By Ed Sum
(The Vintage Tempest)
Toys from the 80’s and 90’s have a unique type of nostalgia associated with them. It was the MTV generation, and a lot more cross media occurred then than with the years prior. A few big franchises worth mentioning are Transformers, Care Bears and He-Man. The era has a uniqueness to it which I adore, and this is something Curtis Andersen, Licensing & Brand Management at Panda Mony Toys realize too. One look at this company’s website shows they make toys with attitude, and I can dig it! While this toy debuted in 2018 at toy expos and the like, to see it hit shelves in a larger scale takes time.
Andersen is also the Lore Master and writer for this company dedicated to creating new products for kids that help stimulate their imagination, Whether that’s with a tried and true brand, and also bringing a new idea to the masses, this operation is immediately taking on the cross-media approach to launch their line of Alter Nation!
But to know more about this world, I chatted with Andersen about this new product in stores now. If they haven’t arrived yet, they will soon mutate over to stores near you.
How did the idea of Alter Nation come about? Was the development cycle long?
Alter Nation resulted from a seed of an idea from our founder, Ryan Magnon, and a whole lot of kid testing. We presented them with about 30 ideas and let them tell us what they liked. In the end they said they wanted “monster super heroes” and we were happy to oblige! All-in-all it was about an 18-20 month cycle from last idea to release.
I noticed a late 80’s / early 90’s vibe with the web shorts, was that intentional?
Kind of, we definitely wanted to pay homage to the cartoons that we grew up with and I think that younger viewers are ready for a new adventure show. Ryan and I both grew up in the golden age of action figures and have really fond memories of how lines like He-Man and M.A.S.K. that were new at the time ignited our imaginations. It was really powerful, there’s a reason why the lines from the 80’s and early 90’s keep getting rebooted.
We felt like that kind of new property was missing for modern kids and we really want to create the lines that will carry on for the next twenty or thirty years.
For some odd reason I keep on thinking Island of Dr. Moreau and TMNT mixed in. Was part of the design of this world’s mythos intended towards that film?
We like to say that Alter Nation is what happens when X-Men and TMNT get mixed up in the X-Files universe. While I think that The Island of Dr. Moreau makes sense as a connection, we didn’t actually have it in the plan. It’s just a happy accident. Our goal was to have a mystery feel to the world. You think you know what’s going on, but if you pay close attention you can see the cracks and behind those cracks is the truth of the situation for our heroes–and they are barely starting to see it.
Ryan and I were both really big TMNT fans. The idea of human-animal hybrids can definitely trace its origin back to the turtles, but it wasn’t enough to just have hybrids and that’s where the government conspiracy comes in. The familiar ideas are important for fans so they can access what the brand is about easily, but what sets us apart is the mystery. Who can be trusted, having friends that will stand by you, asking the hard questions, these are all things that kids are dealing with everyday and we want the characters of Alter Nation to help them navigate those tricky waters–with super powers.
Why choose creating web toons to start with over trying to have a cartoon series?
Oh, we’re definitely working on a traditional animated series, but we also wanted to make sure that we were where the kids are and, even though TV is still a big thing, kids in our target demographic are on YouTube a lot more. So it was really important for us to make sure we had content where they were watching as soon as possible and the webisodes were the answer to that.
What are some of the challenges in this day and age to get a new brand of toys going?
The biggest one is making sure that the kids know about it! As a smaller company we don’t have the same marketing muscle and Hasbro or Mattel and this is our first launch so we don’t have a track record yet either. So making sure that we are smart with our marketing and getting the message out to 6 to 11 year olds has been our biggest hurdle.
One thing I’m really proud of, and that Ryan has been very insistent about since the beginning, is that these marketing efforts are story driven. We aren’t just going to slap ads out in the world. They need to reveal or be a part of the narrative. Some are more subtle than others, but it’s really helped the audience connect to the brand rather than just having someone constantly telling them to buy something.
What other kinds of cross media ideas do you have planned?
We are all over the different social media platforms! You can find us on Twitter, Facebook, TikTok, YouTube and, our personal favorite, Instagram. Just search Panda Mony Toys or Alter Nation Toys and you’ll find us.
Not only that but we’re also really proud of our comic book partnership with Dark Horse Comics. They’ve released a 12 page preview that you can find on our site, AlterNation.toys, and a full 60 page graphic novel is coming out later this year. Watch out for news on that. Oh, and we put our story everywhere–it’s hidden on the packaging, it’s in the games on the website and there’s more coming.
When can interested collectors / kids expect a roll out in toy stores?
We are currently in select stores all over the country! Diamond Comics is our key distributor right now so we can be found in comic shops and other specialty retail and some mid-tier retail. We’re holding off on bigger outlets, like Target and Walmart, until we have a little more national attention.