Junkies can rejoice as we have a sneak peek interview with head Diamond Select Toys Junkie, Zach Oat, before AFJ's official Toy Fair walkthrough on Tuesday. Zach and DST have been extremely generous to AFJ since its inception back in 2013, making sure that the Junkies are kept in the loop about anything & everything that goes on inside the fantastic world of Diamond. What has always impressed me about DST, is their wide and varied assortment of licenses that seem to know no bounds like most companies that walk a much finer line. Because of their comic book industry clout, DST is able to secure properties that other companies might have a harder time doing so. A longtime Junkie himself, Zach was nice enough to take a break from his busy schedule and give AFJ a sneak peek of what to expect at the Super Bowl of toys, aka Toy Fair '16. Zach has agreed to be the first of what we hope to be many folks inside the toy industry that will contribute to AFJ's new column and Q & A session, "INSIDE MAN."
AFJ: How did you first get involved in the toy world and wind up with Diamond Select Toys?
ZACH: While I was earning a studio art degree, I got back into toy collecting. Then, when I was about to graduate, I had no idea what I wanted to do or was even qualified to do, so an old family friend offered to let me work at his small toy company, GFN, for the summer. Not action figures, but it was a lot of fun. Then Wizard Entertainment contacted me about an application I had sent in and invited me to interview for a copy editor spot at ToyFare Magazine. I worked there for eight years, and I met a lot of people in the industry, learned a lot about the manufacturing process, visited a Chinese factory, went to Tokyo Toy Show and New York Toy Fair, had a taco-eating contest with the Four Horsemen, co-wrote and photographed Twisted ToyFare Theatre… it was a lot of fun, but all things end. I co-wrote a book about sculpting toys with Tim Bruckner and Ruben Procopio, called Pop Sculpture, and spent a couple of years out of the industry as a blogger. But as luck would have it, the president of Diamond Select Toys was looking for someone to write about toys for the web and the boxes and the catalog, and it turns out I was qualified to do that!
AFJ: What would you say about the current state of the industry and where is it going?
ZACH: I’m no prognosticator. Things seem to be great – lots of companies making stuff, lots of companies doing well, lots of licenses we never thought we’d get toys from. Dream licenses, many of them. At DST, we’re happy with what we’re making and what we’re selling, I think. For the most part, fans seem to like it, too!
AFJ: What separates DST from other high-end toy companies?
ZACH: I don’t know that I’d call us high-end – we make a lot of stuff that is pretty competitively priced. Minimates are $10 for a pack of two. Half of what we make is under $30, and three-quarters of it are under $80. Aside from some $150 statues and the occasional $400 prop replica, we’re low-end. But besides having mass-market priced items in our catalog, we’re pretty diversified. Not only do we maintain a couple of dozen different licenses at any given time, but we also make a lot of stuff that is not “toys,” per se. Bottle openers, glassware, silicone trays, gelatin molds… not a lot of toy companies do this kind of thing. And even our toy output is diverse: block figures, action figures, retro figures, PVC statues, resin… We don’t like to put all of our eggs in one basket. Or even six baskets.
AFJ: Are there any new licenses that you guys are working on that you can tell AFJ about?
ZACH: Paul Feig recently outed us as having the Ghostbusters 2016 license! I’m excited about that one. I like that someone has a clear vision of a Ghostbusters movie they want to make, and they’re making it. And the cast is very funny. We’ll make Minimates and some other stuff. There’s a couple of other things that are brewing, and you’ll at least hear about them at Toy Fair, although they may be under wraps for a while longer. One is an extension of a popular license we have. One is a new license, starring a character we have a long relationship with.
AFJ: Do you think that the onset of "con culture" and things like the BIG BANG THEORY have helped the toy world become more mainstream? Or are those people just getting now late to the party?
ZACH: Just because they’re late doesn’t mean they’re not welcome! If it’s now more okay for people to think of themselves as geeks, and go to a convention, and buy an action figure because of The Big Bang Theory, then more power to them. I’m not the type to be overly protective of my hobbies, especially since it’s also how I make a living.
AFJ: What is one major trend in figures that you have seen become bigger and bigger?
ZACH: The 1/6 scale trend is unbelievable to me, because I got into toys when high-end movie figures were rare, and 1/6 military figures were all the rage. I mean, they look great, but the price people will pay for some of these is incredible. I love toys because they’re affordable artwork. So as the price increases, I actually grow less interested. But there are more and more people who just collect 1/6. I don’t know where they keep them all!
AFJ: It was reported that 2015 was the best year for action figures in over a decade. However, Star Wars merchandise was not available until September. What would you attribute the spike too?
ZACH: If they mean quality and variety, yeah, it’s been a great year! I know people were very happy with our MARVEL, Gotham, Nightmare Before Christmas and Ghostbusters Select offerings last year, and Minimates-wise, TMNT, Aliens and Predator also made people happy. Some of the things other companies have put out have been very impressive, and I’m sure new Star Wars toys played a big role. People always base it on the late-in-the-year stuff anyway. I think that’s how the Oscars work.
AFJ: Where do you see the state of the industry in say five years
ZACH: I have no idea. I’m no fortune-teller when it comes to that stuff. Hopefully, prices don’t go up too much, and the market doesn’t dry up from fans running out of space to put their toys.
AFJ: What is your favorite line of Diamond Select toys?
ZACH: I love Minimates, they’re addictive and fun, and they all work together, so you can have Aliens fighting X-Men fighting the cast of Buck Rogers. But the licenses we’ve added to our Select range – Ghostbusters, Gotham, Nightmare Before Christmas, X-Files – are making me rediscover my love of traditional action figures.
AFJ: Toy Fair starts on Saturday. What can the Junkies expect from DST this year?
ZACH: We just announced that we have the new Ghostbusters movie, so you’ll see Minimates, banks and more from that, and we’ve got a couple new Disney licenses that should make people pay attention. And those Pulp Fiction and Kill Bill figures that we were showing a couple of years ago? They’re back, and better than ever, and they are going to happen. Other than that, more Gotham, Nightmare Before Christmas, Marvel Select, Ghostbusters ’84, Muppets, Star Trek, Plants vs. Zombies, Mallrats, Aliens and more.
AFJ: What do you think is going to be Diamond Select's biggest hit of 2016?
The Ghostbusters action figure line is just getting started at comic shops, but once it gets up to speed, and people start building that rooftop diorama, I think it will really take off. And our Vinimates designer figure line is expanding into a lot of different licenses that will really make people sit up and take notice. And we just started offering a new line of PVC figures, like Femme Fatales, called Gallery, which will include Marvel heroines, Batman Animated heroes and villains, and a lot more. Clayburn Moore is overseeing the Marvel line, and all the pieces are pretty amazing.
AFJ: What are you personally most excited about for DST as we head into Toy Fair 2016?
ZACH: I’m very excited about the new Ghostbusters 2016. I’m a huge fan of Kristen Wiig and Kate McKinnon, and I’m a recent convert to Melissa McCarthy. SPY was great, Bridesmaids was great, and I’m just happy to see the franchise back on the big screen.
AFJ: Finally, you guys have the BACK TO THE FUTURE license which the Junkies know I live for. The new Frozen DeLorean is absolutely amazing. Is it possible we will ever see screen accurate figures from the franchise?
ZACH: Anything is possible! We don’t have plans right now, but it’s not as unthinkable as it once was, and we have no plans to stop making cool BTTF product. So who knows what the future will bring?
AFJ: Can you send me those immediately?
ZACH: If they happen, I will call you first.