At Toy Fair, one of the booths I visited was for Comic Images, which has an extensive line of Star Wars-themed plushies, along with DC, Marvel, and others.
I spoke with Alan Gordon, a partner at Comic Images, about the company, the process of licensing, and the best plush Yoda ever. Since the company has been around for a while, and has evolved what types of merchandise it creates, the interview turned into an interesting journey into a history of the industry, including baseball cards, wrestling, and other tie-in merchandise.
Comic Images was founded in 1984 by Hank Rose and George Fahs, Alan Gordon told me. They started out to “bring non-comic merchandise, specifically Marvel comics, to the direct market, the comic shop. At the time all they had were books and comics.” Comic Images started out with the usual merchandise such as t-shirts, banners, and tchotchkes. “Over time it evolved,” Gordon explained. “We took some additional licenses, and it coincided with the trading card boom in the late 80’s and early 90’s.” They then moved towards licenses with Marvel, putting artwork on trading cards, and also worked with some fantasy artists.
“The business remained strong in the early to mid 90’s, and then the card market started crapping out…there was a baseball strike in 1984 which put a lot of stores out of business because there was no baseball card business….the rampant speculation prior to that…the bottom fell out of the market.”
Comic Images branched out into doing tie-ins with World Wrestling Federation and for TV shows such as 24. Gordon said that World Wrestling was “great to work with. We had tournaments, we had our own Wrestlemania, there was a world championship, we brought people in from Europe and Australia, different parts of the country, brought them all down to Wrestlemania, where we had a championship every year and gave somebody a belt. So that was a lot fun.”
Eventually they started doing some plush toys for the WW, and then licenses with Star Wars. George Lucas was particularly impressed with their Yoda plush, Gordon recalled. “Lucas saw this Yoda and said ‘This is the best execution of Yoda we’ve ever seen, what else can you do?’ And hence, this was born.”
Since getting into the plush market in 2005, Comic Images has moved away from cards and card games, focusing more on licenses for the plush toys. “It appeals to a broad market,” Gordon said. “It would appeal to the geek collector…it also appeals to the casual fan, let’s say grandma’s buying a little toy, they’re going to visit their grandchildren, they know they watch Star Wars, they’ll buy a Yoda.”
The appeal of a plush toy, he said, is that “it’s soft, it’s boy-girl, it’s 3-year-old, it’s 6, or 73-year-old.”
I asked about the increased demand from fans about seeing a wider range of diverse heroes in merchandise. Gordon said that in the end, “It’s really based on popularity. So obviously Rey, she was terrific in the movie, everybody likes her, so we put out a Rey. If for some reason Rey didn’t come off well, or wasn’t popular, we probably wouldn’t have included her.” They consider popularity as well as what’s called “look-appeal,” adding that “look-appeal comes in all forms and fashions.”
Finn, Rey, and Poe were all among the plushies on display at the booth, with plenty of Rey.
You can find out more about the Comic Images line at their website, http://www.comicimages.com/.
Any thoughts on how the licensing industry has changed? What do you hope to see in the future? A common theme I heard at Toy Fair was that if the demand is there, toy manufacturers will make it. Fans’ voices matter. Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.
Author: Dot R
Dot has been bouncing around various fandoms for many years now writing essays, episode reviews, commentary, and reporting news and conducting interviews, among other things. Along with being a Marvel, DC, Star Wars, and Supernatural fangirl, she’s also a fan of fantasy and science fiction television shows, everything from Farscape to Killjoys to 12 Monkeys to X-Files to Wynonna Earp. Currently Fangirl at Large covering numerous geek culture related topics, convention news, casting spoilers, show news, and interviews.
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