Thursday, March 15, 2012

Creator Interview:
Scott "Toy Guru" Neitlich Discusses
His Creation- The Mighty Spector!

As you may recall, I recently posted an editorial focused on my shifting feelings towards "The Mighty Spector". I received a lot of positive feedback on that posting- including some from Spector's creator, MOTUC Brand Manager Scott "Toy Guru" Neitlich. Scott contacted me to say that he really appreciated the writeup and offered to do a special interview for the site focusing on Spector (he even snapped a few pics of his sample to accompany this posting). So, without further ado, let's hear what Scott has to say about "The Mighty Spector"...

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By now, most fans know that “The Mighty Spector” was a character created by you during your childhood… but can you tell us if he was created directly for the vintage Masters of the Universe Create-A-Character contest or was he floating around inside your mind before then? Was he always intended as a MOTU character in your eyes or was he first invented for play in some other franchise?

Spector was a character I created when I was very young and was made for nothing more than my imagination. Over the years he has been a bounty hunter, cyborg, space commander, and other roles. I even used him as a background character in another toy line I pitched to Mattel and when I was a writer in Hot Wheels (I used the name for a basic car and a Modifighter transforming robot). The only thing that has remained consistent is the visual look. Now that I am introducing him into MOTUC he received a revised origin that is actually a bit closer to his original one, that of a time traveling secret agent!

What came first in Spector’s design- The look or the name?

The name came first with the design second.

Was Spector always intended as a time-traveling hero, or did you have other scenarios in place for him?

He was a time traveler/teleporter first, but over the years he changed to many different roles such as a Space Captain (like Wedge Antilles) and a cartoony character (like Freakazoid) with loony toon like powers. For MOTUC I brought him back to his “roots”.

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A real jack of all trades, eh? Speaking from personal experience, many of my childhood character creations were derived from other media influences. I remember creating a character called “Dogman” when I was a kid… which was strangely similar to Batman, with the exception of basing his crimefighting look on a, umm, dog. Did you have similar influences when you came up with Spector?

The “eyes” (it’s a mask like Spiderman) came from the ghosts in the opening of old Scooby Doo shows where two white ghosts with big half moon eyes fly at the camera. The yellow belt and chest harness was a swipe from Batman. As a time traveling secret agent, I wanted Spector to have a ton of gear in a utility belt and the idea was to give him as many “belts” as possible for the most amount of gear. That is why his belt expanded to a chest harness. More belt means more gadget storage! The purple suit is because purple is my favorite color and the spade symbol was a symbol I always felt was very mysterious. How we are working this symbol into the MOTU lore will be revealed in time. Keep in mind that symbols mean different things to different cultures, so in the MOTU world this is not a “playing card symbol” but rather the organization that Spector works for. (much as He-Man has an Iron Cross but he not a member of the German army from WW2!)

I often used “stand-in” figures for my personal creations during playtime as a child. Did you do something similar with Spector? If so, which figures “became” Spector for you?

When I used to play with Construx (a girder and bolt building toy system that Mattel actually still owns) it came with several astronaut/space men figures to pilot the vehicles you could build. The one with the gray suit and silver vac metal helmet was “Captain Spector” and the leader of the other astronauts. But I never had a MOTU figure for Spector.

After MOTU died off in the late 80’s, did the Spector idea carry on into other toylines or playtime scenarios for you?

Since The Mighty Spector was never attached to MOTU specifically, he was always being reinvented for whatever story or project I was working on. I would also use the name for other things such as “Spector Productions” or “Spector Enterprises” whenever I was working on a business plan/film projects or something like that as I grew older.

For a while when he was a cartoony character (like Freekazoid) he had a bit of a different look and his purple outfit was actually skin and the spade was not on a chest harness but was a necklace charm.

When I came to Mattel I used him in several pitches as a background character (i.e. part of a team or something like that, not the star of the pitch). And as I said earlier I used the name on a few Hot Wheels toys in my first gig.


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Let's talk a little bit about the Marvel submission. There’s been a lot of talk online about how the character was “rejected” by Marvel. Can you set the record straight on exactly what the Marvel/ Spector story is?

Ha! Yeah, I can set this straight.

So basically, like almost every other 13 year old comic fan, I put together a drawing and a story pitch for Spector and sent it into Marvel thinking they would love the idea and give me a million dollars. I came up with a new backstory and basically swiped Deathlok’s origin (who was in the middle of a relaunch at the time).

A few months later I receive a letter from Marvel on awesome Spiderman stationary saying that Marvel “appreciates my enthusiasm” but (much like Mattel) they have a “no outside unsolicited material policy”. Which means they never even looked at my submission (much as I must do when fans send in MOTU concepts, drawings etc…) For legal reasons Mattel can’t even look at them. Marvel had/has the same policy. So it is not like Stan Lee sat around, looked at my idea and tossed it in the trash. Marvel as a policy does not look at any unsolicited idea to protect themselves legally (much as Mattel does). So Spector wasn’t rejected as much as never even reviewed due to Marvel’s legal policy. So honestly, I don’t think it is fair to call him a Marvel reject since he was never even considered due to the way I sent him in. (hey I was 13! Can you blame me!)


Fast forward a few years to when you first start working for Mattel. Is Spector on your mind? Are you looking for ways to insert him into any Mattel properties? I know I would be…

I never really knew what I wanted to do with him and never in a million years did I think he would become an action figure from Mattel let alone one on the MOTUC line! Like I said earlier, I did use him in a lot of pitches as a background character and used the name on Hot Wheels product, but I never set out with the goal of making him a figure. I honestly never expected that to happen. But hey, when the opportunity came around, I wasn’t going to say no!

The “Masters of the Universe Classics” line begins in 2008. In the back of your mind, are you thinking about Spector when this starts up?

Not in the least. I was just grateful to get King Grayskull. I honestly never thought we would get past that one figure. Boy was I wrong! The line is doing so well and with fan support will hopefully go for years!

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Spector ends up working his way into MOTU Classics as the name of an Eternian Palace Guard (which also carries your visage). You of course had no way of knowing that the fully realized Spector figure would make it into the line in 2012 when this decision was made. Hindsight being 20/20, would you have not used the Spector name on the guard pack had you known “The Mighty Spector” was going to be made?

Yes, if I knew “The Mighty Spector” was going to be made I would have NEVER used the name for the guard. But it actually worked out well since being a loyal guard worked perfect for the origin I wanted to give him. His ‘loyalty’ as a guard made him a good choice to become a Time Agent later in life. I used the name on the guard as a little joke (at the time) assuming this was my one “stamp” on the line. And since Mattel already owned the name (from the Hot Wheels toy) it didn’t cost anything. If I had known I would be doing The Mighty Spector one day I would have named the guard something totally different.

How did the 30th Anniversary line come about? Was it an upper management idea to expand the line by introducing new characters?

The 30th Anniversary line was my idea rooted in the concept of 1: finding celebrity designers to make new figures and bring PR to the line, 2: to celebrate current Mattel talent and 3: to recreate the feeling we all had as kids on finding new characters first as toys. That just doesn’t happen much anymore and there is such a cool thing about discovering new figures for the first time in the toy aisle (well okay, we sell these online now, but you know what I mean) vs. characters based on movie or animation first (like Carnivus or Faceless One who are new toys but introduced first in animation). So yes, the idea behind the line was to move the brand forward introducing new characters and new storylines for the 30th anniversary. Not to just keep pumping out updates of older figures which is what we had been doing up to this point. That is what made these 6 figures “different” from everything else we did at this point.

Many fans take issue with line being called the “30th Anniversary” when it doesn’t harken back to old characters or involve designers from MOTU’s past. Can you tell us why the line is called the “30th Anniversary”?

For the reasons stated above. When we were kids, many of us discovered new MOTU characters first and foremost when we went to the toy store and saw them on pegs. All of the figures released thus far in MOTUC already existed in some medium, be it as a vintage toy, in animation or even as concept sketches. But they did exist somewhere. The idea for the 30th line was to move the brand forward and for the first time since 1990 (with NA) introduce new characters first as toys. This was a big part of the emotional connection to MOTU. After all, it was a toy line first and foremost. And we wanted to recreate that emotional experience. No other current toy line is really doing this.

While I have heard some fans wanting figures that pay more homage to the history of the brand, all I can say is, the year isn’t over yet! We have big plans for this too…


Can you tell us how Spector ended up becoming a part of this line?

So originally the idea was one slot would go to Photog (to complete the promise made to fans and to Nathan back in 1987) and one slot would be for the new fan contest winner. That left 4 slots in the middle for all new characters. Management wanted to use this “sub” line to get both celebrity creators (Geoff was the only one willing to do it for “free”) and to celebrate current Mattel employees and recognize their contribution to the brand (much as we do for Hot Wheels with the “Larry Wood” line etc…). Giving a slot to the Horsemen was a no brainer and Terry was the obvious choice for a Mattel designer to submit a slot. When additional celebrity designers could not be found (who would create a figure and lets us use their name for free on package and for PR!) another slot became available and I was asked to submit a figure. Over the past 4 years I have become the public “voice” of the brand so it made sense that I would work on a slot as a current Mattel employee who is associated with MOTU by the customers.

It is actually quite common for brand managers and members of the marketing team to contribute creatively to toys. Mattel has a very open policy that good ideas can come from anywhere and are not limited to “designers” etc… Hey, after all, back in 1986, Tim Kilpin (Mattel’s current General Manager) had the same title I do now (Marketing Manager for MOTU) and he wrote several mini comics and created the Snake Men! So great ideas do come from all Mattel employees and management wanted very much to celebrate current employees with this sub line.

Once I was assigned a slot, the figure I wanted to do hands down was Spector. I thought briefly about creating an all new character but the chance to have my childhood creation as a MOTUC fig was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up!


How close is the MOTUC Spector to your original childhood vision? We know that it had to be tweaked a little to use existing parts, but are there any major changes in the design or is it a pretty close fit?

There were very few changes. When I was given a slot I went home that night and traced a MOTUC body (I think I used MAA without the armor) on paper and then drew Spector from memory. I brought this design to Terry and he rendered it as a control drawing and we tried out a few different shared parts. My new drawing including the furry shorts (to make it look “Masters”) but that wasn’t working. Terry was kind enough to do three different drawings trying out different parts such as Sy-Klone’s belt, Man-E-Faces parts and Roboto parts. Terry also redesigned the wrist time circuit controller. In my drawing it was just a box but to make it more “Masters” he made it a mini version of the Cosmic Key (a 2.0 if you will). So Spector remained very close, just adding in a few shared parts.

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Were you prepared for the negative backlash that introducing your character into the MOTU line induced?

Over the years I have become the focal point for anything that goes wrong with the line, from shipping delays to QC problems. 99% of the time I have nothing to do with any of these issues, but as the public “face” of the brand, I still get the blame. (and I never mind it. As long as we are getting more toys fans and customers are free to blame me for anything they want! I just want more toys!!!!) So I was totally prepared for backlash. As a joke, I was almost not going to tell fans I created this figure so that people judged Spector as a character and not one associated with me. ;-P

But despite backlash from loud online fans (the very vocal minority), the vast majority of fans at convnetions have told me how much they love him, even a few young children telling me he is the coolest figure they ever saw. He of course will not be for everyone, but most hard core fans are resistant to anything new. I expected a lot of pushback and am surprised it has actually been as calm as it has! Everyone is entitled to their opinion! MOTU celebrates diversity, so there is room for Spector I hope!


How about filling us in a little more on how Spector fits into the MOTUC line? Many folks are afraid that he will end up being the “fix-all” for problems in MOTU continuity, since he has the ability to travel through time. Can you enlighten us a bit more as to what Spector’s place is in the overall storyline?

I don’t want to comment too much on his origin as that will be revealed in the bio, but I can confirm he is not a rogue agent going through Time to do what he wants. He was given his vortex suit because he is so loyal and is assigned very specific missions. Not necessarily to fix time, but rather to stop other bad guys from messing it up. He is trusted with the suit because he will not abuse it.

Speaking as a HUGE Gwildor fan, do you think introducing Spector as a time-traveler before adding Gwildor to the line detracts from Gwildor’s importance (since time travel is his primary gimmick)?

Not in the least. Think of Gwildor as Doc Brown and Spector as Marty McFly. Does having Marty use the Time Machine take away from Doc inventing it? Plus, by the time Spector gets the suit in the future, Gwildor (like most inventors during conflicts/war) is long dead. (kinda like the guy who created the super solider injections for Captain America). Bad guys are always trying to take control of new technology and bumping off the inventor is one way to do this. Spector does not have the original Cosmic Key. That has been long lost by the time Spector comes around. He has kinda a 2.0 version. See his bio for more.

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Spector’s design has been criticized as not “fitting” into MOTU. How do you respond to this?

I actually think the exact opposite! Spector has things that almost all MOTU figs have. Chest harness – check, power weapon – check, mask – check. I’ve heard people say he looks like Deadpool, but if you are going to take that route, He-Man looks like Conan or Ka-zar or Tarzan. You have to apply this “standard” across the board, not just to one figure. In a line that has fighting cyborg elephants, mermaids, barbarians, demons and robots, how can Spector not fit in?

I see your point. :) Now was Spector the only option in your head for your 30th Anniversary spot, or do you have other personal characters floating around that almost made it instead?

There are a few other characters I’ve created but Spector was always far and away number one. While I briefly thought about creating an all new character for the slot, I pretty much gave up that idea and settled on Spector right away. The opportunity was just too good!


Looking back, is there anything you'd change about the way Spector was brought into the line?

Not in the least! Spector rules! I never really knew what to do with him or where to give him a home and the idea that he will live on forever as a MOTUC figure is the coolest thing ever. Plus his whole backstory about being a loyal guard and getting the vortex suit from worked out really well as a way to move the brand forward and explore new storylines.

Now that you have chosen the winner for this year’s Create-A-Character contest, do you feel the 30th Anniversary line comes across as a balanced mix of ideas and designs? Meaning that each character seems pretty unique in perspective with the others?

Yeah, it has been a nice mix. We did not require any designer to create a figure for any certain faction, gender or area of the brand. It was up to each designer/creator to make a figure for whatever they wanted. For fans/customers expecting the 30th line to span all of the areas of the brand (Horde, Snake Men, NA, POP etc…) they will not be getting this. Each designer created their figure in a vacuum and was not given any restrictions that they had to create, say a POP figure or a NA figure. We don’t hit every faction but there is some nice variety. Some good guys, some bad guys, some team members, etc… But in the end all are 100% unique and a great addition to the MOTU world! I can’t wait to own them all (especially Spector – the coolest action figure ever made~)

A huge thanks to Scott for taking the time to do this and getting it back to me so quickly! -James

12 comments:

  1. Very cool of Scott to do. I'm in random fits of pseudo agony waiting for the contest winner to be revealed. X o

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  2. This was a good interview. I never hated on TMS, and kind of played devil's advocate from time to time regarding him. I never LOVED him, but he was fine by me, other than the really bright harness (which is workable). However, when I first watched that video and saw Scott's excitement, it rubbed off on me, as well. I also thought it was awesome that he had another one in his pocket, because I agree, if I had a figure of a character that I created, I would carry it around all of the time, too!

    -Matt (AKA KeldorTheCursed)

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  3. Really good interview. Did he send in these pics himself?
    -Lex

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  4. sorry to burst your bubble Scott but just because the majority of fans at conventions tell you they like the figure does not mean the majority of fans total like it.

    1. The majority of the fan community DON'T make it to the conventions. They just can't afford it. (especially if they're spending so much on the actual products)

    2. The majority of fans who do make it to the cons also post on the various fan sites so they are included in the total number of comments.

    3. The group of fans who make it to the cons do not necessarily represent the opinion of the majority of the fan base on the whole. I would have thought the Panthor flocking backlash would have made that perfectly clear.

    The real truth is Scott, the majority of the fan base's opinion of Mighty Spector is indifferent. You are right that the ones who utterly despise him are a very vocal small group, however the ones who think he's one of the coolest are also a small group. Most fans feel he's just okay. Not the worst character ever, but not a super exciting one either.

    Me, I'm waiting to read his bio before passing final judgement. A good character story can make a figure much more appealing.

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  5. i love all the different archetypes in the motuc line from the barbarian to the monster, from the samurai to the ninja, fire fighter to the pilot each one evokes a childhood wannabe profession and now with the advent of the spector we have the superhero which is technically the only genre missing in motu
    -Maltesefalcon

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  6. Great interview, I am really looking forward to all the 30th anniversary characters. I love this line.

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  7. I've liked the figure from day one. I'm really glad that he got to make it. I know I would die for that opportunity if it came my way. Congrats to Scott and I can't wait to get my copy of it. :D

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  8. When I collected MotU as a 5 yr old kid I got into the line in 1985, so I'm a "Later Era" MotU fan. I never had Beast Man, or Mer-Man or Man-E-Faces, etc. My favorite figures were the Snake Men, Modulok, Leech, Spikor, Rio Blast, Stonedar, Rokkon & Saurod. I remember vividly my mom coming home & giving me & my sister 2 MotU figures each: we both got Rio Blast, she got Gwildor & I got Stonedar.

    Now,a lot of die-hard MotU fans might not like those later era characters but those were my MotU childhood for me. I remember getting Stratos from my aunt and I wasn't that impressed with him; how could a furry guy with wings compare to Leech or a cybernetic cowboy? When she gave me Buzz-Off I remember thinking he was awesome, but those were the 2 oldest figures I ever got aside from Thunder Punch He-Man (I never had any other He-Man then him).

    Since they announced the creation & release of Fearless Photog, Dreago-Man, The Mighty Spector & Sir Lazer Lot I was excited for brand new MotU toys. I agree with Scott 100% in that this IS what this brand was about. What other toyline can you have a Ninja, fighting a cowboy with guns that pop out all over him while some smake men riding a cyborg T-rex are trying to attack a red monster that can reconfigure itself dozens of different ways??

    It's all out craziness but it works because it's FUN. And that's what toys are at the very bottom line, toys are for having fun whether you're old or young. I know I'm really curious to see what Terry from Mattel's MOTUC figure is and what the Create-A-Character contest winner is. It's nice to have that feeling of unexpectedness for MotU again, it adds to part of the line's charm.

    Keep up the good work Scott & Co. and good job James on posting up 1 excellent review!! :-D

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  9. I'm sorry but I have never liked Spector I think it is a bad looking figure

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    1. Ya me too it's really ugly!

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  10. I feel there's characters with way more mistical and fantastic apearence and bio rather than an special agent with a bad looking suit and mask. So many cool magical creatures to instead choose an "human-like" character with a super hero costume.

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  11. That figure is Scott Neitlich's love letter to himself, a purple Deadpool - how original. Hire a real creative mind already and leave the fan fiction and toy design to the professionals. Concentrate on Marketing and making sure Digital River don't sink the line completely.

    How you continue to run Mattycollector is beyond me.

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