No. 4 - Summer 2019

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Once-in-a-lifetime collectibles you can’t get anywhere else.


The 2018 Her Universe Fashion Show winners discuss how their geek couture resulted in a clothing line at Hot Topic.


Meet the finalists for the sixth annual Her Universe Fashion Show.




Fortnite, Hot Wheels, and DC Entertainment


Disney’s Descendants 3 brings new music, stories, and villains to love.


Toys, sneakers, and more featuring kids’ fave characters.


Show to Shelf: Bringing On-Screen Moments into the Real World



DC Super Hero Girls returns with a new look.



Catch up with Peppa, George, Gekko, Catboy, and more at eOne’s SDCC booth.

Fans can get the best of both worlds, and we are here for it.


How Legion M Is Tapping Fans to Change the Face of Hollywood


Celebrating 80 Years of Batman in Print and 30 Years on the Big Screen


Let the nautical nonsense be something you wish all year long.



Bringing the fun of SDCC to Balboa Park 365 days a year.


Mauricio Abril’s shares his recipe for artistic success.

81 | 10 YEARS LATER,


Remembering the Late, Great Stan Lee

How Angry Birds Changed Pop Culture



The Bad Guys Are Getting All the Glory


Todd McFarlane celebrates Spawn’s 300th issue and looks toward what’s to come.

Get your grub on with these original recipes inspired by Game of Thrones.

What’s up, West Coast?



Your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man takes on Europe — and new threats — in Spider-Man: Far From Home.





ThinkGeek, JJ Abrams, Transformers, and More

Online retailer Entertainment Earth serves up everything fans need for a stellar collection.



Some collections are universal, while others are an acquired taste.


Live fan experiences are coming to a city near you.


Tom Catt discusses their favorite looks, why they love cosplaying villains, and what it means to be a “Con Mom.”


thatgamecompany spreads kindness through its latest mobile game, Sky: Children of the Light.

Deck yourself out from head to toe in fashion must-haves from your favorite movies and more.

Whether it’s SDCC exclusives or Westerosinspired guitars, we’ve got the merch you need.





Why Classic Arcade Games Are Hotter (and More Accessible) Than Ever


Earbuds In, Geek Out

Let’s get this party started.

Tatiana Scheetz uses self-taught makeup skills for amazing character transformations.

Cover photo: Colin Dungan (@infinitepolygoncosplay) as The Joker. Photography by @cosbotphotography.

THEPOPINSIDER.COM | #FuelYourFandom | 3


WHAT’S UP, WEST COAST? It’s our SDCC debut!

We’re bringing our NYC energy to San Diego. Are you ready for it? 3,000 miles later, and we are in San Diego for Comic-Con International. We could not be more excited to gobble up every last exclusive product, every last second of the Hall H panels, and every last stitch of incredible cosplay for the next four days. This is our first time in San Diego, but we are comin’ in hot with a glorious issue full of geeky goodness and four full days of events at the Theatre Box. Be sure to come say “hey” July 18 through 21 at the Chocolate Lounge in the Theatre Box, where we’ll be ready to help you fuel your fandom. Give your phone some juice at the Angry Birds charging station or check out some Marvel-inspired fine jewelry from What’s Your Passion? Then, head up to the rooftop to spruce up at Spirit Halloween’s cosplay repair and professional makeup tent, get your photos taken by a stellar cosplay photographer, and do some karaoke with your fellow nerds. And of course, take a break, sit down, and read up on all the must-have merch from the con (starting on page 8). We’re partnering with Legion M on the Theatre Box events; read more about the fan-owned company and how you can join the Legion on page 22. SDCC is the premiere fan event of the year, and there’s so much to explore in and out of the convention center. We are stoked to be the content sponsor for the Her Universe Fashion Show this year, and we’re giving you a sneak peek at the contestants’ designs on page 14. Plus, we got the inside scoop on the Comic-Con Museum, which is set to open in 2021. Read all about what fans can expect from this year-round experience on page 56. And, we’ve got some birthdays this year! Our favorite gap-toothed sponge is celebrating 20 years of underwater adventures. We take you on a journey through Bikini Bottom, ending with Tom Kenny, the voice of SpongeBob himself, discussing what it’s like to give life to such an iconic character. The fun starts on page 36. Plus, Batman is 80 this year, and Michael Uslan gives us a rundown of the superpower-less vigilante’s storied 4 | Issue No. 4 | THE POP INSIDER

past on page 26. But where would Batman be without the Joker? Villains are just as important as their superhero counterparts, and they are finally getting their day in the sun, with new board games, films, TV shows, merch, and more. Read all about the rise of the villains on page 48, and find out why the bad guys are getting all the glory. There’s so much more inside this issue, which, to be honest, is our best one ever. We’re super proud to be in San Diego and thrilled to share our love of pop culture with all of you. Be sure to check us out on and on social media @thepopinsider for extensive coverage of the con and tons of other nerdy news and updates. Love you 3,000.


CEO Laurie Schacht PUBLISHER Jackie Breyer EDITORS-IN-CHIEF Marissa DiBartolo Ali Mierzejewski SENIOR EDITORS Sierra McCleary-Harris Maddie Michalik James Zahn ASSOCIATE EDITOR Jacqueline Cucco ASSISTANT EDITOR Madeleine Buckley EDITORIAL ASSISTANTS Victoria Rosenthal Miranda Siwak ART DIRECTOR Joe Ibraham PRODUCTION DIRECTOR Bill Reese VP, SALES & MARKETING Mandy Bardisbanian SALES & MARKETING Patrick Kennerly Adventure Media and Events, LLC 307 7th Avenue, #1601, New York, NY 10001 Phone: (212) 575-4510

SUBSCRIBE TO OUR NEWSLETTER! Follow us @thepopinsider!

ABOUT THE EDITORS: Marissa DiBartolo and Ali Mierzejewski are editors-in-chief of the Pop Insider and the Toy Insider. They report on trends and hot topics affecting the toy and pop culture industries, keeping up to date with the latest in TV, movies, video games, collectibles, and more. They have been featured on ABC World News Now, Good Morning America, The TODAY Show, The Steve Harvey Show, MSNBC, Fox Business, and dozens more. Follow them on Twitter @thattoygirl and @ohsotrendy.

THE POP INSIDER, Summer 2019 — “THE POP INSIDER” (ISSN-2641-5496) is published quarterly by Adventure Media & Events, LLC, 307 Seventh Ave., Room 1601, New York, New York, 10001. Periodicals postage paid at New York, NY 10001 and additional mailing offices. © 2019 Adventure Media & Events, LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form, or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher. Printed in U.S.A. Subscription rates: $48 per year. THE POP INSIDER is a trademark and service mark of Adventure Media & Events, LLC registered in the United States Patent & Trademark Office Postmaster: Send address changes to THE POP INSIDER, c/o Adventure Media & Events, 307 Seventh Ave., Room 1601, New York, New York, 10001 or e-mail bill@



APPEAR TO DISAPPEAR WITH WOW! STUFF’S INVISIBILITY CLOAK Got some late-night reading to do in the restricted section of the library? Wow! Stuff has just the thing. Now you can own your own Harry Potter-inspired Invisibility Cloak, featuring authentic patterning as seen in the films, along with a green, silk-style interior. The magical illusion comes to life with the aid of an app on an iOS or Android device. Each cloak comes with a unique authentication code that will allow users to unlock the Invisibility Cloak section of the free Wow! Stuff app. Wearers can then photograph or film themselves re-enacting iconic scenes from the Harry Potter books and movies. The Invisibility Cloak — which will be available in the U.S., Canada, the UK, Germany, France, Spain, and Italy — is designed for fans ages 8 and up and will be available in standard ($69.99) and deluxe ($79.99) versions. The Cloak will be available on Aug. 1, and is now available for preorder on Amazon. ✪

GAMESTOP BEGINS TO SHUT DOWN THINKGEEK SUBSIDIARIES Is it “shutting down” or “moving in?” That depends on how you spin it, but one thing is very clear: GameStop’s ThinkGeek 6 | Issue No. 4 | THE POP INSIDER

subsidiary is being dismantled. On its quarterly earnings call last month, recently appointed CEO George Sherman noted that redundancies in the collectibles business between ThinkGeek and GameStop would soon be addressed. “What we’ll do with ThinkGeek is produce a redirect,” he says. “So we’ll be leveraging off the GameStop platform to still have a presence for ThinkGeek, and still have that brand at least initially, while we consolidate the backend operations.” Founded in 1999 by Geeknet, ThinkGeek grew into a successful online destination for pop culture collectibles, eventually being acquired by GameStop in 2015 after the retailer outbid Hot Topic to assume control of the brand. Two months later, ThinkGeek moved into the brick-and-mortar space with its first retail location.

GAMESTOP REVEALS TOP 10 MOST-ANTICIPATED VIDEO GAMES FROM E3 GameStop revealed the top 10 most sought-after video games coming out of Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) based on the number of customer preorders the retailer received. With more than 200 title announcements at E3, some of these top titles took fans by surprise, while others were a shoe-in as soon as they were announced. The following top 10 video games are listed in preorder ranking from GameStop’s database: 1. Call of Duty Modern Warfare (Oct. 25) 2. Pokémon Sword/Shield (Nov. 15) 3. Final Fantasy VII Remake (March 3) 4. Cyberpunk 2077 (April 16) 5. Borderlands 3 (Sept. 13) 6. Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening (Sept. 20) 7. Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order (Nov. 15) 8. Gears 5 (Sept. 6) 9. Super Mario Maker 2 (June 28)

Since then, ThinkGeek has grown to more than 40 retail locations with an increased branded presence inside more than 3,700 GameStop stores. Sherman’s statement that GameStop will “still have that brand, at least initially” would seem to indicate that the future is in question for the ThinkGeek name. The site shut down on July 2, though physical stores are said to be unaffected and will remain open for business. A source confirmed to Yahoo! that ThinkGeek administrative and web staff were laid off by June 7. ✪

10. Crash Team Racing: NitroFueled (June 21) This year, more than 66,000 people attended E3, with millions more around the world watching live E3 streams, during which publishers took center stage to unveil some of the hottest video games coming out over the next year. During the week of E3, GameStop saw an increase of 63% in preorders on newly announced titles. ✪

NERDY NEWS SUPER IMPULSE PREVIEWS WORLD’S SMALLEST TRANSFORMERS At the recent American Specialty Toy Retailing Association (ASTRA) Marketplace & Academy in Pittsburgh, Super Impulse showed off upcoming additions to its popular World’s Smallest and World’s Coolest collectible toy lines. The company presented prototype samples of new, micro-sized action figures from several classic Hasbro lines, including Power Rangers, Transformers, and G.I. Joe. The new World’s Smallest products will feature articulated replicas of classic characters presented on reproduction card backs. From the 1982 G.I. Joe line, Duke, Roadblock, and Snake Eyes will receive the World’s Smallest treatment, while Optimus Prime, Starscream, and Bumblebee will represent the Transformers in classic style. The Power Rangers appear to be based on old Bandai-era sculpts on a Ninja Steel card back, but as these are prototypes, everything is subject to change before they hit shelves later this year. ✪

JJ ABRAMS SWINGS INTO MARVEL COMICS WITH NEW SPIDER-MAN TITLE From flying through a galaxy far, far away to swinging through the busy streets of Queens, New York, J.J. Abrams can do it all. Abrams and his son, Henry, are officially teaming up to write a limited, five-issue Spider-Man comic book series. The creative team will also include interior artist Sara Pichelli and cover artist Olivier Coipel. There’s even a new super villain in the mix: Cadaverous. Abrams’ series is set to launch with Spider-Man No. 1 this September. Fans can preorder the issue now at their local comic book shop. ✪

Compiled by Madeleine Buckley, assistant editor

#SDCC Commemorate your SDCC experience with once-in-a-lifetime collectibles you can’t get anywhere else. Con-exclusive merch is on the rise, with every retailer and manufacturer offering something unique for all kinds of fans. The options are overwhelming, and your time at SDCC is precious — so which are worth waiting for? Check out some of our top picks for Comic-Con exclusives you should grab before they’re gone, and see even more gotta-have-it-all merch on page 84, and at


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F.R.I.E.N.D.S. THE TV SERIES 3D FOAM BAG CLIPS 7-PIECE COLLECTOR’S SET Monogram Could these keychains BE any cuter? The set features all six iconic characters from the hit TV show, plus a Central Perk mug. Pieces: 400

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Previews/Entertainment Earth Displaying your love for the MCU is a *snap* with this affordable desk statue. No need to search for the Infinity Stones: All six are included! Pieces: 2,500

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Funko/BoxLunch Add the world’s most adorable couple to your Funko Pop! collection. My Adventure Book included.

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GOLDEN GODDESS DC BOMBSHELLS: SERIES 3 VINYL FIGURES SET Cryptozoic Black Canary, Harley Quinn, and Mera are looking fab in white and gold for this exclusive figure set, part of the Golden Goddess variant series. Pieces: 350



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Kuzos (Factory Entertainment) Maybe you didn’t know that you needed an ultra-miniature, die-cast Iron Throne, Star Trek Discovery Hand Phaser, or Wonder $10 Woman Tiara, but you absolutely do. (Each EACH sold separately.) 8 | Issue No. 4 | THE POP INSIDER




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HOT WHEELS MARIO KART METAL MARIO VEHICLE Mattel It’s-a-me, Mario! Mattel launched a Mario Kart Hot Wheels line last month, and this exclusive chrome kart is fit for Rainow Road.

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RAINBOW SIX CHIBI CHARM SET Xtreme Play Collect all six of your fave operators from Rainbow Six — Ash, Caviera, Twitch, Thermite, Doc, and Jager — with these real-life charms.

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CAPTAIN MARVEL 8-BIT PIN PopMinded Go higher, further, faster in 8-bit style with this pin featuring Carol Danvers in her iconic suit and flowing locks.

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LEGO/DC Comics Send out the Bat Signal! This exclusive 427-piece set celebrates 80 years of the Caped Crusader.

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HARRY POTTER WAND FOURPIECE BOX SET UCC Distributing Straight from the shelves of Ollivanders’ shop, this set includes pens designed after Voldemort, Dumbledore, Hermione, and Harry’s wands.

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Hasbro/Entertainment Earth This retro prototype is a must-have for any Star Wars collector. Darth Vader has never been quite so colorful!



Booth No. 2846 ›



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IRON MAN MARK 1 STATUE Sideshow Pay tribute to Tony Stark with this high-end throwback figure, which comes straight from of 2008’s Iron Man.. Designed for serious collectors.

Our favorite sponge is celebrating 20 years. You can celebrate, too, with this exclusive figure — it has a real sponge inside! Pieces: 300 THEPOPINSIDER.COM | #FuelYourFandom | 9


by Jacqueline Cucco, associate editor

Winners of the 2018 Her Universe Fashion Show discuss how their award-winning geek couture looks led them to a successful clothing line at Hot Topic.


ot irons poof like steam engines, and metal blades snip against the ticking of sewing machines hard at work. After two months of brainstorming, sketching, and crafting their ideas to life, 25 designers were putting the final touches on their geek couture looks at the Her Universe Fashion Show at last year’s Comic-Con International: San Diego (SDCC). What is geek couture, you ask? It’s a mixture of fandom and fashion — taking a favorite book, movie, TV show, or character and transforming it into a wearable, high-fashion look. The Her Universe Fashion Show is the ultimate runway for fangirl fashion, a place for designers to turn their geeky passions into works of art. Last year marked Her Universe’s fifth annual fashion show — which takes place during SDCC — with intricate looks inspired by The Nightmare Before Christmas, Doctor Who, Harry Potter, Potter Overwatch, and more. At the end of the night, three winners were crowned and awarded a major prize: the opportunity to design an Avengers: Endgame-inspired -inspired collection with Her Universe and Hot Topic. The winning designers were Cynthia Kirkland, crowned the Judge’s Winner for her look based on The Shape of Water;; Jane Burson, crowned the Singer Sewing Winner for her Howl’s Moving Castle-inspired -inspired look; and Kristi Siedow-Thompson, crowned the Audience Winner for her fashion-forward spin on Ripley in the power loader from Aliens. “It was incredibly inspiring and eye-opening in a way because I didn’t know that there was this little community doing this really cool thing that was combining fandom and geekery with fashion and design, which are two areas of interest for me,” Burson says. “Seeing that there were other people doing this kind of niche thing was just like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is so cool.’” Burson’s design was inspired by Howl’s Moving Castle, the 2004 Japanese fantasy film animated by Studio Ghibli,

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Her Universe Marvel Avengers Captain Marvel Jersey T-shirt, designed by Jane Burson

loosely based on the 1986 novel of the same name. The asymmetrical look was split in half down the middle — one side was 100% feathered with a high collar and a feathered fascinator, while the other side featured a corset-pant combination. Burson modeled it herself during the show, with the right half of her body draped in a gown of rooster, goose, and ostrich feathers that subtly fluttered as she sashayed down the runway. “The outfit was predominantly an homage to the titular character, Howl. He’s a wizard and he has kind of two forms: He has a human form, and then he kind of transforms into this bird-monster creature,” Burson says. “I designed a look that combined those two aspects.” Prior to deciding on her design, she toyed with ideas of outfits based on Star Trek’s Captain Kirk, Fifth Element, and Airbender. She ultimately Avatar: The Last Airbender chose Howl’s Moving Castle because it was her introduction to anime. “I am definitely a fandom hopper. My ideas were kind of all over the map, but there seems to definitely be a thread of fantasy and animation that always makes a big stand in my life because, as an illustrator, I love visual storytelling,” Burson says. Kristi Siedow-Thompson captured the audience’s hearts with an intergalactic-athleisure take on 1979’s Alien, starring Sigourney Weaver, that catapulted her

Jane Burson

into the spot for Audience Winner. Siedow-Thompson hadn’t seen the movie until about six months before she started designing the look, but was struck with a burst of inspiration while watching it for the first time. “It’s funny because it’s an old movie, but I remember thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, wouldn’t it be cool to do a power loader look?’ because it’s kind of an abstract concept that I thought could work really well,” Siedow-Thompson says. She created a high-graphic piece, designed to look like the model is encased inside the power loader. “She’s wearing this jacket that’s a floorlength trench coat with a high collar that encompasses her like, ‘Oh I’m in the power loader,’ and she is wearing a pair of sheer, kind of cargo pants with her white panties underneath, which I think is also a really important part of the movie Alien because Ripley, Sigourney Weaver’s character, wakes up from her space sleep and she’s literally in a T-shirt and underwear,” Siedow-Thompson explains. “It’s very indicative of her vulnerability, but yet she’s still this really cool, badass lady who ends up pushing the queen alien out of the airlock when she’s in the power loader. It shows her vulnerability that you can see through the pants, plus making those with sheer chiffon makes it a little bit more glam.” Cynthia Kirkland designed a dress based on The Shape of Water that earned her the spot as the Judge’s Winner. She saw the

Kristi Siedow-Thompson (left)

movie the very last day it was airing in Orlando, Florida, and she left the theater with a spark of inspiration, knowing she wanted to base her fashion show look on the film. “The dress, in a sense, was a reflection of the love story: the fan theory that Elisa, the female in the movie, was a water god in a past life, just like the creature, because she has the gills on her neck. The story cuts off before you ever really see that resolution, but the fan theories have latched onto it,” Kirkland says. “So I designed a dress based on that idea of Elisa as a water goddess, combining the aesthetic of the creature with the female form.” The dress features a mermaid-style silhouette and origami type of fabric with pleating, structured gold fins, and crystal elements that reflected the light on stage. “To bring the whole piece together, the little clutch, or the purse of the dress, [represented] the egg that kind of initiates the love story between Elisa and Creature, so it was a nod to that,” Kirkland says. “The fact that we only have two months to create these designs from pretty much start to finish is quite a marathon, but I was ready to tackle it that year.” Taking home the Judge’s Winner award was “an incredible feeling,” Kirkland says. “You are appealing to people who are in the industry, know their stuff, know what they want, what they’re looking for, and somehow, you nailed it all.”

Cynthia Kirkland (left)

THEPOPINSIDER.COM | #FuelYourFandom | 11

FANDOM FEATURE Kirkland’s says that Marvel is her No. 1 fandom, making the fashion show prize — a chance to design a Her Universe Avengers: Endgame collection for Hot Topic — a dream come true. “Honestly, I thought maybe the collection would be Fantastic Beasts because that was the new movie that was coming out that year, so I didn’t even expect Marvel, but when they announced it, I was blown away,” Kirkland says. The completed Her Universe Avengers: Endgame line includes dresses, skirts, T-shirts, jackets, sports bras, and more based on different Marvel characters. One of the standout pieces is the Marvel Avengers Thanos Oh Snap! Satin Bomber Jacket, designed by Siedow-Thompson. It’s a purple-and-gold satin bomber jacket featuring a galaxy and infinity stone design on the interior lining, embroidered cursive “Thanos” text on the left chest, and the Infinity Gauntlet in a finger-snap position on the back with the phrase “Oh, Snap!” embroidered underneath it in cursive. “That was one of the pieces that I initially submitted in our first round, and there ! Oh, Snap were literally no changes to it. It was really exciting to have a piece that was like ‘OK, we love it as is,’” Siedow-Thompson says. “Plus, it’s just a funny piece. I’ve been saying ‘Oh, snap!’ for years. It’s funny because I will catch myself saying it now, I’ll be like ‘Oh, snap!’ and then I laugh at myself and I’m like, ‘I took that and made it fashion.’” Siedow-Thompson thinks back to the initial meeting the day after the competition when the winners sat down with Marvel and the Her Universe and Hot Topic staffs. “Somebody said something, they’re like, ‘Maybe one of you guys can do some Thanos merchandise. That might be a challenge.’ And I was like ‘Challenge — question mark?!’ I will do that because I love a good challenge.” Burson says that the Oh, Snap! Jacket is one of her favorite pieces as well, along with the Nebula workout gear, also designed by Siedow-Thompson; the Rocket Raccoon denim shortalls with faux leather accents and cuffed hems, designed by Kirkland; and the Hawkeye tank and Thor black denim vest that she designed herself. Burson even had the pleasure of seeing Avengers fans out and about in real life wearing some of the Her Universe designs. “I was like, “Oh my gosh, there are people out in the wild wearing the stuff we designed; this is so cool,” Burson says. She even stopped the people to take photos to send to Kirkland and Siedow-Thompson. Kirkland’s favorite piece from the collection is the Iron Man dress she designed. “My favorite part of that dress is the zipper front with the arc reactor. It zips down and you can reveal the arc reactor because it’s such a big, iconic moment for Iron Man and Tony Stark anytime he reveals that, so I really wanted to incorporate that into the design,”

12 | Issue No. 4 | THE POP INSIDER

Her Universe Marvel Avengers Thanos Oh Snap! Satin Bomber Jacket, designed by Kristi Siedow-Thompson

“I wanted to really have the arc reactor be a centerpiece of that design so women everywhere could kind of feel like, ‘I too am Iron Man.’” - Cynthia Kirkland

Ashley Eckstein announces the winners at the Her Universe Fashion Show last year.

Kirkland says. “The big, big message with that dress that I was thinking about was the fact that throughout the Marvel universe and in the comics, anyone can wear the Iron Suit. Not only Tony Stark. It’s also Pepper Potts. It’s also Riri Williams if we go back to the comics, and I love her. So I wanted to really have the arc reactor be a centerpiece of that design so women everywhere could kind of feel like, ‘I too am Iron Man.’” Burson, Siedow-Thompson, and Kirkland will be at the fashion show again this year — but this time as judges. “It’s almost bittersweet this year to judge because I am passing the torch,” Kirkland says. “The designs are always mind-blowing because you have such incredible talent that’s surrounding the show now. I joke with my friends now that I’m judging, with this sheer amount of talent that comes in every year, I’m literally just like ‘Woah, I’m glad I don’t have to participate again because holy cow!’” The Her Universe Fashion Show gets more competitive every year, but ultimately, it brings designers together ABOUT THE AUTHOR: to share their love of pop culture and Jacqueline Cucco is an associate fashion. “I love this competition; I love editor at Adventure Publishing working with the people. Being nerdy is Group. She writes for the Toy Book, the Toy Insider, and the Pop Insider, and is in charge of just part of who I am,” Siedow-Thompall things Instagram. When she’s not watching son says. “Being a part of such a cool slime videos, you can find her playing paparazzi opportunity in the biggest geek event for her pet bunny, Peepers (@thebigpeep on in the country is pretty amazing.” ✪ Instagram).

Her Universe Marvel Avengers Iron Man Dress, designed by Cynthia Kirkland

THEPOPINSIDER.COM | #FuelYourFandom | 13

THE POWER OF FASHION Meet the finalists for this year’s Her Universe Fashion Show. by Madeleine Buckley, assistant editor


eek meets chic yet again at ComicCon International: San Diego (SDCC), as 24 finalists take the stage for the sixth-annual Her Universe Fashion Show. According to Her Universe Founder Ashley Eckstein, fans will see some exciting new features this year. “We keep the spirit of the show the same, but it’s always different every year,” she says, explaining that the event adapts to best reflect current culture. One new portion of this year’s show will highlight the winners of the first Cartoon Network Junior Design Contest, which was open to aspiring designers under the age of 18. Eckstein says they originally planned to crown only three winners for this competition, but ultimately chose an additional three honorable-mention winners. “Honestly, we just couldn’t choose,” Eckstein says. “There were so many designers who showed so

much potential talent and promise. We had to feature them as well.” For the first time, the competition also has a pre-established theme. The shows have a theme every year, but it typically emerges after the designers have submitted their work. This year, however, the designers were given the theme “The Power of Fashion” to work into their designs (for reasons that Eckstein says will become clear during fashion show). This theme, which originated from working with DreamWorks’ She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, encouraged the designers to take inspiration from anything they found powerful, such as a character, a property, or a film. “I’m always inspired by powerful characters in fashion,” Eckstein says. “I think of our designs like armor. So when you’re putting it on for the day, it’s like you’re armored to go on and take on the day.”

Eckstein herself will wear a few different suits of armor throughout the premiere event: For the first time since 2015, she’ll wear three different dresses. She also reminds everyone attending to wear their own geek fashion, cosplay, or outfit they love because they will have a chance to walk the runway during the Cartoon Network intermission. Before and after that intermission, fans will see fandom-inspired outfits from 24 finalists. This year’s judges include last year’s fashion show winners: Cynthia Kirkland, Jane Burson, and Kristi Siedow-Thompson (see page 10 for a feature on the judges). The finalists come from all across the country, some with years of design experience and some with none at all. Learn a little bit more about all 24 of them below, and check out on July 18 to see the winners and highlights from the event! ✪

Adria Sanchez-Chaidez (Adria Renee)

Allyson (Ally) Crocker

Andrea Ohnesorge




Design Title

Design Title

Design Title

Destination: Isla Nublar

Bring Me Back to the Brienne-ing

My Unicorn

Home State

Home State

Home State




Fun Fact

Fun Fact

Fun Fact

Sanchez-Chaidez is a self-taught designer, raised in "a household of strong and artistic women."

Crocker fell in love with fashion and costume design after watching The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring Extended Edition.

Ohnesorge has aspirations of starting a plus-size fashion label, specializing in suits and amazing prints.

14 | Issue No. 4 | THE POP INSIDER

Britley Morgan Smith

Brianna Casper

Christine Geiger




Design Title

Design Title

Design Title

Moon Healing Escalation

Off With Her Head

A Horsey of a Different Color

Home State

Home State

Home State




Fun Fact

Fun Fact

Fun Fact

Outside of fashion, Smith also works in ceramics and has an illustrious career in spoiling her cat, Hermann.

Casper’s design aesthetic is partially inspired by the world of Japanese street fashion.

Outside of work, Geiger loves to cosplay and find any excuse to wear a costume. She is convinced she could pull together a look for any theme party in less than half an hour.

Cindy Guillermo Heselton

Elizabeth (Liz) Todd

Elizabeth (Lisa) Truong




Design Title

Design Title

Design Title

The Night Queen

Duck Couture (Wooo-ooo!)

The Spirit of Hope

Home State

Home State

Home State




Fun Fact

Fun Fact

Fun Fact

Guillermo Heselton is a technical designer for the streetwear brand Billionaire Boys Club, and she enjoys helping other independent designers develop their own lines.

Todd placed in Phoenix’s cosplay masquerade for the past three years, Wondercon’s masquerade for the past two years, and won “Best in Show” at SDCC's masquerade last year.

Truong learned to sew at a young age from her mother and was always making dresses for her dolls and herself.

THEPOPINSIDER.COM | #FuelYourFandom | 15

Ericka Angiuli

Hailey Jensen

Heather Smith




Design Title

Design Title

Design Title

Avenge the Fallen

Dreams Come True

Home State

Home State

He’s No Good to Me Dead. Boba Fett — Star Wars



Fun Fact

Fun Fact

Angiuli works as a costume designer for Creative Costuming & Design, where she creates costumes for the marching arts and dance teams.

Jensen’s design is inspired by "that magical feeling you get when you walk down Main Street [at Disney] and see the castle for the first time."

Home State

Texas Fun Fact

Smith is a self-taught seamstress who "studied at the University of YouTube with a degree in figure-it-out and minor in seam-ripping."

Jennifer Clark

Jillian (Jill N.) Nofziger

Kathyrn Henzler




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Something Wicked

The Mistress of All Evil

The Lady of Lórien and Light

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Clark has designed several independent films, and she loves to take fantastical garments and make them wearable for every woman.

Nofziger works as a freelance designer and a costumer in the TV/film industry and resides with her husband, Welsh corgi, and black cat.

Henzler has used vegan fabrics for years, but her endeavor now is to switch to fabrics that are organic, fair-trade, and environmentally friendly whenever possible.

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Kendra Raymond

Kimberly Burns

Leigh Denning (Lizard Leigh)




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Gotham City Socialite — Catwoman Origins

Heart of Kyber

A Diamond by Any Other Name

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New York

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Burns turned her interest in fashion and costumes into a career, earning a degree in apparel design and becoming a fashion and costume designer.

Denning is passionate about the intersection of cosplay, drag, and fashion. Leigh enjoys creating complex garments with detailed references and Easter eggs for fellow superfans.

California Fun Fact

Raymond is working on her second degree for TV/film costume design.

Olivia Mears

Samantha Haag

Samantha Strickland




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She-Ra, The Princess of Power Suits

IcyHot Vogue

IT Girl

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North Carolina



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Mears’ work has been worn in commercials for Taco Bell, featured on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert, and represented at MTV's VMAs.

Haag doesn’t work in any fashionrelated field, nor did she go to school for it. She entered the Her Universe competition for fun!

Strickland has been sewing since she was in high school, when the drama teacher decided she was the costume director for the school play.

Sarah Hambly

Sarah Timm

Wes Jenkins




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Welcome to Neptune

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Oogie Boogie’s Winter Ball — The Nightmare Before Christmas



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Hambly’s love of pop culture stemmed from her family's small video store business, where she often found herself drawing pop culture-inspired work.

Timm started altering and making her own clothes in high school with guidance from her mother.

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Florida Fun Fact

Jenkins and his wife, Jen, enjoy going to every Dapper Day at Disney World dressed in his creations.

The sixth-annual Her Universe fashion show is on Thursday, July 18 in the Manchester Grand Hyatt’s Harbor Ballroom. Line up starts at 1 p.m., doors open at 5:15 p.m., and the show starts at 6 p.m. Admission is free, but seating is limited. 18 | Issue No. 4 | THE POP INSIDER


ARE ON THE RISE by Maddie Michalik, senior editor

Fact: Two fandoms are better than one. When your favorite fictional worlds collide, it’s a mashup made in fandom heaven. Fandom mashups are becoming more popular, with crossovers popping up in TV shows and movies, fan art, original cosplays, and even new collectibles, making pop culture hybrids a top trend in the geek world.

MASHUP MERCH Fandom mashups have such a powerful impact because they join together two groups of extremely passionate fans — or two halves of your own geeky heart. While products and entertainment moments that feature themes from two separate worlds may be a little more niche — not every Dungeons & Dragons fan would get schwifty with Rick and Morty — they have the ability to draw fans from one property into another. And the most accessible way for companies to pull off this concept is with gotta-have-it merch — and lots of it. With the right properties and the right fan bases, the collaborations can be seamless and maintain the integrity of each brand. Take FOCO’s line of Game of Thrones MLB Bobbleheads, for example. The cross-licensed series pairs Major League Baseball players and mascots with Game of Thrones characters and settings. The first series merges three distinct bobblehead styles — the Iron Throne, the Night King, and the Ice Dragon Viserion — with mascots and branding from all 30 MLB teams. “We definitely think it’s an emerging category, this cross-licensed mashup that we’re going to explore,” says Matthew Katz, licensing manager at FOCO. “... We tried to make sure we had the right balance. You don’t want to go too far one way or the other because you want to capture the people who are superfans of either baseball or Game of

get Fans can f both the best o nd we worlds, a or it! are here f

Thrones,, and then capture those people in the middle as well.” The bobblehead collaboration started off as a partnership for MLB’s theme nights, during which every fan who walks through the stadium gates gets a promotional item, like a bobblehead. The promotion opened the door to a conversation on how to expand at retail, especially for people who couldn’t make it to the promo nights or desired a more high-end collectible than the ones handed out at the games. A unique aspect of pop culture mashups is that it gives the creators a bit more freedom in playing around with storytelling. The Night King was an ominous Game of Thrones villain, but he’s a bit more lighthearted when he’s wearing team-themed armor and ditching his spear for a baseball bat made of ice with the team’s logo on it. “Developing a non-traditional product line like this gives a fresh perspective and allows a fan who has love for both brands to get a refreshed look,” says Josephine Fusezi, MLB’s vice president of global consumer products. “Being able to play with key elements from both baseball and Game of Thrones gives the consumer something different and refreshing. It also gives us an opportunity to have a little fun with our fans.” Response to the first bobblehead series was so positive that FOCO quickly developed a followup series in just six weeks,

Hasbro’s Ecto-1 Ectotron is a ghost-busting robot in disguise.

featuring characters such as the direwolf, the Kingsguard, and a White Walker, available now for preorder. New MLB theme nights began in June for a Netflix Stranger Things collaboration, too. Fans will also know exactly who to call with Hasbro’s new Ecto-1 Ectotron figure. The Transformers universe already has heroic Autobots, evil Decepticons, and now ghosts! The iconic Ecto-1 Cadillac from the 1984 Ghostbusters movie is now a Transformers robot — a converting Paranormal Investigator called Ectotron. The figure comes with its own Proton Pack and Slimer accessory, and it converts between Ecto-1 and robot in 22 steps. This year marks the 35th anniversaries of both Transformers and Ghostbusters, making THEPOPINSIDER.COM | #FuelYourFandom | 19

FANDOM FEATURE it an ideal year to combine the best of both franchises. A five-part origin story from IDW Publishing will also be available this year, giving fans insight on Ectotron’s background. “Brand anniversaries not only allow us to celebrate a franchise, but we can also tap into nostalgia around a brand,” says Tom Warner, senior vice president for the Transformers franchise at Hasbro. “The Transformers and Ghostbusters brands are filled with waves of millennial nostalgia as new parents share the toys and brands they loved as children with their own kids.” Ectotron preorders sold out within 24 hours after the figure was revealed at Toy Fair New York in February, so additional preorders were made available. Fans should also be on the lookout for other potential Transformers and Ghostbusters collaborations soon, according to Warner. “On the surface, the Transformers and Ghostbusters franchises may seem vastly different; however, they share more in common than one may expect,” Warner says. “Both have two passionate fandoms, sharing a mutual bond over out-of-this world storytelling rooted in science fiction. When combining both worlds, our goal was to create stories and a product that stays true to the origins of both brands.”

Elmo and Cookie Monster, one of which starred the notably at-odds Lannister siblings from Game of Thrones. And if anyone can convince Cersei and Tyrion Lannister to get along, it’s Elmo. Fan demand for this type of content is loud and clear, as is the case with The CW’s DC Universe. The network has created crossover content yearly since 2014 through its DC TV shows, starting with Arrow and The Flash. At the time, in December 2014, the two-part Arrowverse crossover between the two shows was the most-watched December telecast in seven years for the network, and the most-watched episode for both shows since their respective series premieres. In 2016, the network’s #DCWeek event delivered The CW’s most-watched week in six years, featuring a four-night DC crossover between Arrow, The Flash, Supergirl, and DC’s Legends of Tomorrow. The CW’s fifth-annual Arrowverse crossover last year, Elseworlds, introduced Gotham City and Batwoman into the mix, and concluded with a tease of the Crisis on Infinite Earths crossover, set to air this fall. The ratings for The CW’s crossover events clearly show that fans crave this content, and it’s safe to say we can expect more of it in the future.



The Avengers movies are probably the most well-known, most popular crossovers, but they weren’t the first. Think of all the “most ambitious crossover event in history” memes that circulated around the time that Infinity War came out — and how we were reminded of Disney Channel’s That’s So Suite Life of Hannah Montana, which came out in 2006, or 2003’s The Rugrats Go Wild, in which the band of babies met Eliza and her family from The Wild Thornberries, on Nickelodeon. Entertainment crossover content is so successful because fans of these franchises can see all of their favorite characters interacting in situations they normally wouldn’t, like when the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles visited Gotham in Batman vs. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2019). In this movie, the heroes in a half-shell and the Dark Knight team up when Shredder joins forces with Ra’s al Ghul, and all of the heroes need to work together to defeat the combined might of the Foot Clan and League of Assassins. These crossovers can also span multiple age groups, such as Sesame Street’s “Respect Brings Us Together” campaign. Two commercials launched in April featuring 20 | Issue No. 4 | THE POP INSIDER

Pop culture mashups also come from the most important community: the fans themselves. While manufacturers and entertainment companies have the power to bring pop culture mashups to the masses, fans can express themselves through cosplay and fan art — without the shackles of licensing rights getting in the way. And here, creativity is key. Out-of-the-box fan mashups, including one-of-akind cosplays and stunning illustrations, all have one thing in common: They fuse two things that would likely never be together otherwise. Eric Proctor is a digital artist at TsaoShin who draws vibrant fantasy pieces, with a heavy focus on pop culture artwork. His gallery features bright, fun, and whimsical pieces that incorporate characters, such as Stitch from Lilo & Stitch and Toothless from How to Train Your Dragon. “For me, the crossovers are a Venn diagram where the two circles completely

Nobody will question your team loyalty ever again with FOCO’s Game of Thrones Ice Dragon Bobblehead.

“Part of Your No” was Eric Proctor’s first piece of artwork in his Grumpy Cat Disney series.

“The crossovers are a Venn diagram where the two circles completely overlap of things that I absolutely love.” —Eric Proctor, TsaoShin

overlap of things that I absolutely love,” Proctor says. “So, any crossover that I’m currently doing is going to just be just that I love A and I love B, and I’d love to see A and B together.” Proctor is currently working on an ongoing Grumpy Cat and Disney series, which had accidental roots. Proctor bought a new rig and tablet for his illustration setup and was practicing with his new equipment. He sketched out the iconic The Little Mermaid scene in which Ariel is singing on the rock with water splashing around her, and because he doesn’t like drawing people, he drew in Grumpy Cat as a last-minute decision. He showed it to his friends, expecting to delete it, but then people asked him what Disney scenario he was going to put Grumpy Cat into next — and the series was born. “I say that I love both of those things, but one of the things I felt so guilty about making that particular series is that I really, really love Disney, but I’m putting Grumpy Cat in a scenario where it’s just ruining it,” Proctor says. “It’s this little bit of dark humor where you’re like, ‘I really love Disney, but honestly if Grumpy Cat was in it, this is probably what would happen.’ So it’s taking something that’s a little sacred and then ripping it to shreds a bit. I think the humor was one of those things I had to play around with.” Proctor is currently working on his next Grumpy Cat Disney installment, a Cinderella-themed piece titled “Bippidi Boppidi No.” It will show the scene from the animated film in which the fairy godmother grants all of Cinderella’s wishes, but with everything completely ruined, such as a pumpkin dress, Lucifer the cat being the size of a horse, and other mishaps. “It’s one of those situations where it’s so easy to imagine a lot of those crossovers together; they seem so real and fitting that it just feels like a marriage of two ideas that you’ve enjoyed both of those things so much,” Proctor says. “For me personally, when I look at a crossover that just succeeds so well, I just get so happy because someone else saw the thing that put those two things together and they made that real.” With pop culture mashups, fans get to express themselves in a whole new way, and manufacturers and entertainment companies are taking note of the increasing fan demand and creative potential. The possibilities are limitless. ✪ ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Maddie Michalik is the senior editor at the Pop Insider and the Toy Insider, where she fuels her geeky heart with the latest in pop culture, entertainment, and toys. She is also the managing editor of the Toy Book, making sure the industry is up to date with the latest toy news.

THEPOPINSIDER.COM | #FuelYourFandom | 21


HAVING FUN IS GOOD BUSINESS How Legion M Is Tapping Fans to Change the Face of Hollywood by Sierra McCleary-Harris, senior editor


here’s a new company on the block, and it means business — fun, fan-fueled business, that is. Since launching in 2016, Legion M has been harnessing the collective power and energy of its fans to push a diverse range of projects and change the face of entertainment as we know it. From movies to events and even a new, original comic book, the company is slowly but surely turning the industry on its head. If that sounds lofty and hyperbolic, it’s not. While most of the entertainment industry is owned by corporate entities and Wall Street, Legion M is different. Founded by Jeff Annison and Paul Scanlan, Legion M is the first company designed from day one to be owned by fans, made possible thanks to 2012’s Jumpstart Our Business Startups (JOBS) Act, which eased many of the U.S.’ securities regulations and made it easier for people like you and I to invest in startups.

FANS HAVE THE POWER More than 16,000 investors — the overwhelming majority of whom are fans — currently own Legion M, which recently finished its fourth round of investing, bringing the new company’s grand investment total to about $7 million. But why fans? Why switch it up in this way, handing the power over to everyday people with plenty of experience consuming media, but arguably not much running it? “At the end of the day, fans are the ones that drive the entire multi-trillion-dollar entertainment industry,” Annison says. “We’re the ones that buy the tickets and pay the subscription fees and decide what we’re going to watch, and while individually any one of us is just a consumer, when we unite, we have this incredible power.” While offering more power to the fans who support the industry may seem like an obvious thing to do, it’s been revolutionary, giving Legion M what its founders believe is 22 | Issue No. 4 | THE POP INSIDER

a fundamental competitive advantage and a built-in, loyal support system. “When our new movie comes out, we know that there’s a legion of people who are going to come out and see it opening night,” Annison says. “They’re going to bring their friends and family and talk about it on social media.” More than just welcoming a new kind of shareholder, the founders’ vision for the new company and dedication to its fan mission is coded right into the name. They like the meaning of “legion,” sure — a vast host, multitude, or number of people or things — but the “M” is just as telling. “If you look at our logo, our ‘M’ has a bar over it, which is the Roman numeral for 1 million,” Scanlan says. “That’s our kind of Easter egg for our long-term objective and what we have set out to do, which is to unite 1 million entertainment fans together and have a positive impact on the industry that we love. Some people might call that disrupting an industry, but we really think of it as kind of reshaping an industry, opening the gates to Hollywood, and allowing fans to have a voice in the process.” This resonates with so many fans that Legion M’s last two investment rounds have sold out.

The next round is expected to open on, an equity crowdfunding platform similar to Kickstarter or GoFundMe, any day now. Keeping ownership within the reach of all fans is important to Scanlan and Annison, who said that they try to keep the minimum investment to $100.

Community Culture The importance of community for Legion M is twofold. Building support is particularly essential for a newer, standard-challenging company, and this one defines community as a combination of both investors and members who have joined the legion online but don’t hold shares. The company obviously relies on investments for survival, but the co-founders are adamant that fellowship comes first, and members — the tally of whom currently hovers around 100,000 — are just as essential as investors. “At the end of the day, we see the company first and foremost as a community,” Scanlan says. “That’s what it is. It’s a community before it’s anything else, and that community comes together when we support our projects.” “What’s really cool about it is that because people who are part of the legion have a stake, they’ve got a connection, they’re part

Fans gathered for a Tolkien meetup in Canton, Michigan, where they received limited-edition, collectible enamel pins emblazoned with “TCBS.” Tolkien formed the Tea Club, Barrovian Society with his friends in 1913.

FANDOM FEATURE of these movies. It’s really kind of fun because when these movies come out, this was literally our movie coming out,” Annison says. “There’s something very cool about going to see your movie, a movie that you’ve been involved with, come to the big screen.” Being a part of the community and having a stake goes beyond simply investing or signing up online, though — we live in an über digital age, after all. Part two involves Legion M working hard to earn fans’ support by fostering events and experiences IRL, too. Meetups play a big role. Recently, Legion M and Fox Searchlight Pictures joined forces for the biopic Tolkien. Released in early May, the film starred Nicholas Hoult as the famed, titular author, alongside Lily Collins. To support the film’s release, Legion M provided tools and infrastructure for the more than 140 member-hosted meetups, during which fans attended screenings and received limited-edition, collectible enamel pins. “It’s an opportunity for fans to get together,” Annison says. ”I think one of the things that’s really interesting is, in this day and age when we’re surrounded by media all the time

— I mean, my kids are more likely to watch a movie on their phones than they are to go into a movie theater and see it — kind of making it an event and really recognizing that these entertainment experiences can be so much more powerful when they’re shared and when they’re done as part of a community.” In addition to the meetups, the company also offers events and opportunities around production, such as fostering behind-thescenes visits and livestreams and helping members get cast as extras in Legion M films. “It’s really kind of fundamentally part of our DNA that we’re always, in addition to looking at the bottom line, … looking for other opportunities that a Wall Street investor isn’t going to care about, but our legion of fan investors, to them, that can be just as important as the financial return,” Annison adds. Speaking of meaningful, non-financial opportunities, at Stan Lee’s Los Angeles Comic Con in 2016, the company set up a Pitch Elevator, inviting fans into a full-size elevator set to pitch their original ideas for a movie or TV show — in just two minutes. The project gave fans an opportunity to

"At the end of the day, fans are the ones that drive the entire multi-trillion-dollar entertainment industry. ... while individually any one of us is just a consumer, when we unite, we have this incredible power."

get their ideas in front of people who can make them happen. After starting with more than 10 hours worth of pitches, fellow fans and member judges have finally whittled it down to just 33 pitches. “We’re starting with the community to generate ideas and to create the content, then we’re leveraging the community again to do the really hard work of rating and evaluating all of these pitches and kind of leveraging their combined insight and the wisdom of the crowd ... to narrow it down to the best of the best,” Annison says. “If we’re able to actually get that film produced or the TV show or whatever it is, I think that will be a truly special moment because it’ll be — from start to finish — all about the Legion M community.”

A NEW MEDIA LANDSCAPE It’s through initiatives like Pitch Elevator that Legion M delivers on its promise to open up the gates of Hollywood, but the company’s new Scout program takes it even further. The program rolled out just before this year’s Sundance Film Festival, held from Jan. 24 to Feb. 3 in Park City, Utah. Through Scout, community members can vote on which movies they think Legion M should add to its slate based on cast, description, and whatever other information is available, ensuring that the community is invested — literally — in films it finds interesting and commercially viable. “This is data that literally nobody else at Sundance has,” Scanlan says. “All of the other distributors are buying projects and making million-dollar commitments to things with

Legion M decided to invest in Memory, an upcoming documentary about the 1979 cult classic Alien, based on its new Film Scout initiative.

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really, like, an embarrassingly low amount of data. They all go on gut instinct — and some of them are better than others at it.” “We find that we have what we call a virtuous cycle where our community wants to have a vote,” he adds. “We’re not asking them to do something they don’t want to do; we're delivering on a promise we made to them.” The Scout data prompted Scanlan and Annison to throw Legion M’s support behind Memory, a documentary on the origin of the classic film Alien. They plan to release more details at Comic-Con International: San Diego (SDCC), but for now the duo just thanks the community for guiding them toward the Dan O’Bannon-written documentary. “Leading into that, we may have said, ‘look, I don’t know if our community is supportive of documentaries,’” Scanlan says. “It’s great to know that information. What’s really nice about it is that we don’t have to guess what they want because they tell us.” Legion M also taps into the wisdom of the hive for other projects, via M-Pulse, which enables the company to literally take the pulse of members by asking them a variety of questions about any and everything, offering them yet another way to use their voices to influence content decisions. In fact, the company is invested in an upcoming Jay & Silent Bob reboot (slated for release this year) because members expressed an overwhelming interest in Kevin Smith. Legion M asked the M-Pulse community members which Hollywood director was their favorite, and Smith was at the top of the list. Whether or not the members are getting precisely what they want, Scanlan says they are pretty trusting and open-minded when it comes to projects. “We don’t expect people in our community to like every project that we do,” Scanlan says. “I think what we’ve learned is that we’ve got latitude from them, and that’s an ongoing thing.” “It’s in their best interest to be supportive; although, we do hear from them if there’s something they don’t like. And we’re sensitive to that, too,” he adds.

different way, the team decided to create a comic book instead of a more traditional storyboard. Wexler joins Tula Lotay, Dani Strips, and Dave Elliott on the comic book, which, like the movie, tells the story of the mysterious, gunslinging heroine, Girl. Think Western meets badass feminist. “As we developed the comic book, we of course told everyone we were doing this, and then when we put it up into Kickstarter to see how many we should print, for publishing, and to do some rewards based on it, I think we guessed that we would get $10,00020,000 worth of comic presales,” Scanlan says. “We ended up with more than $130,000 in presales.” “For a comic book to sell that many comics of a brand-new title that no one has ever heard of is actually kind of unheard of,” he adds. “But at the same time, it’s giving them exclusive access to something and an opportunity to interact and have a voice with the director.”

Coming Soon

Fueling the Fandoms

Memory and the Jay & Silent Bob reboot are far from the only projects in the Legion M pipeline. The company is also working on Girl with No Name, in conjunction with Co-Op Entertainment, a feature film set in the 1869era Wild West. The film boasts an all-female creative team and will be produced by Laura Ivey and directed Tanya Wexler. Wanting to tackle the visual imagery in a

The Kickstarter campaign for the Girl with No Name comic book, based on the upcoming film of the same name, reached nearly 3,000 backers, with monetary pledges far exceeding the $6,000 goal.

At the end of the day, it all comes back to fans, including Legion M’s co-founders. Scanlan is a Guillermo del Toro superfan. While he leans toward independent films in general — unsurprising considering he studied film in college — he counts del Toro among his film heroes and is lowkey obsessed in the best, geekiest way.

“I would say, if I have a strong fandom, it’s Guillermo,” he says. “I just think he’s amazing; I love everything he’s done. His first film, Cronos, solidified my love of entertainment early. He’s just got a heart of gold and is the most generous person. I don’t know anyone that doesn’t like Guillermo, but I would say we have a special affinity for him, or I do, anyway — a man crush if you will.” Annison on the other hand is loyal to the fandoms he forged in the fires of childhood: Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, and Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. “Those were the three properties that I really, really loved growing up and have a special place in my heart,” Annison says. “So it was really special and very cool for me to be involved in this Tolkien project and to learn more about the author.” “So I’ve got one down; now we’ve just got to do something with Star Wars and Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and I can die a happy man,” he adds. Be on the lookout, kids. ✪

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Sierra McCleary-Harris is a senior editor at Adventure Media & Events, editing and producing content for the Toy Book, the Toy Insider, and the Pop Insider. You can find her fangirling over LOTR and Disney princesses, or falling into every thirst trap the internet sets.

THEPOPINSIDER.COM | #FuelYourFandom | 25


a dark knight for all Celebrating 80 Years of Batman in Print and 30 Years on the Big Screen with Historian and Film Producer Michael Uslan by James Zahn, senior editor


hen Detective Comics No. 27 was released in spring 1939, it introduced the world to a new type of superhero — one with no “super” powers at all. “The Amazing and Unique Adventures of THE BATMAN!” was a call-out to readers to drop a dime on a story that would transport them right into the action of a bat-suited vigilante, framed in conversation between Commissioner Gordon and Bruce Wayne. It wouldn’t be until issue No. 33 that readers would be presented with the first telling of the Caped Crusader’s oft-recounted origin — a man driven to fight back due to the brutal killing of his parents, a tragedy he witnessed with his own eyes. Created by Bob Kane and Bill Finger, Batman has a rich history that is continually rewritten, reworked, and reimagined. For a character rooted in a dark reality and devoid of supernatural powers, there’s a level of mythology that continues to transcend what can largely be considered humble beginnings. How is it that a character intended to be a creature of the night — who would become a terrifying symbol for superstitious and cowardly criminals — can also work as a preschool toy, a comic book, a LEGO set, and a briefs-wearing member of the Super-Friends? To dig deeper, the Pop Insider went to perhaps the biggest Bat-fan of them all: Michael Uslan. A comic writer and historian, Uslan taught the first accredited college course on the serious study of comic books, and penned

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the 2011 autobiography, The Boy Who Loved Batman: A Memoir. He’s written Batman comics, but what he’s most-known for is being a producer of the Batman movies, acquiring the film rights to the character in the ‘70s and becoming the driving force behind the film that started the modern superhero box office reign — Tim Burton’s Batman (1989). “It’s not just that Batman works for all ages, but across all borders, and for all cultures — that’s the rarity,” Uslan says.

THE FOUR KEY ELEMENTS OF BATMAN’S LASTING APPEAL According to Uslan, there are four distinct, powerful elements that contribute to the immense appeal of Batman around the world. 1. No Superpowers: “Batman was the first superhero without superpowers, and is one of the rare ones who is without superpowers,” Uslan says. “I always contend that his superpower is his humanity, and it’s that humanity that constantly allows different people from all walks of life to identify with this character and to read in Bruce Wayne and/or Batman their own lives — their own personal experiences — and that’s incredibly powerful.” 2. The Origin Story: “Again, the origin story goes beyond borders and cultures,” he says. “It’s very primal — a kid watching his parents slaughtered right in front of his eyes, and at that moment sacrificing his childhood to make a commitment — one that he has

to walk through hell for the rest of his life in order to honor. That’s a powerful theme.” 3. The Stan Lee Theory of Super Villains: “I go to my dear friend, mentor, and idol, Stan Lee,” Uslan says. “What he often told me was that ‘the greatest, and most long-lasting, superheroes are the ones with the greatest super villains. Ultimately, it’s the super villains that define the superheroes.’ I really do believe that, inarguably, Batman has the greatest Rogues Gallery in the history of comics, but also the greatest super villain in the history of comics: the Joker. In comics, the only heroes to come close to Batman in terms of villains are Spider-Man and the Flash.” 4. The Magic of the Car: “The Batmobile is the car that inspired James Bond and others, so there’s definitely magic in the car,” he says.

FROM COMICS TO SCREEN AND “THE ONE TRUE BATMAN” The Batman first made the leap from printed page to film in a 1943 collection of serials that would directly introduce elements back into the comics, such as the Batcave. The 1966 TV series would likewise influence the source material, notably with Barbara Gordon adopting the persona of Batgirl, but the colorful camp was anything but true to the comics. Determined to bring to life a cinematic depiction of the character who would be true to its comic book roots, Uslan and fellow producer Benjamin Melniker purchased

the film rights to Batman from DC comics in October 1979. Batman hit screens on June 23, 1989. The film was a gigantic success that paved the way for comic book movies as mainstream entertainment and largely helped shape the way that Hollywood markets its films. Famously, it was also one of the first examples of “fan backlash,” with the casting of Michael Keaton as Bruce Wayne/Batman igniting an onslaught of angry letters to Warner Bros. with concerns that were immediately demolished when the film hit screens. For many fans, Michael Keaton is Batman. Over the past three decades, we’ve seen the same debate come up with every new film and each new actor — a phenomenon that’s been equally applied to nearly every superhero and super villain cast in every franchise from the DC Expanded Universe (DCEU) to the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). When you ask the question, “Who is the one true Batman?,” the answer will be subjective, and according to Uslan, that creates a unique challenge. “Is it the creature of the night who stalks disturbed criminals from the shadows, as he was created in 1939 by Bob Kane and Bill Finger, and then enhanced by Jerry Robinson? Is it the Batman of the TV show, with the potbelly and the ‘Pows!’ and ‘Zaps!’? Is it Michael Keaton? Is it Christian Bale? Is it The Animated Series Batman, Kevin Conroy — Mask of the Phantasm?” Uslan questions. “What everyone needs to understand is that the one and only true Batman will probably be the first one they were introduced to — whether they were 8 years old or 12 years old, whether it was in a comic book, a movie, a TV show, or a video game, that will be their one true Batman — and it’s real.” He adds that because of that, creators will never again be able to launch a new Batman story in any medium that will be the depiction of the character that every fan will envision. “It just can’t be that, but the great thing is that when you see the debates from fans on casting, who the filmmaker is going to be, what the Batsuit is going to look like, what the car is going to look like, who his voice is going to be — there are these fiery debates, and that’s the greatest thing. It’s wonderful that there are so many fans that care so deeply about this character and feel that he speaks to them,” he says.

HOW BATMAN INFLUENCED COMIC-CON As Comic-Con International: San Diego (SDCC) celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, it’s important to note that one big com-

Michael Keaton faced off against Jack Nicholson's Joker in 1989's Batman. Photo: Warner Bros.

ponent of the annual event did not originate in San Diego. Every summer, thousands of fans file into the legendary Hall H as studios trot out filmmakers, producers, writers, and cast members to present early details on the latest comic and pop culture properties headed to the big screen. In fact, Hall H opened with a Batman Begins panel in 2004, a low-key affair that featured just two players from the film: screenwriter David Goyer and actor Cillian Murphy (Dr. Jonathan Crane/ Scarecrow). At the time, the film was still in production, and no footage was shown. Three years later, Marvel Studios hit the scene, with director Jon Favreau dropping a surprise preview of Iron Man in 2007, solidifying Hall H as the rock star stage of SDCC — what the entertainment industry would embrace as perhaps its most important room. What few, if any, realized was that the industry had essentially embraced a business model that was unknowingly created in the summer of 1980 at the Statler Hilton Hotel in New York City. It was during the annual Comic Art Convention that producers Michael Uslan and Benjamin Melniker first revealed their plans for Batman to the comic audience. “We were the first ones ever in history to announce a major motion picture at a comic-con,” Uslan recalls. “For better or worse, I’m a fanboy. I was at the first-ever comic convention held ..., in July 1964 in New York City at a fleabag hotel. 200 of us showed up at the first comic-con — 197 guys, and three girls. This will be my 55th annual convention between New York and San Diego.” Between ‘79 and ‘80, Uslan and his partners had already had their Batman pitch turned down by every studio and mini-major in Hollywood. The “dark and serious” approach wasn’t selling to an industry that could

only remember the colorful camp of Adam West and Burt Ward as Batman and Robin. To sell the idea, Uslan and co. turned to the fans of the source material. “At that time, we had made our deal to develop the film with Casablanca Records, which had just started a Filmworks division, courtesy of a cash infusion from Polygram in Europe,” Uslan explains. “Because we weren’t dealing with a major studio, and because the guys running Casablanca at the time — Peter Guber and his partner, Neil Bogart — were younger and hipper than the guys at the studios and actually got my pitch, … I was able to convince them to allow me to announce the film at the New York convention, which was the biggest at the time. The fandom was growing with such passion, and to get the emerging fan press — and at that time, fan ‘zines — behind us would be critical to making a dark and serious comic book film when all the studios said that it would never fly and never work.” With a small budget approved from Casablanca Records & Filmworks, Uslan made a deal with Phil Seuling, who was running the convention at that time. “We were able to get the Bat Signal projected onto the Empire State Building that night,” Uslan recalls. “We invited mainstream press, but also fan press and gave them equal status. We held a cocktail party for all the pros in the industry, and there were five of us that spoke: DC Comics [president] Sol Harrison and [publisher] Jenette Kahn, [Batman creator] Bob Kane, and Ben Melniker and myself. When I spoke, knowing that I was speaking directly to the fans and the fan press, I made the point of starting my talk by saying, ‘This is not going to be a Batman movie. This is not going to be a movie about Batman. Ladies THEPOPINSIDER.COM | #FuelYourFandom | 27


ICONIC JOKER PERFORMANCES Michael Uslan believes that if someone were to build a Mount Rushmore to the character of the Joker, there would be three figures carved into it at this specific moment in time, all of whom are notable for their unique portrayals of the criminal icon.

JACK NICHOLSON, BATMAN, 1989 “To me, Jack was the true Joker, circa 1989, as he was portrayed in the comic books. In the comics at that time, there was talk of a black-and-white world of good versus evil, with the Joker as ‘The Clown Prince of Crime.’ Nicholson brought that directly onto the screen.”

HEATH LEDGER, THE DARK KNIGHT, 2008 “Heath was our Joker at a time when our world was grey, and it was order versus chaos. This was the Joker as a homicidal maniac, and Ledger brought that to life so effectively.”

MARK HAMILL , VOICE OF THE JOKER, MULTIPLE PROJECTS “Mark has been the definitive voice of the Joker. He has been able to bring every aspect of the Joker to the screen, even though he’s only been working through the magic of his voice.”

Smile! Alan Moore's 1988 Graphic Novel, Batman: The Killing Joke (DC Comics)

The Man Who

LAUGHS In spring 1940, Batman and Robin graced the cover of Batman No. 1 — jumping from the pages of Detective Comics into the long-running solo Bat title. Since that issue, Gotham City has repeatedly been the brunt of some cruel humor in scenarios conducted and manipulated by the Clown Prince of Crime: the Joker. Unlike most of the dastardly villains we’ve come to know, the Joker has yet to receive a definitive origin story, with his background, identity, and motivation a reflection of the era. Unlike the evolution of Batman himself, audiences seem to be less concerned with the conflicting stories behind the character — stories that often borrow elements from one another like a legend that’s been passed down through the ages. Created by Bill Finger, Bob Kane, and Jerry Robinson, the Joker’s lack of a true history was left open by design, but the evolution continues via countless authors and portrayals. “It’s one of the mystical reasons why super villains can work so well, and why the Joker has been the best super villain ever created, and the longest lasting,” Uslan says, pointing to Alan Moore’s 1988 graphic novel, Batman: The Killing Joke, as a prime

and gentleman, this is going to be a movie about the Batman!’ and with that, the place went apesh*t crazy. Every fan in the building knew the language ... I was speaking — that there was a difference between calling him Batman and referring to him as the Batman.”

IT WAS HALL H BEFORE HALL H. This summer, filmmaker Matt Reeves’

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example of why audiences general accept different takes on the character. In that story, the Joker distinctly states, “If I’m going to have a past, I prefer it to be multiple choice!” “People don’t necessarily believe that the story being peddled at any given time is the real story,” Uslan says. “I love the fact that in The Killing Joke, you get all of these different origin stories, and then in the end it’s up to you to decide which one is the real story, or if the Joker is just completely delusional and none of them are the real story.” On Oct. 4, a new cinematic reimagining will occur as Joaquin Phoenix performs the role in director Todd Phillips’ Joker, executive produced by Uslan. Set in 1980, the story will borrow from one of The Killing Joke’s possible origins, presenting the character as struggling comedian Arthur Fleck. “The ambiguity behind these deeply disturbed villains is part of the magic and charm to them. That’s why I’ve never been a fan of showing super villains in grade school, or high school, or college. It’s about allowing people to believe what they want to believe, and project their own feelings into it,” Uslan explains. In making the jump from comics to screen, whether it is live action or animation, Uslan says the ambiguity works “spectacularly well” with the Joker, and that’s why audiences continue to identify with the character from book to book, movie to movie, and actor to actor. ✪

(Cloverfield, War for the Planet of the Apes) The Batman takes shape with Robert Pattinson (The Rover, the Twilight Saga) signed as the next actor to don the cape and cowl in a noir-based story said to focus in on Batman as “The World’s Greatest Detective” — a major element of the comics that’s not yet been deeply explored on screen. Showing just how much the world of film marketing has changed in the three decades since Batman

in 1989, Reeves confirmed the casting with a single tweet. DC is said to be skipping Hall H this year, but Uslan will be at SDCC for a panel celebrating 30 years of Batman ‘89. After eight decades in print, and three decades in theaters, the cycle of reinvention for the Dark Knight and his famous Rogues Gallery will no doubt continue for many decades to come. ✪



Three milestone anniversaries come together in San Diego this year with exclusive collectibles that celebrate 80 years of Batman, 50 years of SDCC, and 30 years of Batman on film. Here’s some of the hottest new merch this side of Gotham City!

THE SILVER AGE OF BATMAN ACTION FIGURE SET | MATTEL Celebrate the Silver Age adventures of Batman with this colorful set of four, 6-inch-scale action figures, each with more than 20 points of articulation. The classic blue-and-gray suit, Rainbow Batman (Detective Comics No. 241), Zebra Batman (Detective Comics No. 275), and Negative Suit Batman (Detective Comics No. 284) are all included. The whole thing comes packed in a box recalling the 80-page Giant Batman comics of the day. Available: Mattel Booth No. 2945 MSRP: $80

BATMAN AND CATWOMAN “FOREVER YOURS” STATUE HAMILTON COLLECTION Inspired by Adam West and Julie Newmar as they appeared as Batman and Catwoman in the 1966 TV series, this limited-edition, handcrafted sculpture embraces the flirtatious relationship between the Caped Crusader and his purr-fect adversary. Available: MSRP: $99.99

BATMAN: THE DEFINITIVE HISTORY OF THE DARK KNIGHT POSTER | INSIGHT EDITIONS While Insight Editions’ massive history of Batman won’t hit bookstores until Oct. 22, the publisher is offering a limited-edition cover print to attendees of SDCC. The beautiful cover artwork pays tribute to the legacy of Batman in every form. Available: Insight Editions Booth No. 3721, WB/DC booth No.4545 | free

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HOT WHEELS 1989 ARMORED BATMOBILE | MATTEL The iconic Batmobile from Tim Burton’s Batman gets a premium 1:64-scale version, complete with its removable armored shell. The set also includes a die-cast figure of Michael Keaton’s Batman, and comes packaged in a window display box with a slipcase and protective outer box. Available: Mattel Booth No. 2945 MSRP: $25

BATMAN VERSUS PREDATOR 2-PACK | NECA Based on the 1991 Batman Versus Predator comic book mini-series, co-published by DC Comics and Dark Horse, these new, 7-inch scale figures each include more than 30 points of articulation. Packed with accessories, this comic mashup comes packed in a collector-focused window box with an embossed opening flap. Available: NECA Store Booth No. 3145 MSRP: $60

BATMAN SDCC POP! VINYL | FUNKO For the first time ever, Funko and Comic-Con International are co-branding products, one of which is this Batman Pop! Vinyl figure, which features the Caped Crusader holding an SDCC tote bag. Maybe he’s a cosplayer? Maybe Batman just loves SDCC as much as we do. Available: Funko Booth No. 5341 | MSRP: $15

FUNKO BATMAN 80TH ANNIVERSARY COLLECTION Funko celebrates the history of the Dark Knight with a First Appearance (1939) Pop! Vinyl, a 1950 Batmobile Pop! Rides, a 1966 Batman Pocket Pop! Keychain, a 1989 Batman Pop! Vinyl, and a Batman vs. Joker Movie Moment set inspired by the iconic showdown atop the bell tower in Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman film. Available: mass and specialty retailers | MSRP: $9.99-24.99

DZNR SERIES GOLDEN AGE BATMAN PLUSH | YUME TOYS This 7-inch chibi plush Batman features artwork from Batman co-creator Bob Kane, celebrating the character by throwing it back to his first appearance on the cover of Detective Comics No. 27 in spring 1939. Available: YuMe Toys Booth No. 4518 | MSRP: $15


MIKEY AS BATMAN ACTION FIGURE | DC COLLECTIBLES DC Collectibles draws inspiration from the recent DC animated movie, Batman Vs. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, for this new figure featuring the pizzaloving hero from the TMNT crew doing his best Batman cosplay. Available: WB/DC Booth No.4545 MSRP: $30

Detective Comics hit its milestone 1,000th issue this spring. The 96-page special issue is available at comic shops in both standard ($9.99) and deluxe ($19.99) versions and features stories that embrace Batman’s past, present, and future, along with an epilogue that features the first-ever DC Universe appearance of the Arkham Knight. DC Comics looks at the issue as the start of Batman’s future. To celebrate the overall legacy of the Dark Knight, DC also released the hardcover Detective Comics: 80 Years of Batman as a follow-up and companion piece to last year’s Action Comics: 80 Years of Superman. Curated by guest editor Paul Levitz, the book features reprints of key moments in Batman comic history, as well as a look at some original comic layouts and essays on Batman from contributors, including Cory Doctorow, Neil Gaiman, Glen David Gold, Dennis O’Neil, and more. Available: comic shops, mass retailers | MSRP: $24.99

BATMAN 1966 CLASSIC TV SERIES BATMOBILE PIN MATES SET | ENTERTAINMENT EARTH This Pin Mates set includes a wooden Batmobile inspired by the classic design by famed “King of Kustoms” George Barris for the 1966 TV series and includes two retro-styled, 2-inch-scale wooden Pin Mates collectibles figures and a papercraft Batcave diorama. Available: Entertainment Earth Booth No. 2343 MSRP: $34.99 THEPOPINSIDER.COM | #FuelYourFandom | 31




Following last year’s Levi’s x Snoopy collab, the two American classics are teaming up again with a Levi’s x Peanuts collection, but this time around, everyone’s invited. Charlie Brown, Linus, Lucy, Peppermint Patty, and the whole Peanuts family join Snoopy to adorn a series of Levi’s jeans, T-shirts, hoodies, and accessories for a limited time. MSRP: $18-128 Available: Levi’s


From pickle-printed fanny packs to a spaceship-shaped crossbody, stash your Pickle Rick in one of the bags from Loungefly’s Rick and Morty collection based on the wacky Adult Swim animated show. MSRP: $10-70 Available:


Why choose one fandom when you can have them all? compiled by Jacqueline Cucco, associate editor SLAY LIKE MALEFICENT COLOURPOP

With names like the Cruella “You Idiots! You Fools! You Imbeciles!” Super Shock Highlighter, you’ll feel bad as hell painting your face with ColourPop’s Disney Villains Collection, inspired by the likes of Maleficent, Cruella de Vil, The Evil Queen, Ursula, Dr. Facilier, and Hades. You can purchase lipstick, lip gloss, highlighter, eye shadow, body glitter, and pressed powder, or spring for the entire bundle. MSRP: $7-249 Available: colourpop. com, cosmetics stores

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If you can’t be a Barbie, at least you can dress like one, thanks to the Barbie x Unique Vintage collection. Designed in partnership with Mattel, the line features vintage-style clothing and accessories, ranging from hair scarves and train cases to glam replicas of Barbie’s actual outfits, all inspired by her original wardrobe from the 1960s. MSRP: $10-198 Available:


What does Dumbledore see when he looks into the Mirror of Erised? A pair of thick, woolen socks. Be like Dumbledore with Bioworld’s Harry Potter Sorcerer’s Stone Collection and get all of the magical goodies, including hats, backpacks, jewelry, wallets, hosiery, and yes, socks, too. MSRP: $19.99-79.99 Available: mass retailers


Even Captain Marvel herself needs to check the time every now and then, but we bet she does it in style with these eco-friendly timepieces from Citizen Watch. Available in gold-tone mesh, stainless-steel, or with a navy silicone strap, each one features the Captain Marvel emblem on the dial and a gold logo star. MSRP: $275-350 Available:


Luxury menswear brand John Varvatos released an 11-piece Game of Thrones collection featuring artisanal, handdyed leather outerwear, pants, graphic prints on spray-dyed T-shirts, and more inspired by the weathered leather, textured materials, and worn-in fabrics seen on the show. MSRP: $98-2,698 Available: John Varvatos boutiques, Bloomingdale’s


The Rugrats are all growed-up in the FILA x Rugrats Collection from Champs Sports, a line of ‘90s-tastic sneakers, T-shirts, sweatshirts, and hats featuring Tommy, Chuckie, Phil and Lil, Angelica, Reptar, and the rest of the gang. Serious #squadgoals right here. MSRP: $24-75 Available: Champs Sports

THEPOPINSIDER.COM | #FuelYourFandom | 33


no quarters required

Why Classic Arcade Games Are Hotter (and More Accessible) Than Ever by Madeleine Buckley, assistant editor It’s been nearly four decades since a little yellow circle named Pac-Man started gobbling white dots and running from ghosts in arcades all across the U.S. During that time, he — and many other iconic game characters — never really left pop culture, despite the declining popularity of traditional arcades, thanks to a rise in home consoles and mobile gaming. Yet there’s no denying that these classic games, such as Pac-Man, Frogger, Galaga, and Defender, are making a major comeback, especially in traditional cabinet form. In the past few years, a wide range of arcade machines have popped up for consumer purchase, ranging in size from Arcade 1Up’s 3/4-scale, multi-game cabinets down to Super Impulse’s pocket-sized Tiny Arcade line. Alan Dorfman, owner of Super Impulse, says the line of miniature arcade cabinets (which launched in 2017 and expands by three or four titles each year) has fans of all ages, ranging from “6-year-olds to those whose short-range vision has started to decline.” Dorfman says the line made sense for Super Impulse because classic toys and entertainment properties in general have become incredibly popular in recent years. “People have an emotional tie to their pasts, and a game, toy, TV show, or movie that made them feel good when they were younger makes them feel good again,” he says, “especially in a pocket-sized version.” But this yearning for content from decades past isn’t the only factor at play. Christopher Hanson, an English professor at Syracuse University who focuses on game studies and digital media, says the trend is fueled by a few different factors. Yes, he does agree that nostalgia — and the desire to share that nostalgia with a new generation — plays a role. But that isn’t the whole story. Another interesting cause, he says, is economic. It is significantly easier to license and repurpose a classic game than it is to develop a major new one. “These [arcade] games are profoundly cheap compared to

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the prohibitive development costs of AAA games today,” he says. “So if you look at how much making a game like the new Assassin’s Creed or Red Dead Redemption 2 costs, … there’s going to be a significant cost differential there.” In addition to an economic advantage, Hanson says these games provide a unique physical experience. “I think these arcade cabinets are doing something an emulator on your phone or PC could never do,” he says. “You are sort of physically present there in a way that I would argue is impossible if you’re playing it on your phone.” For players looking for a physical experience even more akin to the traditional arcade setting, there is also a growing number of bar-arcade hybrids, where visitors can order drinks and play classic arcade cabinets. Evan Louis, the general manager at CoinOp Gaslamp, a bar arcade in San Diego, believes that these bars have influenced and possibly caused the resurgence in the games’ popularity. Every day, he sees some patrons rediscovering games they loved from their youth, while others are discovering the arcade experience for the first time. “I think there is something captivating about arcades in general,” he says. “They are colorful, bright, and noisy. … It’s always great to see people take a walk down memory lane and smile.” In addition to coming back as arcade cabinets, many retro games are also expanding to become lifestyle brands. A prime example is Tetris, which celebrated its 35th anniversary last month. This year, the game expanded into a lot of new product categories, such as makeup and even infant products. Tetris isn’t alone in this either: There’s apparel and accessories on the way for other classic games, including Frogger, Bomberman, and Contra. In the case of Tetris, Megan Buettner, head of consumer products of Blue Planet Software, says the game’s lasting, wide appeal makes it a logical fit for product Super Impulse’s Tiny Arcade Tetris

lines. “There’s a unique connection to every single person who has touched it,” she says. “Everyone gets it.” Yet, even as fans happily don Tetris socks or download the popular new Tetris 99 game on their Nintendo Switch, there is something special about sitting down to play with a joystick and two buttons. As Hanson explains it, “just like we may enjoy a super-detailed, really rich novel or film, there’s also a pleasure in the shorter, simpler experiences. For every time I want to play Red Dead Redemption 2 or something like that, there’s also a joy in being able to play something like Q*bert.” ✪

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Madeleine Buckley is an assistant editor at Adventure Media & Events, where she contributes to the Pop Insider, the Toy Insider, and the Toy Book. An avid movie theater-goer and a movie score enthusiast, she enjoys covering the latest news and trends in pop culture and the toy industry.




Let the nautical nonsense be something you wish all year long. by Maddie Michalik, senior editor Every four seconds, someone in the world is talking about SpongeBob SquarePants on social media. Let that sink in. The iconic, eternally optimistic sponge has also inspired multiple fashion designs for international runways, starred in a Tony Award-winning Broadway musical, was the first square-shaped balloon in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City, and even has a species of tulips named after him in Holland — and that is just the beginning of SpongeBob’s legacy. SpongeBob SquarePants is celebrating his 20th anniversary this year. He may live in a pineapple under the sea, but the Bikini Bottom resident is a worldwide pop culture icon. Fans in more than 208 countries watch SpongeBob SquarePants. The show is translated into more than 55 languages and is the most widely distributed property in Viacom Media Networks’ — Nickelodeon’s parent company — history. The series received countless awards throughout its history, such as multiple Emmy Awards, Annie Awards, Kids’ Choice Awards, and the British Academy of Film of Television Arts Awards, just to name a few.

THE BEST YEAR EVER The SpongeBob SquarePants animated series debuted on July 17, 1999, and chronicles SpongeBob’s nautical adventures alongside his undersea friends. He lives in a two-story pineapple with his pet Gary and spends his days working at the local restaurant, The Krusty Krab, or jellyfishing with his best friend, Patrick. More often than not, SpongeBob approaches life in an unconventional way. “I think it’s that inherent optimism and eternal positivity,” says Charlotte Castillo, senior vice president of global franchise planning at Viacom. “No matter what, everybody smiles when they hear how he embraces the world and his approach to the world, and I think at different moments in his 20-year history, people have needed that, and now we need it more than ever globally, and that eternal positivity continues to shine bright and that never gets old.” Nickelodeon kicked off the anniversary with the “Best Year Ever,” a tribute that included an original one-hour special, “SpongeBob’s Birthday Blowout,” which premiered on July 12. The episode was a mix of live-action and animation, featuring the voice cast playing human versions of their characters. It was the first time the voice talent behind SpongeBob, Patrick, Mr. Krabs, Sandy, Squidward, and Plankton played live-action doppelganger versions of the animated characters they voice. “We’ve done [live-action] before in theatrical. Paramount did it in the first two movies. The first movie with David Hasselhoff — who could forget that great 36 | Issue No. 4 | THE POP INSIDER

moment — and then the last movie when SpongeBob and his friends came up on the beach at Santa Monica and were like superheroes. So, we had experience with that before on a theatrical level, and it’s worked really well and fans are clamoring for more, and we thought on his 20th, this special one-hour episode would be a great moment to do that again,” Castillo says. In the episode, it’s SpongeBob’s birthday, and Patrick and SpongeBob journey to the surface world, where they come across familiar characters during the lunchtime rush at the Trusty Slab restaurant. Meanwhile, the other Bikini Bottom residents set up a surprise party for SpongeBob.

NEW SPONGEBOB CONTENT IS THE CONTENT FOR YOU AND ME! The one-hour special was the beginning of a new season airing throughout the celebratory year. Fans can look forward to this sea-

son’s other episodes because they’ll feature a lot of moments that they’ve been waiting for, according to Castillo. More than 200 SpongeBob SquarePants episodes have aired to date, with more on the way this year. Don’t let that number fool you: Despite the extensive catalog, the writers for the series keep coming up with fresh, new content. This summer’s new episodes will put the characters in situations they’ve never been in before, including SpongeBob closing the gap in his teeth, resulting in a personality change; SpongeBob finally becoming boss for the day at the Krusty Krab; and Plankton and Karen having a baby together (somehow). “They have a great lot of fun within the writer’s room. They think that they’re going to dry up but they keep coming back. There are so many great stories, and fans sometimes send ideas. Sometimes questions fans ask on Twitter when they’re engaging spark other ideas, so they feel like there’s so much more to the world of SpongeBob,” Castillo says. Nickelodeon is also developing spin-off projects for SpongeBob characters for the first time. While the projects are under more secrecy than the Krabby Patty Secret Formula, plans are in place to expand the Sponge-

Bob universe into formats such as new series, specials, and feature-length movies, all with a focus on the core characters. The anniversary will culminate with the May 22, 2020, release of the new theatrical movie It’s a Wonderful Sponge, from Paramount Pictures, Paramount Players, and Nickelodeon Movies.

“D” IS FOR DIGITAL INITIATIVES Nickelodeon recently debuted an official global SpongeBob SquarePants YouTube channel, featuring the most iconic SpongeBob moments, music from the show, and more. SpongeBob is the first Nickelodeon property to be worthy enough of its own vertical channel; before, all of his content would sit on the multi-property Nickelodeon channel. New, short-form content will also debut on the channel, such as “Bikini Bottom Mysteries,” which explores the secrets, scandals, and unsolved mysteries of the animated series. There will also be themed content added weekly, including Tuesday Tunes, Throwback Thursdays, and SpongeBob Saturdays. Ever wonder what it’s like to be a fry cook at the hottest restaurant in town? A new mobile game will launch next spring, giving fans the opportunity to share in SpongeBob’s THEPOPINSIDER.COM | #FuelYourFandom | 37


experience of being a fry cook at the Krusty Krab in Bikini Bottom.

UP FOR MEME-INGFUL DISCUSSION SpongeBob has garnered $13 billion in lifetime retail sales of consumer products, with no signs of slowing down. This year, there’s more new product on the way, and Nickelodeon is commemorating the series with Alpha Group for a new line of toys, collectibles, plush, and novelties. The star of the line is Masterpiece Meme, which embraces meme culture and reimagines fan-favorite memes into vinyl figures. “Memes have become such an integral part of how many of us communicate,” says Amritz Lay, senior marketing manager at Alpha Group. “Making them into collectible vinyl figures is actually easier than you might think. With so many great SpongeBob SquarePants memes in existence, the fans around the world have essentially helped us to choose the very best of the best to bring to life as real vinyl figures.” Viral memes, such as Mocking SpongeBob, Imaginaaation SpongeBob, Surprised Patrick, and Handsome Squidward, are all available for purchase in figure form. There are more memes in development that fans will love — simply because they’re already using them daily on social media, according to Lay. “It was just so telling of how … SpongeBob has almost become synonymous with 38 | Issue No. 4 | THE POP INSIDER

[meme culture]. The day that the Brexit vote was announced, and we found out the results, [what] J.K. Rowling … used to announce and put out there publicly for all her millions of fans was a meme of SpongeBob being so upset and horrified by what happened. That’s the level that he’s reached, that that’s what people turn to [to] really show their happiest and their most frightening feelings,” Castillo says.

meez figures will feature Nickelodeon slime, which seems like a natural fit, and will be a first for the SpongeBob brand. In addition to collectible vinyl figures in various scales and novelties, such as wearable SpongeHeads, throwable SpongeBalls, and squishy Squeazies will be available. In the fall, Alpha Group will also debut the Giggle Blaster, which comes with a can of aerosol string that can be sprayed more than 15 feet, a working periscope, and sounds and phrases from the voice of SpongeBob himself: Tom Kenny. “For those millennials who grew up with SpongeBob, there’s a sense of nostalgia. We find that they adore our new scales of collectible vinyl. For those who have become parents, it’s a timeless show with humor that resonates for the entire family. They appreciate the silly humor of our toys. Then there are the kids who identify with SpongeBob, Patrick, and the others in their own unique ways,” Lay says.


International mixed-media artist Romero Britto brings “imaginaaation” to his vibrant, bold, and colorful SpongeBob SquarePants designs.

New products also include black-andwhite SpongePop CulturePants with designs inspired by the golden age of animation. Sli-

SpongeBob is no stranger to high fashion or fashion collections. For the past few years, the sponge has been part of multiple partnerships in the fashion industry, including being featured by designer Jeremy Scott on the Moschino runway at Milan Fashion week in 2014, a capsule collection with Pharrell Williams, a partnership with (RED) to raise awareness for the fight against AIDS, an exclusive collection with Vans, a colorful collaboration with Lisa Frank at Hot Topic,

and more. For the 20th anniversary, Nickelodeon collaborated with lifestyle brand Cynthia Rowley, which sent a fun SpongeBob SquarePants wetsuit down its New York Fashion Week runway in February. Nickelodeon also partnered with international, mixed-media artist Romero Britto, who reimagined SpongeBob in his vibrant, bold, and colorful style through a mixed-media art installation that will be exhibited at pop-up experiences across the U.S. He also developed a limited-edition piece of art for Nickelodeon to work with on a charitable basis. “We have had so many incredible conversations with different designers, brands, retail, and IP, and everybody wants to get on board. What’s great about it is that people are actual fans. Most of the collaborations and partnerships are super organic in that folks say, ‘I remember when,’ ‘my child watched that show,’ or ‘I was a big fan of the show; I’d love to do something with SpongeBob,’ which to me is what results in the best product and the best design when there’s real, organic love for the property,” Castillo says. There are more deals and collaborations with artists worldwide, including those in Hong Kong, Canada, and Brazil. These artists are inspired by SpongeBob, but they each bring their own take to the character for diverse interpretations. At the end of the day, though fans will get to see SpongeBob in so many ways, it still reads clearly and truly as SpongeBob. “We’re doing product that is high end

with designers and limited editions, but we’re also doing a celebration cake with a big food brand — and it works because that’s the beauty of SpongeBob. You can see designs inspired by him walking down the runway in Milan, but you can also see him walking down an aisle in Walmart, and it fits. It doesn’t feel jarring. As long as the interpretation is developed in the right way with the right audience in mind, it works,” Castillo says.

birthday ever. But for superfans, press, the industry, and designers, talking about the anniversary is relevant. “We had lots of debate about whether that’s confusing, but we felt like it’s not confusing because these are different audiences and we want to make sure that we’re really connecting to what the different audience really connects to and needs. Those live side by side and are parallel, and they are working together,” Castillo says.



SpongeBob is one of the few characters that anyone could recognize anywhere. While there were some slight tweaks throughout the years to his overall modeling to keep up with technology and keep all of the animation sharp, SpongeBob’s overall look remains the same. People can spot his square pants, red tie, gap teeth, and iconic laugh anywhere. The ever-optimistic sponge appeals to adults and parents who grew up watching the show, as well as to a new, younger audience. With such a broad fan base, there’s a particular level of strategy in play to make sure that activations reach all fans at every level. A 20th anniversary doesn’t really mean anything to a kid, and most kids don’t even know what “anniversary” means, according to Castillo. So for the hour-long episode, the theme is a birthday. For kids, the message is that it’s a party, a celebration, SpongeBob’s best year, and the ultimate party and

The strategy of connecting to a wide fan base is crucial for events, such as pop-ups. There will be multiple layers to them to ensure that the whole family will get the most out of the experience. While pop-ups are going to have a high-level gallery space and showcase artwork, a family can come, and their child can also enjoy toys from the past 20 years, a scavenger hunt, or an obstacle course with the characters, for example. Nickelodeon will also bring SpongeBob to other activations, such as a kit in a box to send to its partners around the world, and host celebrations at malls and retail worldwide. “The one thing that’s a wonderful thing to be able to say is that we’re never going to stop making SpongeBob. It’s one of our tentpole, pillar properties, which by the way, continues to perform. It’s been the top-five animated show for 19 consecutive years,” Castillo says. ✪ THEPOPINSIDER.COM | #FuelYourFandom | 39



A SPONGE The Pop Insider’s Maddie Michalik chatted with Tom Kenny, the voice of SpongeBob SquarePants himself, about how he got started voicing the iconic character, SpongeBob’s legacy, and what fuels his fandom. Pop Insider: How did you get your start in voice acting? Tom Kenny: I always had an instinct that voice-over would be the place where I would be happiest and animation was where I wanted to be, and I just thought that was the best use of my weird, oddball skill set. I just wanted to have fun and work on stuff that I liked and be around creative people. My main goal has always been to make a living in an unconventional way and to use what you’ve got to not do a job that you’re bored with and don’t like. That was my goal at 16 and it’s my goal at 56. PI: How did your time as a stand-up comedian prepare you for your voice-acting career? TK: I would say the main thing was by the time I even started doing voice-over, I had been, for years, writing jokes and delivering jokes and doing characters on stage because I was also into sketch comedy as well as stand-up, which is very character-based. I guess that’s kind of the main stuff that stand-up brought to it, and ad-libbing and being able to come up with stuff on the fly, pick stuff up quickly, learn quickly. Not that you really have to memorize a whole lot in animation because it’s there in front of you, but learning songs quickly and stuff like that where they go, “We forgot to mention that we’re recording two songs today, did you get ‘em?” and you’re like, “Yeah, yeah, OK!” It’s just being ready for anything. There was a certain unpredictability to stand-up that I think was helpful when I started doing animation. PI: That’s a really interesting perspective, I wouldn’t have thought of it that way. TK: It was fun. Especially with sketch comedy, so much of it was about inhabiting different 40 | Issue No. 4 | THE POP INSIDER

characters, and that’s always where I was happiest. ... In some ways, I think SpongeBob is a lot like me, or I’m a lot like him, or we’re a lot like each other. I think that’s actually why Steve Hillenburg cast me. I think that definitely helped me get the job in that I was a fair amount like the character in outlook and energy level. Steve really picked up on that and pretty much never really had anyone else in mind for SpongeBob. Luckily for me, he knew me from previous work on Rocko’s Modern Life and said, “Tom is SpongeBob. Tom’s gotta be SpongeBob.” That’s very unusual. Most stuff in this business, no matter how long you’ve been in it, you’ve just got to audition for stuff. … When I’m not recording, which is pretty much every day, I’m auditioning for future work all the time. Everything’s auditioning, and Sponge-

Bob is this freaky outlier on my IMDb [as] the thing I didn’t have to audition for. PI: What was the process like to come up with the right SpongeBob voice? TK: It actually came kind of fast, which again, is not always how it goes. Steve wasn’t a voice actor. He wasn’t a wakka wakka, comedy, man of a million characters guy. So, he never really ... said, “I want SpongeBob to sound kind of like this,” or “Just do something like this.” … What he did do was really lay out who this guy is. He laid out his whole profile — SpongeBob’s whole psychological personality profile thought out to the nth degree — and explained that to me. ... The graphics were there, the drawings were there, and the drawings were so funny and so charming and so odd. They were kind of classic, familiar, and unfamiliar at the same time. They had a warmth. ... It felt like I knew these characters, or knew them from another life. It was really mysterious, but they also did not look like stuff that you’d seen a million times before in other kid shows. I lay that down to him knowing exactly where he was going, knowing exactly what he was doing, knowing exactly what he wanted, and A) explaining it really well, but then B) giving us — the actors, once he hired us — a lot of leeway. One of the great things about Steve was that once he hired you, he trusted you. He did not micromanage you. He’s like, “You know why I hired you. You know SpongeBob. You are SpongeBob.” Bill [Fagerbakke] knows Patrick better than anybody; Rodger Bumpass knows Squidward better than anybody. Steve really let us explore the characters vocally, just bringing our own little oddball filigrees to [them]. He gave us a great foundation to build our little vocal house on.


Voice actor Tom Kenny

PI: I feel like the cast has a really special bond with these characters, and it just takes it to the next level. TK: We do! We really do have a bond with these characters. I know from working with these actors every Wednesday for 20 years, they’re really, like me, very proprietary about these characters. You’re a part of it; it’s this amazing gift that Steve gave us to entrust us with these characters that are really fun to do, are fun to portray, and that people really like. People ... think they’re funny and enjoy them, and they have become a part of people’s lives. You can’t help but be a little bit proprietary about that. You feel a sense of ownership to these characters; Steve gave us that. He gave us that pride of ownership.

PI: SpongeBob has appealed to a wide audience for 20 years. What do you think is its mark on pop culture? TK: Twenty years is a long time, but it’s not as long as some animated characters who have been around, such as Disney or Looney Tunes characters. And he’s in that pantheon. The Simpsons would be in there, too. SpongeBob, I think, is in that group, and that’s just amazing to us to be in something like that. I think 20 years is long enough to be multigenerational, and I don’t know what ultimately his mark will be, but I know that people laugh at it, they enjoy it, it makes them happy, it gets them through tough times here and there, and to me, in terms of a personal mark, that’s what I’m really proud of. For me, it’s that SpongeBob has been able to make a mark in so many areas of pop culture in terms of how many languages he’s in, how many countries he’s in, almost 250 episodes so far — and counting — a couple of feature films, plus one more coming down the pike soon, [and] a Broadway musical. [SpongeBob] just seems to have really permeated a collective conscious. ... SpongeBob just seems to enjoy this almost supernatural goodwill still. I see it at comic-cons every year, and that’s where we really see and hear firsthand about what SpongeBob has meant to individual people and what it’s been in their lives. That’s a pretty huge mark to make. The whole SpongeBob thing is just trying to be funny. The mission statement has been the same for 20 years: Just make a funny cartoon; just try to do stuff that makes us laugh. ... The storyboard guys, the animators, the music guys, the voice talent — everybody’s just trying to make something as funny as it can be. It’s a great job to be allowed to have.

Original sketches of SpongeBob SquarePants.

42 | Issue No. 4 | THE POP INSIDER

PI: What’s your favorite SpongeBob SquarePants episode? TK: It used to be “Band Geeks,” then the Super Bowl happened, and now I’m not sure. It changes. It’s pretty funny, a lot of times people will come up to you and just ask you to do a line from their favorite episode. People are always reminding me of episodes that I haven’t thought about in a while, and certain lines in certain episodes really connect with different people in different ways. That’s pretty hilarious for somebody to go, “My sister and I are 25 now, and this is still our running joke between us. For the last 20 years, my sister and I have been doing this line to each other to crack each other up, and we still do.” Stuff like that? It’s incredible...

“The mission statement has been the same for 20 years: Just make a funny cartoon; just try to do stuff that makes us laugh.” — TOM KENNY, VOICE OF SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS A lot of [my favorites] are more recent episodes, some of them are episodes that haven’t even aired yet. Because you go, “Ah! That was a really fun episode to do, everybody’s laughing in the booth, and we’re yucking it up.” PI: What are some of your personal favorite fandoms? TK: I’m a total weirdo. I hardly watch TV, and I hardly go to movies, but I’m a fanatical record collector. So, I would say a lot of my fandoms have to do with music and record collecting. Old soul records and hillbilly records, rock ‘n roll records, garage rock and punk rock and zydeco and cajun and jazz. Those are pretty much the fandoms that I tend to inhabit more than anything. I’ve never watched Game of Thrones. I’ve never seen an episode of The Big Bang Theory. I’m a total cave-dweller. ... Also, old animation, classic animation — Looney Tunes, Popeye the Sailor Man, Laurel and Hardy. My wife is a Chicago Cubs fan, so there’s a fandom I got drawn into through marriage. ✪


A Tart and Punch Inspired by Game of Thrones


espite fan upset over the series’ ending, Game of Thrones will live on as one of the most epic fantasy franchises of all time, in good company with the likes of Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings. And while Thrones is most known for its unpredictable bloodshed, it also brings fans brilliant scenery, ornate costumes, and downright mouthwatering foods. From Sansa’s favorite lemon cakes to some killer pigeon pie, the novels and the TV series are full of delectable delights we all wish we could sink our teeth into. Enjoy this Game of Thrones-inspired fruit and cheese tart, which pairs perfectly with a three-step Milk Punch. Recipes and photo by Stephanie Glover of A Grande Life

PEAR AND GOAT CHEESE TART INGREDIENTS • 1 sheet of puff pastry, thawed • 1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon of water, for egg wash • 4 ounces of goat cheese at room temperature • 4 ounces of cream cheese at room temperature • 1 tablespoon of honey, plus more for drizzling • 1 teaspoon of fresh thyme, chopped, plus more for garnishing • 2 ripe pears, thinly sliced INSTRUCTIONS 1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. 2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the cream cheese and goat cheese until smooth. Add the honey and thyme and mix well to combine. 3. Roll out the puff pastry onto a lightly floured board. With a rolling pin, lightly flatten the pastry. This will make the pastry smooth. Fold over the edges, either crimping down with a fork or rolling over for a more rustic look. 4. Brush the entire pastry, edges included, with egg wash. Spread the cheese mixture evenly all over the pastry, except for the borders. 5. Refrigerate for 5 to 10 minutes. Remove the pastry from the refrigerator and arrange the pears over the cheese mixture. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until golden brown. 6. Remove tart from the oven and drizzle with honey. Garnish with fresh thyme (if desired) and serve.

MILK PUNCH INGREDIENTS • 4 ounces of whole milk • 1 teaspoon of simple syrup • 2 1/2 ounces of bourbon • Ground nutmeg, for garnish INSTRUCTIONS 1. Pour bourbon and simple syrup into a glass with the milk. Stir well. 2. Sprinkle top with freshly ground nutmeg. 3. Serve immediately! THEPOPINSIDER.COM | #FuelYourFandom | 43


ExcelSior! Remembering the late, great Stan Lee by madeleine buckley, assistant editor

Photo: Stan Lee’s POW! Entertainment

44 | Issue No. 4 | THE POP INSIDER


n Jan. 30, the iconic TCL Chinese Theater in Los Angeles was packed with stars — Kevin Smith, Mark Hamill, Laurence Fishburne, Seth Green, and Phil Lord were only some of the Hollywood heavy-hitters in the audience, but this A-list gathering wasn’t for a movie premiere or a handprint ceremony. This was a memorial tribute to a man named Stanley Martin Lieber, better known to the world as Stan Lee. As any comic book fan will tell you, the comic book publisher slash entertainment juggernaut that is Marvel would be nowhere close to the pop culture powerhouse it has become if it weren’t for Stan Lee. We would certainly have no MCU, no Black Panther, no X-Men — the list goes on. Born in 1922 in New York City, Lee began his comic book career as a teenager. His first work was providing filler text for Captain America No. 3 in 1941. He then went on to co-create many of Marvel’s most-beloved characters during the ‘60s and ‘70s, including Spider-Man, Thor, the Hulk, and Iron Man. His characters stood apart because he made them real people who face real-life problems — and just so happen to also be superheroes. The January memorial event took place two months after Lee’s death on Nov. 12, at age 95. The event was a collaborative effort between fan-owned movie studio Legion M, Stan Lee’s Pow! Entertainment, production and consulting company Agents of Mayhem, and The Hero Initiative. At the event — officially titled “Excelsior! A Celebration of the Amazing, Fantastic, Incredible & Uncanny Life of Stan Lee” — both fans and Lee’s industry friends joined together to celebrate his life. The idea for this celebration came about when two men who knew and worked with Lee — Agents of Mayhem founder Darren Passarello and Legion M’s David Baxter — realized there weren’t any plans in the works for a public memorial. “When we first were doing this, we wanted to keep it small and intimate,” Passarello says. “At the time, we didn’t envision how big it was going to be. … We wanted it just to be a nice memorial to let people grieve the proper way for someone who touched their lives. And it kind of exceeded our expectations and wildest dreams of what the reception was.”

The man, the myth, the legend Passarello and Baxter each met Lee in fairly unconventional ways: Passarello as a contestant on the first season of the 2006 reality show Who Wants to Be a Superhero,

and Baxter at Danny DeVito’s Fourth of July party in the ‘90s (DeVito lived next door to Baxter’s friend, and the pair were invited on a whim). Both men went on to work with Lee throughout the following decades, getting to know the man behind the iconic sunglasses and mustache. And that man, according to Passarello and Baxter, was incredibly kind. He always wanted to make people — friends and strangers alike — laugh or smile, and he truly cared about everyone. “He never wanted anyone to feel like they were less than they were, and always wanted people to feel like he cared about them …” Passarello says. “He made you feel important. He recognized you as a person and didn’t just say ‘Hi.’ He really made you feel like he knew you, he was friends with you, and he recognized you.” Baxter recalls a time at Comic-Con International: San Diego (SDCC), in the mid-’90s, when he asked Lee how he found the energy he had to interact with fans at his age. “He’s like, ‘David, don’t you understand? I’m a vampire,’” Baxter recounts. “I’m like, ‘You’re a vampire?’ ‘Yes, when I see all of the fans, I get energized. I take in all of the energy from the fans. That’s what keeps me going. And the moment the fans are gone, I take a nap.’”

“He really was one of the most perfect people I Ever met.” - Bob Sabouni

And, according to POW! Entertainment Chief Marketing Officer Bob Sabouni, who also worked closely with Lee over multiple decades and at multiple companies, the Lee who fans met was the real Lee. “When the lights were off and the cameras weren’t there and it was just a couple of you sitting around, he was exactly that guy,” Sabouni says. “Maybe pulled back a little bit, but he was exactly the human being you just saw. Warm, giving, gentle, kind, caring. He really was one of the most perfect people I ever met.” Lee also had a reputation for projecting modesty when discussing his work, which Passarello says was very genuine. “To him,

he was just writing stories. … He’s just doing his job.” Passarello says. “He didn’t see it as some big magnanimous thing that really revolutionized the industry and people. That’s the way he always was: He was humble.” That isn’t to say that Lee didn’t love his work and the heroes he helped create. Passarello also recalls how excited and nervous Lee was on the set of 2012’s The Avengers when filming his cameo. “He’s in New York City, he’s over the moon that he gets to do this, and he’s rehearsing his lines in the trailer over and over again to make sure he gets it right,” Passarello says. “He was so excited to be on set and to be in this film, that everything else was trivial to him, and he kind of was like a child on Christmas Day.” There were other, perhaps lesser-known, facets to Lee as well, including his military service in World War II. “I think people don’t realize all the ways that Stan served the world, not just in co-creating a lot of these characters, but just in personal service,” Baxter says. “He really was a superhero.” Baxter also describes Lee as “a wildly romantic person,” talking about Lee’s nearly 70-year marriage with wonder. Apparently, every single day at noon, Lee would stop whatever he was doing to go home to his wife, Joan (or he’d call, if he was traveling). Why noon? Because that’s when her favorite TV shows were on.

Carrying On the Legacy It has been nearly nine months since Lee died, but his legacy lives on not only through the characters he created and the memories of those he worked with, but also through a variety of projects he started later in life. It’s a busy year for his company, POW! Entertainment: Stan Lee’s THEPOPINSIDER.COM | #FuelYourFandom | 45

FANDOM FEATURE Alliances: A Trick of the Light was released on Audible last month, and a range of Leethemed toys and collectibles are on their way to retail, stylizing him as a Funko Pop!, a Masters of the Universe figure, and more. Lee’s Superhero Kindergarten is also on the way, an animated series starring Arnold Schwarzenegger that will feature a cameo from Lee in every episode. Legion M has a project in the works as well: an interview with Lee as part of its ICONS series. Shot to be a 360-degree virtual reality (VR) experience, these incredibly high-definition videos are designed for fans to feel as if they are in the room with pop culture icons. The footage features Lee being interviewed by Kevin Smith — his first and only choice of interviewer — in his home. It also features the last footage ever shot of Lee’s wife. There is no specific release date yet, but Baxter says the company plans to debut it within the next year. In addition to supporting his projects, Passarello, Baxter, and Sabouni say there are

many ways fans can continue to memorialize Lee and carry on his legacy. “Just use the things that he talked about,” Sabouni says. “Stan talked about diversity. Stan talked about being kind to one another. Stan Lee was the most decent, gracious, polite person you’ll ever meet. Politeness and civility meant a great deal to him. I think, and this is so cliché, try to do what you want with your life and all that, but remember the things that Stan stood for.” Passarello expresses a similar sentiment, noting Lee’s belief that all humans have a responsibility to be kind and care for each other. “He used his writing to impart his knowledge ... and his philosophy on the world, and every comic book issue that he wrote, every dialog bubble he wrote, was his philosophy on mankind and humankind,” Passarello says. “It’s a large order and large shoes to fill, but if there’s anything I can do to memorialize Stan, it’s to live that philosophy and to teach that philosophy.” “All you have to do is ask, ‘What Would Stan Do?,’” Baxter says. “I mean, he’s not

Baxter and Lee Photo: Legion M

Jesus, but he’s pretty darn close, I think. … If you look back, it’s really quite amazing what he accomplished in his life. I hope, at the end of it, he did understand at least a little bit of what he brought to the world. And the world’s definitely a dimmer place without him in it.” ✪

Marvelous memories

Photo: POW! En


“When I first me Stan in 2006, I had a hat on that day. And every day since then over the course of 15 years, whenever I didn’t have a hat on, he would always ask me, ‘Where is your hat? Why don’t you have a hat on?’ ... [Years later, on The Avengers set], he had just finished his cameo, and he turns over to me, looks at me with my camera, and goes, ‘You know something? You could have played Peter Parker in the Spider-Man film. Enough said.’ And he walked off into the sunset to craft services. I’m sitting there with my camera. Oh my God, this is amazing: I’m on the set of Avengers, Stan just told me I could be Peter Parker, this is great. ... And he walks over to craft services, and there’s a man there who’s probably a gaff or a grip, got to be at least 300 pounds, 6 foot 2, and he hands Stan a plate, and Stan goes, ‘Wow, that was super heroic. You know something, you could have played Peter Parker in the Spider-Man film.’ And he turns around and looks at me and goes, ’That’s for not wearing your hat! Ha Ha!’ And he walks off.” - Darren Passarello, Agents of Mayem Founder


46 | Issue No. 4 | THE POP INSIDER



A really sweet memory I have with him is one of his last trips ever. We took him to Japan for a show. ... We tried to give him plenty of time to rest, but I got a call in the afternoon from his guy who said, ‘Stan wants to go to the Great Wall.’ I’m like,’He what?’ He’s like, ‘Yeah, Stan wants to go to the Great Wall.’ And I was like, ‘OK. If Stan wants to go to the Great Wall, I guess we’re going to the Great Wall.’ We bundle him up, get him in nice warm clothes, get in the car, and the driver takes us up about an hour out of Beijing to the Great Wall. We go to the very first point that we can go to because I don’t want to overtax him. We get to the Great Wall, we get out, and the one thing they don’t tell you is if it’s 45 degrees in Beijing, it’s about 10 degrees up on the Great Wall. So now, I’m terrified. I’m like, ‘I can’t take him up here.’ These vendors see us, and they come rushing out, and they’re putting all these coats and hats and different things and gloves. We literally bundle him up in this very traditional, Chinese-looking outfit and warm clothes. And Stan’s loving this, and he looks over at me and goes, ‘These people are great! They’re giving me all this stuff.’ And I look at him and go, ‘I don’t know, Stan. I don’t think they’re giving it to you.’ And sure enough, as he walks away, I get hit with a $700 bill from the guy. But I figured, you know what, it was a good investment to not kill Stan Lee up on the Great Wall.” - Bob Sabouni, POW! Entertainment CMO


WHY THE BAD GUYS ARE GETTING ALL THE GLORY by Victoria Rosenthal, editorial assistant


illains may be the bane of superheroes’ existence (get it?), but without these characters, there would be no heroes. Even the most evil mischief makers are integral to the plots of our favorite movies, TV series, video games, and books. And lately, the bad guys are getting good attention. As Rocco Nevers — a screenwriter, filmmaker, and cosplayer — explains, “Superhero movies are only as good and strong as their villains. No one is going to root for the superhero unless the villain who they’re fighting is a formidable foe.” Their flair allows them to shine, so much so that they’ve garnered their own fandoms. Whether it’s villains’ personalities or iconic looks, fans are drawn to these characters in the same undeniable way Harley Quinn is attracted to the Joker. With the recent onslaught of movies focused on characters who love to be bad, it’s clear that villains can be just as attractive to viewers as their good, heroic counterparts. The proof is in the numbers, according to Box Office Mojo. Maleficent — the story of the evil fairy from the Sleeping Beauty tale — earned $758.4 million worldwide during its run in theaters in 2014. And when Suicide Squad — featuring the band of DC villains — burst into theaters in 2016, it earned $746.8 million worldwide; while 48 | Issue No. 4 | THE POP INSIDER

Venom, a film focused on the symbiotic super villain from the SpiderMan comics, earned more than $855 million worldwide last year. These numbers prove that viewers love to delve into the dark side. Although villain-centric movies perform well at the box office, critics’ reviews aren’t always stellar. But the problem with the films may not be the plotlines. According to David Negrin, an assistant professor of film, television, and emerging media at Ithaca College and the executive director of the NYC Screenwriters Collective, critics and viewers may have difficulty admitting their love for an evil person and their wicked ways because the public views these actions as shameful and immoral. “Powerful or vicious villains allow us a kind of cynical escapism that can feel cathartic,” Negrin says. “Some people may be publicly ashamed to enjoy a story where the bad guys win. But they’ll pay money to watch it. [For example], the entire horror genre is based on an audience enjoying a dark world with jump scares, monsters, and murderers everywhere.” Whether or not the reviews are positive, one thing is for sure: Villains bring in the big bucks — and that’s true for comic book sales, too. In April, several villain- and former-villain-centric series made

« Colin Dungan (@infinitepolygoncosplay) cosplays as the Joker. Photo: cosbotphotography

it into the list of top 50 comic books sold in North America, according to John Jackson Miller, curator at Comichron. Batman Who Laughs, which is a villainous version of Batman, took third place, and Thanos No. 1 took seventh place. The Web of Venom: Cult of Carnage followed in ninth place, while Venom No. 13 took 18th place, and Star Wars: Vader Dark Visions No. 3 ranked 43rd. Miller believes these comics achieved high sales because fans want to explore the characters’ lives and motivations. “[As] villains have grown more three dimensional, people want to know what makes them tick. And, of course, they’re able to act in ways that more heroic characters are unwilling to, which makes them seem edgier.”

Kari Snow (@kariselle) as Harley Quinn. Photo: Francisco Rivera (@graceandshinephoto)

SYMPATHY AND EMPATHY PLAY STARRING ROLES But how can someone so evil be so appealing? Villains are — as Shrek says — like onions: They have layers. Their origin stories, especially the way they’re written in recent years, are complicated, and the reasons they choose to sway toward the dark side can make their malicious and wily crimes understandable. This leads fans to sympathize with them on a deeper level. Nevers, whose go-to villain cosplay is DC’s Deadshot, explains that villains sometimes have more depth than heroes, with storylines that dive into a dark past that draws them to commit horrendous acts. This is why Heath Ledger’s the Joker from the 2008 The Dark Knight trilogy is considered to be one of the best villains in movie history. “We understood how he operated. I think there’s a line in that movie where Batman asks Alfred [about] the agent of chaos theory. Alfred says that some people just like to watch the world burn, and that kind of unhinged characteristic in a villain makes for unpredictability,” Nevers says. Sympathy connects us to villains with heartbreaking backstories, such as Maleficent in the live-action Disney film, who turned to the dark side after King Stefan — Aurora’s father — made his ambition a priority over their love. In order to become king, he drugs Maleficent, guardian of the Moors, and cuts off her wings to present to the dying king, takes over the throne, and marries Princess Leila. In response, Maleficent turns the Moors into a dark realm, and then the story of Sleepy Beauty begins. Who wouldn’t want revenge after a brutal betrayal/breakup like that? Nevers brings up the more recent example of Erik Killmonger from Marvel’s Black Panther, which premiered last year. Ulysses Klaue and his cronies attacked Wakanda and forced Killmonger’s father, Prince N’Jobu, to join them. When Wakanda defeated Klaue, King T’Chaka killed N’Jobu and exiled his family as punishment for his betrayal. When he becomes an adult, Killmonger takes revenge against T’Chaka and his family; dethrones the king’s son and successor, T’Challa/Black Panther; and rules Wakanda with an iron fist. “Even though he’s the villain with evil intentions, [his storyline] was emotionally riveting because you can understand how someone can be driven to commit these acts, to take this stand, and to take this side. It makes more of an emotional, moral dilemma for the hero in the end,” Nevers explains. And because of their many flaws, sometimes the villains are easier to relate to than the heroes. Fans, who as humans can make mistakes and have the potential to turn dark, are drawn

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FANDOM FEATURE to villains, who are now complex characters. Viewers can watch these origin stories turn ordinary people into sinister beings. T. Makana Chock, the David J. Levidow Professor at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University, explains, “As fallible humans, we identify with their struggle. We may see, or project, some of our own decisions or struggle into a villain’s path to the dark side. Villains may provide audiences with a vicarious outlet for their own revenge fantasies. The villains’ actions can provide audiences with a cathartic outlet for resentment or anger at those who have bullied or abused them.”

VILLAINOUS COSPLAY While superheroes have major roles in the cosplay scene, villains are arguably just as popular. Photo shoots, conventions, and other cosplay community events are never complete without a raft of colorful villains. The same connection between superheroes and villains seen in movies applies to cosplay: You can’t have one without the other. Fans can interpret the backstory and historical depictions of each villain in creative ways through costume building and acting. Whether they nailed the original look or “traced” and built on the original — the way Nevers does — posing with the opposing hero remains a priority to bring the character to life. According to Colin Dungan — a New York-based artist and Joker cosplayer — it’s also fun to play out dastardly characters in an acceptable setting. Being bad isn’t typically socially acceptable, but cosplayers can go to a venue, portray a villain, and feel confident doing so. “There’s a big aspect of cosplay of having the opportunity to be somebody else, be more of yourself when you think those parts are not socially acceptable, or you don’t know how to express yourself. It gives a route for people to expand that with this type of expression,” he says. This love for villainy and self-expression translates into increased sales for character costumes. According to Rich Tinari, sales manager at Rubie’s Costume Co., the company’s villain costumes see a major bump in sales when the character’s look and persona stand out. While the company’s superhero costumes are its bestsellers, villain outfits still perform well if the movie was a box-office hit and the character has a stand-out clothing design and colorful personality. However, if the villain from the movie is downright malicious, the costume won’t be as popular. Rubie’s’ top sellers for villain costumes are Thanos and his Infinity Stone Gauntlet, the classic Darth Vader, the Joker, and Harley Quinn with all of her accessories. Tinari says these costumes perform the best because fans love the characters.

With Hasbro’s Legends Series Infinity Gauntlet, fans can harness the ultimate power of the Infinity Stones and make the choice between good and evil.

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Rocco Nevers built his Deadshot outfit as part of a web series about four or five years ago, but consistently tweaks it to improve the look. Photo: Justin Laboy

“Villains can be very colorful characters with big personalities,” he explains. “They are charismatic and smart. [They] go outside the boundaries of acceptable society, and that appeals to those who would want to break from the mold.” As long as there are superhero movies and series around, there will always be a villain within them to match the hero’s strengths. In the same way, there will always be mega-fans of their stories who want to share that appreciation with others. While villains may be defeated in the stories, they will live on through fans’ creative expression — and especially through cosplay.

BRINGING HOME THE VILLAIN EXPERIENCE Products and merch are a major aspect of being a mega-fan. Fans want to experience what they see on-screen in their own lives. The toy industry has always jumped at the chance to build fan pride and create the perfect merchandise for collectors’ shelves. With the success of the villain genre in movies, TV, and comic books, there’s no surprise that the toy industry reaps the benefits of that success. The release of Avengers: Infinity War last year regenerated a love for one of the most epic Marvel villains of all time, Thanos, who first appeared in Marvel comics in 1973. Hasbro “jumped at the opportunity to bring Thanos’ Infinity Gauntlet to life in 2018 with a full-size, premium, role-play Marvel Legends version,” says Ryan Ting, senior manager of global brand development and marketing for Hasbro. Ting believes that the idea of wielding the power of the Infinity Stones drove the Infinity Gauntlet’s success last year. Hasbro created

the toy for both displaying and playing, which created a wide appeal for collectors and young fans. “In addition to premium sculpting and paint deco, the five individually articulated fingers, six light-up Infinity Stones, and authentic movie sound effects give fans the sense of total control. There is also a lock mode for displaying the gauntlet either open-handed or in a closed fist, so it will look impressive anywhere!” German game and toy company Ravensburger used a similar concept in its award-winning Disney Villainous board game. The strong fan base for Disney’s characters — including the passionate fans at Ravensburger — inspired the company to design a game in which players try to hatch the most villainous scheme and foil their opponents’ plans by playing Hero cards. Players step into the mind of villain and try to relate to their circumstances during gameplay. “By creating a game where the bad guys are the main characters, we have turned the tables from what is expected. We wanted to disrupt and offer something unexpected, yet super authentic,” says Filip Francke, CEO of Ravensburger America. This passion helped Ravensburger

sell more than 350,000 copies of Disney Villainous in less than a year. The game also won the coveted Toy of the Year award in the games category at Toy Fair New York this year. Francke saw this as a major surprise. “Ravensburger has been nominated five times before, but we had never won — and Villainous is not the typical type of game that wins this prize. From what we know, this might have been the first time a licensed game walked home with the title,” he says. Villains are necessary for driving the plots of fan-favorite TV shows, comic books, and movies. Fans will continue to take pride in their love for these pivotal characters, and companies will show love in their own ways by putting out must-have products based on the bad guys. ✪

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Victoria Rosenthal is an editorial assistant for the Pop Insider, the Toy Book, and the Toy Insider. She reports on pop culture and fandom news and trends, writes reviews on hot toys on the market, and assists with all editorial and office needs. She also helps the Toy Insider’s editors organize toy showcases for TV news programs across the U.S. and Canada, including ABC World News Now, Good Morning America, Today, and Fox and Friends.






300 Todd McFarlane celebrates Spawn’s 300th issue and looks toward what’s to come.

by Ali Mierzejewski, editor-in-chief

Todd McFarlane created Spawn when he was a teenager trying to break into the comic book industry. Now, decades later, McFarlane is gearing up for a historical celebration: Issue No. 300. THEPOPINSIDER.COM | #FuelYourFandom | 53



odd McFarlane’s Spawn is set for a historic celebration next month as it breaks the record for the longest-running creator-owned comic book in the world with its 300th and 301st issues. Spawn is a monthly comic book, with hundreds of millions of copies sold worldwide in more than 120 countries and 15 different languages. Spawn debuted in 1992, selling 1.7 million copies — an unprecedented feat in independent comics. In addition to more comics, Spawn has since expanded into action figures, film, and animation. Spawn No. 300 will be a 72-page, full-color comic book, celebrating 27 years and counting, of the hit independent series starring Albert Francis “Al” Simmons as the titular character. “Man, 300 ties the record, 301 breaks the record,” says Todd McFarlane, Spawn creator and Image Comics president. “So, what we’re gonna end up doing is: 300 is gonna end in a cliffhanger, right? So, to finish the story for 300, you have to then go finish reading it in the history-setting book.” DAVID VS. GOLIATH Spawn is published by Image Comics, founded in 1992 by a collective of artists, which has since grown to be one of the largest comics publishers in the U.S. In addition to McFarlane, Robert Kirkman, Erik Larsen, Marc Silvestri, Jim Valentino, and Eric Stephenson sit on its board. Although Image is now a larger company, the fact that it’s not a huge corporation allows McFarlane to keep a creative hand in Spawn, and plays a big part in its success. “It’s almost a business story,” McFarlane says. “ … Why did an individual have the drive to go against the giants of his industry and be able to survive for decades and is still in charge of that process decades later? … When I pull back the microscope that’s sort of the bigger story. I don’t care what you want to do — you want to make widgets, you want to make glass windows, you want to make anything clothing, designer, I don’t care — the big [companies], they’re gonna tell you ‘no,’ you have to do it their way, and that’s just not true.” While McFarlane spent time working at bigger publishers, such as DC and Marvel,

Spawn lives in a much smaller home, which allows it to remain creator-owned. Although it doesn’t have the numbers that Spider-Man or Batman comics may have, Spawn has a substantial group of loyal fans that allows it to co-exist alongside these bigger companies. Spawn No. 300 cover by Todd McFarlane

“To me, the story here isn’t how David took on Goliath, the story here is ... why can’t Goliath kill David?”

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“From time to time, you get stories in all industries where people from the outside, or rebels, or whatever you want to call them, just go, ‘No, I’m just gonna do it on my own’ and succeed,” he says. “To me, the story here isn’t how David took on Goliath, the story here is … why can’t Goliath kill David?” And that’s just it: Goliath can’t. Even 300 issues later, McFarlane has big plans for Al Simmons, taking the character and his story to

a new level. He understands the advantages of being the David, and how those traits are what help Spawn to succeed. “The corporations move slow, so they don’t adapt. The advantage of being small at any time … is you ask me to do something today and in 24 hours, 48 at the most, I’ll tell you whether I can do it. If the answer is, ‘Yes I can do it,’ we’re already going to be starting working on it. That fast. Right? So, we’re nimble and we’re flexible, and that gives us — at times — an advantage to survive,” he says. As far as the fans go, McFarlane says that when you’re a smaller fan base, each fan’s opinion holds more weight. Citing properties like Spider-Man, he talks about how the opinions of 100 fans are insignificant when you have 1 billion fans. But if you have closer to 3,000 fans, the opinions of those 100 is important. “I think that for smaller-scaled companies, fan and customer influence is a vital to making sure that you’re always staying as relevant as you can,” McFarlane says. The longevity of Spawn is also due in part to McFarlane’s creative process, and how that translates to his creative team. WHAT WOULD TEENAGE TODD DO? No. 300 will boast an impressive lineup of comic creators, including McFarlane himself, Greg Capullo (Batman), current Spawn artist Jason Shawn Alexander, Todd McFarlane, 1991 fan-favorite J. Scott Campbell (Danger Girl, Spider-Man), rising star Jerome Opeña (Uncanny X-Force, Seven to Eternity) and bestselling writer Scott Snyder (Batman, Metal, Wytches). In addition to being a hefty book, the title will feature 12 covers by McFarlane, Capullo, Campbell, Opeña, and Alexander, including gorgeous black-and-white “Artist Edition” variants showcasing the original, inked artwork of both Capullo and McFarlane. “I close my eyes and I try to channel the 15-year-old Todd McFarlane, and the 15-yearold Todd McFarlane was super geeky, loved comic books, loved geeky stuff, and didn’t have a lot of money in his pocket and wanted to be entertained … ,” McFarlane says. “When I talk to some of the guys who are on

it — J Scott Campbell and Greg [Capullo] and [Jerome] Opeña — then they go, ‘What do you want the covers to look like?’ And I go, ‘Close your eyes, remember your 15-yearold self. That’s when you all started collecting comic books, and draw the cover that would f—ing be the coolest to that kid.’” “I’m not giving you any more direction than that,” he adds. “If you can channel that, I’ll love it.” While creating comics is always a team effort, these big, historical issues are some of the most collaborative projects yet for McFarlane and his team of creatives. While Spawn is ultimately his creation, it’s important to McFarlane that the team is enjoying what they’re doing — and truly working together. McFarlane noted that as a writer, he looks to what his artists are interested in or like drawing and then he’ll write the story around that. “If you say, ‘I like elephants, trees, and rocketships,’ give me a couple pages and I’ll come up with some kind of story that’ll have all three of those elements,” he says. “I’ll make sure the rocketship crashes in Africa with a bunch of trees near some herd of elephants or something, … we’ll get there.” This sort of work flow is just another benefit of the comic being creator-owned. It’s special attention that you couldn’t get from

a bigger publishing company. It keeps the creative team interested in the books, which is important — especially for a story that’s 300 issues in. By keeping the staff, and himself, engaged, McFarlane ensures that he’s producing content that will keep Spawn fans coming back for more. “I’m still the guy who created him in issue one, and I’m still the guy writing at issue 300,” McFarlane says. “And this is where I’m gonna get a little selfish: For me, Todd McFarlane, to still be excited to continue doing Spawn comics, I have to entertain myself and evolve the character along the way because if I keep writing the same five stories I did in [the first five] issues then the repetition — at least for a guy like me — is going to drive me stark-raving mad.” So, what’s next for Spawn? “We’re going to hit a bit of a turning point here at 300,” McFarlane says. “He’s gonna have a very, very focused mission of what he’s about to do. I would say that up until issue 300 — especially all the way almost up to 250, but for sure all the way up to 300 — he’s been sort of a passive participant in his life for the most part, he just wants to be left alone, … but he’s now at the point where that’s going to flip.” One thing is for sure: Al Simmons’ journey isn’t ending anytime soon. ✪

SPAWN AT SDCC Fans at Comic-Con International: San Diego (SDCC) can join in the celebrations, too. At the Road to Historic Spawn 300 & 301 panel, fans can get up close and personal with McFarlane and other members of the creative team as they take a look into Spawn’s past, reveal new artwork, offer giveaways, and more. The panel, hosted by Image Comics, will take place in Room 5AB from 1:45-2:45 p.m. on Sunday, July 21. Plus, fans can get a sneak peek into the launch of the new Spawn merchandise program, which is an event exclusive program for this year. Visit the Image Comics Booth No . 1915 for a first look. The line includes pretty standard merch fare, such as T-shirts, lapel pins, and hats. It also includes a Spawn figure, but it’s unlike the intricately detailed figures you’re used to seeing from McFarlane Toys, the product branch of McFarlane’s brands. “[It’s a] little cute, little fat, little dumpy Spawn. I’ve done 20 of the well-proportioned ones, [this is a] little, cute, adorable one,’” McFarlane says.


COMIC-CON ALL YEAR LONG The Comic-Con Museum comes to Balboa Park in 2021.


ans wait all year for Comic-Con International: San Diego, hustling to take in as much geeky goodness and star power as possible in just four days. But what if you didn't have to wait? The Pop Insider’s Marissa DiBartolo caught up with Comic-Con Museum Executive Director Adam Smith to learn more about the new pop-culture destination. Pop Insider: What inspired the Comic-Con Museum, and what will it provide to the San Diego community? Adam Smith: For many years, Comic-Con International considered having some kind of museum or gallery that featured comic and popular art. In 2016, it was notified by the City of San Diego that a museum location might become available in Balboa Park. It’s an iconic place in San Diego and that type of opportunity that doesn't come along often. 56 | Issue No. 4 | THE POP INSIDER

After much careful discussion, the Comic-Con board of directors decided to do it. There’s a great deal of excitement about the project in the San Diego community. The city feels a sense of civic pride in Comic-Con; the annual convention is an important part of the local tourism economy and projects a positive image of San Diego across the whole world. The museum is seen as a way of extending this positive impact throughout the whole year.

PI: Why is Balboa Park the right place for the museum? AS: It’s hard to think of a better location for a museum. Balboa Park is the cultural heart of San Diego, like Central Park and the Smithsonian rolled up into one amazing place that attracts more than 20 million visitors per year. There are already 17 other museums and galleries here, plus the world-famous San Diego Zoo and more than 1,000 acres of beautiful public park. PI: How will the museum extend the influence of Comic-Con International: San Diego year-round? AS: Although the footprint of the museum is smaller than the vast San Diego Convention Center, we have the benefit of much more

time. Comic-Con is open for about 50 hours per year; the museum will be open for more than 5,000. We’re designing it as an awesome place to visit for pop culture fans, local families, schoolchildren, tourists, and the like. Don’t imagine it as a static museum with exhibits that never change; we’ll have the ability to rotate exhibits constantly and provide an ongoing stream of events, programs, panels, screenings, and so on. Our vision is not just a museum during regular daytime hours. We’ll be a very special entertainment venue at nighttime, too, with more emphasis on food, drink, music, and adult-oriented programming. Over time, we want people to understand the Comic-Con Museum as a place that is deeply committed to education. One of the three floors in our building will be dedicated to educational programming, with high-tech studios and art classrooms. We have a huge opportunity to stimulate a love of learning in young people that impacts areas such as STEM, literacy, the arts, and career readiness. PI: Why is Batman the perfect character for the inaugural Character Hall of Fame? AS: We wanted to create a Hall of Fame that honors the characters that our fans know and love. Batman felt like a good starting point, he’s one of a relatively small handful

of characters who could be considered a “no brainer” for such a thing. The Caped Crusader checks every conceivable box in terms of longevity, mass appeal, global impact, reach across different forms of media, and so on. A truly iconic character, if ever there were. There will certainly be many more future entries in the Character Hall of Fame, but we needed to start somewhere, and with this being the 80th anniversary of Batman, he felt like an appropriate place to begin. PI: How can fans contribute funds? AS: Creating a world-class Museum does cost money, and we have a capital fundraising campaign underway. Comic-Con (a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization) contributed the first $11 million, and the City of San Diego recently allocated $3.5 million toward building repairs. A variety of programs are underway to raise the remaining $24 million needed, including special events, grants, and more. We created a Charter Membership for fans to show their support, and more than 12,000 people have already joined. There are different membership levels, starting at just $10. At the $50 level, members receive free general admission for the first 12 months after the museum opens in 2021. For more information, visit ✪

“As one of the world’s greatest and most timeless heroes, Batman’s inaugural induction into the Comic-Con Museum Character Hall of Fame is a testament to the character’s legacy, not just as one of the earliest comic book heroes, but as a cultural icon that continues to inspire fans around the world with hope, bravery, and justice.”

— Benjamin Le Clear, DC Archivist

Comic-Con surveyed 24,000 Comic-Con attendees to gather input and ideas for the museum to help ensure it meets the needs and interests of fans. Photo: Comic-Con

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Our friendly neighborhood superhero takes on Europe — and new threats — in Spider-Man: Far From Home. by Maddie Michalik, senior editor

We’re in the post-Endgame now. Spider-Man: Far From Home officially closed out the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s (MCU) Infinity Saga as the last movie in Phase Three. And consider this your warning: If you still didn’t see Avengers: Endgame yet, then skip ahead and enjoy some non-spoilery products on the opposite page! With great timing comes great responsibility: Far From Home was the first MCU movie after the big conclusion of Endgame. After Avengers: Infinity War, the fate of Peter Parker (Tom Holland) was originally unknown (hello, Thanos’ snap) as he was dusted along with half of the population. The new film deals with the aftermath of the events of Endgame, in which Tony Stark, AKA Iron Man, sacrifices himself — and the opportunity to live with his new family — to defeat Thanos once and for all. Peter decides to join Ned (Jacob Batalon), MJ (Zendaya), and the rest of the gang on a European vacation for a few weeks. When the first trailer premiered in January, fans speculated that the movie could be a prequel to Spider-Man: Homecoming, but it turns out that even Earth’s mightiest heroes need to go on vacation — especially after Peter’s world was turned upside down. Peter ghosts Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and sends him to voicemail, but we all know that nobody can ingore Fury forever. Peter’s plans to leave his super heroics behind in New York fall short: You can imagine his surprise when Fury shows up in his room while he is brushing his teeth. It’s time for Spider-Man to step up without the help of Iron Man for the first time; he teams up with Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal) — who hails from a different reality — to uncover several mysterious, elemental creature attacks throughout the continent, including those from Molten and Hydro. Holland, Zendaya, Jon Favreau (Happy Hogan), Batalon, Martin Starr (Mr. Harrington), and Marisa Tomei (May Parker) reprise their roles from Spider-Man: Homecoming. Jackson and Cobie Smulders (Maria Hill) join the cast, and Gyllenhaal and JB Smoove (Mr. Bell) make their MCU debuts. With a bunch of teenagers in Europe surrounded by helpless chaperones, what could possibly go wrong? Spider-Man: Far From Home is now playing in theaters everywhere. ✪ 58 | Issue No. 4 | THE POP INSIDER


Our Spidey senses are tingling for new products based on Spider-Man: Far From Home.


Team up with Happy Hogan, Nick Fury, Mysterio, and Spider-Man for an aerial battle in this 504-piece construction set. The buildable Stark Jet airplane has two stud shooters, adjustable wings, and an opening hatch. The set includes four Marvel Universe minifigures: Happy Hogan, Nick Fury, Spider-Man, and Mysterio. MSRP: $69.99 | Available: mass retailers

MARVEL SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME 6-INCH CONCEPT SERIES ACTION FIGURE ASSORTMENT HASBRO This assortment of Spider-Man movie feature figures is inspired by the characters in the film. Each figure features multiple points of articulation for poseable action. Characters in this assortment include Glider Gear Spider-Man, Molten, Mysterio, and more. MSRP: $9.99 each Available: mass retailers

MARVEL SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME STEALTH SUIT FLIP UP MASK HASBRO Gear up like Peter Parker with this black stealth mask, featuring a design inspired by one of the suits Spider-Man wears in the new movie. The mask includes flip-up, expressive eyes. MSRP: $14.99 Available: mass retailers


With a new Spider-Man movie comes new responsibility suits. Collect all of these new super-stylized Funko POP! figures, including Spider-Man in his hero, stealth, and upgraded suits; Mysterio with his helmet off; and MJ armed with a mace and definitely not to be messed with. MSRP: $12.50 each | Available: Amazon, Hot Topic

ADULT SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME DELUXE SPIDER-MAN RED/ BLUE SUIT COSTUME RUBIE’S COSTUME CO. Be super trendy at all of the cons with the newest Spider-Man look. This deluxe costume — which features a padded, red-and-blue costume jumpsuit with attached boot tops and a fabric mask — is the perfect way to celebrate the new Spider-Man movie. MSRP: $49.99-52.99 Available: Amazon,

THEPOPINSIDER.COM | #FuelYourFandom | 59


Mauricio Abril’s recipe for artistic success includes a little superhero, a dash of whimsy, and a lot of kindness.

"Nap Time"

60 | Issue No. 4 | THE POP INSIDER


auricio Abril had it all worked out: He’d study molecular biology in college, work toward a master’s degree, and eventually earn a Ph.D. At least, that was the plan — and you know what they say about those. Thanks to a little bit of intuition, Abril decided to slow his roll and take a step back. The Pop Insider’s Sierra McCleary-Harris spoke with Abril about how he made the transition from scientist to concept artist for some of the entertainment industry’s biggest names, how he’s just a big kid at heart, and what’s next. Pop Insider: Tell me a bit about your background and your rather drastic shift from molecular biology to illustration. Did you wake up one day and decide to pursue art out of the blue? Mauricio Abril: As a kid, I always drew and felt like I was artistically inclined, but I never was exposed to the realities of pursuing art. Growing up as a kid in the ‘80s, I didn’t know what you could do as an artist. ... So I never pursued it. In high school and college was when I really started to fall in love with science, and I’ve always felt like I’ve had an analytical side to myself, too. I thought, “OK, I’m going to go to grad school and get a Ph.D.” Around the end of college, I started to just have this kind of creative voice inside of me that was saying, “You don’t want to do science, you don’t want to do science.” I finished [school], but I didn’t end up applying to any grad schools. I took a couple of years to just work, and I eventually started sketching again. I thought, “Maybe I can go back to school for art. If I can get into school, then I’ll go.” And once I got in I was like, “OK, as long as I don’t flunk out and I see that all signs point to yes, then I’ll keep going.” Thankfully, they’ve continued to point to yes so far, so now I’m an artist/illustrator — and loving it. PI: It’s one thing to be interested in something, and quite another to make a career

of it. How’d you get started? MA: The school I went to — ArtCenter College of Design, which is based up here in Pasadena, California — is one of the top design schools in the country. I still tell this to people and I stand by it: I went to UCLA for science. I studied molecular biology. I graduated with virtually straight As. I was doing research at the time, working in a research lab. I was involved in student groups and had a fun time. So, I wasn’t taking my college experience lightly and slacking, but ArtCenter was far harder than anything I’d done at UCLA. It’s essentially a trade school, but it kicks your butt so that your work and

" It really starts with the idea and the concept. If that's not strong, it's like a good movie without any story: just all spectacle. " your professional appearance, the way you present yourself to the world, are at a certain level. Right around 2010, I got my first official freelance job. ... At the time, I had a blog. That’s how I got my first job, which was awesome. It was for a video game company based out of Chicago. The great thing about that experience for me was that it validated everything I had done in school. I was able to get some work from my website, as well as from interviews. The great thing about ArtCenter is that they have these recruiting events for their graduating students. They invite companies and, because of the relationship the school has with the

industry, a lot of representatives come. That’s kind of how my freelance career started. I eventually got a job in-house at Disney Interactive, and I stayed there for about a year before moving on to other things. PI: How does your science background inform your art? MA: They’re not in separate boxes. My science background definitely has been a big part of my professional career. I’m assuming the stuff [people] probably know me for is the stuff I’ve posted online, which is really what I do in my personal time for fun and to share with people. But for my professional career, I would call myself a concept artist. It involves a lot of research and putting A and B to equal C, which is essentially science. It’s the analytical process. The thing a lot of people don’t realize is that science is inherently creative, too. I remember watching the old Cosmos series with Carl Sagan and him talking about how these ancient Greek scientists figured out that the Earth is round by using shadows and sticks. That’s creative. PI: How has your work evolved over time? MA: Somebody asked me once to communicate what my voice is in a sentence, ... and it’s basically portraying the kind of optimism and whimsy of the world through the lens of childhood and imagination. My work now is very much about capturing emotion and story, and mostly through an optimistic point of view. A lot of the superhero stuff that I do for fun tends to blend that. But coming out of school, I was still exploring. I always tell my students that just because you finish school doesn’t mean you’ve learned everything you need to learn. I was continuing to fill in the gaps in my education afterward. Eventually, I started to notice a trend with my work where I was usually showcasing ideas through the lens of childhood. PI: Why is childhood your preferred lens? MA: The funny thing is that it wasn’t so conscious or intentional. I just started to notice that that’s just naturally what I gravitated toward. When I self-reflected on that, I realized that I’m honestly just a big kid at heart. I’m in my mid-30s now, but ... my living room with my girlfriend looks like a comic book slash toy store because of all the stuff that we have up and out. THEPOPINSIDER.COM | #FuelYourFandom | 61


"Little Leias"

Mauricio Abril

"Time Machine"


62 | Issue No. 4 | THE POP INSIDER

"Super Dad"

Thankfully, I’ve never lost the connection to my childhood, which was overall fun and positive, and to the idea that life could be so much better if we were just a little bit nicer to each other, a little bit happier. Not to say that I don’t enjoy more adult content with violence and action and things like that, but the stuff that I do tends to just be more about making people smile. PI: What artists or illustrators inspire you? MA: Norman Rockwell was big in my development when I was in art school. ... I do remember when I had a class that really showcased his level of storytelling in an image, and that’s when I started taking my storytelling seriously. A teacher once [said] every square inch of a Rockwell is useful to the overall story of that painting, and I thought, “Wow, that’s amazing.” So I’ve always kind of taken that to heart, and I try to infuse as much story in every aspect of my pieces because of that. A lot of people, at cons especially, tell me that my work reminds them of Pixar. So I guess from a visual point of view, I’m not necessarily influenced by one artist as much as just the collective field of animation. If I had to pick one artist who represents that, he works for Disney. He’s a production designer. I’ve never met him, but his name is Paul Felix. As a student, I definitely looked up to his work a lot, and still do. PI: Who has had the largest impact on you as an artist? MA: I’d have to say my mom. While I’m not necessarily thinking about my mom when I’m doing these pieces, ... when I was a little kid, she got me this poster. She still has it. Basically, it says, “If you smile to everyone you’ll be happy,” something to that effect. I had that poster by my bed when I was a kid growing up. I was actually thinking about that poster a little while ago. I can’t help but imagine that that didn’t have some [influence on] my overall life and demeanor. She didn’t do anything specifically to help me make art, but just that indescribable amount of support that I know that other people don’t have? I know it had to have contributed to my ability to do what I do. PI: You’re also a teacher. What have you learned from your students?

MA: I view art as this kind of ethereal thing that’s greater than any person. Like music or math, it exists. And one of the things that I just love about teaching is helping [students] understand that a little bit better. The other thing that I feel is infectious about teaching is kind of seeing their enthusiasm and passion for their ideas and their artistic goals for that specific illustration. I remember exactly how that felt as a student. It’s a nice reminder to really, really appreciate where I’ve been, and even where I am, and just keep working — to not be stagnant. PI: You’ve worked on everything from short films and theme park designs to illustration and books. What has been your favorite project? MA: I’m currently illustrating two children’s books for Simon & Schuster that are going to tie into an upcoming animated film. I’m currently in the process, ... so I can’t really say if the whole process will be a favorite, but what I like about that is ... when you’re doing a children’s book, the art is the end product. The art is the final, and it’s not about communicating design solutions as much as it’s meant to be art and communicate the emotion of the story. PI: How long do you typically spend working on a personal passion project? MA: If I ... get the idea immediately from the universe, then it could just be a couple of days. Other times, it could be months. ... There’s one piece that I’m really, really proud of that took me months to arrive at the idea, but ... once I had the idea, it just took me a couple of days to finish painting it. It’s a line of young girls in ballet class, and it’s really about one girl who doesn’t quite fit in. ... I always think about young kids who are forced to do things they don’t want to do, whether it’s sports or music or whatever. ... Especially because we’ve been talking a lot about the roles of gender in society as a whole, that speaks to me strongly. I’ve never really grown up identifying too much with the stereotypical guy stuff, but I wanted to portray ... a kid who is maybe playing against that kind of conformity and tradition. The first time I did a sketch, it looked completely different. I left it alone, and a couple of months later, I went at it again. And this time, I kind of saw the composi-

tion. I thought, OK, I’m going to have them be close up to the camera, and it’ll kind of mimic the fact that they’re all in line like little clones of each other, except for one, and she’s breaking the mold. PI: When was your first con? How did it feel to be there? MA: My first con was DesignerCon 2013 in Pasadena, California, and I only tried it half out of curiosity and half out of professional boredom. While I had a nice studio job as a concept artist, I lacked any sort of outlet for my own creative expression, and I thought exhibiting my work at a con might be something that would interest me. That first experience was honestly surreal. I didn’t feel like I quite belonged, and it felt so weird to be literally selling my own work instead of trying to sell myself as I had done so many times in an interview. PI: You published a book called Small Dogs. What was the idea behind it? Do you plan to create more long-form content? What’s next? MA: In terms of the long game for myself, I would love to publish — hopefully officially publish, but if not, I’ll keep self-publishing. I’m currently creating another children’s book that, just like Small Dogs, I’m trying to shop around. ... I developed a dummy, and I’m in the process of sending out queries to get representation for it to see what happens. I also have been working on a young adult novel that I want to write and embed with illustrations, kind of like the old Alice in Wonderland books. ... Basically, what I’d love for it to be is a young adult novel with illustrations interspersed throughout the book that are in color, and telling the story that I’ve been developing for the last year and a half. I guess you could call it historical fantasy. I’m super excited about that, and I’m trying to not get so much professional work so that I have more time to work on that. But I have to pay bills, so. ... I [want] to release a calendar before the end of the year that’s just original, cute art — kind of ideal for kids or kids at heart. ✪ WANT MORE? Visit for an extended, fandom-fueled version of the Q&A. Find out Abril's favorite comic book, whether he’s team Marvel or DC, and more.

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BRINGING HOLLYWOOD HOME SINCE ‘96 From Kenner to Comic-Con: The Continuing Saga of Digital Retail Pioneer Entertainment Earth

Harley Quinn Wittles Wooden Doll

by James Zahn, senior editor It started in the San Fernando Valley. Like many tech companies, it was a group of guys with a small office, a garage, and a dream. For Jason Labowitz and his brother Aaron, that dream was to help collectors find and purchase something they hadn’t seen in stores for nearly a decade — new Kenner Star Wars action figures. Following the discontinuation of the Power of the Force line in 1985, Labowitz was among the most enthusiastic collectors to learn that Kenner, now a division of Hasbro, was relaunching the famed, 3.75-inch action figure line for a new generation. To borrow from Resistance pilot Poe Dameron in Star Wars: The Last Jedi, the pending launch of a new Power of the Force collection — dubbed “POTF2” by collectors — was the spark that lit the flame to create an empire. On April 1, 1996, Entertainment Earth (EE) launched online. For a new website selling toys online in the age of dial-up service, finding an audience should’ve been a crapshoot, but the orders started rolling in. In an era when few people even had an internet connection, EE became a pioneer that sold

toys online before Walmart, Target, Amazon, and Toys “R” Us (TRU). And in many ways, traditional retailers are still playing catch up to where EE has always been. “Besides the epic shift from brick-andmortar to online sales, we’ve thankfully seen a shift that includes toys being developed and marketed as collectibles to adults, instead of just to kids,” says Labowitz, now president and co-founder of EE, looking back on what’s changed during the past 20 years. “Studios and toy manufacturers alike are highlighting this sector of the toy industry, which makes the job we’ve always done easier.” That job includes publishing a regular print catalog to support online sales. “EE has always been an important part of our business and the specialty market as a whole,” says Randy Falk, director of product development at NECA. “While so much of the collectibles market has moved to online exclusively, the EE catalog is a welcome throwback — always fun to thumb through and see what is spotlighted.” Although it was a competitor to an

"While so much of the collectibles market has moved to online exclusively, the EE catalog is a welcome throwback — always fun to thumb through and see what is spotlighted.” — RANDY FALK, DIRECTOR OF PRODUCT DEVELOPMENT, NECA

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extent, like most of the toy industry, EE was hit by the swift collapse and closure of TRU last year — but in a very unique way. For events such as Comic-Con International: San Diego (SDCC), EE and TRU were partners and offered shared exclusives. And EE, which also operates a wholesale arm, was selling product to TRU. Last July, nearly a full month after the last TRU location closed in the U.S., EE was in full swing at SDCC, greeting collectors at its massive, two-level booth. The company offered sought-after exclusives from top brands, such as Funko and Loungefly; an exclusive Voltron from Playmates Toys; a trio of limited-edition variants for DC Collectibles’ Artists Alley Batman by Chris Uminga; and the U.S. debut of Wow! Stuff’s Harry Potter Mystery Flying Snitch. Additionally, EE debuted an in-house, exclusive Pin Mates figure of Hamilton’s Lin-Manuel Miranda (and dog, Tobi), and played host to guests including Tommy Thayer and Eric Singer of KISS, Deadpool creator Rob Liefeld, and cast members from Showtime’s cult hit Twin Peaks throughout the weekend. When fans left the booth, they carried their new collectibles in tote bags that bore the EE logo on one side and the TRU logo on the other — prompting some other attendees to ask, “Where’d you get the bag?” “This summer should be huge for us in terms of our SDCC presence and exclusive offerings,” Labowitz says. “July was our biggest month last year, and this July is going to be even bigger and better.” At the EE booth (No. 2343) at SDCC this year, fans will be the first to purchase exclusives and convention debuts as a new collaboration is unveiled. Fans will receive

vehicles, and attention to detail are just fun to have.” More than 23 years after receiving its first shipments of Star Wars figures at a garage in Los Angeles, EE is one of Hasbro’s top retailers, regularly offering collectors the opportunity to buy — with a “mint condition guarantee” — toys and collectibles that would be hard to come by anywhere else. Shipping from Simi Valley, California, EE carries items from thousands of vendors, often serving as a preorder partner for new toys an-

nounced at events, such as Toy Fair New York and Star Wars Celebration. The retailer is also one of the first places to get everything from the latest Pop! Vinyl figures from Funko to what EE touts as “really expensive stuff.” EE has every base covered, from premium action figures from NECA and Mezco to high-end statues from Diamond Select and WETA Workshop, and even prop replicas from Anovos and Factory Entertainment. Also, this October will see Triple Force Friday, a new toy launch that will appropriately bring it all back to the franchise that started it all for EE: Star Wars. “I’m personally excited about products for The Mandalorian,” Labowitz says. “While the focus this fall will be on Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker and Frozen 2, our sector will be particularly interested in the limited availability arising from the inaugural show on Disney+.” As it approaches the quarter-century mark, Entertainment Earth continues to evolve, riding the waves of what collectors want and need today — with sights set on catering to pop culture enthusiasts for many years to come. ✪


a “Target x Entertainment Earth Collectors Unite” tote bag and a Bullseye limited-edition collectible enamel pin with any purchase, while supplies last. Additionally, Funko created a larger-than-life, 5-foot tall Pop! Statue of Bullseye, perfect for photo ops. Like last year, EE will host free celebrity signings and offer giveaways, including the popular badge ribbons. This will be a massive year fueled by an explosion of licensed products. One hot item arrived early on, a reproduction of a Happy Days-themed tin lunch box featuring Arthur “The Fonz” Fonzarelli. Crossing fandoms, the lunch box — developed in house via EE’s Bif Bang Pow! division — was featured onscreen in a climactic scene in Marvel Studios’ Captain Marvel. Labowitz says the company is looking forward to new offerings based on Spider-Man: Far From Home and X-Men: Dark Phoenix, too. This spring, EE collaborated with Funko on exclusive Avengers: Endgame Pop! Vinyl figures paired with exclusive trading cards. They sold out in just 48 hours. Labowitz notes that anime is on the rise, with properties including My Hero Academia and Dragon Ball Z picking up stream. Additionally, DC and Warner Bros. are looking strong for the months ahead, driven by the Batman 80th-anniversary celebration and growing popularity for some horror icons, including Annabelle and Pennywise from IT. While many collectibles are destined to be showpieces, there are also some great new toys that are truly playable for cross-generational fun. Labowitz says he likes seeing more licensed products coming from Playmobil. “Ghostbusters and How to Train Your Dragon [play sets] are a great start,” he says. “There aren’t a lot of great play sets anymore, so Playmobil’s environments,

Left: Happy Days The Fonz Tin Tote Right: Deadpool Jack-in-the-Box SDCC Exclusive

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PINKY AND THE BRAIN RADIOACTIVE GLOW-IN-THE-DARK VINYL FIGURE KIDROBOT They were ready to take over the world, and now they’re here to take over your collection! This 8-inch figure captures the radioactive lab mice as they prepare to hatch their next diabolical scheme. MSRP: $49.99

RICK AND MORTY MR. MEESEEKS JACK-IN-THE-BOX AND WOODEN PUSH PUPPET / ENTERTAINMENT EARTH Turn the crank and watch Mr. Meeseeks pop out of the vintage-inspired tin box, or make him fall, get up, and fall down again as a floppy wooden push puppet. Inspired by the hit Adult Swim series. MSRP: $29.99 (Jack-in-the-Box); $8.99 (puppet)


Entertainment Earth is one of SDCC’s true rock stars — and sometimes they even bring actual rock stars to the booth (see: KISS). This year, the company brings more than 30 convention exclusives to its massive, double-decker booth, which also includes a photo op with a 5-foot Funko version of Target’s mascot, Spot! Here’s some of what you can expect in booth No. 2343.



Lin-Manuel Miranda gets his second Pin Mates figure, this time capturing him in his role as Usnavi — bodega owner and narrator of In the Heights.

Fans were so ready for this one, with online presales getting “snapped” up in a matter of hours. With a removable outfit and a ton of accessories, this figure pays tribute to the late Macho Man in one of his most iconic out-of-ring moments. Oh yeah! MSRP: $29.99

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KISS LOVE GUN 3.75-INCH ACTION FIGURE DELUXE BOX SET ENTERTAINMENT EARTH The popular, vintage-styled KISS action figures are back, this time in a deluxe box set that captures the band as they appeared on tour for their 1977 album, Love Gun. MSRP: $79.99

STAR WARS GEEKI TIKIS BEELINE CREATIVE The Force is strong with Beeline Creative’s Geeki Tikis this summer. From the reptilian bounty hunter Bossk to that old smoothie Lando, you can sip your favorite beverage in style! Raise one up with Rebel pilot Nien Nunb or Admiral Ackbar. Not a trap.



HASBRO ANNOUNCES NEW FORTNITE NERF BLASTERS Hasbro will expand its collaboration with Epic Games for Fortnite-inspired Nerf products this fall with a new wave of blasters. All of the new blasters will be available at most major toy retailers nationwide and will allow combatants ages 8 and up to engage in unlimited battle — no batteries required. With the single-shot Nerf Fortnite HC-E Mega Blaster, fans can load a dart into the barrel, move the slide to prime, and pull the trigger to fire. It comes with three official Nerf Mega darts for indoor and outdoor use. The Nerf Fortnite RL (rocket launcher) Blaster fires one big, fort-wrecking rocket at a time. Fans load a rocket into the front of the barrel, grasp the handle and push it forward to extend the barrel, and then pull the handle back to send the rocket blasting into the air. It comes with two official Nerf Fortnite Elite rockets. The Nerf Fortnite Microshots Assortment captures the look of full-sized blasters, but in a scrunched-down style. Blasters in the series two assortment include the AR-L, HC-R, and Battle Bus. Each blaster includes two official Nerf Elite darts and fires one dart at a time with hand-powered action. Load a dart into the front of the blaster, pull down the handle to prime, and pull the trigger to fire. The new Nerf Fortnite range will be available on Aug. 1 and is now available for preorder on Amazon. ✪

DC ENTERTAINMENT REFINES ITS PUBLISHING BRAND WITH THREE AGE-SPECIFIC LABELS Beginning next year, DC Entertainment will publish titles under three age-specific labels: DC Kids (ages 8 to 12, focusing on middle-grade readers), DC (ages 13 and up, the primary DC Comics universe), and DC Black Label (ages 17 and up). These three labels will absorb all existing DC imprints. The DC Ink and DC Zoom imprints were announced last year, focusing on young adult and middle-grade readers. The lines expanded greatly this year with an increased presence at comic book shops, book stores, and other specialty retailers. The extensive lineup from DC Ink and DC Zoom includes titles such as Ridley Pearson’s Super Sons series, and yet-to-be-published titles, such as the graphic novel adaptation of Marie Lu’s Batman: Nightwalker and Dear Justice League from Michael Northrop and Gustavo Duarte. For older readers, the new labeling strategy means the closure of the long-running Vertigo label, which brought forth fan-favorite titles — many of which have since been adapted for television, such as Preacher, iZombie, and Hellblazer. Titles will begin shipping under the new labels in January. ✪

The Hot Wheels Mario Kart collection — a partnership between Mattel and Nintendo — features an all-new range of die-cast vehicles and track sets that bring the long-running video game franchise to life by transforming the Karts into high-performance toy vehicles. Presented in classic 1:64-scale die-cast, the Hot Wheels Mario Kart vehicles are compatible with many existing Hot Wheels sets so that kids can race fan-favorite characters, such as Mario, Yoshi, Luigi, and Bowser, alongside their favorite traditional Hot Wheels vehicles. Additional characters, including Princess Peach, Koopa Troopa, and Toad, will join the line in future waves.

At launch, three game-inspired track sets will be available, including the Piranha Plant Slide Track Set, Thwomp Ruins Track Set, and the Hot Wheels Mario Kart Circuit Track Set. All items will be available at major retailers this summer. To launch the line, an exclusive Hot Wheels Metal Mario Kart die-cast vehicle will be offered at the Mattel booth at Comic-Con International: San Diego (SDCC) or through the Mattel Shop. ✪

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Disney's Descendants 3 brings new music, new stories, and new villains to love.


by Ali Mierzejewski, editor-in-chief

Disney’s Descendants movies are a modern-day saga of good versus evil. In the first film, we traveled to the United States of Auradon, set up by Queen Belle and King Beast after they banished all of the Disney villains and their families to the Isle of the Lost. However, their son Ben makes his first proclamation, allowing four teenage children of Disney’s most infamous villains to attend Auradon Prep. Here we meet our core four Villain Kids (or VKs) — Mal (daughter of Maleficent), Evie (daughter of the Evil Queen), Carlos (son of Cruella De Vil), and Jay (son of Jafar), who must ultimately choose whether to remain evil like their parents, or do good. The second movie finds us, once again, tangled up in relatable teenage plotlines —

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such as a Cotillion, jealousy, and balancing fitting in with being yourself — fused with a bit of fairytale magic — a battle on a pirate ship over a magical wand, love spells, more new VKs. In the third and newest installment, Mal, Evie, Carlos, and Jay head back to the Isle of the Lost to recruit more VKs to join them at Auradon Prep. Despite Mal’s efforts to permanently close the barrier between Auradon and the Isle of the Lost, a dark force threatens the safety of the people of Auradon — and it’s up to the VKs to save everyone in the most epic Descendants battle yet. Descendants 3, set for release on Aug. 2 at 8 p.m. EDT on Disney Channel and DisneyNOW, is the third movie in Disney’s smashhit franchise. Emmy- and DGA Award-winning Kenny Ortega (High School Musical) will direct, with Aladdin choreographer Jamal Sims to choreograph with Ortega. Dove Cameron (Mal), Cameron Boyce (Carlos), Sofia Carson (Evie), and Booboo Stewart (Jay) return to reprise their starring VK roles, with China Anne McClain returning as the villainous Uma, Ursula’s daughter. Cheyenne Jackson will also join the cast as Hades. There is no denying that the Descendants franchise is a global hit — the likes of which we haven’t seen from a made-for-TV movie franchise since High School Musical.

The first release from the Descendants 3 soundtrack, the opening “Good to Be Bad” number, has already amassed more than 8.5 million YouTube views since its debut on May 31. The music videos from the first two Descendants movies garnered more than 3 billion YouTube views and 1.3 billion audio streams. It’s evident that the music is a big part of what makes these movies such a hit. A general fusion of musical theater songs and pop hits, the soundtracks drive the films. Along with the stars who have become singing sensations themselves, Disney taps into wellknown Broadway talents, such as Jackson and Kristin Chenoweth (Maleficent in Descendants). Plus, the Descendants-inspired toys and merch combine the unique look of the characters — from Mal and Evie’s colorful hair to the fabulous, fairy tale-inspired costuming — with the music that fans love. Costumes from Disguise, craft kits from Make It Real, and a full fashion doll line from Hasbro inspire fans to be brave, bold, daring, and uniquely themselves. While Descendants teaches kids that the choice between being good or evil is ultimately up to them, the franchise’s popularity definitely proves that, sometimes, it’s good to be bad. ✪

Cheyenne Jackson as Hades (left) and Cameron Boyce , Sofia Carson, Dove Cameron, and Booboo Stewart star as teenage versions of famous Disney villains (above) in Descendants 3. Photos: Disney Channel/David Bukach

=|nner v|lla|n= embrace Your

Make It Real’s craft line features lighttracing table and foil effect kits that let kids design their own looks. Ages: 6+ MSRP: $9.99-24.99 Available: Amazon, Target

Hasbro’s line of dolls based on the third installment of Disney’s Descendants includes the Dragon Queen Mal Transformation Doll, which morphs from woman to dragon with the push of a button; a Basic Doll assortment featuring Dizzy and Celia; and a Movie Signature assortment, featuring dolls with iconic looks from the film. Ages: 6+ MSRP: $14.99-24.99 Available: mass retailers

Costumes from Disguise let fans dress up as their favorites, including Mal, Evie, Uma, and more. Ages: 4-16 | MSRP: $39.99 each Available: Amazon, Spirit Halloween, Target, Walmart

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» »

HARRY POTTER X VANS | VANS Add a touch of magic to kids’ wardrobes with this limited-edition capsule collection, which includes shoes, shirts, and jackets inspired by the Wizarding World. Kids can wear patterns that pay homage to their fave Hogwarts house, the golden snitch, the Marauder’s Map, and more. MSRP: $24.50-64.50 Available:, Vans stores

Hey, adults, guess what? Young’uns like cool merch, too. From subscription boxes to graphic T-shirts, it’s time to let the kids in on the action. With fun stuff like WWE figures, Harry Potter sneakers, and Fortnite toys, there’s no need to childproof these goodies.



SAVAGE FIGURES BY LITTLE PEOPLE | MATTEL WWE fans of any age will jump into the ring for these Little People figures. Designed to resemble two fan-favorite wrestling legends, these 3-inch plastic figures are equal parts fierce and adorable. MSRP: $9.99 | Available:,, and specialty retailers


PIXAR VACATION LINE | UNIQLO From Mike and Sully to Nemo and newcomer Forky, these adorable graphic T-shirts feature tons of fan-favorite Pixar characters. For a limited time, you’ll also get a free Toy Story toy with the online purchase of at least one kids’ Pixar shirt. MSRP: $9.90 Available:, Uniqlo stores 72 | Issue No. 4 | THE POP INSIDER


CULTUREFLY X MGA ENTERTAINMENT These quarterly boxes each contain six to eight L.O.L. Surprise! items for kids to wear, use, and play with, including exclusive pieces that can’t be purchased anywhere else. Each box will include a randomly selected L.O.L. Surprise! Doll, Pet, or Lil Sister from an existing series. MSRP: $38 per box Available:



young @ heart


FORTNITE BATTLE BUS | MOOSE TOYS Get ready for the battle royale! Kids can bring Fortnite to life with this detailed, miniature play set, which measures 13 inches tall and comes with exclusive Funk Ops and Burnout 2-inch figures. MSRP: $39.99 | Available: mass retailers

JUST PLAY Hairdorables gets a makeover for Comic-Con International: San Diego (SDCC), with this big-haired doll turning into a comic book queen sporting funky colors, mixed patterns, and killer makeup. There is a super-limited quantity of these dolls, and each one is numbered. MSRP: $39.99 Available: UCC Distributing Booth No. 5610



Show to Shelf: Bringing On-Screen Moments into the Real World by Sierra McCleary-Harris, senior editor


our kids are watching Paw Patrol, and the episode features an awesome fire truck. Fast forward to the next week: You’re walking through Target, and you see Spin Master’s Paw Patrol Ultimate Fire Truck on the shelf. It’s the very same one from the show, and your kids are ecstatic. It’s not a new phenomenon, and it may seem simple enough, but in reality, it’s the result of a multi-faceted show-to-shelf program that brings together toy designers, show producers, and a host of other parties for one purpose: to really bring shows to life through toys and other merchandise. Simply putting a character’s likeness on some merch isn’t enough. Kids and viewers of all ages want to engage with their favorite

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characters in everyday life, and that’s where this idea of show to shelf comes in. TIMING IS EVERYTHING While the overall process can differ across companies, along with what comes first — merchandise or show — everyone can agree on one concept: Timing is everything. The most successful partnerships see a show’s producers, licensors, and licensees working together nearly from day one to ensure that a show or season’s key themes are represented seamlessly. “The key to any successful partnership between show creatives and the toy team depends on early collaboration,” says Jen Cerveza, senior vice president of toys at

Viacom Nickelodeon Consumer Products. “Through meetings early on in production, we, along with our toy partner, are able to advise on ‘toyetic’ moments for the series.” Even with early collaboration, development can be a lengthy process. According to Just Play Co-President Geoffrey Greenberg, it can begin up to two years before toys hit retail shelves, and just as long before the show content is complete. “Bringing a toy line to life based on content is not a one-size-fits-all application. Key items can be drawn directly from existing storylines, but strong toy ideas that fit the brand DNA can also be written into episodes. We work very closely with all of our licensing partners to ensure that the products

« Spin Master's Paw Patrol series, currently in its sixth season, airs on Nick Jr.

we develop are representative of what fans will connect with in each individual property,” he says. On the flip side, sometimes it all starts with a toy concept. This may sound familiar to fans of the Masters of the Universe franchise — which began as a line of action figures in the early ‘80s before expanding to include comic books, a TV show, and now an upcoming movie — and it’s still happening. According to Randy Shoemaker, senior vice president of global marketing at Funrise, that was the case for the Rainbow Butterfly Unicorn Kitty TV series. “Rainbow Butterfly Unicorn Kitty actually started as a toy concept and evolved into a full-blown global TV series,” he says. “As we started developing the show, we had a lot of discussions about building in key themes that would translate into incredibly magical toys.” IN THE ROOM WHERE IT HAPPENS Assembling the right people and looping in the right teams is important, too. At Funrise, Shoemaker says that means everyone from executives to writers is hands on. “When it comes to creating a show, there are a lot of people involved in various stages along the way …” he says. “Early on in the development of the show, the toy product development, global brand marketing, and packaging teams are actively involved in reviewing the show scripts and providing notes on what will translate into great toys and concepting the toy line.” The same is true for Nickelodeon and its recent reboot of the classic Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise, Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, whose first episode aired last July. “In the early development stages of Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, we organized a meeting with the show creators and Playmates Toys, the master toy licensee,” Cerveza says. “Playmates noted that there was only one vehicle planned for the show at the time, the Turtle Tank. Historically, successful toy lines have another vehicle as part of its assortment, and motorcycles have always been part of the TMNT lore. We made the decision that two vehicles at two different retail price points would benefit the franchise, and the creators were able to write motorcycles into the series.” MUST-HAVE EXPOSURE Timing isn’t just a factor for development and collaboration, though. New shows —

and their characters — need a certain level of exposure. Funrise’s Shoemaker says that kids need to watch a show for a minimum of six months to build an affinity for it and its key characters, which is necessary before anyone can even think of launching toys or a line of consumer products. Krista DiBerardino, executive vice president of marketing integration and activation at Spin Master, which produces Paw Patrol, agrees, but says that a kid’s age also matters. “It depends on the age of the child. For preschool, yes, you definitely need that length of time to build awareness and build a name for the show,” DiBerardino says. “When you get to a little bit older children, … you don’t need as long.” Once that exposure is there, things move more quickly. “For subsequent seasons, we look to launch new products day and date with the new season as kids will already have a strong affinity for the show and will want toys tied to the latest season,” Shoemaker adds.

“We're focused on creating the most compelling content possible for kids that's on trend (or sets the trend), and allows for great toys and play experiences.” DiBerardino also says that reboots, such as Spin Master’s Bakugan, don’t necessarily need this incubation period since they already have established fan bases and legacies on which to build. In those cases, consumers may start to see toys on shelves in as few as four months. SOCIAL MEDIA’S BIG IMPACT As with everything today, social media is a big factor when it comes to both success and content decisions. Nickelodeon recently launched a range of meme-oriented SpongeBob SquarePants toys, with master toy partner Alpha Group. “In our initial discussions with Alpha, … we discussed that since the last SpongeBob toy line, SpongeBob memes had made a huge impact on social media,” Cerveza says. “We decided to design the new line to be more ‘fun- and meme-oriented’ in order to capture how audiences were already engaging with the character.” Greenberg says that influencer content also comes into play. Just Play has a line of products based on the YouTube channel Ryan ToysReview, coming out this fall.

“When developing our Ryan’s World line of products, we understand that Ryan is the star and kids want to be able to do the things that they watch Ryan doing on his channel,” Greenberg says. “Our solution was to build a line that focuses on the best of surprise, compounds, and unboxing play patterns while also bringing in iconic characters from the show, including variations of Ryan himself (e.g., Red Titan, Kung Fu Ryan, etc.) and other channel favorites, such as Combo Panda and Gus.” SKY’S THE LIMIT With tailor-made content, collaboration, and open communication, the possibilities are endless. So how do manufacturers narrow their focus to produce brand-authentic toys with the greatest chance for success? For Funrise, the key is staying true to its core purpose of making “great toys that deliver a fun and magical experience for kids,” Shoemaker says. “Initially, we aren’t necessarily concerned with selling the show, but rather we’re focused on creating the most compelling content possible for kids that’s on trend (or sets the trend), and allows for great toys and play experiences,” he says. At Spin Master, it’s all about the delicate balance between play patterns, trends, and the brand’s core themes. “It’s definitely influenced by outside factors,” DiBerardino says. “Think of something like Paw Patrol. There’s a core component to that, which is about role play with heroes and rescue. When we’re building out other advertising and marketing elements, whether that’s for YouTube or YouTube Kids or on TV, those core themes and elements play through that as well so that everything is connected to the child and it’s delivering real excitement for them." “Kids really fall in love with the characters, so the other part of this is we really want to bring everything to life. That storytelling through their physical play is really important to the connection,” she adds. Nickelodeon largely bases development decisions on who the target demographic is, with moms serving as a kind of special sauce. “Decisions on which elements of a series are made into toys are often dependent on the target consumer,” Cerveza says. “For preschool properties, the primary audience is kids, but the secondary audience is moms.” When executed well, a show-to-shelf program is seamless, appearing effortless and enabling kids to engage with their favorite characters like never before; in reality, it’s anything but simple. ✪ THEPOPINSIDER.COM | #FuelYourFandom | 75


LOOK OUT WORLD, THEY’RE SUPERHERO GIRLS DC Super Hero Girls returns with a new look. by Maddie Michalik, senior editor


rying to make it through high school is hard enough. Now, add maintaining good grades, managing a social life, and stopping evil in its tracks into the mix. Ugh. The DC Super Hero Girls are back this year, and they’re crushing it with a revamped animation style, fresh storylines, and new merch to excite fans. The reboot is an extension of an already popular global phenomenon, carrying over the same core themes from the original version. This super squad is a group of crimefighting besties who make Metropolis a safe place to live while facing the challenges of growing up as a teen and attending Metropolis High. While kids can’t exactly relate to having super strength or wielding the Lasso of Truth, they can connect to the struggle of having an after-school job, preparing science 76 | Issue No. 4 | THE POP INSIDER

fair projects, and making it through the dreaded picture day. The new series, from Warner Bros. Animation and DC, debuted in March with a one-hour special. New episodes air on Cartoon Network, and animated shorts are uploaded to YouTube weekly. DC Super Hero Girls features the voices of Tara Strong (Teen Titans Go!) as Batgirl, Grey Griffin (Unikitty!) as Wonder Woman, Kari Wahlgren (Dorothy and the Wizard of Oz) as Zatanna, Nicole Sullivan (MADtv) as Supergirl, Kimberly Brooks (Voltron) as Bumblebee, and Myrna Velasco (Elena of Avalor) as Green Lantern Jessica Cruz.


Lauren Faust, who is no stranger to producing animated hits (and was behind shows

such as My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic and Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends), spearheaded the new DC Super Hero Girls series as her second DC project. In 2011, Faust’s Super Best Friends Forever (SBFF) shorts were part of Cartoon Network’s DC Nation animation block, before the DC Super Hero Girls franchise launched in 2015. “The toy line was going strong, and DC and Warner Bros. wanted to keep it going with a new angle,” says Faust, who serves as the executive producer and series developer of the show. “... Sam Register of Warner Bros. TV Animation had always been very supportive of the SBFF shorts, so when it was time for a reboot, he wanted to give my take on teen superheroes another chance.” The relaunch has some considerable differences from the original show, which ended

late last year after five seasons. This new series features fresh character designs and storytelling that appeals to Faust devotees. There was a slightly different girl squad in the original version of the series, which featured Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy as two of the main characters. The new DC Super Hero Girls highlights six main heroes — Supergirl, Batgirl, Wonder Woman (different from Wonder Girl in the SBFF shorts), Jessica Cruz, Bumblebee, and Zatanna — but the cast is considerably expanded in this version of the show. There are also six recurring villains and six hero dudes who have teenage spins on their iconic personas. In addition to this massive cast of 18, the show will introduce new heroes and villains along the way, according to Faust. “I grew up with characters like Poison Ivy and Catwoman. Along with Harley Quinn, I found more fun in them being the bad guys, so I jumped at the chance to take them there again,” Faust says. For the heroes, Faust researched classic DC characters and explored their potential in building a well-rounded team with diverse personalities, interests, challenges, and powers. She considered characters such as Miss Martian, Vixen, and Danica Williams before ultimately choosing Jessica Cruz and Zatanna as the right fits to replace Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy.


DC Super Hero Girls already has its mark on pop culture as the first superhero franchise developed specifically with girls in mind, but the reboot focuses on inspiring kids to embrace their differences. It’s also easy to notice the updated animation, which features a much more lively design and a better representation of the female characters. The new series depicts the heroes with different body types, which sends a powerful message to all kids. “As a character designer, I like an audience member to get a good sense of who a character is by just looking at them,” Faust says. “I considered the personalities of each character, their interests, their motivations to be heroes, and — most importantly — their powers when I was designing them. The way they look reflects who they are.” The series also creates a balance between the characters as they juggle growing up and trying to be teenage superheroes — while also trying to pass the next day’s science exam. “We come at our stories from the point of view of teenagers before we come from the point of view of heroes,” Faust says. “We try to find the metaphorical connector

between the two experiences. It’s fun to put the teenage perspective — the emotions, the growth, the humor, the coming-of-age situations — on saving the world.” Fans are already familiar with Wonder Woman, Supergirl, and Batgirl, but audiences will get to know them as teenagers through Diana, Kara, and Barbara. They, too, go through the struggles of everyday life as they try to protect the citizens of Metropolis and deal with sinister, school-aged super-villains from the DC Universe. As young women, the characters each start off the series with something they want before ultimately discovering what they really need, according to Faust. For example, Supergirl wants to achieve the glory of her famous cousin, Superman; Wonder Woman just wants approval from her Amazon queen mother; and Zatanna wants to be a magician and doesn’t know if she’s meant to be a hero. These themes are extremely crucial for kids watching the show. It normalizes the struggles that the characters in the series are facing. It sends the message to viewers that if superheroes go through tough times, then it’s alright that they’re going through the same situations. Young kids can connect with and embrace the show’s themes. “Of course there is good versus evil, strength, and perseverance, but I want to send a message about being happy with who you really are,” Faust says. “That with all your flaws and shortcomings, all the mistakes and emotions that come with growing up, you are still super. Girls need to know that it’s OK to mess up, and it’s OK to experience strong feelings. But with the help and love of your friends, you’ll always come out on top.”


Fans can get amped for a bunch of new DC Super Hero Girls toys and products coming out this year — the most anticipated being Mattel’s additions to its groundbreaking core doll line for the series. This year, the company will come out with a DC Super Hero Girls Super Hero Action Doll Assortment, in which each character wears her signature

outfit with removable accessories. The Teen Life to Super Hero Action Dolls are standalone dolls that come dressed in the heroes’ everyday teen outfits. When duty calls, kids can change their dolls into their iconic superhero looks with removable accessories. Both doll lines will be available this fall. While the Teen to Life Super Hero Action Doll will first be available in Supergirl, Wonder Woman, and Batgirl versions, more characters will come out next year, according to Maryellen Zarakas, senior vice president of franchise management and marketing for Warner Bros. Consumer Products. A new Pottery Barn Kids collection will also launch online later this year so kids can deck out their rooms with more DC Super Hero Girls items. Graphic novels, a digital comic series, and costumes from Rubie’s Costume Co. are coming, too. “We have an exciting opportunity to bring the uniqueness of each of our superheroes and villains to life in a new way,” Zarakas says. “Lauren has designed these characters to reflect their authentic superhero attributes while also bringing diversity to their looks and personalities that will appeal to the widest range of fans. Our licensing partners have leaned into this diversity to create an impressive range of products that are fresh and new.” Although it may be challenging to market items with a completely new look for a franchise that already has a solid fan base, Zarakas says that it isn’t too much of a challenge since fans are already familiar with the core characters. So, it’s all about tying those new elements from the show into the consumer products while maintaining themes ­— empowerment, friendship, teamwork, and diversity — from the original series. “It’s easy to present something to kids who [are seeing] something for the first time, but bringing in the fans of the previous series is far more challenging,” Faust says. “It’s hard to accept that something you love is ending and being replaced by something else. I hope these fans can continue to love the original DC Super Hero Girls and find a place in their hearts for the new one as well. I’m crossing my fingers I can win them over.” ✪

Mattel’s DC Super Hero Action Doll Assortment features 12-inch figures available in the core hero characters.


Peppa Party Time! Do you have Peppa Pig fans in your Comic-Con International : San Diego (SDCC) crew? Check out the schedule below and join everyone’ s favorite precocious pig at booth No. 4021!

Wednesday All day

Photo Booth Have your photo taken in front of a digital Peppa Pig backdrop!

Thursday Early Afternoon/Evening

Peppa Family Celebrations Activities It’s sure to be an oinktastic year for Peppa full of Family Celebration-themed activities that highlight both big events and simple moments that you and your family spend together. Get in on the fun!

Friday & Sunday All day

Giveaway Get your very own set of Peppa Pig ears, while supplies last!

10:30-11 a.m., 12-12:30 p.m.

Character Meet and Greets Stop by and get to know Peppa Pig and George!

11:30 a.m.-12 p.m.

Silent Disco Dance Party Get your party on at a Silent Disco Dance Party featuring the latest Peppa Pig album!

1-3 p.m.

Wall of Wins Line up to win Peppa-themed prizes!

Saturday All day


1-3 p.m.

Wall of Wins

3-3:30 p.m., 5-5:30 p.m.

Character Meet and Greets

4-4:30 p.m.

Silent Disco Dance Party

78 | Issue No. 4 | THE POP INSIDER

SDCC-Exclusive Merch! C-exclusive Introducing Jazwares’ SDC sh. Peppa Plu l tiva Fes Pig 6-inch Peppa the Muddy at ce dan and sing to y is read flower Festival with her fairy wings, limitedThis t. pain crown, and star face e eOn the at le ilab ava is edition plush . $10 for booth

Stay up to date with the latest toy news, reviews, giveaways, and more! @thetoyinsider


It’s a PJ Masks (Booth)Party!


Well, hello there, PJ Ma sks! Kids can spend some quality tim e with their favorite masked superh eroes IRL at Booth No. 4021. Check out PJ Masks’ Comic-Con International : San Diego (SDCC) schedule below !

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Friday & Sunday

SDCC-Exclusiv e Merch!


80 | Issue No. 4 2 | THE POP INSIDER


How Angry Birds Changed Mobile Gaming & Pop Culture


by Marissa DiBartolo, editor-in-chief

obile gaming is an unstoppable force, with millions passing time on their commutes by connecting dots, blasting bubbles, and crushing candy. But there’s one little red bird with a scowl on his face who started it all, and his name is Red. Angry Birds launched in 2009. The iPhone had been on the market for two years at the time, selling roughly 20.73 million units according to Statista, a drop in the bucket compared to 2018’s 217.72 million units. The app store was not the overwhelming digital marketplace it is now, there were a mere 100,000 apps available for download, according to Wired (Statista reports there are more than 2.1 million available today).

apps, Angry Birds — and their pig counterparts — evolved into an iconic brand. “After 10 years, we’re just getting started, but in the mobile gaming world, 10 years is a lifetime. Especially considering that the iPhone is not much older than that,” Hämäläinen says. “Since the first Angry Birds game was released, we haven’t ever stopped finding ways for fans to have fun with the Angry Birds brand, be it through the games or with licensed products. Over the years, we’ve very successfully expanded the Angry Birds universe to different areas of entertainment. This has allowed us to build multiple touchpoints with our fans, making the Angry Birds audience very broad.”


Round little birds with thick eyebrows and aggressive grimaces have an oddly adorable appearance. Their short and squat bodies are endearing, the irony of birds who can’t fly is perfectly silly, and while the gameplay itself is addicting, it’s the characters who produce fans. “The Angry Birds are just great characters. That’s one of the things that led the original developers to create the game. Their first impression of a rough sketch of the classic red bird was compelling enough for them to want to continue creating a game for these funny, round birds to live in,” Hämäläinen says. “The characters and their story have a great blend of humor and relatability, and they are versatile enough to be equally at home in games, licensed products, and movies.” And they’ve gone through changes over

The premise was simple: Launch the bird toward the green pigs until you get rid of all of them. The game was so basic, it was created by a team of four people in less than eight months. But despite Angry Birds’ straight-forward nature, the game from Rovio Entertainment had a huge cultural impact. “Angry Birds was one of the first major players in mobile gaming when the industry was in its infancy, so that alone was enough to make it the example of a mobile game in pop culture. When you think of mobile games, you think of Angry Birds,” says Simo Hämäläinen, senior vice president of brand licensing at Rovio Entertainment. And a lot has happened in 10 years. From a feature film and an upcoming sequel, a full range of merch, and 19 different mobile


the years. Red has moved from a 2D character to 3D, from round in the apps to oval in the films, and sometimes he even wears costumes found in Transformers, Star Wars, and other popular franchises.


Angry Birds knows no borders — the game is an international hit. Rovio is a Finnish company, with a presence in Espoo, Finland, the U.S., the UK, Sweden, and China. Angry Birds games have been downloaded more than 3 billion times, with fans in every country you can think of. After all, everyone can relate to being angry. “The Angry Birds brand was built on a joy of destruction and a healthy sense of humor, which are understood and appreciated across many different cultures,” Hämäläinen says. “The games are also largely non-language, and where there is language, it is localized for different areas.” The mobile gaming brand proves that sometimes, less is more. Angry Birds is the first mobile game series to reach 1 billion downloads, making it a highly recognizable name. Before long, fans wanted to bring Angry Birds into their daily lives outside of their phones. Plush toys were the first Angry Birds-licensed products ever sold, and more than 36 million have been sold since 2010. The birds have also been featured on apparel, LEGO sets, costumes, accessories, and so much more. “From a licensing perspective, we’ve always looked for new and surprising ways for fans to interact with Angry Birds in real life through fantastic licensed products, or THEPOPINSIDER.COM | #FuelYourFandom | 81

FANDOM FEATURE great location-based entertainment experiences. Of course, a hollywood blockbuster or two doesn’t hurt either. Our hope is that there is always something fresh for fans to experience, and we’ve sought to keep those experiences coming through the years,” Hämäläinen says. To date, there have been more than 50,000 Angry Birds products on store shelves. And with a new film coming out, more is on the horizon.


In 2016, The Angry Birds Movie was the No. 1 film in more than 50 countries in its opening week, grossing more than $352 million worldwide.There’s no better way to commemorate a milestone anniversary than with a brand-new feature film. The Angry Birds Movie 2 arrives in theaters on Aug. 16, and everyone’s favorite characters from the first movie will return, including Red (Jason Sudeikis), Chuck (Josh Gad), Mighty Eagle (Peter Dinklage), and, the best for last: the Hatchlings. And this time, the birds are heading to unfamiliar territory with some unlikely sidekicks. “The film itself is exciting in that, for the first time, we see a truce between the birds and their lifetime rivals the pigs,” Hämäläinen explains. “After the events of the first movie, the relationship between the two is not exactly the best, so when they both come under attack from a villain on a

Since the launch of Angry Birds in 2009, Red has gone through many different looks.

previously undiscovered island, they’re not exactly eager to team up, but that’s exactly what they have to do. The movie follows the two as they learn to work together to overcome a common goal. You can expect lots of friction as these ‘frenemies’ struggle to put aside their differences, but that leads to a lot of very funny moments as well.” Honestly, it sounds like exactly the movie this country needs right now. The film will be accompanied by new licensed items from Jazwares and Chupa Chups, and more will be announced soon. The Angry Birds games will also feature movie-inspired events, content, and character appearances throughout the summer. A decade since its launch, Rovio keeps evolving the Angry Birds experience as technology enhances. This year, Angry Birds steps into the augmented reality and virtual reality playgrounds with new games developed in partnership with Resolution Games, giving players a first-person Angry Birds experience. Angry Birds VR: Isle of Pigs is available on the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, and allows players to enjoy a 360-degree game of Angry Birds, in which they journey

to the vacation destination of the little green pesky piggies and play through 50 levels to retrieve their stolen eggs. “The beauty of VR is that it allows players to enter and play in a 3D, fictional game universe, something people have fantasized about for decades. And, VR inherently lends itself well to strong characters, which is why the Angry Birds brand is such a great fit with its humor and strong gameplay,” Tommy Palm, CEO of Resolution Games, said in a press release. Plus, an AR version of the game is available on iPhones and iPads. In this version of Isle of Pigs, the classic piggy structures appear to drop into the player’s environment, and players can actually move closer and walk around them to discover hidden secrets. There are more fun announcements featuring the scowling birds and their piggie enemies on the way, as Rovio continues to celebrate the brand’s latest milestone. “There will be some exciting activations taking place in different locations around the world. It’s going to be a celebration of the birds’ trademark anger, and how we can harness our own anger to do good things,” Hämäläinen teases. Until then, we’ll be flinging the flightless birds across our screens for hours on end, just like we’ve been doing for a decade. ✪

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Marissa DiBartolo is the editor-in-chief of the Pop Insider and the Toy Insider. She reports on trends and hot topics affecting the toy and pop culture industries, and has been featured on ABC World News Now, the TODAY show, MSNBC, Fox & Friends, and more.

Photos: Rovio Entertainment

THE BIRDS ARE BACK The flightless angry birds and the scheming green piggies take their beef to the next level in The Angry Birds Movie 2! When a new threat emerges that puts both Bird and Pig Island in danger, Red (Jason Sudeikis), Chuck (Josh Gad), Bomb (Danny McBride), and Mighty Eagle (Peter Dinklage) recruit Chuck’s sister Silver (Rachel Bloom) and team up with pigs Leonard (Bill Hader), his assistant Courtney (Awkwafina), and techpig Garry (Sterling K. Brown) to forge an unsteady truce and form an unlikely superteam to save their homes.



WE’VE GOT THE GOODS You can never have enough merch, especially when it’s as good as this. From a Comic-Con International: San Diego (SDCC) exclusive chia pet to musical instruments and a board game based on a Bruce Willis classic, there’s something for everyone and for every price point. Check it out below!


Following the success of last year’s Chia Dunny, this year’s SDCC-exclusive chia pet is designed by the artist Kronk. The Buzzkill Dunny is 4 inches tall and is the “guardian spirit of weird trips and contemplative highs.” MSRP: $40 | Available: SDCC Kidrobot Booth ..No. 2846 (limited to 200)




Rock and roll takes the throne with Fender’s trio of deluxe, handcrafted, Game of Thrones-inspired guitars, including the House Stark Telecaster (pictured here), the House Lannister Jaguar, and the House Targaryen Stratocaster. Each guitar’s design draws inspiration from the house’s family sigil, costume designs, armor, weaponry, and location in Westeros. MSRP: $25,00035,000 Available: Fender Custom Shop



Cheer on the U.S. Women’s National Soccer team with this Walmart exclusive. Each collector box includes a commemorative golden mini soccer ball with player signatures, a throw blanket, a wall decal, and two replica headbands. Go team! MSRP: $19.88 | Available: Walmart



T. rex doesn’t want to be fed; he wants to hunt. Build the majestic gate from the original Jurassic Park with this 3,120-piece set, which then opens to reveal LEGO scenes inspired by the movie, including John Hammond’s dining room, Ray Arnold’s control room, and Ian Malcom’s bunker. It also comes with six minifigures of the original characters and a baby dinosaur figure with snapping jaws. MSRP: $249.99 Available: LEGO stores,

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Come over to the light side with this 4-inch-tall, 3D lamp shaped like the TNT crate from Crash Bandicoot. It plays an exploding TNT crate sound when switched on. It’s like you’re living inside a video game. MSRP: $18 | Available: Amazon



This board game is just as thrilling as the original Die Hard film. Players must face off as a group of thieves and John McClane as they travel through the plot of the movie using a deck of cards and a map of Nakatomi Plaza. Yippee-ki-yay, indeed. MSRP: $39.95 | Available: Amazon, Barnes & Noble






Slightly streamlined for a movie-accurate look, Hasbro stays true to the original line of plush UglyDolls with a collection of plush characters ranging from 5-inch backpack clips to large-scale Hugliest Plush Dolls. Uglyville has never looked so cute. MSRP: $4.88-19.88 | Available: Walmart

Escape Demogorgons and your scary big brother with this Stranger Things-inspired bike modeled after Max’s wheels from season three. Mongoose created all the bikes from the new season of the Netflix series, sourcing ‘80s bike parts from local thrift stores and garage sales. MSRP: $199.99 | Available: Target



King Kong, the ruler of Skull Island, is back from the 1930s in this towering, 18-inch figure featuring 10 points of articulation, four interchangeable hands, and three interchangeable head portraits that each showcase a different facial expression. Feel his wrath. MSRP: $250 Available: Preorder on



Magic Mirror (Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs)

Captain Marvel (Marvel)

Vision (Marvel)


Tatiana Scheetz uses self-taught makeup skills for amazing character transformations. by Madeleine Buckley, assistant editor Most mothers of three choose to catch up on sleep in the quiet hours of the early morning, but not Tatiana Scheetz. Instead, you can often find her in front of the mirror at 3 a.m., putting the finishing touches on an intricate face of character makeup. As her Instagram handle @NoOrdinaryMakeupMom would suggest, Scheetz isn’t your typical mom. Despite not having any formal makeup training, Scheetz transforms herself into multiple fictional characters each week. She first dived into the world of cosplay after her daughter was born, dressing up as Disney Princess characters. An avid fangirl (of Marvel, DC, Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead, Tim Burton, and Disney to name a few), Scheetz eventually ventured into villains and superheroes to expand her repetoire. She attended her first con — Wizard World Philadelphia — cosplaying as Maleficent in 2016, but didn’t really begin to post makeup transformations on social media until just more than a year ago. Since then, she has amassed more than 4,700 followers on Hela (Thor Ragnarok)

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her Instagram account. Now, she posts character transformations nearly every day, sometimes as selfies and other times edited onto an image of the character. There’s seemingly no limit into who Scheetz can transform. Some of her recent looks include Jafar from Disney’s Aladdin, Vision from Avengers: Infinity War, The Night King from Game of Thrones, Captain Marvel, and both lead characters from A Star Is Born. Actress Karen Gillan even featured Scheetz’s Nebula transformation on her Instagram account in the week leading up to the premeire of Avengers: Endgame. The post got more than 226,000 likes. When it comes to choosing a character to become, Scheetz says she has to be inspired, or the look won’t turn out well. “A lot of people suggest characters, but if I’m not feeling it, I just can’t do it,” she says. “I do have a list of characters I want to transform into, but I have to feel completely into it to be able to do the transformation.” She also doesn’t plan very far ahead for

her transformations unless she is collaborating with another artist. Typically, she looks to see if she has the resources she needs for a character, then does the transformation right away. “I’ve collected so many wigs, clothes, and materials, so I usually have what I need for transformations. And if I don’t I will go to the thrift store or craft store to get what I need.” For the more intricate outfits, such as Captain Marvel’s suit, she’ll paint the costume onto her chest. On average, Scheetz says her character looks take about one to three hours to complete. The most complex looks — especially those requiring Crayola Model Magic clay, such as Vision or the Night King — can take four hours. Despite all of that time, Scheetz usually takes the makeup off right away because she has other things to do. “I’m a busy momma, and have to get back to my role as a working mom and wife,” she says. “Or, for those really late nights of makeup, I have to get some sleep.” Her intense contouring, Model Magic

Jafar (Aladdin)

Mystique (X-Men)

Wonder Woman (DC)

Khal Drogo (Game of Thrones)

sculpting, and detailed face painting have impressive results, but Scheetz is using a mix of professional and drugstore cosmetics to become these characters, not special effects makeup. She swears by eyeshadow and concealer palettes from BH Cosmetics and Coastal Scents, gets colored contacts from, and usually orders wigs from eBay. One must-have, she says, is a pair of magnetic eyelashes for female characters. “I use what I can find that’s affordable in craft stores or dollar stores to accomplish my looks,” she says. “I do plan on learning how to use actual special effects makeup, but I’m just having fun right now using unconventional stuff to create my looks. It makes me feel like MacGyver.” Though her primary focus is still makeup, Scheetz started making her own cosplay costumes for cons, too. When she started out, she typically purchased her costumes. Now, she is “slowly but surely” learning more

about how to make cosplays — especially props and armor — and searches thrift stores for pieces she can use. This plays into what Sheetz considers to be a major misconception about cosplayers: You aren’t a real cosplayer if you don’t make your own cosplay. “That’s so ridiculous,” she says. “Whether you buy your cosplay, reconstruct clothing into a cosplay, or make it, you are still a legit cosplayer. Cosplay is literally the words ‘costume’ and ‘play’ put together, so as long as you are having fun in costume, that’s all that matters.” Although she is still relatively new to the cosplay world, Sheetz has already been a SYFY Wire featured artist, was an official guest at The Great Philadelphia Comic Con, and recently joined The Philadelphia Avengers, a cosplay group that raises money for charity by appearing at different events. In addition to all of this, Sheetz always

Jon Snow (Game of Thrones)

emphasizes the “mom” part of her identity. So, how do her three kids feel about her cosplaying? The reactions are mixed, but generally positive. She says her 18-year-old son, a performer himself, tells her she posts too often on Instagram, but “it doesn’t seem to bother him much.” Her 10-year-old son has no interest in cosplaying himself, but enjoys seeing the end result of her transformations. Things really come full circle, however, with her young daughter. Nearly 5 years old, her daughter has started asking to transform into her favorite characters. She occasionally appears on Sheetz’s Instagram account, dressed as characters such as Vanellope Von Schweetz from Wreck it Ralph or young Maleficent. Sheetz says her daughter is often a fan-favorite among her followers, and is happy to share cosplaying with her: “I love that she wants to be like her mom and transform into different characters,” Sheetz says. ✪


Pick a GoT character to resurrect:

Favorite fictional female:

Why not both?

Khal Drogo

Wonder Woman

Best Star Wars movie:

Kids’ show you secretly love:

Favorite Disney character:

Episode I. There’s awesome makeup in that movie.

The Amazing World of Gumball — it’s hilarious!

The little girl inside me says Ariel; the adult says Angelina Jolie’s Maleficent.

Harry Potter house:

First con you attended:


Wizard World Philadelphia

Beauty item you can’t live without:

Princess Leia (Star Wars)

Neytiri (Avatar)

Edit by @blkcaptnkirk

The Corpse Bride


THEPOPINSIDER.COM THEPOPINSIDER.COM| #FuelYourFandom | #FuelYourFandom| 87 |3



"It is delicious to be villainous." - Tom Catt

Tom Catt is a cosplayer, con mom, and non-conformist. by Ali Mierzejewski, editor-in-chief


or New York-based cosplayer Tom Catt, dressing up as someone else is, well, the truest expression of yourself. After attending their first New York Comic Con on a whim at a friend’s suggestion wearing a Cruella de Vil costume they already had on hand, Tom embarked on what is now an eight-year adventure of representing strong female characters through cosplay. “Because I am a drag queen, I pull a lot of inspiration from strong, powerful, imposing female characters,” they say. “I’m also inspired by things that are different. I don’t get pulled in any one general direction.” Although their cosplay runs the gamut from Disney characters to Poké Bomb cosplay (bombshell versions of Pokémon), there are a few characters who are favorites. “Catwoman has always been near and dear to my heart. I’ve read the comics since I was knee-high to a grasshopper. … When Arkham City came out, ... I made it my job to do whatever it was that I could to make sure that I had that costume because it was just everything that I wanted,” they say. Although Tom doesn’t make all of their costumes — the Arkham City Catwoman was commissioned; others, such as their Winifred Sanderson look, are handmade, therefore making the top of the list of Tom’s favorites. The fabric was actually gifted to them and their two fellow Sanderson Sisters by a friend who had always wanted to help do a Hocus Pocus cosplay. “She was like, ‘here you’re doing this.’ And I was like, ‘wait, what?! I don’t know what I’m doing. You got the wrong witch here,’” they say. “But yeah, … we turned it out, and every time we get into costume — regardless of if it’s a bad makeup day, if our nails are falling off, if our makeup just doesn’t look the way we want it to — we just have a great time just camping it up”

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Tom Catt as The Wicked Witch of the West Photo: The Portrait Guy


ing kisses at herself in the mirror, primping her hair, and she’s this corpulent, oversized And if you’re thinking, these cosplays all character. Cruella — she has the high cheek have a common theme, you’re right. Forget bones, the dramatic makeup, she preens the Disney Princesses — Tom’s cosplay around like a peacock, and she’s not outfeatures the most bold and powerful of all wardly attractive. … They are vain, they are female characters: the villains. narcissistic, but they are not attractive, which “There is nothing — I repeat, nothing — is, you know, kind of how I view myself. I more fun than playing the villain,” they say. share so much in common with them.” “I pride myself on being the Disney villain because I’m tall, I have a deep voice, I can sing the parts, I can act the parts, I can perform. … Oh, it is so much fun! There’s so much juice in those characters and these characters are just so delicious to cosplay as and dress up as. … I live and breathe for villain characters.” Tom’s villain repertoire ranges from Cruella de Vil and the Wicked Witch of the West to Mother Gothel. While Catwoman the looks are all inspiringly detailed and Arkham City Photography ne au Sh s la polished, the thing that makes Tom’s vilPhoto: Doug lainous cosplay stand out is the attitude they bring to each and every one. “Tom’s cosplay is unique in that I think their cosplays are always a reflection of them,” says Kristen Corradeno, friend and co-collaborator on Catt and Kristen (more on that later). “Tom is glamorous, sultry, and confident, all things that there are hints of in every costume they make. When Tom cosplays a villain like Ursula, it’s not just because they love the character, but because the character feels like it’s a part of their (poor, unfortunate) Winifred Sanderson soul. When Tom cosplayed Winnifred Photo: Jason Laboy Pho Sanderson last year, I said I never had tography seen Tom be more themself — and not because Tom is trying to scoop up CON MOM, ETC. children on Halloween, but because the wild, Tom’s Instagram bio (@thattomcatt) funny, and maybe even a little devious qualireads: “Co-host of @cattandkristen,Co-adties of Tom were reflected in that character.” min,, Performer, Female Their affinity for villains is nothing new. A Impersonator, Sea Witch, Con Mom.” While few years ago, Tom asked their mother who most of it is self-explanatory, one may be their favorite Disney character was when they unfamiliar: Con Mom. were younger — and got a surprising answer. “In drag lore, when you are the drag “I said ‘Mom, I have a silly question for mother, you have helped drag queens put you. Who was my favorite Disney character?’ on makeup for the first time, have given Like the original magical six — you know, them your last name, you’ve helped them Mickey, Minnie, Pluto, Goofy, Donald, Daisy. turn looks ... and sort of helped them along She turns to me and she goes, ‘Thomas, in a way,” Tom explains. “When it comes to your favorite character was Ursula.’” conventions, it’s sort of the same. But instead But just being bad doesn’t help make of helping with getting into makeup for the the cut on Tom’s list — for example, you’ll first time, … [I] advise and talk to people never see them cosplaying as Gaston who are going through certain types of cridespite his “fabulous musical number.” Tom ses, certain types of emotional distress.” says he’s too “outwardly narcissistic.” And they are well known for being a Con “I like villains who are vain but they don’t Mom throughout the cosplay community, make it obvious,” they add. “The Wicked with people yelling out “Hi, Mom!” across Queen is supposed to be this radiant beauty, convention floors or writing Mother’s Day but her beauty is fading. She’s vain, but she wishes on their Facebook wall. But that same knows she’s losing her touch. Ursula is blow-

passion that makes Tom love cosplaying villains is also what makes them a caring, motherly figure. “They are honest, but also loving and understanding,” Corradeno says. “If you are in trouble at a con and Tom finds out about it, they will be by your side as soon as they can get over there in their heels and corset.” After meeting on the five-hour drive home from AnimeNEXT 2016, Corradeno and Tom realized how much they had in common. Fueled by the conversations from that drive, they met to discuss starting their own live show that would focus on topics that affect the cosplay community. This show would become what is now Catt and Kristen, a live show on Facebook where the two friends spill the tea on all the issues impacting the community. “The hierarchy, the elitism, the racism, the homophobia, the problem areas, the rumor mill — discussing all of this without calling anybody out,” Tom says. “Because call-out culture and cancel culture is so prevalent and prominent, if you say the wrong thing, you yourself become canceled and called out. So we take quality and care whenever we bring up a topic.” In one of episode of Catt and Kristen in particular, the pair discusses whether or not politics belong in cosplay, which is a common discussion that any sort of performance-based artist often faces (Remember the uproar after the Hamilton cast took time during curtain call to speak directly to Mike Pence, who was in the audience during that performance?). But according to Tom — and many artists — isn’t that the point of art in the first place? “One of the great things about cosplay is that your cosplay is your political statement,” they say. “Who you cosplay as, how you cosplay, that’s your political statement. You can change a person’s perception just by wearing a costume. I do gender-bend cosplay; I spit in the eye of gender norms. I do drag; I spit in the eye of social norms. There’s so much meat in being a cosplayer, in being a drag queen, that I don’t think the general public really understands.” In true Con Mom form, Tom is here to help break down those walls of people’s perceptions of cosplayers, which can be biased and generalizing. “When they say, ‘Oh well, conventions, those weirdos are always dressing up,’ those weirdos are people … just like you — they just have a fun hobby. They just have a fun reason to put on a costume and say, ‘I am making a statement by doing this.’” ✪ THEPOPINSIDER.COM | #FuelYourFandom | 89


thatgamecompany spreads kindness through a mobile game, Sky: Children of the Light. by Jacqueline Cucco, associate editor he age-old argument that video games are breeding grounds for violence and trolls is still alive and well, but Sky: Children of the Light is here to counter that. In this social adventure game from thatgamecompany, players can fly through a dreamy sky kingdom where generosity and compassion light the way. The game focuses on developing relationships, completing quests, and, above all, spreading kindness. Gamers play as Sky Children, exploring a serene world above the clouds. As the Sky Children arrive on the mysterious Isle of Dawn, players will discover that the mythical kingdom has perished, along with its light and constellations. The goal of the game is to team up with other Sky Children to spread light back into the realms and constellations. Throughout the game, players


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meet spirits who once inhabited the kingdom, and the story of the world unfolds as relationships build between the Sky Children and the spirits. Made by the creators of the game Journey, Sky launches this month as a mobile game for iOS. thatgamecompany is working to develop the game for Android, PC, and console as well. “While Journey is a focus on the ‘joys and hardships’ of life itself, we wanted to create a new game that was focused on gratitude and giving back to others,” says Eileen Hollinger, executive producer of thatgamecompany. “This was really the seed of the emotion of Sky, and how it grew to be a game that was centered around compassion and generosity in its theme, design, and gameplay.” Sky players can team up online to create

their own stories and explore the kingdom together. The game is designed around collaboration as players complete quests to uncover what happened to their civilizations, unlock expressions, and grow the abilities of their characters. Sky is free to download and play, with in-game purchases available to give away as digital gifts between players. “It was important to us to create a culture and economy built around gratitude and gifting,” Hollinger says. “In that spirit, our primary in-game purchases are candles that can be gifted to other players (three candles can be offered as a rare heart in the game).” When players gift a candle, they are rewarded by receiving a heart, which can be used to obtain items. Players can connect their candles to other players’ to “spread light.” Sky will also offer seasonal content

Sky: Children of the Light is a social adventure game about spreading kindness.

The goal of Sky is to join other Sky Children to spread light back into the realms and constellations.

with a premium component, and additional adventures and characcore of Sky. “Everyone at thatgamecompany loves games and is ters for players to interact with will roll out in future months. a believer in the artistic and emotional potential of video games,” Social interactivity is big in gaming now, as players connect Hollinger says. “We hope they find the environment of Sky to be a online with friends to socialize and create a sense of community. “Sky safe place to express themselves and experience a kind of childlike can be played solo, but everything about the game is optimized wonder in both the world and one another.” ✪ around social play,” Hollinger says. “Quests are both more fun and more quickly achievable when played with friends. Players’ flight energy is charged by being around other players. Certain locations Players can team up online to create their own in Sky can only be accessed by solving multi-player puzzles.” stories and explore the kingdom together. There are areas of the Sky world that new players might not be able to find on their own — but a veteran player can easily help show them the way. “To our delight, in our Beta community there quickly emerged an organic shepherding culture where experienced players jump at the chance to take a new player around the world and help them build up their character,” Hollinger says. “And each realm in Sky has a social hub where you’ll often find players socializing and coordinating questing.” Amazingly, all of these social dynamics are communicated without any dialogue. “For the most part, our studio likes to design for universal audiences (across cultures and ages), and we feel like using visual/design/emotional language achieves an impact that maybe dialogue cannot,” Hollinger says. “As a result in Sky, we offer our players a wide variety of expressions — from pointing, laughing, dancing, and juggling — that can be unlocked and learned throughout the game. There is a simple ‘shout’ that can be quite expressive when used creatively. A number of musical instruments can be found, and players can frequently be found performing for each other in social hubs.” The absence of dialogue also eliminates video game trolls that tend to prowl around, slinging insults in peoples’ headsets. “Ultimately we hope to inspire the kind of joy and comradery that comes from facing a great expanse in the company of friends,” Hollinger says. “In addition, because the ability for families to play together was one of our aims, we really wanted to allow for a kind of flexible gameplay that would allow people to group together meaningfully to achieve goals.” thatgamecompany aims to tap into the sense of awe inspired by a vast and wondrous world through the stunning visuals and audio, the thoughtful narrative, and the interactive features at the

THEPOPINSIDER.COM | #FuelYourFandom | 91


Grab a Bowl and Gather ‘Round the Table for a Tale That Stays Crispy in Milk!


ot all fandoms reach the masses — some are an acquired taste. Like breakfast cereal. While some fans work to round out their collections of action figures, die-cast cars, sports memorabilia, or fine art, there’s a growing legion of collectors focused on cereal. In a lot of ways, they share a kinship with shoe-collecting sneakerheads, right down to their nickname: cerealheads. Gabe Fonseca is a TV writer and producer, with credits including Netflix’s Marvel’s Jessica Jones and NBC’s The Night Shift. He’s currently spending time in New York City working on the hip-hop mini-series Wu-Tang: An American Saga, which is set to debut on Hulu later this year. Back home in Los Angeles, though, Fonseca has 216 cereal boxes displayed on a wall in his house, with more than 300 additional flattened boxes stored away in a closet. When he’s not working behind the scenes, he’s jumping in front of the camera to throw down some knowl-

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by James Zahn, senior editor edge on breakfast history. Through his popular YouTube series, Cereal Time TV, Fonseca takes viewers beyond the box and into the history of cereal — exploring each brand in great detail. Sometimes he’ll even crack open a vintage box for a taste, but that’s one of those things he’d rather you not try at home. “The YouTube channel came out of necessity more than anything else,” he explains.”My collection of unopened boxes had grown quite large, … and my wife suggested that I open the boxes on video and explain a little about the history of each cereal. It started as a way for me to document and save memories of these old cereals for myself, ... but apparently other people enjoy the trip down memory lane.” Fonseca says that the seeds of his collection started back when Wheaties would regularly feature NBA stars, such as Michael

Jordan, the “Bad Boys”-era Detroit Pistons, and the Showtime-era Los Angeles Lakers. “That was just a small, very specific collection,” he says. “I didn’t start collecting boxes seriously until the early 2000s. I was browsing eBay one day and came across an unopened box of Spider-Man Cereal (1995) from Ralston. That was one of my favorite cereals of the ‘90s, and I decided I had to buy it. From there everything kind of snowballed. I would continue to check eBay and buy other boxes that sparked a nostalgic feeling in me — boxes that took me back to Saturday mornings, sitting in front of the TV while watching cartoons and eating cereal.” For those of a certain age, the Saturday morning experience is a cherished reminder of simpler times. Between the ‘70s and ‘90s, there was an explosion of pop culture that gave birth to an onslaught of licensing that saw countless popular characters make the jump from the screen to the cereal aisle. “I’m a sucker for the licensed cereals. I

loved them growing up,” Fonseca explains, noting the similarity between two of his alltime favorites — Spider-Man and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. “Both were from Ralston, and they were essentially the same cereal: sweetened Rice Chex with themed marshmallows,” Fonseca says. “In Spider-Man, the Chex represented spider webs, and in TMNT they were supposed to be nets, which never made much sense because none of the Turtles used a net as his weapon.” Among the great pop culture and movie tie-ins hitting the cereal aisle over the past few decades, Gabe points to C-3PO, Ghostbusters, Pac-Man, Smurf Berry Crunch, Bill & Ted’s Excellent Cereal, and the Nintendo Cereal System as high points. He also finds Rainbow Brite to be a high point, noting that it was one of the few to feature a female mascot on its box. “As for licensed cereals that never quite lived up to their potential, I’d have to go with Gremlins, Batman, WWF Superstars, and Mr. T cereal,” he says. “They were essentially the same cereal just in different shapes — Gizmos, bats, stars, and the letter T. They featured crunchy, lightly sweetened pieces that resembled Quisp or Cap’n Crunch in flavor, but not nearly as tasty.” Though the golden age of licensed cereals may be behind us, dozens still hit the market for a limited time each year; however, like some of their predecessors, they’re pretty bland. “There is a trend nowadays to put as little creative thought as possible behind licensed cereals,” Fonseca says. “Many of the movie tie-in or video game cereals are just oat squares or circles with special marshmallows. Kellogg’s is the worst culprit.” Despite having eaten so many cereals over the years, Fonseca’s all-time favorite is a cereal aisle classic that’s been enjoyed by millions since its debut in 1963. In a 2014 episode of Cereal Time TV, Fonseca revealed Quaker Oats’ Cap’n Crunch as his all-time favorite — a cereal he loves so much that he had a pair of kicks custom-made to show off his respect for the Cap’n. Five years later, have his tastes changed? “I think Cap’n Crunch or Cap’n Crunch with Crunch Berries will always hold that top spot of my favorite cereal,” he says. “But there is some very close competition from Fruity Pebbles, Cinnamon Toast Crunch, and Lucky Charms. My dark horse is actually a healthier cereal from Nature’s Path called Blueberry Cinnamon Flax. I pretty much eat Nature’s Path cereals for breakfast every morning. I enjoy the healthier stuff these

days. I still eat the sweeter cereals, but not for breakfast like I did when I was younger — nowadays those are special treats or late-evening snacks.” Cereal Time TV is very much a time capsule for cerealheads, and it’s led to some windows opening into the past — such as a trip into the archives of General Mills in Minneapolis. There, classic boxes from the past are displayed in acrylic cases as if they were graded action figures, and storage rooms house thousands of flattened boxes from brands long since lost, including some that never even made it to market. As we know from living in a culture that constantly mines the collective archives in search of the next retro hit, the past can hold clues to the future. Fonseca was shown boxes of General Mills Peanut Butter and Cinnamon Tiny Toasts — a brand name that was squashed before it even hit market and launched as something more famous: Cinnamon Toast Crunch. But in 2016, General Mills used the name (minus the “s”) as Tiny Toast, which was launched in blueberry and strawberry flavors. The duo lasted about a

year before the company renamed them as Blueberry Toast Crunch and Strawberry Toast Crunch. Given the power, what dead or dormant brands would the mind behind Cereal Time TV resurrect? “Hidden Treasures is definitely at the top of my list,” Fonseca says. “OJ’s was an orange-flavored cereal that featured OJ Joe, a cowboy (orange wrangler), as the mascot. Sir Grapefellow was before my time, but is something I’ve always wanted to try because I love grape-flavored things.” Fonseca found one gem he was seeking in the General Mills archives. It was a cereal inspired by Mexican pastries that he’d tried in the early ‘90s but hasn’t been able to get his hands on since. “There was a cereal called Buñuelitos that was only released regionally (Spanish-speaking areas) in the U.S., and it was so good,” he explains. “That cereal was like Kix, but with a honey-and-cinnamon dusting.” There’s also a lot of love for the legend-

ary — yet still abandoned — members of the Monster Cereals family: Fruit Brute and Yummy Mummy. The former counts filmmaker Quentin Tarantino among one of its biggest fans, often placing boxes in his films as an Easter egg. “They did a promotion a few years back where they reintroduced them with updated flavors,” Fonseca says. He adds that there’s been a shift in the recipe from oat-based to corn-based, likely because corn is cheaper. “I wish they brought them back full time with the other Monster Cereals for Halloween, or maybe even introduce a new monster to the roster. I feel like people have been clamoring for a new Monster Cereal for years.” As Cereal Time TV continues to grow, other enthusiast sites, vlogs, and podcasts are also making moves in the cereal fandom realm. Occasionally, when Fonseca’s creative gigs get in the way, Cereal Time TV goes on hiatus, inspiring followers to revisit the archives — or in some cases — pay tribute in the event that the series shouldn’t return. Thus far, it always has, and new episodes are enthusiastically welcomed by more cerealheads than ever before. “Only a few years ago, I remember reading articles about millennials not eating cereal and how the cereal companies were worried that the cereal market was shrinking,” Fonseca reflects. “And it actually might be — I don’t know the numbers. But I definitely feel like the online fandom for cereal is at an all-time high.” In the past few years, cereals have returned to corporate break rooms and home pantries, and dedicated cereal bars are opening in major cities. One of those is Kellogg’s NYC, a destination meant to “transform the cereal you love from a morning staple to an any-time-of-day experience.” “Eating a bowl of Fruity Pebbles transports me back to my childhood,” Fonseca says. “Sense memory is a very powerful thing. Whether it’s the taste, the smell, or even the visuals from a box, … cereal can have that magical quality and — at the end of the day — it just makes people happy.” Take a trip down the (Trix?) rabbit hole at ✪

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: James Zahn, best-known as The Rock Father, is senior editor of the Toy Book, the Pop Insider, and the Toy Insider. He is a media personality, commentator, consultant, actor, adventurer, raconteur, and overall pop culture and toy enthusiast.

THEPOPINSIDER.COM | #FuelYourFandom | 93


by Victoria Rosenthal, editorial assistant Exploring galaxies far, far away, dining like a fairytale princess, and traveling by caterpillar bus sound like outlandish adventures only possible in fans’ wildest dreams, but entertainment behemoths have brought these magical, fictional adventures to the real world. The production of live events and experiences featuring fan-favorite properties is on the rise, and entertainment companies are recreating fantasy worlds for the general public to experience in reality. The rise of fandoms works hand in hand with the production of fan events and experiences. Fans act as the catalysts and the target consumers who allow these experiences to thrive. Once production companies recognized that this could be the ticket to creating prolonged success in entertainment franchises, they built live fan events and experiences into a multimillion-dollar business. One Generation Is to Blame Fans want to connect with their favorite franchises on a deeper level. It

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all traces back to one major theme park: Disneyland. Disney’s theme parks were the start of enchanting, movie-inspired thrill rides and character meet-and-greets. Millennials grew up taking family vacations to Disneyland and Disney World. But what if the magic could go beyond a roller coaster in Florida or California? What if theme parks could truly immerse fans in fictional worlds in cities across the globe like never before? Thanks to technological and entertainment advancements, these dreams are becoming a reality. Millennials have a bad reputation for being glued to their screens, but it’s important to note that having direct, non-stop access to content is what bolsters this generation’s fandom obsessions. And now, these superfans who are weary of virtual screen time crave ways to experience the things they love in the physical realm.

“What I think got unleashed ... was this yearning for touch — this yearning to stimulate the other four senses outside of the visual,” Jeff Gomez, CEO of Starlight Runner Entertainment, explains. Starlight Runner Entertainment is a producer and consultant for transmedia franchises and story world development. The studio advises big-name companies, including The Walt Disney Co., Coca-Cola, Mattel, and Spartan Race, in expanding their presence across media platforms. Its most recent projects include consulting Disney on the construction of Pandora: The World of Avatar and Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge in its Disney World and Disneyland theme parks. Since opening in 2000, Starlight Runner Entertainment has teamed up with top Hollywood producers and executives on several projects to construct the worlds of fan-favorite movies and video

Star Wars fans can go on their own galactic adventures and live like a villager from Black Spire Outpost on the remote planet of Batuu when they visit Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge in Disneyland Resort in California. Photo: Joshua Sudock/Disney Parks

games in the real world. The company works with the property owners to make the essence, scents, tastes, and sensations of virtual franchises tangible for fans. This multi-sensory approach to producing fan experiences and events is necessary because several hours of screen time can be very isolating, according to Jon Gibson and Amanda White, co-directors of Iam8bit and the co-creators of Passport to Iron City, a pop-up experience based on Alita: Battle Angel. The temporary event based in Los Angeles, New York, and Austin, Texas, focused on this isolation issue and created an attraction inspired by Alita’s futuristic world, in which fans can experience real, human interaction and collaborate as a community. Millennial fans also grew up alongside the boom of immersive attractions, such as escape room experiences, as they had come of age by the early 2010s. Many production companies noticed the popularity of these attractions and realized that these interactive models are the perfect fit for popular brands. One major event marked this new wave of fan experiences: the opening of Universal Studios’ Wizarding World of Harry Potter. The park is designed to look as if it’s transplanted from a Harry Potter movie set, making guests feel like they are characters within the Wizarding World. Park cast members treat all guests as if they are wizards and witches; guests can eat, drink, and shop like a wizard or witch; and there are dining options and merchandise based on items, food, and drinks found in the Harry Potter movies and books. Visitors can stroll down Diagon Alley, enter the shops, dine at the Leaky

At Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, even classic real-world brands get a fantasy upgrade. Photo: The Coca-Cola Co.

Cauldron, and order Butter Beer. Every aspect of the park is designed to bring fans right into the story of the young wizard. With this creation of Harry Potter’s magical world within the fans’ real world, Universal beat The Walt Disney Co. to the punch. “It caused Disney to have to kind of raise its head up and look around, and go, ‘What’s going on here? It’s remarkable what those results are. We need to do something in our parks that is this way,’” Gomez explains. Disney did this by revamping its approach to its theme parks and creatThe first guests arrive at Star Wars: Galaxy’s ing the Pandora: The World Edge at Disneyland Park on opening day. Photos: Joshua Sudock/Disney Parks of Avatar exhibit — a licensed section of the park from 20th Century Fox based on the scifi movie Avatar. Following the success of Pandora, Disney created Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, which opened in California’s Disneyland on May 31 and will come to Orlando’s Disney World on Aug. 29. “When you go to Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, … it’s stunning. You’re truly walking into a piece of the Star Wars universe — a canonical piece of the Star Wars universe,” Gomez says. and let them know that a bounty is on their The experience is much more interactive head. They also warn them to be careful and than simply strapping into a rollercoastlay low, continuing the story off of the rides. er ride. Fans will live the life of a Jedi, as Disney also incorporated brand partneropposed to watching holograms or animaships into Batuu that tie fans even closer to tronics during a ride. Disney brought the the experience. For example, the company planet of Batuu’s Black Spire Outpost village has partnered with Coca-Cola as the official to Earth, with spaceships, merchant shops, beverage for the parks, creating Coke aliens, Jedi, and dining areas that mimic the products that fit into the storyline. When look and feel of those found in the movie. fans purchase a Coke, a local merchant from Fans can go on their own missions through Batuu will hand them a bottle shaped as a the two anchor rides, Star Wars: Rise of the droid with labels printed in the Star Wars’ Resistance and Millennium Falcon: Smugfranchises’ fictional language, Aurebesh. This gler’s Run. They also have the chance to will allow fans to see familiar brands in a way customize their own lightsabers at Savi’s that aligns with the story. Workshop and droids at the Droid Depot. Fans are truly part of the story thanks It All Started with a Mouse to the recently updated Disney Parks app. Gibson, White, and Gomez agree that Whenever a guest goes on one of the rides, live fan events follow the same interactive the status of the ride is shared across the and immersive approach that Disney and park to cast members. For example, if guests Universal Studios do to entertain fans. Proare unable to smuggle the goods during turn ducers of local fan events look to these big on the Smuggler’s Run ride, that information wigs to design their own experiences on a is relayed to cast members within the park. smaller scale. Cast members will then bring up that fact Even though the events are smaller in conversation with the guests at another and tend to be temporary, companies that location in the park, such as the dining areas, THEPOPINSIDER.COM | #FuelYourFandom | 95


Fans of Alita: Battle Angel collaborate to solve puzzles and missions in the Manga character’s futuristic world in the pop-up experience Passport to Iron City. Photo: Iam8bit, Fox, and 20th Century Fox

produce live fan events must stay true to the brand or intellectual property — the same way Disney and Universal Studios do in their own parks. Every detail of these pop-up events must speak to the brand, or it’s simply “not cool,” according to Gomez. He believes that fully understanding the essence of the brand or intellectual property is crucial when developing these experiences. And according to Gibson, building directly from the narrative ensures it’s a realistic and unique experience. Focusing on the details helps to make live events and attractions unique and memorable in their own ways. Creating memories is engineered into each attraction, and it’s also the main goal of the production company in order to maintain and grow the franchise’s audience, create a happy experience for them, and give fans a chance to connect. “That’s powerful to commit something to memory through experience because touching, smelling, and seeing something is different than passively engaging with something on a TV screen or a monitor,” Gibson says. In Passport to Iron City, attendees entered the experience in groups of six alongside 10 other groups playing in the same area at a time. This allowed fans to interact throughout the game and join forces to solve puzzles and challenges. They also had the opportunity to share their experiences and love for the manga series and the movie at the Kansas Bar. Everything from the futuristic, industrial design and live actors to the food and drinks drew details directly from the movie and the manga series. These

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made fans believe they’re part of the story. The encouragement to work together to solve the puzzles helped fans feel like they were a part of a community within the world that they love. Getting More Immersive Live fan events are on track to become even more intense to keep fans engaged with their favorite brands or franchises. Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge is finally open, and several other new theme parks based on fan-favorite franchises are in the works. Plus, there are annual events in store for every type of fan, such as Universal Studios Halloween Horror Nights. Universal Studios takes the handson experience into the horror genre with its annual Halloween Horror Nights. It works off of a combination of fear and enjoyment of scary movies and stories, using Hollywood-style special effects to make it more extreme and realistic. Universal Studios has been perfecting this event and its horror mazes since 1991, making sure to incorporate classic and current slasher and sci-fi movie and TV show themes that fans love while adapting the essence of each one for a realistic experience. In fact, Universal Studios announced three of this year’s 10 haunted houses, two of which are based on horror fan favorites, Universal Monsters and Stranger Things. With Universal Monsters,

Universal Studios is throwing it back to the original horror movies, with classic monsters, including Dracula, the Wolf Man, and Frankenstein, coming to hunt guests. The theme park plans to have each monster in its own turf, including Dr. Frankenstein’s laboratory, Dracula’s gothic castle, and the Wolf Man’s Bavarian forest. The hunt will continue as fans of Stranger Things return to Hawkins, Indiana, in the park’s second Stranger Thingsthemed haunted house. They’ll walk through a maze of scenes from the show’s second and third seasons and come face to face with Demodogs. Even more fan-favorite TV and movie characters are making their way across the U.S. in theme parks, including hits from Nickelodeon. Triple Five Group is developing a new Nickelodeon Universe in the upcoming American Dream Mall in East Rutherford, New Jersey, scheduled to open this summer, despite several delays. Taking notes from the original theme park at the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota, the 8.5-acre Nickelodeon Universe will have rides and attractions based on classic and current Nick characters, including SpongeBob SquarePants, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and the Monster Machines. “The Nickelodeon Universe at American Dream will give kids and families in the New York Metro area the opportunity to interact with their favorite characters like SpongeBob and the Turtles on a grand scale, through rides, attractions, and Nick-themed party and event spaces,” Sarah Levy, chief operating officer of Viacom Kids and Family Group, said in a statement. Fans will be front and center in the world of Nickelodeon that they grew up with, especially viewers who watched throughout the 1990s and early 2000s. The roller coasters are already visible in the development, including the Launched Euro-Fighter and the Spinning Coaster by German roller coaster manufacturer Gerstlauer. A BRIEF VISIT Pop-up events are taking notes on this approach to design and applying them to fan experiences across major cities in the U.S. For example, the world of DreamWorks’ movie and Netflix TV show Trolls has made its way to New York in Trolls the Experience. During the event, which has dates into September, attendees can party like a Troll with charac-

ters from the franchise, including Poppy and Branch. The event space is designed to look like the whimsical Troll Village from the Head to the movie, with its vibrant Cupcakes and colors and unique Rainbows Retail woodland creatures. Cafe for treats and merchandise Parents choose an inspired by Trolls. admissions package Photo: Feld depending on the type Entertainment of experience they’d like for their child. Families play games as they travel through the village, creating a mini-orchestra with the movie’s critters at Branch’s Musical Mash-Up, gathering decorations from the Caterbus or a big Best Day Ever celebration, and playing virtual tag on a large touch screen in Critter Creek. Kids can also become their favorite Trolls character with a full makeover, becoming Poppy, Branch, or Guy Diamond. Depending on the admission package, kids will either receive a cardboard hat shaped in the hair of their choice or get a full makeover with a trollhair wig and face paint. Later, attendees can join Poppy’s Best Day Ever! Celebration in 3D with colorful visuals, party lights, and music from the movie. At the end of the event, attendees will go to the Memory Mile room to take photos, create a scrapbook, and meet Poppy, adding the memory-making aspect to this interactive event. In Salt Lake City, Mystery Escape Room is working with NBCUniversal International Studios to bring the bustling world of Downton Abbey to the U.S. this summer in an escape room. Fans of the global TV series can become a character within the escape room designed as an exact replica of the Downton Abbey set. They’ll have the chance to solve a mystery based on the original characters of the show while touching set pieces and interacting with their team members. Mystery Escape Room and NBCUniversal International Studios plan to stay true to the hit series while urging fans to bond within the cooperative game. Mystery Escape Room focuses on several pop culture-themed escape rooms like these, including one based on the legendary action hero Zorro. The attraction, called The Sword of Zorro, lets fans become the masked hero. They must find his sword, which Zorro hid in an old hacienda to keep safe until it’s needed again. Fans enter a hidden training room — transporting them to 1900s Spanish California — and try to pass Zorro’s test to find the sword and be deemed worthy of using

Universal Studios’ Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Diagon Alley

it. The one-hour cooperative game for four to 12 players brings the Zorro fan community together to solve puzzles and riddles while appreciating the swashbuckler’s story within a space designed as his world. Another pop-up event — an unofficial Pokémon-themed bar — will travel to Pittsburgh, Cleveland, and Denver this year. Australia-based Viral Ventures will hosts its Poke Bar with Pokémon-inspired food and drinks, along with a DJ. The fan event producer plans to design the space to look like the world of Pokémon by creating seven rooms based on different regions found in the video games and TV series. During the two-hour experience, fans will enter each room to try to catch their own Pokémon and battle them in a tournament. Prizes will also go to attendees who come dressed in a Pokémon costume. When trainers get hungry, they can dine on special food and cocktails inspired by the franchise, including Pokémon burger sliders that are dyed to look like fanfavorite characters. With these new experiences, fans can enjoy themselves, make memories, and connect with their communities in a galaxy far, far away, the Upside Down, or the Trolls Village, if that’s their speed. ✪ THEPOPINSIDER.COM | #FuelYourFandom | 97


Must-Follow Pop Culture Podcasts by Miranda Siwak, editorial assistant

Listen up, nerds. Looking for the perfect pop culture fix for your daily commute? Need something to keep you busy on a long road trip? We’ve got the answer: a pop culture-themed podcast. We’ve selected some of the best podcasts for every type of superfan, whether you’re looking to analyze your favorite flicks from a feminist perspective or relive the most iconic moments from off-air TV series. These podcasts are for fans, by fans, and they offer in-depth information, droves of funny commentary, coveted celebrity interviews, and so much more. So grab your headphones, it’s time to tune in.

HeadGum Hey, Gillies! Ever watch Gilmore Girls (or any masterful show developed by Amy Sherman-Palladino, really) and criticize the sometimes-ridiculous plot holes, deep dive into character analysis, or debate preferred love triangle solutions? GG repeat binger Kevin T. Porter and series newbie Demi Adejuyigbe take an episode-by-episode look at all seven seasons of The WB show. But don’t worry, after Gilmore Girls wrapped, the podcast duo moves onto critiquing AS-P’s other original series, including Bunheads, Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life, and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. The pair sits down with special guests each episode — including iconic cast members, such as Gilmore’s Scott Patterson and Bunheads star Stacey Oristano; the original creative team, such as writer Sheila Lawrence; and celeb superfans Mara Wilson and Parenthood actress Sarah Ramos. They come together to gush over the fast-paced dialogue, dissect cinematography details, analyze pop culture references, and provide each episode with an overall rating. ✪ Episode Length: 1:00-1:20, however some episodes run longer New Episodes: Weekly, especially as new seasons debut Available: Apple Podcasts, Spotify, HeadGum

How Did This Get Made?

Women of Marvel Ladies, assemble. This podcast dives into all the juicy Marvel deets we want to know from the perspective of its female employees and stars as they discuss all things Marvel, including the cinematic universe, television universe, comics, and even merch. Hosted by Marvel staffers Sana Amanat and Judy Stephens, the half-hour episodes include interviews with other marvel-ous women, such as writers, actors, comic artists, and toy manufacturers who all help bring the Marvel universe to life. The hosts chat with their guests about their experience in the Marvel universe — behind or in front of the cameras — including the Hasbro designers behind the Marvel Rising doll line; Olivia Holt, who plays Dagger on Freeform’s Cloak and Dagger; Karen Gillan from Avengers: Endgame; and Captain Marvel comic writer Kelly Sue DeConnick. Episodes cover relevant and timely TV, film, and comic series releases and feature industry professionals speaking about their superhero experience with the studio throughout their and its tenure. While many Marvel podcasts are produced by fans, this one comes from the powers that be at the studio, as they dig deep and share everything you want to know about what’s new in the universe, with powerful women behind the mic. ✪ Episode Length: 0:30 New Episodes: Weekly Available: Marvel, Apple Podcasts

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Gilmore Guys

We all have our favorite movies that — in terms of quality — are, well, straight-up trash, but we can’t help but love them regardless. It’s pure comfort viewing. Hosts Paul Scheer, June Diane Raphael, and Jason Mantzoukas talk through their thoughts on why notably bad movies are so bad that they’re actually good, helping us strip away any “guilty pleasure” insecurities. The trio and their special guests, such as Seth Rogan, former SNL star Sasheer Zamata, Daniel Radcliffe, and Casey Wilson watch films, such as Lifetime’s Harry and Meghan: A Royal Romance, Van Helsing, and Little Italy, and then hilariously recap the best and worst moments. Ever wondered what stands out about the Kelly Clarkson-led From Justin to Kelly? Or what the point behind the Vanessa Hudgens modern fairytale Beastly was, or what even happened in The Disaster Artist? We get it, and so do these hosts, as they break down (with hilarious results) what it’s like to watch and question what these films show on screen. As you subscribe and turn up your volume, prepare to laugh out loud as you realize their commentary is everything you actually love about these bad flicks. ✪ Episode Length: 0:30-1:00 New Episodes: Every other week Available: SoundCloud, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Earwolf


The Bechdel Cast Full of Sith

Full of Sith The weekly Star Wars podcast hosted by Mike Pilot, Holly Frey, and Bryan Young, is chock-full of everything from a galaxy far, far away. Episodes cover the latest news, philosophical life topics, interviews with the cast and crew, and deep-dives into characters and storylines. Geek out with this trio of friends as they share your love for the iconic franchise. This pod is your weekly dose of everything Star Wars as the hosts dive into breaking stories straight from outer space and the influence of the fictional galaxy on our own world and experiences. ✪ Episode Length: 1:00 New Episodes: Weekly

Hosts Caitlin Durante and Jamie Loftus discuss the portrayal of women in film in this entertaining podcast. The podcast puts popular films to the Bechdel Test, developed by cartoonist Alison Bechdel, which measures female representation of women in fiction based on whether or not at least two female characters with names had a conversation on screen that didn’t revolve around a man. Durante and Loftus conquer representation of women in the film industry as they break down whether or not iconic movies pass the test. The hostesses tackle the nature of female characters in flicks including The Avengers franchise, Sleepless in Seattle, The Breakfast Club, and The Nightmare Before Christmas. Whether representation is iffy or outright progressive AF, the hosts honestly call out what our favorite movies get right or painfully wrong. ✪


Getting Curious with Jonathan Van Ness Reality TV personality Jonathan Van Ness gives us our daily dose of motivation to live our best lives. Wondery

What Should I Read Next? Host Anne Bogel invites her weekly guests to discuss their favorite — and least favorite — books. Huffington Post

Here to Make Friends The Huffington Post’s Emma Gray and Claire Fallon break down all the drama on ABC’s The Bachelor.

Black Girl Nerds

Black Girl Nerds

Available:, Apple Podcasts Episode Length: 1:00-1:30 New Episodes: Weekly Panopoly

Harry Potter and the Sacred Text Accio, podcast! All you wizards and muggles can gather ‘round for this podcast focused on J.K. Rowling’s beloved book series Harry Potter. Hosts Vanessa Zoltan and Casper ter Kuile go through each chapter of the entire magical book series, diving into one significant theme per chapter, whether it is commitment, revenge, or forgiveness. While the two muggles discuss the messages in the books, they tie it into the real world to answer life’s big questions. HP readers can attest to how much the franchise means to them, and this podcast breaks down the best moments (you know, the ones you can’t stop reading over and over again) and how they connect us all. ✪

Available: SoundCloud, Apple Podcasts, iHeartRadio The Hamilcast

The Hamilcast Hey, theater nerds! Host Gillian Pensavalle, a big Hamilfan herself, takes you into the room where it happens to discuss all things pertaining to the Tony- and Grammy-winning musical and its brilliance. Pensavalle chats with the show’s stars and crew, history teachers infusing the bastard orphan and rap battles into classrooms, historians, and social media’s biggest fans. She bonds with her guests over the Great White Way and why this musical has spurred a fandom of its own. G. Pen is humbled to be your obedient servant as she recounts why the musical has struck a chord with our great nation. ✪

Episode Length: 0:40

This online community is dedicated to dishing on all things geek culture among black women and people of color. Hosted by Jamie Broadnax and a slew of BGN correspondents, the ladies speak on a variety of pop culture hot topics, including Game of Thrones recaps in their #ThronesYall series, interviews with celebrities and filmmakers including Gabrielle Union and filmmaker Malcolm D. Lee, cast interviews from movie sets and press junkets, and more. While many episodes dive into popular fandoms and franchises, including GoT, Marvel, and blockbuster films, the BGN ladies are here to chat about all types of interests, including breaking down Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s royal wedding, recapping Rachel Lindsay’s Bachelorette season, and discussing the importance of representation and diversity in TV, film, comics, and everything nerdy. ✪ Episode Length: 1:00-1:30 New Episodes: Weekly

New Episodes: Weekly

Episode Length: 1:00

Available: Soundcloud, Apple Podcasts, Spotify,

New Episodes: Weekly

Available:, SoundCloud, Apple Podcasts

Available:, Apple Podcasts

THEPOPINSIDER.COM | #FuelYourFandom | 99


Let’s Get This

Party Started compiled by Miranda Siwak, editorial assistant

A never-ending game of Dungeons & Dragons may make for a wild Friday night for some, but not everyone is cut out for 100-page instruction manuals. Sometimes, we just want a good laugh. So gather ‘round, everybody: We selected the best party games for an evening full of debauchery, hilarity, and hard-fought victories. These games will bring out the best and worst in your friends.

Buffalo Games

I Dissent Pay homage to the incomparable and ever-fierce Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg with this voting and deliberation card game. Players argue and vote on a series of issues in an attempt to gain the majority vote or, in honor of RBG, play a dissent card to clear the round. MSRP: $19.99 | Available: Target University Games

Tip of the Tongue Just spit it out already! It pays to think on your feet in this fastpaced trivia game. There are more than 1,000 generic trivia questions that may seem easy — until you only have two seconds to speak up. Just blurt out your answers and you’ll be victorious. MSRP: $19.99 | Available: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kroger (Aug. 1)

Big G Creative

Bob Ross: Happy Little Accidents Party Game Get your chill on! Transform your abstract squiggles and shapes into works of art with this party game inspired by painter Bob Ross. Reuse and recycle your drawn accidents into creative masterpieces as other players vote on the best sketches. MSRP: $19.99 | Available: Target


The Lie Detector Game

Bring your Pictionary game to life with this interactive, augmented reality version of the classic. Players use the light-up Air Pen to draw out their clues in the air, and thanks to an in-app camera, teammates can watch the illustration appear on a phone, tablet, or TV. Get guessing!

It’s time to find out the truth as you put your friends in the hot seat. Ask players original, and sometimes uncomfortable, “yes” or “no” questions. The machine’s voice analysis is designed to detect subtleties in a person’s voice to figure out if they are telling the truth or not, and each truthful answer earns players a point. It seems that Mom was right all along: Honesty really is the best policy.

MSRP: $19.99 | Available: Target

MSRP: $29.99 | Available: Target


Pictionary Air

Spin Master

Would You Rather...? Prove It! Time to choose! With this social voting game, players must choose between a duo of demented dilemmas, such as whether they’d prefer playing the game with smelly socks on their hands or eating snacks out of a shoe. But, be careful what you wish for. See how your friends’ minds work as they discuss the merits of each scenario, then put them on the spot and have them prove their final choice. This new edition takes the classic “Would You Rather” game to a new level with concrete reasoning and evidence. MSRP: $14.99 | Available: Walmart, Gamestop, Barnes & Noble, Kohls (Sept. 1)

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Collection available at Her Universe Booth #1321 and online at

Merit Leighton, Voice of Frosta on DreamWorks She-Ra and the Princesses of Power

SHE-RA and associated trademarks and character copyrights are owned by and used under license from Mattel, Inc. Under license to Classic Media. DreamWorks She-Ra and the Princesses of Power Š 2019 DreamWorks Animation LLC. All Rights Reserved.