If you haven’t heard of or seen Funko POP Vinyls, you probably live on a desert island and are jimmying wifi to read this with tin foil and a few coconuts. But, of course, that doesn’t mean you like them. When something floods the market and becomes inescapable in bookstores, comic shops, and at cons, that can be a turn off. These boxy, large-headed vinyl figures, however, have a simply massive cult following. They are not only “cute” but increasingly varied and tap into a licensing dream for fans wherein each buyer can find their niche character or line and get sets or buy singly. And the prices aren’t too outrageous on the basic figures, either, ranging from 10 to 20 dollars on average. Then there are the exclusives and the rare items and, well, you could really spend a fortune, or make a fortune on them.
That was certainly felt as a tide of interest at San Diego Comic Con. Funko released a startling grand total of 57 exclusive POP figures, and quite a few others were being launched by smaller retailers, who can elect to have their own exclusives made. Fugitive Toys had several at San Diego, such as “blood spatter” Walking Dead show characters and quite a few non-exclusive POPs were launched by Funko around the time of San Diego like their first run of Watchmen figures. Funko was in the top 10 of fan-assaulted vendors at the con, maybe even the top 5. Lines on preview night were massive, being capped and capped again and clogging the aisles with collectors and retailers trying to gather as many exclusives as possible to resell in their comic shops. Small vendors on the con floor displayed large paper posters urging fans to resell their exclusives right away to them for a higher price so that they, in turn, could sell them on for even more money once the well had run dry on exclusives, or to fans not willing to wait in lines an hour or more long. It was POP mayhem at the Funko booth from the outset of the con all the way through its final hours. The aftermath was striking. The shop-styled booth looked quite literally like a hurricane had blown through leaving only a couple of boxes left on the massive shelves. The staff looked dazed but kind of smiley; it was a massive success for Funko.
But it was not all fun and games for those who had managed to buy POP exclusives at San Diego or for those who pre-ordered them and were awaiting shipping (you could, in fact, pre-order the entire 57 POP exclusive SDCC 2013 set from Funko for around 800 dollars). As time passes, there’s an increasing murmur rising from the POP collecting community and reports are beginning to trickle in that quality control has been a substantial issue this year. It’s not that surprising considering how big the expansion on POP production has been this year that production quality might have slipped a little to meet deadlines for the con. Here are some of the issues that fans are reporting.
San Diego Comic Con 2013 exclusive stickers are actually missing from the “window” on the POP boxes once they arrive in the mail. This may not seem like a big deal, but it is for those who carefully pre-ordered and have been waiting patiently for their purchases. Without the sticker, sure, you have the figure and the box, but it’s not exactly marked out as “special” and will almost certainly affect the resale value of an item that is known and expected to go up in value. Quite a letdown.
Some of the boxes have admittedly hilarious misprints in their logos. They are pretty funny and might drive up the value of these POPs, actually, but it’s a bit of a groaner when it comes to representing Funko. We do generally hope that big toy companies know how to spell correctly. The most egregious example is the “Bloody Governor” from the Walking Dead TV show which was sold via Fugitive Toys. While most of the text on the box is correct, the largest print on the right side of the box stating what’s inside reads “THE GOVENOR”. Yikes. Let’s hope the resale price skyrockets to help ameliorate the sense of shame behind owning what now looks like a knock-off version from a discount store.
A less funny issue, and more of a slow-burner in terms of discovery, is a more widespread problem with paint application on the figures. A buyer might not even realize this unless they take the POP out of the box and examine the figure under a strong light. Let me clarify that this, to my knowledge, is not some attempt by Funko to intentionally rip off buyers, but a quality control issue that did not affect every figure. But it is reputedly affecting many figures, as many as 1 in 10 to judge from forum complaints. Paint is scuffed, missing, or even off-center for logos which, when it comes to superhero figures really throws off the licensed character effect. Buyers report fairly obvious “blotches and scratches” on forums ranging from superhero Domos to Disney characters.
To give a little context, there has always been some lack of consistency in Funko POP figures, and buyers routinely compare figures before deciding which to purchase because facial features might look a little smudged or colors might overlap in a messy way. Fans have accepted this with chagrin since these are not always pricey items. But SDCC exclusives are another matter because the rate of occurrence seems to have risen considerably this year. And the problem, of course, is that once you have bothered to get an SDCC exclusive, and they are all gone apart from extreme mark-ups on Ebay, it’s unlikely that you can exchange it for a less flawed version without very deep pockets.
Inconsistencies in paint application have led to increased value for some Funko POPs. Right now, the big discussion among fans is whether to buy the current “wrong” paint job on Daenerys Targaryen, in which she appears with a red dragon perched on her arm rather than the “correct” dragon in red and green. Most fans want the red and green “correct” version, but they won’t find that at Barnes and Noble, a big outlet for POPs these days, who seem to only have the red versions.
Earlier this year, Funko released an “incorrect” version of Wolverine, too, who was supposed to have a “bobble head” feature in accordance with Marvel licensing agreements (which are only for bobbles), but instead released a fixed neck Wolverine. Again, this may not seem like a big deal, but the items were immediately frozen as a licensing infraction, driving up the value of this particular Wolverine and making him desirable. These things happen, and for toy collectors, it can be a windfall or a great frustration.
Overall, the message is pretty clear. Funko have grown very quickly, and in particular, their licensed POP Vinyls have been explosively popular, but this has resulted in some slippage. And that’s not a good thing for buyers who have set their hearts on a mint vinyl from a big con to complete their collection. Hopefully, Funko will take stock of the wide range of issues this year and tighten up their quality for future cons. Fans are becoming unwilling to buy the POPs sight unseen, which may work out well for small comic shop retailers who turn a mainstay profit off of POPs, but isn’t good for Funko who will see a drop on pre-orders and mail orders via the internet.
Photos from Funko Funatics.
Hannah Means-Shannon writes and blogs about comics for TRIP CITY and Sequart.org and is currently working on books about Neil Gaiman and Alan Moore for Sequart. She is @hannahmenzies on Twitter and hannahmenziesblog on WordPress. Find her bio here.