Bryan Katzel Interview
Interview conducted by James Ferguson
After a successful Kickstarter campaign, raising over $130,000, Warpo Toys has released its first line of retro action figures with the Legends of Cthulhu series. Drawing inspiration from the works of H.P. Lovecraft, the collectibles feature the Professor, the Cultist, the Deep One, and the Spawn of Cthulhu in 3.75” size as well as a massive 12” Cthulhu figure. I had a chance to chat with Bryan Katzel, the President and Owner of Warpo Toys about the line and what's coming next for the company.
James Ferguson: Tell me a bit about how this all came about. You see products like GI Joe and Star Wars, but Cthulhu isn't necessarily filling up shelves at toy stores.
Bryan Katzel: We started Warpo at the end of 2013 with me and two of my closest friends who have been in the toy industry and are also lifelong toy collectors. We were kind of worn out with the type of collectible products that were being made by toy companies and saw an opportunity to create retro collectibles in a way that hadn't been done before by taking an approach of working with the artists that were making the products back at that time and trying to make things that haven't been made before. Traditionally with your standard retro collectibles, toy companies will think they need to go and find an old license that was popular at that time, dust it off, and create some new products for it or go and find some product that had already been on the shelf and either make new sculpts for it or re-issue it. In this age of eBay, it's much more accessible to get a hold of these things. We thought, “Why keep using these same licenses over and over when you can explore things that should or could have been made during those time periods and make them look and feel almost identical to that era that you're trying to replicate.”
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JF: This particular line of Legends of Cthulhu was funded through Kickstarter, correct?
BK: Yes. When we started the company and came up with the idea, we knew that we were going to use Kickstarter in some form or fashion. At the same time we were going to launch this toy company and do it any which way. If the popularity of Cthulhu and how the Kickstarter audience supported things like games and other products previously, our research had shown some crazy number of campaigns with only like 7% of them that failed. We've been fans of Lovecraft and his stories, dabbling with the role playing games that have been out there. At the same time, you never really know how popular it is because it hasn't had a giant movie release or any of those things, so we didn't know what our market would be like. That was another reason why we thought to do it on Kickstarter to see the demand and start gathering up our tribe of people that we wanted to reach with this product. We were surprised by the response. It worked really well. We hit our goal in 72 hours and ended up reaching about $130,000, which was more than double our goal.
JF: If anyone else was interested in launching a Kickstarter campaign, is your suggestion to add Cthulhu to it?
BK: [Laughs] Yeah. For sure. It won't hurt! There are a million things out there from children's books to beer steins to role playing games. When we were talking about using this as a product line, it fit so well. We're really big nerds for that late '70s sword and sorcery stuff and Dungeons and Dragons and the culture that went all around that. When the idea came up to do a line of action figures on the Lovecraft mythos, we were surprised that no one had really done that yet. There have been individual small figurines or statues and one-off figures, but no one has really put their arms around it and created this whole property with a line of figures that you can own. We not only did that, but did it in this retro styling that also hadn't been done. It really resonated with that market and those people. It's that 30-40-year-old age range that really gets Lovecraft or was there when it started getting popular again in the '70s and '80s. They can appreciate that and relate back to that kind of packaging.
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JF: It seems like something you have a built-in audience for, between the retro styling of the packaging and the actual figures, with the old-school variety that move their arms and legs and that's it. That's all you need for it. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't see this as having a bunch of play sets or vehicles and accessories.
BK: Well, you never know! There have been a lot of requests for play sets and things like that. If we did it, it would be very similar to the way that the Empire Strikes Back play sets were with this mold base and a cardboard insert that sticks into the back. We would want it to have that feel as much as possible, like something that could have existed at that time. We won't be doing this giant Castle Grayskull / He-Man style play set, as it just doesn't fit with the era that we're trying to duplicate. When people look at this stuff, we want them to feel like it's something they missed, like “Oh, I didn't know they ever made a Legends of Cthulhu action figure line.” When we were doing the press before we got product in the States, there were a few guys that we were talking to that would ask if we got the license for this property. We'd just smile and say, “Thank you so much” That's exactly what we're trying to do. We're not trying to fool anybody, but we want them to have that same nostalgic feeling when they look at their Greedo figure or the ones they grew up with.
JF: Was there a toy you had as a kid that was your prized possession growing up? If you saw it now, you'd have to have it?
BK: There are probably two that made the biggest impression on me. One was Skeletor from the Masters of the Universe line. I can specifically remember opening that package on Christmas Day and everything about it, the sights and smells. We had grown up with all these 3.75” figures, so it's kind of hard to go back and remember where we were in history at the time when He-Man and those figures came out. It was really an amazing change for me, being a kid that only played with these really small 3.75” figures and now you have this hulking mass of an evil villain. The fact that he had that Day-Glo kind of mask with the skeleton face was just one of those things that blew me away from the moment I took it out of the package.
The other is probably Warduke from the Advanced Dungeons and Dragons line. I played a lot of Dungeons and Dragons as a kid and I don't know that I appreciated the role playing and creating those stories back then. You never do as a kid as much as you grow up. When those action figures came out, it was like dreams coming true. These were the characters from that universe that I'm into. The look of Warduke was something that I hadn't really seen before and it was awesome.
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JF: What are the next steps for Warpo Toys? Is this phase one of Legends of Cthulhu? Is there another wave coming or are you looking for any other “licenses” for other products?
BK: For sure. We've got a lot going on. Since we've launched the main line, we've went into production and created the large 12” Cthulhu that fits proportionately right in with the rest of the figures. That product is on retail shelves now. The containers just came in this month and shipped out to all of our distributors. We actually sold through all of our stock, so it's all out there at places like ThinkGeek, Half Priced Books, and through Diamond Distributors to all the comic book stores throughout the US. We're also working on a collector's club kit that comes inside a Necronomicon collector's box. Inside is all this cool stuff that you would have gotten from a collector's club kit in the '70s like a patch, a plague, a little diorama to set your figures up in, and a coloring book. We've committed to doing a second series, so there will be a whole other line of action figures. We haven't released any information on just yet, but it's going to be super cool and we can't wait to get it done.
That's just Legends of Cthulhu. We've got a few other properties that are in the works, applying our process of how we make toys. Our next property that we've created all in house is launching on Kickstarter on November 10th.
JF: Is ordering through Diamond at a local comic book shop the best way to get your hands on these figures?
BK: Yup, that or ThinkGeek, BigBadToyStore.com, or Half Priced Books.
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JF: If you had to recommend a Lovecraft story to someone that's never read his work, what would you suggest?
BK: Wow. For myself, I'd probably say Mountains of Madness or Dagon. Those are the two that resonate the most with me and I feel are fairly accessible too. It's tough. I think it's better digested in small amounts. [Laughs] It's sometimes a very thick read. At the same time, he was so influential to people like Stephen King and Gary Gygax that we almost felt like we had to make these figures just as a tribute to Lovecraft. It's one of those things that so many people are into his work and don't even know it. There's a Lovecraft anthology that I think made Amazon's top ten sci-fi list last year. It was The New Annotated H.P. Lovecraft by Leslie S. Klinger. He's made these books with Sherlock Holmes and a lot of different authors and stories where there are the stories in one section and on the other is all kinds of research and notes about the author's life and what was going on at the time. That's a killer Lovecraft companion and I loved it.
HorrorTalk would like to thank Brian Katzel for taking the time to speak with us today. Warpo Toys just announced an exclusive distribution deal with Diamond, so the best place to pick up these awesome action figures is through your local comic shop. The company's second project "Don't Cuddle the Krampus" has launched on Kickstarter.
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