Kickstarting Eon Quest | An Interview With Jon Wesley Huff
Cosmic storylines where the stakes are epic, heroes who wed the mystic and technology, villains who are evil personified. If this sounds familiar it is the best parts of the heroic fantasies that fueled toy lines and the cartoons that occupied our Saturday mornings and drive nostalgia today. We are undoubtedly living in a new Golden Age where we are seeing a revival of what we loved about the classic toy lines of yesteryear.
One of the most striking retro toy lines I have encountered so far is currently on Kickstarter and looking for supporters to help make it a reality. The video introducing Eon Quest is like the opening to a cartoon saga I would have obsessed over after-school and weekend mornings and the promised toy line (containing a mini-comic with each figure) feels like toys I would have spent weeks searching for and playing with as a child.
I was fortunate to able to speak to Eon Quest creator, Jon Wesley Huff, about his inspirations, storytelling, crowdfunding and DIY toy making.
Jon, can you give us an insight to your background and how you came to create Eon Quest?
I work in design and marketing in my day job, but my first love has always been writing and illustration. I never really had the patience to make illustration my full-time job, as much as I love drawing and creating comics. I’m just too slow if I want to do a good job. But I’ve always loved creating stories. One of my dreams has always been to make an action figure line of my own and the story to go along with them. Eon Quest (the name) was used in a comic strip I made in high school. I always liked the name, and would work on different concepts to go with it throughout high school, even when the comic strip was done. So, when I decided to give this crazy dream a go earlier this year, I decided I should go with that name.
Can you talk about your toy line influences and how they contributed building your vision for Eon Quest?
Masters of the Universe is a huge influence. From the tender ages of 5 to 8, MOTU was my obsession. But, there’s also some Crystar, Thundercats, Marvel Comics, New Gods, Star Trek, Star Wars and Doctor Who in there too. Those are all things I grew up with and loved. So they definitely have an influence.
You are developing mini comics to package with your figures. Can you talk about developing the comics and how important they are to the line?
The mini-comics were always an integral part of the line. And, in fact, if the Kickstarter doesn’t fund, I’ll be getting the comics out in some form no matter what. But, as I said, it wasn’t just enough to make figures. I wanted to tell the stories of them, too. That’s where my passion lies, really. I love telling stories. I wrote a book a couple of years ago. I self-published it, and I’m still proud of it. I have another book I’ve written. It’s done, but it needs final editing. I finished it late last year, but I put it on the shelf in favor of Eon Quest for a while. But, my plan is to start shopping it around to agents soon and try to go the more traditional method of publishing. So writing is a real passion of mine, and I think it’s so critical when you’re introducing anything new—including toy lines—to give people something to connect to. That’s what I wanted the mini-comics to be for Eon Quest. I hoped the figures might intrigue and pull them in, but I’m hoping over time the mini-comics would make people care about them in some way. The first mini-comic is up to read on the site, but of course it only barely hints at starting the story up. There’s so much setting up to do! It’s basically just a fun adventure romp, but I think the characters are clearly defined and hopefully leave you wanting to get to know them more. The comic story is planned out through the theoretical Series 6 of the toy line! And it was designed to get a bit deeper into the characters as it progressed. The comics are actually the first thing I started on, really. I wrote the first scripts right along with developing the designs of the figures. I knew the production time on the comics would be long, so I started on them very early.
The arms and legs of all the figures in the Eon Quest line will be interchangeable. Why was this so important to you in designing the line?
My friends Brian and Jeremy at Spy Monkey Creations have a line of figures called Weaponeers of Monkaa. They’re built on the Glyos system. I actually tried contacting Matt with Glyos early on in the process about Eon Quest, but never heard back! LOL. Glyos isn’t very good for this scale of figure anyway, though. But, I wanted to build something that could be fun along those lines for this line partly because of my experience with Weaponeers. There’s fun to be had just in this line with switching out Uplink’s robotic and human limbs and mixing up limbs of characters, but it would have also come in handy with future figures, too. For instance, the figure of Booster (the rocket pack guy) would have swappable heads for his helmeted and non-helmeted looks.
We are seeing a wave of DIY toymakers turning out actions figures right now. What were the challenges in learning the production process? What advice would you have for others who are looking to produce their own line of figures?
Well, Jeremy from Spy Monkey was a huge help in that regard. As was my friend Mark, who has his own line of toys – Mystical Warriors of the Ring. I’ve learned a fair amount just by osmosis, really, being an action figure fan who was interested in the process. I also work with manufacturing overseas at my day job. But Jeremy and Mark were a huge help at different points early on. And then I built a support network of friends, too, to run stuff past after the initial development stage was over. In some ways I’ve been basically doing this on my own – all the design work, illustration, package design, web design, marketing, working with the sculptor, selecting the factory and all that has been me. So it’s even more critical for me to have different people I respect and trust to bounce things off of. So, advice-wise, I’d say do that.
The other big thing is… ask questions. A lot. The hardest thing in the process, to be honest, was finding a good quality factory. I am on Kickstarter quite a bit and have backed quite a few action figure projects because I think supporting new stuff is fun. But through that, too, I was able to learn from others who were funding figure projects. One of the women who did the IAmElemental campaign there helped me find my factory, actually. And I’ve talked a bit with some of the guys at Warpo, who did the beautiful Legends of Cthulhu figures. So, I’d say… get out there and make connections. That helps, too. And that doesn’t mean “networking,” necessarily. I think it’s better if it’s from a place of honest interest. For instance, I wasn’t connecting with the guys from Warpo or the women from IAmElemental just to pump them for info. I was huge admirers of what they had done and genuinely loved their product.
Actually, during the Kickstarter I’ve made even more connections with people – different people and companies who have wanted to compare notes about it all. And I love that. It’s been so much fun talking to them, and I definitely open to helping them when I can in the same way others helped me. I think that’s the biggest thing. Be nice. Be respectful. Be a stand-up person. Be honest. The indie toy world is actually very small in some ways. And your reputation can and will follow you. So be above the board in the things you do. It’s good practice for when you have customers buying your stuff, because all the same principles apply!
You are running a Kickstarter to move Eon Quest into production. What have you learned from running a crowdfunding campaign? Do you think this will be a viable path for other looking to produce toys or action figure lines?
Since I work in Marketing, I feel like I had a pretty good leg up on the Marketing aspects of it. Writing press releases, getting the site up, creating a Marketing plan, feeding content through social media, building up a genuine social media presence… all of that is SO much work. It really is a second job. Of course, it’s a fun second job, too. In the toy collector universe, I have had a great response from sites and blogs willing to cover Eon Quest. But beyond that, the thing I learned is that it’s almost impossible to make any kind of impact in the more general spheres of geeky sites/blogs. Even comic book sites. I sent out so many more press releases than people might know based on the list of sites that have covered me. In the toy world, I’ve done podcasts, written articles and had the press release transmitted a ton. Outside of that, not one single site picked up the story. I think there are a couple of reasons for that, but part of it is probably the Kickstarter factor. I think a lot of sites are hesitant to cover them, because there are just so many of them these days. Unless there’s a “hook” there, they aren’t going to touch it. I was a little surprised by that, I have to admit. Though, in retrospect it makes sense.
It’s hard to get anyone to pay attention to something new. People complain about the fact that so many things seem to get rebooted and regurgitated over and over, but part of the reason that happens is that it works. Now, not every reboot is successful. In fact, I’d say more have failed lately than have worked. But, at least people will pay attention and people will cover what you’re trying to do. It makes sense, too, when you think about it. We’re given so many options of things to buy and consume these days. It’s hard for anything new to get our attention. The guys at Warpo were really smart about this. They wanted to do their own line, but they started with Legends of Cthulhu because it gave them a hook—something familiar for people to connect with. And it worked brilliantly, though it helped that their presentation and product was brilliant, too. That wouldn’t have really worked for me, though. It was never my intention to start a toy company, really. I just wanted to make these action figures. I knew the market for 5.5’’ figures was really small these days. I knew this would be a VERY niche line. But part of the fun of it was to try to do something different than what other people were doing. That’s part of what I think Kickstarter should be about, frankly. After that, you just cross your fingers and hope there are enough people out there to support it.
In this case, there doesn’t seem to be enough 5.5’’ collectors out there. I mean, just to be honest. We’re in our last week now. I’m ready for a last-minute miracle, but I’m too practical to really believe that could happen. It’s very likely that Eon Quest won’t be funded. I did a survey to see why people didn’t pledge, and it actually got a really great response, which I’m extremely grateful for. It’s been extremely helpful. The absolutely overwhelming message from the results was that people like the characters and set-up… but they didn’t like the scale or articulation. I do think Kickstarter is definitely a viable path for producing figures, but to be honest I think if you want to be successful it’s best to stick to 3.75’’ or 6’’ with more articulation unless you go more the smaller figurine route. That’s not to say someone else won’t come along and make something else work. I think it’d be awesome for someone to make a 5.5’’ figure line work. Maybe if it was a known property it’d have a chance? But, I really think the market for that is very, very tiny. Certainly not enough to produce the way I had planned to—with steel molds and injected plastic in China. Smaller runs in vinyl or resin with rubber molds would be a better way to go, I think. My number one concern going into this was with the scale and articulation level. I knew there would be people who wouldn’t go for it because of that, but I was genuinely surprised how entrenched people seem to be about those two points, and that the 5.5’’ figure market was even tinier than I thought.
My final bit of advice – only spend the money you can! I think it’s a good idea to give people something real to look at. That’s why I went as far as I did prototype-wise. But, one great thing about Kickstarter is you can use it as market research. You can see how big your potential audience is. Even if the Kickstarter doesn’t go through, this has been such a great experience for me. And part of that is that even though I spent more money out-of-pocket than most sane people would probably do on this, it wasn’t more than I could spend, and I will go forward with no regrets. If I hadn’t at least tried, I really would have regretted something. I think we all have those things we regret not having tried. I didn’t want Eon Quest to be one of them for me.
What are your plans for the line post-Kickstarter?
Well, if the Kickstarter does go through, I’d basically be ready to go into production! The steel molds could be made, samples made and approved… and then we’re off! If I was able to sell through all the figures, I’d have the money to reinvest in starting on Series 2. If the Kickstarter doesn’t go through, then the five comics I’ve done will be released in some form. I’m exploring possibilities for that right now. If the comic sold well enough, I’d love to keep doing more comics and keep telling the stories of these characters. The possibility of figures could always be explored again further down the road in some form.
One last question, what is the one toy that you either couldn’t bear to part with or that haunts your dreams because you never owned it?
The toy that I wish I had owned as a kid is the Eternia playset from Masters of the Universe. I got out of MOTU around the time the movie came out. Not because of the movie, really, but that just seems to be the timing of it. So, I didn’t know a lot of the later wave stuff like the Horde Troopers, Sorceress and Scare Glow existed. I only found out about it because 2-3 years later I found a JC Penny or Sears Christmas Catalog at a thrift shop and they had a spread with those characters and the Eternia play set! This was before the internet, where you could look up pictures of whatever you wanted. I couldn’t believe they actually made something like that. It would have been so cool to add to the collection and play out an epic adventure with.
Thanks Jon! If you want to learn more visit Eon Quest’s Kickstarter page and please consider supporting this project in the campaign’s final week.