Interviews

George Brewer of DC Direct


By Hervé St-Louis
January 13, 2007 - 01:00

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This is the second interview the Comic Bin has conducted with Georg Brewer, the executive responsible for DC Direct, the merchandizing branch of comic book publisher DC Comics.

CBB:
What was your background before joining DC?

Brewer: Prior to joining DC I was an Art Director in the book publishing industry. Most recently I worked at Western Publishing, creating entertainment driven and novelty “book & thing” type books. Western had the license for DC Comics, and I pushed hard to develop a more extensive line of product using their characters (I am an avid comic collector from way back) which is how I met the fine folks here.

CBB: How did DC Direct get set up?

Brewer: In 1998 DC had been producing a series collectible statues and other product as an extension of their marketing initiatives, driven in large part by Syndee Barwick (now Director – Product Management DC Direct) who was then in the Marketing Department, with me on the creative side. Paul Levitz came to us with the idea/challenge of using the characters not currently licensed to get into producing action figures ourselves. The rapid success we found with these figures and the growing line of other retail products all came together and the DC Direct brand was born.

CBB: Why go into action figures?

Brewer: It was a natural extension of the figural work we were already doing. In addition the action figure category, like comics, has a dedicated base of fans and collectors which in many cases crossed over.

CBB: Are statues and props collectors, the same as action figure collectors?

Brewer: There certainly is a great deal of crossover between the two. Both types share the basic desire to have a 3-D representation of their favorite DC hero. However, economics and the physical scale differences between the two do tend to push some collectors to one or the other. Actually, another stripe of collector that we see is one that collects an individual character across each type of product, (I only collect Superman…) and we find  it is a healthy mix.

CBB: What is the design process of an action figure?

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Brewer: Once a group of figures is selected to fill out an assortment, we do extensive research on the particular look and style that we fill the fans want, and would make interesting action figures. Then we commission or create in-house “turn around” art to specify the look, details, color and type of articulation that will go into the final figure. This art is sent to our factories overseas for preliminary costing and we select a sculptor and start the process of realizing the work in 3-D.

CBB: In the past, DC Direct action figures looked to the past successes in the comic book world in order to produce potential characters. For example, Sandman and Preacher action figures were early products. Has this changed nowadays?

Brewer: The great thing about the potential of DC Direct is that we have our entire history of characters and artistic styles to draw upon. We have seen a shift in recent years towards the more modern interpretations of the characters being more strongly supported by the retailers, but we are committed to presenting the full breadth of our library and history in the line.

CBB: Was they any real need to produce great sales results before 2003 or was it more a penetration strategy with a few loss leaders?

Brewer: From the outset nearly ten years ago we set out to represent our properties in the most authentic way possible, while slowly building up the business to achieve the full success of our vision for it. As a new venture for the company there was an understanding that is would take time to grow both our expertise and the market place, but the business has always preformed well from its inception.

CBB: What has changed in the action figure industry since?

Brewer: Within our core market, the comics and specialty shops, we have seen a tremendous growth in competitive product, across all categories. This has made the retailer outlets (and our collectors shelves) a very crowded and challenging place at times. Fortunately, the strength of our characters and the exceptional talent of our creative teams continue to give us an edge.

CBB: All of Time Warner units seems to coordinate releases of products now. How has this affected your work at DC Direct?

Brewer: We have had the opportunity in the last year or so to work with some of the sister divisions in creating premium product exclusively for them to tie into their efforts. In addition around the time of movies based on DC properties we also work with many other WB divisions. Beyond that, our coordinated releases tend to reside within the walls of DC; where we work closely with the editorial groups to find those moments where we can align our product.

CBB: According to you, who is the average DC Direct collector today?

Brewer: It is hard to say as we see all types of collectors come into our world. I suspect they are very similar to our core comics reader, who are predominately male, collage educated, and early adopter of technology.

CBB: Many of these collectors would argue that you don't listen to their demands. Of course you disagree with that. What is it, according to you that gets lost in the communication process?

Brewer: As a collector myself I can understand how they feel at times, and honestly there is no easy answer to this question. At conventions and on-line we are very interested to hear what the fans are saying and to understand the things that are important to them. The long lead time it takes to make the figures can complicate our ability to respond and react as quickly to certain issues as some would like, which is not always understood. In matters of character selection we do listen to the fans, but we also have to listen to the retailers and to provide the product that they will support as well. We plan out the lines pretty far, so many things that are asked for may be in the works, but I wouldn’t want to announce that too early so that can lead to their frustration.

CBB: How do you decide to create an action figure or pick a specific character?

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Brewer: There is a basic line plan for the year that plots out the number of figures we want. With that in hand, we rely on many different factors to determine how best to fill those slots. Fan lists, line continuations, publishing events, past sales etc. all factor into this. The creative team makes a presentation to the product management team and we refine it from there. Actually we are constantly reviewing the line list throughout the year and making changes and corrections as we go.

CBB: Recently, I've stumbled across several discounted older action figures in many comic book stores. You always advertised that action figures were made to order. Are they?

Brewer: When we solicit the figures through Previews and get orders we set the print run accordingly, adjusting some for a little inventory to cover damages and the like.
CBB: The two major complaints several collectors have are character selection and scale. Are you aware that there is a problem with hardcore collectors?

Brewer: I am aware that these topics are discussed often.

CBB: What steps have you take to address these issues?

Brewer: Character selection is one of those issues that we have addressed with some recent waves, and will continue to look at as we select figures in the future. I am actually working on a program as part of our tenth year anniversary in 2008 that grew out of the requests of the fans.
    
Brewer: I have spoken about the scale issue on a number of occasions, and I share the frustrations of the fans. This problem has been resolved, and in a short time will no longer be an issue. What we have done is to select control heights and reference samples that form the basis of all future figures. This has all been communicated to our many sculptors and we have an additional check-point with our quality control consultant in HK (something we added in the last year) to verify and ensure there are no future problems. Many factors went in to making this problem, and though I feel it has improved in the last few years, it will be definitely solved now.

CBB: One of the major problem is how to fit several action figures from related series together. For example, the Crisis Batman action figure is out of scale with other action figures released in the same series and older ones. How did that error pass by your radars?

Brewer: Someone made a mistake (in fact several someone’s) plain and simple. The sculptor was working in a larger in an attempt to compensate for the production shrink. The factory was supposed to re-size it prior to tooling and did not, and the early production review for the line happened in a more scattered fashion then usual due to some parts running late. All of this added up to a figure that was larger then intended, and ultimately this stops at my desk so I take the final responsibility for the problem getting through.

CBB: The sculpt of the Crisis Batman seems to be more similar to artist Jim Aparo's rendition than George Perez. Some collectors even claim that it is an unreleased product from the Knightfall action figure series. Any truth in that?

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Brewer: The figure was never part of the Knight Fall line. I do agree with the general assessment of the look for the figure. That style of Batman figure has often been requested, and in discussion we felt that a true Perez style figure would close to some we had already produced. We thought this was an opportunity, under the Crisis banner, to do a Batman more fans would respond to. Obviously coupled with the size problem this did not work as well as we would have liked, though in general people do like the approach.

CBB: Archie Comics doesn't have any similar products, yet DC Direct would be a perfect licensor for them, as there is already a history of licensing between the two parent companies. Would DC Direct be interested in producing products from other licensors?

Brewer: That is an interesting suggestion, would that be something you would support and collect?

CBB: Last question, I've written hundreds of review of DCDirect action figures. Have you guys read them to try to improve on future products?

Brewer: Absolutely. I like the basic structure and approach the reviews have and find them to be very through and complete, and in most cases pretty fair.  

Editor’s note: Georg Brewer omitted answers to specific questions asking about sales figures, Sales comparisons about sales from action figures, and statues and about manufacturing costs quantities needed for an action figure to be viable.  These were questions which would have shed even more light on DCDirect’s operations but of course, I’m not sure if Brewer was at liberty to provide such information.

First Interview with Georg Brewer


Last Updated: September 6, 2021 - 08:15

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