Following the San Diego Comic Con, we caught up with Bill Miekina, who heads up the design team on the WWE action figure line at Mattel.
This is the first time we have caught up for an interview since November 2017, where Bill came to London for Wrestling Shop Live.
In the below interview we have tried to cover a wide range of most frequently asked customers questions. With regards to questions about wrestlers that could be in the line, the standard answer on most of these is: if they are under a WWE merchandise/legends deal then it is possible. As to when, it would be events such as San Diego Comic Con where they are announced and first shown by Mattel.
Is it solely the Elite Collection line you are working on these days?
BM: Yeah, now I’m working on the Elite’s and customised offerings. Our Elite business has expanded, it’s a larger portion of our business and that’s my specialty. That’s my favourite line I work on. Before I was working on everything and the workload got too much. The Basics and Battlepacks went to people who I know will do a good job on them also.
Previously you had pointed out notable newer Elite figures you had worked on, which included the first Asuka and Boogeyman figures, which Elite figures shown at SDCC would you call noteworthy?
BM: The two stand-outs shown at Comic-con for me would be the Aleister Black and Ruby Riott from the NXT Takeover line. The tattoo artwork, when you see it up close and you see just how detailed it is. Together with our new True FX face scanning technology which was used on these, where we are using digital inkjet (DIJ) printing, which just allows you to get a lot more detail on the faces. If you look at the faces before they’re good, but if you look at a DIJ face, it almost looks like you’re looking at a miniature human…
The two NXT Takeover Elite figures mentioned are part of a special mix of 5 Superstars?
BM: Yes, for some reason this assortment has five, but the next one should go back to four in the series. If you look at the Kevin Owens also. Because we’ve done a few Kevin Owens figures before and I have never been truly happy with the face. I feel like we’ve come close, like a solid double or maybe a triple, but the most recent one (Series #61) is a home run.
Customers asking about Fan Central Elite line, can we get an update on this?
BM: We do have a home for these as of now, so stay tuned for future announcements on this. I’ve waited a while to get these out and I know people are also waiting to be able to buy these.
We had previously asked about a new British Bulldog figure which could have been in the Flashback basic series, what happened to this one?
BM: That’s not going forward right now (Flashback basics), if we are going to do it, its not going to be where we planned it. The problem with things like that something happens to knock it out of whack and it kind of changes the whole years plans.
Wendi Richter was shown in a Women’s 3-pack, but we understand this got changed, is there any update?
BM: We’re looking to find a way to get this one out. With that one you have to be careful, because it’s very niche. It would be very difficult to get it in a main line execution for example. We do plan to get it out, it’s just figuring out how to do it. She is still under a legends deal.
Is the Flashback Elite series now moving from build-a-set to build-a-figure? We saw the first two were build a WWE set and the third is build a Shawn Michaels?
BM: It’s hard to explain this one to be honest. This is a question I can probably answer better once everything is out for the year. There are still some things which are not out and public knowledge yet, so I don’t want to tell a story until something is actually on shelf and available.
Could we get a Build a King of the Ring Throne set?
BM: That’s not a bad idea. No promises but maybe.
With Rey Mysterio ready to come back to WWE, it appears after appearances at Royal Rumble and Greatest Royal Rumble, could we expect Rey Mysterio figures soon?
BM: Technically until he is under a WWE deal we cannot formally submit anything on him. As far as I know he is not under a deal. The good thing is, if we do get the go ahead, it would someone we could slot into line-ups faster because we have existing tooling on him. It would just be a case of using updated deco.
With Hulk Hogan being reinstated into the WWE Hall of Fame, could we get more Hulk Hogan’s now including the previously unreleased versions?
BM: I have heard nothing about Hogan.
Are the new Chase Variants announced at SDCC 2018 specific to the Elite Series?
BM: No. It is going to be one out of every 4 factory cases or so, is going to be the Chase variant. So if you get a factory box, 3 of the 4 boxes will have the standard white Shelton Benjamin for example and the 1 will have the gold standard version Shelton Benjamin. It’s just a way to create interest among collectors and keep them coming back to the stores. And also for talent whose television exposure isn’t as consitisnt as others on the roster. You don’t want to run into a situation where you over produce one deco of a character who isn’t as consistent on tv in terms of presence, who could then sit on pegs. This way it keeps the pegs going, because you are always looking for the chase variant, or you plan or buying Shelton anyway for example and you may want a second version. It means that turnover on the shelves will be more rapid so we can get our product out at the pace that we plan it.
The first Ronda Rousey will be in the Basic line?
BM: The Basic 90 is the first one. We rammed like hell to get that out because we knew it was a very major acquisition. The plan is to try to get it out at least through online retailers before the (Christmas) holiday.
Could we get 1990’s announcer Vince McMahon and Gorilla Monsoon?
BM: Anyone who is under a WWE legends deal is something we can do. It just depends on what makes sense and if we choose to do it and if we are going to do something like that, where would it make sense to do it.
The Hall of Champions Ultimate Warrior shown at Comic Con was displayed with a white belt and the images we got sent display a yellow belt.
BM: It got updated and it is going to be the White Winged Eagle belt. (As shown at SDCC).
Has the Hall of Fame Series now become Hall of Champions?
BM: Yeah. It was also to give us a bit bigger of a pool to pull from. Just so that you get characters in there like Batista or The New Age Outlaws who are not in the Hall of Fame but they’re kind of at that same level in terms of popularity.
We saw a computer render at SDCC of Velvetenen Dream, with no attire, which one can we expect to see on this one at first?
BM: Stay tuned for this one. We think Velveteen Dream is going to fly off the shelves. That’s a character that just lends himself to action figures, just because he’s so falmboyant.
Following on from the Rero ring playset, is there any chance of a Retro Cage ring, or a Yellow King of the Ring as Hasbro released?
BM: Its possible. At this point if we are going to spend money on the retro line, our thought is we would rather have that money available to make more figures, rather than to tool a cage for the ring. A ring in a different colour is more likely in theory, but its still rather unlikely .
Will the Retro packaging theme colour be updated again soon? We saw it go from blue to red. Hasbro packaging used to change colour periodically.
BM: I am not in packaging, but I would assume so. It’s just so when you go into stores if you see a different border or a packing tweak, it stands out and its new. I don’t think in terms of the shape its going to change much from what it is now, because it goes back to the Hasbro line from back in the day. We want to pay homage to that, we don’t want to stray to far from that, but there are also some difference in it to make it our own also.
Are the MUSCLE figures first shown at SDCC likely to continue?
BM: A lot of it will depend on how well they do. We sold out every day very early at Comic-con, which is promising. Once they hit mass retail if they do very well, we will develop more and if they don’t we will try a different execution of something.
We have seen Retros and Muscle figures. Could we now see LJN Figures?
BM: In theory yes. Right now its not something that is rising to the top ideas. Just of the cost of that item would be significantly more expensive now, to when they came out. The weight of these items is very heavy which is costly. At the time there were action figures which were similar to those on the shelves. If we did that now, they would stand out like a sore thumb. Where we are now with figures being about the hyper articulation, hyper detail, hyper posable, to go back to something like that with the mainstream offering. Even the Retros are a nostalgic offering. Because Retros offer the play feature in them as well, there is appeal to a younger kid who wants to play with the figures.
Could we get Finn Balor NXT TakeOver London?
BM: I was actually at this event. I was going to the UK to visit friends and it coincided with this show. I was able to make it and that was one of the funnest shows I have ever been to. The UK fans with the singing and the chanting, you don’t get that anywhere. Even around WrestleMania the UK fans kind of take over the venues and they have a mind of their own. They’re very clever, just being in there and hearing all of the songs, it was so cool because it just doesnt happen anywhere else. To be there among the crowd and just hearing it and trying to figure out what they are saying and when you do you realise oh that’s hilarious and you chant along with it. The UK scene right now, I mean you now have the NXT UK division. (Editors note: Continued to below question, we didnt get a confirmation on this one).
Is an NXT UK action figure line possible?
BM: Its something I am personally keeping my eye on. I know who some of the people are from just going to Revelution Pro at the Cockpit while in London for Wrestling Shop Live, I became a huge fan after seeing some of the wrestlers including Jinny who later went on to compete in the Mae Young Classic tournament. I think a lot of it will depend if they get a network show in the UK that gets good numbers where its drawing to point we can do more than just a limited run.
What can fans expect with Ultimate Edition?
BM: The grand reveal of Ultimate’s is going to be November.
Is the True FX face scanning across all of the line including Basics?
BM: The plan right now is to implement it on everything Elite for 2019 and then to also work it onto the basic line as the designers are already adding these into the Basics also because they just look better and in some cases there are cost savings because you are combining a bunch of smaller deco heads into one execution. That one execution is more expensive because its DIJ, but if you’re combining 7 sample heads into one head there is a cost saving. True FX is a new application of the technology. I have seen this technology used before but on flat surfaces, but now they have updated it so you can use it on surfaces which are not only flat.
If I was going to take a crack at designing another Godfather, I would want to do Kama “Supreme Fighting Machine”
We have seen The Rock & Faarooq, plus the D-Lo Brown Elite figure, is Kama and Mark Henry coming for Nation of Domination?
BM: Probably. There is always a possibility. I know we had Mark Henry in a poll for the Fan Central line and the NOD outfit did not win, it lost to the Sexual Chocolate version so we went with that one. For Godfather, we did in full Godfather gear, which kind of works for Nation, it was around that time when they were kind of splitting up that he went the full colourful outfit. It might be difficult to do a Kama Mustafa version just because its so monochrome compared to a standard Godfather figure. Like if I was was going to take a crack at designing another Godfather, I would want to do Kama “Supreme Fighting Machine” (pictured) from the 95-96 run. But again that one is so niche you have to be careful how you execute that. Like Wendy Richter you its a little niche and you know there is an audience for it, and you want to get those figures to the audience and then when you have a way that you think will work to do it and it goes away, its difficult. It’s like how do we do it where we don’t open ourselves up to where you go into a toy store and all you see on your Elite pegs is (for example) 12 unsold Wendy Richters at that point you just know those pegs are not moving for the rest of the year.
We had Shockmaster, The Shark, Isaac Yankem and now Red Rooster, which are very fun and unique characters, could we see Gobbledy Gooker, Max Moon or Mantaur in this line?
BM: (Laughs). The three mentioned are very high tooling. So it would have to be somewhere that justifys it, you would almost have to find like a niche of a niche. The others mentioned (Shark, Yankem, Shockmaster, Rooster) we were lucky because we were able to do these with not a whole lot of new tooling. You can do The Shark with a new head, Isaac Yankem with a new head, Red Rooster with a new head. Where if you do Gobbledy Gooker, you would almost have to tool that from scratch, the investment on something like that you would have to justify doing it and justify tooling up that much deco for a low-run is difficult.
Is there any possibility of Legion of Doom from SummerSlam 92 or LOD 2000?
BM: At present I don’t believe they are under WWE legends deals.
Could we get the Intercontinental belt used around WrestleMania III with the red block logo letters?
BM: Probably not right now, I don’t think so.
With RetroFest Shawn Michaels in The Rockers attire, is there any likelihood of a Marty Jannetty to match this one?
BM: The Rockers Shawn was to create a really unique Shawn Michaels. With Marty Jannetty not under a legends deal it’s disappointing to me as collector because I would like more of him, but its out of my hands. I always liked that Rockers outfit, we havn’t really done a Rockers Shawn in a long while and it made sense for that segment.
We saw Terry Funk with the classic ECW Belt in the Elite line, is there a possibility of Chainsaw Charlie?
BM: I’d love a Chainsaw Charlie myself. As long as Terry Funk is in a legends deal there is a window open and Chainsaw is another where he almost fits into The Shark category.
What was the first fully completed Mattel figure or series as prototypes?
BM: The first figures that I remember seeing as a painted prototypes were Elite Series #1, I think I saw those before the basics. I saw all six of those at once and that was pretty cool.
Who has the final say on which Superstars can go into the line?
BM: WWE are the licensor so they have the final say. So we submit our submissions we want to use in the line up and WWE basically say yes or no. They are a very very good partner on this. I don’t remember many instances where they have been adamant about not using a submission.
How often do names get submitted to WWE for figure requests?
BM: It sort of depends if I have figures I am working that month, I will submit the names from that assortment to WWE and then they will get back to me. I cant remember a time off the top of my head where there was one that wasnt approved. We also try to make sure that our assortment selection makes sense, not six questionable choices. We try to go forward with a line-up that we think will sell through and will appeal to collectors and the kid that really wants to carry around a Seth Rollins for example.
The current talent would be scanned using True FX but where wrestlers who have died and then are included in the line, how does the design process work?
BM: We use reference images provided by WWE of talent who are no longer with us and we use 3D systems and a sculpting parter on the line who have incredible talented people there who sculpt the heads. Also where wrestlers have aged where facial features may have changed, for example the recent Harley Race figure is amazing, it was done fully from photographs.
Could we get a referee in the line somehow? Either as a separate offering or a build a referee?
BM: We have tried to get referees in the line where wrestlers themselves have acted as guest referees. It’s just easier for us to do it with on screen talent Superstars like we did with the recent Shane McMahon and we’ve done Shawn Michaels with the referee shirt and Batista a long time ago. Just getting it processed through the system is easier than asking for an actual referee or a generic referee.
We know there is an upcoming Entrance Greats, but why has there been a lack of Goldberg figures? We got it with the Elite scale ring so far, but compared with Sting and Kurt Angle when they debuted in the line we had many offerings.
BM: It was a strategic decision. When you invest that much money in a ring, a high-ticket item. You want to do whatever possible to make sure it sells through. So limiting the availability of Goldberg was ultimately to help sales on the item.
The Entrance Stage set shown at WrestleMania Axxess, is there any update on this coming to market?
BM: We built that as a one–off and then brought it back for Comic-Con. Right now we are just getting peoples reactions on what they think and what they would value it at, at that size. We want to do something, but we want to make sure we do the right thing when we do it so we’re sort of gathering information right now.
When we get to Basic Series #100, is there something unique about this series?
BM: Definitely. I can’t spoil that one.
Could we get Neidhart and Pillman from their Hart Foundation Canadian Stampede 1997 era as we had Bret Hart and British bulldog wearing the jackets.
BM: I don’t think Pillman ever had the name on the back of the jacket, I think he had the vest with the pattern which I think that we did. Neidhart, yeah we probably could do a Niedhart somewhere. I do worry about sell-through on him a little. It works when he was with the Hart Foundation when they were in the same wave, because chances are you’re going to buy both to complete the tag-team.
On the San Diego Comic Con 2018 panel, Curt Hawkins and Zack Ryder presented Bill with his own T-Shirt, entitled “Make Bill Sweat”. It was themed with the Comic-con logo. The night before Zack had mentioned that he had a surprise gift, but Bill had no idea about the t-shirt.