It may be easy for some to dismiss Funko as a toy company, but all it takes is finding one of your favorite TV or movie characters, musicians, or franchises represented as a 4 inch vinyl Pop! to realize it so much more. Funko describes themselves as a pop culture lifestyle brand. They are all about creating an experience, a celebration of the things we love, a celebration of fun. After all F-U-N is in the name of the company, and for a good reason.
At this years’ New York Comic Con I had the chance to be immersed in the Funko brand, first at their “Frightmare on Fun Street” attraction, a full-scale haunted house decorated literally from floor to ceiling with Funko brand fun. There was not an inch of where creativity and care were not on display; spooky scratched messages in the “concrete” floor, six-foot tall animated Funko Pop! skeletons, even branded light switches. Let’s not forget the costumed employees in full makeup and character. All this to deliver fans new NYCC-exclusive products. Funko’s fun game was on!
I had the opportunity to speak with Funko Founder and SVP of Entertainment Mike Becker and quickly learned the Funko ideology starts at the top. Becker started the company where all the best of them begin in a garage – just him and a $10,000 investment in the idea that life should be fun. It’s why he says you’ll never see him in a shirt and tie. Actually, every time I saw him he was following that rule, dressed as a mad scientist and (during our conversation) as a vampire.
“Companies get so big and they start taking themselves too seriously. It’s really easy now to be angry and to be cynical. In this world everything we see, everything we touch, everything we hear, it’s got a negative, cynical slant to it. I say the opposite – live your own life, because your view of the world is your own,” said Becker. “I want Funko to always retain that family feeling and that energy.”
The positivity is found everywhere in the brand, the ‘booth’ (which Becker is justifiably adamant is not a booth it’s an attraction), the Funko, but mainly in the products they sell. As of 2022 there are approximately 8,500 Funko Pops! – the most popular and iconic of their offerings. The scope of the licenses they work with covers a wide array – from Marvel, DC, Star Wars, anime, horror icons, musicians, your favorite TV and movie characters and so much more – essentially, if we cover it on The ‘Verse! Podcast, Funko has you covered.
What is it about these little pieces of hand-crafted vinyl that makes them so special? Decker pondered the question, “I really believe that there’s a feeling that’s conveyed through it. I think you put that on your desk, and it’s a little representation of you. Or it makes you kind of feel good because it can do one or two things: it can remind you how you felt when you’re a kid when things were simpler, or it takes you away to a place that makes you feel good. There’s something about Funko that’s different – there’s a feeling and an energy in the products.”
This feeling does not happen by chance, Vice President of Brand and Marketing Dave Bere explained, the Funko team does a lot of research to deliver fans what they want most. “We want to better understand the emotional connections that fans have to pop culture,” explained Bere. “Nostalgia is something we say a lot of and it doesn’t have to be something from your childhood, it could be something from your childhood, it could be something that happened to you last week. It’s all of these moments that are unique to the individual – what I celebrate, and my fandoms are different than yours. But we get to celebrate together in community. It is a great opportunity and privilege for Funko to be the center point of that community. I think that’s something that’s really special about our brand.”
And that brand keeps growing, including the recent acquisition of high-end collectibles company Mondo, which sells vinyl records, posters, books, games and other collectibles. Also adding to their offerings was the partnership with the uber-popular Loungefly line of wearable fandom apparel and accessories.
Ilana McBride, Loungefly’s Director of Marketing and Social explained to me about the line. “Lifestyle brand that you can wear your fandom from your back to your head to sleeve to toe, whatever, from all different categories. What we’re really selling is not so much bags, but we’re really selling this idea that ‘it’s okay.’ It’s part of fashion to be a fan of something and wear that on your sleeve everyday. That’s part of your fashion expression. That’s cool, geek culture, geek fashion is cool now, and you can come out of your basement.
And out of the basement they have come, you can find Funko and Loungefly just about and their location based exclusives everywhere; at Disney Parks, Six Flags, Sea World, and at a selection of partnering retail locations. You can look forward to more – some as surprising as New York’s Laguardia Airport, which turned out to be one of their most popular stores – one that injects some fun into a flight delay. The Loungefly brand has also created a huge celebrity following, posting their latest gear on social media.
Like Funko’s offering, Loungefly goes beyond making items with familiar properties. “It really is about connecting people through their passions and their fandoms. Taking those stories that we already know and love, and turning them into products that still uphold that same quality, that same level of innovation,” expressed McBride. “We’re not just taking character art from style guides that thelicensers give us – we have layers of innovation and materials.”
Some examples are a Disney’s Alice in Wonderland purse that opens up like a book, a Mrs. Potato Head with interchangeable facial pieces, a light-up Black Adam backpack and a Dr. Finkelstein from The Nightmare Before Christmas – who, like in the movie, has a head that opens up to reveal his brains. These are just a few of the incredibly innovative products designed to reimagine and connect fans with the spirit of their favorite properties.
“Our RFD team is incredible at finding new materials to help bring these characters come to bring these characters to life. For our creative team, we bring in some of the best artists that are Disney approved or Warner Brothers approved artists who come to redraw or re-sketch stuff from films that don’t exist in style guides. And they trust us to do that because we have this high level of people working with us. That’s really what sets us apart too,” explained McBride. “We are really trying to tell that storytelling in a very detailed way that people then become a little obsessed with – which is a good thing.”
What’s next for Funko, because it does not seem to be stopping anytime soon. Dave Bere shared, “We’ve gotten bigger, we have more licenses, we’ve come out with different lines of product, whether that’s something we’re doing for it Funko, or bringing in new brands like Loungefly, or Mondo to our portfolio. Specifically, we’re doing more in anime and music – that’s a space that we’ve seen just such a huge fan base around, so I expect that we’ll continue to do more, because those have really resonated with fans.” So I think those are two genres that have that are newer that we’ve done a lot with, and we’re gonna continue to do more with.”
Bere also revealed to me their plans to go global, “We’ve got fans all across the world. We recently announced we’re going to Brazil – the Comic Con experience in Sao Paulo. Brazil represents the number three country across our social channels. It’s the first time we’re going there in an official capacity. So we’re really excited about that.” He continued, “I think you’ll see a lot of the same but elevated continuing to push the boundaries of experience, and maybe a few surprises along the way. But we’re really deep in planning for 2023.”
Funko collectors, be on the lookout. One scoop we learned about from McBride was about a new line of Marvel Funko Pops. “We had done a bunch of Marvel cosplay styles over the years but people still want more Marvel, more Marvel, and they want an update to our old versions. So now we’re taking that and we’re elevating them, making them all metallic – it will be almost the exact same styles in a really incredible metallic that people have been really loving, but now we’re going to have them for all the Marvel superheroes.”
During NYCC I was given early access to the “Frightmare on Fun Street” booth (I mean attraction) where I was treated to a little bit of costumed Funko team antics, product announcements, and was graced with the presence of two of Funko’s faithful collaborators Cassandra Peterson (aka Elvira: Mistress of the Dark) and Darryl “DMC” McDaniels from the legendary hip hop group Run DMC. Both were extraordinarily nice, autographing my Funkos, but it was DMC’s beautiful words about how life is about “collaboration” and how the arts and creators “tear down the walls that separate us. And no one does it better than Funko!”
The next evening I was lucky enough to attend a one-of-a-kind party, Funko Fright Night II, an evening “full of fun and surprises and freaky weird stuff.” Guests were treated to Becker and Co. decked out in full costume and character as a mad scientist Dr. Beckenstein and his assistant Oknuf working to bring their latest Fright Night Funko Freddy to life. Along the way there were contests, games, music, magic, and surprise guests Peterson and the King of Rock, DMC, who rocked the house with several Run DMC classics.
The Funko brands extend well beyond a niche market. A few years back I was not a collector, that is until my daughter, knowing I was Whovian, introduced me some of the Doctor Who line of Funko Pops! Instantly, I was regenerated from a Funko appreciator to a Funko collector. Our family collection quickly grew from a couple to dozens, each transferring us to our personal favorite fandoms. The Funkos have been conversation pieces with everyone from friends to my daughter’s english teacher. He had one proudly displayed on his desk – when I pointed it out and instant bond was made. The magic of Funko strikes again. As DMC pointed out, Funko’s brand transcends age, sex, and any other barrier. It’s the spirit of the brand that makes it so unique, it truly connects fans, families and strangers. There’s just something special there.
Maybe Becker hit the nail on the head when he pointed out that it was his team that was the secret ingredient. “That’s why Funko is what it is, because the people that work here care, – like we care. We’re all fun makers here. We’re not employees. We’re making fun for everyone.”
Check out all that Funko has to offer on their social media accounts and company websites – you will be surprised just how widely varied their offerings are. And who doesn’t want more Fun in their lives?