McFarlane Gives Details on "Walking Dead" Figures

The toys walk among us! McFarlane Toys announced last week that the company will be producing action figures for "The Walking Dead" based on both Robert Kirkman's comic book and the AMC television series.

CBR News spoke with McFarlane Toys CEO Todd McFarlane at the 2011 New York Toy Fair about the company's plans for the line. As reported earlier, the first wave of the deluxe, articulated six-inch figures, which were shown at the event, will be based on the comics, comprising of Officer Rick Grimes, Michonne, Zombie Lurker and Zombie Roamer. The second wave consists of TV characters, including Deputy Rick Grimes, Daryl Dixon, Zombie Walker and Zombie Biter.

Since Kirkman and McFarlane are partners at Image Comics, McFarlane said getting the license to make the comic book toys was easy. The most difficult part was getting cable network AMC to sign off on figures based on the hit TV show.

"When I had a conversation with both AMC and Robert Kirkman, I said you could arguably split [both properties] up, but it's a fool's game," McFarlane said, discussing the prospect of giving each license to different toy companies. "What's going to happen is you're going to have two competitors trying to milk the same property, and it's not going to work. I've seen it with my own eyes.  I don't want it to be 'Walking Dead comic book stuff' and 'Walking Dead TV stuff.' I want it to be 'Walking Dead.'"

McFarlane recommended that even if they didn't give McFarlane Toys the TV license, that only one toymaker do both properties. But Kirkman helped convince AMC that McFarlane Toys was the right company for the job.

"He's my perennial backdoor," McFarlane explained, adding that Kirkman is so important to the network that he's moving to Los Angeles from his home in Kentucky in order to be more hands-on with the TV show. "If I come to any kind of resistance on an idea through AMC, I'm sure I can go, 'Come on, Robert -- be my advocate.' They see him as an integral part of this show."

Having a solid relationship with Kirkman, McFarlane was able to license the comic book toys very quickly, the reason why fans are seeing figures based on the comics first. Plus, the new season of the TV show won't air until later this year.

"To the consumer, it all has to blend together," McFarlane said of the TV and comics toys. The tricky part is choosing characters that comics readers know and love, as well as ones that TV show viewers would be interested in. With that in mind, McFarlane decided to go with the katana-wielding zombie slayer Michonne from the comics in the first wave.

"Michonne is a prime example, because she hasn't come on to the show yet," he said, emphatically emphasizing the "yet." He explained that more Michonne figures would be sent to the specialty stores than the mass market retailers, "because it's like, 'Who's that?'" he said, suggesting that TV show viewers are less likely to have read the comics. "Only a couple of us geeks will know who she is. But when she comes [onto the TV show], she'll be popular."

And when that happens, McFarlane Toys will meet the demand by making the TV version. "My guess is, [we'll do a figure of] however she appears in the TV show," he said. "Her uniform might be slightly different, if not dramatically different. But I can go back and forth [making toys from the comics and TV show], depending upon the popularity and the want and the need out in the public. I have to do a balancing act to try to appease as many people as possible."

Meanwhile, the decision to launch with both versions of Rick Grimes, the main protagonist of the series, was a no-brainer. The biggest task in crafting Rick was how to differentiate between the comics toy, which will be in the first wave, and the TV toy in the second wave.

"At first blush, the layman might go, 'It's the same dude. Why do I need two of them?'" McFarlane said. "And the answer is, 'Well maybe you're right. You might only need to buy one of them.' But for people who are paying a little bit more attention, they'll see the 10 or 12 differences between the two and go, 'This is why I have to have both Rick Grimes figures.'"

One of the major differences between the comics and TV toys is the company's plans to utilize all of the actors' likenesses, a process McFarlane Toys and AMC are currently still working out.

The other obvious toys to make are the zombies. After all, you can't have a line of "The Walking Dead" toys without the shambling undead. The zombies being produced for the first wave of figures were plucked from pages of the comics, but with added details, accessories and moving parts.

"A zombie is a zombie, but, if I do my job right, all the zombies should be interesting," said McFarlane. "It's just a matter of figuring out the 'fun factors,' as I like to call it."

By "fun factors," McFarlane means the ways in which the toys will exhibit zombie-like features, such as exploding heads and dismembered limbs. One of the toy prototypes from the first wave shown at Toy Fair included a lever which, when pushed, opened the zombie's head, revealing his brains. McFarlane also said he'd eventually like to sell special "body part packs," similar to the weapons accessory packs his company makes for the "Halo" video games toys.  

"We'll sit there and go, 'How can we mutilate and have fun with zombies in 50 different ways?'" McFarlane said. "We're pretty creative, and we'll come up with some cool stuff."

He also added that Kirkman's heavily involved in every step, giving his approvals and "making sure that the cool factor is there." In fact, when the comics creator was first shown prototypes of the toys, McFarlane said he was "blown away," particularly by the movable zombie parts.

When asked if fans will ever get special black-and-white versions of the toys to match the comics, McFarlane said that there are plans to make such variants, but in limited numbers.

"Those ones will be the ones that we push more into the specialty stores," he explained, pointing out that while about 30,000 "Walking Dead" comic books are sold a month, there were six million people that watched the last episode of the first season. "People will know ['The Walking Dead'] more from the TV show. So the black-and-white toys wouldn't make sense to them, but they'll be sort of a 'wink-wink' to us comic geeks."

If the line does well, there's also the possibility of creating statues, dioramas, backdrops, extra accessories and even vehicles, including Rick's horse.  

"All of that will have a place once we solidify the core business of 'The Walking Dead,' which is the real deal," McFarlane said. "When [retailers] start giving you the space down here [on the bottom shelf], that's when you have to start filling it up with box sets and higher-priced items. Then we can get a little funkier with our thought processes [for toys]."

The first wave of "Walking Dead" toys will be released in September, and the second wave will hit stores in November.

Check out the rest of CBR's Toy Fair photos here.

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