Last week at New York Comic-Con, I had the chance to sit down with the Hasbro brand teams that manage two of the hottest properties in the toy world, Marvel and Star Wars. Both toy properties have stood the test of time, and remain wildly popular among both kids and collectors, and most of that has to do with these brand managers, whose insight into the toy business, as well as consumer behavior and fandom, help them to develop the most exciting, inclusive and appealing assortments of action figures possible.
Marvel‘s movie merchandising has taken some valid criticism in the past, with movements such as #WheresGamora and #WheresBlackWidow focusing on the lack of presence these prominent female characters had received in the merch surrounding their respective movies. It should be noted, however, that Hasbro included both women– as well as the Scarlet Witch, Maria Hill, and a wide range of comic book-inspired ladies– in their Marvel Legends and Avengers action figure assortments over the past two years, and I had to know if this promising trend of better gender representation in the action figure aisle would continue, especially with Captain Marvel— Marvel’s first female-starring super hero movie– just a few short years away.
LEGION OF LEIA: While it’s been great to see so many female characters in the Marvel Legends collection, and it seems like the next step in equal representation is right on the horizon, with Captain Marvel being the first Marvel movie starring a female super hero as the lead. With traditional gender ideas like “action figures are for boys” still unfortunately part of the mass retail toy world, does that reduce the likelihood that Captain Marvel will get the same retail exposure as other semi-unproven characters like, say, Ant-Man or the Guardians of the Galaxy?
DWIGHT STALL (HASBRO): I don’t know yet. We don’t really plan what the extent and size of our toy lines are going to be until we have an opportunity to sit down with Marvel and until we receive a download from the filmmakers, as well as read the script. Once we have a script and we’ve gotten the general download and we know a little more about the property, then we gauge how big or small a property will be, because on the development side, we love all these movies. But we know they’re not all equal– an Avengers movie is not the same as the first time you see a movie like Ant-Man. And we have to find our comfort zone for how big or how small we need to focus those kinds of movies.
MIKE BRESLIN (HASBRO): You’ll notice our lines really reflect the entertainment slate for the year, that’s been our secret sauce, and as people get more in tune with the Marvel back story and characters, those of us who know the story know it’s starting to get good now. The next two movies are gonna blow people’s minds. For us, it really reflects the entertainment, and Captain Marvel and all these [movies], we will definitely reflect that. Our lines, more than anybody, have had at least one or two female figures in them, and that’s what the fans are asking for. Dwight and Tony and the team, they’re fans, too. You see the fan votes at Comic Con, the majority of them have been women that are selected. It’s an interesting insight, and it’s something we follow. For us, we make products for the fans, we give them what they ask for, not only as fans ourselves to fuel that fire, but it’s really reflective of the environment and the entertainment, and what fans are asking for.
DWIGHT STALL (HASBRO): It’s great to see so many female fans showing up at these shows, as well. It’s not just guys asking for female action figures, it’s females empowering themselves in costumes, and getting into this world. They’re asking for it, themselves, and it’s fantastic.
I also caught up with the brand team for Star Wars, who are obviously in the fervor of The Force Awakens at the moment. But the Star Wars universe is a big one– even the post-Expanded Universe, Disney-owned version. With The Force Awakens the main focus of the current toy line, what are the odds we’ll see some awesome non-cinematic characters like Sana Solo get the toy treatment? I could tell you, but I’ll let the Hasbro team speak for themselves…
LEGION OF LEIA: The new Star Wars universe under Disney is intentionally multimedia based, ranging from movies to TV to comics and books. In past years, Hasbro wasn’t shy about including Expanded Universe characters in a toy line. Will that same attitude apply to the new non-movie elements of the Star wars universe, like comic and book characters?
STEVE EVANS (HASBRO): I think that anything that’s canon is up for grabs. We have such a roster of characters, it’s choosing them. It’s getting them and choosing them, and making sure we make the right choices based on the agreements that we have with Lucasfilm. That’s how we support all the tentpole events. But yeah, we don’t have anything that says we can’t go there, so we may do it.
LEGION OF LEIA: Awesome. I really want to see Han Solo’s wife, Sana. She’s really cool!
So there you have it! Both brands are pretty committed to listening to what fans of all ages and genders are interested in their toy lines, which is exactly the way it should be. So what female characters do you most want to see Marvel and Star Wars include next?