Points of Articulation
9 Questions With Mez
Mezco Toys made a splash in the toy industry in 2000 with Silent Screamers, a joint venture with Art Asylum. But before the second series of figures even came out, Mezco had split off to form its own toy company. With early lines like Popeye and Reservoir Dogs, Mezco became a toy company to watch. Outside the realm of action figures, the company has found astounding success with its line of Living Dead Dolls.
In 2004, Mezco won licenses for the Hellboy film and the hit cartoon Family Guy; both have proved very popular with both fans and collectors. This fall, Mezco will release a new toyline based on the Hellboy comicbook. As any regular reader of this site knows, I'm rather excited by this prospect.
Mezco president Mike "Mez" Markowitz was kind enough to satiate my obsessiveness by answering a few questions for us.
1.) How did you get the Hellboy (movie) license originally? Was there a lot of competition for it?
Revolution Studios' licensing representative, Russell Binder, pitched it to me when it was available, and trust me, it wasn't like it was a hard sell on his end, as I was real eager to get the license. I knew that other companies were interested and shown it, but that's Russell's job. Anyway, when it all shook out, we were the ones that got picked.
2.) The Hellboy movie figures were similar to McFarlane's Movie Maniacs, but you went the extra mile to offer some great articulation as well as great sculpting. Why the emphasis on articulation?
Hmmm, Movie Maniacs, that's an interesting comparison but I don't personally see it. Anyway, McFarlane makes some great stuff, so I will take it as a compliment and thank you.
Sculpting for [movie] HB was largely due to the efforts of Dave Cortes and Revolution, I just directed the project. To break it down, Dave is one of the best sculptors in the biz I know of, so Dave brought the quality of the sculpting to the figures and nailed it in my opinion - that was key. Revolution was also extremely helpful in supplying useful and adequate reference, and that too is key (and sometimes harder to come by than you would think). For my job, I discussed things with Dave when he was working on the project that I thought would make for a better figure. Things like I wanted the stone hand to be bigger, like in the comic, and I wanted Hb's features more chiseled (again like in the comic). Again I think what we did works and made for the best Hb figures we could put out. Production quality is also something that was important, to have all that articulation and have it not work well is a waste. I give props to my HK office crew for that.
Okay, so I have gone on some, huh? Anyway, why the emphasis on articulation? I try to articulate all our product where and when it makes sense. I am not looking to achieve what ToyBiz does with the [Marvel Legends] line. I assume the core consumer is a collector. So with that in mind, I want the consumer to be able to interact with the figure. Some companies do this by adding action features, some by capturing a moment or a pose that is some how iconic or memorable for the source material; for me, I want people to be able pose the figure how they want and then repose it - I wasn't going for an articulation count, I was going for articulation that counted.
3.) Let's talk about the Hellboy comic-based line. This is one of your highest-profile licenses this year; how has the retailer response been? Do you think the movie's success has helped?
Sales have been good and at or above what we planned. Also yes, of course the movie helped. Our product performed extremely well at retail; also, the movie brought Hb awareness [outside] the comic world.
4.) There's one thing I'm sure many Hellboy fans would like to know: why did you go with a "shirtless" Hellboy in series 1, instead of the more iconic trenchcoat-wearing Hellboy (currently scheduled for Series 2)?
A few reasons. Time was an issue, as the coat came late and schedules couldn't be pushed around to accommodate getting the coat tooling done in time. But in hindsight, I think it is for the best. HB with his coat will be in the second series and it will give fans something to look forward to. For those who are dying for the trenchcoat, we will be selling an exclusive Hb figure with a cloth trenchcoat and [an exclusive] Von Klempt (with the swastika on his forehead) through the Mezco Direct store.
The cloth coat at this scale came out so good that I think instead of the molded coat, this figure will show up again in Series 2 with some different accessories as well as differences in the Hb figure (for example, a new head sculpt).
5.) Will there be a cloth-coat variant of the "shirtless" comic Hellboy? Perhaps an exclusive?
Think I just covered that one. :)
6.) One of the most requested figures for the comic Hellboy line is Abe Sapien, but currently, he's not planned for either of the first two series. Is there a reason for putting out lesser-known characters like the Alien and Johann Kraus before everyone's favorite fish-man?
A lot of the core or popular characters were done in the movie line. I wanted to do characters (Hb excluded) that weren't done yet. That, and I'm a huge pulp fiction fan, so it was a must that Lobster [Johnson] be done up front, and Johann and Roger are favorites of mine (one of the perks of owning the company).
7.) How involved was Hellboy creator Mike Mignola in the production process for the comic line?
Mike was more involved than licensors usually are, and it was both a big help and important to me. One of my main goals was to do justice to Mike's artwork and characters. That presents some challenges, as his style is tough to nail down. Dave [Cortes] again sculpted on this project, and I directed him to keep it angular and rough, as I thought this would add some of Mike's style into the 3D work. So when we had some rough sculpts that I was happy with, Mike came in (we are located in NYC) and looked at them, and gave comments for us to work off of. Same with the final sculpts and paints.
For packaging, I asked Mike if he would be interested in doing some art for the package; he did and that was great, and then he had Dave Stewart color it, and then James Jung from my office here laid out and designed the package. The first version we did Mike didn't like, so he explained to me some of what he saw in his head as the packaging, I mocked it up quick and rough in Photoshop and he felt it was more the direction that he wanted and it went back to James to polish off.
8.) What do you think of Big Blast's previous attempt at a Hellboy action figure?
I love that figure, I actually loved that whole line and bought them all when they came out. Back then, the figure market was different. McFarlane was just out, and even though that raised the bar, it wasn't as high as it's been pushed to now. So for the time, not only was it a great figure (and that hasn't changed), it was top of its class on a lot of levels.
But the things I dug about it was it was like this sturdy kid's toy that you could strap fire crackers to and throw darts at, it had that vibe. Lots of collectable figures these days are as delicate as they are pretty.
9.) How many series of figures do you think you'll be able to squeeze out of the Hellboy comic?
We have two planned for sure, beyond that I have on paper I think 5-6. But I'm a little bit of a freak like that, you can go through my sketchbook or notepads and find line extensions, vehicles and crap that I can't even do (like Batman toys) all over the place. So the real future of the Hellboy Comic line rests in the consumers' hands; retail has supported it, if it sells well, then they will again and so will we.