The Friday Five: Blake Wright
Tell us about TOYCOLLECTR.
It all stems from the same place as the Toys That Time Forgot book series originated: a quarterly magazine I published in 2014 called littleplasticmen. The magazine was ill-conceived — it was well-received editorially but not commercially. It was never going to gain the traction needed to earn the necessary revenue through advertising dollars. But, the whole thing — the practice of doing littleplasticmen — spawned Toys That Time Forgot so it was not a waste. It really kicked off my career as an author. I’d been a journalist for about 20 years but had never sat down to write a book at that point. Now, I’ve published three. The littleplasticmen magazine definitely served a purpose.
When I finished the third Toys That Time Forgot book, I was considering what to do next. Some folks were clamouring for a fourth book but it was always a trilogy in my mind. It wasn’t like I didn’t have the material for a fourth book. I have at least 10 folders about toy lines that never made it to the store shelves. That got me thinking back to littleplasticmen. There were a couple of things that happened — two magazines popped up on my radar. One is Brian Heiler’s Toy Ventures, which is focussed on toys from the 1960s and 1970s. The other is ToyRobot from Erik Braley and Bill Freitag, which is focussed on transforming toys. These magazines have a specific audience but there are people nibbling around the bait of reintroducing a collector-driven toy magazine. I realized someone was going to take the plunge pretty soon and do a general collector-driven magazine. I thought maybe that person could be me. I started putting together a prototype in my mind.
TOYCOLLECTR will be a bi-monthly magazine — 6 issues a year. It won’t be a breaking-news outlet but we’ll have a section for news and value-add on social media. The general idea with the features in the magazine will be the same premise as Toys That Time Forgot. I want to show readers things they have never seen before and tell stories they’ve probably never heard. I’ll expand my horizons outside of unproduced toys into the realm of produced toys — stuff we played with as kids. That opens up a whole new world. There are still stories out there and people we’ve yet to meet who were involved in creating these toys — an artist who drew the first concepts or the sculpture that did the first rough sculpt. You name it — those people are still out there with stories to tell, but they are starting to age out. If we don’t tell the stories now, they will be lost. That’s unacceptable to me.
Look at all the nostalgia you see in toy aisles today. You would think it was 1987 with all the Transformers and Ghostbusters toys. Taking some of these common threads — these platinum licenses — that have been around for so long and telling their stories is compelling. Take the NECA Gargoyles as an example. That was a former Kenner toy line that was based on a Disney cartoon. If you take that idea and start writing backwards about how NECA got involved with it and maybe show some exclusive images, talk to the Kenner folks about when they had the license, and maybe talk with the people who worked on the cartoon, you can pull something together that’s really interesting and have a 12-page feature that shares the history and future of Gargoyles. There are so many toys being remade at this point. You can compare and contrast. You can do this with Transformers, Ghostbusters, Star Wars.
The internet was blamed for running toy magazines out of business 10 years ago, yes. The internet today is not the same as it was 10 years ago. A lot of the websites that used to break toy news are gone. Those that are still around rely heavily on social media to get the word out. It’s the same with toy companies. They rely very heavily on social media to get the word out about new products. It is not a very stable avenue to do that sort of thing — the news appears and it’s gone in one cycle. It’s difficult to search back to find things via social media. I think taking a step back and producing a tactile magazine — something you can hold in your hands and flip through — functions as a sort of record or journal. The content will always be there to find. I want to produce a magazine that collectors are going to be happy to include in their collections. A historical document.
Why is now the right time to launch a print magazine dedicated to toy collecting?
Yeah, it is time and I’m surprised it hasn’t happened yet.
The magazine business isn’t exactly booming but it’s not the dead media everyone makes it out to be. Over the past 10 years in the United States, the number of titles has grown steadily. We’re seeing the proliferation of a kind of boutique magazine business. There is no shortage of magazines on the rack of Barnes & Noble. I can find 10 magazines about marijuana and 5 about cosplay. I can’t find one about collecting toys and action figures anymore. That just doesn’t make sense to me.
In what ways is TOYCOLLECTR an extension of the Toys That Time Forgot trilogy?
It is a natural extension of that work.
A lot of the stories I have leftover from the Toys That Time Forgot books will make their way into TOYCOLLECTR one way or another. I’m planning to have a section in the magazine called “Lost Project Files” about some of the lost toy lines. It’s about telling stories that people haven’t heard and showing them things they haven’t seen.
When I introduced the idea of Toys That Time Forgot, one of the criticisms was that I couldn’t possibly show anything new — that the internet had been around long enough to have fully exposed everything. I just giggled at that. The internet only really came into existence with any kind of push or pull in the mid to late 1990s. Digital cameras really didn’t come around until about that same time. Unless people were scanning things to put online, anything pre-1995 wasn’t fully on the internet. We are still discovering things after all these years — it happens. I’m fascinated by some of the things that I’ve come across. Magazines are a great avenue for sharing these stories.
How has the world of toys and toy collecting evolved since you published littleplasticmen?
The audience has grown. There are a lot more toy collectors out there than there was in 2014. There are a lot more independent toy stores selling both new and vintage toys than there was in 2014.
Do we have the pandemic to thank for that? Maybe. It’s amazing to me to watch what’s happened over the past two-and-a-half years — to see prices go up and up and up and products become scarce. Collectors don’t seem to care. They want what they want. Eventually, it has to have a chilling effect. Overall, I hear complaints here and there about prices but I haven’t seen anybody stop buying things. That makes me a little more courageous about bringing out a new magazine.
When will the inaugural issue of TOYCOLLECTR be released and where will it be available for purchase?
The current plan is to have the first issue be the September/October issue. It would ship the first week of September.
The idea is for there to be subscription information up on the website in March or April. I’m also working with a couple of distribution houses to get the magazine out into different shops where you’ll be able to go and pick it up if you’re not a subscriber. Those details are still being worked out.
I’ve got to price it pretty aggressively but I haven’t settled on a price yet. If you go into a bookstore nowadays, you see big glossy magazine imports from the United Kingdom for $20 an issue. My magazine won’t be $20; it won’t be $6.99, either. I’m dealing with the business end of things now as well as the content. We will face some supply issues like everyone else these days. There’s apparently a paper shortage also.
We’ll share progress and teasers about the content on our website. People can sign up for the newsletter there as well.
Read the press release announcing TOYCOLLECTR. Visit the TOYCOLLECTR website to sign up for the newsletter.
Five questions, one fascinating person (or team!) – look into the minds of movers and shakers in the nostalgia, game, play, or toy industry.