Beard: Retro toy company scores Batman ’66 licenseWritten by Jim Beard | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Figures Toy Company CEO Steve Sandberg describes his younger self as “the squarest kid in the world.” Born into the conservatives 1950s, but acquiring an “affinity for rock music” in the hipper 1960s, he once attended a Leon Russell-Mad Dogs and Englishmen-Joe Cocker concert in a button-down Oxford shirt and “jeans that had never been faded in their life.”
Little wonder that Sandberg completely understands the depth of feeling some have for the ’60s and the TV shows that defined it – like the 1966 Batman camp classic.
Launched in 1998 to produce pro wrestling replica memorabilia, Figures Toy Company is presently known for its diverse production of Mego-type action figures; that is, toys that emulate the look and feel of the popular Mego figures of the 1970s. Recently, the company released the first wave of four selections in its Batman ’66 line to great acclaim.
“I’m a product of TV in the ’60s and I’m very familiar with the show,” Sandberg said. “It’s the first show I ever watched in color. We thought that there was a tremendous amount of opportunities to make these [Batman ‘66] figures. Unlike previous toy companies, unlike other licenses, you’re not pigeonholed into what you can make for it. You don’t have to make three or four characters and then you stop. The opportunities are really great.”
Beyond the licensed figures, the company has produced toys based on DC Comics characters and the like, but Sandberg sees a difference in the way likenesses must be approached to satisfy licensors.
“The fun, and it really is fun, is the sculpting of heads,” he explained. “In the case of TV stars, you want to get it as close as possible. Cesar Romero as the Joker has face paint, Burgess Meredith is different as the Penguin [than the comic book version]. It really is fun, making it look like the character from the TV show. I have a very good sculptor; he [can get] close but maybe we tweak it. We might put more age in it, for example. There’s more work to it. That’s the easy part to a degree, in the sculpting. Then we send it in for approval, and the licensor says ‘yes’ or ‘no.’”
In the case of Batman ’66, the licensor is Warner Bros. and Sandberg notes that he’s worked directly with the studio, not with the various actors or their estates. He also knows the ins-and-outs of choosing which characters to make – and how that may impact profitability.
“We look at the talent and what makes sense there,” Sandberg noted. “We’re doing Roddy McDowell as the Bookworm — it’s fun because there are characters [from the show] that have never been done before. And someone who truly likes Batman, they’re gonna go ‘Wow, this is fun.’ Where it gets a little dicey is that you have to make a commitment on characters, whether it be the sculpting or going into production, and you make that decision way before you’re shipping previous [waves]. So you make a commitment and you hope that you’re correct and the license is still viable.
Sometimes a CEO of a toy company looks at things from a personal level, though his opinions may be overruled by larger business concerns.
“When you look at a license you ask [yourself] if there is interest there,” he says. “’Has it been done before? Can we do a good job on it? And where is the market for it? Is there a market for this?’ It’s all fine to make really good product, but you have to be able to get product out there.”
The 1960s Batman show is rife with non-costumed characters, such as Alfred and Commissioner Gordon, but Sandberg isn’t as sure about them as good choices for figures as he is with the Dynamic Duo and their rogues gallery. In fact, if he were to produce an Alan Napier-Alfred figure, he may have him dressed as Batman, as he was in more than one original episode. This outlook came from Sandberg’s experience in poor sales performance of wrestling character toys in something other than their popular costumes.
Overall, Figures Toy Company has been gratified over the reaction to the first wave of Batman ’66 product, yet stands ready to improve upon its success.
“We scrutinize it ourselves,” Sandberg said. “We’re very critical about the product we make. If we see imperfections along the way, we’ll correct it. We try not to take any sidecuts or sidestep anything. And we know that, for the most part, the people who buy it are collector, and they can be very critical, too. So far everything has been very favorable.
“The clothing has been tight, right-on, and very good. The sculpts for the heads have really been terrific, especially considering we’re dealing with an 8-inch figure. People don’t realize how difficult is to sculpt an 8-inch figure. When I do the approvals I look at a giant picture that’s been blown up and I tell the sculptor, ‘You missed this and this,’ but I have to be cognizant to the fact that they’re working in half-inch or quarter-inch to do a part of a head. But I’m very excited about the whole thing.”
Tags: Batman, Batman '66, Burgess Meredith, Cesar Romero, DC Comics, Englishmen, Figures Toy Company, Jim Beard, Joe Cocker, Leon Russell, Mad Dogs, Mego, Roddy McDowell, Steve Sandberg, The Bookworm, The Joker, the Penguin, Warner Bros.