplied some of the questions.
What can you tell us about the formation of the company?
Diamond Select Toys was founded in 1999 by Diamond Comic Distributors, the largest distributor of English-language comics in the world. Our initial mandate was to create collectibles for both kids and adults that would be sold into comic shops and specialty stores across North America. Later, that expanded to larger chains like Target and Toys“R”Us, and now you can find us in stores like Walgreens, Walmart and GameStop, as well as in Diamond Comics’ global network of independent retailers.
What were some of the biggest challenges you faced starting out?
As a relatively small, untested company, it was difficult to get the larger licenses, which would have in turn led to larger sales, but we turned out some great products based on smaller licenses, like Chaos Comics, G-Force and Monty Python. Marvel Comics was one of our first big gets, and it remains one of our flagship licenses.
How many licenses do you currently hold?
We currently have over 20 licenses, including Marvel, DC, Star Wars, Nightmare Before Christmas, Lord of the Rings, Predator, Sonic the Hedgehog, Bruce Lee, Rocketeer, Black Hole, Avatar: The Last Airbender, Castlevania, Westworld, Tron, Godzilla, Iron Giant, John Wick, Ghostbusters, Jay and Silent Bob, Kingdom Hearts, Star Trek and others.
How does a design happen from concept, design, to approval?
For most products, we commission 2-D artwork of what the product will look like, then submit that to the licensor. Once the concept is approved, we move on to the sculpting stage. Some of our sculptors work in clay and wax, but most work digitally, and images of the finished sculpt are sent to the licensor for approval. There is usually a round or two of changes, and once those are approved the product (a casting of the original sculpt, or a casting of the digital output) is sent to the painter. Again, there are usually a couple of rounds of changes.
What have been your most popular lines in recent years?
Marvel is one of our most popular brands, including the Marvel Gallery dioramas, Marvel Select action figures, and the long-running Marvel Minimates mini-figure line. But Our Ghostbusters line of figures, specifically those based on the cartoon, were also very well received. Currently, our Black Hole figures are doing very, very well – a long lack of product has built up fan demand.
On average how long does it take to create a new design and have it ready for sale?
It depends on the product — a Minimate mini-figure, which is largely done in 2D with minimal sculpting and tooling (the making of large steel molds), can be turned around in six months, concept to shelf. Statues are a little longer, 8 or 9 months, and action figures can take up to a year. Some of our larger, more complicated items, such as electronic robots and starships, can take even longer.
How has the loss of shows like Wondercon and SDCC affected the company?
Not overly much. It’s always nice to bring our prototypes to show off to customers in person – including a lot of customers who may be discovering us for the first time – so we are losing it as a marketing opportunity. But the cost of attending a show is very high, and we now have that money to invest elsewhere. So we’ll continue to promote ourselves online, and the exclusives we would have sold at SDCC we are going to offer online, as well. In fact, they’ll be available to an even wider audience, including international customers, so I think that’s one positive element that has come out of all of this.
When you do a show; how do you decide which items to bring and feature?
We generally take whatever’s ready! With the exception of some retailer exclusives and items which either aren’t approved or aren’t ready to reveal, we tend to roll deep at shows, packing the display case with everything that’s coming up. We’re proud of all of it, so it’s always a tough decision to leave anything behind.
How many employees are usually on a design team for a figure?
There is usually one art director (sometimes two), one 2D artist, one sculptor, and one painter.
What figure are you most proud of?
I think the upcoming Iron Giant action figure is going to be one of our best-received figures. It’s about 9 inches tall, it has light-up eyes, and it’s fully articulated, all for only $30. There have been other IG products, most for a lot more money, but I really like ours.
Can you provide us a hint of what upcoming figures might be in the works?
We recently announced a few upcoming action figure items, including the Lord of the Rings line, and a new assortment of Avatar: The Last Airbender. Fans have been asking us what’s going on with the Marvel Select line, and we do have a bunch of comic-based figures in the works, including a Disney Store exclusive that will be revealed later this month. And we’ll be going back to the Disney movie well, to follow up on our successful Tron, Black Hole and Rocketeer figures, so keep an eye out for another Disney movie action figure.
Is their a figure that you have not yet had the opportunity to design that you would love an opportunity to
I would love for us to tackle figures based on the original Blade Runner. It’s something no company has been able to make happen, and I think they’d do great – it’s such an important, iconic film. Same goes for Dune, which hasn’t had any figures since the original toy line, similar to Black Hole.
How do you decide of what figures to make next ?
There are a lot of reasons to go after a license – there can be upcoming content, like with our Lord of the Rings and Avatar TLA lines, or long pent-up demand, like Black Hole and Tron. Sometimes we’ll get several licenses at once as part of a library deal – we’ll go in asking for one license, and package in others from the studio’s library that we think will do well.
How does the process to obtain a design license work?
Getting a license is complicated – you need to have a proven track record, you need to have a business plan, you need to show that you will be able to bring to market a successful toy line. You also need to determine categories – what kind of products will you be making? Are you the only one allowed to make that kind of product? Having really cool ideas and strong designs in your sales pitch is also important.