Funko, Wacky Wobblers, and Me

funkoboothI’ve been a collector for as long as I can remember. When I was around three years old, I collected sticks. Yes, ordinary branches that had fallen from trees, which came in all sorts of varieties and limited editions. After that I picked up stuffed animals whenever I could, the more unusual the critter (plush skunks, possums, hyraxes…) the better. Once 1977 hit, though, my entire collecting focus changed. I think we all know what happened in the summer of 1977. From that moment on, my life became Star Wars- Star Wars cookie jars, Star Wars bedsheets, and of course Kenner Star Wars toys. I even started collecting comics by picking up the adaptation of The Empire Strikes Back and discovering Spider-Man on my trips to the comic shop. Once I hit Jr High School my fascination with toys faded away to be replaced by a fascination with girls. But I never stopped collecting, moving on to books, music, sticks…well, maybe not sticks again. Still, I never ceased to find things that once acquired would somehow turn out to be a collection eventually.

Of course, once I was firmly settled in college the toy bug bit again and has led me down the path of both hobby and career, with a little web pioneering thrown in along the way. And so it has gone over the past 10 years; it doesn’t take me long after dropping one collection to gain another one just as quickly. Since entering the promotional premium field I have been acutely interested in Advertising Icons. These are the mascots and slogan bearers of major companies past and present, who have entered the pop culture zeitgeist throughout the decades since the concept first gained traction in the 1930s. Thanks to the wonder of eBay it has become much easier to track down various advertising merchandise made to promote specific businesses, which was great since I wanted a collection for my office only- a collection that others in my field could appreciate a bit more than the usual Spawn figures in every artist’s cubeicle. The problem with collecting these is that with the vast differences in scale, material and quality between pieces is that it never quite felt like a coherent collection. And anyone who knows me knows that I value consistency above nearly all other factors in my collections. One look at the picture on the left will show you the depth of this problem that I faced. (As always, click on each image for a larger view.)

funkodisplayThis all changed in 2001 when I happened into a collectible mall in Anaheim, CA. That’s when I saw a bobblehead of Count Chocula. Count Chocula! The figurehead of all the General Mills monster cereals! I was stunned. Now, let me explain that I was by no means a fan of bobbleheads. Truth be told, given a choice I would almost always choose an action figure or maybe a nice solid vinyl doll over the outsized “head on a spring” figurine. And yet…something inside me was awakened by this chance meeting with the good Count. I bought him without delay, and upon opening my new prize I saw the name Funko. A name that I, as informed as anyone in the toy business, had never heard before. This was going to take a bit of research. Such as going to the website! Which I did.

 What I found was the answer to all my ad icon collection prayers: a new company whose only mission in life was to bring fun to those who wanted something more out of the collecting experience. OK, maybe that’s getting a bit too grandiose. But it was obvious that these guys were following a different path than most of the other companies out there. A path lined with Wacky Wobblers as far as the eye could see.

Funko was started in 1998 by”Chairman of Fun” Mike Becker, who left his high tech job to pursue the dream of making an instant classic item: a “Wacky Wobbler” that was at once nostalgic and yet made with the latest production techniques for total fidelity to the source material. Using his life savings, Becker pursued a retro favorite license, Bob’s Big Boy, for his first Wacky Wobbler. Exceeding all expectations, the Big Boy Wobbler sold like hotcakes. Funko was off to a great start that only got better as word of mouth spread through the collecting community of this bold new line. Within a few short years Funko was entrenched as both the go-to company for top notch premiums and also the only company around who was willing to bring long neglected characters to life. You can read more about Funko’s history here and here. If it’s not obvious by now, then let me assure you dear reader, I love these things.

funkoshelfJust take a look at some of the pictures on this page. In 4 short years I’ve filled the nooks and crannies of my office with Wacky Wobblers. And not just ad icons at this point; over the years I’ve been suckered into picking up classic cartoon characters, too. Since Funko started making the Wobblers, many other companies have jumped on the bobblehead bandwagon. And while some of them, such as NECA and Bosley Bobbers have done some nice work, in my eyes no one can hold a candle to Funko. Let’s start with character selection. While most companies might go after a master license, and then bleed that license dry with variants, resculpts, and oversaturations, Funko takes a unique tack on acquiring license, usually for single characters only and in limited quantities. This keeps the costs down and allows them to put out up to 5 Wobblers a month in a good year. And the choices they have made so far are astounding (in a good way): who else would have not stopped with the main three General Mills monsters and made Fruit Brute and Yummy Mummy, whose cereals have been off the shelves for decades? When was the last time you saw Banana Splits merchandise? Or Speedy Alka-Seltzer? Funko has also made good use of the Hanna-Barbera license, making not only the given characters like the Flintstone and Jetsons, but mining the depths of my generations’ collective childhood to bring us the likes of Captain Caveman, Jabberjaw, and Squiddly Diddley?

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The design and sculpting has been above par also, giving many of these characters the best representation they’ve ever had. And the quality of every Funko product is top notch- I never have had to worry about getting a bad paint job which makes it much easier to order these sight unseen through the many websites that sell them. On a side note, I heartily applaud Funko for going with plastic bobbers instead of the cheaper resin ones that most other companies make. Plastic just makes them feel more like “real” mass manufactured itmes, and helps tie them into the ad icons of years gone by. Too many times in the past I’ve been frustrated with the major toy companies who just don’t get it. Funko “gets it”, big time. As an example, one of the most fun aspects of the line is the packaging. Funko puts the time and effort into the design of these that no other company does; many packages mirror the product’s origin (i.e., Count Chocula’s looks like a cereal box) or otherwise make sense for each character. Yet each box still conforms to a general style and uniform shape, making a “mint in box” collection just as attractive as a loose one! They’ve also engineered a great new plastic insert that holds the Wobbler tightly in place with no chance of deformity in shipping, and without any of those darn twist-ties that collectors have grown to hate.

funkoboxesI have to admit that I’ve been lucky in discovering the line when I did. With most Wobblers limited to roughly 10-20,000 pieces this line sells through much faster than a mass market line would. Part of the reason for that is Mike Becker’s insistences on keeping the company small and dealing only with specialty markets. Which is smart, since a larger distribution base would necessitate much larger sales to cover costs. This way they are able to stay profitable and yet make a wide variety of characters each year. In addition to their basic line, Funko also makes custom Wobblers to anyone who wants them. This has led to some very hard to find Wobblers like the Empire Carpet Guy, Magic the Old Navy Dog, and the Outback Steakhouse Kangaroo. They also make a number of variants from time to time, less as a profit center and more as special items for the fans to hunt down. That Funko is extremely collector friendly has never been more evident than at last year’s San Diego Comic Con where they set up a mini supermarket with over 80 variants available with multiple specialty items for the fan base.

 Although this article has focused on the Wacky Wobblers, I thought I should mention that Funko has been branching out over the past couple of years into new categories such as the rotocast hand puppets and Spastik Plastik vinyl figures. Who knows how long they’ll continue to make Wacky Wobblers, but with the wealth of material still out there, I’m hoping it will be for many, many years to come. We’ll be covering the Funko booth at this year’s San Diego Comic Con, so check back in a month or so to scope it out!

You can find these for sale at many online stores and many ebay sellers. The average price is $10 per wobbler, but once they are retired it goes up from there. You can also go hang out with the COF and fans in the forums at Funko Funatics. And here is a good checklist to see everything that Funko has made so far.