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Toy Fair 2018: Indie and Trendsetter Toys Dominate Day Two

The second day of Toy Fair NY brought new roll-outs from fan-favorite indie toy companies.  Far smaller than goliaths Mattel and Hasbro, indie companies often get their start on crowdsourcing platforms like Kickstarter and serve niche and/or marginalized demographics.  One of the greatest success stories of the indie toy world is IAmElemental, who did not disappoint at this year’s Toy Fair.

CEO Julie Kerwin founded IAmElemental to combat the dearth of female superhero action figures in toy stores.  She created seven original female superheroes for Series 1 who were all united under the virtue of courage.  Instantly successful, IAmElemental produced a second series of figures, “Wisdom Warriors,” as well as a Core Power figure of Courage, the Joan of Arc-inspired Series 1 muse.

IAmElemental Core Power figures stand 6.5 inches tall, about three inches higher than the standard IAmElemental figure.  They feature 30 points of articulation and are accompanied by fun accessories like removable helmets and attachable shields.  Today, fans got a glimpse of IAmElemental’s upcoming Wisdom Core Power figure who is based on the Ancient Egyptian philosopher Hypatia.

This Core Power figure has the same articulation as Courage and comes with a bow-and-arrow set, helmet, and shield.  IAmElemental hopes to have this figure out by the holidays, but their recent, exciting TV series deal with the Jim Henson Company has given this indie powerhouse a full plate of product development.

While much of the indie toy world aims to produce, well, toys, one particular creator successfully kickstarted a book about forgotten toys.  On the lower level of the Javits Center, I got to spend some time with Blake Wright, author of Toys that Time Forgot, a coffee table-quality book about the action figures and toy lines that were almost made.

For a year, Wright and his wife travelled the country, living out of their Airstream, collecting photographs and stories of prototype toys that could have been.  The book is the culmination of this effort, containing shots of never-produced waves for properties like the popular Dark Crystal film (which Funko ReAction eventually made) to the niche Bucky O’Hare to the absolutely oddball Osmosis Jones.  Wright is planning second and third volumes of this book which will be funded by the same Kickstarter formula that successfully financed Volume One.

In addition to roaming the halls of indie toy-dom, I was also fortunate enough to attend The Toy Association’s presentation on 2018 toy trends.  Each year, The Toy Association, Inc., the organization behind Toy Fair, uses the previous year’s sales data to try to predict the hottest incoming products.  For 2018, The Toy Association is giving special attention to the blind box craze.

Blind boxes lure buyers on the mystery of what’s inside.  For example, when you buy a G.I. Joe blind box, part of the fun is not knowing whether you’ll get a Cobra Commander, Lady Jaye, or a rare character variant.  As Wonder Works toy shop owner Christine Osborne says, “Collectibles [like those in blind boxes] are less about the actual toy and all about how you reveal what’s inside.  It’s the unboxing trend taken home.”  Toy companies have taken note of this as they plan a wide array of blind box products for this year.  The ever-popular Squishies will release blind box surprises encased in eggs filled with pliable foam.  “FroYo” characters will be released in plastic frozen yogurt mystery containers and will change color when placed in the freezer.  Shopkins, too, has plans to continue its domination of the blind box market with more new products.

’90s nostalgia will also be a huge trend in 2018 as millennial parents seek to supply their kids with the same low-tech, high-play value toys they had when they were kids.

Chief among those products will be Mattel’s re-launch of Polly Pocket.  This reboot will utilize as much of Polly Pocket’s original ’90s look as possible to recreate the same toy experience many older fans remember fondly.  An animated series will also support sales of this toy beginning in the fall of 2018.  Furthermore, My Little Pony is in the process of a similar comeback, filling shelves with vintage ponies in packaging that resembles their 1980s counterparts.  There are also plans for a special, interactive Harry Potter wand this year in celebration of the franchise that has, despite feeling like it came out only yesterday, reached its 20th anniversary.

With a wide selection of new and rebooted products from the big toy companies, and plenty of creativity from the indies, 2018 should prove to be a great year for toys, which experienced an overall growth of 1% last year.  Given that the greatest sector-based gains were made in outdoor/sports toys, infant/preschool products, and dolls, expect to see more innovation in those areas this year.  However, no matter what you collect, you should see new products within your fandom that expand its diversity and collectability.

Jonathan Alexandratos is a playwright and essayist who writes primarily about action figures and grief.  Find Jonathan’s retro vintage style on Twitter @jalexan.

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Jonathan Alexandratos

Jonathan Alexandratos is a New York City-based playwright and essayist. His most recent play, We See What Happen, was created with Nashville Repertory Theatre, and is the immigration story of Jonathan's grandmother, as told by superhero action figures. Jonathan's book of academic essays on action figures, Articulating the Action Figure: Essays on the Toys and Their Messages, is due out in May from McFarland.

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