Shortly after San Diego Comic Con 2019, we sat down with lead designer Bill Miekina again to answer some of your questions coming out of this event.
San Diego Comic Con is the biggest event of the year for toy companies and in terms of revealing new WWE action figures for Mattel, it’s the perfect platform. Each year the event gets close to 150,000 attendees covering everything from movies, comics, toys and more. Media outlets share coverage from this event which gets a far greater global reach.
Mattel have been showcasing new reveals every year since they have been producing WWE figures, displaying what’s ahead for the year. Often starting on a Wednesday preview night, going through to Sunday closing.
This year, along with further additions to the core WWE action figure lines including first-time talent, Mattel introduced two collaborations based from properties they already have; Masters of the WWE Universe and Ghostbusters. We will list the main things revealed in a recap at the end of this article.
We caught up once again with Mattel’s lead designer on WWE action figures, Bill Miekina, for an in-depth interview talking about the various figures on show and questions coming out of it.
Wrestling Shop: How was San Diego Comic Con?
Bill Miekina: Busier than ever really, I think I did more interviews at this show compared to any show I’ve ever done.
WS: Is this the 10th SDCC you have attended consecutively?
BM: Yeah, I think this is the 10th one I have been to with Mattel, it might be my 11th overall. I’ve actually been to so many I am beginning to lose count.
WS: It certainly looked like a wide range of reveals.
BM: At a certain point we are collecting the samples that we want to show and make sure we have a good showing. I think this year we had a good showing in terms of physical samples in the display booth and also renders of upcoming work to display.
I think we have a really good mix this year, in terms of trying to satisfy everyone. There’s enough legends flashbacks, new, top and female talent. I think if you’re looking for a specific segment then you wouldn’t be disappointed. Unless of course you were only looking for Retros and then you’d probably be very upset. But overall I was really happy with what we displayed this year.
WS: Were there any wedding proposals this time around?
BM: (Laughs) No, no wedding proposals, but there was one at the WF Podcast the day before. No romance at SDCC this time though.
WS: What was your favourite SDCC pick this year from the reveals?
BM: I think it would have to be the Chyna reveal. We found out that WWE had signed her to a merchandise deal not that long before the show. It might have actually been only 2-3 weeks before. So to not only announce they we’ve got the rights to Chyna, but to have a sculpt image, which is just a prelim image, but there’s not too much that needs to be changed on it in order to go to final on it. To have this reveal available so quickly was really cool. Our sculpting partners here in the US really helped out with that.
WS: Is the first Chyna due as an Elite?
BM: The first one will probably be an Elite. I’m not sure if we have finalised placement yet in terms of the exact series.
WS: How about another Hall of Famer, Jeff Jarrett?
BM: Nothing new on that one.
WS: Let’s talk about design. Is there room for any further improvements?
BM: With every line that has collector’s, you will get people that are very dialled in. Where people want 100% perfection. It’s challenging on a mass-market item, because I have to share tooling, I have deco budgets for waves and I cant go over the budget. I have to hit the budget or the wave simply doesn’t get produced.
WS: The introduction of True FX face scanning, together with interchangeable hands in the Elite line (from Series 63) has certainly increased sales. People love these two additions in the line.
BM: Yeah I agree with you 100%, especially now with the female figures. The difference between previous scanning and on the eyes with the DIJ is night and day. In 2020, we’re upping the articulation on the female figures so they’re as you would get in a male Elite figures. This includes double jointed knees and interchangeable hands.
WS: You finally managed to get Finn Balor NXT TakeOver London version into the line.
BM: Yes. I was very happy to find a place for this in the line. It’s a figure I have always wanted to do. There hadn’t previously been a need for another painted demon Finn Balor. The window closed a little bit and it was sort of a blessing in disguise that he wasn’t doing a lot of demon paint on the main roster, so when it came to get a demon version of Finn Balor back in the line, there was still that London Demon version hanging around saying you should probably make me now. I know that this is one of Finn Balor’s favourite outfits. It was one that he always wanted as an action figure, so when he saw the photos of it, he was very happy with it. We like to make everyone happy.
WS: We saw the 24/7 Championship introduced on the panel. Is it safe to assume this could be included with the inaugural champion Titus O Neill?
BM: (Laughs) Probably someone else. That’s something where it’s such a fun part of the show and when the 24/7 championship first debuted, not everyone was so sure and then less than a month later some really fun segments followed on TV. It’s like ok, I think people actually want this now. So yeah it’s something we are going to be getting in the line.
WS: Both Christian and Viscera were revealed, is there any update on Gangrel?
BM: Let me put it this way, if I find out that Gangrel is under a WWE merchandise deal, I will start work on him that day.
WS: Lucha House Party were shown as individual Elite figures, are they planned in the same assortment?
BM: Different assortments.
WS: Is Kama Mustafa Nation of Domination a possibility?
BM: It’s possible, there are not any concrete plans right now. On characters like that, if we think there is a big enough market that would support that, then that’s something that we would consider.
WS: Macho Man Slim Jim collaboration was the SDCC 19 exclusive.
BM: Yeah. The pre-order sold though on that in less than an hour. At the show it was the first one to sell through everyday.
WS: Could this Slim Jim collaboration continue with others who were in similar adverts such as Ultimate Warrior?
BM: Probably not. Macho Man is just so synonymous with it. Everybody thinks Slim Jim Macho Man and after this we are thinking on ways we can top this, it probably wouldn’t be with another Slim Jim.
WS: At the previous two Comic-Con’s we saw Elite scale rings revealed. There wasn’t one shown this year.
BM: There doesnt seem to a huge demand for it this year. It’s an expensive item. In the United States, Target and Walmart are probably not going to stock that item. It’s so big and it takes up too much retail space. It’s not going to generate as much money as let’s say putting three other items in the same shelf space. With Toys R Us, this would have been where it would fit in perfectly and it’s the reality we are facing now with Toys R Us gone. I personally would like an NXT version with a unique NXT talent. It’s still a high ticket item and I think going forward it will be difficult for high ticket items like that to find a place in retail. There are all sorts of cool executions you could do with Elite scale rings, but right now I would say the environment is tough.
WS: Masters of the WWE Universe – a collaboration with another Mattel line was one of the major reveals. Is this line replacing WWE Retros for 2020?
BM: In a way. It’s not directly supposed to, but as far as a non-core line at least in 2020, Masters of the WWE Universe would fit into this spot as a flanker line. In terms of not being in the core Basic series, Battlepacks or Elites. It’s not meant as a direct replacement, but the way things have gone down they could be seen as a direct replacement.
WS: We saw the second Pete Dunne Elite figure revealed. Let’s talk about that one and the issue faced with the way the first one was released.
BM: Honestly, when we were initially discussing filling the slots for the US retail exclusives, the thinking was to use those slots for talent that might not otherwise fit into the main line. Slots that would appeal to people who want one of everyone, just so that you can get figures of these characters. For example, a Bob Backlund is not necessarily going to be one that a kid is going to rush out and buy, it’s going to have a more limited appeal.
At the time, Pete Dunne was sort of a smaller character on NXT in the US, who had a cool visual look and he honestly got in the line when this was planned because one of the people who works on the line here was a huge fan and requested it. So, I put him in based on this, plus the cool visual look he had. The decision was made that Pete Dunne would be a small run in one the Exclusive spots. In between the original planning of it and when it was actually released, he blew up on television in terms of popularity and we were like oh boy we’re in trouble, more people are going to want this now than will be initially available.
WS: Is the second Elite version going to be included with the UK Championship belt?
BM: Yes. He will come with the vest again and the NXT UK title. As of right now we are using a darker deco scheme on him this time around, unless his look changes dramatically before we finalise it.
WS: Will you be able to pose Pete Dunne holding the belt in his mouth as he does in his entrance?
BM: Probably not. We tried various ways to do it, but they all proved very difficult and over budget. It’s going to be something where fans could somehow pose it in that way themselves. I can only imagine that I will see a lot of pictures on Instagram (@BillMiekina) when that figure comes out posing with a little bit of double-sided tape or something like that. I wanted to do an alternate head with the figure where you could then have the belt attached in the mouth, but the tooling on another head for this purpose would be over the budget. We explored many ways to do it, but in the end it will be something where the buyer will have to pose it themselves. That’s why we did want it to at least come with the belt.
WS: Future Jeff Hardy Elite’s will each come with a towel accessory for the first time.
BM: Yes. It’s been something I’ve wanted to do on Jeff Hardy for a while. When he came back, we wanted to get as many Jeff Hardy’s out as possible. Once we had a little bit more time to work on the following ones, we realised that we ought to include the towel accessory going forward. The hanging towel is actually a moulded piece, with a very small slot on the back for it to slide into, so that it’s not too intrusive when it’s not in place. I tried to make it as small as possible so that when you remove it, it’s less noticeable. The decision was made to make the towel a moulded piece vs. a soft goods cloth material. Using soft goods would have been worse because it wouldn’t have scaled properly, it would be too thick and chunky. With the moulded piece its more consistent with how it hangs.
WS: This will be first seen in the Elite Collection Series 71 Jeff Hardy version.
BM: Yes, you will also get three interchangeable heads with this figure, each with a different paint scheme. We actually brought all three heads to this show (SDCC) but they were mislaid somehow when we were setting up and we only found them at the end when we were packing up.
WS: What can we update about Hulk Hogan?
BM: It’s still sort of a hazy situation as far as consumer products go. Until we get a concrete answer of yes, we can’t do anything. If we do get a yes, there are still other things to take into consideration as well.
WS: Ultimate Edition. How well have they have been received.
BM: Very well. In terms of the reviews I have seen and feedback I have heard. As far as people appreciating the product, most of them tend to be very positive. There’s some constructive criticism and actually in many instances they’re good suggestions. There are people that would say like “hey, what if you did this?” and it’s like “yeah, what if we did that”. There are many instances where we actually do adjust based from feedback.
WS: Are we expecting four waves of two characters per year on Ultimates?
BM: Ideally yes.
WS: Will it be continuing with one legend talent and one current talent?
BM: I think that’s our thought process on it. We are not held to that, but the idea is that would appeal to the widest variety of people that would want these. You might be somebody who really wants Ultimate’s, but you really only want Flashback talent. If we are just putting two current talents in the wave, we are missing out there. Whereas conversely if we put out two legends, it would be the same the other way. We want to appeal broad on these. One thing I hate is when I go into a retail establishment, where we only ship one character in a wave and there is too much of that single item out on shelves. So it’s like if you can easily get it, there’s no incentive to actually get it.
WS: Are RetroFest on hiatus?
BM: I don’t know on that one to be honest.
WS: The NXT TakeOver line?
BM: As of right now that one is not continuing as is.
WS: Will there be anymore WWE Superstar Dolls?
BM: No, that line is done.
WS: Is the Fan Central line continuing?
BM: These were for TRU in the US, so that one is not continuing.
A lot of times these things are actually the choice by the actual retailers. Like they don’t actually want the same customised offerings year after year. Even if the consumer wants it to continue with the series, the retailer wants freshness so we generally have to go with what the retailer wants. Internally we may think people would want another series. Ultimately you’re a little bit beholden to the people placing the orders and paying for it.
WS: Lets talk about what you are working on at the moment.
BM: I’m working on so many different series at once. There are so many certain things and different stages. At any one time I could be working on seven different series at once, from choosing talent in a series, all the way to evaluating the final samples. It’s sort of like keeping the traffic flow for all of those moving at the same time. When we have the internal deadlines of when stuff has to be finished, as to make sure we’re always hitting those deadlines and we’re getting things out in a timely manner.
WS: How far ahead are you working on the line?
BM: Usually around 12 months.
WS: Could the Wrekkin clasp able hands crossover into the main line?
BM: I think in the core line, it will be mostly the interchangeable hands that do that.
WS: Are Chase figures continuing in 2020?
BM: That is the plan.
WS: We asked previously about an updated British Bulldog, which at the time you said was something you had planned.
BM: Yeah I think it’s something that I still want to do and something that may actually be a little bit more likely than when I answered the first time.
WS: How about Dynamite Kid while we are on the subject?
BM: I dont want to say 100%, but it doesn’t look likely.
WS: With Ultimate Warrior, it seems like the only belt not made with him would be the Yellow Intercontinental Belt
BM: The easy answer is sure, because in most things there is a possibility. We do a lot of Ultimate Warrior’s and if that’s an accessory that’s going to resonate when we do another version, then maybe that’s something that sort of rises to the top. For example we are going to be doing a Warrior in this line-up, which one haven’t we done yet.
WS: As the Epic Moments line was cancelled, could the Ultimate Deletion set somehow move into a future core Elite line?
BM: It’s probably going to be easier for the Matt Hardy than with Bray Wyatt. Just based off Bray Wyatt’s radically different look now. The Bray Wyatt we developed for that pack is now very irrelevant.
WS: The Elite 67 Shayna Baysler figure appeared to feature the mens NXT championship.
BM: There was a silver that was supposed to be applied in the design process. It just did not apply very well. That’s why there is the confusion that it is actually is the women’s belt. But there is silver on it, it just didn’t apply very well in production. So thats something if we ever do another NXT Women’s title, make sure when we get factory samples that the application works as intended.
WS: Gorilla Monsoon was also shown and has now been updated from the original concept, featuring an additional entrance jacket.
BM: Yeah, if you have the Mean Gene Elite Flashback, it will work in the exact same way as this figure did with the sleeves.
WS: Women’s Elite Exclusives – Paige and Naomi for example.
BM: Paige which premiered at Wrestling Shop Live, will be an exclusive in one of the upcoming Elite waves. With Naomi, that execution may not. If you look at the Elite Natalya which was displayed in the presentation at Comic-Con for example, I think we had one planned last year that was kind of sub-par. We have updated it with an improved execution on Natalya, which I think is much more worthy of the talent. So I think if the Naomi figure goes away, which it’s looking like it might, we will work to get a better version of an Elite Naomi in the line to compensate for that.
WS: Could we see Exclusive’s somehow grouped into a separate series so that they are easier for customers to buy?
BM: That’s probably not going to happen that way. There are reasons that it’s done the way it’s done. We don’t want to deny anybody figures they are looking for, but with certain characters, we can’t ship many of them to retail. We’ve noticed that certain characters that don’t have a lot of TV time, back up on pegs. On the other hand, if we look at Pete Dunne there’s an obvious shortfall between supply and demand. If you follow our line, we will make sure that you will get a Pete Dunne. It may not necessarily be the first one, but you will get a Pete Dunne.
WS: Will the SummerSlam Elites be merged into the core line again as with Series 68.
BM: Yes, and there are reasons for that happening.
WS: Flashback Elite Series / Fan Central.
BM: When TRU went out of business, the first series of Fan Central was not shipped in great quantities. We subsequently took a lot of those Fan Central characters and tried to get them back out in those looks or in similar looks. For example, with Triple H, we did a very similar version for the WrestleMania Elite. We also had planned to get the Bobby Heenan back out with the Gorilla Monsoon 2-pack, unfortunately that one was cancelled too. It’s a situation that when it’s out of our control, we do want people to be able to get these and we will try our best. We do want to get the characters to the collectors, it may not be the exact figure each time.
WS: Is the Gorilla Monsoon in the core line?
BM: As of right now thats probably going to be in a different exclusive assortment, because Gorilla Monsoon is still a character where if you have been watching a year ago you might not know who he is, but that it’s for people who have been around a while.
Alright thats going to wrap the interview up for this time around, we hope everyone enjoyed this and as you have read Mattel do hear your feedback. We would like to thank Bill Miekina and all of the Mattel team for their continued hard work on the various lines. For more from Bill Miekina you can follow him on Instagram, where he posts various updates.
Among the Mattel reveals for San Diego Comic Con 2019 included:
- Masters of the WWE Universe series
- Ghostbusters WWE Elite Collection set of 5
- Slim Jim Macho Man is the Mattel Exclusive figure
- Chyna is signed to the Mattel WWE line
- Ultimate Edition: Finn Balor, Triple H, Brock Lesnar & Shawn Michaels
- Hinted images of Ultimate Edition Series 5 to include Becky Lynch and Ric Flair
- Retros are on hold for 2020
- Elite 2-Packs will replace Epic Moments segment
- 24/7 Championship belt introduced for a future release
- Elite Collection Series 70, 71 & various mixed future releases
- Gerald Brisco to go with Pat Patterson
- Greg The Hammer Valentine is a future Elite flashback
- Vince McMahon announcer version is first shown
- Classy Freddie Blassie and Gorilla Monsoon enter the line
- Lucha House Party to be released as three separate Elites
- Hurricane is a future flashback Elite
- A second Pete Dunne Elite will enter the main line with UK title
- WrestleMania 36 Elites will be a build a Danny Davis referee
- Don Muraco from Survivor Series 1987 will be a future Flashback