Behind me, Beetlejuice chills with Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Sheldon Cooper on a Target bookcase. Only in a universe created by Funko can this be possible in my little piece of the world. It’s weird to think that back in March I was sitting and talking to the creative director of that company, Sean Wilkinson. Yes, this interview was residing in my iPod for most of the year and is finally seeing the light of day. I told him it wouldn’t be out until December, but hey — when you’re head of a department like that for a company like Funko, you’re a busy man. I get it.
Sean started out at Funko over a decade ago and for the past six years has been the creative director. He’s so good he even survived an owner switch some years ago. A man just a handful of years away from 50, he’s a big kid at heart who enjoys the simple things in life, like his initial influence and passion: comic books. While that was his first love, he sort of fell into the toy world and now calls it home. It’s a place he gets to expand on his love of comics, though, as he said toys are just a “natural extension” of the latter.
As for Funko, Sean said the idea behind each series is to keep the fans wanting more. This came up when I lodged an informal complaint about the Rudolph series lacking a Charlie in the Box. He said he took note, this will serve as a reminder. While Charlie may be on my wish list, Sean has his own. He’d love to get his hands on Road Warrior if Mel Gibson wasn’t a — well, he used a colorful term — and Harry Potter. Now on to the actual interview. Enjoy!
Kendra: Who were some of your influences growing up as far as design?
Sean: My initial interest were comic books, sci-fi, that kind of stuff — so it was a natural fit. Working with toys sort of happened for me by accident. It came out of my illustration and art background. I broke into the field after going to art school back in ’86. I kind of applied my skills so I guess my influences really would have been Curt Swan, an illustrator or comic illustrators like Jack Kirby and Stan Lee.
Kendra: You mentioned comic books. Would you ever leave your current gig to go into that?
Sean: You know, I’ve published a small indie comic early in my career, in my 20s. That was a fun thing. I certainly thought that was the direction I’d take but it’s a bit of a dying market. So it’s not a big paying gig, it’s a very competitive gig. It’s not a particularly huge industry today. It’s taken a lot of hits from modern media.The more I found out about the industry, the less it appealed to me. So I just draw comics on the side. I always have something I’m working on, but nothing published right now. Perhaps if someone offered me a lot of money to publish my own comic, I’d take it.
Kendra: What’s the most gratifying part about your job?
Sean: Probably just seeing how much the fans out there love it. They have the clubs, meet ups at all the conventions all over the nation, the world actually. They’re quite fanatical about it; more than I am I suppose. It brings people together.
Kendra: Do you have any personal fandoms you guys haven’t gotten to work on yet that you’re hoping to in the future?
Sean: I suppose so, when I go to the conventions there are certain people who know me. So I draw a little picture in their scrapbook for them. I think they’re more a fan of Batman and Star Wars than they are me but the fact that I put my hands on the toy and have a control over how things look, I think people appreciate the thought we put into our toys. Designing an action figure or bobblehead can seem pretty simple but there is a lot of thought that goes into the process which is why Funko remains successful, and we’re very open with our fans. While other companies our size wouldn’t even bother reaching out.
Kendra: With the best comes the not so best — any parts of the job you could do without?
Sean: Uh, deadlines — how about that? Crazy, crazy deadlines we have to meet. You know there’s plenty of difficulties in communicating the final product to China. There are challenges in translation with the quality control. There’s always a daily challenge. It’s just part of the job and part of the challenge and I guess I look forward to that. For the most part there’s no down side of it. I get to collect toys and my wife doesn’t give me a hard time because I tell her it’s my job; it all works out and gives me an excuse to be a geek I guess.
Kendra: How long is the process from having an idea to it being ready for consumption?
Sean: On our best day if things move quickly and licensors aren’t too slow in approving things we can go from idea to shelf in three months, which is very fast for most companies. That’s kind of what Funko’s about. We can make things happen really fast, but when we’re creating a whole new toy or line it’s probably closer to six months from idea to consumption. It just depends on the challenges. It varies but we can move very quickly.
Kendra: Lastly, do you have any advice for those trying to get into the toy design business?
Sean: Yes, expand your illustration skills. There are a lot of people that are doing a lot of things on the computer but do some hand drawings and it will go a long way in terms of creating and imagining. Also, training yourself on 3D sculpting programs. That is a fantastic way too as far as breaking in. It’s a great skill and that’s the direction the toy world is going for sure. I was fortunate to be at the right place at the right time. If you love something well enough things have a way of lining up.
Next week I get personal about my attachment to toys. Tissues may be necessary.