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ISSUE NO. 6 Cover photo: Mitchel Wu Toy Photography



12 | BEHOLD: THE CHILD How a 50-year-old Toddler United a Fandom and Then Started Its Very Own

29 | TOY FAIR 2020 The Hottest Toys, Collectibles, and Games Coming This Year

47 | BACK TO THE FUTURE AT 35 Celebrating a Franchise that Moves Forward by Looking Back


Serious pop culture collectors go big or go home for big-ticket items.


6 | FROM THE EDITORS It’s all about toys!


Geeky Entertainment Updates

10 | STAT SHOT What Topped the Box Office and Comic Book Shelves in 2019

16 | MERCH MAKERS How a Dumpster Fire Lit Up 2019’s Convention Circuit

18 | LEVEL UP The Glorified Slot Machines of Modern Gaming


The Latest in Kids’ Entertainment



Karen Hallion melds magical realms where women rule.

How the Care Bears Are Warming the Hearts of Today’s Kids



How Midtown Comics Became So Super

Join the festivities for Dr. Seuss’ birthday and Read Across America Day.

80 | TOY FAIR 2020


The Coolest Toys for the Coolest Kids



Warner Bros. Consumer Products talks Birds of Prey apparel and collectibles.

Spin Master launches new DC toys line.

Collectors discuss Hasbro’s new collectibles without plastic packaging.


Darth Lexii proves it’s good to play the villain.

94 | FLAUNT YOUR FANDOM Where Fashion and Fandom Collide


The Latest Games, Books, and More

100 | POP PICKS The Geekiest YA Novels You Won’t Want to Put Down

PICTURE THIS 64 | Exploring the World of Toy Photography

Photo: Dan Leonard

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IT’S A TOTAL TOY TAKEOVER! And we are here for it.

New decade, new us. Welcome to the winter issue of the Pop Insider. We’re so glad to see you back and hope you’ve fully recovered from the holidays and all your feelings on The Rise of Skywalker. We’re ready to kick off a brandnew and exciting year for the Pop Insider — and it all starts here. We love Baby Yoda more than Baby Yoda loves chicky nuggies, and we know you do, too. Since the launch of Disney+, there’s only one little green alien everyone is talking about: The Child. Read all about how the toddler took over the world galaxy, and check out lots of The Child-inspired merch coming later this year on page 12. In this issue, we will show you so many toys because — drum roll, please — it’s Toy Fair season! Toy Fair New York is the largest North American toy trade show, where grown-ass adults pack into a convention center to play with thousands of toys. It’s the most wonderful time of the year! But alas, it’s super VIP. Most of these toys, collectibles, and party games won’t be available on store shelves until later this year, so we’re giving you a sneak peek of the hottest stuff inspired by your favorite fandoms that will knock your socks off. Turn to page 29 to get the inside scoop (and have the upper hand on all of your friends). And since toys are the main event in this issue, we thought we’d dive into the folks who give them the real star treatment: toy photographers. An ever-growing trend in the toy world, #toyphotography is taking over Instagram — and the industry. Learn more about these artists and their work on page 64, and check out Mitchel Wu’s The Child photography on our cover! In this issue’s Pop Junior section, we’re throwing it back to Care-a-Lot with new info on the revamped — and still generously kind — Care Bears. Get ready to share on page 76. Plus, Spin Master launches its new DC toy line, starring everyone’s favorite caped crusader. Check out what’s to come from Gotham on page 88. And of course, we couldn’t leave out the kiddos during Toy Fair, so you can see the latest toys featuring the characters your kids love on page 80.



And that’s not all (if you can even believe it): Get your geek on with new merch coming from fan-favorite franchises, such as Birds of Prey (page 96) and Back to the Future (page 47), and learn about the new hot collectible that’s en fuego (page 16). So far, 2020 already has us super stoked for the year to come. Catch us at even more cons, with even more merch, giving you even more info to keep you in the know about all of your favorite fandoms.

Marissa DiBartolo Ali Mierzejewski COPY CHIEF Sierra McCleary-Harris SENIOR EDITORS Jacqueline Cucco Maddie Michalik James Zahn ASSOCIATE EDITOR

Love you. Mean it.

Madeleine Buckley ASSISTANT EDITOR Miranda Siwak EDITORIAL ASSISTANTS Josephine Baran Ben Goren ART DIRECTOR Joe Ibraham PRODUCTION DIRECTOR Bill Reese SALES & MARKETING James Devin Branden Mendez Adventure Media and Events, LLC 307 7th Avenue, #501, New York, NY 10001 Phone: (212) 575-4510

Follow us @thepopinsider!

SUBSCRIBE TO THE POP INSIDER! ABOUT THE EDITORS: Marissa DiBartolo and Ali Mierzejewski are editors-in-chief of the Pop Insider and the Toy Insider. They report on trends affecting the toy and pop culture industries, including 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, MSNBC, Fox Business, and dozens more. Follow them on Twitter @thattoygirl and @ohsotrendy.

THE POP INSIDER, Winter 2020 — “THE POP INSIDER” (ISSN-2641-5496) is published quarterly by Adventure Media & Events, LLC, 307 Seventh Ave., Room 501, New York, New York, 10001. Periodicals postage paid at New York, NY 10001 and additional mailing offices. © 2020 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 501, New York, New York, 10001 or e-mail

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NERDY NEWS NINTENDO’S NEW ANIMAL CROSSING SWITCH IS WORTH INFINITE BELLS As if we weren’t excited enough for the upcoming release of Animal Crossing: New Horizons, Nintendo just had to make our wishlist even longer — and significantly cuter — with an Animal Crossing-themed Nintendo Switch console. The new system launches on March 13, one week before New Horizons debuts on March 20. It features adorable homages to the new game, with pastel green and blue Joy-Con controllers and a dock featuring images of Tom Nook and Nooklings Timmy and Tommy. This new system retails for $299.99, the same price as a regular Switch, which makes this a fantastic option for fans who plan to buy the system specifically to play the new game. Fans can preorder the New Horizons Switch now from GameStop and other online retailers. ✪

THE GHOSTBUSTERS: ARTBOOK IS COMING If you can’t wait for the release of Ghostbusters: Afterlife this summer, luckily there’s another way to celebrate your Ghostbusters fandom in the meantime. Ghostbusters: Artbook, from Insight Editions and Printed in Blood, is a 208-page, fully illustrated, hardcover art book celebrating the iconic film franchise. The book features hundreds of original pieces of artwork by 170 illustrators across disciplines, including animation, comics, fine art, and graphic design. The book also features blurbs from some of the artists, describing the meaning or inspiration behind their art piece, along with what the franchise means to them. All of the art in this comprehensive collection is previously unseen, offering a carefully curated look inside the Ghostbusters universe. Insight Editions will release the book on May 5 at for $39.99. ✪

A LIVE-ACTION ONE PIECE SERIES IS COMING SOON TO NETFLIX The best-selling manga comic One Piece is heading to Netflix in the form of a 10-episode, live-action series. One Piece tells the story of pirate boy Monkey D. Luffy, who is in search of the greatest treasure in order to become the next Pirate King. After eating a Devil Fruit, Luffy’s body gains elastic, rubbery properties. A One Piece anime series has been around since 1999 — and it’s still running with more than 900 episodes to date — but Netflix is changing course by replicating the Straw Hat Pirates as live-action characters. ✪

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Call of Duty League just announced its brand sponsors for this year’s inaugural season, and fans who want to rep their league team should get excited. Outerstuff, a branded apparel industry leader, will develop official player kits and fan apparel, and Mitchell & Ness will create leaguelicensed headwear for all teams in the league. Call of Duty League, from Activision Blizzard Esports (ABE) and Activision, is the official esports league of the Call of Duty video game franchise. The inaugural season includes 12 teams from four countries and spotlights the best Call of Duty esports players around the world. The league launch will feature new ways for pro players, amateurs, and fans to come together around the video game. Additional sponsors for Call of Duty League’s inaugural season include Mtn Dew, Amp Game Fuel, PlayStation, Astro Gaming, SCUF Gaming, and the U.S. Airforce. Fans can shop for sweatshirts, T-shirts, team jerseys, hats, winter beanies, and lanyards at the official Fanatics experience Call of Duty League Store at ✪

No matter how far the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (TMNT) have come, fans just can’t help themselves when it comes to revisiting the past. The 1991 video game Turtles in Time is experiencing a Renaissance. Following its return on Arcade1Up’s TMNT arcade cabinet, the folks at NECA have created a range of 7-inch-scale TMNT action figures based on the game. Following the release of the first wave of figures, the second series of NECA‘s TMNT Turtles in Time is coming this May. Available for preorder now via Entertainment Earth, the next assortment includes Michelangelo, Raphael, Leatherhead, and Super Shredder — each presented in premium, video-game-inspired (pixelated!) deco. Michelangelo and Raphael include their signature weapons and new hoverboard with a display stand that can be used for maximum posability. Leatherhead is packed with his throwing knife, and Super Shredder wields a beam sword and includes two different fire blast effects. Each figure will come in a window box that features graphics from the original arcade cabinet. ✪

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Top 10 Comic Book Publishers (2019) Publisher

Dollar Share

Unit Share

1. Marvel Comics



2. DC



3. Image Comics



4. IDW Publishing



5. Dark Horse Comics



6. Boom! Studios



7. Dynamite Entertainment



8. Viz Media



9. Oni Press



10. Titan Comics



Other Non-Top 10



Source: Diamond Comic Distributors Inc.

Box Office Top 10 (2019) Title
























Source: Box Office Mojo — a service of IMDbPro (as of Feb. 5, 2020) 10 | Issue No. 5 6 | THE POP INSIDER 6

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How a 50-year-old Toddler United a Fandom and Then Started Its Very Own by James Zahn, senior editor


n the morning of Nov. 12, 2019, while most of the world was going about its daily routine, audiences in the U.S. were crashing servers as they feverishly scrambled to install Disney+. The long-awaited debut of Disney’s direct-to-consumer streaming service happened with the usual technological hiccups expected with a major, multiplatform launch — but with plenty of delightful surprises. What no one expected was that the biggest surprise of them all was hiding at the end of the flagship series premiere of The Mandalorian: a 50-year-old, toddler-esque version of a beloved Star Wars character that the internet deemed “Baby Yoda.”

CAUGHT OFF GUARD BY #BABYYODA Within hours, #BabyYoda was a trending topic on Twitter. With little regard for spoilers, the web was buzzing with news of a creature who was of the same species as Jedi Master Yoda, but it couldn’t possibly be Yoda, could it? “The Child,” as we’d learn to call him in the second chapter released on Nov. 15, was a global phenomenon before most of the world even had formal access to the Disney+ service. The first-ever, live-action TV series to be set in the Star Wars universe, The Mandalorian falls into a new era of storytelling set five years after the events of The Return of the Jedi (1983). In that film, Yoda died, becoming one with the Force at the age of 900. While the arrival of The Child was a surprise to the audience, it may have been a bigger shock to a group of Lucasfilm partners who usually have early access to such information: the consumer products and toy licensees.

Above: Mattel’s 11-inch, vinyl-head plush doll in “floating pod” packaging

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Dolly Ahluwalia, vice president of licensing and business development at Funko, discovered The Child on launch day just like any other fan. “I was watching The Mandalorian at 8 a.m. when Disney+ premiered,” she says. Funko already had four Mandalorian Pop! Vinyl figures on the market in time for the series launch, but The Child was hidden from Funko, as it was from Hasbro, Mattel, and all of the other licensees — a conscious decision to put art above commerce at the request of The Mandalorian showrunner Jon Favreau (Iron Man, The Lion King). “It was important to us that the reveal of the new character, The Child, be a special moment for fans,” says Paul Southern, senior vice president of licensing and franchise at Lucasfilm. “We could not be more thrilled with the response.” That response moved beyond the Twitterverse into an explosion of global media coverage, and fans were demanding merchandise that not only wasn’t available, but hadn’t even hit the design stage yet. The character immediately began uniting the Star Wars fandom — which has been somewhat divided in recent years — while simultaneously pulling in casual fans and many people new to Star Wars. “When I first saw the baby in motion on screen, I was elated to say the least,” says Jason Ward, editor-in-chief of Making Star Wars, a leading Star Wars fan site. “You could tell they captured lightning in a bottle with that little critter.”

MOBILIZING A CREATIVE FORCE The Child also kicked off a swirl of inspiration for artists and creatives well outside the official channels. Singer-songwriter Parry Gripp first hit the scene in the mid-1990s as frontman of the pop-punk band Nerf Herder. In recent years, Gripp has hit viral gold with dozens of kid-friendly pop songs and videos. Gripp found himself pulled toward The Child as a Star Wars fan, but an outside force inspired some creative output. “I instantly loved it,” Gripp says. “It was so surprisingly cute, especially in the context of the action and violence of that first episode.” Mere days after The Child levitated a Mudhorn to save the Mandalorian’s life, Gripp referenced the heroic act in a new single, titled “Baby Yoda (Floating in a Pod).” The song is an update of Gripp’s 2010 hit, “Baby Monkey (Going Backwards on a Pig),” which racked up nearly 30 million views on YouTube alone. “I never would have done a Baby Yoda song, but all of a sudden I was besieged by people on Twitter requesting a version of ‘Baby Monkey’ about Baby Yoda,” he says. “Mark Hoppus from Blink-182, who periodically posts the ‘Baby Monkey’ video, tweeted a verse of ‘Baby Monkey’ substituting ‘Yoda’ for ‘Monkey,’ which kicked up the requests a notch. So I figured, why not?” With the Pro Tools session for “Baby Monkey” still living on his

The Child Assortment, Hasbro Hasbro delivers a full bounty of merchandise for every fan of The Child. A 7.5-inch talking plush figure with cute character sounds leads the assortment. Collectors will covet the 1.1inch articulated version of The Child from Star Wars The Black Series, which comes with numerous accessories. Star Wars Baby Bounties are a completely new expression of tooned-out, 2.2-inch figures in action poses.

MSRP: $9.99-24.99 Available: Hasbro Pulse, mass retailers

computer, Gripp says all he had to do was re-sing the vocals. “Bam! It was done. I probably spent 30 minutes on it,” he explains. A music video featuring animated artwork by Nathan Mazur was online just two days later. Within a week or so, dozens of independent artists, makers, and creators were sharing photos of their own interpretations of The Child, often with wildly varying levels of success. From a design perspective, the character checks some

Russ Turk and his handmade “The Child” puppet

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emotional boxes that add to the appeal. “It’s the way that it is obviously the same species as Yoda, except it has all the elements to make it cute,” says Russ Turk, a toy designer and art director who previously served as design manager for Toys “R” Us. “Short, chubby limbs, large eyes, a small mouth, and a very expressive face — it really resembles an infant.” Turk, who works as a design consultant for Horizon Group and Buzz Bee Toys, among other companies, was inspired to create a version of The Child of his own. “I thought about doing some sort of figure or puppet for a few weeks, but I was in the middle of a few projects already,” Turk says. “Then, one Monday morning, I decided to make a puppet. I sculpted it on Monday, finished it on Tuesday, molded it on Wednesday, and had the first rubber casting on Friday. I painted the puppet on Saturday and posted pictures that same day.” “Whoever designed The Child should get some kind of award,” Gripp declares. “An Emmy? A Nobel Peace Prize? Baby Yoda has certainly brought people together. There is some emotional element to it that is indescribable.”

“I WOULD LIKE TO SEE THE BABY” Echoing a quote from Werner Herzog as “the Client” — the mysterious Imperial Officer who issued the bounty on The Child — fans were lighting up retailers by the end of November, eager to get their hands on whatever they could. “The Mandalorian himself was in super-high demand leading up to the series premiere — and he still is — but once The Child was revealed, the excitement about him was nearly instantaneous,” says Katie Stock, social media manager at Collector’s Outpost, a destination for pop culture collectibles in Gurnee, Illinois. “Within the first few days, ‘Do you have any Baby Yoda?’ became the most-common question every day.” The first wave of official products depicting The Child hit the web to criticism for seeming rushed. An assortment of print-ondemand items, such as shirts, coffee mugs, and phone cases featuring concept art from The Mandalorian concept supervisor Christian Alzmann, went on sale on Nov. 26, but most viewed it as a reaction to the unlicensed market as official licensees worked to move through the design and approval

process at a faster-than-usual pace to catch up. Noted for its speed in reacting to and delivering on pop culture trends, Funko was one of the first companies to preview licensed versions of The Child, just three weeks after becoming aware of the character. “We are so fortunate to have a strong and long-standing relationship with our partners at Lucasfilm and Disney,” says Funko’s Ahluwalia. “They were amazing in making sure we [kept] the character integrity and also [honored] Funko’s design aesthetic. Even though we move as quickly as possible, something as high profile as this means there is a lot of feedback to make sure we get it right and end up in a position where everyone is happy.” Another big surprise that accompanied Funko’s reveal was an announcement that Mattel will offer an 11-inch, vinyl-head plush doll — the company’s first foray into Star Wars licensing beyond collaborations for Hot Wheels and Barbie. By January, preorders for the doll — which comes specially packaged in a hover crib — had already sold out at retailers, including Amazon and Entertainment Earth. On Dec. 12, exactly one month since the debut of The Mandalorian, longtime Star Wars master toy licensee, Hasbro, broke its silence to unveil its first offerings featuring The Child. “We’ve been so enamored with the conversation and fan reaction surrounding The Child and we know Star Wars fans around the world will be thrilled to see this beloved character incorporated into our Star Wars collection of products,” says Samantha Lomow, president of Hasbro entertainment brands. Stock says that at Collector’s Outpost, “the standard and oversized versions of The Child Funko Pop!s are the most preordered and talked about on a daily basis, with the Star Wars Black Series figure from Hasbro coming in a close second.” She also notes that T-shirts are in high demand and that a fineart print from comic artist Dominic Glover

The Child POP! Vinyl, Funko Funko delivers The Child in regular- and jumbo-sized Pop! Vinyl form. Choose from 3.75- or 10-inch scale.

MSRP: $9.99-34.99 Available: Mass retailers

The Child Apparel Assortment, Fifth Sun Fans of all ages can embrace The Child with an assortment of T-shirts and long-sleeved shirts.

MSRP: $22.99-29.99 Available:, Amazon

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has been “phenomenally popular” since its December release. A 500-piece puzzle from Buffalo Games was one of the first items to hit stores ahead of the holidays. By February, the Funko Pop! Vinyl version of The Child had become the bestselling Pop! of all time, and it hasn’t even shipped yet.

PROTECTING THE CHILD AND ECHOES OF THE PAST “If we had given the design [of The Child] out, it literally would’ve gone out to hundreds and hundreds of people around the world, and we didn’t want to do that,” said Bob Iger, chairman and CEO of the Walt Disney Co., in an extended interview with The Star Wars Show. The supply chain for toys is a notorious source of leaks when it comes to licensed properties, with potential spoilers emerging when designs, product shots, or even finished items hit the web months before release. The Star Wars fandom is even more unusual, with spotters around the world looking for leaks at all points in the chain — including shipping manifests, docks, and ports — and the POS systems of major retailers. Because of this, licensees often use code names for each character in a product assortment. “On one hand, it was smart to keep the character a surprise. If any toys or concepts had been leaked, it would have ruined the surprise of the show,” Turk says. “On the other hand, they would have made all the money this past Christmas season with The Child products.” A season with in-demand but nonexistent Star Wars products is familiar to those who were around when George Lucas’ Star Wars hit screens in 1977. The late licensing deal led to the famous “empty mailer” — Kenner’s Early Bird Certificate package — an envelope containing a cardboard display stand for action figures that didn’t exist yet, with a note promising delivery in 1978. Favreau told The Hollywood Reporter that by holding back The Child, Disney knew it might be at a disadvantage by not having toys available right away, but that what they received in exchange was “an excitement surrounding the character because everyone felt like they discovered him together.” Favreau says that experience emulated his own growing up — elements of mystery and surprise that can be hard to

keep a lid on these days. Ward, of Making Star Wars, says he thinks that holding back merchandising was “a questionable choice,” as the series didn’t debut simultaneously in countries worldwide. “No one watched the show at the same moment as they would on opening night in the theater for a new Star Wars film,” he says. “Star Wars has never been about shocking audiences; it’s been about staying power.” Had The Child been sent to licensees, there is absolutely no doubt that it would have leaked, but still, there were rumblings that creatures of Yoda’s species would be making an appearance on The Mandalorian. Ward reported as early as October that he had seen photos of “five or six unfinished Yoda species puppets in various states of completeness.” After fans took time to get invested in the series, protecting The Child moved from cloaking the existence of the character into a sense of genuine attachment and worry for what would become of him on screen. Thousands of memes emerged in which fans expressed the desire to give their own lives to protect that of the green one. “The scene in the third episode when Mando delivers the baby [to the Client], and they take it away, was one of the most unsettling things I have ever seen on TV. I was genuinely upset,” Gripp explains.

UNITING A FANDOM AND LOOKING AHEAD Following the divisive release of Rian Johnson’s Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017), the below-expected box office performance of Ron Howard’s Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018), and further fan friction following December’s Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, The Mandalorian seems to be one element of Star Wars content that everyone seems to agree is fantastic. The “precious little creature,” as Carl Weathers’ Greef Karga called it, is a central figure that is reaching audiences beyond the typical borders of the fandom. “My mother is in her 80s living in Florida, and even she knows about Baby Yoda,” Turk says.

THE CHILD IS CHANGING THE CONVERSATION OVERALL “It’s been overwhelmingly refreshing,” says Stock of Collector’s Outpost. “Fans

Star Wars The Child Talking Plush, Hasbro Become the protector of The Child with this cute depiction of the napping, soup-sipping, force-using tike! Poseable arms let kids pretend the Force is within their reach, while a squeeze of the toy’s soft plush body activates character sounds.

MSRP: $24.99 Available: Hasbro Pulse, mass retailers

are taking pride in Baby Yoda, celebrating everything from The Mandalorian, and translating that enthusiasm into the overall Star Wars Saga. It feels like the ‘Baby Yoda’ unity has given everyone the confidence they needed to become a lot more relaxed about praising Star Wars as a whole. The daily conversations have become incredibly positive,” she says. “We’ve loved Yoda for so long. To have this tiny version that is powerful and also vulnerable — it’s magic!” Gripp says. “Like so much of what we feel, we can’t explain it, but the feeling of love for this creature is an undeniable force.“ Audiences will have to wait until this fall to experience more adventures with Mando and The Child as they traverse the galaxy as a newly minted “clan of two.” Perhaps the second season will even reveal The Child’s real name? “Even though the first season of The Mandalorian has finished, the series is still engaging many new viewers every day, and even more international fans will get the chance to discover the story when Disney+ launches in additional countries in March,” says Lucasfilm’s Southern. “There are also characters and vehicles from season one that will make their consumer product debut this year. In general, Star Wars fans will have a lot to look forward to all year.” ✪

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Photo: Brian McCarty Flip to page 62 for more lifelike toy photography.


100% Soft's cute, cynical toy lit up last year’s convention circuit. by Ben Goren, editorial assistant


t’s cute, cyan, and smiling. It’s also full of garbage and engulfed in flames. It’s a literal dumpster fire — a 3.5-inch figure of a dumpster fire, at least — and it’s the first foray into figurines for Los Angeles-based artist Truck Torrence. Torrence’s Dumpster Fire is a visual stand-in for the cynical, self-deprecating term used semi-jokingly on social media, in pulpy headlines, and during many a therapy session to describe the figurative smoking heap of garbage that is, at times, one’s disastrous, burnt-trash life. It’s also cute as heck, so it’s no wonder that 100% Soft, Torrence’s moniker and brand, has received an overwhelming response from collectors, Instagram followers, and rabid comic con attendees. “I’ve done a lot of conventions over the course of my career, and I’ve never experienced the thing I did at [Comic-Con International: San Diego (SDCC)] this year. People were crying, people wanted to fight me — it was insane,” recalls Torrence of the

public response during the Dumpster Fire’s limited-run release at last year’s SDCC. “I knew people would like it, it would kind of be a cute thing, but I didn't think it would turn into a thing-thing.” Cuteness aside, the figure is “basically a perfect eye-catching toy” from a technical standpoint, with a “catchy and very recognizable” silhouette, says Paul Tanompong, a 3D artist and member of the team responsible for bringing the Dumpster Fire resin figure to life. Vinyl versions of the figure have since been added to 100% Soft’s webstore, where preorders, too, sold out after overzealous fans raced to secure their own little piece of trash. Symbolic of a life in turmoil, a representation of our cultural cynicisms, and quite the adorable desk ornament, the Dumpster Fire is one of the most popular figures to emerge from last year’s convention scene. It’s an art toy fit for the moment, and a deserved invitation to bring 100% Soft into the spotlight.

Originally planned as an exclusive resin figure for the small pool of fans or window shoppers who were expected to visit SDCC Booth 1532, the Dumpster Fire hype shot off in the days leading up to the convention after an announcement photo was posted to 100% Soft’s Instagram account. “It beat the algorithm,” Torrence says. “You spend hours and days and months working on something, and you post a picture, and it gets lost in the flood. But when I posted that thing, I just got a huge response on it.” After a handful of blogs and outlets posted about the figure, Torrence started getting flooded with requests from fans hungry to get their hands on one. Tanompong, who missed SDCC, felt the effects in his notifications. “I started getting likes and new followers on Instagram on a daily basis. After one

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Future Dumpster Fire colorways, like this cutie above, will be available later this year.

week, I had more than 600 new followers,” he says. The Dumpster Fire vinyl was not a longterm, strategic reveal; it was simply the test run of the brand’s step into figures. “It’s a lot of money and time and energy to test [out a figure], so you kind of have to hedge your bets on something that maybe people are already familiar with,” Torrence says. Inspired by his already-popular enamel pin design — a simple, rectangular-shaped flaming dumpster — Torrence decided it was the safest bet for an uncomplicated first figure. No matter how it turns out, you’ve made a dumpster fire. To hand-sculpt, cast, and paint the original resin toy, Torrence called upon Tanompong, who co-owns and operates the specialty sculpting house Props & Pops with his wife Maxine. Tanompong thought the Dumpster Fire design was “super cute and [was] perfect to translate from 2[D] into a real toy.” Only six months later, he claims Props & Pops’ steady business owes a big thanks to that little piece of trash. For Torrence and the 100% Soft name, once the demand started, it became very clear that it wouldn’t stop. At peak hype during last summer’s convention circuit, the crowds of empty-handed and envious fans reached critical mass, quickly forcing the evolution of 100% Soft’s distribution method into a lottery system. It was simple: Convention attendees would receive a raffle ticket when the doors opened, and a drawing in the afternoon would name the winners, who were then eligible to purchase one of 75 available figures. The hype continued, as the few lucky collectors shared their Dumpster Fire wins online, flashing the exclusive colorways for MondoCon and DesignerCon that followed the SDCC debut. One of those lucky winners, DesignerCon attendee Matthew Power, was ecstatic — visibly so to the lucky

patrons in the food truck line who witnessed his “happy dance” — to win the pink variant Dumpster Fire. A steadfast collector with an Instagram full of toys curated and photographed from his personal collection, Power says it’s no wonder the Dumpster Fire blew up the way it did. “It easily appeals to a lot of different types of collectors. … [The] Dumpster Fire is not only cute, ironic, nihilistic, and funny, but collectors love to get on board with a new artist or sculpt in the early stages, especially around convention time. Then you add the limited availability to the resin pieces, and you’ve got the perfect storm!” Power’s appreciation of the piece’s ironic sensibilities speaks to the cultural tastes of the moment. It’s no surprise that a smiling pile of flaming garbage resonated with Torrence’s fans. After receiving some positive response to his “Bad Vibes” series, an earlier set of enamel pins and stickers featuring cute designs of cynical and dreadful motifs — including a smiling tombstone sticker and a colorful bubble-lettered “dead inside” or “future corpse” pin — Torrence says he realized he’d struck a cynical cultural chord. Call it a sign of the times, call it knowing your audience, but the juxtaposition of cute and sad made an impression. Torrence’s interest in “cute-ifying” the not-so-cute is nothing new for the kawaii-inspired artist, whose love of ‘80s pop culture, comic books, and horror films have been the inspiration for some delightful illustrations since the start of his career. Early gallery shows and Instagram teases led to the brand 100% Soft, a name that describes his round, edgeless design style: “really cute, not simple but not overly detailed, with no hard edges. It’s like, soft-looking. 100% soft-looking.” Pop culture references galore, Torrence’s alternative movie posters of films and franchises, such as The Lost Boys, Star Wars, and Back to the Future, made for some adorable drawings of recognizable ghosts, vampires, heroes, and villains. After a few successful gallery shows, Torrence caught the attention of some big names at a Star Wars exhibit — the big name in Star Wars, actually: Lucasfilm. The film studio enjoyed his small and simplified Star Wars characters and saw them as the perfect prototype for an upcoming marketing trend known as the franchise emoji. A couple of years and Star Wars sequels later, Torrence is the artist behind the official emojis and Twitter hashflags for Lucasfilm, plus a number of Marvel, Disney, and other

100% Soft’s Torrence designs officially licensed emojis for studios’ major film launches.

big-budget films, including Jumanji and John Wick. This clout propelled Torrence as he grew his online presence and store, finding a merchandising niche in cute creations of his own: a personified taco sticker here, a pizza surfboard enamel pin there, and, more recently, a venture into toys, beginning with his Kaiju Kitties collection of plush dolls, a series of monster-like kittens with cuteness of Godzilla-size proportions. Despite the big name cosigns, many fans and collectors hadn’t heard of 100% Soft until the Dumpster Fire’s takeoff — the same folks who now can’t get enough of it. Fear not, says Torrence, who is upping the stock of his vinyls online. He also has plans for more iterations of the Dumpster Fire in the future, perhaps in the form of a throw pillow or “something that lights up.” And if you thought the Dumpster Fire would become 100% Soft’s convention circuit calling card, you’d be pleasantly surprised to know that Torrence is prepping for new ground beyond the Fire’s trailblazing. While he says he hopes the success is just as potent, Torrence doesn’t have any expectations for this year. “My ultimate goal is to make things that people like and they get excited about, so if I can keep doing that, I will try to deal with the storm or calm that happens in the interim.” ✪ Fans can order their own Dumpster Fire, as well as plush, pins, and prints at For more gifs and upcoming creations, follow Torrence and 100% Soft on Instagram @100soft. ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Ben Goren is an editorial assistant for the Pop Insider, the Toy Insider, and leading toy industry publication the Toy Book. He loves funny TV shows and not-funny films and is always looking for a new comedy podcast or an old sandwich recipe.

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$500 GONE — only spotted because of a notification from a credit card company. $1,500 gone — bringing a bank account perilously close to empty. $3,000 — a college education fund depleted to mitigate the damages. These stories, scattered throughout forums across the internet, read like some niche B plotline for the newest season of Law & Order: Cyber Crimes Unit. In reality, they’re all stories of parents caught off guard by their kids’ online gaming charges. And in many cases, this spending comes in the form of a term often uttered in hushed tones by concerned parents: loot boxes. As a concept, loot boxes are not new. The toy industry has always relied on our desire to get our hands on what the world has declared rare and important — and our willingness to sink money into that pursuit. But it wasn’t until a game company took the idea of loot boxes too far that the world —

and its governments — began to take notice. In 2017, gaming giant Electronic Arts (EA) released Star Wars Battlefront 2, a sequel to its remake of the popular Star Wars online first-person-shooter game. Immediately, players noticed something concerning: Major competitive components of the game were locked away from the start and could only be unlocked by massive amounts of gameplay — or by paying for randomized loot boxes and hoping that you got the items you needed. This pay-to-win dynamic made fans furious, and they made enough noise that the industry began to take notice. “Probably every single person you’ve spoken to has mentioned when the Battlefront 2 loot boxes came out,” Dr. Brett Abarbanel, director of research at the University of Nevada Las Vegas’s International Gaming Institute, correctly guesses in an interview. Abarbanel has studied links

between gambling and video games for the past 10 years. An avid gamer and poker player, she wanted to make clear the line between randomness and gambling — and how EA crossed it.

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“Elements of randomness have shown up for almost as long as video games have been around,” she points out, citing examples such as critical hits and other game mechanics that have variable, non-100% chances. It becomes gambling, however, when you introduce a cost and an incentive to pay it repeatedly. “A good, brief definition would be that you’re risking something of value on an outcome that’s uncertain,” Abarbanel says, “but this includes a vast variety of things — … any sort of minimal item where you would risk something.” When asked to compare more traditional forms of gambling to their video gaming counterparts, she laughs. “This is like an hour-long lecture,” she says. But in the end, her answer was admirably concise — and immediately recognizable. “The first parallel we see in loot boxes is slot machines. There’s the [random number generator (RNG)] function that’s built in to a computer algorithm, there’s the colorful aesthetic, too. … There might be music associated with it, or different sounds, and then there might be the surprise element. There’s a drama that might be parallel to the drama of a slot reel [in which] the first two reels stop, and the third one spins a little bit longer before you get the last item on the reel. Those sorts of elements are similar to mechanisms we see in slot games.” It’s concerning enough on its own that loot boxes in gaming share cosmetic similarities to more traditional forms of gambling, but it’s the psychological similarities that are truly worrisome. As the discussion around loot boxes was heating up in June 2018, two professors — Dr. Aaron Drummond from Massey

University in New Zealand and Dr. James D. Sauer from the University of Tasmania in Australia — partnered to write an article titled “Video Game Loot Boxes are PsychologicalStar Wars Battlefront II loot boxes sparked controversy, ly Akin to Gambling” for the leading to stricter government regulations worldwide. journal Nature. In the study, Photo: IDG / Hayden Dingman they analyzed 22 popular games that utilize loot boxes using a five-part criteria to determine if 18, video games don’t have that limitation. risk-taking behavior is specifically defined “The reason we are concerned about as gambling. On this scale, nearly half of them being available to minors is two-fold,” the games — many from popular franchises, Drummond writes. “First, there is evidence such as Call of Duty, FIFA, and Madden to suggest that people exposed to gam— met the study’s criteria. Perhaps more bling when [they are] young are more likely troublingly, Drummond and Sauer’s study, to develop problem-gambling symptoms as well as a later study headed by Dr. David later in adulthood. Second, adolescents’ Zendle of York St. John University, found brains are still developing, and accordingly credible links between the amount gamers they tend to have less ability to control their spent on loot boxes and the likelihood impulses.” In fact, according to Zendle’s that they were what was known as “a probstudy, adolescents are twice as likely to lem gambler.” have a link between problem-gambling “Problem gamblers are people who habits and loot box spending than their have difficulty regulating their gambling adult counterparts. behaviour and whose gambling behaviour This is where stories of kids recklessly — causes problems in their day-to-day life,” even unwittingly — spending money that Drummond clarifies in an email. “The Probisn’t theirs comes into play. While the loot lem Gambling Severity Index is a nine-item box system is not new, it’s more accessible checklist assessing the frequency of such and common than ever. And now, more problems. Gamblers who score eight or countries are fighting against this model, more on the scale are considered to be at but there’s a lack of consistency in how high risk for gambling problems.” gambling is defined and regulated, A system that caters at any level to peomaking it difficult for any clear, interple who have moderate to severe gambling national consensus to emerge. problems is an issue no matter what, but the “In many cases, there has been target age demographic for these games uncertainty about which department or further complicates matters. While most departments are responsible for regulating gambling is illegal to anyone younger than loot boxes, … “ Drummond writes. “Some

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countries consider it a media classification issue, others a gambling issue, others still a consumer protection issue.” In 2018, Belgium and the Netherlands became the first countries to have an outright ban on loot box sales in certain games. Belgium’s ban was for any loot box that can be bought with real money. The Netherlands only banned loot boxes in which the goods were “transferable” — able to be moved from person to person — and thus could be sold for real-life currency. Other countries have taken their own approaches. China and South Korea allow the sale of loot boxes, but require the game companies to publish the success rates of the boxes openly. Australia passed a law that gamers must be 18 and up to make loot box purchases, but at press time that law had not yet gone into effect. On the other hand, France’s independent gambling regulation authority, which is appointed by France’s president, found that loot boxes did not constitute gambling at all. However, one factor has been uniform in almost every country: concern for protecting kids from developing dangerous habits. This didn’t come as a surprise to Abarbanel. “We’re talking about a group that has long been recognized by the gambling industry, by government members, as a group that should be protected as they develop mentally,” she says. “They’re just not necessarily

prepared to understand how this might be affecting them. Now, I always like to emphasize I’m not saying that teenagers are stupid — far from it. But in general, ... you just might not necessarily have the experience with these sorts of products to understand how you might be affected.” In September 2018, 18 gambling regulators from the U.S. and Europe — including France — signed a joint statement committing to “raise parental and consumer awareness regarding the transition between gaming for leisure and entertainment and the offering of gambling possibilities.” In a letter accompanying their study, Zendle and co-authors Heather Wardle, Gerda Reith, and Henrietta Bowden-Jones called for the UK to establish a new regulatory body specifically for gaming, writing “we believe in the need for statutory mechanisms to be put in place to address the potential for adverse consequences present in industry practices.” In the U.S., the Protecting Children from Abusive Games Act proposes banning loot box sales to anyone younger than the age of 18. In a statement, U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat from Connecticut and a co-sponsor of the bill, says, “Congress must send a clear warning to app developers and tech companies: Children are not cash cows to exploit for profit.” The issue of loot boxes is far from a settled one. As long as they make money and prove hard to regulate, game devel-

opers and executives would be loathe to remove them entirely. EA did eventually take the loot box mechanic out of Star Wars Battlefront 2, but it remains in some of its other marquee games, such as FIFA. In a speech before the Parliament of the United Kingdom in June, Kerry Hopkins, vice president of legal and government affairs at EA, referred to loot boxes as “surprise mechanics” and compared them to the act of opening a Kinder Egg. “We do think the way we’ve implemented these kinds of mechanics is quite ethical and quite fun,” Hopkins says in her speech. “They aren’t gambling, and we disagree that there’s evidence that shows they lead to gambling.” That being said, in countries where loot boxes have been banned, EA has complied. It seems the fight over loot boxes will continue — that is, until the next shiny, shady thing comes along and we all reach out to grab it. ✪ ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Harry Wood is a writer, actor, and journalist living in New York City. His work can be seen on the humor website Above Average, and he has produced podcasts for WNYC's “The Sporkful” and America's Test Kitchen's “Proof.” He performs improv, sketch, and stand-up comedy regularly throughout the city and tours around the country as part of the Story Pirates. Follow him on Twitter @harrymwood.

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A Classic

60 Years in the Making

1955 A Lightbulb Moment ­— Literally French electrician André Cassangnes came up with the idea to create a drawing toy when he made pencil marks on a decal and noticed that the image transferred to the opposite face.

1959 Introducing the Telecran Paul Chaze, owner of a smaller plastic injection molding company, agreed to invest in the product and produce the official tooling. The product was originally called Telecran, based on the recent availability of TV sets in France.

1998 Toy History Etch A Sketch was added to The Strong’s National Toy Hall of Fame.

2016 A World Record Holder Spin Master acquired the Etch A Sketch brand from the Ohio Art Co. That same year, Spin Master achieved a Guinness World Record title for the most amount of people drawing on an Etch A Sketch globally at the same time.

For six decades, kids and adults alike have been discovering the magical world of creativity and pencil-free drawing with Etch A Sketch. Now a worldwide icon, this classic toy came from humble beginnings. Learn all about Etch A Sketch’s creative journey below!

1957 Gaining Motivation Cassangnes entered his concept in the Paris Concurs International D’Inventions, won a prize, and applied for a patent application.

1960 Welcome to Ohio! Cassangnes collaborated with Jerry Burger of the Ohio Art Co. to perfect the system that is still incorporated into the Etch A Sketch. They shipped more than 600,000 units in the spring, and it was the No. 1 Christmas toy for the year.

2011 Top 100 Most-Influential Toy Time Magazine named the Etch A Sketch to its “All-Time 100 Greatest Toys” list.

2017 Etch Goes Digital Spin Master launched Etch A Sketch IT!, an app in which users can upload a photo from their library and see it transformed into an Etch A Sketch drawing, or draw using Etch A Sketch’s classic white knobs.





The Diamond Anniversary Sixty years later, 175 million Etch A Sketches have been sold, including multiple variations, styles, colors, and more.

• Etch A Sketch has made significant appearances in movies throughout the years, including the Toy Story movie franchise and Elf, helping to increase its popularity with new generations. • Etch loves New York! The iconic magic screen has appeared on billboards in Times Square and has made appearances on The Today Show. • The Ohio Art Co. promoted the Etch A Sketch drawing toy on TV in 1960 using a commercial that featured a young female character named Pernella. This was one of the first-ever toy products promoted on TV that year and the first Ohio Art Co. product to utilize this medium to advertise to kids and their parents.

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with Arlene Biran, Vice President of Marketing for Activities and Building Sets How is Spin Master celebrating Etch A Sketch’s 60th anniversary this year? As we celebrate 60 years of the original magic screen, we’ll invite the world to take a break from devices and reconnect with creativity by unplugging with the classics. Etch A Sketch has teamed up with iconic brands to unveil a series of limited-edition launches that will be available throughout the year. Etch A Sketch is joining forces with the classic board game Monopoly, space exploration leader NASA, heritage toy Rubik’s, and comic book marvel Stan Lee. Each will have its own limited-edition Etch A Sketch, merging two iconic worlds into one magical, shake-to-erase collector’s item. In addition to the collaboration with iconic classics, Spin Master will first unveil a limited Diamond Edition Etch A Sketch, featuring a sleek black frame and custom crystal knobs at Toy Fair New York in February. The item will be available on and more widely on Etch A Sketch Day (July 12), marking the official day the first-ever Etch A Sketch was sold. We will also release new innovation with Etch A Sketch Revolution in August, the first Etch A Sketch with a magical, spinning screen that allows users to make circles. On the official anniversary of Etch A Sketch (July 12), the classic version will also be 60% off in honor of the 60year milestone.

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How has Etch A Sketch continued to stay relevant through the years? Etch A Sketch is one of only a handful of breakthrough toys that’s popularity spans generations and keeps on growing. It is a timeless toy that encourages creativity. Its nostalgic nature and iconic status has permeated pop culture, helping the brand maintain relevancy and securing its place in the National Toy Hall of Fame and the Smithsonian. Since acquiring the brand in 2016, Spin Master has set a Guinness Book of World Records title for “Most People Drawing on an Etch A Sketch Globally at the Same Time” while also infusing unique innovation into the toy with new launches. Our 2020 lineup of strategic brand collaborations with other timeless and iconic brands merges retro nostalgia with pop culture. With “no batteries, Wi-Fi, or charging needed,” (which will be showcased on new, retro-inspired packaging) the original magic screen is a muchcraved detox, which is incredibly relevant in this digital age.

How has Etch A Sketch influenced pop culture over the years? Etch A Sketch has reached an evergreen brand status, maintaining a strong brand awareness higher than 90% in the U.S. The classic, red-framed screen has been spotted in film and TV shows, [such as] Toy Story, Elf, Pretty Little Liars, and Stranger Things to name a few. The toy is also one of our most-requested items for material releases in TV commercials and set dressings. I think the metaphor

of doing over with the “shake-to-erase” concept has played a role in its influence in pop culture. Everyone from politicians to late-night talk show hosts has used Etch A Sketch as a metaphor in their speeches and monologues.

How has the Etch A Sketch brand evolved over the past six decades? The core brand hasn’t evolved much over the past 60 years because it is so iconic and multigenerational. The classic red frame screen resonates with everyone, and it’s that strong brand identity that maintains its lasting power. In true Spin Master fashion, we have, of course, infused our own innovation while still maintaining the nostalgia.

What is the most interesting or intricate Etch A Sketch art you’ve ever seen? Etch A Sketch has a strong, dedicated community of incredibly talented artists. These individuals create intricate and detailed masterpieces using nothing but an Etch A Sketch, whipping up a portrait in as [few] as 5 minutes or spending up to 100 hours meticulously creating a piece. From famous landmarks to celebrity portraits, I have seen too many amazing creations — made from one single continuous line — to choose just one. ✪

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Inspiring Creators to


Boundaries for 60 Years

Kyle Fleming Instagram: @etchasketchgenius I first laid hands on an Etch A Sketch at the age of 4 when my mother passed down her childhood Etch A Sketch to me. I was instantly hooked. I love the way it combines creativity and focus to produce an amazing sense of accomplishment.

Jane Labowitch Instagram: @princessetch Some of my earliest childhood memories involved me tinkering around with an Etch A Sketch at my grandma’s house. I would spend hours turning the two knobs, using my imagination to create (and destroy) entire worlds. As a child, I treated Etch A Sketch like an infinite stack of paper. With no worry of running out, I would etch whatever I wanted — sometimes with reckless abandon, other times with supreme concentration. Etch A Sketch taught me how to let go. It taught me that it’s OK to make mistakes, and it taught me how to be a better artist. I’ve grown to love the limitations that make this toy a unique canvas for creating art. After [more than] 20 years of etching, no other artistic medium has captured my excitement in the same way!

Leah Hofmann Instagram: @etchysketchyart During a family trip to Colorado when I was a child, I recall stepping into a unique souvenir shop where Etch A Sketch Art covered the walls. I vividly remember an impressive sketch of “Mona Lisa,” and I thought, “I wonder if I could ever create a piece like that on the Etch A Sketch.” Cut to years later in 2013 when I picked up a travel Etch A Sketch at a coffee shop and thought I would try my hand at it again. I immediately enjoyed the nature of its fleeting art and the fact that I am forced to make mistakes in order to discover new sketching techniques. And, of course, the Etch A Sketch offers a continuous life lesson: You can always start over again.

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Samantha G Watt Instagram: @Samantha_Sketch The Etch A Sketch allows for on-the-go, hassle-free creativity! I received one in a stocking for Christmas and took it on a family road trip during my sophomore year of high school. On the trip, I drew on the Etch A Sketch for the first time, and my family was blown away with how naturally it came to me. I’ve been drawing on the toy ever since, wowing people at parties, drawing for my professors to get out of public speaking in college, and connecting with other artists. It is truly the original tablet, and I keep a small one in my purse at all times for boredom emergencies! Being a professional Etch A Sketch artist has opened up so many doors for me and introduced me to some amazing friends I will have for life. I can’t say enough about how this small toy has made an introvert into an extrovert!

Christoph Brown Instagram: @amazingetchman Early in the new century, I was a budding young artist who had just arrived in Hollywood. Randomly, I picked up a pocket Etch A Sketch in a local coffee shop and quickly realized that, to my surprise, I could draw anything on it at incredible speed. That little linograph changed my life. Living the entrepreneurial “American Dream,” I created a business called Etch U Productions, sketching live celebrity portraits on pocket-sized Etch A Sketches at private events and public productions. This niche allowed me to become the first full-time professional Etch A Sketch artist and entertainer known as The Amazing Etch Man. Now, more than fifteen years and thousands of Etch A Sketch drawings later, the company employs some of the greatest Etch A Sketch professionals, bringing new firsts, fun, and excitement to the world’s most iconic magic screen at events around the globe. It’s an honor to support and be a part of this talented Etch A Sketch community.

George Vlosich III Instagram: @gvetchedintime I’ve been drawing since I was 2 [years old]. Art is my God-given talent, and I first picked up an Etch A Sketch when I was 10 years old in the back seat of the car on vacation. It was my mom’s 1960s original Etch A Sketch from when she was a little girl. I created the U.S. Capitol building and showed my parents, and they were so amazed that they pulled over to a gas station to take a picture of it. It became another canvas for me to work on, and I wanted to see how good I could get. I love the Etch A Sketch because it still remains a challenge to me, and I love pushing the limits of what can be done on a small 5- by 7-inch screen and creating something that no one else in the world can do.

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Shaking Things Up!

Etch A Sketch Rubik’s Edition Etch out some playtime with Etch A Sketch and Rubik’s Cube. How can two simple toys contain so much mystery? We’ll never know, and that’s why they’re so much fun. This new toy honors Rubik’s Cube’s 40th and Etch A Sketch’s 60th anniversaries.

To celebrate 60 years of unplugged creativity, Etch A Sketch has teamed up with top icons to bring a new generation of classic toys to retailers this year.

Etch A Sketch Monopoly Edition For generations, friends and families have gathered together to enjoy hours of fun with Etch A Sketch and Monopoly. These two classic toys never go out of style. Why? Because they ignite the imagination and challenge the mind. This modern classic celebrates Etch A Sketch’s 60th and Monopoly’s 85th anniversaries.

Etch A Sketch Stan Lee Edition It all started with a sketch. Stan Lee was a true artist and the mind behind many of our favorite superheroes. He brought exciting worlds full of magic and intrigue to life — no special effects necessary. Stan Lee is proof that anything is possible with a blank canvas and the desire to create.

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Etch A Sketch NASA Inspired Edition Sketch to infinity and beyond! The magic behind Etch A Sketch is that it pushes its creators to expand the boundaries of what’s possible. This NASA-themed Etch A Sketch encourages a new generation of creative explorers — even the biggest space shuttles started with a simple sketch.


Etch A Sketch 60th Anniversary Diamond Edition Much like a diamond, creating an Etch A Sketch masterpiece requires time, pressure, and a little bit of magic. To celebrate Etch A Sketch’s monumental diamond anniversary, the Etch A Sketch Diamond Edition is a sparkling twist on a classic favorite.

Classic 60th Anniversary Etch A Sketch Celebrate thinking “inside the box.” When Etch A Sketch was released in 1960, the magic screen amazed kids and adults alike. Today, technology has changed the world, but the unchanged Etch A Sketch continues to spark wonder and break creative boundaries.

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From the best high-end collectibles, to every blind bag under the sun, the hottest new toys, games, and playthings are on display at Toy Fair New York, The Toy Association’s annual trade show. At Toy Fair, industry experts test out all the hottest new toys for kids and collectors, and we’re giving you a glimpse at the fun in store. Whether you are a serious collector, board game fanatic, or avid puzzler, this showcase highlights all of the best new products coming to store shelves later this year. And, for toys your kids will love, turn to page 78.



FAR OUT TOYS Far Out Toys expands its Pulp Heroes line this spring with new characters from Marvel and Star Wars, including Thanos, Captain Marvel, and Princess Leia. Pulp Heroes transform from 2D to 3D characters in a snap. Each figure has pull-back rolling action and comes with a comic book art sleeve featuring unique artwork for each character.

ABYstyle gets quirky this year with new officially licensed figures based on characters from My Hero Academia. The Tsuyu Asui figure comes dressed in her trademark green jumpsuit, features a removable tongue, and will be available in the spring. Shoto Todoroki features his signature red and white hair and dark blue uniform and will be available this winter. Both figures include a removable base modeled after the U.A. High School emblem. Additionally, Abysse will soon launch L, a figure based on the character from Death Note. He’ll be ready to solve crime in his iconic crouching pose.

MCFARLANE TOYS The new DC Multiverse collector line from McFarlane Toys features DC Multiverse 7-inch Collector Figures, which are detailed figures designed with 22 points of articulation. Each figure comes with a collectible card that has character-specific art and a biography, multiple accessories, and a display base. The first wave features 10 characters, including variations of Batman and Superman, Harley Quinn, and Green Lantern. Batgirl: Art of the Crime, Nightwing: Better Than Batman, and The Batman Who Laughs 3-inch figures will also debut this spring. Each one includes a piece of a buildable Batmobile that is inspired by the DC Rebirth comic books. The first wave of McFarlane Toys’ Cyberpunk 2077 figures will feature 7-inch and 12-inch versions of Johnny Silverhand, based on the likeness of Keanu Reeves. A 7-inch (male) V figure will also be available. Each figure will have 22 points of articulation. Harley Quinn DC Multiverse 7-inch Collector Figure

Death Note L Figure

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This fall, The Noble Collection will launch Lord of the Rings Bendy Figs. Each highly detailed 7-inch figure is bendable, posable, and comes with one accessory. There are three figures to collect: Frodo, Gollum, and Gandalf.

MACCABI ART Fans can collect new NBA Sportzies collectible figures, from Maccabi Art. The first series includes 2.5-inch figures based on 20 popular NBA Legends players, and future series will include more NBA and MLB athletes.

SPIN MASTER Spin Master will introduce DC Batman 4-Inch Figures this spring. Each figure features 11 points of articulation, two mystery mission accessories, and a Batman mission accessory. Kids and collectors can go on the hunt for rare and super-rare figures and accessories. The DC 2-in-1 Batmobile is both a Batmobile and a Batboat. It includes everything Batman needs to save Gotham City, and it will launch in the fall.


Gollum Bendy Fig

Anime Heroes is a new line from Bandai America that presents collectors with action figures based on iconic characters from anime and manga, such as Naruto and Saint Seiya. The highly detailed figures are 6.5 inches tall and feature more than 16 points of articulation for maximum posability. Each one features premium packaging and comes with character-specific accessories and extra hands. Naruto Anime Hero

FACTORY ENTERTAINMENT Factory Entertainment expands its Kuzos line of 2-inch, metal die-cast prop replicas to include new fandoms, such as Star Trek, Harry Potter, The Beatles, and Looney Tunes. Revos are 4-inch-tall figures that feature a self-righting mechanism built into the base. Spin, knock, or revolve them and they will never stay down for long. New characters from Star Trek, The Wizard of Oz, DC, and Back to the Future will join the lineup this year. Factory Entertainment will also launch new officially licensed bottle Shazam Revos openers, stoppers, and tin totes inspired by fandoms, such as Universal Monsters, The Beatles, Jaws, Game of Thrones, and Star Trek.


Batman 4-inch Figure

Gnome more boring gardens! Gnerd Gnomes, from Surreal Entertainment, are collectible garden gnome versions of popular TV and movie characters that will add a touch of geek to any garden. Some of the styles include SpongeBob, Baku and Deku, and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Each detailed gnome features a tall, pointed gnome’s hat. The new line will be available this fall. Raphael TMNT Gnerd Gnome

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COLLECTIBLES BLUEFIN DISTRIBUTION Bluefin Distribution and Bandai Collectibles is releasing a number of collectibles this spring, including Avengers: Endgame figures that are highly posable and include various accessories, allowing fans to recreate scenes from the final installment of the Infinity Saga. Fans can collect Captain America, Iron Man, and Iron Spider. Pokémon masters can put together PokePla Model Kits of Pikachu, Mewtwo, and Evee. No glue is necessary to assemble the pre-colored kits that feature easy snap-together pieces. Optimus Prime stands 8 inches tall and is fully articulated. The figure features five LED units in its body to create a glowing force that would terrify any Decepticon. It comes with two swords, two small axes, a short cannon, a big sword, six pairs of hands, and three interchangeable faces. The S.H. Figuarts line expands with Son Gokou from Dragon Ball Super, and Jackie Chun — aka the master of martial arts — figures that come with multiple extra expression parts, hands, and more.

BOSS FIGHT STUDIO Boss Fight Studio expands its Vitruvian H.A.C.K.S. line of action figures with the Mighty Steeds Assortment that will be available in the spring. Four new horses and a unicorn will each come in a full-color box with a display stand. The horses are 1:18 scale and feature 32 points of articulation. Each horse also comes apart so collectors and customizers can mix and match them. In a partnership with Masked Republic, Boss Fight Studio will release a Legends of Lucha Libre line in three waves, beginning this summer. Collectors and Lucha fans ages 12 and up can expect these 6.5-inch action figures to include characters such as Laredo Kid and Konnan with interchangeable heads, hands, and accessories. Hero H.A.C.K.S. is a new extension based on the Flash Gordon and The Phantom comic book franchises. Each 4-inch figure in the series has more than 30 points of articulation. In celebration of the 40th anniversary of the Flash Gordon film, Boss Fight will launch a special figure that will come in an exclusive, collectible lunchbox. Mighty Steeds

HASBRO The Child is here — in many different sizes. Hasbro will add to its Star Wars The Bounty Collection this spring with new The Child 2.2-inch Collectible Figures. The figures are inspired by the super-cute character from the Disney+ series The Mandalorian. With six total figures, fans can collect three two-packs featuring The Child in fun poses: Sipping Soup and Blanket Wrapped, Hold Me and Ball Toy, and Froggy Snack and Force Moment. Star Wars: The Black Series The Child Figure is 1.12 inches tall with premium details and multiple points of articulation. It comes with a bone broth bowl, a toy knob, and a Sorgan frog. The Child is also available in a 6.5-inch, articulated figure. Hasbro will also launch a new Marvel Legends Series 6-inch Black Widow figure inspired by the Marvel comics. It features premium design, detail, and articulation for play and display. The figure includes 12 accessories and a clear, flexible stand. The 6-inch Mighty Morphin’ Yellow Ranger figure joins the Power Rangers Lightning Collection this fall. It features more than 20 points of articulation, swappable heads depicting the Ranger with and without her helmet, extra hands, and accessories. The Child 6.5-inch Figure

Avengers: Endgame Cap

tain America

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GAMES THE OP The game makers at The Op — aka USAopoly — fuse role-play gaming with Disney•Pixar’s Onward in Onward: Quests of Yore Barley’s Edition. This guided, tabletop, role-playing game for players ages 8 and up introduces new fans to the Onward world of fantasy and adventure. Scooby-Doo: Escape from the Haunted Mansion joins the Coded Chronicles game series. Players ages 12 and up can work together to decode their way out of the mansion in this two-part game. Feelin’ spooky? Horror experts ages 17 and up can test their knowledge with Trivial Pursuit: Horror Ultimate Edition, a new trivia line featuring more than 1,800 questions pulled from the entertainment world’s best and scariest stories.


Funko Games brings the king of monsters to the tabletop with Godzilla. Players choose between Godzilla, Mothra, Megalon, or King Ghidorah and battle in an epic throwdown across a classic Tokyo cityscape. Players will master each Kaiju’s unique battle cards to unleash attacks and amass more dominance over the other Kaiju. The game includes 13 scuplted buildings that the Kaiju can knock down by throwing vehicles and other Kaiju. The modular gameboard lets players create a different city structure every time they play. Designed for two to four players ages 10 and up, the game will be available this summer. Ready to venture back to 1955 this summer? Players can get wrapped up in a time paradox with Biff, Loraine, George, and Doc Brown in Back to the Future. In the cooperative game, players move around Hill Valley to prepare the DeLorean, avoid Biff and his gang, help George and Loraine fall in love, and power up the DeLorean to 88 mph. Plus, Funko’s line of Funkoverse strategy games will expand with two new versions for players ages 10 and up. Available this spring, the Jurassic Park #100 is designed for two to four players ages 10 and up. Players can move through memorable locations, such as the Visitor’s Center and the Raptor Paddock, as they use their characters’ unique abilities to capture points and achieve victory. The game includes Ray Arnold and Dr. Ellie Sattler Pop! figures. Jurassic Park #101 brings in Dr. Ian Malcom and a Velociraptor. The game will be available in March.

KESS GAMES It’s time to dominate the battlefield with Battle Bosses, from Kess Games. In the game, players will become giants, deities, and monsters who command their armies on the path to glory. With a thinning Void between realities, players will use game tokens to force opposing bosses into battles. To win the fast-paced strategy game, players ages 13 and up will need to charge up their abilities with energy to upgrade their position.

ASK ME ANYTHING Host your own AMA session with Ask Me Anything’s namesake game, Ask Me Anything, a simple card game in which players engage in potentially outrageous conversation. Players will learn about each other through 500 thought-provoking questions across five categories: Story Time, Yay or Nay, Choices, The Lesser Evil, and WWYD? Ask Me Anything is designed for two or more players ages 17 and up.

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UNIVERSITY GAMES For those who can’t resist a good honest opinion, University Games’ I.M.O. (In My Opinion) is a card game designed to decide who agrees and disagrees with controversial statements. Players ages 14 and up can pull out each salacious statement for the group to judge. Points are awarded for each answer based on who agrees and disagrees. The player with the most points in the end wins the game. Dumb Criminals is a game of burglars, felons, and robbers — and players ages 12 and up are tasked with figuring out who committed the crime. For each correct answer, players can pick up a cash reward, but an incorrect response can get your team members sent to jail. The first player to collect a bounty of $50,000 of cold, hard cash is the winner. It’s a great day for a pint with Guinness Games, a new line of fastpaced pub games, including Shutthe-Box, Liar’s Dice, and the World’s 20 Best Dice Games. The officially licensed games combine the fun of University’s Front Porch Classics line with the iconic black-and-tan stout.

NORTH STAR GAMES Players use strategy to create a vibrant web of marine life in Oceans, a standalone board game in North Star Games’ Evolution series. In the game, players enter a vast, underwater world where survival depends on their ability to adapt. Over the course of many games, players will discover the contents of The Deep, a deck of 89 unique cards representing powerful traits from the undiscovered wonders of the deep ocean. The game is designed for two to four players and will be available this fall.

BICYCLE Are you an Ink Master? In Tattoo Stories, from Bicycle, players engage in quick-paced tattoo competitions. One player is dubbed the customer and selects five cards with tattoo elements that should be included in the tattoo, then the other players — playing as tattoo artists — have three minutes to ask the customer questions and create tattoos using a dry erase board and a marker. After three minutes, each player reveals their tattoo to the group and pitches their design to the customer. The customer selects a winner and awards them a card. The player with the most cards wins the game.

RAVENSBURGER Grab your golden lasso and prepare to save the Amazons in the Wonder Woman cooperative game, from Ravensburger. Players ages 10 and up will need to strategize as a team to defeat multiple villains, including Ares, the Cheetah, and Circe, who are trying to take over Themyscira. The superhero strategy game will launch in March. It’s time to embrace your inner sinister villain with the latest expansion to Ravensburger’s Disney Villainous board game with Disney Villainous: Perfectly Wretched this March. Perfectly Wretched introduces players to new villains, including Cruella de Vil, Pete from Steamboat Willie, and Mother Gothel. Perfectly Wretched can be combined with other Villainous sets or played on its own for Disney enthusiasts ages 10 and up. Can you twist your villainous fate in a quest to win?

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HUNT A KILLER This summer, Hunt a Killer launches Death at the Dive Bar, a whodunit game in which players ages 13 and up take on the role of a detective and try to solve the murder of Nick Webster at Old Scratch Tavern. Players must review notes, letters, and other evidence to determine the motives, means, and opportunities of the suspects. To crack the case, players must compare forensic details about the scene of the crime to narrow down suspects and decipher coded messages to open a deposit bag in which the victim hid evidence.

BREAKING GAMES Dwellings of Eldervale, from Breaking Games, is a worker placement game designed for players ages 14 and up and set in a once-lost magical world. Giant elemental monsters roam while dragons, wizards, and warriors battle for dominance over eight realms. Players control unique factions seeking to adventure, battle, grow in power, and ultimately, dwell in Eldervale, shaping it to their vision. The game will be available this summer. Available this spring, Deck Construction challenges players ages 8 and up to take turns adding parts to the house of cards while collecting blueprints and earning “builder’s bonus” coins. Players must avoid collapses as they build (or bribe) their way to victory.

SUPER IMPULSE This spring, Super Impulse introduces Tetris Tilt, a handheld electronic video game controlled by motion. Players control the falling Tetriminos by moving to the left and right and tilt forward and backward to increase the drop speed. When the stack reaches the top of the Matrix, it’s game over. Measuring only 3.25 inches by 2 inches by .375 inches, MicroArcade is the ultimate travel arcade game that fits in any pocket. New games include Galaga; Dig Dug; and Atari Combo Series 3, featuring Millipede, Combat, and a surprise bonus game. Each game has a full-color screen, sound effects, directional control buttons, and a micro USB charger.

PLAYMONSTER PlayMonster’s Windward is a strategy game that originated on Kickstarter, where it was fully funded in 33 minutes. Play revolves around an immersive world in which two to five players compete to become the most notorious captain on the gaseous planet of Celus. Become the master of the skies by hunting leviathans, plundering opponents, and using maneuvers to harness the power of the ever-changing wind. There’s no such thing as sitting down in Tag. In this game, up to 10 players try to eliminate each other in creative ways mandated by a set of cards. Each player also gets assigned a color and a target. For example, the blue player may be directed to eliminate the red player by tricking them into standing under their method card. This game can take hours, days, or even weeks to complete. Relative Insanity See What I Mean?! is the newest addition to the game line created by comedian Jeff Foxworthy. In the game, players compete to give crazy photos — like those you would see in family albums — the best captions. Foxworthy wrote all of the captions, and some of his photos are even included in the game. THEPOPINSIDER.COM | #FuelYourFandom | 37

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FAN FAVES BUFFALO GAMES Buffalo Games continues to kill it with five new, fandom-inspired puzzles, which will be available this spring at mass retailers. The Star Wars The Mandalorian The Child 500 Piece Jigsaw Puzzle features The Mandalorian carrying The Child — aka Baby Yoda — to his ship. The Pokémon Frames 2000 Piece Jigsaw Puzzle offers a more challenging puzzling adventure. Test your Pokémon knowledge while piecing together characters including Pikachu, Jigglypuff, Charizard, and more. Time to get schwifty with the Rick and Morty Get Schwifty 500 Piece Jigsaw Puzzle, which features a collage of scenes from the animated series. And for dog lovers, Pomeranian sensation Boo is the star of the Art of Play Boo Let’s Party 300 Piece Jigsaw Puzzle. He’s ready to party in his rainbow sweat bands, dog treats, and disco ball.

Chronicle Books teamed up with LEGO for a new line of products inspired by classic LEGO bricks. LEGO Still Life with Bricks: The Art of Everyday Play is a colorful book that recreates objects and scenes from everyday life using LEGO bricks. LEGO Still Life reimagines the mundane and sparks playfulness in everyday life by transforming handfuls of bricks into minty toothpaste, eggs and bacon, lush houseplants, and more. LEGO Small Parts: The Secret Life of Mini-figures is a book in which different mini-figures navigate life, love, and leisure. Whether they are out at poker night, a first date, or group therapy, you’ll find that the lives of mini-figures are not so different from our own — just without the fingers and noses. The LEGO Brick Notebook is a lined notebook inspired by the iconic LEGO brick. Choose a cover to suit your mood: one side has warm-toned bricks, the other has cool-toned bricks. LEGO Brick Erasers look just like classic LEGO bricks. This pack of eight brick-shaped erasers is fun for LEGO lovers as a standout addition to school supplies, a stackable desk statement at the office, or just a creative and colorful way to erase mistakes. The LEGO Paint Party Puzzle is a 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle that comes together to reveal an assortment of colorful cans of paint that are made out of LEGOs.

LIONEL Lionel goes boldly where no train set has gone before with the Star Trek LionChief Set. It features a U.S.S. Enterprise FT diesel locomotive and three additional cars, including a sick bay and a Holodeck animated car with graphics that travel around the car when connected to track power. The set also features lights, sounds, and user-activated announcements. Fans can control the train using either the included LionChief remote or the Bluetooth LionChief app. These set comes with 12 pieces of track, including a LionChief FasTrack Terminal section and a Plug-Expand-Play Power Lock-on section.

THE NOBLE COLLECTION Calling all Muggles: Your world is about to get a little bit more magical with The Noble Collection’s Rubeus Hagrid Umbrella Wand, a fully functional replica of Hagrid’s umbrella. Fans can display the umbrella to show off their Harry Potter fandom, or use it on a rainy day. The umbrella will be available this spring. Later in the year, Potterheads can look forward to Harry Potter Large Squishies, which are soft and squishy versions of Dobby and Hedwig. Fans can squeeze each 7-inch plush and watch it slowly return to its original shape. Rubeus Hagrid Umbrella Wand

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FAN FAVES BANDAI AMERICA Bandai America celebrates 40 years of PacMan with the Pac-Man Tamagotchi. Players can raise and nurture their Tamagotchi friend with the help of the pellet-eating, ghost-munching Pac-Man. The portable Pac-Man Tamagotchi comes in two styles — yellow maze and black maze — each with two bonus games.

COBI COBI will release a 2,840-block RMS Titanic construction set for builders ages 10 and up. Once it’s completed, the set is more than 3 feet long and almost 1 foot high. The set is a 1:300-scale replica and does not require any glue or paint to complete. It comes with a base and name plate for display.

WREBBIT 3D Fancy a Butterbeer? Wrebbit 3D introduces the Harry Potter Hogsmeade The Three Broomsticks 3D jigsaw puzzle. Fans ages 12 and up can build this 3D puzzle of the Three Broomsticks pub in Hogsmeade from Harry Potter. The puzzle depicts the iconic Wizard hangout in a wintry scene.

SPIN MASTER Spin Master celebrates 60 years of Etch A Sketch with a new, retro-inspired package design, a limited diamond edition, and licensed versions of the classic creative toy, including a Stan Lee version. For more on Etch A Sketch, turn to page 19.

BEELINE CREATIVE Beeline Creative expands its Geeki Tikis line with the Harry Potter Figural Plastic Tumblers for fans to take their favorite HP characters on the go. The tumblers features a chibi-style design of Harry, Hermione, Ron, Hedwig, Dumbledore, and He Who Must Not Be Named — aka Lord Voldemort. The tumbler comes with a screw-top lid and a straw and holds up to 20 ounces of fans’ preferred beverages. Fill ‘er up with pumpkin juice, please! Thank you for being a friend! The Golden Girls Geeki Tikis Mugs bring some needed sunshine to your next BFF night in. The pastel-colored ceramic mugs are carved to resemble the four besties: Rose, Sophia, Blanche, and Dorothy. The microwave- and dishwasher-safe mug can hold up to 17 ounces of liquid. The new tikis and tumblers will be available in the spring. Harry Potter Figural Plastic Tumblers

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n Oct. 26, 1985, at some point after 1 a.m., a group of Libyan terrorists attacked Doctor Emmett Brown in the parking lot of the Twin Pines Mall in Hill Valley, California. His teenage companion escaped in a heavily modified DeLorean DMC-12 that was seemingly destroyed in an electrical disaster, leaving behind only its license plate and a trail of flames. Sure, that might sound pretty heavy, but as audiences know, things ended up turning out alright for Doc and his young friend, Marty McFly. Back to the Future (BTTF) hit theaters in the summer of ‘85, immediately winning audiences as it went on to become the highest-grossing film of the year. The warm reception from audiences was largely due to the fact that the film was a cross-generational portrait of America under the guise of a big-budget, time-travel comedy. “Back to the Future is one of those

iconic movies that changed the landscape of pop culture,” says Brian Flynn, founder of Super7, the San Francisco-based maker of pop culture toys and collectibles. “It mixed a sense of humor, optimism, and an uncertain coming-of-age journey not only of ourselves, but of our parents as well. In Back to the Future, you were able to see yourself [as you appeared] both now and then, from kids to adults.” Proving that culture is a cyclical affair, audiences in the 1980s were enamored with the 1950s — a decade that was considered to be nostalgic at the time. As Robert Zemeckis’ BTTF franchise celebrates its 35th anniversary this year, modern audiences are nostalgic for the ‘80s, with series such as Stranger Things and The Goldbergs scratching that retro itch. “An element that BTTF captured 35 years ago was the ‘nostalgia’ factor,” says Bob Gale, co-creator, co-writer, and co-pro-

ducer of the BTTF trilogy. “Parents and kids watched the film and both had emotional connections to the characters and scenes played out in 1950s and 1980s. Now here we are, more than three decades later, and generations of fans are enjoying that nostalgic trend of everything old is new again — referencing iconic fashions, music, that car, and more. In BTTF2, we predicted that by 2015, people would be nostalgic about the ‘80s, and that’s a prediction that came true then and is still true now.” “As a teenager, I thought BTTF was great,” Flynn says. “I loved the scene with Marty in the mask with the Walkman doing his ‘Darth Vader’ voice — it was a hilarious crossing of the streams (another ‘80s reference!) of pop culture that was tongue-incheek fun, just like the rest of the movie.” Like the stories told through the BTTF trilogy, the fandom has evolved to become multigenerational. Beginning with the 25th

SCALEXTRIC 1:32-SCALE DELOREAN SLOT CAR HORNBY HOBBIES Back to the Future enters the world of high-speed, slot-car racing with this limited-edition 1:32-scale DeLorean Time Machine. The car includes an interior Marty McFly figure (non-removable) and a removable lightning rod conductor pole.

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Marty McFly arrives in 1955 by crashing the DeLorean Time Machine into Old Man Peabody's barn in Back to the Future. Photo: Universal Studios

BACK TO THE FUTURE POP! VINYL FIGURES anniversary a decade ago, every five-year mark is celebrated as a milestone, with each celebration somehow topping the last. “This anniversary, fans can expect more — more apparel, more lifestyle products, more toys and collectibles, more books, more fan events, more digital content,” says Shayne Misfud, vice president, franchise management, Universal Brand Development. For BTTF’s 35th anniversary, Universal Pictures will celebrate by releasing an allnew, 4K remaster of the 1985 film, complete with a world premiere at the Turner Classic Movies (TCM) Classic Film Festival in Hollywood this April. Michael J. Fox (Marty McFly), Christopher Lloyd (Doc Brown), and Lea Thompson (Lorraine Baines McFly) will attend the screening alongside Bob Gale. Special event screenings at theaters across the country will follow, and Universal Studios Home Entertainment will issue the entire trilogy in 4K later this year. Gale is also helping to bring the story to the stage, with Back to the Future the Musical making its debut with a 12-week run at the UK’s Manchester Opera House before moving to London’s West End. Gale’s first foray into writing for the stage is the book on which the musical is based. “Back to the Future the Musical is the story of the first movie, but we’ve changed some things for practicality,” Gale says. “Obviously, we can’t do a van chase or a

skateboard chase on stage, so we’ve created counterparts for these things that use the stage environment to its best advantage.” The famed score by Alan Silvestri and songs by Huey Lewis and the News, such as “Back in Time” and “The Power of Love,” have been given a theatrical overhaul, while new musical numbers from Silverstri and Glen Ballard (producer of Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill album) will propel the action for a live audience. “There’s nothing like the excitement an audience gets from watching live singing and dancing,” Gale says. “Of course, there’s plenty of spectacle, too. It wouldn’t be BTTF without a DeLorean and lightning, and there are some new and expanded elements in service of our original story that people are going to enjoy. This musical truly captures the BTTF spirit!” German toymaker Playmobil is leading the charge on the toys and collectibles front. The company previewed its BTTF collection at New York Comic Con last fall. A full range of figures in the classic Playmobil scale are accompanied by the centerpiece of the collection: the DeLorean Time Machine with Marty and Doc figures. “A special feature of the DeLorean is the gull-wings,” says Björn Seeger, press officer at Brandstaetter Group, Playmobil’s parent company. “This opening mechanism is an outstanding developmental achievement in the world of Playmobil.

FUNKO A new collection of Funko’s signature 3.75-inch Pop! Vinyl figures will explore new character looks and scenarios from across the Back to the Future trilogy. Last year, the company hinted at the future with a New York Comic Con fall convention exclusive version of Marty in his anti-radiation suit.

MSRP: $9.99 and up Available this fall

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PLAYMOBIL BACK TO THE FUTURE DELOREAN PLAYMOBIL Based on the cult film trilogy, this DeLorean DMC-12 comes packed with play features, including a plutonium tank; a flux capacitor; and Marty McFly, Doc Brown, and Einstein the dog figures. The wheels can be folded 90 degrees for flight mode.

MSRP: $49.99 Available: mass retailers

The Flux Capacitor and the car light up to simulate time travel, and there is also a small compartment where fans can insert the plutonium power core.” Funko is also on board for the celebration. The “purveyors of pop culture” are revisiting the BTTF license for the first time in a few years, giving the company a chance to give things a fresh look. “Often in movies, the characters will have multiple classic scenes or more than one iconic look; and when there are sequels, this expands the possibilities even more,” explains Sean Wilkinson, senior art director of creative at Funko. “We have done several

HOT WHEELS ID DELOREAN TIME MACHINE MATTEL The famous DeLorean comes to life as a premium, die-cast vehicle as part of the new Hot Wheels id range. Kids and collectors can race the DeLorean in the real world while tracking its stats in the Hot Wheels id app.

MSRP: $6.99 Available: Amazon, Target, Apple Store

Marty and Doc Pop! figures. … Not only do we explore the multiple costume looks, but we also pay attention to props or specific moments that might deserve their own figure. As the Pop! line has progressed, we put characters into more dynamic poses, and this can also add to the different versions that we create.” With licensing and pop culture, the back and forth creates different timelines and opportunities, very much mirroring the BTTF trilogy itself. “As Super7 has exploded in growth over the last couple of years, we are constantly looking both backward and forward for inspiration in our products,” Flynn says. “The BTTF franchise does exactly the same thing through the story of Marty, Doc Brown, and Biff.” Several years ago, Super7 released a small assortment of its ReAction Figures with characters from BTTF. This year, the company is revisiting the franchise for an assortment of toys, accessories, and lifestyle items, including a franchise-spanning new range of BTTF ReAction figures. Plans are in the works for new figures, including Marty in his “Darth Vader from Planet Vulcan” radiation suit, a 2015 Griff Tannen, and new versions of the classic characters as they appeared in 1885, 1955, and 1985. As the year rolls on, longtime fans and collectors will be well-served as new collaborations debut from the likes of Hot Topic, Box Lunch, Zara, Rubie’s Costume Co., and more. Still, there’s much to be said about the kids. George and Lorraine had kids. Marty had kids. Even Doc had kids. Borrowing a phrase from Whitney Houston’s 1985 hit, “The Greatest Love of All,” “children are the future” of the BTTF franchise. New generations of fans are connecting with those who came before them

to keep the lineage alive. It’s a factor that Playmobil is very much aware of and actively works to embrace. “We want to create a lasting play experience for children,” Seeger says. “By developing new toys based on themes such as BTTF, we’re creating the opportunity to bond parents, kids, collectors, and fans. It’s a special way for families to have fun together.” In the end, Gale says that part of the lasting appeal of the franchise is rooted in the fact that “BTTF is, at its core, the story of a family.” ✪

BACK TO THE FUTURE DICE THROUGH TIME RAVENSBURGER In this new game, players ages 10 and up work to help Doc and Marty repair the space-time continuum before time paradoxes unravel the fabric of the universe! This is heavy!

MSRP: $29.99 Available in June

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Serious pop culture collectors go big or go home for big-ticket items. by Jackie Cucco, senior editor Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice Armored Batman from Prime 1 Studio

ome people can’t resist a bargain, but cheaper isn’t always better — especially when it comes to premium pop culture collectibles. There’s an entire market for collectors who are willing to spend big bucks on limited-edition merchandise, designer toys, jewelry, fine art, movie prop replicas, and other big-ticket items based on their favorite movies and TV shows. Factory Entertainment is a manufacturer and distributor of licensed toys, collectibles, and household goods, from affordable pop culture keychains and tin totes to high-end, fine art sculptures and prop replicas based on key items from iconic movies, such as GoldenEye, Men in Black, and The Princess Bride. Tom Vargas, director at Factory Entertainment, says there is a huge demand for movie prop replicas and that only a handful of companies produce them. When Factory Entertainment started almost a decade ago, its first series of collectibles was prop

SPIDER-MAN NO. 14 CANVAS PRINT CHOICE FINE ART Comic book collectors can take their fandom to the next level with this 20-inch by 30inch canvas print, featuring the cover of an original The Amazing Spider-Man comic book. The icing on the cake is that it’s signed by Stan Lee himself, so it’s a real collector’s item for any Marvel lover. MSRP: $849.99 Available:

replicas, which continues to be one of its core categories out of all the products the company produces. “The demand in all of that time has increased dramatically, especially within properties that were released at a time when the core fan base was too young to collect something so high-end,” Vargas says. “Fast-forward to now, and the enthusiasm for those movies and TV shows has grown into an obsession for many, and those fans are ready to take those props home. We make it our collective mission to deliver idealized replicas that feel and look like they jumped right out of the screen.” Factory Entertainment’s prop replicas have a much higher price point than some of its other collectibles. For example, the James Bond — The Golden Gun Limited Edition Prop Replica is a reproduction of one of the most iconic weapons from the entire James Bond series: the signature weapon of the

STAR WARS DARTH VADER HELMET SWAROVSKI Come to the dark side, we have shiny things. New Star Wars characters come and go, but Darth Vader never goes out of style. Swarovski blings him out with more than 19,000 glittering crystals, set by hand. Limited to 300 pieces worldwide, this is the ultimate Star Wars gift for the fan who has everything. MSRP: $8,900 Available: Swarovski

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FANDOM FEATURE “$1 million dollar per shot” assassin, Francisco Scaramanga, from 1974’s The Man with the Golden Gun. Priced at $799.99, fans can disassemble the replica into its machined metal, 18-karat-gold-plated component parts, including a fountain pen, a lighter, a cigarette case, a cufflink, and a bullet, just like the prop from the movie. Vargas says the company is excited about the Aquaman Movie Trident — a 72inch, heavy-duty replica molded out of solid metal and copied directly from the original Warner Bros./DC prop. It is available to preorder for $449.99 and will ship later this year. “Prop replicas are a world apart from cheaper/more affordable toys, and fans who want as close to the real thing as possible know and understand the differences,” Vargas says. “Our team spends a great deal of time and resources in recreating props as they’re seen on screen, which often means creating something that’s never really existed physically in the real world. It’s no easy task, and we spare no expense in creating something that’s not only screen-accurate, but also functional.” In some cases, movie props are depicted on screen in multiple formats, from CGI to stunt or hero props — sometimes all three. According to Vargas, creating a replica that fulfills the expectations of a very discerning audience is no easy task. “That type of attention to detail comes at an expense that cheaper/more affordable collectibles will simply not be able to achieve.” It takes time and effort to make designer collectibles that stay true to the characters and properties they represent. Prime 1 Studio is a Japan-based company that makes intricately detailed statues, wall art, and collectibles based on anime, comics, video games, and more. “What people love

about our pieces — and we do as well — is that each piece tells a story and gives a unique atmosphere,” says John Pham, Prime 1 Studio’s project manager. Pham notes that the DC Comics items are more popular in the North American market than other countries. Prime 1 Studio has a wide selection of DC products, including more than three dozen Batman statues currently for sale on based on Batman movies, comics, and anime. The Batman statues range from an 11inch Batman bust inspired by Frank Miller’s Batman: Arkham City, available for $299, to a 44-inch, full-body Armored Batman from Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, featuring translucent resin for a lifelike skin effect and a movie-accurate fabric costume, available for $2,199. Customers who are inclined to spend thousands on certain items are pretty passionate about the properties — and the manufacturers, too. “It will mainly start by being a huge fan of the characters and movies. After receiving the product, customers are satisfied with the product quality and they will eventually become huge fans of our products as well,” Pham says. To make the purchase even more meaningful — and to maximize sales — a lot of companies release their high-end items in limited-edition quantities. The Hamilton Collection is a division of the Bradford Hammacher Group, better known as the Bradford Exchange. Some of the Hamilton Collection’s best-selling, high-end collectibles include the Bullitt, a 1:12-scale resin sculpture of the 1968 Ford Mustang GT that Steve McQueen drove in the movie Bullitt, and the 1:12-scale recreation of a 2018 Corvette ZR1, each priced at $499.95.

GREEN RANGER DRAGONZORD PCS COLLECTIBLES It’s morphin’ time! The Green Ranger’s evolution from villain to leader in the ‘90s is one of the most popular Power Rangers storylines. This 1:4-scale Green Ranger statue brings the sixth ranger to the real world, featuring an exclusive Dragonzord base and additional accessories. Only 193 pieces were made in honor of the show’s 1993 premiere. MSRP: $999.99 Available: 52 | Issue No. 6 | THE POP INSIDER

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James Bond — The Golden Gun Limited Edition Prop Replica, from Factory Entertainment

“Many times, the edition limit relates to something meaningful about the collectible, such as the year it was introduced,” says Kelli Edwards, general manager at the Hamilton Collection. “So, we would limit the edition to 2,018 for a car introduced in 2018. But the die-cast industry standard is 1,002. Collectors must decide quickly if they want to purchase so they don’t miss out on the edition. In our figural collectibles, they are limited to 95 casting days. Once they have been produced for 95 days, the molds are destroyed, and we never make the product again.” Sentimental fans are more than willing to shell out money to fuel their fandoms, especially on retro pop pieces. “Our collectors are driven by their passion for nostalgia,” Edwards says. “Remember what it was like when you were young, and you wanted the coolest car, but you couldn’t afford it, and then the cool cars become impractical? We all still remember the feeling that those cars gave us.” Now, people can own precision-made versions of the things they loved — for a price. ✪

FRIENDS APOTHECARY COFFEE TABLE POTTERY BARN Remember “The One with the Apothecary Table”? You know, the Friends episode in which Rachel tries to convince Phoebe that her table is an antique from the “days of yore,” when in fact, it was from Pottery Barn. Well, the apothecary table is back, recreated down to the last detail — even the drawers originally designed for CDs. Talk about a throwback. MSRP: $1,099 | Available: Pottery Barn

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“She-Ra” illustration by Karen Hallion

Geek Flag FLY by Miranda Siwak, assistant editor

W Karen Hallion melds magical realms where women rule.

hen artist Karen Hallion saw The Little Mermaid at age 16, she began to look at art in a new way. Seeing how Disney brought its underwater cinematic adventures and illustrations into our world piqued a new artistic interest for her. “I walked out of the theater and thought ‘I want to do that,’” Hallion says. ”I had always loved Disney movies and had dabbled in drawing, but for some reason, [The Little Mermaid] really just jumped out at me. I wanted to try to capture the movement, flow, and beauty that I had just seen. I went home and started drawing, and 20-plus years later, I am still going.” While Hallion started drawing geishas, mermaids, and steampunk characters, her work soon evolved to incorporate what she loved as a fan, including her personal interest in characters from different books, movies, TV, fantasy, and science fiction. To create such fierce, impactful illustrations, Hallion pulls from the artists, pop culture,

and experiences that inspire her. Her intricate and fiercely feminist artwork takes fantastic worlds and mashes them up with other characters to create something new, unique, and empowering. “Creating new work is like breathing to me; I am inspired by something and I just have to get it out into the world, even if it’s never seen by anyone,” Hallion says.

THE DOCTOR MEETS DISNEY Many of Hallion’s works star characters and elements from Doctor Who, including the TARDIS plopped into different, fantastic Disney realms. “When I started watching Doctor Who, what struck me was that his companions are not necessarily just love interests, but also cohorts in his adventures,” Hallion says. “I started imagining who else might make good companions for him and thought of Cinderella; what an interesting twist to her story it would be if he appeared right at that THEPOPINSIDER.COM | #FuelYourFandom | 61

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ARTISTS’ ALLEY were wrong, and I am pretty sure that’s been proven now. Geek girls have been starving for more representation and it seems like it’s getting better every day, in TV and movies and also in merchandise, to help us fly our geek flags proudly. I love that I can contribute in a small way to providing more representation than I had growing up.” Hallion’s feminist pieces served as a way to channel her anger into something productive and positive following the presidential debates during the 2016 election. And so, her RBG and “Nasty Liberty” images were born, further catapulting this artist outside the range of being just a fan artist. Overall, Hallion likes drawing strong women, whether they are fictional or real. Hallion even keeps a spreadsheet of new inspiring women to add to her “She Series,” including Dottie Henson from A League of Their Own, Professor McGonagall from Harry Potter, and Eowyn from Lord of the Rings. An illustration Hallion created for Star Wars Celebration in 2015 in Anaheim, California

moment. It wasn’t even going to be a series, I just wanted to draw that one scene, but then it took off from there.” By twisting these stories, Hallion puts her own powerful spin on many of these iconic characters and princesses. “The Disney heroines yearn for excitement and adventure, so I tried to place the Doctor at the point in their story where it seems they are ready for things to change but before the love interest shows up,” Hallion says. “By doing so, I aim to create a new story with my vision for these characters as empowered women who choose adventure not solely based on romantic love. I wanted to make a commentary on alternative possibilities for them as women and illustrate a change in their storylines that would alter their outcomes in a strong and meaningful way.”

STRONG WOMEN UNITE In addition to creating fictional character illustrations, Hallion is also known for her popular works spotlighting kick-butt women, including Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (RBG), Angelica Schuyler from Hamilton: An American Musical, and a “nasty woman” version of the Statue of Liberty. She considers these portraits her way of paving the way for geek girls of the future. “When I started freelancing 10 years ago, I got a lot of rejections that were, ‘this is too girly, too feminine, no one will buy this, geek girl doesn’t sell,’” Hallion says. ”They


meaningful work as they bond over the mutual things they love. “It’s a lot of fun to see others connect to what I am passionate about, too, and share that with them,” Hallion says. “I have had people show up with sculptures of my art that they have made for me, and this one woman made an amazing quilt with all of my shirts. It’s always touching to see how my work inspires others to get creative.” While balancing a variety of upcoming projects, Hallion is here to slay and inspire the next generation of fans to proudly let their geek flags fly. ✪

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Miranda Siwak is an assistant editor at Adventure Media & Events, where she contributes to the Toy Book, the Toy Insider, and the Pop Insider, covering the latest toy and entertainment industry news.

As an artist with a keen interest in portraying strong women, Hallion created her original “Celara” series to inspire the next generation of geek girls to embrace their fandom proudly. The name “Celara” — based on Hallion’s interest in The Belgariad and Polgara the Sorceress books by David Eddings — combines the character names of Polgara and Ce’Nedra into a new title, and the name of her own online alter ego. With comics and calendars illustrating the red-headed girl in a variety of historic and empowering scenes, Celara is unapologetically geeky and independent in every scene she tackles, whether she’s running through a forest or attending a fan convention. “I created Celara because I want every little girl who has been bullied for wearing a geeky shirt or told they couldn’t like something because it’s ‘for boys’ to know that they’re not alone,” Hallion says. “I want to celebrate what being a geek really means — to explore why we create fan art, participate in cosplay, and engage in dialogue discussing the minute details of the characters and stories we love. Celara is my homage to how we all connect with each other through these things.”


While some people may think Hallion’s empowering “She Series” pieces are too political — a series she fully stands behind — for the most part, fans are warm to her

Panels from Hallion’s “She Series”

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Exploring the World of Toy Photography by Madeleine Buckley, associate editor

This Spidey photo is by David Cubero, who primarily photographs Marvel and Star Wars figures. His toy photos have been featured in multiple European museum exhibitions.

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aking creative photos of toys and action figures certainly isn’t a new idea: Pierre-Jacques Ober remembers creating his first toy photography story back in the ‘80s without even realizing it. Armed with a Polaroid camera and a Spider-Man action figure on his travels to a small island in Brittany, France, he took 25 photos of the web-slinging hero on what he calls a Famous Fivestyle adventure. The series ended when Ober ran out of film, but his toy photography story was just getting started. The toy photography community is made up of countless toy enthusiasts, each with a story like Ober’s that pinpoints the exact moment they fell into this artform — usually by accident. While the hobby has existed for decades, it has grown significantly in recent years as social media platforms, such as Instagram, give photographers an easy way to share their work and find each other. As Danny Neumann, a toy photographer who primarily works in narrative photo series, puts it: Instagram provides a steady audience. “Because I usually post a new series one shot per day, it’s nice to know it will likely show up on a follower’s feed in a consistent way,” he says. “And because Instagram has liking and commenting features, I get to interact with friends and fans in an immediate and personal way.” The prevalence of toy photography on Instagram is certainly quantifiable. The hashtag #toyphotography had passed 7 million search results at the time of publication, with newly tagged photos popping up literally every time you refresh the page. Not all toy photos reach the same caliber, but these millions of photos are a far cry from product shots on a white background. When done well, toy photography makes inanimate objects feel alive and tells a compelling story. For many toy photographers, including Mitchel Wu (who took The Child photo on the cover of this issue), the storytelling component is the most important. “My goal is to create an image that immediately captures an audience’s imagination, engages them on an emotional level with the story or message I’m communicating, and compels them to want to learn more about the toys,” he says. “Storytelling is ultimately what will make an image impactful and memorable. Without a compelling story, the image, and product, is quickly forgotten.” Brian McCarty, who has been a toy pho-

tographer for nearly 30 years, also emphasizes the importance of emotional substance and story, over visually interesting gimmicks. “I want more emotional content, I want more personal vision, and I want to see folks who aren’t just preaching to the choir or telling everyone what they want to see about a certain property they already know about,” he says. “There may be a guy or girl whose thing is exploding stuff or certain light effects, … and they’re great, but I still miss that artistic vision and the purpose beyond ‘I made a cool photo.’” Neumann describes successful toy photography as blurring the lines between reality and fiction. “In other words,” he says, “can an action figure photo be so well composed, lit, and shot so as to force viewers to do a double-take before realizing the subjects are toys and just a few inches tall? That’s a fun exercise for me. I see it as an effort to re-achieve that elusive, childlike mindset that gets completely absorbed in the imaginative play space. I think, as adults, we lose the ability to get lost like that.”


That imaginative, childlike mindset that Neumann describes seems to be at the core of nearly every toy photographer’s passion. Toys and action figures tend to evoke positive nostalgic experiences, so many toy photographers say they hope to make people smile with their work.

Yet some toy photographers successfully juxtapose the levity of play in their work, using toys as a medium to process and discuss difficult topics. Photographer Dan Leonard created With Toys in Mind, a mental health awareness project comprised of an Instagram account and an anthology, to encourage toy photographers to use their work to break the stigma around mental health struggles. “I think it’s a medium that has worked for me and has definitely worked for others, so that I can express what I might be going through, ...” he says. “It allows a certain disconnect from the self that I find helps make discussing issues easier. I can channel my thoughts or feelings into an idea or a figure, and it becomes easier to process. It often gives depth to a photo that wouldn’t necessarily be there, and it can create an image that is relatable.” Leonard says taking these photos can serve as a means of release. He started With Toys in Mind about five months after he started doing toy photography. He noticed that the hobby helps keep his anxiety and depression at bay, and he wanted to express that with his work. He began using the hashtag #WithToysInMind as a way to get the community involved. “It quickly became apparent that I wasn’t the only person who was using toy photography to help get through the struggles of life,” Leonard says. “It quickly

This photo is part of Danny Neumann’s “The Quiet Life of G. Rider” series, which imagines what the Spirit of Vengence would do in retirement. This project followed Neumann’s ambitious “The Super Neumanns” series, which featured one toy photo per day for a full year.

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FANDOM FEATURE began to gain traction and grew into a community within itself where people felt safe discussing and supporting each other through various issues.” McCarty also utilizes the therapeutic aspects of toy photography in his project-turned-nonprofit, War Toys, which he started in 1996 while doing an exhibition in Croatia. He began thinking about war toys, such as G.I. Joe and plastic army men, as a way people who had never experienced war could connect to those who have. From there, McCarty began working with children from Israel, Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq. These children effectively become his art directors — they draw and describe their experiences of living through war, and McCarty recreates the scenes using toys. In this way, McCarty amplifies their voices and helps share their experiences with the world. “It is sort of channeling that emotional content — that narrative aspect, the reflecting, refracting, whatever it is — of the real world into smaller, safer bites acted out by the toys,” he says.

BUSINESS MINDED In addition to providing entertainment and a bit of therapy, toy photography has started moving into toy marketing and sales. Some companies, including LEGO, Hasbro, and Beast Kingdom, use or promote toy photographers’ work — to varying degrees — with their social media posts, advertising, or convention signage. Shelly Corbett, who primarily photographs LEGO mini-figures and works for, says, “With the advent of social media, there is a lot of pressure to create interesting content. I think it’s natural for toy companies to look to the toy community of professional amateurs to fill in the gaps or give their toys a fresh look.” Corbett says that a significant majority of toy photographers only utilize it as a fun hobby. However, Wu and McCarty are among those who use their photos to make a living. Wu says that, in his experience, more companies are starting to embrace toy photography as an artform — and toy photographers as an influential community — that can drive sales. He notes that there is more discipline required for professional toy photographers who must stick to timelines and budgets that companies set. “As a professional, you don’t have the luxury of being able to wait to be inspired to create,” he says, “and you certainly don’t have the luxury of being able to create images around only your favorite characters

Labeled “Forest Guardian” in its Instagram caption, this photo by Dan Leonard features Hot Toys’ Groot figure and Good Smile Co.’s Link figure.

and properties.” For people interested in paid work, Wu suggests maintaining a website and an active presence on social media. “If you’re a toy photographer thinking companies and agencies aren’t looking at your work and interactions on Instagram, you’re mistaken,” he says. “This is why it’s important to understand that the material, energy, and personality you put out into the world on Instagram creates a kind of brand for you, and that brand can affect the opportunities that may or may not come your way.” Wu and McCarty both caution against giving companies toy photography for free — or in exchange for toys — which is becoming more common in the community. “Eventually, people really need to learn the business way more,” McCarty says. “They need to learn about copyright, they need to learn about business practices, and they need to stop giving away their work. I’ve seen it way too much. … They’re passionate and they’re excited, and I appreciate that, but — I hate to say it — there are some companies and entities that will take advantage of that if folks aren’t educated.” Wu adds, “I know that for many, getting free toys from their favorite toy companies that they worship is like a dream come true. But once you go down that road and build that reputation, it’s very hard to go back.”


There are very few threads that tie every toy photographer together because the community includes such a wide breadth of styles, interests, focuses, and ideas. The one thing every photographer

seems to agree on, though, is the value of the community itself. In a setting that could easily be cutthroat or competitive, these creatives find support, guidance, and friendship. Ober and his wife, Jules, now create children’s books called Little Soldier Stories, which also tackle the difficult subject of life at war and are entirely illustrated with toy photography. Ober credits the Instagram toy photography community for the project’s success.“The appreciation and support of our followers, mostly toy photographers themselves, gave us a lot of confidence,” he says. “Before that, we had in the back of our minds that we might be doing something a bit too ‘out there.’ Discovering that we were not the only ones was liberating for us.” More experienced photographers are also willing to help newcomers, Corbett says, either with specific advice or by sharing a behind-the-scenes look at how they produce their photos. “We are always inspiring each other and pushing to create original work with our toys,” she says. “The community is a lot of fun, and many an online friendship has morphed into a real-world one.” Neumann, who primarily interacts with other toy photographers on Instagram, calls the community an informal arts collective, where photographers inspire each other with their work. “I think the lack of a negative, competitive vibe is due, in large part, to the fact that we are all doing it for love of the hobby,” he says. “We’re all just kids who have found a grown-up way of playing with our toys.” ✪

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Veteran toy photographers share their advice for newbies.




“The biggest mistake I see beginners make is trying to do too much too soon. … Don’t try to get too crazy with the special effects or techniques because that comes with time and practice. I would much rather see an image with a great story. Make me laugh, make me think, make me feel something.”

“Start small, practice, and experiment as much as they can. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes and build up a collection/equipment as they go along and find a need for it. The biggest resource available is the community. Never be afraid to ask questions, look at how people are doing things, and work techniques into your own style.”

“Work, work, and work. Always carry your camera and some figures — you never know when a good picture will pop out from your mind. And don’t be obsessed with likes and shares. If your work is good and honest, sooner or later it will draw the attention of the community. Ah, I almost forgot, don’t be afraid of Photoshop: With a little practice, your pictures will improve so much!”

SHELLY CORBETT @SHELLYCORBETTPHOTOGRAPHY “Toy envy is real. Whenever you see a cool toy displayed in a clever photo, it’s hard not to want to buy the toy and create something similar. I would recommend choosing a toy line or theme and attempting to limit your collection.”

DANNY NEUMANN @CANTINADANNY “Don’t let a desire for ‘likes’ or exposure dictate your content or motivation. Do it for the love of the toys. Do it because it’s bringing YOU creative satisfaction. … What to avoid would be bankrupting yourself in pursuit of accessorizing the perfect shot!” SHELLY CORBETT

BRIAN MCCARTY @BRIANMCCARTY “I think the biggest mistake initially is thinking you have to have XYZ piece of equipment — and I don’t care what type of photography someone is interested in, especially in this day and age with just about everyone having phones. ... Just do the absolute best you can with what you have available, whatever resources those are, and once you have exhausted that, then start thinking about begging, borrowing, or buying whatever it is that you might want to move forward.”

PIERRE-JACQUES OBER @LITTLESOLDIERSTORIES “First and foremost, have fun. Don’t get obsessed with technique, and ... let your imagination run free. It is all about pleasure and dreaming. And satisfaction comes from the process of trials and errors, of discovery, of surprises, and of disappointments. It is a practice.”

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22 YEARS OF BRINGING HAPPINESS TO COMIC BOOK FANS How Midtown Comics, the Largest Comic Book Shop in the U.S. , Became So Super by Victoria Rosenthal, contributor


volving to changing retail landscapes and customer needs is no easy task. Many companies close up shop under that kind of pressure, but for Midtown Comics, evolution has become its superpower. Since opening its doors on West 40th Street and 7th Avenue in New York City in 1997, the comic book shop has easily combated threats, eventually morphing into the largest comic book shop in the U.S. — and a go-to New York tourist destination for travelers from around the world. The chain ranks No. 14 on TripAdvisor’s 1,000 top New York stores, and The Village Voice named it the best comic book store in the city in 2012. The National Geographic Channel also gave the store an extra power boost that year with a reality TV series called Comic Store Heroes, which was set at Midtown Comics. The key to the shop’s success is ensuring comic book fans are always happy, whether they are seasoned readers or newbies in the community. Founders and long-time comic book sellers Angelo Chantly, Thomas Galitos, Robert Mileta, and Gerry Gladston joined forces after noticing a void in New York’s comic book retail landscape. They created a list of things to do — and not to do — based on their own experiences. Then, the band of friends opened Midtown Comics’ flagship Times Square location, where it’s been ever since.

has assembled two more brick-and-mortar locations in Midtown East and the Financial District in NYC. It has adapted to social media, and maintained comic book subscription services to make comics accessible to all of its customers. The company also maintains a fully stocked inventory in a well-organized store with “a bookshop motif” to appeal to all fans. It stocks “everything possible in the form of comic book titles, graphic novels, and everything related,” Gladston, Midtown Comics’ chief marketing officer and co-owner, explains. The shelves are packed from floor to ceiling with items to make followers of practically all fandom happy. You can find anything from the latest Avengers issues and Little Golden Books versions of Star Trek stories to My Hero Academia figures

and a Captain America movie poster signed by Chris Evans. While scanning the shelves, you can even discover retro gems like Golden Girls figures that you won’t want to pass up. Gladston attributes this range of fan products to Midtown Comics’ expert buyers, “who take advantage of all kinds of trends relating to the world of comics and pop culture. Nostalgia plays a role, and many of yesteryear’s favorites are popular once again in the field of collectibles, including the Golden Girls.” In terms of comic books, they track and speculate the success of each one to make sure that the customers love what they purchase — and won’t have buyer’s remorse afterward since the comic books cannot be returned to the store.

MISSION: ACCOMMODATE THE MARKETPLACE Adhering to this to-do list has helped Midtown Comics achieve its success. Each task is based on the shop’s mission to accommodate the comics marketplace. The company manages an e-commerce business, which recently moved to a new location in New Hyde Park, New York, and it 68 | Issue No. 6 | THE POP INSIDER

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Using this method, the Midtown Comics crew aims to include everyone in the fan community and take an active role in it. The store holds promotions and sales at least two days per week to bring fans back into the store and keep them coming back onto the website. It listens to customers’ advice to improve the shopping experience, and it also hosts several signings and meetand-greets. Building the community doesn’t stop at the events. According to Gladston, the staff must be “passionately in love with comic books” to make fans happy and allow them to have the best shopping experience possible. While they are knowledgeable of the inventory, more importantly, the sales associates discuss their favorite characters and analyze storylines with each other and customers. “That’s so important because customers come in off the street, and some are die-

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Celebrities, including Kevin Smith (left), George Takei, and Chris Evans (inset), visit the three Midtown Comics locations for meet-and-greets and autograph signings. Photos: Midtown Comics/Gerry Gladston

hard experts, who don’t need help, but many are just casual fans or lapsed readers who might not have read a comic book in five years [or] 10 years, and they want to know what’s going on,” Gladston explains. “In other industries, that’s not so easy to find.” The staff is known for pointing out story arcs and characters that can help new read-

ers — who are aware of film adaptations — get started in the books, so Midtown Comics seeks out comic book fans who really know their stuff to take on staff roles. So whether you are a seasoned expert in all things geek, or you’re just visiting New York City and looking to browse around, odds are: Midtown Comics has something for you. ✪

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LIFE WITHOUT PLASTIC: IT’S FANTASTIC? Collectors discuss the impact of Hasbro phasing out plastic packaging. by Madeleine Buckley, associate editor


very action figure enthusiast falls firmly on one side of this debate: Should collectibles stay in their boxes, or is it OK to take them out? Soon, this question may no longer be quite so relevant in the collector community due to a major eco-friendly packaging initiative from Hasbro. Hasbro produces a variety of popular action figure lines, including Marvel Legends and Star Wars The Black Series. Last August, the company announced that it would begin phasing out plastic packaging in its products this year, with a plan to remove nearly all plastic elements from new product packaging by 2022. According to Kathrin Belliveau, Hasbro’s senior vice president of government affairs and corporate social responsibility, a few plastic elements will have to stay — primarily tape, glue, and stickers. Most other plastic components are on the chopping block, including blister packs and window sheets, which are both standard issue in action figure packaging. In some cases, Hasbro will eliminate these elements entirely and have open packaging. In others, the company will replace plastic pieces with paper or other materials. “The collector community is very important to Hasbro, and we will use this opportunity to explore what the future of collectibles can be,” Belliveau says. “We will do everything possible to ensure our future collector items will continue to remain just that. We know that our consumers share our passion for sustainability. We believe our consumers and retailers will embrace this initiative.” Eliminating plastic also gives Hasbro a chance to be innovative. According to Belliveau, the company has internal crowd-sourcing events that encourage employees to share their ideas on plastic replacements. Despite these assurances, removing plastic in action figure packaging does raise some concerns for Hasbro and collectors alike. One obvious worry among collectors, in the case of closed packaging, is not being able to inspect the quality of the exact figure

they are buying, down to the small, specific details they care about. Daniel Pickett, editor-in-chief of Action Figure Insider, says that some collectors won’t even shop online because it doesn’t offer them the chance to select the best action figure on the shelf. “Because of the mass production nature of these things, not every [figure] is going to be a home run,” Pickett says. “You are going to have crossed eyes or some paint missing, ... and if you can’t see [the figure], it really is kind of a crapshoot.” The collector who runs the ToyShiz Instagram and YouTube accounts, and who prefers to be attributed by his online moniker, raised the same concern, saying that many collectors want to get the best quality for their money. On the other hand, he notes that Japanese collectibles, such as Transformers figures, have come in closed-box packaging for a long time with great success. Pickett also notes that if tariffs ever come to fruition and drive up the cost of collectibles, packaging will become less and less important for collectors who want to keep up with all of Hasbro’s new figures. “People would almost rather have it just in a baggie with a piece of cardboard stapled on top if it means that the prices aren’t going to keep going up,” he says. Another major concern — which Pickett, ToyShiz, and Belliveau all share — is that less packaging increases the risk of theft in stores. There is already a trend of people purchasing Hasbro figures, removing the parts they want to keep, replacing them with other — often cheaper — figures and accessories, and then returning the altered product to get their money back. (Check out the #figureswap on Instagram to see some examples.) This is especially prevalent with the Marvel Legends line, in which a high volume of figures, many obscure characters, and the desire for build-a-figure pieces combine to create a perfect storm. “[Walmart employees] don’t know these characters,” Pickett says. “They mean nothing to the people at the counter doing returns. … They

just look at it and go, ‘Oh, is there anything wrong with it?’ and the guy goes, ‘nope,’ and so they just take it and put it back on the shelf. So if there is windowless packaging, it seems like it will be even easier for people to be able to do those figure swaps.” So, will the collector community rebel against these changes? “Of course there’s going to be some pushback in the initial run,” ToyShiz says. “I think it’s going to be a bit of a transitionary period, but I don’t think it’ll go completely south where people will stop collecting.” Pickett is more curious to see exactly what Hasbro will do, especially when replacing more iconic packaging, such as for the 3.75-inch Star Wars figures, which have come in a blister pack on cardboard backing with a silver stripe for more than 40 years. “I’m in several collector groups and have had discussions with folks,” he says. “I think the overarching thing is anything that inches us closer to doing things better for the planet is good. … But for the people who still love collecting them all and hanging them all on their walls together, it’ll be interesting to see what solution [Hasbro] comes up with to still keep it in the world of what collectors are familiar with.” ✪

Hasbro’s current Marvel Legends packaging features multiple plastic elements that the company plans to eliminate.

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The Minions are back! The lovable yet sinister yellow villains are back to star in their second standalone feature film, coming this summer. Illumination’s Minions: The Rise of Gru follows the untold story of a young Gru’s quest to become the world’s greatest supervillain of all time. A youthful Gru — sporting his now-iconic gray striped scarf — teams up with the Minions once again for various hijinks and adventures.

Catboy, Owlette, and Gekko are suiting up for another season of superhero action. Entertainment One (eOne), France 5, and Frog Box, in collaboration with Disney Junior, entered production on the fifth season of PJ Masks, with 52 11-minute episodes set to debut next year. The new episodes will find the preschool heroes exploring new locations as they face off against new villains and challenges. “[This year] marks five years since PJ Masks first swooped onto TV screens, and we’re absolutely thrilled to be announcing that a fifth series is in production,” says eOne’s Olivier Dumont, president of family and brands. “PJ Masks has won a place in the hearts of families all over the world and has created many happy childhood memories for kids who have grown up with the characters. We look forward to bringing brand-new adventures to the show’s fanbase and introducing the series to the next generation of preschoolers.” Since its U.S. launch on Disney Junior in 2015, PJ Masks has become a global franchise, spawning toys, consumer products, and live events in more than 85 markets. Season four will launch globally on Disney Junior this year. ✪

KIDS CAN BE ANYTHING AT BARBIE FESTIVAL IN LA Come on, Barbie, let’s have some fun in the sun! Mattel and Barbie are gearing up for a big party — and everyone is welcome to the inspiring fête. The toy company welcomes kids of all ages for the one-day “Barbie You Can Be Anything Festival” in Los Angeles on March 7. The all-day event will include speeches from inspiring female role models, interactive workshops, hands-on activities, empowerment sessions, and a musical performance. The event, appropriately scheduled around International Women’s Day, will include a morning mindfulness and meditation session led by the people at Headspace, a live performance by Kidz Bop Live, and an aviation simulation with female pilots, all designed to empower kids. All ticket sales from the Barker Hangar event in Santa Monica, California, will be donated to the Dream Gap Project on GoFundMe, part of Barbie’s mission to inspire limitless potential. ✪

A teaser trailer dropped during the Super Bowl promising big laughs and big, action-packed stunts when the film premieres. The clip teases more of the franchise’s signature sense of humor, lots of bad guys, and even a brand-new Minion. Otto, a plump and adorable minion, joins the crew with his braces, denim overalls, and little spikes of hair. ✪

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Sharing Caring How the Care Bears Are Warming the Hearts of Today’s Kids by Miranda Siwak, assistant editor


ack in the ’80s, the cute and colorful Care Bears journeyed through Care-a-Lot, spreading cheer and kindness to kids of all ages. Decades later, the Care Bears are still sharing the importance of positivity, generosity, and — of course — caring, while evolving to appeal to a new generation of kids. Under the ownership of Cloudco Entertainment (formerly American Greetings Entertainment), the Care Bears are ushering in new fans through a new animated series, an updated visual aesthetic, and tons of sweet and sparkly merch. “The brand and all the bears are truly about caring, sharing, and self-expression,” says Robert Prinzo, head of global licensing at Cloudco. “It’s imperative that the brand connects in an authentic way that puts caring and sharing meaningfully forward.”


Care Bears Good Vibes T-Shirt from Lola + the Boys

Care Bears: Unlock the Magic launched last year on Boomerang, with shorts and songs also available to stream on YouTube. In the new series, the lovable, furry best friends go on adventures in the familiar town of Care-a-Lot, but they also leave their home to protect the regions between Care-a-Lot and a new land: Silver Lining. Group leader Cheer Bear and her caring pals put their best paws forward in each episode as they spread positive vibes and kindness. The updated series promotes the same meaningful messages from Care Bears series past, so longtime fans will recognize lots of familiar locations, characters, and details, but Cloudco made some important updates as well. Funshine Bear, Cheer Bear, and the crew are traveling more than ever on Unlock the Magic, cruising around in their trusty rainbow-inspired Cloudseeker vehicle, which has given them new opportunities to find other ways to help anyone in need. “Putting a group of these core bears on an exploration mission in a new vehicle has really opened up the storytelling as they travel around new and exciting areas, all of which are quirky, colorful, fun, and fantasy-oriented,” Prinzo says. “At the same time, the show is still grounded in Care-a-Lot, as these bears call back to the Care Tower in order to get assistance as they encounter new characters, lands, and challenges.”

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Throughout the years, the bears have undergone quite a few makeovers, transforming from their hand-drawn appearance in the original animated series and movie specials to the 3D, CGI-animated cubs in Care Bears: Welcome to Care-a-Lot. In Unlock the Magic, Cloudco focused on a colorful, sparkle-filled 2D animation style to illustrate the bears in a unique way. The show features bright colors that pop on screen and a simple style that allows for an “expressive and individualized performance from each of the bears,” according to Prinzo. The 2D animation also harkens back to the old-school style of the Care Bears and allows certain iconic elements — such as the “Care Bears Stare” — to play just as prominently as they did in the ‘80s.

“The brand, and all the bears, are truly about caring, sharing, and self-expression.” -Robert Prinzo

PLENTY OF CHEER While certain elements are geared toward the nostalgia of the original fans, engaging storytelling in Unlock the Magic has brought a new generation into the Care Bears fandom. The updated style coupled with a few retro elements leaves kids wanting more — and merch makers are ready to deliver. Basic Fun! will launch new Care Bears toys this fall, just in time to top kids’ Christmas lists. Fans will find classic toy options, such as soft plushies and miniature figure sets, but the toy line will also offer something new with its key driver: Care

Bears Unlock the Magic Interactive Figures. The talking figures feature light-up bellies and special touch sensors in their paws. The toys match the style of their onscreen counterparts in Unlock the Magic and feature cool tech enhancements that allow them to respond to kids as they play, and even interact with other figures. They combine the sweet, adorable nature of the Care Bears with modern technology and a high level of interactivity that today’s kids expect from their toys. “The fan is at the heart of it all,” says Ashley Mady, head of brand development at Basic Fun! “The product itself is designed for our fans, keeping in mind everything that they love about the brand … combined with all of the trends of today that we’re seeing.”

LOVE-TO-EAT BEARS In addition to a new toy line, Cloudco partnered with several companies to launch Care Bears-inspired collections, including apparel, accessories, collectibles, and food. Fans can experience the magic of the Care Bears IRL through unique products and activations that leave lasting memories. Last year, the Instagram-famous New York City ice cream maker Taiyaki created custom flavors inspired by the Care Bears’ personalities and served them up at a Care Bears-themed event. Mango, strawberry, and matcha flavors color-matched Good Luck Bear, Love-a-Lot Bear, and Funshine Bear, and were paired with edible charm toppings that replicated the iconic belly badges. Cheer Bear and Grumpy Bear even

Taiyaki NYC created limited edition, custom ice cream flavors based on Care Bears characters.

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stopped by the SoHo shop to let fans take photos while enjoying their sweet Care Bears ice cream treats. Additionally, food hall Cravings 99 by Ranch Market in Chino, California, transformed its six food stations, menus, and building interior into a real-world Care-aLot for fans. The walls were adorned with custom character artwork, the food was wrapped in unique packaging, and the eatery even sold a selection of Care Bears merch. Experiencing the colorful world firsthand introduced new kids to the Boomerang series and let adults engage in a brand they’ve loved for years. “We had customers [who] came in and afterward, their kids became Care Bears fans,” Cravings Founder Andy Nguyen says. “When you walk into Cravings, you see all the colors, [and] you see all the different characters on the wall. It brings new life — not just to the brand, but to the market.” Kids’ clothing boutique Lola + the Boys, known for its sequined bomber jackets and funky ensembles, released an apparel collaboration last fall that fused its signature style with some Care Bears magic. “I just wanted to take what I thought was a trademark thing everybody associates us with … and tie Care Bears into it,” says Lola + the Boys Founder Irena Ovrutsky. “For me, [as] a Care Bears fan growing up, this is a really fun, easy collaboration.” Ovrutsky’s range includes bomber jackets, leggings, and embellished shirts — and fans immediately took notice. While the range mostly offered looks for kids, Ovrutsky added a few items for adults, which promptly sold out. Like Ovrutsky herself, the fans who grew up on Share Bear, Funshine Bear, and Grumpy Bear were excited to see a brand they loved so fiercely return in a new way, as well as introduce it to their own kids and watch them discover the kind-hearted bears for the first time. With new merch and experiences to provide a fresh entrypoint into the Care Bears world, fans are more excited than ever about the charming Care Bears. As the brand continues to grow throughout

the year, Cloudco has plans for additional Unlock the Magic TV content, mobile apps, light-up costumes, and more. Underneath all of the new style, content, partnerships, and merch, the root of what these bears stand for remains the same — because goodness never goes out of style. ✪

Above: Basic Fun!’s Care Bears Unlock the Magic Interactive Figures Below: Lola + the Boys ‘ Care Bears Sequin Bombers and Care Bears Rainbow Star Leggings

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Above: Aurora’s Cat in the Hat Shoulderkin, Left: Horton figurine, from DS6’s Jim Shore line

Join the Festivities for Dr. Seuss’ Birthday and Read Across America Day by Jackie Cucco, senior editor


o doodling in class! Any kids who’ve ever been scolded in class for daydreaming can tell their nosy teachers that Dr. Seuss often came up with story ideas by doodling. Not only that, but he also kept a closet full of wacky hats, and whenever he experienced writer’s block, he would put on a hat to help the words flow. How’s that for a thinking cap? Theodor Seuss Geisel’s zany characters and fantastical tales have inspired generations of kids to dream big. He published 44 picture books before he died in 1991, including The Cat in the Hat, Horton Hears a Who!, and How the Grinch Stole Christmas. March 2 marks his 116th birthday, which also coincides with Read Across America Day. The Dr. Seuss brand will honor the literary legend and his beloved stories with new products and events that bring that Seussical charm into the real world. “As ambassadors and facilitators of fun, we’re proud to work alongside best-in-class licensed partners across a myriad of industries to commemorate Dr. Seuss’ birthday and give people of all ages an opportunity to share in Ted’s passion for imagination and entertainment. Each builds on his inventive spirit while enabling us to tap into new targeted audiences — including young kids, tweens, families, and teachers, as well as adult fans,” says Susan Brandt, president of Dr. Seuss Enterprises.

OH, THE PLACES YOU’LL GO Dr. Seuss Enterprises is taking Dr. Seuss’ birthday on the road, with multiple events for fans all over the country. Target, Party City, and Barnes & Noble are kicking off the birthday extravaganza early on Saturday, Feb. 29, with in-store events meant to motivate kids to pick up some books and read. Families can head to their local stores for storytime, activities, and giveaways. Parents, caregivers, and educators can participate in the Dr. Seuss Word Challenge and enter to win prizes by submitting the number of Dr. Seuss books their kids have read to The sweepstakes will run from March 2-6. The Dr. Seuss brand is also bringing some cheer to kids’ hospitals in Southern California through a partnership with the Emilio Nares Foundation to raise funds for Emilio’s Loving Tabs Healing T-shirts. The shirts are designed with snaps on the shoulders and sleeves to give kids with cancer easy access to chemotherapy.

SEUSSTASTIC MERCH Every good birthday party comes with lots of presents. In this case, fans of the iconic childrens’ book author can expect lots of new merch. Seuss followers of all ages can wear their hearts on their sleeves thanks to a colorful Dr. Seuss apparel line at Target (available through March 2), as well as cloth-

ing and accessories from Elope. Aurora and Manhattan Toy are both offering their own versions of plush characters, such as Thing One and Thing Two, the Cat in the Hat, and the Lorax. Cardinal/ Spin Master is introducing a selection of Dr. Seuss-themed games and puzzles for toddlers, including a fishing game based on One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish and a matching game based on Green Eggs and Ham. For adult collectors, D56 is adding to its Jim Shore line with figurines and ornaments, featuring fan-favorite characters, such as the Grinch and Horton. Tech-savvy kids can spend some of their precious screen time on the new augmented reality (AR) game based on Dr. Seuss’s ABC book and the upcoming Dr. Seuss YouTube platform. As Dr. Seuss once said: “Fantasy is a necessary ingredient in living.” That mantra holds true as his whimsical world expands with all of the exciting new things fans have to look forward to this year. ✪

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jackie Cucco is a senior editor at Adventure Media & Events. She writes for the Pop Insider, the Toy Book, and the Toy Insider. When she’s not watching horror movies, you can find her playing paparazzi for her pet bunny, Peepers (@thebigpeep on Instagram).

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PLAYMATES TOYS Playmates Toys will introduce a toy line based on the Cartoon Network animated series Power Players. In the show, the Power Players follow a team of secret toy heroes led by Axel, a kid who discovers the Power Bandz, which transform him into the living, toy-sized action figure: Action Axel. Axel and the Power Players fight the villainous Madcap and his pack of toys gone bad. Each figure in the Power Players Super Feature Figure Assortment is 9 inches tall and features more than 12 phrases and sound effects. The assortment includes Super Sounds Axel and Super Stretch Masko. A Power Players Basic Figure Assortment of 5-inch action figures is also available. The Power Players Vehicle with Figure features Axel’s cycle and an exclusive Axel figure. The cycle transforms into an off-road model. The Power Players toys are recommended for kids ages 4 and up and will be available this spring.

Power Players Super Feature Figure Assortment — Axel

This spring, Cra-Z-Art will release Disney Junior Minnie’s Deluxe Kitchen. Kids ages 3 and up can create pretend Minnie Mouse treats using the included Softee Doh, which is a non-toxic, moldable compound. The kit includes Disney-themed molds, a kitchen unit, an extruder, and other accessories.

ENTERTAINMENT ONE Entertainment One (eOne) will bring PJ Masks and Peppa Pig fans new interactive toys through its toy partners. With the VTech PJ Masks Super Learning Flashlight, kids ages 3-6 can hear real character sounds and voices from PJ Masks as they play games across the Super Learning, Discover, and Time to Rhyme modes. Kids can practice the alphabet, numbers, colors, and rhyme skills as they light up the night. The VTech Peppa Pig Learn & Go Alphabet Car includes 26 letter buttons PJ Masks Nighttime Micros Trap & Escape that kids can use to explore Playset —Owlette and Luna Girl ABCs, phonics, music, and the names of objects associated with each letter. Available this fall, the car features four interactive play modes and real character voices from Peppa Pig. The PJ Masks Nighttime Micros Trap & Escape Playset assortment is new from Just Play. Each tabletop playset includes two miniature figures — a hero and a villain — that kids ages 3 and up can capture using the rooftop trap door. The scenery spins to change the action from day to night. The playsets will be available this spring. Jazwares will also expand its line of Peppa Pig figures and playsets. With Peppa’s Surprise Balloons, kids ages 2 and up can collect exclusive Peppa figures, each packed with three peel-and-reveal balloons. Each balloon contains a surprise figure or accessory. The series includes four themes and will be available in the spring.

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KIDS’ TOYS FOLKMANIS Folkmanis introduces the Axolotl puppet, based on the endangered creature who recently sparked a viral social media meme. The 9-inch-long marine salamander has feathery pink gills, soulful eyes, and a movable head and tail. Kids can animate the mouth on the 28-inch Black Panther puppet. This super-sleek puppet sparks imagination so that kids can create their own adventures. The mythical Unicorn puppet comes to life with an animated mouth and a tail that kids can wind to activate the music box and hear Strauss’ “Tales from the Vienna Woods.” The graceful creature is 26 inches long and has a metallic, rose-gold spiraled horn, long eyelashes, and a flowing pink mane and tail adorned with floral accents. The above puppets are designed for kids ages 3 and up.

BONKERS TOYS Bonkers Toys expands its Ryan’s World collection with Ryan’s World Road Trip. The collectible micro-figures are each themed after one of the 50 United States. Kids can also try to find the rare Washington, D.C., and ultra-rare American Titan figures, as well as micro-figure blind bags, multipacks, an exclusive suitcase, and mystery eggs. All of the collectible toys include stickers with fun facts about their respective states. Exclusive mystery figures and a theme song from Raptain Hook himself bring the FGTeeV Raptain Hook’s Sea Wagon playset straight off of the screen and into real life. Based on the FGTeeV YouTube channel, the celebrity rapper’s ship features hidden compartments with surprises inside, including noise putty.

Cat in the Hat Signature Game, from Spin Master


Black Panther puppet

Dr. Seuss Enterprises is expanding its range of plush characters based on the works of Theodor Seuss Geisel with new designs available this fall. The new range includes 7-inch versions of Thing 1 and Thing 2; an 8-inch Cat in the Hat; a 16-inch Horse Museum; and a 13-inch, election-themed Cat in the Hat for President. An 11-inch Lorax Planet Earth will be released in time for Earth Day. The world of Dr. Seuss also expands this fall with new games and puzzles from Spin Master. Kids ages 3 and up can help Sally and Conrad clean up the house and get the Cat out the door before Mom gets home in the Cat in the Hat Signature Game. Kids try to catch as many fish as they can in the 1 Fish 2 Fish Fishing Game. The rotating board houses the fish from the classic story. The Green Eggs and Ham Matching Game includes a spinner and a spatula for kids to scramble and flip their green egg cards. With the Cat in the Hat Signature Blind Puzzle assortment, kids can discover one of four surprise puzzles that come packed in a plastic container shaped like the Cat’s Hat.

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BLIP TOYS Blip Toys is launching a line of action figures and role-play accessories based on Ninja Kidz TV, a YouTube channel featuring a family of four kids who are martial artists, American Ninja Warriors, and gymnasts. The toys are designed for kids ages 3 and up and will be available this fall.

This spring, Insight Editions launches the IncrediBuilds collection, which includes IncrediBots: Marvel Iron Man, IncrediBots: Marvel Spider-Man, and IncrediBots: Marvel Captain America. Kids ages 8 and up can build the Iron Man, Spider-Man, and Captain America models included in each IncrediBots kit. Kids can paint, color, and customize each model made from natural wood. The plastic joints and punch-out pieces are easy for kids to assemble, snapping together to form a movable 3D figure with five points of articulation. The kit includes a softcover book featuring a comic starring the Tony Stark, Peter Parker, and Steve Rogers IncrediBots, as well as craft ideas for more ultimate customization.

ADK EMOTIONS NY ADK Emotions NY introduces new games, action figures, playsets, and more based on Beyblade. New from Intimo, the Beyblade Burst Lunch Box is for kids ages 4 and up and features two compartments. It will be available in the summer. Goliath introduces the Bey Master board game for kids ages 6 and up. In the interactive board game, players create an obstacle course with score towers and magnetic bumpers, and launch their spinning tops onto the board to guide them toward the score towers. In Goliath’s Pop ‘n Race, kids ages 4 and up must move their game pieces around the board and be the first back to their home base to win. In order to move pieces, kids will push down the popper to flip the die and find out how far to move. With the Beyblade Burst Hypersphere Vertical Drop Battleset, from Hasbro, kids can battle their opponents. This Beystadium playset includes two spin launchers and battling tops Ace Dragon D5 and bushin ashindra A5. The spinning tops are designed to climb the vertical wall of the drop stadium and battle on the brink. Grund will introduce new Beyblade Burst Turbo novels in France based on the series’ animation this winter. Each novel follows the arcs of three or four episodes, and the pages are printed in full color with character and episodic imagery.

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PARTY ANIMAL Party Animal expands its line of SqueezyMates foam toys, featuring characters from iconic brands. DC Comics and Scooby-Doo characters will be available in the same size as current SqueezyMates, and new NFL Figures will be available in 5-inch jumbo versions.

WOWWEE The new Pinkfong Baby Shark Official Silly Sing-Along Microphone, from WowWee, is a toy microphone designed for kids ages 3 and up. This spring, kids can sing along to the “Baby Shark” song or alter their voices with voice-changing modes. The microphone features adjustable volume and an automatic off feature. Kids ages 3 and up can push Pinkfong Baby Shark Official Surfers on their surfboards and collect multiple characters to create a surfboard train. Kids will develop their coordination, motor skills, and imaginations with these toys. The 3-inch Baby Shark figure will be available this spring and features its own surfboard. The Baby Shark Official Five-Figure Pack will be available this spring and is suitable for kids ages 3 and up. The five-piece figure pack features Baby Shark, Mommy Shark, Daddy Shark, Pinkfong, and William the fish. Each 3-inch figure has its own stand.

MONOGRAM INTERNATIONAL Monogram International offers new licensed collectibles this spring for kids ages 4 and up. Individual Blind Bags will feature multiple bag clips of characters from Trolls World Tour, Disney•Pixar films, Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, and Minions: The Rise of Gru.

9 STORY BRANDS In partnership with TCG Toys, 9 Story Brands is bringing Daniel Tiger’s wardrobe to life with the new Daniel Tiger Mix & Match Wood Dress-Up Set. Kids are the stylists with this fun and creative playset as they choose Daniel’s outfit from 12 wooden puzzle pieces. These chunky, durable play pieces are designed for kids ages 3 and up. In partnership with Best Ride on Cars, 9 Story Brands will also release a Daniel Tiger Trolley Ride On later this year. This easy-to-ride, foot-to-floor trolley comes complete with easy-glide wheels and an under-seat storage area for effortless cleanups. Kids ages 3 and up can go on adventures with ease in this grr-ific play vehicle. Ride along on the neighborhood trolley with Daniel Tiger and his friends for hours of playtime inside or outside with the Daniel Tiger Play Tent, from M&M Sales. Simply pop up this character-packed play tent to start the journey, and fold down the tent for easy storage. Designed for kids ages 3 and up, this tent will be available in the spring. With the worldwide launch of Charlie’s Colorforms City on Netflix last year — and the iconic Colorforms brand celebrating its 70th anniversary next year — 9 Story Brands will bring Charlie’s Colorforms City: Silly Faces Game to shelves this year. Made in partnership with Kahootz Toys, a member of the PlayMonster family, it’s a race to make the silliest face in this smile-filled classic game that sticks. Kids ages 3 and up spin the spinner and land on a face space to fill, then choose from a wacky assortment of restickable pieces featuring characters from the series to put on their face card. The first one to complete a whole silly face wins the game. Mr. Potato Head will back in a big way later this year with the Colorforms: Mr. Potato Head Retro Replay Sets, from Kahootz Toys. Each set comes with a playboard and restickable Colorforms pieces, designed for kids ages 3 and up.

Daniel Tiger Trolley Ride On

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! n a m t a B , s y o t Holy Spin Master launches its DC Universe toy line. by Maddie Michalik, senior editor


here’s a new generation of toys coming out of Gotham. This year, DC Comics fans will start to see new action figures, R/C and robotic vehicles, water toys, games, and puzzles starring everyone’s favorite caped crusader on store shelves. While this initial product assortment from Spin Master features a Batman-heavy lineup, it will expand to also include Wonder Woman, Aquaman, The Flash, Cyborg, and more. And yes, this means that for the first time, all of the characters from the DC Universe will be rolled into one toy line, including those from the Justice League and beyond. Eventually, kids can go on imaginative adventures to fight crime in Metropolis with Superman, rule the kingdom of Atlantis with Aquaman, and run laps around Central City with The Flash with action figures from the same series. This first wave of toys is part of a three-year deal between Warner Bros. Consumer Products (WBCP) and Spin Master, maker of

popular kids’ toys including Hatchimals, Kinetic Sand, Monster Jam, and more. “The DC brand has connected with fans for more than 80 years with the most iconic characters in the world — from Superman to Batman, Wonder Woman to Batgirl, Joker to Harley Quinn, and more recently Aquaman and Shazam — all of who come to life across comics, film, TV, games, and of course, products and experiences,” says Maryellen Zarakas, senior vice president of franchise management and marketing at WBCP. But how do you keep playtime fresh and exciting for an 80-yearold vehicle such as the Batmobile? Spin Master took the core concepts of Batman and the DC universe and added its own twist. The Batman Launch and Defend R/C Batmobile, coming out this fall, combines the company’s innovation in various categories to create an engaging play experience for kids that doesn’t yet exist —

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and the same holds true for the rest of the new items this year. Simply put: If you are a fan of Batman, this is a must-have toy line. “We’re taking our remote-control expertise, our action figure expertise, and putting them together, which is something that’s never really been done before because it’s normally being carried by different licenses or different partners in place,” says Adam Hyman, senior marketing director of the boys’ licensed global business unit at Spin Master. A shiny set of wheels isn’t all that’s new this year. The R/C was built to fit 4-inch-scale figures and will also come with an exclusive Batman figure. This new scale will replace traditional 6-inch figures to change the way kids play, and pose a shift in the action figure category overall. These new figures are small, but they are mighty. The shorter size doesn’t compromise the attention to detail or play value: The toys will have 11 points of articulation for anyone to put Batman and his fellow heroes and villains into their iconic action poses. They will also each have a surprise mission reveal element (hello, unboxing trend), as well as chase variants and points of difference in the characters, their accessories, and even the artwork inside of the packaging, which kids can retain and use later. All that’s missing is a Bat-signal to officially call them into the ultimate battle. “We’ve worked really closely at what we can do with these amazing characters, how we can pull them together, and how we can develop a real style for these characters that’s going to resonate with kids,” Hyman says. Want to see what it feels like to fight crime in Gotham itself? There will also be a Batman 3-in-1 Batcave Playset that integrates the 4-inch figures and the missions that the figures reveal. One side looks like the Batcave; the other is a streetscape that breaks into three different levels, each with a different mission that ties into the figures. This affordable innovation in the action figure aisle will be different from what’s already available. While kids are the No. 1 consumers for the toys, these action figures may also catch the eye of collectors. The design for the 12-inch figure line was specifically created with attention to detail to represent the characters, from the cloth capes to styling straight from the comic books. Each of the new figures will also have a holographic, first-edition sticker on the product packaging, adding to the appeal for collectors. “The sculpt is unlike anything that’s been seen before in this size and scale,” Hyman says. “We’ve done it with the essence [that] the product is made for kids, but we want to make it [so] good at our opening price point that a collector would love to have it on their shelf as well.” New entertainment content will launch on the DC Kids channel on YouTube in tandem with the new toys throughout the first half of the year. Spin Master will add to the Batman folklore with more than 30 pieces of digital content, and the stories will be told using the new toys. This year is really only the beginning. Next year, fans can look out for toys based on The Batman film starring Robert Pattinson, Black Adam starring Dwayne Johnson, and more. “It’s all about telling Batman’s story with the toy products,” Hyman says. “So really bringing the Batman stories and missions to life using the amazing detail of our product, and really showing that if kids could make any kind of thing in the world and what they’re imagining in their world of play, this is what we hope it looks like.” ✪ 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 the coolest products. She is also the editor-in-chief of the Toy Book, keeping the toy industry up to date on the latest toy and entertainment news.

na na na na na na na na ... new TOYS! Make some room in the Batcave for some epic new toys straight from the DC Comics universe. This year, go on legendary adventures with new figures, vehicles, and more from Spin Master.

B ATMAN 4 -in ch figures Epic missions begin with these 4-inch figures. With 11 points of articulation, you can pose these highly detailed figures into any action position. Collect tactical Batman, the Joker, Robin, Man-Bat, and more. Find three accessories, such as gauntlets, shields, and more, plus a Batgear accessory in every pack. MSRP: $7.99 | Available: mass retailers

B atman 1 2-in ch Rapid Chan ge Util ity B el t Slide the included Bat Claw, Bat Torch, and Bat Blaster light-up weapons into the rapidly rotating utility belt and squeeze Batman’s legs to automatically change the weapon. This deluxe figure’s belt rotates, activating more than 20 phrases and sound effects. MSRP: $19.99 | Available: mass retailers

B atman L aun ch an d Defen d R/C B atmob il e Launch the exclusive Batman figure into action with the full-function R/C Batmobile. The figure will soar out of the cockpit, ready to save Gotham. This R/C is built to a scale that fits the new, 4-inch figures. MSRP: $39.99 | Available: mass retailers (fall) THEPOPINSIDER.COM | #FuelYourFandom | 89

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SHE WHO MUST BE NAMED The dark lord is here, and she's friendlier than you think. by Josephine Baran, editorial assistant


alifornia-based cosplayer Darth Lexii knows a thing or two about villains. She even says it’s OK to refer to her as “the dark lord.” When asked the story behind the name, Lexii laughs, explaining she was inspired by the name of her car. “My Prius has a sticker of the Mandalorian on it, and I named my car just as you name vehicles or airships and planes and all that jazz, so I named my car Darth Prius,” she says. “So I’m Darth Lexii, after my Prius, after Darth Vader.” She first made her Instagram account “just to post pictures of cosplays,” so the name didn’t seem incredibly important — but 146,000 followers later, Darth Lexii has become one of the most-influential cosplayers on the scene. For Lexii, cosplay is a family affair. Her father first introduced her to the artform through their con adventures. Knowing his daughter has always been a huge comic fan and movie buff — something they bond over — he took her to her first convention in 2017. Seeing so many people there dressed in cosplay sparked her inspiration to start cosplaying. FANDOM FIRST In just a few short years, Lexii’s cosplay has come a long way, but she won’t cosplay just any character. She is widely known for one of her alltime favorite, spidey-sensing superheroes. “I’m a huge Spider-Man fan, I’ve done so many different variants of the cosplay,” she says. “I mostly stay with characters I like and I know a lot about and I care about so that I can portray them in the right light.” Lexii focused on just Marvel and Star Wars cosplays at first, but has now added DC and anime characters to her portfolio. Featuring her cosplay photos on Instagram has allowed Darth Lexii to largely connect with her fans and friends in the cosplay community, both in

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person and online. She explains, “I think that [Instagram] has helped me stay connected with my friends, and it’s also helped me get a name in the cosplay community, which I’m grateful for.” According to Lexii, the Instagram community also helps cosplayers connect with one another before a con, plan meetups, and form cosplay collaborations. WHEN FANS BECOME FAMILY With so many Instagram followers, Lexii has thousands of fans both young and old. Going to cons often gives her a chance to interact with her fans and followers, and sometimes that leads to meaningful, long-lasting friendships. In 2018 at Long Beach Comic Con, she noticed a family with two young boys come up to her booth.“They were really excited to meet me because the dad knew who I was, and I asked if they wanted to sit down because I know how hard it is at cons to find seating. That needs to be fixed; that’s to every convention ever: There needs to be more seating,” she says. Later on, they came back to take her up on the seating offer, and the rest was history. “I just kind of built this beautiful relationship with these boys. We’ve built LEGOs together, we’ve hung out, and since then I send them toys for birthdays and Christmas, we keep in contact, and we FaceTime.” To Lexii, these young fans became like godchildren, and it’s all thanks to cosplay. THE BEST DAY EVER While Lexii is no stranger to the camera, modeling her cosplays led to a totally game-changing opportunity last year. In what she describes as the best day of her life, Lexii was asked to model clothing and merchandise for a Her Universe and Hot Topic campaign for Avengers: Endgame. Being a huge fan of Hot Topic and an HT Fanatic (Hot Topic’s brand ambassador program), Lexii jumped at the opportunity. According to Andrea Lewis, vice president of brand marketing at Hot Topic, “With the widely anticipated film release of Avengers: Endgame from Marvel Studios, we knew our inspired-by fashion collection, designed by winners of the 2018 Her Universe Fashion Show at [Comic-Con International: San Diego], needed to be special. Darth Lexii was a perfect fit for the campaign. Not only is she a true fan of the Avengers, her cosplay background and knowledge of the characters allowed her to effortlessly nail the playful-yet-powerful vibe of the collection.” The Hot Topic photo shoot was a lot different than what Lexii is used to. “I worked with real models, I worked with photogra-

Darth Lexii as Tiger Woman, an original cosplay Photos (top and bottom): Mike Saffels

phers who have been in the industry for 25 years-plus, and it was just so surreal,” she explains.“I got to see all these Avengers clothes months in advance, and I couldn’t talk about it, which was the hardest thing.” The Dark Lord herself even got to rock merchandise inspired by one of her favorite villains: “I got to wear the coolest Thanos bomber jacket ever, and I’m a huge, huge fan of that guy — I love me a good villain, and Thanos is the best, and that jacket was so cool,” she says. ACTING THE PART Cosplay is a centerpiece in Darth Lexii’s life, but it’s not her only passion. “I was an actress first before cosplaying; I did more theatre than anything,” she says. But acting finds its way into Lexii’s cosplay life. Her acting background means she performs her THEPOPINSIDER.COM | #FuelYourFandom | 91

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her cosplay characters a little more intensely than people might expect. Her friends and family like to joke with her at times, saying they hate it when she takes her cosplay to the next level. “Any time I’m Spider-Man, I’m Spider-Man: … I’m crawling, I’m running, I wanna climb things. … Or when I’m Harley Quinn, I do the accent for Harley Quinn the entire day,” she says. According to Lexii, acting is actually a key part of her cosplay experience. To her, it’s all about how you portray the character. “I mean the persona, I don’t mean the look, because there are so many different styles you could do, and cosplay is about play — that’s truly what it’s about: being able to play,” she says. “I mean, we’re already a weird group of people. ... We’re just adults having fun and playing dress-up. It’s a good time,” Lexii laughs. ONE VILLAIN TO RULE THEM ALL True to her name, Darth Lexii has a soft spot for villains, so I asked her probably the hardest question of all time: Who is the all-time best villain between Darth Vader, Voldemort, and Thanos? Judging by the gasp that ensued shortly after, it is safe to say this was a tough one. “OK, you want to know why this is hard? Because Thanos is just incredible. I think he is evil and he’s fun and I just, I loved him, and I think Josh Brolin played him so well,” she explains. “Darth Vader, I mean I’m Darth Lexii, like it just it makes sense, but Voldemort. … My catchphrase when people say, ‘Hey, are you Darth Lexii?’ — I will look at them and say ‘the dark lord is here,” she goes on. While each villain clearly has a place in her dark heart, Lexii eventually settles on Thanos. “He is a true destroyer through and through, and he really thought what he was doing was right,” she says. What started as a fun hobby has taken Lexii to many new places, including cons all over the country. But ultimately, what brought her to cosplay is still the most important: her father. “I’m grateful because it’s really brought my dad and me together, and that’s so important to me,” she says. Cosplay has also afforded her an incredible set of fans and followers, dozens of new friends, and even some unforgettable experiences. “[Cosplay] truly — at its core — is a community full of people who just want to have fun and enjoy the craft,” she says. “If you ever see me at a con, come and say hello, and … I’d love a pack of Doritos.” ✪ ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Josephine Baran is an editorial assistant for the Pop Insider, the Toy Insider, and the Toy Book. Josephine loves Harry Potter, her two kitties, and searching for the best coffee and desserts.

Darth Lexii modeling the Her Universe Thanos 'Oh Snap!' Bomber Jacket, available at Hot Topic

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The Force, it’s calling to you. Let it in with RockLove’s The Child Necklace, featuring the adorable pint-sized star of The Mandolorian. The 3D pendant is sculpted in solid sterling silver and features glossy, hand-painted, black enamel eyes and an adorable outstretched hand. We must protect it at all costs. MSRP: $135 Available: preorder,

There’s no such thing as too many pins. Disney is making it easier to display your overflowing pin collection with the addition of two new bag styles to the Disney Flair line: a Mickey Mouse Backpack and a Mickey Mouse Icon Square Crossbody bag, both available in black or red. The bags are made of faux leather, with customizable straps and a pinhole pattern that makes it easy to add pins without poking holes in the material. MSRP: $29.99 for Crossbody Bag, $49.99 for Backpack Available: Disney stores,



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Good grief! It’s about time Marc Jacobs gave Charlie a dose of high fashion with the Peanuts the Tag 27 Tote. The playful, coated-canvas tote bag features a character doodle on one side and a quote on the other that says: “I need all the friends I can get!” We hear you, Charlie. MSRP: $325 Available: Nordstrom


Streaming giant Crunchyroll is teaming up with big-name creators in the anime community to develop the Junji Ito Collection, a project based on the horror anime anthology from manga artist Junji Ito. Wear the terrifying creatures and monsters on a series of T-shirts and hoodies that’ll knock ‘em dead. MSRP: $24.95-79.95 Available: Urban Outfitters, Hot Topic, FYE,

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Forget the Cat in the Hat — it’s time for the Cat on the Olympia Le-Tan clutch. In March, designer Olympia Le-Tan will release six book-shaped clutches, all inspired by classic Dr. Seuss titles, including The Cat in the Hat; Oh, The Places You’ll Go!; Green Eggs and Ham; One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish; and more. Each handmade, embroidered clutch is available in either a non-strapped or strapped version. MSRP: $1,200-1,550 Available: Neiman Marcus

If you’re a real Pokémon trainer, you need to dress the part. The Pokémon Co. is launching the first official Pokémon Go-inspired merch available outside of Pokémon Go Fest events. Trainers can deck themselves out in apparel and accessories featuring team-based iconography from the game. Now, all we need is a Pikachu. MSRP: $25-55 Available:


In the Time to Shine Enamel Pin Series, from Kidrobot, Hello Kitty shows off her cosplay skills in 14 different costumes, including an adorable pirate, a green-and-purple alien, a one-eyed zombie, a presidential candidate, and even a clown holding an ominous, red balloon. We all float down here. MSRP: $5.99 each Available:


Get street smart with a cozy Sesame Street Romper, from Smash + Tess. The limited-edition rompers are available in two prints: a black-and-white romper adorned with Elmo, Cookie Monster, and Oscar the Grouch; and a grey-and-black one featuring the Count, Big Bird, and Grover. TBH, there’s no better outfit to wear when you’re gobbling up cookies. MSRP: $129 Available:

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argot Robbie’s messy, heavily accented, and frequently skipping version of Harley Quinn graced the big screen for the first time back in 2016’s Suicide Squad. While the movie generally disappointed fans, Robbie’s performance was its biggest redeeming factor, making fans fall in love with the psychiatristturned-antihero and bringing with it a wave of “Daddy’s Little Monster” shirts, doodled baseball bats, and Puddin’ chokers. Earlier this month, Harley returned to theaters in Birds of Prey, joining Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell), Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), and Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez) to save Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco) from Gotham City’s notorious Roman Sionis/Black Mask (Ewan McGregor). The film — and its girl-power group dynamic — inspired a whole new assortment of quirky apparel, cosmetics, and collectibles for fans. In the latest flick, Harley is dressed to kill in distressed denim shorts and a clear jacket that has colorful streamers and caution tape hanging from the arms. Her Universe immortalized the newly iconic look, offering a cosplay version of the jacket in both standard and plus sizes. Shawn Smith of Warner Bros. Consumer Products says the outfit really captures Harley’s personality in Birds of Prey. “This new look is so vibrant and fun and reflects her sassy, independent attitude,” Smith says. “It is a unique departure from her traditional black and red outfits that show a whole new side of her.” This color departure isn’t only reflected in the outfits — the entire movie has a shockingly bright color palette. The film’s promos, posters, and teasers looked as though they were dipped in neon paint, packed with the flashing glow of carnival lights and old-Hollywood razzle-dazzle. Smith says the bright and eclectic style translated well into products for the movie,

Products featured, left to right: Harley Quinn 16-ounce Geeki Tikis Mug; Her Universe DC Comics Birds of Prey Harley Quinn Caution Tape Girls Cosplay Jacket; Funko DC Comics Birds of Prey Pop! Heroes Huntress, Black Canary Boobytrap Battle, and Harley Quinn Caution Tape figures; Diamond Select Toys' DC Movie Gallery Birds of Prey Harley Quinn PVC Diorama

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Film photos: Warner Bros.

especially the fashion offerings. “It also allows us to differentiate this product from previous Harley Quinn product,” she says. “There are so many colors and textures used for all the characters that have been translated into cool and modern product(s) in both apparel and accessories.” And while the electrifying Harley Quinn is the star of the movie, her girl squad also takes a turn in the neon lights, leading to a broad assortment of apparel and collectibles for fans to hunt. Funko’s line of Pop! figures includes Black Canary and Huntress, and Hot Topic’s collection includes T-shirts and jackets inspired by each character. While all of the leads in Birds of Prey are women, Smith says merch for the movie is designed to appeal to all fans. Anyone can rock the dozens of T-shirts and sweatshirts on offer from Hot Topic, with designs ranging from the in-the-know “I shaved my balls for this?” Renee Montoya shirt to more generic prints featuring the movie’s title. To quote Ms. Quinn, “Psychologically speaking, vengeance rarely brings the catharsis we hope for," but getting your hands on this merch just might do the trick. ✪

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MERCH MADNESS There is never such a thing as too much merch — especially when it comes to your favorite fandoms. From a Spider-Man video game script to new Harry Potter PopSockets, a Walt Disney World jigsaw puzzle, and a Top Gun board game, the following must-have merch will have you reaching for your wallet. compiled by Josephine Baran, editorial assistant

MICKEY MOUSE ICON WALT DISNEY WORLD MAP PUZZLE DISNEY CONSUMER PRODUCTS Test your puzzle-solving skills with this Mickey Mouse Icon puzzle, featuring an illustrated map of Walt Disney World Resort landmarks and attractions. The 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle measures 25 inches high by 20.5 inches wide when assembled. MSRP: $22.99 Available:

SABRINA SPELLMAN LIVING DEAD DOLL MEZCO TOYZ There’s no better spooky companion to watch the new season of Netflix’s Chilling Adventures of Sabrina with than Sabrina herself. Wearing her iconic red dress, the collectible Living Dead Sabrina doll stands 10 inches tall and even comes with Salem, everyone’s favorite black cat/familiar. MSRP: $49.95 | Available:

MARVEL’S SPIDER-MAN SCRIPT BOOK INSOMNIAC GAMES, MARVEL Calling all Marvel’s Spider-Man video game fans, this one’s for you! Get a behind-the-scenes look at the creative steps it takes to turn an original story and artwork into a video game. The 240-page hardcover book features exclusive artwork from the production process and includes the complete cinematic game script. MSRP: $50 | Available: preorder, Amazon

THE LORD OF THE RINGS BATTLE FOR MIDDLE-EARTH CHESS SET THE NOBLE COLLECTION This intricately detailed Lord of the Rings chess set is the perfect game for an epic battle between good and evil. The set includes 32 finely sculpted pieces and a full board featuring the “one ring to rule them all” in the center. Gandalf the White and Frodo Baggins pieces lead the journey on the side of good, and Gollum and Sauron pieces try to keep Middle-earth in dark shadow. MSRP: $45 | Available: Amazon, 98 | Issue No. 6 | THE POP INSIDER

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TOP GUN STRATEGY GAME ASMODEE Satisfy your need for speed while waiting for the release of Top Gun: Maverick with this two- to four-player game based on the 1986 classic film Top Gun. The game has two phases: a fast-paced volleyball card phase to gain rewards, and a phase in which fighter school pilots work with their weapons system operators to get a target lock on their opponent and win the Top Gun trophy. MSRP: $24.99 | Available: Target

LAERAL SILVERHAND’S EXPLORER’S KIT DICE | WIZARDS OF THE COAST FOLD IN THE CHEESE APRON HI-LINE MERCHANDISING Channel your inner Moira and David Rose with this Schitt’s Creek-inspired apron featuring the embroidered fan-favorite quote,“Fold in the cheese!” Ew, David — get to cooking. MSRP: $40 | Available:

D&D players, listen up! Explore the realms with new dice and miscellany for the role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons. Laeral Silverhand — Open Lord of Waterdeep, centuries-old archmage, and daughter of the goddess of magic — guides your path to adventure. The set includes 11 dice, 20 illustrated cards, a felt-lined box that functions as two dice trays, and a double-sided map of the Sword Coast and the city of Waterdeep. MSRP: $29.99 | Available: preorder, Amazon

HARRY POTTER POPSOCKETS SWAPPABLE POPGRIP | POPSOCKETS UNITED FEDERATION OF PLANETS V2 STAR TREK WINES Listen up, Trekkies! The perfect drink to watch the new Star Trek: Picard series has arrived. The wine is a 2017 Old Vine Zinfandel special reserve from Sonoma County, California. The blend of 87% Zinfandel, 12% Petit Sirah, and 1% Syrah results in aromatics of strawberry, blackberry, and plum preserves with a mid-palate filled with hints of white peppercorn, and sweet red and black fruit. Plus, the bottle is pretty cool. MSRP: $50 |

Accio, phone! Get a better grip on your phone while playing Wizards Unite with the Harry Potter PopSockets collection. These PopSockets feature a swappable top design, so that fans can easily change the PopTop on their PopGrip. MSRP: $15.95, sold separately Available:

LIMITED EDITION FUNKO VINYL SODA! | FUNKO Open up a Funko-branded soda can and find a 4.25-inch vinyl figure in place of a fizzy beverage. The vintage-inspired soda cans each contain a vinyl figure based on characters from DC Comics, Hanna-Barbera, Masters of the Universe, General Mills, Green Hornet, and more. Each figure has a one in six chase variant, meaning you can discover a wacky color variation of the figure — including a gold Batman or a purple Fred Flintstone. MSRP: $12 | Available: TBD THEPOPINSIDER.COM | #FuelYourFandom | 99

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GETTING BOOKISH The Geekiest YA Novels You Won’t Want to Put Down

compiled by Miranda Siwak, assistant editor You know that awful feeling when you finish your latest read and have no clue what book to pick up next? Us, too. These decisions are only made more difficult by the incredible number of books debuting on shelves. While we loved young adult (YA) novels growing up, the genre is definitely not just for teens and tweens. These books are chock full of complex characters, intricate plotlines, and mystical forces — plus some classic teenage love stories and tropes. Take a peek at some of our new YA picks that definitely belong on your to-be-read (TBR) list this year. Happy reading!

REBELWING BY ANDREA TANG What’s a YA science-fiction novel without a dystopian setting? In her debut novel, Andrea Tang takes readers to a futuristic Washington, D.C., where teenage heroine Prudence Wu has just fled from enforcers on the back of a cybernetic dragon called Rebelwing. Pru just wants to get back to normal school life, but somehow this dragon has imprinted on her and keeps showing up at her side. Rebelwing turns out to be an expensive government weapon, and Pru is the only one who can pilot it. *Gulp* — and you thought plain ol’ high school classes were hard. Publisher: Penguin Random House Release Date: Feb. 25

THE KINGDOM OF BACK BY MARIE LU Best-selling author Marie Lu’s debut historical fiction novel follows the tale of two musically talented siblings, both Mozarts in name and equally brilliant in their musical pursuits. Musical prodigy Nannerl wants to be forever remembered for her incredible talents, but as a woman in 18th-century Europe, such lofty goals are out of reach. As her hopes and dreams fade away each year, her younger brother Wolfgang’s gifts only seem to grow stronger. As the green monster of jealousy comes out, a mysterious stranger has a seemingly irresistible, magical offer to help Nannerl make her wish come true. But, as we all know well by now, magic comes at a steep price. Publisher: Penguin Random House Release Date: March 3

CHAIN OF GOLD BY CASSANDRA CLARE The next book in the Shadowhunters franchise is finally here, fellow book nerds! Acclaimed author of the Mortal Instruments series Cassandra Clare kicks off a new trilogy with Chain of Gold, starring Shadowhunter and warrior Cordelia Carstairs as she and her brother journey to London to protect their family’s reputation when their father is accused of an unspeakable crime. Ever-determined to be a hero, Cordelia teams up with her childhood friends James and Lucie to save the day. Along the way, she encounters her friends’ mystical lives of fancy balls, secrets, and all things supernatural. All that glitters is not gold, and her new life is torn to bits when a series of demon attacks terrorize London in a new kind of battle that no Shadowhunter has ever seen before. Publisher: Simon & Schuster Release Date: March 3

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HAVENFALL BY SARA HOLLAND We can hear summer calling our names already! This contemporary fantasy novel follows teenager Maddie Morrow’s picturesque summer at the Inn at Havenfall — until her ideal vacay is turned upside down. The inn’s position as a safe haven between the magical realms that Maddie is sworn to protect comes crashing down when new employees take over, her love story with the Fiorden soldier Brekken gets complicated, and a dead body is found on the premises. While the town grapples with who is responsible, Maddie soon discovers there are bigger dangers facing the residents. Publisher: Bloomsbury Release Date: March 3

BONDS OF BRASS BY EMILY SKRUTSKIE Report for duty, bookish friends! Young pilot Ettian must risk everything to save his BFF Gale Veres from an assassination attempt, only to discover that the man he’s sworn to protect is actually the heir to a merciless galactic empire — an empire to which he’s firmly opposed. As the duo figures out a way to bring Gale home safely, Ettian must reconcile his loyalty to his best friend with the important cause he was so dedicated to fighting. Publisher: Penguin Random House Release Date: April 7

THE BALLAD OF SONGBIRDS AND SNAKES THE RAVEN AND THE DOVE BY KAITLYN DAVIS Fates are colliding in this epic fantasy retelling of the medieval Celtic romance Tristan and Isolde. Star-crossed lovers set the scene as they flee their normal lives in favor of one last epic quest before taking on adult responsibilities. Dove Princess Lyana dreams of freedom, while Raven Prince Rafe desperately wants to belong. Fate brings these two together, but their destinies keep them apart. The Raven and the Dove is the perfect answer for any fantasy fans searching for their next read. Publisher: Kaitlyn Davis Release Date: March 9

BY SUZANNE COLLINS When it comes to choosing your next read, may the odds be ever in your favor. This May, Suzanne Collins will drop the latest installment in her Hunger Games franchise, taking it all the way back to Panem, 64 years before Katniss’ involvement in the Games. The prequel picks up the morning of the reaping for the 10th Hunger Games during the dystopian country’s reconstructionist era. We still stand with the Mockingjay, now and forever. Publisher: Scholastic Release Date: May 19

SUPER ADJACENT BY CRYSTAL CESTARI Let’s be real: What teen (OK fine, adults, too) doesn’t dream of becoming a superhero? In this contemporary novel, teenager Claire has nabbed a one-of-a-kind internship working alongside superheroes IRL and is desperate to suit up herself. On the flip side, one hero, Bridgette, is sick of the saving-the-day bit and always playing the sidekick. When the VIP, high-profile heroes suddenly go missing, it’s up to these two fierce gals to come together and save the day. There are daring rescues, realistic characters, banter-filled romance, and superhero antics. I mean, SOLD. Publisher: Disney Book Group Release Date: March 17

A WICKED MAGIC BY SASHA LAURENS Things are getting witchy. Young supernaturals Dan and Liss must harness their powers to save missing teenagers who were stolen by an ancient demon, including Liss’ presumed-dead beau. To save her boyfriend, Liss must join forces with Dan and use their Black Book of magical skills to do so. However, each teen has big secrets of their own and other magical disasters on the horizon, making the situation a bit more complicated. When another teen suddenly disappears, the witches know it’s not a coincidence, and they must figure out a way to stop the sinister magic. Publisher: Penguin Random House Release Date: July 28 THEPOPINSIDER.COM | #FuelYourFandom | 101

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