Mondo surprised their legions of fans by announcing their entry into the realm of action figures recently via USA Today. A brand new endeavor for the company known for selling limited run movie posters, vinyl soundtracks and VHS film offerings, the first batch of figures are based on Brad Bird’s beloved animated feature “The Iron Giant” as well as the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise.
This weekend at Comic-Con International: San Diego, Mondo will have their upcoming toys on display for attendees to check out. The “Iron Giant” line will include a 16-inch action figure that comes with a variety of accessories including Hogarth, the Seafood sign with removable “S” and metal to munch. A 6-inch light-up replica of the Iron Giant’s Bolt will also be available.
Meanwhile, the TMNT offerings exemplify the franchise’s mutability. The First Turtle Vinyl Figure is 6 inches tall, painted black and white and based on co-creator Kevin Eastman’s very first drawing of a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle. Additionally, a vinyl figure inspired by Mike Mitchell’s Just Like Us version of Michelangelo will get shown off. Mondo CEO Justin Ishmael also explained to CBR News that a line of 1/6 scale Ninja Turtles figures are in the works, though the actual toys will not be on display at SDCC. Fans will, however, get a chance to scope out the 1/6 scale Alfred Hitchcock figure that comes with cigars, director’s chair and a variety of props from the auteur’s films including “Psycho” and “The Birds.”
CBR News scored an interview with the very busy Ishmael about the process of moving into this new retail space, the finer points of the initial offerings and how the toy sales will differ from that of the company’s famed posters.
CBR News: This announcement about Mondo selling toys is really exciting. I’d imagine this has been in the works for a while because it takes so long to make toys.
Justin Ishmael: Oh, thanks, yeah. I’ve been wanting to talk about it for a long time. I’m glad that it’s finally here. We’re kind of going real fast. We’re going to have quite a few things that we haven’t announced that will be just at the booth for people to stumble upon. These are in all phases of completion. Some things will have been just started and other things will be done or close to done. It’s been really weird to see the line because I accidentally posted a picture and in the background you can see one on a shelf, but because it wasn’t on anyone’s radar, no one noticed. But if it was a poster in the background, it would have been all over the place. It’s on there and you can see it in the background plain as day. No one knows it exists, so it’s kind of been easy to hide. I’m really hoping that it is a true surprise for people who walk up expecting posters and say, “You have these toys here, what are they?” And we’ll say, “We’re doing toys now.” I’m excited for that reaction.
What was the process like for you guys deciding to get into the action figure game?
I’ve always been a really really big toy fan and we had been talking about this since I started out with the company. “We should do a bust of this director” or “let’s do this thing or this thing or this thing.” At the time there was a lot of stuff going on with people figuring out how to do the Japanese vinyl toys with short runs. That turned into people doing resin stuff and there was a lot of that type of homemade thing. It was DIY stuff which we do a lot of, but with toys we always wanted them to be a certain way. Basically, we wanted them to be in package, we wanted to do real toys that could be on shelves at a toy store or someday Target. We couldn’t do it then, but kept the idea in mind. We got introduced to some guys that do toy prototyping, toy production, etc. So it was almost like an extension of what we were doing with posters. We have this toy team and from there it was like, “What do we want to do? Out of all the things in the world, what do we want to do?” It wasn’t a conscious thing about going really diverse, I think this first line of stuff that we have really shows the fandom or level of nerviness that we all have over here.
A lot of these products we’re going to put out, and future ones hopefully, are things that I’ve wished someone would make for decades. Finally, we can do these things, like the Bolt. I’ve always wanted a full-size Bolt from “Iron Giant” or the First Turtle. I’ve always been a big Kevin Eastman fan and love the art from ’85 to ’87 or ’88, that painted, airbrushed stuff. That first turtle with his lifework, we’re going to hopefully have a painted version of that there, pretty much finished for people to take a look at.
It’s exciting to do this and to do it at Comic-Con because we’re also having a lot of meetings with people at the convention that are like, “You guys do posters, you don’t do toys.” So we’re going to be able to show them and hopefully it won’t fall over and break or something.
Going back to the “Iron Giant” toys, how was Brad Bird involved in making those happen?
Years ago, Brad just emailed us about the “Iron Giant” posters saying he was a fan. So, we’d send him stuff if we did anything for “The Incredibles” or any of the movies he was involved with because we’re big fans. When we were talking about doing the Iron Giant, we got the license and asked if they had any reference because we wanted to sculpt it as close as we can. He said he had an actual file from the movie that we could use. This isn’t the first time Iron Giant toys have been done. In the ’90s a company called Trendmasters, they put out some stuff that’s actually really cool. A lot of it’s super sought after now, but that’s the problem, it goes on ebay for $700. That’s not doable.
Ours is going to be 16 inches. It’s probably the most accurate figure that’s ever existed because it’s from the files. We’re going to have a bunch of features on it that we’re going to hopefully debut throughout Comic-Con. One day he’ll have the S on his chest, the other day it’ll be the war version of the robot the next day he’ll be happy again. There’s all these different looks that we’ll be showing off. Brad seemed to like it. I’m kind of holding off on getting too excited until we see the final in hand, play with it and make sure it’s actually fun and works. So far so good. I’m really really really excited to see what people think at Comic-Con.
You mentioned the Iron Giant toy is 16 inches tall. What else can you tell us about its specs?
I believe it’s got 30 points of articulation. In the pictures, take a good look at the fingers because they’re very intricate. In one he’s posing with his hands on his hips as fists and there’s another where it looks like he’s about to start walking and his hand is wide open. You can really get a lot of emotion and a lot of the poses with all the articulation.
Over to the Turtles. Was that a similar process of working with Kevin Eastman where it started off with some mutual admiration between him and Mondo?
Yeah, I’ve always been such a huge fan. That was the first license I ever signed for Mondo. We hadn’t had it for a long time before Nickelodeon acquired it, so when we started doing toys we went to them again and said we had ideas for this, this and this, and they’re were like, “Okay, cool, it’s open.” So we nabbed it and ran.
We’re going to do The First Turtle which won’t necessarily be an action figure, but more like a vinyl. It’ll have some poseability in the arms. We wanted to keep it as realistic to the thing as possible. If that turtle existed in real life, he wouldn’t move. We’re also going to have the Just Like Us Lil’ Mikey by Mike Mitchell. Every time someone sees that they’re like, “Awww.” It’s the cutest thing and it’s funny to see peoples’ reactions. We had a UPS guy come in the office and we had just gotten him out for the first time. He was peeking over his shoulder looking at it. Then he came in a few days later and asked when we were putting them on sale which was amazing.
I keep talking about peoples’ reactions because we have zero idea how people are going to care or anything because we hadn’t told anybody.
Mondo has this great reputation as being people who make awesome stuff that people want to get as soon as possible. I would think that would carry over. Speaking of that, how will they actually be sold? Will they pop up like the posters and have a limited print run?
No. This will be the first announcement and there will be a bunch of stuff coming out at Comic-Con. Then we’re going to regroup and release either the Iron Giant Bolt or the Lil’ Mikey first. Then we’ll have professional pictures taken so you can see what’s going on and we’ll announce prices.
What will happen then is that we’ll release the figure and it will be pre-order for X amount of time. It won’t be where you go on and in ten minutes or an hour, it’s gone. You’ll definitely have a chance to do this. Like you said, toys take a long time and there’s a lot of cost involved with toys and making them the right way. We’re definitely going to do a pre-order situation. That doesn’t mean in the future we won’t do like a variant version with smaller numbers, but for the most part it will be pre-orders.
Are you aiming at specific run numbers in that case?
That’s the pre-order. It all depends on how many people buy it. So, hopefully it’s a lot. It’d be nice to have a lot of people with Iron Giant toys.
Can you talk about any of the other toys you guys are working on that might appear at Comic-Con?
We have the Iron Giant and the Iron Giant Bolt. Then we have the First Turtle and Lil’ Mikey. We’ll have Mousers at the booth in the case and I think rats. They’ll come with rats. That’s going to be released down the road and it’s kind of an invitation that we are actually working on the first ever 1/6 scale Turtle figures. We’re going to announced that, they won’t be there, but we’ll have design sheets that we’re basing all of the poses and designs off of with accessories and whatnot. You’ll be able to see that and with the Mousers there you’ll see the style we’re doing them in which is very closely based on the Eastman and Laird style. We’re using lots of references because they’ve been done in a million ways. I don’t think we’ll bill them as Eastman and Laird-styled Turtles, but we’re very big fans of the comic books so we’re doing as much as we can to make them work in a 3D world and still retain the silhouettes and the poseability that makes them Turtles.
Turtle-wise, that’s all that will be there. We’re doing a 1:6 scale Alfred Hitchcock figure and I think that might be it. We have a lot of stuff pending that we can actually make toys [for]. If they’re impressed there will be more announcements later on this year.
The Lil’ Mikey piece is based on artist Mike Mitchell’s interpretation of that character. Have you discussed making collectibles based on the posters Mondo is so well known for?
Absolutely. The Lil’ Mikey is the first taste of that. There have been a lot of toys out there of 3D posters and I don’t think a lot of them are that cool, not taking anything away from them at all, I just don’t think that style is something we want to do. We’re wanting to work more in a full 3D space so you could put it on a shelf and doesn’t look square. There’s a lot of looking at stuff and figuring out what will work best. That’s definitely one of the things we’re most excited about, the fact that you have so much diversity and endless possibilities for toys. The artists we work with do a lot of designs and have big imaginations, so we can do stuff based on their posters, but then we can do stuff with these guys that has nothing to do with pop culture. We can do our own lines of things and start new things which is an exciting thing for people to look forward to as we start creating our own things not based on properties with the artists they like. It’s one of the things we’re been toying with.
For more information on Mondo’s toy offerings, check out the weekly TOYING AROUND column on CBR.