Midtown Comics & AFJ were lucky enough this month to meet up with two of the busiest Junkies in the toy business. Zach & Chuck (see credentials below) are two of the most important cogs in the Diamond Select Toys operation which is a “spin-off” of their very well known parent company, Diamond Comic Distributors which as we all know is the only game in town. Now the sights are set on complete pop culture world domination as DST continues to wow toy Junkies everywhere with their wide and varied lines of not just action figures but all sorts of licensed products ranging from statues, vinyl banks, Minimates and full-size vehicles from your favorite TV & Movie properties.
As we head into the Spring, DST has something for every Junkie no matter your budget and the availability is greater than ever. That is one of the great things about DST that is kind of an insider thing, just take your Previews to your local comic shop, preferably Midtown Comics (wink, wink), and just make sure to order your favorite DST item in advance so as not to worry about going on the hunt from store to store. Yes, Junkies love the hunt but personally, I would much rather save the gas money and just tell the friendly & knowledgeable staff at Midtown what I want ahead of time and they will be happy to order the item for you. Its tough to match the amazing job that these two guys have done in securing and spreading the word about, respectively, the wide & varied brands the company has acquired. Their showing at Toy Fair ’16 had me wide-eyed like a kid in a candy store timing in my head what I could get away with if I made a run for the exit! And the stuff we couldn’t photograph for “pending license approval” is worth the wait, trust me on this gang. You will not be disappointed with the slate of toys that Diamond Select will be releasing in the duration of 2016. So sit back, relax and read about two expert Junkies that not only love what they do but really do care what savvy shoppers like us think about what they are doing.
Chuck Terceira is the President of Diamond Select Toys, and oversees all aspects of the business in some capacity. He negotiates licenses with studios, deciding which ones to pursue for merchandise, and acts as the product manager for several of DST’s product lines, choosing character line-ups as well as approving prototypes and factory samples. He is a life-long comic book fan, and a former comic-shop owner.
Zach Oat is the Marketing Supervisor for Diamond Select Toys, and oversees all communications for the company, including press, social media and packaging. He also does his own toy photography, for work and for fun. He is a life-long toy fan, and the former editor of ToyFare Magazine.
Midtown Comics & Action Figure Junkies know that Diamond Comics is the go-to distributor for their weekly comic book fix. How exactly did they get involved in toys?
Chuck: Diamond Comic Distributors, our parent company, offers a lot of different kinds of products to comic book shops and specialty stores, including mass-market toys from the big manufacturers as well as more collector-oriented toys by smaller specialty manufacturers. But back in 1999, they saw a need for more products that spoke directly to comic book and specialty shop customers. So Diamond Select Toys was created as a separate entity to license and create products based on some smaller licenses that weren’t being represented in toy form, which would then be offered to shops around the world.
Who came up w/ the name Diamond Select Toys and when did this all happen?
Chuck: Funny story. When the idea to start to produce products first started, the project was called “newco” – for “New Company.” As plans moved forward, the designers at Diamond Comic Distributors were asked to come up with a logo “like” the Previews Exclusive logo that had started to be used pretty often around the time. So they messed with that logo and ideas for what to name that logo – thus Diamond Select was created, which is also why the logo had the same color scheme as the Previews logo. After a short time, we created a new company logo you see a version of now, but the name was the name at that point.
What was the very first toy that DST produced for in-store purchase?
Chuck: The very first DST items were the Chaos Comics: Dark Alliance figures, with some of Chaos’ popular characters at the time, including Lady Death and Purgatori. Followed shortly by Battle of the Planets, then Vampire: The Masquerade.
Which figure or toy line can you guys point to as the first real success from the DST branch of the company?
Chuck: Honestly, our first action figures, the Dark Alliance toys, really were a success. The sales were very solid, and for the time they were really a pretty solid product, as well. But we really turned the corner from small novelty manufacture to a supplier for the specialty market in February 2002, when we shipped the Marvel Comics Ultimate Storm bust.
The MARVEL SELECT line has become wildly popular among members of Midtown Comics & AFJ customers. Since MARVEL was acquired by Disney and the SELECT figures are now available in the Disney Store chain, there has been a pretty wide expansion of these figures but it seems like you have to "get lucky" sometimes with some of the more popular figures not being as readily available as other characters. For example, I had to get Agent Venom from a friend of mine in Dallas and saw the price skyrocket to over $120 on the secondary market. Does DST limit quantities on certain areas of the country?
Zach: Disney Store exclusive distribution is handled by the Disney Store, we don’t have any say in it, so you would have to ask them, but there is no regional bias with our regular comic-shop releases. In both cases, you would have to ask your local store (you can find a comic shop at comicshoplocator.com) if they will be getting in each figure as it is announced. As for the quantity Disney Stores receive, the production runs for their figures are at least as high as those sold throughout the direct market.
Follow Up: What do you recommend doing to ensure Junkies can procure their favorite characters once they are announced?
Zach: I would definitely contact your local store like Midtown Comics, be it the Disney Store in the case of those exclusives, or a comic shop in the case of the regular releases. If you are not able to reserve it locally, you can always pre-order through an online retailer, and all Disney Store exclusive figures are also offered through MarvelStore.com and DisneyStore.com.
MARVEL SELECT also seems to be huge in the overseas markets, what do you attribute that to?
Zach: Obviously, the Marvel characters have exploded in global popularity since the start of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and our movie figures offer a level of detail and an affordable price that resonates with collectors. And once overseas audiences were introduced to the films, interest in the comics – and comic-based Selects – presumably expanded as well.
Chuck: Way back when this line first started, it was done hand in hand with the team at Toy Biz. Our original contract with them was for a set number of figures, with a guaranteed quantity set in the contract. The list of characters we had to pick from was somewhat limited, as well. The design idea was limited articulation, and to have a second figure or a large diorama piece. But the price we had to spend on the figures and development was locked in the contract. So the idea was to cram as much stuff as we could for the money. Because of that, we needed a very large package, and that is when the idea came about for the style. The Toy Biz team did the first several for us.
What I love about DST is that the licenses you have are wide and varied. Sure you've got a big stake in MARVEL but you've also got plenty of DC items, particularly in the Bat-family. You also have Back to the Future, Ghostbusters, Gotham, X-Files, Star Trek, Alien & The Muppets. No one else can say that correct?!?
Zach: Well not all of those licenses are for the same categories of products – some are for action figures, some for Minimates, some for busts, some for banks, some for kitchenware – but I think it’s safe to say that our full complement of licenses is pretty unique. We’re fans of all of the licenses we take on, and we pursue the licenses we are fans of. We like to say it’s the best of all worlds.
Zach, I know that you are a big fan of MINIMATES so I wanted to know a little bit about VINIMATES which are like MINIMATES on steroids.
Zach: I guess that’s one way to describe them! They are certainly bigger, around 4 inches tall, and are sculpted in the Minimates block-figure style, but they are actually a very different line. While Minimates are fully articulated, Vinimates capture a single iconic or dynamic pose, then add a ball-jointed neck so you can modify and customize that pose – just the ability to turn the head and tilt it up and down can change the pose entirely. And while Minimates follow a rigid geometric pattern, Vinimates add a certain degree of stylization to the geometry, to emphasize the pose and play with perspective.
I scheduled AFJ's Toy Fair '16 walk-through with DST as my finale of the big show. You guys really knocked it out of the park this year at Toy Fair. What surprised you the most at Toy Fair '16 and what new property garnered the most interest from the patrons you gave tours to?
Zach: The Vinimates definitely impressed people, we showed off several licenses’ worth of them at the show. This was also the first year we presented our line or Marvel Gallery PVC figures, 9-inch statues in the vein of our Femme Fatales line. For $45, you get a 9-inch, dynamically sculpted and beautifully painted statue, and the starting line-up – Captain Marvel, the new Thor, Spider-Gwen, Deadpool, Lady Deadpool, Hulk, Spider-Man, Ant-Man, Medusa – seems to have impressed some people!
We all grew up doing shoebox dioramas and I love that DST has brought that back. Tell the Junkies about the whole idea of creating a diorama by buying a bunch of different figures, each with a different piece? It really is a clever way to get buyers to come back and finish up the diorama even if say the last piece of the scene is not a character collectors "must" own? I've even seen just the dioramas go for quite a few bucks on eBay!
Chuck: The build-a-figure concept is obviously something many collectors have gotten behind, and dioramas are something we’ve been doing since we started the Marvel Select line back in 2002. But building a larger diorama across a wave or line started with our Stargate SG-1 figures, where you could build an actual Stargate if you bought every character. For us, the idea came from looking at the build a figure that was going on in Japan but we wanted to take it even a step further. From there, we went to dioramas like The Munsters staircase, and the set pieces from the first Captain America and Avengers movies. That evolution has peaked with the Ghostbusters diorama. But the primary goal is always to create something cool, something that couldn’t be released any other way, not necessarily to sell less desirable figures.
I was so excited to see the completed “Rooftop Diorama” from the finale of the original Ghostbusters set up at Toy Fair. While there have been other Ghostbusters figures made over the past decade, how is it that DST absolutely obliterated those without much public fanfare? What I mean to say is that DST's new Ghostbusters figures are head and shoulders better than say, the Club ECTO-1 figures, how do you account for that? The sculpts? The extras? The facial likenesses?
Zach: This was Chuck’s baby, he was the one who thought there still something we could bring to the Ghostbusters table after holding the license for seven years, and seeing what had come out from other companies. The Select scale, that 7-inch scale that is common for a lot of movie toy releases, is bigger than what’s come before, and you can get a higher level of detail with it. We also felt there was room for improvement in the realm of likenesses, and most fans seem to think we succeeded there, as well. The diorama is a game-changer, though. The fans who want it, and have the room for it, are in for the whole line, and we’ve tried to craft a 15-figure line that has everyone they could possibly want from that first movie.
I have noticed that more niche companies like DST now have their own "special section" in TOYS R US. Some consider these to be more high end and "boutique" figures that are better made than the mass market stuff we see in that particular chain. Have you seen a jump from DST merchandise being ordered more from larger retailers rather than just local comic shops?
Zach: Comic shops like Midtown Comics brought us to the dance, and many of our products are exclusively available at comic shops, either exclusive characters, exclusive accessories or entire exclusive product lines. But yes, we’ve been lucky enough to offer certain items in chains like Toys “R” Us, Hastings, Gamestop, Hot Topic and Walgreens. Some of those chains only carry a line or two, but Toys “R” Us has been carrying collector-oriented toy lines for a long time, and they’re a strong supporter of many of our products. They’ve even offered unique assortments of our Marvel, The Walking Dead, TMNT and Nightmare Before Christmas Minimates lines, as well as more streamlined versions of some of our Select action figure lines.
When I asked the Junkies what questions they had for DST, a lot of Junkies wanted to know if there is going to be more UNIVERSAL MONSTERS figures being made? The response was extremely positive!
Chuck: The Universal Monsters action figure line is wrapped up, so hopefully fans are happy with the new versions of the “big guns” we recently offered. This does not mean we’ve walked away from horror figures, however.
Although we weren't allowed to photograph them at Toy Fair, the PULP FICTION & KILL BILL figures were amazing. Can we expect more Tarantino figures coming down the pipe?
Zach: Those two lines have been keeping us busy for a few years now, and we’re focusing on bringing them to fruition, hopefully starting later this year. So there’s a way to go before we even think about expanding in that vein. If the response remains as positive as we have seen so far, there’s always a possibility, but there is already a LOT in the works.
Any other movie franchises that DST has their eye on? How about giving AFJ & Midtown Comics a real "Exclusive Scoop"?
Zach: We revealed our Minimates based on Alice Through the Looking Glass, but we have not officially announced that we will be doing Select action figures, Vinimates and Gallery PVC figures as well. They are already looking very cool! And we have some more Minimates movie lines in the works – it’s still a little early for those, but each is exciting in its own way.
This is the 50th Anniversary of the Live Action BATMAN TV Series starring Adam West & Burt Ward. I saw some really terrific items at Toy Fair and wanted to see if you can tell the Junkies all about it.
Zach: Our next big item is going to be a life-size vinyl bust bank of the Shakespeare bust from Wayne Manor. We should solicit that soon, and we are continuing with our line of busts and statues based on the show, with a full statue of Batman, and new villains like King Tut in the bust line.
Zach: The Muppets figures will eventually be at Toys “R” Us in a more streamlined format, but the Select versions, with additional exclusive accessories, are exclusively available at comic shops and specialty stores. Those shipped recently, and seem to be garnering a very positive response!
Zach: It will not ship in 2016, but we are working on an electronic Ecto-1 from Ghostbusters that should be ready for next year. And we, of course, have more Star Trek ships coming, including the Romulan Bird of Prey and the USS Reliant.
Does DST see the vertical integration of the company (books, toys, licensed entertainment, etc.) as an important part of your brand identity? Do you think we can one day see "DIAMOND TV"?
Chuck: While we don’t actually publish our own comics, we’ve worked with comic companies in the past on our original properties, like Battle Beasts, as well as some Minimates-style variant covers for Marvel Comics. We’ve also done a lot of stop-motion animation on our YouTube channel using Minimates and action figures, for Battle Beasts and our pirate line Calico Jack, but also licenses like Universal Monsters, Aliens and Back to the Future. I’d love to make that a more regular thing, while still putting up a lot of sneak-peek videos. But we’ll see!
What DST item are you guys respectively most excited for this year as we ease into the second quarter of 2016?
Zach: I’m very excited about our X-Files action figures. I was a casual fan of the show for a long time, but they’re characters I’ve always wanted cool toys of, and now we have them coming this summer!
Chuck: The new licenses are always the most exciting to explore – Alice Through the Looking Glass, Ghostbusters 2016, a few others we can’t mention – but I’m holding my breath until all five waves of classic Ghostbusters figures are in stores and people have built their rooftop. I’ve got a lot riding on this baby!